June 2022

‘I WILL HAVE HER BEFORE THE NIGHT IS OUT” . . . A brutal murder in 1903 Lincoln (2)

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SO FAR: Lincoln, May 1903. Sarah and Leonard Patchett have a troubled marriage. She works as a housekeeper in Lincoln, while he is a bricklayer in Gainsborough. At the end of May, he has traveled to Lincoln to see her. They have a daughter, Rachel, a few weeks short of her second birthday, and she lives with her mother at the house of John King in Spencer Street. Sarah is John King’s housekeeper. On the evening of Tuesday 26th May, Patchett has pleaded with his wife to come back to him, but she only agrees to walk with him to the railway station where he says he will catch a train back to Gainsborough.

After the evening of 26th May, Sarah Patchett is never seen alive again. The last sighting of her was recording in a court statement:

“Mr. J. H. Gadd, livery stable proprietor, stated that about seven o’clock on the night of Tuesday, May 26th, he was driving to his field in Boultham Lane in the company with one of his men. His man called his attention to a man and woman standing at the gate to the second field in Boultham Lane. The woman looked sad and distressed, and the man was in a leaning position with his foot on the lower bar of the gate. As he passed, the man turned round, and he caught full view of his face. On Saturday he identified the body the deceased as that of the woman saw the gate the previous evening.”

Sarah Patchett’s body was found in a field just west of the Boultham Park carriage road on the morning of 29th May. She had been strangled. When a coroner’s inquest was convened at Bracebridge, the details are still chilling over a century later:

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It might be of interest to show where Sarah Patchett was murdered. As far as I can tell, her body was found about 100 yards from the Boultham Board School on the west side of what was then the private carriage road leading to Boultham Hall. Now, of course, the ground where her body lay for three days (red circle) is long since built over. The graphic below may be helpful.

Then and now

Leonard Patchett was arrested and held in custody. When he was searched, a letter from his wife was found in his jacket. I have made a facsimile (below)

Dear Leonard

At the coroner’s inquest, the magistrates’ court and the subsequent Assizes at Lincoln, Patchett insisted he was innocent and, to be fair, the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. Unguarded remarks he made after his wife’s death painted a very different picture, however. When asked, back at the Gainsborough building site, if he was going up to work on the scaffold, he said, “The next scaffold I will be on will be the scaffold at Lincoln with a rope around my neck.”

What did he mean when he said to Mrs Iremonger, “I will have her before the night is out”? Did he mean he would come and  take his daughter, Rachel, or was it a threat to the life of his wife ?

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On Monday 6th July, Leonard Patchett was tried for murder at LIncoln, before Mr Justice Ridley (left). Patchett insisted he was innocent but the jury did not agree. The newspapers reported the inevitable conclusion:

“The jury took twelve minutes to consider their decision, and returned into Court with a verdict of “Guilty.” The prisoner heard the sentence apparently unmoved, and in reply to the question as to whether he had anything to say why sentence of death should not passed, replied firmly: “No, but I am perfectly innocent.” The Judge then put on the black cap and said he was bound to agree with the verdict the jury had given. It had been clearly established that the prisoner’s was the hand that strangled the unfortunate woman. The judge recommended him to try to make his peace with Almighty God during the few days of life that remained to him. Sentence of death was then passed. Prisoner received the solemn sentence without the slightest feeling, and then calmly turned round, and walked down the steps to the cells. His sister, who was in an adjoining room, fainted on hearing the sentence. The execution will take place in Lincoln Gaol.”

And so it did:


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Sarah Ann Patchett was buried in Canwick Road cemetery, while the body of her husband joined those of other hanged murderers in the little graveyard within the walls of the Lucy Tower at Lincoln Castle. There is one link to this terrible tale which takes us into relatively recent times (albeit fifty years ago). Rachel Ceciia Patchett was raised in various children’s homes and, by then known as Rachel Patchett-Smith, married James Newman in 1934. She died in 1972, and was buried at St Peter’s, Pilning, Gloucestershire. My thank to Mandy Freeman for the information about Rachel.



‘I WILL HAVE HER BEFORE THE NIGHT IS OUT” . . . A brutal murder in 1903 Lincoln (1)

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I have been researching and retelling the stories of historic murders for  a long time now, and the overwhelming majority of these cases involve a man murdering a woman. There is rarely what one might call a motive, in the sense that the killer planned his act with the intent to gain an advantage. Occasionally, as with the Spalding Poisoner, the man plans the killing because he has another lover, but all too often, as is the case here, the murder is an act of rage, jealousy, with the sub-text of “If I can’t have you, then no-one will.”

The life of Sarah Ann Smith seems to be punctuated with misfortunes. Thomas Hardy, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles memorably imagined that our lives were manipulated by some unseen hand, moving us around like chess pieces for their own amusement.

“.. and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess.

The 1881 census has 9 year-old Sarah Ann Smith living in Greetwell Gate, Lincoln, with her parents John and Ann, and her two brothers. In 1891 she was working as a domestic servant in  a house on what was then called Asylum Road. The census that year was taken on 5th April, and in the summer of that year Sarah married Henry Healey Fletcher. Seven years later, on 17th February 1898 their son, Harold Fletcher was born. Sarah’s joy was to be short lived, because with twelve months both baby Harold and husband Henry would be dead. Henry Fletcher, an ironstone miner, hanged himself when rumours began to circulate that Sarah was having an affair with their lodger.

As in the case of Tess, the President of the Immortals had one last cruel joke to play on Sarah. She met and was wooed by a young bricklayer called Leonard Patchett, and in January 1900 they married in St Andrew’s church in Lincoln (picture below). Demolished in 1968, it was one of many Gothic revival churches designed by the celebrated Louth architect James Fowler.

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Leonard Pratchett was what used to be called ‘a wrong ‘un’. He was handy with his fists, especially with women, as his criminal record shows.

Criminal record

It wasn’t long before Sarah became fed up with Leonard’s casual brutality, and left him. There followed a sequence of uneasy reconciliations – and the birth of a daughter – Rachel Cecilia. The early summer of 1903 saw Sarah working as a housekeeper for a man named John King, a former military man who now worked as an insurance agent. He lived at 36 Spencer Street, Lincoln. Leonard, meanwhile was working in Gainsborough.

Towards the end of May, Leonard Pratchett took a train to Lincoln, with the intention of patching up his troubled marriage to Sarah. He sought her out at John King’s house, and on the evening of Tuesday 26th May, he asked her to walk with him to the station, from where he was going to catch the train back to Gainsborough. Earlier that evening, Sarah had been out when Patchett came looking for her, and he got into a conversation with a Mrs Emma Iremonger, next door neighbour to John King. It seems that Mrs Iremonger was looking after Rachel, who was a couple of months short of her second birthday. The exchange was reported in the press sometime later:

Emma Iremonger

John King later testified that he was uneasy about Sarah going off with her husband that evening, and asked her not to go, but she declined to take his advice. He waited up until 11.00pm that night, and when she still hadn’t returned by morning he contacted the police. Wednesday and Thursday passed without any sighting of Sarah Patchett.

The next events in this tale unfold in a part of Lincoln that is completely unrecognisable today, and it is only by looking at maps side by side that we can get some sense of the landscape in 1903. What is now Boultham Park Road was, in 1903, a private carriage road leading to Boultham Hall, and on either side there were open fields. North of the drain in 1903 was the Wellington Iron Foundry, where some of the first WW1 tanks were built. One of the employees at the foundry was a young man called Arthur Froggatt. They worked long shifts in those days, starting early and finishing late. The men were allowed a break for breakfast around 8.00 am, and on the morning of Friday 29th May, Arthur had walked across the footbridge over the drain to breath some fresh air after the intense heat and fumes of the foundry. He had only walked a little way down the carriage drive, when he saw something untoward. Again this is from a newspaper report taken down verbatim at a court hearing:


A revealing letter
Trial and execution

BAD FOR GOOD . . . Between the covers

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This hard-hitting police thriller is set in an English city renowned for its sea air, Regency buildings and – latterly – the Green-ness of its politics. It has also been a surprisingly popular setting for crime novels. Think Pinkie Brown, Roy Grace and Colin Crampton. We are talking, of course, about Brighton. Now we have a new character on the scene, in the shape of Joanne Howe, Detective Superintendent with Sussex police.

BFG coverThe plot hinges around a series of dire events in the life of Jo Howe’s boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Cooke. Already trying to keep his mind on the job while his wife is dying of cancer, fate deals him another cruel blow when his son Harry, a promising professional footballer, is murdered, seemingly a casualty in a drug turf war. He steps down, but then comes into contact with a shadowy group of apparent vigilantes, who tell him that Harry was not the clean-cut sporting hero portrayed in the local media – he was heavily into performance enhancing drugs. The vigilantes – whose business plan is to provide a highly illegal alternative police force, where customers pay for the quick results that the Sussex Constabulary seem unable to provide – blackmail Phil into standing in the election of Police and Crime Commissioner. He is forced to agree, and is elected.

Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse for Jo Howe and her team. As they try to get to the bottom of Harry Cooke’s murder, an arrest goes badly wrong, and one of her Detective Inspectors – Bob Heaton – kills the suspect with his baton. He is jailed. Howe realises that there is some kind of vigilantes-for-profit group at large and she organises a sting operation at a local pub. When the bad guys flee the scene the ensuing pursuit goes pear-shaped, an officer is badly injured and the targets escape. Then the vigilantes fire bomb the pub in retaliation, the landlord dies and Howe has a furious dressing down from her chief constable. All is not what it seems, however, and Graham Bartlett lets us know that people very high up in the senior ranks of the police are as crooked as the proverbial dog’s hind leg.

The vigilantes are operating under the banner of an ostensibly respectable security outfit, but both they and the police seem equally clueless as to the identity of Harry Cooke’s killer. Bob Heaton’s boyfriend Chris – aka ‘Crush’ – works for the security firm, and Jo Howe persuades Bob – now released from jail but jobless – to infiltrate the organisation. Harry Cooke’s killer is finally identified, and the race is on to see who can get to him first, the police or the vigilantes.

Screen Shot 2022-06-19 at 20.35.27Graham Bartlett (right) was a police officer for thirty years and mainly policed the city of Brighton and Hove, rising to become a Chief Superintendent and its police commander, so it is no accident that this is  a grimly authentic police procedural. It is also very topical as, away from the violence and entertaining mayhem, it focuses on the seemingly insoluble problem of the divide between the public’s expectations of policing, and what the force is actually able – or willing – to deliver. Bartlett doesn’t over-politicise his story but, reading between the lines – and I may be mistaken – I suspect he may feel that, with ever more limited resources, the police should not be so keen to divert valuable time and resources away from their core job of catching criminals. My view. and it may not be his, is that effusive virtue signaling by police forces in support of this or that social justice trend does them – nor most of us –  no favours at all.

Bad From Good is an excellent debut novel. I hope it heralds a long running series, and I eagerly await the follow-up. Published by Allison & Busby, the book is out in all formats on 23rd June.

THE KILLING OF BETSY BROWN . . . Horror comes to Whittlesey (3)

Artists impression

SO FAR – Cambridge, 1863. Whittlesey man John Green has been convicted at the Cambridge Winter Assizes of murdering Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Brown on the night of 11th/12th March, in the maltings behind the George and Star inn.

There was to be a final chapter in this horror story. While waiting for his rendezvous with Hangman Calcraft, Green asked to be allowed to make a full confession. It is highly unlikely that he was literate, so his solicitor, a Mr J. W. Wilders took his dictation, in the presence of the prison governor. It was grim stuff.

“Smedley and I locked up the malting on the night of the 11th March, about eight o’clock, and went together to the George and Star public-house, and I went into the store-room with Samuel Boyce to remove some forms up into the dancing room. At the time Boyce was taking the forms out of the store-room I drew a bucket full of gin from a puncheon in the same store-room. I then hid the pail of gin in corner behind some wood in the George and Star yard. I then went into the tap-room, where I saw Smedley, and told him what I had got.

Smedley and I then went together and took it to the malting and the malting door. I carried it, and he unlocked the door leading to the malting. When we got into the furnace room Smedley kept watch while I poured the gin into a stone jug covered by a whicker basket. We then sat down and drank a little, and then returned to the George and Star. Smedley said, “We won’t lock this (meaning the kiln door), as we may return again.: But we will lock the big gates.’

Smedley and I returned to the dancing room at the George and Star, and remained there until twelve o’clock, and I did not see Smedley afterwards. I then went down stairs into the tap-room and had some beer, and also some conversation with Elizabeth Brown and Ann MacDonald. About one o’clock in the morning the deceased, Mac Donald, and myself, went outside the George and Star door and had some conversation.

Elizabeth Brown said to me, “Can we get into the malting ?” and I said, “Yes, I have got a bottle of gin there,” and she replied, “Then let’s go.” She asked MacDonald to go with us, saying, “we shall have plenty to drink,’ and she said “No, one woman with one man is plenty;” and we  then left MacDonald and went round Mr. Waddelow’s by the Church wall, through the little gate into the George and Star yard which adjoins the malting premises, and got on to the cow crib over the wall on to the kilderkin into the malting yard in the manner described at my trial, and went into the kiln through the door which Smedley and I had left unlocked.

William-calcraftShe (Brown) was at that time smoking a long pipe, and when we got into the furnace room, I drew a quart pitcher full of gin out of the bottle, and sat down on the settle and drank most of it, if not all of it, both of us smoking. We had sat down for half hour, when I wanted to have connection with her, but she would not. I pulled her off the settle. She kicked and knocked about, and got hold of my hair, and I tried and tried as long as I could to have connection with her, and when she would not, I hit her on the body with my fists, and she fell on the floor. I then kicked her on the body more than once. She did not scream out. I then felt so bad that I did not know what to do, as I felt I had killed her. I stooped down and got hold of her and shook her, and I found that she was really dead. I then drank hearty of some gin.

There were some sacks lying on the settle which I took off and put round her, and set fire to them,  putting a shovel full of hot cinders on the sacks. I sat down on a block against the furnace and watched the burning. After I had watched the burning for about an hour, I got up and drank some more gin and stirred up the burning sacks. I then sat down again and went off to sleep, I expect. When I woke and got up from the block, I was so stifled with the smoke that I did not know where to go, and at last I found the door in the coke place leading into the yard, and got out and over the wall and went running home.”

John Green was hanged at 9.00 am on Saturday 2nd January, 1864. The hangman was William Calcraft (above left)



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THE KILLING OF BETSY BROWN . . . Horror comes to Whittlesey (2)

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SO FAR – March 1863. The remains of the body of Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Brown have been found in the furnace room of Thomas Whyles’ maltings in Whittlesey. A young man named John Green has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

The customary sequence of events in these sad affairs began. First, the coroner’s inquest. It was here – and the subsequent verbatim accounts in the newspapers – that the true horror of what had happened to Betsy Brown became known to the citizens of Whittlesey and thousands more across the region.

The first medical man on the scene at Whyles’ maltings had been a man called Robert Crisp, a surgeon. This was his testimony, and it is not for the faint-hearted.

Testimony 1

The police, who had been holding John Green in custody since his arrest on the morning of 12th March also testified that his clothes bore the smell of smoke, and a small patch of his hair was singed by coming into contact with extreme heat. The coroner’s jury took little time in finding Green guilty of murder, which he denied, insisting that he had gone home and was in bed by midnight. He was remanded in custody, and sent for trial at the next Assizes in Cambridge.

By the time of Betsy Brown’s murder County Assize courts were held three times a year, and named Spring, Summer and Winter. These were serious affairs for serious misdemeanours, which were anything from theft of valuable items up to murder. They were presided over by circuit judges who were senior members of the legal profession. Normally, John Green would have been tried at the Summer Assizes, as the preliminary court hearings came just too late for the Spring Assizes, but another complication to to the case meant a delay.

This complication was the police’s concern that John Green’s friend, William Smedley (Wyles’ head maltster) was involved in the death of Betsy Brown. As a key holder to the premises, he certainly conspired to make the premises available to Green for what he, Green, hoped would be a night of passion with Betsy Brown. But was he involved more deeply? In the event Smedley was also arrested, and it wasn’t until 18th December that the pair came to stand trial.

Screen Shot 2022-06-15 at 20.14.00The presiding judge was Sir Samuel Martin QC (1801-1883), Anglo-Irish Baron of the Exchequer (left). The first thing he did was to dismiss all charges against William Smedley. He said:

“Gentlemen, the two prisoners are charged upon an indictment — one (Green) with having of malice aforethought murdered Elizabeth Brown ; the other (Smedley) with having harboured the said Green, knowing him to have committed the murder. Now as to Smedley, there is no evidence against him worthy of your consideration. This is a question of law to be decided by the judge, and I at once tell you you must acquit the man. And further, I feel bound to say there was no pretence for ever putting the man upon his trial. It is the first time in my experience a man has been put upon his trial in this way with another charged with murder. Having this strong opinion, I feel bound to express it, and I repeat he ought not to have been put upon his trial here.”

Smedley was free to go, but John Green was not so fortunate. The jury took a mere ten minutes to find him guilty. The newspapers of the day had  a great sense of drama and theatre when reporting such things, and this what one reporter wrote:


A confession, and the full horror is revealed

THE KILLING OF BETSY BROWN . . . Horror comes to Whittlesey (1)

Artists impression

In 1863 The George and Star inn was, as it is today, the biggest in Whittlesey. It changed its name by dropping the Star several years after the events described in this story. Behind the inn was a maltings owned by Thomas Whyles, described in the 1861 census as ‘Corn merchant and miller.’ His house was in Church Street. Two other town residents acted out their parts in this drama. Elizabeth Brown was known as ‘Betsy’. The newspapers gave her age as 36, but the 1861 census gives us two Elizabeth Browns, one aged 24 living in Scaldgate, and another aged 39 in Private Road. You can take your pick as to which was ‘our’ Betsy Brown. Both were described as labourers, but  if truth be told, the Betsy who features in this story supplemented her income by being, as my grandmother used to say, ‘no better than she ought to be’. She was described as ‘a tall dark woman with coarse features, high cheek bones and black hair : she had led an abandoned life for some time.’

Just a few streets away,  in what was known then as Inham’s End, 24 year-old John Green – who worked for Thomas Whyles –  lived with his wife Martha and daughters Mary and Harriet. He was described thus in a newspaper report. “He is a married man with three children; is 25 years of age, rather tall, with dark hair and pale face, has no whiskers, and is of slight but muscular build.”

John Green 1861

On the evening of Wednesday 11th March, John Green was drinking in the tap room of the George and Star, along with – amongst others – a man called Smedley, who was head maltster for Thomas Whyles – and Betsy Brown. Smedley was to play – literally – a key role in this affair, as he had a key to the maltings, and John Green, as the night’s drinking intensified was paying court to Betsy Brown and, aware of her reputation, needed somewhere private to take her, should she go along with his plans.

At some point in the evening, Betsy Brown’s mother, perhaps having some kind of premonition or sixth sense that her daughter was in danger, arrived at the inn and tried to persuade Betsy to come , home, but she refused. About half past midnight, Green, Betsy Brown and a woman called Ann MacDonald left the inn, and Green said, pointing to the maltings, “Come along, we shall have some beer.” MacDonald, well aware of what Green’s intentions were, replied, ““No, one woman with one man is plenty;”

At this point, it is necessary to explain briefly what happened in a maltings. The process of malting grain for beer and whisky making involves three main steps. The first is soaking the barley – also known as steeping – to awaken the dormant grain. Next, the grain is allowed to germinate and sprout. Finally, heating or kilning the barley produces its final color and flavor. The kiln was used to produce hot air which would be passed under the bed of grain so that it dried out evenly. In Whyle’ maltings the place where the kiln stood was referred to as the furnace room.

At about six o’clock on the morning of Thursday 12th March, John Green was seen by a man called Robert Cunnington, Green was heading towards his home. When Smedley arrived at work a little later, he entered the furnace room to be greeted by a horrific sight. Against a door was a body with the head resting against the door. The door was burning, and there was smoke issuing from the lap and chest of the body. Smedley’s first reaction was to get water and pour it on the body, but it was too little too late. Other workers – including Cunnington – arrived. The body was removed to the pump room, and Smedley expressed a fear that the body was that of his “silly mate” Green, but Cunnington informed him that he had recently seen Green, alive and well, heading for his home.

The Police were fetched and immediate enquiries revealed that if the body was not that of John Green, it must be that of Betsy Brown. The  body was only recognized by keys found in the pocket of the what remained of the dress, and a ring of buffalo-horn worn by her. Remarkably, John Green turned up for work as usual that morning, and after a cap similar to the one he generally wore was found near the spot where Betsy Brown’s body body was discovered, he was arrested. Superintendent Smith later gave this account:

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I went into the pump-room shortly after seven o’clock on the morning of the 12th, the finding of tinder of burnt sacks, part of woman’s crinoline petticoat, from which I drew a piece of cane, and the state in which I found the window. About a quarter to eight I went with Mr. Whyle to the top floor, where Green was turning the kiln. Mr. Whyle told him to halt for a minute. Green looked towards us, and turned very pale and confused.

I said to him, “What time did you leave the malting last night ?’ and he replied ” Sir, sir, about half-past eight, sir.” I asked him what time he went home, and he replied, ” I went into the George and Star, and had a pint of beer with my mate, and was at home and in bed by eleven o’clock.“, I said, Did you see anything of Elizabeth Brown last night ?” and he paused, and said “I did see her in the George and Star tap-room, but never saw her afterwards.”

I took the prisoner into custody shortly before nine o’clock. He was then working a cistern below. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “John Green, I apprehend you on suspicion of having caused the death of one Elizabeth Brown, found burning the kiln-house of this malting.” Prisoner shrunk down, and said ” Oh, pray don’t, pray don’t.” I assisted him over the wall, and took him to the police station. His whole frame trembled as he walked along. At that time I observed a piece of skin had been recently knocked off the ridge of his nose. Green said, “I did not know it was there.” There was also a small scratch on the bottom lip. I searched him, and from his trousers pocket took a canvas purse, now produced, which had then a very strong smell of burning.”

The full horror is revealed to the Coroner
A confession
An appointment with Mr Calcraft

ON MY SHELF . . . June 2022

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NOBODY’S AGENT by Stuart Field

Stuart Field Author PictureThis thriller is set in Finchley – not Mrs Thatcher’s old baileywick but a fictional (I believe) small town in upstate New York, where three bodies are discovered in an old mine. The local Sheriff is out of his depth, and asks the FBI for help. They persuade a former agent, Ronin Nash to take the case, but he discovers the town has a big secret which powerful people will go to any lengths to protect. The author tells us:

“Born in the West Midlands, Great Britain. Later I joined the armed forces where after 22 years of fun and adventure I left to start as a writer. Married with a daughter I still have not grown up which helps with the imagination. Love to travel and experience other cultures. Love to love life.”

Nobody’s Agent is published by Next Chapter and is available now.

LISTEN TO ME by Tess Gerritsen

Screen Shot 2022-06-10 at 20.48.18Detective Jane Rizzoli and Forensic Pathologist Maura Isles are, I think, crime fiction’s only female duo of investigators. They are certainly the best known, and the Massachusetts pair have a twelve book series (this is the thirteenth) and a popular TV show behind them. Here, they investigate the murder of a much loved nurse, Sofia Suarez, a woman much loved in the community and – seemingly – no enemies. In a parallel plot strand, Jane’s mother Angela is embarking on an investigation of her own, and it is one that will plunge both her and her daughter into danger. Published by Bantam (hardback) this will be out on 7th July.

HAWK MOUNTAIN by Conner Habib

Screen Shot 2022-06-10 at 20.49.28Described as a literary thriller, Hawk Mountain tells the story of a thirty-something man – Todd –  who is accidentally re-united with his high school tormentor. The Jack of old seems to be a reformed character, warm, radiant and sorry for his youthful misdemeanours. But is he? And was the chance reunion accidental at all? Cue a spiral of menace and entrapment which plumbs the very worst parts of the human psyche. Perhaps I don’t get out as much as I should, but I think this is the first thriller written by a former adult movie performer. He says:

“I’m the host of the podcast Against Everyone with Conner Habib, an author, a lecturer, and a sex workers’ rights advocate. I give lectures around the world about sexuality, spirituality, pornography, science, and art.”

Hawk Mountain is a Penguin book and will be out as a Kindle, audiobook and paperback on 21st July.


HallidayI missed From The Shadows, the first book in the DI Monica Kennedy series, but thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed the second, Dark Waters. Now, DI Kennedy returns with a case involving a serial killer – Pauline Tosh – who is jailed for life. When Tosh requests a visit, and hands Kennedy a sketch map of a remote marshy area with crosses marking the last resting places of more victims, the police officer is forced to take it seriously. What ensues creates a nightmare for the police and the relatives of long lost victims. Halliday creates a Scottish highlands which is a far cry from the glorious mountain vistas and the romantic skirl of the pipes. It is a place of dark secrets, bestial human behaviour and a landscape where the very stones are steeped in blood. Under The Marsh is a Vintage publication and will be on sale from 21st July.

THE WILL by Rebecca Reid

Screen Shot 2022-06-10 at 20.51.39‘The Reading of the Will’ used to be a standard trope in crime fiction years ago. Picture the scene, preferably in black and white. The fusty old solicitor addresses the family, gathered in the library of a stately old house. What he announces sets up the plot of the novel/film, and pitches different family members against each other. Rebecca Reid revives this chestnut, and gives it a modern slant, when the family of the recently deceased Cecily Mordaunt gather in Norfolk at Roxborough Hall, each hoping to leave the scene as significant beneficiaries of the old lady. Of course there is disappointment and joy – which will lead to chicanery and revenge. Rebecca Reid is a freelance journalist. She graduated from Royal Holloway’s Creative Writing MA in 2015. She is the author of Perfect Liars, Truth Hurts, Two Wrongs and The Power of Rude. The Will is her latest book, and joins two of the other novels in this post in being published on 21st July.

THE FEVER OF THE WORLD . . . Between the covers

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It seems like half a lifetime since there was a Merrily Watkins novel – it was All of a Winter’s Night back in 2017 (click the title to read my review) and there has been one hell of a lot of water under the bridge for all of us since then including, sadly, Phil Rickman suffering serious illness. His many fans will join me in hoping that he is on the mend, and at last we have a new book! Old Ledwardine hands won’t need reminding, but for newcomers this graphic may be helpful.


Now, as another celebrated solver of mysteries once said, “The game’s afoot!” We are in relatively modern times, March 2020, and the Covid Curse has begun to cast its awful spell. The senior Anglican clergy, including the Bishop of Hereford, are relentlessly determined to be woker than woke, and have decided that exorcism – or, to use the other term, deliverance – is the stuff or the middle ages, and clergy are being advised to refer any strange events to the NHS mental health teams. This, of course, puts Merrily Watkins’ ‘night job’ under threat. She and her mentor Huw Owen know that some people experience events which cannot simply be the result of their poor mental health.

The Merrily Watkins novels have a template. This is not to say they are formulaic in a derogatory sense. The template involves a crime – most often a murder or mysterious death. This is investigated by the West Mercia police, usually in the form of Inspector Frannie Bliss. The investigation then reveals what appear to be supernatural or paranormal characteristics, which then secures the involvement of the Rev. Merrily Watkins, vicar of Ledwardine.

Here, a prominent Hereford estate agent and enthusiastic rock climber, Peter Portis, has plummeted to his death from one of the peaks of a Wye Valley rock formation known as The Seven Sisters. A tragic accident? Perhaps. A parallel plot develops. In another parish, the vicar – a former TV actor called Arlo Ripley – has asked Merrily for help. One of his flock has reported seeing the spectre of a young girl and isn’t sure what to do. Enter, stage left, William Wordsworth. Not in person, obviously, but on a visit to the Wye Valley, the poet apparently met a young girl who claimed she could communicate with her dead siblings. The result was his poem We are Seven. That, and Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey are the spine of this novel. Click the titles, and you will see the full texts of the poems. The girl who has entered the life of Maya Madden – a TV producer renting a cottage in the village of Goodrich – seems to be one and the same as Wordsworth’s muse.

Enter, stage right, another Hereford copper, David Vaynor. Nicknamed ‘Darth’ by his boss Frannie Bliss, he is an unusual chap. For starters, he has  a PhD in English literature, and his thesis was based on Wordsworth’s time in Herefordshire. To add to the strangeness, while he was researching his work, he went into what is known as King Arthur’s Cave, a natural cavity in the rock close to where Portis met his end. While he was in there, he has a residual memory of sinking – exhausted – into what was a natural rock chair – and then being visited by a succubus.¹

Yes, yes, – the poor lad was tired, a bit hormonal and having bad dreams. But wait. As Vaynor is doing his job, and interviewing those who knew Portis, he meets his daughter in law, and she reminds him horribly of the woman he ‘met’ on that fateful afternoon in King Arthur’s Cave.

This has everything Merrily Watkins fans – and newcomers to the series – could want. A deep sense of unease, matchless atmosphere – the funeral held in fading light in a virtually disused churchyard, for example – the wonderful ambiguity of Rickman’s approach to the supernatural – we never actually see the phantoms, but we are aware that other people have – the wonderful repertory company of characters who interact so well, and also a deep sense that the past is never far away. There is also a palpable sense of irony that ‘the fever of the world’ is not just a metaphor from a Wordsworth poem, but was actually happening as the coronavirus took hold.

The Fever of the World is published by Corvus/Atlantic books and is out now.

¹A succubus is a demon or supernatural entity in folklore, in female form, that appears in dreams to seduce men, usually through sexual activity.

THE WHITE HORSE MURDER . . . A brutal killing in a Lincolnshire market town (2)


SO FAR – Market Deeping, Lincolnshire. September 1922. On Wednesday 20th, 18 year-old Ivy Dora D’Arcy had married her sweetheart, George Prentice. On the following Monday, her widowed mother Edith – landlady of The White Horse – was to remarry. At around 9.00pm on Saturday 23rd, Edith, Ivy, her sister Gertrude, and Edith’s soon-to-be daughter in law Eva are examining wedding presents in a back parlour, lit only by a candle. As ever, what happened next is vividly described by a local newspaper:

Blurb 1

At the coroner’s inquest on Monday 25th September, Edith D’Arcy explained that she was now Mrs Kitchener. Her new husband’s rather hard-hearted employers The Great Northern Railway Company, had refused to extend his leave of absence despite the tragedy, and so they had been married just an hour or so before arriving at the inquest. They are pictured below.

Mum arrives

Barely managing to keep her composure, she told the court that in the darkness, no-one realised what had actually happened. She said:

“Gertrude cried, “Bring a light, Ivy has been shot. I got some matches and lit the gas, and I saw them lifting Ivy onto a chair. She was smothered in blood, and a big clot of blood as big as my hand lay on her lap.”

What she saw was described in more chillingly anatomical terms by the doctor who was called to the scene:

“Dr. Benson stated that he was called to The White Horse Hotel soon after 9.20, on Saturday evening. Deceased was dead on his arrival. Her clothing was saturated with blood, and there was a 2½ inches by 3 inches wound on the left breast, whilst several ribs were smashed. A large cavity was formed In the thorax. The full charge from the gun had entered her chest at close range, from close range. Death was instantaneous, and due to haemorrage and shock. The wound was consistent with having been caused by the charge of a sporting gun such as that produced.”

It is almost impossible to imagine the devastating effect this murder would have had on George Prentice. For three days he had a lovely young wife with the promise of children and years of happiness. Because of an instant of jealous rage, those dreams lay in tatters. He is pictured below, the man on the right, supported by a friend, arriving at the inquest.

George arrives cropped

Worse was to come for George Prentice. He had to watch as his young wife was lowered into the ground on Wednesday 27th September while the solemn words of the burial sentences were intoned.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord : he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet Shall He live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

It is hardly surprising that the occasion was too much for George Prentice to bear.

Husbands Collapse

Ivy’s grave is very weathered, but can still be found in Market Deeping cemetery.

Ivy Dora Prentice smaller

FRANK FOWLERScreen Shot 2022-06-07 at 20.39.30

As for Fowler, (pictured left, leaving the inquest) he was clearly as guilty as sin. In his mind he had painted a picture in which he and Ivy D’Arcy were destined to be man and wife, despite the lack of any encouragement on her part. He was sent for trial at the autumn assizes in Lincoln, and it wasn’t until the jury found him guilty of murder, and the death sentence had been imposed by Mr Justice Lush  that his defence team  decided to ask for a  a repeal on the grounds of insanity. This was rejected, and Fowler was booked in for an appointment with the formidable Thomas Pierrepoint, (right). 13th December 1922 was a bad day for Lincolnshire, as the double execution despatched two men of the county, Fowler and a man called George Robinson who had murdered another 18 year-old girl in Dorrington.

Double Execution

As for Fowler’s motivation, one has to accept Edith Kitchener’s statement that there was never anything between Fowler and her late daughter. Whatever relationship there was must have existed purely in his own head. At the time of the shooting he was heard to say, “Now I’ve had my revenge.” He had determined that if he couldn’t have Ivy Dora D’Arcy, then no-one would.

These stories would wander interminably if we followed the future lives of the surviving participants, but thanks to Chris Berry, whose family tree Ivy D’Arcy is part of, I can add that George Prentice married again in 1927, to a woman called Florence Taylor. He died in October 1960, leaving the tidy sum of £20315 which is close on £330000 in today’s money. Edith and William Kitchener were recorded as living in Tallington in the 1939 register. She died in the spring of 1945, aged 75, while William died in the spring of 1951.


Imp copy

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