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THE GUNS OF AUGUST . . . A tragic mystery from 1889 Stratford-on-Avon (2)

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SO FAR: Stratford-on-Avon, Monday 19th August 1889. A German gentleman, J. Lachmann von Gamsenfels, with his wife and young daughter had obtained rooms in a cottage on the Tiddington Road, owned by a Mrs Freeman. At breakfast time, Mrs Freeman heard gunshots. She ran for help from her neighbour, and the police were called. When they forced an entrance into the rented room, a scene of almost unimaginable horror faced the two officers:

The discovery

Three dead bodies. A scene almost beyond the imagining of Shakespeare himself. Why would an apparently sane and reserved man murder his wife and daughter? He was also in possession of two different guns Turning one of them on himself after such an atrocity is not unheard of in the annals of crime, but the story was about to become even more baffling.

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Investigations proved that Lachmann von Gamsenfels (pictured above) was who he said he was. A man, born in Prague, thus a Bohemian. The history of that area is immensely complex, and there is no time for it here. Yes, he had connections with the German language newspaper The Londoner Journal, but was he the editor,or just the printer?

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Screen Shot 2023-01-19 at 18.23.24What threw the investigation on its head was the fact that the woman who died in that Stratford cottage was not von Gamsenfels wife, although the dead child was probably his. By examining the dead man’s possessions, the police discovered that his legal wife was a Mrs Rosanna Lachmann von Gamsenfels, and that their marriage was somewhat unusual. He was absent from the family home for months on end, but always gave his wife money for the upkeep of their son. Mrs Lachmann von Gamsenfels traveled up to Stratford to identify her husband’s body, but was either unable- or unwilling – to put names to the dead woman and girl. Try as they may, the authorities were unable to put names to the woman and girl who were shot dead on that fateful Monday morning. Artists’ impressions of ‘Mrs von Gamsenfels” were published (left) but she and her daughter left the world unknown, and if anyone mourned them, they kept silent.

A Christian burial was all that awaited the dead woman and her child. The scene was the churchyard of nearby Alveston:

“Subsequently the bodies were enclosed in three separate coffins, which were conveyed to Alveston Parish Church in the Workhouse hearse. The plate of the coffin containing Gamsenfels bore his name and the date of his death, but there were no names or inscriptions any kind on the coffins of the woman and child, as, at the time of burial, they had not been identified. Several pretty wreaths were sent by sympathising friends in the parish; and upon the coffin of the woman were placed a piece of weeping willow and a faded rose, gathered from Anne Hathaway’s cottage garden in Shottery. No burial service was read over the corpse of Gamsenfels. The coffin was carried direct to the grave and lowered into the ground without any religious ceremony whatever. The Rev. W. Barnard (vicar of Alveston) and the Rev. J. Ashton (curate) met the bodies of the woman and child the church gates, and the usual burial service was gone through. A large crowd from Stratford and the district congregated in the neighbourhood of the Tiddington Road, had witnessed the ceremony at the church.”

Alveston

The mystery of the identities of the dead woman and child remains unsolved to this day. For another Warwickshire unsolved mystery, click the link to read about the murder of Charles Walton, just ten miles away from Stratford in 1945.

FOR MORE HISTORICAL MURDERS
IN WARWICKSHIRE, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Harraden, Richard Bankes, 1778-1862; Warwick Castle

 

THE GUNS OF AUGUST . . . A tragic mystery from 1889 Stratford-on-Avon (1)

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August 1889. Stratford-on-Avon was not crowded with jostling tourists from all over the world, nor was there a Midlands coach tour tick-list including Oxford, Bourton on the Water and Warwick Castle. It was altogether a much quieter town than it is today, but awareness of its greatest son had yet to draw in visitors from America, Japan and countless other countries determined to “do” Shakespeare. Elizabeth Freeman was a widow, and she offered rooms to rent in her riverside cottage on the Tiddington Road. When, on the afternoon of Thursday 15th August, an impeccably dressed foreign gentleman, accompanied by his wife and daughter, asked for rooms, she was only too pleased to oblige. A newspaper, retrospectively, described the visitors:

“It would seem that on Thursday last a German gentleman who gave his name as J. Lachmann von Gamsenfels arrived from London and engaged lodgings at a small cottage occupied by a widow named Freeman overlooking the river Avon river on the Tiddington road.
The gentleman who, it has transpired, was the editor of a German newspaper published in London as the Londoner Journal was accompanied by a lady, whom he said was his wife and by their child, a little girl of four or five years of age. Apparently he was a man in a good position and well dressed, wearing a black frock coat and a silk hat. His wife and child were also tastefully dressed, the lady being a particularly fine handsome woman
They appeared to be on the best of terms with each other and were quite cheerful in disposition.
Mrs Gamsenfels looked like an actress or professional singer and subsequently in conversation Mrs Gamsenfels herself confirmed that surmise, stating that she was connected with the stage and had last year “got up” concerts in the Isle of Man and other places.”

Old Stratford

On Friday morning, Mr Gamsenfels and his companion and child went out for a walk, but before doing so he paid Mrs Freeman’s bill, as he said he was not quite sure whether they would return. However, they did return in the evening, and Mr Gamsenfels announced that they had determined to stay in Stratford a few days longer. There were then no signs of any quarrel having taken place, and they were quite cheerful and talkative, the two conversing chiefly in German. Mrs Freeman observed that the lady was much more sociable than her husband, who appeared to be somewhat reserved.

That the party were short of money, however, had become apparent. Mrs Freeman had remarked upon the small quantity of provisions consumed, and further proof was given on Saturday night by the fact, that when Mrs Freeman fetched a loaf at the request of Mrs Gamsenfels, the latter had no money to pay for it, and they wanted nothing for tea beyond a few biscuits and some Hungarian wine, two bottles of which they had brought with them.

On Sunday again they went out, morning and afternoon, and on returning in the evening, they all had nothing for tea except some Hungarian wine, and after a light supper they retired bed, apparently in good spirits and temper. On Monday morning, however, about half-past eight o’clock, while Mrs Freeman was preparing breakfast, she was startled by hearing two gun shots fired in rapid succession in the bed room occupied by her lodgers She went to the foot the staircase and called out,

” What’s the matter ; what are you doing ?”

Receiving no reply, she became alarmed, and ran to the neighbour next door, a Mr Jones, who was sitting at breakfast with his family. It was probably while she was out that the third shot was fired. the one which killed the man himself – but Mrs Freeman only heard two. She told Mr Jones what she feared, and he immediately ran for the police, whilst his son was despatched for a doctor. Police Sergeant Northam and Police-Constable Price were quickly on the spot, and receiving no response to their inquiries at the bed room door they forced an entrance.

IN PART TWO:
‘A FEARFUL TRAGEDY PRESENTED ITSELF”
ALVESTON CHURCHYARD
AN ENDURING MYSTERY
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DEATH RIDE . . . Between the covers

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I can’t think of another modern crime writer who does truly despicable villains quite like Nick Oldham. His years policing the semi-derelict housing estates behind the candy-floss, donkey rides and silly hat persona of Blackpool’s seafront taught him that the feral inhabitants thrown up by these estates are not victims of social injustice or poverty; neither are they the product of years of exploitation by cruel capitalists. No. In short, they are absolute bastards, and no amount of hugging by wet-behind-the-ears social workers will make them anything else. In Death Ride, Oldham introduces us to as vile a group of criminals as he has ever created. Led by Lenny Lennox, they are ruthless predators; pickpocketing, catalytic converters, dog-napping, abduction, sexual assault – and murder – frame their lives.

We meet them at a country fair in retired copper Henry Christie’s home village, Kendleton – high on the Lancashire moors – where he runs the local pub. While Lenny Lennox serves burgers from his catering van, his son and three other youngsters pick pockets, steal cameras and strip high end vehicles of their valuable exhaust systems. Ernest Lennox, however has gone a bit further, and abducted a teenage girl who resisted his advances, and to cover up his son’s stupidity Lennox senior has to take drastic action.

Christie has recently been used as a civilian consultant by his former employers, and his last case ended with him being brutally stabbed and left for dead. When the hunt for the missing girl – Charlotte Kirkham – becomes a race against time, Christie, partly crippled by his knife wounds, is drawn into the hunt. I am reminded of the words of Tennyson in his magnificent poem Ulysses:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

In rather blunter terms, Oldham writes:

“If Henry was honest with himself, he felt the urge to drag Lennox out of the burger van and smash his face again, just for old times’ sake, even though he knew he didn’t have the physicality to put that desire into action.

The Lennox gang create carnage in Christie’s life – and the lives of those he loves – but about three quarters of the way through the book, there is an abrupt change of scene, and we are reunited with two characters from Christie’s past – FBI agent Karl Donaldson and ex special forces maverick, Steve Flynn. They say that revenge is both sweet and best served cold. Suffice it to say that Henry Christie enjoys his gelato.

The Henry Christie books have always had plenty of action and their fair share of grit and gore, but on this occasion, be warned. Nick Oldham goes into Derek Raymond territory here, with a dark and  terrifying novel which explores the depths of human malice and depravity. Death Ride is published by Severn House and will be available from 7th March. For more about Nick Oldham and the Henry Christie books, click the image below.

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HIDDEN CRIMES . . . Between the covers

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This is the 11th in the series featuring the life and crimes of Detective Sophie Allen. She has now reached the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent, and is heading up a new regional crime squad based in the ancient kingdom of Wessex. Their stamping ground is not dissimilar to the area portrayed in the lovely map which used to be the frontispiece in editions of Thomas Hardy’s novels. Equally helpful is Michael Hambling’s list of police characters at the front of his book.

Wessex

A consultant surgeon and her husband are out walking on the hills above the village of Millhead St Leonard, when they get caught in a rapidly descending mist. While there is no danger from stumbling into a ravine – this is gentle countryside – it is unsettling, and even more so when Miriam Boateng hears a scream, and then catches sight of two figures in the murk just ahead of her. One is definitely being pursued by the other. She reports this to the police, but it is not until a few days later, when a young farm worker out repairing fences finds a dead body, that it becomes obvious that what Boateng saw was the prelude to a savage crime. WeSCU springs into action, and moves in to the Millhead village hall to begin a major investigation. They soon identify the  corpse as that of Bridget Kirkbride, a single woman living with Grant, her college-age son in a remote part of the village.

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Michael Hambling (left) has already given us a little teaser in the first couple of pages, when we meet  as she is preparing to set out on what was to become her last journey. When Grant’s body is found caught up in reeds on the edge of the River Severn in Gloucester, the case becomes more complex, particularly so when the post mortem reveals that he died some days before his mother was killed. Hambling sets out the building blocks of a classic whodunnit, and challenges us to put them together in the correct sequence.

The residents of Millhead are, of course, unlike real life villagers, but this is why we suspend disbelief and buy crime novels. Amongst others, we have a pair of Mrs and Mrs lesbians who hold rather unconventional soirées for their close friends, a rather starchy vicar who is abducted half way through the book, and a ‘lovable rogue’ character who is a poacher and a party gate-crasher. I hope I’m not giving the impression that Hidden Crimes is some sort of Sunday evening TV comfy crime caper. It certainly is not, and parts of it are sombre and unsettling. The whodunnit aspect of the book ends well before the end (75% through on my Kindle), so the sense of mystery does rather evaporate, and the police pursuit ends in the less-than-idyllic streets of Wolverhampton when Sophie Allen is reunited with a criminal from one of her earlier cases.

The book cover is an artist’s impression of the celebrated view down Gold Hill, Shaftsbury, but the tone of the book is neither comfortable nor romantic, as befits a story which reveals the evils – and consequences – of child abuse. Hidden Crimes is a classic police procedural novel and it is played out on the hauntingly beautiful backdrop of the Wessex landscape. It is published by Joffe Books and is available now.

“SHE WOULD HAVE BIT ME TO PIECES, SO I HAD TO FINISH HER”. . . The murder of Hannah Middleton (2)

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HannahSO FAR: On the evening of 10th/11th May 1902, Foxlydiate couple Samuel and Hannah Middleton had been having a protracted and violent argument. At 3.30 am the alarm was given that their cottage was on fire. When the police were eventually able to enter what was left of the cottage there was little left of Hannah Middleton (left, in a newspaper likeness) but a charred corpse. Samuel Middleton was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife. The coroner’s inquest heard that one of the technical problems was that Hannah Middleton’s body had been so destroyed by the fire that a proper examination was impossible.

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Screen Shot 2023-01-07 at 19.18.43Samuel Middleton was sent for trial at the summer assizes in Worcester. Assize courts were normally held three or four times a year in the county towns around the country, and were presided over by a senior judge. These courts were were for the more serious crimes which could not be dealt with my local magistrate courts. At the end of June, Samuel Middleton stood before Mr Justice Wright (left) and the proceedings were relatively short. The only fragile straw Middleton’s defence barristers could cling to was the lesser charge of manslaughter. Middleton had repeatedly said, in various versions, that his wife had clung to him with the intention of doing him harm – “She would have bit me to pieces, so I had to finish her.” It was clear to both judge and jury, however, that Middleton had battered his wife over the head with a poker, and then set fire to the cottage in an attempt to hide the evidence.  Mr Justice Wright delivered the inevitable verdict with due solemnity.

Verdict

On the morning of Tuesday 15th July 1902, within the walls of Worcester gaol, the wheels of British justice, with the assistance of executioner John Billington, made their final turn in the case of Samuel Middleton. Public executions ended in 1867, but newspaper reporters were granted certain levels of access, and what they couldn’t actually see, they made sure their readers had full access to their imaginative skills.

“The Press representatives had full leisure to observe all these details while they were waiting for the arrival of tbe procession. The time went slowly for the waiters, but too fast, alas, for the wretched criminal awaiting his doom in the condemned cell. The minutes went by, till at length the warder flung open the huge gates, which extend the whole length of the wall, and let in a flood of summer sunshine. The sad procession made its appearance by a door on the opposite side of the yard, descended the few steps, and slowly crossed to the place of execution. The Chaplain, the Rev. R. R. Needham, headed the cortege, and was closely followed by the condemned man, his arms pinioned behind him, and supported by a warder on either side. His face was deathly pale, and his eyes had a terrified expression, but otherwise he appeared quite calm. Others in the procession were the Governor of the Prison (Mr. H. B. Lethbridge), tbe Under-Sheriff of the County (Mr. W. P. Hughes), the surgeon (Mr. L. J. Wilding), Ald. J. Millington (one of the Visiting Justices), Chief Warder Gibson, and other warders, and the Sheriff’s officer.”

“Arriving at the death-chamber, Middleton was assisted on to the trap doors, and in a moment Billington and his assistants, two young, active men, had the noose affixed and the strap securely bound round the man’s legs. All this while Middleton made no sound or sign. The white cap was pulled down over his head, Billington sprang to the lever, gave a sharp pull, the doors flew open, and the miserable man’s body plunged down into the pit. There was a jerk, the rope vibrated for a few seconds, and then all was still. Middleton had paid the penalty of his crime.”

“As soon as the body disappeared, the Rev. R. R. Needham read a few sentences from the Burial Service, while the prison bell tolled, conveying to the waiting throng outside an intimation that the last act in the tragedy had been accomplished. The Chaplain’s voice sounded unsteady as he read the words of awful import, but he proceeded to the end. Then slowly the spectators filed out, giving one glance down the pit as they passed at the motionless, white-capped figure, the rope taut round the neck, and the head bent on to the shoulder a a horrible angle.”

In a bizarre postscript, Middleton’s official criminal record includes the  charge of destroying the cottage in which he lived, and the one occupied by Mrs Hassall.

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FOR MORE HISTORICAL MURDER CASES, CLICK HERE

“SHE WOULD HAVE BIT ME TO PIECES, SO I HAD TO FINISH HER”. . . The murder of Hannah Middleton (1)

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The hamlets of Foxlydiate and Webheath were, in 1902, still separate entities, but are now just part of Redditch. The word ‘lydiate’ is not uncommon in English place names, and it comes from Old English Hlid-geat, pronounced Lidyat, meaning swing-gate. The 1901 census shows that near to Springhill Farm, three adjacent cottages housed three people who were to lay significant roles in events a year later.

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At 164 lived Samuel Middleton, his wife Hannah and their adult son William. Next door was an elderly widow, Harriet Hassall, and at 166 were Thomas and Lara Drew and their five children. Samuel Middleton was 47, and his wife 50. She was from Stow in Oxfordshire, and had married Samuel in 1879. He was born in Bentley, just a mile away from Foxlydiate. On the evening of 10th May 1902 the Middletons were in the middle of one of the violent arguments which had become all too common in recent months. Crockery was thrown and, fearing for her safety, Hannah Middleton ran the few hundred yards up the road to The Fox and Goose Inn. Landlord Herbert Chambers took Hannah back to the cottage, and later testified that the exchange was along these lines:
Middleton, “He’d better not come in here, or I’ll serve him the same.”
Chambers, “You’d better not do that, Sam.”
Middleton, “Come on then ..”
Chambers, “You’d be best governing your temper, Sam”.
Middleton, “No, I’ll do for the lot.”
Chambers later testified that Middleton was not drunk, and that he was normally a peaceable man, but rather eccentric. Such was the proximity of the neighbouring cottages that the rows between the Middletons were something of a public event, and Laura Drew was concerned about Hannah’s safety. A newspaper reported her version of events.

Mrs Drew

Both cottages – back to back as they were – were destroyed by the fire, as was Hannah Middleton. A few days later, at the coroner’s inquest, witnesses were able to piece together the events.

Joseph Worskett, gamekeeper to Lord Windsor, said Middleton came to his house (where William Middleton was living) at Bentley at 3.30 am and called him through the window. Middleton called out, “Tell Will his mother’s nearly dead,” and went off.

William Middleton said he had heard Middleton frequently threaten his mother during the last two or three months. Inspector Hayes said the police, and fire brigade arrived at the cottages at five am on the morning of 11th May. Loose straw was littered in a continuous trail from the pig-stye to the house, and there were burnt ends around the door. Witness and two firemen discovered what they thought were human remains, on the brick floor. Portions of a woman’s clothing were buttoned at the back. Police Constable Lyes said a pair of tongs and part of a poker were lying about two feet from the body. The head of a large axe (weighing five or six pounds) was found on the floor in a room adjoining. The broken end of the poker lay close to it. A bill-hook was near the axe-head in the front room.

Later in the day, a roadman called James Tyler, was working in Trench lane, between Himbleton and Droitwich, when Middleton came and said, “Where am I going?”
Tyler said Where do you want to go?”
Middleton replied, “Anywhere, anywhere. I have killed the wife; they will soon catch me.”

Police Constable Bird found the prisoner the same evening sitting in Trench lane, and asked him what time he left Foxlydiate. He said had not left it, but when asked if his name were not Samuel Middleton he said, “I suppose it must be,” and asked where he was be taken. Police Sergeant Howard said prisoner while being taken from Bromsgrove to Redditch pointed to a scratch on the right side his cheek, and said, “That woman done this. She would not leave me and followed me downstairs. We had been rowing. She would have bit me to pieces, but I hit her on the head with the poker. They say it was all my fault.”

IN PART TWO
More details emerge
Trial and retribution

 

 

BREAKING THE CIRCLE . . . Between the covers

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MJ Trow introduced us to the principle characters in this novel in the autumn of 2022 in Four Thousand Days (click to read the review) That was set in 1900, and had real-life archaeologist Margaret Murray solving a series of murders, helped by a young London copper, Constable Andrew Crawford. Now, it is May 1905, Andrew Crawford is now a Sergeant, has married into a rich family, and Margaret Murray is still lecturing at University College.

When a spiritualist medium is found dead at her dinner table, slumped face down in a bowl of mulligatawny soup, the police can find nothing to suggest criminality. It is only later, when a black feather appears, having been lodged in the woman’s throat, that Andrew Crawford suspects foul play. His boss, however is having none of it.

Two more mediums go to join the actual dead whose presence they ingeniously try to recreate for their clients, and the hunt is on for a serial killer. Crawford enlists the help of Margaret Murray, and under a pseudonym, she joins the spiritualist group to which the first murder victim has belonged. After an intervention by former Detective Inspector Edmund Reid who, amazingly, manages to convince people attending a seance that he is one of Europe’s most renowned spiritualists, we have a breathtaking finale in Margaret Murray’s dusty little office in University College.

Without giving too much away, I will tease you a little, and say that the killer is trying to find something, but isn’t sure who has it. There is a pleasing circularity here, by way of Jack the Ripper. Edmund Reid was one of the senior coppers who tried to bring the Whitechapel killer to justice, and MJ Trow has written one of the better studies of that case. One of the (many) theories about the motivation of JTR was that he was seeking revenge on the woman who gave him – or someone close to him – a fatal dose of syphilis, and he was simply working his way down a list.

Trow was for many, many years a senior history teacher at a school on the Isle of Wight, and he appeared as his thinly disguised ‘self’ in the long running series of books featuring Peter ‘Mad Max’ Maxwell. I can’t think of another writer whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the past has been the steel backbone of his books. Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking there is an overload of fact to the detriment of entertainment. Trow is a brilliantly gifted storyteller and, as far as I am concerned, Victorian and Edwardian London belong to him. Breaking The Circle is published by Severn House, and is out now. For our mutual entertainment, I have including a graphic which shows some of the real life individuals who appear in the story.

Characters

 

For more on MJ Trow and his books, click on the author image below.

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THE BROKEN AFTERNOON . . . Between the covers

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Cover copyIn Simon Mason’s A Killing In November we met Oxford DI Ryan Wilkins, and the book ended with his dismissal from the force for disciplinary reasons. In this book he is still in Oxford, but working as a security guard/general dogsbody at a van hire firm. His former partner, also named Wilkins, but Ray of that ilk, is now heading up the team that was once Ryan’s responsibility, and it is they who are tasked with investigating the abduction of a little girl from her nursery school.

Ryan and Ray are very different. Ryan is a single dad with a little boy, and somewhat rough round the edges. He was brought up on a caravan site and he is no matinee idol:

“He looked at himself in the mirror. Narrow face, grease-smear of scar tissue, big bony nose, all as familiar to him as his own smell.”

As a copper he was unorthodox, irreverent to his superiors, but with a real nose for the mean streets and those who walk them. Ray Wilkins is university educated – Balliol, no less –  a smooth dresser, good looking and at ease in press conferences; his partner Diane is pregnant with twins.

The search for four year-old Poppy Clarke is urgent, driven as much by the clamours of the media as the tearful anguish of Poppy’s mother. Ray is painfully aware of the adage about “the first forty eight hours”, but clues are scant, and he has exhausted the other convention of “close family member”

Ryan, meanwhile, has a mystery of his own to solve. Investigating a suspicious noise in the compound at Van Central, he discovers a man he had last heard of doing five years for burglary in HMP Grendon. Mick Dick is big, black, and sometimes violent, but he is down on his luck, and was trying to get into a transit van just to find somewhere to sleep out of the pouring rain. Ryan sends him on his way. The next day Ryan hears on the local news that there has been a hit and run case near North Hinksey where a body has been found at the side of the road. It is that of Michael Dick.

When the body of Poppy Clarke is found in a shallow grave in nearby woodland, the nature of the investigation changes. The urgency is replaced by a grim determination to find the killer. Time is now removed from the equation. Ryan has been doing his own nosing about into the death of Mick Dick, and finds he had been in contact with another former prison inmate called Sean Cobb. Cobb, however, is a very different kind of criminal from Mick Dick, and when Ryan tells Ray, Cobb becomes very definitely a person of interest in the hunt for Poppy Clarke’s killer. Ryan has also received a ‘phone call from his former boss, DCI Wallace, offering Ryan a carrot in the shape of a possible reinstatement.

We also meet Tom Fothergill, the millionaire boss of a company that produces high end pushchairs and prams. As part of his charitable work, he has helped ex-cons like Dick and Cobb, but how is he involved in the abduction and death of Poppy Clark?

One of the promotional blurbs for this novel declares:

“Mason has reformulated Inspector Morse for the 2020s”

Screen Shot 2022-12-27 at 19.53.09I am sorry, but that is not how I see this book. Yes, it is set in and around Oxford, but apart from The Broken Afternoon being every bit as good a read as, say, The Silence of Nicholas Quinn or The Remorseful Day, that’s where the resemblance ends. Mason’s book, while perhaps not being Noir in a Derek Raymond or Ted Lewis way, is full of dark undertones, bleak litter strewn public spaces, and the very real capacity for the police to get things badly, badly wrong. Simon Mason (right) has created  coppers who certainly don’t spend melancholy evenings gazing into pints of real ale and then sit home alone listening to Mozart while sipping a decent single malt.

The killer of Poppy Clark is eventually ‘unmasked’, but perhaps that cliche is inappropriate, as he has been hiding in plain sight all along. The more squeamish male readers may want to skip the section towards the end set in the hospital maternity unit. It is superbly written, but graphic: I went through that experience with three of my four sons, but on the fourth occasion the ‘phone call came too late – or perhaps I drove to the hospital too slowly.

This is a very, very good book and, while Wilkins and Wilkins are chalk and cheese to Morse and Lewis, I can recommend The Broken Afternoon to anyone who enjoys a good atmospheric and convincing English police procedural. It is published by Riverrun/Quercus and will be out in all formats on 2nd February 2023.

THE IMPOSTER . . . Between the covers

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Author Leona Deakin started her career as a psychologist with the West Yorkshire Police. She is now an occupational psychologist, and this is the fourth book in her series featuring Augusta Bloom.

Imposter front008Dr Augusta Bloom is a psychologist who specialises in the criminal mind. Her business partner is Marcus Jameson, a former British intelligence agent. Bloom is often employed by the police as a consultant when  a particular case demands her particular skill-set. The killers Bloom is requested to track down have struck twice, leaving only burnt matches as a clue. I use the plural ‘killers’ advisedly, as we know they are a team, but Bloom and the police have yet to discover this.

As with the previous novels, there are two parallel plots in The Imposter. One involves Seraphine Walker who is, if you will, Moriarty to Bloom’s Holmes. Walker, despite being clinically psychopathic, is not overtly criminal, but has recruited all kinds of people who most certainly are. She heads up an organisation which, to those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory, is rather like a fictional World Economic Forum, peopled by shadowy but powerful influencers from across the globe, united by a hidden agenda The relationship between Bloom and Walker has an added piquancy because they were once doctor and patient. The backstory also involves someone we met in a previous novel – the disgraced former Foreign Secretary Gerald Porter, a ruthless man who is now happily bent on evil,  unimpeded by the constraints of being a government minister with the eyes of the world on him.

Leona_DeakinAugusta Bloom is an interesting creation. She is a loner, and not someone who finds personal relationships easy, not with Marcus Jameson nor with her notional boss, DCI Mirza, who is deeply sceptical about Bloom’s insights. When the police finally join all the dots, they realise that rather than two killings, there have probably been as many as eleven, which ramps up the pressure on Bloom and Jameson. Leona Deakin, (right) as one might expect from a professional psychologist, has constructed an complex relationship between Bloom, Walker and Jameson. As readers, we are not spoon-fed any moral certainties about the trio. Rather, we infer that their boundaries are, perhaps, elastic. As John Huston (as Noah Cross) said in Chinatown:
“You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.”
Each of the trio – Bloom, Jameson and Walker –  has a certain dependence on the two others, but Deakin keeps it open and enigmatic, leaving all plot options open to her. This symbiotic relationship has led to Augusta Bloom taking an industry – standard test to discover if she is herself a *psychopath. To her relief, although she is marking her own paper, she doesn’t tick enough boxes.

*Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.

Finally, Bloom cracks the mystery, Mirza and Jameson see the light, and we readers realise that Leona Deakin has been pulling the wool over our eyes for nearly 300 pages. There is a tense and violent finale, and this clever and engaging novel ends with us looking forward to the next episode in this excellent series.

The Imposter is published by Penguin and is available in paperback and Kindle now. For reviews of the three previous novels in the series, click the links below.

GONE
LOST
HUNT

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