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LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN . . . Between the covers

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If you are new to the Bryant & May series, then I could be rude and say, “You’re a bit bloody late!” More charitably, I could direct you to some of my earlier reviews of books in this magnificent sequence. Take a look here.

After many false twilights and surviving more execution attempts that John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee, it looks as though the Peculiar Crimes Unit has finally succumbed to the bureaucrats who have been plotting its demise for decades. The vandals have moved in and pulled out all the computer terminals, cut off the electric, and the ineffectual and (rightly) much mocked nominal supremo of the PCU – Raymond Land –  has given his valedictory address to the staff (rostered below)

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But fate – in the shape of a deceased old lady – has one last trick to play. When Amelia Hoffman is found dead in her flat, the regular police are happy to file the death in the file marked “Elderly Widows, No Family, Neglected By Social Services, Death Of.” But all is not what it seems. Arthur Bryant finds that the dead woman was one of three women who, having worked at Bletchley Park, were then absorbed into the post war British intelligence service. Arthur grabs at this straw with grateful hands, declares it ‘specialized’ enough to warrant the attention of the PCU, and launches a murder investigation.

Unusually for a Bryant & May investigation, there is an international element, courtesy of a frightful chap called Larry Cranston. He holds a British passport, but is in the employ of the CIA and various dark branches of the American state. When he drunkenly runs down and kills a pedestrian, he looks for diplomatic immunity and it is dangled in front of his nose – but at a price. The price is that he hunts down and ‘neutralises’ three old ladies – one of whom is Mrs Hoffman – who hold the key to exposing a sensitive intelligence operation, code-name ‘London Bridge‘.

Arthur Bryant, to the exasperation of his colleagues, has the habit – when he finds the solution to a problem – of going into a kind of investigative purdah. He refuses to share his thinking or his evidence, mostly on the grounds that John May and the others will neither understand it nor believe it. Such is the case here, and Arthur knows that he is dealing with the kind of historical criminal crossword, the esoteric clues for which only he can explain. By the end of the novel, however, even Arthur realises that he has been played, and nothing about the case is what it seems.

As ever, Christopher Fowler’s writing is exquisite. His deep reverence for – and knowledge of – the dark and lonely pathways trodden by centuries of Londoners is compelling. As usual the dialogue sparkles and the jokes are laugh-out-loud, but there is a sense of endgame here. Arthur, it seems, is wearing his inner Ulysses like a suit of armour:

“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.”

As the old joke goes, Pretentious? Moi?” Quoting Tennyson in a crime fiction book review? I make absolutely no apologies. Christopher Fowler has, over the long sequence of Bryant & May novels, shown that he lives under the same roof as many great writers who understood ‘Englishness’. In my mind, he sits down happily with such names as John Betjeman, JB ‘Beachcomber’ Morton, George and Weedon Grossmith and – in terms of London – Peter Ackroyd.

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It was with great dismay that many B&M fans read on the author’s Twitter the other day that this would be the last novel in the series. After all, the two fellows are impossibly old, given all they have witnessed and been through together, so it was not unexpected. Sad times then, but the last few pages of the book are as poignant – and beautifully written – as anything you could ever wish to read. Think Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc2, line 148. And yes – I did. London Bridge Is Falling Down is published by Doubleday and is out now.

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DEAD SORRY . . . Between the covers

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I am new to Helen H Durrant’s Calladine and Baylis mysteries, but I do love a good police procedural, and this fits the bill nicely. My heart did sink (for a nanosecond) when I saw the first chapter was headed ‘Twenty five years earlier’, as split time narratives are something of a bête noire for me, but in this case it ended up working quite well.

Detective Tom Calladine and his partner DS Ruth Bayliss work in the fictitious town of Leesdon, which seems to be in the north west of England, with views of the Pennines and somewhere on the border between the counties of the Red and White Rose. They are called to a seedy block of flats where the decaying corpse of a woman is found but, as neighbourliness in the flats is in short supply, so no-one had reported her missing or noticed anything untoward.

Dead SorryAs the plot develops we learn that the dead woman, Becca O’Brien, was pretty much human wreckage, drug addicted and feckless. Interestingly, her daughter (who now lives in sheltered accommodation0, was involved in an act of criminality which happened twenty five years earlier (see first paragraph) at a moorland location called Gorse Farm, where human bones have recently been discovered. In an ostensibly separate plot thread, Calladine is being threatened by a criminal adversary (something of a stage eastern European gangster) called Lazarov. When Lazarov threatens to harm Calladine’s grand-daughter if he doesn’t facilitate the Bulgarian’s take-over of the Leesdon drug scene, the tension ratchets up several notches.

So far, the plot has something of a “we’ve been here before feel” to it, but Helen Durrant plays her strongest cards relatively late in the story, and the narrative becomes anything but straightforward as ‘knowns” become “unknowns” and several assumptions made by Calladine and his team (and us) are proved to be very wide of the mark. The quest to unravel what actually happened at Gorse Farm a quarter of a century earlier meshes in nicely, plot-wise, with the Leesdon coppers search for a trigger-happy criminal with a Glock automatic.

Tom Calladine is an interesting character and, like many another fictional Detective Inspector, his personal life is something of a mess. Sometimes, he doesn’t always seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but Ruth Baylis is usually there to put him right.

Another interesting feature of the book (I read the KIndle version) was that it ended with a ‘Glossary of English Usage For US Readers’. I don’t know if this is something peculiar to the series, or to crime books from this publisher, as it contained explanations of words and terms as diverse as Bun: small cake, Desperate Dan: very strong comic book character, Lovely jubbly: said when someone is pleased, and War Cry: Salvation Army magazine. Most odd!

Dead Sorry is a well crafted and engaging police procedural which proves that even if detective duos are something of an old dog, this particular one still has plenty of life in it. Published by Joffe Books, it is out now. Helen has a Facebook page and is also on Twitter. You can find her by clicking on the icons below.

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MURDER AT MADAME TUSSAUDS . . . Between the covers

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This is the sixth book in the delightful series from Jim Eldridge set in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and featuring a private investigator partnership between Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton. The pair are so mismatched that they make a delightful fit, if that makes any sense. Former policeman Daniel is short, stocky and of solid working class London stock, while Abigail is of more ‘noble birth’,  tall, elegant, and an expert in archaeology, particularly that of the classical world. As you can see from the banner above, they have worked their way around the major museums of England, but now they are called to a slightly less academic venue – Madame Tussaud’s waxworks on Baker Street.

One of the night watchmen is found decapitated, his body (and head) posed next to the instrument of death that caused Anna Maria “Marie” Tussaud née Grosholtz to fear for her own life during the French Revolution – the guillotine. Wilson and Fenton immediately smell a rather large and malodorous rodent. The dead man – Eric Dudgeon – and his fellow watchman, Walter Bagshot, were lifelong friends, and former army colleagues. Now Dudgeon is dead and Bagshot is missing. Even stranger is the fact that some months earlier the previous watchmen, Donald Bruin and Steven Patterson, both left at the same time and, within days, Dudgeon and Bagshot arrived at the exhibition asking if there were any vacancies for security staff.

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Meanwhile, Eldridge has introduced some real life characters (pictured above) – Prime Minister the Marquess of Salisbury, Sir Matthew White Ridley the Home Secretary, and William Melville head of the Special Branch. The men are concerned about a series of successful bank robberies, each of which has been carried out by the robbers tunneling into the bank vault from the cellar of an adjoining building. The sums taken have been eye-wateringly huge – so much so that the government is concerned about a run on the banks. Dedicated Sherlockians, when hearing about the robbers’ method, will raise an eyebrow and say, “A-hah – The Red Headed League!*

The murder plot becomes more twisted, when a young man, working on the basis that if he can scare his girlfriend she will succumb to his advances, hides with her in a Tussaud’s broom cupboard at closing time, and then sneaks out into The Chamber of Horrors. What they find is a genuine horror rather than a wax version, and all thoughts of dalliance go out of the window. Abigail, meanwhile, is courted (in a gentlemanly way) by none other than Arthur Conan Doyle, who wants her to lead an expedition to excavate an obscure group pf pyramids in Egypt. Both she and Daniel have their lives threatened, however; Abigail by an obsessed young woman who lusts after Daniel, and Daniel himself by a powerful and seemingly untouchable crime boss, Gerald Carr. But is Carr the real spider at the centre of this web, or is it someone much more closely connected to high society?

Screen Shot 2021-06-20 at 19.30.31This shouldn’t be dismissed as ‘comfort reading’. Yes, we know what we are going to get – the atmospheric late Victorian setting, the warm human chemistry between Daniel and Abigail, the absence of moral ambiguity and the certainty that good will prevail. Any genuine reader of fiction – and in particular, crime fiction – will know that, rather in the manner of Ecclesiastes chapter III , there is a time for everything; there is a time for the dark despair of Derek Raymond, there is a time for the intense psychological dramas of Lisa Jewell, and a time for workaday police procedurals by writers like Peter James and Mark Billingham. There is also a time for superbly crafted historical crime fiction which takes us far away in time and space, and allows us to escape into an – albeit imaginary – world which provides balm and healing to our present woes. Murder at Madame Tussaud’s is one such book. It is published by Allison & Busby and is available now.

*The Red-Headed League” is a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which Sherlock Holmes takes the case of a businessman who feels that he’s been duped. A small business owner named Wilson tells Holmes how a man named Spaulding convinced him to take a job with The Red-Headed League. The League pays Wilson to copy out the Encyclopedia Britannica in longhand. Wilson does this for seven weeks, until the League is disbanded. Holmes realizes that Spaulding just wanted Wilson out of the shop so that he could dig a tunnel into the nearby bank.

DYING INSIDE . . . Between the covers

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Back in the day when I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue was actually funny, and I’m talking about the late 1970s, one of my favourite rounds was Late Arrivals At The Ball, where a servant announces the arrival of . . . cue wonderful and bizarre puns, such as:

(The Astronauts’ Ball) Mr and Mrs Secondstoblastoff and their Scottish son, Fife
(The Booksellers’ Ball) Mr & Mrs Zeen, & their disgusting daughter, Margaret – known as ‘Dirty Maggie’
(The Butchers’ Ball) Mr and Mrs Poundamince and their son, Arfur

I only mention this because twice now, within a few days, I have found a crime series to which I have come very late. This, for an avowed fan of police procedural novels, is pretty damning. At least the Trevor Negus novels featuring Danny Flint was only a three book series, but much to my shame I find that there have been ten previous books in the DCI Nick Dickson series. All I can do, is review the eleventh – Dying Inside – and mutter “mea culpa.” Below, numbers one to five in the Nick Dixon Books.

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51olmknWKqS._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Nick Dickson works for Avon and Somerset Constabulary, so his beat covers much of England’s glorious West Country from Bristol down to Weston super Mare. He is relatively recently promoted, which is good for his salary and pension, but has dragged him into the vortex of tedium which includes mission statements, performance reviews and coma-inducing courses with titles like Developing Inclusive Management Styles In A Modern Police Service. ( I just made that up, but a pound to a penny something very like it actually exists) Dixon, like his creator, is a former solicitor, so he is very wise to the standard stunts pulled by defence lawyers, and it also accounts for his rapid promotion through the ranks. Witnesses often remark that he looks “too young to be such an important officer”, to which his response is usually a neutral smile

Here though, he has dead bodies to deal with. Not so good for the victims – firstly a number of sheep, secondly a dodgy accountant and then an HMRC manager investigating fraud – but good for Dixon’s state of mind. The two humans and the sheep have all been killed with fatal shots from a powerful crossbow. Were the sheep just practice targets while the killer honed his or her skills, or were they unrelated incidents? And what is the true story behind  the ocean-going yacht owned by the dodgy accountant capsizing and sinking taking with it one of its crew, Laura Dicken?

Bit by bit, Dixon completes the jigsaw, and is convinced that the deaths are revenge attacks by one of the people who were lured into a scam which ruined their pensions and left them more or less destitute. With his bosses anxious for him to wrap the case up and devote himself to the serious business of Neighbourhood Watch Liaison Committees and Diversity Webinars, Dixon has one or two surprises up his sleeve before the case can finally be closed. Dying Inside is a thoroughly entertaining read, full of twists and turns, and is published by Thomas and Mercer. It is out in paperback and Kindle on 22nd June.

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BLACKSTOKE . . . Between the covers


HeaderMany readers have come to associate Rob Parker with his energetic thrillers featuring the redoubtable runaway Special Forces operative Ben Bracken (click to read more) but one of his early novels, Crooks Hollow (2018), suggested that he had a flair for the macabre, and here he has produced a fully fledged horror novel.After a brief and enigmatic prologue, which tells us very little but suggests bad times are ahead, we are introduced to the residents of Broadoak Lane, Blackstoke, which is an upmarket but only partially finished housing estate somewhere in the north west of England. We have, in order of appearance:

Peter and Pam West. Married, but not entirely happily, they have two teenage children. Peter, after a promotion at work, has put down the deposit on their large house, but he suspects that the mortgage may be a great test of his equanimity.

David and Christian. They are a couple, and they have adopted a child, Olivia.

Fletcher Adams and his wife, Joyce. Adams is an up-and-coming MP. His long hours at work – or at least long hours out of the house – have placed a strain on their marriage, but Joyce seems to have given up the ghost, and has settled for the comforts of a quiet life. They have twins, unkindly likened by someone to the ghostly pair in The Shining.

Grace Milligan, a young, bright and thus-far successful solicitor, she lives alone – except for her Irish wolfhound Dewey. She is another who is having to make serious sacrifices to keep up the mortgage on a house she never wanted, but her father was insistent that it was the right thing to do.

Quint and Wendy Fenchurch, a retired couple. He spent a lifetime as a police officer, she as an employee of the NHS. He lives his life as if had never left the force, while his gentle wife has never revealed to him that by the end of their careers, she was earning much more than he was.

black032Parker ratchets up the ‘something nasty this way comes’ mood in gentle increments: there is a slight, but unmistakable smell of decay in the air, a much-loved guinea pig meets an unfortunate end, little Olivia makes some distinctly Regan MacNeil sounds over the baby monitor, and Dewey the dog is accused of doing something malodorous and messy. But then, after this phoney war between the residents and whatever is lurking in the shadows of Broadoak Lane, it all goes to hell in a hand-cart and we go into full The Hills Have Eyes mode.

I don’t think I have read a horror novel from choice in years, at least not one that has no supernatural element, but this was highly entertaining stuff. I won’t give any more away, except to say that the mayhem hinges on what was on the Blackstoke site before the unscrupulous developers bought it, and that the menace comes as a result of the terrible things human beings do to each other, rather than any intervention from ghosts or ghouls. If you are likely to cringe at the description of someone being emasculated with a meat cleaver, a man’s skull being decoratively rearranged by a fearsome blow from a cricket bat, or the havoc that repeated consanguinity can wreak with the human body, then you might want to give this a miss. Otherwise, if you enjoy a touch of visceral David Cronenberg style body-horror, then this inventive and fast paced thriller will tick all the boxes. It is published by Red Dog Press and is available now.

THE ILLUSTRATED POLICE NEWS . . . 74 years of Murder and Mayhem

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In Britain today, the print media faces an uncertain future due to the intense competition from broadcast news and the immediacy of social media. We still have, according to some, what is known as the gutter press. Depending on your political convictions, you can name your own suspects, but there are only a couple of titles which are regularly – and genuinely – idiotic. The word ‘tabloid’ has come to be a term of disdain, but we would do well to remember that it is, technically, simply a name for the format of the paper – a compact rectangular shape rather than the much larger broadsheet form, now all but extinct in weekday editions.

unknown-broadside-B20071-77While newspaper coverage of politics diminishes the further you go down the journalistic food chain, one subject that can always find the front page is crime, and in 1864, enterprising publishers decided to capitalise on the public’s long-standing fascination with violent death and despicable deeds by producing The Illustrated Police News. The title suggests that it was something authorised by the police themselves, but it was nothing of the sort. Ever since printing became a cheap and practical way of spreading information, spectacular crimes and, most of all, executions, had been sensationalised by broadsides (left) – usually a one-sided sheet with a stylised illustration and perhaps a doggerel poem, or dramatic description. These would be sold for pennies to the crowds who gathered in their hundreds to watch murderers meet their maker. The Illustrated Police News was a rather more comprehensive version of those macabre souvenirs.

Key to the paper’s success was its visual impact. Bear in mind that photographs in newspapers were very primitive until well into the 20th century, so TIPN employed artists who drew their impressions of crime scenes and victims. These would then be made into etchings or engravings and the plates would be inserted into the set type.

The “Freddy Starr ate my hamster” school of journalism has a long and distinguished heritage, Here, in a front page from 1871, we have a perfect blend of lurid sexual sadism, suicide and a disaster in the peaceful Suffolk town of Stowmarket.

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So how did TIPN treat crime cases which became nationally notorious? It had huge fun, of course, with the Whitechapel murders in 1888, and many of its illustrations have been used in books on Jack the Ripper over the years. The beauty of it, as far as TIPN was concerned, was that there was so much speculation and the police were so clueless that the artists could speculate away to their hearts’ content without fear of contradiction.

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What was to become known as The Tottenham Outrage took place on 23rd January 1909, when two Latvian anarchists ambushed a car carrying wages for factory workers in Tottenham. In the lengthy pursuit of the hijackers, a policeman was shot dead and a young boy died after being hit by a stray bullet. I have covered the incident here but, needless to say, TIPN were quickly on the case.

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Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson had been a senior member of the British high command in World War One, without ever having active service in the field. Born in Ireland, he was known to have Unionist sympathies, and when he was murdered by two IRA gunmen in 1922 TIPN, never less than patriotic, seized the moment.

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The front pages of TIPN were, of course, its main selling point, but the inside of the paper was pretty much solid reading, interspersed with occasional smaller illustrations. One of the classic full page illustrations inside the edition was in 1934 and covered what was known as The Brighton Trunk murder. A petty crook called Cecil Lewis England had adopted the name Tony Mancini, probably because it had gangsterish sound to it. He was in a relationship with a prostitute, Violette Kaye. On the 10th May she disappeared, having apparently sent a telegram to her sister in law saying that she had gone away to work in Paris. Eventually the police became suspicious and eventually discovered Kaye’s remains in a trunk owned by Mancini.

At his trial, he claimed that he had found her dead body, but concealed it, fearing he would be accused of her murder. Mancini was defended by two celebrity barristers, Quintin Hogg, better known as Lord Hailsham, and Norman Birkett, who would achieve lasting fame as the British judge at the Nuremberg trials after WW2. Astonishingly, the jury found Mancini not guilty, but In 1976 he confessed to a News of the World journalist. He explained that during a blazing row with Kaye, she had attacked him with the hammer he had used to break coal for their fire. He had wrestled the hammer from her, but when she had demanded it back, he had thrown it at her, hitting her on the left temple. A prosecution of Mancini for perjury was considered but rejected due to lack of corroboration.

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By 1938  TIPN had dramatically changed direction and had become more of a sports paper, with particular focus on racing (both horses and dogs) and football. It still had time and space, however, to report on the career of Herr Hitler. By the time Hitler plunged Europe into war in 1939 when he invaded Poland, The Illustrated Police News was itself no more, having become a victim of changing times and tastes.

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THE PERFECT LIE . . . Between the covers

When you read a Jo Spain stand-alone novel, you know you are going to be misled, made a fool of, and led up the garden path – all in the nicest possible way. Her Tom Reynolds police procedurals (see some reviews here are more straightforward and stick to the conventions of the genre, but when she spins a yarn outside of those confines, you learn to trust her narrators about as far as you can throw a grand piano.

Such is the case in The Perfect Lie. Erin Kennedy – an Irish lass – works in publishing in New York, is married to American cop Danny Ryan, and they live in Newport, Rhode Island. No, Danny is not a fellow Celt, despite his surname, but beautifully black, at least in Erin’s eyes. One morning, she answers the doorbell to their apartment and admits Danny’s cop colleague Ben – stern of face –  and a couple of fellow officers. Within seconds Danny, freshly showered and shaved for the day’s shift has walked to the  balcony and jumped to his death on the concrete four floors below.

What follows is a journey into a labyrinth of blind alleys and false assumptions. Erin learns that Danny was the subject of an internal police inquiry, and was about to be arrested for corruption. She later discovers that he had secret bank accounts containing tens of thousands of dollars. Two other significant characters are introduced; Cal Hawley,  the scion of a wealthy local family who has some connection with what Danny Ryan was involved in before his death, and Karla Delgado, a feisty lawyer who agrees to work for Erin pro-bono.

The split narratives of the book are not for complacent or inattentive readers. A couple of times I had to check back and make sure that I knew exactly what was going on. The viewpoints are these:

  • Erin on the morning of Danny’s death, and the weeks following.
  • The retrospective account of a young woman called Ally, a proctor at Harvard University.
  • Erin, over a year after Danny’s death, when she is in custody and in court being tried for her husband’s murder.

Bullet points one and three seem to be incompatible, so you might think that the obvious solution is that Danny did not die as we are told in the first few pages. The fact that Erin is not allowed to ID her husbands body, and that he is cremated in a closed casket suggests that something strange is going on, but what, exactly – and why? Eventually, the link between Ally, her mentee Lauren Gregory, and the Danny Ryan/ Erin Kennedy story is revealed. And Jo Spain has tricked us – well, I certainly fell for it –  into making a huge assumption.

Jo Spain has has created her own version of the classic locked room mystery. It happened, yet it is impossible that it could have happened. She is The Queen of The Night in terms of misdirection and she entices us into a  spider’s web where we thrash helplessly until she puts us out of our misery. In the end, however, she can put on her best innocent face and say’ “who…me?’ because when the penny drops we realise we have misled ourselves.This is another masterpiece from, in my opinion, Ireland’s finest contemporary writer. The Perfect Lie is published by Quercus, and is out today, 13th May.

My reviews of other books by Jo Spain can be found HERE

MURDER IN THE PARK . . . The tragedy of Doris and Walter Reeve (2)

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SO FAR – The murder-suicide of Doris and Walter Reeve in August 1933 has shocked Fenland and made the national newspapers. The Illustrated Police News – which had been publishing lurid accounts of crime since 1864 –  had great delight in producing an imaginative illustration of the double tragedy.

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Back in Wisbech, the inquest continues to investigate the relationship between Doris Reeve and her husband.

On the Tuesday, Doris’s father went to Upwell to confront his son-in-law. Walter Reeve was aggressive when spoken to, and accused Mr Reeve senior of only coming round to provoke an argument. When Walter Reeve was accused of carrying on with another woman, he replied:

“I know I have, and I shall do again.”

Later, Doris revealed, that in addition to physically knocking her about, Walter had shown her a double barreled shotgun and threatened to first blow her head off, and then turn the gun on himself. Eventually, later in June, Doris left Walter for good. Walter paid several visits to the Clarence Road home and was in turn both threatening, and playing the part of the heart-broken husband. On one occasion, Doris’s father said to Walter:

“You have turned out a rotter.”
Walter replied:
“You will not let her come back, and you will regret this.”

The events of that Saturday evening, 26th August became clear as the case progressed. PC Howard, who had been called to the grim scene in the railway carriage told the inquest that he had been on duty in Wisbech early on the Saturday evening. He had seen Walter and Doris Reeve standing in the High Street. Walter Reeve had his hands in his pockets, and Doris did not seem to be upset or distressed in any way.

May Simpson, of Norwich Road Wisbech, had known Doris as a friend since January. The two were meant to meet in Wisbech at 7.00pm that Saturday evening, but Doris did not arrive on time. Miss Simpson began walking up Norfolk Street, and stopped outside a butchers’ shop to talk to another woman friend, when Doris Reeve came rushing up. This was about 7.10pm. Doris seemed to be in good spirits. The three women then went to the Empire Theatre, and came out at about 10.45pm. They stood outside talking for a while, and Doris still seemed cheerful, and said nothing about any matrimonial troubles. Doris and the third woman, Mrs Read, then walked towards the Lynn Road, going via the cannon on Nene Quay, rather than the dark and rather confined Scrimshaw’s Passage. They said goodnight by Ames Garage, and Doris the walked briskly off in the direction of her own home. That was the last time that anyone – with the exception of her husband – saw her alive.

What had Walter Reeve been up to on that fateful evening? The court was told that he had no history of mental health problems, and was a man of “considerable bodily vigour and health”. On the evening of the murder, he met with some friends in The Five Bells on Norfolk Street. They stayed there drinking until about 10.00pm, when they went to Wombwells, a fish and chip shop next to The Electric Theatre. After enjoying a fish supper, they left about 10.40pm in the direction of Blackfriars Bridge over the canal, where they parted company

One of the men with whom Walter Reeve had been drinking was asked by the court if Reeve had been the worse for wear. He replied that he had been rather quiet all evening, when he was normally quite jolly. The witness said that he knew divorce proceedings had been started between Doris and Walter, and that Reeve had been seeing another woman.

Ernest Martin Henson, a garage proprietor of Cannon Street, Wisbech, said that he had heard knocking on his door between 11.30pm and 11.45pm on the Saturday night. He answered the door, and the man, who gave his name as Reeve, said that he wanted to be taken to Upwell. Henson said:

“I suppose you know what the fare will be?”
Reeve answered:
“Four shillings.”
No, “ said Henson, “it will be twelve shillings and sixpence at this time of night.
In a very offhand manner, Reeve said, “Oh, alright then.

Henson took about five minutes to get dressed, and went and fetched the car. When he drove round to the front of the premises, there was no-one there. Henson waited for about forty five minutes, but when no-one came, he went back to bed.

Two men, itinerant fruit pickers who had been ‘dossing’ in the park on the Saturday night had an interesting tale to tell. One of the men, called Nesbitt, saw a figure standing by a gate, but the man was doing nothing to attract attention. Then Nesbitt heard groans, and said to his friend:

Come along – there is somebody there badly using a woman.
His friend replied that it might only be a couple in a domestic dispute, and so they decided to let discretion be the better part of valour. The next day, Nesbitt’s colleague said:
There’s been a woman murdered over there..” and Nesbitt replied that he must have been correct all along the previous night.

In the Coroner’s summing up, he said that it was clear that Walter Reeve had murdered his wife and then done away with himself. He raised the question of Reeve’ sanity, but said that there was no evidence of mental health issues with either Reeve himself or any members of his immediate family. He did refer, however, to the testimony of Reeve’s mother, who had said that even as a child, Walter had been possessed of a very violent temper. The Coroner reminded the jury that if they were prepared to say that Reeve was out of his mind when he killed himself, they could then hardly say that he was sane a little earlier when he had plunged the knife into his wife. He said that the reverse was also true.

The jury returned the obvious verdict of murder in the case of Doris Reeve, but asked that the archaic verdict of Felo de Se be placed on record. The Latin term literally translates as “felon of himself”, and in earlier times, English common law considered suicide a crime. A person found guilty of it, even though dead, was subject to punishment which might include forfeiture of property and being given a shameful burial.

If only in the personal column of the local newspaper, Doris and Walter Reeve were united in death.

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Regarding the burials of the two young people, shameful or otherwise, the Wisbech Advertiser had this to say in its edition of Friday 1st September:

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Just six miles away, however, a rather different interment was taking place.There will have been tears shed, but no-one sang hymns, and the police were not required to control the crowds.

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MURDER IN THE PARK . . . The tragedy of Doris and Walter Reeve (1)

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On the weekend of 13th and 14th September, 2014, something unusual surfaced on social media. On Facebook, someone reported a mysterious homemade memorial which had been placed on the grass at the edge of Wisbech Park. I went to have a look. It was a simple wooden cross, with a laminated printed message pinned to it.

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Strangely, the sign was only there for a couple of days, but research in newspaper archives led me back over eighty years.

It is August, 1933. The hit song of the year was Stormy Weather, sung by Ethel Waters. In the cricket, England beat the West Indian touring side with ease. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister, while Winston Churchill’s speeches warning of the dangers of Germany’s re-armament had been largely ignored. In Wisbech, meanwhile, the local papers were full of the latest speculation about the health of the forthcoming harvest, while the Advertiser and the Standard were running weekly updates on what looked like being a bumper year for Bramley apples. At The Electric Theatre in town, cinema audiences were preparing to be terrified by the forthcoming feature – The Mummy – starring Boris Karloff. But those Wisbech folk were to have a horror – of a genuine kind – delivered to their doorsteps very soon.

Body Text

Day broke, and as people gathered around the scene of the murder, none of them was to know that within a couple of hours, an equally macabre and disturbing discovery was to be made. Meanwhile, police had driven to the nearby village of Upwell, where Doris Reeve had been living with her husband Walter, aged 26. Getting no answer to their urgent knocking, the officers forced their way in, but found the house empty.

Another Wisbech Bobby, Police Constable Howard was called, at 10.30 am on that Sunday morning, and told that there was a man who appeared to have hanged himself in a railway carriage near Wisbech LNER station. When he went to investigate, he found that the carriage was the middle one of three, standing in a siding. and he was able to access the carriage without going through the station.he found a man hanging from a luggage rack, with a neck-tie and handkerchief used for the job. The man’s feet were dragging on the floor of the carriage, but his whole weight was on his neck. His right hand was resting on the seat, next to a knife, and his body was stiff and cold. He was wearing a pair of light grey flannel trousers, a vest and a shirt. Round his waist was a belt, with a sheath attached to it. His shirt was flecked with blood-stains and there was a knife wound on the left side of his chest. Cast to one side in the carriage compartment were a jacket, waistcoat and hat. In his possession were a wallet, ten shillings in small change, and a driver’s licence in the name of Walter Reeve, Low Side, Upwell.

The police now had two dead bodies on their hands, and people were able to reach their own conclusions about the circumstances of the deaths. It wasn’t until the inquest, however, that the full truth about the tragic events would be made public. The inquest was held at the North Cambridgeshire Hospital in Wisbech on Monday 28th August. By law, the deaths of Florence and Walter Reeve had to be considered separately. We can look at the evidence given in whichever order we choose. Firstly, the grim physical details of the deaths. Dr Butterworth, when he examined Doris Reeve, had found an incised wound, an inch long, over her third left rib, and another wound – of the same shape and size – more round to the side and between her eighth and ninth ribs. The wound over the third rib had been the fatal one, severing the pulmonary artery. The wounds had clearly been caused by a small – but very sharp – knife. Walter Reeve had died as a result of strangulation, but it also seemed that he had tried to inflict wounds on himself with the knife which was found on the seat beside his body. The doctor and the police were able to confirm that this knife was the one which had killed Doris Reeve.

In order to establish the state of the relationship between Doris and Walter Reeve, Doris’s father was called to the witness stand. He said that Doris had married Walter in January 1932, but the marriage was not one made in heaven. By June 1933 Doris had left their married home in Upwell, and moved back in with her parents at 21 Clarence Road, Wisbech. Doris’s father said that he had been largely unaware of events in his daughter’s life, because she was not n the habit of confiding in him. His first intimation that things were wrong was when he awoke from a nap one day to find Doris kneeling on the floor, with her head in her mother’s lap. Doris, however, would not tell him what had happened, but Mrs Reeve senior told him that Walter had knocked Doris down and taken money from her purse. He had only given her £1 for housekeeping that week rather than the usual thirty shillings. Doris returned briefly to Upwell, but she would come home each night to Wisbech, having been given the bus fare by her mother.

The double death in Wisbech made the national newspapers, and the Daily Mirror published this photograph of the murder site, but mistakenly sited Walter Reeve’s death to Upwell.

Murder site

IN PART TWO
Two funerals, and the inquest concludes

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