Annabelle Harper has really stepped into the limelight with The Tin God. It’s interesting that many reviewers and readers have seen it as her book, rather than a Tom Harper crime novel.
She’s been there all through the series of course. But for those who don’t know about her past, a little piece of fiction to very quickly tell her story…
Annabelle Harper dusted the mantelpiece. By rights it needed doing every day, but she didn’t have the time. Running the Victoria public house downstairs, her work as a Poor Law Guardian and having a six-year-old daughter took up every waking hour. And with her husband being a Detective Superintendent, there was no knowing when he’d be at home.
Leeds. It got everywhere. Soot and grit on the windowsills, in the carpets, in the air…it was a losing battle to keep anything clean. Hang out the washing and it was covered in smuts by the time you took it in.
That was the price for prosperity, people said. Maybe they were right. But there was precious little wealth in Sheepscar, just people doing their best to survive, and plenty going under. Yet folk believed the lies, and the ones who told them grew richer.
She picked up the photograph in the silver frame, wiped it carefully, then held it at arm’s length and studied it. How long since she’d really looked at those faces. There she was, carefully posed, back straight as she sat in the chair, wearing the first expensive gown she’d ever owned, her face so young and serious. Standing behind her, one hand resting on her shoulder, Harry Atkinson, her first husband. Much older, the usual twinkle in his eye hidden as he stared seriously at the camera. Thirteen years he’d been gone now. She still thought about him, but only from time to time these days; he seemed like someone from another life. Well, he was, she told herself with a smile, he was. But a good life. Without him, she’d never have had all this. She’d never have met Tom Harper and never have had Mary. You never knew, she thought. You never knew what life was going to do.
Odd flashes of those times ran through her mind. Harry and his wife Elizabeth taking her on as a servant. Elizabeth dying of cancer, vanish right in front of them, inch by inch. The strange courtship she had with Harry, the quick honeymoon in Scarborough, the first time she’d ever seen the sea. The way he taught her how to run a business and how she surprised herself by having a knack for it.
Harry was older, he had a good thirty years older, a man who look at life with his eyes wide open. He’d prepared her for when he’d be gone. And then it happened. Quietly, in his sleep. As soon as Annabelle woke, she knew the life had gone from him. She reached over and stroked his cheek.
‘Oh, you,’ she said as she started to cry. ‘Oh, you.’
The only thing she remembered with absolute clarity preparing for the funeral. The casket was already in the hearse. She just had a few minutes alone up here with his ghost.
Staring at the mirror. The way the light flickered in the gas mantle, reflecting in the jet buttons of her dress. In black, from head to toe. Even the lace and the petticoats and the new leather boots that pinched her feet.
She’d picked the funeral hat off the back of the chair and arranged it on her head, spreading the veil in front of her face. Her hand was raised, ready to pin it all in place, when she tore it off and sent the hat spinning across the room.
She turned to the photograph on the mantelpiece. A shiny silver frame. Herself, sitting with her husband’s hand on her shoulder. Mr. and Mrs. Atkinson.
‘You sod,’ she said quietly. ‘You bloody sod.’
No hand to steady her now.
They’d all be waiting downstairs in the pub. Harry’s sister and her children, Dan the barman, the two servants, and all the neighbours and friends from round Sheepscar. The hearse was outside, the horses with their sober ebony plumes.
She breathed deeply, gathered up the hat and set it in place again, hearing the footsteps on the stairs, then the tentative knock on the door.
‘Annabelle, are you ready, luv?’ Bessie, her sister-in-law. ‘Only it’s time.’
A last glance in the mirror and at the picture.
‘Yes,’ Annabelle Atkinson said. ‘I’m coming.’
A final swipe with the duster and she put the picture back on the mantelpiece, adjusting the angle once, twice, a third time until it seemed just right. She took a deep breath. Then she heard the small footsteps on the stairs and her daughter was shouting at the top of her lungs.
‘Mam, can you give me a hand?’
She shook her head, putting all the past behind her again.
‘Yes,’ Annabelle Harper said. ‘I’m coming.’
The Tin God is out now in the UK, and on July 1 elsewhere. I hope you’ll buy it – and please, leave a review somewhere. It all helps.