Friends and Traitors – A Review

friends and traitors

 

I’ve long been a fan of John Lawton’s Inspector (Superintendent, Chief Super, Commander) Troy series. I re-read the entire canon regularly. They’re historical crime novels set between the 1930s and 1963, with depth resonance, and a convincing blurring of the line between mystery and spy novel. Critics love his work, and the surprise is that the books have never become best sellers. So news of a new Tory novel was definitely exciting, as the last few years have seen him working on a different series with a spy and chancer named Joe Holderness.

Friends and Traitors, though, is every bit as much about the defector Guy Burgess as it is about Troy. They have a small shared history, and it’s Troy who’s in Vienna on a family trip when Burgess appears in a very orchestrated move to declare that he wants to return to Britain. But is it all real, or some ploy by the KGB? Is Burgess being used?

More than anything, this is a book that feels as if it’s bringing together every strand of Troy’s past and present. A few are missing – police mentor George Bonham and doctor/occasional lover Anna Pakenham – but most at least poke their heads around the door. Even Holderness puts in an appearance.

The heart of the book, though, is the conflict of the insider and outsider in society. Burgess, even as a traitor, remains an insider, a man who went to the best schools (Eton and Cambridge), who was part of the elite, something that can never be discarded. Yet Troy, who comes from dubious money – a father who fled Russia with a fortune and became a newspaper proprietor and aristocrat – is also a public school alumnus, with a similar web of connections. The obverse side of the same coin, and still an insider, no matter how much he fights against the idea.

And ideas are central to the novel. Of places in society, breaking out but never away; even Shirley Foxx finds that instead of never being able to go home again, you can never entirely leave the past behind. Of art, and myth, and self-creation, or re-creation. The characters, real and invented, live and breathe the way they do in all Lawton’s work, but there’s curiously little passion at play here, unlike, say, Black Out, which existed on a wave of it. That really only comes closer to the end – at the same time that Troy, chafing under the suspicion of the spooks (again) and the duties of rank, finally gets a murder to investigate – two of them, in fact.

No spoilers, but an end that’s bleakly satisfying. And Tory, as almost always, keeps his emotional distance from everything and everyone.

Friends and Traitors is satisfying in the way that every Lawton book satisfies. The prose goes down like cream, and the characters feel so real you could have a conversation with them. It’s good…and yet, it doesn’t feel like Troy at his best, unless Lawton is deliberately closing the circle. The past weighs too heavily on the present (the ghosts of Troy’s father and Troy’s wife loom in the background), and there’s little sense of any future.

That’s not to say I won’t read it as regularly as the others in the series. He’s that good a writer. I just might not enjoy it quite as much.

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Audiobook Competition

 

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A copy of the audio version of Dark Briggate Blues, wonderfully read by Paul Tyreman. This is the mp3 version, so all eight hours fit on a single disc.

Well, you wonder, how can I get this wondrous thing?

It’s simple. Just write a comment under this blog saying in which decade Dark Briggate Blues is set. I’ll select a winner from the correct answers on April 16.

Go on, you know you want to.

Living On Eastgate Time

Yes, The New Eastgate Swing is officially here, and the launch is just around the corner (Thursday, February 11, 7pm at Waterstone’s in Leeds – with FREE WINE), the perfect place to buy a copy, although other Waterstone’s and vendors are available, of course.

Having given you one taste of the book, here’s another, just enough to twist your arm and make you part with your money, I hope…

He was reading The Quiet American when the telephone rang. Without even thinking, he reached over and lifted the receiver, hearing the coins drop into the box when he answered.

‘Hello Dan, how are you? It’s been a long time.’

The voice was so familiar. He ought to know it … then she gave a soft, throaty chuckle and he could place her. Carla. She’d walked out of his life three years before, caught up and broken by the case that ruined his fingers. There’d been a final meal when she made her farewell and then she was gone. He’d loved her. It had taken months for him to realise that, even longer before her ghost stopped walking through his dreams.

‘I’m doing quite well,’ he answered hesitantly. ‘What about you? Where are you?’

‘I’m down at the station. My train’s been delayed. Look, I don’t suppose you fancy a drink, do you? I have a couple of hours to kill.’

‘Of course.’ He didn’t even need to think about it.

‘Oh good.’ She sounded genuinely pleased. ‘The Scarborough Hotel in a few minutes?’

‘Yes.’

****

Markham surfaced to the sound of banging, not sure where it was coming from as he opened his eyes. Blinking, he glanced at his wristwatch. Five minutes to four. Almost like night outside.

The noise continued, steady and growing louder. The door. Someone was knocking at his door. He struggled up, body still feeling heavy and moving slowly, dragging on shirt and trousers.

‘Hold your bloody horses,’ he shouted.

Dressed, pushing his fingers through his hair, he turned the lock. There was a man in a trilby, cheap suit, and worn mackintosh, a thin Clark Gable moustache over his upper lip. Next to him a copper in uniform, the point of his helmet almost touching the ceiling.

‘Are you Daniel Markham?’ the man in plain clothes asked. He was short, probably the bare minimum for a policeman, with an aggressive, bantam expression on his face.

‘Yes. Why?’

‘I’m Detective Sergeant Anderson, sir. I’d like you to accompany me down to the police station if you’d be so good.’ Everything very polite, but the tone brooked no objection.

‘Why?’ he asked in confusion. ‘What’s happened?’

‘We have reason to believe you might be able to help us in our enquiries.’

‘What enquiries?’ He put a hand against the jamb. ‘If you want me to help you, I want to know with what.’

Anderson glared at him.

‘Do you know a man called Morten Blum?’

He could feel the pit of his stomach sink.

‘I know who he is. I’ve never met him. We were hired to check on him – my partner and I. Why? What’s happened?’

‘He’s dead, sir, and under very suspicious circumstances. If you’d like to get your coat, we can be on our way.’

‘Yes, of course.’ He slipped on a sports jacket, the overcoat on top, and gloves, then turned out the light and locked the door before following them down the stairs.

Christ, what was going on?

****

Moving in a crouch, running through the empty space with his heart in his mouth, it was like being back in the training he’d had at Catterick Camp. The only difference being that there was no sergeant screaming at him.

By the time he reached the building he was gasping for breath and his heart was pounding. He waited for Baker. The only sound was the deep thrum of a generator from somewhere inside.

Then the man was there. He’d moved in silence. Markham could feel breath against his ear and two quiet words: ‘Follow me.’

Baker knew what he was doing. He seemed to go on instinct, to disappear as he moved, almost impossible to spot. His footsteps hardly seemed to disturb the ground. Finally he halted.

‘There’s a door a few yards along. We’ll go in there. Give it ten minutes. If the watchman’s coming, he should have passed by then.’

‘What the hell did you do in the war?’

‘Didn’t I ever tell you? I was in Number 4 Commando. Now keep your head down and stay shtum.’

The seconds seemed to stretch out endlessly. Markham could feel the sweat rolling down his back and his hands were clammy.

Finally there was a nudge in his ribs and a hand gesture. They crept to the door and Baker handed him a torch.

‘Keep that shining on the door whilst I open it.’

The lens was taped so only a pinprick of light showed. He focused the beam on the lock. A few movements and he could hear the tiny click as it freed. The handle turned and he held his breath, praying there was no alarm.

Just silence and they slipped inside. Baker closed the door behind them.

‘We can breathe a bit easier now,’ he said. He sounded relaxed, almost happy. ‘The watchman won’t come inside.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Stands to reason.’ He was still whispering but the words seemed to echo away into the vastness. ‘If there’s something secret in here, they won’t want everyone seeing it.’ He switched his torch back on, letting the light play around on the far walls. ‘This is too big for us to search together. We’ll have to split up. You go to the left. Keep your gloves on and the beam covered.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Meet back here in half an hour.’

He began. It was nothing more than cavernous, empty space. Each footstep felt as loud as a scream. He kept one gloved hand over the torch lens, giving just enough of a glow to direct him.

A door ahead was unlocked and took him into another part of the factory. This had been divided into smaller rooms. He tried every door. All offices, all empty. A row of them that stretched into the distance. How big was this bloody place, he wondered?

The last door stuck. But it wasn’t locked. Markham put his shoulder against it and pushed. It gave noisily, scraping against the concrete floor. He held his breath, expecting to hear someone running, alerted by the sound. Nothing. There was only silence.

A camp bed, the type he’d seen so often in barracks. Sheets and blankets neatly folded. In one corner a sink with a towel hanging over the edge. And in the air, something familiar. Just very faint, but definitely there.

The smell of Amanda Fox’s perfume.

Markham began to search, opening up the bedding, the towel, looking everywhere for any definite sign she’d been here. On his hands and knees he looked in the corners and along the skirting board. Something glinted under the bed, against the wall. He stretched, fingertips rubbing against it, then pulled it towards him. A gold ring. A wedding ring with some fine engraving and a beautifully set sapphire. He’d seen it before. It had been on her hand the last time she’d come to his office. He slipped it into the side pocket of his battledress trousers, and made sure everything in the room looked the way it had before.

Questions. Too many of them and not enough time. Only fifteen minutes left.

He moved quickly, trying to stay quiet but needing to check everything. Three locked doors; he knocked softly in case she was inside. No answer, only the soft, constant hum of machinery.

And no Amanda Fox.

He was back at the meeting place on the dot of half an hour.

‘I–’ Markham began, but Baker cut him off.

‘You need to see this.’ His voice was sober and chilling. ‘Now, Dan.’

He led the way as if he’d memorised it, barely needing the light. The path twisted and turned until he stood in front of a door.

‘Open it. Use your torch, it’s all right.’

Mystified, he turned the handle and switched on the beam.

The room was as big as a football field, the ceiling high above, lost in the darkness. At first he couldn’t make out what filled the space. Then he realised: boxes. Cardboard boxes, folded, waiting to be assembled. Each one about six feet long and two feet wide. Wave after brown wave of them. Thousands of them.

More than that. Hundreds of thousands of them. Maybe millions.

Markham turned.

‘What …?’

‘They’re coffins.’ Baker’s voice was empty. ‘Bloody cardboard coffins.’

‘But,’ he began and understood he didn’t have anything more to say. He let the light play over everything. There were acres of them.

‘Everything ready for when they drop that nuclear bomb.’ He heard the long sigh. ‘I just wanted you to see it. We’d better get out of here.’

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One Month to Markham

It’s four weeks until the publication of Dark Briggate Blues, set in Leeds in 1954 and featuring enquiry agent Dan Markham. It’s 50s English provincial noir, Northern noir if you like, and very full of Leeds at the time, including the jazz club Studio 20, which was downstairs at 20, New Briggate (where Sela Bar now stands).

It is, I hope, a very dark book. That was my intention. And to whet your appetite, here’s another little extract. You can pre-order it here. And it’s in paperback, people, paperback!

Although it’s not out until the New Year, I would like to point out that I have several other Leeds books out there – the Richard Nottingham series and the first in my new Tom Harper Victorian series, God of Gold. They (ahem) make wonderful Christmas presents, whether in hard copy or ebook. Thank you, and back to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

The ‘phone rang before he had a chance to sit down, the bell ringing loud and urgent.
He answered with the number and heard the clunk of coins dropping in a telephone box.
‘Mr Markham?’ a man’s voice said.
‘That’s right.’
‘I understand that you’re missing something.’ The hairs on the back of his neck prickled and he drew in a breath without thinking. The Webley stolen from his desk. ‘Well, Mr Markham? Do you know what I mean?’
‘I do,’ he answered quietly. ‘Who are you?’
‘Tell me,’ said the caller, ignoring the question, ‘would you like the return of the … item? Or perhaps I should see it ends up in official hands?’
He didn’t know the voice. Not local. From the South. Long vowels.
‘What do you want?’
‘Many things, Mr Markham.’ The man sounded amused, in control and taking his time. ‘But for the moment I’ll settle for your attention.’
‘You have it,’ he said.
‘Do you know the Adelphi?’
‘Yes.’ It was a grubby old Victorian pub at the top of Hunslet Lane, just over the river.
‘Be in there at, oh, let’s say one o’clock. I’ll tell you more then.’
‘How will I know you?’
The voice turned to a chuckle.
‘You won’t need to, Mr Markham. After all, I know you.’
The line went dead. Markham replaced the receiver and looked at the clock. A little after noon. Soon enough he’d know exactly who was so keen to set him up. Someone had known he was back in the office. Why, he wondered? What the hell was going on?
In the service, as part of his military intelligence training, they’d taught him how to shadow someone and how to throw off a tail. Everything hammered into him in drill after drill. He’d never been as good as some of the others. His friend, Ged Jones, seemed able to disappear in a crowd. But Markham could get by. He walked out purposefully, taking a quick note of the faces on the street as he crossed Briggate, slipped through County Arcade and Cross Arcade, then along Fish Street, ending up staring at the reflections in a window on Kirkgate to see who was behind him.
The man was an amateur. By the time he came out into Kirkgate he was almost running, staring around nervously until he spotted Markham. Older, NHS specs, his overcoat buttoned up and belted with a scarf at the neck and a hat was pulled down on a ruddy, jowly face. It was no one he recognised, no one he could remember ever seeing. But the face was imprinted on his memory now.
He set off again, ambling back to Briggate and stopping often, then down to the bridge over the river Aire. The buildings were old, decayed and black from a hundred or more years of dirt that had built up layer on layer.
The Adelphi probably hadn’t changed since the turn of the century. An old gas lamp still hung over the front door. Inside, the pub was dark wood, dull brass and bevelled etched glass, all neglected and in need of a thorough cleaning. At the bar he ordered an orange squash.
A table and two chairs sat in the middle of the snug. This room was different; freshly scrubbed, the hearth black-leaded, tiles gleaming and windows shining.
‘Have a seat, Mr Markham,’ the man by the window said. The voice on the telephone. He checked his wristwatch. ‘You’re right on time.’ He smiled. ‘Punctuality is a good sign.’
‘Of what?’
‘An organised man.’ He was probably in his late forties but well-kept, broadly built, neat dark hair shot through with grey. His nose had been broken in the past and there were small scars across his knuckles. But he didn’t have the look of a bruiser. His eyes shone with intelligence. The dark suit was costly, a subdued pinstripe, cut smartly enough to hide the start of a belly. The tie was real silk. He sat and gestured at the chair opposite. ‘We have things to talk about.’

A Bit More 50s

“Good morning, Mr. Markham.”

            He glanced up, thoughts vanishing behind him.

            “Hello, Joyce.” She was bundled in the old back wool coat she only shed at the height of summer. Long and shapeless, it made her look like someone who’d stepped out of another century. She worked in the Kardomah down on Commercial Street, a cheery enough soul in her sixties with grey hair curled tight against her scalp, covered with a headscarf.

            “You can seem ‘em all remembering, can’t you?”

            “Do you blame them?”

            “Not a bit, luv. We just need to make sure we never forget and let it happen again.”

            At 10, Albion Place he pushed hard on the door, forcing it over the hump in the lino and walked up to the second floor, past the typing bureau and unlocked the door of his office. Daniel Markham, the plain brass plaque read, Enquiry Agent.

            One pace inside and he stopped. Someone had been here. Everything look right, the arch files on the bookcase, folders neatly aligned, the ashtray emptied and the chair squared against the desk. But there was a faint scent, a hint of bay rum, trapped in the closed room that shouldn’t have been there.

            Whoever broke in had been neat; they’d even set the lock behind them. If the burglar hadn’t been so vain he’d never even have guessed. He unlocked the drawers of the desk, searching through, but nothing seemed to be missing. Even the Webley Mark Six he’d brought home from the service was there.

            Another twenty minutes and he was ready to swear that nothing had been taken. Even the smell had vanished. He sat back in the chair and lit a Gold Leaf, watching the smoke rise to the ceiling. A careful burglary where nothing was stolen. A coshing with no robbery. It didn’t add up. What the hell was going on?

 

By dinnertime he didn’t have any answers. The telephone hadn’t rung and the postman hadn’t delivered any letters. An empty morning. He put the trilby on his head and strolled around to Briggate, glancing in Burton’s window before going next door to eat at Lyons.

            The windows were damp with condensation and the air heavy and warm. Someone had left a copy of the Manchester Guardian at the table and he skimmed through it as he ate. He’d just pushed the plate aside and settled back with a cup of tasteless coffee when a hand touched his should and the fat man eased into the seat across from him with a grunt, placing his hat on the table.

            “I hear you were lucky not to end up in the cells last night, Dan.” Roger Baker took a briar pipe from his jacket, a box of Swan Vestas out of the waistcoat stretched across his belly and lit up, puffing patiently until he was happy with the way it drew. “Three sheets to the wind, the copper on the beat said.” He turned to the hovering waitress. “A cup of tea and a slice of jam roll, please luv. My friend here’s paying.”

            Baker was a detective sergeant with Leeds Police, a man with a wide, florid face and deep knowledge of Leeds behind his soft eyes. He’d started out as a young constable in 1935, his service interrupted by the war. He’d seen the city grow and change. Not much happened that escaped his ears.

            “I know you’re young and you need your beauty rest, lad. But your own bed’s a better place than Merrion Street.”

            Markham bristled. At twenty-five he was half the age of the other man, and Baker never let him forget it. Still wet behind the ears, he said. Hardly out of nappies.

            “I was coshed, Mr. Baker. Got the lump to prove it.”

            “What did they get?”

            “Nothing,” he answered and Baker pursed his lips.

            “I know they have cosh boys down in London. What do they call them?”

            “Teddy boys.” He’d seen the pictures in the Sunday papers, posing with their Brylcreemed hair and long drape jackets. But he’d never spotted one in Leeds.

            “Aye, that’s it. Bloody disgrace. Should birch the lot of them.” He put the pipe aside for the tea and the jam roll smothered in custard. When Baker ate, everything else stopped. He was a man who relished his food. Markham lit a cigarette and waited until the sergeant wiped his mouth with the serviette, the signal that he’d finished.

            “There’s something else. Someone broke into my office last night.”

            “What did they take?”

            “Nothing.”

            “Another nothing?” he asked with disbelief, taking a long drink. “Seems like you’ve got a whole lot of bugger all.” But his eyes gave him away. He was interested. “Sounds like someone has it in for you lad.” He relit the pipe, waving away a cloud of smoke. “Been doing summat you shouldn’t?”

            Markham shrugged.

            “No. I don’t even have any work at the moment. The last thing was a divorce. I turned the photographs over to the wife’s solicitor last week.”

            “Dirty business, divorce.” Baker grimaced. Dan knew the man had been married for a good twenty years, with two sons and a daughter.

            “It pays the bills.”

            “Aye, like as not.” Baker pushed himself up with a grunt and reached for his hat. “If owt else happens, you come and tell me, lad. Alright?”

            “Yes, Mr. Baker.”

            After the man left he pushed the coffee away, paid the bill and made his way through the crowds on Briggate. Cars and buses and delivery vans filled the road, a tram passing silently as the crossed the Headrow by Lewis’s. On New Briggate, next to the Odeon, he climbed the stairs. The door proclaimed Studio 20 and he rattled the handle until he heard someone muttering inside and a key turned in the lock.

            A short man with a long, dark beard and bleary eyes looked up at him.

            “Bloody hell, Dan, what do you want?” I thought you was the bread man.”

            He turned his back and Markham followed him into the attic room with its sloping ceiling and garish musicians wallpaper. An upright piano stood in the corner, a drum kit had been pushed against the wall, and folding chairs were stacked in a row.

            It was the only jazz club in Leeds. Probably the only one in Yorkshire, he thought. Music seven nights a week, going on until the last player gave up. They all came here when their gigs had finished, to sit in and jam, George Webb, Ken Colyer, Ronnie Scott. He’d come down and listened to them all, carrying on until dawn.

            He’d picked up a taste for jazz in Hamburg during National Service. Not that the Germans had any. They didn’t seem to have any music worth the name, just the desperation of finding enough food to keep body and soul together every day. But his intelligence work meant liaising with the American forces and one of them, Jimmy Powers, a slick little corporal from Ohio, had been a jazz nut. He’d set out to make a convert of Markham and he’d succeeded.

            There’d been good coffee – real coffee, not the NAAFI rubbish – and records from the PX, enough to start a collection. Then he was back on England, on Civvy Street. And Leeds was a wasteland for the new music.

            Someone had told him about Dobell’s down in London, and he spent far too much on their mail order service. And then Studio 20 had opened.

            “If you’re looking for Bob, he won’t be here while this evening.” The man filled a kettle at the sink and placed it on the gas ring. “Cuppa?”

            Blackie Smith seemed to live in the club. Maybe he did, he was always here, day or night, as if he had nowhere better to be. And Bob Barclay, the owner, seemed to trust him.

            “No thanks. Were you around much last night?”

            “In and out,” Smith said cautiously. “Why?”

            “Do you remember me leaving?” It hadn’t been much of a session, no one catching fire, fronted by a tenor player no one knew who wanted to be Lester Young and feel far short.

            Smith shrugged. “Wasn’t paying attention. Why?”

            “I was coshed on my way back to the car.”

            The man’s eyes widened under his thick brows.

            “Coshed? Did they get anything?”

            “Didn’t even try,” Markham told him. “I was wondering if anyone left right after me.” It hadn’t been a large crowd, just ten or twelve. Other than a couple of faces he knew, he hadn’t paid the audience much mind.

            “Not that I remember,” Blackie said after some thought. “Sorry. Dan. You alright?”

            “Thick skull, that’s me.” It was what his mother always said when he banged his head. For a moment he could almost hear the tone of her voice. But she’d been dead for three years now, a tumour that ate away at her brain, leaving her family helpless. His father had gone six months later, his heart broken and no will to love. “Never mind, it was worth a try.”

            “You coming down later?”

            “Will there be anyone good?”

            “Probably just Bob and the lads. Tomorrow, now, that’s a different matter. Chris Barber’s in York. He might come over when the gig’s done.”

            He’d heard Barber. The style was too traditional for his taste. But somewhere freer he might be worth hearing.

            “We’ll see. Thanks, Blackie.”

And Now for Something…

I’m happy. We have an almost[-firm date for our move back to Leeds, only the better part of two months after we expected it to happen. But better late, etc….and my copies of Fair and Tender Ladies have arrived, with its wonderful cover.

On an unrelated note, in recent weeks I’ve been reading a great deal about the 1950s. It’s the decade when I was born, so I assumed I knew it well. Wrong. Seems I knew next to nothing. But my reading sparked an idea. Or the start of one. Like they say in music, it goes something like this….(no apologies for typos – it’s rough). Let me know what you think. Please.

CHAPTER ONE

He was falling, falling, somewhere between heaven and earth. He reached out but there was nothing to hold on to, only the feeling of tumbling through space. Pictures spun and twirled in his head, things he could quite place before they moved on. A face, a building, a hand.

Then he landed.

It jolted the breath out of him. His skull banged down hard and a shock of pain ran through his body. For a moment he could do nothing. All he could manage was to lie there, trying to gulp in air and stop the nausea rising.

Finally it passed and he was breathing steadily. He rolled gently onto his side and opened his eyes. He was lying on the pavement, the flagstones shiny and wet against his cheek. It was night and he couldn’t remember what had happened.

The next he knew, something was pushing gently against his ribs.

“If you can stand up and walk away, I’ll not arrest you, lad.” He blinked, trying to bring the figure into focus. A copper, he saw finally, with the pointy hat and the black boots that shone in the streetlights. “Had a skinful, have you?”

He didn’t try to answer, but sat up, his head drumming with every movement. One hand against the wall, he eased himself upright, pausing until the dizziness passed.

“I’m sorry, officer, I don’t know what happened,” he said honestly, rubbing the gash by his temple, then the bump at the back of his skull, wincing at the tenderness.

“It’s alright, sir.” The policeman’s mile was almost hidden by his thick moustache. “Couldn’t let you sleep there all night, that’s all.” He bent and picked a trilby from the ground, dusting it off with large hands. “This yours, is it?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Get yoursen home, that’s my advice. You’ll be feeling it in the morning.” He gave a brief nod. “Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight. And thank you.”

He waited until the constable had disappeared around the corner, brushing the worst of the damp and the dirt from his suit and picking gravel out of his palms. Then he felt inside his jacket, checking the wallet was still there, and the watch still on his wrist.

His head hurt like buggery but it was beginning to clear. Looking round, he knew exactly where he was, on Merrion Street, the ABC cinema dark at the bottom of the hill. He moved his fingers gingerly around the lump on the back of the head.

Why had someone coshed him?

CHAPTER TWO

All around, Leeds was quiet, two in the morning and barely a sound, the shop windows dark. He sat in the old Anglia, window rolled down, and smoked a cigarette. Men had taken a swing at him before; it came with being an enquiry agent. But no one had ever used a cosh. Why? There was nothing unusual on the books. Just the usual divorces and frauds that paid the bills.

Finally he pulled out the choke then turned the key in the ignition, pressing down on the accelerator as the engine caught. There was no traffic, just a few lights shining behind curtains where sleep wouldn’t come.

In Chapel Allerton he turned onto Town Street, then down the alley between the police station and the Nag’s Head, parking by a brick house. Inside, he climbed carefully to the third floor, avoiding the tread that squeaked, and let himself into the flat.

It was a small place, no more than a bed-sitting room with a sink and gas ring in one corner, the bathroom and toilet on the landing, perched at the top of the stairs. From the window he looked down on the graveyard. But it was his and a damn sight better than the lodgings.

He stripped off the suit, examining the material and hoping against hope that the dry cleaner would be able to rescue it. It was good worsted, better than any fifty shilling job. He’d bought it right after National Service, a sly deal that didn’t involve clothing coupons, and it had worn well.

Sod it, he needed to sleep.

He woke as the early sun streamed on his face. He clawed his way out of a dream, opening his eyes as he sat up, stopping as something seared behind his eyes.

By nine he’d washed and dressed. He couldn’t do much about the dark circles under his eyes but he’d shaved and cleaned up the cut on his temple. At least he no longer looked like he’d spent a week on the razzle.

He parked the Anglia on King Charles Street and walked down Lands Lane. Everyone he passed seemed subdued. The third of September. It was a date none of them could forget. The start of the war and thoughts of lost comrades, fathers, sons, brothers.

He’d been ten, called in from a Sunday morning playing in the garden just as his sister was dragged down from his bedroom. He’d sat cross-legged, picking at a scab on his knee as Chamberlain’s voice came out of the radio. When the speech had finished, his father had looked at his mother and simply said, “That’s it, then.”

He was a bright enough lad, set for a scholarship to grammar school. He knew what war meant. Or he believed he did. All the bravery of Empire, the things he’d been taught in schools. It wasn’t until he did his time in the army that he learned the brutal truth. The empty faces, the ruins as far as he could see. He spent a winter there, working in military intelligence. He saw the people freeze and work and scrabble for anything resembling a normal life. What they taught him at Roundhay, death and glory and greatness, it was all bollocks. Dead was nothing more than dead, another memory and a poppy in November.

“Good morning, Mr. Markham.”

He glanced up, thoughts vanishing behind him.