A New Chesterfield Book

I regularly receive emails from people who ask if there will be another John the Carpenter book. My response has been probably not after The Holywell Dead a couple of years ago.

But never say never…

Today I signed a contract for The Anchoress of Chesterfield. It’s set in 1370, and even though John had sworn he wouldn’t work for a coroner again, the circumstances lead to him investigating the death of an anchoress just outside Calow.

No more details for now. I don’t know when it’ll be published, other than to say it’ll be someone in 2020 or (gulp) early 2021.

So now you know.

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The Dead On Leave (Again)

Last month The Dead On Leave, my novel set in Leeds in 1936, was published. It’s out there, £7.99 in paperback, cheaper on ebook, and yes, I do think you should read it. It is – I hope – an honest picture of a city gripped by the Depression and trying to find its way in a country that’s changed and threatens to leave it behind.

It’s also about the rise of fascism, which didn’t make much headway in the country, thanks to the efforts of many good people, and a population that rejected it. Between those two things, it’s something of a mirror to the present – although the book doesn’t try to offer any lessons.

But it’s still a good read, if I say so myself. So tempt yourselves with a bit more of it…

1930s boar lane 2

‘You know people in the Communists, don’t you, Raven?’ Kennedy asked quietly as he put another match to his pipe.

‘Only one man, sir.’

‘Have a word with him, will you? See what he can tell you.’

‘Yes sir.’

*

He knew where he’d find Johnny Harris. Six o’clock on the dot and he’d walk under the Magnet Ales sign into the Pointer in Sheepscar. Harris worked at the boot factory near the bottom of Meanwood Road, operating the machine that attached the upper to the sole. He’d done it for so many years that his skin on his palms was as tough and callused as the boots he made and he’d never be able to scrub away the smell of leather.

Harris had fought in the war, Gallipoli first, then the trenches, from the Somme all the way to Armistice Day. He’d seen the very worst and come back to a promise of a home fit for heroes, words that were nothing more than lies. As soon as they evaporated into thin air he’d joined the Communists and stayed loyal all through the purges in Russia, never wavering in his belief, working his way up to local party secretary.

Raven had grown up with Harris’s younger brother, Paul, the pair of them at school together. The families lived a street apart; he’d known them all his life. But it was only in the last few years he’d had much to do with Johnny.

Harris was a tough man, loud, always ready to argue his point. He read a great deal, his back-to-back house on Manor Road crammed with books. All communist, all biased, but Harris believed with the true fervour and devotion of a convert.

He’d been one of the organisers of the demonstration against the Blackshirts on Holbeck Moor. Harris probably counted the violence as a victory. But Raven hadn’t come to argue the finer points of politics as he parked the Riley by the library at the bottom of Roundhay Road. He needed information.

Harris was leaning on the bar, his broad back to the room, savouring his first pint after work. Another half hour and he’d go home to his wife and two daughters and be a loving husband and father when he wasn’t doing party work. But this was his time.

‘Give him another,’ Raven told the barman. ‘I’ll have a lemonade.’

With a wary look at the policeman’s scarred face, the man nodded.

‘You must be on duty.’ Harris didn’t even raise his head. ‘You’d be on the pints otherwise.’

‘They’re slave-drivers.’ The drinks arrived. Raven raised his glass. ‘Good health.’

‘I’ll drink to that.’ Harris pushed himself upright. He had large hands and heavily muscled arms. At first glance he looked to be a big, dangerous man. But there was a twinkle at the back of his eye and usually a smile playing around his mouth. He sipped the head from the drink with a wink. ‘I’ll accept the beer because it’s depriving the capitalist state of money it might use to exploit the people.’

‘Yesterday…’ Raven began.

‘A success.’ Harris interrupted. ‘We sent them packing.’

‘I was there. I saw it.’

Harris grinned. ‘You didn’t go on your own time, I bet.’

‘Don’t be daft. I wouldn’t waste a Sunday. But someone else was there of his own volition.’

‘That body in the paper today?’ Harris asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Was he one of ours?’

‘Not at all. A fan of Mosley. He was a means test inspector.’

The man stayed quiet, tearing a soggy beermat into tiny pieces.

‘What are you suggesting, Urban?’ Harris asked quietly. ‘That we were responsible?’

‘No,’ Raven answered slowly. ‘I’m asking, that’s all. Have you heard anything?’

‘Not a dicky bird.’ He took a long sip, draining half the beer. ‘How was he killed?’

‘Strangled with an electrical cord.’ Raven saw the man flinch and his fingers tighten around the glass.

‘None of my lot would do that.’

‘You don’t know for sure, Johnny. We have to find the killer and we’re going to need help.’

Harris pursed his lips. It would be hard for him to help the authorities. It went against everything he believed. But if the killer turned out to be a party supporter and he did nothing to help…

‘I don’t see it,’ he said finally. ‘Not a communist.’

‘Someone murdered him. And it’s a cold-blooded way to die. Brutal.’ Raven finished the lemonade. ‘I’d appreciate the assistance, Johnny, but I’ll leave it to your conscience.’

‘You’re a bastard, Urban, putting me on the spot.’ He shrugged. ‘Let me ask a few questions, all right? But I’m certain it wasn’t any of my people.’

‘Thank you.’

1930s gipton estate

No car for the journey home today; the police would never be that generous. Probably for the best, anyway. He’d only end up with a curious crowd outside the house, staring at the only car on the estate. Jim Green, all the way down on Coldcotes Drive, had a motorbike, but he’d bought it as a wreck and rebuilt it himself.

Raven had to wait for one of the Lance-Corporal trams, half-dozing as it clanked along York Road.

No lights on at home, but there was the smell of cooking in the kitchen. A note on the living room table read: Gone to the pictures with Gladys. Your tea’s in the oven. At least there was food, he thought. And some peace and quiet.

He ate, then left the plate in the sink. Kettle on the hob to make a cup of tea, staring out over the garden as he drank. There was too much to think about on this case. All they had was a jumble of pieces. He couldn’t even see all of them yet.

Maybe Johnny would come up with something. If there was even anything to find. Perhaps a bobby going through the list of Benson’s claimants would find a man so torn by guilt that he confessed. Right, he thought as he looked into the growing darkness, and they’d see pigs flying over the Town Hall in the morning. This was going to be slow and difficult and it was going to be painful.

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The Dead on Leave (1)

Book Bargain

I don’t often put up on here that one of my books is on sale very cheaply (mostly because they aren’t, I suppose). But for once…The Dead On Leave, set in 1936 during the Depression in Leeds, when Oswald Mosley brought his Fascist Blackshirts to town and was forced to leave with his tail between his legs, with a body in his wake, is on sale as an ebook for next to nothing – 99p in the UK, $1.32 in the US.

I was surprised – the publisher hadn’t told me, and it’s evidently just for a limited time – because the paperback isn’t out until June 18.

Your regular outlets will have it, if you fancy a dip into historical crime, but the Amazon UK link is here. Make up your own mind about the cover, but don’t judge the book by it, please.

The Dead on Leave (1)

Tales Within A Tale 7 – A Teaser

Now it’s just four weeks until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here, the fifth with John Laycock here, and the six with Samuel Sugden here.

This time it’s a little different, a short teaser that tells you how the books gets its name.

And, of course, you can read more about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).

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Harper stood in the superintendent’s office the next morning. His palms were bandaged and tender but they’d mend in a few days. Annabelle has fussed around him, putting on a lotion that burned before it soothed. He ached all over.

‘I need you down to have a look at that fire,’ Kendall told him. ‘Take Ash with you.’

‘I thought they’d put it out.’

‘They have. I want to make sure it wasn’t anarchists who caused it.’

The man was as immaculately turned-out as ever, suit pressed, moustache and side whiskers trimmed, the crease in his trousers as sharp as a blade. But his face was lined with worry.

‘I thought they were all talk,’ Harper said.

‘They are,’ the superintendent replied. ‘But you know how it happens. All it needs is one hothead taking that “assault on the system” line of theirs to heart.’ He shook his head. ‘Stupid. Work with Dick Hill until he’s established a cause. Just in case.’

‘Yes, sir. I have that dead baby, too.’

‘I know. What have you found?’

‘Nothing.’ He paused, thinking of the tiny corpse on the table. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure if we ever will.’

‘Keep trying, anyway. Your hands, Tom…’

‘From the pumps yesterday.’ He held them up. ‘Blisters. They’ll heal soon enough.’

‘You’d think the criminals would have been running free, what with every officer down there,’ Kendall said. He took his pipe from his waistcoat pocket and lit it with a match. ‘But there was nothing reported.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘Think about that. Not a single crime anywhere in Leeds.’

There was just enough of a breeze to bring a sense of freshness, the hint that autumn might arrive soon. Harper walked side by side with Ash, the constable quiet as they passed the Corn Exchange. Carts clattered quickly along Duncan Street. Piles of horse dung were flattened on the road. Men ran, pushing barrows piled with goods to deliver. A tram rolled by with the grinding sound of wheels in the iron tracks. The air smelt burnt and dead as they neared the station.

‘How did you like the inspection?’ Harper asked.

‘It was right enough, sir.’ He gave a small grin. ‘My missus thought I looked that smart all dressed up.’

‘Mine made me have a photograph taken wearing it.’

‘They must love the top hats, those women.’ He shook his head and tapped his old bowler. ‘Me, I’m more comfortable in this.’ He paused. ‘I heard one of the firemen died yesterday.’

The inspector nodded. ‘When the platforms collapsed. Nothing anyone could do. They couldn’t even get in to bring the body out.’

‘Sad business, sir.’

They’d become used to working as a team since Reed had left. They functioned well together, although there’d been little to tax them too hard. All the crimes they’d investigated in the last few months had been straightforward. Profit or passion, and a simple matter to find the culprit.

Harper doubted there’d be much for them here, either. He didn’t believe any anarchists were involved. The only problem would come if Hill said the fire was arson.

New Station was filled with rubble and wreckage. Thick dust clung to piles of bricks, and charred wood still smoked lightly. But passengers were already crowding the three undamaged platforms, craning their necks to see all the ruin, and most of the trains were still running. Harper shook his head in amazement; after all the destruction, he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Or safe.

They found Hill down among the arches that had once supported everything. All the surfaces were black with soot, the smell of fire and destruction heavy and cloying, and he started to cough. A yard or two below them, the River Aire rushed by.

‘Hello, Dick,’ Harper said. ‘We’ve been sent down to help.’

Inspector Hill looked haunted. He was still wearing the uniform he’d had on when the blaze began. There were rents along the seams, the blue so covered with dirt that it seemed to have no colour at all. Dark rings lined his eyes.

‘Tom,’ he answered and let out a sigh. ‘We just brought out that man who died. Schofield.’

‘One of yours?’

Hill shook his head. ‘He worked on the one the insurance company engines. The floor just gave way underneath him.’ He stared up at the sky. ‘Ten years and I’ve never seen anything like it. As best as we can guess, he must have crawled forty feet after he fell. Almost made it out, too, poor bugger. It’s a miracle there was only one, really.’

‘Any idea where it started yet, sir?’ Ash broke the silence that grew around them.

‘Oh, we know that.’ Hill pointed to an empty space, nothing left at all. ‘You see that? It used to be Soapy Joe’s warehouse. Packed full of tallow and resin. Tons of the bloody stuff. That’s where it began. And that’s why it burned so hard and long. Once that went up there wasn’t a chance.’

‘What caused it?’ Harper asked.

Hill shrugged. ‘A spark? An accident? Deliberate? There’s not enough left to tell. I wouldn’t even like to guess. The best I’m ever going to be able to say is that it happened. It’s nothing to worry CID, anyway.’

‘The superintendent wondered about anarchists.’

‘I don’t see it.’ He shook his head wearily. ‘Honestly, Tom, I don’t. I’m going to dig around but I don’t think I’ll find any evidence of anything.’

‘You should get some sleep, Dick.’

‘Later.’ Hill brushed the idea away. ‘I need to take care of a few things first. We’ve never had anything as bad as this before in Leeds.’ He waved at hand at the damage. ‘Look at it. It’s going to cost a fortune to rebuild. But the railway’s already had engineers out this morning. Can you believe that?’

‘They want to be making money again,’ Harper said.

‘Sir! Sir!’ The shout echoed off the stone, making them all turn. A fireman was picking his way through the mounds of stone and brick. ‘There’s another body down here. It looks like a woman.’

They ran, scraping their way over the debris. Dust rose around them as they scrambled.

‘Over here,’ the man called. He was standing by a pile of rubble. ‘You can just see her foot over there.’

They gazed. Half a button boot, the leather torn clean away to show bloody flesh. The rest of her was buried under chunks of concrete.

‘Must have collapsed right on top of her,’ Hill said grimly, taking off his uniform jacket. ‘Let’s get this shifted.’

Ash glanced at Harper’s bandaged hands.

‘Will you be all right, sir?’

‘I’ll manage,’ the inspector told him as he stared at the foot.

It took them a quarter of an hour to move everything, sweating and grunting. Blood seeped through Harper’s bandages. He grimaced and worked on.

‘Christ,’ Hill said quietly.

Most of her clothes had burned away. Her hair was gone. She was part-flesh, burned and black. But it was the rest of her that made them draw in their breath. Patches of metal across her body that glinted in the light. Skin like silver: the thought came into his head.

‘What..?’ At first he didn’t even realize he’d spoken.

‘Must have been the girders,’ Hill said. He couldn’t take his eyes off the body. ‘They melted in the heat and the metal dripped down on her.’ He wiped a hand across his mouth. ‘I just hope to God she was already dead.’

Harper took a deep breath and squatted, moving this way and that around the corpse. Only the shape and size of the body and the torn button boot showed she’d once been female. Now… he could scarcely believe what he saw. It was grotesque. A statue of death. He shuddered as he stood again.

‘What the hell was she doing down here?’ he wondered.

Two Bronze Pennies – A Short Extract

You know – don’t you? – that my second Tom Harper novel, Two Bronze Pennies, comes out in the UK at the end of April (August/September elsewhere). Much of it is set in the Leylands, that area just north of the city centre where most of the Jewish immigrants settled when they came to Leeds.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s the opening few pages. Tom, Annabelle, Billy Reed, the Victoria – a dead body and men speaking in Yiddish. Go on, you know you want to….

One

‘Have you heard a word I said, Tom Harper?’

‘Of course I have.’ He stirred and stretched in the chair beside the fireplace. ‘You were talking about visiting your sister.’

Annabelle’s face softened. ‘It’ll only be for an hour. We can go in the afternoon, after we’ve eaten.’

‘Of course,’ he told her with a smile. He was happy, finally at home and warm for the first time since morning.

He’d spent the day chasing around Leeds on the trail of a burglar, no closer to catching him than he’d been a month before. He’d gone from Burley to Hunslet, and never a sniff of the man. But it was better than being in uniform; half the constables had been on patrol in the outdoor market, cut by the December wind as they tried to nab the pickpockets and sneak thieves. It was still blowing out there, howling and rattling the window frames. As a police inspector, at least he could take hackney cabs and omnibuses and dodge the weather for a while.

Tomorrow he was off duty. Christmas Day. For the last five years he’d worked it. Not this time, though. Christmas 1890, the first together with his wife. He turned his head to look at her and the wedding ring that glinted in the light. Five months married. Annabelle Harper. The words still made him smile.

‘What?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘Nothing.’

He often glanced at her when she was busy, working in the kitchen or at her desk, going through the figures for her businesses. Sometimes he could scarcely believe she’d married him. Annabelle had grown up in the slums of the Bank, another daughter in a poor Irish family. She’d started work here in the Victoria public house and eventually married the landlord. Six years later, after he died, everyone advised her to sell. But she’d held on and kept the place, trusting her instincts, and she’d built it into a healthy business. Then she’d seen an opportunity and opened bakeries in Sheepscar and Meanwood that were doing well. Annabelle Harper was a rich woman. Not that anyone round here called her Mrs Harper. To them she’d always be Mrs Atkinson, the name she’d carried for so long.

Whatever they called her, she was his.

‘You look all in,’ she told him.

Harper gave a contented sigh. Where they lived, in the rooms over the pub, felt perfectly comfortable, curtains drawn against the winter night, the fire in the hearth and the soft hiss of the gas lights. He didn’t want to move.

‘I’m cosy,’ he said. ‘Come and give me a cuddle.’

‘A cuddle? You’re lucky I put your supper on the table.’

She stuck out her tongue, her gown swishing as she came and settled in his arms. He could hear the voices in the bar downstairs. Laughter and a snatch of song from the music halls.

‘Don’t worry,’ she told him. ‘I’ll send them on their way early tonight. They all have homes to go to. Then we can have some peace and quiet.’

But only for a few hours. Annabelle would be up before dawn, the way she always was, working next to the servants, stuffing the goose that was waiting in the kitchen, baking the bread and preparing the Christmas dinner. Dan the barman, the girls who worked for her, and God knew who else would join them at the table. They’d light candles on the tree, sing, laugh, exchange gifts and drink their way through the barrel of beer she’d set aside.

Then, after their bellies were full, the two of them would walk over to visit her sister, taking presents for Annabelle’s nieces and nephews. For one day, at least, he could forget all the crime in Leeds. Billy Reed, his sergeant, would cover the holiday. Then Harper would  return on Boxing Day, back to track down the damned burglar.

Annabelle stirred.

‘Did you hear that?’ she asked.

‘What?’

He gazed at her. He hadn’t heard a thing. Six years before, while he was still a constable, he’d taken a blow on the ear that left him partially deaf. The best the doctor could offer was that his hearing might return in time. But in the last few months, since autumn began, it had grown a little worse. Sometimes he missed entire sentences, not just words. His ear simply shut off for a few seconds. He’d never told anyone about the problem, scared that it would go on his record.

‘On the stairs.’

He listened. Still nothing. Then someone was knocking on the door. Before he could move, she rose swiftly to answer it.

‘It’s for you.’ Her voice was dark.

He recognized the young constable from Millgarth station. One of the new intake, his uniform carefully pressed, cap pulled down smartly on his head and face eager with excitement. Had he ever looked as green as that?

‘I’m off duty—’ he began.

‘I know, sir.’ The man blushed. ‘But Superintendent Kendall told me to come and fetch you. There’s been a murder.’

Harper turned helplessly to Annabelle. There’d be no visit to her sister for him tomorrow.

‘You go, Tom.’ She kissed him on the cheek. ‘Just come home as soon as you can.’

Two

The cold clawed his breath away. Stars shone brilliantly in a clear sky. He huddled deeper into his overcoat and pulled the muffler tight around his neck.

‘What’s your name?’ Harper asked as they started down the road.

‘Stone, sir. Constable Stone. Started three month back.’

‘And where are we going, Mr Stone?’

‘The Leylands, sir.’

Harper frowned. ‘Whereabouts?’

‘Trafalgar Street.’

He knew the area very well. He’d grown up no more than a stone’s throw from there, up on Noble Street. All of it poverty-scented by the stink of malt and hops from the Brunswick Brewery up the road. Back-to-back houses as far as the eye could see. A place where the pawnbrokers did roaring business each Monday as housewives took anything valuable to exchange for the cash to last until Friday payday.

In the last few years the area had changed. It had filled with Jewish immigrants; almost every house was packed with them, from Russia and Poland and countries whose names he didn’t know, while the English moved out and scattered across the city. Yiddish had become the language of the Leylands. Only the smell of the brewery and the lack of money remained the same.

‘Step out,’ he told the constable. ‘We’ll freeze to the bloody spot if we stand still.’

Harper led the way, through the memory of the streets where he used to run as a boy. The gas lamps threw little circles of light but he hardly needed them; he could have found his way in pitch blackness. The streets were empty, curtains closed tight. People would be huddled together in their beds, trying to keep warm.

As they turned the corner into Trafalgar Street he caught the murmur of voices. Suddenly lights burned in the houses and figures gathered on their doorsteps. Harper raised his eyes questioningly at Stone.

‘The outhouses, sir. About halfway down.’

The cobbles were icy; Harper’s boots slipped as he walked. Conversation ended as they passed, men and women looking at them with fearful, suspicious eyes. They were goys. Worse, they were authority.

They passed two blocks of four houses before Stone turned and moved between a pair of coppers, their faces ruddy and chilled, keeping back a small press of people. Someone had placed a sheet over the body. Harper knelt and pulled it back for a moment. A young man, strangely serene in death. Straggly dark hair, white shirt without a collar, dark suit and overcoat. The inspector ran his hands over the clothes, feeling the blood crusted where the man had been stabbed. Slowly, he counted the wounds. Four of them. All on the chest. The corpse had been carefully arranged, he noticed. The body was straight, the arms out to the sides, making the shape of a cross. Two bronze pennies covered the dead man’s eyes, the face of Queen Victoria looking out.

Harper stood again and noticed Billy Reed talking to one of the uniforms and scribbling in his notebook. The sergeant nodded as he saw him.

‘Do we know who he was?’

‘Not yet.’ Reed rubbed his hands together and blew on them for warmth. ‘Best as I can make out, that one found him an hour ago. But I don’t speak the lingo.’ He nodded towards a middle-aged man in a dark coat, a black hat that was too large almost covering his eyes. ‘He started shouting and the beat bobby came along. They called me out.’ He shrugged. ‘I told the super I could take care of it but he wanted you.’ His voice was a mixture of apology and resentment.

‘It doesn’t matter.’

It did, of course. He didn’t want to be out here with a corpse in the bitter night. He’d rather be at home with his wife, in bed and feeling the warmth of her skin. But Kendall had given his orders.

The man who’d found the body stood apart from the others, head bowed, muttering to himself. He scarcely glanced up as Harper approached, lips moving in undertone of words.

‘Do you know who the dead man is?’ he asked.

Er iz toyt.’ He’s dead.

‘English?’ the inspector asked hopefully, but the man just shook his head. He kept his gaze on the ground, too fearful to look directly at a policeman.

Velz is dayn nomen?’ The Yiddish made the man’s head jerk up. What’s your name?

‘Israel Liebermann, mayn ir,’ the man replied nervously. Sir. Growing up here it had been impossible not to absorb a little of the language. It floated in the shops and all around the boys that played in the road.

Ikh bin Inspector Harper.’

A hand tapped him on the shoulder and he turned quickly to see a pair of dark eyes staring at him.

‘What?’ He had the sense that the man had spoken; for that moment he hadn’t heard a word. He swallowed and the world came back into both ears.

‘I said it was a good try, Inspector Harper. But your accent needs work.’ The voice was warm, filled with kindness. He extended his hand and Harper took it.

‘I’m Rabbi Feldman.’

The man was dressed for the weather in a heavy overcoat that extended almost to his feet, thick boots, leather gloves and a hat pulled down to his ears. A wiry grey beard flowed down to his chest.

A gust of wind blew hard. Harper shivered, feeling the chill deep in his marrow.

‘If you think this is cold, you never had a winter in Odessa.’ The rabbi grinned, then his face grew serious. ‘Can I help at all?’

‘Someone’s been murdered. This gentleman found him.’

Feldman nodded then began a conversation in Yiddish with Liebermann. A pause, another question and a long answer.

He’d heard of the rabbi. Everyone had. Around the Leylands he was almost a hero. He was one of them; his family had taken the long march west, all the way to England, when the pogroms began. He understood their sorrows and their dreams. In his sixties now, walking with the help of a silver-topped stick, he’d been head of the Belgrave Street Synagogue for over ten years. He taught in the Hebrew school on Gower Street and met with councillors from the Town Hall. He was man of mitzvahs, good deeds. Portly and gentle, with quiet dignity, he was someone in the community, a man everybody respected.

‘He says he needed the outhouse just before ten – he’d looked at his watch in the house so he knew what time it was. He put on his coat and came down.’ Feldman smiled. ‘You understand, it’s cold in these places. You try to finish as soon as possible. When he was done he noticed the shape and went to look. That’s when he began to yell.’

‘Thank you,’ Harper said, although it was no more than they already knew.

‘Murder is a terrible business, Inspector.’ The man hesitated. ‘Is there anything else I can do?’

‘We still don’t know the name of the dead man.’

‘May I?’ Feldman gestured at the corpse. Harper nodded and one of the constables drew back the sheet again.

Mine Got.’ He drew in his breath sharply.

‘Do you know him?’

It was a few seconds before the rabbi answered, staring intently at the face on the ground. Slowly he took off the hat and tugged a hand through his ragged white hair.

‘Yes, Inspector,’ he said, and there was the sadness of lost years in his voice. ‘I know him. I know him very well. I gave him his bris and his bar mitzvah. He’s my sister’s son.’

His nephew. God, Harper thought, what a way to find out.

‘I’m sorry, sir. Truly.’

The man’s shoulders slumped.

‘He was seventeen.’ The rabbi shook his head in disbelief. ‘Just a boychik. He was going to be the one.’ Feldman tapped a finger against the side of his head. ‘He had the smarts, Inspector. His father, he was already training him to run the business.’

‘What was his name, sir? I need to know.’

‘Abraham. Abraham Levy.’ The rabbi rummaged in a trouser pocket, brought out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. ‘Why?’ he asked quietly. ‘Why would someone kill anyone who was so young?’

And Two Bronze Pennies is now available to order ahead of its publication on April 30. Follow this link.

The Murderer of Calverley Old Hall

‘He won’t plead, my Lord.’
‘Have you pressed him?’ Baron Cobham asked the gaoler.
‘We have, my Lord. See for yourself.’ He opened the door to the room. Walter Calverley lay there on the stone floor, wrists and ankles chained so his body made an X. A door had been placed on top of him, piled with rocks.
‘You know the law,’ Cobham said as he studied Calverley’s face. There must have been a hundredweight on top of him, but he didn’t show any pain. Just the fire of fury in his eyes. ‘He’s a lunatic. Press him until he says he’s guilty or not. He’s killed two of his children and came damn close to murdering his wife, too. He’d have had the last boy if the villagers hadn’t caught him. Press him.’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ the gaoler said as the Baron walked away along the corridor of York Castle.

It hadn’t always been this way, Walter Calverley thought. He hadn’t always been a madman, had he? He could remember times when he’d been happy. Back when he’d been young, and the grounds of the Old Hall in Calverley seemed to stretch forever. But then, back in ’72, his father had died and the world seemed to slow as it span around the sun.
Walter had titles now: the squire of six manors, in Fagley, Farsley, Bolton, Burley-in Wharfedale, Eccleshill, and Seacroft. He’d learned them like a rhyme. They were his, but he was too young to understand what that meant. He had money, his mother said. But he’d always had money, never wanted for anything. He had responsibilities, but what were they? He didn’t know, and when they tried to tell him, he no longer cared. A cup or two of wine, maybe more, a good game of cards, that was the life.
It stayed that way when he went to Cambridge in May of ’79. He met good fellows there, carousers all of them. The days for sleeping, the nights for pleasure. Exactly how it should be for a young man.
But it palled quickly enough, and by October he was back in Calverley, much to the displeasure of his guardian, Baron Cobham.
And it was there he met Catherine. The same name as his mother. A sweet, pretty girl. How had he never seen her before? Her father’s farm back on to the grounds of the hall. She was a girl with a winsome face and a gentle manner, the kind for love, not sport. And in her, he believed he saw someone who could change him for the better. He asked her to marry him and she agreed.
It all changed with Cobham’s summons to London. The note was curt, but Walter knew he had to obey. Cobham held the purse strings and decided how much money he could receive until he came of age.
Nigh on a week’s journey until he was in the house on Thames Street, the capital a bustle of noise and sounds and smells around him. The garden ran down to the river, masts ranged like a forest on the water.
‘Write to her,’ Cobham ordered him. ‘She does read, doesn’t she?’
‘Of course.’
‘Tell her it’s over, that on reflection she’s not suitable.’
‘I love her.’
Cobham’s stare was cold.
‘What does that matter? If you love her, take her on the side once you’re properly wed. Marriage is for gain and bringing heirs into the world. If you want passion, find it in the arms of a whore. You’re here because you have a duty to do. Or would you rather starve until you’re twenty-one?’
He had him by the ballocks, and Walter knew it. He was weak. He sent the letter that night.
‘Here’s the girl you’re going to marry.’ He nodded and the servant opened the door and ushered in a girl with an eager, curdled gaze.
‘Philippa.’ Cobham smiled. ‘Meet the man who’ll be your husband.’ Walter stood and bowed. ‘Walter, this is my granddaughter, Philippa Brooke. I’ve considered it all, and this will be a good match for you both. And when you marry, boy, control of all the estates will become yours.’

All his. All gone now.
They’d read the banns that first Sunday in London, and the two that came after, and then the wedding. A dazzling affair. But the problems began as soon as they came north, to the Old Hall. It was uncivilised up here, she complained.
Her tongue was as sharp as any knife and it never ceased. Every little thing had to be picked apart, until he stormed out, down to the inn, to dice and drink. Sometimes into Leeds for company. Once, out hawking, he saw Catherine riding with a man. She had a new suitor, he’d heard. Rage rose in him like water in a vessel. He could have been happy with her. If he’d stood his ground, but he didn’t have any courage. He spurred the horse and galloped to the inn, drinking himself insensible.
He did his duty and produced heirs, bawling, puking boys to take his place in time: William, Walter, and Henry. The nursemaid cared for them. Dutifully she presented them for his inspection. Walter was four, polite and fearful to the point of annoyance. Walter not old enough to speak yet, just a year and a half, and Henry out with the wet nurse in the village.
And the money? That was all gone, not that there ever was as much as he’d imagined. Cobham had had his hands in the fortune, he was sure of that. It was the man’s way. But with a wife and three brats, as well as his own pleasure and the expenses of the estates, the coffers were bare.
He lived on credit, and soon enough there’d be no more of that.
There were days he’d walk out of the Old Hall, climb to the top of the moor, where none could see or hear him, and scream until his voice was hoarse. It was the only way to take the pressure from his mind, to stop feeling as if his head would explode as his problems crowded around him.
Then, once he was home, Philippa would ask where he’d been. Questions, accusations. She loved him no more than he loved her. But where he wanted none of her, she used every word as a dagger to slit his skin.

St George’s Day. The village taking the holiday and celebrating. Walter had been up an hour, his head pounding from the drink of the night before, when the servant showed in the messenger. Three letters, two of them from creditors to toss on the fire.
The last from his cousin, Mark. He’d been at Cambridge with Mark’s brother, Richard. As good a man as ever lived, a drinker, a man to wager and whore with at night.

News, cousin, and bad tidings at that: Richard has been taken by the law and put in prison for a debt at Cambridge. Six pounds. Our father won’t pay it, saying Richard can rot in gaol for a year. I have no money, save what my father gives me. So I have to look to his friends on his behalf…
Walter tore it up and threw it into the flames. He could no more help Richard than he could help himself. And he knew the debt. He knew it well. It was his. Signing for food and drink and new suits of clothes in Richard’s name. A joke. It had seemed a good one at the time, with no thought of consequence.
He couldn’t raise that amount, not now. His life was broken and others were paying the price.

He drank steadily, all through the day. The only person he’d allow in the room was his servant, bringing more wine, ale, brandy, whatever was in the house. When Philippa tried to enter he threw a piece of plate at her head, ranting and raging.
It was all her fault. If he could have married Catherine, she could have saved him. He’d have known the happiness he’d experienced when he was young and life was just innocence and simple fun.
By evening he had his plan. He’d sweep away this life, destroy it. Make himself clean again. He’d go to Catherine and beg her. Ask for his salvation.
With his dagger in his hand, Walter climbed the stair. He threw the door of the nursery open. Walter and William asleep in their beds, so easy to kill. Five thrusts each, his tears coming as he did it. Tears of joy. Tears of freedom.
He was striding back along the corridor when Philippa came out of her room, hair down, wearing her nightgown, a shawl gathered around her shoulders. He struck at her, seeing her blood run, hearing her cry out.
Outside, in the stable, he saddled his favourite mare. One more thing to do until he was clean again, until he could make his fresh start with Catherine. He rode out of the gate, spirits soaring for the first time since he’d put the ring on the woman’s finger.
The word passed faster than he could ride. In the darkness he lost his path twice, tracking back. The village with Henry and his wet nurse was no more than a mile, but he was damned if he could find it in the night. And when he did come to the right track, the village men were waiting, dragging him off the horse and taking him to the magistrate.
Murder, they called it, and carried him off to gaol. Not even to Leeds, but all the way to Wakefield.

And now it was August, hot even in the depths of York Castle. He lay, listening and the gaoler asked him one more how he wanted to plead, before he added another stone. But when the man didn’t understand was that every weight on his chest took the load from his heart. And once his chest was crushed and all the life was gone, well, then he’d find his freedom. At last.

Historical Note: The facts of this tale are true, and Walter Calverley was pressed to death on the orders of the Star Chamber after he refused to plead on the killings of two of his sons and the wounding of his wife. By then he was in debt, and the letter saying an old friend was in jail for a debt of Walter’s, dating back to his student days, seems to have finally turned his mind. He died in York on August 5, 1605. There are claims that his ghost can be seen at night, riding a black horse and waving a bloodstained dagger, on the lanes around St. Wilfrid’s Church in Calverley, where he’s buried.

Walking Into Reality

A week or so ago, I just put the final words to the draft of a new novel. A murder mystery; after all, that’s what I do, kill people for a living. When I’d finished, after living deep in the book and with these people for a few months, I decided to take a walk to clear my head.

There’s a place, a house that I used to pass every day on my way to school. I just fancied another look at it and a walk in the woods there. It’s no more than 20 minutes’ walk from where I live now. Across the fields, down the ginnel that runs alongside my old school, then along a road that’s still unpaved 40 years on…and I was pretty much there.

Except I wasn’t.

At the top of the hill everyone knows as Little Switzerland, the road was blocked by police tape and a Police Community Support Worker keeping traffic out. All he’d tell me was that there had been an ‘incident.’

Okay.

There are other ways into the woods, and I was curious now. I still know this area well. The woods cover one side of the valley, with paths on different levels. I took the high path, and even saw someone walking a dog. But the trees were bare, and at the bottom of the hill I could see five police cars. Whatever had happened, it was something big. But I wasn’t going to go closer. Not my affair. It was directly across the street from where I grew up, and where my mother lived until her death. If she’d still been alive, this would have been the best gossip in years.

I did get to take a look at the outside of the house I’d come to see – it was near the top of the hill – then walked home. A question on Twitter provided the answer to what had happened. Two kids on their way to school – my old school – had found a body.

That was bad enough. Horrible for the family of whoever was dead, and traumatic for the kids. But as the story developed, it got worse. He’d been murdered, shot. Supposedly kidnapped and killed; two people are in custody and police are seeking a third.

The reasons will come out in time. But for now, for me at least (and I know this is a selfish view, given the tragedy), it can’t help but be a little surreal. Leaving murder on the page to walk into a crime scene…