The New Tom Harper Is Coming, Part II

Just in case you think Annabelle Harper isn’t an important figure in The Iron Water…well, you’d be wrong. But her life has changed a little, as you’ll see. And a new character enters the series…

‘Let’s hope she doesn’t wake us during the night.’ She looked over at the crib next to the bed. Mary was sleeping soundly. Fourteen months old on Wednesday. Mary Grace Harper. Her smile, her hair, her eyes, her laugh… from him and Annabelle.

As soon as the pregnancy was common knowledge, the women around Sheepscar had frowned and clucked and tutted. She was too old to have a bairn. Something would be wrong. A list of the problems that could happen. If he’d believed it he’d have been terrified for her. But that was the way here, always some mutterings under all the care and the smiles. In the end everything had gone smoothly. The labour had been long, but the midwife had done her job and mother and daughter emerged hearty and hale. He could still scarcely believe it when he looked at Mary. She was his, a part of him, named for the girl who’d been his wife’s best friend as she grew up. Dead now but living on this way.

‘Shhh, don’t tempt fate,’ he whispered. Since she’d passed three months and the colic went, their daughter had been a good sleeper. Growing so fast, a hefty weight when he picked her up after arriving back from work. No real illness, touchwood; the worry always remained at the back of his mind.

Annabelle had insisted on feeding the baby herself. No wet nurse; she’d never even considered the idea. ‘Why wouldn’t I give her the breast?’ she asked as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. ‘I have milk, that’s what it there for.’  And that was what she did until she weaned their daughter at nine months.

No nanny either, and no talk of one. They could afford it, but she wasn’t interested. When she went to one of the bakeries she owned, she pushed the child in a baby carriage, wrapped up against the weather.

‘I’ll not have people saying I’m getting above myself,’ she insisted. ‘There’s enough round here work all the hours God sends and still bring up families. If they can do it, so can I.’

He was proud of her. Of both of them. He loved his wife; even now he was still astonished that she’d agreed to marry him. But until Mary was born he hadn’t known how loudly his heart could sing.

Annabelle curled against him. She’d been out this evening at a meeting; the new Independent Labour Party. He couldn’t understand how she found the time for it all. Running the Victoria pub downstairs, keeping an eye on her three bakeries, a baby, and her politics. She’d turned down the chance to become part of the committee of the local Suffrage Society, but she was still very active locally, helping to organize and speaking at meetings. Sometimes she took Mary with her, enjoying the fuss everyone made of the child. This time, though, she’d gone alone and he’d had his little one to himself for two hours, the first time she’d trusted him.

‘The experience will be good for you,’ Annabelle had told him briskly before she left. ‘I showed you what to do, Tom. Just you remember, women have been doing it for thousands of years. I think a man can cope for a little while. Oh,’ she added, ‘after you change her, there’s some lard to use as cream on her bum.’ She gave him a big smile.

He managed, even bathing Mary before reading to her from The Water Babies, watching as her eyes gently closed.

Remember, you can get your order in for the book here – the cheapest price I’ve found and you’ll be supporting independent bookshops. It’s out July 29.

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The New Tom Harper Is Coming

The new Tom Harper novel is coming. The Iron Water, out in the UK on July 29.

Have a taste of it. And if you’re a fan of Annabelle…there’s plenty of her, too. You can order a copy here.

 

Early July, barely dawn as he strode up Roundhay Road in his best suit, the soft grey wool, his present from Annabelle three Christmases before. Already men were starting to emerge from the streets of back-to-back houses, on their way to the early shift. By the time he reached Harehills the air began to smell cleaner, the houses larger and more prosperous. Out beyond that was wealth. Oakwood was nothing more than a hamlet, a few houses by the road and the terminus for the electric tram by the arched entrance to the park. A copper saluted him as he approached.

‘Anyone here yet?’ Harper asked.

‘They brought the ordnance a few minutes ago. Along the Wetherby Road and the Carriage Drive. And a fire engine right behind it. I daresay the toffs will show up in their own good time. No reporters allowed at this one, sir.’

He strolled along Park Avenue, relishing the quiet and the soft early light. Along the hillside, a few large houses stood back from the road, only the servants up and around at this hour.

There was plenty of activity by the lake, men manoeuvring a wagon into place with a welter of shouting and swearing. The brass of the fire engine glittered in the early sunlight, the horses that drew it enjoying their feed bags. And Harper spotted a familiar figure.

‘Hello, Billy.’

Inspector Billy Reed of the Fire Brigade, looking uncomfortable in his best blue uniform. Detective Sergeant Reed once, until he transferred over and earned his promotion.

‘Hello, Tom.’ They shook hands. ‘Here for the spectacle?’

He nodded.

‘Whatever it is. How about you? For show, or just in case there’s a problem?’

‘We’ve been involved from the start.’ He pointed along the length of the lake and explained, ‘They’ll tow the boat out soon. If everything goes to plan, at seven they’ll fire two of those rocket-powered torpedoes and they’ll destroy it.’

‘Sounds simple enough.’

Reed snorted. ‘As long as the damn things work. Half the time they fizzle out. Are you showing the flag for the police?’

‘Something like that. I’m not even sure why they need me.’

‘They just like us all on our toes.’ A small pause. ‘How’s crime? Are they keeping you busy?’

Harper shrugged. ‘It never stops. You know what it’s like.’ He should, they worked together for several years. ‘And then there’s always Mary.’

‘How is she?’ He smiled. Reed’s wife, Elizabeth, was the manageress for Annabelle’s bakeries; the two women were close.

‘Wonderful.’ It felt like a stilted, awkward conversation, like two friends who hadn’t met in years and realizing they had little in common any more. ‘I think I’ll take a walk and see this boat.’

By a quarter to seven the important folk had arrived in their carriages. Sir James Kitson, from the engineering company, top hat gleaming. Charles Parsons, an industry grandee, greeted with proper deference. The Lord Mayor and men in the bright braid of naval uniforms. Harper bowed as he was introduced, then kept his distance.

It all seemed like a waste of his time. The important people were making an early picnic of the event, wicker baskets full of food, popping bottles of champagne. Enough to remind him that he hadn’t eaten yet. And no one was offering him a bite. Of course.

Then the sharp whistle blew and the men were making their final adjustment to the metal torpedoes, checking the angle and the fuses. Finally, exactly on the order, the missiles were launched, vanishing into Waterloo Lake. All that remained was a thin wake through water the colour of iron, bubbles rising to the surface.

And then the explosion.

Three hundred yards and it was still loud enough to make his ears ring. Complete destruction. My God, Harper thought, is that what war at sea was going to be like in future? How would anyone survive? He glanced across at Billy; the man’s face was impassive. Reed had been a soldier, he’d fought with the West Yorkshires in Afghanistan.

‘What do you think of that?’

‘Impressive, I suppose.’ He hesitated for a second. ‘Dreadful, too.’ He turned and walked away towards the fire engine.

Harper was lost in his thoughts for a few seconds. Then he heard shouting in the distance. Somewhere along the bank of the lake. Even with the hearing almost gone in his right ear he could make out one of the words: ‘Police.’

He started to run.

the iron water 4 blue legs

The Iron Water – Cover Story

Coming in July – in the UK, at least – is the fourth Tom Harper novel (and yes, Annabelle Harper is very much a part of things), The Iron Water.

Detective Inspector Tom Harper is witnessing the demonstration of a devastating new naval weapon, the torpedo, at Roundhay Park. The explosion brings up a body in the lake, a rope lashed tightly around its waist.

At the same time, dredging operations in the River Aire are disrupted when a woman’s severed leg floats to the water’s surface, still wearing a stocking and boot. Could the two macabre discoveries be connected?

Harper’s investigations will lead him right to the heart of the criminal underworld that underpins the city – and into the path of a merciless killer.

Why am I mentioning this? Because my publisher, Severn House, has just sent me the cover image their designer has created. And yes, I think it’s great. I hope you will, too…

the iron water 4 blue legs