Improper Coppers – The Roots of Lottie Armstrong

Modern Crimes is out, and the first feedback from readers has been incredibly gratifying – people seem to love Lottie. But how did those first policewomen in Leeds come about? Well, let me tell you a (true) story…

When the First World War broke out in 1914 it took a heavy toll on the police in Leeds. As soon as hostilities began, 51 constables who were in the Army Reserve were called up to their regiments and any more answered the call. The force was already understaffed, so Special Constables were recruited for the duration, men who were unable to join the forces, usually for health reasons. At its peak there were over 2,000 of them, some working in plain clothes, others undertaking crowd control, point duty, even on the beat in the suburbs.

With the start of the war there was also a spike in the number of women and girls who were involved in criminal offences. That needed a response that went beyond the Specials. So, by December 1914, Voluntary Women’s Patrols had been started, initiated by the National Council of Women.

They were limited to a few areas? And where were the hotspots? Perhaps surprisingly, Headingley, near the rugby/cricket ground, Chapeltown Road, and Woodhouse Moor. Soon that also included the market area and Briggate.

What could the patrols do?

As the Chief Constable’s report in 1916 read: “The object of the Patrols is to define and assist in promoting a higher moral code among girls, and so to guide and encourage them that they will have every hope of becoming self-respecting citizens.”

What exactly did that mean? Essentially to try and keep them on the straight and narrow in society’s terms, which were very prim and proper. Remember, there was a dearth of men around as so many had joined up (or later conscripted) – one in four of the total male population. Where many girls might normally have been courting, there was no one to step out with now. Very often girls were working in factories instead of as domestic servants. They had more money and more freedom, always a potent combination. A few probably ran wild, as did a few children with no father at home.

The women of the Voluntary Patrols had no powers of arrest or detention. They might give someone a talking-to or even a clout, but they could go no further. For the system to work the job required tact, empathy, and the ability to persuade. Did it work? Apparently so: by 1916 only six per cent of juveniles brought before the court were girls.

As to any problems with women and crime, the report didn’t address that…

Towards the end of the war the National Union of Women Workers tried to have women from the Voluntary Patrol in Leeds enrolled as regular police constables. But the city wasn’t too keen on the idea. Instead, in September 1918, two months before fighting ended in France, the Watch Committee decided on a compromise. It would spend £100 a year (plus uniform) for one policewoman, who would have restricted duties (doing little more than the Voluntary Patrols). They placed an advertisement in the Yorkshire Evening Post. 44 women applied for the post, including Mrs. Florence E. Parrish, who was already Chief Patrol Officer and Secretary of the National Union of Women Workers Committee in Leeds.

She was 45 years old, married, certified as a teacher, with a diploma from Leeds University in social organisation and public service, as well as being an experienced social worker. In other words, uniquely qualified for what must often have proved a frustrating post.

By 1921 she’d resigned.

But there, in the First World War, are the roots of the female police officers and PCSOs (and of my fictional 1920s policewoman, Lottie Armstrong) we see on the streets of Leeds today. Next time you’re on Woodhouse Moor and wandering around the market, have a think about morals and the influence of the Volunteer Patrol.

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Vibrant, Alive, and Out Today

For the last week I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning and digging. The house, the allotment. Writing, too, of course, but things like an overnight clean of the oven and recaulking the shower, because writers get to do all the glamorous jobs, you know. I even sang along to George Formby as I cleaned the inside of the windows. After all, what else would you sing, right?

Mostly, though, I’ve been waiting. Because today is when Modern Crimes is published. It’s a thrill whenever I have a book published, but this one seems a bit special. That’s because of Lottie. As a writer, you want the character to take over a book, and she did that. She’s alive, vibrant, and extraordinary by being quite ordinary.

It feels like it’s been a long waiting building up to publication day, and finally it’s here, and now Lottie gets the chance to be a proper 1920s Leeds copper.

The paperback is out in the UK (North American in December of January) and the ebook – which is available everywhere – is dead cheap.

If you’d like to help me welcome Lottie into the world, the real launch is on September 22 at Waterstones in Leeds. 7pm, and there will be wine. Lottie’s nervous about it, but she really hopes you can come along. All the details are right here.

Getting to this point has brought me into contact with some remarkable people I might never have met otherwise. Wonderful, supportive authors and publishers, books clubs, bloggers, for instance. Councillors and MPs. Or the woman whose father was an enquiry agent in 1950s Leeds. The man who played piano in the house band at Studio 20. The fellow who conducts tours at Beckett St. Cemetery and guide me to a grave belong to some ancestors. I don’t know who was happier when I turned over the fallen stone and saw the Nickson names there – him or me. That’s simply the tip of the iceberg. Writing books takes you into some odd places. It’s simply the most fun you can have, or that I can imagine. And I’ve had the privilege to tell the stories of people like Richard Nottingham, Tom and Annabelle Harper, Dan Markham, John the Carpenter, Laura Benton, and now Lottie Armstrong. They’re all every bit as alive to me as those I talk to regularly (in fact I do talk to them regularly…).

So, to those who read any of these books, thank you. I hope you like Lottie. She’s pretty special.

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Just Over A Week…

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before: started reading one of my own books. By the time they’ve been written, revised, edited and proofed, I’m usually heartily sick of them. I’ll pick out sections to read at appearances, but usually that’s as far as it goes.

But not yesterday.

I took my copy of Modern Crimes, spine still uncreased, off the shelf and began to read. I liked it. I got caught up in it, in Lottie and how she navigates all the uncertainty.

It’s not even out for just over a week but I believe in this book. I believe in them all, of course I do; each one has a certain quality. But somehow, this one has a certain intangible magic. I can’t describe that, only feel it. Maybe you will, too…here’s a little bit more.

 

The space behind the Royal Hotel stank. The bins overflowed and there was a strong stench of urine from somewhere. Lottie paced around, waiting and trying to be patient. The sound of traffic was muffled and distant. A train went by on the embankment, the second in ten minutes, making the earth under her shoes shake as it passed.

Finally the door at the back of the building squeaked open on rusty hinges and a heavyset woman emerged. She was dressed in a man’s double-breasted suit, correct down to the collar and tie, shoes polished to a high gloss, short hair in a brutal shingle cut and pomaded down. Blinking in the light, she lit one of her Turkish cigarettes.

‘Hello, Auntie Betty,’ Lottie said. ‘I haven’t seen you in a while.’

 

At first McMillan refused to go in. They sat in the car on Lower Briggate and looked across the street at the place.

‘They’ll know I’m a copper as soon as I walk through the door,’ McMillan objected.

‘Well, I can’t. I’m in uniform,’ Lottie reminded him.

He pushed the brim of his hat back. ‘It’s just…’ He shook his head and a look of distaste crossed his face.

‘Because they’re different, you mean?’ She chose her words very carefully.

‘Yes. It’s wrong, inverts and mannish girls. It’s not natural.’

‘Sarge,’ she began patiently. ‘John.’ What was the best way to put it? ‘This is the quickest way to get the information. Betty’s lived up on Blackman Lane for years. She knows the place inside and out. Two minutes and she can tell me where we can find Walker.’

‘How do you know her, anyway?’

‘Her niece had a few problems. WPC Taylor and I helped sort them out. Betty came to see us out on patrol and said how grateful she was.’

He glanced at the entrance to the Royal Hotel. ‘All right,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘We’ll do it like this: you go to the ginnel at the back and wait. I’ll pop in, have a word with her, say you need to talk to her. Be as quick as you can. We’ll meet back here.’

 

‘You’re looking well, Lottie.’ Betty smiled. Everyone called her Auntie, a strangely sexless figure, more man than woman and ending up neither. She was a fixture behind the bar, serving drinks for the homosexuals and lesbians who spent their money there, always ready to advise them on their problems but never finding answers to her own.

‘So are you.’

‘That poor man you sent in looked terrified.’ She gave a chuckle. ‘Kept looking around like someone might eat him.’

‘He’s harmless, Auntie. Just scared, that’s all. Did he tell you I need your help?’

‘Yes.’ She stared at the cigarette as she turned it in her thick fingers. ‘Something about Blackman Lane.’

‘We’re looking for someone who has a place there,’ Lottie said. ‘I don’t know if it’s a flat or a room.’

‘What’s his name?’

‘Ronnie Walker. He’s in his early twenties.’

‘Doesn’t ring a bell,’ the woman answered slowly. ‘They come and go so fast these days.’

‘He drives a Standard sedan.’

‘Oh, him.’ Her face brightened. ‘Number seventeen. He has the attic. What’s he done? Why are you after him?’

‘I can’t tell you, Auntie. And please don’t say a word.’

‘Lips locked,’ she promised. ‘And I’ll throw away the key.’

‘Thank you. For everything.’ She leaned forward and gave Betty a quick peck on the cheek, seeing the glimmer of loneliness in the woman’s eyes.

‘Number seventeen,’ Lottie announced with a smile as she closed the door of the Peugeot. ‘I told you Betty would know.’

‘God, she’s an odd creature. Gave me the creeps, dressed like that.’

‘She’s lovely.’ Lottie turned on the seat to look at him. ‘Without her we’d be hunting around and trying to find Walker’s address. I hope you won’t forget that.’

‘I know,’ he said quietly as he wove through the traffic on the Headrow and Woodhouse Lane. ‘I know. It’s just… well, it doesn’t matter.’ He gave her a tight smile.

‘Isn’t that a Standard?’ She pointed at a parked car on Blackman Lane. There were no more than a handful of vehicles, along with a Matthias Robinson’s delivery lorry.

‘That’s the one,’ McMillan agreed. ‘Right outside the house, too. The attic, you said?’

‘That’s what Betty told me.’ She wanted to remind him who’d given them the information.

‘Let’s take a gander. If we’re lucky, your Miss Hill will be here and we can finish this right now.’

The front door of the house was unlocked. They climbed the stairs slowly, one flight, then pausing on the landing before taking the second. At the top, the door stood ajar.

Something felt very wrong.

‘Let me go first,’ the sergeant whispered. He trod carefully, barely making a sound. He hesitated for a fraction of a second before grabbing the door handle and easing it up. Lottie had barely started the climb when she heard him shout, ‘Get in here now.’

 

You can get both paperback (in the UK) and ebook (everywhere, and very cheap) from September 6. Or simply order it now. And I hope it has magic for you, too.

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Lottie at the Market Tavern

It’s not long until Modern Crimes is published and yes, I’m going to keep putting out teasers about it. I like Lottie Armstrong. She’s somewhat extraordinary by being ordinary – and you’ll have to read it to make sense of that. And so, here’s another short extract to hopefully whet your appetites.

For those who don’t know, the Market Tavern was Leeds institution, about 100 yards from Millgarth Police Station, and many of the city’s crooks gathered there. The force was happy to let them; it meant they knew where they were. But, at least in the 1920s, it wasn’t a place for a respectable woman, and definitely not for a woman police constable…

At the end you can find out more about Modern Crimes. The ebook comes out the same day as the UK paperback, and it’s decidedly cheap. I’ll just leave that thought in your head.

 

‘By God,’ Tennison said in admiration as they walked back down the street. ‘Where did you learn to do all that?’

‘What?’

‘Get them to talk. You should be a detective.’

She laughed. ‘And pigs will fly. Come on, he wanted to tell us, you could see it in his face. He loves her, he wants to see her safe as much as anyone.’

‘If you say so,’ he said doubtfully. ‘That touching his hand, what made you do it?’

‘I don’t know. It just seemed to be what he needed. Why? Was it bad?’

‘It was ruddy marvellous.’ He smiled at her and glanced at his wristwatch. ‘What time are you due back on patrol?’

She looked at him. ‘I don’t know. As soon as we’re done, I suppose. Why?’

‘Oh, I just thought we could drop in to the Market Tavern before you went back, that’s all.’ He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, a sly grin on his lips.

‘Go on, then,’ she agreed quickly. ‘As long as it stays quiet. Mrs Maitland will have me off the force if she finds out.’

‘I won’t say a word, cross my heart.’ He winked. ‘For a lass, you’re all right, you know that?’

She nudged him in the ribs, hard enough for him to feel. ‘And I’ve come across worse blokes than you.’ Her eyes were laughing. ‘So who’s this rich man, do you think?’

‘Haven’t a clue, but someone’s bound to know. You won’t find many Standards in Leeds, they’re not cheap. Whoever owns it has a bit of brass.’

She’d gone into pubs with Geoff, a few times with gaggles of girls from Barnbow when they enjoyed a night out. A cocktail bar with Cathy. But never anywhere like the Market Tavern. It was early enough in the day to stink of stale beer and old smoke, dust motes hanging in the air.

A few hardened drinkers slumped in the corners, shunning company; a man listlessly mopped the bar. The spittoons hadn’t been emptied and the brass needed a healthy polish.

‘Morning, Bill. Is Nancy about?’ Tennison said, looking around the faces in the place.

‘In the cellar, Henry. She’ll be back in a minute.’ He stared at Lottie, the look becoming a leer as he licked his lips. ‘Who’s the bird?’

‘That’ll be Woman Police Constable Armstrong to you.’ There was an iron edge to his voice. ‘Unless you fancy a belting into next week. Not from me, from her. And don’t go thinking she wouldn’t dare.’

Bill bowed his head and seemed to deflate into himself,.

At Barnbow the men had flirted. Some of them had tried it on, hands free when they thought they could get away with it. But she’d been one girl among many, plenty of them prettier and more happy-go-lucky. Since she put on the uniform it had been worse, as if she was fair game. Plenty of comments, someone trying to grab her breasts on a crowded tram. Even one of the coppers at work had fancied his chances, thinking he could drag her into a cupboard. A sharp knee had ended that idea and kept him off work the next day. Since then they’d treated her warily around the station. Everyone knew what had happened; no-one ever spoke about it.

Footsteps echoed on stone stairs. A door opened and a woman filled the opening. She was large, tall with wide shoulders. Big-boned in every way, around forty, but she carried it handsomely, wearing expensive, stylish clothes, make-up carefully applied to hide the wrinkles, her hair cut to suit her broad face.

‘Well, well, well, look who’s blown in.’ She had a voice like a contented purr, low, pleasant, but with the edge of teasing. ‘Where have you been keeping yourself, Henry?’ Her eyes turned to Lottie. ‘This must be one of them WPCs.’ She nodded approval. ‘The uniform suits you, dear. And Henry wouldn’t be dragging you in here unless you could hold your own.’

‘I’ve got a question for you,’ Tennison said. The attention, and everything that lurked beneath it, didn’t seem to bother him. ‘About someone who drinks in here.’

Nancy took a Woodbine from a packet on the bar and lit it.

‘Well,’ she said finally. ‘Spit it out. I don’t have all day.’

‘He drives a Standard,’ Lottie said quickly. ‘Probably in his twenties or so. Very likely thinks he’s the bees’ knees.’

The woman laughed. ‘You’re not backwards about coming forwards, are you? You’re looking for Ronnie Walker. Comes in here a couple of times a week. Likes to think he’s hard stuff because he’s slumming it. What’s he done?’

‘Maybe nothing,’ Tennison said. ‘We need to talk to him and find out.’

‘You need to take a look in Headingley. Somewhere round there.’ She stared at Lottie. ‘What’s your name, luv?’

‘WPC Armstrong.’

Nancy sighed. ‘Your real name. Like he’s Henry and I’m Nancy.’

‘Lottie.’

The woman extended a large hand and Lottie shook it. ‘You’ll do. You need anything, come and ask for me.’ She nodded at Tennison. ‘You don’t need to wait for him. And no-one will hurt you in here. Not unless they want to answer to me.’ She grinned, showing a set of discoloured teeth. ‘And they don’t, believe you me.’

 

‘You went in the Market Tavern?’ Cathy put her hands on her hips. ‘Come on, tell me all about it. I keep hoping someone will take me in there.’

They were walking through County Arcade, all the old glamour looking a little faded and dreary, the black and white tiled floor sad and grubby.

‘There’s not much to tell,’ Lottie told her. ‘It’s a dreary place. We weren’t even inside for ten minutes.’

‘What about the woman?’ Cathy asked eagerly. ‘I’ve heard about her.’

‘Nancy? She’s lovely. Big, but… it suits her.’

‘Are they keeping you on the investigation? What did Mrs Maitland say?’

‘The case has gone to the detectives.’

She didn’t want to say more. After her hopes had been raised for a few hours, they’d been dashed again. Still, that was to be expected. Outside the matron’s office Henry had given her a sympathetic look and a shrug before heading back to his beat. It was the way of the world.

 

Evening report was almost complete when Mrs Maitland looked at her. Her next words seemed to come out grudgingly.

‘Inspector Carter wants you to report upstairs to CID before you leave.’

 

Want to know more about Lottie and Modern Crimes? Click here.

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Proper Coppers – A Brand New Story

It’s just under three weeks until Modern Crimes is published. You haven’t really had chance to get to know its heroine, Lottie Armstrong. What better way than in a new short story that gives you the opportunity to know a little more about WPC Lottie Armstrong, and how she wants to be a proper copper.

You can order the book. The paperback comes out on the 7 September, January 2017 in the US. But the ebook edition is published everywhere September 7, and it’s dead cheap (thank my publisher). Details after the story.

Proper Coppers

‘Come on.’ Lottie stopped and turned, hands on her hips. ‘It’ll take us an hour to get there at this rate.’

Cathy Taylor bent over and retied her laces. ‘You’re not the one breaking in new shoes. They’re killing my bunions’

‘Half a dozen men are craning their neck to look at you like that,’ Lottie hissed.

‘Let them.’ Cathy straightened and grinned. ‘I’m don’t mind being the centre of attention.’ She wiggled her toes. ‘That’s a little better. We’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.’ Cathy began to stride out across Woodhouse Moor and looked over her shoulder. ‘Well? Are you coming?’

1924, and they were the first two women police constables in Leeds, their first year on the beat. WPCs looked after the women and children; those were the orders. Shoplifters, truants, moving on the prostitutes. Not proper coppers, one officer had told them with a sneer.

Lottie Armstrong didn’t care. She’d heard worse when she’d worked out at Barnbow during the war. A fews insults ran off her like water from a duck’s bath. She was twenty-five, loved the work, and she had a husband who liked her to be happy. Cathy? Well, her husband spent most of his time away with the merchant marine. Work filled her days, brought in some money, and gave her the chance to flirt with anything in trousers. And she was right; she always liked being the centre of male attention. She didn’t even have to work with it. Skinny as a rail, one of those fashionable figures, and with her hair in a bob, men regularly gave her a second glance. Lottie was…rounder. Not that she really cared. Most of the time.

They knew exactly where they were going. It was May and already their third trip to the same address that year. Once in April, twice this month. Elsie Chalmers. Bold as brass, she nicked things from shops. Classy shops and good department stores. Matthias Robinson, Marks and Spencer, Schofield’s, the Pygmalion, Marshall and Snelgrove – none of them were safe from her. Knickers, gloves, a blouse or two. Everyone knew she did it; they’d simply never managed to catch her with the goods. It had been going on for five years, always in the spring and summer, as if she took winter off.

‘It’s like cricket,’ the desk sergeant said. ‘April rolls around and it’s the start of Elsie’s shoplifting season.’ But no matter how often they searched her house, they’d never found the items she’d taken.

This time, though, she’d outdone herself. Elsie stolen an expensive coat, on sale after the winter season. Heavy wool, with a fox collar. It wasn’t something she could slip into her handbag as she passed. She’d tried it on, admired the fit in the mirror and waltzed out still wearing it. By the time the shop assistant realised, Elsie had vanished into the crowds on Briggate.

That had been two hours before.

Now they had their orders. Go and search Elsie Chalmers’ house. Again. The way she kept coming back here, Lottie thought, she might as well rent a room from the woman. She already knew the layout as well as she knew her own home on Oak Road.

It was a decent three-storey terrace with a front garden no bigger than a postage stamp. A tiny spot of lawn that could be clipped with a pair of nail scissors and a rose bush that climbed awkwardly towards the neighbour’s hedge.

Cathy knocked on the door. They waited a moment then heard footsteps clicking down the hall. Then, finally, Elsie herself.

‘Hello.’ She managed to sound surprised. ‘What brings you two here? Why don’t you come in?’ She stepped aside to let them through.

‘Elsie,’ Lottie began, ‘you’ve been at it again, haven’t you?’

‘At what, dear? What do you mean?’ She was fifty if she was a day, but she tried her best to hide it, always beautifully turned out. A strong girdle to keep her figure under control, neat, stylish clothes, a hair style that hadn’t come from the shop on the parade down the road. And plenty of make-up to hide the wrinkles. ‘Would you like some tea?’

Every visit here meant tea and cake. It was a ritual, part of the game for the woman. Lottie looked at her, wondering what was going on in her head. Why did she do this? What did she gain from it?

‘Where’s the coat, Elise?’ Cathy asked.

‘What coat is that, dear?’

‘The one you stole this afternoon.’

Elsie gave a sweet smile. ‘But I haven’t stolen anything.’ She waved a hand. ‘Take a look around.’

She still wore the wedding ring, although her husband had been dead since the Somme. He’d left her a little, enough to get by. Lottie knew that much from talking to her. She could afford the clothes she took. Maybe stealing brought a little thrill into her life.

Never mind, she thought. Maybe this time they’d catch her.

Cathy was in the bedroom, moving clothes along the rail.

‘She’s got enough dresses to fit an army. I bet she never paid for half of them, either.’ She held one out. ‘Feel that. Real silk. She couldn’t afford that.’

Lottie knelt and checked under the bed, then in the box room, the empty spare bedroom, and finally the attic. She pushed the cobwebs away with her hand, looking for feet marks on the dirty floor. Not a thing.

They marched back downstairs, feeling the frustration. Wherever it was, Elsie had a good hiding place. The best. But this time, Lottie decided, this time she’d find it, even if she had to tear the place apart brick by brick.

The parlour, the kitchen: no coat. That left the cellar. Lottie raised an eyebrow. Cathy sighed. They’d been down there before. Last time they’d found a huge spider over the sink and a rat had scuttled across the floor before vanishing into a hole. But they had to do it. Lottie gritted her teeth.

Five minutes of searching everywhere. They moved old furniture that had been left here, coughing as dust rose into their faces. By the time they climbed back up to the kitchen, their uniforms were filthy. They patted themselves and each other. Best to be immaculate before they reported back in to Millgarth police station or Mrs. Maitland, the matron, would be tearing strips of them both.

Lottie stared out of the windows at the yard.

‘Just wait a minute,’ she said.

It was no more than six steps across the yard to the coal shed up against the back wall. There’d be an opening on the other side, so the coalman could deliver from the ginnel.

Lottie opened the door. She expected a small dark cloud to rise as she stepped inside. Instead the small space was swept spotlessly clean.

A long bag hung from a nail on the wall. A few carefully sealed boxes were stacked on the floor. Lottie began to smile.

‘Elsie,’ she called once she was in the kitchen again, her arms full, ‘Could you come here a moment?’

‘What is it?’ She heard the small sigh of the chair as the woman rose. As soon as she entered the room, her face fell. ‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘Oh dear.’

 

‘How did you know?’ Cathy asked. They stood in the ladies’ at Millgarth Police station, washing off the day’s grime after their shift. Elsie Chalmers was down in the cells, waiting for her solicitor. ‘None of the blokes who’d searched the place before ever thought of it. We didn’t, either. What made you look there?’

‘I’m not sure.’ She studied her reflection. It was true. She’d had a sudden flash, that was all. Seeing the coal shed, remembering that there hadn’t been a fire in the grate, that day or the month before, that the woman only shoplifted when the weather grew warmer. In a moment, everything seemed to fit together. ‘It doesn’t matter. We got her.’ She smiled. ‘Just like proper coppers.’

Want to know more about Modern Crimes? Click here.

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Meet Lottie Armstrong

It’s official. Contracts signed and returned. Lottie Armstrong will be going public.

Who?

Mrs. Charlotte Armstrong, but everyone calls her Lottie. During the First World War she’d been a Barnbow Canary. But in 1924 she’s become one of the first two policewomen in Leeds. The only problem for WPC Lottie Armstrong is that the very restricted duties – dealing only with women and children – don’t seem quite enough. She has a brain and she wants to use it. But the men in charge don’t seem willing to give her a chance.

Until a girl in a home for unmarried mothers goes missing. And suddenly Lottie Armstrong gets the chance to be a proper copper, a job that takes her into the shadowy world of lesbian Leeds, mixing with the poor, and then out to rub shoulders with the wealthy, the powerful – and the crooked. As well as doing her real job.

Can Lottie do it all? You’ll have to read Modern Crimes, out in September, to find out. But here’s a short extract (followed by a little about the sequel).

 

So here she is. Meet Lottie Armstrong

 

‘I told you, a hint’s as far as he’ll go. That’s his idea of co-operation. We need to go up there and look. Ask whoever’s on the beat.’

‘I might have a better idea, sir.’

 

The space behind the Royal Hotel stank. The bins overflowed and there was a strong stench of urine from somewhere. Lottie paced around, waiting and trying to be patient. The sound of traffic was muffled and distant. A train went by on the embankment, the second in ten minutes, making the earth under her shoes shake as it passed.

Finally the door at the back of the building squeaked open on rusty hinges and a heavy woman emerged. She was dressed in a man’s double-breasted suit, correct down to the collar and tie, shoes polished to a high gloss, her short hair in a brutal shingle cut and pomaded down. Blinking in the light, she lit one of her Turkish cigarettes.

‘Hello, Auntie Betty,’ Lottie said. ‘I haven’t seen you in a while.’

 

At first McMillan refused to go in. They sat in the car on Lower Briggate and looked across the street at the place.

‘They’ll know I’m a copper as soon as I walk through the door,’ McMillan objected.

‘Well, I can’t. I’m in uniform,’ Lottie reminded him.

He pushed the brim of his hat back.

‘It’s just…’ Then he shook his head and a look of distaste crossed his face.

‘Because they’re different, you mean?’ She chose her words very carefully.

‘Yes. It’s wrong, inverts and mannish girls. It’s not natural.’

‘Sarge,’ she began patiently. ‘John.’ What was the best way to put it? ‘This is the quickest way to get the information. Betty’s lived up on Blackman Lane for years. She knows the place inside and out. Two minutes and she can tell me where we can find Walker.’

‘How do you know her, anyway?’

‘Her niece had a few problems. WPC Taylor and I helped sort them out. Betty came to see us out on patrol and said how grateful she was.’

He glanced at the entrance to the Royal Hotel.

‘All right,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘We’ll do it like this: you go to the ginnel at the back and wait. I’ll pop in, have a word with her, say you’re need to talk to her. Be as quick as you can. We’ll meet back here.’

 

‘You’re looking well, Lottie.’ Betty smiled. Everyone called her Auntie, a strangely sexless figure, more man than woman and ending up neither. She was a fixture behind the bar, serving drinks for the homosexuals and lesbians who spent their money there, always ready to advise them on their problems but never finding answers to her own.

‘So do you.’

‘That poor man you sent in looked terrified.’ She gave a chuckle. ‘Kept looking around like someone might eat him.’

‘He’s harmless, Auntie. Just scared, that’s all. Did he tell you I need your help?’

‘Yes.’ She stared at the cigarette as she turned it in her thick fingers. ‘Something about Blackman Lane.’

‘We’re looking for someone who has a place there,’ Lottie said. ‘I don’t know if it’s a flat or a room.’

‘What’s his name?’

‘Ronnie Walker. He’s in his early twenties.’

‘Doesn’t ring a bell,’ the woman answered slowly. ‘They come and go so fast these days.’

‘He drives a Standard sedan.’

‘Oh, him.’ Her face brightened. ‘Number seventeen. He has the attic. What’s he done? Why are you after him?’

‘I can’t tell you, Auntie. And please don’t say a word.’

‘Lips sealed,’ she promised. ‘And I’ll throw away the key.’

‘Thank you. For everything.’ She leaned forward and gave Betty a quick peck on the cheek, seeing the glimmer of loneliness in the woman’s eyes.

 

Modern Crimes indeed…

 

20 years on. 1944. The war continues but there’s the first scent of victory in the air. Sooner, rather than later, a second front has to open. Sergeant McMillan is now a Detective Chief Superintendent. He should have retired, but is staying on for the duration. And he’s persuaded Lottie to volunteer for the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps and become his driver. But either of them know that 1944 is poised to become The Year of the Gun…although it’ll be September 2017 before the book appears.

 

‘Why are there suddenly so many Americans around?’ Lottie asked as she parked the car on Albion Street. ‘You can hardly turn a corner without running into one.’

‘Are you sure that’s not just your driving?’ McMillan said.

She glanced in the mirror, seeing him sitting comfortably in the middle of the back seat, grinning.

‘You could always walk, sir.’ She kept her voice perfectly polite, a calm, sweet smile on her face. ‘It might shift a few of those inches around your waist.’

He closed the buff folder on his lap and sighed.

‘What did I do to deserve this?’

‘As I recall, you came and requested that I join up and become your driver.’

‘A moment of madness.’ Detective Chief Superintendent McMillan grunted as he slid across the seat of the Humber and opened the door. ‘I shan’t be long.’

She turned off the engine, glanced at her reflection and smiled, straightening the dark blue cap on her head.

Three months back in uniform and it still felt strange to be a policewoman again after twenty years away from it. It was just the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps, not a proper copper, but still…after they’d pitched her out on her ear it tasted delicious. Every morning when she put on her jacket she had to touch the WAPC shoulder flash to assure herself it wasn’t all a dream.

And it was perfectly true that McMillan had asked her. He’d turned up on her doorstep at the beginning of November, looking bashful.

‘I need a driver, Lottie. Someone with a brain.’

‘That’s why they got rid of me before,’ she reminded him. ‘Too independent, you remember?’ McMillan had been a detective sergeant then: disobeying his order had brought her before the disciplinary board and dismissed from Leeds City Police. ‘Anyway, I’m past conscription age. Not by much,’ she added carefully, ‘but even so…’

‘Volunteer. I’ll arrange everything,’ he promised.

Hands on hips, she cocked her head and eyed him carefully.

‘Why?’ she asked suspiciously. ‘And why now?’

She’d never really blamed him for what happened before. Both of them had been in impossible positions. They’d stayed in touch after she was bounced off the force – Christmas cards, an occasional luncheon in town – and he’d been thoughtful after her husband, Geoff, died. But none of that explained this request.

‘Why now?’ he repeated. ‘Because I’ve just lost another driver. Pregnant. That’s the second one in two years.’

Lottie raised an eyebrow.

‘Oh, don’t be daft,’ he told her. He was in his middle fifties, mostly bald, growing fat, the dashing dark moustache now white and his cheeks turning to jowls. By rights he should have retired, but with so many away fighting for King and country he’d agreed to stay on for the duration.

He was a senior officer, effectively running CID in Leeds, answerable to the assistant chief constable. Most of the detectives under him were older or medically unfit for service. Only two had invoked reserved occupation and stayed on the Home Front rather than put on a uniform.

But wartime hadn’t slowed down crime. Far from it. Black market, gangs, deserters, prostitution. More of it than ever. Robberies were becoming violent, rackets more deadly. Criminals had guns and they were using them.

And now Leeds had American troops all over the place.