Review: A Matter of Love and Death, Caron Albright

I’m delighted to be part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, and I have a beautiful book suggestion for you: A Matter of Love and Death, by Caron Albright. Set in Adelaide, Australia, in the 1930s, this is a cosy mystery with a similar tone to Anita Davison’s Flora Maguire series.

But first, a little about Books for Older Readers:

“The Books for Older Readers facebook group and website was established in October 2017 to promote books (mainly fiction) with older protagonists or themes such as ‘second chances’, which tend to appeal to readers in mid-life or beyond.”

You can find them on Facebook 

And on their website 

And now, without further ado…

 

A Matter of Love and Death, by Caron Albright.

Amazon blurb: 

An absorbing 1930s mystery that you won’t be able to put down

Adelaide, 1931. Telephone switchboard operator Frances’ life is difficult as sole provider for her mother and adopted uncle. But it’s thrown into turmoil when she overhears a suspicious conversation on the phone, planning a murder.

If a life is at risk, she should tell the police; but that would mean breaking her confidentiality clause and would cost her the job. And practical Frances, not prone to flights of fancy, soon begins to doubt the evidence of her own ears – it was a very bad line, after all…

She decides to put it behind her, a task helped by the arrival of their new lodger, Phil. Phil takes her to a nightclub, where she meets charming but slightly dangerous club owner Jack. Jack’s no angel – prohibition is in force, and what’s a nightclub without champagne? But he’s a good man, and when Frances’ earlier fears resurface she knows that he’s the person to confide in.

Frances and Jack’s hunt for the truth put them in grave danger, and soon enough Frances will learn that some things are a matter of love and death…

 

My review.

Right from the very start I was drawn into the atmosphere, and the time and setting, of this story. The town and its inhabitants are described beautifully, really making me feel part of the unfolding drama, and the author uses all the senses to keep her readers fully immersed.

Frances is a down-to-earth heroine, very forthright in her beliefs, and the way her life becomes entwined with that of some mysterious and puzzling characters is believable and well told. Her friendships are endearing and genuine; Pauline, in particular, fizzes her way through the story, the perfect foil for sensible, level-headed Frances. I’d like to find out if she had her own story, I think it would be an interesting one!

 Maggie, Frances’s mother, is caring and selfless, to the point of her own detriment, and Frances is hard pressed to keep her focused on their own family’s needs. Unlike many roles of this nature, she is not merely ‘the mother,’ she’s a brilliant character in her own right, reminding the reader that no-one appears in someone’s story fully-formed, they all have their own value, and their own history that has shaped them. Anyone of a similar age will connect with her instantly, and appreciate that Frances is the well-rounded individual she is because of the way she’s been taught.

It’s refreshing to live a story through the lives of a family not absolutely mired in debt, but still struggling, while taking great pride in their home; very identifiable for most of us, and told with honesty and a gentle humour. The mystery is secondary to the unfolding relationships, but it does keep you guessing, and the resolution is satisfying when it comes. The relationships themselves are portrayed with warmth, and the love the extended family and neighbourhood have for one another is clear; you get the impression they would go through anything together and remain strong.

Overall this was a lovely story, with engaging and sympathetic characters, and I very much enjoyed reading it.

 

Buy this book on Amazon UK

Prosecco and Promises. Guest Post – A.L. Michael

Welcome, welcome! Today I’m thrilled to be sharing this tantalising excerpt of A.L. Michael’s brand new book: Prosecco and Promises

Here’s the cover:

 

p and p

Doesn’t it look gorgeous? And now I’ll hand you over to the author herself, who will introduce the series and give you a sneak-peak at what you’ll find.

 

Prosecco and Promises is book two in The Martini Series. Book one, Cocktails and Dreams, was about Savvy’s journey towards living her life more fully. This book is about her best friend, Mia. Mia’s been given an impossible task – she’s been sent away at the end of her dad’s illness to get to know her Italian family.

I’ve loved writing Mia’s story – she’s fiesty and strong and brash, and everything I wish I had the strength to be. But she’s also vulnerable and needs a little support. The book is set on the island of Ischia, which is a little bit magic.

I really hope you enjoy the excerpt below!

 

 

Chapter One

 

‘Babe, I love that we’ve become friends since Savvy jetted off into the sunshine, but I do actually need to work,’ Jacques wiped the bar down, moving my elbow. My arm thunked down on the table, and I let my head rest. There had been four rum and cokes, maybe five. In very short succession.

‘Yeah, sure,’ I garbled, ‘You work. Aren’t bartenders meant to be here to listen to people’s problems?’

‘Nope, they’re meant to make people drinks.’

‘You did that part!’

Jacques raised a perfectly arched eyebrow, ‘Yes, and you’ve repaid me by being an incredibly irritating drunk.’

I pouted, fluttering my eyelashes. ‘Come on, my best friend abandoned me. You’re my only friend in the world.’

‘My sympathies,’ he snorted, ‘give me half an hour and I’ll play agony aunt. But I’ll warn you, darling, it’s bad drag.’

The time passed slowly. I pushed my dark curls over my shoulder and stared down the bar. It was a quiet Tuesday. I’d ended up spending more time at The Martini Club after my best friend Savvy left to go to cookery school in Barcelona. She used to work at the club, and I hung out there partly because I missed her, and partly because I liked having somewhere secret and beautiful to go. A retreat in the centre of the city, where there was no light, you had no concept of time, and everyone was vibrant and alive.

Alive. Right.

A shape shifted to my right and a man slipped onto the bar stool next to me. I could have guessed what he’d looked like before I even turned my head. Carefully coiffed, suit and a smirk to match.

‘Can I buy you a drink?’ Smirky face smirked, so sure of himself.

I blinked to focus on him, ‘Mate, I’m resting my head on the bar. Do I look like I need another drink?’

‘Well, uh-’

‘Well, uh, unless you’re a prowler pervert who wants to get done for trying to coerce a drunk lady, I suggest you slither back in the hole you came from.’

He blinked, then scowled.

‘Bitch.’

‘Darn tootin’,’ I wiggled my fingers at him, ‘Buh-bye.’

Jacques came over not long after.

‘Is that coffee? God bless you!’

‘You’ve got twenty minutes. Hit me with your problems.’

‘Tomorrow I am being put on a plane to an Italian island against my will.’

‘Oh,’ he rolled his eyes, ‘poor you.’

‘Ugh, I wish Savvy was here, she’d understand.’

My best friend was the only person who was there when my dad got sick the first time. She was the one who held my hand when I cried over chemo treatments and sat drinking with me when I didn’t want to sleep incase there was bad news. She was the only one who didn’t lose touch with me when I stopped going out, stopped answering texts, when the world seemed too hard to be anything but the daughter of a man who was dying.

But he got better. He married Marjorie, his girlfriend who was a mere 7 years older than me, which drove me crazy, but he was alive and he was allowed to do anything he wanted as long as he stayed alive. And now…

‘Okay, glibness aside,’ Jacques sat down next to me and placed a hand on mine, his kohl rimmed eyes soft and serious, ‘why are you being sent to Italy against your will?’

I took a breath, ‘My father’s dying wish.’

Jacques looked astounded, and in the few months I’d known him, I’d never seen him speechless. He squeezed my hand. ‘When…did your dad pass away?’

‘He hasn’t…’ I pressed my lips together to try and ignore the irritation that crept up every time I thought about it, the desire not to say the word yet. ‘He doesn’t want me to be here at the end, whilst he declines. We went through it before, and this time…he says it’s a gift. His wish for me. And I need to do what he says, but I am so mad that I could explode.’

‘Do you have to do what he says? Couldn’t you stay anyway?’

‘Ignore the dying man? So that I forever live to regret denying him the final thing he wanted?’ I snorted, ‘Sure, a life of regret along with being an orphan. Awesome.’

I knew this wasn’t fair on Jacques. We weren’t those kind of friends yet. I had hoped we might be. His sassiness complemented mine well, and I’d enjoyed bitching with him about my work at the makeup counter. He was also a keen historian, outside the bar, away from the eyeliner and stage presence. He was secretly a cardigan-wearing dork, and we’d wandered around a few museums whilst I joyfully geeked out, using the long dusty knowledge from my barely used archaeology degree.

That was another point Dad had made. I had come back home in the middle of my first dig after graduating, when he got sick, and I’d never tried again. I worked at the makeup counter in the local department store, staying nearby, moving home so I could be there if anything happened. And now, it was happening, and I wasn’t going to be there.

‘I guess you’re faced with an impossible choice – do what he says, and be mad at him, or ignore his wishes and let him be mad at you.’

‘You think I could let my dad die mad at me?’ I suddenly realised that of course, Jacques didn’t even really know what type of person I was, what family meant. That my dad had been the only person I’d ever had, the only person who’d been there no matter what, and yet, I didn’t really even know him. I knew he liked two sugars in his coffee, and he watched TED talks religiously. I knew he pretended to hate how everyone talked about his much younger wife, but in secret preened and swanned about, joyous at the incredulity of his good fortune. His friends would ask him how the hell he got a girl like Marjorie, and he’d say, ‘Get cancer, does wonders for your love life.’

And before that, before the sickness, he was the kind of dad who would encourage me to climb trees and make mess. One day, not long after Mum died, he presented me with the empty, white wall of our living room and told me we were going to put the colour back in the world. We painted that entire wall with leafy-green handprints, a jungle of fingertips and lined palms. It’s still there, that wall, our fortunes told a hundred times in repeat.

Who was going to help me put the colour back when he was gone?

‘I think you’re the kind of person I’ve known for months, who never once mentioned her dad was sick. You’ve got a control I didn’t think you were capable of.’

I snorted at that, ‘That’s my charm. I seem impulsive and fun, but in fact it’s very tightly reigned in and controlled chaos.’

‘So what are you going to do?’ He left his hand over mine, and I started to feel sweaty and irritable.

‘I’m going to drink my coffee, buy a kebab on the way home, and finish packing my case. And then tomorrow, with the world’s worst hangover, I’m going to kiss my father goodbye, and get on that plane.’

No matter how hard it was.

Buy Prosecco and Promises here.

About the author:

A.L. Michael is hurtling towards the end of her twenties a little too quickly. She is the author of 10 novels. Her most recent collection of books, The Martini Club Series, started with Cocktails and Dreams, to be followed by Prosecco and Promises, and Martinis and Memories.

She likes to write about difficult women. Well, they say to write what you know.
Chosen headshotAndi works as a content writer, as well as a therapeutic facilitator. She has a bunch of degrees in stuff to do with writing, and wrote her MSc dissertation on the power of creative writing in eating disorder recovery. She truly believes stories can change your life.

She is represented by Madeleine Milburn Agency, and you’ll be seeing a lot more from her in 2018.

Website
Twitter: @almichael_
Facebook

Visit AL Michael’s Amazon Author Page.

 

A Tooth For A Tooth

Hello, and thanks for joining me! Today I’m offering this little bit of festive silliness, written as part of a writing forum challenge about a million years ago, and the ideal length to read over a quick tea break. The challenge was to take a well-known fictional (?) character, and drop them into a Christmas setting. Enjoy!

A Tooth for a Tooth

A festive short story

by Terri Nixon

 

 

It had been doomed to failure from the start. I knew it, we all knew it, but would they listen? Then, when it all kicked off, guess which mug was called in to sort out the mess. Which was how I found myself, on Christmas Eve, hanging on by my fingertips for dear life , with sweat trickling into my eyes and the hands on the church clock across the road marching mercilessly towards the twelve.  I let out a groan; I wanted it to be exasperation and it was… partly. But the bigger part was pure scaredy-cat whimper.

Where the hell was she?
To take my mind off the enormous lump of nothing beneath my swinging feet, I allowed my mind to scamper back over the path that had led me here. I must have been mad to take the job on to start with, but I’d been desperate – why else would I have been stupid enough to sign up as corporate troubleshooter to a bunch of shiny-faced over-achievers like The Directors?  They threw buzzwords around like confetti and made all the proper, concerned noises about their Investment In People, but I’d lost count of the times they’d driven out the best qualified person and replaced them with one of their own inside contractors.
This case was a prime example: Tania Featherfly – even her initials suited the job – had been the best tooth fairy in the business, but, like so many other small franchises she’d had to increase her prices to maintain those high standards. I remembered the board meeting and hearing the words: ‘Economic Downturn,’ and ‘Credit Crunch’ bandied about, but all it really boiled down to was: “My Lot Are Cheaper, You’re Fired.” And bingo – tooth fairying was farmed out to a pool of corporate suits with as much sense of tradition as a brick.
Tania had, quite rightly, been somewhat annoyed at being laid off so close to Christmas – from Hallowe’en onwards, a lucrative time for the collection of enamel– so she’d decided to do something about it. But did she go to the administrators and offer to work at lower cost? No. Not her style. She thought it would be far more entertaining to follow the new contractor on his rounds, and start removing perfectly healthy teeth while they were still in the mouth.

And there was certainly no money being left in return for these filched fangs.

That was when I got the call. Luckily, the only person to wake during one of Tania’s dubious ‘extractions’ had been the chairman of the board who’d fired her, and only then because she’d really gone to town on him; quite the revenge-seeker is our sweet little Tania.
I still remember him trying to talk through a mouth that had only one tooth left in it.  “Joe, it’s vital you get every single one of those teeth back where they belong, before midnight.”
I took a moment to decipher what he was saying, then asked, “Why midnight?”
“Come on, you know this is a special night.”

“Christmas Eve, sure. But what difference does that make?”
The chairman sighed. “Midnight GMT, Christmas Eve? Think about it.” With exaggerated patience, he quoted: “If there be mischief abroad in The Netherworld at that time, all magic will cease to have effect.”  When I didn’t answer, he growled, “The guy in the red suit?”
“Ah.”
“Yes, ‘Ah.’ The Human World will be thrown into turmoil, there will be no belief in anything anymore. And that means?”
“Err, no teeth left out for collection?”
“The penny drops. Now get onto it. And, Joe?”

“Yeah?”

“I hardly need remind you which teeth are top priority.”

 

So I’d collected a copy of the evening’s itinerary, and set out. First I had to find Tania and talk her into coming with me, which might be difficult. Not the finding her part, that was easy;  I just started at the end of list and worked backwards through the as-yet unvisited kids, all sleeping happily with sugar plums dancing on their heads … or whatever.
Eventually I ran into the new operative. I didn’t think there was any point telling him what was going on, he didn’t look the type to cope well under pressure, so I just nodded as he sidled past on the window sill. He gave me a nervous look, obviously aware of my position within the company.
I smiled. “Nothing to worry about, Brian, you’re doing a great job.” I kept smiling and nodding while he slipped off into the night, looking over his shoulder, suspicion still furrowing his brow.
I glanced at my list – how far behind was Tania? Was it worth trying to beat her to the previous house or should I just wait here til she arrived? I didn’t have to ponder long; she’d followed so closely on Brian’s heels it was a miracle he hadn’t seen her. Actually no, it wasn’t: Tania was good.
I stepped into her path as she alighted on the sill. “Hey, Tania. Thinking of pitching for the Santa franchise next year?”
She gave a helpless little squeal, then glared at me, dropping the pretence.“Oh, it’s you.”
“Nice to see you too. Look, you have to stop what you’re doing.” I tried to sound understanding, but Tania’s glare intensified, and she held up her pliers.
“Get out of my way, Joe, I’m busy.”
I dropped reasonable, and launched into pleading. “You have to help me put this right.”
“After what they did to me? They can kiss my fairy ass! Now move, I’ve got a lot to do tonight.”
“Look, it won’t work. You’ll just end up destroying us all!” I said, my voice rising in frustration . “Please, Tania, we’ll sort this and then go to the board together. Try to work something out.”

I gestured at room beyond the window. A red and green woollen stocking lay draped across the foot of the bed, and the boy’s face reflected that curious mixture of utter peace, yet enormous potential for mischief, that only a sleeping child can convey.
“Don’t mess it up for them,” I said, and I knew I’d succeeded in chipping through her layer of betrayed fury. She hadn’t become the best tooth fairy in history by accident; she genuinely liked her customers – under normal circumstances.
“We don’t have time,” she said, and I was relieved to note a touch of regret in her voice.
“We will if we work together. Come on, we’ll go back the way you came.”

And so, with Tania back on side, albeit accompanied by mutinous muttering, we’d started back along the path of destruction she had laid. In each room I prised open the child’s mouth, while Tania consulted her own list then selected the proper tooth from her gilt-embroidered bag.
Some of the kids were awkward little sods. They’d turned over onto their fronts, making it nigh on impossible to get a good grip on their jaw, and one or two opened sleepy eyes and blinked a few times while Tania and I stood dead still, so tense we could hear each other’s heartbeats.
In the fourth house we re-visited, I was holding open a little girl’s lips while Tania shoved the tooth back into the socket, when the girl spoke in her sleep; “Don’t want no coal …”
I gave a yell and jumped out of the way just as the girl’s hand flopped out of the covers to brush at her mouth. Her finger caught the back of my head and sent me tumbling onto the pillow, where I floundered in a mass of blonde curls.
“Well that’s one kid with a new wobbly tooth tomorrow,” Tania said. “I’m not going back up there to glue that one in place.”
“At least you can fly,” I grumbled.

We worked well together, in fact, and even managed to sort out the chairman’s revolting teeth and replace them in pretty good time. All purloined premolars were soon firmly back in their rightful mouths. When we got to the second-to-last house, I thought Tania looked a bit troubled.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, come on, let’s get this one done.” She caught at my arm to lift me into the room, where the boy lay flat on his back, his mouth obligingly wide open. I grinned at Tania, celebrating our luck, but she still didn’t look pleased.
I chose not to say anything, and a glance at the bedside clock told me we’d better hurry to get the last house done in time. A sense of great achievement filled me; I’d done it again! Troubleshooter Extraordinaire saves the day! I might even get a pay rise out of this one.
We landed on the last window sill and I turned to Tania, rubbing my hands. “Come on then,” I said. “We’ve got a few minutes spare but let’s not take it down to the wire.”
“Joe, there’s a problem.”
“Problem?”
“There are no more teeth left in the bag.”
“What?” A cold feeling wormed its way through me and I could feel my grin dropping away like a shed skin. All my happy thoughts sank into my feet and started seeping out of my boots.
“I thought so at the last house, and now I’m sure; that was the last one.”
“But it can’t be!” I grabbed the bag – it was one of those bizarre ones that has endless depths when it’s full, but when it’s empty, it’s empty. “There’s nothing there,” I said dully, turning it inside out.
Tania bit her lip. “No, there isn’t.” Then her face lit up. “Oh! I know where it is!”

Relief banished my scowl, but only until she spoke again. “I threw it in the pond.”
“What?” I stared at her, incredulous. “Tania, you –”
“I was angry! This was the first house I’d done, and I just threw it away when I came out of the room. I saw it land in the pond.”
“And this helps us how?” I snarled.
“I can get it back. There are water nymphs in that pond.” And without another word she jumped into the air and was gone – leaving me stranded on the windowsill of a fourth floor room, the church clock slowly ticking towards the destruction of everything.
I sat down. There was little point in wearing a path in the wood by pacing up and down, and at least if I kept my back to the night I wouldn’t have to look at those mercilessly marching hands as midnight crept ever closer.
A sound made me look up hopefully. Tania back already? But it wasn’t her. Instead there was a rushing of air and I closed my eyes against the dust and bits of leaves that blew into my face. When I opened them again I was just in time to see the current Santa Claus franchise holder leaping back into his sleigh.That guy was fast! I was lost in admiration for a moment, but as the sleigh took off again the downdraught hit and, suddenly numb with fright, I found myself sliding towards the edge of the window sill.  There was enough breath left for me to yelp as my feet lost contact with the solid surface, and somehow I twisted and caught at the edge of the sill.

And that’s how you found me. Hanging on, blinking sweat out of my eyes and almost able to hear that church clock ticking away my last hope.
“Tania!” I yelled. “Hurry up!”  My hands were slipping, and my heart pounded harder than it ever had before – it occurred to me I could actually die here. I felt sick and my arms started trembling with the effort of holding on, my fingertips burning against the rough wood.
Finally, blessedly, I heard her land on the sill. “Got it!” she beamed, holding up the missing tooth. Then she gave me an impatient look. “Well, come on, we haven’t got all night.”

I managed a glower. It was quite a good one, considering my situation, and even as I put all the force of my fury into it I could appreciate the way it must have burned her. Or it would have, if she hadn’t turned her back and ducked into the bedroom. I took a deep breath and tried to imagine I was doing pull-ups at the gym. I never went to the gym.

My fingers were slipping again, and this time I had no hope that Tania would swoop in and grab me at the last second, because she was already gone. Another slip, maybe half an inch but felt more like a foot, and my fingertips were on fire now.

“Tania!” I gasped, close to blind panic now. “Hey!”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” she said, and swooped in to grab me at the last second.

I’d known she would.

Thinking it over, safe and warm in my bed on Christmas morning, I decided I’d been quite the action hero, and I allowed myself a smile of satisfaction. Tania would have some explaining to do, but we’d work something out – at least she’d helped put it right and I could relax again, knowing I’d saved the Netherworld from a terrible fate.
The phone rang. I picked up, still smiling.  “Merry Christmas!”
“Joe? We have a problem: we just had to fire Santa and he’s not happy …”

 

The End.

Merry Christmas!

 

© 2011 Terri Nixon. (updated 2016)

Unbroken – Personal.

Lately I’ve been struggling with some difficult memories. For the sake of my family I’ve tried to to keep a lid on them, but I’ve come to realise that the only way I’m going to find any kind of peace is to let them out. I hope, if any of those I love see this and feel this is wrong, that they’ll forgive me, and try to understand. None of them knew anything of it, until several years later, and for the most part they have supported me, and not pushed me away.

I will not publicise this blog, but neither will I hide it – I’ve been doing that for far too long. It might be best if I was more open, anyway, as it might explain some things about me and my personal choices.  **UPDATE** in the light of the #MeToo revelations, and the need to raise awareness of the scale of this issue, I am going back on this decision not to share the blog. I wrote it several weeks ago but it feels like it’s time now.

I have lost some family over this; I was in a strange and difficult place, and I said something that was the truth, though I regretted immediately and have apologised, but it was too late; one third of my family has withdrawn from me, and is set on punishing me for the rest of my life, but there’s nothing more I can do about it. Nothing more I want to. I’ve moved on. So here is something I wrote when I finally realised too much of my life has been sacrificed to the looming spectre of one person. I’ve  lifted the lid, and last night I slept really well; the only bad guys in my dreams were zombies, and I can deal with that.

 

Unbroken

Man of the people, everyone’s friend. I was about three when you came. You smiled, you waited. When I was nine, you struck.
But you did not break me.
You sculpted my youth to the shape of your twisted mentality.
You created a Hell for me in your secret hideaways. Those who loved me remained outside, oblivious.
You wielded your threats like serrated blades, carving your lies. I obeyed; I deserved it, you said so.
But you did not break me.

And as I grew, your darkness grew with me; your violence followed me; your hatred poisoned me.
You writhed your way into every part of my life: my play, my friends, even my job.
You were behind every door. Your cold brown eyes found me in my innocent laughter and froze it in my throat.
You said others would come, that you’d invited them, that I should be grateful; I lay wide awake and nauseous in the dark, waiting.
It did not break me.

You proudly showed me the weapon and ammunition you said were my fate; the place outside the workshop, beneath the wet fallen leaves, where you laughed and said you would bury me. Where no-one would look. More empty threats to plague my sleep, and taint my waking hours. I was a child, you controlled me, but you did not break me.
And when you finally left this Earth a better place for your passing, you reached out from your stinking grave and painted me the demon, the liar, the destroyer of illusions.

But I have fought and beaten stronger things than you.
You will not break me.

 

 

 

 

 

© Terri Nixon 2017

 

 

Cornish Reading Challenge: Explore the magic of the moors with Terri Nixon

On the Cornish Reading Challenge today – talking about what it was like to grow up on the moors, and how it’s influenced my writing.

The Bandwagon

Since publishing in paperback for the first time in 2002, Terri has appeared in both print and online fiction collections, and is proud to have contributed to the Shirley Jackson award-nominated hardback collection: Bound for Evil by Dead Letter Press. As a Hybrid author, her first commercially published novel was Maid of Oaklands Manor, published by Piatkus Entice.

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I live and work in Plymouth, and was brought up on the edge of Bodmin Moor, where I spent most of my free time getting stuck in bogs, falling off rocks, and wondering if I was late for tea yet. Doesn’t sound like the most fun, does it? And yet it was – and not only because of the clean, fresh air, the freedom, and the mind-melting views; something about growing up surrounded by moorland, with the sea just over the horizon, has stayed with me all my life, and I’m…

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Blog Tour – A Knightsbridge Scandal, by Anita Davison: Excerpt

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Anita Davison’s latest Flora Maguire mystery: A Knightsbridge Scandal.  

 

a-knightsbridge-scandal

About the book:

1903 London is bustling and glamorous. With troubling secrets simmering, and worrying signs of war, Flora Maguire must solve a deadly mystery which leads right to the heart of the corridors of power.

Flora Maguire has escaped the country to enjoy some time in fashionable Knightsbridge, London. Extravagant shops, exuberant theatres and decadent restaurants mean 1903’s London is a thrilling adventure, but there are dark secrets threatening from the continent.

When the body of a London socialite, and leading light of the burgeoning women’s movement, is found outside The Grenadier public house, Flora can’t resist investigating. Mysterious letters are discovered in the victim’s belongings, strange links to the foreign office and why do the clues keep coming back to the assassination of a Baltic king?

As Flora closes in on the killer, it soon becomes clear she is no longer safe in London, but will her husband Bunny be able to get to her before it’s too late?

An excerpt from the novel: 

Flora alighted onto the platform into clouds of white smoke from the steam engine that hissed beneath the massive iron and glass canopy of Waterloo Station. Porters darted between travellers pushing squeaky-wheeled trolleys loaded with luggage towards the line of hansom cabs that waited beside the platform; the odours of hot horseflesh wet leather and manure mixed with the sweet fragrance of dried lavender from the flower seller’s stalls.

Flora handed her maid a portmanteau, then followed in the wake of the porter who had careened off with their luggage, her neck craned to keep him in sight. Disembarking passengers jostled on the platform as Flora carved her way through ladies in wide hats and harassed looking nurses holding dawdling children by the hand. The soot smuts on their faces reminded her of childhood train journeys spent with her head stuck out of the window, eyes narrowed against the wind as it tugged at her hair; something every child should do at least once.

Sally hurried along the platform beside her, the bag hefted on one hand and three hatboxes bouncing like balloons on their strings in the other.

Suitcases bumped Flora’s shins, their owners making no effort to move aside, reducing her progress to a series of shuffling steps and starts. Spotting a gap in the crowd, she dodged between two slow-moving matrons, only to collide with a man in a black homburg hurrying in the opposite direction. He barely paused to apologize, simply lifted his hat an inch before disappearing into the crowd.

Flora glared at the miscreant over her shoulder, muttering at his lack of manners as her turn arrived at the barrier.

The guard clipped their tickets with a machine hung around his neck, releasing them into the arched cathedral roof of the main hall. Coming to an uncertain halt as the crowd disbursed into the vast expanse of the station, she glanced up at the monochrome, four-sided clock that hung from the ceiling,

‘He said he would be here to meet us.’ She bit her lip as the first pangs of anxiety gnawed at her. ‘Our train arrived on time, so where is he?’

What if he had forgotten her? Would she be able to find his apartment unaided?

‘He must have been held up.’ Sally transferred the cumbersome bag to her other hand, flexing her fingers with a grimace. ‘Don’t fret, Miss Flora, I expect he’ll be here directly.’

‘I’m not fretting.’ Flora fidgeted, irritated at having been so transparent. ‘I’m merely surprised he isn’t here waiting for us.’ For the tenth time since leaving Richmond, she wondered if it had been wise to agree to this visit on her own; misgivings her husband had dismissed.

‘I would accompany you, my love, but I’ve a complicated legal case on at the moment. After all, William is hardly a stranger; you’ve known him all your life.’ His reasoning had not acknowledged her anxiety at all.

‘Perhaps.’ Though not as my father, a voice inside her head reminded her. The last time she had seen William, her behaviour had been less than cordial. When the truth of her parentage had come to light, she had laid the blame squarely on him, fairly or not. Circumstances had kept them apart since then, though his invitation to stay at his London apartment came as no surprise, but one Flora had thus far avoided. Now she would have to prepare herself to face him all over again.

‘Where’d that porter go?’ Sally dropped the portmanteau at Flora’s feet with a relieved grunt. ‘I’ll have something to say if he’s run off with our luggage.’

‘I very much doubt that. He has a job to do, and not everyone is disreputable.’

‘You weren’t dragged up in Flower and Dean Street,’ Sally muttered darkly. ‘Can’t trust no one down there.’

Flora pretended not to hear, immune to Sally’s tendency for drama and a belief that lurid stories of a childhood in Whitechapel gave her notoriety among those who had led more affluent lives; a judgement made on virtually everyone. Flora raised herself on tiptoe, her eyes narrowed in an effort to locate the porter’s face among the noise, smoke, and clamour of the busy station that had begun to make her head pound.

‘There it is!’ Sally pointed to where Flora’s elephant grey trunk with its military style fastenings sat on a trolley, their porter idling in conversation with the news seller, apparently confident of his fee.

Sally hurried towards him, her voice raised in protest as she heaved the bag she carried onto the trunk, piling the hatboxes on top. The largest tumbled off again and rolled across the concourse floor. With a theatrical groan and slump of her shoulders, she gave chase and after a tussle with an urchin boy who got there first, grudgingly parted with a coin before stomping back to the trolley and returned the box to the pile.

‘Mrs Harrington?’ An unfamiliar voice drew Flora’s attention from the comic sight of her annoyed maid to where a man stood a few feet away; a bowler hat held in both hands at waist level.

‘Yes, I’m Mrs Harrington.’ She gave the concourse a final, swift glance in a last effort to locate William, then turned to the young man. ‘May I help you?’

She judged him to be somewhere in his mid-twenties, and definitely someone she had never met before. Standing an inch or two taller than she, with a compact, but substantial build. Symmetrical features sat beneath arched brows with startling eyes so dark, the pupils looked the same colour as the irises.

‘And who might you be then?’ Sally stepped between Flora and the stranger, her chin lifted in challenge.

‘My name is Peter Gordon.’ He took in Sally’s belligerent expression with a wry smile of amusement. ‘I’m an associate of Mr William Osborne; he sent me to meet you.’

Flora had expected him to have an accent to go with his Mediterranean looks, but his diction was pure Home Counties.

‘Can yer prove it?’ Sally demanded.

‘Sally,’ Flora warned, sotto voce. ‘Although my maid does have a point, sir. I was not expecting to be met by a stranger.’ Despite her uneasiness, there was something compelling about him.


My review of A Knightsbridge Scandal can be found here.

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Anita’s earlier novels are set in 17th Century England, with a family saga set in Exeter during the Monmouth Rebellion and a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray during the English Civil War in Surrey. Her fascination with the revival of cosy mysteries made her turn to the early 1900’s for inspiration where she found Flora Maguire lurking. The series of five novels was taken up for publication by Aria Fiction, a digital imprint of Head of Zeus Publishing.


LINKS:

Flora’s Secret is available here  and Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey is here. 

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Review -A Knightsbridge Scandal by Anita Davison

a-knightsbridge-scandal
Having read and loved the first two titles in this series, I was naturally delighted to be asked to review the third Flora Maguire novel: A Knightsbridge Scandal.
Once again, the indomitable Flora launches herself into a world of intrigue and deceit, lies and danger… this time becoming embroiled in the conflicting worlds within the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the discovery of the body of one of its leading lights. Flora’s powers of deduction are at full stretch on this one; dark alleyways contrast with the glitz and glamour of high society, but danger lurks equally in both.  Clues are not always what they seem, and characters keep you guessing right to the end.
The descriptions in this book are fully as beautifully written as in the previous two; Ms Davison’s deft touch with a verbal paintbrush is evident in everything, from the weather to a fine china cup. Food leaps off the page and into your hands; the damp fug of the street leaves its smell in your hair; and the chilly air of a pre-Christmas London brushes your skin. You are absolutely in the moment.
 With the delightful, and often amusing, addition of her maid, Sally, Flora’s newest adventure becomes a sparkling and witty two-hander. The men lurk pleasantly enough in the background, offering sage advice and trying not to get in the way, while the women just straighten their shoulders  and get on with the job.
I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Mrs Harrington, nee Maguire, and I very much look forward to reading her next adventure!
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