I want to welcome Helen Hollick to the blog today. It’s been almost 10 years since I met Helen at my first Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, Colorado. She has been mentor, collaborator, and cheerleader since those early days, and I am delighted to have her visit to talk about and share an excerpt from her latest novel, A Meadow Murder.
Make hay while the sun shines?
Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.
But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout…
A Meadow Murder is the fourth tale in the Jan Christopher cosy murder mystery series, the first three being A Mirror Murder, A Mystery of Murder and A Mistake of Murder… see what I’ve done there? Yes, I’ve created a proper puzzle for myself because now every tale in the series will have to follow the same title pattern of ‘A M-something- of Murder’ (Suggestions welcome!)
Based on working as a library assistant during the 1970s, the mysteries alternate between the location of Chingford, north-east London, where the real library I worked in used to be, (the building is still there, but is, alas, now offices,) and my own North Devon village, but ‘Chappletawton’ is a fictional version, larger than my rural community and has far more quirky characters.
The main characters in the series, however, remain the same: Jan Christopher is the niece, and ward, of Detective Chief Inspector Toby Christopher and his wife, her Aunt Madge. In A Mirror Murder, Jan (short for January, a name she hates) meets her uncle’s new driver, Detective Constable Lawrence Walker. Naturally, it is love at first sight… but will an investigation into a murder affect their budding romance?
“As delicious as a Devon Cream Tea!” author Elizabeth St John
“Every sentence pulls you back into the early 1970s… The Darling Buds of May, only not Kent, but Devon. The countryside itself is a character and Hollick imbues it with plenty of emotion.” author Alison Morton
READ AN EXCERPT:
A BODY? WHAT BODY
We were all awake. Alf and Laurie ran down the stairs while the rest of us peered over the banisters, wondering who on earth could be bashing at the door at five-thirty in the morning. In the hall, Alf grabbed the still barking Bess’s collar and Laurie opened the door. A woman half-staggered, half-fell into his arms.
“That’s Dorothy Clack!” Elsie exclaimed as she tightened her dressing gown belt and hurried down the stairs.
I was surprised. I’d somehow assumed that Mrs Dorothy Clack was a frail, grey-haired old biddy, but she was neither frail nor old; in fact she was about Elsie’s age and the almost spitting image of popular shop worker, Mavis Wilton, in the television series Coronation Street, played by actress Thelma Barlow. The character was a moralising, dithering spinster with a fertile imagination. The sort of woman who had no idea how to arrange her paranoid soul, just like Mrs Clack.
“Oh crikey,” I whispered to Aunt Madge and Uncle Toby as we trailed more sedately in Elsie’s wake, “I hope it’s not another flying saucer or walkabout scarecrow hoax of Mrs Clack’s, not at this unearthly time of the morning!”
Elsie managed to prise Mrs Clack’s clutching hands away from Laurie’s dressing gown collar – the woman was nearly strangling him in her deep distress. “Come into the kitchen and sit down, pet,” Elsie said. “What about a nip of brandy, Alfred?”
Mrs Clack’s pale face wrinkled into disapproval. “No, no, I never touch alcohol.”
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Aunt Madge offered as an alternative shock remedy. “I reckon we could all do with a cup of tea.”
“No time for that! Oh dear, oh dear. I didn’t know what to do!” The distraught woman pulled away from Elsie and shifted her clinging fingers to Alf. “He’s dead! Down in the woods! He’s dead!”
Laurie helped steer Mrs Clack into the kitchen and sat her down. We gathered round, concerned and puzzled.
“Who is dead, Dorothy?” Elsie asked, taking the woman’s hands in her own. Poor Mrs Clack was in such a state; her dress was torn, her hair was dangling in disarray from what had, I assumed, been a neat chignon not long ago. Her coat was half off and she had bramble scratches on her legs and hands.
“Or what is dead, Mrs Clack?” Laurie added, squatting down in front of her. “Have you found a dead badger or deer, perhaps? I think there might have been poachers around last night.”
She grasped his hand and I saw Laurie wince, she held it so tight. “I watch that big sett of badgers at the back of your field most nights. I make myself comfortable in a little camouflaged den I’ve made amongst those rhododendron bushes and sit and watch them until dawn. I take scraps of food for them. They’re quite tame now. Did you know that badgers love peanuts? I buy them especially.”
“Yes, I knew that. So, you were in the woods, watching the badgers? What time was this?”
“I go down there about midnight.”
“With a torch?”
I thought that was a rather odd question for Laurie to ask her, but didn’t comment. He would, no doubt, have his reasons.
Mrs Clack produced a torch from her coat pocket. “Yes, of course. You’d not expect me to walk through the woods without one, would you?”
Laurie smiled, explained. “No, I thought I saw torchlight last night, wondered if it was poachers, but it was probably you, which is a relief. Do go on, Mrs Clack, what happened next?”
“I was making my way home and found him.”
“The leprechaun. He was slumped against the headstone. Quite dead.”
Laurie raised an eyebrow as he looked up at my uncle, who quietly put a hand on his shoulder and nodded at some unspoken mutual agreement.
“Mr Christopher here is a police Detective Chief Inspector. We’ll get dressed and go and look,” Laurie said with a calming smile. “You stay here, Mrs Clack, and have a nice cup of tea.”
READ ON IN A Meadow Murder, and immerse yourself in country life during the summer of 1972 … and maybe solve a murder along the way?
All Helen’s books are available on Amazon: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen Hollick became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/supernatural series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.
She lives with her husband and daughter in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, enjoys hosting author guests on her own blog ‘Let Us Talk Of Many Things’ and occasionally gets time to write…
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Main Blog: https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick