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The Body in the Marsh by Nick Louth

DCI Craig Gillard finds himself emotionally involved in a case when a girlfriend from his youth is reported missing. Her husband is seemingly unperturbed, but the case takes a sudden turn when he, too, slips off the radar. A guilty conscience or something more sinister? Running alongside the investigation is another case: a new look into the death of someone known as ‘Girl F’. Just why has no progress been made?

I’m not usually a fan of reading a book series out of order, but that is what has happened with Nick Louth’s Craig Gillard series. Having already read the rest of the series, I thought I had better go back to where it all started! I found that it took me back even further than I was expecting with an insight into Craig’s early life thanks to the investigation into Liz Knight, a woman who also happened to be an ex-girlfriend. I admired Craig’s ability to work through this case, despite his connection to Liz, his dedication to the job in hand being something that is carried through the rest of the series. 

The case is a particularly twisted one, often more twisted than you could ever imagine. I did have my suspicions as to how the plot would play out which proved to be correct, but such is the quality of the author’s storytelling that my enjoyment was not spoiled one bit. In a story which takes in several European countries, we see the determination of Craig and his team to solve the case, discovering links to other crimes in the process. 

Often in police procedurals, the second plot is not as interesting, but this is definitely not the case here. The story of ‘Girl F’ is a heart-wrenching one, and one that made me very angry. We discover that despite giving evidence of her abuse and a description of someone who was involved, no one was ever brought to justice, even after the girl chose to take her own life. There has apparently been some sort of conspiracy of silence, but why? Exactly who is pulling the strings? In a story full of anger, I did find myself laughing when a suspect in the case is delivered to the police – never underestimate a woman!

If you haven’t read any of this series, and you are a plan of police procedurals with great characters and gripping plots, I can thoroughly recommend the Craig Gillard series. Take a look at my reviews of the other books:

The Body on the Shore

The Body in the Mist

The Body in the Snow

The Body Under the Bridge

**COVER REVEAL** The Thief on The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

One of the most novel books I read last year (and probably the book with the best cover!) was The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas. I am pleased, therefore, to be able to take part in the cover reveal for Kate’s new book, The Thief on the Winged Horse, which looks amazing!

About the Book

A dazzling mixture of crime, romance, magic and myth from the acclaimed author of The Psychology of Time Travel.

The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls since the early 1800s. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.

Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.

But then, one night, the family’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…

About the Author

Kate Mascarenhas is a part-Irish, part-Seychellois midlander. Since 2017, Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Before that she worked as a copywriter, a dolls’ house maker, and a bookbinder. She lives with her husband in a small terraced house which she is slowly filling with Sindy dolls. Her first novel, The Psychology of Time Travel was published in 2018 to wide acclaim. This is her second novel.

The Cover

Pre-order links:

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/2Tkcvcq

Amazon: https://bit.ly/336YEJu
Google Play: https://bit.ly/2KbkofM

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2Zg9ugU

 

Follow Head of Zeus

Website: www.headofzeus.com

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

Facebook: @headofzeus

Instagram: @headofzeus

 

Publication date: 12th November

Formats: Hardback & eBook

#TheThief

 

With thanks to Vicky Joss and Head of Zeus.

 

Vanishing Point by Vanessa Robertson

We all love a freebie, and that is exactly what is on offer here! Vanessa Robertson is, very kindly, offering a free copy of her novella Vanishing Point to anyone who signs up for her mailing list. The first book in her new series, Don’t Blink, featuring Kate Carpenter, will be published in the autumn, so why not sign up and meet this character now!

All you have to do is click on this link and sign up – it’s that simple!

To whet your appetite:

A stolen painting.

A high stakes recovery operation.

A game of nerve.

Art advisor Kate Carpenter has an off-the-books sideline in art recovery, dealing with thieves and gangsters to reunite valuable artworks with their owners. But this time she’s taking it up a notch. Only a day after her ex-boyfriend was convicted of assaulting her, she’s off to Belarus on the trail of a priceless van Gogh with a posse of ex-soldiers riding shotgun. Right now, the buzz of securing the return of that painting is just what she needs.

With thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours

Monthly Round Up – March 2020

Well, what a month! I hope you are all keeping well and that you are finding some good books to read in these uncertain times. I thought I’d have read more than I have done, but don’t seem to have had the time! There are some great-looking books on Net Galley at the moment and so my TBR list has grown considerably…

Books I Have Read

Buried by Lynda La Plante

A new series from one of my favourite authors introduces us to a complex new paragraph, DC Jack Warr. When the body of a badly burnt man is found along with the remnants of millions of pounds worth of stolen bank notes, the detective finds himself embroiled in a cold case where he may find himself more involved than he realises…

 

The Silent House by Nell Pattison

An interesting concept – a murder takes place in a house full of people but no one hears anything due to the residents being deaf. An enjoyable book which taught me an awful lot about the deaf community. Review to follow as part of the blog tour.

 

Where the Innocent Die by M J Lee

The fourth book in the DI Ridpath series is, arguably, the best so far. When a woman dies in an Immigrant Removal Centre, the coroner’s officer must try to work out how this could have taken place in such a high security establishment. This is becoming one of my favourite crime series.

 

Buried Deep by Susan Wilkins

The first in a new series introduces us to Detective Megan Thomas. Relocating due to trauma in her past, she finds herself involved in two tricky cases – the murder of an unknown man and the rape of a schoolgirl. A great start to what promises to be an interesting series. Review to follow as part of the blog tour.

 

Books I Have Acquired

Everything is about to change…

1789. Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the palace of Versailles for their château, deep in the French Alps. But as revolution spreads through the country, even hidden away the Auberts will not be safe forever. Soon they must make a terrible decision in order to protect themselves, and their children, from harm.

Present day. When Lu’s mother dies leaving her heartbroken, the chance to move to a château in the south of France with her husband and best friends seems an opportunity for a new beginning. But Lu can’t resist digging into their new home’s history, and when she stumbles across the unexplained disappearance of Catherine Aubert, the château begins to reveal its secrets – and a mystery unsolved for centuries is uncovered…

 

Detective Superintendent Tom Harper senses trouble ahead when the prime minister plans a visit. Can he keep law and order on the streets while also uncovering the truth behind a missing child?

Leeds, September 1908. There’s going to be a riot. Detective Superintendent Tom Harper can feel it. Herbert Asquith, the prime minster, is due to speak in the city. The suffragettes and the unemployed men will be out in the streets in protest. It’s Harper’s responsibility to keep order. Can he do it?

Harper has also received an anonymous letter claiming that a young boy called Andrew Sharp was stolen from his family fourteen years before. The file is worryingly thin. It ought to have been bulging. A missing child should have been headline news. Why was Andrew’s disappearance ignored?

Determined to uncover the truth about Andrew Sharp and bring the boy some justice, Harper is drawn deep into the dark underworld of child-snatching, corruption and murder as Leeds becomes a molten, rioting city.

 

THERE’S A SERIAL KILLER ON THE RUN
AND HE’S HIDING IN YOUR HOUSE

Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space.

That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet…

Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him.

 

DCI Craig Gillard will be pushed to his limits… But will he break?

It seems like a routine disappearance, a case of musician’s stage fright. As a senior detective, Craig Gillard isn’t sure why he’s even involved. Until it turns out the woman’s father is the German Minister of Justice, and the British Home Secretary is on the case too.

But nothing about the case is simple. How does a woman on a train simply vanish? What do you do when a trail runs cold and the pressure is on?

Before long the perpetrator has another target: DCI Gillard himself. What if the detective isn’t just running the case, but is part of it? The victim merely a lure for a bigger fish.

The answer is under the bridge. The chilling setting for the biggest challenge of his life.

 

There is an explosion at a military ball. The casualties are rushed to hospital in eight ambulances, but only seven vehicles arrive. Captain Harry Peterson is missing.

His girlfriend calls upon her old friend Dr Augusta Bloom, who rushes to support the investigation. But no one can work out what connects the bomb and the disappearance.

When Harry is eventually discovered three days later, they hope he holds the answers to their questions. But he can’t remember a single thing.

 

 

A BIZARRE DISCOVERY

An unidentified cadaver is found in a freezer in an unoccupied luxury house. No-one seems to know or care who it is or who placed it there. When DS Alexandra Cupidi is handed the case, she can have no idea it will lead her to a series of murderous cover-ups and buried secrets. Namely the discovery of the skeleton of public-school boy, Trevor Wood, beneath a housing development.

A HISTORIC CRIME

His disappearance twenty five years earlier had almost passed unnoticed. But as evidence surfaces that his fate was linked to long suppressed rumours of sexual abuse, Cupidi, her teenage daughter Zoe and her friend Bill South find themselves up against powerful forces who will try to silence them.

A BURIED LIFE

Digging deep into the secrets that are held underground leads to Cupidi’s realisation that crime and power are seldom far apart. There are dangerous connections between the two cases, which are complicated by Constable Jill Ferriter’s dating habits, a secret liaison and the underground life of Trevor Grey’s only friend.

 

Something sinister stirs in Stockport…

The police find a young woman’s body in the woods the same week a couple discover a crude, handmade doll in Lyme Park. But are the two findings connected… or a strange coincidence?

In a town full of loners and unhappy families, nothing is as it seems…

All Mr Anderson wants is a family. After his elderly mother died, he was almost unbearably lonely. Now it’s time for him to claim his own.

All Jacob wants is for Maggie to love him back. She only has eyes for the Vincent twins – but maybe he can make her see just how much he cares.

And everyone is a suspect.

 

One summer. One stranger. One killer…

Two bad things happened that summer:
A stranger arrived. And the first girl disappeared.

In the wake of the crime that rocked her community, Felicity fled, knowing more than she let on.

But sixteen years later, her new life is shattered by the news that a second girl has gone missing in her hometown.

Now Felicity must go back, to face the truth about what happened all those years ago.

Only she holds the answers – and they’re more shocking than anyone could imagine.

The heatwave is back. And so is the killer.

 

Do any of these books appeal to you? Maybe you already have some of them and would like to share your thoughts! I’d better get reading!

Stay safe everyone. 

 

The Penmaker’s Wife by Steve Robinson

In 1880, young mother Angelica Chastain has fled her old life in London in the hope of starting again in Birmingham with her son, William. After successfully moving up the social ladder, she soon has the life she dreams of, and the hope of a comfortable future for her son. The past has a habit of catching up with you, however, and it is not long before faces she had hoped she had left behind resurface. When people close to her begin to question what her motives are, we begin to wonder just what Angelica will do to preserve the life she has become accustomed to.

Angelica was a very complex character. At the start of the book, when we read about why she is fleeing London, it is hard to have nothing but sympathy for her. Despite the peril of what she does, it is understandable that she is willing to do anything to save the life of her young son and I admired her for the risk she was prepared to take.

It was whilst on her journey to Birmingham that we first see a glimpse of the real woman behind the protective mother. Again, though, even though this is a shocking moment, I could see why she did what she did. Unfortunately for Angelica, she soon realises that there are far too many people who know about her past and that these unscrupulous characters are willing to exploit her in order to gain their silence. As the story progressed, I became more and more shocked by Angelica’s actions and began to fear for anyone she came into contact with!

There are several twists in the book as Angelica continues on her mission to give her, now grown up, son a good life. I did fear that one loose end would be left, but was pleased that the author had certainly not forgotten about it and that, despite what had happened, shocked that Angelica had not either!

I really enjoyed the late-Victorian setting and the contrast between the wealthy and the lower, criminal classes. Although Angelica wasn’t a nice character, she was certainly fascinating to read about!

With thanks to Net Galley and Amazon Publishing UK.

COVER REVEAL – The Final Trail by A A Abbott

Today is publication day for the final book in A A Abbott’s ‘Trail’ series, and I am pleased to share with you the cover of The Final Trail.

Birmingham has well and truly been put on the crime thriller map with the success of the TV series Peaky Blinders but for bookworms amongst us, the popular Trail Series has long brought readers into the modern day 21st century with its tense storylines, murder and intrigue set in and around the city.

The Trail series features a vodka business, a cancer cure and obsessive killers. Every book is a good read in its own right – each is a great crime story with terrific twists to keep the tension mounting – but together, they follow the same characters over several years.

The Trail series author AA Abbott, also known as Helen Blenkinsop, has been compared with the likes of Ruth Rendell, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer.  She lived and studied in Birmingham for nearly 20 years and her passion and love for the city became the inspiration for the Trail series. 

Now, after four successful editions the last storyline will be revealed in the publication of The Final Trail which will be launched in Birmingham on 28th October.

In the last book …”Glamorous Kat White has built a successful craft vodka brand in Birmingham, but she has an uneasy relationship with her business partner, Marty Bridges. Her mother had previously supplied with poisonous vodka. Marty doesn’t trust Kat, resents having to depend on her for commercial success, and isn’t thrilled that his eldest son wants to marry her. That’s not his biggest problem, though. He’s trying to develop a cancer drug with Kat’s brother, Erik, and it’s draining money he doesn’t have. Just as he finds an investor with pockets deep enough to fund their research, Erik is lured to the former Soviet Union and thrown into jail. Meanwhile, Ben Halloran, who killed his father to save Kat’s life, is faced with the twin risks of a murder charge and his brother’s deep-seated desire for revenge. Can Ben escape with his life and liberty? And can Marty save both Erik and his business – and learn to trust Kat?”

Helen said“I’ve been writing about these amazing characters for over 5 years, so you can imagine, they have become a part of my life. It’s been a great journey and they have come through so many storylines that it feels right for them to achieve their dreams at last.”

Most of the action in The Final Trail takes place across the city and features the famous Rose Villa Tavern and 1,000 Trades in the Jewellery Quarter; The Mailbox, home to the BBC in Birmingham, Holloway Head by the famous Pagoda Island and locations in Harborne and Edgbaston.

Helen addedIt’s going to be very sad to launch the last book as the stories and characters have built up such a following but it will give me the opportunity to weave new and exciting tales – I have so many ideas buzzing in my head.”

The Final Trail is a perfect read for those who like a fast-paced crime thriller combined with suspense, humour and plot twists.  It’s ideal to take away on holiday and provides a great read during the autumn/winter nights. It will be available to order from Amazon in e-book, paperback and  dyslexia-friendly format from Monday 28th October 2019.

Website:  https://aaabbott.co.uk/    Twitter:  @AAAbbottstories

With thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours.

**BLOG TOUR** The Liar’s Sister by Sarah A Denzil

Ten years ago, Samuel Murray went missing from the village of Buckthorpe, never to be seen again. In a village where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, someone must know something. Heather Sharpe knows that her sister, Rosie, does – on the night of his disappearance, she saw Rosie sneaking back into her house, via her bedroom window, dirty and with a torn jacket. Now, a decade later, the sisters have returned to Buckthorpe to look after their dying mum, but the past has certainly not been forgotten. With the villagers convinced that the sisters know something about what happened, they make it clear that they are not welcome, and soon, Rosie and Heather find themselves in terrible danger…

This is one of those books that grabs you straight from the start as we read a letter written by Heather to her sister. In this letter, not meant to be read, Heather accuses Rosie of murder, and so the tone for the rest of the book is set. Throughout the book, Heather is incredibly suspicious of her sister who she believes was involved in Samuel’s disappearance a decade ago. It is obvious that something happened that night and that Rosie certainly knows something about it, but what was it that changed the relationship of the sisters all those years ago?

For me, it is the setting that makes the book. Buckthorpe is the sort of village where people bear a grudge and outsiders are not welcome. Even though the sisters spent their childhood there, they are not treated as though they belong and were actively encouraged to move away. It soon became apparent that there is more to Samuel’s disappearance than meets the eye and that there is a conspiracy of silence in the village with regards to what actually happened.

When we finally discover what secrets have been kept, we find out just how far this conspiracy of silence has gone. As the story drew to a close and the shocking revelations kept coming, I found it very hard to put the book down as I was desperate to know what had happened to Samuel and also how it would all end for Heather and Rosie.

This is a great thriller that had me on the edge of my seat. A brilliant read!

With thanks to Net Galley and Bookouture for my copy and to Noelle Holten for organising the blog tour.

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

When the body of a missing private investigator is discovered in the boot of a car, alarm bells begin ringing – the area had already been searched years before, when the man first went missing. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is now part of the team investigating the murder whilst also trying to discover what went wrong with the original case. Was there a cover up and just how involved was her mentor, retired detective John Rebus?

John Rebus is one of my favourite fictional characters and so news of a new Ian Rankin book always makes me happy. In a House of Lies has been sat on my Kindle for a while so I thought it was time to give it a read! I am glad that, although Rebus is now retired, he is still finding ways of worming his way into an investigation although, this time, he is slightly more involved than he probably wishes!

The plot is a good one with dodgy characters a plenty, each one having a motive for wanting the deceased out of the way. Like in any good Rebus book, we get an insight into the dark underbelly of Edinburgh, with the legendary ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty featuring prominently. Any scene with Rebus and Cafferty is always my favourite. Their relationship is still a complicated one – they share a grudging respect for each other but at the same time would stop at nothing to sell the other one down the river.

The other plot running throughout the book was probably my favourite. After receiving silent phonecalls, Siobhan Clarke makes the connection to a recent case where she put away Ellis Meikle, convicted of the unlawful killing of his girlfriend. Convinced of his nephew’s innocence, his uncle, Dallas, tries to intimidate Clarke, only to need her help in trying to find new evidence to help his case. This is where Rebus comes in and where we see that there is still life in the old dog yet. Speaking of dogs, I am glad to see that Brillo is still on the scene!

Another great Rebus book and I hope that it’s not too long before we get the next one!

**BLOG TOUR** Death and the Harlot by Georgina Clarke

I’m really pleased to be the latest blog on the tour for Death and the Harlot, a historical mystery debut from Georgina Clarke, published by Canelo on 13th May 2019. I have a great extract to share, but first the blurb…

‘It’s strange, the way fortune deals her hand.’

The year is 1759 and London is shrouded in a cloak of fear. With the constables at the mercy of highwaymen, it’s a perilous time to work the already dangerous streets of Soho. Lizzie Hardwicke makes her living as a prostitute, somewhat protected from the fray as one of Mrs Farley’s girls. But then one of her wealthy customers is found brutally murdered… and Lizzie was the last person to see him alive.

Constable William Davenport has no hard evidence against Lizzie but his presence and questions make life increasingly difficult. Desperate to be rid of him and prove her innocence Lizzie turns amateur detective, determined to find the true killer, whatever the cost.

Yet as the body count rises Lizzie realises that, just like her, everyone has a secret they will do almost anything to keep buried…

 

Chapter Five

We sat in silence as we had been trained to do by Ma. We were elegant ladies, hands gently clasped in laps, backs straight, eyes demurely cast down until our friends from Mrs Hardy’s and our other evening guests arrived. Only the masks, the flimsy gowns cut so low that we spilled from them with very little exertion, and the thoughts racing around our heads would have betrayed us.

This was our best and largest room, filled with the sort of fashionable furniture that marked Mrs Farley as a woman of good taste. The fire blazed merrily and its golden flames, along with the smaller candle lights all about the room, made the place glow with warmth. The table was now piled with food: soups, jellies, a veal escalope girded with lemons, roast beef and stewed venison. The scent was delicious; making my stomach gurgle. Card tables waited for players. And here and there lay couches and comfortable chairs for reclining and conversation. It looked lovely; serene, even. I wondered how long it would take for the scene in front of my eyes to transform into the swaying, writhing mass of bodies that it inevitably would.

I heard Sydney answering the door and Ma taking entrance fees, and my heart began to knock inside my chest. The evening would bring her a substantial amount, but it would also confirm the reputation of our house as a place of delight for the more discerning. She had been planning for weeks and was anticipating that this party would be even livelier than the last one; it was little wonder that she had been so annoyed by Tommy Bridgewater’s presence earlier. Everything must be perfect for our guests. We must be perfect.

I was always anxious just before the gentlemen arrived. I knew what I would have to do tonight, and I had grown used to it, but that didn’t stop the tremor in my soul that preceded every encounter. We were the real delicacies of the evening, the meat, waiting to be selected and devoured. Lucy, Polly and Emily sat as still as I did. It was difficult to tell what they thought or felt at this moment.

We never spoke of the fear.

Our guests were, as they usually were, gentlemen of quality, ready for an evening of drinking, gambling and what they might politely describe as pretty company and entertainment. What they were really here to enjoy would not be spoken about in polite company, of course.

I was grateful to notice Charles Stanford as soon as he entered the room, distinguished by his vigorous manner as much as his looks – his face being partly obscured by a black mask. He had a fine figure, tall and neat with broad shoulders, encased in a coat of rich midnight blue embroidered with exquisite flowers. A freshly-powdered wig covered his light brown hair. He looked magnificent – and he undoubtedly knew it. It didn’t take him long to make his way over to me. He pulled me up from my seat and made a bow.

‘Miss Hardwicke, how lovely to see you.’

‘Mr Stanford.’

Brown eyes sparkled with mischief at the holes of his mask.

‘Well, I assume it’s you, Lizzie. It’s rather difficult to tell.’

‘It is certainly me, Mr Stanford. Rather diverting, though, don’t you think? Not being able to see people’s faces? And I do believe that the Hardy girls look prettier than usual.’

He tugged the ribbon at my cleavage to undo my gown, and his hand found a breast. He was quick this evening and, despite my veneer of reserve, I was excited by his directness.

‘I’m more interested in what’s under here,’ he said. ‘Damn it, Lizzie, I’m in great need of a fuck.’

He always was.

‘I think that Mrs Farley would like us to pretend restraint for a while longer.’ I giggled and removed his hand. ‘You’ve only just walked in and there’s so much food to eat.’

‘Don’t tease me, please. Oh, what I’m going to do to you tonight … shall I tell you?’

He didn’t have the opportunity. The all-seeing Mrs Farley moved across the room and bade him good evening, turning him away from me and steering him towards Lucy. That would cool him down for a while. I rearranged my dress a little and went to greet the other gentlemen.

Polly called me to meet Mr Herring and Mr Winchcombe, Charles’ friends. Both wore soft black masks, as all the gentlemen did this evening, making them seem like disorientated highwaymen who had found their way into Berwick Street by accident. John Herring was a little haughty for my taste, a man in his mid-twenties with pale skin, translucent eyelashes and a sharply-pointed nose. His plum-coloured coat was well-cut, and he wore an expensive scent. Joshua Winchcombe was more engaging; large-limbed, with dark eyes. A curl of black hair was trying to escape from under his wig. He was a similar age to Mr Herring, but he had none of the other man’s affected airs. I found his voice a little loud as he bellowed into my ear, but he had an energy about him that was attractive.

I heard the door open again downstairs. More guests were ushered in, men and women similarly masked and all in a jolly mood and I moved around to bid them welcome. Gradually, the room began to fill with people; flirtatious women wanting money, and wealthy men, happy to be flirted with. One man stood apart. Large and jowly – eyes flicking about under his mask in a mix of shock and wonder – it was George Reed. He moved towards Mr Herring and Mr Winchcombe, as if seeking out something, or someone, to ease his disorientation. The three men exchanged a few words before the younger two moved away towards Polly, leaving him quite alone.

I watched Emily swim across the room to greet him. She was always able to make a nervous gentleman feel welcome in our house: those who wore expensive clothing at least. She knew that I had relieved this one of several guineas. She could have him to herself, as far as I was concerned.

That was not Emily’s intention. Her aim became clear almost immediately. She ushered Mr Reed towards me and laid my hand on his arm. She wanted me to deal with him while she entertained the younger men. I knew that she didn’t much care for me, but this seemed like particular cruelty. Nevertheless, she pretended courtesy.

‘Here you are, Mr Reed, a familiar face for you beneath the mask. Miss Hardwicke was only telling us earlier how much she had enjoyed your company yesterday. I am sure that she will take care of you – for the whole evening, should you wish it.’

I did not wish it. I was looking forward to spending time with Charles. Even one of the other men might be preferable. Joshua Winchcombe, perhaps.

Mrs Farley was at the table ladling soup, encouraging the company to eat and Mr Reed, who hardly needed a meal, took me by the hand and led me to the table. I could see Charles in a dark corner of the room with his hands under someone’s skirts; one of the Hardy girls. He had no intention of sitting for dinner.

In the meantime, I had a job to do. Emily had unkindly made sure that I sat down with Mr Reed, which meant that I was unable to leave him easily. I kept my feelings to myself, tucking away my thoughts about Charles and, instead, attending to the man I was with, heaping beef on to his plate and pouring his burgundy in as bright a fashion as possible.

In between mouthfuls of drink and food, George Reed decided to entertain me with stories of Norwich, of his business transactions from earlier that day in the city and of his journey to our home.

‘D’ you know, Miss Hardwicke, that it is possible to take a carriage all the way out to Kensington now? There are new houses being built far and away to the west. You ladies may yet need to move to keep up with the fashionable people.’

A good hostess, I confessed myself astonished by his information – as if it had never occurred to me that houses might be built as the population of London grew larger.

From the other side of the table, Polly threw me a sympathetic look as Reed leaned across to help himself to more food. Her own companion was Mr Herring, who sat stroking her delicate collarbone, entranced, as she nibbled a pastry.

Mr Reed, delving into a mountain of syllabub, was still talking loudly about house building an hour later, even as others were engaging themselves in more amorous adventures. Quarters of the room around us seemed to be shuddering and grunting. Polly had disappeared. I tried to ignore the sight of Charles’ backside heaving into a pile of petticoats.

Mrs Farley laid a hand on my shoulder. Putting her mouth to my ear she spoke quietly.

‘Why don’t you take Mr Reed to the side room, Lizzie? I think that his conversation would be better elsewhere.’

It was an instruction rather than a suggestion. He was out of place and she wished me to take him away. This was my punishment for inviting him in the first place. I guessed that Emily would have told her.

I nodded. I understood my duty to the other guests, as well as to Mr Reed. When he paused to take a breath, I took his sweaty hand and spoke urgently.

‘Mr Reed, dear sir, I made you a promise yesterday evening and I think that it’s time I honoured it.’

He looked at his hand and then up at me.

‘Miss Hardwicke, I would be delighted.’ He suddenly became aware of the rest of the room – and what was taking place in it. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t noticed it before.

‘My goodness. All of this. My word.’ He wiped his mouth; a troubled look on his face. ‘Are we to exert ourselves here?’

I shook my head gently.

‘No Mr Reed, for our very special guests we have other rooms. Something more private. Come.’

With thanks to Canelo and Ellie Pilcher for organising the blog tour.  Death and the Harlot can be purchased here:

Amazon (UK)

Kobo (UK)

Google Books (UK)

Apple Books (UK)

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