Has Captain Guy Stoner been murdered? His uncle, the Reverend Percy Stoner, is convinced he has. He recently received a letter, supposedly from Guy, claiming that there had been a fire at his farm in Ditton, Surrey, and asking for money. Hardcastle and Detective Sergeant Charles Marriott are assigned the case, and make a shocking discovery . . .
The fifteenth entry in the Hardcastle and Marriott historical mystery series is as much of a delight as the previous novels – Divisional Detective Inspector Ernie Hardcastle is still at the top of his game and has lost none of his sparkle, though could that danger word, ‘retirement’ be creeping into his thinking . . .? As Ernie’s latest investigation gathers pace, one of his team, Henry Catto, comes face to face with an earl and his wife, the irrepressible and charismatic Lady Wilmslow, as described in the extract below.
Catto was on the point of taking his leave when the door of the drawing room opened, and a woman entered – he guessed she was about thirty-five years of age – elegantly attired in a green dress that just covered her knees. She wore a long string of beads, and her hair was bobbed in what was known as an Eton crop.
‘Hello, love,’ she said, addressing the earl in coarse tones. ‘Thought I ’eard voices.’
‘Ah, Catto, this is my wife,’ said the earl.
Catto stood up and took the woman’s proffered hand. ‘How d’you do, Lady Wilmslow?’
‘I’m doin’ all right, thanks, love, but do call me Dolly. Everyone does.’ She held on to Catto’s hand for a little longer than necessary, before turning to the earl. ‘Where did you find this ’andsome young blade, Monty?’
‘He’s a police officer, Dolly,’ said Wilmslow, smiling. ‘He’s here making enquiries about Lavinia.’ It was apparent that Wilmslow felt he owed Catto an explanation. ‘The countess is my second wife, Catto. She was in a revue at the Chiswick Empire when I found her a year ago. She gave a very good rendition of “I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate,” didn’t you, Dolly?’
‘Yeah,’ said the countess, and laughed loudly. ‘I ain’t bad when I get goin’, even though I says it meself.’
Catto was aware that in the enlightened nineteen twenties, members of the aristocracy were known occasionally to marry actresses and others in ‘the profession’, something that had been going in since before the turn of the century. But the new Lady Wilmslow, although possessed of a good figure, needed to work on her elocution. There again, he thought, perhaps it was one of the characteristics that had attracted the earl in the first place.
‘I’ll make some enquiries about Lady Lavinia, sir,’ said Catto, ‘and inform you of any developments. I understand that you’re not connected to the telephone.’
‘Certainly not. Wouldn’t have one of the damned things in the house.’ Wilmslow stood up and shook hands. ‘Thank you, Catto, and I look forward to hearing from you. By the way, how did you get here?’
‘Train from London, sir, and cab from Winchester station.’
Wilmslow tugged at the bell-pull, and when Patterson appeared, he said, ‘Get Tuppen to take Mr Catto to Winchester station, Patterson.’
‘Very good, My Lord.’
‘Cheerio, love,’ exclaimed Lady Wilmslow. ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,’ she added, and emitted a ribald laugh. ‘That ought to give you plenty of leeway.’
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