Editor’s Pick March UK/July US: SEASON OF DARKNESS by Cora Harrison

 

season of

Who killed Isabella Gordon? Cora Harrison, author of the ‘Mara’ Celtic mysteries and the critically acclaimed Reverend Mother series, brings us the first in the exciting new ‘Gaslight’ Victorian mystery series, which features a dark and sinister puzzle at its core.

When Inspector Field shows his friend Charles Dickens the body of a young woman dragged from the River Thames, he cannot have foreseen that the famous author would immediately recognize the victim as Isabella Gordon, a housemaid he had tried to help through his charity. Nor that Dickens and his fellow writer Wilkie Collins would determine to find out who killed her. Who was Isabella blackmailing, and why? Led on by fragments of a journal discovered by Isabella’s friend Sesina, the two men track the murdered girl’s journeys from Greenwich to Snow Hill, from Smithfield Market to St Bartholomews, and put their wits to work on uncovering her past. But what does Sesina know that she’s choosing not to tell them? And is she doomed to follow in the footsteps of the unfortunate Isabella?

The book begins with feisty Sesina urging her fellow housemaid, Isabella, not to see the mysterious gentleman she has arranged to meet and intends to blackmail at the Hungerford Stairs. But headstrong Isabella, determined to seek out a better life and sensing an opportunity, cannot be deterred. The discovery of her body leads to a thoroughly enthralling and tense mystery that kept me constantly on my toes. I was immediately drawn to Sesina, who although clever, sharp-witted and rebellious is really a vulnerable young girl wholly out of her depth when it comes to dealing with Isabella’s killer. Her failure to realize how much danger she’s in created an increasing sense of dread and fear as the plot thickened before reaching its dangerous and chilling climax – can Dickens and Collins save her in time?

I also loved seeing the coming together of two of the era’s literary heavyweights – Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins – as they try to unmask Isabella’s murderer. This unusual duo make an intriguing detective pair – it was fascinating to watch the slightly aloof Dickens hunt down a brutal killer alongside the softer, more charming Collins who manages to gain Sesina’s confidence. Anyone who’s a huge fan of Dickens is likely to spot the real-life parallels . . . he really did set up Uriana Cottage, ‘a home for homeless girls’, and one of his own letters concerning Isabella Gordon is the inspiration behind the book. The care and attention that has gone into making these two famous authors jump off the page as fully realized, distinct individuals and tenacious sleuths makes reading this story a real joy. Their characters are vividly drawn, and their relationship proves to be as entertaining as it is compelling.

An instantly charming, engrossing and insightful mystery, SEASON OF DARKNESS is sure to appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, as well as being a must-read for all Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins aficionados!

SEASON OF DARKNESS is available from 29 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Read more here.

 

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#BookExtract: THE WOUNDED SNAKE by Fay Sampson

9780727889300_FCHilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are hoping to find inspiration at a weekend-long crime writing masterclass. However, when the guest of honour suddenly falls ill that evening, it triggers a series of sinister incidents which draw Hilary and Veronica into a real-life murder mystery. Can they separate fact from fiction to solve a deadly puzzle?

 

 

The queen of crime fiction herself, Dinah Halsgrove, is the guest of honour at a weekend-long masterclass in crime writing, giving the opening talk. But when Dinah suddenly falls ill later that evening, amateur sleuths Hilary Masters and Veronica Taylor can’t help being suspicious . . .

The boat had hardly nudged against the quay before Gavin leaped ashore. Ignoring the shouts of the crew and the men warping the craft more securely, he sped towards the car park.

Hilary, too, shouldered her way towards the gangplank, with Veronica more apologetically in her wake. It was a short brisk walk to where they had left the car on the quayside. Hilary zoomed out on to the road ahead of everyone else.

Back at Morland Abbey, she shot out of the car and made for the cobbled path to the entrance arch. Veronica’s longer legs overtook her. They both stopped short as they came out on to the wide lawns of the cloister garth.

It was not normal for vehicles to drive into this enclosed square of lawn and paths. But parked in front of the East Cloister was a yellow ambulance with green and yellow chequered bands along its sides. The blue lights across the roof were still flashing, evidence of the urgent haste with which it had driven from wherever the nearest accident and emergency hospital was.

They were just in time to see a stretcher being carried out of the door where, only a few hours before, Hilary had gone hurrying in to fetch her badge. She could not see the face, but with a sinking heart she knew for certain who it must be.

With a sense of inevitability Hilary stood back to let the ambulance drive past her, siren now blaring.

Gavin and Theresa were left standing forlornly in front of the lavender bushes. Hilary strode up to them.

‘It’s Dinah Halsgrove, isn’t it? What happened?’

Gavin turned a tragic face to her. ‘We don’t know yet. Of course, she was ninety-two. It could be anything, at her age. Heart attack, stroke. She’d asked for supper in her room, but when Theresa went to see if there was anything else she needed, Dinah was . . .’ His voice faltered.

Theresa beside him finished his sentence, somewhat grimly: ‘She was lying, slumped over the edge of the bed. She was out cold. Her skin looked . . . grey. I thought at first . . . well, you can imagine. The ambulance crew seem to think it’s touch and go. We’ll have to wait till she gets to hospital to know for certain. But it must be natural causes.’

Why should it not be? It seemed an odd thing to say.

THE WOUNDED SNAKE is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: THE AUGURIES by F.G. Cottam

augeries

An unexpected lunar eclipse. A poisonous fog. Statues that weep blood. History professor Juliet Harrington is convinced that the recent plague of disasters crippling the capital is caused by the Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom, a potent 16th century spell-book whose magic is summoned only at disastrous cost. Juliet fears that someone reckless is using the book and she has little time left to stop them.

A series of plagues is blighting the capital . . . is a sixteenth-century spell-book behind the turmoil? In this creepy #bookextract, the sea is boiling, steam is rising, and the smell of death is overwhelming . . .  

At first, Alan thought the slight misting he’d become to be aware of was just smearing on the glass pane through which he watched the sea, steering their course. A job for a bottle of Mr Muscle and a clean rag. Then Phil came up from where he’d been repairing a torn net below and said that a mist was coming up.

‘Coming up?’

‘It’s rising from the sea, skipper. It’s bloody unusual. And it’s got very warm, suddenly. Almost unbearable down below, that heat.’

Alan engaged the auto-steer and stepped out onto the deck and was immediately aware of how warm the air felt. He’d experienced British heatwaves, but this was close to dusk and like stepping off the plane on to a broiling runway somewhere like Antigua or Barbados. Out at sea was always, always cooler than on land. That was a fixed law, an article of nature. The combination of water and wind made it so. This was more than strange. It was bizarre.

And Phil was right. The mist was rising from the sea. Except that Alan didn’t think it was mist in reality at all.

Just then something plopped to the surface and rolled lazily in water starting to bubble. It was a large flounder and it looked cooked, poached, and other fish were rising all around it to the surface, bloated, also cooked, dead. The smell of them was rich and overpowering and profoundly wrong.

‘What the fuck, skipper,’ Phil said to Alan, almost under his breath, wide-eyed with astonishment and fear. ‘The sea is boiling.’

Alan Turner bolted back into the wheelhouse and switched on the radio. The airwaves were thick with the clamour of panicked voices. They came from men aboard vessels off Padstow and Ventnor and Barmouth and Hull. Off Brixham and Lowestoft and Whitby. All around the coast, the sea simmered under a rising blanket of steam.

THE AUGURIES is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

The traitors behind the book: THE TRAITOR’S CODEX by Jeri Westerson

Traitor's Codex

Crispin Guest receives a mysterious bundle containing an ancient leather-bound book. A rabbi helps to make a shocking discovery: it is the Gospel of Judas from the Holy Land. Crispin is quickly drawn into a deadly maze and a series of horrific events confirm his fears that there are powerful men who will stop at nothing to see the codex destroyed.

The Judas Gospel plays a pivotal role in Jeri Westerson’s new medieval noir mystery, TRAITOR’S CODEX, but where did the gospel come from, and what are the parallels between Crispin and Judas? Jeri discusses the inspiration behind her new Crispin Guest mystery here.

I first heard about the Judas Gospel some years ago when it came to light in the media. There are several apocryphal gospels out there that have a distinctly different tone from those accepted into the canon. I found them more elucidating than the ones we know well, simply because they speak of the people of that time period and how they saw the world, a distinct view with a distinct voice. The Judas Gospel just blew away all that the early Church was trying to make clear. It had an eastern mode of thought to be sure, but dangerous to the story the early Christian church leaders were trying to tell. The opposite, in fact. Obviously, it had to go.

It is thought to have been created in the second century by Gnostic Christians, an early Christian sect that believed there is special knowledge that only few people possess of innate human divinity. The Judas Codex likely came from an earlier Greek version. Gnostic gospels were suppressed by early Christian fathers like the Greek cleric Irenaeus, who wrote his treatise Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) in about CE 180. The only known copy of the Judas Codex (carbon-dated to CE 280) and written in Coptic, didn’t turn up until the 1970s, but through a series of intrigues good enough for a Crispin mystery, it finally turned up again in 1983.

Judas being the supposed traitor in the story goes along perfectly with Crispin Guest, a convicted traitor who feels his betrayal most keenly. Having treason and betrayal as the theme and bringing in factors that everything everyone believed could be turned on its head into my tale, made for an interesting juxtaposition. And, as always, loads of fun to write.

THE TRAITOR’S CODEX is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark

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1967. Grieving the loss of her son, Cordelia Hemlock seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort in the local churchyard. During a storm, she sees a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. Cordelia begins to investigate, but there are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried . . . whatever the cost.

A bolt of lightning reveals something bone-chillingly unexpected in this stormy book extract from David Mark’s atmospheric and compelling new thriller . . .

“Here it comes,” said Felicity, and she raised a hand above her head. She was still holding the flowers and seemed to realise it. “Here, give these to the grave you’ve been laying on. I’ll get more for Mam.”

For a moment I felt as though I was inside a tin shack and somebody was banging upon it with a bat. The rumble in the sky was a colossal thing. God moving furniture in the Heavens. I ducked my head into my shoulders. The shiver that passed through me was  primal; a fear that would have seemed as familiar to the Romans who once guarded the nearby boundary wall as it did to me. It was a feeling that the ground was about to split; that some almighty force was preparing to plunge His fists into the ground and pull up the earth’s foundations.

“Come on,” said Felicity, and to my surprise, she took my hand. I found myself smiling, grinning inanely, as I was led briskly between the ancient graves that stood out of the long damp grass and the untended wildflowers like boulders from the sea.

“Oh goodness, here it comes . . .”

I gave a shriek as the skies opened and a deluge like I had never witnessed tumbled down. It was as if somebody had flipped the earth; as if the sea had become the sky. I felt as though I was running through a waterfall. Felicity kept hold of my hand and we staggered up the shingle path towards the rusty black gate. Felicity wrenched it open and turned to tell me to hurry.

I felt the lightning strike rather than saw it. I experienced a sudden moment of light and heat and power at my back, as if somebody had suddenly opened the door of a furnace behind me. I spun and lost my footing, dropping painfully to one knee and my hand was wrenched from Felicity’s. I lay there, twisted and sprawled, watching the deluge beat down upon the tiny church and the ancient tombstones, flattening down the grass and thistles, ragwort and cow-parsely. Then came the  sound. A noise like the cry of a dying beast; a keening wail that grew to a scream before climaxing in a crack that hurt my ears.

I looked up to see the ancient laurel split in two. It tore down the middle as if somebody were ripping a photograph. For a moment the trunk was two perfect halves. And then they fell. The branches were still tangled together and both halves of the trunk fell in the same direction, collapsing downwards with a dreadful crescendo of splintering wood.

It missed the church. Fell at an angle that would later be seen by the faithful as an act of God. Instead it stamped down into the churchyard with an impact that made the ground shake and one of the stoutest arms smashed into the stone roof of the little crypt that had stood there for 300 years. The construction was not much bigger than a garden shed.
It was surrounded by rusty iron railings and there were ornate carvings above the rotten wooden door. The whole edifice collapsed as if made of cards.

“Oh,” said Felicity, in my ear. I will always remember that. That sudden, simple exclamation. She had her hands under my armpits and was dragging me upright while her feet battled for purchase on a path that was already becoming a river.

We both saw it happen. Both watched as the crypt came apart in an explosion of stone and ancient timbers.

We knew there would be bones. Knew that if we did not look away we would see ancient skeletons and grinning skulls.

But the body that tumbled onto the grass was dressed in a dark suit and had a full head of hair. The face that looked at us had staring eyes and the mouth was open as if in surprise. Were it not for the unnatural position in which he lay, folded in on himself and twisted as if dropped from the sky, he may just as easily been sleeping.

I turned to Felicity and saw the horror on her face. Her mouth was open and I wondered if her scream was lost to the sound of the wind and the rain and the settling stones.

She looked at me, then. An accusing, puzzled glare. Looked at me as if I had done this thing. I had brought this ugliness into our lives. Then she dragged me upright and grabbed my wrist and tugged me through the storm.

I had to look where I was going. Had to try and find my feet as I splashed through the path and felt the earth pull at my boots as if hands were reaching out from the earth.

I took a last glance at the body as I splashed through the lychgate. The pummelling of the rain ceased for an instant. When it slashed back down it was with the precision of a blade. Through the rain I saw a man in blue. Dark hair. Neat brown shoes. A greenish-brown satchel wrapped across the torso. Then he was lost as I tore my gaze away, searching the pockmarked road for patches of ground where I might keep my feet. I ran. Thought of myself first. Thought of my boy’s ashes after that. Felt a wave of something inside me as I pictured the ashes of my baby being washed away like dust.

THE MAUSOLEUM is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

 

#BookExtract: THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS by Alys Clare

9780727888686_FCAccounts clerk Ernest Stibbins approaches the World’s End investigation bureau claiming his wife Albertina has been warned by her spirit guides that someone is out to harm her. Lily Raynor is initially sceptical, but after attending a séance she realizes Albertina is in terrible danger . . . but how do you investigate threats from beyond the grave?

 

 

THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS is the first book in the brand-new World’s End Bureau Victorian mystery series and introduces private investigators Lily Raynor and Felix Wilbraham. In the extract below, Lily asks Tamáz, an acquaintance who well versed in the ways of the spirit world, about messages from beyond  . . .

She is watching from her bedroom window and she sees his dark shape in the alley behind the house. She hurries down, grabbing her shawl, and emerges through the shed. He nods to her in greeting and they walk together back to The Dawning of the Day. He tells her to sit down and he makes tea. Then he says, ‘You have felt a strong emotion this night. Fear, I think, and deep, deep sorrow.’

‘Yes,’ she says.

She tells him about the seance. About the extraordinary way that Albertina picked up on the death of her father. She also admits to the very strong sense of menace that she felt.

He lets her talk without interruption, and it takes some time. When she has finished, he sits in thought for a further time.

‘Did she describe your father’s death accurately, in the precise way that it happened?’ he asks eventually.

‘I don’t know how it happened, not in any detail,’ she replies. ‘Nobody would tell me. They said I would be too upset, which was incomprehensible because I couldn’t possibly have been more upset than I was.’ She takes a steadying breath. ‘But she – Albertina – described it in just the way I see it in my imagination.’

He nods slowly, a faint smile on his lips, as if she has just confirmed something.

After a long silence, he says, ‘I cannot say for sure what is the truth of it. I do not believe that those we love are able to contact us after death, for all that a clever and skilled medium may try to convince us of it. Yet I too have experienced the inexplicable.’

She feels the very faintest brush of dread, and sees again that image of spreading black mould. But he says swiftly, ‘There is nothing to fear, Lily, not here and now.’ He pauses again, then says, ‘I believe there may be a way in which men and women communicate without speech. It usually occurs only where there is great love, and it is perhaps the love that opens the channel.’ He pauses again. ‘This I have experienced for myself. Once I wished to ask my grandmother a question, and when next I saw her, she told me the answer before I had spoken. Another time, I knew when a boy I was close to as a child had been in an accident and I went to find him.’

She nods. She knows there’s no use asking for more details because he won’t give them. Tamáz is a man who only tells you things when he is ready.

He sighs, turns his inner eye from whatever events in his history he has been contemplating and says, ‘If you wish me to give an opinion, Lily, then I will tell you only this: that I believe all of us carry the major events of our past with us for the rest of our lives, and that there are some people who are able to look into our minds and pick up these memories.’

She murmurs, ‘Yes.’ It makes sense to her.

‘And the woman who saw the image of your father falling to his death was able to perceive it not because of a message from the other side, but because you had it in your mind, as you always do.’

She does. He is quite right. She mutters, ‘Yes,’ again, more softly.

‘You say you felt a threat? A menace?’ he goes on.

‘Yes.’

‘And you will, I assume, be returning to this place?’

‘Yes.’

He nods. He doesn’t try to dissuade her. He reaches inside his waistcoat and shirt and extracts something on a long silver chain, lifting the chain over his head and holding the object out to her. It is a little bottle, about the length of a forefinger, and some two fingers in breadth. It appears to contain nails, pieces of wire . . . One long nail, several shorter ones, some barbs, a coil of wire sharpened to a point.

‘This is a witch’s bottle,’ he says very softly. ‘My grandmother Mary Bridey made it for me when I was small and afraid of the night walkers of the Fenlands. It keeps all harm away.’ He puts the bottle on its silver chain – both still warm from his body – over her head.

She touches the little bottle cautiously. ‘Don’t you need it?’

He smiles. ‘I no longer fear the night walkers. Besides, just now I believe that the darkness is more of a threat to you.’ He puts his big, warm hand around hers, closing hers tightly around the bottle. ‘Stay safe, cushla.’

THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: A WEB OF SILK by Fiona Buckley

9781780291130_FCAugust, 1582. Ursula is ordered to keep an eye on her new neighbour, Giles Frost, who is rumoured to be spying for King Philip of Spain. But events take a decidedly sinister turn when a body is found in the woods near Ursula’s home. What secrets are contained within Knoll House . . . and is Ursula being lured into a lethal trap?

 

 

A WEB OF SILK is the seventeenth novel to feature Ursula Blanchard, in a series that started back in 1997. In this scene, Ursula and her manservant Roger Brockley are attempting to steal a large chest down from an attic . . .

So far our night’s adventure had been easy, but this was not. We did have light, but there were still misleading shadows. Furthermore, not only was the width of the stairs narrow but they had narrow treads as well, and in these restricted circumstances the chest seemed to grow in size and bulkiness, tilting wilfully and slipping a little because my fingers were sweating. I had thought that Brockley would have had sweaty fingers, but I seemed no better. We descended gingerly one step at a time, with a certain amount of whispered acrimony.

‘It’s leaning to the left, straighten it up . . . My left, madam, please!’

‘I can’t! My thumb’s caught against the wall . . . Ow!’

‘Don’t make such a noise! Hoist it up a bit . . .’

‘It won’t . . . Yes, got it! Now it’s steady . . . Oh, God, where’s the next step down . . .?’

‘Don’t lurch! I’m being thrown off balance.’

‘I’m not lurching on purpose! Brockley . . .?’

‘What is it? Why have you gone rigid?’

‘I’m sure I heard something!’ I whispered. ‘Up the stairs, behind us.’

For a few breathless moments we stood absolutely still, but there was no sound beyond a creak as a gust of wind swept round the house. And then, distant now because we were almost at the first turn, there came a faint snore and after that a scuttle of rodents’ feet.

‘That’s what you heard, rats and snores. Here’s the turn. Put your end down, madam, and move the lantern.’

‘There’s no point in addressing me as madam while you’re giving the orders!’

A WEB OF SILK is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

The truth behind the king in THE AUGURIES by F.G. Cottam

augeries

An unexpected lunar eclipse. A poisonous fog. Statues that weep blood. History professor Juliet Harrington is convinced that the recent plague of disasters crippling the capital is caused by the Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom, a potent 16th century spell-book whose magic is summoned only at disastrous cost. Juliet fears that someone reckless is using the book – and she has little time left to stop them.

Henry VIII plays an important role in THE AUGURIES, but how much do you know about this famous historical figure? Francis shares some fascinating facts about the Tudor king of England here.

I’ve always thought of Henry VIII as the vastly overweight serial-monogamist with no compunction about executing wives and senior court figures. But before the jousting accident in the mid-1530s that left him unconscious and triggered his physical decline, he was a gifted athlete, ferociously competitive sportsman and deeply devout theological thinker. He spoke three or four languages fluently and had a gift for music (he might have composed Greensleeves). That’s the somewhat surprising Henry who plays a pivotal part in the section of this story set in the sixteenth century.

THE AUGURIES is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here!

Did you know? THE WOUNDED SNAKE by Fay Sampson

9780727889300_FCHilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are hoping to find inspiration at a weekend-long crime writing masterclass. However, when the guest of honour suddenly falls ill that evening, it triggers a series of sinister incidents which draw Hilary and Veronica into a real-life murder mystery. Can they separate fact from fiction to solve a deadly puzzle?

 

 

Each novel in Fay Sampson’s new West Country mystery series is inspired by a different ancient site. Find out what mysterious location inspired THE WOUNDED SNAKE below . . .

I love to visit places connected to our ancient past. In the course of this I have visited a great many sacred wells. Almost all are named after saints. Totnes, in Devon, is different and intriguing. Three narrow lanes converge on the three Leechwells (healing wells). Three separate springs pour into three rectangular basins within a larger hollow. Their names are not saints, but the Toad, the Snake and the Long Crippler. The latter is a local name for a slowworm.

This is an out of the way part of Totnes, hidden away behind the busy main street. It’s not the sort of place you would find accidentally. It has a secretive air.

There is a tradition that these narrow high-walled lanes leading to it are the paths that lepers would take from their hospital on the outskirts of the town to the parish church. But this dates only from the nineteenth century. The hospital would have held services in its own church.

All the same, these wells have an air of mystery and a shiver-in-the-spine sense of otherness. Perfect for a detective novel.

THE WOUNDED SNAKE is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

Inspired by the North: THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark

 

mausoleum

1967. Grieving the loss of her son, Cordelia Hemlock seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort in the local churchyard. During a storm, she sees a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. Cordelia begins to investigate, but there are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried . . . whatever the cost.

How did David Mark’s family and early years in northern England inspire the characters and setting for his exciting and compelling new thriller, THE MAUSOLEUM? David gives us a fascinating insight into his childhood below.

 

My family, on my father’s side, are from a market town called Brampton, nine miles from Carlisle. When I was a kid I used to go through to see my grandparents at least once a week and invariably we would go for walks in the local woods or up to the ruins of the Roman wall. It was all rope swings and den-building and mucky-kneed fun; the memories tasting of toffees, conkers and flak tea. My grandad might have looked like a taciturn and grumpy old sod, but he was a great storyteller and had a gift for bringing the landscape to life with yarns about battles fought on the very ground we were trudging over and speculating about the grisly things one would find if we could just lift the ground up like a blanket. Swords. Treasure. Bodies . . .

I’ve always written books set in East Yorkshire and have been reluctant to try and bring the landscape of my childhood to life for fear of doing it wrong, or being unable to capture the proper spirit of a place that resonates both within me and without. I eventually chose to write the book that became The Mausoleum because if something scares me, I force myself to attack it head on. To find the two narrative voices I actually imagined rather more extreme versions of my own grandmothers. My mum’s mum was a southerner who was always a bit cleverer and more worldly wise than the rest of us. She became Cordelia, although Cordelia is a lot less batty than my nana, Milly, who loved to butcher the language wherever possible, and who, to the best of my knowledge, never sought a multiple murderer.

Felicity is heavily influenced by my dad’s mum, Phyllis. She grew up in Brampton, married a local man, and never left. She died without having ever been abroad, driven a car or eaten a lasagne. She was brilliant. Lovely, a bit neurotic and very funny. She once told me how, as a young woman, she had been on her way to visit the chap who would become my grandad when she encountered a group of Prisoners of War, out mending a wall for a local farmer before heading back to the PoW camp. She said she was terrified, as if she had just seen a group of demons. ‘They were so polite,’ she said. ‘And they looked just like us.’ That stuck with me, and definitely helped set the tone for the book.

Throw in the fact that the local airfield was where the UK Government ran its space programme, the fact that the whole area is cut in two by the Northumberland border and then folded again around the Roman wall, and chuck in a convalescent home for soldiers that became an evacuation station for Newcastle’s pregnant women, and you’ve got quite the setting for a story of friendship, intrigue, spies and mysterious vanishing bodies.

THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.