It’s been a busy few months for me. On top of work, DIY, decorating and gardening, I have been cracking on with the next few books in the Gertrude Harrington Mysteries series.
Death on the Queen Mary is close to ready for publication this autumn. (More on that later.)
I have now started with the editing of the book that follows, Death upon the Lonesome Wild, which sees Gertrude finally visit her sister Gladys up in the Lake District. Needless to say, this visit doesn’t quite go according to plan when one of the stars of a movie being filmed in the vicinity goes missing and the body of a local turns up dead. It’s a good job Gertrude is on hand to help – but old wounds are reopened, and life might never be the same again for Gertrude and her family.
I am also around two thirds of the way through the follow up to Death upon the Lonesome Wild, Death on the Tracks, which brings Gertrude and death back to County Kingworthy.
With the publication of Death on the Queen Mary drawing ever closer, I thought I’d share with you all the cover – and also a sneak peek at the prologue.
Death on the Queen Mary – Prologue
Gertrude Harrington loved the mornings in Clyst St James. She loved the peacefulness that enveloped her as she struggled to escape the clutches of sleep; she loved the clean fresh air, filled with the scent of flowers and freshly mown lawns in the summer and the smell of fallen leaves and the remnants of last night’s bonfire in the autumn; and she loved the smells from the nearby farms that reminded her how much living in the countryside meant to her.
She had never lived in a town or city and had no desire to do so. Born and bred in Clyst St James, she had lived her entire life in the quintessentially English village and had always – jokingly – maintained that they would have to carry her out in a box.
On this particular morning, the early September rains had washed away the dust of the hot summer, leaving behind only the glorious smell of fresh earth. It was a sign of new beginnings, and Gertrude felt at peace with her recent decisions.
At times she couldn’t fathom the enmity that drove some people to kill. There had been so much killing nearby in recent years that she had contemplated – albeit very briefly – the notion of moving away from the area. But reason had made her realise the folly of such thoughts: there was likely death around the corner wherever she lived. It was just the way of things.
And so, she decided to remain where her heart lay, and carried on with her life amongst the friends and family who meant so much to her.
Gertrude was well liked within the village. She had, for a year or so now, run the village Tea Room, which gave her ample opportunity to inveigle her way into the lives of those she didn’t know and root out the secrets that people might otherwise have told to no-one. Gertrude was an expert at asking all the right questions, making people feel so at ease they might even reveal their guilt of killing someone. There was just something about Gertrude’s manner that people trusted. Her smile never failed to reach her eyes whenever it appeared on her face – which was often. She was, quite simply, the very epitome of a jolly, robustly proportioned spinster who was an exceptionally attentive listener, a woman who enjoyed her food and also the company of others.
Less so in recent times, sadly.
With death all around, it could only have been a matter of time before murder lay itself squarely at her door, and now she had lost a brother as well as a niece. It was hard to bear at times, but life had to go on. She’d overcome the effects of her niece’s murder by immersing herself in normal everyday tasks, and so it was once more now her brother was gone.
As she pottered about her kitchen, having thrown open the top part of the stable door to let in the morning air, she considered her recent decisions. They had been tough to make, but she knew it was for the best.
As much as she felt fulfilled, helping Chief Inspector Lennox to bring to justice several killers, including those who murdered her brother and niece, he had understood completely when she’d told him that she wanted to spend some time concentrating on developing new menus for her popular Tea Room. And then had come the news that her brother Gerald was coming over from America, and Gertrude had asked Lennox not to call on her until after his visit.
Lennox himself had taken the opportunity to return with his wife to Paris, where they had honeymooned a quarter of a century ago, and although he and Adele had been back in England for over a month, he’d been true to his word and not called upon Gertrude’s assistance.
With the Aga stoked and warming nicely, Gertrude was lost in her thoughts as she prepared the breakfast, which she would take up to her sister Glenda and brother Geoffrey.
She slammed down the teapot hard against the butler sink, fighting back tears as for the umpteenth time she forgot that Geoffrey was gone. It was just Glenda and her in Spring Cottage now. She didn’t think she would ever get used to the fact that she would never again see her brother’s happy face as she brought him his breakfast. Life went on for sure, but it was so hard at the moment. He’d only been gone a few months, and the hole he left in Gertrude’s life would never be filled.
Wiping away her tears, Gertrude checked the teapot and was annoyed to find she’d caused a great big crack from the base to the lid. Cursing, she displayed an inherently uncharacteristic show of anger and threw the teapot against the far wall, where it shattered into dozens of sharp china shards.
Within moments she regretted her actions and proceeded to clear up the mess, wincing as her back protested. You’re not getting any younger, Gertrude Harrington, she mused ruefully. Age had all too quickly caught up with her, and she suddenly felt every one of her sixty-plus years.
She was just tipping the remnants of the teapot into the bin when Glenda came rushing downstairs, rubbing her eyes to eradicate the residue of sleep. ‘I thought I heard breaking glass,’ she said, slightly out of breath. ‘Have we had another break-in?’
Gertrude offered her youngest sister an apologetic smile, shaking her head. ‘I had an argument with the teapot, that’s all. I was annoyed with myself, actually.’
Glenda tied the rope belt of her dressing gown and ran a hand through her sleep-rumpled brown hair, stifling a yawn as she did so. ‘Why? Are you now regretting your decision to stop helping the Chief Inspector?’
Gertrude continued preparing the breakfast. ‘It’s only a temporary break, Glenda. Just for a moment I forgot that Geoffrey is no longer with us. I was going to prepare three cups of tea.’
Glenda came over and hugged her sister, eliciting an appreciative pat on her hands. ‘It’ll be all right, eventually. It’s just going to take time, that’s all. Anyway, Gerald will be here soon enough, so best not to get out of the three-cup habit just yet.’
Gertrude picked up on the emotional timbre to Glenda’s voice and sensed that her sister was on the verge of tears, so she changed the subject. ‘I was thinking perhaps I might take Gerald to go and visit Gladys.’
Glenda’s intake of breath caught Gertrude off guard. She hadn’t expected Glenda to be against her decision, but that was the impression she garnered from her sister’s reaction. ‘You disapprove?’
Glenda shook her head. ‘No, of course not. It’s just, well, none of us have been to visit her since she left – not even when Mabel died. We should have, but we didn’t. Don’t you think she’ll resent your visit?’
‘Not in the slightest, Glenda, especially if I take Gerald. I haven’t told you this before, but I’ve been corresponding with Gladys for years. Less so, admittedly, since Mabel died, but several times a year I write to her – on her birthday and on Mabel’s. She has a young son, you know.’
Glenda’s face displayed her surprise at this news. ‘I wasn’t aware of that. Gertrude, if you’ve been in touch with her all these years, why didn’t you tell the rest of us? Why keep it a secret?’
Gertrude sighed, placing two cups of tea on the table. ‘Careful, there’s loose tea in the cup,’ she said as Glenda grabbed one and took a sip. She remained tight lipped about her sister’s question, but she knew Glenda’s tenacity wouldn’t let it go. ‘What do you want me to say, Glenda? Do you want me to say that I feel guilty about keeping in touch with Gladys? Well I’m sorry, but I don’t. She’s my sister – she’s our sister. What she went through was abominable. She should never have been made to feel that she should leave.’
Gertrude peered close into Glenda’s face, searching for any sort of response. She wasn’t at all surprised to see the shock in Glenda’s eyes. ‘Yes, Glenda, I know everything. I know what happened to Gladys, and I know what you did. I’m amazed that you’ve managed to keep it secret for so long. I imagine it must have been so difficult, living with the guilt of fratricide. It must have been eating you up inside, but you never let on.’
Glenda’s bottom lip trembled as she fought to find the right words to express her regret, but even before she spoke, Gertrude silenced her. ‘Perhaps I should have eased that burden by letting you know I was aware of the events, but somehow I couldn’t. Gladys told me everything before she left. She made me promise not to let on that I knew, or that we were corresponding. She felt guilt, you see. She thought everything was her fault, and she wanted to avoid a scandal. I kept my promise to her, for better or worse.’
Glenda’s face remained cold. ‘It was for the better, but you’re wrong about one thing. I wasn’t eaten up with guilt about my actions. I haven’t once lost any sleep over it. What kind of person does that make me, Gertie?’
‘It makes you someone who loves their family enough to want to protect them from harm.’
‘But I killed someone, and I don’t feel any remorse. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. If I had, then Gladys would still be part of this family.’
Gertrude sighed sadly, her mind drifting to other events from the past: another death, another time – another guilty party who deserved everything they got. But did their guilt assuage hers? ‘Everything happens for a reason, Glenda, even the dreadful things. I feel guilty sometimes about being the one who got Mabel the job up at the Hall, but if I hadn’t, even though Mabel might still be alive I’d most likely still be Lavinia’s cook instead of running the Tea Room, and our lives would all be drastically different – and not necessarily better. Gladys is a part of our family, Glenda. Do we see or hear any more from Gerald or Gretchen than we do from Gladys?’
‘That’s different. They’re on opposite sides of the world.’
Gertrude nodded. ‘Travelling the world is becoming easier, but it’s still very expensive and time consuming, and communication by anything other than letter is just as bad. I feel that the time has come to mend our fractured family, so I’m starting with Gladys, and Gerald’s imminent arrival is most fortuitous.’
An impatient sounding knock upon the front door interrupted their conversation, and since Gertrude was dressed and Glenda was not, the elder sister went to find out who it was. Gertrude was surprised to find herself signing for a telegram, which she opened with haste once she’d closed the front door again.
‘Who was it?’ said Glenda as Gertrude returned to the kitchen. She glanced up to see her eldest sister holding the opened telegram, and immediately sensing bad news, she stood up sharply. ‘What is it? What’s happened?’
Gertrude held out the piece of paper. ‘We shall have to change our plans. We’re to expect more visitors.’
Glenda grabbed the telegram and read the words contained within. She emitted an unhappy groan. ‘Gerald’s bringing his wife and her grandchildren!’
Gertrude nodded ruefully as she recalled vividly the first and only time she had met Gerald’s American wife. ‘It would seem we’re in for a bumpy ride.’