Cragside: A 1930s Murder Mystery: Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour

Today, I am delighted to host MJ Porter on the Blog Tour for Cragside: A 1930s Murder Mystery. See below for an excerpt from the book.

Tour Schedule Page: https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/2022/04/blog-tour-cragside-1930s-murder-mystery.html


Cragside: A 1930s Murder Mystery By M J Porter

Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.

But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.

Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.

Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.

Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.

[Trigger Warnings: Description of murder scenes and bodies]


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CragsideExcerpt – Lady Ella and Detective Inspector Aldcroft discuss their suspects

“So,” Aldcroft turns to me. “We have a number of suspects who while thinking they have an alibi, actually don’t. Miss Lilian Braithwaite is one of them, as are Lord and Lady Bradbury and Mr Hector Alwinton. They were all alone at one point or another yesterday afternoon, after luncheon and before the victim was found.”

“I’m intrigued by the notion that Lord Bradbury heard dogs barking and came to let his hounds inside. Lilian is adamant she arrived back only just as the body was discovered.”

Aldcroft nods, brooding.

“Yes. She might well have returned earlier. Slit our victims throat, and then scampered back along the road way. No one was looking for her. It was expected that she’d be a long time, because the dogs needed a good run, and it’s a fair distance to Cragend quarry and back.”

“But why?”

It always comes back to this. Why had Lady Carver and Mr Harrington-Featherington  needed to die? What did they know, or suspect, that made someone so desperate that only their death could make them feel safe?

“There’s been a great deal of speculation that this is all connected to your husband’s death.” There’s sympathy in Aldcroft’s voice. Not many ever show it. Most people believe me guilty. It’s taken my clever solicitor to argue for my innocence, and to pick apart the terrible report that the London detective cobbled together, with all his supposed witnesses.

I turn, hearing the scuff of a boot over the stones, and see my driver, Williams. I’ve not seen him since he returned me to Cragside yesterday, but he seems well enough. That pleases me. I know that Williams isn’t happy with his room in the servants wing. It’s quite distant from the main body of the house.

Williams nods at me. He’s dressed in his usual chauffeur garb. He looks smart but competent. I notice that he has flushed cheeks and mud along his boots and trouser bottoms. Where has he been?

“Detective Inspector,” Williams voice is gruff. He has no love for Aldcroft, and is unaware that we’ve reached an accommodation to help one another. I couldn’t find him earlier to let him know everything that had transpired last evening, and yet I believe he knows enough for I suspect where he’s been.

“I walked to Cragend quarry and back early this morning. I’ve taken all the different routes, past Slipper Lake, and along the carriage drive, and even through the many rock paths. I did find some evidence of dog prints on the higher path, but nowhere else, and yet, I discovered this,” and Williams holds out what can only be the murder weapon, its edge sharp and glistening with menace as he holds it in a white handkerchief, “crammed down the side of one of the rock paths. I’ve marked it and can show you exactly where it was.”

Aldcroft beckons one of his constables closer, as he peers at the sharp knife.

“Have you an evidence bag?” he asks them, and the youngster rushes to get one from a black bag, similar to a doctors bag, lying on the ground close to the garden alcove door.

“Put it in here,” Aldcroft instructs Williams. “But first, hold it out so I can look closer at it.”

Williams, watching me the entire time, does as he’s asked. Aldcroft grunts softly.

“It seems as though there might be a fingerprint in the gore. I’ll have someone look at it. Now, place it in here, carefully.”

I watch the two men as the knife’s lowered into a brown paper bag. Williams is entirely loyal to me. Aldcroft isn’t, and yet I can determine that both men see this as yet another indication of my innocence, if more were needed.

“Explain what you think happened,” Aldcroft asks my tall chauffeur.

I nod swiftly, to show that Williams should speak freely with the Detective Inspector. It warms me to know that he would have been circumspect if I’d implied it was necessary.

“I think the dogs were walked yesterday afternoon, but I don’t believe they went as far as the quarry.” I consider how Williams knows this, but servants often know everything that happens in a country house such as this. “While accepting that it rained a great deal last night, I don’t accept that it would have entirely washed away paw prints, not when the animals have such sharp nails that dig into the ground.”

“How far do you believe the dogs were walked?” Aldcroft queries. I’m pleased he considers Williams observations.

“No further than just beyond Slipper Lake.” Williams speaks of a lake that Edmund’s father constructed for fishing. It’s half way to the top of the slope, a more gentle climb for a man in his older years.

“So far enough away that their howls might not have been heard. But, what of Miss Lilian Braithwaite? She said she walked them to Cragend quarry.” I’m impressed that Aldcroft shares such insight with Williams. I consider then that they might have already spoken about what they think happened.

“She may well have done, but Miss Braithwaite returned by a different route to the dogs. I believe she tied them up, and left them while returning to the house to kill Mr Harrington-Featherington.”

Aldcroft’s lower lip twists in thought, but he doesn’t dismiss the suggestion.

“And what? She discarded the knife when rushing back to the dogs via a different route?”

“Possibly, yes. It’s certainly a quicker route if you needed to run.”

“And then, she returned more slowly, bringing the dogs as her alibi.”

“But why would Lilian have wanted to kill Mr Harrington-Featherington ?” I muse. “I can’t see that she could have been involved in my husband’s murder, either. She didn’t know either of us before our house party. Why then would she have felt the need to shoot him with a pistol?”

Williams is shaking his head, as perplexed as I am.

“I don’t know the answer to those questions, but there’s certainly something strange going on, even if she’s not responsible for leaving the knife wedged down one of the stone steps. She didn’t walk to Cragend quarry. Or rather, she didn’t take the dogs all that way or there would be prints in the mulch.”

“Couldn’t she have taken a different route.” I press. I know how many routes there are to Cragend. There’s anything from a gentle walk to a more strenuous climb.

But Williams shakes his head. “The paw prints simply stop. The dogs stopped there. They didn’t go any further.”


Author Bio: MJ Porter

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.

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New Release from William Todd

Today on the blog, I am delighted to be hosting William Todd, one of my favourite authors. William’s new release, Murder in Keswick, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, is a great read.

You are very welcome, William, could you tell us a little bit about the background to the book?

I always enjoyed the stories of Sherlock Holmes when he left the confines of London. The Final Problem, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Devil’s Foot, and The Disappearance of Lady Carfax are some of my favorites, and the latter introduced me to the English Lake District. Ever since, that rugged and lovely setting has held a great fascination for me. I decided with this story to once again take the great detective and his raconteur to the Lake District.

New Release from William Todd

New Release from Pam Lecky

Abbey Gardens, where it all started in No Stone Unturned

It has been a hectic year, working on many different projects, including Her Secret War and Her Last Betrayal for Avon Books UK. However, as you probably know, my Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series is very close to my heart. Therefore, I am delighted to announce that the third book in the series, The Art of Deception, is now live for pre-order on Amazon worldwide. This title will be released on Friday 10th December.

New Release from Pam Lecky

New Release from Daisy Wood

Today, I am delighted to feature the new release from Daisy Wood, The Clockmaker’s Wife. What’s more, I can highly recommend this WW2 story as I read the book recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Clockmaker’s Wife

‘A ticking time-bomb of intrigue, wrapped around stark but rich descriptions of the Blitz. An unforgettable war-time debut.’ Mandy Robotham, author of The Berlin Girl

It’s the height of the Blitz in 1940, and too dangerous for Nell Spelman and her baby daughter, Alice, to stay in London. She must leave behind her husband, Arthur, one of the clockmakers responsible for keeping Big Ben tolling. The huge clock at the Palace of Westminster has become a symbol of hope in Britain’s darkest hour, and must be protected at all costs. When Arthur disappears in mysterious circumstances, Nell suspects evil forces are at work and returns to the war-torn city to save both the man and the country she loves.

Over eighty years later in New York, Alice’s daughter Ellie finds a beautiful watch with a cracked face among her mother’s possessions, and decides to find out more about the grandmother she never knew. Her search takes her to England, where her relatives are hiding shocking secrets of their own, and where she begins to wonder whether the past might be better left alone. Could her grandparents possibly have been traitors at the heart of the British establishment? Yet Ellie feels Nell at her shoulder, guiding her towards a truth which is more extraordinary than she could ever have imagined.

The Clockmaker’s Wife is available at all good book stores and online at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Clockmakers-Wife-Daisy-Wood/dp/0008402302


A Little Bit about Daisy …

Daisy Wood worked as an editor in children’s publishing for several years before starting to write stories of her own. She has had over twenty children’s books published under various names, including the ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ series for teens, based around an English country house through the years and the servants who keep it running. She loves the process of historical research and is a keen member of the London Library, which houses a wonderful collection of old magazines and newspapers as well as books. The Clockmaker’s Wife is her first published novel for adults. She studied English Literature at Bristol University and recently completed a Creative Writing MA at City University in London, where she lives with her husband, a rescue dog from Greece and a fluffy grey cat.   

New Release from Sharon Dempsey

Sharon Dempsey

Happy Publication Day, Sharon!

Today I am delighted to share details of this fabulous new release from Belfast based crime writer, Sharon Dempsey. Who Took Eden Mulligan? is the first in her new crime series and is published by Avon Harper Collins. When not writing, Sharon is a PhD researcher at Queens, exploring class and gender in crime fiction.

Who took Eden Mulligan? is a modern day murder investigation wrapped in a historical cold case.

New Release from Sharon Dempsey

#DoubleMirrorTour with Alison Morton and Helen Hollick

Here’s a treat! Two of my favourite authors, Alison Morton and Helen Hollick, are on a book blog tour together and I’m delighted to be hosting them today. Not only are the ladies sharing their fabulous covers and blurbs, they are giving us exclusive extracts from both books.

ALISON MORTON – DOUBLE IDENTITY

#DoubleMirrorTour with Alison Morton and Helen Hollick

Stepping Back into Saxon England Blog Tour

FOLLOW THE TOUR HERE:

When I was approached to host a spot on this blog tour I could not resist. Both Annie and Helen are wonderful writers and two of the most supportive authors you could wish to meet. So, it is my absolute pleasure today to host this post on Murder in Saxon England by Annie Whitehead.

Stepping Back into Saxon England Blog Tour

Amelia Edwards: A Victorian Trailblazer

Amelia Edwards was a fascinating woman who popped her head above the parapet of  convention and made a real impact in her own lifetime. And this was an era when women were supposed to stay at home and not be noticed. Not only did she support herself with her writing, both as a novelist and  journalist, but she fell in love with Egypt and the consequences were absolutely wonderful.

Inclement weather during a hiking holiday in France, and a pioneering spirit, led Amelia to Egypt in the autumn of 1873. Mere chance, but it changed her life completely. Already an experienced travel writer, she took to the land of the pharaohs with a passion and wrote about her experiences in A Thousand Miles Up the Nile.

I came across the book by chance while undertaking research for my second Lucy Lawrence novel, Footprints in the Sand. I was astonished when I first read the book for it could have been written today. There was none of the stilted dryness you would expect from a Victorian writer but humour and a fascinating insight into Egypt’s heritage and its people. For anyone with an interest in Victorian women (who broke the mould!) or indeed Egyptology, I highly recommend investing in a copy. She even did the wonderful illustrations in the book (example below)!

Amelia was born in London in 1831, daughter of an ex-army officer and an Irish mother. She was educated at home and soon showed a talent for the written word. She produced her first full length novel in 1855 – My Brother’s Wife. Her poetry, stories and articles were published in magazines including Chamber’s Journal, Household Words and the Saturday Review and Morning Post. Her many novels proved popular.

By the time Amelia was 30, both her parents had passed away. Against the conventions of the time, she decided to go travelling (without the proper male escort!) and had the funds to do it because of her writing success. With a female companion, Lucy Renshawe, she set off, only hiring male servants or guides as required. Her first trip was to Belgium in 1862 and in June 1872 the pair explored the Dolomite Region of Northern Italy (Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys).

Credit: Amelia Edwards

But over the winter of 1873-74, Amelia and Lucy sailed up the Nile to Abu Simbel. Unlike most travellers who saw Egypt as another pleasure-ground, Amelia was keenly aware of the underlying political and cultural problems of the country. To her shock, she witnessed the results of the highly lucrative and extensive illegal trade in antiquities. Sites were being pillaged and destroyed by all and sundry. All of this was happening in an unstable political climate with rivalry and tension between French and English explorers added to the mix. Saddened and disturbed by what she saw as the desecration of Egypt’s heritage, she returned to England determined to do something about it.

Flinders Petrie

Amelia was convinced a more scientific approach was needed to preserve Egypt’s treasurers. She studied Egyptology and formed lasting friendships with the likes of Gaston Maspero, who would later become director general of excavations and antiquities for the Egyptian government, and one of the greatest Egyptologists, Flinders Petrie. Amelia promoted the founding of an Egyptological society, culminating in its first meeting in 1880 at the British Museum. Two years’ later, it became the Egypt Exploration Fund, its main purpose to study, conserve and protect ancient sites in Egypt. Amelia’s campaigning paid off, and soon they were able to fund the exploration work of Flinders Petrie in Egypt.

Subsequently, Amelia undertook gruelling lecture tours and even gave up her successful novel writing to concentrate on all matters Egyptological. Eventually, her work earned her honorary degrees from several American universities and in honour of her work, she received an English civil list pension for “her services to literature and archaeology”.

In the early 1890s, Amelia’s health began to deteriorate, and in January 1892, Lucy Renshawe, the woman who had travelled with her and shared her home for nearly thirty years, died. A few months later, Amelia succumbed to influenza. She is buried at St. Mary the Virgin, Henbury, Bristol.

Amelia left a library and collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College London and a bequest to establish the first English Chair in Egyptology. Fittingly, Flinders Petrie was the first appointed to the Edwards Chair in UCL.

I cannot deny that the Egypt described by Amelia in her book presented countless possibilities for mischief to a mystery writer. Her descriptions of Cairo and the many sites she visited, transported me back to Victorian Egypt like no dry contemporary source could do. My heroine, Lucy Lawrence, shared some of Miss Edwards’ qualities of curiosity and determination and so Footprints in the Sand quickly transformed from a vague plot idea to a novel.

Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries, and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

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Victorian Tourism: Thomas Cook

Today, everyone is familiar with the guided tour or cruise, but such things were virtually unheard of in the early years of the Victorian age. The man who changed that, and who is now considered the inventor of modern tourism, was Thomas Cook.

Who was he?

Thomas-Cook
Credit: Thomas Cook Group

Thomas was born in 1808 in Derbyshire, England, and left school at ten years of age to work. In 1826, he became a Baptist minister, becoming an itinerant evangelist, distributing pamphlets and sometimes working as a cabinet maker to earn money. Eventually, Thomas settled in Market Harborough and while there, was persuaded by the local Baptist minister to take the temperance pledge. As a part of the temperance movement, Thomas organised meetings and held anti-liquor processions. In March 1833, Thomas married Marianne Mason at Barrowden in Rutland. They went on to have three children, John, Henry (who died in infancy) and Annie.

The First Excursion

Cook’s initial idea of offering excursions came to him while walking to Leicester to attend a temperance meeting, thus taking advantage of the extended Midland Counties Railway. On 5th July 1841, Thomas escorted almost 500 people, who paid one shilling each for the return train journey. It was the first publicly advertised excursion train in England.

A Growing Business

Soon after, Thomas moved to Leicester, and set up as a bookseller and printer, specialising in temperance literature but also producing guidebooks. Then, in 1846, he took 350 tourists by train and steamboat to Glasgow. For customers travelling for the first time, he offered a guidebook entitled Cook’s Scottish Tourist Practical Directory. One particular chapter bore the heading: Is it Safe for Ladies to Join in Highland Tours? [I’d love to know the answer!]

Credit: Thomas Cook Group

In the early 1860s, Thomas ceased to act as a personal guide and became an agent for the sale of domestic and overseas travel tickets to countries such as America and Egypt. As the decade progressed, alpine journeys became popular and in 1864, parties began to venture into the newly united Italy. Thomas opened a London premises on Fleet Street, London, and in 1872, he went into partnership with his son, John, and renamed the company Thomas Cook & Son. Around this time, the firm started to use ‘circular notes’, which were eventually known as travellers’ cheques.

Thomas retired in 1878, following a disagreement with his son. He moved back to Leicester where he lived quietly until his death in 1892. The business passed to his only surviving son, and was subsequently taken over by Thomas’s grandsons in 1899. The company continued to be run as a family firm until 1928.

Nile_cruises
Nile Cruise Poster 1922

The ‘Cook tour’ rapidly became famous during the Victorian era. However, not everyone thought highly of them. One critic referred to them as ‘everything that is low-bred, vulgar and ridiculous’ (Blackwood’s Magazine, February 1865).

Not surprisingly, the worst critics were the wealthy English, now finding their exclusive haunts overrun by the middle-classes. Another gripe was that tourists were ruining the places they visited by importing their customs, such as tea, lawn tennis and churches!

In my novel, No Stone Unturned, Lucy Lawrence does not travel as part of a Cook tour to Egypt, however, she does encounter many tourists in Cairo who have. As Lucy is fairly occupied trying to solve a robbery, and subsequently a murder, she doesn’t pay them much heed. However, it was her upper class of Victorian male who traditionally did the ‘Grand Tour’, the forerunner of the guided tour. It was frowned upon for a woman, even a widow such as Lucy, to travel without a male escort. Thankfully, there were women prepared to break the mould, and I talk about one of them in my next post on Victorian travel.

Footprints-EBOOK-Cvr

Footprints in the Sand – Book 2 of The Lucy Lawrence Mysteries

Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries and jealousies and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

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The Shepheard Hotel Cairo

By the middle of the Victorian era, foreign travel was much easier and tourism was flourishing. One of the most popular destinations was the land of the pharaohs – Egypt. The ‘leisure’ classes took advantage in their droves and some could even afford a Thomas Cook Tour up the Nile. A forty-day round trip from Cairo to Luxor in the 1850s cost about £110, the equivalent of £12,856 today. 

Touristen_in_Egypte_-_Tourists_in_Egypt
Credit: Nationaal Archief

Two distinct groups of visitors tended to undertake the trip. The first were the military and government officials either stationed in Egypt or en route to India, via the Suez Canal. For many, a stop over in Cairo was an attractive proposition. Secondly, you had tourists drawn to Egypt by its romantic associations, unique antiquities and of course, the wonderfully mild winters. Both groups wanted ‘home from home’ comforts in their accommodation while staying over in Cairo.

Sam_Shep
Samuel Shepheard

A canny Englishman, by the name of Samuel Shepheard, found himself in Cairo in 1842, having been thrown off a P&O ship for taking part in an unsuccessful mutiny. He found work at the British Hotel in Cairo and within a couple of years, had bought the hotel and renamed it after himself.

During a hunting trip he met and became friends with Khedive Abbas and two years later Shepheard, with the khedive’s help and influence, managed to buy a former palace on Esbekier Square, an area of park land with tropical greenery and rare trees, that was once occupied by Napoleon’s army and used as headquarters during his invasion of Egypt.

 

Shepheard's Hotel

Shepheard’s new hotel became known as a ‘safe haven’ for weary travellers who were guaranteed the best whiskey and the company of fellow Westerners. As the hotel grew in popularity, its guests included British military officers, bureaucrats, and wealthy American travellers. One of its most celebrated guests at the time was the novelist Anthony Trollope. Samuel was renowned as a superb host which contributed in no small part to the success of the hotel.

Shepheard made a small fortune from the hotel, benefitting from the dawn of adventure tourism along the Nile.  Shepheard sold the hotel in 1861 for £10,000 and retired to Eathorpe Hall,  Warwickshire, England. 

DiningDespite his departure, Shepheard’s Hotel remained the centre of the Anglo-American community in Cairo and in 1869, it hosted the celebration of the Grand Opening of the Suez Canal.

The hotel became the playground for international aristocracy where any person of social standing made a point of being seen taking afternoon tea on its famous terrace. 

In my novel, Footprints in the Sand, I base the Hotel Excelsior on Shepheard’s Hotel. It was the perfect setting for Lucy to mingle with the odd assortment of fascinating guests, who would eventually feature in the murder mystery. The famous dining room is the setting for one of the pivotal scenes in the book.

Footprints-EBOOK-Cvr

Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries, and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

Buy Link