I am absolutely delighted to host Alison on my blog today as part of her current book blog tour. Alison kindly gives us some insights into writing ‘alternative’ historical fiction, which I am sure you will find as fascinating as I do. World building is such an integral part of historical fiction.
Alison’s latest book, JULIA PRIMA, was published recently. You can find the details of this book and her back catalogue at the end of this post.
You can find out more about the blog tour for JULIA PRIMA here:
Follow the Mallory family as they attempt to live a peaceful life on the PA frontier in 1756. They face tragedy and loss as they become embroiled in The French and Indian War – Clash of Empires. In Paths to Freedom, the colonies are heading to open revolt against King George III, and the Mallory’s are once again facing the spectre of war. Crucible of Rebellion continues the Mallory story through the early years of The Revolutionary War. Book 4, A Nation is Born completes the Revolution and The Mallory’s have played their part in the victory. In book 5, A Turbulent Beginning, the nascent nation finds it hard going to establish a peaceful existence. The Natives of this land resist the westward expansion of white settlers.
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]
Cragside – Excerpt – 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.”
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.