Birmingham, England, 1943.
While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.
Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.
But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.
M J Porter has kindly shared an extract from The Custard Corpses with us today so grab that tea and biscuit and enjoy!
***** beginning of extract*****
Chief Inspector Mason is about to meet the mother and father of the murdered boy whose case he thinks might be so similar to that of Robert McFarlane
Sam paused, watching the slow progress of the woman. She was so bent; it was almost as though her nose scraped the ground. He swallowed heavily, but perhaps this was too good an opportunity to miss. Especially as an upright man followed behind, his steps slow, but his eyes focused on Sam and Higham. It was evident he’d noticed their interest in the monument.
“Good day,” Sam took the initiative, startling the woman, if not the man.
“Who are you?” the man’s accent was rough, the sound like a stone being pulled over cobbles.
Two sets of tired eyes settled on him, and he knew whatever he said next might spark hope in them. Could he be so cruel when so much was as yet unknown?
Mrs McGovern puffed through her cheeks, and he noticed the fine hairs above her lip in an unwelcome flash of late sunlight. Her lip quivered, and in her hand, she clutched yet more bright red flowers for the graveside.
“I’m visiting Weston because I may have an old murder to solve from Erdington, that could, and I must stress, could, have some connection to your son. My sympathies for your loss.” He held his peaked cap in his hand, aware that Higham had managed to step behind him so that Anthony’s mother and father didn’t seem to notice her at all.
“Potentially, yes. I must warn you; this is only a preliminary investigation. I came to see if there were any similarities between my victim and your son. I believe there might be. I plan on investigating further, provided my Superintendent allows me to do so.”
The words settled on Mr McGovern like a thunder cloud, his eyes flashing with fury, before he turned aside, evidently done with the conversation. Sam couldn’t quite hear the words he muttered beneath his breath.
But then there was a claw-like hand on his right arm, and he focused on Mrs McGovern’s pain-hazed eyes. Despite her infirmity, they held the promise of ice, their gaze piercing.
“You must find out the truth, even after all this time. I would like to sleep in peace for the first time in seventeen years. I should like to wake with the answers instead of the questions that run through my mind throughout my every waking moment. Even now. Even now, it would bring me peace. My oldest son lost his life fighting for our country, but at least I know what happened to him. I can honour him and mourn him. But not poor Anthony. Even now, I still sometimes open my eyes and think he stands before me, ready for school, as he was that day.”
Sam held his hand over Mrs McGovern’s. The grief she carried had stooped her.
“I would make my peace with my God for what happened to Anthony. But I can’t. Not until I know everything.”
Sam nodded his lips a tight line.
“I’ll do what I can. For now, can you tell me if you can recall if there was anything strange about Anthony the last time you saw him? Or anything that happened before he disappeared that has since made you consider if it was all connected.”
A single tear trickled from Mrs McGovern’s eye at the question.
“I believed my son had gone to school. I was too ill to rise from my bed for a day or two. The older girls looked after the children for me. Somehow, we all managed to lose sight of Anthony. So no, I can offer you nothing, other than it was not my husband who did this. I know people have whispered about him over the years, but he wouldn’t hurt the children, only ever me.” Mrs McGovern spoke with surprising candour, and Sam only understood it when he looked away from her gaze and realised that Mr McGovern was making his way into the church, deep in conversation with the vicar.
“He comes every day,” Mrs McGovern offered, noting her husband’s movements. “He comes to pray for forgiveness for his sins. It doesn’t matter that I tell him it wasn’t his fault, that he wasn’t to blame; he’s carried that grief all these years. And I tell you, he’s never laid a hand on me again. Not in all that time.” Her voice trembled as she spoke, and Sam bit back his flurry of emotions. So often in his profession, he only saw people at their worst. It wasn’t for him to see how they sort restitution with themselves or how they came to forgive themselves.
“Anthony was my youngest child, my last baby. And he was the first to die. If you can bring me some satisfaction, I would thank you. It would make it easier if we only understood.”
“I understand, and I’ll do what I can. I assume the police at Weston know where to find you?”
“They do, yes. They always have. But tell me, why only now?”
“The newspaper ran an article on Anthony. A family member of my victim saw it and brought it to me.” A pleased smile touched her lips.
“Then, it was not a waste to keep reminding the newspaper people. Not at all. Thank you, Chief Inspector Mason. I offer you my best wishes, and I hope to hear from you soon.”
With that, she placed the new flowers before the grave, her movements surprisingly smooth, and hobbled after her husband. Sam and Higham watched her in silence.
“So, the railway station,” Higham eventually prodded him.
“Yes, the station. Thank you.” And he turned aside, vowing to do all he could for the family of Anthony McGovern.
***** end of extract*****
I’m an author of historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest) and fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed). I’ve recently written a relatively modern mystery novel set in 1943.
I was born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since 1066. Raised in the shadow of a strange little building, told from a very young age that it housed the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia and that our garden was littered with old pieces of pottery from a long-ago battle, it’s little wonder that my curiosity in Early England ran riot. I can only blame my parents!
I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!
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