One of the things I adore about historical fiction is that first off, history is made daily and there's never a shortage of periods that lure readers in. Secondly, there are so many sub-genres that history can lend itself to. One of those is the historical mystery. This week on the scroll, I'm delighted to share an excerpt from a historical mystery novel, written by Len Maynard. Set in Great Britain in the late 1950's, A Dangerous Life is the second book in a mystery series, featuring police officer, Jack Callum. This taste of fiction certainly drew me in, and I expect it will do the same for you. ENJOY!
Excerpt from A Dangerous Life TUESDAY MARCH 17TH 1959 “…So it’s important you remember these three simple rules. One, don’t talk to strangers. Two, never go off with anyone you do not know personally, and three, remember that the police are your friends. We are here to listen and help you whenever we can.” Jack Callum looked up from his notes on the dais at the rows of faces staring back at him with expressions of total apathy. Cynthia Arnold, the school’s headmistress, sprung to her feet and walked to the front of the stage. “Very informative,” she said. “I’m sure, School, that you would like to show your appreciation to Chief Inspector Callum for giving up his valuable time to speak to you today.” She started a round of applause that rippled listlessly around the assembly hall and quickly died. “Now, if you could all make your way out, in an orderly fashion, to the playground, where…” She looked down at the piece of paper clutched in her hand. “Where Sergeant Grant and Constable Cooper will explain to you how you can stay safe on our roads.” There was a hubbub of grumbling voices and shuffling feet as the hall gradually emptied. “Thank you for that, Mr. Callum,” the headmistress said. “I’m sure your words found a receptive audience.” “Well, those that stayed awake for long enough might have learned something,” Jack said as he folded his speech and tucked it into the pocket of his jacket. “And can I apologise again that Superintendent Lane couldn’t be here today.” The headmistress clucked her tongue. “Never to worry,” she said. “I’m sure it couldn’t be helped. In any case, you proved to be a very successful last minute substitution. Full marks.” “You’re very kind.” The truth was that Henry Lane had been trying to wheedle his way out of this speaking engagement for weeks. More comfortable swinging a golf club than standing in front of a microphone, a last-minute attack of laryngitis meant that Jack had to take his place, much to his own chagrin. He enjoyed public speaking even less than Lane. “Well, excuse me,” the headmistress said. “I hear your men have brought a police car along with them to help with their demonstration. I have to see. It’s all rather exciting.” Jack watched her bustle, excitedly, out of the hall, and then made his way to the side of the stage and the short staircase to freedom. He trotted down the stairs and pulled up short when a voice spoke from out of the shadows. “Did you mean it?” Someone was standing a few feet away, hidden by a fold in the curtain. “Did I mean what?” he said, and a teenage girl stepped out from behind the folded brocade and stood in front of him. “That the police were our friends and that we should come and talk to you, and you will help?” Jack smiled indulgently. “We’ll always listen and help if we can…sorry I didn’t catch your name.” “Gerry…Geraldine Turner.” “Well, Geraldine, do you have a problem you wish to discuss?” The girl looked tearful. She nodded, a lock of her curly blonde hair falling out from beneath her Alice band and dropping down over her face. “It’s my brother,” she said. “Well, what is it you want to tell me about your brother?” “He’s dead,” she said, biting at her lip pensively. “I killed him.” “I’m sorry that your time has been so cruelly wasted, Chief Inspector,” the headmistress said. “But our Miss Turner is one of Hatfield County School’s greatest fantasists.” “So she’s done this kind of thing before?” Jack said quietly, glancing across at Geraldine who sat in the corner of the office, biting her lip pensively and staring down at her shoes, doing her best to avoid meeting his eyes. “With almost monotonous regularity,” the headmistress said tiredly. Jack continued to stare at the girl. He couldn’t shake the feeling that, by involving the headmistress, he had betrayed Geraldine’s trust in the most profound way, but he’d had no choice. Being alone in the office with a thirteen-year-old girl would have been seen by most as dangerously inappropriate. “Still, the school secretary has been in touch with her father and Mr. Turner is on his way in now to take her home. He shouldn’t be long. They live in a lovely house called Elsinore, on the Broadway in Letchworth,” the headmistress said with a smile, gazing wistfully over Jack’s shoulder, through the window to the playground where his junior officers were putting the black Wolseley through its paces, demonstrating stopping times to an audience of bored schoolchildren. Jack, keeping his voice low, said, “And as far as you’re aware Geraldine doesn’t have, or has never had, a brother?” The headmistress shook her head. “In our records we have her down as an only child. I’m afraid, Mr. Callum, that teenage girls have a great capacity for making up stories.” “I have two teenage daughters myself,” Jack said, finding the headmistress’s condescending attitude towards her charges irritating. “Then I don’t need to tell you, do I?” she said. “You don’t have to stay, you know. I’m sure I can deal with Mr. Turner when he gets here.” “I’ll hang on. I’d like a few words with him. Besides, I have to wait for my men to finish the demonstration. Sergeant Grant is my lift back to the station.” “I see,” the headmistress said and, dropping all pretence, stood up, walked to the window and stared out at the car as it performed an elaborate skid on the playground’s tarmac surface. Jack would have to have a quiet word with Constable Cooper about his tendency to showboat. “Ooh,” she said. “It really is quite exciting.” Jack went across and sat down on a hard chair next to Geraldine. Apart from her initial pronouncement that she had killed her brother, the girl had said nothing more to him. “Are you all right, Geraldine?” “I told you, it’s Gerry,” the girl said without looking at him. “Sorry, Gerry. Are you feeling okay now?” Geraldine finally turned her head, a look of contempt in her eyes. “You’re just like the rest of them,” she said. “I trusted you.” Her words cut deep, increasing the feeling that he’d betrayed her.
Len Maynard, Author Born in Enfield, North London in 1953, Len Maynard has written and published over forty books, the majority of them in collaboration with Michael Sims. Ghost story collections, the Department 18 series of supernatural thrillers, stand-alone horror novels, the Bahamas series of action-adventure thrillers, as well as a handful of stand-alone thrillers. As editors they were responsible for the Enigmatic Tales and Darkness Rising series of anthologies, as well as single anthologies in the horror and crime genres. The DCI Jack Callum Mysteries are his first to be written under his own name.