Much to my surprise my Victorian detective novel, The Inquiry Agent, has reached the top 10 in the Kindle Historical Mysteries and British Detective categories on Amazon.com. It was in fact very briefly number 1 in both and is, as of the time of writing, in the Top 100 Mysteries.
I would like to do something to encourage you all to rush out and buy a copy (or at least give you some idea of the style) but unfortunately the terms of Amazon’s Kindle Select program forbid me from reprinting any of it here. I am therefor going to post a couple of extracts from its sequel, The Distressed Lady, one of my many works in progress.
For those of you who don’t know anything about my alternative career as a mystery writer, don’t worry, so far you have only missed one book, the aforementioned The Inquiry Agent. It features Jack Brodie, a private detective who works in the seamier side of 1840’s London. Like most private detectives in literature, Brodie is poor but (kind of) honest. Unlike most, he is a widower with two young children who will find themselves out on the very mean streets of Seven Dials if anything happens to him.
Anyway, here is the first extract from the Casebook of Jack Brodie.
“It is a terrible business, Mr Brodie,” Mrs Camberley said. “Can’t you help me?”
Even in her distress, she was beautiful. She dabbed away the tears with her handkerchief and glanced at me across the narrow deal table that served as my desk. She was very lovely, with her raven black hair, her high cheekbones and her large dark eyes but I could not help but think there was something a little calculating about her manner, as if, despite her sorrow, some part of her mind was carefully assessing the effect of her sobbing.
Outside the sounds of London’s heavy traffic could be heard three stories below. Omnibuses and cabs and brewer’s drays thundered past, while their drivers shouted at their horses or flicked their whips to force them through the mass of vehicles. It was a measure of Mrs Camberley’s determination that she had visited me here, walking up three twisting flights of stairs to this tiny office. Her maid waited outside, standing like a sentry at my door. I set down my pen on the blotter, closed my notebook and rested my elbows on the table.
Much as I needed her money I did not want to raise any false hopes. From what she had said, Mrs Camberley might well now be a widow, or the next worse thing, and might soon have need of every shilling. I almost told her to go on her way, that there was nothing I could do for her, but then I thought of little Rachel, pale and sweating in her small bed, and I hardened my heart. “Honesty compels me to say I don’t have high hopes, Mrs Camberley, but it is possible I might be able to find your husband.”
“Oh, Mr Brodie, you have given me the first ray of sunlight I have seen in these many horrible days,” she said. A faint, brave, slightly theatrical smile flickered across her face then she looked down as if afraid that I might cruelly dash all her hopes. I felt less guilty then at the thought of taking her money and looking for a man who was most likely either long gone or dead by one of the mischances so common in this great city.
Having come to a decision about the money, it was time to begin taking the rest of what she had said with some seriousness. The dour Calvinist part of me, despite all my resolutions, felt compelled to add, “I should warn you that I most likely won’t be able to locate Mr Camberley, and if I do, the news may not be good.”
“Just knowing the truth about what has happened to him would set my mind at ease, no matter how dark the tidings you might bring.”
I rose to my full height and almost hit my head on the slope of the ceiling and turned for a moment to look out my window. I could see the canted rooftops of the city running away as far as the eye could see. Lines of pigeons kept watch on the sooty red tiles, more grey sentinels like the maid outside.
“Very well then, Mrs Camberley. The fee for conducting the investigation will be a sovereign per day, with any expenses covered by yourself. I will, of course, provide you with receipts and a detailed invoice.”
The mention of money gave her pause. Perhaps she expected me to work out of gallantry. She had the look of a woman who men were always doing things to impress. Her eyes narrowed slightly, her full lips thinned. She gave a small sob and then looked up to see what effect it had.
I perched myself on the edge of my desk, the very picture of a heartless brute in a melodrama, a part I have been told I am well suited to play, being large and dark and as devilish-looking as the wicked landlord in a penny gaff play. I felt less and less bad about the idea of taking her blunt. She looked at me hopefully. I looked back, expressionless.
In the end, she decided to stay within character. “Of course, Mr Brodie, you shall have your money.” There was just the faintest hint of womanly contempt for the sordid subject.
“It is customary to pay an advance,” I said. “I would not expect a lady like yourself to know about such things but sadly it is true.”
I let the faintest note of irony show in my voice, and she looked up at me quick as a card-sharp who fears they may have been caught by a cheat as swift as themselves.
“Thank you for your kindness, Mr Brodie,” she said and smiled.
My instincts told me to be very wary of Mrs Camberley.