The Casebook of Jack Brodie Part Two

My Victorian detective novel The Inquiry Agent featuring former Bow Street Runner Jack Brodie continues to ride high in the Amazon charts and here as promised is the second extract from its sequel, The Distressed Lady.

Mr George Lazarus
The chambers of Mr George Lazarus were, in every way, what I expected to find and a little bit more. So was the man. The room was sumptuously furnished, the desk even larger than the clerk’s outside. The chairs were leather bound. Paintings depicting scenes of fox-hunting and horse-riding were on the walls .

Mr George Lazarus stood with his back to me, looking out the window which gave him a fine view of an inner garden courtyard. He was dressed in the finest broadcloth. He had a high collar and a cravat wrapped around his thick neck. He was a very portly man, huge and broad as a bull. He carried a lot of extra weight but he did not look flabby. He looked solid and strong.

When he turned to face me, that impression was reinforced. His nose was aquiline, his mouth narrow, his eyes were hooded.  His weight did not, as it does in so many fat men, convey the impression of joviality, conviviality and good cheer. It gave a sense of rapacious, unchecked appetite.

“You are Brodie, the inquiry agent,” he said. It was not a question. He was placing me in his mind, attaching a name to my face and I could tell from the way he looked that he would no more forget me than I would forget him. His voice was booming but there was no warmth in it. It was clear I had been let into the chamber not so much so that I might question Mr Lazarus but so that he might ask questions of me.

“I am, sir.”

“And Perkins tells me that you have been employed by the Camberley woman to find her husband, whom she believes has gone missing.”  He seemed to chew on his words as he spoke them. When he moved his mouth, his many chins moved beneath it.

“Who has gone missing, sir.”

“Yes. Yes. Of course,” he said, in a manner that dismissed the correction as trivial and at once asserted his mastery of the situation. “And she has sent you here because…”

“I came here because it seemed like the best place to start my investigation, sir.”

“How so?” His tone was sharp and school-masterly now and I found myself starting to resent it. I made my voice as patient sounding as I could without giving offence.

“Because men sometimes take things that do not belong to them from their places of employment. It is one of those reasons men disappear.”

“They disappear to Australia, sir, if they take anything from me. To Australia or to the gallows.”

“Has that happened, Mr Lazarus?” I asked. I could not help myself. I felt the urge to provoke him.

“Of course not!”  His tone very strongly suggested than no one would have the impertinence to dare such a thing as theft while in his employ.

“So you are saying that nothing has been noticed missing since the time when Mr Camberley disappeared?”

His mouth shut like a trap. He was plainly considering the matter more carefully now.

“Nothing has been found to be so!” Even as he attempted to speak softly his voice managed to be thunderous.

“Then you have looked, sir?”

“I can assure you, Mr Brodie, there is no need of such a thing. If there had been any irregularities in my office, they would have been noticed. By God, they would have!”

“Can you think of anything odd, sir, in the days leading up to Mr Camberley’s disappearance? Did he behave any differently than usual? Were there any irregularities in his manner?”

“I don’t allow irregularities among my clerks. I expect them all to be decent, well-behaved, respectful young fellows.”

“Of course you do, sir. And of course they are. I would expect nothing less.”

He moved closer to me, like a prize-fighter going for a clinch. He was one of those very large men who use their size as a bludgeon to intimidate the people around them. I recognised this at once, for I do it myself sometimes. He looked directly into my eyes with a cold, unblinking porcelain blue stare. I think he was surprised when I did not flinch.

“Are you mocking me, Mr Brodie,” he thundered. He was close enough so I could smell the scent of tobacco that clung to his garments.

I held his gaze for long enough to let him know I was not daunted.

“No sir. I can assure you I am not.” I kept my voice quiet but he heard the menace in it. I could not have kept it out if I tried.

His hands flexed as if he wanted to place his fingers around my throat. He took a step back and they balled, momentarily, into fists. I tilted my head to one side and nodded amiably but my heart was beginning to pound against my ribs and I felt some of the old excitement I used to get in my fighting days. I think he noticed that too. His hands slowly unclenched. His lips smiled. His eyes remained hooded. “Did you ever take part in the Fancy, Mr Brodie.”

“I did, sir, when I first came to London. I fought to earn extra money.” He nodded as if I had confirmed something.

“I thought so. I saw you spar with the Liverpool Ape once although you were much younger then and did not have that cruel scar on your cheek.”

“A man gave me that when I was a Runner, sir. He died shortly thereafter.” I let him draw his own conclusions from that. He strode back over to his desk, slumped down in his chair, rested his elbows on his desk, interlocked his fingers and rested his many chins on them while he considered me. I do not think he was frightened of me, not really. He was just puzzled and frustrated at his inability to bend me to his will. Contrary to what we like to tell our children, not all bullies are cowards, and not all of them will run if you stand up to them. Some of them will turn very nasty indeed.

The Casebook of Jack Brodie

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.

Mrs Camberley
“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.