The parish church of St john the Evangelist sits proudly at the centre of the Kentish town of Spinton. Constructed in the twelfth century, the blue-grey church, built from local Ragstone, boasts a Norman tower that has stood unaltered for centuries, surviving minor earthquakes, violent storms, civil war and mining. Then, in the eighteen-fifties, a Victorian Alderman, aptly named, Mason Meddle, raised the funds to add a clock, a spire and a low, red brick, extension, (thankfully hidden from view behind the main structure,) that was used for Sunday School, Temperance Society gatherings and until the Town Hall was built some seventy years later, Parish Council meetings.
The surrounding graveyard is split by two paths. The first, the main walkway to the church, is a ragstone-paved avenue that leads from the church’s main gates directly to the vestibule. The second, a winding path made mostly from broken slate and gravel, is accessed from the Lychgate, a timber built, gabled, structure that has been the dead parishioner’s gateway to the afterlife for centuries.
The Lychgate, or corpse gate, was used to shelter the body of the deceased until the funeral service could take place. In years gone by, the corpse could rest there for up to two days, accompanied by friends or relatives who would sit on the hard plank seats built into the structure, sometimes as an act of vigil, but often, as a presence to ward off, the body snatchers that preyed on the poor of the district.
The early morning mist, that crawled across the land from the Kent coast, lay across the tombstones like a thin grey cloak, as a pale, almost water-colour, March sun began to rise from behind the church tower.
In the town, men slept off the excesses of their Saturday night drinking while their wives bathed a new black eye or cut lip before starting to prepare breakfast for the family. Children would be scrubbed and dressed in their Sunday best clothes before being packed off to be lectured about their heathen ways at Sunday School. Although most of the adults shunned the church, having far more important things to do on a Sunday morning, it was thought that the weekly disciplined, routine was good for the children, though there was the added benefit of getting them out of their hair for an hour.
At nine thirty, Mrs Rosegarden climbed off her bicycle and wheeled it across the pavement to the church gates. Finding them still locked, she frowned, looked at her wristwatch, then checked the time again by the church clock.
‘Villiers,’ she snorted into the misty air. The aging, but surprisingly sprightly woman, turned her bike around and rode across the pavement to the west side of the church where the lychgate entrance was situated.
The brittle haired, bespectacled Sunday School teacher was a woman to be feared, even by the toughest of the ragamuffins that attended her scripture lessons. Quick to anger and swift to punish, she patrolled the room like a prison guard. Armed with a bible in one hand and a leather strap in the other, she stalked the three, wooden benches, quoting from both testaments, threatening dire consequences, both in the present and in the afterlife for anyone who closed their ears to the word of God.
‘Drunk again, Villiers,’ she hissed as she dismounted by the Lychgate. She leaned her bike against the high, stone wall, and lifted the catch that secured the rough, wooden pole gates. Pulling them open, she looked through the gabled, porch-like structure into the mist covered tombstones beyond. She retrieved her bicycle and wheeled it over the ragstone paving towards the gravel path that led to the church.
As she strode under the roof of the Lychgate she glanced to her right-hand side where the figure of a grey haired, bespectacled man was slumped on the vigil seat. His right hand clutched the neck of an almost full wine bottle. His eyes were closed and his neck was twisted at what must have been a very uncomfortable angle. His lips were open and his teeth bared in a skeleton-like smile.
‘Reverend Villers!’ Mrs Rosegarden exclaimed. She leaned her bike against the vigil seat on the opposite side of the Lychgate, then reached out and grabbed the vicar by the shoulder. When he didn’t respond she shook him. When that failed to rouse him, she squatted down, grabbed the lapels of his grey jacket and shook him again.
As the vicar’s head slumped forward, the Sunday School teacher stood and turned in one movement. Forgetting her bicycle, she hurtled into the main road shouting at the top of her voice.
I am delighted to announce that my new, cosy crime novel, Murder at the Mill is released today on the KDP platform. The paperback version will follow shortly and the audiobook, sometime in the New Year.
The book features a few of the characters from my last novel, Unspoken and is set in the English county of Kent in 1939. Amy, a machinist at The Mill, a clothing factory, is drawn into a murder investigation when she meets Detective Sergeant Bodkin on her way to work one morning.
I’d like to thank two wonderfully talented ladies who have helped me produce the novel.
Maureen Vincent-Northam, my fab editor and Jane Dixon-Smith my brilliantly creative cover designer. You can find her here should you need a beautifully designed cover for you own book. www.jdsmith-design.com
Cosy Crime is a new genre for me but I hope Murder at the Mill will be the first in a series of Amy Rowlings mystery books. For those waiting for a sequel to Unspoken, I hope this book will keep you going until Unspoken 2 arrives in 2021.
The Cover for my upcoming novel, Murder at the Mill is revealed today. Once again, it has been designed by the fabulous Jane Dixon Smith. http://www.jdsmith-design.com/
To say that I’m blown away by it is an understatement. Murder at the Mill is my first cosy crime novel and is a spin off book using one of the minor characters from my Family Saga, Dual Timeline, novel, Unspoken and will be published in early December in both Kindle and Paperback formats.
Murder at the Mill. A Gripping New Cosy Crime Series with a light hearted touch.
January 1939 and the residents of the snow-covered streets of a small Kentish town awake to horrific news.
When young Amy Rowlings meets Detective Sergeant Bodkin at the scene of a burglary on the way to work at The Mill one snowy January morning, she is blissfully unaware of how much her life is about to change.
She is drawn into the murky world of murder when the body of Edward Handsley is found lying on the floor of the clothing factory.
Edward, the son of factory owner George is a libertine, philanderer, and a young man with a lot of enemies, many of them female.
Twenty-one-year-old Amy is a vivacious, quick-witted collector of imported American music, a movie buff and an avid reader of crime fiction. A girl who can spot whodunnit long before the film star detective gets an inkling.
Bodkin is new to the area and accepts Amy’s offer to provide local knowledge but she soon becomes an invaluable source of information.
When Adam Smethwick is arrested for the murder, Amy, a family friend, is convinced of his innocence and sets out to prove that the detective has arrested the wrong man.
Amy befriends Justine, the young French fiancé of the elderly George, and soon discovers that it was not all sweetness and light in the Handsley family home. Meanwhile, back at the factory, Amy is sure that the foreman, Mr Pilling, has something to hide.
As the investigation proceeds, Amy finds that her burgeoning relationship with Bodkin is pushed to the limits as the detective becomes even more convinced that he has arrested the right man and while Bodkin relies heavily on the facts as they are presented, Amy has a more nuanced approach to solving the crime, born out of her beloved Agatha Christie books and the crimes she has witnessed in the movies.
I’m sorry if this email reads as though I’m writing too fast but I’ve just drunk three Espressos on the trot and I’m feeling a bit manic.
Gran had a double shot herself, which was a mistake really as she’s hyper enough without stimulants. She calls them Expressos although she knows perfectly well what they are really are. She does it just to annoy Dad who always bites, and shouts, ‘IT’S ESPRESSO YOU STUPID BINT!’ Gran, knowing she’s wound him up again, just sits and sniggers to herself for a full minute before letting out a quiet, self-satisfied, ‘aaaah.’
I’ll tell you what, Emma, this Lockdown Two is going to be a nightmare. Can you imagine living with this pair for a month with no way of escape? I thought Lockdown One was bad enough but the sequel is far worse and we’re only two days in. If it was a film, they would sack the director and the actors would never work again. And I’ll tell you what. If I hear that phrase, déjà vu, all over again once more, I’ll probably hit someone, over and over and over, again. Why do people laugh when someone says it on the TV? You know me, Em, I’m not thick, am I? and I get jokes… mostly… some of the time, but I just don’t get that one at all. I know you’ve explained t to me a few times already, but I think you’re going to have to explain it to me all over again, one more time.
I hope the TV is going to be better than they have been recently. All those virtual shows did my head in. It’s really not the same without a live audience. They’re doing I’m a Celebrity in Wales. Wales for Christ’s sake! Where are they going to find a Witchetty grub in Swansea? Continue reading
How’s everything now? Have you got over the shock yet? I’m so pleased that lump you found was just a shell of pasta that had had fallen into your bra and got stuck. Something similar happened to me, but that was a meatball and the bloke who discovered it, also ate it, the dirty sod.
Dad and Gran have been watching the all-day news channels as the US elections take place.
From what I can make out, the Americans have a choice between a Trump and a Bidet. Dad says it doesn’t matter who wins because they’re both raving, right wing Tories, the only difference being Trump is orange. Gran said that that Bidet would be a lame duck president anyway and that Trump could grab her pussy any time he likes.
Dad nearly choked on his chunky oven chip. Gran was so delighted with Dad’s reaction that she stood up and rubbed at her nether regions, hoping that Dad would choke again.
Gran reckoned that Bidet’s team have to put batteries in his back to get him to shuffle across the stage. Dad said he’s definitely had a face lift, but why shouldn’t men have them if women can?
Gran said Dad could do with a hard face lift and he’d look much better with his navel in the middle of his forehead. Dad called Gran an evil old hag and he wished he’d been about when she was young, because he’d have reported her to the Witchfinder General and had her burned at the stake.
To stop the row degenerating into a personal insult rematch, I butted in and asked them who they would have picked to be president.
Dad said he’d vote for someone called Bernie, because he was young at heart and had new, progressive ideas. Gran said that Bernie was just another geriatric who was even older than Bidet and if he was young at heart it was because he’d had his ancient one replaced with a new one, the last time he went in for his monkey gland injections.
Dad said he wishes Jeremy Cor-binned could stand for president as he’d curb NATO’s power and give some of the US nuclear weapons to the Russians because they can’t afford to make their own any more. Mum got confused at that and wondered why shutting down a fast-food restaurant would make any difference. I had to explain to her that she was thinking of Nando’s.
Gran said that Biden wasn’t safe and that when he thought he was pressing the button for the nurse to wipe his dribble he’d actually be firing off the nukes to start WW3.
Joe Bidet suddenly made an appearance on the screen, shuffling across a car park from the open door of a funeral parlour, where he waffled on about a family holiday, back in 1947 before bursting into a Judy Garland song. There wasn’t an audience, only a few newsmen, all masked up like Hannibal Lector and standing about fifty feet away. Gran said there was a reason Bidet’s backroom staff didn’t let him get too close to the cameras because if they did, voters would notice that he’d been embalmed. Gran said that they have to wrap him up in his mummy bandages at night to stop bits of him falling off.
Dad laughed and said that Gran was older than any of them and he couldn’t wait for her to pop off the mortal coil so he could have her embalmed. He said he’d be doing her a favour having her stuffed, as it would be the first stuffing, she’d had in fifty years.
Gran took the high ground and climbed unsteadily onto her chair to tip the teapot over Dad’s head. I had to run around the table before her knees gave way.
When she was back in her chair, Gran began to wax lyrical about Trump. She said if she had gone over to live in the States after the war, she could have snapped him up long before that Barbie Doll, Botox-ridden, false-titted, foreign bint, Melodrama, got hold of him.
Gran closed her eyes and said she’d been having vivid sexual fantasies about what her and Donald got up to in the sack. She said that in her dreams, she covers him hot orange sauce and licks it off.
Dad nearly threw up at that.
I got confused again then. I didn’t get all the talk about ducks, there was Donald, The Duck in Orange Sauce and the Lame Duck president. I decided to duck out of the rest of the argument and went to the Dog and Duck for a beer before they close it down at ten.
I’ll mail again later Em, I need to work out whether I can put you in my bubble and what happens if the bubble bursts. Will I get a ten grand fine? Bloody Covid, it’s so confusing.
‘If family saga’s and dual time novels are your thing, you’d be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable one than Unspoken. It’s got drama, love, intrigue, revenge and secrets – so basically everything you need for a captivating read and that’s exactly what I thought it was.’
Both Amy and the detective turned towards the sound of the angry voice. Walking towards them was a fifty-year-old, thickset man, wearing a light-grey trilby and a heavy, double breasted, overcoat. He stamped his booted feet on the cold concrete of the loading bay floor and scowled at Bodkin.
‘This had better be bloody good, Bodkin. I’m supposed to be driving my wife to her mother’s in Tunbridge Wells this morning and, if Mrs Laws isn’t happy, then you can guarantee, Inspector Laws won’t be happy, either.’ A look of pain came over his face. ‘It’s a long drive to Tunbridge.’
Bodkin straightened and pushed his feet together. Amy thought he was going to salute, but instead he snapped out a quick report.
‘There’s a body inside, Sir. The deceased is the factory owner’s son, one Edward Handley. He appears to have been attacked in the repair shop, which is to the left of the loading bay doors. The body is in the spare-parts section, which is connected to the main repair room. We don’t know yet how long the It has been there as the night shift maintenance team had no reason to go into that area during their stint, so Mr Handley could have been lying there since the shifts changed over, yesterday evening.’
Bodkin stopped his report, waiting for a response from his superior, but when nothing came, he continued.
‘The deceased is lying on his front; he has suffered a traumatic head wound on the right hand side of his head. There is a large, adjustable pipe wrench, lying at the floor at his feet.’
Bodkin stopped again.
‘That’s about it so far, Sir.’
Laws looked past Bodkin to the interior of the loading bay.
‘Who reported it?’ he asked without looking at the sergeant.
‘One of the maintenance crew, Sir. He discovered it at six thirty this morning when he turned up for work. The two teams meet in the repair shop for a shift report before they begin their daily checks. The night crew let the new team know of any incidents they encountered with the machinery during—’
‘I think I can guess what sort of things they report, Sergeant,’ snapped Laws. He turned his attention to Amy. ‘Who is this? Don’t tell me the bloody press have got hold of it already.’
‘No, Sir. This is Miss Rowlings. She works here.’
‘Here! Outside in the freezing cold?’
Bodkin did his best not to bite. He allowed Inspector Laws to get under his skin, far too easily.
‘Miss Rowlings is a machinist, Sir.’
Laws pushed his head towards Amy. ‘Then, why aren’t you at your machine, doing what they pay you to do?’ he barked.
‘I’m just going,’ replied Amy, quietly. ‘I was…’ her voice tailed off, not wanting to add to Bodkin’s problems.
Bodkin, spotting Amy’s nervousness under the inspector’s scrutiny, came to her assistance. ‘I was just asking Miss Rowlings when she last saw Mr Handley alive, Sir.’
Laws shrugged. ‘And…’
Amy responded quickly. ‘Five-thirty yesterday evening, Mr Laws. He was standing by those doors as the staff were clocking out.’
‘Inspector Laws,’ the detective corrected her.
‘Inspector,’ repeated Amy.
‘Right, get to your machine. There will be a team of officers deployed to take statements from all members of staff later this morning so, if you remember anything else, that’s the time to bring it up.’ The inspector narrowed his eyes and issued a dire warning. ‘If you breathe a word of what you have just heard out here, to anyone, and I mean, anyone, I will have you up for accessory to murder. Do I make myself clear?’
Laws dismissed Amy with a flick of his head and turned back to Bodkin.
‘Let’s have a look at the scene of the crime, Sergeant.’ Laws pushed his way past the stragglers, still being directed to their places of work by the foreman, and stepped into the loading bay looking at his wristwatch. ‘Today, of all days,’ he muttered.
Bodkin beckoned PC Davies towards him.
‘I want you outside the door of the maintenance room, Davies. No one goes in or out without my express permission, do you understand?’
Davies nodded and took a quick look at the figure of Laws as he entered the factory.
‘Someone got out of bed the wrong side this morning.’
‘Constable, if you had met Mrs Laws, you’d know that whichever side of the bed you got out of, it would be the wrong one.’
Bodkin turned to follow his superior officer into the building. At the entrance to the repair shop he stopped and looked back at Davies. ‘Once those few are in, shut those doors. Parkins and Wallis can keep watch over the yard, and cheer up, man, you’re inside in the warm this time.’
When Amy reached the changing room, she found it to be a hotbed of conspiracy theories. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of who had killed Edward, and by what means he had been dispatched.
Margaret Beech, a seamstress of some forty years’ experience, claimed to have, ‘cast-iron, proof’ that that Edward’s sister, Beatrice, had done the deed, whilst the twin sisters, Sarah and Louise Keddleston, both thought that he had taken his own life after being outed as a homosexual. Neither of the rather portly, forty-five-year olds had been the subject of Edward’s amorous attentions and that fact formed the basis of their theory.
Jennifer and a few other trainees, were under the impression that Mr Handley had been shot. Rachel, another trainee, even claimed to have heard the bullet being fired when she took a toilet break at three-thirty the previous afternoon. No one contradicted her, even though he was seen alive on the loading bay at five-thirty.
Katie Hubsworth, who worked on the machine behind Amy, insisted that he had been repeatedly stabbed, while her next-door neighbour, Wilhelmina, told everyone within earshot that she had been informed by the policeman on the door, who was a Saturday drinking partner of her husband, Bernard, that he had been strangled with his own cravat.
Carole twisted the handle of her locker, pulled it shut, and ambled over to Amy.
‘Well, this is a strange state of affairs isn’t it? Hark at this lot. He’s already been stabbed, garrotted, shot, battered, choked, decapitated and disembowelled, not to mention committing suicide. You’d think they’d have more sense than speculating like this. A man has lost his life for pity’s sake.’
‘You can’t blame them,’ said Amy, looking around the room. Twenty conversations were taking place at once. She had to raise her own voice to be heard amongst the babble of noise. ‘It’s the most excitement they’ve had in years. The last time they got so animated was when old George Blenkinsop fell under a bus, and that was five years ago. Some of them are still adamant that he was pushed.’
Carole rolled her eyes to the ceiling. ‘He was drunk, wasn’t he?’ She leaned closer to Amy. ‘Look, I don’t want to add to the mountain of conspiracies, but what have you heard?’
‘I can’t tell you. I’ll be in trouble if I do.’
Carole’s eyes opened wide.
‘You do know something then? Come on, out with it, you know you can trust me.’
‘I’ll tell you later on, when all the witness statements have been taken,’ replied Amy. ‘I do know how he was killed… and I do trust you, honestly, but that grumpy inspector out there told me that if I breathe a word of it to anyone, I’ll be in court myself. I can’t risk being overheard, Carole.’
Carole was appeased. ‘Fair enough, but if you tell anyone before you tell me, you’ll be up in the court of Carole and I’ll be the judge, jury and executioner.’
Before Amy could reply, the door burst open and an angry, red-faced, Mr Pilling stood in the opening.
‘What the hell are you lot doing in here. Get to your machines this instant or the whole shift will be docked an hour’s pay.’
Locker doors slammed and the foreman was unceremoniously brushed aside as thirty women, still chattering among themselves, rushed past him to get to their work stations. Amy and Carole were last out. As she walked by him, Mr Pilling grabbed her elbow.
‘I don’t know how you managed to hang around out there for so long, Rowlings, and it’s a good job that police sergeant vouched for you, because I was about to issue you with a verbal warning. That’s the second time in twenty-four hours he’s done that. He seems to care more for your employment status than you do.’ The foreman pointed to the shop floor. ‘Now, get on that machine, I expect ten percent more from you by way of finished garments today, and there had better be no shoddy work, either.’ He shook his head. ‘You’re a common or garden machinist, Amy, not an amateur sleuth. Stay away from those policemen.’
At nine o’clock, the first of the machinists was called into the canteen to give a statement about their whereabouts and actions the previous day. Mr Pilling began with the workers in line five, the closest to the canteen. That week, Amy was working on line two. She kept a watchful eye on proceedings as she stitched together the parts of her allocated garments. By ten o’clock, she was well up on her usual rate, she was determined to get the extra ten percent done, it was a matter of honour. The bonus pay she would receive for producing the additional dresses, would be welcome too. Her uncle, who imported the latest records from America, had managed to get hold of a copy of the new Al Donahue release, Jeepers Creepers, and he had put it aside for her.
Amy hummed an old Bing Crosby song as she worked. She was brought out of her reverie when she felt a tug at her sleeve. It as Emily Frost, who was working on the second machine on line two.
‘They want you next, Amy,’ she said.
‘Me? but there are a couple of dozen to go yet.’
‘I know, but they told me to get you. I couldn’t say no.’
Amy stood up, brushed the loose pieces of cotton from her pinafore and walked smartly along her line of machines. At the end she turned left and crossed the room to the wide, blue painted, double doors at the far corner of the workshop. She felt forty pairs of eyes burning a hole into the back of her head as she went. The buzz of sudden conversations seemed to rise about the noise of the machines.
Amy walked slowly down the three steps to the floor of the canteen. On the front row of tables were a line of uniformed policemen scratching details into notebooks as they questioned the factory workers. In the centre of the second row, sat Inspector Laws. Next to him was a police constable with an open notebook and a pen in his left hand. He seemed eager to be writing. Standing behind the constable was Bodkin. He raised his hand and gave her a quick wave and a nervous looking smile.
‘Ah, Miss Rowlings.’ Laws beckoned her towards him. As she approached, he stood and addressed the policemen on the front row. ‘When you have finished this batch of statements, get yourselves a cup of tea, go to the back of the room and wait until I give the order to resume.’ He turned back to Amy, who was standing patiently at the side of the Formica-topped, table. He reached across and pulled a low-backed chair towards him. ‘Sit,’ he commanded.
Amy sat. The inspector tapped his foot impatiently until the last of the interviewees had left the canteen and the policemen had lined up for their drinks.
Laws studied a hand-written sheet from the notebook on the table, flipped a page, then turned it back again.
‘Miss Rowlings,’ he said, sternly. ‘We have been given evidence that you had a confrontation with Edward Handley as recently as yesterday.’ A cold look came across his face. ‘Is this true?’
Amy silently cursed Carole, who had been the only person she had told about the incident. She was puzzled as to how the inspector had got hold of the information, as her best friend hadn’t yet been called in for questioning. Something was amiss.
‘Yes, that is true,’ she said. ‘He came into the changing room at lunchtime, while I was there.’
‘I see,’ Laws read the statement again. He flipped over two more pages as he saw Amy twist her neck in an attempt to see who had given the evidence. ‘So, this altercation. What brought it about?’
‘I don’t really want to speak ill of the dead, Inspector.’
‘You’ll tell me what occurred, and you’ll tell me in detail, or I’ll have you carted off to the nick right now.’ Laws made a fist and slammed it down, hard.
Amy sighed and took him through the details of the attack.
‘And was this something out of the ordinary?’ he asked.
‘He wasn’t called Wandering Handley for nothing,’ Amy replied.
The policeman at the inspector’s side, snorted. Laws gave him a withering look.
‘Wandering Handley? I’ll be honest with you, Miss Rowling, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that nickname this morning. Didn’t anyone think to report him?’
‘HA!’ Amy retorted. ‘And just what would have you lot have done about it. We’d have been risking our jobs and you wouldn’t have done a thing to help.’
‘You seem to have a very low opinion of the police, Miss Rowlings.’
‘Not at all. I think the police have an extremely difficult job and they do it very well in the main. But, when it comes to the abuse of women, you always seem to turn a blind eye. My best friend, Alice reported—’ Amy stopped, not wanting to bring Alice’s former relationship with her abusive partner into the conversation.
Laws made a note on a clean page of the notebook.
‘So, he allegedly attacked you. What then?’
‘There was no allegedly about it,’ snapped Amy. ‘He did it, I’ve probably still got the bruises.’
‘All right, let’s assume this attack actually took place. How did you get yourself out of the situation?’
‘I elbowed him in the throat and he went down like a sack of… coal,’ she replied.
Laws put down his pen, laid his forearms on the table and looked hard at Amy.
‘Is that when you threatened to kill him?’ he asked.
It began with a trivial moment of carelessness, but the shockwaves that reverberate from this seemingly insignificant incident, spread far and wide.
Ed and his heavily pregnant wife Mary are on an errand for Ed’s ailing father before the pair depart for warmer climes. But the winter of 1962 comes early and one innocuous event and a hastily taken decision will have devastating consequences for the family of young Rose Gorton. Mary’s already fragile mental state is put under further stress while Ed tries to make sense of events that are spiralling massively, Out of Control.
Paperback or Ebook