Jacqueline Beard Writer

Lawrence Harpham Murder Mysteries

The fourth book in the Lawrence Harpham mystery series is finished and with my fabulous editor. Once again, it’s set in East Anglia – but where?

To solve this riddle, you’ll need to be familiar with The Lawrence Harpham series (unless you recognise the photographs taken this weekend).

 

My first is in Fressingfield, but never in witch

My second’s in mere, but it isn’t in ditch

My third can be found in my leading man’s name

My fourth’s in his partner’s, but isn’t the same

My fifth is in fish, but it isn’t in kipper

My sixth is in Jack, but is absent from Ripper

My seventh’s a mystery, short, sweet and merry

My whole is a village to the south-east of Bury.

 

Where am I?

Suffolk village mystery

It’s been a year of ups and downs – one where self-help books and gin seemed like the only answer. A year where insurmountable obstacles appeared from nowhere and navigating them became a way of life. Mum died unexpectedly in February, closely followed by my mother-in-law in law, and four weeks ago, I came within a whisker of losing Dad.  Other people I know have been through worse during these uncertain and challenging months, and in many ways, it’s brought out the best in people. I’ve witnessed frequent and humbling acts of kindness.

Concentration is vital for writers and never easy when emotions are high, so I took a few weeks out of my busy schedule to ease the pressure. My carefully constructed diary is now full of red lines, and I’m a month behind on all my goals. Attending to my poor excuse of a mailing list and other planned projects has fallen by the wayside.  But life goes on, and it’s time to consolidate and move forwards. Assuming there are no further curveballs, here’s the plan for the rest of the year.

I’ve recently released the first three books in the Lawrence Harpham series as an Amazon Kindle ebook boxset for anyone who likes to binge read their mysteries! I will also re-release an updated version of Vote for Murder with a professional cover and not the hideous version I designed in my early years as a writer. This will be ready by autumn.

I’ll be completing book four in the Lawrence Harpham mystery series in the next week. After time with the editor, it should be available in ebook and paperback in a couple of months. Book five is in the plotting stage, and I’m hoping to finish writing it by the end of the year for release in early 2021.

And the final piece of news is for those of you who prefer listening to reading. I have signed an audiobook deal with the UK’s largest audio producer W F Howes for audio rights to The Fressingfield Witch, The Ripper Deception and The Scole Confession. The recording is underway with book one provisionally due at the end of September, book two in October and book three in November.  It has been an absolute pleasure to deal with the acquisitions editor, Craig Thomson and his team and I wish all my business dealings ran as smoothly as this one.

Hopefully, the second half of the year will be an improvement on the first!

 

Sufragette NewspaperI’m often asked where the inspiration for my books comes from, and it’s not difficult to answer. The antics of my ancestors inspire me. Other people have illustrious forebears. Mine are mad, bad and often dangerous to know. My family tree has over fifty-five thousand individuals, and it’s still growing, so there’s plenty to go at.

My first book, Vote for Murder, was inspired by the execution of Mary Emily Cage in 1851. Mary was hanged after poisoning her husband James with arsenic, and she may have killed several of her children. An admitted sinner and adulteress, Mary denied murdering her husband and went to her death without confessing. She was condemned by the press who reported every detail of her misconduct without any consideration for her circumstances. But Mary was a victim of domestic abuse. James Cage had already been imprisoned for his ill-treatment of her while under the influence of alcohol. The family were destitute and in desperate need. In another century, there would have been more sympathy for her situation.

Blue Plaque - Constance Andrews IpswichAround the time that I discovered my relationship (through marriage) to Mary Cage, I also found several suffragists in my family tree. They were peaceful activists, and their absence from the 1911 census suggests that they were at the census evasion night in The Old Museum, Ipswich organised by prominent Suffolk suffragette Constance Andrews. Both stories fascinated me, and inspired my first adult fiction novel. Naturally, my protagonist in Vote for Murder is a suffragist, and her story weaves together with that of Mary’s to produce a murder mystery set in Victorian and Edwardian Suffolk.

After finishing Vote for Murder, I gave myself a year off without thinking too hard about writing, but my family tree kept growing, and skeleton’s continued to appear. I had long been fascinated by the genealogy of my East Anglian Corben family including the name variants Corbin and Corbyn. Having made a tenuous link back to Corbyn’s in the late 1400s, I found a more recent connection (again by marriage) to Mary Corbyn of Fressingfield. Mary was rumoured to be a witch. Now, an accusation of witchcraft was not unusual in the 1600s, but a rarity in the 1890s. The basis of the allegation was the death of Mary’s grandchild, which was reported in the press as follows:

Alleged Witchcraft in Suffolk. At an inquest held at Fressingfield on Thursday by Mr C W Chaston on the body of a child named Hammond aged 11, weeks, daughter of a labourer, the father and mother stated that they believed the death of the Child was due to the witchcraft of Mrs Corbyn, the Child’s step-grandmother. This woman died a few hours before the Child and stated that the Child would not live long after her. The Child was taken out, and the father stated that he saw smoke issue from its perambulator and that the Child died upon being taken home, the mother stating that it was hot and dry, and smelt of brimstone. The medical evidence went to show that death was due to shock caused by the external application of some irritant, and the jury, in returning a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence said there was not sufficient evidence to show the nature of the irritant. George Corbyn said he was of the opinion that his late wife had the powers of a witch, and he always tried to do what she wanted in consequence.

The Fox & Goose FressingfieldI couldn’t resist using this story as the starting point for the first of my Lawrence Harpham mystery novels, The Fressingfield Witch. A crime had occurred, but without evidence, there was no one to bring to justice. My book would have been very short, but for one thing. Fressingfield already had a witch.

Matthew Hopkins - witch finder generalFaith Mills was a victim of witchcraft accusations from the Suffolk Witch Trials of the 1640s. She was one of the unfortunate women executed on the strength of allegations made by Matthew Hopkins and his Suffolk born colleague, John Stearne. The two men arrived in Fressingfield during the Witch Hunts and stoked up fear of the supernatural in the hope of personal gain. This genuine terror of witchcraft escalated in an atmosphere influenced by religion, politics and the civil war. The victims were mostly, though not always, women and they were exploited by Hopkins and Stearne who deliberately targeted the poor, vulnerable, marginalised or different.

Once again, my book combined stories set in two different eras, this time involving Private Investigator Lawrence Harpham and his business partner Violet Smith.

By the time I began writing the sequel, I was running out of interesting relatives and had started using historical newspapers as the basis for my stories. There is nothing quite as strange as real life, and I have found crimes covered in newspaper articles to be excellent sources of inspiration. The Ripper Deception, Book two in my series, was created from three separate newspaper stories. One featured a miser’s death; one involved a haunted rectory and the final report described the inquest of Frances Coles who may or may not have been a victim of Jack the Ripper. Together, these three true stories created an unusual twist on a common theme.

I have recently published a Christmas short story, The Montpellier Mystery, and the next full-length book in the Lawrence Harpham series, The Scole Confession, has just been released. Both books rely heavily on newspaper coverage of actual events. Both are set in recognisable English towns and those readers so inclined, can identify the real people who were involved in the accounts. If they look closely, they may even find them in their family trees!

Lawrence Harpham Mystery Series

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Overstrand 1895. Lawrence Harpham and Violet Smith are witnesses to suicide while on holiday. Beneath the body, lies a bible belonging to a murdered man.

Clues lead to the violent death of a bookseller and a chilling confession from the past. From Norfolk to Liverpool, investigations point to the unsolved murder of Fanny Nunn in the town of Diss. But how are the murders connected? Why do the parish registers contain so many unnatural deaths?

As Lawrence and Violet close in on the killer, Lawrence discovers a long-kept secret about his wife’s death. Can he overcome his demons, and will they stop the murders before more lives are lost?

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In December, I finally got around to writing a short story set in Cheltenham. It’s something I’ve intended to do for years as it’s local to me and features occasionally in the other Lawrence Harpham Mysteries. As usual, The Montpellier Mystery involves actual events and real people. Less commonly, it is a short story (57 pages), so a quick read to curl up with during these dark winter evenings.

The Montpellier Mystery tells the story of Herbert Hillen who died from carbolic acid poisoning at his home in Rotunda Terrace in 1884. It was not clear how he came to take the poison, a problem further compounded when his doctor incorrectly gave the cause of death as long-continued consumption.

This story merges seamlessly with another mysterious death in Cheltenham General Hospital in 1893 when four men fell violently ill. All four had eaten biscuits brought into the ward against hospital policy by Caroline Puddicumbe. When one young man died, the case was referred to the Public Analyst and then to the Coroner.

Neither of these cases came to a satisfactory resolution and were therefore perfect for Lawrence and Violet to investigate in their fictional world. Needless to say, they came to a firmer conclusion than both original inquests.

The Montpellier Mystery is available on Amazon Kindle (Free on Kindle Unlimited) by following this link – The Montpellier Mystery  

 

Coming soon … The Scole Confession – Lawrence Harpham Mysteries Book 3

The cone brothersIn terms of dogs, the year started badly. My beloved border terrier passed away in his fifteenth year while I was in Suffolk – but this is not a sad tale. Toby had a happy life on the edge of the Cotswolds with more lovely walks than you can shake a stick at and a family who loved him. Though he hated most dogs (it’s a terrier thing), he developed a strong bond with a miniature schnauzer called Benson. They became ‘The Cone Brothers’ when coincidentally injured in the same week and made to wear the cones of shame.39020739_250778318899335_5692707502756462592_n(1)

It has taken until now to consider the prospect of a new dog. My husband works from home, and we already look after several dogs, which made Toby’s loss bearable. Bella, who belongs to my daughter, is the beagle equivalent of Miss World. She is a leggy girl with long eyelashes and ears the colour of burnished brass. She has film star aspirations and over 6000 followers on her Instagram page.

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Another household canine distraction comes in the form of the gorgeous Sally, and it’s hard to imagine a more loving dog. Sally belongs to a family friend and started her life in Uganda. She wandered into a local factory as a tiny puppy, was adopted and brought back to England. Sweet natured Sally is calm and affectionate with never so much as a glance in anger. It’s as if she knows how fortunate she has been and is forever grateful.

Two weeks ago, we finally felt ready for another dog of our own. We look after Sally in the day, and Benson and Bella are occasional visitors, so the evenings were dog-free and far too quiet. We steeled ourselves for a long search as my husband wanted a puppy, and I desperately wanted to give a rescue dog a home. In the end, it happened quickly, and we both got what we wanted. Little Teddy, a cockapoo, arrived at The Dog’s Trust when he was only 11 weeks old, a squirming handful of exuberance and joy. Teddy is inquisitive, loving and full of character. He is our forever dog, and we will give him everything a dog could ever want.

The Dog’s Trust is a fantastic organization staffed with dedicated men and women giving love and hope to homeless animals. I can’t speak highly enough of their kindness and patience. Some of their dogs never find homes. I have sponsored one for many years who will never leave his home at the Glasgow Trust. Teddy came from Evesham and is already a huge distraction to my writing life, but worth every moment. My phone is full of photographs, and What’s App buzzes with constant pupdates. He has filled the dog-shaped hole in our lives.

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aldeburgh-PixabaySuffolk is a glorious place graced with rolling hills, salt marshes and sandy beaches. Charming villages and market towns lie scattered through the countryside while bustling seaside ports adorn the coast. Steeped in history, Suffolk has grown elegantly into the 20th century with towns like Bury Saint Edmunds enjoying the historic Abbey grounds as they blend harmoniously with sympathetically built shopping complexes and other modern structures. The Suffolk landscape is varied and naturally inspirational for writers. At least, it was for me.

My books are usually set in Suffolk. Vote for Murder features both Stonham Aspall and Christchurch Park in Ipswich. The Fressingfield Witch is the first of the Lawrence Harpham Murder Mysteries. Lawrence lives and works at The Buttermarket in Bury Saint Edmunds, where the book begins. Most of the book is set in the village of Fressingfield as the title implies. The second Lawrence Harpham book, The Ripper Deception sees a location change with Lawrence investigating in London and Brighton. Even so, much of the book involves Bury Saint Edmunds, Chelmondiston, and the delights of Pin Mill.

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The choice of Suffolk as a setting for my books puts me in excellent company. There are many talented Suffolk writers, who will form the subject of a future blog, but this is a piece about books set in Suffolk locations, regardless of heritage.

1. The Death of Lucy KyteNicola Upson. I once met Nicola at a crime festival and should have told her that The Death of Lucy The Death of Lucy Kyte.jpgKyte inspired my first book. I have always been fascinated by true crime and mystery books are my favourite genre. With East Anglian heritage and a love of history, this Suffolk mystery was always going to please. The fifth of the Josephine Tey novels, The Death of Lucy Kyte centres around the infamous Red Barn Murder in the village of Polstead where Maria Marten died. It was a fabulous read that I can highly recommend.
2. The Town House – Nora Lofts. Set in Bury Saint Edmunds and featuring 14th-century blacksmith, Martin Reed, The Town House is the first of a Suffolk trilogy. Embarrassingly, I haven’t read anything by by Nora Lofts but The Town House  will be going straight to the top of my TBR pile.
3. We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea – Arthur Ransome. An enchanting children’s adventure set at Pin Mill on the banks of the River Orwell. I have read (and still own) the Swallows and Amazon’s books and have spent many happy moments on the Shotley Peninsula.
4. A Warning to the Curious – M R James. I haven’t read this yet, but I will. Set in the fictional town of Seaburgh, this short ghost story is reputedly dripping with atmosphere and supernatural tension. Seaburgh is evidently recognisable as Aldeburgh, and the author has taken great pains to describe his surroundings.
5. Children of Men – P D James. “…Early this morning, three minutes after midnight, the last human to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl”. So begins the compelling opening to a book which later became a movie. I watched the film a few years ago with no idea of the Southwold setting. A dystopian book about the effects of male infertility, the premise of the novel is fascinating and terrifying in equal measures. It is quite a departure from the author’s Adam Dalgleish novels. Gallowglass
6. Gallowglass – Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. No Suffolk book list would be complete without the inclusion of Ruth Rendell who not only lived in Suffolk but set many of her books within its varied landscapes. Psychological mystery thriller Gallowglass features the town of Sudbury, and this book will also be joining my TBR list.

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One unexplained death at the heart of an organisation is unusual, but three inexplicable deaths within a small group of friends seems more like the plot of a murder mystery novel. Yet that is what happened to Edmund Gurney, Arthur Myers and Frank Podmore, each of whom held important positions within the Society for Psychical Research.   

Edmund Gurney was first to die in 1888 and his death, covered in a previous blog post, was caused by an overdose of chloroform.  Gurney had dined with MP Cyril Flower the evening before and was described by his friend as ‘in good health and with brilliant conversation.”  Flower detected nothing abnormal or untoward in his behaviour. 

Next to die was Arthur Thomas Myers, brother of Frederick William Henry Myers who was President of the Society for Psychical Research from 1900 until his death in 1901.  Doctor Arthur Myers, a close friend of Edmund Gurney, died of asphyxia caused by an overdose of Chloral Hydrate in January 1894.  Mr G W Protheroe of King’s College, Cambridge dined with Myers on the Monday before his death.  He described the doctor as ‘very cheerful’ and said that he had spoken about a journey he was due to undertake to visit a relative. Once again, there was no indication of low spirits. 

The following years were quieter.  Frederick Myers died a natural death from Bright’s disease in 1901. Then, on 14th August 1910, Frank Podmore went missing from his home in Malvern.  

Podmore, who had been staying with Mr and Mrs Cross at 2 Ivy Cottages, The Wyche near Malvern Wells, disappeared on a rainy Sunday evening.  A thunderstorm in the early hours of the morning had disturbed Mr Cross who noticed that Frank Podmore was once again absent from the home, having already left the property several times that day.  The alarm was raised the following morning, and a search party organised but to no avail. Then, on Friday, Podmore’s body was found in a large pool adjoining the Malvern Golf Links.  There were no marks of external injury, and the body was removed to the mortuary. 

Frank Podmore had been composing a letter to his mother before leaving Ivy Cottages for the final time.  It was never completed.  His watch stopped at 11.23 pm precisely, and there is little evidence to suggest that he slipped and fell during the storm.  The jury at the inquest returned an open verdict of “found drowned.”  Mr George Podmore, brother of Frank, said that his brother was always of a particularly cheerful disposition and had been enjoying his holiday in Malvern.  He further added that his brother had always upheld the sacredness of human life. 

Three men, all members of the same organisation were reported as in good spirits at the time of their demise.  So, what happened?  In his book, ‘The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney’, Trevor H Hall speculated that Gurney had committed suicide on discovering that the Brighton telepathists had deceived him.  Though the theory has merit, and mesmerist Douglas Blackburn later confessed to trickery, there is no proof that Gurney was aware of it or that the knowledge might push him into ending his life.  After all, Edmund Gurney’s interests went much further than telepathy and hypnotism, and he was still working on other projects including a paper on “Apparitions occurring soon after death,” which he read during an SPR meeting early in 1888. 

And what of Arthur Myers?  His health had been poor for most of his life, and he also suffered from Bright’s disease, which claimed the life of his brother Frederick. Arthur Myers had recently retired, and it is not inconceivable that illness and a lack of purpose caused him to kill himself.  Yet he was a highly experienced doctor, and the overdose of narcotics left him lingering for two days.  He frequently self-medicated as an aid to sleep.  It is hard to imagine an accidental overdose even in the grip of a seizure, and equally unlikely that a serious attempt at suicide would not result in instant death. 

Frank Podmore’s final years were complicated.  The Lake Herald of 14th June 1907 reported that Podmore had severed his ties with The Post Office where he had been employed as a Higher Division Clerk in the Secretary’s Office since 1879.  His biographer later suggested that he had been compelled to resign from the Post Office due to alleged homosexual involvements.   During 1907 he moved to Broughton, near Kettering to live with his brother Claude leaving his wife alone in London. At the time of his death, Frank Podmore was virtually penniless, and it would be easy to conclude that he may have seen suicide as a way out of his problems.  But were they problems?  The Rugby Advertiser is one of the many papers to report that Frank Podmore returned to Ivy Cottage accompanied by a younger man – a causal acquaintance he had met during his walk and who had supper with him.  He had left his wife, and the split was permanent and bitter. She did not attend his funeral, nor did she send a wreath.  And she was not alone.  Several members of his close family failed to attend. But Podmore enjoyed a close relationship with his mother.  Both Frederick Myers and Henry Sidgwick had reputedly dabbled in homosexuality, and therefore his friends within the SPR were most likely tolerant of his lifestyle.  He had escaped what must have been a restrictive and unhappy marriage, and it may well be the case that in leaving London and his career with the Post Office, Frank Podmore had found the opportunity to be himself.  There is no evidence that he was worried or unhappy. 

So, were these deaths suicides, accidental deaths or something else?  We will probably never know.  Psychic researchers who believe in life after death, are introspective by their very nature and perhaps more prone to suicide.  And although Frederick Myers died naturally, suicide stalked his family beginning with the suicide by drowning of his lover Annie Hill Marshall in 1876 and ending with the overdose of his son Leopold Myers in 1944.  It is ironic that Myers, who died naturally and embraced his demise with enthusiasm, was a common denominator in the other mysterious deaths. 

In June 1888 a tall, moustached man arrived at the Cricketers Inn, Black Lion Street, Brighton suffering from neurasthenia (intense fatigue). A holiday in the popular Sussex seaside resort must have seemed like the perfect antidote to his ailments.  A student of the occult sciences, Roslyn Donston may well have occupied his convalescence in Brighton by furthering his knowledge of black magic and esoteric doctrines. Or, according to some, he may have been planning a series of murders in Whitechapel.

Roslyn Donston, otherwise known as Robert Donston Stephenson, was a ripper suspect for many years.  Hospitalised near Whitechapel at the time of Mary Ann Nicholl’s death, his proximity to the crime scene kept him high on the list of suspects until it was proved that he could not have left the hospital during at least one of the murders.

Nevertheless, he pushed himself into the investigation at any opportunity, often through his articles in the Pall Mall Gazette.  Later, he collaborated with an amateur detective, George Marsh, discussing the Whitechapel murders at length. Donston’s knowledge of the crimes was sufficiently compelling to prompt Marsh to report him to Scotland Yard.

In the early 1890s, Donston joined Vittoria Cremers and Mabel Collins to set up the Pompadour Cosmetique company in London. The venture failed, and the company was dissolved in the mid-1890s, perhaps with some ill-feeling between the two women and Donston.  Years later, Vittoria Cremers accused him of keeping blood-stained ties in a trunk and both women harboured strong suspicions that Donston was Jack the Ripper.

A retired army doctor, custom’s officer and author, Donston’s health and fortunes began to decline during middle age.  On 30th November 1890, he was admitted to Thavies Inn Infirmary aged 50 where his occupation was noted as a journalist.  He was immediately transferred to Bow Road infirmary suffering from paralysis agitans – a Victorian term for Parkinson’s Disease.  Donston was discharged on 26 Jan 1891 and was recorded as a resident of The Triangle Hotel on the 1891 census.  By the time of the 1901 census, he was back in the workhouse infirmary – this time in Islington.  Over the next ten years, he was repeatedly admitted and discharged from Islington Infirmary and was still there at the time of the 1911 census, where he was recorded as a 71-year-old author from Sculcoates, Yorkshire.  His last recorded discharge was from St John’s Road workhouse in Islington where he was sent to the infirmary on 28th September 1916. He died of cancer of the throat on 9th October the same year.

Was Donston Jack the Ripper?  Well, if the recent DNA testing of Catherine Eddowes’ shawl is correct, then clearly not.  However, several leading geneticists have cast doubt over the provenance and contamination of the shawl, and there are issues (which I don’t pretend to understand) regarding mitochondrial DNA.  The identity of the Ripper is by no means solved, and probably never will be.

Roslyn Donston was hospitalised during at least one of the murders, so his direct involvement is unlikely.  But did he know something?  Was there another reason he was so keen to ingratiate himself into the Ripper investigation?  And was it just a coincidence that he was in Brighton at the same time that Edmund Gurney died?

The Ripper Deception is a work of fiction based on real characters and events.  Why did Edmund Gurney die and what did Donston know…?