My new detective thriller series, featuring. . .
THE PRICE OF JUSTICE
Courtroom 4, The Old Bailey, London
The Court Usher’s voice echoed across the big room. ‘Will the defendant please rise.’
All eyes turned to the man standing in the dock, a few murmurs from the public gallery.
‘Quiet please,’ continued the Usher.
Justice Helen Wentworth took a sip of water, then removed her spectacles. For several seconds she looked at the standing man, then replaced her glasses and picked up a sheet of paper.
‘This is a particularly sad case. Unhappily, the real sentence will be yours to bear for the rest of your life . . . Knowing you contributed to the death of your wife and unborn child, will haunt you until the day you die. That said, English Common Law demands you must be punished for your part in this tragic affair, and it is with some regret, I am bound to impose a suitable sentence. Your to-date impeccable record as a Police Officer, and the absence of any prior convictions, has been taken into consideration. Nevertheless, it has been found you were under the influence of alcohol, albeit marginally, when the accident occurred, resulting in the death of your family. . . Robert Anthony Stone, I therefore sentence you to four years imprisonment. I hope you may find the strength to live with the result of your actions. Take him down.’
North Quay Offices, Manchester
The sign on the door read, SHACKLETON BLISTER. Confidential Enquiries. The woman looked at the sign for a few moments, then knocked. No answer. She knocked again, turned the handle and entered. ‘Hello?’ Still no answer.
Then, from the inner office, a man’s voice. ‘Hang on, please.’
The woman looked around the room. A desk and chair, with a small sofa in front. On the desk a laptop; a black eyepatch lay on the keyboard. A bulb flickered in an old desk lamp. In the corner, a filing cabinet; an open delivery box with the remains of a pizza on top. The window was open and the view across the waters of Salford Quays was pleasant. The in-coming fresh air didn’t quite mask the faint smell of whisky.
The man entered.
She looked him up and down. ‘Sorry to wake you. I did knock.’
He ran his fingers through the uncombed hair. ‘Err . . . yeah, sorry. Was a long night. Just catching up on a little sleep.’
‘Yes, quite. May I sit?’
He went to the desk, picked up the eyepatch and slipped it on. ‘Oh, yeah, sure . . . Miss?’
She noticed the scars on his hands and neck. ‘Lang . . . Amanda Lang.’
‘Shackleton Blister.’ He caught her slight smile. ‘Yeah, it usually brings that response.’
‘Oh, excuse me . . . It is a rather distinct nom de guerre.’
‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Nom de guerre is . . .’
‘I know the expression. I meant you using it.’
She smiled and eased back into the sofa. ‘Shackleton Blister is not your real name. I know you began using it after you left prison.’
‘I also do not believe you were responsible for the death of your family.’
‘Okay, lady. Who the hell are you, and what do you want?’
‘As I said, my name is Amanda Lang, and I’m a freelance journalist.’
‘Sorry. I don’t talk to journalists.’
‘Hear me out, please.’
‘You got two minutes. What d’you want?’
‘What I want, is to help you bring the people responsible for the loss of your career, the death of your wife and child, and your subsequent imprisonment, to justice.’
‘All that’s behind me, love. There’s no way you can change what happened. So, I think you’d better leave, Miss Lang.’
‘Please, call me Amanda.’
He looked at her. Mid-thirties. Confident; well-dressed; attractive. Probably a strong character. Not from Manchester; the hint of a Scottish accent. He adjusted the eyepatch, then stood and went to the window. As he stared out across the Quays, he said, ‘Why?’
He turned and looked at her for several seconds . . . ‘Why would you want to help me?’
‘Because, Mr Blister I . . .’
‘Call me Shack.’
She stood and joined him at the window. She frowned a little as she caught the smell of whisky on him.
‘Because, Shack, I believe the people responsible for your situation, were also responsible for the death of my partner.’
JUST RELEASED . . ..
The Russian Diary
During the night of July 16th, 1918, the Russian Imperial Romanov family, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children, Olga; Tatiana; Maria; Anastasia, and Alexei; along with four loyal servants, were brutally murdered by Bolsheviks.
For many years there were rumours that the Tsar’s youngest daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, had survived that dreadful night, and vanished.
‘Anastasia’ did indeed disappear . . . but it was not the Grand Duchess.
The Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow
The Tsar watched as the hot liquid was poured over the heavy locks. He carefully pressed his ring into the setting wax, leaving the double headed eagle, the symbol of the Romanov dynasty, glistening in the red seals.
The five large chests had been code-named after each of his children, Alexei; Olga; Tatiana; Maria and Anastasia. Only the closest of his Majesty’s retainers were present, along with a handsome young Cavalry Officer, Captain Andrei Leonid Volodin.
When the final seal was in place, his Imperial Highness, Tsar Nicholas II, stood back and looked at the caskets. His once noble voice was now strained, and the deep-set shadows below his eyes spoke to many sleepless nights. ‘The future of our family. The future of Mother Russia, lies within these coffers. Hide them well, and guard them with your life, Volodin.’
The Captain dropped to one knee. ‘With my honour and with my life, your Majesty.’
The heavily laden boxes were loaded onto an obscure farmers wagon and covered with straw. Captain Volodin, now in the garb of a Russian peasant, climbed aboard the rickety transport and took the reins. With a long stick he gently tapped the horse’s rump. The old nag snorted and moved slowly forward, its hooves clattering on the wet cobbles. The Tsar pulled the fur collar up around his ears, hunching his shoulders against the chill north wind. A few moments later he watched as the treasure of the Romanov’s disappeared into the black Moscow night.
Late Spring 2019
‘The South Coast of England’
Seaview Downs, is one of the most expensive residential care homes in the UK. Located on the hill above Torquay and with views over Tor Bay and out to the Channel, it is certainly not the worst place in the world to enjoy the winter of one’s life.
Irina Seranova, at eighty-nine, was a viable woman. She still had all her faculties, but her inability to fend for herself was now a problem. Moving from London to the beautiful Devon coast, would make her remaining years far easier.
She’d only been in residence for a little over a month but had already made friends. All the residents were wealthy, so the fact she was exceedingly rich did not impress. The stories of her life in Russia, and that of her mother and father however, did.
Irina had finished lunch and, as usual, was in her suite taking a nap. After several knocks Julie, the care assistant, slowly opened the bedroom door. ‘Mrs Seranova? Mrs Seranova you have a visitor.’
The old lady stirred, then gingerly eased herself upright on the bed. ‘A visitor?’
‘Your nephew is here, madam.’
The man behind the assistant smiled and said, ‘Thank you, Julie. I’ll see to her now. You can go.’
As the door closed the old lady put on her spectacles. ‘Who are you?’
The man was now at her bedside. He smiled, but there was no warmth in the expression. ‘Hello. Irina. I’m just a friend. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if I may?’
‘Friend . . . questions . . . about what?’
‘About your mother’s diary, my dear.’
It was almost six-thirty. The evening meal had been underway for half an hour when Julie knocked on Irina’s door and entered the room. ‘Mrs Seranova? Are you coming for dinner, madam? We have some lovely salmon this evening.’ The old lady looked to be sleeping peacefully. Julie was in two minds to wake her, then noticed the colouring around the woman’s lips. She went to the bedside and felt for a pulse. Nothing. ‘Oh, you poor, love,’ she said.
The old leather cover was cracked and dry but the internal pages, now yellowed with age, were all intact. Amanda Lang carefully opened the diary and read the handwritten Cyrillic. ‘I was so in love with him. He was so handsome and dashing in his scarlet uniform. And when he rode on parade, I saw no other than him. I loved Andrei more than life itself.’ She looked up from the book and choked back a tear. ‘That is so beautiful, so romantic.’
He nodded. ‘Yeah, it is,’ he said unconvincingly.
She punched his arm. ‘You have no soul, Mister Shackleton Blister.’
‘Ouch! I do too have a soul.’
She shook her head. ‘I believe you, thousands wouldn’t.’
He grinned. ‘Aint that the truth.’ he tapped the diary. ‘So, where did you find this?’
‘I’ve been working on a story about this lovely old Russian lady. A really interesting woman. Some of the things she’d done. Truly amazing. She’s was eighty-nine and rather infirm, so she’d moved into a retirement home in Devon.’
He frowned. ‘Was? Had?’
‘You said, she was, and had. Past tense.’
‘Yes. Yes, past tense. Irina, the old lady, is dead.’
‘Dead? Not died?’
‘And that’s why you asked me to come down. You think there’s problem with the old girl’s death?’
She nodded. ‘Yes . . . plus I haven’t seen you for a while, of course.’
He stood up and went to the big patio windows and looked out over the River Thames. ‘How come you have her diary?’
‘I met with Irina several times; we’d become quite close. The diary was actually her mothers. But as she, Irina, had no family to pass it onto, told me to take it. She said I would find a great secret in it.’
‘A great secret? It all sounds a bit ditsy old lady’ish, don’t you think?’
Amanda closed the diary and joined him at the window. ‘She was far from ditsy, darling.
She definitely had all her marbles, that’s for sure.’
He tapped the book. ‘Any juicy bits in it?’
She punched his arm again. ‘Ouch!’
‘I haven’t got through it all yet. My Russian’s not bad, but the diary is handwritten so somethings are not so easy to understand.
‘Right, okay. But you can understand it?’
‘Pretty much, yes. Irina said her mother was a Lady in Waiting at the court of Tsar Nicholas. Irina’s father was a Cavalry Officer, all before the revolution of course.’ She held up the diary. ‘So there’ll be some really interesting things in here.’
He winked. ‘And a great secret as well?’
Amanda raised her eyebrows. ‘Let’s hope so.’