Meet Marjorie Swallow: grammar-school girl, draper’s daughter and apprentice sleuth.
When Marjorie is invited to tea with a mysterious American lady at The Ritz Hotel, she’s hoping for an exciting new career (and maybe one of the chocolate fondant cakes). But she is soon helping her new employer to solve a case of murder among the cucumber sandwiches. Will she get the job? Will she ever taste the chocolate fondant? And who slipped cyanide into the colonel’s tea?
Read on for an exclusive extract of my new novella Murder at the Ritz. This will be the first book in the light-hearted 1920s murder mystery series I plan to launch in the autumn. The novella will be exclusive to my mailing list – you won’t be able to buy it anywhere.
I’ll be sending a free copy to my mailing list as soon as its finished.
Murder at the Ritz (extract)
‘Miss Swallow. I have an appointment with Mrs Jameson, one of your guests,’ I told the uniformed boy. I flourished the card, in case he didn’t believe me.
‘One moment.’ He checked a ledger on the reception desk, running his finger down the thick cream pages.
‘Please follow me to the Palm Lounge, Miss Swallow. Mrs Jameson will join you there for afternoon tea.’
I really, really wanted this job, and not just for the tea.
This was my third interview since signing up with the employment agency on Shaftesbury Avenue. With my newly-acquired Pitman’s shorthand and typing qualifications, I had rather assumed I would walk straight into a secretarial post. But at my first interview, a government department on Whitehall, the Gorgon who interviewed me made me so nervous that I flunked my typing test.
And the second… well. The sales manager at the Daimler showroom had been less interested in my typing speed, and more interested in how fast I could dodge around the motorcars while he tried to explore my coachwork. Fortunately I’m a sporty little model with excellent acceleration. I may have broken the land speed record on my way back to the employment agency.
‘Very well, Miss Swallow. Try this one. Mrs Iris Jameson, an American lady newly arrived in London. Personal secretary, duties include social correspondence and…’ The woman in the agency had frowned at the card. ‘Assistance with discreet private investigations. Whatever that means.’
‘Now, I have a few questions, regarding your experience.’
I split open a warm fruit scone and scraped butter across it. Strawberry jam, too, not the endless rhubarb we’d been eating at home. Delicious. I tried to keep my mind on the interview.
‘Of course, madam.’
‘Don’t madam me. My name is Mrs Jameson. You’re not serving me in a shop.’ Goodness, she had a sharp tongue. If she had been in our shop, I’d have enjoyed watching her try to best my father.
‘How are you with blood?’
‘Blood?’ Oh Lord, did she have some gruesome illness that required dressing? I looked in regret at the scarlet strawberry piled onto my scone.
‘I have worked in a hospital, Mrs Jameson. I don’t faint, and I know how to get the stains out. But I don’t particularly enjoy dealing with it,’ I said firmly. ‘If there is a choice.’
She laughed. ‘Well said. Have you ever fired a shotgun or a pistol?’
My eyebrows shot up. ‘Never.’
‘That’s a pity. Never mind; I can show you. Can you drive?’
I smiled proudly. ‘I learned while I was at the hospital, on the ambulances. And a motor-cycle, so I could carry urgent messages to the surgeons at home.’ The motor-cycling had been terrifying, but also the most fun I’d ever had. I’d never dared tell my parents about it, or let them see me in the britches that I wore to ride.
‘Oh, that’s excellent. Good woman. How are you with cocktails? Can you mix a decent French ’75?’
The background to our rather alarming conversation had been most refined up to this point. A murmur of conversation, a gentle clink of tea cups being lifted and set down in saucers, and a soothing wash of piano music. The pianist was running smoothly through a repertoire of light classics and popular songs from the shows.
Then suddenly, he wasn’t. There was a loud crash of discordant notes. The young man playing the piano slammed the lid closed and stood, glaring right at us.
‘No,’ he shouted. ‘I won’t play for them.’
What I’ve been up to
I’ve made good progress with the first ‘proper’ novel in the Marjorie Swallow series, provisional title Blackmail in Bloomsbury.
But it hasn’t all been writing. I started March with an adventure, learning to canoe down the rapids of the River Dee in Wales. I’ll admit – I did wonder what I’d let myself in for. The excellent tutor managed to get me from extremely nervous novice to reasonably confident white water paddler in a couple of days, and I loved the experience.
While we were in Wales, we came across a rather eccentric motoring museum on the banks of the river in Llangollen. It was packed with cars and motorbikes from the earliest days of the twentieth century, as well as lots of motoring memorabilia. I enjoyed looking at some 1920s motor cars and motor cycles, and imagining what my two lady sleuths, Miss Marjorie Swallow and Mrs Iris Jameson, might have picked for a drive into the country.