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Friday 17 May 2024

A MEMORY OF MURDER : Jan Christopher episode 5 RELEASED TODAY!

There’s a missing girl, annoying decorators, circus performers
 and a wanna-be rock star to deal with. 
But who remembers the brutal,
cold case murder of a policeman?

Easter 1973

The North London library where Jan Christopher works is in upheaval because the decorators are in to spruce the place up, but there is more for her policeman uncle, DCI Toby Christopher and her fiancé, DS Laurie Walker, to worry about than a few inconvenient pots of paint.
An eleven-year-old girl has not returned home after school, and strange ‘gifts’ are being surreptitiously left for the detective chief inspector’s family to find. Could these items have anything to do with the unsolved murder, fifteen years ago, of Jan’s policeman father?

Read an Excerpt



Thursdays at the public library in Hall Lane, Chingford, were never looked forward to with much relish by the staff. Even now, from where I’m writing my memoirs, (if you can call recording my ordinary life during those distant days of the 1970s as ‘memoirs), I clearly remember how difficult it was to get out of bed on a Thursday morning and head off to work. I was twenty years old in April 1973, no longer a teenager but still too trusting and far too naïve about life in general despite being the ward of my uncle, Detective Chief Inspector Toby Christopher, and engaged to his Detective Sergeant, Lawrence – Laurie – Walker. I think many of us were ‘unworldly’ back then, with no modern social media platforms or multiple TV channels to open our eyes to what happened beyond; in my case, a small patch of suburban North London life.

We had one telephone in the hall at home, no mobile phones, no computers or internet. Goodness, I recall being as proud as punch of my new stereo system that I had received for my birthday in January, a Dolby system with Wharfedale speakers. Don’t laugh, I still have those speakers; I’m listening to a Golden Oldie through them as I write this. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, first released in the spring of 1973. Most houses only had the one TV. I was lucky as I had a black and white set in my small sitting room which adjoined my bedroom and my own small bathroom. Uncle Toby and Aunt Madge’s house was quite large in a reasonably affluent area of North Chingford, and I’d lived with them ever since they’d adopted me when I was orphaned at five years old. After I became engaged to Laurie, Aunt Madge converted one of the spare rooms into a sitting room to make a sort of partial self-contained flat where Laurie and I could be more private. She didn’t approve of Laurie moving in with me, though. The occasional discreet overnight stay was one thing, but until we were married, appearances had to be kept up, not because of any prudishness, but because of any possible unpleasant scandal. Policemen were supposed to have high moral standards. Laurie and my uncle certainly did, but sad to say, there were too many among the police who had their own less than ethical principles, and too many busybodies who could make two Mount Everests out of one tiny molehill.

For myself: I was born prematurely at the end of January 1953, and named January for the month, but I prefer everyone to call me Jan. My twin sister, who died when I was three, got June for when we were conceived. I still envy her the better name.

Thursdays were school days at the library. Junior school visits from the school opposite. Some of the kids were OK, several were little monsters. Add to that, on this particular Thursday they were all over excited.

I will never forget that Thursday in April, nor the couple of weeks which followed. You don’t expect a missing child and a murder to mess up Easter with its fancy chocolate eggs and furry Easter bunnies, do you? Nor do you expect long-buried memories to resurface with all the force of a cork popping out of a fizzed-up bottle of Champagne...



I made a dreadful error on Thursday morning. Stupid of me, but one of those things where you speak first, engage mushy brain after, and wish you’d kept quiet a few awkward seconds later. My turn to be in charge of date stamping the books the class visit children chose to take home with them. I sat at the round table in the children’s library trying to hear myself think – the days of ‘silence in the library’ were long gone, which was good in most instances, but thirty or so almost-eleven-year-olds in the relatively small area of the children’s section can make a surprisingly huge amount of noise.

Most of the boys messed about, not interested in books. A few were keen on the football and aeroplane books, one lad took a Biggles story, another the latest Doctor Who adventure, but the rest, I could tell, were random choices made to please the teacher more than anything else. The girls were more enthusiastic; they usually made a bee line for the books about pets and animals, or Enid Blyton. I never could understand the attraction of Blyton’s boarding school stories, but then school had not been the best of experiences for me. I checked out a third book about Malory Towers – we stocked two copies of the six-book series – and guessed that some sort of minor fad was trending between the girls. I called these sort of young ladies ‘The Frilly Knicker Brigade’ when I was at secondary school. Posh girls with neat, clean, sensible shoes and a spotless uniform with the pleated navy-blue skirt at a regulation quarter inch above the knee. And a superior attitude towards anyone they saw as beneath them socially. That had definitely included me because I didn’t have a proper mum or dad and I was shy and quiet. Add in that my uncle was a copper and you have a ready-made magnet for the bullies. The best day of my life was the day I left school and was rid of their tormenting.

Their teacher apologised again. “They are already excited about breaking up for the Easter holiday tomorrow, and are well over-the-top from the visitors we had at school yesterday. Some of the performers from the circus on Chingford Plain came to show us their skills. We had acrobats and clowns in a makeshift arena set out with straw bales in the playground. A few horses trotted round, then we had some dogs and chimps. The children loved it, but we, the teachers, have to keep some sort of ordered discipline now. I can’t say I approve of circuses, and this was undoubtedly a ruse to attract more audience to the real Big Top. How many of the little darlings are now begging their parents to see the whole show? No, Nigel, William doesn’t want that book stuffed down his trousers. Stop it.”

 I date stamped the next Blyton book, noticing it was the only one I had actually read when I was younger and not so discerning about quality reading. It had a girl called Wilhelmina Robinson who adored horses, with her own horse, Thunder, stabled at the school during term time. I’d read it because of the horse, even if Thunder was not a very imaginative name, and why did she have a horse not a pony? (Horse people will know there is a huge difference. Horses are for grown-ups, ponies are for kids.) OK, truth time. Blyton annoyed me.

“Do you like horses?” I asked the girl who was borrowing the book, who by coincidence, was Wendy Robinson. Better than Wilhelmena I suppose.

She shook her head. “Not particularly.”

“But you like school stories?” I broadened my friendly, engaging, library assistant smile.

Again she shook her head. “Not really.”

I faltered slightly. “Why choose this book then?”

“Because Mummy doesn’t like me reading Enid Blyton, she says she is a trite writer. So I chose this one to annoy her.”

A fair enough reason I suppose, although I agreed with Mummy.

Then I made my faux pas with the next girl in the queue. She was a very little girl, much smaller than any of the others. Stupidly, I said to her, “Goodness, when are you going to grow bigger?”

I didn’t get an answer. She simply stared at me a moment as if I was the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz and walked off with her book, Huckleberry Finn which was, I thought, a rather unusual choice as, although it was a classic, Mark Twain wasn’t a popular author for British children.

It was at that point I realised she was a dwarf. I kicked myself for my insensitivity but couldn’t go after her to apologise as the teacher wanted to get finished and be gone. 

To add to the chaos as the children were noisily lining up, two of the decorators arrived. The library was to have a thorough paint overhaul, with the revolting avocado green walls being turned into a more pleasing pale primrose yellow. The men were scheduled to start first thing Monday but had, it seemed, finished their previous job earlier than expected, so wondered if they could make a start on the morrow, Friday.

I happened to be the first person the gaffer and his mate saw as they wandered in from the back, staff, entrance.

“Can I help you?” I asked, looking at the decorators with one of my hard, disapproving stares while simultaneously ushering the last of the children into their crocodile line.

The smarter of the two men, in appearance, anyway, said, “Here about the paint job, Mrs?”

I didn’t correct him about the ‘Mrs’. “Oh. You aren’t due until Monday.”

The second man grinned at me. “Need to get goin’ as soon as poss, love. Time’s money, and what with Easter comin’ up, to start a day early means we’ll finish a day early, see?”

“Or at least, complete on time,” the other man said. “Joe here is off on holiday on the Saturday after we finish.”

“Going to Bournemouth with my nephew for a week. Got a nice hotel on the Front booked. Henry here always gives us a bonus if we finish on time, don’t you Henry? So we want to get everything spick and spam before we go.” Joe explained.

That made sense. Apart from the spam. I think he meant span.

The second man, Joe, whistled tunelessly through his teeth as he gazed at the library layout. “Phew, there’s a fair few curtain hooks here in’t there? People read ’em all, miss?”

Curtain hooks? Was this Cockney rhyming slang for books?

“Most of them – Charlie, leave those tickets alone and get into line. Miss Grayling is ready to go.” I reached forward and snatched the bundle of pink junior tickets from young Charlie’s grubby mitt, hoped the little so-an’-so hadn’t swapped any of the book charge cards around. If he had we’d have a right task sorting out which child had borrowed which book at their next visit. Charlie promptly grabbed the date stamp and pressed it to the back of his hand, leaving an inky smudge on what was not particularly clean skin. His shirt was hanging out from the back of his short trousers and his hair was clearly a stranger to a comb. I moved back from him when I’m sure I saw something scuttle amongst its untidy tangle. (I was scratching at my scalp for the rest of the day, and washed my hair three times the moment I got home. And I bet, having read that sentence you’re now scalp-scratching as well. Lice are like yawns – catching!)

“You want the librarian, Miss Pamela Bower,” I said to the two decorators as I pointed up the library to where she sat at her desk. Miss Grayling and her charges were, thankfully, all filing out through the main doors. Charlie and his lice included. Another Thursday visit done and dusted.

The man called Joe sniffed and wiped at his nose. “High ceilings. I don’t much like high ceilings, gives me verdigris.”

“I think you mean vertigo?” I corrected as I walked towards the main counter, tray of junior tickets and the date stamp in hand.

I left them to it, concentrated on counting the tickets to show how many books had been discharged to the class, then took myself back into the children’s half to tidy the shelves into some sort of semblance of library order.

Some dear child had re-arranged a section of books back to front with the pages facing out, not the spines. I had to laugh; the books were all on the temporary display shelf devoted to – in this case – children’s mystery stories. Whoever that child was, he or she undoubtedly had a witty sense of humour and an innovative imagination!

Mystery stories indeed, as no one could see any of the titles.


The first four in the series

Buy on Amazon
(or order from any good bookstore)
available as paperback or e-book

(also on Kindle Unlimited)

coming next:
A Mischief of Murder
A Matter of Murder

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