Fire, Burn!

Overview

Here is another in Carr's entrancing series of historical mysteries. Complete with an exciting and puzzling plot, period romance, and accurate historical detail, Fire, Burn! is a captivating depiction of the early years of the world's first true police force: Sir Robert Peel's "Peelers".

Historical mystery featuring the early years of the world's first true police force, Sir Robert Peel's "Peelers." Set in London iin the beginning ...

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1987 Mystery, Literature & Fiction Reprint Vg Paperback, vg In stock shipped from our UK warehouse. *****PLEASE NOTE: This item is shipping from an authorized seller in Europe. ... In the event that a return is necessary, you will be able to return your item within the US. To learn more about our European sellers and policies see the BookQuest FAQ section***** Read more Show Less

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1987 Mystery, Literature & Fiction Reprint Fine Paperback, fine In stock shipped from our UK warehouse. *****PLEASE NOTE: This item is shipping from an authorized seller in ... Europe. In the event that a return is necessary, you will be able to return your item within the US. To learn more about our European sellers and policies see the BookQuest FAQ section***** Read more Show Less

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Overview

Here is another in Carr's entrancing series of historical mysteries. Complete with an exciting and puzzling plot, period romance, and accurate historical detail, Fire, Burn! is a captivating depiction of the early years of the world's first true police force: Sir Robert Peel's "Peelers".

Historical mystery featuring the early years of the world's first true police force, Sir Robert Peel's "Peelers." Set in London iin the beginning of the 19th century.

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Editorial Reviews

Anthony Boucher
As history, as romance, as mystery, as detection, this story is splendid, with an exact and detailed picture of the Yard's early days, an alluring love story, copious action and a solution wholly surprising. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881843361
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1987

Read an Excerpt

Fire, Burn!


By John Dickson Carr

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1985 Clarice M. Carr Julia McNiven Mary B. Howes Bonita Marie Cron
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7238-9



CHAPTER 1

"Then Who Will You Send to Fetch Him Away?"


The woman couldn't have been killed, in the broad corridor with the fringed lamps. She couldn't have died before the eyes of three witnesses. And yet she had.

In short, as Cheviot will tell you, the most baffling murder case in his experience occurred in the year 1829.

Now that was fully eight years before Queen Victoria came to the throne. It flared up during the last sunburst of the dandies, and of the prettiest courtesans with white skins and enigmatic mouths and rooms full of rich bijouterie, in the dance of scandal before old, obese King George the Fourth gasped out his life against a table at Windsor.

Therefore, since Detective-Superintendent John Cheviot is very much alive in these years of the nineteen-fifties, being not yet middle-aged, some explanation of such statements ought to be made.

At about ten o'clock on an October night, present-day, Cheviot hailed a taxi in Euston Road. To the driver he said, "Scotland Yard." Then he slammed the door and sat back.

Cheviot was Superintendent of C-One. Under the Commander of the C.I.D. there are nine C-departments; and C-One is the Murder Squad. Cheviot owed his position to the fact that the present Assistant Commissioner believes in promotion by ability rather than seniority.

Nowadays it is no disgrace to have entered the Force by way of Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. And, provided a man does his work well, nobody will object if he rummages much in the ancient police-records preserved at Scotland Yard Central.

Then, too, Cheviot had learned to control his over-imaginativeness; to appear as stolid as everybody else. Public-school austerity is no bad training for the semi-military discipline of the police. If he was saved from what swooped down on him, he was saved by a woman and by his own sense of humour.

Cheviot, let it be repeated, got into a taxi in Euston Road and told the driver to take him to Scotland Yard.

It was a muggy night, though not warm, and with a slight mist. He did not notice where they were going. His thoughts were absorbed in a case which does not concern this narrative. To this day he swears that he had no cold premonition, no warning that a bit of the dark world had pierced through and pinioned him, when the cab drew up and stopped almost at the place where it should have stopped.

"Now if that charwoman," he thought, "is telling the truth ..."

Stooping down towards the left, he twisted the handle of the cab's door. He opened it to step down. And the top of the doorframe knocked off his hat, which fell off backwards on the floor of the cab.

Startled out of his thoughts, he stood humped in the doorway. He was wearing a soft felt hat. It should not have hit the floor with such a heavy bump and bounce, or rolled when it did.

Instead of glancing over his shoulder, he looked ahead. Through the mist he saw a dim gas-lamp, in a sort of glass coffin, where an ordinary lamp-standard should have been.

Well, that should cause no shock at the heart or even any surprise. Many parts of London were still lighted by gas.

Carefully he bent down and picked up the hat by its hard, curled brim. He climbed out: not to a running-board, but to a high step. The cab in which he had travelled bore two brassbound carriage-lamps, burning oil. Beyond the light of the offside lamp he could not see either the driver or the horse. But he could smell the interior of the cab now, and smell the horse too.

Cheviot did not say anything. The expression of his face remained unchanged. He jumped down into an inch of mud, which spattered and was more unsavoury still, over a cobblestone road. But his voice was too loud when he spoke.

"What's the fare?"

"Shilling," said the driver.

That was all. But, more than any of these discrepancies, of the night or of a disaffected brain, Cheviot was startled by the hatred and vindictiveness in the cabman's low voice.

"A shilling. Oh," Cheviot said mechanically. "Where did I hire you?"

An invisible whip cracked, pouring more hatred.

"Euston Road. Yer said 'Scotland Yard.' But yer meant 'Great Scotland Yard'; w'ere else? And yer meant number bloody four White'all Place." The whip cracked again. "Well! There 'tis!"

Cheviot looked at the hat in his hands. It was something like a modern top-hat, but much higher and heavier, its nap of beaverskin with a furry gloss. There seemed to be something damnably wrong with his hair, which was far too thick, when he carefully jammed the weight down on it.

His right hand slid down to his right-hand trousers pocket. His coat, of fine broadcloth, was too long; he had to push it completely aside before dipping into the pocket of rather tightly fitting trousers, and fishing out a handful of change.

Silver coins glimmered between mist and cab-lamp light. When he saw whose head was on every one of those coins, Superintendent Cheviot stood very still.

And, all the time, that eerie invisible voice still poured hatred at him.

"Quite the nob, ain't yer?" it jeered. "Fr'all I knows, yer may be one o' the two new Commissioners of Bobby Peel's brand-new ber-luddy p'leece...."

"What's that?"

"You 'eard!" The voice grew softly frantic. "Got coloured clothes on, ain'tcher? And, for all that, you'd try to gammon me out of me fare. Wouldn't yer? Say I didn't pick yer up in—"

Cheviot looked up.

"Be quiet," he said.

Once upon a time a female reporter had written that Superintendent Cheviot, of the Murder Squad, was "quite distinguished-looking, with rather sinister light-grey eyes, though to me he seemed good-natured enough."

No doubt this was gush. And yet, as those same light-grey eyes were raised now, they held a look so sinister that the cabman's voice stuck in his throat. The eyes were set in a lean face, above the two white points of the collar and the casually tied black-satin stock.

"Walk-er!" thought the driver. He didn't want no row. He didn't want no real trouble with a nob who looked as dangerous as this 'un.

"Here; take this," Cheviot said mildly. He handed up two shillings to a cabman who should already have jumped down and held open the door.

If the fare all the way from Euston Road happened to be only a shilling, then that extra bob was an enormous tip. The cabman seized at the money. Almost soundlessly, muffled in mud, the cab backed and shuffled and clopped away down Whitehall into an eerie night. But the invisible voice still cried two words of hate.

"Peeler!" it said. "Spy!"

John Cheviot turned and strode left into the little turning where, beyond the gas-lamp bracket, was the only brick house showing a few furtive lights on the ground floor. The chill mud clogged his trousers and oozed unpleasantly across his shoes.

That was reality, surely?

But it wasn't. Cheviot knew better.

"This is Old Scotland Yard," he thought, "exactly as it ought to be. Only a few hundred yards up from where I want to go. It hasn't changed, of course. It's my eyes, my senses, my brain."

And then, in sheer terror and despair:

"Oh, God, it's happened. I never really thought it would, even when I was over-worked. But it's happened."

That was when he first saw the woman.

A closed box of a carriage, painted in dark lacquer, with gilt wheels and glossy bay horses, had been drawn up close to the windows of number four Whitehall Place. Cheviot hardly saw it, because the carriage-lamps had been turned down to mere blue sparks, until a top-hatted coachman in red livery sprang down from the box.

As the coachman twisted a tiny wheel under the lamp, its flame blossomed up bright and yellow. The carriage-door was opened. A woman put one foot down on the step and hesitated, waving away the coachman. She looked steadily at Cheviot from a distance of only ten feet away.

"Mr. Cheviot!" she called gently. Her voice was very soft and sweet, with a hint of demure formality. She lowered her long eyelashes in confusion, and sat back into the carriage.

Again Cheviot stood still.

This was worse than ever. He had caught only a brief glimpse of her. And yet, though he had never seen her before in his life, he thought he knew who she was.

She was no girl. She may have been thirty, or perhaps more. The hint of maturity in that slender figure only added allure. She wore a gown of white brocade, with faint yellow stripes, well off the shoulders and cut low at the breast, with bare arms.

Her hair, clear golden, was parted in the middle and drawn across the forehead so as to expose the ears, ending in flat round plaits well behind her head. It exposed the soft beauty of face and neck, faintly coloured despite a dusting of rice-powder. Her mouth, unpainted, was small but full-lipped, like her rounded chin. Most of all, beyond her gracefulness, you noted the eyes: large, long, heavy-lidded, of a clear dark blue, outwardly as innocent-looking as those of a girl of fourteen.

But she was not in the least innocent.

One of the hardest tasks in Cheviot's life was to walk straight across to that carriage. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that the top-hatted coachman in red livery again sat straight-backed on the box, staring ahead.

"I am blind," the coachman's back seemed to say. "I hear nothing; I see nothing."

Cheviot removed his hat. He mounted the step of the carriage, and bent his head inside.

This was no hackney cab. It smelled of jasmine perfume, even its claret-coloured cushions. The woman was leaning back, her innocent-looking blue eyes half closed; but she sat up as he entered.

"Dearest!" she said, in a voice so low it was barely audible.

Then she lifted her mouth to be kissed.

"Madam," said Cheviot, "what is your name?"

The blue eyes flashed wide open.

"Isn't your first name Flora? Isn't it?"

"As if you didn't know!"

"You are Lady Drayton. You're a widow. You live at—"

Even at her most intent or her most passionate, as he was to discover, she would colour with that air of timidity or even shyness.

"I live," she whispered, "where I am waiting to take you home. As always."

Cheviot, the outwardly stolid, never quite understood his behaviour then. Dropping on one knee, he locked his arms tightly round her waist and put his cheek against her breast.

"Don't laugh at me," he said. "For God's sake don't laugh at me."

Flora did not answer that she would not laugh at him. She did not say he was hurting her, though his grip did hurt. Instead her arms went round his neck, and her own cheek was pressed against his hair.

"My dear! What is it? What is the matter?"

"I'm out of my senses. I'm mad. I'm a cursed Bedlamite! You see ..."

For perhaps thirty seconds he whispered or shouted wild words. It is doubtful that Flora, who could remember everything he said and repeat it to him afterwards, understood one tenth of what he spoke.

But the black fear-sting was being drawn out of his brain, slowly, as he talked. He could feel the soft, perfumed flesh rise and fall under his cheek. He felt the pressure of her arms round his neck.

"This is one fine position," he thought, "for a police-officer on duty."

Cheviot stumbled to his feet, inadvertently treading on the hem of a white-and-yellow gown tight at the waist but wide in the skirt according to the prevailing mode. He could not stand upright in the carriage. Bending over, he put his hands lightly on her shoulders as her head went back.

Flora's neck seemed too slender to support the weight of the heavy golden hair. Her long, large, innocent-seeming eyes were blurred with tears, and she trembled. Her presence was so sensually disturbing that—

"You are not mad," she told him gently. Then she made a wry mouth, turning her head away. "Except, to be sure, that you wish to become Superintendent of their Central Company, or Central Division, or whatever name they give it." Back turned the disturbing eyes. "And, if you be mad, what am I?"

"Oh, you're out of a picture-book!"

"Dearest?"

"To be exact, from a folio of coloured drawings at ..."

About to say "the Victoria and Albert Museum," he checked himself.

"Nobody knows," he said, "how long I have loved you. Nobody will ever know."

"Well. I should hope not." Yet she took fire at his mood. "Oh, how I wish we were at home now! But—but are you not late for your appointment?"

"Appointment? With whom?"

"With Mr. Mayne and Colonel Rowan, surely?"

Beside Flora, on the cushions, lay a large Leghorn hat and a red cashmere shawl. Cheviot studied them in the dimness. As one who had delved much in ancient records, he knew that the names of the first two Police Commissioners, acting with joint authority, had been Mr. Richard Mayne and Colonel Charles Rowan.

He knew their portraits, their histories. He knew—

"You refer," he said, and cleared his throat, "to Sir Robert Peel's ...?"

"Sir Robert?" Flora looked perplexed. "I had heard old Sir Robert was very ill, and not expected to live. But has he died? And has Mr. Peel inherited his father's baronetcy?"

"He hasn't, he hasn't! Not yet!" Cheviot cried out. "Forgive me," he added more mildly. "It was only a mistake."

"We-el," murmured Flora. "I suppose you must go. But don't, please don't, remain away too long."

And once more she lifted her mouth.

What happened in the next few minutes need not be told here. And yet, as Cheviot left the carriage and strode confidently towards the door of number four Whitehall Place, the fit of horrors had departed.

"Come, now!" crackled a satiric voice in his own brain. "Isn't this only the other part of your dream, the secret dreams all men hide and cherish? Didn't you want to see, in action, the first Scotland Yard in history? When the mob was a tiger, when gangs were more murderous, when the police were hated and attacked as interferers with personal liberty? When puzzling crimes, of house-breaking or murder, could be solved only by a blunder of luck or the whisper of the informer?

"Murder, let's admit," whispered that same satiric voice, "is always sordid; usually dull; not at all the stuff of novels. Still! Didn't you want to amaze them by solving some such mystery, with fingerprints or ballistics or modern deduction? In your heart, now, don't you still want to astonish them with what can be done?"

"Yes!" Superintendent Cheviot muttered aloud.

Number four Whitehall Place was a handsome brick house, showing glimmers of light through drawn curtains of windows on either side of its door. Cheviot lifted the knocker and rapped sharply.

Was it only in his imagination that someone, close at hand, uttered a laugh?

Cheviot whirled round. Yes; it was illusion. There was nobody there.

The door was opened by—yes, by the sort of person Cheviot expected to see.

The man was of middle height, red-faced, and by his stiff military bearing clearly an ex-Army ranker. His coat, stretching halfway to his knees, was of dark blue and had a line of metal buttons to the waist. His trousers were dark blue. Few would have guessed that his tall hat was reinforced inside by a leather crown and supports of heavy cane, against the lash of clubs and bottles.

As he eyed Cheviot's bearing and clothes, he became more stiff and respectful.

"Yes, sir?"

"My name is Cheviot," the latter said carelessly. "I believe I have an appointment with Colonel Rowan and Mr. Mayne."

"Yes, sir. Will you follow me, sir?"

The Peeler's hardwood truncheon and rattle were hidden by the skirts of his coat. In fact (as was Mr. Peel's strongest wish) you could see little to distinguish him from an ordinary civilian, except for the blue-and-white band round his left arm, which indicated merely that he was on duty.

Cheviot sauntered after him, into a wide and spacious hall with doors on either side. But the passage was going to ruin from its smell of damp, from the spreading patches on its scarlet wallpaper.

The policeman, stiff-backed, marched across to a door on the right. He threw it open.

"Mr. Cheviot," he announced in a hoarse brandy-voice.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fire, Burn! by John Dickson Carr. Copyright © 1985 Clarice M. Carr Julia McNiven Mary B. Howes Bonita Marie Cron. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

1 "Then Who Will You Send to Fetch Him Away?",
2 A Problem in Bird-Seed,
3 Carnival by Gaslight,
4 The Woman on the Stairs,
5 The Waltz Played Murder,
6 Nightmare in the Passage,
7 "For Too Much Love Doth Lead—",
8 Certain Whispers in a Coffee-Room,
9 The Innocence of Flora Drayton,
10 The Battle in the Yard,
11 Louise Tremayne—and Dear Papa,
12 The Black Thirteen,
13 The Gathering of the Damned,
14 Flash-and-Fraud,
15 The Rites of Venus,
16 "I Kissed The Ere ... They Killed Me.",
17 Six Shots at a Wafer,
18 The Trap by Vauxhall Gardens,
19 Counter-Stroke,
20 The End of Death-in-Waiting,
EPILOGUE "O Woman! in Our Hours of Ease—",
Notes for the Curious,
About the Author,

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