When an old schoolfriend of Jack’s wife Betty witnesses a disturbing vision in the garden of a smart suburban house, Jack is intrigued. Just what did Jenny Langton see beneath the cedar tree at Saunder’s Green that frightened her so much she fainted on the spot?
Jack’s subsequent enquiries stir up a hornet’s nest of repressed emotions and long-buried secrets. What exactly happened at Saunder’s Green almost twenty years before – and why will no one talk about it? As he unearths evidence of a possible murder, how is even a seasoned investigator like Jack supposed to solve a crime that took place two decades before with no tangible clues, no reliable witnesses – and at least one person who is determined to stop him discovering the truth … whatever it takes.
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Jack Haldean looked over the breakfast table at his wife. He repeated the last two words to himself. His wife. It seemed incredible that Elizabeth Lucy Haldean, née Wingate – Betty – should actually be here, with him, not at a night club or restaurant or for a few stolen hours in the park, but here, at breakfast in their own house, eating toast and marmalade and drinking tea.
Where to live had been a thorny problem. Betty had some money of her own, but even their joint funds weren't inexhaustible and flats – at least, affordable flats – in London were hard to find. They had spent quite a lot of time searching the parts of the city where they fancied living before Jack's landlady, Mrs Pettycure, had come up with the perfect solution.
The lodger on the ground floor, Mrs Kenworthy, was vacating her rooms to live with her sister in Bournemouth. Would Major Haldean and his bride care to take over her rooms in addition to his own? What's more, her maid, Kathleen Quinn, would be willing to oblige. That would give them a whole half of the house, with a separate entrance and a garden.
Major Haldean and his bride-to-be could hardly believe their luck.
So here he was. At breakfast in his own house, looking out onto his own garden, with his own wife.
They had had an exhilarating honeymoon in Italy – the tablecloth was an Italian souvenir bought on the Rialto – but the sheer everydayness of seeing Betty crunching toast gave him a little jolt of nearly painful joy. Life wasn't a holiday, however much fun that had been. Life was, amazingly enough, this deep contentment of tea, toast, breakfast and Betty.
Betty; clever and kind; light brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. She didn't care for her freckles but he thought they were adorable.
Betty stopped crunching toast and slowly turned to look at him. 'Whatever are you staring at me like that for, Jack? Have I got marmalade on my chin?'
He laughed apologetically. 'I'm sorry, sweetheart. I was just thinking how nice it is being here, with you.'
Her eyes sparkled and, pushing her chair back, she came to stand behind him. She put her hands on his shoulders and dropped a kiss on the top of his head.
'Don't get marmalade in my hair,' he murmured, covering one of her hands with his.
'I can eat without getting it everywhere,' she said, pressing her thumbs into his shoulders. 'You ought to know that by now. What are you doing today?'
Jack wriggled back his chair and smiled up at her. That was great, too. That someone should really care what he did with his day.
'You look,' she said suspiciously, 'very pleased with yourself.'
'It was a very nice breakfast,' he said with a grin. 'And I'm enjoying the company.'
She dropped another kiss on his hair. 'Well? What are you doing today?'
'I've told Archie Keyne I'll see him at the magazine office at eleven. That should take up most of the day. After that,' he said, doing his best to look doleful, 'because my wife is heartless, I'm cast back to my lonely bachelor existence.'
Betty gave a crack of laughter. 'Heartless, indeed! Jack, it's one evening only, a girls' night in. You'd be bored to death listening to Jenny Langton and me chattering about Doris Beckett and Eileen Padstow and do you remember what Miss Fitzwilliam said to Winnie McKenna when she found her trying to sneak a white mouse into the dormitory and so on.'
'I could listen avidly, take notes, and start a new career writing schoolgirl fiction.'
'Stick to detective stories, darling. They're much more your thing.'
Jack squeezed her hand. 'If you say so. I'll go and play snooker at the club. The evening belongs to you and Jenny Langton.'
With one eye on the clock, Jennifer Langton checked her appearance critically in the mirror inside the open wardrobe door. The new two-piece, light-grey suit had caused some heart searching. The advert in Marshall and Snelgrove's catalogue – the catalogue had been the cause of much study – described the dove grey, stockinette jumper suit as 'useful and becoming' and also as 'inexpensive'.
Well, Marshall and Snelgrove might think that five guineas for a dress was inexpensive but five guineas was a sizable chunk of money. It was the best part of nearly a fortnight's wages but, thought Jenny, adjusting the wardrobe mirror to make the most of the light from the window, she just had to look smart at work. She had plans for work and couldn't afford to look anything but smart.
Not only that, but she was meeting her old friend, Betty, that evening and that was certainly worth making an effort for.
She and Betty had been in the same house and the same dormitory at school. Would she be the same? Marriage did change some people, she knew. In a way, although she'd happily agreed to the suggestion of a girls' night in, Jenny was sorry not to be meeting Betty's new husband. She'd seen him at the wedding, of course, but that wasn't the same as meeting him properly. Especially, thought Jenny, giving the grey suit a final nod of approval, as the husband was Jack Haldean, the detective story writer.
The Secret of the Second Shroud (author Jack Haldean) lay on her bedside table and it was responsible for her going to sleep at least half an hour later than usual last night.
But still, thought Jenny, picking up her coat, Jack Haldean or not, she was really looking forward to this evening.
Mr Gilbert Lee, senior partner of Wilson and Lee, house agents, Stowfleet, Surrey, stirred his tea as he read the Daily Mail. The article that had caught his eye was, as so many articles in the newspapers seemed to be nowadays, about the Modern Girl and the need for an up-to-date employer to recognise her capabilities. It really was extraordinary just how many articles on the same theme he had read recently. Not that Gilbert Lee, who had been married for twenty-three years, had ever doubted a woman's capability, modern or not.
He was up-to-date he thought, with a degree of satisfaction. He had to be. Stowfleet had grown out of all recognition from the village in which his grandfather had founded the firm sixty-five years ago. In a wave of pre-war building, London had first lapped, then encircled the village, so that although, as he was keen to point out to prospective clients, Stowfleet retained its village atmosphere, it had all the conveniences of actually being (more or less) in London.
How much more or less depended, of course, on the customer. To those who hankered after rustic charm, he pointed out the old-world shops in the high street, the ancient pubs, the duck pond and the village common. To those who wanted a faster pace of life, he emphasised the excellence, speed and frequency of the railway up to the City. Yes, it was all about finding out what the customer wanted and letting them have it. If these chappies who wrote this stuff in the papers about up-to-date employers and the Modern Girl ever talked to him, he'd be able to show them how a modern firm worked.
Why, only six weeks ago, conscious he was breaking new ground, he had employed Miss Jennifer Langton, and a nice, hardworking girl she was turning out to be.
If Mr Lee had a rather more suspicious nature, he would've realised the number of articles he'd read about the Modern Girl had increased substantially six weeks ago.
Jenny Langton knew that simply working hard and being pleasant, polite and punctual wasn't enough. She'd noticed how Mr Lee invariably picked up the topmost of the daily newspapers as he walked through the outer office when he arrived, to read with his morning cup of tea.
As she was in the office a good half hour before Mr Lee, it was a simple matter to flick through the papers and leave the topmost one turned down, not at the property pages, but on any article on the Modern Girl she came across. Wilson and Lee were a decent firm and Mr Lee a likable man but, Jenny had quickly decided, needed their attitudes bringing up to date.
Jenny, whose grey suit had drawn an appreciative stare from Albert, the office boy, glanced up from her typewriter into Gilbert Lee's office, saw him absorbed in the newspaper, and turned away with a satisfied smile.
One of these days – surely it would be soon? – Mr Lee would cotton onto the idea that she – the only girl, modern or otherwise, in the office – was capable of doing far more than taking calls and typing up particulars of houses.
The telephone shrilled beside her. Jenny, with her best telephone manner, answered the call, professionalism turning to friendliness as she recognised the caller. 'Mrs McKenzie? Mr McKenzie's not well? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Yes, Mr Lee is here. I'll just put you through.'
And if Mr McKenzie was ill, that would scupper up the morning's timetable, thought Jenny as she transferred the call. Robert McKenzie, a senior in the firm, had a viewing that morning.
Gilbert Lee was also sorry to hear Bob McKenzie was ill. Mrs McKenzie was apologetic but firm. Her husband had hardly slept last night and was now sneezing and coughing in bed. Yes, they had called the doctor. And yes, it was probably nothing more than a bad cold, but even so, Bob couldn't possibly come into the office today.
It was, thought Gilbert Lee, very inconvenient, as he hung up the telephone with a sigh. He pulled the ledger of appointments towards him and glanced down the list. Stephens and Whittaker were both tied up with viewings, Connor was engaged with Boxted, the solicitors, which left, he thought glumly, old Southwick. His heart sank.
McKenzie should have visited Saunder's Green that morning to take down the particulars. Saunder's Green? He couldn't call the house to mind, but he was sure he'd heard something about it. What the dickens was it? Something his wife had said?
He drummed his fingers on the desk, chasing the memory. That was it! Saunder's Green was supposed to be haunted. Mr Lee snorted dismissively. That sort of nonsense could do a lot of harm to a property's reputation.
Saunder's Green, thought Mr Lee, visualising its location, could be a very desirable property, even though it probably needed bringing up to date. It was certainly in a first-class spot. It was just a pity he had to send Southwick.
Ernest Southwick was excellent with figures but he lacked imagination.McKenzie would have done it justice and, perhaps, even more than justice.
Southwick could take down the particulars of Buckingham Palace and make it sound about as exciting as a gas works. Yes, all the measurements would be correct, but a house was more than measurements with so many bedrooms, so many reception rooms, rent or purchase price so much, rates, water, electricity and gas ditto. A prospective client started with the particulars and that was the first step to being sold the property. They had to be made to imagine what it would be like to live in the house, to be given a vision of a rosy future that could be theirs if they made the house their home.
Still, it couldn't be helped. Mr Lee got up from his desk and, crossing the room to the outer office, opened the door. Southwick was there, bent over a file and, seated behind her typewriter, was the new girl, Miss Langton. She looked up and smiled. Jenny had a very nice smile.
He was just about to call Southwick's name when he paused. What about Miss Langton? She was smart and enthusiastic. An up-to-date employer, he thought, unconsciously echoing what he had just read in the Daily Mail, needed to recognise the Modern Girl's capability.
Why not give her a chance? If she did a good job, he might even let her show any prospective tenants around. And that, he thought, with the Daily Mail article in mind, would show any clients that they were dealing with a thoroughly up-to-date firm.
He cleared his throat. 'Miss Langton?' he called. 'Could I have a word?'
Jenny Langton closed the door of Wilson and Lee behind her, bubbling with excitement. It had worked! She had wondered how Mr Southwick would take it when she, gathering her coat and hat, had told him she was going out to view a property. If he was going to sulk, that might make office life difficult. To her relief he merely said that he was glad to be staying indoors. It might be September but the wind was chilly.
Still grinning to herself, she looked around to cross the road – and stopped dead.
There was a man, a man in a black coat and trilby hat, in the shadow of the tree across the road. Jenny drew her breath in, then, with sudden determination, stepped off the pavement to cross the road.
The man turned and walked quickly away.
Jenny drew back. She could hardly chase after him, but he'd been there. Again.
She'd seen him before. She'd first seen him when she was very young. She'd seen him at home in Yorkshire, she'd seen him at school in Surrey, and now here he was, in Stowfleet. The man never did anything but watch, but he was there.
He had never approached her and never attempted to speak. Sometimes it would be a couple of years between sightings but she knew it was the same man.
Her mother had thought she was imagining things. Mum had been a very practical, down-to-earth sort of person, who had no time for silly fancies, as she put it. Yes, Jenny very well might see a man, but it was ridiculous to suppose that it was the same man.
Jenny shook herself. The Watcher was gone and she had a job to do. Perhaps Mum had been right. Maybe it was nothing more than coincidence and imagination. She didn't really believe it, but whatever the truth, she couldn't allow herself to be distracted, not now.
Very consciously, she fixed her mind on Saunder's Green. She wanted to get this right. She needed to make a success of her job. Very literally, she couldn't afford not to.
Her mother had died five months ago. Dad, a doctor, had died eight years previously. Her two brothers, Martin and Eric, were following in Dad's footsteps and that, in a way, was the problem.
Jenny was very proud of her brothers. Eric, two years younger than her, was studying medicine at Leeds. Martin, who was eight years older, had qualified as a doctor some time ago. Four months ago he'd had the opportunity to buy a partnership in a good practice in Leeds. The trouble was that the cost of the partnership was just over £1,500.
Once that had been paid, together with the expense of Eric at university, there was precious little left of Dad's money. Martin had promised to make it up to her in the future, which was all very well – Martin certainly would keep his word – but she had to live in the here and now.
So Jenny had to earn her own living, but doing what?
She'd had a good education at Rotherdean, Mum's old school in Surrey, but she wasn't trained for anything. Rotherdean expected its pupils to be good wives and mothers in whatever corner of the world their husbands saw fit to live. Marriage, not work, was their expected destiny.
Jenny had grown up with stories of doughty daughters of Empire doing their bit amongst fire, flood and famine. Elementary nursing had played a part there. Rotherdean had taught her how to manage a house, both at home and abroad, instruct servants, supervise the cooking and presentation of dishes from bandicoot (stewed in milk) to hash bogurrah (mutton with ginger) how to greet an Indian Native Prince and what to say to an Arab chieftain's first wife. In addition, she was taught French, Latin, fine needlework, botany, the piano and had been instructed in watercolours.
That was all well and good and doubtless useful to the right woman in the right place, but none of it added up to a job. At a pinch, Rotherdean admitted that occasionally a pupil might be employed as a governess, but Jenny loathed the thought.
No; she didn't want to be a governess but she did have to work. She spent some of her small reserve of money on learning to type. That was bound to be useful. Martin wanted her to take a job in Leeds, but she'd set her sights on London.
Mum had been a Londoner and always talked about London very fondly. Jenny had managed to find a room in a decent boarding-house in Catton Street off Southampton Row, and then set about finding a job. She had never thought about being a house agent but the advert in the Evening Standard had leapt out at her. The idea of Stowfleet being a village was, to her Yorkshire-bred senses, almost laughable, but at least she wasn't hemmed in by endless streets. There was open space in Stowfleet. Mum would've liked it.
Mum. It would be nice to have been able to tell Mum where she was and what she was doing and how, after only a few weeks, she had made the longed-for jump from behind the office desk. Apart from anything else, the sensation of being outside in the sunshine, even if the wind was chilly, instead of being inside made her feel as if she'd been given the next best thing to a holiday.
She arrived at the gate to Saunder's Green. She opened her handbag, checking the note from the office. The house was untenanted, but the housekeeper was a Mrs Offord. Jenny took a moment to gather her impressions.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Forgotten Murder"
Copyright © 2018 Dolores Gordon-Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It's 1926 and Jennifer Langton is working as a typist at an estate agent when she gets the chance to view a house. A house that the agents want to rent out. But arriving at Saunder's Green she finds the house familiar, and in the garden she sees a monster. Later that day she recounts everything to her close friend Betty and her husband Major Jack Haldean. Haldean having had experiences in solving mysteries. An enjoyable mystery, with the story starting slowly, setting the scene then the clues are introduced. Though the book was written in the modern times it had the feel of the 'Golden Age of Detective Fiction'. Although this is part of a series, though the first one for me, it can easily be read as a standalone story.