Ruthie Gillespie’s efforts to find out the truth about a mysterious missing rock star lead her on a terrifying journey into the past.
Researcher Ruthie Gillespie has undertaken a commission to write an essay on Martin Mear, lead singer and guitarist with Ghost Legion, the biggest, most decadent rock band on the planet, before he disappeared without trace in 1975. Her mission is to separate man from myth – but it’s proving difficult, as a series of increasingly disturbing and macabre incidents threatens to derail Ruthie’s efforts to uncover the truth about the mysterious rock star.
Just what did happen to Martin Mear back in 1975? Is he really set to return from the dead, as the band’s die-hard fans, the Legionaries, believe? It’s when Ruthie’s enquiries lead her to the derelict mansion on the Isle of Wight where Martin wrote the band’s breakthrough album that events take a truly terrifying turn …
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Former journalist F.G. Cottam is the author of several highly-acclaimed supernatural thrillers. He lives in Surrey, England.
Read an Excerpt
Ruthie Gillespie had arranged to meet Michael Aldridge at the Riverside Café on Queen's Promenade. She got there slightly before their agreed time of three in the afternoon and she ordered an espresso and found a vacant table and sat and lit a cigarette and watched the river sparkle and toil in patches with current under vapid October sunshine. It was a Saturday and the cafe was quiet and there weren't many passers-by so when she sensed someone approach, Ruthie looked up and saw that it was him, quite tall and athletic-looking in jeans and a black leather jacket.
Ruthie smiled, thinking that much about his life had changed in the two and a bit years since their last encounter, but that his appearance wasn't among the things that had altered. He looked exactly the same as she remembered him. She stood to greet him, lost in that momentary limbo between air-kissing and a handshake, but he committed to neither. He just returned her smile and pulled out the chair opposite hers and sat down.
'This is a lovely stretch of the river,' she said.
'But you're not here sightseeing.'
'I wasn't sure you'd come.'
'Neither was I. Not until I did, and now I have.'
'Scared of seeing me?'
'Scared of how seeing you would make me feel,' he said.
'I think that works both ways.'
'Probably it does, Ruthie. Anyway, you look well.'
'Likewise, Mr A.'
'Why am I here?'
'I need a job reference.'
Aldridge frowned. He said, 'You write books. You write fiction for children and young adults and I read somewhere you've a book coming out aimed at grown-up readers. It's out at the end of the year.'
'How did you know that?'
'My daughter reads you.'
'How is Mollie?'
'She's thriving and you'll always have my gratitude for that, but why the reference? And why me?'
Ruthie put out her cigarette in the ashtray on their table and lit another with a pink Bic lighter.
'Old habits,' Aldridge said.
'Bad habits,' she said, exhaling with a sigh. She looked at him. She said, 'The past few months have been difficult for me. I don't particularly want to go into why. I need a change. There's a London-based research job. Once upon a time I did a research job for you.'
'I never paid you.'
'Not really the point, Mr A. The point is whether or not I was any good at it.'
'I couldn't put a price on what you found out for me, Ruthie. You know I couldn't.'
She looked at the tip of her cigarette, smouldering. She said, 'And the collateral damage?'
'I don't hold anything against you.'
'Well, that's a relief.'
'What's the job?'
'You've heard of Martin Mear?'
'Everyone over the age of thirty's heard of Martin Mear.'
'Not so sure that's true, Mr A. He died forty-odd years ago.'
'I doubt an hour goes by without a music station somewhere in the world playing a Ghost Legion track. It's like Hendrix or Elvis or that singer from the Doors.'
'Jim Morrison,' Ruthie said.
'Dying, for Martin Mear, was a great career move.'
'The Legion were managed by an American impresario named Carter Melville. Did you know that?'
'Melville was a Rhodes Scholar. He first met Martin at university. He was there at the start of everything. Now he wants to create the definitive Ghost Legion box set. It's going to have a glossy brochure with a ten-thousand-word essay on the Legion. It's going to be the last word on Martin Mear and the band he created and led.'
Aldridge didn't say anything. Then he said, 'Why does Melville need a researcher, if he was there for it all?'
Ruthie grinned. She said, 'Melville was more participant than witness, Mr A. You know what they used to say about the Swinging Sixties.'
'Anyone who remembers it wasn't really there.'
'And the 1970s were even more excessive. Carter Melville's recollections from his Ghost Legion days are probably a bit vague. Plus he's not a writer. And rich people tend to delegate.'
'Is he still on ten per cent?'
'I should think substantially more. And the Legion still shifts five million units a year.'
'So the research job's a well-paid bit of digging?'
Ruthie looked out over the river and smoked. 'Not really why I want to do it,' she said.
Aldridge shifted in his metal chair. He said, 'Martin Mear was heavily into the occult, if the rumours are to be believed. He dabbled in black magic.'
'I think he did a bit more than dabble, Michael. That's not why I'm doing it either.'
'Except that you've experience with matters other-worldly, haven't you? We both have, since it was an experience we shared.'
'I'm not really expecting things to go bump in my night,' Ruthie said, 'not researching a bunch of dead rock musicians.'
'Are all four of them dead?'
She raised her eyes. 'All reunited and rocking out at the big stadium in the sky, presumably.'
'How did you hear about the job?'
'Someone I was at school with works in their Soho office at Melville Enterprises. I'm from a small town on a small island and people talk and she'd heard a whisper that I was in a bit of a trough. When she heard about this gig she thought it might be a good fit. It would get me out of Ventnor.'
'And out of the Spyglass Inn?'
Ruthie shrugged. 'You said I look well, but appearances can be deceptive.'
'Why don't you tell me about it?'
She didn't answer him. Instead she said, 'How does it feel, sitting there? Were you right to feel a bit of trepidation about coming?'
'It feels exactly as I thought it would, so I was totally right,' Aldridge said. 'And sometimes being right offers no satisfaction at all. I'm afraid this is one of those occasions.'
'No need to be. And of course I'll write your reference. You're a brilliant researcher, Ruthie. I just hope for your sake that there's nothing really dark for you to uncover and expose.'
'I haven't got the job yet, Mr A.'
'But you will get it.'
'I wish I shared your confidence.'
'I'm a believer in fate, Ruthie. Our shared experience made me one. You'll get the job, all right.'
'In the meantime,' Ruthie said, 'can I get you a coffee?'
'I'm in the mood for something stronger.'
'That,' she said, 'might be a really bad idea.'
Ruthie was staying with her friend Veronica Slade at Veronica's flat in North Lambeth. When she got back there at just after five in the afternoon, there was no one at home. Resisting the temptation to cross the Portsmouth Road to the nearest pub with Michael Aldridge had been harder than she'd thought it would be, speculating on how their encounter might play out, earlier in the day. From the pub, after a few disinhibiting drinks, it would have been only a short walk to the flat he occupied in Surbiton. A short and reckless walk, she thought. He was an attractive man, but the entanglement wasn't what she had left the island for. She needed fewer complications in her life, not more of them.
At Veronica's place, she made and drank a cup of Earl Grey tea. She charged up her laptop intent on trying to start a fresh chapter of the novel she was working on. When the words wouldn't come, she didn't try to force them. Instead she checked her emails and saw that Michael had already sent the reference she'd requested he write. He'd sent it as a scan, printed on Aldridge Associates headed notepaper. Ruthie recognized the font, because it was Palatino Linotype, in which she habitually wrote on those days when the words would come. It was a slightly neat coincidence, she thought, thinking there was a sort of symmetry about it.
Except that Michael had confined himself to fact, if not strictly, she thought, to truth.
His reference explained that Ruthie had researched for him in the period of the Ashdown Hall restoration project near Brightstone Forest on the Isle of Wight. He said that her work had been thorough, meticulous and discreet. She was quick to grasp the specifics of a brief. She was courteous and persistent, a tricky combination to pull off. She was highly intelligent and totally professional.
Ruthie knew she had been less than totally professional with Michael Aldridge, but that her solitary failing on that score need not concern Carter Melville. It was a character flaw unlikely to recur researching a dead rock icon and his fellow band members. She was too honest with herself to blame drink for the episode. Drink had played its lubricious part, but she wasn't drinking now and didn't plan to any time soon. This had dismayed Veronica, who worked extremely hard and felt entitled to her evening fun. Veronica liked to let down her abundant hair. But for the moment, for Ruthie, abstemious was how things needed to be.
After printing off the reference, she reread it and then pondered on a response. Michael had written promptly and very generously and she knew that the correct etiquette would be to write a note back thanking him for taking the time and trouble. The problem was that he might interpret her doing so as opening a dialogue between them.
Was that so terrible? He was an unattached man, not some sort of contagious disease to be avoided at all costs. She didn't want to lead him on or encourage false expectations, but if she really wanted to avoid hurting him, then she shouldn't have cold-called him, asking a favour of him in the first place.
She blew out a breath, craving the cigarette she'd resolved she wasn't going to go into Veronica's small walled garden to smoke. The fact was, she'd had to ask Michael Aldridge for the reference. She hadn't practically speaking had a choice. Her work for him had been research and she'd done a bloody good job of it even though the outcome had been unexpected and disturbing. Short of forging a reference, she couldn't have got one relevant to the Ghost Legion project anywhere else.
She'd write him a thank you, Ruthie decided. She'd keep it brief and businesslike. Then she'd write a covering letter and bring up her CV and send everything to her contact at Melville Enterprises so that it would be there when her old school friend got to her desk on Monday morning.
When she'd done all that, and there was still no sign of Veronica, she did go into the garden for a smoke. It was dark by then. She could hear traffic noise and feel the autumnal chill and endured that slight feeling of confinement being landlocked always brought with it. She was very close there to the River Thames and so to water and space, but she'd lived all her life in a coastal town with the briny odour of the sea and the sea's alluring vastness inviting her eyes and she thought big cities choked, claustrophobic places.
When she went back inside, she tried to write again and found that now the words came fluently enough. She sat at the keyboard at the desk in the spare room with a view of the Hercules Road railway arches and the somnolent sound of steel wheel rims on steel rails failing to impede her thoughts or distract from the bright pictures painted on to her mind and channelled through her fingertips. On evenings like this one, and there'd been too many of them over recent weeks, Ruthie was grateful for her distracting gift.
She wrote until just after 9pm, when Veronica came in, carrying a bag of cream paper packages that sent the hot smart of malt vinegar trailing through confined space.
'I knew you wouldn't sort yourself out, so I got us fish and chips,' her friend called out. 'Get off your backside, Ruthie, before you take root. Get out here pronto and grab us a couple of plates.'
Ruthie saved her file and got up and sniffed.
Veronica had put their supper down on the kitchen counter and was unbuttoning her coat. 'You've been crying,' she said.
'You don't sound surprised.'
'Thin walls, love, and you talk in your sleep.'CHAPTER 2
Ruthie spent the next couple of days preparing for the interview she wasn't at all confident she'd get. Doing that was the best way of readying herself for it if she did. She didn't want to embarrass Jackie Tibbs, the school friend who'd tipped her off about the research job, with a show of ineptitude in front of Jackie's boss. If she got an audience with Carter Melville she'd arrive well informed. This preparation also distracted her from dwelling on recent events in her private life. She'd a tendency to that she kept rediscovering was as painful as it was futile.
Martin Mear had been intent on rock stardom, or at least intent on being a full-time musician and band member. His first group was Peacock Blue, a psychedelic outfit formed when he was in his mid-teens. They'd performed his first attempts at songwriting at pubs and the occasional disco in his home town of Shaftesbury.
At university, he'd formed Tallow Pale with two other students. The Pale, as they'd come to be known, were basically a folk-rock trio. Sometimes they performed with sit-in musicians and for some of their numbers, they invited women singers as guest vocalists. The Pale were Martin's baby, so this could have been a straight musical decision or it could have been a proto-feminist thing. Or it could have been simply that Martin was enthusiastic about women. Certainly, his later career suggested that this was the case.
The Pale built quite a festival following. They were considered a good live act, but they never got near a recording contract and broke up amicably enough as the core members began studying seriously for their finals.
That was in the spring of 1969. It wasn't until after graduation, in the autumn of that year, that Martin Mear began the four-piece project that would come to rule the rock world as Ghost Legion.
The Legion were offered a record deal after only a few performances. The four-piece line up seemed to have been the perfect vehicle for the songs Martin was writing by then. Ruthie thought they must have gelled immediately, must have possessed that alchemy that makes the truly great rock acts stand out from what was by then a sizeable and noisy and stridently ambitious crowd.
Their debut album came out in '70 and Ghost Legion would cut six in total. That first LP, King Lud, was followed by Black Solstice and Exiled Souls, all released at intervals of a year. But it was the latter sets of recordings that set them apart from their peers and endowed the Legion with their mystical status and reputation as a band creating songs that needed not only to be listened to, but somehow decoded, before they could be properly understood and appreciated. These three albums were never given titles. They were referred to simply as 1, 2 and 3, as though nothing in the band's history had preceded them. Nothing would follow them either, because shortly after 3 appeared towards the end of 1975, Martin Mear died.
Albums without titles weren't unprecedented when Ghost Legion failed to provide names for theirs. The Beatles brought out the White Album in 1968. The album that came to be known by the band's fans simply as Led Zeppelin 2 was released the following year. But the Beatles were jaunty and Led Zep bluesy and much less dark and more straightforward than Martin Mear's outfit. Where their songs tended to be collaborations, Martin's by contrast were all his own solo compositions. He wrote the lyrics and the tunes and he was the lead vocalist. By the time of 1, 2 and 3, he was an established star and the inclusiveness that had characterized Tallow Pale was a definite thing of the past.
Ruthie was studying a rare Pale-period photo of Martin Mear on her laptop screen at Veronica's flat just after 11am on Tuesday when her phone rang and she recognized the number on her display for Melville Enterprises and it was her old Wight school friend Jackie Tibbs, telling her she'd got her interview, asking was four o'clock on Thursday afternoon a convenient time. She replied that it was. She swapped pleasantries, knowing that Jackie's office was more than likely open-plan and that she'd have colleagues casually eavesdropping on the call. She said goodbye and cut the connection aware only that she was unaware of where any of this was really going.
She focused on the image on her screen, on the muscular, long-haired figure caught in the snapshot and frozen in time, attired in purple loons and a paisley shirt, not androgynous as had been the prevailing fashion among front-men then but instead, emphatically masculine. There was a six-string acoustic slung around his neck and his long fringe partially concealed his eyes, giving him a shy look.
Martin Mear had been anything but shy. She knew that about him, if she didn't yet know much else. She'd been listening to Ghost Legion as she worked, had played the albums sequentially and then gone back to King Lud and as close as she was going to get to the musical birth of the band. Most of the mad fan speculation about Martin and black magic centred on the later, nameless records. But it was Ruthie's abiding belief that the beginning of anything was always the best place to start if you could.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lucifer Chord"
Copyright © 2018 F.G. Cottam.
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Gosh, I HATED to finish this book. I loved Ruthie and the creepy, mysterious, ominous vibe this book gave off. In direct contrast, there were sweet and tender relationships and fierce friendships. Mr. Cottam, please write another book with Ruthie and Michael and find a way they can fight darkness again and emerge into the light. Thank you for the gift of your exceptional writing!