This week I get to introduce my own blog, my turn coinciding with the publishing of the third Inspector Chard mystery. Ideal timing to tell you a little bit about it and to give a short extract.
Inspector Chard is a policeman from Shropshire who, in the first novel, takes up a new post in the South Wales town of Pontypridd. No-one really knows why he left Shrewsbury and little of his past is revealed. Slightly more detail comes out in Fatal Solution, the second novel, but mystery remains. Now, in the third book, all is revealed. To quote the blurb on Amazon
“The third volume of the Inspector Chard series takes Chard back to his native Shrewsbury, revealing the circumstances under which he left for South Wales so abruptly. Now under arrest for a horrific double murder, and Imprisoned in the notorious Shrewsbury gaol, he must fight to clear his name or face execution.
A missing woman, human trafficking, trade-offs, foul play, scheming and brutal Victorian gentlemen, civic corruption, and a gang of “Peaky Blinders” stand between Chard and proving his innocence. With the help of faithful Constable Idris Morgan and May Roper, Chard must be more resourceful than he has ever been, and he must also find the answer to the riddle of Sabrina’s Teardrop, the fabulous sapphire which sits at the centre of events.”
Anyone who’s read the first two Inspector Chard mysteries will know that they don’t fall into a precise style. By that, I mean there is humour but they aren’t “cosy crime” and there are scenes which are very “gritty” but they definitely aren’t “noir” either. I would also say that whereas the first two books were very clearly ‘whodunnits’ , this one is as much a crime ‘thriller’.
Giving extracts for my books, whether in print or in readings has always been difficult for me, because there are so many twists and turns in the storyline that a) I’m afraid of giving away spoilers and b) if it’s a gritty (or a light-hearted) extract it might give the illusion it’s like that throughout. Please bear that in mind, because the extract below is not really representative of the overall feel of the book
This extract gives nothing away from the point of view of the main plot. It features near the beginning, and Chard, who has been relaxing in his favourite pub, has been called away to deal with a sad affair. A mother has lost her child and is threatening to commit suicide. We join it at the point where he is entering her room :-
Very slowly, Chard pushed open the door and entered the room. It was dark, bar for a small oil lamp which threw a little light on one corner of the room. There sat Mrs Pennel, a shawl around her shoulders, cradling a small bundle in her arms.
The inspector took a step forward, only to be taken aback by a scream from the bereaved mother.
‘Come no closer! You’re not taking him!’ she yelled, using her free hand to pick up a sharp shard of glass which had lain in her lap.
Chard took a step backwards and raised his hands in supplication. ‘I won’t take him if you don’t want me to,’ he answered softly.
There was silence for a few moments, then, seeing that the inspector was going to come no further, the woman put the piece of glass back down.
‘Who are you?’ she asked.
‘Just someone who means you no harm. You can call me Thomas if you like.’
Again, there was silence.
‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’
Once more there was silence. Chard stood and waited without a sound for what seemed an eternity. Then suddenly Mrs Pennel gave a long low moan.
‘I killed my poor lovely boy. I killed my Adam. I am damned.’
‘I can see that you wouldn’t have wanted to harm Adam,’ said Chard quietly.
‘I didn’t mean it. Honestly, I didn’t mean it.’ The woman leaned closer to the light and Chard could make out her red-rimmed, moist eyes.
‘Tell me what happened. I won’t judge you,’ promised the inspector.
Mrs Pennel paused, as if unsure whether to say any more, then she spoke. ‘You see, we don’t have much money. My Arthur is not in good health. He does his best, but I have to take in work to keep us fed. It’s sewing for a shop in town- piecework you understand. I only get paid for what I do.’ Her words sounded apologetic, as if being poor was an admission of failure. ‘I have to get up early to cook and clean, then I start my sewing. With all my housework on top and looking after Arthur I get very little sleep and it’s so hard to cope.’
‘I understand,’ answered Chard in a comforting voice.
‘I used to manage but since Adam came along it’s been such a struggle,’ pleaded the poor woman. ‘He would cry and cry until I rocked him to sleep. He would wake me in the middle of the night stopping my sleep. Then again in the daytime, stopping me from working. I was at my wits’ end.’
‘Then what happened?’ asked the inspector, inching forward.
Mrs Pennel was by now in full flow, releasing her anguish. ‘A friend gave me that!’ she snapped, pointing at a broken bottle which had evidently been thrown against the wall. ‘It’s an “infants’ calmative tonic” said to be recommended by “all good parents”. I gave my Adam a few drops and it seemed to settle him down on the first night. By the end of the week though, he would cry all the more until I gave him some. Then he stopped eating, he just didn’t want anything. I tried stopping the tonic but it made him cry all the more. I didn’t know what to do. We can’t afford a doctor and I was afraid that if I went to the workhouse infirmary, they would take him away from me.’ Mrs Pennel suddenly noticed that Chard had come nearer. ‘Stop!’ she yelled, taking up the piece of broken glass. Blood ran from her hand where she had grabbed a sharp edge but she paid it no intention, and raised the shard to her own throat.
‘Wait! I’ll stay here. Just put the glass down. Tell me what happened next,’ urged the inspector.
‘I gave Adam some tonic during the night, perhaps a little too much, I was so tired. Then this morning he wouldn’t eat again, or drink for that matter. He just slept, so I let him be. He just lay there all day.’ She sobbed and her hand lowered the glass away from her throat. ‘Arthur had found some work but it was a twelve-hour shift, so he didn’t get back until this evening. Just before he was due home, I went to wake Adam to give him some food but he wasn’t breathing. I shook him, hugged him, even hit him, but nothing could make my Adam wake up. Not even a mother’s kiss.’ Once more the tears came in earnest and the bereaved mother started to rock back and for in abject misery.
‘You poor, poor thing,’ empathised Chard, deeply moved by the distraught woman’s situation. ‘It is a tragedy, but you did not intend to hurt your child.’
‘It’s my fault. I am damned.’
‘Things can be made right. You must think of your husband now, your Arthur.’
‘I have murdered his child. Our only child,’ Mrs Pennel answered, full of grief.
‘From what little I have seen of your husband he appears concerned for your safety. That wouldn’t be the case if he didn’t love you very deeply,’ reasoned Chard.
There was silence as the inspector let his words sink in.
‘Will he ever forgive me?’ she asked pitifully.
‘I believe he would. Don’t forget, this is a tragedy for both of you. You need each other desperately,’ said Chard gently.
There was a slow, almost imperceptible nod from Mrs Pennel and Chard moved to within an arm’s length.
‘We have your Adam to think about. He needs to be at rest,’ continued the inspector.
‘I can’t let him go,’ came the pitiful reply. ‘Please don’t take him from me?’ she begged.
Chard saw that Mrs Pennel had let go of the shard of glass and was making no attempt to pick it up.
‘I won’t take him from you, but perhaps you could give him to me. He needs to be looked after now. You know his time here is over. It is a sad parting but it must be done.’
Mrs Pennel looked up and Chard could see the realisation in her eyes.
‘Come now and do what you know you must, then let your husband comfort you,’ persuaded the inspector, holding out his arms.
The mother sighed and wiped a blood-stained hand across her tear-streaked face. Then she kissed her child’s cold brow and placed the small bundle into Chard’s arms.
‘Thank you,’ said Chard softly as he turned and left the room, holding the dead body as if it was the most precious, delicate object in the whole world.
Leslie Scase is the Shropshire-based author of the Inspector Chard Mysteries, crime thrillers set in the heyday of Victorian Britain. The first novel Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow was published in 2020. The second, Fatal Solution, was published in May 2021. Sabrina’s Teardrop, a thriller set mainly in Shropshire and Birmingham was published on 10th October 2022. An advocate of the ‘classic’ murder mystery genre, Leslie is also a keen historian, which is reflected in the authenticity of his novels.
Born and educated in South Wales, Leslie worked in local industry before travelling widely across the UK during a career in the Civil Service. His first novel was inspired in part by his Italian and English ancestors having settled in South Wales in the late nineteenth century. A keen fly fisherman and real ale enthusiast, he lives close to the Welsh border, in the county town of Shrewsbury.
Read more about Leslie Scase at Seren Books https://www.serenbooks.com/author/leslie-scase
and Crime Cymru https://crime.cymru/leslie-scase/ pages
and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/InspectorChard Twitter @InspectorChard