The Amber Maze, Christopher Bowden’s sixth novel  

The novels of Christopher Bowden. The Amber Maze, The Purple Shadow, The Green Door, The Red House, The Yellow Room, The Blue Book

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Welcome to the home of the books of Christopher Bowden, author of elegant literary mysteries.  Christopher lives in south London and The Amber Maze is his latest book. His previous ones are The Purple Shadow, The Green Door, The Red House, The Yellow Room and The Blue Book.

From The Amber Maze

And then a message on Saturday morning and a short drive to The Old Rectory. Just him.

“I was waiting for Guy to come with me,” said Rachel as she led him to the sitting room. “I wasn’t sure how heavy it would be and he’s not the easiest person to pin down.”

The box gleamed large on the rug in front of the fireplace.

“It’s a military campaign chest, according to Guy. It weighs a ton. How far that’s the box and how far what’s inside, I don’t know. I gave it a once-over with beeswax and Brasso. Guy says if it doesn’t open we can use it as a coffee table.” She was talking too fast, sounded nervous. “I’m not sure what my mother would think of that, but then I’m not sure what she thinks about a lot of things.”

“This is the moment of truth,” said Hugh, extracting the key and passing it to her. “Short drum roll.”

She knelt in front of the box and inserted the key into the lock. It turned part-way but no further.

He joined her in front of the box and jiggled the key. It would move neither forward nor back and resisted his attempts to ease it out of the lock in order to start again.

“Do you have any WD40?”

§

Simon dropped to his desk for a breather, as he put it, while Hugh brought water from the cooler in the passage. The heat was becoming oppressive. When his host was ready, Hugh swirled his jacket over the back of a chair and followed him through dim corridors to a door opening on to the terrace and the dazzle that lay outside. They trudged down steps and across close-cut grass until Simon stopped at a pavilion in the shade of a large Spanish chestnut. It was a hexagonal brick-built structure with a shingle roof erected in the early nineteenth century as a place of rest and relaxation. Nowadays it was used as a space for information and exhibits about the house and its history. But this was not why Simon had brought him.

Inside, a stained-glass window, hit by the full force of the afternoon sun, drenched the pavilion with orange light. As his eyes adjusted, Hugh could make out the burning image of the maze, projected on to the floor and the opposite wall. The glass itself glowed like amber, as Rosie had said about the plan. He wondered which came first: the plan or the seal or the window and what the relationship between them might be.

“Of course, it’s more recent than the pavilion,” said Simon. “The gift of an anonymous donor. The maze was something of a motif in this place. Elizabeth Mayes was an ancestor of the Assendenes. One of them thought it amusing to adopt the maze symbol as a mark of their heritage. It crops up on notepaper, bookplates, crockery from the late 1800s on. Planting the original beech maze was all part of it. Now we use the maze symbol on mugs, mouse mats, tea towels, and the like. They’re very popular with the visitors.”





§

“It’s Mullion of the Yard,” she squealed, as Hugh came into the sitting room from saying goodnight to the twins. She put down her glass of wine, ran towards him and gave him a hug. She seemed just the same, her short blonde hair that looked bleached but wasn’t. “I hear you’re up to your old tricks. Books last time, now pictures and keys.”

“Ten years apart. Hardly excessive.”

“First he creates a mystery,” put in Kate, “then he becomes obsessed with trying to solve it. I don’t know why he can’t leave things alone.” Perhaps she had forgotten that she had retrieved the missing half of the label that completed Lionel’s name and arranged the first contact with Rachel – and identified what was written on the note he discovered inside the book all those years ago. The exasperation she sometimes felt was tempered by an amused tolerance extending to moral and practical support and even interest in the outcome of his detective work.

“I don’t like loose ends,” said Hugh. “Anyway, you can blame him for the book. I found it in a box outside his shop.”

He was pointing to Anthony Buffo, owner of Toad Books, a tall man with a small black moustache and faintly olive skin. Anthony wasn’t listening. He was studying the coaster from which he had lifted his glass. He looked quizzical.

“It’s ringing a bell,” he said. “The maze motif; I’ve seen it before.”

§

Sue took the burgundy volume and started to look through it while Kate went to make the coffee. She dwelt on some passages, skipped others, and ran her eye over the sketches.

“That was one troubled child,” she said at last. “Quite sophisticated in some ways, painfully naïve in others. I wouldn’t give much for his chances in the school playground. He was a talented artist too, if you ignore the weird ones.”

She removed, without comment, the Ceylon hotel menu that Hugh had slipped in at the end and turned the open journal towards the light. She frowned and started to pick at the inside. Or so it appeared. Where the rear endpaper met the rear board was a narrow slit that he had not noticed and was not likely to be noticed unless the board was held down flat to expose it. A sheet of paper, identical to all the others, was pasted on to the three outer edges of the board but only part of the inner edge, the unpasted portion forming the slit. He had seen something similar in old travel guides as a way of containing a map or plan. But they were designed to be obvious and the contents easily removed.

Sue inserted the tips of forefinger and thumb carefully into the slit, using her nails as pincers to draw out what was inside. It was a note, unsigned, undated.

Welcome to The Amber Maze. Instructions will follow in due time, accompanied by a seal and sealing wax for use when required.