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 Blue Book
Hugh Mullion walked back home from the station that evening for the last time. He
and his partner, Kate Roberts, were moving from this part of south London in the
morning. As he made his way down the parade flanked by Bin Ends and the betting shop,
Hugh paused to look in the window of Peter’s Antiques. A copper warming pan on the
wall gleamed quietly in the light of a small table lamp. The dappled rocking horse
in the corner appeared to rock gently back and forth, as if pushed by an invisible
hand. The horse’s eyes betrayed a hint of sadness. Hugh sighed and thought of the
hours he had spent there and at Toad Books next door. The bookshop was in darkness
now, the boxes in which he used to rummage put away for another day. You never knew
what you were going to find. Perhaps if he had known what he would find under the
polythene, and where it would lead, that wet autumn Saturday of the previous year,
he would have been more circumspect. But there was no putting the clock back. Hugh
thought yet again of those events as he carried on down the parade and turned the
corner into Dogberry Road.
“Why are you staring out of the window?” said Kate that evening. “It’s pitch dark.”
“Just thinking about the book,” said Hugh, slowly drawing the curtains. “The Henry
James. I wonder who Dorothy Russell was?”
“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. What so special about her? It’s common enough to
find people’s names written in second-hand books.”
“But not strange notes as well. The occasional post card perhaps, chocolate wrappers
used as bookmarks, that sort of thing. This is different.”
“‘Fear death by water.’ ”
“I can’t get it out of my mind,” said Hugh. “Clever of you to spot it was from The
“I was a big fan of Eliot at one time. Sat up with him to all hours in my poky student
“Tom and Kate. Has a certain ring to it.”
“Nitwit. Are you going to peel the potatoes or shall I?”
“Do you think it was a warning or threat of some sort?”
“I don’t know but I do know we’re going to starve at this rate.”
“I wonder if Dorothy Russell is still alive.”
“Does it matter?” said Kate.
It does to me, thought Hugh. I’m going to find out.
The village of Newton FitzPosset was a couple of miles to the south west of Okeminster.
The narrow road, with the occasional passing place, was lined with hazel, leaves
still in place but now largely turned to yellow. A cock pheasant looked at Hugh indignantly
and strutted across the road. St Mary’s, off to the left as he came into the village,
was an altogether more modest affair than St John’s. Where St John’s rose high from
its mound resplendent in golden stone, St Mary’s skulked squat and grey in the dark
company of yews. The scattered gravestones, blotched with lichen, looked diseased.
There was no sign of life in Newton this Sunday morning. The main street was deserted.
The wooden bus shelter by the junction with School Lane stood empty, its advertisements
for coffee mornings and Christmas Bazaar in the village hall flapping unread. Hugh
drove slowly through the village, past the general store and post office displaying
posters and videos about a boy wizard, until he came to the Startled Ox. He turned
right down Bell Lane and looked out for Bell Cottage.
And there it was. A square house, set well back from the road, banded warmly in brick
and flint, dormers protruding from the slate roof. To the left was what Hugh took
to be a garage. Set above the apex of the garage roof, just over the doors, was a
large black bell. The doors themselves were the same green-blue as the front door
of the house. As he went up the steps, brushing past purple hebes in the last flush
of flower, he saw a man raking leaves into piles on the lawn. Slightly stooping perhaps
but pretty agile for a man past eighty.
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