Today I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for The Wrong Sort To Die. My post is presented with thanks to Emma Welton of damppebbles Blog Tours for inviting me on the tour and to the publisher for providing the extract.
Fighting her corner in a man’s world, Dr Margaret Demeray works as a pathologist in a London hospital for the poor. Suppressing her worry that she’s breaching confidentiality, Margaret gives a stranger called Fox information about a dead down-and-out, in the hope he’ll use it to raise awareness of bad working conditions.
But when a second man appears to die the same way, Margaret starts to wonder why the enigmatic Fox keeps turning up to ask ever more complex questions.
She decides to work alone, uncertain of his motives and wary of her attraction to him. Once she starts investigating however, her home is burgled, she’s attacked in broad daylight and a close friend becomes distant. Fox offers the chance to forge an alliance, saying he knows why the men have died but needs her to find out what is killing them and who is behind it.
Yet how come the closer she gets to him the more danger she faces? And how can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths?
Margaret must discover the truth before someone – known or unknown – silences her for good.
A cacophony of adolescents apologising and arguing over what to do made her head ring even more.
‘May I help,’ said a calmer male voice, ‘or do you need to sit for a while?’
Margaret looked up and saw a vaguely familiar face. She took a deep breath and winced as her bruised ribs pressed against her corset. Head spinning, she took the stranger’s proffered hand and got to her feet.
‘Oh Miss, Madam, I’m so sorry…’ wailed the young man.
‘For pity’s sake, shut up,’ said Margaret. ‘You’re giving me a headache. Go away, and pay attention in future. All of you.’
‘I’ll replace your hat, Miss, Madam—’
‘Doctor,’ said the stranger.
‘She needs a doctor?’ The boy paled.
‘She is a doctor. Now do as she asks. Go away.’
Margaret straightened up and grimaced. She shooed the boys away, and surveyed the damage. Her bicycle was in a better state than her hat, but the front wheel was bent. She felt her legs wobble.
‘Here, let me,’ said the man. ‘You seem a little shaken. Let me escort you back to civilisation, at least.’
‘You needn’t trouble,’ said Margaret. ‘That’s my sister in the distance, stopped in the middle of the road. I imagine she heard the noise.’
‘I’ll walk you back towards her then, Dr Demeray.’
She accepted what was left of her hat, and after a brief struggle accepted his bicycle to wheel while he manhandled hers. As she did so, recognition sank in.
‘You were the gentleman in the tea shop last week,’ she said. ‘The one who returned my book.’
‘I was indeed.’ There was a light twinkle in his eye.
She remembered his appraisal of her when she had been powdered, well-coiffed, and wearing a rose-coloured outfit with elaborate trimming. She dreaded to imagine how she looked now in dusty knickerbockers, with half her hair hanging over a doubtless grubby and possibly bloody face.
‘I presume it fell open. The book, I mean. For you to know my name.’
‘Ah, no.’ The stranger paused and attempted in vain to straighten her bent front wheel. ‘I apologise. I knew who you were already and have wanted to speak with you for some days, but you’ve been rather busy.’
The man held his hand out. ‘Let me introduce myself. I’m Fox. How do you do. I want to know if you can help me.’
Margaret limped to a halt. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t—’
‘I’ve been to several of your talks. I admire your spirit. And I believe you might have come across someone I’ve heard about.’
‘A money-grubbing landlord?’
‘No. A dead man.’
‘Oh. I’m sorry.’
‘He went missing when he was down on his luck. I believe he died suddenly of a breathing problem, probably recently. And I believe he might have been taken to your mortuary.’
Margaret thought of the lung she’d investigated recently. She tried to recall the name on the paperwork, but failed. It was irrelevant anyway. ‘We generally deal with our own patients. People who die suddenly elsewhere are usually taken to St Thomas’s or St Barts or St Mary’s in Paddington; they have specialised forensic pathology teams for anything suspicious. We only ever get extra post-mortems when everyone else is too busy and the death isn’t remotely suspicious.’
‘I know. I was thinking of something more run-of-the-mill. He might even have come to the hospital nameless. I’m interested to know what killed someone like that.’
Margaret studied him. Mr Fox’s request was reasonable enough, if unorthodox. It was possible he was talking about the patient whose body she and Dr Jordan had been working on, but unlikely. ‘Post-mortems aren’t secret,’ she said. ‘You can write to the hospital or the coroner, give his name and circumstances and obtain a report.’
Mr Fox pulled a face. ‘That’s a lot of bureaucratic palaver. I’d just like to know what you know. I’d like to know what killed him, and I’m seeking someone who’ll dare to find out the truth. It isn’t right.’
It isn’t right. No one usually cared about these cases, and it was nice to meet someone who did. But Margaret shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, but I’m really not sure I can. It would be quite improper. Laymen do misquote or misunderstand things, I’m afraid. I could get into trouble.’ She started wheeling the bicycle again, wincing at the pain.
Mr Fox gave her a lopsided smile, then shrugged. ‘I apologise, Dr Demeray. I didn’t mean to compromise your professionalism. I’m sure if anything needs investigating, you’ll investigate it. May I make things up to you?’
‘There’s nothing to make up.’ Margaret attempted a chuckle and wished she hadn’t.
‘Meet me for tea on Tuesday. Tell me about the things you can discuss. As I said, I’ve heard you speak and would love to know more.’
‘About poverty and lung disease?’
‘All your views. What do you think?’ He scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it over. ‘I’ll be there at noon.’ He gestured down the slope towards Katherine. ‘Is that your sister? You should wheel her bicycle and she can manhandle yours, though she is rather short to manage.’
‘Though she be but little, she is fierce,’ said Margaret.
‘Is she? Well, as I say, I accept your decision about the information, but I’d love to take you for tea. If we’re going to be Shakespearian – Farewell fair doctor, anon.’
‘I’m not sure that’s Shakespeare.’
Mr Fox shrugged. ‘I was never any good at English. But all the words are in Shakespeare somewhere, and you get the drift.’
Katherine had nearly caught up with them, her face a mixture of concern and scrutiny. Mr Fox tipped his hat at both of them and whistling, took his bicycle from Margaret and rode off down the hill.
‘Who’s that?’ asked Katherine.
Margaret watched him go. ‘A complete stranger.’
‘Really?’ Katherine raised her eyebrows. ‘I recognise that look. Tell me the truth, is he really a complete stranger?’
‘He is at the moment,’ said Margaret. ‘But who knows?’
The Wrong Sort To Die is available from Amazon.
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