Book Title: The Custard Corpses
Author: M J Porter
Publication Date: March 25th 2021
Publisher: M J Publishing
Genre: Historical Mystery
A delicious 1940s mystery. Birmingham, England, 1943. While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights. Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since. But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.
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“Here it is,” and Higham pulled the car close to the kerb and pointed to the same tree that Sam had just seen in the old newspaper article.
“Is it still the Women’s Institute?”
“Yes, but they don’t use it much, not at the moment, and not really since then. Too many memories.”
The building before him was typical of the others in the street. Quite grand, with a large enclosed front door, a bit too fancy for his eyes. He couldn’t help but think that the building looked cold, despite the stack of chimneys on the tiled roof. Perhaps it was always cold inside.
“I think the body was found here.” Higham had taken herself to the enormous oak tree and looked around as though the corpse might still be there.
Sam twirled to take in the view before him. There was the scent of rich earth and an overwhelming salty smell from the sea, even though he couldn’t see it through the press of houses on the other side of the road. It was very different from Erdington and yet also the same. Even now, the street was quiet, the building silent and foreboding but offering the illusion of privacy.
“I think there used to be a cut through to the park, behind the building. That’s why the dog-walker found the body.”
Sam smirked. He’d just been considering why anyone would be hovering in what seemed to be an abandoned garden, screened off from the main street by a tall stone wall and a thick cover of trees.
“But, I think much of this has been planted since.”
“You seem well informed?” he offered. Higham grinned.
“I live over there,” and she pointed to one of the large Victorian houses on the other side of the tree-lined road, with a bright red door. “I’ve watched this place change throughout my lifetime. It used to be popular, but not anymore. I don’t think it’s because of the murder. It’s just a bit out of the way now that everyone goes into the busy shopping area. I would think the Women’s Institute might sell it. They mainly use the Town Hall for meetings now. There’s more parking for those well-to-do women who have access to a motor vehicle. and it’s much warmer than this cold, old building.”
“So, you’re what? Twenty-two?”
“Twenty-four, sir. We moved here seventeen years ago, just after the murder. I think my parents managed to get the house cheaply because of what had happened. The other family just wanted to move away.”
Higham paused, and Sam waited, curious to see what she’d say.
“It’s always been a bit strange around here. It’s not as though people avoid the place, but I’ve seen people of a certain generation cross over when they get close to the Women’s Institute. The memories of what happened here are long for people who lived in Weston at the time. New arrivals know nothing about it, and so they’re not at all bothered. They don’t cross the road or avoid coming here.”
“It’s similar where my victim was found. It’s a church hall still, but no one uses it other than for necessities. Certainly, parties and fetes are held elsewhere.”
Higham nodded, a flicker of relief on her intense face.
M J Porter writes historical fiction set before 1066. Usually.
This is M J's first foray into the historical mystery genre and the, relatively recent, twentieth century.
M J writes A LOT, you've been warned.