Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

 

Regular readers of my blog will know two things:

 

  • How important JK Rowling is to me (if you’re not clear on this then click here to read more)
  • Since the summer of 2015, I’ve been re-reading and reviewing the Harry Potter series.

 

(FYI – You can read the first three reviews by clicking these links: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

 

My plan was to re-read them all by October 2016 – which is when my mum and I are going to see the eighth story in the series – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

Of course, JK Rowling has gone and ruined my plan by choosing to publish the script of the play on Sunday 31st July (Both Harry’s and Rowling’s birthday fact fans)

 

Aside from causing me a lot of extra stuff to do at work, this means I now have two months less in order to complete the series.

 

It shouldn’t be a problem, but the complication is that starting with Goblet of Fire the books triple in size.

 

In my head I’ve always referred to Goblet of Fire as “The One Where They Stopped Editing Her” – when the books are lined up on the shelf, the jump in size is very apparent, so I found myself approaching this reading what ‘extra’ is in there.

 

If Goblet of Fire had been the same size as the previous three books what would they have cut out?

 

My initial thought was obviously SPEW, the society Hermione forms in response to the unfair treatment of house elves, since this is the biggest subplot that the film cuts out. I also remember being incredibly frustrated by it at the time I first started reading it.

 

But I started thinking about the point of it. There’s a line from the fake Mad-Eye Moody which says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the best way to get the measure of a man is to see how he treats his inferiors.

 

That’s an allegory for the central point of the Harry Potter books. Voldemort wants to rid the wizarding world of half-bloods and mudbloods. They are less than him, inferior.

 

It is telling that it is Hermione (the mudblood of our main group) that is the one to notice the injustice of the house elf situation.

 

In retrospect, the frustrating part of this plotline is that nothing actually changes. It’s not mentioned again in the subsequent books (to the best of my knowledge) and the situation doesn’t improve for the house elves – although it is often stated that the house elves themselves don’t want change.

 

I’m not sure how true that is. It feels like a loose thread to me, but maybe it’s one we’ll see developed in The Cursed Child nineteen years later.

 

So, is there anything else that could have been cut out?

 

The answer is probably, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Maybe some of the scenes in the pensieve didn’t need to be explored in quite so much detail, but the beauty of this book is the level of detail it goes into.

 

If Philosopher’s Stone was about introducing the wizarding world, and Chamber of Secrets was about expanding Voldemort’s story, then Goblet of Fire continues the expansion of the entire wizarding world that was started in the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

The detail and the plot really help set up where the series is going and for that it needs to be this big, what’s a shame is that in all those pages, there’s not an awful lot of room for character development.

 

As we travel from the Quidditch World Cup through each of the Triwizard Tasks right to the final climax in the graveyard where Voldemort rises again, it does just feel like we’re moving from event to event.

 

All three of the main characters are equally annoying throughout, from Harry and Ron’s stupid male pride to Hermione’s unfailing belligerence, it’s a good job we know these characters from the previous books, because going into this one cold, I can’t imagine that anyone would like any of them.

 

There is a little character development – this is certainly Hermione at the peak of her annoyance, and thankfully Ron’s dented pride doesn’t rear its head again until Deathly Hallows. As for Harry, the events at the end of this book certainly do change him, and he goes from annoying to just plain angry in Order of the Phoenix.

 

The stand out moment in Goblet of Fire are the final few chapters, from when Harry and Cedric Diggory land in the graveyard. SPOILER alert – Cedric’s death up to Harry’s desperate attempts to return his body to his family are pretty darn tear-jerking, especially considering we know what is to come.

 

Despite the lack of character development and the lack of humour (I honestly don’t remember laughing out loud at any point in this book, even Fred and George are too busy tied up in their own subplot to provide any light relief) it’s still a Harry Potter novel, which means it’s going to score highly with me – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire scores 4.1 out of 5.

 

I think going forward, I’ll think of this one as “The One Where They All Begin Puberty”

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Memories of a Murder – Chapter 11

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

June, 2001

 

Frederick caught himself looking at the tightness of Graham’s trousers across his bottom as he followed him into the house, he tore his eyes away and looked up to see a young woman going through a cupboard at the far end of the room.

“What are you doing in the closet?” He asked.

“It’s no use, honey,” Graham smiled as he entered with some carrier bags, “I don’t think anyone’s ever going to be able to drag him out of there.”

“Oh, you’re hilarious.” Frederick felt his face flush but shot him the best death stare he could muster before turning back to the woman. “Who are you?”

“Oh! I’m… I’m Ella. I’m the maid.”

“No, you’re not.” Frederick frowned. “Pat’s the maid.”

“No, she’s not.” Pat said matter-of-factly as she came through the door from the kitchen. “Pat’s the Head Maid. Ella’s the new maid.”

“Grandpa’s actually paying two wages? Or are you having to share one?”

“Of course he’s paying two wages. I convinced him that I needed some more help around here.”

“I’d be careful, if I were you, Pat, he might just be getting you to train her up before he gets rid of you.”

“Oh, your grandfather would never fire me, I have far too much dirt on him.” She winked at Frederick before pulling him into a motherly hug. “What are you two doing here anyway?”

“Me, Frederick and the girls are having a pizza and video night.”

“Grandpa said we could use this place since he’s not here this weekend. It’s bigger than anything we’ve got… quieter too.”

Pat smiled at him sympathetically and Frederick knew she was thinking of his parents. He hoped she wouldn’t say anything in front of Graham and luckily, her attention was arrested by the carrier bags that Graham was setting down in front of him.

“What’s in there?” She asked suspiciously.

“Err, well, I’ve got a couple of films, some games in case the films are as boring as I fear they might be and some drinks.” Graham flashed her one of his charming smiles and she smiled back.

“Let me see.”

“Pat,” Frederick began, “we haven’t got any alcohol – ”

“Let me see.”

Graham and Frederick both stepped away from the bags and Pat quickly sifted through them.

“See.”

“Good, I’d hate to think that you’d turned into a liar since I saw you last. But since your grandfather is away, I’m the responsible adult in the house. And it wouldn’t matter how many secrets I’ve got over Mr Cromwell, if you end up in hospital on my watch, I’m gone.”

There was a small cough from behind them as Ella moved her way next to Pat and smiled. “Umm… Mrs Curtis?”

“Oh, err, yes. Frederick, Graham, this is Ella French. Ella, this is Mr Cromwell’s grandson, Frederick, and this is Graham, one of Frederick’s friends.”

“It’s really nice to meet you both, I’ve heard so much about you.” Ella shook both of their hands and smiled a large broad smile.

“You have?” Frederick’s face creased in bemusement.

“Easy now, girl,” Pat frowned at her, “you’re not in one of those nightclubs now. Frederick’s taken and Graham’s gay, so for god’s sakes put your tongue away.”

Ella turned a deep crimson colour and moved back over to the closet as both Graham and Frederick smiled uncomfortably.

“We’re just going to take these through to the other room.”

“Ok, boys.” Pat smiled and watched them as they moved through the doorway into the billiard room. She quietly shut the door behind them and, as she did, Ella rushed over to her, an angry look on her face.

“What did you go and say that for? Making out like I’m some sort of… slapper!”

“Now, I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you once more, and for your own sake, it had better be the last time I have to.” Pat waved a disciplinary finger in Ella’s face. “Ernest trusted me to find a new maid, if he found out that I always intended you to have the job, I’d be in serious trouble. We both would be. Now, it’ll be hard, but I am going to be saying some nasty things about you to them. And I fully expect you to say some nasty things about me in return. That way, no one will suspect anything.”

“Right.” Ella nodded.

“Now,” Pat fished around in the pocket of her apron and pulled out some keys, “I want you to take these. I’m going to have to go upstairs, I’m coming down with one of my migraines.”

“What are all these for?” Ella asked, looking at the varied assortment of keys on the ring.

“There’s a key on there for nearly every lock in the house, I want you to look around the place this weekend, find out where everything is, what’s in each room and where each room is. Open every drawer, unlock every door, and lift every rug.”

“Isn’t that an invasion of privacy? Won’t I get in trouble with… Mr Cromwell?”

“Don’t be silly, a man doesn’t protect his secrets from his servants. His servants protect his secrets for him. In order to do that, you’ll need to know them.”

“It’s 2001, I don’t think we’re called servants anymore. We’re his employees.”

“Oh no, dear, when you’re working for Ernest, you’re definitely a servant. Now, get going, I’ll come down and check on you soon – and while I think of it stop calling me Mrs Curtis – I haven’t been called that in a long time. It’s Pat.”

“Yes, M – Pat.”

Pat climbed down the iron spiral staircase towards her bedroom and Ella looked around the entrance hall, smiling. She waited until the clanging of Pat’s footsteps had faded away, before following the two boys through the doorway.

She found them either end of the billiard table attempting to lift it.

“Ah, Emma – “

“Ella.”

“Ella, that’s right,” Frederick grinned at her, “you’re just in time to give us a hand, help us shove this over here.”

Ella stood at the side of the table, and between the three of them, they managed to lift it off the ground enough to move it a few centimetres back.

“Well, that’ll have to do.” Graham sighed as both he and Frederick set to rearranging the chairs.

“So, then… Ella.” Frederick smiled “How long have you worked here?”

“Started today. I’m slowly getting to know the place.”

“It’s not so hard to pick up, it’s big enough to hide in, but it’s not big enough to get lost in. The best bits are the secret passages – there’s one right outside mum’s old bedroom on the first floor, leads right down to the kitchen. I swear that’s the only reason she ever had that room.”

“Right, well, I’ll keep an eye out for that one, then.” Ella smiled. “Listen, what my… what Pat said before… I’m not really like that. She’s, err, a bit of a miserable old cow.”

“She’s not that bad.”

“Maybe not,” Ella conceded with a small nod, “but I don’t think it was her choice to hire some help. I think she sees it as a comment on her abilities.”

“I guess so.” Frederick smiled as they watched Graham rearranging a footstool on the floor.

“What are you doing?”

“We’re going to bring the TV into here,” Graham gestured to the space he had created in front of the couch, “that way, while the loved up couple are watching films about straight people falling love, Victoria and I can have a manly game of Billiards.” He twirled an invisible moustache and mimicked the voice of a nineteenth century aristocrat as he did.

“Right, now that’s’ done, I’m off to college.”

“Right, ok. Thanks for the lift, mate.”

“You’re in college?” Ella asked Graham.

“Yeah, Psychology and Law. But not this afternoon, I’m just picking the girls up from their lecture to bring them back here.”

“Are you also in college, Frederick?”

“No, I decided not to go. I don’t believe you can really teach what I do.”

“Really? What’s that?”

“He can spout self-important claptrap at the drop of a hat.” Graham flashed her an almost sparkling smile.

“I’m a writer.” Frederick said through gritted teeth in an attempt to ignore Graham.

“A writer? Wow, what do you write?”

“It’s mostly just post-it notes at the moment, isn’t it, Freddie?” Graham smiled slyly.

“I thought you were leaving?”

“I am, I am. Ella, it was lovely to meet you.” Graham clasped Ella’s hand and kissed her lightly on the cheek before turning and dashing out of the door, calling behind him as he went. “See you later!”

Ella frowned at Frederick as Graham left the room. “What did he mean by that?”

“I’m working at the local newspaper at the moment, answering phones, that sort of thing. It’s just resume fodder until I can get into the serious writing thing. Are those Pat’s?”

Ella looked down at the key ring she was fiddling with. “Oh, yes, yes. I’m supposed to be getting to know the place.”

“Well, before you do, I don’t suppose I could borrow them, could I? The last time I was here, I left a book in my grandfather’s study, and I need it back as soon as possible.”

“I don’t see why not,” Ella handed him the keys, “you have more right than I do.”

“Thanks, that’s great. I’ll bring them to you in the kitchen, when I’m done.”

“Oh, ok, then.” Feeling as though she’d been dismissed, Ella made her way out of the hall. Frederick smiled to himself and headed straight for his grandfather’s locked drinks cabinet.

 

*                *                *

 

The screen darkened and the credits started to roll.

“That bloke with the thing at the end… he was gorgeous!” Graham sighed.

“He was ok.” Victoria smiled back at him.

“I thought he looked a little bit like Robert.”

Frederick looked down at his girlfriend, her head in his lap. “Who’s Robert?”

“One of our tutors at college. He’s really nice.”

“Do you think he’s gorgeous?”

“I think it’s time for you to pour us another drink.” Rebecca pulled herself up into a sitting position and looked down at the empty wine bottles on the floor. “Woah. I think somebody’s had too much to drink already.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s four empty bottles down here. I’ve only had two glasses.”

“Well, don’t look at me,” Graham defended himself, “I’ve only had three. I’m not a big wine drinker.”

“Vicky?” Rebecca asked.

“Hmm? Oh, I’m still on my first.” She motioned to her untouched glass of wine. They all slowly turned to face Frederick, who was slumped at the side of the couch.

“What?”

“Frederick!” Victoria frowned. “You’ve had three bottles of wine in under two hours!”

“So?” He pulled himself up so he could see her across the room. “I only had one slice of pizza! You’ve eaten a whole cheese and ham, plus half of the ham and pineapple!”

“Well… I was hungry.”

“And I was thirsty.” He fell back into the cushion of the chair and began to giggle. The others rolled their eyes. “You know… it’s funny isn’t it… I’ve had all that… wine! And I don’t feel drunk at all. Maybe a bit merry, but what have I got to be un-merry about?”

“Un-merry isn’t a word. I thought you were supposed to be a writer?”

“I am a writer, Graham. Sod off. Writers are allowed to make up words. Like hillbilly or scrumptious!”

“Frederick, you didn’t make those up. I think maybe we ought to get you to bed.” Rebecca began to pull him up in his chair.

“It’s only taken four months!”

“Five months, and no, not like that.”

Frederick mumbled to himself and batted Rebecca away from helping him when suddenly he sat upright and exclaimed “Hey!”

“Hey what?” Rebecca asked.

“My sister…” He pointed at Victoria and trailed off.

“Yes?” She asked.

“My sister, is quite famously known for drinking lots and lots and lots and lots of wine, and tonight, she’s barely had any and she… and with the… because…” Graham laughed and Frederick narrowed his eyes pointing accusingly at him. “I may be drunk, but at least I’m not upside down!”

“He’s not upside down, honey, come on, let’s get you upstairs before you’re sick.”

“I’m not the one that’s sick, that’s what I’m trying to tell you!” He pulled himself away from Rebecca again and belly flopped down onto the couch again, so that his head was at the end nearest Victoria. “I may be drunk, but at least I’m not pregnant.”

Frederick gasped loudly at his own accusation and then laughed as Victoria pushed him in the forehead. “I’m not pregnant dumbass.”

“Yes, you are. You’re not drinking alcohol, that’s one of the symptoms. And you’re eating a lot. A lot of… pizza! You can ask any doctor.”

“Frederick, you’re always eating lots of pizza. And there’s plenty of times when you don’t drink. How many times have you been pregnant?”

“Twice.” He laughed again. “And Graham’s the father?”

“I am?”

“You am?”

Rebecca raised her fists in a mock fighting stance and faced Graham. “Am I going to have to fight you for my man and his kids?”

“Pfft, you can keep them. At least while he’s in this state.”

“You’re pregnant!”

“No, I’m not, Frederick.”

“You were throwing up on Saturday when you came around.”

“Well, I had a hangover, didn’t I?” Victoria started to go a little red in the face.

Rebecca frowned. “But you didn’t have anything to drink on Friday night. You drove us.”

“Oh my God!” Frederick jumped up on to his feet, before falling back down again. “I didn’t believe it until just then!”

“Freddie, shut up.”

“But you’re pregnant!”

“Freddie, just leave it.”

“Who’s the father?”

Victoria stood up and angrily faced her brother. “Frederick! I told you to leave it, so for once, why don’t you just do as you’re told and leave it!”

She turned and fled the room and for a moment, Frederick wobbled on his feet, stunned.

“Shit.” He finally said as he collapsed onto the floor. “I’m going to be an uncle.”

Rebecca looked from the doorway that her best friend had just run through, to the floor where her boyfriend was lying, only semi-conscious. Graham stood up from his armchair.

“Look, you go after her, I’ll take care of this one.”

“Sure?” Rebecca asked.

“Of course. We’re both as good as each other at looking after the drunks, but you’re much better at the whole girl talk stuff. Besides, she would never tell me anything, she’s got it into her head that I’m a gossip. You go after her, I’ll find a bath tub somewhere he can sleep it off in.

“Thanks.” Rebecca smiled, and left the room, as Graham started to pull Frederick up to his feet.

“I don’t want to have a bath. Not with you.”

“Ok, that’s good. How about we just try standing up for now. Can you do that?”

“Can I have another drink?”

“No, no you can’t. Come on.” Graham finally managed to pull Frederick onto his feet, and he wrapped the younger man’s arm around his own neck to help support him.

As Graham guided him towards the door, Frederick suddenly turned around causing Graham to lose his balance. The smaller man buckled over the drunken weight and they both fell to the floor, Frederick landing on top of Graham.

“Ouch.” Frederick giggled madly.

“Ow, get off me!”

“No, I want to stay here.”

“You can’t stay here, you’re far too heavy.”

Frederick smiled and stroked Graham’s cheek with his hand. “Aww, you’re not heavy.”

“No, I know I’m not. You’re the one who’s been stocking up for hibernation.”

“See, that’s why I love you, you go straight to the point.”

Graham frowned. “What did you say?”

“I said you go straight to the point.”

“Before that.”

“I love you.”

“You do know who I am, right? It’s me, Graham. You… love Becky.”

Frederick used one of his arms to hold himself up, so that he could look Graham right in the eyes. “I love you. Graham.”

“Frederick, you really need to get up now.”

“No.” Frederick lowered his head and kissed Graham gently on the lips. He smiled and rested his head next to Graham and for a moment the only sound that filled the room was the sound of the two men breathing. Until Frederick started to snore loudly.

Graham shifted uncomfortably underneath him. “Fuck.”

 

*                *                *

 

Frederick stared out of the window at the large green landscape surrounding his grandfather’s mansion. His stomach was churning and his head was thumping, yet the view from this window always seemed to make him feel safe and comfortable.

“You drank a lot last night.”

Frederick felt his face turn a deep crimson as Graham sat down next to him. “Yeah… well. I’ve never been able to hold my drink, it’s not a state secret.”

“Just as well, really. The state you were in last night, nobody’s secrets were safe.”

“Why hello, Mr Pot!” Frederick stretched out his hand to Graham. “I’m a kettle. Did you just call me black?”

“Ok, I’m sorry.” Graham apologised.

“At least I’m only like it when I’m drunk.”

“Touche…” The pair of them sat in silence for a moment before Frederick turned to Graham.

“Look, about what happened last night – ”

“You remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. Unfortunately.”

“I’m not that bad a kisser.”

Frederick ignored him. “The thing is… I’m not gay.”

“I used to say that.”

“I was just confused.”

“I used to say that too.”

“Graham – ”

“Are you only like that when you’re drunk as well?” Graham asked.

“No. Yes. I mean… I don’t know what I mean.”

“I would say that much was obvious.” Graham stood up and started to wander around the room. “Listen, you need to go away and think about what you really want. I don’t care if it’s men, women or a mixture of both, it doesn’t matter what you decide, but you need to decide. I’ve been where you are, and I’m not talking about being gay – I’m talking about discovering yourself. If you ever need to talk to me, then I’m here. I’m not just a pretty face, I can be a pretty good friend too. And if you do decide that you like men, and that you like me, then I’m more than happy with that.

“But let me be clear on one thing. If you hurt Rebecca in any way, I will kill you.” Graham looked around the room, at the pizza boxes and the wine bottles on the floor. “I’d better go get a rubbish bag, start clearing up this mess.”

Frederick watched as Graham left the room and then dropped his head into his hands. How did I get into this mess? He’d always known deep down, that he found certain men attractive, but that was normal, right? Just because you were comfortable enough to recognise that another man is attractive, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are attracted, does it?

“What’s the matter with you?”

Frederick looked up to see Ella standing in the doorway. “How do people keep managing to sneak up on me when I’m in here?”

“Well, it looked like you were in your own little world. Are you ok?”

“Just a bit of a headache, that’s all.”

“Perhaps you need to take more vitamins.” Her eyes drifted to the bottles on the floor and then to the open drinks cabinet by the wall. “Or less alcohol. You didn’t leave a book in your grandfather’s study, did you?”

Frederick raised his hands. “Guilty.”

Ella quickly trotted over to the drinks cabinet and locked it. “Oh, I’m going to be in so much trouble when your grandfather gets back.”

“No, no you’re not. Look, leave that.” Ella had started to tidy up the mess on the floor. “Leave it, leave it. I want to ask you a question.”

“Oh?”

“How well do you know me, Ella?”

“Well…” Ella frowned. “We only met yesterday, so I would say not very well at all.”

“Good. That’s good.”

“Was that the question?”

“No. No, no, that was just a precursor to the question. The question is… based on first impressions would you say I was gay?”

Ella laughed. “I may not know you very well, Frederick, but I know you’ve got a girlfriend.”

“Forget about Rebecca for a moment. Pretend that we met in a club somewhere – do you make a pass at me, or do you ring your gay best friend and tell him that you’ve met someone who would be perfect for him.”

“Well, since we’ve only just met, I’m going to forgive you for assuming that I would make a pass at strange men that I meet in clubs.”

“Thank you. So?”

“Frederick. You’re handsome, intelligent and you seem to know how to dress yourself. Based on all the traditional stereotypes, I would have to say… homo.”

Frederick nodded and closed his eyes. “Right.”

“But you’re going out with Rebecca right?”

“Right.” He nodded.

Ella watched him sit sadly for a moment. “What’s the matter?”

Frederick sighed. “Last night… I… I kind of… I kissed Graham.”

“Kind of?”

“I told him I loved him, kissed him on the lips and then passed out on top of him.”

“Ok.” Ella sat down next to him. “That doesn’t mean anything though. I’m sure that’s happened to lots of guys.”

“Perhaps. But I enjoyed it.”

“Well of course you did. It was friction, warmth.”

“It’s more than that, Ella. I’ve always been curious, I’ve always told myself that it’s ok, as long as I never act on it. Nobody needed to know.”

“So… you are gay?”

“No. I’m just….”

“Attracted to men?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re a man?”

“Last time I looked.”

“So, you’re gay then?”

Frederick laughed. “No. I like women. I think… I think Rebecca’s gorgeous.”

“Have you slept together?”

“No.” Frederick sighed. “I just… I can’t bring myself to go near… that area.”

“Why?”

“It doesn’t really do a lot for me, I guess.”

“Oh.” Ella nodded sagely and smiled. “So, you’re gay then?”

Frederick sighed. “I guess so.”

“What about Rebecca?”

“I don’t know.” Frederick shrugged. “Graham said he’d kill me if I hurt her.”

“You think he would?”

“He wasn’t serious, it was one of those heat of the moment things.”

“I don’t know,” Ella said, “people are capable of anything if the feelings are strong enough. Perhaps he meant it.”

“You know, not really helping.”

“I’m sorry.” Ella apologised, a slight smirk on her face.

“Hey, it’s not funny, you know.” Frederick couldn’t help smiling at her as he said it.

“No, no, of course it isn’t.”

They both laughed a little as Ella sat down next to Frederick and stared out of the window with him. “You know… I don’t have a gay best friend.”

“You want one?” Frederick smiled at her.

“So, you’re admitting it now, are you?” Ella jumped as Graham came back into the room carrying two black bin liners.

“Jesus Christ!” She exclaimed. “I see what you mean about people sneaking up on you.”

“Graham, leave it, please, now’s not the time.”

“I think now is the time. You’ve just admitted that you’re gay and your girlfriend is on her way down to help me clean up. You just need to go for it. Open your mouth and let the words come out.”

“Go for what?” Rebecca asked as she and Victoria entered the room.

Frederick closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Rebecca, I…”

“Go on.” Graham urged him as Ella patted him on the shoulder.

“I want…” he hesitated again, “I want you to marry me.”

Everyone in the room looked directly at him. “What?”

“I haven’t got a ring or anything, and I know it’s kind of rushing into things, but I look at you and it feels right.”

“Freddie, we’ve only been going out for five months. We ought to wait a while.”

“Rebecca, I love you with all my heart, and right now there’s nothing I want more than to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“I love you too.” Rebecca moved closer to him. “But we’re so young, we have no money and neither of us has a proper job. I just think we should wait.”

“Ok.” Frederick nodded slowly and pulled her into a hug, he could see Graham glaring at him from across the room.

As he held Rebecca tightly, she whispered into his ear. “Ask me again in a few years. I promise I’ll say yes.”

 

 

 

The next chapter will be published on Sunday 3rd April

 

The Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

We’re started a YA book club. Actually, we can’t stop starting them at the moment.

 

In honour of WHSmith joining forces with Zoe Sugg to start the Zoella book club aimed at Young Adults, a few of us in the office decided to start a small YA book club.

 

I was actually reading a YA novel before we decided this, so the one I’m reviewing today will be the first of several.

 

The Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate is set in your typical American high school. It centres around seven students all around the age of seventeen, not all of whom really interact with each other.

 

But when a rumour that one of the teachers is having a relationship with one of the students starts to sweep around the school, they find themselves in a series of events that will bring them all closer together.

 

The Seven Ways We Lie is a hilarious book, it made me laugh out loudly on more than one occasion. Flitting between seven different characters viewpoints, it’s pretty fast-paced, and also explores several issues.

 

However, because of the multiple characters it doesn’t take any of the issues into any great depth. It’s strength is also it’s weakness.

 

There were also characters that I felt were under developed, and for me, these characters were the most interesting. Lukas who is hiding his pansexuality from everyone else becomes friends with a character who is essentially asexual.

 

The friendship between the two of them is fascinating, but it’s not the main plot of the book, which I get, but it left me really wanting more. There’s a bigger story there that can be told and I would definitely be interested in reading it.

 

Perhaps it’s just because stories about sexuality are relevant to my interests, and other people would have been more interested in the relationship between the two sisters.

 

But that’s the beauty of this book, it really does have something for everyone. While it might be shallow at times, it’s a distracting, entertaining read, and I would definitely read more books by Redgate.

 

I’m looking forward to what else this genre has to offer.

 

The Seven Ways We Lie scores 3.9 out of 5.

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 10

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Ten minutes later and the constant thumping sound was still bouncing around inside Harry’s head. Frederick had tried to break down the door to the bathroom. He had shouted through it, trying to explain just what had happened, but he’d soon clashed with Robert, who had remained across the hall banging on the door to Ernest’s office.

Soon, Robert was blaming Frederick for Ernest finding out about their previous encounter, and Frederick was blaming Robert for Harry finding out. They’d started calling each other names, and then suddenly the shouting stopped and Harry had heard one of them drop to the floor. Victoria’s muffled voice, calm and quiet, broke through the silence a moment later, followed by the sound of three sets of footsteps moving off down the corridor, one set considerably quicker than the other two.

Harry closed his eyes trying to get the image of Robert and Frederick out of his head, but found it close to impossible. The harsh naked forms of Frederick being screwed by his lover kept forcing their way back into his mind and refused to leave. His stomach churned and he could feel his throat burn as the bile started to rise.

Frederick had already told him that he’d met Robert when he’d come over to try and get his grandfather to finance the movie he was writing. He told him that he hadn’t said anything about meeting Robert on his trip over because he hadn’t wanted his mother to know he’d been in the country.

We’d argued just before he’d flown out, maybe if we hadn’t, he would never have done it. Was it my fault? How long did it go on for? The same thought kept going round and round in his mind. He stood back up, resolving to talk to Frederick. He had to find out. There had to be an explanation.

He pulled open the door, and as he did, a pain shot through his head, his skull throbbing painfully, almost as if it were about to shatter. It was unbearable, it caused him to stumble as he crossed the floor of the small bathroom to the sink. He grappled with the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet and fumbled through the various boxes and bottles until he found a small box of painkillers.

He quickly took two of them with a large gulp of water, hesitated for a moment before popping a third through the seal and swallowing that one dry. He braced himself on the sides of the sink and waited for the pills to take effect. The thumping slowed, but the headache didn’t go away.

Harry looked up at his drawn reflection in the mirror and sighed slipping some extra pills into his pocket for later.

Several of the boxes and bottles had fallen from the cabinet to the floor, during his hasty search for relief. He picked them up and started to place them back inside when the prescription on the last bottle caught his eye.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Harry turned around sharply and found himself toe to toe with Ernest. “I, err, I had a headache. Sorry, I was just looking for some tablets.”

“Well, I don’t have any.” His hand flew past Harry’s head and slammed the door of the cabinet shut. “This is my private bathroom, boy, I suggest you leave.”

“Right, of course. I… I am going to leave.”

Ernest turned as he caught the tone of Harry’s voice. “You’re leaving?”

“Yeah, I’m… I’m just going to go upstairs and pack my stuff up and then I’m gone.”

The old man looked at him from head to toe and laughed a wheezing breathy laugh. “It seems that man you love so much doesn’t really love you back all that much.”

Harry bowed his head and fiddled with the lid of the bottle, the childproofing caused it to click, but not open. “No. I guess he doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that – ”

“What’s that?” Ernest looked at the bottle and his eyes widened. “Give me those!” He snatched it from Harry and thrust it into his pocket.

“Mr Cromwell, I – ”

He pointed a finger at Harry menacingly. “If you ever tell anyone about this, poof, I’ll make sure you never bugger anything ever again!”

Harry stared at him blankly, emotionless, small beads of sweat started to appear across the old man’s forehead, his face burning red with an impotent rage.

“You should be careful, Mr Cromwell. A man of your age, all that blood rushing to your… head. It’s not natural.” Ernest’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets, his mouth gaped open, but he couldn’t find the words. “You’re pathetic.”

Harry turned away from him and made his way back into the corridor, heading for the hallway and smirking slightly at what he’d just discovered when he heard a noise from further back in the corridor.

A squeal, it sounded like a woman.

Harry turned back around and passed the bathroom. Inside, he could see Ernest taking a drink of water. Harry looked to a doorway at the end of the corridor, he could hear the monotonous drone of a washing machine coming from beyond it.

He dismissed the noise he’d heard as nothing more than the random mechanical squeal of the washer, but as he turned away again, he heard the sound of glass smashing.

“Hey!” Harry ran into the utility room to find Reece pinning Ella to the floor, one hand over her mouth, the other hand pushing itself under the waistband of her skirt. “Hey! Get off her!”

Harry rushed over, grabbed hold of one of Reece’s arms and the collar of his shirt and threw him against the wall.

“Get off me!” Reece spat at Harry, the smell of alcohol strong on his breath.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Harry spat back, feeling the urge to throw a punch.

“Get your filthy hands off of him. Just because you’ve turned the other two gay, doesn’t mean you can turn all three of my grandsons!” Harry looked behind him to see Ernest stood at the door.

“Look at her!” Harry let go of Reece and pointed down at the floor where a shell-shocked Ella was attempting to cover the ripped pieces of her shirt. The smashed remains of a vodka bottle lay beside her.

Ernest looked down at his maid and the look of contempt he held crumbled into one of concern.

“Ella!” Ernest rushed over to her and crouched by her side. “Are you ok?”

“I’m… Mr Cromwell.” She looked up at him suddenly, as if she hadn’t noticed him come into the room. Her gaze shifted over across the room.

“Your one straight grandson, Ernie.”

“Harry.” Ella muttered

“What?” Ernest frowned up at him.

“Reece!” Harry cried, gesturing to him as he slid down the wall. “The only normal grandson you have, the one that’s not disgusting, just tried to rape your maid!”

“What? Reece, is that true?”

“Grandpa, I – ”

“Is it true, yes or no?” Reece bowed his head, but said nothing. “Get out!”

Reece scrambled to his feet and sprinted from the room. Harry moved over to Ella and crouched down beside her.

“Ella, are you ok?”

“I’m… Yes. I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

“She’s going to be fine. Thank you for your assistance, but you can leave us now.” Ernest looked across at him. “You’ve got some cases to pack, haven’t you?”

“Ella, are you ok if I leave?”

“It’s ok, you can go,” she nodded, and spoke confidently, though her eyes weren’t focusing on anything, “you’ve got things to do. He didn’t really do anything.”

Harry nodded gently and left the room. As he did, he saw Ella lean in to hug her boss.

He frowned as he walked back down the corridor towards the entrance hall. It seemed that there was still one person in the house who could stand to be around the old man. He found Reece sat at the bottom of the marble staircase, his head in his hands.

“You’re disgusting.”

“What? I didn’t…”

“Because I stopped you!”

“I wasn’t going to… I would never… She fell. I was just trying to help her up.”

Harry grabbed his wrist. “Come with me.”

“What? Where are we going?”

In his intoxicated state, Reece put up little resistance and Harry was able to drag him easily through a door. The room was dark, but a slither of moonlight through the window revealed, like so many of the rooms in the house, a dusty bookcase against the wall, and a small drinks cabinet in the corner. In the centre of the room, stood a large billiards table, several balls were still on the table as if the game had been abandoned mid-way through.

“Harry, what are you doing? I can’t see. Where are you?”

“I’m right here.” Harry whispered in his ear, and immediately sensed him recoil away, his hand grasping behind him for the door handle.

He found it twisted it down, but Harry kicked his foot against the door to keep it closed and roughly grabbed a handful of the hair on the back of his head. He forced Reece over to the table and as he hit it, he doubled over in surprise. He tried to stand up, but Harry stood behind him and placed his hand hard on his back, forcing his face into the surface of the table.

“What… what are you going to do?” His voice was breathy and panicked, he’d clearly been winded by his collision with the table

“I’m going to teach you a lesson.” One of Reece’s arms was stuck under his body, and Harry pulled his other round so he could hold him down. He stiffened his legs against his so that he couldn’t move.

“I… I’m not scared of y-you.”

“Well, of course you’re not,” Harry said, with a note of false confusion, “why should you be? You have no reason to be scared of me.”

“Ok.”

“Because, you’ve just fallen. I’m just trying to help you get… up.” As Harry said the last word, he tugged hard on the waistband of Reece’s trousers, lifting his backside into his groin. “You know, a lot of people think only women can get raped, that only women are vulnerable. That’s not true.”

Harry held the position for a moment, before letting go. Reece dropped back down, but still remained under Harry’s control. Neither of them said anything, the only sound coming from Reece as Harry softy stroked the fabric covering his left buttock.

“You’re sick!” Reece shouted as Harry suddenly released him.

“No, you are.” Harry batted the insult back at him as he fumbled uncomfortably for the door.

“I’m going to go back out there and tell everyone what you just tried to do.”

“I didn’t try to do anything, Reece. You were drunk, you managed to get yourself lost. You fell, I helped you find your way.”

“I wasn’t going to hurt her. I’m not like that, I would have never…”

“Just go.”

Reece quickly pulled open the door and ran out, leaving Harry alone in the dark room.

He looked at the pool balls slowly coming to a rest after being disturbed by their struggles. He smiled for a moment at the thought of Reece’s panic, but then caught himself. Harry knew that he would never have done it, he wasn’t that sort of person, but it had been a long time since he’d had another man in that position and… And I enjoyed it.

I wouldn’t have gone on, Harry told himself, I would never become that person. But he had wanted to. The swelling in his boxer shorts could confirm that much.

 

*                *                *

 

Harry walked back into the bedroom he was sharing with Frederick, still trying to comprehend what this house, this family was turning him into after his encounter with Reece. Frederick was sat on the bed, his laptop open in front of him, but he wasn’t using it. He looked up at Harry.

“What are you smiling about?” He asked.

I’m smiling? Harry felt a queasy feeling in his stomach. He forced it from his face, at the same time forcing the memory of Reece’s squirming body under his, away from his mind.

“Reece just tried to rape Ella.”

Frederick’s eyes opened wide with shock, an expression that soon turned to one of confusion. “So… again, why are you smiling?”

“You remember Briggs Johnson?”

Harry couldn’t tell if Frederick was more confused or aroused as he remembered the old sex-game they used to play.

“You butt-fucked Reece in your office and gave him the lead role in a movie?”

Harry laughed, genuinely and involuntarily. “No, I just spooked him a little bit, let him think I might. He was drunk enough to believe me.”

Frederick’s smile remained for a moment, but then it faded and he shook his head. “I can’t believe Reece would do something like that to Ella.”

“Nothing done by anybody in this family surprises me, Freddie.” He sat down on the end of the bed and pushed shut Frederick’s laptop.

“Look, Harry, about Robert – ”

“Was it my fault?”

“What?”

“Was it my fault?” Harry repeated. “We argued just before you came over here, I was putting pressure on you to finish your screenplay.”

“I was pissed off from the argument, I’m not going to deny that, but not at you. I was upset with myself. I promised you something and I never followed through on it. I wanted to make it right, I wanted to get the money for the film, I knew Grandpa could help, but he wouldn’t.”

“So you slept with Robert?”

“I saw an opportunity. If I could get him that job, then he would owe me a debt, but I had to find a way to get him onside. I thought he was interested, he was flirting… but he was just playing me.”

“Damn right he was playing you! He’s made his way through your whole family, first your sister, then you, your mother. The man is just after an easy ride, a quick way to get some money, and he doesn’t care who he hurts.”

“I didn’t know that at the time. I thought… I don’t know. I was naïve, I thought nobody could play me like that.”

“Yeah, well, he did.” Harry got up and started to pace as the anger within him returned. “You know, I can accept that you slept with him, maybe I’ll even be able to forgive you for that, one day, I don’t know.”

“Harry, that’s – ”

“What I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive is what you let him do to you.”

“What I let him do?”

“I heard him, Frederick, I heard what he said. He fucked you, Freddie. He fucked you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t fuck him,” Harry said, “you let him fuck you. You let him be Briggs while you played the desperate young actor!”

Frederick bowed his head, avoiding eye contact. “Harry, I’m sorry.”

“No, you don’t get to be sorry. You get to be Briggs, I get to be his prey, the victim. You’re always Briggs!”

“Harry…” Frederick shrugged, “you like being the victim.”

Silence fell between them, Harry stared in disbelief. “I’m not going to say I never enjoyed our sex life, but you always told me that you would never be a bottom! I was fine with that, it wasn’t something you ever wanted to do! I respected that! Then, I found out that nine months ago – nine months ago! – you were victimised by a Briggs on your grandfather’s desk!”

“Harry, you’re getting hysterical! Don’t you see? I couldn’t tell you… I didn’t tell you because I love you. If I’d told you what had happened you would never have forgiven me.”

“I can forgive you for having sex with another man! I’m not happy about it, but I’m not naïve enough to think that you would ever be faithful, Frederick. I did think that you might tell me about it, but I can probably even forgive that. What I can’t forgive is what you let him do to you!”

“So I let him fuck me, what’s the big deal?”

“Did you enjoy it?” Harry tried to look Frederick in the eye but he turned away. “See, it’s never been about sex between me and you, Freddie. It’s about power.”

“What?”

“You enjoyed it, and still when you came back to me you said nothing. You didn’t even say that perhaps one day you might like to try it. And why? For the exact reason you’ve ever done anything with me. You like having power over me. You’re the one who fucks me. You’re going out with an actor because as a writer you can control what I say and what I do. And you love… you love the fact that with just one word to the wrong person you can destroy my career.”

“Ok, now you’re just being a drama queen, Harry. I don’t know if you remember this, but I’m the one who wants you to tell everyone just who you are. I love you, and I hate the fact that you have to lie to everyone, but I don’t want you to lose your career, and I couldn’t ever be the one to do that to you!”

“You know I’ll never do it, there was no one more surprised at that table tonight than you when I told everyone. But you know damn well that whenever you bring it up, it just makes me feel guilty, and that’s your way of keeping me submissive!”

“Rubbish!”

“You’re nothing but a power hungry Nazi, Frederick! You like to control people, you like to feel superior to them! You’re just as bad as your grandfather!”

Silence fell again as they both realised just how true this statement was. A moment later, a tinny jingling noise came from Harry’s jacket pocket. He fished out the mobile phone and as he died he found the condoms their driver had given him.

“Where’d you get those?”

“I just need to know one thing,” Harry said, ignoring the both the phone and the question, “did you use a condom?”

Frederick broke eye contact and bowed his head again. “Harry –

“I’m going to answer this,” Harry said turning away, his insides starting to burn like fire, “and then I’m going to get something to eat. I don’t care where you go, but when I get back, I’m spending the night here, in that bed. Alone.”

He walked from the room and answered the phone. “Tricia?”

                  “Happy Christmas, darling! Is this a bad time?”

“What do you want?”

 

*                *                *

 

Harry slumped down against the wall of the landing and slowly fingered the frayed edge of the rug spread across the wooden floorboards. He couldn’t believe it was Christmas Eve and that he’d had two arguments with Frederick in the space of a few hours.

It’s because we’ve been cooped up together for so long, he tried telling himself, the plane, the car. This house. They’d never been together for such a prolonged period of time with no means of escape. It was just tension and fatigue. That’s all it is.

Harry sighed as he realised he was lying to himself. The truth was, they’d been arguing like this for weeks. At first it had been over small, ridiculous little things. The first argument they’d ever had came after Harry arrived home on Valentine’s Day.

Frederick had let himself in to cook a romantic meal. Harry arrived to find the lights off and candles spread across every available surface. Soft romantic music was playing out from the stereo, and when he looked up at the doorway to find Frederick stood there wearing a tuxedo, clenching a rose in his teeth and holding up a bottle of champagne, he couldn’t help but laugh.

They’d spent a wonderful evening eating together at the lavishly decorated table, and then a glorious night together between the sheets. The next morning, Frederick had come downstairs to find Harry tidying up after the evening. It was then that he happened to notice that Frederick had rearranged the order of Harry’s CDs.

Harry started to put them back, and what started out as annoyed banter soon grew into an argument that ended with Frederick walking out and slamming the door behind him.

That had been just a silly little argument, but the one they’d had earlier, that was different, that argument was a serious, huge, relationship destroying argument and –

“Reece?”

Harry looked up to see Fiona stood in the shadows.

“I’m afraid not.” He said as he stood up. Even through the darkness he could see her face fall.

“Do you know where he is?”

“He probably doesn’t even know where he is, he’s so drunk.”

“The way Grandpa treated him, wouldn’t – ”

“Ernest pissed off a lot of people tonight, Fiona,” Harry said quietly, “nobody else got that drunk. Nobody else turned into a rapist.”

“What?”

“Nothing, forget I said anything.”

“No. What do you mean?”

“Reece nearly raped Ella tonight. If it hadn’t been for your grandfather and I, he might have succeeded.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fiona,” Harry spoke softly, “as an impartial observer, can I just say… you and Reece – ”

“Look, I know he’s my cousin, ok? There are plenty of people out there who have relationships with their cousins, it’s not illegal, it’s – ”

“I’m not judging you, Fiona. I could tell you what I think, but somehow I don’t think you would listen.”

“Right, well…” Fiona nodded, clearly thrown. “I’m going to go find Reece.”

“Fiona.” She turned back to face him as Harry fished out the small packet from his pocket. “I hope you don’t find him, but if you do you’ll need this.”

Fiona frowned and took the condom. “I’m fourteen.”

“Exactly. Which is why there should be no reason for you to need it, but if you do find Reece… I don’t think he’s in any position to remember it himself. Or to take no for an answer.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You won’t need this with Frederick?”

Harry smiled, ruefully. “I think we kind of broke up.”

“You might make up.”

“Maybe,” Harry patted his chest, “I’ve got another one, just in case.”

Fiona nodded, turned and climbed up the stairs, and as she did Harry’s stomach rumbled loudly.

He climbed down the stairs, heading toward the kitchen. He passed the large picture of Ernest and he quickly glanced down at the embroidered family tree underneath. Harry ran a finger across the canvas, and felt a rough, raised section in a blank space to the left of Michael’s name. Something that had been there, had been removed. Now that he was looking for it, it was obvious to Harry that the names of the children were off balance, further to the right than would make aesthetic sense.

His stomach rumbled again and Harry made his way down the spiral staircase at the back of the entrance hall into the kitchen. He heard raised voices as he stepped down. Ella was shouting at someone.

“He raped me! Why won’t you believe me? He raped me!” Harry stepped into the kitchen as Ella shouted this last word. She was stood behind Pat, who was seated at the table, holding her head in her hands. “Ella, will you just calm down?”

Harry coughed a little to let them know he was there and when Ella caught sight of him, her eyes widened and a sob escaped from her lips.

“I need a shower.” Ella looked at him warily for a moment, and then sprinted from the room, through a door at the opposite end

“She’s confused.”

“She is?” Pat asked.

“He didn’t rape her.”

“He didn’t?”

“No, I think he was going to, but Ernest and I stopped him.”

“Reece.” Pat shook her head and sighed. “Did you need anything?”

“Just a sandwich, all this arguing, gives me an appetite. Don’t worry I’ll get it.” He quickly added as Pat started to get up.

“The bread’s in the bin next to the fridge.” She muttered and rubbed her head.

“Headache?”

“Always.”

“Here, take one of these.” He pulled the aspirin from his pocket and dropped them on the table in front of Pat.

“Thanks.”

Harry started to rummage through the fridge and as he did, a loud clanking noise came from the wall opposite. He looked at Pat, but she seemed unconcerned. “What was that?”

“Hmm? Oh – just the boiler down here, it’s on a separate system to the rest of the house. It’s about a hundred years old, always makes that noise when one of us has a shower.”

“Oh.” A silence filled the room as Harry continued to make his sandwich. After a moment he turned to her. “Pat, you’ve worked here a long time, right? You know Ernest pretty well?”

“As well as anyone else.”

“Has he got a girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Knife?”

“Second drawer down on the left. Why’d you ask?”

“Need something to spread the butter.”

“No, why do you want to know if Ernest has a girlfriend.”

“I, err,” Harry hesitated, “I found some Viagra in the drugs cabinet.”

“That’s for me.”

“For you? You’re impotent?”

Pat laughed. “Listen to me, kid, at your age, it might be hard to imagine, but at my age…at our age, you take what you get.”

“You and Ernest?”

“Like I said, you take what you get. He may be a few years older than me, he may be the grouchiest bastard you’re likely to meet this side of Prince Phillip, but when we’re together, I forget that. I can close my eyes and he’s… I don’t know, Paul McCartney or George Harrison and I’m twenty, thirty – even forty years younger.”

“But, why Ernest? I’m sure you could do better than him.”

“We go back a long way.”

“How long?” Harry’s curiosity was piqued as he sat down opposite her.

“Almost as long as this house. Ernest hired me just after he and Doreen moved in.”

“Did you know Raymond?”

Pat smiled. “I did. His father disowned him when Doreen died, and then I moved in to look after the children. Ernest never really liked talking about Raymond, he would probably be spitting feathers if he could hear us now.”

“And you’ve lived here ever since?”

“Not quite.” Pat leaned over and took half of my sandwich. “I quit for a period back in the seventies. I never planned on coming back, but Ernest and I ran into each other at Elizabeth’s wedding and he convinced me to come back.”

“And you moved back in, just like that? What, he charm you?”

“He wasn’t always this bitter, you know. He used to be… nice.” Pat smiled fondly. “But, no, I didn’t move back in, I was married. I was here during the week, and then back at home in London for the rest of the time. But, err, money grew tight and my husband and I started to argue, we separated and that’s when I moved back in here.”

“You don’t see him at all anymore?”

“He died a few years back now, physically at least.” She gave a slight chuckle. “He’d been emotionally dead for decades. No, this lot are my family now.”

“You don’t have kids?”

Pat smiled mournfully. “I was told I could never have kids.” She dabbed at her eyes slightly with a small handkerchief. “Oh, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”

“What about Ella?” Harry asked.

“Excuse me?”

“When did Ella start working here?”

Pat hesitated slightly, before moving over to the fridge. “We should have a glass of wine in our hands if we’re going to sit here rabbiting on.”

Thinking she was hidden from Harry’s view by the fridge door, Pat steadied herself, took a deep breath and then reached in for a bottle.

“Ella’s first week was… eventful.”

“Why, what happened?”

“Not what. Who.” Pat said, pouring Harry a glass of white wine. “As most things in this family do, it started with Frederick…”

 

 

The next chapter will be available on Sunday 27th  March 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muse by Jessie Burton

When I spoke about Hex last week, I commented about how unique plots come along so rarely. It took a familiar plot of small town paranoia and hung it on the creepiest witch I’ve come across in fiction, forming a plot that will stay with me for a long time.

 

With Muse we get something similar. It takes a plot that’s almost soap-opera in it’s familial twists and hangs it on something completely unexpected – the provenance of a painting. Unexpected for two reasons.

 

  • Who would have thought you could make a book about the journey of a painting through the twentieth century interesting
  • Who would have thought you could do it twice?

 

The story of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch relied on the journey of a painting outlining somebody’s life, and Muse does the same thing.

 

It’s not a bad thing, it just struck me as odd.

 

The details of this particular plot are simple, proving that you don’t have to have a complicated plot to have a good book.

 

A few chance encounters lead to Odelle meeting a man who becomes quite infatuated with her. He tracks her down to working for an art dealer, and so takes along a painting that belonged to his recently deceased mother.

 

It turns out to be painted by Isaac Robles, a Spanish artist who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s.

 

Through a series of flashbacks we learn about Isaac’s history and how the painting came to be in the possession of Lawrie Scott.

 

The question many people will be asking is “is it better than The Miniaturist?” – and I’m ashamed to have to admit, I have no idea. Yes, I am that one person who hasn’t yet read Jesse Burton’s 2014 hit.

 

But I can tell you if it’s a good book or not – and I loved it. The plot was great, simple, yet effective enough to not quite deliver what you were expecting.

 

It scores 3.5 out of 5 on my scale which is lower than I thought it would come out at.

 

It’s lowest score comes in the humour category. There is definitely a moment or two where it made me smile, but there isn’t a laugh out loud moment, and I can’t recall any particular moment.

 

Obviously not every book is a hysterical read from start to finish, but a high score in the ‘sad’ stakes usually balances those books out – this one didn’t really achieve that for me.

 

It didn’t particularly elicit any major emotions from me, it left me a little cold, and I think that’s because apart from Odelle, none of the characters particularly drew me in. There was something off about all of them that left me detached. Subsequently, I was rushing the larger parts of the book that didn’t feature Odelle.

 

Maybe the other characters were weaker, maybe Odelle was just so strong a character, but the combination of them, in retrospect, didn’t work for me.

 

Sometimes, that’s the problem with reading a book for review. You think too much into it.

 

3.5 out of 5 is a healthy score but Muse was a bit like a drunken night out. I enjoyed it while it was happening, but looking back on it, while I don’t regret it, I’m not exactly in a hurry to repeat it.

 

Still, this I think will be my benchmark book for this year. This is on the right side of a good book, and definitely one I would recommend, but it’s tipped over into that category by a strong plot, without it, this would be forgettable.

 

The Muse by Jessie Burton is published in Hardback in June 2016

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 9

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

Cromwell Family Home, London

August, 1971

 

Gary ran up to his father as he struggled to get through the door with his briefcase. “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” He screamed with delight.

Ernest cracked a big grin, dropped his briefcase by the door and scooped his youngest son up in his arms. “There’s my little soldier! Have you been a good boy for mummy today?”

“I’m always a good boy,” Gary giggled, and then added conspiratorially, “Michael and Lizzybet are the naughty ones.”

“Oh, I see. Where’s – ”

“Ray!” Gary screamed in his father’s ear, causing Ernest to flinch, as Raymond followed his father through the door. Gary squirmed in his father’s arms until Ernest put him down, and then ran over to his older brother and hugged his legs. “Is Ray staying for dinner, daddy?”

“Better than that! We’re all going out for dinner!”

Gary grinned as his mother stepped through the door from the dining room. “Oh, we are, are we?” She asked. “Well, I guess it’s a good job that I’ve not started anything yet.”

“Sorry, love, I didn’t think.” He smiled, giving Doreen a kiss on the cheek.

“Hmm, would have been nice for a phone call.”

“Sorry, mum,” Raymond flashed a toothy grin at her, “that was kind of my fault, I insisted on dragging dad down the pub for a drink, I guess it fogged our minds a little.”

“You’ve been drinking?” Doreen frowned. “And you’ve driven home? How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t want you driving when you’ve had a drink, it’s not safe.”

“You and your not safes. These modern cars are built so well, it’s nearly impossible to crash in them.”

“Well, how do you explain the Thompson’s write-off down the road, then?”

“Well… if you’re going to drive like he does, of course you’re going to have an accident.”

“So, where are we going then?” Doreen changed the subject.

“New Italian in town,” Raymond smiled, “my treat.”

“What have we done to deserve that?”

Ernest looked at Raymond and smiled. “Why don’t you get the other two? I want to tell the whole family.”

“Well, then you’re going to have to come in here,” Doreen motioned to the dining room, “Lizzy and Michael are in the middle of a very tense Snakes and Ladders tournament.”

She led the three boys into the dining room and they sat themselves down around Elizabeth and Michael. Elizabeth said nothing as her father kissed her on the cheek, she was too busy rolling the die.

“Ok then, listen up, I’ve got something important to tell you all – ”

“No!” Michael shouted and Elizabeth giggled as she moved her piece up a long ladder to the top row, just two spaces before the end. Michael quickly rolled and moved his piece to one space behind Elizabeth’s. Until then, he had been certain he was going to win.

“Let’s just wait until the game’s over, hey, honey?” Doreen smiled, placing a hand on her husband’s. Elizabeth and Michael both grinned as Elizabeth rolled a three.

“I won!” Elizabeth shouted.

“No, you didn’t.” Michael pouted. “You have to roll the ‘zact number.”

“That’s not the rules!” Elizabeth scrunched up her face. “I won and I beat you!”

“Dad! Tell her! Tell her she has to be ‘zact!”

“Michael, it’s only a game.” Doreen said with the lazy comfort of a tired parent. Raymond, on the other hand, placed an arm around his brother’s shoulder.

“Look at it this way, little man, you haven’t been beaten, you haven’t lost. You’ve come second and there’s no shame in that.”

“Err, honey,” Doreen interrupted, “he didn’t come second. Gary already won.”

“You mean this fight is all about second place?” Ernest picked up the board game and started to put it away. “Come on, help me clear it up, daddy’s got some news.”

“What is it then? This news? Careful with your elbows.” Doreen groaned as Gary climbed awkwardly onto her lap.

“I’m retiring.”

“And I’ve been promoted.” Raymond gave his mother a big grin.

Doreen looked between them surprised, while the children just stared at them, unsure of what it meant. “You hear that kids? Daddy’s going to be at home more, he’ll be able to spend more time with us, isn’t that great?”

The children gave big grins at the thought of being able to play games with their father all day long.

“I knew you’d be happy for us.” Ernest smiled.

“Well, are you sure, Ernest?” Doreen asked.

“Of course, I’m sure, I’ve put a lot of thought into this.” He frowned.

“Then how come this is the first I’ve heard of it?”

Sensing something brewing, Raymond picked Elizabeth up in his arms. “I’ll go get the guys ready for dinner, can’t go out not looking our best can we?”

Gary and Michael followed their older brother out of the room and Ernest sat in a chair opposite Doreen.

“I didn’t want to get your hopes up. I didn’t know if Ray would want to do it, and I’m not letting someone who’s not part of this family take control of the business.”

“You think he’s ready?”

“Of course he’s ready, he’s a young man, he’s going to want to start a family soon. He needs some money behind him, some experience. And I’ll still be around if he needs any help.”

“But otherwise you’re hands off?” Doreen asked tentatively.

“Absolutely.” Ernest smiled and briefly kissed her on the lips. “You know what this means of course?”

“What’s that?”

“We can finally get that place in the country you’re always on about, nice big sweeping drive, too many rooms to count – ”

“Too many to clean.” Doreen smiled.

“And a cleaner, absolutely! We can just spend our days together, with our children. We can read to them, play with them. Then when they’re off at school, we can – I don’t know, learn to play croquet or go on holidays in France or Spain!”

“Oh, Ernest!” Doreen smiled broadly and hugged her husband, she’d been wanting to get out of the city for an age. “When?”

“It’s my last day tomorrow. We start house hunting on Saturday.”

Doreen grinned and passionately kissed her husband.

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

December, 1971

 

“Stop eating so quickly, you’ll give yourself indigestion.” Doreen cautioned Ernest as he wolfed down the sausages and creamy mash she’d prepared earlier in the day.

“I told you,” he said taking a gulp of milk, “I’ve got that new lawyer coming to visit me today, Lloyd Gregory.”

“Well, I don’t get why he’s coming to see you, you’re not anything to do with that business anymore.”

“Maybe it’s Gregory Lloyd… you know, I really wish people wouldn’t use Christian names as surnames, it all gets very confusing.”

“Are you listening to me?” Doreen asked as she cut up the sausages on Gary’s plate.

“Of course I am, honey. And he’s not coming to talk to me about the business. Well, not directly. We’ve just bought this place,” he gestured to the house around them with his fork, “and we’re just checking where we are with my accounts and all that.”

“This Lloyd fellow, an accountant as well as a lawyer, is he?”

“Of course he’s not,” Ernest rolled his eyes, “I just find all that stuff incredibly boring, so I sent him to sort it all out and then just report back to me.”

“So what happened to that other lawyer, that Jones fellow?”

“Oh, he’s still doing all the business stuff, but I told him I’d take on this protégée of his to do all my personal dealings, give him some experience.”

“Well, if he’s seen all the accounts,” Doreen began as the doorbell rang, “ask him if we can afford that cleaner you’ve been promising me.”

“I will, I will.” Ernest smiled as he got up from the table.

“I mean it Ernest,” Doreen shouted after him, “even with your help, I can’t look after these three and clean this house.”

Ernest looked back at the table and smiled at his young family, before slipping out and pulling open the front door.

“Ah! Gregory, isn’t it?” Ernest shook his hand. “Good to meet you. You found us all right, then?”

“Oh, yes, the directions were perfect. Mr Cromwell, have you – ”

“Oh, please! Call me Ernest.”

“Right.” Gregory smiled. He’d always been taught to call his clients by their last name, and since he’d started each one of them had insisted he call them by their first. “Ernest, have you got anywhere where we can go over some of this stuff? I’ve got something important to bring to your attention.”

“Oh?” Ernest seemed unconcerned as he shut the door behind Gregory and then led him down the corridor towards his office. “Actually, Gregory, there was something I wanted to ask you.”

“Of course.” Gregory smiled as he settled into the chair that Ernest had indicated.

“The wife’s been nagging about getting a cleaner in, apparently the house is too big for her to clean by herself.” He chuckled. “So, I was wondering, you’ve seen my most recent accounts after all, would it be financially feasible for me to hire a cleaner, perhaps a live-in maid? I’m not even sure how much that would cost.”

“Actually, Mr – Ernest, it was the accounts that I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Well, if there’s not enough money, I’ll just take a bigger cut from Cromley’s. That’s what it’s there for after all, isn’t it?”

“When I was checking your accounts I noticed that a few times the payment from Cromley’s into your personal account has been a little… unusual.”

“How do you mean unusual?” Ernest asked with a frown.

“Well, if you’ll look here,” Gregory pulled out some papers, “the payment at the beginning of October was four days late. November’s payment was staggered, half on the first, the rest almost a week later. And December’s payment still hasn’t appeared.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Well, I wanted to come prepared, I wanted to know everything before I came to see you, so I looked into the company accounts and it appears that there’s a… deficiency.”

“A deficiency? You mean Cromley’s isn’t making a profit?”

“Oh, Cromley’s is making a healthy profit, it just seems there’s a hole in them.”

“A hole?”

“A canyon, really.” Gregory said.

“How come no one’s noticed before?”

“It’s very well covered, I mean, the only reason I found it was because I was looking for it. If they hadn’t been paying you so oddly, it might never have been discovered.”

“So, where’s it gone?”

“Someone has been making some very dubious investments, buying shares in companies that are almost bankrupt then getting rid of them for half as much as they were bought.”

“Who is someone?” Ernest asked, already filled with dread at the thought of the answer.

“Raymond.”

“Rubbish!” Ernest cried. “He would never, he couldn’t – ”

“It’s all right here, Ernest.” Gregory slid the papers across the desk to him.

Ernest slid into his chair and held his head in his hands. “How big is this hole? I mean, how much are we talking here?”

Gregory unfolded a small slip of paper and handed it to Ernest, and then watched in amazement as his face got redder and redder with every digit he counted.

 

January, 1972

 

A loud crack of thunder rumbled across the sky as the corridor filled with a bright light. Doreen chuckled as she heard a small squeal from Elizabeth’s room, just down the corridor from her. She shut Michael’s door behind her and headed downstairs where Pat was sitting on a couch in the lounge.

“That’s Michael off to sleep, we can relax now.”

“As relaxed as you can be in this weather.”

“Come now,” Doreen smiled as she poured two drinks, “don’t tell me you’re scared of thunder and lightning as well?”

“No, of course not.” Pat smiled. “It just puts me on edge, I always think bad things are going to happen.”

“Trust me, nothing bad is going to happen, it’s just the two of us, having a quiet drink.”

“You know, Mrs Cromwell –” Pat started as she refilled their wine glasses.

“Doreen.”

“Right. I just wanted to say thank you, you know, for everything that you’ve done for me, the job and –”

“Don’t be silly. The moment Ernest started talking about hiring someone I thought of you. You were always very good with the kids, they love you. It’s just a shame things didn’t work out with you and Raymond.”

“Yeah,” Pat smiled uncomfortably, fingering the top of her wine glass, “that’s something else I wanted to talk about.”

“Oh?” Doreen gave Pat a hopeful grin.

“I don’t know what you thought might happen between me and him when I came to work here, but I feel like I ought to tell you. I’m seeing somebody else.”

“Oh.”

“In fact, we’re engaged, just last night.” She stretched out her hand and showed Doreen her engagement ring.

“Oh, well, that’s great,” Doreen plastered a smile onto her face, a false sweetness in her voice, “really, that’s fantastic news. How come we’ve never met him?”

“I always felt a little uncomfortable, you know, because of Raymond. Beside Campbell is –“

“Campbell?”

“He’s American. He’s a little younger than me.”

“How much younger?”

“Three years.”

“Three years?” Doreen laughed. “Honey, that’s nothing, Ernie’s four years younger than me. If anyone says anything, you send them to me, I’ll sort them out.”

“Four years?” Pat smiled, slightly comforted, but stopped as she remembered something Raymond had told her years previously. “Raymond said you were nineteen when you had him.”

Doreen swallowed the last of her drink. “I was.”

“Oh, so Ernest’s not Ray’s father? Or – ” She tailed off as Doreen quietly poured them each another drink. “Oh.”

“It was a different time, there – ”

“Honestly, Doreen, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“No, no, it’s alright. I want to.” Doreen took a deep breath. “Like I said, it was a different time, the height of the war. All the boys that I’d gone to school with were either at war or dead or in trouble with the police. We lived on the edge of a small village, there was no one my age for me to talk to and my dad was pressuring me to find a husband. And then there was Ernest. Well, you’ve met him, he’s a handsome man.”

“But he was just a boy.”

“He was fifteen. And like I said, there was no one my age to talk to, and he just… he seemed so grown up. He’d been through a lot, his mum had died and his dad was at war, he was all alone. We both were.”

Pat shifted uncomfortably. “Still, I don’t know if I could…”

“He was very tall for his age.”

They looked at each other, before they both burst into laughter.

“Oh, Doreen,” Pat wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes, “I’m so glad I’m here.”

“So am I. Stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, with no one else to talk to – lucky there aren’t any fourteen year old boys around!”

They both cackled with laughter again, nearly spilling their wine. A loud scream burst through the house as another clap of thunder surrounded them. “Perhaps I ought to go and check on Elizabeth.”

“I’ll come with you,” Pat smiled as she set down her drink, “it’ll help me catch my breath back.”

Doreen led Pat up the stairs, just as Elizabeth came running from her room.

“Mummy! Mummy!” Elizabeth cried, launching herself at her mother.

“Is she ever going to shut up?” Michael asked, rubbing his eyes as he came from his bedroom. “I’m never going to get any sleep.”

“Shut up!” Elizabeth shouted, glaring at her brother.

“It is a scream that could wake the dead, isn’t it?” Pat agreed with Michael.

Doreen frowned. “It didn’t wake Gary though. I think I’d better check he’s ok.”

“Oh, I’ll do it, you get these two back to bed.” Pat smiled at Doreen and slipped through the door to Gary’s bedroom.

Michael moved back to his own bedroom and Doreen led Elizabeth into hers. “There you go, honey, the thunder’s not going to hurt you.”

“Mummy, what is it?”

“What’s what, sweetheart?”

“Thunder? Is God angry?”

“No, no,” Doreen said, laughing, “of course not! You remember when daddy’s hungry? And his stomach growls?” Elizabeth nodded. “Well, that’s what thunder is. It’s just the noise God makes when he’s hungry. It’s nothing to be scared of, ok?”

“Ok.” Elizabeth smiled back.

“So, just remember that when you hear thunder – ”

“Doreen! Doreen! Get in here!” Pat’s panicked cries came from down the hall.

“Wait here, honey.” Doreen rushed out of Elizabeth’s room and into Gary’s, where Pat was stood over him. He was jerking uncontrollably.

“It’s Gary,” Pat stuttered, “he was just lying there and then he started… I don’t know he started juddering and I can’t get him to stop.”

Doreen stooped down and picked up her son. “He’s gone blue, what is it?”

“I don’t know.” Pat cried. “I’ll ring an ambulance.”

“No.”

“No?” Pat couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere, Pat, I’ve lived here three and a half months and I still get lost. An ambulance driver in the middle of night, in this weather is just going to be hopeless.”

“So what? We just let him spasm?”

“No, no,” Doreen headed quickly to the door carrying Gary, and Pat followed her, “you stay here and look after the other two, I’ll drive him into town to the hospital.”

“What?” Pat followed Doreen down the stairs. “You’ve been drinking.”

“I’ve only had a small one,” Doreen said as she quickly picked up her jacket, “besides, you can’t drive.”

“Doreen, what about Ernest?”

“Ring him, let him know that we’re all fine, but that he needs to meet me down the hospital. As soon as possible.”

“Doreen, you can’t – ”

“Pat,” Doreen manoeuvred herself out of the door into the rain, “we’ll be fine. I promise.”

 

February, 1972

 

Ernest quietly shut the door to his study behind him. It was exactly as he’d left it just two weeks previously. That morning he had been running late, so he’d quickly grabbed some toast from the kitchen and thrown on a little marmalade as he prepared his briefcase. On the side of the desk was a small plate, holding the stale crust that he had left behind.

The bright afternoon sunlight shone through the window onto the small pile of papers that he’d forgotten to take with him. It doesn’t matter, he’d told himself when he realised on his drive to work. He would be able to come home at lunchtime and pick them up. They weren’t urgent. Of course, he’d been distracted when he’d needed to call an emergency meeting and hadn’t made it home.

He looked at his diary on the desk, open on 20th January, he hadn’t had time to even turn the page that morning. That was how late he was, that’s how quickly he needed to be out of the house. No time to turn the page on a diary, no time to gently wake his wife and wish her a good day.

No time to say goodbye.

Ernest sat at the desk and lazily turned the pages of the diary, two full weeks passing in a flicker of a second. If only he’d been able to do that with the last fortnight, if only he could have somehow withdrawn from it all and come back when the pain had gone.

He’d been just about to leave the office when Pat had rung him to tell him what was happening. Doreen’s driving? In this weather? He’d asked, painfully aware that even when both she and the weather were calm, Doreen wasn’t the most confident of drivers.

He had dashed to his car, and a short ten minutes later he was less than half a mile out of the car park. Everyone had slowed down because of the torrential rainfall, and Ernest was crawling down the hill, unable to do anything but watch the rain speed along a hell of a lot faster than him.

The traffic report on the radio warned people off driving in general, but if they absolutely had to drive anywhere, it was suggested they avoid the main dual carriageway due to an accident that had congested up the eastbound lanes and all the surrounding area. Although nowhere near any of the effected roads, Ernest preferred to blame the accident for slowing him up, rather than the flooded road ahead, it was much easier to blame a person than it was a force of nature.

“Idiot drivers.” He’d muttered to himself, and then thought no more of the crash.

Once he had managed to get past the roundabout at the bottom of the hill, it hadn’t taken him much longer to reach the hospital. He’d sprinted through the car park, through the downpour and skidded to a halt at the reception desk, all the time keeping an eye out for Doreen.

The queue was almost as long as the queue coming down the hill, and the ten minutes it took to reach the front felt like an eternity to the already anxious Ernest.

He made himself feel better by berating the woman on the desk for all the failings of the NHS before learning from her that no child by the name of Gary Cromwell had been brought in.

“In fact,” the receptionist had added, “no children have been checked in since this afternoon, and they’ve all made it home safely now.”

He started to berate her again. Of course Doreen and Gary would be here by now, there weren’t any other hospitals nearby, and none of the roads she would have taken would have been blocked, in fact, she’d have been lucky to even meet another car. Unless…

In the two seconds between his sentence suddenly trailing off and the emergency department doors being smashed open, Ernest had remembered teasing his wife about her driving anxieties.

“You’ve never driven on the fast road?”

                  “Never,” she’d smiled, “they’re far too dangerous.”

                  “But they make driving so much quicker.”

                  “They make driving so much more dangerous.”

                  “What if you were late for a hair appointment in town? Would you use it then?”

                  “No, I would use the back roads and be late.”

                  “What if you were late meeting me?” Ernest had smirked.

                  “I would feel worse for keeping the stylist waiting.” Doreen had laughed and given him a quick peck on the lips.

                  “What if it was an emergency? What if you needed to get one of the kids to hospital?”

                  Doreen had paused for a moment, and then looked her husband in the eye. “If it was that urgent, then I guess, yes, I would use them.”

He swivelled around as the doors burst open and two paramedics wheeled a gurney in. They shouted all sorts of statistics to the accompanying doctor, but the only detail Ernest had noticed, was the dry trickle of blood running down his lover’s face.

That was the moment his world had changed, that was the moment his insides had twisted and torn and melted down into nothingness.

Ernest sighed, removed his glasses and buried his head in his hands. A moment later there was a small tap on the door and he leant back in his chair and stared at it. He knew who was on the other side, he had been expecting it. He was ready for it.

He said nothing, but the door slowly opened anyway and Raymond gingerly made his way into the room.

“Dad, I… how are you coping?”

“How do you think?”

“I would think that you’re concerned about your ill young son. Grieving for the woman you loved. Scared about how you’re going to raise three children on your own. I would think all of that if you’d actually spoken to any of us, if you’d bothered to let us in. As it is, I don’t know how you’re feeling.”

“I buried my wife today, Raymond. I should have been celebrating her birthday with her in a fancy restaurant, slowly pickling ourselves on red wine. Instead, I’m alone and she’s… dead!” Ernest spat out the last word in disgust.

“It’s been hard for all of us, Dad, none of us were expecting it.”

“I keep looking for someone to blame.” Ernest stood up and looked out of his window onto the lawn outside. “I keep looking for some… get out clause. Bring her back.”

“That’s only natural.”

“I keep asking myself, what if I hadn’t stayed late at the office? What if I hadn’t moved us out to this damn house in the middle of nowhere? What if Gary hadn’t been ill?”

“How is Gary? What did the doctors say?”

Ernest shrugged. “They’re not sure what’s wrong with him. They don’t think it’s serious, told us to go back if he shows any unusual symptoms. In the meantime they’re performing some tests, they’ll get in touch with us when they know something.”

“That’s good, isn’t it? They don’t think it’s serious.”

There was a long pause in which Raymond watched the back of his father, tensed at the window. “Dad, if you want to talk…”

“Talk…” Ernest repeated quietly. “I keep looking for someone to blame, you know.”

“Me too.”

“Really?” He turned to face his son. “You found anyone yet?”

Raymond shrugged. “Of course not, it was just a tragic accident. There’s no one to blame.”

“I found someone.”

“You did?”

“Like I said, I kept thinking what if Gary hadn’t been ill?”

Raymond looked at his father in disbelief. “You can’t blame him, dad, he’s just a kid.”

“Well, I know that. He can’t help being ill. But I can’t help but think what would have happened had I been there to drive him to the hospital.”

“It’s not your fault either, Dad.”

“I know it’s not my fault, you idiot!” Ernest shouted so loudly that the window panes shook a little. “I had retired, I’d left all that behind until some idiot, some stupid idiot started playing the stock market like it was a weekend game of Monopoly!”

“You can’t be blaming me? It’s not my fault mum died!”

“It is!” Ernest raised a pointed finger at his son. “You were the one who forced me out of retirement, you were the one who needed his hand holding, you were the reason I wasn’t there for my family, when I should have been, simply because you can’t add up!”

“It’s an addiction.”

“An addiction to what? To losing money? To being a waste of space?”

“To gambling! Some people do it down the pub for a penny a trick, others on the horses. Just because I did it on the stock market, doesn’t mean it’s not an illness!”

“Illness! Illness? Don’t give me that! It’s not a disease! You just need to learn to have a little self control!”

“Dad, will – ”

“Don’t call me that.”

“What?”

“I’m not your dad. I refuse to believe that any son of mine could have acted the way you have.”

Raymond stared at him. “You can’t be serious… You can deny a lot of things, dad, but you can’t deny you’re my father…”

“Oh, can’t I? Your mother’s not around any more, is she? Nobody to say otherwise.”

“But… my birth certificate…”

“Is blank. I was fifteen when your mother had you, if she’d put me down on the birth certificate as the father, she’d have been arrested. Go and ask your grandfather who your dad is, as far as he’s concerned, I stepped in and married his daughter after some randy farmhand got her pregnant. There is nothing in this world that can prove I’m your father apart from my word. And my word is that you’re not my son.”

Raymond marched back to the door. “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. I’ll see you in the office on Monday.”

“No, you won’t.”

“What?”

“I won’t be seeing you on Monday.”

“What do you mean? You told Pat just this morning that you were going back to work on Monday.”

“I will be, but I won’t be seeing you there.”

“Dad, me and you run the business together, you’ll have to see me.”

Ernest marched over to him and looked his son square in the face. “Not any more. God, I was a fool to give you your job back!”

“What are you saying?”

“You’re fired!” Ernest cried. “You must be kidding if you think I would leave you in charge of my business. Not now. Not ever!” He shoved Raymond hard in the chest and slammed the door shut in his face.

 

Read the next chapter here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Sometimes you come across a story that’s so unique it sort of blows your mind a little. It’s not often it happens, though, because as we all know, there are only about seven basic plots – they’re all just re-told with different words, different names and different combinations.

 

Hex tells the story of Black Spring, a small town in North America haunted by a witch. Katherine van Wyler was killed by the residents of the town three hundred and fifty years previously… but came back.

 

Possessing unique powers that caused people to kill themselves, some residents stitched up her eyes and mouth, rendering her nearly harmless.

 

Yet still she wanders the streets of the town. The residents have become accustomed to her presence, and have mostly accepted her as part of their lives. Appearing in their dining rooms during dinner, they throw blankets over her and carry on with their meals.

 

There is one price they have to pay. Once the residents are in her grip they find themselves unable to leave Black Spring for any length of time. After some time, two or three weeks, they are irresistibly drawn to kill themselves.

 

The townsfolk must stay in Black Spring, but in order to protect anyone else from Katherine, they must protect her from the rest of the world.

 

The idea of a haunting is not new, but the idea of this town being so accustomed to her that she is almost like a pet was so intriguing. I can understand the sudden appearance of this woman in your house being so incredibly creepy, but I’m not sure I can understand ever getting used to it. It’s an unbelievable scenario, yet somehow Heuvelt makes it completely believable.

 

Obviously, things start to go wrong. A group of children are curious, they have phones, they make recordings, and it starts a chain of events that cannot be stopped.

 

Despite the obvious supernatural element, I’m not sure I would describe this book as horror. It’s tense and creepy, definitely, but it’s not initially gory.

 

This is a book about small town paranoia last seen (by me at least) in Stephen King’s Under the Dome – in that context, Hex is nothing new.

 

A small American town is cut off from the rest of the world – either physically or culturally – through some supernatural event, and their relationships become more and more strained, building to a dramatic climax.

 

The characters in Hex are real. The author has taken a real community and put something extraordinary in it. Too often, books like this are about the extraordinary, and the characters and society around it are moulded to fit it.

 

Katherine doesn’t fit in in Black Spring to the point that it becomes a fascinating point of contrast. We don’t ever see things from her point of view, but I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. This witch with stitched up eyes and lips felt real to me, entirely because the town felt real.

 

I was describing it to someone at work who said they didn’t read horror and I tried to explain why that didn’t matter. Katherine is the stimulus for the plot, the cause of tension between the characters, but the story isn’t actually about her.

 

It’s about mob mentality and the paranoia of human beings when things start to go wrong. A huge amount of Hex could be kept the same if Katherine the witch was substituted for Kevin the sex offender (not casting any aspersions on any Kevin’s out there). Who and what the antagonist is, doesn’t matter.

 

Except for the ending. Without giving too much away, it was a little confusing. Imagine a meteor hitting a shopping centre and trying to explain in ten pages or so everything that happened to every one of the thousands of people in the shopping centre.

 

The trouble is, I wanted to know what happened, but I also didn’t have a spare five months to read about it, and the writer knew that. So, it was condensed, and I felt in some cases it might have been worth not learning what happened to some characters in order to focus on some of the others.

 

Our main character, Steve Grant, didn’t witness everything that happened at the end, and despite the fact that the book moved viewpoints throughout, I would have preferred the end to stay with him. The emotional impact of the ending would have been far greater.

 

That’s not to say it wasn’t great, but I can’t really talk about it without spoiling it too much. Suffice to say that if and when the TV series currently being developed by Warner Brothers does go ahead, it will make an epic end of season cliffhanger.

 

A strangely believable setting with a strong cast of characters, this tale of small town paranoia is definitely worth a read when it gets released in hardback at the end of April.

 

It’s not revolutionary, but damn, I’m not sure I’ll ever get past that creepy witch.

 

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt scores an impressive 4.3 out of 5

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 8

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

Harry and Frederick reached the top of the stairs to find Nicola banging on the door to the room that Harry had been caught in earlier. “Matthew? Matthew, darling, come out!”

“That’s Matthew’s room?” Harry asked.

“Yeah.” Nicola stopped knocking and leant against the door. “He’s locked himself in, he won’t come out.”

Frederick moved over to the door. “Matthew, it’s Freddie. Are you going to let us in? Harry and I would like to talk to you.”

Frederick looked at the other two as they all waited for an answer, but there was none.

“I think I should try and handle it myself. The last thing he probably wants right now is a barrage of people trying to help.”

Harry smiled gently at Nicola. “I know that feeling. Come on, Freddie.”

He took hold of Frederick’s arm as he turned to his aunt. “Listen,” he said, “it might seem bad, but it could have gone worse. At least nobody died.”

“Yet.” Nicola growled out of the corner of her mouth, before pausing and staring at them.

Harry could tell she was referring to Ernest. Despite her previous dismissal of her youngest son, he had seen her visibly seething when Ernest had threatened to hit him.

“If you need us,” Frederick said after a moment, “we’ll be downstairs.”

Nicola nodded and returned to knocking on the door as Frederick and Harry made their way back downstairs.

“What a night, huh?”

After Ernest had stormed out of the dining room, the family had immediately started arguing again. Jennifer and Gary had briefly put aside their differences and turned on Robert, Elizabeth his only defence. Frederick had gotten involved with the argument as well while Nicola had stated bombarding her youngest son with questions. Matthew had turned and fled from the room, and as soon as Harry had managed to pull Frederick away from the edge of a fist fight with Reece, they had followed Nicola upstairs.

“Yeah,” Frederick agreed, “you know, sometimes I forget the reason why I left.”

“Who needs Hollywood when you’ve got this much drama going on at home?”

“Exactly.”

“It was brave of the kid, though, don’t you think? Announcing to everyone, just like that, that he was gay?”

“You’re telling me,” Frederick sighed as they reached the bottom of the stairs, “I found it difficult enough just telling one person. To tell a whole room of people like he did. Like you did. That was brave.”

“Not really,” Frederick started to lead him down a corridor in the opposite direction of the dining room, “most of the people in that room knew I was gay. Victoria knew. Your mum knew.”

“Pat knew as well, I told her when you were taking our bags up.”

“See, I wasn’t being brave, I wasn’t thinking, I was just… I was just sticking up for my boyfriend.”

Frederick pushed Harry up against the wall of the corridor and gently kissed him.

“So, you think this might mean you’re ready to tell the world about me and you?”

Harry kissed him back. “Well, if you can get the entire world into one room and get your grandfather to pick on you again, then, yeah, I’ll tell them.

Frederick pulled away from him. “Harry, I – ”

“Look, we need to talk, Freddie. Not here.”

Frederick sighed, took hold of his wrist and led him through the door to Harry’s left. They were in a small lounge room, bookcases lined the wall and two thirds of the room were taken up with soft couches. In the last part of the room was a large drinks cabinet, which at that moment was being tended to by Gary.

“Hi, boys,” he smiled, “can I fix you kids a little drink?”

“No, we’re alright thanks.” Frederick smiled over at him and he and Harry sat down on one of the couches.

“Freddie,” Harry lowered his voice so that Gary wouldn’t hear, “I know you’ve been lying to me.”

“What?” Frederick frowned. “I haven’t been lying to you.”

“Yes, you have. For a start you promised me that you wouldn’t tell anyone that I was your boyfriend. I leave you alone for two minutes and you’re telling people.”

“I was upset, I needed to talk to someone.”

“Yeah, well, aside from that, you told me you’d never met your mum’s boyfriend.”

“I haven’t, I hadn’t.”

“You have!” Harry sighed, more than a little exasperated.

“You boys ok, over there?” Gary asked. “You’re sure you don’t want any drinks?”

“We’re sure, Uncle Gary, could you leave us alone for a second?”

“But I’ve already poured them, I was hoping you’d join me.” Gary motioned to three glass tumblers on the side. “I’ll just have to drink them myself, can’t leave them sitting out, can we?”

“Uncle – ”

“I’ll be quiet, you won’t even know I’m here.”

Harry held his head in his hands as Gary started to work on the three glasses of scotch he’d poured.

“Your grandfather told us all that the only reason he even hired Robert was because of your advice. You told him to hire him, how could you do that if you’d never even met him?”

Frederick stared for a moment and Harry could see in his eyes the conflict in his mind. Continue the lie or come clean?

“You remember when I came back home that time, to help my grandfather with that interview? I met him then, that was him. I didn’t know until tonight that he was going out with my mum.”

“So why didn’t you tell her that you’d met him before? Earlier tonight, you just said that, that you remembered his name. You said it was nice to meet him! I don’t understand what’s happening Freddie.”

“I didn’t tell my mum that I’d met him, because I hadn’t told her that I’d come back. I didn’t go and see her while I was here and she would have been mightily pissed off if she’d found out. I guess Robert just took my lead.”

“Right.” Harry nodded but he was still uneasy. Everything that Frederick said sounded plausible, but he could tell he still wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Look, Harry, I…” Frederick leant over and picked up one of the Scotch glasses from in front of Gary, who had just been nodding sagely. “I don’t see what the big deal is about me lying. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You’re lying to the whole world! Every day that you hide your relationship with me, you’re lying!”

“Frederick, you said it yourself, Matthew was brave in that room tonight. I just have to work up a little more courage, but I think I’m ready.”

Frederick smiled at him and pulled Harry into an embrace. At that moment, the door opened and Ernest entered.

“Haven’t you two left yet?” Ernest picked up the remaining glass of Scotch and drank from it.

“Grandpa, I – ” Before Frederick could say anything, Gary interrupted, taking the empty glass from Ernest as he did.

“Dad, I think you should leave them alone.”

“You what?”

“Well…” He pulled a bottle of vodka from the cabinet, “my son is one of them now. I… I’m an honourary gay!”

“You’re a what?” Ernest looked as though the top of his head was about to blow off as he looked over at Harry and Frederick incredulously.

“Don’t look at me,” Frederick stuttered, “I… I don’t know what that is.”

“But it’s good that he’s embracing it, don’t you think?” Harry asked, enjoying watching Ernest get madder and madder.

Ernest pushed Gary out of the way and moved into the drinks cabinet. “You make me feel sick.”

“You’re not exactly settling my stomach either, Ern.” Harry smirked.

“Maybe you should go see a doctor, dad? If you’re not feeling well.”

Ernest glared at his son as Jennifer entered the room. “Ernest, I want to make you an appointment.”

“Oh, God, not you as well? Why can’t the two of you just leave me alone?”

“Because, you’re mistaking a make, Dad!” Gary slurred.

“Yes, well done,” Ernest patted his son on the shoulder, “you’ve just proved that there’s absolutely no point in me listening to you. Not until you sober up anyway, at least, and certainly not until you stop making up twaddle about having another brother.”

“Dad, Raymond – ”

“Listen, Ernie,” Jennifer smiled sweetly, “it’s been a tough few months on all of us, not least of all you. I’m – and I’m sure Gary is too – just worried that perhaps things are starting to get to you.”

“Things? What things?”

“Well, there’s Michael’s death. That wasn’t easy on any of us, especially… little Fiona. You know, she was saying to me, just yesterday, that the only reason she’s been able to cope with losing her father, is because she’s got you around, and you… you’re something of a father figure to her now.”

“What’s your point, Jenny?”

“My point, Ernest, is that your little outburst, earlier, after dinner, I don’t think you really meant everything you said.”

“Is that so?” Ernest raised an eyebrow.

“Which is why,” Jennifer smiled cautiously, “I think that perhaps you may need to see a professional. A medical professional.”

Ernest stared at her for a moment, as if he was waiting for the punch-line, before laughing a little. “Well, that’s very… considerate of you. Yes, perhaps, I will. My fillings have been giving me terrible gyp this last week.”

“Good,” Jennifer smiled widely, as if talking to a small child, “but… I was thinking… you know. Less dental, more… mental.”

“A psychologist?”

“It may be beneficial.”

“Listen to me, my girl,” he pointed a finger at Jennifer, menacingly, “the only professional I need to see is my lawyer! And the sooner he gets here, the sooner I can cut you out of my will.”

It was plain to all of them in the room that Jennifer was seething inside, and there was no doubt that Ernest could see it as well, but she continued on with a pained smile. “This is exactly what I mean, Ernie,” she said, stroking his shoulder gently, “you’re lashing out at the people who love you most. I really think you should see someone before… before leaving everything you own to a complete stranger.”

Ernest nodded. “Ok.”

“Ok?” Jennifer recoiled in surprise.

“Ok. I will see your psychologist before I change my will.”

“Fantastic! We’ll book you an appointment – ”

“But, only if you can get your doctor here within twenty minutes.” Ernest smirked as Jennifer’s face fell. “As I said before, Gregory Lloyd is on his way here to help me change my will, and I’m not having him waste a journey, not on Christmas Eve. Now, that would be crazy.”

“So, you’re just going to ignore everything we say?”

“We?” Ernest asked. “Who’s we?”

“Well, Gary agrees with me. Don’t you, Gary?”

“Agree with you.” Gary muttered emotionlessly.

“See.”

Ernest rolled his eyes. “He’s so drunk you could tell him he was made out of paper-mache and he’d agree with you!”

“So, you’re just going to leave everything to Robert, then? The business, your money, this house?”

“Everything.”

Jennifer stared at him. “Fine. Fine. See if I care.” She turned and stalked out of the room, brushing past Nicola as she entered.

“You’re not really giving all the money to Robert are you?” Gary frowned.

“I’m not giving him anything. I’m making him my heir, and as you may have noticed, I’m not dead yet.”

“Not dead yet.” Gary agreed.

“What’s up with Jenny?” Nicola asked Gary, looking straight through Ernest.

Gary shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“She’s upset with me,” Ernest smiled, “because I’m making sure that she doesn’t have two pennies to rub together, and she’s worried that for once in her life, she might have to actually work for a living.”

“Why is she upset with you over that? There are so many better reasons for her to be pissed off at you.”

“Well, between you and me, Nicky, she’s not that bright, and with girls like her, it’s all about money.”

“Well, to some of us, there are more important things than money.” Nicola said, looking at Ernest coldly.

“Oh, pray tell,” Ernest said, waving his glass around, “why is the famous Nicola Nash so upset with me?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because you humiliated and embarrassed my son, right in front of his entire family. You insulted him for no good reason and then – ”

“Now, listen to me, that boy had it coming. Reece has been lying to us all.”

“I’m not talking about Reece! I’m talking about Matthew!” Nicola shrieked.

“Oh.” Ernest curled his lip in disgust. “That one.”

“How is Matthew?” Nicola turned around and looked at Harry, as if she’d just noticed he was there.

“He’s not good. He’s still not coming out.” A brief smile splashed across Nicola’s face. “Well, he already came out, and now that he’s out… he’s not coming out.”

“Good. I don’t want to have to look at the filthy little faggot again.”

Suddenly, Frederick stood up, and, without saying a word, punched his grandfather across the cheek. “Why don’t you say that again?”

“Why don’t you get out of my house?” Ernest sneered at his grandson, a red welt appearing across his face. “You didn’t even make me bleed. Faggot.”

“Just sit down, Freddie.” Harry led Frederick back over towards the couch and Gary followed his father back towards the drinks cabinet. Nicola sat down with the boys on the sofa.

“He’s still not letting you in?” Frederick asked.

“No.” Nicola buried her head in her hands. “Oh, I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried telling him that I don’t care what he is, that I love him anyway, but he just keeps telling me to go away.”

“He’s taken a big step.” Harry smiled at her trying to comfort her. “Coming out to his family, all of them, like that, it takes guts. I mean, it was amazing. Sometimes, you’re just not ready straight away to listen to people’s reactions.”

“But my reaction is good!” Nicola cried. “I love him no matter what, why can’t he understand that?”

“The way Matthew came out, it was a surprise not just to all of us, but to him as well. When I told my family, when Freddie told his, we had time to prepare ourselves for their reactions. Matthew just isn’t ready yet to face the reality of what he said.”

“He’s probably imagined it a thousand times,” Frederick continued for Harry, “he’s probably imagined a thousand different outcomes, and he needs to make sure he’s prepared for the worst one. He’ll come to you when he’s ready.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.” Frederick nodded. “But I think, perhaps I should go try and talk to him again. It might be easier for one of us to speak to him first, you know, we’ve been through it too.”

“Would you?”

“Yeah, sure.” Frederick stood up and Nicola took his hand and smiled at him.

“Thanks.”

Harry watched Frederick leave and then turned back to Nicola “You know, when I told my mum I was gay, she just smiled at me, told me that she already knew and then carried on doing her crossword.”

“What’s your point?” Nicola asked.

“The point is that she didn’t make a fuss over it, she just accepted what I said and carried on with life. She didn’t make a big deal, she didn’t cry and say it was the worst thing in the world, she didn’t whoop with joy and drag me out to the nearest gay bar, hunting for guys. She just carried on being my mum.

“So, you’re saying that we should just ignore it?” Nicola asked.

“No, I’m not saying ignore it, embrace it, totally, but let Matthew decide what he’s comfortable with, let him set the boundaries. If he wants to talk to you about it, he’ll talk to you about it. If he doesn’t talk about it, then don’t talk about it, but make sure you’re open enough for him to feel comfortable talking about it.”

“Yeah, well, it’s alright for your mum, she knew already, I had no idea.”

“Really?” Harry asked, with a slight disbelief. “You had no idea at all?”

“No. Why, did you?”

“One step inside his bedroom ought to have told you.”

“Why what’s in there?”

“You’ve never been in there?”

“No, he never lets anyone in, always keeps it locked.”

“It’s, err,” Harry was lost, trying to find the right words, “I guess, you might call it kind of a shrine.”

“To what?” Nicola looked alarmed.

“To me.”

“Gary! Just leave me alone will you?” Ernest rubbed his temples and sat down on a couch in the opposite corner to the rest of them.

“You’re socialising with us now?” Nicola raised an eyebrow.

“I’m socialising near you.”

“Still, after what you said about us all tonight, I would have thought you’d stay in your office until we’ve all gone. You hate us.”

“I don’t hate you, Nicola, I just don’t like you all that much. Besides, there aren’t many people left in this house who haven’t hit me.”

“There’s still time.” Harry muttered.

“Are you ever going to leave?”

“Dad!” Gary threw himself down next to his father, placed an arm around his shoulder and belched loudly.

“Lovely.”

“Dad, a… a chance. S’all I’m asking for.”

“A chance at what?” Ernest asked with a frown.

“You’re tired, dad, take… take a week off. Let me…”

“Let you what? Spit it out, boy.”

“Crumbleys! Let me run Crumbley’s for you!”

Pat entered the room just as Ernest stared at his son in disbelief. “You’re nothing but a waste of space, Gary, I wouldn’t leave you in charge of a cactus, let alone a business!”

“Ern – Err, Mr Cromwell.” Pat smiled, leaning slightly on the sideboard. “Mr Lloyd’s just arrived, here to see you, he says.”

“Excuse me, Gary, I’ve got business to deal with.”

“Mr Cromwell!” Harry jumped up from the couch as he headed for the door. “Could I have a word before you go?”

Ernest sighed loudly and looked over to Pat. “Tell Gregory I’ll be there in a moment, send him into the dining room and fix him up a meal, he’s been driving for four hours.”

Pat mumbled to herself as she limped out of the door. Although he couldn’t quite hear what she had to say, Harry could tell a few choice words were shot in Ernest’s direction.

“So, what is it then, boy? What do you want?”

“Could we, err, talk alone?” Harry followed Pat into the hall and watched as she slowly made her way down the corridor. Ernest reluctantly followed him. “Mr Cromwell, I wanted to talk to you about Frederick. About me and Frederick.”

“I don’t think I want to know anything about you and Frederick, thank you very much. It’s bad enough that the two of you do it, I don’t want you describing it to me.”

“I’m not going to talk about our sex life, Mr Cromwell.” Ernest recoiled slightly at Harry’s use of the word ‘sex’. “I just wanted to know if it’s true. Is Frederick really the brightest business mind you know?”

“I wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true.”

“So, why not leave Cromley’s to him, then? What has he done wrong?”

“What has he done?” Ernest looked at Harry with a genuine look of horror and bewilderment on his face. “In a word? You! You are what he’s done wrong! You’re a man! And he’s a man! It’s not natural. It’s disgusting, it’s –”

“It’s love!” Harry shouted loudly and Ernest quickly shut the door to the drinks room. “Me and Frederick met, in a bar. I was at a bad point in my life, my brother was not long dead, and he’d just moved out to LA, neither of us had anyone!”

“So, you… what? Missed England so much that you just jumped into bed with the first Englishman you met?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “We became friends. Pretty soon, I was telling him everything. I’d see something funny on the pavement and I’d ring him up to tell him, because I hated the fact that he wasn’t there to share it with me. I’m still the same. He’s my best friend, and I want to share my life with him, he has the most beautiful soul you could ever want in a partner and most of all, he loves me. He loves me for who I am and I don’t have to pretend to be anything or anyone else when I’m with him. Have you ever been in love, ever truly been in love?”

Ernest was taken aback slightly, his eyes bulging in shock. “Yes.”

“Then you know.” Harry said simply. “You know what it’s like. My love for Frederick, his love for me. It’s no different to the love between you and your wife.”

“Don’t you dare compare the depraved acts you and your boyfriend get up to with me and my wife! What you do is disgusting, what me and Doreen had – ”

“What you and Doreen had was disgusting!” Harry spat back at him venomously, changing tone so suddenly that both of them seemed surprised. “I… I’ll bet that’s what they said when you and her got together. A woman of that age, with a boy so young! And have you heard the whispers? She’s pregnant, and they’re not married. Ooh, it’s a depraved act that she’s committed, whispers one woman to the next, and the next agrees. Rape, she cries, that’s what it was, that poor boy, that poor defenceless boy, taken advantage of by that sick, sick woman.”

“Doreen was not – ”

“Soft in the head! That’s what the men were saying while their wives were gossiping about Doreen. The boy must be soft in the head! To let a woman take advantage of him like that! It’s disgusting!”

Ernest glared at him and stalked off down the corridor. “I’ve got things to do, leave me alone.”

“Is that what you said to Raymond?”

Ernest stopped suddenly and slowly swivelled around to face Harry. “How the hell do you know about Raymond?”

Harry smiled as he walked up to him. “You can fool your own family, Ernie, they’re not expecting you to lie, not about something as big as that. Besides, they’d remember, wouldn’t they?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I met him.” Ernest stared at him for a moment. “A few years back now, I had a little Saturday job in Cromley’s, one of those ones that pretends to be a corner shop. I wasn’t there for long, I had to move away, but I was there long enough to get a few extra late shifts every now and then. One night, this guy came into the shop and he hid himself away. I found him when I was closing up, hiding under a table, gripping hard onto this little lighter.

“I thought he was going to burn it down or something, but then he said he was your son. His father owned the shop. I was trying to calm him down, trying to get him to change his mind, and then suddenly he ran out and I never saw him again. I thought it was an insurance scam, but now… I’ve met you. I think he was looking for you. I think he was hoping you were in that shop. I think he wanted to kill you.”

Ernest’s face filled with a dark red colour and he looked like he was about to burst, just as Jennifer and Fiona came from down the corridor that led to his office.

“Ernest!” Jennifer jumped, not having seen them. “Fiona and I… we were just…”

“Getting my top from the wash room.” Fiona finished for her mother. “I spilt some water down it, and I wanted to get it dried before I went to bed.”

Ernest looked from Harry to Fiona and then to Jennifer. “I… I don’t care. Just go away.”

Fiona and Jennifer scuttled off towards the stairs as Harry watched Ernest move over to the door to the dining room where a middle-aged man was standing outside.

“Gregory,” Ernest smiled nervously, running a hand through his hair, “what are you doing out here?”

“Well, I… I didn’t want to interrupt them.”

“Interrupt who? Come on, don’t be so silly, let’s get you something to eat.” Ernest pushed open the door to the dining room.

“I’m not finished with you, yet.” Harry shouted, following him over to the dining room. “How can you treat your own flesh and blood the way you’ve treated Frederick and Matthew?”

“Yes! Yes, I fucked him!” Harry stopped as he heard the shouting from inside the dining room. Ernest stood next to him, the lawyer named Gregory stood on the other side of the doorway. All three of them remained silent as they looked over at Robert, Frederick and Victoria on the other side of the room. Robert continued his rant. “And yes, I fucked her!”

“Robert – ” Victoria began, as she caught sight of their audience.

“No, no, the two of you are absolutely right! I screwed around with a young college girl, just because I could, and she wasn’t the first, and she certainly wasn’t the last! And so what if I got her pregnant? Who cares? Who wants to look after some fat, spotty kid, anyway? Speaking of fat and spotty.” Robert moved his gaze to Frederick.

“I am not fat or spotty!” Frederick protested, he still hadn’t seen any of them watching.

“Not all of you, but that fat, spotty arse of yours that I fucked, makes me feel sick, every time I think of it, you filthy little whore. You let me do that to you, and then you convinced your grandfather to hire me and for what? I screwed you, and then I screwed you over! You’re pathetic. And now,” Robert laughed, “the two of you are whining, not because I fucked you, but because I stopped, and neither of you can handle the fact that now I’m screwing both your mother and your grandfather! And you know what? There’s nothing you can do about it!”

“Maybe we can’t.” Victoria said, not breaking eye contact with her grandfather. “But he can.”

Ernest’s face had turned from a deep crimson right through to a dark purple and his whole body shook as he managed, just about, to squeeze out a few words. “Gregory. Office. Now.”

Ernest and Gregory turned and left the room, and for a moment Robert did nothing, but stare at the empty space in the doorway, before turning and running after them, brushing past me on his way out.

Harry just stared across the room at Frederick who was looking at Victoria and smirking, seemingly happy to have gotten one up on Robert. Victoria nudged him and he finally noticed his boyfriend in the doorway. The colour drained from his face.

“Harry, I – ”

“You… you let him… do that to you?”

Frederick said nothing, he just bowed his head, and Harry turned and walked quickly from the room. Frederick ran ahead of him and blocked his path down the corridor.

“Harry, I – ”

“Just don’t say anything.” Harry turned away from him, not knowing where he was going, just moving away from Frederick. He passed Robert banging loudly on a door and slipped through the opposite door into a small bathroom. He slid the lock across and slumped against the door.

“Ernie! Ernie, open up!” Robert’s shouts drifted through the locked door.

Harry heard the office door flew open, from the sound of it, the force used could have easily pulled it off its hinges with the full force of Ernest’s rage. “I suggest you leave before I do something I regret.”

“But, we’ve got business to discuss, the – ”

“You’re fired!” Ernest practically screamed. “You must be kidding if you think I would leave you in charge of my business. Not now. Not ever!” Harry heard two thuds in quick succession as Ernest shoved Robert away, against the door to the bathroom, and then slammed his own door shut.

 

Read the next chapter here

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

Anyone that read Sarah Winman’s brilliant debut novel When God Was a Rabbit was probably eagerly awaiting the follow-up A Year of Marvellous Ways.

 

I really loved When God Was a Rabbit and yet Marvellous Ways sat on the windowsill in my bedroom for the better part of a year.

 

What was I waiting for? I’m not sure. Something stopped me from picking it up.

 

I think, because of how much I enjoyed her first book, I was wary that I wouldn’t enjoy Winman’s second.

 

I was right to be wary. The two books are quite different, apart from the wonderful writing. I think, just because you might have liked Rabbit, it doesn’t mean you will like Marvellous Ways.

 

Marvellous Ways is more ethereal, there’s an almost supernatural quality to it, which was there in a small way in Rabbit, but manifests itself more here. There are more unexplained happenings, everything is a little more subtle.

 

The two main characters Marvellous Ways and Francis Drake (really) are well drawn – some of the surrounding characters less so – although I think that’s intentional, like a director focusing on the middle of the screen, the rest of the world happening in the blurred edges.

 

It’s a little jarring towards the end of the novel when Drake’s young age of twenty seven is mentioned, he comes across as much older, although again, probably intentional. This is a man, after all, who has come back from a difficult war.

 

Be it fate or accident, Drake stumbles upon Marvellous Ways, and he stays with her. She counsels him, and at the same time he resolves things for her.

 

In the last days of old age Marvellous Ways possesses a presence that draws the reader in, wanting to learn about her past. Drake, searching for the beginning of a new life, teases the potential of the future.

 

I walked away from the book knowing I enjoyed it, knowing that these two characters were better for having known each other, utterly believing that they existed… but not entirely sure that I’m a hundred per cent clear on what happened.

 

Perhaps it’s one I’ll need to re-read someday.

 

A Year of Marvellous Ways scores 3.4 out of 5. It suffers slightly in comparison to When God Was a Rabbit – but still a very good book.