Today I am one of the blog spots on the blog tour for The Abandoned by Sharon Thompson. The publisher is Bloodhound Books. The publication date for The Abandoned was January 25th. I will be sharing an excerpt from the novel.
Peggy Bowden has not had an easy life. As a teenager her mother was committed to an asylum and then a local priest forced her into an abusive marriage. But when her husband dies in an accident Peggy sees an opportunity to start again and trains as a midwife.
In 1950s Dublin it is not easy for a woman to make a living and Peggy sees a chance to start a business and soon a lucrative maternity home is up and running. But when Peggy realizes that the lack of birth control is an issue for women, she uses their plight as a way to make more money. Very soon Peggy is on the wrong side of the law.
What makes a woman decide to walk down a dark path? Can Peggy ever get back on the straight and narrow? Or will she have to pay for her crimes?
Set against the backdrop of Ireland in the 1950’s The Abandoned tells the story of one woman’s fight for survival and her journey into the underbelly of a dangerous criminal world.
I knew the stranger at my door would cry. All that curled blonde hair and her clinging to a navy handbag. I was surprised her type still found me.
‘Peggy?’ she asked.
A gloved hand steadied her on the door frame, and I moved to let her inside. Thanks be to God she didn’t embarrass us both on the doorstep. A busy Dublin street is not the place for a woman to weep and wail about her lot.
‘I was sent by –’
I lifted my hungover hand to stop her. ‘No names. You’re lucky. My medicines room is free at the minute.’
Perfect curls danced under her fancy hat when she nodded. Then, sweet Christ, it started. Like I knew it would. Big tears, plopping down onto those pale cheeks, blue eyes begging me for sympathy. I know I’m hardened to a great deal, but tears are tough to ignore.
‘How far along are you?’
‘This way,’ I said. There was no sound from upstairs. My two girls must have been sleeping rather than humping.
This blonde one had a slim behind with no bulge out in front. A navy skirt snipped in at the waist and a grey jacket that I’d have liked myself over her cream blouse all ironed and silky looking. She knew how to look after herself, and someone had raised the money quick-smart; by the looks of her, she seemed much the age of myself. Hitting thirty, she was, and she should’ve had more sense than to need me.
She watched me intently, despite the tears; my bleached hair not to her standards and me with a tattered apron on to hide my tight knitted jumper and straight skirt.
‘You sure you’re in bother?’ I asked, turning the key and creaking open the door to my medicines room.
That nodding started again and more snivelling. Slim shoulders rising and falling as she trembled to her very knees.
‘Don’t be crying.’ I thought of the money. ‘Please.’ I became as gentle as you like and used the midwife’s face that I’ve practiced over the years.
An odd time, I wonder why and how they have come to this. I know though that most of them are married and visit me more than once. Burdened with too many. Used to spreading their legs and having life or death removed from their groins. But these girls are different. They’re damaged either by themselves or somebody else. I probably hurt them again, but, sure, that’s business. I can’t think of every one of them.
‘It’ll be grand. We’ll sort things. Stop the crying.’
I pointed at the high bed in the middle of the room. Light for my work comes in the tall window, with the flash of an odd pigeon behind the net curtain. It’s not a palace, but it will do for now.
The Angelus rang out, and we blessed ourselves. Looking down, I prayed to Our Lady and St Brigid for blessings and guidance. I’ve given up on forgiveness.
There before me when my eyes opened were expensive navy shoes with elegant straps. They were just the perfect height for dancing.
‘Where did you get them?’
‘Sligo town…’ A handkerchief muffled the name of the shop. But sure, I wasn’t going all the way back to Sligo for a pair of dainty shoes. She’d come as far as myself, but she’d most likely go back.
‘Got money for this?’
The tiny gold clasp clicked open. She took out an envelope that bulged like my eyes. I tried not to snatch it. Country girls always have the right amount. Honest as the day is long. I left the twenty pounds on the dresser, under the mirror out of harm’s way, and pointed again to the bed. The greyish sheet was changed – this morning had left its mark.
The modest way this one removed her skirt and panties made me chuckle. As if I’d never seen my own bits and pieces. Gently, she placed her hat on the chair where I usually plonk my basin. But I said nothing and went about getting my business ready. With my back to her, she sobbed, and I thought of the last time she might have had something inside her.
I never ask questions, but sometimes, they tell me it all, hoping to make it all better. But we all know it’s never that simple.
There was a nice smell from her – calm as lavender, and smooth and fresh like face cream. You could tell the way she looked about the room that she was well raised. She knew her manners. That perfect nose wrinkled in displeasure but not disgust.
Her slim hands still trembled as I told her to come to edge of the bed. I lifted her knees and encouraged them to flop out to the sides. My syringe was full of the concoction that would either solve her ills or make them worse. Who knew?
Sometimes, it takes no time at all to prod the wire and the rubber tubing in. Many don’t say a word or bless themselves and pray throughout. Others cry. Mostly, I don’t notice anymore. But with this pretty, young one, something didn’t feel right. She barely spoke. Even the rich one’s ramble, making excuses for their decision. This one seemed sure in her quest. Her eyes held tears, but as she curled her fingers into a fist, I felt no remorse off her, and it dawned on me she needed this badly. Pity flooded me, and there’s nothing I hate more than pity. I felt it wouldn’t be the last I’d see of her, and this worried me. Something deep in my gut told me she was a bad omen.
‘I’ll have to get myself some shoes like those,’ I said.
She sniffed and murmured her agreement.
‘Do you dance?’
‘I love the dances in the Gresham. Haven’t gone much since…I came here.’
‘I don’t feel like dancing,’
Her blonde curls splayed on the pillow, and she faced right towards the window. ‘I hate everything these days.’ She shuddered either with fear or cold.
‘Those shoes, now, sure you couldn’t hate them?’
She didn’t answer me. I did what I could for her. It all went grand until she was readying herself to leave. I couldn’t help staring and saw no ring on her finger.
Suddenly, she touched my arm. She came closer and said, ‘Thank you. You saved me. You must save so many.’
Something cracked. All I knew about myself shifted. It was the way she did it. I couldn’t look at her.
‘You go now. Wait for the bleeding and the pains to start. Don’t come back here.’
With a zip and a swoosh, she was dressed. Sheathed in the jacket, she reached for her hat; the loud wobble of the chair breaking the silence when the hat was moved.
I was worried for her more than most. ‘My work is over, but sometimes, women need tablets for infections. You’re a clever girl – you should know if things are right down below.’
Her voice shook as she sat to fidget with buckles. ‘Yes. Thank you.’
I couldn’t wait to get rid of her. A lingering sense of all that I knew shattered before me. She’d shaken me to the core of myself. I trembled and opened the latch on the front door. I couldn’t speak. She got to the footpath and walked away.
Closing the door, I felt like a woman who steals souls for money. I normally don’t think on it much at all. I just know I am a criminal bitch who lives in the gutter.
It was never about saving anyone; I just needed the cash, they needed the service. Now, my heart is split with the torture of them all. All of them who’ve needed me and them in a bad way. Those who I thought nothing of at all. I can’t cast my mind to it. I simply can’t. That bitch made me a saviour and made it all too big a deal.
‘God takes and gives life,’ the priest says.
I was always told it was wrong, but this one muddied my waters, unstilled what has been right for so long.
‘Women always do the best with what they are given,’ Mammy would say.
I did my best, but now, I feel like I’m going fucking mad.
About the Author:
Sharon Thompson lives in Donegal, Ireland. She is a member of Imagine, Write, Inspire. This is a writing group, under the mentorship of HarperCollins author Carmel Harrington. Sharon’s short stories have been published in various literary magazines and websites. #WritersWise is her collaboration with writer, Dr Liam Farrell. This is a trending, fortnightly, promotional tweet-chat with corresponding Facebook page and website. Its mission is to encourage and support writers to reach as wide an audience as possible. Although she mostly writes crime fiction, Sharon does have a fun-side and she writes the quirky Woman’s Words column for the Donegal Woman website.
Today I am one of the stops on the Blog Tour with Bloodhound Books for Red is the Colour by Mark L. Fowler. It was released yesterday, July 25th. Today I am sharing the first chapter with you.
Bullying. Corruption. Murder.
It is the summer of 2002. The corpse of a 15 year old boy, missing for thirty years, is discovered in Stoke-on-Trent. The city is on the cusp of change and Chief Superintendent Berkins wants the case solved quickly.
DCI Jim Tyler has arrived from London under a cloud, moving to Staffordshire to escape his past. He is teamed up with DS Danny Mills to investigate the case, but there is tension between the detectives.
When the dead boy’s sister comes forward, describing a bright, solitary child, she points a finger at the school bullies. Important careers may be at stake.
Then one of the bullies is found brutally murdered.
As Tyler and Mills dig deeper they start to suspect a cover-up. What is the connection between the death of a schoolboy in 1972 and this latest killing?
With the pressure building, and the past catching up with DCI Tyler, will he and DS Mills be able to put aside their differences in order to catch a cold-blooded killer?
Nobody had noticed the bone sticking out of the ground. The yellow diggers remained silent and the workers had left the site for the weekend, absolved of all guilt for what they had done; exposing a thirty-year-old evil to the fading summer light.
Josh Smith was walking his black retriever, Stan, along the canal towpath on a warm Sunday evening in June. With an air of resignation, the boy snapped the clip of the lead onto the dog’s collar, and headed through the gate from the towpath down towards the subway entrance. The weekend was all but over. It was time to go home and get that homework done.
The two friends scurried through the empty subway that ran like a labyrinth beneath the giant roundabout. They emerged at the Wall of Death, the notorious accident black-spot, a monolithic curving structure segregating the main traffic artery from the adjacent foot path. From there they began the short climb up towards the ancient village where they lived.
At the top of the first climb was a plateau, a no-man’s land that the villagers refused to lay claim to; a place of shadow that to outsiders marked the outer limits of the village itself. On the site where the old factory had stood, the process of demolition was almost complete. In a few months’ time a splendid new visitors’ centre would herald another exciting chapter in the regeneration of the city.
That’s what the local politicians were promising, according to Josh Smith’s dad. But for now, the place was one more graveyard housing the spirits of a great industrial past.
The usual shortcut, the un-named track leading from the plateau towards a rough and weary tarmac path known locally as The Stumps, had been temporarily fenced off. Undeterred, Josh and Stan slipped beneath the barricade.
Moving carefully between the giant mounds of freshly dug earth, the two adventurers made good progress, crossing the forbidden site towards The Stumps, where the second barricade had been erected. As they edged around the base of the larger mound, Stan yanked fiercely on the lead, the sudden movement taking Josh by surprise and tearing the lead out of his hand.
The dog was sniffing around the base of the mound, and as Josh got closer he could see that his friend was licking at an object poking out of the excavated earth.
Nothing more than a rotten old stick, thought the boy. But the retriever was pulling on the ‘stick’, tugging at it for all he was worth and issuing a low growl as he did so. Didn’t he realise there was maths and history to be done and parents already checking watches?
Stan seemed determined to have the treat and he was growling now with uncharacteristic menace as he wrestled with the dark thing that the ground refused to yield up.
Josh felt the first sickly tug of panic. They should not be in this place, stranded between the barriers festooned with warning signs proclaiming unspecified danger.
Darkness was closing in around them.
Josh picked up the lead and snatched hard enough to feel the leather cut into his hands. In an urgent, shouted whisper, he urged Stan to, ‘Come on!’
Still the retriever’s fangs clenched tenaciously around the new find, while his master stopped to ease the pressure on his burning fingers.
The earth started moving.
The mysterious object was still clinging to some hidden thing inside the mound, something as yet invisible to the eye. Stan was swinging his head from side to side, determined to prise the find loose. His growl becoming savage.
Josh could see that the thing in the ground was not a stick, rather a bone, blackened no doubt by age and burial. More of the earth was sliding. Josh wanted to cry. At any moment, the hill might collapse and bury the pair of them forever.
Renewing his efforts, he hauled on the lead, his hands ready to burst into flames. But Stan was still not giving up the struggle. More of the bone was emerging, bringing with it whatever was holding it back and keeping it partially submerged beneath the dirt and rubble of a bygone age.
Josh let go of the lead and placed his hands under his armpits, squeezing away at the pain. ‘Stan, damn you,’ he shouted, his eyes stinging with tears.
As more of the bone began to come loose, the boy could see that it was connected to something larger, something hideous. He wanted to look away, but found himself unable to do so. Instead, he stood transfixed, awaiting the extent of the revelation.
The scream was forming in the pit of his stomach. He could feel it rising into his throat with the realisation that Stan was holding triumphantly between his teeth the blackened skeleton of a human arm.
The dog was momentarily frozen by his master’s guttural scream, though he still wouldn’t let go of the arm.
In the awful silence that followed, as the scream died in echoes across the darkening city, Josh Smith watched the lower part of the mound collapse, allowing enough of the skull to break free of the earth to leave him in no doubt that the world was full of dark intentions and evil deeds.
All time went to the moon until sirens and flashing lights filled the summer night, the cavalry arriving on the scene thirty years late.
In fact, as Detective Sergeant Danny Mills was to observe, almost thirty years to the day too late.
About the Author:
Mark L. Fowler is the author of the novels Coffin Maker, The Man Upstairs, Silver, and Red Is The Colour, and more than a hundred short stories. His particular interests are in crime and mystery, psychological thrillers and gothic/horror fiction.
His first published novel, Coffin Maker, is a gothic tale set between our world and the Kingdom of Death. In the Kingdom the Coffin Maker lives a solitary existence, and every coffin he completes signals the end of a life in our world. One day he discovers that he is to be sent two apprentices, amid rumours that the devil is arriving on Earth.
Mark’s second novel, The Man Upstairs, features the hard-boiled detective, Frank Miller, who works the weird streets of Chapeltown. Having discovered that he is in fact the hero of twenty successful mystery novels, authored by The Man Upstairs, Frank has reasons to fear that this latest case might be his last.
In 2016, Silver, a dark and disturbing psychological thriller was published by Bloodhound Books. When a famous romance novelist dies in mysterious circumstances, she leaves behind an unfinished manuscript, Silver. This dark and uncharacteristic work has become the Holy Grail of the publishing world, but the dead writer’s family have their reasons for refusing to allow publication.
Red Is The Colour is Mark’s latest book, a crime mystery featuring two police detectives based in Staffordshire. The case involves the grim discovery of the corpse of a schoolboy who went missing thirty years earlier. Red Is The Colour is the first in a series featuring DCI Tyler and DS Mills, and will be published in July 2017 by Bloodhound Books.
The author contributed a short story, Out of Retirement, to the best-selling crime and horror collection, Dark Minds. Featuring many well known writers, all proceeds from the sales of Dark Minds will go to charity.
A graduate in philosophy from Leicester University, Mark lives in Staffordshire, and is currently writing a follow up to Red Is The Colour. When he isn’t writing he enjoys time with family and friends, watching TV and films, playing guitar/piano and going for long walks.[Top]
Today is my stop in the Blog Tour with Bloodhound Books for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead by Owen Mullen. Today I am sharing an excerpt of the novel.
Charlie’s Back! Gavin Law was a whistleblower. Now he’s missing. Just another case for Glasgow PI, Charlie Cameron, until he discovers there is more to Law and his disappearance than anyone imagined. Wallace Maitland, the surgeon responsible for leaving a woman brain-damaged may have abandoned his sacred oath and become a killer. Did the hospital which refused to accept responsibility for the tragedy have Law silenced permanently? Or, with his wife little more than a vegetable, has David Cooper, believing he has been betrayed yet again, taken justice into his own hands? Charlie comes to realise the world of medicine can be a dangerous place.
Across the city, East End gangster, Sean Rafferty is preparing to exploit the already corrupt city council in a multi-million pound leisure development known as Riverside. The project will be good for Glasgow. But not everybody is keen to work with Rafferty. With more than money at stake, Sean will do anything to get his way. His motto, borrowed from his old man, is simple. Never take a no from somebody who can give you a yes. If that means murder, then so be it. Charlie has crossed Rafferty’s path before and lived to tell the tale. He may not be so lucky a second time.
Colin McMillan sat in the car outside the flat and stared at the window. More than once he started to get out and changed his mind. The light was on. She was there; he’d seen the curtain move an hour ago. Since then there had been nothing. For two months he had tried and failed to have a conversation with his estranged wife. Joyce didn’t want to speak to him and hung up as soon as she heard his voice.
Without her, the house in Bearsden where they had lived for fifteen years, was just bricks and mortar; rooms filled only with memories of them as Colin and Joyce: The McMillans.
On their last night together they’d made love in the dark. And in the dark, Joyce was more demanding than he had ever known her. She devoured him, scratching his back and beating her fists on his chest like a trapped animal trying to escape. When it was over she turned away, sobbing quietly into the pillow. Because she had known.
The following evening, McMillan returned to find his wife gone, leaving him confused and unhappy and alone to wonder what he had done wrong.
Since then, he had drifted through days that became weeks then months, paralysed with sorrow; unable to come to terms with it. He had been here on other nights, hoping she would talk to him and at least tell him why.
The edge of the curtain drew back a fraction. For a couple of seconds a face peered down at him. Or did it? He couldn’t be sure. It had been a long and difficult day in theatre dealing with a series of complicated deliveries; the surgeon was exhausted. Seeing what he wanted to see maybe. So he waited, afraid of causing a scene, knowing it wouldn’t help. After twenty minutes he came to a decision. Whatever the problem was it could be put right. He had to have one last go at saving his marriage.
McMillan got out of the car.
His footsteps echoed in the stairwell. A lonely sound. At the top he stopped. The door of the flat was open. He called. ‘Joyce! Joyce! Joyce it’s me!’
McMillan went inside, along the hall and into the lounge at the end. There was no sign of his wife. He tried a bedroom. Nobody there. Not in the kitchen either. In the second bedroom he found her and his world fell apart.
Joyce was hanging from a cupboard door. She had cut an electrical cable off something and used it as a makeshift noose. Her features were distorted by the agony endured in the minutes before she died. Saliva trickled from her mouth and a viscous strand of mucous hung from her chin, like the beginning of a spider’s web. The tip of her tongue poked from between her teeth above bulging eyes that didn’t see.
The books she’d been standing on lay scattered on the floor and her arms were by her side, pushed tight inside the belt she had been wearing so she wouldn’t be able change her mind. Joyce McMillan hadn’t wanted to save herself.
Colin McMillan ran to his wife and threw himself around her waist, sobbing like a child. He eased her lifeless body off the door and carried it into the lounge. On the couch he placed a pillow beneath her head and ran his fingers tenderly through her hair. What kind of hell had she been in to do this?
The answer was on the coffee table. Three crisp pages slipped under a half-finished cup of tea, still warm. Joyce’s small unhurried hand explained all her husband hadn’t understood and more. At the end she had written ‘I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Please.’
Reading it broke McMillan’s heart. It hadn’t been passion that final night, it was despair. When he finished he was crying. He turned off the light and sat staring into the darkness, drained of every emotion except hate. Joyce’s face, horribly twisted in her final moments, would be with him for as long as he lived. He loosened his tie with a trembling hand. Eventually he folded the sheets of paper and put them in his jacket pocket, reached for the telephone and dialled 999.
About the Author:
When he was ten, Owen Mullen won a short story competition and didn’t write anything else for almost forty years. In between he graduated from Strathclyde University with a Masters in Tourism and a degree in Marketing, moved to London and worked as a rock musician, session singer and songwriter, andhad a hit record in Japan with a band he refuses to name; on occasion he still performs. He returned to Scotland to run a management consultancy and a marketing agency. He is an Arsenal supporter and a serious foodie. A gregarious recluse, he and his wife, Christine, split their time between Glasgow – where the Charlie Cameron books are set – and their villa in the Greek Islands.[Top]