Today I am delighted to hand over the blog to guest Helen Hollick, author of - among other things - the Jan Christopher Cosy Murder Mystery Series. Book 4, A Meadow Murder, has just been published. Over to Helen:
ABOUT A MEADOW MURDER
Make hay while the sun shines?
Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.
But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout...
A Meadow Murder is the fourth tale in the Jan Christopher cosy murder mystery series, the first three being A Mirror Murder, A Mystery of Murder and A Mistake of Murder... see what I’ve done there? Yes, I’ve created a proper puzzle for myself because now every tale in the series will have to follow the same title pattern of ‘A M-something- of Murder’ (Suggestions welcome!)
Fancy a fictional holiday in Devon?
By Helen Hollick
There are several advantages to having a fictional holiday via the pages of a novel. It’s a lot cheaper for one thing, (even sort-of free if you are signed up for membership with Kindle Unlimited). No packing or travelling, unless you count wandering into the back garden and settling in your favourite deckchair. You can also avoid the rain. With A Meadow Murder, you can sit back, glass of wine and bowl of strawberries or raspberries to hand to tuck into whether you’re indoors or out, and immerse yourself with Jan Christopher and fiancé DS Laurie Walker in the hot Devonshire sunshine. You can wander up the lane with them, spend a day at the races and enjoy haymaking all from the comfort of home.
Based on my years of working as a library assistant during the 1970s, the Jan Christopher mysteries alternate between the location of Chingford, north-east London, where the real library I worked in used to be, (the building is still there, but is, alas, now offices,) and I’ve loosely used my own Devon village. But the fictional ‘Chappletawton’ is a fictional version, larger than my rural community and has far more quirky characters.
The main characters in the series, however, remain the same: Jan Christopher is the niece, and ward, of Detective Chief Inspector Toby Christopher and his wife, her Aunt Madge. In A Mirror Murder, Jan (short for January, a name she hates) meets her uncle’s new driver, Detective Constable Lawrence Walker. Naturally, it is love at first sight... but will an investigation into a murder affect their budding romance?
We find out as the series continues: Episode Two takes the young couple to spend Christmas at Laurie’s parents’ old farmhouse in Devon, while Episode Three sees us back at work at Chingford library. We again travel to Devon for the summer of 1972 in Episode Four - A Meadow Murder. And no spoilers, but the title is a little bit of a giveaway!
I had the idea for A Meadow Murder during the summer of 2022, while watching our top field being cut for hay. The cover photograph is my field – a real Devonshire hay meadow, and the scenes in the story are based on my everyday life, including walks up the lane and climbing up small waterfalls.
"As delicious as a Devon Cream Tea!” author Elizabeth St John
"Every sentence pulls you back into the early 1970s... The Darling Buds of May, only not Kent, but Devon. The countryside itself is a character and Hollick imbues it with plenty of emotion." author Alison Morton
READ AN EXCERPT:
Interlude – written by Laurie Walker
Reaching home, Jan and Aunt Madge went indoors to make cocoa. I went on down the lane for a few yards to check that Dad had shut and locked the garage door. It had originally been the smaller of the two old barns on the other side of the lane, opposite the house. Bess came with me, her nose sniffing out all the delightful doggie smells along the hedge, her tail wagging as it always did. I found that the garage padlock was firmly secured and stood a while, looking down across the moonlit valley. The last train to Barnstaple clattered over a bridge, the lights from its carriages winking and blinking as it snaked around the curve of the track, trundled up an incline and was gone from sight, though not sound, as I could hear it chugging and clattering for another couple of minutes.
An owl hooted close by, answered by its mate. Somewhere down in the valley, possibly the training yard at Four Horseshoes, a dog was barking. I mused on how Ruairi O’Connor had fared this evening. Not well I would hazard, for Jack Woollen was not known for mincing his words when disappointed by poor results. Why he employed O’Connor I couldn’t fathom. He was not a particularly good rider, let alone a good jockey. Dad had told me that he’d heard rumours that Mr Woollen was not doing as well as he used to – rumours certainly backed up by today’s performances. Perhaps he couldn’t afford a decent jockey to ride for him now?
There was something more about that jockey that Jan was keeping from me. I’d noticed her grim expression when first seeing him in the parade ring, then her quiet smile of satisfaction when he and his horse had parted company. Had she the same feeling of unease about this guy as I had? That there was something not quite right about his ability and attitude? Or maybe I was imagining things, my policeman’s mind working overtime. Seeing shadows where there were none.
I stood, breathing in the damp, night air. I loved Devon, was not keen on London, but then I also loved my job – and that meant London. In London you could not see many stars, too much interference from street lighting, houses, cars, industrial estates. Here, the sky was full of stars, although they were not as brilliant because of the moon. On moonless nights the Milky Way was visible arcing like a distant, misted rainbow – a starbow? – across the back garden. Something bright was fairly low, hovering and twinkling above the hills. The wrong time of year and position for Sirius, the Dog Star. Venus maybe? Too bright for anything else.
Bess nudged my hand as if to tell me she was ready for bed. I put my hand down to fondle her soft, Labrador ears. It had been a good day. I was a lucky man. Kind, supportive parents, a rewarding, mostly enjoyable job, and a beautiful young woman who would, soon, be my wife. I couldn’t believe my luck that I had found Jan, although I did occasionally wonder what on earth she saw in me, an ordinary, nothing special guy. Yes, I was a policeman, but that didn’t make me Batman or Superman, did it?
The dog down in the valley had stopped barking. Apart from the wind rustling through the trees, all was quiet. Tomorrow – I had a quick look at my watch, no, today – was Mum’s birthday. Nothing special, she was forty-something, (I’ll not be indelicate enough to reveal a lady’s age), but whatever her age she was special to me and Dad, and, I hoped, Jan also.
One last glance at the sky and a shooting star flared across the heavens. I made a wish, and no, I’ll not reveal that, either.
Tucked up in bed, I took a while to fall asleep. Partly because Jan was at the other end of the house, alone in her bed and I rather wished we could be together, but discretion meant otherwise, and partly, I couldn’t sleep because my mind wouldn’t let go of that torchlight in the woods. I must have succumbed at some point, though, because I awoke muzzily, with a vague, early morning mist-bound greyness beyond the window, and Bess downstairs, barking.
I groaned and was tempted to bury my head under the pillow, but the barking continued, and I realised that someone was frantically knocking at our front door.
READ ON IN A Meadow Murder, and immerse yourself in country life during the summer of 1972 ... and maybe solve a murder along the way?
Buy Links - Paperback or e-book, including Kindle Unlimited
Amazon Universal Link: this link should take you direct to your own local Amazon online store https://mybook.to/AMeadowMurder
Also available worldwide, or order from any reliable bookstore
All Helen’s books are available on Amazon: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: HELEN HOLLICK
First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/supernatural series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.
She lives with her husband and daughter in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, enjoys hosting author guests on her own blog ‘Let Us Talk Of Many Things’ and occasionally gets time to write...
Subscribe to her Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Main Blog: https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick