When her best friend is murdered, Pauline Riddell finds she must take the law into her own hands if she is to see justice done.
It’s northern England, 1953, rationing is still in place and the Cold War is heating up. Her fiancé is out in Korea, where thankfully that war is winding down, and she’s just setting out in adult life working at a local armament factory. She’s hard-up, everyone is, but Pauline can see better times ahead, a home, a family, a responsible job, and she’s preparing for that future. Then her friend, Marjorie, is stabbed to death.
At first, Pauline is only concerned with helping the police. She’s intelligent and resourceful but also inexperienced, just out of school and still believing the world runs in trustworthy ways.
Then she finds the police think they’ve caught her friend’s killer and they’re winding down the investigation. Pauline now realizes this is a world where you can’t always leave things to others, you have to get involved yourself. But, as she investigates and puts pressure on the police for more action, she finds the killer wants her out of the way and the police have come to suspect she killed her friend. Can she catch the killer before she either faces the same fate as Marjorie or is hanged for killing her?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love murder mysteries and my particular favorite is Miss Marple. There weren't enough Miss Marple stories in my view so I'm writing my own. Agatha Christie is very vague about how Miss Marple lived before she became the elderly solver of mysteries and I wanted to make sure my Miss Riddell had a sensible start in her mystery-solving career, hence 'In The Beginning, There Was a Murder'.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Miss Riddell is modeled on Miss Marple, of course, but also very much my aunts who were equally hard-headed about life and death — they were nurses, after all. Miss Riddell's family comes from my own family members of the day while the cynical Inspector Ramsay is mostly me.
Northern England, 1953
ON THE BUS TO WORK, Pauline craned her head around to see what everyone was pointing at. It was a crime scene. Police cars had blocked off part of a street that joined the bus route. There was nothing to see, but as she heard everyone on the bus saying, it must have been serious because they’d never seen so many police cars in one place. From sleepy silence, the bus was now abuzz with speculation. Pauline’s own thoughts had a different slant; would the Police discover that last night she’d walked through the park farther down that street and would they want to interview her?
Work too had the same buzz, for many had walked past the scene on their way to work and they’d questioned the police on duty there. It was murder, that was certain. Newcastle wasn’t a big city, not like London, Birmingham, or Manchester, so murders were quite rare and ones where the crime scene was so close to the city center, rarer still.
By lunch time, people knew that it was a gang member killed in a fight with another gang. The depravity of modern-day youth was discussed and the baleful influence of the last War, the present Korean War, the Nuclear Menace and the Cold War was given by everyone as to why the streets were now so dangerous. Pauline nodded in what she hoped would be understood as agreement when the subject arose but found it a curious line of thinking. Until today, she’d never heard of this rash of teenage gang violence that had apparently been happening all around her these past three years she’d lived in the city. As a teenage girl until only a few months ago, she thought she would have known about it.
At the café, waiting for Marjorie to appear, she ordered her tea and Sly Cake, more popularly known to school- children throughout the North as Dead Fly Pie or Fly Cemetery. Despite these names, it was a family favorite with Pauline and one of the few things she thought this café did really well. Not quite Yorkshire well, but good enough for a displaced Yorkshire lass.
When Marjorie hadn’t arrived by the time she’d finished her tea and pastry, Pauline decided she’d better go and find her. She guessed Marjorie was still angry about yesterday when Pauline had been daydreaming instead of listening.
She discovered Marjorie hadn’t come into work and hadn’t sent word why not.
“Her mum could have found a phone box to let us know,” the head of the secretarial pool said crossly when Pauline pointed out Marjorie’s family wasn’t rich enough to have a phone in the house.
Pauline returned to her desk. She could get the bus to Marjorie’s house after work but how would that look? She was Marjorie’s friend, and as such, she knew it was just too much partying that had Marjorie off work, not an actual illness. Yet, not to go when she was Marjorie’s friend would look odd as well.
Something Pauline thought really odd, now she was looking at that thought head-on, was that Eric was supposed to be an older, more mature man yet Marjorie had mentioned parties that clearly involved drink, drugs, and what sounded like orgies, at least in Pauline’s admittedly limited experience of life. That last bit had seemed like boasting to Pauline; this was the northeast of England and not famous for Bacchanalian revelry.
Her work kept her chained, head down, typing furiously at her desk until her concentration was disturbed by the afternoon break and the tea lady with her trolley.
“Your usual, hinny?” the tea lady asked.
“Yes, please,” Pauline said, “and one of those nice fig rolls if you have one left.” She was one of the last on the tea trolley’s rounds.
“I saved you one. I know how much you like them.” The woman handed over the cup and saucer with the fig roll balanced on the edge.
Pauline found the money in her purse and handed it over.
“Have you heard?” the tea lady said. “There was another murder last night. Not just one, two.”
“How awful,” Pauline said. “Another one of those gang members?”
“Dunno. It wasn’t a man anyway. It was a young woman but she could have been in the gang I suppose. So many are nowadays, aren’t they?”
“I’m afraid so, yes,” Pauline said. “Was it near the same place?”
“It was. So, I expect it was them. Revenge for killing the man, maybe, or maybe the man was revenge for killing the girl. Horrible.” She said ‘horrible’ in a way that caused Pauline to suspect that horror wasn’t the feeling that was truly being expressed.
“I don’t normally but I’ll buy a paper on my way home,” Pauline said. “I live alone so I don’t like to think of this kind of thing happening here.”
“My old man would give them a good hiding if they tried any of that stuff around our place,” the tea lady said. “He thinks they should all be in the army, not doing apprenticeships. They can do that when they’ve grown up a bit.”
Pauline smiled. “I expect he’s right,” she said. She knew from experience this was the kind of discussion that could go on forever once started.
The tea lady pulled the trolley back out into the corridor. “See you tomorrow,” she said.
Pauline sipped her tea and nibbled her snack. An uncomfortable feeling had begun to coalesce in her stomach that had nothing to do with her food. Now the police would really want to interview everyone who was in that area last night. Would it be best to come forward voluntarily? She’d met no one she knew on her walk so she didn’t have to come forward. No one could give her away. But, a small voice in her head said, mum and dad would expect me to help the police. Plus, if she didn’t come forward and somebody had seen her, it would look bad.
The office rumors would soon be saying the murdered girl was Marjorie. After all, how likely was it there would be two missing girls in Newcastle in one night? If the police came here, what could she tell them? Marjorie had gone off at four o’clock to be picked up by her mature lover in his expensive car before being whisked away to a party out-of-town. From her own point of view, she had to think there was no chance Marjorie could have been wandering around the city center near midnight and it was just a coincidence her not coming in today. Coincidences happened in real life more than seemed likely and this was an example of it. That was all she could say, if the police asked. The same reticence that had allowed her to argue against visiting Marjorie’s house earlier now settled her mind. She had nothing to say to the police and nothing to fear by not putting herself forward.
Tomorrow was Saturday. If Marjorie wasn’t at work in the morning, she’d go around to Marjorie’s house to see how she was and that would be the end of this uncomfortable feeling.
The evening newspaper Pauline bought on her way home might have changed her mind if it had had the name of the murdered woman. It didn’t. First thing tomorrow afternoon would be a proper time to make inquiries. Until then, she would say nothing.
To put all this out of her mind, she re-read Stephen’s latest letter. It was written more than a week ago, which wasn’t encouraging. There were news reports of a ceasefire being arranged and she’d hoped that meant letters would come even more quickly than they had been doing. Maybe it was the opposite and there was a clampdown by the censors in order to prevent wrong information about the peace talks from getting out. That might explain the delay. She sighed and filled her pen, noting the bottle was running low. When he did return they’d save a fortune on ink, she thought with a smile. She had to write or she’d never sleep soundly, her conscience would nag. How much should she tell him about Marjorie? He’d met Marjorie so he would be interested to hear news of her, but right now, Marjorie had just missed a day at work. She couldn’t suggest to him that her friend had been murdered.
If the murder victim was Marjorie how would Stephen feel, she wondered. While he liked Marjorie, he thought her too much of a tease. That’s what he’d said. Pauline asked if she’d flirted with him and he’d answered no, it was just what he’d observed when they were in company. She’d been satisfied with his answer, pleased even, but was sad Stephen couldn’t value Marjorie as she did, then. Now, however, she wasn’t sure Stephen hadn’t been right. Marjorie’s desire for the admiration of any man she came into contact with was what had led to Pauline’s present unease.
Paul James is a retired engineer with a life-long interest in books and writing. Originally from England, he’s lived with his family near Toronto, Canada, for many years and where he walks, runs, and takes wildlife photos whenever the weather will let him. In his writing, he likes to capture the humorous side of life even when sometimes the world doesn’t seem to warrant it
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