ShortBookandScribes #BlogTour #Extract from The Final Reckoning by Margaret James @majanovelist #RandomThingsTours #BlogTour #TheFinalReckoning
Welcome to my spot on the blog tour for The Final Reckoning by Margaret James. I’m delighted to have an extract from the book to share with you today. My thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the place on the tour.
What if you had to return to the place that made you fall apart?
When Lindsay Ellis was a teenager, she witnessed the aftermath of the violent murder of her lover’s father. The killer was never found.
Traumatised by what she saw, Lindsay had no choice but to leave her home village of Hartley Cross and its close-knit community behind.
Now, years later, she must face up to the terrible memories that haunt her still. But will confronting the past finally allow Lindsay to heal, or will her return to Hartley Cross unearth dangerous secrets and put the people she has come to care about most at risk?
The Final Reckoning was published in ebook format by Ruby Fiction and in audio by Soundings on 22 January 2019. It is available on all major platforms including:
The price of the ebook varies: average is £1.99.
This excerpt opens as the heroine Lindsay Ellis goes to call on her former boyfriend Simon Dyer, who dumped her after he was accused of the brutal murder of his father. At his trial, Simon was found not guilty, but hardly anyone believes he didn’t kill Louise Dyer.
Lindsay is still in love with Simon. But does he feel anything for Lindsay, and – if he does – should she even be speaking to someone who might have killed a parent in a horrible and cold-blooded way?
So much for good intentions, I thought ruefully, as I walked along the Hereford road, passing The Cider House and Vineyard Cottage – both gentrified, I noticed, presumably by the sort of city people who were buying up great swathes of the more attractive property in Hartley Cross.
So much for firm, decisive action, I reflected, as I passed the former village school – these days a holiday home owned by some Birmingham businessman – and turned into the drive that led to Brougham Gate.
I strode up to the front door.
I rang the bell.
As I waited, I gazed all around. Well, I decided, he couldn’t have inherited much cash. This ruinous house, which I remembered as a gorgeous Tudor mansion, pale grey timber and red brick, looked like an enormous chicken coop in the last stages of decay.
One of the tall, barley-sugar chimneys had come tumbling down, and lay in pieces on the gravel drive. A previous winter’s gale had blown huge numbers of the roof tiles off, and they still lay on the driveway, broken and jagged, waiting to trip someone up. Where the upper storey of the house had once been rendered and painted a soft russet, the rendering was now stained and sodden, bulging from the walls. Here and there, great lumps of it had come away completely, leaving the bricks exposed. At the gable ends, the lovely Tudor carvings were spotted black and green with mould.
After a wait that seemed like all eternity, but was probably only half a minute at the most, I heard somebody coming. I knew that tread so well! There was still time to run away, I told myself. There was still time to hide.
But I was rooted to the spot.
Simon opened the door. Or rather tugged it, scraping it across the flagstones of the entrance hall.
‘Hello, Lindsay. I heard you were back.’
‘I-I thought I ought to call.’ My heart was in my mouth. But, all the same, I managed to smile at him. ‘H-how are you?’
‘Oh, not so bad.’ Miraculously, he smiled too. ‘Doing okay, I guess.’
I had half expected to see that he’d grown prematurely old – haggard, I suppose, with guilt perhaps, and with regret. But Simon’s looks had actually improved. The pretty face was much more angular, and the slight teenager’s body had filled out, had hardened, so the boy was these days a fine-looking man.
‘Time for a coffee?’ he asked pleasantly.
‘I’d love one,’ I replied.
I needed to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Somehow, I appeared to be having a normal conversation with this man, and he in turn looked almost pleased to see me.
I could not deceive myself. As soon as I’d set eyes on him again, I knew that I was still in love with Simon Dyer.
But as I followed him into the damp, dark house, my other self was asking if this was such a great plan after all. Spiders of memory crawled along my spine and, as Simon led me into the kitchen where a range of rusting pans and other mediaeval-looking implements dangled from rusty hooks, I began to wonder if I’d faint. Or be sick, at any rate, for over there, that was where Louis had—
No. I wouldn’t think of Louis Dyer, and instead I commented to myself on the state of the kitchen, where the walls were running with damp, and great black spots of mould had spread to form whole islands on the flaking plaster.
‘Shall I take your coat?’ asked Simon.
‘No!’ Alarmed, I crossed my arms against my chest protectively. But then I forced another smile. ‘I mean, it’s rather cold in here. I don’t suppose you notice, living here all the time.’
‘It’s cold because the Rayburn’s on the blink,’ said Simon calmly. ‘I keep meaning to get Nathan or Dan Casson round to have a look at it.’
He filled the kettle and put it on the hob of a new Calor Gas stove that was very grubby. Grease and bits of food clogged all four burners. He rooted in a cupboard, found a jar of instant coffee, poked a spoon inside, and managed to dislodge some powdery grains. ‘It gets so damp in here,’ he muttered, as the kettle boiled.
He made two mugs of scummy broth. ‘I might have some milk,’ he said looking towards the fridge. ‘But I suspect it might be off.’
‘It doesn’t matter. I prefer it black.’
‘So do I,’ said Simon.
‘What are you doing these days?’ I enquired.
‘I run an antiques business from one of the barns. Victoriana, glass and china, Welsh dressers, wardrobes, all that kind of thing. We do well, especially on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer. Naomi comes over sometimes, does a bit of catering. Then we have a sort of unofficial little café going, too.’
‘You see quite a bit of the Cassons, then?’
‘Oh, yes! Daniel and Rachel come here all the time. Naomi brings me casseroles and puddings, Samuel fixes things and Nathan does deliveries. I don’t drive these days, you see.’
Disqualified, I thought, just like your father. Glancing quickly at his face, I saw some broken veins. His eyes were bloodshot, too.
‘I was very sorry to hear about your mother,’ he said kindly.
‘It must have been an awful shock for you, but you’ll get over it.’
‘You will. You got over that other business, didn’t you?’
‘I can’t forget what happened, obviously. But I don’t have nightmares any more. Or not so often, anyway.’
‘That’s good to know. Lindsay, you remember, don’t you, Dad said he was going to change his will? He wanted to leave everything to Jael?’
‘So I had a motive, didn’t I?’
‘But nobody in the village thinks you killed him.’
Or not everybody thinks you killed him, I added to myself.
‘The police thought it was me.’
‘Simon, we were in the barn for the whole afternoon. Thirty minutes, you’d have had, an hour at most, to find your father, to attack him, do that other thing, clean yourself up again. You were drunk and stoned, and I can’t see how on earth you—’
‘Who else had a reason to want him dead?’
‘Your father did have the odd enemy or two.’
‘Yes, of course he did. Louis was no saint! He bought that field from poor Roy Barlow at a knock-down price, then flogged it to developers for ten times what he paid.’
‘I don’t remember that.’
‘Dave Norland threw him out of the Lamb and Flag three times a week at least. But Louis got his own back. He gave Flora Norland a lift from Worcester, took her to the Rose at Croxley Bridge, got her pissed, then shagged the landlord’s daughter! He was having it off with half a dozen other women, and most of them were married.’
‘Yeah, okay,’ said Simon. ‘So you’re saying my father’s killer could have been an angry husband, ripped-off farmer, outraged father—’
‘Yes.’ I changed the subject. ‘I heard you often have Rebekah over nowadays. How is she getting on?’
‘She’s okay. She has her ups and downs, of course. She had pneumonia in the summer, had to go into the County Hospital, but she made a good recovery.’
‘Did she ever learn to speak?’
‘She’s had some therapy and she can talk. She doesn’t have a big vocabulary but she mostly understands what’s going on. You stayed away so long,’ he added, not looking at me.
‘I had no reason to come back.’
‘You didn’t want to see me?’
‘Simon, you dumped me! I sent endless emails, texts and messages. You didn’t reply to any of them.’
‘Well, I was upset.’
I suddenly needed to get out of there.
‘I must be getting on,’ I said.
He handed me my bag then saw me out.
As I walked down the drive, I was replaying our conversation in my head. I had steeled myself against abuse, against having the door slammed in my face.
But Simon had been nice to me. He hadn’t asked if I was married. Or if there was someone special. But perhaps he hadn’t needed to because he must have seen that I was still in love with him.
Did he love me?
Margaret James was born in Hereford, a beautiful cathedral city in the English Midlands. She started writing fiction when her children were very small, and her first novel A Touch of Earth was published in 1988.
Since then, she has expanded her range of writing-related activities to take in journalism, short story writing, teaching creative writing, helping to organise and judge writing competitions, and editing other people’s books.
She was delighted when her novel Elegy for a Queen was featured in the UK’s Woman and Home magazine in a selection of the five best time slip novels. The fact that Margaret’s own favourite time slip novel The House on the Strand was also featured put a big grin on her face!
Since becoming a novelist, Margaret has realised that having a name like Margaret James leads to lots of confusion, and in her next life she intends to have a name that she shares with absolutely nobody else.
When she’s not writing, Margaret loves walking, reading anything and everything, gossiping, gardening and eating chocolate. She quite often manages to eat chocolate and write at the same time, which occasionally makes for a somewhat sticky keyboard, but also makes for happy writing.
Just for the record – this Margaret James wrote: A Touch of Earth, Fortune’s Favourite Child, The Treasures of Existence, The Snake Stone, A Green Bay Tree, The Ash Grove, A Special Inheritance, The Final Reckoning, Hallowed Ground, The Morning Promise, The Long Way Home, The Penny Bangle, Elegy for a Queen, The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain, The Wedding Diary, and she contributed to the anthology Loves Me, Loves Me Not. Margaret’s latest novels are Magic Sometimes Happens and Girl in Red Velvet.
The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain and The Penny Bangle are available as a Kindle download entitled The Charton Minster Trilogy.
She was thrilled when The Silver Locket won a prestigious Cataromance Single Titles Award in 2010, and when the cover of The Golden Chain was chosen to feature on the design of a KLM airliner in 2011.The Wedding Diary was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s RoNA award for romantic comedy 2014.
Margaret and Cathie Hartigan are co-authors of The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, which takes students through the entire creative writing process. The Short Story Writer’s Workbook is the second of their bestselling guides for writers and is published in ebook and paperback. The third guide in the series is The Novelist’s Workbook and is available now.
See www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk for more details of the writing guides and the competitions run by CreativeWritingMatters, which include the Trisha Ashley Award for the best humorous short story.