How We’re Celebrating?
The next stage of the launch of Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr has arrived. To celebrate this joyful event of the paperback release, we are having a free book day.
This time new readers can join the series with Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets, free to download from Amazon. Or, if you downloaded Book 1 in the free deal weekend a couple weeks ago, this is an opportunity to continue the Amanda Cadabra journey with Book 2 at zero cost. This offer is just for today and tomorrow, 20th and 21st February, so please do get it while it’s hot.
Here, for your entertainment, is a 15-second video to give the new book a send-off.
Surely this is the final stage in the new sequel release? I hear you ask. Well, actually, there’s more. I’ll come back to that in the next letter.
Meanwhile, this is for all you fellow paperback readers. I hope you enjoy the new sequel. If you’d like to let me know how you get on with it, I would love to hear from you. Always.
PS If you want to start the series now:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
Here we are at last! Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr is now live. Here for your entertainment is the launch video:
This is just a brief note, but I can share with you that one my dearest beta readers has just submitted the very first review of the book to Amazon. Also, I heard from our illustrator, Daniel, that he is working on the cover image for the paperback version of the book. As soon as possible, I will get that out for those who, like me, prefer the touchy-feely experience.
Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth is free from today until Monday. Something else to celebrate!
Back soon with the launch report, thanks to all of those who made this possible, and what next …
PS If you want to start the series now:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
Launch day of the new book is approaching!
Where’s the book?
The sequel, Book 6 in the Amanda Cadabra cozy paranormal mystery series is now with our editor, Kim, of Brockway Gatehouse Literary Services.
Daniel, our illustrator, is tweaks away from completing the cover. The book is with the Inner Circle of beta readers who check for any stray typographical and grammatical errors. Shortly, it will be going out to the VIP readers for an advance read-and-feedback before publication.
Free Book 1
Once again, as has become customary for a new book launch, Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will be free for download for about 48 hours, so any new readers who would like a taster can enjoy the first book without cost.
What’s the line-up?
What can you expect next? First, the title reveal: a bit different from the one shown at the end of Book 5, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths. Then a partial cover reveal with which to tease and tantalise! The full cover reveal will soon follow, however. A highlight will be the trailer video, then launch day, and the free Book 1 offer. No doubt there will be other goodies along the way.
What’s it all about?
Never before have I written a book so quickly. December was an amazingly exciting month for that very reason (as well as Christmas!). So what is about?
Cover witch, Amanda Cadabra travels into Cornwall, driven by the tenacious Detective Inspector Thomas Trelawney of the Devon and Cornwall Police. Much to the inspector’s discomfiture, they are, of course, accompanied by Amanda’s irascible and incorrigible feline familiar, Tempest.
At his home in the clifftop hamlet of Mornan Bay, she hears a story from her honorary Uncle Mike and Trelawney’s boss, mentor and best friend. This is a tale whose ending Amanda must supply, solving a cold case murder up on Bodmin Moor, facing her greatest test yet, on her most perilous journey into the past.
Home, Sweet Home?
For fans of Amanda’s quaint English village of Sunken Madley, never fear, for the book ends up there, with all the familiar favourites at The Corner Shop and The Grange. There Amanda gets a warning about her next puzzle.
Finally, to all the new readers who have joined the Holly Bell Facebook page in recent weeks, thank you so very much for adding your valued presence.
Right … next on the list: the trailer!
Happy January reading,
PS If you want to start the series now:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
Amanda Cadabra Returns
After a long and winding road this year, I was reunited with my first love and what readers want most from me: writing books. Hence the recent dearth of blogging, tweeting and Facebooking. With everything else on the back burner, Amanda Cadabra Book 5 burst into life and is almost ready to emerge into the light of day. Beginning with — drum roll, please — the title:
And it is …
What if you’re new to the series?
This is the fifth in the British humorous cozy paranormal mystery series. Do you need to have read the first four books? No. It has its very own murder mystery, as does each of the novels. However, you’ll enjoy the story even more if you’ve read the preceding volumes. Why? Because there is an overarching story arc that comes to its conclusion in Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths. However, the new tale is also the jumping-off point for a new thread that will flow through books to come, so it’s also an excellent place to join the joy-ride.
There are a couple of spoilers in order to do a catch-up for new readers, and as a reminder. That’s just in case it’s been a while since you read book 4, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley. By the way, in case you’re thinking of diving into the series, all of the books, 1- 4 are available in paperback as well as on Kindle.
What’s the series about?
Amanda Cadabra is an asthmatic furniture restorer and covert witch from the age of six. Her abode is the quaint English village of Sunken Madley, full of endearing eccentrics. Brought up by her loving magical grandparents, Amanda knows she must keep her unusual gifts a secret. Among them is a strange connection with her familiar, the irascible feline, Tempest. The other, ghastly members of her family met their end at the bottom of a Cornish cliff after a van accident. Or did they? The how and why are the cold case investigated by the personable but intractable Detective Inspector Trelawney throughout the series to date.
Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will be free to download from Amazon for a couple of days after Book 5 launches. So you or your friends can try it on for size, and see if Amanda and Sunken Madley draw you in.
Book Launch Line-up
What then can you expect in terms of the book arriving on your screen or doormat? There will shortly be a cover reveal (our illustrator Daniel has been busily conjuring it), a trailer video and, at the end of the month, the first chapter will be free for you to read in a special edition of the International Dublin Writers Festival magazine. This coming weekend look out for the launch of Kindle version of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths. The paperback will follow as soon as my fingers can format it.
Where we’re at
Right now, the manuscript has come back from our star of an editor, Flora, and most of the sensational beta readers of the VIP Readers Group. The feedback so far has been everything any author could wish for.
Back soon with more news and hopefully, the unveiling of the new cover.
PS If you want to start the series:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
What is something so grim as illness doing in a light, comfortable mystery? Let me tell you a story.
Back in the day, I went on a first date. It was with a Welshman, in a beautiful spot on the river Thames: Maidenhead. The restaurant was right by the water, blue from the sky from where the sun was shining. It was a golden day, and I was hopeful of passing an enjoyable lunchtime.
And then …
My date began to discourse. He gleefully related anecdote after anecdote of disease and resulting fatality.
‘There was this man, you see?’ the Welshman continued with relish. ‘It was in the papers. Twenty-five he was and fit as a fiddle, so he thought. An athlete. And then. One day. He dropped dead. Stone dead.’
‘Really?’ I asked curiously.
‘Tuberculosis! Didn’t know he had it. Well, doesn’t that just go to show? You never know.’
I repeatedly tried to turn to the conversation to happier themes, but with determination, he wrenched it back. Finally, realising what I was trying to do, he explained,
‘I like a bit of death.’
As you can imagine, I excused myself as soon as possible, and we did not have a second encounter. But what is the point of my sharing that with you?
It’s that the story is amusing. It has likely made you smile, even laugh. It has lifted your mood, even though it includes sickness and mortality. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that medical matters can have a place in light literature.
Health Issues in the Great Cozies
Let’s look at one of the novels Daphne du Maurier, who has been listed as a cozy mystery author. In Rebecca, it is a health condition that is the key to unlocking the puzzle of ‘what happened that night?’ There are no disturbing medical details. They would be extraneous to the plot and the genre. We are simply informed of the illness.
In The Pale Horse, Agatha Christie uses disability to throw us off the scent. Miss Marple’s recovery from illness takes us to warmer climbs where she might convalesce in A Caribbean Mystery.
A popular device in whodunnits is the victim’s medication, being used as a vehicle for murder most foul: an overdose or substituted with a dangerous substance or with something harmless but depriving the patient of necessary medicine. What is crucial is the treatment, if you’ll excuse the pun, of the illness. That is, no graphic details, just as a cozy murder takes place usually off-camera.
Why Asthma for Amanda?
So we come to medical matters in the Amanda Cadabra cozy paranormal mystery series. I have been asked why I gave our heroine debilitating asthma. Doesn’t that make her weak? Physically, yes, she is below par. However, that is the very reason why she needs the indispensable component of the genre, magic. She also relies on her familiar, who is, in a sense, her seeing-eye cat.
The origin of Amanda’s asthma provides a vital part of the overall story arc of the series. It also gives her a reason to be at the clinic constructed during Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets. It creates balance with Inspector Trelawney. He surpasses her in fitness, but she has the greater, and vitally important, mystical abilities.
A Bit Special
When I researched the format, the formula for a cozy paranormal mystery, I knew that I wanted mine to be a bit different. Amanda’s physical limitations give her the opportunity to develop and demonstrate other kinds of strength. On the other hand, at the same time, it makes her grandparents and fellow villagers disarmingly protective regardless of however provoking their quirks might be!
A medical condition sees the dispatch of one of the less likeable characters. It also influences Granny and Grandpa’s decision as to which level of existence they choose and when.
So, I hope you’re satisfied with the place of medical matters in the cozy context. Even fatalities, the very heart of a whodunit. Perhaps, after all, you’ll say as regards your taste in literature,
‘I like a bit of death!’
Meanwhile, I am now 30,000 words into Amanda Cadabra Book 5, with 15 chapters complete and pretty much finalised.
Back next time with more musings for your entertainment.
PS If you want to start the series:
Amazon, Apple Books,
Kobo and others.
Do You Love Romance?
‘Not at all. I don’t want any of that primrose path stuff cluttering up the plot,’ you may say.
Fair enough. When I feel that way, do you know which aisle I head for? The children’s section. (Except for that chapter in Tom Sawyer. You know the one.) Want to include more grown-up fiction? A thoughtful reader has compiled an excellent list on Goodreads: here.
Bring It On
Can’t get enough of that St Valentine’s Day feeling? Looking for a romance novel? It’s not quite that simple. There’s a spectrum. At one end we have ‘clean romance’ or as, Barbara Cartland, doyenne of dalliance, called it ‘pure romance’. Simply put, this is where the protagonists behave with a degree of decorum, and the narrative ends at the bedroom door.
Then we have a middle section where the story takes us from tasteful action with the chamber that goes up to erotica. Do not confuse this with porn, by the way. Writing erotica well is an exacting art, and for our purposes would have a romantic context.
Love in A-midst – Cocktail
Some of the significant romantic works of fiction are not through and through romance. Really? Take Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, for example. These are as much thriller as on the subject of l’amour. Gone With The Wind is as much historical fiction as the latter. (Reading that actually got me studying The American Civil War.) So it may be worth browsing other shelves for your next romantic read.
Just a Dash
If you’re finding that no genre is safe from the fond flame and don’t mind or want, just a soupçon of two hearts that beat as one, then this is where you have the greatest scope for a full library and hours of literary enjoyment. Isaac Asimov, in his epic Foundation science fiction series, finds time and space for the tender passion. If you’re peeking around the door at horror, you’ll find romance elements in the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein.
Fantasy? The Lord of Rings has a wistful sampling of true love. Terry Pratchett in his Witch and Discworld series clearly felt that no story is complete without romance.
And Now We Come To It
It was only a matter of time. Cozy mystery. In my particular case, cozy paranormal mystery. Where does romance sit in that? Here is my experience.
When, two years ago, the genre was explained to me by fantasy writer TJ Brown, I went off in search of the rules of the game. Back then, I gained the impression that readers preferred their stories without romance. I duly wrote Amanda Cadabra Book 1 accordingly. Amanda and Inspector Trelawney move from distrust, suspicion and irritation to a connection of some description by the end of the book.
Revelations From Readers
And then … I found readers were seizing with enthusiasm on the possibilities of a warmer liaison between the two. Tim had wisely said to me that your readers will tell you what they want. The Readers had spoken. I was only beginning to get to know Amanda and Trelawney. Through books 2 – 4 and into 5, I let them develop their connection at their own place. They are, of course, kept in a holding pattern by the professional nature of their relationship. If you are reading the whole series, I do hope that you are enjoying seeing how it unfolds and where it goes!
Since my maiden voyage into cozy, I have discovered many, if not most, books in the genre include a romance component. Consequently, I gather than most readers like this side order served with their main cozy course.
That concludes this brief foray into the flutterings of the heart in literature. Amanda 5 is now 21,000 words in, and 5 chapters are much as they will be when delivered to you.
Back next week with more ponderings for your entertainment.
Happy last weeks of winter,
PS If you want to start the series:
Thank you to everyone who took advantage, or shared the news, of the free kindle download offer of Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan, in the 72 hours up to Christmas Day. I hope this seasonal tale from the British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries helped with last-minute presents and rewards to you who worked hard to make it a joyful time for friends and family. And now, for coming week, the next month, the new year ….
Whether you are in still in the midst of festivities, or in recovery, it’s hard to miss that 2019 is making its grand finale. So, what of the emerging decade, the twenty-twenties, just days away now? How about new year’s resolutions? Is one of them to read more? If you’re a workaholic, is it to take a little more time out for yourself? Be more positive? More optimistic?
One thing most people agree on is that the winter holiday season can be expensive. To make it easier to begin a new cozy mystery reading project, here is a special discount. Starting the Amanda Cadabra series with Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will have a price drop to $1.99 for the first two weeks of January 2020 on Amazon Kindlebooks. This is an unprecedented offer. Hopefully, will help with any or all of your best intentions for the coming year: reading, relaxing and enjoying an inspiring trip. Where? Into a murder mystery world where, with a little magic and the courage of both the ordinary and extraordinary, good always triumphs. If you enjoy it then there are three more books in the series. So far!
(For a taster, you can watch the book trailer here or read or listen to the opening chapter here).
By the time I write to you again, it will be 2020, and I hope to have news of progress on Book 5. The plan is to get it into your hands by March at the latest. Also, I will tell you my new year resolutions that are intended to enhance your enjoyment of the cozy mystery experience.
All in due course. See you in 2020.
Wishing you a happy finale to the twenty-teens,
PS If you want to start the series:
With the countdown to 25th December in just hours now, here’s a little help with eleventh-hour preparations:
From Sunday until Christmas Eve, the Christmas cozy paranormal mystery, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan is free on Amazon Kindle. For 72 hours, this is for you to download, send as a last-minute gift, stocking filler or reward to yourself. After all, you deserve a treat, especially now.
Here’s a little video you might like to send to someone who needs to beat the clock. Or they may be a fellow fan who loves a humorous British whodunnit with a wandful of magic and a hint of romance sprinkled on the top.
This is the last special offer of the year. Still, I will have news of one for January 2020, especially for anyone who would like to start on the Amanda Cadabra series. More of that next time.
Meanwhile, here is my latest article for the Books Go Social Magazine – Holiday Reads. If you’d like inspiration for seasonal literary indulgences, follow the link where you can read or download the magazine and enjoy a wealth of recommendations and ideas.
And so to conclude, may I wish you the very best of the holidays, love, friendship, sumptuous food, beautiful settings, merriment and all that is fine and light and of good cheer.
Back next week,
PS If you want to start the series:
The poisoned sherry, the gunshot from the snow-covered terrace, the knife beneath the festive tree, the blackmail note inside the gift-wrap. How can we resist?
With mystery, thrillers and crime topping the Kindle charts only just behind romance, what is the appeal of the genre at this time of year?
People gather who customarily avoid one another like the plague, but under familial pressure, a sense of duty, or fear of isolation, duly attend the party. Let us set aside the convivial ideal gathering, and inspect instead the potential for delightfully deadly conflict.
Hosts prepare exceptional food, guests dress up and bring presents: all potential pawns in the battle for status, approval and a place in the family head’s will! The cooking of an ambitious feast causes tension in the kitchen. Old feuds are rekindled. Light the blue touch paper … and stand back.
The writer will set us up with apparent comfort and joy. The fairy lights, candles, tinsel and baubles on the tree, sparking wrapping and satin ribbon adorn the setting. Cards are exchanged, full of sentiment, heartfelt or spurious. Seasonal music fills the air, carols in the village church, singers with lanterns outside the door, old favourites around the piano and on the radio. The banquet is rolled out, to oohs and ahhhs as the turkey or goose in all its golden splendour is borne from the kitchen. The pops of the crackers sound, the laughter at the awful jokes, paper crowns. perched comically. The tastes of the savoury and sweet are relished. A feast for the senses. Smiling faces, goodwill … and then ….
The sudden, shocking interruption. The dive into a world of plots, suspicion, passion and dark deeds until the awful truth is revealed. Contrast follows again with the happy ending, the victim given justice, and the innocent exonerated. The lights come back on, the toast is drunk, and the Christmas spirit is all the greater for the drama that has unfolded.
For an example, I reach for a Christmas crime by the godmother of the cozy mystery: Dame Agatha Christie.
Interestingly her prime cozy sleuth Miss Marple is unavailable for the winter celebration. However, her Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot, comes to our rescue in a short story. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is the one Christie that could only have unfolded during that time of year.
Poirot rejects the whole idea of the traditional rural English Christmas. The countryside signifies the damp and chill of old stone mansions, and, he declares, the occasion is, in his native land, reserved for children. However, the plight of a hapless prince and royal scandal are in the balance. The young man has been robbed of a priceless family heirloom: a suitably red ruby.
The trail leads to Kings Lacey. With the promise of efficient central heating and hot water, our beloved Belgian agrees to join a family party there. Dinner brings a dazzling surprise with an unexpected object in the plum pudding. How did it get there? Soon there is a more pressing question as the red and white of yuletide turns to blood on the snow. Who is responsible for the footprints leading out to the body lying in the garden?
Christie throws in twists and turns to bring the path to a satisfactory conclusion. Not the best written, but it is her most Christmassy and tosses us from interest, to anticipation, to engagement, to shock, to resolution and back to seasonal joy.
However, I would suggest that our attachment to Christmas crime goes back far earlier than Christie. At the dawn of our human consciousness, the first mystery surely would have been why nature died, the days darkened, the air chilled. And then, a further curiosity, why the earth revived, lightened and warmed.
It is innate in us all to seek cause and effect. Could it be that at this time of year we have some genetic, tribal memory linking us to that first puzzle? Our forebears attempted to explain it, with what we still do: telling stories. An example is the tale of the battles at the solstices between Oak, king of summer and Holly, lord of winter.
Isn’t that what a mystery is? Not cause and effect, but effect first: a dead body. Who or what caused it? Whodunnit.
So as the death of nature resolves into the beginning of the lengthening of days, what better genre to celebrate with than a mystery? In harmony with the seasonal spirit, what better than a cozy mystery?
As a global event, the solstice is celebrated or has a history of celebration in some form or another across the world. Whether with tinsel and glitter, candles and bonfires, smiles and laughter, add a mystery, and let there be light.
Light streams up through the darkness of the ancient church colouring the stained glass windows. I didn’t see it. I heard it. And I was sure I must have been mistaken.
Moments later, there it is was on the screen. I exchanged wide-eyed glances with my friend sitting on the same pew. Yes, she had heard it too: the name.
Son et Lumière
The fictional village of Sunken Madley, in which all of the Amanda Cadabra British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries are set, is based on a real place. Its name: Monken Hadley, a small community with a thousand-year-old history just north of London. This year they are celebrating 525 years since the rebuilding of the medieval church, most likely damaged in the Battle of Barnet. Every quarter of a century, this restoration is marked with a special event. Only a few days ago, in 2019, it was a retelling the story of the church and village in a spectacular Son et Lumière, sound and light.
The event started at 3.30pm, but by the time the startling revelation occurred, it was already night outside. The monks of the old priory, the opposing sides of the famous battle, the gentry and the philanthropists of long ago had passed and sounded before our eyes and ears. The tale had reached the period of the first world war. The narrator spoke of a memorial stone on the walls of the building where we sat, dedicated to one … and that was when my ears pricked up…
How It All Began
In the winter of 2018, my author pal TJ Brown convinced me that I could pen a cozy paranormal mystery. I had been adamant for years that I was strictly a non-fiction writer and fantasy was way beyond my ken. But Tim knew better. He encourage me to go off to research the genre, and presently we sat down together to begin the process of creation. First, we needed a name for the heroine. I knew it had to be something to do with magic. With a thesaurus list before us, we tried out different forenames and surnames, googled possible variations to see if they’d been used. The clock ticked away. We began growing tired and then … playing around with Abracadabra .. Tim came out with it: Amanda Cadabra! I repeated it in my head. Yes. We’d found her.
Suddenly, I heard the name, the name of her cat, I knew he was a collection of greys, he had livid yellow eyes and was permanently grumpy. It was the first name and the first thing that came to me. I had never seen it as a person’s name before, I knew it only as a weather system and the title of a Shakespeare play.
In the days that followed as I began to get a sense of Amanda and her familiar. I knew I had to find the right location for them. It had to be a village, and as I’d never lived in one, it had to be on the outskirts of a big city. I pulled up Google maps and began the search.
I’d have said that I knew the area pretty well, but I had no recollection of having seen the name of this particular village. Soon I was in the car and heading along the A1000, itself with a long history. Off the beaten track I went, by a pond, between trees and around the bend.
Behold. I knew: I had found my village, the village of Monken Hadley. Of course, I couldn’t call it that, so what about transposing the first letters … Hunken Madley? No … not quite right … another word ending in ‘unken’ … sunken … and it was born: Sunken Madley.
I tell you all of this, so you will understand why what I heard in the dim echoes of the church on that dark afternoon was so startling. I had no prior knowledge or use of that word as a pronoun or of that village.
So we’re in the dark of the church, sitting in a pew near the back looking up at the big screen, with the rest of the audience. We are hearing the saga of Monken Hadley and the officer whose efforts were instrumental in the achievement of the peace of 1918. Sadly he died just weeks before the end of the World War 1. His name? Charles Tempest-Hicks. The name of Amanda’s magical cat? Tempest.
Shivers ran down my spine, chills of excitement. Was the brave captain my muse? Had he been a cat lover? Was I being inspired? What would you say is the answer to the real-life mystery? Do share your thoughts with me.
Regardless, I am overjoyed that Tim motivated me to begin my cozy mystery journey, that he thought of Amanda Cadabra, that Tempest came to me. It is a source of continuing delight that Monken Hadley somehow drew me, that I have met so many kind people there, and that I travel back in time whenever I visit, Through writing this series, I have connected with all the dear readers who help and support and encourage me. I am thrilled to be on the journey of a lifetime, and that you join me in it. Thank you.
What it was all for
This year the sound and light show raised money for the restoration of a precious listed building, the 400-year-old church house, so that it can serve the community as was intended. And believe me, the entire community, from young to old all participated in creating the 525 experience. Seeing them waving happily at us in the closing credits brought a lump to my throat. Proceeds from tickets and donations also went to to the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice.
If you’re ever passing, do pop into the church of St Mary the Virgin, Monken Hadley. You can be assured a warm welcome and a moving and enchanting experience. It delighted at least one of our American cousins so much that it became the model for a church built in Chappacua, USA.
Next week: an offer and something new for December to help with your Christmas shopping. Want to get to know Tempest? Download your free short story here: Tempest’s First Day. Back soon!
PS If you want to start the series:
Here is a new treat, a free first chapter for you, a labour of love, the product of days at the mic and in the editing chamber. Chapter 1 of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, the beginning of the series of British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries is a click away.
This was the only book in the series for which I had yet to create a first chapter video for you. That is now remedied. If you are curious about the steps involved in bringing this to your screen, small or large, you can find them here. Then you’ll have some insight into why it is called a labour of love!
If you prefer to read along or just read, you will find the the chapter at the end of this post
Whether you are new to series, or if you are already a fan of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, I hope you will sample and enjoy the video. It is the first of a first, Book 1 in, currently, a series of 4, that I began publishing at the end of last year. Producing so many so quickly has surprised no one more than me! They simply flow out when they’re ready, is all I can say.
What of Book 5, the next sequel? I have written the opening paragraph this week, and I expect to continue next week to have it ready for you in the new year. Meanwhile, Book 3, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan, the ‘Christmas book’ is going to get a makeover and a special promotion.
Next time, I’ll be back with an early seasonal gift: a short story that subscribers will have posted through their personal inbox. It is, in a sense, a prequel, was completed only yesterday, and will be available for the eyes of downloaders only! You will need an email for me to send it to you, and you will also have the option to join the subscribers who get special notification of updates on the world of Amanda Cadabra and the writer’s life (‘Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s …’)
Until then, Happy reading and listening,
PS If you want to start the series:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth
The Day of the Incident
‘Fresh blood,’ observed Mrs Cadabra.
Detective Sergeant Thomas Trelawney looked at her doubtfully. She registered that he was in his late thirties, tall, light-haired, grey-suited and attractive in a manner appropriate to a policeman.
‘Do come in.’
He stepped over the threshold and into the clean, bright hall. She closed the door behind him.
Trelawney’s boss, Chief Inspector Hogarth, was on the verge of retirement and had sent his junior to acquaint himself with a case that had remained open for 28 years.
Mrs Cadabra led the way into the living room, gestured to the sergeant to sit down, then decisively pulled a photo album from one of the stacked bookshelves flanking the brick fireplace. She laid it open on his knees and pointed to a portrait of a power-dressed couple holding a baby.
‘1987. Our darling Amanda, held by my obnoxious daughter,’ she uttered in clipped tones. ’That’s her husband. I need only say that they were well matched. And if that assessment gives me a motive for murder, Sergeant, then you’re welcome to investigate it,’ she declared challengingly.
Trelawney suppressed a grin. Hogarth had told him what to expect in the redoubtable old lady sitting beside him on the chintz sofa. He had not exaggerated. Senara Cadabra was every inch the imperious aristocrat to which Hogarth had compared her. She lifted a hand to tuck in a hairgrip, pinning her white victory roll even more tightly into place. One of her piercing violet eyes was slightly larger than the other. This, coupled with her upright posture and cut-glass English accent, created an unnerving effect.
Mrs Cadabra glanced down at the photograph. Mercifully, there was no sign of Amanda’s gifts at that time, she commented to herself. Not then.
‘Lamentably,’ she continued, ‘Amanda’s parents had no time for her — or interest in her — and she was mostly cared for by my husband and myself. However, if you were to assume that little Amanda was traumatised by the sudden change in her situation following the “incident”, you’d be wrong,’ she stated, keen to stay one step ahead of any conclusions that the sergeant might be drawing.
While the detective jotted in his ubiquitous police notebook, he took a surreptitious look at his surroundings. The Cadabra’s circumstances were noticeably comfortable. Their house lay a mere thirteen miles from The Houses of Parliament to the south and just three miles from the Hertfordshire border to the north. The village of Sunken Madley was populated not only by locals, some with lineage reaching back the 1500s when the manor and church were built, but also by a selection of reclusive celebrities. Seeking privacy, and with a taste for gracious living, the VIPs had acquired several of the grander residences. By contrast, the Cadabra’s house was a modest three-bedroom cottage at the end of Orchard Row, just where the village gave way to a field of apple trees, now flowering with faintly blushing, bridal blossom. Number 26 had a spacious garden accommodating a small neat lawn, well-kept vegetable beds and, most importantly, a sizeable furniture restorer’s workshop.
Trelawney brought his gaze back to the photograph of the infant Amanda and her parents. Mrs Cadabra flicked towards the front of the album, each page taking them further back in time. Gesturing dismissively, she indicated her three other unsmiling children, Amanda’s aunts and uncles, and their smirking, blank-eyed or scowling offspring. Mrs Cadabra turned a few more pages back to her own generation, remarking on her siblings and their brood with equal distaste.
‘As for my own children, I could never bear any of them once they became teenagers.’ She barked out a laugh. ‘I bore them once; I feel that was quite enough.’ Trelawney allowed himself a smile for the first time. It did not go unnoticed by Mrs Cadabra, who awarded it eight of ten for charm.
‘Thank you for your frankness, Mrs Cadabra. And now, could you please tell me what you remember of the events leading up to the incident?’
Mrs Cadabra repositioned herself, straightening her back more than ever. ‘My husband and I had each received a note and —’
‘Was there anything that stood out about it?’ interjected Trelawney. ‘Was it typed or written? The kind of paper, the envelope —? ’
‘It was handwritten in purple-black ink and —‘
‘Did you recognise the —?’ he began.
‘— the writing?’ she forestalled Trelawney, ‘No, I did not.’
‘Interesting that you should ask. It was quite peculiar, thick but oddly transparent.’
‘What did it say?’ he asked, making notes.
‘It said that transport would arrive on 9th September at 9 o’clock in the morning. We would be taken to a location, and there, apparently, we would learn something to our advantage. It went on to say,’ said Mrs Cadabra, leaning towards him for emphasis, ‘and I remember this precisely: “It is essential, however, that all members of your family be present.”’
‘Curious,’ commented Trelawney.
‘Exactly. And it was signed “A well-wisher”. Hm! Well-wisher indeed!’ said Mrs Cadabra indignantly, twitching the cushion behind her more firmly into place.
‘I see,’ said Trelawney, ‘And what did you and Mr Cadabra make of all this?’
‘Why, that it was fishy, of course!’ she exclaimed, stating the obvious.
‘But you decided to go?’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Cadabra, ‘but reluctantly. And not to serve our own interests, of course. Hardly. No, it was so that if we should we derive some benefit from the exercise, we could have left it to Amanda. That is the only reason that it would have been worth enduring the company of our odious family for any length of a journey.’
‘Did anyone in the family encourage you to go?’ Trelawney enquired.
‘Oh yes.’ Mrs Cadabra’s face registered her distaste. ‘We received quite a flurry of unwelcome messages from them, but we’d already made up our minds to attend. They were all desperately keen, needless to say. A more mercenary bunch you’d be hard pushed to find.’ She snapped the album shut and put it down on the inlaid coffee table.
Trelawney sat back. ‘So what happened on the day of the incident?’ he asked.
‘Poor little Amanda had been awake all night with a frightful cough. She was only three, and she’d never been a very strong child. And since she’d developed asthma, we’d had to be especially careful. Well, by that morning, Amanda’s condition had worsened, and she was clearly not fit for the journey,’ recalled Senara Cadabra with an emphatic shake of her head. ‘And considering our unease about the whole affair, we decided that neither we, nor our Amanda, should have any part of it. So when the transport arrived, we didn’t get on board. It sat there and waited for fifteen minutes and then finally left.’ She folded her hands. ‘And that was that.’
‘You didn’t go out to tell the driver that you weren’t going?’ pressed Trelawney.
‘No,’ replied Mrs Cadabra. ‘We simply didn’t want anything to do with it.’
‘Did you notice the vehicle?’
‘I did. It obscured the view of our Princess Margaret roses,’ said Mrs Cadabra indignantly.
‘And what did it —?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ asked Trelawney, startled.
‘Oh, I mean no disrespect to the dear Princess herself,’ Mrs Cadabra assured him. ‘No, indeed. Just that it’s the best thing for roses. But only after three years of composting. Not when fresh. I’m sure Her Royal Highness would echo my every word.’ Having successfully diverted the subject to horticulture, she placed one still delicate hand over the other, signifying that she considered the discussion of the transport to be closed.
Trelawney, however, returned to the matter at hand. ‘But the vehicle, what was it like? Can you recall?’
‘It was a grey minibus of some description,‘ replied the lady.
‘Good condition?’ continued Trelawney.
‘Yes, I think so,’ she answered, with a careless shrug of her shoulders. ‘I am not a motor car engineer, but it certainly didn’t seem to be in an advanced state of disrepair, if that’s what you’re asking.’
‘You didn’t notice anything special about it?’ Mrs Cadabra shook her head. ‘The registration?’ Trelawney looked at her hopefully.
‘No idea. I heard it start up. By the time I went to look out of the window, it had gone.’
‘And these notes that you received. What became of them?’
‘They disappeared,’ she declared.
‘Vanished. Without a trace.’
‘Really?’ Trelawney remarked. He wrote in his book. ‘Mr Cadabra’s note as well?’
The back door to the kitchen closed audibly followed by a hollow clatter as discarded work boots hit the mat. There came the sound of a tap running.
‘You can ask him yourself,’ Mrs Cadabra said.
A tall, grey-haired man, in dark work trousers and jumper over shirt and tie, opened the living room door, and entered the room. He was of that generation of craftsmen who took so great a pride in their occupation and appearance that they wore a shirt and tie even to work. The persistent briskness of the British climate had prompted him to cover up with a sweater. He smiled a kind welcome at the case officer.
‘Ah, very generous of you to come all this way, Mr Trelawney, is it?’ Mr Cadabra held out a clean but French-polish-stained hand.
‘Detective Sergeant Trelawney, sir,’ said the policeman, accepting the handshake.
‘Please call me Perran. Although my wife likes strangers to call me Mr Cadabra.’ He gave her an affectionate twinkle, which she returned. ‘Has Senara been making you feel at home?’ The trace of a West Country burr in the man’s gentle voice appealed to the Cornwall-born-and-bred Trelawney.
‘Pleasure to meet you. Perran? A good Cornish name, if I may say so. Yes, Mrs Cadabra has been most helpfully relating the events of the day when …’ Trelawney paused, tactfully avoiding an explicit reference to the sensitive details of the incident.
‘Yes … a tragic business,’ said Mr Cadabra, helpfully filling the gap. ‘I will say, it’s good of the police to keep taking an interest after all these years. We’ve given up any hope of a resolution. But at any rate, is there anything I can tell you that my good lady hasn’t already shared with you?’
‘If you have time,’ said Trelawney politely.
‘Of course.’ Mr Cadabra carefully sat down on the edge of a Queen Anne armchair, aware that he was in his work clothes.
‘Your wife told me about a note. I understand that you received one of your own,’ Trelawney prompted.
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘And there were some distinctive things about it?’
‘Oh, yes, purplish ink and odd paper,’ replied Mr Cadabra confirming what his wife had said.
‘Do you still have it?’ enquired Trelawney, checking Senara’s statement.
‘No. No, it disappeared,’ Mr Cadabra said in a regretful voice. ‘I could have sworn I’d put it in my overalls pocket, but when I went to look for it, it was gone. I remember I turned out all of my pockets, thinking it might have got lost amongst the bits and pieces. But no.’
‘Thank you.’ Trelawney left a brief silence while his pencil scribbled away.
‘Now, could you both tell me what happened later that day?’ he asked, looking from one to the other.
After a brief exchange of glances between the couple, it was Mrs Cadabra who answered, ‘About six hours after the car left, the telephone rang. We were in here. Perran was having his afternoon tea-break with me. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. It rang, and he put his hand on my arm and said the oddest thing.’ She looked at her husband. Perran nodded supportively. Trelawney’s pencil hovered about his open notebook, waiting.
Finally, Mrs Cadabra spoke.
‘“Senara,” he said, “Whatever you do, don’t answer that.”’
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