A Cowardice of Crows by S.E. Smith
What a treat to be included in the book tour for A Cowardice of Crows by S.E.Smith and run by Love Book Tours. There is an exciting Excerpt to read today and follow the tour this week.
When a House of Commons cufflink, stuffed in the mouth of Millie Jones, turns suicide to murder, Symington, Earl Byrd, the prime minister’s personal detective, soon finds his killer. A ruthless East End pawnbroker not known for carelessness.
Forced to re-evaluate his position following a trip to the Houses of Parliament, Symington is left with more questions than answers.
Like, who wants to destroy the pawnbroker and why? Is the cufflink a clue or a red herring? And more importantly why did Millie Jones have to die?
Note from: William Melville MO3, and sent to Arthur James Balfour, Prime Minister, July 1902
Unless otherwise indicated (as extracts from individual reports, journals and diaries) the following account is compiled from the testimony of eyewitnesses, and those closely involved with the case. For ease, they have been identified purely as “From Reports” – rather than naming the individuals concerned.
London, Thursday October 4th, 1900.
Muffled against the night, an ugly-looking brute barged past an elderly lady, slammed his money under the nose of the ticket seller, and demanded a return to Brighton. Then he ran – as though possessed by the devil, along the platform towards the engine. There were plenty of empty carriages, but he was focussed on one door in particular, and reached it just as the train was beginning to chug slowly on its way. The carriage door opened, and the man swung himself into the compartment.
“Strange place for a meeting! Would have thought you’d have been better working out of a hotel, given what you do for the old man,” he said to the willowy – tartily dressed, and a little overdone with the make-up – woman who let him in.
Millie didn’t bother to acknowledge the newcomer’s arrival or move her handbag, forcing the man to sit opposite, with his back to the engine. “Trains are private,” she told him when she eventually deigned to speak. “Carriage like this. Two exits. Can see who’s coming and you don’t get no interruptions. ‘Specially if you bribe the conductor.” Millie leant forward, allowing the man a good glimpse of bosom. “Want a bit of bribery, love?” He flushed and she sniggered. “Don’t recall you being a shy one.” Her laughter grew louder.
Attempting to ignore her, the man went to open the window, causing smoke to gush into the confined space.
“Oi don’t do that,” Millie snapped. “We’re coming up to Merstham tunnel. It’ll smoke like Canton Sue’s bleedin’ opium den if you don’t shut the window.” She pushed past the man and slammed it so hard the window rattled in its casing. “Look stop crowdin’ me,” Millie ordered as the man moved towards her.
He held his ground, blocking the door to the corridor as he did so. “Where’s the stuff, Millie?” he snarled. “You got them on you … in that purse of yours?”
“Not so fast,” she replied as her eye darted to her bag. “You’ll get your photographs and the letter when I get me money. All of it. Every last shilling.” The carefully turned out blond emphasised her point by poking her companion with a kid gloved finger.
“You little cow!” He lunged for her purse but Millie was too quick for him, hiding it behind her back – firmly out of his reach.
“Takes one to know one.” She laughed again – a shrill bitter sound that ricocheted around the compartment.
S.E. Smith, known as Sarah to her friends, and ‘Miss’ to her students, was born into a naval family and now lives on a 65 foot broadbeam boat with her husband, Steve, and her two rescue dogs – Ben and Eva.
Crediting her Nana May for instilling in her a love of history, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the East End of London at the turn of the 20th Century, Sarah took on board the adage ‘write about what you know’ and created Symington Byrd: a gentleman detective whose foray into the East End leads him into all kinds of danger.
A great fan of the West Wing, Pokemon Go, and Doctor Who, Sarah’s biggest claim to fame is the day spent with the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, chasing Daleks down The Strand.