Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Convalescent Corpse by Nicola Slade

A story of Family, Rationing and Inconvenient Corpses.

Life in 1918 has brought loss and grief and hardship to the three Fyttleton sisters. Helped only by their grandmother (a failed society belle and expert poacher) and hindered by a difficult suffragette mother, as well as an unruly chicken-stealing dog and a house full of paying-guests, they now have to deal with the worrying news that their late – and unlamented – father may not be dead after all. And on top of that, there’s a body in the ha-ha.

‘I love it. A delightfully unusual mystery with wonderful characterisation and historical detail.’ - Lesley Cookman, bestselling author of The Libby Sarjeant Mystery Series


The paying guests
Their late father had never mentioned that he had bought both their own house and the one joined on to it, years before, after a win on the Derby. Faced with the prospect of the upkeep of two houses on their limited income, they decide to open the house to paying guests, wives and daughters of the officers at the convalescent hospital next door.

      I was rinsing out the tea things when the doorbell rang and there was Miss Judith Evershed, a short, angry-looking woman in her early thirties, with dark eyes and brown hair. She told me she was glad to find somewhere so close to Groom Hall.
      ‘My brother-in-law, Major Larking, is there,’ she said. ‘His wife, my elder sister died last October. Lord Larking, his father, is old and infirm, and his brother is at the War Office and far too important to interrupt his work, while his brother’s wife is busy with her large family. This has led my parents to decree that it is my duty to visit him, as they too are busy.’
      She hoped to move in after luncheon the next day and I was about to take her upstairs to inspect the larger of our remaining rooms when I noticed that she looked extremely weary. I felt sorry for her and, with a glance at the clock, I sat her down in the drawing-room with a pot of tea and a slice of toast, though I could only offer margarine.
      Offering tea (as an extra, of course) was all part of my cunning plan to take the edge off the ladies’ appetites in case dinner was looking thin on the ground at any time. As for the unappetising margarine, I’ve been wondering lately just how difficult it would be to keep a cow for the milk and butter. It could live in the stable that has been empty since we sold off Papa’s bay mare after he was lost in the Lusitania. Perhaps a sheep would be easier to manage? We’d kept an old spinning wheel that turned up amongst our late neighbour’s hoard so perhaps one of us could learn to spin. That might be useful.
      (I dismissed the idea at once. I knew which of us would end up taking on that chore.)
      ‘This is so very kind of you,’ she said, with a slight wobble in her voice then she rallied and managed a smile. ‘I shouldn’t burden you with my troubles,’ she sighed, and proceeded to do so. Not that I minded as long as she didn’t make me late as I have often been accused of having an overly inquisitive nature.
      ‘Major Larking has two boys, both at boarding school and he could manage perfectly well with a competent housekeeper. However…’ Her face tightened. ‘The Family…’ (I could hear the capital letter), ‘tells me I must give up my position to go and keep house for him near here.’
      ‘What is your position, Miss Evershed?’ I was making polite conversation, but she was clearly dying to spill it all out so I listened to the whole story, keeping an eye on the drawing-room mantel clock while she did so.
      ‘I am a senior mistress at a girls’ high school in Buckinghamshire,’ she confided. ‘I teach languages and mathematics and I love my profession. I worked hard to obtain my present position and I have every hope of becoming a deputy headmistress in a few years. I have no domestic skills and will be driven mad with frustration and boredom if I have to be penned up inside a villa on the outskirts of Winchester.’
      I could see that she was trembling with resentment and despair, so I put out a tentative hand to pat her arm.
      ‘Forgive me,’ I said. ‘Is this necessary from an economic point of view? Cannot the major afford to employ that competent housekeeper you suggest?’
      ‘Of course he can,’ she snorted. ‘The trouble is that I’m not sure I can resist the combined weight of his expectations, the extreme disapproval of my own family should I refuse, and the accusing stares from friends, acquaintances and indeed, the population at large. He is a war hero, you see,’ she finished between gritted teeth.
      ‘I see,’ I said sympathetically. And I did see. He was one of “our gallant wounded”, as the newspapers have it and for “one of our fair flower of womanhood” (newspapers again) to refuse outright to assist a hero in his hour of need was unthinkable.

Author Bio:

Nicola Slade lives in Hampshire where she writes historical and contemporary mysteries and women’s fiction. While her three children were growing up she wrote stories for children and for women’s magazines before her first novel, Scuba Dancing, was published in 2005. Among other jobs, Nicola has been an antiques dealer and a Brown Owl! She loves travelling and at one time, lived in Egypt for a year. The Convalescent Corpse is Nicola's 9th novel. Nicola is also a member of a crime writers’ panel, The Deadly Dames.

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