I like it when authors step outside their comfort zone, testing the waters in new areas. This may be why I was drawn to MJ Porter’s book, Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery. After all, Ms Porter tends to write books set in the distant past – like very distant – but here she is, presenting us with a murder mystery set in the 1930s. It sort of breathes Agatha Christie, doesn’t it? It breathes elegant ladies and gentlemen, afternoon teas in beautifully furnished rums – and an unfortunate death.
Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.
But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.
Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.
Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.
Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.
Universal Link: books2read.com/Cragside
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cragside-m-j-porter/1141311981
Excerpt – Our suspects start to turn on one another
“So,” Margot snarls in Rebecca’s direction. “You have your answers. You must admit that it looks more and more likely that Lady Merryweather was responsible. She might not have been here physically, but perhaps she had someone else do the deed on her behalf. The Detective Inspector is a fool if he thinks she’s not the guilty one. After all, she’s killed before.” Margot hisses as she speaks. The temptation to slap her face for such a shocking diatribe has me sitting on my hands, focusing on keeping my face expressionless. Abandoned on the table before me are the remains of the sandwiches and cold teapot.
What Margot has failed to appreciate is that I’d not even arrived at the house when Lady Carver was killed yesterday.
“I disagree,” Rebecca sneers, showing more emotion than I expect from her. “It looks to me as though someone in this house is trying everything they can to send an innocent woman up for murder, again. I can see that the Detective Inspector is aware of that now. As he said, of us all, there’s only Lady Merryweather who can’t possibly be responsible for the murder of Norman.” I’m astounded to hear someone defending me.
Before Margot can respond, Edmund returns to the library. Aldcroft hasn’t taken long to ask his questions of the owner of Cragside.
“My dear, it’s your turn now,” Edmund Bradbury informs his wife. Arm clasped over the opposite arm, Margot stands and gives Rebecca such a cold stare, I expect the fire to gutter and go out.
“I’ll ensure the Detective Inspector knows where I was and who I suspect.” So spoken, Margot strides from the room, high heels clipping on the wooden floorboards. The sound echoes with the stone of the walls.
Edmund sinks into a comfortable looking chair to the far side of the room, closer to the bookcases. His face is ashen, the pipe clutched tightly, as though it’s a life vest intended to keep him afloat.
“All these years,” Edmund mutters softly. “All these years and nothing terrible has ever befallen this wonderful house built by my father. And now. Well now, two in two days, well, less than twenty-four hours. I’ll never recover from such a tragedy.” I think Edmund might be about to break into sobs, but somehow, he doesn’t. His gaze lingers on the fire.
“Lady Bradbury informs me that you were with her and Hector, all afternoon, after luncheon, in the drawing-room.”
Rebecca is a tenacious woman. She offers no empathy for Edmund’s disturbed thoughts. I admire her.
“What? Yes, yes, of course, she was.”
“So, she didn’t leave the room to powder her nose or anything like that?” Rebecca presses. From Lilian’s darting eyes, I can tell that she’s not considered such a possibility. I have. All these people would have needed were a handful of minutes to kill Mr Harrington-Featherington. We don’t know how long he’d been dead on the rockery before he was discovered. “No one has mentioned seeing him since luncheon.”
“I’ll not have you speak about my wife in such a way,” Edmund doesn’t explode, but the words are softly spoken and all the more menacing because of that.
“I’ll speak how I like,” Rebecca responds, her mouth suddenly twisted with fury. “I’m brought to a house where not one but two people are murdered, and I’m not allowed to leave it. I don’t much care for who you are or what titles you have after your name. To me, you could all be the murderer. All of you.” Her words escape on a shriek. My respect for her evaporates in the wake of her terror.
I expect Edmund to defend Margot further, but he deflates before me.
“You are, of course, right to say what you do. This is terrible. Just terrible. I do believe we might all have left the room at one point or another,” Edmund admits.
“Come now, old boy, I didn’t leave the drawing-room.” Hector fills his voice with false humour. I detect a thread of fear, which I think is worthy of note.
“I know that I did,” Edmund announces, as though not hearing Hector. “I thought I heard the dogs and came looking for them. But I must have misheard, as there was no sign of Lilian or the dogs. Of course, sound does echo strangely in the valley,” Edmund concedes.
I try not to glance directly at Lilian at this admission. It means that she might have been closer than she’d first implied. I’m learning a great deal. I imagine more than the Detective Inspector. I can’t see that Margot will even listen to his questions, let alone answer them truthfully. She’s a woman eager to impress on everyone that she’s a member of the gentry.
“Edmund,” Margot’s cry rings from the inner hall, the single word shrill.
“Yes, dear,” Edmund calls.
“I need you,” and we all hear a thudding noise as though something heavy hits the floor. It too strongly reminds me of the men carrying Norman’s body through the house that, for a moment, I do worry that Margot might have fallen to her death.
Ha! What a cast of potential suspects! Brava, Ms Porter.
Author Bio: MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/MJ-Porter/e/B006N8K6X4/