Cuckoo by Sophie Draper / Blog Tour

Cuckoo by Sophie Draper

 

41061962Publisher: Avon

Publishing Date: 29th November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 297

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

’Spooky and absorbing. I was gripped from the first page!’ CASS GREEN

There’s a stranger in your house…

When her stepmother dies unexpectedly, Caro returns to her childhood home in Derbyshire. She hadn’t seen Elizabeth in years, but the remote farmhouse offers refuge from a bad relationship, and a chance to start again.

But going through Elizabeth’s belongings unearths memories Caro would rather stay buried. In particular, the story her stepmother would tell her, about two little girls and the terrible thing they do.

As heavy snow traps Caro in the village, where her neighbours stare and whisper, Caro is forced to question why Elizabeth hated her so much, and what she was hiding. But does she really want to uncover the truth?

A haunting and twisty story about the lies we tell those closest to us, perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Cass Green.

my-review

Caro, after the death of her mother and then father, has been raised by her stepmother. They’ve never seen eye to eye, so when after her death Caro finds out that she – together with her sister with whom she had grown apart – has inherited the house, she’s surprised. Even more so when her sister relinquishes the inheritance. Recently separated from a boyfriend, and with job as an illustrator that she can do everywhere, Caro decides to take on the task of clearing the house out, while waiting for the probate to clear. Soon strange things begin to happen at the house, and Caro starts to ask herself what’s happening. She also finds things that she doesn’t remember from her childhood, photos and different things that make her start to wonder why can’t she remember so much from her childhood? Why did Elizabeth hate her so much?

The author managed to capture the creepy, chilling atmosphere however there was no tension for me. It started in a great way, intriguing and full of questions, the odd things happening at the house Caro was staying at were intriguing at the beginning but quickly it dramatically slowed down, the things started to feel repetitive and not so dramatic, and yes, the author’s writing is very descriptive and vivid but I could live without reading about every single detail of the house, or the town – there was no progress to the story. And so I started to skim – reading: firstly because the pace was much too slow for my liking, and secondly, because I desperately wanted to arrive at the final twist that so many of the reviewers rave about. And when it happened… Well, guys, what shall I say, I’ve guessed it already long ago. I was of course hoping till the last moment that it wouldn’t finish in such obvious way, but well, it did.

I couldn’t put my finger on the main character. I suppose I should have compassion with her, fell for her but I simply couldn’t understand her actions. She seemed to be very naive and to make every mistake possible, and to make any bad choice possible. Yes, usually characters that have flaws feel much more realistic but not Caro, and moreover, she didn’t learn by her own mistakes. While sometimes it could make you, the reader, feel compassion, maybe understanding, for me it was just frustrating. She never tried to overcome her problems and fear, she just went with the flow, agreeing to everything that was happening in her life. Laptop suddenly gone? Oh well, it simply happens, right? The end left me thinking if Carol really did get her “happy end” or if she was too gullible to see the real intensions of Craig, or what were his intentions, to be honest.

The setting of the house, creepy, old and solitary, out of a small town, with unfriendly neighbours, in the middle of winter, snowed in couldn’t be better. But the potential in this simply hasn’t been taken.

It’s not that I didn’t like this book but I also didn’t love it. There was a great potential to it and it pained me to see that it wasn’t utilised. The turns and twists were there, and the author tried to make them unpredictable and unique. There is the constant feeling of isolation and that something is going to happen which is necessary in this kind of books. I think that the problem is with me, and I’m guessing that if I haven’t been reading so many books in this genre, I’d enjoyed “Cuckoo” much more. So if you’re into a slow – paced creepy story about abused and neglected child, about family secrets, about hate and revenge with a ting of gothic to it simply try this novel.

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25 Days ’til Christmas by Poppy Alexander / Blog Tour

25 Days ’til Christmas by Poppy Alexander

 

cover150320-mediumPublisher: Orion

Publishing Date: 1st November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 352

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

Synopsis:

Christmas is a time to get together…

Kate Thompson used to love Christmas. But that was before her husband went away with the army and didn’t come home. Now she can hardly stand the festive season.

But Kate knows there is more to life than this, and her son Jack needs a Christmas to remember. What she needs is a Christmas miracle, and if there isn’t one on its way, she’ll just have to make her own.

So begins Kate’s advent countdown to the best Christmas ever. She has it all planned out, but you can’t plan for the unexpected, and when her life starts to unravel can her friends and the community around her help her save Christmas for all of them…?

Curl up and countdown to Christmas with a heart-warming festive romance, perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan, Debbie Johnson, and Holly Martin.

Rating: five-stars

Kate Thompson hates Christmas, since her husband was killed four years ago during his service abroad as a soldier. However, her son Jack is desperate to have a lovely Christmas, with a tree and presents. Kate, struggling financially and emotionally, doesn’t know what to do and how to do this. She’s stuck at a low paid job, now she must also sell Christmas trees dressed as an elf and freezing and is not sure what the future is going to bring. Her friend comes up with an idea of doing a special advent calendar with a festive activity to do together for every day in the countdown to Christmas.
Daniel is not looking towards Christmas after the death of his sister. He used to buy Christmas trees from Kate and he knows only as Christmas tree girl. They start to bump into each other more and more and soon realises there is much more to Kate than meets the eye. But Kate’s life is really complicated – can she cope? Will she cope? Can somebody help her?

Kate was a great leading character – there were so many challenges on her way, her life was so demanding and yet she more than often put others above herself. Struggling with money, with being a single mum, she was a realistic, genuine character. It was beautiful and also heart – breaking to see how much she tried to organize the unforgettable Christmas for her son and how far she’s go to guard him. The idea of Kate creating the advent calendar for Jack and making the time so special for her and her little boy was brilliant. The Christmassy things that they were supposed to do in the countdown to Christmas were so nice and so different to everything that we’re used to, and now I really feel like preparing something like this for my family.

The pace in this story was just spot on, and there were many things happening, and the book itself brings together threads of different characters. The chapters are more or less a countdown to Christmas – it is a second book in the last weeks that I’ve read written this way, though they were both absolutely different in style and voice but this way worked great in both of them. I loved how it shows that Christmas is not only about commerce and presents but about what it really is that counts – family, friendship, helping each other, appreciating what we have. It was a real rollercoaster journey, full of ups and downs, filled with feelings and emotions. It tugs at all the right heart – strings, it’s this kind of book that’ll make you smile and cry, that is poignant and uplifting. The author has in such a gentle, subtle way dealt with so many tough and heavy issues and there was the overwhelming festive spirit. She has touched upon different things, some of which I don’t often read about, and it was truly great, thought – provoking and eye – opening. Poppy Alexander is for sure an author to have on your radar, I’m already waiting for her next offering. Highly recommended!

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A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews by Annie Darling

A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews by Annie Darling

 

 

40540663Publisher: Harper Collins

Publishing Date: 29th November 2018

Series: Lonely Hearts Bookshop #4

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 416

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

Synopsis:

A heartwarming and hilarious Christmas romance!

Tis the season to be jolly!

But on Rochester Mews, two unlikely lovebirds are struggling to find their festive cheer.

Star baker Mattie has hated Christmas ever since she had her heart broken on Christmas Eve. The only thing she hates more is the insufferable Tom, who has rubbed her up the wrong way since she started running the tearoom next door to his bookshop. So when Mattie and Tom are left in charge in the frantic festive days before Christmas, it might be cold outside but things are sure to heat up.

Can a bookshop full of romantic novels, a life-sized reindeer and a mistletoe kissing booth persuade two scrooges to fall in love with Christmas… and each other?

Rating: five-stars

In “A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews” we’re back to Happy Ever After, the best romantic fiction bookshop in the world, and to the adjoining tearoom run by Mattie Smith, a very talented patisserie chef. She’s been running it for two years already, after coming back from Paris – heartbroken and disappointed and badly judged. This all happened around Christmas, so it’s not a wonder that she’s not the biggest fan of the festive season. Or men. Tom Greer still works in the bookshop, wearing cardigans with patches on the elbows, and the only thing that he has in common with Mattie is the fact that he also hates Christmas. Other than that, it seems that they rub each other only the wrong way. But after Nina moving out from the flat above the bookshop, Mattie and Tom become flatmates – how is it going to end?

There are so many things happening in the bookstore and at the tearoom! Posy is heavily pregnant and ready to cry at any given moment, Nina is back at the shop and is determined to bring the festive atmosphere there, and so with the reindeers in their original size, mistletoe photo booth it slowly starts to look like “Christmas vomited over it”, which for Tom and Mattie, both total anti – Christmas, is at least one common ground to complain.

This time the story focuses strongly on Tom, the enigmatic and enigma – like member of Happy Ever After team who hates romance, and Mattie, who always wears black, runs the tearooms by the bookshop and hates all man. Again, those two, as well as the rest of the gang, and they’re all mentioned in the book, hallelujah, they were just my kind of characters – believable in the way they were, with their ups and down, secrets and troubles, with days that were sometimes better and sometimes worse and their banter, and you know, it is often that you want to bang the characters heads together for them to see the light eventually – and I didn’t want to bang their heads together! They were simply brilliant as they were. Although, I must admit, there was a moment that I felt so sorry for Mattie, when she was blanked out by the others after revealing Tom’s secrets, and I mean, they all – Posy, Verity and Nina, all wanted to know them, right, and then Tom also blanking her out and it was just soooo unfair.
I love how all the characters have their own stories to tell. Mattie’s heart was badly broken in the past and the return of her ex – boyfriend Steven doesn’t bode well. Tom, the very modern feminist, was so full of surprises and well, he always meant really well, even though it might not have looked like this at the first sight. The way those two were starting to find each other in this very complicated and uncomfortable arrangement of living in the same flat above the bookshop was absolutely sweet, hilarious and uplifting. Annie Darling, just like Debbie Johnson, can so brilliantly write about feelings and emotions, they’re so beautifully captured and they simply sound genuine and honest.

I’ve finished reading this book grinning from ear to ear, there was so much joy and optimism here, it really made me feel better and lighter. It was a delight to read and it was almost as good as the first book in the series, “.The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” though, to be honest again, it is probably one of the most gorgeous novels in the world and of all time. I really could read more about the Lonely Hearts Bookshop, it’s one of my absolutely favourite series, and I so hope to see more from the characters in the future, though guys, to be totally honest, the last sentence in this book looks like the very final one, sniff.

Altogether, this book was a perfect read – I loved every single moment of it. It was full of fantastic characters that are down – to – earth and brilliantly funny and comic moments, but it also touched upon some heavier issues. There was the Christmas spirit, bookshop full of romance books and mouth – watering festive baking – I don’t need anything more! Highly recommended!

 

More Than a Feeling by Cate Woods

More Than a Feeling by Cate Woods

 

41213431Publisher: Quercus

Publishing Date: 27th December 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 432

Genre: Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

‘Cate Woods is laugh-out-loud funny and life affirming’ Closer. The second novel from Cate Woods, author of the laugh-out-loud bestseller Just Haven’t Met You Yet.

In her twenties, Annie Taylor was sorted: she had her dream job, an amazing social life and was happily single. She had bags of confidence and played up her likeness to a young Barbra Streisand in turbans and winged eyeliner. Annie knew exactly who she was, and her future looked bright and full of adventures.

Life, however, hasn’t turned out quite how she expected. Now 33, Annie is living with her boyfriend Luke and is a stay-at-home mum to their baby daughter, Dot. The promising photography career has petered out, and with it her confidence and creativity. And when Luke does the unforgivable, Annie finds herself suddenly, terrifyingly, on her own. With the help of her group of loyal friends, Annie faces the challenge of building a new life for herself and Dot – while at the same time trying to reconcile the glamorous, carefree Annie of old with the knackered mum-of-one she sees in the mirror today. Is old Annie gone forever, or could this finally be the chance to find herself once more?

Rating: three-stars

Annie Taylor lives in London with her partner and their four – months – old daughter Dot. She used to be a fashion photographer and spent her time between work and partying. However, this changed after a family tragedy. When she thinks she’s come to terms with her life and plucks up the courage to be happy, she finds out that Luke has been cheating on her. Annie leaves, and now it’s a question of what it is she wants to do with her life – get a job, find a place to live, rediscover the old Annie…?

The characters were relatively well drawn, though, to be honest, I didn’t feel any connection with them. The way Annie changed, from the colourful, wild and free bird into the cautious, prudent person after her parents died didn’t feel too natural, and I really had a feeling she doesn’t feel comfortable in her own skin. It took her a lot of time to eventually realize what it is she wants, however all the dilemmas and wondering and comparing the Annie from then and the Annie from now simply didn’t sit with me and they didn’t correspond with Annie. It was as if the death of her parents was simply an excuse, though I’m not sure from what. I also understand there must have been the will they/won’t they cat and mouse play, to make the story unpredictable and excitable, but oh my word, guys, I beg you… Half of the book was about Annie wondering what to do, even though it was obvious what she should do and what Luke is up to.

The story felt very repetitive and slow, I eventually found myself skim – reading, skipping passages to finally arrive at some action. I also had a feeling that the author has just tried too much, with everything – characters that in the end turned out very stereotyped, with plot that didn’t bring anything new, with humour that unfortunately felt much too forced and didn’t make me laugh. I couldn’t wait for Annie to FINALLY, EVENTUALLY make up her mind, at anything at all. The way she always hoped everything will sort itself out till the next time was annoying – she was 31years old, for God’s sake, you can’t live avoiding confrontations or hoping that all the bad or uncomfortable things will melt away in the air. So sadly, very sadly, I didn’t enjoy this book as I hoped I’m going to, and Cate Woods’s debut novel “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” was much, much better. But the book altogether was not bad, oh no, guys, don’t get me wrong. It was funny, it had its moments, actually when I couldn’t sleep last night I’ve remembered something from the novel that made me smile, and the author is a brilliant story teller, she writes in a vivid and descriptive way and she delivered a light – hearted story full of your usual trials and tribulations, ups and downs. The plot felt tired but there was a lot of potential and I am already looking towards Cate Woods’s third book.

 

The Mother of All Christmases by Milly Johnson / Blog Tour

The Mother of All Christmases by Milly Johnson

 

40200649Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publishing Date: 15th November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 528

Genre: Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Eve Glace – co-owner of Winterworld – is pregnant.  This sends the whole of the theme park into baby mania, especially as the baby’s due date is 25th December. But their joy is soured by the fact it appears someone is trying to sabotage the Christmas celebrations.

Annie Pandoro and her husband Joe own a small Christmas cracker factory, are well set up and happy together despite life never blessing them with a much-wanted child.  Now, Annie thinks she is going through the menopause and any vestige of hope has been extinguished.

Palma Collins has agreed to act as a surrogate, hoping the money will give her a helping hand out of the gutter in which she finds herself.  But when the couple split up just after she finds out she is pregnant, she is left carrying a baby she never wanted in the first place.

Annie, Palma and Eve all meet at the ‘Pudding Club’, a new directive started by a forward-thinking young doctor, who was Palma’s first love at school.  Though their lives have gone in very different directions, will this group help each other to find happiness and peace as Christmas approaches?

Rating: five-stars

“The Mother of all Christmases” by Milly Johnson – when you read this book you’ll appreciate how adequate this title is! – follows stories of three very different women, Palma, Eve and Annie. Palma is the one from the wrong side of the town and with a painful past and finds herself in a very difficult situation. Because of her financial troubles she agrees to become a surrogate for a couple who can’t have children. Eve and her husband Jacques run the Christmas themed Winterworld park and are up to their noses with organizing things. Eve knows her husband want a baby with his all heart and well, she doesn’t say no as well, but there is never the right moment for a baby, right? And Annie and her husband Joe, who run a cracker company have been desperate for a baby all their life but it just never happened. There were failed IVFs, a failed adoption and well, they came to terms with the fact that it’s only the two of them. Until it turns out that it’s not the menopause Annie thinks it is.
The three women meet at the Christmas Pudding Club, a club for pregnant women, and they hit it off immediately – their friendship start and they go together through happy and hard times, and there are going to be plenty of those for them.

I don’t know how Milly Johnson does it but each and every book of hers is simply brilliant – she for sure keeps her standard high, and “The Mother of all Christmases” is another cracker (pun intended) from this author. This book was so full of surprising moments, there were twists that I haven’t seen coming and that broke my heart more than once, but then mended it again. It made me cry ugly tears and it made me laugh out loud. It was clever, poignant, uplifting and simply beautiful.

What I found so brilliant and clever was the fact that we already know some of the characters in the book, and not only this, but also The Daily Trumpet, with all its hilarious spelling errors is back. Eve and Winterworld we’ve got to know in “A Winter’s Flame”, as well as some other characters and places from Milly’s previous books and it was so nice to be back with them, to see what’s happened to them and how they’re doing.
However, no worries, it is absolutely a stand – alone novel! But it’ll only make you wish you had read the other books as well, so be prepared, and maybe have the books on pre – order already, if not at your side already.

There are relatively many characters being introduced to us in this book but I coped! Actually, very easily. I had no problems to quickly get who is who, why and to whom they belong. All the characters tell their own, beautiful, sometimes very poignant, stories. The female leading characters Palma, Annie and Eve, even though they don’t know each other yet, have one thing in common – they’re all find themselves pregnant. It took some time for all of them to realize that they’re pregnant, especially in Eve’s case, and yes, she made me feel desperate at the fact that she didn’t notice/didn’t want to notice things that were obvious but well, she had her reasons. All the pregnancies were different – one that might be considered a controversial one, then a very unexpected one, and one simply a nice surprise. I loved all of the three characters though, probably not surprisingly, my heart went to Palma. Her story was so heart – breaking and it will probably stay with me for a very long time yet.
And I must mention one of the male characters – Tom. Guys, he was Mr. Perfect. Milly Johnson has so brilliantly captured the essence of him and has made him, a boxer, so human and so vulnerable, and the things he said to Palma… well, if somebody told me such things I’d print them, put them in frames and hang them on the wall.
The thing with Milly Johnson is that, even if it’s crystal clear that she herself loves her own characters, she gives them all her whole heart and soul, and she makes their lives happy and lets them look optimistically into their futures – then bang, and something happens. Something unexpected, something that turns their worlds upside down. There is actually a tension detectable through the pages, I personally couldn’t shake off the feeling that something bad is going to happen, and I kept everything crossed that it won’t happen. It doesn’t happen often that I’m so deeply involved in the characters and their lives, but in this book I actually lived and experienced things together with them, I fell for them and I couldn’t bear the thought that something could go wrong for them.

“The Mother of all Christmases” deals with many issues, some of them lighter, some heavier, and with Milly Johnson’s writing that is full of heart you’ll find yourself laughing, crying, smiling and laughing again. It is truly Milly Johnson at her best. She deals with the stuff that life throws at her characters in such a down – to – earth, casual way, she’s not afraid of throwing many challenges at her characters, of making their lives complicated and difficult. It is so well written, so full of events and there is not a single flat moment, the story is just flowing and you together with it. It was a story about friendship, sisterhood, loss, love, grief, relationships, second chances and many other things, beautifully and seamlessly binding all the threads and events together. It didn’t feel too overloaded, the pace was perfect and you’ll quickly find yourself engaged in the characters’ lives. Highly recommended!

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The List that Changed My Life by Olivia Beirne

The List that Changed My Life by Olivia Beirne

 

40901450Publisher: Headline Review

Publishing Date: 22nd November 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 336

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Sometimes all you need is a little push…

When Georgia’s sister is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she promises to do everything her older sibling can no longer do, resulting in a journey that will change her life forever…

Georgia loves wine, reality TV and sitting on the sofa after work. She does not love heights, looking at her bank account, going on dates, or activities that involve a sports bra. And she will never, ever take a risk.

That is, until her braver, bolder, big sister finds out that she won’t be able to tick off the things she wanted to do before turning thirty, and turns to Georgia to help her finish her list.

With the birthday just months away, Georgia suddenly has a deadline to learn to grab life with both hands. Could she be brave enough to take the leap, for her sister?

And how might her own life change if she did?

A hilarious and heart-warming journey of a lifetime, showing us what it means to really be alive.

Rating: four-stars

“The List that Changed My Life”, the debut novel by Olivia Beirne, follows Georgia Miller, a twenty – six year old woman from London, working as an assistant to a designer. Even though Georgie is a great designer herself, she now acts as a runner/organizer/general dogsbody for her boss’s wedding and wouldn’t dare to show her her designs. Georgie’s sister Amy is a fit and cheerful PE teacher, and they both share a very strong bond. It’s no wonder then that when Amy is diagnosed with MS, Georgie’s world collapses as well. Amy challenges Georgie with a bucket list, full of things that she won’t be able to do herself – they’re mostly very out of Gerogie’s comfort zone, so will she be able to do it for her sister? And how much is her life going to change if she did?

I love books about lists, probably because they (the lists) never work for me in my life. And here it was a list that was a little bit different, because it was written for somebody, not by our main character herself. It was for her, from her sister. And well, there were things that really weren’t the easiest ones to do, to complete. No wonder that Georgia was a little sceptical, and it was a real joy to read how she worked her way through all the items on the list. I liked the way the idea of the list was executed, it was this little bit different to all the other lists that I’ve read about and it didn’t feel too meh or too utilised.

Georgia herself was such a lovely and compelling character. Yes, sure, sometimes I’ve got the vibe that she’s letting other people take her life over, that Jack’s involvement into her list was a bit too much, but other than that she was a lovely, friendly young woman that loved her sister so much. She’s been constantly pushed out of her comfort zones and we know ourselves how uncomfortable it can be, but she learnt how to value her life and how to stand for herself during the time. And, let’s be honest, mostly we’re really glad that we’ve done this step, no? I really liked the relationship between Georgie and her sister Amy, though there were moments that I had a feeling that Amy was a little bit too possessive, as if she wanted her sister only to herself, as if Georgie wasn’t allowed to have her own life. It was especially apparent after Amy’s accident on the steps, and as much as I could understand Georgie, that she wanted to be as quickly as possible with her sister, I couldn’t help but felt a little disappointed at the way Amy reacted – as if it was Georgie’s duty to be around her all the time. Georgie was always there for her sister, for better or worse, and I think she deserved a little life of her own as well. But those two had a great bond, that’s for sure.

“The List that Changed My Life” was light, funny and poignant, heart – warming debut novel about love, sisterhood and about how much you are able to sacrifice for those you love, how far you’d go for them. It was emotional, and it was incredibly humorous, there was a lightness to it even though it touched upon such a serious issue as being diagnosed with MS, but it didn’t make my cry. It was about stepping out of your comfort zones and taking advantages and opportunities. It was life – affirming and also thought – provoking, showing that it’s not so difficult to test your limits and to simply enjoy and appreciate what the world has on offer. I’m already looking forward to next Olivia Beirne’s novel, she’s certainly one to watch.

 

The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch – Smith / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, I’m very thrilled to be hosting Fiona Veitch – Smith’s blog tour stop here today. I adore Poppy Denby Investigates series and it’s only because of the lack of time here that I haven’t read “The Cairo Brief” yet – but keep your eyes peeled for my review as I’m going to read it sooner rather than later! In the meantime, though, I have a great long fat extract from the book (2 whole chapters!), so make yourself comfortable and enjoy!

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Chapter 1
10 April 1914, El-Amarna, Egypt

Two brown-cloaked figures picked their way through the half- filled trenches and incomplete excavations of the ancient city. Without its centuries-old shroud of desert sand, Akhetaten lay shivering and exposed in the shameful moonlight, filtering down from the carved cliffs to the east. From the cliff face, hacked and hewn, the likenesses of the heretic pharaohs Akhenaten and Nefertiti stood sentinel over the valley where, three and a half thousand years before, they had built a city to worship Aten, the golden sun.
But tonight it was Iah, the silver moon, that ruled the shadowlands below, where the city of the dead was being reclaimed by the living. To the west of what the foreigners called “The Dig”, the Nile snaked through fields and farms, an artery of life to the villages dotted along the plain.
The cloaked, trespassing figures were a twin boy and girl of around seventeen who lived in one of the nearby villages: Et-Till Beni Amra. At least they used to. Now they were at boarding school in Cairo, far, far to the north, and only came home during the holidays. Their parents were the only people in the village able to afford to send their children away to school, an enormous expense and – so the villagers whispered as they tilled their crops – a wasteful one, particularly on the girl. But the twins’ illicit family business – secretly passed down from generation to generation – had been doing well in recent times, thanks to the Europeans swarming over the carcass of Akhenaten like pale flies. The children with whom the twins now shared dormitories in Cairo talked behind their backs and called them graverobbers. But their father preferred the title “antiquities dealer” and now, since he had been so well paid by the German professor, his children were able to write his profession in German, English, and French.
The girl had been reluctant to come on the moonlit adventure. It had been fun to dig around in the ruins when they were children, but now she understood the consequences of being found with reclaimed artefacts. She’d heard stories of locals being beaten and imprisoned for theft. The Egyptian Antiquities Service issued licenses to excavators on a seasonal basis. For the last seven years the license had gone to Professor Ludwig Borchardt and his team. No one else was allowed to dig there – no rival European archaeologists and most definitely not a pair of young Mohammedans. Never mind that the girl’s family had been digging and selling the fruit of their labour for a hundred years before Borchardt came. Her father had been hired by the German as a consultant and had sworn to stop his own black-market business in return for a substantial salary. But her brother refused to adhere to the agreement. “It’s our people’s heritage,” he had argued, “like the crops of the field and the fish of the Nile.”
So, on this weekend which the Christians called Easter, when her father was in Cairo with his German employer, her brother had coaxed her to join him in a little subsistence looting. “For old time’s sake,” he had grinned. Reluctantly, she agreed. After she helped her mother wash up and read her younger
siblings a bedtime story, she donned her cloak, preparing to join her brother for an evening walk.
The mother assessed her twin children. The boy looked as cock-sure as always. But the girl… there was something bothering her. “You don’t have to go,” the woman said to her daughter. “Not if you don’t want to.”
“I – well – I –”
Her brother interrupted before she could finish, putting his arm around her and ushering her to the door. “Don’t worry, mother, I’ll look after her. She’s just a bit out of practice, aren’t you?”
The girl couldn’t deny this. She nodded half-heartedly.
“Hmmm,” said their mother, wiping her hands dry on her apron. “If I didn’t know the Europeans were away I might be more worried.”
“Worried about what?” asked her son, as he too pulled on his cloak. “We are just going for an evening stroll. And if we happen to walk past the old city… well…” he grinned and kissed his mother on her forehead.
“Watch out for Mohammed and his dog,” said the mother. “He’s usually asleep on the job, and he owes your father half a dozen favours, but you never know…”
“We will,” said her son as he and his sister picked up their sacks – containing ropes and tools – and headed out into the night.
Half an hour later the twins were at their pre-selected destination: the remains of an ancient workshop that had belonged to a man called Thutmose, the personal sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. Two years ago the German team, guided by the twins’ father, had unearthed the ruins of the sprawling facility and found a bust of the beautiful queen, with only one eye. The sculpture had now been sent to Berlin. But it wasn’t the only work of art retrieved. There were dozens of half-finished statues and bits of broken limbs in a series of storerooms and trash piles. And – so the twins knew – a secret underground chamber where the sculptor had kept his most precious work. Their father had declined, so far, to tell his new employers about the chamber. But rumour of its existence had been passed down in the family from generation to generation.
“I still don’t understand why Papa hasn’t told the Germans about it yet,” said the girl.
“Perhaps they haven’t paid him enough,” observed the boy. He struck a match and lit a small hurricane lantern he’d taken from his sack, then ranged the lamp in a wide arc over the trenches and roped-off squares of earth. “But it’s only a matter of time until someone finds it.”
“And you think you know where it is?” asked the girl.
The boy nodded. “And so do you. Do you remember that rhyme grandpa used to sing?”
The girl’s face lit up in the light of the lamp. She smiled, remembering fondly the old man with skin like dried parchment. “One palm, two palm, between the trees, there’s Old Tut’s treasure, so please don’t sneeze!” She giggled, just like she used to when she was a child.
The boy grinned. “The thing is, I don’t think it was just a rhyme.” He pointed to a small copse of palm trees about thirty paces west of the perimeter of the workshop dig. A pair of trees were set slightly apart from the rest. “What do you think?”
The girl’s almond-shaped eyes opened wide. “That’s a bit of a stretch.”
The boy shrugged and walked towards the trees. “Worth a dig, though, don’t you think? Won’t do any harm.”
The girl scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of the old
watchman and his dog. It was all clear. She sighed, shifted her sack from one shoulder to another, and followed her brother. “Can’t do any harm, I suppose…”
“Hey! Looks like someone’s already been here,” called the brother. The girl broke into a run and joined her sibling under the palms. He ranged his lantern over the area to reveal a hole in the ground, which had previously been hidden by rock and scree. The siblings both knew that this is how the entrance to Thutmose’s workshop had been found: under a pile of rubble. But around this entrance were footprints in the sand – human and animal. The girl got down on her knees and peered into the hole, gesturing for her brother to shed light on it. He did and the girl could make out a steep tunnel, wide enough for a medium- sized man to squeeze into, angled down into the darkness. “Do you think someone’s down there now?” she whispered.
“I doubt it,” said the boy. “If the Europeans had found it already, they would have blocked the area off and put guards on it until they came back from their Easter break.”
The girl nodded her assent and cocked her ear, trying to pick up any sounds that might be emanating from the underground chamber. “I agree about the Europeans. So that means it must be one of our people.”
“Yes, but I doubt they’re still there. Look, these footprints don’t look fresh. He poked at the faded tracks with his sandal, then grinned. “The Europeans wouldn’t be able to get a clear print from these,” he said, reminding his sister of the graverobber who had been caught and convicted on another dig by the famous archaeologist Howard Carter, who photographed footprints leading from the scene of the crime and matched them to a suspect.
“What do you want to do then?” asked the girl.
The boy put down his lantern on a nearby rock and shuffled his sack off his shoulder. “Go in, of course. Even if someone’s been here before us, there’ll still be lots to see. And good luck to them if they have! Better one of our people than a foreigner.”
The girl couldn’t disagree with that. So, with one more scan of the area above ground to prove they were most definitely alone, she helped her brother tie a rope securely to a palm tree and thread it down the hole. From experience, she knew that in all likelihood the entrance was not above a dead drop and was most likely a steep ramp. But also from experience – and family stories – she knew that the ramps could be treacherous. Great Uncle Kadiel had lost his footing at one of the tombs on the cliff face forty years ago and broke his back in the fall. So they tied a second rope and knotted it around her brother’s waist – as their father had taught them – and made him lean back to see if it held his weight. It did and before long he slithered through the hole and made his way down, using the first rope as a guide.
The girl waited in the company of the twin palms, standing sentinel beneath a canopy of stars.
“It’s too tight to stand,” a muffled voice called after a few moments. “But I can crawl. I’ll give three tugs when I reach the bottom. If there’s anything to see, I’ll give another three tugs; if there’s nothing here, I’ll only tug twice.”
“All right!” called the girl as loudly as she dared. They appeared to be alone, but old Mohammed and his dog were still unaccounted for…
It must only have been five or ten minutes, but it seemed like twice that before the rope between the tree and the hole jerked… three times. The girl let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. There’s something there… he wants me to come down…
She looked around once more – still no sign of the watchman and his dog. She wasn’t surprised; he was a known slacker. The
heavens only knew how he managed to keep his job. Some said he knew secrets the Europeans wouldn’t want divulged – secrets about questionable practices on the dig that didn’t quite align with the terms of license granted by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities in Cairo.
She tugged the rope three times to indicate to her brother that she’d got the message, tied a rope around the tree, and securely fastened it around her waist before approaching the entrance to the underground chamber. On her haunches she pulled up the hood of her cloak and tucked the stray hair from her plait behind her ears. She’d only just washed her hair that morning and didn’t want it full of muck from the tunnel. Then she sat on her bottom and worked her way, feet first, into the hole. There was no need to go head first; her brother had traversed the route before her and wouldn’t have called her down if there was any obstacle in the way. And besides, she was more confident keeping her head up, rather than down, just in case she needed to pull herself back up the rope with no one above ground to help her.
She held her breath and shimmied into the hole, then down the tunnel, which had sufficient clearance that the ceiling only intermittently brushed the top of her head. She stopped a metre or two below the surface, braced her ankles against the sides, and felt around with her hands. Someone, a long time ago – Thutmose himself perhaps? – had lined the tunnel with timber and overlaid it with compacted clay. The clay lining had cracked and crumbled in places but remained largely intact. The girl mumbled a prayer of thanks for the ingenuity and industriousness of her ancestors.
“Are you coming down?” A call from below.
“Yes,” she answered and continued her downwards shimmy, pushing herself up onto her hands and propelling her bottom forward to her knees in a caterpillar motion. “How far?” “About 20 metres! Can you see my light?”
Yes, she could; there was a dim glow below her. Her brother
had lit the lamp he had taken down with him. “Yes!” she affirmed, then: “What can you see?”
“Piles of stuff!” Her brother’s voice bubbled with excitement. “It’s not a tomb –”
“Didn’t expect it to be.”
“No. But it looks like this was where old Tut stored his funerary artefacts. The ones that would be used for burial.”
“Of Nefertiti and Akhenaten?”
“Possibly. We’ll see when you get down. I haven’t gone too far in… Ah, there you are. You’re getting slow in your old age.” The boy held out his hand and helped his sister upright at the bottom of the ramped tunnel. She took it then gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.
“You’re fifteen minutes older than me!”
“And always fifteen minutes ahead of you too!”
She punched him again.
“Ow!” yelped the boy but didn’t retaliate. Here, surrounded
by vases, chests, sarcophagi and amphora – with who knew what kind of treasure inside – they put their sibling high jinks aside.
The girl took the lantern from him and traced a wide arc around the chamber. She let out a long whistle. “It looks like there are other chambers leading off from this one.”
The boy agreed. “At least one; there’s an entrance over there. I haven’t been through yet. Thought we could start here.”
The girl nodded her agreement, put down the lantern on top of a carved stele leaning against the wall, and started to investigate. The stele – possibly a grave marker – was inscribed with hieroglyphics. The twins were learning to read the ancient script in their Classical civilization classes at the academy. The
girl traced her finger over the shapes, mouthing the words as she went: “The sun and the moon, the day and the night, wed forever in celestial splendour. Akhenaten and Nefertiti shine on your people, divine ones, shine.” The girl gasped and raised her face to her brother. “It is them! This will fetch a fine price on the black market!”
The boy grinned. “Of course we can’t take too much… we’ll never get away with it… but I don’t see why we can’t take a couple of small pieces and then let Borchardt know when he gets back with father… we’ll have to leave the stele, too heavy… besides it identifies the find… but something smaller…”
He lifted the lid on one of the painted wooden chests. Inside, in a bed of straw, was a set of gold-plated amphora, perhaps intended to hold sacred oil. “Hang on,” he said, his fingers raking through the straw, “this is fresh… it’s fresh straw!” He reached for the next chest and it contained statuettes – possibly by Thutmose himself. But these too were neatly packaged in fresh straw.
“Why’s it fresh?” he asked.
The girl’s stomach clenched. “Oh no…” She too opened a chest and came face to face with a burial mask of gold leaf, blue enamel, and black jet that looked very similar to the bust of Nefertiti, discovered elsewhere on the dig two years earlier. But what struck the twins more than the exquisite beauty of the pharaoh queen was the nest of fresh straw and modern linen wadding in which it lay. “Someone’s been here before us,” the girl whispered.
“Yes,” agreed the boy, “and it looks like they’re packed and ready to go.”
“We need to report it,” said the girl. “This doesn’t look like a casual looter. It’s organized. It’s… pssst! Where are you going?” The boy was picking his way through the treasure-filled chests heading to the back of the chamber. “I’m just going to stick my head in here.”
The girl stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t think we’ve got time. What if they come back?”
“Just a few minutes more,” said the boy and continued on his quest. As there was only one light the girl had a choice of staying there in the dark or following her brother. She sighed and, with a humph, joined her sibling. They had been right – there was another chamber, this too filled with chests, vases, statues, stele, and amphora. And in the middle was a stone sarcophagus. It was incomplete, with only the first layer of chiseling evident in what would eventually be an intricately carved design. The twins weren’t surprised. Thutmose had abandoned his workshop when the city itself had been evacuated after the death of Akhenaten. Much of the finds on the dig to date had been of unfinished or discarded pieces, though still of immense value to historians, antiquarians, and collectors of ancient art.
The boy took hold of the lid and heaved. It shifted slightly but didn’t budge. “Give me a hand, will you?”
The girl snorted. “You won’t find a mummy if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“I know!” said the brother. “But I’d like to see where one might lie. I’ve never seen inside one, have you?”
The girl admitted she hadn’t. There were a couple at the Cairo Museum, but she had never got around to visiting. When you lived a stone’s throw from an archaeological treasure trove, seeing the artefacts in the musty confines of a museum wasn’t quite so enticing. So she shrugged and leant her strength to her brother’s effort. With a few heaves and pulls the heavy stone lid began to pivot. When they’d moved it about 45 degrees they stopped and the boy picked up the lamp from the floor. He held it aloft and gasped. There, staring through the opening,
was the grimacing face of a dog, its teeth bared, its eyes wide and lifeless. The muzzle was matted with blood. The girl knew that if she reached out and touched it, it would still be sticky to the touch – it looked that recent. “It’s the watchman’s dog! Who would do this?”
The siblings stepped back from the sarcophagus and drew closer together. The girl slipped her arm around her brother’s waist. She was not a sentimental girl, but the thought of a poor animal being killed and hidden like this made her feel sick. Hidden… hidden… “And why would they hide it?”
“And where’s Mohammed?” The boy’s voice was hollow. He took a step towards the sarcophagus.
The girl knew immediately what he was going to do. “Don’t! Let’s call someone. The police at El-Hag Kandeel…”
But the boy was undeterred. He passed the lantern to his sister, then climbed up onto the edge of the stone coffin and positioned his backside on the rim. He pressed his heels against the edge of the lid and used the strength of his legs to push. The lid gave way and fell to the earth floor with a deathly thud. And there, as the siblings both feared, was the body of Mohammed the watchman under the corpse of his faithful dog.
The twins screamed, their voices merging as they had on the day they were born, and they ran from the chamber as fast as they could. The girl had the presence of mind to snatch up the lantern and was a step or two behind her brother as they fled towards the tunnel. But waiting for them, in the outer chamber, were two men, one an Egyptian police officer, the other a European.
“Mohammed! The watchman! His dog!” the boy cried in Arabic.
“Arrest them,” said the European in English.
“But we haven’t done anything!” cried the girl. Her protest was met with a blow to the head and the last thing she heard was her brother calling out her name.

Chapter 2
London, Thursday 8 December 1921
“Miz Denby! What do you know about Queen Nefertiti?” Poppy looked up from her Remington typewriter – where she had been bashing out a theatre review – to see her editor stalking towards her with what looked like a press release in hand. Since returning from a trip to New York earlier in the year, the diminutive newspaperman had taken to walking around with a noxious Cuban cigar clenched between his teeth, adding to the already foul atmosphere of the fourth-floor newsroom. He clambered onto a spare chair near her desk, his short legs dangling a foot off the ground.
“Nefertiti,” he said again, pronouncing it “Nay-fur-toy-toy” in his New York accent.
“Hold on,” said Poppy, then swiped the carriage return twice, typed ENDS, and turned her attention to her editor.
“Who or what is ‘Nay-fur-toy-toy’?” she asked, reaching out her ink-stained hand to take the sheet of paper Rollo passed to her.
Rollo grinned at her attempt at a New York accent and then, in affected Queen’s English, articulated “Ne’er-for-tea- tea,” before slipping back into his usual drawl. “She was some Egyptian broad. A pharaoh queen. Married to a fella whose name I can’t pronounce.”
Poppy scanned the press release.
Dear Mr Rolandson, you are invited to report on the auction of the death mask of Queen Nefertiti at Winterton Hall, Henley-on-Thames, on Saturday 10th December. The auction will be part of a longer clay-pigeon shooting weekend – weather permitting – and will be attended by luminaries in the world of antiquities and archaeology, both local and international. Your readers might also be interested to know that on Friday evening, a séance will be held, led by Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle, at which an attempt will be made to contact the spirit of Queen Nefertiti.
The release then went on to give a brief history of Nefertiti and to state that the mask had just recently come to light, the general consensus being that it had been stolen from a dig in Egypt in 1914, under what were described as “murderous circumstances”.
Poppy raised her eyebrows. “Murderous circumstances? What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know,” said Rollo, and stubbed out his cigar in the soil around Poppy’s precious potted begonia. She glared at him. “Sorry,” he offered, then picked out the stub and plopped it into an empty tea cup. “You really should get an ash tray, Miz Denby.”
Poppy bit back her you really should respect other people’s property and said instead, “So, are you going?”
“It’s short notice, but yes. And I think you should come too. Technically, it falls into the art and entertainment brief – particularly with Conan Doyle in attendance; you might be able to get an interview.”
“What’s this about a séance?”
Rollo rolled his eyes beneath his shaggy red brows. “Another one of his spiritualist stunts, I suppose.”
Poppy pursed her lips. “Quite. I wish he’d stick to his detective stories. They’re far more sensible.”
Rollo grinned. “But not half as newsworthy. Which is why this Maddox fella thinks we’ll be interested. And he’s right.”
“Well, I’m not interested in the least.”
“Hocus pocus not Christian enough for you?” asked Rollo with a grin.
Poppy swivelled in her chair and looked Rollo squarely in the eye. “There are two ways of looking at this. Either they’re a hoax and people are being duped, or they are actually talking to the dead – which, in my book, is a very dangerous thing to do. Dabbling with the spirits can lead down sinister paths.”
“Spirits that don’t exist.”
“You have no evidence of that.”
“Neither do you.”
They held each other’s gaze. Poppy and Rollo had been over
this ground before. She believed in God. He did not.
“Well, Miz Denby, hopefully you can admit that whether it’s a hoax or real, anything involving Conan Doyle is newsworthy.
And you would be professionally remiss to ignore it.”
Poppy lowered her eyes. He was right. She had a job to do. She cleared her throat and then scanned the press release again. It was signed by Sir James Maddox, Baron of Winterton. “Do we know anything about Maddox?” asked Poppy, indicating
that she was most firmly back “on the job”.
Rollo leaned back in his chair, his plump belly straining
between the parallel lines of his scarlet braces. “I’ve heard the name. Yazzie has mentioned him before. He was a friend of her father’s, I think. Some kind of maverick archaeologist collector type. A bit like that Carnarvon fella.”
“The one that’s looking for King Tut’s tomb?”
“That’s the one,” said Rollo and took the press release back
from Poppy. “I think I’ll ask Yazzie to come as well. She might be able to give us some insight into the Egyptian angle. And she might want to bid on the mask… She’s got quite the art collection, as you know.”
Poppy brushed a stray blonde curl behind her ear and avoided meeting Rollo’s eyes.
“What?”
“Nothing. I just thought you and Miss Reece-Lansdale were no longer – er – well – no longer stepping out together.” She straightened a pile of notes on her desk.
Rollo cocked his head to one side. “I don’t know if we were ever ‘stepping out together’. But no, whatever you’ve heard, Yazzie and I are still friends. She’s a fine lady.”
What Poppy had heard was that the famous female barrister, the Anglo-Egyptian Miss Yasmin Reece-Lansdale, had been forthright enough to ask the editor of The Daily Globe to marry her. And he had turned her down. But it was none of her business. What was her business was a possible story involving Arthur Conan Doyle and a valuable Egyptian artefact that was somehow associated with a murder… A shiver ran down her spine. “Apologies Rollo. Yes, I’d love to come on the weekend with you and Yazzie – in a professional capacity, of course.” Annoyingly, she felt a slight blush creep up her neck.
Her editor laughed. “Goodo. And I’ll ask Danny Boy too,” he winked. “In his professional capacity, of course.” Rollo heaved himself off his chair and stood at Poppy’s side, his head barely reaching her shoulder. His eyes expertly scanned the typescript in her machine. “Is this the Ivor Novello / PG Wodehouse collaboration?”
“It is,” said Poppy. “At the Adelphi.”
“Any good?”
Poppy whisked out the sheet and passed it to him. “Very
funny, as you’d expect. Jolly music too.”
“I might give it a go. If you’re finished with this why don’t
you go down to the morgue and pull some jazz files on the main players at the Egyptian weekend. And I’ll telegraph Maddox to expect a group of us from the Globe.” He paused, his eyebrows furrowed. “Bet we’re not the only press he’s asked.”
“Lionel Saunders from the Courier?” asked Poppy as she stood up and straightened her calf-length Chanel grey skirt – all the rage in office wear for the working lady – and shrugged into the matching jacket.
“You can bet your bottom dollar on it,” observed Rollo. He wagged a finger at Poppy. “We’d better make sure we get the scoop on him. Do as much research as you can, Miz Denby, and I’ll see if Yazzie knows anything about these ‘murderous circumstances’. Her brother Faizal is with the Egyptian Antiquities Service, did you know?”
Poppy didn’t. She didn’t even know Yasmin had a brother. The editor and reporter parted ways, promising to touch base later in the day.
Down in the morgue, Poppy hung her jacket and matching cloche hat next to a huge black great coat, which had previously seen action on the Western Front. The coat belonged to Ivan Molanov, the archivist of The Daily Globe. Ivan was a refugee from communist Russia who had met Rollo Rolandson in a military hospital in Belgium during the war. At Poppy’s request, Ivan had dug out the jazz files on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle, James Maddox, the archaeologist Howard Carter, and his backer, George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon. Poppy didn’t know whether Carter and Carnarvon were going to be at the shooting weekend, but as they were currently the most famous Egyptologists in the country, she thought their files might contain some useful background material. She also asked Ivan to look beyond the jazz files – which contained mainly celebrity gossip – to the subject clipping files.
“Do you have anything on Egypt in general? Or this Queen Nefertiti?”
“Nay-fah who?” asked Ivan.
Poppy wrote down the name on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Ivan held it in his huge paw-like hand and grunted. “Thees ees not a library, Mees Denby. Go to the British Museum. Beeg library there. Lots of Egyptian artefacts too. You ever see a mummy?”
Poppy admitted that she hadn’t. She was a frequent visitor to the British Library, but in the eighteen months she had lived in London she had never ventured into the bowels of the museum which shared the same premises. History did not interest her that much, and most of her time – work or leisure – was taken up attending art exhibitions, book launches or theatre and cinema shows. She was, after all, the arts and entertainment editor of the Globe, not a historian. However, this new story, which she had labelled “The Cairo Brief” in bold letters at the top of her notebook (she had initially called it “The Pharaoh Brief ” but wasn’t confident she could spell it), was about ancient art. She felt a little out of her depth.
“Yes, that’s a good suggestion, Ivan. I’ll head over to the museum when I’m finished here.”
Ivan left her to her research. First off she opened the file on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle. Actually, it was two files in one, as the file of Jean Leckie, long-term mistress of the famous detective fiction writer, was slipped into her lover’s when they
finally married, the year after the death of Conan Doyle’s first wife. Sir Arthur, Lady Jean, and anyone close to them denied that they’d had a physical affair, but no one denied that they had been in love for at least a decade while the first Mrs Conan Doyle became increasingly infirm with tuberculosis. It was partly due to Jean, apparently, that Arthur became embroiled in spiritualism, which avid readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories struggled to understand. Conan Doyle had previously been a doctor and gifted his scientific mindset to the forensic genius of Holmes. However, as Poppy read on in the file, she realized that this was just a veneer. The real Conan Doyle was just as interested in the metaphysical as he was in the scientific, having become a freemason thirty years earlier. He had also written articles on psychic phenomena, which he claimed to have observed in his children’s nanny. When he married Jean in 1906 and she professed to have the gift of contacting the dead and communicating their messages to the living through automatic writing, Conan Doyle became increasingly active in the spiritualist movement. Poppy noted that his first published work on spiritualism was in 1916, the year after one of his nephews was killed in the war. Poppy swallowed hard. That’s the same year Christopher died…
Poppy’s brother Christopher had been a voracious reader of the Sherlock Holmes stories and had used his pocket money to buy The Strand magazine and kept it hidden under his mattress. Knowing their parents would disapprove of wasting good money on what they would have thought “bad literature”, he swore Poppy to secrecy. A few years later, when Christopher died, she felt she needed to continue keeping his secret. But when she went to his room to retrieve the stash, their mother was already there. She had pulled the mattress off the bed for beating and found the collection of story magazines. They now lay around her as she knelt on the floor, her shoulders heaving as she sobbed. One of the magazines was clutched to her breast as she wept out her anguish for her lost child. Poppy did not speak; she just turned around and left her mother to her private grief. Later, she returned to the room, but the magazines had all gone.
Poppy closed her eyes to suppress the tears that were beginning to well. Pull yourself together, old girl; there’s work to be done. Poppy turned a page in the file to find a clipping from The Strand dated December 1920. The article, written by Conan Doyle, was in defence of the girls from Yorkshire who claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. Poppy smiled as she looked at the whimsical photograph, considered a hoax by experts and academics, but widely believed by the general public. This article by the author of Sherlock Holmes had much to do with the popular acceptance of the fairy hoax, as the public seemed to struggle to differentiate the unimpeachable fictional detective – who could never be fooled – from his more fanciful creator.
The next page in the file held an article written by Rollo Rolandson, lampooning Conan Doyle for his defence of the photographs and quoting Daniel Rokeby, The Daily Globe’s resident photographer, who explained how the photographs had been staged and faked. Poppy remembered Rollo and Daniel working on the piece last December. Golly, had it been a year already?
Poppy trailed her finger along Daniel’s name. Last December Poppy had believed she and the handsome photographer might soon be married. But here they were, twelve months later, and there was still no ring on her finger. Their relationship ebbed and flowed like the tide, and for three whole months, when Poppy was in New York with Rollo, she thought it might be over forever. But on her return Daniel had been waiting for her…
Poppy pulled herself up again: stop daydreaming!
She read through her notes on Conan Doyle and decided
that she had enough to go on for now. She was fascinated to meet the man in the flesh – as well as his wife; although the idea of speaking to someone who spoke to the dead was a little troubling. Claims to speak to the dead, Poppy reminded herself. Surely, the whole thing was a hoax. Not to mention un- Christian! Nonetheless, she was intrigued to see what actually happened at a séance. Despite her qualms, Rollo was right: it would make for a fantastic article.
The next file was on Sir James Maddox, whom Poppy had never heard of before. There wasn’t much in the file, as Maddox appeared to spend much of his time abroad or on his country estate, Winterton, and did not come up to London much. There was, however, a photograph of Maddox and his wife, Lady Ursula, at the opening of an exhibit at the British Museum. He was a beefy, balding man, sporting a moustache and wearing one of those curious Ottoman hats – a fez, Poppy thought it might be called. His wife was more conventionally dressed, her unsmiling face giving nothing away. The notes added little to what Rollo had already told her. Maddox was a gentleman archaeologist and world traveller, with an extensive collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek antiquities. There was, however, one newspaper clipping that gave a hint of something slightly controversial. It was from the Times, dated August 1914, reporting that Sir James Maddox had been asked to step down from the board of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. A representative of the board had told the Times it was due to concerns that had been raised about Sir James’s “methods of procurement of certain antiquities”. The representative declined to give more specific details and Sir James was “not available for comment”. It was a short article, covering a mere three column inches. Poppy was very surprised the journalist hadn’t dug deeper. There was clearly a story there… but, perhaps the outbreak of the war that very same month had caused the story to be spiked – or it had been longer and the sub-editor had cut it for space. She checked the by-line on the article – Walter Jensford. She’d never heard of him but made a note of it.
Poppy closed the file and checked her watch – nearly one o’clock. Time for a spot of lunch then I’ll head over to the British Museum. She hadn’t had a chance to read the Carnarvon and Carter files. “Ivan,” she called out to the archivist. “Can I take these with me please?”
Ivan said she could and made a note in his meticulously kept record book as Poppy slipped her jacket over her white silk blouse. “You should wrap up warm, Mees Denby. I see it is starting to snow.” Poppy glanced out of the third-floor window, overlooking Fleet Street. Down below, horse-drawn vehicles jostled for space with motorcars, and pedestrians pulled up their collars against the cold. Ivan was right; it was starting to snow.

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