Extract: The Family Tree Mystery

Peter Bartram – The Family Tree Mystery (Blog Tour)

Published in paperback £8.99, also available in ebook (£2.99 until 31 December 2022). Available from Amazon: https://mybook.to/the-family-tree-mystery-kindle Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

I’ve something a little on the lighter side today – with the dark winter nights, it seemed just the ticket!

First, the official blurb: Brighton crime reporter Colin Crampton gets on the trail of a big story when Hobart Birtwhistle, a distant relative of feisty model Shirley Goldsmith, is mysteriously murdered. Colin and Shirley team up to investigate the case. Spiky history don Victoria Nettlebed suggests the mystery may lie a century earlier in the life of an Australian gold prospector… and the death of his partner. But does Nettlebed know more than she’s telling? And why did cockney metals trader Lionel Bruce meet Birtwhistle days before his death? Shirley wants Colin to track down her long-lost relatives. But more murders bring the threat closer to home. The pair tangle with London gangsters, an eccentric Scottish lord, and a team of women cricketers in their hunt for the truth. There are laughs alongside the action as Colin and Shirley uncover the shocking secrets of the family tree. And Shirley has one last surprise for Colin…

———————————–

Dateline: Brighton, England, 3rd July 1967

My girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith threw her arms around me. She hugged me tight and pressed her lips to mine.

Her kiss lingered, sweet and clinging, soft and luscious, like a dewy peach. The kind of kiss to make you think you’re the only man in the world – while it lasts.

And that you’re not, when it ends.

Because Shirley broke our embrace and threw back her head, her lips still slightly parted. Her cornflower blue eyes sparkled with fun.

“Guess what, big boy?” she said. “It turns out I’ve got a half-uncle.”

“Couldn’t you afford a whole one?” I asked.

“Ha, bloody, ha.”

“Perhaps I should have asked which half?”

“You better take this seriously, bozo. I’ve got family I never knew about.”

“The best kind,” I said.

I’m Colin Crampton. Before I became crime reporter on the Brighton Evening Chronicle, my own life was shadowed by flatulent uncles, rebarbative aunts, and twin cousins as useless as a pair of busted bookends.

We were in Shirley’s flat. It was early evening. I’d called in after a tough day at the paper to find Shirl celebrating. She’d popped the cork on a bottle of Asti Spumante. It had been in the back of the fridge since Christmas. She poured herself a glass.

She was wearing pillar-box red slacks and a top circled with red, yellow and black stripes. It looked like she’d been laced in multi-coloured ribbons. She’d pinned her blonde hair back with an Alice band made out of scarlet beads. Every inch the savvy photographers’ model.

If her long-lost half-uncle could see his half-niece now, he’d know for sure he’d got the best of the bargain.

I asked: “Serious question: what exactly is a half-uncle?”

“He’s the half-brother of one of your parents.”

“Half-uncles… half-brothers… there are too many incomplete people floating around here.”

“Look, this isn’t difficult,” Shirl said. “It turns out my Ma, Barbara, had a half-brother who was the son from her mother’s first marriage.”

“I get it. With a different father.”

“And Barbara’s half-brother is my half-uncle.”

“So, not exactly a sturdy branch of the family tree. More of a leafless twig.”

I reached for the Italian fizz and poured myself a glass.

“How long have you known about this half-uncle?” I asked.

“Since this morning. A package arrived in the post.”

“Unknown relatives who turn up from the past – especially in packages – usually want only one thing,” I said.

“My moolah,” Shirl said. “Not this guy. He just wants to meet me.”

“So, who is he?”

Shirley moved over to the table. Grabbed a large buff envelope and we sat side-by-side on the sofa. She reached into the envelope and pulled out a paper.

“Evidence,” she said. “Isn’t that what you’re looking for when you write your newspaper stories?”

Shirl handed me a long thin document. An Australian birth certificate issued in the state of Victoria. It recorded that Hobart Jocelyn Birtwhistle had been born on the eighth of December 1917 at Ballarat. His father was one Jonathan Birtwhistle (deceased) and his mother Bella Caroline Birtwhistle.

I said: “Just because you’ve got a guy’s birth certificate doesn’t mean it’s been sent by the same guy. I could get a certificate for Paul McCartney but it wouldn’t make me a member of The Beatles.”

“I know that. There’s more. The guy’s sent a letter, too.”

Shirl reached into the envelope again and pulled out a sheaf of Basildon Bond blue notepaper. It was covered in scrawled black writing.

“He says he’d been researching his family’s background and didn’t realise until a few months ago that he had a half-sister. My Ma.”

I put my hand gently on Shirl’s shoulder. Barbara Goldsmith, a bold brassy bundle of life, had died just a few months ago. With her father already gone, Shirley had been deeply upset.

I still had the damp hanky from a tear-stained evening when we’d huddled together on the sofa and Shirl had told me Barbara’s life history.

Her Ma was the daughter of Bella’s second marriage to one Eddie Green, a railway engineer. It was, apparently, a tempestuous match. Bella was plagued by bouts of deep depression and Green by outbursts of drink-fuelled violence. As soon as she could, Barbara took the bus from Erskineville, a suburb of Sydney, and headed for Adelaide. She never looked back.

At the bus station, she met Jack Goldsmith, a sheep farm equipment salesman. By the time they’d reached Adelaide, Barbara had fallen for the handsome seller of halters, lambing ropes, warming boxes and prolapse harnesses. It was like a plot out of Mills and Boon. But, hell, it’s nice sometimes when real life imitates art.

I said: “Does Birtwhistle say why he’s getting in touch?”

Shirl turned over a page of the letter. “He says he has ‘information which may be to my advantage’.”

I smacked the palm of my hand to my forehead. “Not that hoary old chestnut. The old con-man’s party trick.”

“He seems genuine.”

“They always do.”

“He says it’s all quite urgent.”

“Never give the sucker a chance to think it might be a con.”

“Wants to see me tomorrow morning.”

“Force the sap’s hand and they’ll end up helpless.”

“So, you’re going to leave me to my fate?”

I drained the last of my wine. “Would I ever?”

Shirl leaned towards me. Her arms sinuously slipped around my neck. Her lips met mine in another lingering kiss.

She pulled away and grinned. “I don’t know how I can ever thank you.”

My gaze strayed to the bedroom door. “I might be able to suggest a way,” I said.

———————————–

Peter began his career as a reporter on a local weekly newspaper before editing newspapers and magazines in London, ]and, finally, becoming freelance. He has done most things in journalism from door-stepping for quotes to writing serious editorials. He’s pursued stories in locations as diverse as 700 feet down a coal mine and a courtier’s chambers at Buckingham Palace. Peter is a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association. He brings his years of experience as a journalist to his Crampton of the Chronicle crime mystery series. His novels are fast-paced and humorous – the action is matched by the laughs, and the books feature a host of colourful characters. You can download Murder in Capital Letters, a free book in the series, for your Kindle from http://www.colincrampton.com.

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @PeterFBartram
And find their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/peterbartramauthor

Don’t forget to check out all the reviews on the rest of the blog tour!

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