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The Blyth House Murder

The Blyth House Murder

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The Blyth House Murder

Length:
352 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 8, 2012
ISBN:
9781908372239
Format:
Book

Description

The third of the Thadeus Burke series continues the antics of the aristocratic Lloyd’s insurance broker and his sister Dr Freddie, together with Inspector Johnny Jackson of Scotland Yard.
It is now the spring of 1927 and our hero, assisted by his loyal staff, divide their time between the City of London and the City of Cambridge.A wealthy racehorse owning spinster is murdered at her house in Newmarket and we follow the unravelling of this mystery, interwoven with passionate affairs involving the prime suspect and our hero and his sister.Entwined within this tale there are bodies at Brooklands’ motorraces and at horseraces, on the golf course, at the theatre and by the seaside; in addition to the now customary shenanigans at Lloyd’s of London. All these minor interruptions are speedily resolved by Thadeus between his flying lessons in the new Cirrus Moth.More great fun in Britain’s last elegant decade, the nineteen twenties.
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 8, 2012
ISBN:
9781908372239
Format:
Book

About the author

Terry Minahan lived from an early age in London then for the last twenty years has resided with his wife Lydia in Newmarket; this suited his work with bloodstock insurance and her work as an artist.He left school at sixteen years of age and went straight to a firm of Lloyds’ Brokers, starting in the accounts department then spent many years wandering around the Underwriting Room as a broker, gathering friends and enemies in consideration of a modest monetary reward.He was always an avid reader of detective fiction along with a love of Shakespeare and Plato, and more recently with a passionate interest in classic and baroque music and the study of music theory, coupled with attempts at playing the clarinet.His first book, The Adventures of Thadeus Burke was published in May 2008, and the Further Adventures a year later; the present effort is another sequel following the antics of the same heroes. Look out for the fourth, and maybe final, instalment of the adventures of Thadeus Burke which is progressing well.


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The Blyth House Murder - Terry Minahan

Chapter 1

~

A SWINE BEFORE PEARL

Nineteen twenty-seven was a year of changes at Burke & Co, the Lloyd’s insurance broking company established by the Honourable Thadeus Burke just two years previously. James Pooley, a founding member of the firm, gifted broker and supremo of the Motor Department and William Penrose, the ex-alcoholic reinsurance wizard, were both raised to the board, their directorships commencing on the first of January, a promotion well deserved by the two young men. This pair of newly-elevated employees were also married during the year, not to each other of course; James was joined in wedlock to his long standing fiancée, Eddie Whitney, at a sumptuous festival in Nunhead, South London, in January and William entered into wedded bliss with the company’s lady Claims Manager, Miss Beth Bateman, at a church in Buckinghamshire in February. Both these events passed without the appearance of a single dead body, either in the churches or at the receptions; such unfortunate incidents had become an habitual occurrence at large gatherings attended by Thadeus since he acquired his passion for crime and the detection thereof! The possible future loss of Beth’s excellent service to the company was partly mitigated by the addition of an able and extremely attractive lady assistant, Daphne Monroe, lured away from the offices of the Royal Exchange Insurance Company, who was already proving diligent, though lacking Beth’s astute command of insurance law.

As the two new members of the board were leaving the boss to roam without portfolio but retaining the prestigious titles of Chairman and Managing Director, which he wore in a manner that Plato’s philosopher-king might have enjoyed, Thadeus now felt free to pursue his ambitions in the world of bloodstock with his stud in Newmarket. He was also able to engage in some dilettanti excursions at the behest of his sibling, Edward, who owned an art gallery in Cork Street.

Thadeus’ sister, Dr Frederica Burke, was in Switzerland and/or Austria studying psychoanalysis and sent her brother a weekly letter reporting the rise and fall of each new theory in the investigation of the mind of Man. She had been there for over three months, and was now thoroughly impregnated with the very latest modern jargon, with which she could fill several pages with complete nonsense.

Importantly, Thadeus now also had more time to engage in his aforementioned favourite hobby – that of sleuthing alongside his friend, Inspector Johnny Jackson of Scotland Yard.

On Saturday April the second, Cambridge won the boat race by two and a half lengths; the next day, Sunday April the third, Miss Edwina Blyth was discovered dead in her bed by her personal maid, when she arrived with the early morning cup of tea that was the customary matutinal refreshment for the lady of the house. The death was a classic locked-room mystery although the solution, disappointingly, did not require the brain of a Sherlock Holmes or even a Thadeus Burke. The bedroom door was allegedly locked by a key, which still lay on the bedside table of the deceased, but was opened by a duplicate key kept in the kitchen by the servants for just such an emergency, this knowledge robbing Thadeus of a surprise solution involving acrobats or a diminutive primate. The servants at Blyth House included a cook and her husband, the chauffeur and their daughter, the personal maid; they all lived in the Lodge cottage. Other permanent staff – cleaners, the odd man and a couple of gardeners – lived nearby and attended the premises daily, arriving at eight o’clock and working through until six in the evening.

The cause of death was strychnine poisoning administered in the wealthy lady’s late-night cocoa, another custom of the house, and also delivered by the maid.

The sobbing maid was taken to the local police station and questioned intensely; she was obviously the guilty person. There were a few loose ends; a note was found on a chest of drawers near the bedside stating in bold capital letters, THIS IS THE END written in the hand of the departed woman and signed with her recognizable flourish. There was a distinct lack of motive. Another puzzle was that a very valuable string of pearls, much prized by the householder, was missing.

Mr and Mrs Cartwright had worked with Edwina Blyth for sixteen years and their only child, employed officially from the age of fourteen, seven years ago. The family travelled everywhere with Eddie – as Miss Blyth was known in the higher social circles – to the castle in Scotland and the house in Eaton Square, London, also to the lodge in Austria. On these occasions Mr Cartwright drove the Rolls-Royce with his wife seated beside him and Miss Blyth and her maid in the back. They were a happy family.

Miss Edwina Blyth’s father was American and her mother English. They had both died in a ridiculous accident during the Boer War when Mr Blyth was working as a journalist for a New York newspaper and he and his wife found themselves in the cross-fire between warring factions – the identity of which was never established nor admitted by anybody – it was not even certain that they represented opposing sides. The orphaned only child, Edwina, was shipped out to the USA and fed and schooled by her father’s brother, a bachelor involved in the oil business. At the age of twenty-one the girl became one of the richest young women in the country when the uncle died in a motor accident. Someone had told him that automobile driving was easy so he set out along a main road without a single lesson in the art of vehicle usage. The new machine and its owner sailed over the edge of a mountain precipice in preference to the safer option of following the road round to the right. Edwina sailed back to England, which she regarded as her home nation; it said so on her birth certificate and she had adamantly resisted all coercion to join the members of her adopted country and retained her British passport.

The Cartwright family had for many decades, and generations, served her mother’s family and it was to them that she went in pursuit of staff, her wealth attracting the most suitable pair away from a cousin. It was rumoured that the bulk of the dead woman’s estate would now compensate this same cousin for the loss of an excellent cook and a competent chauffeur. Apparently the three Cartwrights were also beneficiaries with amounts sufficient to raise them into the lower middle classes but not make them multi-millionaires like their late mistress. Frankly all three were better off in service than out of it.

As the death, accident, murder or suicide, occurred at a house near the town of Newmarket and one of the investigating police officers was a Detective Sergeant David Anderson, a CID man attached to the Jockey Club and minion to the Scotland Yard CID Inspector Johnny Jackson, an expert with special responsibilities within the financial section of the City of London and a good friend of the Honourable Thadeus Burke, the owner of a stud in the Newmarket area, in addition to being a Lloyd’s insurance broker, it was natural that the three men should discuss the case. The first attempt to arrange a convivium was thwarted by a horse kicking a hole in the radiator of Anderson’s Austin motor vehicle on the day selected for his visit to London. The next chosen day was frustrated by Jackson’s attendance at a national de-briefing on the threat of political unrest in the country’s major cities. The third option was not cancelled but delayed by Thadeus Burke’s appointment with another wealthy American lady, this one very much alive and kicking.

Mrs Pearl Burlington-Smyth was a very beautiful woman of an indeterminable age; indeterminable because nobody was allowed to even suggest a number and certainly not investigate or ask questions concerning this delicate matter. She had not always been Burlington-Smyth of course. The first part of the name came from her third, and most recent, husband. He had borrowed it from the London shopping arcade in preference to his original Lithuanian moniker which did not contain enough vowels for easy use in the West. Smyth, however, was her own birthright; some said that it was really Smith and some more slanderous creatures said that the Pearl used to be Elsie. Before being Burlington-Smyth she had been Grossman-Smyth with her second partner and, earlier still, Stein-Smyth, a name that did not trip easily off the tongue so she ditched its donor and settled her first divorce – out of court. She was about to become Lady Pearl Pressingham!

The Honourable Thadeus Burke was introducing Pearl to the delights of the Lloyd’s Underwriting Room, a task thrust upon him by his brother Edward, who had supplied paintings to the woman during her previous Grossman-Smyth incarnation. The absence of Burlington from Edward’s mailing list was an indication of the reason why that stingy man had been relegated to the ‘Ex’ department and replaced by a member both of the English aristocracy and the Lloyd’s Underwriting fraternity, renowned for his collection of old masters, rumoured to include drawings by Leonardo de Vinci and paintings from the easels of Titian and Caravaggio.

Although allegedly from New York, the new fiancée seemed to know London well, particularly its nineteenth century history, around the time of the writings of Charles Dickens. She was also well-versed in the principal shopping areas of the town and the banking profession. From her arrival at the one o’clock luncheon appointment, through until tea and cakes in the Captain’s Room, Thadeus was kept busy with explanations regarding Lloyd’s of London’s organization and introductions to anyone showing the slightest possible attributes of wealth and breeding.

It was therefore not until the evening of Friday April the eighth, that the two policemen and Thadeus sat down to dinner at the broker’s home in Sloane Mews to analyse the mystery of the death of Edwina ‘Eddie’ Blyth.

David Anderson opened the conversation with a brief description of poisoning by strychnine, informing the group that a quantity of approximately two grains had been administered, a third higher than the generally accepted fatal dose. Death could have taken up to twenty minutes, passed in agony and involving violent muscular contractions, before the final paralysis of the respiratory system resulted in suffocation. He concluded that it was not a pleasant way to die and not one usually chosen by suicides. There were no leads as to the source of the chemical, which was occasionally used in medicine as a stimulant and tonic.

Thadeus asked for more details about the note left by the deceased at her bedside and was informed that it consisted of two words: THIS IS, on one line, then underneath, the words THE END – all in large capital letters followed by the signature Eddie Blyth with her customary exaggeratedly curly ‘y’. Anderson added that he was familiar with the lady’s handwriting having seen it on several occasions at the offices of her racehorse trainers and, that in his opinion, this was exactly the sort of note that the woman would have sent to a trainer who had recently disappointed her with the performance of a promising two-year-old. She did not suffer incompetence for long and regularly moved her horses from yard to yard. He had this week interviewed the present custodians of her bloodstock but, not unexpectedly, none was anticipating the departure of her string of racehorses. He had also perused the current racing results in search of a recent failure in her name but nothing stood out as a candidate.

Being pressed further, Anderson advised that the note was folded across the centre and was propped up against a small travel clock by the bedside. He admitted that it could have been ready for slipping into an envelope.

Jackson said that there was no trace of the pearls and that the usual suspects and known fences were being pursued but so far without success.

The cocoa was her regular brew, a Belgian manufactured powder with rather chunky chocolate pieces: four teaspoonfuls mixed with a little warm milk and one teaspoon of sugar, then boiling milk added and served in a large mug. The dregs of this concoction were exactly what was in the poisoned vessel – with the addition of a good dose of strychnine.

It was agreed that if this was not a case of suicide then someone must have employed the reserve bedroom key, and that knowledge of its existence could only have been held by someone familiar with the household and its procedures.

Thadeus’ first positive statement in the affair was that they should work according to the hypothesis that the Cartwrights were innocent; he was personally convinced of this. It was known that Miss Blyth was an outrageous gambler and often won or more often lost sums that were beyond the belief of an ordinary punter. Could this unfortunate addiction be a factor in her murder? Again Anderson’s study of the racing results did not lead to any suspicion of this.

The cousin who was to inherit the vast fortune did not like Edwina Blyth and was surprised, but not amazed, to find that she was now a wealthy woman. They were about the same age but apart from an exchange of Christmas cards the two women had had no other contact for many years.

Thadeus’ growing reputation indicated that he should have solved this case by now but over their final course, an almost liquid Brie accompanied by crusty bread and a glass of port, he said no more than that he would chew over the possibilities and make some enquiries in Newmarket. He also intended to put some questions about strychnine poisoning to his sister. Further, he had filled four pages of his little black notebook with copious jottings and some questions, which he did not put to the two policemen, preferring to follow these points separately and privately.

Jackson glanced at the wall-clock and asked if it was showing the correct time. He needed to leave the group soon having promised to be home early and was toying with the idea of popping into his office to pick up some notes on another case on which he was working. Thadeus checked his pocket-watch and confirmed that the clock was exactly on time.

A short time later Jackson again glimpsed the clock and exclaimed to Thadeus that the timepiece was still showing nine-thirty.

‘Yes,’ said Thadeus, ‘it is not working at the moment. I need to take it to Mr Green, the horologist, in Norfolk.’

Jackson protested, saying that only a short while ago his host had assured him that the device was accurate.

‘It was at the time when you asked me,’ said Thadeus without any indication of humorous intent. Then, consulting his watch, he added, ‘That was fifteen minutes ago and the time now is a quarter to ten.’

The inspector said nothing and left the party for the obvious appointment with his lady friend and sort of fiancée, with just a nod of thanks for the meal. A smiling Thadeus and a giggling Anderson chatted on about the horseracing world and interesting rumours circulating in Newmarket. David was staying the night in Thadeus’ house and Hilton, Thadeus’ manservant, joined them for a glass or two of brandy.

Mrs Pearl Burlington-Smyth was occupying a suite at The Ritz and had found her fiancé occupied over the whole week-end with political matters, an activity that Pearl found very boring and totally unnecessary for a man of means. This sort of agitation was perfectly justifiable for the working classes, anxious to improve their position in society, but was quite out of order for people on whom fortune had bestowed ample income and assets, unless of course their status was under threat: a vista that she did not anticipate disturbing her own lifestyle or current career prospects. Her other slight irritation was that the young man employed by the hotel to respond to her every need and desire seemed to have disappeared and with him her expectation of physical comfort during the lonely nights in this strange and alien town over the coming week-end. She wondered if Thadeus Burke, that nice insurance broker and brother of the art dealer, could fill the role. She rummaged through her handbag for his business card.

Being advised by his manservant that the master was engaged in a dinner conference and could not be disturbed, she was about to administer a lesson in correct social behaviour to the underling when the thought entered her mind that dinner out on the town might be more satisfying. Two days earlier she had seen the titled art dealer, brother of the nice insurance broking man, engaged in a meal just around the corner, in Jermyn Street, with a young lady who was definitely not his wife. A table for one, her mink coat over a flimsy dress, her longest cigarette holder and a bottle of chilled champagne in a prominent bucket should hook an interesting companion for the evening. Lord Pressingham had an account there and the head waiter had been well rewarded on her last visit. Anyway, Thadeus Burke was already booked for a day’s motor-racing the week after next; she could try him out then.

Dinner went well, in fact a little too well, and she left the restaurant at eleven-fifteen with a young man on her right arm and another young man on her left arm – the ménage à trois returning to the hotel for a nightcap. It had not been defined whether this was to be a drink or something worn in bed!

Unfortunately, following entrance through the revolving doors into the hotel foyer, Mrs Pearl Burlington-Smyth found herself confronted by a uniformed police officer, insisting that she accompany him to the manager’s office where she was required to answer some questions put to her by a more senior member of the London Constabulary. The two gallants managed to retain their positions within the whirling doors and return themselves to the outside pavement, free to pursue other less hazardous opportunities; late Friday evening was not a good time for a perilous encounter with the law that might spoil the whole week-end!

The flustered but dignified lady sat down in a very uncomfortable chair facing Inspector Jackson of Scotland Yard.

‘I believe you know a Mr Ernie Washington,’ said the inspector.

‘Ernest? Yes I know him, but I have not seen him in or around the hotel since the night before last. He was kind enough to bring a late night drink up to my suite,’ replied Mrs Burlington-Smyth.

‘Well I am pleased to tell you that we have found him,’ said Jackson in an unnecessarily sarcastic tone. The lady smiled through clenched teeth.

‘He was lying underneath your bed; dead from a stab in the heart with a paper-knife,’ the inspector continued.

‘A paper-knife?’ echoed the astonished and now seriously worried woman, her face and body sagging back to the normal privacy mode from the society high-life character she portrayed in company.

‘Yes,’ reiterated the policeman, ‘of the type used in the hotel office and in the guests’ writing room, with the hotel crest on the handle.’

‘Yes, I know the one,’ said Pearl, blinking in an attempt to regain her adopted patrician role, and wondering how long they could continue discussing knives and envelope-openers before it was suggested that she might know something about the murder.

‘Under my bed... In the hotel… Upstairs?’ she put to the police officer in an attempt to prolong the chat.

‘Yes,’ said Jackson. ‘Do you have any explanation as to why a murdered man was stowed away under your bed?’

‘Absolutely no idea whatsoever,’ said the lady, instantly regaining her composure and now relishing the prospect of interrogation by the handsome policeman and his smooth-faced young assistant.

Recounting her movements during the day was great fun: exaggerating her late awakening; decisions regarding the day’s wardrobe; the ritual of hotel staff being harangued backwards and forwards with various drinks; quick trips in and out of local shops, and then her main appointment of the day – a visit to Lloyd’s of London with a young member of the English aristocracy. At this disclosure Jackson remembered where his good friend, Thadeus Burke, had been during the afternoon immediately prior to their evening dinner at Sloane Mews, following which he had made the unfortunately bad decision to call in at his office in Scotland Yard, resulting in him being the most appropriate senior officer to be commandeered by the West End branch for a murder enquiry. It also resulted in a near-divorce telephone conversation with Miss Olive Littlewood, who was awaiting the arrival of her intended at her new flat in Covent Garden, where she was also wearing an alluring mink coat, but nothing else.

The hotel maid had turned down the bed in Mrs Burlington-Smyth’s room, and discovered the body beneath that item of furniture at 8.45 pm, having seen the guest leave the hotel a few minutes earlier. As the police doctor, inspecting the body at 9.15 pm, estimated that the man had shuffled off this mortal coil between four and six hours previously, at a time when the lady suspect was bringing a little ray of sunshine into the lives of the dour international insurance market members, accompanied by a personal and trusted friend of the interrogating policeman, Jackson terminated the interview and thanked the American woman for her assistance. He then informed her that unfortunately it would be necessary for her to be re-housed in a different hotel room whilst CID officers were tearing her present suite apart. This announcement led to further indignation, more than adequately diffused by the hotel manager with an allocation to the suite usually reserved for royal visitors. Happily it was some time before Mrs Pearl Burlington-Smyth began to wonder why she had not been given this suite in the first place. She spent the next half-hour ordering male and female minions around the corridors, up and down the stairs and in and out of rooms, until all her precious possessions were dispersed into acceptable new locations. It was during this exercise that she discovered that her Cartier wristwatch was missing. She had not worn it during the afternoon extravaganza at Lloyd’s of London for fear of losing it, in what she anticipated to be an unsavoury part of town close to the habitat of Jack the Ripper; and she had not considered it part of her wardrobe for the evening venture, preferring something with less value but more glitter. Her jewellery box was intact with the exception of this one item. She re-presented herself before Inspector Jackson in the pose of victim, insisting that this new crime be given priority over the unfortunate demise of a hotel servant and demanding that the cadaver and its clothing should be immediately searched for the missing chronometer. This had already been done with a negative result.

It was getting late and Jackson was tired, the hotel staff were exhausted and even Mrs Burlington-Smyth was wilting and looking forward to a quiet night in bed alone. The police and medical experts could work on through the night, dusting for fingerprints and searching for clues, wrapping up the body and transporting it to the mortuary. The stars of the show retired in preparation for a revitalized investigation the next day.

Thus it was that Thadeus Burke and Detective Sergeant Anderson found their Saturday matutinal repast interrupted by a telephone call from Johnny Jackson, bleating on and on about the policeman’s lot and how a casual glance into his office following dinner had led to a night of tense and difficult confrontations, both with an unexpected crime workload and in his love life. David Anderson offered the maximum sympathy due to a senior officer while Thadeus showed no compassion whatsoever, chastising the caller for not involving his two co-sleuths at the scene of crime in good time for a satisfactory result to be unveiled without disturbing that first and holiest of meals. He was even more caustic with Jackson, reminding him that an earlier telephone call could have allowed his friends to benefit from the rare opportunity of breakfast at The Ritz. Jackson’s revenge was to inform the two kitchen-bound men that he was, at that very moment, sitting in front of a full English breakfast with a large steaming cup of freshly brewed tea in the hotel dining room overlooking Piccadilly, accompanied by his sort of wife to be, Olive Littlewood. He added that both of them were booked into an excellent suite for the night, at no cost to the occupants, in consideration of his promise to resolve the outstanding crimes in the shortest possible time and with a minimum of publicity. Thadeus mumbled something about police corruption and said that he and the good sergeant would be in the hotel as soon as Hilton could warm up the Bentley.

It was no more than fifteen minutes before the breakfast table setting for two had been doubled, to allow the consumption of freshly delivered toast and marmalade for the new arrivals. Olive needed to make some urgent purchases along Bond Street. She had brought her mink coat with her but thought that tonight, in the splendid high society ambience of The Ritz, the addition of a pair of black stockings might be in order. This left Jackson free to divulge the precise details of the murder of Mr Ernie Washington and an exact blow-by-blow account of the previous evening’s interrogations. He was able to divulge to his friends that Ernie Washington was well known to the police as a gigolo working the West End hotels, although his appearance on the staff at such a prestigious venue as this hotel was a surprise: he normally confined his activities to pick-ups in hotel lounges or fashionable evening restaurants. He was also suspected of several petty thefts as part of these ventures but had so far avoided prosecution, thanks primarily to the reluctance of his victims to provide written statements. He had been employed only two weeks ago by an acting hotel manager, who was already acting in a new role concerned with waste disposal.

A refreshed Mrs Pearl Burlington-Smyth was taking a continental style breakfast, accompanied by champagne and freshly squeezed orange juice, in her new stylish suite, served by a charming young man with the most elegant manners and delicate hands. Her only regret was that he was unable to tear off her clothes as she had not yet dressed and the hotel’s towelling dressing gown was most un-alluring. She would have also been disappointed to know that he was in reality a recently qualified BA from Newcastle University and even more recently a graduate from the Police Training College in Hendon, seconded into the hotel rota by a late night thought of Inspector Jackson.

In addition Jackson had a team of West End branch volunteers discreetly interviewing hotel guests on the same floor as the scene of the previous afternoon’s crime. This was proving a difficult task since many room occupants were of a foreign nationality, who not only took umbrage at this harassment – expected in Berlin but not in London – but also required the use of translators, who were available among the hotel’s facilities, but led to prolonged conversations in a common mother tongue about sporting fixtures and theatre tickets, to the detriment of any eyewitness evidence.

Mrs Blanchard, the American lady guest occupying the room next to the scene of crime, and who had been present in the hotel all afternoon, a fact disclosed by the reception desk, not the lady herself, pleaded that she had been asleep from noon through until six o’clock in the evening. She claimed to be recovering from a late-night extravaganza organized by a group of Chicago bankers accompanied by a banjo band, that had left the good lady with not only a hangover stimulated by some very unusual cocktails, but an additional splitting headache inflicted by the constant rhythms of plectrums on strings.

However she rose to the top of the suspect list when

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