Here are a few extracts from some of the 70 titles available from Cunning Crime Books.
EXTRACT FROM: The Alabaster Bowl in CARTER’S OCCULT CASEBOOK
Wearied by the long journey, Carter and I retired to our respective bedrooms on the second floor, these being part of a suite of six bedrooms each possessing a stout oak door with a carved architrave. When I had questioned Perry about the workmanship on the staircase he had told me that it had been done by one Graham Dowling, an East Anglian wood carver who had been imprisoned in 1739 for alleged witchcraft offences by the notorious Matthew Hopkins. The door and its panelling, like that of the architrave, were exquisite, sporting a series of tiny faces and hands, intertwined to form the shape of a serpent. However, the electric light on the landing was not of the brightest and I did not tarry before entering the room for there was a distinct coldness to the house.
I read for some while before changing into my night attire, glancing up occasionally to examine my surroundings. As elsewhere in the house, the room was rather dark and melancholy in aspect, having been decorated in a faded brown wallpaper. The wooden bedstead ( a four poster ) was comfortable but hideous and carved in the same rather grotesque style as elsewhere in the house. Thick, dark red velvet curtains hung from its apex and I was glad to draw these around me, having sought the warmth of the blankets. Still thinking about the story Perry had told us regarding his father, I drifted off into a light sleep.
Some time in the night, I awoke with a start. At first I imagined that I was at home in Belgravia Square but when I opened my eyes I soon realised where I was for all about me was an intense blackness.
I turned restlessly, filled with a vague unease. My first instinct was to reach out and pull back the heavy curtains but something held me back, a sudden pang of terror.
Somewhere in the room I could hear voices.
And there were other sounds, odd scrapings, and then what sounded like a low muttering.
The voices rose and fell in the blackness.
There was an odour, too, heavy and cloying, something like ambergris. It began to overpower me. I started to sweat and tremble, alone in the blackness, knowing that just beyond the confines of the curtains lay a box of matches and a candle.
Again the voices rose and fell. One was low and insidious, a voice full of contempt and cruelty. The other had pain and terror in it. It was the voice of a victim, one driven to despair by torment. The one voice gloated whilst the other pleaded.
Trembling, I removed the bed covers and, inserting a finger between the curtains, peered out.
A cloud of blue light hung in the centre of the room, casting shadows on the brown wall opposite. The shadows moved in slow, well-defined procession about the wallpaper, as if projected there by a magic lantern. Sometimes the shadows seemed to resemble human forms, and at other times they were like the bodies of animals but they moved and leapt up and down the wall, as if trying to drive themselves into the fabric of the wall. The air became pungent and a poisonous, sulphurous smell now overlaid the ambergris. The dancing forms gathered speed. From the midst of the forms leapt distorted satanic faces, akin to those I had seen in the oak carvings. But all the while, as the leering faces burgeoned forth, there remained at the dark centre a shadow that writhed and coiled itself endlessly.
The dancing forms gathered speed. Now they grew larger and more defined. I glimpsed bodies locked in a sensual embrace, those of a man and beast, coupling, then a bearded face, slavering, the eyes glazed in hideous ecstasy. I was drawn inexorably into the dance, possessed by a wild desire to fling myself into the fray.
But even as these emotions swept over me and engulfed me, and my hand clutched at the drapes, I was checked. Against the shadows flickered a face, lined and white as death. It was the face of a man I had seen before, with mutton chop whiskers and piercing eyes. He raised his left hand and I glimpsed a flash of metal against the pale flesh. The arm descended. Then there was a cry as the dark centre of the writhing thing rose and wheeled upwards, tapering over him. There was a terrible cry and I let the curtain drop for I knew now the owner of the face. It was John Perry’s father.
EXTRACT FROM MURDER MOST EASTERLY VOL3: The Inspector Ketch Stories:
The call came around 9pm. For the third time on a blustery, Autumn evening, DCI Ketch had turned from the window of his flat and returned to the chess board in a vain attempt to solve the puzzle set by Richard Reti, the Czech chess player in the year 1921.
The only pieces remaining on the board were the black and white kings and two pawns. The puzzle was simple but also quite incredible. It looked impossible to draw. The black king was too close, the white king too far away. White must take the black pawn or promote his own. But if the white king moved diagonally, being ready to fight on two fronts… well then. It was an endgame puzzle and it was driving him to distraction.
He took another sip of malt and sat, hunched over the board, his mind ticking like a geiger counter. Outside the flat window, the wind howled as if trying to gain access and it had now begun to rain. The whisky dulled his senses. The synapses refused to yield the solution. It was no good. He would have to admit defeat…again…
The phone call, though unwelcome at this hour, provided his exit route. It was DS Tim Mackenzie. Reliable, thorough, stolid Mackenzie. Ten years his junior, Mackenzie was set to go places. But probably until Ketch retired as DCI, unless he put in for a transfer. And that was unlikely, for Mackenzie was both conservative and cautious regarding his career.
“Mackenzie here, sir.”
“I know who it is!” snapped Ketch. His son had bought him a new mobile for his birthday and set it up so he could see at a glance who was phoning. Ketch, a natural Luddite in such matters as digital technology, had been unusually grateful.
“Of course you do. Sorry.”
“Where are you?”
“Swadlington. The churchyard, to be precise. Body of a middle aged man. Looks like he’s been pole axed.”
Swadlington. A once prosperous Georgian town, now slightly gone to seed. He hadn’t been there since a few years back. He recalled the occasion. He’d visited a Bulgarian restaurant with Carol Hennessy, the Norwich pathologist. The food had been good, though for his taste, slightly heavy.
These days Swadlington was multi-ethnic, with a large Eastern European population and, on the edge of the town, a traveller’s site.
“SOCO there yet?”
“On their way, sir.”
“What about Dr Hennessy?”
“Tried her mobile but I got voicemail. No answer on her landline, either.”
Ketch remembered now. Carol started her annual leave yesterday. She’d emailed him a reminder.
“No matter. Try Stoppard instead.”
“Give me half an hour. I’ll get a cab.”
EXTRACT FROM: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND CSI
ENTER MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES
‘No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done.’
— Sherlock Holmes, STUD
The most famous detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, made his first public appearance in the December issue of Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887. The story, A Study in Scarlet, was not an immediate success when it was reprinted by Ward Lock & Co. in the following year. That was unsurprising, however, for in August of that year the first of Jack the Ripper’s many victims was added to the already high crime statistics of London. The appetite of the Victorian reading public enjoyed a full enough saturation of bloody murder and mayhem from the popular press of the day.
But perhaps there was another reason for the story’s distinct lack of success. The detective within its pages was unlike any other. Arrogant, haughty, contemptuous of the official police-force but equipped with a rapier — like intelligence and all the resources of modern science, Sherlock Holmes reached his results by an apparently magical process.
To today’s audience, the facts of forensic science are commonplace. But who, in 1888, had heard of fingerprinting? Certainly the London police did not accept it as a practical science. If they had done so, the mystery of Jack the Ripper would certainly not have remained thus. Handwriting identification was also in its infancy. An Austrian judge, Hans Gross, had realised its tremendous potential, but clearly the C.I.D. (set up in 1877) did not think to analyse the three grim letters sent by the Ripper to the news agencies. In those days there was a distinct lack of co-operation between the medical profession and the police. All but one of the Ripper’s victims were removed from the scene of the crime, their bodies stripped and washed ready for the mortuary, thus destroying valuable forensic evidence. This predicament is well reflected in A Study in Scarlet when, faced with the pathway outside No. 3 Lauriston Gardens, Brixton, Holmes remarks, ‘If a herd of buffaloes had passed along there could not be a greater mess.’
The date of Holmes’ debut (1881) is an important one to the student of criminology. Only a year before, a young assistant in the Paris Prefecture of Police, Alphonse BertilIon, had laid the cornerstone of modern criminology with his development of the ‘bertillonage’ system of measurements for criminals. And a year before that, in the pages of a magazine called Nature, a Scottish physician named Henry Faulds, made a number of observations about the ‘skin-furrows in human fingers (which) … may lead to the scientific identification of criminals.’
EXTRACT FROM STONE DEAD: The First Volume of The John Bottrell Quartet
It was almost dusk by the time Rebecca reached the footpath which led to the old well. Lengthening shadows encircled the hawthorn bushes ahead and a strong odour of damp earth rose to meet her.
She had been here almost exactly a year ago with Paul. She had been happier then. A new place, here, at the end of the world (or so it seemed), nearing the conclusion of her quest. She recalled how they had lain naked in the long grass, hidden in the beech grove and made love that long hot summer afternoon. All that had changed. They were no longer lovers now but friends who kept a discreet distance from each other. She had the shop and the local pagan community. They had sustained her.
Through the ancient trees she could glimpse the outline of the granite stones that formed part of the canopy of the old holy well. Some tattered strips of cloth – clouties as the Cornish called them – fluttered above her in the summer breeze, placed here as a healing ritual.
She shivered. It had grown suddenly cold beneath the trees, which was surprising for the day had been in the upper seventies and somewhat humid. A sudden wind blew up and the branches of the old hawthorn tree danced before her, suddenly animate.
At the entrance to the ruined Celtic chapel, she paused to look back down the path. A full moon had risen in the east, its silver orb brilliant and ivory against the deepening indigo sky.
Unshouldering her bag, she took out a small beeswax candle, lit it and began to descend the lichened steps of the old well. Shafts of sunlight spilled on to the still water beneath her, giving the interior a soft luminescence. She knelt on the lower step and placed the guttering candle in a small stone niche to her left. She had come here to meditate and also for her sister’s sake.
After some moments, she opened her eyes, which had grown accustomed to the half-light. From her pocket she drew out a small female figure made from sheaves of wheat. She kissed it gently, then, after a short invocation to Hecate, leant over to place it on the stone at the base of the well.
Then she saw it. A small feathered body, its glazed yellow eye gleaming in the last of the sunlight. She reached out towards it with her free hand but the small body of the wren was stiff and cold to the touch. A ribbon of blood spread from its beak. At first she thought it had been the victim of a predator but when she glimpsed the long steel needle protruding from its side she realized it had been placed there for a reason.
She stood up, extinguished the candle with a shaking hand and made her way back along the shadowed path, breathing fast now, her heart pumping. Someone had been here, to her sacred place, her place of dreams. Someone who knew her. Knew her well.
She pulled the shawl tight about her shoulders and quickened her pace, aware that the wind had risen, presaging the first spots of rain. By the time she reached the car at the roadside she found she was shivering. But it was not cold that made her shiver. It was fear.
EXTRACT FROM THE CASTLE AT TIFFAUGES: (Twelve After Midnight)
The castle loomed above us, exactly as I had first seen it in my uncle’s photograph album, save that the granite glistened in bright contours and the gargoyles seemed even more lifelike.
I stood on the edge of the ridge while Uncle Alphonse got back into the trap. Below me, a mountain stream cascaded over the brown rocks. The sun, which all day had followed us from Le Havre, now slipped behind a bank of inky cloud, turning the distant hills to a dun-colour. Tiffauges Castle looked unreal, as if a giant hand had placed it there. The spiralling towers and narrow, shuttered windows loomed over blackened walls.
The trap swept down the winding road, my uncle silent at the reins. Once, a long time ago, he had visited my father at our house in Le Havre, a tall, white-bearded man with a face like hewn stone. His manner was faltering, his dress eccentric. I remember well how people stopped in the street to stare at us. That he should live in such a fantasy palace seemed therefore apt.
Perhaps he would have gone on living here, in this deserted valley, undisturbed. But since my father’s prolonged illness and subsequent death had left Gustave and I both orphans, it seemed fitting that he should take us under his wing for the duration of the summer.
Uncle Alphonse stopped the trap and we all three mounted the track, being careful to avoid the violent green patches of bog that lay scattered to the right and left of us. With each step, we were brought closer to the huge oak gate and the giant edifice appeared to swell before us. Soon we were engulfed by shadows from the walls, and I began to feel a great sense of melancholy. Everything about the base of these walls seemed blighted. Debris of dead trees and withered gorse bushes abounded and there was an unearthly stillness. Only the gargoyles that hung above us in weird metamorphoses seemed alive.
My uncle moved to the gate where he reached for a long rusty bell pull which must have been the size of a man’s fist. There followed a sound of creaking metal, suggestive of long disuse. Overhead, I observed three gigantic crows which had settled on the ramparts staring down at us with beady eyes.
Set in one of the wooden panels was a small square shutter. This had been lifted to reveal a pair of keen eyes which regarded us intently. The shutter snapped shut, there was the grinding of a key in a rusty lock and the door swung back to reveal a lean, cadaverous man over six feet in height. He was dressed plainly, wearing a black tabard that extended to his knees.
EXTRACT FROM: Sherlock Holmes & The Plagues of London
“Paddington Station. Come this morning, if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same – Sherlock.”
This was the laconic telegram I received from my brother Sherlock on the morning of December the eighteenth, 1888. The receding five months had proved and exhausting time for me, since throughout that dismal and fog-bound winter, Londoners had been haunted by a killer of monstrous proportions. From the August to the November of that year, five prostitutes had been slaughtered in Whitechapel by a killer who had successfully eluded capture.
Despite an intensive manhunt, the combined efforts of the CID and Sherlock’s own exhaustive investigations had failed to yield a result, so it was with some regret that, in the November of that same year, I persuaded the Home Secretary that the Commissioner of Police, Sir Charles Warren, should be asked to resign his post.
It had been a busy year for my brother Sherlock, commencing in January with the strange business referred to by Dr Watson as “The Valley of Fear”, when Holmes was first made aware of the extent and threat of Professor James Moriarty’s criminal empire in the Capital. There was also the delicate affair of the American opera singer, Irene Adler, whom Sherlock always regarded as “the Woman”; the bizarre killing at Pondicherry Lodge by the Andaman islander and of course that Dartmoor business, involving the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville.
I had seen little of my brother of late. Seven years my junior and of a singularly more bohemian and introverted nature than my own, he had, from an early age, taken refuge in narcotics. Although possessed of a fine brain and athletic physique, from his early twenties he had abused himself with doses of cocaine and morphine. Despite the advice given him by myself and his good friend and colleague, Dr John Watson, he remained obdurate in the matter.
EXTRACT FROM ODIN’S EYE
Far out from the broad bay, between the wild gusts of snow and the howling wind, a small flame reared and plunged between the waves. Nothing else broke the darkness save this one desperate light struggling for its survival in the teeth of the storm. The longboat pitched and turned amid angry seas, its dragon’s head prow gleaming. It had seen seas more violent and relentless than these on more northern shores, where the ice cracked and growled and the waters turned a man’s heart to stone should he be unfortunate enough to lose his footing on the treacherous deck and plunge into the blackness below.
On board sat three men, huddled over their oars, their beards white with frost and snow, their eyes swollen and red from the lash of the brine. Every sinew and muscle of their bodies cried out for relief from the elements that ravaged them. They were weary beyond belief, heavy with fatigue but conscious that each painful movement of the oars brought them closer to their inevitable destiny, their appointed task.
The leader of these three, a huge corpulent figure with a face like weathered stone stared out towards the flat bay. He was satisfied that this would serve as the chosen place. It would provide a marking stone, a place of worship for all of them, but particularly the dead whose honour must be revered. He was well pleased. It had been worth the pain and deprivation of this journey. Two had died, one of exposure, the other driven mad by sea water and pushed into the waves because his screams could no longer be borne. The rest sat like marble statues in the boat, praying for their release.
The young man crouched opposite him opened his eyes a fraction. He was deathly cold, his mind had been reduced to a permanent numbness. He would welcome the end appointed him. An honourable death, far easier than his miserable, painful existence. A swift blade cleaving through his flesh, and then oblivion. He turned and stared out over the snow-swept beach through exhausted eyes. This place would be remembered. They would see to it… It was their task.
EXTRACT FROM: CONAN DOYLE AND THE SPIRITS
An Unusual Childhood
‘If we could conceive a race of beings which were constructed in material which threw out shorter or longer vibrations, they would be invisible unless we could tune ourselves up or tone them down. It is exactly that power of tuning up and adapting itself to other vibrations which constitutes a clairvoyant, and there is nothing scientifically impossible, so far as I can see, in some people seeing that which is invisible to others.’I
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote these words in 1922 in The Coming of the Fairies, a book which provoked a storm of controversy and which was to mar his credibility as a popular writer. The very notion that the creator of the perfect reasoning machine, Sherlock Holmes, should sustain a belief in ‘invisible beings’ seemed utterly incomprehensible to the man in the street. Yet the ancestors of this remarkable and complex man would probably not have raised an eyebrow. Throughout his life the twin worlds of the real and the unseen did battle in the mind of Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. The roots of this conflict lay in the Celtic-Catholic past which he inherited from both sides of his family. In 1907 he told a reporter:
‘My real love for letters, my instinct for story-telling, springs, I believe, from my mother, who is of Anglo-Celtic stock, with the glamour and romance of the Celt very strongly marked … In my early childhood, as far back as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories which she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life. It is not only that she was—is still—a wonderful story teller, but she had, I remember, an art of sinking her voice to a horror-stricken whisper when she came to a crisis in her narrative, which makes me goosefleshy when I think of it. I am sure, looking back, that it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I first began weaving dreams myself.’