It’s my stop at the Blog Tour for The Body In The Boat by A.J. Mackenzie! I’m here to tempt you with a brand new historical crime novel, reminiscent of the best Agatha Christies. And don’t we all love her!
Fun fact: AJ Mackenzie is the pseudonym for husband-and-wife writing duo Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel.
Synopsis: Across the still, dark English Channel come the smugglers. But tonight they carry an unusual cargo: a coffin. Several miles inland, arespected banker holds a birthday party for his wife. Within days, one of the guests is found shot dead. What links this apparently senseless killing to the smugglers lurking in the mists? Why has the local bank been buying and hoarding gold? And who was in themysterious coffin? Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor find themselves drawn into theworlds of high finance and organised crime in this dramatic and dark Georgian mystery. With its unique cast of characters and captivating amateur sleuths, The Body in the Boat is a twisting tale that vividly brings to life eighteenth-century Kent and draws readers into its pages.
Thrilled to share an extract for the book. Continue to read below:
Dawn broke over Romney Marsh. Church towers rose like stone fingers against the skyline. Light washed over the flat open fields, brilliant in the clear light. Sheep bleated softly in their pastures, watched by sleepy shepherds. Duck quacked among the reeds that fringed the sewers, the network of drains holding back the waters that threatened to reclaim the Marsh. In the distance the green hills of Kent rose, a wall sealing off the Marsh from the rest of the world.
Out of the sunrise came a young man running. He wore rough fishermen’s clothes and a battered hat, and had long hair flowing down over his shoulders. His face was red and perspiring, for the morning was already warm, and his eyes were wide and shocked. Reaching the village of St Mary in the Marsh, a mile from the sea, he hastened down the village street. Finding the cottage he was looking for, he knocked hard at the door.
The knock brought Joshua Stemp awake in a moment. He sat up quickly in bed. Maisie his wife was still asleep beside him, and so were their two daughters. He slid out of bed and went through the little cottage to the door, picking up his fisherman’s knife as he did so. Two weeks had passed since the encounter with Noakes and there had been no trouble, but Stemp was still uneasy.
‘Who’s there?’ he hissed.
‘It’s Florian Tydde, Josh. You’d better come out. There’s trouble down by the water.’
Relief, of sorts. ‘I’ll be out directly.’ Stemp pulled on his clothes and tucked his knife into its sheath, then unbolted the door and stepped out into the bright glowing morning. Seen in daylight, he was a short man with dark hair and cheeks scarred by smallpox. He stared at the fisherman, who was still breathing hard from his run. ‘Well?’
‘Sorry to disturb you, Josh. But you need to see this, you being parish constable and all.’
They started to walk towards the sea, the wind hissing over the flat fields around them. ‘Tell me what’s happened.’
‘My brother Eb and I were out fishing last night. Come dawn, we saw a boat drifting. Then it got a little lighter and we could see more clearly, and Eb says, ain’t that Jem Clay’s boat? You know Jem. He lives nearby to us, in New Romney.’
‘I know him well.’ New Romney was only a couple of miles away; the fishermen and smugglers of New Romney and St Mary were often friends and allies.
‘Well, we thought first he was out fishing like ourselves. But then we realised the boat was empty, or it seemed to be, so we reckoned it must have come loose from its moorings. And then Eb says, look at the gulls circling round. What do you reckon is drawing them?’ Tydde swallowed. ‘It’s ugly, Josh.’
Stemp looked at him sharply. ‘Is it Jem?’
‘No. We’ve never seen this fellow before. He’s dressed like a gent, too.’
They climbed the rear slope of the dunes that fronted the sea and then slithered down to the beach. It was a little past high tide. They walked out across the short wet strand to the boat, beached in the gentle surf. Another man waited here, armed with an oar to ward off the gulls who were still intent on their feast. Ebenezer Tydde, more stoic than his brother, nodded to Stemp. ‘Nasty, this.’
It was more than nasty. Joshua Stemp was a hard man, but when he looked into the boat, even he felt a little queasy. The body of a man lay sprawled on its back across the rowing bench. The eyes were gone, plucked out by the greedy birds, and the soft flesh of the cheeks had been ripped away, exposing bone and teeth. The birds had been at the man’s throat, too, and the backs of his hands had been pecked to rags.
The floor of the boat was full, a reddish mixture of salt water and blood. The front of the man’s waistcoat was soaked with blood too, beginning to dry in the sun. In the middle of the waistcoat was a round hole, crusted with black.
‘God damn’, said Joshua Stemp quietly, and the words might have been an invocation or they might have been a curse. He straightened and turned to the two fishermen. ‘All right, Eb, Florian. Get the boat up onto dry ground and stand over it. Keep those bloody birds off him, and don’t let anyone else come near. I’ll fetch the rector.’