Today I’m delighted to welcome author Peter Bartram to Little Bookness Lane as part of his Stop Press Murder blog tour.
Peter has kindly provided an extract of his new Crampton of the Chronicle Mystery starring crime correspondent, Colin Crampton.
My review for Stop Press Murder follows this extract, and you can discover more about this new book and the author at the end of this post – PLUS you can download a free novella too!
An extract from Stop Press Murder, a Crampton of the Chronicle Mystery
by Peter Bartram
The mystery of Milady’s Bath Night began with a riddle and ended with a tragedy.
I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom at the Brighton Evening Chronicle, weighing up the pros and cons of putting brown sauce on my breakfast bacon sandwich, when my telephone rang.
I lifted the receiver and said: “Colin Crampton, crime correspondent.”
A man’s voice with a deep rustic drawl, which reminded me of haystacks and summer meadows, said: “If I mentioned the word ‘bunch’ what would be the first thing that came into your mind?”
I said: “Roses, as in ‘bunch of’. Red for the love of your life. Yellow to welcome home a long-lost friend. White for your grandmother’s coffin.”
“You’re not even close. Try again.”
“Girls’ hair – as in ‘tied in bunches’. Tidy when she’s ten. Tempting when she’s twenty.”
“That doesn’t count. I said ‘bunch’, singular.”
“In that case, I can offer you a bunch of fives. As in the fingers in a fist – to give you a smack in the mouth.”
Haystack voice said: “Tsk. It doesn’t pay to get tetchy with a police officer.”
The man offering me advice – and possibly a story – was Ted Wilson. He was a detective inspector in Brighton Police Force. And one of the few ‘tecs I trusted in the town. The rest of them spent more time looking for the main chance than for clues. Put it this way: if they were drinking in the same pub you wouldn’t leave your loose change on the bar.
I said: “What have you got for me? Am I going to be yelling hold the front page?”
He said: “Possibly. It’s certainly bad news.”
“The best kind.”
“You’re a cynical bastard. When I have to deliver the hard word most people don’t want to know. They’d rather shoot the messenger.”
I said: “If journalists shot the messenger they’d have to go out and find their own stories.”
He said: “You won’t have any difficulty finding this one. There’s been a killing on Palace Pier.”
I laughed. “Don’t tell me someone finally landed the jackpot on that one-armed bandit in the amusement arcade.”
“This wasn’t a three-cherries-in-a-row kind of killing. It’s a blood-on-the-floor job.”
I reached for my notebook. Flicked it open. Grabbed a pencil.
“You mean murder? I asked.
“When did this happen?”
“Some time last night after the pier closed. But it wasn’t discovered until this morning. And there’s a bizarre touch.”
“The body was discovered in the coconut shy.”
“And hence your riddle about ‘bunch’. You were thinking of the song I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.”
“As sung by Danny Kaye. And played endlessly on the Billy Cotton Band Show.”
Wilson chuckled. “I’d say, ‘Give the man a coconut’, if it wasn’t in bad taste.”
“The victim was killed by a blow to the head with one.”
I scribbled a shorthand note. “Male or female?” I asked.
“Coconuts don’t have a sex.”
“Male, I gather.”
“Why, ‘I gather’?”
Wilson said: “I wish I knew more. But I’ve been frozen out of this case. Tomkins has taken it.”
That wasn’t good news. Detective Superintendent Alec Tomkins hadn’t liked me since I’d run a story about a cigarette-smuggling ring he’d arrested. The three smugglers had been acquitted at Lewes Assizes when the defence pointed out that the police were unable to account for all the contraband ciggies they claimed they’d seized.
I’d written that Tomkins’ case had “gone up in smoke”. He’d accused me of insinuating the lads at the cop shop had been treating themselves to duty-free drags from the evidence. Tomkins had blustered about a writ for libel. But the chief constable made it clear he wasn’t funding a lengthy court case out of the police budget.
Instead, Tomkins settled for nurturing a life-long hatred of me.
“That explains why I didn’t know about it,” I said.
“There’s more,” Wilson said. “I’ve just heard that Tomkins tipped off Houghton more than an hour ago.”
That was worse news. Jim Houghton was my opposite number on the Evening Argus, the other paper in town. By now, he’d be at the scene of the crime with Tomkins. The two would be laughing themselves silly over the right royal stuffing they were giving me.
I said: “Thanks for the tip-off, Ted.”
“Sorry I couldn’t do it earlier. Needed to get out of the office to make this call. You’ll know why.”
The phone went dead.
I replaced the receiver with mixed feelings.
What Ted told me was enough for two paragraphs for the Midday Special edition’s “news in brief”. But Houghton would have a front-page lead in the Argus.
As soon as my news editor Frank Figgis saw the midday Argus, he’d want to know why I’d been scooped. He wouldn’t be interested in hearing that Houghton had been given an inside track by Tomkins.
Figgis wouldn’t sack me. It would be worse than that. He’d think up some creative revenge – like making me sit through endless meetings of the crime-prevention committee at the Town Hall.
Or he’d book me as the guest speaker on the “ethics of the press” at the Women’s Institute in an inaccessible Sussex village.
Or he’d make me interview a retired police-dog handler with bad breath and dandruff.
Or the dog.
To avoid any of those horrors, I had to find an angle on the story that outpaced the Argus in time for our Afternoon Extra edition. That meant I had three hours to turn the story around.
I grabbed my notebook and headed for the door.
The bacon sandwich would have to wait.
Stop Press Murder: a Crampton of the Chronicle Mystery by Peter Bartram is published by Roundfire Books.
My love for the Crampton of the Chronicle Mysteries was sparked by Headline Murder in 2015. Two novellas and another novel later and still this series never fails to entertain and amuse.
Stop Press Murder continues the journalistic adventures of a newshound who is looking to impress his editor with next big scoop for the crime section of the Evening Chronicle in 1960’s Brighton.
It’s not easy to conjure an all singing, all dancing crime headline out of thin air when nothing of any notable interest appears to be happening. That is, unless your name’s Crampton. Colin Crampton. The man possesses an almost rabid journalistic gift for sniffing out the obscure. Frequently this means he takes risks by presenting an outrageous headline before his theories can be backed up which leaves him in some pretty awkward predicaments, providing oodles of entertainment for the reader.
This time, when he senses an unrelated murder on the pier and a recent theft could be connected, he finds he’s on the receiving end of a fair amount of jibes from the rival paper to discredit him. His ‘unnamed police source’ is none too happy with him either, as like a dog with a bone Colin goes above and beyond to prove there’s more to a saucy film called Milady’s Bath Night going missing from the Palace Pier and a night watchman being attacked some days later in the coconut shy with a very odd choice of weapon.
Despite his natural drive to unearth the truth no matter how deep its buried, Crampton is an exceedingly likeable reporter. He has the cheek of the devil and a keen sense of humour, although the investigative journalist that lives within can’t be tamed at times and tests the resolve of even his strongest allies! This time round he hasn’t even got the long suffering support of his Aussi girlfriend, Shirley, who has gone walkabout to contemplate the future – is she the love of his life, or is he already married to his job…
That particular question may not seem to be the most pressing of Colin’s problems presently, as there are plenty of others forming a queue to get his attention covering a multitude of unsavoury crimes, the steely gaze of an ice cold marchioness, a spy in the newsroom, or his landlady with whom he flouts every rule possible. When things look like they’ll turning ugly, he turns on the Crampton charm. There’s never a dull moment things keep buzzing along nicely indeed!
Whether he’s casually conversing with snooty aristocrats or just a bloke down the greasy spoon, Colin follows the story wherever it may take him which often leads him straight into the path of imminent danger as he uncovers people’s secrets that have been hidden for very good reason. To catch that killer headline Colin sets some very careful traps before he reaches the crescendo of this jauntily plotted mystery.
This entertainingly baffling ‘step back in time’ crime caper is ripe with a variety of situations and subtle innuendos that will no doubt raise a few chuckles. An old school investigative approach is very much alive and kicking in these days of classic telephone boxes and little MGB’s, making Stop Press Murder an absolute delight to read.
(Oh, and can be enjoyed as a standalone, should you wish.)
(My thanks to the author for providing a copy of his new book in exchange for an unbiased review. It was a lovely surprise not only see that a snippet from my review for Headline Murder had been quoted but to find Peter had generously signed this paperback copy, which I will treasure.)
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
FIRST, the saucy film of a nude woman bathing is stolen from a What the Butler Saw machine on Brighton’s Palace Pier. NEXT, the piers night-watchman is murdered – his body found in the coconut shy. COLIN CRAMPTON, ace reporter on the Evening Chronicle, senses a scoop when he’s the only journalist to discover a link between the two crimes. HE UNCOVERS a 50-year feud between twin sisters – one a screen siren from the days of silent movies, the other the haughty wife of an aristocrat. BUT COLIN’S investigation spirals out of control – as he RISKS HIS LIFE to land the biggest story of his career. Stop Press Murder, a Swinging Sixties mystery, has more twists and turns than a country lane. It will keep you guessing – and laughing – right to the last page.
The Crampton of the Chronicle Mysteries…
Peter Bartram brings years of experience as a journalist to his Crampton of the Chronicle crime series – which features crime reporter Colin Crampton in 1960s Brighton. Peter has done most things in journalism from door-stepping for quotes to writing serious editorials. He’s interviewed cabinet ministers and crooks – at least the crooks usually answer the questions, he says. He’s pursued stories in locations as diverse as 700 feet down a coal mine and a courtier’s chambers at Buckingham Palace. (The former is easier to get into but at least you don’t have to wear a hat with a lamp on it in the latter.)
Peter wrote 21 non-fiction books, including five ghost-written, in areas such as biography, current affairs and how-to titles, before turning to crime – and penning Headline Murder, the first novel in the Crampton series. As an appetiser for the main course, there is a selection of Crampton of the Chronicle short stories at http://www.colincrampton.com. Peter is a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association.
Read Murder in Capital Letters – FOR FREE!
Murder in Capital Letters, a Crampton of the Chronicle novella, is free to download for your kindle or other e-reader at:
SHOT TWICE!: Brighton antiques dealer Freddie Hollingbourne-Smith is murdered in his workshop – and crime reporter Colin Crampton is first on the scene.
TOO MANY SUSPECTS: Colin discovers plenty had reason to kill Freddie… like thwarted beauty queen Julie Appleyard, his jilted mistress… snooty toff Sir Tunnicliffe Hogg, his persecuted neighbour… devious hard-man Harry Spittlefield, his cheated partner… not to mention fiery and passionate Isabella, his betrayed ex-wife.
CRYPTIC CLUE: Colin must puzzle out the mystery left by a small pile of printers’ type – all in capital letters – before he can finger the killer.
THE CLIMAX EXPLODES: on the famous train, the Brighton Belle. With Colin’s feisty Australian girlfriend Shirley at his side, the laughs are never far from the clues as the pair hunt down the murderer.