I am very pleased to be part of the 12 Days of Clink Street Christmas special. As part of the tour, I have On Track for Murder by Stephen Childs.
Genre: Historical, crime
Travelling from England to Australia in the late nineteenth century, Abigail Sergeant and her brother,Bertrand, are looking forward to their new life. Leaving behind the prejudices that would likely have seen Bertrand committed to an institution before he reached adulthood, Abigail hopes their new life will offer freedom and security.But what awaits them on the shores of the Swan River dashes any prospects of a blissful life. A murder is committed and Abigail’s family is thrown into turmoil. The evidence is damning. Only the guilty would be found standing over the body clutching the bloodied murder weapon. But something is not right. Police are convinced they have their killer. Abigail is certain they are wrong. As their one potential witness is missing, Abigail persuades the detective to allow time for a search. But that time is limited. Chasing across Western Australia with a reluctant Constable Dunning as her chaperone, Abigail is determined to uncover the truth. If only she had an inkling of what that may be. Through deception, kidnap, sabotage and arson, Abigail finds a resolve she didn’t know she possessed. Her understanding of mechanical principles surprises everyone, as does her tenacity. She turns out to be a capable young woman. But is that enough to save an innocent from injustice?
It’s 1889 in west Australia. Abigail Sergeant is searching for evidence that will disprove a murder charge. In this extract she has travelled to the southern town of Albany and is heading across to the police station when she gets unusually sidetracked.
The sun shone directly into Abigail’s face as she bounced along Sterling Terrace. She held her head up, allowing the warming rays to soothe her tired face.
“Abigail.” The sound came from her left. “Abigail.” A little louder this time, it took her a moment to realise the whispered voice was calling her. She stopped and gazed around. There was nothing to see. She listened intently. All she could hear was the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze. I must have been daydreaming. Abigail turned to continue her walk, attributing the strange call to the lightly building wind. “Abigail.” Now she realised this was no trick of the wind. Someone was calling her name. But where were they?
“Who is it? Where are you?” She put her hand up to shield the sun.
“Here, down from the road. To your left.” The voice seemed familiar, yet Abigail couldn’t quite place it.
“Who is it?” she called out.
“To your left. Come down the path.” Abigail noticed a narrow dirt pathway leading down towards the water. There were bushes and trees shading most of the track but she could see enough to notice no one standing in obvious view.
“Who are you,” she called again. “I’m not about to walk down a dark pathway with just anyone, you know.”
“It’s me. Prentice Sleath. Please, Abigail, follow me.” Abigail shook her head. What was he doing? Why couldn’t he just greet her in the street as would anyone else? Why the secrecy?
Abigail moved further along to afford herself a better view away from the sun’s glare. The rough track curved slightly about ten feet down and it was in that curve that she saw a man, lurking to one side. As she moved closer to the top of the small lane, the man stepped out into the light. It was indeed Prentice Sleath.
“Mr Sleath, what are you doing?” Abigail stood with her hands on her hips.
“Quiet, please,” he whispered.
“Um … it’s …” Sleath appeared to be struggling for a reason.
“Prentice Sleath, what do you want?” Abigail turned to walk away.
“It’s Larkin. He’s in town. He’s looking for you.” Sleath’s head thrust from side to side as he scanned the surroundings, his eyes wide and his mouth pursed.
“Larkin is here? How do you know?”
“That doesn’t matter right now. What does is that you need to get out of sight. He arrived at the inn and discovered you are staying there.”
“So, what do you propose? Steal another train?”
Sleath paused for a second before slipping back into the shadows. “Please, follow me.” He slowly crept down the track towards the railway line at the bottom, scanning the area as he went.
Abigail stood, her mouth wide. What should she do? Sleath had rescued her from an unsavoury situation before. Was he doing the same again? He seemed different somehow but Abigail couldn’t quite determine how. Something about his manner disturbed her. His quiet insistence was out of character. He was normally a confident man who knew his mind and wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. She admired that in him, along with his obvious strength and cute eyes. But it seemed he wasn’t above telling a few lies. His tryst with Frances proved that.
Abigail looked up and down the street. It was empty. With doubt still coursing through her mind she took a step into the lane. It was fairly steep and she had to watch her footing as she descended. At one point she found she needed to reach out for a branch to prevent a fall.
Several minutes later Abigail crossed the railway track and stepped onto flat land.
“Quickly, follow me.” Sleath stood in shadow, overlooking the sandy foreshore. “Try to stay in the shadows.”
“This is ridiculous,” Abigail said, as she attempted to keep up with the eager lad. “I feel like one of Conan Doyle’s characters, creeping around like this.”
“Who’s Conan Doyle?”
“It doesn’t matter. If you don’t read it would mean nothing to you.” Abigail stumbled, recovering her composure just in time to avoid falling headlong into the sandy dirt. “Look, is this truly necessary?”
“You will thank me when we successfully escape Larkin’s clutches.”
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there.” As a long wooden jetty came into view at the water’s edge, Sleath turned. He crossed onto a broad grassed area in front of a rather shabby looking cottage. Fishing nets and cork buoys were strung up across the front of the house. A sky blue rowing boat sat beside the cottage, its peeling paint attesting to years of neglect. Sleath scooted around the boat as he headed into the bushes behind the house. “Come on.”
Abigail took rather more time to negotiate the obstacle course. Eventually clearing the cottage garden, she found herself facing an even more tatty boat shed. A wooden ramp ran all the way down into the bay. The tide was low, revealing a muddy mess at the foot of the ramp. The main door to the shed sat ajar. Sleath, who had been waiting for Abigail to catch up, ducked inside as soon as she approached.
“In here, quickly,” he called.
This did not seem like a good idea at all. With every fibre of Abigail’s being she wanted to turn and run. Surely Sleath was only doing this to protect her. She ought to listen to him and allow him to help her once again. With a tremble in her step, she slowly slid past the door and into the old boat shed.
Inside smelled musty, a mix of wet leather and sacking. Shards of light shone through holes in the iron roof, cutting through the dusty air and painting balls of light on the dirt floor. Discarded fishing equipment lay scattered around the sides. In the centre sat a large, rickshaw-like handcart with both its wheels smashed to pieces. It was loaded with travel trunks.
Abigail spun around looking for Sleath. Where was he? She was just about to call out when something caught her on the back of the head. A searing pain shot through her skull, the images before her blurring. Then all went black.
Murder, history, and a touch of romance, this is original crime fiction.
When Abigail Sergeant and her brother arrive in Australia in the late 1880s, they get more than they bargained for when they are embroiled in a murder. With the help of Constable Ridley Dunning, Abigail hopes to solve the murder before she loses everything that’s left…
With vivid yet not overarching setting, an epic tone to the novel, and a number of twists and turns, this was an old-fashioned mystery with a historical slant. Enjoyable crime fiction.