Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy #Halloween! #Zombie Books!

Happy Halloween!

Just another post to share some news:

Cool List!
Top 10 Best New Zombie Books - including 
Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter at AnythingZombie.com!



** VOTE for Best Indie Books of 2016 at Read Free.ly!




 ** Vote for Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete in horror
You might win an Amazon $50 gift card!! Vote here - deadline is Nov. 18.

Halloween Reads! MP McDonald's Apocalyptic book, Infection!




Today I welcome (Mary) M.P. McDonald, author of the apocalyptic book, Infection!
and its main character, Cole Evans.

** BONUS! Go to Mary's blog for Lizzie Borden's viewpoint from 
Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter!



About the Book:

What started as a "flu" outbreak on a military base proves deadlier than Ebola and more contagious than the Spanish Flu. Sympatico Syndrome is unlike anything the world has ever seen. Victims' behavior is changing to accommodate the rapid spread of the virus.

Former Navy epidemiologist Cole Evans is well aware of the rare, infectious diseases the military studies. He also knows, first-hand, the government's stance on sharing information with the public, so if the media has already learned about the disease, then it’s far too late to contain the outbreak.

Faced with an extinction event, Cole's only chance to save his family is to establish a safe haven. Isolated, hard to reach, and with enough space for his brother's family as well, he has the perfect location--if only they can all reach it before they're infected...

Meet the Main Character:
As a former Navy epidemiologist, Cole Evans knows first-hand about deadly diseases. Faced with an extinction event, Cole's only chance to save his family is to establish a haven—an island. If only they can all reach it before they're infected...
  
Introduce yourself. What are you best known for?

I’m Cole Evans and I knows about viruses and understand how the military works. As an epidemiologist with the Navy for almost twenty years, I’ve seen what Ebola can do and studied the Spanish Flu. This new virus is deadly and more contagious than either and it scares the daylights out of me—and I don’t scare easily. I volunteered to go to West Africa during the Ebola outbreak and didn’t bat an eye.

I warned the Navy about the virus just before I retired from the Navy to spend more time with my son.  Apparently, they didn’t listen to me. I almost wish I hadn’t retired, but as a widower, I’ve been raising Hunter alone since he was six. He’s a good kid, but he was in high school at the time and needed me around more. Now, he’s in college and I have to figure out how to get him home safely because if this virus is out in the wild, then it’s far too late to contain it.  I have a safe place for everyone, including my brother, Sean’s family, but can we all get to it before we catch the virus?

In the Navy, my job was to save the world from a pandemic. Now, I can only save my family—if I’m lucky.

What inspired this story?

A love of apocalyptic stories and a chance read in a science news story led to an idea about a virus that at first makes the victim feel social and euphoric instead of ill. It does that so victims will gather in groups—which allows the virus to spread much more quickly than most illnesses. The name of the virus is Sympatico Syndrome.
  
Do you think this kind of scenario could happen in real life? Why or why not?
This particular virus, no, but I wouldn’t doubt that someday there will be an engineered virus that could be spread rapidly. As far as seeking a refuge, yes. There are many people who have prepared a ‘bug-out’ shelter for scenarios similar to the one in Infection.

Tell me a little about the author, too.

M.P. McDonald is the author of supernatural thrillers and post-apocalyptic fiction. With multiple stints on Amazon's top 100 list, her books have been well-received by readers.

If her writing takes your breath away, have no fear, as a respiratory therapist--she can give it back via a tube or two. She lives with her family in a frozen land full of ice, snow, and abominable snowmen.

On the days that she's not taking her car ice-skating, she sits huddled over a chilly computer, tapping out the story of a camera that can see the future. She hopes it can see summer approaching, too. If summer eventually arrives, she tries to get in a little fishing, swimming and biking between chapters.

Excerpt from Infection:

Cole turned onto his street and slammed on the brakes.
Yellow barricades like police used when trying to hold back mobs of demonstrators blocked off the street. Three men with guns manned the roadblock. Cole tensed as one of the men approached his vehicle.
Sean was right behind him with the truck and Jenna and the kids following Sean. He hoped his brother wouldn’t jump out and start waving his handgun around. He was grateful for Sean’s forethought to bring the weapon, but it was three against one, and now Jenna and the kids were around. 
Cole rolled his window down a crack, squinting at the man who was backlit by the sun and wearing a baseball cap pulled low. “What’s going on? I live on this street and need to get home.”
“Do you have proof of residence?”
Cole glared. “Since when do I need proof that I live in my house? My key is proof, now get those barricades out of the street and let me through.” He had his license, of course, but that wasn’t the point. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “The two vehicles behind me are family. Let them in, too.”
“Cole, is that you?”
He blinked up at the face. “Who wants to know?”
The man pulled off his cap. “It’s me. Jerry Keeling.”
“Doctor Keeling? The dentist?” He’d taken Hunter to the guy a few times after their regular dentist had retired.  He’d also spoken to him at the annual block party, but he’d never had the impression the man would become militant in a situation like this.
“Yeah. We’ve had outsiders trying to seek shelter in the neighborhood. They think because we’re upscale here, that we’re safe.”
Cole bit back a retort. Their neighborhood, while nice enough, was hardly upscale. “Look, Jerry, I just need to get home. It’s only going to be for a few hours, then we’re leaving.” Crap. He probably shouldn’t have said that.
Jerry scratched his cheek, his gaze wandering to the other two men as if seeking permission. “Okay, I guess I can let you pass, but the truck and the other car will have to stay out. Only residents allowed.” He smiled as if he was doing Cole a favor.
Cole fixed Jerry with a hard stare. “Listen, Jerry, that’s my brother in the truck and his family in the red Ford. Now, unless you’re going to shoot me, they’re coming, too.”
 “Who the hell are you to tell us what to do?” One of the men circled the barricade. He was taller and heavier than the short, slim dentist, and he shouldered Jerry out of the way. “We say who comes and who goes.”
Cole narrowed his eyes and straightened his shoulders. “As it happens, I know a thing or two about diseases since I’m an epidemiologist. I worked with the CDC for many years and even went to Africa to help manage the Ebola outbreak. Do you have better credentials?”
  

 ** Check out  M.P. McDonald’s other works, including the award-winning bestseller, No Good Deed, at www.mpmcdonald.com




* Be sure to come back for another great Halloween Read! * 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Giving Old Dolls New "Undead" Life!

Today's Halloween Treat!


What's Old Becomes New and "Undead"


(cv photo)

By Christine Verstraete

Okay, maybe you're not a doll lover. I like dolls myself, but I know that some can be rather, um... creepy...



Well, Wisconsin artisan Kelly Goetzke has the answer. She makes her dolls intentionally scary--in a good way, of course! 

A horror makeup artist and hairstylist by trade, Goetzke has been giving old dolls "new" life as undead dolls for the past five years with her business, Dollface, Inc. The dolls, which she describes as "meant to mirror your darkest fears," range in price from $20 to $75.




Kelly's passion for creating her unique dolls began innocently enough, sparked by her own collecting interests.

 "I collected a very popular series of horror dolls that over the years went up in price," she says. "Even though the prices were going up the quality wasn't.  I figured, you know what? I can make these myself cheaper. It wasn't shortly after that that some friends offered me money to make them one and Dollface was born."



 

Pretty in Pink -- A Terrifying Trio

The dolls come to her from friends and clients from the salon or she finds many at local thrift shops. Then via her makeup and paint magic, the dolls become something from your nightmares. A little crackling, maybe even some cracking and some acrylic paint, and voila! It can take anywhere from four to six hours to transform them from once-innocent playthings, into... well, you decide.



Nightmares do come true.

In refashioning the dolls, Goetzke finds herself inspired by her love of horror, which includes watching The Walking Dead or Supernatural and horror movies, which she admits give her nightmares. Not that she's going to quit watching anytime soon, of course. She also enjoys reading books by Stephen King and Clive Barker.

"I watch a lot of horror movies and in turn have a lot of nightmares," she admits. "I write them down and that gives me my ideas. Horror makes me happy. The love of horror was something I  shared with my father and brother, both of them gone now, so it allows me to feel closer to them."

The best part? Creating the dolls, she says, is "a type of therapy for me. Rough day? I unwind in the creative process."

Oh, and lest you think her zombified dolls are for girls or for kids only... 

"My claim to fame is that I've actually sold a doll to Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead as well as Jim Beaver from Supernatural," she says. "Both the highlight of my career!"




Here's looking at you, kid!   
    --http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com




Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween Reads! Fireside Chat with Regency Serial Killers + AF Stewart





Today I welcome A.F. Stewart, author of Killers and Demons II: They Return.
      *** BONUS - Read a Fireside Chat with Lizzie Borden at Stewart's blog. *** 
  
About Killers and Demons II: They Return by A. F. Stewart

Evil is back, with a greater appetite for death.
Killers.
Demons.
    They lurk forever in the shadows, smile at you in the morning, and haunt your dreams at night. You can’t hide, you can’t run, and there’s no escape. You can only scream when they come for you.
    Killers and Demons II:  They Return is a collection of thirteen tales, blending short stories and flash fiction, tales where the blood lingers on your tongue or spurts quickly from the swift cut.



Fireside Chat with Millicent and Jane
By A.F. Stewart
(Millicent and Jane can be found in the short story, How Do You Take Your Tea? in the book Killers and Demons II: They Return.)

“Welcome everyone, to another Fireside Chat. I’m Richard Dale, your host. Today, we have two guests, the Regency Era serial killers and partners Millicent Grey and Jane Wynn. Richard smiles politely, with an ounce of hesitation in continuing. “Nice of you to join me, ladies.”

The two women nod courteously, and together reply, “We’re pleased to be here, Mr. Dale.” Millicent adds, “I’ve gone back to my maiden name though, no longer Mrs. Grey. Just Millicent Ellis. Widowhood you know. But you can call me Millie.” She glances at her companion, who gives a slight sigh, then utters, “Yes, Mr. Dale, you may address me as Jane.”

“Very well, Millie and Jane then. And since we’re on such terms, let me be direct with my first question. How did you get into the business of murder?”

A strange look crosses Millie’s face and she blurts out, “Desperation.” And then she falls silent, grasping her partner’s hand. Jane continues the explanation, “Millie’s first marriage was a horrid disaster. Her husband was decidedly peculiar, and despicable. She wanted rid of him, and with little option of divorce, she chose murder. I stepped in to ensure she got away with it. After that, well, things escalated.” Jane smiles. “We’re up to four husbands now.”

“I see. Do you ladies consider your actions, the murder of Millicent’s husbands, to be selfish or immoral?”

A small gasp escapes Millie, but Jane answers the question. “No. You have to make your way in the world. Even if it is not what society expects of you. Our actions were not selfish or immortal, simply practical.” Millie nods in agreement, still keeping silent.

“Given that attitude, do you ever have any qualms of conscience about your victims?”

“Not a whit!” Millie bounces the words into the air in the cheeriest of voices. “My husbands were odious and vile, except for Mr. Grey, who was only vacuous and tedious. The world is a far better place without such creatures.” A low chuckle stems from Jane, but she does not add to the conversation.

“A most interesting point of view. Given your era’s societal taboos regarding your intimate romantic relationship, do you feel this coloured your feelings toward men and contributed to your life of crime?”

Jane quirks a grin. “Not at all. Such taboos made it impossible to be public with our love, but hardly influenced any of our views on men or drove us to a life of crime. If any laws or prohibitions contributed to our work it was society’s restrictions on all women. The desire for freedom is what led me down this path, and I think Millie would agree.” Her partner nods. “Neither of us wished to be dependent on men, but we needed money to live. So we became creative in our efforts to earn a living rather than subsist on a menial wage.”

Well, your solution to financial independence certainly was that. Were financial considerations the only motive, or did you enjoy the thrill of killing?”

Millie giggles. “Oh, I have to say, it was thrilling. Very dangerous, and exciting. Made one’s heart race, wondering if you could get away with the awful deed. But really, it was more an expediency than anything. I do miss the thrill, but best not press one’s luck. Thrills fade on the noose, now don’t they?” She gives Richard a rather beguiling smile, and flutters her eyes.

Richard Dale blushes. “They do indeed, Millie, they do indeed.”

Any further tête-à-tête is cut short by the arrival of Jenkins, the butler. “Pardon the interruption, but I’ve brought the tea. A lovely English Breakfast.”

Jane gives him a hard quizzical stare and blurts, “Tea?”, while Millicent casts him a slightly worried look.

Yes, ma’am. But a simple, ordinary beverage. No special blends, I assure you. Nothing at all like yours.

A slight look of relief crosses Millicent’s face, but Jane simply smiles. “Thank you. We’ll both have a cup.”

Very good,” is his reply, and he pours three cups. “There’s milk, lemon, and sugar for the tea, as well as lemon poppy seed cake.

Millicent gives a faint sequel. “I love lemon poppy seed cake.” She snatches two pieces and a cup of tea. Jenkins withdraws as Jane and Richard retrieve their tea with more decorum.

“Back to the interview, then?” Richard smiles softly and sips his tea, not waiting for an answer. “Why don’t we get a bit personal? What’s you favourite childhood memory?”

Delight lights Millie’s face. “Sewing with my mother, just the two of us in the parlour working on our lace edges or our embroidery.” She turned to her companion. “Do you have a good childhood memory, Jane?” The reply was terse. “No.”

“Interesting contrast of answers. So I ask you, do you consider you had a happy upbringing?”

Millie nods enthusiastically. “Oh, very much so. Our home was a wonderful place. My sisters and I had the best of everything.” Jane remains quiet.

Richard probes further. “Jane, what about you?”

She finally answers. “I didn’t have a childhood. My parents were drunkards. I brought up myself, and my siblings.”

My apologies for stirring any bad memories.” Richard sighs ever so slightly. “Do you have any hobbies? Other than the occasional murder?”

“I do like to dabble in watercolours.” Millie flashes a coquettish smile. “And embroidery.” Jane chimes in, “Yes, she does paint some very lovely flowers. I myself putter in the herb garden.” She grins. “Comes in handy for the other hobby of occasional murder.”

“I’m certain it does.” Richard clears his throat and continues. “Have you found living what amounts to a double life a difficult thing?”

Jane answers first. “I haven’t, but I think it weighs on Millie. Doesn’t it dear?” Mille nods. “It does sometimes, but it is all worth if we can be together.” The pair joins hands and smile lovingly at each other.

Richard again clears his throat, breaking the intimate moment. “Well, that wraps up our interview. I want to thank you ladies for agreeing to join me. It has been most fascinating.”
  
About the Author:  A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, and still calls it home. An indie author with several published novellas and story collections in the dark fantasy or horror genres, she also likes to take a few side trips into poetry and non-fiction. She has a great interest in history and mythology, often working those themes into her books and stories. Visit her blog at http://afstewartblog.blogspot.ca/. 


Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween Reads! Tim Prasil's Ghost Detective



By Tim PrasilToday I have the privilege of welcoming Tim Prasil, author of Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries(1899-1909). He also writes audio drama, and his anthology Marvellous Boxes was produced and posted to the Web by The Decoder Ring Theatre. Two of those productions were selected for broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives has revised the standard history of occult-detective fiction, tracing the cross-genre back to 1815. This led to his editing Giving Up the Ghosts: Short-Lived Occult Detective Series by Six Renowned Authors, published by Coachwhip Publications. The chronological bibliography along with other features and news can be found at https://merryghosthunter.wordpress.com/ .



** Be sure to wish Tim a Happy Birthday today!! ** 



Ghostly Detecting
By Tim Prasil


Meet the Characters:

Lovely to meet you. I’m Vera Van Slyke, and thank you for asking me here to discuss my ghost hunting. I’m a newspaper reporter, and debunking psychic mediums is my special crusade. Some people are surprised by this—I mean my being a ghost hunter on the one hand and a skeptic when it comes to séances and Spiritualism on the other. When asked how I reconcile my skepticism with believing wholeheartedly that ghosts do invade our physical realm, I explain that ghosts are like cats. They’re real—but they hardly come when called.

A funny thing is that my journalist’s crusade is how I met my dear assistant. She’s a woman of many names, so you’ll forgive me for having to consult my notes. You see, I’m not very strong with names. Yes, here we are. Ludmila Prášilová immigrated to the U.S. in 1887 when she was a mere child, and her pet name was Lida. She began to introduce herself as Lucille Parsell, though, about the time she became a young Spiritualist medium. Her mother was involved in that, and it’s a delicate subject. I best jump ahead.

It was in 1899 that I met her. I was attending a séance at the Morley mansion, the house in Boston belonging to the man who inherited all that tobacco money. Well, as it turns out, the medium conducting the séance was Lida! (I’ve come to call her Lida. It’s easier for me.) Of course, we didn’t know each other, and I went ahead and debunked her. Between you and me, I somehow sensed that she was ready to be debunked!



At the time, I was working on a book about the ruses of Spiritualist mediums, and I asked Lida if she would allow me to interview her. Within a year, the dear woman—almost still a girl at that time—was serving as my personal assistant. We grew to be very dear friends, too. Much later, I learned that all along she had been chronicling many of the ghostly mysteries we investigated together. Yes, and sharing them with the man she would marry. That leads to a sad story. For another time, perhaps.

Now, remind of the name of that famous detective fellow. Oh, you know! Fictional, but English. Smokes a pipe and seems a bit smarter than anyone could actually be. Has a doctor for an assistant. Well, no matter. Lida often compares herself to that doctor and, I guess, myself to the detective. I’ve never understood the connection. After all, I’m American, not English. A woman, not a man. I pursue ghosts, not criminals!

How did you get involved in your current situation?

How did I become a ghost hunter? Well, as a child, I had a fascination for ghost stories — and then for ghosts alleged to be authentic. When still fairly young, I introduced myself to a man named Harry Escott, a very great ghost hunter and a kind, wonderful man. He was my mentor. Our investigations into haunted places and supernatural phenomena convinced me that phantoms really do lurk among us.

Years later, after I met Lida, I ran an advertisement in newspapers across the U.S., offering help for the haunted. The responses to that advertisement introduced me to some truly baffling—and occasionally quite frightening—cases in a variety of otherwise perfectly charming locales.

In fact, I’d best go catch my train. I’ve received a report of coats—ordinary coats, you understand, that seem to be dancing in the air. Utterly by themselves! I don’t recall running across anything like it before. But do promise me we’ll get to get together again soon. Tell me, do you happen to enjoy beer?

The Author’s Turn: What inspired the book?

I’d been researching the history of the occult detective figure in fiction. For a long time, these have been said to begin with J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Dr. Hesselius—who’s a pretty sorry start, if he were the first. He fails in his only real case, “Green Tea” (1869), and then only acts as a framing device for a few other stories. I found that the roots of fictional occult detectives actually go much deeper, at least as far back as 1817! This is before Edgar Allan Poe supposedly “invented” detective fiction around 1841, another claim that’s easy to disprove.

Among all of the occult detective characters I dug up, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring lack of women—not even in the years when women were advancing professionally (think of journalists like Nelly Bly and Ida Tarbell) and when women were fighting for and winning the right to vote.

So I invented a female ghost hunter/occult detective from that time period.

Explain the main dilemma/situation in your book. Could it happen?

Help for the Haunted is a composite novel or a short story cycle, meaning that it’s made up of individual investigations—thirteen of them—while including an overall arc. Each case involves solving the mystery behind a haunting and, hopefully, putting an end to it. (Vera’s often—but not always—successful.) Across the span of the entire book, 1899 to 1909, Vera develops a strong friendship with Lida, discovers an affection for a newspaper editor in Pittsburg, contends with a world where women face any number of societal hurdles, and deals with a deeply held secret regarding her past.

Most of the Vera and Lida story, from the professional to the personal, could very certainly happen. The ghostly activity? Hmm, probably not that. And probably not the distinctive method the duo uses to confirm whether or not there are ruptures between the physical world and the Great Beyond, openings that allow for ghosts to cross over. It involves two oboes, one playing a B-flat and the other a high G. It’s complicated and probably not at all realistic. Why not? Hmm. Why not indeed?


An Excerpt from Help for the Haunted:
    “According to this gentleman,” I told Vera Van Slyke, “you’re a gentleman.” I handed her a letter addressed to Mr. Vernon Van Slyke.
    Glancing over the correspondence, she replied, “One might expect greater precision from a coroner.” She looked up and winked at me.
    “Oh, that’s far from the strangest part of the letter,” I warned.
    Vera’s smirk was replaced by a blank expression. She placed two fingers to her jaw as she leaned back to read.
    Peter M. Hoffman, coroner of Cook County, explained that his office had been tasked with explaining three deaths of a highly peculiar nature. A possible fourth victim was still being investigated. In each confirmed case, termination of life was preceded by — as Mr. Hoffman termed it — “manic vitality,” which he defined as “an exuberant and indefatigable expenditure of energy on such activities as dance, sport, drink, and less sanctioned forms of pleasure seeking.”
    Vera looked up from the letter. “Does he mean these three people enjoyed themselves to death?”
    “He says that each man died with a smile on his face,” I responded.
    After another blank stare, Vera returned to Mr. Hoffman’s letter.
    The coroner surmised that the condition was somehow related to the employment of the victims. All three of the confirmed dead men — Cyril Hughes, Donny Reynolds, and Carl Hanacek — worked side-by-side for the Illinois Tunnel Company. The man still being sought was their co-worker. This firm had been organized to dig passageways deep below downtown Chicago, the tunnels designed for transporting freight, coal, and mail, thereby easing congested street-level traffic. The four men had performed the initial digging and finishing work before another shift lined the tunnel with concrete. Sometimes, their work had taken them as far as forty feet below the surface.
    “Forty feet underground,” Vera muttered. “Must the sun of ingenuity forever be eclipsed by the moon of lunacy?” She began to sneer at the letter.
    Fearing that the deaths might have resulted from some unknown gas or other substance better left buried, Mr. Hoffman presented his findings to the city council charged with overseeing the tunnel project. The coroner argued that informing the public of the early symptoms might prevent future tragedies and that the digging should stop until more information was gathered. The councilmen, however, unanimously insisted that the public not be alerted to the danger. Mass panic was likely to result, they insisted. The digging, they amended, would continue. Mr. Hoffman suspected that the council was more concerned with its own reputation than with the public good.
    “This Hoffman seems like a well-intentioned fellow,” Vera murmured as she turned the page over.
    Seeking the assistance of a courageous journalist, Mr. Hoffman had been told that “Vernon Van Slyke” was known among local reporters for being both daring and otherwise well-qualified in dealing with strange phenomena. The three deaths certainly counted as strange. The coroner ended his letter with an urgent request to meet, suggesting a time and location that would allow an examination of the tunnel where Hughes, Reynolds, and Hanacek had worked together before losing their lives. In a post-script, he clarified that the tunnel had been lined with concrete and no workers since had shown any symptoms of the deadly “manic vitality.”
    Vera carefully placed the letter down on her desk. “Jot a note in reply,” she instructed me. “Say that I’ll gladly meet with him as he suggests. If at all possible, don’t indicate that I’m a woman. I’d love to see his face when I arrive in my most frilly and feathery hat.”
    With a snicker, I said, “I’ll do my best, sir.”


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Reads! Guest John Linwood Grant + Sherlock Holmes


Today I welcome John Linwood Grant who lives in Yorkshire with a pack of lurchers and a beard. He may also have a family. He focuses particularly on dark Victorian and Edwardian fiction. He has been published in a wide range of anthologies and magazines, with stories from madness in early Virginia to questions about the monsters we ourselves might be. 

He is also co-editor of Occult Detective Quarterly
His website, http://greydogtales.com/blog/, is an eccentric compendium of weird fiction, weird art and even weirder lurchers.


He is the author of A Study in Grey, a novella of period psychic adventure and investigation, with the surprising addition of a retired Sherlock Holmes. Part of the Tales of the Last Edwardian series, it features Captain Redvers Blake, a military investigator, and the powerful psychic Abigail Jessop.

Blog:                                       http://greydogtales.com/blog/
Author site:                             http://johnlinwoodgrant.me.uk/blog/
A Study in Grey(UK):            https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01E886IDC
A Study in Grey(US)              https://amzn.com/B01E886IDC


THE MAIN CHARACTER

Who am I? It doesn't really m-m-matter. I do what is required, and if I didn't, no d-d-doubt someone else would. The more you ask, the more chance there is that you'll find a man in the shadows outside your house tomorrow night. He won't do anything to you. He'll watch, and he'll listen. And then a scuffed manila file will be p-p-pushed across a desk, somewhere in Special Branch.  The thicker the file, the sooner you might see me again. And I understand my duty. In Whitehall they call me the Hangman's Friend, because I see that's he's kept in gin – and work. For the meantime, you can call me B-b-blake, Captain Redvers Blake, of no regiment you'd ever want to meet.

And how did I get involved in what I d-d-do? I went to South Africa. I fought the B-b-boer, the black man and the British, according to what was needed. The last part wasn't supposed to happen, but I saw too many shadows under an African sun, and someone had to act. Now I sit in a cramped office in London, waiting for the shadows to arise. The psychic, the strange and the spiritual, the things that no-one else wants to handle. From an unexplained theft at His Majesty's dockyards to an admiral who sees the d-d-dead walk his ship's bridge, I'm the man. Whether I want to be or not.

THE AUTHOR

A Study in Grey was an accident. Whilst writing Edwardian supernatural stories, the question came up as to whether Sherlock Holmes could legitimately be included in a psychic or supernatural story, given his scepticism. I decided the answer was yes, if the tale was handled a little differently. Captain Redvers Blake knows the great detective's limitations, and so he works round them. He leaves Holmes to follow logic and the history of an old case, while he himself gets on with the dirty work.

How does your character get into their particular situation?

The dilemma in my book is simple. A member of parliament, one who is involved in military affairs, has been attending a spiritualist circle. He appears to be taking advice from his son – but his son died in action three years earlier. In the process, he may be passing on information to foreign powers, for the apparent head of the circle is a monster from Holmes' past. And so Blake, who has a certain unwelcome psychic gift of his own, is sent to ferret out the truth, one way or another.

Could these events actually happen?

As to whether the events outlined could have happened, then the fact is that most of them could. The bulk of my background writing is historically based, and the story occurs at a time when the Armed Forces were being reformed, there was increasing Special Branch concern about anarchists, Bolsheviks, Fenians and foreign agents. There was tension with Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and many others.  And maybe there was such a man as Redvers Blake. If there was, they would hardly have left records lying around, would they?

An Excerpt from A Study in Grey:

The pre-amble to the séance was mercifully without hymns. As soon as all were seated, Miss Huxtable took charge. She explained that she would seek to channel the souls of the departed, those who still held fondness for their earthly friends and relatives. It was a preamble aimed mostly at Blake and Abigail. The others here seemed to be regulars at the Selby Hall sittings.
    There was no holding hands, only palms placed lightly on the table and all but two candles extinguished. Blake's night vision was good, but he disliked the idea that anyone could be in the gloom, examining ten sets of shoulders with a view to blunting a knife between them.
    Muttering from Miss Huxtable, the slow sink of her chin onto her chest. There was to be no spirit guide either. The talented Enid was quite capable of pushing the veil aside herself, apparently. Blake watched Abigail, who sat straight-backed with her eyes closed.
    “This is a safe place,” said Miss Huxtable in a low voice. “We are friends here, seeking only truths which are beyond us whilst we tread the earth. Let others who have passed approach, without fear or malice.”
    She looked up, bright-eyed in the candle-light.
    “Who wishes to ask?”
    Guests glanced at each other, hesitating. An older woman enquired about her late husband, but after some minutes, Miss Huxtable pronounced that he must have moved on beyond earthly matters. Dull stuff so far, thought Blake.
    Then Edgar Stafford coughed.
    “If I might… my son, Alexander. Is he with us tonight?”
    Miss Huxtable lowered her head again, and shuddered.
    “He is here. He has waited for you.”
    “Can I speak to him? Alex?”
    The entreaty in Stafford's words was painful to hear. There was little doubt that his feelings towards his late son were genuine.
    Blake had expected mimicry, or an obvious affectation of tone, but the reply came in the medium's normal voice, perhaps slightly more husky.
    “Pa, I'm here.”
    “Alex!” Stafford leaned forward. “Oh son, are you well?”
    “Always, pa. In this place, we are all—” Miss Huxtable shuddered again, and Blake leaned forward. The woman was looking suddenly confused. “But, pa, who is with you?”
    “What do you mean, Alex?” asked Stafford, frowning.
    “In the circle, someone different…”
    Heads turned to Blake or to Abigail. Some started to mutter to their neighbours, but were quelled by a wave of the countess's hand. Blake had gauged the distance to the main doors and considered a number of responses, but Abigail spoke up before he could move or say anything.
    “I am here.”
    “You… you are different.” The voice from Enid Huxtable was older, wilder, no longer the medium's own.
    The merchant's wife gave a small cry. “Oh, Miss Clay has the gift!”
    Abigail ignored her.
    “I am Abigail. What should I call you?” she asked.
    “I… I am Alexander.” The medium's shoulders heaved, a look of puzzlement on her face. Blake would have bet a half-crown that she was as surprised as the other sitters.
    “You are not.” Abigail's voice was clear and precise.
    “But...”
    “Name yourself.” She lifted one hand from the table and sketched a sign or word in the air with her forefinger. “I will know you, formless or forgotten. Name yourself!”
    “I cannot. I cannot remember…”
    And now there was growing alarm around the table. The medium was twitching,  fingernails digging into the polished wood.
    “Name yourself!” The third time, and Blake saw the insistence in the young woman's voice as if it were a clear blue light around her, an aura of pure determination…
    “I do not... know... my name!” Miss Huxtable shrieked, throwing back her head.

(c) John Linwood Grant 2016