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Everyone has secrets… but some are fatal.
1932, London. Late one December night Simon Sampson stumbles across the body of a woman in an alleyway. Her death is linked to a plot by right-wing extremists to assassinate the King on Christmas Day. Simon resolves to do his patriotic duty and unmask the traitors.
But Simon Sampson lives a double life. Not only is he a highly respected BBC radio announcer, but he’s also a man who loves men, and as such must live a secret life. His investigation risks revealing his other life and with that imprisonment under Britain’s draconian homophobic laws of the time. He faces a stark choice: his loyalty to the King or his freedom.
This is the first in a new series from award-winning author David C. Dawson. A richly atmospheric novel set in the shadowy world of 1930s London, where secrets are commonplace, and no one is quite who they seem.
It’s December 1932 and newsreader Simon Sampson is at the BBC’s London offices. He’s going to visit his friend and colleague Florence Miles who’s in senior management. She prefers to be known as Bill. They’d met in the pub the night before after Simon discovered a body in an alleyway nearby. He’s anxious to discuss with Bill what else he found.
Halfway along the corridor Simon encountered Daphne Goodmayes and her tea trolley. It was Daphne’s duty to provide tea to senior management three times a day. There was a delivery first thing in the morning, then at eleven o’clock, and her last round of duty was at three in the afternoon. If the Director-General was feeling generous then she would have digestive biscuits to offer as well.
“Good morning, Mrs Goodmayes,” Simon said brightly. “Have you been to Miss Miles yet?”READ MORE
Daphne was on her hands and knees, clearing up some spilt sugar from the floor. “Morning, sir.” She peered suspiciously at Simon through the thick lenses of her spectacles. “I’ve not seen you on this floor before.”
Simon stooped to help her back on her feet. “No, I’m not as grand as the chaps here. I’m Simon Sampson. The news announcer.”
The tea lady eyed him up and down. “Where’s yer dinner jacket then?”
“Well, I only wear it when I’m at the microphone, Mrs Goodmayes.” Simon had hoped for a more admiring reaction. “Actually, it’s being pressed this morning. I’m collecting it this afternoon before I read the six o’clock news.” He looked down at the mass of cups on the trolley. “If you haven’t got to her yet, can I take Miss Miles’s tea? I’m heading that way.”
Daphne Goodmayes sniffed. “It’s ’ighly irregular, sir. It’s me what’s supposed to take them their tea. Not some gentleman claiming to be an announcer. How do I know who you are?”
“It’s perfectly all right, Mrs Goodmayes.” Bill’s voice echoed down the corridor. She strode towards them, a lighted cigarette hanging from her lips. “Simon’s not a Bolshevik spy come to poison me.” She stopped at the trolley and took two cups from it. “Let me take ours back with us to save you the trouble.”
“But ’e’s not from this floor, Miss.” Daphne glowered at Simon. “I’ve already said it’s ’ighly irregular.”
“Please don’t concern yourself, my dear.” Bill handed the two cups to the tea lady. “Mr Sampson’s my visitor. I’m permitted tea for my visitors. And a digestive as well.”
Daphne Goodmayes sniffed. “If you say so, Miss.” She took the cups and filled them with tea from a giant brown teapot. “It’s not for the likes of me to say what’s right and what’s wrong.” She handed the cups to Simon. “’Ere. You be the gen’leman. Milk and sugar’s there if you wants it.” She turned to Bill. “I don’t have no digestives this morning. They’re only allowed on afternoons.”
“Thank you, dear lady,” Bill said. There was a sickly-sweet smile on her face. “Come along Mr Sampson. I can give you ten minutes.”
“Bloody woman.” Bill slammed shut her office door and stalked over to the desk. “Give these people a trolley and they think they’re in charge of Boadicea’s bloody chariot.”
Simon was just as irritated with Mrs Goodmayes. She had been quick to put him in his place and highlight the difference in seniority between him and Bill. It rankled.
Bill slumped into a large leather swivel-chair, swung her legs up onto the desk, and waved her cigarette imperiously. “Put the tea there and sit down. How did you get on with your Scottish youth? Another Sampson conquest?”
Simon was shocked. “We’d only just met, my dear Bill. You know how particular I am. And I certainly wasn’t going to risk raising Mr Pethers’ suspicions last night.”
“Pethers? Your doorman?” Bill chuckled, and then coughed on a lungful of smoke. “You crafty blighter, Simon. You took the poor boy back to yours last night, didn’t you? Intent on having your wicked way with him, were you?”
“Nothing was further from my mind.” Simon reached for one of the cups on the desk. “I had some leftover kedgeree in the larder and it seemed appropriate for me to feed a strapping Scotsman like him. And seeing as you chose to cancel our supper appointment—"
“Oh, nonsense.” Bill swung her legs off the desk and leaned forward to take the other cup. She tipped some tea into its saucer and slurped noisily.
“Do you have to indulge that disgusting habit?” Simon asked.
Bill finished the contents of the saucer and refilled it from her cup. “It’s practical, Simon dear. It cools the tea and lets me drink it more quickly. I told you, I can only spare you ten minutes. I’m very busy. What do you want?”
“I could start by asking you to pay for your drinks in the Fitzroy occasionally.” Bill’s office was larger than he had expected, with a double window looking out on Portland Place. He pointed to the painting of a female nude on the wall. “Especially when I see how well the Corporation is treating you.” He opened his attaché case and removed the manila folder.
Bill sniffed and held out her hand. “What’s that?”
“I really don’t know.” Simon handed her the folder. “We found it hidden behind a metal sign in the alleyway last night.”
“‘We’?” Bill picked up her glasses from the desk, perched them on the end of her nose, and removed the pages from the folder. “Did you force that young man to go gadding with you in that disreputable alleyway after I left?”
“I didn’t force him, Bill. He offered to help. He’s very accommodating.”
“Yes.” Bill peered at him over her glasses. “I don’t doubt he is.” She pushed aside a pile of the morning papers and laid out the five sheets of paper from the envelope on her desk.
“I suppose you saw?” Simon said, indicating the newspapers.
“Saw what?” Bill’s head was bowed as she studied the sheets of paper.
Simon picked up a copy of The Chronicle from the top of the pile. “Nothing in the paper about last night.”
Bill looked up. “What do you expect? Since you left, they’ve lost their star reporter. You said yourself the police wanted nothing to do with it.” She gestured to the five sheets of paper on the desk. “Is this all there is?”
After three years of knowing her, Simon still found it difficult to reconcile Bill’s imperious abruptness with their friendship. Her tongue was sharp, like the cut of her clothes.
“Why do you ask?”
Bill tapped one of the sheets of paper. “Because there are page numbers on four of them, my simple friend. They start at seven and finish at twenty-five. These are but a selection from a larger document.”
Simon was annoyed with himself for missing this simple detail. Last night he had been so engrossed in the content of the pages he had failed to notice. Bill took a silver cigarette case from her jacket pocket and opened it.
She rummaged in one of the drawers of her desk, found a packet of Senior Service, and refilled the cigarette case. She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.
“I’d say these are copies.” Bill exhaled smoke over the four thicker pages. “I think they’ve been photographically reproduced. What’s this last one? German, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Simon replied. “But it makes no sense.”
“I’d have thought with all your trips to the flesh pots of Berlin you’d be able to translate it.” Bill looked over her glasses at him. “Didn’t you get arrested with Dietrich?”
“Who told you that?”
“You did.” Bill drew on her cigarette and blew the smoke in Simon’s direction. “On a particularly boozy night in your flat on the occasion of your thirtieth birthday.” She laughed. “You were so maudlin that evening, bemoaning the end of your “roaring twenties” as you so delightfully put it. I think you confessed everything to me.”
“Well don’t go blabbing it to all and sundry,” Simon replied. “When the judge released us on a caution the next day, there was a charge officer who was very smitten with Marlene. He very sweetly erased all note of the arrest. Frightfully daring of him. It meant the dear lady was able to travel to America to launch her Hollywood career without fear of being stopped. If it ever got out that she had a police record they might deport her back to Germany.”
“Her secret is safe with me. I would never betray a sister.” Bill picked up one of the photographic copies. “This looks like a radio tower.”
Yes, that’s what I thought.” Simon pointed to another of the pages. “And this one’s some kind of wiring diagram. But no idea what. If we could make sense of the German, we might get a clue as to what it’s all about.”
Bill stubbed out her cigarette, leaned back in the chair, and rested her legs on the desk once more. “Do you mean a native speaker?” She waved a hand in the direction of the door. “The place is swarming with foreigners. They’re all running around like ballyhoo with this new Empire Service.”
Simon wrinkled his nose. “I’m really not keen to share this with all and sundry. What if it’s some top-secret document that’s gone missing? If someone shoots their mouth off about it, they could get me into all sorts of hot water.”
“Then take it to the police. Or at least the Head of News. Don’t you have a duty as an employee of the Corporation to do that?”
Simon shook his head. “That’s not what I do. I never did at The Chronicle and I’m not going to start now. Hang the BBC rules. The police couldn’t be bothered to do anything when I called them. This is my investigation.”
Bill roared with laughter. “I understand. You’re becoming frustrated now that you’re confined to the wireless studio and can’t get out solving crimes like some character in a Dashiel Hammett novel.”
It was true. Well, maybe not about wanting to be a character in a Dashiel Hammett novel. But in his five years at The Chronicle Simon had been fortunate to investigate several very juicy crimes, including the Stage Door Killer. It was while he had been working on that case that he had met Bill, who had often accompanied Noël Coward to His Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket during the run of Bitter Sweet.
“Any ideas, Bill? Someone you can ask discreetly? You’re in a better position than me to pull a favour. The only person I can think of to ask is Binkie Bradbury from The Times. And he’s out in Berlin right now, reporting on all the shenanigans with Herr Hitler.”
Bill gathered the five pages together and put them back into the manila envelope. “There’s a rather sweet Polish girl along the corridor here. Very charming and she speaks fluent German. We both buy our cigarettes in the same shop in Great Portland Street. She’s working her socks off on the Empire Service but she might have time. And I’m sure I can prevail upon her to be discreet.”
“Is she sapphic-leaning?” Simon asked.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“I see,” Simon replied. “You’ve got designs on her, haven’t you?”
“That’s none of your business.” Bill sniffed and looked away. “You know, you can be most awfully rude sometimes.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Bill shouted.
The door opened and a youth in a dark blue uniform stood on the threshold. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Miss Miles. A telegram’s arrived for you. From America.”
Bill waved him in. “Bring it here.” She took another cigarette from the silver box and lit it. The youth crossed to the desk and handed her an envelope. She tore it open and withdrew a sheet of paper.
“What is it, Bill?” Simon asked.
She looked up, the cigarette hanging from her lips. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
“Trying to avoid visiting the parents in darkest Wiltshire. Why?”
Bill waved the telegram at him.
“I’ve got your perfect excuse. It’s Noël. He’s staying in New York over the holidays, performing in Designs for Living. He’s offered me Goldenhurst, his little farmhouse in Kent. Come on, Simon. Let’s go gadding in the countryside for Christmas.”COLLAPSE
Becca on Love Bytes wrote:
Set in 1932 London, this promising series launch from Dawson (The Necessary Deaths) introduces Simon Sampson, who has joined the BBC as a radio news announcer after gaining some celebrity as a crime reporter. While taking a late-night shortcut through an alley, Sampson is startled by a cat, falls down, and spots a woman’s hand sticking out of a pile of rubbish. He digs out the barely breathing woman, who utters the phrase “Curling in cover” before passing out. Sampson leaves her to seek help, but when he returns with a constable, she’s nowhere to be found, and the cop dismisses the faint traces of blood as being from an animal. The stakes rise when Sampson finds a purse near where he saw the woman containing some diagrams labeled in German. The affable Sampson, who must keep the fact that he is gay a secret in an England where his sexual orientation is illegal, pursues the mystery, which takes surprising directions. Dawson keeps readers guessing throughout, and peoples the intelligent plot with believable characters. Whodunit fans will look forward to the sequel.
Antony Avina on Antony Avina's Blog wrote:
I’m going to tell you right now, if you love mysteries, historical books, things of that nature, this is the book for you. Mr. David hit ALL the right notes with me with this book again and I’m very happy I got to read it.
I’m often funny about historical books because sometimes they are very off on facts and such and depending on which part of history we are discussing, also debates on whether or not I’m going to be more interested. Don’t get me wrong. I love history, but David got me because he hit right at the starts of the World Wars and the start of Hitler and I am utterly fascinated by that part of history. Maybe that makes me weird, but I really am. And not only that, but even though this was a fictional book, he was dead on with a lot of the facts and that makes me a very happy person.
I loved Simon in this book. He seems so classy even though he puts up with a lot and has dealt with a lot. But what he’s about to undergo in his life is going to change him in ways he NEVER expected and I’ve got to tell you. I would have punched ‘Bill’ several times in this book. No matter what kind of friends they were or if they worked together, whatever. ‘Bill’….well, you find out about ‘Bill’ later on and when you find out the truth, I really would have punched them if I was Simon. He so did not deserve the heck he went through. And mostly for secretive reasons he had no clue about. All he knows, is he’s run up on a murder that EVERYONE seems to want to cover up or pretend they don’t know about and he’s determined to get to the bottom, no matter what. But it’s that no matter what that’s about to cost him everything. It’s already cost him several things dear to him, and he shouldn’t have to endure more. I love Simon as well, because even at the possible cost of his life or a beating or imprisonment or whatever, he was not going to lie for anyone either. He was going to tell the truth to the right people. He was going to do what should have been done all along. Uncover and tell the truth of what was really going on. And I love the fact he stood up for his principles.
This book has so many twists and turns and so many unexpected things that happen that will throw you for a loop. But it captures you from the beginning and grabs you throughout the whole book. I’m very happy with the start of this series and I’m curious as to see what Simon is going to do. I have a feeling I already know, but we will see. I heartily recommend this book.
This was such a captivating and thought-provoking read. The author’s utilization of mystery and historical fiction was superb, showcasing a clear understanding and attention to detail historically that showed the amount of research that went into this narrative. The balance the author found with the history behind this intriguing mystery and the LGBTQ cast of characters that made up the novel’s main cast was so refreshing and fantastic to read.
What stood out to me was definitely the emphasis on the LGBTQ narratives, not only the characters as a whole but their experiences and the amount of secrecy that went into leading what was considered back then to be a “double life”. The way this mirrored so much of the novel’s noir and espionage elements within the mystery unfolding around the characters was perfect, and the emotional ups and downs the protagonist, in particular, went through all the way to the book’s final pages was so emotional to read.
A thoughtful, gripping, and entertaining read, author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Bloomsbury” is a must-read mystery and historical fiction thriller this fall! The representation within the cast of characters and the struggles the LGBTQ community faced nearly a century ago was perfectly balanced the twists and turns in the book’s mystery, and the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eager to read more of this exciting new series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!