Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my most recently published Radwinter book, ‘Earthquake’. Thomas Radwinter has been consulted about a mystery – in 1931 thirteen Chinese girls were at a summer school, and several of them died in mysterious circumstances; at the time they were thought to be accidents, but Thomas has been asked to investigate by the son of one of the surviving girls.
In this excerpt, he is meeting Edward Foxley, the son of another ‘girl’ who died some twenty years later in 1952, drowned in a boating ‘accident’ with a school-friend, Cissie.
Edward Foxley was a very thin but quite handsome man; he had wire rimmed glasses which gave him an old fashioned appearance, and he reminded me a little of the politician Jacob Rees Mogg. I had my sensible, serious head on, and didn’t try and act dumb. I passed him details of the history of the old school, the photo of the girls and the school then and now. There was nothing personal about the girls, and no mention of their deaths.
“Your mother was very beautiful, sir,” I said as I handed him a larger copy of her photo. He nodded but said nothing and gazed at it… ‘Chinese crackers…’
He looked again at the pictures of all the girls.
“Which one is Aunt Cissie? “
I pointed to her as she stared coolly and sadly out of the photo.
“Do you know how they died?” he asked.
I replied that I’d come across a newspaper report so yes, I did, and I offered my condolences for her passing sixty years ago.
“I have been to the place where she and Aunty Cissie died, I cannot imagine how it happened… The river is so slow, sluggish, how could two fit, not old women have died? It is shallow enough for them to have stood up… They both could swim, how did it happen!” he asked looking at me severely through his wire rimmed glasses. I felt a little uncomfortable, he reminded me of someone else who wore glasses who had done his best to kill me…
“Could you describe it to me, sir?”
He described the sluggish river, the water a greeny brown with a particular smell. There were meadows on either side, and when he was there the water was quite busy with punts and canoes. He’d walked there and then gone back and hired a punt, as his mother and Cissy had in 1953.
“I have thought about it a lot, Mr Radwinter. All the reports describe it as a tragic accident, but how? As I mentioned, mother was a good swimmer, a very good swimmer. She and my aunt went away on holiday together often, and they always went somewhere they could swim. Father and I would stay at home while they went off gallivanting…” He gave a little laugh. “That’s what father called it, I’d quite forgotten, gallivanting…” He drank his coffee.
I asked him if he knew anything about any of his mother’s school friends although he was very young when she died. He said nothing and I wondered whether he’d heard me and if I should repeat it.
Instead I said that I’d noticed in a couple of the newspaper reports of the accident a mention of a third person in the punt, another woman, but that it wasn’t referred to in the coroner’s report. I expected him to be suspicious of my interest – this wasn’t anything to do with writing a monograph on the Academy.
“Do you know who she is?” he asked eagerly… No I didn’t, I replied. I also didn’t say that if she existed, she may have been responsible for other deaths too.
There was something I didn’t like about him, I don’t know what, or why I felt like this.
“Was she one of my mother’s school friends? For some reason I always thought she might be…” and he lapsed into silence staring at his coffee. Now this was very interesting; he knew about the third woman, and he believed she’d been in the punt… So who could it be? I didn’t say anything to him but mentally ran through who was left, Frieda, Alma, Bertha or Frances…
© Lois Elsden 2017
If you want to find out whether these accidents were murder, and whether Thomas finds the answer to the eighty year-old mystery, then here is a link:
…and another link to my other e-books, and my recently published paperbacks: