Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Paul’s new book, A Turbulent Peace, set in 1919.
We arrived at the junction that led to Avenue Beaucour and paused. Two children were playing with hoops and sticks by a doorway twenty paces from us, but the remainder of the street was deserted. We strolled past staring children to the arched entrance in a plastered and whitewashed wall of about twenty feet in height. The door was old, formed of thick, dark wood panels ribbed with iron straps and a large keyhole that looked as though it had survived several centuries. Adam turned the iron handle. It was locked and we headed off to locate a parallel street to discover what was on the other side of the wall.
The only way to exit Avenue Beaucour was to retrace our steps. It was a short walk to Rue Daru, which ran in the same direction. We stopped at the location, approximating a direct line through to the ancient doorway.
‘Not any old church,’ I replied. ‘It’s Russian Orthodox.’ A faded and paint-blistered wooden board displayed its name – Cathédrale Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky. Even without a sign, it was unmistakably Russian with its colourful domes, golden cross and the icon of a Christ figure above the central arch. ‘Ahhhh.’ An involuntary rush of air escaped my mouth. ‘The name. That’s it.’
‘What do you mean? Whose name?’
‘The name scrawled by Arthur on a piece of paper next to the Rue Gustave Courbet address. It was an abbreviation for church followed by Nevsky – not a misspelling of Chersky, as I thought. This church must be connected in some way to their murder.’
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Adam pushed at a small iron gate, and we started down a stone path towards the church entrance. The main door was closed. Adam inclined his head, and I followed him around the side. There was little ageing to the stone, and the church was clearly a relatively recent construction. Its clean vertical lines lent a dominant air with spires reaching above the tops of the buildings on either side. Did the land it occupied stretch back to Avenue Beaucour? We rounded a corner and viewed the wall, about twenty feet high, marking the rear boundary. Surely, the same wall, but I couldn’t see the doorway. The middle part of the bottom half of the wall was blocked by a squat, dilapidated construction of darker stone detached from the body of the church, and sunk into the ground with only small, shuttered windows. Much older than the church itself, I guessed it was probably used for storage.
‘The doorway will be behind this old storehouse,’ I said, pulling Adam’s sleeve to follow me.
There it was. With only a ten-yard gap between the high wall and the building, it could only be seen close up. We retraced our steps to an open space and surveyed the scene. The old, sunken structure was the only one in the grounds with a roof apart from the church itself. Whatever was taken from the cart was likely to have been stored in there. We edged around the wall until we found the door, down a flight of stone steps. I was about to descend and check the lock on the door when Adam caught hold of my arm.
‘Someone is coming.’
Two men were making for us in a manner that suggested they were not pleased. One, wearing long black robes and a white headscarf, was short, slight and bespectacled. The other, at least twice his size and with wild, staring eyes, was brandishing a large cudgel as though impatient for its use. Adam flexed his shoulders and edged forward to meet them. The two men were shouting, threatening. It looked bad. How could we avoid a bloody encounter? Quickly, I pushed past Adam and performed an elaborate curtsey.
I said, ‘Bonjour messieurs, veuillez excuser nos mauvaises manières,’ offering my sweetest, most innocent smile. They stopped, unsure how to react to this unexpected show of contrition. I continued, ‘My boss here is an architect from America. He is most interested in the beauty of your Cathedral and wishes to incorporate some of its features into a commission he has in Texas. I realise we should have sought your permission before entering these grounds, but – he is American, doesn’t speak French and has rather rough manners. Our humble apologies for any offence we may have caused.’
The clergyman held out his arm to halt the progress of his burly companion. He adjusted his spectacles, then examined Adam and me in turn before replying.
‘You must leave this sacred precinct directly. Your intentions may be blameless, but this place is a target for thieves and delinquents.’ His partner grunted and pointed his weapon at Adam. ‘If you wish to study or sketch our church, you should put your request in writing. It will be considered in due course.’
I bowed my head and murmured thanks for his understanding. Reaching behind, I took Adam’s hand and led him away, hoping he was also adopting a submissive and meek attitude. When we had gone far enough to be out of earshot, I hissed ‘Don’t look behind,’ in English. He squeezed my hand and laughed.
‘I understand enough French to appreciate your genius as an actress. That was well done, Mary.’
Here’s the blurb:
Following the armistice, Mary Kiten, a volunteer nurse in northern France, is ready to return home to England when she receives a surprise telegram requesting that she report to Paris. The call comes from her Uncle Arthur, a security chief at the Peace Conference.
Within minutes of arriving at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, Mary hears a commotion in the street outside. A man has been shot and killed. She is horrified to earn that the victim is her uncle. The police report the attack as a chance robbery by a known thief, who is tracked down and killed resisting arrest.
Mary is not convinced. Circumstances and the gunshot wound do not indicate theft as a motive. A scribbled address on Arthur’s notepad leads to her discovery of another body, a Russian Bolshevik. She suspects her uncle, and the Russian, were murdered by the same hand.
To investigate further, Mary takes a position working for the British Treasury, headed by J M Keynes.
But Mary soon finds herself in the backstreets of Paris and the criminal underworld.
What she discovers will threaten the foundations of the congress.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited
Universal Link: mybook.to/ATurbulentPeace
Amazon UK: https://amz.run/5nFO
Amazon US: https://amz.run/5nFM
Amazon CA: https://amz.run/5nFS
Amazon AU: https://amz.run/5nFT
Meet the author
Paul lives in a village 30 miles north of London where he is a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a posh garden shed is regularly disrupted by children, a growing number of grandchildren and several dogs.
Paul writes historical fiction. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series – “State of Treason” and “A Necessary Killing”, were published in 2019. The third book, titled “The Queen’s Devil”, was published in the summer of 2020.
Travel forward a few hundred years from Tudor England to January 1919 in Paris and the setting for Paul’s latest book, “A Turbulent Peace”. The focus of the World is on the Peace Conference after WW1 armistice. Add a dash of Spanish Flu, the fallout from the Russian Revolution, and you have a background primed for intrigue as nations strive for territory, power and money.
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