Classic Cashes In

I was stuck. In need of a plot. I had the title, Classic Cashes In, but car detective Jack Colby needed more than that to solve his sixth case. Cashes In? On what? Answer came there none.

Then Jim and I went down to see a friend in Bognor Regis, seen nearest the camera in the photo. Chatting to him, he revealed that in the late 1940s before joining the Royal Navy he had worked for two years as a bank clerk in Hull, where his father was manager at a different branch. Immediately ‘cashes in’ sprang to life. Old Packards sprang after it. Bank robberies followed on. And hey presto, Jack Colby was heading for another case. Classic Cashes In has just been published; Jack’s case, the murder of an enigmatic banking magnate Philip Moxton, is set in the present day, but the Packard he has asked Jack to find for him has an interesting history going way back. Banking in the 1930s and 1940s was far from the world of today, as were its security precautions.

I’ve just finished writing its successor, so once again I’m in need of a plot. Maybe I should set off to Bognor again ….Douglas at New Year

Auguste Didier Cooks Again

Victorian VillainiesAt the end of my last post Victorian Master Chef Auguste Didier was fighting 21st century car detective Jack Colby for my attention. Jack Colby won the battle but I can report that Auguste Didier has unexpectedly entered the fray once more. I was in search of an idea and impatient at my slow progress he seems to have got busy on his own account.

Firstly the editor of the wonderful Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Janet Hutchings, who has published quite a few of his short stories over the years asked me to guest blog for the EQ site on the subject of writing historical mystery stories – and in the course of the article Didier’s name naturally cropped up.

It then cropped up again in a big way when I heard the exciting news that nine of my novels featuring him are shortly to reappear as ebooks from Headline. In gratitude, Auguste has just planted the long sought idea for another short story in my mind. All I have to do is write it …

Not to be outdone, my other Victorian sleuth, chimney sweep Tom Wasp, decided to get in on the ebook action as well. A book of his short stories is published as an ebook by AudioGo under the title Victorian Villainies – and if you like to delve further back in time AudioGo have also ebooked Georgian Villainies – in which my short stories featuring the eighteenth-century parson, Caleb Pennywick appear. These also formerly appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I need another idea for him too. Back to Jack first and then …  

Classic Mistake Takes to the Road

Allington 7Yes, it’s spring (by the calendar anyway) and Jack Colby is taking to the road again – this time on his fourth case Classic Mistake, when he throws himself into hunting down the killer of his former wife’s Mexcian band-leader husband, Carlos. Jack is horrified when the tempestuous Eva rings him for help, not from Mexico but from the nearby River Medway in Kent where Carlos has been found murdered on the towpat. It’s normally a peaceful spot, but no spot is peaceful when Eva is around – especially as she is chief suspect. Luckily, she wasn’t around, except in my imagination,when Jim and I strolled along the towpath last year to the wonderful Malta Inn. There we sat and watched the baots go by, then crossed the nearby bridge to the far side of the river where we watched boats entering and leaving Allington Lock. We had come by Shanks’s pony, i.e. on foot, but Jack of course came by car to the lock in his mercy dash to help Eva. On returning to his Frogs Hill home, he is greeted by a beautiful blonde called Daisy, who demands that he finds her missing Morris Minor car, called Melody, which causes Jack almost as much trouble as Eva.

Now that Classic Mistake is published, the deadline for sending Jack’s next case, Classic in the Pits, to the publishers suddenly seems very close. In this case, Morris Minors have given way to a Porsche and a Morgan that cause problems for Jack, and it is due to be published later this year – provided I get on with the job …

…Trouble is, I’ve just had a good idea for a short story featuring Auguste Didier, and I’m wondering whether I dare divert from a twenty-first century car detective to a Victorian master chef with a knack for sleuthing … No, I can hear Jack indignantly calling me back to the plot.

And the Next Big Thing . . .

I was enjoying Dolores Gordon-Smith’s blog ( about the Next Big Thing in her life so much that I almost forgot I was next in line to pick up the baton in this cyber relay in which we interview ourselves with a set of questions describing what’s next in line for each of us on the writing front.  The Two Jacks – Dolores’ 1920s sleuth Jack Haldean and my 2013 car detective Jack Colby – will be followed by Lesley Cookman’s Libby Sarjeant.

But in the meantime, here’s Jack Colby, car detective:

What is the working title for your book?

My next big thing is very much my current thing. It’s the pits. Well, I tend to think that about every book while I’m writing it, but in this case it’s literally true. Classic in the Pits is not only the working title, but the title under which it’s been contracted. The Pits is the name that Jack Colby gives the converted barn in which his classic car business is carried out, but for this title it has a more metaphorical interpretation. Cars pull off the racing track to whizz into the Pits when something’s wrong – and in this novel quite a bit is wrong about a certain Porsche 356.

What genre does your book fall into?

Not sure that fall is the right word. Alas, far from falling off my computer Jack’s cases have to be coaxed word by word, agonised over, rejoiced over, raced against time …. All those. As for genre, they veer more towards the traditional crime mystery than the lean mean streets of the noir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?

Echoing Dolores’ sentiment, chance would be a fine thing! Seriously, though, I find the leap from fictitious characters to real life people too wide a gap to jump successfully. People often ask whether my characters are based on people I know, but I find it impossible to do that, although I do use the occasional real life trait in my characters. So, please Messes Coen, or Mr Spielberg, do feel free to pick whom you like. (Mind you, if Michael Douglas …)

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Classic in the Pits: Swoosh – a summer’s day event for classic cars and aeroplanes – ends with murder, and car detective Jack Colby, currently hunting for a missing Porsche, is right there to get involved in the labyrinthine quest to find a killer.

Will the book be self-published or represented by an agency?

As with most of my recent novels, Classic in the Pits will be published in the UK and US by Severn House Publishers, and will appear later this year. Its predecessor Classic Mistake, featuring a Morris Minor, is out at the end of March. I have a literary agent, and without her I doubt if my career would have existed except in my mind and on the scrapheap.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Jack Colby series was a joint venture with my classic car buff husband Jim, and he remains very committed to it. We set out to strike a balance to appeal to mainstream crime fiction fans but at the same time also to classic car lovers – in other words, not too much technical detail. We remembered Jonathan Gash’s splendid Lovejoy series with its antiques background, which achieves this balance perfectly.

What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?

The element of the husband and wife working together. Does it work? Yes, it does, but I think with every writing partnership one has to work out the way it will work. Ours has turned out like housework – each one has his own jobs. Jim helps me with the car information and is there as a punching bag if I have a plot problem. I write the novels and do most of the plotting. It’s amazing, however, that if one throws a problem around between two people something, somehow, will produce the answer even if obliquely.

And now for the next author in the series, Lesley Cookman

The baton is yours next, Lesley. So keep one eye on her blog at and the other eye out for her books if you don’t already know the splendid Libby Sarjeant.

Crime for Christmas

If you’re going to be anywhere near Alfriston in Sussex on Saturday 15 December, don’t miss the great event going on there. Under the auspices of Much Ado Books and the South Eastern chapter of the Crime Writers Association, there’s to be an all day programme of top rate crime authors talking about their work and crime writing generally. Peter Lovesey, Ellie Griffiths, Deryn Lake and Tom Bale are but four of them, not to mention the event’s organiser, historical crime novelist Patrick Easter. If you’re interested (and who wouldn’t be with this line-up) book a ticket quickly. It starts at 10.30 am and tickets cost £10 for all day entrance or £6 for the morning or afternoon sessions. It takes place in Alfriston High Street at the United Reform Church. For tickets apply to and for further information have a look at or www.patrickeaster.couk/christmas-crime-15th-december-2012 . Enjoy!

Up in the Clouds

'Trans-Siberian railway, Kent style'I’ve just sent the script of Jack Colby’s fourth case off to my publishers – with bated breath, crossed fingers, wobbly legs and the hope that they will like Classic Mistake. But that’s next year’s story.

Hot off the presses this autumn is Jack’s third case, Classic in the Clouds. The featured car in this novel goes way back to the early days of motoring – 1907 to be precise, the year of the original Peking to Paris rally (or race as it became). Those were the days. The French newspaper Le Matin launched the plan and five competitors left Peking on Monday, 10 June. Two immediately got lost, but luckily caught up with the other three. One broke down through the gruelling challenges that faced them and is no doubt still buried in the wilds of the Gobi Desert. Its driver returned to Peking. The other four battled on through floods, mountains, broken bridges, storms, and money and supply troubles, and two months later, on 10 August, Prince Scipione Borghese drove triumphantly into Paris in his Itala (now in a museum). Twenty days later, the other three arrived to equal welcome, a Spyker and two De Dion Boutons. The Spyker too is in a museum. And the two De Dions? Fate not known – but Jack Colby is hot on the trail of one of them rumoured to be in Kent. He’s commissioned to find it in time for a re-run of the Peking to Paris rally. The re-run however is in Kent, with Dover standing in for Peking and a location near Canterbury for Paris. In between the towns en route are temporarily taking the names of their Asian counterparts for the rally. Take a look at the photo – that’s the Trans-Siberian railway for the day – represented in the photo by a former railway track linking the Kentish town of Tenterden with Headcorn. In the opposite direction a steam railway manned by enthusiastic volunteers operates a service between Tenterden and the magnificent Bodiam Castle. That isn’t on Jack Colby’s route, but plenty of places are, all of them going Chinese for the day. All great fun – but Jack has a murder to solve and the De Dion is at the heart of it.

Calling all crime readers

If you like reading crime novels and you haven’t yet signed up for the Crime Readers Association ( then do so right away! It’s free, it has an online newsletter (Case Files), details of events, tips on writing … in short, you can get to know a lot about the crime writing world, both fiction and non-fiction. In the second issue of Case Files, due in the middle of May, my second Jack Colby novel, Classic Calls the Shots, is one of the novels featured. I’m in the middle of the fourth at present, and have just left Jack in a pretty nasty situation, from which I can’t at the moment see any way of extracting him. It’s nice therefore to look back a book or two. Time has a way of eradicating memories of such difficulties and Shots now seems as though it was plain sailing compared with Number 4. I suppose Jack will eventually escape in Number 4, but how?
The Crime Readers Association is run by the Crime Writers Association ( which had its annual conference recently. This year it was at Southampton, not long after the Titanic anniversary. The annual get-together is a meeting place for friends combined with interesting talks. This year they included Joan Lock talking about the bombs that freaked out the Victorian era, and one by two Marine police, who were introduced by marine mystery writer Pauline Rowson – seen in the photo with her husband Bob. I always return spurred up for the writing fray again on my return from such conferences, and this one was no exception. So how come I can’t sort Jack out in Number 4?

Calling the Shots

It’s an exciting time in the publishing world as talk of ebooks dominates the market, even though I’m sure that the printed word will co-exit with them happily once it’s settled down. Several of my titles are already in ebook form, including a collection of five of my short stories, That’s the Way He Did It. The first of my Jack Colby car detective series, written with the help of my classic car enthusiast husband Jim, is also available not only in audio but as an ebook, so look out for Classic in the Barn.

The second in the series, Classic Calls the Shots, is also now published – and audio rights have already been sold. Ebook coming shortly. Frogs Hill, where Jack Colby lives and where his classic car restoration work is carried out, is near Pluckley in Kent – a village reputed to be the most haunted in Kent. Some say the most haunted in England. I’ve never met any ghosts myself, and nor has Jack – yet. But it’s an idea for the future. Classic Calls the Shots is so-called because – guess what – Jack’s called in initially to investigate the theft of a rare Auburn sportscar from a film set. The studios are set several miles from Pluckley, just outside the village of Lenham. Pluckley itself has two good pubs, one of which is an old hunting lodge near the railway station called the Dering Arms seen in the photo. Its owner and chef Jim Buss is a classic car enthusiast, holding gatherings of owners and their cars each month. I have a special fondness for the pub for a personal reason. In her old age my mother would often recall a holiday she had spent with her parents and baby brother well before the First World War. It had begun at a railway station and she remembered as a young child herself walking down an endlessly long road to reach journey’s end, the cottage her parents had rented. She couldn’t remember the village’s name but after some detective work Jim and I discovered that it was Pluckley and were able to take her there to make the walk again. In the photo she is sitting resting after having made the walk over eighty years later.

A Jane Austen Mystery

When I worked in publishing one of the most rewarding aspects was that each new publication offered a chance of entering into a whole new field of knowledge or into another’s way of life – the firm I worked for, William Kimber, published memoirs, history and military titles (as well as ghost stories and some other fiction). While I was editing a book I often became a temporary ‘expert’ on the subject concerned.

Writing novels has offered me the same opportunities. Researching a subject for fiction brings great rewards, but is often frustrating because most of what one learns never reaches the printed page. But blogs offer the chance to share a little of that pleasure. My current Marsh & Daughter crime novel, Murder in Abbot’s Folly, although a contemporary novel has a puzzle about Jane Austen at its heart set in Kent where she often stayed, in particular with her brother Edward. There are several years ‘missing’ from her life story, as no letters have survived – probably due to their destruction by her family during the course of the nineteenth century. In these’ missing’ years she wrote several chapters of The Watsons, which she abandoned for reasons that are not known. It was also during this period that she received and accepted a proposal of marriage, which she promptly rejected the following day.  Various other snippets are known through the memories of third parties but her own voice as expressed in letters cannot be heard.  What a temptation for a novelist to consider what might have happened to her during that period.

I live reasonably close to the houses that Jane Austen knew best when she stayed  in Kent, although it is also likely she knew the Sevenoaks area well. It was Godmersham Park (see the photo above) where she stayed most frequently however, since her brother Edward lived there with his family. His wife was Elizabeth Bridges, daughter of the family who owned Goodnestone, which Jane also knew well. Both houses are still to be seen, although neither is regularly open to the public. The Goodnestone gardens are, however, and Jane would have known their glories much as they are today. Turning off the Ashford to Canterbury road into the lane that leads to Godmersham Park is like stepping into one of her novels. Little has changed in the views that she would have seen. The lane passes the Saxon church of St Lawrence the Martyr, where Jane Austen would have worshipped, and then skirts the high red brick wall of the Godmersham estate. A public footpath past the entrance to the house’s grounds leads into the fields from which a good view can be obtained of the house itself.  Inside the grounds there is a stone Temple, which would have been recently built when Jane Austen stayed at the house and where she must often have sat to admire the views (and perhaps scribble a line or two). Not far from Godmersham and perched on top of a hill is Chilham Castle, where Jane Austen enjoyed a ball in 1801 given by the Wildman family, and in the opposite direction she dined at Godinton House, a splendid Jacobean mansion (see the photo on the right), again with lovely gardens – and  both house and garden are open to the public.

And then there’s Lenham, whose vicar Edward is said to have proposed to Jane Austen. It came to nothing of course – but in later years she famously spoke of his wife as ‘a poor Honey – the sort of woman who gives me the idea of being determined never to be well’. Lenham’s vicarage is now divided into flats, but it’s still easy to imagine what it must have been like when Jane Austen ‘baited’ in Lenham, according to her letter to her sister Cassandra.

Peel off the layers – and the eighteenth century isn’t so very far away.