an opportunity for fellow writers to have greater exposure,
this section of my website is reserved for those wishing to make a
written contribution to its pages.
Each month, a fresh third party will be given the chance to list here a submission of their choice, together with a suitable image for the piece of work. If you are interested send a message via the mailing address below, and we'll go from there.
Content will be scrutinised to ensure that it fits in with the rest of the site's tone and appearance, but every effort will be made to accomodate those wanting to take part.
Submission length is limited to no more than 5,000 words, and a suitable spellchecker should be used to remove errors beforehand. A personal photograph should also be included (no avatars please), together with a brief biography.
Mailing address is: [email protected]
Julius Falconer completed six
enjoyable years of university studies abroad before working as a translator
back in the UK.
Thinking that he could earn more
as a teacher, to fund his lavish life-style, he took a PGCE at Leeds University
and duly turned to teaching.
He slaved away at the chalk-face
for twenty-six long years in both Cornwall and Scotland before retiring to grow
cabbages in Yorkshire, where he still lives.
His beloved wife of thirty-three
years unfortunately died in 2000. He has one daughter, married. In
2009, looking to fill his new-found leisure profitably, he started to write detective novels and is still happily scribbling away seventeen books later.
From the top of the stairs, a little girl of five overhears an argument in the sitting-room below, between her father and a late-night visitor. Frightened and uncertain she dared not descend the staircase but sat trembling at the top, unable to return to bed. Her father is killed. She did not see the killer and cannot remember clearly the content of the conversation, but she remembers the killer’s voice.
Twenty years later she recognises the voice, identifies its owner and sets out to take her revenge. The first part of her plan succeeds, and her quarry goes to gaol for six months, but in putting into action the second part, she disappears. Her husband reports her missing, a search is instigated.
The police authorities in Worcester believe that Inspector Wickfield is the best man for the job, but he seems to do nothing but stumble from one blind alley to another. His investigation leads him and his sergeant, Spooner, to interview a businessman in Spain, a dotty clergyman, a cashiered army major, a gushing hypnotherapist, a horsey countrywoman and a seedy cabinetmaker, in an attempt to unravel the sequence of events – oh, and there is an important interlude in Scotland - but enlightenment comes only when Wickfield’s wife cracks a philosophical joke.
In this work of detective fiction, Julius Falconer delights his readers yet again with a deliciously teasing and ingenious plot, laced with comments on life, the universe and everything – and that, of course, includes revenge.
This is a story of murder. It is also a story of revenge. It tells of human weakness, deception and fallibility, of poor judgement and of wickedness; but its message – although it has not got one - is far from being straightforward condemnation. Its heroine – although she is not heroic – tries to avenge her father’s death because she sees no satisfactory alternative: there is no one else to do it. The question that this raises is whether her assessment is correct - or fatally flawed. In that sense, this tale is a parable: it asks author and readers where their judgement lies but does not itself propose an answer. The question is important: is evil punished? If so, by whom? and when? and, we must add also, how?
Prefaces are rather tedious, to some people’s way of thinking. Scott’s lengthy dissertations before he begins his novels, addressed to Dr Dryasdust or to Jedediah Cleishbotham, are prosy and irrelevant: let the novel begin! (Prosy and irrelevant like the novels themselves, I hear you say. No, no, that cannot be allowed to pass. Scott’s novels are an endless source of information and entertainment, many of them jostling for place in the top ranks of English literature – in my opinion). That is why these opening remarks are cunningly passed off as the book’s first chapter rather than as a preface; but of course the impatient reader is welcome to proceed speedily to chapter two, in which the first murder, which so to speak sets the ball rolling, is recounted! The reader who does so, however, will miss, ahem, important insights into the workings of Detective Inspector Wickfield’s mind.
On the question of revenge, the reader is likely to take one of three stances. The first stance is that, since there is no final tribunal in which right and wrong are judged, human justice must detect and punish as best it may. Humanity has devised many systems of justice, some less satisfactory than others, and it is rationally possible to hold that the perfect system has yet to be devised, but that, however inadequate, a system of justice worked on essentially rational lines is better than no system at all. It might be considered that this attitude labours under two major flaws. It is patently clear that many crimes remain undetected and unpunished: this seems rather a pity; and human justice is such that sometimes the guilty go free while the innocent are condemned (which, while being preferable to its contrary, is still very unsatisfactory). The second stance is that, formal forensic justice being so unsatisfactory, vide supra, the individual – or the clan – must himself or itself shoulder the responsibility of punishment. This justifies feuds and vendettas, reprisals and what the text-books are pleased to call occult compensation (which some casuists justify). This attitude might be thought to promote a system of retribution with the potential to spiral out of control, to perpetuate itself; and furthermore, there is no guarantee of justice, since the only justice practised is that set by the perpetrators. The third stance is likely to be adopted by religious believers the world over: only the Supreme Being – Brahman, Jahweh, God, Allah, The Name – can fairly administer justice. For example, the Jewish and Christian Bibles contain many injunctions to the effect that revenge can safely, and must, be left to God: justice is his prerogative. The Book of Proverbs solemnly intones: ‘Do not say, “I shall pay you back for this wrong”. Wait rather for the Lord!’ The drawback of this approach is that it requires a considerable level of faith in an afterlife, and many people of otherwise unimpeachable wisdom and learning lack it.
It will probably become apparent that the hero of this novel, Detective Inspector Stanley Wickfield, seeks to combine the first and third hypotheses outlined above. He is a product of his age, naturally, but he is endowed with enough education and intelligence to rise above narrow considerations of particular fact and to embrace wider issues of principle. He was born in 1921 into a middle-class family in the Midlands of England. His police career proceeded according to established pattern. He married, had two sons (neither of whom entered the police force). Successes came his way, achieved through a combination of perseverance, open-mindedness and intuition. He was popular with his peers and with his inferiors, because with him there was no side. He made mistakes, and the present narrative contains a gross example that nearly costs him the case. Above all, however, he is a thinking man, with an eye permanently trained on the cosmos.
He had given the matter of retribution some considerable thought. He was a believer, a practising Christian, and he therefore accepted biblical teaching as normative – if one could only find it in the many lengthy and contradictory documents contained in the Bible. When scholarly Christians disagreed amongst themselves, what hope was there for the layman? He accepted the general principle that God is the ultimate and sole, truly just avenger. Retribution takes place beyond death, after a scrupulous trial in which individuals are invited to give an account of their life and to advance any argument they choose to justify their acts, words and thoughts. However, if society left revenge entirely to God, human systems of fairness and balance collapsed: the law of the jungle prevailed, and Wickfield could not justify that on his understanding of human life and society. He therefore worked hard to bring criminals to justice, if only to get them off the streets and save further sufferers from falling victim to their wiles. In this he liked to think that he was at one with all his colleagues in the police force. The punishment of offenders was not, he thanked divine goodness, his responsibility, as that was a more complex and an altogether harder undertaking.
In this present account of a case that occupied him off and on for some months in the years 1970 and 1971, while he sympathised with the girl, he could not help feeling that there was an alternative to her strategy and that it would have saved a great deal of unhappiness. And so to our tale.
Imagine a substantial, detached house on the edge of an attractive Midlands town. It is the residence of a widowed businessman and his only daughter, a girl of five. Although his commercial premises – factory and offices - are in Worcester, the owner has chosen to live in the smaller town of Evesham (variously pronounced, as locals will tell you, Eve-shum, Ever-shum or Asum, and known affectionately to many as The Sham). The front-door leads into a spacious hall, with doors off to right, to left and ahead, and a flight of white-painted, carpeted stairs leading to the upper floor. The right-hand door leads into a sitting-room with a large bay-window at the front of the house, the left-hand door to a little-used dining-room. The two other doors lead respectively to a snug and the kitchen, both of which in turn give access to the garden. It is late evening, and the suburban world is dark except for the wan light shed by street-lamps. The owner of the house is entertaining a visitor in the sitting-room. His daughter has been in bed for several hours. It should be a typical scene of middle England: calm, civilised, time-hallowed; but it is not.