First off – what a great cover, and I am in full agreement with Josh’s opinion on what lies beneath!
So, everyone, tonight it’s a first at the Foxhole. I have the very great pleasure of hosting Dal Maclean, an exciting new author about to make her debut with Blind Eye Books. Dal’s novel, Bitter Legacy, releases tomorrow, and in this post you’ll find not only an excerpt from the book but a very unusual personal encounter with her main protagonist, and a great craft insight into how Dal created her vivid evocation of London, where her story plays out.
And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a giveaway! Just leave a comment – anything at all you’d like to say – here or on the Facebook link, to be in with a chance of winning one of three ebook copies of Bitter Legacy. Lucy Fur, who has finished hiding out in a barn (terrifying the living bejabbers out of us!!!) and returned to her duties, will pull three lucky winners out of her little hat on Friday.
I haven’t hosted an author here before. Two reasons – the first one purely practical. It’s not that I’ve been standoffish – just that, until recently, this small blog-space of mine hasn’t been sufficiently well known to offer authors any kind of useful platform! And I’m still not, like, Pirate Ninja Blog Queen of the Universe, but you, dear readers, helped me out a huge amount with the character-interview suggestions you gave me a few months back, and the Foxhole has been quite a lively little burrow since then.
The second, and far more important reason – Bitter Legacy is, quite simply, an outstanding book. I’ll be honest – I don’t read a lot in my own genre. I get terrible, paralysing cross-interference, so as a rule, it’s deep space or Victoriana for me. But once I’d dipped my toe into Dal’s prose, I found myself wading all the way in. This is an uncompromising new voice. Bitter Legacy is not a comfortable read, so don’t expect one. However, the book carries an emotional legitimacy and truth that will, I’m certain, carry you along with James’s story, and involve you as deeply as it did me.
Let’s start with the blurb, to get you oriented within James’s world…
“London… Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance. But when the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company. Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity. But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.”
Wow! That is quite some intro. And now let’s meet the man himself. I had the pleasure a little earlier, and a most intriguing conversation it was. I advise a cautious approach. James is feeling a little fraught…
James: Oh. Hi. Yeah. Is it okay if I just take a moment? Catch my breath a bit? Thanks. That’s very kind of you. You have a beautiful place here.
Harper: Thank you. Happy to offer you a little change of scene!
It’s nice to meet you. My name’s James. James Henderson.
Enchanted. Harper Fox at your service. Er… Are you feeling a bit under the weather, James?
No, I’m just… just a bit knackered. I had a bit of a hard night.
Out on the town?
Yeah, I went clubbing with my girlfriend and a few… friends and we ended up at a party. Some oligarch. Too much coke. Too much expensive booze. I’m just…
I’m just tired.
It looks like more than that. I remember London – it can be a tough gig.
Tiring, emotionally as well as work-wise and socially. The whirlwind of it all can bring you down.
You’re very… perceptive.
Yeah, I suppose I might be feeling a bit low. But it’s totally self indulgent of me. I mean…I have no right to be depressed. It’s probably the coke. I don’t do it much. It’s not worth the comedown.
Yeah, I can dig that. Fun times can extract high prices.
The thing is, I have everything – a fantastic flat, a brilliant car, a beautiful, sweet girlfriend, and my job’s challenging… God it’s challenging. I have a great future, if I keep my head.
Okay. But it’s not as simple as that, is it?
It’s just that… sometimes I can’t help thinking… it’s useless, you know? I have so much money, and I’m just making more and more. And what the fuck’s the point of that?
Well – nothing, not when it’s just you. But that’s not true, is it, James? You’ve got someone important in your life.
Yeah. She’s…my girlfriend’s…really great. Her name’s Ellie. She’s the daughter of my father’s business friend. So he’s pleased. For once. But, she’s… kind. That’s important you know? Not enough people are kind. She’s an actress. I mean, a female actor. You may have seen her in a few things.
I live in a bit of a cave out here, but I bet I have. You two are in pretty good shape, then?
Are we in love?
Not what I asked, but you know I’ve got to be interested in the answer to that.
Oh. Well. She loves me a lot. I think. She really does.
Have you ever felt… like a rat in a trap, Harper?
Well – I wanted to tell James that I had, but he left pretty abruptly at that point. He’s a man on a mission, and he has a hell of a lot on his plate, as you can probably see. I just had to step aside and let him back into the rushing white-water raft-ride of his story!
Which leads me to the excerpt. Hope you enjoy this tantalising slice of Bitter Legacy. Once you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll agree that Dal is a great scene-setter, so be sure to take a look at the short Q&A that follows!
The windows caught his attention as he pulled his car into a parking space, several yards along from No. 22 Selworth Gardens.
They were huge, multi-paned, Georgian, and James could tell that they would drench the space behind them in pure, bright light.
No. 22 proved to be part of a terrace, built of yellow-brown London brick. Like all its neighbors, it had three floors of windows, no basement and a painted, paneled door, surrounded by a whitewashed portico. And on the first floor, those amazing windows were decorated with finely wrought mock balconies made of iron, gazing across to the twee, pretty little Georgian houses, peering out from behind their privet hedges on the other side of the road.
This would be prime real estate. And, James knew, sadly unlikely to sport external CCTV cameras. They tended to sit on new apartment blocks and commercial buildings. But hell—no one could blame him for dreaming of finding incriminating footage of Maria arriving for afternoon liaisons with an obvious suspect, could they? He still hoped in his heart of hearts that it could be that easy.
James stretched carefully as he slammed the door of the car, a loud, obtrusive noise in the comparative quiet of the street. He felt surprisingly alert given he’d spent the night at the station, but he’d caught three hours of sleep on one of the office camp beds. It would never be a comfortable fit for his frame, but by four a.m. he’d have slept on a bed of nails. He’d even managed to fit in a shower and a shave before setting off here.
On the whole, he’d done considerably better than Scrivenor, who’d resembled an exploded mattress when James left the office. On the whole, he thought, he’d best make an emergency visit to Costa for a takeout, before he got back to the station.
He stretched again as he walked along the pavement until he reached the pale-grey front door of No. 22. A brass plate was fixed to the brickwork with three buttons, placed vertically very close together, and an intercom. There was every likelihood that no one would be in at this time of day, but then again, maybe some of the residents were too rich to need to work. James started, methodically, at the bottom. The name beside the button read Nicholas.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he fumbled for it as he pressed the door button blindly.
He glanced at the screen and sighed. He’d set an alarm a couple of days before, to remind him of his viewing appointment at the Earls Court flat, in half an hour. He’d already phoned that morning to cancel, but the guy had sounded unconcerned; he thought he’d found someone anyway. It didn’t ease James’s restless conviction, though, that he’d missed out on something good.
Beside him, the intercom crackled into life.
“Okay. You’re really early, I’m afraid.” An attractive, cultured male voice, which managed to sound, somehow, both friendly and politely accusing. “I’ll let you in, but the guy before you’s still here. Can you just come up and wait in the hallway? First floor.”
James blinked at the brass plate for a confused second. First floor. He’d pressed the wrong bell. But as he opened his mouth to identify himself, the intercom shut off with a loud buzz.
He frowned and pushed the heavy door, which opened at once into a well-decorated, artificially lit hall. A flat door stood to his left, and fresh white paint covered all the woodwork and walls. None of the communal hall smells he’d become used to were in evidence—no stale smoke or urine, and definitely no cabbage. Instead, the place smelled of expensive polish and new carpet. There was no room for a concierge and, as he expected, no CCTV. Obviously, it had once been an old house, converted into flats.
He eyed the door beside him, the one he’d meant to start off with, and deliberated taking his opportunity now and knocking. But the man on the first floor would be expecting him.
His feet made no sound on the bouncy thickness of the dark-blue carpet.
The door on the left at the top of the first flight of stairs appeared identical to the one on the ground floor—paneled and freshly glossed white. But though James knocked on it, ignoring the intercom-man’s instructions, and though he definitely heard voices behind it, it remained stubbornly closed. He knocked again. The door didn’t open. The man had meant what he said.
James had no real reason to feel as pissed off as he did. The man inside couldn’t know he was a detective investigating a murder. He wasn’t purposely disrespecting the police. Yet, as James lurked, frustrated, in the plush hallway, stealing irritated glances at his watch, he found himself almost deliberately pushing himself to conclusions.
The visitor in there had an appointment. And the man who’d answered had said there’d be another right after James.
So. What kind of men were most likely to have serial “appointments” at expensive residential addresses? High-end hookers.
He glowered at the pristine door, copper’s imagination running with it. Fuck—the last thing he needed was a vice collar right now, but he couldn’t exactly ignore a high-class prostitute operating under his nose.
Or maybe—he could. He really didn’t have time for this.
He frowned fiercely, slumped against the opposite wall. Then, without warning, the door to the flat opened with a shocking blaze of light, and a man slipped out into the hall.
James, as he straightened, could hardly fail to notice the guy was flamboyantly good looking—all extravagant cheekbones and pouty lips, like a catwalk model—and to all appearances, extremely pleased with himself. As he strutted past, he gave James a quick once-over and a knowing smirk, then he trotted down the stairs and out of sight.
James stared after him. He didn’t look like the kind of man who paid for it, but, if police-work had taught him anything, it’d be that people rarely obliged by fitting their stereotypes. Whatever the guy had been there for, he’d emerged appearing very satisfied indeed. James’s suspicions solidified.
“Sorry about that, mate. Overran a bit.”
James snapped his head back to stare at the figure now standing in the open doorway of the flat, assessing him in turn.
The man was startling. Caucasian, round about James’s height, but with a more slender build and thick, dark, shoulder-length hair in silky, loose curls. He had a fine bone structure, straight black brows and large, dark eyes whose color James couldn’t determine in the dimness of the hall. If the guy fucked for money, James thought in those first moments, he could fully understand how he could afford to live in Selworth Gardens.
Suddenly James felt very aware that, while he was wearing a very nice Paul Smith suit from his old life, it needed a good pressing. And after only three hours’ sleep, he could do with the equivalent himself.
The man smiled brilliantly, which rendered him even more startlingly attractive.
James found himself fighting not to blush. It was his fatal emotional tell and he hated it—a lifetime of self-discipline, and he still colored up like an adolescent.
“Hey,” the man said. “Come in.”
Great stuff, Dal! One of the things I admired most about Bitter Legacy was your evocation of background, a real tangy taste of realistic London life. Could you take a moment to tell us how you, as an author, set about that amazing piece of scene-setting? I think both readers and fellow authors would love to know.
Dal: Thanks so much,H! I’m glad you felt the feel of London came through! I worked there for a while (and truly loved it) so I got to know it a bit, but I think having lived abroad too, you realize what an iconic city it is. There are things about it that are like …cultural shorthand? Certainly for anyone interested in crime – there are these famous places I got to use in the plot, like New Scotland Yard and The Old Bailey. It can be a place of extremes too. There’s the opulence and almost chilly elegance of places like Knightsbridge and South Kensington and then just a short drive away, there’s the multi-cultural vibrancy (and often deprivation) of areas like Brent. It’s a gift to use as a setting for a book to be honest. The scenes set themselves!
Well, I think there was a hell of a lot of hard work and talent involved too, but whatever you say, lady. 😀
Thanks, everyone, for visiting the blog tonight! I’m certain you’ll join me in wishing Dal the very, very best with Bitter Legacy. Good luck with the giveaway, and here is the buy link for this excellent debut novel!