1937. Lord Benyon is on board the Queen Mary, bound for New York, where his mission is to persuade President Roosevelt to supply Britain with arms and money, if it comes to war with Germany. Those who want him to fail will stop at nothing to prevent him from reaching an agreement with the American President. So, when Lord Benyon refuses police protection, Special Branch enlists the help of Lord Edward Corinth: he is to board the ship and keep an unofficial eye on Benyon.
Verity Browne is aboard the Queen Mary too, going to America on behalf of the Communist Party to liaise with sympathisers to their cause. There is indeed a murder on board, but not that of Lord Benyon: the victim is a right-wing Senator from North Carolina. The obvious suspect would be Warren Fairley, an African-American singer, actor, and communist. But the Senator has enraged many of his fellow passengers, such as Sam Forrest, the union organiser with whom Verity is so taken...
Praise for David Roberts:
'The plot is both intricate and enthralling, like Poirot on the high seas, and lovingly recorded by an author with a meticulous eye and huge sense of fun' Michael Dobbs, author of Winston's War
'A classic murder mystery [...] and a most engaging pair of amateur sleuths' Charles Osborne, author of The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie
'A perfect example of golden-age mystery traditions with the cobwebs swept away' Guardian
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By DAVID ROBERTS
Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
'Damn and blast it! Oh sorry, Connie, but, hang it all, just look
It was late February and London was cold, wet and miserable.
After the warmth and colour of the auditorium, Bow
Street seemed distinctly uninviting. Peering out through the
rain from the portico of the Opera House, Lord Edward Corinth
wondered how he would ever locate the Rolls. He grasped his
companion by the arm and said, 'I don't think Page will find
us in this melee. Perhaps I ought to go and explore.'
As he finished speaking, however, the Duchess pointed.
'Look! Over there, Ned. There he is.'
Somehow, the chauffeur had found his way to the front of
the queue of taxis and cars, and Edward, relieved and admiring,
wondered if he had had to resort to bribery or if it was
sheer force of personality. Page approached them holding a
large umbrella open above him. Edward gratefully released his
sister-in-law into his charge and prepared to follow but a tap
on the shoulder arrested him.
'Lord Edward - it is you, isn't it?'
The man who addressed him was small, narrow in the
shoulders and altogether unprepossessing. His fraility was
emphasized by his bald head, wispy ginger moustache and
weakblue eyes which nevertheless glowed brightly from
behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He had raised his black silk
hat to greet Edward and now replaced it.
'Lord Benyon, how are you?' Edward responded, with genuine
warmth. Benyon might resemble an undernourished bank
clerk from one of the novels of H.G. Wells but he was, in fact,
a distinguished economist and one of the Chancellor of the
Exchequer's trusted advisers. It was not a total surprise to see
him at Covent Garden because Edward knew he was a close
friend of Sir Thomas Beecham, the director of the Opera House.
'That was my sister-in-law you saw being escorted to the
car. May we give you a lift or have you a car of your own?'
'That's very good of you, Lord Edward,' said the little man.
'If it's not taking you too much out of your way, I confess we
would be very glad of a lift. I don't fancy my chances of finding
a taxi in this weather. I live in Gerald Road. Do you know it?
Almost next to the police station.'
'Of course. Noel Coward lives in Gerald Road, doesn't he? I
went to a party there once, with a friend of mine who was
rather a good singer.'
'Yes, indeed. Not that, I'm afraid, we see anything of him.
He moves in much more glamorous circles. Oh, forgive me,
may I introduce my sister, Mrs Garton?'
Edward raised his hat to a lady so tightly wrapped in her
cloak he could only see a pair of blue eyes above a rather
pleasant smile, and then looked anxiously after Connie. 'Very
good. Let us sally forth. I don't know how long Page can
defend his position from the mob.'
A girl in a threadbare dress and a rain-sodden hat thrust a
bunch of violets at him. Irritated by this new delay, he moved
his arm to brush her aside and was immediately ashamed.
How could his minor inconvenience compare with what this
girl had to endure? He fished in his trouser pocket and came
up with a half-crown which he pressed in the girl's hand. Her
gratitude made him even more embarrassed and he saw Benyon
'As my friend, Verity Browne, would say, these girls don't
need charity. They need education and a proper job,' he said
They elbowed their way through the crowd which continued
to stream out of the Opera House. They ducked and dodged as
umbrellas were opened all about them, spokes prodding spitefully.
Water dribbled off black brollies on to shawls and capes,
down necks, ruining top hats and making patent-leather shoes
glisten. Women, clutching their evening bags in one hand and
holding their long dresses clear of the wet pavement with the
other, protested in shrill squeals. The scent of rotting vegetables
from the market made Edward momentarily nauseous.
When they reached the sanctuary of the Rolls, Connie was
already ensconced in the back but made no objection to taking
Benyon and his sister home. Connie had not met him before
but they had many friends in common and were soon at ease
with one another. Edward relaxed and, as the car turned into
the Strand, prepared to devote himself to Mrs Garton.
'What did you think of the opera?' he asked her. 'Wasn't
Erna Berger a magnificent Queen of the Night?'
'It was heaven. The Magic Flute is a favourite of mine, Lord
Edward, and Erna Berger ... how could anyone sing with such
purity of tone? I really can't find the right words without
resorting to cliche. And Tiana Lemnitz ... her Pamina! I believe
we were privileged to hear it.'
Edward said, rather michievously, 'So what do you think it's
all about? I mean, not that absurd Masonic abracadabra stuff.
What's it really about?'
'Human cruelty,' she replied rather surprisingly. 'Beneath all
that heavenly music, there is the story of harsh and unjustified
punishment. It's hardly surprising Pamina tries to kill herself.'
Benyon, seeing Edward was rather taken aback by the seriousness
of his sister's remarks, said, 'Well, we must enjoy it
while we can. It may not be a privilege we will have again, to
listen to such singing. Sir Thomas was saying to me the other
day that he was literally bankrupting himself putting on what
the press are calling a Coronation Season. Unless he can find
money from somewhere, it will have to be his last.'
'Oh, but that's terrible!' Connie exclaimed. 'We can't let
Covent Garden close. Can't the government do something?
Surely, London must have an opera house. If the Italians can
fund La Scala and that's not even in Rome ...'
'Maybe, but the government puts guns before music.'
'Some would say about time too,' Edward put in drily.
'Well, I wouldn't,' Connie said stoutly. 'My son, Frank, told
me Sir Thomas had been at Eton not long ago and it had been
a revelation. Let me see, what was it they played? I remember,
Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. Frank said it was
better than the record he has of Toscanini. Of course music is
more important than guns, Ned.' She shivered. 'Though I'm
not saying we don't need guns, more's the pity.'
There was a silence and then Edward said, with an effort, 'I
was very sad to hear about Inna. I would so much have liked
to come to the funeral but unfortunately we were out of the
country ... Verity and I. Your wife was a very remarkable
woman, if you will allow me to say so. I don't know exactly
what it was she said to Verity but it had a great effect on her.
She had some sort of block writing her book on Spain but Inna
showed her how to overcome it. I honestly believe she is the
only woman Verity admired unreservedly.'
'That's very good of you,' Benyon said, visibly moved. 'It
was a great blow to me, though of course we knew the cancer
wouldn't ... give her very long. Perhaps you think it wrong of
me to be at the opera within two months of her death but ...'
Mrs Garton leant over and took his hand, 'when she was dying,
she begged me to go on doing what she knew I had to do to
keep sane - music, going to all my ridiculous meetings and
committees. She knew that if I stopped and ... gave way, I
would never be able to survive. Inna was my life, Lord Edward,
but I feel her with me now, by my side ...' He made an effort
to pull himself together. 'Forgive me for talking this way. It
must be Mozart. He sometimes has that effect on me. Now, tell
me, you were in Spain over Christmas, were you not? I read
something about it in the paper.'
'Yes,' the Duchess interjected. 'Frank gave us all a fright by
running away from school to join the International Brigade.'
'And Verity and I went to Spain to fetch him back,' Edward
said grimly. 'We caught up with him on Christmas Day just
outside Madrid. He was manning a machine-gun, would you
believe?' He could hardly keep the admiration out of his voice.
'Anyway, we dragged him back by the scruff of his neck and
he hasn't stopped complaining since. He's resolutely refused to
go back to school so, at the moment, he's sitting at home in a
deep sulk while we try to think what we are going to do with
'I see,' Benyon said meditatively. 'Look, what are you doing
at lunch tomorrow? I have a ghost of an idea but I need to mull
it over and talk to someone first to see if it's practical.'
'That's very good of you,' Connie said. 'Of course you're free
tomorrow, aren't you, Ned?'
A little nettled at being taken for granted, Edward had to
agree. The car drew up in Gerald Road, a narrow street of
substantial houses with a small police station at one end
endearingly decorated with window boxes. When Page opened
the car door for them, Benyon said, 'Please don't get out, Lord
Edward. The Athenaeum at one o'clock? Excellent!' Turning to
Connie, he added, 'Thank you so much for the lift, Duchess. I
must tell you, my wife thought very well of Lord Edward and
my dear Inna was a shrewd judge of character.'
The Athenaeum, in Pall Mall, was just a five-minute walk from
Brooks's, Edward's club in St James's Street, but in atmosphere
it was a world away. Brooks's had its share of members who
slept the days away in the deep, leather armchairs but these
were by no means the majority. Members of Brooks's were, for
the most part, aristocrats, diplomats and politicians - Tories to
a man, despite the club's Whig origins. At the Athenaeum,
Edward anticipated bumping into bishops, judges and senior
civil servants. The thought did not excite him. As he entered
the atrium with its sweeping staircase leading to the great
rooms on the first and second floors, he was as usual put in
mind of a cathedral and he could not prevent himself grinning
when the first person he saw, after he had given his name to
the porter, was the Bishop of Worthing, Cecil Haycraft, whom
he had met at Mersham Castle.
'Lord Edward! I didn't know you were a member, but
how nice to see you. How is your brother, the Duke? I heard
that he made a very good speech in the Lords on the Education
'Thank you. He is well but, as to my being a member here, I
have to disappoint you. I am just a guest.' He decided to tease
the Bishop who rather prided himself on being modern and
unstuffy. 'I am surprised that you are a member. Isn't it a little
... old-fashioned for a man of your advanced views?'
The Bishop blushed and Edward repented his impertinence.
'I'm just joking - forgive me.'
The Bishop's face cleared. 'Of course, and you, Lord Edward,
how are you and how is that delightful friend of yours, Miss
There was the very slightest sting in the inquiry. Verity
Browne was everything the Athenaeum feared and despised.
She was a woman and, if that was not bad enough, she was a
Communist and, worst of all, a journalist. And yet, for some
reason which he could not quite define, Edward found more
satisfaction in her company than in that of any of the women
in his social circle. The society women he met at dinners and at
balls - though, as a matter of fact, he no longer went to balls - bored
Verity did not bore him. She was elusive. She was infuriating.
She liked to make fun of his preconceptions and prejudices.
She accused him of belonging to a class which history had
decided to consign to the dustbin and she was consistently
disparaging of his efforts to be a chevalier sans peur et sans
reproche. Despite all of this - and to his friends' amusement and
puzzlement - he found himself completely in her thrall. Perhaps
it was that she did not toady to him, the son of a duke, as
so many of the women in his set appeared to do. Perhaps it
was because she forced him see the world from a different
perspective, or perhaps it was just something 'chemical', as the
modish phrase had it. On several occasions he had been on the
point of proposing marriage to her but for one reason or
another he had never got the words out. He knew she was
more than likely to say no, so there was some relief in not
having forced the issue.
Verity was aware of Edward's feelings for her - how could
she not be? - and sometimes thought she reciprocated them.
She certainly liked and admired him. His courage, his intelligence,
his enterprise and - there was no getting away from it - his
social position made him attractive and she had come to
depend on him in moments of crisis. If only he would be
satisfied to be her lover. It wasn't just that, as a committed
Communist, it was against all her principles to marry into the
aristocracy. If she decided she wanted to do something perverse,
she would not be put off by the derision of her comrades
in the Party. No, she genuinely felt she was unsuited to
marriage. Her strongest emotions were political rather than
personal, or that was what she told herself. She was a foreign
correspondent - a demanding and occasionally dangerous job
which she had been told often enough was man's work. And
there was war everywhere, in Spain and soon throughout
Europe. A great battle with Fascism was looming and she was
determined to be part of it. For the forseeable future, there was
going to be no chance that she could be fulfilled by building a
cosy nest for her man and bringing his babies into the world.
She did not like babies or anything which restricted her movements.
She was ready to accept she was selfish but at least she
wasn't cruel enough to marry a man and lead him a dog's life.
If there was one thing upon which she prided herself it was
'Verity is well. She has just completed a book on the war in
Spain, for the Left Book Club. I am sure you are a subscriber.'
The Bishop was not sure if he were again being teased and
finally decided he was. 'I am indeed a subscriber. You have me
in your power, Lord Edward. If it came to the notice of the club
secretary, I would probably be drummed out.'
He smiled and Edward liked him for it. Further discussion
was cut short by the appearance of Lord Benyon on the
staircase above them.
'I thought it might be easier to talk confidentially in one of the
card rooms and then have lunch, if that's all right with you.'
Benyon ushered him into a small room redolent of cigars.
Two card tables, covered in green felt, stood abandoned in one
corner and on a horsehair sofa opposite sat Major Ferguson.
'I gather you two know each other,' Benyon said.
Edward nodded and took Ferguson's outstretched hand. He
had met the Major a few weeks previously and knew him to be
one of those shadowy policemen whose authority was not to
be questioned and whose sphere of operations was wide but
amorphous. Special Branch had been set up during the Fenian
troubles of the 1880s but was now responsible for state security
which, according to Verity, in practice meant harassing the
Communist Party while tacitly approving Sir Oswald Mosley's
activities. Edward had no idea if this was true or merely leftwing
Major Ferguson was not physically impressive.
Excerpted from Dangerous Sea
by DAVID ROBERTS
Copyright © 2003
by David Roberts .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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