April 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
books monthly
Continues in this issue: The Four Marys...


Contents: The Front Page | Fiction | Fantasy & Science Fiction | Children's | Nonfiction | Nostalgia | The Silent Three | The Four Marys
Growing Up in the 1950s | Pen and Sword Books | Living with Skipper | Acker Bilk Album Sleeve Notes | The Back Page | Email

The Four Marys Part 1
The Four Marys Part 2
The Four Marys Part 3
The Four Marys Part 4
The Four Marys Part 5
The Four Marys Part 6
The Four Marys Part 7
The Four Marys Part 8

The Four Marys - A Murder Mystery

By Paul Norman

Part Five (You can access the other parts from the main menu).

Chapter Eight


Martha watched the tall young policeman, currently in plain clothes, of course, walk away down Tamar Road, knowing he was on his way home to Boverton Drive, where the posh houses were. She knew very little else about him, except for what he had told her tonight and earlier, at the hospital, which was not that much. He was easy on the eye, certainly, and the fact he was a good eight inches taller than her was not lost on her, although she’d had no problem reaching up to kiss him before dismissing him for the night. It had been the right thing to do, she reflected. She was tempted to pour herself a second whisky, but instead she turned on the radio and tuned in to the Third Programme, hoping to hear a decent classical music concert. Music and reading were her passions, and she often sat up well into the night, well after the station closed down, engrossed in whatever book she was currently reading. She was a member of and a frequent visitor to the central library in Southgate, which was well-stocked, and she rarely left without something to read. As well as Mazo De La Roche, she was always up for an Agatha Christie, or a Jean Plaidy, whom she found extremely educational in the matter of history, as well as being very readable, and she was even not averse to some of the romantic novels, particularly those involving a hospital setting, which she found quite hilarious, with their exaggerated characters and unlikely romantic scenarios between top-flight surgeons and young, pretty nurses.

She never missed an episode of Emergency Ward Ten and loved watching it in the company of Aunt Joyce, who honestly believed that hospital was like that in real life. Aunt Joyce had, of course, been suitably shocked by the inter-racial kiss between surgeon Louise Mahler and Doctor Giles Farmer. How the writers had kept straight faces when they created a character called “Giles Farmer” in what was, essentially, a medical programme was beyond her and always brought a smile to her lips.

When she had applied to become a trainee nurse, it had occurred to her that it was quite on the cards she might meet someone at the hospital, a surgeon, a registrar, a junior doctor, or even a male nurse or a porter, but so far no eligible bachelors that were in any way attractive to her had materialised. There were plenty of married doctors and surgeons, but whilst she may have been a wild child when it came to the demon drink, Martha had no intention ever of coming between a man and his wife. She realised with some alarm that she had not asked Mike Thompson if he was married or even in a relationship. Well, never mind. She was really attracted to him, but if it turned out that he was not available because of a prior relationship, she would move on. Her main, driving ambition was to meet and fall in love with a handsome, decent, unattached man, to get married, and to raise a family. After all, wasn’t that what most young girls wanted nowadays? Same as it had always been, really. When the children were off to school she could return to nursing, and besides, she wasn’t quite ready to settle down just yet. She wasn’t interested in sleeping around, although with a few drinks inside her, she had quite often been tempted to do just that, and had come really close a couple of times, indulging in some heavy petting and so on, but finding an excuse, sometimes one involving the booze, to withdraw and make her way home, sometimes to Tamar Road, sometimes via the police station. On three occasions in the last twelve months alone, she had drunk herself into oblivion, only to be picked up by the police and carted off to the nick. She had something of a reputation, a reputation that could quite easily follow her to her place of work, but, luckily for her and her career, that had not yet happened.

Remembering her last year at school, she realised how close she had come to making love with one of the boys from the nearby boarding school, and smiled to herself. Organising the “service” for the local boys had been a distraction that had occurred to her shortly after another of those days when girls’ parents turned up at the school for some function or other, and because of the consequences of her adopted parents’ last attendance she had asked them not to come, and had shut herself away in her dormitory whilst her friends’ parents came. She had recently finished reading Rosalind Erskine’s sparkling story, The Passion Flower Hotel, and owned the Pan Books edition with the superb picture of Sarah Callendar winking saucily, and took her inspiration from it to rock the foundations of the school she attended. She had mused on the unfairness of having been abandoned whilst just a baby, and the twin floodgates of self-pity and fury had manifested themselves in a plan to make them pay, a plan that involved scandal and a real risk to the family name of Cottingholme-Cole. Even though she went by the name of Martha Baker at school, there was little doubt that, had the story come out about the mass prostitution of the Badminton girls, the newspapers would find out who she really was, and that was part of the thrill of it all, the possibility of paying them back for what they had done to her.

But the plan had been discovered and thwarted at the last moment, with the boys just half a mile away on their bikes, by a well-meaning prefect who had at first intended joining in, but as the time approached for the girls to start delivering on the tariff Martha had drawn up, the prefect had chickened out and roused the staff. Martha’s interview with the headteacher had been short and not-so-sweet, and she had been on the train home to Gloucester within the hour. Getting a job in the mid-1960s had not been particularly easy with a reputation like Martha’s, but a kindly head teacher who had sympathised with her had given her a reference of sorts, and her exam results were sufficient, combined with the reference, to secure her a job as a trainee nurse at the hospital. Her brother Barney Cole’s arrival this evening dragged all of these memories and intense feelings of resentment back to the surface. The anger got the better of her.

She tried to resist it, to drive it to the back of her mind, where the rest of the painful memories resided. With her gramophone recording of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, in her opinion far and away the most romantic piece ever composed, playing quietly in the background, she tried to get into her book, the Pan Giant edition of Young Renny, with its spectacularly romantic picture of Renny Whiteoak half-heartedly fighting off a beautiful gypsy-looking woman with black hair. In it young Renny was affronted by his friend Maurice Vaughan’s infidelity towards Renny’s sister, while he himself chose to have sex with this wild, abandoned-looking creature, and his hypocrisy was not lost on her. But the words failed to penetrate properly and the music, which had moved on to a beautiful rendering of Chopin’s first piano concerto, was just in the background. Her mind was teeming with the excitement and perhaps a touch of resentment that her family, the family who had abandoned her when she was newly born, had finally tracked her down. She had known that it was always going to be on the cards, but she hadn’t had to think about it for years, and now, here they were, within touching distance of her.

Barney, her older brother, seemed nice enough, someone she might like to get to know in time, but she doubted she was ready just yet, and in any case, she knew only too well that it was just a matter of time before he tried to persuade her to “come home and meet her real Mum and Dad”- she could almost hear him saying it. Abruptly, she went to the sideboard and took out the bottle of whisky, and poured herself another glass. It belonged to her dad, Edwin, but it was a common enough brand, and she would replace it tomorrow from the off licence in the city, on her way home for work. Aunt Joyce never looked in the sideboard, at least, not into that side of the sideboard, because she was teetotal, she abhorred alcohol, whisky especially. She went to the local Methodist Church every Sunday, twice, and any occasion that presented itself mid-week as well. Martha could easily slip into the off-licence and pick up another bottle, and obviously the opportunity to start on it would not present itself whilst she was at work. When Edwin Baker came home from Aberdeen in a few weeks’ time, there would be a full bottle of his favourite whisky in the sideboard, just as there had been when he had gone away.

Whisky was not her favourite tipple, that was brandy. At least it was not gin, which her Aunt called “Mother’s ruin”. Joyce never lectured Martha about the evils of alcohol, even though she was well aware of Martha’s drinking habits, and was always on hand to welcome her home after a night in the cells. Joyce was her aunt, not her mother, not even her stepmother, and she did not interfere in Martha’s life in any way whatsoever. She only observed, and frowned on the young girl’s actions, but never judged her. She offered advice if she was called upon to do so, but Martha was an independent young girl with a mind of her own. If she chose to drink hard liquor, that was her choice. Instead, Joyce would leave leaflets from Alcoholics Anonymous and magazine articles about movie stars with drinking problems lying around the house in the hope that Martha would see and read them, and realise the terrible path she was following. Martha ignored them.

She was desperately unhappy to think that her brother, Barney Cole, had tracked her down so easily. True, it was almost eighteen years ago that she had been abandoned, but it seemed to her that she had just attained adulthood and there they were, her original family, on the periphery of her life, just waiting for the opportunity to muscle in and take her over. It was as though now she had come of age, they were there, waiting to pounce, and it made her feel very angry indeed.

Martha drained the whisky and poured herself another, and then another. Pretty soon, it was midnight. She laid her head against the back of the chair, closed her eyes, and drifted into a troubled sleep. That was how her aunt Joyce found her in the morning, head back, mouth open, dribbling, snoring loudly. Half an hour later she was washed, dressed in her nurse’s uniform and ready to walk down to Ermin Street to catch the bus as though nothing had happened last night. All she felt was slightly nauseous, and she had the faint beginnings of a small but tedious headache as she crossed the city and walked into the hospital.

Chapter Nine


The village of Churchdown, to the north of Brockworth, boasts no less than three fine parish churches, and two village centres. Surrounded on three sides by open countryside, it is considered by many to be a suburb of the city of Gloucester, but remains sufficiently rural to be considered a village. On The Green stands the house where Beatrix Potter stayed in 1901, and which led to her story The Tailor of Gloucester. There are many fine buildings of architectural note, far more than its nearest neighbour, Brockworth, and the views from Churchdown Hill are particularly inspiring, with views across the Severn Vale and to the Cotswolds. There are a limited number of council houses, a few being in Cordingley Close.

In one of these council houses, which she shared with Jenny Rogerson, Mary Fielding sat on the bed in Jenny’s room and took off her bright red shoes to massage her toes. Stupid mare, wearing high heels, knowing she’d be suffering with her corns come morning. She chided herself, wincing with the agony. The clock on the bedside cabinet said 3:05am. The window was slightly open, allowing a gentle cool breeze in, a welcome relief after the sweltering heat of the past few days. She undressed, taking off everything she was wearing, including her underwear, and put on a flower-patterned housecoat. She bundled up her clothes, which smelt of stale sweat and alcohol, and stuffed them into the linen basket by the door. Then she found a pair of flipflops in Jenny’s wardrobe and looked down at James, her little boy, who was sleeping in Jenny’s bed. Jenny was downstairs, still partying like there was no tomorrow, and would probably crash out on the sofa in the lounge. John… where was John? God, she was so pissed. She couldn’t even remember where John was. Oh, yes, that was right, she’d sent him home with one of his migraines. She started to brush her hair, and then realised she hadn’t cleaned her teeth, and fished in her bag for the emergency brush and toothpaste she always carried with her, and got up off the bed intending to walk through to bathroom. And then her eyes widened as the bedroom window was lifted up, and a man was climbing through, and then he was in the room, standing in front of her. He was holding a piece of stone, as large as his fist. Somewhere in the echoes of her mind, she thought she recognised him from way back, though she couldn’t place his name, only the face. In this she was entirely wrong, she had never met him at all, and she was only known to him by association, the nature of which would never have occurred to her in a million years.

Mary opened her mouth to scream but the soft whup of the stone on the side of her head stopped her dead in her tracks and she felt her legs start to collapse. She felt them give way, her bowels loosened, and then her bladder, and then she was falling, falling down, dead, with blood coursing down her face and her chest and little James was waking up… And she remembered him, as she died, and reached out towards him, and then she was gone, forever, and the man was gone, climbing out of the window and fleeing down the drainpipe the way he had come in. It was all over in a matter of seconds, and Mary Fielding was no more.


Martha Baker was waiting for Mike outside the entrance to the hospital. He’d driven to the city today in his Morris 8 Tourer. It was open to the elements when he set off, but he’d taken the precaution of stopping in Hucclecote and pulling the black canvas top over because there was rain forecast for later in the day. He supposed he would have to park the car in the Police station car park after the post mortem, and he wasn’t looking forward to it, because of the ragging he would receive at the hands of the other bobbies and probably Sergeant Wilson as well, but he’d been delayed at the police house in Boverton Drive by a youngster, a little eight-year-old girl by the name of Penny who had mislaid her dog. Together they had searched the little green space that led to Boverton Avenue, and they had found the little dog, a mongrel by the name of Rosie, cowering under some bushes. She had evidently been chasing a rabbit but had fallen foul of a cat very nearly as big as herself, and it took a little coaxing from Mike to bring her out to be reunited with Penny. She gave him a grateful smile and he congratulated her on having the common sense to knock at the police house for help. Now she could return home with her doggie, have her breakfast and still be at school on time without having to tell her parents she had momentarily lost the dog, an admission that might have got her into trouble. But the incident had made Mike slightly late, and whereas he had been planning on catching the bus to Gloucester, he had had to turn the starting handle on Jasmine and use her to get him to his first appointment of the day.

Martha stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. She was immaculately dressed in her nurse’s uniform, which was freshly pressed. She still appeared not be wearing any make-up. He was no expert, but there was no sign of anything that he could see. She caught him staring at her, and smiled.

I’m allergic to just about everything,’ she said, apparently reading his mind. ‘Come on, I’ll show you the way to the mortuary.’

She smelt lovely, and he supposed the allergy did not extend to her perfume, which was subtle and gorgeous. She appeared to be none the worse for wear after her drinking spree last night, if indeed she had continued to indulge herself after he had left. Had he known just how much whisky she had consumed after he’d gone, he would have been horrified. They made their way through the bowels of the hospital to a basement, and when she pointed to the room in which he needed to be, he caught her hand before she could go.

Can I see you again?’

If you like, you know where to find me,’ she said carelessly, and then she walked off, but she turned her head slightly to the left to look back at him, and he could just see from her profile that she was smiling. He supposed her casual manner towards him this morning was some kind of test she was setting him. Well, two could play at that game. He smiled to himself, knocked on the door and waited for someone to say “Enter”. When no one replied, he opened the door and went in. He was almost overpowered by the strong, chemical smell, but there, in the room, was the Home Office pathologist, Jeremy Burnham-Twist, and his assistant, a pretty young lady in an eye-achingly white lab coat, who was introduced to him as Elizabeth Trigg.

You’re a little late, Constable, we had to start without you. Is this your first time?’

Yes, Sir. First real one, that is.’

I’d prefer it if you didn’t call me “Sir”. Jeremy will do nicely, thank you. Thompson, isn’t it? Mike Thompson? We’re all equals here, Lizzie will tell you. A bit radical, I know, but there you go, that’s just my way, I’m a bit of a rebel. You can call me Jeremy. I already said that, didn’t I? Stand over there and just observe, if you please. It won’t be pleasant, but if you keep your distance you may get through it without keeling over. Most don’t, especially if it’s their first time. There are peppermints on the bench over there, and there’s a bucket behind the door should you feel the need, but you’ll have to empty it yourself. There are a variety of chemicals in use in this room, Mike, the overpowering smell is formaldehyde. You’ll get used to it.’

It was on the tip of Mike’s tongue to ask if there was also an informaldehyde, because if there was one thing he loved to do, it was to play with words; but he restrained himself for the time being. After all, chemists and scientists, for that matter, weren’t that well known for their sense of humour in his limited experience. At school, in the Crypt Grammar School, first year students were put through their paces with every academic subject under the sun. At the end of the first year, they were given the choice of which path to take: classics or modern, classics including Latin, French and possibly Greek, modern including the sciences, chemistry, physics and biology. There was also a choice of whether or not to follow geography. Mike had chosen to study Latin and Greek, together with French and German, and had also dropped geography. His fellow second-year students, for they travelled through school as a year group, who had chosen the sciences, were far more serious than those who studied Latin and Greek. It was something he had noticed, but in the grand scheme of things, this didn’t amount to anything more than an observation on the particular boys with whom he made his way through school in that particular year. Hardly a scientific study.

Lizzie was an attractive young lady, probably a year or two older than Mike, with long light brown hair tied back into a pony tail. She was around five feet six or seven, and although she was wearing this pristine white lab coat, he could see that she was extremely shapely beneath it, and he wondered, briefly, if she was spoken for, but then he remembered the Ouija board and the exquisite perfection that was Martha Baker.

The procedure took the best part of an hour and a half, and Mike watched, fascinated as the pair went about their routine with practiced perfection, making notes as they went. There was not a great deal of bodily fluid as the corpse had lain undiscovered for such a long time, but there were plenty of disturbing and unpleasant smells, and Mike often felt his gorge rising during the various procedures involved in the post mortem, and had to fish in his pocket for a packet of Trebor Extra Strong Mints a couple of times.

Right,’ Burnham-Twist said, ‘Lizzie can fill you in on the salient points, and you and DCI Maxwell will receive a full report in due course, probably this afternoon, provided we don’t get something else more pressing on our plates in the meantime. I’m off to get a fry-up in the joint round the corner. Lizzie?’

Yes, Jeremy.’ When he had gone, she took Mike through to the office she shared with the pathologist. ‘Are you all right, Constable?’

Mike,’ he said. ‘Call me Mike.’ He knew he must look a complete chump, probably very pale, but she smiled and carried on.

They’re not all that bad, believe me. This was pretty grim because of the elapsed time.’

You’re a chemist, or something, I take it?’

She removed her lab coat and hung it on the hook on the door. As he had suspected, she was very attractively built, had an engaging smile and a pretty laugh. She was wearing a pink turtle-neck sweater made from some soft-looking material or other, possibly synthetic, possibly wool, and a slim, figure-hugging grey skirt. Sensible shoes but bare legs completed her outfit.

Chemistry and Physics at Leeds,’ she said. ‘Graduated last year. A first.’

Nineteen, possibly, maybe early twenties, Mike surmised, his policeman’s enquiring mind coming into play.

Congratulations. Is this what you wanted to do?’

It’s a job, it’s very interesting – sometimes, quite boring at other times. The worst bits are when children are involved, obviously. Can I get you a tea, or a coffee or something? We have a kettle. No milk, though, I’m afraid. Or we could nip across to the canteen.’

No, thank you, I’ll be fine. I’m not sure what the procedure is, I’m just seconded to CID for this investigation. Can you talk me through it?’

Of course. I’ll give you the preliminary findings, not much more than Jeremy would have told you at the scene of crime, and you really will have to wait for the formal report this afternoon, but basically, we have a young lady in her mid-thirties, cause of death was a blow to the back of the head with a piece of flint, which I understand was recovered at the scene. There is a scar on her abdomen which is consistent with an appendectomy, that will be confirmed once I’ve checked her records, and there is bruising on her back and her legs, and her ankle bone is shattered. I can’t say for sure, but it’s my belief that she was running away from someone, she fell, maybe across a kerbstone or something, broke her ankle, then she was caught and killed. Then dragged across to the undergrowth and hidden there till someone’s wee doggie found her. If you take a look at the kerb near to the entrance to the park, there may well be some indication of where she fell. It looks as though she may have breakfasted on something like Puffed Wheat. Rice-based, at any rate.’

Running away from somone.’

That would explain the bruising, yes. And a slice, maybe two, of toast. And coffee. Definitely breakfast, I’d say, wouldn’t you?’

I see, well, thank you. Yes, sounds like breakfast. I do know where she was last seen, and it wasn’t at the playing fields. It was at the shopping precinct in Barnwood, a couple of weeks ago.’

The chemist’s shop, yes, I know, Jeremy said. I expect the DCI told him.’

Mike nodded. ‘About that coffee? Is it still on offer?’

Of course. Let’s go to the canteen. They have milk there, I’m reliably informed. Unfortunately Jeremy doesn’t take milk, so he doesn’t buy any. I suppose I could, but I never remember! I’m due a break myself. Follow me. I’ll buy the coffees, you can buy the sticky buns.’

Elizabeth Trigg made for a delightful companion over a cup of scalding hot, surprisingly tasty coffee and an iced bun. They talked mainly about football – Lizzie was passionate about football, and followed Leeds United because of her time at university there, and Mike had been following Liverpool FC for as long as he could remember, because of his Uncle John’s fascination with the city where he had done some of his policing before moving south to Gloucester. Lizzie pointed out with some relish that the only two teams to beat Liverpool during the season that had just finished, were Leeds United, who had finished second behind league winners Liverpool, and Sheffield Wednesday. Mike countered with the amazing fact that Liverpool had won the league with just fourteen squad members, one of whom, he believed, had completed the second half of one game with a broken leg. And then they touched on the matter of the procedure Mike had just witnessed, and the untimely and savage death of Mary Simkins.

Have you worked here long? At the hospital, I mean? In this job?’

Straight from university, a year ago.’ That put her at about nineteen or twenty, as Mike had guessed, unless she had taken longer to gain her degree than was usual.

Do you know everyone?’

It’s quite a big hospital, Mike!’ she said with a laugh and a raised eyebrow.

Sorry, yes. I just wondered if you knew Martha Baker? She’s a nurse.’

The pretty nurse on men’s surgical? Our very own Sandra Dee, you mean? That’s what they call her, you know. I know of her. She’s not a friend, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been to a couple of parties and she’s been there. Why do you ask? Is she part of the enquiry into Mary Simkins’s death?’

A different enquiry. The rapist…’

Lizzie nodded. ‘I know about the rapist. Everyone does, of course…’

She thought she was being followed the other evening on the way home. Turns out it wasn’t the rapist. I just wondered if you knew anything about her?’

The party I went to was a bit – I don’t know how you’d describe it – wild?’

That’s the impression I got.’

She wasn’t wasting your time or anything? No, I get it, you want to know everything there is to know about her!’ There was a sparkle in Lizzie’s eyes as she tumbled what Mike was up to. He coloured instantly and tried to change the subject, but Lizzie was now in full flight.

Well, if you want my opinion, you should be very careful with our Martha. She has something of a reputation. She’s a public schoolgirl, you didn’t know? Bristol, I think. Somewhere in the West Country, at any rate. Expelled during her last year, she and a few others were preparing some kind of tariff for selling sex to the nearby boys’ school, like in that new book, what’s it called? The Passion Flower Hotel, brilliant book, and she looks very much like the girl on the front cover, you know. I’m not sure if they were caught before anything happened, or after, but from what I can tell, they had some kind of bordello rigged up under the stage in the hall, and the boys were cycling over from their school and queueing up for sex. Priceless! You realise, of course, that I could be making this all up, don’t you? And you’d never know, because you’re not going to ask our Martha about her racy past, are you? That would get you exactly nowhere!

Are you? Making it up?’ Mike knew full well that Lizzie Trigg wasn’t making it up – he’d already read some of it for himself, of course, but he kept that quiet for the time being in case Lizzie could bring any further morsels of vital information about Martha Baker to the table.

No, it’s what I heard from one of the other nurses.’

This all came out at the party?’

Lizzie nodded. A strand of her hair fell across her face. He resisted the urge to reach across the table and put it back. She was beautiful, he decided there and then. A safer bet than Martha Baker, that was for sure. She was beautiful, funny, well educated… Not that Martha was badly educated – at least, he had no reason to believe such a thing about her. Lizzie was a year older than he was, at the most…

It was a doctors and nurses party. One of the junior doctors asked me along so that he didn’t turn up without a partner. I left early. Not really my kind of scene. I prefer a quiet night in with the Light Programme and a good Agatha Christie…’

My kind of girl, Mike thought, but said nothing. An image of the two girls, Lizzie and Martha, fighting over him, came into his mind. He smiled to himself and drank his coffee.

I must go,’ he said.

I’ll walk you to your car,’ Lizzie said. ‘Let me just get rid of these dirty cups and plates…’

Five minutes later they were standing alongside Mike’s car, Jasmine.

She’s beautiful.’

You must come for a drive some time. When the weather is fine. Not much fun when it’s raining, although she doesn’t leak, as such!’

I’d like that. Call me.’

Mike nodded. ‘See you, then.’

He drove back to town, knowing that he had promised Martha Baker he would see her after the post mortem, and resolved to ring the hospital at a quiet moment in the nick. But he was met at the back door by Sergeant Wilson, waving a piece of paper.

Get yourself over to this address right away!’ he barked. ‘DCI Maxwell’s waiting for you – there’s been another murder. Chop chop! Turn that toy car of yours around, Noddy, and get moving!’

The Four Marys continues in the June issue...

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.