Thursday, October 8

The Canterbury Murders (Stanton & Barling #3): Thank You- plus a Sneak Peek!

 When I introduced Hugo Stanton and Aelred Barling to the world back in 2018, I hoped that readers would enjoy my unlikely pair of sleuths' first outings as much as I enjoyed writing them. It would appear that you did, but in numbers I could never have imagined. Over 120,000 copies of The King's Justice and The Monastery Murders have now been sold worldwide. 

Find on Goodreads here.

While this has been incredible and I wish I could express my gratitude personally, all I can do is offer a huge THANK YOU to every one of you who has made this happen. And of course it's not just about buying the books. So many of you have left wonderful reviews and ratings, and have helped to spread the word, as well as getting in touch personally to tell me how much you've enjoyed time with The Boys.

Many of those reviews and messages have asked if there is going to be a third book. I've been able to reply that 'Yes, there will be'. But I'm now able to say: 'And here it is!' 

Add to your Goodreads list here.

I'm sure I'm not the only one in awe of the cover designer's talents. He's been with S&B since Day #1. 

The Canterbury Murders, Stanton and Barling #3, will be released on November 12, 2020. It will be available to pre-order shortly. In the meantime, here's what's to expect:

A fire-ravaged cathedral. An ungodly murder.

Easter, 1177. Canterbury Cathedral, home to the tomb of martyr Saint Thomas Becket, bears the wounds of a terrible fire. Benedict, prior of the great church, leads its rebuilding. But horror interrupts the work. One of the stonemasons is found viciously murdered, the dead man’s face disfigured by a shocking wound.

When King’s clerk Aelred Barling and his assistant, Hugo Stanton, arrive on pilgrimage to the tomb, the prior orders them to investigate the unholy crime.

But the killer soon claims another victim–and another. As turmoil embroils the congregation, the pair of sleuths face urgent pressure to find a connection between the killings.

With panic on the rise, can Barling and Stanton catch the culprit before evil prevails again—and stop it before it comes for them?

I hope your appetites are suitably whetted for what's to come. But I thought you might like an early (the earliest, in fact!) peek inside that gorgeous cover.  So here is Chapter One of The Canterbury Murders- enjoy!

CHAPTER ONE
Canterbury, Kent 9 April 1177

If God could grant a perfect close of day, it would be this one.

Benedict, prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, walked alone in his garden, his silent steps on the paved stone path as slow as the calm beat of his own heart. 

The peace of Vespers coursed within him. He had joined his fellow monks, as always, to sing and pray the Divine Office as the sun had set on a glorious spring day. Now came the quiet hour of early night, to be spent in solitude and contemplation.

Dew soaked the meadow turf of his lawn, the grass smooth as the finest carpet. Neatly trimmed shrubs filled the borders, the evergreens a pleasing contrast to those covered in soft, unfurling buds. In the beds, clumps of bright yellow celandines glowed in the dusk. White wood anemones could be candles waiting to be lit. The sweet scents of sage and rue hung in the still air, mingling with the sharpness of the box hedges. Unseen birds sang themselves and the world to slumber. 

He looked up at the vast, cream-stoned cathedral nearby, its towers reaching high into a clear sky that held the last vestiges of light to the west and a low-hanging sliver of moon. It should have been a sight that filled him with serenity: the resting place of the body of Saint Thomas Becket, the blessed Martyr. The place of a multitude of miracles for the sick, the lame, the infirm, where pilgrims flocked from all of Christendom for the saint’s intervention.

But as ever since that terrible afternoon two and a half years ago, to look upon the cathedral filled Benedict with breath-robbing anguish, an anguish that at times threatened to rip out his heart. Much in the same way as the heart of his beloved cathedral had been ripped out. It bore the evidence of its near-fatal wounds still, the jagged scaffolding cloaking it in ugliness, an ugliness obvious even in the concealing shadows of the advancing night. 

The cathedral’s wounds had not been inflicted during the hours of darkness, when murderers and robbers and others bent on wrongdoing often chose to be abroad. It had been an afternoon. A September afternoon, unseasonably hot and humid, with the sun glowing a dull amber and a blustery gale that brought no freshness to the air. 

Benedict could feel the pull and flap of the strong, warm wind on his black habit, though the garden around him remained quiet.

It so often happened like this. He could be perfectly content one minute. Or busy with his unending list of tasks as prior. Or having his face shaved by one of his servants. Or breaking bread for a meal. It mattered not. 

He would be back in those fateful autumn hours. 

The commotion from outside the south wall of the cathedral grounds. Three cottages, all on fire. 

Outside. Not of my concern: his dismissive words to one of the monks who had come to alert him. ‘Make sure you keep the gate clear,’ he’d said to the monk. ‘We cannot have pilgrims delayed in their entry.’

The townsfolk had merged on the threat, making such a commotion and clamour as only townsfolk could. Not to mention the loudness of the excited mob of pilgrims and hawkers that followed them. After more uproar and shouts and soil and water and hooks to pull down burning walls, the flames had been vanquished.

Order has been restored. The monk’s report to Benedict. 

Benedict had nodded and gone back to his work. 

Such fuss at so very little. People did like to make a great happening of nothing. No doubt they crowded into the town’s alehouses, using the thrill of danger that had caused no actual harm to them to tell stories and exaggerate their own part in it. A danger that was safely past.
 
But it was not. 

For the powerful wind, the wind that Benedict often thought of since as having blown from hellmouth, was doing its unseen, wicked work, silent as a serpent and equally intent on evil. 

As the townsfolk beat down the flames of the burning cottages, as they tackled the flaring thatch, sparks and embers flew up. Up, up on the violent gusts of wind, cloaked in dust and yellowing leaves ripped from the trees. Up, up over the walls of the cathedral. Up over the very tops of the trees. Up to the roof of the cathedral, where the buffeting gale forced them between the gaps of the lead, like a shower of smouldering hail. 

No one saw. No one knew. 

On the ground, people proclaimed victory. 

In the roof, the sparks met the rafters, the bone-dry, rotting wood that had held up the mighty edifice since the time of Saint Anselm. 

On the ground, people cheered and raised their ales.

In the roof, the rafters were afire, feeding the crackling flames that jumped to the beams and the braces to greater life. 

On the ground, people clapped their hands and sang.

In the cathedral, the lay brothers polished the carved wooden seats of the choir, as the lead-lined, brightly painted ceiling high above them hid the inferno of broiling heat and flames. 

In his chambers, Benedict amended an account to order some extra grain for the monks. 

On the ground, people sang on.

In the roof, the flames grew to such a height that the leaded roof began to soften. Melt. Dissolve. 

The first smoke poured out in a white, billowing cloud. 

And on the ground came a shout: ‘Look, look! God’s eyes, look!’

And another: ‘The cathedral’s on fire!’

The same shout at Benedict’s door, the shout that had him race outside, following the frantic monk’s lead. That had him jostle for position in the heaving crowd, staring aloft in disbelief, his heart thumping in his chest.

All around him, horrified faces. Gaping mouths. Pointing fingers. Cries and calls of shock.

‘May God help us!’

‘It’s all of the roof, look!’

‘It’s afire, afire!’

Benedict willed his voice to shout for his brethren, his feet to run back. He could not. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his feet could be nailed to the stone path on which he stood. Only his heart had life, thudding as if it would break from his chest.

The first jarring alarms to summon help pealed out from the cathedral bell tower.

Then bright yellow flames shot up from the roof in a huge burst of roiling black smoke, roaring into greater life in the devil’s gale. 

Screams and yells of horror, of terror surrounded Benedict.

‘It’s the end of the world!’

‘By the holy paternoster, we are done for!’ 

The nearest churches took up the cathedral’s call. The bells of Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Andrew, Saint Alphege rang out in wild discord.

A fresh roar from the wind sent charred wood and burning cinders raining down to lamentation and wails of dread.

Some people fled, others sank to their knees with tears and prayers to the Virgin, to Saint Thomas.

Benedict’s heart pounded harder, harder. He thought he might faint, he thought he might fall. He drew in a desperate breath.

And then there was peace once more. No fire raged through the cathedral. No showers of embers rained down. Nothing except the gentle chorus of birdsong and distant sounds from beyond the walls of the city of Canterbury moving to the end of the day broke the quiet. 

Benedict wiped the sweat from his face with an unsteady hand. He needed to become calm. Must become calm. The hour of Compline drew near, and he would be amongst his monks again. He had to be their strength, their guide. He would make another couple of circuits of his garden, would pray to Saint Thomas for aid in steadying his mind. 

The Martyr would help him in his need, for he was working without cease for the glory of Thomas. The cathedral had, by the greatest of miracles, been spared from total destruction. Thomas’s bones had been safe in Anselm’s crypt. Now, Benedict’s burden was to rebuild: not just to replace what had been destroyed, but to even greater glory. He looked up at the disfiguring scaffolding again. His was a heavy cross to bear, and one he must bear alone. 

He turned at the squeak of the iron garden gate opening. 

One of his monks hurried through it. ‘My lord.’ Breathless. Not like Benedict had just been but as if he’d been running.

‘What is it, man?’ Benedict did not mean to sound so harsh. He simply was not yet restored. ‘The bells have not rung for Compline.’

‘My lord prior.’ The monk’s face showed ashen in the dim light. ‘You must come at once.’ 

‘What do you—’

‘There’s been a murder.’

Benedict feared he had fallen back into one of his episodes. ‘A murder?’
 
The monk nodded. ‘In a terrible way, my lord. Terrible.’

‘Steady yourself,’ said Benedict, wishing the same for his own heart. ‘Which of our brothers has lost his life?’

‘No, no. It’s not one of the brothers.’

Benedict clutched with gratitude at the small mercy. ‘Then why is it of such importance that I attend?’

‘Because it’s one of the stonemasons. From here. From our cathedral. He . . . he’s been stabbed. There’s so much blood.’

‘Then it will be a robbery, or—’

‘No, no.’ The monk’s words came out as a low moan. ‘No robbery. He has all his possessions. Something far worse.’ He swallowed hard. ‘The killer mutilated him as well.’ His voice dropped to a petrified whisper as he explained.

Benedict listened in horror. No, this was no episode of his own mind.

The monk’s terror was as real as the hard paving beneath Benedict’s feet. As the liquid ripple of birdsong. As the scent of the box hedges.

And as the shadows of the scaffolding above him that held the beauty of his beloved cathedral in a hideous, unyielding grasp. 

***

And so ends Chapter One! I hope you've enjoyed it. Rest assured that Stanton and Barling are on their way to Canterbury. And, of course, things will get worse. Much, much worse. Well, I couldn't disappoint you all, could I?

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