Monday Sampler: The Desolate Garden by Danny Kemp
July 13, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Monday’s Sampler features The Desolate Garden by Danny Kemp. If you’re looking for a great international and political thriller, this is the book you want to read. As one reviewer said: This is a British spy novel in the best sense of the word. We are taken through several generations of the Paterson family and their personal involvement in the world of espionage. The book is a thriller and keeps you wondering until the ending.
The Desolate Garden is the story of a secret Royal and Ancient Government Bank, established in the fourteenth century, located in London, England, near what would become Queen Anne’s Gate, and a stones throw from a more recent edifice, Buckingham Palace. Since its inauguration, only one family has ruled over the Bank; the Paterson’s, Earls of Harrogate, hereditary Lords of the Realm.
Down through centuries the Bank’s capital has grown in many surreptitious ways, but upon the election of a Socialist Government in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, the Bank’s chief executive officer, Lord Maudlin Paterson, sensing the winds of change, offers the bank’s services exclusively to the Secret Intelligence Services, a move that ensures the Bank will endure the forces of a Britain fast descending into grasping Socialism.
It is now the year 2003. And, Lord Elliot Paterson takes over the custodianship of the Bank and begins the task of converting the Bank’s hand-written ledgers into digital form and discovers in a hidden ledger, dated 1936, a vast quantity of money erased from the accounts. He digs deeper into the mystery, and comes across some initials along with an address in Leningrad, a major port in Stalin’s Soviet Union, in the margins of another ledger. Lord Elliot suspects that his grandfather, Lord Maudlin, was funding a Russia spy but stays silent until in 2012. In his waning days, he telephones his eldest son, Harry, to pass on the fears behind his suspicions.
The novel opens with Lord Elliot’s murder when Lord Harry Paterson, forty, single, a dandy living on the Harrogate estate, and long recruited into the secret world after his service in the Army, is summoned to London and must ascend into his family’s true inheritance.
Lord Harry meets Judith Meadows, an attractive, but otherwise a stick-figure of a woman, in the world-famous Martini bar at Duke’s Hotel in London’s St James’s. Meadows plays him for the rake that he is before destroying his hopes of bliss when she discloses that she works for the Home Office and is the case officer assigned to unravel the mysterious death of Lord Elliot.
As the story unfolds, the relationship between the two, both sexually and intellectually, ricochets back and forth like a train driven by a teenager, stuck in first gear. Lord Harry knows more than he is willing to reveal, and Meadows knows more about his family than Lord Harry does.
The Desolate Garden is especially for readers who like a story, largely rendered through dialog because it was the dialog that pulled the work off the page and onto a movie set. This political thriller resonates with charm, deft touches of satire, and romantic entanglement and where the promise of rampant sex is a turn of the page away. At 331 pages, The Desolate Garden makes a “jolly smashing” weekend read.
The first time I saw her was three days after I was told that my father had died.
All the national newspapers had carried the story in their first editions; most describing him as a private banker, others as simply a financier. All had speculated as to why. The majority of the more respectful had suggested pressure, and stress in the current financial world. However, the most popular tabloids had repeated the accusation for which he had successfully sued them, that his money had come from unscrupulous and tyrannical rulers of various African countries. Only this time they glossed over some previously mentioned names, and added the word ‘alleged.’ They had not known that he had been murdered.
“Tell me a joke,” she said. She was seated at the table nearest the bar in the Dukes Hotel, in London’s St James.
“What?” I replied, in complete surprise.
“I’ve had a really shitty day, and I need cheering up. Come and join me,” she suggested, enticing me in from the lobby.
She was about thirty but, in the dim seductive light of the world-renowned Martini bar, I could have been wrong by ten years either way. She had long curly dark hair, penetrating large eyes of an indeterminable colour, and a very attractive face. As to her figure, I had no way of knowing for sure but, from what I could see, she was quite petite. A colourful shawl draped from a glimpse of bare shoulder, and the cut of the red dress she wore was modest and high. What stood out was her perfume. The clear, smoke free atmosphere carried an array of sweet aromas, mingling with the gin and lemons and the fresh damp air of the outside night, but hers was the sweetest. It reminded me of raspberries ripening on autumn canes, mixed with jojoba oil and honey. I smelled of whiskey and tobacco; not the catch of the night, I supposed.
“What makes you think I’m here on my own and not with my wife?” I replied flattered and interested, but guarded, unforthcoming to her obvious appeal.
“Well, you’re not wearing a wedding ring for a start. Want me to go on?” My new friend said archly.
I nodded my acquiescence, adding, “Why not…I’ve got nothing better to do with my time,” trying to seem disinterested, which I definitely was not.
“Your shirt could do with an iron and the suit has seen better days, your hair needs a trim and, quite honestly, you look out of place. Not a local…by many a mile. Up from the country for a day or perhaps two, no more than that I’d say. You’ve been dragged here reluctantly and want to get back to the farm as soon as you can. Anyway, I only asked for a joke not a page by page description of your inactive life.”
“Perhaps my lady friend is equally unattractive,” I responded to her accurate assumption and correct observation.
“That’s an old-fashioned expression but at least it establishes that you’re not gay, plus you’re not pretty enough anyway. I’m Judith by the way. What did those lady friends of yours call you, when you were younger and playing the field?”
“Am I that ancient? Thank goodness I left my bath-chair back in my room then. I would have felt embarrassed had I have brought it.”
This was the second invitation I’d had in three days to have a conversation with someone I had never met. All of a sudden my hitherto selected social circle of friends was widening; and one of those acquaintances was not welcome.
Joseph, my butler, had answered the front door to the knock I had heard, and was now standing in front of me announcing the arrival.
“There is a police officer wishing to see you, Sir. Shall I show him through?”
“Lord Paterson? I’m Detective Chief Superintendent Fletcher of the Special Branch. I’ve got some news for you about your father…may I come in?”
It had been the previous Sunday, around about three in the afternoon, and I had just driven home from my local pub after spending all morning blasting crows out of the sky. I reeked of alcohol, sweat, and cordite. The twelve-bore ‘Purdy’ shotgun lay dismantled on the gun-room table, and the rest of my gear was scattered around the floor. He glanced at the gun.
“Been busy, Sir?” He asked, in an official police tone.
“Yes. One of my tenants keep sheep, and they’re lambing. The crows pick out the lambs’ eyes almost the minute they’re born, nasty creatures, so I lend a hand killing as many we can. My license is in the estate office, if you want to see it? Incidentally I’m not a Lord, only a lowly Honourable.” I replied, without looking at him.
“I never knew that about crows. As for the license, that won’t be necessary.” He paused. “I’m afraid that your father was found shot in the head by the housekeeper at his home in Eton Square, London, at ten past one this morning; so, as I understand it, you are now a Lord,” he stated, in the standard perfunctory, manner that the police inform relatives of the unfortunate…“Can you think of anyone who may have wanted to kill him?” He enquired, without a change of tone to his voice or any pretence of remorse.
The shame of it was that I could not. However, that did not imply that he had no enemies; only that I had been unable to discover them, and I should have.
“Absolutely none. He was the last person I would have thought of to have had enemies. It might have been money they were after…he had plenty of that,” I declared, not trying to hide my indifference.
“He was alone in the ground floor sitting room. There were signs of a forced entry Sir, and the housekeeper says that he was alone that night. He had no company.” His monosyllabic style of speaking was beginning to annoy me.
“Was there anything missing?” I asked, knowing exactly what the housekeeper meant by company.
“No, Sir, nothing that the housekeeper or his valet knows of. I was hoping you might be able to provide some information, throw some light on it. Has he been in touch with you lately?” He asked, fingering the bespoke carved stock. “Very lovely gun. Expensive, I expect,” he added.
“Yes to the gun, and no regarding him being in touch,” I curtly replied. I had never had much time for the police and he was not changing my opinion.
“Has he written at all, or perhaps telephoned you in the past with any worries he had…any problems he was having with anyone?”
“Can’t help you there. A private man my father, not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.”
“You wouldn’t have any of his old letters to you, would you?”
“No, sorry. I don’t keep things like that.” I took a sip from the glass of whisky I had poured myself in readiness for the gun cleaning ritual that I always enjoyed doing myself. I had not offered him anything, nor was likely to, even though he looked the drinking type, grey inanimate eyes, a bulbous red nose under which was a nicotine-stained moustache and, even further down, a fat rounded beer belly. I was not in a social or generous mood, and had no wish to adjudicate on the innate evils of modern society as seen through the eyes of the law.
“It’s just that we could not find the exchange number for the home here in Harrogate on any telephone records of his. Clearly he didn’t like the phone or is it you that’s got an aversion to telephones?” He asked, smiling, as if attempting to ingratiate himself. But I was not in any sort of a jovial conversational mood, either.
“Look..he and I didn’t get on. We haven’t spoken to each other since he left before my mother died. I haven’t spoken to him or seen him in almost two years and, quite frankly, I don’t give a toss that he’s dead. If that’s all, Detective Chief Superintendent, I’ve got a lot more important things to do than discuss the personal relationship the two of us had or didn’t have.”
My abruptness and directness had shocked him, or perhaps it was my inhospitality and his need of a drink that hastened his departure, I was not sure which. However, before he left what he considered to be an unfinished conversation, he summoned me to London the following Wednesday to meet with a Government Official. He did not name him, nor his office, but declared. “You will be met at the station, and we will expect your full cooperation in all of this, your Lordship. It is, as you will appreciate, a matter of great importance. I look forward to your collaboration at our next meeting.” Irascibly, he stressed the ‘next’, as I closed the door behind him.
I had no qualms over the forthcoming journey to London, other than my complete distaste of that city and all who traversed its capricious streets. What did worry me though, was the question of who had shot my father? I could think of a reason why it had happened; but had no idea who could have done it!
“The names Harry, and I think I must be the joke after how you’ve described me. Harry Paterson, how do you do Judith?” I shook her proffered hand, adding as I did so, “You certainly don’t look out of place, and you are far too beautiful to be on your own.” I had decided that diffidence was no longer necessary. A shield and a sword would be better if all conquering I would go.
The waiter had arrived and was hovering with his drinks menu, and the obligatory bowl of nuts. No everyday peanuts for the ritzy clientele of this bar oh no, here they were offered salted macadamias and olives, with crunchy pretzels in various shapes. I would have preferred the roast spuds at ‘The Spyglass and Kettle’ a pub back home. For the prices they charged here they had to appear more chic than wholesome, I supposed. I ordered another gin martini for my new companion and asked for my 40 year-old Isle of Jura single malt. I had checked before I had booked that they stocked it otherwise I would not have been a this particular hotel. However, with hindsight, given the cost that they charged per glass, a more frugal man would have brought it with him. ‘Mean, I may be, but never to be seen,’ was an old maxim that my father had many occasions quoted in my presence; I wished I had never heard and remembered it!
“Call me Judy, and I’ll call you H. Never had a drink with a Harry before, or at least, anyone by that name that I can remember. What’s your joke?”
She was an easy conversationalist but not, as I first suspected, an easy women. It would not have been the first time I had been approached by an escort in a hotel bar and I’d used a few bars, that is. I won’t admit to anything else, or deny that I hadn’t been tempted, but I had never succumbed. I had never needed to pay for what came easily to me.
“Let me see.” I played for time, searching my memory for amusing lines I could repeat to a woman who, in this light, was an extremely desirable and sexy young lady who I fancied as much as the scotch before me. I was out of practice, and having been drinking before I had arrived back in my hotel, was faltering badly at the first hurdle. I was more accustomed to ribald horsey female types, swigging beer and telling stories of successful matings of stallions and mares of one kind or another, usually as inebriated as I.
“Ever heard the ones that end ‘that’s how the fight started’? No? Then, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.” I started the little anodyne tales of animosity between partners or family that I had heard somewhere in the past.
“One year I decided to buy my mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a Christmas gift. The next year I bought her nothing. When she asked me why, I replied, ‘Well, you still haven’t used the gift I bought you last year!’ That’s when the fight started.” There were several like this, and I found myself joining in her laughter as I recalled as many as I could.
She refused a third martini, opting for a mineral water instead, explaining “I’ll need a clear head in the morning.”
“I hope tomorrow won’t be as bad as you say today was,” I said, still waiting for her to expand on why her day had been as shitty as she had said.
“I’m not expecting any difference for a considerable time I’m only too sorry to say. Do you want to know why that might be Harry?”
“Thought you’d never tell.” I was on my fourth Jura and set for a night of bliss, as my undoubtable charms had obviously seduced her, or so I thought!
“It was because I was ordered to meet you, and you haven’t disappointed me. You’re exactly as your file reads. I can summarise it in one word: chauvinistic. Thought you’d scored, didn’t you? Shame…you couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve got to hold your hand all the way through the debrief. I’m your liaison officer, and I’m stuck with you. How did your reunion with our lord and master go? Was Trimble wearing that sarcastic smile of his? I find it so irritating, how about you?”
“Who are you?” I was completely thrown by this reference to Peter Trimble, my previous drinking partner, who I had left half an hour ago at Box 850. I had then arrived here for my final night, before I could return home and find the refuge it gave me.
“I’m in the same business as you, Lord Harry, except I’m across the river at Five. Did you and ‘C’ come up with any idea as to who bumped off Daddy? What’s the time of your train tomorrow? I’m to travel back with you, and can’t let you out of my sight. Lucky me, eh?”
“I’ve forgotten,” I lied. Trimble had said he was to appoint someone to run me through everything; only he never said it would be a woman!
“Don’t be such an asshole Harry, and take your thumb out of your mouth. It’s not very edifying for us serfs to see the nobility sulk. You’d better let them know back at your palace, so they can make up a room for me. Tell them to make it as far away from you as possible. No sleepwalking; it’s not allowed.”
“I’m on the 12:43. First class of course…doubt your expenses will cover that.” Slowly, I was recovering from the shock.
“No expense to be spared in your case H, orders from above. While we’re on the subject, can you claim for bedding all the virgins in the Kingdom of the Paterson’s? Do you still have that role to fulfill or are there none left for the new Earl to indulge? Heard of your investiture and gone running off to the hills, have they?”
“Got me on that one I’ll have to check in Burkes peerage. If it is one of the privileges of office, can I add your name?”
“Most certainly not H. I’m past that painful stage of life but I’m glad you recognised that purity in me. See you at King’s Cross. I’ll be wearing a white rose and carrying a newspaper under the Station Clock. Look out for me, won’t you? I’d hate to miss you in the crowd.”
She left to catch a taxi, quietly mouthing the words and the tune to the song ‘Poison Ivy.’ “You can look, but you better not touch,” she murmured, looking pleased with herself.