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Authors: Ianthe Jerrold

There May Be Danger

BOOK: There May Be Danger
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Ianthe Jerrold
There May Be Danger
A GOLDEN AGE MYSTERY

Amid the danger of World War Two's London, Kate Mayhew is returning from another hopeless round of the theatrical agents. She is about to take a job in munitions when a poster about a missing child prompts her to help the war effort in a very different way. Obsessed with finding out what has happened to young Sidney Brentwood, Kate journeys to rural Wales where the boy was last seen.

Aided by land-girl Aminta and the dashing young archaeologist Colin Kemp, Kate stumbles upon clandestine activities unknown to the War Office. The mystery of Sidney's disappearance is the key to a plot that may vitally endanger the security of Great Britain itself. Kate must both solve the conundrum, and act before it's too late.

There May Be Danger
was first published in 1948, and was the last mystery novel by Ianthe Jerrold. This edition features a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

Introduction

There May Be Danger
, the second and final mystery novel that Ianthe Jerrold published under her Geraldine Bridgman pen name, appeared in 1948, eight years after the previous Bridgman mystery,
Let Him Lie
—a rather considerable fallow period for a working crime writer.
Let Him Lie
had been issued by William Heinemann, publisher of Margery Allingham and John Dickson Carr, but
There May Be Danger
was published by Aldus Publications, an intriguingly odd press owned by Francis Aldor (émigré Hungarian author Paul Tabori) that is best known for having produced an English translation of the purported diary of Eva Braun, mistress to Adolf Hitler, under the title
The Private Life of Adolf Hitler: The Intimate Notes and Diary of Eva Braun
(1949), which Charles Hamilton in
The Hitler Diaries: Fakes That Fooled the World
(1991) has described as “[o]ne of the most entertaining exercises in Führerian fiction.”

Like Eva Braun's spurious diary, Ianthe Jerrold's
There May Be Danger
concerns dramatic events occurring during the Second World War. The novel takes place in the autumn of 1940, shortly after the Nazis commenced “the Blitz,” their punishing strategic air bombing campaign, against England. Given that Jerrold's previous Geraldine Bridgman mystery was published in 1940 and set before the war, one is tempted to speculate that the author may have originally composed
There May Be Danger
later that year, drawing on current events, with every intention of publishing the novel with Heinemann in 1941 as a wartime follow-up to
Let Him Lie
. Could the novel have been turned down by Heinemann on the grounds that it was more a wartime thriller than a classic detective novel? Whether or not this is the case, by the time
There May Be Danger
appeared in 1948 the book was out-of-date compared with other contemporary British crime thrillers, such as Michael Gilbert's
They Never Looked Inside
(1948) and
The Doors Open
(1949) and Andrew Garve's Came the Dawn (1949), all of which dealt with social circumstances in the postwar world. Yet today, in the twenty-first century, modern readers of vintage mystery should find much to enjoy in Ianthe Jerrold's
There May Be Danger
, a scrupulously observed depiction of British life during the earlier days of the Second World War that is also a beguiling tale of baffling mystery.

Like American crime writer Helen McCloy's 1945 detective novel
The One That Got Away
, which is set in Scotland during the waning days of the Second World War,
There May be Danger
revolves around the fate of an adolescent boy gone missing in the British hinterlands. In
There May Be Danger
, the vanished boy is twelve-year-old Sidney Brentwood, a London evacuee residing with a married couple in the village of Hastry in sparsely populated Radnorshire, Wales. Upon hearing of young Sidney's case and learning that for family he has only an eccentric great aunt more concerned with the fates of her absconding cats than any absent human relations, Kate Mayhew, a young woman “resting” from a West-end theater job with a friend working on a farm in Radnorshire as part of the Women's Land Army, quixotically decides that she will investigate the situation herself. Like Jeanie Halliday, the female protagonist of Jerrold's earlier Geraldine Bridgman detective novel,
Let Him Lie
, the intrepid Kate Mayhew finds herself investigating, at considerable personal danger, gravely suspicious circumstances in a mysterious rural world of old homes and ancient tumuli (burial mounds). This was a world that Ianthe Jerrold knew well, having with her husband in the 1930s acquired and renovated a rambling seventeenth-century black-and-white timbered farmhouse situated on a ridge overlooking the Wye Valley in the English borderland county of Herefordshire.

There May Be Danger
and
Let Him Lie
share another point of similarity with Ianthe Jerrold's own life in that both novels detail the courageous actions of caring women concerned with the fates of displaced children. The plot of
There May Be Danger
revolves around Kate Mayhew's investigation into the fate of a missing twelve-year-old evacuee boy, whose only relative in England is his aforementioned distant and dotty great-aunt (the boy's mother is dead and his father is serving in the merchant navy), while in
Let Him Lie
Jeannie Halliday takes an interest in the future of the murdered Robert Molyneux's niece and ward, thirteen-year-old Sarah Molyneux, and hopes to keep the anxious girl out of the selfish clutches of her “queer, neurotic and unhappy mother,” Myfanwy Peel. In real life Ianthe Jerrold, who though married was herself childless, around this time adopted a young girl, Pauline (“Polly”) Jerrold; and clearly the author drew on personal circumstances in both of her Geraldine Bridgman novels, lending the books considerable dramatic heft. Admittedly
There May Be Danger
crosses over the borderline from the pure detective novel into thriller territory, but I suspect that few fans of vintage mystery will be able to lay down the novel until they have finished its thrilling final chapters, in which that most determined stage-struck amateur investigator, Kate Mayhew, finally plumbs the depths of a dark plot against Shakespeare's sceptered isle.

Curtis Evans

Chapter One

On a sunny October morning, the stucco-fronted houses of London are a symphony in off-white tones, the brick cliff-sides of the new blocks of flats discover charming shades of pink and apricot, and even in the smoke-grimed brick of mid-Victorian warehouses, the yellow under the encrusted black responds to the long soft rays of the low sun.

Even the Edgware Road, on such a day, looks charming.

Even Kate Mayhew, though she was out of a job and saw but small hope of getting into another one, felt the powerful charm of the autumn sun as she left her bus at the corner of Chapel Street and strolled along towards Maida Vale. The sky was blue, and almost cloudless. True, an arabesque pattern of thin white vapour trails hung, slowly dispersing, over the Metropolitan Music Hall. But this was not caused by a disturbance in the weather, but by a recent encounter high in the heavens between eight Dornier bombers and seven Spitfires.

Kate was returning, for the second time this week, from a hopeless round of the theatrical agents. Business in her suburban theatre had been pretty poor since the beginning of the war. And when the first bombs dropped on London, and the West-end theatre rocked to its financial foundations, even a little theatre in a northern suburb had felt the jar. There had been a great rushing about and making of adjustments, but it did not help matters for long. The West-end theatre shut down. And a few weeks later, after a brave struggle by a company which had waived first its salaries in favour of shares, and then its meals in favour of cups of coffee, the Northern Heights Repertory Theatre also closed its doors.

Kate had not at first been able to believe that the receding tide of theatre-going might well have swept stage-management out of her reach, until, some day, the tide came in again. But she believed it now. For the last month she had been trying to find herself a job, and it had been a grim business. She had determined, if she failed this morning to get on the track of a job, to abandon the vain struggle and wait for the tide to come in again.

What she would do instead, she was not yet quite sure. She had a friend, Aminta Hughes, working on a farm in Radnorshire, who was continually writing and exhorting her to join the Women's Land Army. There was, in fact, a letter from Aminta in Kate's handbag now, all about the threshing of oats, a cow with a sore udder, sunrise over the mountains, and foot-and-mouth disease. Skimming it over her toast and apple at breakfast, Kate had practically decided to go in for munitions.

She paused outside a modest café to reflect on her situation, and to consider whether she would have a sandwich first and go to the Labour Exchange afterwards, or the other way round, when a handbill pasted to the window of the small modiste's shop next door caught her eye. “PLEASE HELP! PLEASE HELP!” Below these words, which were in inch-high letters and stood out with a quite painful urgency at the top of the folio sheet, was the photograph of a boy.

“Missing,” ran the smaller letterpress below, “since October 1st, from his billet in Hastry, Radnorshire, Sidney Brentwood, aged 12½, height five feet four inches, well-built, fair hair, blue eyes, fresh complexion. Wearing grey flannel shorts, brown corduroy wind-sheeter, green stockings and brown shoes. It is thought he may be trying to make his way to London. Anybody who is able to give any information, or to help IN ANY WAY to trace this boy, PLEASE communicate immediately with his aunt, Miss Brentwood, at 105 Tranchester Terrace, W.2.”

“October the 1st!” thought Kate mournfully, studying the photograph. “Nearly three weeks ago! Some hopes, poor kid!”

She looked carefully at the boy's photograph, with the usual remote hope that she might recognise him as someone she had seen. It was a round, candid face, still infantile in shape, with eyes wider apart than they would appear later after the full development of the jaw, a good broad forehead, hair tending to curl, short, straight nose and easily smiling mouth. It was the face of a nice, candid, not very clever, adventurous boy, decided Kate. Whether he ever returned to his aunt or not, Kate hoped very much that his adventurous spirit had caused his disappearance, and not some miserable accident. Poor aunt, responsible for the boy, and now helpless, distracted, dependent upon the machine-like, slow, impersonal help of the police. She wondered whether he had been happy, or unhappy, in his billet in far-off Hastry, Radnorshire. Queer that it should be Radnorshire, where Aminta dwelt among the sunsets and udders. Perhaps Aminta knew Hastry?

Kate started to move on, but those urgent, touching words seemed to follow her, draw her back. Please Help! Please help! But how can one help? One could go and look for the child, I suppose... but the police will have been looking for him for three weeks.

A member of this force happened to pass at this moment, and on an impulse Kate asked him:

“Can you tell me where Tranchester Terrace is?”

“Tranchester Terrace?” He paused and cast about, for he was a reserve policeman, new to the beat, and not as yet an encyclopaedia of West London streets. “I think it runs between Westbourne Grove and Talbot Road—Notting Hill way. I should take a bus down Praed Street if I were you, and get out at Bradley's.”

Above the sound of traffic stole a thin eerie streak of sound, mournful, uncertain, high-pitched, slowly gathering certainty and volume as new streaks of the same sound joined in from all round the sky over London.

“All clear,” remarked the policeman cheerfully, moving his gas-mask, which he had been wearing as a chest-protector, round to his back.

“Oh, was the warning still on?” said Kate, as was said by many at one time and another that morning, for it was one of those mild, blue autumn days of 1940 when the warbling and the sustained notes of the air-raid sirens were heard so frequently and at such short intervals that people going in and out of buses and shops and about their business in the streets were often surprised to hear a sustained note when they did not know there had been a warble, and a warble when they were happily anticipating a sustained note.

Kate walked back, and soon found herself in Praed Street waiting for a bus. She had all the day before her, and she might as well go and look at Tranchester Terrace. Of course, she wasn't going to do more than just look at it. She might write and ask Aminta if Hastry was anywhere near her place, and whether she had heard about the disappearance of a boy billeted there. If she knew Hastry, Aminta might even know the people the boy had been billeted on. How terrible, to be responsible for someone else's child, and to lose him, to have to write to his parents and say, your child is lost! Sidney Brentwood seemed to have no parents, though, only an aunt. Please Help! Please Help!

The bus swung round a diversion into Norfolk Square, for a bomb which had fallen at the entrance to a little barber's shop opposite the Great Western Hotel had made empty shells of many little shops, piled the roadway with heaps of masonry, and turned that end of Praed Street into a one-way traffic alley.

BOOK: There May Be Danger
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