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Young barrsiter Michael Cantrip has skipped of to the Channel Islands to take on a tax-law case that's worth a fortune -- if Cantrip's tax-planning cronies can locate the missing heir. But Cantrip has waded in way over his head. Strange things are happening on these mysterious, isolated isles. Something is going bump in the night -- and bumping off members of the legal team, one by one. Soon Cantrip is telexing the gang at the home office for help. And it's up to amateur investigator Hilaray Tamar (Oxford don turned supersleuth) to get Cantrip back to safety of his chambers -- alive!
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Sirens Sang of Murder
“No, no, let me go or I’ll scream,” cried the lovely Eliane, her beautiful eyes filling with tears and her bosom heaving under the delicate silk of her blouse as she struggled to free herself from the vile embrace of the brutal Barristers’ Clerk.
“Scream all you like, you little fool,” snarled the Clerk, his hideous features twisted in a vicious leer. “There’s no one left in Chambers to hear you.”
But at that very moment there appeared in the doorway of the Clerks’ Room the suave and aristocratic figure of the brilliant young barrister Martin Carruthers.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Toadsbreath,” he drawled with suave contempt. “Take your vile hands off Eliane this minute. She may be only a temporary typist, but she is too rare and fine a creature to be touched by the likes of you.”
“Mr. Carruthers, sir, I thought you’d gone home, sir,” stammered Toadsbreath, cringing like a whipped cur before the young barrister’s contemptuous suavity.
Eliane gazed at Carruthers with adoration in her lovely eyes.
* * *
Cantrip and Julia were collaborating in the composition of a novel, based on their experiences of life at the Bar and to be entitled Chancery!, which they confidently expected to earn them wealth beyond the dreams of avarice and so free them from the tyranny of their respective Clerks. It had fallen to Cantrip to write the first instalment.
Offered the signal privilege of glancing through the opening paragraphs, I was reading them by candlelight in the Corkscrew, the wine bar on the north side of High Holborn which is the customary resort of my friends in Lincoln’s Inn when the long day’s work is done. Cantrip sat watching me with the anxiety characteristic of the aspiring author. It occurred to me that at least in appearance he was a not unsuitable model for the hero of a novel—the blackness of his hair and eyes combined with the pallor of his complexion to suggest a certain romantic quality which I supposed might appeal to the more susceptible portion of the reading public.
“What do you think of it, Hilary? Pretty hot stuff, wouldn’t you say?”
I answered, well knowing the sensitivity of the creative temperament, that I could scarcely contain my impatience to read further.
“May I infer,” I continued, “since you tell me that your narrative is based on real life, that you have a new temporary typist in Chambers?”
“That’s right,” said Cantrip. “Lilian’s her real name. Pale and blonde and sort of wistful-looking. Makes you feel she’s probably an orphan, going out to work to support her aged parents.” “So touching and unusual a predicament,” I said, “cannot fail to engage the sympathy of your readers. And is it indeed the case that you have discovered your Clerk making unwelcome advances to her?”
“Oh, absolutely. Not exactly like I’ve put it in the book, of course—you’ve got to ginger things up a bit, haven’t you? But I went into the Clerks’ Room the other evening and Henry was sort of leaning over her and she was saying, ‘Don’t be silly, Henry, someone might come in.’ So I gave him a quizzical sort of look and asked if I was interrupting something.”
“And Henry cringed?”
“Well, not exactly. He said no, not at all, sir, he was just going to take Lilian for a drink in the Seven Stars, and shouldn’t I be reading the papers for my possession action in Willesden County Court? That,” said Cantrip with a certain vindictiveness, “was when I decided to call him Toadsbreath.”
The proposed collaboration, though I wished it every success, seemed to me to be fraught with difficulties. The difference in educational background—Julia was educated at Oxford, while Cantrip, poor boy, through no fault of his own, spent his formative years at the University of Cambridge—would lead, I feared, to an irreconcilable disparity of style. Moreover, I had difficulty in seeing how the labour of composition was to be divided between them.
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Cantrip. “We’ve done a lot of research, viz read a lot of these books that people make pots of money out of, and what we’ve noticed is that some of them have heroines who are sort of fragile and waiflike, like Lilian, and some of them have heroines who are more sort of regal and imperious. So to be on the safe side we’re going to have one of each. I’m doing the Eliane bits, and Julia’s doing the bits with the regal and imperious one. Her name’s Cecilia Mainwaring, and she’s at the Tax Bar.”
“Dear me,” I said, “does Julia intend a self-portrait?”
“Well, not exactly. Cecilia’s what Julia’d be like if she wasn’t Julia, if you see what I mean—tremendously cool and poised and well groomed and never getting ladders in her tights or spilling coffee on her papers or anything. Oh, there’s Julia now—be frightfully nice to her, she got roughed up a bit in court this morning.”
Julia showed at first sight no manifest signs of ill treatment. Her hair was no more than usually dishevelled, her clothing no more than normally disordered, and she stumbled, in her progress towards the bar, over no more than the customary number of briefcases; but it was with feverish urgency that she purchased a bottle of Nierstein and with pitiful weariness that she sank at last into her chair. I enquired cautiously if she had had a difficult day.
“I suppose you could put it like that,” said Julia. “In the same sense that I suppose you might say that the early Christians had a rather trying time with the lions in the Colosseum. I have been appearing against the Revenue before Mr. Justice Welladay.”
“Come now, Julia,” I said kindly, “Mr. Justice Welladay couldn’t eat you, you know.”
“So I tried to persuade myself, but I found that I had grave doubts about it. It is a matter of observable fact that Welladay has twice as many teeth as anyone else, all of enormous size. He also has eyebrows which gather in a continuous line across his forehead, like some savage beast of the primeval jungle waiting to spring on its prey.”
Despite the risk of learning a good deal more about some obscure provision of the Taxes Acts than I had any desire to know, I thought it right to enquire upon what issue she had found her views at variance with those of the learned judge. Though I have the honour to be a member of the Faculty of Law, I am happy to confess that I am an historian rather than a lawyer, and there is little in the English law of taxation after the year 1660 which I find of absorbing interest; but it would have seemed unkind—and since she had purchased the wine, ungrateful—to deny poor Julia the consolation of giving a full account of her misfortunes.
“My client,” said Julia, “a simple, innocent property developer, had entered into a perfectly straightforward transaction which happened to involve a bank in Amsterdam and one or two companies in the Netherlands Antilles and which therefore happened to result in his having no tax to pay. Or rather, that’s how it would have resulted if the case hadn’t come before Welladay, who considers it the duty of every citizen to arrange his affairs in such a way as to maximise his liabilities to the Inland Revenue, and of his professional advisers to assist him in achieving that result. When I pointed out that the Duke of Westminster’s Case is a decision to the contrary effect and according to accepted rules of precedent still binding on him, he gave a most disagreeable laugh and asked if I didn’t happen to have heard of a decision of the House of Lords called Furniss v. Dawson. I have spent the day explaining, with the utmost respect, that the facts of Furniss v. Dawson were in no way similar to those of the case before him, and the words ‘Oh really, Miss Larwood’ and ‘Miss Larwood, are you seriously suggesting…?’ have been constantly on his lips, accompanied by ever more menacing movements of the eyebrows. The woman you see before you, Hilary, is not the Julia of former days but merely the mangled remnants which my instructing solicitor was eventually able to scrape up from the courtroom floor.”
A deep draft of Nierstein seemed to revive her spirits.
“Vengeance, however, will in due course be mine. The day is not far distant when the evil Mr. Justice Heltapay will find himself confronted by the proud and imperious Cecilia Mainwaring, and little his teeth and eyebrows will avail him then. She will wither him with a scornful glance of her magnificent eyes, denouncing him as an oppressor of the widow and orphan and perhaps adding a few disdainful comments on his failure to follow long-standing decisions of the Court of Appeal.”
“I gather,” I said, relieved that the conversation had turned to happier matters, “that your novel is to have two heroines but only one hero. Are Cecilia and Eliane to be rivals for the affections of Carruthers?”
“Certainly not,” said Julia. “Cecilia, by reason of her cool and disdainful exterior, is widely supposed indifferent to the gentler emotions, but she secretly nurses a passion, of the most noble and spiritual kind, for the aloof and elegant Dominic Ravel. Fearing to be rebuffed, however, she is too proud to tell him of her feelings.” I had no difficulty in recognizing Ragwort as the model for Dominic Ravel, though Julia in expressing her regard for him had never shown such reticence as she imputed to her heroine.
“I don’t mind Dominic being aloof and elegant,” said Cantrip rather anxiously. “But he’s not allowed to be suave. Carruthers is the one that’s suave. Did that come across, Hilary, that Carruthers was a tremendously suave sort of chap?”
I assured him that this characteristic of his hero had been most admirably established.
“And who,” I asked, “is the principal villain? Toads-breath or Heltapay?”
“Both of them,” said Cantrip. “Eliane’s really an heiress, you see, but Heltapay’s the executor of the estate and he wants to keep it all for himself, and Toads-breath doesn’t want her to get it so she’ll go on being at the mercy of his vile lusts, so they’re in cahoots to stop her finding out about it. In the end, of course, they’re foiled by Carruthers and Cecilia, so Eliane gets her inheritance and marries Carruthers and they all live happily ever after.”
I gathered that the joint oeuvre was designed to be in the romantic rather than the realist tradition.
“It’s designed to make us pots of money,” said Cantrip. “You can’t do that if you don’t ginger things up a bit.”
“We are of course anxious,” said Julia, “to appeal to as wide a public as possible, and it seems to us that the readers who want fiction to be like life are considerably outnumbered by those who would like life to be like fiction.”
“But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got verysmellitude,” said Cantrip. “It’s all based on real life, so it’s going to have verysmellitude in bucketfuls.”
“It is only in respect of the most trifling details,” said Julia, “that we depart in any way from the purely factual. The idea of Eliane being unjustly deprived of her lawful inheritance and restored to it by, the efforts of our hero is based entirely on actual events.”
Sarah Caudwell is the author of Thus Was Adonis Murdered, The Shortest Way to Hades,The Sirens Sang of Murder, and The Sibyl in Her Grave. She studied law at St. Anne's College, Oxford; was called to the Chancery Bar; and practiced as a barrister for several years in Lincoln's Inn. She then became a member of the legal department of a major London bank, where she found herself specializing in international tax planning. She died in 2000.