Clare Whitfield’s debut novel, People of Abandoned Character, is published by Head of Zeus on 1 October 2020.
Today I have an extract of the book.
He asked about my family, and I told him the old scarlet fever story, that my grandparents had raised me and now everyone was dead. I had no one. Poor, vulnerable little me. I never lied and he didn’t ask again. He told me all about growing up in a house called Abbingdale Hall, a large Georgian mansion in the village of Wraxham, a few miles outside Bristol. To me he may as well have been describing a palace. It had a small farm, an orangery and an aviary. He mentioned once that there were twenty servants and my head almost snapped off. Twenty! I struggled to imagine what on earth these people could be doing all day. There were arable fields where crops were grown, pastures on which cattle grazed, and tenants that maintained hedgerows, so they had to employ a farmer and his family to look after the land. He talked of formal gardens, terraces, rose gardens, ornamental flowerbeds, and there was even an arboretum. I worried he would sense my newfound lust was more than a little influenced by his wealth. ‘My father called it paradise,’ he said. ‘Wild garlic grows under the trees. It’s quite beautiful.’ It certainly sounded like paradise to me. Thomas’s childhood was a world away from mine. One evening in his bedroom, he said, ‘When we are married and I have established myself as England’s greatest surgeon, we can retire and live there. You know, I will inherit the lot once my mother dies. There is Helen, my twin sister, and she’ll have to be well looked after, of course. I consider myself a forward-thinking man. I’ll give her enough to keep her busy – she does like to order and organise. It can be irritating, but she’s really rather good at it, I’ll give her that. However, I am the male heir, and nothing can change that.’ He was saying everything I wanted to hear, but I was sure he was teasing me. Of course he had no intention of marrying me. Why would he? ‘And we shall have Queen Victoria to tea, and I will grow angel wings. As if someone like you would marry someone like me! It makes no sense. While I’m grateful for your flattery, it doesn’t mean I will let you insult me.’ I felt a twinge of guilt when I saw how crushed he was by my reaction. ‘I take it you have other plans?’ he said. ‘You think I am desperate for a husband? That I’m an old maid of thirty? Well, I have ambitions of my own. When I am finally released from the hospital after my mandatory four years are done, I will work in the colonies. You are not the only one who seeks adventure and success. Africa, or India, I think… I have always wanted to live in sunnier climes.’ I had no such plans, of course. It had been Aisling who had talked of these things; these were her ideas I heard coming from my lips. ‘Don’t go to India, Chapman. It may sound charming, but, trust me, there’s nothing romantic about a bout of dysentery. And then there’s the malaria.’ ‘Is that your idea of a proposal? Marry me – it’s better than dysentery?’ He burst out laughing, which only made me angry. ‘What’s so funny?’ ‘I’m imagining you in a village full of lepers. I’m not sure it’s for you, Chapman, considering your feelings on nursing the natives at the London. You know, you should stop getting in your own way and avoiding the inevitable for no good reason other than pride. Marry me! Despite our origins, we are too similar a breed to stay apart.’ ‘I’m glad you think my ideas amusing. I may look like a desperate spinster to you, Dr Lancaster, but even I would demand a better proposal than that.’
About the Book
He is my husband.
To honour and obey.
Until murder do us part.
London, 1888: Susannah rushes into marriage to a young and wealthy surgeon. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home with her new husband wrapped around her little finger. But then everything changes. His behaviour becomes increasingly volatile and violent. He stays out all night, returning home bloodied and full of secrets.
Lonely and frustrated, Susannah starts following the gruesome reports of a spate of murders in Whitechapel. But as the killings continue, her mind takes her down the darkest path imaginable. Every time her husband stays out late, another victim is found dead.
Is it coincidence? Or is he the man they call Jack the Ripper?
About the Author
Clare Whitfield is a UK-based writer living in a suburb where the main cultural landmark is a home store/Starbucks combo. She is the wife of a tattoo artist, mother of a small benign dictator and relies on a black Labrador for emotional stability. She has been a dancer, copywriter, amateur fire breather, buyer and mediocre weight lifter. This is her first novel.