Today is my stop on the blog tour for Burning Secret by R.J. Lloyd. I am excited to be sharing an excerpt post with you all, so you can get a little taste for the book!
A massive thank you to @KaleidoscopicBT for allowing me to be a part of the tour.
In 1844 Enoch Price was born into poverty. An ambitious youth, he becomes a bare-knuckle fighter amongst London’s underworld. In debt to a violent and unscrupulous moneylender and facing ruin and imprisonment, he escapes to Jacksonville, Florida, abandoning his wife and three young daughters, a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. By the time he arrives in Florida, Enoch Price has become Harry Mason.
Through a series of thrilling and risky escapades, he plays an important role in the development and history of Jacksonville, building an extraordinary new life of political and financial notoriety, the shooting of a rival, and the concealment of a murder. Despite imploring his wife to join him, she declines, exhausted by his lies. Tormented by loneliness and guilt, Harry seeks solace through a bigamous marriage, leading him into a web of deceit as he tries to conceal his true identity and past. Meanwhile, lauded and enjoying popular success, Harry is elected in 1903 to the Florida State House of Representatives with the prospect of becoming State Governor. He advances his business interests through a series of corrupt practices, becoming a wealthy and successful politician. However, success brings neither happiness nor contentment, and, seeking redemption, Harry plans to return home – but life is rarely that simple as the First World War breaks out, the Spanish flu pandemic takes its toll, and the American government introduces prohibition. Will there be a good end for Harry, or will his secrets prove to be the death of him?
An hour later, Price escaped the dark, rancid claustrophobia of the crowded court and stepped briskly into the weak, late afternoon sunlight, which had penetrated low along one side of Portugal Street. Wrapping his rough, woollen overcoat tight against the bitter cold, he turned to shake Rosenthal by the hand, thanking him heartily for securing a further adjournment and reprieve from prison.
Taking Enoch’s outstretched hand, Rosenthal pulled him near to avoid being overheard. His mellifluous tones now turned venomous as he hissed a cautionary note. ‘My dear, dear friend, I may have delayed your lodgings at the debtors’ prison, but I’ve shortened your stay by not one day.’ Releasing his grip, Rosenthal continued as if cheerfully taking leave of a favourite cousin on a summer lawn. ‘May I wish you and your dear wife a prosperous New Year.’ Then, lowering his voice, ‘Should my services be again required, ensure my fees are settled in good time.’
‘Will I be assured of justice?’ enquired Enoch.
‘You will receive the law, sir. Justice must wait a higher authority.’ Tipping his silk top hat, Rosenthal bade his client farewell.
Glad of his freedom, Enoch made his way towards Covent Garden. By the time he reached King Street, the milky afternoon sky had darkened to deep indigo, and by the flickering gaslights, specks of frost sparkled on the damp cobblestones. The gutters were strewn with litter from the flower market and the putrid detritus discarded by itinerant costermongers, the last of whom were loading their barrows. The streets were now quiet, with few passers-by.
Occasionally, a carriage rattled past, taking its gentleman owner towards the theatres on Drury Lane. Too soon for a performance, but early enough for a plausibly denied assignation.
Enoch glanced movement in bundles of old rags and broken crates in dark corners – rats taking their first opportunity to venture from the sewers or, more likely, poor souls who, having pawned their bed for a glass of gin, were now seeking shelter against the cold night air.
On reaching Rose Street, he stepped into a narrow alleyway and through the portal of The Lamb and Flag. The hostelry was, as always, convivial, warm and inviting. The yellow glow of the gas mantles cast deep shadows across the wood panelling and crowded booths filled with laughter and whispered conspiracies. A good log fire spat and crackled, and the comforting aromas of tobacco and strong drink filled the air. For the first time that day, Enoch relaxed and took his ease on a familiar bench near the bar.
The landlord’s ten-year-old daughter approached. ‘Mr Price! If you ain’t a sight for sore eyes.’ Her gentle Irish lilt was discernible beneath the local cockney dialect. ‘Can I bring you a drink to lessen your woes?’
‘A small glass of ale will suffice, if you please, Biddy.’ ‘And I’ll wager a slice of pie?’
‘That would be grand. Thank you.’
On her return, Enoch had shed his heavy coat and was filling a clay pipe with his favourite dark shag. ‘Is Michael at home?’ he asked.
‘I’ll fetch our da directly – he’ll be more than pleased to see you.’ Then, adding to underscore the sentiment, ‘We’re always pleased to see you, Mr Price.’
About The Author:
“After retiring as a senior police officer, I turned my detective skills to genealogy, tracing my family history to the 16th century. However, after 15 years of extensive research, I couldn’t track down my great-great-grandfather, Enoch Price, whose wife, Eliza, had, in living memory, helped raise my mother.
It was my cousin Gillian who, after several more dead-ends, called one day to say that she had found him through a fluke encounter. Susan Sperry from California, who had recently retired, decided to explore the box of documents given to her thirty years before by her mother, which she had never opened. In the box, she found some references to her great grandfather, Harry Mason, a wealthy hotel owner from Florida who had died in 1919. It soon transpired that Susan’s great grandfather, Harry Mason, was, in fact, Enoch Price. From this single thread, the extraordinary story of Harry Mason began to unravel, leading me to visit the States to meet my American cousins, and it was Susan Sperry and Kimberly Mason, direct descendants, who persuaded me to write the book.
I graduated from Warwick with a joint in Philosophy and Psychology and a Masters in Marketing from UWE. Since leaving a thirty-year career in policing, I’ve been a non-executive director with the NHS, social housing, and other charities. I live with my wife in Bristol, spending my time travelling, writing and producing delicious plum jam from the trees on my award-winning allotment.”
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