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Those in Peril  (Severn House)

The third in the Suzie Fewings mystery series.

    The portrait of a lifeboatman takes the Fewings family to East Anglia, in search of Nick's famous ancestor. But they find darker stories in the past as well. And now there are rumours of drug smuggling along this coast.

    Millie and her cousin Anna are convinced that a ship seen off the coast at twilight is running drugs. They set off to search for the tunnels which were once said to have been used by smugglers. They don't come back.

    Could they be imprisoned by the bad-tempered eccentric who now owns the house where Nick's ancestors once kept a smugglers' inn?

"The loyal teamwork of the extended Fewings family, brisk pace, tense climax, and distinctive characters combine into an entertaining read for those looking for a mystery in the Mary Stewart tradition." Publishers Weekly

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   The two brothers forged up it. As they climbed, the air seemed to grow lighter around them. The sea was widening the higher they went. To their left lay the harbour of St Furseys, mockingly cheerful now with street lights. A light further out puzzled Nick, until he realized it must be the ship they had seen at anchor, now making its way in towards the breakwater.

   But what he could not see yet, and would not until they reached the top, were the rocks at the foot of the cliffs. His lungs were bursting, but he forced himself on without slowing. He could hear Leon's laboured breathing beside him. Leon was older than he was. How good was his heart?

   At last they were out on open grass, scattered with gorse bushes. The path ended at the concrete pyramid of a trig point.

   They had hardly got there before Tom came pulling himself up from the more precipitous slope to their left. He made a face that was half laughter, half defeat.

   'You were right. I kept having to change direction to find my way through hedges,' he panted. 'Any sign of them?'

   They approached the lip of the cliff.

   Nick had a dizzying view of white breakers smashing in spray on yellowish rocks. He searched, with a chill in his heart, for the pale smudgeof Millie's silver jacket, the light blue of Anna's. Even in this light, they should be visible. If they were there. If they hadn't been swept out to sea by those relentless waves.

   None of them said anything. But Nick and Leon drew back from the edge and looked at each other. He's probably feeling the same as I am, Nick thought. He doesn't know whether not seeing them down there is good news or bad.

   Tom, however, had lain down on his stomach. He craned his head over the lip of rock and peered directly beneath him. At last he wriggled back and stood up, brushing the dirt and grass from his clothes.

   'It's hard to say. I think I can pick out a shadow in the rock face. Might just be a shallow hollow, but it could be a cave entrance.'

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Why I Wrote "Those in Peril"

I'm having a fascinating time researching my own family history. Everything from paupers to lords of the manor. But that doesn't stop me being interested in other people's ancestry too.

  I've long been fascinated by a large framed photograph of my son-in-law's great-grandfather. He is dressed in oilskins and sou'wester and standing proudly beside his boat. He is Charlie Cox of Cromer, well-known as a lifeboatman. He served under the legendary coxswain Henry Bloggs. It is said that when he was drowned out fishing, there was a funeral procession of lifeboatmen half a mile long.

   This was my starting point. But I have ancestors of my own who made history along the coast. Thomas Cory was one of the famous Deal Boatmen. These men sailed the luggers which serviced ships anchored in the Downs, on their way between the North Sea and the English Channel. The constant tally of shipwrecks on the notorious Dogger Bank had the luggers racing out to be first to claim the salvage money. In the days before a regular lifeboat service, these were the brave men who also rescued the sailors and passengers in atrocious weather.

     But there are darker stories too. In earlier days, the Deal Boatmen were known as smugglers. The battle between boatmen and Revenue officers sometimes took a violent turn.

    It is said that there is a cave in the cliffs of the Kent coast, where the smugglers would haul up a lugger out of sight, before the Revenue cutter could reach them. Of course, that had to get into this book.

   There's a further angle. The first of my Cory ancestors to move to Kent kept a pub. In the past, it was known as a haunt of smugglers.

   So plenty there to fire the imagination. And no need to look for a far-fetched plot for the modern strand of the story. Today, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have to deal with a far worse trade than the brandy and baccy of older times. Drug running is common. And those engaged in it will not hesitate to kill.

 

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