Excerpt from Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Death and Mr. Pickwick

by Stephen Jarvis

Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis X
Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 816 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 816 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Excerpt
Death and Mr. Pickwick

THE FIRE'S RAYS ALONE LIT the parlour's gloom when I took my seat by the hearth. I am sure I betrayed some signs of nervousness to my interviewer, as I cast my eyes over the many shelves and cabinets, whose contents flickered in the firelight: he said that I should feel free to ask about anything on display. I saw a duelling pistol with the sign 'Loaded' underneath, as well as a stuffed rook in a pose of great fright and a stagecoach bugle with a crushed and glinting horn.

'Perhaps you could tell me the significance of some of the items,' said my interviewer. To encourage me to speak, he added: 'I keep that bugle because it makes me wonder how it became that way.' He twisted in his armchair on the opposite side of the hearth, for a better angle upon the shelf where the bugle stood. The firelight flashed upon his spectacles, which were circular. 'I was amused when the last candidate suggested I had sat upon it.'

He was indeed an enormous man, and a bald and sweating one too, and he lifted the spectacles to wipe under the frame. 'And that's justice in former times,' he said, noticing that I was looking above the hearth, where there was a display of antique truncheons arranged in declining size, like pan pipes, from an enormous wooden pole, two and a half feet long, to a short and brutal stub with a thick brass ferrule. 'Perhaps you could tell me some stories about heads they might have cracked,' he said.

Before I could attempt an answer, he started to explain that, if he took me on, I would have to get used to his many quirks – one of which was to keep the fire in the parlour alight all year round, including in the middle of May, the time of this interview – but he was interrupted as the door at the end of the room opened. 'Ah, our drinks,' he said, hearing the handle turn behind him.

A curly-haired maid, who had the least deferential face of any servant I had ever encountered in my life – a face that practically radiated cheek and cheerfulness – brought in a lacquered tray bearing two tankards, and with every click of her heels she proclaimed her independence. Her livery was a blouse of vertical black and white stripes and a tight black skirt. Though my attention was drawn to her, I also glimpsed, when the door opened, a well-lit room at the end of the passage: I saw an easel, and a flip chart bearing writing and dates, as though set up for a lecture, and the heading: 'Where is Chapman's friend?'

'Our guest will be interrogated over supper,' he said to the maid as she set down the drinks. 'What fare can we offer him, Mary?'

'You just say what you want after I decide what you're getting, sir, and everything will be fine.' She winked at me and left.

'I interviewed many a maid before I found her,' he said. 'Just as I have interviewed many before you. So – to the most important question. How well do you know the immortal work?'

'I have read it – I would say – ten times completely, but on many occasions I have read parts, especially when I have been sick in bed.'

A disappointment spread over the fat man's features. 'That's a great shame,' he said, exhaling in a rude and noisy expression of frustration. 'I had been hoping you'd be the one who'd say "by heart".'

*   *   *

It was rook pie that night. Rook, I discovered, is gamey, but not as strong as pigeon.

'Some old countrymen,' he remarked, as we sat at the table in the small candlelit dining room, 'will tell you that May the thirteenth is the perfect day for your gun, when the young rooks emerge from the nest.'

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