lucy brazier

Sinister Dexter : The Chief Inspector Gains The Upper Hand

For you, my dear readers, a little snippet from the upcoming installment of PorterGirl – Sinister Dexter, where we welcome back a favourite from The Vanishing Lord, Detective Chief Inspector Thompson…

It never does to keep The Dean waiting, but I do take a moment to wash the cream and jam from my hands and face before leaving the Lodge. If he thinks we’ve been having cake without him, there could be trouble. The condition of my waistcoat is perturbing, but there is little I can do about that right now. I imagine I shall have to order a new one. Still. I doubt The Dean will notice such a thing.

Stepping out from the Porters’ Lodge, a chill wind nips at my ears. The only downside of the bowler hat is that it does little to protect the ears from the elements. I am given to thinking that perhaps a deerstalker might be better this time of year and would certainly be appropriate for investigating all the mysterious things that happen around here. Mind you, I doubt that the miserly purse strings of The Bursar would stretch to additional hats, considering his cost-cutting measures where essentials such as tea are concerned. And that’s another thing. Although I am grateful for the embezzled brew purloined by Hershel, the police really do drink substantially second-rate tea compared to that of the fine selection provided by Head of Catering. It’s given me wind. I can’t imagine it can be the cake. Cake can’t be blamed for anything.

The smallest of shudders tickles my spine, but it isn’t the cold. A familiar creeping oiliness puts my teeth on edge and I look around me. There he is, swaggering towards me with his rakish pearly grin and the icy blue eyes that never quite look you in the face.

“Professor Palmer, what an unexpected pleasure,” I say through gritted teeth. The Dean seems sure he has the means for revenge upon the vile creature so I had best maintain a pretence for now.

“Yes, Deputy Head Porter, I’m sure it must be! What are you doing out here all alone?”

“I’m on my way to see The Dean,” I reply, forcing a smile.

“Oh, The Dean, really?” Professor Palmer positions himself so close to me that I have to tip my head in order to avoid talking to his chest. “While you’re up there I don’t suppose you could measure up for curtains, could you? I’m thinking of going for a Regency theme, actually. You won’t recognise the place, Deputy Head Porter, it will be beautiful – very inviting and comfortable for discerning ladies such as yourself.”

“I like The Dean’s rooms quite as they are,” I reply, quickly tiring of diplomacy. “They serve very well for the business of being The Dean. They are not generally used for entertaining ladies, discerning or otherwise.”

“They will be when I get in there,” snorts Professor Palmer. “Besides, you seem to spend quite a bit of your time up there. I do hope this is something that will continue during my tenure? Keeping on the good side of The Dean of College can be very beneficial, as I’m sure you already know.”

“The Dean doesn’t really have a good side,” I point out. “I find it best to ignore his sides and simply maintain a safe distance.”

“You’re not wrong there, the man is stark staring bonkers! All this nonsense about Russian spies. You would think he had more important things to worry about.”
“What do you know about Russian spies?” I ask, narrowing an eye meaningfully.

“Enough to surmise that they are unlikely to be paying Old College much attention,” Professor Palmer smirks. “It’s no wonder The Master wants to find a replacement. The man’s a liability.”

“A liability maybe, but at least he has a proper degree.”

I wish I had been brave enough to say this but I cannot lay claim to such a riposte. It seems we have been joined by the stealth-like Detective Chief Inspector Thompson and he appears in no mood for Professor Palmer.

“Do you mind!” shrieks Professor Palmer. “I am a member of The Fellowship and you are merely a policeman. How rude!”

“I don’t mind at all,” replies the Chief Inspector, dry as a bone. “Being a policeman has all sorts of interesting benefits – being rude to people is one of them. I’ll thank you to run along, now, I want to speak to Deputy Head Porter.”

“You can quite clearly see that I am already speaking to Deputy Head Porter,” huffs the Professor. “Not that such social norms usually stop you, as I recall.”

“The young lady in The Albatross? Police business, Palmer. As is this, because, as you so cleverly pointed out, I am a policeman.”

“A likely story!” Professor Palmer squares up to the detective, who looks rather pleased about the matter. “Tell me, Chief Inspector, is it because you can’t find any female company of your own that you insist upon stealing mine?”

“It certainly says something about your company that I find them so very easy to steal,” DCI Thompson gives the Professor possibly the smuggest look I have ever seen in my life. And I have seen some pretty smug looks, let me tell you. “Come on Deputy Head Porter, walk with me.”

DCI Thompson strides past, his sturdy shoulder clipping the Professor’s as he does so. I trot along obediently behind, doing my best to keep up and giggling girlishly at the prospect of being ‘stolen’. But the Chief Inspector has little time for giggling. We head over the Bridge and into the cloisters of Old Court and find ourselves alone. I wait politely as DCI Thompson silently looks around the empty courtyard, taking in the stoic grandeur. The light of the day is beginning to fade but the frosted flagstones still find themselves able to twinkle in the dusk. Although the air is cold, there is a warmth of sorts in the courtyard that is difficult to explain. Old College doesn’t hold with the laws of nature, so perhaps it just isn’t in the mood for winter this evening.

“I can see why you stay here, Deputy Head Porter,” says the detective. “The place certainly has its charms.”

“It does rather get to you after a while,” I reply. “Also I really like the hat.”

“Is that why you left the police? Because they did away with proper hats?”

DCI Thompson is referring to a recent amendment to the uniform adopted by several forces, where the traditional hats of officers have been replaced by baseball caps. An absolute travesty, in my opinion, but something that occurred after my departure.

“Something like that, Sir.”

“I looked into your background, Deputy Head Porter. By all accounts your career seemed to be going rather well. What made you up sticks to The City and join Old College?”

Well. This is uncomfortable. 

“It’s a long story, Sir.”

“Just what is your story, Deputy Head Porter?” the Chief Inspector asks. “There’s something about you that doesn’t quite… fit.”

My story? Now there’s a question. Really, I could write a book. But here and now are neither the time nor the place. I’m expected by The Dean and discussing my personal life with a senior detective isn’t high on my list of priorities. I decide to distract the Chief Inspector with information regarding the investigation.

“I’ve been speaking to some of the students, Sir,” I say. “It seems that The Dean was right – there is an occult connection between the deceased. How relevant that is, I couldn’t say – although I’m sure you know more about it than I do.”

“I would hope that I do, Deputy Head Porter, I am the lead officer in the case after all!” the DCI laughs as he removes his pocket notebook from his jacket. “Nonetheless, thank you, this is certainly useful.”

“How are things going, in the investigation?” I ask, watching as DCI Thompson makes notes in his little book.

“Oh, I think I’ve gained the upper hand,” he replies. “I always do. Sooner or later.”

I can believe it.

The detective snaps shut the notebook and returns it to the jacket, turning to me with a concentrated frown. I’m sure he intends to ask me something awkward, but is thrown off course by the sudden eruption of the chorus of Sweet Home Alabama from his trouser pocket. I suspect that this is his personal – rather than work – phone and he scrabbles to answer it. I take the opportunity to escape to the relative safety of The Dean’s rooms while I can, making vague pointing gestures to indicate my departure. The Chief Inspector displays utter disinterest, throwing a cursory wave over his shoulder as I scuttle off along the cloister.

PorterGirl: Sinister Dexter – A Sneak Peek

My dear readers, the festive season is upon us and in amongst the associated shenanigans I have been working hard on the new PorterGirl novel, Sinister Dexter. I had hoped to cobble together a Christmas video for you all, as is usually my wont at this time of year, but time and circumstance have conspired against me and the best I can offer you is an excerpt from the aforementioned book itself. There are no spoilers as the main thrust of the drama is revealed very early on. Welcome back to Old College, my friends…

A Place In Society

At least Head Porter has made contact. He is no doubt lurking somewhere about the place but where? And what is he doing? I wouldn’t mind betting that he is deliberately avoiding all the to-do regarding the bottom of the garden and leaving me with the dubious honour of managing the matter. I shall have words, I tell you.

Daylight is a fleeting thing this time of year and dusk is already rampant across the skies. I can taste the beginnings of a frost in the air, but none has yet settled anywhere that I can see. Perhaps it is an illusion. I have learnt never to trust the obvious where Old College is concerned. And then I spy the one thing about Old College that I certainly can trust – it is The Dean and he appears furious. A man not given to guile or subterfuge, The Dean is a man who not quite wears his heart on his sleeve, but definitely wears his mood on his face. Whatever it is that The Dean might be feeling at any given moment, he is very keen to make sure everyone knows about it.

“Deputy Head Porter!” he calls out as he spots me. Why am I so easy to spot? “Deputy Head Porter, I am furious!”

“So I see, Sir” I reply. I would ask what the cause of his rage might be, but furious is his default setting. It could be anything from the collapse of Western civilisation to the wind blowing too loudly.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s get a drink. You’ll need one after you’ve heard what I’ve got to tell you. Actually, you’ll need one before as well, I shouldn’t wonder. Lot’s of drinking, that’s the thing.”

“You know I shouldn’t drink on duty,” I reply. “And anyway, I’m off to the Lodge, Head Porter wants me to give him a ring.”

“Neither of those things are relevant, Deputy Head Porter,” cries The Dean, wagging a finger and displaying wonderful disregard for anything that doesn’t involve him. “We are going to the bar.”

I’ve just come from the bar and I don’t think this is a very good idea at all. There is a growing swell of collective student inebriation forming there and is certainly not the place for The Dean of College. Nor the Deputy Head Porter, come to that. Although there are no hard and fast rules on the matter, patronage of the College bar is predominately the privilege of the students. The Fellowship have their own little nooks and dens for the purpose of excessive imbibing and the College servants really shouldn’t be partaking at all.

“Sir, maybe we should go to your rooms instead.”

“Deputy Head Porter! You cheeky thing!” The Dean almost giggles. “I see your thinking but no, there is important work to be done. This is no time for a repeat of the last time.”

A brief – but remarkably intense – wave of horror crashes over me. I don’t know what he thinks I am suggesting but I can assure you, I am most certainly not being a ‘cheeky thing’. More worryingly, I realise that he is referring to that lost, drunken night during the summer, of which I remember nothing at all.  Perhaps the bar is a good idea after all.

Recent events coupled with the presence of DCI Thompson and friends has cast a grim shadow over Old College, but the bar retains a familiar air of jovial anarchy. After all, Maurinio was not well-known among his contemporaries and dead bodies tend to bring out the bravado within certain swaggering types. The free flowing of alcohol invariably loosens lips, so there may be a tactical advantage in having a quiet drink and keeping my ears open. Then again, I am here with The Dean, to whom ‘quiet’ is an unknown concept, unless it is applied to other people.

Old College is at the very peak of the upper echelons of the academic elite, a seat of learning for some of the most privileged offspring in Britain and beyond. As such, the College bar serves as something of a glimpse into the salons and lounges of exclusive establishments of the future; smatterings of an elite prospective society banter over two-for-one cocktails and pork scratchings, forging alliances that will last for decades. A microcosm of tomorrow’s captains of industry, parliament and creative influencers are currently swarming around the sticky bar, instigating increasingly outlandish dares whilst ensuring that their heads will be unbearable the following morning. I am rather fearful for the future, I can tell you.

The University population functions in a similar way to the wider society that exists beyond its physical and metaphorical walls. Clutches of kindred spirits band together, creating hierarchies both within the groups and of the groups themselves. The athletic brethren seem to fair best in these unspoken rankings, their physical prowess a conspicuous outward affirmation of their superiority. Whilst not always top of the class in their chosen subjects, their academic credentials are nonetheless assured as students of Old College. The rowing and rugby teams are the most ostentatious in displaying their supremacy, no doubt emboldened by the esteem derived from sporting excellence. The exponents of both pursuits possess most excellent thighs and a number of them are gathered around a beer-sodden table, talking boorishly of not only their own personal and sporting conquests, but also tearing into vicious character assassinations of those perceived to have caused them offence of some kind. It is impossible not to overhear their bawdy conversation, conducted as it is at decibels designed to quell the chatterings of lesser mortals.

One company – perhaps the only one – who fail to cow to the braggadocio of the athletes, are the engineers. Consummate all-rounders, not only do they have the brains and expertise to match mathematicians and physicist alike, they possess an ingenious creativity akin to any of the artistes, coupled with an innate practicality that is glaringly absent from almost all of the academic persuasion. The engineers consider themselves to be the alpha pack – but a hesitation to defend the claim against their brawny rivals prevents them from noting this too loudly. As The Dean and I head towards quieter corners, we pass a gathering of them, making jokes I don’t understand and constructing impossible things from beer mats.

A nest of mathematicians are drinking quietly yet with great purpose, whilst philosophy students confuse the English literature scholars and those with political leanings argue among themselves. The mid-table groups of University society battle it out between themselves as to which has greater standing than the next. The only thing upon which they all agree is who sits at the bottom of the pile. In The University, this is the history of art students. Unlucky enough to have selected a subject that is neither intellectually demanding nor requiring talent of any kind, these unfortunates often find themselves adrift from the cut and thrust of College life. Occasionally a musician might take pity on them, or they may find themselves under the wing of a stray gaggle of misfits, but largely they are scholastic pariahs and not taken seriously as either intellectuals or artistes.

Of course, it is possible to cling to the coattails of elitism, even if you are a history of art student. There are numerous student bodies and organisations that need figureheads or patsies to fawn over them. Social standing can be acquired through romantic connections to those higher up the pecking order, although this is a last resort in an environment where personal achievement is everything. Still, it is not to be frowned upon too firmly, as this would undoubtedly be my most likely option of social climbing had I ever, by some miracle, found myself as an Old College student. The other sure-fire way to becoming a collegiate legend is to join one of the ancient and notorious drinking societies that have both blighted and enriched academic life for centuries. Each college has their own drinking society and there are also exceptionally exclusive University-wide institutions that invite only the finest scholastic imbibers to attempt initiation.

And the initiations are quite something. The University does love its nonsensical and elaborate rituals and the drinking societies are no different. Old College’s own drinking society, the Lesser Dragons (named after the Order of the Lesser Dragon, itself a secret society that founded the College in 1448) has one of the less horrendous rites. In order to be admitted to the Lesser Dragons, prospective members must place a flaming sock on their genitals and down a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape before said item can be removed. The Sybarites, Bacchus-loving brethren of our near neighbours and sworn enemies, Hawkins College, have an initiation that involves drinking a bottle of Bombay Sapphire through a prophylactic. A typically pitiful and cowardly ritual, if you ask me, but I have come to expect such things from those buggers next door.

The Beefeaters Club is a highly exclusive, inter-college society that on the face of things is fairly decorous. Their meetings are held in high-end establishments, evening dress de rigueur, and involve a lavish seven-course meal. The appearance of respectability falls apart somewhat when you learn that each course is accompanied by one full bottle of wine for each diner and that the host establishment serves the meal in a room covered entirely in tarpaulin, to minimise the risk of damage.

There are even annual fights between rival drinking societies, organised with the same care and deliberation one might apply to a garden party, and scores have been meticulously recorded through the centuries as if they were The Ashes. Membership to one of these illustrious yet nefarious clubs would elevate even the most socially inept of students to a respectable rank, therefore improving their communal and romantic prospects considerably. But this is of little concern to The Dean. He has important things to discuss.

The perfect Christmas gift!

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK  Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK  Amazon US

Christmas Tales with Lucy Brazier & Paul Butterworth

Christmas Eve At Old College

The Tale Of The Cursed Hat


The Curious Monk

Hot on the heels of the success of The Box Under The Bed horror anthology, the team are putting together a follow-up collection of unlikely tales, this time in the genre of humour. Here is a teaser of my contribution, The Curious Monk

Curiosity killed the cat, or so they say. What cat? Why a cat? Were any dogs ever seriously injured by curiosity? Could curiosity maim a fish?

This rather eclectic train of thought belonged to Barnaby, a middle-aged monk, as he hoisted his ample frame over the unforgiving stone monastery walls of the Blind Brotherhood of St Bastian, his home since he was a small boy. Barnaby had scant memory of his parents, save for that they were devoted to the Lord and fashioned themselves as 12th day Advent Hoppists. It was a curious religion, rising from the fact that their bible had a misprint. It taught of ‘faith, hop and charity; and the greatest of these is hop’. Every Sunday was spent hopping around the parlour with great vigour, singing joyful songs and trying not to stub a toe.

Their furious hopping must have paid off as the good Lord saw fit to take them in his arms soon afterwards, leaving the little Barnaby alone in the world, until one day a benevolent member of the Brotherhood came across him weeping in the woods and took him in. The Brotherhood was so named not because they were blind in the literal sense, but because they endured an elective blindness of the outside world and its nefarious ways, so that they would not be tempted from their righteous path. They were good men and kind, but life was monotonous and dry, and Barnaby had something of the spirit of adventure in his bones.


Barnaby exhaled a small groan as he hit the ground on the opposite side of the wall. His arms had grown strong through hard labour, but his belly was large from a hearty diet and need to eschew vanity. The Brotherhood had warned that there may be nuns nearby and the strapping physique of a man might agitate their baser instincts. It would not do to agitate a nun.

Tumbling a few feet on the mossy earth, Barnaby came to rest beneath a bushel. He stopped to catch his breath and glimpse the rolling twilight above, gently chasing sunset from the sky. As the first stars of the evening began to wink at him, he cast his mind back to that rare excursion to the local market, several weeks previous. Accompanied by one of the elders, Barnaby had been tasked with procuring garlic, the Brotherhood’s crop having been ravaged by weevils. The visit was short but in that brief time he heard wonderful tales woven among the chatter and bartering of the market. Tales of far away places, strange creatures and, most pertinently, wine, women and song. Barnaby like the sound of these enormously.

And so it was that he decided to escape the monastery for one night, to learn what he could about these curious entities. He had noted a tavern on one side of the market square and supposed that this was a good place to start. Scrabbling to his feet, he set off at a pace along the winding path that led down into the village.

Bereft of the hustle and bustle of commerce, the market square was eerie by night. But across the way the tavern blazed with light and laughter, the walls almost straining to contain the merriment within, leaking tantalising zephyrs of jocularity through the door and window frames. Barnaby thought to himself that surely here all of life could be found and his curiosities would be satisfied. A jaunty sign hung above the entrance, declaring the establishment to be named The Pickled Pig. Pushing open the door, several sets of eyes observed Barnaby’s arrival, followed swiftly by swirling whispers and, finally, an uneasy hush.

Stepping over the threshold, Barnaby gasped. Taking in the scene with a sweeping gaze he saw skins of every age and hue, apparel of unimagined types and, in the case of some of the ladies, apparel that was barely there at all. The air was heavy with a kind of smokey stickiness and now the only sound was of the Bar Tender’s cloth squeaking around an already clean glass.

“Good evening, Brother,” said the Bar Tender, clearing his throat. “What can we do for you?”

Barnaby drew himself up to his full height, which was fairly considerable.

“I have come here this night out of curiosity,” he began. “Nearly all my life I have lived in the monastery and have grown wise in the ways of the Lord and many other things. But I have an inkling that there is more to life and now these things I also wish to know. More specifically, about wine, women and song.”

Some eyebrows raised, some glances exchanged. Someone at the back asked him to speak up. The Bar Tender shrugged.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he replied. “But first, if we are to share with you our expert knowledge on such things, you must give us something in return.”

“I am a humble monk with nothing in the way of material goods,” said Barnaby, his ragged robes tied at what was once his waist with mangey rope a testament to this.

“Alright. Then you must tell us all the secret of how to get into Heaven.”

Barnaby thought hard for a moment before making his reply.

“The Good Book teaches how to get to heaven and every Sunday your priest will tell the same.”

“We’re not big on readin’,” snapped a crow-faced old man from his barstool, grizzled features twisted into a grin. “An’ church ‘appens very early in the mornin’. Give us the abridged version and we’ll teach you the ways o’ the world.”

Barnaby thought again.

“Well, I suppose there is one notable element that is often overlooked in traditional teachings that is imperative to getting into Heaven,” he replied, slowly. “If you teach me the things I want to know, I will tell it to you.”

Bargain struck, Barnaby took his place at the bar and the patrons gathered round, eyes shining and limbs fidgeting.

“Let us begin with wine,” suggested Barnaby.

To find out what Barnaby learns about wine, women and song you will have to buy the book! I don’t know when it’s out – or even what it’s called – but rest assured I will be plugging it shamelessly once I do!


In the meantime, why not enjoy a trip to Old College?