A Turbulent Peace
by Paul Walker
Publication Date: July 2022
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 305 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Following the armistice, Mary Kiten, a volunteer nurse in northern France, is ready to return home to England when she receives a surprise telegram requesting that she report to Paris. The call comes from her Uncle Arthur, a security chief at the Peace Conference.
Within minutes of arriving at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, Mary hears a commotion in the street outside. A man has been shot and killed. She is horrified to earn that the victim is her uncle. The police report the attack as a chance robbery by a known thief, who is tracked down and killed resisting arrest.
Mary is not convinced. Circumstances and the gunshot wound do not indicate theft as a motive. A scribbled address on Arthur’s notepad leads to her discovery of another body, a Russian Bolshevik. She suspects her uncle, and the Russian, were murdered by the same hand.
To investigate further, Mary takes a position working for the British Treasury, headed by J M Keynes.
But Mary soon finds herself in the backstreets of Paris and the criminal underworld.
What she discovers will threaten the foundations of the congress.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
‘Miss Kiten. Over here.’
I turned right and saw Pinchin with a raised hand and broad smile standing by a group of three leather armchairs. I walked fifteen paces or so, feeling exposed as heads turned to follow my progress. I had taken trouble with my appearance; applying rarely-used cosmetics; and wearing my silk, turquoise, pleated dress – the only concession to high fashion in my suitcase. Pinchin gestured at an empty chair with self-conscious muttering, which I interpreted as a compliment. Keynes was slouched in the seat opposite with hands clasped over his belly, and one leg slung over the other in an attitude of languid indifference. Then, abruptly, as though he had suddenly remembered good manners, Keynes unravelled his legs and stood while I took my seat.
‘Good evening, Miss Kiten; thank you for joining us.’ He waited until all were seated before adding, ‘Would you like a drink?’
It was clear from its tone that I was expected to answer his question with a polite refusal. Two cut-glass tumblers were sat on a small circular table in the middle, holding measures of pale amber liquid.
‘I will have a small scotch, thank you, sir. Do they serve ice here?’
‘Indeed, they do,’ said Keynes with the hint of a raised eyebrow, ‘and they have imported a fine selection of scotch whisky. Do you have a preference?’
‘Now that is a question too far as you must know, Mr Keynes. I’m happy to rely on your experience for a choice of brand, served – on the rocks.’
A casual wave of an arm was enough to bring a waiter to his side. He ordered another glass of Cardhu and a bowl of ice.
‘How did you find it in our schoolroom today?’ asked Pinchin.
‘Fascinating. I had no idea of the meticulous research and complex calculations you undertake to arrive at your financial estimates. Of course, I’ve only just scratched the surface and have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying my work so far.’
‘Gerry tells me you were acquainted with the recently deceased Arthur Burgess,’ said Keynes.
‘More than acquainted; he was my father’s closest friend, and I’ve known him all my life.’
Keynes appeared unsettled by my response, and he took a moment to consider. ‘I’m sorry, I hadn’t realised the intimacy of your connection. My commiserations to you and your family. Are you quite ready for work? Wouldn’t you like a few days rest or to return home?’
‘Thank you, but no, I wish to remain here and prefer to work.’
The waiter placed a small glass of whisky and a bowl of ice on our table. I picked up a cube of ice with silver tongs, dropped it in my glass and swirled it around. Keynes waited, then raised his glass and offered a toast to ‘absent friends’. I had tasted scotch whisky only once before at Cambridge. I didn’t like it then and prepared for a shock to my tastebuds. I sipped carefully. It was much smoother than the one I remembered but still unpleasant. Pinchin was the first to replace his glass on the table.
‘Your German is pretty good, Miss Kiten. How are you with other European languages?’
‘I’m fluent in German and French. My Russian is adequate; no more. I can read Italian and speak a little but would not pretend to be anywhere near proficient.’ I paused and took another sip. ‘That’s it. Oh, I started to read Greek at Cambridge, but I’ve probably forgotten what little I learned.’
Pinchin leaned back in his chair and exchanged a glance with Keynes, who nodded as though a decision had been made.
‘Your expertise in languages puts the rest of our unit to shame, and it seems we have been fortunate in engaging your services.’ Keynes clasped his hands together and gazed at me as though preparing a statement of some significance. ‘Tomorrow, I’m due to travel to Germany with other senior delegates to extend the period of armistice and open discussions on reparations. Gerry was due to accompany me, but we have both concluded that your attendance would be more beneficial because of your grasp of languages, especially German and French.’ He paused before adding, ‘How would you feel about that, Miss Kiten?’
I had prepared for several possible questions and topics at the meeting but never envisaged a proposition such as this. Confused. In two minds. How should I answer? Despite Thomson’s warning, I still had questions about Arthur’s death and leaving Paris would feel like a desertion of duty. But where was I to start? I had no authority there. Keynes had presented me with an opportunity to learn more about the Congress, be at the heart of negotiations and make useful contacts. I knew what Uncle Arthur would have advised.
‘I’m flattered you’ve considered me… and after such a short… I don’t… Sorry, you’ve taken me by surprise, and I’m gabbling. What duties would I have on this trip to Germany, sir?’
‘We travel by train and, as far as I understand, our business will be conducted on there once we reach our destination. You will be my Personal Assistant, attend and make notes at any formal or informal meetings where I am a participant and translate where necessary. Your main task, however, will be to mingle and listen to informal conversations, especially with French and German delegates. At the end of our visit, I should like to know what Germany, France and, indeed the Americans, have been saying in private about the Congress and the subject of reparations in particular.’
‘You want me to act as a spy?’ said too late to smother a reaction more forceful than intended.
Pinchin clapped his hands and exclaimed, ‘Ha! No, nothing of the sort. It’s simply a case of…’ He looked to Keynes to elaborate.
‘Gerry and I are delegates. Our faces are known, and conversation in our presence will be restricted. On the other hand, you are just another of the anonymous faces from the support staff and better placed to overhear unguarded comments.’ Keynes hesitated and rearranged his position in the chair. ‘Please don’t take this the wrong way, Miss Kiten. You are a very attractive young woman, and men, especially those in high station, tend to believe that beauty and brains don’t mix. We know in your case this is not true and would take advantage of this fact.’
‘I understand and thank you for the explanation.’
‘Are you comfortable with your role?’
‘Yes, perfectly. It’s an exciting opportunity, and I will do my best to repay the faith you have placed in me.’
Paul lives in a village 30 miles north of London where he is a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a posh garden shed is regularly disrupted by children, a growing number of grandchildren and several dogs.
Paul writes historical fiction. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series – “State of Treason” and “A Necessary Killing”, were published in 2019. The third book, titled “The Queen’s Devil”, was published in the summer of 2020.
Travel forward a few hundred years from Tudor England to January 1919 in Paris and the setting for Paul’s latest book, “A Turbulent Peace”. The focus of the World is on the Peace Conference after WW1 armistice. Add a dash of Spanish Flu, the fallout from the Russian Revolution, and you have a background primed for intrigue as nations strive for territory, power and money.
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