SHORT STORY: A Different Kind of Soldier by John Linwood Grant

I learned of the amazing John Linwood Grant when I read the book A Study in Grey. I instantly fell in love with Major Redvers Blake and have been wishing and hoping I could read more about him. Well, Virginia, dreams really do come true…

A Different Kind of Soldier

Autumn bleeds in tawny shades, a suspicion of winter hiding under sodden foliage. And if I have an ‘autumnal’ character in my tales, it can only be Lieutenant, later Captain and then Major, Redvers Blake. His khaki uniform is shorn of the reds and vivid yellows of autumn, though – it is a dull reminder of death, which is always on his horizon. All Hallows Eve is, for him, just another day of troubled and departed souls.

Blake’s time in South Africa during the Boer Wars left him with a permanent stammer and a dead father; his mother, driven insane, left him with the burden of being a physical sensitive. He can feel, can listen to the world around him if he touches it – which means he remains gloved whenever possible. Bloody-minded and occasionally insubordinate as he is, his masters eventually place him in Military Intelligence, and try to have as little to do with him as possible. From there he deals with those strange ‘incidents’ which others dismiss or cannot grasp, either working on his own, with Special Branch or with the regular army (one or two readers might spot the source of the Royal North Surreys, the regiment to which he is attached at various stages in his career).

I have tracked him from the Second Boer War, through the Edwardian era, through ab-natural threats, espionage, a Balkan crisis or two, into World War One, and beyond. He has saved some, shot or had hanged many more, and done his duty to a dead Queen; he has worked with the great minds of the period, even with a reluctant Mr Sherlock Holmes:

Holmes stared at him. “You are no John Watson, Captain Blake.”

“Indeed not. He was courageous, steadfast and m-m-many other noble things. I have no d-d-delusions about my own character. I lie, p-p-perjure myself, and deceive d-d-decent folk. In the last week alone I’ve killed a man with the revolver you saw, and p-p-probably sent at least one other to the gallows.”

There was a sudden tiredness about the detective’s face.

“It seems that I was correct to retire,” he said. “This is not my world.”

Two new Redvers Blake tales came out this year. The first is a story of insanity and art in turn of the century Paris, ‘In Service to a Distant Throne’, included in the Stygian Press anthology Y. Blake is sent to track down a British agent embedded in the feverish artists’ circles of Montmartre, a man whose communications have become delusional, incomprehensible.

The second is a bleak episode early in his career, ‘At Vrysfontein, Where the Earthwolf Prowls’, where Blake faces the horrors of the Boer War concentration camps. That one is the final story in my latest collection, Where All is Night, and Starless:

Blake stares at the huddle of displaced women and children in the wagon. The woman whose son was screaming has a baby in her arms, a small thing which is too quiet, as if to compensate for the sounds its older brother has been making. She has a flat, dirty face, and her eyes are full of red-rimmed anger at the English officer on his fine horse. The officer who watched as his troops burned the family’s farmhouse and took the cattle.

“Are you content?” she asks in Afrikaans. “They will be quiet, maybe, until I bury them.”

“I did not want this duty, mevrou.” His horse moves restlessly, and he comforts it with one gloved hand. He has no such comfort for the woman, or for himself…

Here, though, is a vignette I wrote for the talented writer Doungjai Gam Bepko, something which I posted briefly for her on Facebook. It references one of Blake’s few journeys to the East for his Military Intelligence masters, and hasn’t been in print or on any website, until now.


Siam, 190-

The clearing by the river smells of damp soil, sweat, and dying empires; cinnamon bitterns rise from the reeds, a brief clamour of alarm…

Blake smiles. It helps with the pain, and it confuses the French officer, who fingers the leather flap of the holster, uncertain.

“You are not in Burma now, Captain Blake” says the sous-lieutenant. “Go back to Rangoon and drink quietly, for your own sake. The Chao Phraya valley is neutral, not territoire Britannique. Your Lord Salisbury said this, on behalf of your own government, and you should listen to him.”

Behind the Frenchman, rattan sways. Yellow silk whispers between the slender canes.

“Can’t d-d-do that, old chap.” Blake’s smile does not fade. “My Lord Salisbury is dead, his ulcerated b-b-body crammed into a wooden b-b-box. He says very little, these d-d-days.”

“Capitaine…” The sous-lieutenant draws out his revolver, a decision made. On either side of him, soldiers of the Third Republic begin to load their rifles. Pride and shame make them eager to end this, eager to leave an Englishman in a foreign grave.

Blake’s left hand grips the carving he found in the ruins of the village – the wooden figures of a squat bird, the beak broken away by a heavy, careless boot. He looks down at it; there is blood on his fingers, though not as much as wells from his wounded shoulder.

“This speaks to me, though,” he says, mastering his habitual stutter for a moment. “It tells me that three nights ago, your men came down from hill patrol – where they should not have been – and took their pleasures by the Chao Phraya.”

The sous-lieutenant trembles. He is twenty two years old, and has a girl in Chanthaburi who he loves almost as much as he loves his Normandy wife. Ordering the death of another European, an officer, is not easy, but…

Yellow silk slips past the spines of the rattan, yellow silk, then brown. Sturdy material, not the finery of court. Four sisters were not in the small fishing village when the French came to call – Blake met the women later, whilst he was closing lifeless eyes, sparing the sky such terrible stares. Despite an initial misunderstanding, they believed him when he said he could find the French. They believed him when he asked them to follow his path, and to wait for their moment.

He lets the carving slip to the forest floor. The signal…

Four sisters; six soldiers. Doungjai Song breaks from the rattan and the trees, her curved knives held low; Doungjai Sam is behind her, a fishing spear held high. Doungjai Nueng, the oldest, has a Siamese Mauser rifle, and Doungjai Si, almost a child, waits with a knotted cord in her hands, ready to tend to those who fall.

Louis Abras, with semen still crusted on his trouser leg, dies first, the serrated spear-head in his gut. The sous-lieutenant, who was not present on that shameful night in the village, who might have lowered his gun and waited for judgement, chooses badly and fights back. He falls last, a Mauser bullet in his heart, spared the twist of Doungjai Si’s cord around his neck. He will not see Chanthaburi – or Normandy – again.

One of the sisters murmurs something to the others, and they begin to drag the bodies to the Chao Phraya, which – Blake has been told – has many, many catfish of a remarkable size and an even more remarkable appetite. Doungjai Song has a bullet wound in her arm, but otherwise…

Doungjai Nueng – all the name she ever offered Blake – kicks one of the corpses. The lines on her dark skin are deep, her expression deeper.

“Where will you go?” she asks in her own tongue, and he understands well enough.

His smile has left him, because it is no longer of value. He was sent here for intelligence on the French, but does not care for what he has learned. Not that he is greatly surprised. He rarely is.

He bows to her, because sometimes you just do. “Why, b-b-back to Rangoon, of course. To d-d-drink quietly.”

She nods, and turns away. Silk flows between trees and creepers, flows smoothly like the great river, and Blake is alone.

As usual.

Redvers Blake is also featured in various other anthologies, such as The Chromatic Court (18thWall) and A Winter’s Tale (Pavane Press). Where All is Night, and Starless (Trepidatio, July 2021) is available in paperback on Amazon, with eformats available directly from the publisher.

“A far-reaching collection, imbued with beautifully deft prose, where dark humour, melancholy and ghoulishness effortlessly share the same space as though in cosmic alignment with the fates.”

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John Linwood Grant is a professional writer/editor from Yorkshire, UK, with some seventy short stories and novelettes published during the last five years in venues such as Lackington’s Magazine, Vastarien, and Weirdbook, and in several award-winning anthologies. He writes dark contemporary fiction and period supernatural tales. His novel The Assassin’s Coin (IFD), features the feared Edwardian assassin Mr Dry, from the collection A Persistence of Geraniums, and the related novel 13 Miller’s Court (with Alan M Clark) won the 2019 Ripperology Books award. He is also the editor of Occult Detective Magazine and various anthologies. His second collection of weird fiction, Where All is Night, and Starless, is out now from Trepidatio. He is ageing, sarcastic, and has his own beard. He can be found regularly on Facebook, and at his eclectic website GreyDogTales.

Halloween Extravaganza: John Linwood Grant: The True Roots of Halloween

Let us be blunt about this. Despite the ubiquitous nature of the pumpkin and its gaudy symbology towards the end of October, all serious folklorists and horror fans know that these orange monstrosities are latecomers to the game. Oh yes, pumpkins flutter their leaves and tendrils, and they puff out their big ribbed bodies, but it’s just show – for they know that the turnip, often recognised as the spirit-animal of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland, is the genuine symbol of All Hallows.

Swede, rutabaga, turnip, neep, tumshie* – we don’t mind what you call it. For centuries, bold Northerners have torn their fingernails, skinned their knuckles and stabbed themselves in the leg trying to carve through rock-hard turnip flesh in order to make something resembling a diseased head with holes in it. Some folk may even have died in the process, which takes at least seventeen times longer than it does to hollow out a pumpkin. And at the end, we have stood there on Halloween, our turnip lanterns in our hands, and said “Oh look, it’s gone out again.”

Why do we do this? Because we honour the turning year through such effort. Exhausting ourselves in order to dominate that deeply-resistant root, we celebrate the aspect of humanity which keeps us watching a TV show in the hope that it might get slightly better later in the season; which makes us try some recipes yet again in case they aren’t quite as horrible as they were the first five times. A bold, optimistic, indomitable quality. Or stupidity, possibly.

We also do it because our ancestors did it. Across Northern Europe, simple peasant folk proved just how simple they were by selecting a vegetable that was a bugger to chop up, never mind hollow out, and inventing the turnip lantern. In such lanterns, we evoke the lights over the marshes, the flicker through the woods, and the gleam of the hostile stars. We remind ourselves of the skulls of our enemies, had our enemies’ heads been hacked off and filled with cheap candles. We bring to mind the wisdom of our ancestors, their wrinkled faces staring down at their hapless descendants and wondering why we didn’t just go and buy a pumpkin.

As far as horror is concerned, we wave our turnip lanterns high to ward off the unwanted departed – and more malevolent spirits – when the barriers between the living and dead are thin – All Hallows’ Eve. The turnip samhnag, or torch, is cutting edge. You can forget your crucifix, cold iron, garlic or silver bullets – nothing averts evil better than a badly-carved turnip on a piece of string.

“Blimey” say the witches, ghouls, spectres and wights. “If they’re tough enough to carve a turnip, best not mess with them! Let’s go beat up those softies who could only manage a pumpkin.”

So this Halloween, get out your box of sticking plasters and tourniquets, your electric drill, and the number of your nearest emergency clinic, and honour the past. This year, abandon your pumpkin and let your turnip stand proud!

* Calling someone a tumshie means that they’re foolish, ill-adivsed or dim – contracted from the expression “tumshie-heid” meaning “turnip-head.”

And if you think turnips are a laughing matter, you should pay heed to large, slightly psychotic ponies…

Mr Bubbles in Love

A heart-warming tale of romance by J. Linseed Grant

No one was actually dead. The police and ambulance crews had dragged the badly-injured walking party well away from the scene of crime, and were in the process of counting limbs, many of which were still attached. Thick spatters of blood, now congealing under the midday sun, decorated the hedgerows; someone’s ear hung off a yew tree. It had a nice ear-ring in it – the ear, not the tree.

“It’s a public footpath,” said Sandra, frowning as she fished a torn woolly hat out of the horse trough. The hat, almost bitten through, had an animal welfare badge on it. Sandra wondered if that was what writers called irony.

“They looked at my turnip.” A crimson fire danced in the pony’s great eyes.

“They had a right to be there.”

Mr Bubbles moved his weight uneasily from hoof to hoof. “They still looked at my turnip.”

“They were passing by! They’re on a walking tour.” She noticed two policewoman trying to construct temporary stretchers out of runner-bean poles. “Well, they were on a walking tour.”

The pony glared at the nearest whimpering rambler, and he rolled a large, mottled root vegetable lovingly back into the shade of the barn. He sighed, admiring the plump curves of the vegetable’s sides, the almost coy blush of purple near the top…

“MY turnip,” muttered Mr Bubbles – who understood priorities in life.

John Linwood Grant is a pro writer/editor from Yorkshire in the UK, with some forty plus stories published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies over the last three years, including Lackington’s Magazine, Vasterien, Weirdbook, Space & Time, and others. His story “His Heart Shall Speak No More” was picked for this year’s Best New Horror, his “The Jessamine Touch” was in the Lambda award winning anthology His Seed, and the expanded edition of his short story collection, A Persistence of Gerandiums, came out from Ulthar Press this February. His latest novel The Assassin’s Coin is available from IFD. He is also editor of Occult Detective Magazine and various anthologies, including the recent Hell’s Empire. News of his projects can be found on his popular website, which explores weird fiction and weird art.

A Persistence of Geraniums & Other Worrying Tales

Enter a world where the psychic, the alienist and the assassin carry out their strange duties whilst quiet tragedies unfold. These are tales of murder, madness and the supernatural in an Edwardian England never quite what it seems. From rural Yorkshire to the heart of the City, death is on the air, and no one can sense it better than Mr Dry, the Deptford Assassin. On the cursed shores of Suffolk, an army widow loads her husband’s revolver; in a small village, a vicar and his wife hear a tale which challenges their beliefs. The monstrous acts of a young gentleman are brought to an end by unlikely allies, whilst a deluded killer almost escapes the courts, only to discover another kind of justice. And if you want to know why a pale dog waits patiently in a London terrace, the true fate of the Whitechapel murderer, or simply the value of geraniums to one woman, then come inside… The first ever collection of Tales of the Last Edwardian, from John Linwood Grant.

Sherlock Holmes: The Science of Deduction 4: A Study in Grey

“You are no John Watson, Captain Blake.”

“Indeed not. He is courageous, steadfast, and many other noble things. I have no d-d-delusions about my own character. I lie, p-p-perjure myself, and deceive d-d-decent folk. In the last week alone I’ve killed a man with the revolver you saw, and p-p-probably sent at least one other to the gallows.”

The Edwardian Era has begun its rot into modernity, exchanging all the virtues of Dr. John H. Watson for the vices of Captain Redvers Blake. But a case from Watson’s era resurges in the present, ensnaring a high official in what may be a ring of German spies. Not any mere ring of bombs and petrol, but a ring of spiritualism and séances.

The former case was one of Holmes’ failures. Despite an illustrious employer, despite Holmes’ warnings, and despite a vengeful fire, a young woman married a monster and slipped beyond the Great Detective’s ken. Now, she returns to his notice, hostess to the seance ring.

As England prepares for war, Sherlock Holmes and Captain Redvers Blake must solve these two entwined cases at once. 

All this, to say nothing of 427 Cheyne Walk’s new residents and their role…

13 Miller’s Court 2: The Assassin’s Coin

She is Catherine Weatherhead, and she is Madame Rostov. She will lie, though not with malice. She will deceive, though often with good cause. And she will change the course of history, for murder speaks to her. In Whitechapel, all talk is of Jack the Ripper, but there is another killer in play, and he most definitely has a name. Mr Edwin Dry, the Deptford Assassin. The truth is not what you believe. It is what he makes it.

Although THE ASSASSIN’S COIN is a standalone story, it is also a companion novel to the Jack the Ripper Victims Series novel, THE PROSTITUTE’S PRICE, by Alan M. Clark. The gain a broader experience of each novel, read both.