The Custard Corpses, Guest Post by M J Porter

A delicious 1940s mystery.
Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

Researching the Early 20th Century

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog to talk about my new book.

The Custard Corpses is set during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. I wanted to make the book as authentic as possible, even though I’m not a historian of that time period. When I was first studying history at school, I always found it strange to think of it as history as I had grandparents who had lived through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s (my old granny was born in 1901, my mother’s parents in 1920 and my father’s parents in 1926 and 1928). That’s probably why I’ve never written about the period before.

I wanted to ensure I was using names and places that existed at the time, and I didn’t want to inadvertently make any silly mistakes – a few beta readers pointed out I was using metric measurements, when they should have been imperial in the 1940s. They thought it was sweet that I’d never known the world of imperial numbers.

So, I spent quite a bit of time hunting down random facts; maps of the time period, tram and train routes (which you can find online, but I had some old maps), pictures of cars, police uniforms at the time, advertisements of the time and also editions of the Picture Post magazine. At one point, I wanted a celebrity scandal, and there it was, on the cover of a magazine.

Map of Erdington, supplied by the author

I was amazed by the information that I could find by hunting through archives ( and also that which I couldn’t find), and I was especially impressed by the ‘history’ section on the website, and by those local newspapers that have archives available online – such as the Inverness newspaper. There’s also a whole aerial photo website that I could have used, but I couldn’t quite work it out.

I was also lucky in that I set the book somewhere I have childhood memories of, and also that a family member spent their early years in Erdington. It was funny to realise the parts that they especially remembered – such as the fact that some of the buses were still open-topped at the time, and the liveries that buses were decorated with. The Birmingham that I remember is very different to the one that exists now, and the one that existed in the 1940s. My memories of Birmingham consist of the dodgy car park we used, the train journey we used to take in the old carriages with individual doors (they were old in my day) and shopping for jeans.

I also made some use of the 1911 census records, and the Office for National Statistics spreadsheet which lists all the most popular names in decades. It made it easy to devise names for the characters. It also helped that while the 1940s is ‘history’ it’s much more relatable to me than the period before 1066, when I usually set my stories, so provided I didn’t use the internet in the story, or refer to cms, it was just about authentic, I hope.

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Meet M.J. Porter

M J Porter writes historical fiction set before 1066. Usually.

This is M J’s first foray into the historical mystery genre and the, relatively recent, twentieth century.

M J writes A LOT, you’ve been warned.

Connect with M.J.

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