An actor friend once lovingly shared a story with me about the late Talfryn Thomas, who I personally only met on one occasion. Talfryn, with his protruding teeth, was unmistakably Welsh - a man of a thousand accents, all of them Welsh. Anyway, the friend explained how he’d met Talfryn on the tube after the latter had been for a BBC TV casting in White City. Talfryn was complaining about how the director had asked him to read the part several times and kept urging him to sound more English. Talfryn complained to my friend, “I kept doing it in my best standard English accent, and he still said I was too f***ing Welshy!”
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck, as they say.
What does this anecdote and the duck analogy have to do with Niedermayer & Hart? Basically, if you like ripping yarns that contain some horror/thriller and supernatural shenanigans, then you may well like this trilogy, its first part being Niedermayer & Hart. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of reader who only really appreciates the classics, cosy detective thrillers, literary dystopian novels, books that contain long descriptive passages about sunsets over the Mediterranean, or you especially enjoy tales about characters called Jemima and Tarquin and their all-consuming angst about which farmhouse to purchase in Tuscany, then it’s almost certainly not for you!
Here’s a recent review that was posted on Amazon UK: “A real rip snorter of a page turner. I don't normally read anything other than Stephen King (I'm a bit of a King snob and generally find other Sci fi / horror authors don't quite meet the grade) but Johnson has written what I love to read. Looking forward to reading more of his books.”
For the next few days (from midnight 29 March - 2 April PDT), anyone can download a Kindle version of Niedermayer & Hart absolutely free. I have never done this sort of promotion before, but thought, as the next title in the trilogy will be ready shortly, it might be a good way of introducing new readers to the story.
To help you decide whether or not it’s your cup of tea, I’m posting here the prologue to Niedermayer & Hart in two different formats, so you have a choice - to read, or watch. If you opt to watch the video, simply scroll to the end of the text. The link to the free book is at the very bottom of this blog post, or simply click on one of the Amazon links to the right.
Shortly before 2am, a white Ford van was moving at a modest speed along a virtually empty carriageway. It might have been any one of a thousand places on the motorway network. Occasionally a lorry caught up and overtook.
The boy passenger felt extremely irritated by the driver’s caution, at no time exceeding 55 mph.
‘At least he’s shut up though,’ thought the boy, referring to the driver, who in fact had not shut up, but sang along with every song that came on the radio.
The boy recalled the question and answer session he’d been subjected to after first hitching the ride. It had posed no problem; he was sure his rehearsed answers sounded convincing: he was seventeen, and going to spend a few weeks with an older brother in London. He’d even been able to say what his brother’s job was, his name and his girlfriend’s name. The boy had invented a whole history for himself.
He was in fact only fifteen, a runaway; the background he’d escaped from told in his eyes, there was a fixed aggression about his features and a world-weariness that spoke volumes. He reckoned on at least a couple more hours before they arrived in London, maybe longer at the sluggish speed they were travelling. ‘Perhaps it’ll work out well for me,’ he thought, ‘No point getting there in the middle of the night.’
From the van’s speakers the night-time DJ introduced, ‘That all-time favourite about the Windy City, inimitably sung by no other than Ol’ Blue Eyes.’
The boy sighed inwardly as the squatly-proportioned driver joined Frank with gusto.
Despite the man’s awful singing, the youth was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his eyelids open. He felt his head nod forward and jerked back into the seat. The driver’s vocal accompaniment sounded far off, as if at the end of a long and echoing tunnel.
The driver smiled as he caught sight of his passenger falling asleep and immediately turned the radio off, the abruptness of which startled the boy momentarily.
“I’m stopping at these services … need a rest and a bite to eat. What about you?”
“I’ll stay here if that’s okay,” replied the boy.
“No problem, I’ll be about an hour.”
As they came off the motorway and drew into the service area, the boy saw his all-singing all-driving companion more clearly as light spilled into the cab. The driver was in his late thirties. The boy reckoned he would be about the same height as himself when they were not seated, about 5’5”, except the driver appeared to be as broad as he was high. He wore a woollen cap that covered the top of his head all the way down his forehead to just above the eyebrows. The cap was either black or blue, the light was insufficient to distinguish which, although he could make out the man’s gingery hair, which sprouted in wiry curls about his ears and the back of his head, wherever the cap didn’t reach.
The driver put the van into a parking space. “Sure you don’t want anything?”
“No, I’m okay.”
The driver got out and began to walk away. The boy was about to close his eyes when he saw the driver in the wing mirror come to an abrupt stop and turn around, as if he’d forgotten something. He returned to the passenger door and opened it.
“I just thought,” he said amiably, “Look, get out and I’ll show you.”
“What?” the boy asked. The driver had already started walking to the back of the van. The boy released his safety belt and jumped down from the cab.
At the rear the driver had opened one of the double doors and had switched on a light, revealing the van’s interior. There were half a dozen boxes marked ‘Fragile’.
“What?” asked the boy.
The driver pointed to a mattress and some folded blankets that were piled on top of a box structure fitted across the width of the van at the driving cab end.
“You’ll sleep better there.”
The boy looked hesitant.
“It opens and locks from the inside,” the driver said, demonstrating the door’s locking mechanism, “You can get out if you need a pee,” he laughed.
The bed looked very appealing. The boy nodded and stepped into the van’s lit interior.
The driver immediately slammed the door and locked it with his key. He required nothing at the service area and went back to his cab.
He was about to start the engine when he felt the van shake. There was no sound. The van’s interior was completely soundproofed; it must have been quite an impact. Another rocking motion followed a few seconds after the first, followed after a short interval by a third.
“Very spirited,” the driver said.
Then with a contented smile he started the engine and pulled away.
He switched the radio back on.
© M J Johnson