Mr Magenta

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Stephen Marling thought he knew his aunt Flora. But when he inherits her house in a quiet south London square a series of discoveries among her papers brings to light another person entirely. Who, for example, is ‘Mr Magenta’ and what part did he play in her life?

In the process of uncovering the secrets of one life, Stephen is forced to re-evaluate his own and decide what he really wants. Was he right to turn his back on Nancy Steiner, the young actress he met in New York, when he came home to take up his inheritance?

Interweaving past and present, the story takes him from a Brooklyn bookshop to a theatre in Marseille to a cottage on the east coast of England where the truth about Mr Magenta is finally revealed.

Of Mr Magenta

“Absorbing, interesting, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep interest levels up, Mr Magenta is a fine read…”

The Bookbag

“A very original writer.”

Charles Harris, best-selling author of Room 15

Excerpts from Mr Magenta

“You’ve got to be practical, Stephen,” his mother said when they came up from Kent to collect the ‘specified items’. “It’s not a museum.” And they did take away a substantial quantity of clothing, mostly Flora’s, some that must have been Clive’s. Laid in their hangers on the back seat, almost like a shroud, or stuffed unceremoniously into bin bags and pushed into the boot.

“Not the kimono!” He wrenched it from his mother’s arms on the landing at the top of the stairs. An elaborate design of pale cream and burnt orange, sugar pink and deep purple: chrysanthemums, irises, cherry blossom and other flowers he could not identify. Flora had worn the kimono around the house well into old age. It brought back memories of the time they had spent together over the years, summed her up somehow. “But what on earth are you going to do with it?” Put it back in the wardrobe where they found it, for the time being.

One oddity, though, was the envelope he had found in a compartment hidden under a small lid at the top of the davenport, just above the writing slope. It was a plain buff envelope, a little larger than a postcard. He tipped out pieces of a colour photograph that had been torn up. Why tear up a photograph and keep the bits? He took them to the table in the kitchen and tried to put them together. Easier than a jigsaw, surely.

There turned out to be four photographs but each one was incomplete. They all showed legs and torso but had nothing above. Four headless men. At least, they looked like men but whether four different men or one decapitated four times he could not decide. He went back to the compartment to see if any pieces had slipped from the envelope. Unlikely, of course, that only the tops of four different photographs would have fallen out but it was worth a try. The compartment was empty, apart from a marble, a pen nib, and a couple of Treasury tags.

But he still felt numb, drained, empty. The rigours of New York had taken their toll and he had lost his aunt, thrown in his job and ended the relationship with Nancy. He found it hard to look beyond the immediate tasks of sorting and clearing. He had no career ambitions, no desire to re-join Quarrenden and Cox, even if they would have him back. He needed something to get his teeth into, to provide the structure and focus he lacked. What would Flora have suggested? It did not occur to him to ask his parents.

As he tried to fold the pristine sheets back the way they had been, a small piece of paper floated to the floor. It was lined, torn from one of those spiral bound notepads that reporters were supposed to use. Eight words in smudgy blue biro in Flora’s own hand: Ring Mr Magenta. Tell him I don’t mind.

Mr Magenta? Odd sort of name. It sounded like a Cluedo character, on a par with Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard. He had an idea that the colour took its name from the Battle of Magenta. That was in Italy, wasn’t it, so Mr Magenta could be Italian? Or maybe a man she had met on the Boulevard de Magenta in Paris as she came back from the Marché Saint-Quentin loaded with cheese and charcuterie. Unlikely. But who was he? And mind about what?