The Blue Book

The Blue Book

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The Blue Book is Christopher Bowden’s debut novel.

Fear Death By Water. D.

The discovery of a cryptic note hidden inside a second-hand book sends thirty-something Hugh Mullion on an obsessive search for its previous owner. Hugh uncovers secrets that have lain hidden for sixty years and turn upside down his views of personal identity and the certainty of the past. Along the way, Hugh learns more about himself and what he really wants from his relationship with his partner, Kate – and about the puzzling disappearances of Anthony Buffo, in whose shop Hugh found the book that changed everything.

Centred on the evocative and memorable setting of Toad Books, a south London bookshop enlivened by the parrot Charlie and a succession of eccentric customers, the unfolding drama takes Hugh deep into contemporary Dorset and back to the events of the Blitz and wartime Oxford. This is a beautifully written and engaging story, by turns poignant and gently humorous, with a lively sense of continuing revelation and a surprising conclusion.

Of the Blue Book

“an intriguing and affecting story”, “an effective and satisfying denouement”, “a good deal of flair”, “the writing is beautifully done”, “written with a confident touch…entirely readable”, “the kind of book that readers love”, “very carefully written…easy to read”, “inventive”, “well-written, clear and flowing”, “humour and a lively sense of continuing revelation”, “very skilfully plotted”, “the dialogue is realistic and convincing”, “writing has great confidence”, “considerable élan and skill”, “very engaging”, “…an intriguing and affecting story written with élan…the kind of book that readers love.”

Excerpts from The Blue Book

Hugh Mullion walked back home from the station that evening for the last time. He and his partner, Kate Roberts, were moving from this part of south London in the morning. As he made his way down the parade flanked by Bin Ends and the betting shop, Hugh paused to look in the window of Peter’s Antiques. A copper warming pan on the wall gleamed quietly in the light of a small table lamp. The dappled rocking horse in the corner appeared to rock gently back and forth, as if pushed by an invisible hand. The horse’s eyes betrayed a hint of sadness. Hugh sighed and thought of the hours he had spent there and at Toad Books next door. The bookshop was in darkness now, the boxes in which he used to rummage put away for another day. You never knew what you were going to find. Perhaps if he had known what he would find under the polythene, and where it would lead, that wet autumn Saturday of the previous year, he would have been more circumspect. But there was no putting the clock back. Hugh thought yet again of those events as he carried on down the parade and turned the corner into Dogberry Road.


“Why are you staring out of the window?” said Kate that evening. “It’s pitch dark.”

“Just thinking about the book,” said Hugh, slowly drawing the curtains. “The Henry James. I wonder who Dorothy Russell was?”

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. What so special about her? It’s common enough to find people’s names written in second-hand books.”

“But not strange notes as well. The occasional post card perhaps, chocolate wrappers used as bookmarks, that sort of thing. This is different.”

“‘Fear death by water.’ ”

“I can’t get it out of my mind,” said Hugh. “Clever of you to spot it was from The Waste Land.”

“I was a big fan of Eliot at one time. Sat up with him to all hours in my poky student digs.”

“Tom and Kate. Has a certain ring to it.”

“Nitwit. Are you going to peel the potatoes or shall I?”

“Do you think it was a warning or threat of some sort?”

“I don’t know but I do know we’re going to starve at this rate.”

“I wonder if Dorothy Russell is still alive.”

“Does it matter?” said Kate.

It does to me, thought Hugh. I’m going to find out.


The village of Newton FitzPosset was a couple of miles to the south west of Okeminster. The narrow road, with the occasional passing place, was lined with hazel, leaves still in place but now largely turned to yellow. A cock pheasant looked at Hugh indignantly and strutted across the road. St Mary’s, off to the left as he came into the village, was an altogether more modest affair than St John’s. Where St John’s rose high from its mound resplendent in golden stone, St Mary’s skulked squat and grey in the dark company of yews. The scattered gravestones, blotched with lichen, looked diseased.

There was no sign of life in Newton this Sunday morning. The main street was deserted. The wooden bus shelter by the junction with School Lane stood empty, its advertisements for coffee mornings and Christmas Bazaar in the village hall flapping unread. Hugh drove slowly through the village, past the general store and post office displaying posters and videos about a boy wizard, until he came to the Startled Ox. He turned right down Bell Lane and looked out for Bell Cottage.


And there it was. A square house, set well back from the road, banded warmly in brick and flint, dormers protruding from the slate roof. To the left was what Hugh took to be a garage. Set above the apex of the garage roof, just over the doors, was a large black bell. The doors themselves were the same green-blue as the front door of the house. As he went up the steps, brushing past purple hebes in the last flush of flower, he saw a man raking leaves into piles on the lawn. Slightly stooping perhaps but pretty agile for a man past eighty.