A murder mystery from 1931…

I’ve been looking through old photos, and came across a news cutting with photos of twelve unknown schoolgirls which inspired me to write my Radwinter novel, ‘Earthquake’.

Here is an excerpt about a very similar set of pictures:

Mr. Shelverswell had passed me this book and there were twelve small head and shoulder pictures of girls in school uniform. None of the girls was smiling, although some had a sort of happy expression, or at least a pleasant expression, others of them were totally impassive, one looked slightly cross and a couple looked rather sad.  They all seemed the same age, probably about fourteen or fifteen, and they all looked very similar. They were all Chinese or Japanese or Korean… I couldn’t tell, and they all had short black hair with a fringe.
“Who are these girls, sir?”
I didn’t like to turn the page to see what was next in the book and I was definitely a little mystified by it all.
“One of them is my mother, can you guess which?”
Crikey! What a question! Twelve similar looking teenage girls and a very elderly gentleman who was now sitting back in his chair, his fingers steepled together beneath his chin and what can only be described as a mischievous look on his face. I could see now that his face wasn’t totally European, something about the shape of his eyes and his nose. I wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t told me that one of these twelve lovely girls was his mother.
Was this some sort of test? Had he heard things about me from the golf club gang which made him think I might be able to help him in some other matter and he was testing me?
He made a funny squeaking noise and I realised he was laughing… OK… I gazed at the pictures… I reckoned Mr. Shelverswell must be well into his seventies – although Geoff and Daph were in their seventies and they looked fashionable and modern, not ancient and decrepit like this old chap…
“May I ….?” And I got up and went and stood beside the window so the light fell full on the girls.
There were three rows of four pictures… I mentally gave each girl a description

  • Cheeky
  • Anxious
  • Steady
  • Snooty or sad
  • Unhappy
  • Confused
  • Determined
  • Steadfast and strong
  • Lonely
  • Very sad
  • Disappointed and cross
  • Ready

I went back to my chair and gazed at Mr. Shelverswell; he seemed amused at this and a few more squeaks escaped him.
“I wonder, sir, if this girl is your mother?” and I pointed at Cheeky.
“Was my mother, Mr. Radwinter, was! She died many years ago, and well done! You are quite right, she was my mother!”
Phew! And good grief!
“Excellent! They were quite right, quite right what they said about you at the golf club! If anyone can do it, young Mr. Radwinter can, they said!”

Thomas Radwinter is set a puzzle to unravel… was one of these girls murdered in 1931, and if so, which of her school friends did it?

Which girl do you think is Mr Shelverswell’s mother?

Here is a link to Earthquake:


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