Danny Lancaster - Godlefe's Cuckoo

Danny Lancaster has been missing since the fishing boat Rickyback exploded outside Brighton Marina.

Police are winding down their inquiry but Wanda Lovejoy continues her one-woman campaign to find the truth. She told one newspaper, ‘Danny served his country. There are scars, on his skin and under it. Despite what they say he’s a decent guy with a good heart. Danny deserves his justice.’

Half a world away an evil man kept alive by machines in a private clinic nurses a corrosive hatred. He wants proof Danny is dead.

As a toxic mix of drugs and disease pull his dying mind apart he throws the resources of his criminal empire into a scorched earth quest to find one man. If Danny Lancaster isn’t dead he soon will be.

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The English Channel is a historical soup, a restless broth of ambition, heroism, crime and death.

One of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, today it is a garden of giant flowers as wind turbines sprout in neat tended rows along the coastlines.

But the chalky seabed is carpeted with wrecked ships, wrecked aircraft, wrecked dreams.

And sometimes the waters give up their secrets.

Rivalry has surged back and forth across the waterway like high spring tides. On a moonless night in June 1514, in the reign of King Henry VIII, a French fleet slid out of the darkness towards the Sussex coast.

Heavily armed men crunched up the shingle beach towards the poor fishing village of Brighthelmstone and a night of terror and slaughter began.

The French raiders, led by their legendary admiral Prégent de Bidoux, burned every house to the ground. Poor homes made of wood, clay and dung blazed fiercely. Villagers fleeing the flames were butchered.

The only building to survive was the parish church of St Nicholas. The raiders did not have time to storm the hill it stands on before the armed men of Hove and Lewes, alerted by the blaze of the alarm beacons, marched to Brighthelmstone’s relief.

As showers of the English longbowmen’s arrows rained down on the French their feared leader, known to the English as Prior John, called his men back to their galleys.

For Prior John’s teenage son Benoit it was his first raid, his first encounter with the hated English. Cut and bloodied by what little resistance the village could offer, Benoit wanted honour, plunder.

Rage at his failed charge up the hill towards the church burned in him as fiercely as the hovels around. The bellow of the recall horn sounded again. Spitting with anger, Benoit ran towards the ships.

And then he saw Godlefe. The young shepherdess was famed across the county and beyond for her beauty as well as her piety. Tonight this was masked by bitter tears as she prayed over the butchered corpse of her much-loved uncle.

Benoit grabbed the girl and dragged her screaming toward the ships.

Ahead he could see his comrades falling as clouds of arrows from the Hove and Lewes archers rained down among them. He saw his father turn as he waded for his ship, wave him on, then stagger as an arrow smacked into his eye.

Benoit ran on, still keeping a fierce grip on Godlefe. He saw his father rise, totter and wade on towards his ship.

The last galleys were pushing off from the beach when Benoit lifted Godlefe over his head and hurled the screaming girl over the gunwale. As the vessel pulled away he saw his father standing in the stern of the next boat, the arrow still in his eye, angling upward and clearly visible in the light from the burning village.

When Benoit looked down Godlefe was kneeling in desperate prayer. As he turned to hail his father an oarsman beside him shouted. Benoit spun round to see the last of Godlefe’s plain brown dress slipping over the ship’s side. Bellowing with rage at the loss of his prize, Benoit beat the oarsman with the flat of his sword.

Three days later Godlefe’s body washed up on a shingle beach east of Brighthelmstone, wreathed in long strands of seaweed, her stiff white fingers still clutching her rosary.

The following Sunday the survivors of the Brighthelmstone raid celebrated Godlefe’s courage and purity at St Nicholas’s Church. The cat’s cradle pattern of narrow streets that tourists, shoppers, stag and hen parties walk today in Brighton’s South Lanes are all that is left of Brighthelmstone after that bloody night in 1514.

Godlefe’s unravaged body washed ashore on a small, remote beach east of the port of Seaford. This tiny indentation worn into the Sussex coastline by millennia of wave action is about 150 metres wide.

It sits between the string of coastal towns to the east of Brighton and the giant waves of chalk cliff that are the Seven Sisters. Set back from the brittle cliff edge above is the South Downs Way coastal path. A broad beach of coarse shingle is hemmed in by cliffs for almost its entire length.

The only access is a rough track that descends through a groove carved down through the chalk by a long forgotten tributary of the Cuckmere River.

The path leads down from a small car park to the western edge of the beach and is used by the occasional rough swimmer, birder or walkers taking a break from the trail high above.

Just off the path above the beach there is a small concrete pillbox that has survived the Second World War and decades of Channel weather.

At the bottom of the path is an 18th century stone cottage once used as an outpost for customs men watching for smugglers. Today the threat is from the sea itself as it eats away at the coastline.

The isolated cottage is home to an artist, a descendant of one of the last customs men, who lives there with her companion.

The bay is unnamed on most maps. Older locals still know it as the The Maid’s Cove.



The English Channel is a historical soup, a restless broth of ambition, heroism, crime and

George was not happy. His face was contorted, the skin of his cheeks had that worrying red-purple colour as he grizzled quietly into his blanket.

The young mum ducked down to make sure the baby was all right. She wiped the teething dribble from the side of his mouth, tugged his safety straps tight for the hundredth time that morning.

She eased the buggy out slowly between two parked cars, craning to see if the coast was clear. A huge tractor of a 4×4 slowed to let her cross, then moved off at walking pace until it found a parking spot next to a rusty silver Nissan Micra.
The young mum tried to bump the buggy up onto the opposite pavement but she winced as her bra stretched tight against the bruises on her back.

The buggy’s front left wheel snagged. She tipped it back and tried again but the wheel still caught. She swore in a whisper so George wouldn’t hear and tried a third time.

At last both front wheels reached the pavement and she lifted the back. The effort hurt her aching muscles.

She prayed that the wetness of leaking milk under her T-shirt wouldn’t show through her clothes. They’d assured her it would be fine, that every young mum felt like that. But she still wasn’t sure, lived in dread of being embarrassing.

And the bruises, they still hurt too. They had turned dark red, yellow at the edges. That was supposed to be a sign of healing. But they were still painful when her bra strap rubbed.

And the goosebumps didn’t help. The winter wind cut right through her thin jacket. As least she’d scraped up the cash to get George a warm coat.

With the buggy on the pavement the young mum headed for the gate that led to the nursery.

It was an expense she struggled to afford but George loved making mess and it was important for him to get out of the house and socialise with other children.

Without activities to occupy him George had a tendency to use his strengthening legs and balance to head off exploring on his own.

She worried he had a solitary streak . Perhaps it was because he was an only child. That was an issue she couldn’t bear to think about right now.

She glanced at her watch. After nursery she’d have to go shopping, get something nice for Paul’s tea. If he came home.

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“Real heart-in-mouth stuff”

“A cracking read with lots of thrilling action”

“Absolutely loved this!”

“Taut writing, gripping story, fast paced… a fantastic thriller”

“Proper story, this, an unlikely hero, baddies, lust, unorthodox DI… the writing was a joy”

“A brilliant read, fast paced and much heart in mouth”

“I enjoyed this fast paced thriller and would heartily recommend it”

“Full of action… a CPD read”


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I’ve spent most of my working life as a journalist and was pleased and surprised to win an award for my travel writing. Before that I tried all sorts of jobs including furniture removals, photography, teaching and running a magazine group.

Travel writing is not all cocktails under the palm trees but it’s a fantastic job that has taken me to more than 40 countries, from the pure white wastes of Arctic Finland to the ancient deserts of Namibia.

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