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‘If Robert had a mission, it was to emphasise that life was meant to be fun; he was one of the few men I knew who strode through life instead of circumnavigating it. He died without ever growing old.’ Michael Parkinson

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‘She had all the charm of an electric carving knife’ Dirk Bogarde

‘She was a darling girl’ Sybil Thorndike

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‘Hollywood is a chain gang and we lose the will to escape; the links of our chain are forged not of cruelties but of luxuries: we are pelted with orchids and roses; we are overpaid and underworked.’

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I have an uneasy feeling that history is catching up with old Persia all too fast. While Persia’s past still lies in plain sight, where an American family could live in it, I’m eager to tell our story. If for no other reason than for myself, to keep the memory of it as fresh as those new roses, as real as those tan mud walls.

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The knife with the carved sheath inlaid with silver, had been driven up to its haft between the shoulders of Captain Geoffrey Hunt.

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His arms were hanging down, but his face was turned upwards. For the first time Johnny saw a dead man.

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‘One brown mouse. Victim of foul play.’

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He called out, ‘Abie!’ The word was swallowed up in the depths of the hall. It was like a morgue.

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‘There’s been a murder there.’

Tubby stared at him. ‘A murder! Who was it?’

It was the first time in his life that Tubby had been told that he had been murdered.

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‘The man died from wounds on the head. There was no trace of carbon in his lungs, so he must have been dead before he was put on the dump.’

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“Is Florence looking after the house all right? I thought it was rather touching of her to say she would like to stay and be bombed with you. Mind you put her underneath when you’re lying down flat in an air-raid.”

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Oxford, it appeared, if it did not seem to have fitted her for any precise occupation, had at least unfitted her for a great many things.

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We might be living in the first chapter of one of my own detective stories. A woman lay dead upstairs; in another bedroom a man was having hysterics; in the kitchen a grey parrot was imitating their voices; and in the sitting-room the pugs, terror in their popping eyes. Henry’s sisters would join us, and Mr Galvain; and I, the stranger, sat waiting to meet them.

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She wondered how Lady Masters got her old parlour maid to carry the coffee right across the lawn. But, of course, Lady Masters got things simply by always having had them and by taking it for granted that she always would have them.

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At the end of the war, Mrs. Midge stayed on. While the war lasted Mrs. Custance had accepted her as part of the war-effort; it was only in the past year or two that Mrs. Midge had been transferred to the category which Mrs. Custance described as “people we could manage without.”

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A widow, at an age when birthdays are best forgotten, with no children to occupy her mind, can be very lonely. Julia Dunstan knew she was more fortunate than most widows, not merely because she was prosperous—as widows go—but because she had always taken an interest in other people.

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“I wonder what Mr. Heritage thought of his godson,” she said quickly.

“Rather clumsy, but quite good manners,” Edith remarked. “And a well-shaped skull.”

These were her own views, but she took it for granted that sensible people would agree with her.

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“My last secretary was thirty-five,” old M. said gloomily, “and no more sense than a child of ten. Or else she wasn’t all there. You all there?” he asked suddenly, giving Maud a searching look. “No banging your head on the table? No throwing the china at me? Hey?”

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“The best thing one can say about the Priory is that it would have made a splendid ruin,” she stated. “If only the Seamarks had left it alone . . .”

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“Everything that’s happening to us—yes, everything—is to be regarded as a lark. See? This is my last word. This. Is. Going. To. Be. A. Lark.”

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