Brighton Belle


It may take a village to raise a baby, but hell! it takes an army to produce a book. Happily Brighton Belle has had strategists, generals, collaborators and even the odd foot soldier.

First of all, I have to thank my parents, Kate and Ron Goodwin, without whose boozy lunches I’d never have had the idea at all. Dad’s fabulous reminiscences of Brighton and London in the 1950s were inspirational so a big thanks to him and also thanks for being patient with the late night phonecalls about how to give change in old money. Next up is my agent, Jenny Brown, who takes ideas and runs with them. I couldn’t do without Jenny’s upbeat attitude no matter what – she’s a have-a-go heroine (my favourite sort) and I’m very grateful to her for all she’s done. A huge thank-you (and a bottle of bubbly at least) is due to crime writer Lin Anderson who gave me abundant expert advice about how to write in a new genre. Such generosity, Lin, thank you. Then there is the team at Polygon who know a lot about publishing and know what they like. These two wonderful attributes do not always go together but when they do it’s impressive. Thanks for taking on the book and running with it – I hope both Mirabelle Bevan and I do you proud. And last of all a big thanks to everyone who took an interest – my friends online and off, my daughter, who patiently helped me research the ins and outs of 1950s fashion, and my husband, Alan, who though not a Secret Service agent, as far as any of us are aware, shares many qualities with the love of Mirabelle’s life, Jack Duggan – a girl has to find inspiration where she can.

Sara Sheridan


‘I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.’



10 April 1951

London was glossy – the pavements shone with a slick of rain now the sun had broken through the clouds. It felt like spring at last. At the gates of Victoria Station newsboys scurried with bundles of papers – the early evening editions were hitting the stands. An old man carefully pasted the headline to a thin strip of wood. NAZI WAR CRIMINALS TO HANG AT LAST. Romana Laszlo turned towards the platform. Inside, the station seemed gloomy compared to the blaze of spring sunshine on the street. She stared down the murky platform, her first-class ticket clasped firmly between kid-gloved fingers. She wished they’d stop going on about the Germans. The war had been over for years and Romana, on principle, never took sides about anything. The smell of frying bacon wafted from the direction of the station café as she smoothed her sea-green taffeta coat, checked in case she was being followed, and then, satisfied that she was safe, set off for the Brighton train. In her wake a porter wheeled a large leather suitcase on a trolley. Her stilettos clicked delicately on the concrete.

A small huddle had formed beside the open door of the carriage. The passengers had all arrived at once and there was a flurry of porters handing up luggage and people trying to board the train.

‘Do you want me to put this into the luggage compartment?’ the porter asked Romana hopefully. It would be easier.

Romana shook her head. ‘No, here. I prefer to keep it close to hand,’ she said coldly, with only a hint of an accent.

The porter nodded and resigned himself to waiting.

The little group of passengers hovered on the platform. A man with thick spectacles and a briefcase, a tweed-suited lawyer with a bristling moustache and a grey-haired woman who might be his wife. Romana found her interest held by a tiny corner of cardboard protruding from the older woman’s pocket. It was a ration book. She honed in immediately and contrived to stumble against the woman, then, like lightning, skilfully removed the book, straight into her own pocket.

‘Oh, my dear, you poor thing,’ the old woman said, helping Romana to steady herself

‘So sorry,’ Romana smiled.

‘Not at all, quite understandable.’

The jam at the carriage door had dissipated and the old woman gestured. ‘Please, you first.’

‘You need a hand there, young lady?’ the porter offered when Romana hesitated, looking both wide-eyed and vague, as if she didn’t understand. Then, collecting herself, she gracefully proffered her hand. It was best to be careful while