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Archive for the ‘mystery’ Category

Cover Reveal

** My thanks to Noelle & Kim at Bookouture for the opportunity to read this and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour **

 

Description:

She fell in love with a killer, now she’s one too.
The suitcase was badly rusted, and took Erika several attempts, but it yielded and sagged open as she unzipped it. Nothing could prepare her for what she would find inside…

When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before. 

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago. 

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack. 

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer

Brilliantly gripping, Cold Blood will have you hooked from the first page and holding your breath to the heart-stopping and shocking ending. 

My Thoughts & Review:

We all have those authors who’s books we will buy without a moment of hesitation, the ones we will patiently wait for publication dates to roll round so we can get our mitts on a copy to devour and Robert Bryndza is one of those authors for me.  The moment I heard about Cold Blood I rushed to Amazon to pre order a copy and then proceeded to wait impatiently until it appeared on my kindle.

DCI Erika Foster returns in the fifth book of the series, and life isn’t quite ready to go easy on her.  The discovery of a dismembered body in a suitcase washed up from the river Thames is just the start Erika’s problems.  Soon another body is discovered with a similar MO and Erika is convinced they have a serial killer on their hands, but the discovery of cocaine hidden inside one of the bodies prompts Erika’s superiors to pass the case to another team, freeing Erika to deal with other cases.  Unfortunately for Erika she is attacked whilst carrying out her duties and this leaves her incapacitated while the case is mothballed.

Robert Bryndza has mastered the art of layering complex threads throughout his plots and holding them perfectly taught to ensure that readers are taken on a spine chillingly twisted journey with his characters.  The clever use of short chapters make this such a gripping read and one of those “I’ll just read one more chapter” sorts of books….
Atmosphere is absolutely key in this book, and readers cannot help but feel drawn to the situations our protagonist charges into.
Erika Foster is battered, bruised but never gives up.  Her mental state has taken some helluva knocks in recent years and the fact she picks herself up, shakes off the muck and gets back in the fight is superb to see.  It’s so good to see a strong and determined female detective who as developed well over the course of the series.  The dynamic between Erika Foster and her DI Kate Moss is still great, they work well together and there is a great chemistry between them.  It is good to see that the team can work well without one of their own, Petersen of course was injured at the end of the last book so his absence makes sense and does not seem to impact on the team dynamic as a whole.

This is a heart racing, hold your breath, drama packed instalment of one of the best crime thriller series available!  Robert Bryndza is a genius and raises the bar for the genre!   I would urge you to discover this series now if you don’t already follow it!

You can buy a copy of Cold Blood via:

Amazon UK 🇬🇧
Amazon US 🇺🇸

 

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** My thanks to Sarah at Bloodhound Books for the opportunity to read a copy of this book and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour **

 

Description:

Pre-teen girls are being abducted from their homes and their families murdered. When Frank Rogers, once a DI with the Met and now running his own debt collection agency, is told that his own daughter is missing, his son murdered, he naturally wants to become involved with the case.

Soon Frank’s face is all over the news. In an unexpected turn of events, the killer contacts the police and says he is willing to talk, but only to Frank.

When the body of the first abducted girl is discovered, Frank realises it is a race against time to save his daughter.

In order to solve the case, Frank must work out how the killer is picking his victims.

But how do you catch a murderer who is hiding in plain sight? And can Frank solve the mystery, when he has so much to lose?

 

My Thoughts & Review

Beginning with such a petrifying opening chapter, Tony J Forder sets the tone quickly for a chilling and claustrophobic thriller.  The panic and fear felt by Laura was so well written that I found myself worrying for her and on the edge of my seat desperate to find out what was going to happen next.  What then follows is a deviously twisted case with one of the most twisted killers out there, that draws the reader in and holds them effortlessly.

The plot of this book is wonderfully crafted, and I loved the way that narration switched between Laura, Frank and the killer.  Switching just at the right time to keep tension high and readers on edge – perfect!  There were moments that I did squirm and wanted to hide behind a cushion, this is a seriously abhorrent killer and not one that can be underestimated or outwitted easily by the Police or his captives.
I really appreciated the creeping unease that Forder wove through his book, making me worry for the safety of the characters and their families, something so small but effective from the perspective of a reader.

The strong survival instincts of Laura were something I wanted to applaud at times, and at her young age were commendable.  Her ability to stop and think coherently was something that helped her and made her stand out as such a strong character.  Her father Frank was also an interesting character.  He was a broken man after the murder of his son Gary and his ex wife Janet, but his determination to get Laura back kept him functioning.  The comradeship between Frank and his ex police colleagues was one of great respect (well most colleagues….), and in particular the relationship with his ex partner on the force was wonderfully written.  Their easy conversations about the case acting as a therapy for Frank as well as helping the investigation.

Such a brilliant, frenetic read that kept me on the edge of my seat and lingered in my head when I did manage to prise my kindle out of my hands (only when I had to do the dishes or something I needed to pay attention to).  Would highly recommend this book!

You can buy a copy of Degrees of Darkness via:

Amazon

 

About the Author:

On 1st February 2017, Tony signed to Bloodhound Books, who published his edgy crime thriller Bad to the Bone in spring. It is the first in a series.

Later this year, Tony’s second novel for Bloodhound Books, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, will be published.

Tony has been writing stories since childhood, but it was only when he won a short story competition judged by an editor from Pan Books, that he realised he might actually be half decent at this writing business.

The story, Gino’s Bar and Grille, went on to be published in Dark Voices 2, part of the celebrated Pan Book of Horror series. Three further short story sales followed: Book End, published in Dark Voices 4, Character Role, in FEAR magazine, and finally A Grim Story, which featured in A Rattler’s Tale.

During a book singing for Dark Voices 2, Tony was seated next to author Brian Lumley. At one point, Tony revealed to Brian that he felt out of place alongside all the proper writers. Brian then told Tony something he has never forgotten: “The moment you sat down and pulled a story out of your imagination and put it to paper, you became a proper writer.”

Subsequently, Tony began to focus on novel writing. He admits that his initial attempts were exploratory and somewhat derivative, although there was some interest from an agent – who oddly enough turned out to be Brian Lumley’s wife, Dorothy.

Tony wrote Degrees of Darkness, which he was happy with. He wasn’t so happy with a follow-up, so that never saw the light of day.

As a part-time writer with a full-time job, plus some ill-health, life got in the way and, although Tony continued writing, it took a back seat to making a living.

This year, however, Tony has been inspired by new ideas, and has been working hard on two new books, both of which should be completed in 2017.

Connect with Tony:

https://www.facebook.com/tonyjforder/?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/TonyJForder?lang=en-gb

 

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Description:

Danny Bird and the gang are back.

In this, the 3rd book of the popular series, life at The Marquess of Queensberry public house has returned to something resembling normality. Although his complicated love life is still in a state of some disarray, things are looking pretty rosy for Danny Bird.

Not for long…

Something horrible is discovered in the cellar, someone horrible comes to threaten one of the gang, and Danny and Lady Caroline are faced with some of their biggest challenges yet.

With local crime-lord Chopper Falzone keeping a watchful eye on his investment, Danny and Lady Caz must unmask a murderer, find some stolen diamonds and thwart a blackmailer – just another day at The Marq.

As the plot races breathlessly towards its conclusion, everyone realises that secrets, no matter how well hidden, can’t stay buried forever.

My Thoughts & Review:

I have to admit I did give a little squeal of delight when I heard that the third book in the Danny Bird series was going to be out soon and then headed over to Amazon to pre order it as soon as the publisher tweeted the pre order link was working.  Then there was the (impatient) wait until publication day….finally Death of a Devil arrived on my kindle and I took some time away from my review books to savour this one.

Death of a Devil sees the return of the prodigal Danny Bird and Lady Caroline Holloway who worked their way into my heart back in November 2015 when they first appeared in Death of a Diva and since then have delighted and amused me in equal measure.
Farrell’s writing has always been fantastic, but this latest offering feels different, like he’s developed a newer level of plotting and story telling that exceeds all expectation.
Beautifully clever plotting keeps readers guessing and completely off guard throughout.
The varied cast of characters add colour and shape to the series and each in their own right is superb.  Having followed the series it is nice to see the development of the additional characters, as well as the stars.
In this book it was interesting to explore more of the London gangster background as well as learn more about Ali the bar manager and see a different side to her that many readers might not have ever imagined.

The madcap adventures that Danny and Caz end up embroiled in are chaotic to say the least, but they somehow seem to have more lives than the proverbial cat and come out of it all relatively unscathed – just a little wiser for their troubles.

For those not familiar with the Danny Bird series, the first book Death of a Diva, the second book Death of a Nobody, and then finally Death of a Devil.  These books are fantastic to read and I would recommend reading them in order, but if you fancy picking up the latest installment it can be read as a stand alone book as there is ample information woven throughout the plot to inform you of previous events.

Another impressive novel from Derek Farrell, I just hope he doesn’t keep us waiting too long for his next book!!

You can buy a copy of Death of a Devil via:

Amazon

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Hello and happy Friday!  And you all know what Friday brings, yes,  its time to share another post to celebrate Indie Publishing and this time it’s No Exit Press, part of the Oldcastle Books Group in the spotlight!   Today I have a review of “The Unquiet Dead” by Ausma Zehanat Khan.


Description:

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One man is dead.

But thousands were his victims.

Can a single murder avenge that of many?

Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto: the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the foot of the cliffs. Muslim Detective Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Unit, and his partner Rachel Getty are called in to investigate. As the secrets of Drayton’s role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims surface, the harrowing significance of his death makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with so many deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?

In this important debut novel, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a compelling and provocative mystery exploring the complexities of identity, loss, and redemption.

Winner of the Barry Award, Arthur Ellis Award, and Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel

My Thoughts & Review:

I don’t think I was fully prepared for the journey that this book would take me on when I started reading – it’s such an powerful and evocative read.
Beautiful descriptions of locations and the fantastic settings juxtapose perfectly with the brutal realities expertly woven throughout the plot.  Some aspects of the plot do make for difficult reading but these are important and perhaps due to my unfamiliarity of the massacre mentioned within in the pages of this book I found it all the more harrowing.

Fascinating characters really bring this book alive, each character is so vastly different from the next and their back stories are tantalisingly intriguing that I could not help but devour this book in order to find out more about them.

Khan handles the topics within this book with a sensitivity and confidence that never sensationalises or belittles the facts of what has passed.  Her writing evokes great emotion from readers in the way she deftly weaves together a plot with many strands and characters, somehow she manages to keep everything tightly bound so that the reader is kept utterly entranced by each page.
The cultural and religious details that are included within the narrative are fascinating and add a feeling of authenticity to the characters involved, I found that I was almost taking notes of things to look up once I’d finished reading to find out more.

The plot is well constructed and despite there being so much going on in this book it works so well.  This is an expertly crafted novel that has readers trying to follow the clues along with the detectives to join the dots but never quite managing to beat them at their own game.  Including quotes at the start of each chapter from the various documents such as witness statements, testimony from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and historical documents makes this stand out and is such an incredibly powerful tool to use. 

A haunting and moving book with a story that will stay with you long after you’ve put the book away.

 

You can buy a copy of The Unquiet Dead via:

Amazon

My thanks to No Exit Press for sending me a copy of this book to read and enjoy.

 

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Published: 13 July 2017

 

Description:

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent.

My Thoughts & Review:

To say I was excited to hear the follow up to “Streets of Darkness” was available would be a little bit of an understatement.  I devoured the first book of this series in one day, and quite honestly if it hadn’t been for housework and life getting in the way I would have managed this book in one day too.  A.A. Dhand has a style of writing that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go easily.

For fans of the first book, you will be pleased to know that we catch up with Harry Virdee and see that he is still the pained and tortured soul that he was before, but now he has a one year old son, Aaron with his adoring wife Saima.
The discovery of a murder victim starts off a nightmare for Harry that he will never forget, the victim is his beloved niece Tara who also happens to be the daughter of his brother Ronnie.  Being excluded from the investigation won’t stop him searching for answers and finding out who murdered his niece.

Perfectly baited chapters with realistic and gritty writing make this an addictive read.  The seedy underbelly of Bradford is so vividly depicted through Dhand’s writing, it screams danger and the uncertainty that lurks in the shadows is enough to make this a thrilling read.  I’ve so far managed to type and delete everything I’ve written about the plot because I would end up giving something away, there are some very topical issues dealt with in this book and some of the revelations are sordid to say the least.
The cultural details that are included in this are fascinating, and once again I find that I’ve learned something from Dhand’s books.  I had no idea about taweez and the power they hold for those they are created for and found the discussion between Harry and Saima really interesting.  The importance of family and the traditions followed were details that piqued my interest as well as adding an authenticity to the characters.

The exploration of Harry’s character made for wonderful reading, the turmoil in doing the right thing and how far he would go when his family are concerned are a constant struggle for him.  His blurring the lines of the law show his desperation for answers and justice, but what will be the ultimate price?  It’s fair to say that danger stalks Harry and those close to him, he tries to keep them safe but cannot be there all the time.
The expanded history of the rift in his family is well written, I absolutely loved seeing the reactions of his family when they had to deal with Detective Inspector Virdee as opposed to shunned Harry Virdee.  His father’s anger felt so raw and being able to “hear” in his words his hatred towards Harry’s marriage and life decisions make for riveting reading.  But juxtaposed perfectly is the touching moment shared between Saima and Harry’s mother, for a few brief moments there is genuine love and happiness.

A.A. Dhand is a master of his craft, he writes some of the most gripping plots with some of the most tantalisingly dangerous situations and keeps readers begging for more!

My thanks to Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin for the recommendation and to A.A. Dhand for sending me a copy of this book, I am forever in your debts.

You can buy a copy of “Girl Zero” via:

Amazon
Book Depository
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DECEIVED

Published: 24 June 2017

 

Description:

How well do you know your loved ones?

A girl struggling to cope with the murders of her mother and five-year-old brother.
A journalist chasing the ghost of a potential serial killer.
A thirteen-year-old girl who slaughtered her parents.
And a revenge-driven psychopath who is about to destroy everyone’s life.

After 9 years, a young writer is still coping with the brutal murders of her mother and five-year-old brother, as she moves into a house of horrors, to start a new life with her lover. Will friends and family be able to redeem Ally out of the impending doom in time? Will her infallible love become the key to the destruction of her already fragile world? Will madness prevail over love; true love over revenge?

Deceived is a gripping psychological thriller that mazes through the deepest, darkest emotions of human mind through the story of a vulnerable girl who treads in the mist of deception bred from a long unforgiven betrayal.

My Thoughts & Review:

“Deceived” was a book that I read a review of and was intrigued, not something I would usually pick up but this book screamed out “read me” and I was only too happy to oblige.

This is a very fast paced thriller that grabs readers from the very beginning, the explanation of the differences between a psychopath and a sociopath makes for very interesting reading and really sets the tone for this book – a book that will get under the skin of the reader.

Without retelling the plot, I will say that the book centres around Allison Stone (Ally), whose mother and younger brother were brutally murdered.  She suffers debilitating nightmares and is slowly working towards recovery from the painful memories of this loss with the help of her friend Sam, his dog Max, and her boyfriend Danny.  The plot then cleverly weaves together narrative from both the past and current time to keep the reader hooked.  The use of journal entries is fantastic, a great insight into the mind of a psychopath.   Running through the plot is also the story of Elizabeth Lawson, a 13 year old girl who murdered her parents in cold blood before running away in 1978.

This was a quick read for me, finding that I wanted to keep reading to find out if my suspicions were correct about the killer.  And I have to admit that I did like the way the ending was written, the author giving the reader something to ponder long after the book has been carefully placed on the bookshelf.  It’s a very impressive debut, and if I’m honest, it didn’t read as a debut.  It was well written, well thought out and very interesting.

My thanks to Emily at Citrus Publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

 

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Hello and welcome along to my stop on the blog tour for “Winter Downs” by Jan Edwards.  I am thrilled to be able to share chapter one of this book, which is the first in the “Bunch Courtney Investigates” series.

Description:

Winter Downs Jan Edwards front cover

In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose.

Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously?

 

 

 

You can buy a copy of “Winter Downs” via:

Amazon


Book Extract:
Chapter One

The first gunshot flushed a clamour of rooks into a yellowish sky to circle their tribal elms. Rose Courtney glanced at Daphne and wondered if she even noticed them. Since George’s funeral it was so difficult to know whether her younger sibling was wool gathering or had sunk so deep into mourning she simply failed to acknowledge her surroundings.  Understandable, Rose thought, but it’s still frustrating. She had intended this hack across the Downs to lift the spirits. It would be Rose and Daphne – or Bunch and Dodo as their family knew them – riding out just like old times. Except that it was anything but the old times, and even Bunch was beginning to concede that, on this occasion, horse riding might not provide the answer. She tucked rogue strands of dark hair beneath her hat, secured her plaid scarf, and thought how tempting it would be to return home. The sky had grown heavier in the half hour they had been out and fresh snow was beginning to fall in earnest.  The second blast was louder and deeper than the first, scattering rooks and pigeons in a fresh flurry, setting Dodo’s horse into a fidget. Bunch waited without comment for her sister to bring the animal under control.  ‘Pigeons.’ Dodo looked upwards, allowing snowflakes to flutter across her cheeks. ‘Georgie loved them. Cook bakes them with pears and a little port.’ It was the first time Bunch had heard Dodo mention her husband without prompting, and without tears, since the funeral. That’s a good sign, surely? ‘They don’t have a lot of meat on them,’ she said aloud. ‘Hardly worth the cartridge.’ She slapped her Fell pony’s neck, muttering, ‘Easy Perry, steady lad,’ though her mount had barely twitched so much as an ear. Her sister’s mare sidled nervously again so that its hooves slithered on the snow covered slope. ‘Everything all right, Dodo?’

‘The old girl’s a bit fresh from the box but I won’t let her get her head.’ Dodo backed her horse a few paces to prove control. ‘See? All tickety-boo.’ A seedling smile touched her face as she adjusted immaculate gloves and cuffs. Trust Dodo, Bunch thought. Middle of a windblown Sussex hillside and she still thinks it’s a fashion parade. Her own passions had been fixated on horses since she could first reach a stirrup which, their mother maintained, was why her eldest daughter had descended into old maid-dom at the ripe age of thirty-two. Bunch had always considered her habit of speaking her mind had far more to do with it. ‘You’re looking chilled, old thing. Want to go back?’  ‘No, I’m happy to carry on.’ Dodo resettled her tweed fedora over silk headscarf and waved toward the trees. ‘Let’s cut through Hascombe Wood. We’ll be out of the wind.’ ‘Absolutely. After you.’ Bunch allowed Dodo to take the lead and used the moment to stand in her stirrups to ease damaged joints. A few months on from the accident in France she still ached. She maintained that riding out every day would see it heal itself, and that Dodo would be fine if she would only follow suit. As this was Dodo’s first real show of animation since George’s death, Bunch was reluctant to squash that tiny spark by heading home. ‘Heel, Roger. Come here, damn you!’ She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled up her yellow Labrador. Roger snapped at the patch of snow as he ran, mouth wide in a canine grin, and in no special hurry to obey despite her cussing. He was getting on in years but allowing him to become victim to the pet culls of the previous year had been unthinkable for her boy.  A southerly gust, straight off the Channel, sliced across Bunch’s forehead. She pulled her hat down and scarf up to lessen the expanse of skin open to the elements. ‘Best keep moving,’ she mumbled, ‘before we freeze to death.’ They followed the wood’s perimeter to the bridle path that cut through its centre. Hascombe Wood now covered around fifteen acres, a mere scrap of the ancient forest that had once carpeted both the Sussex Weald and the Downs in a single swathe of green.  The rooks had circled back to their roost and were calling to each other in more conversational tones, and somewhere in a nearby field the estate’s David Brown tractor was being pushed to its limits; they were the only sounds to be heard as the women entered the wood.  They rode in near silence until they reached the first large clearing where several woodland giants had been felled and stacked to one side of the glade. Bunch pulled off her tweed hat and ruffled her wool-itched scalp. With her ears uncovered, the pitter-patter of gritty snow in the trees, the odd creak of branches, and the steady clumping of hooves on centuries of leaf litter were clearly audible. She breathed in the scents of sheer cold mixed with the rich tang of the old leaves stirred up beneath hoof. A peaceful moment until the dog cut across the stillness with a frantic barking.  ‘Roger, do shut up,’ Bunch shouted. ‘Be quiet!’ The Labrador ceased his yammering but continued with something closer to a howl. His tail and hackles were up as he harried a stand of sweet chestnut that sprouted at drunken angles to each other. Bunch slid from the saddle and walked to the trees but stopped just short of them as she glimpsed a motionless figure seated between the trunks.  ‘Hey, you there.’ Bunch edged forward. There had been many displaced people passing through in recent months, people who might take refuge in the wood, but it took a strange sort of person who did not to react to Roger’s noise. ‘Hello? Are you all right? Are you … oh, good heavens.’ She caught hold of Roger’s collar and tugged him into a sit as she realised what she was seeing. ‘Dear God,’ she muttered. A man was slumped in the bowl of a split tree. His hands hung loosely along thighs, legs stretched out before him. His head lolled forward obscuring what was left of its features. The rear of his skull had been blown away and smears of dark pinkish brain matter had spattered across the bark immediately behind, dotted with shards of bone. Bunch flexed her fingers against the blood rush tingling through them and released one deep breath before taking another, and edged forward for a closer look. Though she could not see his face she knew this was not the corpse of someone unknown. This body had a name, and she would have known him anywhere. Calm, she told herself, be calm. Bunch recognised the Westley Richards near the dead man’s feet and it left little doubt as to what had caused the massive damage to his skull. She clapped a hand across her mouth to stop her stomach adding more colour to the scene. She had seen a few corpses during her brief stint driving BEF staff cars in France. Many of the corpses had been far more mutilated than this one. Beside, they had been different. They had lacked identity but this corpse had a face and a name that Bunch had known all of her life. This body had not been slaughtered by a mindless steel capsule packed with explosives, dropped from far above. This corpse had come to be through a deliberate and very personal act of violence. This was Jonathan Frampton. She wiped at her eyes and shuddered out another draconic steaming into the cold air. Pull yourself together. Never waver. That’s the Courtney way.  ‘Oh Jonny,’ she whispered, ‘what in hell has been going on here?’ Bracing herself for the routine she had last practised with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, Bunch crouched to feel beneath his collar for the carotid artery though she knew finding a pulse would be highly unlikely. His flesh was cold in the refrigerating winter wind and unyielding to her touch, but not yet fully stiffened in rigor. The red splattering all around was dulling to brown, telling her that the blood had ceased flowing several hours ago. Long before those shots we’d heard just moments ago.  ‘Bunch?’ Dodo was dismounting and looping the reins of both horses over a fallen tree. ‘What’s going on?’ Bunch held her left hand, palm out, toward her sister as she pulled the excited dog away from the corpse with the other. ‘Stay there, Dodo. Please. Just stay there.’ ‘What is it? Oh dear, is he dead?’ ‘Yes, he is.’ ‘Is it … is it someone we know?’ Dodo craned her neck to see around Bunch, taking another step forward.  ‘You don’t need to see, truly. It’s Jonny. Jonathan Frampton.’ ‘No, it can’t be. Jonny’s away up north for another month or more. He told me so himself.’ ‘It is him. Absolutely. No question.’  Dodo stared at the body, her features asserting the quiet control they had both been raised to practise. The trembling in her hands that she held close to her face was evidence to the contrary.  Best get her as far away from this as quickly as possible. Bunch slipped her hand beneath her sister’s elbow and guided her back to the horses. ‘There may be evidence here so we shouldn’t trample around too much. Look Dodo, why don’t you ride on home and telephone for PC Botting? I’ll wait here. Somebody should.’ ‘Are you certain?’ ‘I am. Absolutely. Take Roger with you. He’ll only be a bloody nuisance here.’ She gave Dodo a boost into the saddle and watched her ride out of sight, with only a few words but a few dozen misgivings.  Perry nodded vigorously, snickering after his stable mate. Bunch worried that he would chill standing in the flow of the wind, and led him around to the far side of the log stack where there was some respite. She adjusted his quarter sheet to cover as much of his rump as possible and went to sit on the end of the log pile where she could watch over the body.  The trees towered around her; they felt not unlike a cathedral with the building’s whispered sibilance echoed by the surrounding woodland. Keeping vigil, she thought and shivered, not entirely through the chill. She missed Roger’s comforting presence. Dodo will need it more though, silly old sausage. She scrabbled through her inside pocket for the hip-flask and raised it toward the corpse. ‘God speed,’ she called, and took a small mouthful, swilling it around her gums and swallowing, feeling the warmth welling into her throat. She rattled the container and pulled a face. It was half empty and there was a good hour to wait before anyone came to help. It’s a long time cold. Bunch took another quick swig and swapped the flask for a cigarette case, taking her time in tapping the white cylinder on the silvered lid, glancing around the clearing, her gaze skating over the body. She struck a match, cupping her long hands to protect the flame, and once sure the tobacco glowed red leaned her head back to send the first lungful of smoke upwards into the falling snow. It was a ritual calming, a gathering of wits that came from habit. Even alone she would not willingly permit emotion to surface. The horse muttered at the waft of sulphurous match and tobacco smoke, which made her smile. ‘Yes, Perry, I know. All the bloody vices. You’re starting to sound like Mother.’ She flicked the spent matchstick in his general direction and drew again on the tailor-made cigarette, expelling blue-grey mist at the trees. There are matters that need to be addressed and I shall address them like a Courtney – once I’ve gathered a few wits about me.  Bunch waited and smoked and gazed across the space between her and the lifeless body of her old friend. She had a clear view of Jonny’s legs and torso but his face was obscured, and she was glad of that. She did not relish staring at what remained of it for however long it took Stan Botting to arrive.  Her attention began to wander over the surrounding terrain. Tracks in the snow were masked by dark slices of leaf mould, and she amused herself by guessing the cause of each line and heap. Her own boot prints were clearly discernible and Roger was the likely culprit for most of the rest. Other dips and furrows, however, had been made indistinct by fresh snow so that none could be read with any certainty. They could have been made by deer or sheep – or by Jonny. She lit another cigarette and as she scuffed the cold match beneath her boot a metallic glint caught her attention. Bunch bent to retrieve a spent .22 cartridge and held it up at eye level. Its strong cordite odour cut through the tobacco smoke. This was a fresh firing, no question in her mind. The Westley Richards lying at Jonny’s feet certainly posed another query.  There’s every chance the .22 has been ejected from some poacher’s rifle. The Jenner brothers are in these woods several times a week, she thought. Yet, it was in the surface snow. It can’t have been here much longer than poor Jonny has. She slipped the cartridge into her pocket and wandered across to stare at Jonny’s remains. He might be wearing his boots and a good wool suit but where’s his coat and scarf? And gloves? Jonny is – was – a chilly morsel despite all those years in drafty farm houses and freezing school dorms. ‘What were you doing out here, dressed this way?’ she said aloud.  Bunch rubbed at her arms, chilled now by more than the iced wind. ‘I do not believe you would kill yourself. I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it.’ Crouching down she stared long into his bloodied face. What were you thinking, my darling boy? This is not who you are. You were in the choir. You talked about taking the cloth. You’d never kill yourself. So what is this about? ‘Oh, damn it all to hell. It makes no sense.’ She wheeled back to her log seat, scrubbing out the cigarette against the bark before lighting another within a minute. She knew what this looked like, what other people would see, yet she could not, would not, believe that Jonathan Frampton would take his own life. The image of his placing the Westley’s barrel beneath his chin and pulling the trigger denied all he had ever believed in. What or who had brought her old friend to this secluded spot, surely it was not to kill himself. Of that she was utterly convinced.  ~~~ Noises coming from beyond the trees drew Bunch to her feet and she took out the flask for one final nip. As she returned the empty container to her pocket her fingers brushed against the brass cartridge. She drew it out and turned it end over end just a few inches from her eyes, mesmerised by its brilliance. ‘Whatever else happens, Jonny,’ she murmured, ‘I shall get to the truth.’ ‘Miss Rose.’ PC Stan Botting scrunched along the woodland path with a steady tread that spoke of many nights on the beat. He was a tall man of even proportions, his most defining features being a neatly trimmed moustache and serious brown eyes, which took in the scene with a professional calm. ‘This is a sorry thing, Miss Courtney.’ He saluted Bunch gravely. ‘Not what you might expect.’ ‘It certainly is not.’ She watched him pick his way over to the corpse and go through the same pointless ritual of confirming death. ‘Where is my sister?’ ‘Miss Daphne – beg pardon – Mrs Tinsley stayed at Perringham House, I imagine.’ He picked up the shotgun, out of the deepening snow, and trudged back to her. ‘A sorry day, indeed. He’s dead of course. No question. And from the state of him it’s the worst kind of passing.’ ‘What could possibly be worse than being killed?’ ‘Suicide, Miss. From what I can see here it’s the most logical explanation. He took his own life. Sad thing for a young man to do.’  It was all Bunch could do not to shout at him. Botting was not a stupid man and this stating of the seemingly obvious was beneath him. ‘Jonny would never do that,’ she muttered. ‘There’s folks do it every week of the year. Always a tragedy,’ Botting continued. ‘We’ll need the Coroner to confirm it, of course, but there’s little doubt in my mind.’ ‘Is the Coroner coming now?’ ‘Eventually. But you don’t need to stand around waitin’ for him, Miss. No need for you to catch your death. You pop along home now.’ He gestured at the path. ‘Someone’s coming now, so you cut along and I’ll be down the house for your statement later.’ ‘No, I’ll wait,’ she said.  ‘If you’re sure now?’ ‘I’m certain.’ She had barely sat back on her tree trunk before Major Barty Tinsley stumbled into view, puffing steam far harder than Botting had with the exertion of the climb.  ‘Rose, good to see you. Or it would be if it wasn’t in such sad circumstances.’ Dodo’s father-in-law swept off his Europeanstyled fur hat and used it to beat snow from his coat before cramming it back on his balding head. Barty was a big boned man, shorter then Botting by half a head, yet muscular enough to fill any doorway. He went to examine the scene at closer quarters and rose within moments, shaking his head emphatically. ‘Very sad. Suicide quite obviously. Is there a note?’ ‘I’ve looked,’ Bunch replied, ‘but nothing, so far as I can see.’ ‘That would be unusual. In my experience people are usually compelled to leave some final words. Perhaps it was blown away. Or he left it at the farm.’ Tinsley looked around the clearing with obvious disgust. ‘It hardly matters. The circumstances are clear enough.’ ‘I am not so sure about that,’ said Bunch. ‘Besides, it’s not for you or me to say. It’s up to the Coroner. What brings you here, in any case, Barty?’ ‘I was at lunch with Lewis when Botting called. I thought I should offer to assist.’ I bet you did, she thought. Never miss a chance to play at Army with your bloody LDV. ‘Where is Doctor Lewis?’ She looked past him. ‘He must be here to pronounce death before the Coroner arrives, one would think.’

‘He hoped to be along with the stretcher party but there was an emergency call. He thought the needs of the living were more urgent.’ ‘Of course. Anyway, the Coroner will be here soon.’ ‘Unlikely before the morning,’ said Tinsley. ‘I heard that snow has set in deeper along the coast road and if we have another fall tonight then he will be delayed further still. I am here as his proxy, in my official capacity as a magistrate, of course.’ Tinsley raised his chin, challenging Bunch to disagree. ‘Daphne told Botting it looked like suicide,’ he added. ‘She would appear to have been correct.’ He nodded agreement with his own judgement. ‘Jonathan was involved in some rather delicate war work, from what I gather. Pressure was too much for him, perhaps?’ He glanced at Bunch and clamped his lips together in a white line. ‘Saul Frampton told me the boy failed his RAF medical. Some chaps are just not up to the mark.’ There was an implication that Jonathan had somehow deliberately evaded service and it stung. Bunch had always recognised Jonny as a gentle man and it angered her that men like Tinsley mistook that for weakness. ‘I don’t think he did it. Jonny wasn’t the sort. I can’t quite see what’s what as yet but something very wrong occurred up here.’ ‘Wrong? Of course there is something wrong. A young man takes his own life? There’s nothing right in tha—’ He shook his head. ‘Not the time or place.’ ‘I concur, Barty. The Coroner will make a decision at the inquest, of course. I don’t know what procedure is but shouldn’t we make sure he views the scene intact?’ ‘There were two military incidents out at sea and the Coroner has a mortuary filled to the gunwales as a result. He can’t get along before tomorrow, and if we are in for a heavy snow tonight we cannot leave the body where it is. It simply is not practical, especially when the circumstances are so clear. You get along home before the snow gets any worse, Rose. Leave all this to us. No need to bother your head about it in the least bit.’ Bunch breathed harshly through her nose, fighting her impulse to be unspeakably rude. How dare he? The pompous arrogant old dinosaur. The shock of finding her old friend dead in such a ghastly fashion was painful enough. She had been closer to Jonny than almost anyone she knew; she had known him in every sense possible. They had grown from childhood friends into fumbling lovers, exploring the secrets of each other’s bodies in mutual wonder. To her lasting regret the affair had foundered though they had remained the best of friends. Being so comprehensively patronised by Barty Tinsley regarding somebody he barely knew, and who was so close to herself, was positively breath taking. She glanced at Botting, who looked away. Plainly he was not going to argue with the magistrate on her behalf. ‘I think we should wait for Doctor Lewis to give us the benefit of his experience. We two can agree to differ another time.’ She felt pleased at keeping so remarkably collected. Mother would be proud. Tinsley regarded her coldly. ‘What happened here is a terrible shame and totally obvious to everyone – except you, it seems. I realise you mean well, Rose, but you mustn’t get yourself involved. It’s not the right sort of thing for a young lady.’ ‘Jonathan was Georgie’s best pal. They were at Harrow together, and Balliol. It can only help Dodo if we can say Jonny didn’t do such an awful thing, surely?’ She smiled, dropping her chin to come as close as possible to looking up at someone shorter than herself. She was not a flatterer or a flirt by nature but it seemed to work on Tinsley well enough. ‘If speaking with Lewis will put your mind at rest then by all means,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen this sort of thing on the Bench, you know.’ He shook his head. ‘One has to feel sorry for the boy. He found himself unable to carry on with the responsibilities he had been given and shot himself. Some people are simply not cut out for times like these.’ ‘Times like what, exactly?’ said Bunch. ‘War, obviously.’ ‘Jonathan knew as much about war as any of us. Probably more. He was joining some new special Whitehall department,’ she said. ‘Look at him. Look at the shotgun,’ Tinsley said. ‘Stop digging around in things that don’t concern you, Rose Courtney. Or must I speak to your father about it? What young Frampton was working on is not for discussion. Careless tongues, my dear. There’s quite enough for you to worry about without making more.’

‘I doubt we’ve got a Jerry spy hiding in the leaf mould. Oh, and I found this.’ She scrabbled in her pocket and held out the cartridge casing. ‘It was fired today. You can still smell it.’ ‘A .22 wouldn’t make so much mess,’ Tinsley said, ‘not even at point blank. That, however, would be more than capable.’ He pointed to the shotgun. ‘The Major is right, Miss Courtney.’ Botting hefted the Westley and frowned at her. ‘It’s not your place to interfere with the process of law. You cut along, Miss. You’ve had a shock.’ Bunch glanced down at Botting’s other hand clamping her elbow and gently urging her toward the horse. She shook his hand free. She was cold and shocked, of course, but perfectly lucid and starting to realise she was getting nowhere. Tinsley was convinced he was right and Botting would agree out of deference to the magistrate, and because he had little choice. She mounted Perry in silence, compliant only because she was outnumbered. She had no intention of letting it drop. Jonathan Frampton had more joie de vivre than anyone she knew. You will not be remembered for blowing out your own brains, Jonny. I swear by all we held dear that I shall prove it.

 


About the Author:

Jan ps 1

Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Press, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.

For further information please contact Penkhull Press at: https://thepenkhullpress.wordpress.com/

 

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