Tuesday 24 November 2020

Fun with Bev and Carol - excerpt from One Summer in France

Want some light relief?
Enjoy a Bev and Carol adventure on me.
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We had been in the South of France for more than a month and were tanned, healthy and very well read.  I had consumed Madame Bovary, salivated over Les Fleurs du Mal, delighted in Le Chateau de ma Mère, and done my best with a bit of Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Carol had listened to my observations and generally provided a slant to French literature that I found both original and highly disrespectful, which was one of the many reasons I loved her so much.  She eventually agreed to read a ‘proper’ book, if we could find one, and so we set out for Perpignan in search of something she could get her teeth into.
Perpignan was a short bus ride away.  We had been there with Luc, but now we were independent and full of a new excitement.  We decided to make a day of it and got up well before eleven.  The next decision was more difficult: whether to put on some clothes or not. 
‘Do you think they’ll let us on the bus in our bikinis?’ I asked Carol.
‘Could be a byelaw against bums on seats, I suppose.’ Her tone was distinctly dubious.  After all, this was France, not Switzerland.
‘It’s not going to rain,’ I added.
We looked up at the cloudless sky and decided that we would take a sundress with us, just in case.
It turned out that the bus driver was a woman and that the dresses were obligatory.  Even then, she wasn’t keen on letting us on her bus.  As usual, it was Carol who charmed her, telling her that her auntie drove a bus in London and was, like her, a woman who flouted social conventions and excelled in a male dominated profession. In summary, and as her French was almost non-existent, this is how it went: 

Friday 19 June 2020

Dark Psychological Fiction

Excerpt from My Grandfather's Eyes:


Lizzy gets married at a registry office, in the summer before my own wedding, and I am invited to attend, as I knew I would be. She is stronger than me, or else she does not feel the pain I feel. 
“You have to come, Al.  Promise you will!”  She knows I will do whatever she asks.

It is the final day of our camping trip to Thetford forest.  The holiday has been my last chance to be with Lizzy before she is taken from me.  The weather has been warm and sunny and we have been on long walks together, looking at birds with the cheap binoculars she has brought, arguing about names and making up new, ridiculous species, according to where we spot them.
“That’s a tangle-bramble sparrow,” Lizzy announces,  “and that’s a muddy-arsed thrush.”
We collect insects in a jar for her to draw – she has always been good at drawing. I hold the magnifying glass, and she uses a soft pencil to sketch them, going over the outline with a darker one afterwards.  I tell her she has a real talent and that she should send some sketches to a publisher.  She says I am a stupid bint.  She says I would make a good mother.  She tells me to shut the fuck up.  She draws a stick insect with my head on it.
As she sketches I think about the absurdity of the unstoppable wedding day.  Here in the forest, there is no excuse for the banal future she has planned for herself, and my frustration simmers dangerously near the surface.  
“I don’t want to come Liz,” I say, so quietly that I do not know whether I have spoken the words at all.  “I hate weddings, especially yours.” 
Her pencil hovers for an instant and then resumes.  “But you will.  For me?” 
I say, for her, I would do anything.
We brood for the rest of the afternoon, and make the short hours together last as long as we can.  Lizzy has hardly spoken about the wedding, which is to take place on the following Saturday.  Nevertheless, as we pack away the tent and the rest of our gear, the fact of it hangs in the air, a palpable force, drawing us reluctantly towards it.  I am desperate that my friend should not marry this man I have never met, but I know no way of preventing it.  She has, it seems, resigned herself to her fate, like some tragic nineteenth century literary heroine.  She will not be swayed by reason or logic, and I fiddle with blades of grass and pick up pebbles, turning them, letting them fall through my fingers, not knowing what to do, or what to say. She watches me, willing me not to voice my feelings.
“There’s no point, Al.  It’s going to happen,” she says, when I beg her not to go through with it.
“But you don’t love him.”  I smash my fist into the soft ground, and feel the sting of tears boiling up in the corners of my eyes.  Lizzy sighs, but stays where she is, cross-legged, her knees muddied.
“Love is not important in a marriage.  My mum told me it was over-rated, and that money and kindness were what mattered.”
Her words sound hollow, and I say so. “Utter crap, and you know it.”
“No, I think she’s right.  Anyway, I don’t need to love him, I have you.”  And she jumps up for me to chase her, laughing and taunting me.
I am not in the mood to be teased, and she comes back, coaxing.  “Don’t be sad, Al.  We can still have lots of time together.  I’ll have plenty of dosh, too.  We can go travelling, like we said we would.  To Europe, or America if you like.” 
Her enthusiasm is childlike, its irony crushing.  I want to make her stop. It is pointless to persist, and I force myself to stand.  I can bear the intensity of her closeness no more.
“Come on you fat cow, we’d better shove this stuff in the car.”  Carelessly, I grab the stove and a couple of noisy pans.
“Look, Al!”  She points into the forest, her voice hushed, her body tensing.
The deer emerge just in front of us, a mother and her fawn, twitching in the dappled low light, alert to our presence.  Hardly daring to breathe, I observe the delicate sinews moving under the sleek skin of the magical creatures, their eyes a rich, earthy brown, born of the forest.  I feel the bond between them, and, looking back at Lizzy, who has a single tear running down her face, I am startled by the realisation that what I hold most dear is to be lost to me forever. 
I cannot say that Lizzy knew what was in my heart; perhaps she has never known such anguish as I held inside myself during those brief seconds, when I knew, with certainty, the transitory nature of my bliss.  My unutterable, impracticable love.


I arrive at the registry office ahead of time.  The previous, now married, couple and attendant assembly have spewed out onto the car park, in a frenzy of cheap frills, outrageous hats, and garish make up.  They screech and cavort in extravagant vulgarity, and I am transfixed, in spite of myself, by this parody of a ceremony. The bride is a hefty girl of no more than eighteen or nineteen, clad in layers of traditional taffeta that barely contain her enormous, fleshy breasts.  The groom is a skinny-faced buffoon in hired attire, winking and joking uneasily with his circle of leering cronies.  There are sweaty uncles, with slicked back hair and smart suits, and aunts in various ill-fitting outfits, puffing and strutting like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, and mean-faced children, spiteful and wheedling in their fancy dress.
I sit on a bench under a willow tree, and wait for them to squeeze into expensive cars with the windows wound down, eventually driving off, presumably to some lavish hotel or other, where they will be overcharged for everything, and have the dubious privilege of being free to make an exhibition of themselves. 
The last of the party hoots its way down Castle Hill, and there is a momentary vacuum, in which I can almost sense a settling of the fabric of the universe around me.  The afternoon is still again. And, in the stillness, there is time for yet more regret and hopeless longing.
I seek a new distraction. In front of me, the registry office building affronts me.  It is an annexe, and looks like an after-thought.  I imagine what lies beyond the disabled ramp and the conspicuous fire doors. 
A uniformed parking attendant uninstalls himself from his glazed lookout, and marshals what must be some of the guests for Lizzy’s wedding towards their allocated parking space.  I do not know any of them, although I am relieved they seem more demure than the previous crowd.  As more cars arrive, I begin to sort out who is who, and think I recognise a couple of people from school.  This makes me feel uncomfortable – I have come out of a duty to my friend, I do not wish to reminisce. I am approached however, and find myself hugging and kissing, making predictable remarks.  We are jolly.  We are full of good will.
“There’s Justin.  There, look.  There he is!”  One of them says.
“He’s bloody gorgeous, don’t you think, Alex?  What a catch!”  says another.
“I should say so!” replies a third.  “And his parents are loaded.  Lucky bitch!”
I see a tall, staggeringly handsome man, immaculately groomed, step elegantly out of a silver Rolls Royce.  He wanders casually round to the front passenger door and holds out a hand to a small, beautifully dressed woman with fine features and obvious breeding.  His father stands beside him, and shows us what his son will look like in twenty-five years’ time. 
“Well?” Susan persists.  “What do you think?”  She elbows me, and I remember her in her school uniform, chewing gum and goading boys who weren’t interested in her.
“Not bad, I suppose.  Better than I had expected, anyway,” I answer, truthfully.
“She told me he was nothing special.  Typical Lizzy, she’s always been a bit of a dark horse.” Caroline twirls a strand of hair as I contemplate this assessment of my closest friend.
We all decide that Lizzy has played down her fiancé, and, privately, I wonder whether she has lied about anything else.  Does she love him?  Was she too afraid to tell me that she did?  The thought makes me feel angry and sick at the same time.
“Come on, Alex.  Let’s grab a seat.  We don’t want to be stuck at the back.” 
They link arms with me and more or less drag me inside the building.  I am puzzled as to why, if Justin comes from such a wealthy family, they have chosen such an uninspiring venue. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the bride being pregnant.  Poor Lizzy.
When the classical music fades and the first triumphant blasts of the wedding march sound, I am afraid to look round.  I am not sure I want to meet her eyes and find out that I mean so little to her, so I keep myself rigid, while my school mates nudge each other and stifle their gasps.  Lizzy will, of course, be a beautiful bride. I have no doubt of that.
As she draws level, she turns, smiling, towards us, and I feel a warmth rising from my toes, rushing upwards, making me feel that distant, echoing dizziness that can overwhelm you during those moments when your only desire is to somehow be transported away from where you find yourself.  As her gaze settles on me for an instant, I feel, for the first time, a sense of betrayal.  

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Thursday 28 November 2019

Hit and Run by B. A. Spicer

"A gripping, skilfully written tale that will keep you guessing to the end."

"You think you've worked it out and then BOOM another twist!!"

Chapter One

The smell of wet grass filled the air as Alice Candy opened the front door and walked quickly to the garage.  A rich, sharp aroma of new sap.  All very well in April or May, but it was early January and the temperature was three degrees below freezing. The patch of grass at the front of the house bristled white with morning frost.  It could only mean one thing: Something was out of kilter with the world. 
     She hoisted the up-and-over door and listened to it rattle alarmingly.  It would probably fall on her head one of these days.  Inside, her VW had escaped the big freeze, unlike some of her neighbours’ cars that had been left out overnight.  Across the road, Ed Sherry emptied a kettle of hot water onto his windscreen while his wife, Maureen, stood in the doorway in her floral housecoat, arms tightly folded, waiting to refill it.  Maureen waved, calling out something that Alice didn’t catch.  She smiled and waved back anyway.
It was eight thirty.  She had half an hour to get to the station.  Plenty of time.  Gone were the days when she’d started out as a police constable and was forever in a rush.  She’d had a bedsit, an overdraft and a Skoda, not to mention a young daughter to look after.   Now, she lived in a detached two-bedroomed house, had a healthy savings account and a pension.  Jude had grown up and married a man who loved her. Life was good. 
However, it was with a feeling of  fragile tranquility that Alice climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine, selecting hot on the heating control.  She waited for the car to warm up, watching her dragon breath thin and disappear.  The Skoda’s heating system had been better.
Ed Sherry glanced up philosophically as she drove past.  Maureen put on her most long-suffering, woman-to-woman smile.

The petrol gauge showed a low reading and a red light clicked on as Alice turned in to the police station car park.  There would be enough for a couple more days – the VW ran on fumes. 
Swinging into her space she switched off the engine.  Almost two years in her new placement.  Almost two years since her promotion to Detective Chief Inspector.  And almost two years of pulling into the same slot to see her nameplate attached to the red brick wall at an angle that irritated her on a daily basis.  But Alice had the kind of mind that forgot about such trivia as soon as they were out of sight.  It made her laugh, and sometimes caused unwanted complications.  She could be alive to the subtlest of nuances, the slightest change in her environment, but she’d forget to renew her tax disc or keep a dental appointment.  Jude often came to the rescue.  Jude was more like her father had been. Organised. The name plate caught Alice’s attention once more.  She would definitely mention it when she got in.
It was the second Monday after New Year.  The holiday drunks had already been sent home with a warning.  The station would be quiet. 
But something bubbled away at the back of Alice Candy’s brain, and she knew what that meant only too well.  She took a deep breath and tried to harness the normality she saw around her.  Then, in the rear-view mirror, she saw DS Elsie Granger, young and eager, waiting outside the station.  Alice acknowledged the inevitable truth of the morning’s unease and sighed.  Something had happened.  Something serious. She opened the door and the cold hit her.  She could feel the urgency of her best researcher’s gaze. 
A boy.  The thought came from nowhere. She shrugged on her coat, took her bag, and locked the car.  A teenage boy.  More than instinct.  She was certain.  Her intuition invariably led her in the right direction, but it drained all her energy as surely as a virus.  She would have no rest, little sleep.  Not until she had come to the end of whatever it was that had just begun.  Crossing the car park, the smell of new grass assaulted her senses again. 
Elsie stamped her feet and hugged her arms around her body.  Her smile was tight.
“Bad news?” asked the inspector, as she mounted the three steps.
“There’s been a hit and run.  Happened around seven thirty this morning, in Allarton.” 
It wasn’t exactly what Alice was expecting to hear.  She’d been so sure.  “What do we have?”   
“The victim, an Adam Chandler, is at St. Helen’s in intensive care. We don’t know the extent of his injuries yet, but initial reports suggest it’s not good.  Forensics are in attendance – it happened on a private road leading to the Breton estate, just outside the village.”
Alice nodded.  She knew it well.
Elsie continued. “There’s no sign of the vehicle involved and no witnesses as far as we know.  We received an anonymous tip off at seven forty.”
Alice looked towards the station entrance. “Where’s Will?”
“Get some coffee and join us, will you?”
Once inside the building, the young woman turned left, while Alice said good morning to Constable Gus Winter at Reception and continued straight ahead along the corridor that ultimately led to the holding cells, turning right through double fire doors and taking the stairs two at a time.  Through more doors that slammed shut behind her, she strode into the open plan area on the first floor, taking in the gentle hum of machinery and the aroma of coffee mixed with the more subtle scent of people.  She raised a hand to those officers who looked up from their desks and advanced towards a tall man in his early thirties with pale blond hair cut short and eyes the colour of cornflowers.  He wore an air of expectation.  She nodded for him to go into her office.
“Morning, boss.”
“Morning, Will.  What news?”
Taking off her coat and slinging her bag onto the back of her chair, Alice Candy sat at her desk ready to listen.
Detective Sergeant Will Brady stood before her, strong and already showing the determination and focus that would take him far.  They had worked together for long enough to feel at ease in each other’s company.
He began in a voice accustomed to delivering facts. “The call came in an hour ago. The woman wouldn’t give her name.  Said she’d seen a silver BMW with its boot left open in the hedgerow on the road going past Breton Manor. Very specific about the fact that the car was partly hidden.  Didn’t mention anything about a hit and run.” He shrugged and passed a hand through his hair.  “Anyway, Joe Winston took a car up there.  Found the BMW then heard someone moaning.  Found Chandler about a hundred metres away on the side of the road leading up to the house.” He looked out onto the car park.  “We tried your number but you must have had your phone turned off.”
Alice grabbed her bag and looked inside.  No phone.  She’d left it at home.  It wasn’t the first time.
Lines zagged across Will’s forehead. 
    “Don’t say anything.” 
“I wasn’t going to.”  He took his usual seat next to the window just as Elsie arrived  and handed round coffee. 
Will looked up and smiled briefly before consulting the file on his lap.  “Elsie checked him out – Adam Chandler owns the franchise on the pharmacy in Allarton.  He’s thirty-seven, in the process of divorcing his wife, Malin.  Just your average guy, except that he’s currently shacked up with Malin’s sister, Agneta, and they live on the Winter Gardens estate.”
Winter Gardens was an exclusive address.  Alice raised her eyebrows.  “Any idea where the money comes from? I’m presuming a pharmacist’s salary wouldn’t pay the  mortgage.” 
“Probably his wife.  Apparently Malin Eriksson is a successful artist.  Her latest painting’s supposed to be worth more than a million.  It’s been exhibited all over the place – the UK, Italy, Germany.  Here, take a look.”  He held out a photocopy.  “Oil on canvas.  It’s called Wonderland.”
Alice took the picture. “A million pounds, you say?”
She gazed into the strange, pearlised eyes of a girl with long dark hair who held a finger to her lips.  In the background, just discernible at the entrance to what looked like a maze decorated with various everyday paraphernalia, stood a shadowy figure in a top hat.
     Alice set the picture aside with a small grunt.  “Doesn’t do much for me.”
“I think it’s creepy,” said Elsie.
Alice stared into the middle distance. “What about her sister, Agneta, did you say?”
Will put the photocopy back inside his file. “We don’t have much on her at the moment.  Used to model for one of the lesser fashion houses.  We can follow up if you want more.”
“Maybe. Anything else?” She checked her watch. 
“Just that Adam and Malin have a seventeen-year-old son, Johan and another, Luka, who died over a year ago in a boating accident.”
“Who has custody of Johan?”
“Joint.  The mother has a townhouse in Sturley.”
“Right. We should get over to Breton Manor and see what forensics have.  Can you bring the car round?  Elsie, phone the Eriksson sisters.  We need to interview them both.  Are they aware?”
“Yes Ma’am.  We sent an officer to Adam Chandler’s address.  Agneta said she’d inform her sister personally.”  Elsie rose to go. Alice watched her push her hair behind a child’s sized ear.  She had intelligent eyes and perfect skin.
Alice lifted an eyebrow.
“Do you want to interview Johan?”
A teenage boy.  She hesitated then said, “Not for the moment, thank you Elsie. We’ll give his mother some time to contact him.  I presume he’ll be in school?”
“Yes.  St. David’s.”
“Phone the hospital and check on his father’s condition   Oh, and find out who’s at home at Breton Manor, would you?”
Elsie nodded once and left.
“St. David’s?  That’s a private school, isn’t it?” Alice asked Will.
“Elite, I’d say.  You need money or brains.”
Her expression registered playful surprise. “When did you become so cynical?”
Will shrugged.
Alice picked up her bag and coat and followed him out of the office, down the stairs, and into car park.
“We’ll take your car,” she said. I’m almost out of petrol.”
“Anything you say, boss.”

Breton Manor, the scene of Adam Chandler’s accident, was ten miles from Allarton.  Streets lined with unremarkable houses soon gave way to quiet country lanes and mature trees rising out of fields of winter crops.  The manor house lay at the end of a long driveway in a natural dip, making it barely possible to see from the road.
“Not the main entrance.  It’s the next turning on the left,” said Alice.  “Jude took me on a picnic here last summer. The owner allows the public to use one of the meadows at the back of the house.” 
“Jude’s lived in Allarton a long time, hasn’t she?”
“Longer than me.”
“It must be nice to have her close by.”
“Yes, it is.  Look out! Here’s the turning.”  Alice snapped a little.  Will had driven her home to pick up her phone without a word.  She was irritated with herself for running late.
There was a small sign on the open gate that read Private Property.  Will pulled onto the estate and parked up next to the police van already on the scene.  Two officers in white protective clothing were talking to a man in his fifties wearing an oilskin jacket, corduroy trousers and wellington boots.  Tape fluttered on wire posts, cordoning off a small area of land to the right.  Another constable jogged over to meet them.
“Morning, Ma’am.  Morning, Sergeant.  Forensics have just about finished here.  Where do you want to start?  Chandler’s BMW is outside the gates down the road and fairly well hidden.”
“We’ll speak to Jenny first.  Thanks Joe.”
As the group approached, chief forensics officer Jenny Hendrick looked up and smiled, coming forward to meet them.  A second forensics officer seemed deep in conversation with the man in the oilskin jacket.
“Good morning, Ma’am.  Sergeant.  We’re done here.  Not much to show for it I’m afraid to say. But everything’s documented and photographed.”
“Good morning, Jenny.  Is that Lord Langford talking to Tony?”
“Yes.  He didn’t see anything, unfortunately, and didn’t know a thing about the accident until we called the house.”
Alice glanced in the direction of the rise that hid most of the house from view. “What about the staff?”
“Not as far as we know,” said Joe.  “There’s a gardener, but he’s out sourcing fencing.  Lord Langford says he won’t be back until lunchtime.  The butler has taken one of the cars in to the local garage for a service.  The gamekeeper and the rest of the staff are up at the house.”
Alice considered the fact that so many potential witnesses had seen precisely nothing.  At seven thirty on a freezing January morning she supposed that people would not have been out and about before they had to.
“What did you find, Jenny?”
     “Well, there are tyre prints indicating a stationary vehicle parked fifty metres towards the house.  There’s evidence of speed and braking.”  She raised an arm. “Just before impact the tracks swerve.”
“So the vehicle came from the direction of the house and left through the gate?”
“Yes.  And we have footprints.  The driver stopped and got out, possibly to check on the victim, before going back to the car and driving away.  The car turned right out of the gate.”
Alice reflected for a moment.  “Where was Chandler found?”
“At the side of the road – he must have dragged himself a short distance.”
“Did you get samples?”
“Spot samples.  It was difficult – the ambulance needed to get him away quickly. We sent an officer along to bag his clothes at the hospital.”
Alice nodded. “Was Chandler conscious when you arrived, Joe?”
“Yes. He was making a lot of noise.  Kind of bellowing.  I was over by the other car at the time – the BMW parked in the bushes.  I initially thought it might be an animal in trouble.  Didn’t sound human.  I found him curled up on the edge of the road with his eyes closed.  He wasn’t making a sound by then.  I didn’t move him, but he didn’t respond when I asked him a couple of questions.  I called the ambulance then the station.  Jenny got here just as the paramedics were loading him onto a stretcher.  He seemed to be totally out of it.”
“He had obvious head trauma and two badly broken legs.”  Jenny frowned.  “I’d say there’s a fair chance he might not make it.”  She paused. “I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that he took a second impact.”
“Wait a minute. You mean the driver might have knocked him down and then gone back to finish the job?” Will asked.  He had his notebook open and was sketching the scene.
“It’s one possible interpretation.  I’ll know more when I’ve checked the track measurements.”
The conversation was interrupted by the approach of Lord Langford and Tony, the second forensics officer, who spoke rather too cheerfully, “Chief Inspector, this is Lord Langford”.
“Thank you, Tony. Lord Langford, I’m Detective Chief Inspector Candy and this is Detective Sergeant Brady.”
“Hello.”  He shook hands with each of them before stamping a clod of earth into the mud.  “Hell of a morning.  Never seen anything like it.”  He frowned at the police tape then said, “Call me Miles.  Can’t stand the title.  Never could.  Terrible accident.  Don’t know what on earth happened.  Will the chap pull through, do you know?”
Alice thought him the picture of a landowner from a former time and probably a bit of a bombast. “I’m afraid we don’t know yet.  Would you mind if Sergeant Brady stayed behind to ask you and your staff a few questions?”
“Not at all.  However, as you can see, the house is a good distance away and I can assure you that this part of the drive is only visible from the top floor.  No one up there these days.  No need of the space, sadly.”  He held out his hands to show there was nothing he could do about it even if he’d wanted to.
“Nevertheless, we must be thorough, as I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“Yes.  Yes, of course.  Come with me, Sergeant.  We’ll get some hot coffee and rally the troops.”
Alice gave Will a nod and left him to it. 
“Show me to the BMW, will you, Jenny,” said Alice.  “You can leave the rest to us, thank you Joe.  Good work.  And tell Elsie to phone me, will you?”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
Joe drove past the two women as they turned left out of the gate.  No other vehicle had passed by the estate since Alice had arrived.  Silence, apart from the occasional cry of a bird, made the occurrence of such an incident seem almost surreal.  Just as odd, was the sight of a brand new silver BMW well hidden in a natural arbour fifty metres from the gate.  Entering the shadows, Alice sensed the pressure change as the oppressive undergrowth swallowed her.  She turned to see Jenny standing at the rear of the car. 
“The boot was open when we arrived,” she said.
“Any trace of anything?”
Nothing obvious. I’ve got samples for the lab.  Dusted for fingerprints.”
“So, Chandler parked up, left the keys in the ignition, and walked onto the estate for some reason.  Whatever he had in the boot could have been unloaded either before or after the accident.”
Jenny indicated the ground where it was softer.
“The same footprints as the ones found on the estate?”
“No.  These are definitely men’s shoes – I’d say the other ones could belong to a woman.”
“How sure can you be?”
“They had heels.”
Alice walked around to the open car door and laid a gloved hand on it.  She heard the sound of someone running into the forest, the crushing of leaves and the snapping of branches, and felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
After a moment she returned her attention to the area around the BMW.  “It looks as though the ground is well trodden here.”
“Yes.  Some of the tracks go round to the road.  Look, just here.” The area was taped off. “They’re overlaid several times.  Wellington boots and everyday shoes.”
“But the second car was parked off the road?”
“Yes.  Over here.”  Jenny indicated an area close by inside the arbour, fenced off again, with clear tyre tracks in the soft ground.
“Yes.  It looks as though a second car reversed in so as to make the exchange easier.  Nicely planned, I’d say.”
 “Any idea of the make?”
“The tyres are wide.  The impressions deep.  Could be a four by four.  What’s interesting is this.”  Jenny led Alice to where they believed the bonnet of the second car would have been facing.  There were signs of wheel spin where the ground was churned.  And there were tyre marks on the road where it exited the shelter.  “Someone was in a hurry to get away. I’d say the underside of the vehicle would be pretty messy.”
“So, how many sets of tracks do we have?”
“Two off road and one on road.  And the footprints indicate that at least one person moved between the BMW and, let’s say the four by four.  But there are at least two and perhaps three sets moving from the BMW towards the road and a probable third vehicle.”
Alice preferred to deal in certainties.  It must have shown on her face.
“I’ll call you as soon as I’ve got more precise information.”  Jenny grinned.
The phone in Alice’s pocket rang. It was Elsie.
“I’ve found the Eriksson sisters, if you’re finished there.”
“Where are they?”
“Agneta’s at the hospital and Malin’s at home. I told them you would need to speak to them today.”
“How’s Chandler?”
“Still unconscious.  He has an intracranial bleed. It could go either way.  Both legs are crushed and he’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Is there an officer posted?”
“Yes.  We’ll know as soon as Chandler comes round.  If he does.”
Alice remembered Will back at the house with Lord Langford. “Send a car to the estate to pick up Will – you’d better warn him to round things off for the moment.  We’ll see Malin as soon as he gets back.”
“Right.  Understood.”  Elsie hung up and Alice walked back to where Will had left his car, climbed into the driver’s seat and accelerated towards the gate, which hung lopsidedly, its near post stuck in the mud.  Someone had ignored the sign, driven in early that same morning, run Adam Chandler down and left him for dead.
     The scene played out in her head, but it was too soon for a clear picture to emerge.  A new case always threw up a myriad of questions and today’s was no exception.  What was Chandler doing in the middle of nowhere at that time of the morning?  What did he have in the boot of his car?  And who had taken it?  Who would want to run him down?  And what would the attacker do when he or she found out that he was still alive?  If Chandler had been knocked down and then run over, surely the assailant had meant to silence him for good...

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Thursday 14 November 2019

Review of 'Flesh' by Dylan Morgan.

This is my second read by this author.

Story telling is an art.  Dylan Morgan combines essential ingredients to keep his reader hungry for more.  There is undoubtedly a good deal of brilliantly worked traditional graphic horror, but there are also characters to side with and characters to side against, providing true reader investment in the outcome of dynamic, tense drama.  I really have to care about what happens to a protagonist - otherwise, I lose interest.

If I had to comment on one outstanding feature of 'Flesh' it would be the author's particular style of writing.  He uses language in a distinctive way to drive the story forward and enliven characters.  Thoughts tumble into Keller's mind; goosebumps pop; monsters slither and shadows seep

It's good, creative stuff.  More please!

Monday 2 September 2019

Gripping Crime Fiction

Locked Away

Chapter One

Ellie’s body jerked and her eyes flicked open.  Darkness.  The sound that came from her mouth was muffled.  Something approximating to mah!  For a split second, she could not think. Then the questions came thick and fast: Where was she? Why was it so cold and dark?  Why was she lying on the ground?
Her breathing quickened.  Blinking, her mind still racing, she suddenly lay still and quiet, playing dead, trying to make sense of what was happening. 
In the muddy darkness she couldn’t see anything.  No matter how widely she opened her eyes, there was no light.  All around, it was deep dark like the dark of a forest at night, or a cave she’d visited as a child in Wales, where the lights had gone out before a dazzling show, leaving her thrilled and trembling.  There would be no show here.  That much was clear.  She moved her shoulders and realised her hands were tied behind her back.  It was an unlikely fact, but she took it in and once more her breaths came short and fast.  Next, she registered pain: her arm hurt because she was lying awkwardly on it. She shifted again. Her nose flared and she smelled the dankness of stale earth beneath her, coarse against her skin, the individual pieces of grit and stone pressing into her. 
 The last thing she took in was that she really was not able to speak because there was something covering her mouth.  This was somehow much worse than the darkness or the cord around her wrists.  She tried again anyway, but a stifled note like a muted trumpet was all that came out.  Squeezing her tongue between her lips, she pushed and the tape pulled her skin but would not budge.
All these sensations became clear to her in seconds, almost but not quite simultaneously. Now she wore them like a new skin.  A skin that made her feel vulnerable.  Exposed.

Stay calm.

Not so easy, when what she felt inside was panic.  A kind of panic that she’d never imagined she could feel.  Thousands of sensors went off like fireworks in every organ of her body.  At the same time, a terrible black silence flooded her head.

Where am I?

Ellie was not the kind of girl to get hysterical. Steadying herself, she breathed in and out through her nose.  Her pulse slowed.  She lay still.  There must be something to see in the darkness. The more she stared, the more she could make out.  To her right, quite close by, there was a wall made of what looked like large stone blocks.  She strained her eyes to see higher.  Yes, there was the ceiling, not level and crossed with shadows.  Beneath her, the floor was hard, uneven and darker than the wall. She felt once more its cold, grainy surface.  Only then, did she register the fact that her bare skin was touching the earth. She was wearing a tee shirt and shorts.  No shoes.

 The strange air was cold against her body and, for a moment, Ellie was truly frightened.  She knew also that she had never been really frightened before.  Not even as a child.  Not in the Welsh cave, or when she’d heard creaking on the stairs after her mother had gone to bed. Not when she’d stayed up late to watch a horror movie on her own. No, not ever.  Here, where nothing made sense, she felt terror rising from her bowels.  Wave after wave.

Come on, Ellie!

She gritted her teeth and banished the fear. Lying on her side, she had limited mobility.  She sat up with difficulty, grazing the skin on her elbow and the side of her knee. When she was still again she listened to the sound of her own breathing, this time strategically, waiting for the quiet gaps to search the darkness for something other than the passage of air into and out of her lungs.  And what if she did hear something?
Wriggling her toes, it was strange to imagine that her trainers and sports socks had been removed.  Perhaps it was a precaution to make sure she couldn’t run away…  The outrage she felt was tempered by this petty preoccupation: Where were her shoes and socks?  Ellie almost laughed.  Then, the muscles in her abdomen tightened.  Who the hell had done this to her?  What right had anyone to do this to her!
It was time to focus, to assess the situation and do what she could.  No point in dwelling on her plight.  Action.  She needed to act!  First, she must free herself.  The thin cord around her wrists hurt, and she made it hurt more when she twisted her hands to try to loosen it. 

Think, Ellie!

It was made of something strong, like plastic. It was tight, but she had the feeling that it would stretch if she pulled at it enough.  This thought gave her hope.  This was good.  Hope was essential in situations like this.  In films, when victims were trapped, there was always a way out, no matter how dire the situation. The victims were actors, of course, and they knew that in the script there was an escape plan.  She must find her own escape plan.  If she were clever enough, there would be a way out.
As she worked on the cord she was able to pick out more detail in the darkness.  To her right and further forward, set into the wall, there was the outline of something regular in shape.  A door.  Ellie held her breath and stared.  Knowing there was a way out was a good thing, but knowing there was a way in... 

Stop!  Don’t let it get to you! 

Okay, so the door was there.  Now that she’d seen it, she couldn’t go back to the time before she’d noticed its fine, firm outline.  So she would study it.  To be ready, if it should open.  It was not like an ordinary door.  She remembered films she’d seen about prisons.  The prison doors had a small window at the top that the guards could slide open so that they could look inside and check the prisoners were all right.  This door had a window at the top with five small bars across it.  Even if the bars had not been there, the window would surely not be big enough to fit her head through.  If her head wouldn’t go through, it would be pointless trying to fit the rest of her body into it.  Pointless. 
She continued her painstaking search. The worst thing was that nothing she saw made sense. Ellie had a hundred questions going round in her head and no one to answer them. But there was one question she didn’t want to think about.  One question that, nevertheless, kept coming back: 

Is there anyone on the other side of the door?
Although this thought was ever present, it was important to continue with a logical and calm assessment of her situation.  If there was a person on the other side of the door, that meant there was someone she could reason with.  Everyone had a weak spot.  Even people who were evil. 
She knew there were evil people in the world.  Men who killed women.  Men who killed children.  Even women who killed.  There had been a man in Austria who had held a girl captive for years, until one day she had been rescued.  Peter Sutcliffe - he had hated prostitutes enough to take them somewhere quiet in his car and strangle them.  With her hands tied together, Ellie would not be able to stop a man strangling her.  Even if she got a chance to bite him, to kick him, and even if by some miracle she then got the keys, how would she put the key into the lock?   No!  She shook her head to get such negative thoughts out of her mind and worked harder on the cord around her wrists.  She grimaced against the pain, angry with herself for thinking about kidnappers and murderers and what they could do to her.  With her hands free, she would feel better. Empowered. In the meantime, she should stick to positive thoughts.
The room was wide. She could not see much to the left or in front.  Looking up again, the ceiling seemed higher and it appeared to be crossed with beams. There was a smell she recognised, too. What was it? It was damp and pungent, a bit like leaves in autumn when the rain falls on them and they turn soft on the street. But this smell was not as nice as wet leaves. Wet leaves made her think of being outside and looking up at the clouds in a big autumn sky. Here, there was no sky, there were no clouds, and the smell was old, like air that had not been changed for days or even weeks. It was not a healthy place to be and she tried not to breathe deeply, to keep the terrible air out of her lungs. 
And suddenly it came to her.  It must be a cellar.  Of course!  That meant there was a house above and someone who lived in it.  A house with carpets and soft furnishings, electric light and central heating, windows and a view onto a street.  Unless the house was in the middle of nowhere.  In a forest or on a cliff top with the wind buffeting against it and the sea crashing below. It might be stormy outside.  It might be sunny.  It might be night.  No matter what it was like, it would be better than where she was.
Just then, there was a tickle under her thigh and she was distracted by another scary thought: perhaps there were insects on the floor or on the walls. Maybe big spiders hanging from the ceiling, perhaps just above her head, waiting to fall on her. The thought made her squeak, like a frightened animal.  A small squeak, like a mouse.  The sound of her voice was strange inside the room and the silence after it stranger.  The memory of it echoed inside her head, until she thought: How can I  be afraid of spiders, when my  hands are tied and I don’t know where I am?  How can I be so stupid?
Working harder at the cord, Ellie planned ahead:  What shall I do when my hands are free?  When I get the tape off my mouth should I shout for help, or should I stay quiet? These were important, practical considerations.  It would be key to her survival that she chose the right option.

Just then, outside the door, she heard a sound. It was the sound of a muffled cough.  And she froze. It proved that someone was there listening and, what a horrible thought, watching.


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Wednesday 21 August 2019

Hi everyone.

Just to let you know that both my DCI Alice Candy books are priced at 99p/99c for the next six days.

Also, they are available on a variety of platforms including Amazon, Nook and Kobo, all accessible via this universal link:

Sunday 2 June 2019

Summer Reads! Available in paperback or as an ebook.

All three of my humorous memoirs (Bev and Carol adventures) are available in paperback format - perfect for a fun gift.

Click the links below to view on Amazon:

Happy Days!