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!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The writing of 'One Summer in France'

When it all started:
1979 (a very good year).

Where it all started:
Keele University: northern England, non-prestigious, apart from renowned Astronomy department –run by Sir Patrick Moore's best mate – name on tip of tongue/impressive English department - gargoyled hall, windows bit too high to gaze out of.

Reason for trip:
To learn French and to contextualise studies.

1. Train to South of France.
2. Put up tent.
3. Go to beach.

Reading/lounging about/flirting/moped mastery/selective sightseeing (pinnacle – Dali’s museum – bonkers).

Places visited:
Lots and lots.

Friendships formed, (in order of importance/in no particular order – bit of a mix, really):
Carol: best friend/totally brilliant/mad/blond/netball fiend, wing-attack/can be trifle politically incorrect/bit sweary/good punch.
Alison: uptight/control freak/all-round freak/not really friend but essential enemy/obsessive milk hoarder – (all property is theft, Alison).
James: hopelessly besotted with Bev – (brash totty)/betrothed to Jocasta – (posh totty)/doomed/dishy/dope/eventual accountant, argh!.
Andy: undergraduate in French/lord-of-manor type if not actual lord of manor/Shrewsbury estate/heart of gold/spotty/def. not shaggable.
Luc: entrepreneurial market trader/south of France poseur/admirer of Bev’s dream-goddess bikini (and contents)/eventual carnal interest of Carol.
Lawrence: (cor!)/French/married – (bummer!) – ambiguity not intended).
Charles: French/pancake chef/bit stinky/animal/non-runner – pity.
Antoine and Cedric:French/caravan-dwellers/benevolent/gallant/(lecherous old buggers).
Others too numerous to mention.

Best bits:
Beaches (normal x 2, naturist x 1)/port – gallon thereof/Jean-Paul Sartre – ‘Huis Clos’ – intellectual stimulant – Carol not enamoured/Spike Milligan – genius - worm verse – best poem ever written - Carol's opinion, not mine/being freeeeee!

Worst bits:
Mohammed’s couscous poison/paranoid, raw-meat-eating Anna (don’t ask).

Summing up:
Totally amazing time.  Love Carol forever.  Best friend in world.  Thanks to Ms. Adams (finance), my father (extra finance), and to Dave (emergency finance).  Have grown as person.  Have brilliant photos.  French improved (beaucoup). Tan – golden. Hair – ruined (in a good way).  Power over opposite sex – incalculable. N.B. government grant/tax payers' money - repaid a thousand times over since adventure, so don't even think about getting on your high horses!  

Wrote book: ‘One Summer in France’, humorous memoir of three-month study break in France (obligatory)

Additional information:
It might be cheaper for a couple of days sometime in July... Can’t wait?  Get it now and blow the expense!  (Best consumed with big smile and bigger glass of port).

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Download Hanson's Hunch - Free for a limited period. Click on the link at the end of the post.

Author's note:  So sorry, everyone.  The free promotion got interrupted somehow, but will be live again tomorrow and the following day (22nd/23rd May).

I love to write in all kinds of genre, but I must admit that detective fiction is one of the most interesting and challenging.  It may begin with a simple idea, a general plot line, a couple of well formed characters, but it soon leads me down paths that demand I follow, whilst keeping an eye on what has gone before and what will happen next.

I must create intrigue, I must bring my reader along with me, shining a light on certain details, hinting at a resolution, leaving them to fill in the gaps and carry a set of possible outcomes in their own imaginations.  Who could the killer be?  We rule characters in then rule them out.  It's a delicate balancing act, and one that kept me awake at night when I was writing the Alice Candy series, particularly Hit and Run, which took so many turns that it required five drafts and two professional edits before it could be published.

If I read a book, any kind of book, I notice inconsistencies.  These inconsistencies are even more pronounced in detective fiction.

Hanson's Hunch is a short story, so the pitfalls may not be as great, but the challenge is the same.  I strive to draw believable characters, some of whom we can empathise with, some suspect, some dislike, all brought together in a story that, hopefully, has integrity, and the all important quality of creating interest in the reader, sustaining their curiosity, and providing an ending that satisfies.

Classed by Amazon as a '45 minute short', I invite you to investigate, along with Inspector Hanson, the death of a local young woman - I wonder whether you will solve the crime before he does...

This is how the tale begins:

      “She looks almost peaceful,” said the officer.  “No blood.  No sign of a struggle.”
“That may be so, lad,” replied Inspector Hanson.  “That may be so.”
There was a moment of expectation in his young colleague’s face, a subtle straining to glean what wisdom, what hidden meaning lay beneath his superior’s words.  But the moment passed and both men resumed their contemplation of the young woman lying on her front, but with her head turned towards them, eyes open and lips slightly apart, as though she were about to speak. Her legs were bent at the knee in a position reminiscent of sideways running.  Almost comical, apart from the fact that she was as far removed as it was possible to be from such whimsical cartoon imagery, being made of flesh and blood, recently gone cold.
Hanson grunted and looked up at the spreading dawn sky with its split clouds lit by weak sunshine.  It would be a lovely June day, later. 

Download the rest of the story (free) here

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Boxer and the Hoopoe

More adventures of Carol and Bev

The house is cool, and the light curtains move pleasingly in the breeze.

'Look at that!' says Bev, dreamily, from her comfortable bed.

'What's the matter!' Carol pulls the duvet quickly over her head.

'Blue sky!'

'Eh?' Carol relaxes for a moment and then adds, 'What about the incessant barking of the neighbours' brainless bloody boxer?'

A volley of barks sounds nearby.

'All morning, mark you! "Woof, woof, woof...and...woof".'

The dog confirms the pattern of Carol's complaint.

'I suppose-' Bev begins, still contemplating the view.

'Don't say anything nice! I know what you're going to say. "It's not his fault. He's just lonely. He's seen a cat! He just wants a walk."  I'm going round there to sort it out, and you can come, or not!  What's French for "dog" and "kill"?'

'Shall I make some coffee and get some croissants?  There's a boulangerie on the corner.'

Carol grunts heavily.

Outside, some children start a ball game against the wall of the house.

'What? Jesus! What's that?' Carol sits up in bed. She has mascara on her cheek and her hair is flat against her head on one side. She goes to the window.

'Oi! Clear off! Go away! Get lost!'

They stare up at her and smile.  One of them says: 'Bonjour Madame!'

'Bonjour les enfants!' Bev leans out of the window and Carol goes off to the bathroom in disgust.

Bev hears the front door open as she finishes the coffee and puts the croissants on a plate.

Outside, Carol chases away the children, who squeal in delight. Then she advances on the boxer.  There is a woman of indeterminate age and developing corpulence holding onto a child which has inherited its mother's pug nose and sullen expression.

'Good morning! Are you the owner of this dog?' Carol says, in an unmistakably belligerent tone.

The woman does not understand and scowls at the English girl with the flat hair and blackened face.

'Ah, bonjour Madame!' Bev arrives. 'Nous sommes en vacances juste à côté.'

The woman does not reply.

'Tell her I'm going to poison her dog if-'

'Je m'appelle Bev et mon amie s'appelle Carol.  Enchantée!' Bev puts her hand out.

The woman turns and goes back into the house. A moment later, a man comes out. He smokes a cigarette in an aggressive manner and stands in the doorway to the house, his chin jerking up, once.

The dog barks.

The child wails.

'It's like The Good, The Bad and The Bloody Hideous,' whispers Carol.

Bev is undaunted.  'Bonjour Monsieur!'

The man steps forward and puts a hand on the gate. He takes the collar of the boxer in the other and lifts the latch.

Still he does not speak.

There is a moment when the threat of violence is tangible..

'Je vous souhaite un bon matin!' says Bev, jauntily, taking Carol's arm and leading her away at a brisk pace.

'What did you say to the ugly bastard?'

'I wished him a nice morning!'

'You're such an optimist!'

They stagger back to the house hooting with laughter.

'Let's hope the latch on that gate holds!'  says Bev.

'I'm hungry,' says Carol.

Bev sets a tray of freshly baked delights on the garden table and tries to decide between strawberry and raspberry jam.  Carol fidgets for a while and then settles.

'They've stopped now,' she says, 'listen'.

Carol helps herself to butter and stares at a pair of hoopoe wandering around the lawn. 'Never seen one of those before...'

Bev grins.  'They make a noise like their name.'

And they did.

If you like this, you can read more about Bev and Carol in One Summer in France, Bunny on a Bike and Stranded in the Seychelles.  Links are to the right of this post. Thanks for looking:)

Friday, 19 April 2019

Dip a toe in the water and see if you are a Bev and Carol kind of person...

View on Amazon

Chapter One

     Older but not wiser, we perused the Times Educational Supplement for jobs, on a dull afternoon in August at my house in Milton Keynes.  Carol was back, and suddenly, living in Milton Keynes didn’t seem to matter as much!  My bosom buddy had spent the previous year working in a school in the Himalayas, and had finally flown back to somewhere nearer sea level. 
Outside, nothing was happening.  Inside, the walls remained perfectly aligned and painted magnolia. Carol sighed and looked out of the large, double-glazed window onto a square patch of lawn penned in by a chest-high, cheap, wooden fence.  “How can you live in a place called Pennyland?”
As I didn’t know the answer to this question, I hedged.  “It’s only a name.”
“It’s a stupid name.”
I had to admit that Carol was right. It couldn’t have helped that she had been used to living in a mountaintop retreat in Tibet, above the clouds and as remote as you can get from affordable housing, inadequate porches and gas central heating.
“How do you stand it?”
“It’s not that bad,” I said, half-heartedly.
A man cycled past.  “Christ!  It’s worse than science fiction!”
Baffled as I was by this particular insight, I laughed, and Carol gave me a look that I recognised instantly.  It was a look that said it was time to set out again into the world, united against the banal, the drab and the superficial, determined to have some fun and wreak some havoc.  I went back to the newspaper and kicked off with something contentious:
     “There’s one here for a maths teacher in Beijing. I could be the stay-at-home housewife.”
     “No thanks,” replied Carol.
     “Too much of a culture shock?  Don’t want the Saturday morning military training?”
     “Nah.  Can’t stand Chinese food.  All those wriggly bits. And oyster sauce – can’t eat oysters since Alice!”
     “In Wonderland?”
     “The Walrus and the Carpenter?”
     “The very same.  Poor little oysters…”
     I realised that, cartoon horror apart, and allowing for Carol’s sketchy knowledge of proper Chinese cuisine, this would be a deal-breaker.  Food was top priority.  Followed closely by sunshine, a great beach and a good library.  Good looking, intelligent men of independent means were also a consideration.
“No blokes there, either.  Too short.  Too Chinese.”
I could not argue, although I would not have put my feelings in quite the same way.  Carol spoke her mind, whilst I generally harboured my sharp-edged opinions.  I didn’t mention the fact that, this time, she was indulging in a stereotypical assessment of a nation containing over one hundred million people, not all of whom would be too short or, indeed, too Chinese. 
“What about this one?” I suggested.  English teachers required by the Seychelles government.  Sounds interesting.”
     “Aren’t they in the Indian Ocean?” Carol sat back in her chair and poked a finger into her ear.  She was as beautiful as ever.  How I had missed her! 
     “I believe that is correct, you lovely tart,” I replied, pretty sure that Carol knew a lot more about the Seychelles than she was letting on.
     “Capital?” she asked.
     “Fish. Creole style.”
     “I think it’s more likely to be rice,” I said, although I was not entirely sure.
     “Fish and rice with curry sauce!”
     “We can make our own chips,” I said, reasonably.  “Just need a chip pan and some Trex.”
     “Granted.” Carol chewed the pencil we were using to circle ads.  It had also served as a coffee spoon and more recently, to kill an ant.
     “Shall I read the rest of it?”
     “Don’t see why not,” she said. 
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks-
     “The National what!”
     “Youth Service.  Must be something like the Department of Education.”
     “Doesn’t sound like the Department of Education.  Go on. Let’s hear it.”
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks qualified teachers of ESL to instruct secondary school students on the island of Ste. Anne.”
     “Never heard of it.  There’s Mahé and Praslin and some kind of bird island.  Let me see.”  Carol grabbed the paper. “Twelve-month contracts. Flights and accommodation provided. Interviews to be held in London on 14th/15th August.” She closed the newspaper and got up.  “Want a cuppa?”
     I followed my friend into the kitchen, thinking that the interviews would be at the end of the week, in three days’ time.
     “Where d’you keep the biscuits, you bugger?  Hope you’re not still buying those Poptarts!” Carol was opening cupboards, rummaging.
     “There are some Jammy Dodgers in the cutlery drawer,” I told her.  The mention of Poptarts had brought back a momentary nostalgia.
     She eyed me and I eyed her back.
     “Are we going?” I asked.
     “Book it, Danno,” she said.

     We were not the kind of girls to pass up an opportunity like this.  We had been through university together and worked for Playboy in London, as blackjack dealers. After that, Carol had left England to sell encyclopaedias in Germany and had thrown it in after meeting a businessman at a party who offered her a job teaching English to Buddhist monks in the Himalayas.  I had gone on to work as a secretary in London at various establishments which were practised in the art of exploiting as little as possible of a person’s potential and where, at my lowest ebb, I had slavishly typed out legal contracts for solicitors who patronised both their staff and their clients.  Later, I had worked for a very nice family with a business just off Oxford Street, in a small office, up some rickety stairs, where I had learned all there was to know about high-tensile low-density bin bags (didn’t take long), including how to fold them and label them, before sending them off with a quote for anything from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands.   And, after just over a year of knowing that I didn’t want to be in plastic for the rest of my days, I had applied for and, to my utter amazement, been accepted by Queens’ College to do a postgraduate teaching certificate at Cambridge University.  I subsequently took up my first post in Milton Keynes, where I discovered that I was no good at controlling a class of secondary school kids who didn’t care about Keats, and I gradually came to realise that the next proper adventure was long overdue.  All I had needed was the return of my best friend and sparring partner.
Carol had descended from the mountains under slightly mysterious circumstances, which she refused to divulge, but which had probably involved some kind of extra-curricular activity with one of her students.  She had telephoned me to say that she wanted to come and stay for a while. So, with my probationary year as a very eager, but more or less ineffectual English teacher at Stantonbury Campus mercifully completed, and with no one begging me to stay, there was nothing to stop us, apart from fear of the unknown and crushing financial limitations.  We were in the market for some excitement and risk.  A teaching job in the Indian Ocean, with all expenses paid, seemed an opportunity too good to miss. 
     We looked up trains to London and, in the meantime, found out that the Seychelles was a group of volcanic and coral islands stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a language that was based on French, due to the fact that they had been colonised by… France.  Following this, the islands had been subjected to British rule, before gaining independence in 1976. I wondered vaguely whether we would be welcomed by the locals, until Carol pointed out that anything “we” had done to them was bound to be better than the treatment they would have received at the hands of our closest allies, the French, who, according to Carol, had used the inhabitants as slaves to work on their plantations and probably taught them to roll their Rs. 

I dialled the number in the advertisement and asked to be put through to Roseline Bananne.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Limited time promotion:  Get all three of Bev and Carol's adventures less than the normal price of one!


Excerpt from Bunny on a Bike:


‘Why Don’t You Ask Me I Might Say Yes!’

I wanted to be a bunny as soon as I saw the advertisement.  Why wouldn’t I? There was no question that it was the most interesting job prospect I’d seen so far. I thought: casinos, glamour, fast cars and millionaires.  But most of all I thought it would be better than working for a living.  So I told Carol and she said we would go to London together.  Easy.  After all, we didn’t have anything else planned for the rest of our lives.  We had both put in just enough effort to get our degrees and, having got this far, didn’t have a clue what to do with them.  Some of our friends were going to be doctors, solicitors or even teachers.  They knew what they wanted.  I hated them all. 
We met up at King’s Cross, eventually.  Carol had managed to get herself almost arrested for slipping past the toilet attendant but, in a stroke of genius, had invented a relative who worked as a toilet attendant in Exeter station and who had been given an award for the cleanest toilets in the South West of England.  Mary, the London loo keeper, thought that she had heard of auntie Georgina and asked Carol to make sure to pass on her regards, before pressing a free token into her hand and wiping a metaphorical tear from her eye, saying that it had been a great pleasure to make her acquaintance and that, when you got up in the morning, you never knew what was going to happen.
     ‘Why do you do it?’  I yawned.
     ‘What?’  Carol replied, as though I may have inadvertently changed the subject.
     ‘Make things so bloody complicated.’  I saw from her expression that she thought I was a dullard.
     ‘What would you have done, then?’ she turned on me.
     ‘Paid the woman!  I mean how much can it cost to have a pee?’
     ‘Ten pence.’
     ‘Really?’  It seemed implausible.  ‘Whatever happened to the spending a penny idea?’
     Carol gave me one of her blank stares before suddenly noticing the effort I had made with my appearance. ‘What the hell have you got on?’  She looked me up and down in what can only be described as a less than complimentary manner.
     I was wearing figure-hugging jeans and a tight tee shirt with ‘Why Don’t You Ask Me?  I Might Say Yes!’ written across the front.  I could understand her taking exception to the incorrect use of capital letters, but I knew that maths graduates were more or less unaware of punctuation.  My carefully selected attire kind of set the mood, I thought, the mood being, as far as I was concerned, one of extreme levity and foolish indulgence.  To add to the effect, I had on a pair of disarmingly conservative calf-length beige zip-up boots, cunningly worn over my jeans, as was the fashion for young women of a certain type, that type being acutely bimboesque.  I thought I looked brilliant.
Carol, in my opinion, hadn’t got a leg to stand on as far as dress code was concerned.  She was wearing a tatty kaftan coat and gypsy earrings in an effort, apparently, to be as inappropriately dressed as possible and thus give an uncomfortable edge to the proceedings: she didn’t agree with the concept of an interview.  There were a lot of things that Carol didn’t agree with so, to save time, I said that I thought she looked brilliant too. 
     In short, we were confident, provocative and loud, we were backward birdbrains about to learn the hard way that there was ‘no such thing as a free lunch’.  We had no notion of what it was like to have a job, apart from serving curry in the Students’ Union bar to salivating youths hoping for a post biryani snog and a grope; we were young, hopeful and out to impress with our individual ideas of what was inspiring in a world brimful of desperately dull people leading desperately dull lives. How could we be wrong?  How could the people at Playboy not love us?
     ‘Shall we get on with it?’ said Carol, looking at the over-sized watch on her wrist.
     ‘Whose is that?’
     ‘Dave’s.  I haven’t got one.  Didn’t want to be late.’
     ‘Is that a cow on the face?’
    ‘Yeah.’  She held it up for me to see. ‘He likes cows.’
London was a huge and shapeless odorous maze and we cursed, laughed and stumbled our way towards Edgware Road via the ubiquitous London underground, which seemed like something out of a Victorian history book. Or do I mean a book on Victorian history?  Anyway, I discovered, interestingly, that I was in fact claustrophobic, and taunted myself with the thought of being trapped in the dark, shiny tunnels, never being able to get up to the surface again.  My reflection looked so serious in the dark, glossy windows of the carriage while I entertained these thoughts that Carol found it necessary to practise her favourite grimaces until, catching my eye, we both started laughing. 
The other passengers were not amused, as it turned out, although this only served to bring out more of our loutish behaviour.  We finally left them in peace as we burst out of the sliding doors and exploded up the stone steps on to the street, quite exhausted and gasping for air, believing ourselves to be hilarious.  
     The tube station was not far from the casino and when it came into sight I thought it looked more like an enormous, ungainly office block.  It was on pillars, but not the classical kind, and it looked so, so wrong.  The windows were high up and masked by long curtains which, presumably, hid the bright, luxurious interior.  I suppose I thought the building would be grander, more ornate, dripping with wealth and sophistication.
     ‘What a dump!’ said Carol.
     She wasn’t wrong. 
     Then, we saw all the people.  There were hundreds of them.  Girls and some boys too, just standing there, in the longest queue I had ever seen.  It went along the side of the building, round the corner and on for at least a hundred yards. On closer inspection I noticed how the young trendies were dressed. Never had I seen so many fashion mistakes in one place.  I pushed back my dyed blonde hair and eased up my skin-tight jeans.