Lincolnshire, England. June, 1928. When three freshly-buried bodies are unearthed in the front yard of a rented cottage, DCI Henry Johnstone, a specialist murder detective from London, is summoned to investigate. Two of the victims are identified as Mary Fields, known to have worked as a prostitute, and her seven-year-old daughter Ruby. But who is the third victim and what was he doing at the cottage?
Johnstone is determined to do things by the book, but his use of forensic science and other modern methods of detection soon ruffles feathers. Frustrated by the unhelpful attitude of the local constabulary, Johnstone fears the investigation is heading nowhere. Then he’s called out to another murder . . .
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The Murder Book
A Henry Johnstone Mystery
By Jane A. Adams
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Jane A. Adams
All rights reserved.
He decided to bury them in the yard but left it a full day before he came back. The night they had died he'd let himself out of the house and walked slowly down the street, past little terraced houses and small corner shops. There was building work going on next to the house – the woman had said the shop was being rebuilt and refurbished and that their little cottage was going to be part of the extension. He had hoped to find space, perhaps beneath the floor of the shop, that the builders had left but the doors had been padlocked and he'd been unable to get inside. He had thought of leaving the bodies lying in the bedroom – even thought of calling the police and letting the young man who'd attacked him take the blame. But that would have led to many questions and he knew he was best just keeping out of the way.
And so it was on the following night that he took a spade and a nail bar, borrowed from a gardener's shed, went back to the little cottage and into the yard that separated the shop from the house, where he proceeded to examine the possible burial site. The yard was partly flagged and partly cobbled and there was a mass of bricks and mortar, building sand and debris from the shop next door alongside an old pram and part of a bicycle. In the end the graves were shallow, mere scrapes beneath the lifted flagstones and the displaced cobbles. He had been afraid of the noise he was making and moved as silently as he could. He placed each body on a sheet, dragged it down the stairs then tipped it into the scrape. He wasn't even sure why he was doing this, though it seemed like the decent thing. He'd been shocked by the sight of them lying there – the woman, the young man and the child. Although he was fairly certain that the bodies would soon be discovered – after all, his grave-digging skills were constrained by the rubble in the yard, the hardness of the ground and his attempts to keep the noise as slight as possible, and he knew, anyway, that the builders would soon smell something wrong – some pricking of conscience drove him to make the effort.
Twice he thought he would be discovered. A dog barked, its owner shouted, he heard the sniffing beneath the gate and then, to his relief, the skitter of four paws as it ran back to its master. The second time two drunks, singing at the top of their voices, promenaded down the street only a few feet away from him, beyond the wall. He heard windows open, shouts and threats and drunken responses and he froze, terrified that a fight might start and that he'd be trapped in the yard. But shouting was all it came to; the drunks marched on singing and the window slammed closed.
He covered the bodies with loose earth and then the flags and cobbles and then spread the mess already in the yard across the whole area. He stepped back to inspect his handiwork and decided it would have to do, then he went back through the house, closed the front door behind him and walked away. He half expected a window to open and someone to shout at him but no one did. It was late, this was a street full of working men and women and they had gone to bed, switched out their lights and were sleeping, preparing for the next day's early start. He quickened his pace, eager to put distance between himself and the scene and longing, now, for his bed. It had been a very long and exhausting night.CHAPTER 2
Mother Jo Cook had waited three weeks to die. She had hung on tenaciously to what was left of her life, fearful that the reaper might catch her before she could reach home.
Home, for Mother Jo, was not so much a place as it was the people gathered there, and when the wagon turned through the gateway at Roman Hole that night in late June, it was the welcome of family that told her it was now all right to die.
So she had herself placed by the fire in her old armchair with her shawl about her shoulders and her favourite rug, hand pegged from scraps, cast across her lap. And she drank the health of all who came to drink it with her.
She drank to all the bairns born in the past year and all the young folk newly wed or waiting until the harvest to jump the fire. She drank to the young men, still fast on their feet and handy with their fists, and the old ones whose strength lived on in their dreams.
As the dawn broke and pearly skies welcomed the sun, she drank to her own health one last time and died with her old face turned towards the morning light.
That night, they burned her wagon. Painted roses peeled from about her door as the fire reached out and the Worcester plates were smashed upon the steps. Her family, extended to fifty souls or more, ate the spit roast pig that farmer Hanson had gifted and drank and fought and danced and the wagon fire both lit and shadowed them.
'Barbarians! We won't get a stroke of work from any of them tomorrow.'
'They'll work. They know which side their bread's buttered.'
Robert Hanson snorted. His father's gift of the pig had disgusted him enough, without his father's grudging approval being added to it.
His horse skittered sideways, disturbed by the smell of smoke rising from the valley and Robert thoughtlessly jerked on the reins. The horse was a raw-boned, black beast with a hard mouth and a will to match that of its rider, and it rankled with Robert that his father would not trust him with the finer animals in the stable. His father's horse snorted. By contrast, this was an Arab cross, with the small head and short back of its desert mother and the stamina of its English father. A pretty thing by any reckoning, the bay was his father's pride and Robert was allowed nowhere near it.
'That's Samuels' boy,' Hanson senior said, pointing with the handle of his crop. Samuels was his stockman, a man trusted where Robert was not. 'If he works like his old man I'll have no reason to complain.'
'Works?' Robert scowled at his father. 'Gypos don't work. They scrounge. Do just enough to make it look right and then cheat you blind.'
He dodged back, the riding crop having changed direction and flicked his way.
'Samuels is a good man. Knows the beasts and works his time. You'd best remember that. You'll remember too that your great granddad was related to Mother Jo.'
Robert said no more. He glanced contemptuously back down into the valley to where the young man his father had indicated danced with Helen Lee and he frowned all the more. Gypsies! He didn't care what his father said about it – no way were their kind any kin of his.
She had seen him round and about the village, of course, but from the moment she saw him up close Helen knew that Ethan Samuels was no ordinary man. He had eyes as blue as summer and his dark hair, despite his youth, was already streaked with winter grey. Tall and strong, he held her firmly as they danced, his hand burning through the cotton of her dress and his body just a little too close to hers for it to be proper.
On the edge of the circle, half hidden in the smoky shadows, Frank watched them. Helen glimpsed him as she turned in Ethan's arms. She smiled provocatively at Frank and saw his expression harden, his jaw clenching tight.
Ethan followed her gaze.
'Has he spoken for you then?' he asked. He pulled her even closer. 'If I'd spoken for you I'd let you dance with no one else. You know that?'
She pulled her gaze back, looking up at him with bright, mischievous eyes. 'He never thought he'd have to speak,' she said. 'Just assumed, did our Frank.'
'Well, he assumed wrong then, didn't he?'
'Did he?' Her smile broadened. 'What's it to you anyway, Ethan Samuels?'
'Don't be chy with me, girl. I looked at you, you looked at me. Nothing more to be said, is there?'
Helen laughed. 'Chy?' she said. 'I'm not being coy with you, lad. I'm dancing with you, ain't I?'
'That you are, Helen Lee.' He glanced sideways at Frank Church. Frank's hands were clenched now as well as his jaw. 'Much of a fighter, is he?' Ethan asked.
'You'd bare your fists for me, would you?'
'I'd bare more than that.'
She pulled away but only a little, just enough to let him know he'd crossed the line. 'You'll get me talked about,' she said.
'I'll guess you're talked about already,' Ethan said. 'But if he wants to fight, I'll fight him. Like I said, he should have spoken for you and since he's not ...'
Helen allowed him to draw her close once more, catching a disapproving look from her mother as they turned again. 'No, he's not,' she said. 'And he's not much of a fighter anyway.'
Ethan smiled at her and Helen felt her heart melt.
Robert Hanson had turned for home long before his father rode down the hill to join the wake. Elijah had come to say goodbye to his kinswoman. Old habits and old traditions were still too much a part of his being for him to let this moment pass without wishing her a good journey into the afterlife. He handed the horse's reins to his stockman and strode into the circle where the dancers had now ceased to whirl and the fiddlers fallen silent. Someone handed him a glass and he drank deeply to the memory of a woman who had seemed old when Elijah himself had been just a boy.
Dawn was breaking, showing itself in a lightening of the sky and a reddening of the clouds that echoed the smouldering fire.
Mother Jo's sons and grandsons stood beside it, the pyre of Mother Jo's possessions and memories burning down now into ashes and still-glowing wood. Elijah poked with his booted foot at a sliver of painted door, the roses charred and blackened but still just visible in the orange light.
'She was a good woman,' he said quietly.
Harry, her son, nodded. 'But it's best she's gone,' he said, his voice equally soft. 'Times are changing. She couldn't change with them, not no more.'
He nodded respectfully to the boss man and then strode to the centre of the circle, gathering his people about him and waiting until silence fell before he spoke.
'My mam didn't want no one to mourn for her,' he said. 'She had a good life and a long one and she didn't want no tears shed unless they were in friendship. So I'll not wait another year to say this. I'll let her be gone now.'
A murmur of approval whispered through the assembly and Harry took a deep breath in to stop his own near-falling tears, then slowly let it out.
'Devlesa araklam tume,' he said. 'It is with God that I found you. Akana mukav tut le Devesla. I now leave you to God. I open your way in the new life, Mother, and release you from our sorrow.'
Her grandson came to stand beside his father.
'The sun shine on your soul,' they told her spirit, fancying they saw it rise with the dawn mist. 'And the Earth keep and bless your bones.'CHAPTER 3
Ethan had the grandmother of all hangovers. He was trying desperately not to let it show, though the careful way he kept his head still even while he walked and the tender-footed steps he took along the rutted farm path might have given a clue to anyone that was watching.
By contrast, his dad strode out as energetically as usual, though Ethan knew that for every glass he'd sunk last night his dad had matched him with another two.
Neither of them had slept, going straight from the wake to work as dawn brightened the sky. But then the same would be true of most of the workers that morning and Ethan wondered, painfully, how many of them would be feeling as rough as he did. Still, he compensated himself, they'd given the old lady a good send off and everyone had eaten well, and that was something that could not often be said these days – though the pork now sat a little too heavy on his queasy stomach.
It was June 23 of 1928 and depression was biting hard. News of the so-called General Strike of two years before had briefly impinged on the village; its failure had merely reinforced the sense that those with money would always hold the power too. No one in this village would ever have dreamed of withholding their labour. What would be the point? Destitution could bite swiftly and deeply enough without anyone deliberately drawing it down.
The track brought them to the yard at the back of the Hanson place. A gravelled driveway led up to the front door but Ethan had never approached the big house that way. It never occurred to him that he should. The rear yard was enclosed on three sides, the back of the house making up one full wall with stables and stores and tack rooms filling out another two. A low wooden fence with a double gate finished the square but it was rare for the big gates to be closed; too much traffic in the shape of people and carts and horses and machines went in and out that way. The big, cobbled yard with the farmhouse kitchen jutting out into it was the heart of Hanson's farm.
Ethan's boots clacked loudly on the cobbles. The noise did nothing to help his sore and aching head, the sound cracking upward from his feet and shattering through his entire body. His boots were studded with hobnails, the same as all the workers. Boots were an expensive commodity, bought too large to allow for growth, and the leather softened with grease until they moulded to the feet, the soles reinforced with metal cleats and broad tacks. As a child, Ethan had delighted in the way his hobnailed feet could be made to strike sparks on the hard stones and in winter, with a little work, the studs could be polished flat and shined up, perfect for sliding on the frozen pond. But he'd not been a child for long. The adult world impinged long before his adult height was reached or his voice deepened or he'd felt the need to shave.
Hanson senior's horse was being groomed. She was tethered to an iron ring driven deep into the stable wall and Elijah's oldest son was taking care of her himself. Dar Samuels led his son over.
'This is Ethan,' he said.
The young man, about Ethan's own age, looked up with a friendly smile and extended a hand. 'Ted Hanson,' he said. 'But I remember you – we were in class together.'
Ethan nodded. 'You got me blamed for pulling Emma Casey's pigtails.'
Ted laughed. 'God, but you've got a long memory. She got married last spring. Did you know that?'
'Aye, our mam was telling me.' He reached out and laid a gentle hand on the horse's neck. 'It's a fine beast,' he said. 'We were both soft on Emma Casey from what I remember. You weren't at the wake last night,' he added.
'No, Ted was stuck in Lincoln,' Dar Samuels said. 'His dad trusts him with a lot of the business these days.'
Ted Hanson nodded and began to move the burnisher over the horse's flank once more. 'I was sorry to have missed it,' he said. 'Dar, you may as well make a start with Miss Elizabeth's pony. She's coming lame again – still got that swelling. Dad says give it one more try and if you can't fix it we'll just have to call in the vet, but you know how much he doesn't trust him.'
'I'll do that,' Dar said. He gestured to Ethan to follow him.
'He's all right, that one,' he told Ethan as they made off towards the far stall where the little grey belonging to Elijah's daughter was housed. 'He's grown up like his dad. Cares about his animals and his people. Not like that other one. You watch yourself with that Robert – he's a bad 'un.' He paused; glanced sideways at his son. 'You'd do well to mind yourself with that lass too. She's a fly one is Helen Lee.'
'I'm not a kid, you know. I can handle her.'
'Maybe you can but there's been an understanding between her family and Frank Church's from when they were both little mites. It doesn't do to come between families.'
'She doesn't seem so keen.'
'She was keen enough before last night.' He sighed. Ethan had that fixed look on his face that his father knew so well. I'm not hearing you, it said. I'll not listen to something I don't want to hear.
'Look, boy, I'll grant she's pretty enough but you know what they say. Look with your ears when you choose a bride, not just with your eyes.'
'You're saying she's got a reputation? Dad, there's not a girl in the village the women don't talk about. Not a girl married but the old folk count the months until her first child is born.'
His father sighed again. 'Well, you'll make your own mind up, I've no doubt. Look, boy, I've nothing against the girl but it doesn't do to come upsetting the apple cart when things have been expected. The Churches and the Lees want this marriage. They've been friends for years. They're second cousins. It's expected.'
'Maybe Helen has other ideas. Molly didn't marry where you wanted.'
'And your sister's lived to rue it too. Miserable, she is.'
'And I'm sorry for that, but that doesn't mean ... Anyway, who's talking about marriage? I met the girl just last night.'
His father gave him another sideways look before unlatching the door to the pony's stable. 'Just be careful, lad,' he said. 'You've come home now. This isn't some port you'll stop over long enough to get laid and load your cargo. It doesn't go to upset folk you have to live among.'
Excerpted from The Murder Book by Jane A. Adams. Copyright © 2016 Jane A. Adams. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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