Blood Sinisterby Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
In her most gripping mystery yet, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles returns readers to the streets of London and the ever-struggling Detective Inspector Bill Slider. When the body of Phoebe Agnew, radical left-wing journalist, champion of the underdog, and prominent critic of the police force, is discovered, Inspector Slider must put aside any personal feelings for the victim… See more details below
In her most gripping mystery yet, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles returns readers to the streets of London and the ever-struggling Detective Inspector Bill Slider. When the body of Phoebe Agnew, radical left-wing journalist, champion of the underdog, and prominent critic of the police force, is discovered, Inspector Slider must put aside any personal feelings for the victim and find her killer.
One of the first clues Slider finds is that on the day of her death the horribly undomesticated Agnew cooked an elaborate meal for someone. Was it her old friend and reputed lover, Josh Prentiss? Slider tries to pursue that angle, but since Prentiss is a Government advisor, the pressure is on Slider to look elsewhere.
There are plenty anomalies for him to chase: unidentified fingerprints, the object used to strangle Agnew is missing, alibis offered where none are required, the downstairs tenant lying about his whereabouts, and papers missing from Agnew's file. As Slider struggles to untangle the web of lies and hidden relationships, his task is made harder by the strange behavior of his friend and colleague, Atherton, who seems to be on the verge of a breakdown.
Tightly plotted and full of fascinating characters, Slider searches to find the key to Agnew's chillingly lonely life, but will he find it in time to prevent further tragedy?
Read an Excerpt
By Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
All rights reserved.
Big horse, God made you mine
'Have you noticed,' Joanna said as they sped along the M4 towards London, 'how the self-drive hire business has been completely taken over by that Dutch firm?'
'What Dutch firm?' Slider asked unwarily.
'How long have you been thinking that one out?'
'I resent the implication that my wit isn't spontaneous.'
'I resent your having been away,' he countered. 'It was daft going to Switzerland when it's cold enough here to freeze the balls off a brass tennis court.'
'Do you think I wanted to go?' Joanna said. 'Beethoven Eight six times in one week - and in a country where they still think fondue is cuisine.'
Despite the best efforts of that husband-and-wife circus act May Gurney and Cones Hotline, he had got to the airport in time to meet her. Though it was the umpteenth time he'd done it, there was still that thrill when she came out of the customs hall doors with her fiddle case in one hand and her battered old fits-under-the-seat-in-front travel bag over her shoulder. It had bothered him when she came through with the trumpet section, Peter White and Simon Angel. Put those two horny young bloods – only one of them married (and it was a well-known fact that blowing the trumpet had a direct effect on the production of testosterone) – together with a curvaceous love goddess like Joanna Marshall, and it spelled trouble with a capital Trub. But she had kissed him and pressed herself against him with an avidity that had had the lads whooping, so his pride was assuaged, and he led her off like a prize of war to find the car.
The Orchestra of the Age of the Renaissance, despite the handicap of a name that wouldn't fit across a poster unless it was in characters too small to read, had come in as a life-saver. Its fixer had called Joanna as a last-minute replacement for the pregnant deputy principal, whose blood pressure had gone over into the red zone. Post-Christmas was always a drought period for musicians, but this year was particularly bad. Her own orchestra had nothing for two months and freelance work was as rare as elephants' eggs.
Joanna's thoughts were evidently on the same track as she watched the chill, bare fields of Middlesex reel past the windows. 'Do you know what's in my diary between now and March?'
'Yes,' he said, but she told him again anyway.
'Two Milton Keynes dates and one Pro Arte of Oxford – and I'm lucky to get those.'
'Why are things so bad?' he ventured.
'They're just getting worse every year,' she said. 'Fewer people going to concerts or buying records, and more and more musicians pouring out of the colleges. And then,' she made a face, 'we all have to do this blasted "outreach" crapola, going into schools and encouraging more of the little beasts to take up music. If we had any sense we'd be breaking their arms, not telling them what a fulfilling life it is, ha ha.'
'Have you just come home to complain at me?' he asked, trying for a lighter note.
She didn't bite. 'Seriously, Bill, it's getting to be a hell of a problem. The Phil's in financial trouble and there's more amalgamation talk. That old chestnut, "Can London sustain four orchestras?" The Government's threatening to withdraw the grant from one of us, and everybody knows we're the likeliest.'
'But all this has been said before, and it never happens,' Slider comforted her.
'Even if it doesn't,' she said, sounding very low, 'we aren't getting enough dates to live on.'
'We'll manage somehow,' he said. 'Tighten our belts. We'll get through.'
'Hah!' she said. She didn't elaborate, for which he was grateful, but she meant, of course, how much belt-tightening can you do when your salary already has to go round an almost ex-wife and two school-age children?
But she wasn't a whiner, and a moment later she said, 'Peter and Simon were telling me on the plane about this wonderful scam for parking in the short-term car park while you're on tour. All you have to do is borrow a tuba.'
'Well, of course it only works if you're touring with a big orchestra. Anyway, apparently a tuba is a big enough mass of metal for the automatic barrier to mistake it for a car. So, when you get back from tour, you walk up to the entrance barrier holding the tuba in front of you, and it issues a ticket, which you then use to get out, throwing away the original one. You pay for ten minutes instead of two weeks. Voilà.'
'Should you be telling me this? I am a policeman.'
'That's what makes you so sexy.' Her warm hand crept gratefully over his upper thigh. 'I'm glad to be back,' she said. 'Have you missed me?'
'Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?'
'Nice hot bath and an early night tonight,' she said.
He'd just got to the bit where the motorway narrows to two lanes and his attention was distracted. 'I suppose you must be tired,' he said absently, keeping his eye on a BMW that didn't want to move in.
Her hand slid further up. 'Who said anything about sleeping?'
The office was its usual hive of activity when he got in. DS Jim Atherton, his bagman and friend, was sitting on a desk reading – of all things – The Racing Post.
'What do you reckon for the first race at Plumpton, Maurice?' he said.
'Shy Smile,' DC McLaren answered, without looking up from the sausage sandwich and Daily Mail that were occupying him. Atherton opined that McLaren read the tabloids only because the broadsheets needed two hands, which meant he couldn't eat and read at the same time.
'Are you sure?' Atherton probed. 'Everyone else gives Ballydoyle.'
'Not after that frost last night. Ballydoyle likes a bit of give in the ground.'
'Shy Smile?' Atherton pressed.
'She'll walk it,' said McLaren.
'How d'you know about horses anyway?' Anderson asked, clipping his nails into the waste-paper basket. 'I thought you grew up in Kennington.'
'Y'don't have to have a baby to be a gynaecologist,' McLaren answered mysteriously, sucking grease and newsprint off his fingers.
Slider, at the door, said, 'It would be nice if you could at least pretend to be usefully occupied when I come in. Give me an illusion of authority.'
'Didn't know you were there, guv,' McLaren said imperturbably, rolling a black tongue over his lips.
'That much is obvious.' Slider turned to Atherton. 'And why are you reading the racing pages? Since when did you have the slightest interest in the Sport of Kings?'
'Ah, it's a new investment ploy,' Atherton said, unhitching his behind from the desk. 'I'm thinking of buying a part share in a racehorse. I saw this ad in the paper and sent off for the details. I'm going to put my savings into it.'
'Have you been standing around under the power lines without your lead hat again?' Slider said mildly.
'Well, there's no point in leaving cash in deposit accounts, with interest rates at rock bottom,' Atherton said. 'And anyway, it's not a gamble, it's a scientific investment. Serious businessmen put big money into it. This Furlong Stud is a proper company: they've been putting together consortia for years. It's all in the information pack. It's no more risky than the stock market, really.'
'What's the name of the poor wreck of a horse they're trying to flog you?' Slider enquired.
'The one I'm looking at is called Two Left Feet,' Atherton announced, and when Slider groaned he said, 'No, it's a really cute name, don't you see? All horses have two left feet.'
'Mug punter,' said McLaren pityingly, turning a page. 'It's sad, really. Bet on the name, every time. Here,' he recalled suddenly, looking up, 'talk about names, did you see that story in the paper a bit since, about those two Irish owners who tried to register a colt, and Tattersalls wouldn't allow it? They wanted to call it Norfolk and Chance.'
'I'm worried about you,' Slider said, as Atherton followed him into his office. 'You didn't used to be irrational.'
'How do you know?' Atherton said cheerfully. 'Anyway, I need a bit of excitement in my life. I used to get it chasing women, but now I'm settled down in cosy domesticity, I have to look elsewhere for that thrill of danger.'
'I wish I thought you were joking,' Slider said, going round his desk. He shoved fretfully at the piles of files that burdened it. They bred during the night, he was sure of it. 'What's this steaming pile of Tottenham?'
'Case files. Ongoing. Mr Carver's firm passed them over, Mr Porson's orders. They're down four men again, with the 'flu.'
'Carver's firm are always catching things,' Slider complained. 'What do they do, sleep together?'
'I wouldn't be a bit surprised,' Atherton said. 'It's worse than it looks, anyway. Most of it's to do with that suspected fags-and-booze smuggling ring.'
'Take 'em away,' Slider decreed. 'I'm too frail for gang warfare at this stage of the week.'
WDC Swilley, who had answered the phone out in the office, came to the door now, her posture suddenly galvanised, which, since Swilley was built like a young lad's secret dream, was hardly fair on the two within. 'We've got a murder, boss!' she announced happily.
'Gordon Bennett, what next?' Slider said. 'It shouldn't be allowed on a Friday.'
'Phoebe Agnew!' Atherton enthused as he drove, with an air of doing it one-handed, through the end of the rush-hour traffic. How come so many people went to work so late? 'I mean, I know she's a bit of a thorn in the copper's side —'
'In spades,' Slider agreed.
'Yeah, but what a journalist! Took the Palgabria Prize in 1990, and winner of the John Perkins Award for '97 and '98 – the only person ever to win it two years running, incidentally. And she really can write, guv. Awesomely chilling prose.'
'Well, don't get so excited. You're not going to have a conversation with her,' Slider pointed out.
Atherton's face fell a fraction. 'No, you're right. What a wicked waste!'
As they turned off the main road they found their way blocked by a dustcart. It had a selection of grubby teddy bears and dolls tied to the radiator grille. Why did scaffies do that, Slider wondered. With their arms outstretched and their hopeless eyes staring ahead, they looked depressingly like a human shield.
Atherton backed fluidly, turned, and roared down another side street. 'Anyway, AMIP's bound to take the case from us,' he said.
The Area Major Incident Pool took all the serious or high-profile crimes and, these days, virtually all murders, unless they were straightforward domestics. Judson, the present head of 6 AMIP, was an empire-builder. He was that most hated of creatures, the career uniform man who had transferred to CID purely in pursuit of promotion.
'Judson's welcome to it,' Slider said. 'He'll probably enjoy being crawled over by the press.'
'You are in a doldrum,' Atherton said, turning into Eltham Road, which was parked right up both sides, like everywhere else in London these days.
'You can't have a single doldrum,' said Slider. 'They always hunt in packs. This is it. You'll have to double park.'
'It's the reason I became a policeman,' said Atherton.
The house was one of a terrace, built in the late nineteenth century, of two storeys, plus the semi-basement – which Londoners call 'the area' – over which a flight of wide, shallow steps led up to the front door. Eltham Road was in one of the borderline areas between the old, working-class Shepherd's Bush and the new yuppiedom, and a few years ago Slider would have said it might go either way. But rising incomes and outward pressure from the centre of London were making his familiar ground more and more desirable in real-estate terms, and there was no doubt in his mind now that the 'unimproved' properties in this street soon wouldn't recognise themselves. Anyone who had bought here ten years ago would be sitting on a handsome profit.
The house in question was divided into three flats, and it was the middle one which had been occupied by Phoebe Agnew, a freelance journalist whose name was enough to make any policeman shudder. An ex-Guardian hack with impeccable left-wing credentials, she had made a name for herself for investigating corruption, and had concentrated in late years on the establishment and the legal system, exposing bad apples, and sniffing out miscarriages of justice with the zeal of perfect hindsight.
Slider was all for rooting out bent coppers; that was in everyone's interest. His biggest beef with Agnew was that she had been instrumental in the release of the Portland Two, attacking the evidence that had got a pair of exceedingly nasty child-murderers put away. Well, the law was the law, and you had to play by the rules: he accepted that. Still, it galled coppers who remembered the case to hear Heaton and Donaldson described as 'innocent', just because some harried DC at the time had got his paperwork in a muddle. And who was the better for it? The Two had been quietly doing their porridge, and would have been up for parole in a couple of years. Getting them out on a technicality had simply banged another nail into the coffin of public confidence. According to eager Guardian polls, half the population now believed the police went round picking up innocent people at random for the sheer joy of fitting them up.
Well, now Phoebe Agnew was dead. The biter bit, perhaps – and theirs to identify the guilty dentition.
At the front door PC Renker was keeping guard and the SOC record. With his helmet on and his big blond moustache, he looked like exotic grass growing under a cloche.
'Doc Cameron's inside, sir,' he reported, 'and the photographer, and forensic's on the way. Asher's upstairs with the female that found the body – lives in the top flat. Bottom tenant's a Peter Medmenham, but he's not in, apparently.'
'Probably at work,' Slider said. The front door let into a vestibule, which contained two further Yale-locked doors. They were built across what was obviously the original hall of the house, to judge by the black-and-white diamond floor tiles. One gave access to the stairs to the top flat; the other was standing open onto the rest of the hall and Phoebe Agnew's flat. It had been the main part of the original family house, and had the advantage of the fine cornices and ceiling roses, elaborate architraves and panelled doors; but it had been converted long enough ago to have had the fireplaces ripped out and plastered over.
There was a small kitchen at the front of the house, a tiny windowless bathroom next to it, and two other rooms. The smaller was furnished as an office, with a desk, filing cabinets, cupboards, bookshelves, personal computer and fax machine, and on every surface a mountain range of papers and files that made Slider's fade into foothills.
'Oh, what fun we'll have sorting through that lot!' Atherton enthused, clasping his hands.
'We?' Slider said cruelly.
The other room, which stretched right across the back of the house, was furnished as a bed-sitting room.
'Odd decision,' said Atherton. 'Why not have the separate bedroom and the office in here?'
'Maybe she liked to get away from work once in a while,' Slider said.
'I suppose it saves time on seduction techniques,' Atherton said, always willing to learn something new. 'Shorter step from sofa to bed. I wonder what she spent all her money on? It wasn't home comforts, that's for sure.'
The furnishings were evidently old and didn't look as if they'd ever been expensive. There was a large and shabby high-backed sofa covered with cushions and a fringed crimson plush throw, which looked like an old-fashioned chenille tablecloth. In front of it was a massive coffee table, of dark wood with a glass inset top, on the other side of which were two elderly and unmatching armchairs. One had a dented cushion, and a bottle of White Horse and a glass stood on the floor by its right foreleg. The other was a real museum piece with metal hoop arms and 1950s 'contemp'ry' patterned fabric. There was a folded blanket concealing something on its seat. Slider lifted the edge and saw that it was a heap of papers, correspondence and files, topped off with some clean but unironed laundry. The quickest way to tidy up, perhaps.
Along one wall was a low 'unit' of imitation light oak veneer, early MFI by the look of it, on top of which stood a television and video, a hi-fi stack, a fruit bowl containing some rather wrinkled apples and two black bananas, a litre bottle of Courvoisier and a two-litre bottle of Gordon's, part empty, some used coffee cups and glasses, and a derelict spider plant in a white plastic pot. The hi-fi was still switched on, and several CDs were lying about – Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach – while the open case of the CD presumably still in the machine was lying on the top of the stack: Schubert, Quintet in C.
Along another wall were bookshelves with cupboards below, the shelves tightly packed, mostly with paperbacks, but with a fair sprinkling of hardback political biographies. 'Review copies,' Atherton said. 'The great journalistic freebie.' Slider looked at a title or two. Hattersley, Enoch Powell, Dennis Healey. But Woodrow Wyatt? Wasn't he a builder?
Excerpted from Blood Sinister by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Copyright © 1999 Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
CYNTHIA HARROD-EAGLES is the author of fifty-four novels ranging from crime and historical fiction to romance and horror/fantasy. She is the author of the epic Morland Dynasty series that follows a fictional family through British history from 1434 onward. She lives in London, England.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born and educated in Shepherd's Bush, London and had a variety of jobs in the commercial world, starting as a junior cashier at Woolworth's and working her way down to Pensions Officer at the BBC. She won the Young Writer's Award in 1973, and became a full-time writer in 1978. She is the author of many successful novels, including the Morland Dynasty series.
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