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A Fall from Grace (Charlie Peace Series #8)

A Fall from Grace (Charlie Peace Series #8)

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by Robert Barnard

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From Robert Barnard, the internationally acclaimed Diamond Dagger-winning crime writer . . .

With A Fall from Grace, Robert Barnard triumphs once again with a witty tale of family discord and murder.

Detective Inspector Charlie Peace and his wife, Felicity, are shocked when Felicity's difficult dad, Rupert Coggenhoe, suddenly


From Robert Barnard, the internationally acclaimed Diamond Dagger-winning crime writer . . .

With A Fall from Grace, Robert Barnard triumphs once again with a witty tale of family discord and murder.

Detective Inspector Charlie Peace and his wife, Felicity, are shocked when Felicity's difficult dad, Rupert Coggenhoe, suddenly announces that he's moving north to their Yorkshire village. Felicity has never much liked her father, and to have him as a near-neighbor fills her with foreboding. The boorish old man has always loved to impress the ladies, young and old, by exaggerating his modest success as a novelist. True to form, soon after his move to Slepton Edge he surrounds himself with adoring females, including a precocious, theatrical teenager named Anne Michaels. Rupert and Anne could make a lethal combination.

Rumors fly, but Felicity convinces herself that Rupert would do nothing seriously wrong. He can be annoying and outrageous but he's not a criminal. She relies on a friend, a doctor who seems to be strangely aware of everything that's happening in the community, to warn her if he hears of anything really troubling. She doesn't have long to wait, but the news is not what she expects. It's worse. A body has been found and it looks like murder. Stunned by a difficult reality, Felicity is even more shocked to discover that she, herself, may be a suspect.

This is one criminal investigation that's much too close to home for Charlie Peace. He's not officially on the case, but he uses his copper's instincts and a husband's heart to find a killer and to discover anew the meaning of family.

Praised for his "perfect pitch, exquisite pacing, and meticulous plotting" (Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times), Robert Barnard proves yet again that he is one of the great masters of mystery.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Undercurrents of sexual exploitation pervade Diamond Dagger Award�winner Barnard's diverting eighth suspense yarn featuring Insp. Charlie Peace (after 2005's Bones in the Attic), who has left London for suburban Slepton Edge with his pregnant wife, Felicity. Tagging along is Felicity's father, egotistical romance novelist Rupert Coggenhoe. Felicity and Charlie soon discover that Rupert followed them to Slepton Edge less to be nearby than to escape rumors of a past illicit relationship, which soon plague him anyway, especially after he takes up with seductive, manipulative teen Anne Michaels. Anne, who leads a group of drama students harassing newcomers to Slepton Edge, craves attention and amuses herself with petty blackmail. When a murderer strikes, suspicions point in many directions, including a doctor who curiously left his practice to run for mayor and a local cop who's a macho "ladies man." An implausible coincidence on a bus undoes some of the thrill of the chase, yet Barnard's tale raises some unsettling questions about the "destructive power of children." (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Charlie Peace Series , #8
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A Fall from Grace

A Novel of Suspense
By Robert Barnard


Copyright © 2007 Robert Barnard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743272209



Charlie Peace came out of the door of Blackett and Podmore, the estate agents, holding a sheaf of property descriptions. He slipped into his car, parked on the edge of the little square in the center of the village, and began to riffle through them.

Ten minutes later he got on the mobile to his wife.

"Well, there seem to be several houses here that might suit, going by the descriptions."

"You can't," said Felicity.

"I know. There are lies, damned lies and estate agents' brochures," he said. "Trouble is, you only get to plumb the depths of their deceptions when you've actually lived in the places they've sold for a few months."

"And it doesn't help that we're looking for two places rather than just one."

Driving off on a circuit of inspections of exteriors mapped out for him by the maligned estate agents, Charlie echoed Felicity's words. His attaining the rank of inspector some months earlier had coincided with a proposal from his father-in-law, who, on the first hint that the new job might enable Charlie and Felicity to move out of Leeds, had decided that he needed to move in with or close to them.

"Close to," Charlie had said firmly. "Not in with."

"Not on your life," Felicity hadagreed. "I'm not going to be his dogsbody."

She knew her father through and through, of course. Rupert Coggenhoe had used people (notably his wife) throughout his life, and Felicity knew that old age would not change him, though she felt twinges of guilt at the thought that the only thing that would change him was by now fairly close. He had made a respectable living writing novels in a variety of genres, effortlessly shifting styles without ever becoming a complete master in any one of them. He had explained to his daughter and son-in-law that his cottage -- a kind of super-cottage, with various extensions at the back, to which he had moved from Luton when he had come into a windfall legacy from a great-aunt -- would fetch around four hundred thousand pounds, a tribute to the enduring appeal of the West Country. He proposed to part-finance his daughter and son-in-law's purchase of a house for their growing family. The only catch was that the house had to have a granny flat, or to be near some other, smaller property which he would purchase for himself.

"To which you will be called to cook, clean, garden and hold his awful old hand," said Charlie, not scared of seeming ungrateful when in his opinion so little gratitude was called for.

"Just not possible," said Felicity complacently. "I won't be able to leave Carola and Little Fetus."

Little Fetus was growing, but they had not tried to learn its sex, so had not given it a proper name.

"Could be Evelyn," said Felicity. "Or Hilary or Lesley. Do for either sex."

"Evelyn Peace," said Charlie, turning up his nose. "Sounds like a writer of soppy verse."

The tour around Slepton Edge, which he'd thought of as a typical small village but which probably housed about two thousand inhabitants, took nearly half an hour. He discarded the few properties with granny flats, not because they were too small, though they were, but because he didn't want his father-in-law so near. Then he started sifting through the rest, noting down the properties he would like to live in that had another, smaller property fairly near that was also for sale. His father-in-law's property in Devon was of the sort that had roses and hollyhocks peeping through its earholes, arsehole and all intermediate orifices. Charlie had taken an instant dislike to it the one time he visited it, at the time of his mother-in-law's funeral. He thought a farmhand's two-up, two-down was not going to be suitable for the old fraud in a few years' time, so he preferred to set his sights on a modern bungalow, with or without roses and hollyhocks. It was a sensible and achievable objective, and he drove back to the center of the village with three pairs of properties he wanted to view the insides of.

He came out of Blackett and Podmore's with all the arrangements having been made: he and Felicity would view all the bungalows the next evening, since it was obviously useless to see any property on his own, especially as he was not prepared to shoulder sole responsibility if the choice proved a disaster. Felicity's more (but not particularly) domestic eye was needed to adjudicate on the pluses and minuses of all the prospective dwellings. Vital that she have her say before and not after the decision.

Something was going on in the center of Slepton Edge as he drove back into town. He had noticed a long, gangling, youngish man with a shy but eager smile busying himself there when he'd first been to the agents'. Now the young man had taken over the little central area of the square, where a monument to the Marquis of Wakefield, a local benefactor, was sited. A tiny stage -- hardly more than a soapbox -- had been erected in front of the statue, and a microphone, with wires leading to a generator, was attached to its front. The gangling man was testing it as Charlie watched, helped by a pregnant woman of about his own age -- early thirties, Charlie estimated -- and by a little group of supporters.

Perhaps more surprising, a knot of listeners was already clustering on the pavements on either side of the square -- smiling, greeting each other, waiting for things to start. It was very unlike an election. In any case there was no general election going on, and so far as Charlie knew no by-election either: the police were always on the alert during a by-election, but particularly since so many of the Northern ones had a candidate fielded by the British National Party with rabidly racist programs and literature. His musings were interrupted by the man's first words booming into the crowd.

"You all know there's an election on. For the first time people in this area can vote as to who should become mayor of Halifax. And I think most of you know that I'm a candidate."

There was applause -- more than polite, in fact decidedly warm. Charlie had got over his surprise. Elections for mayor, on the American model, had been on the cards for three or four years now, depending on the choice of the area. Presumably the people -- or perhaps the bigwigs -- of Halifax, in which Slepton Edge was situated, had decided to try having an elected mayor. As a rule the mayor was at best a useful local representative of many years' standing in local government, or at worst a party hack due for an empty honor as his reward before retirement. The good voters of Halifax or their elected representatives must have decided to go for something a bit more colorful and out of the ordinary.

"You know who I am, but the people around us, in Halifax, for example, won't know. And I won't be able to say, 'I'm your Labour candidate,' or 'your Conservative candidate.' That's very useful, that is: it's like saying, 'Don't vote for me, vote for my label.' We've been doing that for too long. If you vote for me you'll be voting for a person, not a label. Who am I? Well, I'm a doctor, and that's what you'll be voting for, even though I'm not practicing at the moment. I was for seven years a consultant in ear, nose and throat complaints at a big hospital. Before that I'd been in general practice. Then I gave it all up. I thought I was taking a holiday, but in fact I was signing up for a new way of life. I was tired of what was happening in the Health Service."

There was a smattering of applause at this, and "So are we all" came from one man.

"It wasn't a matter of money. That's part of the problem, but only a part. I was fed up with quick fixes. Is there a waiting list? Lower the average time a patient has with his specialist to five minutes. Slice one category of patients off the list. If these don't work, just fiddle the figures. Is the drug bill too high? Notice they say 'drugs,' not 'medicines.' Drugs sounds vaguely nasty, something we should avoid. All right, stop doctors prescribing the new, expensive drugs. Say certain conditions shouldn't be treated at all. Charge the patient market prices for his care. I got out because we don't have a Health Service anymore. We have a confidence trick based on the quick fix and the clever fiddle."

Charlie was by now out of his car and listening intently. The crowd had grown, was genial, supportive and being friendly back whenever the man made a friendly move toward them. He was not an orator. Charlie had often marveled that men like Hitler and Mussolini, mediocre of mind and unprepossessing of body, could by means of that black art which is mass oratory be transformed into vehicles of destruction. But this man just talked to his audience -- no ego trip, no mesmerism. Yet in ten minutes he had them in the palms of his hands. They admired him. In a way they seemed to love him. What a wonderful thing! And what a dangerous one!

"Think!" the man went on, clearly drawing to a conclusion. "We've had real, independent men in our Parliament since the last two elections. We need more. And we need many, many more in local government. That shouldn't be a party thing at all. We want men who consider issues, think them through, and when they've come to a conclusion work to bring a better state of affairs about. We want men who are their own men, and women who are their own women. Vote for me!"

All this was done with half a smile on his face, perhaps to show that he was serious but not too serious. When he finished there was a respectably enthusiastic cheer and a lot of applause. He got down from his improvised platform and started mingling with the small crowd. Charlie watched him curiously. It became clear that he knew almost all of them. He heard him greeting people by their Christian names. A genuinely local man, then, he guessed. And other locals were willing to stand in the chill October sunshine to listen to him, then linger around to talk to him.

Charlie got back into his car and put his key in the ignition. Then, on an impulse, he changed his mind. He waited -- watching the people disappear to homes, shops and pubs. The man went back to the pregnant woman still beside the platform, and together, with help from the two assistants, they began to pack up the sound equipment. Charlie waited until they were finished, then got out of the car and went over to them. The man saw him, and smiled a candidate's smile of greeting.

"I thought electioneering speeches were a thing of the past," Charlie said.

"So were independent candidates," said the man. "But they're making a modest comeback, and I'm trying to give an extra shove. I'm Chris Carlson, by the way."

Charlie's glance went to the election poster on a stick which had been turned away from his car when the man was speaking.

"Or Dr. Chris Carlson," Charlie said. The man shrugged good-humoredly.

"Once a doctor, always a doctor," he said.

"Why throw away a good selling point?" said the woman beside him. "I'm Alison Carlson. The wife."

"I'm Charlie Peace."

"And are you thinking of coming to live here?" asked Dr. Carlson. "I saw you coming out of the estate agents'."

"Maybe. This is one of the places we're looking at. But I don't expect we'll be in time to vote for you."

"Never mind. That wasn't why I asked. I'm serious about standing for mayor, but I'm not desperate to get elected. How about a cup of tea and a muffin? Alison has to get home and rest, and I'm always interested in a new face."

"Sure," said Charlie, with that feeling familiar to policemen of being glad to be wanted. They raised their hands to Alison and the other two helpers storing the equipment away in an old car, then crossed the road toward a tearoom called the Hot Muffin.

"Only started up three months ago," said Dr. Chris. "I think she's struggling a bit. Hello, Hilda, this is -- sorry, I've forgotten your name."

"Charlie Peace."

"He's thinking of moving here." She showed them to a table, and they began poring over their menus. "Moving here with wife? With kids, perhaps?"

"Yes, both. One little girl and another unspecified on the way."

"And you want to move out of the city? Yes, I thought so. We've got one on the way too, as you'll have noticed. It's like a reward, or maybe a benediction. I say, we could betroth the two at birth, like in a Dickens novel -- if they turn out to be of different sex, of course."

"Sounds like a recipe for disaster," said Charlie. "Anyway, if our Carola is anything to go by it wouldn't work. She decides everything -- and I mean everything -- for herself. She might consider a suggestion, but she'd never accept dictation . . . Why did you say your sprog would be a reward or a benediction?"

Dr. Chris turned to Hilda and ordered tea and hot muffins.

"Benediction for giving up the practice of medicine. People sometimes suggest it was irresponsible or worse. But the sprog is like someone is saying, 'You did the right thing.' Actually, what it really means, I suppose, is that we both became more relaxed, certainly more happy, and simply had more time. Giving up work -- that work -- has been like a liberation. It's as if I was a new person, and that applies to Alison too. The fact that I've slipped my fetters means an entirely new sort of life for her."

"You're never going back?"

He shrugged, suggesting genuine uncertainty.

"Not so far as I know -- certainly not in the immediate future."

"What do you do with your time?"

"What time? No, I'm joking, but it all does seem to get filled. I do all sorts of things. Mostly I paint. I hadn't had a paintbrush in my hand for years -- not since my first long vacation from medical school. But I've always loved it. I'm not good, don't think that. But I'm a good amateur, and my landscapes strike a chord in your average art fancier who knows what he likes."

"So you make a living out of it?"

"I'm just starting to. I take them round the classy shopping malls, have little exhibitions in Harrogate, Ilkley, places like that. We'll not starve when the little one comes."

"With a nice lot stashed away from your time as consultant," said Charlie dryly. Chris laughed.

"My complaint was never about the pay. What's wrong with the Health Service is the deal that patients are getting."

"And everyone here knows you're a doctor, I notice."

"Oh yes."

"And they come to you with their little ailments and worries?"

"How did you know?"

"I'm a policeman. We're experts at spotting the obvious. No, that's not true. In fact, we have to really struggle to know what ordinary people do, because we usually see people who are at the worst end of 'ordinary.' But I could see you were sympathetic and approachable with the crowd outside. Of course they'd bring you their troubles."

"I squared it with the local group of GPs," said Chris, as if he needed to apologize. "It takes from their shoulders a lot of visits from people who just want to talk things over, want to be reassured that their little pains in the area of the heart, their twinges in the back, are not signals to give up the struggle for living. And I sometimes alert them to something that might be serious, and make the sufferer go along to see them. If I say they need to get something checked up, they generally go."

"I'm sure they do. You're persuasive."

"And what about you? Are you a persuasive policeman?"

Charlie laughed. It wasn't a question he'd ever been asked.

"I'm not sure persuasion is a weapon we use very much. Mild bullying, tricking, threatening . . . Oh, I do a job of work that is much less salubrious than yours."

"Still, I expect people here would be quite pleased to have another policeman living among them."

"Maybe. I hope I can be an off-duty one. I haven't actually spoken to anyone yet apart from you. Felicity and I are viewing some places tomorrow night."

"Remember people here are a little conservative. Don't be too harsh on them."

Charlie understood at once what he meant.

"Believe me, I know all the range of facial expressions of people who open their doors to a black face: everything from shock-horror to pleased anticipation. I've learned not to pay too much attention to initial reactions over the years."

"Forgive me. Of course you have. I don't suppose there's anything I could teach you about black-white relations."

Charlie's face showed amusement rather than anger.

"Felicity is white, by the way. That helps. You might think it would be the reverse, but I think the white person provides a sort of way into the situation for the kind of person who lives in a place like Slepton. We shall bring my father-in-law with us if we come here, though I'm not sure he'd be much use in a sticky racial situation."

"So you've got three generations living together. That's good of you."

"Not living together, and not good of us at all. He's going to buy a separate house, and he's helping us with our mortgage. Don't sentimentalize us, and don't sentimentalize him. My father-in-law is a selfish, clinging, narcissistic and emotionally blood-sucking apology for a father." He looked around the sparsely patronized tearoom. "One of the appeals of this place may turn out to be the predominantly elderly population, which will give him a circle to drop into. The fact that he's a writer will help that."

"Oh really? What does he write?"

"Everything. Anything he thinks will sell. He's also bitterly resentful that he's never been a bestseller. Among his pseudonyms are Jed Parker and Chantalle Derivaux, which gives you an idea of his range. If we can get some people reading his books, and if they will tell him how much they enjoyed them, which they usually do with authors, then things may go swimmingly. Disraeli should have said, 'Everyone enjoys flattery, and when it comes to authors you should lay it on with a trowel.'" Charlie got up. "It's time I was making a move."

"Must you go? I'm enjoying this conversation."

"And I'm on duty. I'll have to disguise this break by pretending I was investigating whether there is a British National Party presence at this election."

"There isn't. They probably don't think the job of mayor is one of sufficient power to justify their muscling in on it. And of course in this country it isn't."

"Why are you standing then?"

"Shall we say for a bit of fun? Though that's only part of the truth. I do feel that the party system has stifled genuine debate, polarized opinions in a totally unhelpful way and led to the sort of yah-boo politics that gets us nowhere. It is time for a change. We need a solid block of true independents who look at every issue in a clear-eyed way."

"Well, I'll wish you good luck," said Charlie, shaking his hand. "And I really will be following your progress with interest."

In the event, that turned out to be more easily said than done.

When he got home he found that his father-in-law had dumped himself on them, having sold his cottage, hollyhocks and all, to a buyer who wanted to move in immediately. He became cagey when he was asked why he hadn't even given them a phone call to warn them. Clearly he had feared excuses, lodgings found for him, obdurate refusals of hospitality. So speed was now of the essence. The next evening Charlie and Felicity viewed the three properties in Slepton Edge, along with the smaller ones, and chose two. The one they chose for themselves was a stone house dating from the 1880s with three rooms downstairs and four bedrooms upstairs, one of them marked as a study for Felicity, who followed the parental example in one thing only: the urge to write fiction. There was a little scrap of garden at the front and a larger one at the back, clearly destined to be a playing area for two, which Charlie decided on the spot would be nothing but grass. Mowing he could enjoy; planting, tending, weeding and pruning he didn't have time for, and wouldn't until he reached retirement age.

The bungalow they chose for Rupert Coggenhoe was five minutes away, gently uphill and on the edge of the inhabited part of the village, with nature metaphorically speaking on its doorstep. Felicity's dad had said that he relied entirely on their judgment, which would give him unlimited opportunities for whingeing once he had moved in.

The choice having been made, it was time for the lawyers, surveyors, solicitors and removalists to take over, and on Charlie and Felicity's part a constant and successful effort to get the transaction finalized and the move made as soon as possible. At work, reading the Yorkshire papers during a quiet spell, Charlie learned that the election for mayor of Halifax had been won by the Labour candidate Archie Skelton, a party stalwart in his sixties, but that Dr. Christopher Carlson had come a respectable and surprising second, having been beaten by only 267 votes.

And that was the situation when, on the thirteenth of November, Charlie and Felicity, accompanied by Carola and the fetus, moved to 15 Walsh Street, Slepton Edge. Mr. Rupert Coggenhoe, accompanied only by his half-finished manuscript novel Georgiana Cavendish, came with them in the car and had his first sight of his fifties bungalow, 23 Forsythia Avenue, Slepton Edge. From Charlie and Felicity's point of view it was near enough for help to be on hand, but not quite far enough for comfort. As for Coggenhoe, he sighed, as if it wasn't really his sort of place at all and they should have known that, but allowed himself to be led out of the car and shown around.

Copyright © 2007 by Robert Barnard


Excerpted from A Fall from Grace by Robert Barnard Copyright © 2007 by Robert Barnard. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Robert Barnard (1936-2013) was awarded the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Nero Wolfe Award, as well as the Agatha and Macavity awards. An eight-time Edgar nominee, he was a member of Britain's distinguished Detection Club, and, in May 2003, he received the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement in mystery writing. His most recent novel, Charitable Body, was published by Scribner in 2012.

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