The Hanging Valley (Inspector Alan Banks Series #4)by Peter Robinson
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When a faceless body is found in a tranquil valley just south of the village of Swainshead, Chief Inspector Alan Banks soon finds that no one in the village is willing to talk about it, except to say, “Not again.” An unsolved murder from five years before and the unsolved disappearance of a prominent local man’s girlfriend appear to be connected. As Banks delves deeper into the mystery, someone begins to intentionally slow down the investigation. When events take a turn, Inspector Banks must track his killer across the Atlantic and find a way to make a break in the case before time runs out. Fourth in the critically acclaimed Inspector Banks Mystery Series.
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It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world. His thighs ached, his calves throbbed and his breath came in short, sharp gasps. But he had made it. Neil Fellowes, humble wages clerk from Pontefract, stood at the summit of Swainshead Fell.
Not that it was an achievement comparable to Sir Edmund Hillary's; after all, the fell was only 1,631 feet high. But Neil was not getting any younger, and the crowd at Baxwell's Machine Tools, where he worked, had taken the mickey something cruel when he told them he was going on a fell-walking holiday in the Yorkshire Dales.
"Fell?" taunted Dick Blatchley, one of the mail-room wags. "Tha'll a fell before tha's got started, Neil." And they had all laughed.
But now, as he stood there in the thin air, his heart beating deep in his chest like the steam-driven pistons in the factory, he was the one to laugh. He pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back up to the bridge of his nose and wiped off the sweat over which they had slid. Next he adjusted the straps of his rucksack, which were biting into his shoulders.
He had been climbing for well over an hour: nothing too dangerous -- no sheer heights, nothing that required special equipment. Fell-walking was a democratic recreation: just plain hard work. And it was an ideal day for walking. The sun danced in and out between plump white clouds, and a cool breeze kept the temperature down. Perfect late May weather.
He stood in the rough grass and heather with nothing but a few sheep for company -- and they had already turned their backs on him and scuttled a safe distance away. Lord of the whole scene, he sat on a weathered limestone boulder tosavor the feeling.
Back down the fell he could just make out the northern tip of Swainshead village, from where he had come. He could easily pick out the whitewashed front of the White Rose across the beck, and the lichen-covered flagstone roof of the Greenock Guest House, where he had spent a comfortable night after the previous day's walking in Wharfedale. He had also enjoyed there a breakfast of sausage, bacon, black pudding, fried bread, grilled mushrooms, tomato, two fried eggs, tea, toast and marmalade before setting off that morning.
He stood up to take in the panorama, starting with the west, where the fells descended and rolled like frozen waves to the sea. To the northwest ranged the old, rounded hills of the Lake District. Neil fancied he could see the Striding Edge along Helvellyn and the occasional glint of sun on Windermere or Ullswater. Next he looked south, where the landscape hardened into the Pennines, the "backbone" of England. The rock was darker there, with outcrops of millstone grit ousting the glinting white limestone. Miles of wild, forbidding moorland stretched down as far as Derbyshire. Southeast lay Swainsdale itself, its valley bottom hidden from view.
But what astonished Neil most of all was a small wooded valley down the eastern slope just below where he stood. The guide books hadn't mentioned anything of particular interest on the route he had chosen; indeed, one of his reasons for taking it was that nobody was likely to spoil his solitude. Most people, it seemed to Neil, would be off in search of stone circles, old lead mines and historic buildings.
In addition to its location and seclusion, the dale also had unusual foliage. It must have been a trick of the light, Neil thought, but when the trees everywhere else were fresh and green with spring, the ash, alders and sycamores below him seemed tinged with russet, orange and earth-brown. It seemed to him like a valley out of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
It would mean an extra mile or two and an unplanned climb back out again, but the sides didn't appear too steep, and Neil thought he might find some interesting wild flowers along the shaded banks of the beck. Balancing his pack, he struck out for the enchanted valley.
Soon, the rough tussocks underfoot gave way to springier grass. When Neil entered the woods, the leaves seemed much greener now the sunlight filtered through them. The smell of wild garlic filled his nostrils and made him feel light-headed. Bluebells swayed in the breeze.
He heard the beck before he saw it between the trees; it made a light, bubbling sound -- joyful and carefree. From the inside, too, the valley clearly had a magical quality. It was more luxuriant than the surrounding area, its ferns and shrubs more lush and abundant, as if, Neil thought, God had blessed it with a special grace.
He eased off his rucksack and laid it down on the thick grass by the waterside. Taking off his glasses, he thought he would stay a while and relax, perhaps drink some coffee from his flask before carrying on. He rested his head on the pack and closed his eyes. His mind emptied of everything but the heady scent of the garlic, the song of the beck, the cool fingers of the wind that rustled through wild roses and honeysuckle, and the warbling of skylarks as they aimed themselves up at the sun and floated down like feathers, singing.
Refreshed -- indeed, feeling as if he had been born anew -- Neil wiped his eyes and put on his glasses again. Looking around, he noticed a wild flower in the woods across the water. It seemed, from where he was, to be about a foot high, with red-brown sepals and pale yellow petals. Thinking it might be a rare lady's slipper orchis, he decided to cross over and have a closer look. The beck wasn't very wide, and there were plenty of fortuitously placed stepping-stones.
As he neared the flower, he became aware of another smell, much more harsh and cloying than the garlic or loam. It clogged his nose and stuck to his bronchial passages. Wondering what it could be, he looked around, but could see nothing unusual. Near the flower, which was definitely a lady's slipper, some branches fallen from a tree lay on the ground and blocked his way. He started to pull them aside to get a better view.
But he didn't get very far. There, under a makeshift cover, lay the source of the smell: a human body. In the instant before he turned to vomit into the shrubs, Neil noticed two things: that it had no face, and that it seemed to be moving -- its flesh was literally crawling.
Pausing only to wash his face and rinse out his mouth in the beck, Neil left his rucksack where it was and hurried as fast as he could back to Swainshead.Hanging Valley. Copyright © by Peter Robinson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Peter Robinson is a Canadian crime writer born in Britain. He is best known for his crime novels set in Yorkshire featuring Inspector Alan Banks. Books from the Inspector Banks Mystery Series have been translated into more than fifteen languages; Past Reason Hated won the 1991 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel and Wednesday’s Child was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Robinson currently divides his time between North America and the UK.
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