Scene of Crime

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Overview

When an amateur dramatic society begins rehearsing a production of Cinderella, murder lurks in the wings. And the killer is definitely no Prince Charming.

In Jill McGown's masterful new noel, the continuation of her acclaimed British police procedural series starring Detective Chief Inspectors Lloyd and Hill, real-life crime engulfs the domestic life of the Riverside Theatre players. Will Lloyd and Hill be able to crack the case before murder most foul turns the production into ...

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Overview

When an amateur dramatic society begins rehearsing a production of Cinderella, murder lurks in the wings. And the killer is definitely no Prince Charming.

In Jill McGown's masterful new noel, the continuation of her acclaimed British police procedural series starring Detective Chief Inspectors Lloyd and Hill, real-life crime engulfs the domestic life of the Riverside Theatre players. Will Lloyd and Hill be able to crack the case before murder most foul turns the production into the bloodiest drama this side of Macbeth? In Scene of Crime, Jill McGown raises the curtain on her most ingenious psychological thriller to date.

About the Author:
A native of Argyll, Scotland, Jill McGown has lived in Corby, England since she was ten. She wrote her first novel, A Perfect Match, in 1983. Among those that followed are Murder at the Old Vicarage and A Shred of Evidence.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her 11th Lloyd and Hill mystery (Verdict Unsafe; etc.), British author McGown provides an expertly crafted whodunit. Judy Hill, a bit cranky in her eighth month of pregnancy and uncertain about Lloyd's willingness to be a father again, ropes her reluctant partner in life and crime into joining her at a rehearsal for a local dramatic society's production of Cinderella. When Lloyd is called from there to the scene of a suspicious death involving the wife of one of the players, the curtain rises on a fascinating domestic drama. Estelle Bignall, apparent victim of a robbery gone wrong, was married to handsome doctor Carl Bignall, who was safely at rehearsal when the call came. Ryan Chester, well known to the local cops as a clever thief, is tied to the scene by the theft of a car and a sackful of Christmas presents from the Bignall house. Ryan's younger half-brother, Dexter, has been spotted running away from the scene of the crime. Sinister next-door neighbor Eric Watson, a former cop, is curiously reluctant to talk to the police. What does he have to hide? Imperturbable as ever, the witty and wily Lloyd, with the able help of his subordinate, Tom Finch, sorts through the maze of conflicting evidence and improbable stories to get to the heart of the matter. Once again, McGown has delivered outstanding entertainment. (Apr. 3) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
In Malworth, a local theater group decides to do a production of Cinderella. At the tryouts is eight-month pregnant Detective Chief Inspector Judy Hill who wants the title role. Accompanying her is her professional and personal partner Lloyd. At the same theater is Dr. Carl Bignall, who learns there that someone murdered his wife during an apparent robbery turned ugly. The police quickly find two suspects. Teenager Ryan Chester has been found with a stolen car and Christmas gifts that Carl identifies as being in his home. A witness confirms that Ryan's half-brother Dexter was near the crime scene at the time of the murder. The case is resolved so why does Lloyd continue to investigate the homicide as if someone else committed the crime?The eleventh Lloyd-Hill police procedural, Scene Of The Crime, is a fabulous who-done-it that shows why the author and her series are so popular. The story line is intelligent as the reader observes Lloyd and his assistant work through a maze filled with lies, half-truths, and false clues. The recurring cast retains their human qualities so that fans will feel old friends have returned and anxiously await the next visit from Jill McGown's top of the line series.
Kirkus Reviews
Chief Inspector Lloyd of the Stansfield CID (Verdict Unsafe, 1997, etc.) has gotten himself into a pickle, all right. His lover and invaluable colleague Judy Hill has been sidelined into desk duty by an unplanned pregnancy (courtesy of Lloyd himself) that prevents her from engaging in her favorite pastime of picking holes in Lloyd's tempting but shaky theories. Fortunately, Judy's partner, Sgt. Tom Finch, shears off his angelic golden curls and steps up to the plate. Not only does he respond in person to the report of a murder in Windermere Terrace, using his tough new look to intimidate Geoffrey Jones, a shifty-looking neighbor who heard a struggle and saw a fleeing figure but neglected to call the police; he also takes charge of the murder scene, where he finds Estelle, the rich, beautiful, neurotic young wife of physician Carl Bignall, bound and suffocated on the kitchen floor. And he identifies teenage thug Ryan Chester and his dimwitted cousin Baz Martin as the perps who've been fencing goods from the Bignalls' home. But more important than his crime scene generalship is his partnership with Lloyd, as the two examine an ever-changing array of evidence from a host of conflicting sources. Even Hill takes time off from her ruminations over Lloyd's unfitness to be an adequate labor coach-much less an effective dad-to produce a diary in which Estelle reveals that she has a lover. Not even Hill's pointless maunderings on parenthood can spoil McGown's finely worked Chinese-box puzzle.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345443137
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/3/2001
  • Series: Inspector Lloyd and Judy Hill Mystery Series , #11
  • Edition description: 1 AMER ED
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.79 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

A native of Argyll, Scotland, Jill McGown has lived in Corby, England, since she was ten. She wrote her first novel, A Perfect Match, in 1983. Among those that have followed are Gone to Her Death, Murder at the Old Vicarage,
Murder . . . Now and Then, The Murders of Mrs. Austin and Mrs. Beale, The Other Woman, A Shred of Evidence, Verdict Unsafe, Picture of Innocence, and Plots and Errors. Scene of Crime is her eleventh Lloyd and Hill mystery.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I felt like a prat,” said Lloyd as he and Judy made their way downstairs
from the room in the Christmas-decorated Riverside Family Center in which
the so-called relaxation classes were held. It had been his first visit to
such a thing. And, if he could possibly work out how to get out of it, his
last, because the one thing it had not been was relaxing.

Judy snorted. “And I didn’t?”

“Well, at least you’re pregnant. Why do I have to do the
breathing?”

“They explained why. Anyway, you’re supposed to be relaxing too.”

“As far as I’m concerned, relaxing is a malt whiskey and a crossword. Or
maybe a video. Or both. Not squatting on the floor making stupid noises.”

“I don’t think the malt whiskey and crossword method of childbirth has
proved all that successful,” said Judy.

“I’ll bet no one’s tried it.” Lloyd looked at the people going down ahead
of them and lowered his voice. “Apart from anything else, all the others
look about sixteen,” he said. “And there am I, fifty and bald.”

Judy arrived on a landing and turned to face him. “I’m forty-one,” she
said. “How do you suppose that makes me feel?”

He smiled and took her hands in his, looking at her dark, shining hair,
and today’s choice of color coordinated pregnancy outfit. She had scoured
the county to find clothes she regarded as fit to be seen in when you felt
like a whale. Even in her eighth month, she didn’t look like a whale,
pleasantthough these creatures were, in Lloyd’s opinion. She looked
wonderful. There really was a glow. He’d told her that once, and she
thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

“I don’t know how you feel,” he said. “But you look great.”

“Rubbish.”

“It isn’t rubbish,” he protested. “You do look great. I think I’ll be a
little sorry when you’re not pregnant anymore.”

“Well, I won’t.” She frowned. “Didn’t you go to classes when Barbara was
pregnant?”

Lloyd shrugged. “I don’t think they’d invented them in those days,” he
said. He didn’t have the faintest idea whether they were fashionable then,
but he was fairly safe in assuming that neither did Judy.

Life had been easier back then, he reflected. His marriage had been
uncomplicated, basically, until Judy’s arrival in his life made it
complicated. By and large, Barbara had done the female stuff and he’d done
the male stuff. He wasn’t the archetypal Welshman; he enjoyed cooking, and
he didn’t mind housework. He had never expected women to be at his beck
and call. But having babies had always seemed to him to be beyond his
remit, as the Assistant Chief Constable would say, and he really didn’t
know if Barbara had done all this relaxation business. He became aware
that he was being subjected to dark brown scrutiny, and felt
uncomfortable. “It was different then!” he said.

“Different how?”

“I was in uniform. I worked shifts.”

It was different because Barbara hadn’t been a police officer.
Judy was, and she knew what was what; he couldn’t plead a heavy
caseload or the sudden necessity to work overtime; she would want
chapter and verse. And it had been almost twenty years since he’d
had anything to do with a pregnant woman; times had changed.
Men weren’t just encouraged to be involved, they were expected
to be.

“Were you present when the children were born?” she demanded.

“Well . . .”

“Lloyd!”

“It wasn’t—”

“Don’t try telling me they didn’t do that in those days, because they most
certainly did. Where were you? Pacing up and down outside? Waiting to hand
out cigars?”

“No.”

“You mean you weren’t there at all?”

“I meant to be there, but it wasn’t possible. Things came up at work. . .
.”

“Both times? Oh, sure they did.”

“Look, if Barbara didn’t give me a hard time about it, why are you?”

She didn’t answer.

“Good evening, Chief Inspector Lloyd,” said a voice. “What are you doing
here?”

Lloyd turned to see the long, thin frame of Freddie, their friendly
neighborhood pathologist, loping down the steps from the rooftop car park.
Lloyd had parked in the street—he wasn’t a fan of roof-
top lots, or rooftop anything elses, come to that.

“I’m here because I’m going to be a father,” he replied. “Apparently I
have to learn how to bear down. What’s your excuse?”

“When it comes to being a father, I think you’d be better off learning how
to bear up, but I expect you know that better than I do. I’m here to play
squash.” Freddie beamed at Judy. “Hello, Judy—positively blooming, I see.
And I believe it’s Detective Chief In-
spector Hill now, isn’t it? You’ve caught up to this one.” He jerked
his head in Lloyd’s direction. “And not before time. How’s the new job?”

“It’s fine, I suppose. I can’t honestly say I know what I’m doing yet, but
Joe Miller does.”

“Ah, yes. He’s the computer buff, isn’t he? My only regret about your
promotion is that I won’t see you anymore.”

Judy smiled. “Don’t take this personally, Freddie, but as far as I’m
concerned, the absence of mortuary visits is a major plus about this job.”

“Dead bodies are more interesting than most live ones—present company
excepted. Besides, you should be used to them by now.”

“I’ll never get used to them.”

“Still—there’s always the housewarming. I presume you’ll invite me, if I
promise not to bring any dead bodies. Have you found somewhere to live
yet?”

“No,” said Lloyd.

“You mean you’re still living in separate flats?”

Not exactly, Lloyd thought. He wasn’t sure if Judy had noticed yet, but
he’d more or less moved in with her.

“We keep looking at houses, but we can’t agree on what we want,” said
Judy. “It’s all going to have to wait until after Christmas now.”

“Well, there’s one for the books,” said Freddie, glancing at his watch.
“You two failing to agree. Sorry—must dash. I’m on court at quarter past.
If I don’t see you before, have a happy Christmas.”

“Same to you,” said Judy. She caught Lloyd’s wrist and looked at his watch
as Freddie disappeared down the next flight of steps two
at a time. “Is that the time? I’m ten minutes late for the rehearsal. She
wanted us all there at eight prompt.”

Lloyd followed as she made her way down. “I thought you just did their
books for them,” he said. “How does that involve rehearsals?”

“I’m doing the sound effects tonight because someone’s away sick.”

Lloyd grinned. “Do you have to moo and things like that?”

“There isn’t any mooing in Cinderella.”

It had been the mildest of jokes. When she was in this sort of mood, he
thought, she was hard work. “Can I come?” he asked. “Or would you rather I
went home and came back for you?”

“Suit yourself. But if you come, make yourself useful.”

Lloyd walked with her through a maze of corridors that would apparently
take them under cover to the Riverside Theatre, rather than having to go
back out into the rain. The complex had been built with help from the
lottery, and as far as he could see, it was still being built. “Watch your
step,” he said as Judy briskly walked past wooden panels and pots of
mysterious smelly stuff.

She didn’t slow down.

“What should I do to make myself useful?”

She didn’t answer.

Lloyd sighed. “I can make tea,” he said. “And you said you would need to
eat—I can nip down to the snack bar for sandwiches or something. Will that
be useful?”

“Fine. Just don’t get in the way.”

The theater, which they entered by a rear door that took them along
another corridor into the wings, was just about finished. Not too much
builders’ debris to catch the unwary mother-to-be. They walked out onto
the stage, where a spare, tall woman of uncertain years and flaming hair,
dressed in what seemed to Lloyd to be a remarkable number of scarves and
very little else, was dramatically glad to see Judy.

“Thank God you’re here, darling!” she said. “I was beginning to think no
one was going to turn up.”

“Sorry, Marianne, we got held up. This is Lloyd, my partner.
Lloyd—Marianne.”

“How lovely to see you here, Lloyd.” She extended her hand, palm down, and
Lloyd felt certain he was supposed to bow and kiss it, but he settled for
giving it a necessarily ineffectual shake. “It was my fault that we were
late,” he said. “I ran into an old friend.”

Marianne tilted her head to one side and regarded Lloyd. “I
don’t suppose you could possibly read Buttons for us, could you,
darling?”

Lloyd blinked. “Yes,” he said. “If you’re serious.”

“Oh, I’m desperately serious.” She turned to Judy. “Dexter rang and said
he’s come down with something. So I haven’t got Buttons or Cinderella now.
And I don’t know where Carl Bignall is. He’s supposed to be bringing the
chimes, apart from anything else.”

“Chimes?” said Lloyd.

“Midnight,” said Judy. “The clock has to strike midnight. Carl does the
sound effects, and understudies Buttons, amongst other things.”

Lloyd frowned. “I thought you said you did the sound effects.”

Judy didn’t see fit to explain; instead she very obviously ignored his
puzzlement. Lloyd blew out his cheeks, shrugged, and threw an
it’s-her-hormones look at Marianne, which Judy fortunately didn’t notice.

“I specifically said I needed everyone here tonight on time, and what
happens? Half of them come down with the flu and the other half are
late—well, if no one knows where they’re supposed to be on the stage, it
won’t be my fault.” Marianne turned to Lloyd. “You might have to double up
if Carl’s got the flu as well, darling. And
if the principals and the understudies all get it, we’ll just have to
cancel.”

“I don’t suppose it’ll come to that.” Lloyd smiled. “When do you open?”

“Not until the end of January, thank God. We were going to open on New
Year’s Day, but fortunately the Health and Safety people
vetoed that because the decorating work isn’t finished. There’s
scaffolding and things blocking the exits. We’ve got a month, but what
with Christmas and the flu, it’s beginning to look desperate.” She turned
as a small group of people arrived. “Oh, darlings, you’ve made it!” She
frowned. “Well, some of you have.”

“The traffic’s impossible,” said one. “The lights have all failed in the
town center. We managed to escape down Baxendale Avenue, but I expect some
of the others are stuck. Ray’s here—he’s gone to the café to get
sandwiches for everyone. I said you’d settle up with him later—is that all
right?”

“Good, good,” said Marianne. “Can’t leave the house for five minutes
without eating,” she muttered to Lloyd.

No need for him to go after all. Which was a shame; it might have helped
get him back into favor with Judy. He wasn’t at all sure how he’d fallen
out of favor, but he clearly had.

“Jenny said to tell you that she’ll be here,” someone said. “She’s just
going to be a bit late.”

“But that means I don’t even have Cinderella’s understudy!” Marianne threw
her arms up in the air. “We might as well go home.”

“She has to pick her parents up from the station, that’s all. She’ll be
here as soon as she’s dropped them off.”

“Amateurs,” muttered Marianne. “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

Lloyd looked at the stage, which was bisected by a backdrop of
Cinderella’s kitchen. From where he stood, he could see the
almost-finished coach and horses behind it; just flat pieces of hardboard
cut to shape and painted. And behind them was the exterior of the baron’s
house, and up in the flies, the prince’s palace. With lighting and dry ice
or whatever they used these days, he could see that the transforming of
the mice and pumpkin into Cinderella’s coach and horses would be quite
effective, even if it was all done on a shoestring. Providing they managed
to fit in enough rehearsal with the actual actors before the curtain went
up.

“Judy, darling . . .”

“Oh, no,” said Judy, literally backing away as she spoke. “No, Marianne, I
can’t—”

“Just until Jenny gets here?” Marianne’s hands were clasped together in
prayer. “Just read the words and stand in the right places, darling,
that’s all. It’s only to give the others their cues.”

“But I can’t . . .”

“Please, darling. Otherwise we can’t even begin until Jenny gets here.
She’s in every scene. And I can’t do Cinderella, not with everything
else—I’ll have to sort out the songs with the pianist when he gets here,
and a million other things. Be an angel.”

Very reluctantly, Judy agreed, on condition that she would not have to
sing, and Lloyd smiled quietly to himself, until he caught Judy watching
him and thought it politic to change the subject. “I’ve never even been to
a pantomime,” he said, and suddenly everyone was staring at him. It had
been an innocent enough remark. “What?” he said. “What’s wrong?”

“You’ve never been to a pantomime?” Judy repeated.

“No. Well, they didn’t go in much for pantomime where I come from, much
less singing, dancing, and clowning.”

Marianne’s eyes widened. “Where do you come from, darling? Mars?”

“Wales.”

“Ah,” she said, nodding sympathetically as the awful truth about his
heritage was revealed to her. “Wales.”

“They have panto in Wales,” said Judy.

“Well, maybe they do, but not in my village, they didn’t.”

“But you had two children,” said Judy. “And you lived in London. Didn’t
you ever take them to a pantomime?”

No, indeed he had not. Amateurs throwing a few songs and dances into
Cinderella was one thing; showbiz panto was quite another. The very idea
of sitting through two and a half hours of B-list celebrities and
over-the-hill sportsmen assassinating a perfectly good fairy tale with bad
jokes, pop songs, and innuendo, in the company of hundreds of screaming
children, was enough to make Lloyd go pale.

“No—Barbara did all that sort of—” He was being scrutinized again.
“—thing,” he finished.

“Did she?” Judy said, picking up a script and moving away.

Lloyd sighed. He wasn’t a new man. Far from it. Tonight, he had felt like
an old man. A very old man indeed. But he was going to get to play
Buttons, despite his advancing years. Well, read Buttons at any rate. It
might be fun.

x

Ryan Chester, nineteen years old and a useful welterweight at school, was
even better at stealing cars than he had been at boxing. He hadn’t wanted
to box professionally; as a way of making a living, stealing cars was less
painful. The one he was driving had been parked outside on the street, a
front garden’s length from the house it probably belonged to, and inside
that house there would almost certainly be kids, a television, people
talking; he had taken the chance that no one would hear it start up, and
within seconds he was out of sight of anyone in the house who may have
heard it.

Now he was on the short stretch of divided highway that would take him
toward the Malworth town center, but that wasn’t what he had been
intending to do at all; this evening was not working out as planned.
Still, he thought philosophically, there was no one following him, nothing
else on the road, so he could relax a little. He reached into his back
pocket, drawing out his cellular phone, and awkwardly pressed the handset
buttons with his thumb. Today had been a bitch so far, and the only good
that could come of it would be if that stuff was worth something. He swung
the car violently around a cyclist he
hadn’t seen, mainly because the bike had no lights, and slowed down;
he didn’t want to draw attention to himself like that, for God’s sake. He
approached the roundabout, signaling as he went into the outside lane for
the right turn, frowning as he saw the traffic on the road into the town.

He held the phone to his ear, to hear Baz saying hello over and over
again. At least he was answering now.

“Where the hell were you?” Ryan demanded. “I called ten minutes ago.”

“Sorry, Ry. I was desperate for a pee.”

“Why didn’t you take the phone with you? That’s the whole bloody point of
mobile phones!”

“Sorry, Ry.”

Ryan sighed, using both hands on the steering wheel as he negotiated the
roundabout and joined the queue of traffic into Malworth, which was moving
at half a mile an hour. Why did he feel respon-
sible for Baz? Because blood was thicker than water, he supposed, though
no blood had ever been as thick as Baz. He was in court on Wednesday
morning because he had been too stupid to get rid of the cannabis he’d
just bought when the police had raided the Starland. Ryan had lost count
of the number of times Baz had been nabbed for possession. He might even
go down for it this time.

He put the phone to his ear again. “It’s all right, Baz,” he said. “Forget
it.”

“Where are you?” asked Baz. “Do you want me to meet you?”

“No. Just go home, Baz. I’ll see you at the Starland later on.”

Ryan terminated the call, and crawled toward the edge of town. One or two
of the houses set back from the main road had Christmas lights strung
through the trees in their front gardens; it looked nice, he thought.
Festive. The town’s Christmas lights, lining the main shopping streets,
were okay too, he supposed, but he hadn’t really expected to have this
much time to admire them.

Once he was approaching the one-way system, traffic ground to a stop. It
was three days before Christmas, and Malworth was pretty busy, with the
shops staying open for the late Christmas buyers and all manner of people
entertaining the shoppers in the glistening streets, but this was a
complete standstill. He frowned. Maybe there had been an accident or
something. He sat motionless behind a bus and tapped his fingers on the
steering wheel.

What was the holdup, for God’s sake? He wound down the window, admitting
flecks of rain and the sounds of a children’s choir singing Christmas
carols, craning his neck to see beyond the bus, to the traffic lights. But
there were no traffic lights, and he swore to himself. The lights had
failed, and the traffic on the crossroads had no idea who had right of
way. The intersection was a snarl of vehicles. Rain spattered the steering
wheel, and he wound up the window again.

He’d heard that in-car entertainment was a huge industry in Japan, because
the city streets had virtually reached gridlock, and he could see that it
would be, if they had to do this every day. The owner of the vehicle he
was sitting in was not, unfortunately, big on in-car entertainment, and he
had only the children’s choir, closer to him now and audible through the
closed window, to entertain him. They had gotten through three carols by
the time the people in silly costumes who were collecting for some
charity, and were turning the traffic jam to advantage by soliciting the
drivers for a contribution, got around to him. A large Pink Panther
approached him and tapped on the window.

“What’s it for?” he asked as he rolled down the window once more.

“Jordan.”

For some reason he’d expected a man, but it was a woman’s voice, muffled,
coming from the pink furry throat.

“Jordan?” He couldn’t remember seeing anything about Jordan. “Has
something happened there, then?”

Her paw went to her lower jaw and pulled it down a little. “No!” she
laughed, her voice clearer. “Little Jordan Taylor. The baby that needs the
operation in America?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“It’s Ryan, isn’t it?” she said, as he dug in his pocket and pulled out
some change, throwing it into her bucket. “Hello. I haven’t seen you for a
while.”

He stared at the large pink face as she looked down the line of cars,
sizing up her next victim. “Hi,” he said, as casually as he could in the
circumstances. Who was it, for God’s sake? He didn’t think he really
wanted to know. He just wanted out of here. Now.

“Thanks a lot,” she said. “Have a nice Christmas.”

“Same to you,” said Ryan, his brain racing. The lights came back on, to an
involuntary cheer from Ryan—and everyone else caught up in the jam, no
doubt—and he moved forward on the clutch, his heart beating faster. He was
held up on red now, but at least could see the intersection beginning to
clear.

He watched the bright pink, slightly bedraggled creature in his mirror as
she made her way back to the safety of the pavement. He had no idea who
she was; a friend of a friend maybe. Someone’s mother. He replayed her
voice in his head, and knew that it was
familiar. The way she’d said his name had been familiar too. Someone who
spoke his name—that ought to be a clue, because people didn’t, usually,
not in conversation. So who had occasion to use your name a lot? People
who told you what to do, he thought. Teachers. Was she a teacher? Could
be. But whatever way you looked at it, he had been clocked driving a
stolen car by someone who probably wouldn’t approve, and he didn’t like
that. He hadn’t been driving the car for ten minutes, for God’s sake, and
he’d been stationary for most of them.

x

Carl Bignall ducked down to check himself in the rearview mirror, and
persuaded a lock of dark hair over his brow so that it seemed to have
fallen there of its own accord. He was thirty-five minutes late; Marianne
would not be pleased. The car blinked as he locked it, and he ran down the
three flights of stairs from the rooftop car park, his step light for the
well-built man that he was, sidestepping hoses and planks and tarpaulins
as he made his way through the corridors,
arriving in the wings to find some man he’d never seen in his life
before reading Buttons. He frowned. It wasn’t like Dexter to miss
rehearsal. But whoever his stand-in was, he was reading well, which was a
refreshing change.

Maybe Marianne was trying him out, but if so, Carl thought, he was a late
starter. He couldn’t be much younger than Denis Lee-
ward. Maybe he’d just moved here—he might have been the star of whatever
amateur dramatic society he’d belonged to before. That could create
problems, of course, but Marianne would try anyone
out and worry about the politics later. The pool of talent wasn’t exactly
deep.

And Judy Hill was reading Cinderella, for some reason. The idea
of a middle-aged, pregnant Cinderella appealed to him; it could be the
story in reverse. A last-chance Cinderella deserting the faithful Buttons
for a one-night stand with a flashy prince. Searching for
him when she finds she’s pregnant, only to find that he doesn’t want to
know.

“Carl! You’ve come, you darling man! I’d given you up entirely!”

“I am so sorry, Marianne,” he said, his hands held up in a gesture of
truce.

“Did you get caught in that frightful traffic jam the others were talking
about?”

“No,” Carl admitted. “I heard about it on Radio Barton, though. It would
have been a good excuse, but I cannot tell a lie—I was nowhere near the
town center. I got held up at home. Estelle—you know. She wasn’t feeling
too good.”

“Isn’t this her writer’s circle night?” said Marianne.

“Yes,” said Carl, and smiled. “Of course, maybe she’s just playing hookey.”

“Dexter’s got the flu or something, darling. This lovely man’s stepped
into the breach.”

“Good for him,” said Carl.

“The thing is,” said Buttons, joining him in the wings, “did you bring the
chimes?”

Carl smiled. “I did,” he said, pulling the tape from his pocket. “And the
ballroom sounds, and the horses’ hooves, and all the rest of it.”

Buttons shook his head. “On tape?” he said. “Whatever happened to two half
coconuts?”

“It’s all state-of-the-art stuff now,” said Carl, and held out his hand.
“Carl Bignall,” he said with a smile. “I cheat and copy what I need from
CDs.”

“Lloyd. I came in with the ersatz Cinders and was commandeered.”

“Lloyd, of course! I’ve heard a lot about you. It’s nice to put a face to
the name at last. Are you thinking of joining us?”

“No,” Lloyd said, shaking his head vehemently. “I’m just helping out.”

Carl held up the tape. “Judy? Can you read Cinderella and work the sound
effects at the same time?”

“I expect so,” she said doubtfully. “If Marianne doesn’t need me on stage.”

“But I do, darling,” said Marianne, with a flick of the scarves with which
she draped herself. “Oh, I suppose you can read her lines from the wings,
but you’ll have to speak up, darling, if anyone’s going to hear their
cues. God knows how we’re going to get this production ready on time.”

Carl stayed in the troupe because he enjoyed acting and writing the
script, but he found Marianne very tiresome. With her, the amateur
dramatics were not confined to the stage.

“Has poor Estelle got this awful flu too, darling?”

“Oh, no, she’s fine, really. Just a touch of the sniffles.” His an-
swer to Marianne’s belated concern for Estelle’s welfare was far
from truthful; Estelle hadn’t ever been fine, and this year she’d been
seeing Denis Leeward for depression and God knew what else, making his
life hell while she’d been at it. The lies were automatic: he had been
telling them for years, and could switch off his domestic circumstances as
easily as he could switch off a light. “She’s having an early night,” he
said.

“Good, good!”

Marianne went into a huddle with Prince Charming, a bit long
in the tooth for the principal boy’s part, in Carl’s judgment, but her
legs were as good as any he had seen, and that was the important bit when
it came to fishnet tights and thigh-slapping.

“What do you do when you’re not understudying Buttons?” asked Lloyd.

“I’m an Ugly Sister,” said Carl.

“He’s a wonderful dame,” said Judy, taking the tape from him. “Really
sexy. What do I do with this?”

“Do you ever wonder about all this cross-dressing in pantomime?” asked
Lloyd. “Does it mean anything?”

Carl shrugged. “I think originally it just allowed a bit of gender-bending
in safety,” he said. “Most people have a little bit of the opposite sex in
them, don’t you think?” He turned to Judy. “I’ve put all the effects on
there,” he said. “All you have to do is play them on cue, then stop the
tape. They’re all in order.”

“Oh, right. So I should mark up a script with the cues.”

“Yes—I expect madam will want to hear them all, so you’d better put the
tape in, and I’ll make sure we’re rigged up to the sound
system.”

“Am I surplus to requirements now?” asked Lloyd. “Or will you want to
concentrate on being ugly?”

Carl opened his mouth, but was forestalled by the voice that floated
through from the stage. “Where’s my wonderful substitute Buttons? Are you
there, darling?”

“There’s your answer.”

x

Eric Watson’s jeans-clad legs descended from the loft and he pressed the
button that folded the ladder neatly back up, closing
the hatch, then pulled over the hinged ceiling molding so the hatch
disappeared altogether. There was no mistaking that knock; he had given
his guests instructions to remain absolutely silent. He smoothed his
remaining wisps of hair down, and glanced at the clock as he went
downstairs and along the hallway to the front door. Ten to nine—it had
taken them long enough to get here, he thought as they banged at the door
again. He opened the door to a uniformed constable who looked to be about
twelve and a half.

“Yes?”

“Constable Sims, Malworth,” said the young man. “We’ve had a report of a
suspected break-in at your next-door neighbor’s house.”

“So?”

“We can’t get an answer, sir, and we can’t get round the back because the
rear gates are locked. We wondered if we could get through from your
garden.”

He was joined as he spoke by another, older constable.

“Can’t you climb over the back gates?” said Eric. “They’re not that high.
You’re young and fit.” He looked at the older one and amended that. “Well,
he is, anyway,” he said with a nod of his head at Constable Sims.

“We think that might be how the intruder entered,” said the overweight
one. “We don’t want to disturb any evidence.”

“You’re actually going to look for some, are you?” But there was no harm
in letting them go over the back wall, Eric supposed. He stood aside,
motioning down the hallway toward the kitchen. He let Sims pass, but held
up a hand when the other one tried to come in. “I don’t think I caught
your name,” he said.

“Warren.”

“You’re supposed to give your name and station when you approach members
of the public.”

He apologized; Eric allowed him entry.

“Did you see or hear anything, sir?” asked Sims as they walked through.

“I heard glass breaking. I thought it was these kids again.”

“Again?”

“They come here from the London Road estate. Throwing bottles at the wall
and stuff like that. I heard them this teatime. But it sounded a lot
closer this time, so I went out and had a look in case it was my
greenhouse.”

“But you didn’t see anyone?”

“No.”

In the kitchen, Eric unlocked the back door and took them outside. As they
walked out, the security light came on, turning the dark night into near
daylight. “There you are,” he said, indicating the low ornamental wall
that divided the gardens. “Make the most of it before they wall me in.”

Sims stepped over the low wall and made his way toward the house.
“Window’s broken,” he called over. “I’ll have a look inside.”

Warren acknowledged that with a wave of his hand but didn’t
join him.

“Aren’t you supposed to go in with him?” said Eric.

Warren raised his eyebrows. “Know a bit about the job, do you, sir?”

“You could say that. I did it for eighteen years.”

“I understand the intruder was seen running away,” the constable said. “I
think my colleague can handle it on his own. You were saying something
about the neighbors walling you in? What’s all that about, then?”

“That pile of bricks is for the new, higher wall that my friendly
neighbors intend building.”

“Are you not on the best of terms, then?”

“Let’s just say we’re not bosom buddies.”

“And you definitely didn’t hear anything suspicious tonight?”

“I told you. I heard breaking glass—presumably it was their window. I came
out to see if it was my greenhouse, but it wasn’t, so I went back in.”

“We’ve had a report of a row going on a few minutes before that. Would you
know anything about that?”

Oh, so that’s what he wanted to know. “Are you asking if I had a barney
with my neighbors? Do you think I heaved a brick through their window or
something?”

“No,” said Warren. “We’ve had a report of a disturbance, that’s all. I
wondered if you heard it too.”

“No,” said Eric.

“And you definitely didn’t see anyone when you came out?” The policeman
wandered down the driveway, toward the greenhouse. Eric followed him down.

“No,” he said. “No one.”

“And you saw no one hanging around before that?”

“No.”

“As I said, we’ve had a report of someone seen running away. You didn’t
see anyone on the road at the back here?”

“No,” said Eric, beginning to lose count of how many times he had said
that now.

Constable Sims appeared again. “Kev,” he said. “You’d better come in here.”

Eric didn’t say I told you so.

x

Tom Finch was working late, catching up on the paperwork that he could no
longer ignore. Judy Hill had tried to make him do it on a methodical,
regular basis like she did—she said that she had made herself do that
right from the start, because she hated it too. But while Tom could see
the logic of doing something you didn’t like for a half an hour or so in
the working day rather than waiting until you would be in real trouble if
it wasn’t done, and then going at it for three and a half hours for which
you would not be paid, he had never had the self-discipline necessary to
carry it out. Besides, you got it done quicker in the evening—the bad guys
might do their work under cover of darkness, but it was in the daylight
that it was discovered, as a rule.

He wrote his signature with a flourish on the very last sheet in his tray,
yawned, stretched, and scratched his head, startled, as he still was, to
discover the strange bristly sensation.

He’d had his golden curls cut off the last time he went for a haircut;
sitting in the chair, looking at himself in the mirror, he realized they
had to go if he ever wanted to be taken seriously, and had issued the
command to the hairdresser. He had expected an argument during which he
could let himself be talked out of it, but she just asked him how short he
wanted it, and went at it with the scissors when he had told her to remove
as much of it as she liked. He had watched it fall to the ground with a
mixture of dismay and satisfaction.

Now, he looked at the phone when it rang with much the same feeling. If he
had left at half past five, he wouldn’t have been here to answer it. He
was tired. It was almost nine o’clock, and he’d worked a twelve-hour day.
He wanted to go home. But you never knew—it might be some informant with a
juicy piece of news for him. He picked it up. “CID, Finch speaking,” he
said.

“Sarge,” said the girl manning the dispatch room, “Malworth attended a
suspected break-in at 4 Windermere Terrace, Malworth, and they’ve reported
finding the body of a woman in the house. She’d been bound and gagged—it
looks as though she suffocated. Their inspector wants Stansfield CID to
attend.”

Tom tried to suppress the little thrill he always got when a really
serious crime presented itself. Windermere Terrace was at the moneyed end
of Malworth; large town houses that were still owned by people who lived
in them, rather than turned into flats. It was

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2001

    Utterly ingenious and intensely satisfying

    Eleventh in Jill McGown's series of British procedurals featuring Chief Inspector Lloyd and his partner in crime and life, Chief Inspector Judy Hill, SCENE OF CRIME stands alone beautifully. I think that a sense of you-are-there at the heart of the chase is absolutely crucial if a procedural is to work, and Ms. McGown provides us with thrills and misdirection aplenty before the real villain slips up just enough for Llloyd and Hill to make the collar in this cleverly-devised, multi-suspect puzzler. Neurotic Esther Bignall is found dead...bound and suffocated in her home in what looks like a burglary gone wrong. Caught red-handed with the missing property, car thief and former juvenile delinquent, Ryan Chester, would seem to be the obvious culprit, but the Pink Panther gives him an alibi. While his half-brother, Dexter Gibson, can be placed at the scene of the crime, the timing is all wrong which is also apparently true for Esther's doctor, Denis Leeward, who has a guilty secret of his own to hide as does her not so grief-stricken husband, Carl. To further muddy the waters, the Bignall's sleazy neighbor, Eric Watson, has a very private agenda to pursue, and helping the police with their inquiries is definitely not part of it. Fortunately, the combination of left-brained Hill's logic and right-brained Lloyd's intuition is more than up to the challenge, and they uncover the answer that unmasks a cunning killer at the SCENE OF CRIME itself in a way this is both utterly ingenious and intensely satisfying. In a nutshell, Ms. McGown does all-well-that-ends-well better than anyone else whom I've encountered recently, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this delightfully civilized thriller.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fabulous who-done-it

    In Malworth, a local theater group decides to do a production of Cinderella. At the tryouts is eight-month pregnant Detective Chief Inspector Judy Hill who wants the title role. Accompanying her is her professional and personal partner Lloyd. At the same theater is Dr. Carl Bignall, who learns there that someone murdered his wife during an apparent robbery turned ugly. <P> The police quickly find two suspects. Teenager Ryan Chester has been found with a stolen car and Christmas gifts that Carl identifies as being in his home. A witness confirms that Ryan¿s half-brother Dexter was near the crime scene at the time of the murder. The case is resolved so why does Lloyd continue to investigate the homicide as if someone else committed the crime? <P>The eleventh Lloyd-Hill police procedural, SCENE OF THE CRIME, is a fabulous who-done-it that shows why the author and her series are so popular. The story line is intelligent as the reader observes Lloyd and his assistant work through a maze filled with lies, half-truths, and false clues. The recurring cast retains their human qualities so that fans will feel old friends have returned and anxiously await the next visit from Jill McGown¿s top of the line series. <P>Harriet Klausner

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