The Lizard in the Cup


Simulated war games morph into the real thing when a crime wave hits a Greek island in this fast-paced mystery by CWA Gold Dagger winner Peter Dickinson

The West Indies island of Hog’s Cay is soon to open for tourism, but the money behind the deal comes from the Mafia, which is ready to turn the island into the next Vegas. And the politicos in charge have given Greek tycoon Thanassi Thanatos the contract. That’s where James Pibble comes in.


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Simulated war games morph into the real thing when a crime wave hits a Greek island in this fast-paced mystery by CWA Gold Dagger winner Peter Dickinson

The West Indies island of Hog’s Cay is soon to open for tourism, but the money behind the deal comes from the Mafia, which is ready to turn the island into the next Vegas. And the politicos in charge have given Greek tycoon Thanassi Thanatos the contract. That’s where James Pibble comes in.

The former Scotland Yard superintendent has come to Thanatos’s hideaway on the Ionian island of Hyos to protect the Greek tycoon from the Mob, which doesn’t like anyone muscling in on its territory. Rumor has it the crooks are eyeing Hyos for their booming drug-smuggling trade. Throw in British intelligence and a clandestine American operation, and you’ve got an international free-for-all.

The mystery deepens when Pibble uncovers a monastery led by Fathers Polydore and Chrysostom, who may be the richest men on the island. And why is an English artist named Nancy living in a primitive hut? The answers may lie in a myth about a lizard called the samimithi, a harbinger of violent death.

With superstition and distrust running rampant, Pibble races to stop a conspiracy set in motion by an obsessive love with the power to kill.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[Dickinson’s] best yet.” —The Times (London)

“The most original crime novelist to appear for a long, long time.” —The Guardian

“Coruscating.” —Books and Bookmen

“Peter Dickinson’s crime novels are streets ahead of others for interest and ingenuity.” — The Sunday Telegraph“The story is, as might be expected from Peter Dickinson, a beautiful and bewildering set of complications taut with breathtaking suspense.” —Louis Untermeyer

“Among the authors who can be relied upon to hit the jackpot time and time again Peter Dickinson’s place is secure.” —The Times (London)

“Your wits are needed. . . . This study of trust is his best yet.” —The Times (London)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781504005043
  • Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
  • Publication date: 2/24/2015
  • Series: James Pibble Series
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,063,992
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Dickinson was born in Africa but raised and educated in England. From 1952 to 1969 he was on the editorial staff of Punch, and since then has earned his living writing fiction of various kinds for children and adults. His books have been published in several languages throughout the world.

The recipient of many awards, Dickinson has been shortlisted nine times for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature and was the first author to win it twice. The author of twenty-one crime and mystery novels for adults, Dickinson was also the first to win the Gold Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association for two books running: The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest (1968) and The Old English Peepshow (1969).

A collection of Dickinson’s poetry, The Weir, was published in 2007. His latest book, In the Palace of the Khans, was published in 2012 and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

Dickinson has served as chairman of the Society of Authors and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to literature.

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Read an Excerpt

The Lizard in the Cup

A James Pibble Mystery

By Peter Dickinson


Copyright © 1972 Peter Dickinson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0480-0


We could always have him eliminated for you," said Pibble.

"Rub him out?" cried Buck Budweiser, bouncing in his wheelchair with excitement.

"There's creative thinking! There's a catalytic concept!"

He may have been right, but the catalysis never took place. The process was interrupted by a noise from outside the room.

The room was called the Tank, partly because it was where they were supposed to think, or rather Think, but mainly because of the window. This was the typical whim of an architect commissioned to build a Mediterranean villa for an enormously rich man; a huge sheet of glass composed the end wall of the room, and the bottom third of it was actually submerged in the waters of the bay, so that you could watch the ripple-refracted sunlight moving in monotonously repetitive patterns across the wide green band, and small fish nosing for scraps thrown from the terrace above. You felt that if the glass broke the whole villa would begin to founder. A couple of hours earlier a servant in a frogman's uniform had provided an added distraction by swimming across and skimming the algae from the glass with a rubber spatula; though the frog footman was gone, Pibble still had spent most of his time gazing at the window. It was the easiest way of not staring at the girl.

Now, beyond the glass, the noise of the outboard motor which had buzzed and purred through the last hour of the discussion began to get louder, rising as the boat neared to a yammer which drowned talk. The glossy machine bounced into view, driven by an orangehaired woman who waved her free hand to the watchers. The white arch of the wake, brilliant in the afternoon sun, hid the taut rope. Now came the water-skier, swinging at an angle to the path of the speedboat and straight towards the window, his portly but still muscular bulk balancing into the fresh curve, his mottled red face grinning with effort; they watched him tilt like a motor-cyclist to bring himself round and miss the house, and then the butterfly-wing of spray forced out from under the slanting ski flapped against the glass and blotted out sea and sky.

"He's certainly a good target," said Dave Warren as the noise of the motor died with a couple of coughs and the ripple-patterns resettled from their jagged hysteria.

George Palangalos snapped his pencil down on the table beside him. It was a small sound, but as effective as a gavel.

"This is nonsense," he said in his soft and toneless voice. "We have talked ourselves into stupidity. Let us call it a day."

"Hey, but ..." said Buck.

"Let it go," said Dave. "He'll be in in five minutes, and if he wants us to kick ... around he can tell us."

George began to select documents from the piles that littered the table. Dave gathered the rest, rattled them into neatness and slid them into a fat briefcase. Pibble pushed his chair back and sat still, simply waiting. He felt as though he had been all afternoon in a temporary limbo, half-real, as everything in the villa was half-real until the arrival of its master gave it meaning and its inmates flesh and purpose. The curious dull silence of the others made him guess that they had something of the same feeling—though of course they were used to it.

Certainly the discussion had been half-real, however intense and intricate it had become. Pibble was glad to relax from his role of Mafia representative into his true persona, the elderly ex-policeman who had been snatched from the luxury hotel on Corfu, just over the horizon, at the whim of the manic millionaire who had been paying for the Pibbles' holiday. He looked at the others again and decided that the documents ought to have included a cast-list—with Shavian stage-directions maybe, explaining at unwieldy length how the actors ought to look and speak:

MR. PAUL HOCHHEIM, played by George Palangalos.

Paul Hochheim is the President of a New England bank, Stubbs of Boston, but he has the appearance of a middle-aged Greek businessman. He is well below middle height and wears his silvery hair cut short. Although he is tanned to a careful brown there is still a greyness about him, as though colour were continually being drained out of him; into his eyes, perhaps, which are black, quick and brilliant. His mouth is almost lipless and moves very little when he speaks. This trait, with his leathery skin and darting eyes, give him an inhuman look, almost reptilian. He speaks good English, but cautiously, like a man in thin shoes picking his way along a muddy path. He is not prepossessing, but quite impressive.

MR. BARNEY GROD, played by Dave Warren.

Grod is a senior official of the powerful Hucksters' Union, that perpetual target of campaigning journalists. However he appears to be a handsome young man, large and strong. If he were to exercise himself less conscientiously he would have a pot belly. His face is noble, broad-browed and framed by dark ringlets, for he wears his hair almost down to his shoulders; but despite this symbol of emancipated youth he gives the general impression of being staid, hard-working, clever and humourless. If he has a character to match his striking appearance, it is well-concealed. He is Central European by birth, reared and educated in England, but he speaks with the mid-Atlantic accent of the entertainment world, so naturally that you might think he was born between wave and wave.

THE MAN FROM THE MAFIA, played by James Pibble.

The inappropriateness of his appearance and accent for the part are regretted, but the actor is a stand-in for a Mr. Hal Adamson, who has had a regrettable accident in Minneapolis.

KO-ZEE-TOURS INC., played by Mr. Buck Budweiser.

Ko-Zee-Tours are a one-man outfit, and that one man appears to be only half a man, for his legs are negligible and end in child-size shoes that have never known wear. He is in his late thirties, but nearly bald. He is so restlessly excitable that he always seems to be on the point of breaking into sweat, despite the air-conditioning. He is very American, and sounds it. His face is round and eager, as if longing for adventures which his shiny wheelchair denies him. Perhaps it is this urge that makes him so good at his work, so perceptive of the longings of the job-imprisoned hordes. He sounds like a fool and an innocent quite often, but is neither.

DOCTOR ONESIPHORUS TROTTER, played by Doctor Titus Trotter.

Dr. O. Trotter is Minister of Tourism in the Southward Islands. He is a yellowish black man, stooped and hesitant. Half the government of the islands are his cousins, and he despises all of them. Having grown up on an island where only a few colonial officials were white, he became colour-conscious comparatively late in life, and defends himself against suspected prejudice by talking in a comic-Babu lingo be has invented for himself.

AN ANONYMOUS GUERRILLA, played by Tony d'Agniello.

The islands have developed fast enough to boast their own revolutionary movement. Yes ... well ... yes ... oh, pull yourself together man. The guerrilla is beautiful, a beautiful mongrel, negro and Spanish (or Italian, to judge by the name) and perhaps Chinese, which would account for the angle of her cheek-bones. She holds herself entrancingly badly, in a drooping slouch which she makes look fluid and comfortable. If she stood straight she'd be nearly six foot tall. She is slight but not frail. Her skin is clear brown and her small face has large features—huge brown eyes, a wide mouth, a nose that looks boneless and made for soft nuzzlings. Her hair is not negroid, but long, luxuriant scooped curves of glossy fawn, dyed presumably, but strangely right for her. No, no, of course she doesn't look like a guerrilla, but she manages to sound like one in the little she says, catching the jargon exactly. She has brains, then ...

Pibble decided that in this limbo of waiting no one was paying any attention to anyone else, and so he would not be noticed if he continued to look at her. But she turned and smiled at him, understanding his thought and enjoying his enjoyment of her as though that were perfectly natural. He managed to smile back in a strained sort of way.

Then the door at the back of the Tank banged open and they were all made real.

"Hi," shouted Mr. Thanatos, "how did you all make out with my game?"

He swept his free arm down a line of switches and the lights in the room blazed on. He stood in the glare, huge in his garish gold bathrobe, grinning with the animal spirits of skiing. His other arm was round the orange-haired woman's waist but Pibble could see that the pose was habitual, adopted with any woman who stood that close to him, and implied no intimacy. He could also see that the woman was not so sure.

"Your game was a draw," said George Palangalos. "No score. There is nothing they can do."

"Oh, crap!" said Mr. Thanatos. "They're sore and they're going to lose a pile of money.

They'll try something."

"Rub you out, Jim says," put in Buck.

Mr. Thanatos glanced at him with a look of dismissive irritation, as if he'd made a joke in taste too poor even for this permissive household.

"Crap to that too," he said. "Come in and say hello, honey. You know George, I guess. That roman-emperor type is Dave Warren, my secretary. The darkie is Doc Trotter, who's going to run some hotels for me. The grey runt is Jim Pibble, who's just an old pal. The guy in the chair is Buck Budweiser, who's an ace at suckering folk to spend their money in my hotels. Tony d'Agniello's my girl. And this is Zoe Palangalos, men—George's brand-new wife. She's a great girl—came straight off the ferry looking like a peach, drove my boat for me for an hour and didn't hit any rocks and still looks like a peach. How's that?"

Greetings were grunted, murmurs of meeting muttered. Zoe fidgeted with the orange edifice of her coiffure—Pibble wondered what industrial resin she used to cement it into place so that it would retain its shape through the hurtling and spray of the speedboat. She smiled at George and put out her hand to him, though still clutched to her host's side.

"Ullo darlink," she said. "You work ard?"

George drew his hand down the side of his face so that dry skin rustled on dry skin.

"We saw you driving the boat," he said. "Did you have a comfortable trip?"

Her shrug was exaggerated, implying that no journey could be comfortable for a creature so delicate as herself. The gesture was comically inappropriate, she was such a robust-looking little woman.

"You finish your work?" she said. "Now we are playink?"

George took the excuse to shift the conversation away from her.

"I think that part's finished," he said. "There's nothing they can do. They are fixed, Thanassi."

"Except ..." began Buck.

"That is nonsense," interrupted George.

"Now wait a minute," said Dave slowly. "I thought it was nonsense at first, but I've been thinking. I reckon we ought to run it through the machine a bit."

"Businessmen do not murder businessmen," said George. There was a faint snap of anger in his words, as though the mere idea were blasphemy, but his face showed no emotion at all.

"Oo is murderink oo?" cried Zoe in frilly alarm. "You, George?"

The black eyes stilled her. Mr. Thanatos let go of her waist and she stood for a moment as if she were waiting for the next gentleman to clutch her to him, that being evidently the custom of the house.

"It's a crappy idea," said Mr. Thanatos.

"Oo? Oo? Oo?" cried Zoe. The repeated hoot sounded like the beginnings of hysteria. Mr. Thanatos turned to her, very gently by his standards.

"Listen, honey," he said, "and then you won't have to ask questions. The government of the Southward Islands—that's in the West Indies—decided to develop one of their islands, called Hog's Cay, for tourism, and first off they got hold of a very respectable bank called Stubbs of Boston to raise the money. Stubbs got a group of guys together, and they were very tough guys indeed. The Hucksters' Union—you've heard of them? And the Mafia, because Stubbs looks like an old Boston Club, all colonels and professors, but in fact it's got a lot of Mafia money behind it. So this was all set up. There was a pile of money behind it anyhow, but the Mafia were interested in more than that; they had their eyes on this island less than two hundred miles from the States, with a government they thought they could push around. They'd have had a law-proof depot for their drugs trade. And they'd have set up Hog's Cay like Vegas ten times over. Then I happened along, sort of. I hit it off with the President of the Southward Islands, who's a great guy, a real big man, only he keeps his head in the clouds so he doesn't see what's happening round his ankles. I sort of showed him, and he sacked half his government and gave me the concession. Right? Now these other guys are still there, and they're sore, and they're all set to lose a packet of money, so it's high odds they'll try to get back at me. I want to know what, so I got some friends together and set up a War Game ... ah, come on, you've heard of War Games ... It's like this: some government wants to guess what's going to happen next in the Middle East, for instance, so they get hold of a group of guys who know about this and that and they say to them now you're Egypt and you're Israel, and you're Palestine and you're Moscow and so on, and the guys play it like it was real. That's what we've been doing here. Right?"

Zoe nodded. Pibble wasn't quite sure how many of the actual words she'd understood, but Mr. Thanatos had focussed his moral energies into his explanation, and perhaps had rammed it home like that.

"So they are killink you?" she said, like a child who has got the sum right at last.

"Ah, crap!" shouted Mr. Thanatos, unfocusing and becoming once more a crackling mass of unrelated forces, like a thundercloud. "Let's hear your thinking, Dave."

Dave's great brow was furrowed with thought and worry.

"First," he said, "George is right that businessmen do not kill businessmen, but that's because they have nothing to gain by it. If Ford bumps off the head of General Motors, it does not result in Ford selling any more cars ..."

"Fewer," said Buck.

"But you're different. Your organisation is you, like Onassis is Onassis."

"And Howard Hughes is Howard Hughes," said Buck. "And look what happened to him a couple of years back."

"So George's point won't wash. Second, you've got a good hunch. We've all seen it working. And this time your hunch is they'll try something; we've been sweating all day to figure what, and they've got no options, only this."

"Third, another reason why businessmen don't murder businessmen is that they aren't equipped for it. They wouldn't know where to begin. But this lot aren't like that. The Hucksters aren't squeamish—they've settled some of their own policy disputes with a gun. And the Mafia still have the men."

"New Jersey is a long way away," said George.

"But Sicily's only just across the Adriatic," said Buck. "That Mafia is quite different," said George.

"They've been getting closer, haven't they, Jim?" said Buck.

"I believe so," said Pibble.

"What's your view, Jim?" said Thanatos. "Christ, I wish we had Hal Adamson here."

Pibble didn't wince at this reasonable wish.

"I agree with George, almost," he said. "I think it's incredible that they'd try anything of the sort. A hundred to one against, say. But it's still just worth thinking about, for that hundredth chance."

Thanatos snorted.

"We haven't heard from you, Doc," he said.

"It would work," said the negro in his church-organ bass. "The President told my cousin Onesiphorus 'You are Minister of Tourism, so get us an industry.' And now he and all my other cousins would be riding about in Rollses if you had not intervened. Your death would be popular with the Trotter clan. Our President is not a good judge of my cousins—there are better ones to be had. Some of them will be back in his government soon, and with you disposed of there will be no tourist industry unless they let these other people come back. With proper safeguards, naturally—proper unworkable safeguards."

He laughed.


Tony d'Agniello stirred uneasily before answering in her soft, slurred accents. "It's getting violent out there in the world," she said. "Rougher every year. More dead."

She spoke almost like a medium, as though another spirit were talking through her mask. The effect was chilling enough to make it difficult for the next person to break the curse-held silence.


Excerpted from The Lizard in the Cup by Peter Dickinson. Copyright © 1972 Peter Dickinson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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