Finalist for a 2015 Arthur Ellis Award
Finalist for the 2015 Kobo Emerging Writers Award
The head of the Canadian High Commission’s trade section is found brutally clubbed and stabbed to death in the Official Residence in London, England. Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Inspector Stephen Hay is called in to investigate, while Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Liz Forsyth is dispatched from Ottawa. There are a number of suspects from the diplomatic community: the High Commissioner and his beautiful wife, the smarmy head of the political section, the charming military attaché, the high-strung Deputy High Commissioner, and a deeply troubled engagements secretary. After a second murder, the case takes a turn and radical environmentalist Dr. Julian Cox becomes a suspect.A Quiet Kill is the first in a new mystery series featuring Forsyth and Hay. Paired up for the first time, the two investigators must overcome insecurities and suspicions as they find themselves wading into the murky waters of the diplomatic community and navigating through a melee of international conspiracy, nationalism, and murder.
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About the Author
Before taking to crime writing, Janet Brons worked as a foreign affairs consultant following a seventeen-year career in the Canadian foreign service with postings in Kuala Lumpur, Warsaw, and Moscow. She has also been a researcher in the Alberta Legislature and at the House of Commons. Janet holds a master of arts in political science and international relations.
Read an Excerpt
A Quiet Kill: Chapter One
It was Mary Kellick who first stumbled upon the grisly scene. Of course it had to be Marytense, anxious Marywho was first to see the waxen corpse. She had heard somewhereor had she read it?that there was a great deal of blood in a body, and now she saw it was true. There was blood everywheregallons, she thoughtseeping into the thick white carpet.
Questioned by the police, she could remember only the blood. “Nothing there,” commented Detective Chief Inspector Hay following the interview, to no one in particular. Not that it mattered. The experts had been on the scene quickly enough with their cameras, plastic bags, and paper envelopes. The corpse was that of a woman in her mid-forties. Her throat had been slashed, and she lay gaping at the ceiling with dark, vacant eyes. She had been identified by Sergeant Roy Carpenter, the High Commission’s junior liaison officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The venue was curious and troubling. The Official Residence of the Canadian High Commissioner in London was an unexpected site for violent crime. The body had been found in an anteroom off the main dining hall. The anteroom was richly appointed but too small to accommodate the entire investigation team at once. While the first few experts got to work, the rest of the team waited impatiently in the dining room, which was enormous and flanked by expensive oil paintings. It had space, thought Hay, for some forty well-heeled diners.
Mary Kellick, the High Commissioner’s engagements secretary, had been unable to identify the victim. She said that she had been doing her usual nightly rounds, somewhere between nine and nine-thirty, when she came across the body. There had been no official function that nightthe High Commissioner and his wife were in Scotlandor her rounds would have begun later. No, Kellick had heard nothing at all beforehand. She had been in her small apartment, which was adjacent to the Residence, and Hay allowed her to return there at the end of their talk.
Mary Kellick sat at her kitchen table. She stared at the cheery blue and white checks on the tablecloth, purchased when French country had been in vogue. All the magazines and lifestyle programs had pronounced, “Accented with yellow, this look is reminiscent of a lovely summer’s day in Provence.” Instead, it was a drizzling night in London, and Mary felt nauseous. She had been horrified by the sight of the body in the anteroom and all that blood. All that blood matted in the poor woman’s long auburn hair?.?.?.?Mary started violently. It had to be Natalie. It was Natalie Guévin, the head of the High Commission’s trade section, who was lying on the anteroom floor. She had been virtually unrecognizable. Mary suddenly realized that she was trembling uncontrollably and very, very cold.
RCMP Sergeant Roy Carpenter stood officiously just inside the anteroom, monitoring the comings and goings of the forensics team and documenting the removal of the various exhibits. He thought that the Deputy High Commissioner, Paul Rochon, had made a mistake inviting the British cops to the Residence so quickly. Carpenter knew that Rochon had contacted High Commissioner Carruthers, who was on holiday in Edinburgh, and that the decision had been made jointly.
But a special detachment of the RCMP was being dispatched from Ottawa. Surely the crime scene could have waited. It was, after all, technically on Canadian soilsomething called extraterritoriality. He wondered randomly whether Rochon might just have been squeamish about the body remaining on the premises any longer than absolutely necessary.
Carpenter, a tall, fit officer who prided himself on his daily ten-mile runs, was rather distrustful of the diminutive, narrow-shouldered Rochon with his pasty face. Rochon always made Carpenter a bit uncomfortableand Carpenter’s own discomfort made him feel, in turn, a bit guilty. He always found it strange to see the cadaverous Rochon, with his long, nervous fingers and that weak chinwhy didn’t the man at least grow a beard?riding around in the official vehicle with the flag waving whenever the High Commissioner went back to Canada or otherwise left the UK. But Rochon was, after all, the number two, and that was just how it worked.
Although he believed he had a strong stomachhe had been in Bosnia, hadn’t he?Carpenter was content to busy himself by asking questions of the forensics team and taking notes. The state of the corpse was appalling. Anyway, he needed to be in a position to report fully to his own people when they arrived from Ottawa. Sergeant Carpenter stopped one of the junior police officers who was exiting the anteroom, and demanded to know what was in the plastic bag.
The few Residence staff who still “lived in” had been summarily roused from their evening rituals. A matched set of constables had woken the butler / part-time chauffeur from an early night’s sleep; disturbed the chief cook from a televised football match; and, apparently, interrupted a somewhat flustered maid in her bath. All three expressed shock and disbelief over the murder, which was not surprising to the pair of young constables, both of whom believed themselves to have heard it all before.
Annie Mallett, the maid, was both horrified and thrilled by the events. She dried herself thoroughly, dressed quickly, and applied her makeupcomplete with Violet Vixen lipstick. This could be an exciting night. She very much hoped that the chief inspector would look like that lovely Inspector Morse on television. Maybe she would be asked to look at the body. They might assign security guards to all their rooms. The newspapers might even want to interview her. The possibilities were endless.
Head Chef Luciano Alfredo Carillo was not pleased. Eight years in some of the finest cooking schools in Europe, executive chef in a top Swiss hotel, and now stuck working for these Canadians with their pedestrian palates. He had thought it would look good on his CV, but it had been a boring and frustrating couple of years. He sometimes wondered whether he was losing his passion for food as he wasted his talents on burgers and bran muffins for the Ambassador and his snob of a wife. Cooking for diplomatic functions was almost as bad: this one wouldn’t eat pork, that one wouldn’t eat beef, she was a vegetarian, he was allergic to shellfish?.?.?.?no wonder he felt his creativity being sapped.
Tonight, however, with an absent High Commissioner and no functions to worry about, he had been enjoying the football match, which Manchester United was winning handily, and his bottle of Cabernet. Well, it wasn’t his bottle exactly as it had originally been part of the High Commission stores, but Luciano Alfredo Carillo felt entitled to the odd liberty. And now he was being dragged out for some murder. As he pulled on his sweater, he suddenly had an unwelcome thought: was this murder perhaps a poisoning? He very much hoped not.
Anthony Thistlethwaite knotted his tie. He had been awakened from a delicious early-evening sleep by a knock on the door and two officious young constables announcing a murder. Well, well, he pondered, in service in the Residence for thirty years and I thought I’d seen everything. Especially that cross-dressing fruitcake they sent here as High Commissioner a few years back. Kept complaining about the closet space. Or the time when that Kellick made a mess of the dinner invitations and twenty dignitaries, dressed to the nines, arrived at the Residence a week early. Now this. Well, well.
The young constables reported back to Chief Inspector Hay that Mallett, Carillo, and Thistlethwaite were assembled and ready to be interviewed. “Tell Carpenter, will you?” said Hay. “He will want to be in on the interviews.”
“He’s a bit of a nosey parker, that one,” muttered Constable Brent to his colleague.
Hay stiffened and raised his eyebrows. “A nosey parker you think, do you? This is technically Canadian soil. We are here at the invitation of the High Commission. You had best remember that.”
Like many very tall men, Hay was imposing at the best of times, but when annoyed he could be positively intimidating. At least that was the young constable’s opinion at the moment.
“Yes, sir. And, er, the Deputy High Commissioner should be arriving shortly. And,” he repeated, trying to redeem himself, “we have collected the household staff for interviews. Sir.” The last was uttered in a hopeful tone that served only to annoy Hay further.
“Bully for you,” grumbled Hay as he strode back to the anteroom. “And Brent,” he said, turning in mid-stride, “get Carpenter a cup of tea.”
Deputy High Commissioner Paul Rochon sped toward the Official Residence, blinded by the reflection of oncoming headlights through the rain. He glanced at the gas gauge, remembering with annoyance that he was running low. He had meant to fill up the following morning, but then he could hardly have anticipated a murder at the Residence. It had been Carpenter, the RCMP liaison, who had called him at home, although it seemed that poor Mary Kellick had discovered the body. Smart kid, Mary, if terribly sensitive. Apparently she had been an excellent engagements secretary at one time but had become increasingly anxious and high strung in recent years. Sometimes she seemed nervous almost to the point of paralysis.
Paul’s thoughts reverted to the matter at hand. He had contacted the High Commissioner at his hotel in Edinburgh without difficulty; the relief that he had experienced at hearing his boss’s voice had been almost physical. Not that he was unaccustomed to making decisions and dealing with emergencies, but this was something altogether different. It was likely to become very complicated. Paul wondered vaguely if there was any precedent to such an event but doubted it very much. He was pleased to follow Wesley Carruthers’s advice: phone the London Criminal Investigation Department, alert the Operations Centre in Ottawa, and request an RCMP team from Canada. Get to the High Commission. Alert the program heads. No press.
The High Commissioner had a cool head in a crisis. It had been a political appointment, as was usually the case in London, and Rochon had been prepared to dislike the newly minted High Commissioner Carruthers on sight. But the astute youngish former cabinet minister (Justice, wasn’t it, followed by Environment?) made a surprisingly adept head of mission. Even Rochon, who had climbed steadily if not brilliantly through the ranks of the foreign service, had to admit that Carruthers possessed some excellent qualities, including a few not normally in the skill set of the average foreign service officer. For one, the High Commissioner got along remarkably well with the press and wasn’t intimidated by them. As a former politician, he seemed to have accepted the credo that no publicity was bad publicityexcept, at least for the moment, under the present circumstances. Many in the professional service, including Rochon, preferred to remain in the background and do their jobs with little or no fanfare. To have your name even mentioned in the press was not only embarrassing but often also a CLMa “career-limiting move.”
High Commissioner Carruthers also had a disarming way of making even complete strangers feel genuinely comfortable in his presence. He was generally very well-liked in the diplomatic community and, almost as important, by his own staff. His wife, of course, was another story. Sharon Carruthers seemed to take great pride in rubbing people the wrong way. Rochon wondered idly if she had any friends at all, then swerved quickly as a pedestrian appeared out of the darkness.
He turned the windshield wipers to full speed, and his thoughts turned to his earlier conversation with the Operations Centre in Ottawa. Some wittering old fool asking if Paul thought the deputy minister should be disturbed in Vancouver even for such news; after all, the DM was accompanying the minister at a very important conference, you know, and he hates to be bothered, especially for bad news?.?.?.?Rochon had hung up in frustration, leaving the old boy to his breakdown. Felt a bit bad about it now, of course, but honestly, if these are the guys you’re supposed to call in a crisis?.?.?.
This chief inspector did not look at all like Morse, thought Annie Mallett, sorely disappointed. He was very tall, with a thin face and a hawkish nose. Annie thought that he seemed somewhat sad. Quite a good head of white hair, though, so that was something.
She sat primly if somewhat uncomfortably at the dining room table, kitty-corner to Hay, who was seated at the head. Annie had dusted and polished this table often enough, but never before had she been seated there. She found the experience somewhat unsettling.
This end of the table had become something of an impromptu interview room. Already papers were littered about, and a junior constable had fetched coffee from down the street. The chief inspector, Annie noted, took his black, no sugar. A young detective sergeant was seated across from her with a small book, ready to take notes. He was much better-looking than the chief inspector. If only she were thirty years younger, she thought with a small sigh.
She had been very surprised to learn that the victim was Natalie Guévin. There had been nothing at all mysterious about Natalie, nor had she even been particularly beautifulwell, at least not in a traffic-stopping sort of way. A rather unremarkable woman, Annie reckoned, to be killed in a fit of romantic passion or perhaps murdered as a pawn in a game of international espionage?.?.?.
“So, Miss Mallett,” the chief inspector broke into Annie’s ruminations, “my name is Hay. I realize this is all rather upsetting. But can you tell me exactly where you were late this afternoon and this evening?” Hay leaned back, longing for a cigarette. The proliferation of stern No Smoking signs throughout the dining room served as an effective deterrent. He had understood from somewhere that Canadians in general were fanatical about not smoking. Anyway, he was situated close enough to the crime scene that he would run the risk of charges of contaminating evidence. Later, perhaps. He studied the peculiar-looking Annie Mallett, who had taken the time to apply a full makeup and might have spent the evening backcombing a mass of orange hair. She was staring intently at him and had adopted a jarringly coquettish manner.
Annie smoothed her skirt and thought very hard. “Well,” she began, “after work, at three o’clock, I took the number four bus to the shops, didn’t I? There’s lots of good pre-Christmas sales on now, your wife might like to know,” she said coyly. “I bought a bra”here she coughed prettily“and some sausage rolls from Marks & Spencer, didn’t I? The cashier knows meshe can verify that,” added Annie in a confidential tone.
Hay nodded, sighing inwardly. It was going to be a long night.
By the time the household staff was finished being interviewed, Hay had observed a good deal of the curious workings of a frustrated housemaid’s mind, been subject to the sulks and tempers of an apparently unappreciated culinary artiste, and been treated by the butler-cum-chauffeur to a healthy dose of interesting but largely extraneous diplomatic gossip. He had learned little that was useful, except that all the live-ins claimed to have heard nothing at all unusual that evening. Hay found this peculiar. The living quarters were not all that far removed from the dining room, and the acoustics, in there at least, caused sound to echo and bounce alarmingly.
Three High Commission guards, two Canadians and a Scot, were interviewed, as was Sergeant Carpenter. The guards had neither seen nor heard anything unusual. It had been a relatively routine evening, except for the unusually high percentage of staff working late, doubtless due to the forthcoming visit of the Canadian foreign minister. No, staff departure times had not been logged: they never were. Arrivals and departures of visitors, however, were carefully monitored.
According to the guards, Mary Kellick had run shrieking into the guards’ station at 9:25 pm. One of the guards had found her some brandy in the Canadian Club downstairs, which calmed her a little. The others immediately proceeded to investigate and secure the scene, and one had contacted Sergeant Carpenter at his home at 9:28. He, in turn, had alerted the Deputy High Commissioner, Paul Rochon. Carpenter corroborated the sequence of events, adding that he believed Rochon to have then contacted the High Commissioner in Scotland as well as Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
Running his hands through his thick hair, Hay heartily wished that police work were nearly as exciting as Annie Mallett seemed to think it was. He signaled that he would see the acting High Commissioner now. The small, nervous-looking man had been standing by the entrance for some time. Paul Rochon was deathly white over what Hay assumed to be a normal pallor. He wore thick spectacles and, with trembling hands, gratefully accepted a cup of coffee.
Rochon told the chief inspector of his earlier conversation with the High Commissioner and of the actions he had taken. Hay inquired as to when the RCMP team was expected on the ground. “With any luck, sir, later this morning.” Hay realized with a start that it was already well past midnight. “Not, I mean,” continued Rochon, “that we don’t trust your lot. It’s just that it is the High Commission, and?.?.?.?the deceased?.?.?.?is?.?.?.?or was, er, Canadian. You know.”
“Yes, of course,” agreed Hay, although privately he didn’t really agree at all.
This was the High Commission, but it was still in London, so surely that gave him some sort of jurisdiction? He was not clear on the diplomatic niceties, despite his earlier upbraiding of Constable Brent, and decided to tread carefully. Anyway, it might be amusing to work with the Mounties for a while. Hay continued, “And you have been apprised of the identity of the victim?”