Death Takes the Low Road
A novel of spies and suspense in Cold War Scotland from a Diamond Dagger–winning author known for deliveringimmensely satisfying thrillers” (Orlando Sentinel).
 
William Blake Hazlitt is in hiding on Scotland’s picturesque Isle of Skye, roughing it in a canvas tent and watching tourists from a distance through binoculars. His disappearance has not raised any alarms so far at the university where he works as an administrator. But Caroline Nevis, the young American student he’s been seeing, is growing more concerned about his sudden, mysterious vacation. Now she’s decided to investigate.
 
What Caroline doesn’t know is that Hazlitt has a secret—and that she’s not the only one looking for him. She is about to engage in a dangerous race with both British and Soviet agents . . .
 
“Reginald Hill’s stories must certainly be among the best now being written.” —The Times Literary Supplement
 
“One of the best mystery writers around today.” —Publishers Weekly
 
"1108332255"
Death Takes the Low Road
A novel of spies and suspense in Cold War Scotland from a Diamond Dagger–winning author known for deliveringimmensely satisfying thrillers” (Orlando Sentinel).
 
William Blake Hazlitt is in hiding on Scotland’s picturesque Isle of Skye, roughing it in a canvas tent and watching tourists from a distance through binoculars. His disappearance has not raised any alarms so far at the university where he works as an administrator. But Caroline Nevis, the young American student he’s been seeing, is growing more concerned about his sudden, mysterious vacation. Now she’s decided to investigate.
 
What Caroline doesn’t know is that Hazlitt has a secret—and that she’s not the only one looking for him. She is about to engage in a dangerous race with both British and Soviet agents . . .
 
“Reginald Hill’s stories must certainly be among the best now being written.” —The Times Literary Supplement
 
“One of the best mystery writers around today.” —Publishers Weekly
 
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Death Takes the Low Road

Death Takes the Low Road

by Reginald Hill
Death Takes the Low Road

Death Takes the Low Road

by Reginald Hill

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Overview

A novel of spies and suspense in Cold War Scotland from a Diamond Dagger–winning author known for deliveringimmensely satisfying thrillers” (Orlando Sentinel).
 
William Blake Hazlitt is in hiding on Scotland’s picturesque Isle of Skye, roughing it in a canvas tent and watching tourists from a distance through binoculars. His disappearance has not raised any alarms so far at the university where he works as an administrator. But Caroline Nevis, the young American student he’s been seeing, is growing more concerned about his sudden, mysterious vacation. Now she’s decided to investigate.
 
What Caroline doesn’t know is that Hazlitt has a secret—and that she’s not the only one looking for him. She is about to engage in a dangerous race with both British and Soviet agents . . .
 
“Reginald Hill’s stories must certainly be among the best now being written.” —The Times Literary Supplement
 
“One of the best mystery writers around today.” —Publishers Weekly
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504059718
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 12/17/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 188
Sales rank: 475,770
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Reginald Hill was an English crime writer and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He won the 1995 Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

It was a Tom and Jerry day. Clarity had gone beyond perspective. The mountains lay flat against the sky and their precise image hung bat-like in the unflawed mirror of Loch Coruisk. Colours were primary. The blues of sea and loch, the green of the grass, the brown of earth and stone, all had flowed direct from an MGM cartoonist's brush.

Hazlitt lay in his sun-warmed saucer of rock and felt content to be two-dimensional. In two dimensions trouble could just come from the sides and nothing was going to come at him over the Cuillins to the west or the Red Hills to the east. The beauty of Skye in any mood was a blessing. Today it was an earnest of divine benevolence and bliss eternal.

Perhaps it's going to be all right, mused Hazlitt. Perhaps they're all just going to forget about me, and after a couple of weeks I'll go back to the university and sit in my office and do my job and no one will even mention that I've been away.

He rolled over like a fat cat in the sun. It was a good image. A marmalade cat, with his gingery hair, thinning a little as he reached towards forty but with the present compensation of a golden stubble on lip and chin. A disguise? Hardly. Shaving was too tedious when you lived in a tent, that was all.

So. A marmalade cat. Short; a bit paunchy despite the Wednesday-night squash and the Sunday-morning twenty lengths of the swimming pool; lacking a cat's lithe grace of movement, except in the water, but with all its easy indolence, its built-in hedonism, its instinct for survival. Especially the instinct for survival.

A bead of sweat trickled off his forehead and smeared the left lens of his large round spectacles. It was even warmer than he had thought. He rubbed the glass clean with a khaki handkerchief and looked back longingly to the still, dark waters of the loch. But it would be a couple of hours before he could slide gratefully into its depths. A pair of cormorants winged silently a foot above the surface. Strange sinister birds: he could never recall seeing them rise any higher into the air.

He turned now and looked out to sea. Absolute calm. Blue modulated into green and all into the eerie nothing of a heat mist an immeasurable distance from the shore. Fifty yards? A mile? It didn't matter. Today was a Tom and Jerry day. Distance did not exist.

It was getting late. Perhaps something had happened. Perhaps the boat wouldn't come today. His heart leapt at the thought. Perhaps he could rise now and descend to the loch, wash the heat from his body, then return to his well-concealed tent and grow warm again.

The distant putter of an outboard motor disposed of the dream before it could take a hold. With a sigh he reached for his binoculars and scanned the sea for a glimpse of the boat which twice a day in good weather re-created the unwanted third dimension.

Now he saw it. Out of the heat mist it came, low in the water. No wonder it had been late; it was packed to capacity.

Carefully he scanned the passengers through the small battlements of loose rock he had built to protect himself as much as possible from a return scrutiny. The usual lot. Family groups mainly; he tried to read their backgrounds in their faces. An old couple. Retired businessman, perhaps. A younger couple in their thirties. Most of the five kids on the boat seemed to be theirs. Two middle-aged women. Schoolteachers, he felt sure. Had been taking their hols together for thirty years. Another young couple, gay in matching tartan shirts. Very affectionate. Honeymooners?

He felt lonely. They always made him feel lonely. Paradoxically, left to himself he never experienced loneliness.

But they were transient, ephemeral, unreal creatures. Here for an hour, then gone, leaving the fat marmalade cat to soak up his unique sun. He smiled at the thought, still moving slowly down the boat with his glasses. Then he stopped smiling.

Sitting in the thwarts next to the familiar figure of the weather-gnarled, whisky-cured old boatman was a man. He clearly did not belong with any of the family groups. Burly, impassive, he wore a light fawn raincoat and dark brown trilby despite the heat of the day. In his hands he held a pair of field glasses which he now raised and focussed on the shore.

His heart racing, Hazlitt slipped back into his saucer of rock. Even at this distance there was no doubt in his mind. He felt panic clawing at his guts.

It was still a Tom and Jerry day. But the colours and the heat and the light had helped him to forget for a few foolish moments that his was not the role of the cat basking in the sun.

He was Jerry, the mouse, and out there approaching nearer with every moment was the implacable hunter, Tom.

'I really can't see what all the fuss is about,' said the grey man mildly.

'He's a menace. He has to be stopped,' answered the young man.

'He's just frightened, that's all. Many "sleepers" react like this when you try to wake them. It's been nearly twenty years.'

'Twenty years of indulgence, materialism, hedonism. You should have spotted the signs.'

'They were part of the cover,' said the grey man shaking his head at his companion's naivety. 'What did you want him to do? Go around with a big banner saying I, William Blake Hazlitt, am still a good party member, despite all appearances to the contrary?'

The young man shook his head at this unbecoming levity.

'Control is very angry,' he said.

The grey man shrugged indifferently.

'Control is two thousand miles away,' he said. 'And it was Control's idea to wake Hazlitt with this assignment. For God's sake, what did they expect? After all these years as a university administrator, he's supposed to become James Bond overnight?'

'He was the man for the job.'

'Which he may yet perform. Give him time to think and he'll come back ready to co-operate fully.'

'You think so?' The young man was openly scornful.

'Meanwhile we do nothing, is that your answer? And if British Security get hold of him, what then?'

'He'll say nothing,' said the grey man.

'No. I'll see to that.'

The young man nodded vigorously as he spoke.

The grey man mustered all the authority at his disposal and said sternly:

'You will not forget to check with me before initiating any action.'

The young man laughed.

'My men have been at work for days now. I am expecting results very shortly. My kind of action rarely permits time for any checking.'

He left the room without a farewell. The grey man stared blankly at the open door. The young man had finally stepped into the open and challenged him. He should have foreseen it. His masters were extremely unsentimental men and whoever resolved this present situation with maximum dispatch and minimum fuss would receive their approval. The grey man had little doubt that his appraisal of the situation was correct. Left alone or even chivvied along a little, Hazlitt would return. But theories were no good unless proved. And the young man's solution would pre-empt proof.

He reached for the telephone. What little positive action he could take, he would take. But for the moment all he could hope for was that Hazlitt had some hidden talent for survival.

Hazlitt scrambled recklessly down the rock slope towards the loch. The sweat on his face was no longer just the result of the sun.

In the still air he could clearly hear the stutter of the outboard motor as the boat pulled away from the shore. Where it went now he was uncertain. To drop or check on the boatman's lobster pots, probably. But in an hour it would return to pick up the tourists and take them back to Elgol, delighted to have penetrated to regions untrodden by man — or at least by more than a few thousand trippers every summer.

The attraction of Loch Coruisk, apart from the natural beauty of the setting, was its inaccessibility by land. No roads came anywhere near. The mountains rose protectively on all sides except the seaward. Only the enthusiastic and experienced walker — or a man driven by a desperate need for seclusion — would make his way there on foot, following the turns of Glen Sligachan for many miles before taking to the high ground and laboriously climbing more than two thousand feet. Hazlitt remembered his sense of triumph and achievement when at last, stout Cortes-like, he had gazed down on the dark-shining length of the hidden loch.

At the moment only the stoutness remained. He had begun to feel quite fit after these few days of life in the open, but suddenly he was puffing like a donkey-engine as he trotted along the edge of the loch towards his tent, concealed in a fold of ground a couple of furlongs away.

Logic told him it was far from certain the man in the fawn raincoat was a Tom. Over the past few days he had convinced himself that (a) he wasn't important enough to he searched for and (b) he had covered his tracks so well that he was unfindable anyway. The daily routine of watching the trippers arrive was merely a time-filler. They would clamber over the rocky shelf from the sea until the loch came in view. Even those energetic enough to want to go further hardly had the time.

So why was he risking a cracked ankle or worse by rushing madly over this dangerous terrain? At the very worst Tom would just be investigating a report that a lone man was camping by Loch Coruisk.

Though if that was worth investigation they must have followed his laboriously concealed trail to Skye.

The thought made him accelerate and he did not slow down until he reached his tent. It was well situated from a camper's as well as a fugitive's view. He had always been a keen explorer of the Great Outdoors. But over the years his equally keen exploration of the Great Indoors had worked insidiously on his frame of mind and body, and since the age of thirty he had set up his base camps under hotel roofs, not canvas. But the gear had remained and the expertise was slowly returning.

Expertise was one thing, common sense was another, he thought, as he squatted down by the tent. He should have remained in his observation saucer, taken note of fawn-coated Tom's activities, watched him safely on to the boat. If anything had been spotted and remarked on by a party of climbers, say, or some native of the hills, it was likely to be his tent. Even a rough positioning would dramatically cut the odds against a searcher finding it in an hour.

No. Half an hour. He would have to leave time to get back and be picked up by the boat. He glanced at his watch. Amazingly twenty-five minutes had already passed since he saw the boat arrive.

He felt reassured, but it was better to be safe. With a sigh he rose to his feet again and moved off uphill to the right. He knew the terrain well and now he was no longer in a panic, he moved with sure-footed ease till he reached his secondary observation point. He lay down in the heather and carefully wormed his way forward to the skyline. From here it was impossible to see the boat, but he had an excellent view of the rocky ridge which separated the loch from the sea and which was as far as most of the trippers penetrated.

Slowly he brought up the glasses. Most of those from the boat were visible. The children seemed to be enjoying their adventure. The girl in the tartan shirt sat talking to the old couple. She pointed upwards, probably to where her new husband had scrambled in an excess of virility. Hazlitt moved his glasses in search of him but stopped as different and more rewarding prey was trapped by the lens.

Tom, ludicrous in his raincoat and hat, was sitting uncomfortably on a boulder, making what seemed like a systematic sweep round the loch through his field glasses. When they swivelled in his direction Hazlitt buried his face in the heather and counted slowly to a hundred before looking once more.

In the next fifteen minutes the routine was repeated four times. Then, blessedly, one of the children spotted the returning boat and at their differing speeds they all moved out of sight down the seaward side of the ridge.

Tom was last to go. He stood up slowly, as though his muscles had stiffened, half-turned, then unexpectedly brought the glasses up once again and for a split second seemed to focus directly on Hazlitt's hiding place.

Hazlitt pressed his face so violently into the heather that his nose struck rock and the bridge was grazed. When he looked again it was a soothing sight to see Tom's head and shoulders outlined momentarily against the royal blue sky before he too dropped out of view towards the sea and the boat.

Hazlitt gave it another ten minutes till the stuttering of the motor had faded completely away.

He rolled over on his back and smiled at the sky. Perhaps his instinct had been wrong. Perhaps there had been no danger.

No. The road of complacency was the road to disaster. He would have to make plans to move. But not just now. Loch Coruisk was his until the afternoon boat brought another pack of tourists. He rose and made his way in pleasurable anticipation down past his tent to the water's edge. The sun was at its zenith. It was gloriously hot, had been hot ever since he arrived. From his previous experience of Skye, he knew such weather was almost unprecedented. It certainly couldn't last, but while it did ... Quickly he stripped off. The first time he had braved the chilly waters he had with absurd coyness changed behind a towel into his swimming shorts. But now his buttocks, though still paler than his legs and torso, were no longer the absurd pink outcrops they had been.

Carefully he placed his spectacles in his left boot. Even his eyesight seemed better in this splendid air, he thought.

A deep breath. And with that impetuosity which arises from either complete lack of fear or pure terror he flung himself into the water.

He swam strongly out into the loch, then floated happily on his back for a few minutes, before returning to the bank with an easy back-stroke.

As he pulled himself out of the water, he felt something was wrong. The source of this feeling was easy to trace. Where there had been two boots there were now four.

Two of them were occupied by the young man in the bright tartan shirt.

His right hand was also occupied — by a small but efficient-looking pistol.

'Did no one ever tell you,' he said, 'how dangerous it is to swim alone?'

CHAPTER 2

Professor James Nevis, OBE, DSO, MC (Bar), looked at the body in the water with some slight stirrings of distress.

His whole upbringing told him that it was positively indecent for a sixty-year-old man with grey hair and a hernia to enjoy the lightly covered contours of his twenty-five-year-old niece as he was doing at this moment. It was almost incestuous. But he could hardly ask her to start wearing voluminous gowns whenever he was around. Particularly not to swim in.

He hadn't really wanted a twenty-five-by-ten swimming pool in his back garden, but the house had been ideal and it had seemed silly to fill the damn' thing in. Besides, it had helped his image with the younger men in the faculty, who, despite their proletarian sympathies, always proved very keen to sample both his excellent wine and his chlorined water.

But he had not foreseen that his younger brother, domiciled in America for nearly thirty years, would have fathered such an attractive girl. Nor that she would have chosen the University of Lincoln as the place to complete her higher education. Nor that the English climate could have produced sunshine of such tropical intensity for so long.

Caroline Nevis opened her eyes and smiled up at him.

'Hi, James,' she said. The 'uncle' had been dropped by mutual consent soon after her arrival the previous October. Lazily, she paddled her hands in the water so that the air-bed on which she lay moved to the pool's edge.

'The post's here,' said Nevis, holding up an envelope. 'Your mother's handwriting.'

Caroline pushed herself upright, nearly lost her balance, but managed to steady herself with her legs astraddle the air-bed. Nevis found the change of position did not help.

'Thanks,' said the girl, taking the letter. 'Nothing from Bill?'

'No. I'm afraid not. He must be enjoying his holiday too much,' said Nevis neutrally. Caroline grinned at him. She knew he felt that his brother and sister-in-law might be a little piqued if she got into some sort of emotional tangle while under his roof. Particularly with a short, plump, balding, thirty-eight-year-old university Deputy Registrar.

She opened her letter and read it, amused as always by her mother's stilted, formal style. Her father, who had lived in America since 1946 and been an American citizen since 1950, always wrote with a breezy, chatty, unpunctuated casualness quite unlike his normal speech. But her mother, fourth-generation Californian, who moved in a flood of talk as overwhelming and as unstructured as Niagara, had been 'taught' correct letter-writing at an impressionable age and never got out of the habit.

'All well?' asked Nevis.

'Sure,' said Caroline. 'She's still talking about coming over.'

'And your father?' 'You know Daddy. He doesn't want to know about Europe.'

'Each to his taste,' said Nevis neutrally.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Death Takes the Low Road"
by .
Copyright © 1974 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/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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