When a woman is found with a bloody gash on her scalp and a plastic bag over her head, there’s no question that she was murdered. But Det. Inspector Luke Thanet, a veteran homicide investigator whose cases have carried him across the sprawling Kentish countryside, is about to discover a mystery far more shocking than anything he’s encountered before.
The victim is Perdita Master, an artist with a terminally ill mother and a husband who threatened violence when she demanded a divorce. The husband is the natural suspect, but as Thanet and his partner, the dogged Sgt. Mike Lineham, dig into the case, they will discover a tantalizing connection to a powerful local barrister—and a secret that many people might have killed for.
Charming, stylish, and endlessly absorbing, the CWA Silver Dagger–winning Luke Thanet mysteries are some of the best English police procedurals ever written.
Doomed to Die is the 10th book in the Inspector Thanet Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Dorothy Simpson (b. 1933) was born and raised in South Wales, and went to Bristol University, where she studied modern languages before moving to Kent, the setting for her Inspector Thanet Mysteries. After spending several years at home with her three children, she trained as a marriage guidance counselor and subsequently worked as one for thirteen years before writing her first novel. Says Simpson, “You may think that marriage guidance counselor to crime writer is rather a peculiar career move, but although I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, the training I received was the best possible preparation for writing detective novels. Murder mysteries are all about relationships which go disastrously wrong, and the insights I gained into what makes people tick, into their interaction and motivations, have been absolutely invaluable to DI Thanet, my series character, as have the interviewing skills I acquired during my years of counseling.”
Read an Excerpt
Doomed to Die
An Inspector Thanet Mystery
By Dorothy Simpson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Dorothy Simpson
All rights reserved.
On the evening of the day Bridget left home Thanet took Joan to the cinema. He hoped that the distraction would help him to forget that image of the train pulling away from the station platform, taking his beloved daughter out of his life. But it was no good, throughout the film the sense of loss remained, a dull persistent ache lurking at the back of his mind, ready to ambush him whenever he allowed his guard to slip.
One of the advantages of living in the small Kentish town of Sturrenden is that everywhere is within easy walking distance, and the Thanets had decided to leave their car at home. Outside it was a crisp, dry autumn evening with a hint of frost in the air. Joan shivered and turned up her collar, then glanced up at Thanet and took his arm.
'Come on, darling. Cheer up. She'll be home again at Christmas.'
Bridget had for many years been set on a career in cookery and now, at the age of eighteen, had left for a year's cordon bleu and housekeeping course at a well-known cookery school on the far side of London.
Thanet gave a shamefaced grin. 'I know. Stupid, isn't it? We spend all these years equipping them for independence and then when they finally achieve it we're sorry we succeeded! No, I don't mean that, you know I don't.'
Joan squeezed his arm. 'I know.'
'It's just that the break seems so final, somehow.'
'Not final in the true sense of the word. But I know what you mean. There is a sense of finality about it because it's the end of an era, isn't it? And however pleased we might be for her, because she's doing what she's always wanted to do, we can't help feeling sad for ourselves because our lives have lost a dimension.'
'That's it, exactly!' said Thanet. He sighed. 'Time seems to go so quickly. One minute they're toddlers, underfoot all the time, the next they've gone.'
Joan gave his arm a little shake. 'Come on, cheer up. It'll be another four years before Ben goes to university.'
'If he gets in.'
'My goodness, you are gloomy tonight! Of course he'll get in! He's unusually bright, he's working hard ...'
The ache had eased a little and Thanet was able to leave the subject alone. They walked on in companionable silence, their footsteps echoing through the quiet streets as they passed the familiar squares of lighted windows behind which people were eating, sleeping, watching television, arguing or sharing jokes in the rich emotional chaos that is family life.
Ben heard the key in the front door and came to meet them.
'Sergeant Pater rang. Said it was urgent. I told him you'd ring back.'
The Station Officer. And at this time of night ... In a flash the last vestiges of Thanet's depression had vanished as the familiar tingle of excitement pricked at his scalp. 'Right, thanks.' He went straight to the phone.
Joan pulled a face and headed for the kitchen. 'We all know what that means.'
Thanet dialled. 'Bill? Sorry, I've only just got in. What's up?'
'Report of a suspicious death, sir. Timed at 9.40 p.m.'
Thanet glanced at his watch. Ten-twenty. Someone should have reported in from the scene by now. 'Heard anything more?'
'Victim's a woman in her thirties. Looks like murder. Scalp wound and plastic bag over the head.'
'Right. What's the address?'
'Barnewell Oast, Melton.'
Pater's tone made Thanet pause. Melton is a couple of miles out of Sturrenden, on the Cranbrook road. And of course, Barnewell Oast was where Mrs Broxton lived!
Vanessa Broxton was a barrister, known to many of the police at Sturrenden because of her work for the Crown Prosecution Service. Hence that note in Pater's voice. Thanet had himself worked with her on a number of occasions. She was in her late thirties, able and ambitious; he had been surprised when, a couple of years ago, she had started a family, and unsurprised when she had been back in Court a short time after the baby was born. This year she had taken another brief break to have a second child. Presumably Mrs Broxton herself was not the victim or Pater would have said so.
'I see. Mrs Broxton's place. Who rang in?'
'She did, sir.'
'She all right?'
'Sounded a bit shaken, naturally, who wouldn't be?'
'I'll get out there as soon as I can. Everyone else organised?'
'Yes, sir. Sergeant Lineham is already there and Doc Mallard is on his way. So are the SOCOs.'
'Good. Got any directions?'
Thanet scribbled them down as Pater talked. When he put the phone down Joan was holding out a Thermos flask. 'You'll be needing this.'
He kissed her. 'Thanks, love. Don't wait up.'
With so little traffic about it took only ten minutes to drive to Melton, a few minutes longer to find the Broxton house. Barnewell Farm and the converted Oast which had originally belonged to it stood in a quiet lane on the outskirts of the village. The two houses were about a hundred yards apart, the boundary between them delineated by a row of young silver birches. Thanet recognised Lineham's Ford Escort and the police surgeon's cherished old Rover among the cars already parked in the wide gravelled drive. Mrs Broxton's distinctive red Scimitar was presumably in the garage.
He got out of his car and stood for a few moments taking in the geography of the place. Over to his right, behind the delicate tracery of the birches, he could see the lights of the farmhouse and, at an upper window, the motionless silhouette of someone watching the police activity next door. A potentially useful witness?
Ahead of him the twin cones of the oast houses, linked by a barn, peaked against the sky. The lower roofs of a series of smaller farm buildings attached to them extended left and then forwards in an L shape. The one nearest to him, he noticed, had triple garage doors, but the rest had obviously been incorporated into the house.
As he crossed the drive, feet crunching on the gravel, the front door opened and Lineham came out with the uniformed constable who had been on duty there when Thanet drove in.
'Ah, there you are, sir. Packham came to tell me you'd arrived. The doorbell doesn't work.'
'Hullo, Mike. What's the story?'
'Don't suppose I know much more than you, yet. You know it's Mrs Broxton's house?'
'Yes. Pater told me.'
'She's pretty upset, of course, so I thought it best to leave questioning her until you arrived. A WPC is with her.'
'Has her doctor been sent for?'
'Yes. He was out on a call but he'll be along as soon as he can.' Lineham turned to lead the way inside.
Thanet nodded a greeting to Packham as they went by. 'I gather it was Mrs Broxton who found the body, Mike?'
'Yes. It's her nanny who's been killed.'
Thanet looked at him sharply. 'The children all right?'
Lineham nodded. 'Fast asleep, upstairs.'
'And it looks like murder.'
'Not much doubt about it, I'd say. Well, you'll see for yourself.'
Thanet paused, ostensibly in order to look around, but really to give himself a moment or two to brace himself for the ordeal ahead. Even after all these years he still could not face the prospect of that first sight of a corpse with equanimity. Somehow he always managed to conceal the complicated jumble of emotions which invariably assailed him – pity, anger, horror, sadness, but he had never managed to come to terms with the way this particular experience affected him, or to understand why he felt the way he did. And in this case, well, scalp wounds in particular could be messy, very messy ... He forced himself to take in his surroundings.
This was presumably the barn which linked the twin oasts. He was standing in a spacious entrance hall which soared two storeys high right up into the exposed roof timbers. On the floor of polished stone flags oriental rugs created pools of glowing colour, and handsome pieces of antique oak stood here and there against the creamy walls. To the right a wide staircase of polished oak boards led up to a galleried landing.
'Impressive, isn't it?' said Lineham admiringly.
Thanet gave an inward smile. He could guess what was coming.
'But then, we knew they couldn't be short of a penny.'
Guy Broxton was a successful businessman and the Broxtons' combined income must indeed be substantial.
Thanet concealed his amusement with difficulty. Confront Lineham with any house bigger than a semi and his reaction was always the same.
'We're not here to study the Broxtons' life-style, Mike. Which way?'
Lineham gestured. 'In the kitchen.'
The diversion had helped and Thanet followed the sergeant along a short corridor leading off the hall on the right, as ready as he was ever likely to be for what was coming.
Lineham pushed open a door. 'In here.'
This was the ground floor of one of the oast houses and unusual in that it was an oval not a circular oast. In the days when home-brewed beer had been the norm and every sizeable farm had its own oast house, this was where the hops would have been dried. The kitchen, which had been built into it following the curves of the walls, was every woman's dream, of a type familiar to Thanet from the illustrations in Joan's favourite magazine: custom-made wooden units, a green Aga cooker set into a deep chimneybreast of mellow brick, glass-fronted wall cupboards containing an attractive array of china and glass, a floor of polished terracotta tiles, a central pine table and chairs and an old pine dresser displaying a carefully designed clutter of plates and jugs. Cream linen curtains patterned with sprays of wild flowers hung at both windows. The activity in the room was a shocking contrast to what Thanet imagined to be its normal atmosphere of warmth, light and decorative richness. The Scenes-of-Crime team was busy taking samples and photographs and Doc Mallard, bald head gleaming, was kneeling beside the body, which was huddled on the floor beyond the far corner of the table on the same side of the room as the Aga.
Thanet approached. 'Hullo, Doc.'
Mallard glanced up over the top of his gold-rimmed half-moon spectacles. 'Careful, floor's slippery. Spilt milk. Better come round the other way.'
Glad of the momentary delay Thanet paused to inspect the pool of milky liquid and the small saucepan lying on the floor against the base of the wooden units before walking around the table and approaching the body from the far side. He steeled himself, looked.
For a flicker of time he couldn't make sense of what he saw. In his dread of this moment he had temporarily forgotten the plastic bag which Pater had mentioned, and the unnatural sheen of blood-smeared plastic encasing the woman's head caught him unawares. Then his brain reassimilated the information and he saw that she was lying on her side, her face partly obscured by the mass of curly fair hair which had fallen across her cheek. She was small and slender, neat buttocks encased in tight green corduroy trousers stained now by the voiding of the rectum common in cases of suffocation, her tiny feet encased in fashionable brown suede laced ankle boots. Her knitted jacket was a glorious kaleidoscope of greens, browns, creams and near-black neutrals. If he hadn't already been told that she was in her thirties, from what he could see of her he would have guessed that she was much younger, even in her teens, perhaps. The richest years of her life should have lain ahead.
Thanet welcomed the familiar surge of anger, the anger which invariably spurred him on and gave an edge to his determination to succeed in each new murder investigation. No one, under any circumstances, had the right to deprive another human being of the most precious gift of all, life.
Mallard put a hand on the floor to heave himself up. 'We could turn her over now, if you like. I didn't want to move her until you'd seen her.'
Thanet glanced at Trace, the SOCO sergeant. 'Got all the photographs you need?'
'Yes, sir. Sir ...'
'The back door. I thought you'd like to know. It's unlocked.'
'Is it, now? Interesting. Thanks.' Thanet studied the position of the body for a moment longer, then glanced at Lineham. 'Give me a hand, Mike.'
Together they bent down and gently rolled the woman over. Her bulging eyes stared sightlessly up at them, her congested features further distorted by the plastic. Her trousers were spattered with the spilt milk, Thanet noticed, the heel and side of one boot still wet with it. He stood back while Mallard continued his examination and tried to work out what had happened. Careful not to touch he bent to inspect the corner of the kitchen table nearest to her. It was smeared with blood. He pointed it out to Lineham.
'There must've been a quarrel,' said the sergeant, 'in the course of which the saucepan of milk was knocked over. She stepped back, slipped in the greasy liquid and fell, banging her head on the corner of the table. Then someone decided to put the bag over her head and finish her off.'
'Looks like it,' agreed Thanet. 'What d'you think, Doc?'
'That's your department,' said Mallard, levering himself to his feet again. 'We'll know more after the PM, of course, but on the face of it, yes, the fact that the head wound bled so much indicates that she was alive when she hit her head, and it would seem pretty obvious that she was then suffocated.'
'When did it happen, d'you think?'
'I was waiting for that one.' Mallard glanced at the Aga. 'It's warm in here, so it's tricky.' He considered. 'You know how I hate committing myself at this stage but, well, say within the last four hours, to be on the safe side.'
Thanet glanced at his watch. Ten-fifty-five. Some time between 7 and 9.40, then, when Mrs Broxton had rung in.
Mallard snapped his bag shut. 'Right, well, I think that's about it for the moment. I'll let you know when we fix the PM.' He held up a hand as Thanet opened his mouth. 'Don't bother to say it. Yes, it will be as soon as possible.'
Thanet grinned. 'Thanks, Doc.'
'Bridget gone yet?' asked Mallard, as Thanet escorted him to his car.
Helen Mallard, his wife, was a professional writer of cookery books and had for a number of years encouraged Bridget in her choice of career. She and Bridget regularly met to dream up new dishes and it was through Helen that Bridget had first landed a commission to write a children's cookery column in the Kent Messenger.
Thanet grimaced. 'Saw her off this morning.'
'Helen will miss her.'
'So will we! Oh, give Helen our congratulations, by the way. I saw her latest book in Hatchards in Maidstone this week. Eat Yourself To Life. Good title.'
'We thought so. I'll tell her. Thanks.'
After several attempts the Rover's engine coughed into life.
'You never know,' said Thanet through the car window, 'if it makes enough money you might even be able to afford a new car.'
Mallard was always having to put up with good-natured teasing on the subject of his car.
Mallard switched his lights on and engaged first gear with a flourish. He raised his chin in pretended affront. 'I will ignore that remark, or this could be the end of a beautiful friendship.'
Thanet gave the Rover an affectionate pat as it went by and stood for a moment smiling indulgently at its vanishing tail-lights. He had known Mallard since childhood and he and Joan had always been fond of him, had remained loyal friends during the bad years after the lingering death of Mallard's first wife from cancer. The tetchy, irritable, scruffy Mallard of those days was virtually unrecognisable in the spruce, buoyant man he had become since he met and married Helen, and Thanet never ceased to marvel at the transformation.
Back in the house there was a lot to do. Briskly he issued instructions, sending the solid, reassuring Bentley, accompanied by a WPC, to interview the owner of the silhouetted figure glimpsed at that upstairs window in the farmhouse next door, in case it turned out to be a woman living alone. He hoped it would. Solitary women often took a lively interest in the affairs of their neighbours.
Finally he turned to Lineham. 'Right then, Mike. Let's go and see what Mrs Broxton has to tell us.'CHAPTER 2
Vanessa Broxton was huddled miserably in a corner of one of the deep, soft sofas in the drawing room, feet tucked up beneath her, discarded shoes on the floor. WPC Barnes, who had been keeping her company, stood up as Thanet and Lineham entered the room.
'D'you want me to stay, sir?' she asked quietly.
Mrs Broxton glanced up. 'Hullo, Inspector Thanet, Sergeant Lineham.' She grimaced. 'I never thought we'd be meeting under these circumstances.'
'No. May we ...?'
'Yes, of course.'
She swung her legs to the floor, tugging the hem of her skirt down, and slipped her shoes on.
Excerpted from Doomed to Die by Dorothy Simpson. Copyright © 1991 Dorothy Simpson. 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.
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