When Jane's body is found, the chief suspect is her friend and lover, Moses Mundy. Chief Inspector Sam Rounder soon discovers that there is more to this murder than meets the eye. To make matters worse, his own brother, Rick, a private eye, has been hired to prove Moses' innocence.
About the Author
JULIAN COLE is an English journalist. The Amateur Historian was his first novel.
JULIAN COLE is an English journalist. He is the author of The Amateur Historian and Felicity's Gate.
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By Julian Cole
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Julian Cole
All rights reserved.
MOSES Mundy could not have picked a finer day for his life to fall apart. All the good years came to an end under a clear blue November sky. As he stood in the cemetery he could hear the leaves falling from the copper beech tree. These dead things crackled as they turned in the air. In his hand he carried a large square parcel; on his back a rucksack he had packed earlier. In the distance he could hear a siren and he knew they were coming for her. Moses stood before the gravestone and his fingers traced the familiar inscription as if he were reading Braille. He smiled at the name and heard her speaking it in everyday moments, asking him if he wanted tea, or to go for a drink; and he heard her cry out his name when passion was carrying her away. "God, Moses, you've worked out what to do at last."
He turned and walked beneath the high wall until he reached the padlocked gate. You could see the house from here. Craning his neck, he saw the attic skylight window. He liked to sit under that window and look over the serried gravestones, her half-completed paintings behind him. He loved the woman yet found her creativity unsettling. How could someone paint? Such mysteries were contained in the act of capturing something on paper. He never understood how she managed it. "That's because you're a big old ignoramus," she said, laughing, teasing, and putting a blob of paint on his nose.
The sirens were getting closer, so he turned away from the house and carried on. The sun picked out his profile, emphasising the large nose, the broad forehead and the shaved greying stubble of his head. There was stubble on his chin too, where once an impenetrable beard had grown, and a tear threaded through these rough facial hairs. He paused by her special spot and managed a smile. "Moses – someone will see. We can't have sex here." But they did, after he spread a blanket on the chilly night ground ("Like in that country song," she said, laughing, before pulling him down). As he walked, more quickly now, he saw her smile, saw her hand pushing back her strawberry-blonde hair with painted fingers. He saw her younger self and he saw her middle-aged self, a few grey hairs now, and he loved them both.
A ginger cat, not much more than a kitten, curled on the path in the sun. He didn't much like cats. His foot swung on a pendulum of rage, but the cat was quick, all sudden liquid motion, and flowed between the gravestones and up on to a garden fence.
Old instincts, long dormant but stirring, told him not to head the obvious way to the station. They would be looking for him. So he walked along the main road in the wrong direction until he found the unprepossessing street with a second-hand Volvo garage at the end. A path led to the Millennium Bridge, built to mark the occasion of its name, and vandalised soon afterwards. In the middle of the span he looked down at the River Ouse, its broad flow impervious to his or anybody else's problems. Then he headed back towards town on the opposite bank. People walked their dogs, jogged, cycled or wandered; didn't they know what had happened? He scowled at the sun-gilded river and the handsome houses on the opposite bank that stood tall and proud, even if their feet were nearly wet.
At the station he remembered the day when he got off the Edinburgh train on impulse, liking the look of York. He never got back on that train. Now the wary sensibilities were stirring, the watchfulness and the waiting. He had been out of the game for a long time. His new life had been so complete it had blocked out the past. He had moved on and remade himself. Now he would have to do it all over again.CHAPTER 2
THE body lay at the bottom of the stairs. The head was twisted cruelly and the back of the skull had been lethally indented by unkind application of a heavy object. The likely instrument of injury had not survived the assault and lay in pieces around the corpse, glittering in the pooled blood. From the fragments that remained, the murder weapon appeared to have been a heavy glass juicer designed to press into halved citrus fruit in order to squeeze out juice. This had fallen with the body and smashed on contact with the hall floor. Shafts of sunlight filtered through the stained glass panel above the door and decorated the body with coloured leaves of light. How many different types of glass, and how many different uses. The glass above the door had been artistically tinted and shaped into a design incorporating the house number and garden flowers. The glass used to make the juicer had been substantial enough to do its accredited job, and weighty enough for its illicit use. The handle remained intact, while the spindle curves designed to ease and force the flow of juice had smashed into pieces.
Detective chief inspector Sam Rounder recognised the juicer because his wife, if that's what she still was, had one at home. He guessed what it was from the bulbous handle. She bought it in a kitchen shop off Stonegate. It cost an exorbitant amount. She teased him about being a mean Yorkshire bastard. He said he took that as a compliment.
Sam recalled the conversation now as he navigated his bulk around the body. They rarely spoke and most of their conversations were repeats. He had gone for a pint after that discussion. She hadn't accompanied him although he had asked. You are getting fat, she said. All that beer. So what, he replied, like you care. He followed the first pint with another, then one more. When he went home to continue the argument she had gone out.
Sam stood and the white disposable one-piece overall made an irritating scratchy noise as it stretched over his stomach. He hated wearing these things. The other officers around him were similarly dressed, as were the forensic boys and girls. The over-crowded hall seemed like a final insult to the dead woman.
Sam had seen many bodies but never got used to it. He felt sad and revolted at what had been done. Now he would again have to go through the frankly knackering process of meeting a dead person. He would sift the minutiae of the dead woman's life and "ruffle about in her bloody knickers".
Sam set about exploring the house. It was a thrill of sorts to enter the sanctuary of another person, whatever the circumstances. Misfortune allowed him to exercise his curiosity. He felt his life was measured in misfortune, his own and that of other people. Was it a misfortune to have a wife intent on leaving him for a younger man? He supposed it was, although not of the same magnitude as having your head bashed in.
The stairs creaked under his weight. The house was nicely cared for, decorated in quiet good taste, with paintings hanging on the walls. He paused in front of a floral scene, executed in madly bright colours, with splashes of thick gold paint marking out the stems and rimming the petals. He absorbed the details, squinted in puzzlement, moved on. At the top of the stairs, a landing ran to the left and the right. He turned right and went through the only door in that direction. This gave access to a large back bedroom with a view over other houses and gardens. It appeared to be the main bedroom. Sam liked to have the first look. It let him take ownership of a crime scene. He liked to soak up the details, let the floating atoms of what had happened enter his skin. Sam tried to explain this to Rick once, in the days before his brother stopped being a proper copper and turned into a bloody private investigator. A look of astonishment surprised his brother's face, even though he tried to hide it.
"I'm not just some fat-arsed Yorkshire plod, you know," Sam said.
"I know." Rick's reply came a little too quickly.
There were two other bedrooms on this floor and neither seemed to be in regular use. Suitcases were stored in the smaller room, which faced the stairs, while the larger room at the front appeared to be for guests. It was neat and lacking in clutter. Sam parted the lace curtain and looked into the street. A black mortuary bag was being loaded into a van, and two squad cars were squashed on to the pavement. Neighbours gathered on the other side of the street in a congregation of nosiness. Some of them would soon be telling reporters this was a quiet street where "nothing like that" ever happened. Most places, in Sam's experience, were quiet until they weren't.
Another flight of stairs wound up to the top floor, and Sam puffed his way up, passing more paintings. These also depicted riotous garden scenes, with the stems burnished in gold. Sam peered at one and saw the initials JFW etched in gold in the bottom right-hand corner.
The room at the top assaulted his senses in a number of ways. It was such a jumble of industrious mess. Two skylight windows, one at the front of the house, the other at the back, admitted a rush of cleansing light. Blinking against the November sun, Sam let the room settle about him. The smell took him back years to primary school. This was a functional place, with a wooden floor and bare walls, one with a disused fireplace. A table was filled with pots, brushes, pencils, charcoal and filthy cloths. To the right of this there were two easels, standing back-to-back and each positioned to catch the light.
One easel held a painting in progress. Sam eased himself round to look. A frenzy of colour filled most of the canvas. Her work was almost done, the canvas more or less filled, and now it would remain undone. Sam squinted, trying to make it out. He was too close, he decided, and so he stepped back and leant against the doorframe. Distance helped and he saw that the painting depicted a border packed with competing colours. Tall grasses swayed, pink poppies smudged open, while abundant roses dipped heavy heads as their petals began to fall away. One departing petal was captured in the first slow curl of its descent. Sam was transported for a moment and almost swore he could hear bees, silly sod that he was.
Then he let out a great, tearing fart. "Better out than in." There was something disturbing about the painting in what it showed or in the way it captivated him. Paintings didn't usually mean much to him. He wasn't an arty sort, so why had assorted colours arranged on a canvas pulled him in so?
In the street outside, a diesel engine shook into life. The body was being driven away.
Sam squeezed by the table and caught a whiff of his own breath. He had only been in the attic for a few minutes and already he had contributed at least two unwelcome odours to its atmosphere. Still, that's what we are, human machines that eat, chew, digest and shit out the consequences. Sometimes he felt lost inside the person he had become, but everyone had to become someone, and this blunt fat man was what he projected to the world. This was the form he had taken. He sometimes thought about a diet, but never for long: counting calories was better suited to over-anxious women.
There was a small pot of gold ink on the table. Sam remembered the signature on the painting hanging by the stairs. This was what the artist had used to sign off her paintings. She had dipped a nib into this pot of liquid gold and put her three initials to her artwork in a final flourish, the tiny full stop after the 'W' indicating her work was done.
A collection of books stood at the end of the table, their spines cracked with use. He pulled out a book about Claude Monet, which fell open at a painting entitled Still-Life With Anemones. The corner of the page was turned over. Sam tried to return the book but it would not fit amid the others. He inserted his large hand into the small space it had occupied and pulled out a small leatherbound volume. He returned the Monet and examined his discovery.
The book was about the size of a thin paperback novel. He flicked through its pages and saw a blur of gold. He stopped and turned the pages again, slowly this time. It was a diary, written by hand, the letters neat and perfectly formed. He had never seen such immaculate writing, yet it was easier to look at than to read; all that gold did strange things to his eyes.
The first page was inscribed "February, 1987". What followed were words Sam would come to know intimately. He would live the dead woman's life again or at least part of it; he would resurrect her; and in his weakest moments he would almost fall in love with her. Sam closed the book. The diary was evidence, but he wanted to read what it had to say before anyone else saw it. He owed the dead woman that much. So he took the diary home and told no one. It was her secret and now it was his.
As he prepared to leave, Sam noticed a chair by the skylight window at the front of the house. The window was low enough so that a person sitting in the chair would be afforded a decent view of the cemetery, so long as they angled themselves some degrees to the right. An empty glass stood on the floor. Sam picked the glass up and sniffed it. The inside was coated with a film of stickiness. It smelt of whisky.
Chief inspector Sam Rounder later conveyed the official version of events at a press conference. He revealed that Jane F Wragge, an artist, of York, had been bludgeoned to death in an attack at her home close to York Cemetery. The police were extremely anxious to talk to Jane's partner, who had not been seen since the discovery of her body. Anyone who knew the whereabouts of Moses Mundy should contact them immediately. There was no mention of a diary.
Sam gathered his team about him, including his indispensable sidekicks Inspector Iain Anders and Sergeant Sallie Lane, and the cold bureaucracy of murder began. Phone calls were made, doors were knocked on, papers were read and sifted, samples taken, blood splatters stored. Everything about the dead woman became of interest, her friends, the twists and turns of her life, her likes and dislikes, and her art – it was all evidence.CHAPTER 3
SAM should have been proud of where he lived. Plenty of people would have been, and many visitors succumbed to property envy, sometimes thinking the elegant house and the overweight policeman seemed an odd fit. "You didn't know I had such good taste, did you?" Sam would say, or something similar, aware of the small hypocrisy: he had fancied a semi somewhere off Stockton Lane. The classy old town house had been Michelle's idea. Nagged him rotten about it, she had.
The sight from the gate could still catch Sam by surprise, as he looked along the path that wound up the long garden to the imposing front door, with windows on either side, an arrangement of elegant simplicity. The house was in a Georgian terrace that stood back from Huntington Road, a short distance from the centre of York. It was a very fine house, but now it seemed to stand in mockery of what he had become: overweight, middle-aged and cuckolded. This was the house of a successful man, not a fuck-up with furred arteries and a swelling belly.
Another path led down the long back garden to a garage with a room on top. It had slanting ceilings and a skylight window, a single bed, an armchair, an old television and a tiny kitchen. There was also a lavatory and a shower, tucked under the eaves. Self-sufficiency was his. This was where Sam retreated as he immersed himself in the story of Jane Wragge, as told in her diary beginning in February 1987. He began the first entry while sipping from a bottle of beer, squinting at the golden calligraphy. The diary looked beautiful, a regular work of art, but it wasn't easy to read and Sam was a slow reader at the best of times. Getting to know Jane was going to be a struggle.
HERE is the first entry in the diary of Jane F Wragge, immaculate in gold ...
THIS week I met a man at the cemetery. He calls himself Moses Mundy, if you can believe such a thing. He seems a strong man, quiet and solid. For some reason I fancy my future could lie with this man. And if he wants to lie with me, he certainly can. It has been a while. What was his name, the last one? I shall affect not to remember, even though I painted him. I have painted all of them. The sex with the last one was good, then it wasn't, and the conversation was never up to much. So good riddance to that member of the male species, and to his male member too (thank heavens no one else will ever encounter these ramblings).
Excerpted from Felicity's Gate by Julian Cole. Copyright © 2009 Julian Cole. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An unknown culprit kills artist Jane Wragge with a juicer in her home near York Cemetery. York Police Chief Inspector Sam Rounder, who has a weight problem that does not limit him from doing field work, leads the homicide investigation. The victim's lover Moses Mundy has vanished so instead of just being a person of interest, he is the prime suspect. Moses hires Sam's brother Rick a private investigator to look into the violent associates from his past who he believes killed Jane. Rick conceals his client from his sibling while Sam, estranged from his wife, begins to fall in love with Jane after reading her diary that he hid from his investigative team. With a nod to the Preminger movie Laura, Felicity's Gate is a fantastic whodunit that has the reader wondering what is going to happen next. Fast-paced, the siblings separately investigate the murder of Jane Wragge in which Rick looks at his client's previous associates while Sam depends on the dead woman's diary for clues. The climax is plausible and in fairness well done, but the end is not quite as powerful as the two paths getting there. Still readers will toast the Rounder brothers and want more of their cases from Julian Cole (see The Amateur Historian). Harriet Klausner
This is the second book in this series and it takes place in Yorkshire England. More of a character based series but the storylines are interesting also. Two brothers, one and ex-cop but now a PI and the other brother is still a cop. One brother in a crumbling marriage of twenty years the other in a fairly new relationship that is going okay. Needless to say they get in each others way a bit when trying to solve the crime of a painter who is murdered in her house. Enjoyed it.