by Tim Heald

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After a boozy Oxford reunion, Bognor is distressed to learn one of his classmates is a killer
Nothing depresses Simon Bognor like a university reunion. Every pimply-faced boy he knew two decades prior has made something of himself, while Bognor languishes at the Board of Trade, muddling along in an investigatory position for which he is hideously unqualified. Although more often than not his job requires catching murderers, he lacks even the observational powers to notice when the head of his old college has been poisoned. Both quite drunk, they totter off to their respective beds. Bognor makes it, but the master doesn’t—he collapses dead at the top of the stairs. Due to the dead man’s ties to the government, Bognor is asked to sort out who did him in. At long last he has the opportunity to prove himself at his old college—but Bognor knows it is just as likely that he will end up in the dunce’s cap.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480463097
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Series: The Simon Bognor Mysteries , #7
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 168
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Tim Heald (b. 1944) is a journalist and author of mysteries. Born in Dorchester, England, he studied modern history at Oxford before becoming a reporter and columnist for the Sunday Times. He began writing novels in the early 1970s, starting with Unbecoming Habits (1973), which introduced Simon Bognor, a defiantly lazy investigator for the British Board of Trade. Heald followed Bognor through nine more novels, including Murder at Moose Jaw (1981) and Business Unusual (1989) before taking a two-decade break from the series, which returned in 2011 with Death in the Opening Chapter.

Heald has further distinguished himself with official biographies of Prince Philip and Princess Margaret, as well as accounts of sporting heroes like cricket legends Denis Compton and Brian Johnston. He is also an experienced public speaker. Heald’s forthcoming novel, Yet Another Death in Venice (2014), is the latest in the Bognor chronicles.
Tim Heald (b. 1944) is a journalist and author of mysteries. Born in Dorchester, England, he studied modern history at Oxford before becoming a reporter and columnist for the Sunday Times. He began writing novels in the early 1970s, starting with Unbecoming Habits (1973), which introduced Simon Bognor, a defiantly lazy investigator for the British Board of Trade. Heald followed Bognor through nine more novels, including Murder at Moose Jaw (1981) and Business Unusual (1989) before taking a two-decade break from the series, which returned in 2011 with Death in the Opening Chapter.
Heald has further distinguished himself with official biographies of Prince Philip and Princess Margaret, as well as accounts of sporting heroes like cricket legends Denis Compton and Brian Johnston. He is also an experienced public speaker. Heald’s forthcoming novel, Yet Another Death in Venice (2014), is the latest in the Bognor chronicles. 

Read an Excerpt


A Simon Bognor Mystery

By Tim Heald


Copyright © 1982 Tim Heald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6309-7


Bognor was awoken by bells. He had forgotten what a bell-ridden city Oxford was. He had similar trouble with Venice. 'Bloody bells,' he muttered and, raising his head slightly, he removed the pillow and buried his head underneath it. The bells were now muffled but they were still disturbing. Bognor cursed them again and put out an arm, seeking the consolation of his wife Monica. She was not there. He sighed, sat up, letting the pillow fall to the floor, and, very tentatively, opened an eye, shutting it again immediately. He was not ready to have light thrown upon his situation which was, he was beginning to realize, hung-over in the extreme. The furry sensation in his mouth and throat told him that he had been over-indulging in drink and tobacco. This was confirmed by the ache behind the eyes. He scratched his scalp and attempted to coax the memory into some form of action. It stalled a couple of times but at the third try he was able to recall a little of the night before. Of course. The gaudy. He had adjourned with his old colleagues from Mitten's tutorial group. The port had run out. They had gone to Mitten's rooms in the Pantry Quad. The Master had been there too. And that extraordinarily attractive new English don. Hermione something. Clacton? Southend? Margate? No, none of that was right, but it was a place somewhere down there. Frinton, that was it. He remembered Mitten introducing them. 'Bognor and Frinton,' he had said in that affected aristocratic drawl of his. 'Well, you two ought to have lots in common, eh? Ha! Ha!' He was the only person Bognor had ever met who, when intending to convey the idea of laughter, actually said, 'Ha! Ha!' – two separate words, clearly articulated, rather as if he had been taught to laugh by some do-it-yourself manual for foreign students.

'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!' With a supreme effort Bognor forced both eyes open and let them slowly traverse the room. It was a newish bed-sitter, on the site of what had once been a damp, draughty, Victorian tower full of Bognor's memories. There was the obligatory poster of Che in his beret and of Monroe with fluorescent lips and, he was depressed to see, even of 'girl in tennis dress scratching bottom'. An Apocrypha undergraduate ought to be able to manage a little more originality than that. It was a bit like having flying ducks or that green woman painted by the Russian whose name he could never remember. The one you saw in Woolies. He looked at his watch: nine-fifteen. Better put in an appearance at breakfast. That insufferable Crutwell would have been out for his ghastly jog by now. Edgware too, in all probability. They'd both be looking pink and scrubbed and young for their age and generally disgusting. The trouble with this reunion was that it was making him feel a failure. He was a failure – he knew that – but this reminded him of the fact all too forcibly. Not only was he a failure, he looked like one alongside all these budding success stories.

He swung his legs out, touched the floor with his toes and tried standing. Not a good idea. He sat down again and passed a palm over his jowls. All his problems stemmed from university. It was that absurd interview with the Appointments Board which had got him into the Board of Trade in the first place, since when he had been stuck. Codes, ciphers, red tape and occasional excursions into what was euphemistically described as 'the field'.

He had had his moments, he supposed. Parkinson had even mentioned the possibility of an MBE recently, though he had resisted all Bognor's requests for a transfer to some other branch of Whitehall. Monica was urging him with increasing fervour to 'get out while there's still time', but nothing happened. He made a few half-hearted inquiries and even went to one (very depressing) job interview at some multi-national. It came, of course, to nothing. Secretly Bognor knew that he had left it too late and that he was doomed to the Board of Trade for life. He could eventually take early retirement and live on his index-linked pension. A depressing future stretched ahead, a depressing past lay behind, and a depressing present enveloped him. It was all made much worse by the Apocrypha gaudy and renewed acquaintance with his contemporaries.

Outside, the bells ceased. He stood again and staggered over to the washbasin where he recoiled sharply from the reflection which leered back at him from the mirror. Thank the Lord it wasn't a full-length one. He scratched his stomach and realized that it was sagging flabbily over the cord of his pyjamas. They were the same pyjamas he had had when he was at Oxford twenty years ago. They didn't make them like that any more – stout, striped flannel pyjamas designed to last a lifetime. The manufacturers had not, however, bargained on Bognor's increasing girth. It was rather sad to find oneself growing out of one's pyjamas. He frowned into the mirror and told himself brusquely not to be so wet. Life was just beginning. Couple of aspirin, a shave and a brisk clean of the teeth and he'd be a new man. He remembered Crutwell and Edgware and their fitness mania. For a second he even contemplated the idea of a press-up, but the thought passed quickly. Too late to start that sort of thing now.

When he reached Hall he found that, as he had feared, his friends were already heavily involved with a hearty breakfast. Even Sebastian Vole, Associate Professor of Modern History at Prendergast in Vermont, was chomping cornflakes and he was reputed to come alive only at noon. There was a chorus of 'Morning', 'Hello, Simon' and 'Sleep well, old boy?' Bognor replied with an all-embracing grin and poured himself a cup of coffee. A scout offered him cereal and he declined.

'Bacon and egg, sir?'

Bognor suppressed a keen desire to retch. 'Thanks, no,' he said. 'I'm not really much of a one for breakfast.'

'You never showed up for your run,' called Ian Edgware. 'It was fabulous out on Port Meadow. All river mist and lemon-coloured sun.' Edgware had always had a penchant for second-rate imagery. Bognor recalled his excruciating verses in some long-defunct literary magazine of their generation.

'Run?' he asked. 'What run?'

'You said you were coming for a run, you lazy sod,' said Peter Crutwell through a mouthful of toast and marmalade. 'Quite definite about it, you were. Said you never missed your morning mile.'

'I never.' Bognor flushed.

'You did, you know,' insisted Crutwell. He was a schoolmaster these days. Highly successful. A 'housebeak', as he insisted on calling himself, at Ampleside but not expected to stay much longer. He had been short-listed for the headmastership of Sherborne and Cranlingham and was said to be a virtual certainty for Fraffleigh. Five years there and he would walk into the top job at Eton, Harrow or Winchester and from there to an Oxbridge mastership, director-generalship of the IBA or some other glamorous, high-profile public office. Bognor could see it all.

'I'm afraid you did, actually,' agreed Vole, glancing up from his cornflakes. 'Port talking, but you did say you'd go running with them.'

'Oh.' Bognor frowned. He had not the slightest recollection of saying any such thing. He turned to Humphrey Rook for confirmation. Humphrey was at least losing his hair, which was some consolation. What remained was black and greasy and brushed straight back off the forehead. He also had a bit of a paunch, though his expensive banker's suiting made a passable fist of disguising it.

'My recollection,' said Rook, 'is that you were in two minds about whether to go running with Ian and Peter or come to Holy Communion with me. You were certainly going to do one or the other, conceivably both, but in the event it seems you did neither. You had a lie-in instead.' Rook, who had been a student Trot before such things became fashionable, was now a born-again C of E communicant and a Conservative parliamentary candidate.

'Nothing wrong with that,' said Vole, finishing off his bacon. 'I had a bit of a lie-in myself.'

'Only a bit of one,' said Edgware. 'Besides, I hear you were up till five, playing poker with Badman and Scrimgeour-Harris.'

'Five-fifteen, actually,' said Vole, smiling smugly.

'Well, there you are then,' said Edgware with an air of triumph.

'Where?' asked Crutwell.

Bognor poured himself another cup of coffee and wished to God they would all shut up. He had forgotten the incessant chatter which went with Oxford. Yak yak yak. How they adored the sound of their own voices. How he hated it. How his head hurt. How sick he felt. How much worse the coffee was making him. He wished Monica had packed AlkaSeltzer as well as aspirin.

'Do you mind if I join you?'

It was the Frinton woman. Bognor was in no condition to leap to his feet. Besides which, leaping to one's feet while sitting at an Apocrypha bench with your legs under an Apocrypha table is never easy. Instead, like his friends, he made a half-hearted gesture, a sort of half knees-bend, which Miss Frinton (Ms Frinton? wondered Bognor, Mrs Frinton?) waved away with genial contempt.

'Bad news, I'm afraid,' she said, sliding her legs across the bench and under the table. They were very long and slim, encased in tight, tailored jeans and thigh-length boots.

'Bad news?' asked Vole, blearily. 'Bad? Very bad? Or catastrophic?'

'It's the Master,' said Miss Frinton, who was actually entitled to be called Dr Frinton but countenanced no such thing from anyone except her bank manager and the occasional Leavisite. 'He's dead.'

There was a dramatic silence. For a second no one even swallowed.

'Did you say dead?' asked Bognor, at the end of this eloquently unspoken tribute to the late Lord Beckenham.

'Yes,' she said, 'dead.' She poured herself coffee. 'Scout found him when he went in with his morning tea. Sounds like heart. He'd had trouble with his ticker.'

'Had he ... I mean when exactly ...?' This from Crutwell.

'Never even got to bed,' said Hermione breezily. She had a strong-boned, equine quality which suggested she was not easily fazed, even by death. 'Struggled up the stairs, four sheets to the wind, and keeled over on the landing.'

'Not a bad way to go,' said Rook, smiling weakly. 'Funny, though, I thought he was on pretty good form last night.'

'What happens when a Master dies in office?' asked Edgware.

'What do you mean – happens?' Hermione Frinton put her head back slightly in order, so it seemed, to squint down her exaggeratedly long, though elegant, nose with an expression of some contempt.

Edgware shrugged. 'I mean, who takes over?'

'There'll be some sort of caretaker,' said Vole, who had gone rather white, 'until there's an election. It happened at Prendergast.'

'That's hardly a reliable precedent,' said Rook.

'Presumably the senior fellow caretakes,' said Bognor, 'or takes care.'

'No,' said Hermione Frinton. 'Not since they started the Vice-Master scheme. Nowadays he automatically takes over in a situation like this.'

'So who's Vice-Master?' Edgware seemed undiplomatically irritated.

'Waldegrave,' said Hermione. 'The job rotates. He's been Vice-Master for a week.'

'The Hon. Waldegrave Mitten, Master of Apocrypha,' said Rook. 'He'll like that.'

'Poor old Beckenham,' murmured Bognor, but no one paid any attention....

Bognor disliked Mondays as much as the next man, and after a weekend out of town they always came as a more than usually bloody surprise. He had driven back to London after breakfast, arriving just before noon at the flat, where he found Monica in bed with the Sunday papers. He was at first displeased by this but after a brief and, he felt, necessary show of pique he threw aside the Sunday papers and took their place. An hour or so later the newspapers were retrieved and, what with one thing and another, they never did get properly dressed, only leaving bed for long enough to cook and eat a couple of steaks and drink a bottle of Banda Azul. They then retreated to the bedroom with two glasses, a bottle of Rémy Martin and the television, for which Monica had recently bought a remote control device. In the end it was as pleasant a day as Bognor could remember. It quite restored his faith in life, which had waned considerably at the Apocrypha gaudy, and even his quite genuine affection, indeed, on occasion, lust and, yes, love for his accommodating spouse, which had been temporarily eclipsed by Dr Frinton, the new English don. He had become aware of her doctorate when passing the bottom of her staircase and seeing her name writ large in white paint on black. Dr Frinton did have everlasting legs and also a certain supercilious hauteur which, frankly, he fancied. He enjoyed dominating females, but now that he was home again he had to confess that he was pleased to be back in the bosom of his wife where he belonged. She was a thoroughly good sort, Monica. Not just a pretty face. Not even a pretty face come to that, though perhaps that was being unduly ungallant. She had her failings, God knew, but they had been together so long now that these were almost attractive.

Monday morning therefore came as a more than usually unpleasant douche. It began before breakfast with a telephone call.

'Only one man in the world makes a telephone ring like that.' Bognor winced. 'Can you answer it, darling?'

Monica entered the bedroom, brushing her teeth.

'Why should I?' she protested, foaming at the mouth. 'I don't want to talk to Parkinson and he doesn't want to talk to me.'

'Please.' Bognor pressed fingers to his temple. The Rioja and the Rémy, to say nothing of his wife, had been wonderful at the time but it meant a hangover two days running.

'I'll tell him you're in conference,' she hissed.

'Don't be ridiculous. He'll know I'm here and refusing to talk to him.'

Monica spat into her toothmug. 'All right. I'll tell him you're here and you refuse to talk to him.'

'Right,' Bognor said viciously. 'You say just that. I'm fed up with him pestering me at all hours of the day and night.' He turned over and pulled the blankets over his head. Then, as Monica picked up the receiver and the ringing ceased, he hurriedly emerged again and grabbed the telephone from her before she could utter.

'Yes,' he answered thickly.

'Bognor?' He grimaced. Right as usual. The Scotch terrier yap of his immediate superior was what he had expected, and it was what he was now hearing. It whined aggressively at him from the earpiece, causing him to start and hold the receiver away from his head for a few moments until he judged it safe to bring it back to closer proximity.

'There's no need to shout,' he said. 'Yes. Bognor here. At your disposal. What can I do for you?'

'Truly, Bognor, you are a remarkable phenomenon. Death dogs your footsteps, wouldn't you say, in a manner of speaking?'

Bognor glanced up at his wife and made circling gestures with his unoccupied index finger, then followed these with further gestures intended to convey the notion of drinking. He was badly in need of some coffee. Monica made one of her 'Oh, for heaven's sake get it yourself faces, but retired in the direction of the kitchen, presumably to grind beans.

'I'm sorry,' Bognor said into the telephone, 'I'm not sure I've got your drift.'

'Am I not correct in thinking that you attended the gaudy of your old college on Saturday night?'


'And, further, that the college in question is Apocrypha, Oxford?'


'And that the Master of Apocrypha is ... was ... Lord Beckenham of Penge?'

'Oh, I see. Yes. Lord Beckenham passed away after dinner. But he was seventy-one. And he'd had a dicky ticker. A heart condition. He could have gone any time. My presence was entirely coincidental.'

'I wish I could agree, Bognor.'

Bognor frowned. In the middle distance he could hear the sound of beans being ground. 'What are you driving at?' he asked.

'You tell me Lord Beckenham died from a heart attack?'

'That's what I was told.'

'Well, I have news for you, Bognor. My information is that the post-mortem shows otherwise. Your old Master was murdered.'

'Oh, really.' Bognor was quite peeved. 'Someone's been having you on. They haven't had time for a post-mortem yet.'

'Arranged through the good offices of the Fellow in Clinical Pathology.'

'I see.' Bognor was inclined to say this when stalling for time. He did not see, and Parkinson knew that he did not see. It was a convention.


Excerpted from Masterstroke by Tim Heald. Copyright © 1982 Tim Heald. 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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