From the New York Times bestselling author of Sleeping in the Ground comes this brilliantly nuanced short story collection of twenty stories—most never before published in the US, and one of them an Edgar winner—which also features three Inspector Banks tales.
Peter Robinson pens thrilling tales rich with keen observations, pitch perfect dialogue, and shocking plot twists that have fascinated readers all over the world and made him one of the greatest suspense novelists alive. His acclaimed novels featuring Detective Inspector Alan Banks rank among the most celebrated police procedural series in modern fiction. In Not Safe After Dark and Other Stories, Robinson showcases once again his extraordinary talents with a collection of twenty stories, including three featuring Inspector Banks.
In “Going Back”, Inspector Banks’ trip to celebrate his parents’ Golden Anniversary reveals how evil can wear many disguises. In the Edgar Award-winning “Missing in Action”, the disappearance of a young boy in the early days of WWII sparks a mob mentality with chilling results. “Innocence” captures the desperate plight of a man trapped by a set of coincidences that derail his life and lead him down a path he was destined to travel. The title story, Not Safe After Dark, is an exhilarating tale with a sudden conclusion that will leave readers’ hearts pounding.
Not Safe After Dark and Other Stories deftly explores the darkest edges of humanity in which everyday people must commit desperate acts as they face fear, temptation, and impulses too irresistible to control.
“American readers who know Robinson only through his nine Inspector Banks novels are in for a treat. . . . The finish throughout is faultless.”—Kirkus Reviews
Publisher's note: Peter Robinson is both a widely acclaimed and internationally bestselling novelist and an Edgar-winning author of short stories. This special edition of Not Safe After Dark collects 20 of his finest short stories -- previously published in different editions under the same title, but never before available in its entirety in the US. The new Not Safe After Dark is a publication to be celebrated by Robinson fans and newcomers alike.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
One of the world’s most popular and acclaimed writers, Peter Robinson is the bestselling, award-winning author of the Inspector Banks series; he has also written two short-story collections and three standalone novels, which combined have sold more than ten million copies around the world. Among his many honors and prizes are the Edgar Award, the CWA (UK) Dagger in the Library Award, and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. He divides his time between Toronto and England.
Read an Excerpt
The idea for this story came in a dream, but I still had quite a lot of work to do before it was finished. In the course of my research, I discovered how easy it was to find out about and acquire poisons. A self-appointed feminist critic in one of my classes once complained about the "unflattering portrayal of a female character" in this story. She's right. The men are pretty much a waste of space, too.
The letter arrived one sunny Thursday morning in August, along with a Visa bill and a royalty statement. Dennis Quilley carried the mail out to the deck of his Beaches home, stopping by the kitchen on the way to pour himself a gin and tonic. He had already been writing for three hours straight, and he felt he deserved a drink.
First he looked at the amount of the royalty cheque, then he put aside the Visa bill and picked up the letter carefully, as if he were a forensic expert investigating it for prints. Postmarked Toronto, and dated four days earlier, it was addressed in a small, precise hand and looked as if it had been written with a fine-nibbed calligraphic pen. But the postal code was different; that had been hurriedly scrawled in with a ball-point. Whoever it was, Quilley thought, had probably got his name from the telephone directory and had then looked up the code in the post office just before mailing.
Pleased with his deductions, Quilley opened the letter. Written in the same neat and mannered hand as the address, it said:
Dear Mr Quilley,
Please forgive me for writing to you at home like this. I know you must be very busy, and it is inexcusable of me to intrude on your valuable time. Believe me, I would not do so if I could think of any other way.
I have been a great fan of your work for many years now. As a collector of mysteries, too, I also have first editions of all your books. From what I have read, I know you are a clever man, and, I hope, just the man to help me with my problem.
For the past twenty years, my wife has been making my life a misery. I put up with her for the sake of the children, but now they have all gone to live their own lives. I have asked her for a divorce, but she just laughed in my face. I have decided, finally, that the only way out is to kill her, and that is why I am seeking your advice.
You may think this is insane of me, especially saying it in a letter, but it is just a measure of my desperation. I would quite understand it if you went straight to the police, and I am sure they would find me and punish me. Believe me, I've thought about it. Even that would be preferable to the misery I must suffer day after day.
If you can find it in your heart to help a devoted fan in his hour of need, please meet me on the roof lounge of the Park Plaza Hotel on Wednesday, August 19 at two p.m. I have taken the afternoon off work and will wait longer if for any reason you are delayed. Don't worry, I will recognize you easily from your photo on the dust-jacket of your books.
Yours, in hope,
The letter slipped from Quilley's hand. He couldn't believe what he'd just read. He was a mystery writer--he specialized in devising ingenious murders--but for someone to assume that he did the same in real life was absurd. Could it be a practical joke?
He picked up the letter and read through it again. The man's whining tone and cliched style seemed sincere enough, and the more Quilley thought about it, the more certain he became that none of his friends was sick enough to play such a joke.
Assuming that it was real, then, what should he do? His impulse was to crumple up the letter and throw it away. But should he go to the police? No. That would be a waste of time. The real police were a terribly dull and literal-minded lot. They would probably think he was seeking publicity.
He found that he had screwed up the sheet of paper in his fist, and he was just about to toss it aside when he changed his mind. Wasn't there another option? Go. Go and meet the man. Find out more about him. Find out if he were genuine. Surely there would be no obligation in that? All he had to do was turn up at the Park Plaza at the appointed time and see what happened.
Quilley's life was fine--no troublesome woman to torment him, plenty of money (mostly from American sales), a beautiful lake-side cottage near Huntsville, a modicum of fame, the esteem of his peers--but it had been rather boring of late. Here was an opportunity for adventure of a kind. Besides, he might get a story idea out of the meeting. Why not go and see?
He finished his drink and smoothed the letter on his knee. He had to smile at that last bit. No doubt the man would recognize him from his book-jacket photo, but it was an old one and had been retouched in the first place. His cheeks had filled out a bit since then, and his thinning hair had acquired a sprinkling of grey. Still, he thought, he was a handsome man for fifty: handsome, clever and successful.
Smiling, he picked up both letter and envelope and went back to the kitchen in search of matches. There must be no evidence.
* * *
Over the next few days, Quilley hardly gave a thought to the mysterious letter. As usual in summer, he divided his time between writing in Toronto, where he found the city worked as a stimulus, and weekends at the cottage. There, he walked in the woods, chatted to locals in the lodge, swam in the clear lake and idled around getting a tan. Evenings, he would open a bottle of Chardonnay, reread P.G. Wodehouse and listen to Bach. It was an ideal life: quiet, solitary, independent.
When Wednesday came, though, he drove downtown, parked in the multi-storey at Cumberland and Avenue Road, then walked to the Park Plaza. It was another hot day. The tourists were out in force across Bloor Street by the Royal Ontario Museum, many of them Americans from Buffalo, Rochester or Detroit: the men in loud checked shirts photographing everything in sight, their wives in tight shorts looking tired and thirsty.
Quilley took the elevator up to the nineteenth floor and wandered through the bar, an olde-worlde place with deep armchairs and framed reproductions of old Colonial scenes on the walls. It was busier than usual, and even though the windows were open, the smoke bothered him. He walked out onto the roof lounge and scanned the faces. Within moments he noticed someone looking his way. The man paused for just a split-second, perhaps to translate the dust jacket photo into reality, then beckoned Quilley over with raised eyebrows and a twitch of the head.
The man rose to shake hands, then sat down again, glancing around to make sure nobody had paid the two of them undue attention. He was short and thin, with sandy hair and a pale grey complexion, as if he had just come out of hospital. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and had a habit of rolling his tongue around in his mouth when he wasn't talking.
"First of all, Mr Quilley," the man said, raising his glass, "may I say how honoured I am to meet you." He spoke with a pronounced English accent.
Quilley inclined his head. "I'm flattered, Mr ... er ...?"
"Peplow, Frank Peplow."
"Yes ... Mr Peplow. But I must admit I'm puzzled by your letter."
A waiter in a burgundy jacket came over to take Quilley's order. He asked for an Amstel.
Peplow paused until the waiter was out of earshot: "Puzzled?"
"What I mean is," Quilley went on, struggling for the right words, "whether you were serious or not, whether you really do want to--"
Peplow leaned forward. Behind the lenses, his pale blue eyes looked sane enough. "I assure you, Mr Quilley, that I was, that I am entirely serious. That woman is ruining my life and I can't allow it to go on any longer."
Speaking about her brought little spots of red to his cheeks. Quilley held his hand up: "All right, I believe you. I suppose you realize I should have gone to the police?"
"But you didn't."
"I could have. They might be here, watching us."
Peplow shook his head. "Mr Quilley, if you won't help, I'd even welcome prison. Don't think I haven't realized that I might get caught, that no murder is perfect. All I want is a chance. It's worth the risk."
The waiter returned with Quilley's drink, and they both sat in silence until he had gone. Quilley was intrigued by this drab man sitting opposite him, a man who obviously didn't even have the imagination to dream up his own murder plot. "What do you want from me?" he asked.
"I have no right to ask anything of you, I understand that," Peplow said. "I have absolutely nothing to offer in return. I'm not rich. I have no savings. I suppose all I want really is advice, encouragement."
"If I were to help," Quilley said. "If I were to help, then I'd do nothing more than offer advice. Is that clear?"
Peplow nodded. "Does that mean you will?"
"If I can."
And so Dennis Quilley found himself helping to plot the murder of a woman he'd never met with a man he didn't even particularly like. Later, when he analyzed his reasons for playing along, he realized that that was exactly what he had been doing--playing. It had been a game, a cerebral puzzle, just like thinking up a plot for a book, and he never, at first, gave a thought to real murder, real blood, real death.
Peplow took a handkerchief from his top pocket and wiped the thin film of sweat from his brow. "You don't know how happy this makes me, Mr Quilley. At last, I have a chance. My life hasn't amounted to much, and I don't suppose it ever will. But at least I might find some peace and quiet in my final years. I'm not a well man." He placed one hand solemnly over his chest. "Ticker. Not fair, is it? I've never smoked, I hardly drink, and I'm only fifty-three. But the doctor has promised me a few years yet if I live right. All I want is to be left alone with my books and my garden."
"Tell me about your wife," Quilley prompted.
Peplow's expression darkened. "She's a cruel and selfish woman," he said. "And she's messy, she never does anything around the place. Too busy watching those damn soap-operas on television day and night. She cares about nothing but her own comfort, and she never overlooks an opportunity to nag me or taunt me. If I try to escape to my collection, she mocks me and calls me dull and boring. I'm not even safe from her in my garden. I realize I have no imagination, Mr Quilley, and perhaps even less courage, but even a man like me deserves some peace in his life, don't you think?"
Quilley had to admit that the woman really did sound awful--worse than any he had known, and he had met some shrews in his time. He had never had much use for women, except for occasional sex in his younger days. Even that had become sordid, and now he stayed away from them as much as possible. He found, as he listened, that he could summon up remarkable sympathy for Peplow's position.
"What do you have in mind?" he asked.
"I don't really know. That's why I wrote to you. I was hoping you might be able to help with some ideas. Your books ... you seem to know so much."
"In my books," Quilley said, "the murderer always gets caught."
"Well, yes," said Peplow, "of course. But that's because the genre demands it, isn't it? I mean, your Inspector Baldry is much smarter than any real policeman. I'm sure if you'd made him a criminal, he would always get away."
There was no arguing with that, Quilley thought. "How do you want to do it?" he asked. "A domestic accident? Electric shock, say? Gadget in the bathtub? She must have a hair curler or a dryer?"
Peplow shook his head, eyes tightly closed. "Oh no," he whispered, "I couldn't. I couldn't do anything like that. No more than I could bear the sight of her blood."
"How's her health?"
"Unfortunately," said Peplow, "she seems obscenely robust."
"How old is she?"
"Any bad habits?"
"Mr Quilley, my wife has nothing but bad habits. The only thing she won't tolerate is drink, for some reason, and I don't think she has other men--though that's probably because nobody will have her."
"Does she smoke?"
"Like a chimney."
Quilley shuddered. "How long?"
"Ever since she was a teenager, I think. Before I met her."
"Does she exercise?"
"What about her weight, her diet?"
"Well, you might not call her fat, but you'd be generous in saying she was full-figured. She eats too much junk food. I've always said that. And eggs. She loves bacon and eggs for breakfast. And she's always stuffing herself with cream-cakes and tarts."
"Hmmm," said Quilley, taking a sip of Amstel. "She sounds like a prime candidate for a heart attack."
"But it's me who--" Peplow stopped as comprehension dawned. "I see. Yes, I see. You mean one could be induced?"
"Quite. Do you think you could manage that?"
"Well, I could if I didn't have to be there to watch. But I don't know how."
"I don't know anything about poison."
"Never mind. Give me a few days to look into it. I'll give you advice, remember, but that's as far as it goes."
Quilley smiled. "Good. Another beer?"
"No, I'd better not. She'll be able to smell this one on my breath and I'll be in for it already. I'd better go."
Quilley looked at his watch. Two-thirty. He could have done with another Amstel, but he didn't want to stay there by himself. Besides, at three it would be time to meet his agent at the Four Seasons, and there he would have the opportunity to drink as much as he wanted. To pass the time, he could browse in Book City. "Fine," he said, "I'll go down with you."
Outside on the hot, busy street, they shook hands and agreed to meet in a week's time on the back patio of the Madison Avenue Pub. It wouldn't do to be seen together twice in the same place.
Quilley stood on the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road among the camera-clicking tourists and watched Peplow walk off towards the St George subway station. Now that their meeting was over and the spell was broken, he wondered again what the hell he was doing helping this pathetic little man. It certainly wasn't altruism. Perhaps the challenge appealed to him; after all, people climb mountains just because they're there.
And then there was Peplow's mystery collection. There was just a chance that it might contain an item of great interest to Quilley, and that Peplow might be grateful enough to part with it.
Wondering how to approach the subject at their next meeting, Quilley wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and walked towards the bookshop.
* * *
Atropine, hyoscyamine, belladonna ... Quilley flipped through Dreisbach's Handbook of Poisoning one evening at the cottage. Poison seemed to have gone out of fashion these days, and he had only used it in one of his novels, about six years ago. That had been the old stand-by, cyanide, with its familiar smell of bitter almonds that he had so often read about but never experienced. The small black handbook had sat on his shelf gathering dust ever since.
Writing a book, of course, one could generally skip over the problems of acquiring the stuff--give the killer a job as a pharmacist or in a hospital dispensary, for example. In real life, getting one's hands on poison might prove more difficult.
So far, he had read through the sections on agricultural poisons, household hazards and medicinal poisons. The problem was that whatever Peplow used had to be easily available. Prescription drugs were out. Even if Peplow could persuade a doctor to give him barbiturates, for example, the prescription would be on record and any death in the household would be regarded as suspicious. Barbiturates wouldn't do, anyway, and nor would such common products as paint thinner, insecticides and weed killers--they didn't reproduce the symptoms of a heart attack.
Near the back of the book was a list of poisonous plants that shocked Quilley by its sheer length. He hadn't known just how much deadliness there was lurking in fields, gardens and woods. Rhubarb leaves contained oxalic acid, for example, and caused nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The bark, wood, leaves or seeds of the yew had a similar effect. Boxwood leaves and twigs caused convulsions; celandine could bring about a coma; hydrangeas contained cyanide; and laburnums brought on irregular pulse, delirium, twitching and unconsciousness. And so the list went on--lupins, mistletoe, sweet peas, rhododendron--a poisoner's delight. Even the beautiful poinsettia, which brightened up so many Toronto homes each Christmas, could cause gastroenteritis. Most of these plants were easy to get hold of, and in many cases the active ingredients could be extracted simply by soaking or boiling in water.
It wasn't long before Quilley found what he was looking for. Beside "Oleander", the note read, "See digitalis, 374." And there it was, set out in detail. Digitalis occurred in all parts of the common foxglove, which grew on waste ground and woodland slopes, and flowered from June to September. Acute poisoning would bring about death from ventricular fibrillation. No doctor would consider an autopsy if Peplow's wife appeared to die of a heart attack, given her habits, especially if Peplow fed her a few smaller doses first to establish the symptoms.
Quilley set aside the book. It was already dark outside, and the downpour that the humid, cloudy day had been promising had just begun Rain slapped against the asphalt roof-tiles, gurgled down the drainpipe and pattered on the leaves of the overhanging trees. In the background it hissed as it fell on the lake. Distant flashes of lightning and deep rumblings of thunder warned of the coming storm.
Happy with his solitude and his cleverness, Quilley linked his hands behind his head and leaned back in the chair. Out back, he heard the rustling of a small animal making its way through the undergrowth--a raccoon, perhaps, or even a skunk. When he closed his eyes, he pictured all the trees, shrubs and wild flowers around the cottage and marvelled at what deadly potential so many of them contained.
* * *
The sun blazed down on the back patio of the Madison, a small garden protected from the wind by high fences. Quilley wore his sunglasses and nursed a pint of Conner's Ale. The place was packed. Skilled and pretty waitresses came and went, trays laden with baskets of chicken wings and golden pints of lager.
The two of them sat out of the way at a white table in a corner by the metal fire escape. A striped parasol offered some protection, but the sun was still too hot and too bright. Peplow's wife must have given him hell about drinking the last time, because today he had ordered only a Coke.
"It was easy," Quilley said. "You could have done it yourself. The only setback was that foxgloves don't grow wild here like they do in England. But you're a gardener; you grow them."
Peplow shook his head and smiled. "It's the gift of clever people like yourself to make difficult things seems easy. I'm not particularly resourceful, Mr Quilley. Believe me, I wouldn't have known where to start. I had no idea that such a book existed, but you did, because of your art. Even if I had known, I'd hardly have dared buy it or take it out of the library for fear that someone would remember. But you've had your copy for years. A simple tool of the trade. No, Mr Quilley, please don't underestimate your contribution. I was a desperate man. Now you've given me a chance at freedom. If there's anything at all I can do for you, please don't hesitate to say. I'd consider it an honour."
"This collection of yours," Quilley said. "What does it consist of?"
"British and Canadian crime fiction, mostly. I don't like to boast, but it's a very good collection. Try me. Go on, just mention a name."
"About twenty of the Inspector MacDonalds. First editions, mint condition."
"Everything but Night's Candles."
Peplow raised his eyebrows. "Good Lord, that's an obscure one. Do you know, you're the first person I've come across who's ever mentioned that."
"Do you have it?"
"Oh, yes." Peplow smiled smugly. "X.J. Trotton, Signed in Blood, published 1942. It turned up in a pile of junk I bought at an auction some years ago. It's rare, but not very valuable. Came out in Britain during the war and probably died an immediate death. It was his only book, as far as I can make out, and there is no biographical information. Perhaps it was a pseudonym for someone famous?"
Quilley shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know. Have you read it?"
"Good Lord, no! I don't read them. It could damage the spines. Many of them are fragile. Anything I want to read--like your books--I also buy in paperback."
"Mr Peplow," Quilley said slowly, "you asked if there was anything you could do for me. As a matter of fact, there is something you can give me for my services."
Peplow frowned and pursed his thin lips. "Why on earth ... ?"
"For my own collection, of course. I'm especially interested in the way period."
Peplow smiled. "Ah! So that's how you knew so much about them I'd no idea you were a collector, too."
Quilley shrugged modestly. He could see Peplow struggling, visualizing the gap in his collection. But finally the poor man decided that the murder of his wife was more important to him than an obscure mystery novel. "Very well," he said gravely. "I'll mail it to you."
"How can I be sure ...?"
Peplow looked offended. "I'm a man of my word, Mr Quilley. A bargain is a bargain." He held out his hand. "Gentleman's agreement."
"All right." Quilley believed him. "You'll be in touch, when it's done?"
"Yes. Perhaps a brief note in with the Trotton, if you can wait that long. Say two or three weeks?"
"Fine. I'm in no hurry."
Quilley hadn't examined his motives since the first meeting, but he had realized, as he passed on the information and instructions, that it was the challenge he responded to more than anything else. For years he had been writing crime novels, and in providing Peplow with the means to kill his slatternly, overbearing wife, Quilley had derived some vicarious pleasure from the knowledge that he--Inspector Baldry's creator--could bring off in real life what he had always been praised for doing in fiction.
Quilley also knew that there were no real detectives who possessed Baldry's curious mixture of intellect and instinct. Most of them were thick plodders, and they would never realize that dull Mr Peplow had murdered his wife with a bunch of foxgloves, of all things. Nor would they ever know that the brains behind the whole affair had been none other than his, Dennis Quilley's.
The two men drained their glasses and left together. The corner of Bloor and Spadina was busy with tourists and students lining up for charcoal-grilled hot-dogs from the street-vendor. Peplow turned towards the subway and Quilley wandered among the artsy crowd and the Rollerbladers on Bloor Street West for a while, then he settled at an open air cafe over a daiquiri and a slice of kiwi-fruit cheesecake to read the Globe and Mail.
Now, he thought as he sipped his drink and turned to the arts section, all he had to do was wait. One day soon, a small package would arrive for him. Peplow would be free of his wife, and Quilley would be the proud owner of one of the few remaining copies of X.J. Trotton's one and only mystery novel, Signed in Blood.
* * *
Three weeks passed, and no package arrived. Occasionally, Quilley thought of Mr Peplow and wondered what had become of him. Perhaps he had lost his nerve after all. That wouldn't be surprising. Quilley knew that he would have no way of finding out what had happened if Peplow chose not to contact him again. He didn't know where the man lived or where he worked. He didn't even know if Peplow was his real name. Still, he thought, it was best that way. No contact. Even the Trotton wasn't worth being involved in a botched murder for.
Then, at ten o'clock one warm Tuesday morning in September, the doorbell chimed. Quilley looked at his watch and frowned. Too early for the postman. Sighing, he pressed the SAVE command on his PC and walked down to answer the door. A stranger stood there, an overweight woman in a yellow polka-dot dress with short sleeves and a low neck. She had piggy eyes set in a round face, and dyed red hair that looked limp and lifeless after a cheap perm. She carried an imitation crocodile-skin handbag.
Quilley must have stood there looking puzzled for too long. The woman's eyes narrowed and her rosebud mouth tightened so much that white furrows radiated from the red circle of her lips.
"May I come in?" she asked.
Stunned, Quilley stood back and let her enter. She walked straight over to a wicker armchair and sat down. The basket-work creaked under her. From there, she surveyed the room, with its waxed parquet floor, stone fireplace and antique Ontario furniture.
"Nice," she said, clutching her purse on her lap. Quilley sat down opposite her. Her dress was a size too small and the material strained over her red, fleshy upper arms and pinkish bosom. The hem rode up as she crossed her legs, exposing a wedge of fat, mottled thigh. Primly, she pulled it down again over her dimpled knees.
"I'm sorry to appear rude," said Quilley, regaining his composure, "but who the hell are you?"
"My name is Peplow," the woman said. "Mrs Gloria Peplow. I'm a widow."
Quilley felt a tingling sensation along his spine, the way he always did when fear began to take hold of him.
He frowned and said, "I'm afraid I don't know you, do I?"
"We've never met," the woman replied, "but I think you knew my husband."
"I don't recall any Peplow. Perhaps you're mistaken?"
Gloria Peplow shook her head and fixed him with her piggy eyes. He noticed they were black, or as near as. "I'm not mistaken, Mr Quilley. You didn't only know my husband, you also plotted with him to murder me."
Quilley flushed and jumped to his feet. "That's absurd! Look, if you've come here to make insane accusations like that, you'd better go." He stood like an ancient statue, one hand pointing dramatically towards the door.
Mrs Peplow smirked. "Oh, sit down. You look very foolish standing there like that."
Quilley continued to stand. "This is my home, Mrs Peplow, and I insist that you leave. Now!"
Mrs Peplow sighed and opened the gilded plastic clasp on her purse. She took out a Shoppers Drug Mart envelope, picked out two colour photographs, and dropped them next to the Wedgwood dish on the antique wine table by her chair. Leaning forward, Quilley could see clearly what they were: one showed him standing with Peplow outside the Park Plaza, and the other caught the two of them talking outside the Scotiabank at Bloor and Spadina. Mrs Peplow flipped the photos over, and Quilley saw that they had been date-stamped by the processors.
"You met with my husband at least twice to help him plan my death."
"That's ridiculous. I do remember him, now I've seen the picture. I just couldn't recollect his name. He was a fan. We talked about mystery novels. I'm very sorry to hear that he's passed away."
"He had a heart attack, Mr Quilley, and now I'm all alone in the world."
"I'm very sorry, but I don't see ..."
Mrs Peplow waved his protests aside. Quilley noticed the dark sweat stain on the tight material around her armpit. She fumbled with the catch on her purse again and brought out a pack of Export Lights and a book of matches.
"I don't allow smoking in my house," Quilley said. "It doesn't agree with me."
"Pity," she said, lighting the cigarette and dropping the spent match in the Wedgwood bowl. She blew a stream of smoke directly at Quilley, who coughed and fanned it away.
"Listen to me, Mr Quilley," she said, "and listen good. My husband might have been stupid, but I'm not. He was not only a pathetic and boring little man, he was also an open book. Don't ask me why I married him. He wasn't even much of a man, if you know what I mean. Do you think I haven't known for some time that he was thinking of ways to get rid of me? I wouldn't give him a divorce because the one thing he did--the only thing he did--was provide for me, and he didn't even do that very well. I'd have got half if we divorced, but half of what he earned isn't enough to keep a bag-lady. I'd have had to go to work, and I don't like that idea. So I watched him. He got more and more desperate, more and more secretive. When he started looking smug, I knew he was up to something."
"Mrs Peplow," Quilley interrupted, "this is all very well, but I don't see what it has to do with me. You come in here and pollute my home with smoke, then you start telling me some fairy tale about your husband, a man I met casually once or twice. I'm busy, Mrs Peplow, and quite frankly I'd rather you left and let me get back to work."
"I'm sure you would." She flicked a column of ash into the Wedgwood bowl. "As I was saying, I knew he was up to something, so I started following him. I thought he might have another woman, unlikely as it seemed, so I took my camera along. I wasn't really surprised when he headed for the Park Plaza instead of going back to the office after lunch one day. I watched the elevator go up to the nineteenth floor, the bar, so I waited across the street in the crowd for him to come out again. As you know, I didn't have to wait very long. He came out with you. And it was just as easy the next time."
"I've already told you, Mrs Peplow, he was a mystery buff, a fellow collector, that's all--"
"Yes, yes, I know he was. Him and his stupid catalogues and collection. Still," she mused, "it had its uses. That's how I found out who you were. I'd seen your picture on the book covers, of course. If I may say so, it does you more than justice." She looked him up and down as if he were a side of beef hanging in a butcher's window. He cringed. "As I was saying, my husband was obvious. I knew he must be chasing you for advice. He spends so much time escaping to his garden or his little world of books that it was perfectly natural he would go to a mystery novelist for advice rather than to a real criminal. I imagine you were a bit more accessible, too. A little flattery, and you were hooked. Just another puzzle for you to work on."
"Look, Mrs Peplow--"
"Let me finish." She ground out her cigarette butt in the bowl. "Foxgloves, indeed! Do you think he could manage to brew up a dose of digitalis without leaving traces all over the place? Do you know what he did the first time? He put just enough in my Big Mac to make me a bit nauseous and make my pulse race, but he left the leaves and stems in the garbage! Can you believe that? Oh, I became very careful in my eating habits after that, Mr Quilley. Anyway, your little plan didn't work. I'm here and he's dead."
Quilley paled. "My God, you killed him, didn't you?"
"He was the one with the bad heart, not me." She lit another cigarette.
"You can hardly blackmail me for plotting with your husband to kill you when he's the one who's dead," said Quilley. "And as for evidence, there's nothing. No, Mrs Peplow, I think you'd better go, and think yourself lucky I don't call the police."
Mrs Peplow looked surprised. "What are you talking about? I have no intention of blackmailing you for plotting to kill me."
"Then what ...?"
"Mr Quilley, my husband was blackmailing you. That's why you killed him."
Quilley slumped back in his chair. "I what?"
She took a sheet of paper from her purse and passed it over to him. On it were just two words: "Trotton--Quilley." "He recognized the neat handwriting. "That's a photocopy," Mrs Peplow went on. "The original's where I found it, slipped between the pages of a book called Signed in Blood by X.J. Trotton. Do you know that book, Mr Quilley?"
"Vaguely. I've heard of it."
"Oh, have you? It might also interest you to know that along with that book and the slip of paper, locked away in my husband's files, is a copy of your own first novel. I put it there."
Quilley felt the room spinning around him. "I ... I ..." Peplow had given him the impression that Gloria was stupid, but that was turning out to be far from the truth.
"My husband's only been dead for two days. If the doctors look, they'll know that he's been poisoned. For a start, they'll find high levels of potassium, and then they'll discover eosinophilia. Do you know what they are, Mr Quilley? I looked them up. They're a kind of white blood cell, and you find lots of them around if there's been any allergic reaction or inflammation. If I was to go to the police and say I'd been suspicious about my husband's behaviour over the past few weeks, that I had followed him and photographed him with you, and if they were to find the two books and the slip of paper in his files ... Well, I think you know what they'd make of it, don't you? Especially if I told them he came home feeling ill after a lunch with you."
"It's not fair," Quilley said, banging his fist on the chair arm. "It's just not bloody fair."
"Life rarely is. But the police aren't to know how stupid and unimaginative my husband was. They'll just look at the note, read the books, and assume he was blackmailing you." She laughed. "Even if Frank had read the Trotton book, I'm sure he'd have only noticed an 'nfluence,' at the most. But you and I know what really went on, don't we? It happens more often than people think. A few years ago I read in the newspaper about similarities between a book by Colleen McCullough and The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I'd say that was a bit obvious, wouldn't you? It was much easier in your case, much less dangerous. You were very clever, Mr Quilley. You found an obscure novel, and you didn't only adapt the plot for your own first book, you even stole the character of your series detective. There was some risk involved, certainly, but not much. Your book is better, without a doubt. You have some writing talent, which X.J. Trotton completely lacked. But he did have the germ of an original idea, and it wasn't lost on you, was it?"
Quilley groaned. Thirteen solid police procedurals, twelve of them all his own work, but the first, yes, a deliberate adaptation of a piece of ephemeral trash. He had seen what Trotton could have done and had done it himself. Serendipity, or so it had seemed when he found the dusty volume in a second-hand bookshop in Victoria years ago. All he had had to do was change the setting from London to Toronto, alter the names, and set about improving upon the original. And now ...? The hell of it was that he would have been perfectly safe without the damn book. He had simply given in to the urge to get his hands on Peplow's copy and destroy it. It wouldn't have mattered, really. Signed in Blood would have remained unread on Peplow's shelf. If only the bloody fool hadn't written that note ...
"Even if the police can't make a murder charge stick," Mrs Peplow went on, "I think your reputation would suffer if this got out. Oh, the great reading public might not care. Perhaps a trial would even increase your sales--you know how ghoulish people are'--but the plagiarism would at the very least lose you the respect of your peers. I don't think your agent and publisher would be very happy, either. Am I making myself clear?"
Pale and sweating, Quilley nodded. "How much?" he whispered.
"I said how much. How much do you want to keep quiet?"
"Oh, it's not your money I'm after, Mr Quilley, or may I call you Dennis? Well, not only money, anyway. I'm a widow now. I'm all alone in the world."
She looked around the room, her piggy eyes glittering, then gave Quilley one of the most disgusting looks he'd ever had in his life.
"I've always fancied living near the lake," she said, reaching for another cigarette. "Live here alone, do you?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In this collection of short stories and three novellas, Inspector Banks is featured in only four of the 20 tales. The longest, Going Back, has Banks returning to the home he grew up in to celebrate his parents’ golden anniversary, only to discover he can’t escape being a policeman when faced with an evil-doer. He also learns a few things about himself. The various tales demonstrate the range of the author’s talents and writing style. Of course, the long-running Inspector Banks series, which now number 23 novels and counting, have amply shown such abilities over the years. In the Edgar Award winning short story, Missing in Action, Robinson addresses the horrors of mob mentality when a young lad is found missing and a homophobic bully incites neighbors against someone who appears to be different. The stories are set in different periods of history, from WWI to WWII, and both in England and Canada. In Flanders Fields takes place in the early days of WW II amid the blackouts and bombings of London, and turns out to be a murder mystery involving a veteran suffering from PTSD. A twist of fate a false information are at the heart of April in Paris, a tale of unrequited love set during the DeGaulle period in post-WWII France, which includes descriptions of the student unrest at the time Although the 20 short stories have previously been published in different editions under the same title as the present volume, this special edition makes them available in the United states for the first time. And well worth reading. Recommended.