Red Herrings

Red Herrings

by Tim Heald

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480463103
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Series: Simon Bognor Mysteries , #8
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 188
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

Red Herrings

A Simon Bognor Mystery

By Tim Heald


Copyright © 1985 Tim Heald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6310-3


It was not as sinister as the Caistor Gad Whip nor as anthropomorphic as the Horn Dance of Abbots Bromley; not as business-like as the Lot Meadow Mowing nor as alarming as Punkie Night in South Somerset but the annual Popinjay Clout at Herring St George was nevertheless a very old English custom.

No one knew the origins of the Popinjay Clout, not even old Sir Nimrod Herring whose ancestors had come with the Conqueror. Some said it went back further than the Herrings and that it was something to do with the old Saxon 'fyrd'; others said it originated in the martyrdom of Saint Ethelreda, a virgin milkmaid of the sixth century who had been slain by some drunken villeins and cottars one Friday night; an American academic said that it was part of the Robin Hood legend, which was odd as Herring St George was not in Nottingham. It was all extremely confusing.

The actual ceremony was, however, simplicity itself. At twelve noon all the men of the village, dressed entirely in green, marched to the Great Meadow by the banks of the River Nadder. There they fired arrows from their yew longbows quite indiscriminately into Gallows Wood. After an hour a halt was called and the village women, in smocks, went into the wood to retrieve whatever had been slaughtered in the bombardment. A kill in the Popinjay Clout was as rare as a score in the Eton Wall Game. Ten years earlier Sir Nimrod himself had bagged a rabbit. There had been nothing since.

This year, the day of the Clout dawned brisk and blue and bracing. The TV team from Channel 4 and Mr Philip Howard of The Times arrived to record the event, as did busloads of tourists, many American. On the command of 'fire' from Sir Nimrod, arrows swooped away towards Gallows Wood, cameras clicked and rolled and Mr Howard's pen raced purplish across the page of his reporter's notebook. It was very quaint and everyone was looking forward to the ale and Bath chaps, the mead frappé and chitterlings which were a traditional part of the proceedings.

'A capital Clout!' exclaimed the Reverend Branwell Larch slapping Sir Nimrod boisterously on the shoulder. And indeed it was. The bowmen had shot nobly; the sun had shone; the grass was neatly mown; dog roses adorned the hedgerows and clambered about the immaculately whitewashed thatched cottages; even the smell of silage and chicken droppings which sometimes interfered with rustic charm was subdued for the day. Everything in the garden of England was lovely. Then, suddenly from the heart of Gallows Wood, there came a maiden's shriek.

It would have been a chilling sound wherever and whenever it was uttered but on a midsummer day in rural England in the middle of An Old English Custom it was beyond description. And as the shrill keening was taken up by a chorus of other women, even the purplest face (and Herring St George was usually a sea of purple faces) turned quite white. The stiffest knees trembled and the juttingest jaw sagged. Even Simon Bognor, that apotheosis of phlegm, froze momentarily as his teeth clenched around his first sausage roll of the day.

Seconds later the reason for the feminine distress was made clear. For the first time in a decade there had been a kill in the Popinjay Clout. They had found a Mr Brian Wilmslow leaning against a blasted oak, looking a little as if he were posing for a portrait of Saint Sebastian.

He was, of course, extremely dead.


Simon bognor and his wife Monica were not natives of Herring St George but they were staying in the village for Clout weekend with their friends Peregrine and Samantha Contractor. Peregrine was a very grand Anglo-Indian Old Etonian whose father had made a fortune in railways. Peregrine had used this fortune to make another one out of mail order lingerie. This was where he had met Samantha. Samantha was the leading model of mail order lingerie in Britain.

It was also lingerie that had brought Simon and Peregrine together. There was something a touch shady about the mail order lingerie enterprise and, as a special investigator of the Board of Trade, Bognor had been charged with finding out what it was.

'Something fishy about this business,' said his boss, Parkinson, in characteristically dour fashion, as he picked his teeth under the smiling portrait of Her Majesty the Queen.

'You mean fishnet,' said Bognor grinning facetiously. 'Fishnet stockings. Those sort of silky black mesh things women wear with top hats.' He had had a more than usually good lunch and was feeling over-confident.

Parkinson glowered, and Bognor sighed. He knew it was a feeble joke but something about Parkinson's glum, behind-the-times prissiness invited feeble jokes.

'We both know perfectly well what I mean, Bognor,' said Parkinson, and this was true, as it usually was, so that Bognor had shuffled out still grinning, though now a little ruefully, and gone off to investigate frilly knickers and flimsy bras. He had been able, as he put it to Parkinson, in another ill advised attempt at humour, to uncover nothing at all. He sensed that all was not quite what it should be at Fashions Sous-tous, as Peregrine Contractor called his business, but he was unable to put his finger on it. He also found Contractor highly engaging, especially when he attempted to bribe him with a job lot of frillies and flimsies for Monica (Monica was much too big for them).

Since then the two men had remained acquaintances if not exactly friends. The Bognors had been to the Contractors' box at Ascot and Covent Garden; the Contractors had been to brunch chez Bognor. Bognor was careful not to mention the relationship to Parkinson; but if his flinty superior had found out, then Bognor would have explained that he was keeping an eye on him 'just in case'. 'Just in case' had become one of Bognor's favourite phrases. Enigmatic ambiguities, he had discovered, kept people guessing. Which was essential when one was still only guessing oneself.

Much of Bognor's work at the Board of Trade was based on guesswork. There was, he knew (or rather had been told, which was not the same), a different, more logical way of doing things. Ever since he had first entered the Board of Trade due to that dreadful misunderstanding with the University Appointments Board, he had endured advice from men like Parkinson.

'A more forensic approach on your part, Bognor,' his boss would growl from time to time, 'would do us all the world of good.'

A fearful squirt called Lingard had briefly come to share his office before moving on to higher things. 'I see absolutely no method in your brand of madness,' he would complain, morosely, as Bognor lurched from hunch to hunch. Even the long suffering Monica, Mrs Bognor, would occasionally lecture him on the need for what she called 'ratiocination'. Bognor, despite his honours degree in modern history, had had to go to the dictionary where he found that the word meant you used syllogisms. On looking up 'syllogism' he discovered that it was a 'form of reasoning in which from two given or assumed propositions called the premises and having a common or middle term a third is deduced called the conclusion from which the middle term is absent'.

'Oh, really!' he protested when he digested this. 'Life's not like that. Life's much more complicated.'

'Au contraire,' riposted Monica, 'it's only complicated because you make it complicated. If you were logical you'd be better at everything.'

'I'd end up like Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.'

'You could do worse,' said Monica.

Bognor sulked.

They had been greatly looking forward to the weekend of the Popinjay Clout. There would, the Contractors promised, be excellent food and drink, scintillating company, terribly House and Garden surroundings and the engaging diversion of the Clout itself. Now, on top of all that, there was death.

'Oh, bloody hell,' said Bognor, when the news came through on the Herring St George grapevine. 'This is supposed to be a weekend off.'

'Don't be so insensitive,' said Monica. 'Someone's dead. That's a tragedy not an inconvenience.'

'It may be a tragedy for the corpse and their nearest and dearest but as far as I'm concerned it's thoroughly inconvenient. I was hoping to do a lot of lolling about and eating and drinking. Now I shall have to dust down the syllogisms and ratiocinate.'

'I don't see why,' said Monica with characteristic asperity.

'You wouldn't,' replied Bognor, equally tartly.

'I say.' Peregrine Contractor was wearing very tight Lincoln green drainpipes and a well tailored matching jerkin which almost concealed his natty little paunch. A self designed forage cap with rakish feather over one ear was supposed to create an illusion of Errol Flynn. Not quite successfully. 'Have you heard?' he enquired. He was breathless from excitement and unwonted exercise.

'No,' said Mr and Mrs Bognor. 'What?'

'He's one of yours,' said Mr Contractor. 'The stiff. He's a spook from your neck of the woods. A government inspector no less. Awkward, I should say. Name of Wilmslow. Friend of yours?'

Bognor shrugged. 'The Board of Trade's a huge government department,' he said. 'There may well be a hundred and one Wilmslows lurking in its woodwork. But not one that I know. What's he do?'

'Value Added Tax. He's a VAT inspector.'

'The dreaded VAT men aren't from the Board of Trade, Perry.' Bognor was affronted. 'They're Customs and Excise. Not at all the same thing.'

'Oh.' Peregrine Contractor flapped a hand in limp dismissal of such nitpicking, 'I always imagine all you Whitehall wallahs are in cahoots with each other. What does bring it rather home to one is that he was coming in tomorrow to look at the books. Well he won't be able to do that now.' He laughed. 'I suppose they'll send someone else.'

'What exactly happened?' asked Monica.

'Well, darling, no one knows exactly what happened.' Contractor patronised Monica just as he patronised most women.

'His problem was that he wandered into the woods at the wrong moment. No teddy bears' picnic for him.' And he sang in a disagreeably off-key falsetto. 'If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise.'

Bognor brushed sausage roll crumbs from the lapel of his blazer. He was not a blazer person but Monica had insisted he invest in one. Something to do with her parents or her brother-in-law. 'This is a pretty serious business, Perry,' he said. He remembered Monica's criticism of him. 'Someone's dead,' he said. 'Which may seem like a mere inconvenience for many of us. For some people, though, it's a real tragedy and it's my job to get to the bottom of it. If there's a bottom to get to. Accidental death is one thing. Murder is another. What was this?'

'Search me,' said Peregrine. He gesticulated theatrically in the direction of Gallows Wood. 'You could hide an army in there let alone a dashed Value Added Tax inspector. You can't possibly suggest he was shot on purpose. None of the archers could have known he was there.'

'Couldn't they?' Bognor spoke sharply. He was irritated. Contractor seemed to be treating the incident almost as if it was part of the pageantry. Indeed, now that the news had sunk in to the collective consciousness of Herring St George and the audience of tourists, this seemed quite a common reaction. No one showed any sign of going home. There was a pervasive, speculative and frankly excited buzz. Bognor who had seen enough death to regard it as almost routine was, not for the first time, mildly revolted. Still, he had accepted, long ago, that murder was, at least in part, the world's most popular spectator sport.

'Not with you, old shoe,' said Contractor. Contractor habitually referred to Bognor as 'old shoe', an expression he claimed to have picked up at Yale Law School, though Bognor was fairly sure Contractor had never been within miles of Yale. His formal education had ended prematurely when Eton had asked him to leave after an incident involving maids.

'Just because they couldn't see the man,' said Bognor testily, 'doesn't mean that they didn't know he was there.'

Samantha Contractor, who had been scouring the field in search of gossip, now rejoined them. You could tell she was some sort of model on account of her smock which she had designed herself and which was an exceedingly brief piece of linen only just held together by quantities of black leather thong. She did have an extraordinary body and depending on how she bent and moved it was practically all on public display.

'Isn't it all too just perfectly ghastly?' she asked no one in particular, lisping through shiny purple lips, 'What's going to happen?'

'The Clout must go on,' said Peregrine gravely. He had recently been elected to the Clout committee, a sure sign that he had been accepted into the community. The ten thousand he had, not quite secretly, donated to the church belfry appeal fund, had helped quite a bit. It was a gratifying compensation for being blackballed by White's.

'I've been talking to the man from the fuzz,' said Samantha. 'He's rather dishy. I told him about you Simon, dear, and naturally he's dying to meet you. He's going to come over and have a glass of bubbly when he's done whatever you have to do with the corpse. He seemed to have heard of you.'

'Heard of me?' Bognor bristled.

'I said we had this tremendously super detective staying for the weekend and when I told him your name, he said, "Not the Simon Bognor?" So naturally I said "yes".'

Monica snorted. 'I expect they're using your past cases at the police training college,' she said. 'What was his name?'

'Guy,' said Samantha fluttering vast stuck-on eyelashes at an unimpressed Monica. Monica wore virtually no makeup and nothing false. 'Take me as I am' was her attitude, 'Like it or lump it.' She found Samantha preposterous.

'Guy?' she said.' Is that a surname or a christian name?' Samantha said she didn't know. She said that she had introduced herself as 'Sammy from the manor' and that when she had asked him who he was he had held out a very virile hand, looked her straight in the eyes and said, simply, 'Call me Guy.' Samantha grinned. 'He really is ever so dishy,' she said.

'I do rather wish you hadn't brought me into it.' Bognor, though understandably susceptible to Samantha's body, was less than impressed by what passed for her mind. He spoke huffily. 'Sudden death really isn't my pigeon. Codes and ciphers are about as exotic as I get. Mostly it's petty irregularities regarding South African oranges or smuggled mink.'

Samantha pouted. 'But Simon darling,' she said, 'we met you because you were showing a sudden interest in ladies' underwear. You can't say that isn't exotic.'

'It really isn't a joking matter,' said Bognor. 'As you know perfectly well, I am merely a common or garden investigator with the Board of Trade. It is not a job that has any particular glamour. In fact frankly it's not even interesting most of the time. I would much rather do practically anything else in the world, but like most people who are stuck in god awful jobs they don't enjoy, I need the money and I'm too old to change. I'm stuck. Just like most people are stuck. And the last thing I need is to have bloody policemen lumbering me with a lot of silliness just because some damn fool VAT inspector has got himself riddled with arrows while walking in the woods. This is supposed to be a weekend off.'

'Well I'm very sorry I'm sure,' said Samantha.' I was only trying to help.'

The situation was partially restored by Peregrine. In the smouldering silence that followed this little exchange there sounded the discreet gasp of a champagne bottle blowing its top. Seconds later Samantha's husband emerged from behind the Rolls Royce carrying a tray with an open bottle of Veuve Clicquot and glasses. 'Time for drinkies, boys and girls,' he said.

The champagne not only cooled tempers it also acted as a magnet for those villagers who were not averse to a glass but who would normally have had to stick to something less elegant and less pricey. Home brew even. The first free-loader was the Reverend Branwell Larch. 'The padre's a fearful piss artist,' confided Peregrine to Simon and Monica, the night before. He had predicted that he would be the first to show, so there was no surprise when he arrived looking doleful.


Excerpted from Red Herrings by Tim Heald. Copyright © 1985 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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