Change is coming to the Sturrenden police station. After twenty years at the helm, the superintendent has retired, and Det. Inspector Luke Thanet is now reporting to a brusque, ambitious upstart recently promoted from Cardiff. A new chief means turf wars and bureaucratic infighting. With the station in chaos, Thanet is almost happy to investigate a suspicious death.
The political side of detective work is what keeps Thanet from seeking promotion. He would rather be risking his neck in the field, and he’s one of the best at his job. When powerful businesswoman Marcia Salden is found dead in the River Sture and the autopsy suggests foul play, Thanet descends on the village of Telford Green, where a tangled web of conspiracy rewarded Marcia’s ambition with murder.
The award-winning Detective Inspector Thanet series about one of the best-loved English policemen is perfect for fans of P. D. James and Midsomer Murders.
Suspicious Death is the 8th book in the Inspector Thanet Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Dorothy Simpson (b. 1933) was born and raised in South Wales, and went to Bristol University, where she studied modern languages before moving to Kent, the setting for her Inspector Thanet Mysteries. After spending several years at home with her three children, she trained as a marriage guidance counselor and subsequently worked as one for thirteen years before writing her first novel. Says Simpson, “You may think that marriage guidance counselor to crime writer is rather a peculiar career move, but although I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, the training I received was the best possible preparation for writing detective novels. Murder mysteries are all about relationships which go disastrously wrong, and the insights I gained into what makes people tick, into their interaction and motivations, have been absolutely invaluable to DI Thanet, my series character, as have the interviewing skills I acquired during my years of counseling.”
Read an Excerpt
An Inspector Thanet Mystery
By Dorothy Simpson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Dorothy Simpson
All rights reserved.
Thanet lay awake, staring into the darkness, ears tuned to catch the slightest sound from along the corridor. Beside him, Joan's deep, even breathing told him that she was sound asleep. He glanced at the luminous dial of the clock. Midnight.
This was ridiculous.
Moving stealthily, so as not to disturb her, he set aside the bedclothes and padded to the door, shivering slightly as the cold night air penetrated his pyjamas. No one would have believed it was April. Since the rain stopped at around six o'clock the temperature had rapidly plummeted to below freezing point and the house was cooling fast. All the more reason to take a firm stand now.
He eased the door open and glanced along the corridor to Bridget's room. Yes, as he thought, she was still up.
She was sitting at her desk, staring at the open book before her. Not by look, word or gesture did she acknowledge his presence as he came in.
'Sprig,' he said softly, the memory of past confrontations causing his resolution to crumble. 'Don't you think it's time you gave up for the night?'
She stirred, then, like someone awakening from a long sleep, and glanced up at him. 'I haven't finished yet.'
'But it's past midnight!'
Her mouth set stubbornly. 'I must finish this section.'
'What is it?'
'Biology. I told you. We've got this massive test tomorrow.'
'Dad, leave it alone, will you? If it's got to be done, it's got to be done. If I go to bed without finishing I'll never get to sleep.'
Her voice was rising, the familiar edge of near-hysteria, near-desperation creeping in, and once again, in the face of it, he was powerless.
'All right. But try not to be too long.' He bent to kiss the top of her head and switched on the electric fire before leaving.
What else could he have done? he asked himself as he returned to his own bed, snuggling up to Joan's comforting warmth. If he had persisted there would have been floods of tears and when Bridget did get to bed she would have been too upset to sleep. How many other parents all over the country, he wondered, were at this very moment faced by precisely the same dilemma? He had heard plenty of tales of pre-examination traumas, but who could have guessed that the imminence of GCSEs would turn his cheerful, extrovert Bridget into a wan, anxiety-ridden ghost of her former self? The situation had been deteriorating steadily since Christmas, when she had failed several of her 'mocks', and lately a combination of overwork, lack of sleep and general listlessness had been giving Thanet and Joan real cause for worry. Endless discussions had brought them no nearer a solution and time and again they had reached the unsatisfactory conclusion that there was nothing they could do other than offer her reassurance and moral support, grit their teeth and stick it out.
Another couple of months and it would all be over, Thanet told himself yet again as he tried to compose himself for sleep. Until it was Ben's turn ...
Next morning Joan and Ben were brisk and energetic, Thanet and Bridget heavy-eyed and lethargic. It was Thanet's turn to do the school run and when he dropped the children off he again noted Bridget's dragging reluctance as she headed for the school gates. If only there were something he could do to help her. But you couldn't fight all your children's battles for them, he reminded himself as he drove off. Learning to cope alone was part of the painful process of growing up.
At this point, normally, his spirits would begin to rise. He loved his work, enjoyed the constant and varying challenge of it, the comforting familiarity of well-known faces, long-term relationships. But at the moment even this solace was denied him. After twenty years Superintendent Parker had retired, and the winds of change were sweeping through the sub-divisional police headquarters of Sturrenden, the small country town in Kent where Thanet lived and worked, in the shape of Superintendent Draco, a Welshman recently promoted from Cardiff.
Thanet glanced at his watch. He'd better get a move on, or he'd be late for the 8.45 morning meeting which Draco had instituted as part of the new regime.
Pater, the duty officer, greeted him with a grin. 'Morning, sir. You'll be pleased to hear they've decided to start on redecorating your office today.'
'Oh, no ... I thought it wasn't going to be till next month.'
'Change of plan, sir. DS Lineham is directing operations.'
'What do you mean, "directing operations"?'
'They thought it would be quicker and easier if your desks were moved next door.'
Upstairs the CID section was a hive of activity. In the main room a corner was being cleared to accommodate Thanet and Lineham and the corridor was crowded with desks, chairs, filing cabinets, noticeboards, stacks of files and decorators' equipment.
Detective Sergeant Lineham, carrying a chin-high stack of folders, grimaced as Thanet advanced, scowling.
'How are we supposed to get any work done, with all this going on?'
'It won't take long, sir. By the time you're back from the meeting, we'll be more or less straight.'
'There are times, Mike, when I find your optimism positively nauseating. How long will they take to do our office?'
'Two days, they say. Cheer up, sir, it's all part of our new image.' But all these upheavals were having an effect even upon the normally cheerful Lineham. His usual mischievous grin was conspicuous by its absence.
Thanet snorted in disgust. 'New image! Stop provoking me, Mike. I was perfectly happy with things as they were.'
'I must admit I'll miss the map of Australia on the ceiling myself.'
'Anything important come in since last night? I'm due at the meeting in five minutes.'
There was only routine stuff, however, and Thanet's report to Draco was brief. He had to admit that the new Superintendent was efficient, and seemed to know exactly what he was trying to achieve. If only he didn't have the unfortunate knack of putting people's backs up ...
'One last point ...' Draco's eyes, dark and diamond-bright as the anthracite in his native hills, glittered as he glanced from one man to the next, deliberately allowing his gaze to rest for a moment on each one. 'I've said it before and I'll say it again: I want to know everything that goes on in my patch. Everything. So if someone nicks an old lady's pension book or there's a fight in a school playground, I want to be told about it. Vigilance is the key word, vigilance and efficiency. And efficiency, as far as we are concerned, means reports. Detailed, literate and accurate reports, which we will all actually read. So just make sure that everyone gets the message. That's all for today. Thank you for your time.'
The phone rang as they began to file out and he snatched it up. 'Draco.' He listened for a moment then covered the receiver and called Thanet back, waving him into a chair.
Thanet studied him as he waited. Typically Celtish in appearance, Draco was short – barely regulation height, Thanet guessed – and thick-set, with close-cropped curly black hair and sallow skin. Even when, as now, he was in a passive role, he emanated controlled energy. It was in the tilt of his head, the intensity of his concentration, the rhythmic tapping of his forefinger on his desk.
'Yes. Yes, I see. When was this? Yes ... Yes ... Definitely. Inform the SOCO and the CCTV sergeant ...'
Thanet's interest sharpened. If the Scenes-of-Crime Officer and Closed Circuit Television operative were being notified, it could only mean ...
'Yes, of course, the police surgeon too. DI Thanet will be along shortly. Yes.'
The phone went down and Draco focussed his attention on Thanet. 'As you'll have gathered, there's been a suspicious death. Woman pulled out of the river at Donnington Weir. Found by an old lady walking her dog. You'd better get over there.'
'Any sign of foul play, sir?'
'That,' said Draco, impaling Thanet with his glittering stare, 'is what you're going to find out.'
'Yes, sir.' Thanet turned to leave.
'Oh, and Thanet ...'
'When you have found out, I want to know about it. The lot.'
As he hurried upstairs, Thanet spared a moment to wonder if Draco was going to be able to content himself with being a mere administrator. This was what had always deterred Thanet from seeking promotion. He loved the investigative side of his work, the interviewing of witnesses and suspects, the intellectual challenge and supreme satisfaction of solving a difficult puzzle. To have found himself stuck behind a desk for most of his working life would be anathema to him. At this moment, he wouldn't have changed places with Draco for all the incentives in the world.
In the CID room Lineham had managed to establish some sort of order and was busy sorting through files on Thanet's desk. Thanet glanced around. All six Detective Constables were present, each conspicuously busy.
Thanet addressed the room at large. 'Well, it looks as though we're going to be stuck with each other for the next two days, and we'll just have to make the best of it. Anyway, with any luck you won't be seeing much of me. There's been a suspicious death. A woman's body, pulled out of the weir at Donnington.'
Heads turned and glances were exchanged as a ripple of excitement ran around the room. The unspoken word vibrated in the air. Murder?
'Of course,' Thanet went on, 'we have no idea yet whether it was accident, suicide or murder, so don't get too excited about it. Initially, Lineham and I will go and take a look, and Bentley and Swift will come with us.' Swift was new to the section and his thin, dark face lit up with a look of ill-concealed satisfaction. Bentley, his usual phlegmatic self, merely nodded. Thanet tried to ignore the others' evident disappointment. It was understandable, of course. Sturrenden was a fairly law-abiding community and possible murder cases were few and far between. 'Naturally, if this turns out to be a potential murder investigation, you'll all be involved, one way or another. So get your heads down and clear off as much routine stuff as possible.' He turned to Lineham. 'Anything urgent we've got to deal with before we go?'
'Not really, sir, no.'
'Right. We'll be off, then.'
Thanet and Lineham took one car, Bentley and Swift another, in case they needed to divide forces later. It was market day in Sturrenden and the town was crowded with pedestrians thronging down the High Street to the large cobbled area of the Market Square, where traders who made their living moving from market to market would have been setting up their stalls since early morning. Donnington Weir was about two miles out of town but unfortunately was accessible by road only from the far side of the river. It was therefore necessary to cross the one and only river bridge, which as usual on market days was congested with traffic.
'About time they found a new site for the market, if you ask me,' grumbled Lineham as they queued to cross the river.
The policeman in Thanet agreed with Lineham, the private citizen thought that it would be a shame to sweep away a centuries-old tradition merely because of the inconvenience it caused. He contented himself with a non-committal grunt. In any case, there was no desperate rush. The SOCO and CCTV officer would have to get to Donnington and carry out their routine procedures before Thanet and his men could do very much. He gazed around at the colourful market scene. After yesterday's rain it was good to see blue skies and sunshine. Canvas awnings flapped, clothes on display swung to and fro on their hangars in the brisk wind which had sprung up overnight and puffy white clouds scudded gaily eastwards towards the coast and the sea. Thanet spotted Helen Mallard, the wife of the police surgeon, buying fruit from one of the stalls and according its selection her customary care. A professional writer of cookery books, she shared with Bridget, Thanet's daughter, a passionate interest in anything and everything to do with the preparation of food. She saw him and waved, came across.
He wound down the window.
'Hello, Luke, how are you all? I haven't seen Bridget for ages.'
Until Christmas she and Bridget used to get together once a week for what they called their 'creative evenings'. It was also through Helen Mallard that Bridget had managed to land a commission to write a children's cookery corner in the Kent Messenger. Lately, Thanet thought sadly, her interest even in that had waned.
He pulled a face. 'The prospect of GCSEs is really getting her down.'
'I gathered as much. Well, if she wants me, she knows where to find me. It might make a change, for her to come over one evening.'
'I'll mention it to her. Thanks, Helen.'
The car in front began to move.
"Bye, Luke. Love to Joan.'
Ten minutes later they turned off the main road and drove down the gentle incline into the large public car park at Donnington Weir, a well-known local beauty spot on the river Sture. A grassy meadow studded with mature oaks stretches between car park and river, and on the far side the land rises in a wide landscape of gently rolling pastureland scattered with farms, oast houses, barns and cottages. It is a favourite place, especially in summer, for family picnics and local artists. On this brisk April morning, however, the parking area was occupied only by a few police cars, an ambulance and the old Rover which Doctor Mallard, Helen's husband, stubbornly refused to part with.
Bentley and Swift pulled in alongside them and all four men put on Wellington boots.
Thanet greeted the uniformed PC on duty beside the swing gate leading into the field. 'Morning, Weaver. Which way?' Thanet had been scanning the wide, grassy expanse, but could see no sign of activity. From here the river was invisible.
'Over there, sir.' Weaver pointed to a small stand of trees over to the left.
The heavy frost had thawed, but the wind had not yet dried out the residual moisture and their boots made a swishing, squelching sound as they moved through ankle-high grass across ground still sodden from the winter rains. Nearer the water the ground fell away, sloping down to the footpath along the river bank which in summer was rarely without its complement of dog-walkers and strolling couples. This morning it was deserted save for the flurry of activity near the trees. A small, nattily dressed figure was approaching, bald head gleaming and half-moons twinkling in the sunshine.
'Ah, reinforcements have arrived. Morning, everyone.'
'Morning, Doc,' they said, Thanet smiling with genuine pleasure. He was very fond of the little police surgeon, whom he had known since boyhood, and it always delighted him to see Mallard in the ebullient mood which had enveloped him since his second marriage. For many years before that Mallard had been a lonely embittered figure after the lingering death of his first wife.
'You beat us to it, I see,' said Thanet. 'What's the story?'
'Well, she's dead, all right.' Mallard peered mischievously at Thanet over his glasses. 'That what you wanted to know?'
Thanet tutted. 'Come on, Doc, stop playing games.'
'The young are always so impatient,' murmured Mallard, putting down his bag and pulling out a notebook. He flipped it open. 'Female, white, mid-forties, height 5' 6?, weight about 9 stone, cause of death ...' He paused.
'Well?' demanded Thanet.
Mallard shut his notebook with a snap. 'I'm not too sure I want to commit myself, as yet.'
'She didn't drown, then?'
'She might have. On the other hand, she ...'
'... might not have!' finished Thanet.
'Precisely. Look, I'm sorry, but I can't pronounce yet on this one. You know how tricky drownings can be. She might have had a cardiac arrest or a laryngeal spasm as a result of the shock of falling into the water, or ...'
Mallard shrugged. 'There's a nasty gash on the right temple. It's difficult to tell, at the moment, whether or not she got it before or after she went into the river.'
'You'll do a diatom test?'
Thanet knew that this test would settle whether or not the woman had died before or after entering the water. Diatoms are microscopic algae, found in both sea and fresh water. Water is sucked into the lungs during drowning, and diatoms enter the bloodstream and are pumped to the heart, entering the body tissues. The presence of diatoms in these is therefore proof that the victim was alive on entering the water.
'How long had she been in the river?'
Mallard shrugged. 'Difficult to tell. But by the condition of her hands and feet ... she went in some time last night, I'd guess.' The doctor picked up his bag. 'Well, must go now. See you later.'
Excerpted from Suspicious Death by Dorothy Simpson. Copyright © 1988 Dorothy Simpson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good solid likeable characters. Very thoughtful main character.