Meredith Mitchell is delighted when an old friend from her consular days, Toby Smythe, turns up on leave between foreign postings. But Toby has a problem---or rather his relative Alison Jenner has---and Toby wants to enlist the help of Meredith's fiancé, Detective Superintendent Alan Markby. Alison has been receiving anonymous hate mail in which reference is made to a time twenty-five years earlier when she stood trial for the murder of her aunt, Freda Kemp, but was acquitted. Who is the writer, and how does he or she know about this secret in Alison's past?
Markby is reluctant to become involved, not least because Toby is hardly his favorite person. Besides, he and Meredith are planning their wedding, and distractions aren't welcome. But inquiries into a poisoned pen campaign soon turn into a murder investigation.
With the help of Inspector Jessica Campbell, a new member of Markby's team, and the non-professional but enthusiastic assistance of Meredith and Toby, the inquiry unravels a twenty-five-year-old mystery and its dreadful legacy of violence.
About the Author
Ann Granger, like Meredith Mitchell, has worked in British embassies in various parts of the world. She met her husband, who was also working for the British Embassy, in Prague, and together they received postings to places as far apart as Munich and Lusaka. They are now permanently based in Bicester, near Oxford. That Way Murder Lies is Granger's fifteenth Mitchell and Markby mystery.
Ann Granger has worked in British embassies around the world. She met her husband, who was also working for the British Embassy, in Prague, and together they received postings to places as far apart as Munich and Lusaka. She is the author of the Mitchell and Markby Mysteries and the Lizzie Martin mystery series. She and her husband are now permanently based in Bicester, near Oxford.
Read an Excerpt
The three envelopes lay on the mat inside the front door. The postman, having sent them flying through the letter box with the insouciance of one who had no idea what would follow from his action, could be heard driving off, scattering gravel chips as he went. Betsy, the old black Labrador, was pushing the new arrivals around with her nose and sniffing at them suspiciously. As Alison walked slowly down the hall towards her, the dog looked up at her with questioning, anxious brown eyes and whined, giving an uncertain wag of her tail at the same time.
She knows, thought Alison. She senses something is wrong and it has to do with the post, although she can't know what it is. You can fool people but you can never fool a dog.
She dropped her hand to touch the old dog's head. 'It's all right, Betsy.'
Betsy wagged her tail more energetically, half reassured, and thrust her head against Alison's knee as she stooped over the envelopes. One was a long brown official type. Any problem that presented could be dealt with by Jeremy. The second looked as if it came from a credit card company. Any problem that held would be another ordinary, everyday one. The third was smaller, white and square, with a printed address to Mrs Alison Jenner. Alison's heart lurched and seemed to drop like a stone down into her stomach. Momentary dizziness overwhelmed her, her knees gave way, and she sank down to sit on the floor by Betsy, ankles crossed as if she were about to engage in a spot of yogic meditation. For a moment she just sat there, her eyes fixed on the envelope, until the dog pushed her wet nose into Alison's ear, following it with a tentative lick.
It brought her out of her haze but the biting pain of dismay was still there. The envelope was still there, too. It's another one, she thought. Please, no! But it was another one, another one, another one ...
For a second or two, the dismay turned to anger against the writer. 'How dare you do this to me?' she raged aloud in the silence of the empty hallway. Betsy cocked her head and her furry brow crinkled in concern. 'You have no right to do this!' Alison shouted, the words echoing around her.
The uselessness of her rage flooded over her. Nausea rose in her, filling her mouth with sour, acid bile which burned her throat and tasted foul. She forced it back and picked up all the envelopes. Scrambling to her feet and followed by the dog, she took them back to the dining room. Shouting out like that was worse than useless, it was dangerous. Mrs Whittle might hear her.
The room was cool and quite dark. The sun didn't reach this side of the house until the afternoon. The polished oak refectory table had been cleared of the breakfast things. They didn't eat much in the way of breakfast these days, she and Jeremy, just toast and a pot of coffee. The table was one of Jeremy's antiques, acquired long ago, before Alison had even met him. Its dark surface with ancient scratches and dents had probably witnessed more than one crisis. It was quite frightening, Alison thought, how inanimate objects could survive so much and human beings just crumble. She tossed the two oblong envelopes on to the table and turned the small square one in her fingers. At least Jeremy wasn't at home. He'd taken the car and gone into Bamford on some errand. He didn't know about the letters and he must never know. He'd want to do something and whatever he did, it would make it worse. She tore the envelope open and took out the single folded printed sheet it contained. The hate-filled words had a horrible familiarity by now. They seldom varied by more than a phrase or two. Though few in number, the pain and terror they caused were immeasurable.
YOU KILLED HER. YOU KILLED FREDA KEMP. YOU THINK YOU GOT AWAY WITH IT BUT I KNOW. SOON EVERYONE WILL KNOW. YOU WILL GET WHAT'S COMING TO YOU. BLOOD WILL HAVE JUSTICE.
'Why are you doing this to me?' Alison whispered now. 'Do you hate me? If you do, why? What have I done to you? Who are you? Do I know you? Are you someone I think of as a friend, see regularly and share a joke with, sit down to dinner with? Or are you a stranger?'
Far, far better that the poisonous thing came from a stranger. The betrayal by a friend, the thought that someone she trusted could do this to her, would be so much worse that Alison felt she understood now why Judas' betrayal was especially dreadful. He had been the friend who had sat at table. Alison could imagine the particular pain his treachery must have caused. Was the writer of the letter just such a smiling acquaintance?
Another question buzzed about her brain. 'How do you know about this?' she asked the unknown writer. 'Nobody hereabouts knows. It all happened twenty-five years ago, miles away from here. Did someone tell you? Who was it and how did they know? Or did you read a report in a yellowing newspaper used to line a drawer? I was a twenty-three-year-old! I am, I was then, innocent. And now you are trying to make me pay for something I didn't do!'
She would destroy the letter as she'd destroyed the others. But another one would come and, next time, Jeremy might get to the post first. He wouldn't open it, of course, not if it was addressed to her personally. But he would probably ask her who it was from and she'd have to lie to him. She didn't want to lie to him. So far, to avoid the necessity, she had invented ingenious ways of getting to the post before he did. Because the deliveries seemed to come later and later these days, she spent half the mornings listening for the crunch of the postvan's tyres, the driver's cheerful whistling and the rattle of the letter box. Sometimes, on fine mornings, she used the pretext of taking Betsy for a walk to intercept him. She dragged the unwilling old dog up and down the lane until the little red van appeared and she could waylay it. But she couldn't do that every day without the postman becoming suspicious. He was young and she knew he already found her behaviour odd. She could read it in his bemused expression. He had probably told all his mates at the depot that the woman at Overvale House was potty. But better tales should spread of her eccentricity than that he should realize she really dreaded the arrival of the post because of something in it. He was young enough to be curious. That might lead to the existence of the letters becoming known. But for how long would this go on? Would the writer eventually tire of his cat-andmouse game? What would he do then? Just stop writing or make his information public as he threatened?
The nausea returned. Alison dropped the letter on the table where its pristine whiteness showed up startlingly against the blackened oak. She dashed to the downstairs cloakroom where she threw up into the lavatory bowl, retching violently until her diaphragm muscles ached. She burned with heat and sweat trickled over her entire body. To remedy it, she splashed cold water on to her face and mopped it dry. She peered into the little mirror and decided that, though still blotchy, she looked fairly normal, enough for Jeremy, anyway.
Jeremy! She had left the letter on the table and her husband would be home soon. Alison ran back to the dining room.
She was too late. With her head stuck down the loo, she hadn't heard his return. Jeremy was standing by the table holding the small white sheet. He held it up as she entered.
'How bloody long has this been going on?'
It was Thursday, Maundy Thursday to be exact. After lunch, Meredith Mitchell would clear her Foreign Office desk and take off for the Easter break, not returning until Tuesday. The knowledge made her light-hearted. The weather had been good all week and, with luck, would stay good over the short holiday. There would be time to relax with Alan, time to discuss the house they were buying and all that needed doing to fix it up. The pressure of work would be gone and they both needed the break. At the other end of the room, Polly, with whom she shared a spacious office, was packing away already. Meredith stretched out her hand to her in-tray where a ray of sunlight from the tall window fell across a single slim file. Get this one out of the way and she, too, could be off, free.
The ray of sunlight was abruptly cut off. Someone was standing in front of her desk. She looked up.
'Toby!' she exclaimed. 'Where on earth did you spring from?'
'Beijing,' said Toby Smythe. 'I've just finished a tour of duty there. Now I'm home for a spot of leave before they find me a new posting. At least,' his expression grew troubled, 'I hope they do find me a new posting. I've been telling them that this morning. I don't want to be stuck at a London desk for ages, like you.'
That wasn't very polite but it was true. She had been stuck at this desk for quite a while now. Ever since her return, a few years ago, from what had then been the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in fact. She had been consul there. But now she was just a desk in this room. The Yugoslavia she'd known had fallen apart and it seemed to her that her career had stalled about the same time in an empathetic parallel. Despite repeated requests, no long-term new overseas post had been offered her, only slots of a few weeks at a time, filling in for someone sick or to lend an extra pair of hands in an emergency. At first she had minded, minded very much, knowing that there was a reason for her being grounded like this that she would never know. Somewhere she had crossed someone, or gained a reputation perhaps for a maverick style which made senior heads uneasy. But now things had changed. She no longer felt the need to 'flee the country' as Alan Markby always described her desire to work abroad. Alan had never wanted her to go. She smiled to herself and then up at Toby.
'I don't mind being in London,' she said. 'I'm getting married in the summer.'
Toby started back in theatrical manner, both hands upraised, palms outwards. 'You're not getting married to that copper you've been hanging out with for years?'
'His name is Alan,' Meredith said crossly. 'As you very well know! Nor have I been "hanging out" with him.'
At the other end of the room, Polly was laughing at them. Meredith felt her brief anger evaporate. It was no use getting ruffled over anything Toby said or did. Toby was just Toby and this was the beginning of the Easter break, for goodness' sake.
'There's no hope for me, then?' he was asking. He gave a melodramatic sigh. Polly giggled.
'There never was any hope for you,' Meredith told him. 'But I am pleased to see you.'
'I couldn't come here and not look you up.' Toby put his hands on the desk and leaned over it towards her. 'I was wondering, if you're not dashing straight back to the arms of Mr Plod, if I could take you out to lunch?'
'Not if you're going to call him Mr Plod!'
'Sorry. Come on, come and have lunch. I promise I won't call him anything even slightly disrespectful. We can catch up on the news, talk over old times and —'Toby hesitated briefly. 'I'm rather glad you're still together, you and Markby, because I've got a bit of a problem. That is, I haven't, but a friend of mine has. Markby might be able to give some advice.'
She shook her head. 'If your friend has a problem which might involve the law, perhaps he ought to consult a solicitor? Alan isn't an agony aunt. If it's really a police matter, then the procedure's simple. Your friend should go to the nearest police station and ask to speak to someone. Alan can't interfere outside his own area, anyway. If it were a serious criminal investigation which took him outside his own boundaries he would make arrangements with whichever other police force was involved. But he isn't going to do that for your chum's little problem! You know that, Toby.'
'Ah,' said Toby cunningly. 'But all this is taking place in Markby's neck of the woods. That's why he's the ideal chap.'
Meredith sighed. Toby wasn't Alan's favourite person at the best of times. She felt instinctively that an appeal to help Toby would fall on deaf ears. But Toby was standing there looking at her so hopefully, and he was an old friend. One stuck by old friends. She studied him. Tidiness had always eluded him. His suit was so crumpled it looked as if he'd spent the flight home in it. But Toby wasn't the sort of person who travelled in a suit. It had probably been crushed in his suitcase. The top button of his shirt was undone and the knot of his tie nestled some two inches below it. Suddenly Meredith realized that she was truly very pleased to see him.
'Of course I'll come to lunch with you,' she said.
Toby, perhaps mentally still in Beijing, took her to a restaurant in Chinatown. It was busy, packed out, the waiters rushing to and fro. The activity and buzz of conversation meant it was easy to talk in confidence.
'Seriously,' said Toby when they'd ordered. 'Congratulations and all that on your forthcoming nuptials. But what changed your mind? I know he's been keen on getting married but I got the impression you weren't.'
'I didn't change my mind. I was just a bit slow making it up.'
Very slow. The idea of marriage, settling down, had previously sent her into a spin. But oddly enough, once it was all decided upon, her misgivings had vanished.
'The big event is to be in the summer, you say?' Toby was saying. 'I'd like to dance at your wedding, of course, but with luck they'll have found me a new posting by then. No, sorry, that doesn't sound right. You know what I mean. If I'm anywhere in Europe I could get back home for it, if I'm invited.'
'You're invited. We've picked a summer date because the house won't be ready until then. We're buying the vicarage in Bamford. The Church authorities have long wanted to sell it and Alan's always yearned to own it, its garden especially. But it's in an awful state. It needs a new kitchen, new bathroom, rewiring and redecorating top to bottom. There will be other things, too, once we start work. There always are.'
'What will they do with the vicar?'
'James is being moved into a brick box on a new estate. The Church imagines he'll be among his parishioners there. Some hopes. James says he doesn't mind. His housekeeper has retired. She's incredibly ancient, no one knows how old. Mrs Harman's age is like a state secret. But she's hung up her pinny at last and James is having to "do" for himself. He'll manage much better in a new house with a fitted kitchen and a postage-stamp-sized garden, so everyone's happy. Only, I refuse to camp out in a house that's completely topsy-turvy with workmen tramping up and down the stairs. I'm still living in my terraced cottage in Bamford and Alan's still got his house. Both houses are on the market. If one of us sells, that one will move in with the other one. If we both sell, well, I suppose we shall have to camp out among the paint pots.'
'I've still got my flat in Camden,'Toby said, as their food was plonked down in front of them by a harassed waiter who sped away. 'It's apparently worth an obscene amount of money now. I can hardly believe it.'
Meredith manoeuvred her chopsticks round a prawn and dipped it into the sweet and sour sauce.
Toby took a bite of crispy duck. 'Everyone's got their problems, which brings me to mine, to my friend's.'
'Look, Toby,' Meredith said firmly. 'If it's really your problem, stop pretending it's a friend's. It's daft and I won't let you tell me anything unless you are absolutely frank. That's the first thing. The second is that I don't promise to ask Alan about it. All I can do is give you my own opinion, for what it's worth.'
'Fair enough,' agreed Toby. 'It isn't my problem, honestly. The person whose problem it is, well, he's a relative – Jeremy Jenner. He's a cousin of my father's. When I was a kid I used to call him Uncle Jeremy. Now I just call him Jeremy. He made a pile working for the multinationals and retired to a country estate near Bamford to live on his ill-gotten gains.'
'Are they ill-gotten?'
He shook his head. 'No, absolutely legit. Unless you happen to be one of the anti-globalization bunch. Then you'd probably think him a public enemy. But Jeremy is as straight as a die. He's married to a really nice woman called Alison. She's a bit younger than he is. She's in her forties. He's sixty-something. He doesn't look it.'
'I see. What's his problem, then? He's seems pretty well fixed.'
'It isn't really his, it's Alison's.'
Meredith groaned. 'Another degree removed!'
'I rang him up,'went on Toby. 'As soon as I got back to England. I wanted to touch base and, to be honest, I wanted to wangle an invitation down there for the weekend, this Easter weekend, as it happens. He has invited me. But I also had to listen for twenty minutes while he bent my ear about Alison's problem.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "That Way Murder Lies"
Copyright © 2004 Ann Granger.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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