Cammon crosses the Atlantic in this clever whodunnit In this second mystery featuring Chief Inspector Peter Cammon, the veteran detective is called out of retirement once again. His assignment appears simple: travel to Canada to retrieve the body of a murdered Scotland Yard colleague. But Peter cannot resist delving into the oddities of the crime. His colleague was brutally attacked, run down by a car, and then dumped in a canal, yet the probable motive for the murder is bizarre: the theft of three letters from the U.S. Civil War era, one of them signed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth. Haunting the investigation is the beautiful Alice Nahri, girlfriend of the dead man. The Drowned Man reacquaints readers with characters from Walking into the Ocean as well as features Maddy, Peter’s daughter-in-law, whose amateur sleuthing back in England proves pivotal in cracking the case.
About the Author
David Whellams is a writer in criminal law with 30 years of experience, amending criminal code in such areas as dangerous offenders and terrorism. He is the author of "Walking into the Ocean." He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
The Drowned Man
A Peter Cammon Mystery
By David Whellams
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2013 David Whellams
All rights reserved.
"There's nobody else for the job," Sir Stephen Bartleben said from his side of the massive thumping desk.
Body duty. Any other senior detective would have recoiled in outrage, perhaps even stood up and stalked out of the office. It happened from time to time that a Scotland Yard officer was needed to accompany the corpse of a British national homeward, in this case a Yard colleague who had been killed in Montreal. The assignment was a distinctly secondary one, usually handed off to a junior officer.
But Peter Cammon, veteran chief inspector, retired, though he considered leaving the office, stayed in place on his side of the big desk. He was in a sour frame of mind, ready to provoke his former boss, and sometimes the best way to throw Bartleben off his conniving game was to wait him out. Oh, bolting would be justified, Cammon reasoned: Bartleben hadn't called in eight months, and now was throwing him the most meatless of bones.
Peter Cammon decided to give it two more minutes. Then he would turn down the job.
They let three minutes go by. This, in fact, was not a long silence by Cammon-Bartleben standards. Because he knew that Sir Stephen had more to disclose, Peter stifled his impatience. The sheer routineness of the assignment mildly intrigued him. There had to be something more critical at stake for the Yard, and the boss was holding back. Why? Bartleben's gambit had been two-headed: did he mean that no other officer wanted the task or that only Peter was capable of doing it?
Peter had come up to London on a drizzly summer morning. Out of habit he had worn his black suit and black brogues, but had left his black bowler at the cottage. If Sir Stephen took this as a sartorial sign that Peter was open to returning to work, he was mistaken. Peter had fully retired. But the root of his hostility was Sir Stephen's bad form: he had failed to attend the funeral of Peter's brother, Lionel, several months back. Sir Stephen had sent a card of condolence, nothing more. In his general depression, Peter considered this a betrayal of almost fifty years of hand-in-glove trust. At least, that was what he told himself was the reason for his mood. Even if Peter was being unreasonable or muddling the causes of his depression, Sir Stephen was in for a rough time.
Peter continued to stare across the ridiculous desk. They had had no contact in all these months. Did Stephen believe that a simple turnaround trip to Montreal was enough to revive Peter's taste for crime? The tension in the room could not have been higher. Peter watched as Sir Stephen fussed with a small snow globe that housed Machu Picchu. Stephen seldom travelled anywhere and Peter guessed that it was a gift from his grandson. He resolved that if the boss turned the toy over and started shaking the snowflakes over Machu Picchu, the gesture would confirm that he was holding back something crucial.
He could easily read Bartleben's uncertainty. A take-it-or-leave-it offer would result in Peter telling him to bugger off. The boss shot a glance at two file folders on the desk, as if they might contain the seeds to foster Peter's curiosity. A fifth minute passed.
Peter wondered why Bartleben had failed to mention that he was no longer deputy commissioner of New Scotland Yard. Shunted aside. Superannuated. Just like me, Peter thought. Of course, if Bartleben truly was on the shelf, what gave him the authority to send anyone across the Atlantic? There were rumours percolating that open scandal was about to hit the Yard on more than one front — the phone-hacking fiasco involving the News of the World seemed the most imminent — yet Bartleben's departure four (was it five?) months ago apparently had insulated him from most political and bureaucratic scrutiny. Bartleben always thought ahead of his rivals. He had jumped — though perhaps not too far from centre — and hadn't been pushed. Now he was a special adviser of some kind. Yet Bartleben had acknowledged none of this.
Peter understood that he had the advantage. There were no old times to revive and it appeared that Bartleben was no longer formally in charge of any part of the organization. He had no staff, save his beautiful young assistant, positioned outside the cavernous office. Was Montreal the best assignment he could winnow out of Whitehall? He needed Peter more than Peter needed to be back in harness. Clearly he had expected Peter to be intrigued by the Carpenter murder and had hoped to be congratulated on his own retirement, so that he could assert common ground in their shared status as retirees. All this was pitiful and, in his mood, Peter resolved to concede nothing. Does he really expect me to join him in some troubleshooting caper on the premise of mutual impotence?
But there had to be some discussion before Peter registered his definitive no. On the phone, Bartleben had mentioned only that a New Scotland Yard employee, John Fitzgerald Carpenter, had been brutally slain in Montreal. Peter recalled young Carpenter from a case four years ago. He worked in the Customs unit supporting Scotland Yard's criminal and anti-terrorism files. He had helped Peter out briefly, searching out a killer's alias on a flight manifest. Was this why Bartleben had summoned him to London? Peter decided to ask an aggressive question.
"Why do you think Carpenter was murdered?"
Bartleben paused for effect, then said, "It involves rare documents related to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln."
Peter refused to be impressed by this melodramatic pronouncement. "Let me see his file, Stephen."
Bartleben handed over the larger of the files, a standard personnel dossier, not all that thick given Carpenter's seven years with the Yard. It was dog-eared and tea-stained, much of the wear and tear recent, Peter estimated. He took the folder and opened it to the dead man's photograph.
"Is the face familiar?" Sir Stephen asked with excessive cheer, appearing to believe that Peter was warming to the assignment.
"I've never seen his face before."
Bartleben was nonplussed. "I thought ..."
"Carpenter? No. Who told you that?" Peter said, without blatant hostility but with a flat tone meant to reinforce his indifference to Stephen's plans for him. "I talked to him once on the phone, four years back or so. That problem with the husband in Dorset."
Peter returned to the folder. The heading read: "JOHN FITZGERALD CARPENTER b. 1976." The straight-on photo showed a handsome face, ageing well. Clean-shaven. But Peter wavered. The portrait gave the death a poignant humanity. His mood shifted slightly. He decided to take his time, having nothing to lose given his firm decision to reject the mission.
"Why do you want me for this? The case in Dorset four years back?" Peter said.
"Not really. It's just that Carpenter is one of ours," Bartleben offered, feebly trying to take the high road. "Decent performance record."
Peter settled back in his chair, deigning to skim the highlights. Or at least, he tried to lean back. The big desk was absurd enough but Peter's guest chair was equally pompous, straight-backed, like an unplugged electric chair, more proof of Stephen's manipulative nature: the guest was privileged to a regal audience.
Peter looked again at the photo. A stamp on the obverse showed that it had been taken one day after Carpenter's thirty-fourth birthday. His hair looked freshly cut in anticipation of the session. For some reason, he had tried to appear youthful and rakish, which wasn't always the aim for ambitious young men at the Yard.
"Is it possible that Carpenter has a moustache now?"
"Why, yes, he does ... did."
It was a parlour trick on Cammon's part. The black-and-white portrait drew out Carpenter's beard, a pentimento shadow, even though he must have shaved that particular morning. His face was inclined to Nixonian swarthiness, and likely someone had told him that he should present an open, clean-razored face to the camera. Peter guessed that a moustache would be more his style and that the young man would grow one soon after the photo shoot. Peter's wife, Joan, would say that the young man had "matinee idol looks." Carpenter had died in his prime.
Peter noted two fresh documents lying loose on top of the file; the rest, except the official photo, were pinned at the corner with a brad made of brass. A pristine U.K. death registration, actually a stamped official copy, was first. The consulate had inserted it as recently as a day ago, Peter guessed, and delivered it overnight by diplomatic pouch. This form established that Canada, or more probably the Province of Quebec or the municipality, had settled on a cause of death and handed down its own coroner's pronouncement. There it was, next in the file; it was a prerequisite for the U.K. form. With Canadian clearance, the corpse had been released for shipment to Britain. Peter understood that none of this changed the right of the host nation to pursue the criminal investigation. As well, the coroner in the young man's home county in the U.K. might choose to launch his or her own inquest.
The second document derived from the Quebec coroner's office. It was in French but the "Cause of Death" read the same in English: homicide.
"The Sûreté du Québec has carriage of the investigation," Bartleben said. "The provincial coroner signed off on the death certificate. Foreign obtained the complementary approval at this end and we're cleared to bring the body home. Heathrow has its own mortuary ..."
"Not so fast," Peter snapped. He wouldn't be rushed. He glared across the Victorian hulk of a desk. You could transport prisoners to Australia in it, he thought. He spied a second manila file on the blotter, this one a brand new, unlabelled folder. He could see the airline ticket slotted inside. Here was another presumption on Bartleben's part: his efficient young assistant had already booked Peter's flight to Montreal. Peter turned back to the Carpenter file and continued to read, masking his emerging curiosity with a frown.
"It's a jurisdictional quagmire," Bartleben threw in.
"How so?" Peter said, still focused on the dossier. He began to read through the autopsy report, written in French.
"Carpenter was a British national killed within the city limits of Montreal. That's normally a matter for MUC police — Montreal Urban Community. But one of our people abroad on official business is an Internationally Protected Person under those Vienna Conventions signed a few years ago. That could mean the RCMP — the federal police in Canada — could try to assert preemptive jurisdiction."
Peter shot him a look of mild contempt. Not only did Bartleben have it wrong in terms of jurisdiction, Peter was sure, but these things had a way of sorting themselves out. Peter presumed local competence. If Bartleben weren't such an armchair manager, he would know that most policing responsibility in Canada rested with the provinces. Although Peter had visited Canada only once, and that a mere few hours spent in Niagara Falls, he had dealt with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on several occasions. He knew the sensitivities of federal-provincial politics and that the Mounties would by no means rush to displace the local police. For its part, the Quebec Government, given the sovereigntist movement within its borders, would be careful to avoid unnecessary friction with a foreign state (perhaps especially Britain). Finally, whether the provincial Sûreté or the Montreal police force took the lead made little difference. The British High Commission in Ottawa would show due deference to the province. In Canada, the provincial attorney general had clear authority over the prosecution of Criminal Code offences. There was no quagmire.
He took his time with the pathologist's findings. His French was good; he knew that Stephen's was not. The report was embossed with apostilles from the Province of Quebec and from the consulate in Montreal confirming that the autopsy results had been accepted by both governments. The autopsy report followed the standard layout but Peter did note an admirable thoroughness in the pathology testing. He remarked again on the confident assertion of criminality, homicide. Many jurisdictions would never allow a coroner or a pathologist to go that far. Even more intriguing was the word appended to the summation: noyé. Death by drowning.
Peter realized that a document was missing. Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs supported a consul general's office in Montreal, so where was the interim report from British officials?
"What happened, Stephen?" he prompted, still trying to sound unmoved.
Bartleben adopted a disgusted look. "Both Carpenter and the consul general in Montreal, neither of them did their jobs." He hoisted a crisp, three-page document and dropped it back on the desk. "I'm embarrassed to show it to you."
Peter knew that Bartleben wasn't in the least embarrassed about sharing the consul general's statement, which bore an elaborate seal on the cover. The former deputy commissioner revelled in the world of diplomats, loved the game. Peter smelled politics. Someone in the High Commission had fouled up. The potential for scandal was evident and if Peter went to Montreal, he would likely face the spillover from the murder of a British official. What Bartleben characterized as simple could easily become complex. Am I supposed to be grateful for being asked back into the Yard to do a minder's task, a delivery man's job, on the false pledge that I won't have to get my hands dirty with diplomats and careerist scoundrels? Such puppetry, such arrogance.
Peter fixed his boss with an unforgiving gaze. "Why don't you just tell me what's in the file, Stephen."
"Nicola Hilfgott, consul general. Ambitious. I've never met her but, oddly enough, I've encountered her husband, Tom. Made his money in golf courses and retired at fifty-five. Anyway, she called Frank Counter in Special Projects a few weeks back and asked for assistance. Frank knows her from previous lives. Turned out she'd already consulted with National Archives and convinced them that she was in a position to acquire several rare documents that they would love to have. The Heritage people got on board and so did our High Commissioner in Ottawa. But Nicola wanted to 'protect the government's investment,' she said. Frank agreed to help. Who knows what Nicola really did or said."
"Why wouldn't this be an above-board purchase-and-sale? Why did she need security?" Peter said.
"Let's face it. Hilfgott was freelancing. The transaction had nothing to do with her regular duties. The dealer in Montreal, who had possession of these three rare letters, insisted on a cash transaction, the exchange to be effected at his shop after hours. Hilfgott suggested to Frank that because there was government money in play, a Scotland Yard officer would be helpful for security." Even Sir Stephen looked embarrassed this time.
"How much cash?" Peter said.
"Hilfgott made a deal for ten thousand Canadian for all three letters."
That was prevarication, Peter thought. You don't bring in the Yard for a paltry ten thousand. He at once guessed that Nicola Hilfgott, the consul general, had been trying to validate a shady deal by drawing in New Scotland Yard, and by extension co-opting Home Office headquarters. His mood soured further. Why doesn't Bartleben see this? he thought. Or does he?
Sir Stephen regrouped. "Peter, what do you know of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?"
Peter had had enough of this dance and was tempted to burst out with: "Officially an American problem."
Instead, he merely stated what everybody knew. "Shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre in Washington."
"The assassination occurred on April 14, 1865. Did you know that Booth visited Montreal exactly six months earlier?"
"Why would he do that?" Peter said.
"His original plan, I gather, was to kidnap Lincoln and carry him south to Virginia as a hostage. Booth, who was a mere twenty-six years old, had contacts in Montreal, spies and blockade-runners who, in turn, could give him letters of introduction to potential helpers in Washington and Maryland."
"Did the authorities in Montreal try to arrest him?"
"Not at all. He did nothing to justify detention, and they ignored him. He was just a semi-famous actor at this point. Besides, he deliberately kept a low profile in Montreal, or so everyone thought until recently. Then Mrs. Hilfgott made her discovery. Or rather, someone made the discovery and contacted her."
Evidently, John Wilkes Booth had been up to more mischief than historians had believed. Peter understood that the three letters had historical value, perhaps enough to justify the Yard's involvement in the transaction, and so he allowed Bartleben to finish the tale.
"It appears that Booth was a loudmouth and a braggart who soon let everyone in the city know where he stood on the secession of the Confederate States. The Confederate government was desperate for official recognition by Britain and had already sent officials to Montreal to stir up trouble — for example, by launching raiding parties across the U.S. border to free Confederate prisoners-of-war. They hoped to draw Britain into a clash with the Lincoln government by provoking an incident. Young Booth travelled to Canada to make contact with these Confederate officials. It now appears that he also made contact with British authorities while there.
Excerpted from The Drowned Man by David Whellams. Copyright © 2013 David Whellams. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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.
What People are Saying About This
"Whellams has not just created an interesting detective; he has the ability to fashion many complex characters without resorting to outlandish eccentricities. Readers will be hard pressed to solve either crime before Cammon, though the opportunity is there." —After Hitchcock
"[T]he plot builds to a dramatic and suspenseful climax. The author's refreshingly clear-eyed portrayal of his hero ("Peter Cammon felt superior to psychology, in the way that many people do who have never studied it") is a plus." —Publishers Weekly