British police detective Luke Thanet tracks a housewife’s killer in the debut novel of an award-winning mystery series “in the P. D. James manner” (Kirkus Reviews).
Luke Thanet is a British police inspector with a soft heart, bad back, and bloodhound’s nose for murder. When a young woman is found stabbed through the heart with a kitchen knife, Thanet and his partner, the brusque young Mike Lineham, rush to the scene. Julie Holmes lies dead in her front hall, wrapped in her overcoat, her handbag missing. The perpetrator could have been a burglar, a jealous husband, or a spurned lover. But Detective Inspector Thanet never leaps to conclusions, and always takes his time; it seems the key to finding this killer lurks twenty years in the past.
When Julie was a child, she witnessed a murder—a traumatic event so scarring she repressed it entirely. Thanet believes that before she died, Julie’s memory came back—and so did the killer . . .
The first in the series featuring Inspector Thanet, a “most likable policeman,” The Night She Died is a compelling procedural from an acclaimed CWA Silver Dagger winner (Yorkshire Post).
The Night She Died is the 1st book in the Inspector Thanet Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Read an Excerpt
The Night she Died
An Inspector Thanet Mystery
By Dorothy Simpson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Dorothy Simpson
All rights reserved.
It was half past nine in the evening and Detective Inspector Luke Thanet was stretched out on the living-room carpet, staring at the ceiling. Despite the padding, the rolling-pin in the small of his back seemed to be cutting his spine in two. He cast an agonised glance at the clock. Only a minute had gone by since the last time he had looked. It seemed impossible that time could pass so slowly.
He heard Joan come downstairs and a moment later she put her head around the door. 'I think he's gone off at last,' she said. Ben, their one-year-old son, was teething. 'At least he didn't wake Bridget. I'll make some coffee. How much longer?'
Another glance at the clock. 'Ten minutes.'
She grimaced in sympathy. 'I shan't be long.' She went out and he could hear her moving about in the kitchen next door.
Coffee, he told himself. Concentrate on coffee, concentrate on anything but the discomfort.
Two weeks ago, injudiciously heaving the lawn-mower out of the boot of his car, Thanet had joined the nation's army of back sufferers. His first reaction had been one of outrage. Why should this happen to him? Since then he had run the gamut of emotions, from anger with himself through frustration to despair. He had also suffered being massaged, pulled about, exercised and lectured by an astonishingly diminutive physiotherapist. How could someone so tiny have so much power in her hands, he had asked himself incredulously. And when, when was his back going to get better? Never before had he realised the value of what he had until now taken so carelessly for granted – his health. And he swore that never again, if it were ever restored to him, would he fail to appreciate it to the full. Meanwhile, here he was, doing his daily fifteen minutes on the rack (the rolling-pin), an exercise designed to 'restore flexibility to the spine'.
Joan came in carrying a tray. 'Coffee,' she said. 'Shall I pour it now?'
Thanet shook his head, wincing at the stab of pain introduced by even that tiny movement. 'In a minute,' he said, between his teeth. Then, 'Talk, darling, for God's sake talk. What have you been up to today?'
They had scarcely seen each other this evening. Joan had eaten long before he arrived home and had spent most of the time since then upstairs, trying to get Ben off to sleep.
She poured out a cup of coffee for herself, sank down on to the settee with a sigh of relief. 'Nothing much, really.' She kicked her shoes off, tucked her feet up beneath her, sipped at her coffee. 'No, that's not true. I went to the last day of the Dacre Exhibition.'
'At the College of Art?'
'Yes. It's a pity you missed it. It was terrific. Her paintings are absolutely unique, like nothing I've ever seen before. They ...'
The telephone rang.
Joan uncoiled herself wearily. 'I'll get it. I hope it's not for you.' But it was. 'Yes, he's here,' Thanet heard her say.
'Tell them to hold on. I'm coming,' he called out, shooting a triumphant glance at the clock. He was going to cheat it of two minutes. Impossible, though, to raise himself into a sitting position. With a groan he rolled over on to his stomach, tensing against the pain, raised himself slowly on to hands and knees and finally, moving very carefully, managed to stand up.
'Yes, yes,' he said irritably into the telephone. 'Of course I'm fit.' He scowled at Joan who was raising her eyebrows in admonitory disbelief and turned his back on her. 'All right,' he said when he had replaced the receiver, 'but what do you expect me to say? That I've got one foot in the grave?'
She followed him to the cloackroom, laid her hand affectionately against his cheek and stretched up to kiss him. 'Don't wait up, love,' he said. 'I may be late.'
Already, she could see, his mind was moving ahead, away from her. 'Something serious?'
He shrugged into his coat, wincing, and nodded. 'Murder, they seem to think. A young housewife.'
Joan stepped back, relinquishing him. 'Take care, then,' she said.
It was too early for the pubs, cinemas and bingo-halls to have discharged their nightly crowds and the centre of the town was more or less deserted as Thanet headed for Gladstone Road. He found it without difficulty, a quiet cul-de-sac tucked away behind an area of densely packed terraced houses. As he turned into it his headlights briefly illuminated a stretch of rough grass and tangled trees on the other side of the road. This, he realised, must slope down to the railway line; as he drew up behind the other cars a train thundered by, invisible at the foot of the embankment.
As he eased himself out of his car he was glad to see that it was Detective Sergeant Mike Lineham who came forward to meet him. He enjoyed working with Lineham, who was both intelligent and thorough and would one day be a first-rate detective, if he could only overcome an irritating diffidence. His summing-up of the situation was typically concise.
'A young woman sir. Name of Julie Holmes. Body found by her husband when he got home from night school – accompanied by a friend. She's been stabbed in the chest. A kitchen knife, by the look of it.'
Becoming aware that Lineham's short, staccato sentences and air of urgency were having the effect of hurrying him along, Thanet deliberately stopped and stood still. Lineham, taken unawares, found himself at the gate of the house alone. He turned, unconsciously subsiding into an attitude of resignation. He ought to have known better by now, he told himself as he watched Thanet's head turn slowly, questingly, from left to right.
Whereas many detectives would hurry straight to the side of the body, Thanet always liked to feel his way into a case. 'It's worth taking time to absorb first impressions properly,' he'd told Lineham once, when they were working on the first murder they'd ever tackled together. 'If I don't, they lose their impact. Time and again I've regretted rushing into things. Now I never do. A few minutes' delay at the start of a case will rarely hold things up and might save hours of work later on.'
Now, Thanet gazed about him at Gladstone Road. The place in which someone chooses to live can reveal a great deal about him, he believed, and this place was ... he groped for the word ... secretive, yes, that was it. Gladstone Road definitely had a secretive air about it. It was about two hundred yards long. Most of it, right from the corner where one turned into it up to the boundary of the Holmes's garden, was taken up by some sort of yard, a builder's yard by the look of it, silent and deserted now. Thanet took a few steps back along the road to peer at the black and white sign high up on the close-boarded fence which surrounded it, the street lamp in front of the Holme's house throwing just enough light to make it legible. R. Dobson and Sons, Builders, he read.
It looked as though at some point (the nineteen-thirties, probably, by the look of the Holmes's house) Dobson had decided to sacrifice part of his yard in order to make some ready cash, for the remainder of the short street had been divided up into two plots of equal size. Something however – the war? – had prevented him from building the second house; beyond the Holmes house and separated from it by a similar high close-boarded fence was a patch of waste ground. Why, Thanet wondered, had it not been built upon since? Lack of funds, perhaps, followed by the dawning realisation that here was an appreciating asset?
Beyond the empty plot, closing off the end of the cul-de-sac, was a wire-mesh fence. Set into it, over to the right where the ground started to slope down for the railway embankment was what looked like a metal swing-gate. Beyond the fence stood a coppice of trees, their restless branches creating a shifting, irregular silhouette of denser darkness against the night sky.
Yes, Thanet thought, anyone choosing to live in Gladstone Road would value privacy above all. He took one last, comprehensive look around, gave an approving pat to the lamp-post beside him, then transferred his attention to Lineham who was shifting as unobtrusively as possible from one foot to another in an attempt to hide his impatience. 'Right,' he said, 'let's go inside.'
Lineham led the way with the alacrity of a retriever anxious to show his master a particularly juicy bone. Thanet followed more slowly, studying the house as he went. As he had already noted, it was of typical nineteen-thirties construction, with a front door to one side set back in a shallow, open porch, and bay windows on both floors.
'Round the back, sir. The body's just inside the front door.'
Thanet followed without comment.
Lineham led the way through a small, square kitchen furnished with a formica table and two matching, metal-legged chairs into a narrow hall where a photographer and two fingerprint men were already at work. Thanet nodded approvingly at Lineham, pleased to see that the sergeant had trusted his own judgement sufficiently to get things moving without waiting for Thanet's arrival. Seeing Thanet, the men retreated a few steps up the staircase to allow him access to the body.
And there she was.
Thanet always hated this moment. No matter how often he experienced it, no matter who the victim was, he could never quench his initial pang of pity, of regret for a life cut short. Almost at once he was able to become detached again, aware that emotional involvement could cripple his judgement, but this moment could never leave him unmoved and he was not sure that he would want it to. As he lowered himself gingerly to kneel beside the body, however, his face remained impassive. Many of his colleagues, he knew, would regard such feelings as weakness.
Julie Holmes had been young, not more than twenty-five, Thanet guessed. She lay sprawled on her back, her long hair a pool of spun gold on the uncarpeted floorboards, arms outflung and legs askew. She had, Thanet thought sadly, been a very pretty girl, perhaps even a beautiful one. Difficult to judge how animation would have affected that delicately modelled face, those deep-blue eyes. He glanced up at the photographer. 'Have you finished with her?'
Thanet closed her eyes. Let the others think what they would. Then he swiftly finished his examination. The girl was wearing a coat of brown herringbone tweed and had been stabbed right through it; the handle of the knife still protruded from her chest. There appeared to have been very little bleeding, but it was difficult to tell; the clothes she was wearing beneath the coat might well have absorbed a great deal. Pinned to the left lapel of the coat was a striking piece of jewellery, an enamelled brooch some three inches long in the design of a mermaid. Waist-length golden hair flowed modestly over the upper half of the mermaid's body, above the iridescent blue scales of the tail. Thanet could not decide whether he liked it or not. Mermaids had curious associations, an aura of paradoxically sexless nakedness ... He glanced around. 'Handbag?'
Lineham shook his head. 'No sign of it. I've had a quick look.'
Thanet struggled to his feet, wryly aware of the self-restraint Lineham was exercising in refraining from extending a hand to help. Thanet's touchiness on the subject of his back was well known. 'Where's the husband?'
'In there,' Lineham indicated the closed door beside them, 'with the friend who was present when he found the body. And Constable Bingham.'
'Right. Doc Mallard been yet? No? Well, let me know when he gets here. I'm going to have a word with Holmes. How many men have we got here?' Swiftly Thanet organised a search of the premises, the house-to-house enquiries, and then went into the living-room.
It was a room of curious contrasts. Like the hall, it was uncarpeted and there were no curtains at the windows. There was, however, a luxurious three-piece suite upholstered in gold and some expensive hi-fi equipment as well as a colour television set. In the bay window a gleaming sewing-machine stood on a long table on which were heaped swathes of cream and gold brocade.
The uniformed constable who had been standing just inside the door received Thanet's unspoken message and slipped out: Thanet turned his attention to the other two occupants of the room, only one of whom had looked up when he entered. This was a clearly angry young man in duffel coat and jeans who was standing in front of the empty fireplace, legs apart and hands thrust deep into his coat pockets. He was scowling at Thanet through a profusion of ginger hair. 'Look here,' he burst out, taking a step forward.
'Just one moment, sir,' Thanet said, turning to the other man, who was sitting on the edge of one of the armchairs, leaning forward, head in hands. 'Mr Holmes?'
The man slowly lifted a dazed face.
'Detective Inspector Thanet, Sturrenden CID. I'm sorry to have to impose myself on you at a time like this ...'
'I should bloody well think so! I –' cut in Holmes's friend.
'Just a moment, sir, please. But there are some questions I really must ask,' Thanet went on, turning back to Holmes.
'Questions! Where d'you think that'll get you? Why don't you leave this poor devil alone and –'
Thanet held up his hand. 'Look Mr ...?'
'Byfleet. And I –'
'It's all right, Des,' Holmes said unexpectedly. He passed his hand wearily over eyes and forehead. 'I don't mind. The police have to do their job. Go on Inspector.'
'But he's told it all once,' persisted Byfleet. 'Does he have to go through it all over again?'
'It's all right, Des,' Holmes repeated. 'It's got to be done.'
His accent was definitely not Kentish, Thanet thought. A Londoner? He sat down opposite Holmes and said gently, 'If you could tell me exactly what happened this evening then, sir, right from the time you got home from work.'
Holmes, it seemed, was the manager of the local branch of Homeright Supermarkets. He had arrived home from work this evening at about twenty past six, as usual. His wife was there before him – she, too, worked locally, in the office of an estate agent – and they had supper together before Holmes left for his evening class at a quarter to seven. She had said that she was going to spend the evening working on the living-room curtains.
Holmes and Byfleet (who lived in a neighbouring village and had been on his way to the station) had walked back from the Technical College together, arriving in Gladstone Road at about twenty past nine. Byfleet had parted from Holmes at the gate but a few moments later had been called back by a frantic shout from Holmes, who had found Julie's body sprawled just inside the front door. They had telephoned the police and an ambulance at once, but it was obvious that she was already dead.
'Your wife was wearing a coat,' Thanet said. 'You're sure she said nothing about going out?'
'No. I told you, she said she was going to work on the curtains.' He nodded at the mounds of material on the long table.
'Have you any idea where she might have gone? To visit a friend, perhaps?'
Holmes shook his head. 'She didn't have any friends here yet. We only moved in six weeks ago. The only people she knew were the ones at work, and none of them live anywhere near.'
Holmes had apparently been offered a transfer to the Sturrenden branch of Homeright in October, six months ago. At that time he and his wife had been living in Brixton. They had at once started house-hunting, coming down to Sturrenden each weekend, but it had proved impossible to find the sort of house they wanted at a price they could afford. When the time came for Holmes to take up the appointment in early December he had had to go into lodgings, his wife staying on in London. Shortly afterwards they had found the house in Gladstone Road and had moved in as soon as completion took place, some twelve weeks later.
Thanet listened thoughtfully. So Holmes and his wife had been living apart for three months, long enough for either of them to have formed another attachment.
He transferred his attention to the belligerent Byfleet. 'Mr Byfleet, I wonder if you could tell me exactly what you remember of arriving here this evening? I take it you and Mr Holmes attend the same evening class?'
Byfleet scowled. 'Yes. And we was sitting next to each other all evening, if that's what you're getting at.'
'And you agree with Mr Holmes about the time of your arrival here?'
'Yeah, I'm sure, because I was keeping my eye on the time, because of my train at nine-thirty. It takes six minutes to get to the station from here, along the footpath. Bang on twenty past nine it was, when we got here.'
'The one at the end of the road. Cuts through that little wood, comes out near the station. Otherwise you have to go right round and over the bridge.'
Excerpted from The Night she Died by Dorothy Simpson. Copyright © 1984 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
This book reminded me of a favorite PBS series I watch. The main characters are all likeable. The murder mystery is sprinkled with tiny bits of home life. The murder in this book appears to be tied to a twenty year old cold case. Lots of questions, twists and turns. Good reading.
It was good. I expected a little more with the ending.
I love mystery books and this is a very good one. It has all the elements of surprise without 'getting you lost' in empty sub-plots that lead no where. It is well written, keeps you guessing and that's what a TRUE murder mystery should do! It won't disappoint you by being 'run of the mill'! I promise!