2012 Arthur Ellis NomineesCreated by 49thShelf on April 24, 2012
What better Christmas surprise for detective-in-training Flavia de Luce than a dreadful murder under Buckshaw's roof - and a snowbound house full of suspects!
It's Christmas time, and our beloved Flavia is tucked away in her laboratory whipping up a sticky concoction to trap that infamous sneak, Saint Nick, and thereby prove once and for all - despi …
Tendrils of raw fog floated up from the ice like agonized spirits departing their bodies. The cold air was a hazy, writhing mist.
Up and down the long gallery I flew, the silver blades of my skates making the sad scraping sound of a butcher’s knife being sharpened energetically on stone. Beneath the icy surface, the intricately patterned parquet of the hardwood floor was still clearly visible— even though its colors were somewhat dulled by diffraction.
Overhead, the twelve dozen candles I had pinched from the butler’s pantry and stuffed into the ancient chandeliers flickered madly in the wind of my swift passage. Round and round the room I went— round and round and up and down. I drew in great lungfuls of the biting air, blowing it out again in little silver trumpets of condensation.
When at last I came skidding to a stop, chips of ice flew up in a breaking wave of tiny colored diamonds. It had been easy enough to flood the portrait gallery: An India- rubber garden hose snaked in through an open window from the terrace and left running all night had done the trick— that, and the bitter cold which, for the past fortnight, had held the countryside in its freezing grip.
Since nobody ever came to the unheated east wing of Buckshaw anyway, no one would notice my improvised skating rink— not, at least, until springtime, when it melted. No one, perhaps, but my oil- painted ancestors, row upon row of them, who were at this moment glaring sourly down at me from their heavy frames in icy disapproval of what I had done.
I blew them a loud, echoing raspberry tart and pushed off again into the chill mist, now doubled over at the waist like a speed skater, my right arm digging at the air, my pigtails flying, my left hand tucked behind my back as casually as if I were out for a Sunday stroll in the country. How lovely it would be, I thought, if some fashionable photographer such as Cecil Beaton should happen by with his camera to immortalize the moment.
“Carry on just as you were, dear girl,” he would say.
“Pretend I’m not here.” And I would fly again like the wind round the vastness of the ancient paneled portrait gallery, my passage frozen now and again by the pop of a discreet flashbulb.
Then, in a week or two, there I would be, in the pages of Country Life or The Illustrated London News, caught in mid- stride— frozen forever in a determined and forwardlooking slouch.
“Dazzling . . . delightful . . . de Luce,” the caption would read. “Eleven- year- old skater is poetry in motion.”
“Good lord!” Father would exclaim. “It’s Flavia!
“Ophelia! Daphne!” he would call, flapping the page in the air like a paper flag, then glancing at it again, just to be sure. “Come quickly. It’s Flavia— your sister.”
At the thought of my sisters I let out a groan. Until then I hadn’t much been bothered by the cold, but now it gripped me with the sudden force of an Atlantic gale: the bitter, biting, paralyzing cold of a winter convoy— the cold of the grave.
I shivered from shoulders to toes and opened my eyes. The hands of my brass alarm clock stood at a quarter past six.
Swinging my legs out of bed, I fished for my slippers with my toes, then, bundling myself in my bedding— sheets, quilt, and all— heaved out of bed and, hunched over like a corpulent cockroach, waddled towards the windows. It was still dark outside, of course. At this time of year the sun wouldn’t be up for another two hours.
The bedrooms at Buckshaw were as vast as parade squares— cold, drafty spaces with distant walls and shadowy perimeters, and of them all, mine, in the far south corner of the east wing, was the most distant and the most desolate. Because of a long and rancorous dispute between two of my ancestors, Antony and William de Luce, about the sportsmanship of certain military tactics during the Crimean War, they had divided Buckshaw into two camps by means of a black line painted across the middle of the foyer: a line which each of them had forbidden the other to cross. And so, for various reasons— some quite boring, others downright bizarre— at the time when other parts of the house were being renovated during the reign of King George V, the east wing had been left largely unheated and wholly abandoned.
The superb chemical laboratory built by his father for my great- uncle Tarquin, or “Tar,” de Luce had stood forgotten and neglected until I had discovered its treasures and made it my own. With the help of Uncle Tar’s meticulously detailed notebooks and a savage passion for chemistry that must have been born in my blood, I had managed to become quite good at rearranging what I liked to think of as the building blocks of the universe.
“Quite good?” a part of me is saying. “Merely ‘quite good’? Come off it, Flavia, old chum! You’re a bloody marvel, and you know it!”
Most chemists, whether they admit it or not, have a favorite corner of their craft in which they are forever tinkering, and mine is poisons.
While I could still become quite excited by recalling how I had dyed my sister Feely’s knickers a distinctive Malay yellow by boiling them in a solution of lead acetate, followed by a jolly good stewing in a solution of potassium chromate, what really made my heart leap up with joy was my ability to produce a makeshift but handy poison by scraping the vivid green verdigris from the copper fl oat- ball of one of Buckshaw’s Victorian toilet tanks. I bowed to myself in the looking glass, laughing aloud at the sight of the fat white slug-in-a-quilt that bowed back at me.
I leapt into my cold clothing, shrugging on at the last minute, on top of everything else, a baggy gray cardigan I had nicked from the bottom drawer of Father’s dresser. This lumpy monstrosity— swarming with khaki and maroon diamonds, like an overbaked rattlesnake— had been knitted for him the previous Christmas by his sister, Aunt Felicity.
“Most thoughtful of you, Lissy,” Father had said, deftly dodging any outright praise of the ghastly garment itself. When I noticed in August that he still hadn’t worn the thing, I considered it fair game and it had, since the onset of cold weather, become my favorite.
The sweater didn’t fit me, of course. Even with the sleeves rolled up I looked like a baggy monkey picking bananas. But to my way of thinking, at least in winter, woolly warmth trumps freezing fashion any day of the week. I have always made it a point never to ask for clothing for Christmas. Since it’s a dead cert that you’ll get it anyway, why waste a wish?
Last year I had asked Father Christmas for some badly needed bits of laboratory glassware— had even gone to the trouble of preparing an itemized list of fl asks, beakers, and graduated test tubes, which I tucked carefully under my pillow and, by the Lord Harry! he had brought them! Feely and Daffy didn’t believe in Father Christmas, which, I suppose, is precisely the reason he always brought them such dud gifts: scented soap, generally, and dressing gowns and slipper sets that looked and felt as if they had been cut from Turkey carpet.
Father Christmas, they had told me, again and again, was for children.
“He’s no more than a cruel hoax perpetrated by parents who wish to shower gifts upon their icky offspring without having to actually touch them,” Daffy had insisted last year. “He’s a myth. Take my word for it. I am, after all, older than you, and I know about these things.”
Did I believe her? I wasn’t sure. When I was able to get away on my own and think about it without tears springing to my eyes, I had applied my rather considerable deductive skills to the problem, and come to the conclusion that my sisters were lying. Someone, after all, had brought the glassware, hadn’t they?
There were only five possible human candidates. My father, Colonel Haviland de Luce, was penniless, and was therefore out of the question, as was my mother, Harriet, who had died in a mountaineering accident when I was no more than a baby.
Dogger, who was Father’s general roustabout and jack- of- all- trades, simply hadn’t the resources of mind, body, or finances to lug round lavish gifts secretly by night in a drafty and decaying country house. Dogger had been a prisoner of war in the Far East, where he had suffered so awfully that his brain had remained connected to those horrors by an invisible elastic cord— a cord that was sometimes still given a jerk by cruel Fate, usually at the most inopportune moments.
“ ’E ’ad to eat rats!” Mrs. Mullet had told me, wide- eyed in the kitchen. “Rats, fancy! They ’ad to fry ’em!” With everyone in the household disqualified for one reason or another as the Bringer of Gifts, that left only Father Christmas.
He would be coming again in less than a week and, in order to settle the question for once and for all, I had long ago laid plans to trap him.
Birdlime, as any practical chemist will tell you, can be easily manufactured by boiling the middle bark of holly for eight or nine hours, burying it under a stone for a fortnight, and then, when it is disinterred, washing and pulverizing it in running river water and leaving it to ferment. The stuff had been used for centuries by bird- sellers, who had smeared it on branches to trap the songbirds they sold in the city streets.
The great Sir Francis Galton had described a method of manufacturing the stuff in his book The Art of Travel; or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries, a signed copy of which I had found among a heavily underlined set of his works in Uncle Tar’s library. I had followed Sir Francis’s instructions to the letter, lugging home in midsummer armloads of holly from the great oaks that grew in Gibbet Wood, and boiling the broken branches over a laboratory Bunsen burner in a stew pot borrowed— without her knowledge— from Mrs. Mullet. During the final stages, I had added a few chemical twists of my own to make the pulverized resin a hundred times more sticky than the original recipe. Now, after six months of preparation, my concoction was powerful enough to stop a Gabon gorilla in its tracks, and Father Christmas— if he existed— wouldn’t stand a chance. Unless the jolly old gentleman just happened to be traveling with a handy bottle of sulfuric ether, (C2H5)2O, to dissolve the birdlime, he was going to stay stuck to our chimney pot forever— or until I decided to set him free.
It was a brilliant plan. I wondered why no one had thought of it before.
Peering out through the curtains, I saw that it had snowed in the night. Driven by the north wind, white flakes were still swirling madly in the light of the downstairs kitchen window.
Who could be up at such an hour? It was too early for Mrs. Mullet to have walked from Bishop’s Lacey. And then I remembered!
Today was the day the intruders were arriving from London. How could I ever have forgotten such a thing? It had been more than a month ago— on November 11, in fact, that gray and subdued autumn day upon which everyone in Bishop’s Lacey had mourned in silence all those whom they had lost in the wars— that Father had summoned us to the drawing room to break the grim news.
“I’m afraid I have to tell you that the inevitable has happened,” he said at last, turning away from the window, out of which he had been staring morosely for a quarter of an hour.
“I needn’t remind you of our precarious financial prospects . . .”
He said this forgetting the fact that he reminded us daily— sometimes twice in an hour— of our dwindling reserves. Buckshaw had belonged to Harriet, and when she had died without leaving a will (Who, after all, could even imagine that someone so brimming over with life could meet her end on a mountain in far- off Tibet?) the troubles had begun. For ten years now, Father had been going through the courtly steps of the “Dance of Death,” as he called it, with the gray men from His Majesty’s Board of Inland Revenue.
Yet in spite of the mounting pile of bills on the foyer table, and in spite of the increasing telephonic demands from coarse- voiced callers from London, Father had somehow managed to muddle through.
Once, because of his phobia about “the instrument,” as he called the telephone, I had answered one of these brash calls myself, bringing it to rather an amusing end by pretending to speak no English.
When the telephone had jangled again a minute later, I picked up the receiver at once, then jiggled my finger rapidly up and down on the cradle.
“Hello?” I had shouted. “Hello? Hello? I’m sorry— Can’t hear you. Frightful connection. Call back some other day.” On the third ring, I had taken the receiver off the hook and spat into the mouthpiece, which began at once to give off an alarming crackling noise.
“Fire,” I had said in a dazed and vaguely monotonous voice. “The house is in flames . . . the walls and the floor. I’m afraid I must ring off now. I’m sorry, but the firemen are hacking at the window.”
The bill collector had not called back.
“My meetings with the Estate Duties Office,” Father was saying, “have come to nothing. It is all up with us now.”
“But Aunt Felicity!” Daffy protested. “Surely Aunt Felicity—”
“Your aunt Felicity has neither the means nor the inclination to alleviate the situation. I’m afraid she’s—”
“Coming down for Christmas,” Daffy interrupted. “You could ask her while she’s here!”
“No,” Father said sadly, shaking his head. “All means have failed. The dance is over. I have been forced at last to give up Buckshaw—”
I let out a gasp.
Feely leaned forward, her brow furrowed. She was chewing at one of her fingernails: unheard of in someone as vain as she.
Daffy looked on through half- shut eyes, inscrutable as ever.
“—to a film studio,” Father went on. “They will arrive in the week before Christmas, and will remain in full possession until their work is complete.”
“But what about us?” Daffy asked. “What’s to become of us?”
“We shall be allowed to remain on the premises,” Father replied, “provided we keep to our quarters and don’t interfere in any way with the company’s work at hand. I’m sorry, but those were the best terms I could manage. In return, we shall receive, in the end, sufficient remuneration to keep our noses above water— at least until next Lady Day.”
This fifth in the bestselling, award-winning Arthur Beauchamp series finds the outwardly crusty, poetry-loving, wily old lawyer compelled, by new developments, to look back at his first -- and most disastrous -- murder trial. While renewing his annual try for the Most Points in Vegetables and Fruits at the Garibaldi Island Fall Fair, Arthur Beaucha …
IT WAS JUST AFTER THE 1962 EASTER WEEKEND when Beauchamp’s first murder file landed on his desk. Only twenty-five, he was in his fourth year of practice and still regretting his choice of criminal law over pursuit of a doctorate in classical studies. So it was a matter of extreme irony that the case that finally tilted him toward the law involved the death of his respected – nay, idolized – tutor in the Greek and Roman classics, Dermot Mulligan, D.Th., Ph.D.
Let us put this life-shaping event in context. His firm, Tragger, Inglis, Bullingham, was perhaps the most conservative, the most staid of Vancouver’s major law offices, and it regarded its small criminal division almost with embarrassment, its staff as untouchables. This is where Beauchamp toiled, in a windowless office on the fourteenth floor of a West Hastings bank building.
By the spring of that year he had built a creditable record of victories, but only one of note: a dangerous driving charge against the Highways minister, Phil Gaglardi. Many had been cases from the Legal Aid Society, earning a paltry thirty-five-dollar per diem. Occasionally, to the disapproval of his seniors, he would even act pro bono – a beggar, a vagrant, a street drunk. He was a pushover for the sad stories of the oppressed.
Earlier that year he’d finally escaped from the stifling oppression of his parental home on University Hill, to a West End bachelor flat. One might often see him having a fifty-cent breakfast in one of the busy diners on Denman Street, or on lonely walks by English Bay: gangly at six foot three (friends called him Stretch), hair clipped short, sombre of expression, his lugubrious eyes and heroic nose combining to give an impression of craggy world-weariness. Picture him on a chill and misty April morning in Tragger, Inglis’s requisite uniform – overcoat, hat, dark suit, black shoes – striding beneath the pink-blossoming trees of the West End toward the crypt, as he called his windowless office, to prepare the cross-examination of a young woman whose front teeth had been knocked out by a detested client . . .
Tuesday, April 24, 1962
Ah, yes, Schlott – Hugo Schlott – that was his name. A beefy, red-faced, post-pubescent progeny of a doting, disbelieving mother who was paying my fee. The chief of the criminal section and my immediate superior, Alex Pappas, had handed it off to me with a smirking “Do your best, pal.” Truly the Schlott case represented the low point of twenty-five years of a life poorly lived, spent in random wandering without clear direction. It offered stark proof I had taken an ill-conceived detour from the path of enlightenment to the path of shame. The doors of academia had been opened wide, bounteous scholarships offered. Instead I was bound upon my barrister’s oath to defend an odious bully.
I had no stomach for the trial, and I fully intended not to punch in that day. Instead I would march into the den of the managing partner, Roy Bullingham, and announce I would be applying to Cambridge to complete my thesis on The Aeneid. I owed that to Dermot Mulligan, for he had opened those academic doors and I had failed him. Dr. Mulligan – author, classicist, philosopher, mentor throughout my master’s program at ubc – had disappeared on Easter weekend, only a few days before, from his retreat by the Squamish River, and it was feared the river had taken him to his death.
That it was a pleasant spring morning seemed only to add to my malaise. That I entered my building amid a hurrying group of pretty secretaries only made me feel more lonely. Members of the intimidating other sex tended to spurn this socially dysfunctional sad sack; I’d never known the touch of Venus, that which they call love.
For no accountable reason, those few moments in the rattling elevator stick in my mind (though withheld from my prying biographer as too delicate for his omnivorous ears). I’d plastered myself to the back wall of the crowded cage behind the comely Gertrude Isbister: nineteen, newly hired, among the loveliest of the flowers that adorned our secretarial pool. As the lift lurched in ascent, she made a misstep while adjusting her skirt. Without thought I reached out to steady her, my hand resting for an electric second on the fluffy fabric of her tight angora sweater.
I said, “I truly beg pardon. Excuse me” – something like that, my face aflame. Whether out of shyness or reproach, she did not respond, though she didn’t move away and continued tugging at her skirt. We were let out on the fourteenth floor (in reality the thirteenth, which, according to local legend, was the haunt of ghosts wailing from the air conditioners). As Gertrude preceded me, I saw that her right stocking was poorly aligned, puckered at the knee. Staring rapturously at that juncture of skirt and knee, I barely missed colliding with Geoffrey Tragger as he exited his office.
“Steady there, son,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “Beauchamp,
“Yes, sir. Arthur Beauchamp.” I was surprised. This absentminded senior partner, a corporate tax specialist, rarely recognized, let alone spoke to the forty-odd inferiors in practice there. “You’re on the criminal end, are you not?” (These and following conversations are reconstructed as best I can remember; do not call it creative non-fiction – I seek to offer a fair rendering, without gloss.) “Your name was mentioned this morning . . . Yes, Mr. Bullingham wants a tête-à-tête. Something that’s been in the news . . . Well, never mind. He’s waiting for you.”
Bully’s secretary showed me straight in. He was seated behind his massive oaken desk, a gaunt man of middle years, a skindeep sheen of affability disguising the Scrooge within. Lolling in an easy chair across from him was Alex Pappas, wearing a rumpled suit and a vanity hairpiece, fleshy wattles quivering below a stubbly chin.
“We got something for you, kid,” he said.
“Alex believes you’re up for this,” said Bully. “Your first murder.”
I had rehearsed an exit line from Pliny: Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur. Many fear their reputation, few their conscience. My conscience (I might have added) will not let me defend a violent misogynist, sir. Fie, I say, to reputation. But my tongue was tied. A murder? Something that had been in the news? I trolled through the possibilities: the gangland turf war then adorning the front pages, or maybe that psychotic who’d mistaken his mailman for the Antichrist.
Bully was sifting through the papers in a thin folder. “You really think he has it in him?”
“He’s streaky,” Pappas said. “Won five straight, dropped the next two. Then four wins – charity cases.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of his penchant for defending life’s losers. Noble intentions, I’m sure, but we can’t have too much of that. What about Crawford?”
Pappas lit a cigarette. “Too lazy. Arthur is the best of a poor lot. Not much jury experience, a couple of cases. He’s not afraid of work. Seems to have some innate tools. Almost unconsciously eloquent at times.”
I might not have been there. I retain an image of myself shifting from foot to foot, hands hanging loosely, staring at a framed photograph of a younger Bully greeting my hero, John George Diefenbaker, the famed orator, criminal lawyer, and then prime minister. A similar photo, Bully clasping the hand of Louis St. Laurent, had disappeared after the Tories submerged the Liberals four years earlier. Another campaign was underway that year, Dief fighting to hang on to his job. (By the mid-sixties Lester Pearson had replaced him on Bully’s wall.)
“Am I to be allowed in on the secret?” I asked boldly. “Which murder case is this?”
Pappas blew a stream of smoke. “Dermot Mulligan.”
My mouth fell open. “Dermot Mulligan? Murdered?”
“Read the papers much, kid? Some loudmouth Indian got charged yesterday. Maybe you should tell him to shut his yap before he talks his way to the gallows.”
I stammered, “I . . . I can’t take it on. Professor Mulligan was . . . I knew him. I took courses from him. A hugely respected scholar. I’d be fouling his memory.”
I was met with incredulous stares.
On the Saturday of Easter weekend, Mulligan had disappeared from his hobby farm – ten acres along the Squamish River, across from the snow-capped peaks of the Tantalus Mountains. In late March he’d begun a sabbatical there to write his memoirs; he was later joined by his wife, Irene. They were both about fifty, and childless. But I’d heard speculation from mutual friends that Gabriel Swift, a young aboriginal, had taken on a filial role, and that the Mulligans had begun to dote on him.
I was aware from news accounts that Swift was twenty-one and had worked a few years as their caretaker, looking after their A-frame cottage when they were at their Vancouver home. For the term of Mulligan’s sabbatical, Swift had moved back to the Cheakamus Reserve, though he returned daily for chores: splitting wood, operating a small tractor, tending a pair of riding horses. Shortly after Mulligan’s disappearance he’d been arrested, questioned, and released. But apparently on Easter Monday – just yesterday – he had been detained again, and this time charged with Mulligan’s murder.
A theologian and philosopher, Dr. Mulligan was also famed as a translator and expositor of classic literature, which he had taught me to love. A rebel within his once-revered Roman Catholic Church, he was a bit of an oddity, awkward and jumpy, slightly fey. His lectures were often brilliant, yet peppered with anecdotes that rarely seemed on point. A powerful scholar, he’d published nine books on philosophy, religion, and morality, the best of them meditations on the ancient gods and the poets who’d praised them. Thin, balding, given to wearing heavy horn-rims, he was a man reclusive in habits, rarely appearing outside home, hobby farm, and lecture hall. But I’d shared a glass of Madeira with him, had been among the privileged few to be invited into his book-lined den. Had I been his favourite? I wanted to believe so.
“I revered him . . . It’s hard to explain.”
“Well, as long as he wasn’t going up your ass, I don’t see a problem.”
That salacious innuendo from Pappas I recall distinctly – I was contemplating ripping the toupée from his head.
“All the better that you hold a reverence for the deceased,” said Bully. “The jury will be the more impressed that you would defend his killer.”
This eye-popping presumption of guilt was, I think now, Bully’s effort to shock me, to force me into waving the flag for presumption of innocence. In putting my sense of justice to the test he thought to bend me, break my will.
“One must occasionally do the charitable thing,” Bully continued. “The image of the grasping lawyer is all too prevalent. So when the Legal Aid Society calls upon us to show our good heart, we do not demur, particularly for a high-profile case. And there are rewards beyond printer’s ink. They have offered an unusually generous hundred dollars per diem, plus a smaller amount for your junior counsel.”
“Out of curiosity, whom do you have in mind?” I asked.
“Ophelia Moore,” Pappas said. “Spin this baby out and we may even turn a profit. And maybe you’ll get laid in the bargain.” The female staff called Pappas “Mister Hands” behind his back. It was all around the office that when he squeezed Mrs. Moore’s rear, she’d grabbed his testicles so hard he yelped.
Bully scowled at Pappas. “We don’t suggest you’ll win, young man. The odds are stacked against you. Eminent scholar slain by a hot-tempered Native with, doubtless, your typical drinking problem. But justice must seem to be done, and you, young Arthur, are the one who must seem to do it.”
There was more along this line. It was the ethical duty of counsel not to turn away the impoverished supplicant. This would be my chance, even in defeat, to embellish a growing reputation. A career-maker. Winnable cases would follow. Tragger, Inglis had its eye on me.
Despite my reservations, I felt challenged – I’d been worked over well. And I was intrigued; I had dreamed of putting what skills I had to the supreme test. A murder, a hanging offence! Maybe I owed Dr. Mulligan this – after all, he’d been not only an opponent of capital punishment but a vigorous supporter of Native rights. In his early years he’d been the principal of one of the Native residential schools that he later spoke of so scathingly. I suspected Swift had been his project of redemption.
Pappas stubbed out his smoke. “He’s waiting to meet you at Oakie.” Oakalla, in Burnaby, the regional prison.
“I have a trial. Hugo Schlott.”
“That bum? You’ll have to find some way to put it over, pal.”
“It’s set peremptorily. I’ve adjourned it seven times.”
“Mr. Pappas will be pleased to do it in your stead.” Bully’s expression warned that he would not hear debate. Pappas looked as if he’d taken a boot in the groin.
Before heading off to Oakalla Prison, I squirreled myself away in the Crypt with the file and several back issues of the Sun and the Province. The file was skimpy indeed: a legal aid form and a sheet of paper with some phone numbers – no details, no police report. The news stories (still extant, crisp, yellowed, and well-fondled by Wentworth Chance) revealed little. After Dr. Mulligan’s disappearance, some clothing, presumably his, was found by the riverbank half a mile from his cottage. They were being examined for bloodstains. Irene Mulligan was speechless with grief, secluding herself and refusing to be interviewed by the press.
A person of interest had been questioned, held, and released, but Swift’s name wasn’t mentioned until his re-arrest. In his remarks to the press, Staff Sergeant Roscoe Knepp of the Squamish rcmp had used the typically prolix phraseology of his trade: “I can only affirm at this point in time that the arrested individual had been in the employ of Dr. Mulligan for approximately two years and five months. A formal charge of murder in the first degree has been preferred against the aforesaid individual. We are pursuing further investigative leads.”
Press photos showed Swift being bundled into a cruiser: a young, slender, bronze-skinned lad in rough clothes, a pair of braids, sparking black eyes. He’d called out to reporters that he was being “framed by a fascist f—ing cabal of racist brownshirts.” That gave me a jolt. Such bluntness would gain him little sympathy in a white man’s court. What in God’s name had I gotten myself into?
Swift was obviously a much-politicized young upstart. He was a farmhand, a labourer, a son of the Cheakamus tribe, born on its reserve, educated in a church-run school. No interviews with his friends or family decorated those pages, though encomiums for Dr. Mulligan filled columns.
The few neighbours who would speak of Swift – all white and working-class – claimed to know little of him. Thelma McLean, who lived across the road with her tree-faller husband, had often seen him “lazing about on their porch with a book,” a curious observation, implying an association between reading and laziness. “I can’t remember speaking to him, but he seemed troubled, always hiding in a book.” Mrs. McLean and other neighbours were attending to Irene Mulligan, shielding her from the media swarm outside her house.
Before slipping the file into my briefcase, I looked through the contacts Pappas had jotted down. Staff Sergeant Knepp’s number was there, and that of the court clerk in Squamish. The final name caused me tremors. M. Cyrus Smythe-Baldwin, Q.C., the lion of the criminal courts, had been named special prosecutor.
A New York Times Notable Crime Book and Favorite Cozy for 2011 A Publishers Weekly Best Mystery/Thriller books for 2011 "Penny has been compared to Agatha Christie [but] it sells her short. Her characters are too rich, her grasp of nuance and human psychology too firm... ." - Booklist (starred review)
"Hearts are broken," Lillian Dyson carefully …
From bestselling author Peter Robinson comes this atmospheric, suspenseful, and thrilling standalone novel
Through the years of success in Hollywood composing film scores, Chris always promised his wife they'd return to the Yorkshire Dales one day. Now a widower, Chris feels he must not forget his promise. Back in the Dales, he rents an isolated hou …
Famous Trials: Grace Elizabeth Fox, April 1953, by Sir Charles Hamilton Morley
Grace Elizabeth Fox rose from her bed and dressed with the aid of her young Attending Officer Mary Swann at 6.30 AM on the morning of 23rd April, 1953. She ate a light breakfast of toast, marmalade and tea, then she busied herself writing letters to her family and friends. After a small brandy to steady her nerves shortly before 8.00 AM, she spent the following hour alone with the Chaplain.
At thirty seconds before 9.00 AM, Mr. Albert Pierrepoint and his assistant entered Grace’s cell, and with his usual polite deference and dispatch, Mr. Pierrepoint tied her hands behind her back with a soft calfskin strap and escorted her the short distance to the Execution House directly above. It was a grey, rainy morning, and the stone steps were dark and slick with rain. The small party entered the House, where the Governor, the doctor and two witnesses were already waiting, at 9.00 AM precisely. According to later accounts, Grace comported herself with great dignity throughout, and she never faltered in her steps or uttered a sound, except for a brief shudder and audible inhalation of breath when she first saw the rope.
Once at the gallows, she was placed in position over the chalked ‘T’ on the trapdoor, and the assistant pinioned her ankles with a leather strap. Mr. Pierrepoint took from his pocket a white cotton hood, which he placed over Grace’s head, then he carefully and gently adjusted the leather-sheathed noose around her neck. When all was to his satisfaction, he stepped back, removed the safety pin and pushed the lever away from him in one sharp, swift motion. The trapdoor opened and Grace fell to her death. The whole business, from the cell to the eternal hereafter, took no longer than fifteen seconds.
After a brief examination by the prison doctor, Grace’s body was left hanging for the regulation hour, after which time it was removed and washed, then an autopsy was performed. The findings were that she died instantaneously of a ‘fracture-dislocation of the spine at C.2 with a 2 inch gap and transverse separation of the spinal cord at the same level’. The pathologist also found ‘fractures of both wings of the hyoid and the right wing of the thyroid cartilage’. Grace’s larynx was also fractured.
The following day, after Grace’s sister Felicity had formally identified the body, a coroner’s inquest reported her death: ‘Twenty-third April 1953 at H.M. Prison, Leeds: Grace Elizabeth Fox, Female, 40 years, Housewife of Kilnsgate House, Kilnsgarthdale, in the District of Richmond, Yorkshire (North Riding). Cause of Death: Injuries to the central nervous system consequent upon judicial hanging.’ The Governor entered in his daily log the simple words, ‘The sentence of death on Grace Elizabeth Fox was carried out by means of execution,’ and Grace’s body was buried within the prison grounds.
I had promised myself that when I turned sixty I would go home. Laura thought it was a great idea, but when the day finally came, I was standing at her graveside in the New England rain, crying my eyes out. All the more reason to go, I thought.
‘In two hundred yards, bear right.’
I drove straight on.
‘In four hundred yards, bear right.’
I continued driving under the canopy of trees, leaves falling and swirling around me. The screen froze, then flickered and dissolved, reforming into new shapes that didn’t in the least resemble the landscape I was driving through.
‘Please turn around and turn left in three hundred yards.’
I didn’t think this could be true. I was sure that my turning lay still about half a mile ahead to the left. It was easy to miss, I had been told, especially if you have never made it before. Satnavs obviously behave strangely in Yorkshire. I decided to leave it on and find out what it said next.
I slowed to a crawl, kept my eyes open, and there it was, a gap in the drystone wall on my left, which resembled a neglected farm track more than anything else, though I could see by the tyre marks that someone else had been that way recently. There was no signpost, and an old wooden farm gate hung open at an angle, broken away from the rusty hinge at the top. The opening was just about wide enough for a small delivery van.
It had turned into a gorgeous day, I thought, as I guided the Volvo through the narrow entrance. The hidden dale opened up to me beyond the overhanging trees like some magical land never seen by human eye before. The car bumped over a cattle grid and splashed through a puddle. It was hard to believe the deluge that had almost washed me off the road between Ripon and Masham, but that’s Yorkshire weather for you. If you don’t like it, my father used to say, wait ten minutes or drive ten miles.
‘Please turn back now,’ the satnav said. I switched it off and continued along the lane.
The grass was lush green after the heavy summer rains, the pale blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, the trees resplendent in their muted autumn colours of gold, lemon and russet. They might not be as dramatic as the fall leaves in Vermont, but they have a beauty all of their own, nonetheless. My window was open a few inches, and I could hear the birdsong and smell the wet grass.
I was driving west along the valley bottom, just to the right of Kilnsgarthdale Beck, which was running high, almost busting its banks. The whole dale was probably no more than half a mile wide and two miles long, its bottom a flat swathe of about two hundred yards, along which the beck and the lane ran side by side. Grassy slopes rose gently to a height of about fifty feet or so on either side, a silvery stream trickling down here and there to join the beck, and treelines ran along the top of each side. A few cattle grazed on the slope to my right, which I guessed was attached to a farm out of sight, over the hill. Kilnsgarthdale is a small, secluded dale flanked by woods and drystone walls. You won’t see it on any but the most detailed of maps.
I passed a ruined stone barn and the remnants of a drystone wall, which had once marked the boundary of a field on the opposite hillside, but there were no other signs of human habitation until I neared Kilnsgate House.
The house was set about twenty yards back from the lane, on my right, beyond a low drystone garden wall with a green wooden gate in need of painting. I paused and looked through the car window. It was hard to see much more than the chimneys, slate roof and the tops of a couple of upper windows from the lane, because the rest was obscured by trees, and the sloping garden was quite overgrown. I had a curious sensation that the shy, half-hidden house was waiting for me, that it had been waiting for some time. I gave a little shudder, then I turned off the engine and sat for a moment, breathing in the sweet air and luxuriating in the silence. So this was it, I thought, my journey’s end. Or its beginning.
I know it sounds odd, but I had seen Kilnsgate House only in photographs up to this point. During the entire purchase process, I had been involved in a massive work project back in Los Angeles, and I simply hadn’t had the time to jump on a plane and fly over for a viewing. The whole business had been handled by the estate agent, Heather Barlow, and a solicitor, transacted via emails, couriers, phone calls and wire transfers.
Kilnsgate House was by far the best of many I had viewed on the Internet, and the price was right. A bargain, in fact. It had been used as a rental property for some years, and there was no present occupant. The owner lived abroad and showed no interest in the place, which was held in trust for him, or her, by a solicitor in Northallerton. There would be no problems with onward chains and gazumping, and all those other odd practices the English go in for when buying and selling houses. I could move in, Mrs Barlow had assured me, as soon as I wanted.
She had brought up the issue of isolation, and I saw now exactly what she meant. This had posed a problem, along with the size of the house, when it came to renting the place to tourists. I would be cut off from the world here, she had said. The nearest neighbours lived more than a mile away on a farm, over the other side of the hill, beyond the treeline, and the nearest town, Richmond, was two miles away. I told her that was fine with me.
I got out of the car, walked through the creaky gate, then turned and stood by the wall to admire the view of the opposite daleside. About halfway up stood a stone ruin, framed by the trees, half buried in the hill. I thought it was perhaps a folly of some kind.
The only other thing that Mrs Barlow had been particularly concerned about was my attitude towards the grand piano. It would be possible to move it out, she said in one of our many telephone conversations, but difficult. There would be no extra charge for it, of course, should I decide to keep it, though she would quite understand if I did want rid of it. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had been about to order an upright piano, or perhaps even a small digital model. Now I had a grand. All I would need, Mrs Barlow went on, surprised and pleased at my acceptance and excitement, was a piano tuner.
Although I was unaware of it at this point, Kilnsgate House also had a history, which would soon come to interest me, perhaps even to obsess me, some might argue. A good estate agent, and Heather Barlow was good, clearly becomes adept in the art of omission.
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Winner of the Edna Staebler Award and the Arthur Ellis Award for Non Fiction
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