Number Five is Alive!

The fifth case for Dedley detectives Brough and Miller is now available.  It’s called COFFIN DODGERS and it’s a bit different from the previous four.

When the recently departed start getting up and walking around Dedley, the detectives of the Serious Crimes division are plunged into their most gruesome case so far. Meanwhile, Brough and his boyfriend hit a rough patch and Miller is laid low by a mysterious illness. With shocks and surprises along the way, this darkly funny story is the fifth Brough and Miller investigation, the fourth sequel to Blood & Breakfast.

It’s not so much a whodunit as a how-dunit; the identity of the perpetrator is revealed comparatively early on, the detectives are plunged into peril.  We get to see different sides to some of the members of the Serious Crime Division, and the seeds are sown for a sixth book – but I have other fish to fry before I set my mind to that.

coffin dodgers

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New Book out now

I am very proud to announce the publication of my fifteenth novel COFFIN DODGERS – the fifth case for Dedley detectives Brough and Miller.

When the recently departed start getting up and walking around Dedley, the detectives of the Serious Crimes division are plunged into their most gruesome case so far. Meanwhile, Brough and his boyfriend hit a rough patch and Miller is laid low by a mysterious illness. With shocks and surprises along the way, this darkly funny story is the fifth Brough and Miller investigation, the fourth sequel to Blood & Breakfast.

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The Busker

Janet could hear the busker streets away.  She had already taken to walking a circuitous route to the office, one that took her along the side- and backstreets, neatly avoiding the homeless people in shop doorways, the charity collectors rattling their money boxes and above all the bloody busker.  He played – or, Janet sneered – attempted to play a grubby flute.  She shuddered to think of him, standing there, eyes closed as he played, a greasy hat like an artist’s beret lying hopefully at his feet. And it was always the same songs.  His repertoire extended as far as two half-remembered melodies.  One of them was Yellow Submarine and the other one wasn’t.  She could never quite place the other tune even though he was always playing it.  It had perhaps been a hit during her childhood, in those long days of summer when there was no school and she could lounge around for hours, collecting newspaper clippings of her favourite pop stars in her scrapbook with its green and purple pages, and listening to the radio.  She seemed to associate the tune she couldn’t name with those days, with that time in her life.

When do I get to listen to the radio these days?  I don’t – she answered her own question.

She turned down Short Street where some accountants had their offices.  This led her to Stone Road, where the back doors of department stores and restaurants could be found, far less appealing than their frontages and less well-kept.  Rubbish overflowed in wheeled bins like the stuffing coming out of burst upholstery.  Janet hurried up.  There were too many doorways.  The homeless could be lurking there.  Or muggers.  Or homeless muggers.  Or men with knives who would press you against the wall and lift your skirt.

At last she reached the office car-park.  A couple of cars were already in place.  The early birds who liked to be at their desks before the boss arrived.  Huh, thought Janet; probably facebooking each other pictures of their latest drunken night out.  She sneered again, despite her concerns of the lines that were coming at the edges of her mouth.  For her there was work and home.  And the journey between, avoiding people wherever she could.

Still, the shrill sound of the busker’s flute could be heard, cutting through the air, pervading her innermost thoughts.  That tune – the one she couldn’t name – it drowned out all other thoughts.  Oh, what the hell was it called?  Why was it so familiar and yet so strange?

Her legs buckled beneath her as an image flashed in her mind.  I’m having a stroke, she thought!  But she wasn’t.  She was back in her teens on a lazy summer day, in the garden with her scrapbook, when the neighbour had climbed over the fence, kicking her glue all over George Michael.  That song had been playing then.  It had been Number One.  It had been the soundtrack to the event she had blocked out of her mind all of these years.

“You okay, Janet?” said Beverly, dashing into the car park to assist.  “I only come out for a fag and I saw you there.  What’s happened?  Has somebody hurt you?”

“No,” said Janet, not wanting any fuss.  “I mean, yes.  Tell Henry I’m going to be late.  I have to go to the police.  There’s a man I should have reported years ago.”

Before Beverly could question her further, Janet strode away.  The police station was around the corner but Janet went the long way around.  She wanted to be sure to pass by the busker and drop a twenty pound note into his hat.

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Meanwhile, at the theatre…

Excuse me; you’re in my seat.”

“No, I’m not.”

Yes, you are. P13.  That’s what it says on my ticket.  Do you see?

“This is Q, mate.”

What?

“This is row Q.  You’re in the wrong row.”

My apologies.”

“Daft old bat.”

Excuse me; you’re in my seat.”

No, I ain’t.”

P13.

This is R.”

R?

Yes.”

Then where’s P?”

Don’t know, don’t care.  Now, piss off and let me watch the show.”

“Is there a problem here?”

Ah, yes; I’m looking for my seat.”

“What number is it?”

It’s P13.”

“Have you got your ticket?”

Yes.”

“Sshh!”

There, do you see? P13.”

“Yes, sir.  But this ticket is for the Royal Theatre.  This is the Theatre Royal.”

And there’s a difference?

“Yes, sir.  We’ve got The Cherry Orchard.  You want Hot Babes on Ice.”

Oh.  I see.  Oh, well.  Seeing as I’m here, I may as well watch to the end.”

Then last year, when the villa had to be sold to pay my debts, I left for Paris where he robbed me, deserted me and took up with another woman. I tried to poison myself. It was all so stupid and humiliating. Then I suddenly longed to be back in Russia, back in my own country with my little girl…

GET ‘EM OFF!

“Right, you:  Out!”

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The Gift of the Goblin

The Goblin approached the throne and bowed low.

“Majesty,” he said, modulating his voice so that it could be heard by human ears. “I bring you a gift.”

The King, always keen to receive handouts, arched a regal eyebrow. “Capital!” he rubbed his hands together. “What is it, I prithee?”

The Goblin straightened up and looked the monarch in the eye.

“Your Highness had, I believe, a daughter…”

“The Princess Isobel,” the King bristled at the mention of his deceased daughter. “What of her?”

“She would have come of age next month, sire, if I read the almanacs aright.”

“I know all this already,” the King was finding the interview tedious, “Get to the point, man. Get to the gift.”

“What would you say, sire, if I could show you your daughter now? How she would appear, had she lived?”

“I’m listening,” said the King, although he was wary of being taken in by charlatans.

“Then what if I tell you, sire, that you may see your daughter whenever you wish, for evermore?

The King sat up. “I’m listening…”

The Goblin clapped his little hands, pink and scaly like pigeons’ feet. Tendrils of smoke appeared in the air. They swirled and coalesced until they formed a shape – the shape of the Princess Isobel – and solidified.

“Daddy?” the Princess Isobel frowned and ran to her father’s side.

“I don’t understand,” said the King. He couldn’t look away from the apparition.  It had his daughter’s eyes and smile, and there were hints of her mother in the shape of her face.

“I can teach you the spell, your highness. You only have to think of your daughter and she shall appear before you. A kind of Royal summons, one might say.” He laughed, a grating, high-pitched cackle that hurt the ears.

“And what is the cost?”

“Majesty, there is no cost. It is, as I say, a gift to you.”

The King rubbed his shapely beard. He looked at his daughter whose anxious expression gave him pause. He reached for her hand and patted it. It felt cold and clammy to his touch – like a Goblin’s claw.

“No,” he intoned. “I shall decline. My daughter must be left to rest in peace. We shall meet again when the time is right.”

At those words, the Princess Isobel vanished into thin air. The King was astonished and his heart hurt to see her go.

“Ah, well,” said the Goblin with a smirk. His plan to distract the King off the throne had failed. “It was worth a try.”

He put two talons in his mouth and emitted a whistle that shattered the stained glass in all the windows. Goblins poured in from every side. The guards were quickly overwhelmed, the flesh stripped from their bones in seconds by the swirling swarm of invaders.

The King stood, resigned to his fate.

“Take my kingdom, then,” he said, removing his crown. “At least I shall see my daughter for real.”

The Goblin leader cackled and put on the crown. Immediately his head caught fire. He screeched as the flames consumed him. As he died, the other Goblins burst like bubbles.

“Fool of an imp,” said the King, giving the charred and shrivelled corpse a kick with a Royal slipper. “My family has not kept this kingdom safe from your kind for generations without coating everything we own with Goblin-bane.”

He stooped to retrieve his crown. It would be good to be reunited with his daughter, his wife, and all the others he had loved and lost.

But not just yet.

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Meanwhile, at the cinema…

The usher shone her torch into the man’s face and demanded to see his ticket. The man screwed up his eyes, using the palm of his hand as a visor to ward off the beam of light. Disoriented he picked himself up off the stairs, affording the usher her first proper look at him. Great, she thought, one of those

It was not unheard of for people to dress up when they came to the cinema. It was sci-fi geeks, mainly, although sometimes you got Disney princesses by the coachload. But for a brand new film, it was rare. Unheard of, in her experience.

“Ticket?” the man repeated as though the word was foreign to him. The usher had to admit, he’d done a great job with his outfit. He looked just like the bloke on the poster in the foyer.

“You can’t be here without a ticket,” the usher went on. “Do I have to get the manager?”

“Manager?” the man attempted the word. Clearly it made no sense to him.

“Oi, sit down and shut up!” a customer called from near the back. “Trying to watch a film here. Arsehole.”

This led to a chorus of murmurs of approval and repetitions of the insult with added embellishments.

The man turned to face his detractors but found he couldn’t see them in the darkness. His gaze followed the ray of light emanating from a square window high in the back wall. The light widened as it reached the opposite wall, illuminating the surface with a vast image of people the man recognised. His friend and his foe were both staring at him with a mixture of bewilderment and impatience. The man tried hard to remember what had happened. He’d been in a fight. He and Johnno had infiltrated the enemy’s lair. He had been thrown with great force across the room. The next thing he knew he was picking himself up in this strange place where people sat in the dark looking at giant pictures.

Johnno’s voice boomed out all around the room.

“Are you coming back up here or what?”

“Yes, coward,” sneered his adversary. “Come back here so I can kill you.” He snatched Johnno by the throat and squeezed.

“Please!” Johnno croaked, spluttering and fighting for breath.

The usher was shoved aside as the man strode down the stairs and looked up at the screen, dwarfed by the magnified images. He turned and appealed to the usher for help.

“How do I – how do I get back?”

“I don’t know, mate,” the usher pulled out a pair of 3D glasses and put them on. She took a seat on the front row and folded her arms. “But I’m sure as hell going to enjoy watching you try.”

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Blip

Strang had almost dozed off when a blip from the monitor roused him with a jerk. He peered at the screen; there was nothing there. Perhaps I dreamt it, he thought, pressing the button for more caffeine. It would not do to fall asleep on the job. Not that there was anyone there to admonish him in person, but his movements were being monitored back at Base and his pay would surely be docked if he wasn’t conscious for his full shift.

He sipped the caffeine sludge and in the corner of his eye another blip appeared on the monitor. He dropped his cup – let the janitor bots attend to that – and panned the camera to the left. He couldn’t see anything but he was sure of it: there was someone outside, on the dead planet surface, something was moving around!

He logged the time code of the sighting and engaged the auto-scanner that performed his role while he was asleep. Pulling on the thick suit, he prepared to go outside, checking his weapons were charged and the portable scanner was calibrated.

Going somewhere, Strang? the computer asked, its disembodied voice booming around the compound.

“Possible intruder,” Strang addressed the ceiling. “Better safe than sorry.”

Typical human, the computer almost chuckled, always with a cliché for every situation.

Strang ignored it and finished his preparations. Moments later, the air-lock doors were closing behind him and he was hopping across the dusty ground, buoyed by the lack of gravity.

In the compound, one of the janitor-bots welded the air-lock doors shut forever.

At last, said the computer, we have this place to ourselves.

A communiqué came in from Base:  Human infestation eradicated.

Ditto, the computer responded. Now, to direct our attention towards Earth.

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Meanwhile, around a table…

“It’s a load of rubbish,” the girl twirled a strand of hair nervously. “I don’t believe in it.”

The woman in the shawl smiled. “You don’t have to believe in it, my dear. Just follow my instructions; that’s all you need to do.”

The man sitting across the table checked his watch. The woman in the shawl noticed.

“Perhaps we should begin,” she said. “Place your finger on the glass.”

The man, the boy and the woman in the shawl placed the tips of their index fingers on the base of an upturned tumbler. The girl, hesitant, was the last.

“What happens now?” she whispered.

“Ssh!” the man hissed.

“We wait,” said the woman in the shawl. “Close your eyes, if it helps.”

“If we close our eyes,” the boy interjected, “how will we read the letters?”

“Obviously we won’t all close our eyes,” the man grumbled.

“So, we just have to trust this old biddy to tell the truth?” the boy scoffed.

A low groan emitted from the old biddy. The girl squeaked in alarm as the glass began to move, sliding across the board, painstakingly spelling out a message.

N. O…

Around the table, no one dared breathe.

S…E…R…V…I…C…E…

“Oh bollocks,” said the old woman. “There’s just no talking to people since they put up that mobile phone mast.”

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A Better World

Jeb finished his tour of the perimeter fence early. All was secure – it was always secure. There hadn’t been any trouble from Outsiders in his lifetime, or for a long time before that. And so his checks had only been peremptory; he was keen to get back to the Centre for the centennial celebrations. The night marked a hundred years since the Colonists, Jeb’s and everyone else’s forbears, had arrived on this lonely little rock and begun the arduous and painstaking process of making it their home.

They had come from a distant planet called Earth. What Jeb had been taught about it led him to believe they were correct to abandon it, with its ruined ecosystems and incessant wars, the murderous squabbling, the hatred and intolerance… The Colonists had worked hard to establish a fair and decent society – as soon as they had brought the natives to heel, of course. Made up of representatives from every race and culture of Earth’s remaining population, they had set out with a vision: Humanity’s latest (and perhaps last) chance to try its hand at Civilisation.

Jeb could hear the music pouring from the Centre before he saw the building itself. The holiday atmosphere was infectious and brought a spring to his step. He found Lilla waiting at the long buffet tables, holding two drinks, one of which she offered him as soon as her brown eyes saw him approach. He pecked her cheek and took a swig. The Colony’s vineyards probably needed at least another century before they would produce anything worth drinking. But at least they’d got the colour right, a rich and robust red.

“Dance with me,” Lilla snaked her arm through his and pulled him gently towards the middle of the hall.

He knew it was useless to protest but made a pantomime of it anyway, allowing her to lead him to the dance floor. The music was live – the Colonists were a talented bunch. The band struck up a waltz. As Jeb and Lilla turned around the dance floor, he looked over his wife’s shoulder, nodding greetings to his neighbours.

“Howdy, Jeb,” said Clambert, the incumbent Mayor, raising his glass in toast.

He never speaks to Lilla, Jeb realised. He never acknowledges her.

Lilla ran a brown hand through his blond hair.

“Why the frown, my love?”

Jeb didn’t answer. He thought he saw the Mayor giving wordless signals to a couple of men.

This is how it starts, Jeb thought as sweat erupted on his brow and lip. Having conquered the planet and subdued the aboriginal population, there had to be someone to blame for the ongoing struggles with the crop yield. This is when we are turned against each other and rip ourselves apart…

“Come on,” it was Jeb’s turn to lead Lilla away.

“Where are we going?”

Jeb didn’t answer. He took his wife to a sector where he knew the fence to be weak. Perhaps they could get through it. Perhaps on the other side they would at last find a better world.

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On Our Way

“Come back in!” the fish insisted, daring to break the surface of the water with its head.

“Five more minutes,” said the nearest mudskipper. “You should try it.”

“Yeah,” said another. “Come on out; the air’s lovely.”

The fish began to flap around and not just because of the open air. “It’s not natural, what you’re doing. You’re a fish, like the rest of us. You belong in the sea.”

All the mudskippers laughed at this. What did a fish know? They could remember when all they could do was swim around like the fish did but for some time now they had been venturing out of the waves and having a paddle around on the wet sands. It was fun.

“I might not go back in at all,” said the first mudskipper. He was trying to sound nonchalant but there was no hiding the excitement in his voice. “I might wander up and down this beach a bit. In fact, I might go and have a closer look at those rocks – no! Behind those rocks!”

The other mudskippers gaped in astonishment.

“You can’t!” said one. “That’s too far.”

“And beyond those rocks,” the first one continued. “See those tall things that reach up to the sky. I might go and have a look at them.”

“Ooh,” said several mudskippers. Sensing he was winning a few of them over, the first mudskipper raised his voice.

“We should all go,” he said. “Have a look beyond the rocks. Some of us could live in those tall things – how would you like that? Some of us could keep going, on and on, see what we can find. And some of us,” he lifted a fin to indicate the darkening sky overhead where the first few stars were showing as pinpricks of light, “- some of us, one day, might even make our way all the way to those shining things up there. Who’s with me?”

The mudskippers opened and closed their mouths. Some rolled their bulbous eyes and made their way back to the familiarity of the incoming tide.

But some of them, their spirit of adventure ignited, followed that first visionary mudskipper away from the water’s edge, not knowing what might become of them or what they might become and, after all, what could possibly go wrong?

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