It is easy to kill a man, not so easy to dispose of the body.
I never believed Tom had just left town, nor did his distraught wife, but there was no evidence of foul play.
Tom had evidence, he showed it to me; pictures on his phone, paperwork saved from the shredder. His supervisor told him to keep quiet, let the authorities do their inspections, it was not worth us all losing our jobs.
I was his supervisor.
I don’t believe our boss is a bad man, but he had become a small link in a long chain.
I had no intention of being a whistleblower, I know how easy it is for someone to disappear at Sunny Farm meat processing factory.
Now the men in white boiler suits are here to close us down; if I tell the police about Tom, can they guarantee my safety? No.
Last week we went on what could be the ultimate autumnal outing, certainly for those of us who haven’t been to New England in the fall. Thanks to modern weather forecasting the predicted blue skies and sunshine made the gardens of Stourhead picture perfect. It was a little early for nature and photography experts, the trees had not reached their full colour potential, but when a gentle breeze sends golden beech leaves floating to the ground it is like pennies from heaven and perhaps this is the closest to heaven on earth most of us will get.
Like most National Trust properties and other great houses and castles that you pay to enter, you are sealed off from real life. There is no traffic except the gardeners’ tractor and trailer, no traffic noise, no building work going on, no homeless people to remind you of the darker side of life and little likelihood of being mugged or caught up in a street riot. Your children can safely run around, as long as they don’t fall into the lake… Everybody is there to enjoy nature or a healthy walk. I guess there is always the chance a fight will erupt between photographers spoiling each other’s view, perhaps the loser rolling down the manicured lawns into the lake; that would make a good story, but it didn’t happen on our visit.
Fortunately patience prevailed at the archway to the house. Two Japanese ladies left behind by their party were admiring the masses of red leaves of the Virginia Creeper that smothered the stone arch. They kept rearranging themselves to photograph each other and also seemed to examine each leaf in detail. Meanwhile on one side was Cyberspouse with his camera and on the bank opposite a couple of photographers waiting for the ladies to move out of the way. I like taking pictures with people in, but I guess the others had to wait until next autumn.
Inside the house, phones were to be switched off, bags left in lockers and no flash photography. My point and shoot compact has a habit of switching its flash back on so I only managed one quick picture of the library before one of the volunteers started telling me how they cleaned the books with pony hair brushes, then suck the dust away with a mini vacuum cleaner. But I did ask the important questions readers and writers would want to know. Did the family of old read all these books? Yes, this was their learning and entertainment centre and only a few books have been found with the pages still uncut at the edges. Does anyone still read them? Yes you can apply. What is the oldest book? ‘Oh dear, I never remember’ said the lady, then called up to an elderly gentleman perched precariously on top of a ladder – one of the hazards of having book shelves that go up to the ceiling. He wobbled down to tell me the answer, a German manuscript of 1591.
The Hoare family who created the house and beautiful gardens were bankers. Henry ‘the good’ bought Stourton Manor and medieval buildings were replaced by a Palladian villa, but he died in 1724, a year before the house was completed. Henry the Magnificent’s nickname was earned by the landscape vision he created in his garden. With hills, water and classical architecture overlaid by a fabulous collection of trees and shrubs, Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when it first opened in the 1740s. Henry died in 1785, but like all altruistic planters of trees he could not know how his gardens would look over two centuries later.
You can walk all round the lake, created by damming the River Stour which flows sixty miles to Christchurch harbour. Stop to admire follies, temples and the grotto as well as the views, then return to the Spread Eagle Inn to enjoy refreshments.
I hadn’t read the previous novel about Kate, so knew nothing about her, but Kate knows nothing about herself either when she wakes up. This is a thriller with no heroes, the Snowman is desperate to help her and it seems at last he can, but it is not to be. If this was a television thriller the Snowman would save the day, but the story becomes more complex. We follow the killer’s thoughts as well as the other main characters, an advantage of books over screens. The reader will never sympathise, but we might comprehend what’s going on in Jack’s mind. Michael is another character who we think might save the day, but he is a mix of flaws and must face up to the grief he has caused the woman he loved and the other woman who loves him. This is not a novel for the faint hearted; what starts as a mystery of unconnected murders is also the story of those unfortunate enough to be in the path of a killer or know his intended victim. We know from the news that bizarre killings can occur when a murderer becomes obsessed and this murderer is obsessed with Kate.
I downloaded this novel onto my Kindle as it sounded fun and we have relatives who have become DFLs* on the Isle of Thanet. But this is a story that would make an enjoyable read for anyone with family or lively family as neighbours. Whether you are married, divorced or thankful to be single, the lives of Tess and her family and friends will probably sound familiar. The story bowls along, with prospects of romance dashed at every twist and turn and plenty of modern life problems.
*‘Down From London’ – a good train service from St. Pancras, lower property prices and the seaside have made the Isle of Thanet, Kent a popular choice for workers needing to commute and also artists and entrepreneurs.
How do you watch television these days, perhaps not even on a television set? But drama serials are still ever popular, whether we sit down each week, catch up digitally or binge watch. I like the idea of the TV schedule, but inevitably if we’re out or have visitors I am thankful we can record or catch up. PAUSING programmes is also a brilliant asset as my good intentions to leave the computer or the kitchen by 9pm always fail.
There have been so many good dramas lately we have some still to watch. My two recent favourites were very different.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray is a long novel that many people on social media have confessed to not having read. But with a film and at least four television adaptations we can be forgiven for not being sure if we have actually read the book. BBC 1967, 1987 and the one I remember really enjoying was a few years ago – no it was 1998! So how would ITV’s new production compare?
Thackeray, played by national treasure Michael Palin, took his rightful place as the narrator at the beginning and end of each part; he watched his characters go round and round on a carousel.
The story starts in 1813 England, a turbulent society embroiled in war for twenty years. Thackeray introduces a world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having. The impossibly smart red and white soldiers, beautiful women, lovely horses and clean streets were not out of place because he wanted us to watch his characters in a performance. The battle field sequences contrast with this.
Becky Sharpe has nothing, but is determined to have everything, whoever she hurts on the way. We are whirled through years of love, heartbreak, family troubles, business disasters and tragedy with one love story ending happily.
BBC4 on Saturday nights is a must if you love Scandi Noir or anything with sub titles. We have followed Danish politics, Swedish thrillers, Sicilian detectives, Paris police, Belgian undercover in French and Flemish, but most recently it has been Outback Noir.
Mystery Road in six episodes, was filmed in the Kimberly region of north Western Australia. Having lived in Perth, Western Australia and with family there, I try and watch any Australian series that come our way. I have never been to that part of the state, another country to suburbanites in the city. The series was worth watching for the scenery alone, wide landscapes of dusty red soil and long roads, a fascinating country town and a cattle station homestead that makes you yearn to live somewhere with endless space. A great cast did justice to a complex story linking past and present with layers of secrets. The old landowning family, the indigenous people and European backpackers all find their lives bound together in small town life.
If you live near the sea you need to prepare for storms.
But we don’t live that near the sea as we couldn’t afford a view.
Was sunset from the bedroom window heralding Storm Callum? We used to just have wind and rain till someone in charge of the weather decided we would take bad weather more seriously ( and join the big boys, the hurricanes ) if we had storms with names.
Morning brought rain and wind to the back door…
But we had to walk to the cliff top to check if Storm Callum had really arrived.
If it’s so windy you can’t breathe ( or walk straight ) it means you are having fun…
…and it was a good idea to take the scenic route to the shops.
Our best storm occurred on Valentine’s night 2014. Weather reports warned everybody to stay away from the coast, so we rushed to the cliff top at high tide the next morning.
Beach huts smashed to matchsticks, but no casualties locally except in my novel; this is where I got the idea for the opening to ‘At The Seaside Nobody Hears You Scream’ – my WIP novel which I have’t quite finished yet…
Cauldrons bubbled, paddles stirred, pumps rose and fell. The dye selector scurried along seeking indigo and sunflower to make that special shade of green for Familyfresh.
Malcolm Rust loved machinery and money, in that order. Childhood visits to industrial museums had given him a love of pistons and presses. The only history he was interested in at school was of Victorian valleys filled with furnaces and engineering entrepreneurs making a mint, so they could build great houses on top of hills looking down on their wealth. His weekends as a teenager had been spent scouring the country for redundant factory equipment and thinking of money making projects to fund his hobby.
He had no interest in the environment, except as the provider of water courses to power mills, until he met Melissa. She worked with his mother at the new Veganarium that had replaced the cheese and bacon shop. His mother needed a job, but for Melisa it was her whole way of life.
As far as Malcolm was concerned food was fuel, the same as coal, wood and diesel for his beloved machines. But as Melissa chattered on about recipes for allergen free biscuits and biodegradable wrappers, he thought he might find a way to her heart. Why not make the biscuits and packets with the same recipe? It was time to investigate corn starch and fructose.
Now he was no longer Mr Rust, but Mr Green, inventor of the edible carrier bag and three days ago Melissa had become Mrs. Green. Channel Four was making a documentary about their plans for a perfect Ecohouse with living walls.
But no sooner had the carrier bags become familiar in every supermarket than the first criticisms began to appear on social media. Members of the public no longer had to feel guilty about plastic or litter; discarded sweet wrappers, takeaway boxes and shopping bags would all be eaten by wildlife, from snails to deer. In fact the carrier bags were so delicious, passing dogs were liable to take a bite out of your shopping.
Then came the first news story from the Familyfresh Fairtrade supermarket. Overnight, all the bundles of new carrier bags had disappeared from the store room. The first clue to the mystery came when three large rats scampered across the feet of the store manager. He ran out into the main store, only to see several more rats slip away from the checkouts. The second clue was the remnant of a carrier bag hanging limply, serrated with huge teeth marks.
A meeting of COBRA * was called after pest exterminators made urgent reports of supersized rats, gardeners posted pictures on Facebook of giant snails and a photograph appeared on breakfast television of a fox the size of a deer hound. Malcolm was summoned to reveal the ingredients of his carrier bags…
*Cobra stands for Cabinet Office briefing room A. Cobra meetings are held in Downing Street to plan government responses in times of emergency.
Where would writers be without aunts who leave cottages in their wills? I don’t mean writers who are left thatched country cottages by their aunties and are delighted to have somewhere peaceful to write. That would be very nice, but I don’t know how often it happens to real writers.
When a story was read out at our writers’ group about the main character inheriting an aunt’s cottage, I remarked how often authors use this scenario. In one of my favourite novels, the L Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks, the heroine, Jane, does not stay in the L shaped room because she inherits a lovely country cottage from an aunt. In the sequel, ‘The Backward Shadow’ she is living in the cottage with her baby – what would have happened to them without the aunt?
In my collection Hallows and Heretics the short story ‘Jerusalem Journal’ is about a young wife who inherits a cottage from an aunt she has never met and there are dark surprises in store. Inheriting from parents will not do for fiction; it is bound to be the house one grew up in with no secrets. Fictional aunts and great aunts inevitably live somewhere unknown to the hero or heroine and have been estranged from the rest of the family for decades.
In my novel ‘Brief Encounters of the Third Kind’, Holly Tree Farm is left to one of the main characters by his great aunt and I was just as surprised as he was when this country home became an essential part of the plot in the whole trilogy.
So Lar looked over the plains; how many had passed this way over the years? Weary bodies, bent limbs and always murmurings of revolt, lives lost as well and for what? Tomorrow would demonstrate what this had all been for and So Lar would be proved right. A new age of enlightenment would begin on the longest day as the Sun bestowed His blessing. Of course it was hard for the workers to see what they and their fathers and forebears had been labouring towards, what So Lar’s father and grandfather had dreamed of, knowing they would never see the day when it was complete.
The old pagan beliefs would be buried for good and they would look towards the one true God, the Sun God. But as the long warm evening began to fade into twilight So Lar had the first misgivings, dark clouds rolled over the indigo sky. When night had fully set over the plains the moon could not be seen, not one single star could be seen. Without clouds there would be no rain, man and beast needed rain, but not tomorrow…
There was no sleep for him that short night; most souls in the camp were sound asleep, trusting the night watch to wake them in good time for the revelation So Lar had promised at dawn. If the blanket of cloud was not drawn back then they would not see the first rays shine through the entrance of the temple of knowledge.
Blackness turned to grey, dawn had arrived, but not a glimmer of gold could penetrate the dark clouds. They surrounded So Lar now, angry and afraid. Rab the trouble maker spoke.
‘So much for your Sun God, we have angered our gods, desecrated their sacred plains, your stone temple is a terrible scar on the landscape that should be torn down. The gods will not let your weak sun god shine until they are appeased.’
So Lar lay bound inside his precious circle. These people would never be enlightened, would never understand how the heavens and earth worked without the need for human intervention. They still thought blood needed to be spilled, that he must be sacrificed if the sun was to shine again.
Sally Cronin is a great supporter of fellow authors and there is always plenty of interest to read on Smorgasbord. Today she shares reviews of three very different novels, one of them mine. Take a look if you want your imagination stretched and to be entertained.
When you are on Staycation you will visit places after breakfast that others have crossed the world to see. We had not been to Stonehenge since the new visitors’ centre was built, out of sight of the World Heritage Site. The A344 which previously enabled motorists to ‘come across’ Stonehenge, but also intruded on the peace of the past, is now used solely by the fleet of buses with destination The Stones on the front.
If you belong to English Heritage or the National Trust entry is free. You can hop on the bus or walk; divert off the road through chalky fields to enjoy the peaceful scenery of Salisbury Plain. There is nothing at the stones now so make sure you avail yourself of the visitor centre toilets and take a bottle of water.
On a Monday morning, with school holidays over and the website stating timed tickets were not needed, we thought it would be quiet. The lady at the booth issuing our free tickets said it was very busy as several cruise ships had come in; this presented a strange vision.
It was almost a pilgrimage, Pilgrimage Lite perhaps. We set off at a brisk pace, overtaking lots of people and hearing various languages, we’re British, we can walk fast…
We started to anticipate the moment when Stonehenge would be revealed; round the next copse or over the next brow? Alas, the first view was partially blocked by the ubiquitous buses and queues of people. Queues waiting to have their tickets checked and file between the ropes to the stones, even longer queues waiting to get back on the shuttle bus.
Only a low rope separated us from the stones, creating enough space inside the circle to imagine how they were when they stood alone. A young Canadian tourist asks to have his photo taken, with the toy penguin that is to accompany him on his trip round Britain.
We ask a tour guide where she’s from.
She had come to meet passengers who had left their ship at Dover and been coached to Wiltshire.
But the tourists that morning were not rushing and ticking off another place visited, they were in genuine awe that they were really there looking at an ancient construction no one can explain for sure.
This year marks one hundred years since Stonehenge was given to the nation.
On 26 October 1918, Stonehenge was offered by Cecil and Mary Chubb as a gift for the nation. Cecil Chubb had bought Stonehenge for £6600 at a local auction three years previously. Prior to 1918, the monument was propped up with wooden poles and some of the stones were in danger of collapse. Increasing numbers of visitors through the late 19th century had led to damage, with people regularly chipping the stones for souvenirs and scratching their names on the monument.
The first guidebook in 1823 claimed Stonehenge survived Noah’s flood. We do know the stones came from South Wales, that is part of the mystery, how they got there. Stonehenge was built between about 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC and its purpose remains under study. What is certain, if you stand in just the right place inside the monument at the summer solstice, facing northeast through the entrance towards a rough-hewn stone outside the circle, known as the Heel Stone, you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone.