Authors: Kate Ellis
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
was born and brought up in Liverpool and studied drama in Manchester. She has worked in teaching, marketing and accountancy
and first enjoyed literary success as a winner of the North West Playwrights competition. Keenly interested in medieval history
and archaeology, Kate lives in North Cheshire with her husband, Roger, and their two sons.
Kate has been twice nominated for the CWA Short Story Dagger, and her novel,
The Plague Maiden
, was nominated for the
Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year
For more information log on to
‘Star author. Unputdownable’
‘A beguiling author who interweaves past and present’
‘Ellis skilfully interweaves ancient and contemporary
crimes in an impeccably composed tale’
Wesley Peterson series
The Merchant’s House
The Armada Boy
An Unhallowed Grave
The Funeral Boat
The Bone Garden
A Painted Doom
The Skeleton Room
The Plague Maiden
A Cursed Inheritance
The Marriage Hearse
The Shining Skull
The Blood Pit
A Perfect Death
Joe Plantagenet series
Seeking the Dead
Playing With Bones
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Kate Ellis
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For my dad, David Ellis
November. The month of the dead. The month of remembrance and funerals.
Dr James Dalcott had no idea why these things flashed through his mind as he picked up the keys to his new Lexus and looked
in the mirror. Perhaps it was the miserable weather outside. Or perhaps his recent discoveries about his family had awakened
the demons in his head.
He had decided against wearing a suit and opted for an open-necked shirt and linen jacket. After all, it was only a casual
dinner with a colleague and her husband. And he wouldn’t have thought that Dr Maritia Fitzgerald was the formal type at all.
He studied his reflection. His face was round, tending towards plumpness and, from the slight strain on his waistband as he’d
fastened his trousers, he knew he was doing precisely what he instructed his patients not to do – he was putting on weight.
Ever since Roz left him, he’d been living on junk food and drinking more than the government’s recommended limit. Fine example
he was to the sick and malingering of Neston.
After brushing an imaginary speck off his jacket James picked up the carrier bag containing a bottle of decent Cabernet Shiraz
and a box of Belgian chocolates – his
offerings towards the evening’s entertainment. Although he hardly liked to admit it to himself, he’d rather fancied Maritia
when they’d first started working together: she was an attractive, intelligent woman and her West Indian background lent her
an exoticism rare in their part of the world. But a colleague newly married to a local vicar is hardly a suitable candidate
for dalliance. He’d have to content himself with Evonne, although he regarded her more as a friend than a lover and his instincts
told him that there wasn’t much future in the relationship. And besides, he still couldn’t banish Roz completely from his
James glanced in the mirror again and ran his fingers through his receding fair hair, aware that the strain he’d been under
since the break-up of his marriage was starting to show on his face. Once he’d discovered what had happened to his father
he knew he had to carry on until he’d uncovered the whole truth but when he’d tried to share it with Roz, she hadn’t wanted
to hear about what she called ‘his obsession’. And yet it was something he couldn’t help. Not many people had a skeleton like
that in the family cupboard – a grim and terrible set of bones, too horrible to reveal to the world.
It was time to go. James had been brought up to believe that being late was inconsiderate to your hosts. He could hear the
rain tapping on the glass in the front door. It was a bad night. November weather, chill and damp. There were times when he
wished he’d taken up that job offer in Australia after medical school. But it was too late now. He was stuck with a lifetime
of English winters, and a waiting room full of sneezing patients, he thought with a shiver as he pulled on his coat.
He was just about to unlock the front door when he saw a dark human shape behind the frosted glass. He hesitated for a moment,
wondering who the visitor could be. Then the doorbell rang, loud and insistent, shattering the silence of the hallway.
When James opened the door he was faced with a tall figure standing hunched in the darkness, hands in pockets, face in shadow.
‘I’m so sorry. I’m just on my way out.’
The figure began to move forward and James instinctively backed away, clutching the carrier bag to his chest like a defensive
shield. Then he felt the hard metal of the revolver, cold against his forehead, and he held his breath. He’d encountered death
before in many guises: peaceful, agonising, messy; sometimes welcome, sometimes railed against. But this time he knew it would
be different because the death in question would be his own.
The assassin took a step back, taking aim, and James could only whisper the word ‘please’ before the revolver was fired and
the whole world exploded.
James Dalcott’s body jerked and twisted as the bullet entered his brain. Then he fell back and his fingers lost their grip
on the carrier bag. The bottle inside smashed as it hit the floor and the red wine oozed slowly out of the bag across the
polished wood like a slick of fresh blood.
Transcript of recording made by Mrs Mabel Cleary (née Fallon) – Home Counties Library Service Living History Project: Reminiscences
of a wartime evacuee.
Things were getting worse in London so my mum decided to send me away. It must have been hard for her but she kept saying
it was for the best. They told us we were going to Devon but I was only nine and I thought it must be just outside London
somewhere. My mum told me not to complain and that whatever happened I had to grin and bear it. Dad was away in the army and
she just wanted me to be safe.
We were put on the train with labels tied to our clothes and one of the grown-ups told me not to lose the label because if
I did I’d never see my family again. I held onto that label for dear life, I can tell you, and when we reached the station
at Neston the cardboard was all damp
and the ink had started to run. I cried because I was scared that nobody would be able to read it and I’d be lost forever
in all those green fields I’d seen out of the train window. I was from the East End of London and I’d never seen countryside
before. It seemed so big and frightening with all those lonely farms and woods where terrible things probably happened. If
you got lost there I reckoned you could never find your way home.
When I got off the train with all the other evacuees at Neston Station, I was scared out of my wits. I knew that whatever
was coming, however awful, I had to grin and bear it. But if I’d known then what I was going to find at Tailors Court, I think
I would have stayed in London and risked the bombs.
Dr Maritia Fitzgerald looked at the oven in despair. She was sure she could smell burning.
‘We can’t wait for him.’ Her husband, Mark, stood in the doorway. He had ditched his dog collar for the evening and he looked
Maritia knew Mark was right. James was an hour late. Of course he might have encountered an emergency but he hadn’t called
to let them know and she knew for a fact that he wasn’t on duty that night.
There were eight for dinner – seven without James Dalcott. There was the retired senior partner at the practice, Dr Keith
Graham, who acted as occasional locum and made himself generally useful – some people could never face the wastelands of retirement.
His wife, Honor, was a thin fidgety woman wearing a cloud of bright chiffon and an impatient scowl, who worked as an events
officer for Tradington Hall Arts Centre. The Grahams had turned up
late, the reason unspecified. But from the strained look on Keith’s face, Maritia suspected a marital tiff.
Then there was Evonne Arlis, the practice nurse, a mature blonde of large proportions who had already disappeared twice into
the garden for a sly cigarette. Evonne had been invited as company for James Dalcott because Maritia knew they got on well
but now she was staring miserably at the empty seat opposite.
As the new senior partner hadn’t been able to make it because of his daughter’s school play, and the other doctor was away
for a second honeymoon in the Maldives, Maritia had invited her brother and his wife to make up the numbers. Wesley was bound
to keep the conversation flowing – police work was a subject that fascinated everybody, she’d reasoned. But as she brought
the food to the table, she noticed with horror that her guests were sitting in awkward silence. She caught the eye of her
sister-in-law, Pam, who seemed to understand immediately.
‘It must be interesting working at Tradington Hall,’ Maritia heard Pam say to Honor Graham in a determinedly cheerful voice.
‘I teach year six at Tradmouth Primary and I’m always trying to encourage an interest in the arts. Do you work much with local
Maritia couldn’t quite make out the reply as she was hurrying from the room to fetch the potatoes but it seemed to be rather
terse. Honor Graham was a difficult woman at the best of times and James Dalcott’s absence seemed to have dampened everyone’s
As she finally sat down and invited everyone to help themselves to vegetables, she saw Keith Graham lean across the table,
serving spoon hovering in midair, and look Wesley in the eye. ‘So why is crime becoming so bad around here?
There have been two break-ins at the surgery this year and Honor had her car radio stolen, didn’t you, dear?’
Honor, her mouth full of salmon, made a noise that sounded like a grunt.
Maritia froze and glanced at Mark who was sitting at the head of the table with an empty glass in his hand, his eyes half
closed, as though he was praying for a miracle.
‘I had my purse nicked in Tradmouth last year,’ Evonne piped up. She had taken a mobile phone from her handbag and was turning
it over and over in her fingers. ‘I’m going to give James another call,’ she said. ‘I hope he hasn’t had an accident. I told
him the other day that he drives too bloody fast and you know what some of these country roads are like.’
‘Yes, I think you should try him again.’ Maritia was concerned about James too. His absence was out of character.
As Evonne left the table to make her call, Maritia saw that Keith was still looking expectantly at Wesley, as though he had
the power single-handedly to bring law and order to the streets.
Wesley helped himself to another potato and gave Keith an apologetic smile. ‘Neston would have dealt with your break-ins.
I take it there hasn’t been an arrest?’
Keith Graham suddenly looked a little embarrassed. ‘They did get somebody as a matter of fact. Young drug addict. But he was
let off with a slap on the wrist as usual.’
‘Not my department, I’m afraid,’ said Wesley. ‘I just catch them and hand them over to the courts.’
Keith leaned forward. ‘That’s the trouble. When you catch them the courts can’t do anything.’
Maritia opened her mouth to speak. The last thing she
wanted was for Keith Graham to get controversial at the dinner table. But before she could change the subject Evonne returned
with a worried look on her face.
‘Still no answer. I wonder if someone should go round to his house … just to check that he’s all right. He could be ill or
… I’m still under the limit.’ She turned to Maritia. ‘Look, I’m sorry to be so rude but I think I’ll drive round there and