Crime Writers and Other Animals

Table of Contents

By the Same Author

Title Page


Happy Christmas, Darling – and Goodbye!

Best Behaviour

The Man Who Got the Dirt

A Little Learning

Political Corrections

Letter to His Son

False Scent

The Battered Cherub

Ways to Kill a Cat

A Good Thing

By the same author
The Charles Paris Mystery Series


















The Mrs Pargeter Mystery Series







Simon Brett

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.


First published in Great Britain 1998 by Victor Gollancz

eBook edition first published in 2012 by
Severn House Digital an imprint
of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 1998 Simon Brett.

The right of Simon Brett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0058-7 (epub)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.


‘We're going to kill him,' Natalie announced.

Trevor looked shocked. ‘Kill George? But—'

‘Well, come on, he's never going to divorce me. How else can you and I be together – for ever?'

‘Things're OK like they are now . . . aren't they?' Trevor suggested tentatively. ‘We see each other every day as it is.'

But his objection was quickly blasted away. ‘It's not just being together that matters. We need George's money.'

Trevor bridled. ‘I'm sorry I don't make more. They keep saying the recession in building's over, but I don't see any signs of it. In a year or two perhaps things'll pick up, and I'll be able to keep you in the manner to which you've become accustomed.'

Natalie's hand was instantly stroking his thigh, soothing away the childlike hurt in his voice. ‘I'm not criticizing you, darling. You're everything I've ever wanted in a man.'

He was. Ten years younger than her, with the easy strength of a manual worker. Dark curly hair, brown eyes. Sometimes Natalie couldn't believe her luck.

Trevor was pretty happy with what he saw, too. He liked older women. He knew the blondeness of her hair was assisted, but that, and the fine tracery of lines which spread around her eyes when she smiled, only added to her appeal.

‘All I want from George,' Natalie continued, ‘is his money. God knows, I deserve some payoff for all those years I've put up with being married to that sexless wimp. And I want
to be able to spoil ourselves a bit. I hate having to think about scrimping and saving all the time.'

‘But there must be another way. Does he have to be killed?'

‘Oh yes.' Natalie nodded decisively. ‘He has to be killed. Down here at the cottage. Over Christmas.'

It was not an unusual triangle. So far as Natalie Marshall was concerned, her marriage had been dead in the water for a long time. When they'd first met, George had bowled her over with the force of his devotion, and in the numbness which followed the suicide of her first husband Robert, Natalie had been easily persuaded to accept George's proposal of marriage. After the wedding, however, she had discovered that although her new husband's protestations of love continued unabated, they found little physical expression. George Marshall was just not very interested in sex. In marrying Natalie, he had achieved the possession he coveted, but his desire for her seemed to be fulfilled by the fact of ownership alone.

So Natalie, frustrated, bored and forty, had fallen like a stone for Trevor Roache when the younger man came to refurbish the bathroom of the Marshalls' country cottage in West Sussex. Conveniently, he was their next-door neighbour, and indeed their only near neighbour. Conveniently, his wife had just walked out on him after ten years of marriage. Less conveniently, she'd left him with two children of eight and six. Still, you couldn't have everything, and Natalie was extremely satisfied with what she did have. After fifteen years of her husband's minimal interest in sex, Trevor's uncomplicated and dependable lust was like a breath of fresh air.

She made no attempt to hide the affair. She knew she had found the man she'd spent her life searching for, and presented George with the facts the evening of the day that she and Trevor had first gone to bed together. Her husband was, as ever, infuriatingly reasonable about it. He still loved Natalie, he announced, but he would not stand in the way of her happiness.

Since selling the family engineering firm at a large profit, George no longer worked, and he already spent much of his time in their London flat. What he did when he was up there Natalie neither knew nor cared. She never worried that her husband might be unfaithful to her. No woman was going to want anyone as short and bald and boring and passionless as fifty-eight-year-old George Marshall.

When he was informed of his wife's affair he announced without rancour that he'd stay in London and not come back to the cottage until ‘this thing's burnt itself out'.

For Natalie, who found each new encounter with Trevor only added fuel to the flames of her passion, this was the ideal solution. She had the pretty flint-faced cottage to herself, George had left her the Volvo, and her lover's house was only fifty yards away. Nor did Trevor's children get in the way of their affair; they held little interest for him, and he farmed them out whenever possible to school friends whose parents took pity on his single state. No, in many ways Natalie's situation offered her everything she could have dreamed of.

Except for money. Not that George exactly kept her short. He still looked after the domestic bills and gave her a generous housekeeping allowance, but the awareness of that huge fortune of his that she wasn't sharing niggled away at Natalie like a rotten tooth.

For a while she nursed hopes of getting a divorce and, with it, a substantial financial settlement from her husband. Though George was entirely blameless in the situation, Natalie knew what could be achieved by the right sort of expensive lawyer. She wrote to her husband more than once, itemizing the benefits of making their separation permanent and official. But George, usually so mild and malleable, proved stubbornly resistant to the idea of divorce.

His response at first just irritated, but gradually came to infuriate her. She felt a mounting sense of injustice. If he'd wanted her, it might have been different. As it was, George's attitude was pure dog in the manger. He had no use for her himself, but he didn't want anyone else to have her. He still thought of his wife as his property, and George Marshall was very possessive of his property.

It was out of Natalie's sense of injustice that the idea of killing her husband was born. At first just a casual, almost whimsical, fantasy, it quickly hardened into a positive intention. George's death would solve all her problems. It would be much better than divorce; if they were still married when he died, his jubilant widow would collect the lot.

Natalie Marshall began to plan her husband's murder.

On Christmas Eve she rang the flat at a time when she knew George would be out. Regular as clockwork – and about as interesting – in his habits, he always went out at two in the afternoon for what he insisted on calling his ‘constitutional'. In Sussex it was a walk through the woods, in London through the park; in both cases he arrived back exactly forty minutes after his departure.

Natalie knew there was only one message that would bring George down to the cottage, and that was the one she left on the answering machine. She manufactured quite a convincing sob in her voice as she spoke the words.

‘George, darling, it's me, calling at two-fifteen. You were right. My affair with Trevor's come to an end. And he's . . . taking it very badly. I'm . . . I'm really worried about what he might do, George. Look, after what's happened between us, I know I've no right to ask you this . . . but is there any chance you could come down . . . today? And if you do come . . . a purely domestic detail, but the ventilation tube on the tumble drier's broken . . . could you try and get a replacement? I'm sorry about these last few months, but . . . please come down. I'll try to make everything up to you – and give you a happy Christmas, darling.'

She felt confident she'd judged the effect just right. The sudden switch to the domestic detail of the tumble drier was a bit abrupt, but it had been necessary. And George's love of DIY was so strong she felt sure he'd respond to the appeal.

When she'd left her message, she switched on the answering machine at the cottage and sat by the phone, listening impassively when her husband rang back at two forty-five. The boring ordinariness of his voice, as ever, set her teeth on edge.

‘Hello, Natalie darling, it's me. I can't tell you how delighted I was to hear your message. I've just got to get some stuff together – I'll pick up the tumble-drier part, don't worry – and I'll be with you as soon as possible. I should be able to catch the four-twenty train. I'll get a cab from the station and be with you about six-thirty. Darling, this is the most amazing surprise I'm ever likely to have.'

Don't you believe it, darling – you've got an even more amazing one coming, thought Natalie with a grim little smile, and then went off to type a letter on George's word processor.

George Marshall looked thoughtful after he had put the phone down. Then he did what was necessary to the answering machine and started to get together the things he would need for a Christmas visit to his wife.

Neatly filed in his desk were all the letters that Natalie had written to him since they separated. He riffled through them, his eyes snagging on hurtful phrases: ‘. . . and I never want to see you again . . .'; ‘. . . so far as I'm concerned, anything there ever was between us has long gone . . .'; ‘. . . why can't you just accept that the whole thing's over . . .'

George Marshall made a careful selection from the letters and put them in his pocket. He packed a few clothes for himself, and put in a pair of Natalie's stiletto-heeled shoes which she'd left in the flat after some long-forgotten London function.

He got a cab to a nearby shopping centre. It was crowded with panicked last-minute present-buyers. Carols washed over the public areas. Weary Santas rang hearty handbells. Groups of giggling secretaries and raucous young men meandered in the boozy aftermath of office parties.

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