Authors: Alan Hunter
was born in Hoveton, Norfolk in 1922. He left school at the age of fourteen to work on his father’s farm, spending his spare time sailing on the Norfolk Broads and writing nature notes for the
Eastern Evening News
. He also wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the RAF during the Second World War. By 1950, he was running his own bookshop in Norwich. In 1955, the first of what would become a series of forty-six George Gently novels was published. He died in 2005, aged eighty-two.
The Inspector George Gently series
Gently Does It
Gently by the Shore
Gently Down the Stream
Gently Through the Mill
Gently in the Sun
Gently with the Painters
Gently to the Summit
Gently Go Man
Gently Where the Roads Go
Gently with the Ladies
Gently with the Innocents
Gently at a Gallop
Gently Where She Lay
Gently in the Trees
Gently with Love
Gently Where the Birds Are
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published in the UK by Cassell & Company Ltd, 1975
This edition published by C&R Crime,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2014
Copyright © Alan Hunter, 1975
The right of Alan Hunter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication Data is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978-1-47210-872-2 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-47210-880-7 (ebook)
Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon
Printed and bound in the UK
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Cover by David Woodruffe and design by Joe Roberts
For Helen, my daughter
HE CASE I
am about to relate is not one of my own, though in the long run I became involved in it at least as deeply as the officer concerned. It did not end in a prosecution and so I have seen fit to change the names of the people and the places. The case excited only modest publicity. It is generally believed to be unsolved.
HORTLY BEFORE I
was due for promotion to higher executive rank I was sent on a Senior Officers’ Course to prepare me for such an elevation. At that time (the first Wilson administration had just taken office) the course was held at a country house near a town about forty miles from London. I went down by train with ten of my colleagues; we were collected by a minibus and driven through the town; at Copdock Place, as the country house was called, we were allotted rooms and told to assemble in the hall. Here we were addressed by the IC, a senior Metropolitan officer named Stapleton, who gave us a synopsis of the rather boring three weeks that were to follow; when, at the end, he shook our hands, and carefully repeated each man’s name, he gave me an unusually penetrating stare and held on to my hand for a second.
‘How did you come to be acquainted with the aristocracy?’
I must have looked blank. ‘I don’t remember any acquaintances of that sort, sir.’
‘Well, there’s a message for you in the office from a gentleman calling himself Earl Sambrooke. He wants you to ring him. He noticed your name in the list we release to the local press.’
Earle Sambrooke: they had the spelling wrong. Sambrooke was far from being aristocracy. In fact he was a Canadian newsreader who was currently employed in the BBC’s World Service. I had met him a short time before when I was on a case in which a Canadian serviceman figured; later he brought me a script about police work to vet, and we had lunch together at Aunty’s expense. He was a husky, likeable young man who had done some flying with the RCAF. But I was at a loss to know why he should want me to ring him or, for that matter, what he was doing in Blockford.
I rang the number he had left.
‘Hello there, Superintendent!’
‘What was it you wanted?’
‘If you’re free this evening, I would like you to meet some nice people.’
I hesitated. ‘Here in Blockford?’
‘Sure, right here in Blockford.’
‘What sort of people?’
‘The nicest. You’ll find I am doing you a big favour.’
I considered this. Though my evening was free I had intended to use it settling in – getting to know the rest of the intake, sizing up Stapleton and his establishment. But doubtless there would be time for that, and meanwhile it would be pleasant to spend an evening in civilian company.
‘Have you transport?’
‘You bet. Pick you up around seven.’
‘Is this a pub crawl?’
‘Right. I’ll see you at seven, then.’
Promptly at seven Earle arrived, driving a hideous American car: at that time they still had a comic-strip styling and more chromium plate than an espresso bar. We drove away with a clatter of gravel that brought a frown from the watching Stapleton, and took up an improbable angle of heel as we swooped through the lodge gates. Earle was grinning.
‘You like this bus?’
‘I’d like you to ease your big foot.’
‘She’s a wedding present, fella.’
‘Mine. I’m getting married on Saturday.’
I glanced sidelong at him. His grin was blissful as he zoomed the car towards Blockford. Earle wasn’t handsome, but he had those boyish features that some women find irresistible. He had fairish hair and pale grey eyes and stood a long-legged six feet. He must have looked well in air force rig. I imagined that he had never been short of a date.
‘Who is she?’
‘She’s out of a dream. She makes Brigitte Bardot look a hundred. She is the classiest, deloveliest dame since Cleopatra and Lady Hamilton.’
‘But she has a name.’
‘How did you find her up in Blockford?’
‘She’s the sister of a guy I work with – Alex Mackenzie. You’ll have heard of him?’
At which point I began to catch on. I certainly had heard of Alex Mackenzie. He was the son of Colin Mackenzie, with whom I had done my early service, and with whom I had kept in touch until his death in Rhodesia. Colin had joined the Rhodesian Police. I had been the best man at his wedding; we had seen little of each other after that, but I did know that his son, Alex, had joined the BBC. Also, I remembered, I had heard of a daughter, though I had not had an opportunity to meet either of the children. I tried to recall Mrs Mackenzie, but my memory of her was vague.
‘Your name came up,’ Earle explained. ‘I was telling them about the Dupont Case. Then Anne’s mother got to wondering if you were the Gently her husband used to know. So she got out some old letters, and I recognized your handwriting straight away. Then Alex capped it by saying that your name was listed in the Police Call column of the
. So here you are – the old family friend turning up for the kid’s wedding.’
‘But I’m a perfect stranger,’ I protested. ‘I didn’t ever really know Colin’s wife.’
‘You’ll like her,’ Earle said. ‘She remembers her husband thought you were great.’
‘That was several years ago.’
‘She’ll like you anyway. She’s the easiest person to get on with. I picked myself a bride in a million and a mother-in-law to match.’
I wasn’t so sure. The eve of a wedding was perhaps not the best time for reunions of this sort, and it occurred to me that if Mrs Mackenzie had wanted to renew our acquaintance she need not have waited till now for an opportunity. I was indeed a stranger. Before her marriage Mrs Mackenzie had lived in Devonshire. Until the wedding, at Axminster, I had never set eyes on her, and soon after she departed with her husband to Rhodesia. I had met Colin again when he was home on furlough, but Mrs Mackenzie had spent her time with her family. Colin had been dead three years. And a serving police officer is not a difficult person to contact. Well, we would see.
‘I guess it’s fate,’ Earle smiled. ‘You turning up on the doorstep like this. I’ve got a crazy feeling that everything is going for me. Perhaps that’s what being in love is all about.’
E CROSSED A
bridge and turned down by the river, which is the most attractive feature of Blockford: a slow, wide stream that reminds one of the upper reaches of the Thames. The road runs beside it. On the opposite bank is a park, or pleasaunce, shaded by willows, and among the willows stands the boathouse of a rowing club, just where a footbridge crosses at an eyot. This was a bland evening in June. Several scullers were out on the river; people were strolling beneath the willows or loitering on the elegant footbridge. It was a scene so wistfully English that it somehow made me feel like a tourist: especially when seen from an American car, and past Earle’s stubbornly transatlantic profile. I couldn’t help wondering what he thought of it (I knew he came from Hamilton, near Toronto), or whether, if the cards fell that way, he could adapt himself to such a setting. Meanwhile, on the left, we were passing a succession of large, handsome houses, each one set behind its lawn and guarded by shrubberies and mature trees. Clearly this was patrician Blockford, a reservation of the affluent; it was not where one would expect to find living the widow of a Rhodesian police inspector. But Earle slowed the car and we turned in at one of the gateways. We crunched over raked gravel between well-shorn plots and double lines of disciplined roses. Before us spread a gracious Regency front with a wrought-iron veranda at first-floor level, and below it an ornate porch over which clematis had been trained. Earle stopped the car and turned to me.
‘Now wouldn’t you say this was something?’
I gave the house an appraising glance. ‘About forty thousand at present values.’
‘Remind me to kick you,’ Earle grinned. He unbuckled his belt and sat back. ‘It belonged to Anne’s great-aunt. She left it to Verna. Her husband was something on the Stock Exchange.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I was wondering.’
‘Oh sure,’ Earle smiled. ‘You’re a cop. Now you’re going to suspect me of marrying for money and other felonious designs. But look at this house. Couldn’t you just live there and let the world pass you by? It would be bliss. That place is music. You would hear it playing all the time.’