Over the course of twenty-four crime novels set in the fictional County of Calleshire, England, and featuring the sleuthing team of shrewd Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan and his less-than-shrewd sidekick, Detective Constable William Crosby, award-winning author Catherine Aird maintained the perfect balance between cozy village mystery and police procedural. These three entertaining crime novels offer “the very best in British mystery” (The New Yorker).
Parting Breath: On the campus of the University of Calleshire, a young woman finds a student slumped against a cloister’s column, covered in blood. Before he dies, he manages to breathe the words “twenty-six minutes”—which is all Sloan and Crosby have to go on to solve a case that’s anything but elementary.
Some Die Eloquent: As Sloan learns he is about to become a father, a suspicious death demands his attention. It turns out that a murdered mistress at the Girls’ Grammar School in Berebury was secretly a very wealthy woman. What was an elderly chemistry teacher doing with a small fortune—and who was willing to kill to get it?
Passing Strange: When the village spinster, a nurse who also played the organ every Sunday at church, is found strangled behind a fortune-teller’s booth, Calleshire’s greatest detective will need more than a crystal ball to see who killed her.
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'The trouble with universities,' pronounced Professor Tomlin, 'is the undergraduates.'
'Couldn't agree with you more, old chap,' said his colleague Neil Carruthers cheerfully. 'Pass the salt, though, would you, there's a good fellow. I can manage very well without the students, bless their tiny hearts, but not without the salt.'
'You must admit,' put in Bernard Watkinson, Professor of Modern History, casting an eye over the dining hall, which was thronged with young men and women, 'that they do lend a certain savour to the place.'
'Quieter without them, though,' said Tomlin, obliging Carruthers with the salt cellar. It was a very fine salt cellar – part of a set in modern silver gilt, a legacy from a former student of Tarsus College who had made money, if not good, in the world of commerce, and who had bequeathed his collection of silver to his old College. The table along which Professor Tomlin slid it was a genuine refectory one bought by an astute Bursar of his day at a knockdown price from a monastery disestablished by King Henry the Eighth. The chairs, which led a harder life, were reproduction and were renewed at intervals by the present Bursar, John Hardiman.
A sudden burst of noisy chatter from the Buttery end of the Hall provoked Professor Tomlin into speech again.
'Much quieter without them,' he said.
'That's true.' Neil Carruthers always made an especial point of agreeing with people whenever he could. As he was Reader in Moral Philosophy this was not, in the nature of things, very often.
'They always do take a little time to settle down after the summer vac.,' observed Roger Franklyn Hedden. He was a lecturer in sociology and always seemed to be making allowances for something or someone.
'And we always take a little time to get used to them again,' grunted Professor Simon Mautby. 'At least, I do.' Mautby was by far the most authoritarian member of the teaching fraternity of the College, and the least popular. On his part he was widely known not to be a student lover.
'Oh, yes,' said Carruthers pleasantly, 'you stayed on through the vac., didn't you? I don't know how you can manage without a break, Mautby. I certainly couldn't.'
'Can't leave my plants and animals,' said Mautby, who held the Chair of Ecological Studies at the University of Calleshire. 'They need proper care and attention all the year round. Experiments don't always finish exactly at the end of term and you can't get a good lab steward these days for love or money.'
Nobody said anything to this. Everyone present knew that Professor Mautby's standards were so exacting and his views on discipline so strict that he rarely kept any of his lab staff for long.
'It's all right for the rest of you,' the scientist added a trifle acidly into the little silence that had followed his pronouncement; 'dead subjects are different.'
The experienced Carruthers did not rise to this. Moral Philosophy, in his view, was very much alive, anyway, and likely to be kept alive by human vagary, which was not – by any stretch of the imagination – dead. Instead he remarked to Hedden, 'You stayed up, too, didn't you, Roger?'
'Part of the time,' said the sociologist. 'I was working on my book. You know how it is – publish or perish.'
Peter Pringle, College Librarian and Keeper of Books at the Greatorex Library, gave a mock wince. 'I could wish there were a few more perishers about, then. I just don't know where to put books next. We've just inherited another Old Tarsusian library....'
'Anyone we know?' Old Professor McLeish, Professor Emeritus of Oriental Languages, had been at the University of Calleshire longer than anyone else and therefore constituted himself the corporate memory.
'Harring, A.,' murmured McLeish, who always thought in terms of College lists. He shook his grey head. 'Before my time.'
'I should say so,' responded the ebullient little Librarian briskly. 'He was about ninety-five when he died. He read law. Bit of an antiquarian and collector in his time but' – Pringle shook his head at the ultimate bibliographical sin – 'no order, I'm sorry to say. I don't even know what's there yet and heaven knows when we'll get it all sorted out. Sixty-seven cases of books and three of letters....'
'Anything interesting?' someone wanted to know.
'Law mostly. Some nineteenth-century letters....'
I'm working on them now. They say he specialised a bit in Wordsworth but I haven't come across anything yet....'
The conversation veered in still another direction.
'Is Timothy Teed not back yet?' enquired Neil Carruthers, looking round the table.
'Not due until tomorrow,' Tomlin informed them generally. 'He's been to Borneo or West Irian or somewhere. He did say,' drawled Tomlin with deliberation, 'that he was going to see a tribe out there that only fights on fine days from nine to five....'
'Having us on, I expect.'
'No,' said Tomlin. 'He says they're afraid of the dark and that the rain spoils their martial hair-dos, so they stop fighting when it starts.'
'You can tell that to the Marines,' said Carruthers.
'And the War Office,' added Watkinson. 'We might save a bit on defence.'
'I should imagine,' contributed Peter Pringle dryly, 'that what Teed will do is to tell it to his publishers.'
Professor Timothy Teed was not only Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Calleshire but a famous face on television, and a popular writer on his subject. He was also an ultra-conservative dresser, so that when someone at the table offered odds of five to one that he changed for dinner in the jungle there were no takers at all.
'And John Smith?'
John Smith was an undergraduate so daunted by his undistinguished name and so determined to make his mark that he had sought individuality the previous academic year by affecting to live by the Julian Calendar.
'Thirteen days too soon....'
There was a general shaking of heads. Eccentric students, they agreed, weren't what they used to be: Smith ought to have had the courage of his convictions and come up late.
'I remember ...' began old McLeish.
A moment later another gust of sound from the body of the Hall interrupted conversation at the High Table. It was of laughter this time.
Professor Tomlin winced.
The only woman don present, Miss Hilda Linaker, turned her head and gazed calmly over the assembled eaters. As someone started to complain about the noise again, she reverted to their earlier topic and said, 'Don't forget that a third of them are new boys this week.'
'And girls,' Bernard Watkinson was quick to remind her.
She smiled faintly. 'And girls, Bernard.'
Professor Bernard Watkinson was one of those on the academic staff of the University of Calleshire still not truly reconciled to there being girls everywhere. He had spent a life-time in the then wholly male preserves of public school and older university college, forsaking them only for wartime service with Military Intelligence – another notably masculine stronghold. By then the monastic outlook had him in its grip.
'Better girls than enemies, Bernard,' said Tomlin. 'You're the one who's always seeing resident Reds under the beds.'
'Sleepers,' said someone adroitly. 'That's what they're called if they lie low, isn't it?'
Tomlin said, 'Ha, ha,' in a token sort of way and Hilda Linaker went on talking.
'We've got to put the girls somewhere,' she said ironically, knowing she could tease here with impunity: without overtones. With his long, lean, ascetic face, Bernard Watkinson would have made a good monk of the strong kind, eschewing the world but not without knowing all about it – and the flesh and the devil, too: he was no teetotaller. 'And it might as well be where you can keep an eye on them.'
'Girls!' he exploded as she had known he would. 'We've got trouble enough without girls.'
A token handful of women students at the University's two newest Colleges – Gremond and Almstone – he would have been able to understand (even historians have to move with the times), but the admission of girls to the other four more ancient foundations – Tarsus, Princes', Fairfax and Ireton Colleges – he still found hard to accept. Unfortunately for him, such is the perversity of women that his patent dislike of young ladies only made him more attractive to them. There was never any shortage of female undergraduates at his lectures. On the contrary, in fact.
'You shouldn't mind,' said a very young don called Basil Willacy, well aware of this. 'They sit at your feet.'
They did not yet sit at Mr. Willacy's feet and he resented it.
'I'm not so sure that they listen to what I say, though,' said the historian sharply.
'Ah,' said Neil Carruthers, the moral philosopher, returning the salt cellar, 'that's the penalty of belonging to the academic profession. Not to be listened to.'
'I'm not so sure that it's not a greater penalty to be heeded,' remarked Miss Hilda Linaker, picking up her knife and fork. 'After all, we could all be wrong, couldn't we?'
Discussion of this novel concept lasted the High Table right through their first course.
The table next to the Buttery was undoubtedly the noisiest of all the tables in the Tarsus College dining hall, and the man with the shoulder-length hair sitting half-way down the table was undoubtedly the noisiest of all those dining at it. He was presently expounding loudly and at length against a rigidly structured pattern of society and a monetary system that relied on the work ethic.
'What he really means,' explained his neighbour at the table kindly, 'is that he had to take a job in the summer vac. to make ends meet. That right, Barry?'
'It's all very well for you, Martin. ...' The man called Barry didn't really seem to appreciate this translation. His surname was Naismyth. 'Your father's a farmer. You worked at home.'
'If you think that that's any easier than working anywhere else,' retorted Martin Robinson hotly, 'all I can say is that you've never tried it, that's all. My father's a real slavedriver. They'd have been glad to have him when they were building the Pyramids. I daresay he'd have had them up in half the time.'
'You,' swept on Barry Naismyth, who was cultivating a mannered disregard for interruption (he was hoping to go into politics), 'did not have to spend all your summer tarting up rusty tins for resale.'
There were hoots of laughter all round at this. Naismyth never lacked a responsive audience.
'That's all I did,' he insisted, 'for eight whole beautiful weeks of lovely summer. We washed all the old labels off, cleaned up all the rust with wire brushes and put new labels on.'
'I was a travel courier,' murmured the girl at that table. She was called Polly Mantle. 'In case you didn't know, that's being a nursemaid in three different languages.'
'Hospital porter,' said another boy briefly. His name was Derek Doughty. 'Couldn't stand the life.' He paused and added thoughtfully, 'Or the death. What did you do, Henry?'
'Four weeks' fruit picking,' said Henry Moleyns, a darkhaired youth who hadn't spoken so far, 'then four weeks on a bicycle tour....'
'Of Darkest Africa?' enquired Barry Naismyth.
'Of Darkest Europe,' retorted Henry Moleyns quickly, while the others laughed. Henry Moleyns did not laugh. Instead he added almost under his breath, 'Very darkest Europe, actually.'
'He was cycling,' said Derek Doughty wittily, 'while Barry here was recycling.'
When the appreciation of this had died down, Polly Mantle spoke again. 'I don't know about the rest of you, but by the time I'd had my own holiday I just about broke even.'
'And I'm just about broke full stop,' chimed in an excessively rotund student called Tommy Talbot.
This – if the ribaldry which greeted the remark was anything to go by – was not new to its hearers.
'If you didn't spend so much on food and drink,' said Martin Robinson, the farmer's son, unsympathetically, 'you'd have some money to spare.'
'I went on the buses,' said a young man with curly hair and a determined manner called Colin Ellison, who had come late to the meal. 'I had no idea how hard a bus conductor worked. In future I shall always sit on the lower deck and ask tenderly after their feet.'
'The present-day world of commerce and industry,' boomed Derek Doughty in an accurate – if hardly flattering – imitation of Professor Tomlin's lecturing tones, 'depends upon a large supply of unskilled labour, hired as cheaply as possible.'
Martin Robinson rocked his chair back on its hind legs to look ostentatiously in the direction of the High Table. 'It's all right, lads, Tomlin's still up there. Sitting between old McLeish and Mr Mautby.'
'Don't talk to me about Mautby,' said Tommy Talbot savagely. 'He just about ruined my summer.'
'Came between you and your food, did he?' enquired Barry Naismyth with mock solicitude.
'You should have seen the work he gave us to do in the summer vac. All to be done before term started, and to be handed in by this coming Thursday morning first thing. Field study, he called it – Huh! We might as well have gone on an expedition.'
'Now you're talking,' said Barry warmly. 'Iron rations are what you need, Talbot. Do you a world of good.'
'It was nearly as bad,' grumbled Talbot. He appealed to the others. 'Wasn't it, you lot?'
'We had to take half a hectare of woodland and record the complete ecosystem – what was growing there, how old the trees were and all that. In detail,' explained Martin Robinson, 'and you know what Mautby is like for detail. A fine-tooth comb isn't in it. Oh, and the further afield the better, of course.'
Barry Naismyth shook his head sadly. 'You scientists certainly do have a hard time. Now, if you were reading economics like me ...'
Derek Doughty grinned, 'I did very well, anyway. After I stopped being a hospital porter.'
'I've got an aunt who lives in the Shetland Islands. I went to stay with her and did my homework there.'
'Bully for you,' said Naismyth.
'Exactly,' said Doughty. 'No trees.'
There was a concerted roar of approval at this.
'What did you do, Colin?' asked Robinson with genuine interest. Ellison was the leading light of his science year and strongly tipped for a First. 'Study the arboreal life of an airport or something?'
'Found an absolutely ordinary patch of English wood practically at the bottom of our garden.'
This provoked plenty of response.
'It's all right for some.'
Ellison smiled. 'Easy. It could have been anywhere.'
'You'll get away with it, of course.'
'Mautby's blue-eyed boy.'
Ellison hastened to disclaim this. 'No point in putting myself out, was there? Besides, I'd worn my legs out on the buses.'
'Any fairies at the bottom of this garden of yours?'
'Only little ones,' replied Colin Ellison swiftly, 'with wings.'
'I found a perfectly sweet little wood by a lake,' said Polly Mantle dreamily, 'on one of my weekends off, and I did my field study there. In the north of Italy.'
'Ecology for ever,' said Derek Doughty gallantly. 'How did you get on, Henry?'
'What? Oh, all rights, thanks.' Henry Moleyns did not seem to have been paying attention.
'Find somewhere nice and interesting on your travels for your field study?'
'Plenty of places, thanks.'
'Oh, yes,' he said vaguely. 'What was it that came between Talbot and his study?'
'His tummy,' said Martin Robinson rudely. 'It stopped him bending. He only studied the trees that were bigger than he was.'
'Like the Sequoia sempervirens,' said Derek Doughty.
'Come again?' said Barry Naismyth. 'It's all these long words you use. I'm not a scientist, remember. Only a humble economist.'
'There's no such thing as a humble economist,' began someone provocatively.
'The Sequoia sempervirens are the redwoods of California.' Derek Doughty was going to teach and it was beginning to show. 'Biggest trees in the world.'
'In a minute,' announced Tommy Talbot with dignity, 'I shall do my Billy Bunter act and shout "Yaroo, you rotters."'
'Spare us that,' said Barry Naismyth, deftly changing the subject without seeming to. He was going to make a good politician one day and was just beginning to realise it. 'Tell us where you did your field study. I don't know about you ecologists and your trees but I can assure you that there is nothing – but nothing – that I do not know about the tin can. Its private life is an open book to me. ... Hullo, hullo, and what does he want, do you suppose?' He broke off as a man started to come across to their table from the next one, where he had been standing talking to someone. 'Well, Challoner, and what can we do for you?'
'Sit-in,' said Challoner. 'On Thursday. We're occupying the administration block at Almstone.'
'Are we?' asked Derek Doughty blandly. 'Do we have a reason?'
'Don't ask him,' pleaded Barry Naismyth, 'or we'll be here all night.'
They've sent Humbert down,' snapped Challoner. 'Did it in the vac., too. That's a dirty trick, if you like. Thought we wouldn't do anything about it, I suppose, if they did it then. We got back yesterday –'
'From Moscow?' asked Martin Robinson innocently.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Calleshire Chronicles Volume Three"
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Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
SOME DIE ELOQUENT,
Preview: Last Respects,
About the Author,