Dead Before Morning has won an IndieBRAG Medallion. My novel is in the fifth row down.
Astonishing – I’ve only entered the two awards contests, and I was an Honoree in one and a Finalist in the other!
Must go in for more contests!
In the Wishing Shelf Awards, my #18 Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery, Games of Bones, is a Finalist, and is on row seven.
Here’s an extract of my Honoree novel:
This novel is written in British English and uses this language version’s spelling and slang. You will find a list of these at the end of this book for any with which you are unfamiliar.
‘Is it yourself?’ Detective Inspector Joseph Aloysius Rafferty winced as his mother’s voice threatened to pierce his eardrum. And, although briefly tempted to plead not guilty, he reluctantly confirmed that yes, it was himself.
Bleary-eyed, he squinted at the clock in the living room and stifled a groan. Six-thirty. What did his ma want at this hour?
Already feeling sorry for himself, Rafferty caught an unwelcome glimpse of his bloodshot-eyes and woebegone face in the hall mirror, and immediately felt worse. He made a mental note to move the mirror to somewhere he wouldn’t in future receive such a jolt of reality. Like the tip.
Really, a hangover, a murder, and his mother all in the same morning were more than any man should be expected to cope with. Especially him. Especially after less than four hours’ sleep.
And especially when this investigation would be his first murder case as Senior Investigating Officer. He was keen to do well. But the sadistic fates had already put the kibosh on that by persuading him he deserved a celebration on his promotion. Last night.
He had enjoyed himself, not wisely, but too well. Now, here he was, on the morning after the night before. With the inevitable consequences. The last thing he needed was ma putting on her best wheedling voice, and Rafferty hurried to put his excuses together before she got going.
‘I can’t stop, Ma. Sergeant Llewellyn will be picking me up any time and—’
‘Sure, then, I won’t keep you above a minute, son. But I didn’t know who else to turn to. And what with the wedding and all…’
Rafferty frowned, and stared for enlightenment at his rapidly cooling mug of tea. Nada. News of the murder had already taken its toll on his hung-over wits, but the word “wedding” on his ma’s tongue was even more worrying, and he struggled to get his brain into gear.
‘I know Jack’s only a distant cousin,’ was her brisk remark, ‘but surely, even you can’t have forgotten that he’s over from Dublin to marry my niece, Deirdre.’
That wedding. Bloody marvellous. How could it have slipped his mind that Jailhouse Jack, the world’s most incompetent criminal, was preparing to plight his troth and pass his genes on to the next generation? What a wonderful addition to a policeman’s close family the bridegroom would be. Rafferty breathed a relieved sigh that the happy couple would be going back to Ireland straight after the wedding. Surely even Jack could stay out of trouble for the few weeks he’d be—
‘He’s in a spot of bother, Joseph.’
Ma didn’t pause for either of them to catch their breath but told him his troublesome cousin was being held at Harcombe nick on suspicion of lifting a lorry load of whisky. ‘I know what you’re going to say,’ she continued in a ‘Do you want to make something of it?’ tone, before he could get a word in, ‘but this time I’m convinced he didn’t do it. And sure now, wouldn’t it be a shame if he got put away right before the wedding?’
Rafferty weighed-up his options: telling the truth, or lying? But she was off again, and he missed his chance. Probably just as well.
‘Can you go and see him, and sort it out, son? I wouldn’t ask, only I’ve had Deirdre here half the night, crying her eyes out. She’s scared she’ll have to cancel the wedding.’
Rafferty pulled a face. Better for her – and him – if she did. Jack was already causing him aggravation, so God knew what trouble he’d manage if they got as far as the altar. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have enough on his plate with his first murder investigation as SIO, without being expected to sort out Jack’s little problem.
Usually the Irish Sea, and a three-time’s removed cousinship stopped Jack from embarrassing him. But now, in all his eejit-glory, was he giving Rafferty an involuntary head’s-up on what to expect after the wedding? God, he hoped not.
Rafferty thought longingly of escape. To just sink into oblivion in his bed and let Jack and the rest of the world go hang for the remainder of the day. He was wrenched away from such a happy possibility by his ma’s aggrieved voice repeating the question. Indignant that his own ma should expect him to do the shiny knight bit… And for Jailhouse Jack, of all people, Rafferty felt annoyed.
‘I hear you, Ma. There’s no need to get shirty.’ Rafferty wouldn’t mind so much, but one of his old enemies was in charge at Harcombe; as soon as he set foot in that nick, and revealed his mission of mercy, the shit would be all over the aspidistra.
His relatives were the limit; most held the conviction that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one. But they all knew to come running to Joe Muggins when their alternative life-styles landed them in shtook.
With a gentle – in consideration for his hungover state – shake of the head, a previous half-remembered conversation entered his brain, and Rafferty consoled himself that he hadn’t made a firm date with the looming fates. The wedding was still two weeks off. He had plenty of time. Jack could cool his heels for a bit, and by then Deirdre might have regained her sanity.
Ma must have read his mind, with that uncanny ability of mothers everywhere, because she commented tartly, ‘It’s not everyone that avoids matrimony like you, Joseph.’
He ground his teeth. Was she ever going to stop harping on about that? Unfortunately, the hoped-for remarriage of her braw boy was ever close to his mother’s heart.
Rafferty broke in before she got into her stride. His voice as firm as he could muster, he said, ‘I haven’t the time for that, Ma.’ A glance out of the window of his Essex flat told him the day was bleak; the shoreline barely visible through the thick mist hanging over the North Sea. He shivered. For once he was almost pleased to see his new sergeant drive onto the forecourt.
The almost-pleasure didn’t last long. About as long as it took for Llewellyn to move the car closer. Now he could see his sergeant’s thinly handsome face. Llewellyn consulted his watch and gazed up at Rafferty’s window with a suffering-bravely-borne expression.
Rafferty lips tightened. He had a horrible suspicion that Superintendent Bradley hoped the Welshman would be Rafferty’s nemesis. And the way things were going…
It didn’t encourage fuzzy feelings towards Llewellyn, who had transferred from Gwynedd in Wales. Superintendent Bradley, after interviewing him, seemed to think Llewellyn was the ideal foil. His ideal foil, anyway, if not Rafferty’s. The Welshman had only been in Essex a month, but already he was getting on Rafferty’s nerves. All right, he was nifty with the computer, but his pernickety personality invited put-downs.
Briefly, Rafferty tuned back in to ma. But she was still giving him GBH of the earhole, on her favourite subject of weddings in general, and his in particular. So he tuned out again.
As though that weren’t enough, Superintendent Bradley had decided he didn’t like Rafferty’s face. If he had a face only a mother could love he might have just shrugged it off. But after nearly five weeks of putting up with Bradley’s snide comments every time he reported to him, the feeling was mutual. It was fortunate that his promotion had come through before Bradley was confirmed in post, because it was evident that if the super had his way, Rafferty would be bumped down a rank, not up one. Bradley still harboured ambitions in that direction, Rafferty knew. Which made his present fragile state doubly-unfortunate.
It was turning into one of those days. And he hadn’t even left the flat yet. Rafferty’s mouth turned down as he anticipated the joys of the day ahead, and he almost gave in to his longing for his kind comfy bed. Instead, he forced himself into the challenge of interrupting his ma in full flow.
‘I really must be off. Llewellyn’s here.’ He paused, wished he didn’t have to tell her, but he’d never hear the end of it if she found out from the newspapers. He took a deep breath. ‘There’s been a murder.’ He allowed sufficient time for her to give an echo of the ‘M’ word, then added, ‘rather a nasty one. A young girl.’
According to Bill Beard, the desk sergeant, the girl had been brutally battered, her face left in such a state that it would have looked more at home on a butcher’s slab. ‘She was found at that private psychiatric hospital here in Elmhurst and—’
His ma’s swift intake of breath echoed down the line. ‘It’ll be one of them dangerous cyclepaths escaped. They’re always doing it. The people in charge of these places should be locked up. You stay well away, son. Let that superintendent sort it out.’
Rafferty gave a careful, hollow laugh. ‘I am a policeman, Ma. And I’ll be in charge of this one. They promoted me, remember?’
Still smarting from his superior sergeant’s last correction of his own imperfect use of the English language, Rafferty said, ‘And it’s psychopath, not cyclepath. Not that he necessarily is one,’ he added in a belated attempt at reassurance. ‘Just because the girl was found in a psychiatric hospital, doesn’t mean one of the patients did it, you know.’
‘Doesn’t mean to say they didn’t either,’ she retorted, tutting. ‘Sly as a fox, some of them. You watch your step, son.’
He intended to. ‘I’d best be off.’ No doubt the rest of the team would already be there, working hard, and calling him rude names in his absence. ‘About Jack, Ma. Stop worrying. I’ll see to it.’ He knew he’d never hear the end of that, either, If he didn’t. But at least she’d dropped the matchmaking-mama role. For now anyway. He lifted the mug of tea to his lips.
‘Thanks son.’ Pride edged some of the worry from her voice as she added, ‘I’ll tell Deirdre that my son, the Police Inspector’s, got it in hand, and Jack’s as good as free.’
Rafferty practically choked on his tea at the obvious capitals and their implication. He wished he shared his ma’s confidence that springing the prospective bridegroom would be as easy as catching him usually was.
‘Well, I won’t make you late for your murder. Look after yourself, Joseph, and don’t take the usual nonsense from any of them high-and-mighty doctors at that hospital. Arrest the lot of them if you have to.’
Rafferty just stopped himself from laughing out loud at this blasphemy from the normally doctor-venerating Kitty Rafferty. It was only his throbbing head that ensured the laugh was cut off at his tonsils.
‘I’ll bear it in mind, Ma,’ he said. ‘Good-bye.’
The constable beckoned the car forward, and as the heavy hospital gates thudded together behind them, Llewellyn’s dark eyes took on a mystic light as he remarked ominously, ‘There’ll be trouble over this one. Mark my words.’ Having delivered this cheering prognostication, he said no more.
Rafferty, determined that the Welshman’s black prophecy wouldn’t undermine his confidence, did his best to ignore him. He was helped in this by his first sight of the house. He came from a long line of builders and house renovators, and its classical Georgian elegance – which the well-tended grounds framed so perfectly – brought Rafferty a few precious moments of delight in a day unlikely to contain many pleasures.
The handsome, seven-bay house was built of pale Caen stone, a popular import in such a stone-impoverished part of the country. The projecting central section was crowned by a graceful pediment and the ground floor, raised above the semi-basement, was reached by stone steps. Slender pillars flanked the canopied front door and they were flanked in turn by single windows with two more on either side of the recessed sections of the house. Perfection.
Just then, the sun came out from behind the early morning cloud, and he stared, as all thirteen of the large sash windows seemed to wink at him, like all-seeing eyes, as though mocking his ability to discover what they had witnessed in the night. A sight undoubtedly shared by the secretive, half-closed dormer eyes of the attic floor. The optical illusion fanned the flames of the superstition that Llewellyn had already successfully kindled, and he felt a stirring of unease deep in his gut.
To squash any superstition before it took hold, as they passed the house, Rafferty switched his gaze determinedly ahead.
His Welsh prophet of doom drew up behind the earlier arrivals. ‘Dr Dally’s here,’ Llewellyn remarked unnecessarily with a sidelong glance at Rafferty. ‘He must be nearly finished by now.’
‘We all know quick and speedy doesn’t always win the race, Sergeant,’ Rafferty retorted, stung by the dig. ‘Not that the well-named Sam Dally’s either when it comes to letting us have some results.’
Not for the first, nor the last time that day, Rafferty reflected that it was a pity the girl had chosen a mental hospital in which to get herself murdered; on his first serious case since his promotion too. Now he wondered uneasily if an unpropitious fate was about to enjoy some fun and games at his expense. It wouldn’t be the first time.
As they walked round the shrouding screen, Dr Dally raised a shaggy grey eyebrow teasingly. ‘Late again, Rafferty?’
Dally’s jocular greeting merely earned another scowl. But as Rafferty got his first view of the corpse, he had to swallow hard, again regretting the previous night’s celebratory alcohol intake at his promotion.
The girl was lying on her back and someone had certainly made mincemeat of her. What might once have been a pretty face was now a soggy mess – her teeth were gone, her eyes were gone, her nose was gone – all smashed to a bloody pulp. It looked as if someone had taken a sledge-hammer to her.
Rafferty swallowed the nausea that rose to his throat. ‘The press will have a field day with this one,’ he remarked grimly. Considering it was April, the previous night had been quite balmy, yet, surely, he was only imagining the sickly scent of corruption?
Behind him, Llewellyn remarked in funereal tones, ‘”So will we all decay. The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.”‘
Rafferty gave him a jaundiced look. ‘Thank you, Dylan Thomas.’
‘Edward Thomas, actually, sir,’ Llewellyn corrected, and launched into a mini lecture, apparently believing that it was his duty to lighten the darkness of his boss’s ignorance. ‘Killed in action in World War One. Then there’s R.S. Thomas, the Welsh vicar. He—’
‘All right, all right,’ Rafferty broke in, irritated as usual by Llewellyn’s display of erudition, sure he did it out of some deep, mischievous desire to get under his skin. ‘A murder scene is hardly the place to launch into a history lesson.’
His puce complexion regained some of its usually fresh colour as he put Llewellyn in his place, but it drained away again as he gazed at the dead girl. Poor bitch, he thought. Whoever, whatever she was, she surely hadn’t deserved such an end.
Curiously, the naked body was unmarked, and as his gaze travelled over the slim cadaver, he wondered at the unfathomable ways of women. Why would a natural blonde dye her hair black?
Without looking at him, Rafferty tersely told Llewellyn, ‘The first priority is going to be to find out who she was. Tell Fraser I want her prints processed urgently.’ He hoped to God they were on file. If they weren’t, it could be a nightmare trying to identify her.
He raised his gaze to Dally, and asked, ‘What can you tell me, Sam?’
‘Little enough, Rafferty, little enough.’ Sam’s plump body rocked back on its heels and, behind his spectacles, his eyes lit up with relish as he watched Rafferty’s face. ‘You look a bit green, my boy.’ He dug his hand in his back pocket and pulled out a small silver flask. ‘Have a medicinal nip. Doctor’s orders,’ he added firmly as Rafferty hesitated.
Forgetting his scruples, and ignoring Llewellyn’s disapproval, Rafferty reached gratefully for his medicine and took a swig. ‘Should be on prescription.’ He grinned as the alcohol hit the spot. ‘Irish?’
Sam Dally snorted his contempt. ‘It’s only the best that the Highlands can offer. I can see it’s wasted on you.’ Taking the flask back, he had a quick nip himself. ‘Ah. That’s better. Nothing like a hair of the dog for setting a man to rights. And I should know.’
Rafferty brightened, pleased to know he had company in his suffering. Especially when that company was in the rotund shape of the tonic-toting Dally. ‘Heavy night?’
Sam nodded. ‘Doctors’ do at The George,’ he explained. ‘Annual event. Wouldn’t miss it. Our erstwhile chairman’s wife, Lady Evelyn Melville-Briggs organises it, so it couldn’t fail to go like clockwork. Shame she didn’t seem to enjoy it. Not surprising she was so quiet, of course. Her old man was in a towering rage when they arrived.’ He snorted. ‘Some hoo-ha about the door-man. I didn’t stop to listen to it.’
He put the flask back in his pocket and became briskly professional. ‘Been dead at least seven hours. Rigor mortis has started to set in around the head and neck. The blow to the back of the head is probably what killed her.’
Rafferty raised his eyebrows. He could have come to that conclusion for himself. Even with the body lying on its back, he could see the skull was caved in, making an amorphous mess of bone and brain. ‘Could a woman have done it, do you think?’
Sam nodded. ‘Wouldn’t need as much strength as you’d think; only stealth to creep up on her, and then determination to keep whacking, like Lizzie Borden.’
Rafferty stomach curdled. And for a moment he thought he was going to throw up. He kept perfectly still, ordered his stomach to behave and not humiliate him in front of the prize pair of Dally and Llewellyn. Carefully avoiding another sight of the pitiful corpse, after a few worrying seconds, he raised his gaze. At the edge of the trees, he caught sight of a well-dressed man, pacing with barely contained impatience. He nodded in his direction. ‘Who’s that?’
Sam followed the direction of Rafferty’s gaze, and, in an echo of Llewellyn, he remarked, ‘That’s Trouble, Rafferty. Trouble with a capital T.’ He rubbed his hands together with relish as he glanced sideways at Rafferty. ‘That’s the owner. Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Anthony Melville-Briggs. But you’ll find plain “Sir” will do. Husband to the Lady Evelyn etc, etc. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes when he finds out a lowly inspector’s in charge of the case.’ He gave Rafferty a sly look. ‘Perhaps you should listen to your Mammy and get married again. Old Tony certainly shows what marriage can do for a man.’
Rafferty’s lip curled. Sam Dally, compassionate Doctor of Medicine, could always be relied upon to hit a man below the belt. One marriage had been enough; his relief that Angie’s death had brought an end to their mutual unhappiness still caused him guilt.
But in spite of his guilt and his mother’s continued attempts to persuade, push and cajole him into matrimony a second time, Rafferty resisted. Still, he mused, at least it gave her less time for her other little hobby, and unlike that, her matchmaking didn’t carry with it the risk of a jail sentence for the pair of them. ‘Got any more unwanted advice?’
Sam shook his head. ‘Why cast more pearls before swine, laddie?’ he asked sweetly. He glanced again at Melville-Briggs and a beatific smile lit up his face as he set about removing the glow of the restorative whisky. ‘I was at medical school with him and he barely had a bean before he married Lady Evelyn. You could see he was determined to go places even in those days.’ Sam took off his glasses and gave them a brisk polish before continuing. ‘Well in with the Chief Constable, so I understand. Me, I don’t mix in such exalted circles.’
The last tattered fragments of Rafferty’s good-humour vanished as he studied the Chief Constable’s best friend. Dr. Melville-Briggs had that look of sleek self-satisfaction that only a man with the good fortune to marry money acquires. He was in his early fifties, Rafferty guessed, but had kept himself in shape. With his pure white hair swept dramatically back from his high forehead, he could have been taken for a Shakespearean actor awaiting the plaudits of the crowd after a lunch-time performance in the park.
Rafferty hoped he didn’t intend to indulge in any histrionics this morning, but after what Sam had said, he wasn’t optimistic. Dr. Melville-Briggs’s cheeks wore an unlovely hectic flush probably caused by a combination of temper and shock and Rafferty came to the depressing conclusion that the doctor was taking the crime as some kind of personal affront. But then he was rich and successful and probably imagined his select establishment would, by its very exclusivity, be shielded from the sordid world outside his gates.
Reflecting that it must have come as an unpleasant surprise to find that his little kingdom wasn’t quite as inviolate as he had imagined, Rafferty saluted Sam, and pulled his suit jacket roughly straight. Then he headed towards the other doctor as he prepared to give Melville-Briggs his second shock of the day.
The IndieBRAG Award is recognised by the Alliance of Independent Authors.