The Pneuma Springs 'Christmas Murder Anthology' was the brainchild of one of the Pneuma Springs anthology contributors. As one of Pneuma Springs crime writers, I was selected along with nine of the best crime/fiction authors to contribute an original short story for this new anthology of Christmas murders. It took me only minutes to accept, and a further two weeks to sketch out a plot plan and complete the first draft.
The end result is the accumulated work of ten writers specialising in the gruesome genre, and who have had the fortune to become published by this growing company.
My own contribution is 'Partridge in the Pear Tree' - a sample of which you can read below under the heading 'Preview'.
Murder comes in all shapes and sizes. It also comes at inconvenient times.
Christmas, for example. Season of goodwill, peace to all men (and women too, of course), homely jollity round the turkey and mince-pies. A time of family reunion and celebration, of good cheer, recollection and renewal. And of unexpected death.
Lock the doors. Draw the curtains. Settle down in your armchair and enjoy ten stories by masters of the genre.
Georgian England. 1960s and 1980s England. Twenty-first-century Africa, Canada, the USA. Murder by meat-hook, piano-wire, scarf, knife, hammer, golf-club, bullet, syringe…
And naturally all the classic motives: blackmail, revenge, disappointment, greed, anger, a perverted sense of duty...
Murders committed on impulse and murders carefully planned. A catalogue of weakness, hatred and villainy. It’s all here, at your elbow. And there’s more! Humour, intrigue, suspense… and of course Christmas sparkle!
So, cheers! And Happy Christmas!
Partridge in the Pear Tree (Excerpt)
The week before Christmas and my luck is definitely out. I had hoped to be at home with my wife and daughter on Christmas Eve, but that idea was doomed to failure as soon as the shift rotas were distributed. I’m Andy Mellors, DI at ‘C’ Division of the Derbyshire Constabulary at Ripley, there’s only three days to go until the big day and I’m fed up.
Molly, our little girl, was expecting Daddy to be at home on Christmas Eve to get ready for Santa’s visit down the chimney – she’ll face a lot of such disappointments as she grows up, As for me, I just have to get on with it; fifteen years in the force have got me this far, and it’s not a career that I’d consider giving up lightly.
As I get out of my car the snow, which began falling as I left our Oakwood home, has thickened, but it’s turning to slush as soon as it hits the ground – perfect! Grumpy? You bet I am and now, just as I enter the station, the waving hand of Geoff Stokes, the desk sergeant, has me wandering over to see what he wants.
“Right up your street, this one, Andy.” He smiled – so he should, right at the end of his shift. He shouldn’t be so familiar according to regulations, but we were at school together, so I let it slide. “Nice tasty corpse for you out at Heanor.”
“Thanks a bunch, mate.” There was no lightness in my reply. I had hoped for a hot cuppa before setting out into the cold once again. “Got the details?”
“Gave them to your DS.” He nodded to the stairs. “Bit keener that you on days like this.”
Steve Parker had been my sergeant for almost a year and Geoff was right – he was very keen. In fact he was a little too conscientious for my liking at times; I definitely needed to slow him down – he was making me look bad. I took the stairs two at a time to show a similar level of interest, and breathed hard at the top of the third flight as I turned into the corridor leading to our offices and squad room. Parker smiled as I came through the door.
“Morning, guv.” He waved the crime report as I took off my coat. “Body found this morning on the Heanor Gate Industrial Estate.”
I nodded and sat down. “Stokes told me as soon as I got through the door. “Details?”
“Sketchy at the moment. Male, mid-thirties, with what looks like a blow to the back of the head.” He replied. “We’ve been called out urgently – pathologist’s already on site.”
“Yep, and he’s running the show at the moment. Won’t let any of the uniforms near the place.”
Harry Bostock had been area pathologist for over twenty-five years and was an intimidating figure for any young copper to be face with. I knew how to handle him, and Parker was learning fast, but the beat coppers were all in awe – they’d all been watching too much TV.
“Come on, then.” I grabbed my coat, but was second out of the door as my sergeant headed off down the corridor.
The address given to us was an industrial unit on Delves Road, one of the main routes through the industrial estate just outside Heanor and off the main Derby Road. The journey was a short one, and with Parker at the wheel it gave me time to marshal my thoughts. I read through the report and my heart sank. The body had been found by the cleaner early that morning at around seven when she began work. She was still on site and in the company of a female PC pending our arrival. We’d question her first and then move on to the body. Hopefully, by that time Bostock would be a little more amenable; he was less tolerable than me at being called out to an early event.
Twenty minutes after leaving HQ, we arrived at Pear Tree House, the offices of PM Micro Electronics. Harry Bostock was just leaving as we stepped out of the car. The look on his face told me much of what I needed to know. There would be little in the way of detail until he was back at the lab, but it was always worth a try.
“Morning, Harry.” I smiled – it was an effort. “Any preliminaries?”
He stopped, scowled, and put his bag in his car before turning back to me. “White male, mid-thirties. Dead between eight and ten hours according to liver temperature. Blunt force trauma to the back of the head probably killed him outright but I’ll know for certain later. Your boys are scouring the site, but there was no weapon at the scene. Can I go now?”
The speech was delivered with all the skill of a practised actor on the stage at the Derby Playhouse, and he was in his car and away before I had the time to reply.
“Cheery soul, as always.” Parker smirked; it hadn’t taken him long to weigh Bostock up. “Shall we?” He waved an arm in the direction of the entrance to the building.
“Pear Tree?” I pointed at the sign above the main entrance.
“Hmm.” He nodded in the way which was beginning to irritate. “Checked that out when we got the initial report. “Most of the buildings here follow a theme. A quirk of the developer it seems.”
Blue and white tape marked the secure area of the crime scene, and we ducked beneath it as we made our way from the Reception area and up the stairs to the office where the body lay. The victim had been identified as Michael Partridge, partner in the firm. The scene was a fairly simple one – he was face down in a pool of blood which had dried overnight. The wound to the back of his head was severe, and his hair was caked with a thick stream of blood which had partially obscured the right hand side of his face. This was a messy one.
The body, though, was not our priority. Mavis Smith, the cleaner, had been waiting since seven to tell someone what she knew, and leaving Parker to make what he could from the crime scene, I headed off back downstairs to a side office where the unfortunate woman sat with one of the division’s uniform PCs. She stood and saluted as I entered.“Good morning, sir.” She snapped to attention.
“Morning, constable...” I smiled.
“Watts, sir. Helen Watts.”
“At ease, Watts, before you strain something.” It was a weak attempt at humour, but it seemed to do the trick. I turned to Mavis Smith, sat down at her side, and smiled again.The woman was clearly still in a state of shock, and getting any useful information out of her at this point was going to be problematic at the very least. Still, I persisted and did manage to get some sense of what she had been through since coming into the premises the previous evening.
“So, you worked a split shift, Mavis?”
“Yes, Inspector.” She replied, still wiping the tears from her eyes. “I do the majority of the cleaning between five and eight in the evening, and catch up with the reception area the following morning just before people arrive for work.”
“According to what you told one of the officers earlier, you heard raised voices late on last night. Is that correct?” I looked up from Parker’s notebook.
“I did, but they were always arguing about something.”
“That would be Mr Partridge and…?”“Mr Mason, Robert Mason, they are the two partners. It wasn’t always so loud, though, and I try not to pay much attention. I left at the usual time, and they were still going on at each other. Must have been for over half an hour this time, and it didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.”
“Have you seen Mr Mason at all this morning?”
“No, and that’s quite unusual. They’re both here before I start the morning hour – I finish at eight – but I never thought it would some to this.”
“Alright, Mavis.” I smiled. “Let’s leave it there for the moment, but I may need to talk to you again, so make sure that PC Watts has a note of your address.”