Excerpt: THE SHADOW OF MEMORY by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books)

BerryC-KH4-ShadowOfMemoryUSHCToday, we have an excerpt from The Shadow of Memory, Connie Berry‘s fourth Kate Hamilton Mystery. Due to be published by Crooked Lane Books on May 10th, here’s the synopsis:

American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton uncovers a dark secret buried in Victorian England.

As Kate Hamilton plans her upcoming wedding to Detective Inspector Tom Mallory, she is also assisting her colleague Ivor Tweedy with a project at the Netherfield Sanatorium, which is being converted into luxury townhouses. Kate and Ivor must appraise a fifteenth-century painting and verify that its provenance is the Dutch master Jan Van Eyck. But when retired criminal inspector Will Parker is found dead, Kate learns that the halls of the sanatorium housed much more than priceless art.

Kate is surprised to learn that Will had been the first boyfriend of her friend Vivian Bunn, who hasn’t seen him in fifty-eight years. At a seaside holiday camp over sixty years ago, Will, Vivian, and three other teens broke into an abandoned house where a doctor and his wife had died under bizarre circumstances two years earlier. Now, when a second member of the childhood gang dies unexpectedly — and then a third — it becomes clear that the teens had discovered more in the house than they had realized.

Had Will returned to warn his old love? When Kate makes a shocking connection between a sixty-year-old murder and the long-buried secrets of the sanatorium, she suddenly understands that time is running out for Vivian — and anyone connected to her.

Now, on with the excerpt!

*

The Shadow of Memory

“Who is he?” I asked Vivian as we waited for the police to arrive.

“I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

“Nor I,” said Lady Barbara.

“What was he doing with my name and address?” Vivian was clearly upset.

“We don’t know the paper was his,” Lady Barbara said. “Someone else probably lost it.”

As none of us believed this, we let the comment drop.

The night was chilly. Normally, I’d have immediately escorted the two older women home, but when I called Tom, he’d asked us not to leave the body until the police arrived. I found a place for Vivian and Lady Barbara to sit—one of the newer gravestones, a modern design with a flat rectangular top and an inscription that read To the Memory of Letitia Hubbard, Loving Wife and Mother.

Vivian screeched. “We can’t sit on Letitia.”

“She won’t mind.” Lady Barbara settled herself on the granite slab. “Letitia was always a very welcoming person.”

Vivian lowered her ample bottom. “Oo—like perching on a slab of ice.”

“Poor man. Should we cover him?” Lady Barbara began to unwind her soft woolen shawl.

“He doesn’t need it,” I said. “On the other hand, you do. Scoot together and both of you get under the shawl.”

Taking Vivian’s pocket torch, I went back to view the body.

The man had been somewhere in his seventies, I judged. I couldn’t see his face properly, but his white hair was short, still fairly dense, and neatly clipped. He was tall and well dressed, with wool trousers and a tweed sports jacket under a khaki raincoat— conservative except for the bright purple socks, which gave the corpse an almost jaunty appearance.

 I saw no blood, no obvious signs of trauma, but a stain on the front of his crisp white shirt and a whiff of vomit told me he’d been sick. I was tempted to check his pockets for identification but curbed my curiosity. Tom would be there soon.

And then he was.

The emergency vehicle arrived first, lights flashing. Then Tom’s new black Range Rover, followed by a Vauxhall, one of the police cars. The Rover pulled up to the lych-gate.

As the EMTs converged on the body, Tom and his sergeant, DS Ryan Cliffe, strode toward us along the gravel path. Tom was in full-on policeman mode. He gave me a quick nod and a pat on the arm. “Thank you, Kate. Cliffe will drive Vivian and Lady Barbara home. We can interview them in the morning. Would you mind going along? If you’re up to it, come back. I’d like to take your statement tonight while everything is fresh in your mind.”

“Of course. But the man is a complete stranger. He was dead when we got here.” I handed Tom the note. “I found this.”

Tom took a look at the note. He gave Vivian a curious look but said nothing.

“This way, ladies,” said Sergeant Cliffe.

We dropped Vivian off first at Rose Cottage, her thatched-roof bungalow—one of the tied cottages on the Finchley Estate and my current home. Fergus, her elderly pug, was overjoyed. Time for his evening walkies. Then Cliffe drove around to Finchley Hall, the seat of the Finchleys since the sixteenth century. We left Lady Barbara in the capable hands of Francie Jewell, her cook, cleaner, and now—I’d recently learned—her live-in companion.

On the way back to St. Æthelric’s, I thought about the dead man. If he wasn’t local—and Vivian knew every living soul within a fifty-mile radius—what had he been doing in the graveyard after dark? Visiting a grave? Not likely. He’d probably been taking a shortcut as we had done, which meant he’d been on his way somewhere—to see Vivian seemed the likeliest answer, given the note. On the way, he’d experienced some kind of episode—a stroke, perhaps, or a heart attack. In any case, death had been unexpected. Presumably he’d parked his car nearby. The police would identify him and notify his relatives, whoever they were. Hopefully they’d be able to explain why an elderly stranger had come to Long Barston in search of Vivian.

Back at the church, Cliffe parked behind the emergency van. Reporters had begun to gather. A flash went off. Cliffe whisked me away before they could descend.

Tom was speaking with the head of the crime scene team. Seeing me, he broke off. “I know it’s late, but could we find a place to talk?”

“The Finchley Arms is still open.”

Ten minutes later we were seated in a corner of Long Barston’s oldest drinking establishment. The jukebox was silent. Most of the tables were empty. Only a few die-hards remained, determined to get in a last pint before closing time.

We ordered two mineral waters and chose a quiet table away from the bar.

“Who was he?” I asked Tom. “Vivian swears she doesn’t know him.”

“Good question.” He traced his finger along the condensation on the glass. “We found no wallet, no ID, no car keys, and so far, no car.”

“Someone robbed him?”

“Maybe, but apart from a slight redness on his neck, he had no visible injuries. He’d been sick several times. The coroner will do tests, but at the moment I’m inclined to believe he died of natural causes. He was a pensioner—that age, anyway.”

“And you have no idea what he was doing in Long Barston or why he had written down Vivian’s name and address?”

“Not a clue. Could you go through exactly what you saw?”

“I don’t think it will help. We left the Rectory a little before ten and cut through the graveyard. I stopped because I caught a glimpse of a purple sock. I felt for a pulse. He was already cold.”

“No rigor, though, which means death occurred fairly recently. Two to six hours is the best guess.”

“Wouldn’t someone have noticed him lying there?”

“It’s possible no one passed that way all evening. Did you see anyone? Hear anything? Notice anything unusual?”

“Just the note. If it hadn’t been for the purple sock, I wouldn’t have noticed him at all.”

“Where was the note?”

“Near him in the tall grass. I assume he dropped it when he had his attack.”

“Are Vivian and Lady Barbara sure they don’t know him?”

“They said they’d never seen him before in their lives.”

“Well, if you think of something—”

“I’ll be sure and let you know.” I threaded my arm through his. “Poor man. Someone will be missing him.”

“Time, lads.” Stephen Peacock, aging hippie and proprietor of the Finchley Arms, announced closing time. His wife, Briony, was already washing up behind the bar, her sleeves pushed up over her elbows. Arthur Gedge, the old gardener at Finchley Hall, slapped his flat cap on his head, nodded vaguely in our direction, and lurched toward the door.

*

Connie Berry’s The Shadow of Memory is due to be published by Crooked Lane Books in North America and in the UK, on May 10th.

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