Large print: 9781909344723
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BONES IN THE RIVER
Book Two in the Lakes crime thriller trilogy featuring CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston
Driving on a country road late at night,
you hit a child.
There are no witnesses.
You have everything to lose.
What do you do?
“This is a straightforward, no holds barred, thriller.
No one writes this kind of book better than Zoë Sharp.”
—Ted Hertel Jr, Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine
The traditional Appleby Horse Fair hosts the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.
The sudden influx of more than 40,000 visitors into the small Lakeland town has always caused its share of problems, with strained relations between off-comers and locals.
But it’s also known as a good time to settle old scores.
This year, the Fair brings with it with the discovery of two bodies near the River Eden—one very recent and another a long time buried.
As Crime Scene Investigator Grace McColl and Detective Constable Nick Weston search for answers, old secrets are revealed, old wounds are reopened, and tensions threaten to erupt into violence.
While someone much closer to home is trying to get away with murder…
From the author's notebook
When I wrote DANCING ON THE GRAVE—the first book about CSI Grace McColl and DC Nick Weston—I fully intended it to be a standalone title. I’d already tried out the character of Grace in the short story, Tell Me, but I thought one longer outing was probably enough.
I hadn’t counted on my readers—or my reviewers, come to that.
“Tension-filled, addictive and compelling—it is no wonder that I found myself a new series to follow!” said Crime Book Junkie and bestselling crime author, Noelle Holten. “I know the blurb on Amazon describes it as a standalone…but OMFG…this NEEDS to be a series!”
While Jen Lucas of Jen Med’s Book Reviews said, “I know this is billed as a standalone crime thriller but I for one hope that this is a bare faced lie. I loved the pairing of Nick Weston and Grace McColl. I think it’s a team that has legs.”
Having lived in Appleby-in-Westmorland for several years while the annual Horse Fair took place, it was an event that just cried out to be the focus of a novel. I’ve always loved stories that take place at a specific location, at a specific time. The week of the Fair sees thousands of Gypsies and Travellers from all over Europe descend on the town and surrounding areas. Some locals welcome the trade and the thousands more tourists who flock to see the spectacle. Others feel under siege.
Then a long-time resident told me it was considered a good time to settle old scores—get your own back on the neighbour who’d annoyed you all year, and put the blame on the Gypsies.
That’s when the ideas really started to form.
Grace was almost home. Tallie, off her lead and feathering back and forth across the grass verge ahead, reached the gateway and came to an abrupt halt. By the way the dog lowered her head and stood with the hair up in a mini-Mohican at the back of her neck, Grace knew she had a visitor.
And that the visitor was male.
Since she acquired the young Weimaraner only after her divorce, Grace had been accused—not least by her ex-husband—of training the dog specially to react that way. Grace denied it. After all, there were times when such behaviour was not an asset.
She clicked her fingers but for once Tallie was too fixated on the new arrival to obey the command to come. At least she didn’t advance any further. Grace hurried the last few yards and bent to clip the lead onto the dog’s collar.
“Nice to see she hasn’t forgotten me,” Nick said, his voice dry.
Grace straightened. A vehicle she didn’t recognise was parked in her driveway. Nick leaned against it with his arms folded.
“That’s not your car, is it?”
He nodded to the dog, who still hadn’t moved but was now growling softly. “What—you think she simply doesn’t approve of my choice of transport?”
“That’s always a possibility,” Grace agreed. “It’s not a patch on the Subaru. What’s happened to it?”
“Your boss happened,” Nick said darkly. He gave her the bones of the story while she unlocked the door to the cottage and shed her boots in the tiny hall. She had to shoo the dog ahead of them into the living room. Tallie kept wanting to stop and herd the interloper back out of the door. Eventually, she retreated to her bed near the sofa and watched the goings on with anxious, gold-coloured eyes.
“I know the breed is supposed to be smart but you can’t blame poor Tallie if she’s forgotten you,” Grace said, moving round the breakfast bar into the kitchen area. She ducked into the fridge and came out with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. “It has been a while, hasn’t it?”
She made sure to keep the reproach out of her tone. When she was off work through injury the previous summer, Nick had been a regular visitor. Tallie had learned, if not to welcome him, then at least to tolerate his presence.
The dog stayed indoors with more than a hint of a sulk about her, while Grace dug out two glasses and led the way onto the small flagged area outside the French windows. It was late afternoon. The fierce grip of the day had begun to loosen and, with a gentle breeze rustling through the garden, it was a pleasant spot to sit.
“I confess I’ve never noticed Chris Blenkinship was any worse a driver than anyone else,” she said now, pouring a modest glass for them both. “Although, if I voiced such a possibility I’ve no doubt his masculine pride would be mortally wounded.”
Nick took a seat at the wrought-iron garden table. “It almost felt like he did it deliberately.” He lifted a shoulder. “I don’t know. There was just something slightly off about the whole thing.”
“Well, there’s nothing to say he wasn’t having a thoroughly bad day before he hit you and that just put the icing on it. Who knows what else might have gone wrong for him?”
Nick frowned. “Hm. I suppose so. I did wonder… I remember years ago, not long after I joined the force, having to deal with a road accident where some woman claimed this guy flashed her out of a junction, then drove straight into the side of her.”
Grace raised her eyebrows along with her glass. “Did you get to the bottom of it?”
Nick took a sip of wine, paused a moment to savour and swallow. “We caught him on CCTV hitting a traffic bollard earlier the same day.” And at Grace’s frown, he added, “Turned out he only had third-party cover, so he needed to engineer a claim on someone else’s insurance for the damage, or pay for it himself. Happens more often than you think.”
“Ah. But surely Chris doesn’t have that kind of problem? You said he was driving his work vehicle. They’re covered every which way.”
“I know. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s just his ego at play here—DI Pollock seemed to think so.” He held his glass up to the light, looked at the translucent colour of the wine. “Speaking of inflated egos…how’s your ex?”
“He’s fine—as far as I know. I haven’t seen him recently,” Grace said sedately. She smiled. “In fact, it would rather seem that he’s been directing his charm at another woman.”
Nick leaned leaned back in his chair and regarded her with a quizzical eye.
“Why do I get the feeling there’s more to that than—?”
“My mother. He’s been thoroughly ingratiating himself.”
“Uh-oh. Is that going to make life awkward for you?”
“Oh, I doubt it. She’s wise to him but not above making use of his labouring skills to help get her new garden beaten into submission, the minx.”
“How’s she settling in? Didn’t you say she lived in Appleby before?”
“Yes, years ago now. Still, it hasn’t taken her long to re-establish herself. I think she’s already plugged-in to the gossip hotline. When I was up there the other day, she reminded me the week of the Fair is known locally as a good time to settle old scores because you can get your own back on the people who’ve annoyed you all year, but you can blame it on the Gypsies.”
Nick was silent for a while after that, his face serious. Watching him, Grace remembered the first time they met, when he was both in a foul temper and hung-over, but she’d itched to photograph him. She still did, if she was honest. Had contented herself with taking some portrait shots of him with his daughter, Sophie, a few months before.
At last, he said, “I wonder if that was what happened to the guy whose bones were uncovered at Mallerstang—a settled score? And then his body buried at a place where the Gypsies often camp, just in case it ever did come to light.”
“Or a deliberate attempt to make them look guilty.”
“True. But until Dr Onatade carries out her post-mortem exam, we don’t even know if he was murdered, or died accidentally.”
“Well, considering where and how he was buried, someone will have questions to answer, certainly.”
Nick shrugged. “For what—failing to register a death? Failing to gain consent of the landowner before carrying out a private burial? Hardly big league stuff, is it?”
“And you haven’t identified him yet, your John Doe?”
“I spent most of today trawling through the Missing Persons’ database but there are no obvious matches.”
“I suppose, if he was part of the Traveller community, it’s likely he was never officially reported missing. They don’t exactly trust the police.”
“Tell me about it! We’ll just have to wait and see what we get from the PM—or from the effects found with the body. I understand there’s even an old mobile phone, although what use it will be is another matter.”
“Well, if anyone can do something with it, I’d put my money on Ty Frost.”
“So would I.” Nick stood, stretching out his back with a groan. “Ah well, time I was making tracks. Lisa’s working late tonight, again, so I need to pick up the little one from her grandparents’ place.”
Something in his voice tapped at her. “How are things with Lisa, since the two of you got back together?” Grace asked.
Another shrug. “OK—some of the time.”
“Oh, I was hoping for second honeymoon territory.” Her voice was gently teasing but when he didn’t smile she sobered. “What is it?”
“Again, I’m not sure I know.” He rubbed a hand around the back of his neck. “She’s been acting…strangely. Secretive, defensive. Just…half a beat out of step with me. Or maybe it’s me that’s out of step with her.” He flashed a quick smile. “Oh, just ignore me. I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
“Perhaps,” Grace agreed. “But you have good instincts and I’d be tempted to trust them.”
“And do what, though?”
“Whatever you know is right.”
He picked up his glass and went back inside the house without answering. Grace followed, bringing the remains of the wine and her own glass. Tallie lifted her head, saw Nick and gave a brief, token growl, then flopped down again, as if it wasn’t worth the effort.
Nick placed his empty glass on the breakfast bar and turned to her, car keys already in his hand. “Thanks, Grace—for letting me talk. I always feel a little better for it.”
“Then my work here is done,” she said. “Look after yourself, Nick.”
It was only as the exhaust note of his car died away up the lane that she remembered her encounter with the unknown Gypsy woman at Appleby. Grace wondered if she should have mentioned the woman’s response to the discovery of the old bones, or her outburst about something that was owing…
How did the settling of old scores fit into that?