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Authors: Caroline Graham

A Ghost in the Machine

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Rave Reviews for Caroline Graham and the Inspector Barnaby Series

A Ghost in the Machine

“Graham's ingeniously constructed novels featuring Chief Inspector Barnaby are actually clever satires, closer to Robert Barnard than Agatha Christie in their cruel theatricality. Although Graham lets a few genuinely nice characters slip away unscathed, her lethal humor can be a bit of a shock for the unknowing reader who finds her among the cozies.”

—Marilyn Stasio,
The New York Times Book Review

“If Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and Maeve Binchy decided to collaborate, this might be the book they would write—a sort of police procedural, murder mystery, horror story, and English-village melodrama all in a single cover. It's an engaging, beguiling, surprising story with wonderfully drawn characters, laugh-aloud humor, sinister twists, and a splendidly multifaceted plot.”

—
Booklist
(starred review)

“Fans of the A&E series starring Inspector Barnaby will welcome this most attractive village cozy.”

—
Library Journal

“With its…richly diverting characters, Graham's well-plotted ninth novel…has more in common with Dickens than with Conan Doyle.”

—
Publishers Weekly

A Place of Safety

“Wonderful…A delightful tale…told in graceful prose and populated with carefully drawn characters, [this] is a marvelous treat.”

—
The Denver Post

“Another gem in the diadem of Graham's tales…The author's sharp characters and complex but believable plotting are in full play here, to the reader's delight.”

—
Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“Masterfully recounts the effects of love—or its absence—on a diverse group of people, including [Graham's] series detective, Inspector Tom Barnaby…Graham is a master of pacing, and her dialogue is dark and worldly-wise enough to make this much fuller fare than most English-village cozies.”

—
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“Cause for celebration…Thoroughly charming…intensely pleasurable reading.”

—
Booklist

Faithful unto Death

“Graham expertly balances low-key style of detection with a rich variety of disparate characters…[and] satisfies on every level: wicked humor, intricate plotting, and razor-sharp characterizations.”

—
San Francisco Chronicle

“Inspector Tom Barnaby, the resident copper in this series, applies his logical mind to the many false clues in this cunning case, but it takes all his acquired insights into human psychology to distinguish the killer from all the other cuckoo characters who live and thrive in the mad, mad world of Fawcett Green.”

—
The New York Times Book Review

“Intricate and shocking…The conclusion of this excellent novel is truly surprising—plausible and satisfying…Lovers of British mysteries who haven't yet sampled Graham's work will find this an excellent place to start.”

—
Booklist

“Graham makes her characters humanly believable in her witty and tragic novel, a real winner…An uncommonly appealing novel.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“A rewarding entry in the British police genre featuring reflective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby…Graham writes in an old-fashioned way with leisurely grace, ironic wit, real-seeming characters, ongoing suspense, and a corker of a plot. The result: top-flight entertainment.”

—
Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“Fawcett Green: an ideal setting for a comfortable English cozy, you'd think. For only about a page or so, until Caroline Graham's incisive, almost savage, take on village quaintness opens your eyes. And then come the surprises.”

—
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Fans of English writer Caroline Graham's Chief Inspector Barnaby mysteries will want to queue up to read
Faithful unto Death
. Graham's dry wit is on full display in this seemingly cozy tale.”

—
Orlando Sentinel

“Great stuff for British procedural fans.”

—
Library Journal

“Terrific…with an ingenious plot and excellent characters and characterizations.”

—
The Guardian
(UK)

“Caroline Graham's latest Inspector Barnaby novel is one to savor.”

—
Manchester Evening News
(UK)

“Graham is probably the most underrated British crime writer. Her talent is rare, combining wit, pathos, and an entertaining narrative. Here she takes the ‘mayhem parva' so beloved by Christie fans and weaves her own magic into it. Brilliant.”

—
Yorkshire Post
(UK)

“Her books are not just great whodunits but great novels in their own right.”

—
The Sunday Times
of London

For Jane,
the sister I never had.

And for Bob and Rebecca.

GLENDOWER
: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

HOTSPUR
: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

Henry IV,
Part One, Act III, scene i

The War Room

1

Mallory Lawson's aunt had been a relative in a million.

Throughout his childhood her large, rambling house and semi-wild garden had afforded unlimited scope for adventurous games during the school holidays. Aunt Carey seemed to know instinctively when he wanted to be left alone and when he wanted company. She fed him drippingly scrumptious, massively calorific food that would have had his mother fainting with horror. Frequently, when leaving, more money was slipped into his pocket than he would earn in a year washing the family car. Kindest of all, when Mallory was fourteen she had encouraged him to smoke one of her special Havana Cohiba cigars to the very end, which made him so violently sick he was never able to touch tobacco again.

And now, peacefully in her sleep during her eighty-ninth year, the old lady had died. As perceptive and understanding as ever, she had accomplished this just as her beloved nephew's mental and physical health was at breaking point. He thought then and for a long time afterwards that coming into his inheritance when he did saved his sanity. Perhaps even his life.

 

The news of his aunt's death broke in the middle of a family argument. Kate, Mallory's wife, was putting all the difficult, row-inducing points that anxious parents feel sometimes compelled to put to their children, even when such children are officially adults. This burden, for some time now, had fallen upon her. Mallory, even if he had not spoiled their daughter since the day she was born, was too broken-backed to enter even the mildest affray.

Polly had just completed her second year at the London School of Economics, reading Accounting and Finance. Though the Lawsons' house was a mere fifteen minutes from the LSE by Tube, she had insisted on finding her own place to live. For the first year this had meant staying in the halls of residence. Then, after the long vac, she had found a flat share in Dalston. Her allowance was enough to cover the rent and food, with a modest amount left over for pocket money.

During the first twelve months her parents had seen little of Polly. Mallory had been extremely hurt but Kate had understood. Their daughter was on the threshold of a new world, a new life, and Kate regarded it as a compliment that Polly couldn't wait to run out on to the high board, hold her nose and jump in at the deep end. She was bright, extremely pretty and confident. Psychologically speaking, she could swim. But financially? Well, that was something else. And that was what this set-to was all about.

Polly apparently now planned to move again. She had found a two-bedroom flat in Shoreditch. Her intention was to let both rooms to cover the rent. The agency wanted a three-month deposit to be returned when giving up the tenancy and a quarter's rent in advance.

“So where will you sleep?” asked her mother.

“There's a space I can cram a futon in – roll it up during the day. They do it all the time in Japan.” Polly, never patient, took a long, slow breath. The discussion, which had already been going on for half an hour, was proving tougher than she had expected. If only her mother wasn't here. “Don't look so appalled. Anyone'd think I was going to sleep on the Embankment.”

“Is it furnished?”

“No…”

“So you'll need extra money on top of—”

“I'm
saving
you money, for Christ's sake!”

“Don't talk to your mother like that, Polly.” Mallory frowned, the deeply graven lines between his brows drawing together. His fingers plucked nervously at his shirt cuffs. “She's worried about you.”

“But, don't you see, it means you won't have to pay my rent any more?”

“So you're doing it for us?”

“There's no need to be sarcastic.”

Kate could have bitten her tongue. She thought, why am I like this? Mal can be patient with her – listening, understanding. Giving way more often than not and receiving hugs and kisses in return. But herself – the slightest criticism, any attempt to stand firm against unreasonable demands or establish even a modest degree of routine or discipline, even when Polly was small, had brought the constant accusation from the child that her mother had never really loved her. More often it seemed to Kate the other way round. Still, her remark had been uncalled for. She was about to apologise when Mallory spoke.

“About this furniture—”

“‘This furniture.' I'm not going to Heal's. Just round skips and junk shops.”

“You can't charge two hundred pounds a week for bedsits full of rubbish—”

“They're not bedsits!” Polly stopped, took a deep breath and counted aloud to ten. “I
told
you – it'll be a flat share.”

Kate hesitated. She had always thought flat shares were cheaper than bedsits. And wasn't it usually a month's deposit people wanted?

“Anyway, you know nothing about skip culture. People throw the most amazing things away.”

“We'd have to have a look at it,” said Kate.

“Why?” Then, when her mother looked taken aback: “I'm asking for a measly ten grand. I'll repay it – with interest, if that's what you want.”

“Don't be ridiculous.”

“And what's it to you? It won't be your money.”

It could well be, thought Kate. For she was still working practically full time. But she didn't care about that. Her concern was over what the money was really for. She remembered an item on a radio programme only days ago saying that something like seventy per cent of the banknotes circulating in the banking area of the inner City showed traces of cocaine. If Polly, God forbid, needed money for that…

“It would be nice, though, love,” Mallory tried to ease the tension, “to see where you're going to live.”

“The thing is…” Polly looked frankly at both her parents, looked them warmly straight in the eye. She did not know that, since she was very small, her mother had recognised this as a sure sign that her daughter was lying. “There are still people in there. It won't actually be vacant for a couple of weeks.”

Kate said, “I still don't see any point—”

“I want a bigger place, all right? More room.”

“But if there's three of you—”

“Oh, sod this. I'm sick of being cross-questioned as if I'm some sort of criminal. If you don't want to lend me the money just say so and I'll piss off.”

“Sounds familiar.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

This remark was the opener to a long harangue about since when had either of them ever offered anybody any real support or genuine concern in their entire self-centred lives. And now there was a chance to do something to help someone, and that person their only daughter, but she should have known—they'd always been so bloody tight-fisted. Well, she would just have to borrow from the bank and when she was hopelessly in debt because of the astronomical rate of—

That was when the telephone rang. The Lawsons' answerphone, always on even when they were there, bleeped and wheezed. Distressed cries and squawks could be heard.

“It's Benny!” Mallory rushed to the phone. Listened and gently spoke. His wife and daughter saw his face suddenly transformed by shock and sorrow, and their anger evaporated into thin air.

 

The funeral was held on a rather breezy summer's afternoon. Mallory, Kate and Polly accepted condolences as a packed church slowly emptied and the organist played “The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.”

Almost all the village had been present, as well as those of Aunt Carey's friends and relatives that still survived. One elderly man in a wheelchair had been driven down from Aberdeen. Mallory was moved but not surprised at this group display of affectionate mourning. His aunt, though perhaps not easy to love, was almost impossible to dislike.

The Lawsons stood at the graveside for a little while when everyone else either went home or over to Appleby House. And Mallory, who had always thought the knowledge that someone had had a long and largely happy life would make their death easier to bear, discovered he was wrong. But he was glad it had been sudden even as he regretted this meant he had had no chance to say goodbye. She would not have coped well with a slow and painful decline. He sensed that Kate, who had been very fond of the old lady, was silently crying. Polly, only there because of what she described as “emotional arm-wrestling,” stood a few feet away from her parents, trying to look sympathetic while impatiently chewing her bottom lip. Genuine sorrow was beyond her, for she had not seen her great-aunt for some years and was not into faking stuff just to make other people feel better.

They made their slow way back to where the baked meats were being consumed along with stone jars of apple wine made from fruit gathered in the orchard that gave the house its name. Everything had been organised by Benny Frayle, companion to the deceased, who had refused all help. Benny was desperate for something to fill these first days. The worst days. She had whirled and bustled and flung herself about; a grief-stricken Dervish, never still.

Though the already extremely large rooms on the ground floor had had their dividing louvre doors folded back, people had started spilling out on to the terrace and into the garden. Two girls from the village in jeans and Oasis T-shirts were handing round trays of knobbly-looking dark brown bits and greyish twists of pastry. Most people were drinking, though the punchbowl, holding a non-alcoholic fruit cup, had been hardly touched. Everyone seemed to be knocking back the home-made apple wine. Fair enough. Most of the mourners would be walking home and those who had travelled some distance would be returning to their hotel at nearby Princes Risborough by cab.

You could not mistake the fact, thought Kate, looking about her at the far from soberly dressed crowd, that most of the people present seemed to be rather enjoying themselves. What was it about funerals? The obvious answer – that everyone present had been suddenly shocked into gratified elation at their own survival – was surely not all there was to it. Anyway, sorrow could wear more than one face. There was Mrs. Crudge, cleaner at Appleby House for thirty years. Just a few hours ago crying her heart out in the kitchen; now smiling and chatting while nervously twitching at folds of black veiling clumsily pinned to a shapeless felt hat.

The Lawsons had been down at Forbes Abbot for five days. Already Kate, taking some wine over to Mallory, noticed the difference in him. It was infinitesimal in such a short time – no one else would mark it – but she touched his forearm, and the tendons, taut as violin strings for as long as she could remember, gave a little under her hand.

“That stuff is utterly disabling,” said Mallory, nevertheless taking the glass. “I know it of old.”

“Do you think we should circulate?” asked Kate.

“As chief mourners I think people should come and file past us,” said Polly. “Like at a Greek wedding.”

Perhaps if she stood still long enough and smiled sweetly enough someone might come and pin money on her. It would have to be a lot of money because she owed a lot of money. An awful lot. With compound interest making it aw-fer by the day, if not the hour. Swelling, like a monstrous succubus in a jar. Angrily Polly attempted to wrench her thoughts back to the present. She had vowed to keep…what? Fear? No, Polly had never been afraid. Let's just say to keep the image of the reptilian Billy Slaughter at bay. Squat, flat-eyed, repulsive to the touch. A flash from a childhood rhyme: “I know a man. What man? The man with the power. What power? The power of voodoo…”

Polly grappled with her mind, pinned it still, screwed it down and forced it to pay attention to the assembled throng. She took in every detail – clothes, jewellery, mannerisms, voices – and decided they were a bunch of real saddoes. Average age seventy; not so much dressed as upholstered and held together with Steradent. At the thought of all those clacking dentures Polly burst out laughing.

“Polly!”

“Whoops. Sorry. Sorry, Dad.”

He looked dreadfully upset. Polly, suddenly contrite, vowed to make amends. What would please him most? Make him proud of her? She decided to mingle. She would not only mingle, she would be absolutely charming to everyone, no matter how decayed or unintelligible. And if it made her father more amenable next time she asked for help – well, that would be a bonus. Her face, now transformed, became wanly sensitive. Her smile almost spiritual. She murmured, “Catch you later,” to her parents and melted into the throng.

Polly knew hardly any of the people present, though several remembered her visiting her great-aunt as a little girl. One or two reminisced about this, often at interminable length. At one point she sat next to an extremely eccentric cousin of Carey's for a full five minutes, leaning deferentially close and noting the old woman's phrases and mannerisms, planning to imitate them later for the entertainment of others.

The vicar hove to – a portly figure, neither old nor young. He had a lot of soft, light brown hair of the sort described on shampoo bottles as flyaway. It certainly seemed to be doing its best at the moment, lifting and stirring about his head like a lively halo. He laid a damp hand on Polly's wrist.

“Would you believe, my dear, Mrs. Crudge just asked me if I was enjoying the reception?”

Polly tried to look incredulous but found it hard. The question seemed to her both inoffensive and appropriate.

“Whatever happened to the word ‘wake'?”

“I don't understand.”

“Exactly! Totally ‘out of print' today.” He hooked quotation marks out of the air with his free hand. “And yet, how metaphysically apropos. For it is but a single letter removed from that happy state that dear Miss Lawson presently enjoys. A-wake in the arms of her Heavenly Father.”

Jesus, thought Polly. She removed the vicar's hand from her arm.

“Look at Polly.” Mallory's tone was fond. Plainly his daughter had already more than compensated for her earlier thoughtless behaviour.

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