Read Malice in Cornwall Online

Authors: Graham Thomas

Tags: #Fiction, #Police Procedural, #Cornwall (England : County), #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Traditional British, #Ghosts, #General

Malice in Cornwall

Advance praise for MALICE IN CORNWALL

“The Cornish mists and sea swirl constantly in the background of
Malice in Cornwall
a murder mystery that can also be read as a travel book. When a storm hits the northern coast, with its fierce whirling mixture of rain and sand, I was right there with Chief Superintendent Powell on the beach—where he discovers something that will make me shudder next time I find myself walking there. Graham Thomas certainly knows how to exploit the air of romance, mystery, and danger that still hovers over Cornwall.”

Author of England for All Seasons

Praise for Graham Thomas's
previous novel,

“Malice in the Highlands is the perfect choice for readers nostalgic for the good old-fashioned British village mystery.”

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

“When Detective-Chief Superintendent Erskine Powell's fishing vacation turns into a busman's holiday, it's jolly good reading for traditional British mystery buffs.”

Meritorious Mysteries

By Graham Thomas
Published by Ivy Books:


Books published by The Ballantine Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-733-3000.

For Becky, Graham, and Laura.
With thanks to Wendy Hindle
and to Mr. Alan Harvey of
Constantine Bay, Cornwall

In my seashaken house
On a breakneck of rocks …
Out there, crow black, men
Tackled with clouds

Author's Prologue,
Collected Poems 1934-1952


The moon was large that night and so was she. She had left her friends in the pub and set out alone along the beach humming the latest Beatles tune to herself. The lights of the pub and the din of revelry—snatches of laughter, the faint tintinnabulation of clinking glasses on the patio, and the beat of the music—dwindling in the distance. She thought about her boyfriend back there drinking himself into a stupor. Their romantic weekend at the seaside hadn't exactly turned out that way; he'd be no good at all to her later, but then he wasn't much good at the best of times, and she wasn't into alcohol. Screw
, she was having a gas!

She kicked off her shoes and ran along the beach, heart pounding and the air rushing into her open mouth. Her long hair flew behind her like a white mare's tail in the moonlight. She experienced the sharp texture of sand beneath her feet, the cooling breeze against her skin, the iodine smell of the sea. She spread her arms wide, shafts of golden light emanating from her fingertips, encircling
the moon with a writhing aurora. “God, I'm stoned!” she shouted to anyone who cared to listen.

The sea whispered to her, drawing her closer to the water's edge. The sand had given way to shingle, so she slowed, prancing gingerly amongst the stones; patches of slimy sea wrack squished between her toes and she wished that she had kept her shoes. Her eyes widened. The beach was moving as if a million chitinous creatures were swarming over it and there was an acrid smell in the air. I mustn't freak, she told herself.

She stared in wonder at her body; it was bathed in a suffusive light that seemed to originate beneath her skin, perhaps from the intricate pattern of blue-wire veins she could trace with her finger. The light expanded around her, and she was no longer sure what was inside or outside or whether the distinction even had any meaning.

The waves hissed and clawed at the rocks with white-foam fingers. She could sense the rise and fall of luminous seaweed in the bay and cold eyes searching the deeps. She knew then that she was not alone.

She couldn't understand why she hadn't noticed it before. Shimmering in the moonlight like a fantastic mirror, a large pool filled by the rising tide was now isolated by a circle of rocks jutting up like broken black teeth. She felt as if she were floating above its quicksilver surface. She tried to focus at a point beyond her reflection to see what lay at the heart of it. There was something there, just beyond the limits of her perception, something elusive, ethereal, yet deeply meaningful and transcendent.

After what seemed like hours, an image slowly began to resolve itself beneath the surface of the water. A young
girl, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, stared back at her with incredulous eyes, pupils dilated like her own, skin like alabaster, a cloud of dark hair drifting around her face as if softly stirred by her breath. Except how could the girl be breathing?

I'm really tripping now, she thought wonderingly. She moved closer. The girl in the pool was naked, like some lovely mermaid, wearing only a choker, a black satin ribbon encircling her slender neck with an ivory cameo in the center.

She stared at this simple if incongruous adornment, fascinated. The choker was oddly frayed at the edges, and it occurred to her that something was not quite right. She was coming down fast.

She suddenly realized that it wasn't a choker at all, but rather a deep dark gash, the severed trachea exposed like some obscene white hosepipe. The throat had been neatly cut.

They could hear her screaming all the way back at the pub.


Detective-Sergeant William Black slowly mounted the steps of his semidetached house, critically surveying the general state of disrepair. His brow furrowed as he compiled a mental list of the items needing attention, just as he had every day for the past month or so. It was a sad litany of neglect: the rusting wrought-iron railings and the sagging drainpipe, not to mention the peeling paintwork around the door. He really must get on with it, for he knew better than most that little jobs neglected had a habit of becoming big jobs. Tomorrow was his day off, right enough, but he needed to catch up on his reading, and hadn't Muriel said something about the kids coming over? He shook his head sadly. He prided himself on being handy around the house, but between the grandchildren and his studies there hadn't been much spare time lately.

He hung his mac on the coatrack in the hallway and looked into the sitting room. He could hear Muriel hoovering upstairs. The mantel clock was striking six. He consulted his watch and then walked over to the mantel-
piece, opened the little glass window on the clock, and moved the minute hand ahead three minutes. Satisfied, he went into the kitchen and out the back door to fetch a cool bottle of ale from the garden shed. He returned to the sitting room, dislodged the cat from his favorite chair, settled himself with a contented sigh, and began reading a dog-eared copy of
King Lear.

Muriel came down the stairs a few minutes later lugging the vacuum, the hose draped over her shoulder like Captain Nemo, Black fancied, entwined with a giant squid.

“Evenin, love,” he rumbled affectionately.

“I didn't hear you come in.”

“Anything I can do?”

“There's a shepherd's pie in the oven.”

“Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low

an excellent thing in woman.

She smiled indulgently. “Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. I've got a list of things for you to mend after supper.”

“Like the Bard said, I will leave no rubs nor botches in the work.”

“Oh, Bill!”

He had become incorrigible since he'd enrolled in that adult education course at the local college last year. When she'd brought home the syllabi, Adventures in English Literature was the last thing she'd had in mind. Weaving or Beginning Pottery for her, and perhaps Roof Repair or Advanced Plumbing for him, something to help fill their evenings, but never just reading. Not that she had anything against reading. She enjoyed a good Jeffrey
Archer as much as anyone, but Bill was—well, so practical and not at all romantic. Not that he wasn't sharp. You had to be to work on murder cases. But he'd never shown any inclination to read books before, his cultural universe having been largely circumscribed by the
Daily Telegraph
and the telly.

As she busied herself in the kitchen she wondered if her husband's newly found interest wasn't a symptom of something deeper, even though he was past the age when one usually expected that sort of thing. Still, she had often wondered if he was truly happy with their life together. They seldom talked about it and she had no reason to think otherwise, but his tendency to immerse himself in a new hobby every couple of years, as if to fill a void, made her wonder. The last time it had been fishing, not your game fishing—he couldn't afford that, of course—but coarse fishing. It had begun when Mr. Powell gave them a salmon, and for over a year it was all roach and perch, boilies and maggots. This time it was English literature, and she had to admit that he'd taken to the subject like nothing else before. He always seemed to have his nose buried in a book; novels, literary biographies, poetry—she hardly knew what to expect next. The odd thing was, up until now, he'd never shown the slightest inclination to further his education. It was too late to help him in his career, so she had to assume that it was purely for personal fulfillment. When pressed, he joked self-consciously that in order to stay young one had to stretch the mind to its limits.

She considered herself lucky. Bill was a kind and attentive husband, a good father and grandfather; she was proud that he wanted to better himself. And perhaps his
newfound interest in culture would extend to taking her to see a play or a concert occasionally. Visions of
The Phantom
Les Mis
danced fleetingly in her head. But then she frowned slightly. If only he would refrain from spouting literary quotations at every available opportunity. It was beginning to get on her nerves.

After supper, they sat cocooned together in comfortable silence, she busy with her knitting and he, having put his Shakespeare aside for the moment, reading the newspaper.

A story buried in the back pages caught his attention. “Here, love, listen to this—the headline says ‘The Riddle of Penrick’:

For nearly two weeks the residents of the seaside village
of Penrick on the north coast of Cornwall have
reported seeing a mysterious apparition on the Pen
rick Sands, a popular summer bathing beach. The
Riddle, as it has become known, is said to give off an
unearthly light and has been variously described by
witnesses as a headless female figure, or as half-animal
and half-human. Concern has been expressed by a local
councillor, who wishes to remain anonymous, that tour
ism could be adversely affected. According to a police
spokesperson in Camborne, there is no doubt a logical
explanation for the reported sightings, although none
was given.

What do you think of that?” He chuckled, not envying the police spokesperson. In such cases, you were damned if you said anything and damned if you didn't. “It sounds a bit far-fetched.”

Black smiled knowingly.
“There are more things in heaven and earth
, dear Muriel,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

She was about to reply when the telephone jangled. She handed over the receiver, a strange expression on her face. “It's for you, Bill. It's Mr. Powell.”

After he'd rung off, he turned to his wife with that familiar look in his eye. “Well, that's it, love. I'm off again.”

Powell replaced the receiver and went back to his table near the front window of the K2 Tandoori Restaurant. The atmosphere was fragrant with spices and a raga played softly in the background. There were numerous plants in large brass pots; the red flock walls were hung with provocative batiks of the Omar Khayyam school; and on the back wall a giant silhouette of the Taj Mahal was painted, with the swinging doors to the kitchen opening in the center of the palace. The only apparent nod to the restaurant's namesake, and a useful deterrent when the lads came in for a riot after the pubs closed, was an ice ax hanging behind the bar.

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