Book Title: A Dangerous Life
Series: The DCI Jack Callum Mysteries, Book 2
Author: Len Maynard
Publication Date: 28th July 2020
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 287 Pages
@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @len_maynard,
A body of a man wearing theatrical make up is found hanging from a tree on Norton Common in Hertfordshire. He has been tortured and his throat has been cut.
DCI Jack Callum, a veteran policeman with his own rules for procedure, heads the investigation into this puzzling crime. The clues lead him close to the answer, but the solution remains elusive.
Why was the man killed?
What were the victim’s links to London’s gangland bosses?
When an unsolved murder is uncovered that appears to be connected to the case, Jack realises he must use his team to their full strength to separate the innocent from the guilty.
Jack also faces a challenge he never expected as he is accused of an improper relationship with a young Detective Constable on his team, Myra Banks.
In a breathless climax, Myra puts her own life on the line to deal with a figure from Jack’s past, who has now become a lethal threat in the present.
TUESDAY MARCH 17TH 1959
He sat in his favourite armchair listening to the Archers on the radio. “An everyday story of country folk”, or so the BBC would have their listeners believe. He had believed it, and the soap opera had spurred his eventual move from the smoke and noise of Tottenham in North London to the greener, semi-rural setting of Hertfordshire. So far he hadn’t been disappointed, but his date with the Archer clan in the idyllic village of Ambridge was still required listening whenever he could spare the time.
The doorbell rang and he swore softly under his breath while he waited for someone else in the house to answer it. When it became evident that everyone else was more concerned with their own pursuits and not at all interested in seeing who was at the door he said, “Bugger!” and pushed himself out of his armchair.
As he stepped out into the hallway the bell rang again. “Coming!” he called irritably. “Keep your hair on.”
Detective Sergeant Eddie Fuller stood on the doorstep.
“Christ, Eddie, haven’t you seen enough of me for one day?” Jack said.
“Sorry to disturb, guv,” Fuller said. “I was against it but Chief Superintendent Lane insisted I come and get you.”
“Come in and tell me all about it,” Jack said.
Fuller shook his head. “I’ll bring you up to date while I drive.”
“That urgent, eh?”
Fuller glanced at his watch and nodded.
“I’ll get my coat,” Jack said.
“Where are we headed?” Jack said as they pulled out onto the main road.
“Norton Common.” Fuller’s face was grim, and he had offered no information since getting the car. “The team’s already there.”
His sergeant’s reticence was beginning to annoy Jack. He’d found the talk he delivered to the school today to be quite draining, and that, combined with Geraldine Turner’s spurious confession and the uneasy confrontation with her father, had left him feeling tense. He’d hoped to drain the stress from his system with a quiet evening at home with the Archers and perhaps some music later. He’d bought the new David Whitfield long player at the weekend and so far hadn’t had a chance to play it. Instead he was being driven through the dull Hertfordshire night, on his way to Norton Common and its sixty acres of rolling greens, thick woodland. Home to muntjac deer, Letchworth’s own black squirrel colony, and one of the most unlikely crime scenes he could imagine.
“So are you going to tell me what’s waiting for us when we get to the Common? Or is this your idea of a mystery tour?”
Fuller glanced around at his boss. “Sorry, guv,” he said. “My mind’s on other things. I was meant to be taking Judy to the pictures tonight, but the Chief Super caught me just as I was heading home. I wouldn’t mind but I’ve had to cancel our last three dates because of work and I don’t think she’ll put up with it for much longer.”
“A messed up social life goes with the job, Eddie. You know that,” Jack said, but he sympathised with his sergeant. The job had put a lot of strain on his relationship with Annie during the early years of their marriage. “Try to put your love life out of your mind and just tell me what the case is.”
“A particularly nasty murder,” he said.
“Anyone we know?”
Fuller shook his head. “No identification so far. A man, mid-forties, found by a dog walker just after six tonight.”
“So what makes this murder so nasty?”
“At first the dog walker only saw him from a distance and thought it was just someone taking a leak against a tree, but he got closer to him and the man didn’t move away. He couldn’t. He’d been nailed there and his throat had been cut.”
Suddenly the peaceful idyll of Ambridge seemed a million miles away. Jack blew through his teeth. “You’d better step on it… and use the bell.”
Fuller pressed down on the accelerator, switched on the Winkworth bell and the Wolseley tore noisily along the main road to reach its grisly destination.
By the time they reached Norton Common the body had been taken down from the tree and was laid out on the grass with police doctor, Barry Fenwick, crouched over it conducting the preliminary examination. One of the team had driven his police car onto the common. Its engine was idling and its headlights turned night into day.
There were a handful of CID officers searching the scene by torchlight for clues, and another taking photographs, the blinding light from his flash bulbs adding occasional illumination to the gory scene.
Jack looked from the blood-spattered tree, to the sticky pool of red slowly sinking into the earth at its bole, to the body lying on the grass. “Any idea how long ago this happened, Barry?” Jack said to the doctor.
“The body’s still relatively warm and rigour is only just stiffening the jaw and neck but hasn’t reached the other muscles yet, so not long. Two hours, three at the most.”
Jack checked his watch. It was just coming up to eight o’ clock. “So between five and six. If this had happened at the end of the month when the clocks changed it would have been light. Cause of death?”
“Catastrophic blood loss. The carotid artery has been severed. Death would have followed very quickly. Two minutes, three tops.”
“And what about the stab wounds to the stomach?” Jack pointed to the blood-soaked shirt.
Fenwick shook his head. “Superficial. None of them look deep enough to be fatal. They could be hesitation wounds but I think rather they were designed to cause pain, not to kill.”
“It’s a shame he was taken down,” Jack said. “I would have liked to have seen the body in situ, so to speak.”
“Your man took photographs,” Fenwick said. “But if it helps you to visualize it, his arms were raised above his head and a six-inch nail had been hammered through the palms of his hands. Judging from the tearing of the flesh on his palms I’d say he was hanging there for several minutes being tortured before his throat was cut. Of course the autopsy will yield a more accurate picture.”
“As will the photographs,” Jack said with a shudder.
“Now this is interesting.” Fenwick leaned closer to the body. He took a pair of tweezers from his bag and started probing the black moustache on the body’s top lip. A few moments later he said. “Yes, I thought so.” He lifted his hand. Caught between the tweezers’ points was something thin, black and hairy.
“Fake,” Jack said, staring at it.
Fenwick nodded, dropped the false moustache into a polythene bag and returned his attention back to the body’s face. “Can I have some more light here,” he called to an officer holding a torch. The officer swung the beam down to the dead man’s face. Jack glanced at it and took in the details of the corpse; a middle-aged man of Latin extraction judging from the look of the swarthy skin. Fenwick leaned in closer still and the shadow cast by his body obscured Jack’s view.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Fenwick muttered as he worked at the face with the tweezers.
Jack moved in to get a closer look at what the doctor was doing. He appeared to be poking the corpse’s nose with the point of the tweezers. Finally with an almost exultant cry of, “Yes, I thought so,” Fenwick pulled back and rested on his haunches. He looked up at Jack. “Well, what do you make of this?” he said and brandished the tweezers. Jack stared at them. Caught between the points was a blob of something light brown and fleshy.
“What the hell is that?” he said.
“Nose putty,” Fenwick said. “Or mortician’s wax.” He saw the look of bewilderment on Jack face and smiled. “It’s a fake nose, Chief Inspector and, judging from the paleness of the skin beneath it, it looks like your man here is wearing makeup – the theatrical kind.”
Jack crouched down beside the body, took a handkerchief from his pocket and started to wipe greasepaint away from the face. A few minutes later he said, “Good God!” and stood upright.
“What is it, guv? Do you recognise him?” said Fuller, who’d been watching the whole procedure with a kind of macabre fascination.
Jack nodded, still staring down at the body. “Yes, Sergeant. I recognise him. In fact I was talking to him just this afternoon. His name is Tony Turner. He’s an actor.”
“Well, I suppose that would explain the makeup.”
“Yes, but not why he was wearing it. Nor does it explain why he was found nailed to a tree with his throat cut,” Jack added grimly.
Born in Enfield, North London in 1953, Len Maynard has written and published over forty books, the majority of them in collaboration with Michael Sims. Ghost story collections, the Department 18 series of supernatural thrillers, stand-alone horror novels, the Bahamas series of action-adventure thrillers, as well as a handful of stand-alone thrillers. As editors they were responsible for the Enigmatic Tales and Darkness Rising series of anthologies, as well as single anthologies in the horror and crime genres. The DCI Jack Callum Mysteries are his first to be written under his own name.
Connect with Len: