A Mystery of Murder
Jan Christopher Mysteries, Episode 2
By Helen Hollick
Publication Date: 14th November 2021
Publisher: Taw River Press
Page Length: 160 Pages
Genre: Cosy Mystery
‘Had I known what was to happen soon after we arrived at Mr and Mrs Walker’s lovely old West Country house, my apprehension about spending Christmas in Devon would have dwindled to nothing.’
Library Assistant Jan Christopher is to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, DS Laurie Walker and his family, but when a murder is discovered, followed by a not very accidental accident, the traditional Christmas spirit is somewhat marred...
What happened to Laurie’s ex-girlfriend? Where is the vicar’s wife? Who took those old photographs? And will the farmer up the lane ever mend those broken fences?
Set in 1971, this is the second Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery. Join her (and an owl and a teddy bear) in Devon for a Christmas to remember.
Will the discovery of a murder spoil Christmas for Jan Christopher and her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker – or will it bring them closer together?
Jan Christopher is spending Christmas 1971 with her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker and his parents who live in an old farmhouse in Devon. Her first night there is to have more adventure than she expected:
NOISES IN THE NIGHT
A strip of light squeezed under the door, then that went out. I lay in bed, hugging my teddy, Bee Bear, and listening to the sounds of the house settling for the night – the people within and the old building itself. I heard the grandfather clock prematurely strike midnight. I must have dozed, for a tawny owl hooting, long and loud right outside, woke me up just as the clock downstairs struck one. I smiled, wondered if a mouse had run up and down, as in Hickory-Dickory-Dock. The owl hooted again. I’d seen plenty of pictures of owls, starting when I was little with Little Grey Rabbit and Beatrix Potter’s stories – who could forget Squirrel Nutkin’s mishap with the owl! So I knew exactly what a tawny owl would look like, but I had never actually seen a real one.
As the bedroom was at the end of the house it had three large windows on each outside wall, so, even with the curtains partially closed, I could see quite adequately because of the full moon. I got out of bed and hurried to the middle, biggest window, which had a velvet-padded window seat. I pulled the curtains aside and peered out.
The silvery moonlit view sloped steeply away from the house for about half-a-mile, down towards the River Taw, then rose again on the other side in rounded hills of rich, lush, farmland that was ideal for cattle and sheep. Frost sparkled beneath the star-twinkling sky. The trees, bare of leaf, were stark against the skyline, the hedgerows dark, casting long, black shadows. I heard the owl again coming from one of the oak trees along the lane. Despite the cold, I opened the window, leaned out.
There was something ethereal about the owl’s call, not scary, but exciting. Maybe because owls encapsulated the world of the night, the topsy-turvy, back-to-front opposite of our own daytime existence? I caught my breath; the bird glided silently across the garden, its body dark against the moonlight, its shadow flickering over the ground beneath. It was bigger than I had expected. I had never seen anything so utterly beautiful before!
Then I saw something else moving between the vegetable plots, large and black... Two crouched shapes, slowly edging along the path. I opened the window wider, shivered against the blast of cold air as I leaned further out, listening. Something was making a sort of wheezing, snuffling sound. A burglar with asthma? Frightened, I closed the window, rushed back to the bed, shoved my feet into my slippers and threw my dressing gown round my shoulders. Mrs Walker had left a torch on the bedside table in case I needed one, so I grabbed it and switched it on.
The floorboards creaked as if a herd of elephants were thundering through the house, but I didn’t care. I ran, as fast as furry mule slippers permitted, so a sort of hobbling, shuffle, down the stairs and along the landing to Laurie’s room, where I barged the door open.
“Laurie!” Not a shout, but definitely not a whisper. “Laurie! There are two burglars in the garden!”
He was up, out of bed and running to my room. Alf appeared at his bedroom door, pulling a tartan woollen dressing gown on over his striped pyjamas.
Laurie’s mum, her voice muffled from within the room; “What is it? What has happened?”
“Stay there!” Laurie ordered as he disappeared through the doorway of my bedroom. Neither Alf nor myself obeyed, we followed. I turned round as the landing light behind us snapped on, to see Mrs W, her hair in curlers beneath a bright pink hairnet, appear in our wake.
“Turn the light off!” I hissed. “There are burglars outside!” Not that a light mattered, the noise we were making would have alerted them anyway...
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Helen Hollick and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.
First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and occasionally gets time to write...