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I travelled to the Millau Viaduct today and was suitably impressed – however my tip for the day is to visit the village of Peyre after visiting the viaduct. Follow the signs for the village from the town of Millau. Peyre is situated on a bend of the Tarn River with views of the Millau Viaduct and the river. Parts of Peyre are chiselled out of a cliff, colourful flowers adorn window boxes and plant pots, and the troglodyte church is impressive.
If you wanted to stay, one of the villagers was offering a room for 59 Euros including breakfast.
I travelled with Philippe whose email is firstname.lastname@example.org – he was superb and knowledgeable about the area. He even added in two extra visits to Templar/Hospitaller sights at the end of the day without being asked. The weather was brilliant and there was no rain.
Another day in the life of Detective Inspector Colin Knowles another murder. Bingo the retriever has been finding bodies again. This time someone has left a sword in the back of Edward Pritchard in the local monastery. Pritchard used to work at nearby Manton Rempville Hall as a gardener although all he seemed to cultivate was reasons for people not to like him.
As luck would have it there’s a house party at the hall so there are plenty of suspects. After interviewing everyone, Knowles can see why each one of them might want the ex-gardener dead and his theories about the murder grow.
Knowles inspects the libraries, studies, and the not-so-secret passage of this old hall in an attempt to find out who the murderer is. Bells, owls, and ironic topiary all play a part in his investigation.
Slowly Knowles weeds out the suspects until there can only be one person who did it.
The Manton Rempville Murders is the second in the Inspector Knowles Mysteries and reacquaints the reader with Knowles and his Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes, who were first introduced in The Goat Parva Murders.
Colin Knowles was lying on a beach in the Caribbean. He was drinking a mojito and soaking up the rays of the sun, while secretly admiring some of the local females. Slowly the eloquent cawing of the parrots in the trees turned into the ringing of his phone and intruded into his dream. Knowles tried to find the device without opening his eyes, but only succeeded in knocking his mint tea on to the floor. Eventually he located the phone and drew it slowly to his left ear.
“’Allo, who is this? It had better be good.”
Sergeant Rod Barnes gave Knowles a very good and brief reason why Knowles should come back from his reveries in the Caribbean to the realities of Manton Rempville Hall.
“When was this reported, Barnesy?” asked Knowles, checking the floor to see whether his tea had stained the carpet.
“Around 7:15a.m. by Fairfax,” replied Barnes.
“And everyone else will know because of the ambulance sirens, I suppose,” said Knowles, soaking up the excess tea with his bedside tissues.
“Yes, it was the first thing that Bunny Johnson mentioned to me – I am not convinced she is completely in touch with reality; sirens only after midday, what a ludicrous idea.”
“What was the weapon that was used by the way; it wasn’t the missing dagger, was it?”
“Kitchen knife, sir, straight out of the drawer.”
“Someone is taking the mickey out of us, Sergeant Barnes, unless this is the thief’s work and not the first murderer’s work.”
“That’s getting very complicated, Inspector, having one killer is bad enough, but the thought there’s competing murderers here is mind-boggling.”
“Indeed it is, Sergeant – I will be over in thirty minutes. Keep everyone happy until I arrive.”
“I will do my best, sir, I will do my best.”
Knowles put two rounds of rye bread in his toaster and took the low-fat cream cheese out of his fridge. Freddie the cat was miaowing his head off and circling around Knowles’ feet like a shark scenting blood. Knowles fed both cats from the can in the fridge door compartment. He ate his toasted bread and watched in amusement as Freddie gulped down his own food and then tried to eat Gemma’s too. Gemma hissed and Freddie retreated under Knowles’ chair, watching carefully until she had finished before daring to see whether there was anything left for him.
“You’re out of luck, Freddie old son, she’s finished everything,” said Knowles as Freddie looked glumly in his direction. Knowles finished his toasted rye and put the plate with the crumbs on down on the floor for Freddie to lick off voraciously.
Knowles brushed his teeth and put on his warm coat before exiting his house. The journey over to Manton Rempville Hall took ten minutes on a Sunday morning and he was soon heading down the drive towards the inexplicable topiary boxes. He saw Barnes standing in the turning circle with his hands on his hips. As Knowles brought his Land Rover to a halt, Barnes headed towards him.
“Now then, Barnesy, how bad is it?”
“Very clinical, sir, not brutal, but would have been instantaneous. The knife was pushed into the throat with force when the victim was asleep.”
“Right, let’s go and have a look.” The officers headed towards the coach house and climbed the stairs. All the other guests were in the Hall and the only people present were from the Forensics team. The ambulance had left once the death had been confirmed.
Knowles greeted Dr. Crabtree.
“Well, Kevin, we should really meet under nicer circumstances occasionally.”
Dr. Crabtree smiled and nodded in agreement.
“Indeed we should – oh, by the way, there was some dirt on the bottom of the handle of the sword, only a few faint specks but we found them…”
Knowles beamed, but indicated Dr. Crabtree should continue.
“…Anyway, the victim is Basil Fawcett and he has been neatly stabbed through the throat with a large kitchen knife, used for carving meat. No fingerprints at all, which suggests the killer cleaned the handle at some point. Basil would not have known a thing. He would not have made a noise. I understand Toby was in the next room and Henrietta was down the hallway. Both are distraught and are receiving counselling. Time of death around seven hours ago, approximately 1:30a.m.”
Knowles looked down at Basil and shook his head.
“Oh, Basil, you didn’t tell us something – what did you do when Toby and Henrietta went for their walk? Who did you see – who was outside the lower study window at 11:30p.m. – did you follow them and didn’t tell us?”
“Does this mean he saw the murderer or Edward Pritchard before he was killed?” asked Barnes.
“Unless this is a random attack then yes, I think it does mean that – I think we can safely say that Edward Pritchard was killed after 11:30p.m. and that his watch was smashed to give the murderer an alibi. Perhaps Pritchard was the figure outside the lower study that Basil saw.”
“Why can’t people just be totally open with us, sir?” asked Barnes almost beseechingly.
“Maybe Basil here was trying a little blackmail with the murderer?”
“But he had no guile, did he? Just think about how he hung around outside the interview room door and you saw his reflection in the window. He was genuinely surprised you’d seen him. Very naive.”
“Is there anything in his pockets or on his phone that we could use, such as a text or a phone number?”
“His phone has a passcode, which isn’t immediately obvious and his pockets revealed nothing.”
“Not immediately obvious, what does that mean?”
“Well, it’s not B-A-S-I-L, 12345, or 54321, for example.”
“Does his sister know his passcode?”
“She might, but she’s too upset right now, not surprisingly.”
Knowles nodded thoughtfully. He hoped that the phone would reveal some significant communication between Basil and the person who had murdered him.
“So, Barnesy, why did Fairfax find the body and not Henrietta or Toby?”
“He was rousing people for a planned trip to the golf course, which Basil had expressed an interest in. 8:30a.m. tee off time, apparently.”
“And Henrietta and Toby weren’t going?”
“Apparently not, sir.”
“I wonder if we shouldn’t go and look at Pritchard’s place and then come back here when everyone’s had a chance to eat breakfast and to absorb the news. I doubt that Henrietta would be in any fit state to answer our questions now, anyway.”
“That sounds like a plan, sir, and I would agree with you regarding Henrietta.”
“Thought you might, Barnesy.”
“Shall we go then? I will go and tell Sir Michael that we will be back in a couple of hours.”
“Sounds good, Sergeant, I will see you by the vehicles in a couple of minutes.”
Barnes smiled and left the room.
Knowles turned to Dr. Crabtree.
“Was there any sign of a struggle, at all?”
“None whatsoever, Colin, he was taken completely by surprise by the looks of it.”
“Nothing under the nails?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Right, well would you say the person who did this committed the first murder too?”
“It’s likely; don’t forget this killing was more surgical than the first and the knife was inserted from above into the throat really quickly.”
“And the place it was inserted suggests prior knowledge of how to kill people quickly?”
“No, not really, I couldn’t say that – the throat is the most vulnerable part of the anatomy if you’re in bed and your attacker has a knife. And that might be a clue because a strong man would have smothered Basil with a pillow.”
“There’d be noise though, Kevin, with a pillow and a struggle too, both of which might have woken up the neighbours.”
“I suppose so, Colin. Anyway, can we take the body away now?”
“Please do, Kevin.”
Dr. Crabtree’s assistant, who’d been hovering in the background, came forward and helped the doctor move the body on to the stretcher. The photographer took some pictures of the now empty bedclothes as Basil Fawcett began his last but one journey to the morgue at Scoresby police station.
Barnes drove down the carefully manicured driveway of Manton Rempville Hall, while Knowles stared at the yew hedges, which had been sheared into interesting shapes that he couldn’t quite recognise. After they’d parked, Knowles walked over to one of the hedges and pointed.
“What do you think they’re supposed to be, Barnesy, these shapes?”
Barnes looked at Knowles, who was moving his head around to try and get the right angle for a correct identification of the topiary.
“Well, Inspector, isn’t that one a mouse and this one here a hedgehog?”
“It could be a hedgehog, I suppose, but I thought it might be a crouching lion – you see there’s the mane and that’s definitely a tail…”
“Excuse me, this is private property,” said a very posh female voice, “if you don’t leave I will call the police.”
“Well, there’s no need, because we are already here, madam,” said Knowles, brandishing his identification card in the lady’s face. “I am Detective Inspector Colin Knowles and this is Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes. We are here to ask you and your family about the death that occurred in the grounds of the monastery earlier today.”
“Death, you say, is that why there were all those sirens keeping us awake at some ungodly hour this morning?”
“Those sirens were the ambulance and police cars rushing to the scene of a murder. I am sorry, but I don’t know your name.”
“The impertinence – I am Lady Bunny Johnson, if you must know, and why do those people put on their sirens when the murdered person is already dead and there’s no reason to rush?” Lady Johnson smoothed her revealing blue blouse over her figure as she almost spat out these words.
“Thank you, Lady Johnson, I do need to know your name and there is always a reason to rush to a murder scene as vital evidence can easily be lost if the police aren’t on the scene as soon as possible.”
“Really – it doesn’t seem necessary to me; perhaps they could put them on just in the afternoons?” She brushed a couple of blonde hairs behind her left ear, taking care not to get them caught in her silver earring, shaped like a unicorn.
“We’ll see about that; anyway, how many people do you have in the Hall at the moment? I would like to interview them all, please.”
“I’ll ask the butler, Fairfax, to gather the staff together in the lower library for you.”
“I would like to interview everyone in the house, staff, family, and house guests, if there are any of course.”
“You surely can’t believe that any members of the family, my family, would be involved in anything as sordid as a murder?”
“The murder was committed on a property adjacent to this Hall, last night, so I would like to eliminate every person in this Hall from my enquiries as soon as possible. So, Lady Johnson, if you please can you gather everyone in the library…”
“Which one, we have two? Upper or lower?”
“…please gather everyone in the lower library in fifteen minutes from now, so Sergeant Barnes and I can find out where everyone was last night.”
“I’ll ask Fairfax to gather the family and then he can go and get Wilkinson and Jenkins. I will ask Miss Newton to rouse everyone in the coach house.”
With that Lady Johnson had gone, leaving behind a slight scent of neroli.
“I presume that’s the coach house over there,” said Barnes, pointing to a two-storey brick building behind some topiary bushes.
As if on cue, a youngish maid wearing an apron dashed out of the front door of the Hall and headed in the direction of the building. Her auburn hair was in a bob, which swayed slightly as she hurried on her way.
“That must be Miss Newton doing as she has been bid by her boss,” growled Knowles, “and I wonder who Wilkinson and Jenkins are?”
“They sound like a firm of undertakers to me,” replied Barnes, “but presumably they’re the gardeners or the chauffeurs or one of each.”
Barnes’ phone rang and he listened intently for around a minute, while Knowles tried to work out why anyone would shape a box hedge into the shape of a box. “These people have too much leisure time and too much money,” he thought as Barnes finished his call and looked at him with a smile on his face.
“That was WPC Smythe – she has run some checks on Edward Pritchard and guess where he used to work?”
“He was a knife-grinder,” said Knowles, not expecting to be right. He didn’t like it when Barnes smiled at him; he felt like Barnes enjoyed knowing things that he didn’t.
“He might have done something similar in his role as a sub-gardener here at Manton Rempville Hall.”
“When did he stop working as a knife-grinding sub-gardener here at Manton Rempville Hall?” enquired Knowles.
“Three months ago, yesterday. He was dismissed because some money went missing from the house.”
“Really, well I wonder whether he was ever given the opportunity to deny the allegations? I don’t suppose we shall ever know, now that he’s dead.”
As he spoke, Miss Newton returned with two seventeen-year-old boys and a strikingly beautiful red-headed girl of about nineteen.
“Hello, I am Toby Johnson,” said one of the boys, shaking Barnes by the hand.
Toby was around five feet nine inches tall and was wearing a worn T-shirt and jeans. His straight black hair was cut short. He continued, “This is my friend from Harrow, Basil Fawcett, and his amazing sister Henry. She’s a stunner, isn’t she? You must be the police who want to interview us.”
“We are,” said Knowles. “I am Inspector Knowles and this is Detective Sergeant Barnes.”
“Anything of importance?” enquired Basil Fawcett, tossing his head slightly so that his brown hair fell in front of his eyes. He cleared it away from his glasses with the back of his left hand.
“It’s very important, I can assure you,” said Knowles, “and we will let you know in the fullness of time.”
“Come on, Basil,” said Henrietta Fawcett, “let’s leave the policemen to their own devices and go in to the lower library. By the way, Sergeant Barnes, my real name is Henrietta, not Henry. If you’d like to make a note of that.”
And with that the three walked into the Hall followed at an appropriate distance by Miss Newton. Barnes couldn’t help noticing how Henrietta’s red hair glinted in the faint sunlight.
Barnes had turned slightly red. Knowles looked at him and shook his head.
“Have you made a note, Sergeant?”
“No, sir, I haven’t – I had realized she was a girl.”
“I can tell, Sergeant Barnes, as I think she could too. Think of a nice ice-cold shower and you’ll be fine.”