Cover image for Cold hands
Cold hands
Curzon, Clare.
Personal Author:
First U.S. Ed.
Publication Information:
New York : St Martin's Press, 2001.

Physical Description:
218 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
First published in Great Britain by Severn House Publishers Ltd.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



With her customary understated style and her keen ability to delve into the human psyche, Clare Curzon returns readers to Thames Valley and Superintendent Mike Yeadings. This time a case that at first glance looks to be open and shut proves more difficult and Yeadings will have to use his entire team to help solve the mystery.

Off to an early morning meeting in Scotland Yard, Superintendent Mike Yeadings boards a commuter train and prepares for the trip. The train, however, doesn't get too far before coming to a screeching halt: there is a body on the tracks. What at first looks like a suicide is soon revealed to be a vicious crime-the victim has been garroted and his hands mutilated. His pockets are also empty which makes them wonder if robbery was the motive or if the killer was trying to hide the identity of the victim to protect himself.

Yeadings soon discovers that the victim was a customs officer and that he had been investigating a possible counterfeit operation at Fraylings Court-a family estate that has recently started hosting theme holidays and offering many classes in order to pay off their mounting debt. Along with the guests requiring art lessons, dance classes, and a dog-training course, some shady characters have emerged and started their own nightly poker school. Among those regularly dealt a hand is Detective Sergeant Rosemary Zyczynski of the Thames Valley Police who is working undercover to solve the murder. Will she be able to reveal the killer and the counterfeit operation while maintaining a poker face?

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sometimes, when a novel can't figure out what it wants to be, it's a very bad thing, confusing readers and leaving them uncertain of what they're supposed to be thinking and feeling. On the other hand, there are a few novels--this latest installment in Curzon's Mike Yeadings series is one--that alternate effectively between dark, serious drama and lighter, almost comical goings-on, stories that defy the odds and emerge the better for it. Investigating a murder connected to a forged-currency scheme, Thames Valley Police Superintendent Yeadings sends one of his officers undercover at a lavish estate recently converted to a vacation spot. While the story itself is serious, many of the scenes at the estate are comic, even farcical. Curzon handles this frequently abrupt back-and-forthing between comedy and drama in a manner that is, at once, smooth, professional, and entirely engaging. The novel is not for everyone--readers who like to keep their laughs separate from their chills should stay away--but it will certainly appeal to lovers of quirky British mysteries. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

Those who enjoy traditional British police procedurals need look no further than veteran Curzon's charming tale featuring Superintendent Mike Yeadings of the Thames Valley Police in a case involving one of the rarest crimes found in detective fiction: counterfeiting. After the discovery of a corpse on a rail line (which is at first unidentified but then, thanks to good police work, shown to be a customs officer's), the scene shifts to Fraylings Court, where the owners are engaged in turning the venerable country house into a holiday destination Ü offering riding, dancing, swimming and a host of other recreational activities. The police soon deduce that counterfeit British currency may be passing through Fraylings Court from its origins abroad. So Yeadings has DS Rosemary Zyczynski pose as one of the guests. The problem is that there are quite a few residents and guests. Who is the contact person for the strange Dutchman Nederhuis, and how will the police find out where and when the rendezvous will take place? A guest named "Smith" arrives later than the others. The husband of one guest, Smith has a puzzling relationship with another female guest. Who is this mystery man? Using her skills at the poker table to probe the English "good ole boys," Rosemary does her best to find out the answers. Curzon (All Unwary) enlivens the sleuthing with conversations about the personal lives of the police. An exciting, if slightly rushed, denouement will leave most readers satisfied. (Mar. 19) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When a debt-ridden British aristocrat opens his stately home to host theme holiday weekends, enterprising house guests start up a ruinous poker school. Thames Valley Police and Superintendent Mike Yeadings keep tabs, however, as they investigate a related murder involving forged currency. A dependable procedural by the author of Guilty Knowledge. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Friday, 4 July Superintendent Mike Yeadings paid off the taxi and strolled into the station. He had ten minutes in hand before the train was due.    Because Nan's Vauxhall was in for servicing, and she needed his Rover for the children's school jaunt to Legoland, he'd been obliged to make alternative arrangements. He intended breakfasting with an old London crony before his nine a.m. appointment at Scotland Yard, so he'd opted for the local Chiltern Line 06.03 out of Aylesbury, due to change at Amersham and reach Baker Street by 06.58.    Settled comfortably in a window seat, newspaper still folded on one knee, he savoured the freshness that would surely give way to another torrid day when he'd end cursing collars, ties and the teeming metropolis. But so far on that country-scented bright July morning all augured well in Thames Valley.    But the 06.03 was fated to get little farther than Great Missenden station. When a screeching halt was followed by an extended wait, a tide of tetchiness began to rise among the passengers. With no broadcast message received from the driver, an overweight workman in string vest and jeans started making aggressive noises into the doorway microphone of their compartment. Recognising it eventually as a monologue, he conceded, "'Ere mate, you all right or what?"    He had already punched the door-button for automatic opening without result. "Bloody stupid!" he complained to his audience. "It's controlled from the cab. We're shut in like a lotta bloody sheep and gawd knows what's `appening up front."    Yeadings, with ingrained scepticism for modern automated technology, wondered how soon the outer world would become aware of their situation. Hopefully before the next train was due in behind?    Even as he groped for the new crisp timetable in his jacket pocket there was a crackle of static and the driver's voice came through apologising for the delay. There was -- as anyone by then could have guessed -- an incident on the line and he must ask for everyone's patience until he was given instructions to proceed.    Which implied, Yeadings noted, that he was already in touch with base and the problem was being dealt with. But the man's voice, too deliberately controlled, was higher pitched than when he'd announced the previous stop. It might be due to nothing more serious than a tree trunk across the rails, or yet another concrete slab dropped from a bridge by twisted kids. Nevertheless the man was on his own at present. Yeadings flipped a notional coin in his mind, and natural curiosity decided that it favoured his sticking his nose in. Unusual happenings were, after all, in his line of business.    He took over from the string-vested protester, spoke to the driver, identified himself, listened and offered to help.    "Perhaps," he suggested, "you could do with some back-up until your own Transport Police get here."     He was allowed out, with the proviso that no one else followed. He walked up front, his city shoes slithering on the flint clinkers, and found the driver hunched on the grassy embankment, his head in his hands. The reason was hideously obvious.     Yeadings, accustomed to the sight of sudden death but never immune to its horror, took one swift glance and looked away. His indrawn breath brought with it the nutty scent of warm gorse in full flower, and as he gulped upwards the tops of feathery birches moved gently against a sky of the purest, innocent eggshell blue.     But for one person this morning the bright, living world had savagely stopped.     There was nothing to be done but wait and offer what support he could to the shocked driver.     "I couldn't avoid him. Not as if I was going fast."     "You wouldn't have seen him in time. That's why he chose that corner. And it was his choice, not yours."     Even so early there came a continuous sea-sound of traffic from the hidden A413. Roughly parallel to the railway cutting, it couldn't be far off. It was where the British Transport Police would have to leave their cars. And the blood wagon. He'd strike off up through the trees and signal to them where to pull up.     "Did you ask for a doctor?" he asked the driver.     The man shook his head.     "But you told them it was a fatality?"     "Yes. I radioed in straight off. They'll know what to do."     Of course. Not the first time by any means. There would be an established routine for bodies on the line.     "How about your passengers?"     "I'll have another word with them." The man got unsteadily to his feet and turned back towards the cab.     "What are the options?" Yeadings asked.     "When the track's cleared they may let us go on. Otherwise I have to lead the passengers back to Great Missenden on foot, then get them coached on by road."     Good, so the man wasn't too badly in shock: he was applying his mind. "I'm going up to meet the cavalry," Yeadings told him and started off up the embankment.     First to arrive was the police surgeon, a fiftyish woman Yeadings had come across once before -- Marlowe or Thurlow, something like that. "Just a formality," he assured her.     "Very dead, then?"     "Not for me to say, is it?" Medics could turn awkward if you poached on their preserves.     With a British Transport van pulling in at that moment he was free to take her down to the train, but she needed little help, tackling the undergrowth and brambles like a teenager. And she was good at her job, going in unsqueamishly, not satisfied with uttering the necessary words but really looking to see what was there.     She knelt back, rubbing at her latex-gloved fingers with a tissue. "Now if I'd been meaning to do this," she said simply, "I'd have gone about it a little differently."     Despite the warmth of the risen sun Yeadings felt the short hairs rise on the back of his neck.     "Imagine, Superintendent, if you can, getting yourself psyched up to the act, spreading yourself out and waiting to hear wheels ringing along the rails towards you. Once committed to the idea, wouldn't you want to make a sure thing of it? Having a horror of half measures? Put your whole body over the rails, with your head on the far one?"     She was thinking of the uncomfortable way the man must have lain on the track, head level with his wrists lying over the nearer rail. Inert, not rigidly gripping the metal as he waited for the violent end.     "Perhaps he changed his mind too late, started to crawl off and was just unlucky," Yeading suggested.     She was crouched again over the pulped jaw which crumbled between her fingers. There was a little silence then she withdrew her hands, sighed and said. "Well, somebody's been unlucky, that's certain."     So his earlier frisson had been no false alarm. "It isn't a suicide?" he queried stolidly.     "I'm almost sure it isn't." She rubbed gently at some lacerated flesh with a finger end, clearing away some of the blood and tissue.     "Look at that fine line, and there again. He never did that himself. Before the train got to him he was garrotted. With something like a cheese wire. The `suicide' was meant to cover it up." There was a deal of telephoning and a brief explanation for the transport officer in charge, because now the scene had to be preserved for the pathologist and a SOCO team to view the body in situ . Passengers from the train were being escorted back to Great Missenden.     Yeadings withdrew, accepting a lift to Amersham to keep his appointment at Scotland Yard. But it seemed pretty certain to him that he hadn't heard the last of the body on the line because, if the doctor's theory proved correct, he would be picking up the active investigation, with DI Angus Mott, heading a reinforced murder squad.     As soon as he was through with the brass at the Met and had settled the obligatory three-course lunch with a stroll to the ducks in St James's Park, his mind returned to the day's grisly start. He contacted Mott on his mobile to check what earlier trains had gone through on the Aylesbury up-line. As the Chiltern timetable showed, there had been no passenger train since the 22.36 on the previous night. Mott had already inquired about goods trains and learnt that the route wasn't used for freight.     So, awaiting more precise findings from the post-mortem examination, they had time limits for the placing of the body, but not necessarily the time of death. It was seven and a half hours since the last train on the previous night, a wide margin which could almost certainly be cut as soon as the dead man was identified and his activities of the previous day established.     Back at the morgue, the body awaited autopsy in a refrigerated drawer -- the routine bagging of head and hands carried out as comprehensively as possible under the difficult circumstances. All clothing had been removed for laboratory analysis. Dr Littlejohn the senior pathologist had booked the post mortem for ten thirty next morning. Saturday or not, DI Mott and DS Beaumont were to join the Coroner's Officer and other ghouls attending.     At the scene of the crime, while uniformed police were conducting a fingertip search of the track and surrounding area for clues, passengers from later trains were still being transported by coach between Great Missenden and Amersham stations. Their initial reactions of complaint or flippancy were quickly damped at news of what had actually occurred.     For the Thames Valley police force it was a case of solid, unspectacular routine swinging into action. Yet Yeadings had a distinct feeling that this wasn't going to prove a straightforward crime of the usual domestic, sex-and-hate-based boiling up of passions. There was something cold about its planning. Cold as his own hands on the body when he'd tested for rigor. A corpse chilled beyond that of any recently breathing man who had laid himself on the line just as the train was due.     Somewhere out in the unknown there had been a calculating mind setting about its intentions: consulting the railway timetable even as Yeadings himself had done; transporting the body; laying it out where -- hopefully -- the thundering wheels would sever the neck and destroy all signs of earlier lacerations.     Luck was with the investigation then, because the train driver had been alert and had applied his brakes the instant he saw something on the line. Had it been another train, a less responsive man or a misty morning, luck could have been with the killer. The body's destruction would have been more complete. Then, who would have questioned an apparent fresh case of rail suicide? Sad and regrettable, but with no great follow-up apart from extra paperwork and the need for family counselling.     The doctor's arrival had been prompt. Otherwise, by the time she had appeared and officially confirmed life extinct, would the body's external temperature under July sunshine have passed as normal for the circumstances? Would she then -- Marlowe or Thurlow -- have thought it necessary to take an instant rectal reading and record air temperature?     Wait and see what Littlejohn makes of it, he advised himself. Just thank our lucky stars this murder isn't one of those that slip through the net unnoticed. We know there's a killer out there, someone we have to get to before he makes a habit out of clearing people from his path.     Elbows on the bridge-rail at St James's Park, he opened a paper bag and pulled apart the two sticky buns he'd bought on the way. They were stodgy, possibly indigestible. But the coots and mallards looked a bright-eyed mob who could tackle most things in their relatively simple world. He attempted a fair division, but the mere rustle of paper had brought a vast crowd at speed, towing interlocking vees of ripples, beaks snapping equally at crumbs and uppity rivals.     Not so different from police canteen culture, he observed. And the tufted duck just upending below was a definite caricature of fat Sergeant Bellamy: same beady eyes and greasy slicked-back hair, with a wayward bit sticking up at the crown.     He dropped the empty bag in the water and watched it float off, turned and caught the offended expression on a woman's face. She clearly thought him an antisocial slob.     Biodegradable, he comforted himself: paper's wood, wood's organic. And anyway, since midday he'd been off-duty. There's many would have plumped for some more heinous occupation on their free half-day.     He beamed at the offended woman in passing, politely raised his squashed trilby and bowled off in the direction of the Underground. "Sharp-eyed lady," was Littlejohn's appreciation of the police surgeon's neat casenotes. "She's right, of course. This gentleman never intended disrupting the Chiltern Line's punctuality record. Taken unawares from behind, I'd say. Maybe never got his hands up to defend himself."     Mott moved in to follow the detailed external examination. Later on he'd be less enthusiastic, the explorations, removals and weighings of organs having long ago put him off buying his own meat. And in any case the state of liver, kidneys, lungs and heart must be of only academic interest after what had happened.     But stomach contents were different. Their nature and the stage of digestion could give a more accurate estimate of the time of death.     Unlike many surgeons of living patients, Littlejohn never worked to an orchestral background, preferring to provide his own grunted version of seventies' musicals, punctuated by brief, staccato observations into the mike clipped to the top of his plastic apron. The clerical assistant who later transcribed these notes claimed he could match tune to organ, or alternatively, to the surgeon's progress towards a causal theory of death.     Today, however, the pathologist began basso profondo as he delved. "Full fathom five," Mott recognised. Then later a flighty soprano, "Over hill, over dale ..." Nothing more significant, he reckoned, than that Littlejohn had recently unearthed an old recording of the Zwingle Singers.     "Roughly an hour to an hour and a half after taking a meal," Littlejohn declared suddenly. "Now that's encouraging. Do we know his eating schedules?"     "We haven't even a name for him," Mott confessed. "What kind of food was it?"     "Substantial, meaty. Most likely minced beef or lamb with sheet pasta. Some form of alcohol, definitely gassy. Quite a lot of some lumpy substance that could be pudding -- cake maybe. Ah, here we have whole sultanas. That's nice. Analysis may show better, but I think either doughy buns or spotted dick."     He straightened under the bright lights and wiped his brow with a wad of tissue. "I know what you want next: was it a meal out or a domestic slap-up? Well, I can't say, because he didn't think to swallow the menu, but we're certainly not talking nouvelle cuisine . The condemned man ate a hearty whatever. Not breakfast, I'd say. Main meal of the day."     "And time of death, roughly?"     "Like you always ask, and I always have to say. We may know later. For the present you must be content with somewhere between when he was last seen alive and shortly before he was found." Whereon Littlejohn slopped a handful of offal into a steel dish and resumed his choral concert, now lugubriously in French. " La nuit, le froid, la solitude ..." The SOCO team weren't too happy. By the time the death scene had been made secure with bollards and police tape, any residual signs of the killer's presence would have been trampled by the helpers. On the sloping bank they were looking for deeper indentations in the peaty soil made by someone carrying a dead weight, but anything of the sort had been overlaid by later footprints. There was the same doubt about marks on trees and undergrowth. Their young twigs were most likely broken off by the stretcher carriers shouldering their way through.     A heterogeneous collection of samples painstakingly collected from the surrounding area included crushed beer cans, bottle tops, cigarette packets and chocolate wrappers which could have been as easily thrown from open windows of passing trains as left by adventurous kids playing on the embankment.     Only one find seemed to have promise -- a beige thread of some shiny man-made fibre retrieved from a thorn bush, but later to be identified as coming from the victim's own rain-proofed jacket.     "At least it shows the point where the body was carried down to the line," DS Beaumont consoled the Serious Crime group.     "Or walked down, either freely or under pressure," Mott cautioned. `Let's leave all options open at this point. I've had a fatal accident sign put up for passing motorists. Someone may have seen a car parked on the road above and either one or two persons leave it to go into the bushes. All we have on the car at present is a double track from Ceat 165 T 14 S tyres on the grass verge, which statistically isn't tremendously encouraging. There is, however, a promising enlargement from the forensic lab of an unusual scarring on the front nearside. Take a good look at it. Who knows: that may be the best lead we'll get."     "What hope of identifying the victim?" asked DS Rosemary Zyczynski.     "You're just back from leave," Mott growled, "or you'd have gathered from the shots of the body that there's nothing we can reproduce in the Press. Dr Littlejohn finds the bone formation consistent with an age of late-thirties to forty. We're scrolling through details of suitable male Missing Persons on the national computer and eliminating those with the wrong blood groups. Anyway it's early days and his absence may not have been reported yet.     "Unfortunately our man's group is 0 positive, same as over forty per cent of the population. Samples have been sent for DNA testing. He was five feet ten inches tall, muscular and hirsute. Dark hair and eyes; no operation scars. His clothing is undistinguished, high-street store stuff. No laundry marks. Empty pockets -- which could imply robbery as the motive, or an intention to hide who he was. Any watch he may have worn is missing, which isn't surprising in view of the mutilated wrists, but so far no pieces have been found by the track."     It wasn't much to go on, but they'd had equally negative starts before and still come up with full answers. The frustration for them all, eager for the chase, was that time was ticking away and, as yet, nobody had reported a relative, neighbour or fellow-worker missing. Whatever trail existed -- and they hadn't caught on to it yet -- was growing colder by the day. Angus Mott was visiting the DI at Amersham nick regarding an earlier case when Garvey from Traffic came in with a memo from the Met. "It's a wild chance, but we've heard you're looking for a car with these tyres. There's a new area request for a stolen Nissan Bluebird, six years old, Middlesex registration, last seen four days ago in Heston."     "What sort of person takes four days to notice his car's gone missing?" Mott demanded, his ears pricking at the coincidence in dates.     Garvey looked at his notes. "Bloke called Walter Merton, works at Heathrow. He reported it missing. Seems the car isn't his; belongs to a friend, but he'd borrowed it."     "Who's it registered to?"     "I haven't checked yet."     "Well, do that."     There was a funny smell to it. You usually borrowed a car to make use of, not to leave to go missing. And why hadn't the owner's name been given first? Mott wandered after Garvey and watched him key in the registration. The name that came back was Oliver Webb, with an address in Uxbridge.     "Get him on the blower. I want a full description of the car. Let me talk to him."     He made the call from Garvey's office; the voice at the other end was a woman's. "Thames Valley Police here," he told her. "Could I speak with Oliver Webb?"     "I'm sorry, he's not here at the moment. Can I help you at all?"     "Is he your husband?"     "No. My brother. Is something wrong?" Her voice was apprehensive.     "Not really," Mott answered carefully. "We've just received a report that his car has been stolen, so I need to confirm a few details. Would you know if Oliver had been in any accidents recently? Something that might -- say, have scarred his tyres?"     "No. What do you mean? Has something happened to--"     "Please keep calm. There's nothing to alarm you. Do you know anyone called --" he glanced at Garvey's memo "-- Walter Merton?"     "Walter? Yes, of course. He's my brother's boss."     "I see. Thank you. We're just checking since he was the one who reported the vehicle missing. Was it the firm's car?"     "What is this? Why are you asking so many questions? Of course it wasn't a firm's car. They use their own on a job. Oliver never lends his to anyone."     Mott paused. She'd said `on a job' and that sounded familiar. Could Webb have been `in the job'? "Is your brother CID, Miss Webb?"     "No, he's a Customs' Officer. Didn't you know that?"     Mott finished the call as tactfully as he could. Things didn't look good for Webb -- or his boss. Merton must have been running an undercover operation without Thames Valley knowledge and back-up. Reporting the car as lost had been his way of fishing for information on his missing officer.     Mott left it to Superintendent Yeadings to make contact through the upper echelons at Heathrow.     "We had -- we have -- every intention of working in close cooperation," Walter Merton assured him fervently by phone. "It's just at such an early stage. We barely know what's involved ourselves. Webb's gone out on a limb on this. He was purely on obbo, and failed to report back. He wasn't authorised to make any contacts himself."     A lot of bluster. And it was back to the ancient rivalry between agencies. Despite the progress and recent successes with joint Police-Customs operations, Customs still wanted to bag the loot and scoop the glory. On our patch, dammit, Yeadings, fumed.     Yet had Webb actually gone missing locally? The missing car report had been a general one. The only Thames Valley link, Yeadings had to admit, was a slim one: a suspicion that the missing Nissan Bluebird with the right Ceat tyres might have been the one parked above the railway line where the unknown's body was later found.     But it seemed now that the dead man might be identified through the car. He decided to chance his hand. "I think, Mr Merton, you should come and look at a body we've had for a few days. It could be someone you know."