Cover image for A fine and private place
A fine and private place
Davies, Freda.
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Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, [2001]

Physical Description:
304 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An ordinary day in Gloucestershire holds a half century of secrets and lies in this crafty and well-crafted mystery, when a skeleton turns up in a field outside the old village of Tolland. A dogtag beside it in the earth bears the name Ben Gordheimer, a young American soldier who disappeared--and was dishonorably discharged for desertion--during the war fifty years before. To complicate matters for the police team of Keith Tyrell, the adept and ambitious Detective Inspector sent to Tolland, the investigation into the G.I.'s death unearths a second, much more recent corpse whose identity and identification as a blackmailer sets the entire village even more on edge. While Tyrell discovers the killer, long dead, of the G.I. quickly enough, the village of Tolland itself proves to be a harder case to crack. The repercussions of the old murder continue to haunt the memories and disturb the souls of Tolland's inhabitants, while the fact that another killer is dwelling in their midst troubles the placidity of their closely knit daily lives. Their distrust of Tyrell's inquiry and of the avid press only reinforces their tight-lipped secrecy. Tyrell has problems of his own as well, with the envy and betrayals of internal politics among the members of his police team increasingly impeding the progress of the investigation. Neither the village nor Tyrell realizes, though, just how quickly time is running out for them in this case. Then a third dead body further rouses once-sleepy Tolland and confronts the beleaguered Tyrell with another nasty case of murder.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This British mystery begins with an intriguing discovery and just keeps getting more interesting. In a field near the village of Tolland, a skeleton is uncovered, the remains of a man apparently murdered and buried a half-century earlier. It turns out the dead man was an American soldier stationed in Tolland, reported missing, and dishonorably discharged for desertion. Detective Inspector Keith Tyrell is given the toughest assignment he's ever had: find out who committed murder 50odd years ago and, if possible, bring the killer to justice. Add to this the fact that someone has been tampering with graves in the area, and the general unwillingness of Tolland's elderly residents to help Tyrell with his inquiries, and you have the makings of a first-rate mystery. We can only hope that there will be further Tyrell adventures--he is a strong, resourceful, and engaging character. Fans of British mysteries will be completely caught up in this novel. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this solid cozy procedural, set in the quaint Gloucestershire village of Tolland, British author Davies (Let Heaven Fall) introduces Detective Inspector Tyrell, whose youth, good looks and keen deductive ability have earned him quick promotion and the hostility of his colleagues, especially his superior, Detective Chief Inspector Whittaker, who takes a personal pleasure in making his life miserable. While digging a ditch, a local man uncovers the corpse of an American soldier, Ben Gordheimer, buried in a bomb crater on the eve of D-Day. A deserter, Gordheimer was killed by a shotgun blast. Can there be anyone alive who still remembers him? There were many American troops in the area then, in addition to "land girls" young women who volunteered to work the farms when manpower was low. Tyrell suspects Gordheimer's murder was the work of a jealous lover. But Tolland doesn't give up its secrets easily. The discovery of two more recent bodies, pointing to a killer still at large, puts everyone's nerves on edge. Unfortunately, a plodding investigation, the locals' interminable chatter and, worst of all, Tyrell's preachy self-righteousness make for heavy going in places. Davies is a more than competent writer, however, especially good at forensic detail, and is capable of some nice imaginative touches. Those who go for darker English cozies should be satisfied. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A British village goes on the alert when a trench digger unearths the skeleton of an American soldier missing since World War II. Detective Inspector Keith Tyrell handles the case, with assistance from Clay Clifford of the American Embassy, mostly interrogating surviving female "land girls" who met visiting American G.I.s at the local grand manor house. Affairs long hidden in the minds of old women and the discovery of a much more recent body in the churchyard spur the men to action. A fine police procedural, complete with departmental rivalries and wry observation; strongly recommended. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Moonlight washed over the graves as the dead of five centuries slept in the red earth. Mendelssohn's Wedding March hiccuped to an end in the church, relieving unseen listeners who had been gritting their teeth and praying for silence.     The heavy door opened then slammed shut, a key grating as it was turned in the lock. The organist trudged away along the narrow path to the vicarage and bodies rose from behind the churchyard wall.     Three stood, the fourth was supported, snores punctuating his movements as his friends dragged him to the church door Cider-fuelled laughter helped them with their load along the nave. They laid it reverently on the floor between the choir stalls, roses from the altar put between crossed hands.     `If he dies of fright, he'll be ready for his burying,' echoed with giggles as the conspirators crept away.     The night was still once more and the dead slumbered on. A figure behind a tombstone stirred, checked wreaths were back in place on the mounded earth and went home. `By damn, he's in a hurry!'     The dark BMW had been travelling fast towards the main road, almost forcing the van into the ditch. Steve Perry restarted the stalled engine as his companion swore steadily.     `Sure as hell he's not off to see some woman,' Steve muttered as, with `Bryce and Son, Plant Hire' emblazoned on each side, the van continued its journey.     `You know summat I don'?' Terry Butcher asked. His dark eyes were bright with malice.     `Who'd go chasing women this time of the morning?' Steve reasoned. It befitted his foreman status and his years of wedlock.     `Get away from 'em more like -- or their `usbands.'     `You should know.'     They were driving towards Tolland, dreaming on a long loop of road which kept it far from the mad skelter of the A48. It was a quiet village in a curve of the River Severn, old grey houses clustering around the church of St Barnabas.     Facing the church was the George Inn, a long, low building, small windows puncturing its walls. On a rise behind the church the red sandstone of Tolland Manor was almost hidden by trees, a vast Cedar of Lebanon dominating them all.     Steve drove past the church and Terry saw the door was open, a woman busy sweeping the porch as confetti played hide-and-seek in the verge outside the gate.     `Oo got married Sat'day?'     `Pam Mitton,' Steve said. `Noel Abbott she married, from Cheltenham. It's far enough away for him not to know all Pam's got up to in the past. Still, if the size of her belly's anything to go by, he's no monk.'     Steve drove on out of Tolland, passing a row of council houses, most of them with immaculate gardens. Half a mile along the road was a large, double-fronted house, paintwork glistening in the early light.     `Boss not up yet,' Terry said as he noted upstairs curtains still drawn and secret. "E's usual out inspectin' by now."     `You just be thankful he's in bed and not seeing what time you get on the job.'     In a depot behind the house and separated from it by a curtain of trees were lorries and earth-movers, all carrying the Bryce logo.     `If 'e'd let I'ave a van to take 'ome there'd be no need of you fetchin' I o' a mornin'.'     Steve grinned. `I remember what happened when old Noah did try that. Right little knocking-shop you made of it -- and you never got to work in time. Cost the boss money, you did. He won't forget that in a hurry.'     `If 'e's so keen on cash, 'ow come these bloody mobiles?'     Terry flipped open the phone he had taken from his pocket and angrily punched numbers.     `You've got to switch it on if you want it to work.'     The advice was ignored and Terry went on punching. `Bet t'was David's idea.'     `If it meant spending money on staff safety, of course it was.'     `Safety? It's on'y so's owd Noah can check up on us mornin', noon and nigh'.'     `No problem is there? As long as you're where you're supposed to be.'     `All the owd bastard wants is to move us on quick as 'e can and make sure we don' lose un 'alf a day's profit.'     `You'd be the same in his shoes.'     Terry was silent, pocketing his phone as Steve slowed the van and parked in a gateway which led to a field.     `I'll give you a hand with the cans,' Steve offered.     Terry removed himself slowly from the van and stretched lazy muscles. Jerry-cans of fuel oil were carried to the long-armed machine Terry was to drive. On one side of the field was the new gash of a drainage ditch. A stack of pipes waited for the soil to be opened.     Refuelling complete, Steve was ready to leave. `Got your lunch?'     Terry hefted his haversack and there was the clink of cans.     `If the old man catches you drinking on the job he'll sack you.'     `I 'ont be drivin' on the 'ighway,' Terry protested. `An' wha' 'e can' see, can' 'urt.'     Steve surveyed the length of the field untouched by the digger. `You've got a full day's work here. When you get to the hedge make sure you don't break through. Sir Edward was most insistent on that. Under but not through.'     Terry muttered a comforting stream of obscenities to himself as he swung up into the driving cab.     `Collect you at four thirty,' Steve shouted.     There was a nod from Terry and the roar of a huge diesel split the morning. The drainage ditch progressed in length as Terry methodically cut out turf and soil, laying them neatly aside. He thought of Noah Bryce breakfasting in his warm house, a wife to see to his every need, a son as dogsbody in yard and office. Then there was the field's owner, Sir Edward Driffield. Stinking rich and with an energetic blonde in his bed every night. Clear Gloucestershire air became filled with exhaust fumes speckled with Terry's curses on the heads of everyone who had an easy life.     The morning passed slowly. Terry was good at his job and the ditch was ruler-straight, the ridged soil tidy. Once more he poised the long arm of the earth-mover ready to dig but this time he hesitated. Something was different. Terry switched off the engine and lifted his haversack before climbing out of the cab.     `Time for a break any'ow,' he told the grass as he landed.     With a can open and half-drunk, Terry ambled over to the ditch to see what had caused him to sense change. Something had slid from the heaped soil, dropping back into the trench from whence it had come. Terry leaned over to look and his blood chilled. A huddle of bones lay exposed.     There was no sign of hide or fleece so it could not be a diseased animal hidden from the authorities, he decided and peered more closely. Foot bones had been pulled free of what looked like the remains of a shoe. For a while Terry stood and thought, then he grinned.     `Can' work while you be lyin' there,' he told the bones. `Not legal, diggin' up a grave.' He pulled the mobile phone from his pocket. `This'll get owd Noah runnin'.' It did.     Noah Bryce was angry. `Why didn't you ring me first?'     Terry lounged with the graceful ease of a fit young animal. He was still handsome, his features not yet coarsened by age and hard living. Under heavy brows which almost met above his nose, Terry tried to look innocent.     "Ad to dial 999 fust, boss. P'lice'd 'ave my balls I didn'."     Noah Bryce was a tall stick of a man, his white hair still plentiful and his seventy years carried with restless energy.     `Get in the car. David'll find you work in the yard. There's nothing more you can do here today.'     `I gotta stay 'ere.'     Terry swept aside overlong dark curls with a muscular hand and an earring glinted. An unhealthy purple mottled Noah Bryce's skin as his temper flared.     `Who says so?'     `I do, sir.' The policeman was respectful but the voice with its local accent was firm.     `PC Draper.' Noah Bryce was not impressed by the rank. `Butcher works for me. You can talk to him at the yard.'     `It would be wise, Mr Bryce, if you left Terry here until Detective Inspector Tyrell arrives.'     `Tyrell? Who's he?'     `The officer taking charge of the investigation, sir. He's on his way from Lydney so he won't be long.'     `And while we wait around I'm losing money!'     `Can't be helped, I'm afraid, Mr Bryce. Not in a murder case.'     `Murder! That's all you people can think of these days. This Inspector ...'     `Tyrell.'     `He won't be any better. Where there's a corpse, there's a camera. I suppose he fancies himself on TV -- like the rest of them?'     Martin Draper was the community policeman responsible for Tolland. He knew Noah Bryce of old and had the scars to prove it.     `As you say, Mr Bryce.'     The elderly man nodded towards the bones in the ditch. `Is that one of the Gloucester lot?'     The media had been busy for weeks with news of body after body discovered in the city.     `I doubt it, sir.'     `Why?'     `First glance, it's not a girl -- that leg bone's too long. He'd have been a very tall chap, I should think.'     Noah Bryce pressed thin fingers to his lips. `How long has -- it -- been buried?'     `I couldn't say, sir. Forensics are very good these days. It'll take time but they'll pin it down pretty well.'     There was the sound of a car being driven fast and stopping quickly. Doors banged and PC Draper went to meet two newcomers. The three policemen talked briefly before going to the ditch and peering in.     Noah Bryce was impatient, restless. `God's sake! How long's all this going to take?'     There was only Terry's lazy grin as an answer and his employer stormed off.     `Can't you talk to Butcher now so I can get him back to some kind of work?'     The tallest of the trio turned to face him and he was assessed by shrewd hazel eyes.     `And you are ...?'     Martin Draper hurried to explain. `Bryce, sir. It's his driver, Terry Butcher, who reported the skeleton.'     `I'm Detective Inspector Tyrell, Mr Bryce, and this is Detective Sergeant Clarke.'     The inspector was young for his rank, with thick, light brown hair and a pleasant smile on regular features. Clarke was older, wide and dark, with a cap of black curly hair and ears showing signs of many a hard rugby tackle. Both men wore grey suits, the inspector's fine worsted fitting him perfectly while the sergeant's bulged, strained by heavy muscles.     Tyrell was courteous. `If you would like to return home, Mr Bryce, we'll get Butcher back to you as soon as possible.'     Noah Bryce lost some of his bluster and the high colour faded from his cheeks. Without another word he stalked off to his car and drove away. He was almost home before he had time to wonder at his dismissal from the scene and his unthinking obedience.     Terry fared no better. Expecting to spend a pleasant day lounging in the field as he watched experts at work, he was relieved of every scrap of his knowledge in a matter of minutes. DI Tyrell thanked him for his help, DS Clarke promised to arrange for an official statement to be made and PC Draper drove Terry the short distance to the Bryce depot and the rest of his day's work.     `We'll have to let Gloucester know about this,' Tyrell said as he looked down at the jumbled bones.     `They'll expect it to be their pigeon -- in case there's any connection.'     `It's too old.'     `How d'you know?'     `I don't -- not for certain. One thing's for sure, we can't do anything until the police surgeon declares it dead.' The scene-of-crime team had been waiting with its usual mix of patience before Chris Collier, the police surgeon, arrived in his well-worn Volvo. Tall, thin, his fine blond hair sparse, he managed a tired smile for Keith Tyrell.     `A messy one?'     `Not really. We just need you to certify he's dead.'     They walked to where the drainage ditch was marked with police tape.     `If anyone's been under soil that deep they'd have found it hard to breathe,' Dr Collier remarked.     The two men looked down at the bones.     Collier sighed. `I'd better go down and have a shufti.'     `I doubt you'll find a pulse,' Tyrell said.     Humour might help with the work but however long the body had been buried, someone would be grieving after today's find.     `Have you been down?' the doctor asked.     `No. I had a quick look and checked the soil up here. There were a few buttons visible but I've left everything to the forensic team.'     `They've had plenty of experience these past few months -- poor bastards.'     Tyrell was handed the medical bag to hold while Dr Collier leaped nimbly into the ditch, walking forward carefully until he was close to the pathetic heap he had come to examine.     Squatting, he peered this way and that, concentrating on what was left of the shoe and seeing scattered buttons, some still attached to tiny scraps of fabric.     `Found somewhere to put your thermometer, Doc?' DS Clarke called out cheerfully.     Chris Collier squinted up at the two police officers, backed by the overalled SOCO team.     `One day, Sergeant Clarke,' he promised.     `Is it one for Gloucester, Dr Collier?'     DI Tyrell's deep voice brought instant quiet. Too many of the men and women present had taken their turn digging by hand for the bodies of young girls.     `I very much doubt it.'     `Reasons?'     `The femur is that of someone taller than I am, so it's most likely a man. Then I'd guess from the way the clothing has virtually disappeared he's been here for a very long time, certainly more than twenty years.'     The doctor continued his inspection.     `Anything else?' the DI asked.     `The skull's missing -- probably still to be dug out. Except for the axis the neck vertebrae are all present and tangled up with them are dog tags.'     `Dog tags?'     `Yes, Sergeant Clarke, dog tags,' Inspector Tyrell said. `Worn to make sure any corpse on a battlefield could be named.'     `Give us a hand up,' the doctor asked and DS Clarke obligingly hauled him out of the ditch.     DI Tyrell beckoned to the waiting specialists.     `You know what to do. The skull's still under so go carefully. Make sure every single artefact, as well as the human remains, are collected and logged.' He waited for Dr Collier to finish writing his notes. `Anything in particular Forensic should look for, Chris?'     `Get them to pay special attention to the sternum and ribs.'     `Why?'     `I don't want to commit myself at this stage but they've a different appearance from the other bones.'     `Estimated time of death?' Keith Tyrell asked with a wry grin.     `Long before his rightful time. That was true of so many poor devils in the war if that's when he died.'     `Could he have been caught in an air raid?'     `No bomb killed him, I'll go bail for that,' Chris Collier insisted. `The bones were still in normal arrangement, quite neat and tidy really until the digger disturbed them.'     `Deliberately buried?'     `That would be my guess.'     `Thank you for confirming mine,' Keith Tyrell said as the two men shook hands. `Oh, by the way, you said dog tags. More than one?'     `They looked like duplicated discs.'     `Not an official death then. There'd have been one tag left on the body and one to mark the grave.'     `A secret burial?'     `Undoubtedly, but he'll have been reported missing. Then there are the buttons.'     `Why? What's so important about them?'     `If I'm right, I'll have a helluva lot of extra paperwork and be expected to be diplomatic.'     Dr Collier's eyebrows rose in an unspoken question. `Our body just might be American.' The bell tinged twice as the shop door opened and closed. Mrs Fell looked up.     `Morning, Mrs Seymour. How's your Alan now?'     The words were kind but Mrs Fell's eyes glinted in a pudgy, thin-lipped face under tightly permed grey hair.     `He's very well, thank you.'     `He was lucky.' Mrs Fell spoke loudly, knowing others in the shop listened. `Sleeping it off in church, he could've caught a chill. And poor Mrs Mitton, she was so upset all her lovely flowers ruined.'     `That wasn't Alan!'     `Course not. It's just a pity his friends were so irresponsible. That's the trouble with young people today, no thought for others.'     It was a long way to the nearest supermarket. Mrs Fell knew she could speak her mind and still not lose too much custom.     The village shop was the end cottage in a row behind the George. A massive extension at the back had resulted in a spacious modern flat above a large store with a wide range of goods. Tolland's seclusion had attracted highly paid commuters as well as senior citizens with the money to find a genteel existence. There were tins of consommé beside the baked beans, smoked salmon in the chilled cabinet and firelighters alongside candles to grace a dinner table.     `You all right, Mrs Roberts? Anything I can get you? Something your wholesaler doesn't carry, perhaps.'     Myra Roberts, landlady of the George, shook her head. `I've just come in for some biscuits. Sam likes one with his coffee.'     Mrs Seymour's purchases were ready for checking. `I suppose you've had the police round?' Mrs Fell asked her.     `Me? Why?'     `The dead man in the field -- soldier I heard. Probably there since the war. You're born and bred here and the Seymours, they go back a long way in Tolland. I expect you've got relatives know what went on.'     `My mother was from Blakeney and my father was a prisoner in Germany. He didn't get home until the war was over.'     Mrs Fell shook her head and tutted. `Pity you couldn't help the police get it cleared up. Someone round here must've buried the poor lad and plenty could tell a thing or two, if they've a mind. I'm sure it's very upsetting, no one knowing whose family's involved. I mean, you've got enough to worry about with your Alan. It's all right for Mrs Roberts -- she'll be getting extra trade from reporters.'     Myra Roberts fielded the malice and laid a packet of biscuits on the counter.     `If there's media interest we'll both benefit,' she told Mrs Fell, `but I can assure you the prices in the George won't change.'     Mrs Fell flushed with anger and banged the till hard as her customers paid their bills and left. When they were walking away Mrs Seymour stopped and turned to Myra Roberts.     `It's true, isn't it? Everyone's on edge, the police coming and going.'     `It's still early days but they won't give up till they've finished ferreting. Trouble is, who knows what they'll turn up.' `He should have backed Pete Simons!'     `Daddy's little boy couldn't have done that.'     `No? Instead, he gets promoted and Simons is docked to sergeant.'     `Pete was lucky to get that. I heard the brass were ready to bust him, a beat job at the very least. It was his DCI went bail for him.'     `Whittaker?'     `He understood about Pete being on edge -- his wife divorcing him.'     `It's still no excuse for belting a prisoner -- like he did.'     Reason was drowned out by a phone buzzing in the next room. Keith Tyrell answered it, the voice in his ear ending the comments he had been enduring.     Leaving his critics to slash at him in peace he walked the short distance to the office of Detective Superintendent Mortimer and its open door.     `Come in, Keith. Sit down.'     Mortimer's body was tired and it showed in his face. `Update?'     `The remains are those of an American soldier, a PFC Benjamin Gordheimer reported AWOL just before D-Day.'     `That was quick!'     The Pentagon had creaked a little but spat out a fax with military efficiency.     `Dog tags proving their worth, sir, even after fifty years.'     `Could it have been an accident?'     `Unlikely. The body looked as though it had been laid out for burial before being covered.'     `In a ditch?'     `No, sir. Probably a bomb crater.'     `In Tolland? You're joking!'     `Draper, the community man for the village, he's done his homework. Very early in the war German bombers navigated by rivers on moonlit nights. Tolland's on the larger of the two bends of the Severn --'     `And the silly buggers thought it was Gloucester.' Mortimer shook his head to clear disbelief. `I suppose it was the aircraft factory at Brockworth they were after.'     `A stick of bombs fell across the fields near the river. No one was killed, no property hit, just holes in the ground. Some of the craters weren't filled in until after the war.'     `A very handy grave. Evidence of murder?'     `We're waiting for Pathology, sir. Chris -- Dr Collier -- noticed something odd about the ribs and sternum. Possible damage by shotgun pellets.'     Mortimer swore softly, impressively. `Not an army rifle. That means a local job.'     `There's every likelihood the murderer's dead, sir.'     `Of course there is, dammit, but the American Army's involved. That means we'll have to lean over backwards making amends for us killing one of their boys instead of the bloody enemy.'     `Can I pass on any questions from reporters to the press office?'     `Good idea. They're all experts after taking their turn in Cromwell Street.' Mortimer was silent for a moment, his features heavy. `Since you're not chasing someone likely to kill again, I can only give you Sergeant Clarke and the community chap ...?'     `Draper, sir.'     `Warn them there'll be no overtime -- resources are a minus quantity. First call must go to the Gloucester case and God knows when that mess will be cleared up, or what it'll cost. I don't suppose the digging's finished.'     Like every policeman in the county force Tyrell had been appalled by the horror unfolding daily.     `Any family with a daughter missing must be afraid she's buried there.'     The super shook his head. `Poor devils. Every day they contact Gloucester, full of hope, and what for? To know for sure their child's dead? When they find out how ...'     Both men had read pathology reports on recovered bodies.     `That's one problem I don't face. The Gordheimer parents must be long gone.'     `There'll be someone alive who remembers him and still grieves,' Mortimer warned.     `And at an age to be very vulnerable -- as is anyone involved in the killing and cover-up. They've all got to be at least seventy. Maybe we'd better put the gravedigger on red alert.'     `I've heard of this theory of yours, Keith. Mind you, I've friends in Belfast who've said much the same as you.'     `That when someone murders they trigger off a chain of death?'     `It was so in Ulster, I'm told. Witnesses having heart attacks or strokes, grieving relatives developing terminal illnesses.'     `It all adds up to extra funerals, yet the murderer can't be charged with those deaths even if he killed as surely as with a bullet.'     `What if your American died accidentally?' (Continues...) Excerpted from A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE by Freda Davies. Copyright © 2001 by Freda Davies. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.