Copyright © 2006 Barbara Nadel
The right of Barbara Nadel to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2011
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN: 978 0 7553 7852 4
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Table of Contents
About the Author
Trained as an actress, Barbara Nadel used to work in mental health services. Born in the East End of London, she now writes full time and has been a regular visitor to Turkey for over twenty years. She received the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger for her novel
in 2005. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed Francis Hancock series set during World War Two.
Praise for Barbara Nadel:
‘The delight of the Nadel book is the sense of being taken beneath the surface of an ancient city which most visitors see for a few days at most. We look into the alleyways and curious dark quartiers of Istanbul, full of complex characters and louche atmosphere’
‘This is an extraordinarily interesting first novel’
, with its brilliantly realised Istanbul setting and innovative protagonist was a hard act to follow. But she pulls off the trick triumphantly’
‘Inspector Çetin İkmen is a detective up there with Morse, Rebus and Wexford.
is the fifth in the series, and the most compelling to date . . . Gripping and highly recommended’
‘One of the most intriguing detectives in contemporary crime fiction . . . The backdrop of Istanbul makes for a fantastic setting’
Mail on Sunday
‘Unusual and very well-written’
‘Intriguing, exotic . . . exciting, accomplished and original’
To Grandma and Grandad P,
Grace, Evelyn, Ann and Thomas
Much of what follows in this novel springs from my own prior knowledge and experience. However, I would also like to acknowledge the debt I owe to the works of Dominic Reeve, the Gypsy-English/English-Gypsy Concise Dictionary by Atanas Slavor, and the Patrin Gypsy website (www.geocites.com/~patrin
The Night of 31 October 1940, Eagle Pond, Epping Forest, Essex
’d had a feeling it would end like this. Secrets do. The way of life this poor girl’s people keep depends, to some extent, upon what is kept close and sacred between themselves. And, in a way, it is natural for most folk to have the odd secret or two. But this girl had been different. She had been consumed by what is hidden. I looked down at what her father had so recently uncovered on the ground and said, ‘I can’t touch her. I mustn’t. This is something for the coppers.’
‘But . . .’
‘Someone’s cut her throat!’ I said as I, nevertheless, bent down to get a closer look at what remained of Lily Lee. As well as the gash across her throat there was blood around her naked private parts. Her once gay-looking dress, hitched up and ripped by whoever had done this to her, was covered with gore.
‘If it’s murder then we’ll deal with it ourselves,’ a man I recognised as a relative said. Not that many of the dark and dusty men around me weren’t relatives of one sort or another to the dead girl. Gypsies travel with their own. They have loyalty to and affection for no others. However, the only reason I was grubbing about in the earth in Epping Forest in the middle of the night with a group of Gypsies was precisely because I wasn’t one. Gypsy tradition dictates that dead bodies are both dirty and dangerous and cannot be handled in any way – except by what they call
, non-Gypsies. Because I am one of those, and an undertaker by trade, the Lee family, in the shape of Lily’s little brother Charlie, had come to get me in the middle of the night to take care of the girl for them.
‘Lily has been murdered and, and other things have been done to her too, I think,’ I said, skirting around the subject of the girl’s possible violation as best I could. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, Gypsies can be very strait-laced folk on occasion. ‘The police need to know. I have to tell them. I can’t do anything with Lily until they know. Whoever did this needs to be caught, and soon.’
None of the Gypsies, all of whom were men, spoke or moved. I admit, despite the circumstances, I found it restful. Ever since the bombing began back in September there’s been hardly a moment of silence in my life. And I like silence. It’s one of the reasons I do the work that I do. There had been a raid early on in the evening but that had been a long time before Charlie had appeared on my doorstep, insisting I get my new motor hearse out to drive over to ‘our Lily’. I’d thought that Lily, like her sister before her, had just died. I hadn’t imagined this – bloody murder on All Hallows Eve, the night when, barmy people say, the dead walk about. In my experience, the dead only shift when the living move them.
The sound of sobbing to my left caused me to turn in that direction. I could just make out the sharp profile of Lily’s brother-in-law, Edward, crying his eyes out. As soon as he noticed me looking at him, he spoke. ‘The police will find nothing,’ he said. ‘Nothing!’
I frowned. Was he telling me that the police wouldn’t find anything because Lily had been murdered by someone in the clan? But that wasn’t what Edward had meant. Lily’s murder, he claimed, was a lot more complicated than that.
‘It is the
of Rosie,’ he said, in his strange, foreign accent. ‘It has always been. Everything Lily saw was the
, come to take its revenge upon her.’
At the time I didn’t know what a
was, but I thought it had to be some kind of spirit or ghost of Edward’s dead wife, Rosie. ‘But why would Rosie want to hurt Lily? She was her sister,’ I said. Although I don’t hold with ghosts and suchlike, I am accustomed to having conversations of this sort with the many mourners who do.
‘Because I did lie with Lily, that’s why,’ Edward said, as his chin descended on to his chest. ‘While Rosie still breathed I lied with Lily. Now this is the end of it.’
He pointed to the blood-soaked corpse at our feet, then let out a tremendous howl, like a wolf.
ypsies and tinkers have roamed the streets and forests in and around London for ever. Always set apart – feared sometimes, too – they ply their traditional trades, mainly for non-Gypsies: carving and selling pegs, weaving baskets, telling fortunes and knowing all there is to know about horses. It was this latter trade that first put me in touch with the Gypsies more than forty years ago when I was a nipper.
Hancocks have been in business as undertakers in the London Borough of West Ham since 1885. The company was started by my granddad, Francis – who I’m named for – then continued by my dad, Tom, until I took over when he passed away. Before the Great War, before those trenches in Flanders swallowed my soul, I can remember Dad taking me to see the Gypsies over on Beckton Marshes. A windswept and lightly populated part of the borough, Beckton Marshes is half wild and half industry. South of my home and business in Plaistow, Beckton is where the gasworks and its labourers’ housing are. The wild part is where Gypsies, among others, ply their various trades, and other men take their horses for shoeing or for the exercise the big open spaces allow. I don’t remember when I first went down there, but I do recall that Dad always took me and we always went to see a bloke called Nelson Smith. He shod the horses we’ve always used to pull at least one of our hearses and sometimes, when I was very small, he and Dad would exercise them too. Later on I did this myself together with Nelson’s son, Horatio, the Gyppo who got me into this with poor Lily, Rosie and the rest of them up in the forest.
It all started on a Wednesday afternoon just over two weeks before Lily’s bloody end. Although I was tired, like everyone is these days, I was having a stab at helping our office girl, Doris, with the books. Ever since the Luftwaffe started trying to bomb the East End docks to smithereens, Hancocks, in common with every other undertaking business east of Piccadilly, has been working flat out. And although I’m not really one for paperwork, I could see that Doris was getting into a bit of a pickle with it so I lent a hand. We spread out the big ledgers across my desk at the front of the shop, ready – as Doris is accustomed to doing – to put them away again should customers arrive.
Doris’s brow was furrowed with concentration when she said, ‘Wally Couch’s son still owes for his old man’s coffin, Mr H. Buried him almost a month ago.’
‘I know,’ I said, and offered her a Woodbine.
‘Thank you, Mr H,’ she said, as she took a fag from my packet and lit it. ‘It ain’t peanuts, the price of a coffin,’ she added.
‘Yes, but Reg Couch, well, he’s—’
‘Yes, yes, I know he’s a
, Mr H. But you ain’t a rich man. You can’t just go giving out coffins to whoever and whatever—’
‘Yes! Yes.’ I held up a hand to stop her. Doris Rosen is a good sort. A nice Jewish girl from Spitalfields, who really cares about our business, and about me and my family too. But, like a lot of people, she doesn’t and cannot understand the
, the madman, that is so big a part of Francis Hancock. The me who was little more than a boy when he joined the army to fight for King and empire in 1914 is not the same man who came back home with his soul cracked in two. I never cried myself to sleep before the Great War, I ate like a normal person, screamed only when I was shocked and ran for nothing but the bus. Now I run screaming from Hitler’s nightly raids on our poor manor with things I can’t even name gibbering and jabbering in my ever-wakeful head. Reg Couch was in the first lot too. But, unlike me, he has no business – no work at all, most of the time. He really is barmy, very much a
, which was why I had no intention of charging him what I knew he couldn’t afford. Not that I could tell Doris that. ‘I’ll take care of Reg,’ I said, as I lit a fag for myself. ‘Don’t you worry about him, Doris.’