Authors: Issy Brooke
Very English Murders - Book Three
Text copyright 2015 Issy Brooke
All rights reserved
Cover credit: background vector illustration Denis Demidenko
Cover design and dog illustration by Issy Brooke
Just a quick heads-up on the whole spelling and grammar
thing. I’m a British author and this book is set in England. Sometimes, British
English looks unfamiliar to readers of other variants of English. It’s not just
spelling (colour and realise and so on) and not just the vocabulary (pavement
for sidewalk, mobile for cell phone) but there are differences even in the way
we express ourselves. (In the US, it is more common to say something like “did
you see Joanne?” whereas in the UK we would say “have you seen Joanne?” and so
on.) Also, my characters do not speak grammatically correct sentences - who
does? Not me. Rest assured this book has been copyedited and proofread (errors,
alas, are my own and I won’t shoot my editor if you find any.)
And another thing - locations. Lincolnshire is real. It’s a
massive rural county in the east of England, with a sparse population. It’s
mostly agricultural. Upper Glenfield, the town in this tale, is fictional.
Lincoln, the main city nearest to Glenfield, does exist and it’s worth a visit.
The only thing I’ve fictionalised in Lincoln is the layout and situation of the
You can find out more about Lincolnshire and the characters
in Glenfield at my website,
Why not sign up to my mailing list? You get advance notice
of new releases at a special price - but no spam. No one wants spam. Check it
Penny May stamped her way along the path, her flapping
sandals making an unsatisfying scuffling sound. Her frantic pace and the sultry
July heat was doing nothing to take the edge off her frustration.
“She has got to go!” she muttered. A passing teenager
looked sideways at her and hunched over, pulling out their mobile phone in case
she did anything video-worthy and potentially shareable, and Penny realised
that she had been talking aloud. She did it all the time, but she usually had
her dog with her, so it didn’t matter.
Or if it did, no one was going to dare to question her when
she had an excitable Rottweiler bouncing around at the end of her lead.
Francine has got to go
, she repeated in her head.
wish that she were a horrible person. If she stole my teabags or left socks on
the floor then I wouldn’t feel so bad about telling her to get out of my house.
She really has overstayed her welcome. But her niceness creates a force-field
And now Penny was late for the public meeting about the
Sculpture Trail for Upper Glenfield, and she’d walk in and disturb proceedings
and everyone would look and some people would sniff and gossip about her because
she was still – three months on – that “mad London woman with the nutty dog who
keeps finding dead bodies.”
The community hall came into view, surrounded by cars. The
parking area was full and more vehicles lay scattered along the road, in
defiance of the yellow lines prohibiting parking, and in many cases blocking
the pavement. The meeting was clearly a popular one. Penny hesitated at the
porch, and breathed in deeply.
She wouldn’t let Francine’s presence spoil her mood. She
shouldn’t. Francine needed some space and Penny liked the dippy ex-colleague. And
the Sculpture Trail was an exciting development for the small town, and she
wanted to be involved. She was looking forward to listening to the various
artists’ proposals, looking at the designs, and debating with the other
residents of the town about who should be chosen.
She stepped into the cool entrance hall and saw immediately
through the cross-hatched glass of the next set of doors that the meeting had
not yet started. The hall was laid out with ranks of wooden chairs, and most of
them had been taken, but people were leaning towards one another, twisting
around, and chatting. Penny pushed the double doors open and was hit by a wall
of conversation. At the far end of the hall, the table on a raised platform was
empty, though it was covered in folders and large sheets of paper.
Penny made for the far end, and towards the back, where
there were a few empty seats remaining. Some people turned around to see who
had just arrived, and she realised that everyone must have been expecting the
town council members to enter. In the very middle of the block of seats, a
large black beehive wobbled and began to rise up.
“Penny! Now then! Come and sit here, my love! Budge up,
Raymond, there’s a love.”
“Hi Agatha. No, no, it’s all right. I’ll sit back here.”
Penny waved and pointed. There was no way was she going to push past all the
people who were already seated.
But Agatha was an unstoppable force, like an elaborately
coiffured tsunami. The small, round hairdresser began to plough her way along
the rows, surging ceaselessly over feet and knees and bags and stray children.
Penny felt her face begin to burn in embarrassment even though the hubbub wasn’t
her fault. The only good thing was that those who had been sitting behind
Agatha could now see the stage, their view unimpeded by the towering beehive.
“How are you, my love?” Agatha boomed as she sailed nearer.
“Very well, thank you. Er. Now then, and all that.”
Agatha snorted with laughter at Penny’s attempt to casually
use some Lincolnshire dialect. “Keep working at it,” she said. “We’ll rough up
the edges of your London ways sooner or later.” She settled down next to Penny.
“It goes both ways. Perhaps I’ll smooth all of you locals
out a little,” Penny retorted.
A man who was sitting in front of them half-turned around.
“Won’t happen,” he declared, his vowels long and rounded. “You’ll become one of
us.” He smiled. “Well, in about five generations, that is.” He turned away and
began to talk to his neighbour about the weather, although all they could
really say was “it’s rather hot, but then, it is July.”
“Who was that?” Penny hissed, leaning in to Agatha’s ample
“I have no idea,” Agatha said back, with no volume control
at all. “Just some man being friendly, eh?”
By telling me I won’t be local until the kids – which I
don’t and won’t have – are great-grandparents,
Penny folded her arms mock-grumpily and sighed.
“Is that dog of yours still giving you gyp, eh?” Agatha
asked kindly, misinterpreting Penny’s body language.
Penny shook her head. “No, she’s doing all right now,” she
said, somewhat defensively. Even though she’d owned Kali for a good few months,
and the rescue dog’s more extreme reactions to random things, other dogs, men
in hats, and people carrying bags was now calming down, she still felt
protective of her. “No. It’s just that my friend from London has come to stay
and she doesn’t seem to be making any plans to leave.”
The strange man, unashamedly eavesdropping, turned around
again. “Just like fish,” he informed them.
“What, fish don’t make plans to leave?” Penny said.
“Well, they don’t,” Agatha said thoughtfully. “They just go.
You know, when they swim upstream. Is it all fish, do you think? Or is it just
salmon that do that?”
“No,” the man said. “I mean, it’s that proverb. House
guests are like fish. After three days, they begin to stink.”
“You do let her use the bathroom, don’t you?” Agatha said.
“It’s awfully hot …”
Penny rolled her eyes. “Of course I do. And Francine is
lovely, and that’s probably the problem, because she’s all sweetness and light
and I feel like I can’t have a good rant while she’s there, because she gets
upset on behalf of … of everything in the world. I can’t even watch the news
anymore. It makes her weepy. I’ve never signed so many petitions as I have done
in the last week.”
The man rolled his eyes in return, and turned away once
more. Penny knew that he was thinking she ought to just tell Francine to go.
But Francine had turned up, out of the blue, with two large
suitcases and a determination to “change her destiny.” She’d packed in her job
and declared that Penny was her “inspiration” and that she’d use her example to
“manifest a new life.”
Penny felt oddly responsible. What would happen if this new
life and sparkling destiny didn’t manifest itself? She had a sneaking suspicion
that she would have let Francine down. Somehow. In an irrational way.
But then, much about Francine was irrational. It was what
made her so appealing. She had a joyous exuberant approach to life that Penny
had always secretly envied. To some extent, Francine’s buoyant nature had
inspired Penny to start
Francine’s willingness to be open to the “leadings and
promptings of the Great Universe” meant she often found meaning in small
things. She once drove the long way home just because she’d seen a leaf
swirling to the ground, taking many seconds to make its journey. Her insights
were simple and naïve, and sometimes bonkers.
Though at least she didn’t go in for crystals and fairies,
like Lucy at the dogs’ home.
Penny winced. Those pair must never meet, she decided.
There’d be some kind of cosmic event and metaphysical glitter would rain down
upon the small town of Upper Glenfield.
“I don’t watch the news either,” Agatha said, bringing
Penny sharply out of her reverie.
“Sorry,” she said. “I was miles away.” Who was watching the
Oh yes, not her, because of Francine.
Agatha patted her knee like an elderly aunt. “There,
Penny smiled and appreciated the older woman’s misplaced
sympathy. She craned her neck and glanced around, keen for the meeting to begin.
“I can see a few folks from the arts group,” she said. “There’s Mary. Where’s
Ginni, though? And the councillors? Wasn’t the meeting supposed to have started
by now? I’m really looking forward to seeing all the plans.”
Agatha’s eyebrows shot up. “Haven’t you heard? Ginni won’t
be coming! Not now, eh. Not what with all what’s happened.”
“Why ever not?” Ginni was in charge of the local arts and
crafts group. Penny often went to the group’s meetings, although now that she
was selling much of her textile art and small watercolour paintings, she felt a
little awkward. Some folks seemed to think she was a “proper” artist and asked
her for feedback on their own work, which was a delicate and fraught activity. When
many people asked for honest criticism, what they actually wanted was praise. She
learned that quickly, and painfully, and it had taken a lot of cake to smooth out
the ruffled egos.
Agatha pressed her hands together, rings clinking, and
spoke with relish. “Well, it’s a done deal, isn’t it? The town council have
already decided who the sculptor is going to be, and that’s why Ginni’s so
upset. It was all hush hush and closed doors stuff. I smell some dodgy
goings-on … maybe even money changed hands! Oh – now, here they come at last.”
The murmuring in the hall rose and then faded, like a tidal
wave that ebbed away, as two men and one woman clattered their way to the front
of the hall. Penny recognised Shaun Kapowski, the local butcher, but she didn’t
know the other two.
“Thank you all for coming,” Shaun said, as the two others
sat down and smiled awkwardly over the tops of everyone’s heads, staring at the
back of the hall. Shaun had a loud voice at complete odds with his small and
slight figure. No one who had seen him wrestle half a pig out of the back of a
lorry would doubt the power contained in his tiny frame, however. His energy
matched his voice not his body. He was like a tightly compressed goblin. “We
apologise for the delay. We are just waiting for our artist to arrive.”
“We haven’t decided who the artist is yet, have we?”
shouted one voice from the middle of the hall. “We all want to see the
“Of course, of course,” Shaun said. “And we are delighted
by the interest that the residents of Upper Glenfield have shown in this
project. We could not do this without your support. However, the committee has
had to face some complex funding issues and…”
Penny knew as soon as Shaun had switched from saying “we”
to “the committee” that they were in for an onslaught of political
double-speak, and soon everyone’s eyes were glazing over as he explained why
the decision had already been made, and the conditions of the central
government grant they’d been awarded, and the unexpected deadline for the
funding, and how exciting and vibrant and forward-thinking and wonderful the
town council was.
Eventually Shaun petered out, and looked to his companions.
They, too, were frowning, and glancing about the hall and then at their watches.