Book 4: Sin Killers

As Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle hones in on his suspects, he becomes a target for their retribution. Hunter becomes hunted.

Who is acting as judge, jury and executioner? Someone is running a campaign of retribution against people with lax morals. Kidnapping, arson and blackmail are bad enough, but then the head of a convicted paedophile is found wedged onto a road signpost at a location where ancient public executions took place.

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19th-century gibbet

Various local businessmen and politicians have been blackmailed with incriminating evidence, fined £20,000 to encourage them to improve their behaviour. Sophisticated techniques have been used to surveil the victims and to attack them, including poisons, guns and explosives, implying that the perpetrators have military or secret service training.

The suspect in a series of violent raids on small businesses also appears to be ex-army. The efficient attacks speak of reconnaissance beforehand, and the lone raider strikes swiftly, incapacitating their target, before fleeing on a motorcycle with the loot. Where is the raider living?

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The death of the child abuser escalates the investigation. Neil has mixed feelings about the death of a paedophile, but murderers need to be caught. What is motivating the Sin Killers—financial gain or retribution?

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One of their victims owns a chain of massage parlours. Seemingly unfazed by the pressure, his young son was kidnapped then abandoned, and he vows revenge. His henchman, Cleaver, is a veteran of London gang wars in the 1960s, his heavily scarred face proof of his own capacity for violence with blades.

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Interference from a controversial government minister appears to confirm who the suspects are while muddying the waters. Devon & Cornwall Police are being used to clean up mistakes made by the secret service. Noah and Nina Shrike are ex-MI5 agents gone rogue and likely to turn terrorist, as they punish the sins of their former masters.

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Poison Dart Frog

As Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle hones in on his suspects, he becomes a target for their retribution overpowered by an exotic poison. Cleaver is on the prowl, his knives ready to slice and dice.

Hunter becomes hunted.

Why write An Elegant Murder?

Given the right conditions, corpses can mummify, rather than liquefy and decompose.

An Elegant Murder is set against the background of the Brexit Referendum. The voters’ decision to leave the European Union plunged the country into chaos. Having lived among the farming community, I’m keenly aware of their tight profit margins and dependence on subsidies. People voted in ignorance of the repercussions.

Marcus Aurelius noted that: Poverty is the mother of crime. Farmers faced with losing their livelihoods might well be tempted to turn to crime. They, in turn, become victims of crime. I’ve known several farmers who had possessions stolen from their barns when they were away at market. Others had their livestock rustled from remote fields. Such incidents breed suspicion of strangers, as well as discord within the farming community—what if it’s your neighbour who’s the thief?

Farming is a lonely existence. In recent years, there have been several sad real-life incidents of people dying alone, their bodies not found for ages. In the UK 34% of people live alone, some not socialising with their nearest neighbour, who could be next door or, if in the countryside, half-a-mile distant. Given the right conditions, corpses can mummify, rather than liquefy and decompose. The dead farmer in my story lives a hardscrabble existence, relying on no one but himself, effectively not a part of the 21st century. He’s both indomitable and vulnerable, too proud and guilt-stricken to seek help.

His guilt is driven by religious mania, but his conscience is stricken by how he treated his adopted sister. Signing her life away, by having her committed to what was once called a mental asylum, for her promiscuity which tempted him, he punishes himself physically and by denial. Once incarcerated in the system, it was difficult to impossible for a patient diagnosed as mad to gain release, especially without family support.

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The sister survives being committed, returning to the only place she was once happy, the remote farm in Cornwall. Not in her right mind and living in the past, she shares the house with the mummified corpse of her brother, something that people have done in real life, usually in a state of delusion, sometimes to carry on claiming the dead person’s pension. Oddly enough, the sister is the happiest person in my story, for though her attempt to resume her love life is a fantasy, she’s blissful until she meets her nemesis. I’ve worked as a counsellor with those afflicted by mental health issues, wondering sometimes at who was sane and who was insane and who had the right to make that definition.

Strong religious belief can be a comfort and a source of strength and inspiration, but also a way that people hold themselves back by pointless devotion, punishing their bodies and minds if they think they’ve failed.

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Hair Shirt

Bodmin Moor is an ageless place, not much changed for hundreds of years. It’s the ideal location to set a story with ancient themes of love, lust, avarice and betrayal. I wanted to write a narrative that allowed me to focus on face-to-face confrontations between my Cornish Detective and witnesses and suspects, without the interference of technology. One of the biggest problems in writing crime novels set in the 21st century is having to include CCTV cameras, mobile phone tracking, social media accounts, DNA and fingerprinting. What if none of those elements could be used or were of limited use?

The scheming of people, how envy and lust drive foolish actions that have might have repercussions for decades, is made irrelevant if those selfish people suddenly realise that they are on the food chain…that they’re being stalked by a big cat! All of their weaknesses come into sharp focus. The legend of The Beast Of Bodmin Moor is older than that of the Loch Ness Monster.

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It has more probability of being true too, for The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 brought in a licensing system that proved difficult to satisfy. Faced with having their exotic animals humanely destroyed, some owners released them into the countryside. One of the biggest surprises for me, when researching An Elegant Murder, was finding how many licences are still granted that enable people to keep bobcats, lynxes, wolves and mountain lions in captivity.

Anything smacking of myth will be used to promote tourism, including King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but a big cat on the loose in the Cornish countryside is believable. Dead sheep and deer savaged to death, on farms neighbouring where I lived, weren’t killed by dogs. The scene in my story, where the detectives realise a mountain lion is standing on the other side of their hide, is based on a true incident that happened to a sound recordist acquaintance of mine.

He was part of a team sent out to investigate reports of a mountain lion being sighted near to Minions on Bodmin Moor. The plan was to camp out overnight to record audio and video of the big cat on the prowl. It rained heavily, so thinking the assignment was ruined, the sound recordist duo were just about return to their car, when they heard something big moving stealthily outside their canvas hide.

Figuring it was one of the camera crew having a laugh, their annoyance changed to terror when the mountain lion screamed! Holding on to one another, the two men attempted to work out where the big cat was, backing away from that wall of the tent. Their car was parked 200 yards away, too far to run in pitch dark, so they spent a sleepless night waiting for dawn. The cat only screamed once, and they hadn’t recorded it. Tracks around the hide had been made indistinct by the rain.

Imagine hearing that nearby in the dark!

No one really believed them, thinking they were making it up, but I did, for a couple of years later, I experienced a moment of great fear, when I realised that I was being watched by something in the bushes on the other side of the stream, twenty feet away from where I was standing on the sheep farm where I lived. I froze, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, as I slowly moved my eyes to see a dark shape move away from me. It silently crept off, slinking like a cat would, not trotting like a dog or waddling like a sheep and making a noise. I immediately returned to my cottage. Carrying a large walking stave and a diver’s knife, I returned to the scene the next day, to look for tracks, but could find nothing on the leaf litter.

As soon as you talk about anything like this, people immediately look for explanations to debunk what you saw and ridicule you. But, just think about how wildlife adapts to living among us, even in cities. Rewilding projects are moving ahead in the UK, for animals as diverse as beavers, bobcats, wolves and the native wild cat, all of which once lived here, but were driven into extinction by hunting.

I used many real locations in my story, including The Cheesewring and Gold Diggings Quarry. These are attractive tourist destinations, which have historical significance. The geology of Cornwall can’t be ignored, for it’s affected the industry and agriculture so much. Granite makes laying sewage, water and gas pipes impossible, hence so many septic tanks, boreholes and Calor gas ovens and heating systems. It’s also inconvenient for murderers wanting to bury a corpse, leading to shallow graves, which is how one of the victims is discovered in An Elegant Murder.

Farmers are hardy people—feuds exist—ghosts haunt the lives of those who live on. Face-to-face tough-guys bluff their way through gossip in the community and police interrogations, while being tormented by the spirits of those they hurt and destroyed. Superstitions abound and farmers invent their own, cleaving to habits that brought them luck before and not doing activities on particular days, as that was when something went wrong.

Three innocent people die in An Elegant Murder, two by physical violence, the other by stealth. Their killers sought money and freedom but condemned themselves to an eternity of torment.

It’s often those we’re closest to who kill us.

Book 3: An Elegant Murder

Investigating the puzzling deaths of two pensioners on Bodmin Moor, Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle uncovers hidden torment, avarice, lust and violence from forty years ago, which has modern day repercussions.

It’s a long, hot summer—good for Cornwall, which depends on tourist income—but, bad for crime. The heatwave drives people mad, and two corpses are found on Bodmin Moor.

The corpse of a mysterious elderly woman is found floating in a flooded quarry. Dressed in a 1950s ballgown, she carries no identification and can’t be traced.

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Days later, a burglar discovers the mummified corpse of a reclusive farmer, who’s been sitting at his kitchen table for five years. His farm is off the grid, and only a short walk from the quarry. Are the two victims connected? No one has missed them.

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The farming community on Bodmin Moor is insular, not given to sharing information, something Neil knows from personal experience, having grown up on a sheep farm. Thieves are around, stealing property from remote barns and rustling livestock. Stolen to order, by armed gangs from upcountry, it’s likely that they have cooperation from locals betraying their neighbours. Farmers are guarding their animals with shotguns. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a shootout.

Not all dead cattle, deer and sheep have been taken by rustlers. A stealthy four-legged killer stalks the land: the legendary Beast of Bodmin Moor looks to be a flesh and blood exotic big cat.

In a primitive landscape, unchanged for hundreds of years, and with no CCTV cameras and weak mobile phone signals, Neil Kettle tracks down his suspects, while becoming prey himself!

Book 2: The Perfect Murderer

Then, another murder happens, which doesn’t fit the pattern.

A second killer has joined in.

A serial killer, known as The Watcher, is terrorising the small market town of Liskerrett, Cornwall and the surrounding area, taking victims seemingly at random and with great expertise.

Neil Kettle is running a major murder investigation, as he struggles with depression, a delayed reaction to the accidental death of his wife four years ago.

Three people have been murdered, a child, an old woman and an American tourist, all dying by different methods. The perpetrator is playing a game, one as old as time. He’s a fantasist, but is he a psychopath? His killing skills suggest military training—he might have PTSD.

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A master of disguise, he never appears the same way twice when spotted in public on CCTV, imitating women and disabled war veterans. Neil’s detectives have close encounters with the killer, not realising who he is. He could be targetting them.

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Asian woman vinyl full head mask

It’s almost Christmas, and Liskerrett is busy with thrill-seeking ghouls, visiting the murder scenes and hampering the hunt for a murderer who kills perfectly. Neil and his team of detectives are under enormous pressure to catch the killer, for Liskerrett is already being referred to as ‘Murder Town.’

The investigation becomes even more complicated, when MI5 and the FBI take an interest. They provide Neil with useful information about the perpetrator, but what are they keeping secret?

Neil feels isolated in command, his only friends the forensic pathologist Christie Cook, known as CC, and his father-in-law, the retired chief detective Roger Rule, an autocratic control-freak with a heart of ice. But, Roger was a highly successful murder investigator, so Neil turns to him for advice.

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Then, another murder happens, which doesn’t fit the pattern.

A second killer has joined in.

Why Write Who Kills A Nudist?

Astonishingly, there are only five customs and excise patrol boats operating for the entire coast of the UK, so the chances of being caught are slim.

The spark for this story came from newspaper reports about human trafficking, with illegal immigrants freed from slave labour in Cornwall. Kept prisoner by intimidation, violence and threats against their families back home, they were working for pennies as prostitutes, nail technicians and agricultural labourers. Saddled with a debt for being brought into the country, they were the cheapest of labour, open to abuse, exploitation and being murdered.

About this time, there were arrests made of body-builders trading in smuggled steroids, cocaine and heroin. Cornwall’s rugged coastline is ideal for concealing smugglers, with its isolated coves and unlit beaches. Astonishingly, there are only five customs and excise patrol boats operating for the entire coast of the UK, so the chances of being caught are slim.

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Sadly, Cornwall’s beaches, pounded by powerful waves, encourage swimmers and surfers to take risks. It’s usually holidaymakers who drown, ignoring warnings, but locals perish too taking to the waters in winter, when lifeguard cover is absent. About 25 people drown annually, their bodies washed ashore to be found by beachcombers and dog walkers. It’s not always certain if it’s an accident, suicide or foul play.

There are a dozen nudist beaches in Cornwall, none of them official, more accepted practice through decades of naturism. In plotting Who Kills A Nudist? the inciting incident is the discovery of a seemingly drowned elderly naturist, a man who would have known better than to venture into a tempestuous ocean at night.

I wondered what would happen if such an innocent soul, a pensioner who did charity work, clashed with an evil man who cared only for money.

Such a character is all too common these days, with the 1% of plutocrats exploiting the poor to gain yet more wealth. Cornwall is a strange county, in that it’s beautiful and the playground of the rich, including Royalty and show business stars, yet it’s among the fifty poorest areas of Europe. Wages are low, employment patchy and seasonal, dependent on tourism. Holiday homes owned by agencies and second homes, used for a few weeks of the year, are a source of resentment from locals who’ve been priced out of the property market by incomers.

There are always plenty of multi-million pound mansions for sale in the county, with expensive hotels, spas and restaurants, as well as luxury car dealers. The antagonist of my story yearns for the trappings of prosperity, selling supercars and limousines for a living. He intimidates and controls a gang of underlings through the use of sadomasochistic sex, men who are in positions of power as law personnel, customs officers and importers of foreign goods. They assist him in smuggling weapons, drugs and people.

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The scene is set for a struggle between my protagonist Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle representing law and order, a simple man who wants to restore tranquillity to society, and my antagonist Rupert Mansard, a devious man who cares only for dominion over the weak and the poor and acquiring money to reinforce his ego.

Book 1: Who Kills A Nudist?

A pensioner is found drowned on a beach used by naturists. An autopsy shows his death was violent, that he’d been sexually molested.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is a grieving widower of three years. The last time he visited this beach was with his wife. Already running investigations into human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and weapons, Neil’s enquiries into the victim’s life reveal links to a shady millionaire car dealer, Rupert Mansard, a man who’s risen from nowhere to prosperity.

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The reclusive car dealer is rumoured to be involved in gay BDSM, not an illegal activity, but he knows men of wealth and influence, including law enforcement officers. Guns and explosives are being brought in from Eastern Europe, by sea and air, to arm organised crime gangs. Desperate immigrants are sneaked into the country, forced to work as slaves to pay off their debt. Cornwall’s rugged coastland with sheltered coves, quiet rivers and inadequate customs patrols has favoured smugglers for centuries, and only the contraband has changed.

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The drowned man was found by an American photographer called Mish Stewart, who lives in a remote cabin overlooking the beach. Someone is stalking her, a shadowy man who could be their suspect Rupert Mansard. She’s separated and though Neil is still grieving, they get on well enough for him to imagine falling in love again one day.

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Huge profits are guarded with malevolence, destroying the innocent and the corrupt. Neil Kettle is pursuing men with assault rifles, who treat human life as a disposable commodity. Anyone and anything can be bought and sold. Mish, the only woman he’s cared about for years is under threat.

The car dealer isn’t intimidated by police interest in him, insulated by his wealth and insider knowledge about their investigation—someone is a traitor.

Then, a bullet is fired through Neil’s kitchen window.

Is he about to become a target?