I wrote these Elizabeth West Mysteries when I was in England in the 1980’s. I was living in Yorkshire at the time and entered my book A FOXTROT THROUGH INDIA into a competition, I didn’t win but when I turned up at the presentation I was treated as the hero of the night and ended up eating some nice food, drinking a lot of red wine and had a London literary agent for my troubles. My agent requested a detective story with a female hero so I wrote these little stories. Years later I pulled them out, reread them and was inspired to write my madcap comic whodunit series Bigfoot Littlefoot & West. The first book in that series is Death in the Australian Outback and if you like madcap humour and satire then this is the book for you.
As I drove along the tree lined causeway Goyt Hall, designed in 1698 by an Italian architect, with its gardens laid out along the lines of Versailles, its sculptures and marble facade, looked very impressive. It was a grand and inspiring sight, the setting perhaps for fabulous balls and royal dinners. Inside, however, on the marble floor lay an eighteen year old girl who would never get the chance to go to a fabulous ball or a royal dinner.
I walked up the steps to the entrance and rang the bell. To my surprise neither a butler nor a maid answered the door but eighty seven year old Lady Margarite, Lord Silverstone’s sister, she was hideously ugly. Upon her head she wore an old felt hat, the brim being cut away at the front. Her hair was like old and frayed rags and her wrinkled old face was covered in warts and scars. I do not like to make these notes into melodramas but I would just like to write down here that Lady Margarite reminded me more of an evil witch than anyone or anything I had ever come across before, alive or dead.
‘Yes,’ she said.
She looked me up and down with her eyes almost protruding from their sockets. I explained that I was Elizabeth West, Officer West of the Greater Manchester Constabulary (on loan from the Territory Police, Australia) and that we had been notified of a murder.
‘Yes,’ she said.
She opened the door just wide enough for me to enter and as she opened the door the first thing I noticed was that all the furniture was covered in sheets. The hall looked very gloomy, the pictures had been removed from the walls, and the windows seemed to let in but little light.
‘Horrible girl,” said Lady Margarite. ‘Deserved it…deserved it, yes…yes.’
She led me up the grand staircase to the north room, the banister was covered in dust, as was the rest of the house. Outside an old oak door the old lady turned and said to me:
‘Yes…yes, no good at all.’ Then she shuffled up the corridor talking to herself, ‘yes…yes,’ she was saying.
I knocked on the old oak door, there was no response so I pushed the door open. As I entered the scene before my eyes was rather startling. Light seemed to enter the room from only one stained glass window, the light from that window fell upon the body that lay, as it had fallen, across the hearth of the fireplace. The rest of the room was in darkness apart from a pale white face that caught a single beam of light in the otherwise enveloping gloom. The face lit up by the single ray of light was that of Lord Silverstone. I called out his name and my voice echoed around the walls. I moved closer to Lord Silverstone, it was then that I realised his breathing was laboured. I looked at his eyes and checked his pulse. In one eye, I noted, the pupil was dilated, his pulse was very weak. I immediately found the only servant the house seemed to contain, the cook, and she telephoned for an ambulance. I kept a check on Lord Silverstone’s pulse while we waited and kept him warm but my efforts were to no avail, Lord Silverstone died on the way to hospital.
She had been a pretty young thing, the girl who lay dead on the hearth. Actually she was hardly more than a child and she was white and pale. The whole case seemed to have eerie overtones to me. A dart stuck out of her back between her shoulder blades. Next to the chair where Lord Silverstone had been sitting was a blowpipe. From that distance he could not have missed. It was a simple case, all I had to do was work out the motive.
The cook gave me a potted history of the girl. She was born in British Guiana now Guyana, her name was Angela Clark-Upminster and her father was involved in sugar, coffee, timber and bauxite. I studied the body more closely. On the dead girl’s shoes were stray pieces of cut grass, the type that clings to shoes after a lawn has just been mown. There were also some blades of grass in her hair. From the back of her jumper, and from her hair, I took two strands of pink wool. I made a note of these facts and carefully secured the strands of wool. There were no remains of a fire in the hearth and no preparation for one, from this and the general state of the room I concluded that the room was not normally used.
When I had first entered the room Lord Silverstone had been sitting in a big old comfortable chair. His face had looked strained and rather blue with the cold. He had worn pyjamas, slippers and a smoking jacket. As far as I could tell there had been no trace of cut grass on his slippers. His hair had looked very grey but there had still been plenty of it. The most startling fact about Lord Silverstone, which threw me momentarily when I first heard it from the cook, was that he had been engaged to be married. The prostate body, in the hearth, whose life he had apparently terminated with a blowpipe dart, had been his fiancée. What charm must he have had if he, at seventy eight, could become engaged to an eighteen year old beauty. Before I had begun to unravel the mystery, my key witness and it seemed highly likely, the murderer himself had died! I felt as they say in cricket, stumped.
The cook made me a cup of tea, I felt I needed it.
‘Ursula’s me name,’ said the cook.
‘Elizabeth,’ I said.
Apart from the gardener Ursula seemed to be the only servant. As we began to talk about Lord Silverstone and Angela, the cook broke down and cried. Then she wiped away her tears.
‘It’s all so shocking,’ she said and then we had a good gossip.
She told me about Lord Silverstone’s school days and how he kept a wombat and a kangaroo in his dormitory at boarding school. She described how he had gone jackarooing in Australia instead of attending Oxford University. His youth, it seemed, was spent wandering the world. In World War II he fought alongside the partisans in Crete and in Yugoslavia and after the war he went out to British Guiana where he met Angela’s parents and later he held baby Angela in his arms and declared he would marry her. On Guiana he also studied native poisons and the blowpipe.
‘About a year ago now,’ said the cook, ‘young Angela came to England to finish her education. Old Lord Silverstone met her at the airport, wined her and dined her in London, he told her about his declaration when she was a baby and then he proposed’”
‘What happened then?’ I asked.
‘No one would have believed it, but she accepted.’
‘Was anyone against the marriage?’
‘Yes, they were against it and Lady Margarite, and young Poodle said to me, I think Uncle’s making a fool of himself and he was.’
‘Poodle?’ I said.
‘Poodle, Lady Margarite’s grandson, Chrispian.’
‘He’s known as Poodle?’ I asked.
‘And how did you feel about the marriage?’
‘Me, I’m the cook, nothing to do with me. I loved old Lord Silverstone but Angela she was a smashing girl.’
‘Tell me,’ I said, ‘did Chrispian show any affection towards Angela?’
‘Head over heels in love,’ said the cook.
‘Did Lord Silverstone know?’
‘Yes, and when he found out he packed young Chrispian off to Spain. Must have been back end of June.’
The case against Lord Silverstone now seemed to be complete and the postcards were the final and conclusive evidence. As Lord Silverstone had sat in his big old chair, dying, in his left hand he held three postcards. They were all from a place called Estepona on the Costa del Sol in Spain, the cook had told me Chrispian was currently holidaying there. They were addressed to Angela Clark-Upminster, Goyt Hall, Bredbury, Cheshire, England. I asked the cook if there had been any chance of Lord Silverstone having seen the postcards when they first arrived, she said that there was every chance. I felt that it was strange and unfortunate that Chrispian had not been more circumspect and had not taken greater pains to cover his tracks. Chrispian’s openness and direct flaunting of his great uncle’s authority, I postulated, had driven Lord Silverstone to desperate measures. All the cards were dated, the first card had the date Wednesday the 15th of July.
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Constable Elizabeth West, Australia's greatest export, turns up in the North of England tracking a murderer across the Yorkshire Moors. Goyt Hall is a big old country house and lying dead, in front of the fireplace, is a beautiful young girl. Reviews: 'I'm delighted to have found Thorogood's books. Have raced through the Jack Hamma series and presently on 6th Elizabeth West. Googled his mini biography, fascinating! He really has been around the traps, no wonder he can produce volume after volume of improbable crazy exploits with that background to draw on, although it did have me wondering if he ever had time to sleep.' 'Not crazy like the rest of the books in the series but the book that inspired bedlam deserves to be read for itself alone. I'm the number one member of the Elizabeth West fan club so I had to read this book.' 'The stories that inspired the craziest whodunits ever written. I love the serious but tongue in cheek style.'