Keith Wright is a UK retired police officer. He was raised by his mom. He began his law enforcement career as the youngest Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officer. He had only been a uniformed police officer for three years. His law enforcement career would cover twenty-five years. When he retired in 2005, he was a Detective Sergeant. He is now works in industry using his investigative experiences.
Keith’s stories take place in the 1980s. They feature Detective Inspector David Stark and his team of detectives in Nottingham CID, in the time and area when Keith Wright served there himself.
One Oblique One
It is Thursday. We are in Maple Cross, a quiet, middle-class suburban estate in Nottingham, United Kingdom. On July 16, 1987 at approx. 1am the Marriott Family is butchered to death. Time of death is difficult to set. Based on what witnesses heard, the first screams came after 10pm. We zoom in on 43 Maple Close. This house backs to Yew Tree Gardens, the main road for the estate. A small gate leads into that road.
At 43 Maple Close, an intruder appears to have forced a rear transom window with a half-inch blunt instrument (possibly a screwdriver) to enter the house. The stereo is still playing. The video recorder is gone. It is the only item missing from the house.
The father, Walter, is found in the hallway. He is face down with his head to one side. He was killed by one well-placed blow to the top of his head. His wife, Audrey, also has a gaping wound to her head. Her eyes are bulging, her tongue is protruding, and she seemed to have been on her knees before she was knocked to one side by her killer. She is on the landing of the stairs. Her cause of death is asphyxiation by manual strangulation. She has bruising around the neck, her hyoid bone is fractured, and her larynx is damaged. The pathologist, Mr. Hargreaves, leans towards a right-handed killer. They also find out that her head wound came ante-mortem. Why?
Their daughter, Faye, was just nineteen years old. She is found murdered in the living room. Her body is on the floor. Faye is on her back. Her head is tilted against the television stand. She too has a large hole at the top of her head. Her breasts are exposed as her dress is pulled down to her waist. Her underwear is around her left ankle. Her bra is either missing or she wasn’t wearing one. Her eyes show petechial hemorrhaging caused by a lack of oxygen. In other words, Faye died of asphyxiation. Loss of oxygen causes tiny red sports in the eyes where the small blood vessels busted. Her blood spattered around her but there’s a clean spot where the video recorder used to be. Here too, the head injury was ante-mortem. Why?
The Investigative Team
Detective Inspector David Stark, the CID DI covering the area of Maple Cross, finds a sort of diary in Faye’s room. He requests that book to be dusted and cataloged first. Scenes of Crime (SOC) find three finger prints on it. It turns out to be more like an address book than a diary. One name is underlined: Chantelle Naylor.
Stark’s Detective Sergeant is John ‘Nobby’ Clarke. He is disrespectful, always late, and full of himself. He complaints like a toddler when he has to serve as Exhibits Officer documenting all evidence pieces during the three autopsies. He thinks that cataloging is beneath him as it is usually done by a Detective Constable. But he doesn’t see that as this is a complex case, his boss, DI Stark, trusts him to secure the chain of evidence.
Stark suffers from panic attacks when he needs to address a big group. He soldiers through as it becomes clear soon enough that the investigative team needs to expand. We meet Detective Constable Paul Fisher who is eager to work and learn. Detective Constable Jim McIntyre, like Nobby, complaints all the time. Everything is too much and he is clearly not motivated to do any work. Added to the team as Aids to CID are Steve Ashton and Ashley Stevens. Detective Policewoman Stephanie Dawson knows that in order to survive the patriarchy she needs to be smart. It is her work that finally sheds another light on Faye and the kind of relationships that she had with men.
The team must discover what the motive could be for these murders. Why take a video recorder? Why crash the skulls of mother and daughter after they had been asphyxiated? The daughter appeared to have been sexually assaulted but not the mother. And, the manner in which these women suffocated differs as well. Why?
Next to Audrey’s body, police find the murder weapon. A brass ornamental clown that is about 14 inches long. It is covered in blood and tissue but one half has been wiped clean. Another break follows when red wool fibers are found on the victim’s clothes and on the living room floor. If they can trace those fibers, they may have a change to solve this triple murder case.
Stark and his team have several suspects. There is Bernard ‘Bernie’ Squires from Squires Turf Accountants where Faye worked for the past few months. Her parents did not seem to approve as the firm was a betting shop. There is Charles ‘Chaz’ Lyon who claimed he was Faye’s boyfriend. However, he seemed to genuinely care for Faye and he has a good alibi. Let’s not forget, Stanley George Tindle whose nickname is “Jobber.” Don’t let it fool you. His nickname does not refer to his stellar burglary career which he started at age twelve. It is about him leaving a huge #2 on people’s carpets during the burglaries.
But the best suspect is of course the one with a extended criminal record or, as our British friends would say, form. Someone who knew Faye and has form is Winston Samuel Courtney Kelly. He has numerous convictions to his name for wounding, drug dealing, possession of weapons, and even police assault. He is not afraid to hurt people, or to force women into prostitution. Despite the fact that Faye may not have been exactly what her parents believed, could she have been a prostitute without anyone knowing? How does that tie in with the information Detective Policewoman Stephanie Dawson uncovers? Does it match the information that Chantelle Naylor finally gives police about Faye? Can police positively tie Kelly to Faye?
As they try to find that out Kelly begins to intimidate everyone police might want to talk to and that only makes Stark and his team more convinced that Kelly is the answer in this case. At the end, the solution surfaces cryptically and comes from the one source you didn’t see coming.
I like it when the main character DI Stark makes lists. We actually get to see those lists three-quarters down the book. One is labelled ‘Points of interest’ and another is ‘Questions arising from facts known.’ It is a great writing technique the author used to summarize the story before the plot unfolds.
When a professional writes fiction there are pros and cons. We get the real story as they have been there. We get the inside scoop how the crime unfolds and how it is investigated. The con is of course, that we get the raw, real deal.
This author’s descriptions of some scenes are very real. Sometimes too real. You see them, feel them. There is a part in our brain that is always on the look-out to protect us. Keith Wright shreds it apart and forces you to be a witness to real police work no matter how earth shattering it is. Because that was his job, his world.
Some scenes are so real that you can see the autopsy unfold. You feel your blood turn cold when Stark needs to tell parents that their child has died. You see and feel the screams emanating from the mother’s throat and the helplessness of the father whose sanity hangs together by just a few threads. But at the same time, we also feel parents’ pain as they explain to Stark how his suspect, their child, was once a sweet child who became a bully and they could not stop it.
And then one character we love and root for, is murdered. The author places us inside the victim’s last thoughts but it is really us who see our lives pass by one more time through a viewfinder. It is us taking that last action to make sure that we leave that last message. And we grieve because this was a character we were rooting for all the time.
This book is part of the Inspector Stark series. Aside from being mindful that some scenes will feel very real, I can only recommend that you explore this author’s work. The pace is good, the plot is realistically layered, procedure is followed, the motive as we discover later on is very probable, and the characters grow on you as you read. Highly recommended reading!
My other book reviews are here. An interview with the author will be posted soon.