Death of a Notable – Murder Mystery, Part Seven

This is the Seventh part of a Murder Mystery that I have been writing. It is supposed to be in the style of the great Agatha Christie.

For those of you desperate for the end…we are almost there, I estimate just one or two more instalments. I hope you are enjoying the story.

This is the first part if you want to read it from the beginning:

It took two days for the forensic team to make their report.

Sitting in his dark and dreary office in Scotland Yard, Inspector Thorpe read the in-depth toxicology reports on Dr Lancaster. He prized himself on being able to keep his face blank of all emotion. He liked to think he could play a game of poker and no one could tell if he had a good hand or not. However, his eyebrows raised ever so slightly as he read the report, he couldn’t help it.

Sergeant Sheldon came into the room just then with a file on another case they were working on.

Inspector Thorpe looked up and said to him. “She was right you know? It was Strychnine. They found it in his blood alright. Quite a high dose too. They weren’t taking any chances. It still remains to be seen why someone wanted to do him in. You went to his place of lodging didn’t you, what was it like?”

“Pretty dingy really. It’s in Pimlico, quite a nice area, but it was a flat divided up into three rooms. He shared it with two other blokes, both of them scientists. One working at Imperial College and the other working in the labs at Kew Gardens.”

“Were you able to talk to anyone there? Get some idea of why anyone would want to kill him?”

“The bloke who works at Imperial College was there, his name is.” Sergeant Sheldon paused to check in his note-book. “Sydney Shawcross. The other lodger, James Aldridge, wasn’t there. He works long hours at Kew and goes in very early. I asked Mr Shawcross about Dr Lancaster. He had known him at Cambridge University and so when he was looking for somewhere to lodge in London it seemed a good idea to move in with Dr Lancaster. Apparently, Dr Lancaster was looking for someone to share the rent with. Mr Shawcross has lodged there for four months. Dr Lancaster had been there for just over a year. I asked if Dr Lancaster had seemed himself lately and Mr Shawcross said that actually Dr Lancaster had been a bit down the last couple of weeks. Mr Shawcross said that on the last day he saw him he seemed particularly odd. He was wearing his best suit and was just off to a party and yet when he said goodbye Mr Shawcross said that he’d sounded like he knew he wasn’t coming back. I asked him if he thought Dr Lancaster was the suicidal type, but he said that you never can tell. Naturally I checked to see if he was behind with his rent or was particularly hard up. His landlady confirmed that he had fully paid up his rent. His bank has confirmed that while he was never a big spender, he had enough income to cover his needs. Do you think it was suicide then sir?”

“Highly unlikely, Strychnine is not a pleasant way to go and he’d hardly want to do away with himself at a party surrounded by people. Maybe he had a premonition. They say it sometimes happens; people get a sense that something is going to happen to them. I remember hearing how that actress, Gloria Angelino, who died in that plane crash a couple of weeks ago, had given a lot of her possessions away a few days before.”

“Funny you should say that Sir. Mr Shawcross said Dr Lancaster sold his car last week. That’s a bit rum isn’t it? What should we do next Sir?”

“I think we will need to speak to Mrs Patterson again. She knew straight away about the Strychnine. Was it a clever guess, or did she know?”

While he was talking the Inspector was fiddling with a small black cylinder with gold decoration. It was the lipstick he had found outside the Kitchen. He had forensics dust it for fingerprints and they’d found a clear set, but it didn’t match any that they had on file. He took off the top, the colour was a delicate coral pink. He had a sneaking suspicion of who it belonged to. His mind went back to the night that poor young man choked to death. Well now they knew he was poisoned. He recalled interviewing one lady after the other. One particular lady had walked in with a waft of exotic oriental perfume and wearing a dress of soft coral coloured chiffon.

“Sheldon, get Mrs Patterson in. Oh, and give Mrs Jane Courtney a call and ask her if she could come and see me too.”


Mrs Jane Courtney sat demurely in the Inspectors rather drab office. She seemed to brighten up the place a bit. Inspector Thorpe got up and opened the window to let in some fresh air. That perfume was a bit overpowering in such a small space.

The Inspector took out the lipstick from his pocket and placed it in front of him on his desk. He kept looking directly as Mrs Courtney, he wanted to observe her reaction.

She looked down at the lipstick and gave a small gasp. She reached out her hand, then quickly she brought it back down to her lap. Her eyes became wide and vacant.

“Do you recognise this item Mrs Courtney?”

“No Inspector, Why should I?” Replied Mrs Courtney in soft clipped tones.

“It was only that judging from your reactions just then, it rather gave me the impression that you did. We were able to get some fingerprints from it, I hope you wouldn’t mind letting us take yours to see if they match?”

A change came over Mrs Courtney. She became less rigid and her eyes seemed to convey a little bit more intelligence. Her normal doll-like expression became more human. She spoke, and her voice was different too. Not quite the ultra-refined clipped tones of before.

“Yes Inspector, I admit it, it is mine.”

“Then why did you deny it?”

“It is because I am not sure where I lost it. Where did you find it, by the way?”

“In the basement area outside the kitchen door.”

“Yes, I suspected I must have dropped it in there or in the kitchen. I only found out I’d lost it later that evening, when I wanted to apply some more.”

“Well what were you doing downstairs in the Kitchens Mrs Courtney, it was hardly your place to be there was it?”

“I will be honest with you. I was visiting my Aunt, she’s the Cook. Mrs Silverman. I was in the habit of calling on her when I was invited to that house for dinner. I’d always pop in before hand and have a cup of tea with her. Naturally, it is something I’d rather keep secret. My husband is a terrible old snob. As it happens, we were having a really lovely chat and that was why I was late to arrive for dinner.”

“What were you talking about?”

“Only gossip, my aunt was just telling me that it looked like Dolly was getting her own back on that cheating husband of hers. She thought that she was getting quite friendly with that young scientist chap, that’s all. I must say she did seem quite shaken at his death, didn’t she?”

The Inspector took down the information about Mrs Courtney’s family, her maiden name and that of her parents. He also asked if she could bring in a copy of her birth certificate at her earliest convenience and bid her good day.

She reached out and took the lipstick from his desk and left, taking that heady oriental garden with her.

He thought about what she had told him. It was an easy lie to disprove if she wasn’t related to the Cook. He remembered Mrs Silverman as being large and dark. Mrs Courtney however was fair. Although when he’d looked closer he could see a touch of dark at her roots that indicated her short blond locks were not the result of nature but of artifice. It would explain why she was there in the Kitchen and probably why she wanted to keep it secret. She had risen to an exalted rank through her marriage, it was probably natural that she wouldn’t want people to know she was related to the cook. Although it did put her in the right location to be able to administer poison into the soup. It was too soon to eliminate her from his list of suspects.

End of Part Seven…..

Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 03/May/2018


via Daily Prompt: Observe

A new appreciation for Agatha Christie

You may or may not be aware but I began writing a murder mystery. Some of you may observe, it is in the style of Agatha Christie. This was originally a challenge set by my tutor on my creating writing course. I also weaved into the story the word prompt – Notable. This was my story Death of a Notable – A Murder Mystery,

See here for the link:

I have always been a huge fan of Agatha Christie, well at least since the age of 12 when my English teacher was rather scandalised to learn that I was still reading Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. Of course there is nothing wrong with those authors or their work. I recommend Enid Blyton’s Folk of the faraway tree, as it is a light-hearted fantasy worth of being well read. Roald Dahl was a very entertaining author and his books from James and the Giant peach to The Witches, are still deservedly entertaining children the world over. That is the point though, they were, in my teacher’s mind, very much children’s books and he felt I should have moved on to something a little more adult.

He lent me a copy of Agatha Christie’s Crooked house, which incidentally was one of Mrs Christie’s own favourites. I was hooked from then on. I probably own 90% of the books she wrote, including her entertaining autobiography. 

Having taken a stab (if you pardon the use of the word) at writing something of a murder mystery I have a new appreciation for what she managed to do. Let me tell you, it is incredibly hard. 

To weave a number of different alternatives into the story, each one believable; to put in certain clues, some real and some red herrings, it is nerve-wracking. You instantly believe that the solution is so obvious that people are bound to guess it. You worry that you have made it too easy, but then you are also in danger of weaving so many little plots that the whole thing becomes annoying for the reader. You have to create characters and once having done so you are bound to ensure that each one doesn’t behave out of character unless there is a very good reason for doing so. 

That is another hard thing, you must have reasons for things to be believable. You find yourself saying to yourself “But of course people would have known straight away that someone altered the clock” or “They would have seen them pick up that knife”. I am sure that Mrs Christie would have done the same. Yet, she wrote the most amazingly complex plots, and deftly created some entertaining characters. She leads you round by the nose making you suspect everyone in turn and yet never really guess the whole answer, maybe if you’re lucky you may have worked a bit of it out, never the whole thing. 

Having dipped my toe into writing this genre, I realise just how hard it is. To write a crime novel where you know who the person, that may be easier, I may have to try it in the future, but to write a mystery novel like Mrs Christie so expertly did, that has been one of the hardest things I have tried to do. I have loved the challenge, but I have to admit, my attempt is but a mere parody of the real thing. It is a loving tribute.

Bravo, Mrs Christie, let us all raise a glass (hopefully without any Cyanide in it) and toast to a literary giant and give thanks for the huge volume of work she has left us. 

I am off to re-read some of my favourites:

A Murder is Announced

Sleeping Murder

The Big Four

Cat Among the Pigeons

and of course,

Murder at the Vicarage.

Tell me, are you a fan of Agatha Christie? What are your favourites? Do you prefer Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot? 

Let me know what you think.

All the best