This week we get a peek at Crime Cymru’s Jacqueline Harrett’s latest novel, published by Diamond Crime.
The Whispering Trees, published by Diamond Crime in November 2022, is the second in my crime series featuring DI Mandy Wilde and her side-kick, DS Josh Jones. It was inspired by a walk along the Nant Fawr corridor in Cardiff during lockdown. I imagined a body lying face-down and wondered who he was and how he got there. This extract is from Chapter One as Mandy and Josh arrive at the scene. In their banter as they drive from Cardiff Central to the woods Josh had speculated that it was probably a dog-walker who found the body.
The Whispering Trees
They pushed their way through a small crowd gathered on the pavement. At almost six feet, Mandy had the advantage of being able to see over the heads of most of the rubberneckers. A uniformed officer, arms crossed, stood blocking the way into the wooded area. Mandy waved her badge at him.
“Straight ahead, Ma’am. Over the bridge. You’ll soon see them.”
The trees were showing the first hints of autumn. Crimson, ochre, cinnamon and paprika leaves peppered the branches and the ground underneath. The wind whispered through the branches, rustling as it picked up speed. A storm was coming. The crunching of acorns disturbed a squirrel which scrambled up a tree and peered down at them, wary and suspicious. As they moved away from the pathway the ground became spongey underfoot. The smell was damp, rotten, ominous. The sky darkened and the rain started, drops pattering at first and then more persistent, drumming into the stream which bubbled away in the background. Mandy pulled her hood up. Her hair was frizzy enough without getting it wet. Josh yanked at his collar and shivered as a sudden gust of wind whipped around his neck.
They approached the SOCOs behind the cordoned off area. “Who found him?”
An officer pointed to a group of three lads clustered together a little way from the scene. Another uniformed officer was standing with them.
Mandy looked at Josh. “I should have taken your bet. It looks as though we were both wrong. Sneaking out of school for a quick fag and they find a stiff. Serves them right.”
The body could be seen, chest downwards, sprawled across the undergrowth. Dark hair and skin the colour of bleached wood. His face was turned to the side, eyes and mouth open. The left arm was pinned underneath the body while the other stretched out above the head. Rishi, the pathologist, was there.
“Nice start to a Wednesday, Rishi. Got to keep you busy.”
“What you think? First impressions.” A hint of impatience.
He glanced over at her, taking in the bright red wellies, almost smiled, held the look just long enough. “Male. Twenties. No sign of attack. Let’s turn him over.” One of the SOCOs helped and Rishi continued with his examination. He gestured for Mandy and Josh to approach. Putting on protective foot covers they moved closer. Not close enough to contaminate the scene but where they were able to view the body more clearly.
“I won’t know what killed him until I do the post-mortem. Nothing to suggest what happened. There’s a bruise here on his forehead. It seems consistent with him hitting the ground. No marks on the back of the head, no stab wounds, defence wounds or anything else.”
“ID? Do we know who he is?”
Rishi checked the pockets. “Well, you can rule out robbery.” He handed over a roll of notes tied with an elastic band. “Looks like a lot there. Nothing else on the body.”
“You’re right. I reckon at least a grand, could be more. Pity it’s evidence as it would give the missus a nice treat, eh?” She winked at him. “Or send the mother-in-law away for a week’s holiday.”
“Indeed. Somewhere far away with no telephone. I have constant earache from her.”
“She doesn’t appreciate your talents like we do, Rishi.” Mandy glanced around the area. “Not much evidence of a scuffle either. A few footprints. I suppose those belong to the lads who found him. He’s not far from the stream here. Josh, go and ask them to widen the search. See if anything was dropped. Mobile phone, wallet. Maybe he was chased, fell and hit his head. And tell those lads we’ll want a word.”
Mandy studied the body. The victim looked young, late twenties as Rishi said, and well-dressed in a rust-coloured woollen overcoat, smart trousers in dark grey and brown brogues. The soles were barely worn. New perhaps. How the hell had he ended up dead and, more to the point, who was he?
Josh returned. “They’ve cordoned off this part of the woods. We’ll need a bigger team to comb the area.”
“And we’ll want a door to door on those houses,” she pointed to a row of houses whose gardens overlooked the woods, “plus any close to the entrances. We’ll get a photo of the victim. Send it over to the tech boys. They can tidy it up. Remove the bruise and stuff.” She bit her lip. “Get a team out here. Find out if anyone recognises him, or if they’ve seen or heard anything suspicious. And a couple of uniforms out in the morning asking any regular users the same questions. And keep the bloody press away. We don’t need them tramping over stuff and making wild assumptions.”
“Right. Let’s see what see no, hear no, and speak no have to say for themselves.” She indicated the boys with a nod of her head.
Jacqueline Harrett writes crime novels under her own name and women’s fiction with Janet Laugharne under the pseudonym, J.L. Harland. Their debut What Lies Between Them was published by Dixi Books in 2022.
Visit Jacqui’s Amazon page here