Bethulia – Thorne Moore

This week Crime Cymru’s Thorne Moore tells us about her new novel – Bethulia. For Thorne this marks a move into a new sub-genre of crime fiction – a bold move and I’m sure a successful one……

My latest crime fiction, Bethulia, breaks new ground for me, in that it is, almost, for the first and probably last time, a police procedural. Or at least it follows the investigation of a detective, Rosanna Quillan, but she is primarily driven by her private obsessions, rather than official duties. Her mother had been driven to suicide by domestic abuse, so she is determined to keep worrying at another case, the seemingly inexplicable suicide of another wife, Alison Delaney.

Alison is one of three women, with Danny and Jude, who were sworn sisters as girls, but their friendship has been put under strain by the arrival in their lives of Simon Delaney. The book follows Jude’s eager determination to have him, alongside Rosanna’s determination to prove him a coercive killer.

In this extract, Rosanna first arrives on the scene.

* * *

DS Gray turned into Tork Lane from Soweridge High Street. “Cat got your tongue, girl? Not squeamish or something?”

“No, Sergeant.”

Gray was referred to, repeatedly, with a roll of the eyes, as “Old School,” which apparently meant sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic… just about everything now judged unacceptable. He had adapted to changing times by following every inappropriate remark with a chuckle and “but I suppose I’m not allowed to say that any more.”

Rosanna found it easiest to block him out and keep her thoughts to herself. Be objective. Observe. Take mental notes, stay calm.

Soweridge: typical quaint Oxfordshire village.

Tork Lane: scattered houses hiding behind double gates and long drives of finely raked gravel. Half-acre gardens along here, and names instead of numbers. Shrubs and trees mature enough to deter prying eyes. Which wasn’t stopping eyes trying to pry. The area bristled with so many Neighbourhood Watch signs that any drama would add a welcome spice. Death even better.

Suicide. Don’t think back. Be objective. Observe.

The car turned a bend and slowed to a crawl. This was it then.

Three houses, two on one side of the lane and the third, Summervale, opposite, the gates and the front door standing wide and its spectral shrubs dancing in blue flashing light. A sea of gravel was cluttered with vehicles, including an ambulance, its rear doors wide open. 

 “Right. Here we go.” DS Gray grunted as he released his seat belt and struggled out. DC Ben Morgan greeted them, with a friendly nod to Rosanna.

She nodded back, surveying the house, making mental notes. Mock-Tudor, brick and half-timbering with mullioned windows and ornately twisted chimneys, ivy and Virginia creeper. It should belong to a retired solicitor whose wife held bridge evenings. Was that what the dead woman had been? An elderly lady tired of bridge? Or tired of her solicitor. Finally ground down by her solicitor…

Gray belched as he squinted up at the house. “All right, so what’s the low-down then?”

“Apparent suicide, sir. Upstairs, back room on the left. Female, thirty-two. Alison Delaney. There’s no sign of disturbance or forced entry to suggest anyone else was in the house at the time. Husband found her and called 999. They’ve got him in the sitting room for now.”

Gray turned to the DCs. “Come on then, girlie. Let’s see if you know how to be useful. Morgan, got your notebook?”

Rosanna followed her colleagues up to the open bedroom door at the rear of the house. Irony dictated that her first fatality had to be a suicide. She fixed on details to keep at bay that growl of anger permanently swilling deep inside her. The bedroom was large, elegant, utterly impersonal. No books half-read, no slippers, let alone the discarded bags, mugs, underwear littering Rosanna’s own room. Fitted wardrobes. A clock-radio on one of the bedside tables but nothing else. En-suite bathroom, its door ajar. Curtains wide, the sky golden beyond the quaintly latticed windows.

Rosanna forced herself to turn to the bed, partly shielded by a paramedic gathering up his equipment. He stepped back and she could see the figure sprawled across the duvet. Arms and legs akimbo, long fair hair concealing most of the face, one hand clenched tight on the satin cover. Rucked skirt, rumpled blouse, no shoes. She got a whiff of vomit and worse.

Gray stood hoisting his trousers up over his bulging belly. “No sign of life?”

The paramedic shook his head. “Nope. She’s been dead for hours. No foetal heartbeat, of course.”

“She’s pregnant?”

“Husband says four or five months.”

Ben Morgan peered down at a gin bottle on the bed. Empty. “DIY abortion gone wrong?”

“No, this was suicide all right, with this amount of pills and booze.”

“Right.” Gray scratched his head then turned back to Rosanna, stepping aside to let her take a better look at the contorted body. It wasn’t resting in peace. “Not a pleasant sight, eh, Quillan? Not going to throw a wobbly at the sight of a corpse, are you?”

Rosanna kept calm. “No, sir.”

“Well, you never know with… but I mustn’t say that, must I? Doc’s been yet?”

“On his way,” said Ben, and whispered in Rosanna’s ear. “Just ignore him.”

She allowed herself a grateful smile, though she didn’t need Ben Morgan’s support. She’d handled far worse than DS Gray, long before she’d joined the force. She concentrated on the scene before her.

“Why here?”

“Eh?” Gray turned to her. “What you mean?”

“It’s not her room, is it?” She flipped open a wardrobe door to confirm what she suspected. Empty except for a collection of hangers. She stepped into the bathroom. No toiletries except for an expensive handwash. The cabinet was open, nothing in it except an empty gin bottle and a crumpled pill packet. Much like the emptied packet and the bottles that surrounded the figure on the bed. “It’s a guest room. So why here?” repeated Rosanna.

Gray’s eyebrows rose. “Didn’t want to soil her own nest? Women are like that.”

“No risk of neighbours looking in?” suggested Ben.

“Curtains would do that.” Rosanna walked to the window. No other houses in sight, just a lawn and trees, their branches bobbing in the breeze, against a twilit backdrop of open fields. The promise of fresh air. She needed to breathe. “This was shut?” If the paramedic had already handled the latch, it couldn’t hurt to touch it now.

“Won’t open,” the paramedic replied. “I tried. They’re all locked. Can’t find a key.”

Gray wasn’t interested in the windows. He was examining the packets on the bed. “Antidepressant. Any sign of a note?”

“Not that we’ve found.”

“What did she have to feel depressed about? Some people don’t know they’re born.” Gray gave another belch and rubbed his stomach.

“People can feel suicidal wherever they live,” said Ben.

“Selfish anyway. Waste of life, grieving relatives and too much work for us.”

“I’ll question the husband, shall I?” interrupted Ben.

“What? Oh, yes, and take girlie with you. He might respond to the woman’s touch. Just don’t let her start cosying up to him, eh?”

Without a word, Rosanna followed Ben out to the stairs. He gave a sympathetic smile. “Don’t let him get to you. He’s one month off retirement and he’s making the most of goading everyone.”

“I can deal with his sort. But he shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions so soon, should he? We don’t know for certain it’s suicide.”

Ben shrugged as he reached the hall. “Yes I know, assume nothing, believe nothing, etcetera, but it’s unlikely to be anything else. And Gray likes speedy solutions. So we’d best speak to the husband, if he’s up to it. They’ll have made him a cup of tea but I don’t suppose that will have been much comfort.”

Tea. Rosanna had a memory flash of a beaker of orange squash pressed into her hands. A memory of her drinking it because her mouth was so dry it hurt. A neighbour saying, “That’s better, isn’t it?” and it wasn’t better at all.

“No, I don’t suppose it would be,” she said, following Ben into the drawing room.

A man was standing at the marble fireplace, his back to them as he leaned on the mantelpiece, his face buried in his arms, his shoulders heaving. At the sound of their entry, he raised his head and stared at them in the mirror, before turning to face them, breathing heavily.

“Mr Simon Delaney?” asked Ben.

“Yes. Jesus, I don’t understand it. Why? Why did she do it?”

“Let’s sit down, shall we, Mr Delaney? I’m DC Morgan and this is DC Quillan. I know you must be in a state of shock, but if you’re up to it, I would like to ask you some questions, just so that we can have a clear idea of what happened with your wife.”

“What? Okay, yes of course.” Delaney slumped down into an armchair. Head in hands, he heaved a sob.

Ben perched on a chair opposite him. “Your wife, Alison, I understand she was pregnant? Four months, I think the paramedic said.”

“Nearly five!” The words began as a whisper and ended as a howl. “My daughter! How could she?” Delaney squeezed his eyes shut in a visible effort to control himself, his hands gripping together convulsively.

Rosanna, standing apart, watched him with detachment, leaving the compassion to Ben.

Despite the distraught dishevelment, Simon Delaney was gym-fit, taller than average, dark and handsome – probably knew it too. People that good-looking always did. Rosanna guessed that in normal circumstances he’d be immaculately groomed, never a well-styled hair out of place. But circumstances weren’t normal. His hair had been raked through, and his linen shirt was crumpled, the front splattered with wet patches as if he’d either spilled drink or vomited and mopped himself down. Sweat stains were spreading under the armpits – no anti-perspirant was designed to cope with a wife’s suicide.

Rosanna had witnessed a fake show of grief; she knew what that looked like. This seemed genuine enough. His wife had killed herself and he was left to struggle through a maelstrom of bewildered grief, rage, guilt, all the usual responses to bereavement. She knew how it worked.

“So, Simon. Is it all right to call you Simon? Good. I’m Ben. Now, as I understand it, you found your wife. Would you like to tell me about it? You came home from work? Where’s that?”

“London. My main office is in London.”

“And you were there all day? What time did you travel in, this morning?”

“I caught the seven-thirty train.” Delaney mopped his damp forehead.

“And you left your office when?”

“Er, the meeting finished just before five. I got the train back… no, I stopped for a drink first. Sorry. I forgot that. I caught the six-fifty-something train back.”

“And then you drove straight home from the station? Just want to get the timing right. You arrived home then, about what? Eight-ish?”

“Yes, I suppose, about that. I don’t know. I just drove home, that’s all. And I found her lying there! I mean, how could she do it to me?”

Ben nodded understanding. “So you found her. How soon?”


“You let yourself in – presumably you weren’t instantly alarmed when you found that she wasn’t there to greet you?”

“Oh. No. Well, I don’t know. She likes to be there to greet me. But everything was so silent. I called, you know, ‘Alison, are you there?’ She didn’t reply so I went up to see if she’d gone to bed, but she hadn’t. So I went looking for her.”

“The door of the back bedroom was shut, was it?”

Delaney’s head jerked up a fraction. Trying to remember a detail? There was a momentary look of panic in his eyes, before they closed, and opened again full of tears. Rosanna’s skin prickled.


“But you looked in there, anyway.”

“Yes. Well, only after I’d looked everywhere else.”

“You didn’t just assume she’d gone out for the evening? Gone to see a friend maybe?”

A pause. He licked his lips. “Alison doesn’t like going out in the evening alone – only if I’m with her. She’s always waiting for me when I get home.” He looked from Ben to Rosanna, adding hurriedly, “She hasn’t been well. She gets nervous.”

The prickling in Rosanna’s skin began to claw. Dutiful wife or troubled woman, either way he’d known she’d be there waiting, but it hadn’t stopped him staying in London for a drink or two or three.

Ben nodded. “So you knew she must be in the house and you looked in the back bedroom.”

“Was that door locked?” asked Rosanna. “Had she locked herself in?”

Delaney was motionless for a moment, seemingly confused by a second interrogator.  “No.” He took a deep breath. “No, she didn’t lock it.”

“The windows are locked.”

The sinews of his neck stiffened. “We always keep them locked.”

“Do you know where the keys are?”

He stared at her, then exploded in irritation. “God, I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“Probably not,” said Ben. “Never mind that. The door wasn’t locked and you went in.”

“Yes! And there she was. It made no sense at first. I immediately shook her, felt for a pulse, but it was obvious she was dead.” It was a very pat response, rehearsed, but he trembled, despite his keenness to get the words out.

“Sorry if this is distressing for you. I’m afraid any case of unexpected death has to be investigated. So, I have to ask, did her suicide come as a total surprise? Did she do, say anything beforehand, to suggest she might be intending to do something like this?”

“No! Why would she? She was having my baby, for Christ’s sake.”

“She wasn’t depressed? There was a lot of medication there.”

“I…” He was fidgeting, hands clenching, one eyelid twitching uncontrollably. “I knew the doctor had prescribed something, but that was… She had been depressed, drinking too much – she’d had some professional setbacks and they left her a bit vulnerable, I suppose.”

“What sort of setbacks would those be?”

“She dreamed of being a concert pianist, but it didn’t come to anything. She was disappointed, really down about it. Quack gave her pills, but we’d agreed they’d stop with the pregnancy. No more pills, no more alcohol. We’d agreed.”

“And yet there was plenty of alcohol in the house.”

“But she wasn’t allow… I didn’t know she’d stashed away bottles of gin! Do you think I’d have left them there if I’d known?”

“You’d have confiscated them.”

Delaney almost blurted an answer but hesitated at the last moment. “We’d agreed she wouldn’t drink. She knew it was for the best. And she didn’t need the pills. Once she was pregnant, she didn’t need to worry about anything else. I thought it would be enough for her. It should have been enough for her.”

Rosanna dug her nails into her palms. Judgements shouldn’t be based on the words of someone deranged by sudden bereavement. She should be keeping an open mind. But she really wanted to smack this man.

Thorne Moore has had nine novels published in all (two of them Science Fiction). Her crime novels include A Time For Silence, which reached the Bookseller top ten list, and its prequel, The Covenant, two novels, Shadows and Long Shadows, set in the same Welsh house over a period of 700 years, and two books, Motherlove and The Unravelling, set in a fictional version of Luton. Fatal Collision, set in Pembrokeshire again, was published by Diamond Crime, in 2022, and her latest novel, Bethulia, also with Diamond Crime, came out in January 2023.

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3 thoughts on “Bethulia – Thorne Moore

  1. This scene, like the rest of the book, creates such a vivid sense of place and person, and already I’m feeling a range of emotions as it plays out.


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