Hilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are hoping to find inspiration at a weekend-long crime writing masterclass. However, when the guest of honour suddenly falls ill that evening, it triggers a series of sinister incidents which draw Hilary and Veronica into a real-life murder mystery. Can they separate fact from fiction to solve a deadly puzzle?
The queen of crime fiction herself, Dinah Halsgrove, is the guest of honour at a weekend-long masterclass in crime writing, giving the opening talk. But when Dinah suddenly falls ill later that evening, amateur sleuths Hilary Masters and Veronica Taylor can’t help being suspicious . . .
The boat had hardly nudged against the quay before Gavin leaped ashore. Ignoring the shouts of the crew and the men warping the craft more securely, he sped towards the car park.
Hilary, too, shouldered her way towards the gangplank, with Veronica more apologetically in her wake. It was a short brisk walk to where they had left the car on the quayside. Hilary zoomed out on to the road ahead of everyone else.
Back at Morland Abbey, she shot out of the car and made for the cobbled path to the entrance arch. Veronica’s longer legs overtook her. They both stopped short as they came out on to the wide lawns of the cloister garth.
It was not normal for vehicles to drive into this enclosed square of lawn and paths. But parked in front of the East Cloister was a yellow ambulance with green and yellow chequered bands along its sides. The blue lights across the roof were still flashing, evidence of the urgent haste with which it had driven from wherever the nearest accident and emergency hospital was.
They were just in time to see a stretcher being carried out of the door where, only a few hours before, Hilary had gone hurrying in to fetch her badge. She could not see the face, but with a sinking heart she knew for certain who it must be.
With a sense of inevitability Hilary stood back to let the ambulance drive past her, siren now blaring.
Gavin and Theresa were left standing forlornly in front of the lavender bushes. Hilary strode up to them.
‘It’s Dinah Halsgrove, isn’t it? What happened?’
Gavin turned a tragic face to her. ‘We don’t know yet. Of course, she was ninety-two. It could be anything, at her age. Heart attack, stroke. She’d asked for supper in her room, but when Theresa went to see if there was anything else she needed, Dinah was . . .’ His voice faltered.
Theresa beside him finished his sentence, somewhat grimly: ‘She was lying, slumped over the edge of the bed. She was out cold. Her skin looked . . . grey. I thought at first . . . well, you can imagine. The ambulance crew seem to think it’s touch and go. We’ll have to wait till she gets to hospital to know for certain. But it must be natural causes.’
Why should it not be? It seemed an odd thing to say.
THE WOUNDED SNAKE is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.