Meddling With Murder by Ellie Campbell
Series: Crouch End Confidential
Publisher: Across the Pond
Release Date: 9th April 2016
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Crouch End Confidential, the agency started by
housewife, Cathy O’Farrell, with ex-cleaner Pimple, is failing badly. Hardly
surprising when their only clients are little old ladies seeking lost pets.
Until the strange case of the missing dog…
possible murder weapon, the sabotage of her friends’ new shop, drug-dealing
yobbos targeting her children’s primary school and being forced to pose as the world’s
most inept maths tutor. Worse, best friend Rosa hires her to investigate fiancé
Alec and – horrors – Cathy’s husband Declan is intent on moving himself, Cathy
and kids to the safer climes of rural Norfolk. Suddenly Cathy is endangering
her marriage, friendships and her life to untangle these messes. But
that’s what you get for meddling with murder…
my weight against it. For a second I think it might snap but then my foot slips
and we part company anyway. Bark scrapes another layer off my grazed skin and
to my horror I find myself tipping backwards, falling, falling…
an unwitting squeal, Henrietta’s twins shriek in unison and I hear son Josh
call out ‘Mummeeee!’ when as much by luck as design my left arm catches a
forked limb long enough for me to grasp it and come to a bone-jolting,
shoulder-wrenching stop. Sweat drips down my body, my knees shake
uncontrollably and something’s poking between my ribs like a sharpened spear,
causing an actual hole through clothes into flesh.
the main trunk and cling there like my life depends on it. Which, for the
record, it does.
the fifteenth time. She’d wanted to climb up here but I’d told her it was too
dangerous. When will I listen to my own advice?
‘I’m OK, sweetheart. Perfectly safe.’ How long since I last clambered up a
tree? Me, an overweight, unfit middle-aged, mother-of-two in not so skinny jeans.
And what did I promise my family – that I’d avoid potentially risky situations?
That any cases I took on would absolutely not involve capturing murderers or
exposing criminals? Not that our patch of North London known as Crouch End is
inundated with killings, just that I’ve somehow succeeded in entangling myself
with two in the last eighteen months. And now the simplest of mundane jobs has
turned an everyday school drop-off into what could possibly be my final
clutching on to her younger brother’s arm, their long-standing feud forgotten
as they contemplate their mother’s plight. Lauren, Henrietta’s eldest by two
seconds, is hopping from foot to foot, pale with anxiety while her sister’s
nervously studying her watch. I wonder what’s upsetting them most – the thought
of Aunty Cathy’s untimely demise or being late for class. Yet again.
a tortoiseshell cat stares down with baleful yellow eyes. I hold out a coaxing
hand. ‘Here, Fluffy. C’mon, kitty. Pishhh whishh.’
paw before stalking further out, balancing on a twig, with the arrogant grace
of a tightrope walker. Oh how I wish I’d ignored him when I saw that
distinctive white-tipped tail swagger across the zebra crossing. But I’d spent
weeks scouring backyards, crawling on hands and knees, peeking under parked
cars, over hedges, listening to sweet old Mrs Thompson choke back sobs as I
scale higher when my mobile rings. I wedge my bum into a crevice between branch
and tree, tighten my hold and, with a few contortions worthy of the great
Houdini, extract my phone from my pocket to peer at the screen.
guess, posh sounding. She drops to a muted whisper so low I have to crane to
hear. ‘The HP…um…WS…um…thingy?’
this money, you see, ten thousand pounds, which was kind of hot, but gone cold.
Semi-illegal – not to be returned. Brilliant timing as my husband, Declan, had
recently re-evaluated what he wanted from life: Rhode Island Reds and a less pressurised
career, I’d been suspended from work and my house cleaner, Pimple, was tired of
domestic duties. I was thinking maybe it’s time I should do some soul-searching. So we, as in Pimple and myself,
decided to start up a business.
enough softness to encourage conversation. ‘The H.P.W.W.O.C.S. Helping People
Who Would Otherwise Commit Suicide. Or even H.P.W.M.O.C.S. – People Who Might
Otherwise…but we’re called Crouch End Confidential now.’ Impromptu market
research among friends had ended up with tongue-tied repetitions and lots of
themselves? Some people threaten it with no intention of going through with it
and others, not a word and then boom – lives are devastated. Then there’s those
who talk about it all the time and no one gives a hoot because they’re labelled
attention-seekers and before you can say boom again – they carry out what
they’d always said they’d carry out.
who help with, uh difficult problems, like er…’
up again at Fluffy. ‘Yes, we do a fair amount of those.’ Far more than
intended. ‘What kind do you have?’
At first I think it’s the cat, but it’s clearly a siren, volume increasing as
it draws closer. Exceptionally loud now. Anyone would think it—
edge to the woman’s voice. Or perhaps she’s merely anxious to be heard over the
cotton rip as I lean forward. A huge red vehicle’s speeding this way, lights
smoke but it must be nearby. They’re slowing down. They’re—’
expression distraught in the strobe lighting, finger pointing in my direction.
the phone as the siren abruptly cuts out. I turn away from the cluster of
grinning helmeted and booted firemen assembling at the foot of the tree as
someone cranks up the ladder. Fluffy takes one look, turns tail and bolts down
the other side. I modulate my voice to more professional tones. Perhaps I’d
better ring you back I’m about to suggest politely, but too late. She’s gone.
polish, climb into my swivel chair and wire myself up to the Skype headset.
bespectacled eyes scan the computer screen. They travel left and right, until
they finally focus on where I’m now perched facing the webcam, sporting a big
beaming smile. ‘Found you. Hang on a jiffy.’
clutching a wide-toothed comb and starts tugging vigorously at her tight curls,
turning them into a helmet of grey frizz.
again, emerging with pencil in hand. ‘Now update on yesterday?’ She licks the
lady and long-time friend. I both love and hate her enthusiasm for news. Love
that she’s still interested in our work even though she’s travelling the globe
on that luxurious cruise ship. Hate that I’ve nothing of interest to convey and
am very likely letting her down, business-wise.
lost track of the various time zones she’s travelled through.
midnight,’ she says cheerfully. ‘I’ve a card game booked in an hour and then
I’m off to the casino. Thought we might have a catch-up in between.’
my spreadsheet. ‘You remember that petrol station cashier with the lost
collar. Discovered he not only had two homes but three. All the owners met for
coffee. Arranged a feeding rota. She was very grateful.’
the right – Income. ‘Oh Pimple, I just couldn’t ask her to cough up.’ I drop my
head in shame and twist the headphone wire round and round my finger until it
turns bright pink at the tip. ‘She was skint, stony broke. Only got the cashier’s
job recently. Five kids to feed as well as the cat and still claiming benefits.
And that’s what the fund’s about isn’t it, helping those in trouble?’
viable concern here,’ she says. ‘Fair do’s, we agreed to support a few charity
cases, but we need paying ourselves at some stage.’
chasing. ‘Oh but I did find Fluffy this morning. Owned by Mrs Thompson.’
memory for detail.
swear. But then she pulled out this ancient threadbare purse—’
the book, that one. Bringing out the ancient threadbare purse. You’ll need to
wise up, Cath. Those houses on the Ladder are worth a bomb. What else?’ Her
pencil’s poised above her pad.
takes precisely three minutes as apart from our two ex-clients, there’s only
the newsagent who contacted me yesterday to ask if we’d investigate who’d been
stealing his papers and a schoolkid called Ben who’d rung Monday to say his new
mountain bike had been nicked and the police weren’t doing anything about it.
no joy to call back.
get home, after all.’ She lets out a sigh that sounds like a steamship in heavy
Money’s haemorrhaging faster than I can spell the word. We had to invest in the
computer because mine was horrendously slow. Then there was the cost of
stationery, surveillance equipment, etc. – all the paraphernalia needed in
setting up. At least office space is free. We’re based in Pimple’s Edwardian
semi-detached home, couple of miles down the road from Crouch End. Seemed daft
forking out when she had a spare room – perfect to shove two desks in. It’s
where I am now.
Because there’s a ploppy sound and she disappears into the ether, like Endora
reconnect, but nothing. No need to call back. We’ve both said what we had to.
The phone, the one all prospective clients are meant to call, is staring at me
Could be a fault and hundreds of sad souls have been trying to connect. Crying
out for help.
thirty, I’m bushed. Rest of the afternoon had been spent clearing up the
newsagent’s problem. I’d arrived at his shop, introduced myself, politely
listened to his plans for an elaborate stake-out and then suggested we first
have a good delve around the shop floor, back room and the flat above. Bingo.
Turned out, his elderly widowed mum was nicking the papers and hiding them
under her bed. Early signs of dementia at a guess but at least that’s that one
solved. For us anyway. Frankly it was too bloody efficient. Less than an hour’s
work but the poor guy’s got a long hard journey ahead. How could I possibly
ineffectual self, I need to toughen up. Do I really want to start again on a
trudge through to the kitchen.
is bubbling away on the six-ringed range cooker which dominates our good-sized,
somewhat country-style, kitchen. A heavenly tomato-ey aroma permeates the air.
Everything’s worked out great for him. He’s ridiculously happy with his new
postman’s job. Has to leave home at five a.m., but he’s always been an early
riser so never minds. Gets bags of exercise on his assigned pushbike, and he
finishes mid-afternoon, in time for the school run. Never mind that it pays
half what he earned before. It’s the quality of life that counts, right?
for me every weekday evening. All those years of wedded bliss with me muddling
along, running out of recipes and not really being faffed and now he’s
completely taken charge of the cooking. Wondrous.
‘Mmm. Smells delicious. You do know I’m out later?’
Once Weekly girls’ night. How could I forget?’ He turns to peck my cheek.
‘Thought I’d make a big stew anyhow. We can eat some over the next few days and
freeze the rest. Much more economical. Talking of which…’ He opens the fridge,
pulls out a used cardboard carton and lifts the lid with a cheesy grin. Five brown
eggs, still with a few feathers attached, smaller than shop-bought but hey.
‘Ta-dah. Even Pocahontas delivered. Fresh, free range, and best of all free.’
do an exaggerated who-gives-a-monkey’s shrug. Not that I’m averse to owning
chickens. Can be rather relaxing squatting outside their coop, watching them
scratch the earth and vie for pecking order. And Josh and Sophie wake
themselves up early each morning to see which hen’s laid what, which is a heck
of a lot better than me screeching at them to get out of bed. Plus free
anything’s great with my almost non-existent wages, but I don’t like admitting
it, because he bought them without consulting me – his wife. Then again, at
that time, he was acting weird and buying other things without consulting me
too. Like our super-expensive oven, which we’re still paying off. Male
menopause, my insurance broker reckoned. But we’re over that. Back on an even
keel. Perhaps not financially but definitely hormonally speaking.
and watch him stirring, tasting, stirring again.
on the Xbox, where else. He’s done his spelling homework, though he needs help
with reading later.’
paprika, dash of Worcestershire sauce then a variety of fresh and dried herbs.
He’s tall, few inches over six foot, gingery-brown hair, blue eyes. Irish born
and bred, although you’d never believe it from his London accent. His body’s
still good for his forty-three years. Actually, tell a lie, his body’s
fabulous, but that’s only because he gets to spend afternoons in the gym while
I’m slogging away in my office.
years. Not saying there’s been no ups and downs in that time, but the ups far
exceed the downs. My friends all consider him Mr Wonderful and sometimes I do
too, even though I maybe don’t say it often enough.
afternoon?’ I ask.
the kitchen table, now set for one sole diner, after doing the
bath-bed-book-lights-out routine. Declan’s preparing a salad and I’m enjoying a
quick cuppa before heading off.
sideboard behind him.
cherry tomatoes into even tinier quarters, ‘two teenagers were spotted hanging
around Princes Road Primary. Offered a pupil some substance. Guess which one?’
but they’re famous for blowing the slightest unsettling ripple into a tsunami
up and screw my forehead in concentration. ‘Heroin? Ketamine? Miu Miu?’
Italian designer, but I wasn’t meaning which drug, I was meaning pupil.’
tosses the tomatoes into a bowl, adding a drizzle of olive oil.
that family, I’ll bet it was something hideously toxic – like a Diet Coke. Or a
powdered doughnut.’ I’m not too familiar with Pip, but I’ve seen him around,
being the elder brother of Josh’s ex best friend, William. Once inseparable
they’ve recently gone their separate ways, or rather Josh dumped William for
another classmate. Slightly mortifying because I often bump into William’s mum
at morning drop-off. Truth be told, though, if someone’s heart had to break
over an early bromance, then I’d rather it wasn’t my kid’s.
back in and told his teacher.’
through the rest of the letter but the details are amazingly vague. ‘They’ve
got to, don’t they, to protect themselves. Besides Sheryl’s running the PSA.
And the way that woman overreacts, it ought to be the drama club. Remember when
she saw Custard lick William’s mouth and went into hysterics about intestinal
worms, giardia and rabies injections? And then when I’d finally calmed her down
and convinced her the poor dog had barely made contact and not to call an
ambulance, William piped up, “It’s OK, Mummy. He does it every time.” I’m sure
Sheryl was gloating like a goat.’
cucumber from the fridge and slices it into paper thin layers. ‘Holding court
when I arrived. Gaggle of parents hanging on her every word.’
that we should keep vigilant. Talk to our kids.’
gates at pick-up time. The teachers rushed out but the “yobbos”, as Sheryl
called them, had disappeared by then and there was nothing on CCTV.’ He digs
his fingers into an iceberg lettuce and expertly tears it apart. ‘Becoming
worse round here for sure. Honestly, I feel sorry for Josh and Sophie. Probably
have better survival chances with a pack of ravenous wolves than inner cities
today. Drugs at primary school, vandalism everywhere, fourteen-year-old
pregnancies. And that’s without random crazies, potential terrorism and the
suddenly whistle through the kitchen?
sight better adjusted than William and Pip, with their allergen-free,
sugar-free, gluten-free cotton wool existence.’
and pours himself a rare glass of wine. I mean rare for him, that is, rather
than vintage. For an Irishman his alcohol intake is shockingly moderate. ‘So
how was your day?’ He eyes me shrewdly. ‘Any more enquiries? Prospective
feel obliged to sound a bit more positive. ‘Terrible line but she was definitely
interested. Sounded right up our alley.’
of cases.’ Hopefully he’ll assume that means money in the bank.
that?’ He leans towards me and begins tugging at my hair, emerging with a tiny
twig between his fingers.
blowy outside today. Oh what’s that?’ I pick up a magazine lying on the Welsh
dresser and leaf through pages of bucolic landscapes, slightly uneasy at the way
he’s watching me – kind of sideways, mouth quirking.
brings the saucepan over to the table and ladles a portion onto his plate.
‘Advertising houseboats. Miles cheaper than conventional houses.’
Who’d want to live on a leaky old barge with no room to swing a cat?’
that weird expression, ‘not seen any lurking around lately, have we?’
around.’ I stand up so I can avoid his eyes, grab a dessert spoon from the
drawer and dip it into the bubbling mixture. ‘They say you’re never more than
six feet from one in London.’
like a silent flautist. ‘Stands to reason, where’s there’s rats there’ll be
cats. Supplement their Whiskas.’
were chattering about. Fire brigade had to rescue a mum who’d chased some cat
up a tree. All on YouTube. Children arrived at class forty-five minutes late.’
pointing at the oven clock. ‘Holy Christ, is it really quarter past? Meant to
be meeting the girls at eight thirty. I’ll never
be ready in time.’
Meet the Author:
for sisters, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell, who write together from their
respective homes in Surrey, England (Pam) and Colorado, USA (Lorraine). After
years of selling short stories independently, they began their Ellie Campbell collaboration
with a first novel, How To Survive Your Sisters, followed by When Good Friends
Go Bad, Looking For La La, To Catch A Creeper and Million Dollar Question. They
write contemporary women’s fiction laced with humour, romance, and mystery.
Meddling With Murder is their 6th novel and follows Looking For La La and To
Catch A Creeper in the funny, cozy ‘Crouch End Confidential’ mystery series.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
This Cover Reveal was organized by
2 thoughts on “**Cover Reveal for Meddling With Murder by Ellie Campbell**”
Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thanks so much for hosting our cover reveal:)