I’m noted for my sense of humour, which I describe as one-megaton. Most of the time, I can see the funny side of any situation. At the same time, I have a passion for mysteries; anything and everything from the supernatural to good old whodunits from the likes of Conan Doyle, Christie and Simenon.
Perhaps it was natural for me to turn my writing hand to light-heart mysteries, so-call cosy crimes, and back in 2012 I submitted the first such volume, The Filey Connection to Crooked Cat Books.
Filey introduced the world (or that part of it which reads my work) to the born-again teenagers of the Sanford 3rd Age Club, run by their triumvirate committee of Joe Murray, Sheila Riley and Brenda Jump.
Joe runs a truckers café in the fictitious town of Sanford, West Yorkshire, and the two women work for him. They are also, coincidentally, his best friends. Out of hours, they are the quickest wits of quick-witted amateur sleuths
Eight years on there are twenty volumes in the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery series, and as I write this (late April 2020) #21 is nearing completion.
As an appetiser, here’s a short extract from The Filey Connection.
Joe, Sheila and Brenda are taking breakfast on the terrace of their hotel, when PC flowers arrives to tell them that one of the club members, Eddie Dobson is missing, presumed dead.
“Mr Dobson was fishing out on the Brigg, sir,” reported the police officer, “and apparently slipped and fell in the sea. The currents are quite strong there, especially when the tide’s on the ebb, as it is now. One of the other anglers raised the alarm, and the inshore lifeboat was called out, but by the time they got there, his body was probably washed out to sea. There were red smears on the rocks, which looked fresh, and may have been blood. We won’t know about that until samples are analysed. If so, it seems likely that as he fell, he struck his head on the rocks and was dragged under. Without a body, he’s officially posted as missing, but we’re not hopeful of finding him and I think we can take it that he’s dead.”
Listening to Flowers, Joe recalled that he’d seen the inshore lifeboat rushing off across the waters, a long dinghy leaving a broad wake in its trail as it skipped over the surface like a stone across a pond.
“And no one saw nothing?” he asked
“One or two of the other fishermen noticed him when he first arrived.” Flowers consulted his notes again. “They described him as a tall gentleman dressed in baggy jeans and an overlarge T-shirt, carrying a wax jacket.”
Joe shrugged and relit his cigarette. “I never saw him this morning, so I don’t know how he was dressed. How can you be sure it was him?”
“Well, we’re not, sir, but the bag has an identification label bearing his name.” Flowers patted the rucksack. “When we checked the contents, we found the key to room 102 inside. The moment I asked Mrs Pringle, she knew who I meant and pointed me to you.”
“A tragic accident,” Sheila commented.
“It looks that way, madam. No one saw him actually fall, but one or two people heard him cry out. Obviously, by the time they got to his pitch, he was gone.” The constable drank more tea. “Tell me, do you know if he was particularly worried or depressed about anything? I only ask because most anglers know how treacherous the rocks can be and they take extra caution when they’re walking out to their pitches. An experienced angler would know to tread carefully, but if he had something on his mind, it could account for him slipping.”
Joe shrugged. “Being divorced or separated is depressing, being divorced or separated and living in Sanford is enough to make anyone suicidal. You don’t think he jumped, do you?”
Flowers mirrored the shrug. “Anything’s possible, sir. We don’t think there are any suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident, and we certainly don’t believe there was anyone else involved. My inquiries are merely routine.” The officer’s brow creased. “You said a moment or two ago, sir, that Mr Dobson seemed to be the centre of attention. Could I ask what you meant by that?”
Joe laid a beady eye on Brenda. “We were talking about him last night, at the disco. He was a bit of a wallflower, and we’re going to Scarborough tonight, for the Abba Tribute show, but he didn’t want to come with the rest of us on the bus. He was gonna make his own way there.”
A solemn silence fell over them, each lost to their own thoughts.
Sheila broke it. “There was no one on shore who saw anything?”
Flowers shook his head. “He was on the north side of the Brigg, madam, the side that looks towards Scarborough. When the lifeboat got there, they reported a few people walking along Gristhorpe Sands, a good half mile away, and our lads are out there now, but I haven’t heard anything yet.” Flowers finished his tea. “Could I ask a favour? I need to leave his personal effects with someone so they can be passed on either to him, should he return, or to whatever family he may have had. Would you mind taking them?”
Brenda nodded. “Of course.”
Flowers stood up and tucked his notebook away. “Thank you madam, sir, madam. I’ll take my leave of you. And please accept my, er, condolences, I suppose. It sounds as if you people were the closest he came to friends.”
The policeman left and the three STAC members sat in brief silence.
“What an awful thing to happen. First Nicola and now Eddie.” Tears welled in Brenda’s eyes. “Oh dear. I think I’m going to …” She reached into her bag for a tissue and Sheila patted her comfortingly on the shoulder.
Joe looked away. Women who cried always made him feel guilty.
“Cheer up, Brenda,” Sheila encouraged. “After all, we don’t know for sure that he’s dead, do we?”
Joe almost commented, but caught himself in time. That cop was sure Eddie was dead, and so was Joe.
His eye fell on the rucksack, a large affair of woven polyester in drab, army green, with an identification label set into the front pocket. Written by an erratic hand, the label read Eddie Dobson. Its various pockets bulged and there was a small, folding stool strapped to it.
Shifting the tea tray and cups out of the way, Joe plucked the rucksack from the flagstones, grunting with the unexpected weight, and dropped it on the table in the space he had just created.
Unzipping the main compartment, he removed a sturdy, black case and flipped open the lid revealing bite alarms and their leads. Pushing that to one side, he investigated further, taking out packs of lures, hooks, spare lines, a high-speed reel, and other angling items, until the compartment was empty.
A frown creased his already wrinkled brow. Turning the carryall round, he opened the two side pockets, took out a pair of chain mail gloves from one and a wallet of pirks from the other. His frown deepened. Slowly, methodically, he went through every compartment in the bag, and finally sat down again, chewing thoughtfully on his cigarette.
“That’s odd.” His cigarette had gone out. Relighting it, he asked, “Brenda, did you say he was going to be out on the Brigg all day?”
“That’s what the man told me,” she replied, “and you, yourself, said he paid Sarah Pringle for a packed lunch.”
Joe’s puzzlement increased in proportion to the number of wrinkles on his forehead. “Yeah, and that’s what’s odd.”
Sheila and Brenda exchanged knowing glances. They had heard that tone before in Joe’s voice and it usually spelled a mystery.
“What’s odd?” ask Sheila.
“I’ve been in catering all my life. There isn’t nothing I don’t know about it. Now here’s a man who’s gonna spend all day sitting on wet rocks dangling his rod and line in the sea. He’s gonna be out there, over half a mile from land, a good mile from the nearest shops and yet, look.”
He tilted the bag forward so they could see its contents.
“No packed lunch. No thermos, not even a bottle of water or a bar of chocolate. Not a single item of food. It’s almost as if he knew he wouldn’t be coming back.”
Whetted your appetite? Want to know more?
If you’re a fan of whodunits written with a healthy dose of humour, then take a look at what the Sanford 3rd Age Club has to offer:
(External link, takes you to the relevant site.)