Death of a Dormouse

Death of a Dormouse

by Reginald Hill


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Trudi Adamson has lived her life in fear: of strangers, of asking questions, of angering her husband, of leaving the house. When her husband dies in a car accident, she retreats even further into her cocoon of ignorance and incuriosity. But staying there isn't an option; her husband apparently died broke, and Trudi's best hope lies in suing the company responsible for his death. That means asking what her husband was doing on a remote stretch of Yorkshire road. Even the painful knowledge that a woman was involved only leads to larger, more baffling questions. By the time Trudi's done unraveling the truth, her cozy refuge will be in ruins, but the quivering dormouse, too, will be history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780892962600
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 08/28/1987
Pages: 288

About the Author

Reginald Hill (1936-2012) was an English crime writer best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe series. He began the series in 1970 with the book A Clubbable Woman; he would go on to write two dozen books in the series, which would later be adapted by the BBC. In 1995 he was awarded the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. The last book he published before his death was 2010's The Woodcutter.

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'Trudi? Trudi Adamson? My God! Trudi, is that really you?'

'Well, it's me anyway,' said Trudi.

'Where're you ringing from? Vienna? You're so clear!'

'No. Not Vienna. Sheffield.'

'Sheffield. You mean Sheffield Yorkshire?'

The note of Celtic incredulity made Trudi laugh. Perhaps this had been a good idea after all.

'If there's another, please tell me. I'd probably prefer it.'

'But what are you doing in Sheffield?'

'Living here, Jan. I've been living here for three whole days.'

A silence at the other end as though this were too much to take in; then in a perceptibly casual tone, 'And Trent?'

Trudi laughed. The second time in a minute. Perhaps in a decade? She said, 'No. I've not run away or anything. Trent's here too of course. That's why I'm here. He's been moved again. I thought when we got to the centre of things three years back, that would be the end of it. But evidently not. And this time, I got two days' notice, would you believe it?'

'From what I know of Trent, yes. But at least this time, he's brought you back to England.'

'That's right. And naturally I thought, now I'm here and so close, first thing I've got to do is ring Jan and fix to see her.'

It was a lie.

The last time the two had talked had felt like the last time ever. Friends since school, they had seen little of each other over the past quarter century as Trudi drifted across the face of Europe in her husband's wake. But they had kept in touch with fairly regular letters and cards. Then a year ago Janet's husband, Alan Cummings, had died. They should have returned to the UK for the funeral, but Trent had pleaded a vital business trip. Trudi had fully intended to travel alone, but night after night she had started waking full of terror at the thought of going all that distance without Trent. Agoraphobia was what they had called it all those years ago when she had refused to leave the house after her father's death. Twice in her marriage the terror had returned. Drugs and psychotherapy had got it under control. But here it was again and Trent had seemed callously indifferent both to her fears and Janet's grief.

'Don't go then. Ring Jan. Tell her you're sick. She'll understand.'

She hadn't. Grief, tension, drink perhaps, had combined explosively. 'Neither of you coming, is it? Trent was one of his oldest friends! And you, you cow! Who looked after you at school? Me! Who got you your job? Me! Who got you your sodding husband? Me! And now you can't stir yourself when I need you! Useless sodding bitch!'

The phone had gone down hard. Trudi had written an apologetic letter. There was no reply, nor had her Christmas card been reciprocated that year.

Trudi had resigned herself to feeling this chill on her one old friendship thicken into permafrost. She regretted it, but lacked the energy or the will to resist it. Had Trent urged her to action she might have made a move. But he hadn't, becoming more and more distant and self-absorbed in the past twelve months.

But it had been Trent who, in the three days since their return to England, had become a passionate advocate of reconciliation. Ring Jan, he urged. You don't make new friends so easily you can afford to dump old ones.

This was cruel, but he had compensated by adding with a rare smile, Fix up to meet her one day soon. Tomorrow if she's free. I'll drive you over. It's only thirty miles over the hills. Then I'll come and pick you up at night.

And again as he had left, he had said, Ring Jan. Arrange to meet. It'll do you good, you'll see.

Then he had driven away in his rented car, leaving her in their rented house. What had made Trent pick this place she did not know, but she admitted she was biased against it from the start. The move had been so rapid that her own furniture was still in store in Vienna, and the lack of the familiar sights and smells of her comfortable apartment there was a constant irritation, keeping her from that pleasant supineness which was her normal waking state.

In the end, untypically restless, she had gone to the phone and dialled Jan's number.

And it had been worthwhile! Trent as usual had been right.

But now her naturally fearful view of life, her sense that cups are generally raised only to be dashed, set out to prove that it was as right as Trent.

Janet was speaking again. Putting her off.

'Trudi, I'm sorry. But I can't talk now. I'm sorry, but oh, crazy it is, and I should maybe have written, but it's all happened pretty quickly, like your move, well, not so quickly as that, but quick enough!'

Janet's Welshness still broke loose at moments of high excitement and hearing it now took Trudi back thirty years.

'Calm down and tell me what you're talking about,' she said.

'Well, I'm getting married again, aren't I? Yes, today! Now! This very minute almost. It's just a registry office job this time, of course. When I heard the phone ring I thought it's Frank (that's the unlucky fellow), the bastard's ringing to call it off. But if I don't rush, we'll lose our place in the queue and then it'll be off whether I like it or not. Oh Trudi, I'm sorry. No guests you see, but if I'd known you were going to be so handy, you could've been matron-of-honour or something!'

Here was a reasonable explanation for any oddity of reaction. A year ago she had been abusing her friend on the phone for not attending her first husband's funeral; now she was having to apologize for not inviting her to her second wedding!

'Jan, that's marvellous,' said Trudi, straining for conviction. 'Many congratulations.'

'Thanks. Look, I really must go. Then straight after the ceremony we're off to the Costa del somewhere for a week. Ring me then, promise? Oh shit. I won't be here, we're moving into Frank's house in Oldham and I can't recall the number. Here, give me your address and number. I'll ring you.'

'Hope House, Linden Lane,' said Trudi, adding the telephone number.

'That sounds posh.'

'It might have been fifty years ago. Now it's an ancient monument. Thank heaven it's just on a short lease,' said Trudi.

'Oh, we have become choosy in our old age,' said Janet. 'Look, I really must go, girl. I'll be in touch, I promise.'

After she had replaced the receiver, Trudi stood in a confusion of feeling. Trent had been right. It really had felt good to talk to Janet again. But counterbalancing this was a feeling of illogical resentment at her re-marriage. All that hysteria a year ago, and here she was getting married again! No, it wasn't some awful moral self-righteousness which was bothering her, Trudi assured herself. It was more like simple jealousy. She could hardly expect to get her friend back when she was just starting to share her life with a new husband.

She made a resentful face in the old pier glass hanging behind the phone. Its chipped and peeling gilt frame was symptomatic of this dark suburban villa Trent had brought her to, but perhaps it was too well suited to the picture it now contained. Viennese cooking had turned her dumpy, forty-five years had turned her grey. Only her eyes, clear and brown, belonged to the girl who'd married Trent Adamson a quarter of a century ago. She almost wished they too had turned dull and old and could no longer see so clearly.

The doorbell rang, distracting her from the displeasing image.

The door opened into a glass-sided storm porch. Through the rippled glass she could see a man, flanked by the two ghastly stone gnomes which guarded the main door of Hope House. The man seemed to be in uniform. She opened the outer door and saw he was a young policeman, with his cap in his hand.

That should have warned her. When policemen remove their hats they don't bring good news. But his accent was so broad and his face so unrearrangeably jolly that it took a little time to realize he wasn't simply collecting for something.

Slowly she made sense of him.

There had been an accident.

She knew at once that Trent was dead.

She knew it as she sat in the police car on their way to the hospital.

She knew it as she listened to a staff nurse explaining that someone would be along shortly.

She knew it when a soft-spoken man in a blue suit showed her Trent's tempered steel identification bracelet.

At last, as if worn down by her silent certainty, they too admitted it.

'I'm sorry Mrs Adamson. I'm afraid that your husband is dead.'


A week in Sheffield had been long enough for Trudi to take a strong dislike to the place.

She found it cold, drab and ugly, and the people were not much better. The north of England was almost more foreign to her than anywhere else in Europe. She disliked in particular the way everyone addressed her as 'love' or rather 'luv'. It felt like an invasion of privacy.

It was only now that she began to realize just how little in truth her privacy was likely to be invaded.

She knew no one. No one knew her. She went home and sat and waited for tears to come. When they didn't she tried to induce them by going back over her life with Trent, like a video run in reverse. But nothing happened till she went beyond their wedding day and found herself suddenly three months earlier at her father's funeral.

Now the tears came close. How regressive a thing was grief, she thought. Then the moment was past and her cheeks were still dry.

She took a strong sleeping pill and went to bed.

She awoke to instant remembrance but when she cautiously explored her feelings she discovered a barrier, thin as cellophane round a packet of biscuits, but irremovable without the risk of damage.

So she turned away from feelings and concentrated her thoughts on the bureaucracy of death.

Another policeman came, a sergeant, older, more solemn.

'Just a formality, luv,' he said. 'Just a few details.'

He noted Trent's full name, his age, his business.

'This firm he works for. Silver Rider ...'

'Schiller-Reise of Vienna.' Trudi spelt it out. 'It's a travel company. Reise means "journey". And Schiller is the name of the man who runs it.'

'Oh aye? German, is it?'


'And they've got an office here.'

'Well no, I don't think so,' said Trudi hesitantly. She felt the officer regarding her dubiously and she pressed on. 'They're in most big European cities, of course. But I'm not sure about the UK. Probably that's what my husband was doing, setting something up. He travelled a lot in his work, looking at hotels, locations, amenities. He used to be an airline pilot himself.'

She produced this last statement as if somehow it justified the preceding vagueness about Trent's work. The sergeant looked unimpressed.

'Is that right?' he said. 'Well, I reckon Sheffield'd be as good a centre as anywhere.'

He did not say for what.

There would, he told her, be a post-mortem; routine after any sudden death.

The facts of the accident were tragically simple.

It had happened a few miles south of the city in the Derbyshire Peak District. The car had been parked at the side of a narrow undulating country road. A fertilizer truck moving at speed had come over a rise some fifty yards behind it. It had been raining earlier in the day. There was muck on the road surface which was long overdue for repair after the previous bitter winter. The driver had braked, the truck had skidded, caught the parked car from behind and driven it a hundred yards before slamming it into a telegraph pole. The truck driver had been flung out of his cab.

'Lucky for him,' said the sergeant, perhaps in search of some consoling circumstance. 'Old farmer working in the fields saw it all. Said the car went up like a bomb. Fractured the tank likely. And he seems to have been carrying some spare fuel in a jerry can in the boot. Probably for his scooter.'


'Aye. We found the remains of one of them foldaway motor-scooters in the boot. Didn't you know he had one?'

'No,' said Trudi. 'I didn't know. Perhaps he hired it with the car.'

'Aye. Mebbe. Well, one thing, Mrs Adamson, it must've been quick.'

In support of this assertion he educed the fact that identification had only been effectable through the number of the hired car and the name on the fireproof bracelet.

Realizing too late that these considerations were as likely to aggravate as to ease pain, the well-meaning sergeant hopped from the past to the future, pointing out that the police would be swift to establish the extent of the truck driver's responsibility as soon as the man came out of hospital.

'Shock; broke his collarbone and a few ribs falling out of his cab; and he got pretty badly scorched too. Well, he would. Like an inferno. Burnt the telegraph pole like a Yule log, brought all the wires down, you know. Sorry, luv. All I mean is, you'll want to get your insurance company working on this. And your solicitor too, I shouldn't wonder. You've got someone to help you with all this, have you? Someone to talk to? Friends?'

'Oh yes,' said Trudi, with dismissive certainty.

She thought of Janet in distant Spain. There was no one else to think of, but there was no way of contacting her even if she wanted to. It was bad enough working out who to contact in Vienna. Friends? She couldn't think of anyone close enough to require a personal notification. Shyness, agoraphobia, call it what you will, but a woman who gives the impression that the end of any social occasion can't come soon enough doesn't attract friendship. Consciously or unconsciously, Trent had encouraged her isolation, rarely bringing people home, rarely involving her even in business entertainment. Herr Schiller, the head of the firm, was the only one of Trent's senior colleagues she had met more than a couple of times socially. She had not much liked the old man, but he had seemed to take a benevolent interest in Trent's career and for the sake of her husband she had put on her best social face. It seemed to have worked, for Trent had risen close to the top. But Schiller was old now, semi-retired and invalid, and it would be no kindness to contact him direct. In the end, she sent a telegram to Schiller-Reise's head office and left it to them to pass on the news where and how they saw fit.

By the day of the funeral, there had been no response, and the vicar in the cemetery chapel was clearly disturbed to be faced by a congregation which, bearers apart, was divided evenly between the quick and the dead.

But before the service started, the door opened and a man came in. He had a narrow intelligent face which was hard to put an age on, particularly as the eye was diverted by his hair which in a woman would have been called beautiful, worn rather longer than was fashionable, and swept back in powerful waves of rich black, becomingly tinged with grey. His elegance was underlined by his clothes which were of such immaculate manufacture that the professional bearers shifted uneasily in their shabby mourning.

He came straight to Trudi, stooped over, took her hand and said in German, 'My dear Mrs Adamson, what a tragedy! What a loss! Believe me, I am truly devastated.'

It was only at this point that Trudi recognized Franz Werner, her husband's, though not her own, Viennese doctor. She hardly knew the man, certainly did not know his relationship with Trent went beyond the professional to the extent of flying eight hundred miles to catch his funeral.

This was explained to some extent as they followed the coffin out of the chapel. Perhaps aiming at a therapeutic distraction, he told her in a reverential whisper that he had been on the point of departing from Vienna to attend a conference in London when he had heard the news.

'I admired your husband greatly. I am proud to think I was his friend as well as his physician. So I rearranged my schedule in order to be here.'

'That was kind,' said Trudi.

They were approaching the open grave.

'We will talk later,' said Werner.

What about? wondered Trudi, who was finding it very hard to believe that this brass-handled box contained her husband. Her husband. Who was he? What had he been? She concentrated hard upon his image but found that somehow her knowledge seemed to stop round about their wedding day. Up till then, there were plenty of people willing to fill in on Trent's origins. East-ender, orphan, Barnardo boy who had grabbed with both hands the opportunity offered by the war to advance himself. He had made per ardua ad astra his own personal motto, his best man, an old RAF chum, had said at the reception. And he had finished his drunkenly risqué speech by saying, 'One thing the boys always said about Trent, you might not trust him with your wallet or your wife, but by Christ, old Trent was the chap you wanted to fly with. He always came back!' Well, old Trent wasn't coming back this time.


Excerpted from "Death of a Dormouse"
by .
Copyright © 1987 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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