Early one morning in the quiet English village of Larking, the body of a woman named Mrs. Jenkins is found in the road. Miles away, her daughter, Henrietta, receives the bad news while working in the university library. Poor Mrs. Jenkins appears to have been the victim of a horrible car accident.
When an autopsy proves not only that this was no accident but also that Mrs. Jenkins had never had a child, young Henrietta’s life is thrown upside down. If she’s not Mrs. Jenkins’s daughter, then who is she? It’s up to Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan of the Calleshire police force to bring the murderer to justice—and a sense of order back to Henrietta’s life.
Proclaimed by the New York Times in 1968 to be one of the year’s best books, Henrietta Who? is a first-order English whodunit that’ll keep you guessing until the end.
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A C. D. Sloan Mystery
By Catherine Aird
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Catherine Aird
All rights reserved.
Harry Ford was a postman. He was a postman of a vintage that is fast disappearing—that is to say he still did his delivery round on a bicycle. The little red vans had reached the large village of Down Martin but his own round of the smaller ones like Larking and Belling St. Peter was just as quick on two wheels as on four.
And he, for one, wasn't sorry. Gave you time to think, did a bicycle, even if it was a bit chilly at six o'clock of a dank morning in March. He was well muffled up against the cold, though, and he didn't mind the half dark. Besides, there were compensations. Another few weeks and he'd be abroad in that glorious early morning light that did something for the soul.
He braked gently as he coasted round the corner into Larking. He knew exactly where to brake on this road. In fact, there wasn't much of the village he didn't know after delivering its mail all these years.
An outsider would have said Larking was typical of a thousand other English villages. And, as it happened, this was true, though the people of Larking wouldn't have liked it. It had all the appurtenances of a normal village and the usual complement of important—and self-important—people: two different groups.
Spiritual leadership was provided by the Reverend Edward Bouverie Meyton (his father had been an admirer of Pusey). He lived at the rectory on the green by the church (one Diocesan leaflet, three appeals, a Missionary newsletter, the quarterly report of the Additional Curates' Society and an interesting letter from the Calleshire Historical Association).
Secular leadership came from James Augustus Heber Hibbs, Esquire, at The Hall (an assortment of bills, two closely typed pages of good advice from his stockbroker, a wine list, a picture postcard from his cousin Maude, and a letter from Scotland about a grouse moor).
Harry Ford, postman, was not deceived. He knew as well as anyone else that real power—as opposed to leadership—was vested behind the counter at the post office cum general store in the vast person of Mrs. Ricks (one seed catalogue: Mrs. Ricks rarely committed herself to paper).
Larking shared a branch of the Women's Institute with the neighboring hamlet of Belling St. Peter (Mrs. Hibbs was president) and a doctor with a cluster of small communities round about.
And everyone thought they knew everything about everyone else.
In which they were very mistaken.
Harry Ford looked at the post office clock, dimly visible through the uncurtained window—though only from habit. He had done the round so often that he didn't need a clock to know that—saving Christmas and a General Election—he would finish his Larking delivery at a quarter to eight in the fartherest farmhouse, where—letters or not—he would fetch up in the kitchen with a cup of scalding tea.
Only it didn't work out that way this morning.
For ever afterwards he was thankful that he had been on his bicycle and not in a little red van. If he had been in a van, as he frequently reiterated in the days that followed, he couldn't possibly have avoided the huddled figure that was lying in the road.
"Right on the corner at the far end of the village," he said breathlessly into the telephone after he had taken one quick look and pedaled furiously back to the telephone kiosk outside the post office. "Lying in the road. Do come quickly," he implored the ambulance. "If anything else comes round that bend they won't be able to avoid her either."
That word "either" was full of profound significance.
"Where exactly?" demanded the man at the ambulance station. Larking was deep in rural Calleshire and the whole of that part of the county was an intricate network of minor roads. And it wasn't really light yet.
"Through Larking village proper," said Ford, "and out on the other road to Belling St. Peter."
"The other road?" countered the man on the telephone, who had been caught out by bad directions before.
"Not the main road to Belling. The back road. Come to Larking post office and then fork left and she's about a quarter of a mile down the road on the bad bend."
"Right you are. You get back to her then." The duty man on the Berebury Ambulance Station switchboard flipped a lever which connected him with the crew room. "Emergency just come in, Fred. Back of beyond, I'm afraid. Woman lying in the road."
"Caller didn't say she was alive," he said reasonably, "and he didn't mention injuries. Just that she was lying in the road."
"Dead then," said the experienced Fred.
"Or drunk," said the man in charge who had been at the game even longer.
She wasn't drunk.
Harry Ford, going back to have a second, more considered look, decided that beyond any doubt at all she was dead. He had been almost sure the first time by the inadequate gleam of his bicycle lamp but now with the sky growing lighter every minute he was absolutely certain.
Her Majesty's Mails being his prime concern, he propped his bicycle safely in the deep hedge, that same deep hedge that made this a blind corner, then he came back and stood squarely in the middle of the road. He would be seen by anyone coming now. Not, he decided, that there was ever likely to be much traffic on this road—still less so early in the morning.
This line of thought proved productive.
Not only, now he came to think of it, would there be almost no vehicles using this road first thing in the morning but it was equally unlikely that anyone would be walking along it either.
Still less a woman.
A man, perhaps, walking up to one of the farms to do the milking, but not a woman.
He considered in his mind the houses beyond. There were about six of them before you could say you were really out of Larking and then there was a two mile stretch with just three big farms, then Belling St. Peter.
Harry Ford advanced a little.
He might know her himself come to that—he knew most Larking people.
But he hadn't taken more than a step when he heard something coming. It was too soon for the ambulance; besides the direction was wrong. He cocked his head, listening. It wasn't a car either, he decided, getting out into the middle of the road ready to wave anything on wheels to a standstill. Quite suddenly the oncoming noise resolved itself into a tractor which pulled up to a quick halt as the driver saw him.
"Accident?" shouted the man at the wheel above the engine noise.
"'Fraid so," shouted back Ford.
The tractor engine spluttered and died and there was a sudden silence.
"She's dead," said Ford.
The young man got down from his high seat. It was one of the sons of the farmer from farther down the road, by the name of Bill Thorpe.
"I found her," said Ford.
Not that it looked as if she'd been hit by a bicycle.
"She's from one of the cottages, isn't she?" said Thorpe, peering down. "You know, Harry, I think I know who she is."
Ford, who to tell the truth, hadn't been all that keen on having a really close look on his own, was emboldened by the presence of the young man and bent down towards the cold white face. "Why, it's Mrs. Jenkins."
"That's right," said Thorpe.
"Boundary Cottage," responded the postman automatically. (The odd letter, no circulars, very few bills.)
Thorpe looked round. "Hit and run," he said bitterly. "Not even a ruddy skid mark."
"It's a nasty corner," offered Ford.
Thorpe was still looking at the road. "You can see where he hit the verge a bit afterwards and straightened up again."
Ford didn't know much about cars. "Too fast?"
"You'd have thought anyone would have seen her," agreed Ford.
"Walking on the wrong side, though."
"Depends whether she was coming or going," said Ford, who was the slower thinker of the two.
"I should have said she was walking home myself," pronounced Thorpe carefully. "Last night."
"Last night?" Ford looked shocked.
"If that mark on the grass is his front tire after he hit her when she was walking along the left hand side of the road towards her home."
"But last night," insisted Ford. "You mean she's been here all night?"
Thorpe scratched an intelligent forehead. "I don't know, Harry, but she isn't likely to have been walking home this morning in the dark, is she?"
Harry Ford shook his head. "A very quiet lady, I'd have said."
"And," continued Thorpe, pursuing his theory, "if she'd been going anywhere very early she'd have been walking the other way. No, I'd say myself she was going home last night."
"Off the last bus, perhaps," suggested the postman.
"Her daughter's not at home then," said Ford firmly. "Otherwise she'd have been out looking for her."
"No, she's away still. Back at the end of term." He looked down at the still figure in the road and said, "Sooner now."
"I rang the ambulance," said Ford, for want of something to say.
Thorpe moved with sudden resolution. "Well, then, I'll go and ring the police. Don't you let them move her until they come."
Thorpe paused, one foot on the tractor. "Poor Henrietta. No father and now no mother either."
Police Constable Hepple came over from Down Martin on his motorcycle and measured the road and drew chalk lines round the body and finally allowed the ambulance men to take it away. He, too, knew Mrs. Jenkins by sight.
"Widow, isn't she, Harry?" he said to the postman.
"That's right. Just the one girl."
He got out his notebook. "Does she know about this?"
"She's away," volunteered young Thorpe. "At college."
"Do you know her exact address?"
But young Thorpe went a bit pink and said rather distantly that he did not. So P.C. Hepple made another note and then measured the tire mark on the grass verge.
"I'd say a 590 × 14 myself," offered Thorpe, who was keen on cars. "That's a big tire on a big car." Now that the body had gone he could talk about that more freely too. "Those were big car injuries she had."
P. C. Hepple, who had reached much the same conclusions himself, nodded.
"'Tisn't what you'd call a busy road," went on Thorpe.
"Busy!" snorted Harry Ford. "I shouldn't think it gets more than a dozen cars a day."
"Even the milk lorries all go the other way," said Thorpe, "because it's a better road."
"Did you have any visitors at the farm last night?" Hepple asked Thorpe.
"Not a soul."
"Perhaps it was someone who'd taken the wrong turning at the post office." That was the postman.
"Wrong turning or not," said Hepple severely, "there was no call to be knocking Mrs.
"And," said Thorpe pertinently, "having knocked her down to have driven on."
It seemed to Henrietta Jenkins that she would never again be quite the same person as she had been before she stepped into the cold, bare police mortuary.
A sad message, telephoned through a series of offices, had snatched her from the Greatorex Library where she had been working. A succession of kind hands had steered her into the hastily summoned taxi and put her onto the Berebury train. She had been barely aware of them. She vaguely remembered getting out at Berebury more from force of habit than anything else. A police car had met her—she remembered that—and brought her to the police station.
Voices had indicated that there was no need for her to identify the body just now. Perhaps there were some other relatives?
No, Henrietta had told them. There was no one else. She was an only child and her father had been killed in the war.
Perhaps, then, there was someone close in Larking who would ...
Henrietta had shaken her head.
She had shaken her head again. Now.
Something like this was only possible if you didn't think about it. She heard herself say—very politely—"Now or never."
She had followed a policeman down a long corridor. She didn't think she had ever seen a policeman without a helmet on—absurd the tricks one's mind played at a time like this.
He drew back a white sheet. Briefly. And looked not at the still face lying there but at Henrietta's own live one.
She nodded speechlessly.
He laid the sheet back gently and led the way back to the world of the living. Henrietta was shivering now but not from cold. The policeman—she noticed for the first time that he was a sergeant—brought her a cup of tea. It was steaming hot and almost burnt her mouth but Henrietta drank it thirstily, gladly giving the hot liquid all her attention.
Even the sensation of pain, though, could not drive away the memory of the mortuary.
"It's the smell that upsets people," said the police sergeant kindly. "All that antiseptic."
"It is a bit dank," admitted Henrietta shakily. The detached, educated half of her mind noted how primitive it was of her to be so grateful for human company; but nothing would have taken her back into that other room again. Only if the body had been that of a stranger could she have borne that.
The sergeant busied himself about some papers on his desk while she drank. Presently she said,
"Sergeant, what happened?"
"The Larking postman found her lying in the road, miss. She'd been run over by a car on that last bad bend as you leave Larking village."
"I know the place. Why?"
"Why was she knocked down? That we don't rightly know, miss. You see, the car didn't stop."
Henrietta stifled a rising wave of nausea.
"We'll pick him up, sooner or later, you'll see," said the sergeant. "Someone will have seen his number."
Henrietta said dully. "The number doesn't really matter to my mother or me now."
"No, miss." It seemed for a moment as if he was going to explain that it mattered to the police but instead he said carefully, "Constable Hepple found her handbag—afterwards—and there was a letter from you inside it."
"I always wrote on Sundays."
"Yes, miss. People do that are away. Sunday's the day for that sort of thing."
"I wish I'd had time to say something before."
The sergeant offered what comfort he could. "There's not a lot really needs saying, miss, not when it comes to the point. Families have said everything long ago, or else it's something that doesn't need saying." He paused. "What about tonight, miss?"
"I shall be all right."
"We'll run you home to Larking, of course, but ..."
"It's something I've got to get used to, isn't it?" she said. "Being alone from now on."CHAPTER 2
Police Constable Hepple of Down Martin was a conscientious man. First of all he measured the tire mark in the grass and drew a plan. Then he borrowed an old sack from Bill Thorpe's tractor and covered the imprint against damage. After that he began a systematic search of the area.
He was rewarded with the discovery of Mrs. Jenkins's handbag, knocked out of her hand and flung into the long grass by the roadside. He took charge of this and continued his search but found nothing else. The letter inside from Henrietta having given her address he telephoned this and his report to his headquarters at Berebury, leaving to them the business of finding her and telling her the bad news.
He himself went back to the scene of the accident and took a plaster cast of the tire mark. He then proceeded—as he would have said himself—to Boundary Cottage. He checked that it was safely locked—it was—and then went on to visit the other five cottages. Three of these were in a short row and two others and Boundary Cottage were detached, standing in their own not inconsiderable gardens.
There was no reply from Mulberry Cottage which was Boundary Cottage's nearest neighbor—some people called Carter lived there—but all the occupants of the others and of the two other farms besides the Thorpes said the same thing. They had had no visitors the previous evening. They had heard and seen nothing.
Hepple went home and wrote out a second, slightly fuller report, and spent part of his afternoon in Larking village trying to establish who had been the last person to see Mrs. Jenkins alive.
It was because of his careful checking over of Boundary Cottage that he was so surprised to have a telephone call from Henrietta the next morning.
"Someone's been in the house," she said flatly.
"Have they, miss? What makes you think that?"
"In the front room ..."
"Yes?" He had his notebook ready.
"There's a bureau. You know the sort of thing—you can write at it but it's not exactly a desk ..."
"It's been broken into. Someone's prised the flap part open—they've damaged the wood."
"When did you discover this, miss?" Henrietta looked at her watch. It was just after ten o'clock in the morning. "About ten minutes ago. I came straight out to ring you."
Excerpted from Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird. Copyright © 1973 Catherine Aird. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Easy read in the Agatha Christie category. Straight forward who -dunnit that kept me guessing to the very satisfying conclusion. No sex, no swearing. Will read more from this author. If you are looking to kick back with a cuppa and a wily DCI, then this is great choice.
Much better than her 1st installment in the series. This one has an interesting plot: a woman is found dead, apparently run over by a car. She left behind a daughter in college, but the daughter turns out not to be who everyone thinks she is. The question is, "who is she?" Sloan must unravel this puzzle in order to solve this most vicious crime.I liked it; it held my attention and offered a variety of suspects. I didn't figure out the killer which is always a plus. Recommended for those who like police procedurals and British mystery in general. Now on to #3!
I enjoyed this book and was guessing who the murder was until the end.
Ten dollars for 154 pages. Are you kidding me. Last one by this author I'll buy.