A macabre discovery beneath Brighton’s Royal Pavilion has links to the horrors of Pol Pot’s Cambodia in this absorbing mystery
Ex-Chief Constable Bob Watts is hoping to ease gently into his new role as Brighton’s first Police Commissioner but is hit with a shocking scandal involving the director of the Royal Pavilion. In the subsequent investigation, Detective Inspector Sarah Gilchrist and Detective Sergeant Bellamy Heap are bemused by the discovery of looted antiquities from Cambodia’s Angkor Watt in the tunnels beneath the Pavilion, but the further discovery of a corpse gives their investigation a darker hue.
As does the arrival in Brighton of a man who was once caught up in the horror of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. A man for whom redemption has become retribution.
About the Author
Peter Guttridge is the Observer’s crime fiction critic, and a longstanding fiction prize judge and chair at a wide range of literature festivals and events. He lives in Brighton, Sussex, where this novel is set.
Read an Excerpt
Those Who Feel Nothing
The Fifth Brighton Mystery
By Peter Guttridge
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 Peter Guttridge
All rights reserved.
Constable George Stanford liked the night shift. Aside from the money for unsocial hours he enjoyed the dark, especially here on the other side of the South Downs. He enjoyed the sight of a fox or a badger in the flare of the headlights. Occasionally he saw a wild-eyed deer, although he'd nearly wrecked the patrol car once avoiding one that had unexpectedly leaped out in front of him.
But three in the morning by the railway line in Hassocks on copper cable thieving watch was nobody's idea of a good time. Certainly not grumpy Constable Dennis Richardson with whom he'd been lumbered for the past six months. Stanford hated time-servers.
Richardson was grumbling about something or other – Stanford had tuned out ages ago – when they both saw a medium-height man with what looked like a heavy bag climbing over a fence on to the railway embankment.
'Where the hell did he come from?' Stanford said, nudging Richardson.
'It's where he's going we need to worry about,' Richardson said, opening his door.
Although both policemen were careful, the man turned, either at the sudden flash of light or at the sound of the car doors closing in the still night.
'Excuse me, sir,' Stanford called, his voice oddly amplified by the darkness.
The man didn't hesitate a moment. He dropped off the fence, abandoned his bag and set off at a run.
'Bugger,' Richardson said.
'You get the bag, I'll go after him,' Stanford said.
God, he hated chasing people when he was weighed down with all the stuff the modern copper was lumbered with. Clanking and clattering along, he heard Richardson get back in the car and start to follow. The man ducked away from the embankment and ran into a side street.
Stanford was a fit bloke. He ran on the treadmill in the gym three times a week. But all this bloody clobber hanging off him sapped him within a hundred yards.
By the time he got on to the side street the man had disappeared. He stopped and listened for the sound of the man's running feet. He could hear him – but where? He knew Hassocks well. A man could easily lose himself in the network of streets.
'Bugger it,' Stanford said.
Richardson pulled up alongside him. Stanford climbed back in the car.
'Judging by the clobber in his bag he's a copper thief all right,' Richardson said as he turned into the side street.
They crisscrossed the streets for ten minutes, windows down, listening for footfalls. They didn't see or hear a soul.
'Let's leave it,' Richardson said. 'We've done our duty – prevented a crime. And we can probably get some prints off the gear.'
He pulled on to the main road through Hassocks and headed towards Ditchling. As they came into the snake bend at Keymer, Stanford pointed at a car parked half on the pavement in front of the gates of Keymer church. The boot was open.
'He's after the copper in the church now,' Stanford said.
Richardson pulled up about ten yards down the road, also half on the pavement, and both policemen started back towards the car. Stanford glanced to his right, into the churchyard. He nudged Richardson. They stopped to watch as a light moved across the front of the church and disappeared around the side.
The wall was low and both men climbed over. Stanford grimaced as he splattered a slug with his hand. He wiped his palm on his trousers as Richardson pointed him to the left of the church. Richardson set off the other way to follow the torchlight.
Stanford moved cautiously between old gravestones. He had his torch in his hand but didn't want to use it yet. He didn't need to. It had been a cloudy night but suddenly a shaft of moonlight illuminated the ground in front of him.
Stanford looked at a mound of earth. He stepped closer and looked down into an open grave. He shone his torch into it. It took him a moment to make sense of the rotten planks pushed aside and the pale skull embedded in mud. Then someone pushed him hard in the middle of his back and he fell, forward and down.
Bob Watts was back. The disgraced poster boy for modern policing examined his face in his bathroom mirror as he pulled off his running gear. Not too bad, Bobby boy. The ex-chief constable of Southern Police had assumed his career in policing was dead in its tracks after the debacle of what the press dubbed the Milldean Massacre, in which armed police had shot and killed apparently innocent people. But now, thanks to stupid politicians who didn't understand policing but liked headlines, he was a law enforcer again.
Admittedly, his route was via an apathetic public, uninterested in what the politicians had foisted on them. But that didn't matter. He had won his election fair and square.
He might think the politicians were misguided but their decision gave him a new opportunity to make a difference. He hadn't thought the new, elected post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) was a good fit for the way policing was done in Britain but if the Southern Force was going to have a PCC, he was going to be it. He genuinely believed he was the best man for the job. And even if he wasn't he wanted it.
He had scheduled a private meeting for late morning with Chief Constable Karen Hewitt, his deputy back in the day, but he expected to encounter her before then at the champagne breakfast for the launch of the annual Royal Escape boat race from Brighton to Fécamp. That could be awkward.
Karen had taken over when he'd been fired as chief constable. He could guess how she'd feel about him being her boss again. He was eager to get started; she would be less eager.
After his shower he stepped on to the balcony of his newly purchased Brighton apartment and breathed in the salt air. He looked at the dozens of yachts and motor boats and sailing ships bobbing on the tide a couple of hundred yards out. They would set off at seven a.m. for the annual race that notionally commemorated the famous escape to France of the future Charles II after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Watts knew the story well because he had heard it so many times.
Charles hid in an oak tree for one night – this act bestowing on the future a myriad of pubs called the Royal Oak – then made his desperate way to Brighton where a local fisherman, Nicholas Tettersell, had been hired to take him from Shoreham to France. When Tettersell realized who he was carrying he demanded more money.
Watts could imagine that might have pissed the future king off, but on his return to England Charles had rewarded Tettersell and the skipper had died a relatively wealthy man.
Tettersell was buried in the graveyard of St Nicholas's Church up on the Dyke Road, his memorial the oldest in the oldest church in Brighton. His grave had been despoiled a couple of years ago, one of a number during a strange black magic thing going on in the town.
Watts looked down at the seafront lights and the lamps strung along the stubby finger of the Palace Pier.
This was his city. He was back.
Breakfast for Detective Inspector Sarah Gilchrist was unusually healthy. Muesli, mixed berries, yogurt and honey washed down with a big pot of green tea. She ate it on the balcony of her flat, looking down into the pretty communal garden below.
She stretched out her long legs and wiggled her bare toes. There was redness around them. She'd done a brisk run earlier in new trainers that had chafed a bit.
It was the first day of the rest of her life. She didn't necessarily believe in such markers but a number of things had happened at once to make it seem that her life was moving into a new phase.
From today she was officially confirmed as a detective inspector, after acting the role for six months. Her friend, Kate Simpson, who had been sleeping on the sofa bed in recent months, had moved out yesterday. Although Gilchrist had been happy to help Kate, and had enjoyed her company, getting her flat back felt great.
She cleared away her breakfast things, showered and dressed in a new trouser suit she'd forced herself to shop for at the weekend. She'd gritted her teeth a few months before to buy another trouser suit that she'd thought would last her a couple of years.
However, in her job she expected the unexpected, and she had not been disappointed. That suit had been binned about a week after its purchase when a bag of faeces had been dropped on her. She gave a little laugh as she muttered to herself: 'As so often happens in life.'
She much preferred her regular uniform of jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, but the region's first PCC was coming into the office today so she felt she should make an effort.
Daft, really, given Bob Watts, the new PCC, had seen her naked more than once during their brief and unsatisfactory affair. In recent months they'd reached a friendly, companionable state of being – albeit one with a soupçon of sexual tension. She wasn't sure how their friendship would play out now, given his new status.
She'd acknowledged him an hour or so earlier as their paths crossed running in opposite directions in tracksuit (hers) and shorts (his). She knew he'd got a swanky seafront flat with the money from the sale of his father's Thames-side house in London, but she hadn't seen it yet.
She heard the sharp beep of a car horn below her balcony and waved down at her colleague, Detective Sergeant Bellamy Heap, before locking the French windows. They were off to interview a club owner on Marina Drive.
She gave herself the final once-over in the hall mirror and let herself out of the flat. Just as she was closing the door she went back in and grabbed two chocolate bars from a drawer in the hall table. Being virtuous about healthy food was all well and good but no point being silly about it.
'Here's to Nicholas Tettersell, who made this possible.' The ruddy-faced man in the navy blazer and slacks raised his champagne flute to the assembled company.
'Nicholas Tettersell,' the company said in ragged unison as they drank his health.
Watts took only the smallest sip of his champagne. Drinking at six-thirty a.m. on an empty stomach was not something that appealed. He glanced round. That creep Bernard Rafferty, Director of the Royal Pavilion, looked like he was having trouble staying awake as he stood beside Karen Hewitt on the opposite side of the room. Well, she could be hard going.
Hewitt sensed Watts was looking and tilted her glass at him, a knowing smile on her face.
They were in a high-ceilinged, long-windowed room of a newly refurbished seafront hotel. A lavish breakfast buffet was laid out along one wall. There were about sixty people clustered near and on the room-length balcony looking out at the fleet of boats ready to sail.
Watts was with the new leader of the council, an affable but ruthless politician. 'Good to have you back in policing, Bob,' he said. 'Much missed.' He gestured discreetly towards Karen Hewitt. 'Not that the chief constable isn't doing a grand job ...'
Watts gave a non-committal smile. He didn't expect the leader to be sexist, so he assumed there must be some other reason for the veiled comment. He looked out at the sun glittering on the water. 'That's a remarkable range of boats and yachts,' he said.
'Gaff-rigged, solo and motorised,' the ruddy-faced man said, coming up beside them. 'We've got them all.' As he shook hands with the leader he handed Watts a pair of binoculars. 'But look at that one just coming past the end of the West Pier. It's steam-powered.'
Watts took the glasses. It took him a moment to focus them so his eyes swept across the strange beauty of the burned and buckled skeleton of the once great edifice; fire-bombed, it was rumoured, by jealous competitors. Then the binoculars caught sight of a slow moving boat with sails and steam puffing from an old-fashioned funnel.
'It's beautiful,' Watts said. 'But can it get across the Channel?'
The ruddy-face man laughed. 'It was easily capable of crossing the Atlantic in the 1920s. And did so. An old rum-runner from Prohibition days. It would stock up in Glasgow and hand over its cargo a few miles off New York, just outside American waters. Years later it did God knows what in the China Seas. It was berthed in Hong Kong until independence.'
'It's beautiful,' Watts said again, handing back the binoculars. 'Is it a regular entrant?'
'First time, I think,' the ruddy-faced man said.
Watts turned to him and held out his hand. 'I'm Bob Watts, by the way.'
'The new police commissioner,' the ruddy-faced man said, shaking his hand. 'Yes, I know. Ned Farage.'
'Where is that beautiful boat berthed these days?'
The man shrugged. 'All I know is that it berthed last night in the Marina – a lot of visitors berth there the night before the Race. Owned by a man called Charles Windsor.' He saw Watts' expression. 'No, not that one.'
Watts smiled and Farage looked through the binoculars again.
'That may be the owner sitting aft.'
He passed the binoculars back to Watts. Watts focused them on a broad-shouldered elderly man sitting straight-backed in a director's chair. He had a shock of white hair and a strong jaw. His face was also ruddy. He was dressed in some oriental-style, high-collared black jacket, his matching trousers flapping in the wind against thin legs.
Sitting beside him, speaking intently into his ear, was a handsome man around Watts' age. Watts assumed he was the skipper. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and his hair was crew cut. He looked fit and capable.
'I assume you mean the older man?' Watts said. 'Do you know him?'
'Not in the least. There's an antique shop with his name on it in the Lanes but I don't think he's ever there.'
Someone touched Watts' arm. He turned.
'Hello, Commissioner,' Karen Hewitt said.
The smartly dressed Asian woman was sitting on the low wall in front of the dodgems on Marina Drive, carrier bags at her feet. She scrutinized the face of every man who passed.
'What's that woman waiting for?' Gilchrist said to Bellamy Heap as they drove slowly by. 'There's no bus stop there.'
'She's waiting for her son to come back, ma'am,' Bellamy Heap said, working his way through the chicanes intended to discourage boy racers on this long, straight stretch down to Black Rock. 'She sits there every day, morning or afternoon. Been doing it for months.'
'Her son is missing?'
'Nine months ago, ma'am, as I understand it.'
'I believe so, ma'am.'
'And she thinks he's coming back here.'
'She spoke to a fortune teller.'
Gilchrist twisted her head to examine the woman more closely. The woman looked to be in agony.
'The fortune teller doesn't seem to have been a great help,' she said, facing forward again.
'I know,' Heap said. 'Apparently he told her that her son said he was coming back to her. That she had to wait in the places familiar to him and he'd return. However, he wouldn't necessarily look the same.'
Gilchrist clenched her jaw. 'That's appalling. Has no one tried to tell her otherwise?'
Heap nodded. 'A number of times.'
Gilchrist watched the woman dwindle in the rear-view mirror. 'So sad,' she said, almost to herself.
'She does a kind of circuit, ma'am. Couple of pubs, couple of roads.'
Gilchrist looked out of the window. Heap went wide to pass a woman on a bicycle pulling a trolley with her baby in it.
'God, I hate stupid women like that,' Gilchrist said sourly.
'Ma'am,' Heap said, his voice neutral.
'She's more interested in her health and the environment than she is in her own child. When she's involved in a crash and, heaven forbid, that little love of her life dies, she's going to blame the car that crashed into her. Which may be right, except she's equally to blame because she has taken her child out on the road in a contraption that means she can't keep an eye on what may be happening to her baby.'
Heap glanced at her and Gilchrist became conscious her voice had sounded strident.
'Still, at least the mother is physically fit,' she said, trailing off.
They drove on in silence for a moment.
'How surreal is that?' Heap said abruptly.
He was gesturing to a community police car going by the other way. Painted all over it were advertisements for the latest novel by a bestselling crime writer who lived locally. He had donated the car to the police.
Excerpted from Those Who Feel Nothing by Peter Guttridge. Copyright © 2014 Peter Guttridge. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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.