cover missing


About the Book

About the Author

Also by Ruth Rendell

Title Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23



About the Book

‘Wexford had never told anyone. The strange relationship, if it could be called that, had gone on for years, decades, and he had never breathed a word about it. He had kept silent because he knew no one would believe him. None of it could be proved, not the stalking, not the stares or the conspiratorial smiles, not the killings, not any of the signs Targo had made because he knew Wexford knew and could do nothing about it.’

Chief Inspector Wexford had almost made up his mind that he would never again set eyes on Eric Targo’s short, muscular figure. And yet there he was, back in Kingsmarkham, still with that cocky, strutting walk.

Years earlier, when Wexford was a young police officer, a woman called Elsie Carroll had been found strangled in her bedroom. Although many had their suspicions that her husband was guilty, no one was convicted.

Another woman was strangled shortly afterwards, and every personal and professional instinct told Wexford that the killer was still at large. And it was Eric Targo. A psychopath who would kill again…

As the Chief Inspector investigates a new case, Ruth Rendell looks back to the beginning of Wexford’s career, even to his courtship of the woman who would become his wife. The past is a haunted place, with clues and passions that leave an indelible imprint on the here and now.

About the Author

Ruth Rendell was an exceptional crime writer, and will be remembered as a legend in her own lifetime. Her ground-breaking debut novel, From Doon With Death, was first published in 1964 and introduced readers to her enduring and popular detective, Inspector Reginald Wexford.

With worldwide sales of approximately 20 million copies, Rendell was a regular Sunday Times bestseller. Her sixty bestselling novels include police procedurals, some of which have been successfully adapted for TV, stand-alone psychological mysteries, and a third strand of crime novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.

Rendell won numerous awards, including the Sunday Times Literary Award in 1990. In 2013 she was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE, and in 1997 became a Life Peer.

Ruth Rendell died in May 2015.

The Monster in the Box

Ruth Rendell


















































































The years passed two or three, of them. As Wexford had predicted, Yasmin Rahman received a suspended sentence for assisting an offender, the offender being her son Ahmed, convicted for the unlawful killing of Eric Targo. Ahmed spent the last year of his sentence in an open prison and was released on licence. By that time his family had moved away from Glebe Road, where some of their neighbours, notably Ian Scott – now with a new partner – and the occupants of Burden’s old home, had made life uncomfortable for them. Having secured three fairly good A levels at Carisbrooke Sixth Form College, Tamima had just begun a four-year course in Islamic studies at a university in the Midlands.

The Rahmans now lived in Myringham where Mohammed still worked but inside the office, the head of social services having decided it would be unwise for him to risk catcalls and other abuse from clients. Yasmin’s criminal record made very little difference to her life. As for Osman, he had given up nursing and was at University College London, studying for a medical degree.

It was a Sunday in summer when Ahmed came to Wexford’s house. Once more without a gardener, Wexford was at home mowing the lawn, or, rather, after half mowing the lawn, had given up in disgust and was sitting in a deeply cushioned cane chair outside the French windows, reading a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett. Ahmed hadn’t come through the house. He must have entered the front garden on his way to the front door and seen Wexford from there. He walked softly over to within a few feet of him and cleared his throat. Wexford looked up.

‘I’m afraid I’m disturbing you,’ Ahmed said.

‘That’s all right. How are you?’

‘Not bad. Better than I have been.’

Wexford laid his book face down on the table beside him. ‘What brings you here?’

‘I want to tell you something. A confession really. May I sit down?’

For a moment the sun seemed to have darkened and someone else, something invisible yet grimly present, appeared to have entered the garden and strutted up on to the paving. No one was there, yet Wexford could see a shadow fall, the stocky muscular figure, the white hair and the thick blue-and-white scarf wound round its neck. Ahmed repeated his last words.

‘May I sit down?’

‘No, Ahmed,’ Wexford said, ‘I don’t think you may because I don’t want to hear what you have to say.’

‘I have to tell you. I think you’ll be pleased. You hated him too. When my mother was out of the room, I did –’

Wexford interrupted quietly but with firmness. ‘I’m not hearing this,’ he said, getting up. ‘I’m hearing none of it. I haven’t even seen you.’ He went into the house by way of the French windows, closing them behind him.

Ahmed stood outside for a moment, mouthing something, holding up his hands, but the image of Targo, which had never really been visible, had gone. Was he going to say what I think he was? Wexford asked himself. What else could he have been about to confess? But I won’t think of it. I will never think of it again but put the monster back in its box and throw the box onto the rubbish heap. The best place, the only place, for him.

Chapter 1

HE HAD NEVER told anyone. The strange relationship, if it could be called that, had gone on for years, decades, and he had never breathed a word about it. He had kept silent because he knew no one would believe him. None of it could be proved, not the stalking, not the stares, the conspiratorial smiles, not the killings, not any of the signs Targo had made because he knew that Wexford knew and could do nothing about it.

It had gone on for years and then it had stopped. Or seemed to have stopped. Targo was gone. Back to Birmingham yet again or perhaps to Coventry. A long time had passed since he had been seen in Kingsmarkham and Wexford had thought it was all over. Thought with regret, not relief, because if Targo disappeared – more to the point, if Targo never did it again – what hope had he of bringing the man to justice? Still, he had almost made up his mind he would never see him any more. He would never again set eyes on that short, muscular figure with the broad shoulders and the thick sturdy legs, the coarse fairish hair, blunt features and bright blue eyes – and the mark that must always be kept covered up. Wexford had only once seen him without the scarf he wore wrapped round his neck, a wool scarf in winter, a cotton or silk one in summer, a scarf that belonged to one of his wives perhaps, no matter so long as it covered that purple-brown birthmark which disfigured his neck, crept up to his cheek and dribbled down to his chest. He had seen him only once without a scarf, never without a dog.

Eric Targo. Older than Wexford by seven or eight years, a much-married man, van driver, property developer, kennels proprietor, animal lover, murderer. It was coincidence or chance – Wexford favoured the latter – that he was thinking about Targo for the first time in weeks, wondering what had happened to him, pondering and dismissing the rumour that he was back living in the area, regretting that he had never proved anything against him, when the man appeared in front of him, a hundred yards ahead. There was no doubt in his mind, even at that distance, even though Targo’s shock of hair was quite white now. He still strutted, straight-backed, the way a short man carries himself, and he still wore a scarf. In his left hand, on the side nearest to Wexford, he carried a laptop computer. Or, to be accurate, a case made to hold a laptop.

Wexford was in his car. He pulled in to the side of Glebe Road and switched off the engine. Targo had got out of a white van and gone into a house on the same side as Wexford was parked. No dog? Wexford had to decide whether he wanted Targo to see him. Perhaps it hardly mattered. How long was it? Ten years? More? He got out of the car and began to walk in the direction of the house Targo had gone into. It was one of a terrace between a jerry-built block of flats and a row of small shops, an estate agent, a nail bar, a newsagent and a shop called Webb and Cobb (a name Wexford found amusing) once selling pottery and kitchen utensils but now closed down and boarded up. Mike Burden had lived here once, when he was first married to his first wife; number 36, Wexford remembered. Number 34 was the house Targo had gone into. The front door of Burden’s old house was painted purple now and the new residents had paved over their narrow strip of front garden to make a motorbike park, something Burden said he resented, as if he had any right to a say in what the present owners did to their property. It made Wexford smile to himself to think of it.

There was no sign of Targo. Wexford walked up to the offside of the van and looked through the driver’s window. It was open about three inches, for the benefit of a smallish dog, white and a tawny colour, of a feathery-eared, long-coated breed he didn’t recognise, sitting on the passenger seat. It turned its head to look at Wexford and let out a single sharp yap, not very loud, not at all angry. Wexford returned to his car and moved it up the road to a position on the opposite side to the white van, between a Honda and a Vauxhall. From there he could command a good view of number 34. How long would Targo stay in there? And what had he been doing with the laptop or the laptop case? It seemed an unlikely place for any friend of Targo’s to live. When he had last seen the owner of the whitish-tawny dog and the white van, Targo had been doing well for himself, was a rich man, while Glebe Road was a humble street where several families of immigrants had settled and which Burden had moved out of as soon as he could afford to.

He noted the number of the white van. He waited. It was, he thought, a very English sort of day, the air still, the sky a uniform white. On such a day, at much the same time of year, late summer, he had visited Targo’s boarding kennels and seen the snake. The scarf round Targo’s neck had been of black, green and yellow silk, almost but not quite covering the birthmark, and the snake which he draped round it had been the same sort of colours, the pattern on its skin more intricate. Accident or design? Nothing Targo might do would surprise him. The first time he had seen him, years and years ago when both were young but he, Wexford, was very young, Targo wore a brown wool scarf. It was winter and cold. The dog with him was a spaniel. What was it called? Wexford couldn’t remember. He remembered the second time because that was the only time Targo had been for a few minutes without a scarf. He had opened the front door to Wexford, left him standing there while he picked a scarf, his wife’s, off a hook and wound it round his neck. In those few seconds Wexford had seen the purple-brown naevus, shaped like a map of some unknown continent with peninsulas running out to his chest and headlands skimming his chin and cheek, uneven with valleys and mountain ranges, and then Targo had covered it . . .

Now the front door of number 34 opened and the man emerged. He stood on the doorstep talking to a young Asian, the occupant, or one of the occupants, of the house. The young man, who wore jeans and a dazzlingly white shirt, was at least six inches taller than Targo, handsome, his skin a pale amber colour, his hair jet black. Targo, Wexford noticed, might have grown old but he still had a young man’s figure. The T-shirt he wore showed off his heavily muscled torso and the black jeans emphasised his flat stomach. He had left the laptop behind. While he was in the house he had taken off his blue-and-white scarf. Because it was warm, no doubt, and, incredibly, because it was no longer needed for concealment. The birthmark had gone.

For a moment Wexford asked himself if he could possibly have made the wrong identification. The yellow hair had gone white, he couldn’t see the bright blue eyes. It was the purple naevus which had been the distinguishing mark and which primarily identified him. But no, this was Targo all right, squat, stocky, muscular Targo with his cocky walk and his confident stance. The Asian man walked a few steps down the short path with him. He held out his hand and, after a slight hesitation, Targo took it. Asians shook hands a lot, Wexford had noted, friends meeting by chance in the street, always men, though, never women. Someone had told him the Asians at number 34 owned the defunct Webb and Cobb next door – for what that was worth. No doubt they received rents from the tenants of the flats above.

Targo came across to the van, opened the driver’s door and climbed in. Wexford could just about see him stroke the dog’s head, then briefly put his arm round it and give it a squeeze. If there was any doubt left, the dog identified him. A memory came to him from the quite distant past; the first Mrs Targo, by then divorced, saying of her ex-husband, ‘He likes animals better than people. Well, he doesn’t like people at all.’

The white van moved off. It might be unwise to follow it, Wexford thought. He hadn’t much faith in his powers of following a vehicle without its driver spotting him. It would be easy enough to find out where Targo now lived, harder to say what use discovering his address would be. He sat there for a few moments longer, reflecting on how the first effect of seeing Targo had been to make him aware of his own physical short comings. Yet when he had first seen him, all those years ago, he had been a tall young policeman, very young and very fit, while Targo was squat and over-muscled and with that horrible facial mark.

Sometime in the years since they had last encountered each other, Targo must have had the naevus removed. It could be done with a laser – Wexford had read in a magazine article about new remedies for disfigurement and deformity. The man had been making a lot of money and no doubt he had spent some of it on this improvement to his appearance as others had their noses reshaped and their breasts augmented. The strange thing, he thought, was that Targo still sometimes wore a scarf even on a summer’s day – until he remembered and stripped it off. Did he feel cold without that neck covering he had been wearing for most of his life?

A girl was walking past his car, starting to cross the street between it and the Honda. She looked about sixteen, wore the dark blue skirt and white blouse with a blazer which constituted the uniform of Kingsmarkham Comprehensive and, covering her head, the hijab. In her case it was a plain headscarf, the same colour as her skirt, but, unflattering as it was, it failed to spoil her looks. Her dark brown eyes, surmounted by fine shapely eyebrows, glanced briefly in his direction. She went towards the house Targo had come out of, took a key from the satchel she carried and let herself in. Too old to be the daughter of the handsome young man. His sister? Perhaps.

Five minutes later he was parking the car on his own garage drive. Instead of letting himself in by the front door, he walked round the back and surveyed his garden. It was a large garden which Dora had been doing her best to keep tidy and under control since their gardener had left three months before. It had been a losing battle. Those three months were the time of year when a garden needed constant attention, lawn-mowing, weeding, deadheading, cutting back. Very little of that had been done. I suppose I could spend the weekend making a real effort, he thought, and then added, no, I couldn’t. We must get a gardener, and soon. He took a last look at the ragged lawn, the dead roses dropping petals, the nettles springing up vigorously among the dahlias, and went into the house by the back door. Dora was in the living room, reading the local evening paper.

‘We have to get a gardener,’ said Wexford.

She looked up, smiled, said in a fair imitation of his voice, ‘Hallo, darling, how lovely to be home. How are you?’

He kissed her. ‘OK, I know that’s what I should have said. But we do need a gardener. I’ll get you a drink.’

In the kitchen he poured her a glass of Sauvignon from the fridge and himself one of Merlot from the cupboard. No good putting nuts or crisps into a bowl because she’d snatch it away from him and hide it somewhere as soon as she saw it. He thought again of Targo’s muscly body and then he carried the wine into the living room.

‘What do you think about Muslim girls wearing the hijab?’

‘Is that the headscarf? I think they should if they want to, really want to for themselves, I mean, but shouldn’t be coerced into it, certainly not by fathers and brothers.’

‘It must be the most unbecoming headgear for a woman to wear. But I suppose that’s the point.’

‘Or if you’re Muslim you don’t find it unattractive. Which brings me to Jenny. She’s been here talking about some girl, a Muslim girl, she’s sixteen, in her class at school. She seems to think you ought to know about it.’

‘Know what?’ Wexford liked Burden’s wife, knew she was intelligent and a good teacher, but if only she wouldn’t try to get him involved in investigations which wasted his time and usually came to nothing. ‘What’s wrong now?’

‘This girl – she’s called Tamima Something, Tamima Rahman, and she lives with her family in Glebe Road, next to where Mike and Jean used to live –’

‘I’ve seen her. I saw her today.’

‘How can you know, Reg?’

‘Well, unless there are two sixteen-year-old Muslim girls living next to where Mike used to live in Glebe Road and attending Kingsmarkham Comp, I can be pretty sure I’ve seen her. What’s Jenny’s business with her?’

‘She says Tamima got seven or eight GCSEs, A-stars and As and Bs, and if all goes well she’ll be going on to sixth-form college. But the girl seems unhappy, uneasy even, worried about something. She’s got a boyfriend, a Muslim like herself, so that ought to be all right but Jenny doesn’t think it is. She thinks you ought to see the family, find out what’s going on. Mike, apparently, isn’t interested.’

‘Good for Mike,’ said Wexford. ‘He’s better than I am at being firm with people who want to waste his time. Now, how about this gardener? Shall I put an ad in the Courier?’

Chapter 2

HE COULDN’T GET Targo out of his head. Incapable of doing much on a computer himself, he hesitated over asking DC Coleman or DS Goldsmith to find where the man was now living, his marital status, his means of livelihood. He had no real reason to know these things, only hunches, suspicions, speculations, built up over the years. Instead, he asked one of his grandsons and he, like all bright children, came up with the answers in a few minutes. Eric William Targo was now married to Mavis Jean Targo, née Sebright, and they lived at Wymondham Lodge, formerly the old vicarage of Stringfield.

Wexford knew the house, as he knew most of the big houses in the environs of Kingsmarkham. No vicar had lived in the place for many years. The Reverend James Neame, incumbent of the parish of Stringfield, now had four churches in his care, each one attended by no more than ten people at Sunday-morning service, that service itself taken by a lay reader when Mr Neame was preaching elsewhere. His home was a small red-brick house between the (now closed) village shop and the parish hall. Several families had occupied the vicarage since the last vicar left it for good but it was only dignified with its present name when a rich man from London bought it in the early nineties and gave it a rigorous makeover. It was now Wymondham Lodge with extensive grounds, sculpted gardens, two garages, three bathrooms and a guest suite when Targo bought it perhaps less than a year before.

The next day was Sunday and Wexford decided to drive over to Stringfield and – what? Spy out the land? The chances of seeing Targo just because he had his house in his sights were slim but he felt he couldn’t rest until he at least went there and tried. Incongruously, he wondered how many animals and of what kind the man was keeping within the old stone walls of the vicarage garden. The day was fine, hazy and mild. Leaves were still a long way off falling but they had grown dark and tired-looking. Everywhere had that late-summer appearance of untidiness, grass long and brownish, flowers gone to seed, windfall plums lying rotting at the foot of trees. He took the bridge across the River Brede and was in Stringfield within ten minutes. There was very little traffic. The heart of the village had its usual neglected, even abandoned, look, the church tower in urgent need of repair, gravestones leaning over at angles, several of the once sought-after cottages with For Sale notices in their front gardens. He turned down the lane which led to Wymondham Lodge, a narrow byway in which it was impossible for two cars to pass each other. It widened a little when the edge of the stone-walled grounds was reached.

The land rose a little beyond the wall, giving Wexford a view of a pair of llamas grazing. He did a double take when he saw a Bambi-like creature, a miniature deer, nearby. He pulled the car onto the grass verge, thinking that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a leopard or even an elephant. But there was nothing like that, though he caught a glimpse of tall wire fences, like the kind enclosing a tennis court, in the distance. The roar he heard he decided he must have imagined. Driving on towards the house itself, there was less to be seen. Not Targo or his wife, that was too much to expect. But the white van he had seen in Glebe Road was parked on the gravel drive with a silver Mercedes beside it. The old vicarage looked as a dwelling only can when its owners are wealthy and able to spend money constantly on it. The brickwork had been repointed, the white trim recently repainted, the slate roof glossy and sleek, free of moss. There was no sound – but what sound could there be in this remote spot unless it might be a cry from some animal?

He moved the car along the road out of sight of Wymondham Lodge’s windows. It was a former home of Targo’s that he was thinking of, not the medium-sized detached place in Myringham where the kennels was, not old Mrs Targo’s cottage in Glebe Road from which he had made himself a stalker, but the little place in Jewel Road, Stowerton, not much more than a cottage itself, where he had started out. Very young but a married man with a child and another one on the way and, of course, a dog, a spaniel.

Number 32 his had been and the Carrolls lived at 16. Wexford remembered perfectly now. They were all the same, those houses, a row of them, two tiny living rooms and a kitchen, two bedrooms upstairs. Some of them had a bathroom but most didn’t. The gardens were small rectangles with a gate at the end, opening into a lane where dustbins were put out and deliveries made. Everyone had coal and coke delivered in those days.

Elsie Carroll had been found dead in her bedroom one evening while her husband was out at his whist club. Did anyone play whist any more? The police had come, Wexford with them, a very young policeman then, excited and a bit overawed. He hadn’t seen the woman’s body, only seen it carried out, covered in a sheet, after the pathol o gist had been. Leaving the house later, sent home by Ventura when George Carroll, the husband, had been found, he had encountered Targo exercising his spaniel in the street. At midnight on a damp cold night. That had been his first sight, his very first, of the man who now lived in some grandeur behind those stone walls.

Of course he was wearing a scarf. A thick waterproof jacket, wellington boots and a scarf wound round his neck. The scarf had been brown wool with a lighter check pattern. The man looked at him, met his eyes, stared. He had the dog on a lead. While he stood still and stared, the dog was lifting its leg against a tree in the pavement. The stare was absurd, sinister, it went on so long. Wexford found himself making an impatient gesture, turned away towards the car which would take him home. Once he looked back and saw the man still there, still gazing at him. And he remembered saying to himself, that man, he did it. Whoever he is, he killed Elsie Carroll, and then he said, don’t be ridiculous, don’t talk – don’t even think – such nonsense.

Driving home half a lifetime later, he thought, I’ve never told anyone but I’m going to. I’m going to tell Mike. I’ll have my Sunday lunch with Dora and Sylvia and the kids, I’ll contemplate my awful garden and I’ll draft an ad to put in the Courier for a gardener. Then, after all that, I’ll phone Mike and ask him to come out for a drink. Now Targo is back and I’ve seen him, the time has come to tell someone – and who but Mike?

‘If it’s about that Rahman girl, I’d rather not,’ Burden said.

Wexford had almost forgotten her, so full his mind had been of Targo. ‘Who?’

‘That schoolgirl Jenny seems to think is being victimised in some way. The one from the Asian family that live next door to my old house.’

‘It’s not about that, Mike. It’s got nothing to do with that. This is something quite different. I’ve never told anyone about it but it’s not new, it’s been going on for more years than I care to remember, and now I think it’s going to start again. Doesn’t that whet your appetite?’

‘D’you mean you’re going to tell me?’

‘If you’ll listen,’ Wexford said.

They chose the Olive and Dove, the little room called the snug which over the years they had made almost their own private sanctum. Of course others used it, as the yellow-stained ceiling and lingering smell of a million cigarettes bore witness. In a few years’ time a smoking ban would come in, the walls and ceiling be redecorated, new curtains hung at the clouded windows and ashtrays banished, but in the late nineties there was no hint of that. Outside the window it was mostly young people who could be seen sitting at tables under coloured umbrellas on the Olive’s veranda, for the evening was as mild as the day had been, while their elders crowded into the saloon bar. All those people or those who succeeded them would ten years in the future be obliged to huddle on that veranda, rain or shine, snow or fog, if they wanted to smoke.

Wexford asked for his usual red wine, Burden for a half of lager. He was no big drinker, though he had a large appetite, and Wexford would have been surprised if he had eaten less before coming out than a two-course dinner with bread that he himself had given up and potatoes that he was forbidden. For all that, the inspector kept his slim elegant figure. To Wexford it was almost indecent that a man of Burden’s age had no discernible belly and could still wear jeans without looking ridiculous.

Having said earlier that he wasn’t coming if the conversation was about Tamima Rahman, Burden nevertheless plunged straight into the subject.

‘I hope I’m not being disloyal but I sometimes think that people who are as intensely anti-racist as Jenny is, actually discover examples of Asian or black people being ill-treated where no ill-treatment exists. Moreover, I’m afraid I think, and I told her what I think, that if this Tamima was a white girl who seemed a bit depressed and, well, unable to concentrate, Jenny wouldn’t take a blind bit of notice. There you are, I suppose that is a bit disloyal.’

‘It’s politically incorrect, Mike. I don’t know about disloyal. As for this girl, I only know what Dora passed on to me from what Jenny said.’

‘There isn’t any more to know, as far as I can see.’ Burden tasted his drink and gave a small approving nod. ‘So what was it you wanted to tell me?’

‘It will take quite a long time,’ Wexford said reflectively. ‘It can’t all be told tonight.’ He paused, then went on. ‘You have to understand that I’ve never told anyone, I’ve kept it entirely to myself, and I thought I never would tell anyone. That was in part because the man in question had gone away. That wasn’t the first time, he’d gone away before, but he’d never stayed away so long. I was beginning to think – no, I’d decided – that it was all over. Now he’s come back. I’ve seen him.’

‘What did you mean by “in part”?’

‘Because I could think of no one to tell who would believe me,’ Wexford said simply.

‘And I will?’

‘Probably not. No, I doubt if you’ll believe me. But I know you’ll listen and you’ll keep it to yourself.’

‘If that’s what you want I will.’

The story he was going to tell started when he was very young, living at home with his mother and father as he couldn’t really afford to live anywhere else. He got on with his parents, there were no difficulties there, but he moved away for two reasons: it wasn’t ‘grown-up’ to live at home and, besides that, he was engaged. At twenty-one he was engaged. But he wouldn’t tell any of that. He wouldn’t talk about the sexual revolution which was coming but hadn’t yet arrived, and how it was out of the question for his parents to let Alison stay the night. Even when he had found himself a room with a Baby Belling stove and use of the bathroom down the passage, he couldn’t have had Alison to stay the night. Her parents would have expected her home by eleven at the latest. His landlady would have turned her out and him too probably. There would have been gossip. Girls still had a reputation to keep, girls still knew what the word meant and if they tried to forget it were still told by their fathers – never dads in those days – what would become of them if they lost it.

But he and Alison had their evenings. Mrs Brunton, his landlady, was one of those who believed that sexual intercourse only ever took place after ten at night. He was young and probably thought the way magazines were beginning to say men thought, that is about sex every six minutes. He had known Alison since they were sixteen and he liked the sex but not as much as he had thought he would. There must be more to it or what were all these people on about?

He tried not to think about it. He was engaged, and he had old-fashioned ideas about engagements. Not that he was quite back in the days when defaulting men got sued for breach of promise but still he would have thought it dishonourable for the man to break an engagement when the woman obviously wanted to keep it. Or did she? She said she loved him. He tried not to think about it but to think about his work instead.

And it was about that work that he would talk to Burden. The inspector waited, watching him and helping himself to the nuts Wexford was not allowed to eat.

‘It was mostly taking statements,’ he began, ‘from people who had been receiving stolen goods or knew someone who had or had broken into a house and stolen five pounds from a wallet. And making house-to-house calls and once, rather more excitingly, taking my turn in sitting beside a hospital bed in which lay a man who had been stabbed in the street. A very rare event in Kingsmarkham in those days. And then Elsie Carroll was murdered.’

It was the first murder in their area of mid Sussex for two years and the previous one hadn’t really been murder at all but manslaughter. This one was murder all right. She was found by a next-door neighbour. The neighour, Mrs Dawn Morrow, had been expecting Elsie Carroll to come in and have a cup of coffee with her and a chat.

‘Those were the days when a couple of women would never have met for a drink, that is wine or beer or spirits. No one drank wine, anyway, except French people or the sort that went to posh restaurants. Dawn had two children, three and one, her husband went to see his widowed mother on a Tuesday evening and she couldn’t leave the house except perhaps to “pop next door”. Elsie was invited for seven thirty one February evening and when she hadn’t come by eight Dawn went to find her, leaving her children alone for a couple of minutes, as she put it. Both couples were on the phone but both believed it was wrong, absurdly extravagant, almost immoral to make a phone call to the house next door.’

At this point, Burden broke in. ‘Where exactly was this?’

‘Didn’t I say? It was Jewel Road, Stowerton.’

‘I know it. Smart cottages with different-coloured front doors, very popular with commuters to London.’

‘It wasn’t like that then. It was – it is – a terrace. Some people had outside lights either in the porch or on an exterior wall. The Carrolls at number 16 didn’t. The back gardens were small and all of them had a gate in the rear wall leading into the lane where dustmen collected the rubbish and deliveries were made. No one locked these gates and everyone left their back doors unlocked. Nothing ever happened, it was neurotic to be afraid of some intruder coming in.

‘Dawn rang the the Carrolls’ front doorbell and when she got no answer went back into her own house, out by the back way and into the Carrolls’ garden by way of the lane and the gate in the rear wall. The back door had a glass panel in it and light was coming from the kitchen. That door was not, of course, locked. Dawn went in, calling out, “Hallo,” and “Where are you, Elsie?” No one said “hi” then. When she got no answer she called out again and went through the kitchen into the hallway that everyone who lived in that terrace called “the passage”. A light was on here too.

‘I’d never previously been in any of those houses, all identical in layout, but by the evening of the next day I knew this one well. There were two small living rooms on the ground floor that subsequent owners have converted into one through room. Upstairs were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a tiny boxroom, big enough for a small child to sleep in. The Carrolls had no children so Dawn had no reason to keep her voice down as she went upstairs calling Elsie. It was just after eight.’

Wexford paused to drink some of his wine. ‘Next day,’ he went on, ‘DC Miller, Cliff Miller, took a statement from Dawn Morrow and I sat in on it, learning the ropes. The next statement that was needed I’d have to do myself. Dawn said that a ceiling light was on in Mrs Carroll’s bedroom and she went in there. At first she didn’t see her. The bed was in a bit of a mess. It looked as if it hadn’t been made. Pillows had been thrown about and the eiderdown had fallen half on to the floor. That was very unlike Elsie, leaving her bed unmade. Dawn walked round the bed and then she saw her lying on the floor between the bed and the window. “I thought she must have fainted,” she said. “I went up to her and looked more closely but I didn’t touch her. They told me afterwards that she was dead but I didn’t know that. She was lying face downwards with her face turned into the rug so I couldn’t see it.”

‘That’s more or less what she said, Mike. Maybe I’m not remembering precisely. And I’m stating it coldly, leaving out what she must have felt, shock, amazement, fear. She went next door to number 18 where some people called Johnson lived and the Johnsons both came back with her. They went upstairs together. Mrs Johnson had been a nurse before she married, she looked at Elsie Carroll and said she thought she was dead but to go out of the room while she tried to see if she had a pulse. A bit later she came out and she told her husband Elsie was dead and to phone the police and he did.’

Elsie Carroll had been strangled with the belt of her dressing gown which had been lying across the bed. That was the opinion of Dr Crocker whom Wexford had never met before but who later became his friend. Crocker, who was there within not much more than half an hour, gave an approximate time of death as not more than an hour before and possibly as little as half an hour before. By this time Detective Sergeant Jim Ventura had arrived with DC Miller, DC Pendle and Wexford himself. Within a few minutes Detective Inspector Fulford had also joined them. This murder was something very out of the ordinary, a sensation, in that place and at that time.

‘We had no scene-of-crimes officer at that time. DC Pendle – Dennis was his name – and I went around the house, paying particular attention to the bedroom, taking fingerprints. DNA had been discovered but Watson, Crick and Wilkins had yet to win the Nobel Prize for their discovery. It would be a long time before it could be put to forensic use and it’s not foolproof yet, is it? But fingerprint detection had been around for a long time. While we examined that bedroom, a pretty little room which Elsie Carroll had papered in pink patterned with silver leaves, Ventura and DI Fulford waited downstairs for Elsie’s husband George to come home.

‘Almost the first thing Ventura had done was speak to Harold Johnson and Margaret, his wife, the former nurse. It was twenty minutes to nine. Johnson told him that George Carroll regularly attended the Stowerton whist club which met in St Mary’s church hall and he would be there now. The church hall was no more than a mile away, if that, and George Carroll had gone there, as usual, on his bicycle. Margaret Johnson said he was usually home by nine thirty, though sometimes it was after ten. Ventura sent DC Miller – Cliff Miller – to St Mary’s to find George Carroll, tell him what had happened and bring him home.’

‘Things would be a bit different today, wouldn’t they?’ Burden said. ‘The church hall would have a landline which it certainly hadn’t then and all those whist players would have mobiles.’

‘Elsie Carroll wouldn’t have left her back door unlocked or the gate in the wall unbolted. There would be more street lights.’

‘In other words,’ said Burden, ‘you could say, contrary to what one is always hearing, that life was actually safer then.’

‘In some ways.’

‘So are you going to tell me George Carroll couldn’t be found?’

‘Don’t be so impatient. Let’s say he couldn’t be found immediately. D’you want another drink?’

‘I’ll get them.’

When he came back he found Wexford scrutinising the photocopy he had made in preparation for this meeting of the chapter on the Carroll murder in W. J. Chambers’ Unsolved Crimes and Some Solutions. Looking up, he said, ‘You didn’t think I could remember all that after so long, did you?’

Burden laughed. ‘Your memory is pretty good.’

‘I’m giving you all this preamble because it’s necessary but what I really want to talk about is the man I suspect committed the crime. No, not suspect. I know he did it as I know he did at least one other. His name is Eric Targo and we’ll come to him in a minute.’ Wexford said, almost humbly, ‘You’re happy for me to carry on?’

‘Sure I am, Reg. Of course I am.’

Chapter 3

MILLER CAME BACK to Jewel Road, having been unable to find Carroll, and we waited there for him, that is Fulford, Ventura and I. Elsie’s body had been taken away. By our present-day standards, they were a bit cavalier about taking measurements and photographs, but I dare say what they did was adequate. The bedroom was sealed off as a crime scene. It was then that Harold Johnson dropped what Ventura called his bombshell. He asked if he could speak to Ventura, found him less intimidating than Fulford, I suppose. Fulford was more like an old-time army officer, a sort of Colonel Blimp, than a policeman.

‘Johnson and his wife had been at home all the evening, watching television. Of all the residents of Jewel Road, they were one of the few families who had television and it sounded as if they were enthralled by it, glued to it every night. There were all sorts of rules and restrictions about television-watching at that time. For one thing, you were supposed to sit as many feet away from the set as there were inches in its diagonal, never sit without lights on and various other stuff that turned out to be nonsense. Still, the Johnsons wanted to do it properly and they believed they should draw the curtains and switch on what Margaret Johnson called “soft lighting”. But I suspect and thought so then, I remember, that although they would have denied this vehemently, they wanted to leave their curtains open as long as possible so that anyone passing could see the glow of the cathode tube and recognise it for what it was. Something I forgot to mention – the Johnsons were also among the few residents who had converted their two living rooms into one so that they had windows back and front with curtains to be drawn.

‘It was about seven, he told Ventura, when he got up off the sofa to draw the curtains, he couldn’t be sure of the time but he knew it was a bit after seven because the programme they wanted to watch had started. First he drew the curtains at the front bay window, then he moved to the back. These were French windows and the curtains floor-length and rather heavy. He pulled the curtains but the right-hand one got caught up on something, the back of a chair, and when he went back to free it he looked out into the darkness and saw the figure of a man coming away from the back door of number 16 and making for the gate in the rear wall. At the time he thought it was George Carroll who went out that way if he was going on his bicycle which he kept in the shed by the gate. But now he was less sure.

‘He thought the man he had seen was short, no more than five feet four while George Carroll was five feet seven. But it was dark and Harold Johnson said he wouldn’t be able to take his oath – that was his expression “take his oath” – on its being Carroll. The time he could be sure of: just after seven. Elsie, of course, couldn’t say what time her husband had left the house but Dawn Morrow told Ventura next day that he usually left before seven, maybe as much as ten minutes before.’

‘So when did Carroll come home?’

‘A good deal later than was expected. About ten forty-five. It looked to me as if it was a terrible shock for him but as Pendle said to me afterwards, whether he’d killed her or not finding the place a blaze of light and his home full of cops would have been a shock anyway. Fulford told him he could see his wife’s body if he wanted to but Carroll refused and began to cry. Fulford wasn’t sympathetic. He said brusquely that he’d like to ask him some questions and he wanted to do it now, that was unavoidable. He and Ventura questioned the man and Pendle and I were sent home.

‘If you’re interested you can read what Carroll said in Chambers’ book. You can have this photocopy I made for you. But the real thing of importance is that Carroll told Fulford he had spent the evening with a woman called Tina Malcolm. The term “girlfriend” wasn’t used so much then and Carroll told Fulford he was the woman’s “lover”. That put Fulford against him from the start. He was exceptionally strait-laced and puritanical – worse than you.’

‘Thanks a bunch.’

Wexford laughed. ‘This woman, Carroll said, would confirm that he had been with her from seven thirty until ten and he was glad it had “all come out”, it was better this way with his wife knowing. Then he remembered his wife was dead and began crying again.’

‘My God,’ said Burden. ‘That’s a bit grim.’

‘Well, it was. I was glad to get out in the fresh air. The car we’d come in was parked outside. Pendle got into the driving seat – he lived fairly near me in Kingsmarkham High Street – and I went round to the passenger door. No remote opening of car doors then, of course . . .’

‘I had been born, you know – I even remember the moon landings.’

‘Sorry,’ said Wexford. ‘Though why I should apologise to a man for treating him as if he were younger than he is I don’t know. Pendle had to reach across and lift up the thing – don’t know what it was called – that locked the door, and while he was doing that I noticed a man standing outside number 16. He had a dog with him on a lead and he was waiting while the dog took a pee up against a tree in the pavement. His name was Targo, Eric Targo, though I didn’t know it then. Mostly someone you encounter like that will immediately look away when he knows you’ve seen him. Especially when you’ve been watching his dog foul the pavement. Targo didn’t look away. He stared at me. You’ll think I’m exaggerating but