STEWART GILES

Author of the DC Harriet Taylor Novels

DC Harriet Taylor

Detective Constable Harriet Taylor is a Scot working in the peaceful town of Trotterdown in Cornwall. A scandal in her home town of Edinburgh brought her to the south-west of England.

DC Taylor

The Backpacker

1996 

She ran. She ran like her life depended on it. It probably did.

She could hear his breathing behind her – steady breaths that sounded in time with his footsteps. He was getting closer, and she pushed herself some more. She could see the smoke coming out of the chimney in the old farmhouse far in the distance. The smoke was going straight up – there wasn’t a breath of wind in the air. She thought she could feel his breath on her neck. The farmhouse didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

I’m not going to make it. This is what it feels like to know you’re about to die.

He was getting closer, and the farmhouse was too far away. The fields were empty. She felt a hand on her back, he screamed something in a language she didn’t understand and then she was free. She carried on running. The footsteps behind her were gone. She glanced back as she ran. He’d tripped and fallen and was picking himself up off the ground.

She reached the farmhouse and banged on the door. As she waited for it to open she scanned the field. Her pursuer was gone.

Read the preview of the new Harriet Taylor book here.

CHAPTER ONE

Carrion. That’s what the jackdaws could pick up in the breeze – the scent of carrion. The rooks had got there first. Scores of them, their wings beating in a frenzy of excitement. This kill was theirs. The crows waited in the sidelines. They were next in line. The jackdaws would have to be content with the scraps. One of the rooks pecked at something hard and recoiled, stunned. Their meal had been partially hidden between a pile of rocks on the far side of Landell’s farm. A heap of dead branches had been placed on top, but the full force of an Atlantic South-Westerly during the night had lifted most of them off. Now, the smell of carrion had drawn scavengers from far and wide.

It was the mob of birds that had caught the eye of Gilly Landell. Gilly was the wife of William Landell Junior, the owner of the farm. By the time she’d spotted the feeding frenzy there were more than fifty birds hanging around the scene. Gilly’s first thought was that a sheep had perished in the night. It was lambing season, and the lambs were especially vulnerable. Foxes were becoming more and more of a nuisance on the farm. She started up the quad bike, and made her way through the field towards the squawking rabble.

The crows and the jackdaws took flight at she approached, as did the majority of the rooks. A few of the bold ones stood their ground – this feast was theirs and they weren’t going to give it up without a fight. Gilly Landell stopped the quad bike and got off. She shooed the remaining birds away and moved in to take a closer look at what had attracted them to the far edge of the farm in the first place.

Gilly could see straight away that it wasn’t a sheep the birds were interested in. The branches that had blown off during the night revealed the body of a young woman. Her blonde hair was matted with blood. Gilly was well accustomed to death – growing up on a farm meant that death was a part of life but the body of the young woman lying among the rocks was something she wouldn’t forget for a very long time. One of her blue eyes was open. The other one was gone – bird food. The blood in the empty socket was black. Gilly Landell turned to one side and vomited on the rocks.

CHAPTER TWO

The Wandering Albatross was in her element. A steady twenty knot blow was pushing Dr Jon Finch’s Westerly 26 as close to hull speed as Finch had ever dared to push her before.

“You can ease off on the sheet a bit if you like,” he had to shout over the din of the wind on the sails. “She won’t go any faster, you know.”
Harriet Taylor reluctantly let out the Jib sheet and the boat levelled out slightly. 

The sailing bug had bitten DC Harriet hard. Ever since she’d first set foot on Jon’s boat, six months earlier, she’d been well and truly hooked. Harriet and Jon had spent the night out on the boat. They’d anchored out about four nautical miles as the crow flies from the marina in Trotterdown, and now they were heading back in.
“I’ll make us some more coffee,” Jon peeled his hands off the wheel. His knuckles were white. “Cleat the Jib sheet and take over.”
“Yes, Captain.” Harriet pulled the rope tighter and slotted it inside the cleat. She kissed him on the forehead and moved aside so he could ease his six foot eight frame inside the cabin.

She took hold of the wheel, pulled in the main sheet and bore off a few degrees. She smiled as the speed indicator registered an increase of half a knot.
Jon emerged with two steaming mugs of coffee and slotted them both into the cup holders on the starboard side.
“That was quite a night,” he said. “I reckon we got hit by some forty-plus gusters last night.”
Harriet locked the wheel and the boat held her course.
“I should’ve done this years ago,” she picked up the coffee and warmed her hands on the mug.
It was early March, winter was a distant memory but it was still quite chilly in the breeze.
“I’ve never seen anybody take to it so quickly,” Jon said. “You’ve got no fear.”
“What’s to fear? You’re always bragging about how stable the Albatross is.”
Jon unlocked the wheel and took the helm again. He eased off on the mainsheet, and the boat became easier to handle.
“You scare me sometimes, Harriet.”
“I scare you?”
“The Westerly 26 is a cruising boat. She was designed as a safe, easy to handle family cruiser – a peaceful, slow water boat. You sail her like you’re racing the Sydney to Hobart sometimes.”
Harriet didn’t know how to react to this. She wasn’t sure whether to be offended or complimented. She opted for the latter.
“Well, now you’ve been educated on what this tub is actually capable of. It’s exhilarating.”
Jon smiled. Harriet was right. His sailing trips had become infinitely more enjoyable with her on board.

“Are we going in?” Harriet took the empty coffee mugs down below and stowed them in the gimbaled sink.
“I have a management meeting at eleven,” Jon replied. “I want to have a quick shower and change my clothes before I head to the hospital. What about you?”
“I have a rare day off. I was thinking about maybe messing around on the boat for a few hours. In the marina, I mean. There’s a few things I’ve noticed that need fixing up.”
“You’re not going to girlify her are you? If there is such a word.”
“Girlify? Good God, no. There’s some ropes and fittings down below that I can use to set up a gibe preventer. I’ve done some research on the net.”
“Now you’re talking. With the way you sail, I’d say a gibe preventer is a must have.”
“The block on the boom vang has seen better days too. I’ll see what else I can fix as I go along.”
“Do your worst. As long as I don’t come back to the boat and find you’ve hung pink curtains in the cabin.”
“We’d better get the sails down,” Jon said thirty minutes later. “I’ll start the engine.”
They were approaching the entrance to the harbour.
“Not yet,” Harriet insisted. “I hate that motor – it stinks.”
“It is a bit old,” Jon admitted. “Can we at least drop the foresail?”
“Chicken,” Harriet uncleated the sheet and furled in the sail.
The boat started to slow down. “Let’s sail her in.”
“Are you mad? There’s a twenty knot blow on our rear end. We’ll hit the jetty and rip a hole in the hull. Besides, if anybody sees us we’ll be in trouble.”
Harriet knew he was right. It was foolhardy to even think of sailing onto the jetty with such a strong wind blowing.
“You’d better get that old engine started then. I’ll let the main flap a bit.”
She waited until she heard the familiar chug-chug of the old diesel motor and loosened the main halyard. The sail slid halfway down the mast.
“Just in case the engine dies on us,” she added.

They reached the marina and Harriet let the mainsail slip all the way down the mast. Jon motored up to the jetty and Harriet stepped off to secure the painters fore and aft. She tied the ropes around the bollards, and hopped back aboard.
“I’ll pack her up,” she offered just as her phone started to ring in her pocket. She took it out and frowned. It was DI Jack Killian. Whenever Killian phoned her on her day off it never boded well. Harriet’s day off was almost definitely going to be cancelled.
“Harriet,” Killian said. “Where are you?”
“At the marina. We spent the night out on the water. We’ve just this minute got in.”
“You went out in that gale? Is Jon Finch there with you?”
“Of course. What’s wrong?”
“Gilly Landell’s found a body at the farm. The body of a young woman. It looks like she’s had her head bashed in. I wouldn’t bother you but DS Duncan’s off with the flu and Eric White’s still on leave.”
“What about Thomas?”
“Manning the front desk at the station.”
“Landell’s Farm, you say?”
“That’s right.”
“I know where it is.”
All thoughts of messing around on a boat suddenly drifted away.
“I’ll be there in an hour,” Harriet looked down at The Wandering Albatross and sighed. “We’ve just got to pack the boat up.” 

CHAPTER THREE

Landell’s farm was a ten minute drive inland from Trotterdown. Harriet rarely drove inland unless she really had to. She felt drawn by the sea and the rugged coastline. For Harriet, the harsh crags and weather-beaten cliffs were strangely tranquil. The landscape changed as she drove through flat farmland and reached Landell’s Farm. She spotted Jack Killian’s car and drove up to it. The red Ford Granada belonging to Alan Littlemore, the head of forensics was parked further away in one of the fields.

DI Killian was talking to a man who looked to be roughly the same age as Harriet – William Landell Junior – she assumed. He was a short man with thick brown hair and a thin moustache.
“Morning, boss,” Harriet said to Killian. “Morning.” She looked at the young farmer.
“Harriet,” Killian said. “This is William Landell Junior. William, this is DC Harriet Taylor.”
“Gilly spotted the crows,” Landell told her. “We’ve lost a few sheep to foxes in the past so she thought that’s what must have happened. She thought the birds were feeding on a dead sheep.”
“Littlemore and his team are busy at the scene,” Killian said. “And I’m sure Alan will appreciate it if we leave them in peace for a while.”
“Gilly’s in a bit of a state.” William said. “She’s in the house.”
“William, I’m sure you both could use a strong cup of tea. I certainly could.”

William led them towards an old stone farmhouse. Two large quad bikes were parked next to it. They appeared to have been modified for work on the farm – large steel frames had been welded onto the backs of them, probably for the purpose of transporting smaller livestock. The farmhouse looked like it had seen better days. It was in dire need of repair. Chunks of stone had crumbled off the walls – the roof appeared to have been patched and re-patched many times and quite a few of the windows were broken.
“I’ll get around to the repairs when I get time,” William saw that Harriet was looking at the almost derelict building. “It didn’t seem to bother my dad. I think he was so used to the way the place looked – he stopped seeing how bad it actually was. Come in, I’ll put the kettle on.”
Harriet and Killian followed him inside a huge kitchen. It wasn’t what Harriet had expected. It wasn’t at all what she pictured a farmhouse kitchen to look like. A huge granite-topped table stood in the centre of the room. The work areas were also topped with granite. The appliances all appeared to be modern.
“My Mum insisted,” William seemed to note the expression on Harriet’s face. He switched on the kettle. “She agreed to the farm life but she insisted there were to be some compromises. She loved to cook, you see. The first thing my dad had to do was get rid of the range and install a modern gas oven. That range had been here since my dad was a boy. Take a seat.”
“Where’s Gilly now?” Killian asked.
“She’s having a lie down,” William replied. “It’s been quite a shock for her. She’s six months pregnant.”
“And yet she still works on the farm?” Harriet was shocked.
“You try and stop her. Gilly grew up on farms. Her Dad had a pig farm further down south near Grubton.”
“What time did she discover the body?” Killian asked.
“It was around eight,” William replied. “I’d just finished checking on the milking and Gilly was out scouting for rogue sheep. Some of them wander off during the night. That’s why we bought the quad bikes – it makes it quicker to get around on the farm. She spotted a whole load of crows and rooks over by the outcrop of rocks on the far field. Like I said earlier, she assumed a fox had got hold of a sheep and the crows were finishing it off. The woman was lying there, hidden by the rocks. I went and had a look when Gilly came back and told me. She’d been covered with a load of branches but the wind last night must have blown them away. We had quite a gale last night.”

Harriet’s thoughts drifted back to the night she’d spent at sea. The wind had howled all night long.
“Did you recognise the woman?” she asked. “Do you know who she could be?”
“Her face was a bit of a mess. One of her eyes was missing and the birds had done a good job on her but I can’t say I’ve seen her before.”
“Have you noticed anything suspicious going on in the past day or so?” Killian asked him.
“What do you mean?”
“People hanging around. Strangers that don’t have any business here?”
“No. We get the odd rambler coming through. It’s a bit early in the season for them, but there are still a few brave ones who hike this time of year. The hiking path goes right past the rocks where the woman was lying. Dad never had a problem with hikers as long as they followed the rules – they make sure they close the gates and don’t worry the animals – that sort of thing.”
“So parts of the farm are open to the general public?” Harriet said.
“Always has been. The trail that runs through the farm is part of the three day coast-to-coast hike. It starts in Grubton in the south and ends up in Trotterdown. It’s a popular hike.”
“How many people work here?”
“There are six of us altogether. Me, Gilly and two permanents plus two casuals I use during the busy times – the lambing for example.”
“We’ll need their names and contact details,” Killian said.
There was a knock on the kitchen door and a very red-faced Alan Littlemore walked in.
“Morning,” he nodded to Harriet. “Jack.” He addressed Killian. “Can I have a word?”
“Excuse me,” Killian stood up and followed the head of forensics outside.
“How long have you had the farm?” Harriet asked William.
“It’s been in the family for the best part of a century. My dad was at the helm for thirty-five years. He passed away last year so now it’s my responsibility.”
“What do you farm?”
“Mostly sheep. We’ve got a few cows and pigs but the sheep are by far the most cost-effective.”
Killian came back inside.
“William, we’ll need to talk to you again and we’ll definitely need to talk to your wife. Let us know when she’s up to it. We’ll also need that list of everybody who works here, but for now we’ll leave you to get on with your work.”
And take care of your pregnant wife, Harriet thought but kept quiet.
“What will happen to the body?” William asked.
“Forensics have almost finished so she’ll be taken away shortly. I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention this to anybody just yet.”
“I’m not one for gossip, nor is Gilly. We keep ourselves to ourselves.”
“Good. It’s going to get out sooner or later anyway, but it’ll be better if we can work in peace until then. We’ll be in touch.”
“What’s going on?” Harriet asked Killian outside. “I’ve seen that look on Littlemore’s face before. Something’s wrong isn’t it.”
“Follow me.”

They walked across the field to the pile of rocks where the body had been found. Littlemore was bent over the rocks. He appeared to be digging away at something. The body had been covered with a plastic sheet.
Littlemore looked up. “She’s not a pretty sight.”
Harriet took a deep breath, removed the sheet and took it all in. The woman was dressed in a T-Shirt and jeans. Her arms were covered in scratches and bruises, as was her face. Dried blood had stuck her blonde hair to the side of her face and one of her eyes was missing.”
“Any idea as to the cause of death?” Killian asked.
“I’d say it was a blow or two to the side of the head. The path guys will give us more but I am pretty sure this is where she was killed. There’s a lot of blood on the surrounding rocks.”
“That’s something, I suppose,” Killian mused. “If she was killed here, at least we don’t have to start looking around for other crime scenes.”
“The path guys will give us time of death,” Littlemore added. “But if I were to hazard a guess I’d say she’s only been here a short while.”
“Two or three days?” Harriet suggested.
“Maybe less. And it looks like the birds got away with one of her eyes.”
“Did you find anything else?” Harriet asked. “Any kind of weapon?”
“We’ve bagged a few of the smaller rocks that could have been used to bash her over the head. We’ll take them back with us.”
“What about fragments of clothing? Anything else that shouldn’t be here?”
“You could say that.” He crouched down and pointed to a gap between the rocks. “One of my guys had a good look around and he found something in there that definitely shouldn’t be there.”
“What is it, Alan?” Killian said.
“Don’t touch anything,” he handed the DI a torch. “But have a look for yourself.”
Killian did as he was told. He shone the torch inside the gap.
“Bloody hell. What’s going on here?” He gave the torch to Harriet.

The gap was roughly three inches wide. Harriet shone the torch inside. There was an open area of around five square feet inside the rocks. She moved the torch and focused on something against the far rocks. It was a shape she couldn’t quite make out a first but it was definitely not part of the rock it was lying on. Two tattered brown boots were still attached to fleshless legs. Harriet shone the torch up the body and gasped when she saw what used to be a head. Thin wisps of black hair still sprouted from the grey skull.

STEWART GILES - Readers Club

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Fast paced, gripping thriller

“Detective Harriet Taylor is not very impressed when she is sent to investigate the mutilation of two cats in the same town.  Surely that is a case for the R.S.P.C.A not the police.  But then things take a sinister turn when one of the cat owners is found dead on the same day.”

“The woman had four words written on her neck.  When another body is discovered to also have four words written on it,  Harriet begins to wonder if the small Cornish town of Totterdown might have its very first serial killer.”

“Can Harriet stop the murders and work out the connection to the local writing group,who conveniently enough have recently been tasked with writing stories on the theme of The Perfect Murder?”

“The characters in this gripping mystery are a mixed bunch of realistic personalities.  I loved old Bert Applewhite,  it was such a shame that he only appeared once in the story.  I liked the relashionship between Harriet and her boss Jack Jillian,  I liked the banter between the police team members,  they had their disagreements over the case but they worked well together.  You also learned some background information about some of their private lives but not so much that it came across as padding.  I thought I had worked out who the killer was but I was wrong,  I do love it when that happens.The reason behind the killings was very cunning but also quite sad,  the ending of the story was unexpected.”

Mrs. N. Richards, 22/11/2017

STEWART GILES

Author of the DS Jason Smith & DC Harriet Taylor series of novels.