- Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
- The Authors
- Main characters
- Last Train to London
- 1. A Bump in the Night
- 2. All the Fun of the Fair
- 3. The Puppeteer
- 4. Back to School
- 5. A Favour
- 6. Cottage Secrets
- 7. Missing Treasures
- 8. A Walk by the River
- 9. Doom
- 10. The Puppet King
- 11. The Tattoo
- 12. The Fugitive
- 13. A Quiet Night on the Goose
- 14. The Morning After
- 15. The Truth about Vultures
- 16. Clocks, Jewels and Secrets
- 17. The Pavilion
- 18. Last Train to London
- 19. A Surprise Gift
- Next episode
Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
“Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series” is a series made up of self-contained stories. A new episode is released each month. The series is published in English as well as in German, and is only available in e-book form.
Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Neil Richards has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.
His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90’s and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham is their first crime fiction as co-writers.
Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife a year ago. Being retired, all he wants is peace and quiet. Which is what he hopes to find in the quiet town of Cherringham, UK. Living on a canal boat, he enjoys his solitude. But soon enough he discovers that something is missing — the challenge of solving crimes. Surprisingly, Cherringham can help him with that.
Sarah Edwards is a web designer who was living in London with her husband and two kids. Two years ago, he ran off with his sexy American boss, and Sarah’s world fell apart. With her children she moved back to her home town, laid-back Cherringham. But the small town atmosphere is killing her all over again — nothing ever happens. At least, that’s what she thinks until Jack enters her life and changes it for good or worse …
1. A Bump in the Night
Otto Brendl woke with a start.
He’d been dreaming, dreaming of home far away and a long time ago. But now he was wide awake, his head instinctively raised just inches from the pillow so that he could hear better, his eyes staring into the pitch darkness, trying to make out the shapes of his familiar bedroom.
He was sweating.
From fear? he asked himself.
It’s July – even here in England it gets hot in July.
But he knew it wasn’t the summer heat that had woken him. He’d heard a noise downstairs. A creak on the floorboard in the kitchen. His little burglar alarm, that loose floorboard – he had never fixed it.
A good thing too. Living alone all these years, always afraid of a break-in, even though he never kept any of his stock in the house.
Slowly he swung his legs out from under the duvet and onto the carpet.
Reaching for his walking stick, he leaned firmly on it and stood up, his knees creaking. Now that his eyes were getting used to the darkness he could make out the familiar shape of the dressing table and the half-open door.
He picked up his house keys from the dressing table. Then he went through the doorway, bare feet padding silently on the carpet, and stood still on the landing, moving his head slowly from side to side trying to hear more. He held his breath and concentrated on the sounds of the house, listening out for anything unusual.
No sound. As if from nowhere a cool trickle of air caught the side of his neck: a draught. There was no doubt about it. A window had been opened. Or a door.
So someone had tried to get into the house. Or maybe … they were still in the house.
If it were burglars they would be disappointed. They would find no silver, no gold – although he was a jeweller by profession. He was old, but he wasn’t a fool: he kept no valuables in the little cottage – no conventional valuables anyway. Certainly nothing the average thief would be attracted to.
But there were things that a burglar might take almost by accident, not realising the value they held – for Otto. Objects that had – what did they call it? – sentimental value. A burglar might take them, throw them in a bag, and tomorrow swap them for a few pounds in some backstreet junk shop. Leaving him weeping at their loss.
He headed for the stairs, suddenly determined that whoever was down there was not going to get away with it. He felt a rush of anger.
“Who’s there?” he shouted, his voice filling the stillness. “I’ve called the police, they’re on their way.”
His hand firmly clasped on the smooth banister, he took the stairs as fast as he could, tapping the stick on each step in the darkness.
“I know you’re down there,” he called again as he reached the wooden floor of the hallway.
His hand fumbled for the light switch – he flicked it on, almost flinching at the brightness, half expecting a man to be there, readying himself for some violent attack …
But the hallway was empty. He listened again. He could still feel the draught, but there was no sound.
He walked silently into the kitchen and turned on the light. The back door was just ajar.
Someone had definitely been in.
Perhaps they were still in the house?
Otto knew he had locked up before he went to bed. He had done every single night of the twenty-four years he had lived in Cherringham: as regular as clockwork – well, I’m a jeweller, what do you expect?
But someone – someone very clever, for these were good locks – had slipped into the house while he was asleep. Why? He must check on the children.
He gently closed the back door, then turned and headed back down the hallway.
“If you are in the house,” he called out again, “There is still time to make your escape before the police come and we will say no more of it.”
He said all this as much to strengthen his own spirits as to scare away the intruder.
At the end of the hallway was the sitting room. He switched on the light and scanned the room. Spotless, as usual. Nothing taken – not even the jar of pound coins he kept for the parking machine in the village. He turned and approached the most important room in the house – the little box room.
He tried the door handle. It was locked: a good sign.
Holding his ring of house keys in one hand, he carefully went through them until he found the right key. He inserted the key in the lock and opened the door.
He flicked the light switch, still prepared for the worst.
And then breathed a deep sigh of relief.
There on the shelves, in their velvet-lined cases, were his puppets, their glass eyes staring sightlessly back at him, their bright colours vivid in the electric light. His Kasperle, his Petrouchka, his wonderful Kersa King and Queen.
His children were safe.
Whoever had broken into his little cottage had not been interested in the puppets. His precious collection, gathered in markets and auctions across Europe over the years, was probably now worth thousands of pounds – but only an expert would know that. No, whoever had broken in had surely come looking for gold and had gone away disappointed.
He scanned the rest of the room. Everything was neat and tidy, just as he always left it: the workbench, the rolls of fabric, the tools, the half-made puppets – the little theatre in panels, all ready for tomorrow. All safe.
But the big old wicker basket on the floor was at an angle.
Had he left it like that? Surely not. He knelt down and slowly raised the lid, suddenly anxious. But no, there was no need to worry. Nestled together in the folds of bright striped curtain fabric lay his old friends, just as they should be.
“My beauties,” he said, reaching in his hands to touch the puppets.
There was Punch, red-faced, grinning, his big nose outrageous. And Judy – long-suffering, old for her years. Next to them the Policeman, mouth ever-open in outrage. The green Crocodile, teeth bared. The sausages. The truncheon. The Baby. The Hangman.
And the Devil, with fangs, fork and horns – guaranteed to bring a squeal of fear from the little ones, sitting on their mothers’ laps.
“I know, I know – it’s night-time,” he said, closing the lid. “And we have a busy day ahead. But I wanted to be sure you were all safe and sound.”
He got up, turned the light off, and shut the door, locking it with the key. Then, with one last tour of the cottage to make sure there truly was no one hiding in the shadows, Otto turned the lights off and went back upstairs to bed.
He must try to get some sleep for he had to be up early.
But he still felt uneasy. Someone had been in the house and, he wondered, how had they got through those locks? What were they looking for? And why did they take nothing at all? Not even the little jar of coins. It was puzzling, and Otto Brendl did not like puzzles.
Not then, not now.
Still, all was secure – and there were hours before dawn and the big day ahead.
Outside, in the sweet-scented garden, the man waited until the bedroom light went off and then, taking care to stay in the shadows, moved quietly across the lawn away from the house.
In the soft light of the moon, he could see his footsteps in the wet grass – dark tell-tale patches.
But that is not a problem. They will melt away long before the old man wakes, he thought.
All had gone well. There had been no dog. He had managed to avoid the security lights. The locks had obeyed the tools that he carried with him. The old man had not woken until after the job had been done. And he had executed the task to the best of his ability.
Executed. Yes …
Now he must wait until the fuss blew over – for there would be a fuss, of that he was certain.
Then he would tidy up, and go home with no one the wiser. And then, finally, this long journey would be over.
He turned his back on the house, climbed the wire fence and made his way along the side of the ploughed field, up the hill towards a small copse.
The night was so quiet.
At the copse, he dragged his old sports bag from under a pile of leaves, took out the sleeping bag inside and made himself comfortable. He would sleep until dawn. Nobody would see him here. But from where he lay, he could see right across the valley.
Down below, the old man’s cottage was quiet. Beyond it, further down the hill, spread a valley of fields, misty in the moonlight. He could just make out the silver ribbon of the Thames meandering across the fields, a little line of boats moored upon it.
And to one side the village – small town, really – of Cherringham, fast asleep. He pulled his sleeping bag up to his neck – and then he slept too.
2. All the Fun of the Fair
“Okay. What’s the point of winning coconuts anyway?” asked Jack. “Aside from making piña coladas, that is.”
Sarah pointed to the corner of the coconut-shy and Jack dutifully stacked his box of coconuts on top of the others.
“It’s a tradition, Jack,” she said. “Like your turkeys at Thanksgiving, Easter Parade. It’s what we do here.”
Jack tilted his head, looking entirely sceptical.
“Well, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Trust me,” said Sarah. “Now, Daniel – grab the hoops and show Jack how to set them up, would you?”
She watched as her son – now a two-year veteran of the Cherringham Primary School Summer Fête – headed off with Jack to the car to get the heavy iron hoops and the mallet.
Hectic as it always was, the fête was still one of the high points of Sarah’s year, when the village put on its best face and she felt genuinely happy to be out of London and back into country life.
For some reason that she couldn’t quite remember, she’d been handed the coconut-shy to organise a couple of years ago, and it had just been assumed then that she’d always manage it.
More tradition in action, she realised.
Her daughter Chloe had come along last year to help – but this year she had reached the age where a primary school fête had become seriously uncool. Sarah, on the other hand, loved the whole day. The smell of the freshly cut grass, the bustle of parents and teachers racing the clock to get the fête ready, the excitement of kids free at last from the school year with the summer holidays stretching ahead of them …
“I thought we’d push for two pounds a go this year, Sarah, what do you think?” came a voice from behind her which she instantly recognised. “We so desperately need the money!”
Sarah turned. Mrs Harper, the headmistress, stood frowning, uncertain. Loved by all the kids, but hopelessly disorganised, Mrs Harper was a throwback to a time in education when management skills came second to passion.
“Or is it too much? Yes, it’s probably too much. A pound? Or perhaps one pound fifty? What do you think?” she said.
“Why don’t we charge a pound,” said Sarah, smiling. “But offer three for the price of two?”
“Brilliant!” said Mrs Harper. “Like at the supermarket – buy one get one free. Bogof – isn’t that what they say? Or should that be b-t-gof? Hmm. Anyway, must crack on – there’s a row brewing on the white elephant stall and I’m told they need a peacemaker.”
And off she strode towards the line of little white stalls which lined the playing field.
With an hour to go before the fête opened, Sarah could see it was all coming together. The dog-show arena was up – and the PA caravan already pumping out music. The ice-cream van was open. The merry-go-round for the little ones had started spinning, and the bouncy castle was fully inflated and ready for action; a splash of orange against the bright blue summer sky.
On the patch just opposite the coconut-shy, Sarah could see the local fire engine all set for a display and – talk of tradition! – old Mr Brendl was putting the final touches to his Punch and Judy stall.