Set in 1927: Daisy's cousin, the present Lord Dalrymple, was not brought up to the job, and he's just realised, approaching his fiftieth birthday, he has no idea who is his heir. Advertising in newspapers worldwide brings a slew of candidates from all over the Empire and all walks of life. His lawyer, with Daisy's assistance, winnows the possible heirs down to four.
But none can provide adequate proof of legitimate descent in the male line. In fact, one of them is missing--whether temporarily or permanently, his wife (or widow) isn't sure.
While awaiting clarification, Lord Dalrymple invites them to Fairacres to celebrate his birthday. Also present are his known family in England, including Daisy and her husband, DCI Fletcher of Scotland Yard, and their children.
When a string of mysterious accidents is followed by the death of one of the would-be heirs, it begins to look as if someone is out to nobble the competition...
The bronze Daimler arrived at last... the chauffeur, and the one remaining bobby vied to help Raymond into the car. Daisy tipped him, as Raymond showed no sign of doing so, and he handed her in next.
.... Raymond remained slumped in the corner, eyes closed. Before they were halfway back to Fairacres, he started to breathe sterterously, an unpleasant cross between a snort and a gasp. Alarmed, Daisy spoke to him. He didn't respond.
She listened for a few minutes, then reached for the speaking tube. "Smethwick?"
"Mr. Raymond seems to be very ill. I think we'd better take him straight to the doctor, in Upton upon Severn. Just stay on this road."
"I don't know his address."
"We'll just have to ask, madam. You're all right, are you?"
"So far, thank you." After all, having hysterics or fainting would hardly alter the situation for the better....Daisy sat back. The horrible sound had stopped and Raymond's chest no longer heaved at each breath. Perhaps he'd be all right just going to bed? Should she take his pulse?
Reluctantly she slid across the leather seat. His breathing was so quiet she couldn't hear it at all. She couldn't see his chest rising and falling. When she lifted his wrist, his hand flopped downward. His skin felt clammy.
No pulse. The blank stare wasn't a stare, because those fixed eyes were seeing nothing.
Daisy's heart stood still. For a moment she couldn't speak, then she cried out, "Stop!" so loud that Smethwick heard her although she didn't use the tube.
He glanced back, his expression startled. A hundred yards farther on, he pulled into a farm gateway. "Madam?"
She opened the door and jumped out, her one thought was to escape from the immediate vicinity of Raymond's body. "I can't find a pulse," she blurted out as Smethwick, alarmed, also sprang out of the Daimler. "I think he's dead."
"Let me check," he said in a businesslike way. "I drove an ambulance in the war. Flat feet."
He climbed into the back of the car, leaving Daisy thinking sad thoughts of her fiancé, Michael, who had likewise been an ambulance driver during the war but had not returned.
"You're right, he's gone." The chauffeur emerged from the interior. "Had an accident in Worcester, did he?"
"Yes, but the police seem to think he just fell, and he himself said he hadn't hit his head."
"Heart attack. Or stroke. He's the age and figure for it."
"He seemed so vigorous!"
"Oh well, you never can tell. I s'pose I better lay him out on the seat. Otherwise he's going to slide off when we start moving. If you don't mind sitting in front with me, madam."
"Yes, please!" said Daisy.
Once the Raymond's body was in a decently recumbent position, Smethwick fetched a car-rug from the boot to spread over him. The cheerful red and yellow tartan was altogether inappropriate, but as the chauffeur said, "Beggars and corpses can't be choosers." He returned to his seat behind the steering wheel. "I haven't driven around with a stiff behind me—if you'll pardon the expression—since the Armistice. Where to now, madam?"
"Oh dear, I expect we ought to take him to Dr. Hopcroft, even though it's too late. He'll know what to do."
"Right you are. I've got to find a post office and send a wire to my company, too. The boss isn't going to be happy."
"If he didn't pay in advance, I daresay Lord Dalrymple will cover the expense." She only half listened to Smethwick's response. She was wondering whether Raymond's death fitted into the pattern of accidents—assuming there was in fact a pattern—and if so how.
From what the copper had said, it sounded as if someone had pushed him aside at the last minute, possibly saving his life. It was slightly odd that the Good Samaritan hadn't stayed to make sure he was all right and to enjoy the kudos. Perhaps he'd been in a tearing hurry, or perhaps just shy.
He might yet be found. Daisy had learnt from experience the sequence of events that Raymond's death would lead to. As he had not, to her knowledge, been under the care of a doctor, and no medical practitioner had been present, an inquest would be necessary. In the circumstances, after Alec's hobnob with the CC, the coroner would surely require an autopsy. If there was anything fishy about Raymond's death, a police investigation would follow.
"Hell!" Smethwick jammed his feet on the brake and clutch. The car slithered to a halt in a few inches of brown water. Ahead, the lane was under water as far as they could see, ripples spreading round the next curve...
Upton upon Severn, subject to flooding after heavy rainfall upstream
Heirs of the Body can be ordered from
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http://www.bookem.com/ (S. Pasadena, signing Jan. 11 at 3 pm)