Cover image for One is one and all alone : an Inspector Webb mystery / Anthea Fraser.
Title:
One is one and all alone : an Inspector Webb mystery / Anthea Fraser.
Title Variants:
1 is 1 and all alone
ISBN:
9780312193096
Edition:
1st U.S. ed.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1998, ©1996.
Physical Description:
185 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Thomas Dunne books."
Abstract:
DCI David Webb takes on the case when two of a fellow detective's family members are killed within a week.
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1 Bob Harkins Branch FRA Book Adult Mystery / Suspense Fiction
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Summary

Summary

A tense and gripping new crime novel from Anthea Fraser featuring the ever-popular DCI Webb Malcolm Bennett, Webb's friend and colleague, has recently remarried, and there is conflict between his grown-up family and his new wife, making for a tense atmosphere at home.
Meanwhile, the two detectives have joined forces to tackle a series of shop raids, but are soon overtaken by events which have a shattering effect on Bennett's family. Two of them meet with a violent death within the space of four days, presenting Webb with one of the most traumatic cases of his career.


Author Notes

Anthea Fraser's mother was a published novelist who encouraged her to write. She didn't start writing seriously until after she was married and took a course with the London School of Journalism. Before she had completed the class she had published short stories in the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, and South Africa, Her first major success was "Laura Possessed". She has since published forty-seven novels covering the supernatural, romantic suspense, and crime. She has sixteen novels in the DCI David Webb series and ten in the Rona Parish series (the latest being "Retribution" (2017).

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

This wonderfully puzzling mystery performs an about-face deep into the story when, in a contrived and illogical internal monologue, the killer boasts about the crime. Until this disconcerting moment, the prolific author of the DCI David Webb series (A Shroud for Delilah, etc.) spins a finely detailed village procedural that deftly mixes some unhealthy family dynamics with slow and meticulous police work. Webb is on familiar ground: he is seeking four young thieves whose violence seems to be escalating. He works companionably with DCI Bennett, who in the course of the investigation confides that his home life is disintegrating because his new wife, the glacial and hostile Una, is alienating the grown children from his first marriage. When Bennett is found bludgeoned to death in his own parlor and Webb is asked to head the investigation, there is no lack of suspects, including: Bennett's son-in-law, furious because Bennett refused him a loan; the deceased's daughter's boyfriend, a felon in the making; and Bennett's wife, seemingly venal and uncaring. Webb has the continual, nagging conviction that he is overlooking something vital‘and, of course, he is. Despite capturing a dysfunctional family at work and forming the beginnings of an intriguing investigation, Fraser lets too many coincidences and a melodramatic finale dilute the suspense. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One It was the time DCI Webb always enjoyed: the day's work was behind him; outside, the March winds blustered with their usual vigour, hurling the occasional handful of sleet against the windows, while here, in his little domain, all was warmth and peace -- and Hannah had come for supper. Furthermore, since her flat was on the floor below, he wouldn't even have to brave the elements to take her home.     `You're looking very pleased with yourself,' she commented. `What were you thinking?'     He grinned shamefacedly. `"East, West, Home's Best", or something equally corny.'     `Well, so it is.' She stretched out her legs to the gas fire's blatantly fake logs. `Especially on an evening like this. I've been trying to guess what you've got in the oven; it smells delicious.'     `Spiced pork.' He topped up her glass. `I'm having quite a social day today; I met Malcolm Bennett for lunch and we went to that new grill place.'     `Any good?'     `Yes, well worth a visit. Decor's a bit jazzy but the food's excellent.'     He frowned, staring into the dancing lights of the fire, and Hannah watched him curiously, aware that something was bothering him.     `Is he the one who recently remarried?' she prompted.     `Not all that recently -- must be getting on for two years. But yes, that's Malcolm.'     Another pause. To break it, she said, `And has it worked out?'     Webb sighed. `I've been asking myself that. To be honest, I can't think why he married her. Carol was such a pretty little thing, with a sparkle almost to the end. This one's as stiff as a waxwork -- no warmth about her at all.'     `His family's grown up, I suppose?'     `Yes, a son and two daughters. Tim and Sally are married and Jane, the youngest, lives with her boyfriend.'     `How did they take their father's marriage?'     Webb shrugged. `He met Una less than a year after Carol died and they married three months later. It's my bet the kids resented her from day one. But they were all living away from home and I suppose he was lonely, poor bloke.'     `You coped,' Hannah pointed out, `without marrying the first woman who came along.'     `It's different after a divorce; I was glad to see the back of her!'     An oversimplification, as Hannah well knew, but she merely said, `Has he hinted at problems?'     `Not specifically, but I've known him a long time. I was best man at his wedding. The first one, that is.'     `But not the second?'     `They don't have best men at register offices. It was wise not to marry in church, though; it would have brought back Carol's funeral, for all of us.'     `So what's she like, this new wife?'     `Tall, thin. Not pretty, certainly, though she has fine eyes and quite a striking face. But it's her manner that's off-putting -- so stiff and formal.' He shook his head. `Poor old Malcolm; I hope he's not bitten off more than he can chew.'     `Well,' Hannah remarked, leaning forward and putting her glass on the table, `it might not be the most delicate observation in the circumstances, but he made his bed and now he must lie on it.'     `And I don't envy him that, either!' Webb commented, getting to his feet and going to check on the casserole. Across the town Una Bennett, still at her desk, sat staring at the door, which was vibrating from its resounding slam. That was totally uncalled-for! she thought angrily. She'd been quite justified in her criticism and there was no need for Pat to fly off the handle like that, let alone give in her notice. Now she'd have to go through all the rigmarole of advertising and interviews, and it couldn't have come at a worse time, with that trilogy awaiting translation.     Well, there was nothing she could do this evening. She glanced at her watch: seven o'clock, later than she'd -- She drew in her breath, eyes widening in consternation. Damn! The upset with Pat had made her forget it was Malcolm's birthday, and the family was coming to dinner.     Hastily she locked her desk, shrugged on her jacket and reached for the phone.     `Malcolm? Sorry, I've been delayed but I'm on my way now. Would you be a love and put the ducks in the oven? ... What? Yes, of course both of them. I should be home in half an hour.'     The lift seemed slower than usual, stopping on the first floor to let more people crowd inside. Reaching the ground floor at last, Una hurried along the passage to the door opening on the car park. It was raining -- hard, icy drops that stung her face.     Head down, she hurried over to the car. Before her marriage, her flat had been only five minutes away; now, she had to negotiate the centre of town, always snarled up with traffic at this time of night, then face the twenty-minute drive to Lethbridge. Not to mention, when she finally reached home, the disapproving faces of the family.     She edged her way out on to King Street, switching her mind from office problems to the evening ahead. Barbara was coming, too, she remembered, filtering round Gloucester Circus: Carol's unmarried sister who, Una was convinced, had hoped, after a decent interval, to marry Malcolm herself. God, what a hornet's nest she'd married into! She'd been better off --     Her thoughts skidded to a halt and were firmly battened down. No, she hadn't meant that -- not really. She was still fond of her husband, even if his set ways occasionally drove her to distraction.     Her eyes on the wet road, she thought back to their meeting, on the coach trip to Scotland. Since all the other passengers were paired off, they'd been more or less thrown together, but after a day or so she'd found herself watching out for him. He was a big man -- tall and broad-shouldered, his hair, still plentiful, fading barely noticeably from fair to grey. For the rest, a face that was pleasant rather than good-looking, and bushy eyebrows which were somewhat at odds with the twinkle in the eyes beneath them.     Almost inevitably they'd sat beside each other on the coach and again at dinner each evening at the different hotels en route. Since the tour had been organized by Prime Travel of Shillingham, it was no surprise to find he lived locally, in the neighbouring town of Lethbridge. What had surprised her was his job -- a detective chief inspector.     That he was lonely was obvious, and he'd lost no time in telling her of the death of his wife and about his children and grandchildren. For her part she'd volunteered nothing, but his gentle yet persistent questioning had soon elicited the admission that she also lived alone.     It was his undivided attention that charmed her. She was not used to the company of men, possessed, as she well knew, no feminine wiles to snare them. But this kindly policeman seemed, to her astonishment, to find her attractive, and she was more than grateful.     Wondering anew what he'd seen in her, she glanced briefly in the rear-view mirror. Black hair in a short bob, dark eyes with strong, black brows: no obvious charms there. Nor, she noted wryly, had her brief marriage dispelled what she thought of as her `spinster look' -- an almost imperceptible pursing to her mouth, an air of resigned apartness.     It came, she thought now, from thirty years of being alone, for since her mother's death that was how she'd felt, whether or not there'd been others around. Her very name compounded it. When she was a child, her father had explained that Una meant `one and only'; her parents had married late, and there would be no more children. In fact, `One-and-Only' became his pet name for her -- `Come along, One-and-Only, time for bed!' Sometimes he'd call her `Una-ique', which she'd gathered meant the same thing.     But her kind, joking father had died when she was thirteen, and her mother followed him five years later. Then it had been brought home to Una that she was indeed `One and Only', with no one left who belonged to her. Without her work and her music, life would have been insupportable.     As she turned at last into her drive, still caught up in memories, she recalled an exchange which had taken place in an office where she'd once worked. To her comment, `One can't do everything oneself!', that woman -- what was her name? -- had snapped irritably, `"One"? Who or what is "One"?'     And Una had replied unthinkingly, "`One is one and all alone, and evermore shall be so."'     She remembered being appalled at the accuracy of the quotation, and the woman, after a startled look at her white face, had gone out of the room.     Blocking off further reminiscences, Una turned off the ignition, gathered up handbag and briefcase, and went into the house. The smell of duck wafted in waves of succulence from the open kitchen door. At least dinner shouldn't be too much delayed by her tardiness.     She pushed open the sitting-room door, and the conversation in progress stopped abruptly.     `Hello, everyone,' she said with forced brightness, conscious of their alert, watching faces. `Sorry I was tied up, but I'm sure you've managed to entertain yourselves.'     Malcolm moved towards her and she pressed her cold face briefly against his warm one. `Thanks for seeing to the ducks.'     `Is there anything else I can do?'     `You could lay the table, if you don't mind. Everything else is under control. I'll just run up and change.'     Before going upstairs, Una checked the oven, switched on the extractor fan, took the cheese out of the fridge, and closed the kitchen door behind her.     God, she could have done without this, tonight of all nights, she thought with exasperation as she hastily washed -- no time for a shower. After a difficult day at the office, it would have been pleasant to have curled up with supper on a tray and an anodyne television programme. Instead, she had to produce a three-course meal for people who resented her very existence, and, what was more, smile while she did so.     Would they, she wondered, not for the first time, have objected to anyone their father had married? Was it because the wedding was too soon after Carol's death? Or was she herself the problem? She was well aware of her uncanny knack of antagonizing people, which she seemed unable to circumvent. Whatever the reason for their dislike, there was no way now to rectify it.     Swiftly she applied make-up, brushed her hair, slipped into a green silk dress, and, with a last check in the mirror, hurried back downstairs. The meal, carefully chosen to include Malcolm's favourite dishes, was progressing smoothly. Una had given some thought to seating, and, while checking her husband's table-laying, had put neat little name-cards in each place. Barbara, she'd positioned as far from herself as possible, on Malcolm's right, which should please her, she'd thought caustically.     The plan seemed to be working well; as Jane's boyfriend, Steve, had been unable to come -- no loss, in Una's view -- the two sisters were seated side by side. There was not, she thought, watching them, a strong family resemblance; Sally, the elder, was a no-nonsense young woman with a firm chin, whose blonde hair was caught back in a tortoiseshell slide. Jane, at nineteen the youngest of Malcolm's children, was more vivacious, with a bubbly personality she inherited from her mother. She also had the Bennett fair hair, but hers was frizzled all over in the prevailing fashion which, to Una's eyes, looked as though it hadn't been combed in weeks. The two of them were engaged in animated conversation which produced an occasional burst of laughter.     Across from them, on Una's left, Sally's husband Neil sat silently between Barbara and Jenny, Tim's wife. Glancing at his closed, sullen face, Una felt the invariable twist of dislike. He was a pompous, arrogant young man, too handsome for his own good, who lost no opportunity to cause trouble.     Beyond him, Barbara was in the middle of a long story to which Malcolm was listening, his head slightly bent towards her, and Una, continuing her analysis, turned her attention to them.     Barbara Wood was an elegant woman, who wore her chin-length grey hair in a straight bob. As Una watched, she laughed and hooked it back behind her ear with an almost girlish gesture. She had large, deep-set grey eyes, high cheekbones and good bone structure, and though not as pretty as her sister's photographs, was well-groomed and attractive. Una wondered how long she'd been in love with Malcolm; possibly ever since Carol married him, which could account for her remaining single. Or possibly this was only because, like Una herself, Barbara was a career woman, teaching history at a private school in Shillingham.     And Malcolm? Una's eyes lingered reflectively on her husband. The last two years had not been without contretemps as two strong characters adjusted to living together. More volatile than he, there'd been times when his reasonableness infuriated her. At others, he'd reacted with an angry outburst at what he saw as her insensitivity. Perhaps all marriages were like that; she'd no way of knowing. But it did seem that those who embarked on it later in life had as a consequence more rocks to negotiate; the young tended to blunder on regardless, confident that love would see them through.     And hard on that thought came the realization that she didn't love Malcolm -- probably never had. The suddenness of the revelation shocked her, and she was still adjusting to it when she became aware of her stepson's assessing gaze.     `A penny for them,' he invited unsmilingly. How much had he read into her study of his father? That last, disconcerting admission?     `Save your money, Tim!' she answered lightly. `How's business going? Plenty of crowns and other lucrative treatments?'     Tim was junior partner in a dental practice. `We're managing,' he said stolidly. `What about you? You must be busy, if you even have to work late on Dad's birthday.'     Una hid her annoyance at the implied rebuke. `We are busy, yes, but it was a domestic matter that delayed me. Domestic to the office, that is.'     `Someone get the chop?'     Una flushed. `Not exactly.' Unwilling to discuss her problems on this social occasion, she turned from him to his wife.     `How are the children, Jenny? We don't seem to have seen them for a while.'     `Fine, except that Lisa's playing up a bit. She decided she didn't want to go to nursery school and threw a tantrum when I insisted. She was fine once she was there -- I phoned later to check -- but we've had the same performance every morning. And of course each time Lisa cries, Sara-Jane joins in. It's like a parrot house.'     Una smiled. Jenny was her favourite member of the family, the only one who treated her normally.     At the far end of the table, Malcolm put down his spoon and leaned back.     `A lovely meal, dear. Thank you. In fact, I've done very well today; I had lunch with Dave Webb -- did I tell you? We went to the Grill House in Carlton Road. Have any of you tried it yet?'     They shook their heads. `How is Mr Webb?' Jane asked. `Mummy always liked him, didn't she? She was sure he had a girlfriend, but could never find out who it was!'     `Your mother was an incurable romantic,' Malcolm said with a smile. There was a slight, uncomfortable pause, then he added, `Dave's fine -- and if he has a girlfriend, he certainly keeps her well hidden.'     `What was his wife like?' Sally asked curiously.     `Susan? Lord, I've almost forgotten. OK, I think, though she could be sulky if she didn't get her own way. We saw quite a bit of them in the early days.'     `He came to school last year,' Barbara commented, `during all that cult nonsense. He handled it very well, I thought. I was quite impressed.'     `And it takes a lot to impress Auntie Barbara!' Jane declared impishly.     Everyone laughed, but Una was remembering the tall, lean man at her wedding. His appraising eyes had made her uncomfortable, and she recalled being glad their meeting was a social one. It would, she'd felt, be difficult to keep anything from him.     `So you went swanning off to lunch, did you?' Neil said unpleasantly. `All right for some!'     `Oh, it wasn't purely social. We've had a sudden increase in shop raids, here and in Shillingham. Same MO each time, so we're doing a spot of liaising.'     `Over lunch at top restaurants; that would please the taxpayers!'     Malcolm held up his hands with a laugh. `I'm sorry I mentioned it! The Grill's hardly a "top restaurant", but if you must know, I invited Dave to lunch to celebrate my birthday, and the Brown Bear, which is our usual haunt, didn't quite fit the bill. No pun intended!'     The family groaned. `You're getting worse, Dad!'     Una could feel her smile becoming fixed. This casual family banter was a closed book to her and she was out of her depth. To put an end to it, she pushed back her chair.     `If everyone's finished, shall we go through for coffee?'     In the sitting-room the groups re-formed and she found herself unavoidably next to Barbara. Being of an age, they should have been friends, but Una was aware it wasn't only the fact that she'd married Malcolm which prevented this. Something in her manner had alienated Barbara at their first meeting, and their relationship remained formal. Now, however, sipping her coffee, Barbara turned to her.     `I see the Choral Society's giving a concert in Steeple Bayliss. Are you taking part?'     Gratified by the unexpected interest, Una nodded. `Yes; it's quite a big work, so the two societies have combined. We've been rehearsing for months.'     `Which means,' grumbled Malcolm good-humouredly, `if she's not working late at the office, she's out singing. This was the first decent meal I've had in weeks!'     `Will you be going to the concert?' Barbara asked him.     `Lord, no! Music's not my line, as you know.'     `He prefers football, which isn't my line,' Una said. `Still, we wouldn't want to live in each other's pockets.'     Barbara carefully did not raise an eyebrow; it must have taken an effort. `All the same,' she countered, `it's nice to have shared interests.'     `We both enjoy walking,' Malcolm put in quickly, `don't we, dear? At weekends, if I'm not on duty, we often make a day of it -- set off cross-country and have a pub lunch somewhere.'     Una smiled agreement, but his words reminded her that it was some time since they had in fact done so. Most of those invigorating outings had taken place in the early days of their marriage. She thought suddenly, Oh Malcolm, you really should have married Barbara -- she'd have been much better for you. Did he regret his choice? It was a question she could never ask.     The evening wore on and eventually Jenny looked at her watch. `We'd better be making a move; the baby-sitter's rates go up at midnight and it'll take us a good half-hour to get home.'     Reluctantly everyone got to their feet. Sally went to collect her three-month-old son from the spare bedroom, returning with him still asleep in his carrycot. `With luck, we can transfer him to his car-seat without waking him,' she said, looking fondly down on the small, red face.     Una surreptitiously stepped to one side. Young Jamie had a distressing tendency to bawl every time he laid eyes on her, a practice of which his father, judging by the smug expression on his face, heartily approved.     They moved in a body into the hall, coats were sorted out, thank yous and goodbyes said. Malcolm, who had drunk more wine than he was used to, was in mellow mood, and with a sinking heart Una knew how he proposed to end his birthday. Possibly because she'd come to it late, she found the physical side of marriage both ludicrous and embarrassing.     He closed the door on the last of his family and put his arm round her, confirming her fears. `And now,' he murmured, his breath hot in her ear, `I have you all to myself.' `Enjoy yourself?' Tim asked abruptly as they turned on to the Shillingham ring road.     `Yes, it went well, didn't it? I'm glad your dad liked his present.'     `Stepmamma was in good form when she finally turned up. Probably because she'd given someone the sack.'     `Oh darling, that's not fair!'     `She's so bloody sarcastic,' Tim said resentfully. `"Plenty of crowns and other lucrative treatments?"' He savagely mimicked Una's precise accent.     `She was only showing interest.'     `Interest my eye. She hates having us there. That's the only reason I keep going.'     `Tim! What about your father?'     `There are plenty of opportunities of seeing him without trailing out to Lethbridge. Anyway, it doesn't feel like home any more, since that woman revamped it.'     Jenny wisely kept silent. Before her marriage, Una had embarked on what she termed a `facelift' of the house, which had involved complete redecoration, several pairs of new curtains, and a wholesale reshuffling of furniture.     Some of the pieces she'd dispensed with altogether to make room for her own, infuriating Tim and his sisters, even though they'd acquired the cast-offs. Carol's piano had caused the most upset, but she'd been only a mediocre player who, for years, hadn't touched it at all, whereas Una, like it or not, was a talented pianist. It was natural she should want her own instrument, though none of the others would see it.     Privately, Jenny considered the house much improved by Una's ministrations; not only had she some lovely furniture but she'd an eye for colour and, when all was said, the pale shades which predominated in Carol's time had been uninspired. It would be unwise, however, to express this opinion.     `She always asks after the children,' she said now, hoping to divert Tim from his spleen.     `Angling to see them, no doubt, but tonight's duty visit is more than enough to be going on with.'     `They're quite fond of her, you know, and she's very good to them. That toy piano she gave Lisa must have cost a bomb.'     `The oldest trick in the book,' he said scornfully, `buying her way into their favour. I'm surprised you fell for it.'     Jenny gave up and, settling back in her seat, resolved to say no more. Una did not sleep well that night. The memory of Malcolm's fumbling embrace alternated continuously with scenes from the evening -- Barbara's cool voice and Neil's arrogant stare. Those were the two, she reflected, who caused her most disquiet. Barbara was at least civil, but Neil made no attempt to hide his dislike. He was a thoroughly unpleasant young man, and, whether fairly or not, she held him largely to blame for the attitude of the others.     She sighed, wishing she could toss and turn as she longed to, but reluctant to disturb her husband. How had she arrived at this pass? she wondered despairingly, though she knew the answer. Malcolm had thought her solitary air mirrored his own loneliness, thus creating what she now recognized as a false bond between them.     Still, they co-existed amicably enough most of the time, and she was fond of him, even if that fondness was mixed with impatient exasperation. If only the family lived farther away, they would have more chance of making a success of their marriage.     At last, uneasily, she slept.

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