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Contents

Cover

Also by Diane Janes

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

November 2011

Acknowledgements

Also by Diane Janes

The Black and Dod mysteries

THE MAGIC CHAIR MURDER *

THE POISONED CHALICE MURDER *

THE MISSING DIAMOND MURDER *

Fiction

THE PULL OF THE MOON

WHY DON’T YOU COME FOR ME?

SWIMMING IN THE SHADOWS *

STICK OR TWIST *

A STROKE OF BAD LUCK

Non-fiction

EDWARDIAN MURDER: IGHTHAM & THE MORPETH

TRAIN ROBBERY

POISONOUS LIES: THE CROYDON ARSENIC MYSTERY

THE CASE OF THE POISONED PARTRIDGE

DEATH AT WOLF’S NICK

* available from Severn House

THE SKELETON TREE

Diane Janes

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

First world edition published in Great Britain and the USA in 2021

by Severn House, an imprint of Canongate Books Ltd,

14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE.

Trade paperback edition first published in Great Britain and the USA in 2022

by Severn House, an imprint of Canongate Books Ltd.

This eBook edition first published in 2021 by Severn House,

an imprint of Canongate Books Ltd.

severnhouse.com

Copyright © Diane Janes, 2021

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. The right of Diane Janes to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-5019-5 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-779-8 (trade paper)

ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0517-9 (e-book)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is purely coincidental.

This eBook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland

In Memory of

Capulet Janes Esq.

People talk about getting away with murder, but I don’t believe there’s any such thing as getting away with it. You certainly can’t get away from it. It’s always there, gnawing at you. Killing isn’t an end, it’s a beginning.

ONE

January 1980

One school of thought has to be that the trouble began with the money. The root of all evil and all that jazz. There can be no doubt that the money changed all of their lives irrevocably.

When Wendy walked out of the front door that cold January morning, the prospect of moving house had been in the air for a while. They had been living in Jasmine Close for six years by then. Jasmine Close, with its neat pairs of identical semis, had been the best they could afford back in 1974 and was adequate to their needs, with Tara still in primary school, Katie not much more than a toddler and Jamie yet to arrive. People described it as ‘a nice little estate’, a small development on the edge of Bishop Barnard, handy for the school and only a ten-minute stroll to the High Street, which in those days still boasted every shop the inhabitants of the village might need. All the roads on the estate were named after flowers: Laburnum Croft, Cyclamen Drive, Honeysuckle Grove and Magnolia Road. It was the sort of place where the younger children were out riding their bikes at the weekends, under the half-hearted supervision of car-cleaning dads, while the older kids headed off carrying riding hats or tennis rackets. The bay windows gleamed with Windolene and self-satisfaction. The wives, who had mostly become mothers before maternity leave and returning to work became the norm, held regular Tupperware parties and coffee mornings in aid of the NSPCC.

Every household had at least one car to carry goods home from the out-of-town supermarkets, and it was easy to pop into the village for odds and ends. Wendy liked the walk, turning left out of Jasmine Close into Cyclamen Drive, then right into Magnolia Road, often pausing to exchange a word or a wave with someone who was busily shaving their lawn with the compulsory hover mower, or rehanging their net curtains, fresh from the sweaty labour of the ironing board; faces recognized from PTA meetings, or the night classes in cake decorating or Spanish for Beginners.

The point where Magnolia Road formed a T-junction with Green Lane marked the end of the estate, and from there it was a left turn on to Green Lane, which ran in an almost straight line until it met the High Street. Unlike the estate, Green Lane had existed for centuries, its direction determined long before the existence of motorized traffic, when the quickest way to anywhere was also the slowest way and did not involve a bypass. Midway between Magnolia Road and the High Street, a gentle kink in Green Lane indicated the existence of some long-forgotten obstacle, a giant tree perhaps or a patch of boggy ground, long since felled, or drained, or otherwise eliminated. For many years it must have been lined by hedgerows, flanked to either side by open fields, but by the time the Thorntons moved into the village, Green Lane was lined with houses and bungalows. Unlike the neat little estate on the edge of the village, there was no uniformity to the dwellings in Green Lane, which had sprung up piecemeal as Bishop Barnard expanded southwards and represented a whole variety of twentieth-century fashions. Wendy liked to look at the different houses. There was one row of six rather dull semis, where a builder had evidently managed to acquire a substantial stretch of land, but most had been individually designed: mock-Tudor

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