Murder on the Moorland is the third book in the Kitt Hartley mysteries series. A page-turning cozy mystery set on the picturesque Yorkshire Moors. Perfect for fans of Faith Martin, Betty Rowlands and LJ Ross. Read the opening chapter below!
Detective Inspector Malcolm Halloran jammed his foot down hard on the accelerator of his black Fiat Linea and sped past a road sign for Esk Valley prison.
Three miles of rugged moorland between here and the fusty visiting room where he would once again look his wife’s killer in the eye.
If he could do that then he would know for sure whether somehow, even from behind bars, Jeremy Kerr had managed to murder again.
Halloran tried to breathe through the many ways in which that thought stung him. This was all supposed to be over. Had Kerr really found some way of killing again, even if only vicariously? If so, how would he get Kerr to confess to it now that he was disgraced and incarcerated? There was no hope of a get-out-of-jail-free card for the likes of him, no matter how much information he offered. Regardless, Halloran had to find a way of squeezing out the truth. Last time, Kerr had taken seven lives before Halloran noticed a book about Anglo-Saxon gods sitting on his bookshelf one night. If he hadn’t been so desperate to close the case after the death of his wife, maybe he wouldn’t have spotted it amongst the number of other innocuous volumes about moorland walks and military history. One of the runes on the spine of the book had matched a symbol carved into the hand of Kerr’s third victim and it was the first breadcrumb in a trail that would lead to the conviction of a ritualistic killer and once-close colleague. If somehow Kerr had been responsible for ending yet another innocent life, Halloran had to do whatever it took to make sure the body count stayed at one.
Desperate to dismiss the swarm of questions hazing his mind, he tried instead to focus on the purple heather scrolling past the windscreen, fixing his eyes on the point where the bracken met the pastel blue of a dawning June sky. Not even the ravishing colours of the midsummer moorland could hold his attention, however, or help him forget the scene that had played out at York Police Station a little over three hours ago.
Halloran let out a weighty sigh. Today wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was scheduled for a Sunday off this week for a start. But not just that. He was supposed to be spending the morning in bed with Kitt. The night before had been special. After six months of proving himself worthy of her trust, she had given herself to him, completely. Before he could even think of showing her the desires he had kept hidden from others he’d been intimate with, it was important to him that Kitt knew how tender he was at heart. Thus, when they had started sleeping together a couple of months ago, he’d made sure their encounters had been slow and gentle. That they were purely about connecting with this new, extraordinary person in his life. Last night though, for the first time, he had been able to do what he had wanted to do with her since they’d met – or at least make a start on the list.
He remembered the sultry smile on Kitt’s face as he had looped his belt around her wrists. He should be with her right now, whispering a few more suggestions in her ear and watching her eyebrow rise in mock outrage. Instead he was out here on the moorland, hunting ghosts from a past life.
Halloran shook his head, trying to shake off his thoughts. He had left a note on his pillow letting Kitt know how much the night before had meant to him and that he had been summoned to the station. But at the thought of all they had shared he wanted to call her. To hear her voice and let her in on what was happening. Giving in to this urge, however, would probably force him to think twice about what he was about to do and he couldn’t afford that. No matter the cost, he was determined to face Jeremy Kerr once again.
The car crested a small hill and the Hole of Horcum, a 400-foot-deep hollow in the Levisham valley, opened up by the roadside. Local legend told that the depression had been forged by a giant who, during an argument with his wife, had scraped up a handful of earth to throw at her. In truth, the chasm had been formed by water welling up from the hillside and wearing the rocks down slowly over thousands of years. The feeling of being hollowed out, of a primal force welling up inside and eroding what you once were, was one Halloran was more familiar with than he ever wanted to admit.
He had never cried publicly over the death of his wife. Not even at her funeral. There had been many nights, however, where the whiskey bottle had called and in solitude he had allowed himself to mourn. Before this morning he had managed to convince himself that he had finally left those dark times behind, but he had been wrong.
Skirting around the abyss cut into the heart of the moorland, the car climbed another hill. This time, Halloran found himself staring across the short stretch of road ahead to a long, sandy-coloured building less than a mile in the distance. He frowned and felt his heart quicken. Could he smell Kamala’s perfume? He breathed in deep again. No. That was impossible. Any last traces of her scent had long since drifted out of his life. In fact, save for a wedding ring packed away in a box of odds and ends in the attic back in York, there was no physical evidence left that he had ever had a wife. And yet right now, in this moment, there was no mistaking the gentle hint of jasmine and peach that seemed to hang in the air. Winding down the window, Halloran welcomed the cool breeze and rubbed his hand over his face as though trying to wake from a bad dream.
He looked at his watch: 7.40.
The message to get down to the station had buzzed through to his phone just after four. Kitt had been sleeping so soundly, he wouldn’t have awoken her for the world. When he got to the nick, they had all been waiting for him: Chief Superintendent Ricci, Detective Sergeant Banks and Detective Sergeant Redmond. He would never forget the look on their faces when he walked into that room, the news they broke to him, or the reckless manner in which he had reacted to what Ricci had to say. He was sure he’d seen a flash of fear in Ricci’s eyes as he had raved and ranted. He couldn’t blame her for being unnerved. His behaviour had frightened him too; he needed to get a grip before he faced Kerr again.
Halloran overtook a group of cyclists already making a start on whatever epic ride they had planned across some of the steepest terrain in England. He’d never understood the draw to cycling steep hills, to him it seemed borderline insane, but then Kitt thought the same about his morning jogs.
‘What are you running from, I wonder?’ she would say with a wry smile whenever he pulled on his running shoes.
‘Definitely not you,’ was all he could ever bring himself to tell her.
After a minute or so Halloran indicated left down a side road full of potholes that led to a tall black fence built of reinforced steel, strong enough to keep criminals in and strong enough to keep anyone who wanted revenge on them out. Usually, if an officer wanted to visit a prisoner there would be forms to fill in and several other bureaucratic hoops to jump through. If you were a high-ranking police officer with connections in the community, though, it was possible to pull in a favour. If Kerr refused to speak to him, there was nothing he could do to force him, but something told Halloran that Kerr wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to confront, and likely taunt, the man who had put him away.
Halloran pressed the security buzzer to announce his arrival to the officer at reception and a moment later the iron gate began to swing open. Somewhere inside this building, amongst the maze of long white corridors that echoed with the footsteps of wardens and sometimes the wails of a tormented convict, Kerr was shovelling down a prison breakfast, unaware of the fact he was about to be visited by the man whose life he had tried to destroy. Exactly what Halloran would do when he once again came face to face with his wife’s killer, he hadn’t yet decided.