ONE MURDER. TWELVE SUSPECTS.
TWELVE MOTIVES FOR MURDER . . .
This Christmas, sit back and become a real armchair detective.
A murder mystery told entirely through interviews.
Private Investigator Elizabeth Chalice needs YOU to help her solve this case.
It’s a beautiful Christmas day in Como, and the Caswell-Jones family are celebrating with their nearest and dearest in their Villa Janus. Merriment and limoncello abound . . .
That is, until Jonty Caswell-Jones is found dead in his study. With no staff today, the only suspects are the guests and the family. Under the surface, tensions have been brewing, guests seething, and rivalries have reared their ugly head . . .
Jonty’s wife, Catherine, knows there’s a killer among them so she calls her acquaintance, Elizabeth Chalice, to investigate. She wants to keep this firmly within the family if she can. No one else must know.
As each suspect is interviewed in turn, Elizabeth must work out who killed Jonty and why. And is anyone else in danger? But with twelve suspects each with their own very clear motive, anything is possible . . .
ELIZABETH: We are a selfish species. I remain dismayed at the motives for the murders I investigate. Revenge is one dish best served cold, but even in hot-tempered attacks, the killer’s empathy for the victim is nothing but ice. They are cold. Heartless. From trivial annoyances between acquaintances to long and drawn-out family wars. Here, we have the murder of Jonty Caswell-Jones. I am Elizabeth Chalice, private detective and scrutineer. Are you taking notes? I must always journal my findings to keep the facts straight. Truth is clearer to me when written on paper.
So. Let us begin. It is Christmas day, 1953. After returning to my Milanese pensione following a fine Christmas dinner at the British Bankers’ League, I was surprised when the call came through from none other than Catherine Caswell-Jones. Catherine, the victim’s wife, is of course much too well bred to ever seem embarrassed about making such a call, but I could hear a light tremor in her voice as she settled on the word murder.
The December wind rattled around my ankles in the back seat of the black Fiat as the lights of the lakeside villa came into view. Deep in the rutted hills of the Italian countryside, I remembered how badly behaved I used to be coming here in years gone by. I am still badly behaved, just not here. I had spent some dazzlingly glamorous Christmases here. But the invitations dried up after a case went badly. I had not heard from the Caswell-Jones family in over five years until Catherine’s call . . . Of course, I am intrigued.
MEET THE VICTIM
ELIZABETH: I suppose I had better give you a little background on our victim, hadn’t I? Luckily for you, I knew the man fairly well once upon a time. Poor Jonty Caswell-Jones. Born Jonathan Caswell-Jones, at the family estate in 1908. Jonty was a talented orator. An officer in the Fifth Berkshire Division during the war, he now ran the family business – he was a coffee merchant. Now, I can tell you Jonty was a good sort, prone to anxiety on matters of form and manners, but without a doubt he was a good friend and family man. On the phone, Catherine told me, with a quiver in her voice, that she had found him slumped over his desk with a sliver of blood trailing from his motionless mouth.
It was approaching eight o’clock when I arrived at Villa Janus. Catherine’s daughter Polly opened the hefty mahogany door; the soft curl of her brunette hair sat expensively undisturbed by the increasing wind. The entrance hall was as tall as a church. Catherine and the rest of the family had congregated in the drawing room.
The hospitality I would have once received is greatly diminished – everyone knows there is a killer in their midst. Biting their nails and wringing their tissues . . . the Caswell-Jones family and their eclectic Christmas house-party guests. What hidden agendas and past grievances will our investigations uncover? The voyeur in me is always thrilled by this part. Let us meet the suspects, starting with the Caswell-Jones family.
MEET THE SUSPECTS
CATHERINE CASWELL-JONES: Thank you for coming. Elizabeth may have mentioned this already, but my name is Catherine; my friends call me Kate. It is my husband, my Jonty, who has been murdered. My dear man, Jonty. We’ve spent so many happy Christmases here, at Villa Janus, it is just horrifying to think that something as terrible as this could have happened. But, as always, I must thank Elizabeth for coming. It has been quite some time since we last saw her here. I must say, I do admire her bravery in returning. But, if she can get to the bottom of this, I’m sure we can put our past behind us. My dear, dear Jonty – he did not deserve to die so young. I cannot believe he is gone. And he’s left us all, heartbroken, behind . . .
(The phone rings and Catherine answers it in the background.)
THOMAS CASWELL-JONES: Right. I am Thomas, Thomas Caswell-Jones. The eldest child of Jonty and Catherine, who you have just met. My mother has never really been one to exaggerate . . . so her reaction here is so strange . . . We are all very sad father is dead, but really, it was nothing more than a tragic, untimely heart attack. As the eldest son, I really feel I must step in here and set the record straight. It’s ludicrous forcing us to go along with this charade, with this bloody fraud. I cannot trust Elizabeth – we all heard what happened with that child . . . that case. She’s not up to the job, and I highly doubt having her here is going to help anyone. There is simply no crime to investigate here – we all loved our father—
POLLY CASWELL-JONES: Oh, do shut up, Thomas. Speak for yourself. Hello there. I’m Polly. Thomas’s sister. I am not disappointed the old trout, my father, is dead, but I did not do it. Everyone here . . . they are all such phonies. If Mother says so, then I’m certain father was murdered by someone here. Goodness knows we all have a motive. You have quite the task on your hands, unpacking the minds of this motley collection of charlatans. I’m an artist, you know? And take it from me . . . I know only too well how art can imitate life, and I fear the dreaded portrait of this family that will be uncovered.
MATILDA CASWELL-JONES: (Sternly) Polly! What a thing to say. (To the listener) Thank you for coming. I am sure you know me, but in case it is useful for your records, I am Matilda Caswell-Jones. Mother of the deceased. Both my boys are dead now – first my dear, dear William, now my only other child, gone. I must know what happened. I still don’t understand why the official authorities aren’t looking further into the matter, but we must remember the importance of keeping this terrible incident to ourselves. Elizabeth has a job on her hands, but I know Elizabeth well . . . haven’t seen her in five years, but a woman like that never changes. I’m positive she will be keen to keep this discreet, too . . . Thank goodness. If Catherine and Polly’s strange suspicions about Jonty’s death are correct, the killer is here amongst us . . .
FLORA CASWELL-JONES: (Sobbing) Granny, stop, please. Daddy is dead, and it is Christmas Day. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Let’s not all fight. Oh, hello there. I’m sorry. I’m Flora Caswell-Jones. The youngest daughter of the Caswell-Jones family. I must apologise – we’re in shock. This is rather horrible, absolutely unbelieveable. But I can make sure my family allow Lizzie – Elizabeth – to do her job and get to the bottom of it all. Mama, Granny, if you don’t mind, I might take myself off. I’m feeling terribly panicked.
MARGARET HORTON: Ah, Elizabeth is back . . . I am Margaret Horton. Kate – Catherine – is my oldest friend, and my cousin, and I’m godmother to those poor children, too. I’m very much a part of the family, as you can see. Poor old Jonty, it’s truly tragic that he is no longer with us. But I must agree with Thomas, this obsession with murder . . . it’s not healthy for anyone. Yes, he was a bit of a knave, but the chap had a dickie heart, and it stopped. Anyway, just for the record, I certainly didn’t kill Jonty. Much as I might have liked to at times (chuckles). Oh, sorry, not very funny, is it?
LUDLOW LANSDOWNE DE GROOT: (Snidely) (To Margaret) Oh, you’re here for them all right, Margaret, for them and the will reading. (To the listener) I am Ludlow Lansdowne de Groot, best friend of Jonty Caswell-Jones, successful stockbroker and godfather to Thomas . . . Don’t be fooled by Margaret. You should know that while she might quickly claim she’s innocent, she has always leeched off Jonty, acting as the old maid. Jonathan was my best friend, my oldest confidant. I am bereft at his untimely death. I’m sure he’s up with Saint Peter quaffing a 1928 Pomerol, having a jolly good laugh at the trail of destruction. As Thomas’s godfather, it is my duty to ensure he receives all that is owed to him without question. I welcome our lady detective, Elizabeth, questionable though her past experience may be. If she’s any good, she’ll put this whole murder business to bed without delaying things for Thomas. Am I right, my lady wife?
SALLY LANSDOWNE DE GROOT: Quite, Ludlow. (To the listener) I’m Sally Lansdowne de Groot, Ludlow’s wife. Jonty and I were cut from the same cloth. Born within six months of each other and raised in the very same town. I have known him longer than anyone else here, apart from you, Matilda. I can’t quite take it in that he’s dead. Bloody hell. Who could have done this? Anyway, you must know that this needs to be wrapped up quickly. I need to be back in London for New Year’s Eve, and do not intend for the entire Christmas break to be spoiled. Jonty would not have wanted that either. Of course, it goes without saying that I am completely innocent of any wrongdoing, but I am certain this little investigation will uncover some not-so-well-hidden secrets.
FRANCIS HEATH (WRITER): Hello there . . . Let me introduce myself, shall I? If no one else is going to introduce me. I’m Francis Heath. I’m a friend of Thomas’s and a friend of truth – I welcome any interrogation of reality. I’m a writer, you know? I see you’ve got a notebook at the ready. Memory is such a slippery thing, isn’t it? But I am certain the old chap was killed. From my own observations, I don’t think anyone here really likes each other. I’m a philosopher, I’m perceptive . . . I know, for example, that Elizabeth doesn’t like our hostess, Kate, even though I’m sure they pretended to be friends during the war. Kate has already mentioned how well they got on during that time. But who am I to judge? I don’t even really like Thomas, (chuckles) I just wanted to come for Christmas. And look at this place . . . who wouldn’t? I’m sure I’m not the only one. Ah! Here’s Peter . . . someone else you should meet. Did you know, Peter here was written into the victim’s will only last year—
PETER SMYTHSON (SKIER): Jesus, Frank, have some respect, will you? A man is dead. A good man. (To the listener) Yes, I am Peter. Peter Smythson. I have known Jonty my entire life, and witnessed nothing but a loving family man, a champion of commerce, and an advocate for those . . . who need it. We knew each other very well – I’m a skier, you see, an Olympic champion actually. Jonty Caswell-Jones has always supported me in my career and has treated me like his own son, too. He was a kind man, and I am happy to be interviewed to help find his killer. In my view, anyone who stands in the way of justice is as guilty as the murderer.
NIKOLAI IVANOV (DANCER): Don’t forget me. Your eleventh suspect. Are you keeping track of all these names? I hope you’re writing them down somewhere! Ah, your notebook. Yes. Very good. Well, here, I am Nikolai Ivanov. You may or may not recognise my frame as that of a dancer . . . I trained in the Bolshoi Ballet. I have known Matilda, Jonty’s mother, for quite some time, but, although I have been to Janus before, you should note that this is my first Christmas here. And certainly, it is not one I was expecting. To be frank, I have seen many murders. I can tell you that this is not one. Even the most skilled assassin in the Russian army could not conduct such an immaculate crime scene. There’s not a sign that this is murder. As people have said, he had a weak heart. I expect that is what got him in the end.
CATHERINE: Excuse me! Someone is on the phone for you, listener.
ARGENTO DI SILVA: (Over the telephone) Hello there. Can you hear me? Yes, yes, I am Argento di Silva. I work for the family, but I am also a close friend. My dear pal Jonty is dead, and I am heartbroken I didn’t get to say goodbye! I am on my way back now, and as soon as I arrive at Villa Janus I will help you find the killer. As the family’s lawyer and now assistant, I can help provide any documents you might need. I will be there first thing in the morning with Jonathan’s will.
ELIZABETH: Now. I trust you have met all the suspects? We have twelve suspects . . . and twelve motives for murder. Why, you ask, am I including Argento, who wasn’t even here when Jonty was murdered? A-ha . . . you’ll have to wait and see. Now . . . keep an eye out for any strange behaviour, any suspicious answers to my questions, any inconsistencies in their own stories and others . . . be alert. There’s a killer here, and we’ve got to find them.
Anyway, for now, where should I start my investigation, do you think? Half of the witnesses don’t even believe it was murder. We should bear that in mind. Will their opinions change over the course of the interview? Or are they here to hide something from us? I have heard briefly what the constables have said about the crime scene – not a spot of anything suspicious, apparently. This leads me to believe it’s a silent but deadly killer . . . poison. Shall we see if my hunch is right?
Twelve Motives for Murder is out in Audiobook and Ebook editions on December 10th 2020.