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  • Published: 12 September 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241512456
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • RRP: $34.99

The Last Devil To Die

The Thursday Murder Club 4


Kuldesh Sharma hopes he’s in the right place. He parks up at the end of the dirt track, hemmed in on all sides by trees, ghoulish in the darkness.

He had finally made up his mind at about four this afternoon, sitting in the back room of his shop. The box was sitting on the table in front of him, and ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ was playing on the radio.

He made two phone calls, and now here he is.

He switches off his headlights and sits in total darkness.

It’s a hell of a risk, that’s for sure. But he’s nearly eighty years old, so when better to take that risk? What’s the worst that can happen? They find him and kill him? They would surely do both, but would that be so bad?

Kuldesh thinks about his friend Stephen. How he looks now. How lost, how quiet, how reduced. Is that the future for him too? What fun they used to have, the whole lot of them. The noise they would make.

The world is becoming a whisper to Kuldesh. Wife gone, friends falling. He misses the roar of life.

And then in walked the man with the box.

Somewhere in the distance a faint haze of light plays through the trees. There is engine noise in the cold silence. It is starting to snow, and he hopes the drive back to Brighton won’t be too treacherous.

A sweep of light crosses his back windscreen, as another car approaches.

Boom, boom, boom. There’s that old heart of his. He’d almost forgotten it was there.

Kuldesh doesn’t have the box with him now. It is quite safe though, and that will keep him safe for the time being. That is his insurance. He still needs to buy a bit of time. And if he can, then, well…

The headlights of the approaching car dazzle his mirrors, and then switch off. The wheels crunch to a halt, the engine idles, and all is darkness and silence once again.

Here we go, then. Should he get out? He hears a car door close, and footsteps start their approach.

The snow is heavier now. How long will this take? He’ll have to explain about the box, of course. A bit of reassurance, but then, he hopes, he’ll be on his way before the snow turns to ice. The roads will be deadly. He wonders if –

Kuldesh Sharma sees the flash of the gunshot, but is dead before he can hear the noise.



So What Are You Waiting For?


Wednesday, 26th December, lunchtime-ish

‘I once married a woman from Swansea,’ says Mervyn Collins. ‘Red hair, the lot.’

‘I see,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Sounds like there’s quite a story there?’

‘A story?’ Mervyn shakes his head. ‘No, we split up. You know women.’

‘We do know them, Mervyn,’ says Joyce, cutting into a Yorkshire pudding. ‘We do.’

Silence. Not, Elizabeth notes, the first silence during this meal.

It is Boxing Day, and the gang, plus Mervyn, are at the Coopers Chase restaurant. They are all wearing colourful paper crowns from the crackers Joyce has brought along. Joyce’s crown is too big and is threatening to become a blindfold at any moment. Ron’s is too small, the pink crêpe paper straining at his temples.

‘Are you sure I can’t tempt you to a drop of wine, Mervyn?’ asks Elizabeth.

‘Alcohol at lunchtime? No,’ says Mervyn.

The gang had spent Christmas Day separately. It had been a difficult one for Elizabeth, she would have to admit that. She had hoped that the day might spark something, give her husband Stephen a burst of life, some clarity, memories of Christmas past fuelling him. But no. Christmas was like any other day for Stephen now. A blank page at the end of an old book. She shudders to think about the year ahead.

They had all arranged to meet for a Boxing Day lunch in the restaurant. At the last minute, Joyce had asked if it might be polite to invite Mervyn to join them. He has been at Coopers Chase a few months and has, thus far, struggled to make friends.

‘He’s all alone this Christmas,’ Joyce had said, and they had agreed that they should ask him. ‘Nice touch,’ Ron had said, and Ibrahim had added that if Coopers Chase was about anything, it was about ensuring that no one should feel lonely at Christmas.

Elizabeth, for her part, applauded Joyce’s generosity of spirit, while noting that Mervyn, in certain lights, had the type of handsome looks that so often left Joyce helpless. The gruff Welshness of his voice, the darkness of his eyebrows, the moustache and that silver hair. Elizabeth more and more is getting the hang of Joyce’s type, and ‘anyone plausibly handsome’ seems to cover it.

‘He looks like a soap-opera villain,’ was Ron’s take, and Elizabeth was happy to accept his word on the matter.

Thus far they have tried to speak to Mervyn about politics (‘not my area’), television (‘no use for it’) and marriage (‘I once married a woman from Swansea’, etc.). Mervyn’s food arrives. He had resisted the turkey, and the kitchen agreed to make him scampi and boiled potatoes instead.

‘Scampi fan, I see,’ says Ron, pointing to Mervyn’s plate. Elizabeth has to hand it to him, he’s trying to help things along.

‘Wednesdays I have the scampi,’ agrees Mervyn.

‘Is it a Wednesday?’ says Joyce. ‘I always lose track around Christmas. Never know what day it is.’

‘It’s Wednesday,’ confirms Mervyn. ‘Wednesday, the 26th of December.’

‘Did you know that “scampi” is the plural?’ says Ibrahim, his paper crown fashionably askew. ‘Each individual piece is a “scampo”.’

‘I did know that, yes,’ says Mervyn.

Elizabeth has cracked harder nuts than Mervyn over the years. She once had to question a Soviet general who had not uttered a single word in more than three months of captivity, and within the hour he was singing Noël Coward songs with her. Joyce has been working on Mervyn for a few weeks now, since the end of the Bethany Waites case. She has so far gleaned that he has been a headteacher, he has been married, he is on his third dog, and he likes Elton John, but this does not amount to all that much.

Elizabeth decides to take the conversation by the scruff of the neck. Sometimes you have to shock the patient into life.

‘So, our mysterious friend from Swansea aside, Mervyn, how’s your romantic life?’

‘I have a sweetheart,’ says Mervyn.

Elizabeth sees Joyce raise the most subtle of eyebrows.

‘Good for you,’ says Ron. ‘What’s her name?’

‘Tatiana,’ says Mervyn.

‘Beautiful name,’ says Joyce. ‘First I’ve heard of her though?’

‘Where’s she spending Christmas?’ asks Ron.

‘Lithuania,’ says Mervyn.

‘The Jewel of the Baltic,’ says Ibrahim.

‘I’m not sure we’ve seen her at Coopers Chase, have we?’ asks Elizabeth. ‘Since you’ve moved in?’

‘They’ve taken her passport,’ says Mervyn.

‘Goodness,’ says Elizabeth. ‘That sounds unfortunate. Who has?’

‘The authorities,’ says Mervyn.

‘Sounds about right,’ says Ron, shaking his head. ‘Bloody authorities.’

‘You must miss her terribly,’ says Ibrahim. ‘When did you last see her?’

‘We haven’t, just as yet, met,’ says Mervyn, scraping tartare sauce off a scampo.

‘You haven’t met?’ asks Joyce. ‘That seems unusual?’

‘Just been unlucky,’ says Mervyn. ‘She had a flight cancelled, then she had some cash stolen, and now there’s the passport thing. The course of true love never did run smooth.’

‘Indeed,’ agrees Elizabeth. ‘Never did it.’

‘But,’ says Ron, ‘once she’s got her passport back, she’ll be over?’

‘That’s the plan,’ says Mervyn. ‘It’s all under control. I’ve sent her brother some money.’

The gang nod and look at each other as Mervyn eats his scampi.

‘Apropos of nothing, Mervyn,’ says Elizabeth, adjusting her paper crown just a jot, ‘how much did you send him? The brother?’

‘Five thousand,’ says Mervyn. ‘All in all. Terrible corruption in Lithuania. Everyone bribing everyone.’

‘I wasn’t aware of that,’ says Elizabeth. ‘I have had many good times in Lithuania. Poor Tatiana. And the cash she had stolen? Was that from you too?’

Mervyn nods. ‘I sent it, and the customs people nicked it.’

Elizabeth fills up the glasses of her friends. ‘Well, we shall look forward to meeting her.’

‘Very much,’ agrees Ibrahim.

‘Though, I wonder, Mervyn,’ says Elizabeth, ‘next time she gets in touch asking for money, perhaps you might let me know? I have contacts and may be able to help?’

‘Really?’ asks Mervyn.

‘Certainly,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Run it past me. Before you have any more bad luck.’

‘Thank you,’ says Mervyn. ‘She means a great deal to me. Been a long time since someone paid me any attention.’

‘Although I’ve baked you a lot of cakes in the last few weeks,’ says Joyce.

‘I know, I know,’ says Mervyn. ‘But I meant romantic attention.’

‘My mistake,’ says Joyce, and Ron drinks to stifle a laugh.

Mervyn is an unconventional guest, but Elizabeth is learning to float on the tides of life these days.

Turkey and stuffing, balloons and streamers, crackers and hats. A nice bottle of red, and what Elizabeth assumes are Christmas pop songs playing in the background. Friendship, and Joyce flirting unsuccessfully with a Welshman who appears to be the subject of a fairly serious international fraud. Elizabeth could think of worse ways to spend the holidays.

‘Well, Happy Boxing Day, everyone,’ says Ron, raising his glass.

They all join in the toast.

‘And a Happy Wednesday, 26th of December, to you, Mervyn,’ adds Ibrahim.

The Last Devil To Die Richard Osman

The fourth book in the record-breaking Thursday Murder Club series from British national treasure Richard Osman

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