The fields and meadows gleam in the sun, nestle winding roads between gentle hills and generous hedgerows. This land is green and lush even in winter, when only the trees change their hues. The sky is endless, whether it's blue or grey or black.
There's the village, the small town, the hamlet, with houses dressed in trellis and timber framing, shops behind rotund bay windows, the little stone church with its vicar, the pub beneath the wooden painted sign.
And over there, on that hill, is the manor, once one of the Great Houses, now a grand tourist trap, nursing home, art colony, spa retreat, prep school, whatever you need and like, its walls still covered in ivy, the columns and chimneys very white.
In the forest outside the village the beeches stand dignified and massive, their leaves on the ground giving and fragrant, betraying nothing of what they hide.
The village's pond, stream, or dam, is outlined by reeds, willows, and cat-tails. Its waters are clean, but opaque, with wooden piers discreetly concealed behind bushes.
Every morning the milkman walks by, the postman a moment later, the caretakers, the shop attendants, the hotel staff, the prep school teachers, the chicken farmers, the bird watchers, the amateur photographers, the pensioners, the kindergarten children, they all belong to the the village.
But even here, even in this connectedness and warmth, some are not happy, some are not content, some are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.
It starts with blackmail, adultery, embezzlement, corruption, yet as surely as the roads between the hedgerows lead to the village, these crimes end in murder.
The first corpse appears, no matter how well it's been hidden, in the beech leaves, the stream, the church, and the milkman drops his bottles, the fly-fishers lose their catch, the bridesmaid screaming screaming screaming in her delicate midsummer dress.
The constables, the coroner, the technicians, arrive first and set up the ambulance, the police cars, the colored ribbons, the plastic spread, the entire stage, before the Chief Inspector and the Detective Sergeant can arrive. They always travel in pairs, in dark suits and a black car, the Inspector as sharp as the Sergeant is handsome, their gazes even crisper than their clothing.
What do we have here? the Inspector says, hunching over the body.
It appears to be a murder, the Sergeant says.
The cause of death was a strong blow to the head, the medical examiner says over a knowing look.
You talk with the victim's friends, I'll interview the family, the Inspector tells the Sergeant, motioning with his ballpoint pen. Here no one is interrogated or even questioned before they are charged and arrested.
Yes, sir, the Sergeant says. He knows he is subordinate, but nevertheless happy with his place. One day he will become Inspector, maybe even Chief Inspector too, but not now, not yet.
Did they have any enemies? the Inspector asks the lady of the manor, the school teacher, the choir director, the library manager, the church bell ringers.
No, of course not, not a single one, they all reply and cry among the dried roses, the wind chimes, silk carpets, plate armor, antique books, copper pots, and white cottage walls, but the Inspector has already found the first clue that something isn't right, a piece of fabric, a wayward paint brush, a strange store receipt, and takes it with him, unseen and unnoticed.
Who might this belong to? the Chief Inspector says, showing the clue to the Detective Sergeant when they meet again. Keep an eye out for the owner.
Yes, sir, the Detective Sergeant says and narrowly stops himself from saluting.
They are both called back to the station by a phone call from the coroner.
The victim was killed by a blow to the head by a bovine insemination syringe, orchid watering pot, antique camera, locally made cheese, some time between ten and twelve o'clock last night, the pathologist tells the Inspector. He and the Sergeant nod synchronously, they have seen it all before.
This is a classic case of a crime of passion, the Sergeant says.
I'm not so certain it is, the Inspector says.
All the marks are there, the Sergeant says.
That would appear to be the case, the Inspector says, and someone is trying very hard to make us believe that.
Who? the Sergeant says.
That, the Inspector replies, is what we must find out.
The beeches stand stout, their canopies dense, the pond so murky, the reeds so sharp. In other parts of the world, policewomen and policemen examine their evidence in brightly-lit laboratories while fast music pounds in the background, or they must eat unidentified kinds of meat at the dinner table of a member of their investigation team to receive the proper clues. But here, the Inspector and the Sergeant only talk with people, to gain information, yes, but mainly to gauge their reactions.
They speak with the husband, the wife, the daughter, the son, the secret lovers, the neighbors, the beneficiaries of the will, the business associates, and the competitors, because the chance of being murdered by close family or friends is that much higher than being killed by a stranger, particularly here, where everyone knows the secrets of everyone else.
The second corpse appears, as it must, as is inevitable, as the Chief Inspector expects.
It was just sex, the husband, the brother, the store keeper, the computer expert, the stage magician says.
Really? says the Inspector, the Sergeant, eyebrow at the ready.
Of course it is, the wife, the pig farmer, the astronomer, the tailor says. It didn't mean anything.
The husband is cheating, the wife is vindictive, the children illegitimate, and the will, the trust fund, or the life insurance has been changed very recently. It is always this way.
The Chief Inspector doesn't live in any of the villages, instead he resides in the suburb of the nearest real town. In his spare time he avoids the countryside as much as he can. The Detective Sergeant is yet too new from the city to realize why.
I know who did it, the teacher, the vicar, the shop clerk, the town mechanic, the bird watcher tells to their confidante. But they never say who it is, or call the Inspector, even though they have his card. Soon it is too late and the third corpse appears, the one who knew.
The witness never reached the police, but with the third and latest murder, the Chief Inspector has the clues he needs and his suspicions confirmed. In his patient, sideways manner he first questions, then confronts the final suspect.
I know you did it, the Inspector says, nodding his head gently, yet his eyes glitter with unwavering certainty.
No, it wasn't me, it was the school teacher, the nurse, the gardener, the astronomer, the suspect says, frantically looking for a way out, to burn the incriminating evidence, to lock the Chief Inspector inside the secret basement, gallery, ice house, crypt.
Come, come, now, the Chief Inspector says, we both know that isn't true. He holds out his hand, like a stern parent to a misbehaving child, a guide back to the straight and narrow, assisted by shameful incarceration.
No! the suspect says, and makes a surprisingly quick move, to push past the Inspector and out the door, to crush the final evidence under foot, to aim the shotgun at him, to tempt the policeman to move closer to the edge of the precipice. But the Detective Sergeant steps out right in front of them, or behind, or to the side, unseen from the shadows, the door, the bushes, and blows out the candle flame, wrestles the mallet from their grip, pulls the airline ticket from their hands, and subdues them even further if they continue to resist.
Finally, lesser constables and sergeants arrive and take the guilty away in blinking vehicles, while the Inspector and the Sergeant convene in front of them.
I don't get it, the Sergeant says. All they had to do was let go of the jealousy, slam the door in their enemies' faces, talk it over with someone, or ask for help, and it would have resolved itself for them.
Yes, but it doesn't work that way, does it? the Inspector says, shaking his head, but whether it's in sympathy or exasperation isn't clear. Once you've started on the road to murder there is no going back, only forward, taking you further and further away from the rest of the world, until you're broken by your own desire. That is the case for us as well, once a murder has been committed, we have to be here. Sadly, there is no escape for us either.
Murder is murder, the Sergeant concludes, even here, among the sun-drenched hills, the fragrant hawthorn hedges, the thatched houses, and the bright, bright sky.
Indeed, the Inspector says and opens the door to their car.