Last Respects

Catherine Aird

Calleshire Chronicles 10

Murder at Ebb Tide

“Found drowned, my foot,” said the pathologist two minutes after looking at the body. The unidentified young man pulled from the salt water near the little fishing village of Edsway hadn’t drowned after all. And he hadn’t been a bather either, observed Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan. One simply didn’t go swimming in a shirt and trousers. Not voluntarily, that is. And then there was the matter of the mysterious copper weight stuffed in the dead man’s pocket…and the sunken ship discovered offshore. It all added up to murder as Inspector Sloan set out in a dinghy to net the killer before he got the chance to send another victim to a watery grave.

“Aird is a quiet, careful writer who gives readers a fine taste of life in the English countryside.”

—Chicago Sunday Times

The Very Best of Catherine Aird

Henrietta Who?

His Burial Too

A Late Phoenix

A Most Contagious Game

Passing Strange

The Religious Body

Slight Mourning

Some Die Eloquent

Stately Home Murder

Parting Breath


Michael Burnham, ship scientist

Ma plume pour toutes mes tantes.


Suspicion does not become a friend.

The man wasn’t alive and well and living in Paris.

He wasn’t living in the county of Calleshire, England, either.

And he certainly wasn’t alive and well. Actually he wasn’t living anywhere. He was dead. Obviously dead.

Horace Boiler was so sure about that that he didn’t hurry after he had seen him. Not that Horace Boiler was the hurrying sort. In addition to which he was out fishing at the time and fishermen never hurry. It was a universal truth. You couldn’t catch fish if you hurried. The fish didn’t like it: they stopped feeding at once. Like primitive man, fish equated hurry with danger and either kept their heads down or made off. In Horace Boiler’s considered opinion civilised man had a lot to learn about hurrying.

As it happened Boiler hadn’t so much seen the dead man at first as just caught a quick glimpse of something out of the ordinary in the water. It took his brain a moment or two to sort out the message from his eye: that that which was floating beyond the bow of his boat and just out of range of easy vision could be a body. He wedged his fishing rod so that he had a spare hand and reached for one of the oars. He gave it a purposive poke and the rowing boat obediently came round so that he was a little nearer to what was in the water.

It was after that that he had ceased to be in any real doubt about what it was he was looking at. The body was floating just under the surface of the water in the way that bodies did, arms outstretched. It was apparently moving. Horace Boiler was not deceived. It was, he knew at once, totally lifeless. The illusion of movement came from the water, not from the man. It was one of the tricks—the many tricks—that water played. The angle of refraction came into it, too.. Boiler didn’t know anything about angles of refraction but he did know a lot about the tricks that water could play.

This man had been dead for quite a while. He knew that, too, at once. That conclusion was not reached as a result of a long acquaintance with dead bodies—although Horace Boiler had seen some of those in his time too—but from something indefinable about the appearance of the body even at a distance.

If you were to ask him, his considered opinion would be that it had been in the water a fair old time.

There was, of course, no one about to ask him that—or anything else. It was precisely because there was no one about that Horace Boiler had chosen to come out fishing today. You couldn’t catch fish when the water wasn’t quiet. He looked about him now. There wasn’t even one other boat in sight let alone within hailing distance. That was because it was a Tuesday. Now if it had been a weekend he would hardly have been able to get his boat out into the main channel of the river for yachts and sailing dinghies.

It was this indefinable sense that this particular body had been in the water for more than a little while that made Horace Boiler dismiss the idea of taking it in tow.

Well, that—and something else as well…

The Boiler family had been around in Calleshire for a long time. Not quite in the same well-documented way that His Grace the Duke of Calleshire had been at Calle Castle but for pretty nearly the same length of time. There had certainly been Boilers living in the little fishing village of Edsway on the estuary of the River Calle for as long as anyone had bothered to look. Those who looked didn’t include the Boilers. They had better things to do than go searching through old parish records—things, like building boats, running ferries, making sails, digging for bait at low tide…

The tide still mattered in Edsway. Once upon a time—in the dim past when all boats had had a shallow draught—Edsway had been the only port on the estuary. It was always something of a natural harbour, sheltered by a lip of headland from the worst of the storms coming in from the sea—the village of Marby juxta Mare took the brunt of those—but there had never been really deep water at Edsway and now—thanks to the sand—there was less.

Its commercial fate had been sealed in the nineteenth century when some distant railway baron had decreed that Mr. Stephenson’s newfangled iron road should go from Calleford to the river mouth and thus to the sea on the other—the north side—of the river. That was when Kinnisport had come into prominence and Edsway fallen into desuetude. In the wake of the railway had come another entrepreneur who had caused a proper deep water

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