Simon Brett

The Body on the Beach

The Fethering Mysteries #1

2000, EN

Simon Brett introduces a sparkling new series of crime whodunnits starring the redoubtable Carole Seddon and her worldly wise accomplice, Jude.

Very little disturbs the ordered calm of Fethering, a self-contained retirement settlement on England’s southern coast. Which is precisely why Carole Seddon has chosen to reside there. So the last thing Carole expects to encounter in Fethering is a new neighbour with but one name and an obviously colourful past. ‘Jude’ was not really Fethering…but neither was the body Carole found on the beach. A body, it has to be said, that has disappeared by the time the police arrive. Only Jude is ready to believe what her neighbour says she saw – and from that moment on, the two women are resolved to turn detectives. 

? The Body on the Beach ?


Fethering is on the South Coast, not far from Tarring. Though calling itself a village, Fethering isn’t what that word immediately brings to the minds of people nostalgic for an idealized, simpler England. Despite the presence of many components of a village – one church, one shop, one pub, one petrol station, and a whole bunch of people who reckon they’re the squire – Fethering is in fact quite a large residential conurbation.

The core is its High Street, some of whose flint-faced cottages date back to the early eighteenth century. The peasant simplicities of these buildings, sufficient for their original fishermen owners, have been enhanced by mains drainage, gas central heating, sealed-unit leaded windows and very high price tags.

Out from the High Street, during the last century and a half, have spread, in a semicircle whose diameter is the sea, wave after wave of new developments. The late Victorians and Edwardians added a ring of solid, respectable family homes. Beyond these, in the 1930s, an arc of large, unimaginative slabs sprang up, soon to be surrounded by an infestation of bungalows. In the post-war period some regimented blocks of council housing were built in an area to the north of the village and named, by planners devoid of irony, Downside. Then in the late 1950s there burgeoned an expensive private estate of vast houses backing on to the sea. This compound, called Shorelands, was circumscribed by stern walls and sterner regulations. From that time on, stricter planning laws and a growing sense of its own exclusivity had virtually stopped any further development in Fethering.

The roads into the village are all regularly interrupted by speed humps. Though tourism plays a significant part in the local economy, strangers to the area are never quite allowed to feel welcome.

Because of its seaside location, the village boasts a Yacht Club, a cluster of seafront cafes and a small but tasteful amusements arcade. During the winter, of these the Yacht Club alone remains open, and to members only. But open all the year round along the front are the rectangles of glass-sided shelters, havens by day to swaddled pensioners killing a little time, and by night to amorous local teenagers. In spite of the overpowering gentility of the area, and ferociously deterrent notices about vandalism, the glass of the shelters gets broken on a regular basis.

Fethering is set at the mouth of the Fether. Though called a ‘river’, it would be little more than a stream but for the effects of the tides, which twice a day turn a lethargic trickle into a torrent of surprising malevolence. A sea wall, stretching out beyond the low-water mark, protects the beach from the Fether’s turbulence. This wall abuts the Fethering Yacht Club, which controls access to the promenade on top. Only Yacht Club members, and some local fishermen who keep their blue-painted equipment boxes there, are allowed the precious keys which give access to this area. Against the wall, on the beachward side, is the cement ramp down which the boats of the Fethering Yacht Club flotilla reach the water.

The sea goes out a long way at Fethering, revealing a vast, flat expanse of sludge-coloured sand. When the tide is high, only pebbles show, piled high against the footpath and the wooden breakwaters that stretch out from it like the teeth of a comb. Between the path and the start of the houses, lower than the highest part of the beach, is a strip of tough, short grass. At spring tides, or after heavy rain, pools of water break up the green. The road which separates this grass from the start of the houses is rather imaginatively called Seaview Road.

At regular intervals along the beach are signs reading:




Though hardly separated from the coastline sprawl of Worthing, Fethering believes very strongly in its own identity. People from adjacent areas even as close as Tarring, Ferring or Goring-on-Sea are reckoned to be, in some imprecise but unarguable way, different.

Fethering is its own little world of double-glazed windows and double-glazed minds.

Carole Seddon had always planned to retire there. The cottage had been bought as a weekend retreat when she had both a job and a husband and, though now she had neither, she never regretted the investment.

Carole had enjoyed working for the Home Office. The feeling of having done something useful with her life fitted the values with which she had grown up, values which at times verged on the puritanical. Her parents had lived a life without frills; perhaps the only indulgence they had shown her was the slightly frivolous ‘e’ at the end of her first name. So Carole felt she had earned a virtuous retirement – even though, she could never quite forget, it had come a little earlier than anticipated.

Ahead of her, she imagined, until time finally distressed her body beyond repair, lay perhaps thirty years of low-profile life. Her Civil Service pension was at the generous end of adequate; the mortgage was paid off; there would be no money worries. She would look after herself sensibly, eat sensibly, take plenty of long sensible walks on the beach, perform a few unheralded acts of local charity for such organizations as the Canine Trust and be, if not happy, then at least content with her lot.

Carole Seddon did not expect any changes in the rest of her life. She had had her steel-grey hair cut sensibly short and protected her pale-blue eyes with rimless glasses which she hoped were insufficiently fashionable ever to look dated.

She bought a sensible new Renault, which was kept immaculately clean and regularly serviced, and in which she did a very low mileage. She had also acquired a dog called Gulliver, who was as sensible as a Labrador is capable of being, and she had kitted herself out with a sensible wardrobe, mostly from Marks & Spencer. Her only indulgence was a Burberry raincoat, which was well enough cut not to look ostentatious.

If her clothes were older than those usually worn by a woman in her early fifties, they represented sensible planning for the future. Carole was happy to look older than her age; that accorded with the image of benign anonymity she sought.

And someone who wished to slip imperceptibly into old age could not have chosen a better environment than Fethering in which to complete the process.

As she took her regular walk on the beach before it was properly light that Tuesday morning in early November, these were not, however, the thoughts going through Carole Seddon’s brain. They were old thoughts, conclusions she had long ago reached and fixed in her mind; they never required reassessment.

But new, disturbing thoughts cut through the early-morning sounds, through the hiss of the gunmetal sea, the wheeze of the wind, the resigned complaint of the gulls, the crunch of sand and shingle on to which Carole’s sensible gumboots trod. The new thoughts centred round the woman who, the previous day, had arrived to take possession of the house next door. It was called Woodside Cottage, though there wasn’t a wood in sight. But then

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