The Bones in the Attic

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9780007121366: The Bones in the Attic

Latest in Robert Barnard's hugely popular Charlie Peace series: 'He plots a mystery as well as any writer alive' Time Magazine Moving into an upmarket new home in Leeds, rising radio star Matt Harper is shocked to find the skeleton of a small child in the attic. His grisly discovery takes him back to the summer of 1969, when he lived with his aunt only a few streets away, reawakening dim, vaguely disturbing memories from his childhood. While Detective Charlie Peace heads up the nominal police investigation into the bones, Matt's unease leads him to revisit the past in an attempt to solve the mystery himself. Tracking down the other members of a gang of local children he'd briefly belonged to, he gradually unearths a shared secret that has laid buried ever since. Everyone remembers little Lily Fitch's meetings with her older 'friend', and the hippy couple's baby she wanted to rescue, but Matt can't help feeling there's something else they're holding back. Were the bones in the attic the result of a tragic accident, or has time concealed a more sinister truth?

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About the Author:

Robert Barnard was born and brought up in Essex. After leaving Oxford he worked as a university lecturer in New South Wales, and then taught in Norwegian universities for seventeen years, returning to England in 1983 to write full time. He and his wife now live in Leeds.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Remember You Must Die

"It's a good size for a dining room," said the builder and decorator, who had said to call him Tony. "But then, I don't suppose you have family meals anymore. No one does."

"Sunday," said Matt. "And anytime there's something on offer the children particularly like."

"How many you got?"

"Three. They're my partner's."

The man nodded. He was used to all kinds of permutations and variations. In fact, he often reckoned the decline of the stable family had been wonderful for his business.

Matt stood in the center of the big room, unconscious for the moment of Tony, or of anything else except the house. It struck him that he and the house were at a crucial moment in their existence: the house had nothing of him, or of Aileen, but it did have him there, considering, determining its future. And his own.

He loved it. Standing outside in the lane waiting for Tony he had felt his heart contract at the mere sight of the stone. Stone. Solid, thick, permanent stone. Outside he had heard a radio, loud, from next door through an open window. Inside he heard nothing. And here it was, waiting, with its wood-burning fireplace, its bell push to summon the long-gone servant, its tentative moves in the direction of Art Deco. Eighty years old or more. Waiting for what he, Aileen, and the children were going to make of it. A strange thought struck him. He wondered if a stone house like this might have kept his marriage together.

Thank God it hadn't.

"What color were you thinking of?" Tony asked.

"I thought blue -- not too strong. The windows aren't that large, and it's a long room, so we need something pleasant and airy."

"Blue. You're thinking of paint, then?"

"I'll have wallpaper if I find something that I know is right -- something that grabs me round the throat. Otherwise I'll have paint till I find something. Anyway, I like paint: clean colors and clean surfaces."

Tony nodded, and as they went into the hallway he said, "I wish I could say I'd seen you play."

Matt shrugged.

"Why would you? You'd be a Leeds United man. There was no great reason seven or eight years ago to make the effort to see Bradford City play."

"Seven or eight years ago there was no great reason to go and see Leeds United play. Dullest football in the north was what they served up then." He thought, and then added, "Mind you, the new manager's making a world of difference."

"He's good with the media too," agreed Matt. "Does one of the best interviews of anyone in the Premier League."

Tony shot him a quick look, then slapped his thigh.

"Got you! You're on Radio Leeds. Matthew Harper. I was thrown by the 'Matt.'"

Matt smiled and nodded, used to the delayed reaction.

"That's right. I thought I'd take my full name, especially once they started using me for ordinary news-reading and chat shows."

"I don't hear it that often, I must admit. I go more for music, me. And I never connected the name with the footballer. But I have seen you now and then on 'Look North.'"

Matt noted that the man, who had shown since he had arrived the sort of casual deference usual to a customer, was now positively respectful. Matt knew from experience that anyone involved with the media, on however low a level, received the degree of deference formerly given to members of the professions. He had got beyond the phase of feeling flattered by unearned respect, so he said briskly, "Let's go upstairs, shall we?...I won't be getting the bedrooms done till we're well settled in. I may even try to do some of it myself, maybe get the children to help." They had gone round the bend in the staircase and were standing on the landing. Tony poked his head into the bedrooms, bathroom, and lavatory.

"Best leave the bathroom to professionals," he said. "Too fiddly by half. The bedrooms won't present too many problems. Stick to paint there, if you want my advice: then if the children keep wanting theirs changed it won't come too expensive."

"Yes, I'd already thought of that. Knowing my lot and their clothes and toys and reading matter and habits, they'll want them changed at least once a year."

"By 'eck, they have it made, the young 'uns these days," said Tony with feeling.

"Yes, I'd love to know who starts each new vogue. What infant genius suddenly decrees it's yellow this year, and Aussie soaps are out, and shoe soles are three inches high, and the whole childish world bows agreement and starts pestering parents."

"Probably some future Richard Branson," agreed Tony. "Anyway, you've got four very nice-sized rooms here. That's the advantage of these older houses: you're not squashed in like sardines. When was it built, did you say?"

"About 1920, the estate agent said, or maybe a bit earlier. Did you see the bells downstairs to summon the servants? I suppose the First World War or its aftermath did away with all that."

"Happen. Anyway, the kids who go into these new estates won't get bedrooms like these -- cubbyholes more like. And certainly not one each."

Matt grimaced.

"Hmm. I was hoping to keep one of the bedrooms for my study. You might not think it to listen to, but a lot of the things I do on Radio Leeds need preparation. It would be good to have somewhere I can shut myself away in."

"So, two of the kids sharing a bedroom, and one having a bedroom to him- or herself. Sounds like a recipe for nonstop guerrilla warfare to me. And I speak from experience."

"I was hoping to bribe them by promising them the attic as a games room."

Tony still looked skeptical.

"Have you looked at it?"

"Just poked my head through the trapdoor."

"Attics are fine for games rooms if you are thinking of things like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit -- things you can play on the floor. They're pretty useless for snooker tables, or anything you have to stand up for, even supposing you could get a table up there. Want me to have a look?"

"Would you?" Matt took the pole with the hook on the end, clicked open the trapdoor, then pulled down the metal stairs and tugged at the light cord. He led the way up.

"There's proper flooring down, but it's pretty old, and I don't know that I'd trust it."

He stood at the edge of the trapdoor, but Tony, coming up behind him, strode out onto the floor.

"Sound as a bell. They used good materials in them days. Hasn't been used much, by the look of it. You can see the problem with a games room, can't you? Put a snooker table in the middle and the kid might be all right potting the balls, but he'd hardly be able to straighten up."

Matt saw his point.

"It was just an idea. I've never heard our lot express a wish for a snooker table. I might be able to persuade one of them it would be exciting to have one of the bedrooms up here."

"You might. How old's the eldest?"

"Isabella's fifteen."

"You might have more luck with a boy. Still, teenagers like to get away from the others. The young ones may think it would be exciting, but when it comes to it, they get nervous. You might be able to block a small part of this attic off. In fact, it's practically been done for you."

Tony pointed back toward the trapdoor. Just beyond it was a low piece of brick walling, and when Matt's eyes penetrated the gloom, he could see another one beyond it. He hadn't noticed that section when he'd made a quick exploratory visit before.

"Roof supports," explained the builder, putting his hand on the rough piece of brick walling. "They've just continued up with the walls from either side of the landing below." He looked down across the roughly constructed brick wall and toward the far wall. "Hmm. They haven't bothered with flooring here. Plenty enough space in this half, I suppose." He climbed carefully over, and walked along one of the beams, Matthew following behind him. "You could make a real cozy little

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