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Whodunnit murder mystery set in Kew, plus author background piece

29th April 2017

The Dog Walker by Lesley Thomson – whodunnit murder mystery set in Kew.

Whodunnit murder mystery set in KewThe Dog Walker is a classic ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery. Back in 1986, Helen Honeysett sets off along the Kew towpath by the Thames for her nightly run – accompanied by her dog, Baxter. Baxter returns, Helen doesn’t. She is never seen again. The police investigate and question plumber and neighbour, Steve Lawson – who commits suicide by walking into the river. He was (or was he?) having an affair with Helen. Most people believe the culprit was found, and move on with their lives.

Fast forward to 2016. Stella Darnell (daughter of a deceased police officer, head of cleaning agency Clean Slate, and part time private detective) and Jack Harmon (District Line tube driver, cleaner, and part time private detective) are hired to do a deep clean on Number 1 Thames Cottages. They are also charged with getting rid of a ghost, possibly Helen’s, in the property. Number 1 is just three doors down from Number 4 where Helen used to live. Helen’s husband, Adam, finds out about their private detection and asks them to investigate Helen’s death (assuming she is, in fact, dead). He says he needs to find out the truth in order to seek closure for the whole episode – even though he will inevitably become a suspect.

There are other suspects aplenty. Adam was at the time having an affair with Jane Drake – who had every motivation to be rid of Helen. She is still, thirty years on, stalking him. And what about the other inhabitants of Thames Cottages? Could Bette at Number 2, Steve Lawson’s wife, have found out about the affair he was allegedly having – and murdered Helen? Then there is the somewhat sad and strange Daphne Merry at Number 3 – a ‘de-clutterer’ by trade and more than a little obsessive. Or Neville Rowland who was bribed to leave Number 1 (the house Stella and Jack are cleaning) by the new owner, Natasha Latimer. Or Sybil Lofthouse at Number 5, employed at the Stock Exchange in 1986 – and a very private person. Or Brian Judd, who is (or was) a recluse and lives close by. All could be thought to have had a possible grudge against Helen…

Stella and Jack carry out their investigation, and the book moves to a thrilling and, I guess, unexpected conclusion. Blog panelUnexpected in that you don’t really see it coming – but are not surprised by it. The murderer had to be one of the suspects.

No doubt that Lesley Thomson has created a really exciting read. Twists and turn abound…The book is well observed and written, and (not alway the case with thrillers) there is some good characterisation. Little gems like Stella’s mum…

My only ‘complaint’ is that I found the format a bit difficult. The first half of the book has alternate chapters set in 1986 and 2016. Possibly because I am a bear of very little brain – and given the complexity of the plot – I found it at times quite difficult to be transported back to 1986 (or forward to 2016) and remember exactly where I had been ten pages ago.

All in all, though, The Dog Walker is an excellent addition to the world of English ‘whodunnits’.

Tony for the TripFiction team

And now over to Lesley to tell us a little about the background to the book…

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Foot Tunnel Kew Railway Bridge

Lesley Thomson: It occurred to me to ask myself: If I wasn’t walking my dog would I be too scared to walk along this dark deserted path? Maybe, but then I thought: I’m telling a story, I need to be here. I need to walk where my characters walk.

Winter. The Thames Towpath near Kew Bridge. With only a small poodle for company, I still have no sense of danger. Fog swirls about me, it wreathes around slender trees on the river bank. I’m togged in waterproofs, a light strapped to my bobble hat. Alfred has a red glowing collar since, being chocolate brown, I can’t otherwise see him in the dark. The torch helps me see where he’s pooed. (Dog walkers will know the desperate juggle of a phone torch and a poo bag.) Once dealt with, I switch off the light. Shadows emerge and shapes resolve in the blackness.

A dog walker – like a writer – is steeped in routine. Regular as clockwork, come sheeting rain or biting frost, dog walkers follow their routes early in the morning and late at night. My character Jack says too many of us rely on the comfort of the usual; we assume we’re not being followed or watched. But I’m like Stella; I assume that those I meet are harmless dog walkers.

Dog walking in the pre-dawn dark, I gather impressions, ideas and facts for my story. The impression, ridiculously, that I’m safe: I’m the writer, it’s up to me if something bad happens. I do tense when someone without a dog, who isn’t jogging, passes me. Why not walk along the road in the lamplight?

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Pavement Thetis Cottages

The Dog Walker came to me in vestiges of moonlight, as we criss-crossed pools of shadow. Deathly quiet. No birds, no other dog walkers. Here on the towpath I couldn’t hear traffic. Out of nowhere a jogger ran past, swift and insubstantial. My heart missed a beat. As I moved, step-by-step – stain-by-stain – I began to imagine Stella and Jack’s next case…

West London. Westerley Ware Park opposite Thetis Cottages, a terrace near the River Thames. A step from Kew Green. Close to the South Circular yet cotton-wool quiet. One winter’s night in 1987, Helen Honeysett – young, beautiful, happily married with a blossoming career – goes jogging along the towpath with her dog Baxter and never returns. Her route is one I’ve walked many times while writing The Dog Walker.

In 2016 Stella and Jack set out to discover what happened to Helen Honeysett twenty-nine years before. Jack thinks any of the residents of Thames Cottages (in ‘real life’ Thetis Terrace has more than five cottages) are capable of murder. The killer knew Helen’s routine. All the occupants are dog walkers.

I am Helen. I am also Stella, ghosting Helen’s footsteps. I emerge from the cathedral arches of Chiswick Bridge where Helen Honeysett did her stretches. Mortlake Crematorium was where my dad was cremated. As was Terry Darnell, Stella’s detective father, some twenty years later. I slip between fact and fiction as Alfred sniffs amongst scrub on the riverbank.

Mortlake Crematorium

Mortlake Crematorium

I imagine this path in 1987, shingled now, it was probably mud then, churned up by walkers and cyclists. The area around the crematorium and the rubbish depot has been remodelled. Kew Riverside, an upmarket housing estate, was built around 2002. I cut through its empty, litter-free streets. No cars parked along kerbs and no passers-by on the sparkling pavements. Stella will come here ­­at night, alone but for her dog Stanley. Untypically for Stella – she rarely breaks rules – she’ll slip past the concierge’s post and let Stanley lift his leg against a lamppost. They’ll pass these faux mews houses with manicured gardens. It’s ghostly, but the development’s too new for phantoms. Stella will follow a landscaped path between tall blood-red bamboos unaware that she’s being watched. I imagine the scene behind the bamboo screen. Stella won’t know how close she is to the towpath.

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Westerley Ware Park with Thetis Cottages

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Stanley on the towpath

At Kew Pier the man – I think it was a man, but blinded by his head-torch, I couldn’t tell – didn’t return my greeting. I felt a chill. This is true. My story won’t protect me from a real murderer. I can’t write what happens to me. I quicken my pace towards the lights of Kew Bridge. The Dog Walker is taking shape…

One night by the river near Kew Railway Bridge, Stella is blinded by a dog walker’s head-torch. She says ‘Good evening’. No reply. Stanley runs off down the desolate towpath…

Are you sitting comfortably?

Wow. Chilled by this account, thank you so much to Lesley for this record of her research for the book!!

You can follow Lesley on Twitter and via her website

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  1. User: Yvonne@FictionBooks

    Posted on: 29/04/2017 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Tony,

    Wow! Lesley really pulled out all the stops with her guest article for Trip Fiction, with the great presentation and photographic material completing the picture wonderfully.

    Alfred gets a cameo role all of his own, when Lesley stops by at Fiction Books tomorrow on the final leg of her marathon blog tour.

    Thanks for sharing this excellent feature and enjoy the rest of your weekend 🙂