1. Mary Mary
If Queen Anne hadn't suffered so badly from Gout and Dropsy,
Reading might never have developed at all. In 1702 the unhealthy Queen Anne,
looking for a place to ease her Royal infirmities, chanced upon Bath; and where
Royalty goes, so too does society. In consequence, Reading, up until that time a
small town on a smaller tributary of the Thames, became a busy staging post on
the Bath road, later to become the A4, and ultimately the M4. The town was
enriched by the wool trade and later played host to several large firms that
were to become household names. By the time Huntley & Palmers biscuits began
here in 1822, Simonds brewery was already well established; and when Suttons
Seeds began in 1835 and Spongg's footcare in 1853, the town's prosperity was
Excerpt from A History of Reading
It was the week following Easter in Reading, and no one could remember the last sunny day. Gray
clouds swept across the sky, borne on a chill wind that cut like a knife. It
seemed that spring had forsaken the town. The drab winter weather had clung to
the town like a heavy smog, refusing to relinquish the season. Even the early
bloomers were in denial. Only the bravest crocuses had graced the municipal
park, and the daffodils, usually a welcome splash of color after a winter of
grayness, had taken one sniff at the cold, damp air and postponed blooming for
A police officer was gazing with mixed emotions at the dreary cityscape from the seventh floor of Reading Central Police Station. She was thirty and attractive, dressed up and dated down, worked hard and felt awkward near anyone she didn't know. Her name was Mary. Mary Mary. And she was from Basingstoke, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
"Mary?" said an officer who was carrying a large potted plant in the manner of someone who thinks it is well outside his job description. "Superintendent Briggs will see you now. How often do you water these things?"
"That one?" replied Mary without emotion. "Never. It's plastic."
"I'm a policeman," he said unhappily, "not a sodding gardener."
And he walked off, mumbling darkly to himself.
She turned from the window, approached Briggs's closed door and paused. She gathered her thoughts, took a deep breath and stood up straight. Reading wouldn't have been everyone's choice for a transfer, but for Mary, Reading had one thing that no other city possessed: DCI Friedland Chymes. He was a veritable powerhouse of a sleuth whose career was a catalog of inspired police work, and his unparalleled detection skills had filled the newspaper columns for over two decades. Chymes was the reason Mary had joined the police force in the first place. Ever since her father had bought her a subscription to Amazing Crime Stories when she was nine, she'd been hooked. She had thrilled at "The Mystery of the Wrong Nose," been galvanised by "The Poisoned Shoe" and inspired by "The Sign of Three and a Half." Twenty-one years further on, Friedland was still a serious international player in the world of competitive detecting, and Mary had never missed an issue. Chymes was currently ranked by Amazing Crime second in their annual league rating, just behind Oxford's ever-popular Inspector Moose.
"Hmm," murmured Superintendent Briggs, eyeing Mary's job application carefully as she sat uncomfortably on a plastic chair in an office that was empty apart from a desk, two chairs, themand a trombone lying on a tattered chaise longue.
"Your application is mostly very good, Mary," he said approvingly. "I see you were with Detective Inspector Hebden Flowwe. How did that go?"
From The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde. Copyright Jasper Fforde 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Viking Publishing.
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