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A Necessary Killing. The second book in the bestselling William Constable spy thriller series, only 99p for April 2023

1579. William Constable – physician and unwilling spy – is in Plymouth waiting to sail to the New World. The expedition, led by renowned explorers and traders, John Hawkins and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, has already suffered birth pangs.

William’s friend, Captain Charles Wicken, is accused of killing the son of a wealthy merchant, but the testimonies appear suspect. When William learns that Wicken is one of Walsingham’s agents he uncovers evidence to suggest the murder and Wicken’s naming are designed to conceal a plot of invasion – backed by Rome and Spain. The sailing of the expedition’s fleet is delayed while this threat is examined. William is despatched to St Malo, the lawless haunt of corsairs, to investigate. His betrothed, Helen Morton, together with the fleet, wait for his return.

Malign forces conspire to prevent William from carrying vital intelligence back to Plymouth. William must evade enemy agents and unravel a tangle of duplicity if he is to survive – and prevent the invasion.

Here’s an excerpt:

William Constable returns to the path between Plymouth and Dartmouth to recover the bodies of three men who attacked him there the previous day.

I am at Hawkins’ house mid-morning to find a group of four horsemen waiting for my arrival. We are all cloaked against blustery, cool weather and there is promise of rain in the skies. Muster Master Pennes is at the head of the party. He does not speak a welcome; instead, bows brief recognition, turns his horse’s head and leads us on our way to Dartmouth.

We ride in silence, save for a few muttered exchanges between the men. As we approach the place of my attack, I urge my horse alongside Pennes.

I say, ‘Are the bodies already taken back to Plymouth, Master Pennes?’

He grunts, ‘It is for us to do the necessary.’ He sees my look of surprise and continues, ‘We are to examine their likenesses, so names and positions can be placed, and then we will take the remains to Dartmouth.’

‘To Dartmouth?’

‘Plymouth and Dartmouth towns are of a distance.’ He shrugs. ‘I doubt the dead will show a preference.’

His manner shows he is unwilling to prolong this line of conversation and I let my mount fall behind as the path narrows. Why have we not brought extra horses for the bodies? I am uncomfortable at the thought of close company with those who so recently sought my end. Still, as long as I do not have one of the stinking cadavers slung across my horse I will leave this concern unspoken.

The skies lighten and glimpses of sunlight break the green canopy sheltering our progress through a wooded valley. As we near the place of the attack I say, ‘It is there, fifty paces ahead.’

I take a lead to where the three bodies were laid by the side of the path. But – they are not here. Perhaps I have mistaken the spot. There are many twists and turns with a similar aspect along the path. No, it was here, I am sure. I dismount and examine the ground. I gesture to the area around my feet. ‘It was here, but they are gone.’

The expressions on the faces of my mounted companions suggest doubt.

‘Look – here – the ferns are broken and the earth disturbed.’ I search for other indications, but find none. ‘They have been taken by others.’

Pennes glances at his men, mutters to himself, says, ‘Well, ‘tis no matter,’ and spurs his horse forward. I am left behind to wonder at this strange turn of events. Who would take them? Friends or confederates perhaps, so that their identities may not be discovered? I clamber up again and follow with conflicted thoughts. A revisit to this place has not unbalanced me and I am glad that I have not had to stare at those dreadful faces again, but I am troubled at the vanishing and Pennes’ apparent indifference.

We have reached the parish of Townstal and have a grand view of Dartmouth harbour beneath us. There is a steep track down to the main cluster of buildings, but we turn upriver and make our way down a gentler slope to the ferry crossing that will take us to Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s home. I have visited here once before; it is a large, comfortable country house atop a rise, which affords a commanding view of the estuary.

Our approach has been observed, as stable hands wait to take our horses at the frontage. I am taken inside with Pennes, while his men are led around to the rear for nourishment in the kitchens. We enter a receiving room to find Sir Humphrey standing with a lady of middle years that I do not know. He steps forward with outstretched hands.

‘Doctor Constable, it is a joy to meet again. Do you know my wife and mother of my children, the Lady Anne?’

‘I have been denied that pleasure to now, Sir Humphrey.’ I bow to her and she returns with a demure smile.

Gilbert beckons to Pennes and leads him to a corner where he is handed a note. I am left with the Lady Anne, who is a small woman with startling blue eyes and an industrious aspect to her bearing.

‘I have heard of you, Doctor Constable, and you are handsome as in the telling.’

‘I thank you for the compliment lady, which I repay with advantage. You have a fine house and I hear you are blessed with six vigorous children.’

She shuffles her feet and colours a little. ‘I understand you are betrothed to Sir George Morton’s daughter. She is indeed a fortunate young lady.’

‘I can assure you that the balance of providence weighs heavily on my side, lady.’ This is amiable enough chit-chat, but I am thankful to note that Pennes departs and Gilbert re-joins us before my fund of dainty words is drained.

‘Doctor Constable, you will join us for supper and rest here this night. Master Pennes will accompany you the morrow back to Plymouth.’

‘Thank you, Sir Humphrey; that is kind.’

‘We have heard of your recent trouble near Loddiswell and thank God for your deliverance from such cruel mischief.’

I dip my head and mutter some mild words in my reply, which highlight the brave actions of Charles and his man. I have no plans for an evening back in Plymouth, so I will try to take pleasure in supper here, although my expectation is low.

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