Detective Chief Inspector (D.C.I.) C. D. Sloan works in the deceptively quiet town and county of Calleshire, where for many years he's endured the pressures of his demanding, unreasonable boss and the company of Constable Crosby, Sloan's all too constant but not very helpful sidekick. He's also solved a series of complex murders in Aird's long-running series long praised for it's literate wit, style and charm. In her first new novel in almost two years, Hole in One, a death occurs on the links, a death that is nearly impossible and is, quite improbably, is murder. But improbable is a Calleshire specialty and as far as D. C. I. Sloan is concerned, impossible is merely par for the course.
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August 01, 2005
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Excerpt from Hole in One by Catherine Aird
'Are they safe now?' asked Helen Ewell anxiously.
Ursula Millward peered forward, shading her eyes against the sun with her hand. 'Quite safe, I should say.'
'Are you sure?'
'I don't know how far you can hit,' responded Ursula with spirit, 'but they're well out of my range already.'
'That's a relief,' said Helen. She turned to face her friend. 'Do I go first or do you?' Both women were standing beside their trolleys on the first tee of the Berebury Golf Club.
Ursula Millward put both her hands out of sight behind her back. 'Which is it in? Right or left?'
'Left,' said Helen Ewell at once.
The other player brought her hands back into view and opened them. There was a golf tee in the left one. 'All right, you go first, then.' Ursula knew she should have said 'Your honour' but it still sounded funny to her. And anyway honour wasn't a word that came easily to mind when talking to Helen.
Helen Ewell carefully selected a number-two wood club from her golf bag, pressed a brightly coloured plastic tee into the ground, and placed her ball on it. Taking a deep breath she started to address it. After taking a couple of practice swings she stopped, grounded her driver and said again, 'You're quite sure I shan't hit them, Ursula, aren't you?'
'Quite sure,' said Ursula firmly.
She was right to be sure. Helen Ewell needn't have worried at all about her drive from the first tee hitting the players ahead. Even though she managed to hit the ball at her first attempt, she did so with such a wild swing that she topped it badly. Her ball did no more than trickle off the tee and on to the fairway in front of it.
'I'll never ever get it right,' she wailed. 'Ever, ever, ever ...'
'Bad luck,' said Ursula immediately.
She herself managed a rather better shot and knocked her ball nearly a hundred yards down the fairway of the first hole.
Ursula Millward might be the better player of the two but she certainly wasn't the better dressed of the pair. From her stylish Tam O'Shanter headgear down to her elegant brown and white golf shoes, via a check shirt and shorts of exactly the right colour and length, Helen Ewell was perfectly accoutred for the game of golf. The fact that she could scarcely play the game was not nearly so important to her as looking the part.
'But,' Helen was still protesting, 'after my last lesson Jock told me I was really beginning to get a good grasp of my swing.'
'It'll come,' said Ursula Millward laconically She refrained from remarking that all she had seen from the sidelines was the Golf Club professional, Jock Selkirk, getting quite a good grasp of Helen herself while trying to teach her that very same swing.
'Jock said that it's the way you take the club back that really matters,' said Helen. Her series of golf lessons from the Club's professional had come well after she'd made her many purchases in Berebury's best fashion shops, to say nothing of those carefully colour-coded items she'd bought in the pro's own shop beside the Clubhouse. Even the numbered covers on her wooden clubs matched the muted shades of her outfit.
'I can well believe it,' said Ursula dryly. She had also noticed that it had been while the golf professional's pupil had been taking a practice backswing that her friend had appeared to be in most need of the man's assistance. 'I expect,' she added a trifle maliciously, 'he thought the back swing was where he could be most helpful.'
'Oh,' agreed Helen eagerly. 'It is.'
'What Jock told me,' said Ursula, her tongue still well inher cheek, 'was that getting your golf swing right in the first place is just like learning to ride a bicycle.'
'I'm sure he's right,' said Helen Ewell prettily, 'although it's something I could never do. Ride a bicycle, I mean.'
'That's the funny thing about golf - one day you can't hit a thing,' mused Ursula, half to herself, 'and suddenly the next day you can.' When she herself had first taken up the game she had only been able to afford a very short series of lessons from the professional at the Club, Jock Selkirk, but in any case she hadn't relished being pawed by the man.
'It's all very well for some,' said Helen petulantly. 'You seem to have picked it up all right, Ursula. Look at where your ball's got to ...'
'Nevertheless,' rejoined Ursula Millward sturdily, 'there's no getting away from the fact that we're both still Rabbits.'
'I'm not sure that I want to win the Rabbits' Cup anyway,' sniffed Helen after she'd hit her ball again but not very far, this time with a number-five iron club.
'I don't think that winning is something we need to worry about,' said Ursula, well aware that her own second shot had not gone anything like as far as her first. 'Either of us.'
'You know, Ursula, I play so well when Jock is coaching me.' Helen slung her club back into her golf bag in manifest disappointment. 'It's not fair.'
Her friend forbore to remark that Helen performed everything better when there was a man - any man - watching her.
Instead she glanced over her shoulder and said 'I think we'd better keep going. There are some more Rabbits coming along behind and we don't want to have to let them play through us, do we?'
This was something that Helen and Ursula might not have wanted but in the event they had no option. In spite of the pair of them hurrying after their balls and playing as speedily as they could, the couple playing behind them kept gaining onthem. On the second hole they were driving off the tee before Helen and Ursula had even reached the green; on the third hole they had to linger behind while Helen took four putts before she sank her ball.
'It's no good, Ursula,' Helen said in despair halfway down the fourth hole. 'I just can't play my best while they're just standing there waiting and waiting.'
'It is a bit unnerving,' admitted Ursula, 'being watched like this while we try to play.'
'I'd no idea that competitions were so nerve-racking,' moaned Helen as they panted up to the fifth tee.
Ursula grinned. 'You wait till we get to play in the Sharks versus the Minnows tournament.'
Helen made a face. 'I won't do it.' She glanced over her shoulder. 'Look, the others are holing out on the fourth already ...it's not fair.'
'We'll wave them through on the sixth, shall we?' suggested Ursula, adding by way of consolation, 'They're much better than we are, anyway'
'Good idea.' Helen readily assented to this. She shuddered. 'I couldn't bear it if they shouted "fore" at us.'
'Besides,' said Ursula looking about her appreciatively, 'it's a lovely day and the course is looking beautiful.'
This was true. The Berebury Golf Course had been carefully constructed round a mound - hardly a hill - just outside the town known as The Bield because of the wooden shelter on top of it. The name of the architect of the course was not known by the members, although the words "James Braid" were sometimes mentioned in passing - but without great conviction. It is more likely that the course hadn't had a proper architect at all, the holes having been created more by the lie of the land than by the hand of man.
Round one side of the Bield trickled a little stream. This configuration gave variety to the holes, some uphill and somedown. From the highest tee of all there was a splendid view of the market town of Berebury. Better still, not even on a clear day could the factories of the distant industrial town of Luston be seen intruding on the pleasant landscape.
It was thus no hardship to Ursula Millward to stand aside to let the other players overtake them. The pair behind them were young women, too, but slightly older and playing a much steadier game. They accepted the invitation to play through Helen and Ursula with a gesture of thanks and hit their balls down the sixth fairway ahead of them noticeably farther than the other two had done.