“There she was in the distance – a big wooden ship, just like the ones pirates have. And Johnny Depp.”

When a ghost ship is spotted on the horizon one spring evening, bookseller Eleanor decides to investigate the myths and legends of Combemouth, the seaside town where she runs The Reading Room. Digging deeper into the town’s history, she becomes intrigued by a Victorian crime report. Determined to find out what happened to a boy at the centre of the court case, can Eleanor unravel the strange goings-ons?

Extract from The Bookshop Detective
By Jan Ellis
Published by Waverley Books

Chapter One

It all began when Maureen saw the ghost ship.

“I’m telling you now, I saw it with my own eyes, as clear as day.”

“But I thought you saw it at night,” said Connie, pedantically.

“Twilight, actually. The sun was setting right behind it, which is why I saw its spidery outline so clearly.”

“What’s all this?” Eleanor, who had been gathering books off the shelves to make up a customer’s order, now returned to the front of the bookshop to find her mother Connie chatting with their neighbour, Maureen.

Eleanor had been talked into giving Connie a part-time job and now her mother was half-heartedly tidying up greetings cards in between gossiping with her friend from Ye Olde Tea Shoppe across the high street. “Maureen’s been making rum babas again and I think the fumes have gone to her brain.”

Maureen, who had popped over to Eleanor’s shop for a break from her customers, folded her arms under her substantial bosom and huffed. “You can mock if you like, Connie, but I know what I saw and what I heard.”

“And what was that?”

“As I was telling your mother,” she said, turning towards Eleanor, “I was up on the moor taking Peanut for a walk when I heard this strange groaning sound.”

“You hadn’t trodden on the dog, had you?” Connie was really a cat person and thought her friend’s Chihuahua was especially ridiculous.

“Ignore her, Maureen,” said Eleanor, pulling up a chair and sitting beside her. “I want to know all about it.”

“I was walking towards the headland when I heard a sound like timbers creaking or branches rubbing together, except there aren’t any large trees along there, as you know.” Eleanor nodded in agreement. “The wind had come up and was blowing in off the sea, which isn’t unusual, but it was carrying this odd noise with it. Peanut had had a good scamper so we were heading back to the car, but there was something about the sound that made me stop and turn around.” Maureen was pleased to see both women leaning in, apparently gripped by her story. “So I looked across to the horizon and there she was – as plain as the nose on your mother’s face.”

“There’s no need for personal attacks.” Connie leant back now, looking cross.

“Sorry dear,” said Maureen, tartly. “It was the first comparison that came into my head.”

“Okay ladies. I don’t want any cat fights in my bookshop, thank you,” said Eleanor. “Go on with your story, Maureen.”

“There she was in the distance – a big wooden ship, just like the ones pirates have. And Johnny Depp.”

Connie waggled a bookmark at her friend. “And how precisely could you see what kind of ship she was, at night and with your cataracts?”

“I had them done after Christmas and now I can see perfectly well. Doubt me if you will, Connie, but I know what I saw, and whether you choose to believe me or not is entirely up to you.”

“What did your little dog do?” asked Eleanor.

“In what way?”

“Did she howl or anything? Aren’t animals supposed to react to ghostly presences? I’m sure Bella would run off and hide if there was anything scary around. You’re not much cop as a guard dog, are you?” Eleanor’s Welsh spaniel, Bella, had wandered over and rested her head on her owner’s lap.

Maureen’s brow furrowed in concentration as she thought back to the event. “Now, it’s funny you should say that, but Peanut did squeak a bit.”

“Conclusive proof,” said Connie, laughing. “If Peanut squeaked, it must have been a ghost ship.”

Maureen pursed her lips. “I don’t expect you to understand the ocean’s mysteries, being a Londoner. You don’t have the sea in your blood like I do.”

Connie tried not to smile. “No, mine’s full of Thames water,” she said, patting her friend on the shoulder.

“Thanks for coffee.” Maureen picked up her bag. “I’d best go back across the road and see how Anton is getting on with the cottage pies.”

As she stood by the shop window watching their neighbour cross the street to the teashop, Connie turned to Eleanor. “All that ‘sea in the blood’ stuff is nonsense, of course. She’s from the Midlands, which is as far from the sea as you can be in this country.”

“So she’s not local, then?”

“No!” Connie laughed. “I think she kissed a sailor once in Weston-super-Mare and her late husband was a Devon man. But now she has Anton in her life . . .”

“Mother, really! You make it sound like they’re up to no good when in fact he’s young enough to be her grandson.”

Jan Ellis, author of French Kisses and A London Affair, The Bookshop Detective, A Summer of Surprises and An Unexpected Affair appears at Tiverton Literary Festival in Devon from 22-25 June. She also has many other events around Wells and Burnham in Somerset throughout May and June.

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