Fifteen Minute Read 2012: Specific Gravity

The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and Transdev in Harrogate have joined forced to produce this exclusive Fifteen Minute Read for users of its distinctive 36 route bus services.

With just fifteen minutes between 36 services between Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon most of the day Monday to Friday – and even less at peak times – with the help of our Fifteen Minute Read the minutes between services will seem to disappear completely.

About the story

For the 2012 Fifteen Minute Read we challenged ten of the UK’s finest crime writers to come up with a round robin crime story. The result is Specific Gravity

Each writer was tasked with composing a chapter which follows on from the previous one, continuing the plot and developing characters.

The action-packed adventure begins in the Yorkshire market town of Masham, home for 180 years to the brewery of the Festival’s title sponsor T&R Theakston, and – through a series of increasingly hilarious twists and turns – the story reaches its climax at a certain well-known gathering of crime writers and readers…

Chapter 1: The Head

Stuart MacBride

‘What do I think?’ Detective Chief Inspector McEwan peered into the wooden barrel again. ‘I think we’re screwed, that’s what I think.’

According to the young man – standing in the doorway, making queasy gulping noises – the short wooden barrel was called a ‘Hog’s Head’, which was appropriate, given what had been stuffed inside it.

DS Smedley nodded at something red in the corner. ‘There’s more of him over here…’

Chapter 2: The Hands

Zoë Sharp

‘I’ll kill the bloody lot of them!’

Sitting on the low wall outside The White Bear Hotel only a hundred yards away from Theakston Brewery, the ejected crime writer drummed his still bootie-clad heels viciously into the stonework and plotted literary revenge.

He pictured a number of thick balding Yorkshire policemen, all with flat feet and bad breath, but couldn’t quite decide whether to stage a massacre on the opening page, or string out their torment right up to the final chapter.

Chapter 3: The Torso

Laura Wilson

Simon Theakston was waiting for McEwan in the lobby of the White Bear Hotel, his agitated face a strikingly similar shade to its elegant taupe colour scheme.

‘Where is it, then?’ said McEwan, privately thanking God that the brewery owner, distraught though he might – understandably – be, was clearly a man who could be relied upon to keep his head in a crisis.

‘In the cellar. We’ve got stuff stored down there, and one of the staff discovered it when he went to collect some chairs. It’s all right, I’ve managed to calm him down.’

Chapter 4: The Feet

NJ Cooper

‘Don’t worry, Britt dear,’ said Mrs Smith. ‘He’s not going to need them again. He won’t exactly be walking anywhere, will he? Now hurry up and cut them off.’

‘You pulled me out of the foot-lopping course,’ Britt muttered in perfect estuary English. She thought of all the insults the cops had thrown at her boss and wished she dared copy them. ‘So I don’t know how to do it.’

‘Behave. You have all the tools, and there won’t be much blood. The heart doesn’t pump after death.’

Chapter 5: The Brains

Martyn Waites

‘This is getting ridiculous,’ said Chief Inspector McEwan, staring at Western’s body. ‘Like an episode of The Wire, or something.’

‘Or worse,’ said DS Smedley, stroking his moustache, his lips curling with distaste, ‘Midsomer Murders.’

The body was that of Mr Western, the MI6 operative/borderline thug who had had plenty to say for himself earlier in the day. He had nothing to say now, however, nor would he ever be likely to. Someone had shut him up. Permanently.

Chapter 6: The Legs

Martin Edwards

McEwan shivered with pleasurable anticipation as he followed Britt along the hallway of the White Bear. The Chief Constable had, in his latest ‘Mail from the Chief’ newsletter to members of his force, urged every single one of them to engage much more closely with the public. He had added that, given the significance of tourism to the local economy, it was also vitally important to be mindful of the particular needs of overseas visitors, should they have need of the services of the police.

However you looked at it, McEwan thought as he looked specifically at Britt’s delightfully tapering legs, he was simply obeying orders.

Chapter 7: The Teeth

Ann Cleeves

The crime festival at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate was buzzing, but the frenzied atmosphere had nothing to do with the excitement of catching a glimpse of Ian Rankin or Val McDermid in the crowded bar. Everywhere the gossip, fuelled by Theakstons beer, was about the murder of Malcolm Mackenzie. He’d never been particularly liked: when he was on the bestseller list people pretended to be friendly, but as his sales slumped so did the need to be pleasant to him. His death had become a topic of academic interest. These people wrote and read about crime fiction. Surely one of them should have the knowledge and intelligence to find his killer.

Chapter 8: The Fingers

Dreda Say Mitchell

DCI McEwan sat in the back of the car and watched the countryside as they headed back to Masham for the development. Then he turned his attention to the file that lay on his lap. It was a list of all that year’s guests at the festival. He knew one of those names held the key to the mystery but which one was it? And what was the mystery anyway? Of course, he knew all that year’s guests professionally. There was Natasha Cooper, Harrogate’s self-styled ‘Queen Of Vice’ and Martyn ‘Teflon’ Waites, who’d beaten a murder rap the year before – and not for the first time. He’d had most of them in his interview room over the years on various charges and it was always the same story:

‘You ain’t got nothing on me copper. I’ll be back in Betty’s Teashop by teatime…’

Chapter 9: The Unmentionables

Allan Guthrie

‘A double agent?’ Caroline Smith had liked Mr Western quite a bit. And all the time he was working for those militants at the Pro Mead Society.

‘Known for months.’ The old man bent his head slightly while he adjusted his Union Jack eye patch. His scalp was shiny and dotted with freckles.

For a moment Caroline was reminded of yesterday’s nightmare. Luckily, when the old man sat up, there was no sign of Mr Western’s livid grinning skull.

‘You could have told me, sir.’

‘Need to know, Smith. Not personal.’

Chapter 10: The Bottom

Charlie Williams

‘Question number, erm…’ The quizmaster frowned down at the sheet and whispered to her neighbour: ‘Hey, beardie, what question are we on?’


‘Six? Really?’

‘I think so.’

‘But do you know so?’

‘Er… what was the question again?’

‘That’s what I’m asking you!’


Chapter 11: The Heart (and Soul)

Stuart MacBride

‘Well?’ Helen tugged at McEwan’s sleeve. ‘Don’t just stand there, do something!’

He puffed out his cheeks. Looked around the room. Sighed. ‘What do you want to drink?’

‘Are you serious? This is no time for messing about: didn’t you hear what Smedley said?’

‘Trust me, he’s said worse.’ McEwan pushed his way to the alcove at the side of the room, where a little knot of people in ‘Billingham’s Babes’ T-shirts were counting their way through a pile of change over and over again. ‘Scuse me ladies, police business.’ He showed them his warrant card.