No Accident covers

Do you know what your book’s about?

I thought I did.

There I was, at the front of the church hall, being introduced by the chairperson, looking forward to my first public event as an author. My appearance in the local paper the week before seems to have drawn a good number of people.

They look keen, friendly and welcoming, laughing as I recount some of the strange and amusing incidents from my time as an environmental health officer (EHO).

I should tell them more about my work. Instead I launch into my talk.

Holding up a copy of my first published book, No Accident, I tell my audience to feel free to ask questions at any time.

Immediately, a lady at the front raises her hand. “What’s your book about?”

“It’s about an ordinary bloke who solves murders. Complex murders like Agatha Christie.”

A librarian in the audience reminds me that Agatha Christie didn’t commit or solve murders, complex or otherwise. “She wrote books about people solving murders. Is that what you mean?”

I nod, undaunted. “I write traditional murder mysteries with lots of suspects and red herrings, like Agatha Christie, only set in today’s world.”

I’m glad to return to my planned talk.

But the lady who asked the original question isn’t finished.

“But what’s your book about?”

“It’s a murder mystery.”

The librarian sighs. “That’s the genre. You haven’t explained what your book’s about.”

I glance around the audience, hoping they want me to move on, but they’re waiting for an answer.

The librarian continues. “To Kill a Mockingbird was about one man’s fight against racial oppression and injustice.”

I’m doomed. Comparing my writing to Agatha Christie was tempting fate, but my book can’t compete with a novel as hallowed as To Kill a Mockingbird. I manage a smile and return to my script. “My book’s about an environmental health officer who solves murders.”

As most people have no idea what EHOs do, I should be on safe ground.

A woman looks up from her phone. “We had a noisy neighbour, so I called in the EHO. I could have murdered him. He kept telling us to fill in diary sheets when it was noisy. It’s always noisy, I said. The walls are paper thin.”

A man with executive glasses gives me a puzzled look. “If you murdered a noisy neighbour, would the environmental health officer investigate? Is that what you’re saying?”

Weary man

I draw a breath, telling myself I can get through this. “Not exactly. In my story, the EHO investigates a fatal work accident.”

The librarian sighs. “I thought you said it was a murder.”

“A murder disguised as a work accident.” I give her a knowing nod. “That’s why an EHO investigates, not the police.”

Noisy neighbour woman frowns. “How did the EHO know the accident was a murder?”

“He didn’t. Not to start with. He thought it was a work accident, which he investigates. If he suspected it was murder, he would have called the police.”

“You said he solved murders,” she says. “Now you’re saying he called the police.”

I draw a deep breath. “He didn’t work out it was murder for some time.”

The librarian chips in. “But when he did, why didn’t he call the police?”

“He didn’t have enough evidence to show it was murder.”

“Then how did he know it was murder?”

“You’ll need to read the book to find out.” I sip some water, certain no one will buy a copy at the end of the talk. “I don’t want to spoil the plot.”

A woman with blue hair raises a hand. “If your EHO investigates the murder, wouldn’t he be in danger? It’s not like he has a stab vest or a van filled with police officers to protect him.”

“That’s what makes it more exciting.”

“I don’t see how,” the librarian says. “If your EHO hasn’t got much evidence, how can he be sure it was murder?”

Someone calls out from the back. “The clue’s in the title. It’s called No Accident.”

Noisy Neighbour woman looks at me. “Why isn’t it called, It’s Really Murder? Or Really Complex Murder? That’s what you said, isn’t it?”

Somehow, I find a smile. “It’s a classic whodunit.”

“Not a murder mystery then?”

After the talk, I sell one copy of No Accident.

I return home and spend days defining and refining what my book is about, ready for my next public appearance. Unfortunately, the audience wanted more humorous environmental health anecdotes, like the one about Dr Windbreaker’s Fart Powder.

No need to ask what that was about.

No Accident by Robert Crouch cover

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