Amongst The Stacks Cozy Mystery Short Fiction By DJ Tyrer

Amongst The Stacks: Cozy Mystery Short Fiction By DJ Tyrer

DJ Tyrer, author of Amongst the Stacks, dwells on the northern shore of the Thames estuary, close to the world’s longest pleasure pier in the decaying seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, and is the person behind Atlantean Publishing.

Tyrer was placed second in the Writing Magazine ‘Mid-Story Sentence’ competition and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world including the novella titled The Yellow House.


Rebecca was humming as she carried the tray of book tickets over to the counter and dropped it down, startling her friend out of a daydream.

“Here you go, Mattie; something to dispel the boredom.” Her lips twitched a smile.

Mattie groaned. “You’re too kind.”

“I know.” Rebecca began humming Seventy-Six Trombones again.

“Please, that tune is starting to drive me mad.”

“I’ll go, then. Henry’s left that storeroom in a worse mess than Suez. It’s going to take me all afternoon to get it sorted.” She shook her head. “I just don’t know what’s wrong with him lately.” Then, she brightened and nodded towards the library entrance. “Hey, look who it is – it’s that boy you like.”

“Don’t be silly,” Mattie said, looking anyway and feeling her cheeks redden at the sight of Daniel walking up the steps beneath the awful painting of nymphs that hung above the entrance. “He’s half my age. Less than half my age.” She shook her head. “I could be his mother…”

Rebecca snorted a laugh. “I can’t imagine you as anyone’s mother. Maiden aunt, perhaps…” She winked. “Oh, he’s making a beeline for you. I’ll leave you alone with him.” Grinning, the younger woman slipped away.

Mattie ran her finger around the inside of her collar; suddenly, the starched cloth seemed uncomfortable and hot. He was walking straight towards her. And, he was smiling.


Mattie ran her finger around the inside of her collar; suddenly, the starched cloth seemed uncomfortable and hot.

“Uh, hello, Daniel,” she said and, immediately, regretted it. He was the only student she called by name. She was certain her blush was deepening. She was acting like a giddy schoolgirl.

“Hello, miss.” He winked. “I’m so glad it’s you – you’re my favorite librarian, by far.”


He leaned across the counter, smiling. “Really, yes. How was your weekend? Better than mine, I trust; I had a paper to write.”

“I spent it with Nevil Shute.” She laughed, nervously. “His novel, On The Beach, I mean.”

“Any good?”

“It is.”

“Well, as much as I’d like to chat, there was something I needed your help with.”

“Oh, how can I assist you?”

“I’m looking for a book.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place.” She chuckled. “Tell me the title and I’ll find it for you.”

“Actually, it’s not that simple: I don’t know the exact book I require. I was hoping you might allow me to visit the stacks and search for it.”

“Ah, we’re not supposed to allow non-staff in the back.”

He grinned. “Have I told you how nice your blouse is?”

“Oh! Ahem. Of course, I could make an exception.” She glanced at the watch pinned to her pocket; Henry was at a meeting with the Dean for, at least, thirty more minutes. “I can give you half-an-hour, but, then, you have to go.”

“Fair enough. You’ll have to let me do something nice for you, sometime,” he added, as she led him out to the back of the library.

As she left Daniel to his search, Rebecca caught her eye. The younger woman raised a quizzical eyebrow.

Mattie waved away the unspoken question. “I’m just doing him a favour, that’s all.”

“Henry will kill you if he catches him in there.”

“Which is why,” Mattie said, “he’s got just half-an-hour.”


Rebecca tapped her wristwatch and Mattie looked at her watch in alarm. Over thirty minutes had passed.

“Better hurry,” Rebecca said, “Henry could be back any time.”

Mattie rushed off to the stacks, calling, “Daniel, Daniel, time for you to finish up and go, unless you want to land me in hot water with the chief librarian.”

There was the sound of movement from the arts section and a loud thump, and she hurried towards it.

“Daniel – you need to go.”

She pulled up short. Daniel was lying in the narrow space between the shelves, blood pooling like a halo about his head, a large, heavy volume beside him. He was completely still.

Shrieking his name, Mattie dropped to her knees and touched his cheek: His skin was chill. She leant her head close to his mouth but could neither hear nor see any sign he was breathing. She shook him, but Daniel didn’t respond. There was a bloody dent in the side of his head.

“No, no, no, no…” Mattie scrambled to her feet and ran to the office.

“What is it?” Rebecca asked as Mattie ran past her and seized the phone.

Ignoring the question, she demanded of the operator, “I need an ambulance.”


Dead. Mattie couldn’t believe it. A young man shouldn’t die in peacetime, it wasn’t right. She shook her head at the thought, wished she could block it out.

They had taken his body away and a detective was wrapping up his cursory investigation, telling his constable it was, “An accident, nothing more.”

“Um, excuse me,” said Mattie.

The detective looked at her, lips tight with annoyance beneath his bushy moustache. “Yes, ma’am?”

“I don’t think it was an accident.”

He shook his head. “I know this must be distressing for you, but –”

“It certainly is, but that has no bearing on my thoughts. I heard movement, I thought it was Daniel, but his skin was cool, which means he’d been dead for a time, doesn’t it? Then, there is the book.” She pointed at it. “That belongs over there – there’s no way it could have fallen on his head over here.”

The detective shook his head. “Somebody misfiled it.”

“I don’t think so. It hasn’t been taken out in months, longer, probably, and I was in here yesterday. No, it’s been moved. I think this was a murder.”

Presenting a sickening smile, the detective said, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate your assistance, ma’am, but, looking at this logically, without emotion, it is clear there is nothing more to it than an accident. A tragedy, but a tragic accident is an accident, nonetheless.”

He raised his hat to her and added, “Now, I must be going…”


“I can’t believe it,” said Rebecca. “I just can’t believe it. Oh, Mattie, I’m so sorry. I know you were sweet on him. Oh, and to be the one to find him, too. I’m so sorry.”

“It wasn’t an accident.”


“It wasn’t an accident.”

“But, Henry said…”

“He was just parroting what the detective told him, but they’re wrong. Someone tried to make it look like one, but he was murdered, I’m certain.”

“But, why would anyone want to kill Daniel? He was so nice.”

Mattie shrugged. “I don’t know, but the answer has to be amongst the stacks.”

“Well, Henry said we’re to stay out of there till it’s been cleaned. He also said, you can go home early, Mattie. Why don’t you? Huh?”

Mattie made a derisive little sound and shook her head. “And, do what? Read my novel and try not to remember I found a dead body?” She shook it, again. “No. I don’t care what Henry said, or what that detective claims, I’m going to take a look and find a clue to what happened.”

“This isn’t an Agatha Christie novel, this is real life.”

“I’m still going to try. I owe it to him. Somebody has to try.”

Rebecca shook her head. “There’s just no telling you…”

Turning away, Mattie headed for the stacks, calling back over her shoulder, “No, there isn’t…”

The book, as well as the body, was gone. Save for the stain, it was as if nothing had happened.

“Interesting…” There was a gap on the shelf where the volume that had, allegedly, struck Daniel should’ve been. Someone had leant a book over, disguising the fact somewhat. There was also a gap by where Daniel had fallen – she supposed the detective would’ve, at least, have checked for one – but, one too narrow for the book that had been on the floor.

Another book was missing.

It didn’t take her long to discover the title of the book: It was a volume on eighteenth-century paintings. It couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? This had to be the book that Daniel was looking for – and, his killer had taken it.

But, what was so important about the volume? It was a limited edition, but relatively new and there were doubtless other books on the shelves worth far more.

She needed to know what Daniel was after…


Having a friend in admissions was useful, she reflected. Brenda had given Mattie the address of the lodging house off campus where Daniel lived. Had lived. The detective had only asked for his mother’s address, planning to break the bad news.

“Oh, you must be Daniel’s mother,” said the landlady as soon as Mattie mentioned Daniel’s name.

“Uh, yes. Yes, I am. Is my son in?”

The answer, of course, was negative. “I believe he went out, to class, or the library, maybe. Always studying, that one. Would you like to wait for him? I can let you into his room.”

“Thank you, very much.”

She led Mattie up the stairs. A young man looked out from the room opposite Daniel’s across the landing.

“Oh, who’s this?” he asked.

“This is Daniel’s mother. She’s going to wait for him,” the landlady replied, unlocking the door. “Well, I can’t stop and chat. ’Bye.”


The boy gave her a vague wave, then turned to Mattie and said, “Don’t I know you?” He creased his brow. “The university library!”

She gave an embarrassed shrug. “That’s right.”

He scratched his chin. “And, you’re Dan’s Mum?”

“No. That was a white lie. My name’s Mattie.”

“I’m Frank.”

“You’re Daniel’s friend?”


“I have some bad news…”


Frank had stiffened his lip as befitted someone who’d grown up during the Blitz, and listened carefully as she explained what had happened and why she was there.

“I’ll help you,” he said. “But, I don’t think you’ll find anything; I think the detective was already here.”


“About an hour ago, a man came down the stairs as I was coming up them. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but…”

“What did he look like?”

“Um, about my height, brown suit, rumpled – like he’d worn it few days – a little Hitler moustache, going bald.”

“That’s not –” She fell silent. It sounded just like Henry. But, why would he be in Daniel’s boarding house? “I don’t think that was the detective.

“No? Who was it? I can see it means something to you.”

“I… I think it was the killer.”

“Oh…” Frank frowned, then his expression cleared and he almost smiled. “I might still be able to help.”


He waved her into his room and took a notebook out from a drawer. Handing it to her, Frank said, “Daniel wanted me to look after this for him.”

She flicked through it. There were lesson notes, scraps of verse – “He fancied himself a bit of a poet,” Frank said, making her smile – and sketches.

“This one looks like the painting in the library,” she said. “He’s sketched it a few times…”

Frank shrugged. “He seemed to like it.”

Mattie shook her head. “I think it’s more than that…”

“Like what?”

“That’s what I’m going to find out…”


“You really should speak to one another.”

“Sorry?” She was on the phone to the chief librarian at the third university library she had called.

“Your chief, Henry, requested that book a few days ago.”

“Oh. Er, he’s not here at the moment and I didn’t realise he had it.”

“Did you need to know something specific?” the librarian asked.

“Yes,” Mattie said, her voice hopeful.

“We have a second copy, you see. Art is very popular here.”

“Really?” On a hunch, she asked, “Could you tell me: Is there anything in the book about a painting of nymphs?” She described the painting in the library.

“I’ll take a look and call you back…”

He did. And, there was.


“It’s the painting,” she told Frank as soon as she put the phone down.

“The painting? You mean, the one in the library?”

“Yes, that ghastly thing. It matches the description of one in the book that has been missing for over a century – it’s worth a fortune.”

“And, Daniel suspected this?”

“He must have done. Maybe he’d read the book before and remembered something about it. That would explain why he was after that exact book, but wasn’t sure what it was called.”

Frank nodded. “Makes sense. He was studying art and literature.”

“Henry was also onto it. It’s possible,” and she folded her arms at the thought, “that Daniel said something to him. He found the book first, confirmed it, then, perhaps learning Daniel was after it, started to cover his tracks.”

“And, arrived back to find Daniel looking at it.”

She nodded. “And, killed him.” After a moment’s silence, she said, “He might think he’s getting away with it, but he’ll want to steal it before anyone can realise the truth.”

“Tonight,” said Frank.

“Yes. We’d better call the police.”


Muttering deprecations about detectives, Mattie unlocked the library’s staff entrance and slipped inside, Frank following after her. She was grateful he had believed her: If Henry were willing to use violence, confronting him alone would be a bad idea.

They crept through the library to the door to the entrance hall. Carefully, Mattie pushed it open, glad they kept the hinges well oiled. As soon as it was wide enough, she slithered through the gap and held it open for Frank to follow her. She, then, crawled over to the desk.

She peeked over it. Two figures, one up a ladder, the other on the floor, were lowering the painting from its place on the wall. One, the one up the ladder, she was sure was Henry. Both wore balaclavas, concealing their faces.

“Careful,” she heard Henry say. “We don’t want to damage it.”

Mattie looked at Frank.

“I have an idea,” he whispered.

He stood up, stepped around the counter, his hand thrust into his jacket pocket as if he held a gun, and declared in a loud voice, “Police – put your hands up!”

With a cry of surprise, Henry let go of the painting and the entire weight of the heavy frame landed upon his accomplice, knocking him to the floor. Unbalanced, with his hands above his head, Henry, too, fell, landing with a pained cry.

“The police are on their way,” Mattie whispered to Frank as she put the phone down. Then, she sagged.

“Cheer up,” Frank told her as he watched the two men groaning on the floor, “you did it – you caught them.”

Mattie shook her head. “It’s all my fault. If I’d only told Daniel ‘no’ when he asked to visit the stacks, or made sure he was out sooner, as I’d intended, Henry wouldn’t have come back and killed him.”

Frank reached out and squeezed her arm. “No, you’re not. It’s entirely his fault – and, he’s going to pay for his crime, thanks to you. I think Daniel would be grateful for that.”

Mattie blinked away tears. Outside sirens were growing closer. “Thank you.”


If you’ve enjoyed “Amongst The Stacks”, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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