ON a foggy winter evening, a stranded woman comes across an eerie charity shop. Going inside, she hears a sinister voice and flees in terror. When she returns the next day, the shop has vanished...

So begins A Clock Stopped Dead (Avon, £8.99), the latest cosy crime novel by Shipley author and ex deputy head JM Hall.

Retired teachers Liz, Pat and Thelma are happy chatting over coffee and cake at Thirsk Garden Centre cafe. But when their friend claims to have uncovered a mysterious vanishing shop, the trio of amateur sleuths set about investigating. Soon they’re embroiled in a race against the clock to solve the mystery.

Says JM: “A question I’ve been asked is where did the idea come from? There was a TV movie back in the 1970s; I have a vivid memory of a foggy night and a woman seeing a murder committed through a lit window. When she goes back, the house has gone. That premise stayed with me: a foggy night and a vanishing house.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: JM Hall's novel is about a trio of amateur sleuthsJM Hall's novel is about a trio of amateur sleuths (Image: Avon)

“The second source of inspiration runs across all three of my books. It concerns a group of people in possession of superpowers. Until recently, 10.30am would invariably find me sitting, as I have for the past 40-odd years, in a school staff room. A circle of chairs, strong coffee, maybe cake if it’s someone’s birthday. And teachers. Usually female, often middle-aged - and in possession of superpowers.

“People who’ve never spent time in primary schools can’t begin to appreciate the abilities of your average primary school teacher. There’s the day-by-day management of the cyclone of activity - powder paint, phonic blends, partitioned numbers, emotional tsunamis - that’s your average classroom. Not to mention dramas with parents. And all this alongside managing home and family, and demands imposed by the powers above, from changing curriculums to Ofsted inspections.

At 10.30am in the staffroom there is chat; the sharing of advice, recipes for playdough, and a lot of laughter. It’s fair to say your average primary school teacher is an expert when it comes to understanding the vagaries of humanity. Over the year, this was certainly true for me, they’ll have heard every variety of story life has to tell. This makes them adept at solving mysteries, right up there with Sherlock Holmes. Where have those 10 packs of photocopying paper gone? Why has Mrs X traded her denim skirt for leopard print leggings? What’s become of Mr X’s flashy new car?

I’ve benefitted from the wisdom of these superheroes as they navigated me through mortgages, leaky roofs, split trousers and bereavements. Giving them a voice in my three heroines, Pat, Liz and Thelma, hasn’t been difficult. They have politely elbowed themselves to the front of my mind, as they have so often over the years, with a tactful ‘Have you got a minute?’

“The challenge has been finding a mystery worthy of their talents. So, there’s this charity shop on a foggy winter’s night...”

JM Hall’s previous novels are A Spoonful of Murder and A Pen Dipped in Poison. He has written plays for theatres and radio, including Trust starring Julie Hesmondhalgh on BBC Radio 4.