Authors: M.C. Beaton
Fairies of Fryfam
The Agatha Raisin series
(listed in order)
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet
Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley
Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage
Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist
Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death
Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham
Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam
Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell
Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came
Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate
Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House
Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance
Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon
Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor
Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye
Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published in the US 2000 by St Martin’s Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
First published in the UK by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2006
Copyright © 2000, 2006 M. C. Beaton
The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library
Printed and bound in the EU
5 7 9 10 8 6 4
To Rose Mary and Tony Peters
of Fort Lauderdale
Agatha Raisin was selling up and leaving Carsely for good.
Or rather, that had been the plan.
She had already rented a cottage in the village of Fryfam in Norfolk. She had rented blind. She knew neither the village nor anywhere else in Norfolk. A fortune-teller had told her that her destiny lay in Norfolk. Her next door neighbour, the love of her life, James Lacey, had departed without saying goodbye and so she had decided to move to Norfolk and had chosen the village of Fryfam by sticking a pin in the map. A call to the Fryfam police station had put her in touch with a local estate agent, the cottage was rented, and all Agatha had to do was sell her own cottage and leave.
But the problem lay in the people who came to view the house. Either the women were too attractive and Agatha was not going to have an attractive woman living next door to James, or they were sour and grumpy, and she did not want to inflict such people on the village.
She was due to move into her rented Norfolk cottage at the beginning of October and it was now heading to the end of September. Bright-coloured autumn leaves swirled about the Cotswold lanes. It was an Indian summer of lazy mellow sunny days and misty nights. Never had Carsely seemed more beautiful. But Agatha was determined to get rid of her obsession for James Lacey. Fryfam was probably beautiful as well.
Agatha was just stiffening up her weakening sinews when the doorbell rang. She opened the door. Two small round people stood there. ‘Good morning,’ said the woman brightly. ‘We are Mr and Mrs Baxter-Semper. We’ve come to view the house.’
‘You should have made an appointment with the estate agent,’ grumped Agatha.
‘Oh, but we saw the “For Sale” board outside.’
‘Come in,’ sighed Agatha. ‘Take a look around. You’ll find me in the kitchen if you have any questions.’
She hunched over a cup of black coffee at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. Through the window, she could see her cats, Hodge and Boswell, playing in the garden. How nice to be a cat, thought Agatha bitterly. No hopeless love, no responsibility, no bills to pay, nothing else to do but wait to be fed and roll around in the sun.
She could hear the couple moving about. Then she heard the sound of drawers being opened and closed.
She went to the foot of the stairs and shouted up, ‘You’re supposed to be looking at the
, not poking among my knickers.’ There was a shocked silence. Then they both came downstairs. ‘We thought you might be leaving your furniture behind,’ said the woman defensively.
‘No, I’m putting it into storage,’ said Agatha wearily. ‘I’m renting in Norfolk until I find somewhere to buy.’
Mrs Baxter-Semper looked past her.
‘Oh, is that the garden?’
‘Obviously,’ said Agatha, blowing smoke in her direction.
‘Look, Bob. We could knock down that kitchen wall and have a nice conservatory.’
Oh, God, thought Agatha, one of those nasty white wood-and-glass excrescences sticking out of the back of
They stood before her as if expecting her to offer them tea or coffee.
‘I’ll show you out,’ said Agatha gruffly.
As she shut the door behind them with a bang, she could hear Mrs Baxter-Semper saying, ‘What a rude woman!’
‘House is perfect for us, though,’ remarked the husband.
Agatha picked up the phone and dialled the estate agents. ‘I’ve decided not to sell at the moment. Yes, this is Mrs Raisin. No,
I don’t want to sell
. Just take your board down.’
When she replaced the receiver, she felt happier than she had done for some time. Nothing could be achieved by quitting Carsely.
‘So you have decided not to go to Norfolk?’ exclaimed Mrs Bloxby, the vicar’s wife, later that day. ‘I am so glad you aren’t leaving us.’
‘Oh, but I am going to Norfolk. May as well get a change for a bit. But I’ll be back.’
The vicar’s wife was a pleasant-looking woman with grey hair and mild eyes. In her ladylike clothes of flat shoes, droopy tweed skirt, silk blouse and ancient cardigan, she looked the exact opposite of Agatha Raisin, a stocky figure with excellent legs in sheer stockings and sporting a short tailored skirt and jacket. Her glossy hair was cut in a chic bob and her bearlike eyes, unlike those of Mrs Bloxby, looked out at the world with a defensive, wary suspicion.
Although they were close friends, they still often called each other by their second names – Mrs Bloxby, Mrs Raisin – as was the old-fashioned custom of the Carsely Ladies’ Society to which they both belonged.
They were sitting in the vicarage garden. It was a late-autumn afternoon, mellow and golden.
‘And what about James Lacey?’ asked Mrs Bloxby gently.
‘Oh, I’ve nearly forgotten about him.’
The vicar’s wife looked at Agatha steadily. The day was quiet. One late rose bloomed in red glory against the mellow golden walls of the vicarage. Beyond the garden lay the churchyard, the sloping gravestones sending shadows across the tussocky grass. The clock in the church tower bonged out six o’clock.
‘The nights are drawing in,’ said Agatha. ‘Well, no, I haven’t got over James. That’s the idea of going away. Out of sight, out of mind.’
‘Doesn’t work.’ Mrs Bloxby tugged at a loose piece of wool on her cardigan. ‘You’re letting someone live rent-free in your head.’
‘That’s therapy-speak,’ said Agatha defensively.
‘None the less, it’s true. You’ll go to Norfolk but he’ll still be there with you until you make an effort to eject him. I hope you don’t get involved in any more murders, Agatha, but there are times when I wish someone would murder James.’
‘That’s a terrible thing to say!’
‘Can’t help it. Never mind. Anyway, why Norfolk, why this village, what’s it called again, Fryfarm?’
‘I stuck a pin in a map. You see, this fortuneteller told me I should go.’
‘No wonder the churches are empty,’ said Mrs Bloxby, half to herself. ‘I find that people who go to clairvoyants and fortune-tellers lack spirituality.’
Agatha felt uncomfortable. ‘I’m only going for a giggle.’
‘An expensive giggle – to rent a cottage. Winter in Norfolk. It will be very cold.’
‘It will be very cold here.’
‘True, but Norfolk is so . . . flat.’
‘Sounds like a line from Noel Coward.’
‘I’ll miss you,’ said Mrs Bloxby. ‘I suppose you will want me to phone you if James comes back?’
‘No . . . well, yes.’
‘I thought so. Let’s have some tea.’
Agatha found the day of her departure arriving too soon. All her desire to flee Carsely had left her. But the weather was still sunny and unusually mild, and she had paid a hefty deposit on the cottage in Fryfam, so she reluctantly began to pack suitcases into the boot of her car, and also on the new luggage rack of the roof.
On the morning of her departure, she left her house keys with her cleaner, Doris Simpson, and then returned home to coax Hodge and Boswell into their cat boxes. She drove off down Lilac Lane, cast one longing look at James’s cottage, turned the corner and then sped up the leafy hill out of Carsely, the cats in their boxes on the back seat and a road map spread beside her on the passenger seat.
The sun shone all the way until she reached the boundaries of the county of Norfolk and then the sky clouded over the brooding flat countryside.
Norfolk became part of East Anglia after the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century, Norfolk meaning ‘Home of the North Folk’. The area was originally the largest swamp-land in England. The higher places were sites of Roman stations. The Romans attempted drainage and built a few roads across the Fens, as the marshland is called. But after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, their work was left to decay, and the first effective drainage system was not developed until the seventeenth century, consisting of a series of dikes and channels.
Agatha, used to the twisting roads and hills of the Cotswolds, found all this flatness, stretching as far as the eye could see, infinitely depressing.
She pulled into a lay-by and studied the map. The cats scrabbled restlessly behind her. ‘Soon be there,’ she called to them. She could not find Fryfam. She took out an Ordnance Survey map of the area and at last found it. She consulted the road map again now that she knew where it was and the name seemed to leap up at her. Why hadn’t she seen it a minute ago? It nestled in the middle of a network of country roads. She carefully wrote down the road numbers of all the roads leading to the village and then set off again. The sky was getting darker and a thin drizzle was beginning to mist the windscreen.
At last, with a sigh of relief, she saw a signpost with the legend ‘Fryfam’ on it and followed its white pointing finger. There were now pine woods on either side and the countryside was becoming hilly. Round another bend, and there was a board with ‘Fryfam’ on it, heralding that she had arrived. She stopped again and took out the estate agent’s instructions. Lavender Cottage, her new temporary home, lay in Pucks Lane on the far side of the village green.
A very large village green, thought Agatha, circling round it. There was a huddle of houses with flint walls, a pub, a church, and then, running along by the graveyard, should be Pucks Lane. The road was very narrow and she drove slowly along, hoping she did not meet a car coming the other way. Agatha was hopeless at reversing. She switched on her headlights. Then she saw a faded sign, ‘Pucks Lane’, and turned left and bumped along a side lane. The cottage lay at the end of it. It was a two-storey, brick-and-flint building which seemed very old. It sagged slightly towards a large garden, a very large garden. Agatha got stiffly out and peered over the hedge at it.
The estate agent had said the key would be under the doormat. She bent down and located it. It was a large key, like the key to an old church door. It was stiff in the lock, but with a wrench, she managed to unlock the door. She found a switch on the inside of the door, put on the light and looked around. There was a little entrance hall. On the left was a dining-room and on the right, a sitting-room. There were low black beams on the ceiling. A door at the back of the hall led into a modern kitchen.
Agatha opened cupboard doors. There were plenty of dishes and pots and pans. She went back to the car and carried in a large box of groceries. She took out two tins of cat food and opened them, put the contents into two bowls, filled two other bowls with water and then returned to the car to get her cats. When she saw them quietly feeding, she began to carry all her other luggage in. She left it all in the hall. The first things she wanted were a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Agatha had given up smoking in the car ever since she had dropped a lighted cigarette down the front of her blouse one day and had nearly had an accident.