Authors: Lesley Cookman
Murder in a Different Place
In this, the thirteenth book in the Libby Sarjeant murder mystery series, Libby and the gang visit the Isle of Wight for the funeral of an old friend. For once there is nothing suspicious about the death, but their invitation to the funeral comes from elderly cousins who
have an unexplained death in the family. As her best friend Harry seems to be involved somehow, Libby is determined to ignore the growing reluctance of the cousins to help as she investigates.
Again, I must say thank you to my son Miles for the basic idea for this book – I’m beginning to think I ought to employ him. And thank you to Dear Ed, Bob Cushion, who knows my work better than I do and could probably write the books.
Anyone who knows the Isle of Wight will recognize many of the places in the story. Overcliffe itself owes a great deal to Steephill Cove, obviously, although as I’ve done with Kent, I’ve done here. Unzipped the coastline and inserted my own piece of it. Beech, Beech Manor and Etherington Manor likewise have been planted in farmland somewhere between Niton and Blackgang. [I have also given OvercliffeCastle a different story to SteephillCastle, which is probably just as well.]
The story of Dorothy O’Grady, arrested on the Isle of Wight and sentenced to death for spying is true, but none of the other events from that period are – I hope!
Neither is there a Kentish Actors’ Association, although it would be nice if there was...
WHO’S WHO IN THE LIBBY SARJEANT SERIES
Libby Sarjeant Former actor, sometime artist, resident of 17, Allhallow’s Lane, Steeple Martin. Owner of Sidney the cat.
Fran Wolfe Formerly FranCastle. Also former actor, occasional psychic, resident of Coastguard Cottage, Nethergate. Owner of Balzac the cat.
Ben Wilde Libby’s significant other. Owner of The Manor Farm and the Oast House Theatre.
Guy Wolfe Fran’s husband, artist and owner of a shop and gallery in Harbour Street , Nethergate.
Peter Parker Ben’s cousin. Freelance journalist, part owner of The Pink Geranium restaurant and life partner of Harry Price.
Harry Price Chef and co-owner of The Pink Geranium and Peter Parker’s life partner.
Hetty Wilde Ben’s mother. Lives at The Manor.
DCI Ian Connell Local policeman and friend. Former suitor of Fran’s.
Adam Sarjeant Libby’s youngest son. Works with garden designer Mog, mainly at Creekmarsh.
Lewis Osbourne- TV gardener and handy-man who owns Creekmarsh
Sophie Wolfe Guy’s daughter.
Flo Carpenter Hetty’s oldest friend.
Lenny Fisher Hetty’s brother. Lives with Flo Carpenter.
Ali and Ahmed Owners of the Eight-til-late in the village.
Jane Baker Chief Reporter for the
. Mother of Imogen.
Terry Baker Jane’s husband and father of Imogen.
Joe, Nella of Cattlegreen Nurseries
Reverend Patti Vicar of St Aldeberge’s Church
Anne Douglas Librarian, friend of Reverend Patti
The watcher on the cliff stood hidden against the backdrop of trees, as the sea turned into a boiling, mud-coloured devastation and the wind wrenched the tiles from the roofs and flung them into the air like playing cards. Satisfied, the watcher turned away.
‘You remember old Matthew DeLaxley?’ Peter Parker asked Libby Sarjeant.
‘Of course. He came to the opening of the theatre, didn’t he?’ Libby sat on the edge of the stage and began sorting costumes.
‘Oh, no! But he was a good age, wasn’t he? Must have been in his eighties.’
‘Is any age a good age to die?’ said Peter reprovingly. ‘Anyway, Harry’s received an invitation to his funeral on the Isle of Wight. And so have we.’
‘We? As in Us?’ Libby looked up, startled.
‘Yes. Matthew’s cousins had apparently heard of us and wanted us to come.’
‘On the Isle of Wight? Goodness, that’s a bit of a trek for a funeral.’
‘Ah, but get this. They’ve offered us a place to stay. Matthew owns – owned, I should say – a holiday home in a place called Overcliffe. Actually, he lived there, too.’
‘In his holiday home?’
‘No, he had his own home. But they’ve offered us the holiday house, and, if we’d like to stay for a week, we can.’
‘How incredibly generous,’ said Libby, sliding off the stage. ‘Is there a catch?’
Peter frowned. ‘I’m not sure. Harry’s being a bit close-mouthed about it, but then, he knew Matthew better than any of us did. Did you know Matthew introduced us?’
‘I think I did,’ said Libby. ‘So when is it?’
‘Next week. Harry’s already cancelled all bookings at the caff. Oh, and apparently this holiday house has three double bedrooms, so we could ask Fran and Guy too, if you like.’
‘Goodness! But they didn’t know Matthew.’
‘They don’t have to come for the funeral,’ said Peter.
‘It seems to be taking an awful advantage,’ said Libby.
‘It’s Matthew’s, don’t forget, not the cousins’.’
‘Well, it might be now, actually,’ said Libby. ‘If he left it to them.’
‘Oh, yes – probably is.’ Peter stood up from his seat by the piano and stretched. ‘So what will we say? Yes?’
‘I’ll ask Ben – and Fran – and let you know later. Will you be coming to rehearsal?’
‘Am I needed?’ Peter was acting as the Music Hall-style chairman in the End Of The Pier Show the Oast Theatre Company were staging at The Alexandria theatre in nearby Nethergate in August.
‘Not really. I suppose I’d better organise someone to take rehearsals for a week if we’re going away.’ Libby sighed, and collected an armful of Victorian-style bathing costumes to take home and launder. ‘I hope these don’t shrink.’
Fran Wolfe, Libby’s closest friend, was delighted at the thought of a week on the Isle of Wight, although her artist husband, Guy, was dubious about closing his shop cum gallery for a week.
‘Can’t Sophie come and look after it?’ asked Libby. Sophie, Guy’s daughter, was the occasional occupant of the flat above the shop.
‘I doubt it,’ said Fran. ‘And I’m certainly not asking my lot.’
Fran’s relationship with her daughters was fragile, to say the least.
Libby called Peter before leaving for rehearsal later that day.
‘Ben says we four can go in his monster vehicle, and Fran has persuaded Guy he needs a holiday, and they’ll join us two days after the funeral. Do we know any more about the house or the details of the funeral?’
‘Hal called the cousins, but they don’t do email – or computers at all, as far as I can see – so all we’ve got is the address of the church and the name of the property. You can look it up. Ship House, Overcliffe.’
Libby looked it up. It was mentioned in a tourist guide, but there was no website, oddly for a holiday let, so there weren’t any photographs. Overcliffe, however, had more than its fair share of photographs.
‘Look,’ said Libby to Ben Wolfe, her significant other, turning the screen towards him. Ben peered.
‘That’s rather nice. Is there a pub?’
‘I don’t think there’s room for a pub,’ said Libby. ‘It’s just a tiny cove, see? You can’t even drive to it, you have to walk down that steep path there, look, and leave the car in the car park at the top. The website of this seafood restaurant tells you that.’
‘Perhaps this holiday let’s at the top of the cliff,’ said Ben hopefully. ‘It looks a bit of a climb down that path.’
Peter did, in fact, wander into rehearsal at the theatre about half an hour before it finished, and opened up the little bar in the foyer.
‘What’s all this, then?’ asked Libby after she’d waved off the other members of the cast. ‘I thought you weren’t coming.’
Fran, who was also a member of the cast, having, like Libby, once been a professional actor, had also stayed behind, and Ben appeared after making sure all the backstage lights were off.
‘I’m a bit worried about Hal,’ said Peter, pouring drinks. ‘I told you he’s being a bit close-mouthed, didn’t I?’
‘About Matthew or the funeral?’ asked Fran.
‘I’m not sure. I think he’d rather go on his own, to be honest.’
Libby looked at Ben. ‘Perhaps we shouldn’t go?’
‘Oh, no,’ said Peter. ‘The cousins have particularly asked for you.’
Libby’s forehead wrinkled. ‘But why? They don’t know me.’
‘Matthew had talked about you, I suppose,’ said Fran, ‘but you’re right, it does seem odd.’
‘So you came up here because …?’ said Libby.
‘I thought he might talk to you, if you felt you could ask him.’
‘You know he always talks to you,’ said Ben. ‘You’re his best friend, next to Peter.’
‘His one and only dear old trout,’ agreed Peter, with a grin.
‘Well,’ said Libby doubtfully, ‘I’ll try. I’ll pop in tomorrow lunchtime. It would be natural to talk about the funeral, wouldn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ said Peter, Ben and Fran.
‘Thanks for the vote of confidence,’ said Libby.
The following morning, Libby collected her basket and strolled down Allhallow’s Lane to the high street. There was nothing unusual in her visits to Bob the butcher, the eight-til-late, and Joe and Nella’s Cattlegreen Nursery shop, from where she waved across the road when she saw Harry at the table in the window of The Pink Geranium, his vegetarian restaurant. He waved back.
Two minutes later, Libby was pushing open the door. Harry stood up with a grin.
‘Why am I not surprised to see you? Coffee? Or alcohol?’
‘Coffee, please,’ said Libby with an answering grin. ‘Am I holding you up?’
Harry gestured to the empty restaurant. ‘Hardly.’ He fetched the coffee pot and two mugs. ‘And to what do I owe the pleasure, as if I didn’t know?’
‘Matthew’s funeral,’ said Libby. ‘Why have I – or we – been invited? And to spend the week?’
Harry’s face closed up, albeit still with the semblance of a smile pasted on. ‘Matthew must have talked about you.’
‘I didn’t know him that well.’ Libby searched Harry’s face trying to pick something up. ‘Do you know what’s behind it?’
Harry shook his head. ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. We get a week in a beach-front house –’
‘I didn’t know it was beach-front,’ interrupted Libby.
‘Right down at the bottom of the path, right on the beach,’ said Harry, his face opening up again. ‘Pretty good, eh?’
‘Yes, but I still don’t know why. I mean, there must be people who knew him better than we did. Not you, of course.’
‘Why me?’ Harry tried to sound nonchalant.
‘You knew him first, didn’t you? He introduced you to Pete.’
‘Oh – yes, I see what you mean.’ Harry leant back in his chair. ‘I wouldn’t read anything into it, if I were you. Just sit back and enjoy it.’
‘You can’t enjoy a funeral.’
‘Well, no, but you can enjoy a week’s beach holiday.’
‘It’ll probably rain for a week,’ said Libby gloomily. ‘You see if it doesn’t.’
* * *
There was another rehearsal that night, after which, as usual Libby, Fran, Ben, and Peter joined their friends Patti Pearson and Anne Douglas in the pub. Patti came over every Wednesday for dinner in The Pink Geranium with her friend Anne and a catch-up on gossip with Libby and Fran.
‘And this Matthew knew Harry in London?’ said Anne, when they finished explaining about the funeral. ‘And kept in touch?’
‘More than the rest of us did, anyway,’ said Peter.
‘How did the rest of you know him?’ asked the Reverend Patti.
‘I met him in London. He introduced me to Harry, and he knew we were all part of the Kentish Actors’ Association. He used to come down to productions and to the opening night of the Oast Theatre.’
‘Well, there,’ said Patti comfortably. ‘He probably thought of you all as his young friends and talked about you to his cousins. Only natural that they should invite you to the funeral.’
‘And a week’s holiday?’ said Libby frowning. ‘I still don’t get it.’
‘You’re making far too much of it,’ said Anne. ‘I think it’s a lovely gesture and you should make the most of it.’
Libby and Peter exchanged glances.
‘We’ll see,’ said Libby.