Authors: G.M. Malliet
In memory of my friend Earl J., rare gentleman
My thanks to the Reverend O’Brien and the Reverend Warder for graciously sharing their knowledge of their churches’ doctrines and traditions. All mistakes are my own.
MAXEN “MAX” TUDOR:
A former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, Max thought he’d found a measure of peace in the idyllic village of Nether Monkslip—until murder began to invade his Garden of Eden.
The owner of Goddessspell, the village’s New Age shop, Awena also has come to own Max Tudor’s heart.
Sister of the local doctor, the vampy, ambitious Suzanna often feels restless in the small village. The arrival of Umberto Grimaldi does much to alleviate her boredom.
Owner of the Cavalier Tea Room and Garden.
Proprietress of the Cut and Dried Hair Salon in Nether Monkslip.
GABRIELLE “GABBY” CREW:
Hairdresser at the Cut and Dried.
MME. LUCIE CUTHBERT:
Proprietress of La Maison Bleue. Lucie hosts a dinner party with her husband to celebrate the move into their new home.
A lithe, attractive yoga instructor, she rents studio space at Goddessspell.
Local historian, author (
Wherefore Nether Monkslip
), and husband of
A playwright and actor most recently appearing in London’s West End. In retirement, he returns in triumph to the village of Nether Monkslip.
Thaddeus Bottle’s long-suffering wife. Has she finally suffered too much?
An estate agent operating in the county of Monkslip, she sold the Cuthberts and the Bottles their new homes.
DR. BRUCE WINSHIP:
An expert in general ailments, Dr. Winship revels in theories of how the criminal mind operates.
Max’s housekeeper at the vicarage, and the mother of Tildy Ann and Tom.
Owner of The Online Begetter bookshop, the site of monthly meetings of the Nether Monkslip Writers’ Square.
An amateur historian.
UMBERTO AND FABIO GRIMALDI:
Brothers who own the new restaurant, the White Bean, which is the talk of the village.
DETECTIVE CHIEF INSPECTOR COTTON:
The kinetic DCI is again dispatched from Monkslip-super-Mare to investigate a most suspicious death in the placid village of Nether Monkslip.
An architect with designs on more than buildings.
A waitress who waits for her big break. What makes her react so strangely to one table of customers?
THE RIGHT REVEREND BISHOP NIGEL ST. STEPHEN:
He wants to know why Max Tudor is once again involved in murder.
A theatrical director, he knows where many bodies are buried.
A seascape artist in Monkslip Curry, he may hold the clue to a baffling murder.
I am living, I remember you.
What the Living Do
You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.
—Mr. Darcy in
Pride and Prejudice
The dark was always the time of special danger. Few people ventured from their homes after sundown, as even legitimate business might be questioned.
But to be out on one’s daily rounds with a shopping basket, in broad daylight, this was normal, even in these times. Even when food to fill the basket was scarce.
Even when the basket sometimes contained things hidden beneath the false bottom, things dangerous to have in one’s possession, with the meager supplies of bread and vegetables piled on top.
All this had to look normal—and today’s mission was for her the most important of all. Despite the risks of exposure by daylight, in the end she had decided it was safest to hide in plain sight. To brazen it out. To be just another young wife or daughter on a mission to feed her family.
Still, the risk had had to be mitigated. Nothing could happen to draw attention. There could be no unexpected sound or noise. God would forgive this one necessary thing.
Her burden was as light as a basket of kittens and she had only a short distance to walk. Having tightened her resolve, she opened the door, deliberately not looking around her—that would seem suspicious to anyone watching. She had to look as though she were dropping off supplies, an innocent errand. Once inside the ancient building, she took off her shoes, tiptoeing in her stocking feet. The hard soles of her shoes striking the stone floor might also attract attention before she was ready for it.
She set the basket down behind the door, and loosened the blanket covering its contents, averting her eyes as she did so. This would be easier without the final images. She had learned that much in recent months, to prevent any memory that could be dangerous. She had prepared a note explaining everything, and asking for prayers, and tucked it well inside the basket.
She retrieved her shoes and then rang the bell, one swift pull on the rope, and breathed a silent farewell.
Again hardening her heart, she closed the door behind her and walked down the cold stone steps.
This time, she had been unlucky, for unfriendly eyes had followed her. She didn’t know it, but she had just exchanged her last ration of luck.
Thursday, March 22
The vernal equinox had come and gone, and Easter would soon be upon them. The Reverend Maxen “Max” Tudor was in his vicarage working at his computer, a machine so antiquated, it almost needed foot pedals to operate. He was rather feverishly trying to write a sermon on one of Saint Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, a sermon that was beginning to irk even Max. Paul could sound so smug at times. So sure of himself. So holier-than—
Inspired, Max began to write: “Saint Paul at times appears to our modern world as the smug apostle—a man holier-than-thou, a preachy know-it-all full of scoldings and reprimands, chiding others for the way they lived their lives. But the Corinthians…”
But the Corinthians, what? There was no
Saint Paul at his worst had always been hard to take—the garrulous, advice-giving uncle no one wanted to sit next to at dinner, the Polonius of his day. The fun-loving Corinthians had probably stampeded in their rush to avoid the old Gloomy Gus missionary.
Max, searching his mind for a more inspiring topic, a more accessible theme, a more man-of-the-people apostle, began playing with the various fonts in his word-processing software. Gothic typeface in deep purple for the stories of the apostles, orange Arial for the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary, and blue Garamond in italics for her replies. Max deliberated some more, then in twenty-point Gothic he typed “Let there be light,” and highlighted the words with the yellow text highlight function.
was getting him nowhere. He selected all the text on the page and with a sigh changed everything to boring old twelve-point black Times New Roman. He thought a moment, then keyed in “And darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Backspace, backspace, backspace. He stole a glance at the copy of
magazine on his desk, left behind by one of his parishioners—a sort of negative inspiration, since he and his parishioners were living in the season of Lent, a time for setting aside personal indulgences, most of which were featured between the covers of this publication. High fashion and fast cars; pricey houses, restaurants, and vacations. On the cover was a photograph of a castle garden in Normandy, with a bed of Technicolor tulips in the foreground.
How had it gotten to be springtime already? Max, leafing through his desk calendar, blinked with something like wonder, then looked at the watch on his wrist, as if that might confirm what he was seeing. The variable weather of the past few months had been disorienting, for humans as well as for plants and animals. It seemed to him the newborn lambs had arrived earlier this year. Easter, the most important day in the church calendar, would be here before he knew it—or, at this rate, had a sermon ready for it. He noticed the full moon fell on Good Friday this year, which seemed fitting somehow. Awena called it the “Egg Moon”; he had no idea why. Some pagan tradition rolled into the Easter traditions, he thought, enjoying the unintentional pun.
The God Squad would be meeting soon to discuss the “Eat, Pray, Plan” retreat, and while preparing for these vestry meetings seemed a futile gesture, preparation was necessary to maintain some semblance of order. He also needed to schedule tryouts for instrumentalists for the Sunday services while the organist was away for the summer. Max so far had vetoed the zither and banjo, but that had left him with few options. Awena had offered to play her set of crystal singing bowls, but that was as yet a step too far for St. Edwold’s.
! There was the appointment with the bishop coming up in a few days’ time. How could he nearly have forgotten? The man’s secretary had been most insistent it was important, but she hadn’t known what it was about. Max, who could guess, took a red pencil out of the top drawer of his desk and drew a big star on his calendar by the appointment date. Then, still unwilling to return to his sermon, he scrabbled around in the drawer for a pencil sharpener and began honing all his pencils to a fine point.
As he procrastinated in this way, Max glanced out the casement window of the vicarage study. The slice of Nether Monkslip in his view was of a classic village whose roots predated recorded history, a place that had survived centuries of wars and feuds and conspiracies largely because it had managed to go unnoticed. It was a village of stone cottages and thatched roofs, and of timber and brick; of Tudor wattle and daub and Georgian houses and the occasional postwar development—a mix of styles pleasing to the eye and just managing to avoid the chaotic. Max, from his favorite spot up on Hawk Crest, where he would rest with his dog, Thea, from the strenuous climb, found time evaporating as he gazed, trancelike, at the peaceful scene below. The villagers more often than not would be going about their shopping, or be huddled in little groups, often accompanied by a swirl of dogs. He was reminded of a toy village setting for an elaborate train set. Outlying fields were divided by drystone walls kept in perfect repair; on a clear night, he might see in the distance a ferry leaving Monkslip-super-Mare, lights ablaze. Once the weather warmed, there would be a duck race on the River Puddmill, an event to which Max looked forward with as much innocent pleasure as a child.