A number of mystery authors, including Lorinda Lucas, call the village of Brimful Coffers home. Occasionally, there is a violent death . . . for example, the demise of a hapless rat, done in by Lorinda’s two kitties.
But when the victims are book critic Plantagenet Sutton and a visiting writer, Lorinda finds the case much more difficult to solve—in “another humorous charmer” by the award-winning author (Library Journal).
“[A] charming morsel of a mystery.” —Publishers Weekly
Praise for Marian Babson
“What can a reviewer say about Marian Babson? If you haven’t read at least one of her books, you have definitely missed the boat. She is consistently witty.” —Mystery News
About the Author
Marian Babson, born Ruth Stenstreem, is an American mystery writer. Her first published work was Cover-Up Story (1971), and she has written over forty-five mysteries. Babson served as secretary of the Crime Writers’ Association and was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library in 1996.
Read an Excerpt
Miss Petunia Pettifogg adjusted her gold-rimmed pince-nez and surveyed the tea table with deep satisfaction. 'I see that our invaluable Mrs Bloggs has outdone herself again,' she remarked to her sister.
'Jam sponge.' Lily began lifting the little white muslin tents covering the dishes to display the treasures hidden beneath. 'Scones, crumpets, walnut bread ... woman must have been baking all day.'
Miss Petunia closed her eyes briefly and inhaled the delicious fragrances. All part of the comfort and delight of coming home to their dear Blossom Cottage after a tedious and exhausting day in London trying to convince the singularly obtuse hierarchy at New Scotland Yard that there had, indeed, been yet another murder in the deceptively rural and peaceful village of St Waldemar Boniface.
'Let's eat,' Lily said, tilting the teapot and beginning to pour.
'But ... where's Marigold?' Miss Petunia looked around for her youngest sister.
'Off on some mysterious errand of her own,' Lily said. 'Don't know how long she'll be. No point waiting for her.'
Even as Lily spoke, they heard the sound of footsteps running down the path to Blossom Cottage and the quick scrape of a key in the lock. Then the front door slammed on loud and obnoxious shouting which came to them, unfortunately, all too clearly.
'Come back out here!' a male voice howled. 'And I'll do yer! Come out and I'll show yer what it's for!'
Another door slammed and Marigold was suddenly in the room with them, leaning against the door, her red-gold curls dancing, her bright blue eyes sparkling with the merriment of the chase.
'Oh, dear!' She tossed her head impishly. 'I'm rather afraid poor Colonel Battersby is over-refreshed again.'
'You mean the drunken sot is drunk again!' her sister Lily growled tigerishly. 'You must stop encouraging these vulgarians. One day you'll go too far.'
'I was merely following your instructions,' Marigold pouted. 'I was questioning him – very subtly – about the strange disappearance of his sister-in-law, the cyanide in his wife's cocoa, the bonfire which destroyed any evidence that might have been hidden in the compost pile and the reason why there were bloodstains on his knitted silk tie when, for no reason at all, he suddenly got very upset and began shouting at me.'
'So you came home immediately,' Miss Petunia said. 'How very sensible of you.' Outside, the shouting died to sporadic sulky outbursts.
'I most certainly did not desert my post that easily,' Marigold said indignantly. 'I went to the bar and bought him another drink. When I came back, he seemed quite reasonable and we had a pleasant little talk. He asked me how much I was insured for. Then, before I could answer, he said no matter how much it was, it wasn't enough.' She frowned thoughtfully. 'I hadn't realized that Colonel Battersby had taken to selling life insurance as a sideline.'
'He's sly, that man,' Lily growled. 'Sly and dangerous. As too many women in this village have found out ... too late.'
'He's gone very quiet suddenly.' Miss Petunia felt a strange flutter of apprehension.
'Perhaps he's fallen asleep,' Marigold giggled.
'Passed out, you mean,' Lily said, lighting another cigarette.
'Oh, my dear, I wish you wouldn't.' Miss Petunia was moved to make one of her rare protests. 'You don't want to shorten your life.'
'Be quiet!' Lily ordered roughly.
'It's only for your own good, dear.' Miss Petunia was hurt.
'Not that, Pet –' Lily gestured towards the front of the house. 'I mean, listen ...'
'Yes, I can hear something!' Marigold gasped, her eyes widening. 'It's the car! Of course, I took the keys away from him because he was in no fit condition to drive. That was when he got upset all over again. Then I threw the keys into the bushes when he was gaining on me, in order to distract him. He must have found them and gone back for the car. Oh, I hope he doesn't kill someone!'
'He's racing the motor,' Lily judged. 'He's heading this way –'
There was a tremendous crash at the front door.
'He's ram-raiding us!' Marigold shrieked.
'I'll put a stop to this!' Lily snarled. They all rushed out into the front hall.
The door was half off its hinges; the motor car blocked any hope of getting past it. As they stared aghast, it burst into flames.
'That does it!' Lily roared. 'The man is a menace and must be stopped. Marigold, ring the fire brigade. I'll take care of Colonel Battersby!' She led them into the front parlour and opened the window.
'Battersby, you old fool!' she bellowed. 'You're under arrest! This is a Citizen's Arrest! I demand that you step forward and surrender immed –'
The rock struck her on the temple with great force, hurling her back into the room where she lay motionless.
'Lily! Lily!' Miss Petunia knelt beside her. 'Speak to me!'
'Oh, Petunia – 'Marigold put down the telephone, her hands shaking. 'There's no answer. There's not even a dial tone. Colonel Battersby must have cut the wires. The line is dead!'
'So is Lily,' Miss Petunia said grimly.
'What?' Marigold rushed over to stand beside her, looking down at her fallen sister. 'You can't mean it!'
'Thus was Goliath slain!' Miss Petunia rose to her feet, one hand clasping Marigold for support. Suddenly she felt quite giddy. 'Colonel Battersby has gone too far!'
'Oh, Petunia, what are you going to do?'
'Lily shall be avenged! Marigold, run upstairs and get me Daddy's old Service revolver. We have always kept it well cleaned and oiled in his memory. Now we are forced to take the law into our own hands!'
Marigold left the door ajar as she dashed from the room and Miss Petunia became aware of grey tendrils of smoke curling along the floor. As soon as she had dealt with Colonel Battersby, it might be wise to leave the cottage, as it seemed to be alight. In the distance, she could hear Marigold coughing as she stumbled up the stairs.
'Be careful!' she called out instinctively. Marigold always dashed about so impetuously. Already she must have found the gun, for she was now hurrying back downstairs. The smoke was thicker.
Marigold must have been halfway down the stairs when there was a squeal and a shot rang out. There was the sound of a body – Marigold's body – falling down the stairs.
'Marigold!' Miss Petunia dashed into the front hall to find Marigold, as she had feared, lying at the foot of the stairs. Daddy's gun was still clasped to her bosom, above it a dark-red stain blossomed.
'Oh, Petunia,' Marigold said faintly, 'I tripped.' And said no more.
Tears, as well as smoke, blinding her eyes, Miss Petunia dragged Marigold's body into the parlour to lie beside Lily's. She could not bring herself to remove the gun from Marigold's hands.
She was alone now and must face her fate as best she might. The hallway, she had noticed, was alight at both ends. Colonel Battersby had obviously set another fire by the back door to trap them in the house.
There was only the window for escape. Coughing, she made her way to it. Strange, how difficult it was becoming to walk.
The window was still open, curtains fluttering in the breeze. Was that wise? Wasn't there something about not creating a draught in a house that was on fire? Perhaps she should close the window ...
No! No! She must get out through the window. Laboriously, she threw one knee up on the sill and –
The rock crashed into her temple. Ah, but her head was harder than Lily's, she congratulated herself, even as she was being borne backwards by the force of the blow.
She fell across Lily and Marigold and rested on them a moment, fighting for breath. The room was completely fogged with smoke now. To think that she had reprimanded dear Lily for lighting a cigarette!
Smoke inhalation! She was being overcome by the smoke. Miss Petunia tried to push herself to her feet, even to her hands and knees, but she felt too giddy. She must try ... she must fight ... but ... As she collapsed again across her sisters' bodies, the thought came to her that this really was ...
Lorinda Lucas slid the last page out of her typewriter with a feeling of peace and accomplishment.
Quickly, she rolled another page into the machine. While the euphoria lasted, she could force herself to put the repellent Petunia, the nauseating Marigold and the appalling Lily through a few more of their paces. Paces which, unfortunately, would leave them triumphantly alive and kicking and ready to trudge through the next book in the series.
She typed steadily for another hour, then pushed her chair away from the desk. She stood and crossed to the dark-red filing cabinet where she hid her guilty secret, the death-dealing chapter, in the increasingly thickening folder marked 'FINAL CHAPTERS'. Soon she would have to begin another file folder – if she kept on like this.
And she probably would. Only to herself could she admit the deep satisfaction it gave her to dispose of the detestable Sibling Spinster Sleuths ('Try saying it quickly three times,' a critic had written. 'A few drinks may help, but you need a few drinks to pick up this sort of book in the first place.') in ever more lurid and gory detail. Other series writers might moan about how sick they were of their creations, but her own safety valve was blowing off steam quite nicely, thank you, as she wrote alternative endings for each book, each story and, sometimes, each idea. Reichenbach Falls had nothing on this!
As she turned away from the filing cabinet, the view from the window caught her eye. A picture-postcard village of quaint cottages, several with thatched roofs, sprawled into the distance along both sides of a winding road. Beyond it, a curving river sparkled in the fading sunlight. On the other side of her house, she knew, the view was of the High Street, which had several shops too many for a real village; the place had ideas above its station and was aspiring to Town status.
Lorinda made a face at the olde-worlde prettiness displayed below her and turned away, conscious of a dissatisfaction that was not solely caused by her professional discontent.
It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
'I've made the discovery of a lifetime,' Dorian had brayed over the bridge table a year ago. 'Brimful Coffers. Delightful little village. Undiscovered, unspoiled, easy reach of London. Several highly desirable bijou residences going for a song because of the modernization they require. Cheap as they are, the natives can't afford 'em, but they'd just about come out of petty cash for us – and we'd always be sure of a fourth for bridge.'
Somehow, it had escaped her attention that she didn't care all that much for bridge. After living here for six months, she wasn't sure that she cared all that much for her colleagues, either.
Dorian King, as befitted the creator of Field Marshal Sir Oliver Aldershot, was a brilliant organizer. One by one, he had driven his chosen colleagues down to the village, introduced them to the local estate agent, accompanied them on their tours through the properties on offer, helpfully pointing out improvements that could be made ... doing everything, in fact, except forcibly guiding their hands as they signed the contracts to purchase. Nor did he help with any mortgage arrangements, as it became clear to his victims that his idea of petty cash varied considerably from theirs.
Even so, it was, she had to admit, a lovely little cottage, and just what she had thought she wanted. Furthermore, the cats adored the garden and enjoyed exploring their immense new territory, revelling in a freedom that traffic had denied them heretofore. Another positive aspect was that there was no lack of cat-sitters or someone to pop in and feed them when she had to go up to town or off on a research trip. Nor did she mind being called upon in her turn to look after someone else's pet. No, the growing unease went deeper than that, but it was early days yet and no doubt they would all soon settle down satisfactorily.
Flip-flop ... flip-flop ... the familiar sound was followed by the thud of soft little paws on the stairs as the cats bounded up and headed unerringly for her study.
Had-I was in the lead, of course, with But-Known right behind her. They made a quick tour of inspection, then sat down side by side and regarded her with bright-eyed improbable innocence. She knew that look.
'Now what have you done?' She was instantly suspicious.
Flip-flap ... flap ... flap, scrabble ... 'Aaarreeeooow ...'
'Oh, not again!' she scolded.
'Meerryooowrrr ...' The wail of distress soared upwards, filling the air, beginning to border on panic.
'All right, all right. I'm coming,' she called. The cats rose to their feet and followed her down the stairs. 'Let's go and see what the damage is,' she told them.
The huge orange cat was well and truly jammed into the catflap. Head and shoulders protruded, wriggling, with one trapped paw waving under his chin. He looked up piteously at Lorinda and renewed his struggles, but he could move no farther forward, nor could he back out.
'Oh, Pudding,' she said reproachfully. Pudding was not really his name, but it should be. He was sweet and thick. 'Will you never learn?'
'Aaarrreeeoooww,' he moaned, trying to twist around.
'No, no, don't do that. You'll only make it worse.' She stooped to pet him comfortingly. 'Just be calm and I'll get help.'
Had-I was going to be no help at all. Was she ever? With a disdainful look at the helpless captive, she strolled over to her bowl and ostentatiously began to munch.
Had-I shot him a smug look and took another morsel, crunching it loudly. She was clearly saying, 'Yum-yum-yummy.'
'You stop taunting the poor thing!' Lorinda pushed Had-I aside, scooped up a few of the tiny fish-shapes and carried them over to the catflap.
'Here ...' She popped one into the eager mouth and then another. He was calming down now, with his mouth full and a trusted figure stroking his fevered brow.
'That's better.' Lorinda went to the telephone in the living room and pushed the automatic dialling button for one of the frequently called numbers. Then she held the receiver a safe distance from her ear, waiting for the shot that began the answer tape.
'BANG!! Ya missed me, sucker! You don't get Macho Magee that easy! I'm on the prowl down those mean streets with my trusty Roscoe, looking for trouble. Maybe I'll find it. If you want to find me, leave a message when the screaming dies ...' A long shrill scream ended the announcement.
'You'd better come over here and pull out your trusty Roscoe,' Lorinda announced briskly. 'He's stuck in the catflap again.'
'They do it deliberately.' There was a click and the querulous voice began complaining, I've seen them. Those wretched creatures of yours lead my poor Roscoe on.'
It was too true to argue with. Had-I and But-Known all too clearly thought it was the best joke in town to lure poor Roscoe into their catflap and then laugh at him when he couldn't clear it and jammed halfway through.
'He ought to know better by now,' Lorinda said. 'But he's well stuck in this time and I'm afraid of hurting him.'
'Oh, all right. I'll be right there.' He slammed down the phone and Lorinda went back into the kitchen.
'All right, Roscoe,' she said carefully; she mustn't get caught calling him Pudding. 'Daddy's on the way.'
Still tranquillized by his snack, Roscoe regarded her amiably. But-Known, perhaps with a belated attack of conscience, was busily washing his face, which was also helping to soothe him. He had stopped struggling, but still looked terribly uncomfortable.
Had-I had abandoned her food bowl, finding no fun in it if Lorinda was going to be such a spoilsport as to share the munchies with Roscoe, and was perched on a chair watching the others. Now she lifted her head and turned towards the window, aware of an approaching presence before Lorinda could see or hear it.
It had to be Macho. Taking her cue, Lorinda gently eased the door open, trying not to panic Roscoe.
'Steady on, boy. It's all right. Don't worry.'
Reassurances were useless. Roscoe let out an unearthly shriek at discovering he was moving horizontally through the air at no volition of his own and without human arms around him.
'I'm coming! I'm coming, Roscoe!' The figure at the far end of the garden broke into a shambling run and lurched forward precipitously. 'Hang in there!'
Really, there wasn't much else Roscoe could do. He swung, suspended by his ample middle, from the catflap, hind legs scrabbling for purchase and yowled his terror to the skies.
'Here I am! Daddy's here!' Macho Magee dropped to his knees beside his anxious pet and glared up at Lorinda. 'I don't know why you have to have one of those porthole-type catflaps. It's antisocial!'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Canapés for the Kitties"
Copyright © 1996 Marian Babson.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Marian Babson's name on a mystery is a guarantee of quality writing wrapped around an unusual crime."Houston Chronicle
"What can a reviewer say about Marian Babson? If you haven't read at least one of her books, you have definitely missed the boat. She is consistently witty."Mystery News