Eleven Pipers Piping (Father Christmas Series #2)

( 4 )

Overview

The welcome return of C. C. Benison’s delectable series featuring Father Tom Christmas—“an irresistible addition to the ranks of clerical sleuths” (Julia Spencer-Fleming)
 
Father Tom Christmas, the recently widowed vicar adjusting to life in the English village of Thornford Regis, would do almost anything to avoid attending the annual Robert Burns Supper at the local hotel. But as chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, Father Tom ...
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Eleven Pipers Piping (Father Christmas Series #2)

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Overview

The welcome return of C. C. Benison’s delectable series featuring Father Tom Christmas—“an irresistible addition to the ranks of clerical sleuths” (Julia Spencer-Fleming)
 
Father Tom Christmas, the recently widowed vicar adjusting to life in the English village of Thornford Regis, would do almost anything to avoid attending the annual Robert Burns Supper at the local hotel. But as chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, Father Tom must deliver the grace—and contend with wailing bagpipes, whiskey-laced parishioners reciting poetry, and the culinary abomination that is haggis.
 
As snow falls to unprecedented depths, the revelers carry on—briefly interrupted by an enigmatic stranger seeking shelter. Then Will Moir, proprietor of the hotel and a dedicated piper, inexplicably goes missing—only to be found later in the hotel’s dark tower, alone and dead from what appears to be a heart attack.
 
Father Tom’s own heart sinks when he learns the actual cause of Will’s demise. When word gets out, the flurry of innocent speculation descends into outlandish gossip. And, for all its tranquil charm, Thornford Regis has plenty to gossip about—illicit trysts, muted violence, private sorrows, and old, unresolved tragedies. The question is: Who would benefit most from the piper’s death? Suspicion swirls around many, including Will’s beautiful widow, their shadowy son, Will’s obnoxious brother-in-law, and even the mysterious party crasher, who knows more than she lets on about the grudges she left behind—but never forgot.
 
Brimming with wit, full of genuine surprise, and featuring one of the most memorable (and unlikely) detectives in mystery fiction, C. C. Benison’s second Father Christmas mystery will delight readers with a puzzle that truly defies solution.
 
Praise for C. C. Benison’s first Father Christmas mystery, Twelve Drummers Drumming
 
“Splendid . . . An intelligent and empathic protagonist and skillful prose make this a winner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Benison does an admirable job balancing humor with suspense. . . . Father Christmas’s first case leaves you eager for his next.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“A crime novel that Agatha Christie might have been justly proud to claim as her own.”—Margaret Maron, New York Times bestselling author of Christmas Mourning
 
“Highly recommended . . . [a] marvelous series debut.”—Library Journal
 
“The perfect treat for suspense fans in a holiday mood.”—BookPage
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…C.C. Benison uses the claustrophobia of village life to great effect, making the series a psychologically astute pleasure for fans of traditional cozies.
—Yvonne Zipp
Publishers Weekly
Canadian author Benison successfully applies a classic Agatha Christie framework to a contemporary setting in his impressive second whodunit featuring Rev. Tom Christmas (after 2011’s Twelve Drummers Drumming). Christmas, who has been vicar of St. Nicholas Church in Thornford Regis for less than a year, finds himself in the midst of another murder investigation. Some months earlier, Will Moir, coach of a cricket club for teenagers, “flared with rage at Harrison Kaif in language unbecoming to an adult charged with children’s welfare” during a practice. This unfortunate incident may have led the 14-year-old to commit suicide soon after. When Moir is poisoned, the obvious suspects are members of the dead boy’s family. The vicar provides solace as best he can, while employing his empathic gifts to the crime-solving. The interplay among the residents of Thornford Regis creates a rich psychological background and gives this entry even more depth than its predecessor. Agent: Dean Cooke, the Cooke Agency. (Nov.)
Library Journal
A traditional Robert Burns supper turns into a noncelebration when the host, a seemingly healthy 40-something man, is found dead. Father Tom Christmas knows he has to investigate, particularly since his own cook, Madrun, was one of the bakers, and her tarts are being blamed for the poisoning. Adding to the confusion is the arrival on the night of the ill-fated dinner of a mysterious woman who apparently grew up in the village. Her family history suggests she might want revenge for past wrongs, but Tom is flummoxed when she becomes the next victim. Motives pile up and people keep confiding in the vicar, putting him in greater danger by the minute. VERDICT Canadian author Benison returns with a smashingly clever sophomore entry (after Twelve Drummers Drumming). Readers will be crazy about this vicar with the funny name, his young daughter Miranda, and Madrun, his earnest housekeeper/cook. The epistolary inserts—Madrun's ongoing letters to her mother—crackle with humor and gossip. Myriad small details (maybe a few too many) make for a leisurely and memorable read. Recommended for anyone who loves an English village cozy.
Kirkus Reviews
The vicar of Thornford Regis finds his parish riddled with gossip and crimes, past and present. The Reverend Tom Christmas and his daughter, Miranda, settled in Thornford Regis after the murder of his wife devastated his family. Although he doesn't care for bagpipes and loathes haggis, Tom finds himself attending the annual Burns supper at a local hotel currently closed for renovation. The owner, Australian Will Moir, seems a bit distracted. Tom has no chance to learn why, for Will's body is shortly found in the tower at Thorn Court Country Hotel during a massive snowstorm. Police investigators learn that he was poisoned with yew seeds. When Judith Ingley, a retired nurse who years before lived at Thorn Court, shows up at the closed hotel, Tom takes her in. Many villagers think vicarage housekeeper Madrun Prowse, who provided the yew berry tarts for the dinner, simply made a deadly mistake. The police, however, have plenty of suspects who may have wanted Will dead. A family who lost their son to suicide after Will verbally attacked him is the most likely. But as Tom begins to learn some long-hidden secrets, he realizes that the killer is far from obvious. A second murder redoubles his efforts to find the truth. Tom's second (Twelve Drummers Drumming, 2011) is a must-read for lovers of classic English mysteries, chock-full of suspects, red herrings and details of village life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385344463
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Series: Father Christmas Series , #2
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 298,671
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

C. C. Benison has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. A graduate of the University of Manitoba and Carleton University, he is the author of five previous novels, including Twelve Drummers Drumming and Death at Buckingham Palace. He lives in Winnipeg, where he is at work on the next Father Christmas mystery, Ten Lords A-Leaping.
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Read an Excerpt

chapter one

7

Did they not feed you after the wedding, Mr. Christmas?”

“I dropped into the reception for only a minute,” Tom replied, conscious of the passing figure of his housekeeper, as he continued his contemplation of the bounty in the vicarage refrigerator. “I didn’t have a chance for a bite.”

He barely knew the young couple he had married that after-noon—Todd and Gemma—other than to have a brief preparatory discussion with them the month before. He had never seen them in church, nor had he seen their families or friends, and didn’t expect to see them again, unless the couple wished their baby baptised—which mightn’t be far off, given that the bride, wearing a meringue with a train half a mile long, had fairly waddled up the aisle at St. Paul’s, the second of the two churches in his charge. Her plump face, when she’d pushed back her embroidered veil, had looked much like a blazing beetroot, he recalled, staring at a jar of the pickled variety inside the door of the fridge. Sweat had sparkled in tiny beads along her exposed hairline—this despite the glacial damp of the nave in January—which some might have construed as the effect of energy expended getting up the aisle, but which Tom interpreted as a dew born of anticipation and triumph.

The groom, however, had been a figure of bemusement, his face a kind of Belisha beacon, one moment as blanched as that leftover rice pudding in its puddle of cream on the second shelf, the next as pink as the Virginia ham one shelf below. Tom shouldn’t have fancied their chances at marital success—they were much too young; he was a farm labourer and she was a health-care aide of some sort and they were living with his parents—but for some reason he did, and could only chalk it up to a decade’s experience splicing couples of varied sorts. He imagined them receiving their sixtieth-anniversary card from the Queen (or the King, as would most probably be then) where other couples, more advantaged, would fall by the wayside. “When betrothal is brief, the marriage lasts long,” he recalled his father-in-law saying, quoting some bit of Jewish wisdom when he was trying to reconcile himself to his daughter’s elopement. How wrong he had been, at least in Tom and Lisbeth’s case.

“The reception was at The Pig’s Barrel,” Tom told his housekeeper.

“A January wedding and a pub reception. Sounds a hurried affair.”

“A little, perhaps,” Tom responded noncommittally. He rarely went to wedding receptions anyway, unless he knew the family well. Receptions could murder the best part of a Saturday afternoon, and it wasn’t as though he didn’t have anything else to do—polish his sermon, for instance. He’d dropped in at Todd and Gemma’s only because he’d seen the very attractive village bobby, Màiri White, pass through the The Barrel’s doors when he went for his car after the ceremony and couldn’t resist the allure of a chance encounter. But, alas, when he arrived, Màiri was ensconced, back to him, at a table full of—damn!—men. Anyway, snow, ominously forecast to bung up northwestern Europe for the weekend and more, was beginning to fall in earnest and so getting home to Thornford seemed more imperative than being stood like a lemon at The Pig’s Barrel.

He looked past the edge of the refrigerator door, wondering if Madrun was about to launch into a mini inquisition over the newlyweds. Customarily, she would have ushered them into the vicarage study when they came for their marriage interview, but the wedding had come together all in a rush during busy Christmas week, which Madrun had spent with her aging mother in Cornwall, thus depriving her of an opportunity to inspect and pass verdict on events at home.

But Madrun’s back was to him. He could see one hand resting against one cheek as she contemplated the array of cookery books marshalled behind the glass of a ceiling-high barrister’s bookcase. He guessed her preoccupation lay not with the hapless couple. The Sunday before, after her return from Cornwall to Thornford Regis early in the New Year, she had cooked a joint, accompanied with roast potatoes and parsnips, green beans with caramelised shallots, and, of course, Yorkshire pudding. Tom and Miranda had been in the sitting room with their guests, Will and Caroline Moir, their daughter, Ariel, their son, Adam, and his girlfriend, Tamara, when their conversation had been riven by a piercing cry—such as he had never heard before—from the kitchen. Heart racing, expecting to find Madrun horribly burned or cut, Tom dashed into the kitchen, the others at his heels. Instead, they found her, oven-gloved, staring aghast into a steaming dish, the door of the Aga behind her a yawning maw. Nestled inside the dish’s black and aged sides was a vast and even expanse of tawny gold—quite lovely to look at and smelling heavenly. Despite his still-coursing adrenaline, he had felt his stomach growl.

And then Miranda, on tiptoe, glanced into the pan and declared: “Oh, it’s a dropdead!”

A kind of moan slipped from Madrun’s throat as she turned and placed the hot dish onto a trivet on her worktable, next to the roasted beef and several bowls of thawing berries, which a little later spilled around a heavenly pavlova.

“But I’m sure it will taste wonderfully,” Caroline had interjected quickly, and the others had murmured concurrence. Dropdead was his daughter Miranda’s coinage for a Yorkshire pudding that failed to rise. Her mother’s often hadn’t. Lisbeth had been a blasé sort of cook whose Sunday lunches were sometimes a fiesta of Waitrose ready meals. When Lisbeth died, their French au pair, Ghislaine, tried her hand at English fare but could never quite get the knack of certain dishes, Yorkshire pud among them. Tom, who had never made one in his life, couldn’t understand how a simple concoction of eggs, milk, and flour could be so temperamental and cause so much distress. There had been much crestfallenness back in Bristol when the Yorkshire, pulled from the oven, looked more like Norfolk-in-a-pan than Staffordshire-in-a-pan—flat rather than hilly. Lisbeth would feign indifference, but Ghislaine wept at her first failure. But then they were all in shock in the wake of Lisbeth’s sudden, violent death.

Madrun’s, on the other hand, were always a tremendous success—puffy and light, glorious umber hillocks set against deep golden valleys, a sponge to sop the rich brown gravy she would produce from the organic beef acquired from the farm shop at Thorn Barton. But not last Sunday. The pud simply looked . . . sad. After her initial distress, she had pulled herself together and brought forth an otherwise fine Sunday lunch in the dining room, although she remained subdued throughout. Since then, she’d had Fred Pike, the village handyman, in to look at the Aga, which Fred had pronounced fit as feathers on a duck, scrutinised the sell-by dates of the flour and milk, and had a barney with Roger Pattimore down at Pattimore’s, the village shop, over the freshness of his eggs. She had adjured Tom to check on his computer to see if there were any chat rooms or forums devoted to Yorkshire pudding—the word failures didn’t pass Madrun’s lips; mysteries was substituted—and there were a few, not unpredictably, in the Internet age, but he had white-lied and said there weren’t because—and this he didn’t say out loud—for heaven’s sake, it was too silly. All this bother for a simple—and not wholly necessary—side dish.

“You heat fat in the pan first, don’t you?” Tom had asked a couple of days later when he found Madrun lifting her glasses from the chain around her neck with one hand and pulling the very pan to her face with the other for close examination. “Then why don’t you do a pudding now and experiment with some vegetable oil? That’s a sort of fat, isn’t it?”

“Really, Mr. Christmas,” Madrun had snapped, her tone indicating the suggestion infra dig. “It must be beef fat.” And then her eyes shot open behind the lenses and a flash of enlightenment lit up her features. “I shall have to have a strong word with the girls at the farm shop.”

Tom later learned from one of his parishioners that there had been some unpleasantness up at Thorn Barton when Madrun arrived at the shop to question the aging of their beef, or lack of aging, or some such thing. Sainsbury’s had made a larger-than-usual food delivery to the vicarage on Thursday, so Tom suspected Madrun and the women at the farm shop were keeping a bit of space between them for the time being.

“Sometimes, Mrs. Prowse, things happen for no reason,” Tom said finally, trying to keep exasperation from his voice.

Madrun flicked him a disapproving glance, as if he were being theologically unsound, and said, “It’s an omen. I feel it in my bones.”

Tom, who at the time was struggling to put the lead on Bumble preparatory to a walk up Knighton Lane, had bit his tongue and said nothing, because, of course, there was nothing to say: He was disinclined towards omens, particularly if they came in the form of collapsed savoury puddings.

Now his housekeeper had pushed back one of the glass doors of the bookcase and pulled out a cookery tome. Opening the book to the index at the back, she studied him a moment over the rims of her spectacles. “You’ll let all the cold out, if you keep the refrigerator door open like that.”

“Yes, sorry.”

“You may be pleasantly surprised this evening, you know, Mr. Christmas.”

Tom made a demurring noise as he closed the door. “Perhaps if I lined my stomach with a glass of milk.”

“Mr. James-Douglas used to love the Burns Supper.”

“I expect from his name he had a bit of Scots in him.”

“You don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy the Burns Supper.”

Oh, don’t you? Tom thought. It might help. He didn’t know who his natural parents were. He didn’t feel somehow they could have been Scottish, if one were permitted to feel such things. He himself felt thoroughly English, and if he were about to give allegiance to another people, it would be the French or the Italians, who had wonderful food, not the Scots, who could only have been led by a ghastly climate and impoverished soil to think a celebratory dinner should consist of offal and oatmeal stuffed into a sheep’s stomach then boiled, turnips—his least favourite vegetable—boiled, and potatoes—yes, boiled. Without reopening the refrigerator door, he could see in his mind’s eye the ham, the leftover cheese-and-onion pie, the last of the turkey orzo soup Kate had made after Christmas—any of which would make a fine Saturday-evening meal.

“He was hardly fit for the pulpit the next morning,” Madrun continued almost fondly, licking her thumb and turning a page.

Giles James-Douglas, who preceded Tom, but for one, as incumbent, had been vicar in the village for over twenty-five years before his death. A lifelong bachelor of considerable private means and epicurean tastes, he installed Madrun as his housekeeper when she was a young woman, turned her into a superb cook, and left both the large late-Georgian vicarage—which he bought outright from the Church—and its housekeeper to his successors. Tom, therefore, had more or less inherited Madrun Prowse, who, though a spinster, retained the honorific Mrs. He was grateful for the help, being a busy priest and a widowed father, but there were moments when she did get on his wick a bit, especially when the matchless Mr. James-Douglas slipped into the conversation. He felt, to keep up, he should get as much malt whisky as he could down his neck Saturday then spend Sunday morning conducting services at two churches with a throbbing headache and a dry mouth, and trying not to gag over the Communion wine. He didn’t fancy it. In fact, he didn’t fancy attending the Burns Supper at all, but he was chaplain to a regional pipe band and Roger Pattimore, the pipe sergeant, expected him to come and deliver the Selkirk Grace. It was churlish to say no. Having been in Thornford less than a year and still finding his way in the parish, Tom didn’t want to offend for small reasons. What he wasn’t keen on was the food—the tatties and the neeps (potatoes and turnips, so called) and that acme of culinary horrors, the haggis. When he had been a curate in Kennington, he’d had an old parishioner who told him that in Botswana, where he held some rank in the colonial administration, they had used haggises (or was it haggi?) to poison hyenas.

Really, Tom thought, he should have gone to that pub reception, after all, and at least had a couple of greasy pasties. With such bricks in his stomach he might have an excuse to only nibble at the forthcoming supper.

He glanced at a couple of trays on the counter and wondered what was under the linen cloths covering them. He was about to step over and lift one when, unexpectedly, tantalizingly, the aroma of roasting meat tickled his nostrils. He began to wonder if hunger was driving him to fantasy. His glance moved to the oven.

“Am I smelling beef? Are you back up on that horse, Mrs. Prowse?”

Madrun glanced up from the cookery book. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I thought perhaps you might be cooking a roast with a view to making a Yorkshire pudding.”

“Well, it’s true I’m cooking beef, but it’s beef Wellington . . . of a kind.”

“Beef Wellington!” Tom gave a passing thought to his food budget. “You’re serving the children beef Wellington?”

“It’s . . . an adaptation of beef Wellington.” Madrun frowned at something in her book. “Minced beef, which I shaped into a ball and roasted earlier. Now it’s cooking enclosed in chopped mushrooms and puff pastry.”

“It’s en croûte, Daddy,” a voice behind him said.

Miranda had pushed open the kitchen door, followed by the vicarage cats, Powell and Gloria, who began a lewd and mewling pace in front of the Aga.

“Yes, oncrew,” Madrun murmured. “That’s the word.”

“We’re having our own Burns Supper,” Miranda said brightly, moving to the counter to examine the contents of various bowls.

“I shaped the mince to look like a haggis,” Madrun explained.

Tom frowned at his daughter. “I’m surprised that you and Ariel and . . . who else is coming to your sleepover?”

“Emily and Becca.”

“ . . . had the faintest interest in Robbie Burns.”

“Oh, we don’t. Or at least they don’t,” Miranda added obliquely.

“Then . . . ?”

“It’s because of Zak Burns.” Miranda shook her head so her pigtails slapped against her cheeks.

Tom turned to Madrun helplessly.

“I believe he was the last winner on X Factor.” Madrun raised a censorious eyebrow.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 11, 2013

    New author worth getting to know

    I read this book and gave It as a gIft then I immediately also read 12 Drummers Drumming. These books are full of the flavor of a real English small vIllage that is both modern and traditional. I love the unique vocabulary. You care about the characters. The endings are quite surprise. Also a rather nn-traditional view of Justice.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2012

    A delightful, thoroughly engrossing crime novel. A cozy, with ed

    A delightful, thoroughly engrossing crime novel. A cozy, with edge to it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2014

    A pleasant read

    I didn't like this second book in the series as much as I liked the first book. Father Tom Christmas and his daughter are still interesting characters but I didn't really like the other characters. This story did not keep me on the 'edge of my seat'. Not sure if I will try the next book in this series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Piper: First day of my life.

    I see a bright light and 4 brothers next to me. We were in a place that was cold, dark, and scary. Where had our mum gone? The warmth and milk had disapeared. I sivered with my siblings. I cried for my mum but she never came. I then see a new wolf. She is tall and white. She picks us up and carries us to a new place. The warmth and milk returned. We had a new mum. I then grew into a bigger pup. All my brothers now played. The den was nice and so was the she-wolf. The she-wolf gave us names. Mine was Piper. My brothers' names were Polar, Paul, Pete, and Philip. We got a new life.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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