Faithful Unto Death (Chief Inspector Barnaby Series #5)

( 17 )

Overview

When Simone Hollingsworth fails to turn up at bell ringing practice, her fellow Fawcett Green villagers are neither surprised nor concerned. Unfailingly pleasant, extremely beautiful, and really rather dull, Simone has made her mark only as someone who has volunteered for too many activities in the community and stuck with none. It is only the Hollingsworths' neighbors, the vigilant Brockleys, who suspect the worst. They have noticed Simone's husband, Alan, behaving very strangely: slamming doors, burying boxes ...
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Faithful Unto Death (Chief Inspector Barnaby Series #5)

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Overview

When Simone Hollingsworth fails to turn up at bell ringing practice, her fellow Fawcett Green villagers are neither surprised nor concerned. Unfailingly pleasant, extremely beautiful, and really rather dull, Simone has made her mark only as someone who has volunteered for too many activities in the community and stuck with none. It is only the Hollingsworths' neighbors, the vigilant Brockleys, who suspect the worst. They have noticed Simone's husband, Alan, behaving very strangely: slamming doors, burying boxes in the sun-baked garden, and keeping the curtains drawn to all. But even the Brockleys cannot suspect the true reason behind Simone's disappearance.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Witty characterizations coupled with some astute reflections on life in a remote English village more than make up for a dearth of solid suspects in Graham's latest addition to the Inspector Barnaby series (Written in Blood, 1995). Pampered housewife Simone Hollingsworth vanishes. Her workaholic hubby, Alan, hides out, hits the bottle hard and subsequently dies of poisoning. Timid next-door neighbor Brenda Brockley also disappears, as does local artist Sarah Lawson, beloved of Gray Patterson, a financially ruined software designer and onetime business partner of Alan Hollingsworth. Since Alan once ripped poor Gray off to buy a fancy piece of jewelry for the vapid, if decorous Simone, Gray's looking more than a wee bit guilty. Eventually, a ransom message is delivered for Simone, and Brenda is revealed to have been involved in a secret romance. Series copper Barnaby is an unobtrusive detective who plods for the most part and is aided by surly subordinate Sergeant Troy, a ladies' man and chronic snob. What distinguishes this series from run-of-the-mill English country fare is Graham's dry wit, which is especially smooth when turned on the banality of English middle-class repression: "Now, as she slid the little aluminum tray from its temptingly illustrated sleeve, she thought how very reassuring frozen comestibles were. Constrained beneath a glittery crust of sterile crystals, they did not leak or smell or ask to be in any way humanly dealt with."
Library Journal
Inspector Barnaby (Written in Blood, LJ 3/1/95) arrives in Fawcett Green looking for clues to the disappearance of a bell-ringer and the subsequent murder of her husband. Great stuff for British procedural fans.
Kirkus Reviews
A rewarding entry in the British police genre featuring reflective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his frequently obnoxious sidekick Sergeant Troy (Written in Blood, 1995 etc.). The tiny, gossipy village of Fawcett Green is on Barnaby's turf, and strange things are happening there. Beautiful, fragile blond Simone Hollingsworth has disappeared in what soon appears to be a kidnaping for ransom, and her adoring husband is drinking himself into oblivion at Nightingales, their overdecorated house. Next door at the Larches live uptight Reg and Iris Brockley and their cruelly plain daughter Brenda, who is secretly obsessed with Hollingsworth. Her parents keep a sharp eye on their neighbor until Brenda, too, vanishes. When Hollingsworth is found dead of a prescription drug overdose, a goodbye message on his computer, Barnaby is unconvinced itþs suicide. His attention turns to Gray Patterson, cheated in business by Hollingsworth and once arrested for attacking him. But Patterson's energies seem focused now on Sarah Lawson, a reticent artist living in Bay Tree Cottage whose coming and goings carry their own mystery. The complex resolution of all this and more leaves Barnaby in a state of mind that combines satisfaction with frustration. Graham writes in an old-fashioned way, with leisurely grace, ironic wit, real-seeming characters, ongoing suspense, and a corker of a plot. The result: top-flight entertainment.
From the Publisher
"Barnaby applies his logical mind to the many false clues in this cunning case, but it takes all his acquired insights into human psychology to distinguish the killer from all the other cuckoo characters who live and thrive in the mad, mad world of Fawcett Green." —The New York Times Book Review

"Simply the best detective writer since Agatha Christie." —The Sunday Times of London

"Satisfies on every level: wicked humor, intricate plotting, and razor-sharp characterizations." —Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312185770
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1998
  • Series: Chief Inspector Barnaby Series, #5
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 311
  • Sales rank: 626,218
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Caroline Graham lives in Suffolk, England. She has an M.A. in writing for the theater and has written several plays for both radio and theater, as well as the Chief Inspector Barnaby novels, which have been adapted for television..

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Read an Excerpt

Faithful unto Death


By Caroline Graham

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1996 Caroline Graham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5059-6


CHAPTER 1

Simone Hollingsworth disappeared on Thursday, June 6. You could have said she had a wonderful day for it. A warm breeze was circulating beneath a sky so clear and bright it was almost colourless. The hedges were thick with blossom and in the fields rabbits and hares were larking about from sheer joie de vivre, as is the way of very young creatures who have not yet twigged what the world has in for them.

The first sign in St. Chad's Lane that all was not quite as it should be was observed by Mrs. Molfrey, tottering past the house next door on her way to post a letter. Sarah Lawson was struggling to open the Hollingsworths' gate inwards with her foot while holding in her arms a large cardboard box.

"Let me help you," said Mrs. Molfrey.

"I can manage if you could keep this open."

"It looks jolly heavy," said Mrs. Molfrey, referring to the box. She eased back the wrought and gilded iron. "What on earth's in it?"

"Some Kilner jars for my stall at the fete."

They walked along the lane, Sarah courteously moving at a quarter of her usual pace, for Mrs. Molfrey was very old. The clock on the flint and stone church tower struck three.

"Simone invited me for tea as well but she seems to have gone out. I found these on the patio steps."

"How odd. That's not like her at all."

"Can't say I'm sorry." Sarah hefted the box up in her arms with a groan. "Once you're in there it's goodbye to the next hour at least."

"I expect the poor girl's lonely."

"Whose fault's that?"

They paused outside Bay Tree Cottage where Sarah lived. Here there was no need for Mrs. Molfrey to do the honours, for the gate was permanently hanging off its hinges. This slovenly departure from the approved norm was accepted with a resigned shrug by the village. Sarah was known to be artistic so naturally allowances had to be made.

"Simone can't have gone far without wheels. And she's bound to be back soon. It's bell-ringing practice at five."

"Oh, that's the latest thing, is it?" Sarah laughed. "I suppose there's nothing else left."

"Did she stick at your course?"

"No." Sarah put the box down and produced a key from her skirt pocket. "Came for a few weeks then lost interest."

Mrs. Molfrey posted her letter and turned homewards, silently reflecting that, as far as Simone was concerned, there was indeed not much left for her to play with.

The Hollingsworths had moved into Nightingales just over a year ago. Unlike most newcomers who were invariably anxious to understand, appreciate and embrace every aspect of village life before the removal vans were out of sight, Alan Hollingsworth had never shown the slightest interest in either the place or the people. He could be glimpsed only when climbing into his black and silver Audi convertible, waving goodbye to his wife and crunching off down the drive. Or, long hours later—for he had his own business and worked extremely hard—driving smoothly back up again and kissing her hullo.

Simone always appeared in the doorway the moment the car door slammed as if she had been poised in some concealed lookout, determined that the man of the house should not go unwelcomed or unreceived for a single second. When kissed, she would stand on tiptoe with one leg flicked up behind her like an actress in a forties movie.

Unlike her husband, Mrs. Hollingsworth, having time on her hands, had made an effort to become involved in local activities. It had to be acknowledged that these were pretty limited. There was the Women's Institute, the Embroidery Group, the Bowls Club, a Homemade Wine Circle and, for the truly desperate, the Parish Council. The vicar's wife chaired that.

Mrs. Hollingsworth had gone along to the Institute on a couple of occasions and had sat through a talk on corn dollies and an illustrated lecture on the botanic discoveries of John Tradescant. She had applauded the winner of the most interesting apron competition and enjoyed a slice of Madeira cake. Asked several mildly probing questions about her past and present circumstances, she had replied with a sort of willing vagueness that managed to be both unsatisfactory and unobjectionable. At the third meeting (Intrigue Your Friends With A Tudor Posset) she was seen to sigh a little and was, regretfully, unable to stay for tea and a lemon curd butterfly.

Bowls came next. Colonel Wymmes-Forsyth, the club secretary, watched, goggle-eyed and half fainting with horror, as her four-inch heels, narrow as wine glass stems, stabbed and mangled their way across his exquisitely striped green. She was dissuaded without too much difficulty (everyone was so ancient) from joining.

The wine circle and parish meetings, which took place in the evenings, knew her not. Neither did the embroiderers' group although Cubby Dawlish put a delightfully illustrated little notice as to their times of meeting through Nightingales' letter box.

It was thought that either shyness or a sense of decorum led her to ignore the simplest and most pleasurable way of getting to know people, that is, a visit to the Goat and Whistle. Most new immigrants were in there at the drop of an optic. They asked for a pint of the landlord's best then, foot on the bar rail, would hesitantly broach a subject or drop an agreeable remark into an already established conversation, trying to make friends.

Invariably warmly welcomed, they would return home confirmed in the belief that it was only in the country that people really had time for you. Most remained happily unaware that it was merely the stultifying boredom of seeing the same old faces day in day out that promoted such keen interest. They did not even notice when they, in their turn, became stultifyingly bored.

Bell-ringing, as has already been mentioned, was Mrs. Hollingsworth's latest humour. To date she had attended half a dozen sessions without apparently exhausting her interest. But she was not always prompt and so, when she hadn't arrived at half past five, no one was either surprised or concerned.

The vicar, the Reverend Bream, listened with half an ear for her approach whilst tidying a pile of church guides desktop published by his wife. Priced modestly at fifty pence, they were very popular with visitors, at least half of whom put something, if rarely the full amount, in the box.

Mrs. Molfrey wandered in, apologising for her lateness and doing a quick head count.

"She's not come back then, Simone?" After she had explained the background to this remark, the vicar decided to wait no further and they all hove to.

The practice was for a funeral the following day. Usually requiring nothing more than a somnolent ongoing toll, the bereaved on this occasion had requested a rendering of Oranges and Lemons, a childhood favourite of the dear departed. It was not a peal with which the Fawcett Green campanologists were familiar. But the vicar, who knew it well, had written it out on cards. This was their third run through. Substituting now for their absent colleague, the Reverend Bream swung rhythmically. Arms stretched, he took deep regular breaths, while the heels of his elastic-sided black boots rose and fell and the coarse red, white and blue hemp slipped through his fingers.

Next to him little Mrs. Molfrey shot up into the air, her ringlets flying and unlaced tennis shoes hanging off her feet before descending gravely to the worn flagstones. The team rang for half an hour then, as was usual, repaired to the vestry for refreshments.

Avis Jennings, the doctor's wife, put the kettle on an old electric boiling ring. The vicar broke the seal on a pack of arrowroot biscuits. No one liked these much but Mrs. Bream insisted on supplying them, having read somewhere that arrowroot was not only nutritious but calming to the nerves.

Just before Christmas, Avis had introduced a box of homemade hazelnut clusters. Someone, no doubt over-stimulated by excess protein, had let this slip. A definite coldness emanated from the vicarage and, as a result, Avis Jennings was left off the church flower rota for three months.

Mugs of well-sugared tea were now handed out. Everyone sat, in varying degrees of comfort, among coils of chicken wire and green Oasis, choirboys' surplices, the Sunday School's paints and brushes, Bible storybooks and towering piles of dusty hymnals.

The vicar took a sip of tea, far too strong for his liking, and turned the conversation once more to Mrs. Hollingswofth's absence.

"Have you seen her at all today, Elfrida?"

"No, I haven't," said Mrs. Molfrey in a squeezed-up voice for she was bending over threading some tape through the eyelet of her plimsolls.

"What about you, dear heart?"

Cubby Dawlish turned very pink and tugged at his brief white beard, more of a sparkly frill really, which ran neatly from one earlobe to the other. Then he cleared his throat shyly before also admitting ignorance of Mrs. Hollingsworth's whereabouts. "But I don't think she could have gone far. I'm sure I would have noticed if Charlie's taxi had turned up. I've been outside nearly all day."

Cubby also lived next door to Alan and Simone Hollingsworth in a grace and favour residence placed discreetly among the fruit trees in Mrs. Molfrey's orchard. In lieu of rent and in gratitude for her kindness, he spent a great deal of time working in the garden.

"I'm not sure," began the vicar, urging his plate of pallid soporifics to little effect, "if there's a lot of point in her coming tomorrow. She's not really familiar with the peal and we don't want anyone dropping a clanger."

Mrs. Molfrey gave a whoop of pleasure at this felicity, slapping her thin haunches and releasing puffs of dust from her rusty chenille skirt.

"Especially," added the Reverend Bream sternly, "at a funeral."

It took a lot more than this to subdue Mrs. Molfrey who chortled again and nudged Cubby so hard he almost overbalanced. Reaching out to save himself, he knocked over a watering can and blushed even more deeply than before.

"I'll call round after I've locked up," said the Reverend Bream. "If she hasn't returned, no doubt Alan will have some sort of explanation."

"I wouldn't trouble," said Avis Jennings. "He's a workaholic. Never back before eight, Simone said. And that's early."

"It's no trouble," said the vicar. "I have to call on old Mrs. Carter and they're practically on the way."


Nightingales was one of three houses set a little way back from St. Chad's Lane, in an area not quite large or clearly defined enough for the post office to designate it a close. On the left of the Hollingsworths' was a 1930s pebble dash, complete with glass door panels in harsh, fruit-gum colours. Patchily stained bits of wood had been fixed to the walls in an alternating series of Y shapes and inverted chevrons. These were, in the opinion of Avis Jennings who came from the North, neither use nor ornament. A polished wooden shingle read "The Larches" though not a single arboreal specimen supported the bold claim.

On the other side of Nightingales were Mrs. Molfrey's twin cottages discreetly transformed into one. Only thirty years older than the hideous mock Tudor, Arcadia exuded a stable and serene charm. The gardens were exuberant, fruitful and very lovely.

The Hollingsworths' residence was totally out of place in this small enclosure. "A Desirable Executive Country Dwelling" according to the pre-sale literature, it had been built in 1989 by an enterprising money man with a nose for a snip. He had bought the row of three decrepit workman's hovels previously standing there, demolished them and erected the type of building usually only seen fraternising with a group of select fellows on camera-ridden, landscaped grounds behind fully charged high-wire fences.

The village had protested fiercely once the scale and pomposity of the entrepreneur's vision was revealed but to no effect. Bribery in the planning offices was suspected.

Alan's car was parked a few feet from the double garage. The gravel was all swirly and churned about as if he had driven up to the house in a great hurry, skidded and slammed on the brakes. The gates were wide open. Walking up to the front door, the vicar lifted the tail of a brass mermaid and rapped firmly several times.

No one came. The Reverend Bream hesitated, wondering what to do next. He waited, enjoying the scent from clusters of white nicotiana flowering in fat Italian pots. Then he rapped again.

Afterwards the vicar was to say that he sensed, even at that early stage, that there was something very wrong. But the truth was, within seconds he had got bored and would have simply given up had it not been for the car, so plainly visible a few feet away.

As the unexpected silence continued, curiosity overcame him. Not thinking for a moment how such behaviour might strike the casual passer-by—he had never known embarrassment in his life—the vicar crossed over to the sitting-room windows and, cupping his hands against the early evening sunlight, peered in.

A lush room. Peach walls and hangings, clotted cream carpet, pretty puffed-up silk sofas and armchairs. Gilt and ormolu and crystal. Masses of flowers and several table lamps, none of which were switched on. No human life at all.

A creaking sound some short distance away caught his attention. The door of a shed was being closed in the garden of The Larches. Discreet footsteps tiptoed away. The Reverend Bream guessed it to be the master of the house. Like everyone else, he was familiar with the Brockleys' sly, concealing ways. Not for them the frank enjoyment of a bit of a gossip in the village shop or a good stare over the fence. Whilst being passionately interested in everyone else's business, they presented a united front of absolute indifference. Metaphorically they would cover their eyes and ears and mouths in self-righteous repulsion should even the merest morsel of titillation drift their way. Mrs. Bream said they reminded her of the three wise monkeys. She could be very unChristian at times.

Naughtily, the vicar called out, "Good evening, Mr. Brockley!" Then, as the footsteps hastened away, he went back to the mermaid and knocked again.

Inside the house, to be precise in the kitchen doorway, the quarry stood, motionless, head resting on the painted white wooden frame. On the point of entering the hall when his visitor first knocked, Alan Hollingsworth had frozen on the spot, staring at the panel of thick, wavily patterned glass through which the vicar's distorted figure could be seen but not recognised.

Alan closed his eyes and moaned silently. The seconds passed, marked by the soft whirring of a grandmother clock in the dining room and the strained beating of his heart. He cursed himself for not putting the car away. Weeks—no, years passed. Whoever it was still stood there.

The ridiculousness of his position and the impossibility of maintaining it indefinitely filled him with humiliation and distress. He knew that, even if whoever it was out there gave up, someone else would sooner or later take their place. Villages were like that. People were always calling round collecting or stuffing leaflets through the letter box or asking you to sign petitions. Even though he had remained pointedly uninvolved in the day-to-day life of Fawcett Green, no one escaped entirely. Eventually neighbours, receiving neither sight nor sound of the inhabitants of Nightingales, would start to wonder if they were still in situ. If they were "all right." Someone might even call the police. A cold sweat broke over Alan's face and vile-tasting liquid surged into his throat.

The tapping started again.

Telling himself that the first time would be the worst and the quicker he got it over the better, he turned his head and called, "Coming."

The vicar fixed an expression of concern to his face. An expression he had no trouble whatsoever maintaining when the door was finally opened, for Hollingsworth looked quite dreadful. His face was pale, the skin sheened with moisture as if he had just completed a vigorous workout. His eyes stared wildly and he was frowning; struggling to remember where he had seen the man facing him before. His tangled hair stood on end as if he had been tugging at it. When he spoke his voice was loud and he seemed to have trouble breathing normally. This resulted in his sentences being oddly punctuated.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Faithful unto Death by Caroline Graham. Copyright © 1996 Caroline Graham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 28, 2012

    I am a devoted fan of Caroline Graham, so I may be prejudiced. I

    I am a devoted fan of Caroline Graham, so I may be prejudiced. I get lost in her books as I do in the TV series Midsomer Murders. As an American I miss some of the British slang, but soon catch on. Her characters become real on the page. 
    The plots are complex and believable given the personalities of her characters keeping the reader on his/her mental toes. Even the less lovable of them, however hold your interest because of the authors quirky humor. You don't get disgusted, you laugh. You laugh a lot especially when she shares her opinions with the reader. 
    As with the TV series, you can relax while you read. She uses teasers to serve as suspense not cliff hangers.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent reading

    I always enjoy reading about Chief Inspector Barnaby's cases. All the characters have unique personalities and the stories are expertly written.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2014

    A fun read

    Great fun, interesting characters and plot twists if you don't mind occasional typographical, spelling and factual errors. Someone at the publisher did a bad job of proofreading.

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