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Successful young writer Marjorie McClelland leads a solitary, comfortable life in the quiet, post-prohibition town of Ridgebury, CT. Her tranquil life is disrupted when Creighton Ashcroft, a British heir with time and money to burn, purchases a deserted mansion with a mysterious history on the outskirts of town. Instantly smitten with the talented and beautiful Marjorie, Creighton craftily arranges an intimate meeting, but the mood is spoiled when they stumble across a body ...
Successful young writer Marjorie McClelland leads a solitary, comfortable life in the quiet, post-prohibition town of Ridgebury, CT. Her tranquil life is disrupted when Creighton Ashcroft, a British heir with time and money to burn, purchases a deserted mansion with a mysterious history on the outskirts of town. Instantly smitten with the talented and beautiful Marjorie, Creighton craftily arranges an intimate meeting, but the mood is spoiled when they stumble across a body while touring the ample grounds of Creighton's new estate.
With the intention of reaping the story's literary benefits, the two forge an unlikely partnership and research the mansion's sordid past, but they soon find themselves in the middle of an unfolding series of hidden murders and family deceit. On top of this, the handsome detective assigned to the case has caught Marjorie's attention—and Creighton's suspicious eye. The trio must work together to break through a web of deceptively demure townspeople and the discreet upper class to solve the mystery of the mansion's past before becoming victims themselves. Filled with rumor and humor, this historical thriller delights to its captivating close.
"Using poison this time?" Walter Schutt's eyebrows arched questioningly as he pushed the brown paper parcel across the counter.
"Possibly." Marjorie McClelland took the bag and removed the contents. The Encyclopedia of Backyard Banes: An A to Z Guide to Common Poisons.
"That is the book you requested, isn't it?"
"Yes, Mr. Schutt. Thanks so much for ordering it. How much do I owe you?"
His eyes scanned the yellowed purchase order book. "With shipping and tax, two dollars and twenty-five cents." He looked up from the order and frowned. "That's a mighty expensive book, if you don't mind me saying so."
Marjorie's stomach tightened. She withdrew her wallet from her purse and braced herself for another of Mr. Schutt's tirades. The Schutt family—Walter, the proprietor and sole clerk at Schutt's Book Nook, his wife, twin daughters, and son—were the most unpopular clan in the tiny village of Ridgebury, Connecticut. The self-anointed pillars of the community, they thought it their duty to protect their brethren from sin, foolishness, and wrongdoing.
She extracted three one-dollar bills and thrust them into his outstretched hand as if in an effort to purchase his silence. Squinting, he held them aloft against the light for close inspection, and then mumbled, "Thank you," before placing them in the ancient cash register. While removing her change from the drawer, he resumed the inquisition.
"I don't mean to pry, Miss McClelland . . ."
Yes, you do, you old bat, thought Marjorie.
"But can you really afford to be purchasing books this way? I mean, given your occupation . . ."
Mr. Schutt was always referring to her "occupation" as if she were a scullery maid rather than a moderately successful mystery writer. Three of her books had been published in the past two years, and their sales had provided her with a comfortable, if not affluent, lifestyle. Her income afforded life's necessities, as well as its modest pleasures: cosmetics and clothes, permanent waves, occasional Saturday nights at the pictures, and cups of coffee or soda at the local drugstore. Given the year was 1935 and the world was in the middle of a deep economic depression, it was, she thought, a life more comfortable than many.
"And the fact you have no husband to support you," he continued. "Don't you think you should save your money? Dear girl, it is time you started thinking about your future!" His right hand smacked on the counter, punctuating the error of her ways. His left hand still clutched the seventy-five cents.
Marjorie suppressed a grin. Maybe his harangues were orchestrated to force exasperated customers to leave before being given their proper change.
"Not that I don't enjoy reading your books." A faint flush crept up his thin, sinewy neck and stained his pallid cheeks. "But a female writing such stories is not proper. Not proper at all! Women were not meant to be storytellers. Storytelling has always been a masculine pastime. Just look at history. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens. Now those were storytellers! And what about George Eliot? Silas Marner has always been one of my favorites." "George Eliot was a woman,"Marjorie checkmated.
Mr. Schutt paused only a blink. Defeat was unacceptable. "You're focusing on the technicalities, Miss McClelland. The simple fact is that you are swiftly passing your prime. A woman your age should be married and starting a family."
Countercheck. Marjorie sighed noisily. Anyone listening might have thought that Marjorie was approaching her third century of life rather than her third decade.
"Take my dear Louise, for example." Marjorie rolled her eyes. He could take her. If Mr. Schutt was the second most-hated citizen in Ridgebury, Mrs. Schutt took grand prize. Louise shared her husband's proclivity for giving unsolicited advice, but whereas Mr. Schutt tended to shun social functions, Mrs. Schutt basked in them. Never content in just attending the local carnivals, bazaars, or women's luncheons, Mrs. Schutt always tried to usurp power from the committee chairpersons, inciting such hostility in her peers that the most genteel of social events assumed the pugilistic air of a prizefight. Even the local church services had become a weekly power struggle, with Mrs. Schutt praying and singing louder than Reverend Price. The latest misadventure had resulted in Louise Schutt providing the church organist with musical instruction during the middle of a sermon.
"When my dear Louise was your age," he continued," we had been married six years and were eagerly awaiting the delivery of our son Simon." Mr. Schutt's phrasing made it sound as if Simon were an item that arrived by the morning post. "Sharon and Sheila were born four years before."
Marjorie was surprised that the odious Schutt sisters were "born"; she had always imagined them sprouting from their mother's head. "Mr. Schutt," she interrupted, before he could further expound on his familial bliss. "I would love to get married, but the opportunity has not presented itself. There are simply no men in town whom I would consider dating, let alone marrying."
"Well, what about Dr. Russell? He's about your age."
As if that were the only criteria. "I have nothing in common with Dr. Russell." Seeing an opportunity to extricate herself from the bookstore and, at the same time, have some fun with the bookseller, she turned and sighed, "The only person I've ever had anything in common with is you, Mr. Schutt." She clicked her tongue several times, and then added, wistfully, "If only I were twenty years older." His flushed cheeks turned crimson. When the astonished Mr. Schutt dropped the change from his left hand,Marjorie scooped the coins off the counter, winked, and whistled her way out of the store, leaving the gaping shopkeeper staring open-mouthed after her.
"Smitten" aptly described Creighton Ashcroft as he gazed out of the large picture window overlooking the village common. He had entered the Ridgebury Drugstore for a cup of coffee and a sandwich, but while awaiting his lunch, his attention became riveted on a young woman emerging from the bookstore on the other side of the green. In her twenties and lovely as a finely etched cameo, she wore a black coat and matching shoes. The March wind was sweeping her unbound hair into a golden halo framing her face. He noticed that in the crook of her arm she cradled a large, rectangular object. Ah, a book! he thought, excited at the prospect that this was not only a goddess, but a fellow reader as well.
He was awakened from his hypnotic state by the call of the young boy behind the lunch counter, informing him that his order was ready. Creighton turned his head from the window only to realize that his nose had nearly been pressed against the glass. The lunch counter and its line of stools ran from the front of the shop to the rear and was the only seating provided for its patrons. Creighton selected the stool nearest the front of the store and then returned his gaze to the young woman. The server, who introduced himself as Freddie, followed his customer's line of vision out of the store window, but assumed that his focus was on the 1929 Rolls Royce Phantom II Continental parked along the curb.
"Is that your car, mister?"
"Yes," Creighton answered distractedly; the goddess was heading directly toward the drugstore.
"Would you mind if I went out and had a look at it, sir? I won't touch it or nothin'."
At the excitement in Freddie's voice, Creighton turned and looked at him. The lad couldn't have been more than fifteen. Creighton smiled inwardly at the love affair that inevitably ensued between teenage boys and automobiles. Then his spirits plummeted. Unless the economy improved, Freddie, and other boys like him, might never possess such luxuries. "Freddie, my lad, you are welcome to look, touch, and sit in the car if you like."
"Thank you!" shouted the boy, donning his jacket and running out the door.
As Creighton watched him leave, he saw that his mystery lady was about to enter. He quickly snatched up a newspaper from the counter, held it to his face and pretended to read. The small bells dangling over the door announced her arrival. She passed behind him and took a seat two stools to his left.
Feigning nonchalance, Creighton sipped at his coffee without lifting his eyes from the newspaper, then almost gagged at the bitter brew. In his fascination with the young woman, he had forgotten to add cream or sugar. Shuddering slightly, he forced himself to swallow the scalding hot, pungent liquid.
Upon returning the cup to its saucer, he noticed that the woman was eyeing him curiously. He smiled."Hello."
"Hello." Obviously accustomed to Freddie's absences, she rose from her seat and wandered behind the counter. She bent down, retrieved a cup and saucer from some hidden location and poured herself some coffee. She held the carafe over Creighton's cup. "More?" Creighton glanced at the book she had left, face up, at her seat.
Common poisons? "Umm . . . No, thank you."
She replaced the carafe then glanced out the window. A large crowd had gathered around Freddie and the Rolls Royce. Creighton followed her gaze. "It seems my arrival has caused quite a stir." She sat on her stool and began adding sugar to her coffee. "They react that way over any stranger," she shrugged. "Ridgebury doesn't get too many visitors."
"Oh?" Creighton doubted that "any stranger" drove a Phantom. "Most people just pass through on their way to New York or Boston." She picked up a spoon and dipped it into her cup. "So, where are you headed?"
"Nowhere, actually. I just purchased Kensington House this morning, so I suppose that makes me your new neighbor."
She stared at him in disbelief. "You're kidding me! You bought Kensington House?" He nodded his reply. "You must have a ton of money to buy that place! You would have to be a millionaire!"
Creighton tried to respond as modestly as he could, "Well . . . um, yes, I am."
In her excitement, she put aside her coffee and moved to the stool next to him. "But that place is huge! How many rooms are there?" "Twenty-seven."
She leaned toward him, her emerald eyes dancing with curiosity. He found the proximity pleasant, if unnerving. "Twenty-seven! You must have a large family to need a house that size."
He was glad at the opportunity to mention his marital status.
"No, just me. I'm not married."
Her eyebrows furrowed. "You mean you're going to live in that big house by yourself?"
"Yes. Although my butler and cook will probably take up residence in the house as well."
She seemed annoyed at such blatant waste of space. "But that's only two more people. Why do you need twenty-seven rooms?"
"I don't. I just fell in love with the house. It suits me."
She contemplated this for a moment, and then said suddenly, as if she had just taken note of his accent, "You're English, aren't you?" She made it sound like an explanation for his eccentric behavior rather than a legitimate question.
"Yes, I am."
"So, you're new to this country?"
"No. I've lived in New York the past few years."He pulled a small card from a gold case in his suit pocket and presented it to her. She felt the heavy stock of the card and then took note of the name engraved upon it: CREIGHTON RICHARD ASHCROFT III. Beneath it was a Park Avenue address. "I'm afraid I don't have a card to exchange for yours," she apologized.
He smiled. "A name would suffice."
"Marjorie Irene McClelland," she stated, then quickly added, "the first."
"The one and only, to be certain," responded Creighton. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
She shook his proffered hand but did not let hers linger in his large, strong palm. "So why did you go to New York?" she asked, stirring her coffee.
"My father made his fortune in England, manufacturing airplane parts. After the war, he realized that America had a much larger market for such items, so he moved the business here. The corporate offices are in New York, but we have plants across the country."
"But Ridgebury is a three-hour drive from New York. You'd have a terrible time getting to work every day."
"Oh, I don't work in New York."
"You have an office here in Connecticut?"
"I perhaps misled you with my last statement. In truth, I don't work anywhere. I quit the family business."
She stared incredulously at him. "Quit? Why on earth would you do that?"
"Why should I work? I don't need to. I have enough money to live quite comfortably for the rest of my life and still provide for my heirs. Besides," he added peevishly, "I don't much fancy airplane parts."
"So what do you do all day?"
"Nothing. What do you do all day?"
Her chin jutted defiantly. "I'm a writer."
A writer! Creighton's heart skipped a beat. "What do you write?"
"Mystery novels." She stared at him, daring him to scoff.
"Mystery novels," he repeated. He leaned closer, trying to recall where he had seen her before. "Excuse me, what was your name again?"
"It not only was but is Marjorie McClelland."
He feigned excitement and surprise. "No! Not that Marjorie Mc- Clelland!"
She blushed slightly. "You've read my books?"
Careful, man, thought Creighton. He resisted the temptation to claim he had read everything she had written. "I read your last one."
"Death in Denmark?"
Marjorie smiled hesitatingly. "Did you enjoy it?"
He searched for an appropriately vague compliment for a mystery novel. "Enjoy it? I loved it. It was terribly clever. And that ending caught me completely by surprise." Fearing she might begin discussing the plot in detail, he quickly inquired, "When will your next book be released?"
"I'm writing it now. My publisher wants to release it this autumn." She frowned and shook her head slowly. "I don't know, though. I've been having so much trouble with it." She sat motionless, staring out the window behind him.
Suddenly, she snapped to life, her eyes wide with excitement. "I know—maybe you can help me!"
Creighton wondered what schemes were forming in that lovely blonde head. "Help you?"
"Yes. You said yourself you have nothing to do."
He was annoyed at this intrusion upon his idleness. "I enjoy having nothing to do. Besides, I'm not a writer."
She remained undaunted. "Oh, no, you don't have to be a writer. I just need someone to read what I've written so far and give me an honest opinion. And, since you're obviously well educated and you're familiar with my work, I thought you might be a good candidate. But, if you don't want to do it . . ."
Her head tilted downward and she looked as if she might cry. Creighton could have strangled himself for refusing. After all, discussing her book would allow him to see her again. "All right, I'll do it."
She picked up her head and beamed. "I'll need help as soon as possible. Are you moving into Kensington House today?"
"No, I can't. There's no water, heat, or electricity. Not to mention, after more than five years of being empty, it could use a good cleaning."
"So you're going back to New York?"
"No. It would be more convenient if I stayed in this area, so that I can supervise the work on the house."
"Well, Mrs. Patterson has a boarding house around the corner. The rooms are comfortable and she does a good breakfast." She hesitated, then added, "But I suppose you're accustomed to more swank surroundings."
"No, if I wanted swank surroundings I would have stayed in New York. Mrs. Patterson's sounds fine."
"Good. Then if you're staying in Ridgebury, why don't we get together tomorrow? Say, about noon?"
"Fine. Where should I meet you?"
She rose from her stool and began buttoning her coat. "My house. It's across the green and two doors down from the post office." She moved toward the door. "I've got to run now. I'll see you tomorrow." With a tinkling of bells, she disappeared. Creighton looked down and noticed that she had not paid for her coffee. Unsure as to whether she had a running tab, he paid for both orders and slipped out the front door. The novelty of the Rolls Royce had apparently worn off, for the crowd had dispersed, except for Freddie, who was now sweeping the sidewalk.
Creighton walked around the corner and secured a room with Mrs. Patterson. His accommodations settled, he set out on his next mission. He rounded the corner, made his way across the green, and entered Schutt's Book Nook. Twenty minutes later, he emerged with a large headache, the wrong change, and a copy of Marjorie McClelland's Death in Denmark.
Posted July 9, 2012
Posted April 3, 2011
I picked this book up after it came up under suggested readings from a previously purchased book. I love this series! The characters are great, the dialogue is witty, and the story has a good pace. I've already bought the other books in the series and they keep getting better!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
During the Depression British expatriate millionaire Creighton Ashcroft arrives in Ridgebury, Connecticut, which would mean very little to New Englanders except he drove to town in a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a vehicle no one ever saw before. He moves into the affluent Kensington House Mansion while the town is agog over the apparent affluent outsider. That is everyone except local mystery writer Marjorie McClelland who looks down upon Creighton even as he is attracted to her.----- Marjorie decides Creighton can prove handy because she would like to write a story about the suicide of a previous resident, Henry Van Allen. Seeing this as an opportunity to get on her better side, Creighton agrees to assist Marjorie starting with showing her the place. However, they quickly stumble upon the partially buried corpse of the gardener. While the local police investigate that murder, Marjorie with her loyal sidekick Creighton at her side begin to look into the death of Henry, as she theorizes he was murdered.------ The first Marjorie McClelland mystery uses the Depression to accentuate the class distinctions between the lead amateur sleuths even while an attraction and respect grow for one another. The whodunit is cleverly crafted to amplify the battles between Creighton and Marjorie as well as to compare their investigation to that of the cops. The fascinating lead couple relationship turns MILLION DOLLAR BABY into a fun historical mystery.----- Harriet Klausner
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Posted August 20, 2012
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Posted July 10, 2014
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