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Murder on the Cliffs: A Daphne du Maurier Mystery

Murder on the Cliffs: A Daphne du Maurier Mystery

3.3 13
by Joanna Challis

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The storm led me to Padthaway.

I could never resist the allure of dark swirling clouds, windswept leaves sweeping down cobbled lanes or a view of the sea stirring up its defiant nature. The sea possessed a power all of its own and this part of Cornwall, an isolated stretch of rocky cliff tops and unexplored beaches both enchanted and


The storm led me to Padthaway.

I could never resist the allure of dark swirling clouds, windswept leaves sweeping down cobbled lanes or a view of the sea stirring up its defiant nature. The sea possessed a power all of its own and this part of Cornwall, an isolated stretch of rocky cliff tops and unexplored beaches both enchanted and terrified me.

It is not a lie to say I felt drawn out that day, led to a certain destiny...

So begins this new mystery series featuring young Daphne du Maurier, headstrong, adventurous, and standing at the cusp of greatness.

Walking on the cliffs in Cornwall, she stumbles upon the drowned body of a beautiful woman, dressed only in a nightgown, her hair strewn along the rocks, her eyes gazing up to the heavens. Daphne soon learns that the mysterious woman was engaged to marry Lord Hartley of Padthaway, an Elizabethan mansion full of intriguing secrets.

As the daughter of the famous Sir Gerald du Maurier, Daphne is welcomed into the Hartley home, but when the drowning turns out to be murder, Daphne determines to get to the bottom of the mysteries of Padthaway—in part to find fresh inspiration for her writing, and in part because she cannot resist the allure of grand houses and long buried secrets.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of Australian author Challis’s U.S. debut, the uneven first in a new series to feature literary icon Daphne du Maurier as sleuth, 21-year-old Daphne, who’s visiting Cornwall to research local history, encounters a teenage girl, Lianne Hartley, leaning over a beautiful young woman’s body on the beach during a storm. Lianne reluctantly identifies the dead woman as Victoria Bastion, a former kitchen maid who was about to marry Lianne’s brother. Daphne soon meets other members of the aristocratic Hartley family, whose complex relationships and great house, an Elizabethan mansion called Padthaway, fascinate her. When Daphne learns that Victoria died by poison rather than accident, she vows to solve the mystery of her murder. Despite a clunky plot and some labored prose (“Sea spray foamed at the mouth of the restless sea”), Challis (Eye of the Serpent) gives du Maurier fans an appealing vision of the novelist’s early womanhood and the inspiration for her classic Rebecca.(Dec.)
Library Journal
It is 1928, and aspiring writer Daphne du Maurier sets out for Cornwall to do research at a local abbey but finds a drowned woman on the beach and involves herself in a murder investigation that leads to the local aristocracy. As her probe proceeds, Daphne is also engrossed in trying to write a novel. VERDICT In this series debut, Australian author Challis resurrects a writer whose own life was full of secrets to solve a mystery that turns on the complexities of a family hiding its own. Readers who remember du Maurier's classic Rebecca will love the remote Cornwall setting and the many hints that lead to both real and fictional events.
Kirkus Reviews
Seeking inspiration to begin her writing career, young Daphne du Maurier visits Cornwall and finds a dead bride-to-be. Rain. Wind. Rocks. A slight figure barely visible in the gloom. How better to capture the imagination of a nascent writer visiting her mum's old nanny while researching in the musty archives at Rothmarten Abbey? Aha! Daphne spies a body at the base of the cliffs. Standing over the corpse is the slightly mad Lianne Hartley, who identifies it as Victoria Bastion, a former kitchen maid who captured the heart of Lianne's brother David, lord and heir of the Elizabethan manor Padthaway. In a trice Daphne is invited to the great house, complete with dungeons, a sinister tower, a secret garden and Lady Hartley, who loathed the prospect of Victoria as her daughter-in-law. Sir Edward, the local magistrate, declares the death accidental, but Daphne's skepticism is proven right when a medical examination turns up poison. Suspects include odd-child Lianne, the intended groom, Lady Hartley and her lover, the obligatory sinister housekeeper and the mysterious person Victoria secretly went to London to meet. A kiss with the wrong gentleman and a proper disdain for the right one later, Daphne resolves the matter and begins to write of Manderley. Du Maurier becomes the latest luminary to suffer the indignity of being named sleuth by an author in search of a gimmick. Challis (Eye of the Serpent, 2007, etc.) provides ample hints of Rebecca, but no hint of its author's mastery of atmosphere or suspense.

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St. Martin's Press
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Daphne du Maurier Mystery Series , #1
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Read an Excerpt

Murder on the Cliffs

A Daphne du Maurier Mystery

By Joanna Challis

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Joanna Challis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8867-4


The storm led me to Padthaway.

I could never resist the allure of dark swirling clouds, windswept leaves sweeping down cobbled lanes, or a view of the sea, its defiant nature stirred up. The sea possessed a power all its own, and this part of Cornwall, an isolated stretch of rocky cliff tops and unexplored beaches, both enchanted and terrified me.

It is not a lie to say I felt drawn out that day, led to a certain destiny. As I shut the gate to Ewe Sinclaire's cottage, I was struck by a sensation of expectancy. For what, I did not know.

Walking with the wind, I allowed it to determine my direction. The grassy coastline, pointing toward the southern headland, formed my corridor. Along I went, mesmerized by the rising, angry ocean, its snarling waves lashing against the shapeless boulders.

I soon came upon a cove. A beautiful, magnificent, dangerous cove. The steep decline down did not deter me, nor did the advancing treacherous tide. Danger only energized me.

Groaning thunder gripped the sky and the rain began to drizzle. The drizzle transformed to droplets and the droplets to pelts. Undaunted, I headed toward my target — the largest boulder at the end of the cove — and walked quickly to beat the incoming tide.

And then I heard it.

A scream of terror ... up ahead.

I hurried on, glimpsing a girl not far in the distance, a body sprawled at her feet.

Reaching the sight, I forced back sickness. A young woman lay there, her abundant black hair splayed across the sand, eyes wide open ... still, lifeless. Waters lapped about her, wanting to draw her to the sea. Shutting my eyes, I fought the urge to run.

I squinted at my silent companion, the salty spray stinging my eyes. "We have to move her," I shouted. "Or else ..." I gestured to the fierce waves behind.

The slight girl, fifteen or so, nodded, frantic. Directing her to the feet of the woman, I took the arms and together we dragged her up the beach.

Lightning danced and thunder roared across the sea. My companion screamed again, shoving her hands over her ears.

"We've got to get help." I pointed to the body.

The girl stared at me, new fear haunting her pale, thin face.

"What's your name?" I asked, checking the body for a sign. My attempts were futile, for no life stirred within the chilled veins, the diamond ring on her finger a grim reminder that she'd been loved. Dressed in a cream nightgown, the only hint of the woman's identity rested with the girl who struggled to find her voice.

"Lianne," she managed with a deep swallow. "Is she ... truly dead?"

"It appears so." I brushed wet sand off my shaking hands and charged up the embankment.

Lianne followed. We had to find shelter from the rising storm, and quickly. Spying a rusted, broken- down boat house a few yards up, we ran to it and once under its meager protection, Lianne and I gaped at each other. We'd shared an experience, a horrifying experience, and I felt compelled to speak first. "Did you know her?"

From her look, I suspected she knew the victim quite well.

"Your sister?" I prompted.

"No!" came the quick denial.

The wind rattled the tin roof. Pulling Lianne into the safest corner, we kept our gaze focused on the roof, hoping, praying the vicious wind would subside. The surging sea ... the lightning ... the whipping, whistling rain flashed its sequence before us. "I can't believe it." Lianne shivered. "I can't believe she's dead...."

Banishing my own horror, I put my arm around Lianne. "I know ... it's dreadful. Who is she?"

"They'll blame me, I suppose. ... They always blame me...."

"Who always blames you?"

"Oh." She flicked a piece of damp stringy hair off her face. "Them at the house. It's not fair. I don't want to go back."

She shivered again and I drew her closer to me, gently patting her back. "It'll be all right," I whispered.

Lianne gazed up at me, her eyes full of hope.

"I promise," I smiled, gently squeezing her hand.

We waited out the remainder of the storm in silence. When finally the winds abated and the customary calm set in, I guided a still apprehensive Lianne outside.

"See, it's over."

Lianne nodded but something about the pallor of her face suggested a new terror had begun.

Her eyes were fixed on the body.

Sensing her desperation, I held out my hand. "Don't worry. I'll do the explaining. My name's Daphne."

Relief replaced some of her fright. "You won't ... leave me?"

"I won't, but you must tell me who she is ... the woman on the beach."

Swallowing hard, Lianne nodded. "Her name's Victoria Bastion. She was to marry my brother."

"Your brother? What do you think happened to her? Why was she dressed in her nightgown?"

Lianne turned away. "I don't know. I never liked her. She was a kitchen maid, you know. They do odd things."

A kitchen maid to marry Lianne's brother? The way she said it inferred her brother's status well above an ordinary kitchen maid. Curious about her family, I asked a few more questions but received only monosyllabic replies.

"You'll see," Lianne said. "The house is this way."

We walked a little way before she paused suddenly to squeeze my hand. "Daphne ... that's a funny name."

"Yes," I agreed. "I don't particularly like it."

"I don't like mine either."

"But Lianne is a beautiful name."

A little smile settled on her lips. "Nobody's ever said that to me before. Thank you, Daphne."

She was an odd girl. A queer innocence enshrouded her, like a child adopting the persona of a saint. I asked her the way to her home.

She lifted a brow in surprise. "You don't know it?"

"I'm a stranger here," I confessed. "I'm staying with my mother's old nurse, Ewe Sinclaire ... in the village. Perhaps you know of her?"

Lianne shook her head. "I'm never allowed to go to the village."


"It's forbidden," she said simply, skirting past me.

Heading south across the cliff face, we reached an area I hadn't yet explored. By now, the eye of the storm and its deceptive calm surrounded us. The rain had ceased to the faintest drizzle, and though a muggy heat persisted, I shivered. I kept seeing the face of the dead woman.

Down a narrow valley and over a succession of steep hills, we labored on in silence.

And then I saw it.

Resting beneath the rise of the next headland, the grand lady stood. An Elizabethan mansion ... sprawling ... wild ... unforgettable. A crumbling stone tower crawled up the cliff at one end, its ivy cloak bleeding into the house while morning sun waltzed across the hundreds of glazed windows, mirroring the warm honey- red tones of the bricks.

The sacred beauty of the house took my breath away, creating a pang in my heart, a yearning. I fancied her calling me, luring me to my destiny.

"Come on," Lianne said, strutting away.

My feet refused to obey me.

Lianne tapped hers and the urgency of the situation returned to me. Here I was lost in my own little world, mesmerized, when a woman lay dead.

The front door loomed ahead. I imagined it opening solely for me, and still in a daze, I almost collided into its heavy oak embrace as Lianne struggled to push it open.

Lianne rushed inside, crying, "Help! She's dead!"

An airy parlor greeted me, dominated by a huge red- carpeted staircase leading off into various paneled wings of the house. A great silence ensued. In the background, a clock ticked away. It was not a merry sound but strangely foreboding, and I found myself shivering from head to toe.

"Who calls?" a voice demanded above. "Out of my way, Trehearn. I shall deal with this directly."

Lianne paled at the voice.

"Has my lord been summoned?" the advancing voice continued. "Summon him at once. At once, I say."

I stood beside Lianne. Her gaze remained prisoner to the staircase, and within seconds her ladyship of the voice swept down. Tall and regal, with a hardened face bearing remnants of beauty, she tightened the tie of her yellow satin morning robe and frowned.

"What's this nonsense I hear? Who's dead?"

"We found a body," I answered, "at the cove."

Her ladyship slowly absorbed this news. "At the cove, you say?" Settling a bejeweled hand on the gilded knob of the staircase, she glanced up at the approaching footsteps. Her eyes were filled with cold composure.

"We have news," she informed the stern- faced man coming down the stairs.

"What's she done now?"

Ignoring his gentle, amused scold, Lianne rushed into his arms. "Oh, David ... David, it's horrible, horrible! It's ..."

Strong arms encased her. Tall and lithe, her brother's handsome face turned to her, the lower part of his jaw straining to make sense of her blubbering words.

"I ... I don't know how to say it ..." She shuddered. "But it's dreadful. Truly dreadful!" Squeezing her eyes shut, she clung to the inside of her brother's brown tweed coat as though wanting to bury her face forever in its green satin folds.

David, much older than his younger sister, in his late twenties I suspected, clasped her face in his hands and laughed. "It cannot be all that bad. What have you done now? Lost a purse? Stole a candy from Mr. Frankie?"

"No," she shook her head, her tone dropping to a whisper. "It's much worse. ... It's ..."

She appealed to me with her eyes.

Not wanting to intrude on this intimate family scene with the dire news, I hesitantly stepped forward, remembering that sometimes it is best to learn of something tragic from the mouth of a stranger.

"I am new to the area. I was out walking when I discovered ..." Feeling Lianne's mother's intense scrutiny, I directed my gaze to David, for I felt the news must go to him first. "I'm so sorry to be the one to have to break this to you, but Victoria is dead."

"Victoria!" her ladyship gasped.

David's face froze. He staggered a little away, steadying himself by seizing one of the huge staircase columns. Sagging down, he leaned his head against the balustrade, dazed, his shell- shocked eyes massive orbs reflecting disbelief. "She's ... dead?"

He posed the question to me for confirmation. I nodded, bestowing upon him a compassionate camaraderie.

Her ladyship sagged down beside him on the steps and Lianne followed, leaving me to stand there in front of the three of them. Somewhere in the background, I fancied another presence watching, or perhaps more than just one pair of eyes. Curious servants, overly interested house keepers ...

"Forgive me." Her ladyship recalled me. "What was your name?" "Daphne.

Daphne du Maurier," I said, and replied I thought it best to leave, considering the great shock.

She nodded with a vague comprehension. "Yes ... it is best. But ... will you come back? There will be questions and —"

"Of course," I promised. "I shall return tomorrow."

I turned around and made a quick exit, staring back at the great house, now cloaked in a veil of mystery.


The humble cottage of Ewe Sinclaire failed to engender the same response in me as the mysterious house on the cliff.

Hopes of stumbling upon such a grand house were partly the reason why I'd come to this remote part of Cornwall, to explore the abbey records and the great houses, churches, quaint villages, old manors, and medieval inns — anything of historical value or interest. In truth, I had far too many interests to possibly hope to study in a mere life of sixty or eighty years, but I had decided to begin here.

My family thought me mad. Why should I give up a London season for a holiday in the country? And not even for a grand country house party, mind. I'd been to plenty of those, but unless the invitation included a castle, house, grand estate, or something of historical value, they left me feeling bored, depleted, and wholly dissatisfied.

When I'd read the article in The Times of the lonely abbey on the Cornish coast bearing magnificent records dating back to Charlemagne's era, I had to visit. On my own, at my insistence.

My mother gaped in horror at the suggestion.

"You'd skip the season to do what? Crawl through dusty old records? Daphne, Daphne, however are we to snare a husband for you when you're forever poking into ancient things?" Shivering, she raised her eyes to the drawing room ceiling of our London house. "No. I demand you speak to your father at once. This notion of your going on your own and staying at an inn, I won't have it. It's not right, nor is it proper."

Proper. I hated heeding protocol. It was nineteen twenty- eight! I wanted to shout that we'd been through the Great War and that the world had changed. Life was no longer the Victorian stringency of the past — bomb blasts and death killed the old world's romanticism, thrusting everybody into a bleak reality. "Mama, Heidi Williams went to Crete by herself last year —"

"But she was meeting friends," my mother despaired. "You propose to go off camping like a gypsy." She raised her hand, signaling the end of the discussion.

Discussion, thought I, glum-faced as I left her to seek out my father. It wasn't a discussion but a flat "no."

I found my father where he always was at this time of the morning: in his study, preparing papers for the theater and busy packing his bag. He always had a soft spot for me, the dreamer, the silent adventurer in mind and spirit. I was different from my sisters, and he sensed the difference whereas my mother did not. My father and I shared a sacred bond.

Sir Gerald du Maurier, who loved the theater and all its theatrics, listened sympathetically to my need to escape this particular London season.

"But Daphne, my darling, you're twenty-one. Time to find a husband!"

"A husband," choked I, abhorred by the notion of becoming solely dependant on a man.

"Yes, a husband," my father continued, observing me rather curiously. "Don't you want one?"

I considered it.

"No, not really."

He lifted a startled brow. "But it's not as if you don't have admirers...."

That was true. I did have, considering the circles we moved in and my father's great and influential contacts. The "admirers" he referred to were largely oversized, overrich, divorced, or too full of themselves to care for a wife. What they wanted was a showpiece, and I certainly was not going to become any man's showpiece.

Upon further discussion, he agreed to my plan, intrigued at the prospect of my digging up something "exciting" at the abbey.

"You never know" — he winked — "might even find something to use in a play."

My father, an actor and stage manager, and a large bear of a man, eccentric and lovable, understood art in all of its forms and wasn't afraid to take risks.

He waved me off with a jovial hand, my mother, still disapproving, by his side, having consented only on the basis of my staying with Ewe Sinclaire — an old nanny of hers who lived in a village not far from the abbey.

"She's a dreadful old gossip, that Ewe," my mother warned. "But I know you'll be safe with her and do promise to write, won't you? Your father and I will worry."

"I will, Mama," I promised, looking forward to meeting this "dreadful old gossip."

As I arrived, Ewe Sinclaire, a large robust woman bearing an enormous bust and bustling similarities to the character of Mrs. Jennings in Austen's Sense and Sensibility, huffed at the white picket fence gate.

"Well, there you are, dearie!" She paused to catch her breath and fan herself. "I've been waiting all day. What took you so long?"

I blushed, not wanting to confide I'd been drinking a cider at the local pub to absorb the atmosphere. "Oh, the train took longer than I thought."

I lowered my gaze. I didn't lie very well, did I? I'd have to work on correcting this failing, for the shrewd little sharp dagger eyes of Ewe Sinclaire devoured and conquered everything in sight. Wiry charcoal hair framed the merry rolls of her white fleshy face where a squat nose dwelt amongst twitching lips that seemed forever amused.

I liked her at once.

"Welcome to My Little House, Miss Daphne. My! How like your mother you look, though she were real pretty, Muriel Beaumont. Not saying that you're not, but you're different in your own little way." Appraising me again with those shrewd eyes, she nodded, as though silently satisfied with my appearance, and grabbing my bag with a large brusque arm, she bounded down the path.


Excerpted from Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis. Copyright © 2009 Joanna Challis. 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.

Meet the Author

JOANNA CHALLIS lives and writes in Australia.

Joanna Challis, a lover of old houses, wild English gardens, and dusty bookstores, lives and writes in Australia, but her heart resides on the cliffs of Cornwall. She is the author of the Daphne du Maurier Mysteries.

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Murder on the Cliffs (Daphne du Maurier Mystery Series #1) 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
LOTOTY More than 1 year ago
Unlike her sisters, Daphne du Maurier has no interest in scoring herself a husband. To her mother's dismay, Daphne is much more estatic to be spending her vacation in the ancient little seaside village of Cornwall. The mystery of ancient homes feeds Daphne's craving for adventure. She is going to be a great novelist, and in order to do so, she must experience every facet of human emotion and delve into all manner of literature and lore. In this tiny village, she stumbles upon what appears to be a murder and is subsequently drawn into the family circle of the people most likely to have committed it. This story is a step back in history to a small town caught in a turn of the century time warp. Daphne is definitely a progressive woman in a time and place where such attitudes are still uncommon but quite forcefully gains the respect and admiration of those around her. And while this story is not full of heart-pounding suspense or terribly romantic, it is a fantastic mystery. The descriptive settings and characterizations make this an extremely enjoyable read.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Wanting to become a writer, twenty one year old Daphne du Maurier is in Cornwall conducting research at Rothmarten Abbey. During a storm, Daphne notices a teenager leaning over the body of a woman on the beach. Daphne introduces herself to Lianne Hartley, who reluctantly says the deceased is former kitchen maid Victoria Bastion, who was engaged to Lianne's brother David over the objection of his family. Local magistrate Sir Edward rules the death an accident. Soon after running into Lianne for the first time Daphne meets the rest of the aristocratic Hartley family whom she finds odd but fascinating. When she learns Victoria died from poisoning, Daphne investigates starting with the Hartley brood at nearby Padthaway Mansion. The mystery takes a back seat to the early adult life of Daphne du Maurier whose investigation serves as the conduit to her one day writing Rebecca. The suspense never comes close to that described by the lead protagonist in her novels but is a fascinating device that enables the audience to have a glimpse at the author's life and her most famous work. Fans who enjoy historical fiction wrapped inside a thin amateur sleuth will want to read Murder on the Cliffs. Harriet Klausner
konk More than 1 year ago
Really liked this book. It made me want to read Rebecca, which turned out to be my favorite book ever. It's an excellent read if you like the Cornwall/English countryside setting.
Bettikins More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of the author Daphne DuMaurier and my favorite book of all time is Rebecca, so this cute Daphne DuMaurier series is a real fun read for me.  I found the subtle tie-ins to Rebecca to be fun and I would recommend this series to women looking for a fun summer read. Definitely chick lit. 
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Bought book only able to open first 5 pages. Called nook support, they placed work order, been over a week and still will not open even after rearchiving.
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You here silverlake?