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When barrister Rex Graves invites a group of friends to Gleneagle Lodge, he doesn’t anticipate the arrival of an old flame—much less a dead body or serial killer. Rex’s houseguest and colleague Alistair, who recently made an unsuccessful attempt to convict a man for the notorious Moor Murders, now finds himself under the same roof as the killer. Rex must use his skills of intellect, observation, and logic to save Alistair’s career and bring the...
When barrister Rex Graves invites a group of friends to Gleneagle Lodge, he doesn’t anticipate the arrival of an old flame—much less a dead body or serial killer. Rex’s houseguest and colleague Alistair, who recently made an unsuccessful attempt to convict a man for the notorious Moor Murders, now finds himself under the same roof as the killer. Rex must use his skills of intellect, observation, and logic to save Alistair’s career and bring the murderer to justice.
“Traditional mystery fans will appreciate the retro Agatha Christie style.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Even though it's in Scotland, a housewarming party is the scene of a classic English murder mystery.
Barrister Rex Graves has recently purchased an attractive property on Loch Lown in the Scottish Highlands. He and his girlfriend, Helen D'Arcy, have invited a disparate group to enjoy their hospitality. Graves's colleague Alistair Frazer is moping over his failure to convict a man he is sure is the child killer of the Moor. The Farquharsons are an upper-crust couple prepared to hunt and gossip. The Allerdice family includes local hotelier Hamish, his wife Shona and their daughter Flora, who is devoted to her learning-disabled brother Donnie. The Allerdices have brought along their guest Rob Roy Beardsley, a freelance journalist trying to prove that famed monster Nessie has siblings living in the smaller lochs. Despite a torrential rainstorm, all goes reasonably well until Rex's former love Moira Wilcox arrives. Sleeping arrangements must be changed to fit in the flirtatious Moira and the Allerdice family, who had planned to return to the hotel. The next morning, Moira's naked body is found in the loch. The phone line has been cut, all the car tires have been slashed and every cell phone has gone missing. The police are busy with the latest child killing, so it's up to Rex to figure out which of his guests murdered his former lover.
Rex's fourth case (Phi Beta Murder, 2010, etc.) is a slim volume in the style of Agatha Christie, lightweight but fun to read.
"Aye," agreed McCallum's equally stout younger brother. "Ye should hae switched to contemporary models," he told Rex, "like we said when ye first purchased this place. These old radiators retain more heat, but if this'un continues to leak, you'll end up wi' a rotten floorboard. The radiator is so corroded it could come off the wall and fall onto somebody's heed."
"I like these radiators," Rex protested. "They have character."
"Ye canna let emotion get in the way of good sense," the first McCallum chided, looking at Rex as though he were a clueless twit and not a preeminent Scottish barrister. "Now, it can be fixed—if yer heart is set on it, but it will cost ye."
"Aye," seconded the brother. "Parts are dear. Not many of these radiators left around the country."
"Why can't you just solder the damn thing?"
With exaggerated patience, the elder McCallum launched into an ABC of plumbing basics.
"How long to fix it?" Rex finally asked. "I have guests arriving this afternoon."
"Och, it canna be done afore then," the elder McCallum exclaimed. "Ye'll have to keep the pan there to collect the water until we can get back sometime next week."
This was not reassuring, especially the "sometime next week" part. The local labor force adhered to the typical Highland attitude toward work: It would get done when desire for food or whisky absolutely drove them to the necessity of it, and not before.
"Now, take heed," the younger brother said. "The leak will likely get worse, so I suggest ye get a bigger pan."
"We'll take fifty pounds now for the consultation," the other said. "Ta verra much, squire," he added as he pocketed the money in greedy anticipation of an afternoon at the pub.
Rex was now anxious to get the two men out of the lodge before Helen returned from the village shop and saw the mud they had tracked up the stairs on their work boots. She was as industrious and house-proud as a badger and had spent the past two days sprucing up the place in preparation for the housewarming party.
He felt less enthusiastic about the proceedings. The whole point of the lodge, after all, had been for them to spend time together by themselves. A stroke of luck had brought him to this property near Inverness, a couple of hours' drive north of Edinburgh, where he lived.
It might seem odd and slightly suspect to some people that a mature man would live at home with an aging, if still sprightly parent, but the arrangement had made sense when Rex lost his wife to cancer. He had not wanted his son, then fifteen, coming home from school to an empty house, and so he had moved back in with his mother. Now that Campbell was away at college in Florida, Rex felt an increasing desire to spread his wings.
After mopping up the mess on the stairs, he wandered down the path to wait for Helen at the gate. The stone lodge stood sideways to the loch, which at first sight seemed odd, but in fact was quite logical. Logic always counted more for Rex than aesthetics and may have been the reason the Victorian hunting lodge had not been snapped up sooner.
The front door—at the side of the house—faced north toward the village of Gleneagle. The conservatory built onto the south side hoarded any sun the thrifty Highland summer deigned to bestow within its glass walls and looked upon a garden carpeted with bluebells and hedged by late-flowering rhododendrons and azaleas.
The best view, though, was reserved for the living room, whose large windows opened onto the loch. This is where the logic of the architect back in 1845 came into play, for Loch Lown comprised only a narrow body of water, not much wider than the breadth of the house, and by positioning the lodge in this perpendicular manner, the most important rooms embraced a long perspective of the lake.
Gleneagle Lodge was the only residence on the mile-long loch, which had once belonged to the laird of Gleneagle Castle, now a tattered ruin at the top of the hill in the direction of the village. Parcels of the estate had been successively sold off to honor the debts of the dissolute Fraser family, distant relations of the famous clan of that name, until the grounds had shrunk to the confines of the four-bedroom lodge, loch, and several hundred acres of hill and glen, currently in the proud possession of Rex Graves, Queen's Counsel.
The loch, though not large, was deep, and believed to connect by means of underwater tunnels via Loch Lochy, a neighboring lake, to Loch Ness. Fortunately for Rex, Loch Lown was off the beaten path and sunk amid steep pinewood hills surmountable only by one axle-breaking road or by the most energetic of hikers. Rex hoped his ubiquitous "Private Property—Keep Off" and "Deer Stalking Strictly Prohibited" signs would further deter the public from venturing onto his land.
He spotted a figure cresting the hill and, minutes later, the form of Helen appeared carrying a basket. He started out on the single-track road and began climbing. The foothills bloomed with purple heather. The sunlight filtering between the pine trees warmed his shoulders. It would have been perfect weather were the air not rife with biting midges, the curse of Highland summers. Swatting them from his face, he smiled up at Helen as she plunged down the hill, her tweed skirt flopping above her knees, wisps of blond hair falling in her laughing blue eyes.
"I saw the McCallum van," she said as they met up on the road. "Did they fix the radiator?"
He would have gladly joined her on her walk to the village but for the appointment with the builders, which had been set for "sometime in the day."
"No, but they still managed to get a fifty out of me."
"Oh, Rex, you should have let me deal with them."
Helen was a practical woman and probably would not have put up with any nonsense from the McCallum brothers, but Rex felt it was a man's place to deal with loutish contractors.
"I suppose they drew sharp intakes of breath and heaved deep sighs of woe when they inspected the radiator," she added.
"Aye, pretty much."
"And they said it would cost an arm and a leg to fix anything so antiquated."
"They did, only they didn't express themselves in such eloquent terms." He took Helen's basket and they walked toward the lodge gate.
"I know how you feel about supporting the local economy, Rex, but I think they are taking advantage."
"Aye, but they're right clannish around here. If I hired a townie, I'd be shunned by the whole village. They'd put a hex on those eggs you bought."
Helen laughed outright. "You're just a big-hearted softie. I cannot imagine you sending people off to prison."
"It's my job."
"When are they coming back to fix it?"
"Next week," Rex said with a conviction he did not feel.
"Ah, well, at least no one will be using that room. It's only Alistair and the Farquharsons staying over, isn't it?"
Rex groaned at the thought. The Farquharsons were horrible snobs, but they had contributed ostentatiously to his mother's pet missionary charity and she had insisted he put them up for a few days. Alistair was a colleague from the High Court of Justiciary, the supreme criminal court of Scotland, and had given him the tip about Gleneagle Lodge, having heard of the sale from a solicitor friend.
"Who else did you say was coming?" Helen asked.
"The Allerdice couple who own a hotel on Loch Lochy on the other side of Deer Glen. They're bringing their son and daughter. Donnie has a learning disability. The lass is a bit of a wallflower. The parents are anxious to marry her off."
Helen rolled her eyes. "How feudal."
"They asked if they could bring a guest from the hotel. He's writing an article on Lizzie, Loch Lochy's answer to Nessie of Loch Ness fame. I gather the plesiosaurs are cousins, or some such nonsense."
"Oh, I heard all about that at the village shop. Old Cameron spotted Lizzie this morning when he was fishing for pike. He said the creature fits the description of the Loch Ness monster, only it's smaller."
"It'll grow by the end of the night," Rex predicted. "That story will be worth a few drams at the pub."
"Isn't it exciting? A prehistoric monster living in the neighbouring loch!"
"Och, c'mon, now—it's a big hoax!"
They reached the side of the lodge, with its red gingerbread gable culminating in a generous chimney. The newly varnished oak door formed the only aperture in the gray stone wall. Flanked by two huge pots of geraniums, it displayed a brass knocker and a plaque engraved with "R. Graves" above the letter box, leaving no doubt as to the main entry to the house. Previously, visitors had wandered about in some confusion, peering into downstairs windows, much to Rex's annoyance.
"Well, I best get on with my cake," Helen said. "What time will they be arriving?"
"Around six." Rex wondered if he should change out of his corduroys, and decided he couldn't be bothered. "Can I do anything to help?"
"It's all taken care of, except for the smoked salmon canopies. But you can keep me company in the kitchen if you want."
"I'd rather keep you company somewhere else," Rex growled. "I do wish these people weren't coming."
"Oh, come on, Rex. It'll be fun."
At that moment, he heard the rumble of an engine on the other side of the hill and seconds later saw a Land Rover hurtling down the incline. An arm shot out of the passenger window waving a bright scarf, followed by a middle-aged aristocratic face framed by beige, shoulder-length hair.
"Well, he-llo!" Mrs. Farquharson bleated. "We found you!"
Worst luck, Rex thought.
The next moment he was introducing Estelle and Cuthbert Farquharson to Helen.
"Ceud mile failte," Helen welcomed them. "I've been practicing my Scottish Gaelic."
Cuthbert babbled some incomprehensible Gaelic politeness in reply before turning to Rex. "I say, I thought we'd get in a bit of deer stalking." He clapped Rex on the back. "Plenty of time before dinner, what?"
Cuthbert Farquharson sported a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and matching camouflage trousers bagging over sage green rubber boots. Estelle also wore wellies, along with a sloppy sweater and frumpy tweed skirt, the attire of landed gentry. Though Scottish, they had both been educated in England, Estelle at some highfaluting London school and Cuthbert at Eton, which accounted for their horsy accents.
"How bloody marvelous this place is," Estelle remarked prior to inhaling deeply of the pure, pine-scented air. "So wild and unspoilt." She cast a determined look at the lodge, apparently undaunted by the idea of "slumming it" and prepared for any eventuality. "Doesn't look like anything's changed much over the centuries. It's so authentic!"
"We do have indoor plumbing," Rex countered mildly. "In fact, all modern conveniences." Then, remembering the leaking radiator, he added, "Of sorts."
"Your room is all ready for you," Helen told the guests. "I was just about to bake a cake."
"A cake! How fabulous!" Estelle enthused.
"With real eggs, fresh from the local farm," Rex added with a straight face.
"Divine. Do let me help."
"Good idea." Cuthbert prodded his wife in Helen's direction. "The ghillie should be here in a minute with the pony," he told Rex.
"The boy from the Loch Lochy Hotel. His parents and sister will be along later with that reporter chap."
"We won't be needing a ghillie or a pony," Rex said firmly. "We won't be shooting any deer."
Ponies were still the transportation of choice for retrieving dead deer over hilly terrain.
"But I brought my new rifle. Thought I'd try it out."
"The only thing we shoot here are photographs," Rex explained.
A deer head replete with a pair of seven-pointed antlers had hung forlornly over the living room fireplace when he purchased the lodge. The first thing he had done was to give it a decent burial and replace it with a copy of Monarch of the Glen, the famous oil painting of a majestic stag by nineteenth-century artist Sir Edwin Landseer.
"Did you bring a camera?" he asked his guest.
"Estelle has a Nikon somewhere." Cuthbert's bottom lip, wet and red as a woman's, trembled peevishly. "Not quite the same thing, is it?"
"I don't believe in murdering God's creatures for sport."
"You can't view them as defenseless bambies, you know. They wreak havoc with the forests. Without wolves to cull the population, it's the best way to keep the numbers under control."
Rex shook his head resolutely. "Not on my land. I like to think of Gleaneagle Lodge as a nature sanctuary."
At that moment, a golden eagle swooped overhead and soared over the barren hill summits.
"Well, it's your land, I suppose, and you're free to do with it as you please," Cuthbert conceded. "Here's the boy now."
An uneven clopping of hooves rang out as Donnie Allerdice, an agile lad of about seventeen in a plaid shirt and jeans, led a sturdy Shetland pony down the loose stone road.
"This here is Honey," he told the men when he drew level with them. "On account of the colour of her coat, not her temperament." He said this in a slow and deliberate way. The horse chewed irritably on its bit and twitched its long tail. "The midges are bothering her something fierce."
"You can put her in the meadow over there for the time being," Rex told the boy, who was slightly cross-eyed. "We won't be needing her."
"Mr. Graves is opposed to hunting," Cuthbert explained testily.
"That's a shame," the boy said. "I saw a large hummel and his hinds down in the glen." Rex noticed he carried a sheath knife in his belt.
"A hummel, eh?" Cuthbert questioned. "Those are pretty rare. They don't grow antlers," he told Rex. "I wouldn't mind taking a look. Could you show me?" he asked the boy.
Rex reached out for the rifle. "Before you go, could you leave this? I'll put it in the house."
Cuthbert reluctantly handed it over. A military-looking telescopic lens was mounted on the gun. Rex reflected that a deer would never stand a chance against such a state-of-the-art example of ruthless weaponry.
He had better put it somewhere safe.
Excerpted from MURDER ON THE MOOR by C. S. Challinor Copyright © 2011 by C. S. Challinor. Excerpted by permission of Midnight Ink. 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.
Posted January 15, 2012
Posted September 18, 2012
This novel was so engrossing that I read it in only two sittings. Mr Rex Graves owner of the lodge and a Scottish barrister was almost as good as Hercule Poirot. The cast of characters are marvelous as is the storyline, so true to life.
I would recommend this English cozy to anyone who loves cozies.
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Posted April 10, 2012
Murder and mayhem on the Scottish moors. Chilling and intricate cozy mystery with humorous passages. A delight!!
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Posted October 15, 2012
Posted September 16, 2011
No text was provided for this review.