The Mistress of Alderleyby Robert Barnard BSC
Well-known actress Caroline Fawley has given up her successful stage and television career for love and life at Alderley, an elegant country home "bought" for her by her married "friend," international business titan Marius Fleetwood. Despite the inquisitive villagers, Caroline is happy and the world is good...until a mysterious young man
Well-known actress Caroline Fawley has given up her successful stage and television career for love and life at Alderley, an elegant country home "bought" for her by her married "friend," international business titan Marius Fleetwood. Despite the inquisitive villagers, Caroline is happy and the world is good...until a mysterious young man backpacking through the countryside arrives at the door. He says his name is Peter Bagshaw, but Caroline can't help noticing his physical resemblance to Marius. Is he Marius' son?
What else has Marius hidden from Caroline?
Who is Marius anyway
Is everything about him a lie?
Then a murder occurs....
As always in a Barnard mystery, the fun is in the details, the characters, the twists. With big houses, wealth, opera, and obsessive devotion among the ingredients, Barnard has cooked up another witty, richly nuanced novel worthy of the crime-writing star that he is.
- Poisoned Pen Press
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- 5.92(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.52(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Rural Idyll
When Caroline came in from the garden, she was pleased to find that Mrs. Hogbin had gone upstairs to do the bathrooms. Caroline had had cleaning ladies in the past whom she'd regarded as friends, whom she'd been more pleased to sit down with over a cup of tea and a scone than any of the theatrical people she called her friends. Mrs. Hogbin wasn't one of them.
She came through to the spacious hallway and poked her head around the door of what had once been a box room.
"Tea, Alex? Coffee, Coke, milk?"
"No thanks," her son said, hardly looking up from the screen that mesmerized him. "Mum, I need a whole lot of new software."
"Then you're going to have to need for quite a while."
"Oh Mum! I've got to have it! I bet Marius buys all the latest stuff for Guy."
That was a line Caroline always felt she had to nip in the bud. Guy was not the spoiled child of a rich man: he was not given lavish pocket money, or bought everything his young mind could covet.
"Maybe, and maybe not. Anyway, Guy is nearly twenty, he's Marius's son, and he's about to start a computer degree course at St. Andrew's University."
"So what? He's been computer mad for years, and has stuff I could only dream about. You have to start young to be really on top of them. I bet if I asked --"
"Don't even think of asking Marius. Just think of all the calls he has on his money. My God -- doesn't he do enough for us all?"
She shut the door on his already opening mouth. At least he'd looked up from that bloody screen. Unfortunately, before she could get to the sitting room she was caught by Mrs. Hogbin, descending the stairs with a bucket.
"I'll be finished in half an hour, Mrs. Fawley. If I could have your company, just to the bus stop -- "
"Of course, Thora. You never used to be so nervous, though."
"It's all those feedopiles. It doesn't feel like nobody's safe in their beds any longer."
As she waddled through to the kitchen it occurred to Caroline that Thora not only did not know how to pronounce "pedophiles," she had no idea what they were. So much for the educational mission of the popular press. The word had become for Mrs. Hogbin a synonym for what in Caroline's childhood used to be called a "sex maniac."
Luckily when the half hour was up and Mrs. Hogbin was pulling on her wholly unnecessary coat, Alexander said he needed to go down to the village shop for his chocolate supply. In fact he was going for cigarettes, but so far he had successfully kept this habit from his mother, and even from his sister Stella. He was a naturally secretive boy, who collected and collated information obsessively, but never willingly shared it.
Caroline went into the sitting room, then crossed to the large window that looked out onto the garden. The roses at the far end were looking better in their second flowering than they had in their first. There had been an interesting blend in the two big rose beds when she and Marius had taken the house over, and she had introduced one or two more unusual types that had enhanced the effect. People commented, and inspected the new varieties closely, and that pleased Caroline.
The lawn had been splendid all year, but that had not been due to her. The mowing had mostly been done by Alexander, and Mr. Wilks from the village had come to spray the lawn feed and keep down the moss and dandelions. The whole garden had looked a picture and when she had been asked, in an emergency, if the village fete could be switched to Alderley she had quite happily agreed. Everyone was complimentary, there had been no tensions or disapproving glances, and the rector had been sweet as always -- extra sweet, in fact.
So unlike the rector of Conningham, that Sunday when they'd gone to Communion there. She had coped well, with her stage training, but Marius had been fuming, and obviously so. Clearly there were Yorkshire villages still in the Dark Ages, as well as others, like Marsham, that had moved with the times.
Wandering round the house, which she rather liked having to herself for the odd half hour, Caroline felt suffused with happiness. She felt none of the pains of missing, which she had rather feared: acting was behind her, a thing of the past. She felt no nostalgia for the applause, laughter, or edge-of-seat involvement of a live audience, no retrospective affection for the recognition that appearances on television bring, no regrets for backstage backbiting, patently false compliments on her acting or appearance -- the whole fake superstructure of the acting profession (trade, she corrected herself) had disappeared from her life, and her life was the better for it.
Marius had done this for her. The transformation had been worked by him. And on Friday he would be down for another gorgeous, snatched, relished weekend.
From her bedroom window Caroline saw Alexander and Mrs. Hogbin going through the front gate. She'll be pumping him, she thought. Well, let her. She was ashamed of nothing about her present life. Anyway, she'd back Alexander against Mrs. Hogbin any day.
Alexander, in fact, in his secretive way, was rather enjoying himself. Knowledge was power, and though he had no desire to be a dictator, or even a prime minister, this was the sort of power he enjoyed, hoarding it, telling it over, like a miser his money.
"So Mr. Fleetwood will be coming down this weekend, will he?" Mrs. Hogbin asked.
"He generally does," said Alexander, using one of his strategies for avoiding a straight yes or no.
"And have Mr. Fleetwood and your mother any plans?"
"If they have they wouldn't involve me. I'm a big boy now. I do my own thing."
"Sit over that bleeding word progressor every hour God sends," said Mrs. Hogbin, who was always free with her opinions.
"That's not true," said Alexander. "I spend a lot of time meditating on life's great mysteries. Such as why you never see orange cars."
Mrs. Hogbin shot him a glance, then gave it up.
"But I meant -- like -- larger plans."
"Oh, I suppose everyone has plans and dreams, don't they?"
"Not when you get to my age, you don't. But your mother's still a young woman, and Mr. Fleetwood's not much older, I wouldn't think. Plenty of people that age get married."
"I expect you're right. I haven't studied the statistics."
"Stastistics?" spat out Mrs. Hogbin, exasperated. "I'm not talking about stastistics. I'm talking about being in love. And it's plain as the nose on my face that them two are in love. Even you must see that."
Alexander put on his pretentious-actor voice.
"Now you've lost me."
"What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter."
"It's a quote from Twelfth Night. My mother played Viola in Twelfth Night, but she was a bit too old for it by the time she was asked to do it. Come to that, she's been in Present Laughter as well."
Mrs. Hogbin frowned in bewilderment.
"You're getting off the point, Mr. Alexander. And the point is, if they love each other, they should be married. It would make people round here a lot happier if they were."
"Well, I never realized the purpose of marriage was to make other people happy. This has been an interesting conversation, Mrs. Hogbin. Here's your bus stop. Byee!"
It was an hour or so later, when Alexander was home and doing something or other at the far end of the garden -- which pleased Caroline, getting him out of doors and away from that damned computer -- that she heard a car draw up on the circular front drive, and then a ring at the doorbell. The car had a distinctive knock at slow speeds, and she knew who the visitor was.
"Jack!" she said, as she opened the door. "This is a pleasant surprise. Come in."
"You're sure I haven't come at an inconvenient time?"
Meet the Author
Robert Barnard's most recent novel is "Dying Flames". His other books include "The Graveyard Position, A Cry from the Dark, The Mistress of Alderley, The Bones in the Attic, A Scandal in Belgravia, Out of the Blackout", and many more. Winner of the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger and Nero Wolfe awards, as well as the Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity awards, the eight-time Edgar nominee is a member of Britain's distinguished Detection Club. He and his wife, Louise, live in Leeds, England.
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