Is a vulgarity ground for murder? Alfred Armiger had antagonized many with his greed and crass acquisitiveness. So when the ruthless beer baron is discovered dead, his head beaten in by a magnum of champagne, there is no shortage of suspects.
All of Comerford is shocked when Detective George Felse arrests Kitty Norris, the daughter of a rival beer baron, the last person to see Armiger alive, and the main beneficiary of his will. But Kitty, charming and popular, has an unexpected advocate in Felse’s young son, Dominic, who has fallen in love with her. Passionately convinced of Kitty’s innocence, Dominic sets out to find the true culprit, a hazardous undertaking that could cost him his life.
Death and the Joyful Woman is the 2nd book in the Felse Investigations, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Read an Excerpt
Death and the Joyful Woman
The Felse Investigations: Book 2
By Ellis Peters
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1961 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
The first time Dominic Felse saw Kitty Norris she was dancing barefoot along the broad rail of the terrace at the Boat Club, in a cloud of iris-coloured nylon, a silver sandal dangling from either hand. It was the night following the Comerbourne Regatta, the night of the mid-season Club dance, when such acrobatic performances were not particularly surprising, though the demonstrators were usually male. It was also the eve of Leslie Armiger's wedding day, though Dominic was not aware of that, and wouldn't have understood its significance even if he had been.
He was on his way home from his music lesson, an inescapable boredom which beset him weekly; and because the night was fine and warm he had let the bus go without him and set out to walk the mile and a bit to Comerford by the riverside road. At the edge of the town it brought him close beneath the clubhouse terrace, The strains of the band floated out to meet him, and a babel of voices was blown across the wooden balustrade with the music; and there along the railing, ten feet or so above his head, floated Kitty in her extravagant dress, hands spread wide dangling the absurd contraptions of cobweb straps and three-inch spike heels she called shoes. Several voices, all male, were calling on her entreatingly to come down and be sensible; two young men were threading a hasty way between the tables on the terrace to intercept her, and one of them in his extreme concentration had just failed to see a waiter with a loaded tray. Shrieks of consternation and a flurry of dispersing flounces marked the area which was now awash with short drinks. Kitty danced on, unheeding; the table lights illuminated from below a face set in childlike concentration, the tip of her tongue protruding at the corner of parted lips. Dominic had never seen anyone so incandescent with gaiety.
His first thought had been a mildly contemptuous: 'If they're this high by a quarter to ten, what on earth will they be like by one o'clock in the morning?' But that was the automatic reaction of his youthful superiority, and tempered already by curiosity. He had experimented with tobacco so frequently during the last year and a half, unknown to his parents, that he had worn out its novelty without discovering its attractions; but now that he was beginning to contemplate alcohol hopefully from afar he did so with the same incorrigible conviction that it must be wonderful, since adults took such delight in it, and reserved it so jealously for their own use. These antics going on over his head were part of the rites; Dominic curled his lip at them, but stopped in the darkness beneath the terrace to take a longer look at the bacchanalia from which he was barred. And having seen Kitty he lost sight of everything else.
She was the centre of the din, but she herself was silent, and perhaps that contributed to the overwhelming impression of disembodied beauty. She was of no more than medium height, but so slender that she looked tall, and taller still because of being poised swaying above him against the dark-blue sky. She looked pale, too, white almost to transparency, though in fact she was sturdy and sun-tanned and as robust as a bull-terrier. Almost everything about her swam, like her body, in diaphanous clouds of illusion, but in the heart of the phantasm there was Kitty, a reality.
He stood gaping in his shadowy place below her, holding his breath for fear she would fall. One of the young men, a flash of magpie black and white lunging over the rail, made a grab for her, and she whirled round perilously and eluded him, her full skirts swirling about her. Dominic, staring upwards fascinated, caught a glimpse of long, slim legs, a smooth, pale golden thigh. He averted his eyes hastily, but made even more haste to raise them again. After all, who could see him? She wouldn't know. Nobody was looking at him, nobody knew he was there.
'Kitty, you'll fall! Don't be a fool!' implored the terrified young man above, catching at her hand as she drew back from him. She uttered a sudden high squeak of protest, and dropped one of her sandals plump into Dominic's startled hands; and there in microcosm was the solid reality that harboured within the iris-coloured cloud. A bit of silver nonsense it might be, but it was made for a healthy, modern, size six foot. Dominic stood holding it gingerly before him as though it might be charged with the incalculable properties of enchantment, so stupefied that it took him several seconds to realise what a quietness had fallen overhead. When at last he looked up it was to see three or four heads leaning over the wooden balustrade and staring down at him. Only one of them had any significance for him, he didn't waste any time looking at the others.
'I'm terribly sorry,' said Kitty. 'I hope it didn't hurt you? If I'd realised there was anyone there I wouldn't have been behaving so badly.'
A clear, round voice she had, direct and disconcerting, and so polite that it confused him even more than her former extravagances had done. She wasn't drunk, after all, she wasn't even elevated. As soon as she was aware of him she spoke to him as a punctilious child speaks to a stranger. And where was the gaiety now? She looked down at him from the shadow of her long, smooth, light-brown hair with large, plaintive violet eyes, and her expression didn't change when she had weighed up the person with whom she had to deal. Dominic was used to the look of indulgent condescension that visited so many faces when confronted with his want of years, but Kitty continued to gaze at him with the wondering, wary, courteous look of an equal and a contemporary.
He couldn't find his tongue, there wasn't anything for him to say that wouldn't sound idiotic, and he didn't know how to break out of the constricting moment. Disgusted with himself and crimson to the ears, he stood in a sweat of shame, wishing he'd gone straight home, wishing the night could be darker, wishing the morons up there with her would stop grinning, or better still, go away.
'You can throw it,' said Kitty simply. 'It's all right, really, I can catch.'
And she could and did. He measured the distance carefully, and tossed the sandal gently up into her out-stretched hands, and she lifted it out of the air as lightly as thistledown, held it up for him to see, in something between a wave and a salute, and stooped to put it on. And that was the end of the incident. One of the young men put his arm round her, and she let herself be led away towards the dance-hall. There was just one instant when she looked back, a last glance of reluctance and regret, as though she knew she had disastrously disturbed the peace of a fellow-creature who was in no case to defend himself. The oval face with its clear, generous features had a honeyed glow in the shadow of the burnished hair; the violet eyes were wide and dark and full of a rueful wonder. He had never seen anyone look so sad. Then she was gone.
She stayed with him, however, all the way home, and upset his life and all his relationships for months. His term results suffered a downward lurch from first place to fifth, his coordination on the Rugby field that winter went to pieces and he didn't get into his house fifteen. He couldn't talk about Kitty to anyone; his best friends, without malice, would have made his life a misery, and his parents were out of the question, for his mother was after all a woman, and he instinctively knew better than to confide in her about another woman whose image was elbowing her out of sole possession of his heart, while his father was a man, and good-looking enough and young enough to be in some degree a rival. Even if he had wanted to unburden himself to them, Dominic wouldn't have known what to say; he didn't understand himself what was happening to him.
At fourteen love can be an overwhelming experience, all the more so for being totally incomprehensible. But Dominic was as normal as his own predicament; his appetite didn't fail him, if anything it increased, he slept well, he enjoyed most of what happened to him, however disquieting, and he got over it. By the time he saw the girl again, more than a year later, he was back at the top of his class, mad about sports cars, and engaged in a campaign to induce his father to let him have a motorbike as soon as he was old enough. He had almost forgotten what Kitty looked like. He had never discovered who she was, indeed he had never tried, because any inquiries, in whatever quarter, would have involved a certain degree of self-betrayal. She was just Kitty, a recollection of absurd, melancholy beauty, already growing shadowy.
The occasion of their second meeting was the autumn visit of the mobile Blood Transfusion Unit to Comerbourne Grammar School in the last week of September. Dominic had stayed late for football practice, and after his shower had remembered something he wanted to look up for his history essay, and lingered an extra hour in the library. When he finally crossed the forecourt on his way to the side gate it was already dusk, and he saw the unit's van drawn up close to the gymnasium block, and a nurse trotting across from the rear doors with an armful of documents and equipment. The session was a quarterly occurrence, and he had never paid the least attention to it before and would not have done so now but for the dark-red Karmann-Ghia which was just turning in to park in the narrow space behind the van. The car brought him up standing, with a gasp of pleasure for its compact and subtle beauties, and when its door opened he could scarcely drag his eyes from that chaste thoroughbred shape even to satisfy his curiosity about its lucky owner. But the next moment even the car was in eclipse. A girl swung long, elegant legs out of it, and walked slowly across the concrete to the door of the block, as if she was a little dubious of her errand or her welcome when it came to the point. And the girl was Kitty. Dusk or daylight or unrelieved midnight, Dominic would have known her. She had only to put in an appearance, even after fifteen months, and everything that had to do with her acquired a significance so intense as to blot out the rest of the world. The parked van, the lighted windows behind which the nurses moved busily, the whole apparatus of donating blood suddenly became a vital reality to Dominic, because Kitty was a donor. He knew he ought to go home and tackle his homework, but he couldn't bring himself to move from the spot, and when finally he did compel his legs into action he found that they were carrying him towards the gymnasium block instead of towards the gate.
In any case he'd probably missed the bus he'd intended to take by now, and there was twenty-five minutes to wait for the next. If he went away now he might never have such an opportunity again. She wasn't with a party this time, she wasn't on a terrace ten feet above him; anybody could go in there and join her at the mere cost of a pint of blood. After all, it was a good cause, and even if they did have a list of regular donors they surely wouldn't turn down another one. I really ought to think about these services more, he said to himself virtuously, especially with Dad being in the position he is, it's up to me to do him credit, actually. It's now or never, warned some more candid demon at the back of his mind, she's on her own as yet because she drove herself here, but if you don't make up your mind pretty smartly the official transport will be there, and you won't have a dog's chance of getting near her. And you'll have tapped off a pint of blood for nothing, it added spitefully, demolishing the pretence that he was contemplating the sacrifice out of any impulse of public-spiritedness. But he was beyond noticing the intricacies of this argument within him, for he was already pushing open the swing-door and shouldering his way through into the hall.
She was sitting alone on one of the chairs ranged along the wall, looking a little perplexed and a little forlorn, as if she wondered what she was doing there at all. She wore a dark green jersey suit with a skirt fashionably short and tight, and the magnificent legs which had made his senses swim gleamed smoothly golden from knee to ankle, so perfectly tanned that he couldn't tell whether she was wearing nylons or not. She looked up quickly as he came in, pleased not to be alone any longer. The heavy coil of honey-coloured hair swayed on her smooth cheek, the disconcerting eyes smiled at him hopefully.
'Hallo!' she said almost shyly, almost ingratiatingly.
She didn't recognise him, he saw that at once, she was merely welcoming him as a fellow-victim. 'Hallo!' he said with a hesitant smile. He stacked his books on a window-sill, and sat down several places away from her, afraid to make too sudden a claim upon her attention merely because she found his company preferable to being alone.
'We're early,' said Kitty. 'They're not ready for us yet. I hate waiting for this sort of thing, don't you? Is it your first time?'
'Yes,' said Dominic rather stiffly, because he thought for a moment that she was making an oblique reference to his youth.
'Mine, too,' she said, cheered, and he saw that he'd been misjudging her. 'I felt I ought to do something about something. Every now and again it gets me like that. I'm not much use at anything much, but at least I've got blood. I hope! Was yours a case of conscience, too?'
She grinned at him. There was no other word for it, it was too wry and funny and conspiratorial to be called merely a smile. He felt his stiffness melting like ice in sunlight, and with it the marrow in his bones.
'Well, it was sort of on the spur of the moment,' he admitted, grinning back shyly, he who was seldom shy and frequently a good deal too cocky. 'I just happened to be late leaving and I saw the van here, and I thought maybe I ought – well, you see, my father's a policeman –'
'No, really?' said Kitty, impressed. The big eyes dilated; they weren't really the colour of violets, he saw, but of purple-brown pansies.
'Well, a detective actually,' said Dominic punctiliously, and then blushed because it sounded dramatic, and in reality he knew that it was normally nothing of the kind. The very name of the profession carries such artificial overtones, you'd never dream how humdrum is the daily life of a member of the County C.I.D.
'Gosh!' said Kitty, eyes now enormous with pleased respect. 'I see I must keep in with you. Who knows when I may need a friend? What with all these fifty limits around at week-ends, and no parking allowed anywhere less than a mile from the middle of town, I could be run in almost any minute.' She caught his fixed and fascinated eye, and laughed. 'I'm talking an awful lot, aren't I? You know why? I'm nervous of this thing we've got coming along. I know it's nothing, but somehow I don't like the idea of being tapped like a barrel.'
'I'm scared of it, too,' said Dominic.
It wasn't true, he hadn't given the actual operation a single thought; but it was generously meant, and it never occurred to him how difficult he was making it for her to hit upon a reply which would be equally graceful to his self-esteem. But she managed it, some natural genius guiding her. She gave him a pleased look, and then a doubtful one, and then a wonderful smile.
'I don't believe you,' she said confidently, 'but it's jolly nice of you to say it, anyhow. If I yell when they prick my ear for a sample, will you promise to yell, too, so I won't feel alone in my cowardice?'
'I shall probably be the first to yell,' he said gallantly, hot with delight and embarrassment.
A door opened with a flourish upon their solitude, and a plump young nurse put her head out into the hall. 'My, my!' she said, with that rallying brightness which is almost an occupational hazard in her profession. 'Two of us here before time! We are eager to help, aren't we?'
'Yes, aren't we?' said Kitty like a meek echo, dragging her eyes away from Dominic's before the giggles could overwhelm them both.
'If you'd like to get it over with, folks, you can come in now.'
They went in to the sacrifice together. A row of narrow camp-beds and two attendant nymphs waited for them expectantly, and an older nurse shuffled documents upon a small table, and peered up at them over rimless glasses.
'Good evening!' she said briskly. 'Names?' But she beamed at Kitty and didn't wait for an answer. 'Oh, yes, of course!' she said, ticking off one of the names in her list. 'This is a very nice gesture you're making, we do appreciate it, my dear. It does me good to see you young people setting an example.'
Excerpted from Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters. Copyright © 1961 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nice characters. I liked the early twist that turned a murder mystery convention on its head.
Inspector Felse must come to terms with the fact that his son is edging toward manhood. Dominic features a great deal in this mystery, and that's fine with me, because I love reading about his relationship with his father. The mystery is not exactly second fiddle in the story, but for me it was not as interesting as the characters, their motivations and the setting. I enjoyed this Felse story very much.
Lovely. I was just about crying at the end - it's a funny mixture of real danger and concern, and delicate handling of (mostly adolescent) dignity. I remembered the picture and what it really was, but not the murderer - though I figured it out about the time Dominic did, before we were told. And why, again long before we were told. Dom was ridiculously brave and reckless - it was a lot of danger to put himself in! And here again there's the emotional side of it - he did it to help Kitty, which was all the reason he needed. By any rational measure, what he did was stupid - but it worked. Good story, Peters' normal excellent characterization, and at least two mysteries elegantly intertwined (again, as usual). Very good.