The second in the brand-new Florence Norris series.
November, 1932. Still reeling from the recent murder at Mullings, country estate of the wealthy Stodmarsh family, the peaceful little village of Dovecote Hatch is about to be rocked by news of another violent death. When mild-mannered Kenneth Tenneson is found dead from a fall down the stairs at his home, the coroner’s inquest announces a verdict of accidental death. Florence Norris, however – the quietly observant housekeeper at Mullings – suspects there may be more to it than that.
Florence’s suspicions of foul play would appear to be confirmed when a second will turns up revealing details of a dark secret in the Tenneson family’s past. Determined to find out the truth about Kenneth’s death, Florence gradually pieces the clues together – but will she be in time to prevent a catastrophic turn of events?
About the Author
Dorothy Cannell was born in Nottingham, England, and moved to the U.S. in 1963. Dorothy became an aspiring writer after taking an English class at Illinois Central College and being encouraged to write for publication by the class teacher. Seven years later, she sold her first short story. Dorothy enjoys collecting sea glass and beach stones in Main, collecting vintage hats and Apostle Tea spoons, and going on reading binges.
Read an Excerpt
Death at Dovecote Hatch
By Dorothy Cannell
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Cannell & Company
All rights reserved.
Tradition was the linchpin of Dovecote Hatch. A nineteenth-century vicar of St Peter's, the parish church, had once soliloquized from the pulpit that tradition was the present reaching out to hold hands with the worthy past. For most of the residents it wasn't that uplifting, merely a matter of liking things the way they'd always been. Life at its best for the well-to-do and those living far more humbly was as comfortingly habitual as a pair of slippers molded to the feet.
This is not to say there was resistance in Dovecote Hatch to change as part of the natural order – births, marriages, deaths and all that mingles in between are the lifeblood of any close-knit community – but any marked alteration of the centuries' old way of life was unwelcome. The advent of the motor car, let alone shortened skirts for women, had not gone down well initially. It was therefore understandable that in May of 1932 the murder at Mullings, ancestral home of the Stodmarsh family, had shaken the village to its core.
For weeks afterwards, Dovecote Hatch had been besieged by newspaper hounds in full cry; besides which, the story had been trumpeted all over the wireless to the point that residents hesitated to turn it on. 'Murder!' The word curdled on the tongue. A most unpleasant experience for the Stodmarshes. Sympathy poured out to young Lord Stodmarsh, who was very fondly regarded, but that did not alter the general sense of ill-usage at the unwelcome notoriety. That was what rankled most – being thrust infamously upon the national scene. The strong-minded faced it by reminding themselves and others that the village had weathered unpleasantness in the past.
There had been Eliza Spellbinder in sixteen hundred and something who'd been hanged on Cold Wind Common for being a witch. Her undoing lay in providing a mother of eight with a potion that should have prevented number nine putting in an appearance, instead of which the woman had given birth to triplets. 'Had to be witchcraft,' the father had asserted wrathfully at the trial. He'd never been one of them pestering husbands. Once a night, not thrice, had always been good enough for him.
And what of Highwayman Harry, who'd turned out, when his mask was stripped away, to be the weak-chinned curate, shot dead when attempting to hold up the stage coach on the road to Small Middlington? Both Eliza and Harry still had descendants living in Dovecote Hatch, and none of them ashamed to acknowledge these blots on their heritage. Ah, but time is an artist; it can repaint the bygone and put it in a gilded frame. The present cannot so easily fool the eye or lull the ear into misconstruing a dirge for a lullaby.
Dovecote Hatch, therefore, gained little comfort from trying to convince itself that the murder at Mullings fitted in with a thrilling tradition of dark events and so would before long make for delightful discussions over the bridge table or down at the allotments. As old Mrs Weedy of Laurel Cottage remembered it, the nineteenth-century vicar's hope when lauding tradition had been to persuade the financially well- disposed to follow the example of their antecedents by giving generously to the church roof repair fund. She'd been only a girly in his day, but was quite sure he would never have evoked the memory of Eliza Spellbinder except as a dire warning to ungodly women. In regard to the curate turned highwayman, it was Mrs Weedy's view that he would not have been mentioned at all, only thought of as an instructive reminder to the vicar when feeling overworked that it was as well St Peter's could no longer afford to provide him with an assistant.
Even when national interest in the murder at Mullings died down, a majority of otherwise sensible people in Dovecote Hatch continued to declare volubly that life would never be the same. Inevitably, however, in the months that followed, the strong hand of the known and familiar reasserted its benign hold. A factor in this rebounding was pride in the knowledge that Florence Norris, the housekeeper at Mullings, had been largely responsible for discovering the identity of the killer, while the police inspector brought in from outside had barked up the wrong tree.
Florence Norris might not be a native, but close as made no difference to those ready to stretch a point in special circumstances. Not only had she come to Mullings as a kitchen maid at the tender age of fourteen, she was the widow of Robert Norris, whose family had worked Farn Deane, the Stodmarshes' home farm, for time out of mind. Versions of her role in the case had leaked out from several sources, the correct one being confirmed by the postman Alf Thatcher, whose word was not to be doubted. He was never one to embroider the truth; besides which, he and his wife Doris were close friends and therefore in the confidence of George Bird, proprietor of the Dog and Whistle pub, whose godson had been wrongfully suspected until the truth was revealed. If this had not been sufficient cause for George to rejoice, there had been another – that he and Florence had come to realize they had each loved the other for the past several years and now felt free to anticipate a future together.
The only person whose nose was put out of joint by Florence Norris's invaluable contribution in bringing the killer to justice was Constable Len Trout's wife, Elsie, and she had the sense to keep this resentment to herself, not even hinting at it to her husband. The constable was a buttoned-up sort in or out of uniform. His remonstrance would have been the one he voiced on duty when sighting someone littering or committing some other infraction. 'Now, now! None of that! This is England, not foreign parts!' Mrs Trout had nothing against Florence in the general way, a nice woman who'd bought two jars of her blackcurrant jam at that year's summer fête and told her later she'd never tasted any close to as good. But naturally enough, Mrs Trout would have preferred her husband to be the one heaped with gratitude for solving the case.
She was, therefore, the rare exception in thinking she wouldn't mind too terribly if lightning did strike twice in the same place and another person got bumped off in Dovecote Hatch. Not anybody tragically young or the sort that'd be sadly missed, she decided virtuously. The good thing about the Mullings' murder was that the victim had deserved to come to a sticky end. What if next time the body of, say, a blackmailer, a swindler or some other nasty piece, got found on Cold Wind Common or in Widgecombe Marsh? She imagined her Len knowing right off, when the higher-ups didn't, that it was toadstool poisoning, not the knife sticking out of the back, which had done the job!
Such were Mrs Trout's ruminations as she went about her daily round in apron and hairnet. She was a pleasant-faced, comfortably built woman. There was nothing to be ashamed of in thinking what might be, she reasoned. Wasn't like wishes was horses, was it? 'Course, she knew that willing anyone dead wouldn't be right coming from a regular churchgoer, though some might think it earned a wink and a nod from above in Dovecote Hatch. Miss Milligan, who bred boxer dogs and was very much a local personality, had been heard to say the Almighty himself could've been excused for inventing a headache on a Sunday morning to avoid sitting through one of Reverend Pimcrisp's interminable sermons.
Life was filled with random misfortunes. That's what Mrs Trout told herself later that year when the sneaking hope stirred in her wifely bosom that there might have been a second case of foul play in Dovecote Hatch. This resulted from the death of Mr Tenneson of Bogmire, a sizeable Victorian house as grim-looking as it sounded. He was a nice enough gentleman, no doubt, but from all accounts a bit of a nonentity, unlikely to be wept over long and hard by any save his nearest and dearest.
As for those, thought Mrs Trout as she hovered in the background during the graveside service, neither of his two spinster sisters looked close to heartbroken. They were both his senior in age, but with him being over fifty it couldn't be lamented that he'd been snatched up in his youth. Still, there was no need for the short one to look like she was taking forty winks on her feet, or for the taller to be chatting her head off to Mr Sprague, the church organist. Horribly embarrassed, he'd looked. The only one that'd sniveled some was the housekeeper, who'd found Mr Tenneson dead from a fractured skull at the bottom of the staircase at Bogmire. Perhaps she was fretting about being given her walking papers now the master was gone. Maybe the sisters wouldn't want to be the ones coughing up her earnings now. The Misses Tenneson (according to old Mrs Weedy) were so tight-fisted it was a wonder they could get their gloves on. As for the deceased's ward, a girl of seventeen, she actually smiled right through the bit about ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Could have been nerves, though Mrs Trout hadn't thought so. It was a dreamy, pleased sort of smile.
Not that, she was forced to admit, the behavior of anyone present could reasonably be considered significant. The inquest which had preceded the funeral had brought in a verdict of accidental death. Only stubbornness allowed her to prolong the fantasy of Willful Murder by Person or Persons unknown. A few days before the fatal incident, Kenneth Tenneson had mentioned to the doctor that he was having dizzy turns. In summing up, the coroner stated it would appear that on the evening of 30 October Mr Tenneson had experienced such an episode whilst on his stairs and, as a result, taken a hard tumble down them. Possibly his health had been affected by his mother's death several months previously. By all accounts, he had been a devoted son. 'Very sad! Very sad, indeed!'
Mrs Trout agreed. Still, it was a pity.CHAPTER 2
On a cold Monday in late November, under a sky seemingly uncertain whether to cheer up or start weeping, only three people stood on the platform at Large Middlington, awaiting the arrival of the one thirty- seven train to London. A man and woman exchanged smiles and nods as they conversed. A small tan suitcase was set down to their left. Further down the platform to their right stood a solitary female figure. Had either of the other two looked her way they'd have thought she'd positioned herself closer to the rails than they would have found comfortable. And neither were of nervous dispositions or unsteady on their feet.
The woman talking with the man was tall, although her companion towered above her. She looked to be in her forties and wore a dark green coat. A grosgrain band of the same green circled the brown velour hat that concealed most of her hair except for the coil at the back of her neck. It was the third year for both hat and coat, but that didn't announce itself. These, along with the rest of her outer apparel – gloves, handbag and sensibly heeled court shoes – had held up well, as clothes bought to last tend to do. An observer might have taken her for a school teacher or the local bank manager's wife, or even an unpretentious member of the upper crust. Nothing, including her voice, indicated she had started her working life as a kitchen maid.
'I think I'll take Hattie to lunch at Selfridges or D.H. Evans,' she was saying to her companion, 'and perhaps the pictures one evening.'
'There's no shortage of ways to enjoy yourselves, the two of you getting on so famously,' replied the man, sounding comfortably working class. 'It'll be a holiday if all you do is talk your heads off over cups of tea.'
'A lot of shared past and present to be stirred in with the milk and sugar.' The woman had a very pleasant smile.
The look that met hers were deeply fond. 'It's heartwarming to have that sort of relationship with a cousin. There's lots of people has no family feeling, even to the point of wishing they'd been born orphans.'
'And justified too in some cases.'
The man nodded. 'It didn't take me long after moving out this way to learn you can't live in a village without getting wind of what goes on indoors as well as out. Can't avoid it, even if you go out of your way to avoid gossip – or, as I once heard it called, verbal littering. Take for instance that Mr Tenneson as just passed away. Dropped as a babe into a nest of vultures from the sound of it. The stork sometimes has a lot to answer for.'
His companion eyed him thoughtfully. 'According to old Mrs Weedy, who knows all and then some, it was peck, peck, jab, jab, day in, day out at Mr Tenneson by those he shared the nest with for his entire fifty-some years.'
'A nest has some coziness, but that awful tomb of a house ...' The man shook his head and appeared about to say more, but didn't.
'Hattie's two-up two-down would fit into Bogmire twenty times over. To more agreeable thoughts!' Another of those pleasant smiles. 'She's indeed a treasure. So good and kind.'
The man nodded, his eyes tender. 'And none could be a better judge of those qualities than you, dear. Be sure to give Hattie my best.' He was several years the older, in his early to mid-fifties, and wore a dark blue mackintosh along with a flat cap. 'I'm more'n glad you decided on giving yourself this treat of a week away after the year this has been.'
'There were dark days for you too.' She placed a hand on his arm.
'You won't hear me complain, love, seeing as they brought us together and none we're fond of is left suffering.'
'Yes, so much for which to be grateful.'
Their smiles had the effect of combining them in an embrace. Entirely focused on each other, they remained oblivious of the woman further down the platform towards the end where the train would pull in. Had they looked they'd have seen a shabbily dressed figure with a scarf tied over her head, stepping even closer to the rails.
The couple went on talking. What had sounded a possibility (there had been several snarls of thunder) became the unmistakable approach of the one thirty-seven. A guard appeared, flag in hand. Around a bend of track panted the train, hoot-hooting and billowing steam. The man bent to pick up the suitcase. He had hold of the handle when he felt a convulsive clutch at his arm. On straightening his back he wasted no time asking what was wrong. His gaze followed his companion's to fix on the woman in the headscarf, but he saw nothing beyond her taking a couple of steps backwards. It was a common enough sight – the retreat by someone who'd shifted nearer the edge of the platform to confirm that the train coming in was long enough to be the right one. There was nothing to explain the look on the face under the brown hat. The release of held breath. The sudden pallor.
'What is it, love?' he asked anxiously, his arm going around her.
'Silly of me ...'
'Come over faint?' The train had pulled in and was dislodging passengers. 'In too much of a rush to eat a proper meal before setting off?'
'An omelet with chips and peas at noon. Even jelly and custard for pudding. I'm fine, dear. Truly.' She started forward.
He didn't look near convinced.
'Just silliness, like I said.' She lowered her voice. 'I got it into my head that woman in the headscarf was going to jump. The one getting into that carriage now. An instantaneous impression and obviously wrong.'
'What was it made you think so?'
They were threading their way down the platform in the direction she had indicated with a nod, peering into carriage windows. 'She was already rather too close to the edge ... a change in her stance ... a sudden rigidity. As though she were bracing herself the way runners do at the start of a race, readying for the precise moment to leap forward. Oh, you shouldn't have to put up with my nonsense! And now I'm going to make it worse by saying it'll spoil my time with Hattie if I don't at least attempt to reassure myself by getting another look at a complete stranger, to try and size up if she looks despondent.'
'I've never heard you talk nonsense and I'd trust your instincts anywhere, any time.'
It had started to rain, but the woman in the headscarf was blurrily visible through the carriage window on account of being seated right next to it.
'You've got some of your color back, dear. That's a relief. What you need is a strong cup of tea with lots of sugar, but that not being at the ready, eat a sweet if you've one with you.'
Excerpted from Death at Dovecote Hatch by Dorothy Cannell. Copyright © 2015 Cannell & Company. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was disappointed that t his was not as well written as the first in the series. The plot seemed hurried & with too many characters.
I really enjoyed this book. There were a lot of twists and turns that kept me guessing right up to the end. She does a fine job defining her characters. This is the second in a series and I hope Ms. Cannell writes the next one very soon!