It’s been three months since Abi Logan last checked in on Abbey Glen, the celebrated whisky distillery she inherited. With her oversize wheaten terrier, Liam, by her side, Abi returns to the quaint Scottish village of Balfour. But her relaxing Highland homecoming takes a stressful turn when she unearths an unseemly bit of village history, welcomes a group of Japanese whisky enthusiasts, and becomes shepherdess to an unexpected flock of sheep—all within the first twenty-four hours. Still, nothing’s more stressful than murder. . . .
Local celebrity Rory Hendricks is the hotheaded, hard-rocking former frontman of the Rebels—and Abi’s girlhood crush. After meeting him in person, Abi can’t say no to anything he asks, like photographing his upcoming show . . . or figuring out who’s trying to kill him. Turns out someone’s been bumping off his old bandmates, with the drummer dead under mysterious circumstances and the keyboardist in a coma following a hit-and-run. Now a series of threatening messages leads Rory to think he’s next on the chopping block. And the band has a devil’s share of broken hearts and bitter disputes in their past, leaving Abi a huge batch of suspects to sift through—all before the killer takes another shot.
Melinda Mullet’s delightful Whisky Business mysteries can be read together or separately. Enjoy responsibly:
SINGLE MALT MURDER | DEATH DISTILLED | DEADLY DRAM | DIED IN THE WOOL
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It wasn’t easy, but I was doing my level best to restrain fifty pounds of exuberant wheaten terrier dead set on dashing headlong into the trench at my feet to retrieve the tantalizing collection of bones protruding from the newly turned earth.
“Off, Liam,” I growled, dragging him away from the edge and tying him firmly to the wrought-iron railing that separated the garden of our local pub, the Golden Stag, from the River Alyn ambling alongside.
“Why is it you arrive back in town and right away I’m looking at a dead body?” a voice demanded from behind me. I turned to see Balfour’s chief of police, Bill Rothes, making his way across the muddy lawn. He was scowling at me from underneath a battered green hunting cap. His well-worn navy Barbour jacket and the jowly face that reminded me of a melancholy hound hadn’t changed a bit in the three months I’d been gone.
I picked my way across the damp grass to his side. “This one’s got nothing to do with me,” I insisted. “I flew in late last night, and haven’t seen anything but the inside of Glasgow airport and the backseat of a taxi. Besides, it’s probably just a dead deer,” I added without conviction.
“You’re a war correspondent, Abigail Logan. You’ve seen more dead bodies than I’ve had hot dinners. You know that’s no deer,” Bill snapped.
He was right, the bones were clearly human, but at least they didn’t appear to have been interred recently. I was relieved we weren’t straying back down the path we’d been on when I first arrived in Balfour back in the spring.
I’d come for a fortnight, initially. Grieving the loss of my uncle Ben, who’d raised me and in passing left me the unwilling heir to an eponymous single malt whisky distillery in rural Scotland. As the unexpected and inexperienced new owner I was ostracized by the local whisky fraternity. Tensions escalated rapidly as the change in ownership became entangled with a broader plot to sell counterfeit whisky on the black market. The final toll was two dead, one in jail, and me buried alive in a cave.
The ordeal was a baptism by fire, but my perseverance won over the bulk of the local population. In the end, most were willing to accept me as owner of fifty-one percent of Abbey Glen, as long as our gifted head distiller, Grant MacEwen, controlled production and the other forty-nine percent.
And thank God I had Grant. What I know about distilling would fit into a shot glass with room to spare, and once things settled down I was only too happy to leave the day-to-day operations to the master and return to my job as a photojournalist. But after a few months of sweltering in the dry desert heat of Nigeria, watching an unending parade of death and destruction, I had to admit my job was wearing on me. I found myself dreaming of the cool misty glens and lavender-tinged hills of my new Scottish home, and for the first time in my gypsy life I felt the stirrings of homesickness.
Dead body at my feet notwithstanding, it was good to be back.
Bill turned back from his cursory examination of the hole in the ground. “Don’t tell me this news has already spread through the village grapevine,” he lamented. “I only just got here.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised if it had,” I replied, “but I haven’t seen a soul all morning. We were just out wandering, and Liam led us here.”
Siobhán Morgan, owner of the Stag, appeared around the side of the building at that moment. She crossed herself as she picked her way through the debris to confront Bill, a fierce light burning in her dark eyes. “It’s an evil omen, that’s what it is.” She barely came up to Bill’s shoulder, but she faced off against him defiantly, her ebony and silver hair shimmering in the light as a faint breeze blew the long waves away from her face. If I were braver I might suggest she looked like a powerful Celtic witch, but I wasn’t that brave. The intensity of her Irish temper was known to rip through you like a gale-force wind, and as Bill and I had no clear path of escape, we braced ourselves for the onslaught.
“Just dig one bloody hole in the ground and fill it with concrete, that’s all I asked,” Siobhán fumed. “But no, they have to upturn some poor sod’s final restin’ place and bring the whole damn thing to a crashin’ halt.” She glared at Bill, a frown creasing her brow. “Shouldn’t you be doing somethin’ about this, not standin’ round gossipin’ like an awd hen?”
“I am doing something. I’m waiting for the bloke from the coroner’s office to turn up,” Bill explained. “Once he’s had a look we should be able to set things to rights.”
Siobhán rolled her eyes. “Don’t give me ‘should be able to,’ just get it sorted. I need this lot back to work as soon as possible.” She gestured to the construction workers leaning on a backhoe and eating sandwiches out of a paper bag. “I’m payin’ them to work, not eat.”
“The bones look old,” I offered, peering down at the remains from our elevated vantage point. “But that skull has a couple of pretty nasty divots on the side. I’m guessing whoever it was didn’t die of old age.” I wouldn’t admit it out loud, but this was the kind of question that intrigued me. Who was this lost soul and what misfortune had brought him to rest here?
Siobhán narrowed her eyes and turned to look at me intently. “Unnatural death shadows you, doesn’t it, child.”
I’d like to have taken issue with that remark, but I really couldn’t. Siobhán and I met for the first time at my uncle’s funeral, though the two of them had been an item for some time. Her initial reaction to me was lukewarm at best. Discovering her son Duff dead at my distillery later that same night did nothing to improve relations. I could only thank God I had nothing to do with her problems this time.
Siobhán surveyed the mess and shook her head. “More fool me, I suppose, for lettin’ him talk me into this. Innkeepin’ at my age, I ask you.”
“Who talked you into this?”
“That slick mate of yours, Patrick Cooke.”
“Patrick?” Patrick was my oldest and dearest friend. London journalist, creative hacker, faithful drinking buddy, and a man of infinite machinations. Well known for dragging others into his elaborate moneymaking schemes. Suddenly I began to worry that I might have some connection to this whole debacle after all, and I reluctantly asked, “What’s Patrick got to do with all this?”
“Ask him yourself,” Siobhán snapped, pointing to the tall, auburn-haired figure making his way from the far side of the village green, his well-tailored suit pants tucked into a pair of Dubarry all-weather boots. “I have to get ready for the lunch rush. The whole bloody village’ll be over by noon nosin’ around.” She fixed Bill with a final withering glare. “Tick tock, Bill, time is money and I donnae have much of either.”
Bill took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief as he watched Siobhán make her way back into the pub. “God help us all if we can’t get these shifted soon. We’ll never hear the end of it.” Bill ambled off to supervise the placement of the police tape being strung around the hole. I felt for Bill, the last thing we needed was another murder inquiry in Balfour. The village had barely recovered from the last one.
I turned from the scene and headed toward Patrick, who was holding his cellphone in the air trying in vain to snag some sort of signal on the wind.
“This is a disaster,” he said.
“Lovely to see you, too,” I countered.