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'But if the gardener didn't dig those holes, then who did?' Lady Margaret's voice – speaking over the headphones – carried an exaggerated note of terror. 'It must have been ...'
She paused for dramatic emphasis. 'The spectre of the old tower.'
'Ancient tower,' a voice called, apparently from further away.
Lady Margaret sounded impatient as she said, in her normal speaking voice, 'I can't remember ancient. "Old tower" rolls off the tongue.' Suddenly she broke into a sneezing fit.
'Ruddy boa. Even the thought of a chicken gives me a rash.'
Guinevere laughed out loud, then remembered she was on a train and toned it down. Her hand rested on the player clipped to her belt. Through the headphones she had been listening to a rehearsal session for Well-mannered Murder, the play her company in London were to perform after the summer.
Set in the 1920s at a manor where a lady with a lack of funds is organizing classes to groom girls for their entry into society and possibly to forge a connection with a wealthy man, it had glamour, wit, and even a hint of comedy as the lady in question had to fight manipulative staff, mysterious occurrences, and a cunning killer to keep her new enterprise afloat.
The retired actress who played Lady Margaret was perfect for the part, and Guinevere had been thrilled to dress her in the opulent gowns and cute hats of the era. She had been stitching sequins and attaching feathers and even hand-painting a fan. Mr Betts, the theatre director, had also allowed her to work on the décors and the props, which had meant scouring antique shops and vintage stores to dig out all the best items.
Guinevere took a deep breath. She missed the theatre already, as well as her friends in the crew. Although they had been working with each other for years when Guinevere had been added to the team, fresh from her studies, the members had taken her in like they had known her all along. They had invited her to lunch at the cute little café close to the theatre and had lent a quick hand whenever Guinevere couldn't keep up with the pace during a performance.
Soon she had felt part of the unruly family they formed, at home in the cosy building with the long history that formed their haven. But their beloved theatre was currently closed for renovations, and the crew had left London for the summer, each to his own place. Guinevere had to focus on her temporary job now.
She checked her watch. Almost there.
Holding her breath, she leaned over and pressed her cheek against the cold glass pane to catch a glimpse of water. After all, her new workplace was an island. As a child she had longed for a holiday by the seaside but her grandmother, who had taken care of her, hadn't been able to afford any sort of holiday, let alone one in a popular destination. Now her childhood dream was finally coming true: summer along the Cornish coast.
Her heartbeat sped up, and she strained her eyes to catch that first alluring glimpse of sparkling water.
But there was nothing to be seen. Still the way in which the train lost speed told her they were near her final destination.
The woman opposite to her, in her fifties with a basket on her knees, nodded at her with a friendly smile. 'New here, are you?'
'Yes, I come from London. I'm going to work on Cornisea Island. Can I see it from here?'
The woman shook her head. 'The village is on a hill. You can't see the sea or the island from the train track and the station. Where are you going to work? I think I saw they were advertising for someone at the bakery.'
'No, I'm going to catalogue books. At the castle.'
'With Lord Bolingbrooke?' The woman leaned forward, her arms on the basket, her voice lowering into a confidential tone. 'He doesn't like outsiders, does he?'
Recognizing the small-town willingness to share a little titbit that had pervaded her childhood in Devon and was so remarkably absent in the big-city bustle of London, Guinevere couldn't help a smile coming up. With an inquisitive mind of her own, and a never-ending interest in what motivated people, she could never resist a snippet of gossip here or there.
Still, her new position as Lord Bolingbrooke's employee required a tactful reply so she said cheerfully, 'Well, he advertised for someone to help him catalogue his books, so I'm sure he's aware that I'm coming.'
The theatre's director, Mr Betts, had told her about the position available at Cornisea Castle. He had said it was the perfect place for her to spend the summer as it had history and the island was full of fascinating stories about the past. Secret treasure, local lore.
The excitement that had grabbed her as soon as she had heard about it rushed through her again. She hadn't had time to dig deeply into Cornisea's colourful history but the summaries she had read about it had unrolled a tableau vivant full of saints, knights and squires, ladies and maids, a tale of siege, love, deception, heartbreak.
As if Dolly noticed her excitement, she squeaked. The short, high-pitched sound was the dachshund's favourite way to express her enthusiasm. She held her long nose close to the window as if she also wanted to catch a glimpse of their new home. Guinevere scratched her behind the ears. 'Almost there, girl. Just a few more minutes.'
The woman opposite them said, 'Some people think it's silly to talk to dogs. Well, I think it's silly not to talk to dogs. Had them for all of my life. Retrievers first when I was still living on the farm my parents had. Now I live in the village, in a smaller house. Took in a cocker spaniel when an elderly neighbour moved away and couldn't take her along. The sweetest little thing. Is by my bedside in the morning, the moment I wake up. Keeps me company while I garden. She's with my sister today. She doesn't like trains, you know.'
Guinevere smiled. 'Dolly likes everything. She's quite the adventurer. Aren't you, girl?'
Dolly squeaked again and rubbed her head against Guinevere. Her bright little eyes took in everything that moved outside the window: the clouds against the skies, the specks of birds, a yellow tractor on the fields.
The train was slowing down even more, swaying, and soon they stopped all together. The woman with the basket helped Guinevere to lift her heavy suitcase from the train onto the platform. 'Is someone coming to get you?' she asked with a worried frown.
'No, but I can manage. Thank you for your help. And have a lovely day. Say hello to your cocker spaniel from me and Dolly.'
The woman smiled at her and walked away, calling out to a woman at a flower stand just outside the station. It only had two platforms and an old-fashioned building with vintage motifs of golden fleur-de-lis over the entry doors.
Guinevere took a deep breath. The air carried the typical tinge of salt that always betrays the sea is nearby. But there was also the smell of paper and coffee. She spotted a window where hot beverages were sold. She also saw cans of soft drink in a cool box and newspapers. A turnable rack held leaflets on regional sights and activities.
On a blue one Guinevere read: 'Medieval re-enactment at Cornisea Castle.'
Underneath were a few lines of explanation that the Cornisea Historical Society was to re-create the trial of Branok the Cold-hearted, the steward of Cornisea Castle, who had been accused of vile acts against the villagers under his care.
'Based on medieval sources, the play gives a true-to-life representation of the trial, the parties involved, and medieval justice, against the breathtaking backdrop of the centuries-old castle and its rugged environment,' she read to Dolly.
What perfect timing. Her theatrical expertise would come in handy for this reenactment. She might help with costumes or setting the scene or whatever else was needed.
Guinevere already saw herself choosing some props from the castle's extensive collection. Maybe some items from the armoury would lend nice touches?
And if Lord Bolingbrooke didn't want the real things to be used, they might make copies of a coat of arms, hand-painting them in the bright heraldic gold, blue, and red.
The woman behind the window leaned on the counter and called out to her, 'You can take that leaflet along if you want to. They're free.' The woman looked at Guinevere's clothes – her poppy-strewn dress with broad red belt, her matching red pumps, and the long braid hanging down her right shoulder – and asked in a conspiratorial tone, 'You're here for that re-enactment, right? You look sort of ... vintage.'
'Thank you. But no, I'm going to work at the castle for the summer. Cataloguing books.'
'With Lord Bolingbrooke? You don't say.'
Her surprise matched that of the woman on the train, and Guinevere got an unpleasant twinge of worry in her stomach. All of these people seemed baffled that Lord Bolingbrooke would invite an outsider to his keep. As if he was the type of man who kept to himself and shooed away strangers.
But he had advertised for someone to catalogue his books, right?
Guinevere frowned a moment. She hadn't actually seen the advertisement. Mr Betts had told her about it and had encouraged her to write an application email to an email address he had provided to her on a sticky note. She had received a reply from an O. Bolingbrooke, inviting her over at her earliest convenience. She hadn't printed it off, thinking it was all settled now. Should she have brought it, to prove she had actually been invited? Lord Bolingbrooke might not personally open the door.
Guinevere thought a moment longer and then shook it off, thanking the woman behind the window and putting the leaflet about the re-enactment in her bag.
The woman said, 'Just follow the road, and you'll see the island soon enough. You can't miss it.'
'Thank you for the directions. Have a wonderful day.'
Clutching her suitcase, Guinevere pulled Dolly along, who wanted to sniff all the exciting smells. The road was a simple cobbled affair, broad enough for two cars to pass each other if the drivers took a little care. The houses on either side of it were built from grey stone, the low walls circling the gardens put together from rocks that stayed in place because of their own weight.
The occasional tree in a garden leaned into the road, spreading its branches to throw shade across the verge and attract birds, which swooped down to peck in the grass only to shoot back up into the tree again as soon as they spotted a possible threat.
Dolly poked her long nose through a wooden fence and barked at some ducks that waddled through a garden – probably to keep it free from snails.
'Come on. Leave those poor ducks be. They're only doing their job.' Guinevere pulled the dachshund along, eager to see the island. As the road went up here, it was impossible to see the sea yet and if you weren't aware that it should be out there, you might be mistaken and think you were still far from it. But all of a sudden they were at the highest point and could see the landscape before them.
The road went down at a steep angle, ending abruptly where the land changed to water. There was a path there though, narrower, continuing with a few mild curves to lead across the water to the island. This causeway had been there for centuries, allowing people to reach Cornisea Island when the tide was low.
Staring at it, Guinevere could just picture the people who had walked across it in centuries past: merchants who came to offer their wares at the castle, theatrical companies like theirs in London who wanted to provide entertainment for a feast.
A wedding maybe, between the lord of the castle and a princess who had come here from France, carrying the sweet scent of the blossoming lavender fields with her in the dried flowers she had sprinkled between her clothes in her many trunks. Maybe that princess had also brought the seeds of plants and small trees to fill out the gardens and arboretum that Cornisea Castle was famous for?
The island itself was an oval piece of land that seemed to have drifted away from the shore to lie by itself, surrounded by choppy waves. The left of the island was wild: towering cliffs, dense trees and shrubs, and a beach where Guinevere could see herself walking Dolly, playing a little fetch as the sun set and turned the waters into a deep red and purple while the first stars appeared against the velvety skies.
In contrast to the wild, uncultivated left of the island, the right consisted of neat cottages in a row forming a front along a sheltered harbour where boats bobbed on the waves.
There Guinevere pictured the bakery, which the kind woman on the train had mentioned. Just the idea of sweet smells made her mouth water. She needed a snack after the long train ride.
The few houses sat there like a miniature village, taking refuge in the shadow of the castle above. It towered over everything as the crowning piece on a wedding cake.
It was no fairy-tale castle in light colours with many high, elegant towers flying colourful banners, but instead was a sturdy old burg with two plump towers, flat above with a row of merlons all around. From up there you had to have a magnificent view across the island and the surrounding sea, the mainland so close by.
Guinevere began to descend, holding her weight back, Dolly pulling ahead of her. The doggy had never been to the seaside, but she didn't seem to get nervous about all the water or about the fact they had to continue walking on a road that was surrounded by water on both sides. From the day Dolly had run into the theatre and right onto the stage – during a performance! – she hadn't been fazed by anything new she met.
The causeway was only accessible during low tide, while at high tide the island was completely cut off from the mainland. The distance wasn't great, and of course there were always boats to take, but still Cornisea had a certain isolation that contributed to its special appeal.
Walking here in the footsteps of those who had once visited the castle – to sell, to perform, to wed, to dance, to laugh and cry, to honour old traditions like the historical society was going to do with their re-enactment of the Branok trial – Guinevere's heart beat faster that she had been given this unique chance. To work in a world of her own, a place where time had stood still and traditions of old were very much alive.
'Isn't it peaceful?' Guinevere said to Dolly. 'The gulls overhead, the island in front of us, the smell of the sea. Not at all like London, right, with all the traffic and the exhaust fumes.'
She hadn't finished yet, when an engine roared behind Guinevere. She just had time to halt and step aside before a motorcycle blasted past her. The sun reflected off the shiny mirrors and the silver helmet that the motorcyclist wore.
'Maniac!' Guinevere called after him, knowing full well he wouldn't hear her, or Dolly's indignant barking, over the roar of the engine.
In a cloud of bluish fumes the rider sped ahead of her.
Waving a hand in front of her face, Guinevere waited for the fumes to clear before she walked on, following the man with her eyes. He came to the end of the causeway and turned right into the harbour area. Then, having startled two fishermen busy with their nets, he turned again, disappearing between the cottages. Did he live there? The irresponsible son of an elderly couple who only blasted by every once in a while to say hello to his parents?
At least he had parents.
For a moment Guinevere's heart sank, thinking of the father and mother she had never known. No graves to visit, no place to go and remember. No photo albums either with shots of her on her birthday or riding a pony or at the zoo.
Like she had no past at all.
Maybe that was why she liked history and genealogy, obscure traces of people who had once lived and loved their lives. Reconstructing what had been to give meaning to the now.
A young family was coming from the other direction, the man holding a girl of six or seven by the hand, the woman carrying a toddler. They were talking excitedly about the island. Guinevere caught the word 'donkey'. Maybe there were rides offered on the island?
She had to check that out. She loved donkeys: their gentle nature, their instinctive understanding of how people felt and their response to it. Maybe she could help out with the rides some time, during an afternoon off? She supposed Lord Bolingbrooke wouldn't expect her to be working all of the time.
Excerpted from "Death Plays a Part"
Copyright © 2017 Vivian Conroy.
Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Quick read with nice sttoryline and details.
Read and enjoyed both books in the series.
Guinevere has found a job at a castle on a small Cornish island. The theater she'd been working for is being renovated and she's glad to have something else to do in the meantime. The island is the perfect environment for long walks with her dog Dolly. However, when Guinevere has only just arrived a reenactment at the castle goes horribly wrong and ends up in murder. Without Guinevere's help the murderer might not be found. Guinevere is going to have an eventful summer, will she be able to catch the killer? Death Plays a Part is a fun cozy mystery. I immediately loved Guinevere. She's strong, sharp and observant, which are the exact right qualities to possess when you want to unmask a murderer. Vivian Conroy introduces several interesting suspects and I couldn't wait for find out who was behind the crime at the castle. Guinevere finds clue after clue and it was fabulous to be taken along with her on the journey. She's kindhearted, loyal and a good judge of character and I found it really fascinating to see the world through her eyes. Vivian Conroy has a great gripping writing style that made it impossible for me to put Death Plays a part down. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed every single minute of the mystery. I fell in love with the beautiful setting, an intriguing Cornish island with plenty of gossip, island politics and secrets. It's versatile and it kept me hooked from beginning to end. I liked this wonderful story a lot and can't wait to read more of Vivian Conroy's books.
Death Plays a Part by Vivian Conroy is the first book in the new series A Cornish Castle Mystery. Guinevere Evans and her dog, Dolly are heading to Cornisea Island on the Cornish coast. Guinevere is a costume designer at a theater in London. The theater is closing for the summer to do renovations and Guinevere would be at loose ends. Mr. Betts, theater director, helped her acquire a job cataloguing books for Lord Bolingbrooke at Cornisea Castle. Guinevere arrives to a little kerfuffle between Lord Bolingbrooke and his son, Oliver. Oliver is a documentarian who has just returned to the castle after his latest excursion. He has been trying to convince his father to open Castle Cornisea for public tours. Guinevere discovers that the Cornisea Historical Society is recreating the trial of Branok the Cold. At one time, he was the steward of Cornisea Castle and accused of vile acts against the villagers. There is a rehearsal that afternoon. Arthur Haydock is playing Branok and fireworks are sure to abound. Arthur and Lord Bolingbrooke do not get along. They have differing view for the castle and island. Haydock is put in a cell for the rehearsal. When they return, Haydock in on the floor with a knife sticking out of his chest. Lord Bolingbrooke is suspect number one. Guinevere believes he is innocent and embarks on a mission to prove it with Oliver’s assistance. Cornisea Island is a small community that Guinevere discovers is rife with secrets. Who killed Haydock and why? Can Guinevere uncover the killer and save Lord Bolingbrooke? Death Plays a Part sounded like a cute cozy mystery. The book has a slow pace that would put Loralei Gilmore (she drinks vast quantities of coffee) to sleep. A majority of the story is Guinevere running around the island (with her dog) talking to the locals who are wary of strangers. I wished the author had fleshed out her characters (especially Guinevere). We are given very little information on Guinevere. The mystery was intriguing (treasure). The killers’ identity, though, was easily discerned (at least I thought so). I identified the killer after Haydock was discovered dead in the cell. The suspect pool is limited. How the murder was accomplished, though, was clever. I am rating Death Plays a Part 3 out of 5 stars. The reason for Guinevere to investigate the murder is flimsy. She dislikes unsolved crimes plus she is curious. It is a weak excuse since London has dozens of unsolved crimes every week. I wish the author had provided a pronunciation guide for the Cornish names. I would rather the mystery had been set at the theater in London (so many possibilities). I was hoping Rubies in the Roses (second book in the series) would return Guinevere to the theater in London, but she will be continuing her stay on Cornisea Island.
What a brilliant closed door murder mystery this proved to be - I loved it! The Cornish Castle is on the island of Cornisea, linked to the mainland by a causeway during low tides and it is to this castle that Guinevere is going to work for the summer. She usually works as a theatrical costume maker but the theatre where she works is closed for renovations and one of the crew encouraged her to apply for this summer post cataloguing books in the castle library. She arrives to discover there’s a reenactment planned portraying the trial of Branok the Coldhearted and she looks forward to seeing if she can help in any way. What she and the other islanders didn’t anticipate is one of them being murdered whilst locked in a cell in the castle dungeon! With all the evidence suggesting the castle owner, Lord Bolingbrooke, is the killer it is up to his son, Oliver and Guinevere to uncover the islanders secrets and discover the perpetrator! The big mystery in this case is how someone could carry out the murder. Oliver and Guinevere work well together, with the help of her delightful dachshund, Dolly, and the support of the investigating detective. I was impressed how applying logic and Guinevere’s previous experience of murder mysteries in the theatre all slowly reveal more clues. It is somewhat reminiscent of a modern day Agatha Christie mystery with younger sleuths applying their little grey cells in a constructive manner to work out just how the murder was carried out and by whom! The setting for the series is brilliant, the characters well developed and easy to relate to, the plot is well structured with plenty of puzzles to confound the reader along the way. I highly recommend this delightful murder mystery and I can’t wait to read the sequel, Rubies in the Roses, and I’m so glad it is due to be released next month so there won’t be a long wait! I requested and was given a copy of this book via NetGalley and this is my honest opinion after choosing to read it.