However, the discovery of a body at the bottom of a gorge changes his attitude dramatically. The husband is distraught, but is this just an act? Rumors abound over Sabrina's lifestyle-from the lovers to the over-indulgent spending. But their expat pack is rife with unsavory characters: The young gigolo who, dependent on a wealthy older woman, may have had an illicit affair with Sabrina; and the cynical and bitter friend whose advances she may have rejected. The investigation becomes even more complicated when the specter of an insurance fraud is raised.
Alvarez thinks he knows the answer, but proving his theory is another matter. Wittier and fresher than ever, this latest novel in the "good natured, wonderfully ironic, completely captivating" series (Buffalo News), proves that Roderic Jeffries is a clever and compelling storyteller at the top of his form.
Author Bio: Roderic Jeffries was born in London in 1926 and was educated at Southampton's School of Navigation. In 1943 he went to sea with the New Zealand Shipping Company and returned to England in 1949 where he was subsequently called to the Bar. He practiced law for a brief period before starting to write full time. His books have been published in many different countries and have been adapted for film,television, and radio. He and his wife live in Mallorca, and have two children.
Read an Excerpt
An Enigmatic Disappearance
By Roderic Jeffries
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Roderic Jeffries
All rights reserved.
January was a month of many moods. An icy wind from the north accompanied the New Year. On the seventh, the wind was from the south and it was warm and laden with a very fine sand that dusted everything; on the seventeenth, there was snow on the mountains down to the two-hundred-metre level; on the thirty-first, the sky was cloudless, the temperature was over twenty, and those birds which had escaped being illegally shot were singing as if spring had arrived.
Cora returned to the pool patio. 'That was Ada on the phone.' She sat. In appearance as well as character, she provided a sharp contrast to her husband. She possessed the undefined features of someone easily forgotten and if challenged, even on a matter of no importance, became diffident.
'What did the barmaid want?' Keane asked.
'I do wish you wouldn't call her that,' Cora said plaintively. 'She's not really so awful.'
'That depends on the degree of one's magnanimity.'
'But look how she gave the animal refuge enough money for the new kennels they so needed to be built. She does a lot of good on the quiet.'
'So quietly that we invariably all hear about it.'
'That's being uncharitable.'
'Realistic. And if she funded another dozen kennels, she'd still remain a barmaid by design as well as habit.'
For once, she ventured a shaft of humorous criticism. 'I thought men favoured barmaids?'
'Only when young. Cheap goods wear out quickly.'
'I ... I do wish you wouldn't say things like that – it makes people think.'
'I doubt a host of angels could work that miracle ... You've still not told me what Ada wanted.'
'She's invited us to a party on Wednesday week.'
'So you remembered a prior invitation?'
'Well, no ... I mean ...'
'You're not telling me you accepted?'
'But you always say how nice it is to drink real champagne and not cava and to eat a canapé that's more smoked salmon than bread.'
'Insufficient compensation in her case.'
'Marjory was talking about her yesterday and said she is rough, but she doesn't try to hide behind a screen of social lies.'
'She must have heard someone say that – she could never think it up on her own.'
'Marjory's not really as stupid as you think.'
'Perhaps she couldn't be.'
There was a brief silence, broken by Cora. 'You will go to Ada's, won't you?'
'You've left me with little option other than a grumbling appendix.'
'I'm sure you'll really enjoy it.'
'My dear, you have a remarkable capacity for self-deception.'
There was a streak of stubbornness in her which sometimes surfaced – often when it would have been more politic to keep it hidden. 'Maybe she can be a bit of a mouthful, but at least she's not like so many people and doesn't try to make out she's what she isn't.'
'You are no doubt referring very indirectly to Rino?'
'She's never tried to call him her nephew, has she, or make out they're just good friends?'
'That merely proves that in order to lead a civilized life, one must be a hypocrite.' He stood. 'Another drink?'
He went indoors. She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun, and thought about their daughter in England. Pam's last letter had seemed to hint that something was wrong. Undergraduate life could lead to such awful trouble ...
Keane returned to the patio, glass in hand. As he sat, he said: 'You look like Atlas on a rough day.'
'How d'you mean?'
'The world on your shoulders is weighing even more than usual.'
'Oh! ... I was thinking about Pam.'
'What disaster are you allotting her today?'
'Her letter is worrying.'
'I told you, there's nothing in it to ring any alarm bells.'
'I do hope you're right.'
'I make a habit of being so.' He drank. 'According to the BBC news, England's all but disappearing under the rain. The news certainly increases the pleasure of the sun here.'
It occurred to her that he often seemed to gain pleasure from other's misfortunes – she hastily dismissed the thought and chided herself for disloyalty.
He looked at his watch. 'We must be off in ten minutes.'
'We're due at Winnie and Vernon's at half past.'
'What are you talking about?'
'You're saying we've been invited there?'
'It would be a grave social solecism to arrive at lunchtime without an invitation. Not, of course, that Vernon would appreciate the fact.'
'You never told me.'
'Of course I did. It's your wandering memory at fault again.'
She didn't argue, even though certain he had never mentioned the invitation. She tried to work out how best to deal with the meal that was cooking.
* * *
The Picketts lived in an urbanizacíon which stretched partway up a hill that was almost a mountain. Because of the steepness of the land on which their house was built, it had four floors, from each of which there was a dramatic view across to the bay. It suffered one disadvantage. In heavy rainstorms, which occurred more frequently than tourist information suggested, a waterfall poured across the road, down the steep, curving drive, and into the house from which its only escape was through the sitting-room and out across the patio.
Winnie cut into her steak. 'It's quite tender!' There was a note of surprise in her voice. 'Maybe for once I needn't apologize. D'you know, the other day I asked one of the butchers why they didn't hang the meat longer and he couldn't understand what I was talking about. I'm sure they sell the meat in the shops as soon as the animal's dead.'
'At least,' Keane said, 'we must give them credit for waiting that long. Other primitive tribes slice a chunk off a living animal so that in a few weeks' time they'll be able to do the same thing again.'
'You really do say the most disgusting things! I can't think how Cora puts up with you.'
'By being very conscious of the privilege of doing so.' He spoke across the table to Cora. 'Is that so, my sweet?'
She smiled uncertainly.
Winnie said: 'We had lunch at the Ogdens' the other day and Sabrina must have gone to a lot of trouble to make the steak-and-kidney pie, but the meat really was just like leather.'
'Cooking's never been Sabrina's speciality,' Pickett said.
'Could we for once keep the conversation clean?'
He ignored his wife. 'I suppose you two have heard the latest whispers about Sabrina?'
'And people say it's women who gossip!'
He tapped the side of his nose. 'There's more than one fortune been made on the back of gossip ... They say she's become very friendly with someone. I'll give you ten to one you can't guess who that someone is.'
'With so many runners, I'd want much better odds,' Keane said.
Pickett reached across the table to pick up the bottle of wine, refilled his glass. 'Rino.'
'Well, well!' Keane teased a crumb of bread on his sideplate. 'Usually a barmaid gives short change, not suffers it.'CHAPTER 2
Sabrina drew into the catered parking bay, switched off the engine, opened the driving door of the BMW and stepped out into the fierce July sun. She turned back to pick up her handbag and a plastic shopping bag and to shut and lock the doors, made her way between the rows of cars to the clinic. The nearer she approached the large building, the more mentally cold she felt. She hated hospitals. When she'd been small, she had had to spend weeks in one and the memory of her bewildered fear had never left her. Bevis had wanted her to stay with him in the hospital, as was customary; she'd explained why she couldn't, but he hadn't understood.
A man held the right-hand swing door open for her and she smiled her thanks at this unusual courtesy. Her smile brought brief, eager hope. As she went inside, she wondered if every single Spaniard between fifteen and seventy saw himself as Don Juan?
The reception area was crowded and very noisy, thanks to the many uncontrolled children. Among the expatriates, it was assumed that every local was born half deaf since nothing else could explain the tolerance of unnecessary noise. The doors of a lift were open and she stepped inside to find only one couple there. The man asked her something which she guessed to be what floor she wanted, his open admiration earning an angry look from his companion. She said, 'Three', mispronouncing even that single word.
On the third floor, she walked along the corridor, her pace becoming ever slower as she neared room 315. She came to a halt, squared her shoulders, opened the door and called out: 'It's me!' Her voice was bright and betrayed none of her emotions.
There was a short passage, to the left of which was the bathroom, and then the room came into view. Ogden was sitting in bed, propped up by pillows. She put handbag and shopping bag down on the settee, crossed to the bed and kissed him. She was grateful that he smelled slightly sweeter than he had the other day.
'Why didn't you come yesterday?' was his bad-tempered greeting, as she straightened up.
'I had one of my terrible headaches and simply couldn't, much as I longed to.'
'Why didn't you phone me, then?'
'I just wasn't up to doing even that.'
'I phoned you at home to find out what was going on and there wasn't any answer.'
'Did you? And you thought the worst had happened and I'd fallen off a ladder and broken my neck? You poor love! I took three of those pills which stop the worst of the pain and they knocked me right out. I must have slept through the ringing.'
'Why d'you keep getting these heads?'
'I wish I knew. When we've got you better, I must see someone. I suppose it could just be I need glasses. I so don't want to have to wear them ... But that's more than enough about me. Much more important, how are you? You look brighter.'
'I don't feel it.'
He was showing his age; all sixty-eight years of it. His complexion was grey, his cheeks were sunken, the lines in his face had deepened, and stubble added an air of old-man slovenliness. 'Poor darling, what a nightmare it's been. It was so nearly ...' She was unable to finish.
'Perhaps it would have been better if I had died.'
'Don't say such a ghastly thing,' she said, pandering to his desire for excessive sympathy. 'If you knew how I prayed and prayed for you ...'
'A waste of time.'
'Something worked the miracle. I've brought you something to help cheer you up.' She went over to the settee to pick up the shopping bag, handed this to him. He brought out a bottle of red wine and another of whisky. He dropped them at his side, leaned back, closed his eyes, and groaned.
'Shall I pour you a whisky?'
'Then how about some wine? It's the special Lan you like. And people keep saying how good it is to drink red wine; makes one live longer.'
'The sooner I die, the better.'
'You mustn't go on and on saying things like that.'
'If you felt as I do, you'd understand.'
She leaned over to place her cheek against his. 'Poor, poor bunnikins. But when you're better, which I know will be soon, we'll enjoy ourselves so much you'll want to live for ever.' She left the bedside and went over to the settee to sit. 'What did the doctor say this morning?'
'How would I know? Why are they so stupid that the doctors don't speak English? I told him, my cheeks still hurt, my throat's agony, and my stomach feels as if it's being minced up. All he could do was gabble away in Spanish, not caring whether or not I understood.'
'Couldn't you catch anything he said?'
'No. You know what's really going on, don't you?'
'He doesn't give a damn how I am because all the time he's laughing at me.'
'That's impossible. Doctors never laugh at their patients.'
'Maybe they don't in England. Here, everything's different.' He stared through the window, looking at, but not seeing, the distant range of mountains that were topped by an intensely blue sky in which one small orphan cloud was drifting towards the east. 'I took every possible care. I made certain it was always less than a gram. You told me the wrong amount.'
'No, I didn't.'
'Then how did it happen?'
'D'you think that perhaps ...' She stopped.
'Well, maybe you could have mixed up the weights because you'd had a little too much to drink ...'
'Of course I couldn't, even if they do have such a bloody silly system of weights.' He chewed his lower lip for a few seconds. 'The bastard was laughing at me! He won't find it funny when he's my age.'
He was, she thought, suffering as much from a sense of humiliation as from physical pain. A few weeks before their marriage, she'd been having lunch with Nina, who had been her best friend from time to time. 'He's a pompous old fart,' Nina had said in her husky voice which had so captivated a visiting American colonel, 'but that'll mean he'll never see what's going on under his nose so you'll be free to do your own thing. A recipe for the perfect marriage.'
'What are you thinking?' he asked.
'I was remembering how I was with Nina one day and she collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital. To begin with, the doctors were very grim-faced, but then she surprised them by taking a sudden turn for the better. I was so relieved when I heard what had happened, but it was as nothing to when the doctor told me you'd live. That was like ... like being reborn.'
'I couldn't stand Nina.'
'I know. It was such a pity because she could be very amusing.'
'At other people's expense.'
'She could be a bit naughty with the things she said. But she could also be very complimentary. She knew you didn't like her and that made her sad, but she still said what a nice man you were and how she was sure we'd have a great time together.'
'She said that?'
'You surprise me.'
'Quite recently I read that the perfect wife tries to give her husband a little surprise every day.'
'What if it's a nasty surprise?'
'It can't be if she's the perfect wife.'
'You're bright and breezy today,' he said with fresh resentment.
'Because you're going to be leaving here soon and I can have you back at home ... Bunnikins, have you everything you need?'
'I want the television.'
She looked across at the set on a small table.
'Everything's in either Spanish or Mallorquin,' he said angrily. 'They don't stop to think about people like me.'
'I thought there was a local station which showed the news in English?'
'Only a short news. And then it's almost all about Spain. Who's interested in what goes on in this place? ... Get someone to fit up a dish for me and bring in our card and then I can watch some decent programmes on satellite.'
'I don't think that's possible ...'
'What is it? You can't be bothered?'
'Bunnikins, how can you say anything so hurtful?' She sounded close to tears.
'I can't understand why you won't do it.'
'Because this room faces north and a dish has to face south.'
He swore. 'Typical! They deliberately put me in a room facing the wrong way. But they'll take my money quicker than I can hand it to them.'
'You'll soon be home and then you can watch what you want.'
He scratched the side of his stubbled cheek. 'I suppose no one's bothered to ask after me?'
'Everyone has been, and wishing you well.'
'Edna rang and said I was to give you her love; Iris was in the supermarket near the cloisters and she hopes you'll very soon be out of hospital; Cora and Clive were in the post office when I collected the mail and they asked how you were and hoped you'd soon be fighting fit.'
'She asked or he did?'
'She did, as a matter of fact.'
'That's not surprising. He wouldn't give a damn if I'd died. Supercilious bastard! You didn't tell him what was the matter with me, did you?'
'Of course I didn't. I told him and Cora the same as everyone else. You've suffered severe food poisoning, but we can't work out what you ate that caused it. That's right, isn't it?'
'I suppose he can't make much out of that.'
'Oh ... I nearly forgot. Ada rang last night to ask how you were.'
'Not like her to bother about anyone else when she's so wrapped up with that little spaghetti gigolo.'
'Why are you always so nasty about him?'
'D'you expect me to say what a fine, upstanding man he is when he lets himself be trailed around like a pet dog? It's obscene. She's three times his age.'
'But ...' She stopped, then continued in a troubled tone: 'I thought you always said that a difference in ages doesn't matter?'
Excerpted from An Enigmatic Disappearance by Roderic Jeffries. Copyright © 1998 Roderic Jeffries. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Inspector Alvarez of the Cuerpo General de Policia lives on the beautiful island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain. The tropical paradise has a large contingent of English expatriates such as Sabrina and Ogden Nash. The elderly Ogden married Sabrina so he could have a trophy wife while she married him for his money. To keep Sabrina interested in him, Ogden uses the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly, but lands in the hospital due to an overdose poisoning his body. A few days after Ogden is released from the hospital, Sabrina vanishes. Inspector Alvarez handles the investigation although he is confused by how the expatriates think. He believes Sabrina left her spouse, especially since her car is parked at the airport. Months later, her body is found. Alvarez focuses on the grieving widow even though no evidence points towards the distraught Ogden. The different viewpoints of the island-born vs. the immigrants come across as a key theme in the Inspector Alvarez mysteries. Although there are few viable suspects, the fascinating plot of AN ENIGMATIC DISAPPEARANCE works because they can easily be innocent or guilty, requiring the entire novel to be read before knowing whom the killer is. The bewildered but clever yet often bumbling hero seems more like a Bullwinkle who somehow seems to get the job done. Harriet Klausner