From the author of In Farleigh Field...
When Constable Evan Evans is persuaded to join the local male choir for the upcoming eisteddfod (cultural festival), he doesn't think the addition of his mediocre voice will do them much good. In spite of all the effort that choirmaster Mostyn Phillips puts in to the choir, it is not exactly first class. Hope arrives in the form of world renowned tenor Ifor Llewelyn, come home to Llanfair to rest, on doctor's orders.
Llewelyn immediately sets about renewing old friendships, and Mostyn even persuades him to sing with the choir. But Ifor isn't in Llanfair long before the residents decide that his presence is a mixed blessing. Noisy fights between Ifor and his wife, a threatening stranger, and Ifor's own warped sense of humor make life in Llanfair increasingly tense. When he announces that he is planning to write his memoirs, telling all about his numerous relationships with famous and infamous women, he jokes that some people won't be happy. But is someone unhappy enough to commit murder to stop him? While tracking down a dangerous killer, Constable Evans also manages to navigate the treacherous waters of neighborhood rivalries, lusty barmaids, and local gossip.
With her third book in this acclaimed series, Rhys Bowen offers another page-turning tale of small-town mayhem and murder, in Evanly Choirs.
About the Author
Rhys Bowen is the author of the award-winning Molly Murphy and Constable Evans mysteries. Her novels have garnered an impressive array of awards and nominations, including the Anthony Award for her novel For the Love of Mike and the Agatha Award for Murphy’s Law. Her books have also won the Bruce Alexander Historical Award and the Herodotus Award, and have been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Agatha, the Macavity, the Barry, and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She has also written Her Royal Spyness, a series about a minor royal in 1930s England, and she is the author of several short stories, including the Anthony Award–winning “Doppelganger.” Her story “Voodoo” was chosen to be part of the anthology of the best of 50 years of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Ms. Bowen was born in Bath, England, and worked as an announcer and studio manager for the BBC in London, before moving to Australia and then California. It was here she started writing children’s and young adult novels, and then moved on to mysteries with the Constable Evans novels. When not writing she loves to travel, sing, hike, play her Celtic harp, and entertain her grandchildren. She lives in San Rafael, California.
Read an Excerpt
The girl chewed on her lip as she drove up the pass. She wasn't a very experienced driver — only a complete idiot or a masochist would own a car in the middle of London or Milan — and the rental car felt enormous on the narrow Welsh mountain roads. All the way up from the coast she was conscious of the rock wall on one side of her, the sheer drop to the valley floor on the other. Once she had met a bus, taking up the whole road as it negotiated a hairpin bend and once a sheep had jumped out in front of her, causing her heart to do its own leap against her chest wall.
She was tense enough without the hazards of an unfamiliar road. What am I doing here? It had seemed so simple when she landed at London airport and rented the car. He would be happy to see her and everything would be just fine. Now she wasn't so sure.
Clouds covered the peaks above, parting every now and then to give tantalizing glimpses of rocky cliffs, down which bright ribbons of water were cascading, and high green pastures dotted with white sheep. Through the open car window she could hear the sound of running water and the distant bleating of sheep. The air smelled green and fresh. It was a completely unfamiliar landscape to someone raised in a genteel London suburb and she looked about her with awe. What could possibly have made him want to come here?
Just when the road looked as if it were about to be swallowed into the clouds, a village came into sight. She slowed the car to a crawl and drove up the only street. It was a simple little place, two rows of whitewashed stone cottages, a couple of shops, a petrol pump, and a friendly looking white pub with a RED DRAGON sign swinging in the wind. She stopped the car and opened her map. Surely this couldn't be the right place. She read the signs on a row of shops. R. EVANS, DAIRY PRODUCTS, G. EVANS, CIGYDD, with the word Butcher in parentheses in tiny letters, and T. HARRIS, GENERAL STORE, and in small letters after that, SUBPOST OFFICE, LLANFAIR.
So this was the place. She knew that Llanfair was a common enough name, the same as St. Mary's was always cropping up in English villages. She had picked out a dozen or more Llanfair-somethings when she had checked the map of Wales. But only one Llanfair nestled close to the top of the pass beside Mount Snowdon. This had to be it.
The girl shook her head in disbelief. This wasn't his sort of place at all. She couldn't imagine him in one of these little cottages. He was definitely a five-star kind of person — Nice, Portofino, Beverly Hills — those were the kind of places she'd expect to find him. Maybe the newspaper had got it wrong. They often did, didn't they?
She drove on up the street, past the village school, now deserted for the summer holidays, and came to two chapels, facing each other squarely across the narrow road. They were almost mirror images of each other — squat gray stone buildings with the minimum of adornment and high, thin windows. The one on her left had a billboard outside its front door, announcing it to be CHAPEL BETHEL, REV. PARRY DAVIES. Its neighbor was CHAPEL BEULAH, REV. POWELL-JONES.
They must do a lot of praying here, the girl thought with amusement. The village scarcely looked big enough to fill one chapel. There were biblical texts pasted on the billboards. Chapel Bethel's text read: "To him that has, more will be given," while Chapel Beulah's proclaimed: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." This made her smile. She realized that smiling was something she hadn't done a lot of recently. Her face felt stiff and strange as it stretched into this unfamiliar shape.
The chapels were almost the last buildings in the village and she stopped the car again. There was only a plain stone cottage beside Chapel Bethel, but she now saw that a much larger house was set back in spacious grounds behind Chapel Beulah. It was black and white with gables and lots of Victorian gingerbread trim. The girl looked at it doubtfully then her gaze swept on, up the pass to where the road met the clouds. A large ornate building was perched on the hillside, a kind of overgrown Swiss chalet, complete with carved balconies and geraniums in window boxes. It was so completely unexpected, materializing from the clouds on an austere Welsh hillside, that she wondered for a moment if she was seeing things. A Walt Disney fantasyland came to mind. The tastefully lettered wooden sign beside the road said WELCOME. EVEREST INN. THE MOUNTAINEERS RETREAT. RESTAURANT, HEALTH CLUB. SPA ON PREMISES.
Its parking lot was full of luxury cars. Now this was more his kind of place, although he wouldn't have liked the phony chalet touch. But she had definitely understood that he was renting a house, not staying in a hotel. So it had to be the black-and-white Victorian behind the chapel.
She switched off the engine and got out, conscious of the silence. At least it wasn't exactly silent up there. She could hear the sigh of wind through grasses and the subtle murmur of a brook over stones. Sheep were still calling to each other somewhere up in the clouds, but there were no familiar noises: no rumble of traffic, tooting of horns, or blaring of sirens that punctuated life in the big city. She felt very far away from home.
Taking a deep breath and smoothing down her crumpled black skirt, she opened the gate and walked down the gravel driveway to the front door. It was opened by a tall, gaunt woman in an unbecoming pea green cardigan and tweed skirt. The woman ran her eyes over the European cut of her clothes and the alarming jet black bob that overpowered the pale elfin face and wide blue eyes. Dyed hair. The woman made a mental note and sniffed to show her disapproval.
"Yes? Can I help you?" The voice was polished with barely a trace of a Welsh lilt.
The girl stared at her in disbelief. "I'm — uh — not sure," she stammered. "I'm not sure if I've come to the right place." Her London-suburban flat vowels hadn't completely been eradicated by an expensive education.
The woman folded her arms across the pea green cardigan. "If you're looking for bed and breakfast, we do not take in trippers," she said, "and if you want to see my husband ..." she paused as she noticed a reaction in the girl's face, "I'm afraid he's very busy at the moment. He's working on next Sunday's sermon."
"Sermon?" The girl realized she was beginning to sound like a parrot.
"He takes his preaching very seriously," the woman went on. "He gives his sermons in Welsh and English, you know. Quite a feat of oratory, even though that Parry Davies person across the street thinks that he somehow owns the title of bard around here."
The girl continued to stare, mouth open and uncomprehending. It could have been Martian or Chinese coming out of the woman's mouth.
"I'm sorry," she said, starting to back away. "I must have made a mistake. I was looking for a friend, but he's obviously not here. Sorry to have disturbed you."
"I could go and see if my husband can spare you a minute," the woman said, relenting. "He wouldn't like me to send anyone away who came seeking his help. He takes his Christian duties very seriously."
"Your husband is the minister?" the girl asked.
"Of course he's the minister. Who did you think he was? The Reverend Powell-Jones. I am Mrs. Powell-Jones. Maybe I could help you? I am known around here for my tact and counseling skills ..."
Without warning the girl started to laugh. "The Reverend Powell-Jones? This is your house? I'm sorry. I really have made a mistake. I have to be going."
She fled down the laurel-lined front path, anxious to get back to the sanctuary of the car. As the girl put her hand on the gate a young man stepped out from between the bushes and barred her way.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
She tossed her head defiantly. "It's a free country. I can go where I want."
He grabbed her arm. "Don't be such a bloody fool, Christine. Can't you get it into your head — it's over. Finished. You are history, my sweet."
"Let go of me!" She tried to shake herself loose.
"Go back to London, Chrissy, please, before you make a complete idiot of yourself and someone winds up getting hurt."
"I said let go of me." Her voice had risen dangerously. "Leave me alone. I'm a big girl, Justin. I can take care of myself."
She pulled herself free from his grasp. "Bugger off, Justin!" She was yelling now. "I'm not just going to go home like a good little girl and forget it ever happened. You can't get rid of me that easily!"
She pushed past him, slammed her car door, gunned the engine, and drove off with tires screeching. The young man watched her go, then punched angrily at the Powell-Joneses' gatepost before cutting across their garden and disappearing through the hedge.
Mrs. Powell-Jones had been watching the whole thing from her sitting room window.
"Edward!" she called, her voice echoing through the house. "Edward! Something very strange is going on."
The Reverend Powell-Jones's head appeared around his study door. "What is it, my dear? I'm really very busy. I was just getting to the good part about eternal fires and sins of the flesh."
"Edward, this is important, or I should not have dreamed of interrupting your sermon writing. A young man has just gone through our hedge, and we've just had an extraordinary visit from a young woman. I got the impression that she wanted to see you, but then she changed her mind." She glared at him as only Mrs. Powell-Jones could glare. Boy Scouts and Sunday school students had been known to confess to any number of sins under the searing intensity of Mrs. Powell-Jones's stare. "Edward," she said with icy softness. "You don't have anything you want to tell me about, do you?"
"To tell you about, my dear? Of what nature?"
"The nature of your sermon, Edward. Sins of the flesh, I think you called it."
Edward Powell-Jones looked puzzled. "I don't think I follow you, my love."
"Then let me make myself clear. I was merely wondering why a young girl should be anxious to see you and ask me pointedly if I were your wife. I wondered exactly what might have gone on at that Christian youth conference you attended in Bangor last month."
"You are not suggesting ..." Edward Powell-Jones broke into horrified laughter ... "that I, of all people ..."
"It happens, Edward, even to the best of men. The beast lurks, even in the bosom of saints, and you are still an attractive man."
Edward, who was fiftyish, grayish, frailish, and had never been what young girls would describe as sexy, flushed with embarrassment. "I do assure you, my dear, that there has only been one woman in my life — will only be one woman in my life."
"Then what did she want?" Mrs. Powell-Jones demanded in exasperation.
"I have no idea."
"And a very angry young man, walking across our lawn, as if he owned the place."
Edward Powell-Jones's expression changed as if a new and troubling thought had just entered his head. His wife, who never missed a thing, didn't miss this either. "What is it?" she demanded. "You do know something."
"It just occurred to me that this might have something to do with that estate agent from Caernarfon."
"What estate agent?"
"The one who's been pestering me to let the house for the summer."
"Who's been what?"
"I'm sure I must have told you. He called several times this week, while you were at your mother's house."
"No, Edward, you did not tell me." Mrs. Powell-Jones's voice was icily calm.
"Didn't I? I meant to ..." Edward Powell-Jones was distinctly flustered now. Icy calmness from his wife was worse than raging storms. "My memory, it's really letting me down these days, but I suppose I dismissed the matter as being of no consequence ..."
"Exactly what did this estate agent person want from you, Edward?"
"He said he had a client who was very anxious to rent this house for the summer."
Edward Powell-Jones shrugged. "The client apparently wanted a large house with privacy in the vicinity of Llanfair and this was the only one that came to mind. I gather he was willing to pay a substantial sum for it."
"The nerve of the fellow," Mrs. Powell-Jones exclaimed.
"Exactly my thoughts, my dear. Showing up uninvited and fully expecting that we were going to comply just because he was waving money in our faces. I soon set him straight. I am the minister of the most important chapel in Llanfair, my good man, I told him. My flock needs me and I have no intention of going anywhere. Furthermore I told him that money was of no importance to us."
"On the other hand, Edward ..." Mrs. Powell-Jones said thoughtfully, "maybe we should not dismiss the matter out of hand. You could have been overhasty."
"How so, my dear?"
"This might just be the answer to my prayers."
"Your prayers? You were praying to let the house?"
Mrs. Powell-Jones sighed at his stupidity. "About Mummy, Edward. I've been praying about Mummy." She perched herself on the arm of the faded print sofa. "You remember that the doctor told Mummy that she needs her hip replaced. She's been putting it off and putting it off and now the poor old dear can barely hobble around. I didn't offer to go and nurse her because my place is with you and the flock. How could I leave you to cope alone in this big house? Now, don't you see, a solution has presented itself. Mummy could get her hip replaced and I could take care of her."
"And what about me? There's no room for me at your mother's and anyway, I'm not closing up my chapel for the summer and letting Parry Davies get his hands on my congregation."
"Of course not, dear. We'll find somewhere in the village for you to board. Several villagers take in visitors don't they? I'll find somewhere suitable for you, don't worry." She looked around the room with satisfaction. "This couldn't have come at a better time. It is definitely a gift from heaven. And think of what we could do with the money ..."
Edward's face lit up. "The organ has needed working on for some time. It's very distressing when the pedals stick during 'Cwm Rhondda.'"
"Organ be blowed. We need a new three-piece suite for this room." Mrs. Powell-Jones's voice rose alarmingly. She rose and pointed at the threadbare arm on which she had been perched. "Look at it, Edward. I've been ashamed for some time when we have had to hold chapel meetings here with the coils almost sticking through the cushions. And I am all too aware that the Parry Davies have that Naugahyde monstrosity, which, while only imitation leather and quite unsuitable for a pastor's home, is almost new."
"We could look into a new three-piece suite, I suppose," Edward Powell-Jones said with a resigned sigh. "If you really think that is the best use of the money."
"I do, Edward. I really do. Now get on the phone and call that estate agent. Tell him we've changed our minds and we can be out of here by the end of the week."
The young girl slowed the car to a crawl as she came to a crossroad at the top of the pass. One way led down to Beddgelert and the coast, the other to Betws-y-Coed. She stopped, undecided which way to turn. Tears were welling up, blurring her vision. She had no idea what to do now.
Constable Evan Evans came out of the Llanfair subpolice station and stood breathing in the good fresh air. He could smell the salt tang from the ocean today. He glanced up at the racing clouds. He hoped this didn't mean a storm coming in just in time for the weekend. He was really looking forward to his day with Bronwen.
His friendship with the young schoolteacher had been deepening and the village was already speculating, although they had only been on a handful of dates together. Evan was keeping any thoughts of wedding bells firmly out of his own mind.
They had a long mountain hike planned for the next day — if the weather held. It wasn't the sort of terrain you'd want to tackle in the rain, boggy in places and high enough to be mostly in cloud. If the wind kept blowing briskly like this it might clear out all these threatening clouds by then.
Excerpted from "Evanly Choirs"
Copyright © 1999 Rhys Bowen.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The local men's chorus is hoping to win the upcoming cultural festival thanks to a world famous tenor who has returned to his hometown. However, he's a jerk who manages to get murdered. This third book oozes the charming characters and fun mystery of the first two in the series.