Evans Above is the first novel in Rhys Bowen's popular Constable Evans Mystery Series, featuring "appealing characters and intriguing plots" (Booklist).
Evan Evans is a young police constable who has traded in the violence of city life for idyllic Llanfair, a Welsh village tucked far away from trouble. Nestled among the Snowdonia mountain range, Llanfair looks to Constable Evans like a town forgotten by time, but he quickly learns that even the bucolic countryside has its share of eccentric--and deadly--characters. Evans' new neighbors include two competitive ministers vying for the souls of their flock, one lascivious barmaid, and three other Evanses: Evan-the-Meat, Evans-the-Milk, and Evans-the-Post (whose favorite hobby is to read the mail before he delivers it).
Before Evans has time to sort through the complicated relationships and rivalries of his new home, he's called to the scene of a crime as brutal and fearsome as any he encountered in the big city. Two hikers have been murdered on the trails of the local mountain, and Evans must hunt down a vicious killer--who may or may not be linked to the mysterious destruction of Mrs. Powell-Jones' prize-winning tomatoes.
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The sound of singing rose up from the little village of Llanfair, nestled high on the pass between the great peaks of Glyder Fawr and Yr Wyddfa. On the green slopes above, sheep looked up, momentarily startled by the burst of sound, then went back to their grazing, their wool tinged pink by the setting sun.
Guide me, oh Thou great Jehova Pilgrim in this barren land ...
The words of that favorite old Welsh hymn, Cwm Rhonda, resounded around Chapel Bethel as only Welsh voices can sing it. If Chapel Bethel had rafters instead of polystyrene tiles, the hymn would have definitely have made them ring.
Only one person was not joining in lustily. A tall young man with the broad shoulders of a rugby forward and a fresh, likeable face, was only mouthing the words.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty Feed me with Thy willing hand.
Evan Evans was a constable with the North Wales police force, currently assigned to the village of Llanfair. He could feel the familiar flush rising at the back of his neck and spreading over his fair-skinned Celtic face. He knew it was stupid to be troubled by something that had happened so many years ago, but he couldn't help it. Every time they sang that particular hymn in chapel he was back in the assembly hall at Llanelli Road County Primary School, standing in the front row of top class boys and hearing the giggles behind him as two hundred young voices sang the chorus.
Bread of 'eaven Bread of 'eaven Feed me till I want no more ...
Sang the worshippers in Chapel Bethel now. P.C. Evans could almost feel the digs in his back and hear the giggles and whispered comments: "What kind of bread have you got for us today then, Evan boy? Crusty, is it?"
He had only just arrived at the Llanelli Road school, a skinny, undersized kid of ten, fresh from the mountains of North Wales and no match for the tough dockland boys at his new school. Every time they sang that hymn Evan Evans cursed his parents for giving him such a stupid name. Now he was a grown man, liked and respected, and pretty handy with his fists too when needed, but that hymn still had the power to make him feel uncomfortable.
He could almost hear the taunts now. He was sure of it. Someone was whispering behind him. Any second now, someone was going to dig him in the back and whisper, "What kind of bread then, Evan bach?"
At last the desire to turn around proved too strong. He glanced back and saw two men standing by the side entrance. One of them was old Charlie Hopkins, the usher, and he was pointing directly at Evan. The other man looked familiar, but Even couldn't place him right away. He was middle-aged but fit-looking. His face was tanned but his age was betrayed by hair graying at the sides and combed across to hide a bald spot. He was dressed in a large polo-necked Nordic sweater and cords. As Evan stared at him in surprise, Charlie Hopkins beckoned furiously for him to come over.
Evan glanced around then tiptoed toward the door. Charlie Hopkins grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear, "They've been and gone and done it again, Constable Evans."
Evan stepped out into the summer twilight. Here, between tall peaks, the sun set early. "Done what?" he asked, looking for help to the stranger who stood beside Mr. Hopkins.
"One of they climbers, that's what," Mr. Hopkins said. "Got himself stuck on Yr Wyddfa again." He called the mountain that the English knew as Snowdon by its Welsh name, even though he addressed Evan in English because of the stranger.
"Not again!" Evan said, raising his eyes in despair. "How many weeks has it been since we had a Sunday without a rescue call, eh, Charlie? What's happened this time?" He looked inquiringly at the stranger, trying to place him.
"This is Constable Evans, major," Charlie said. "He leads our little rescue squad. He's quite an expert climber."
"Really?" The man couldn't have sounded less impressed.
"You know Major Anderson, don't you, Evan boy?" Charlie said. "He's the manager at the Everest Inn up the valley. You know the place I'm talking about, don't you?"
Evan gave the major a friendly grin. "It would be hard not to know it, wouldn't it? Takes up half the valley, doesn't it?" Privately he thought it was one of the ugliest buildings he had ever seen. He had never understood the reasoning behind building a Swiss chalet in the middle of Wales. It had opened only the season before, just after Evan himself had arrived in Llanfair, and its guests had kept the village mountain rescue team busy ever since.
But Evan kept his thoughts to himself. He thrust out a big hand. "How do, Major Anderson. Yes, we have met before. Got a climber in trouble again, have you, major? Why don't you teach those climbers of yours how to climb before you let them loose on the mountains?" He had meant it as a good-natured tease, but he saw the smile fade from the major's face.
"Rather worrying, what?" Major Anderson said in a throaty, upper-class English voice. "These chappies always say they know how to climb. Set off with all the right equipment and they always underestimate our Welsh mountains. Think they're not like the Alps or Himalayas, eh, what?" Evan managed to keep the annoyance from his face. He remembered his last encounter with the major clearly now. He'd been called in to investigate the theft of a diamond and the major had been obnoxiously patronizing, calling him "My dear chappy" and implying that a mere village constable wasn't up to the job. Like most people in Wales, Evan didn't have much time for people who went around giving themselves airs and calling themselves major when they weren't in the army any more ... or who referred to the mountains as "our Welsh mountains" when he probably hadn't a drop of Welsh blood in him.
Evan gave the major a congenial smile. "Funny, isn't it? There must be a lot of people who can't tell our mountains from the Alps. The people who built your inn, for example. It's a wonder they don't have you wearing short leather trousers and showing your knees."
"Ah, quite. Yes. Ha-ha. Most amusing," the major said.
Evan remembered with some satisfaction that the major had called again, later that same night, to say that the guest had found her missing diamond, hidden in the toe of her fuzzy slippers, where she had put it for safekeeping. He hadn't apologized.
Evan put on his most efficient manner as he turned to the major. "So you've had a message that one of your climbers is in trouble?" Evan asked. "Got himself stuck on Crib Goch, has he?"
"No message," Major Anderson said. "Just hasn't come back down, that's all. Set off after breakfast this morning and nobody's seen him since."
Evan looked up at the dark outline of the Snowdon range, silhouetted against a silver sky dotted with pink clouds. Wisps of cloud clung in the gullies like sheep wool caught on a fence.
"It's not even dark yet," he said. "Give him time. He was probably enjoying the sunset. Beautiful day, wasn't it? I was up there myself, earlier today. Did you know there's a red kite's nest with babies in it? That's good news, isn't it? Haven't seen one of them for years."
"Er, quite." Major Anderson cut him off. "But to get back to the point, constable. I wouldn't have come to you if I wasn't concerned."
"He was definitely planning to come back to you tonight, was he then?" "Oh yes, definitely," Major Anderson said. "He told the staff he'd be in for dinner."
"And you think he was planning to go climbing, not just walking?"
Major Anderson sucked his teeth as he thought. "I couldn't actually say," he admitted. "He asked for the easiest way up Snowdon and said he was meeting a friend up there. But he was wearing pretty decent boots and he did have a pack. So maybe he was planning to do some climbing with his friend, once he was up there."
"There you are then," Evan said. "He met the friend and they decided to go down another way together. Probably went down on the railway to Llanberis. Like as not they're having a drink there now and the friend will run him back here later in his car."
"But he said he'd dine here," Major Anderson said patiently, as if Evan was a slow two-year-old. "And he knows that dinner is at seven o'clock sharp. He'd need time to change, wouldn't he? We have a very strict dress code in the dining room."
"Maybe he's changed his mind," Evan suggested. "People are allowed to change their minds, you know." He turned to wink at Charlie. "It's not the army, is it?" A spasm of a frown crossed the major's face. "Obviously you don't share
my concern, constable. I have my hotel to think of. People stranded on the mountain are bad publicity for us. Rescues always seem to make the TV news, don't they? If he's stuck up there, I want him brought down right away."
"Hold on a minute," Evan said, putting a calming hand on the major's shoulder. "If the gentleman was going up the Pig Track or the Miners' Track, straight to the top of Snowdon, he'd have been on a well-travelled route. If he'd hurt himself, or got himself into trouble, we'd have heard about it. There's nowhere on that route that he could have got himself stuck, is there? Like a bloody great motorway, isn't it? And just as well travelled."
He found himself thinking back to his early childhood spent among these mountains and to the happy days with his grandfather up in the high country. In those days it seemed that it was just the two of them, alone on the roof of the world, sometimes in the clouds, sometimes above them, with eagles soaring below their feet.
But now it was hard to find a place of solitude, even for someone like Evan who knew these mountains like the back of his hand. Most frequently he'd be settled and sunk into contemplation when laughter and loud voices on the path below would announce the arrival of another group of tourists. They'd stagger up the path, often clad in the most unsuitable clothes — shorts and T-shirts — no foul weather gear in case the cloud came in, sandals or city shoes, videotaping as they went. It was all a big lark to them. They had no idea that a storm could roll in and blow them off the path with gale force winds, or that the cloud could come down and blot out the way back, that one step off the path could lead to destruction, and that a night on the mountains could finish them off.
"Give him until morning, major," he said, drawing his mind back to the present problem. "I can't have my lads missing their chapel over every climber who comes back late, can I? Likely as not you'll have heard from him by morning. I'd wager your boy shows up late for dinner, or gives you a ring from Llanberis. And if he is stranded up there for the night ... well, it's not going to be too cold, is it and he could always make for the kiosk and shelter there. It might teach him a lesson about taking our Welsh mountains more seriously."
He smiled at the major. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to chapel. I don't want to miss the reverend Parry Davies' sermon. Heard about him, have you? He's a famous orator. Goes to the eisteddfods every year and wins prizes, and gives powerful good sermons — all hellfire and damnation. You can almost smell the brimstone. The Reverend Powell-Jones has had to have double glazing put on his windows."
His gaze drifted across the street to the other chapel, Beulah, where the Reverend Powell-Jones was conducting his own evening worship. He made up for his lack of Parry Davies' power of oratory by giving his sermons in Welsh and then in English. Since this took well over an hour, his congregation was considerably smaller than Bethel's — mainly old women who had grown up as Welsh speakers and ardent nationalists. Still, it was hard to compete against Bethel's added advantage: A footpath behind it that led to the back door of the Red Dragon.
Even though all the pubs in Wales were now officially allowed to open on Sundays, Llanfair was one of those pockets of religious righteousness where Sunday drinking was still outwardly frowned upon, and the front door of the pub remained firmly shut to strangers. The back door, however, was open to admit regular customers, which was why most of the men of Llanfair attended evening services at Chapel Bethel.
"Do I understand that you're refusing to do anything to help?" the major blustered. "I'm going to have a word with your superiors about this."
"When I get word that someone's in trouble, then I'll be all too willing to help, major," Evan said. "So will all the lads in the village. But we're all volunteers, you know. We can't go wandering all over the mountains looking for someone who might not even be up there by now. It's going to be dark soon and I can't risk losing one of my lads over a cliff, can I? Look, why don't you call me in the morning if he hasn't shown up. But right now God and Mr. Parry Davies are calling, if you don't mind."
The major strode off, muttering, "Oh, this is absurd. Completely useless. Village idiots, the lot of them ..."
Charlie Hopkins turned back to Evan with an apologetic shrug. "You don't suppose we should have gone, do you, Evan bach? That's the type who likes to make trouble. Got friends in high places."
Evan scowled at the major's disappearing back. "If he had friends in the right sort of high places," he said pointing up at the silhouette of the mountain, "then they could bloody well look for his missing climber themselves and leave us in peace."
Charlie Hopkins chuckled and reluctantly Evan laughed, too. "I'm sorry, Charlie, but that man gets my goat. Barkin' orders as if he was still in the army. We're only volunteers, after all. Nobody pays us to go traipsing over mountains, ruining our good shoes and missing our chapel."
Mr. Hopkins dug Evan in the side. "Don't let me keep you then, constable," he said. "You'll be wanting to get back for the rest of the sermon, I don't doubt."
He winked at Evan.
"After you, Mr. Hopkins," Evan said, giving him a little shove in the direction of the chapel door. "You're the usher. You have to be there to collect the hymn books, don't you?"
Mr. Hopkins looked at the chapel door and then let his gaze wander further down the street to where the Red Dragon pub sign was swinging in the evening breeze. "They all know where the hymn books go," he said. "And it sounds like the Reverend Parry Davies is cutting it short tonight. He must be as thirsty as we are. No sense in going back in there just for one last hymn, is there? Might as well get our orders in first next door." He nudged Evan again. "Give you a chance to be alone in the pub for a while with you know who."
His lean body shook with silent laughter.
Evan sighed. Ever since he had come here a year ago, the entire valley had tried its best to play matchmaker. Betsy, the barmaid in the Red Dragon, had made no secret of the fact that she fancied Evan.
"Get away with you now, Charlie," Evan said, flushing with embarrassment. "Betsy's a nice girl and all that but not exactly my type, you know."
"You could do worse, Evan boy." Charlie chuckled. "I hear she's ready, willing, and very able."
"That's the trouble, Charlie," Evan said with a grin. "She's too ready and too willing. If I so much as say hello to her, she takes it as encouragement. She's always on about taking her dancing in Caernarfon."
"And what's wrong with that?" Charlie asked.
Evan shook her head. "You've never seen me dance," he said. "They tell me I look like a dying octopus. Besides, I'm not ready to get involved with anybody yet. Only just got here, haven't I?"
He had his back to the street and hadn't heard anyone coming, so he jumped when a soft voice said, "Good evening, Constable Evans. Not in chapel tonight, I see?"
Evan spun around to see a slim young woman smiling at him. She was dressed in khaki pants and a linen shirt. A dark green sweater was draped around her neck and brought out the green in her eyes. Her hair hung down her back in one lustrous braid. As always Evan felt tongue-tied in her presence.
"Good evening, Bronwen Price," Evan stammered. "I see you're not in chapel yourself either."
Bronwen took in Evan's jacket and tie. He must have been intending to go to chapel anyway, she thought. He wasn't the kind of person who wore a jacket when he didn't have to. Usually he was the old-jeans-and-sweater type. Out of uniform he looked quite handsome, she thought. She liked the way his dark hair flopped down boyishly across his forehead when he wasn't wearing his policeman's cap.
"I've just got back from an all-day hike," she said. "Did you know that a red kite is nesting up there now? Isn't that wonderful news?"
"Up above Llyn Llydaw? I saw it myself," Evan said, his face lighting up.
"You did?" Bronwen looked surprised. "When were you up there?"
Excerpted from "Evans Above"
Copyright © 1997 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.
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Welcome to Llanfair -- a tiny Welsh village with lots of local color...and a hint of crime.