As the townsfolk of the Welsh valley town of Llanelen settle in for the snowiest winter in twenty-five years, an American stranger arrives. Harry Saunders charms the ladies, one of them in particular: Evelyn Lloyd, the town's former postmistress, who was left comfortably off after the death of her husband. After Mrs. Lloyd invests a good deal of money with him, Harry goes missing, as does her money. His body is soon discovered outside the walls of Conwy Castle, and Mrs. Lloyd is implicated in the murder.
Although Penny Brannigan and her business partner, Victoria Hopkirk, are busy overseeing the grand opening of their new spa, that doesn't stop Mrs. Lloyd from desperately seeking Penny's help to prove her innocence. It's quite possible that Harry made other enemies while in Llanelen and Penny's investigation unfolds while she juggles her work at the spa, her growing relationship with Detective Inspector Davies, and the Christmas window competition that she signed up to judge.
With A Killer's Christmas in Wales, Elizabeth J. Duncan delivers a delightful holiday-themed mystery.
About the Author
Elizabeth J. Duncan is the first Canadian writer to win the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition for The Cold Light of Mourning. She has been a finalist for the Agatha and Arthur Ellis Awards. She enjoys spending time each year in North Wales and lives in Toronto with her dog, Dolly. She teaches in the public relations programs at Humber College.
Read an Excerpt
On a dark gloomy morning in early November, Penny Brannigan placed her spoon in her empty cereal bowl, finished her cup of coffee, looked up from the newspaper spread out on the table before her and, taking off her reading glasses, gazed about the small kitchen with both pleasure and anxiety. Work on the charming period cottage that was now her home was almost finished, and while she was pleased with the results, the spa was turning out to be a different story.
Not for the first time, she wondered what she had let herself in for. Just a few short months ago her life had been relatively uncomplicated and uneventful. She’d owned a small manicure shop in a picturesque North Wales market town where people went quietly about their business, she belonged to an artists sketching group, and she enjoyed rambling about the beautiful countryside painting watercolours and selling them in local galleries. She was reasonably content with the way her life was turning out and the universe had been unfolding as it should.
But recently, following the death of retired schoolteacher Emma Teasdale, Penny had inherited a cozy cottage that was now undergoing a complete makeover while she and her friend and business partner, Victoria Hopkirk, were converting a derelict stone building beside the River Conwy into an up-market spa. And bearing silent witness to the enduring accuracy of Murphy’s Law, that if something can go wrong it will, the spa renovations had gone wildly wrong when workmen discovered skeletal remains in the ductwork. Remains both human and animal that so far, despite the best forensic efforts of the North Wales Police Service, remained unidentified, although it had been determined that the bones were those of a female with an estimated age of twenty-five to forty and that the animal skeleton was that of a cat.
There had been the kinds of setbacks and complications that come with any major building project and some, like human remains in the ductwork, that no one could have anticipated. But beyond the inconvenience of the decades-old bones, their discovery raised troubling questions that had awakened her in the middle of the night more than once.
Who had this woman been in life? What had she looked like? How had she died? What had gone so terribly, tragically wrong that someone, for some reason, had removed grille work, stuffed the remains of a woman and a cat bundled in a tatty old duvet into the ductwork, and replaced the grille, leaving the remains to decompose in their dark, secret place for decades?
While the police had been dusting off old missing persons records and reviewing computer databases, Penny had gone through back issues of the local newspaper to see if she could turn up anything. She scanned microfiche copies going back years, searching for a story of a local woman gone missing. Although she had found nothing, she knew that the answer was out there somewhere. It always is. Someone knows, she thought. Someone always knows. The police had told her that the DNA results were expected soon and she hoped that encoded within them would be the information to reveal the identity of this poor woman. If not, she wondered if the police would go to the trouble and expense of having a forensic sculptor create a facial reconstruction based on the woman’s skull to attempt to reveal what she might have looked like at the time of her death.
Enough of this, she told herself firmly, bringing her thoughts back to the morning about to unfold. Victoria will be wondering where I’ve got to. Best get on. She pushed her chair back, gathered up the newspaper for the recycling, and set her cup and bowl in the sink. As she opened the back door to get a sense of the weather, as she did every morning, a draught of damp, frosty air rushed past her. Her eyes swept over the walled garden, taking in the pile of brittle, withered leaves that had been blown into the corners, and then turned upward, toward a sky the colour of a bruised plum. It’ll be tipping down rain, and a cold rain at that, before the morning’s over, she thought. Swirls of mist wreathed the trees and shrouded the ancient hills that overlooked the town, cloaking them in mysterious foreboding. She closed and locked the door and, crossing her arms over her chest, headed upstairs in search of a warm sweater to wear under her raincoat. She’d need both.
A trim, smart-looking woman in her early fifties, Penny had arrived in the town of Llanelen many years earlier as a recent university arts graduate looking for a place to stay for a night or two. Days turned into weeks and still she stayed, reluctant to leave but not knowing quite what was binding her to the town. Temporary accommodation became permanent as she began to acquire the necessary things of daily living, small and few at first, then larger and more of them, those items that add comfort, familiarity, and civility to one’s life, like books and art supplies and clothes for a new season. And one day, she realized that while she had been making friends, starting and growing her manicure business, drawing and painting, twenty years had slipped away. She rarely thought of her native Canada and the few family members she had left behind. Her life was here now.
As she was looping a scarf around her neck, her mobile rang. She checked the number, then smiled.
Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Davies of the North Wales Police. Another recent addition to her life and, without question, the most welcome complication of all.
She listened for a moment.
“So there’s no match. That’s disappointing.” The DNA results were in on the skeletal remains found in the spa ductwork, he’d told her, but unfortunately they did not match anything on file.
“We have to find out who she was and how she came to be there,” Penny told him. “You will keep looking, won’t you?”
Davies reassured her, and after they said their goodbyes, Penny hung up and looked at her watch.
There’s so much still to be done, she told herself as she opened the front door, reaching in her pocket for her gloves. And what with Christmas still to sort out and the spa to get up and running, there’s no time to dwell on anything else, even an unidentified body.
And today, being Thursday, she’d have to make sure everything in the shop was ready for her most demanding client.
She checked to make sure she had her house key, pulled the door behind her, and set off for her salon.
Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
good read, follows the other two from the same author, but reads as a stand alone as well.
198 pages very enjoyable will read more
This is an absolutely delightful Christmas “cozy,” bursting with all of the motifs I crave when the weather is cold and the days are short—“holly bushes in the hedgerows, bursting with red bright berries displayed against their backdrop of glossy, pointed leaves,” glittering Christmas trees, even a production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The book takes place in a somewhat exotic locale—in this case a small town in North Wales, complete with thatched cottages, tearooms, and old-fashioned shops decorated for the season. The weather is bitter, with plenty of “icy pellets of sleet,” snow, and frost to send shivers up readers’ spines. In contrast, the living rooms are warmly lit with candles and gas fireplaces. Penny Branningan, the amateur sleuth in her fifties, is the engaging, believable owner of the Happy Hands manicure salon. I’d love to meet her the next time I get my nails done. I’d definitely join her Stretch and Sketch Club and scramble over the Welsh hills to find stunning landscapes to paint. The book deftly probes the relationships among various denizens of Llanelen and, of course, the tumult that ensues when an American (!) man suddenly enters their lives. Several of the women are involved in romantic entanglements with men, but the strongest and most interesting relationships seem to be friendships between women, which is refreshing! The perfect Christmas dinner (I can’t get myself to say “lunch”) of roasted turkey, Brussels sprouts, and roasted potatoes is interrupted by the shocking news that someone has acted on his or her darkest impulse. Sigh…no rest for the local constabulary. Perhaps what I like best is being able to experience the ordinary details of everyday life, the cups of tea, the buttered scones, the cobbled stones of the town square, the warm sweater to wear under the raincoat, the linoleum on the kitchen floor, all of the minutiae that make it possible to believe in the murder and mayhem!
This third book in the series did not disappoint. The characters are likeable and interesting and the mystery keeps you interested. I am really enjoying this series and I recommend it if you like a nice cozy and a good mystery.
As Christmas nears, the worst snow in a quarter of a century compounded by ice makes life difficult in Llanelen, Wales. Although there have been delays and not just because of the weather, business partners Penny Brannigan and Victoria Hopkirk continue with preparations for the grand opening of their new upscale spa overlooking the River Conwy. American dance instructor Harry Saunders arrives in Llanelen and charms Widow Evelyn Lloyd while teaching ballroom dancing at the community center. However, though he appears to be a nice fellow, many residents suspect the outsider is taking Evelyn to the cleaners. They prove right when he persuades her to give him money in a sure shot investment. As soon as she gives him the loot, he vanishes. However, Saunders fails to get very far as his murdered corpse is found near Conwy Castle with a horde of people of interest since the Stretch and Sketch Club and other locals had the opportunity, but the weapon belongs to the fleeced widow. Knowing she is the prime suspect as she had the motive, the opportunity and the means, Evelyn pleads with Penny, who has solved murders before (see The Cold Light of Mourning and A Brush with Death), to prove her innocence. The third Welsh Brannigan cozy is a delightful whodunit as it takes a village to convolute a murder investigation. The Canadian expatriate protagonist makes the story line entertaining as she remains a somewhat accepted outsider busy with the spa opening, but works an amateur sleuth investigation as well. Harriet Klausner