Kat Stanford is just days away from starting her dream antique business with her newly widowed mother Iris when she gets a huge shock. Iris has recklessly purchased a dilapidated carriage house at Honeychurch Hall, an isolated country estate complete with eccentric lords and ladies and butlers and cooks.
When a secret from the past comes back to haunt Iris, Kat realizes she hardly knows her mother at all. And when the bodies start piling up, it is up to Kat to unravel the tangled truth behind the murders at Honeychurch Hall.
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Murder at Honeychurch Hall
By Hannah Dennison
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Hannah Dennison
All rights reserved.
"Mum!" I exclaimed. "Thank God you've called. I've been so worried."
"I hope you're not driving, Kat," chided my mother on the other end of the line.
"I am driving," I said as my VW Golf crawled through the heavy stream of London traffic along the Old Brompton Road. "And don't change the subject."
"If you're not wearing a headset, you'll get a ticket —"
"Which is why I am pulling over," I said. "Do not hang up. Let me stop somewhere."
Mum gave a heavy sigh. "Quickly then. This call is expensive."
I turned into Bolton Place, a quiet residential street divided by two graceful crescents that encircled communal gardens. Spotting a space outside the church of St. Mary's, I parked and switched off the engine.
"Where did you get to last night?" I demanded. "I was about to call out the cavalry."
"You sound tense," said my mother, deliberately avoiding the question. "Is everything alright with Dylan?"
"You know very well my boyfriend is called David," I said, annoyed that she always knew how to hit a nerve. "God, it's boiling." I wound down the window, taking in the heat of a hot August day and the smell of freshly mown grass.
"You're too old to have a boyfriend —"
"Man friend then. And I'm not tense," I said. "I was concerned when you didn't come to my leaving party last night. Did you have another migraine?"
"No. I was in denial," said Mum flatly. "I was hoping you weren't going to go through with giving up Fakes & Treasures."
"I want my life back, Mum. Have you any idea what it's like to be constantly in the public eye?"
"Such a pity," she went on. "I loved seeing you on the telly. You always looked so nice. Are you sure you're not making a mistake?"
"You sound just like David —"
"Oh dear," said Mum. "In that case, I'm delighted and I'm sorry I didn't come."
Ignoring the barb, I said, "Good, because I'm delighted that we're going into business together. Speaking of which, I thought we could look at some properties this weekend."
"That may not be possible —"
"And I must show you what I bought at Bonhams saleroom this morning," I said. "Two boxes of Victorian toys and vintage teddy bears that I got at a bargain price — our first stock items. I can't wait to show them to you."
There was a long pause.
"Did you hear what I said, Mother?"
Another even longer pause and then, "I've broken my right hand," she said bluntly.
"Oh Mum," I cried. "Are you okay?"
"I am now."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I'm telling you now."
"How bad is it?" I said. "Can you cook? Dress yourself?"
"With one hand?"
"Well, you do have the other one."
"I'll drive over straight away," I said.
"What about Dylan? Won't he mind?"
"David is away this weekend."
"Your father wouldn't like me gadding off without him," said Mum. "Did you know that we never once spent a night apart in all our fifty years of marriage?"
"Yes I did know and it was forty-nine years, not fifty," I pointed out. "And if you are going to be unkind about David, I won't come."
"When did you say his divorce from that Trudy woman is final? I keep forgetting."
"It's complicated," I muttered.
"Have you watched Trudy's new television show?" Mum said, hitting another nerve. "Very amusing — Walk of Shame! Celebrity Family Secrets Revealed."
"Mum ... I'm warning you. I do not want to talk about Trudy Wynne," I said. "Do you want me to come or not?"
"Yes, yes," said Mum wearily. "I do have a little project that needs finishing. Some typing."
"I didn't know you could type."
"Of course I can type," said Mum with scorn. "I use Daddy's Olivetti."
"That's a collector's item. I'm surprised you can still buy the ribbon," I said. "I'll stop by my place to pick up a few things and should be with you in under an hour."
"I doubt it," said Mum. "I've moved — now, don't get all cross and silly."
"Moved? Where? When?" I cried. "What about our business plans?"
"I've changed my mind. What do you need me for anyway?"
"The whole idea was that you'd help me run Kat's Collectibles," I said, exasperated. "We'd find you a lovely flat above a shop —"
"Whilst you moved in with David," said Mum. "You know your father would never have approved of you living in sin."
"It's the twenty-first century, Mother," I said. "And anyway, Dad wanted me to look after you. He didn't want you to be lonely."
"I'm not lonely."
"When did you make this momentous decision?"
"Let me see, about a month ago."
"A month? But ..." I was beginning to feel light-headed. "We speak every day. Sometimes two or three times a day." Then I remembered that recently Mum was always the one ringing me. "I thought I didn't recognize the phone number. Where are you calling from?"
"You have a mobile? Seriously?" I said. "And when did you put the house up for sale?"
"All these questions," said Mum. "That nice man who runs the dry cleaners made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
"Mr. Winkleigh?" I gasped. "Dad would never have sold to Mr. Winkleigh. He couldn't stand him."
"Well, your father's not here so he won't find out, will he?"
I tried to absorb yet another piece of disturbing information. Even the thought of shopping for groceries would guarantee to bring on one of my mother's "turns" and yet somehow, she'd managed to move house. "You can't have done it all by yourself."
"I'm not an invalid, you know," said Mum.
This was rich coming from someone who spent all my school holidays with a migraine lying down in a dark room.
"And besides," she added. "Alfred helped."
"And Alfred is whom? Your Spanish boyfriend?" Nothing would surprise me at this point.
"Alfred is hardly a Spanish name, dear. A Spanish name would be Juan or perhaps Pablo," said Mum mildly. "Alfred is my brother."
I swear I stopped breathing. "I didn't know you had a brother."
"Well, I do," said Mum. "As a matter of fact I had two — though Billy's dead and gone. Aneurism on Blackpool Pier. He died young. So very sad."
"So I must have cousins. I'd love to have cousins."
"You wouldn't like them."
"I would like them." I could feel my temper rising as I remembered envying my friends' big families, especially at Christmas. I hated being an only child. "Did Dad know you had brothers?"
"Of course he knew. He just didn't like them so we didn't see them," said Mum. "Does it matter?"
"Actually, it does matter," I said. "I always thought you and Dad were orphans."
"Really? I wonder why?"
"Because that's what you told me," I shouted.
"Well, never mind all that," said Mum briskly. "You'd better get cracking if you want to be here in time for tea."
"Wait a moment," I said. "What did you do with all my things?"
"Oxfam," Mum declared. "And before you throw another wobbly don't worry — I put all your furry friends in a suitcase. I have it right here —"
"And my dressing-up box?" I said, recalling the iron trunk full of dozens of beautifully handmade costumes. Mum had always been very nifty with the needle. "I want my children to have those."
"You'd better get a move on in that department or it will be too late."
"Thanks for reminding me, Mum," I said.
"I was just joking."
But I knew she wasn't.
"Do you have a pencil?" Mum went on. "I'd better give you the address."
"Wait," I said. "I need something to write on." I pulled the sale catalogue out of my tote bag and found a pen. "Ready."
"The Carriage House, Honeychurch Hall Estate —"
"Honeychurch?" I snorted. "How very Winnie-the-Pooh."
"Don't snort. It's so unattractive," said Mum. "Honeychurch is all one word." There was a long pause. "Little Dipperton."
"Little what?" I said.
"Dipperton, like the Big Dipper only little. With t-o-n on the end."
"Where the hell is Little Dipperton?"
"Devon?" I sputtered.
"Near Dartmouth. Very pretty little fishing port. You'll love it. I'll take you there for a cream tea."
"Devon!" I said again. "That's over two hundred miles away."
"Yes, I am aware of that. I just moved here."
"But you don't even like the countryside."
"Your father didn't but I do," said my mother cheerfully. "I love the countryside. I've always hated city life. Now I wake up to the sound of the birds, the smell of fresh air —"
"But ... Devon." I felt dizzy at yet another revelation. "What about Dad's ashes? I thought we agreed we'd put him in Tooting Crematorium? You'll never be able to visit him."
"I changed my mind about Tooting Crematorium. He suffered from claustrophobia, you know."
"Mum, he's in an orange Tupperware container right now," I exclaimed. "What's the difference?"
"It's too final."
I tried a different tack. "What about all your friends?"
"Your father worked for HM Revenue & Customs," said Mum. "We didn't have friends."
"You don't even drive."
"I've always been able to drive. I just liked your father driving me." Mum chuckled. "In fact, I've just bought myself a nice MINI Cooper in Chili Red."
"How can you afford a new car? A house — and a grand house by the sound of things — in the country?" Alarm bells began to ring in my head. "How did you hear about this carriage house in the first place?"
"I have contacts."
"But you must have viewed it? How? When?"
"I don't have to answer any more questions from you," Mum said. "I can do what I like."
Another ghastly thought occurred to me. "You've spent all of Dad's money, haven't you?" There was an ominous silence on the other end of the phone. "He said you would."
"Katherine, there's something I need to tell you —"
"You have spent it!" I exclaimed. "You only call me Katherine when you're about to give me bad news."
"Does the name Krystalle Storm mean anything to you?"
Thrown for a moment, I said, "No. Why? Who's she when she's at home?"
"Critics say she'll be even bigger than Barbara Cartland."
"The romance writer. Barbara Cartland."
"What's that got to do with Dad's money?"
"Her books are everywhere. Over half a million sold worldwide," Mum enthused. "I'm surprised —"
"You know I don't read that kind of rubbish, Mum. What did Dad call it? 'Penny Dreadfuls for pathetic old ladies,'" I said. "And don't try to change the subject again."
"Fine," Mum snapped. "You know what, I don't think I need your help after all. I can manage on my own."
"Now you're throwing a wobbly. I'm happy to come. In fact, I quite fancy a cream tea."
"No," said Mum coldly. "I don't want you here. I already have someone who is longing to lend me his hand. He's very kind. Very kind indeed." And before I could utter another word, my mother hung up.
I was deeply perplexed. It was clear that Mum's grief had made her rash and impulsive. What had possessed her to move so far away from London? The fact that she'd managed to get into my father's carefully protected pension fund was extremely worrying. My mother was notoriously hopeless with money. It was a family joke. Dad and I had gone to great lengths to make sure that she'd just receive a monthly income so she couldn't spend it all at once. I felt I'd let him down and he'd only been gone four months.
There was nothing else for it. I'd have to drive to Little Dipperton, wherever that might be, and make her see sense.CHAPTER 2
I made a quick stop at my garden flat near Putney Bridge to throw a few things into a suitcase including brochures of some properties I was determined to show Mum. I also decided to take the two boxes of vintage teddy bears and Victorian toys that I'd purchased that morning.
"Ready Jazzbo Jenkins?" I said to my lucky mascot, a six-inch-tall Merrythought "Jerry" toy mouse from the 1940s that I kept on my car dashboard. It had been given to mum as a child, and she had given it to me. "Let's go and sort out my mother."
It was a gloriously sunny day in August and — according to the temperature gauge inside my car — a stifling eighty-five degrees. Everything in England always seemed ill equipped to deal with heat waves and my car was no exception. The cold-air fan just sucked in the hot air from outside. Even with all the windows open, sweat trickled down my back. It was going to be a long, sticky drive.
Traffic was heavy as holidaymakers headed for the West Country for the official last week of the school summer holidays. I trailed behind lines of slow-moving caravans and the occasional sight of a car pulled onto the hard shoulder with an overheated engine.
Along the roadside I saw a sign STRAWBERRIES HALF A MILE. Tears unexpectedly stung my eyes as I recalled family outings when I'd beg Dad to stop for strawberries but we never did because I always spilled food, drink — or anything really — on my clothes. I slowed down to look at the table filled with punnets of strawberries under a large umbrella and decided to pull over.
Feeling rather guilty, I bought two — one for Mum and one for me to eat right this second. I devoured mine in five minutes flat. The strawberries were sweet, plump, and delicious and unfortunately, the juice dripped onto my white capris. Dad had been right.
By the time I'd driven past Stonehenge on the A303, the sun had vanished and the sky was heavy with dark storm clouds rolling across Salisbury Plain. With a loud crash of thunder, rain started to come down like stair rods. Traffic slowed to a crawl and ceased altogether. Then, just as quickly as it had fallen, the rain stopped and an exquisite rainbow straddled the distant hills.
I pulled into a petrol service station to pick up some flowers and a bottle of Blue Nun for Mum.
Queuing at the register I noticed Gypsy Temptress by the author Mum had mentioned — Krystalle Storm — on a revolving stand of paperbacks. Against the backdrop of a church, a scantily clad gypsy girl with raven hair and masses of bracelets leaned against a vast oak tree trunk looking seductive in her low-cut dress. I picked up a copy and read the back cover. "He was a man of the cloth. She — an outcast from her kin. Can love ..."
"It's good," said a young woman in her late twenties. "It's the first in the Star-Crossed Lovers Series — oh! Excuse me. Are you Kat Stanford from Fakes & Treasures?"
I smiled politely. "Yes."
"I love that show!" she said. "It's your hair."
Unfortunately television personalities are pigeonholed with certain character traits — Gordon Ramsay and his famous temper; bra-less Charlie Dimmock from the TV show Ground Force; and me, nicknamed Rapunzel because of my mane of hair.
"Thanks," I said. "Maybe I will buy this for my mother."
"Be careful," she said with a chuckle and pointed to a warning at the bottom of the cover. "See there? It's categorized as a 'sizzler.' Racy stuff."
"I'm not sure if my mother could handle sizzling," I said and put it back. Then, on impulse I grabbed it, after all. It would be a peace offering of sorts. Maybe I'd even give it a try.
My spirits lifted as I barreled down the M5. Wiltshire turned into Somerset and then — at last — I flew past a road sign featuring a jaunty tall-ship logo announcing WELCOME TO DEVON and the sun came out again.
The countryside was breathtakingly diverse. There were vast expanses of lush rolling fields dotted with sheep and cattle, rushing streams bounded by thick woods or ancient low stone dry walls, gullies, and crags lined with the rich red earth that Devon was famous for. And, amongst all this beauty was another kind — silhouetted on the horizon, stood the dark, sinister tors of Dartmoor with its shifting mists and treacherous bogs.
With a last look at the detailed directions I'd carefully jotted down courtesy of Google Maps, I turned off the dual carriageway and onto a quiet two-lane road flanked by thick pine forests on one side and a low stone wall fronting a bubbling river on the other. Dartmouth was signposted twelve miles and from there, Little Dipperton just two miles farther.
I checked my watch. It was almost four. I'd made excellent time and was feeling thoroughly pleased with myself.
Two hours later I was hopelessly lost and incredibly frustrated.
It would appear that Google Maps had no knowledge of the myriad of tiny, interconnecting, twisting lanes that spread across Devon — 90 percent of which had no signposts at all or if they did, ended in impassable tracks. Picking up a mobile phone signal was erratic, too, and when I finally got one and rang my mother, she didn't answer.
By six o'clock all my good humor had completely evaporated. At last a church spire appeared in the distance so I headed for that.
Excerpted from Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison. Copyright © 2014 Hannah Dennison. 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
This is my kind of cozy mystery, if you love M.C. Beaton or Agatha Christie, you will love this story of a dysfunctional relationship between a mother and daughter, an equally dysfunctional aristocratic family and a host of eccentric supporting characters. There's a murder to solve and a host of other goings on that keep you wondering what is going to happen next. I thought the book was humorous, intriguing, and full of surprises. I also liked that the author gave a wonderful description of a small town in England; cannot wait to read the next installment in the series. I won the hardback copy of this novel from the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen blog and the opinions about the book are my own.
I loved this book and cannot wait to read the second book. The characters were an odd group of people, at first you would hate someone and then you would love them. A quote on the back of the book from Marcia Talley states "Downtown Abbey meets Midsomer Murders." I think there may be a touch of Monty Python in the book also. Kat Stanford goes to Little Dipperton (love the name) to help her mother out and show her properties for the new antique business she and her mother are to go into together. Only mum has a different idea, she has bought the carriage house at Honeychurch hill. From this point on the conflict between Kat and her mother go back and forth. Then there is the family in the manor house, the servants, as well as the farmer who owns the land next door. There is a murder and the local police detective comes to investigate. The book keeps you thoroughly entertained as you try with Kat to solve the murder. The twist at the end was great and not at all what I expected. I like not being able to outguess the author.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison is the first novel of her new Honeychurch Hall series. We begin this story with Kat Stanford discovering her mum had moved, without telling her, just days before they were to open antique business. Her mum, Iris Stanford, moved from London to Devon to live in the carriage house at Honeychurch Hall. Kat drops everything to drive out to Honeychurch Hall. Honeychurch Hall is full of surprises. Behind the crumbling buildings the family and staff who live there are a bunch of eccentrics who all have their share of skeletons in their closets. It also happens that Iris spent summers at Honeychurch Hall when she was younger. First the nanny goes missing. Then the housekeeper ends up dead, found in the grotto. Everyone is under suspicion as to who the killer might be. Kat and Iris are determined to clear their names and try to discover who the culprit might just be. This was a fun and entertaining story with likeable characters that you want to know more about. The characters were well written and complex. The story line was riveting and kept my attention to the very end. I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend this book to other mystery readers. I received an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall I am a huge fan of mysteries. They are so much fun to read, and a great way to exercise those "little gray cells." Whenever I find one that peaks my interest, I grab it up. This book was one of those. The first thing that caught my eye about this book, after the title, was the cover. The author really took great care when she had this created - the detail is incredible. There's a small dog, a brick path surrounded by gardens and, in the background, you see Honeychurch Hall. (It wasn't until I was actually reading the descriptions of the house in the book that I noticed the boarded windows and scaffolding.) The cover really got my attention and made me very curious about the mystery that would come in the pages. This was an enjoyable read. The characters were a lot of fun to get to know, especially Kat and her mom, Iris. The people that lived on the property and in the home were really interesting as well - and well written. I felt like I knew them all when I was done with the book. There were several little mysteries going on as well as the big murder, which made reading the book even more fun. The secrets everyone were keeping from each other, plus the twists and turns of the mysteries, kept me on my toes - and made it very hard to put the book down. I ended up reading the second half of the book all in one night, staying up until well after 2am wanting - no, needing - to finish and find out what happened. The end - I had little ideas about some of it, but the actual conclusion - let's just say that Ms. Dennison really had me stumped. This is the first of a series and I can't wait to be able to read book two. My favorite character was the young boy, Harry. He was handsome - the kind of kid I would love to hang out with myself - and I really liked the bond that him and Kat had and how quickly they took a liking to each other. My least favorite character was Kat's boyfriend, but I don't honestly think I was supposed to like him. The author did a great job writing this character. The mother and daughter team were great - and in some ways reminded me of my relationships with my mother - but sometimes the way they treated each other really got on my nerves. They did grow, however, as the story went along and that helped me like them more. Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
A new book by Hannah Dennison, author of the Vicky Hill series, this is the first book by Ms. Dennison that I have read, and I do plan on reading more. The news that Kat heard from her mother was not what she expected. Learning that mom has a broken arm prompts Kat to take pity on her and rush to her side. After Kat's father’s death Mom has decided to live one of her dreams and moves into a dilapidated carriage house on the grounds of Honeychurch Hall estate. Kat has come to the end of her job as a hostess on Fakes and Treasures, a local television show. Kat and her mom have decided to open a small antique shop and call it Kat’s collectibles. But all of a sudden mom decides that this is not what she really wants to do. What occurs is definitely worth reading. Seems as if mom is more out of control than ever, poor Kat trying to make sense out of all the secrets that mom has been keeping. What has happened to all the money dad had left? And who is this brother that has never been on the scene? Those and several other secrets will be answered in this fun book.
An enjoyable cozy mystery!
Absolutely could not get into this book. I rarely leave a book unfinished but half was the best I could do on this one.
This is a quirky series with delightful characters. Murder and mayhem rear their ugly heads in this well told story by Hannah Dennison. These books will grow on you. Each one I read makes me laugh. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison is the perfect English cozy mystery. It has it all - a manor home, a small village in the countryside, quirky residents - both above and below stairs, horses, scandal, family heirlooms, and of course.....murder! I really enjoyed this book, and my trip to the town of Little Dipperton, and am looking forward to returning in the next in the series, Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall, which I will enjoy with a lovely pot of tea and some scones. The author does a wonderful job of describing life in a small English village, and kept me guessing until the end. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a nice, cozy mystery to read! :-)
Kat Stanford is just days away from starting her dream antique business with her newly widowed mother Iris when she gets a huge shock. Iris has recklessly purchased a dilapidated carriage house at Honeychurch Hall, an isolated country estate located several hundred miles from London. Yet it seems that Iris isn’t the only one with surprises at Honeychurch Hall. Behind the crumbling façade, the inhabitants of the stately mansion are a lively group of eccentrics to be sure—both upstairs and downstairs —and they all have more than their fair share of skeletons in the closet. When the nanny goes missing, and Vera, the loyal housekeeper ends up dead in the grotto, suspicions abound. Throw in a feisty, octogenarian countess, a precocious seven year old who is obsessed with the famous fighter pilot called Biggles, and a treasure trove of antiques, and there is more than one motive for murder. As Iris’s past comes back to haunt her, Kat realizes she hardly knows her mother at all. A when the bodies start piling up, it is up to Kat to unravel the tangled truth behind the murders at Honeychurch Hall. Dollycas’s Thoughts I knew before I finished the first chapter I was going to love this story. Iris is a very independent woman especially now that her husband has passed away. She also has a couple of secrets. Her relationship with her daughter Kat reminded me so much of my relationship with my own very independent mother. All are stubborn women and hate having anyone tell them what to do. The dialogue between Iris and Kat was spot on and at time absolutely hilarious. Kat has come to Honeychurch Hall to help her mother but to also find out why she left London and where this leaves their plans to go into business together. Kat has left her job on the telly for a few reasons but she thought she was leaving to follow her dream of opening an antique shop. Her mother can’t seriously want to live in this broken down carriage house surrounded by a bunch a crazy people. The nanny has already left, the child has quite the imagination, he pretends he is Biggles, is a fictional pilot and adventurer, and spends his days chasing down missing pilots and hiding from the enemy. The matriarch of Honeychurch Hall may be in the early stages of dementia or is she just trying to pull one on her family. Her son has his own ideas on what to do with Honeychurch Hall. The maid had a heck of a shoe obsession and she is the one Kat finds dead in the garden tunnel. There is so much happening in this story. We meet some very extraordinary characters and they are all twisted into an incredible mystery. This story was a pure joy to read. I hated to see it end. I can’t wait for the next one. Write fast please Hannah!!!
If you loved Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys as a child you may love this otherwise its not that good....