Murder by Syllabub

Murder by Syllabub

by Kathleen Delaney


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A ghost in Colonial dress has been wreaking havoc at an old plantation house in Virginia. The house is owned by Elizabeth Smithwood, the best friend of Ellen McKenzie's Aunt Mary. Mary is determined to fly to the rescue, and Ellen has no choice but to leave her real estate business and new husband to accompany her. Who else will keep the old girl out of trouble? When Ellen and Aunt Mary arrive, they find that Elizabeth's "house" comprises three sprawling buildings containing all manner of secret entrances and passages, not to mention slave cabins. But who owns what and who owned whom? After Monty-the so-called ghost and stepson of Elizabeth's dead husband-turns up dead in Elizabeth's house, suspicion falls on her. Especially when the cause of death is a poisoned glass of syllabub taken from a batch of the sweet, creamy after-dinner drink sitting in Elizabeth's refrigerator. Monty had enemies to spare. Why was he roaming the old house? What was he searching for? To find the truth, Ellen and her Aunt Mary will have to do much more than rummage through stacks of old crates; they will have to expose two hundred years of grudges and vendettas. The spirits they disturb are far deadlier than the one who brought them to Virginia. Murder by Syllabub is the fifth book of the Ellen McKenzie Mystery series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603819572
Publisher: Epicenter Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/01/2013
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt


I was running late. Wednesday morning was our weekly real estate office meeting and attendance was required. And we were expected to be on time. So, of course, it was this morning my alarm decided not to function.

I stood at the sink, swallowing coffee and stuffing papers into my briefcase. My devoted husband Dan Dunham, chief of police of our little Central California town of Santa Louisa, sat at the kitchen table calmly spooning cornflakes into his mouth, watching me.

"I like that dress. It's the same one you wore the day you came back to town, isn't it?"

I nodded, put my cup in the sink and smiled. "You remembered."

Dan smiled back. The smile I loved so well was framed by a neatly trimmed salt and pepper mustache, and his blue eyes were sparkling. "I'm a policeman. I'm trained to notice things."

Maybe so, but the way he looked at me had nothing to do with police work. It was the reason I was drinking coffee with no cream or sugar — one of them, anyway. I counted calories for both of us. Once you left forty behind, pounds seemed to accumulate overnight. I wanted Dan to keep looking at me just as he was doing now. I wanted to enjoy my view of him as well. Which wasn't hard. Tall, light brown hair dusted with just enough gray to make him look distinguished, short, straight nose and a mouth made for smiling; he was a sight to make any woman smile back. Especially in his navy blue boxers.

I thought, briefly, of the difference between him and my not in the least lamented ex-husband, Dr. Brian McKenzie. Brian would never have remembered a dress I wore unless he had been complimented on his wife's good taste. Then he would have assured the compliment giver that he'd picked it out, implying I didn't have much taste. His idea of a compliment was to tell me the gray in my dark brown hair didn't show. Much. Or that the pants I thought fell so nicely over my still size ten hips bunched a bit around the waist and had I thought about going on a diet. I'd wondered, more than once, what he said to his many little "friends."

I snapped my briefcase shut, put my cup in the sink and, car keys in hand, started for the door.

"Oh, Susannah called," Dan said, maddeningly calm.

I skidded to a stop. "Is she all right?"

Susannah, my daughter from my first marriage, had decided to follow me up north and was now going to college only a couple of hours from our small town. I was, of course, delighted. I was even more delighted when she and Dan became good friends, but I worried. She was a grown woman — I knew that — but somehow, to me, she was still the little girl who had needed a lot of mothering. That she'd matured into a beautiful and self-sufficient woman was hard to accept. However, I felt blessed by her easy acceptance of her, and my, new life. Her father, who despised small towns and sneered at those who lived in them, seemed surprised she would choose to live in such a backwater instead of Newport Beach, in the huge house he still kept there, but if he was disappointed he got over it quickly. Or perhaps he didn't want her around when he brought home those little "friends."

Life here suited me fine. I'd grown up in this town with Dan next door. After high school we'd gone different directions — me to UCLA, where I met Brian, and Dan up north, where he became a policeman. Now we were both back, living in the house where I grew up and loving it. Susannah seemed equally happy with the arrangement, coming home frequently. I would have loved to think it was because she missed me but my washing machine and her boyfriend, Neil Bennington, were probably the main attractions. I didn't care what her reasons were, as long as she kept coming back.

"Is she visiting this weekend?"

"No. Midterm exams are starting and she won't be back up for a couple of weeks," Dan said. He put down his spoon and grinned. "Oh, I almost forgot. Could you put some money in her account? Seems she needs supplies." The grin got broader.

"I'll call her after my meeting," I said. Before I could exit, the door opened and my Aunt Mary burst in. She is one of my mother's four sisters, and the only one still residing in Santa Louisa. I'd practically lived at her house growing up and since I moved back to Santa Louisa, we'd grown even closer. She is a ball of energy for a woman in her seventies even if she is growing rounder every year thanks to her love of cooking.

"You'll never believe what happened," she said, breathless and holding onto the kitchen island for support.

I was too surprised to answer. I couldn't help but notice that Aunt Mary's white hair stuck out in little tufts as if she'd just climbed out of bed. Maybe she had. Those had to be pajama bottoms that hung below the cuffs of her sweatpants and the collar that curled crookedly over the top of her lipstick-red sweatshirt was surely her PJ top. Her feet were encased in lamb's wool lined moccasins and she wasn't wearing socks. My aunt Mary came up with some pretty bizarre outfits sometimes, but she'd never appeared with uncombed hair and in her nightclothes before. At least, I didn't think she had.

Dan also dropped his newspaper and stared, but he managed to recover more quickly than I did. Probably his police training. "What's happened? Is anyone hurt?"

"Not yet." She walked over to the hutch, took down a coffee mug and proceeded to fill it, leaving Dan and me to stare at each other. She pointed at the coffeemaker. "You'll need to make another pot, Ellen," she said.

She carried her mug over to the table, pulled out a chair and sank into it. "I'm going to Virginia."

Briefcase and office meeting forgotten, I carried my cup over to the table and took my regular seat, opposite Dan. "Say what?" Aunt Mary never went anywhere.

"My friend, Elizabeth Smithwood, is in some kind of trouble and I'm going to Virginia to help her."

Dan blinked then almost smiled. "In your pajamas?"

"Of course not. Whatever gave you — oh." She glanced at the cuff of her pajama top, which had slipped out from under her sweatshirt arm, but ignored it. "Elizabeth is going to send me an airplane ticket and wants my email address. I don't have one, but you do, don't you?"

Of course she didn't have an email address. She didn't have a computer. "Yes. We both do. But before I give it to you, will you please tell me what's going on?"

She poured cream into her coffee then ladled in sugar, taking her time as she stirred. It looked as if she was trying to figure out how to frame what she was about to tell us. "You remember my friend, Elizabeth, don't you? My old college roommate?"

Dan shook his head.

I did. I'd never actually met Elizabeth but had grown up on stories about her. Elizabeth, the activist. She'd gone on to get her PhD after she and Aunt Mary graduated. Aunt Mary came home to teach Home Economics in our local middle school and marry my uncle Samuel, a pillar of the community and president of Rotary Club. Elizabeth had gotten a job teaching history in a small college in Wisconsin and spent her summers saving old-growth redwoods, painting baby seals green so they couldn't be slaughtered for their pelts and registering voters in the south during the civil rights movement. Aunt Mary and Uncle Samuel had bailed her out of jail for that one. She'd lived with William Smithwood, a mathematics professor at the same college, for years without benefit of holy matrimony. Until last Christmas. They'd been married only a couple of weeks when he died, leaving her an old plantation in Virginia. What kind of trouble could she have gotten herself into now? I was pretty sure I was about to find out.

"Elizabeth says strange things have been happening at Smithwood ever since William died and now she thinks she has a ghost. He appears in Colonial dress, and last night he tried to kill her."

Dan's coffee cup hit the saucer but my eyes were glued on Aunt Mary.

Had I heard correctly? "Say again? A ghost? A colonial ghost? Where? What happened to make her think he-it tried to kill her?"

"He pushed a crate over and it just missed her."

"A crate. What crate? How could a ghost push a crate?"

I gave Dan my most disdainful look. There was no ghost. I had no idea what Elizabeth saw, but it wasn't a ghost. "Where was she when this happened?"

"I'm not sure. She wasn't very clear. She sounded scared, though. She said she needs someone she can trust and who has a clear head. So, I'm going."

I looked at the determined set of her chin and the steel in her eyes and knew there was no arguing. I turned toward Dan and raised my eyebrows.

He sighed. "Mary, I don't know what's going on out there, but it doesn't sound good. As a matter of fact, it sounds bizarre. Exactly what does Elizabeth want you to do? Capture a prowler? That's most likely who it is. Why doesn't she call the police? They're a whole lot better equipped to handle something like this than two ladies in their seventies."

"I don't know. I only know she's scared and that's not one bit like Elizabeth. I couldn't go help her when William died, but I can go now, and I will. Now, can I have that email address?"

Aunt Mary had missed William's funeral because she was helping with Dan's and my wedding. We're both on our second marriages. His ended because his wife and two-year-old son were killed by a drunk driver, and mine, because my ex wanted different things from life, and at some point I had stopped being one of them. Dan and I saw eye to eye, and it was wonderful to be appreciated again. Guilt sat on my shoulders. I had no reason to heed it. After all, it wasn't my fault William had died right before my wedding day, but I knew that made her doubly determined to help Elizabeth now.

What should I do? Go with her, of course.

"You're not going out there alone."

She gave me a scornful look. "I don't need a babysitter, you know. I can take care of myself just fine."

"You never go anywhere. Suddenly you want to fly from California to Virginia all by yourself, changing planes I don't know how many times, so you can help your friend chase a ghost, who's probably a common burglar, out of her house? The whole thing is idiotic, but if you're determined, well, I'll go too."

"You'll do no such thing. You have a real estate business to run, a husband and a daughter to take care of and a cat to feed. You can't come."

I opened my mouth to say something, but Dan got there first. "Mary, Susannah is at the university studying for finals. At least, we hope she's studying. I managed to eat just fine before Ellen and I got married and the cat doesn't care who opens the cat food as long as it gets in his dish. As for the real estate, let's ask Ellen." He looked at me expectantly.

"I took care of Donna's business last summer while they went to Hawaii. She owes me. Besides, we won't be gone too long. I don't know what your friend saw, but it shouldn't take long to straighten it all out. You two can have a nice visit while I —" the look on her face said I'd better change pronouns and fast — "we work it all out. We'll be back here before you know it."

She gave a loud "humph," but I thought there was a little relief in her eyes.

"I'll email Elizabeth right now and we'll see what travel arrangements she had in mind."

"Better call the airlines yourself." Dan picked up his paper then put it right back down. "I'm not sure I like this. Maybe I'd better come along. It's not a good time, though. I'm hosting the California Sheriffs' conference next week. I could get Kent Walker from Sonoma County to sit in."

"No," Aunt Mary and I said in unison.

"I'm sure this will prove to be nothing, and you've been planning this conference for months." I smiled.

Aunt Mary didn't look so sure. "Elizabeth doesn't panic, but I can't imagine a ghost prowling around her hallways, and I've never heard of one tipping over crates. Ellen's right. It's bound to be someone playing a silly prank. We'll get it all cleared up in no time."

"Hmmm. All right, but if this turns out to be anything serious, I'll be on the next plane."

I got up, took the slip of paper she handed me with Elizabeth's email address and headed for the computer. "Let's see what she has in mind."

"She wants me to come Saturday."

"Saturday?" I wheeled around to stare at her.

"Saturday!" Dan almost spat out the word. "What's the damn rush?"

"She doesn't want to be there alone if the ghost comes back."

I thought Dan was going to fall out of his chair. "This is the most ridiculous ... Ellen, you tell her to call her local police right now."

"I'm not sure I can get everything arranged by Saturday." I might as well have been talking to a wall.

Aunt Mary got up and headed for the coffeepot. "Do you think it's too soon to start packing?"


The airport was small, even smaller than San Luis Obispo's, and filled with people, almost all in uniform. They seemed cheerful enough as they crowded around the luggage carousel. More cheerful than I felt. We'd caught the first flight out of San Luis Obispo, waited in L.A. an hour for our next flight to Philadelphia and almost missed our connection to Newport News. A light flashed and the conveyor belt started to move. Luggage came out of a chute and fell onto the moving belt. My eyes were glued on it. We'd made our connection. I wasn't sure our luggage had.

Aunt Mary paid no attention. She kept looking around the terminal. "Elizabeth's not here." She tugged at the hem of her cranberry wool jacket, trying to pull it down farther over her best — actually her only — pair of gray pants. She'd bought that jacket at St. Mark's fall rummage sale, definitely one of her better buys. She'd called me up after the event, riddled with guilt because as the organizer, she felt she shouldn't buy anything until the very end, after all the best items were gone. But the jacket was to her liking, her size and only two dollars. Did I think she should put it back for the next rummage sale? No. So, she kept it and it looked nice.

"What if something happened and Elizabeth doesn't come? What will we do?"

Never forgive her. I wasn't about to say that aloud. "You have her cell number. We'll call if she doesn't appear soon. Is that your suitcase?"

Her suitcase came sliding down the chute, much to my relief. I'd advised her to tie a ribbon to the handle so she could find it easily. She had followed my suggestion, choosing a bright blue plaid ribbon. Before I could get there, she leaned forward and grabbed it, heaving it up and stepping backward. I could only watch as her heel landed on someone's foot.

"Oh. I'm so sorry." She turned to look into the face of the silent man who had sat beside her from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

"No problem." He winced a little and stared down at the toe of his once immaculate black loafer. "That your bag?"

She nodded. He took hold of it and set it upright, facing away from him. "You might want to get a cart."

She looked over at me, a little lost. "It has those little wheels."

He nodded and looked toward me as well. "Yes. Are you with someone or is someone meeting you?"

Was he afraid he'd get stuck with the old girl? I started toward her but my own case slid down the ramp and I hurried forward to grab it. I turned just in time to catch her reply.

"My friend, Elizabeth Smithwood. I don't see her, but I'm sure she'll be here soon." She took another look around the terminal, which was emptying rapidly.

"Smithwood?" For a moment his expression lost its neutrality, but not long enough to be read. What had I seen, surprise, annoyance? Impatience, definitely.

"Yes. Do you know her?"

The man's eyes darted around the terminal then settled back on Aunt Mary. "I hope you enjoy your stay," he said. Suitcase trailing behind him, he headed for the terminal door, paused and headed for a side door. A sign above it proclaimed, "Rental Cars."

"Friendly sort." I parked my suitcase next to hers and gave the place a once-over. I was beginning to feel concerned. The terminal was almost empty. The fading light said it was getting late and so did my growling stomach. What would we do if Elizabeth didn't show up?

A tall, angular-looking woman rushed into the building, clutching a straw hat onto her head. A long gray braid hung down her back and a full denim skirt swirled around her legs, which were covered with bright red stockings. Her face had a sculptured look — high cheekbones, straight, strong nose, large gray eyes that seemed to take in the whole room, and a very determined chin. Elizabeth.

She came toward Aunt Mary at a gallop. "Mary."

Aunt Mary beamed. "We made it." She gave Elizabeth a hug then held her at arm's length. "You look great."


Excerpted from "Murder by Syllabub"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Kathie Deviny.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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.

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Murder by Syllabub 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
dibbylodd More than 1 year ago
The idea of poisoning someone with syllabub caught my attention. This is a well researched story, steeped in colonial history. It takes place in the present day, but most of it is set in Colonial Williamsburg or a similarly historically old home. The attention to details is excellent. I particularly enjoyed the fact that a key to the solution was an historical fact mentioned at dinner. Well done.
ruthhill74 More than 1 year ago
I have to say that I struggled a little with what rating to give this book. Don't get me wrong--the book is well-written, basically clean, and quite clever. I appreciated the blending of history and mystery since both are preferred genres for my taste. I never found myself bored, and the characters were strongly developed. And I certainly didn't figure out the mystery. In fact, it was an incredibly complex mystery that still left me somewhat guessing towards the end. This is the first book I have read by this author, and she certainly writes a mystery novel that reminds us of the old mystery authors. I would easily compare her to Agatha Christie or the like. My only misgiving in advocating this book is that it was so complex. I sometimes struggled to keep the characters straight (a cast list may help this matter), and I was still a bit nonplussed at the end of the story. There is no sex, and the profanity is very minimal (I was so happy about that--it clinched the 5-star rating for me!).  If you are looking for a cozy mystery that offers a bit of history and a robust story, this book is certainly for you! I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
JoyAnneTN More than 1 year ago
Ever heard of murder by syllabub? I hadn't either until reading this book. Syllabub is an after dinner drink from back in Colonial days. This drink was allegedly prepared (and poisoned) by Ellen McKenzie who has accompanied her aunt Mary to help out her old friend Elizabeth living in VA. Elizabeth has seen a ghost and needs the help of amateur detective Ellen.   The characters are wonderful, Aunt Mary is delightfully quirky, the storyline is fun and I could go on and on. This is a fun read filled with interesting historical facts and a ...... dead ghost!  I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
Different aspects of a book of fiction appeal to readers in varying degrees and a local setting is one that can really get me. When I found out that this entry in the Ellen McKenzie series—of which I was already a fan—is set in Colonial Williamsburg, I was immediately hooked. That lovely spot is right down the road from me, maybe an hour if I take the scenic route down Route 5 and I’ve been there many times. I’m a history junkie to start with and I feel privileged to live in a state where so much of the beginnings of our country took place. The early plantations (many of which can be seen on the aforementioned Route 5) also appeal to me and, serendipitously, my daughter and I took a day trip just this past Saturday to tour one of them and drive around the grounds of several others. At one time or another in my lifetime, I’ve visited most of them but I never get tired of them so I was delighted to find that a fictional plantation is a central character in Murder by Syllabub. The author does a terrific job of letting the reader “feel” this plantation, Smithwood, and I had no trouble picturing in my mind where everything was happening. I really enjoyed all the authentic historical touches the author includes, such as how baking was done “back then”, as well as contemporary activities like the preservation of rare breeds. Murder by Syllabub is a mixture of several mystery subgenres. It teeters on the edge of being a locked room mystery, it mixes police procedural with amateur sleuthing, it includes shades of historical fiction, it has a cold case as well as a current murder. There’s a strong hint of racial tension but also racial acceptance. Many would categorize this book, and the rest of the series, as cozy but I don’t really think that fits. For one thing, there is the blending of amateur and police, but I also think the settings take them out of the cozy domain, especially this one because Ellen is not finding bodies in her own small town, there isn’t a lot of humor (although there are light touches) and she doesn’t run around doing stupid things. (Don’t get me wrong, I love cozies but I just don’t think this is one.) So, I call this a traditional mystery. Ms. Delaney has incorporated lots of characters in her story and we get to know just enough about the non-regulars to realize that any one of them MIGHT be the killer. I already am fond of Ellen, Dan and Aunt Mary but now I like some of these new folks and I hope Ellen will have a chance to see them again sometime in a future book. We also have a plethora of potential motives so it’s fair to say that red herrings are scattered around to make the reader have to do a bit of thinking, something I always appreciate. Does Cora Lee seem to be a little too defensive? Does Lt. McMann have a reason for dropping the search for Louis all those years ago? Is the shadow of slavery someone’s motive or could it be the desire to own property? Is a family name sacred enough to warrant murder or is this all about simple greed? When things came to a head, I have to admit I was surprised. I had my suspicions but they were only partially right and, yet, the denouement made perfect sense. Once again, Ms. Delaney and Ellen have brought mystery readers a fine story. Oh, and you should try some syllabub ;-) . Here’s a recipe from Ms. Delaney’s website— Now, a little housekeeping: I did come across one historical error but I didn’t notice anything else being off. However, while other reviews of Murder by Syllabub have been really good, I have to take exception with the reviewers that think the historical period is the Civil War (Colonial Williamsburg is all about the period from the late 1600′s through much of the Revolutionary War) and I’ll point out that Colonial Williamsburg and Virginia are not in New England although that error is probably due to the reviewer’s own location. No doubt I take umbrage at these things because it’s my home state that’s involved ;-) but none of this takes away from the fact that reviewers, including me, are loving this book. One last note: there is no reason to be afraid of starting the series with this book as you will have no need to know what has happened in previous books. This is a terrific part of the series but serves just as well as a standalone.
Ginas-Library More than 1 year ago
I received this book for a fair and honest review. The opinions in this review are 100% my own. This is the type of book that grabs your attention from the very first page. There is no lag in the story, there is always some kind of action going on. The murder of Monty is a classic "who done it". Monty did not lack enemies that's for sure. His murder ends up with more questions than answers. The women of the Smithwood house are complicated women. While they are trying to figure out who the murder is, they are pretty tight lipped about how they are feeling about things.  The women are different in personality but all come together to make sure Elizabeth is not falsely accused. This book will keep you keep you on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next right to the very end. Although this book is part of a series, this book can be read as a stand alone. This is the only book I read in the series so I can only assume they are all like that. I give this book a 5 out of 5.
VicG More than 1 year ago
Kathleen Delaney in her new book, “Murder by Syllabub” Book Five in the  Ellen McKenzie Mystery series published by Camel Press gives us another mystery with  Ellen McKenzie. From the back cover:   A ghost in Colonial dress has been wreaking havoc at an old plantation house in Virginia. The house is owned by Elizabeth Smithwood, the best friend of Ellen McKenzie’s Aunt Mary. Mary is determined to fly to the rescue, and Ellen has no choice but to leave her real estate business and new husband to accompany her. Who else will keep the old girl out of trouble? When Ellen and Aunt Mary arrive, they find that Elizabeth’s “house” comprises three sprawling buildings containing all manner of secret entrances and passages, not to mention slave cabins. But who owns what and who owned whom? After Monty—the so-called ghost and stepson of Elizabeth’s dead husband—turns up dead in Elizabeth’s house, suspicion falls on her. Especially when the cause of death is a poisoned glass of syllabub taken from a batch of the sweet, creamy after-dinner drink sitting in Elizabeth’s refrigerator. Monty had enemies to spare. Why was he roaming the old house? What was he searching for? To find the truth, Ellen and her Aunt Mary will have to do much more than rummage through stacks of old crates; they will have to expose two hundred years of grudges and vendettas. The spirits they disturb are far deadlier than the one who brought them to Virginia. Murder by Syllabub is the fifth book of the Ellen McKenzie Mystery series. Any story that has a Civil War era plantation in Virginia and a poisoned dessert drink sounds like a winner.  And Kathleen Delaney has batted in a home run.  Jessica Fletcher from the “Murder, She Wrote” Television series, as good as she was, was never as good as Ellen McKenzie is.  Ellen is up against 100 years of Southern history as she weeds through the motives the various individuals have for the murder and there are plenty of suspects and there is also the cooking.  ”Murder by Syllabub” is a wonderful thriller as the tension mounts as Ellen is trying to identify the killer.  ”Murder by Syllabub” is loaded with twists and turns and red herrings that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next.  Ms. Delaney has provided us with a great character in Ellen McKenzie and I am going to go and get the previous four books to hold me over until the next book in this series comes out. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Partners In Crime.   I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”