Lesley Cookman's bestselling series featuring amateur sleuth Libby Sarjeant is back for its fourteenth instalment.
A member of a local ukulele group is found dead in Steeple Martin's churchyard. Libby's first reaction is relief that the victim isn't anyone she knows. She and the usual suspects are gearing up for a Christmas concert and pantomime in the Oast Theatre, and therefore have other things to occupy them.
That said, when Libby's cousin gets romantically involved with a man in whom the police are taking an interest, Libby can't help asking a few questions, investigating the murder, and getting herself into trouble…
About the Author
Lesley started writing almost as soon as she could read, and filled many exercise books with pony stories until she was old enough to go out with boys. Since she's been grown up, following a varied career as a model, air stewardess and disc jockey, she's written short fiction and features for a variety of magazines, achieved an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales, taught writing for both Kent Adult Education and the WEA and edited the first Sexy Shorts collection of short stories from Accent Press in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign. She lives on the Kent coast and has four grown up children and a deep interest in community theatre.
Like many authors, Lesley started writing stories as a child. After a checquered beginning, including jobs as varied as actor, model, cabin crew and nightclub DJ, she fell into feature writing for publications including Business Matters, Which Computer and Poultry Farmers Weekly.
She progressed to short stories for the vibrant Women’s magazine market and, following a Master’s Degree where she met her publisher, she turned to her first literary love of Traditional British Mysteries. The Libby Sarjeant series is still going strong, and has been joined by The Alexandrians, an Edwardian mystery series.
Lesley also continues to work with her local theatre, which often finds its way into her books.
Read an Excerpt
A breeze rustled through the heavy branches of the old yew tree and moved moon shadows over the body that lay quietly stiffening between the gravestones. Voices drifted back to disturb the silence, gradually petering out to be replaced by the sounds of car engines being started up, until, at last, peace returned to the graveyard and its most recent occupant.
‘I don’t care,’ said Libby Sarjeant mutinously. ‘I can’t play the bloody things. They hurt my fingers.’
Her friend Peter Parker regarded her with amusement. ‘And you don’t want to cut your nails.’
‘Well, no.’ Libby regarded her newly varnished nails with satisfaction.
Harry Price, Peter’s life partner and owner-chef of The Pink Geranium restaurant in Steeple Martin’s high street, peered at her hands.
‘So what were you talking about anyway?’ he asked, sitting down at the pub table.
‘The ukulele group,’ said Ben Wilde, Libby’s significant other, returning from the bar with drinks. ‘You know.’
‘I don’t actually,’ said Harry, accepting a pint of lager. ‘Oh, I know there is one – isn’t Lewis part of it? – but I’m not sure what it’s all about.’
‘It’s a craze,’ said Libby. ‘These groups have sprung up all over the country and because ukuleles are cheap to buy and fairly easy to play, they’ve become really popular, especially with the – er – older market.’
‘Pensioners,’ explained Ben. ‘People looking for something to do with their time and who like playing the old songs.’
‘Like that cleaning windows bloke?’ said Harry.
‘Similar,’ said Libby. ‘Anyway, this chap from Canterbury had a group going and decided to start another one here.’
‘Because it’s a fairly large village with a decent church hall,’ said Libby.
‘Initially, he tried to use the theatre for his rehearsals, until we explained that it was so often in use he couldn’t and the hire rate would be the same as for the theatre. That peeved him a bit.’ Ben smiled at the memory. ‘So he uses the church hall.’
‘So why were you going to join?’ Harry turned back to Libby.
‘I wasn’t. Somehow, as you said, he’s persuaded Lewis to join to raise the profile, and Edie’s joined too. She used to play the banjo in her salad days, apparently, and she’s really enjoying it, so she wanted me to join too, to keep her company.’
‘And you don’t want to.’
‘No! I wasn’t at all sure about the people – I went once with Edie – and the strings hurt my fingers.’
‘And now they’re going to be part of the big Christmas Concert at the theatre,’ said Peter.
‘Andrew’s charity concert?’ said Harry. ‘But haven’t you got some famous people in that? Won’t they show themselves up?’
‘We’ve got some pro singers and musicians and your Andrew is going to read some Dickens,’ said Ben. ‘You knew that.’
‘Pro musos won’t take kindly to a bunch of geriatric strummers,’ said Harry.
‘Don’t be so rude, Harry Price!’ Libby bent a baleful eye on her friend. ‘It’s for a very good cause, and Andrew will keep everyone in line.’
Sir Andrew McColl was a friend met fairly recently, after the death of someone close to both he and Harry. A theatrical knight, married to a theatrical dame, he had professed himself delighted with the Oast Theatre, of which Ben was the owner. Peter and Libby were both directors of the company. It was he who had suggested the concert, in aid of a homeless charity.
‘How was panto rehearsal tonight?’ Harry changed the subject. ‘Still having trouble with the chorus?’
‘Not my problem any more,’ said Libby. ‘Susannah’s taken them over lock, stock, and barrel. She’s making them sound quite good now. And we’ve got proper dancers again, so they’re doing their stuff in Lorraine’s studio until we stick them all together.’
‘I don’t know Lorraine, do I?’
‘She’s a dancer with her own studio in Canterbury. She takes private pupils, and still appears in TV ads, but says she’s too old now for the West End. She’s bloody good, and hilarious,’ said Peter. ‘I’m sure I pointed her out to you the other day. That furniture polish ad.’
‘Oh, her,’ said Harry. ‘You are getting posh. And is Susannah’s old man quite happy to be doing all the baby-sitting while she’s out gallivanting?’
‘He is,’ said Libby. ‘After all, we’re paying her.’
Susannah’s brother Terry Baker had introduced her to Libby and the Oast Theatre some years before when they were planning a special birthday party for Ben’s mother Hetty. Susannah was a professional singer and pianist, who, since she’d become a mother, was less keen to do the touring that went with the job. She’d happily settled in to the Oast company as almost permanent musical director.
The barman leant across the bar.
‘You talking about the ukulele lot? That’s some of ʼem come in just now.’ He jerked his head in the direction of the other half of the bar, where some of the pantomime cast were also drinking.
Peter and Libby craned their necks to try and see round the corner.
‘Don’t recognise any of them,’ said Peter, ‘but I can’t see properly.’
‘Lewis isn’t there, then?’ said Libby.
‘He’d have come looking for us,’ said Ben.
Lewis Osbourne-Walker had come to prominence as a handy-man on a television make-over show and now presented a whole variety, from country documentaries to lifestyle programmes. His own series had featured the make-over of his garden by Libby’s son Adam and Adam’s boss, Mog. He divided his time between London and Creekmarsh, an old house a few miles from Steeple Martin, where his mother Edie had the former housekeeper’s flat.
‘Well, I’m ready to go home now,’ said Libby. ‘I’ve got an appointment with our wardrobe mistress in the morning which I’m not looking forward to.’
‘Why?’ asked Ben.
‘She always wants to make the costumes she wants, rather than the ones I want,’ said Libby. ‘I wrote the bloody thing, I know what I want the cast to look like.’ She stood up and wandered into the other bar to say goodbye to the rest of the cast.
‘And why did you do that?’ asked Peter, when she came back to collect her coat. ‘Just to have a look at the ukulele people?’
‘Of course she did,’ said Ben with a grin. ‘I wonder she doesn’t join them just out of nosiness.’
Libby sniffed. ‘I told you, the strings hurt my fingers. Anyway, I’ve got far too much on with the panto.’
Lewis Osbourne-Walker appeared in the doorway of the pub. He waved distractedly to Libby and her friends but called loudly to the ukulele group in the other bar.
‘Old Vernon in here? His car’s still in the car park.’
A stillness fell over the bar.
‘No,’ said one male voice hesitantly. ‘He never comes to this pub.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ said Lewis. He turned to Libby.
‘Any of you lot seen him? Oldish bloke, reddish hair, thinning on top, glasses.’
‘That could be anybody,’ said Peter.
‘Nobody’s been in this bar but us,’ said Ben.
‘Where is he, then?’ said Lewis. ‘His missus just rang me to say his mobile keeps going to voicemail. What’s happened to him?’
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Libby Sarjeant Murder Mysteries 14: Murder Out of Tune I have always been a fan of mysteries, especially British ones. I can't explain what it is about them, but they just draw me in and keep my interest through out the entire thing. The characters are fun and different, I love the names of the towns/villages (and pubs), and the writing feels like a favorite blanket. You see, I grew up on British television, especially British mysteries. My mom was a big fan of things like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, and that love was not only passed on to me, but has spread to include all kinds of things, including Midsomer Murders. And that is what this book felt like to me. This is the first time that I have met Libby and her friends, and after I got through the first chapter, getting used to the author's writing style and figuring out who everyone was, I really got into the book - so much so that I read it in one sitting. (If you're not used to British writing, that first chapter - and the fact that there are a lot of conversations going on throughout the book - may seem a bit tedious, but give it a chance.) Having not read the first thirteen books, there were a few things I didn't understand, but that had nothing to do with the story or the author, and everything to do with my lack of knowledge for things that happened before, so I wouldn't say that these are stand-alones - the mystery itself is, but there is a lot of talk about things that happened before, and Libby is very stand-off-ish when it comes to this mystery, wanting nothing to do with trying to solve it. The characters are an interesting group of people, some very different than the others, but all friends just the same. The village of Steeple Martin reminds me, as mentioned before, of a place I would come across in the TV series Midsomer Murders - the kind of place you would like to visit just to check out the scenery and enjoy the quiet and solitude of such a place. The mystery - a murder - begins in the very first paragraph of the book and it was great fun (for lack of a better phrase) trying to figure out who did it. There were a couple of things that the author added at the beginning of the book that I really liked and felt were very useful. The map is great and it helped to have an idea of the layout before I got started. Also, she does a "Who's Who" where she lists out the characters and gives a bit of back information on them. I find these very helpful, especially when you have a lot of characters, and it also makes it easier to keep track of different characters as you go through a series. This is a series I definitely plan to catch up on - and one I recommended to my mother (she is pretty picky when it comes to books, so that says a lot). Note: I received a copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Please remember that this is my opinion based on my own personal interpretation of the book.