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Scarlet Feather

Scarlet Feather

4.5 94
by Maeve Binchy, Caroline Winterson (Narrated by)

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Set in contemporary Ireland, filled with warmth, wit, and drama, Scarlet Feather is "classic Binchy" (Boston Globe)-the story of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, their spouses, families, and friends, and the struggling new catering business that transforms their lives in ways big and small.


Set in contemporary Ireland, filled with warmth, wit, and drama, Scarlet Feather is "classic Binchy" (Boston Globe)-the story of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, their spouses, families, and friends, and the struggling new catering business that transforms their lives in ways big and small.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Following the international success of Tara Road, Maeve Binchy offers Scarlet Feather, an enchanting and richly plotted new tale of family, friendship, honesty, and deception. This time out, the beloved author sets her story against the dynamic social and economic whirl of modern Ireland, tracing the interconnected destinies of an engaging cast of Dubliners over the course of a single unforgettable year. The novel opens with an uncharacteristically graceless series of character sketches designed to plunk readers squarely in medias res with as little fuss or literary artifice as possible. However, once these introductions have been made, Binchy quickly atones for this perfunctory exercise in stage-setting with a bravura demonstration of her vaunted storytelling skills.

Tom Feather and Cathy Scarlet have been the best of friends since they attended cooking school. If not for a simple twist of fate, they might once have become lovers. But now Cathy, from homely St. Jarlath's Crescent, is married to Neil, a human rights lawyer and scion of the upper-crust Mitchell family. If Neil's posh parents have never been able to forget (or forgive) the fact that Cathy's "poor" mother, Lizzie, once cleaned and scrubbed their family manse, Cathy, for her part, is proud of her working-class accent and fierce independence. Charming and handsome, Tom has turned his back on the family construction business to pursue the dream of opening his own catering shop. His longtime significant other, the equally stunning Marcella, steadfastly refuses to marry him for fear of jeopardizing her nascent modeling career.

The catalyst that upsets the delicate balance between these two "happy" couples, their extended families at home and abroad, and an assortment of clients, pets, petty criminals, and racetrack touts is the discovery late one New Year's Eve of a suitable location from which to launch Cathy and Tom's gourmet catering company, Scarlet Feather.

As the cherished idea of Scarlet Feather transforms itself into a true labor of love -- with special emphasis on labor -- tensions begin to grow between Neil and Cathy, Tom and Marcella. Each couple learns that maintaining a relationship with a work-obsessed, absentee mate becomes increasingly difficult when both partners are equally consumed by their toil. Factor in the unexpected desiderata of everyday life -- financial woes, "innocent" deceptions, and the odd family crisis (most comically, the adoption of a pair of precocious, semi-feral twins) -- and Tom and Cathy soon find that the price of success may be far greater than the cost of failure.

In Scarlet Feather, Maeve Binchy has once again delivered a broad, lighthearted entertainment that also compellingly addresses very real social issues -- from the bureaucracy of the foster care system to the erosion of age-old class distinctions to the rise of the new materialism attending Ireland's economic miracle. And, like the mouthwatering culinary creations concocted in Tom and Cathy's kitchen, Scarlet Feather is likely to whet your appetite for more delicious fiction from Binchy. (Greg Marrs)

USA Today
...a great read: engaging, fast-paced and suspenseful.
New York Times Book Review
...[a] highly readable memoir...
Susan Kelly
In Scarlet Feather, Binchy again proves herself a master storyteller, expertly setting out a smorgasbord of plot lines and flavoring it all with dollops of humor and compassion.
USA Today
Novelist Binchy is another bestselling Irish writer with a new book out this summer. This time around, she introduces Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, close pals who finally open the catering business they have been dreaming of since college. Cathy's husband's cousins, Simon and Maud, are perhaps the most memorable of Binchy's characters, which in this book include an array of spouses, friends and family members. Simon and Maud, eight-year-old twins abandoned by their immediate family, have come to live with Cathy's parents. Their serious outlook on life is both touching and, ironically, hilarious. Other than some of the lively characters, especially the children, little about the novel stands out. It is fast-moving but predictable. It entertains moderately, but it lacks the tenderness and cassette-flipping appeal of Binchy's last novel, Tara Road. Although Caroline Winterson often reads her lines too quickly, she does vary the characters' voices, giving each just enough personality to keep them distinct. The upbeat Irish music that begins and ends each tape is a nice touch.
—Rochelle O'Gorman

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bestselling author Binchy (Tara Road, etc.) again explores the depths of family relationships in an 11th warm, involving drama. Set in contemporary Ireland over a period of one year, the smartly paced tale focuses on Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, cooking school chums who achieve their dream of opening a posh catering business, Scarlet Feather, in Dublin. Professionally, they're off to a good start; personally, their lives are falling apart. Cathy, whose out-of-work father plays the races while her mother toils as a housemaid, faces the consequences of having married Neil Mitchell, prized son of an upper-class family who employed Cathy's mother for years. Neil, a lawyer who champions worthy causes, is unconcerned about the tension between his wife and his snooty mother, and Cathy and Neil find themselves leading busy, separate lives. Tom has a live-in girlfriend whom he would love to marry, but Marcella, a manicurist in a classy store, yearns to succeed as a model before making any commitments. A charming cast of secondary characters includes Neil's cousins, Simon and Maud, two abandoned, nine-year-old twins who, in a surprising turn of events, come to live with Cathy's parents. The children's deadpan, exceedingly serious outlook on life is both heartbreaking and hilarious. One of Binchy's strengths is her subtle depiction of gradual changes in Irish society. By making her principal characters entrepreneurs, she reflects the ways Ireland's growing economic prosperity has altered social mores. Whether her readers are aware of such details, they help this wonderfully engaging book ring true. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This novel (following the very popular Tara Road) has all of Binchy's trademark warmth, making it irresistible to most readers. It tells the story of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, who are building a Dublin catering company, Scarlet Feather. The plot follows the ups and downs of their personal lives as well as the ins and outs of professional food provision. It is obvious throughout that Tom and Cathy are ill suited to their partners (Cathy's husband is an idealistic lawyer full of his own importance, while Tom's fiancée is an air-headed model). Subplots include the shop's vandalism and recovery, its mysterious secrets from the past, and several entertaining catering stories (including two "weddings from hell"). Best of all are Cathy's nine-year-old abandoned cousins, the Mitchell twins, who provide comic relief throughout her personal and business struggles. These darlings can be relied on to make totally inappropriate responses in every situation, winning the hearts of all. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/00.]--Carol J. Bissett, New Braunfels P.L., TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another entertaining tale of contemporary Ireland with a big gathering of representative types—the addicted, the lonely, the unhappy—whose lives connect as two chefs start a catering business and cope with crises in work and love. The story begins on New Year's Eve and follows the major players through the following year. Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather have been good friends ever since they met at catering school. Tired of doing events out of their own small kitchens, they want a place with an office, as well as enough storage room for a joint company. Cathy is married to Neil Mitchell, an idealistic lawyer, whose mother Hannah cannot forgive Cathy, the daughter of the Mitchells' former housekeeper, for marrying her son. Soon after her latest acrimonious encounter with her mother-in-law, Cathy and Tom find the ideal premises for Scarlet Feather. While they complete the necessary renovations and begin drumming up business, their lives are complicated by family problems. Cathy finds herself taking care of nine-year-old twins Simon and Maud, who have been abandoned by their parents, Neil's uncle and aunt; planning a wedding for her sister; and dealing with Neil's obsession with his work and her unexpected pregnancy. In the meantime, Tom breaks up with his girlfriend Marcella, who heads for London and the modeling career she's dreamed of. Scarlet Feather is robbed and vandalized. Then, as Christmas nears, Cathy suffers a miscarriage, and Neil's cool response leads her to question her marriage. As their debts mount, Scarlet Feather faces bankruptcy. But the twins, now living with Cathy's parents, miraculously save the day, and the new year begins withtheabundant promise ofgood things for those deserving few. More a buffet with lots of variety and a few standouts than a thematically distinctive menu, but Binchy still serves up a narrative feast.

From the Publisher
Praise for Maeve Binchy and Scarlet Feather

“In Scarlet Feather, Binchy again proves herself a master storyteller...A great read.”—USA Today

“The dialogue crackles with wit and authentic Irish style...It takes a huge amount of talent, insight, and compassion to create a ‘simple’ good story, and Maeve Binchy has it all.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Binchy has a masterful grip on the ins and outs of her plots, and weaves together each strand into an artful display of devotion and dedication, family and friendship.”—Houston Chronicle

“Binchy’s latest novel is as welcome as a hearthside armchair in the middle of a blizzard, and reading Scarlet Feather is a lot like sitting in that chair while sharing tea with a special friend.”—The Denver Post

“A big, sprawling novel, as charming as its natural-born-storyteller author.”—The Miami Herald

“A remarkably gifted writer...a wonderful student of human nature.”—The New York Times Book Review 

“Reading one of Maeve Binchy’s novels is like coming home.”—The Washington Post

“Binchy’s genius is transforming storytelling into art.”—San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

“Binchy’s tales combine warmth and spunk in a quintessentially Celtic way...In the field of women’s popular fiction, the Dublin storyteller sticks out like a faultless solitaire on a Woolworth’s jewelry counter.”—Chicago Tribune

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 4 Cassettes, 6 Hrs.
Product dimensions:
4.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The year began in different ways in different houses.

    Tom Feather woke in Stoneyfield apartments with a pain in his shoulders and a stiff neck ... The armchair had not been at all comfortable. He got some cold orange juice from the fridge, and fixed a flower to the glass with some sticky tape. He marched straight into the bedroom.

    "Happy New Year to the most beautiful, saintly and forgiving woman in the world," he said.

    Marcella woke and rubbed her eyes. "I'm not saintly and forgiving, I'm furious with you," she began.

    "But you haven't denied that you are beautiful, and I have totally forgiven you," he said happily.

    "What do you mean? There was nothing to forgive me for." She was very indignant. Indeed.

    "Quite right, which is why we will say no more about it. I should thank you instead, because last night I found the premises."

    "You what?"

    "I know it's all due to you: if you hadn't behaved so badly and forced me to leave that party, I'd never have found the place. I'll take you to see it as soon as you're dressed, so drink up that beautiful elegant drink I've prepared for you and—"

    "If you think for one moment that I'm going to leap out of bed and—"

    "You're so right. I do not think that for one moment. Instead I think I'm going to leap into bed. What a truly great idea." And he had his crumpled clothes off as hespoke.

In Neil and Cathy's house at Waterview the phone rang. "It's your mother, saying all the guests are dead from salmonella," Cathy said.

    "More likely to be some shrink saying that you've been committed to a mental home for advanced paranoia," Neil said, reaching over to ruffle her hair.

    "I suppose we could leave it?" she said doubtfully.

    "When do we ever?" Neil replied, reaching down under the bed where the phone was nestling. "Anyway it's probably Tom."

    It wasn't Tom, it was about Jonathan. Neil was half out of bed.

    "Tell them I'm on my way," he was saying.

    Cathy put on the coffee as he dressed.

    "No time," he was protesting.

    "Listen, I've put in a flask. Take it with you, you can drink it in the car," she said.

    He came back, took the flask and kissed her. "I'm very sorry, hon. I did want to go and see this place with you this morning, you know I did."

    "I know, this is more important. Go."

    "And don't sign anything or accept anything until we've had someone take a look at it."

    "No, Mr. Lawyer, you know I won't!"

    "Now of course I do have the address in case this thing ends early. I could come straight there."

    "It won't end early, Neil, it will take all day. Go and save him before it's too late."

    Cathy watched him from the window. As he put the flask down on the frosty ground in order to open the car door, he must have known she would be watching. He waved up at her. Jonathan was lucky that he had Neil Mitchell in his corner. Neil would worry at the case like a dog with a bone, just as he would get a colleague to examine the title deeds of this place, which looked like the perfect premises at last.

* * *

JT and Maura Feather woke up in Fatima, a small red-brick house in a quiet road. 'They used to be workers' cottages, but the Feathers had noted with disapproval that a lot of trendy younger people were buying. Attracting burglars to the area.

    "I never thought we'd live to see another year, JT. The Lord must have spared us for some purpose," Maura said. She was a tall, thin woman with a long, sad face permanently set in the lines of a sorrowing Madonna bent low by the wickedness of the world.

    Her husband was big and broad-shouldered, made strong by years of hard physical work in the building trade. His weather-beaten face had looked the same always.

    "It's not that we're really all that old in terms of years, but I know what you mean," JT agreed. He turned on the tea-making machine between their beds. It had been a gift from Tom. Maura had thought it was more trouble than it was worth, what with remembering to wash the pot and get fresh milk, but it was handy enough not to have to go down to the cold kitchen.

    "Another year begun and not a sign of either of them wanting to do a hand's turn in the business," he sighed heavily.

    "Or settling down in marriage as God intended," Maura sniffed.

    "Ah, marriage is a different thing," JT said. "Anyone can marry or not marry, but no two other boys from this area have a ready-made business to walk into, and you have Joe making girls' dresses over in London and Tom making cakes and pastries. It would drive you to an early grave."

    Maura hated it when he got gray with worry. "Haven't I told you to stop getting your blood pressure all het up over him," she warned. "He's like all young people, just looking out for himself. Just wait until he has a couple of children, then he'll be round to the door pretty fast wondering can he work in the business."

    "You may be right." JT nodded, but in his heart he didn't think that he was ever going to see either of his boys ask him to put the words Feather and Son over his builder's yard.

In Albany Park on Chicago's Northwest side, Marian Scarlet woke on New Year's Day when the alarm went off.

    In other parts of the world, notably her own native Ireland, people would have the day off, but not in Marian's company. Business as usual. She yawned and saw a note beside the clock.

    "I've gone out for bagels, back before you've missed me."

    Harry had gone out for bagels in this weather? Marian shrugged. Harry was the best in the world; he had got up without waking her and now he was even going to fix her a breakfast.

    She moved sleepily to the shower, and by the time she was dressed he was back sitting there in the kitchen, coffee ready, oranges squeezed. He looked sheepish somehow, guilty about something, as if he were keeping a secret.

    "What is it, Harry?" She ruffled his curly hair.

    "What do you mean, its just breakfast," he said, his big open face proving conclusively that it was much more.

    "You're up to something?" she said.

    "Me?" He was like a pantomime villain protesting innocence.

    "Harry," Marian said sternly.

    "Will you marry me?" he asked, his face contorted by it all.

    It wasn't often that Marian Scarlet was wordless. In fact Harry had never known the experience in the three years since he had met her.

    "Marry you?" she said eventually in disbelief.

    "Yes, please. Oh, please do," Harry said.

    "But, Harry ..."


    "But, Harry ... marry ... a wedding and everything?"

    "Why not, you love me, don't you? I love you enough for two of us even if you don't."

    "Of course I love you, you great mutt. But a wedding, I mean how and where ...?"

    "I thought Ireland," Harry said. "None of you went home to Ireland to get married. It's only right."

    "But, you know ... all your family ... they'd want one of the big Polish churches here," she began.

    "You're the bride," Harry said. "We marry in the bride's place, that's the way it's done."

    "Are you serious?" Marian said. They had lived together for over six months now, something they tried ineffectually to keep from Harry's people, but which was certainly not known back in Jarlath's Crescent.

    "Never more serious in my life" said Harry. "I'm only worried that you haven't said yes. I went out for bagels specially."

    "You bought bagels to propose?"

    "I also got you a ring," he said, his face red with pleasure as he took out a diamond. "Please be my bride, Marian. Please."

    "Oh, Harry," said tough, bossy Marian Scarlet, aged thirty, who had never thought she would be a bride and had more or less put the idea out of her head. "Oh, Harry, yes please, I'd love to marry you, in Ireland or anywhere," she said, holding him very tight so that he wouldn't see her tears of surprise and delight.

Muttie Scarlet woke with a start. Something good had happened last night, and he couldn't remember what it was. Then it came back. He had drawn a horse in the pub sweepstake. That was all. Most people would be pleased about this. But to Muttie, who was a serious betting man, there was no skill or science in that kind of thing.

    You just bought a ticket for a raffle and then twenty-one people got a horse, you couldn't even choose your own animal. He had something called Lucky Daughter. No form, nothing known about it, total outsider, probably had three legs. Lizzie didn't understand it at all. She had been pleased for him, said he'd have all the thrill of the race without having to put a week's wages on a horse.

    Poor Lizzie. It was awful trying to explain anything at all about horses to her. And she was very sure that nothing she earned ever ended up at the bookmaker's. But to be fair, she did put the food on the table and didn't ask him for much from his dole money. Muttie hadn't known a week's wages for a long time. He had a bad back. But still and all, it wasn't too bad to get out of bed and bring Lizzie a mug of tea. She'd be going out to people's houses later to clean, to clear up their New Year's Eves for them. Lizzie was a great support to them all, the children in Chicago and to Cathy. Muttie smiled to himself as he often did over the fast one that their Cathy had done, grabbing Neil the son and heir of the house at Oaklands. Hannah Mitchell's pride and joy. Even if he hadn't liked the boy, Muttie would have been overjoyed at that marriage. Just to see the hard, hate-filled face of Hannah at the wedding was vengeance enough for all that she had put poor Lizzie through up in that house. But Neil himself, as it happened, was a grand fellow. You couldn't meet a nicer lad in a month of Sundays. It was odd the way things turned out, Muttie told himself as he went to make the tea.

* * *

Hannah and Jock Mitchell woke in Oaklands.

    "Well," said Hannah menacingly. "Well, Jock, it's tomorrow now. You said you'd decide 'tomorrow.'"

    "God that was a good party." Jock groaned. "I feel it not exactly in my bones, more in the front left side of my head."

    "I'm not surprised." Hannah was terse. "But there's no time to talk about your hangover. We are talking about those children. They are not staying another night in this house."

    "Don't be hasty," he pleaded.

    "I'm not being hasty. I was very patient when you and Neil said they had to stay last night. I was a saint out of heaven, not breaking every bone in their body when I saw the wreckage they had achieved in here. That jacket of Eileen's will never clean, you know, never. God knows what they managed to smear into it ..."

    "Best thing if it doesn't. Makes her look like a vole," Jock whimpered.

    "You've done enough for Kenneth over the years ..."

    "That's not the point."

    "It is the point."

    "No, it's not, Hannah. Where else can they go? They're my brother's children. He seems to have abandoned them." He winced with pain.

    "It's too much," Hannah protested. "And they were very rude, both of them, no apology, saying I'd said they could have any room and they had chosen this one. Enough to crucify anyone at what was meant to be a party, a celebration."

    "You didn't over-indulge yourself?" He had a faint hope that she might also have a hangover, which might tolerate the thought of a Bloody Mary at breakfast.

    "Someone had to keep an eye on things," she sniffed.

    "Well, didn't Cathy do that very well. I heard a lot of praise for—"

    "What do men know of what needs to be done?"

    "She left the place like a new pin." He tried to defend his daughter-in-law.

    "Well, at least some of the training I gave her poor mother must have paid off eventually."

    Hannah would say nothing good about Cathy. Jock gave up. Some things weren't worth fighting over, especially with this hammering in his head.

    "True," he said, feeling he had somehow let that hardworking girl down. But Cathy of all people would know how it was easier to take the line of least resistance with Hannah.

    "And then running off at the end because she got some phone call in the middle of the night about premises for this crackpot idea of hers."

    "I know, ridiculous," said Jock Mitchell, getting up to get a painkiller and feeling like Judas.

Geraldine O'Connor, younger sister of Cathy's mother, Lizzie, got up as she did every morning, at six-thirty. She poured her coffee, wrapped herself in a thick white toweling robe over her swimsuit, and headed for the Glenstar pool.

    This was one of the many great advantages of living in Glenstar—an immaculately kept pool only minutes from her door, and the certain knowledge that on this of all days she would have it to herself.

    Geraldine liked her morning swim; fourteen lengths of the pool straightened out her thinking for the day that lay ahead. She owned her own public relations agency, and in that kind of world there were no days off. Not even New Year's Day.

    Geraldine swam up and back and the day fell into place. She was organizing a lunch to announce detals of a sponsored charity. Other people might have thought that the first day of the year was an odd time to expect a crowd. But Geraldine was observant. She had noticed that many people found it a flat and rather dull day; they would love an excuse to dress up and go out. Those who lived alone, as she did, would jump at the chance. Those with families were often glad to flee from the family for a couple of hours. Geraldine organized events on New Year's Day for this very reason.

    And indeed, the response to the invitation list had been overwhelming. She had been wise to leave that photographer's party early last night. There had been nobody that interested her to talk to, a lot of them much younger than she was. She had slipped away quietly before midnight. She had seen Tom Feather and his dizzy girlfriend there but couldn't get to meet them across the room. Cathy and Neil would have been there, but of course Cathy had been catering the Mitchells' party last night; Geraldine hoped that it had gone well and that there had been a chance to make some useful contacts. Cathy hated that woman so much it was really important that the night had been some kind of success for her in terms of business. Geraldine wished they could find premises soon. She had agreed to back them for the loan when the time came, as had Joe Feather, Tom's rather shady elder brother. All they had to do was find the place. And then brave, gutsy Cathy wouldn't have to nail a smile on her face and work in the kitchen of her mother-in-law's house, something she hated with a passion. One of the advantages of being single was that there were no mothers-in-law to cope with, Geraldine thought as she poured more coffee.

    Suddenly and unexpectedly, the telephone rang. It sounded shrill in the quiet appartment. It was early for anyone to call.

    Geraldine had not expected anyone in Ireland to be awake at that time, not to mention alert enough to make a call.

    It was Cathy, with an incoherent story about having found the perfect premises for the new business. Could Geraldine please come and look at the place, please please. After all, if she was going to invest her money, she must make sure that she wasn't going to throw it away.

    Geraldine had been there for Cathy since the very start. She had paid tuition fees, and for school uniforms, for many years. In a way they were more like sisters than aunt and niece. Neither of them had the slightest trace of Lizzie's humble, undemanding attitude to life.

    "I have this lunch to organize," she began. "But what the hell? If the hotel doesn't know how to do a buffet for two hundred by now without having its hand held, it will never know. Of course I'll come over and see the place. What address?"

    "Could you come to Tom and Marcella's place first? You see, we haven't been inside the premises yet, we're getting in touch with a man who will let us in."

    Geraldine sighed. They hadn't even seen the place yet and already they thought it was theirs. Geraldine remembered what it was to be young like that.

In a different part of the Glenstar apartments, Shona Burke woke up and thought about the year ahead. Many other women of twenty-six would wake today with a comforting body on the other side of the bed. In fact, she was sick of people asking her when she was going to settle down. It was so intrusive. Shona would not ask people why they didn't have a baby, or when they were going to have their facial hair seen to. She never queried why people drove a car that was falling to pieces, or stayed with a spouse so obviously less than satisfactory. How dare they speculate openly and to her face about why she hadn't married?

    "It could be because you look too cool, too successful. Fellows wouldn't dare chat you up and go home with you," a colleague had suggested helpfully.

    Last night's party at Ricky's would have provided plenty of people who might have chatted her up and come back to the Glenstar apartments with her; in fact, she had had one very definite offer and two suggestions. But these would not have been people who would have stayed. Not anyone she could trust or rely on. And Shona Burke was not one to trust easily. She would get up soon, go out to Dun Laoghaire for a brisk walk with a neighbor's dog, come back and get ready for the charity lunch.

    Because of her position in the store—Human Resources—and also being an information officer, Shona was often asked to such events. She was often considered the public face of Hayward's, which was the store in Dublin. It had survived takeovers, makeovers and the passage of time. And today it would give her the chance to wear the new outfit which she had bought at a discount in the store. Ridiculous to have so many nice clothes at twenty-six, and not enough places to wear them.

"Neil, is it all right to talk?"

    "Not really, Father, we're in the middle of something ..."

    "So are we, we're in the middle of those two children taking the house apart brick by brick."

    "No, I mean what I'm in is really serious. I can't talk about Maud and Simon now."

    "But what are we going to do?"

    "Father, we're going to look after them, it's as simple as that. We'll help you, Cathy and I, but now, if you'll excuse me ..."

    "But, Neil ..."

    "I have to go."

    Jock Mitchell hung up wearily. The twins had unpacked all the desserts Cathy had left in the fridge and eaten them for breakfast. Simon had been sick. On the carpet.

In a garden flat in Rathgar, James Byrne was up and at his desk. Ever since he had retired six months ago he had continued the routine and habits of working life. Breakfast of a boiled egg, tea and toast, ten minutes, minimal tidying his three-room apartment, and then a second cup of tea and twenty minutes at his desk. It had been such a useful thing to do when he worked in the big accountancy firm. Cleared his head, sorted his priorities before he got into the office. Now of course there were no priorities. He didn't have to decide whether or not to oppose some tax scheme on the grounds that it was evasion. Other, younger people made those decisions. There was less and less to do, but he could always find something. He might renew a magazine subscription, or send for a catalogue. To his surprise the telephone rang. Very few people telephoned James Byrne at any time, and he certainly hadn't expected a call at ten o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day. It was a girl.

    "Mr. Byrne? Is it too early to talk?"

    "No, no. How can I help you?"

    The voice was young and very excited. "It's about the premises, Mr. Byrne, we're so interested, more than you'd believe. Is there any chance we could see them today?"

    "Premises?" James Byrne was confused. "What premises?"

    He listened as she explained. It was the Maguires' old place, the printing works they hadn't even entered since the accident. He knew that they had been listless and depressed. They had been unwilling to listen to any advice. But now, apparently, they had disappeared, leaving a For Sale sign on their gate and James Byrne's phone number. In years of business James had learned that he must never transmit any of his own anxiety or confusion to a client.

    "Let me see if I can find them, Miss Scarlet," James said. "I'll call you back within the hour."

Cathy put the phone down carefully and looked around her in Tom's apartment, where the little group had been following every word of the conversation. Tom leaning forward, like her father always did to a radio when he wanted to hear who was winning a race. Marcella in an old pink shirt of Tom's and black jeans, her dark eyes and clouds of black hair making her look more and more like the top model she yearned to be. Geraldine, crisp and elegant, dressed for her smart. lunch but still giving time to be present for the great phone call and what it might deliver.

    "He's not an estate agent, he's an accountant, he knows the people who own it and he'll ring us back in an hour," she said, eyes shining. They could hardly take it in.

It felt like three hours, but Geraldine told them it was only thirty-six minutes. Then the call came. This time Tom took it. James Byrne, ex-accountant, had been in touch with his friends in England. They reported they really did intend to sell. They had made their decision over Christmas, and had left for England now that it had been made. James Byrne had been asked to set it all in motion. And as quickly as possible. Cathy looked at Tom in disbelief. It really was going to happen, exactly the kind of place they wanted. And they were the first potential buyers, they were in there with a chance. Tom was thinking the same thing.

    "We are very lucky that you made this enquiry for us, Mr. Byrne, and now if you would like us to let you know—"

    The voice interrupted him. "Of course you will understand that my first loyalty lies with the Maguires who own the premises. They will have to be represented by a lawyer, an auctioneer, and I will have to try and get them the best price possible."

    "Yes, of course." Tom sounded deflated.

    "But I am very grateful to you, Mr. Feather, for bringing this to my notice, otherwise it might have been some days ..."

    Geraldine was scribbling something on the back of an envelope and showing it to him.

    "Is there any chance you could show us inside the place, do you think?" Tom asked. '

    There was a pause. "Certainly," the man said. "That would be no problem. In fact, the Maguires were anxious to know what kind of people had discovered the notice so quickly; they only put it up yesterday before they went to the airport."

    "Yesterday?" Tom was astounded. "But it looks as if the place has been abandoned for a long time."

    "It has; the family had a lot of trouble."

    "I'm sorry. Are you a friend of theirs?"

    "In a way. I did some work for them once. They trusted me."

    It was a sober sort of thing to say. Cathy hoped that they could get back to the bit about letting them in. Then Mr. Byrne cleared his throat.

    "Suppose we meet there in an hour?" he suggested.

* * *

The city was still partially asleep, but James Byrne was wide awake. Small and rather precise-looking, wearing a navy overcoat and gloves, with a silk scarf tied around his neck, he was a man in his sixties who might have been cast in a film as a worried bank manager or concerned statesman. He introduced himself formally and shook hands with everyone as if they were in an office instead of standing in the bitter cold on the first day of the year outside a falling-down printing business. At first Cathy was pleased to see him take down the ludicrous cardboard notice while tut-tutting at the amateur nature of it all, but then he again explained that the place would of course have to be sold professionally, maybe even at auction. It could still be snatched from them. They sensed somehow that he wasn't going to tell them anything about the Maguires and what sorrows or confusion there had been in their lives. This was not the time to inquire.

    They walked through in wonder. The place that could be Scarlet Feather's new home. First home.

    All this middle section could be the main kitchen; this would be the freezer section, that would be the staff lavatory and washroom, and they would have storage here. And a small room where they could greet clients. It was almost too perfect: everything was what they had hoped. And it was so desperately shabby and run-down; perhaps others might not realize the potential. Cathy was aware that she had clasped her hands and closed her eyes only when she heard James Byrne clear his throat. He, seemed to be concerned that she might be too happy about it all, too confident. She knew she must reassure him.

    "It's all right, James, I do know it's not ours. This is only the first step of a very long journey," she smiled at him warmly.

    They had been talking to this man for forty-five minutes, calling him Mr. Byrne all the while. He was a stranger, twice their age, and she had called him James. She felt a slight flush creep up her neck. She knew exactly why she had done this; subconsciously it was part of her wish never to feel inferior, never to crawl and beg. But perhaps she had gone too far this time. Cathy looked hard at him, willing him not to take offense. James Byrne smiled back at her.

    "It might not be too long a journey, Cathy. The Maguires are very anxious to get all this over; they want a quick sale. It might move much more quickly than you all think."

* * *

Cathy did not go home. She didn't want to sit alone in the house while her mind was racing—and there were very few other places she wanted to be either. Tom and Marcella would need time to be on their own together. She couldn't go to St. Jarlath's Crescent and hear a detailed description of their night at the pub when she ached to tell them the excitement in her life. There was no way she would go near Oaklands. In that big house at this very moment, there would be a terrible war raging. Those strange children, with their solemn faces and total disregard for anyone else's property or feelings might well have wrecked the place by now. She knew very well that sooner or later she and Neil would have to take some part in their care; but for now it would seem the wisest thing to stay away from Oaklands.

    Hannah Mitchell would be on the phone to her friends, laughing and groaning, or complaining to her husband that their daughter had not telephoned from Canada. She would not yet have discovered the neatly covered plates in her fridge with perfectly labeled chicken, vegetables and desserts. Cathy knew she would never be thanked for these. That wasn't part of any deal. The best she could hope for was that Hannah Mitchell would leave her alone.

    No, that wasn't true. The very best thing would be if her mother-in-law fell down a manhole. Cathy was restless, she needed to walk, clear her head. She found that she was driving south, out of the city toward Dun Laoghaire and the sea. She parked the car and walked on the long pier, hugging herself against the wind. Many Dubliners with hangovers seemed to have had some similar notion, and were busy working up a lunchtime thirst for themselves. Cathy smiled to herself; she must be the soberest and most abstemious person here, one half glass of champagne at midnight and nothing else. Even her mother who claimed that she didn't drink at all would have had three hot whiskeys to see the New Year in. It was probably wiser not to speculate on how many pints her father might have had. But there was nobody else walking this pier on this, the first day of the New Year, who was nearly as excited as Cathy Scarlet. She was going to have her own business. She would be self-employed. Joint owner of something that was going to be a huge success. For the very first time since the whole thing had started she realized now that it was not just a dream.

    They would paint the logo on the van, they would turn up in this funny mews every morning, the premises would have their name over the door. Nothing violent or loud that would be at odds with the area. Perhaps even in wrought iron? Already she and Tom had agreed that they would paint the two doors the deepest of scarlet red. But this was not the time for hunting down fancy door handles and knockers. No money could be spent on a detailed image at this stage. They had gone over so many times how much they could afford. They would not lose their business before it had even begun. One of those men at the Mitchells' party last night owned a big stationery firm; perhaps Cathy could go to him about a quote for printing brochures and business cards. They needn't accept it or anything, but it would remind the man and his rather socially conscious wife of their existence.

    There were a million things to do; how could they wait now until they heard from these strange people who had apparently locked up a failed business and without making any arrangements about fixtures and fittings disappeared overnight? If it had not been for the calmer manner of James Byrne, Cathy would have feared that they were dealing with mad people who might never agree to the sale being closed. But there was something reassuring about this man. Something that made you feel safe, and yet who kept himself at a distance at the same time. Neither she nor Tom had even dared to ask him where he lived or what company he had been with. They had his phone number from the strange cardboard notice, but Cathy knew that neither she nor Tom would telephone to hurry him up. They would wait until they heard his news. And in his perfectly courteous but slightly flat voice he had told them he was very sure that it would be sooner rather than later. Cathy wondered whether he had gone back to his house where his wife had prepared a lunch for him. Or would he take his family out to a hotel? Perhaps he had no family, and was a bachelor catering for himself. He had looked slightly too well cared for: polished shoes, well-ironed shirt collar. It might take forever to know such information about him. But after James Byrne had introduced them to the strange, elusive Maguires, then they would probably never see him again. She must take his address sometime, so that when Scarlet Feather was up and running she could tell him that he had been in there at the very start of it ... It would be a success, Cathy knew this. They hadn't spent two whole years planning it for it to end up as one of those foolish statistics about companies that failed.

    And Cathy Scarlet, businesswoman, would be able to take her mother shopping and to lunch in a smart restaurant. And soon the consuming wish to kill Hannah Mitchell would pass, and she would be able to regard her as just another ordinary and even pathetic member of the human race. Tom Feather badly wanted it to succeed for all of his reasons, and she wanted it even more badly for all of hers. Which were very complicated reasons, Cathy admitted. Some of them very hard to explain to the bank, to Geraldine and even at times to Neil. There was a general feeling that life would be much safer if Cathy Scarlet was to bring her considerable talents to work for someone else. The someone else taking the risks, paying the bills, facing any possible losses. Usually but not always Cathy was able to summon up the passion, the enthusiasm and the sheer conviction that she was totally sane and practical. Cathy at top speed was hard to resist.

    Sometimes during a wakeful night she had doubted herself. Once or twice when she looked at the opposition she wondered could she and Tom ever break into the market. At the end of long hours working in one of Dublin's restaurants, she was sometimes tempted to think how good it would be to go home and take a long bath rather than spend a couple of hours with Tom trying to work out what the food would have cost to buy, and how they might have cooked it better, presented it more artistically and served it more speedily.

    But last night when she had seen the premises, and today when she had realized that they might possibly be within their grasp, she had no doubts at all. Cathy smiled to herself with all the confidence in the world.

    "Well there's someone who had a nice New Year's Eve, anyway," said a voice. It was Shona Burke, the very handsome young woman who was the head of Human Resources or whatever they called it at Hayward's. Always very calm and assured, she was a friend of Marcella and Tom's and had been very helpful in trying to seek out contacts for them. She was being tugged by an excited red setter, who wanted to go and find other dogs or bark at the sea—anything except have another dull conversation with a human being.

    "What on earth makes you think that?" Cathy laughed.

    "Compared to everyone else I've met, you're radiant. They are all giving up drink forever, or they've been abandoned by their true loves or can't remember where they're meant to be going for lunch."

    "They haven't begun to know hardship ... They weren't catering a party for Hannah Mitchell." Cathy rolled her eyes. Shona would know


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“In Scarlet Feather, Binchy again proves herself a master storyteller…. A great read.”USA Today
“The dialogue crackles with wit and authentic Irish style…It takes a huge amount of talent, insight, and compassion to create a ‘simple’ good story, and Maeve Binchy has it all.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Binchy has a masterful grip on the ins and outs of her plots, and weaves together each strand into an artful display of devotion and dedication, family and friendship.”Houston Chronicle
“Binchy’s latest novel is as welcome as a hearthside armchair in the middle of a blizzard, and reading Scarlet Feather is a lot like sitting in that chair while sharing tea with a special friend.”—The Denver Post
“A big, sprawling novel, as charming as its natural-born-storyteller author.”—The Miami Herald

“Classic Binchy.” —Boston Globe

“Another great, big heartwarmer of a novel.” —Boston Herald

“Luscious and satisfying…[readers] will be sorry for this warm and charming tale to end.” —Chattanooga Times

Meet the Author

Maeve Binchy was born in County Dublin and educated at the Holy Child convent in Killiney and at University College, Dublin. After a spell as a teacher she joined The Irish Times. Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1982, and she went on to write more than twenty books, all of them bestsellers. Several have been adapted for film and television, most notably Circle of Friends and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She was married to writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell for thirty-five years. She passed away in 2012 at the age of seventy-two.

Brief Biography

Dublin, Ireland, and London, England
Date of Birth:
May 28, 1940
Place of Birth:
Dalkey, a small village outside Dublin, Ireland
Holy Child Convent in Killiney; B.A. in history, University College, Dublin, 1960

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Scarlet Feather 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 94 reviews.
Jennifer_April_Smith More than 1 year ago
Maeve Binchy has been a fav of mine for quite some time; was just busy with life for a while and didn't really have the time for reading. After dating someone whom got me into reading again, Scarlet Feather was the first book I picked up when I truly started to read again. I like the fact Ms. Binchy's character show up time and again in her books though they aren't sequels to one another; she builds upon her characters. One may be a major character in this book while only briefly mentioned in another. The Summer after reading Scarlet Feather, I vowed to purchase and read ALL Maeve Binchy's books to date (am almost done). ~ giggling ~ D ~
SBSunshine More than 1 year ago
This was a feel good book that makes all your worries float away. Miss Binchy did me a good turn on this book. I could scarcely let the book down to rest, it was that good. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ALL THAT ILLS YOU.
bridgelover More than 1 year ago
Great book. I would recommend the author to my friends.
GracieO More than 1 year ago
Maeve does it again. The plot of this tale has a little of everything, a great friendship between the two main characters, Scarlett and Feather, love/hate with some of the other players, and rooting for the underdog. Although this is a many page book to read, I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great read and I plan to reread it someday.
mollymalone78 More than 1 year ago
This book got me hooked on the town and its people right from the start
Courtney Scott More than 1 year ago
charming human story, you will laugh and cry. binchy has a knack for storytelling that will keep you reading and asking for more!
Bookworm1FG More than 1 year ago
Another winner by Maeve Binchy. This is a page turner. I can't put it down. Love Maeve Binchy's style of writing and am fast becoming a fan. Have also given this book as a gift and the recipient was equally enthralled and completely won over. Bookworm1FG
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did enjoy this book, but Tara Road is one of my all time favorites, and this was not as good to me. I did pass it on to a friend and she did enjoy it, so I would recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this novel. It took my literally 34 hours to read it. My only complaint: What next for these two characters? I guess we get a glimpse in Quentin's, but still, I wish there was more to this ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
And I'm a Maeve Binchy fan. I've read all of her stuff, but I truly believe that this marks the turning point in her writing career. I'm afraid to get anything new that she writes - I don't want to tarnish the warm regard I have for her earlier books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just started reading Binchy's books,starting with Quentins my mother in law bought me I borrowed a few more from her and just finished Scarlet Feather. I truly loved the book as well as the others, although I find myself wondering if I went about reading them in the wrong order?? In Quentins Tom and Cathy were all ready together and by the end of the book having a child then to read Scarlet Feather it was a given about the way it would end! That is entirely annoying when you dont know until after you read one!! How are you to know the direct order in which to read about the lives of the characters if there is not a note to state this all??
Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book. In fact I've listened to it many, many times, often while preparing for some festivity. I loved the detail of the catering business, and while some may have found the story line predictable, the characters are charming and the story telling lovely. The author has a wonderful way of painting the unique and quirky in her characters, even the ones we don't like. The narrator, too is engaging, beautiful dialects lending real life to the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a lighthearted book for those who prefer family-related stories. While it was interesting to read what happened in the lives of the various characters and see how they dealt with different and more often than not, tough situations, the ending was too predictable. No surprising twists or anything that hooked me to the book. Rather, I find the parts about how they went about their catering business more enjoyable than the lives of the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was not as good as other books by Binchey. Her characters had depth but she went on in too much detail about food. It seemed that she was trying to fill pages. Ending was predictable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book just as much as Tara Road, which is the first book by Mauve Binchy I read. Just like in her other books, she uses many point of views and she has extreme depth to each character. She tackles social issues that cross national boundaries, like social status. This is a book, like her others, that anyone can enjoy, and i did!
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SunnySJ More than 1 year ago
Anxious to get back to the story if I found it necessary to lay the book down. Binchy is a compelling author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A rarity -- one that will have you reading long into the night.
Mari-Kate9 More than 1 year ago
reminiscent of rosamunde pilcher.  good book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting story