Agatha Award-winning author G. M. Malliet has charmed mystery lovers and Agatha Christie devotees everywhere with Wicked Autumn, A Fatal Winter, and Pagan Spring, and A Demon Summer, the critically acclaimed mysteries featuring handsome former-spy-turned-cleric Father Max Tudor. “A Demon Summer makes the case that Malliet may be the best mystery author writing in English at the moment (along with Tana French). She’s certainly the most entertaining,” raved the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Now, in The Haunted Season, something sinister is stirring at Totleigh Hall, the showcase of the English village of Nether Monkslip. Usually, the owners are absenthigh tax rates, it is murmured with more than a trace of envy, force them to live on the continent for most of the year. But Lord and Lady Baaden-Boomethistle have been in residence for some weeks now, and the villagers are hoping for a return to the good old days, when the lord of the manor sprinkled benefits across the village like fairy dust. Even Father Max Tudor hopes for an invitation to dine with the famous family who once held sway in the area. But before he has time to starch his clerical collar and organize a babysitter, a sudden and suspicious death intervenes, and the handsome vicar's talent for sorting through clues to a murder is once again called into play.
About the Author
G. M. MALLIET won the Agatha Award for best first novel for Death of a Cozy Writer, which initially won the Malice Domestic Grant, was nominated for both a Macavity and an Anthony Award, and was chosen as one of the Best Books of 2008 by Kirkus Reviews. All of the books in the Max Tudor series-Wicked Autumn, Fatal Winter, Pagan Spring, and A Demon Summer-have been nominated for the Agatha Award as well. She and her husband live in the mid-Atlantic U.S. and travel frequently to the U.K, the setting for her novels.
Read an Excerpt
The Haunted Season
A Max Tudor Novel
By G. M. Malliet
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 G. M. Malliet
All rights reserved.
It was fall, and the patchwork fields around Nether Monkslip were changing color from gold and jade to bronze and topaz in that strange alchemy of the turning seasons.
Father Maxen Tudor sat at his desk in the mellow old vicarage of St. Edwold's, watching his own patch of garden change with the breeze and the moving sunlight. The room was quiet, the only sound the occasional whimper of his dog, Thea, as she chased rabbits in her dreams by the fireplace. A blank word-processing document was open before him and the cursor of his bulky computer blinked, the page waiting empty and undisturbed for his thoughts. It was, he told himself, too nice a day to work.
Autumn was his favorite time of year, and morning his favorite time of day, when his daily parish obligations had been met and he could sit with a cup of coffee, reading and ruminating and planning his next sermon. Time slowed, as if there were nothing to do but wait for the Japanese maple in the garden to cast its shifting red light into the room. While spring was about life and beginnings, fall was, to him, a reminder of the endless cycle-through of seasons: Spring flowers would always return, no matter how bleak their prospects at the moment.
But fall brought special challenges to a man running a small parish almost single-handedly — the Blessing of the Animals, for one. It finally had been decided that having children bring their stuffed animals to church was a better strategy than having everyone pile into St. Edwold's, dragging behind them their live menageries or clasping their favorite pets to their hearts. Max's early Saint Francis Day blessing services had dissolved into an unmitigated chaos and ended in tears when several otherwise-domesticated animals had seized the day, making their various breaks for freedom — hoofing, flying, slithering, and hopping their way down the ancient stone aisles and out the door, which stood open to admit the generally unseasonable warmth of early October in Nether Monkslip. The change to stuffed animals had its opponents among the traditionalists on the Parish Council, however, who now were fighting a rearguard action to move next year's proceedings outdoors.
This year had presented an added challenge in that the duck race, traditionally a springtime event, had been rescheduled to the fall, since the council had deemed the spring weather too chancy. Global warming or no, something in the world had changed, and a duck race held in the rain dampened everyone's spirits.
So in its way, springtime will be easier going, thought Max, despite the fact there was a movement afoot to initiate an ecumenical Lambing Festival, during which children would bring newborn lambs to the church to be blessed. Plenty there, thought Max, to go wrong. But spring was a time of miracles, if you believed in miracles, which Max did, so perhaps all would be well. St. Edwold's cross would be swathed in purple, awaiting the biggest reveal of all.
In the fall began anew the liturgical buildup to the birth of the Christ Child — again a happy focus on new life. And this Christmas season he at last would have help with the avalanche of responsibilities.
Upon the retirement of one of his colleagues, Max had been asked to take on the parishes of Steeple Monkslip and Monkslip Bassett, an impossibility without some sort of assistance, as his bishop readily had agreed. The solution was to allow Max a curate — a recent university graduate, newly ordained. Her name was Destiny Chatsworth.
Max, knowing she was perfect for the job, put her (unusual) name forward to the bishop. She also came highly recommended by her Oxford tutors, which helped his case, although she was not in any sense an academician or great theologian. He wanted her instead for her rare gift of approachability: People quickly trusted her with their feelings and their worries. They forgot themselves around her. He and Awena had her over for dinner, and Awena had pronounced her an ideal fit for the village.
When she was officially assigned to St. Edwold's, Max was so grateful for the help, as he told Awena, he could only hope now that Nether Monkslip was as much her destiny as it was his.
"If I had not come to Nether Monkslip, I might never have met you," he had said to his wife. An unthinkable idea: too frightening to contemplate.
He looked now across the room at the little crèche scene on his office shelf, a memento from his time investigating a murder at Monkbury Abbey. The sight of the primitive clay figures of the Holy Family, and of the cows and lambs that had come to adore this special child, often brought him inspiration. It always settled his mind and brought him peace.
He had a title for his sermon in this season of grace, if little else; the only word that percolated from his brain, beyond context or punctuation or deliberate thought, was joy. Joy in his working life as vicar of St. Edwold's, joy in his private life with Awena, joy above all in the safe delivery of their child, Owen. He knew he'd been witness to a miracle at the birth. An everyday miracle, but a miracle just the same. His days with Awena and Owen now were braided together in a happy bond of duty and love. They hoped for another child in the following year.
He turned to his computer, and found his fingers had typed the word joy onto the page without his really being aware of it. Reluctantly, he deleted the word from the document, for the topic of his sermon was "Do the Ends Ever Justify the Means?" and it was difficult to see how joy fit in there.
Finally he decided that there was joy in surrender, in living according to Buddhist precepts, in not trying to game the system and force events to turn in a particular direction. That way, thought Max, lies madness. In the long run, mankind did its worst work, and told the most lies, when trying to justify its actions, to impose a certain outcome.
Thy will be done.
The sermon nearly wrote itself, and Max was happily refilling his pen from the inkwell to edit the printed-out pages when his housekeeper, Mrs. Hooser, knocked on his study door. As she was never one to stand on ceremony, the knock was followed immediately by the door's flying open to the shouted announcement, "It's her about the flowers."
Max turned from his task and pasted on a welcoming smile when he saw who "her" was.
Every parish has its "Martha." Or in the case of Nether Monkslip, its Eugenia Smith-Ganderfort. This person is nearly always a female, and nearly always single; a woman who is the Martha of the place — the doer. In the Bible tale, while others get to sit idly at Jesus's feet, listening to him talk, Martha is the one who gets stuck preparing a large meal for the group.
Today's Martha is the one who makes sure the hymnals are stored neatly and that the mice are not destroying them for nesting material. The one who ensures the flowers on the altar have fresh water, that the flower rota gets updated, that the needlepoint kneelers stay in good repair, that the altar is swept and the nave hoovered and the pews cleared of the gloves and scarves and, sometimes, purses and wallets that get left behind by worshipers. She is the person who volunteers for every task, particularly the lowly, behind-the-scene tasks no one else wants to take on or is even aware need doing, like cleaning out the coffee urn or even clearing the graveyard of fallen debris after a storm. The unrewarded, unnoticed chores that keep the wheels of a parish church spinning smoothly. The modern- day Martha's motives for doing all this vary. Sometimes, she is simply a lonely soul with time on her hands. Sometimes, she is just the sort of good-hearted person who needs to feel of use. Sometimes, she is both.
And sometimes, in the case of a charismatic and attractive vicar like Max Tudor, she finds volunteering for the various chores around the church to be the surest way of having some face time with him. To bask for a moment in the sunshine of an extended word of encouragement and thanks from the Reverend Max Tudor.
Along with many other women of the parish, Eugenia had a sort of schoolgirl crush on Max, and during his bachelor days had plied him with cakes and tuna fish casseroles and, on one occasion, an entire basketful of potatoes. He still was uncertain what he'd been meant to do with that bounty; he couldn't have eaten all of it even if he'd been in training for a marathon. Eugenia still was likely to turn up with a plateful of homemade biscuits, carefully secured with ribbon on a plate decorated with a paper doily. They were "made from love," she had informed him, to his discomfiture, but he told himself she of course meant the Christian sort of love for all mankind.
Today was not one of her baking or cooking days, apparently; in any event, as Max knew well, Saturday was the traditional baking day in the village. Max, putting down his pen, looked at her politely, hoping this would not take long, whatever it was, and wondering what on earth she'd done to her hair.
Eugenia's hair at the best of times resembled a yet-undiscovered form of plant life on the ocean floor, but today there seemed to be rather more of it. She generally styled it tightly permed and knotted into precise quadrants, so that her head resembled a farmer's field awaiting harvest. It was of a neither-here-nor-there shade of blond-gray that reflected no ray of sunshine and emitted no spark of life. Indeed, today it looked as if touched, it might turn to dust, or go up in flames if she ventured too near a heat source.
She was neither fat nor thin, short nor tall, but her waist was thickening with the approach of middle age, a fact cruelly emphasized by the too-tight belt of her shirtwaist dress. The dress was a shiny yellow-green print and, it was to be supposed, a symbol of sprightly youth, but the color of new buds did not necessarily flatter all complexions, and it did not flatter Eugenia's. Besides, the Sprightly Youth ship had sailed for Eugenia many years before. Her legs, sturdy and thin and shielded from the elements by beige spandex, emerged from the dress in a straight line from knee to foot, without apparent benefit of ankle to hold them together — they were what Max's father had called "piano legs." She stood anchored to the ground in flesh-colored pumps, a change from the trainers and heavy white socks she generally wore halfway to her knees. Clutched about her person were various bags and parcels; she had evidently interrupted her shopping for an impromptu visit to the vicarage.
Max noticed her spruced-up appearance only in passing. In his mind, she was a good soul and a much-appreciated, generous volunteer of her time and skills. It was his genial appreciation, of course, that inevitably would lead to trouble, for if Max had a fault, it was that he had been born open and trusting, expecting and generally receiving the best from people. Along with his handsomeness, it was the equivalent of a one-two knockout punch as far as women were concerned. He was largely unaware of his physical attractiveness, a fact that, of course, permanently secured his major heartthrob status among the women of the village.
So it had taken him a while to wonder at the fact that whenever he was in the church, by some odd coincidence, Eugenia also was in the church. If the altar flowers were to be arranged on a Friday at one and Max was otherwise engaged, the rota somehow got shifted in Eugenia's favor for a time when he was sure to be around. Thus the flower-rota skirmishes, often deadly — for it was fondly hoped that such an activity might afford more opportunities to engage the vicar in prolonged conversation — took on curious new layers of subterfuge and ill feeling.
There may have been a Mr. Smith or a Mr. Ganderfort or a hyphenated personage in her life at some time, and it was rumored there had been such a person, if briefly, decades before. But Eugenia seemed to have mislaid him along the way and now lived alone in one of the little almshouses along the river. Someone — he thought Elka Garth of the Cavalier — had told him she thought Eugenia had a son and grandchild somewhere but that she seldom saw either of them. "I think the son is trying to 'weaponize' the grandchild" was how she put it. "Withhold access as a sort of punishment — for what, I don't know. Such a shame when that happens."
Eugenia was known officially as Ms. Eugenia Smith-Ganderfort, and casually to her friends — although she was not a casual sort of person and she had very few friends — as Ms. Eugenia.
She got straight to the point — or rather, she got straight to the pretext for her visit.
"Father, I was just wondering," she said, fingering the dreadful fabric of her dress, "what kind of flowers you would like for the altar? For Christmas, I mean."
"What kind of flowers would I —" began Max. Truly, this was unprecedented. For one thing, they were not yet out of October, with the church still decorated for the harvest time with gourds and beribboned clumps of wheat; the church mouser, Luther, was often to be found draped over a large pumpkin. But the women of St. Edwold's Altar Guild chose whatever flowers were in bloom in their gardens, sometimes supplementing them with more elaborate arrangements or filler donated by a florist in Monkslip-super-Mare. Max was never involved in these aesthetic deliberations; his participation went as far as thanking the volunteers for their efforts and no further. Max could say to Eugenia that he didn't care what flowers she chose, but it might sound unkind and it wouldn't be true anyway. He liked the beautiful, sweet scents of nature around him as well as the next person. But so long as he wasn't allergic to the blooms — and so far as he knew, he was allergic to nothing — it didn't matter.
"I suppose," he said, "that Christmas flowers are of particular importance. But I really don't have a preference, Eugenia. You always outdo yourself. Such splendid arrangements! Now if you don't mind, I —" Seeing her face, which had transformed from its usual Anglo-Saxon pallor to a mottled canvas of dark pink and red, he stopped. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, yes!" she gasped. "Quite all right, Father." He was not to know that the use of her Christian name had sent a tremor up and down her spine, rendering her nearly speechless. For usually, and without really thinking about it, Max addressed her by her full name and title: Ms. Smith-Ganderfort.
That night she would relive this magic moment with Max Tudor over and over in her mind as she prepared her simple meal of tea and toad in the hole, as she did the washing up, even as she watched a quiz show on the telly: "But I really don't have a preference, Eugenia," Father Max had said. "Eugenia, you always outdo yourself. Eugenia! Did anyone ever tell you how beautiful your eyes are, Eugenia?
Of course he had not really said that last, and she knew it, but in the retelling she buffed and polished the moment to mirror her needs. What he had said was so different from what she was used all her life to hearing: Eugenia the fool. Eugenia the meddler. Eugenia the busybody. "You always outdo yourself! Such splendid arrangements! Eugenia!"
"Well, then, if there's nothing else?" Max picked up his pen and gestured toward the ink-covered pages scattered on his desk, as though suddenly struck by a crucial point he simply must add to his sermon, and straight away.
Eugenia collected herself with a visible effort, although her face was still the oddest hectic mix of colors, as of a woman experiencing a rise in blood pressure, as undoubtedly she was.
"If you are certain," she said. "I thought holly — but that could be dangerous if Luther gets into it. It's not good for cats, you know. Ivy is always nice. But perhaps some roses mixed in?"
Luther, the freeloading lounge cat — was he aware of the loving concern for his well-being that cushioned all his days? Max looked at her as if she might be mad, but he put down his pen and said kindly, "Of course, we have to consider our mouser. Even though, and thank God for it, I don't think he has caught a mouse in years. He used to leave the poor things in the vestry for me to find." He added in what seemed now a non sequitur, "I have always liked roses."
"Yes, that would be nice. Thank you. Now, I really must —"
"Of course, of course! I mustn't keep you. I know you're busy. And soon there'll be all the planning for the duck race, too; I know how much you enjoy that. Not the planning. The race itself." She gathered her parcels and packets and netted bits of things, the contents of half of which now spilled onto the floor, so of course Max had to kneel to help her collect them. Their fingers met over a packet of Ryvita and sparks literally flew — the scuffing of their shoes on the carpet in the dry air of the heated room had produced an electric current. Eugenia threw her head back, looking up into his eyes, a doe transfixed by headlamps.
Excerpted from The Haunted Season by G. M. Malliet. Copyright © 2015 G. M. Malliet. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters,
1. Max Tudor,
2. Breakfast at Totleigh Hall,
3. Lady Bountiful,
4. Max and the Lord of the Manor,
5. The Hon. Son,
6. Murder in the Woods,
7. DCI Cotton Takes the Case,
8. Max and the Butler,
9. Second Nanny,
10. First Nanny,
11. Suzanna and the WI,
12. Noah's Ark,
13. Destiny Remembers,
14. St. Edwold's,
15. The Duck Race,
16. Max and the Bishop,
17. Strangers on a Train,
18. Max and Cotton,
19. Max and the Lady,
20. Max and the Dowager,
21. Destiny Remembers II,
23. Red Herrings,
25. Born and Bred,
28. From Russia with Love,
About the Author,
Also by G. M. Malliet,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Father Max is once again in the midst of murder, a trend not unnoticed by his bishop. The church ladies are clashing, as are the worthies of the Manor. Add in a stranger in town and you have the makings of murder. At the end, a new chaperone in Max and Awena's lives may be beginning. Very well written, as usual.
This is one of those cozy mysteries that permeates a sense of well-being with every word. I adore listening to the audio book, as I can knit as I hear the novel, making me feel doubly productive. This novel utilizes the movie "Strangers on a Train" as attempting to commit a murder, but providing an alibi. The characters run the gamut from silly to evil, and all the adjectives in between the mix. Max Tudor solves a mystery introduced in earlier novels concerning the killing of his past partner. The description of the English countryside and the events of this small community endear this series to the reader. A nice story that does not leave fear and suspicion in the reader's mind.