The Marmalade Murders is the ninth book in Elizabeth J. Duncan's award-winning mystery series, celebrated for its small-town charm and picturesque Welsh setting and starring amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan.
The competition is friendly and just a little fierce at the annual Llanelen agricultural show as town and country folk gather for the outdoor judging of farm animals and indoor judging of cakes, pies, pastries, chutneys, jams and jellies, along with vegetables, fruit and flowers. But this year, there’s a new show category: murder.
Local artist, Spa owner, and amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan agrees to help with the intake of the domestic arts entries and to judge the children’s pet competition on show day. When the president of the Welsh Women's Guild isn’t on hand to see her granddaughter and pet pug win a prize, the family becomes concerned. When a carrot cake entered in the competition goes missing, something is clearly amiss.
A black Labrador Retriever belonging to the agricultural show’s president discovers the body of the missing woman under the baked goods table. A newcomer to town, a transgender woman, is suspected, but amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan believes her to be innocent. She sets out to find the real killer, but when a second body is discovered days later, the case is thrown into confusion, and Penny knows it’s up to her to figure out what happenedand why.
About the Author
Elizabeth J. Duncan is a winner of the Bloody Words Best Light Mystery Award and has been a finalist for the Agatha and Arthur Ellis Awards. She has worked as a writer and editor for some of Canada’s largest newspapers, including the Ottawa Citizen and Hamilton Spectator. Duncan is a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. She lives in Toronto, Canada and enjoys spending time each year in North Wales.
Elizabeth is the author of the Penny Brannigan Mystery series, including Murder on the Hour, Slated for Death, and The Cold Light of Mourning.
Read an Excerpt
For three days it rained. Not the soft, gentle kind that's really more of a fine mist, but the hard, lashing kind that can turn a halfhearted trickle of a waterfall into a gushing torrent in minutes, and bring normally calm rivers to the brink of overflowing their banks with a sudden and terrifying ferocity.
And then, to the great relief of the organizing committee and exhibitors of the annual agricultural show, the rain stopped. On Wednesday morning, the late-August sun rose out of the mist, pale and hesitant at first, but then confidently resumed its rightful position, as if its absence had been merely a temporary inconvenience.
And on that sun-drenched Wednesday morning, Penny Brannigan gave Harrison, her handsome grey cat, a good-bye pat, locked the front door of her cottage on the edge of the North Wales market town of Llanelen, and set off on her walk to work.
She moved in a brisk, purposeful fashion, taking strong, confident steps. Her red hair, expertly trimmed into a well-shaped, blunt bob, lifted gently from the sides of her face as a light breeze ruffled it. Raising her eyes skyward, without slowing down, she marvelled at how the heavy pewter sky of yesterday had magically transformed into a brilliant, benign blue. She breathed deeply, filling her lungs with fresh, pure air, rinsed clean by the recent rain.
Her walk to work at the Llanelen Spa, which she co-owned with her friend and business partner Victoria Hopkirk, took her past open fields bordered by grey stone walls. And because of the freshly fallen rain, the grassy fields, here in the valley and on up into the hills, were an especially deep, bright shade of green. Vivid, even. Haydn Williams, a local farmer, had once explained to her that the striking green effect had to do with the plants' roots being able to absorb more nitrogen from the soil after a heavy rain.
* * *
Normally, the fields near Penny's home were dotted with grazing sheep, but today, the sheep were gone, replaced by several sturdy, mud-spattered four-wheel-drive farm vehicles. Men and women, close enough to be easily seen, but not close enough to speak to, tramped across the fields in groups of twos and threes, seemingly deep in conversation, occasionally pointing at the ground or opening their arms in broad, expansive gestures.
Penny recognized Haydn Williams, pacing in measured strides with a sturdy woman wearing a puffy green vest and a plaid skirt that just skimmed the tops of her dark green waterproof boots. When they were almost at the top of the field, they stopped, conferred, and the woman remained where she was as Haydn began walking slowly backward, a yellow tape measure unspooling between them.
Penny left them to their work, and without trying to acknowledge him, she continued on her way.
After a few minutes of pleasant walking along the bank of the River Conwy, she reached the graceful three-arched seventeenth-century stone bridge that represented the town. Its image was reproduced on postcards, mugs, tea towels, and countless other promotional items.
The river, glittering in the morning sun and swollen from the recent rain, had reached the high-tide mark, and Penny admired its fast-flowing energy as she waited for a gap in the traffic that would allow her to cross the two-lane road. A few cars speeding past in both directions and one lorry later, she darted across, then lifted the latch on the black wrought-iron gate that separated the path that led to the Spa from the pavement. The gate's hinges squeaked a mild protest as she swung it open, reminding her once again that they really must get that seen to.
"Morning, Penny." Receptionist Rhian Philips smiled from behind her desk as Penny opened the door. "Mrs. Lloyd's waiting to see you, if you can spare her a few minutes."
"Mrs. Lloyd? But she's not due until tomorrow, surely. Or has she changed her appointment? Maybe something's come up." Mrs. Lloyd was a regular customer with a standing appointment for a manicure every other Thursday, so her hands would look their best as she dealt the cards or played the dummy's hand at the over-sixties social club bridge night.
"No, not an appointment." Rhian lowered her voice, although there was no one else in the reception area to overhear. "She said it was a private matter."
"Oh, I see. Well, where is she? In the manicure studio?"
"No, she's waiting for you in the quiet room."
"Oh, right. Well, thanks. I'd better see what she wants."
The aptly named quiet room was a small space down the corridor, perfect for private conversations or a reflective moment alone. Decorated in soothing neutral colours of cream and taupe, it featured two comfortable chairs upholstered in chocolate brown faux suede arranged to face each other, a selection of smart women's magazines, and on a small shelf mounted under a watercolour of the Spa, painted by Penny herself, a grouping of unscented LED candles that flickered convincingly, providing atmosphere without the fire hazard. Mrs. Lloyd, sipping a latte from a tall glass, glanced at the door as Penny entered, and placed the magazine she had been browsing on the low table between the two chairs. A well-upholstered woman in her late sixties, Mrs. Lloyd wore her hair in soft grey curls that framed a round, relatively unlined face. She was blessed with a smooth English rose–type complexion that had aged well, thanks to a robust skin-care regime that involved lashings of cold cream at night and generous applications of moisturizer in the morning.
"Oh, there you are. Good," she said, folding her hands in her lap and leaning forward as Penny lowered herself into the chair opposite her. "Now, I know you've got a busy day ahead of you, so I'll come right to the point. I'm here to ask for your help. We're that desperate; you're our last hope. I can't think of anyone else to ask."
Penny groaned inwardly. She had a sinking feeling that Mrs. Lloyd, who was terribly keen on community involvement, was about to ask her to do something she wouldn't want to do. Thoughts on how she could graciously say no without causing offence raced through her mind.
"When you say, 'we,' who's 'we'?" Penny asked with a cautious smile, hoping she was managing to hide her reluctance. "And why are you so desperate that I'm your last resort?"
"I'm just about to explain. It's the agricultural show, see. We need your help with something. Well, two things, if I'm honest, but let's take it one at a time."
"Oh, the agricultural show. Yes, I saw lots of activity in the fields when I walked by a few minutes ago. There seemed to be a lot of discussion going on. Haydn Williams and a woman I didn't recognize were pacing and measuring. Trying to work out where something should go, it looked like. A tent or pens for the animals, perhaps."
"Could be," agreed Mrs. Lloyd. "The grounds will be very soft and soggy. All that rain over the last few days has caused the organizing committee a lot of concern, I can tell you. Rain or shine, the show must go on. Trouble is, if it rains again, we're in trouble. I don't know if you remember, but a few years ago we had that atrocious weather on the day — high winds, and the rain was bucketing down. So no one came to the show except the folks with entries, and it was all a complete and utter disaster because we made no money from footfall through the gate. Normally, this is one of the biggest rural shows in the area. Hundreds of people turn out in good weather. The fields are full of parked cars. But not that year. And we still had to cover all the show expenses, which depleted our reserve funds, and we've only just now built them back up to where they should be. You wouldn't believe how expensive it is to put on a show like that. That marquee costs six thousand pounds to rent, for one day. One day!"
"That seems like an awful lot of money for a marquee rental."
"Well, it's more like three days, what with setting up and taking down, and the thing is massive, and I suppose the fee includes all that, but certainly it doesn't come cheap. Still, there has to be one."
"Maybe that's what Haydn was doing — measuring up for the marquee. Are we talking about the big white marquee where the judging takes place?"
"That's the one. Well, some of the judging takes place there. The flowers and cakes and jams and such like. The animals stay outside in the fields where they belong. But the marquee also serves as the refreshment tent. But what am I like? I've gone way off topic. I came here to ask you to help out at the show."
Penny squirmed in her chair and, bracing for something she didn't want to hear, asked, "So how can I help? I haven't been to the agricultural show in years, and I don't know the first thing about sheep or cattle, so I'm not sure I'm the best person to be asking."
"Well, hear me out," replied Mrs. Lloyd. "First, the lady who used to do the judging of the children's pets is unfortunately no longer available, so I thought of you."
"Me? I didn't even know there is a children's pet competition. What do I know about judging children's pets?"
"You've got a cat, haven't you?"
"Well, yes, but ..."
"There you are, then!" said Mrs. Lloyd triumphantly. "Good enough."
"Oh, that's how desperate you are, is it?"
"You might say that."
"And how, exactly, do I judge the children's pets?"
"You find something nice to say about each animal. The one with the most spots, or the softest coat, or the waggiest tail, or the prettiest ears ... something like that. You can make it up as you go along. Just make sure every child leaves with a prize. There'll be only about a dozen or so, all under ten."
"I suppose I could do that, although I don't know if I'm all that good with children. But the person who used to do the judging, is she ill?"
"No, not ill. Not anymore. She's, well, she's dead, actually."
"Oh, I am sorry."
"It's all right; it was natural causes. Nothing suspicious about her death, and no need for you to feel you have to get involved."
Penny ignored the allusion to her amateur sleuthing activities and, after a respectful pause, steered the conversation back to the purpose of Mrs. Lloyd's visit. "You mentioned you wanted to ask me about two things. What was the second thing you were hoping I might be able to help with?"
"Oh, that. It's quite simple. We're short of volunteers for the home-crafts intake on the Friday night, and I hoped that since you live close by, you'd be willing to give us a hand with that. And Victoria, too, if you wouldn't mind asking her. It's really a job for two people. You'll be given the names of registered entrants and all you have to do is check people off when they arrive with their cakes or jam or carrots, or whatever, and put their entries on the table, so everything's all logged in and ready to be judged first thing in the morning."
"That's all? Just log in the competition entries?" Mrs. Lloyd nodded. "Well, that sounds simple enough. I could probably manage that, and I'll ask Victoria if she's available to help. If she's free, I'm sure she will."
"So you'll do it? Wonderful. I knew we could count on you. You should be on-site by four thirty for a briefing. Entries open at five o'clock."
Relieved that Mrs. Lloyd's requests hadn't been nearly as bad as she'd feared, Penny relaxed a little.
"Mrs. Lloyd, how is it that you're involved in the agricultural show? You're not a farmer, and I've never known you to be particularly interested in country pursuits." Until her retirement a few years earlier, Mrs. Lloyd had been the town's postmistress. From her vantage point behind the wooden counter in the post office located on the town square, Mrs. Lloyd had taken a keen interest in the town's comings and goings for decades. She liked to think that nothing much got past her then, or now, come to that.
"No, I'm not all that interested in country pursuits. But my late husband, Arthur, was the town's greengrocer, and he sold all the produce from the farms. Almost everything was local then and available only in season. Oh, you still had oranges from Spain and bananas from wherever, but most of what he sold, especially in summer, was grown on farms right here in the valley. The strawberries back then were delicious. Plump and juicy. Not like the tasteless imported kind you get today. Anyway, Arthur served on the organizing committee of the agricultural show for years, and when he passed away, the other members asked if I would fill his seat. And I said yes. And I'm still doing it. I consider it an honour. One does what one can." She got to her feet. "I'm glad you agreed to help out, Penny. It's always good to give back to the community, even if it's just in a small way. Especially when you're a newcomer."
"Mrs. Lloyd, I've lived here for almost thirty years!"
Now in her early fifties, Penny had discovered the town as a young Canadian backpacking tourist in her twenties and stayed on for an extra night or two, which turned into a week, and then a month, until all these years later, she was still here and had made a good life for herself among the warm, welcoming Welsh people. She'd made friends, started a business, and, except for her accent, had assimilated so completely that she was indistinguishable from anyone born and bred in the town.
"A relative newcomer, then," Mrs. Lloyd said with a teasing smile as she gathered up her handbag. "Well, I'm glad you've agreed to join us. Just go straight to the tent on Friday and ask for Joyce Devlin. She's the president of the show committee and she'll show you what to do. Oh, and as volunteers, you and Victoria would be most welcome to attend our gala awards banquet. Everybody's too tired on the Saturday night of the show, and besides, the farmers have got their animals to get home and see to, so the dinner's held a week later at the hotel. The main prizes, like Best in Show, are awarded then, although most are given out on show day. Everybody'll be at the gala. The tickets are reasonably priced, and you pay for your own drinks."CHAPTER 2
By Friday afternoon, following three days of intensive work on the part of organizers and volunteers, preparations for the annual Llanelen agricultural show were in the final stages. Sturdy yet portable metal enclosures for the cattle, horse, pig, and sheep competitions had been erected on one side of the site, and the vans, trailers, and horseboxes transporting the animals were beginning to arrive, bumping across the uneven terrain. At the opposite end of the show grounds, cages and lighter pens for the poultry and small-animal events had been set up. Exhibitors were tending to their animals, unpacking displays, ensuring signage was correct, polishing machinery, and seeing to the countless details that would hopefully result in a coveted silver cup or red rosette.
At the centre of the main field, where a few days earlier Penny had watched Haydn Williams take measurements, stood a massive temporary white fabric structure. To refer to it as a tent would have been akin to calling the Queen Mary II a boat. The marquee featured enclosed sides with a row of plastic windows and a distinctive peaked roofline.
"I'm glad you were free and agreed to help out this evening," Penny remarked as she and her friend and business partner, Victoria Hopkirk, picked their way across the field toward the marquee. "I was afraid you weren't going to make it here in time, though."
"I almost didn't," Victoria replied. "The traffic was terrible. The road was positively jammed with exhibitors, and they're all driving slowly because they're towing trailers." She grinned at her friend. "The things we must do to keep Mrs. Lloyd happy. Remember that time she talked us into judging the Christmas decorations in all the shop windows?"
"That was rather fun, actually," said Penny. "I wouldn't mind doing it again. And I know she drives us mad sometimes, but her heart's in the right place. She's lived all her life here in Llanelen, and that's rare these days, when everybody moves around so much. And she cares deeply about this town."
"Well, that's true."
Although the sunny weather had held over the last three days, the uneven ground felt spongy and slightly springy beneath their feet. "We should have worn our boots," Victoria remarked as they approached the marquee. When they reached the entrance, she clutched Penny's arm to steady herself as she slid her shoe along the grass in an attempt to dislodge the clods of dark brown earth that clung to it. "The ground could be even wetter in there" — she indicated the marquee — "because the sun hasn't had a chance to dry it up. That's unless it has a floor, of course, which I doubt."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Marmalade Murders"
Copyright © 2018 Elizabeth J. Duncan.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this book
This was a delightful cozy mystery. I loved the language and phrasing...especially since I'm an American. It was fun to "hear" them speak with unique words and phrases. The characters were quirky and well developed. I loved the relationships between the various individuals. There were friendly interactions as well as some catty, ugly ones. But they were all interesting and helped lay the foundation for who committed murder. I would definitely read another book by this author. It was a light and interesting read. Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
3.5 As cozy mysteries go, I found this to be pretty entertaining. The main character, Penny, is quite the sleuth when trying to discover who murdered a competitor at the local agriculture show. Slowly but surely she connects the dots by asking simple questions of the townspeople involved in the show. Penny is smart and the characters in this book are very likeable. This was a light, easy read. I've jumped in at book #9 of the series and thought it worked well as a stand alone. It was such a quick read, I do think I will go back and read some of the earlier books. I'm also looking forward to future books to see what Penny gets involved with next. I received this from St. Martin's Press, via Netgalley.
There were things about this book that I really like. There were things that I had to say 'Hmm'. I loved and enjoyed the location. I loved the down home feel of the agriculture show. Brought back memories for this Texan. Give me a story with a horse or animal and I am usually drawn in. I loved the plot surrounding the show. Our main character and her friends are left with no shortage of suspects as they try to figure out who was behind the chaos and villainy. The story/plot is solid. The characters all of them are well developed. Elizabeth Duncan does a great job of setting a scene and giving this Texas girl a view of the English country side and it's values, traditions and culture. Although The Marmalade Murders is #9 in the series the characters are introduced with enough back story so I was not left 'in the dark' or confused. If you enjoy cozy mysteries this is one to check out. Read the complete synopsis and read more reviews at the Great Escapes tour or on the retail sites. I received a complimentary copy.
The Marmalade Murders by Elizabeth J. Duncan is the ninth book in A Penny Brannigan Mystery series. Mrs. Lloyd has wrangled Penny Brannigan into assisting with the annual Llanelen agriculture show. Penny and Victoria Hopkirk co-own Llanelen Spa in Llanelen, North Wales. They are accepting the domestic arts entries and get their instructions from Joyce Devlin, president of the show committee. A half an hour before the deadline, they notice that Florence Semble has yet to drop off her entries and give her a call. It seems that someone had telephoned and told her she could drop off her entries the next morning (odd). Penny is judging the children’s pet competition the next day when a little girl gets upset because her grandmother, Gaynor Lewis failed to show up. Gaynor is not the only thing missing at the agriculture show. Florence’s carrot cake and her marmalade entries have disappeared as well. Joyce’s dog soon finds Florence’s cake under a table in the judging tent along with Gaynor Lewis. Was someone trying to eliminate the competition? Penny looks into the victim’s life to see who could have wished her harm and soon discovers that these competitions are taken seriously by the competitors. One women has something to important to tell Penny, but she ends up dead before she can speak with her. Penny needs to work quickly to expose the killer or she could be next. The Marmalade Murders can be read alone. The information a reader needs is included in the book. I thought The Marmalade Murders was well-written and had a nice pace which made the story easy to read and enjoy. The characters are established and relatable (especially to those who live in small towns). Mrs. Lloyd and Florence are delightful. They provide levity to the story. I especially appreciate that the main character is in her 50s. It is a refreshing change from other cozy mysteries where the characters are in their late 20s and early 30s. Penny is smart, friendly, caring and level-headed. The village of Llanelen is charming and the author’s descriptions of the Welsh countryside brought it alive for me. Llanelen is a small village where the people grew up together, everyone knows each other’s business, and the rumor mill is alive and well. I think it is funny that after living in Llanelen for thirty years, Penny is still considered an outsider. The mystery has several suspects who each have a good motive for doing in the victim. I liked the misdirection that could easily lead readers down the wrong path. The investigation consists of Penny asking questions of the various townspeople. I felt that the story could have used some action. Inspector Bethan Morgan is a friendly detective who values Penny’s input into the case. She realizes that Penny has access to information that she does not. I did enjoy the historical information on Speke Hall (there really is a Speke Hall outside Liverpool). The Speke Hall in the book has a priest hole and an eavesdropper (just like the real Speke Hall). The Marmalade Murders has a sweet, heartwarming moment at the end. I am giving The Marmalade Murders 4 out of 5 stars (I liked it). It was lovely to visit Llanelen again and spend time with Penny, Mrs. Lloyd and the other villagers. I look forward to returning to Wales in the next A Penny Brannigan Mystery.
When the annual agricultural fair rolls around the locals put on their competitive hats and go for the win! From the kitchen to farm, the locals vie to win their chosen areas. When Penny Brannigan, local spa owner and transplant from Canada, is asked to help out, she willingly agrees to pitch in and be part of the community. When one of the competitor’s marmalade and cake goes missing and another is found murdered, Penny is in the thick of it. Are the two events connected or just a coincidence? This was my first exposure to this author and the series and there were o gaps, making this a great stand alone! The story is so well written I could close my eyes and see the locals and farm animals, and hear the local Welsh accent. An enjoyable read with a surprise ending!
Penny and Victoria run a “spa” in a smaller community in Northern Wales, so they think they know most of the residents and much of the gossip. Although not being born there, Penny is still considered an outsider after thirty years. The annual agricultural show is like our county fairs, in the U.S. and is dependent on many, many volunteers. Not being the "handiest" homemaker, Penny is recruited to be a children's pet judge and for the simple task of receiving food items for judging. These seemingly innocent activities throw Penny and friends into the center of the action - including a murder and a money mystery and the most dysfunctional family we've seen (or read about) in a while. The writing is descriptive and beautiful and makes me long for summer days and fall harvest events. The characters are fascinating and their relationships tangled together. This was a lot of fun to read.
The Marmalade Murders by Elizabeth J. Duncan is an intriguing story that will keep you guessing. Penny Brannigan and businesses partner Victoria are helping out at the agricultural fair. Penny is dismayed by the competitiveness of the participants. It seems everyone has a secret and when a particular participant is found dead, Penny just has to find the answers. This story played out well, the mystery kept me guessing and it wasn't until the very end that I figured it out. I really enjoyed spending time with the characters in this book. They all have colorful and unique personalities and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley.