For readers of M. C. Beaton or Susan Wittig Albert, the high-flying new Birds of a Feather mystery series from bestselling author Marty Wingate begins as a British woman gets caught up in a dangerous plot when her celebrity father disappears.
With her personal life in disarray, Julia Lanchester feels she has no option but to quit her job on her father’s hit BBC Two nature show, A Bird in the Hand. Accepting a tourist management position in Smeaton-under-Lyme, a quaint village in the English countryside, Julia throws herself into her new life, delighting sightseers (and a local member of the gentry) with tales of ancient Romans and pillaging Vikings.
But the past is front and center when her father, Rupert, tracks her down in a moment of desperation. Julia refuses to hear him out; his quick remarriage after her mother’s death was one of the reasons Julia flew the coop. But later she gets a distressed call from her new stepmum: Rupert has gone missing. Julia decides to investigate—she owes him that much, at least—and her father’s new assistant, the infuriatingly dapper Michael Sedgwick, offers to help. Little does the unlikely pair realize that awaiting them is a tightly woven nest of lies and murder.
Marty Wingate’s captivating mysteries can be enjoyed together or separately, in any order:
The Potting Shed series: THE GARDEN PLOT | THE RED BOOK OF PRIMROSE HOUSE | BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE | THE SKELETON GARDEN | THE BLUEBONNET BETRAYAL | BEST-LAID PLANTS
The Birds of a Feather series: THE RHYME OF THE MAGPIE | EMPTY NEST | EVERY TRICK IN THE ROOK | FAREWELL, MY CUCKOO
Praise for Marty Wingate and The Rhyme of the Magpie
“Marty Wingate’s Birds of a Feather mysteries provide a perfect blend of quirky characters and atmosphere. These solid traditional cozies deliver a fabulous setting, lots of birding, intriguing bird lore, and complex whodunits with contemporary themes. Add the marvelous mysteries of this wonderful series to your life list.”—Christine Goff, bestselling author of the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series
“Marty Wingate plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice to satisfy any hungry mystery reader.”—Mary Daheim, bestselling author of The Alpine Yeoman
“Put the kettle on and settle into a well-crafted village mystery with a delightful new sleuth.”—Connie Archer, bestselling author of Ladle to the Grave
“Marty Wingate might just be the new Queen of the Cozy, but her cozy mysteries are deceptive in that they balance quaint village life with strong female characters who achieve self-significance while still maintaining femininity. Long may she reign.”—Bibliotica
“Wingate has once again written a superb cozy mystery filled with suspense, red herrings, danger, romance, and magpies. . . . The Rhyme of the Magpie is a must-read for fans of Wingate’s novels and fans of cozy mysteries. You will love this book!”—A Bookish Way of Life
“Great characters, picturesque location, and a mystery to solve. With those three ingredients, you can’t be disappointed.”—Mystery Playground
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that’s best to miss.
Four magpies in their black-and-white court jester outfits strutted about on the pavement when I stepped out of my cottage. I gave the door a sharp tug to make sure it latched and looked down the empty high street toward the green. The birds had the place to themselves—the village was mostly deserted midmorning on a weekday, as the majority of residents commuted into London. I turned right for the short walk to work, and the birds lumbered off into the road when I passed, hopping and skipping a few times before they took flight. One looked over his shoulder and locked a beady black eye on me as he lifted off.
Four—I must ring Bianca later today and give her a scare. I had spotted four magpies the last time my sister had discovered herself pregnant. Little Emmet had recently turned two. Dad had observed three birds when Bee was pregnant with Enid, and Mum the time before that, predicting the sex of my niece Emelia, now ten. I had told my sister that the magpies were an early warning system, and she told me to shut it. But in a nice way. We loved each other, my sister and I. I also loved her husband, Paul, and all three—with perhaps the fourth on the way—of Bee’s dear, sweet children. I particularly loved the fact that they lived at the other end of England.
A cold gust of wind caught me from behind, sending my hair into my face. The first of May in Suffolk—a somewhat dodgy experience. I turned up the collar of my coat and tucked my hair behind my ears. I still wasn’t used to this shorter cut—those twelve inches of hair had been good insulation against a cold neck. Even so, you won’t hear me say a word against a chin-length bob and uneven bangs that hang down too far into my eyes. This flapping hair was part of the New Me, only three months old, and I would wear it proudly.
I cut across the high street, wishing that it had been necessary to sidestep a busload of tourists. It was my life’s work—my new life. Lure tourists into Smeaton-under-Lyme, where they would be enchanted with the picturesque village and its tales of ancient Romans and pillaging Vikings, and where they could spend a few pounds in the shops and pubs. The Earl Fotheringill—my employer and owner of not just the village and my Pipit Cottage, but also the parkland, farms, managed woodlands, holiday cottages, and various historic sites around the estate—counted on me to make it happen.
As I arrived at the door of the tourist center, my second-in-command stepped out. “There you are, Julia,” she said. “I’m just off for fresh milk.”
I looked down at the time on my phone. “But, Vesta, it’s only two minutes till ten o’clock. Lord Fotheringill is never late. He’ll wonder where you are.”
Vesta Widdersham squinted against the glare of the gray skies and clipped sunglasses onto her pearly cat-eye frames. “He takes no notice of me. I’ll just dash up to the shop. I’ll get us a packet of biscuits, too—we’re low. What do you think—bourbon creams?”
“Malted milk?” I asked without any hope of getting them.
Tilting her head to the side, she looked at me out of the corner of her glasses and gave me half a smile. “Too ordinary.” Vesta saw a connection between biscuits and courting that I didn’t see, and, as the Earl Fotheringill was divorced, Vesta thought I should be interested. I was getting the distinct and slightly unpleasant feeling that the earl thought along the same lines.
“We’re not here to put on a show,” I said.
“You’ve got to give them what they want,” she said with a sly look.
“Biscuits,” she said. She ran a hand through her short hair that was a shade she called “champagne.” Vesta, a retired home health care nurse, had about as much experience in the tourism industry as I did, but she played an important role at these meetings with Lord Fotheringill—she was a buffer.
“You’ll hurry, won’t you?” I asked.
“Someone rang just now and asked for you,” she said, cinching her pink raincoat up around her thin frame. “He didn’t leave a name or a message, but he did sound familiar.” She looked at me with fake innocence and a perplexed frown.
I felt a dull ache start up in my chest as I sensed my old life as a foxhound and me up a tree. “You’d better get the milk.”
Vesta answered with a tiny backward wave as she walked away. I stood on the pavement for a moment and viewed our shop-front window as a visitor might. Gold-leaf lettering read “Tourist Information Center” and the small space was cut almost in half by a counter. In front of the counter were racks of leaflets touting the many attractions around the estate. A poster of the abbey ruins hung on the wall, and the counter was awash in promises: “Buy fresh local produce at the Smeaton-under-Lyme farmers’ market—opening in June” and “Celebrate Summer Solstice in Suffolk.” In back of the counter was our work area, which comprised a small table, a computer, a kettle, a fridge barely big enough for a carton of milk, and a loo.
I turned the door sign to “Open” and slipped behind the counter to hang up my coat, smoothing my skirt in the process and patting the embroidered Fotheringill family crest on my cardigan. I pinned on my nametag and checked the mirror to make sure it was straight. “Julia Lanchester,” it read, although backward to me, “Tourist Information Manager.”
Full-time manager, and then some. I worked six days a week, which sounded rather Dickensian, but it was necessary, at least here at the beginning, in order to build the village and the entire Fotheringill estate into a destination spot.
Angling my head under the light, I looked for the telltale gray hairs amid the dark blond that Rosy at The Hair Strand swore she saw. “We could do a lovely highlight,” she had said as my long locks had fallen to the floor, “take years off you.” I had told her I didn’t need any years taken off, thank you very much. She had smiled. “Good on you, Julia. No need to hide our age when we turn forty.” Thirty-seven, I had corrected her.
“Welcome to Smeaton-under-Lyme,” I rehearsed to my mirror image. “Our little corner of Suffolk has so much to offer. Would you like a map of the fifth-century Saxon trail?” I might as well say it to myself, as I’d had few real live tourists to say it to.
The earl looked at this new tourist information center—the TIC, as we referred to it—as a way of increasing income for the estate, which he hoped to run along the lines of Chatsworth in Derbyshire. He thought it likely there would be another remake of Pride and Prejudice anytime now—or, at the very least, Martin Chuzzlewit—and we should be selected for location shots.
The bell tinkled above the door, signaling that it was showtime.
“Lord Fotheringill, good morning,” I said.
His Lordship rested his bicycle against the wall and took off his helmet and trouser clip. “Now, Julia, please—it’s Linus.” He wagged a finger at me and smiled as he took a handful of poeticus daffodils from his bike basket.
“They’re just starting to bloom along the drive—Thorne cut them for me to bring to you. And Ms. Widdersham.”
“How lovely, Linus,” I said, taking the flowers and picturing Thorne, his Lordship’s ancient butler, sent out on such a dangerous solo mission. I busied myself with filling a vase while Linus straightened his bow tie and stood examining a map on the wall that showed the extent of his estate.
Lord Fotheringill wore impeccable tweeds and had a neatly trimmed mustache and black hair with a touch of gray at the temples, although some weeks that gray was more noticeable than others. Even without my heels, I towered over him. He really was a dear, but the man was sixty if he was a day—more uncle material than suitor. Tread carefully, Julia.
“I’ll just switch the kettle on—Vesta’s gone for milk. We’ve come up with some smashing ideas to attract visitors.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when Vesta really did show up just before the kettle switched off. She often lingered at the shop, chatting up its owner, a widower named Akash Kumar, in one of the slowest courtships the planet has ever seen. I told Vesta she should just ask him over to dinner, but she said I didn’t understand how best to go about these things. And we both knew she was right.
We sat round the small table in the back part of the TIC, finished with business and well into our tea. “Bourbon creams, my favorite,” Linus said, taking another biscuit off the plate.
“Julia insisted,” Vesta said, lying through her teeth. I shot her a look.
“Well, now.” Lord Fotheringill’s way of beginning a new topic. “Rupert Lanchester. He certainly has ruffled a few feathers with this latest interview.” Linus chuckled, and Vesta joined in at the joke that was so old there were hardly any feathers left on it.
I smiled, but said nothing as my heart sank. Linus never seemed to notice my lack of enthusiasm when he mentioned my father, host of the popular BBC Two nature television show A Bird in the Hand. Linus was a huge fan of my dad’s, and although I’m not saying that Rupert was the reason Linus hired me to manage the estate’s tourist center, I’m not ruling out the possibility.
I suspected that Vesta suspected there was a story to be told, but I’d never offered more than a few sketchy details: I no longer worked as Rupert’s personal assistant or associate producer on the BBC show. I sought a new direction for my life, had settled on the tourist industry, and was delighted to be in Smeaton-under-Lyme. I breathed not a word about the recent upheaval in my personal life.
My mother had died unexpectedly late last summer. Dad and I at home in Cambridge, and Bianca down in Cornwall, sought ways to cope with the shock. My grief was deep, like a sharp pain cutting straight through me—and it didn’t help any of us that we’d had barely a word from my mum’s relatives. She was from California, but her family had cut all ties with her when she married my dad, and they continued to apply that ban to the rest of us after she was gone.
Gone—and not six months after she died, my dad remarried. Just the thought of his betrayal of Mum’s memory was like a punch to my middle, and even now, sitting at the table with Vesta and Linus, I struggled to breathe. But I would not let them see, because one slip would lead to another and I could not let my hysterical reaction to Dad’s marriage and my subsequent flight from Cambridge seep into my bright new life. Some things are best left to fester in the dark.
By the shrewd looks she gave me, I knew Vesta could tell that a sea of stories churned under the thin explanation I’d given her. She didn’t pry, but she would poke me with a stick occasionally, hoping to loosen up a few details.
“Did you see it, Julia?” Vesta asked, stick in hand at that moment. “On the news last night, they asked him what he thought about the plan for the wind farm going in somewhere in Norfolk.”
Near Weeting Heath, close to the Suffolk border.
“Rupert said it would wreak havoc on the birds,” Vesta said.
The meadow was an important breeding ground for stone curlews, and the wind farm could disrupt an entire population’s life cycle.
“Rupert said the company is a bunch of thugs,” Vesta added.
“Power to the People—that’s the name of the firm,” I said, “and they are most certainly thugs.” It slipped out before I could stop it—it was my intention to appear as disinterested in my old life as possible, but the subject made my blood heat up. “Rupert was pointing out that it’s a protected site,” I continued, “and yet the company is trying to push through approval for their project without taking into account the environmental impact.”
But with my defense of Rupert came a crash of emotions that disoriented me—a flush of pride in my dad for standing up to them, followed hot on its heels by the anger that never went away, followed by my eyes filling with tears. Get hold of yourself, Julia. If I didn’t, one of these days I would simply explode.
I shook my head and said, “I didn’t see the news.”
Vesta was relentless. “Later, they ran a repeat of one of his shows. It was from three years ago, but still such a delight. Rupert showed a group of schoolchildren how to build nest boxes for wrens, and he taught them a song about caterpillars. Do you remember that episode, Julia?”
Of course I remembered that episode—I’d scheduled it. Twenty-five second-graders from a poor school in Newham had gone out to Marshy End. Few of them could speak English, many had never been to the countryside, and all of them went wild. They ran riot over their teachers—breaking off stems of yellow flag iris and chasing one another round, jumping up and down on clumps of sedges near the pond. I certainly hadn’t been any help. It was a nightmare, until Rupert began a silly song that involved flapping his arms like a bird. One by one the children followed him, and soon they were acting out the life of a blackcap. They had ended their afternoon in quiet reverence, a congregation of seven-year-olds watching a pied wagtail bob its tail up and down before flying to the nest to feed its young. He was that good.
But the distance I put between myself and my old life could not be bridged. “No,” I said to Vesta and Linus, “I don’t remember that one. I was probably getting the tea.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Using the traditional Magpie rhyme - with a twist - Marty Wingate deftly builds a story of selfishness, crime and unexpected romance. Add a range of rural characters, humour and intrigue and this is a really enjoyable read from the very beginning to the surprising end.
This is a classic British mystery. The right characters, intrigue, unknown evil-doers, etc. I enjoyed it very much. Rich characterization. Uncertain situations. Who is OK and who is lying? and a satisfying solution. It's well done and well worth reading.
Then The Rhyme of the Magpie by Marty Wingate is for you. Well written and plotted, the heroes are sympathetic and appealing and the villains suitably pathetic and dastardly. Until her father's quick marriage to her deceased mother's best friend, Julia Lanchester's life had been full and comfortable as her famous celebrity scientist father's personal assistant. Now working in a small village as the manager of its tourism office, she's enjoying the challenge of her new job and living in a village. She won't talk with her father who wants her to go back. When a spokesman for the wind farm company that wants to build a wind farm near a bird sanctuary is found murdered and her father disappears, Julia regrets refusing to talk with him. This begins a series of events that leads to some surprising revelations and a new beginning. Scientists, rare birds, magpies, a new romance, kidnappings, and intrigue, what's not to like?
The Rhyme of the Magpie by Marty Wingate is the first in her new series. I really enjoyed this book and will be looking forward to more in this series. As a fan of her Potting Shed mystery series, I was excited to find this book. Julia Lanchester is a very down-to-earth woman but can be very stubborn and a little rash when her emotions are running high. Her father, Rupert, is a TV personality and ornithologist. She was his assistant before he remarried after her mother's death. This caused a rift between them because Julia, in her grief, could not accept this situation. She now lives in a small village and has become the manager of a Tourist Information Center in Smeaton-under-Lyme. She really does enjoy the new job and her little cottage and is beginning to feel very comfortable and at home. She meets her replacement when her father goes missing, Michael Sedgewick, because he contacts her to see if she can help find her father. There was definite chemistry between them from the beginning. Michael is a very likable and interesting character with some secrets that Julia comes to find out as the story goes along. While looking for her father they find a dead body and the hunt begins, not only for her father but for a murderer. The countryside details are so clear that I could see the landscape as I read. The plot moved along smoothly and steadily. The secondary characters were clearly drawn and were integral to the murder mystery. I was given a copy of this book by NetGalley and the publisher, Alibi, in exchange for an honest review.
Because of remarriage is awkward and while all the english village mystery themes are intact it does not really take off. None of the characters seem to jell sorta bounching off each other. Perhaps too much heroine dont think i will continue in series except from library FPL
It started as a simple rhyme for children learning to count. Over the years, it seemed to be almost a guide to omens, depending on how many magpies in their “black-and-white court jester outfits” one might see at one time. For example, Julia Lanchester just knew her sister Bianca was pregnant again and would have a little boy because of the number of magpies seen that day. Now, however, the stakes were too high – Julia’s father had gone missing and left first one, then another message about the rhyme. It had been less than 6 months after Julia’s beloved mother Anne’s passing when her father wed her mother’s best friend, Beryl. Furious with what seemed a betrayal of her mother’s memory, she refused to visit them. She had moved out of the house that had been home most of her life to get away from this betrayal and stopped working for her father, Rupert, as the associate producer for his nature program, A Bird in the Hand, on BBC. Julia had found a job in a completely new line of work for Lord Linus Fotheringill as the Tourist Information Manager; she also lived in the tiny Pipit Cottage on the Fotheringill estate in Smeaton-under-Lyme, Suffolk, England. Many areas in Suffolk house breeding grounds for rare birds; Power to the People was a huge PR firm acting on behalf of the company trying to push through approval of a wind farm that would destroy the protected site of the stone curlews. Rupert Lanchester, Ornithologist was very much against any developments that would destroy areas where rare birds lived or bred, and he was working against the wind farm. During the heat of the controversy, Rupert goes missing, leaving a partial text behind for Julia and a brief note for his bride. Julia meets her father’s new associate producer, Michael Sedgwick, and they help each other reason out where Rupert might be while Michael learns more about the program and his new position from her. They go to check out Marshy End, the old family cottage often used as a holiday getaway or Rupert’s place to work out challenges for his work. That’s where they found the body of the spokesman for Power to the People, a man with whom Julia’s father had previously had very public arguments. And it was clear that the man did not die of natural causes. They had to find Rupert soon while they also wanted to prove his innocence… Marty Wingate, author of the Potting Shed Mysteries, is also the author of The Rhyme of the Magpie, first in the “A Birds of a Feather” series. As an ‘armchair’ bird watcher, the name of this new series captivated me. Julia is, of course, my favorite person so far in this series. A serious, intelligent, and logical woman, she is the kind of woman that will succeed in almost any business endeavor she sets her mind on. Her creative talent is put to good use as a Tourist Information Manager. This combination of creativity and logic, as well as love for her father, is what she desperately needs to find him. Julia also has good insight into people, and is trying to understand Michael. She sees his lack of background, a mystery man who comes off sounding caring and sincere, while the facts don’t quite line up. The cover art is gorgeous, colorful and attractive, reflecting the story itself. The plot is multi-layered and brought through to fruition completely and with excellence. It is satisfying to read a mystery for which there may be more than one suspect, a variety of plot twists, and a solution that keeps this reader guessing to the very end. Cozy readers looking for humor might be disappointed in this story, but bird enthusiasts and those who like their cozies to be filled with information on whatever the subject is will appreciate it. This novel is rich in descriptives of both the aged estate and the lands where various rare birds with a female sleuth who is intelligent and intuitive. I highly recommend this mystery to fans of Marty Wingate, English cozy mysteries, and challenging plots; it is the kind of tale that we who love cozy mysteries will stay up until all hours to read. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how the series progresses! With a grateful heart, I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of an honest review. All opinions are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
I usually have trouble reading a book that is based in England or has an England base Language. This was not the case with this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the “England English” and even understood the words the author used. What I mean is I understand pram is a baby carriage for example. The English phrases were all ones I “got”. Anyway, the book is about a gal who leaves the employment of her father and moves to another town. She begins work as tourist manager for one of the local gentry. She is trying to distance herself from her father who has six months after her mother’s death. She is even more upset because the new wife was her mother’s best friend. Her father comes to see her but they don’t end the visit on a happy note. The next thing she knows is her father goes missing. Her father’s new assistant, Michael Sedgwick, offers to help her figure out what or who was the reason for his disappearance. Thus begins a story interwoven with lies and murder. The story, in my opinion, started out slowly but once I got past the first couple of chapters, I was very glad to be reading the story. The characters were very life-like and not stilted or unreal. I could picture the English village and see the campground and landscape described in the book. If you like a book to make you try to figure out “who dun it” before the author tells you, then you will not be disappointed in this book. Get a copy, find a comfortable chair and have a good read.
The first book in a new series by this author, and the first book I've read by her. I look forward to more in this series for sure. This is a fast paced, active story that keeps you engaged from beginning to end. The main character, Julia, has issues with her father which have put a wedge between them, but she puts those on the back burner when she discovers he is missing--and finds herself working through them, realizing the error of her ways, as the story progresses. I enjoyed the bird-watching information provided throughout the story, particularly as I hadn't heard of some of the birds included. Of course, there is the requisite murder to be solved, which Julia manages to do with the assistance of a new man in her life, Michael. **I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.**
The Rhyme of the Magpie by Marty Wingate is a British cozy mystery and the first book in the Birds of a Feather Mystery series. Julia Lanchester has started a new job and moved into Pipit Cottage in Smeaton-under-Lyme. After her mother passed away, her father remarried her mother’s best friend, Beryl (just six months after mother’s death). Instead of talking with her father, Julia took off. Julia used to work with her father, Rupert Lanchester as his assistant and associate producer. Rupert is an ornithologist and produces a show on BBC2 called A Bird in the Hand. Julia is living in Smeaton-under-Lyme (they have the most unusual named cities in the U.K.) and working as Tourist information Manager for Earl Fotheringill (along with his estate he owns the village and surrounding areas). Julia has not spoken to her father since he announced he was getting married. Julia only told her sister, Bianca (Bee) where she is now living along with her phone number. One day Rupert shows up to speak with Julia. Unfortunately, Julia throws him out of her cottage without speaking with him. Later that day she receives a call from Beryl stating her father is missing. His car is in the shop (being repaired) so she does not know how he could have gone away. There is no note and his cell phone is still at home. Julia goes to see Beryl to help calm her down and discovers her car is gone from the garage where she had it stored. Julia does not take the time to report the theft, but borrows a car from friend and co-workers, Vesta. Beryl also called Rupert’s new assistant, Michael Sedgwick. When Rupert does not turn up the next day, Michael and Julia set out to investigate. The first check a cottage (Marshy End) that the family owns. Following a magpie Julia stumbles across a dead body near the cottage. Kenneth Kersey is dead. Kenneth was the Director for Power to the People. A company sets up wind farms. Rupert was adamantly opposed to the wind farms new site (would upset the bird in the area). The police would like to speak with Rupert about the death, but he cannot be found (though he was at the cottage within the last day). Who killed Kenneth and where is Rupert? Does it have anything to do with the wind farm? The Rhyme of the Magpie is a darling story. I give The Rhyme of the Magpie 3 out of 5 stars. The book is cute and has funny parts, but I just could not get into it. The murder was very easy to figure out (it can be solved not long after finding the body). This is just the first book in the series, and I am sure the next book will be even better. I received a complimentary copy of The Rhyme of a Magpie from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.
Marty Wingate's The Rhyme of the Magpie. Julia Lanchester is the daughter of the famous birder, Rupert Lanchester. Rupert is the star of a BBC Nature series. Julia quits her job in a dispute with her father. She feels he married too soon following the death of her mother. Julia takes a management position in the Tourist Information Center in Smeaton-under-Lyme. This is a lovely English town setting. Julia’s backyard affords us a look at some of the area birds. Then Rupert goes missing…. To where could he have disappeared?? Did he go of his own accord or is foul play involved as a threatening letter is found. We get to travel to Marshy End . Rupert has a cabin there. Julia and Michael Sedgwick, the replacement for Julia’s position with Rupert, go to see if that is where her father is staying. No Rupert instead they discover a body…. A dead body!!! Great cast of characters with a lot of suspects. All the characters were well-developed with each bringing their own flavor to the story. Loved the chemistry between the main characters. Mix together birding, rhyme, danger, intrigue, mystery, a well plotted book with humor plus romance and this cozy mystery gives you a captivating read. Thank you to Net Gallery for this eBook. My opinion is my own.