Ambitious Scotland Yard detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons hears about his latest case---the death of a middle-aged widower in Chipping Chedding, a small town in the English Cotswolds---and can't believe his good luck. His best friend, wealthy man-about-town Phillip Bethancourt, just so happens to be in Chipping Chedding already, accompanying his model girlfriend on a fashion shoot on a country estate. Since Phillip has helped Jack on numerous occasions, indulging his interest in a good mystery by aiding Jack in his investigations, it's natural for him to help them figure out what happened to Charlie Bingham.
Though at first Bingham's death appears to have been accident, tracing his movements on the evening of his death proves to be more difficult for Jack and Phillip than they expected, and they begin to suspect foul play. It seems Bingham was going to visit his girlfriend—but no one in the village, from the vicar to Charlie's chess partner (and Phillip's distant cousin) to Charlie's neighbors, knows who she is. And when it turns out that Bingham was in fact a very wealthy businessman who hid his enormous wealth from everyone around him, suspects begin to pop up, including his estranged daughter, who was in London on the evening in question, and an unhappy business partner who has no alibi.
Cassandra Chan shows her mastery of the traditional English mystery in this second charming novel to feature the investigative duo of Gibbons and Bethancourt, a modern-day Peter Wimsey.
About the Author
Cassandra Chan has published several Bethancourt/Gibbons short stories in mystery publications and one novel, The Young Widow. She lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Cassandra Chan has published four novels, most recently Trick of the Mind and A Spider on the Stairs, and several short stories featuring Gibbons and Bethancourt. She lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
It was Marla’s idea. Phillip Bethancourt himself was not entirely convinced that the best cure for a broken heart was to surround the afflicted with attractive members of the opposite sex. But Marla Tate, one of England’s most in-demand fashion models, was not a woman known for her generous impulses and she was likely to turn sulky if this one was rebuffed. Or so Bethancourt judged.
“Just the thing,” he said, putting as much enthusiasm into the words as he could. He succeeded so well that the large Borzoi hound at his feet pricked his ears and lifted his noble head. Bethancourt bent to stroke his pet. “It ought to cheer Jack right up,” he continued. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.”
Marla tossed her head, shaking a loose lock of copper hair off her forehead. “I don’t know why you didn’t, either,” she agreed. “You’ve certainly been thinking of little else lately.”
This was true. It was now more than a month since Bethancourt had returned home from a polo match to find his friend Jack Gibbons sitting on the front steps of his Chelsea flat, bearing the news that Annette Berowne had left him. It helped not at all that Bethancourt had seen it coming; he had been suspicious of Annette’s feelings from the beginning and had at first tried to put Gibbons on his guard. But since Gibbons had spent the summer plotting the most romantic way to propose, his friend had stifled the alarm bells that rang in his mind and hoped that his own bleak outlook of the suit owed more to his distaste of Annette than to the true state of affairs. He was very sorry to have been proved right in the end.
Bethancourt had done all he could to see his friend through those first miserable days, but what now concerned him was the fact that Gibbons did not seem to have improved much. It would have been inaccurate to say he was developing a drinking problem since he was usually sober; still, the pint after work was now usually two or three, and on the occasions when he visited Bethancourt, the level in the malt whisky bottle seemed to drop more rapidly than it once had.
“So are you going to ring him up?” asked Marla impatiently.
“Yes, of course,” answered Bethancourt.
But he paused in reaching for the phone, having caught a gleam in Marla’s jade-green eyes. It occurred to him that there was more to this than a simple desire to dispel Gibbons’s gloom. Marla had never liked Gibbons, mostly due to the fact that it was he who enabled Bethancourt to indulge in his hobby of amateur sleuthing, an activity that Marla abhorred. And it was undeniably true that during the summer of Gibbons’s affair, Bethancourt had seen much less of him. He wondered who among Marla’s friends she had earmarked for Gibbons.
“Right then,” he said, capturing the phone. “Let’s ring Scotland Yard.”
Detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons sat at his desk, buried in paperwork. He did not much like the clerical side of his job, but one had to take the bad with the good in any job, and if he could just keep his mind on it all, he thought he could clear his desk by six, providing he was not sidetracked by chatting about other people’s cases. That was far more distracting than paperwork, and he badly needed distraction. There had been no truly interesting cases since the summer, and these days, when time hung heavy on his hands, he found himself continually contemplating the wreck of his hopes.
He brightened when the telephone rang, but the gloom returned when he heard the light, clipped tones of his friend Bethancourt, and not the deep, raspy ones of the chief inspector summoning him to a case.
“I’m ringing to see if you fancied a day or two in the country,” said Bethancourt. “Marla’s got a fashion shoot in the Cotswolds and it turns out that the house they’re using belongs to an old friend of my family. Quite a showplace it’s supposed to be. So I’m going along and I thought you could come and keep me company while Marla’s working.”
Gibbons tried to rouse himself. “It sounds very nice,” he said. “When is it to be?”
“Tuesday,” answered Bethancourt.
“Tuesday?” repeated Gibbons incredulously. This, he thought to himself, was what came of having independently wealthy friends. “I work on Tuesdays,” he said with exaggerated patience. “It’s considered part of the working week, Tuesday is. Along with Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. I think you’ll find that the vast majority of people with jobs work on weekdays.”
“I know that,” said Bethancourt, unperturbed. “I thought perhaps you could get it off, if you weren’t on a case. God knows you end up working enough weekends—they must give you some time off.”
“I expect they must,” said Gibbons. “But I’m due in court on Tuesday afternoon, so I am not destined to revel in the autumn countryside.”
“What a pity,” said Bethancourt, who was secretly rather relieved. “Well, I’ll be back at the end of the week—Marla and I are staying on for a day or two after the shoot. I’ll ring you then and we’ll see a matinee of something or go to dinner.”
“That will be lovely,” said Gibbons. “I’ve got to get back to work now, Phillip. I’ll talk to you over the weekend.”
He rang off and returned to the contemplation of his paperwork. He was, as it turned out, destined to see the autumn countryside, if not to revel in it. It was rather a pity that all the models were gone by the time he got there.
“And now,” said Clarence Astley-Cooper, “I’ve got all these fashion people coming in.”
It was Wednesday night and the Deer and Hounds was crowded after choir practice, the usual regulars relegated to a cramped space at one end of the bar while choristers and their companions congregated in groups across the old flagstone floor.
Astley-Cooper, having had quite enough of standing during practice, had ensconced himself at the largest table and stretched out his gammy knee. He had passed his fiftieth birthday over the summer and felt his advancing years were due some consideration.
The vicar and his wife had joined him there, also glad to sit down after their labors. Reverend Tothill was new to the parish by village standards and was largely responsible for this weekly crush at the pub, having set the example. It had been the cause of no few lifted brows, but after five years even the most entrenched of the villagers were beginning to accustom themselves to him and his odd ideas, one of which was that he counted everyone, not just the regular churchgoers, as part of his parish.
He was surveying his parishioners now, one hand around a pint of bitter and the other entwined with his wife’s fingers, but turned at Astley-Cooper’s pronouncement.
“Fashion people?” he inquired. He still wore his cassock, but had slipped a worn tweed jacket over it, and the two garments contrasted oddly together.
“Fashion people,” said Astley-Cooper firmly. “From Vogue or some such.”
“Vogue?” asked the vicar’s wife, who was the possessor of a remarkably fine soprano voice. She was not dressed in a manner that indicated any familiarity with the magazine, but her blue eyes were interested. “Why are they coming to Stutely Manor? Surely you’re not opening the place to the public?”
“No, no.” Astley-Cooper looked affronted. “Certainly not. They’re coming to shoot pictures in the house and grounds. Probably evening dress in the gallery—it’s a very fine example of its period.” The fineness of the gallery appeared to depress him, for he relapsed into silence and took a long draught from his pint.
“I see,” said the vicar encouragingly. “And sports clothes in the garden perhaps?”
“Very likely,” admitted Astley-Cooper. “Of course, it’s rather a pity that the sheep got in there. Mr. Crocks was very upset. Still, they left the late roses. Too many thorns.”
The vicar pressed his lips together as if to hide a smile.
“They can’t have done much damage,” said Charles Bingham consolingly. He was not a member of the choir—as his raspy voice attested—but he was a sociable man and had early on discovered the pleasures of a late Wednesday visit to the Deer and Hounds. “Surely your dog chased them out again like one o’clock.”
“Whiff might have done,” agreed Astley-Cooper, “if he hadn’t been shut up in the house at the time.”
“Oh, dear,” said the vicar.
“Yes, it was rather awful.”
“But why,” persisted the vicar’s wife, not to be deterred from the original subject, “are you letting the Vogue people in?”
Astley-Cooper looked surprised. “They paid me,” he answered.
The others all laughed, although Astley-Cooper had not meant to be funny. He did not seem disturbed by their reaction, however, taking it in his stride as if used to being the cause of unexpected humor.
“Well,” said Bingham, recovering, “then I expect you must put up with them.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t,” replied Astley-Cooper with dignity. “I just said it’s a frightful bother.”
“Are they staying at Stutely?”
“No, thank heavens. At least most of them aren’t. It happens that I know the boyfriend of one of the models. Or, rather, his people know my people, and I’ve met him. I think I have, anyway. So I had to ask them to stay.”
“Ah, yes,” said the vicar, thoroughly confused.
“That’s the beauty,” said Bingham, “of not having any family. You never need put up with anyone you only think you’ve met.”
“You have family,” said the vicar’s wife tartly, though her eyes were full of laughter. “You just want to be thought of as eccentric.”
“I’m older than Clarence here,” said Bingham complacently. “Once you’ve reached a certain age, you can take refuge in eccentricity. I find it saves me ever so much bother.”
They were interrupted by a tall, middle-aged woman with a large nose and iron-gray hair. She had a kind smile, which she bestowed on the company as she approached.
“Hello, Mrs. Potts,” said the vicar.
“Where are the twins tonight?” asked Bingham, nodding his welcome.
Mrs. Potts glanced vaguely about the crowded pub.
“They’re here somewhere,” she answered, setting her glass down on the table and idly twisting at the man’s signet ring on her finger.
“Do sit down,” urged the vicar’s wife.
But Mrs. Potts shook her head. “I’m afraid,” she said, as if confessing a great sin, “I wasn’t at my best tonight.”
“No,” said the vicar’s wife sympathetically, “your voice cracked a bit, I’m afraid. Something got caught in your throat?”
“That’s just it,” said Mrs. Potts tragically. “I seem to be catching a bit of a cold. It’s nothing much,” she went on hastily, in response to sympathetic murmurs, “but it seems to have got into my throat. I’m afraid I won’t be able to sing on Sunday, not if it goes on as it’s starting.”
Everyone expressed regret at this news, while the vicar’s wife recommended hot tea and lemon. Bingham objected to this, advising hot toddies. This began a heated debate, during which Bingham decided to eliminate the hot water altogether and just add the lemon to the whiskey, straight. The discussion was ended by Mrs. Potts inadvertently dropping her signet ring into her port glass and the publican calling time.
The crowd spilled out into the High Street of the village, all shuttered and silent at this time of night, the golden Cotswold limestone turned gray by the dark. Chipping Chedding was an old village, and although there were several modern buildings on its fringes, here at its heart the architecture was a pleasant mix of Jacobean and Georgian, evoking an earlier era.
People sorted themselves out and bade each other good night while the vicar and his wife looked on, paying particular attention to those who might have had a drop too much and be inclined toward belligerence.
“Where’s Derek?” asked Bingham, appearing out of the throng. “We were walking back together and he’s got the torch.”
“He was talking to Julie Benson last I saw,” said the vicar’s wife, craning around to look. “She had him cornered over by the bar earlier.”
“Dear God,” said the vicar, “Julie’s not the latest to fall victim to Derek’s charms, is she? She’s old enough to know better.”
“Shh,” said his wife, “don’t let her hear that.”
“Derek never takes advantage,” protested Bingham in his friend’s defense.
“That we know of,” muttered the vicar.
“Richard!” said his wife, startled. “I thought you liked Derek.”
“I do, I do,” said Tothill hastily. “I just wish half the young women in Chipping Chedding would stop throwing themselves at him.”
“Well, there he is with Mary Wilson, anyway. Oh, good night, Mrs. Stikes—get home safe.”
Slowly the street began to clear and at last the Tothills, too, turned away, strolling arm in arm through the cobbled market square toward the vicarage.
“Dear old Charlie Bingham,” said the vicar’s wife. “He is so wrongheaded sometimes, but so sweet, really.”
“He’s a character,” said the vicar.
“Well, I like characters.”
“That, my dear, is because you are one yourself,” said her husband fondly.
VILLAGE AFFAIRS. Copyright © 2006 by Cassandra Chan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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"Excellent."Booklist "Another enjoyabl[e] look at murder among the upper classes."Kirkus Reviews
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Detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons usually works on cases surrounding the London area under Detective Chiefe Inspector Carmichael. However, when a small town in the English Cotswolds delegates an investigation to Scotland Yard, Gibbons finds himself driving the Chipping Chedding to investigate. Man-about-town Philip Bethancourt, Gibbons' close friend (though not close to Jack's social status), is in Chipping Chedding before the investigation starts accompanying his girlfriend, Marla Tate, on one of her fashion shoots. Already being on the scene,Bethancourt sees no reason to not try and help the police investigation along. Bethancourt has, after all, been known to help Gibbons in past cases--no matter how much his dealings with murder might enrage Marla. In the beginning, the police are hard-pressed to even say there was a crime. The middle-aged victim, Bingham, appears to have suffered from an unfortunate accident rather than foul play. As Gibbons and Carmichael go about tying up loose ends, they unearth more questions than answers. Who was the secret girlfriend that Bingham had driven to see on the night of his death? How had the quiet man managed to hide his vast fortune from all of his neighbors? Even though evidence is thin, it begins to seem that this routine investigation of accident is fast becoming a murder investigation. The primary risk of a mystery series is that the plots, and on some level the characters, will veer toward the formulaic. Happily, Chan has no such problems. Village Affairs creates an entirely different plot and, to a lesser extent, a different tone than that found in The Young Widow. Even the landscape, Chipping Chedding instead of London, is unique. While this novel continues to deal with Gibbons' and particularly Bethancourt's personal lives, Chan also dedicates a fair bit of time to creating entertaining characters to populate the story. A personal favorite is Clarence Astley-Cooper who acts as Bethancourt's gracious if eccentric host during the investigation. My only qualm is that Jack Gibbons, my favorite of the duo, did not get as much "air time" during this installment as during The Young Widow though, of course, both characters were still extremely entertaining. Chan's unique verve and dry wit are once again present in her dialogue, once again providing a unique writing style in Village Affairs. It was also interesting to see more about Philip and his girlfriend Marla, who actually plays an active role in the investigation this time. Their relationship, falling somewhere between ideal and dysfunctional, adds an interesting facet to Bethancourt's otherwise impeccably together character while acting as a foil to Gibbons (whom Marla hates). Unlike Bethancourt or Gibbons, Marla still seems to be proving herself as a character worthy of continuous appearances. Time will tell if her part will grow more prominent or less as the series continues. While the core plot of Village Affairs is entirely self-contained, readers would be advised to start the series at the beginning as certain recurring themes might be spoilers if read out of order. Bethancourt and Gibbons can next be seen in Trick of the Mind (2008).
Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons is heartbroken that Annette Berowne dumped him. Marla Tate suggests to Jack¿s best friend affluent Phillip Betancourt that they help the cop come out of the doldrums by surrounding him with attractive females. However, Jack has a court appearance so can not join his pal amongst the fashion models in the Cotswold. --- However, Jack and Detective Chief Inspector Wallace Carmichael head to Chipping Chedding in the Cotswold to investigate the death of Charlie Bingham, a successful inventor. The deceased apparently died from mixing sleeping pills with whiskey, but Jack has found anomalies like the body being moved by the fireplace that makes him suspect a homicide occurred. As he investigates what he believes is murder, his boss, his friend, a local cop, and a wannabe sleuth entangle the case with confusion, as what is evidence becomes difficult to filter from what is a red herring and a blunder. --- Though it lacks the Wimsey of Lord Peter's mysteries (as much of the key cast is stereotyped), the second Gibbons tale (see THE YOUNG WIDOW) once again reverently brings Dorothy Sayers into the twenty-first century with a delightful Cotswold cozy. The story line is fun as Jack finds the biggest obstacles to solving the case are the myriad of silly sleuths. Fans of Ms. Sayers will enjoy Jack¿s look into the wealthy businessman¿s VILLAGE AFFAIRS and other dealings. --- Harriet Klausner