Sunday, 28 October 2012

Manna from Hades

Carola Dunn

MANNA FROM HADES is my first Cornish mystery. It has just come out in paperback in the US. The second, A Colourful Death, is available in hardcover and ebook, and the third, The Valley of the Shadow, comes out in December.

All three will be out in the UK next June.

The Cornish mysteries, set in the late 1960s, feature Eleanor Trewynn, a widow in her 60s. After a life spent working
all over the world for an international charity, she retires to a cottage in a small fishing port in Cornwall and turns the ground floor into a charity shop. Her niece, Megan Pencarrow, is a detective with the Cornish police.

Eleanor has been out collecting contributions for the shop:

Tipping forward the driving seat, she reached for the bag of clothes Teazle had been sitting on. Beneath it was a black attaché-case. Eleanor frowned. She didn't remember anyone donating an attaché-case for LonStar. Her memory for practical matters had never been of the best, but she usually knew exactly who had given her what.
Picking it up by the handle—it was surprisingly heavy—she carried it and the bag of clothes through the blue door. Near the far end of the passage, opposite the foot of the stairs, was the door to the stockroom. This she had inconveniently remembered to lock, or, more likely, the ever-efficient Jocelyn had locked it when she left after checking the till on Saturday. Eleanor set down her burdens and felt in her pocket for her keys.
Where on earth had she left them now? Ah, dangling from the lock of the street door, of course.
Keys retrieved, she took the clothes and the attaché-case into the stockroom. The bag of clothes she dropped on the floor in the back corner, out of the way of the shelves and racks of already-priced goods awaiting space in the shop. The attaché-case she set on the long trestle table used by volunteers more businesslike than herself to sort and price the donated items.
Through the high window, the setting sun flooded the room with rosy light. As far as Eleanor could tell, the attaché-case was real leather, not one of the modern substitutes. It was in good condition, one corner just a trifle scuffed, but unfortunately on the top edge was an embossed monogram, the kind with superimposed, intertwined letters which are hard to make out—D, A, and W, she thought. One couldn't expect a customer with the same initials to happen to come into the shop in search of an attaché-case. The letters weren't conspicuous, though, half-hidden by the handle and not picked out in gilt.
She'd better see whether anything had been left inside it, on purpose or by accident. Laying the case flat on the table top, she pressed back the shiny brass catches, opened it, and gasped. On a bed of black velvet, a tangled heap of jewelry glittered and gleamed, gold, ruby-red, emerald-green, sapphire, amethyst, and the hard sparkle of diamond.
With tentative fingers, Eleanor picked out a bracelet and held it up to the light. Purple stones glowed with an inner fire.
Paste, of course, or the modern equivalent, but paste of excellent quality. Even if they were artificial gems, they must be quite valuable. How very generous people were, she thought, a little misty-eyed.
And doing good by stealth, too, not wanting to be thanked, slipping the case into her car when she was not watching, as if it were manna from Heaven.
What the kind donor unfortunately didn't realise was that valuable gifts had to be documented. Jocelyn was going to have forty fits when she discovered that Eleanor had no paperwork, no signatures, to vouch for the provenance of the jewelry.
Nor had she the slightest idea of the identity of the giver.
Eleanor was about to tell Jocelyn about the jewelry in the safe upstairs, when the bell over the shop door tinkled and a customer came in. The jewelry could wait. She went back into the stockroom.
In the far corner, Teazle was sniffing at some men's shirts spilling out of a carrier bag on its side on top of a box. Her tail was between her legs and she showed none of the frantic excitement mice invariably aroused. Glancing round at Eleanor, she whined.
When Eleanor went over to her, she gave a perfunctory wag of the tail and backed off. Puzzled, Eleanor bent down to right the bag and stuff the clothes back in. Behind the box a pair of boots lay on their sides, one atop the other. The leather, once black but now of no determinate colour, was cracked and the back of the heels, turned towards her, were worn down to the uppers.
"That's odd," she said to Teazle. "I don't remember anyone giving those and I never would have accepted them. No one would buy such disreputable boots."
She set the carrier bag to one side and shifted the box. As it moved, she saw bony, sockless ankles and the frayed, faded hems of a pair of filthy blue jeans. The boots were occupied.
Had some tramp crawled in among the goods? She really must remember to lock doors! In a way, she was glad that he had found shelter from the chilly spring night, but Jocelyn would be furious. Perhaps she could send him on his way before Jocelyn found out.
He must be drunk, or very sound asleep, not to have been wakened by the fuss over the table. She nudged at his thin ankle with a fastidious toe but failed to rouse him.
As she moved boxes and bags away from the prone form, a sick certainty that something was very wrong grew in her. She uncovered the rest of the jeans, a hand in a woollen glove unravelling at the wrist, a khaki anorak ripped under the arm. The man lay motionless.
And then the head, face to the wall: long, lank darkish hair; the angle of a jaw sprouting youthful fuzz; the angle of the neck—
"Joce!" Her call emerged as a strangled squeak. Backing towards the connecting door, she tried again. "Jocelyn!"
"Coming. I've sold... Eleanor, you're white as a sheet. What is it?"
"I'm just afraid it's Trevor."
"The boy who comes to help when he stays with his uncle."
"Eleanor, dear, calm down. I know Trevor. A scruffy, feckless creature he is, and none too clean either."
"Was." Her voice shook. "Oh, Joce, there's a dead body back there and he looks very like Trevor."


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