Sunday, 27 January 2013

Gone West now in paperback

by Carola Dunn

GONE WEST (a BritSpeak idiom meaning died or disappeared) is the 20th mystery in my Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in the 1920s. It came out in hardcover in the US (and paperback in the UK) a year ago and the US paperback edition is just out. It's also available for Kindle, Nook, and other ebook formats, and in large print.

This is an excerpt from the first chapter. You can read a bit from later in the book here:

Lucy had chosen a table next to the ornamental brass rail, banked with flowers, that separated the green and gold balcony from the oval opening to the main dining room below. Though a professional photographer, Lucy was also a member of fashionable society, from sleek dark Eton crop to scarlet-painted fingertips to barely knee-length hemline. It was typical of her to want a good view of the other patrons of the establishment.

That was not the reason she gave for her choice. "Darling, I thought we'd better hide up here. I have a frightful feeling that Sybil has probably turned into the sort of dowd one doesn't care to be seen with."

"How unkind! Why?"

"You said she wrote from a farm, in Derbyshire of all places."

"What's wrong with Derbyshire? Ever heard of Chatsworth?"

"Of course, but the country seat of the Duke of Devonshire can hardly be compared to a farm-house!"

"Hush, I think this must be Sybil coming up the stairs now. She looks vaguely familiar. And quite smart enough to associate with me, if not at your exalted level. You're always telling me I have no notion of fashion."

The young woman ascending the staircase wore a heather-mixture tweed costume. Daisy was no expert, but the skirt and jacket looked to her to be quite nicely cut, though well-worn, making the best of a figure somewhat on the sturdy side. The lavender cloche hat, adorned with a small spray of speckled feathers, matched the silk blouse. A string of pearls, silk stockings and good leather shoes, low-heeled, completed the picture of a well-to-do if not fashion-conscious country dweller visiting the capital.

Sybil Sutherby certainly didn't look like a typical farmer's wife. Though, like Daisy, her only make-up was a dab of powder on her nose and a touch of lipstick, her face was not noticeably weathered. In fact, she was rather pale, accentuating a dismayed expression that Daisy put down to Lucy's unexpected presence.

"Hello, Sybil. How nice to see you after all these years," said Daisy, stretching the truth somewhat.

"Daisy, you haven't changed a bit." They shook hands.

The waiter seated Sybil, handed menus all round, and departed.

"You remember Lucy? Fotheringay as was."

"Lucy. Of course." She hesitated. "It's Lady Gerald, isn't it?"

"So you keep up with the news, Mrs. Sutherby," Lucy drawled. "How do you do?"

"For pity's sake," Daisy said, annoyed, "we were all spotty schoolgirls together. Let's not stand on our dignities. I'm going to decide what I want for lunch, and then I'd like to hear what you're up to these days, Sybil."

Discussing the choices on the √† la carte menu thawed the ice between Lucy and Sybil a bit, to Daisy's relief. 

The waiter returned and took their order.

After a moment of slightly uncomfortable silence, Sybil said abruptly, "I've read some of your articles, Daisy. You write very well."

Lucy gave Daisy a knowing look. "What about you, Sybil?" she asked with a hint of a sarcastic inflection. "Have you settled into a life of cosy domesticity?"

Sybil flushed. "Far from it. My husband was killed in the War. I was lucky enough to find a job quite quickly, secretary to an author. A live-in job, where I can have my little girl with me." Her hand went to her necklace. "I didn't even have to sell Mother's pearls. And I've been there ever since."

Daisy decided it was a bit late to start expressing condolences which would inevitably lead to further, endless condolences. Everyone had lost someone in the War including her own brother and her fiancé, or in the influenza pandemic, which had killed her father, the late Viscount Dalrymple. She seized on a less emotionally fraught topic. "Is your author someone I might have read?"

"I doubt it. A rather...specialised field. But I did hope to have a word with you, Daisy..." She glanced sideways at Lucy.

"About your work? Go ahead. Lucy won't mind. Underneath the frivolous exterior, she's a working woman too."

"I don't think..."

"You haven't got yourself involved in the production of 'blue' books, have you?" Lucy's question was blunt, but for once her tone was discreetly lowered.

"Certainly not!"

"Sorry. It's just that the way you said 'a rather specialised field' tends to leave one to jump to conclusions."

Daisy laughed. "I'm prepared to swear that's not the conclusion I jumped to. What's the matter, Sybil?"

"I'd prefer to talk to you later."

"No can do. Lucy and I have an appointment with our joint editor immediately after lunch. But Lucy knows all my secrets—well, almost all. She's not going to blurt out your troubles to all and sundry."

"Silent as the grave," said Lucy. "Cross my heart and hope to die. My lips are sealed."

"Be serious," Daisy admonished her severely, "or why should Sybil trust you?"

"It's not so much—" Sybil began, but the waiter interrupted, arriving with their soup.

By the time he went away again, she had made up her mind.

"All right, if you say so, Daisy. I wasn't sure whether... I know you married a detective, and I heard that you've helped him to investigate several crimes."

"Lucy, have you been telling tales, after I've been crying up your discretion?"

"Darling, I'm not the only one aware of your criminous activities. What about your Indian friend?"

"I hardly think Sakari would have any opportunity to spill the beans to Sybil!"

"But there have been at least a couple of other old school pals you've saved from the hangman. Word gets around."

"It's nothing like that!" Sybil exclaimed. "Not murder, I mean. Just a mystery of sorts. There's probably nothing in it."

"In what?" Daisy asked.

"It's an uncomfortable, troubled atmosphere, really. I feel as if something's going on, but I can't pin it down. That's why I want your help."

"If you can't be precise," said Lucy impatiently, "how do you expect her to advise you?"

"I was hoping you'd come and stay for a few days, Daisy. I'm hoping you'll tell me it's all in my imagination."

Lucy looked at her as if she was mad. Daisy was intrigued. She had indeed been caught up in the investigation of a number of unpleasant occurrences, but they had all been concrete acts of a violent nature. A mysterious atmosphere would make a change and might prove interesting. What was more, with no crime in the offing, Alec could hardly object to her going to stay with an old friend.

Large print

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