All three of my Cornish Mysteries came out in UK editions this week, so I'm going to do a brief excerpt from each.
They're set in Cornwall, in a fictional fishing village called Port Mabyn, which is a cross between Port Isaac (think Doc Martin) and Boscastle, and situated
on the North Coast between those two towns. Eleanor Trewynn, after working all her life for an international charity all over the world, retires as a widow to a Cornish village. She buys a cottage and sets up a charity shop on the ground floor.
The first is MANNA FROM HADES.
Looking forward to a peaceful retirement, Eleanor's horrified to find in the stockroom behind the shop, the body of a scruffy, unknown youth. Is he somehow connected to a mysterious donation of a briefcase full of jewelry?
The sun had cleared the hills surrounding Port Mabyn and shone through spotless windows into the vicarage kitchen. Eleanor and the Stearns were just finishing breakfast when the door-bell rang, at eight o'clock on the dot.
"I'll get it," said Eleanor, putting down her coffee mug, blue and white striped Cornish pottery like the rest of the breakfast service. So like dear Joce to have a matching set, though she'd had to collect it piece by piece from the LonStar shop. "It'll be whoever Inspector Scumble sent—I do hope it's Megan."
Megan it was. She followed Eleanor into the kitchen.
The Vicar unfolded. "Good morning, my dear young lady. You want to talk to Jocelyn and Eleanor, I know, so I'll make myself scarce."
"No, please stay a moment, sir. I've got a photo of the victim I'm showing everyone. We still don't know who he was."
"Is it...is it very unpleasant?"
"No, no, they cleaned him up. Here."
He took it between thumb and forefinger and peered at it. "No," he said, with obvious relief. "Never seen him in my life. Here, Jocelyn, what about you?" He handed the photo to his wife and sidled out of the room.
Eleanor looked over Jocelyn's shoulder. The thin face was young, but not too young to be badly in need of a shave. The dark, fuzzy stubble softened but didn't conceal a bruise on the right side of his jawbone, an inch or two up from the point of his chin. The long hair had been combed but still gave an impression of uncleanness.
"No, I've never seen him before," said Jocelyn, handing the photo to Eleanor. "Do sit down, Megan. Coffee?"
However hard Eleanor tried to be charitable, tried to make allowances for the changes wrought by death, she thought the youth looked shifty, even unsavoury. Was it just because he had been found in unsavoury circumstances in the room below her flat? If his eyes were open, his expression full of life, would she feel different about him?
"Do you recognise him, Aunt Nell?"
"No, dear, I'm afraid not. I can't help wondering about his parents. Not knowing what's become of him, I mean."
"Sometimes ignorance is bliss," said Jocelyn. "I expect you'll identify him soon or later, won't you, Megan? That's when his family will need sympathy."
"We're pretty well bound to find out sooner or later, one way or another. Then we'll start tracking down his associates." Megan put the photo in an envelope and stuck it in her pocket. "It's still a mystery what he was doing in the LonStar premises in the first place. Aunt Nell, the DI said there's something you were going to tell him last night?"
Jocelyn stood up. "Well, I'll just leave you two to it—"
Eleanor caught her arm. "Don't desert me, Joce."
"I never saw them, after all. And it's Megan you're facing, not that man."
"Them?" asked Megan. "What's going on?"
"It's nothing but hearsay as far as I'm concerned," said Jocelyn firmly. "Leave the washing-up. I'll do it later." She hurried out.
"I tried to tell him last night."
"But I should have told him sooner. He'll never believe I just kept forgetting."
"He'll believe it," Megan said with absolute conviction. "Come on, let's do the washing-up while you tell me. You wash and I'll dry, in case I have to write anything down."
"You will," said Eleanor gloomily. "I don't know what it all means, but I can't believe it has nothing to do with the murder." She started running hot water into the sink, adding a good squirt of Sqezy, the Washing-up Wizard. "That would be just too much coincidence to swallow."
"For pity's sake, Aunt Nell, spit it out!"
"What a very ungenteel expression! All right, all right, I'll 'spit it out.' It wasn't until I got back to the shop that I found it." She handed over a cup to be dried. "When I started unloading the Incorruptible, there it was, and I simply had no idea who had given it to me."
"It? You were talking about 'them'."
"The container and the thing contained," said Eleanor, with vague memories of English lessons and Nick's earlier remark. "Things, rather. The briefcase I mean, dear, or perhaps attaché-case is the correct term. It's one of those thingummies businessmen carry, but not the flat, soft-sided kind, more like a small suitcase, if you see what I mean. But thin, a couple of inches I'd say." She gestured to show the overall dimensions—perhaps two feet by eighteen inches—and soapsuds flew. "Quite heavy for its size."
"I get the picture."
"I took it back to the stockroom and opened it. Megan, it was full of jewelry!"
"Jewelry!" Megan nearly dropped the saucer she was drying. "You're not serious!"
"Absolutely, dear. It must be paste, of course, or whatever artificial gems are made of these days, but still quite valuable, and so very generous of someone. But such a trouble! We aren't allowed to accept that sort of thing without proof of ownership and all sorts of paperwork. Joce always deals with it so I'm not sure exactly what's needed. And it had appeared out of thin air without even a name to go with it."
"So you tucked it away in a corner of the stockroom and forgot about it?" Detective Sergeant Pencarrow asked in incredulous horror.
"Of course not. Do give me credit for a modicum of common sense!" Eleanor said quite crossly. "I took it upstairs and locked it in the safe."
"In your flat? There's a safe in your flat?"
"I had it built in when I bought the place and remodelled it. These old cottages have pretty thick walls, you know. Joce thought it would be a good idea, safer than in the shop. We've both been very careful never to tell a soul about it. I expect that's why I forgot to mention it to the inspector, besides being sure he'd find it, used to searching places as he must be. Only it seems he didn't, or he'd have asked me to open it, wouldn't he?"
"And I'm afraid he'll be rather annoyed, with me for not telling him, and with himself for not finding it... So, you see, I'm very glad it's you who came this morning and I've been able to tell you, instead of him." She handed over the last plate and started to scrub the frying pan.
Automatically drying the plate, Megan said, "You're going to have to tell him, too. This is going to change everything. It's the first hint we've had of a significant motive for the break-in! He won't be satisfied with hearing it from me, you know. Besides, he's going to have a lot of questions. There's no point me asking them. You'd only have to repeat the answers. I'd better go and ring him right away."
"If you must, dear," said Eleanor with a sigh.
The second in the series is A COLOURFUL DEATH.
On returning from a train trip to London, Eleanor's artist friend and neighbor, Nick Gresham, discovers that someone has slashed several of his paintings in his Port Mabyn shop. Rather than go to the police, a furious Nick sets out to confront rival artist Geoffrey Monmouth, who Nick is sure is the culprit.
Accompanied by an anxious Eleanor, Nick finds Geoff stabbed to death in his Padstow bungalow. When the authorities detain Nick, Eleanor determines to track down the real killer.
Once ashore, they walked along the North Quay and crossed into the network of narrow streets behind the harbour.
"There it is." Nick pointed to a narrow shop front opposite the Gold Bezant Inn.
It took Eleanor a moment to decipher the sign above the shop window, as it was written in Old English script. King Arthur's Gallery, it said.
"King Arthur? Shouldn't that be in Tintagel?"
"He couldn't find a suitable place in Tintagel, but he's obsessed with King Arthur. Come and look."
In the window was a display of three paintings. At first glance, they seemed to Eleanor to be quite pretty but rather depressing. She could understand why holiday-makers didn't choose to buy pictures of slender mediaeval maidens with flowing hair and tragic mouths drooping over dead or dying knights, however meticulously portrayed. She wouldn't want one on her wall, breathing gloom every time she looked at it. They were flamboyantly signed: Geoffroie Monmouth.
But she didn't have time to study them. Nick had pressed the electric bell button. No one came. Heedless of the CLOSED sign, he pushed the door. Opening, it set off a jangle, just like his own shop door. The fact that it was not locked suggested to Eleanor that the artist was still within, probably in the throes of producing another grim mememto mori. She tied Teazle's string to an ancient, worn boot-scraper to one side of the door and hurried after Nick.
The blind at the rear of the display window was pulled down, so the interior of the shop was dim. ...
The jangle failed to bring any response. Nick looked around. "Damn," he swore under his breath. "If he's not in the back room, I'll have to trek up to his bungalow."
"Not a bungalow, surely! He ought to live in an ancient cottage overgrown with rambling roses, if he can't manage a crumbling castle."
"A 1950s bungalow," Nick said firmly, striding round behind King Arthur. "And any interest he has in flowers he devotes to his painting, not his garden."
Reluctantly Eleanor followed. He flung open a door in the back wall and stepped through into a room lit by a window facing north, high in the far wall.
"Ye gods! Eleanor, don't come in!"
But Eleanor was already on the threshold. She saw a figure sprawled face down on the bare boards. His beige smock was drenched with crimson, and a crimson pool had spread across the floor around him.
Someone pushed past her and cried in an anguished voice, "My God, Nick, what have you done? You've stabbed him!"
The third Cornish Mystery is THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
Eleanor, her artist neighbour Nick, and her niece DS Megan Pencarrow are strolling along a pretty, peaceful valley when they spot a body floating in the inlet. While Eleanor goes for help, Megan and Nick pull out a young Indian man, barely alive. How did he come to be drowning in this isolated spot? Is his family really stranded in a smugglers' cave somewhere on the rocky coast?
They walked on until the path petered out into terraces and steps of slate. The abrupt edge was two or three feet above the smooth tops of the swells that surged onward to meet the stream in swirls of foam. Clumps of thrift, the flowerheads brown now, clung in crevices here and there. A grey and white herring gull launched itself into the air and joined its fellows circling overhead, their raucous screams cutting through the constant yet ever-changing sounds of moving water. High above floated a buzzard.
"Gorgeous," said Megan.
"Good enough." Nick fiddled with his camera's settings, peered through, and fiddled some more.
Megan jumped down a slate step. Eleanor sat on it, the sun warm on her back.
"What's that?" Nick lowered the camera and pointed.
Eleanor peered, wishing she had brought binoculars. Something dark bobbed in the water. "A seal?"
"No." Megan's voice rang harsh. "It's a man. And if he's not already dead, he soon will be."