Claire Barclay returns to England from her last post in Seattle, buying a house in a village and settling down at forty-six. She responds to an invitation to tea and stumbles upon the murdered body of Mrs. Paulson, a prominent villager. As the first person to find the victim, she is one of the first to be investigated. She answers the persistent questions of Detective Inspector Mark Evans and is determined to give him another suspect. Mrs. Paulson had been the president of the local Mystery Books Club? Was the motive for murder located in the archives of the book club? She had lived in the village all her life, been involved in many organizations and societies and knew many secrets of the villagers. Was one secret too dangerous for her to keep? She had been wealthy and left her money to a member of the club. Could the legatee have been impatient for her inheritance? Three ladies from San Francisco join Claire’s book tour and, with avid curiosity, help Claire investigate the murder. Complicated by Claire`s need to care for her newly acquired Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, they travel through Hampshire, Sussex and Oxfordshire to visit sites of mystery writers. The tourists are enthusiastic about mystery novels and also about the local murder and offer imaginative solutions. Claire listens to their advice, attempting to ferret out the story behind the murder while trying not to impede the official enquiry of the increasingly attractive Detective Inspector Mark Evans.
An independent woman, her dog and murder. Throw in a Hampshire village and you have the perfect setting for a cozy.
I walked up the hill just before seven that evening. The air was still and held the
pale, luminous yellow of twilight, blurring the hedges and trees. Constable
could have painted this peaceful scene. There were several cars in the parking
lot of the church hall, but many attendees may have walked from their nearby
homes. Inside, the hall was set up with chairs in rows and a podium at the front.
About twenty people were already seated. I slipped into a row of vacant chairs
near the back and waited. The room was large, probably built about two hundred
years ago with tall ceilings, tall narrow windows and the old upright piano at
the side that seems to be mandatory in all church halls. People moved around,
visiting with one another and settling into their seats. A large man, dressed in
jeans and a green and red rugby shirt lowered himself slowly and heavily onto
the chair beside me. A tiny bird-like woman scuttled down the row and perched
on my other side.
“Good evening,” she said. “Marlene.”
I smiled. “Good evening. Claire.”
The man stuck out his hand. “William.”
If the woman was a wren, William was a very large turtle, with his head set
on top of bulky shoulders and a chunky torso.
“Claire.” We shook hands. Then we hushed as the proceedings started. At
least these villagers seemed friendly.
The acting president began a report on the current activities of the club. A
fancy-dress ball was planned for next week, and the work to produce the event
had all been accomplished. She asked for a treasurer’s report and then, when it
was accepted, launched into a eulogy for Mrs. Paulson.
There was a rustle of movement, then everyone was obediently quiet, except
“Isobel Paulson, our president, died last week,” Marlene whispered. “Poison
everyone is saying. On Wednesday last. Such an odd way to die.” She raised her
I didn’t know if I should admit to finding her body. I might as well. Everyone
would know soon—if they didn’t already.
Hazards in Hampshire 31
“I found her,” I whispered.
“So I heard,” she said. “Must have been a shock.”
“Yes, it was. Must be more of a one for those who knew her,” I said.
Marlene continued on talking. “Barbara Manning was our past president
and she’s stepped in to run things. That’s her.” She surreptitiously pointed to
I nodded and turned toward the podium.
“We have all been saddened,” the acting president extolled, “by the untimely
death of our beloved president.”
William beside me snorted. “Interfering old beldame.”
I raised my eyebrows. Who was an interfering old beldame? Lovely old word.
Slightly or even quite insulting.
“Barbara hated Isobel,” he whispered. “Mind you, a lot of us found her heavy
salt in our porridge.” I heard other whispering in front of me but couldn’t make
out any words.
Barbara Manning went on. “She was a tireless worker, devoted to many
causes and a stalwart supporter of this club for many years.”
“Well, that much is true,” Marlene agreed. Murmurings rose from the
members as others made comments sotto voice. This was an opinionated group.
Barbara’s voice rose, commanding quiet. “She was an enthusiastic and tireless
worker for the Mystery Ball, and I hope we can put all our energies into it to make
it a resounding success in memory of our dear Mrs. Isobel Paulson.” She lowered
her head but didn’t let the tribute of silence go on for long.
I hadn’t heard such a collection of clichés for quite some time, but I suppose
people often resort to them when they have to comment on a sad event,
particularly when they have awkward facts like murder to avoid. Clichés were a
blanket over a mess.
“Thomas, our dear Thomas, is going to continue to look after the library
and maintain his position as treasurer. I will step in as acting president until the
members hold an election which will be after the ball, as we don’t want disruptions
so close to the event.” She looked around at the audience, but no one objected.
“And what’s to say anyone else will get a look-in even then?” William muttered.
The meeting was over and the general rise in volume accompanied by the
noise of chairs moving allowed Marlene to speak normally.
“Come on now, love,” Marlene said as she stood and moved toward the centre
of the hall. “Let me introduce you to some people. Claire, is it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Claire Barclay.”
“Ah, here is Thomas.” There was genuine affection in her voice and I looked
up to see a tall, thin, older man, smiling at Marlene.
“Thomas, this is Claire who is new here.”
A singularly sweet smile transformed Thomas’ face. “Like mysteries, do you?”
he said. “Welcome.”
32 Emma Dakin
“Love them. I run a mystery tour business, so I bring fans over from America
to tour the sites of mysteries.”
“Now, fancy that.” Marlene said. “Do you go to Agatha Christie country?”
“Sometimes. My next group is going to Wallingford.”
“Wonderful museum,” Thomas agreed. “It is so well organized and
“Claire found Isobel’s body,” Marlene said with the importance of producing
an ‘interesting fact’,” and she called the police.”
“And ambulance,” I said.
“Oh dear.” Thomas commiserated. “Upsetting.”
We moved toward the tea table, and Marlene left us. I smelled the enticing
scent of coffee but knew better than to drink any coffee made in an English urn. It
would be weak and tasteless. I’d have tea which would also be weak and tasteless
but more palatable than coffee. Thomas and I both snagged a cup and a biscuit.
I turned to him.
“You are in charge of the library, Thomas?” I said.
“I am. I also manage the library at the school where I teach inquiring as
well as reluctant minds. You must come to our house to examine the mystery
collection one day.”
Thomas seemed to be one of those courtly men, probably about sixty, who
learned his manners early and continued to practice them. I’ve met only a few
men who retain those manners. They’re out of fashion.
“That’s kind of you. I’m very interested in researching Agatha Christie. Do
you have anything of hers in your library?”
“A few things. I’m trying to catalogue the collection.
Thank you, Emma Dakin and RABT Book Tours
About the author
Emma Dakin has written over thirty published books, many under the name of Marion Crook. She completed her PhD in education, went on to teach at university and continued to write, because writing, as most readers know, is at least a compulsion, if not an addiction. After years of reading every cozy mystery she could find, Emma wrote Hazards in Hampshire: The British Book Tour Mysteries. One of the joys of setting a novel in Britain is the need to travel there. She enjoyed absorbing the differences in attitude in the distinct British counties and tried to interpret the Cornish accent (next book) and the unique culture of Yorkshire (third book). She lives on the Sunshine Coast, near Vancouver, Canada, but claims her British ancestors “keep popping into my head with their purely British remarks”.
Website: Author’s Website: emmadakinauthor.com
Goodreads: Marion Crook Author
Barnes and Noble: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=emma+dakin&ref=nb_sb_noss_2
Apple Books: open app to order
Local bookstores and libraries