When Isabelle Darby moves to the delightfully cosy village of Lower Dimblebrook, she’s searching for peace and quiet as well as a chance to escape from heartbreak. After making friends with Fiona Lambourne, another newcomer to the village, Issie is left reeling when tragedy strikes and Fiona is murdered, the second wife Anthony Lambourne has lost in unfortunate circumstances. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the local gossips insist that Fiona had been embroiled in an affair before her death, something which Issie knows not to be the case. Determined to clear her friend’s reputation and solve the mystery of the rumours, Issie takes on both the gossips and the handsome but stern DI Wainwright, making both friends and enemies along the way!
Many of the characters of Lower Dimblebrook have lived there for most of their lives and they all have their own stories. Madeline is one of my favourites, an elderly woman who still mourns the loss of her beloved husband many years before and who lives life exactly as she always has, keeping all the customs and routines of her married life. She’s a lovable, slightly eccentric person, kindness personified and a throwback to a more genteel age when cocktails were served on the lawn, tea dresses were obligatory and a charming welcome was always extended to visitors.
It was only a few steps into the kitchen where a plate of freshly made biscuits sat on the table next to a china pot and two pretty rose patterned cups in matching saucers.
‘I’ve been expecting you, my dear, sit down and let me pour you a drink,’ said Madeleine, pushing a box of tissues in Isabelle’s direction and patting her reassuringly on her shoulder.
‘You’ve heard?’ asked Issie in surprise. Then she shrugged. ‘Of course you have, why should that surprise me?’
Madeleine sighed. ‘You should realise by now, anything that happens here is known in every nook and cranny within the hour. And murder- well that’s big news by Lower Dimblebrook standards.’
Issie sniffed again. ‘I think murder is big news by anyone’s standards, Madeleine. I just can’t really believe it’s happened, I can’t believe that Fiona is … that I’ll never see her again,’ and the tears rolled down her cheeks once more as she took a tissue to dab at her eyes.
‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ Sitting at the scrubbed pine kitchen table, Madeleine started pouring from the teapot. ‘It’s absolutely dreadful. Poor Fiona. Have a drink dear girl, it will help.’
Issie accepted the cup warily. Madeleine always used bone china, she never poured milk from the bottle and the biscuits were usually served on a two-tier cake stand inherited from her grandmother. But it was rarely tea in the teapot. More often than not it was gin fizz or sometimes when the sun was out, a delicious Pimm’s cocktail and the little sugar pot would be full of strawberries and blackberries. At 6.00 o’clock sharp she would mix a martini cocktail just as Rupert had done throughout their married life. Today it was rhubarb wine in the teapot, sharp, tangy and quite delicious. Issie peered in the milk jug and found cloudy, homemade lemonade which Madeleine now added to the china cups.
‘Just a splash I think,’ she murmured before sitting down and raising her cup daintily. ‘To Fiona. Poor, poor girl.’
Sniffing, Issie took a sip of the wine. ‘I know we hadn’t known each other for very long,’ she said, pushing back hair the colour of golden syrup from damp cheeks, ‘but we were becoming such good friends. I just can’t believe she’s gone. And murdered!’ she shuddered, trying to quell the sobs that threatened to erupt.
Madeleine nodded in sympathy. ‘I didn’t know her well,’ she murmured. ‘But she seemed a delightful young woman. And so young! What a waste.’
They fell silent, their gaze caught by a bee which was hovering in the doorway and buzzing happily, quite untouched by their emotions. Issie could hear the sound of a lawnmower in the distance and a chorus of song from the birds that nested along the bank of the stream. Familiar sounds that brought little comfort. Life was continuing in Lower Dimblebrook despite the drama unfolding in its midst.
Madeleine sighed, her fragile hands fluttering. ‘Such a tragedy,’ she muttered pouring more wine into their cups. ‘Those poor young boys … and Anthony!’ she shook her head sadly.
Issie’s lip trembled. To her shame, she had been quite wrapped up in her own thoughts of how much she would miss the vivacious young woman.
‘You’re right. I’d only known Fiona for a few months. Her poor family must be devastated!’
The old woman shook her head and sighed again. ‘Unfortunately, they’re no strangers to unhappiness but it doesn’t make it any easier to bear.’
Issie wiped her eyes and sipped at her drink. ‘Fiona told me that Anthony’s first wife had died when their youngest son was only 18 months old, and now he’s lost Fiona. He must be heartbroken.’
‘He worshipped Sophie,’ said Maddy softly, her eyes gentle and reflective. ‘You could see it in his face whenever he looked at her, the way he wrapped his arms around her. I did wonder for a while if he would ever recover.’
Issie leant forward to touch the back of Madeleine’s hand lightly. Rupert had been dead for many years but Issie was in no doubt that they too had worshipped each other and Madeleine’s eyes still misted over when she spoke of him. It made Issie quite bitter sometimes, that other people managed to find such enduring love.
‘But he met Fiona,’ Issie prompted, ‘and fell in love with her.’
Fiona had once confessed that she was jealous of Anthony’s first wife and knew deep down that he would never love her as much as he had loved Sophie. But she had been desperately in love with the handsome young widower and had accepted that although his first tragic love would always be his greatest, he did love her in his own way.
‘It did him a great deal of good marrying Fiona. It never does to wallow too much whatever tragedy life throws at you.’ Madeleine’s sharp eyes met Issie’s own. ‘There always comes a time when you need to move on.’
Issie blushed slightly and sipped at the rhubarb wine. Other than Fiona, Madeleine was the only person who knew what had brought Issie to Lower Dimblebrook.
‘And now here we are again. Let’s hope he can recover from the loss of a second wife,’ continued Madeleine shaking her head. ‘Poor young man. Poor, poor young man’
Thank you, Julie Butterfield and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Julie Butterfield belongs to the rather large group of ‘always wanted to write’ authors who finally found the time to sit down and put pen to paper – or rather fingers to keyboard.
She wrote her first book purely for pleasure and was very surprised to discover that so many people enjoyed the story and wanted more, so she decided to carry on writing.
It has to be pointed out that her first novel, ‘Did I Mention I Won The Lottery’ is a complete work of fiction and she did not, in fact, receive millions in her bank account and forget to mention it to her husband – even though he still asks her every day if she has anything to tell him