‘Had I known what was to happen soon after we arrived at Mr and Mrs Walker’s lovely old West Country house, my apprehension about spending Christmas in Devon would have dwindled to nothing.’
Library Assistant Jan Christopher is to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, DS Laurie Walker and his family, but when a murder is discovered, followed by a not very accidental accident, the traditional Christmas spirit is somewhat marred…
What happened to Laurie’s ex-girlfriend? Where is the vicar’s wife? Who took those old photographs? And will the farmer up the lane ever mend those broken fences?
Set in 1971, this is the second Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery. Join her (and an owl and a teddy bear) in Devon for a Christmas to remember. :
Will the discovery of a murder spoil Christmas for Jan Christopher and her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker – or will it bring them closer together?
Jan Christopher is spending Christmas 1971 with her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker and his parents who live in an old farmhouse in Devon. Laurie takes her to the local Devon Pannier Market to buy a few last-minute Christmas gifts, but they are not the only ones there…
TO MARKET, TO MARKET
South Molton Pannier Market was a real treat. I’d never seen anything like it, nor had I heard of Pannier Markets, but then, they are special to the West Country and Devon in particular. As a Londoner, the nearest I’d come to such a thing was the mile long Walthamstow High Street. Laurie told me that pannier was French for basket, so really it was a basket market, but in this instance it meant goods brought to market in baskets by farmers, not a market that sold baskets. Although, there was a basket stall among the dozens of others selling fruit, vegetables, meat pies and Devon Pasties (baked in a different shape to the Cornish Pasty). Cakes, fresh-baked bread, cheeses, meats… Then there were the Christmas stalls gay with festive decorations, cards, children’s toys, Christmas foods. To my eyes, it seemed like an Aladdin’s Cave of delightful paraphernalia. I inspected a beautiful, exquisitely carved wooden tawny owl sitting on a tree stump. He was about six inches high and gorgeous, but I thought £3 was expensive, as my monthly salary was just over £100, so, only £25 a week, and a quarter of that went for my share of board and lodging. Then there were bus fares to and from work, clothes, make-up. It didn’t go far, I can tell you. Reluctantly, I smiled at the stall holder and moved on. One stall had an array of sweet-scented hyacinths growing in gayly painted bowls. I bought a pink one and a blue one for Laurie’s mum, Elsie, then moved on to a book stall further up the aisle while Laurie took the plants and the other things we’d purchased back to the car – Elsie had sent us off with a vast shopping list of last-minute essentials.
You would think that, working in a library, I’d be glad to get away from books for a while, but not so! I enjoy browsing bookstalls and bookshops. It is compulsive, almost addictive, and I always have to buy at least one book. I spotted a leather-bound photograph album, lovingly filled with photographs of exotic foreign places. Beneath each, a short, handwritten description: ‘The Taj Mahal, India. Evocative, romantic and beautiful, visit at dawn or dusk, you will not regret the sight of those exquisite, painted skies.’
The same woman was in most of the photos, the photographer’s wife, perhaps? In the first part of the album she was quite young and dressed in the post-World War One 1920s style of low-waisted dresses, with a bobbed hairstyle beneath a variety of cloche hats. She wore scarves in most of the pictures, with bold, striking Art Deco geometric designs, which were probably brightly coloured, but as these were black-and-white photos, it was hard to tell. Further on, the woman was dressed in a uniform – ATS, the Auxiliary Territorial Service? WRAF, the Women’s Royal Air Force? I wasn’t sure of the difference, and the photos were too small for me to see the badges she wore. One photo was of her with another woman and two men who wore smart suits and rosebud buttonholes. A wedding photo. The bride was dressed in a white jacket over a lace-trimmed frock, and carried a posy of flowers. Beyond the date, 1945, there were no names or description beneath. A post-war wedding, then, probably not enough clothing coupons to warrant a proper wedding dress.
I wondered if Laurie’s dad would appreciate it, as he liked books about travel. I peered through the crowd to see if Laurie was coming back, spotted him, and was about to wave when I saw that he had stopped to talk to a young woman. That young woman, Chloë Haywood. She seemed in a better mood today than when I’d seen her last night at the carol singing, for there was no arm waving or apparent shouting, just conversation. She laid her hand on Laurie’s shoulder. He leant forward, kissed her cheek. She kissed him back. On the lips. I didn’t know what to think. Was that him being friendly, or was there something more between them?
When he joined me at the stall, I said nothing about the encounter. Neither did he. I didn’t mention the trace of her lipstick on his mouth, either.
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Meet Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.
First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and occasionally gets time to write…
Connect with Helen
Amazon Author Page: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
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