When Sophie Sayers inherits a cottage in a sleepy Cotswold village, she’s hoping for a quieter life than the one she’s running away from. What she gets instead is a dead body on a carnival float and an extraordinary assortment of suspects.
Is the enigmatic bookseller Hector Munro all he seems? And what about the over-friendly neighbour who brings her jars of honey? Not to mention the eccentric village shopkeeper, show committee, writers’ group and drama club, all suspiciously keen to welcome her to their midst.
For fans of cosy mysteries everywhere, Best Murder in Show will make you laugh out loud at the idiosyncrasies of English country life and rack your brains to discover the murderer before Sophie can.
Best Murder in Show is the first in the new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series.
Scroll down the page to read the opening chapter for free…
HOW TO ORDER
- Click here to buy online
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LISTEN TO THE OPENING CHAPTER
Watch a video of the author reading the opening chapter at her London launch here
What Readers Say
A CRACKING EXAMPLE OF COSY CRIME – Katie Fforde
A HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READ FOR ALL FANS OF CLASSIC MYSTERIES
Debbie Young is best known for her short stories, full of wit and with a clever look on life. Best Murder in Show is her first foray into longer fiction, but she has managed to bring all the aspects that make her writing so enjoyable to this, the first in what I hope will be a fun series. The book contains a surfeit of suspects, much clever word play, and a plot that will keep you reading long after you should have gone to sleep. – David Penny, author of the Thomas Berrencourt crime series
WARM AND WITTY. ALREADY LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT ONE!
I love Debbie Young’s writing. It is full of warmth, witty characters and wonderful humour… This is certainly a series to watch out for. – Suzie Grogan, Presenter of Book Talk on 10Radio.
For a full list of reviews, visit the Best Murder in Show Reviews page.
THE OPENING CHAPTER OF BEST MURDER IN SHOW
From where I was sitting, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard seemed remarkably clean and fragrant considering they’d just had their heads cut off. On the humid summer breeze the astringent scent of lavender wafted towards me from the pretty posies that hung from the waistbands of each of Henry VIII’s six wives.
The severed heads of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, made of papier-mâché-covered balloons, lay neatly in front of them, smiling benignly in wicker log baskets. Sugar-pink cardboard necks, inserted into the tops of their Tudor dresses, rested on upended breezeblocks borrowed from the local builder. The queens’ real heads were safely concealed beneath the built-up shoulders of their costumes. The necks of their dresses, topped off with starched ruffs, were stitched closed to complete the illusion of their recent execution.
To stop the headless queens wobbling around as their carnival float progressed up the High Street, they were wired to the safety rail that ran around the edge of the trailer. Henry VIII’s other four wives sat upright and entire on low wooden thrones borrowed from the choir stall of the village church. The king basked on the larger bishop’s seat raised on a dais at the tractor end of the float.
You couldn’t blame Tom, the executioner, for looking pleased with his neat work. All the way up the High Street, he’d waved to the crowd as proudly as if he’d just won MasterChef. Two small children burst into terrified tears at the sight of the dark hooded figure. They were comforted only when he pulled up his knitted balaclava, to reveal that it was really just Ian, the village school’s lollipop man.
Over on the Wendlebury Writers’ float, we thought it better not to wave. Smiling and waving, royal style, would have been all wrong from serious “Literary Heroes”. I was Virginia Woolf.
As we waited, restless, to hear the judges’ verdict, I noticed the Wendlebury Players’ director Rex, self-cast as Henry VIII, staring at me. I couldn’t believe he could be so shameless, knowing his girlfriend, Dido, was in the crowd. From the moment I’d met him at one of the Players’ rehearsals back in June, there was something about him that put me on my guard. Blushing angrily, I faced the other way, hoping to goodness that Dido didn’t think there was anything going on between us.
As a diversionary tactic, I pretended to be riveted by the WI’s Suffragette-themed float, parked on the other side of ours. It was an interesting spectacle. In front of a backdrop painted to resemble a London city street ran a row of large iron railings: plastic fencing spray-painted gunmetal grey. To these were chained half a dozen middle-aged ladies in hired My Fair Lady costumes. The one at the centre wore a large rosette saying “Mrs Pankhurst” to clarify their theme. All six were adorned with the Suffragette movement’s distinctive green, purple and white sashes, the kind now more usually associated with beauty queens. None of the chained protesters looked as if they’d recently been in prison on hunger strike.
What would Virginia Woolf have made of the Village Show? I wished I’d done a little more research before picking her as my Literary Hero; I should at least have read one of her books. I’d only chosen her to try to impress my new friends in the Wendlebury Writers, and to look clever in front of my new boss, Hector Munro, proprietor of the village bookshop. Now dressed as Homer, he was towing our float with his Land Rover.
But never mind Virginia Woolf, I was still unsure of what to make of the Village Show myself. Although when I was still at school I’d spent a fortnight here every summer holiday, staying with my Great Auntie May, my visits had never coincided with the Show. Returning to live here at the age of twenty-five, I’d assumed taking part in the carnival parade would be innocent fun, but now I was not so sure.
Masking the sharp scent of fresh hay that bordered the arena, a new aroma cut into my senses: flatulence from the executioner now standing with his back to me and Anne Boleyn. Lucky her to have her head inside her dress to keep out of that little cloud, I was thinking just as a loud crackle from the tannoy alerted us that the judges were about to announce the results of the float competition.
The broad Gloucestershire burr of Stanley Harding, Village Show Chairman, boomed, “Congratulations to another fine field of entries for the carnival procession.” His commentary was well practised, this being his twenty-first show in that prestigious position. The post was passed on as if by birthright – he’d taken over the role uncontested from his father, and it was his grandfather’s before that. This latter-day feudal system didn’t seem to do anyone any harm, if the bustling crowd’s obvious delight with the proceedings was anything to go by.
“Thank you all for the wonderful hard work that you’ve put in to making such a fabulous display. In reverse order, this year’s prizes are as follows. In third place, the WI for their Mary Poppins float showing Mrs Banks and her Sister Suffragettes.”
There was a roar of applause, and shrieks of delight from the chained ladies who seemed unperturbed that their serious political statement had been misinterpreted as a Disney movie. The Suffragettes tried to hug each other, forgetting they were all chained to the railings, and succeeded only in wrenching their arms and shoulders and dislodging the iron-effect fence. That they remained constrained added to the crowd’s enjoyment. No-one came forward with the padlock keys to release them, despite their cries for help.
“Cor, those ladies are a force to be reckoned with,” continued Stanley. “You chaps had better watch your backs once they get loose.” He paused for dramatic effect. “In second place, the Wendlebury Players, for King Rex and his harem. No, only joking, Dido – I mean Henry VIII and his Six Wives. I understand that will be the theme of their next drama production in November, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to enjoying that event. Except perhaps the two wives that get their heads chopped off.” He let out a roar at his own joke. “I bet now we’ve seen our Ian dolled up like this, all you boy racers will drive a bit slower past the school when he’s on lollipop duty.”
While Stanley waited for the cheering to die down, I surveyed the remaining floats, crossing my fingers that we’d be the lucky winners. Ours was by far the most cultured entry.
“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: this year’s first prize goes to the Gardening Club, and their army of Worzel Gummidges.”
The human scarecrows were unable to join in the rapturous applause because they were all tied to wooden crosses, looking as if they belonged to some extreme Christian religious cult in which neatness of dress was not a core value. Their tractor driver leapt down from his cab to sever the scarecrows’ ropes with a perilously sharp pocketknife. As soon as they’d all been freed, they collected a large silver trophy from Stanley and made a beeline to the beer tent to fill it up, courtesy of their prize money. A couple of them had lit cigarettes dangling from their mouths before they even reached the tent, with no regard for the straw stuffing poking out from their costumes. Now there was an accident waiting to happen.
I was more disappointed than I’d expected that the Wendlebury Writers hadn’t won a prize. I wondered whether the problem was our lack of a bondage theme, worryingly present in all the winning floats. Seeing my glum face, Louisa, as Agatha Christie, got up from her low Art Deco armchair and came over to pat me on the shoulder consolingly.
“Never mind, dear, we entertained the crowds, and that’s what really matters – all working together to put on a good show. Let’s all go and have a nice cream tea in the hall now. Did you know Agatha Christie’s favourite drink was Devon cream? She had it served in a wineglass with her dinner.”
I wished I had known Virginia Woolf’s preferred tipple so that I could have made an appropriate reply.
As I started to descend the steps from our trailer, I was stopped in my kitten-heeled tracks by a scream from the direction of the Wendlebury Players’ float. A headless Catherine Howard, who had just released herself from the ties that bound her to the safety rail, was bending over Anne Boleyn, shaking her built-up shoulders. Catherine Howard’s voice was muffled by the thick fabric of her dress, despite the gauze across the bodice that allowed her to see out.
“Oh, my God, Linda’s passed out! Somebody fetch some water! Untie her at once and help me get her out of this wretched costume. Rex, I told you we’d be far too hot with our heads stuck inside these dresses for hours on end.”
Hector jumped down from his Land Rover, pulled an antique dagger from the belt of his toga and offered it to Rex. Joshua, my elderly neighbour who had been leading the parade, appeared at his side brandishing a rusting penknife. Meanwhile, Anne of Cleves untied the wires that had kept Anne Boleyn’s body in position. From the craft stall, Carol, the village shopkeeper and wardrobe mistress to the Wendlebury Players, came running at as full a pelt as a fifty-year-old lady could manage, waving a pair of dressmaking scissors. The sudden profusion of deadly weapons about the place was alarming.
“Don’t you damage that dress, Rex. That’s got to last four evening performances and a matinee in November.”
Pushing Rex aside, Carol swiftly undid numerous poppers, zips and buttons that she’d sewn in lovingly while making the dress the week before and eased it down over the fake neck. Only then was she able to remove the cardboard to reveal Anne Boleyn’s real head underneath.
“Look at the colour of Linda’s face, she’s boiling hot,” cried Catherine Howard, ripping her dress’s neckline to allow her head to surface from beneath her ruff. “She’s absolutely covered in heat rash. She must have fainted.”
Ian laid down his axe and crouched, frowning, beside the still-kneeling motionless body of Anne Boleyn. With one arm around her shoulders, he lay two podgy fingers gently on her slender neck. He looked up at Rex, standing stony-faced beside him and fidgeting with his codpiece. Rex’s elegant girlfriend Dido, incongruous in twenty-first century fashion, had draped herself consolingly about him.
I didn’t need to hear Ian’s verdict. I already knew Linda Absolom was dead.
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