Trick or Murder? (Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries #2)

Trick or Murder ebook coverWhen the strange new vicar arrives in Wendlebury Barrow, his ban on Halloween not only upsets the whole village, it also threatens to scupper Sophie Sayers’ fledgling romance with charismatic bookseller Hector Munro. What is the dark secret that the vicar is keeping about Hector, and whose is that body buried at the bottom of the vicarage bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night? Sophie is determined to find out.

In this spooky story you’ll meet all the familiar characters that were such good company in Best Murder in Show, plus a lively new bunch, including not one but two eccentric vicars, a tearaway teenager, and Hector’s godmother, who has a few secrets tucked away….

This second book in this series of cosy classic mystery novels was launched in true village style at the Hawkesbury Upton Village Show and is now available to buy in paperback and ebook.

Scroll down the page to read the opening two chapters for free.

HOW TO ORDER

Buy online here or order at your local bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1-911223-20-7

WHAT READERS SAY

Compelling & Comforting – Lisa K
I am really enjoying this series. You want to meet the characters, live in the village, have a tea with a shot of something at Hectors House… Reading these books is as comforting as eating a chocolate bar, and it lasts much longer.

A Light Touch – Chris Calder
The author delivers the story in such a way that it flows easily, drawing the reader on effortlessly with a light, engaging touch. Give yourself a treat, read this book.

Sophie’s First Halloween in Wendlebury Barrow – Anita Davison
…Just when I was getting too complacent, there was a great twist at the end. This was a lovely, relaxing read for the dark winter evenings. I’m looking forward to the next book, Murder in the Manger.

To read more reviews of Trick or Murder?, visit the book’s reviews page here.

THE OPENING CHAPTERS OF TRICK OR MURDER?

1 Strange Guys

On a crisp, bright autumn morning, an American tourist driving through the Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow pressed his foot down on the accelerator of his hired car. “Let’s give it some gas and get out of here,” he said to his wife. “What is this place anyway?”

“I don’t know, honey, but I think we may have driven through a time warp. I just saw a sign advertising a fireworks party at the vicarage tonight. But this is November fifth, not July fourth.”

She was cowering in the passenger seat at the sight of so many dead bodies being transported down the High Street. A young man was pushing one slumped in a wheelbarrow, while his friend carried another over his shoulder. A teenage girl had squeezed a third into a child’s buggy. All were converging on the vicarage, where a small boy was currently dragging a body as big as himself across a muddy lawn littered with rotting windfall apples and dead leaves.

As the tourists drove by, they glimpsed a large mound of wood and paper at the centre of the back lawn. The woman gasped.

“Do you think that was a funeral pyre?”

“It’s too late for a Halloween prank, whatever it was.”

“Maybe they celebrate the Day of the Dead here?”

“No, that’s Mexico.” He passed her his phone. “Look up today’s date and ‘holidays’ online, if you can get a signal in this godforsaken place.”

The search engine’s robot enlightened them. “On the fifth of November 1605, Guy Fawkes and his Catholic followers plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament to overturn the Protestant government. The plot was foiled, and on subsequent anniversaries Guy Fawkes’ Night is celebrated with bonfire parties at which effigies of Guy Fawkes, commonly known as guys and similar in construction and appearance to scarecrows, are burned on bonfires. The traditional accompaniment of fireworks is less popular now for reasons of health and safety.”

“Guy Fawkes, Marcia? Boy, these Brits sure choose weird names.”

“They certainly do, Randy.”

He changed up a gear as they sped through open country. “But why do they need so many? Isn’t one Guy Fawkes enough for them?”

Marcia shuddered. “Burning even one is one too many for me. And at the vicar’s house, too. He doesn’t sound like a man of God. Let’s head back to the safety of a city. The English countryside is way too dangerous.”

But the danger had barely begun. Had Randy and Marcia remained after nightfall, they’d have found fifty-four guys about to be burned on the bonfire, with one real person concealed among them.

 

2 The Tangled Web

Now that it was October, and the bookshop’s start-of-term sales had fallen away, the proprietor Hector Munro and I were busy setting up a Halloween window display to lure people back in. Hector told me Halloween was a big thing in Wendlebury Barrow, and I was looking forward to a bit of fun to liven up the shorter days of autumn. I’d only come to live there the previous June, when I inherited my Great Auntie May’s cottage and landed a job as a sales assistant at Hector’s House, the local bookshop. There was still so much for me to learn about this village that I’d started to think of as home.

As I sprayed fake cobwebs into the top left-hand corner of the bay window, Hector, standing on a small pair of steps, was suspending rubber spiders and bats on black thread from a series of display hooks permanently set into the ceiling. Plastic snakes writhed over spooky books artfully arranged beneath them.

Billy clattered through the shop door in time for his usual elevenses of tea and cake. “If you’d asked, I could have saved you the trouble and brought you some real cobwebs from home,” he said. “And spiders.”

Billy’s loyalty to Hector’s House was cemented not by a love of books, which he never bought, but by the illicit hooch that Hector brewed to slip into the tea of favoured guests. The cream of the bookshop, Hector liked to call it.

“No thanks, Billy, we’re treating Halloween strictly as fiction,” said Hector. “If we want to truly scare the village children, we’ll send them round to yours. Pass me another bat, would you, Sophie?”

I had just set down my aerosol can and was rummaging in the props box when the shop door creaked open, and a new voice joined the conversation.

“You’ve omitted to dust the upper left-hand quadrant.” The tall, lean stranger in a plain black suit addressed me, pointing to a fine cluster of cobwebs that I’d sprayed artistically into place. “A feather duster is the optimum weapon.”

I smiled politely at what I presumed to be a feeble joke, until I realised from the stranger’s grim expression that he was deadly serious.

“Trust me, my dear, I speak from experience. I’ve extinguished so many spiders in the vicarage this morning that I now count myself an arachnid expert.”

His straggly white hair bore evidence of his morning’s battle: a dead spider lay on his tonsure-like bald patch. If I were a spider, the stranger’s steely grey eyes would have sent me scuttling for cover.

Hector climbed down from the steps and came to stand beside me as if to provide an informal welcoming committee. When he held out his hand for a handshake, the stranger gave it a disparaging look, as if it needed a good wash, and did not return the gesture.

“Good morning, sir. We haven’t had the pleasure.”

“Don’t you believe it. I saw him kiss her the other day.”

I could have murdered Billy. One impulsive kiss from Hector the previous week, when he congratulated me on winning a writing prize, was hardly a sin. To be honest, even if it was, I wouldn’t have minded sinning again, never mind if it did upset the sanctimonious stranger. I bet he didn’t get many kisses. That was probably why he was so sour.

With a diplomatic smile, Hector slipped his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I mean, I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of seeing you in our bookshop before. Or have we?” He gazed at the stranger as if trying to place him. “I have a feeling we have met before, but I’m not sure where. You’re not local, are you?”

The stranger looked smug. “My dear fellow, I am the most local vicar you will ever have in your emporium. I am indeed your vicar, the Reverend Philip Neep. I arrived last night as the new incumbent of the Parish of Wendlebury. This is therefore my first visit to your store.” He stared at Hector for a moment, then quickly looked away.

Dropping the iced bun to which he’d helped himself from the tearoom counter, Billy almost ran over to join us. “Our new vicar? Welcome to Wendlebury, vicar. We wasn’t expecting you till the end of November.” He seized the vicar’s right hand in his own, pumping it up and down in vigorous greeting.

The vicar peered down his long nose at Billy, who stood at least a head shorter than him, and was scruffy as ever in old buff cords, checked flannel shirt, and much patched tweed jacket.

“And you are?”

“Billy Thompson. I tend the churchyard and vicarage garden, with payment by the hour. I’ve been a member of the Friends of St Bride’s these last twenty-three years and honorary treasurer for five.”

The vicar tugged his ambushed hand free with a look of distaste and pulled a handkerchief from his top jacket pocket to wipe it clean. “Doubtless I shall see you again at their next meeting.”

“Oh no, vicar, you’re not on the Friends’ committee. But we do occasionally liaise with the Parochial Church Council. That’s your gang.”

The vicar raised his eyebrows. “That will never do. I’m used to being closely involved with all the workings of my parish. After all, what is a vicar if not everyone’s friend?” He turned his back on Billy to address Hector again. “My parishioners can be so thoughtful about not overtaxing me, but to serve my community is my reason for being.”

Frowning, Billy returned to his table to take solace in the remainder of his iced bun. “What about serving God?” he muttered with his mouth full.

Abruptly, the vicar pushed past Hector and me and started browsing the bookshelves. He paused by the autobiography section. “Rather a lot of celebrities here, I see.” He pulled out a thick hardback by a famous supermodel with as much disdain as if it carried a social disease. Flicking through its pages, he lingered over the shiny photographs.

“Not someone I’d consider worthy of commemoration. I’d rather read about a more inspiring role model with a humbler public profile. They’d certainly write better. Not that anybody recognises great writing when they see it these days.” He coughed, his lungs probably still dusty from his morning’s labours. “Most celebrity autobiographies are ghostwritten, you know.”

I tried to lighten the vicar’s mood with a joke. “Then we’d better add them to our spooky window display.”

Ignoring me, he shoved the book back onto the shelf, oblivious to the fact that his rough handling had ripped its dustjacket. Almost as an afterthought, he added, “And where is your spiritual section? I assume you have a wide selection of Bibles?”

Hector pointed to the bottom shelf in the furthest corner. “Faiths are down there, next to Philosophy, just along from Self-help.”

“Faiths?” The vicar pronounced the final s as if it were a second superfluous syllable. He stooped to inspect the evidence. “Buddhism? Judaism? Druids? That’s not what I asked for at all.”

Hector, ever the diplomat, was trying hard to remain civil. I could tell he didn’t like Mr Neep’s rudeness to me or to Billy, even though Billy was frequently rude to everyone else. At least Billy had his heart in the right place. I wasn’t sure Mr Neep had a heart at all.

“I stock what my customers are most likely to buy,” Hector explained patiently.

The vicar swivelled round on his heel, looking like a headmaster about to chastise a schoolboy. “But, my dear fellow, if you don’t stock a good range of Bibles, how can your clientele buy them? Equally the memoirs of some more deserving fellows?”

I could tell Hector’s teeth were gritted beneath his tolerant smile. “My limited stock is carefully curated to meet the tastes of my customers. If someone wants to buy something that’s not in stock, I place a special order for no extra charge. Such are the ways of the successful bookseller. But perhaps it would help us get to know each other better if you joined me for a pot of tea, vicar?”

“Moral high ground to you, young Hector,” murmured Billy, sucking a stray bit of icing off his thumb.

Crossing to the tearoom, Hector pulled out a chair at the table furthest from Billy and gestured to the vicar to sit down. “I hope we’ll see you here often.”

Once the vicar had taken the proffered seat, I rushed over to serve him and Hector tea. The vicar looked dubiously at the cup and saucer as I set them before him. Our book-themed crockery is provided by the Literally Gifted company in return for us promoting its products in our shop, and I’d inadvertently given him the Dracula tea cup.

“I’m sorry, I think that cup’s cracked,” I said, although it wasn’t. “I’ll get another.”

I swiftly replaced it with Pride and Prejudice to match Hector’s Persuasion, and gave Dracula to Billy instead. As I filled the Great Expectations teapot, Hector tried to move the conversation on to safer ground.

“I’m so glad to see they have brought you here to fill the vacancy at last. We’ve been vicarless for months.”

“Better than being knicker—”

Fortunately the vicar had his back to Billy, so didn’t see me clasp my hand over the old boy’s mouth to silence him. I don’t usually assault our customers, and Billy took it in good spirit, seizing the opportunity to kiss my palm. I whisked my hand away as fast as I could, secretly glad that Billy was standing up to the vicar’s rudeness.

While I gave my hands a very thorough wash behind the tearoom counter, Hector pressed on.

“I hope we’ll have the opportunity to welcome your wife here soon, vicar. There are plenty of clubs and societies in the village that would be glad of her company. My assistant Sophie is a member of the Wendlebury Writers and the Show Committee. I’m sure she’d be happy to make introductions.”

“Dead,” said the vicar. “My wife is dead.”

“I’m so sorry.” Hector fell silent.

I wondered whether being widowed was what had made the vicar so judgmental about me and Hector. He must have been lonely.

Billy beckoned me back to his table. “Slip him some of Hector’s special cream. That’ll soften the old bugger up a bit.”

I fetched the jug from the fridge.

“Would you like some cream in your tea, vicar? We do a very nice local cream for special guests. We like to support local producers.”

“I take it black.”

Daunted, I splashed a little into Hector’s cup. He looked grateful.

“So, what do you do in this bookshop of yours?” The vicar asked as if it wasn’t a bookshop at all, but a thinly veiled front for an opium den. I quickly set the cream jug down on Billy’s table before the vicar could get a whiff of its contents.

Hector rattled off the description that I recognised from the shop’s website. “We offer much more than books, stationery and greetings cards to the local community.” He indicated the various display racks. “We provide a free meeting place for all ages and interests, such as the Wendlebury Writers and book groups. Our staff offer professional coaching in reading and writing for children who need extra help outside of the school day. We also lay on seasonal children’s activities and themed events for adults, to promote a love of books and reading all year round.” He pointed to the pile of free witch and ghost activity sheets on the play table in the corner. “We’re very much involved with the life of the village school. I presume you will be too, vicar, given that it’s a Church of England foundation school?”

“Yes, it will certainly be the school’s priority to have me guide the spiritual growth of the children and the staff.”

I wasn’t sure that was how the school staff might see it. Although the school had been founded by the church, leaving a lasting connection between the two, I knew from the pages of the parish magazine that currently top of the staff’s wish list was a new interactive whiteboard for the school hall followed by someone to repaint the hopscotch grids in the playground.

But the vicar had his own ideas. “I shall bring a wealth of new ideas and inspiration to the local educational establishment. “And on that note, I must ask you to remove all Halloween stock from your shop forthwith.”

Hector took a deep breath.

“More tea, vicar?” I said brightly, stepping forward to raise the pot to buy Hector thinking time. I could see this was going to be a two-pot problem. Mr Neep put his hand over his cup to refuse a refill as Hector began to speak.

“I’m sorry, vicar, but that’s quite impossible. As always at this time of year, we stock a wide range of Halloween books and activity materials.” He waved his hand towards our boxes of decorations. “We always celebrate Halloween in this village, but it’s all just a bit of fun. No real witchcraft here, ha ha. Besides, this is an independent bookshop. I make my own decisions about stock and policy. My shop, my rules. So we will continue to cater for our customers’ interest in Halloween as usual.”

The vicar shuffled back his chair, knocking the table hard enough to spill tea from the cups into the saucers. “Then I’m afraid I cannot conduct business with you, sir.”

Hector looked taken aback. “Why ever not? Your predecessor was one of our best customers. Particularly keen on police procedurals, as I recall.”

Neep slammed his hands down onto the table so hard that I feared he might break the china. Then he screwed up a paper serviette that he had not even used and threw it down. It might as well have been a gauntlet.

“Halloween is an ungodly festival which promotes Satanism. As a man of the church, I will not patronise premises that lionise the work of the devil. Good day to you.”

He rose to his feet, stalked out of the shop, and slammed the door behind him, leaving Hector calmly sipping the rest of his tea.

Billy broke the ensuing silence. “He ain’t no proper vicar, if you ask me. Why did old Reverend Murray have to go and retire? He was what I’d call a real man of the cloth. Someone with a bit of common courtesy and respect for his fellow parishioners. Used to buy me a bottle of Scotch every autumn, in return for clearing up his dead leaves.”

Crossing over to the window, Billy picked out from our Halloween props box the ugliest, most misshapen fluffy spider he could find, and tied a black cotton thread around its middle. Then he pulled a black rubber band out of his sagging jacket pocket. Roughly he slipped the rubber band around the spider’s neck. Taking a bottle of correction fluid from the shop counter, he dabbed a patch of white on the rubber band just beneath the spider’s mouth, creating a passable impression of a clerical dog collar. Shakily, he clambered up the stepladder to suspend the spider from the hook in the centre of the shop window’s ceiling.

“Let him put that in his organ pipe and smoke it,” said Billy tersely, batting the spider to send it spinning in wild circles.

I expected Hector, always respectful of his customers, to leap up, remove the spider and rip off its makeshift clerical collar. Instead, he raised his teacup to Billy in a toast.

“Amen to that.”

I had a feeling the new vicar’s tenure would not end well.