Authors: Ceri Radford
A Surrey State of Affairs
PAMELA DORMAN BOOKS
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First American edition
Published in 2012 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Copyright © Ceri Radford, 2011
All rights reserved
A Pamela Dorman Book / Viking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
A Surrey state of affairs / Ceri Radford.
1. Middle-aged women—Fiction. 2. Family secrets—Fiction. 3. Self-actualization (Psychology) in women—Fiction. 4. Surrey (England)—Fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Carla Bolte
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To my husband, Chris.
And to Constance’s loyal online friends on
Expat in the US, Dolores Doolittle, and Canary Islander.
I would like to thank my mum for providing the occasional inspiration for the character of Constance, but without running away to Argentina; and Bev for her constructive badgering.
A huge thank-you to Pamela Dorman for delicately transplanting Constance to American soil. I’m also indebted to Julie Miesionczek, Grainne Fox, and Peter Robinson for their enthusiasm and support.
For reading my manuscript and helping to put Constance on the right track, thank you to my talented friend Sophie Hardach.
thanks to Marcus Warren, Shane Richmond, Kate Day, and Lucy Jones for their input, ideas, and humor while I was writing the blog.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 1, 2008
I suppose that this, my inaugural “blog,” represents at least one new element to the New Year. If my son, Rupert, is to be believed, it may be read anywhere from Milton Keynes to Mauritius. This would certainly be a marked expansion from the usual audience for my reflections, which consists mostly of Darcy, my Eclectus parrot. He is a magnificent specimen who has been a great source of comfort since the children left home, but his attention span is not unwavering. Occasionally he punctuates my stories—on Natalia, the housekeeper’s, blunders, or Miss Hughes, the bell ringer’s, bunions—by breaking open a Brazil nut with a resonant crack. At that point I usually try calling my daughter, Sophie, or Rupert, who suggested last time that I might like to tell the World Wide Web all about it, rather than him. He is such a thoughtful boy.
In any case, now that Sophie has got me all set up—she also seemed to think that a blog would be a wonderful idea—and kindly shut herself away in her room to give me some privacy, I had better find something to tell you about. I may as well start with last night’s little gathering. Now, I don’t know how you feel about New Year’s Eve, but, at the age of fifty-three, I have come to greet the passing of one year and the beginning of the next with a certain sense of jaded déjá vu. Party poppers and the like are best left to excitable eighteen-year-olds like Sophie.
And yet, for my husband, Jeffrey’s, sake, I decided to rouse myself and organize a Murder Mystery evening. As he is a lawyer, I thought it would appeal to his professional powers of deduction. He may be specialized in mergers and acquisitions rather than
homicide, but I imagine there are underlying similarities. And seeing as he has been a little cranky recently, I thought the distraction would do him good.
The evening began well. I wore an elegant old velvet dress of Mother’s, several strands of pearls, and a fox stole—which blended nicely into my bobbed auburn hair—to play the countess. Jeffrey was the count, which suited his dignified manner. His brother, Edward, wore a stethoscope to play the physician, while my sister-in-law, Harriet, was a nun. Mother played an exiled French aristocrat with impeccable haughtiness. Reginald, our vicar, gamely took the part of the butler. Sophie avoided the proceedings entirely by staying at a friend’s house for the evening. This was just as well, given that the last time she saw my fox stole she screamed.
Natalia played herself. I doubt whether the housekeeper of the original tale was a surly Lithuanian with a tenuous grasp of the Queen’s English, but one must make do with the materials at hand. To her credit, she topped up Jeffrey’s wineglass very diligently, although the girl really should sort out some sturdier buttons for the front of her blouse. Perhaps I should have given her a new one for Christmas, instead of the flashy ostrich feather earrings that Jeffrey had given me seven years ago.
After dinner, I paced in the drawing room, as the instructions recommended, while the other dramatis personae scattered themselves throughout the house. Then the lights went out. There was a brief, manly gasp, which was almost immediately drowned out by the shrill, theatrical screech of my sister-in-law, Harriet. The nun was dead.
The ensuing investigations were quite good fun, with Reginald blushing lest he should cause offense to anyone by implying even fictitious guilt, and the corpse rising from the dead to demand a glass of port. Jeffrey was the only one shrewd enough to guess
that Natalia, who had remained impassive throughout, had committed the dastardly deed. He has a fine legal brain. Mother slapped him on the back so hard that he nearly choked on his brandy. At midnight, there was a cheerful ambience as we clinked our crystal champagne flutes. Harriet threw off her wimple, and Reginald attempted to dance, with the same jerky motion of a shot crow plummeting to the ground. Even Mother managed to smile.
The evening may have been a success, but I went to bed for the first time this year with the memory of that curious, masculine gasp ringing in my ears long after “Auld Lang Syne” had faded.