Authors: Rhys Bowen
RIME TITLES BY
Royal Spyness Mysteries
HER ROYAL SPYNESS
A ROYAL PAIN
NAUGHTY IN NICE
THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS
Constable Evans Mysteries
EVAN HELP US
EVAN AND ELLE
EVAN CAN WAIT
EVANS TO BETSY
EVAN ONLY KNOWS
Twelve Clues of Christmas
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reaction to the recipes contained in this book.
Copyright © 2012 by Janet Quin-Harkin.
name is a registered service mark of the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The twelve clues of Christmas / Rhys Bowen.—1st ed.
1. Aristocracy (Social class)—England—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 3. Christmas stories. I. Title.
In memory of my father,
Frank Newcombe Lee,
whose family came from Devonshire,
not far from Tiddleton-under-Lovey.
As always I’d like to thank John for his input and editing skills (even though we almost come to blows each time). I’d like to thank my wonderful editor, Jackie Cantor, for making my life so easy, and my equally brilliant agents, Meg Ruley and Christina Hogrebe, for taking such good care of me. It is a pleasure to work with you all.
And this book is also dedicated to Sandra Sechrest, who lent her name to one of the characters in this story.
ECEMBER 14, 1933
Weather: cold, dreary, bleak.
Atmosphere here: cold, dreary, bleak.
Outlook: cold, dreary, bleak. Not in a good mood today. I wonder why. Could it have something to do with the fact that Christmas is coming and it will be utterly bloody?
Ah, Christmas: chestnuts roasting; Yule logs crackling merrily; tables groaning under roast goose, turkey, mince pies and flaming plum puddings; carols and mistletoe; goodwill to all men. I’m sure there were some houses in Britain where this was going to be the case, in spite of the depression—just not at Castle Rannoch, on the bleak Scottish moors, where I was currently trapped for the winter. No, I was not snowed in or being held prisoner. I was there of my own volition. I happen to be Lady Georgiana Rannoch, sister to the current duke, and that bleak castle is my family home.
There is actually no way to make Castle Rannoch festive even if one wanted to. Firstly it would be impossible to heat those cavernous great rooms no matter how many Yule logs you piled on the fire, and secondly my sister-in-law, Hilda, Duchess of Rannoch, commonly known as Fig, was in full austerity mode. Times were hard, she said. The country was in the grip of a great depression. It was up to us to set an example and live simply. We even had to endure baked beans on toast as our savory at the end of dinner, which shows how dire our situation had become.
It is true that times are hard for the Rannochs, even though we’re related to the royal family and my brother inherited Rannoch Castle and a London house in Belgravia. You see, our father lost the last of his fortune in the great crash of ’29, then went up on the moors and shot himself, thus saddling poor Binky with horrendous death duties. I had my allowance cut off on my twenty-first birthday and have been struggling to keep my head above water ever since. Not that our situation is as dire as those poor wretches in the soup lines. I was supposed to marry well, to one of those chinless, spineless and half-imbecile European princes, or, failing that, become lady-in-waiting to an elderly royal aunt.
So far I had chosen neither of the above, but as Christmas approached and the wind whistled down the hallways of Castle Rannoch, either option began to seem more desirable than my present situation. You might wonder why I stayed in such dreary surroundings. It had started through the famous Rannoch sense of duty that had been rammed down our throats since birth. We’d been raised with stories about ancestors like Robert Bruce Rannoch, who had kept fighting when his arm was hacked off in battle and merely changed his sword from his right hand to his left. I don’t think my sense of duty was that strong, but it was definitely there.
You see, that summer, in London, my sister-in-law, Fig, had given birth to a second little Rannoch. Although she looked as if she had the constitution of a cart horse, she had been rather ill. She had gone home to Scotland to recuperate and had actually begged me to come to keep her company (which shows how jolly sick she was!). I, being a kindhearted soul, had agreed.
Summer had turned to autumn and there were the royal relatives at Balmoral to visit, house parties, grouse shoots—all of which we hoped might bring Fig out of her blue funk. But she had remained languid and depressed, hardly showing any interest in little Adelaide—yes, that was what they named the poor child. Adelaide Gertrude Hermione Maude. Can you imagine saddling any poor baby with such monstrosities? They hadn’t even come up with a good pet name yet. One could hardly call her Addy or Laidy, could one? Then she’d be Lady Addy or Lady Laidy and that wouldn’t do. To date she was addressed as “baby,” or occasionally “diddums.”
And so I had stayed on. Nanny coped admirably with little Adelaide, Fig lolled about, getting more and more petty and bad tempered, and Binky wandered the grounds looking worried. I was starting to wonder how long I could endure this, when things were decided for me. Fig’s mother, Lady Wormwood, arrived to take charge. It only took an instant to see where Fig’s pettiness and bossy nature came from. If Fig was a trial, Lady Wormwood was utterly bloody. (Yes, I know a lady is not supposed to use words like “bloody,” but in describing Lady Wormwood the adjective is actually rather mild. Alas, my education was sadly lacking. If I knew stronger words, I’d have used them.)
She had been in the house for about a week when I came back from a walk to hear her strident voice saying, “It’s not healthy, Hilda.” (She was the only person who called Fig Hilda, being responsible for the ghastly name.) “It’s not natural for a young girl to shut herself away like this, doing nothing all day. Does she not think at all about her future?”
I froze in the entrance hall, shielded by a suit of armor. I expected Fig to leap to my defense and tell her mother that I was only shutting myself away at Castle Rannoch because she had begged me to stay with her. Instead I heard her saying, “I really don’t know what she thinks, Mummy.”
“She can’t possibly expect that you’ll go on supporting her. You’ve done your duty and more. The girl has had her season, hasn’t she?” (People like Lady Wormwood pronounced the word “gell”). “Why isn’t she married? She’s not bad looking. She has royal connections. You’d have thought someone would have taken her off your hands by now.”
“She’s already turned down Prince Siegfried of Romania,” Fig said. “I don’t think she has any idea about duty. The queen was really angling for that match. They are Hollenzollern-Sigmaringens, you know. Related to the queen’s family. And Siegfried was a charming young man, too. But she turned him down.”
“What on earth is she waiting for—a king?” Lady Wormwood asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “It’s not as if she’s next in line to the throne, is it?”
This was true. I had been thirty-fourth until Adelaide was born. Now I had been relegated to thirty-fifth.
Fig lowered her voice. “Between ourselves, she’s mooning after some disreputable chap called Darcy O’Mara. Absolutely rotten sort.”
“O’Mara? Son of Lord Kilhenny?”
“That’s the one. Their family is in a worse state than ours. One gathers his father has had to sell off the family seat and the racing stables to cover his debts. So there are no prospects in that quarter. This O’Mara chap has no fortune and no career. He’ll never be able to support a wife.”
“Well, she wouldn’t be allowed to marry him anyway, would she?” Lady Wormwood’s voice echoed around the great hall. “They are a Catholic family. As a member of the line of succession she’d be barred from marrying a Catholic.”
I took an involuntary step back, knocking into the suit of armor and just managing to grab the mace before it clattered to the floor. I knew that the royal family was not allowed by British law to marry a Catholic, but surely that didn’t apply to me. It wasn’t as if I’d ever find myself queen, unless a particularly virulent epidemic hit or invaders wiped out numbers one through thirty-four. Not that Darcy had asked me to marry him. In fact, we did not even fit the traditional concept of sweethearts. When I was with him it was bliss, but most of the time I didn’t even know where he was. I certainly didn’t know how he earned his living. He appeared to be another young man-about-town, spending his days in idle pursuits like most peers’ sons, but I suspected he was also employed by the British government as some kind of spy. I had questioned him on several occasions but he remained enigmatically mum. When I last heard from him he was on his way to Argentina. I felt a lump come into my throat.
“The girl needs taking in hand, Hilda.” Lady Wormwood’s voice boomed again. “Make it quite clear to her that she is expected to do her duty like everyone else. None of us mooned around waiting for an unsuitable chap, did we? We married whom we were told to and got on with it. Such a stupid notion that one marries for love.”
“Hold on a minute, Mummy,” Fig interrupted. “I’m jolly fond of Binky, you know. I consider myself very lucky in that department.”
“Nobody is saying that love doesn’t come later in some cases,” Lady Wormwood said. “If I remember correctly you had a distinct crush on the local curate until we set you straight. So will you speak to the girl, Hilda, or shall I? Give her an ultimatum—tell her you can support her no longer and it’s up to her to find herself a husband right away.”
I couldn’t stand there for another second. I turned and pushed open the front door, stepping out into the full force of the gale that had begun brewing during my walk. It had started to snow, a driving kind of sleet that stung like needles then stuck to my clothing, hair and eyelashes, but I didn’t care. I walked, faster and faster, away from the house and out into the storm. As I walked I concentrated on my anger, to keep my fear at bay. How dare she! Castle Rannoch was my ancestral home, not hers. She couldn’t turn me out. And then the fear began to creep in . . . if they did turn me out, where would I go? God knows I’d tried to find ways to support myself, but with the world in the grips of a great depression even those with qualifications and experience were standing in bread lines. And then the bigger fear—the real fear. What if I couldn’t marry Darcy? Was I waiting for an impossible dream? Hadn’t I better start facing reality?
The snow turned to blizzard, coating me in a white blanket and making it hard to breathe. Well, one thing was sure—I was not going to conveniently die in a storm just to please Fig and her mother. I turned around and made my way back toward the looming black shape of the castle. Since my presence was no longer appreciated, I’d not stay any longer. I’d have my maid, Queenie, pack my trunk and we’d leave for London in the morning. I had become rather good at camping out in our London house. My grandfather was nearby and my friend Belinda always seemed to have exciting things to do. And who knows, Darcy might be returning to London any day now. It was time for me to take my life into my own hands again.