March 29th, 2012

This is the second excerpt from A Surrey State of Affairs, which is published by Pamela Dorman Books.

Wednesday, January 2

A Surrey State of Affairs: Excerpt 2

Forgive me for going on a bit yesterday. I don’t know what got into me. The ease of tip-tapping away on this new Lap-Top must have gone to my head. I haven’t even introduced my­self yet.

My name is Constance Harding. I am wife to Jeffrey, a senior partner at Alpha & Omega; mother to Rupert, a  twenty-five- year- old IT consultant, and to Sophie, a slightly directionless adolescent who will shortly be returning to her  gap-year project counting stickleback at an eco lodge in the Ardèche.

I am currently sitting in my favorite cream  Regency- style chair in the drawing room, typing on the computer that Jeffrey gave me for Christmas and Rupert obligingly set up with the necessary “software.” While I write, I am attempting to peel off a small, obstinate Alpha & Omega sticker, which Jeffrey must have affixed to my gift in an absentminded moment of corporate loyalty.

Our home is a comfortable  five-  bedroom Georgian house located on the outskirts of a pleasant village in Surrey. Our com­munity has a green, a pub called The Plucked Pheasant, a church called St. Mary’s, a florist, a restaurant, and a post office: in short it is quintessentially English, with the exception of the tea shop, which has unfortunately been converted into a  faux-Italian, chrome-furnished café selling biscotti and lattes.

This information will have to suffice for now. I will not be more specific lest rampaging hordes of Internet users trample my snowdrops, smash the French windows, and steal the candle­sticks. Such things occur. I have read about them in the Daily Telegraph.

Read the first excerpt.

March 26th, 2012

This is the first excerpt from A Surrey State of Affairs, which will be published by Pamela Dorman Books on March 29.

Tuesday, January 1

A Surrey State of Affairs opening page

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 Mau¬ritius. 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 at¬tention 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 fi fty-three, I have come to greet the passing of one year and the beginning of the next with a certain sense of jaded déjà 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 dis¬traction 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 count¬ess. 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 pro¬ceedings 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 them¬selves 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 fi ctitious 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 com-mitted 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 fl utes. 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.