When Berdie Elliott, vicar’s wife and sleuth extraordinaire, attends a church course with her husband in the North of England, she bumps into her former newspaper boss who calls upon her to investigate beguiling circumstances that spell murder.
From the landed Cavendish family to the local pub’s manager, Criswell Abbey and its village are steeped in a centuries-old mystery.
The legend of a departed churchman, a mysterious bell tower, England’s tangled history, a delayed marriage proposal, and a wily parrot all help Berdie to uncover All Hallows Dead.
“Hang about lad, and you’ll soon see me in clover, the missus in a new house, and a certain woman of my acquaintance in a fur coat.”
“Get over,” young Tony bawled, creating echoes all through the empty ancient building. “If your certain woman’s in fur, she’s hardly going to be seen with the likes of you.”
The older fellow attempted to tap a finger against his rotund nose, though he rather caught his eye instead. His second go with the finger landed alongside his intended target. “You’re wrong lad. She won’t be able to get enough of me.” He winked. “Just ask Agnes, or Ruthie, or Linda.”
The young man shook his head. “How many pints have you had Mr. Dennison?”
The workman began a laugh that started in his belly and rolled up into his throat and finally out his bulbous lips. “Now that’s an indiscreet question I have no intension of answering.”
Tony was amazed at how Mr. Dennison could knock a few back and still manage to do his repair and renovation work with general success.
“I’m saving up, Mr. Dennison. Going to buy a mobile phone,” Tony said whilst they made way down the central aisle of an ancient deserted church.
“Wait for a bit and I’ll buy one for you.” Mr. Dennison gave musical voice to his high spirits. Three maids of my desire, O hi,hi,hi, O low, low, low.
The noise bounced from the cold stone floor, to the vaulted roof, from the side chapel where a shaft of light from the lancet window fell upon the seasoned kneeling rail, to the hand-carved candle pillars at the altar.
The boy took in the ladder nestled in the bell tower near a half-repaired puncture in the wall. “How soon will we have this finished?”
“Finished?” A frown upended the grizzled mason’s giddy smile. “I’ve been at it for almost a month, all though with your help, end of the week I’d say.”
“I work for the estate. Remember?” Tony blew out a quick breath. “I know the church is amongst their properties, but I’ve got plenty more to do besides this.”
“That’s right,” a voice called from just inside the opened main door.
The boy turned on his heel to see the estate foreman. “Uncle Jack.”
“Gate’s down on the upper north meadow. We got word to fix it straight way.”
Tony glanced at the stone mason. “You see? Fix it straight way.”
“Off with you then, me laddy boy.” The builder eyed Mr. Jack Slade and fired a verbal shot to the intruder. “Send him back in good time, mind you.”
Mr. Slade jutted his chin. “The lad will take as much time as he needs to do a proper job.”
Dennison smiled. “Ah, Mr. Slade, I’m not going to cross swords with you today. Too much good fortune coming my way.”
Mr. Slade grunted.
“Take the four-wheel drive, Tony. Keys are in,” the uncle-cum-boss directed.
Tony smiled. It wasn’t often he got to drive the new vehicle. “You’re not coming?”
“I’m on another errand for the family. You can handle the gate by yourself.” He waggled a finger toward Tony. “No Mario Andretti stuff. Drive sensible.”
“Right, Uncle Jack.”
Tony raced out, jumped into the new vehicle, opened the driver’s window, and in minutes, was speeding along the gravel road that took him to the turn off for the upper north meadow. What a purr, what steering, what an engine.
He couldn’t keep himself from the temptation of the power that lay at his command. He turned onto the upper north track with more speed than caution and the vehicle fishtailed.
“Yeah!” Tony yelled. The energy thumped through his body. This was a man’s machine. And the adventurous ride, bumping and heaving along the track, took just half the normal time to reach the upper north gate.
When he arrived, Tony slammed on the brakes. He took in the well-constructed gateway. It was right as rain. It wasn’t down, not even open. Tony got out and gave the gate a swift kick. Then he pushed it with all his weight.
“Solid as a rock.” He shook his head and looked about. “No. Someone just got the wrong end of the stick,” he reasoned. “Oh, well.”
He climbed back into the four-wheel drive with no thought to pursuing the matter any further. He had done his bit.
“I’ll take the long way back,” Tony whispered to himself. He even considered going by his friend’s house to take him for a ride but decided he might be conspicuously late getting back to the church. He ran a finger across the dash. “We’ll make Andretti look like a school girl.”
Question 1: 1. What part of the story did you find the most exciting?
Answer 1: Open Ended, Many may say that Berdie’s process of discovery in the church tower was the most exciting
Question 2: 2. Lillie said the time with Wilhelmina in the tree house wasn’t productive, but Berdie thought Wilhelmina had told her a great deal. What do you think Berdie found significant?
Answer 2: Wilhelmina was very proper, “things were simpler then,” “everyone knew their place,” were remarks she made. Yet, she took a tray of drinks, which she normally considered a servant’s job, to the church workman. This was inconsistent with her stiff and uppity attitude.
Question 3: 3. What specific circumstance did Berdie recognize as a divine intervention?
Answer 3: When she and Lillie bumped into Ruby Turner while trying to catch the same bus back to Criswell.
Question 4: 4. Criswell had the Brother Trustyn legend, albeit not the whole story. Have you ever had a neighborhood or urban “legend” that was circulated either when you were a child or at the present time?
Answer 4: (Open Ended)
Question 5: 5. With which character from the story would you enjoy a cup of tea? Why?
Answer 5: (Open Ended)
Question 6: 6. Who was your primary suspect for perpetrating the crime?
Answer 6: (Open Ended)
Question 7: 7. How did Sailor, the parrot, hold a major clue for Berdie that helped solve the mystery?
Answer 7: The song he sang, that he learned from Dennison, was about the treasure and its location. Agate, Beryl, and Ruby weren’t actually girlfriends, but precious gems. High fire was the pele fireplace which he had uncovered.
Question 8: 8. How did the noisy little advertising car on the counter in the garage/hardware where Berdie and Hugh bought the torch help Berdie realize what was going on in the church?
Answer 8: The little car was motion activated giving Berdie the idea that the “cameras” in the church could be motion activated to create various effects.
Question 9: 9. Who was your favorite male character in the story? Why?
Answer 9 (Open Ended)
Question 10: 10. The next Berdie Elliott mystery will have Lillie and Loren’s wedding in it. Judging by how their proposal went, what can you imagine might happen on their wedding day?
Answer 10: There's bound to be something that will upset the flow of the day. (Open Ended)