I have been the sole proprietress of The Three Kings Hotel at Gardenstown, in Aberdeenshire, since the passing of my dear father. I have welcomed all manner of people with ready hospitality (although the public bar and lounge bar are closed, as is only fitting for an establishment run by a single lady, and I do not offer meals to non-residents, or luncheon to residents, who are better picnicking out in the fresh air) but I have never seen such peculiar individuals as the brother and sister who arrived yesterday evening.
They say they are brother and sister. I am too nice-minded to question it. Mrs. Gilver has heavy, dark hair and olive skin and Mr. Osborne has tawny hair and freckles. Their rooms are on different floors of the house, of course: Mrs. Gilver in big, front room with the view up the hill and Mr. Osborne in the bachelor’s quarters on the attic floor. If I had any doubts about my guests’ morals I would show them the door, but I keep an ear cocked for burglars (and a fire poker under my bolster) as do all householders in these distressing days, and last night brought no creaks upon the stair.
I was affronted by news of the dog, when it broke upon me. I keep a clean kitchen and have never had an animal in there, beyond what I could trap or poison as soon as I saw signs. Mrs. Gilver seemed at first to be of my mind, assuring me that the beast – “Bunty” is its name – would not be sleeping there. Then – if you please – I learned that she expected the hound to spend the night in her bedroom! In my best bedroom, scratching my linoleum with its claws and shedding those black and white hairs all over the good candlewick bedspread and the nice cushion I have added to one of the chairs, for sumptuous comfort.
Needless to say, I met the thing when I took myself down to the kitchen at dawn this morning to start the kettle for tea and soak the porridge. It had introduced an aroma but nothing worse. I let it out into the yard and looked away.
There was little rest for me after that. I heard a bath running. A bath! On a Tuesday morning, no less. And so I had to stoke up the kitchen range to replace the hot water before it was all frittered away, leaving me with a porridge pot to scour cold, which takes so much extra soap.
Then, after a fine breakfast of not only hot porridge but a piece of toast each too, slathered in quite an ounce of my best butter, what do they come clamouring for but a packet of sandwiches for luncheon! And this after they had sent for extra milk and sugar on account of using it up in the porridge like the Southerners they are. My father ate a pint of salt-water-porridge every day of his life and I am glad he is not here to see what things have come to.
I shut the door on their backs, at the cost of two rounds of meat-paste sandwiches and a flask of tea, at ten o’clock and took myself up to see what disarray they had left in their bedrooms. I have had guests before who are used to a maid and drop their clothes on the floor, their damp towels in armchairs. I must say, Mrs. Gilver is tidier than some. As instructed, she had filled pails with her bathwater instead wasting it, and she slung her flannel and towel over the rail to air. She did not make her bed, but she folded her nightie, such as it was – no more than a wisp of silk. I noticed that she had taken the second blanket from the top shelf of the wardrobe and thrown it on the bed. As if my house is cold! When all the warmth of the sitting-room fire comes up through the floor right to this very room!
And as for him! Mr. Osborne had gone around every blessed chamber on the attic floor, taken every blanket from every cot, and piled them onto his own. The room was as stuffy as any I ever entered. I shuddered to think of him baking away under five blankets, not to mention smoking that nasty pipe, and I opened the dormer wide to the good clean December air, lest we all take ill.
I had been going to make a kidney pie for their suppers, but I could not contemplate what rich fare would do on top of such overheating, so I think I shall stew a flank of mutton and use up the cabbage, which will be fine with a good long boiling.
I do not know what they are doing here in Gardenstown. As a hotelier, I am bound to offer warmth and welcome, but I will not be party to debauchery.
The Reek of Red Herrings is the fifth book in the Dandy Gilver historical mystery series published in the U.S. by Minotaur Books, December 2016. Note: Overall, there are actually 12 books in the Dandy Gilver series that are available in the U.K.
On the rain-drenched, wind-battered Banffshire coast dilapidated mansions cling to cliff tops, and tiny fishing villages perch on ledges that would make a seagull think twice. It’s nowhere for Dandy Gilver, a child of gentle Northamptonshire, to spend Christmas.
But when odd things start to turn up in barrels of fish―with a strong whiff of murder most foul―that’s exactly where she finds herself. Enlisted to investigate, Dandy and her trusty cohort, Alec Osborne, are soon swept up in the fisherfolks’ wedding season as well as the mystery. Between age-old traditions and brand-new horrors, Dandy must think the unthinkable to solve her most baffling case yet in The Reed of Red Herrings.
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About the author
Catriona McPherson is the author of eleven novels in the Dandy Gilver series, featuring Dandy Gilver, her sidekick Alec Osborne, and Bunty the Dalmatian, set in Scotland in the 1920s and 30s. They have won Agatha, Macavity and Lefty awards and been shortlisted for a UK Dagger. The series is currently in development for television, at STV in Scotland. Catriona is a past president of Sisters in Crime and is still as Scottish as a plaid haggis, despite having lived in northern California since 2010. Connect with Catriona at www.catrionamcpherson.com.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of The Reek of Red Herrings. US entries only, please. The giveaway ends December 16, 2016. Good luck everyone!