Authors: Anthea Fraser
The Rona Parish Mysteries
(in order of appearance)
BROUGHT TO BOOK
PERSON OR PERSONS UNKNOWN
A FAMILY CONCERN
ROGUE IN PORCELAIN
NEXT DOOR TO MURDER
A QUESTION OF IDENTITY
FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS
THICKER THAN WATER
THE UNBURIED PAST
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First published in 2005 in Great Britain and the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.
This eBook edition first published in 2015 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2005 by Anthea Fraser.
The right of Anthea Fraser to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Person or persons unknown
1. Genealogy â Research â Fiction
2. Murder â Investigation â Fiction
3. Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6205-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-9135-8 (paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-686-1 (ePUB)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
loathe drinks parties,' Max Allerdyce said irritably, as he slowed for a red light. âAll you do is stand around for hours in a crowded room, drinking inferior wine and making conversation with people you hope never to see again.'
Rona laughed. âCome on, it won't be that bad. Not at Magda and Gavin's.'
âOh, but it will; even good friends metamorphose into frenzied hosts and break up any promising conversation by introducing you to someone else.'
âWell, we could hardly turn it down, could we? It's Gavin's birthday, after all.'
âThen why couldn't they have a civilized lunch or dinner? Or a series of them, if numbers dictated? Drinks parties are a cop-out, a means of writing off outstanding invitations in one fell swoop. No one enjoys them, but duty is seen to be done.'
âI hope you're not going to be in this mood all evening,' Rona commented.
He made some reply, but she barely heard him. As they turned into Barrington Road, her thoughts had swung to the last occasion she'd visited the Ridgeways, when she'd seen her father walking along here with Catherine Bishop, a customer at the bank whom he'd professed to know only slightly. That had been a couple of months ago, and she still wasn't sure if he'd seen her drive past. The incident had never been referred to, but it had left a nebulous barrier between them. Lindsey, her twin sister, kept nagging at her to broach the subject, but she'd refused, feeling it an unwarranted intrusion.
Pushing the worry aside, she saw that a line of cars stretched beyond the Ridgeways' gateway in both directions. Max, swearing under his breath, parked at the end of it.
âHow long do we have to stay?' he demanded, as they walked up the path.
âYou'll enjoy it once you're there,' Rona told him rallyingly, and was spared any further comment by Magda opening the door.
Half an hour later, she was prepared to concede he might have a point; most of the people in the room were unknown to her. Magda, though she and Rona had been close since childhood, did not make friends easily, and Rona suspected the guests were mostly Gavin's colleagues drawn from work and the various sports clubs to which he belonged.
Having extricated herself from a man whose breath smelt of garlic and who kept invading her space, she looked round, wondering whom to approach. Max, she noted with irritation, seemed to be enjoying himself more than she was; obviously in charm mode, his prematurely silver head was bent attentively to a short woman who was talking earnestly up at him.
âExcuse me,' said a voice behind her, âare you Rona Parish?'
She turned to see a young woman regarding her with interest. âI am, yes. And you're â¦?'
âZara Crane. This is my husband, Tony.'
The man beside her held out a damp hand. They seemed younger than the other guests, and Rona wondered at their connection with the Ridgeways. The girl was a few months pregnant and wore her hair, a pale red-gold, in a thick plait over one shoulder. Her husband, who just escaped being plump, had an incipient double chin, and his face was made the rounder by his curiously semicircular hairline, behind which his dark hair lay short and sleek as a seal's pelt.
âI work with Gavin,' he volunteered, confirming Rona's guess. âAnd you're a friend of Magda's, I believe?'
âOf them both, I hope.' No need to add she'd nearly married Gavin.
âShe was speaking about you last week,' Zara explained. âAt the office do.'
Rona smilingly raised an eyebrow. âAnd what did she say?'
âThat you don't live with your husband and haven't taken his name, and that you've been instrumental in catching two murderers.'
The words had come out pat and the girl, suddenly doubting the wisdom of them, flushed, her eyes falling to the glass of orange juice in her hand.
Rona's instant annoyance was tinged with a sense of betrayal. She would have words with Magda. The fact that the summing-up was more or less accurate was of little comfort.
Tony Crane hastily intervened. âPlease don't think we've been discussing you,' he said â though they clearly had. âIt's just that someone mentioned your articles in
; Magda told us she knew you, and that while writing them, you'd solved a murder and the killer proved to be someone she knew.'
Over the last months, Rona had been researching the history of Buckford, the county town, whose octocentenary was imminent. When she made no comment, Crane added, âThere's a souvenir binder for them with this month's edition. How many are you planning to do?'
âAbout half a dozen, I think.'
âEach on a different aspect?'
âThat's right. I've done most of the research now, it's just a question of writing it up.'
âI enjoyed the one on the town's earliest beginnings. It must be absorbing, digging out all the facts and so on.'
âIt is, yes.'
He hesitated. âWill the murder feature in any of them?'
âNo,' Rona said shortly. âIt isn't relevant.'
Zara moved impatiently, and they both turned to her. Her eyes were on Rona and there was sudden tension in them. âDo you ever do research just for interest, with no thought of publication?'
Rona gave a short laugh. âI'm not that high-minded! As any journalist will tell you, everything's grist to the mill. It's how we make our living, after all.'
âBut say you were paid for it?' Zara persisted. âThen you wouldn't be out of pocket, but it would remain a â a private commission?'
Tony Crane said smoothly, âThere's something we'd like to find out, and we were wondering if, with all your contacts and so on, you might be able to help.'
Rona shook her head. âThat's not my brief, I'm afraid, but there are agencies you can approach.'
âSo you wouldn't help unless you could publish the results?' Zara pressed.
âThat's not quiteâ' Rona began, but Zara was pursuing her line of thought.
âI hadn't thought it through, but I suppose â¦ Look, we can't discuss it here. Could we meet somewhere, so I can explain more fully?'
Rona hesitated, not wanting to become involved, and Zara, possibly misinterpreting her reluctance, added contritely, âI'm sorry if I was tactless just now â about your lifestyle. You asked what Magda had said, but it came out wrong, not at all the way she put it.'
Rona smiled. âIt was fair comment,' she conceded.
âThen could we meet for coffee? I really think our project would interest you.'
âIt sounds most mysterious.'
âWhat does?' Gavin had come up and slipped an arm round Rona's shoulders. In his other hand he held a bottle of wine, from which he topped up Tony and Rona's glasses.
Zara flushed again. âJust something I want to discuss with her.'
âWell, any mystery you need solving, Rona's definitely your girl!' He squeezed her shoulder. âNow, if these two will excuse us, I'd like you to meet someone who'd make an ideal subject for one of your biographies.'
Zara said quickly, âOh, but we â¦'
Rona extracted a card from her bag and handed it over. âGive me a ring,' she invited, and allowed herself to be piloted across the room in the circle of Gavin's arm.
âSo, who do you want me to meet?' she asked him.
He laughed. âThat was just an excuse â I thought you needed rescuing.'
âAnd there I was, thinking you'd found a new subject for me!'
âAre you considering another biography? Seriously? I thought your last experience might have put you off.'
Rona's recent venture in that field had resulted in murder.
âTo be honest, I'm not sure what to do next,' she admitted. âI'm coming to the end of the Buckford articles, and though Barnie has put forward a few ideas, nothing really grabs me. Immersing myself in a biography might be the answer, if I can find the right subject.'
A shrill of laughter reached them, emanating from the short woman with whom Max was still conversing. âMax seems in good form,' Gavin commented. âIt's an age since we saw him; what's he doing with himself these days?'
âActually, he's working on a portrait â his first for years. The local constituency has commissioned one of our MP.'
âJames Latymer? Well, well, he is going up in the world! Where will they hang it? The Palace of Westminster?'
Rona smiled. âMore likely the Association office.'
The conversation was ended by Magda's announcing the food was ready, and Rona moved with everyone else into the dining room, where the table was spread with a delectable selection of savouries. It was half an hour later that, in search of a glass of water, she came across Magda alone in the kitchen, removing some minute pastries from the oven. At just under six foot, she was an imposing figure with her jet-black hair and large, heavy-lidded eyes, inherited from her Italian mother.
âHi,' she greeted Rona. âEverything OK?'
âNow that you mention it,' Rona answered lightly, taking a glass from the cupboard and filling it at the sink, âI've a bone to pick with you.'