Authors: M.C. Beaton
Also in the Agatha Raisin series
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet
Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley
Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage
Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist
Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death
Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham
Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam
Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell
Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came
Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate
Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House
Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance
Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon
Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor
Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye
Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison
Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride
Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published in the USA by St Martin’s Press,
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010, 2010
First UK edition published by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2010
Copyright © M.C. Beaton 2010
The right of M.C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any
form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
Printed and bound in the EU
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
For Hope Dellon,
Having found that her love for her ex-husband, James Lacey, had more or less disappeared, Agatha Raisin, middle-aged owner of a detective agency in the English Cotswolds,
decided to hit another obsession on the head.
For the past two years she had been determined to create the perfect Christmas, the full Dickensian dream, with disappointing results. So she decided to flee Christmas by taking a long holiday
in Corsica. Her second in command, young Toni Gilmour, was more than capable of dealing with the usual run of dreary divorce cases and missing pets, the bread and butter of the agency.
Agatha had booked a room in a hotel in the town of Porto Vecchio at the south of the Mediterranean island. She had Googled the information and found that it was an old Genoese town with a winter
temperature in the low sixties Fahrenheit.
She arrived at the hotel late because it took her over an hour to find a taxi at Figari Airport. Agatha looked forward to celebrating Christmas with a lobster dinner. No more turkey.
The receptionist at the hotel greeted her with, ‘I see you’ve booked in with us for three weeks. Why?’
Agatha blinked. ‘Why? I’m on holiday.’
‘But what are you going to do?’ asked the receptionist. ‘Most of the shops and restaurants are closed. You don’t have a car. There aren’t that many taxis, and the
ones that there are don’t like short trips.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ said Agatha wearily. ‘I’m hungry. Do you have a restaurant?’
‘No, but if you go out of the hotel and turn right and then next left it will take you up to the citadel and there are a few restaurants there.’
Agatha left her luggage and set off on the steep climb up to the citadel. The Christmas decorations were the most beautiful she had ever seen but the streets were deserted. She reached the
square in the centre of the old citadel. There were two restaurants open and, in the middle of the square, an empty skating rink where men were pouring water on the surface of the ice so that it
would freeze overnight. Agatha’s spirits sank even lower. She had not imagined Corsica ever getting cold enough for ice to freeze.
There was a heated area for smokers facing one restaurant. She sat down and ordered a meal, which turned out to be nothing special and came to forty-two euros, which, thanks to the falling
sterling, meant it cost her the equivalent of forty-two pounds.
She sat and puffed on a cigarette and debated whether to hire a car or not. The trouble was Agatha could not parallel park. In fact, she only felt happy when there was an empty parking space
that could take the size of a truck. The cars she had seen parked were all tight together. How on earth did they manage to get out without damaging the cars parked up against them, front and
Agatha did not want to admit failure. She did not want to return home and say she had made a mistake. A good night’s sleep was all she needed. She trudged back to the hotel through the
deserted streets under the sparkling golden haloes of Christmas decorations around every street lamp.
The next day was sunny. After a good breakfast, Agatha asked directions to the port, where she was sure there must be delicious seafood. ‘There’s a quick way down
from the citadel,’ said the receptionist, ‘but it’s terribly steep.’ Agatha’s arthritic hip gave a nasty twinge.
‘What about round by the road?’ she asked. ‘How long would that take?’
‘About half an hour.’
So Agatha set out. And walked and walked and walked until, an hour and a half later, she found herself at the port. There was a restaurant open, but no lobster. She ordered a salmon steak, the
special of the day, reflecting that she could easily have got the same thing back home in England. At the end of the meal, she hopefully asked the waitress to phone for a taxi. But the result was
no taxi would take her. ‘They only like long trips from town to town,’ said the waitress.
So Agatha decided to try the shortcut up to the citadel. It was incredibly steep. At one point, she could have sworn the pavement was staring her in the face. The pain in her hip was severe and
she panted for breath the whole way up. When she reached the square in the citadel, she sank down into a chair in a restaurant and ordered a beer. She took out a packet of cigarettes and then put
them away again. She was still gasping from the climb up.
I have to get out of here, she thought. Bonifacio is supposed to be beautiful. Dammit. I’ll hire a car and go there. There’s bound to be lobster there.
Back at the hotel, she checked Bonifacio on her laptop. She read that the harbour was exclusive and sophisticated with many good restaurants. There was an old medieval town on the cliff above
the harbour. There did not seem to be many hotels open but she found one that looked promising and booked a room, saying cautiously she did not know how long she would be staying.
As she drove off at dawn the following morning in her rented car, she was glad of the deserted roads and the fact that the route to Bonifacio was well signposted. As the sun rose on another
perfect day and her car climbed up into the mountains, Agatha felt happy. It was all going to be all right.
The hotel turned out to be outside the town. She was given a small house in the grounds of the hotel, like a fairytale house, made of old stone with a red-tiled roof. There was a large living
room, bedroom and a bathroom with an enormous bath. The hotel only served dinner, so, once unpacked, Agatha drove down to the port.
Practically all the restaurants were closed. In the short time since her arrival, the sky had darkened and a freezing wind was bending the palm trees in the port and singing in the shrouds of
the yachts moored alongside the quay. Agatha had lunch in one of the few restaurants. The food was good – but no lobster. Determined to visit the old town, after lunch Agatha drove up into it
and found herself in a terrifying maze of very narrow streets. Several times she nearly scraped the car. Several times she nearly lost her way, before, with a sigh of relief, finally finding the
route to the port again. Rain was slashing against the windscreen.
‘Sod this for a game of soldiers,’ Agatha howled to the uncaring elements. ‘I’m going home.’
By the time she got to Charles de Gaulle, she had a sore throat and was cursing that she now had to leave by terminal 2E instead of the former 2F. The terminal was huge and
bewildering and the check-in chaotic. The only bright spot was when the man checking her bags through security asked to see her passport. He studied her photograph. ‘This, madame,’ he
said, ‘is the photograph of a beautiful woman, and you are even more beautiful today.’
Agatha, accustomed to the French ability to flirt, answered, ‘Monsieur, such a compliment coming from a handsome man like yourself makes me feel beautiful.’ He smiled, everyone in
security smiled, and Agatha felt a glow. Aren’t the French marvellous when it comes to flirting, she thought. It’s a technique we lost in Britain as soon as the birth-control pill
arrived on the scene. Flirt with a man back home and all you get is: enough of this nonsense, drop your drawers.
The gate for the flight to Birmingham was down in the basement. Then all the passengers were put on a bus that took so long to reach the plane that Agatha wondered whether they were going all
the way to Calais.
As she drove down the road leading to Carsely, towards her cottage, she thought, I can ignore Christmas here just as well as I could in Corsica. But Agatha automatically looked
for the Christmas tree on top of the church tower. No Christmas tree. She blinked in surprise. Every year, the lights of the Carsely Christmas tree on top of the square church tower had shone out
over the surrounding landscape. She circled the village green. Even the second Christmas tree, which usually stood there in December, was missing, as were the fairy lights, usually strung across
the main street of the village.
Agatha mentally shrugged. They had probably come to their senses and were all fed up with all the commercial hoo-ha of Christmas. Still, the church could hardly be accused of being commercial.
She did not know then that there was only one man behind the darkness, one man who was going to bring death and fear into the Cotswolds.
It had all started the day after she had left for Corsica. The vicar, Alf Bloxby, with two sturdy helpers, was mounting the steep stairs to the church roof, carrying a Christmas tree. Once up on
the top of the tower, they were just looking out the cables kept in a chest on the tower roof to anchor the tree, when a voice from the doorway to the tower cried, ‘Stop!’
Alf turned round in surprise. Standing in the doorway was Mr John Sunday, an officer with the Health and Safety Board based in Mircester.