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Death in Darkness (Molly Sutton Mysteries 8): Paperback

Death in Darkness (Molly Sutton Mysteries 8): Paperback

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Cozy mystery

Immerse yourself in French village life



“Watch out!” Molly shouted, as she looked up from pulling weeds in the front border in time to see an impending disaster—Constance on her bicycle, Bobo the dog, and a small truck all converging at high speed at the end of the driveway.

The driver of the truck slammed on the brakes. Constance jerked the bike to one side and landed in the ditch; Bobo ran to her and licked her face.

“Are you okay?” Molly said, running over. She waved and smiled at the truck driver, who she hoped was bringing the first load of materials for a new renovation project at La Baraque, her two-year-old gîte business.

“Yeah, but no thanks to that dude,” grumbled Constance, as she brushed off her jeans and then looked at the front wheel of her bike, which was no longer perfectly round. Her hair was pulled into a tight ponytail, her usual get-down-to-business hairstyle, and her young, fresh face went without makeup.

“Go inside, get something to drink, and relax. I’ve just got to talk to Boris for two seconds and then I’ll be right with you.”

Constance glowered. “I’m supposed to be on a day-trip with Thomas, you know. He wanted to drive over to Bordeaux and show me off. His words, isn’t that so adorable? But I told him no way can I miss changeover day, Molly is counting on me.”

“And I appreciate that, Constance. Nothing’s broken, no sprains? Go on in, I’ll be there in two seconds. Then let’s have a little gab before we start work.”

The prospect of a bit of gossip and hanging out in Molly’s living room cheered the housecleaner up a bit, and she went inside without further grumbling.

“So,” said Molly, turning to Boris, who was patiently waiting in the cab of his truck. “Bonjour! You nearly gave me a heart attack just then. My dog— like most dogs, I suppose—is not that smart when it comes to cars and trucks.”

“Bonjour, how are you?” said Boris, and without waiting for Molly to say how she was, which at the moment was rather irritated, added, “Tie it up, then,” gesturing to Bobo.

She opened her mouth to tell him what she thought about people who don’t like dogs, but then closed it again, realizing that her opinion was hardly going to change his mind. She took a breath and tried for better footing. “I’m having the old stone barn rebuilt, it’s back that way,” she pointed, “behind the house…it might be better to go back to rue des Chênes and then drive across the meadow from the road. Of course, the closer you get to the worksite, the better.”

“Is there going to be a separate driveway for the barn?”

She hadn’t thought of that. “No. At least I don’t think so. The building will be divided into three gîtes, and the parking is here,” she said, gesturing to the large area between her house and the cottage.

“People won’t want to carry bags that far,” said Boris.

How annoying it is when people you don’t like say sensible things! Molly thought.

“All right, well, I’ll sort all that out later on. For now, please go down the road to the left, away from the village, and go about two hundred meters or so. You can see the ruined barn from the road, though it’s so covered with vines it looks like a big green lump. If you get to the small stone building close to the road, you’ve gone too far. It’s been fairly dry and the meadow drains well in any case, so I’m not worried about the truck getting stuck or even causing ruts.”

Boris saluted and backed up onto rue des Chênes. That salute—it had to be ironic, right? Smirking? Molly felt like chasing after Boris and giving him a piece of her mind, but she squared her shoulders, called Bobo, and went to find Constance. They were old friends by this point, Molly having hired the younger woman to help with cleaning when Molly first arrived in the village several years earlier. 

The main house at La Baraque was very old, by American standards, as well as rambling, having been added onto over the centuries in a haphazard way. But Molly had instantly fallen in love with its disorganized charm when she saw it listed on an internet real estate site, and had hustled over to Castillac and bought the place, just like that. What followed had, thus far, been the happiest years of Molly’s life: she had made good friends and solved a handful of crimes, and unexpected—and unlooked for—romance had bloomed in that sensual Gallic atmosphere.

Constance was lying on the sofa holding a glass of lemonade. “Who was that guy?” she asked, reaching down to rub her knee somewhat theatrically, and groaning softly.

“Never met him. He’s delivering materials for the work on the barn. Hey, I thought you knew everyone,” said Molly, pouring herself another cup of coffee though she had drunk two already.

“Pretty much,” said Constance. “I do have news on that score,” she said, throwing out a little bait and grinning.

“What score? About Boris?”

“No, silly, about someone new to Castillac. Two someones, actually. No, make that three.”

“My heavens, the floodgates have been opened! You’ve met these new people?”

Constance shrugged and sipped her lemonade, which Molly took to mean no.

“Well, who are they? What have you heard?”

“I can’t believe you’re not more plugged in,” sad Constance, wanting to prolong the pleasure of Molly’s ignorance.

Bobo stood by Molly’s chair and Molly fiddled with her soft ears while waiting patiently for Constance to get on with it.

“Okay,” Constance said, unable to hold back any longer, “I’ll tell you even if you won’t beg. Ben hasn’t said anything at all?”


“Okay, okay! What I hear is: Maron is out, and we’re getting a new chief!”

Molly’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Well, it’s no big surprise. You know the gendarmerie rotates people around all the time. They don’t want the gendarmes getting too cozy with the people who live in their district or whatever.”

“Right. I just…I was finally feeling like Maron and I were on pretty good terms.”

“You mean he let you muck around in all the interesting cases,” said Constance with a cackle. “You’ll be very lucky if the next person lets you get away with that.”

“You’re probably right,” said Molly, her spirits sinking. “I don’t think this is good news for Dufort/Sutton Investigations.”

“Why isn’t your name first, anyway?”

“Alphabetical order. And because Ben is the one who knows everybody, so it just made sense.”

“Does it bug you though, having to be second?”

“No! I swear, Constance, sometimes I think you work overtime just trying to stir up trouble.” Bobo jumped up in Molly’s lap, causing coffee to spill onto the arm of the chair. “Honestly, Bobo, you’re not a puppy anymore! Okay, who else? You did say three new people?”

Constance tapped her chin, thinking. “I’m not positive about that. Could be more. Let’s say: three with an asterisk. Because it’s a family and there might be children. My information is a little sketchy at the moment. You know that manor out rue de Fallon? It’s back from the road behind some trees, so you might not have noticed it. Really nice place though it could use some TLC.”

“That’s the new family’s house?”

“Am I so hard to follow? For an ace detective you can sometimes be a little slow on the uptake, Molls.”

Molly stood up and wrenched the stained slipcover off the armchair, the irritation she had felt at Boris coming back with a vengeance. “Okay, fine. I’m getting started. It’s already ten, and you know how guests are, they can show up at unpredictable times.”

Constance finished her lemonade, feeling equally annoyed. It was disappointing when you had some juicy tidbits and they went completely unappreciated.

“You hear anything about who the new chief is going to be?” Molly asked, as they gathered up pails, vacuum cleaner, and mop.

“Not yet. Sure wish Ben would take the job again. I mean, I didn’t hate Maron. But he wasn’t likable either, you know? You never had the feeling you knew what he was thinking.”

Molly shrugged. Dufort/Sutton Investigations solved an important case back in June, but there had been precious little going on since then. The news about Maron’s leaving put her in a sour mood, and she flung herself into cleaning as though getting every last speck of grime off a window would magically bring a friendly chief to the village, someone cheerfully disposed to collaborate with her and Ben. 

But she was quite clear, even as she thought it, that it was only a wish, and unlikely to come true.

* * *

It was the same routine every Saturday, at least when Molly had new guests coming, which was most Saturdays now that business was steady. The changeover cleaning was onerous, the way any job was when there was no getting out of it and it repeated on an endless loop. But it was also satisfying, partly because the Saturday cleanings gave a rhythm to the weeks rolling by, and also because Molly found that making the spaces clean and welcoming provided a distinct pleasure. In a world that could be difficult, with so much tragedy in the news day after day, at least she could give her guests the felicity of a room with fresh flowers and a bottle of wine, crisp sheets and sparkling surfaces.

Constance’s performance with the vacuum had improved since Molly first hired her. It was still necessary, most weeks, for Molly to ask her to revisit a few of the rooms, where on final inspection dust bunnies were found still lurking. But the rooms were no longer strewn with used rags or empty bottles of cleaning fluid tossed aside and forgotten. 

Most weeks, the two women enjoyed each other’s company, but on that particular Saturday Molly was glad to see Constance wobble out of the driveway on her bike, and Constance was just as glad to go. At this point, it’s almost like she’s family, thought Molly, as she did one final room check before any guests showed up. And family is going to get on your nerves some of the time, that’s just how it is. 

Molly was no longer nervous on changeover day, worrying about whether anyone would show up and how to act around them. All of that was old hat, and she found herself instead looking forward to meeting the new people. Let’s see, she said to herself, sitting down at the computer to check the reservations so she’d know everyone’s name. 

She heard the taxi in the driveway accompanied by Bobo’s barking, and after raking a comb through her tangled red hair, went out to greet the latest guests of La Baraque.

Christophe drove a Peugeot, and not a big one. But as Molly walked over, more and more people climbed out of it until there were five altogether, practically like watching a clown car at the circus.

“Bonjour,” she said, reaching to shake a big man’s hand. “I’m Molly Sutton. Are you…did you all meet at the train station?”

Christophe just shook his head, smiling, and went to the trunk and began taking out bags.

“It was just good luck,” said a small woman whose pronunciation of French was very precise. “Todor and I were just leaving the station and we saw only the one taxi-cab, but this fellow here—excuse me, monsieur, I’ve forgotten your name already—”

“Arthur,” said a young man, brushing off his pants.

“Yes, of course, Arthur. As I was saying, Arthur had already engaged the taxi but we overheard him say ‘La Baraque,’ and so, though we knew we were being impolite, there was only the one taxi, so we asked the young man—Arthur, yes, I have it now—and just as we were getting our bags into the trunk, along come the Jenkinses and they too were headed right here to La Baraque, and so—”

“In other words,” said the small woman’s husband, “we shared the taxi.”

“Wonderful,” laughed Molly. She turned to Mrs. Jenkins. “I thought you were going to be driving a rental car? Am I confused?”

“No, no, our plans changed. Actually…” Mrs. Jenkins’s pleasant face colored just a bit. “Actually, I lost my license just before we left the States. I was driving to a meeting, I was late, I was going too fast…”

“And the cops nabbed her,” her husband said cheerfully. “My wife’s got a record as long as your arm, and this last time she crossed some kind of line, and they suspended her license.” He shook his head but was smiling. “If you’re ever in a hurry, put ol’ Deana at the wheel. But if you want to stay clear of the law, maybe not.”

Mrs. Jenkins’s face got redder. “Billy,” she said. “You don’t have to air all our dirty laundry the instant we meet someone.”

Before an argument had time to get going, Molly jumped in. “Well, I’m so glad you’re all here! Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, you’re in the pigeonnier, down that way. If you could wait a moment, I’ll get the others settled before walking you over.”

“Please, call us Billy and Deana,” said Mr. Jenkins. 

“I will,” said Molly. The sight of the Americans made her a little homesick, though she did not recognize it as the cause of a little stab between the ribs. Something about the way they dressed and their facial expressions were so American and familiar—Billy wearing a pair of khakis with boat shoes from L.L.Bean, and Deana in a wrap skirt printed in pineapples. Meanwhile, the Frenchman was beginning to look annoyed at having to stand in the driveway so long. “You are Arthur Malreaux? You’ll be in the annex, attached to the main house. And you must be the Mertenses?”

Todor and Elise Mertens nodded, their bags at their feet. They were both quite short, and looked to be in their seventies, with rosy cheeks and white hair. All of the guests were eager to see their rooms, and in a brisk half hour, Molly had all five settled in their accommodations. 

So far, no one had any special requests, or had left anything critical at home, or presented any sort of problem for Molly to solve. It was an auspicious beginning for a somewhat large group. As Molly turned her attention to some overdue housework in the main house, she was thinking about having the new guests over for an apéro possibly the following evening, and enjoying the lack of drama and calm of a beautiful September in Castillac.

There was the matter of the new chief of gendarmes, and how important a good relationship with the person in that position was to Ben and Molly…but no use worrying about the future, she thought as she buffed up a side table in the living room. Anyway, how bad could it be?

A disturbed wife. A nanny. And a pack of cowardly, lying friends.

Simon Valette, a cultured and successful Parisian, moves his family to Castillac looking for peace and quiet. Before they've had a chance to settle in, someone is found murdered in their library. Molly and Ben work double-time to disentangle all the lies--including those told by their own friends. Will they manage to trap the killer before another victim trusts the wrong person and winds up dead?

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