If you’re yearning to travel, the Beatrice Stubbs series will satisfy.
Jill Marsh’s Detective Inspector Beatrice Stubbs is fighting battles with crime, as well as with her own mind. Beatrice has bipolar disorder and that has an effect on her work. Jill shares in our interview that she wanted Beatrice to be a real person with real-life problems and challenges, not a superhero character.
When Jill’s readers asked for the background on Beatrice and her mental illness Jill obliged by writing the free prequel to the series, Black Dogs, Yellow Butterflies, which you can get here.
Jill also mentions that the European locations of the Beatrice Stubbs mysteries provide a special challenge as every country and police force has their own procedures.
Today’s show is supported by my patrons at Patreon. Thank you! When you become a patron for as little as $1 a month you receive a short mystery story each and every month. And the rewards for those who love mystery stories go up from there! Learn more and become a part of my community of readers at www.Patreon.com/alexandraamor
This week’s mystery author
Jill Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After graduating in English Literature and Theatre Studies, she worked as an actor, teacher, writer, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer all over Europe.
Now in Switzerland, she writes crime and literary fiction to entertain readers with enthralling stories and endearing characters.
Her Beatrice Stubbs crime series topped the Amazon best sellers in “International Mystery & Crime” in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.
To learn more about JJ Marsh and all her books visit JJMarshauthor.com
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Excerpt from The Woman in the Frame
It was a strange sensation to put on shoes after two days of going barefoot. She decided against applying make-up because it reminded her of the usual dreary routine at home. Instead, she slicked Vaseline over her eyebrows and on her lips. Her husband was a big fan of the natural look. Facing herself in the mirror, she could see why. Her skin glowed, her eyes shone and her hair seemed grateful for a rest from daily blow dries.
Tanya put on a petrol-coloured cotton maxi dress and added the silver earrings Gabriel had bought her that morning in Port de Sóller. She was ready to meet their hosts and prepared to be on her best behaviour. With a last spray of scent, she wandered out onto the veranda where the man of her dreams was waiting, one ankle crossed over his knee, gazing out at the extraordinary view of sandstone buildings descending in circles down the hill. On the table sat two glasses of Aperol spritz, the orangey liquid the colour of a Caribbean sunset.
On hearing her footsteps, he looked over his shoulder with a smile. Her heart swelled and she wondered if she would ever get used to living with a man overjoyed by her mere existence.
“You look lovely,” he said. “Then again, you always do.”
“Thanks. I didn’t want to overdo it, you know. I packed a proper evening dress and high heels, but it feels inappropriate for a casual dinner with bohemian artists. The thing is, I’m a tiny bit nervous. Maybe a drink would help. When do we have to leave?”
He passed her aperitif across the table and reached out to take her hand. “When we’re ready. It’s around a twenty-minute walk to their place, I reckon. They said to turn up any time after eight. Relax, it’ll be just like having dinner with my mum. They’re a pair of arty old hippies, so absolutely no reason to be nervous.”
She sank into the chair and picked up a glass, asking herself what she had done to deserve such luck. “Your mum is not a celebrated artist who can flog her latest creation for a seven-figure sum. Which is one of the many reasons I adore her.”
They drank in comfortable silence, listening to the cicadas’ natural accompaniment to the evening symphony of birdsong. At ten to eight, Gabriel took the empty glasses into the kitchen, picked up the bottle of wine they had bought as a gift and took Tanya’s hand.
The walk took under twenty minutes, despite Tanya dragging her heels to gaze into gardens, cafés, restaurants and other people’s homes. A little over a quarter of an hour after they left their tiny cottage, they wandered up a slightly posher road towards the white walls of a villa. Nothing about the entrance identified the owner as one of Europe’s most revered artists. Large metal gates were closed but nothing else suggested that this particular compound contained anyone special. Gabriel pressed the buzzer and the gates swung open.
Dogs barked as they drew closer to the building and Gabriel dropped to his haunches, greeting the two tatty-looking Irish wolfhounds on their own level. A woman appeared at the kitchen door, glass in hand, calling the animals.
“Harris, get down! Heel, Balfour!” she called. “Fear not, they look dangerous but they’re nothing more than noisy and daft. Welcome, Gabriel and his lovely bride! Come over here and let me see you both. It’s too romantic for words.”
The dogs herded them towards the main house and the smell of grilling fish. Ophelia Moffatt came down the path to greet them, her kaftan wafting around her body like an Indian dancer’s veils. She kissed Gabriel on both cheeks and rested her hands on Tanya’s shoulders.
“I’m Ophelia, but you can call me Philly. Everyone does, the disrespectful bastards. Tanya, I am delighted to meet you. May I offer my most sincere congratulations? I’m brimming with joy at you darling people and this young man is radiating love like a Ready Brek kid. How are you finding the cottage? It’s on the rustic side, that much I know, but we did our best to make it worthy of a honeymoon suite. Let’s go in and have a snifter. My Long Island iced tea is getting warm.” She slugged the remainder of her drink and Tanya managed to get a word in.
“Pleased to meet you too! The cottage is just perfect. We’re really grateful. It’s incredibly kind of you to lend us your cottage as a wedding present. I hardly ever get to travel, so this is more of a treat than you can imagine.”
Philly clutched Tanya’s arm and peered past her to look at Gabriel. “I adore her already. I may cry before the night is done. Harris, put that down, you filthy beast! Come along, my dears, before that useless man buggers up the fish.”
On the patio stood a portly grey-haired man wearing an apron and brandishing a pair of barbecue tongs at the wolfhounds. “Here you are!” He dropped the tongs onto the table and opened his arms. “Gabriel Shaw, let me look at you. Heavens above, my godson, a married man! I feel ancient. First things first, introduce me to your beautiful bride.” He embraced Gabriel with real affection and Tanya found she was smiling.
“You don’t look ancient,” said Gabriel. “You look better than ever. Hoagy, this is Tanya, my wonderful wife. Tanya, meet my godfather, Alexander Moffatt, known to his friends as Hoagy.”
Tanya held out a hand which he took and lifted to his lips. “Charmed, Tanya, quite charmed to meet you, dear girl. I’m so sorry I couldn’t attend your wedding, but I don’t travel, you see. I’m doing my best to become a hermit. Tonight we’ll celebrate the occasion all over again with cava and plenty of it! Philly, bring these people an aperitif and you may as well top mine up whilst you’re there. Have a seat, Tanya, I need to keep an eye on the fish.”
“It’s lovely to meet you, Mr Moffatt. Thank you so much for the use of your cottage.”
“Hoagy, please. It’s only solicitors who call me Mr Moffatt. Gabriel, tell me all about your mother. Is she well? Is she happy you married such a delightful woman?”
As the two men conversed beside the barbeque, Philly placed a tray of glasses on the table and sat opposite Tanya. “Chin, chin, my dear,” she said, raising her Long Island iced tea. “We’re family now. I hear you have a little boy. How old is he?”
“Seven. His name is Luke. Along with my dad, he was sort of best man at the wedding. He made a speech and everything.” To her astonishment, her eyes prickled with tears. She had seen Luke only yesterday morning and spoken to him that afternoon, but still.
“You miss him,” said Philly, her eyes soft. “I understand. When my husband left me and my daughter, we became each other’s entire worlds. Never spending a day apart until the custody agreement. He took her every other weekend and those forty-eight hours were absolute torture.”
Tanya pinched the bridge of her nose. “That’s it. Most of the time I worry about how much he needs me, but sometimes I think it’s the other way around.”
Philly took a long draught of her cocktail. “All the times you pick up their toys, their shoes and dream of having some time to yourself. Then when it happens?”
“I know! Don’t get me wrong, I’m deliriously happy to be alone with Gabe. I love the freedom, the lack of responsibility and I know Luke’s being spoilt rotten by the rest of the family. It’s just, you know, not being able to kiss him good night, smell his hair, I …”
Philly passed her a tissue and Tanya patted the corner of her eyes, sniffing.
“Hellfire and damnation, woman, you’ve already made her cry?” Hoagy boomed. “What the devil did you put in her drink?”
In a second, Gabriel was by her side. “Tanya? Are you OK?”
“She’s fine! Tanya and I are bonding over shared experiences, that is all. Unlike the testicularly challenged, women find it perfectly acceptable to express emotion. Gabriel, here’s your aperitif. As for you, you interfering old bugger, just concentrate on not burning the bloody fish.”
“The fish is nearing perfection, light of my life, star in my firmament. Fetch the salad and the bread, give Romy a call and let’s eat! Pass my glass before you go, would you?”
Tanya gave Gabriel a reassuring smile and squeezed his hand. “I was telling her about Luke, that’s all,” she murmured. “Just hit me how much I miss him.”
“Me too.” Gabriel bent to kiss her lightly on the lips.
Philly shooed the dogs out of the way and placed a wooden bowl the size of a coracle in the centre of the table. The salad, fresh and colourful, was enough to feed a party of ten. She pulled a baguette from the crook of her arm and a bottle of salad dressing from her pocket.
“We thought cava to start unless you prefer wine? Harris? Harris! Where’s Romy? Where’s Romy? Go fetch! Fetch Romy!” The wolfhound paced away into the garden. “Good dog! So? Fizz all round? Gabriel, would you open these for me, darling boy?” She produced two bottles of unlabelled wine.
Tanya was watching Gabriel uncork the cava so didn’t see the new arrival until she was halfway across the lawn. Like a dancer, she moved with feather-light grace, brushing past shrubs and beneath overhanging branches, the dog following in her footsteps. Her white dress was thin and floaty as tissue paper and her feet were bare. Flame-coloured hair fell in waves around her face as she picked her way up the patio steps.
Hoagy stopped in the midst of placing a platter piled high with fish on the table to stare at the girl with open admiration.
Philly tipped her head at the new arrival. “Romy, come say hello to our guests. This is Gabriel, Hoagy’s godson and this is Tanya, his brand new wife. Tanya, Gabriel, this is Romy.”
Her large blue eyes glossed over them both. She waggled a pale hand, like a child being told to wave goodbye. “Hello, Gabriel. Hello, Tanya.”
Tanya waved back. “Hello. Nice to meet you.” She was the most startlingly beautiful girl, with a heart-shaped face and golden skin, and such fabulous red hair she could have walked out of a shampoo commercial.
“Hello, Ronnie,” said Gabriel, half out of his chair, hand extended.
The girl didn’t look at him, picking at her fingernails. “Romy. Short for Rosemary.” Her voice lifted at the end of each phrase, as if she was asking a question.
Philly looked up from the glass she was pouring. “Dig in, one and all. Romy, are you going to sit down or stand there making the place look untidy? Out of the way, Balfour.”
Romy slid into a chair, stroking the dog’s head. “He says he’s hungry.”
“He’s always bloody hungry. Tanya, help yourself to salad. Now then, a toast. To Gabriel and Tanya, may their lives together be filled with love and happiness!”
Everyone raised their glasses and repeated Philly’s words, clinking their flutes together in the centre. Hoagy drained his glass in one and smacked his lips together.
“Thirsty work, grilling fish. Philly, I’ll take a refill when you’re ready. Buen provecho!”
“Buen provecho,” they replied and began to eat.
The fish was perfect, charred and crispy on the outside, but flaky and sweet on the inside. The salad was a delicious, crunchy balance with warm bread as a crusty accompaniment. Fresh, simple food, beautifully cooked, Tanya’s favourite kind. She complimented Hoagy on his cookery skills.
“Most kind of you to say so. Yet even as I snatch the compliment with both hands, it’s hard to go wrong with ingredients as divine as sea bass caught this morning. Ha! Gabriel, do you remember that time I took you mackerel fishing off the coast at Dawlish?” He grinned at Tanya. “He was only ten years old or so. Poor lad got sick as a dog, while I was up at the bow, throwing myself into the adventure as if I was Hemingway.” He roared with laughter, one hand on his stomach, the other holding his fork.
Less Hemingway and more Henry VIII, thought Tanya. His face, so familiar from Sunday supplement profiles, had a photogenic quality. The deep-set eyes radiated light, which switched from sparkle to laser as the conversation switched from fishing trips to forestry work, rival artists, politics and the merits of Spanish cava versus French champagne. It wasn’t hard to see why so many women had fallen for his charms. At least a decade younger than her husband, Philly joined in the debate, offering unvarnished opinions and much dry wit. Tanya liked them both enormously.
Reluctant to exclude anyone, Tanya tried to draw Romy into the conversation. The girl ate nothing Philly had put onto her plate, just tearing off bits of bread to feed the dog.
“Not hungry?” she asked, while Gabriel was trying to get Hoagy to tell a particular story from his youth. The girl looked up at her, blinking in surprise.
“I am hungry, actually. I’ve had nothing but two bowls of Coco Pops all day. But I don’t eat fish. It disgusts me.”
It seemed bizarre that Philly would serve her daughter fish if she had made the choice not to eat it. “Oh, I see. Are you a vegan? Gabriel and I are trying to eat more plant-based food. It just seems a shame not to eat fish when you’re on Mallorca. It’s so fresh.”
Romy reached out a hand and touched Tanya’s earring. “They’re pretty. How much did they cost?”
Tanya was taken aback. “I don’t know. They were a present.”
Something attracted the dog’s attention and he bounded down the drive, barking and cavorting with his canine companion. Romy grabbed hold of the cava bottle and topped up her glass until the bubbles flowed over the rim. She bent her head and sucked up the overspill from the tablecloth.
“Romy! Not in front of our guests, please!” Philly said, handing her a napkin.
“I’m hungry,” whined Romy, dropping the napkin onto her plate of uneaten food. “When are we having dessert?”
Hoagy tore off a lump of baguette and pushed the salad bowl towards the girl. “Eat some greens and have some bread. But don’t feed any more to those damned curs. Why don’t you try a piece of this fish? I promise you it’s a trigeminal delight.” He stabbed a piece of fish with his fork and lifted it towards her plate.
She recoiled and pushed his hand away, her bottom lip sticking out like a sulky child. It was difficult to assess the girl’s age, but she had to be in her mid-twenties. Tanya could not understand why they treated her like a truculent teenager. Romy arched back in her chair, clasping her hands behind her head and tilted her face towards the emerging stars. It was impossible not to notice her breasts, pushing at the flimsy material of her dress, nipples pointing skyward. For a second, no one spoke until Philly broke the moment.
“That reminds me, for dessert we have rum babas. Unless anyone prefers cheese?”
Gabriel and Tanya stifled embarrassed laughter while Hoagy clapped cupped palms together in applause, summoning both dogs. Apparently unaware of Philly’s wisecrack, Romy dropped her elbows on the table and lifted a beseeching face as if she were Oliver Twist.
“Rum baba for me, please. Is there any ice cream?” She gave Philly a winsome smile and then seemed to see Gabriel for the first time. “Did Hoagy say you are his godson? He’s never mentioned you before. Keeping you a secret, I see.”
As Philly gathered plates, Tanya stood up to give her a hand. The gesture was driven mostly by good manners, wishing to be a well-behaved guest and partly to escape from the embarrassingly obvious flirtation aimed at her husband.
In the kitchen, she helped load the dishwasher and put the remaining salad in the fridge. She opted for cheese rather than a rum baba. She had never been one for a pudding.
“In that case, you dear sweet thing, I’ll join you and we will have a glass of port. We’ll leave the sticky sweet stuff to the men. I wouldn’t mind betting Romy will eat at least three desserts, so they won’t go to waste.” She rummaged around in the fridge. “I have Reblochon, Danish Blue and unless that greedy swine has filched it, a slab of Manchego somewhere. Grab a couple of figs and a pear from the fruit bowl, and we shall dine like queens.”
Tanya obeyed, placing the fruit on the tray. “You and your daughter don’t look alike. Same with me and my son. It’s as if my genes aren’t represented at all, at least in the physical sense.”
“My daughter? Oh, you mean Romy! Didn’t Gabriel explain? No, probably not, things have changed since he was last here. My daughter lives in Houston these days and I rarely see her. No, don’t sympathise, that’s a good thing. She grew up to be a thoroughly unpleasant human being whose sole motivation is judging other people. As you say, one’s genes aren’t represented at all. Don’t tell me that old sot has drunk all the port!” She swanned through a brickwork arch into another room.
Tanya didn’t press the point, concerned she had touched on a sensitive area, but when Philly breezed back from the living room with a bottle of port in each hand, she continued her explanation.
“Moral is, only reproduce with the bland. Seeing as Gabriel is extraordinarily handsome, I’d say my advice won’t wash with you, dearest girl. No, Romy is not related. Either to myself or Hoagy, which is a damn good thing. Her role is rather different. She’s his muse.” She placed five desserts on the tray and crossed her eyes at Tanya. “I know. Could we be any more eighteenth-century? But he only paints when he’s inspired by an individual. They tend to be females in their twenties, nubile, acquiescent and easily impressed. Romy is the latest in a long line, although the first with Pre-Raphaelite hair. Shall we go rescue your husband? It’s far too late for mine.”