Friday, December 15, 2017

"The Body in the Casket" by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the Casket
(Faith Fairchild Mystery Book 24)
by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the Casket (Faith Fairchild Mystery Book 24) by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the Casket, the twenty-fourth book in the Faith Fairchild Mystery series by Katherine Hall Page, is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on The Body in the Wardrobe.

The inimitable Faith Fairchild returns in a chilling New England whodunit, inspired by the best Agatha Christie mysteries and with hints of the timeless board game Clue.
For most of her adult life, resourceful caterer Faith Fairchild has called the sleepy Massachusetts village of Aleford home. While the native New Yorker has come to know the region well, she isn’t familiar with Havencrest, a privileged enclave, until the owner of Rowan House, a secluded sprawling Arts and Crafts mansion, calls her about catering a weekend house party.
Producer/director of a string of hit musicals, Max Dane - a Broadway legend - is throwing a lavish party to celebrate his seventieth birthday. At the house as they discuss the event, Faith’s client makes a startling confession. “I didn’t hire you for your cooking skills, fine as they may be, but for your sleuthing ability. You see, one of the guests wants to kill me.”
Faith’s only clue is an ominous birthday gift the man received the week before - an empty casket sent anonymously containing a twenty-year-old Playbill from Max’s last, and only failed, production - Heaven or Hell. Consequently, Max has drawn his guest list for the party from the cast and crew. As the guests begin to arrive one by one, and an ice storm brews overhead, Faith must keep one eye on the menu and the other on her host to prevent his birthday bash from becoming his final curtain call.
Full of delectable recipes, brooding atmosphere, and Faith’s signature biting wit, The Body in the Casket is a delightful thriller that echoes the beloved mysteries of Agatha Christie and classic films such as Murder by Death and Deathtrap.

Chapter One
“Have Faith in Your Kitchen,” Faith Fairchild said, answering the phone at her catering firm. She’d been busy piping choux pastry for éclairs onto a baking sheet.
“Mrs. Fairchild?”
“Yes? This is Faith Fairchild. How may I help you?”
“Please hold for Max Dane.” The voice had a plummy, slightly British tone, reminiscent of Jeeves, or Downton Abbey’s Carson. The only Max Dane Faith had heard of had been a famous Broadway musical producer, but she was pretty sure he’d died years ago. This must be another Max Dane.
She was put through quickly and a new voice said, “Hi. I know this is short notice, but I am very much hoping you are available to handle a house party I’m throwing for about a dozen guests at the end of the month. A Friday to Sunday. Not just dinner, but all the meals.”
Faith had never catered anything like this. A Friday to Sunday sounded like something out of a British pre-World War II country house novel—kippers for breakfast, Fortnum & Mason type hampers for the shoot, tea and scones, drinks and nibbles, then saddle of lamb or some other large haunch of meat for dinner with vintage clarets followed by port and Stilton—for the men only. She was intrigued.
“The first thing I need to know is where you live, Mr. Dane. Also, is this a firm date? We’ve had a mild winter so far, but January may still deliver a wallop like last year.”
A Manhattan native, Faith’s marriage more than 20 years ago to the Reverend Thomas Fairchild meant a radical change of address— from the Big Apple to the orchards of Aleford, a small suburb west of Boston. Faith had never become used to boiled dinners, First Parish’s rock hard pews and most of all, New England weather. By the end of the previous February there had been 75 inches of snow on the ground and you couldn’t see through the historic parsonage’s ground floor windows or open the front door. Teenage son Ben struggled valiantly to keep the back door clear, daily hewing a path to the garage. The resulting tunnel resembled a clip from Nanook of the North.
“I’m afraid the date is firm. The thirtieth is my birthday. A milestone one, my seventieth.” Unlike his butler or whoever had called Faith to the phone, Max Dane’s voice indicated he’d started life in one of the five boroughs. Faith was guessing the Bronx. He sounded a bit sheepish when he said “my birthday,” as if throwing a party for himself was out of character. “And I live in Havencrest. It’s not far from Aleford, but I’d want you to be available at the house the whole time. Live in.”
Leaving her family for three days was not something Faith did often, especially since Sunday was a workday for Tom and all too occasionally Saturday was as he “polished” his sermon. (His term, which she had noticed over the years, could mean writing the whole thing.)
Ben and Amy, two years younger, seemed old enough to be on their own, but Faith had found that contrary to expectations, kids needed parents around more in adolescence than when they were toddlers. Every day brought the equivalent of scraped knees and they weren’t the kind of hurts that could be soothed by Pat The Bunny and a chocolate chip cookie. She needed more time to think about taking the job. “I’m not sure I can leave my family…” was interrupted. “I quite understand that this would be difficult,” Dane said and then he named a figure so far above anything she had ever been offered that she actually covered her mouth to keep from gasping out loud.
“Look,” he continued. “Why don’t you come by and we’ll talk in person? You can see the place and decide then.  I don’t use it myself, but the kitchen is well equipped—the rest of the house too. I’ll email directions and you can shoot me some times that work. This week if possible. I want to send out the invites right away.”
Well, it wouldn’t hurt to talk, Faith thought. And she did like seeing other people’s houses. She agreed, but before she hung up curiosity won out and she asked, “Are you related to the Max Dane who produced all those wonderful Broadway musicals?”
“Very closely. As in one and the same. See you soon.”
Faith put the phone down and turned to Pix Miller, her closest friend and part-time Have Faith employee.
“That was someone wanting Have Faith to cater a weekend long birthday celebration—for an astonishing amount of money.” She named the figure in a breathless whisper. “His name is Max Dane. Have you ever heard of him?”
“Even I know who Max Dane is. Sam took me to New York the December after we were married and we saw one of his shows. It was magical—the whole weekend was. No kids yet. We were kids ourselves. We skated at Rockefeller Center by the tree and…”
Her friend didn’t go in for sentimental journeys and tempted as she was to note Pix and Sam skated on Aleford Pond then and now, Faith didn’t want to stop the flow of memories. “Where did you stay? A suite at the Plaza?” Sam was a very successful lawyer.
Pix came down to earth. “We barely had money for the show and pre-theater dinner at Twenty-One. That was the big splurge. I honestly can’t remember where we stayed and I should, because that’s where—” She stopped abruptly and blushed, also unusual Pix behavior.
“Say no more. Nine months later along came Mark?”
“Something like that,” Pix mumbled and then in her usual more assertive voice, added “You have to do this. Not because of the money, although the man must be loaded! Think of who might be there. And the house must be amazing. We don’t have anything booked for then and I can keep an eye on the kids.”
The Millers lived next door to the parsonage and their three now grown children had been the Fairchilds’ babysitters. Pix played a more essential role: Faith’s tutor in the unforeseen intricacies of childrearing as well as Aleford’s often arcane mores. Faith’s first social faux pas as a new bride—inviting guests for dinner at eight o’clock— had happily been avoided when her first invite, Pix, gently told Faith the town’s inhabitants would be thinking bed soon at that hour, not a main course.
Faith had started her catering business in the city that never slept before she was married and was busy all year long. Here January was always a slow month for business. The holidays were over and things didn’t start to pick up until Valentine’s Day—and even then scheduling events was risky. It all came down to weather.
Pix was at the computer. Years ago she’d agreed to work at Have Faith keeping the books, the calendar, inventory—anything that did not involve any actual food preparation.
“We have a couple of receptions at the Ganley Museum and the MLK breakfast the standing clergy host.”
The first time Faith heard the term, “standing clergy”, which was the town’s men and women of any cloth, she pictured an upright somberly garbed group in rows like ninepins. And she hadn’t been far off.
“That’s pretty much it,” Pix added, “except for a few luncheons and Amelia’s baby shower—I think she baby sat for you a couple of times when she was in high school.”
“I remember she was very reliable, “Faith said.
“Hard to believe she’s the same age as Samantha and having her second!” Pix sounded wistful. She was the type of woman born to wear a “I Spoil My Grandchildren” tee shirt. Faith wouldn’t be surprised if there were a drawer somewhere in the Miller’s house filled with tiny sweaters and booties knit by Pix, “just to be ready.” Mark Miller, the oldest, was married, but he and his wife did not seem to be in a rush to start a family.
Samantha, the middle Miller, had a long-term beau, Caleb. They were living together in trendy Park Slope, Brooklyn and Sam, an old-fashioned pater familias, had to be restrained from asking Caleb his intentions each time the young couple came to Aleford. Pix was leaning that way herself, she’d told Faith recently, noting that young couples these days were so intent on careers they didn’t hear the clock ticking.
Faith had forgotten that Amelia—who apparently had paid attention to time— was Samantha’s age and quickly changed the subject to what was uppermost in her mind—the Dane job. “Where is Havencrest?” she asked. “I thought I knew all the neighboring towns.”
“It’s not really a town so much as an enclave between Weston and Dover. I don’t think it even has a zip code. I’ve never been there, but Mother has. You can ask her about it. The houses all date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I believe there’s a gatehouse at the entrance. It’s an early equivalent of the mid century modern planned communities like Moon Hill in Lexington. Havencrest wasn’t a bunch of architects like that one though. Just very rich Boston Brahmin families who wanted privacy and plenty of space. I wonder how Max Dane ended up there? From what Mother has said, the houses don’t change hands, just generations.”
“I think I’ll check my email and see if there’s anything from him yet,” Faith said. “And maybe drop by to see Ursula on my way home.” Stopping to visit with Ursula Lyman Rowe, Pix’s mother, was no chore. The octogenarian was one of Faith’s favorite people. She turned back to the éclairs, which were part of a special order, and added a few more to bring to her friend.
“I know you’ll take the job,” Pix said. “I’m predicting the weekend of a lifetime!”
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“A cracking good traditional manor house mystery.” ~ Publishers Weekly
“Those who enjoy a traditional mystery with appealing characters and a New England feel will enjoy this.” ~ Mystery Scene
“The always-engaging Fairchild and the supporting cast of spirited recurring characters will appeal to fans of Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schulz series and Carolyn Hart’s Annie Darling novels.” ~ Booklist

Guest Post by the Author
Whodunit Tied to Whoateit
I have always been interested in cooking, both trying to duplicate dishes and creating my own. My mother was a Norwegian-American and we usually had either fish and boiled potatoes or boiled potatoes and fish for dinner. We were happy, but at an early age my siblings and I started exploring other cuisines. When I began thinking about my amateur sleuth, Faith Sibley Fairchild, making her a caterer was one of the first characteristics I chose. This had to do with that early plot in The Body in the Belfry (1990), but also because I liked mysteries with food in them. Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe by Nan and Ivan Lyons, Virginia Rich’s books, Rex Stout’s.
The Body in the Casket is the 24th in the series and Faith is catering a weekend long 70th birthday bash that legendary Broadway producer, Max Dane, is throwing for himself at his isolated mansion not far from Aleford. Max has not produced anything since his colossal flop, Heaven or Hell The Musical, twenty years ago. All ten of the guests played some part in the production and all ten have a very good reason to wish him dead. Faith and Max decide the birthday dinner should reference either the fiery pit or the opposite and I had a fine time researching possible dishes selecting Pasta Fra Diavolo for one and a truly lethal cocktail invented at London’s Savoy Hotel bar in the 1920s - the Fallen Angel!
I haven’t counted, but I’m almost certain I have even more cookbooks than mysteries on my bookshelves and I like to read them simply for pleasure, feeling no guilt at not cooking the recipes, just savoring them.
There are a number of mystery cookbooks that pleasantly combine the genres. Three of my favorites are: The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, Rex Stout and the Editors of Viking Press,1973; The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook, Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins, 1981; and Madame Maigret's Recipes, Robert J. Courtine (collected in honor of Georges Simenon's seventieth birthday),1975.
In his novel, A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus, Arthur Conan Doyle refers to Mrs. Beeton as "the finest housekeeper in the world." and notes that her book "has more wisdom to the square inch than any work of man." Household Management contained over 80,000 square inches of information, so this was high praise indeed. Mrs. Beeton is a fine place to start for recreational cookery reading. Besides recipes, Mrs. Beeton provides "instructions for servants who wait at table", lovely diagrams for napkin folding, specific instructions for laying a table - twenty-four inches for "each person's accommodation”.
In this country, we had Fannie Farmer. My oldest copy is from 1915, and like Mrs. Beeton, contains illustrations that are a window into a time when women, Martha Stewart not withstanding, had the time to garnish and frill. Besides such interesting items as "Broiled Oranges on Toast" and "Sweetbreads à la Root" (truffles, carrots, onions, celery, pureéd chestnuts, mushrooms and somewhere in all that, the sweetbreads), the author provides a surprisingly tasty sounding recipe for "Chicken à la King", that staple of my high school cafeteria. I think they must have left out the butter and cream, but I do remember those canned pimientos.
Library book sales, yard and rummage sales are treasure troves for old cookbooks and aside from their historical interest - the way we ate, especially across regions—they also offer more intimate connections with the past. Inscriptions to   brides, mothers, daughters, and new homeowners give us a sense of connection, especially if the recipients have annotated the book. I recently picked up a gem, Marian Tracy's New Casserole Cookery. The original Casserole Cookery went on sale the day after Pearl Harbor, I learned recently. It was still my mother's mainstay in the fifties and sixties for dinner parties. The previous owner of my New Casserole Cookery was a scribbler, and a pithy one. Next to "Roquefort Meat Loaf", she (her name is in the front) wrote, and underlined, "Lousy". "Turkey and Apple Casserole" was "nasty"; "Turkey and Cranberry Roll", "awful"—to describe a few. "Baked Peppers with Macaroni and Sausage" rated a "very good" with a note to be sure to "really parboil the peppers - it's all the cooking they get." For whom was she writing these notes - reminders to herself? For posterity? I wish I could meet her. Old cookbooks often have recipes clipped from magazines or recipes on index cards tucked in the pages like messages in a bottle.
Cookbooks that combine reminiscence or personal reflections with recipes are especially appealing - especially poignant when the author is gone - Craig Claiborne's A Feast Made for Laughter, Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, everything M.F.K. Fisher wrote.
The favorites march on: all of Elizabeth David, Sara Kasdan's Mazel Tov Y'All, Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy—American Fried, Alice, Let's Eat, and Third Helpings, Sylvia Woods' Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook, Mimi Sheraton's From My Mother's Kitchen, Peg Bracken's "I Hate to Cook" books, Jane Grigson's Food With the Famous,
Food is a powerful mnemonic in our lives and reading about it surrounds us with both comfort and desire. When you add mystery as an ingredient, the result takes the cake.
Himmel Und Erde (Heaven and Earth) from The Body in the Casket
2 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes peeled and cubed
3 apples, roughly 1 ½ pounds, peeled, cored and cubed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more.
Add the apples and continue to simmer until the potatoes are done (check with a sharp fork) and the apples soft.
Drain, reserving a little of the water. Put back on the heat and stir briefly to dry.
Add the butter and mash. Faith relies on her old-fashioned potato masher. Add the honey, lemon, salt, and pepper and stir vigorously for a fluffy result. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of the water.
You may also serve the dish with crumbled crisp bacon and fried or caramelized onions on top. Granny Smiths or other tart apples give Himmel und Erde a nice sharpness, but any apples are fine. Nutmeg and thyme also give it a different sort of flavor as a change from the basic recipe. Garlic too. It’s a traditional German farmhouse dish, good with pork, sausage or chicken.
Serves 4-6
And never forget that Whodunit really is tied to Whoateit!

About the Author
Katherine Hall Page
Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-three previous Faith Fairchild Mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story "The Would-Be Widower". The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine, with her husband.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three print copies of The Body in the Casket by Katherine Hall Page (US only).