"Well-crafted stories which will delight mystery fans."
"Elwood's believable situations, natural dialogue and wit make her stories a pleasure to read."
- Annie Boulanger, Burnaby Now
"I found great enjoyment reading the stories... Original and evocative."
-Barbara Kay, National Post columnist
The Beary family returns in The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories, the third book featuring feisty city councillor, Bertram Beary, his opera-singing daughter, Philippa, and his detective inspector son, Richard. In the title story, a former opera singer who was renowned for her performance as La Gioconda becomes the prime suspect when her husband's body washes ashore near their waterfront home the same day that his mistress dies in a fiery inferno on the other side of the channel.
As the book progresses, the senior members of the Beary family solve The Mystery of the Boston Teapots while walking The Freedom Trail during a visit to Massachusetts. Back at home, Philippa discovers that no one can solve a problem like Maria when she takes on the leading role in a local production of The Sound of Music.
While every story presents a puzzle of its own, Philippa's own story is interwoven throughout the book as she overcomes personal disappointments and forms new friendships. Ultimately, when she and her sister, Juliette, undertake a prestigious engagement at a high-society Christmas party, even the blanket of snow covering the Lower Mainland cannot quell her spirits as she realizes that someone who seemed an enemy in the past may well turn out to be a very special somebody in her future.
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Read an Excerpt
The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories
By Elizabeth Elwood
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Elwood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BEACON
The beacon was mounted atop a large cylindrical can buoy. The light hovered six feet above the waterline, a bright warning to navigators to stay clear of the rocky bluff that separated Belcarra Park from Indian Arm. The buoy was anchored a hundred yards from the point, and at high tide, boats could pass safely on either side, but the sensible seafarer avoided the shore side. The beacon shone day in and day out, beaming steadily amid the twinkling lights of the North Shore for anyone approaching Deep Cove, and standing out in stark, solitary splendour against the dark, forested banks for the navigator who was heading towards Port Moody.
A cluster of waterfront homes with private docks lined the shore on the western side of Deep Cove. At the point where the cove ended and the coastline curved to stretch westward towards the Second Narrows Bridge, an imposing three-storied house, glass-fronted and built in tiers towards the ocean, dominated the promontory. The plate-glass panes of the windows were dark, but the house was inhabited. A woman looked out from the upper floor. From where she stood, the beacon was a dot in the far distance, but the light seemed to pierce into her brain. The line of an aria persistently rang in herhead as she looked out into the night. Stella del marinar! Vergine Santa, tu mi difendi in quest'ora suprema.
The woman breathed deeply, trying to ease the palpitations in her chest, willing the tune to stop ringing in her ears. It was the wrong aria, she thought angrily. She was not Laura; she was Gioconda. She was the one who loved with the fury of the lion. It was the other woman who would need protection when they came face to face. She stared at the light, but there was no comfort in the glimmering star across the water for it pinpointed the locality where her rival lived. There was no escape from the relentless beam, for wherever she looked from her house, the beacon could be seen, challenging her to act, reminding her that there was a presence across the water that was causing her life to disintegrate-a presence that had to be eradicated before it destroyed her completely.
* * *
Edwina Beary firmly believed in a mother's right to be kept informed about the daily lives of her offspring. She also maintained her prerogative to offer guidance when the members of her family were not charting courses that met with her approval. While she was proud of her son's achievements-Richard was a detective inspector with the RCMP-she was also irritated by his apparent unwillingness to find a suitable mate and settle down. Richard, in her opinion, was far too occupied with his job and much too lackadaisical about his relationships.
The three Beary daughters were more satisfactory. The oldest, Sylvia, had met and surpassed expectations, for not only was she a lawyer with a prestigious firm, but she had also produced three well-behaved grandchildren, and she ran both home and career with an efficiency that rivalled her mother's formidable management skills. Sylvia's husband, Norton, fell somewhat short of Edwina's rigorous standards since he had a meek and unassuming personality and, unlike his wife who dealt with lucrative corporate cases, he practised criminal law and spent his days defending people who, in his mother-in-law's opinion, were the dregs of society. However, Edwina preferred Norton to Steven Ayers, who was the husband of her second daughter, Juliette. Steven had insisted that his wife give up her profession and stay home to raise a family while he forged ahead with his teaching career and spent the weekends playing guitar with his country and western band. Still, Juliette was beginning to show signs of independence. She had started a small marionette company, and through this endeavour was gathering prestige and a little extra income so, on the whole, Edwina did not feel there was any major cause for concern.
The youngest Beary daughter, who at that very moment sat opposite Edwina in the coffee shop at Barnet Village, had never caused her mother a single sleepless night. Philippa had always been a conscientious student and a well-behaved girl. Although she had insisted on pursuing a somewhat impractical singing career, she had followed her parents' advice, not only completing her university degree, but also supplementing it with a variety of business and computer courses, so she was well qualified and always able to find work between engagements. However, since daughter-number-three was single, twenty-five, and dutiful by nature, Edwina expected to be informed whenever decisions relating to career or love life were pending. Therefore, the news that Philippa had changed singing teachers without consulting her came as a shock.
Edwina felt slighted.
"Are you sure you've made a wise decision?" she demanded. "Sophie Guttenberg may have been spectacular in her heyday but a great performer doesn't necessarily make a good teacher."
Philippa stared reflectively into the froth on her latte and sidestepped the question.
"She was amazing, wasn't she? Such a huge voice in that tiny little frame. Remember the televised performance of Gioconda back in the nineties?"
Edwina nodded, but her expression remained severe.
"Yes, of course I do. That was the production that aroused your interest in opera. After you saw it, Guttenberg became a passion for you." Edwina set down her coffee, picked up her panini, and prodded a stray piece of eggplant back into the flatbread. Having rearranged her sandwich, she assumed the steely stare that had never failed to produce results with recalcitrant students during her long career as an educator. She looked her daughter straight in the eye. "Don't you think you might be switching teachers for the wrong reason?" she suggested.
Philippa was used to her mother's tactics. She shook her head vehemently.
"No! I'm not," she insisted. "Sophie is a fabulous vocal coach. If she wasn't first rate, they wouldn't have hired her to run the Opera-in-the-Schools program. She has such an understanding of the soprano voice and she's opened up my top register incredibly. You'll hear the difference when you watch the show tonight."
"But what about her temperament? One hears such odd things about her."
Philippa paused and considered her words carefully. "Yes," she allowed finally, "she's a strange woman. She has an almost hypnotic ability to help singers achieve the focus necessary to place the voice correctly, but within her own calm exterior, I think there's a bubbling cauldron ready to boil over. She doesn't seem happy-but that doesn't stop her from being a great teacher."
Philippa concluded with an air of finality that implied there was nothing more to be said. Recognizing a lost cause when she saw one, Edwina decided a temporary withdrawal was in order.
"Let's hope you're right," she conceded grudgingly. "Guttenberg's intense personality made her an outstanding Gioconda, so I suppose all that fervour could be inspiring. It's too bad," she added, diverging to a less controversial subject, "that Ponchielli only wrote the one opera. It's such a spectacular piece. Why hasn't Vancouver Opera ever mounted it?"
"Budget probably," said Philippa, relieved that the inquisition had ended. "It would be expensive."
Edwina's mouth set into a disapproving moue.
"What's wrong with the opera auxiliary?" she said censoriously. "Don't they fundraise?"
Philippa had a sudden inspiration. If her mother's energies could be diverted elsewhere, she would be less likely to buffet the members of her own family with her gale-force personality.
"You know," she said casually, "ever since Dad retired from teaching, he's kept himself busy with his work on Council. You ought to get involved in a community project too. You have the time now. Why don't you join the opera guild and help raise money? Then you might have some influence."
Edwina looked surprised, and then her expression grew thoughtful.
"That's not a bad idea," she acknowledged.
Philippa egged her mother on.
"Talk to Mae Fenwick," she urged. "She's head of the guild. She'll be at the performance tonight because her daughter, Joan, is in the ensemble. Mae's the one who booked the Village Theatre so we could demonstrate our mini-Figaro to the general public." Sensing that her mother was giving the matter serious consideration, Philippa made one final push. "Dad knows Mae," she pointed out. "She's always calling him over some council issue or other. He can introduce you."
Edwina finally took the bait.
"All right," she agreed. "I'll have a chat with her."
"Great! You'll love Mae. She's another powerhouse just like you." Having achieved her objective, Philippa changed the subject. "Where is Dad, by the way? I thought he was coming tonight."
Edwina sniffed disapprovingly.
"He was supposed to join us, but he had to go out to the boat so he said he'd grab something to eat on the way and join us at the show-and translated, that means he wants a burger and fries instead of something healthy. I don't know what I'm going to do with him. His waistline is virtually non-existent and I'm sure his cholesterol must be right off the chart, but of course, I can never get him to go for a check-up."
Philippa nodded. She adored her father, but on matters relating to health, she sided with her mother. Edwina was meticulous about watching her diet, exercising properly and keeping her weight under control, but having a disciplined, smartly turned-out wife had no effect on Bertram Beary whose response to challenges over his antiquated suits or expanding girth was simply to reply that he was built for comfort, not for speed.
"He probably won't be at the boat club long," Edwina continued. "He just wanted to check the engine fluids and make sure the running lights were working."
"What on earth for? You don't go boating in January."
Edwina rolled her eyes.
"Your sister has given us comps for the Deep Cove Players. When your father discovered that the theatre was only two blocks from the docks, he decided we should chug across by boat to see the play."
"It'll be pitch black. Is he crazy?"
"No more than usual. Actually," Edwina conceded, "there are a lot of lights on the shore-your father says the yellow glow from the halogen lamps at Rocky Point will be enough to light our way-so we should be fine. He does have a point. It's such a long drive around the inlet, but it's a short hop by boat."
"Why has Sylvia given you comps for an amateur show in Deep Cove? Come to that, why does she even have comps?"
"Didn't I tell you? Sylvia and Norton joined their local theatre club, and Norton has a part in the next production."
"Norton! You're joking."
"No. He's really going to be on stage. Sylvia hopes a spot of acting will help him improve his performance in the courtroom."
"I know these amateur groups are always short of males, but they must be absolutely desperate to cast Norton."
"Probably," agreed Edwina. "He's got a key role. They're doing The Reluctant Debutante."
Philippa dissolved into giggles.
"He must be playing the excruciatingly boring guardsman who wants to marry Jane."
"Yes, I believe so," said Edwina. "In which case, he really won't have to act that much. But anyway, that's why your father is at the boat club tinkering with the Optimist."
Philippa looked anxious.
"Does he know the performance starts at seven-thirty? I'd hate him to miss it, and you know what he's like when he's puttering at the docks."
"Not to worry," said Edwina. "I dropped him there, and as soon as we've eaten, I'll drive back and pick him up. We'll be in lots of time."
Philippa took another sip of coffee and reverted back to the subject of her vocal coach.
"You know," she said, "I'd love to see that film of Gioconda again. I have to go downtown tomorrow. I'll pop into Virgin Records and see if it's available on DVD."
"It could well be," said Edwina. "As I recall, it was rather a historic production. Wasn't it after Gioconda that Guttenberg's career fell apart?"
"Yes," Philippa admitted ruefully. "She had a nervous breakdown."
"I remember reading about it in the papers, but it all seemed very hush-hush. Do the opera insiders know what actually happened?"
"Yes, it's common knowledge. Sophie's husband had been having an affair with the wife of one of his business associates, and as the marriage disintegrated, Sophie disintegrated along with it. The situation came to a head at a party on her father's yacht. She went quite mad, confronted her husband's mistress and actually threatened her with a flare gun."
"Good heavens. I'm surprised she didn't end up in jail."
"Her husband took it away from her before any damage was done. But it's a horrible story. Sophie must have been in utter despair."
Edwina frowned. "For all her talent, she must be very fragile. No man is worth that sort of grief. She should have divorced her husband, counted her blessings and moved on."
"She did move on. Joan Fenwick says Sophie was really happy when she first opened her studio here. She even started singing again. She didn't want to return to the opera stage-she must be pushing fifty by now-but she'd considered doing a concert. But now she seems to have lost her nerve and she's become quiet and broody again. Something is distressing her, and Joan thinks it's her husband."
"So she married again?"
"Yes. That's why she left Germany. She married a Canadian who was working in Hamburg. They returned here the following year and moved to Deep Cove two years after that. He's a real charmer-tanned, good-looking, very much into outdoor recreation. His name is Leonard Trant. I've met him a couple of times, and Sophie obviously adores him, but rumour has it he has a roving eye."
"Well, don't let his roving eye fall on you or she might go after you with a flare gun." Edwina gave her daughter a searching look. "On the subject of roaming males," she added, "how is Adam? I gather he's back in Germany for another year."
Philippa gritted her teeth and waited for another barrage of advice.
"Yes," she said, "but he'll be here for a couple of months this summer. Our agents are setting up a B.C. tour for us."
"A tour of what?"
"Festival events ... that sort of thing. We're doing excerpts from Rose Marie. It's a great act. You'll love it."
Edwina's eyes remained stern.
"Who was this Gretchen he was talking about on New Year's Eve?"
"She's another singer in the company. They're working together."
"I've heard that one before," said Edwina. She downed the rest of her latte and started to gather up the plates and mugs.
"Don't anticipate trouble," Philippa said mildly. She kept her tone deliberately calm, although inwardly she shared her mother's reservations.
"My whole career as an administrator depended on anticipating when there might be trouble," Edwina pointed out, "and you certainly managed to find it at the New Year's Eve ball. I doubt if you'll hear from that nice young officer from New York again. He didn't seem too impressed finding you with two other escorts."
"He'll get over it," said Philippa, "and if he doesn't, it indicates a total lack of humour, so I wouldn't be able to get along with him anyway."
Edwina radiated disapproval. "I hope you know what you're doing, both with your career and your love life. Don't say I didn't warn you." She stood up, turned to the mirrors that lined the alcoves along the wall, patted her blonde hair into shape, and returned the dishes to the girl at the counter.
Philippa sighed. Then she picked up her makeup case and followed her mother out of the shop. She gasped as she stepped outside, for the afternoon was bitterly cold, but in spite of the frosty air, Barnet Village looked bright and cheerful. The twinkling lights that had decorated the stores for Christmas still hung in place, and the patches of hard snow dotted along the pavement reinforced the sense that the holiday season was not quite over.
Excerpted from The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories by Elizabeth Elwood Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Elwood. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Mystery of the Boston Teapots....................39
Reflections on an Old Queen....................59
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?....................87
Echo of Evil....................105
Who Killed Lucia?....................149
The Devil May Care....................191
Mary Poppins, Where Are You?....................219
Christmas Present, Christmas Past....................255