The only positive side of the untimely demise is the arrival of male romance cover model, Karisma, come to town to strut his tawny mane and sun-bronzed muscles for a fund-raiser in the late lamented librarian's name. But when hunky Karisma's entourage is poisoned, and the spouse of a Library League newlywed dies mysteriously, fantasy life careens toward a collision course with reality. Ellie must find a clever killer before she meets a sinister and decidedly unromantic fate! Fizzing with deadly wit and outrageous secrets, How To Murder The Man Of Your Dreams is a mystery to swoon for.
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No one in the village suspected that Miss Bunch had a man in her life. She never spoke about him, let alone made contact with him while at her place of work. But often on returning home at night to her narrow house in Mackerel Lane, Miss Bunch would hurry to let the dog out into the back garden. After fetching him back in for his supper she would sit down to her own plain meal. Glad to be done with the dishes, she would comb her hair in the mirror above the tiny fireplace, because even a stout, no-nonsense woman wants to make the most of herself for the one who holds the key to her heart. Then she would sit down in her easy chair, pick up a volume that she had left lying open on the lamp table, and breathlessly turn a page. Within moments she would hear his footsteps. He was with her once again, murmuring endearments in his deep, caressing voice and instantly putting her loneliness to flight.
Sometimes he wore a cloak lined with moonlight, a Regency rake in a curly-brimmed hat with silver spurs on his mirror-bright boots. On other visits, his saturnine features were obscured by a highwayman’s mask and his vibrant hair constrained by a carelessly knotted riband. At his throat cascaded a jabot of finest French lace and in his breeches’ pocket lay a strand of purloined pearls. Occasionally he came as an Arabian sheikh with a penchant for stirring up sandstorms in his desert domain. A man who could change the course of history by the raising of one dark, sardonic eyebrow and whose smile would melt the snows of Kilimanjaro.
Throughout all the years of their relationship, Miss Bunch had known him in a myriad of guises and by many different names. But one thing never changed. He was the most faithful of lovers, forever waiting in the shadowy corners of her mind until they might next be together. And the only blight upon her secret happiness had come in recent days, when the big black dog would whimper pitifully while attempting to burrow under her chair.
The Chitterton Fells library is a friendly Tudor building on the corner of Market Street and Spittle Lane. A week rarely goes by when I don’t go there at least once. Even when I am not caught up with my reading I like to visit old favourites on the shelves—rather as if they are dear ones now living in a nursing home—to let them know Ellie Haskell hasn’t forgotten them. So I am in a position to report that our library plays host to an inviting selection of well-dusted books, a marble bust of William Shakespeare, and a curmudgeonly ghost.
The story bandied about our seaside village is that Hector Rigglesworth, a widower and tea salesman by trade, did when on the brink of death at the tail end of the nineteenth century curse the library and vow to haunt its stacks until a just vengeance was achieved in reparation for his earthly suffering.
According to our librarian, the malcontent Mr. Rigglesworth was father to seven spinster daughters, all of whom remained under his roof, growing more querulous by the hour. The girls, as they were known in the village even after their hair had collectively turned grey, had never lacked for suitors when young. But, alas, a man never appeared on the doorstep of Tall Chimneys who was not found wanting in one particular or another. The curate blew his nose in public, the bank clerk had a twitch, the police constable guffawed, and so it went on, until Hector Rigglesworth reached the unassailable conclusion that his daughters’ heads had been filled with romantic rubbish as a result of the books they were forever borrowing from the library.
What flesh-and-blood man could compete on an equal footing with swashbucklers or Regency beaus? So, as the seven girls changed from promising to menopausal, Hector Rigglesworth toiled up- and downstairs with endless cups of tea or tended to the housewifely duties that had fallen to his lot—the maid having married one of the rejected suitors. Poor Mr. Rigglesworth. He grew increasingly embittered. His burden was made the heavier during his declining years by being routinely dispatched to the library to collect the breathlessly awaited novels by favoured authors. The girls, understandably, were unable to go themselves in case the likes of Mr. Rochester or Mr. Darcy should show up with a special license and a couple of railway tickets to Gretna Green.
It was after heading home to Tall Chimneys through the puddling rain on a dreary May afternoon (it had been an unreasonably wet month) that the beleaguered papa suffered a bout of pneumonia and in his final ramblings (as witnessed by the doctor in attendance) did speak the words that were to echo grimly down the years:
“I, Hector Rigglesworth, being of sound mind, do lay my curse upon Chitterton Fells Library. May dry rot and woodworm prove its ruination and, as a further manifestation of ill will, my spirit shall roam its rooms and corridors until the day comes when I am avenged.”
Inevitably there were people—most commonly of the male persuasion—who regarded the Rigglesworth legend as mere twaddle. These naysayers were not afraid to enter the library when the moon was full and crows gathered in a black cloud upon the bleached boughs of the blighted oak. It bothered them not if the tree’s tendrils were wont to tap eerily upon the window of the second-floor reading room. But, surprisingly, support for the Rigglesworth ghost was found among the purportedly sane. Brigadier Lester-Smith who, at sixty-five, was by no means in his dotage, had publicly wagered his pension that the spirit had been present at many a Thursday-night meeting of the Library League.
The brigadier, adhering rigidly to the principle that punctuality is the eleventh commandment, was always first to arrive for these meetings, which were held in the reading room. He had taken upon himself the responsibility of percolating the coffee and setting out the cups and saucers. He had even on one occasion brought with him a packet of ginger nuts. This treat had been much appreciated by the group—excepting Mr. Gladstone Spike (our clergywoman’s husband) who more often than not turned up with one of his feathery-light sponge cakes.
It is my understanding that in years gone by, before the advent of the wireless, let alone the television set, the Library League had numbered as many as thirty persons. Nowadays Brigadier Lester-Smith might optimistically expect to find himself in the company of seven fellow members on a Thursday night, including myself.