Jessica Fletcher is quick to accept an invitation to replace a speaker who couldn’t attend a book festival in Belfast, Ireland. When her Cabot Cove neighbor Maeve O'Bannon hears about the trip, she asks Jessica to deliver some paintings to her family in the village of Bushmills. Happy to extend her travels and see more of the Irish countryside, Jessica agrees.
The festival goes off without a hitch, and it seems like Jessica is in for a relaxing vacation. But then Maeve’s cousin Michael is discovered dead under suspicious circumstances. Jessica finds herself once again in the midst of a murder investigation, and she’ll have to dig into the O'Bannon family’s secrets to unmask the killer.
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Seth Hazlitt, my longtime friend and Cabot Cove's favorite doctor, was sitting at my kitchen table sipping coffee while I was trying to cross as many items off my to-do list as possible.
"Okay, so, now Susan Shevlin checked in with Jed Richardson and has booked all my connecting flights. We're so lucky to have a world-class travel agent as a friend and neighbor. You are going to look after my house. Oh, and I need to ask Maeve O'Bannon if she will keep an eye on my garden, especially those seedlings I planted two weeks ago."
Seth tugged at his eyeglasses, peered across the table at my seemingly unending roster of chores, and said, "Jessica, I don't understand why whenever anyone imposes on your time, you rearrange your entire life to help them out. Doesn't seem fair to me. Would anyone do the same for you? And I sure could use some pastry to go with this coffee."
"Well, then, you should have stopped at Charlene Sassi's bakery before you came by. Since I'm leaving in two days, I need to empty out my refrigerator, not fill it with snacks, although, as you can see, my fruit bowl isn't quite empty."
A thought popped into my head and I jotted, "Temporarily cancel delivery of the Cabot Cove Gazette," on my notepaper before I continued. "I don't see why you are making such a big fuss over a little trip. I am simply doing a favor for a friend. Believe me, if the situation were reversed, Lorna Winters would do the same for me."
Seth guffawed. "A little trip? Is that what you're calling it? Let me tell you, driving an hour or two up the coast to Belfast, Maine, might be something I would consider a little trip. Traveling from here to Belfast, Northern Ireland, that is what I call a l-o-n-g trip. Wasn't it only last Tuesday that you claimed to be too busy to go fishing on Moon Lake for a few short hours with me along with Mort and Maureen Metzger? But today, at the drop of a hat . . ."
I counted to ten and then replied, hoping my exasperation didn't show, "Seth, Lorna Winters didn't drop a hat. Since you are a physician, I would think you'd appreciate the consequences of breaking her leg in several places. The leg is now in what Lorna described as a 'torturous cast' from ankle to hip and she is confined to a wheelchair. Her doctor insists that she stay home in Minnesota so that he can look after her. You know how finicky doctors can be, so there is no way she can go to the Belfast Book Festival and accept the American Author Guest of Honor Award without violating her doctor's orders."
"It is only common sense to follow doctor's orders," Seth said. "But it seems to me some committee member could pack up her award in a tidy box and drop it in the mail, and your friend would have her trophy, or whatever, in no time."
"There is far more to Lorna's participation than accepting a plaque. She is scheduled for interviews and panels specifically geared to American mysteries. So many things will have to be rearranged if there wasn't an American author to take her place."
A firm rat-a-tat-tat on my kitchen door punctuated my last few words and I turned to see my neighbor Maeve O'Bannon through the glass pane on the top half of the door. Her curly gray hair was escaping from a bun fashioned carelessly atop her head, a sure sign she'd been either baking or gardening, which were her two favorite passions.
When I signaled her to come in, she raised both hands, which were holding a dish covered by a white linen cloth. One glance and it took Seth less than a second to push back his chair and pull the door open.
"Maeve O'Bannon to the rescue," he said. "A man could starve in this house."
Maeve sent a meaningful glance to the fruit bowl on my table, which held two apples and an orange. "I guess that would depend on what the man wanted to eat."
"My nose has me hoping that you're holding some freshly baked scones. And that you've come to share," Seth said.
"Half a point to you. Tell me what kind of scones and you'll earn a full point, and a scone besides." Maeve always enjoyed bantering with Seth about her baked goods.
Seth leaned closer to her and inhaled deeply. "Ah, citrus. Orange. Tell me, Maeve, have you a plateful of your mouthwatering cranberry-orange scones?"
"I have indeed." Maeve took off the cloth and placed a lovely crystal platter piled high with lightly iced scones on the table.
I took some dessert plates from the cabinet, set out napkins, and reached gratefully for a scone. "Maeve, I didn't even know I was hungry, but after one look at your scones . . . Can I offer you tea or coffee?"
"I would welcome a cup of tea if it's not too much trouble," Maeve said as she settled into the chair between mine and Seth's.
I served Maeve a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy my scone, which was as delicious as it was fragrant. I was swallowing my final bite and was about to praise her baking skills to the sky when Maeve interrupted my train of thought.
"Jessica, I ran into Alicia Richardson in the Fruit and Veg first thing this morning and she mentioned that Jed would be flying you off on the first leg of a trip to Belfast."
I automatically reached for my to-do list, hoping to check off "plants and seedlings," but Maeve distracted me by saying, "I was hoping I could impose on you by asking for a slight favor."
Seth interjected, "Maeve, you do know that Jessica isn't merely hopping up the coast to our Belfast. She is flying across the ocean to the original Belfast, the one in Northern Ireland."
Maeve nodded. "I do indeed know that and I can tell you that Belfast is so very near my father's ancestral home in the village of Bushmills. That is why I've come to ask a favor."
Although I wasn't at all familiar with the geography of Northern Ireland, I had a momentary fear of traveling hours and hours out of my way so I could snap a picture or two of some ancient ruins of a thatched-roof cottage, the straw and reeds of which had long since given way. Still, Maeve was a good neighbor and I'd always considered her a friend, so I thought it best to hear her out.
"My father was born and raised on a tenant farm just outside Bushmills, but he always had a love of the sea, and with jobs at home being scarce at the time, he left at the age of seventeen to become a seafaring man. Oh, he traveled the world several times over. And many an evening when I was a child, he'd sit with his pipe in his hand and me on his knee and tell about all the places he'd been and the wondrous things he'd seen." Maeve's blue eyes began to glow with the memories.
"How did a sailor from Northern Ireland wind up here in Cabot Cove?" Seth wondered aloud.
"Ah, now, there's my favorite part of the story. It seems he was a deckhand on a ship bound for Nova Scotia. When it arrived in the Bay of Fundy, it had some serious troubles and needed to be dry-docked for repairs for a length of time that was far too long for my da. At this part of the story, he would look me in the eye and say, 'Not being a landlubber, it wasn't my way to sit around and wait,' and we would both shake our heads really fast." Maeve laughed. "So when a nearby ship was looking for a hand for a short journey to Portland, Maine, my da jumped at the chance to fill the days until his ship would be ready to be off again."
I was intrigued, wondering what Maeve's father had seen in Portland that enticed him to stay in Maine. I should have known.
"At this point in the story, my da would look across the room at my mam, who was in her rocker, often knitting, sometimes sewing, and he would smile and say, 'When we docked at Portland, as I was helping to lower the gangplank, I saw the most beautiful girl, with hints of copper flowing through her light brown curls and eyes bluer than the sky, standing in line ready to board for our return trip.' No matter how long they'd been married, my mam always blushed when Da described the scene." Maeve took a sip of tea before she finished her story.
"By the time Mam left the ship at Jonesport to visit her aunt Lottie, my da was totally smitten. As soon as he'd sailed back to Nova Scotia, he said his good-byes to his shipmates and hitched a ride back down to Maine. Six months later he sailed back to Ireland to invite his family to the wedding. By all accounts a number of the relatives came and it was a joyous event. Da worked the lobster boats and over time was able to buy one of his own. Years of hard work led to my parents buying the house next door, where I have lived ever since and where I hope to die."
"And from what I recall of your recent physical examination, that final event won't be coming along anytime soon." As Maeve's doctor, Seth gave his opinion.
Maeve smiled and patted Seth's hand. "Maybe not, but I do know that the years are piling on, one after the other, far faster than they used to. And that brings me to the reason I need a favor from Jessica. I have four watercolors that my grandfather painted for my parents and brought over as a wedding present. They are local scenes surrounding the village. He even included one that was his own interpretation of the Giant's Causeway-beautifully done, I might add."
"The Giant's Causeway? Is that a bridge of some sort?" Seth asked.
Maeve laughed. "If you were Finn McCool, 'bridge' might be the perfect description. I've a book of Irish mythology in the house and it includes a fine explanation of the legend of Finn McCool-or Fionn mac Cumhaill, as it's pronounced in the Irish-and the Giant's Causeway. I'd be glad to pass it along."
Seth nodded but I could see he was disappointed not to get an immediate answer to his question. I decided to bring the conversation back to the reason Maeve had arrived, scones in hand.
"Maeve, you said you needed a favor? What exactly can I do for you?"
"Lately I've been thinking a lot about my grandfather's paintings. I'm not getting any younger and I have neither siblings nor children. But I do have cousins and they have children." Maeve paused.
Although I was quick to see where this was headed, I waited for Maeve to continue.
"Jessica, if it wouldn't be too great an ask, I was wondering if you would be kind enough to escort my grandfather's paintings home. I would arrange for you to stay at a lovely small hotel in Bushmills where I myself have stayed more than once. It's run by the Nolan family, who are gracious hosts, and they will welcome you as my guest. I will ask Dougal Nolan to arrange for a small reception where you can present the paintings to the cousins and their children. From that point on, they can decide among themselves where the paintings should reside, but I think it is important that the family are all together when they see the paintings for the first time. Don't you agree?"
Of course I had no actual view on the matter, but since it was Maeve's family, I accepted her judgment on what was best.
On the other hand, Seth had a number of opinions. "Maeve, don't you think you are asking a lot of Jessica? How is she to carry four paintings? If you've had them all this while, I suppose they are framed."
"Dr. Hazlitt, what do you take me for? A ninny? I have had them removed from their frames and packed in tubes so that they will travel lightly and arrive safely. The cousins can buy their own frames if they've a mind." Maeve huffed.
Seth nodded, satisfied that his concern had been met. "That's the spirit, Maeve. You're giving the paintings. Let the cousins decide how they should be exhibited."
"And suppose they have poor taste? I can't allow that. Jessica, I had planned to write you a brief description of my cousins and their kin. Now I'll be sure to add a letter to them explaining how the paintings should be framed as well as my own suggestions for display."
I sighed as I reached for my to-do list and put a big star next to Susan Shevlin's name. It was becoming obvious that she was going to have to make my return trip open-ended.