Death in a Hot Climate
Three minutes passed before they realized he was dead and
another two before it was established how he had died,
though any suspicious observer might have argued that at
least one of the five people in the room had been aware of
both facts all along.
‘Don’t go near him,’ Dr Sylvester-Sale said, removing the
cardboard crown from his head.
‘Stop filming. I am talking to you, Augustine. Get the
bloody camera out of the way at once!’ As Clarissa Remnant
raised her hand, her bracelet in the shape of a coiled serpent
‘But – how is that possible?’ Basil Hunter said. ‘Are you –
are you sure, SS?’
‘Why are you still filming, Augustine? Are you out of your
mind? Didn’t you hear what I said?’ Clarissa Remnant’s
eyes flashed. Her crown was still on her head.
‘We must turn the music off,’ Louise Hunter said. ‘We
But nobody did. The scratchy LP continued to revolve on
the ancient wind-up gramophone with its huge brass horn,
and ‘The Bilbao Song’ was followed by ‘Le Roi d’Aquitaine’.
The door opened and a middle-aged woman in glasses
entered the room. ‘It’s so hot – I am afraid I felt faint – I don’t
think the air-conditioning system is working properly, is it?’
She sounded breathless.
She stood peering at the body on the couch. ‘Is Lord
‘He is dead,’ Basil Hunter said.
‘Would one of you take the camera from Augustine? The
man is a complete idiot, or else he’s doing it on purpose!’
There was something terrifying about Clarissa’s white
make-up and lips the colour of old blood.
? But how dreadful,’ Hortense Tilling whispered.
‘The little beast,’ Dr Sylvester-Sale said. He was looking in
the direction of the french windows. ‘He did it after all. He
said he would – and he did.’
‘I don’t think you should jump to conclusions, Syl,’
It was perhaps unfortunate that it was to Hortense Tilling,
Clarissa’s aunt, that Augustine handed the camera.
‘Oh dear. Is this the right way to hold it? It’s not upside
down, is it? I’m terribly sorry but I’m hopeless with cameras,’
Hortense moaned. ‘Perfectly hopeless.’
Having been very pale, her face was flushed now. She was
frightened but also excited. Her thoughts were confused.
Dead – Lord Remnant was no more – it wasn’t dreadful at
all – one always said things one didn’t mean – the beast was
dead – destroyed at last – questo è il fi n di chi fa mal
– this is
the end of evildoers – there should be singing and dancing
in the streets – the death of those who do evil is always the
same as their lives!Don Giovanni
was her favourite opera.
‘I have no idea how this thing works,’ she said. ‘No idea
‘It doesn’t matter how it works. Really, Aunt Hortense!Just turn the bloody thing off
.’ Clarissa Remnant sounded at
the end of her tether.
‘We must call an ambulance,’ Louise Hunter said.
‘I don’t think that would be much use,’ Clarissa said.
‘The police – we must call the police. It would be wrong if
we didn’t call the police. We’d be breaking the law.’
‘Shut up, Louise,’ Clarissa said. ‘Just shut up.’
The next moment she turned and left the room.
Renée Glover was the only one who hadn’t uttered a
word. Clarissa wasn’t going to call the police. Of course not.
Clarissa would come up with a plan. Basil Hunter would
go along with anything Clarissa said, of that Renée had no
doubt. So would Syl. Old Hortense was still struggling with
the camera. Louise Hunter seemed larger than ever and
she had an outraged expression on her face. Renée tried to
catch Dr Sylvester-Sale’s eye and failed. They’d agreed to
be careful, but surely they could look at each other when
Clarissa was not about?
The silk curtains were drawn across the french windows
and they stirred slightly. Was that the evening breeze – or
was someone standing there?
Renée walked up to the curtains and pulled them apart
sharply. She didn’t believe the killer would be outside.
Behind the net curtains the windows gaped wide open.
Renée Glover walked out through the french windows
and glanced round the terrace. No one. The warm Caribbean
night closed in on her. The stars shone with fierce brilliancy
– was that Canopus? The full moon above the palm trees
had a purplish tinge. Only an hour previously she had stood
on this very spot, admiring the crimson-streaked sunset and
listening to the surf and the mournful cries of seagulls . . .
All was quiet now. There was not a breath of wind, just
a wonderful balminess in the air. The only sound was that
of the insects, a kind of low, steady hiss produced by the
rubbing together of thousands of gossamer wings. A moth
brushed lightly against her face.
She gazed into the night, at the great avenue of spreading
palms thick with shadows, at the harbour lights in the
distance. Odd, that she was not at all afraid. Suddenly she
heard a tiny splashing noise close by, then another. Stephan?
He liked sitting beside the pool, dropping in pebbles.
Her nostrils twitched as they caught a whiff of something
she thought was familiar. Very
familiar. But it belonged
to a different place – it belonged to London – to Belgrave
Moonlight lay in knife-shaped patterns on the terrace. She
took a step to the left and stumbled over something—
A monstrous head with preternaturally long ears leered
up at her.
The head was made of papier-mâché. A gleaming object
lay beside it. Two
gleaming objects. Renée glanced over her
shoulder, then stooping, she quickly picked up the smaller
of the two objects and put it in her pocket.
It had taken her exactly three seconds to realize what the
smaller object was and to whom it belonged. Had she been
right about the smell then?
A moment later the others joined her on the terrace.
Renée Glover’s expression didn’t change. She prided
herself on being able to exercise perfect control over her
Before the Funeral
In St John’s Wood Lady Grylls was talking to her butler.
She was not wild about going to Roderick Remnant’s
funeral, she wasn’t in any way obliged
, she was merely a
cousin twice removed, but there was nothing better to do
at the moment, so would Provost have the goodness to get
her hat out? Her funeral
hat, she added, not her wedding
one. The two hats were strangely similar and no one would
notice, so perhaps it didn’t really matter, though of course
one liked to do the right thing.
And could she have another glass of sherry? She didn’t
think the hat needed cleaning, or dusting, for that matter. She
had worn it only the other week, for Caroline Heppenstall’s
funeral. Caroline had been a mere seventy-two. These days
Lady Grylls went to more funerals and memorial services
than weddings. Most of her friends’ grandchildren were
already married and some of the great
now wasn’t that extraordinary? Made one feel positively
‘But don’t misunderstand me, Provost, I am not in the
least depressed. Not a bit of it. I am now quite used to
funerals. Well, I’ll be eighty-two this year, so that’s perhaps
how it should be. How many funerals do you think I have
attended so far?’
‘This year, m’lady?’
‘No. In my entire life.’
‘I couldn’t say, m’lady.’
‘Come on. Have a guess.’
‘A thousand, m’lady? Two thousand?’
‘Don’t be silly, Provost. Twenty-eight. One day I sat
down and calculated. My doctor keeps telling me I need to
exercise the old cerebellum, otherwise it will simply stop
functioning. I may have omitted one or two, mind.’ She
took a sip of sherry. ‘I will go to Roderick’s funeral, but I
don’t think I will attend his memorial service. If
there is a
memorial service. I cannot imagine anything in Roderick’s
life that deserves to be celebrated as such. I have an idea he
won’t be much mourned.’
‘Perhaps not, m’lady, but it will be some time before Lord
Remnant is forgotten.’
‘Roderick’s personality may have been more forcefully
colourful than those of the bland and timid masses, but one
does tend to forget people the moment they stop coming
to dinner, Provost. Certain people one even forgets during
dinner. It’s most disconcerting. You look across the table
and you wonder, who the hell is
that? You don’t think I am
suffering from Old Timer’s, do you?’
‘Old Timer’s, m’lady?’
‘That’s what Mary Gaunt calls it, awfully funny. You
know what I mean – the brain-melting disease. I seem to
have forgotten its name, which is a bad enough sign.’
‘I don’t think you are suffering from Alzheimer’s, m’lady,’
Lady Grylls took another sip of sherry. She had known
Roderick Remnant’s first wife, the tragic Deirdre, rather
well. Deirdre had been at school with one of Lady Grylls’s
younger cousins. Lady Grylls didn’t care much for Roderick
wife, who was the widow now. She had
been younger than him, though no spring chicken, on the
wrong side of forty, or so Lady Grylls believed, though
forty-five was considered ‘young’ these days. ‘What was her
‘Clarissa, m’lady. Née Vuillaumy.’
Lady Grylls cupped her ear. ‘Villainy
? How terribly
interesting. Suggestive, wouldn’t you say? Clarissa is
apparently one of those women who don’t improve with
age, only learn new ways of misbehaving themselves. She
has a son, but he is not Roderick’s son.’
‘Lady Remnant has a son from a previous marriage,
m’lady. The young man’s name is Stephan Farrar.’
‘Stephan, that’s right. I understand he takes drugs. Same
as your boy used to do, only worse, much worse, I think.
Gerard Fenwick is Roderick’s only brother. I used to be
great chums with Felicity Fenwick’s mama. Gerard will be
‘The thirteenth earl. According to Debrett’s.’
‘It seems to me you know too much about the aristocracy,
Provost, it’s positively unhealthy. You need to get yourself a
girlfriend. Gerard writes, or tries to. Everybody nowadays
seems terribly keen on becoming a writer. Can’t understand
it myself. My niece-in-law writes detective stories, though
she says her advances are staggeringly small. Felicity
dabbles in interior decorating and sells furniture, I believe.’
‘The new Lady Remnant has a shop in South Kensington,
‘The extraordinary things you know, Provost. You should
be on Mastermind
. The Fenwicks are frightfully nice. As it
happens, Hugh’s got his eye on Felicity’s Damascus chest,
so it’s a small world. I have an idea neither Felicity nor
Gerard cares for Roderick’s island. What was
called? There was a TV documentary about it. Somewhere
in the Caribbean.’
‘The Grenadin Island. One of the Valance group.
Previously known as the St Philippe group.’
‘What fun that documentary was. I believe we watched
it together, Provost, didn’t we? It made Roderick look quite
mad. That high-pitched giggle! Those snow-white pyjamas!
Never took them off. Had fifteen
pairs, he said. Boasted about
it. Would you
boast about it if you had fifteen pairs of snowwhite
‘The way he strutted about, fanning himself! He looked a
bit like Alec Guinness playing Lawrence of the Caribbean in
an Ealing comedy.’
‘It was not the most flattering of representations, m’lady.’
‘Far from it. Well, Roderick had only himself to blame,
though I don’t think he was the sort of man who blamed
himself for anything. The camera made a big thing of his
outsize sombrero, his temper tantrums and his fan. How did
he explain the fan now?’
‘Lord Remnant said that in another existence he must
have been a geisha, m’lady.’
‘The Grenadier of Grenadin
. That’s what the documentary
was called, I believe? No doubt a reference to the fact that
Roderick had been in the Guards as a young man. But why
did they call it a meta
-documentary? Have you any idea?’
‘I am afraid I haven’t, m’lady.’
‘I must say Roderick behaved terribly badly. At one point
the camera showed him waving money at what was said to
be a transvestite prostitute. He then kicked the documentary
director in the shin and hit him on the head with his fan!
‘I do remember, m’lady.’
‘That poor chap! It looked as though he was going to cry.
Roderick said he had many abilities including irritability.
That was terribly funny, though of course one could see
what an impossible character he was.’
‘Lord Remnant gave every appearance of enjoying himself.
He talked about his profligate lifestyle with considerable relish.’
Lord Remnant had boasted of spending forty million
pounds on buying and developing property and throwing
parties. He had admitted to blowing ten thousand on a
special kind of tent which had been hand-made in Ceylon
and delivered to Grenadin by helicopter.
‘Back in the seventies those parties were considered the
epitome of glitz and glamour, Provost. Or what in the seventies
passed for glitz and glamour. Roderick became known as the
Jet Set Monarch. He was always photographed wearing a
crown . . . I believe he was interested in witchcraft as well?’
‘Lord Remnant dabbled in voodoo or hoodoo, m’lady.
Apparently he attempted to resurrect the dead.’
‘His idea of a party trick, I suppose. Well, it seems to be
the right part of the world for that sort of thing.’
Provost cleared his throat. ‘Lord Remnant and his family
were said to be under a curse, m’lady. It has been claimed
that he built La Sorcière on top of a piece of West Indian holy
ground, which he should never have done.’
‘The curse, yes. It all comes back to me now. Well, I don’t
know. It’s true that Remnants have had all sorts of problems.
Roderick never had any children. Poor wretched Deirdre
became a kleptomaniac following her menopause, then she
hanged herself most inexplicably. They say Clarissa has had
as many lovers as there are Chinamen in China. I am sure
you know all about Clarissa’s lovers, Provost?’
‘I am afraid not, m’lady,’ Provost said after a little pause.
‘The stepson is a drug fiend and he’s got a screw loose.
Roderick has now died at the comparatively young age of sixty-eight
and the title has passed to his younger brother who is a
compulsive scribbler, though he can’t get anything published.’
‘Most distinguished families are said to have a curse. The
Sassoons, the Tennants, the Kennedys, the Grimaldis—’
‘Sometimes, Provost, I wonder if a curse is not just a
handy way of excusing generations of self-indulgence and
general bad behaviour.’
‘Certain members of the Royal Family used to be regular
visitors at La Sorcière, but then they suddenly and for no
apparent reason stopped going.’
‘Is that to be blamed on the curse as well?’ Lady Grylls
appeared amused. ‘You don’t have to speak of the Royal
Family in such hushed tones, Provost. Ridiculous. I don’t
suppose you still pray for the Royal Family, do you? You do?
Goodness. Remnant parties were the stuff of legend. One
had to be terribly amusing or good-looking or fascinating
or outrageous to get an invitation to a Remnant party. Not
any longer, it seems. Still, they appear to have been getting
up to all sorts of silly things. The latest craze – there was
something about it in the Mail
. What was it? Miltonesque
‘Shakespearean capers, my lady.’
‘Sounds like the kind of thing that would drive me mad.
Who was the ugly character in Shakespeare who lived on
‘Are you sure, Provost? I thought the Caliban was a
somewhat extreme Afghan nationalist movement.’
‘That’s the Taliban, m’lady.’
‘I wonder if the stepson will be at the funeral. The stepson
is subject to sudden and intense disorientation, or so they
say. His head, apparently, poses great problems for the
medical brains of Harley Street. They keep sending him to
some terribly expensive place, but then he comes back and
the whole thing starts all over again. He hates his stepfather.Hated
, one should say. I understand he threatened to kill
him on a great number of occasions.’
Excerpted from Murder of Gonzago by R.T. Raichev. Copyright © 2012 by R.T. Raichev. Excerpted by permission of Soho Constable, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.