A Cotswold Crimes Mystery Review

Death Takes a Bath by Sharon Lynn Banner

August 14-25, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

The chance to unearth secrets of the past is a dream come true for American college student Maddie McGuire when she’s granted an internship at the ancient Roman Baths in England. Her visions of archeological discoveries are waylaid, though, by mysterious events, suspicious packages, and unfriendly co-workers who assign her mundane office chores far from the excavation site. Even as she longs for the chance to join the crew excavating at the ancient site, she becomes entangled in present-day challenges. While she’s eager to show off her archeological knowledge, her early progress is slowed by unfamiliar customs, inadvertent social blunders, and the unexpected vulnerability of being on her own thousands of miles away from anything or anyone familiar.

Determined to find her own way and prove her worth as an archeological intern, Maggie channels her youthful  energy and enthusiasm into succeeding in her first professional position. Her efforts are hindered, though, when trouble looms and Maggie inadvertently becomes the target of someone with deadly intentions. When a series of accidents and disappearances are followed by grisly discoveries, Maggie finds herself a suspect and must use all her skills to uncover the truth before she becomes a victim herself.

The setting and atmosphere provide a rich backdrop to the mystery and an eclectic cast of characters add to the charm of this cozy mystery. One of those characters is a longtime friend who serves as a connection, albeit virtual, between Maggie’s life in the States and her adventures abroad. It’s refreshing to watch the diverse relationships evolve as the plot unfolds, and there’s even a hint of romance to keep things interesting. 

Death Takes a Bath features a protagonist who is the youngest amateur sleuth I’ve read in a long time. Initially, Maggie has a tendency to overreact to all sorts of situations, and her habit of rushing into speech, in contrast to the reserved British norm, threatens to undermine her efforts to be seen as a serious professional. As the story unfolds, though, it’s most satisfying to watch her develop an increasingly mature outlook. Her self-confidence grows as she applies inventive solutions to save herself and others from a villain’s wicked plan.  

I look forward to seeing Maggie use her archeological skills in pursuit of new adventures!  

Praise for Death Takes a Bath:

“A whale of a read! Dip your toe into Death Takes a Bath, and you won’t come out until you’ve reached ‘the end.” A highly recommended page-turner with archaeology, intrigue, an intrepid heroine, a dishy policeman, and . . . a rabbit.” ~ Molly MacRae, Author: The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series

“An exciting page-turner! It captured my attention from the first line and kept me riveted until the final twist.” ~ Avanti Centrae, international bestselling author of Cleopatra’s Vendetta

Synopsis:

When Maddie McGuire lands an archeology internship at the Roman Baths in England, she assumes everything will go her way. But when this college sophomore discovers a severed human ear on her doorstep, she must solve its meaning before she becomes the next victim, or worse, gets deported. Her tentative friendship with young constable Edward and the beauty of the Bath Abbey are no comfort as her aristocratic coworker Simon sabotages her every move. And the danger only increases when she discovers a dead body, both ears intact.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery/Cozy

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date:  December 6, 2022

Number of Pages: 350

ISBN: 978-1685122423 (ISBN-10: ‎1685122426)

Series: A Cotswold Crimes Mystery, Book 1

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookBub | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

The First Discovery
“What’s nine-one-one in England?” I squeaked at my cell. Black dots dancing before my eyes, I stabbed at the mic icon on the phone and repeated the question. “I found one number for emergency services in Great Britain,” the soothing electronic voice informed me. “Nine-nine-nine.” My fingers trembled, and the phone smacked to the ground. As I reached to retrieve it, Roddy, the cottage’s fluffy black-and-white rabbit, hopped to inspect the object. Jaw clenched in a death grip, my vision getting cloudy, I forced myself to stand still and count slowly to five. The world stopped spinning, allowing me to reach for the phone. “Don’t eat that,” I warned Roddy in a passing imitation of my mother. I scooped him up for comfort and maneuvered my cell so I could see the screen. “Okay. Here we go.” I pushed the numbers as I said them. “Nine, nine, nine.” “What service do you require?” a voice on the other end inquired. “Ambulance, police, fire, or Coast Guard?” “Um.” Coast Guard? My brain short-circuited on the unfamiliar option. If there was one thing you never needed in the Arizona desert, it was the Coast Guard. My body swayed unsteadily as I contemplated the question. “Are you able to speak?” the voice prompted. Emergency. I needed to tell them. “Ear,” I stuttered, unable to form a sentence around the horror of the situation. “You’re here, yes. If you are unable to speak, tap twice if you are in imminent danger.” The professional but concerned voice had its intended effect of calming me. Shaking my head, I changed tactics. Instead of discussing the details of what I’d found, I asked for the police. After a complicated exchange that gave me time to form my response, a male police officer asked my emergency. Shuddering, I said, “Hi. My name is Madeline McGuire. I’m an exchange student from America, and I found an ear.” The words tumbled from my mouth. “A human ear. A freshly severed human ear.” Saying it out loud made it real. Bunny in arm, I sunk to the floor, clinging to fluffy comfort. The image of the blood-stained ear spilling out of the salt-packed box loomed in my mind, stirring the acids in my stomach. The voice of the officer broke through my thoughts. “You did the right thing to call. Do you have the address of your location?” “Ash Tree cottage on Greenway Lane, Bath, England.” “I’ll stay on the line until a constable arrives,” he told me. Teeth chattering, I nodded robotically. “Miss?” “Yeah. Okay. I’ll be fine. Fine,” I said, not sounding even a little fine. “I’ll make coffee. This seems like a coffee moment.” “I’ve found that tea is quite soothing in difficult situations,” the officer offered. Ignoring the suggestion, I treaded into the kitchen, Roddy clutched to my chest, the phone pressed to my ear. “I could have done without your discovery, Roddy,” I muttered. When I brought the rabbit in from the pouring rain, I let him roam free long enough for him to chew a hole through the cardboard of a newly delivered package. “What was that, miss?” the policeman on the line asked. “Oh, sorry. Talking to my rabbit.” “Miss?” “Nothing. I’m fine.” I hadn’t blinked in a long time. A tremor rippled through me as I set the rabbit on the kitchen floor. With a weird detachment, I noted that Roddy’s black-and-white fur matched the checkerboard tile. The pattern became mesmerizing, a safe place for my mind until I collapsed against the counter. Catching myself, I said, “Coffee. Coffee is good.” Filling the electric kettle, I flickered the “On” switch, then retrieved the French press. A mostly empty bag of stale coffee sat behind the press. Dumping the ground beans into the glass cylinder, I filled the press with hot water. It was a mundane task that I had done hundreds of times. I wondered, could I make coffee without my ear? As I pushed the plunger to infuse the water with grounds, I almost shoved the contraption onto the floor. Catching it just in time, I shakily poured myself a cup. Ignoring the scalding heat, I gulped. Caffeine coursed through my system, making me jumpy as I thought about the consequences of receiving a body part. An ear in the mail would make a little sense back in Chicago, where I was getting my archeology degree. Mobsters still controlled parts of the city, and the paper always mentioned grizzly retribution crimes. As I took another sip, I imagined finding the package while at college. The dorm would buzz with gossip, wondering what the intended recipient had done. And I would know it wasn’t meant for me. I had only been in Bath for two days. I didn’t know anyone in England, especially not well enough to offend them. Did that mean the homeowners where I had a room were being warned? My stomach curdled at the thought. I hadn’t met them yet, but I considered them friends after the year of emails we exchanged. Bad people wouldn’t own a bunny, would they? Losing control, I hunched over, retching dry heaves. I leaned my back against the pantry door and slid to the floor. Roddy hopped in my lap, comforting me. “Miss?” I yelped, causing the rabbit to bound off of me, his powerful legs digging into my jeans. I’d forgotten the phone. “Hello?” “Constable Bailey is on your street. His collar number is 16941.” “There’s a pull chain to open the latch on the gate. The box is in the mudroom. Tell him to come in.” “Mudroom?” For the first time, my dispatcher sounded unsure. *** Excerpt from Death Takes a Bath by Sharon Lynn. Copyright 2023 by Sharon Lynn. Reproduced with permission from Sharon Lynn. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Sharon Lynn

Sharon Lynn was raised in Arizona, but it was living in England as a teenager and every return trip since that inspired the setting of her Cotswold Crimes Mystery series. As a professor of theater, film, and writing she coaches and mentors aspiring artists. Her short stories can be found in anthologies from Malice Domestic and Desert Sleuths. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Please sign up for her newsletter at http://www.sharonlwrites.com and http://www.blackbirdwriters.com.

Catch Up With Sharon Lynn:

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Note: I received a courtesy copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The Border Collie of Scotland

Scottish Border Collie

© Richard J. Fisher (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Exploring the origins of dog breeds is an ongoing passion of mine. You may remember I’ve already shared some fascinating information about two breeds that originated in Scotland: Shetland Sheepdogs (aka Shelties) and Golden Retrievers. Of the fifteen Scottish breeds still in existence today, six were purposely bred to herd and drive livestock. One of these is the breed known as the Border Collie.

The origin of the Border Collie is, like many other Scottish breeds, a matter of debate. There is, however, some agreement that the Romans may have brought their drover dogs to this far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, followed by Viking invaders with their smaller Spitz-like dogs. Cross-breeding the larger Roman dogs with the smaller Viking dogs resulted in medium-sized double-coated dogs who adapted well to the climate of the British Isles and the challenges of working in rough terrain. These dogs were agile, highly intelligent, and excelled at herding as well as other tasks.

Despite the speculation regarding the specific orgin of the breed, research suggests the modern-day Border Collie may be traced back to a single dog known in Scotland as Auld Hemp (Old Hemp in English). From the Border Collie Museum we learn that Old Hemp, having sired more than 200 pups in his short life, is considered the progenitor of the modern-day Border Collie breed.

Today, there are generally four recognizable ‘types’ of Border Collie: the Northumbrian; the Wiston Cap; the Nap, and Herdman’s Tommy. You can learn about each type’s individual characteristics and ancestry through a Google search for the specific type. You might also find it interesting to read books such as Sheila Grew’s Key Dogs from the Border Collie FamilyHere’s an excerpt from Grew’s frequently cited work:

A century ago many of the [working collies] were hard, powerful rather unfriendly dogs, difficult to control and rough with the stock, but their keen handling instinct, their concentration and great power over the sheep or cattle were such useful assets that it seemed worth trying to find a milder natured type of working collie to cross with these hard dogs.

One shepherd who took a keen interest in breeding and training sheepdogs was the Northumbrian, Adam Telfer, and he succeeded in finding the right blend of the two types of dog. The result was a canine genius called Hemp…who died in 1903 having sired over 200 puppies and founded the modern breed of Border Collie.

Whatever its origin, the Border Collie is now recognized by many as the ultimate herding dog with a natural instinct to herd using its “eye” to control livestock by staring at them in a silent and unwavering manner. No other breed appears to have this ability.

CC-BY-SA-4.0

In the 1940s, Britain’s Ministry of Information created The Pattern of Britain documentaries, and in 1944 one of those short films focused on the lives of Scottish crofters. (Crofting is a traditional social system, unique to the Scottish Highlands and islands, focused on small-scale food production in common working communities.) If you’re a history buff, you’ll appreciate this glimpse of the old traditions still practiced in this highland community. Dog lovers will appreciate the skills of the Border Collies and other working dogs who can be seen demonstrating their unique ability to collect the sheep scattered among the craggy mountains and drive them down to the crofts.

In this film, you can see those dogs in action beginning about the 7:00-minute mark of the presentation. As you’ll hear, this activity is repeated five times each year, with the men and their dogs travelling a distance of 30 miles or more, and climbing 3,000 feet to reach the higher peaks where the sheep can be found.

Today, Border Collies continue to serve as working dogs for farmers, crofters, and shepherds around the world. As the breed evolved, though, so too did their purpose. While some  types of the breed continue to herd and drive livestock, others have been bred for conformation, agility, and other athletic events. Still others serve as companion dogs and service animals. If you can provide the necessary physical and mental stimulation the breed requires, this intelligent, energetic dog might be the right one for you!

Dogs of the Scottish Highlands

Scottish Landscape  CC-BY-SA-4.0

According to DNA researchers, nearly half of my ethnic roots can be traced to the Scottish Highlands and the Shetland Islands. That prompted me to start my study of dog breeds there, beginning with Shetland Sheepdogs (commonly known as Shelties).

I knew that, while the specific original breeds involved are unclear, it appears today’s Shelties likely descend from “common bloodlines first developed on the Shetland Islands in the 1700s.” (See my November 2022 post for more details and resources.) What I didn’t know, however, was just how many dog breeds originated in the Highlands and elsewhere in Scotland. Among those breeds, we have the Golden Retriever.

150th Anniversary (Photo by PETER JOLLY NORTHPIX)

In 1868, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks bred a Wavy Coated Retriever named Nous to a Tweed Water Spaniel named Belle in hopes of producing a gun dog who could work effectively in the wet and rugged terrain of the Scottish Highlands. According to History of the Golden Retriever and other sources, the resulting litter of three yellow puppies (named Cowslip, Crocus, and Primrose, after a trio of yellow flowers) became the foundation of the entire Golden Retriever breed.

We can thank Sir Marjoribanks’ diligence for our knowledge about the breed’s origins. He spent years developing the breed at his Guisachan Estate in the Highlands and keeping detailed records. (A personal side note: the Guisachan Estate had previously been owned by members of Clan Fraser—a surname that appears time and again through my paternal line.)

We learn more about the breed from the website Friends of Guisachan:

The Guisachan dogs were reportedly given only to family and close friends, all of whom were persons of means and title. Lord Tweedmouth kept copious records in the Guisachan Record Book covering 1865 to 1890, a book that only came to light in 1952 when Lady Pentland, a granddaughter of Lord Tweedmouth made it available to the noted English Golden Retriever historian Elma Stonex. In 1952, her friend, the 6th Earl of Ilchester published a famous article in Country Life which, for the first time, gave a complete and accurate history of the development of the breed. The Guisachan dogs were bred to be strong working dogs hunting grouse, partridge and deer.

There are many, many books about the early breeding of both the Guisachan and Ilchester (via Guisachan) lines, the most detailed being the 2011 epic Golden Retrievers: Research into the First Century in the Show Ring by the Australian author, Marilyn Morphet. This 1064 page tome contains a detailed history of the early breedings as well as details of the Marjoribanks (Lord Tweedmouth) family.

The migration of the Golden Retriever line can be traced from Scotland to America and Canada in the 1880s, and during the period 1925-1937 to Ireland, India, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Australia, and (reportedly) Holland. After WWII, the breed was imported to Norway, Denmark, and Finland.

Every five years, hundreds of breeders and owners gather at the Guisachan Estate in the Scottish Highlands to celebrate the breed. BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter Steven McKenzie has shared photos and stories of this year’s gathering here.

The website Friends of Guisachan has a list of recommended sources for anyone interested in the details of this breed. That list includes a link to the Golden Retriever Club of America.

Like the Sheltie, today’s Golden Retriever has evolved from its original primary purpose as a working breed and has become, for many, a loyal and affectionate member of the family.

Photo courtesy of Chevanon Photography

Summertime Celebrations

DNY59/GETTY IMAGES

On the national level, Americans are commemorating the actions of the Second Continental Congress, who ratified the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and established the United States of America. History buffs might be interested to know that the Continental Congress was comprised of delegates from the 13 original colonies. And, like much of what happens in present-day American politics, there was disagreement in the ranks over dates, details, and much more. Visit the National Archives online for more information.

Being interested in pretty much all things historical, I’m taking time to dig into the research about ancestors who might have emigrated to those 13 original colonies, and in particular those who, like many in my paternal line, fought for this nation (or any other). Among them: American Naval Commander John Paul Jones, born in Scotland, who helped establish the U.S. Navy during the Revolutionary War. According to professional genealogists, he is believed to have been my third cousin seven times removed on my father’s side. If you’re pursuing genealogical research of similarly well-known figures, you might find it helpful to search Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography 1600-1889.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here on the home front, we have another important reason to celebrate:

Based on our veterinarian’s estimate of her age, our beautiful Sasha is nine years old today! She came to us as a rescue (bad situation, happy ending). And, much like some debates surrounding the Declaration of Independence, her documents reflect differing dates and details. We chose July 4th for her “official” birthday in declaration of her independence from the old and in celebration of her new life with us.

We’ve registered Sasha with the American Kennel Club so she can participate in AKC events such as Agility and Rally Obedience which promote performance skills and opportunities for handlers and dogs to work as a team. For her “official” name, we chose Ozark for our locale and Highlands for her Scottish heritage; we’re actually in the Ozark Highlands, so it’s a double play on that last word. We included Summer because she has a warm, sunny spirit. And I wanted her call name included because she came to us with that, so including Sasha gave us a bridge between her past and present. Sasha is now formally recognized by the AKC through their via their Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha.

The AKC’s PAL program, by the way, is intended for purebred dogs of AKC-recognized breeds who, for various reasons, had not been registered with the organization.  If you’re interested in the PAL program, you can find eligibility details here.

Sasha enjoyed a smidgen of cheese with her morning meal and will munch on seedless cucumber chunks (a BIG favorite) and freshly cooked chicken at dinner time. We’ll round out the day’s celebration with backyard frolics and be safely indoors long before fireworks boom across the county again!

♦ ♦ ♦

So here’s to celebrating birthdays, then and now. And here’s to another year of learning from the past, and to another year of laughter and love with our sweet Sasha!