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Bonfire of the Calamities – Chapter One

Murderers, dragons, and plot … read chapter one of Beaufort Scales’ eighth cozy mystery, Bonfire of the Calamities, here!

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot …”

“On the Fifth of November”, originally written in Latin by John Milton

So Bonfire Night (the fifth of November – click here to read more about its origins, should you wish) may be well behind us, but Bonfire of the Calamities is approaching rapidly. Alarmingly rapidly, given my current level of organisation, but, full disclosure: I said to my late dad’s girlfriend the other day that I just needed to get through this launch, then I was going to plan out next year and be actually organised for once.

She laughed so much that she couldn’t answer me for a couple of minutes, and she’s known me since I was a wee small thing, so I think we can comfortably say that I am entertaining delusions of organisation. I may shift my 2024 goals to being comfortable with chaos. It seems more on-brand.

But! One thing that is not in chaos are the pre-orders! Beaufort’s eighth adventure is poised to swoop onto your e-readers on the first, and you can ensure that happens by getting your pre-orders in at Amazon, or your favourite ebook retailers.

Not only that, but the audiobook is also available to pre-order on Audible or at Amazon (other retailers will follow)! Read once more by the wonderfully talented and lovely Patricia Gallimore, and it’ll also be out on the first.

And paperbacks will also be available to order very soon.

But for now – a little sneak peek …

Chapter One


The trees were flushed with orange and gold, the sky a deep violet at the edges, and the air was so bright with the promise of frost that Miriam could almost see it gathering on the edges of the day, waiting to creep in like the year’s first exhale. Lights were on in the houses that lined the narrow streets, casting warm tones over the fading flowers, and the whiff of woodsmoke spoke of deep chairs and hot kettles. She took a deep breath, then coughed as the chill stung her throat, and pulled her scarf up a little higher.

“Ooh. It is coming in cold tonight.”

“Are you sure you should be out, dear?” Alice asked. “That was a nasty cold you had.”

Miriam made a face. It had been a nasty cold, and she never wanted to see another mug of lemon, ginger, and thyme infusion again, even if she was quite sure that was what had sent it on its way, rather than the Lemsip.

“I’m quite alright. It does me good to have some fresh air. I almost forgot what it felt like.”

Alice smiled, and tugged her hat a little more snugly down over her ears. It was felt, a tasteful sage green, and Alice’s silver hair emerged from underneath in a smooth and rather attractive wave. Miriam was quite aware that her own hair was pinned in place by a startlingly orange knitted creation, strung through haphazardly with bits of glittery brown wool, and the curls that emerged from under the heavy stitching were sticking out in a riotous tangle which had as little style as the hat did. She wasn’t even sure where the horrible thing had come from, and she was certain she had a whole collection of better ones somewhere, but the only other she’d been able to find that evening was hot pink with green flowers appliquéd on it, which would hardly have been an improvement. But, she reminded herself, she had just been sick, and, to be honest, did still feel a little off. One couldn’t expect her to be at her best.

They skirted the village green rather than cutting across it as they would usually have done. That summer there had been a unanimous vote to allow a certain portion of the green to become a wildflower meadow, which had delighted everyone except a small yet vocal collection of residents who had declared the long grass and nodding flowers an eyesore. There had been much back and forth about it, but the majority had held firm.

Then someone – and Miriam was fairly sure she knew who, as there were only two ride-on mowers in the village, and since Mr Peters had been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the rewilding initiative, it had hardly been him – had mown the budding meadow down in the depths of an early June night, just as it was getting going. There had been quite an outcry, and before the evening cricket crowd (who had been a very active part of the vocal minority) could retake the area for their sundown series, the designated wildflower portion had been firmly chained off by person or persons unknown. It was re-seeded, and had started to come back rather well, until another night-time mowing incident had occurred, and the discarded chains were found scattered in a furious arc around the duck pond, still slicked with mud.

The second attempt at protecting the struggling meadow had involved chains which encircled a significantly larger part of the green than previously, plus padlocks attached to trees and the one lamp post on the corner. Unfortunately this had not been cleared with the local council, and only a couple of weeks later they had turned up to trim the grass. The man on the mower was quite happy to leave a large chunk of the green wild, but it ended up being rather more than planned when, chatting on his mobile, he ran straight over a length of chain that had been lurking unseen in the long grass, quite a distance from where any of the barriers should have been.

The resulting damage was loud and expensive, and with blame being thrown back and forth between the village and the council, no one had replaced the mower. Of the owners of the two ride-on mowers in the village, well. Mr Peters refused to use his, since he rather liked the idea of an overgrown green (Miriam wasn’t even sure why he had a ride-on mower, since he lived in a terraced house with a paved patio, but she thought it might be to do with the fact that he had lost his driver’s license due to terribly poor vision and often took the mower into the village centre rather than walking. A mobility scooter might’ve been more practical, but, as he pointed out, he wasn’t that old yet). The other mower had been mysteriously and permanently disabled, and Miriam was rather sorry that they’d had such a busy summer she hadn’t been able to follow the story more closely. Even so, she had an idea who might have disabled it, just as she had an idea who might have left the rogue chains. But family is family, and she didn’t tell tales, even if she’d recognised the profile that had posted a picture of scuffed chains lying in the long grass with a caption reading Victory! in the local Facebook group.

However, all of this meant the entire village green had become somewhat of a wildflower meadow (she wasn’t quite sure how the rest of the usually neat green grass had somehow been seeded with wild grasses and flowers, but she suspected the same person who may or may not have sabotaged the mower). It had been excellent for the birds and the insects, and children and dogs and picnicking couples looking for a little privacy had enjoyed it very much in the summer, other than the odd inevitable bee sting, but it was a little long to walk through on a crisp November evening. One would get more than one’s ankles wet.

And now the grass rose still and brown across the green, the flowers having bloomed their last. The duck pond was quite hidden behind it all, but Miriam could hear a distant muttering that might have been the geese or might have been Nellie, the rather disgruntled sprite who lived in the pond. She was still insulted by the chains being dropped in her waters, and the geese were particularly feral as a result.

“The grass really shall have to be cut before Bonfire Night,” Miriam said as they skirted it. “Unless we’re going to do the fire someplace else.”

“It will have to be cut,” Alice agreed. “It was rather nice while it lasted, though, wasn’t it?”

Miriam gave Alice a startled look. “I shouldn’t have thought you approved of such things.”

“Why? Because I keep my own grass well-trimmed?” Alice had a young man who came every two weeks in the summer to mow the lawn and do things like prune the taller trees. Miriam knew, because Carlotta and Rosemary made it a point to drop by Alice’s whenever he was there, especially if it was a particularly hot day. Miriam felt somewhat sorry for the young man. It must be quite stressful, having someone as exacting as Alice as an employer, and then to have to deal with Carlotta and Rosemary competing to bring you cold drinks.

“It doesn’t quite seem like your style,” she said now, nodding at the meadow. “A little untidy, perhaps.”

“I wouldn’t choose it for my own garden,” Alice said. “But I think such things are very important. Encouraging the native plants and insects. Where would we be without them?”

Miriam nodded, then said a little carefully, “They do need all the help they can get. I have a portion of my garden set aside for just that.”

Alice looked at her, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Your whole garden is somewhat like that, dear.”

“Well, as you said, it’s very good for the wildlife.”

Alice nodded. “Quite. And it’s very good of you to think of them.”

Miriam puffed air over her lower lip, fairly sure that Alice was deliberately missing her point, but it hardly mattered. She doubted Alice’s garden would dare descend into disorder, even if its owner did consider allowing it to. There was just something about Alice that willed anything around her into order. She tugged at the front of her purple coat, and noticed she’d lost a button at some point. Most things, she amended.

* * *

Just beyond the green, the lights of the village hall were lit, glowing warmly and painting patches of its garden in brighter hues as the evening crept in. Alice led the way through the little wooden gate set into the low stone wall and up to the main door, and Miriam trailed in after her, already pulling her hat off in anticipation of the warmth inside. She rapidly replaced it, though.

“It’s so cold! Why isn’t the heating on?”

“There you are.” Gert marched up to them, swaddled in a bright yellow puffer jacket that made her already large frame look like a child’s drawing of the sun. “That cranky old boiler’s finally died on us.”

“Oh dear,” Alice said. “That’s unfortunate timing.”

Miriam shivered, sinking deeper into her coat. “We can’t use the hall like this. We’ll all freeze!”

“And it’s made such a mess,” Jasmine said. She was mopping up a puddle of orange-tinged water rather inefficiently, the mop in one hand and Primrose, her nippy little Pomeranian, under her other arm. The dog was wriggling and huffing and baring her teeth at everyone. “It’s a good thing we got here when we did. The floor’ll start lifting if this gets under it.”

Miriam looked at the old laminate wood floor, which was scraped from the passage of chairs and tables and boots, and chipped in places where things had been dropped, ladders or plates or some long-forgotten tins of paint from the last time the hall had been redecorated. The paint tins had left their own traces splattered on the boards, but it was all solid enough. Replacing it would be terribly expensive, and the boiler was going to be quite enough of a problem. She padded over to Jasmine, keeping a wary eye on Primrose, who was growling irritably, and took the mop from her.

“I’ll do it. You keep hold of Primrose.”

“I am,” Jasmine said, stepping back and shifting her grip on the dog. “She’s very upset. I think she can feel that we’re all rather stressed about this.”

“She’s not upset. She’s rabid,” Priya declared, coming out of the kitchen with a bucket and a large sponge. “She bit me!”

“She did not,” Jasmine snapped. “You scared her!”

Priya pulled her skirt up and brandished a smooth brown leg at Miriam. “Look!”

Miriam inspected her leg dutifully. “Um … there?” she suggested, pointing at Priya’s ankle.

Priya dropped her skirt with a huff. “No. It’s going to bruise, though.”

“I told you she didn’t bite you,” Jasmine said, cuddling Primrose closer. The dog’s growl intensified into a heart-felt rumble, and her teeth flashed small but fierce in the hall’s mellow lighting.

“Why don’t you put her down,” Miriam suggested, taking a step back. “She looks uncomfortable.”

“She keeps trying to drink the water.”

Miriam looked down at the wet floor. “Well, it’s just water,” she said, and Jasmine gave her a horrified look.

“Have you seen the colour of it? It’s orange!

“I suppose the tank was very rusty,” Miriam said, trying to remember if she’d ever filled the kettle from the hot water tap. She hoped not.

Alice had picked her way around the puddle to peer into the cupboard, where the boiler usually huffed and grumbled its way through their evening meetings. There was nothing dramatically wrong with it that Miriam could see, although she thought its cover, which had been hanging on by one clasp for as long as she could remember, looked a little sadder and saggier than it had before. But that was how the whole evening felt, really, and she wondered if it was just the weight of the fading year. She hoped so.

“Well?” Gert asked, directing the question at Alice. “Not much to see, is there?”

Alice looked up from her inspection of the cupboard. “There doesn’t seem to be any power to it.”

“I switched it off at the fuse box,” Gert said. “Last thing we need is the bloody place going up because the water shorted it out or something.”

Alice nodded, and stepped back from the door, closing it gently as if to leave the boiler in peace. “Good thinking. It really is dead, then?”

“Seems so,” Gert said. “Not like it hasn’t put in the hours.”

Miriam squeezed the mop out into the bucket. “I’m surprised it lasted this long. Some of the noises it was making, I’ve been expecting it to blow up for the last five years.”

“Horrible timing, though,” Jasmine said. She was still trying to keep hold of Primrose, who had stopped growling but was wriggling enthusiastically, trying to get down. “Ow. Primmy, stop it!”

Gert put her hands in her pockets and frowned at the ceiling. “I suppose we can get one of those fancy new ones now. All environmentally friendly and so on.”

“And until then we can freeze,” Priya said, just as the hall door banged open. They looked around as Rose marched in, a diminutive form bundled up in a khaki outdoors jacket with an enviable array of pockets and some mysterious stains on the shoulder. Angelus, her Great Dane, sloped in after her, his head almost as high as her chest.

“Sorry,” she said cheerfully. “What’re you all doing, standing about? And who’s off with the guy?”

“What guy?” Priya asked.

“Our guy. For the bonfire. I didn’t think we were collecting donations tonight.”

“We’re not,” Alice said. “You must be mistaken.”

“Then where is he?” Rose pointed to the corner of the hall, where the guy should have been slouched in his wheelbarrow, safe from the weather, with the collection pot for this year’s charity (a local food bank) nestling under one arm and a pumpkin under the other, straw poking out of his ragged coat sleeves and his blank face grinning at the night. “I thought it was you, Miriam. They had your hair.”

Miriam shivered. “Not me.” She could only blame the lingering effects of her cold for her failure to notice the guy was gone. They always struck her as a little creepy, so she certainly would have noticed if he was there. She sneaked a look at Alice, but she looked equally nonplussed.

“I thought someone must have moved him due to the leak,” Alice said, frowning.

“What leak?” Rose asked.

“No one moved him,” Gert said. “I was first in, and he was already gone. I was more worried about the boiler than the guy, though.”

“What’s happened to the boiler?” Rose asked, but no one answered her.

“What’s the guy doing on the green, then?” Jasmine asked. “If it’s not one of us?”

There was a moment’s pause, then Miriam said, “Did we empty the collection pot?”

No one answered. The collection pot had been heavy with coins when she, Pearl, and Carlotta had got back from the village market earlier in the day, and there had been five-pound notes and even a few ten-pound ones tucked into the guy’s sleeves and neckline. The Toot Hansell Women’s Institute were nothing if not persuasive when it came to fundraising, and it was amazing how many people found themselves digging deeper into their wallets when confronted with Pearl’s wide blue eyes and guileless smile, or Carlotta lecturing them on how every country was built on community. She wasn’t sure if they guilted people into donating, exactly, but she was also fairly sure there wasn’t a lot of free will involved on the part of the donors.

The not answering seemed to grow in weight, then Miriam said, “Oh. Oh no. It was me. I was … I’m so sorry! It’s this awful cold! I took some paracetamol, and I never feel right when I take that. I forgot to pick up the tin. Oh no!” She clutched the front of her coat, the hall suddenly dark and cloying, and Alice patted her arm.

“It’s done now. You shouldn’t have been out at all, Miriam. I did say.”

Miriam opened her mouth to apologise again, and Gert talked over her. “Rose, you saw the barrow on the green now?

“Just as I was coming up.”

“Well, let’s get after him, then!” Gert launched herself toward the door, and Rose skipped out of the way, but Angelus gave a howl of fright and bolted out into the crisp evening.

“Angelus!” Rose shouted, and ran after him, narrowly dodging Gert as they rushed for the door together.

Ow!” Jasmine yelped, and dropped Primrose, cradling her hand. “Prim!

The Pomeranian shot out of the hall, and Priya picked up her skirts, jumped the puddle and sprinted after the dog, shouting, “Get back here, you mutt!

Miriam and Alice looked at each other, and Miriam said, “I’m so, so sorry. I’ll pay it all back.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Alice said, which Miriam thought was rather generous. She couldn’t imagine Alice forgetting something as important as the collection tin.

“I can’t believe I forgot,” Miriam said, then frowned as Alice turned and headed for the kitchen. “Where are you going?”

“I don’t think we’re going to catch them. They’ll have made themselves very scarce now that they’ve seen we’re here.”

“And so …?” Miriam asked, following her into the little, low-ceilinged kitchen.

“We should find out how they got in, for a start.”

Miriam peeked over her shoulder, back into the hall, as if the thief might still be lurking behind the curtains, hoping for a chance to grab the chairs and make off with them. “Half the village knows the key’s on the windowsill under the ceramic frog.”

Security had never been a terribly great concern in Toot Hansell, and especially not at the village hall. There was hardly a lot to be stolen, unless one were keen on the eclectic mix of donated clothes and costumes in the storeroom, or a jar of rarely touched instant coffee.

“I would hate to think that anyone who knows the village well enough to know where the key is would steal from a charity collection.” Alice had given the windows a cursory inspection and now she opened the door and stepped out into the night. “Come on. Let’s have a little look at the garden.”

“Really?” Miriam asked.

“Absolutely,” Alice said. “I’m sure they’re long gone, but we may find some sign of who it was.”

Miriam wondered if being press-ganged into a hunt for thieves was her punishment for being so careless as to forget the donation tin, but she hefted the mop and stepped after Alice into the damp-scented garden. The last of the evening light had all but vanished, and the churchyard beyond the hall was deeply shadowed. There could be entire armies of thieves out there, and she’d never see them. The darkness seemed to creep in a little closer even as she looked, and she shivered, tasting a sudden, aching sorrow that was nothing to do with her cold.

Alice hurried to the stile where the hall joined the churchyard, leaning over it to peer into the long shadows of the old trees beyond. She turned back to Miriam. “I find it very odd that they took the guy and the barrow rather than just the tin. The barrow will be very difficult to get across the green, too.”

“How did they even know about the donation tin?” Miriam asked. “Have they been watching us?”

Alice didn’t answer, just looked into the deepening dusk beyond the stile again, then said, “It is possible. They may have followed you from the market.” She started across the garden, heading for the corner of the hall.

Miriam shuddered so hard that the mop splattered water onto her shoulder. She grimaced. “Where are you going?”

“To see what the others have found. You go the other way, Miriam. Just in case there’s any sign of how they got in, or if they’ve dropped anything on the way. I imagine they hid back here when we started arriving, which is why Rose just spotted them leaving now.”

Miriam had a sudden image of stumbling across the grinning, staring face of the guy lurking in the shadows, and wanted very much to express just how intensely she didn’t want that to happen, but the lost donation tin was weighing on her rather heavily. Plus Alice was already striding around the corner of the hall, her back alarmingly straight and her stick gripped in one hand by the leg rather than the heavy silver handle. Miriam made an uncertain little sound, then padded off in the opposite direction, eyeing the shedding rose bushes warily. None of them seemed big enough to hide a thief or a guy, but she couldn’t seem to shake that deepening sense of unease. Of course, she was hunting miscreants through the autumn dusk while armed with nothing more than a mop. A little unease was more than reasonable, as was reconsidering the whole situation, but she kept going anyway, with a tight grip on the mop and a close eye on the shadows.

A shout went up from the front of the hall, and Miriam broke into a run. She rushed through the gate and to the edge of the pavement, waving the mop wildly, and discovered Pearl and Teresa jogging up the street from one direction while Rosemary and Carlotta approached from the other.

“Have you seen anyone?” Gert shouted.

“Anyone with our guy,” Rose added. “They nicked off with the whole barrow!”

“Someone took the guy?” Pearl asked. “Why?”

“Thieves!” Jasmine shouted.

Guy thieves?”


“We haven’t seen anyone come off the green,” Teresa interrupted.

“Or us,” Carlotta said.

“Then they’re still in there,” Gert said, jabbing a finger at the long grass. “We need to get after them!”

“Because of the guy?” Rosemary asked, a disbelieving note in her voice. “Really?”

“The collection tin won’t have anything in it,” Pearl pointed out. “Miriam was looking after it.”

“Um,” Miriam said.

“They’ve got it,” Priya shouted. “They’ve stolen our guy and the donations!”



The women surged toward the green without waiting for the questions to be answered, and somehow Miriam found herself joining them, racing across the road, with her mop raised fiercely over her shoulder. She plunged into the wild grass, her cold and her unease both forgotten as the long growth whipped around her legs and the moon rose over the trees, and somewhere in the darkness a bird screamed.

Autumn was here, and the hunt was on …

Hang on, I think this review was dusty. I’ve got something in my eye … ❤️

The advance reviews are coming in from my amazing ARC team, and, as ever, I’m floored by them. There’s so much love for Toot Hansell, the redoubtable ladies of the W.I., and tea-drinking dragons, and this writer could not be happier. Thank you so much to everyone!

Now, before I go, lovely people – what do you continually have delusions of? What do you always intend to change but never quite do? Let me know in the comments!

And now, of course, I will do the bit where I drop the links again, and remind you to pre-order, and also to make some cake in preparation for dragons. Then I shall see you next Wednesday with chapter two!

Pre-order on Amazon

Pre-order at other retailers

Pre-order the audiobook at Audible

A body.

A theft.

A good cause gone bad …

Miriam has never seen eye-to-eye with her sister. But when a body’s dumped on the doorstep of a Women’s Institute meeting and all signs point to Rainbow, Miriam knows her sister’s being framed. Rainbow might be monumentally irritating, but she’s no killer.

Going to the police would be the smart move, but even without the damning evidence on hand Rainbow’s got her own reasons for avoiding them. Before long she’s on the run, trusting to Miriam and the W.I. to clear her name. The killer’s left nothing to chance, though, and Rainbow’s in more danger than she realises – and she’s dragging the others right in with her.

Between rogue wildlife, clothing-optional informants, and Rainbow’s own team of obstinate rebels, the W.I. are in a desperate race to dodge the police and dig up the truth. But Miriam’s not backing down. Not this time. This is family, and she’s going to see this case through. Not even the dragons can stop her.

The killer might, though …

Beaufort Scales, bonfire of the calamities, book 8, books, chapter one, writing

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