Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Release Day Spotlight and Exclusive Extract: Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg

Hate Bale by Stephanie Dagg

Grumbling guests and escaping piglets are precisely what Martha doesn’t need. She’s already struggling to run a holiday cottage and a rather large smallholding single-handedly. Since her husband Mark died, three years ago, her rural property in France, beautiful as it is, has become an increasingly heavy millstone around her neck.
So whilst she’s horrified to stumble across a corpse at the local farm supplies shop, it does at least distract her from her own woes. Best friend Lottie, the cheese to Martha’s chalk, swoops in to offer moral support, and encourages Martha to join her in some unofficial sleuthing. Meanwhile, police officer Philippe Prudhomme, a former fellow chess-player of Mark’s, undertakes a rather more professional investigation.
However, despite everyone’s efforts the killer remains at large. And when more bodies (one and a bit, to be precise) come Martha’s way, it definitely feels like he’s closing in on her…
There’s suspense, humour and excitement in this entertaining cosy mystery set in the French countryside.

At the weekly market in Bousseix, all the locals want to find out more about the recent murder, the victim of which Martha discovered yesterday. News spreads fast in rural France.
To escape a group of determined pursuers, Martha ducks into the nearest bakery. But that wasn’t such a wise move…
“Madame, is it true it was you who found poor Daniel Frobart?” the shopkeeper gushed before Martha could even open her mouth to ask for a croissant.
Martha was stunned. She hadn’t been aware that the shopkeeper knew her from Adam, or, more appropriately, Eve.
The few people who had been forming a straggling queue behind her at once broke ranks and crowded round, staring at her eagerly.
Martha shrugged. The news was out anyway, and neither Philippe nor the two other, grumpy police officers had told her she couldn’t tell anyone about the incident.
“Was he really stabbed in the neck with a pitchfork, madame?” asked an elderly man.
A middle-aged woman with a tiny dog under one arm snorted. “Pfft. He was throttled with bailer twine, wasn’t he, madame?”
Martha was alarmed at both how wild the rumours had become in less than a day and how much her audience were looking forward to hearing all the gory details, but she was also very impressed by the politeness of her interrogators, despite their eagerness.
“He was stabbed through the heart by a hay spike. You know, the ones on the front of tractors that farmers use to lift bales of hay?”
A collective gasp went round and there were murmurs of “Mon Dieu” and “merde”.
Martha went into as much detail as her French permitted. Her audience listened in rapt attention, only occasionally correcting her grammar. When she’d finished her account, they all thanked her, then lunged for the counter, shouting their requirements to the shopkeeper, who Martha had by now, thanks to comments by her audience, worked out was called Veronique. Veronique served them quickly, and they all dashed off at speed, even the elderly man, to share this horse’s mouth news and gain enormous street cred. Martha was the only one left.
“And for you, madame?” urged Veronique impatiently.
“Oh.” Martha had almost forgotten she’d come in to buy something. “An almond croissant please.”
Veronique grabbed one with tongs, shoved it in a bag and thrust it at Martha. She opened her purse, but Veronique shook her head. “Free gift!”
“Gosh, thanks,” smiled Martha. “Good-bye.”
She got no verbal reply as Veronique was already on the phone. She just waved to Martha, who turned and clanged out of the bakery.
“Well, that was weird,” Martha muttered to herself. But it had been profitable. She bit into the delicious pastry, all the tastier for not having to be paid for.
Martha needed something to go with her croissant. To match the three bakeries, there were three cafés in the town. Again, Martha opted for the smallest but nicest one, at least in her opinion. This one was down-to-earth, borderline shabby but perfectly serviceable. It didn’t have a fancy frothy coffee machine, so for a café crème you just got a shot of espresso in a tiny chipped cup with a few drops of milk grudgingly dripped in.
Martha plonked herself down at one of the wobbly tables on the pavement, prepared for a five-minute wait or so before the café owner appeared to take her order. However, today it was only a matter of seconds before he was hovering over her, a gleam in his eye. Martha groaned inwardly.
“Madame, is it true—”
“That I found Monsieur Frobart dead?” she couldn’t stop herself saying. “Yes, it is.” And she ran through events yet again.
When she’d finished her host jogged back into the café, quite an accomplishment given that he was a very large, unfit man. From where she was Martha could hear him reporting what he’d just learnt to the hard-core crowd, who eschewed the sunshine and opted for the dim gloominess of the café interior, only emerging for a quick smoke or vape. A young, skinny, scruffy waiter soon appeared with her coffee. It was served today in a gleaming and matching white cup and saucer, accompanied by three sugars, two tiny wrapped biscuits and one mini dark chocolate bar. Usually it was one sugar and only a biscuit if the owner was in a particularly good mood, a rare event.
“My boss said there’s no charge for the coffee, madame,” said the waiter, unable to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
“Please thank him on my behalf,” replied Martha graciously, managing not to grin.

I'm an English expat living in France, having moved here with my family in 2006 after fourteen years as an expat in Ireland. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie of animals, has made for exciting times. The current array of creatures ranges from alpacas to zebra finches, with pretty much everything in-between! Before we came to France all we had was a dog and two chickens, so it's been a steep learning curve.
I'm married to Chris and we have three bilingual TCKs (third culture kids) who are resilient and resourceful and generally wonderful.
I'm a traditionally-published author of many children's books, and am now self-publishing too. As well as being an author, I’m also a part-time editor and, with Chris, manager of three carp fishing lakes. My hobbies are cycling, geocaching, knitting and sewing.


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