Cover image for Bridesmaids revisited
Bridesmaids revisited
Cannell, Dorothy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2000.
Physical Description:
242 pages ; 22 cm
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Newstead Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Elma Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
North Collins Library X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

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"Rosemary, Thora, and Jane lived at the end of the lane, one was thin, one was fat, and one was very plain". This is how Ellie Haskell remembers her grandmother's three friends, known collectively as "the bridesmaids". She had once asked her mother where the nickname came from and her mother replied, "It's a long story, best forgotten". Every family has its secrets. Now, thirty years later, a letter from the bridesmaids arrives informing Ellie that her grandmother, Sophia, wishes to make contact. This might have been heartwarming news but for one small detail: Sophia is dead. Ellie sets out to visit the bridesmaids on what becomes a life-changing journey that includes a seance, a hidden diary, and a murder that took place more than fifty years ago.

Author Notes

Dorothy Cannell was born in Nottingham, England and moved to the United States when she was twenty. Her first Ellie Haskell novel, The Thin Woman, was selected as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Twentieth Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Besides the Ellie Haskell Mysteries series, her other novels include God Save the Queen!, Naked Came the Farmer, The Sunken Sailor, and Sea Glass Summer. She is also a contributor to the popular Sisters in Crime anthologies.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Ellie, which suits her more comfortably than her given name of Giselle, has just seen her handsome and doting husband off on a holiday with the twins and baby Rose when she's called to Old Rectory at Knells by the "bridesmaids." That was the name she gave as a child to three now-elderly women, Rosemary, Thora, and Jane, who had been close to her maternal grandmother and now live in the rectory where her grandmother grew up. They tell Ellie that her grandmother wants to get in touch with her, which is pretty odd, as she died long ago. Ellie's own mother also died young, and this British cozy takes on a darker and more ruminative tone as Ellie, armed only by a few wisps of memory, begins to sort out a lot of family secrets that trace back to both her mother and grandmother. The Old Rectory's nasty caretaker, whose parrot repeats "I'll tell!" has a fatal gardening accident; conversations over tea and luncheons reveal old longings and long-buried passions. Ellie unravels the truth about the deaths not only of her mother but of her grandmother and great-grandfather--in a way, she learns that love never dies. Full of gothic touches and the ineffable sweetness of memory, this is clearly Cannell's best so far. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

A spectral summons leads to family secrets in Cannell's 11th beguiling outing (after The Trouble with Harriet) for British interior decorator Ellie Haskell. Ellie hasn't thought about her late grandmother Sophia's three bridesmaidsÄRosemary, Thora and JaneÄin years. Then she receives a letter from Rosemary telling her that Sophia is trying to contact her from beyond the grave. With her saucy, uninvited helper, Mrs. Malloy, in tow, Ellie travels to the ancient Cambridgeshire village of Knells to investigate. She finds the people of Knells abuzz over the plans of social upstart Sir Clifford Heath, a rapacious financier, to buy up the town in order to turn it into a theme parkÄapparently because he has a grudge against the community that snubbed him as a poor lad. From local gossip, Ellie learns that Sir Clifford has links to her own family, in particular the untimely, mysterious death of her mother. With its ancient setting, complicated story, mysterious old houses, hidden diaries, simmering passions, spooky emanations and love matches gone awry, the tale sometimes reads like Wuthering Heights on steroids. Still, Cannell's smooth narration and her appealing, smart-mouthed characters charm you into suspending disbelief. The result is a thoroughly delightful puzzle. Mystery Guild selection; 11-city tour. (June 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter 1 I hadn't thought about the bridesmaids in years. My only meeting with them occurred when I was about seven or eight years old and my mother took me to their house for the day. Their names had sounded to me like the start of a nursery rhyme: "Rosemary, Thora, and Jane." From a child's vantage point they had seemed ancient. But they could only have been in their forties. My memory of that day's visit was a little fuzzy around the edges. The house was old with a gate that creaked. There was a parrot in a cage by the fireplace and a dark red cloth with a balled fringe on the table, and a jug of lemon barley water on the sideboard. I vaguely remembered sitting on the edge of a hard chair when one of the women in the kitchen bent to give me a kiss. Afterwards I asked Mother why she called them the bridesmaids. It was a long story, she said, best forgotten. So I stored that visit and my curiosity away like scraps of black-and-white photographs in some attic corner of my mind, where they gathered cobwebs along with other childhood memories. But when I was seventeen my mother was dead, and so many things I might have asked her would be forever left unanswered. Now on a wet and windy morning better suited to mid-winter than June, I stood in the hall of my grown-up house, reading the letter that had just dropped onto the flagstone floor with the rest of the mail. The handwriting was neat and precise. One sensed the ghost of a teacher, with ruler to hand, leaning over the shoulder of Rosemary Maywood, for that's whom the letter was from. In opening she said she hoped it reached me and found my family and me in good health. Then she went into a paragraph of detail about how she, Thora, and Jane had managed to track me down, by way of talking to someone who knew someone who had a friend who knew Astrid Fitzsimons, the widow of my mother's brother Wyndom. Why the bridesmaids had gone to such trouble was the burning question. I had to read page two to find out. Here Rosemary explained that her purpose in writing was to inform me that my maternal grandmother was anxious to get in touch with me. And, that she, Thora, and Jane would be pleased to arrange matters if I would come as soon as possible for a long-neglected reunion at the Old Rectory. How peculiar! My grandmother had been no more than a name to me and I had never imagined having any sort of contact with her. My immediate reaction was to rush into my husband's study, where he was usually to be found at nine in the morning, already hard at work on his latest cookery book. Unfortunately I was out of luck today. Ben, not sensing I was about to need him desperately, had left at the crack of dawn for Norfolk. Even the children weren't available to me. He had taken our four-year-old twins, son Tam and daughter Abbey, and sixteen-month-old Rose on a fortnight's holiday so that I could finally finish my last bit of decorating. Therefore, I took the next best course of action, which was to head for the kitchen intent on confiding in my daily helper, Mrs. Roxie Malloy. Luckily she was just where I hoped to find her--seated at the kitchen table with a feather duster in one hand for appearance's sake and a cup of tea in the other. "Make yourself at home, Mrs. H.," she proffered kindly. "If you're looking for Tobias, I just let him out into the garden. And don't go telling me it's not fit weather out there for man nor beast, because I already told him. If ever a cat had a mind of his own that one does. Meowed at me something dreadful he did until I just gave in." She shifted perfunctorily in her seat. "When all's said and done, there's only so much a woman can be expected to put up with in these enlightened times." "Very true," I said. Ours was not the typical employer-employee relationship. Mrs. Malloy and I had been through a lot together since the day I changed my name from Miss Ellie Simons to Mrs. Bentley T. Haskell and she showed up to help hand round plates of mushroom caps on toast points at the wedding reception. Over the years she had come to behave as though Merlin's Court was her home and I was someone in the habit of dropping in unannounced in the hope that there might be a cup of tea and a piece of cake in the offing. She'd also made it clear that she didn't think much of how I'd decorated the place, despite the fact that I'd been in the interior-design business before I married and had been working part-time for the past year or so. According to her, the kitchen's quarry-tiled floor was hard on her feet, the glass-fronted cupboards looked silly with just a couple of eggcups sitting in them, and a fireplace in the kitchen was nonsense. Nevertheless, as was the case this morning, she was usually the one to set a match to the logs at the first hint of a chill in the air. There was no denying that I was fond of her, but Mrs. Malloy could be a royal pain at times. Presently she was looking even more long-suffering than usual. But I wasn't about to let her get started. Call me selfish, but I felt entitled for once to unload on her. Fetching a cup and saucer from the Welsh dresser, I sat down across from her and reached for the teapot. "Mrs. Malloy, I just received a rather disturbing letter." "Well, if that isn't a coincidence; one came for me this morning." She nodded her jet-black head with the two inches of white roots. This was for her a fashion statement, along with the neon eye shadow, magenta lipstick, and taffeta frocks. My cousin Freddy, who lived in the cottage at our gates, had once noted with an admiring grin that she managed to create the impression that life for her was one long cocktail party. Still, as she frequently informed me, there was a lot more to her than her glamour-puss image might lead one to suppose. "Don't let me go dwelling on my problems," she now continued magnanimously. "Just because my life is in ruins, there's no call for you to bottle up whatever's got you upset, Mrs. H.; you pour it all out, have a good snivel if it'll help." "Oh, no! You first," I said, resolutely stuffing the envelope back in my skirt pocket. "It's not bad news about George, is it?" "Who?" Mrs. Malloy frowned, putting a few more cracks in her makeup, which this morning appeared to have been applied with a trowel. "Your son." We didn't often speak of George, who had been married briefly to my alluring cousin Vanessa, Aunt Astrid and Uncle Wyndom's daughter. Only to discover that the child he thought was his wasn't. This being how Ben and I had come to have Rose with us. "That's right; me one and only--the pride and joy of his mother's heart. George is fine, thanks ever so for asking." Mrs. Malloy let the feather duster fall from her hand and sat exuding a most unnerving humility. "'Course, I don't hear from him as often as I'd like, but it's not to be expected, is it? Not from a busy man like him. Quite the businessman is my George. Anyhow, you can ease your mind, Mrs. H., the letter weren't from him." "But I wouldn't mind if he wanted to see Rose," I protested. "I understand how terribly hurt he was on finding out he wasn't her father." "We all get a reminder once in a while that life isn't all it's cracked up to be; not for none of us it isn't." Mrs. Malloy passed me the sugar bowl. "Look at yourself, left all alone while Mr. H. goes bunking off with the kiddies for a fortnight's fun and games at that holiday camp place. Or so he says. Let a man off the lead for two minutes and there goes your marriage, you mark my words! It's the story of me third husband, Leonard, all over again." Her sigh created a whirlpool in her teacup. "Off he goes to the butcher's one Saturday morning for a pound and a half of stewing steak--I remember particularly I'd been fancying a nice meat pudding--and that's the last I sees or hears of him. Until this morning, some twenty years later, when he writes to say as how his reason for not coming home was the fault of a rare form of amnesia." "Not the common or garden kind?" While sipping my tea I thought about the bridesmaids. They hadn't mentioned my mother, except in reference to that long-ago visit. Did they know she had died? Had they thought it in poor taste to mention the fact? Was the parrot still alive? "There was never nothing common about Leonard." Mrs. Malloy's eyes took on a dreamy glow. "A gent through and through he was. Always went to a proper tailor he did; no buying his clothes down the market for him. Hair styled every week with a lovely deep wave in front. And you couldn't count the shoes in his wardrobe, polished the like you've never seen. Oh, yes, he was something to look at, was Leonard. Even when he was in the altogether, which is where most men come up short. 'Course"--her sigh would have done a whistling kettle proud--"he carried on something terrible with other women, but on the bright side, they was all classy types." "That counts for something," I conceded, wondering if I was right in thinking that Rosemary was the tallest of the bridesmaids. "It certainly does, Mrs. H., seeing as one of me other husbands went off with a real cow that was got up like a streetwalker. I'll have you know, Mrs. H., that sort of thing takes a lot of living down for a woman like me that's always taken pride in presenting herself right." Mrs. Malloy pursed her butterfly lips and pressed a hand to the cleavage revealed by her sequined neckline. "And when all is said and done, Leonard is my George's father." "Really? I thought your second husband was his father." "Well, maybe it was that way." She eyed me somewhat coldly. "It's easy to lose track when you've been married as often as I have. What it comes right down to is that Leonard had his good points. And now here he is writing to say he wants to come home to me." "With or without the pound and a half of stewing steak?" "There's no need to take that snippy tone, Mrs. H. Can't a man say he's sorry?" "For keeping your meat pudding waiting twenty years?" "Put like that, I would be a fool." Mrs. Malloy tottered to her feet, the very picture of tortured womanhood. Her black suede shoes had three-inch heels and were at least a couple of sizes too small for her. But I could tell that only a fraction of her anguish was physical. Draining my second cup of tea, I forced myself to stop thinking about the bridesmaids. "Of course it would be a mistake to even consider taking him back," I told her. "I expect Leonard is down-and-out and needs somewhere to stay until he has another win at the dogs or whatever is his usual means of getting by. Try telling yourself how well you've done without him all these years and write back saying you've got amnesia. There's been a lot of it going around lately." "That's easy enough to say." Mrs. M. retreated into the pantry and emerged with a bottle of gin. For a moment I thought she was about to drown her sorrows by getting busy washing the windows. She was a great believer that gin was the best all-purpose household cleaner. Instead, she poured a good slosh into her teacup and sat back down at the table. "Leonard didn't put a return address on the letter. And I know what that means. He's going to show up on me doorstep in the next day or two and I won't have the heart to send him away, not once I get a whiff of that lovely cologne he always wore." "It wasn't the hairspray that got to you?" "I'll choose to ignore that crack, Mrs. H., seeing as how it's understandable you're down in the dumps." Mrs. Malloy could at times take the high road. "Clearly it don't need saying that I know better than most what it feels like having a husband bunk off to Greener Pastures. And what's worse in your case is that he took the kiddies with him." "The holiday camp is called Memory Lanes," I corrected her. "Well, it said a lot about greener pastures in the brochure. Sounded more like a nudist colony to me than a place for decent family fun. But if it really is about sitting around the campfire singing songs in the rain, I doubt Mr. H. will be having the time of his life. It's just another of the vicar's potty schemes, if you ask me." Excerpted from Bridesmaids Revisited by Dorothy Cannell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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