Hayden Konig solves the murder of a baritone from North Carolina, who was killed while singing in the choir of York Minster [cathedral] England, a murder which has its roots in the assassination of Czar Nicholas II. THE BARITONE WORE CHIFFON
In The Baritone Wore Chiffon, [ISBN 0-9721211-3-7], the second in the series of liturgical mysteries by Mark Schweizer, Hayden Konig, Police Chief of Germaine, SC, solves a murder that spans two continents and has its roots in the killing of Czar Nicholas II of Russia in 1918.
In addition to being Police Chief, Hayden is Choir Director and Organist of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church; an aspiring writer of murder mysteries; and a multimillionaire.
Germaine, NC is in beautiful, wooded surroundings, known for fall foliage color. It is unlike any town most of us know.
In this novel additional eccentric and lovable characters join our old friends: Malcolm Walker, Senior Warden of Saint Barnabas [now separated from his wife Rhiza]; Pete Moss, Hayden's former college roommate, mayor, and the owner of the major eatery in town, The Slab Café where the entire police force [all three of them] have their breakfasts/meetings; the two other members of the police force, Nancy Parsky and Dave Vance; and Meg Farthing, Hayden's significant other, who is smart, beautiful and a financial wizard. She manages Hayden's portfolio. Although Meg lives with her mother she spends lots of time at Hayden's “cabin” where they are joined by Archimedes the owl and Baxter, a six-month old Burmese Mountain Dog. Both Archimedes and Baxter have the run of the house. Archimedes can enter through an automatic window; he eats mice and squirrels from Hayden's frozen collection.
Noylene Faberge is a new waitress at The Slab. She is beginning her studies at The Catawba College of Beauty and Small Engine Repair. As Hayden says “We all gits a free haircut and a tune-up once she gits her certifyables.”
Hayden's “official” police vehicle is a blue '62 Chevy pick-up truck, purchased at a police auction with about 400,000 miles on it. He keeps a gun under the seat. He also keeps a gun under the organ bench at Saint Barnabas [a 9mm Beretta which has replaced his 9 mm Glock] and several guns in a locked cabinet at home.
It is just before Ash Wednesday and Hayden is preparing the choir for Lent. As he comes out of the shower one Sunday morning, the phone rings. Hugh Kirby, an old friend of Hayden's and a priest and canon, is calling from England, specifically the ancient Roman town of York. “It seems that there's been a murder at the Minster.” [Minster is an old name for church.] The victim is a choir member from Raleigh, NC. The Dean of the York Minster wants someone from “the colonies” involved in solving the murder. Hayden gets a free trip to England.
The business class flight Hayden is on is far from full so he is surprised when “…a real beauty, with black hair and a dark, sultry look…” sits next to him. She claims that she's Lindsey Fodor, a literary agent. She falls asleep with her head on Hayden's shoulder [he doesn't object]; when they arrive she asks for water so that she can take her pill – spironolactone - which is a diuretic. By coincidence [are there any coincidences] Lindsey is also going to York [to attend a conference, she says], so they travel together on the train. When they arrive, Hayden goes to the home of Hugh and Janet Kirby.
The next morning, Hayden and Hugh are joined in the Treasury of the Cathedral [in the undercroft], where the murder took place, by Detective Ronald Blake of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and Frank Worthington of the Minster Police. They see the chalk outline of the victim's body and are briefed by Detective Blake.
Kris Toth, a fairly good baritone is found, dead, after Evensong on Monday. He has a fairly longish, well-trimmed beard, longish brown hair, and is wearing wire-rim glasses. He is wearing choir robes, his prayer book is beside him and he has a cross in his right hand. According to the York Minster guidebook, it's the cross that was worn by Czar Nicholas II when he was assassinated. Kris has been strangled with a pair of black pantyhose [still around his neck], after having been hit on the head. The thumb of his left had is attached to the fourth finger of the same hand by what appears to be Superglue. Underneath the choir robes Kris is wearing women's underwear, specifically the Valentine's Day Collection from Victoria's Secret. Even more surprising, Kris is not a man but a woman with hirsutism – a condition that affects the adrenal gland and causes, among other things, thickening of the vocal cords and abnormal hair growth.
There are many other objects in the Treasure in addition to Czar Nicholas's cross. The most valuable is a silver gilt chalice made in York [but hallmarked London, 1927]. Attached to the chalice is a 32 carat diamond.
Just before Hayden goes home Hugh asks him for his opinion. “I think you'll find…that the diamond in the chalice is a fake and has been super-glued into place. The real diamond is gone. Stolen I'd say. Kris Toth was involved somehow and was killed because of it.”
Hayden returns to Saint Barnabas to a surprise. Fr. Tony Brown, the retired rector is being replaced, once again, by another priest. Loraine Ryan, who replaced him the first time is gone because of “…a few indiscretions…” The new priest, Emil Barna, who is coming on very short notice and for unknown reasons [Fr. Tony is happy to stay], is “…a short, unattractive man with a bad toupee in a suspicious auburn color.” He is a “second career” priest, having been a lawyer and having just graduated from seminary, and is very wealthy. He describes himself as being “not an easy person to work for” but “inevitably right” in his decisions. Joining him are his wife, Jelly Barna, [whose is said to be even worse than he] and his verger/valet, a Hungarian dwarf named Wenceslas Kaszas.
In the next pages we are treated to charming many antics: Fr. Barna's “Children's Moment” which does not go exactly as planned; Lenten Cow Tipping; a free trim with any sandwich combo at The Slab [Noylene has graduated!]; Hayden's Comparative Religion Class with representatives from The Raelians and the Apostolic-Four-Square Pentecostal Holiness Temple of God with Signs Following [their snakes escape]; The Feng Shui Altar Guild, which moves the altar around and changes the vestment colors according to maximize the flow of positive energy; and a Clown Eucharist.
We are also treated to another death: Peppermint, one of the clowns, is found dead in the Sacristy after the Clown Eucharist. Peppermint's real name is Joseph Meyer, 41 years old, unmarried, and a recent resident of North Carolina. Actually, although his death is accidental, he's part of the story.
Wenceslas finally tells the whole story to Hayden. Wenceslas, Kris Toth, Emil and Jelly Barna, Lindsey Fodor and Joseph Meyer are all part of the same family, although Jelly is related by marriage to Emil and not by blood. Wendeslas's father was present when Czar Nicholas and his family were killed. Afterwards, he searched the dead family and took the cross and the 32 carat diamond. However, from that moment, the family was cursed. To overcome the curse, they donated the cross and the diamond to York Minster. For awhile, the curse lifted, but when the Romanovs were exhumed and buried in St. Petersburg, the curse began again. The family members feel that the cross and the diamond should be returned to “the martyrs”, all except for Jelly Barna. Jelly killed Kris as Kris was trying to steal the objects to return them to the Romanovs.
Fr. Barna and Wenceslas leave Saint Barnabas, a new appropriate priest is in the offing, and Fr. Tony will celebrate a beautiful Easter Service.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the integrity of the main characters, the history lessons, and the humor.
Best scene in story:
In my favorite scene Hayden describes the arrangements the Feng Shui Altar Guild makes for the arrangement of church furniture and use of specific church colors, none of which correlate with Episcopal Church traditions.
Opinion about the main character:
I like Hayden Konig's honesty, integrity, hard work, humor, and lack of pretentiousness.