Meet Kit Marlowe: BLACK DEATH by M.J. Trow

9781780291161_FCChristopher Marlowe had never liked Robert Greene when he was alive. But when Greene is found dead shortly after sending Kit a desperate letter, he feels duty bound to find out who killed him. Before long, the playwright-sleuth finds himself in the midst of a baffling murder investigation – where nothing is as it first appears.

Written by a husband and wife team under the name M.J. Trow, the Kit Marlowe series stars the ‘bad boy’ of Elizabethan drama. Below they explain the inspiration behind the character and the series . . .

We embarked on the series featuring Kit Marlowe because he is such an enigmatic character. The son of a Canterbury shoemaker, he won a scholarship to King’s School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Destined for the church as a career, Marlowe was a rebel, wrote poetry, read banned books and went to London to seek his fortune as a playwright. He quickly became the ‘Muse’s Darling’, ‘all fire and air’, producing iconic works like Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II. He was also, while still at Cambridge, recruited to the espionage service of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Both these elements – the theatre and the spying game – form the kernel of the series. It was a dangerous time for everybody. Marlowe may have been homosexual – a hanging offence. He was almost certainly an atheist – they burned people for that.

The Marlowe series features a mix of real life characters and fictional ones. We research as thoroughly as we can, but we also use poetic licence. For instance, Will Shakespeare (Shaxsper) is a bit player/playwright wannabe and everybody uses the now legendary phrases that are attributed to him. We never introduce the Queen herself – the stories are played out in the context of everybody’s response to her. Because we cannot be absolutely sure how people spoke in Elizabethan England – poetry, plays and legal documents were written in a specific style, not everyday speech – we have dispensed entirely with ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘prithee’ as being both annoying and corny.

Marlowe’s life is so full of inconsistencies – as indeed was the time in which he lived – that we have found room to be ambiguous in terms of what made the man tick. He loves the theatre, but does he love his country more? Neither Philip Henslowe, impresario of the Rose Theatre, nor Francis Walsingham in Whitehall, pay enough, so a man like Marlowe, as much as a swordsman as a ‘University Wit’, has to live by his blade and his wits to survive.

History tells us that Kit Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in Deptford at the age of 29. History, of course, is often wrong . . .

BLACK DEATH is available from 31 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.

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London Book Fair 2019: Talent, talks and tote bags

 

london book fair

The publishing world descended on London again this week for the 48th London Book Fair! Amid the hustle and bustle, wheeling and dealing, Luke made his LBF debut and shares his thoughts on a long and busy day below. 

The sky painted a metallic grey enveloped the morning in a shroud of mediocrity as the overground train pulled into Kensington Olympia. This was quite at odds with the colourfully absurd vignettes Brautigan was sardonically imprinting on the inside of my skull. A quiet relief at the prospect of disembarking, followed by a frantic dash to do so, seemed to sweep over those maddened by the enclosed space. Moments later, passengers in all shapes and sizes alighted and dispersed like ants. Amongst the multitude of people were the usual suspects I imagined were to accompany me to our destination. There was no need of a detective to spot a tote bag with a gimmicky slogan. And I realised I perhaps arose likewise suspicion with Brautigan peeping out of my jacket pocket. Silently, or so it seemed to me, I tread the unfamiliar road onwards and upwards toward London Book Fair.

I have never been to a book fair of any kind. What I expected was both exactly how it turned out and yet somehow entirely different. Accurate expectations seem to share this uncanny quality – we can never truly know what something will feel like, even if we have a good idea of what it will. I eyed the canteen and considered food. I had not eaten but decided I could go without. Approaching the entrance doors, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face from what seemed like a past life. The comforting thought of what a small world it truly is played upon my mind like a record. The world is full of meaningful coincidences and meaningless platitudes. Deciphering which is which can be difficult at the best of times.

I smiled at the coincidence, and momentarily reflected upon the person I was, the person I am, the roads like tree branches we both must have traversed in order to find ourselves momentarily pretending not to have seen each other. I wondered if we would talk later on, or if she would disappear into the whirr of existence. But I had a feeling we would; and more importantly, I had a delayed hope that we would. A sense of detached irony reverberated throughout the day. I was scarcely in control of it.

Once inside, the bright lights and vibrant commotion exploded into a chaos and order unprecedented. It seemed everybody and nobody knew what they were doing. I headed toward the Canongate booth, which was vibrating with the infectious energy of commerce. Here I met with a colleague, a welcome friendly face in a sea of meaninglessness. I grabbed an overpriced water and a ham and cheese croissant, and she a coffee. We spoke a little and then ventured to a talk with an author we had never heard of. This momentarily sliced through the vacuity and dove into the essence of the thing: the fiery magic of the written word. I felt replenished. I could now face the day with my levels of optimism slightly renewed. The passage she read had resonated with me like a scar.

Budding authors and emerging talents, metadata and business relationships. A somewhat unsettling juxtaposition that seems to know nothing of form. But this is the skeletal make-up of the unlikely microcosm that is the world of books. And such was my experience of the book fair itself. The information we process in a day can scarcely be recounted; but an attempt at tracing the shape of events can be.

Chance conversations witnessed between young and old seemed to form a pattern in my mind between life and the essence of the fair. An attempt at real life connection resonated with me. Variety of experience and sharing (what could otherwise easily remain silent) of that experience, is to be extolled. A tale of the tapestry of a life sewn with toils, pains, hopes unfulfilled, wives and marriage, is dispersed with a handshake and a “nice to meet you”. What remains I do not know. What I do know is that the pulse of the future continues to thud like a sphere of light growing in and out of intensity, spiralling on toward the next excruciatingly exciting thing. But all this excitement does not deceive the cynic’s gaze. The façade fails to capture the nuance, the ambiguity, the meaning. A deaf poet in the poet’s corner attempts to restore my faith once more; and he sticks like a shard into my tangled mind whilst he recites verse to a captive audience. Perhaps he succeeded.

After a long and tumultuous series of events, a talk at the tail end of the day is teeming with bright hopes shaped like human beings, all in search of answers. How do I make my future the best it can be? Echoes of the hopes and the ability we have to turn such hopes into a reality awaken, but the importance of perspective comes most to the fore. I meditate upon the truth of platitudes and the lies of platitudes, enigmas to be resolved one day maybe, or simply come to terms with as is more likely. I see the same familiar face from the morning and I know at once that I’d like to speak to her.

Upon a perfunctory, though well-deserved round of applause, synchronicity seems to catch us up and we both make to leave at the same time. Destiny dictates I speak. And I do.  The presence of reality and loose string of the past leads me to a social event at a pub where the buzz of alcohol-fuelled conversations sets the tone. I talk. I laugh. I trace new faces with optimistic eyes. I participate in something of an evanescent surrealness until we decide to head home. London’s burning lights accompany us to the underground. Here, words from a previous night find me, the tube is a repository of farewells. We hug and say goodbye, and we’ll catch up soon. And maybe, we will.

Read more from Luke here!

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

women

We couldn’t let today pass us by without celebrating some of our favourite fictional heroines on the Severn House list! We fell in love with the leading ladies in the titles below, and we think you will too…

Cookin' the Books

Literary caterer Letitia ‘Tish’ Tarragon fights to save her reputation and catch a killer when a murder occurs during a fundraising dinner for the local library.

Letitia ‘Tish’ Tarragon has just moved to Hobson Glen and opened a new restaurant and catering business, Cookin’ the Books Cafe. So when her new landlord, Schulyer Thompson, recommends her to Binnie Broderick, the executive director of the local library, Tish is delighted. Binnie needs a last-minute caterer to create a literary inspired three-course dinner for the library’s annual fundraiser, one of the highlights of Hobson Glen’s social season. But there’s a problem: Binnie Broderick is a notoriously difficult woman to please. And when she chokes to death from arsenic poisoning after dousing her main course in hot sauce, Tish suddenly finds herself fighting to save her business – and her reputation. It seems that very few of Hobson Glen’s residents escaped Binnie’s disapproval. But who would want her dead, and why?

Click here for more info.

ice maiden

As she stows away on a ship bound for Antarctica, a young woman uncovers a shocking betrayal.

1842. Stranded on Deception Island in the South Atlantic, her whaling captain husband lost at sea, Karina is destitute and desperate. Disguised as a cabin boy, she stows away on a British ship. But Karina is about to get a nasty surprise.

As she grows closer to ship’s surgeon Joseph Hooker, Karina and the rest of the crew find themselves pushed to the limits both physically and emotionally as conditions worsen onboard. Engulfed in the chillingly hostile Antarctic landscape, something extraordinary happens – and Karina’s story becomes intertwined with some of the 20th century’s bravest Polar explorers . . .

Click here for more info.

The Almanack

The philosophy of time, destiny and the stars pervade this intricate historical mystery in which a young woman determines to avenge her mother’s death.

1752, Midsummer. Following a desperate summons from her mother, Tabitha Hart departs London for her home village of Netherlea – only to discover that her mother has drowned. Determined to discover the truth about the Widow Hart’s death, Tabitha consults her almanack and uncovers a series of cryptic notes describing her mother’s terror of someone she names only as ‘D’. Teaming up with young writer Nat Starling, Tabitha begins a race against time to unmask ‘D’ before more deaths follow. But as the summer draws to a close and the snow sets in, cutting off Netherlea from the outside world, Tabitha and Nat are forced to face the darkest hours of their lives. With the year predicted to meet a ‘violent, bloody end” will Tabitha survive long enough to bring her mother’s killer to justice?

Click here for more info.

 

louise27scrossing

 

Government girl Louise Pearlie is thrilled to be posted to London, but her journey across the Atlantic proves to be anything but plain sailing . . . 

February, 1944. Washington D.C. With the war entering its most dangerous phase, Louise Pearlie is thrilled to be reassigned to the London office of the OSS. But in order to take up her new post, she must make a perilous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in the SS Amelia Earhart. Accompanying her on the voyage to Liverpool are an eclectic group of passengers, including the aloof Blanche Bryant, whose husband, Eddie, died in mysterious circumstances on the ship’s voyage out to New York three months before. Most of the same crew and passengers are on the return voyage, and one question remains: was it really suicide? When the body of one of the passengers is found on deck, it’s clear that German bombs and raging storms aren’t the only threats to Louise’s safety. Can she expose a brutal killer before the ship docks in England?

Click here for more info.

Editor’s Pick March UK/July US: SEASON OF DARKNESS by Cora Harrison

 

season of

Who killed Isabella Gordon? Cora Harrison, author of the ‘Mara’ Celtic mysteries and the critically acclaimed Reverend Mother series, brings us the first in the exciting new ‘Gaslight’ Victorian mystery series, which features a dark and sinister puzzle at its core.

When Inspector Field shows his friend Charles Dickens the body of a young woman dragged from the River Thames, he cannot have foreseen that the famous author would immediately recognize the victim as Isabella Gordon, a housemaid he had tried to help through his charity. Nor that Dickens and his fellow writer Wilkie Collins would determine to find out who killed her. Who was Isabella blackmailing, and why? Led on by fragments of a journal discovered by Isabella’s friend Sesina, the two men track the murdered girl’s journeys from Greenwich to Snow Hill, from Smithfield Market to St Bartholomews, and put their wits to work on uncovering her past. But what does Sesina know that she’s choosing not to tell them? And is she doomed to follow in the footsteps of the unfortunate Isabella?

The book begins with feisty Sesina urging her fellow housemaid, Isabella, not to see the mysterious gentleman she has arranged to meet and intends to blackmail at the Hungerford Stairs. But headstrong Isabella, determined to seek out a better life and sensing an opportunity, cannot be deterred. The discovery of her body leads to a thoroughly enthralling and tense mystery that kept me constantly on my toes. I was immediately drawn to Sesina, who although clever, sharp-witted and rebellious is really a vulnerable young girl wholly out of her depth when it comes to dealing with Isabella’s killer. Her failure to realize how much danger she’s in created an increasing sense of dread and fear as the plot thickened before reaching its dangerous and chilling climax – can Dickens and Collins save her in time?

I also loved seeing the coming together of two of the era’s literary heavyweights – Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins – as they try to unmask Isabella’s murderer. This unusual duo make an intriguing detective pair – it was fascinating to watch the slightly aloof Dickens hunt down a brutal killer alongside the softer, more charming Collins who manages to gain Sesina’s confidence. Anyone who’s a huge fan of Dickens is likely to spot the real-life parallels . . . he really did set up Uriana Cottage, ‘a home for homeless girls’, and one of his own letters concerning Isabella Gordon is the inspiration behind the book. The care and attention that has gone into making these two famous authors jump off the page as fully realized, distinct individuals and tenacious sleuths makes reading this story a real joy. Their characters are vividly drawn, and their relationship proves to be as entertaining as it is compelling.

An instantly charming, engrossing and insightful mystery, SEASON OF DARKNESS is sure to appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, as well as being a must-read for all Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins aficionados!

SEASON OF DARKNESS is available from 29 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Read more here.

 

#BookExtract: THE WOUNDED SNAKE by Fay Sampson

9780727889300_FCHilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are hoping to find inspiration at a weekend-long crime writing masterclass. However, when the guest of honour suddenly falls ill that evening, it triggers a series of sinister incidents which draw Hilary and Veronica into a real-life murder mystery. Can they separate fact from fiction to solve a deadly puzzle?

 

 

The queen of crime fiction herself, Dinah Halsgrove, is the guest of honour at a weekend-long masterclass in crime writing, giving the opening talk. But when Dinah suddenly falls ill later that evening, amateur sleuths Hilary Masters and Veronica Taylor can’t help being suspicious . . .

The boat had hardly nudged against the quay before Gavin leaped ashore. Ignoring the shouts of the crew and the men warping the craft more securely, he sped towards the car park.

Hilary, too, shouldered her way towards the gangplank, with Veronica more apologetically in her wake. It was a short brisk walk to where they had left the car on the quayside. Hilary zoomed out on to the road ahead of everyone else.

Back at Morland Abbey, she shot out of the car and made for the cobbled path to the entrance arch. Veronica’s longer legs overtook her. They both stopped short as they came out on to the wide lawns of the cloister garth.

It was not normal for vehicles to drive into this enclosed square of lawn and paths. But parked in front of the East Cloister was a yellow ambulance with green and yellow chequered bands along its sides. The blue lights across the roof were still flashing, evidence of the urgent haste with which it had driven from wherever the nearest accident and emergency hospital was.

They were just in time to see a stretcher being carried out of the door where, only a few hours before, Hilary had gone hurrying in to fetch her badge. She could not see the face, but with a sinking heart she knew for certain who it must be.

With a sense of inevitability Hilary stood back to let the ambulance drive past her, siren now blaring.

Gavin and Theresa were left standing forlornly in front of the lavender bushes. Hilary strode up to them.

‘It’s Dinah Halsgrove, isn’t it? What happened?’

Gavin turned a tragic face to her. ‘We don’t know yet. Of course, she was ninety-two. It could be anything, at her age. Heart attack, stroke. She’d asked for supper in her room, but when Theresa went to see if there was anything else she needed, Dinah was . . .’ His voice faltered.

Theresa beside him finished his sentence, somewhat grimly: ‘She was lying, slumped over the edge of the bed. She was out cold. Her skin looked . . . grey. I thought at first . . . well, you can imagine. The ambulance crew seem to think it’s touch and go. We’ll have to wait till she gets to hospital to know for certain. But it must be natural causes.’

Why should it not be? It seemed an odd thing to say.

THE WOUNDED SNAKE is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: THE AUGURIES by F.G. Cottam

augeries

An unexpected lunar eclipse. A poisonous fog. Statues that weep blood. History professor Juliet Harrington is convinced that the recent plague of disasters crippling the capital is caused by the Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom, a potent 16th century spell-book whose magic is summoned only at disastrous cost. Juliet fears that someone reckless is using the book and she has little time left to stop them.

A series of plagues is blighting the capital . . . is a sixteenth-century spell-book behind the turmoil? In this creepy #bookextract, the sea is boiling, steam is rising, and the smell of death is overwhelming . . .  

At first, Alan thought the slight misting he’d become to be aware of was just smearing on the glass pane through which he watched the sea, steering their course. A job for a bottle of Mr Muscle and a clean rag. Then Phil came up from where he’d been repairing a torn net below and said that a mist was coming up.

‘Coming up?’

‘It’s rising from the sea, skipper. It’s bloody unusual. And it’s got very warm, suddenly. Almost unbearable down below, that heat.’

Alan engaged the auto-steer and stepped out onto the deck and was immediately aware of how warm the air felt. He’d experienced British heatwaves, but this was close to dusk and like stepping off the plane on to a broiling runway somewhere like Antigua or Barbados. Out at sea was always, always cooler than on land. That was a fixed law, an article of nature. The combination of water and wind made it so. This was more than strange. It was bizarre.

And Phil was right. The mist was rising from the sea. Except that Alan didn’t think it was mist in reality at all.

Just then something plopped to the surface and rolled lazily in water starting to bubble. It was a large flounder and it looked cooked, poached, and other fish were rising all around it to the surface, bloated, also cooked, dead. The smell of them was rich and overpowering and profoundly wrong.

‘What the fuck, skipper,’ Phil said to Alan, almost under his breath, wide-eyed with astonishment and fear. ‘The sea is boiling.’

Alan Turner bolted back into the wheelhouse and switched on the radio. The airwaves were thick with the clamour of panicked voices. They came from men aboard vessels off Padstow and Ventnor and Barmouth and Hull. Off Brixham and Lowestoft and Whitby. All around the coast, the sea simmered under a rising blanket of steam.

THE AUGURIES is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

The traitors behind the book: THE TRAITOR’S CODEX by Jeri Westerson

Traitor's Codex

Crispin Guest receives a mysterious bundle containing an ancient leather-bound book. A rabbi helps to make a shocking discovery: it is the Gospel of Judas from the Holy Land. Crispin is quickly drawn into a deadly maze and a series of horrific events confirm his fears that there are powerful men who will stop at nothing to see the codex destroyed.

The Judas Gospel plays a pivotal role in Jeri Westerson’s new medieval noir mystery, TRAITOR’S CODEX, but where did the gospel come from, and what are the parallels between Crispin and Judas? Jeri discusses the inspiration behind her new Crispin Guest mystery here.

I first heard about the Judas Gospel some years ago when it came to light in the media. There are several apocryphal gospels out there that have a distinctly different tone from those accepted into the canon. I found them more elucidating than the ones we know well, simply because they speak of the people of that time period and how they saw the world, a distinct view with a distinct voice. The Judas Gospel just blew away all that the early Church was trying to make clear. It had an eastern mode of thought to be sure, but dangerous to the story the early Christian church leaders were trying to tell. The opposite, in fact. Obviously, it had to go.

It is thought to have been created in the second century by Gnostic Christians, an early Christian sect that believed there is special knowledge that only few people possess of innate human divinity. The Judas Codex likely came from an earlier Greek version. Gnostic gospels were suppressed by early Christian fathers like the Greek cleric Irenaeus, who wrote his treatise Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) in about CE 180. The only known copy of the Judas Codex (carbon-dated to CE 280) and written in Coptic, didn’t turn up until the 1970s, but through a series of intrigues good enough for a Crispin mystery, it finally turned up again in 1983.

Judas being the supposed traitor in the story goes along perfectly with Crispin Guest, a convicted traitor who feels his betrayal most keenly. Having treason and betrayal as the theme and bringing in factors that everything everyone believed could be turned on its head into my tale, made for an interesting juxtaposition. And, as always, loads of fun to write.

THE TRAITOR’S CODEX is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark

mausoleum

 

1967. Grieving the loss of her son, Cordelia Hemlock seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort in the local churchyard. During a storm, she sees a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. Cordelia begins to investigate, but there are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried . . . whatever the cost.

A bolt of lightning reveals something bone-chillingly unexpected in this stormy book extract from David Mark’s atmospheric and compelling new thriller . . .

“Here it comes,” said Felicity, and she raised a hand above her head. She was still holding the flowers and seemed to realise it. “Here, give these to the grave you’ve been laying on. I’ll get more for Mam.”

For a moment I felt as though I was inside a tin shack and somebody was banging upon it with a bat. The rumble in the sky was a colossal thing. God moving furniture in the Heavens. I ducked my head into my shoulders. The shiver that passed through me was  primal; a fear that would have seemed as familiar to the Romans who once guarded the nearby boundary wall as it did to me. It was a feeling that the ground was about to split; that some almighty force was preparing to plunge His fists into the ground and pull up the earth’s foundations.

“Come on,” said Felicity, and to my surprise, she took my hand. I found myself smiling, grinning inanely, as I was led briskly between the ancient graves that stood out of the long damp grass and the untended wildflowers like boulders from the sea.

“Oh goodness, here it comes . . .”

I gave a shriek as the skies opened and a deluge like I had never witnessed tumbled down. It was as if somebody had flipped the earth; as if the sea had become the sky. I felt as though I was running through a waterfall. Felicity kept hold of my hand and we staggered up the shingle path towards the rusty black gate. Felicity wrenched it open and turned to tell me to hurry.

I felt the lightning strike rather than saw it. I experienced a sudden moment of light and heat and power at my back, as if somebody had suddenly opened the door of a furnace behind me. I spun and lost my footing, dropping painfully to one knee and my hand was wrenched from Felicity’s. I lay there, twisted and sprawled, watching the deluge beat down upon the tiny church and the ancient tombstones, flattening down the grass and thistles, ragwort and cow-parsely. Then came the  sound. A noise like the cry of a dying beast; a keening wail that grew to a scream before climaxing in a crack that hurt my ears.

I looked up to see the ancient laurel split in two. It tore down the middle as if somebody were ripping a photograph. For a moment the trunk was two perfect halves. And then they fell. The branches were still tangled together and both halves of the trunk fell in the same direction, collapsing downwards with a dreadful crescendo of splintering wood.

It missed the church. Fell at an angle that would later be seen by the faithful as an act of God. Instead it stamped down into the churchyard with an impact that made the ground shake and one of the stoutest arms smashed into the stone roof of the little crypt that had stood there for 300 years. The construction was not much bigger than a garden shed.
It was surrounded by rusty iron railings and there were ornate carvings above the rotten wooden door. The whole edifice collapsed as if made of cards.

“Oh,” said Felicity, in my ear. I will always remember that. That sudden, simple exclamation. She had her hands under my armpits and was dragging me upright while her feet battled for purchase on a path that was already becoming a river.

We both saw it happen. Both watched as the crypt came apart in an explosion of stone and ancient timbers.

We knew there would be bones. Knew that if we did not look away we would see ancient skeletons and grinning skulls.

But the body that tumbled onto the grass was dressed in a dark suit and had a full head of hair. The face that looked at us had staring eyes and the mouth was open as if in surprise. Were it not for the unnatural position in which he lay, folded in on himself and twisted as if dropped from the sky, he may just as easily been sleeping.

I turned to Felicity and saw the horror on her face. Her mouth was open and I wondered if her scream was lost to the sound of the wind and the rain and the settling stones.

She looked at me, then. An accusing, puzzled glare. Looked at me as if I had done this thing. I had brought this ugliness into our lives. Then she dragged me upright and grabbed my wrist and tugged me through the storm.

I had to look where I was going. Had to try and find my feet as I splashed through the path and felt the earth pull at my boots as if hands were reaching out from the earth.

I took a last glance at the body as I splashed through the lychgate. The pummelling of the rain ceased for an instant. When it slashed back down it was with the precision of a blade. Through the rain I saw a man in blue. Dark hair. Neat brown shoes. A greenish-brown satchel wrapped across the torso. Then he was lost as I tore my gaze away, searching the pockmarked road for patches of ground where I might keep my feet. I ran. Thought of myself first. Thought of my boy’s ashes after that. Felt a wave of something inside me as I pictured the ashes of my baby being washed away like dust.

THE MAUSOLEUM is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

 

#BookExtract: THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS by Alys Clare

9780727888686_FCAccounts clerk Ernest Stibbins approaches the World’s End investigation bureau claiming his wife Albertina has been warned by her spirit guides that someone is out to harm her. Lily Raynor is initially sceptical, but after attending a séance she realizes Albertina is in terrible danger . . . but how do you investigate threats from beyond the grave?

 

 

THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS is the first book in the brand-new World’s End Bureau Victorian mystery series and introduces private investigators Lily Raynor and Felix Wilbraham. In the extract below, Lily asks Tamáz, an acquaintance who well versed in the ways of the spirit world, about messages from beyond  . . .

She is watching from her bedroom window and she sees his dark shape in the alley behind the house. She hurries down, grabbing her shawl, and emerges through the shed. He nods to her in greeting and they walk together back to The Dawning of the Day. He tells her to sit down and he makes tea. Then he says, ‘You have felt a strong emotion this night. Fear, I think, and deep, deep sorrow.’

‘Yes,’ she says.

She tells him about the seance. About the extraordinary way that Albertina picked up on the death of her father. She also admits to the very strong sense of menace that she felt.

He lets her talk without interruption, and it takes some time. When she has finished, he sits in thought for a further time.

‘Did she describe your father’s death accurately, in the precise way that it happened?’ he asks eventually.

‘I don’t know how it happened, not in any detail,’ she replies. ‘Nobody would tell me. They said I would be too upset, which was incomprehensible because I couldn’t possibly have been more upset than I was.’ She takes a steadying breath. ‘But she – Albertina – described it in just the way I see it in my imagination.’

He nods slowly, a faint smile on his lips, as if she has just confirmed something.

After a long silence, he says, ‘I cannot say for sure what is the truth of it. I do not believe that those we love are able to contact us after death, for all that a clever and skilled medium may try to convince us of it. Yet I too have experienced the inexplicable.’

She feels the very faintest brush of dread, and sees again that image of spreading black mould. But he says swiftly, ‘There is nothing to fear, Lily, not here and now.’ He pauses again, then says, ‘I believe there may be a way in which men and women communicate without speech. It usually occurs only where there is great love, and it is perhaps the love that opens the channel.’ He pauses again. ‘This I have experienced for myself. Once I wished to ask my grandmother a question, and when next I saw her, she told me the answer before I had spoken. Another time, I knew when a boy I was close to as a child had been in an accident and I went to find him.’

She nods. She knows there’s no use asking for more details because he won’t give them. Tamáz is a man who only tells you things when he is ready.

He sighs, turns his inner eye from whatever events in his history he has been contemplating and says, ‘If you wish me to give an opinion, Lily, then I will tell you only this: that I believe all of us carry the major events of our past with us for the rest of our lives, and that there are some people who are able to look into our minds and pick up these memories.’

She murmurs, ‘Yes.’ It makes sense to her.

‘And the woman who saw the image of your father falling to his death was able to perceive it not because of a message from the other side, but because you had it in your mind, as you always do.’

She does. He is quite right. She mutters, ‘Yes,’ again, more softly.

‘You say you felt a threat? A menace?’ he goes on.

‘Yes.’

‘And you will, I assume, be returning to this place?’

‘Yes.’

He nods. He doesn’t try to dissuade her. He reaches inside his waistcoat and shirt and extracts something on a long silver chain, lifting the chain over his head and holding the object out to her. It is a little bottle, about the length of a forefinger, and some two fingers in breadth. It appears to contain nails, pieces of wire . . . One long nail, several shorter ones, some barbs, a coil of wire sharpened to a point.

‘This is a witch’s bottle,’ he says very softly. ‘My grandmother Mary Bridey made it for me when I was small and afraid of the night walkers of the Fenlands. It keeps all harm away.’ He puts the bottle on its silver chain – both still warm from his body – over her head.

She touches the little bottle cautiously. ‘Don’t you need it?’

He smiles. ‘I no longer fear the night walkers. Besides, just now I believe that the darkness is more of a threat to you.’ He puts his big, warm hand around hers, closing hers tightly around the bottle. ‘Stay safe, cushla.’

THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: A WEB OF SILK by Fiona Buckley

9781780291130_FCAugust, 1582. Ursula is ordered to keep an eye on her new neighbour, Giles Frost, who is rumoured to be spying for King Philip of Spain. But events take a decidedly sinister turn when a body is found in the woods near Ursula’s home. What secrets are contained within Knoll House . . . and is Ursula being lured into a lethal trap?

 

 

A WEB OF SILK is the seventeenth novel to feature Ursula Blanchard, in a series that started back in 1997. In this scene, Ursula and her manservant Roger Brockley are attempting to steal a large chest down from an attic . . .

So far our night’s adventure had been easy, but this was not. We did have light, but there were still misleading shadows. Furthermore, not only was the width of the stairs narrow but they had narrow treads as well, and in these restricted circumstances the chest seemed to grow in size and bulkiness, tilting wilfully and slipping a little because my fingers were sweating. I had thought that Brockley would have had sweaty fingers, but I seemed no better. We descended gingerly one step at a time, with a certain amount of whispered acrimony.

‘It’s leaning to the left, straighten it up . . . My left, madam, please!’

‘I can’t! My thumb’s caught against the wall . . . Ow!’

‘Don’t make such a noise! Hoist it up a bit . . .’

‘It won’t . . . Yes, got it! Now it’s steady . . . Oh, God, where’s the next step down . . .?’

‘Don’t lurch! I’m being thrown off balance.’

‘I’m not lurching on purpose! Brockley . . .?’

‘What is it? Why have you gone rigid?’

‘I’m sure I heard something!’ I whispered. ‘Up the stairs, behind us.’

For a few breathless moments we stood absolutely still, but there was no sound beyond a creak as a gust of wind swept round the house. And then, distant now because we were almost at the first turn, there came a faint snore and after that a scuttle of rodents’ feet.

‘That’s what you heard, rats and snores. Here’s the turn. Put your end down, madam, and move the lantern.’

‘There’s no point in addressing me as madam while you’re giving the orders!’

A WEB OF SILK is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.