#AuthorTrivia – Books I will never get rid of by Hilary Bonner

The Hawk in the Rain and Lupercal, the first two books of poetry published by Ted Hughes.

I was introduced to Hughes, at the age of eight, by my inspirational school teacher, Miss Pollock.

Ted Hughes was based in North Devon, where I was born and brought up, and wrote so powerfully about things I already half understood; the countryside, birds and animals, the great wonder of nature and also the great cruelty. He was no Beatrix Potter!

I was immediately captivated, and I think discovering Hughes, more than anything else, sparked my lifelong love of words.

I bought these two books, with my saved-up pocket money, from our local bookshop, which was just along the street from my dad’s butchers’ shop in my home town of Bideford. I covered them in cellophane and proudly wrote my name and address inside in childishly printed capital letters. You can just see where I drew lines with a pencil, run along a ruler, to ensure that my printing would be straight and tidy and wouldn’t deface the precious volumes.

Hawk in the Rain and Lupercal are prominently displayed on the bookshelves next to my desk. I shall always treasure them.

DEADLY DANCE by Hilary Bonner will be available in the UK on 31 August and the USA on 1 December. For more information visit our website.



Behind the Book – Bucket’s List by Gary Blackwood

9780727887382I’m sure I have mostly Arthur Conan Doyle to thank for my fascination with the Victorian era.  But there was also Jules Verne.  And Lewis Carroll.  And Robert Louis Stevenson.  And Edgar Allan Poe.  I’m not forgetting Charles Dickens, mind you; I just discovered him a little later than I did the others – but I made up for it by devouring his works one after the other, in the bookworm’s version of binge-watching.

Perhaps my favorite was Bleak House.  Though I didn’t see it as a mystery novel – I wasn’t even a big fan of mysteries at the time – I was amused and intrigued by Inspector Bucket and his sly investigative methods, and more than once I considered the possibility of writing a novel of my own with Bucket as the protagonist.

I did pen several Young Adult titles set during the Victorian period – Second Sight, Curiosity, Around the World in 100 Days – but though they had some elements of a mystery story, they were more just straight historical novels.  It wasn’t until I made the switch to adult novels that the spectre of Inspector Bucket reared his head again.

When I started doing my research, I discovered that the character of Bucket was inspired by an actual acquaintance of Dickens, Inspector Charles Field.  Well, this was even more amusing and intriguing: the notion of taking a real-life person who was the model for a fictional one, and giving him a novel of his own.  There wasn’t a whole lot known about the inspector, aside from some mundane facts and dates; luckily, Mr Dickens wrote two pieces for his magazine Household Words that showed Charley in action, and the man proved just as clever and engaging as his fictional counterpart.

Of course when you use a real historical person as your protagonist, you feel a certain obligation to stay true to the facts – not just of his life and career, but of that specific time and place: 1850s London. (Not necessarily a bad thing; it gives you a solid foundation on which to build your story.)   If I’d tried to write Bucket’s List, say, ten years ago, I doubt that I could have lived up to that obligation, but with the advent of the Internet there’s such an embarrassment of riches at my fingertips that it’s downright overwhelming.  Naturally, I waded through scads of print books as well.  I’ve accumulated over 300 pages of research notes, and most of them aren’t even very detailed; they just tell me where to find the details.

I also feel a certain obligation to Dr Conan Doyle, and though of course I can’t hope to create another Holmes – I wouldn’t even try – I have followed his example to some extent by giving Charley not just one big problem to deal with but a whole string of more minor ones as well -which is, after all, the way things work in real life.

Visit our website for more information on this title.

Editor’s Pick – Liar in the Library by Simon Brett

9781780291017_FCTHE LIAR IN THE LIBRARY is the 18th lighthearted mystery to feature chalk-and-cheese detective duo, uptight retired civil servant Carole Seddon and laidback New Age healer Jude – and, amazingly, it’s Simon Brett’s 101st book to be published.  But this long-running series shows absolutely no signs of running out of steam asthis latest outing proves, when an author event at the local library ends in sudden, violent death – and Jude finds herself prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation.

Expertly and elegantly crafted, THE LIAR IN THE LIBRARY, like its predecessors, is a clever, witty and playful read, peopled by a cast of memorable characters, such as the supremely self-confident, self-styled crime fiction expert Professor Nessa Perks; truculent, green-haired librarian Vix Winter and the hilariously unsubtle, self-publicizing poet Nemone Coote.  But there’s a darker edge to this novel: the well-heeled, somewhat smug Sussex coastal village of Fethering is not immune to crude 21st-century incursions: as well as Starbucks, gastropubs and library budget cuts, there’s Eastern European immigration and its attendant racism; homelessness; alcohol and drug addiction.  Even the laid-back Jude is in danger of losing her customary cool as the evidence stacks up against her, and even worse, the usually loyal Carole reveals that she’s not 100% convinced of her friend’s innocence.

Yet at the same time Brett never loses his enviably light touch, always ready to insert a well-aimed, rapier-sharp pin to prick any instances of pomposity and politely but ruthlessly expose the snobberies and idiosyncracies of Fethering’s various residents and visitors.  As a book editor myself, I also particularly appreciated the author’s well-informed expose of some of the more absurd hypocrisies of the publishing industry – including the ridiculous (and thoroughly ill-deserved!) snobbery towards crime fiction.  And, this being his 101st book, who better qualified than Simon Brett to poke gentle fun at the industry he’s been part of for so long?!

Visit our website for more titles in the Fethering series.

Behind the Book – Smoke and Mirrors by Casey Daniels

Smoke & Mirrors by Casey Daniels book jacketIn SMOKE AND MIRRORS, Evie Barnum is in charge of her brother’s museum, a place teeming with scientific specimens and “human prodigies” including a bearded woman and the Lizard Man. In this weird and wacky workplace, Evie hopes she can bury her secrets. But when an old friend shows up and begs for her help, she does all she can to stay away. The next time she sees him, he is lying dead in front of the exhibit of the Feejee Mermaid. Suspicion for the murder falls on Jeffrey, known as the Lizard Man, but Evie knows he can’t possibly have done it.  When Jeffrey also goes missing, Evie becomes determined to solve the mystery of her friend’s murder, even if it brings her face to face with her past…

Here, author Casey Daniels sheds some light on the inspiration for her latest novel, the first in a deliciously quirky new historical mystery series featuring museum curator and amateur sleuth Miss Evie Barnum. 

Every author is asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The truth is, each book starts in a different place.  For me, some ideas come from a bit of overheard conversation, or an item in the newspaper, or a story on the news.  The idea for SMOKE AND MIRRORS? Well, that happened by accident.

I was doing research for another mystery and looking into the origins of cabinets of curiosities (also called wonder rooms . . . don’t you love the ideas those words evoke?).  The cabinets originated in the Renaissance era and contained collections that belonged to individuals: things like rocks, or fossils, or religious relics.  They were the precursors to museums.  Fascinating stuff, and as a history lover, I kept reading.  That’s when I discovered Barnum’s American Museum.

Of course I’d heard of PT Barnum.  Who hasn’t?  But years before he owned a circus, Barnum had a museum in New York City.  It was truly a wonderland, a combination of items that had real historical value (like statues and mummies), exhibits that were pure humbug (like the famous Feejee Mermaid), and even a collection of those people Barnum referred to as oddities: General Tom Thumb, a fat woman, a bearded lady.

The whole idea was so bizarre I couldn’t help but be hooked.

I’d like to say the rest was easy, but of course it never is.  I had my setting and my time period (the 1840s), next I needed to create the characters who would inhabit the story.  Of course PT Barnum would be there, but he was so very much larger than life, I didn’t want him to overshadow the story so I gave him a fictional sister, Evie, who is his assistant and the book’s protagonist.  Add a dash of romance, a few secrets and of course, murder, and SMOKE AND MIRRORS gave me the opportunity to bring what was truly the most wonderful of wonder rooms to life!

SMOKE AND MIRRORS is out now in the UK, and will be published in eBook and in hardback in the USA on 1 November.  For further information, please visit our website here.


Did You Know this about mental health and criminal law?

9780727887344_FCIn DEADLY DANCE, the discovery of the partially-clothed body of a teenage girl in Bristol’s red-light district indicates a tragic yet familiar scenario for DI David Vogel. But this marks the start of a murder investigation where nothing is as it seems. Fourteen-year-old Melanie Cooke told her mother she was visiting a school friend.  Who was she really going to meet?   A darkly complex secret lies behind Melanie’s death and DI David Vogel is led towards three very different principal protagonists. Are they what they seem and is any one of them capable of murder?  Its ultimate revelation will shock Vogel to the core.  Here, author Hilary Bonner talks about understanding of mental health issues, and pleas of insanity.


Mental health has figured in British criminal law for centuries.

Insanity was first used as a defence in court in 1324.

The early law used terms like ‘idiot’, ‘fool’, and ‘sot’ to refer to those who had been insane from birth, and ‘lunatic’ for those who had later become insane. And, from the start, if an insane person committed a crime he was not punished in the same way as a sane felon.

In many cases the insane defendant was released and allowed to go home. A lunatic who became insane prior to the trial could not be executed, nor, after 1542, tried in court for felonies up to and including high treason.

Famously, in 1800,  when a man called James Hadfield attempted to assassinate George III his counsel put forward the defence of insanity. Hadfield claimed that he believed the second coming of Christ would be brought about by his own death, and therefore attempted to be judicially executed. He approached the King in the royal box at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, firing a pistol at him. However, the king was bowing to the audience at the time, and the shot fired over his head. Hadfield’s counsel, whilst admitting that because Hadfield had planned the attack the normal defence of insanity would not have been sufficient, argued that the true test of insanity was ‘delusions, frenzy, or raving madness.’

The jury’s verdict was not guilty – ‘he being under the influence of insanity at the time the act was committed.

Over the centuries understanding of mental health issues has greatly increased. And insanity pleas have become subject to closer and more scientific scrutiny, both from mental health professionals and within the criminal justice system.

In 1981, almost exactly 100 years after the Hadfield trial, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe was charged with the murder of thirteen prostitutes and the attempted murder of seven more. On the advice of his, at the time much criticized, legal team, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility, owing to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

The jury rejected the plea.

DEADLY DANCE by Hilary Bonner is published in the UK by Severn House on 31 August 2017, £20.99.  The book will be published in hardback in the USA, and in eBook, on 1 December.  For further information please visit our website here

Praise for Hilary Bonner

“Bonner has a fine reputation for strongly written, disturbing novels. With a sparkling cast and engaging panache, this one twists and turns seductively, before revealing its secrets” Daily Mail on Friends to Die For

“This creepy and claustrophobic psychological thriller races along, with a twist to the last page” Sunday Mirror on The Cruellest Game

“Bonner’s taut, compelling tales have more twists and turns than an English country lane. She’ll drive you to distraction”  Val McDermid on When the Dead Cry Out

#BookExtract – Headhunter by Nick Oldham

Headhunter by Nick Oldham book jacket“A rousing series launch” Publishers Weekly on Onslaught

“Packed with high-octane action and gut-churning violence; a flawed hero who’s tough and brave but all too human; and a genuine shocker of an ending … the perfect book for anyone who thinks there’s nothing to read between Michael Connelly novels” Booklist Starred Review of Onslaught

“This tense thriller is a rollercoaster ride of gut-churning violence and pulse-pounding action … A mesmerizing read for anyone who likes the hard-boiled style” Booklist on Ambush


Accused of murder, former marine and disgraced ex-cop Steve Flynn is on the run – and on the hunt…

The man had to die and Steve Flynn had to be his killer.

Flynn broke the man’s neck with ease, and although he knew he had instantly killed him, just for good measure and to avoid any error, he kept his forearm jammed tight across the man’s neck to crush the windpipe and shut off all blood flow to the brain.

Almost intimately, nose-to-nose with the man, Flynn watched his eyes first glaze over and turn milky in death and then, as Flynn continued to squeeze and keep up the pressure, he saw them almost bulge out of their sockets and then haemorrhage red as what blood remained in his head was forced into the orbs.

Only when he was completely certain the man was dead did Flynn release his neck-hold and allow his head to flop. Then he let the lifeless body slither out of his grip and thump down hard on to the metal floor pan of the police van. Flynn did not gently lower him down and the back of his head smacked against the metal edge of the bench seat while his body twisted unnaturally on to the floor.

To have eased him down, to have given him that final piece of dignity, would have been too much like an act of kindness or contrition on Flynn’s part. It was much more than this man, whose name was Brian Tasker, deserved and certainly more than he had afforded any of his victims.

Flynn’s usually craggily handsome face was twisted, sweaty and ugly with pain and effort. The sinews in his neck were taut like strands of plaited steel cable.

He dragged the back of his hand across his mouth, wiping away the spittle, then glanced down at his outer right thigh and his bloodstained jeans. A wave of nausea rolled up from his lower gut and almost engulfed him, but he fought it to remain focused and concentrating.

The leg had been very basically dressed by a paramedic earlier, and Flynn knew that, in an ideal world, what he now needed was hospital treatment for the gunshot wound.

But Flynn was operating in a far-from-ideal world and a hospital admission would have to wait its turn.

Bracing himself to ignore the agony from his leg and also the throbbing of a burst eardrum, he slid along the bench seat to the back door of the van and pushed it open.

He knew his time was limited.

HEADHUNTER by Nick Oldham is out now in the UK and will be published in eBook, and in hardback in the USA, on 1 November 2017.  Please visit our website here for further information about Nick Oldham and his work.


#BookExtract – World Enough by Clea Simon

World Enough by Clea Simon book jacket

The Boston club scene may be home to a cast of outsiders and misfits, but it’s where Tara Winton belongs; the world she’s been part of for the past twenty years.  Now, one of the old gang is dead, having fallen down the basement stairs at his home.  With her journalist’s instincts, Tara senses there’s something not quite right about Frank’s supposedly accidental death. When she asks questions, she begins to uncover some disturbing truths about the club scene in its heyday.  Beneath the heady, sexually charged atmosphere lurked something darker. Twenty years ago, there was another death. Could there be a connection? Is there a killer still at large … and could Tara herself be at risk?


Ten o’clock, and the opener will be on soon. Opener! She laughs at herself. It’s only the Craters and the Whirled Shakers tonight, and the bill was probably decided by a coin toss between them backstage. It’s the Shakers she came to see, their psychedelic pop still gets her going, with its tambourines and the beat. But maybe she’ll stay for the Craters. Depends on how tired she is. Depends on the crowd.

There are only about thirty people in the room. Twenty-something if you don’t count the bartender, but after a long day at work, Tara is glad enough for the company and for the empty chair by the table up front. Beer in hand, she settles in, waiting for the music. Twenty-seven, she counts. Twenty-four if you subtract the two wives and a girlfriend. A good house, really, for two bands that have been around the club scene for twenty years. Then again, most everyone here has been, too. She knows most of them by sight, if not by name, and when she closes her eyes she can place them in the Rat, the Channel, Oakie’s, Jumpin’ Jack Flash. All the great old places, closed now, torn down to make way for condos and parking garages. Those cavernous rooms and black-painted basements are what she thinks of when she thinks of the ’80s, back when she, the bands, and everyone here were in their heyday.

She opens her eyes to a bit of a shock. The women are all thirty pounds heavier than in her mind’s eye. Or they’ve gone thin, like she has, a little drawn, a little leathery. The men have fared better. Gray, if they have hair, and some of them have gone from biker tough to resembling the butchers, delivery men, and press operators they are during the day. But mostly they’re in good shape, if a little rough. Besides, it’s her crowd and nothing new sounds as good.

Twenty years ago, the Shakers wouldn’t have been playing a pub like this, as much a burger joint as a music room. But twenty years ago, they’d been the hot new rising stars. The best of Boston, they’d pull in quite a crowd, a Friday like this, and there’d have been half again as many label scouts among the fans.

‘Hey.’ Tom from the Exiles pulls up the chair next to hers, settling his shot glass on the scarred wood table.

‘Hey.’ Tara has never known Tom well. She’s seen his band a thousand times, can picture him in his Motorhead T-shirt banging out the bass riffs. But she only ever talked to him when he’d been behind the bar upstairs at Oakie’s, those thick hands grabbing Buds four at a time from the reach-in. The upstairs – that had started for the overflow but it had become their hangout. The bar for the music crowd. Tom wasn’t much of a bartender. Couldn’t mix more than a screwdriver, but he knew everyone. His band wasn’t much either, the kind of group you’d go see just because of who would be there – an extension of the bar. Social. Fun. Still, they’d kept at it. She knew he was still playing out, and he felt like family after all this time.

‘Good crowd, huh?’ They smile and nod, both happy enough to be there. Tara’s about to ask him about the Exiles, just to be friendly, but right then the Shakers take the stage. Two guitars and a bass bash out the first chord. It’s loud and lively, and the drummer jumps in with a fill, kicking everyone up to speed. More guitar and Phil, the singer, has grabbed the mike. He’s smiling. Happy to be on stage. But that wide-eyed grin soon gives way to a rock-star grimace, eyes squeezed shut. Then he’s prancing, the guitar taking over the song and Phil’s body with it, as he swings the mike stand high, twirls around. Stadium moves. The guitars crash again over the driving beat of the bass. Joey, the drummer, solos, fast and neat, and the guitars are back. Phil is singing his heart out, and just like that, the song is done.

‘Awesome.’ Tom could be speaking for both of them. Twenty years ago, ten even, Tara knows she’d be up on her feet, dancing, in front of the stage. Maybe up on the table. Maybe next song. Joey counts off the next tune. ‘One, two, three, four!’ and the guitar-bass unison cranks up the pace before Phil joins in. Tara drains her beer. Maybe she will get up, dance right in front of the band like she used to.

She looks around for Min, knowing that she’s not likely to have shown up in the five minutes since she last surveyed the crowd. Min would’ve liked this. The band sounds good; everyone seems mellow. Not that Min’s been out much recently. Unlike some of their old friends, the ones who’ve moved on to have families and buy houses out in Watertown or Medford, Min hasn’t really replaced the rock scene in her life. But she’s grown tired of it. When they meet for lunch – Min works at the hospital a couple of blocks from her office – she goes on about how sad it all is.

‘How’s it sad? Nobody’s pretending we’re twenty.’ Tara is used to the usual complaints. ‘We’re having fun, and we still like the music.’

‘It’s just kind of pitiful. The dwindling crowd and all.’ Min always shakes her head at this point, which makes Tara a little angry.

‘It’s the same as any other pastime. We’re a group of old friends.’ Even as she says it, Tara knows it’s not entirely true. She and Min are friends. They’ve spent time together outside the clubs. Gotten to know each other. Helped each other through breakups and miscarriages (Min’s) and divorce (Tara). But for the rest, it’s clubland only. And Min has never had quite the feeling about the music world that Tara has, that it’s her family. Her only real home. Looking around the room tonight, Tara pities her friend. This is something real. Maybe they are all outcasts, but they found each other, didn’t they?

‘Hey, kiddo!’ As if on cue, Gina is there, collapsing into the one chair left. ‘Don’t they sound great tonight?’

‘Killer.’ Tara knows Gina drinks too much, knows that she’s never gotten over Phil, even though the singer has moved on to a wife and two babies. She sees Gina glaring at Katie, Phil’s long-ago ex, still a fan. Still a knockout, too, in her wan blonde fashion, her hair still silky smooth down past the shoulders of her black leather jacket. She looks like a star, even after a sunless work week, and Gina will never forgive her for that.

‘What’s the news?’ It cheers Tara to see how Gina’s doughy face brightens at the question, her one claim to fame being her connection with the band.

‘They’re talking about going into the studio again. You’ll hear, they’re going to do some of the new songs. They’re really great.’ Gina leans in, and Tara smells alcohol and sweat. ‘I think this may be it!’

OK, so maybe Min has a point. They’re all a little lost. But isn’t it something that they found each other? That they have the scene?

‘I’ll listen for them.’ The next tune has started and Gina is up again, shaking it in front of the tiny stage, standing between Katie and the band. Looking at her, her too-tight stretch miniskirt making indents in her waist and thighs, Tara thinks twice about getting up to dance. But just as she’s reconsidering another song kicks in, a repeated guitar riff she knows in her sleep. It’s ‘World Enough’, their hit. The song that almost got them onto a major label, out of Boston, out of all this. The bass joins in, four fast bars of building beat. Then the drums. Screw the years, it’s time to dance.

If we had world enough, world enough and time . . .

Time’s played them all for fools, but they’re still here, and Tara loves it. In a minute, it’s 1986 again. She’s bouncing around, shaking it with Gina. For a moment, the years, the dinky pub, don’t matter. She remembers descending into a steaming basement, working her way through a packed house, and hearing this riff, this command to dance.

I love you baby, and you know that ain’t no crime.

The lyrics are inane. Tara knows that, and sings along anyway, shouting into the PA’s roar.

World enough and time!

With a crash, the song ends, and the present-day world returns. Tara heads for the bar.

‘You hear about Frank?’ Gina is leaning over toward her. Gina always knows what’s going on. Tara holds up her empty bottle – and two fingers – for the bartender, a tall, grizzled man whose name she can’t recall. Gina’s got an empty in front of her, and Tara’s feeling generous.

‘No, what?’ The beers arrive, and she slides one over to Gina.

‘He’s dead.’ Gina takes a swig, downing half the bottle. ‘Some kind of accident.’ Band and beer forgotten for a moment, Tara stares. Dead? ‘I heard he fell down a flight of stairs. They’re saying it could be some fucked-up form of suicide.’


‘Yeah, really. But this way, they get the insurance. You know about the baby, right?’ Tara nods. She’d heard that Frank’s only child, Mika, had been having problems. That her son – Frank’s grandson – hadn’t been right since he was born.

She takes a pull from her beer, tries to think of something to say. But Gina is gone, back on the floor for the next number. One of the new tunes, it sounds good enough but Tara has lost the urge to dance. Frank. Shit. Maybe Min is right. Tara used to think of this crowd as the lucky ones. The runts who’d survived. They were rejects and outcasts, and she included herself in that crowd, but they’d bucked the curse. They’d all been lucky enough to find each other, to find their own place, here in the clubs.

From World Enough, all rights reserved.

WORLD ENOUGH is available to order now in the UK and will be published in the USA by Severn House on 1 November.  Please visit our website here for further information.

#BookExtract – Spring Break by Gerald Elias


“Readers will enjoy spending time in the company of the
curmudgeonly Jacobus, and many will welcome the absence
of fisticuffs, car chases, and Glocks”
Publishers Weekly on Spring Break

“In Jacobus we have an imaginative, ornery, reclusive, witty protagonist”
Booklist on Spring Break

Chapter 7
Saturday, March 28

It had been more than two months since Jacobus moved in with Nathaniel, and over a week since the disastrous masterclass. The adrenaline from the intensity of the moment had long since worn off, and the withdrawal left him listless and at loose ends. Jacobus was bored. And when he was bored he was intolerable, which might have been why Nathaniel was spending increasing amounts of time away from the apartment, consulting on cases.
‘There’s nothing to do around here,’ Jacobus grumbled.
‘Listen to some music,’ Nathaniel said and turned his attention back to the Times.
‘I’ve got Mendelssohn coming out my ass. I don’t need any more music.’
‘Listen to the news, then. Go for a walk. Make some coffee. Eat a sandwich.’
‘Some friend.’
‘My lord!’ Nathaniel said. ‘Shall I arrange a playdate for you? Or a babysitter?’
‘Smug son of a—’
‘All right! All right!’ Nathaniel said. Jacobus heard him slap down the newspaper. ‘I do declare! Would a game of checkers make you happy?’
‘Happy? No. Modestly lessened sense of ennui? Yes.’
Nathaniel set up the board on a folding table between the two of them.
As Nathaniel was about to make his first move, Jacobus asked, ‘What about some music?’
‘Jake, I’ve never said this to you, but—’
‘OK. Never mind. Just go.’
Nathaniel moved his checker with Jacobus’s finger on it. Jacobus could have done it himself, since Nathaniel started out every game the same way. He released Jacobus’s hand after making his move.
‘It’s strange,’ Jacobus said.
‘What do you mean? It’s the same move as always.’
‘No. Not that. Just that business about the mushrooms and that kid both happening at the same time.’
‘Jake, let it go. You’ve been obsessing for a week. There’s no connection. Some people got sick from bad mushrooms. And a hyper young lady got sick from you. You do have that effect, you know.’
‘But Schlossberg was an expert. His wife said he went to great lengths to make sure the mushrooms were good. And the way he talked to the girl. There was something not right. Some innuendo I wasn’t catching.’
‘So what are you saying?’
‘I don’t know. Just that there was a connection.’
‘You know what I think?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘You think I’m a doddering old fool who can’t admit he was a prick to an eager student in front of her peers and who is just making excuses for his prickiositude.’
‘Uh-huh. I couldn’t’ve said it better. Your move. I’m getting the guacamole from the fridge.’
Jacobus grunted, a combination of acknowledgement and disapproval.
As the game proceeded, Jacobus gradually gained the upper hand. His ability to remember the location of all the pieces on the board was in part a fringe benefit of his training as a violinist memorizing dozens of concertos, sonatas, and concert pieces. At first he accomplished this in standard fashion, as most students do; then, after becoming blind, he was by necessity forced to memorize everything simply by the laborious process of listening over and over again.
‘How do you remember where all my checkers are?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘Not hard when you only have three of them.’
There was a buzz on Nathaniel’s intercom. Yumi was downstairs. Nathaniel buzzed her up. She hadn’t spoken to Jacobus since unceremoniously dumping him off at the curb the week before. He prepared himself to be harangued and started planning parrying retorts.
Nathaniel went to the door when the bell rang. Jacobus remained seated at the table, considering his next move. He heard his two friends enter the living room.
‘Schlossberg is dead,’ Yumi said. Terse and tense.
If there was a pause in Jacobus’s response, no one noticed it.
‘King me!’ he said, advancing his square checker to Nathaniel’s end of the board.
‘Is that all you have to say? This is terrible news!’ Yumi said.
‘No more terrible than anyone else who I hardly knew.’
‘Jake, what’s happened to you? Just because Aaron Schlossberg didn’t have the honor of your profound friendship didn’t mean he wasn’t one of the most important people in the music world. You’re heartless!’
‘Am I?’ Jacobus slammed down his doubled checker. ‘Am I?’ he repeated. ‘Did you by any chance notice the beggar sitting on the curb outside Nathaniel’s building? I can smell him a mile away. I’ve heard the rattle of his tin cup for years, rain or shine, winter or summer, and whatever I put in it he probably spends on booze. When he dies, which mercifully will be very soon, will that also be terrible news? Or is the death of someone who’s not “one of the most important people in the music world” of less consequence? Tell me, are you going to mourn for him?’
‘That’s not the point,’ Yumi said, but the wind in her sails had been reduced from gale force to a zephyr. ‘I didn’t know Schlossberg that well, either,’ she conceded. ‘And maybe he was on the pompous side. But he was a colleague on the faculty and he brought a lot of recognition to the conservatory. They said he would have been the next Philip Glass.’
‘That’s a motive for murder if I ever heard one.’
‘It wasn’t murder. He died of natural causes.’
‘Burst swollen ego?’
‘Not funny. Complications due to his diabetes.’
‘Pass me some of that whack-a-moley,’ Jacobus said to Nathaniel. He wasn’t hungry but he was going to show them his opinion of dying of diabetes. ‘Heavy on the chips.’
‘You might be disappointed to know that guacamole is healthy,’ Yumi said. ‘Avocados have good cholesterol.’
‘All cholesterol is good cholesterol. When did he die?’
‘A janitor found him yesterday, but they think he died Thursday. In one of the prefab practice modules at the conservatory.’
‘Didn’t he have a studio in his house? What was he doing in a module?’ Jacobus asked. ‘I thought those were for students.’
‘They think he must have been working on his latest opera. He was slumped over the piano. He had been working hard on it.’
‘Didn’t his good wife wonder where he was for all that time?’
‘She said she assumed he was off in the woods on one of his foraging excursions. That he did it all the time, and since it was spring break—’
‘Ah, his Beethoven reenactment. What opera was he working on, The Life and Death of Me?’
‘Anwar and Yitzhak. It’s about how Sadat and Rabin forged peace between Egypt and Israel only to be assassinated by their own people. The Met was going to premiere it next year.’
‘Who’s singing the role of Jimmy Carter? Pavarotti?’
‘Can’t you take anything seriously?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘Certainly. Have the police interrogated the fat lady to find out when she stopped singing?’
‘You’re ridiculous,’ Yumi said, a little too indignantly. Jacobus perceived laughter about to bubble to the surface.
‘Well, since no one’s taken anything I’ve said about the mushrooms and the girl seriously, why should I bother to be otherwise?’
‘This has nothing to do with any of that! Audrey is Audrey and Aaron is Aaron. And Sybil apologized to me about the mistake with the mushrooms just like she apologized to you and everyone else.’
‘People got sick.’
‘Yes, people got sick. They had bowel problems, just like you. But no one is worse for wear. Jake, didn’t you hear me say Aaron died of natural causes? He had a serious diabetes problem and didn’t take care of himself. It was just a matter of time.’
‘All right. Whatever you say. I’m just a deluded old asshole who happens to see connections between—’
‘I wouldn’t say deluded,’ Nathaniel chuckled.
Jacobus felt Yumi’s arms around his shoulders.
‘You’re not that old, either,’ she said.
‘What would I do without friends like you two?’
‘So I’m going to Kinderhoek to sit shivah with Sybil,’ Yumi said.
Jacobus turned his head.
‘Didn’t realize sitting shivah was a Buddhist tradition,’ he said.
‘We Japanese are equal-opportunity mourners.’
‘I was under the impression Schlossberg was a nonbeliever. And I’d place a large wager his wife ain’t Chassidic’.
‘There’s still a Jewish community at Kinderhoek from the old days, and they’re helping out. He’s already been buried – his parents are Orthodox. They still live in Brooklyn and insisted on doing everything according to tradition.’
‘Doesn’t a wife usually have greater say over such things?’
‘Tallulah told me that Sybil went along with it to get them out of her hair, even though she said he wanted to be cremated.’
‘To have his ashes scattered throughout his beloved woods?’
‘How did you know?’
‘My sense of poetic injustice.’
‘So, do you want to go with me or not?’ Yumi asked.
That caught Jacobus by surprise.
‘Didn’t think you’d want to be seen with me. Especially up there.’
‘Well, I don’t really.’
‘Then why do you want me to go?’
‘You’ve got me thinking. Just in case.’
‘In case of what?’
‘In case you’re right.’

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