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