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Snappy dialog, beautifully layered characters, and an historical tone and feel that has the post war era all over it.

Melanie M. for Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
Felix Day, author of the Constantine Sphinx mysteries, and Leonard Fuller, author of the Inspector Fez mysteries, are bitter rivals and the best of enemies. Both happen to present when a notorious author of aroman à clef is shot by an invisible assailant during a signing at historic Marlborough Bookstore.
Even if they weren’t both suspects, it’s the perfect opportunity to match wits and sleuthing skills. If only the murderer was equally amused.

Chapter One

“Felix”

The first person I spotted when I stepped into Marlborough Bookstore that blustery May afternoon was Leonard Fuller.

Which, now that I think about it, was rather remarkable given that the room was packed and Josiah Shelton had already begun speaking.

“Is the book a roman à clef? I suppose you might call it that.” Shelton said in his mellifluous voice to the spellbound audience. He was a large man. Not handsome. His iron gray hair was as wild and unkempt as a roadside hedge in winter. His pale eyes protruded in such a way that he seemed perpetually outraged, even now when he was smiling and cheerful and in his element. His nose was too long, his mouth too wide, but the overall effect was of a powerful intellect, a force to be reckoned with.

I made my way through the crowd and found a place near the back of the room.

Shelton continued, asking rhetorically, “Is it satire? No. It is a sincere effort to capture themes and motifs that have absorbed, nay, consumed me for much of my adult life.”

“Poppycock,” muttered an elderly gentleman in the row seated before me.

His female relations tried to hush him.

“Don’t you shush me,” he hissed right back. “He’s in it for the money. Trading on other people’s misfortunes, that’s what he’s done.”

It made me angry to hear him, but no one else seemed to take any notice. Anyway, Shelton didn’t have to prove anything to these people, and certainly not to this old relic who probably thought the pinnacle of Concord’s literary heritage was when Ralph Waldo Emerson and his fellow Transcendentalists used to pop into the Marlborough to check on their book sales.

An unpleasant draft whispered against the back of my neck; the chilly spring breeze finding its way through the gaps in the one hundred-and-fifty-year-old mullioned windows facing the street. The crowded room smelled of wool and tobacco and ladies’ perfume, but mostly it smelled of a century’s-worth of old books.

“With two world wars behind us, who here hasn’t wondered what, if anything, lies beyond the gates of death?” Shelton asked. “Though I have the reputation of a skeptic, even a cynic, I began this project without bias.”

That wasn’t true, of course. No one was without bias. Even a great man like Shelton. In fact, it probably followed that a great man would have great biases.

Or perhaps not. But anyone who knew Shelton knew he was rather opinionated. In fact, we’d had quite an argument over practical occultism only a month ago. Shelton was a ferocious arguer and I always loved a good debate. However, I’d sensed a certain strain since, which was why I’d felt it important to come to his reading that afternoon.

I and everyone else in Concord, it seemed. We’re not Boston but we pride ourselves that we know a thing or two about books and scholarship.

I glanced at Leonard Fuller who was–very rudely–engaged in whispering conversation with Georgie Wolfe, the poetess. Women always gravitate to Fuller, which would be amusing if it wasn’t so ludicrous. His blond head bowed toward her still fairer one, and he was smirking, which is his usual expression with the fairer sex.

I loved it all, from the author hostilities at the book club over their very similiar detectives to the terms used by gay men to signal their sexuality to each other in the 40’s. Just so well done.

As though feeling my gaze, Fuller lifted his eyelashes and met my eyes. His own are a startling and azure blue. It’s a color one feels in the solar plexus — like jumping out of a plane into cold, empty sky. Your heart seems to stop.

Fuller’s lip curled in greeting. I bared my incisors in reply.

He writes the Inspector Fez so-called mysteries under the moniker of L. F. Monarch. Inspector Fez is nothing but a pale imitation of my own Constantine Sphinx, celebrated gentleman sleuth and Egyptologist, which makes all the more laughable Fuller’s accusation that I stole the idea for The Sphinx from him.

Ha!

Happily my publisher, Mr.  James Cornell–coincidentally also Shelton’s publisher–was able to prove to the jury’s satisfaction what hogwash that was when I sued Fuller in open court for slander.

Fuller has never forgiven me–and I have never forgiven him. Which suits us both beautifully.

Of course we are bound to run into each other now and then, given the size of Concord’s literary community, but not so frequently as to make things awkward.

Fuller was once more listening with fake attentiveness to Georgia. I knew what they were discussing given Georgia’s indiscreet glances at a tall, veiled woman sitting in front of an open-backed bookshelf that towered all the way to the ceiling.

Though wedged in by people, the veiled woman maintained an air of splendid isolation.

Everyone–well, certainly those of us who had read the advance copies of Shelton’s book–knew that the character of Madam Galen was based on Lucinda Lafe, the society hostess and celebrity medium. It was either very brave or a deliberate ploy for publicity for La Lafe to show up here today.

Did that mean the Woolriches were also attending the reading?

Surely not.

I scanned the crowded seats and to my dismay spotted the stony, patrician features of Miranda Woolrich a few rows up. Beside her was Ingham, looking as faded and fragile as papyrus.

A great writer couldn’t be inhibited by other people’s feelings. He had to write the words the Muse whispered in his ear. Even so. I wished the Woolriches hadn’t attended today’s event. It was bound to be painful for them. Even more so once Fuller had finished speaking and the press began to ask their questions.

That was another thing. I hadn’t realized there would be reporters. Not including  Bill Reed of the Courant, I counted at least two other newshawks. From Boston? New York? If the New York press had resumed interest in Shelton, he truly was restored to his rightful place in the New England literary pantheon.

I risked another glance at Fuller.

Georgia had wandered away to interrupt someone else’s enjoyment of Shelton’s talk, and Fuller was now standing to the left of a marble bust of Emerson. Fuller had the kind of cinematic good looks that appeal to some people, still there was an uncanny likeness to Emerson’s profile, particularly about the nose. Their twin aquiline appendages tilted upwards as though some noxious odor had assaulted their chiseled nostrils.

Fuller was no admirer of Shelton’s–he was too egotistical to admire anyone he didn’t recognize off a reflective surface–but he could never bear to miss an opportunity to suck up to James. The free food was probably another inducement. It was hard to imagine the Inspector Fez books were still selling well.

Perhaps when the reading was over we would meet upstairs in the lending library    and exchange a few unpleasantries over the inevitable tea and cookies. I always looked forward to our skirmishes.