An anthology with Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris,
and Anna Lee Huber
From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.
“Charming… Four interconnected visits to a world of danger, wit, beauty and genuine romance. Treat yourself!”―ANNE PERRY, internationally bestselling author
A gold watch rumored to be cursed links the plots of the four novellas in this superior anthology. Kearsley starts things off with “Weapon of Choice,” set in 1733 Italy, where Scots travelers Hugh and Mary McPherson get drawn into an effort to foil the assassination of the Duke of Ormonde, who’s been targeted by a loyalist working “for the English Crown.” Meanwhile, the two meet a pirate who possesses a timepiece, La Sirene, made from gold said to have been cursed after it was plundered from a cathedral. A surprising death follows. The watch reappears in 1831 Edinburgh, where Huber’s series sleuth, Lady Darby, is consulted by the head of the city’s largest criminal gang, who believes that it was responsible for a fatal illness that decimated his family. Trent’s entry, “A Pocketful of Death,” set in Edinburgh four decades later, is the standout, as La Sirene stopped working just before three deaths, an impossibility that proves to have a logical explanation. Harris’s contribution, “Siren’s Call,” set in 1944–1945 England, adds the least to the saga. This is a solid introduction to authors who deserve a wider readership. Publishers Weekly (reviewed on 7/20/2020)
This book is a particular favorite of mine, as I had the opportunity to work with three dear writer friends on it. I’ve long admired the works of Susanna Kearsley (The Winter Sea is my favorite!), C.S. Harris (the fabulous Sebastian St. Cyr series) and Anna Lee Huber (the delightful Lady Darby series).
Anna had the initial idea to work on an anthology, my contribution was the idea of a cursed pocket watch, and Susanna developed the concept of the stories flowing out of an 18th century fairy tale. C.S. came to the project after it was started and was integral at helping us fit the pieces together to ensure the stories flowed well together.
Hope you enjoy these interconnected tales!
Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh: March 1870.
Violet Harper stood over the open grave, lamenting the day she had agreed to help Lord Ashenhurst move his dead relatives to the new family plot at Abney Park Cemetery.
“Almost there, Mrs. Harper.” Harry Blundell, her business partner, grunted as he plunged the spade downward again. “Mighty hard this ground is.”
That was only one of the problems Violet had with this commission. It might be March, but the earth was still far too frozen to be penetrated without great difficulty. Harry was built like an ox, but he wasn’t exactly a canal dredge.
Despite the frigid temperature, Harry was sweating profusely while Violet hugged herself and pulled her cloak more closely around her. The sun shone as brightly as it could in March, but it was no help against the pervasive damp cold that had a way of penetrating clothing, skin, and bones and curling up like an unwanted visitor in the soul.
Violet was displeased with this commission she had taken at the behest of the Ashenhurst family. Lord Victor Ashenhurst was Queen Victoria’s newly minted viscount, a title given in appreciation for His Lordship’s work last year in achieving a treaty between the United States and Britain for the suppression of the Portuguese slave trade.
Although Violet was happy for the Ashenhurst good fortune, she regretted having become encumbered with his success.His Lordship had summoned Morgan Undertaking to have numerous relatives disinterred from various cemeteries in order to have a funereal reunion at the new Ashenhurst plot at Abney Park Cemetery in London.
Violet dropped her measuring tape into the hole Harry was digging. He had finally reached down two feet. “You should be at more pliable earth now, Harry,” she said.
As if on cue, he brought the shovel down with brute force, and this time it sunk past the top of the blade instead of piercing through a couple of icy inches.
“Hah!” Harry barked in relief, finding renewed energy now that he was dealing with loose dirt.
Violet stood back once more, stamping her feet to get feeling back in them. This commission was irritating her in many ways, not least of which were the miserable conditions. Lord Ashenhurst was imperious about reuniting a family that had been separated for centuries and could not possibly wait until the April thaw.
More importantly, it seemed distinctly sacrilegious to unearth coffins for no other reason than consolidation. Despite the current fad for disinterment out of ancient, crumbling burial grounds into the new and popular garden cemeteries, Violet remained unconvinced of its propriety. To have the deceased jostled and bounced about when they had been lying in repose for decades upon decades…it was unseemly and intrusive.
The protests from the kirkyard’s day watchman further emphasized her own discomfort.
Violet sighed and rubbed her gloved hands against her arms. There was nothing to do about it now; she had agreed to the work. At least the Ashenhurst plot, which covered an astounding quarter acre, had already been adorned with a stunning monument resembling the Parthenon. It wasn’t quite life-size, but it was one of the largest and most impressive monuments she had ever installed for a customer.
Lord Ashenhurst was clearly determined to make the world aware of his growing fortune and fame.
A thud and scrape broke Violet out of her reverie, and she moved back to the edge of the grave to peer down once more. Harry laughed spontaneously at having reached the coffin and he began applying the shovel more gingerly to the dirt as he worked to loosen it.
Soon though, Violet stopped him. “Look!” she exclaimed, pointing at the unearthed ground near one side of the coffin.
Harry looked around, puzzled. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“There,” she said, pointing again. It appeared to be a bit of clothing.
Harry finally saw what Violet had noticed, and bent down to brush dirt away from it, lifting it up into the sunlight for a closer look.
“Here you go, Mrs. Harper,” he said, handing the dirt-encrusted, tattered piece up to Violet. She bent down to take it and realized that it was a pair of small leather gloves folded inside each other. They had probably been dropped by whomever had originally dug the grave, she imagined, except that—
Violet hefted the gloves. There was weight to them. She gently brushed away the black earth and slowly pulled the gloves apart. A round, shiny object fell out, and she managed to catch it before it hit the ground.
As Harry continued to unearth Mr. Ian Gilchrist, a distant cousin of Lord Ashenhurst, Violet examined the strange object.
It was a pocket watch case. Made of pure gold, she thought, since age and burial had not caused any tarnishing. Despite the freezing cold, Violet removed a glove and ran a bare finger over the heavily filigreed case.
This was certainly not a watch that belonged to a humble gravedigger. Perhaps it had been thrown in by a mourning family member. The gloves were small, so they probably belonged to a lady.
Violet’s imagination vividly conjured up a sorrowful wife throwing herself against the coffin and pledging to join her husband in the grave. Maybe the watch had been a gift from Ian Gilchrist to his wife and she was leaving it as a beloved memento.
How very heartbreaking to think how it might have ended up in the grave.
Violet held the case up, continuing to carefully scrutinize it. An inscription around the edge of the watchcase quickly caught her attention.
She squinted at the tiny writing. “ ‘Je suis le seul maître de mon temps,’ ” she read aloud. “I am the only master of my time.”
“What’s that?” Harry said, stopping his work and using the opportunity to wipe his sweat-beaded brow with a handkerchief.
“Oh, nothing,” Violet said, dismissing his query as she dropped the watch into her own reticule. Surely Lord Ashenhurst would be pleased to have both Mr. Gilchrist and this bit of memorabilia back in the family.
Excerpt copyright 2020 Christine Trent.