Today I'm featuring guest Donna Fletcher Crow, with an excerpt from A Lethal Spectre, Lord Danvers Investigates, Book 5, a Victorian True-crime mystery.
The elegance of a London season and the atrocities of an Indian mutiny woven into an intricate tapestry
Antonia and Charles are swept up in the glittering swirl of a London season as they present Aunt Aelfrida’s ward to society. In India Antonia’s closest girlhood friend is caught in the most brutal massacre ‘in the book of time’. What could these disparate events have to do with murders in London and Brighton? This engrossing story comes to life with all the vivid historical detail readers expect from Donna Fletcher Crow.
“A stunning contrast between the dramas and machinations of fashionable London life and the unfurling of an unthinkable tragedy. A story of lights and shadows, all impeccably well researched and realised.”
~Linda Stratmann, author of The Frances Doughty Mysteries
It was only midmorning and already the heat was stifling. Hot wind seared and scorching sun radiated from the walls of the barracks behind them. The acrid smell of the buildings of the cantonment beyond, now reduced to black smoldering rubble—all their homes and possessions—stung every nose. Emilia Landry stood among the women and children who had been called from their homes in the civilian cantonment and gathered into the military entrenchment on the orders of General Wheeler.
They had been here a week now, hoping for the best; but fearing the worst. No attack had come on the entrenchment, but mutinous sepoys and vandals had ransacked the city, burned the officers’ bungalows in the new cantonment, and, disastrously, seized the magazine where the army treasury, ammunitions and heavy guns were stored.
Emilia closed her eyes against the sight of the black smoke, and saw in her mind the pleasant bungalow she had occupied with her friend Louisa Chalwin and Louisa’s veterinarian husband Edwin. Louisa had planted a lovely garden, complete with English roses that bloomed undaunted in the Indian summer. A magnificent old banyan tree shaded a summer house where Emilia loved to sit and read in the mornings and take tea in the afternoons. All a blackened rubble now.
They had been hearing dire reports for weeks. Revolt of the native troops at Meerut. Then at Delhi. And riots at Lucknow, only some sixty miles to the northeast. But no apprehension had been felt of treachery on the part of their own troops at Cawnpore.
This morning, however, Sunday morning, the seventh of June, Sir Hugh Wheeler, commanding general at Cawnpore, had received a letter from the Nana Sahib, declaring his intention of attacking.
Now everyone on the verandah of the barracks held their breath, as all in the entrenchment seemed to do. The tension of the soldiers, posted with leveled rifles around the circumference of the barricading mud wall, communicated itself to every person.
The mewling of a baby born only a few hours before vibrated on the air. The cry was cut off by the boom of a cannon. Women shrieked; children wailed as the ball struck the barrack behind them.
A bugle call split the air, sounding above the mayhem. The crack of shot was deafening as hundreds of rifles responded. The mutiny had come to Cawnpore.
A moan tore from deep in her throat and Lady Antonia Danvers sat up sharply. She was drenched in sweat, even though the early June night was cold in London. Tonia reached for the carafe of water by her bed and filled a glass to relieve her parched throat. What had she dreamed? How could such vivid horror have come from her own imagination?
She crossed the room and, pushing the heavy drapery aside, raised the sash on her window, letting a fresh breeze bathe her face. She breathed deeply of the blessed, moist air. Still unsettled from the terrors of her dream, Antonia returned to bed. The sky had lightened to silver, however, and the first notes of the dawn chorus rang in the garden before Tonia returned to an uneasy sleep.
She wakened far too late to share her morning tea with her husband as was their custom. When she inquired of her maid she was informed that her lord would be out for the day, involved with his man of business and taking dinner at his club. She would have no opportunity to discuss the nightmare with Charles, although the phantom spectre continued to follow her.
A Lethal Spectre is Available on Amazon.
Donna Fletcher Crow is a lifelong Anglophile with a special love for the Victorians, especially their energy, confidence and creativity. She is a former English teacher and the author of 50 books, mostly novels of British history, including the award-winning Arthurian epic, Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She currently authors three mystery series: The Monastery Murders; Elizabeth and Richard Literary Suspense; and Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime.