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Authors: Sheila Connolly

Privy to the Dead

BOOK: Privy to the Dead

Praise for
New York Times
bestselling author Sheila Connolly's Museum Mysteries

“A witty, engaging blend of history and mystery with a smart sleuth who already feels like a good friend . . . [Connolly's] stories always keep me turning pages—often well past my bedtime.”

—Julie Hyzy,
New York Times
bestselling author of the White House Chef Mysteries

“Sheila Connolly has written another winner in her Museum Mystery series . . . The facts and history that Ms. Connolly provides certainly add to the charm of the story . . . [A] real page-turner.”


“The archival milieu and the foibles of the characters are intriguing, and it's refreshing to encounter an FBI man who is human, competent, and essential to the plot.”

Publishers Weekly

“Nell is a mature and intelligent sleuth, who works with historic treasures and takes her responsibilities seriously. Great pacing and placement of clues build tension as Nell uncovers the truth in this enjoyable and sophisticated mystery.”

RT Book Reviews

“The practical and confident Nell Pratt is exactly the kind of sleuth you want in your corner when the going gets tough. Sheila Connolly serves up a snappy and sophisticated mystery that leaves you lusting for the next witty installment.”

—Mary Jane Maffini, author of the Charlotte Adams Mysteries

“[The] mystery intrigues . . . The best is the relationship between Nell and James, two people who thoroughly enjoy each other's company day and night.”

Kings River Life Magazine

“[An] engaging amateur sleuth filled with fascinating characters, interesting museum information, plenty of action including a nice twist, and a bit of romance.”

Genre Go Round Reviews

“Skillfully executed . . . It's a pleasure to accompany Nell on her quest.”

Mystery Scene

“A terrific new cozy museum mystery series with a dynamic accidental sleuth . . . Nell's strong, smart, and sassy—the kind of person you wish lived next door.”


National Treasure
The Philadelphia Story
 . . . Secrets, lies, and a delightful revenge conspiracy make this a real page-turner!”

—Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity award–winning author of
Truth Be Told

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Sheila Connolly

Orchard Mysteries









Museum Mysteries







County Cork Mysteries







An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014


A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Sheila Connolly.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-15064-5


Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / June 2015

Cover illustration by Ross Jones.

Cover design by Rita Frangie.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



For several years I worked at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and had the privilege of spending time with its marvelous collections. Most people will never know the thrill of handling documents written by eighteenth-century presidents, or holding the Bible that belonged to William Penn and is now used to swear in Pennsylvania's governors, but I did. Even the more mundane items, like ledgers from nineteenth-century businesses and household account books, give glimpses into daily life a century or two earlier, and I'll admit to browsing now and then, just for pleasure.

All of these diverse items preserve the past that we share, and when I write about the fictional Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, that's what I try to convey. But sometimes artifacts can tell us a different story, and that's what happens in this book. Something was found where it shouldn't have been, and it points to an event that had been concealed for a century, and that led to the death of a man in the present.

This book wouldn't exist without a casual comment from Daniel Rolfe, longtime head of reference services at the Historical Society. When I visited him there a couple of years ago, he mentioned that in the course of a recent building renovation, a deep hole had been found in the basement of the building, and nobody knew what it was or why it was there. Of course my ears pricked up, and I was careful not to ask what was found in the pit, so that I could exercise my own imagination. In this book, what emerged from that pit is my own invention.

Many thanks go to Page Talbott, a longtime friend who became president of the real Historical Society after I started writing this series, and to former colleague and present friend Sandra Cadwalader, who knows more about HSP and Philadelphia (past and current) than anyone I've ever met. I am so relieved that neither one takes offense when I attribute evil deeds to anyone associated with the institution. I have the greatest admiration for the place and its employees, and I'm proud to have been a part of it for a time.

As always, a big thank you to my agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds, who made this series possible, and the efficient and supportive staff at Berkley Prime Crime. I also owe thanks to Sisters in Crime, its New England chapter, and its online Guppies chapter, for their unflagging support. I couldn't do this without you!


Praise for Sheila Connolly

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Sheila Connolly

Title Page
































As I looked around the long table, I realized it was the first time I had ever seen the board members of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society look happy all at once. I was tempted to take a picture, just to remind myself of the moment when darker days returned, as no doubt they would.

The group had good reason to look happy. We were fully staffed, with the recent addition of a new registrar to complete the roster of management positions; we had a wealth of material to keep our staff busy cataloging for years; and we had earned the gratitude of the FBI for agreeing to sort through the bits and bobs of art and artifacts that their Philadelphia office had confiscated over the past several years. And we had just received a nice—make that a
nice—financial contribution from big-name local developer Mitchell Wakeman, who had asked me to help him smooth the path for his planned development project in the suburbs. Luckily he hadn't blamed me when we had stumbled over a
body along the way, but I'd shown him how to use the information we'd uncovered in solving the murder to strengthen the project, unlikely though it seemed. He had been appropriately grateful and had presented the Society (of which I, Nell Pratt, was president) with a pot of money, with the restriction that it must be used for physical improvements to our century-plus-old building, rather than collections or staff salaries. It was a reasonable request; he was, after all, a mogul of the construction industry, and we really did need those physical improvements. We had already moved from the planning stages to the physical preparations, and we were ready to start the construction phase.

I'd been pleased that I could introduce both the project designer—Kemble and Warren, a long-established firm with an excellent track record—and the contractor for our renovations, Schuylkill Construction, which had come highly recommended by Mitchell Wakeman at the fall board meeting. I hadn't expected any problems, and there weren't any. The companies involved in the project had taken part in a number of similar projects for local art or collecting institutions, so the staffs there understood the challenges of working around delicate collections and finicky researchers. We wanted to accomplish the overhaul with a minimum of disruption to patrons, and without closing the doors. There were sections we were going to have to restrict access to for a time, but all things considered, the plan was the best we could hope for. We'd make the best of the inevitable disarray by giving our annual holiday-season party a construction-related theme—paint-spattered tablecloths and mock hard hats for all. By spring we'd be all prettied up, structurally and environmentally sound, and ready to throw a big unveiling party.

“We've already given approval of the design aspects by Kemble and Warren. Now we are voting to approve the final work plan as presented by Schuylkill Construction. All in favor?” I asked, standing tall at the head of the table.
s all around. “Then the project is approved, and work will begin immediately,” I announced triumphantly. Actually, work had already begun. As a collections-based organization, for more than a century we had accumulated a lot of stuff, not all of it with historic importance. For example, the basement was loaded with wooden filing cabinets and computer terminals so old that the companies who made them had long since gone out of business. A Dumpster now occupied a permanent place next to the loading dock in the alley behind the building, and we filled it regularly these days.

I turned to Joseph Logan, head of Schuylkill Construction, who'd been invited to witness the final board vote. “Thank you, Mr. Logan, for all the work that you've put into this so far. We look forward to working with you—as long as you stick to the schedule.”

Logan smiled. “Don't worry—it's all under control. And you've got a great building here, so I don't expect to find many problems.”

I knew full well that digging into any old building usually resulted in at least a few unexpected problems, but I had faith that they would be minor ones. At least, I hoped so. Hadn't we had enough problems in the past year? We should have earned some good karma by now.

“Any new business?” I asked the group.

One of our older, more scholarly board members raised his hand. “How do you intend to prioritize projects going
forward, when we have our own cataloging to do, plus the FBI materials, and now our space will be reduced?”

“Our vice president of collections, Latoya Anderson, has worked out a schedule to deal with that, and I have every expectation that she will run a tight ship,” I told him. “Of course, our own collections come first—there's no particular timeline for the FBI materials. I didn't ask her to attend this meeting because I wanted to focus on the construction aspects, but I can have her forward you a copy of her plans. Anything else?”

“How do you plan to handle dust spreading through the building?” someone else asked.

“Fair question. When we reach the stage of adding modern ventilation, we will address protecting the collections then. That's why we've hired people who have worked under these conditions before, and they all have excellent reputations.”

“Wouldn't it have been better to remove the collections to an off-site location?” he asked.

I swallowed a sigh; we'd been over all this before. “We did consider that, but off-site storage presents its own problems—we'd have little control over the physical conditions, and security is not always what it should be, no matter what promises the storage companies make. We're talking about some priceless documents, among other things, and we'd rather keep them here, even if it means shuttling them from one location to another within the building.”

I scanned the group, and saw most of them making twitchy ready-to-leave motions. “And remember, when we're done, we will actually have increased our storage space without expanding the building's footprint, thanks to
installing compact shelving wherever possible. I can't tell you exactly by how much, because the contractor is still assessing the load-bearing capacity of some of the areas, but I have been assured that it will be substantial.”

Lewis Howard, the venerable board chair, stood up. “Thank you, Nell, for all the good work you have put into making this happen. If there are no other issues”—he looked sternly at the other people around the table, and nobody opened their mouth—“then I declare this meeting adjourned. Good night, all.”

The board members gathered up their folders and coats and hurried to the elevator. I thanked the architect and the contractor, who told me they'd be back early the next morning for a final walk-through before the physical work began. Finally I was left alone with Marty Terwilliger, a longtime board member (practically hereditary, since both her father and her grandfather had been very actively involved at the Society) and good friend, both professionally and personally.

“Good job wrangling the board, Nell,” she said.

“Thanks. It did go well, don't you think?”

“I do. Of course, they had nothing to complain about, since you brought in Wakeman's pile of money. Which you earned, since you helped save his butt on his pet project.”

“In a way, I'm glad he restricted how it should be used. He had a pretty clear idea what we needed to do here, and it saved a lot of squabbling among the board members.”

“He's a smart man, and an honest one. If you throw a big bash, make sure you invite him—and that he comes.”

I'd certainly ask, although I knew that Mitchell Wakeman didn't like socializing much. “Of course.”

Marty glanced at the clock on the wall and stood up. “I'm heading out. You ready? We can walk out together.”

I nodded. “Let me grab my stuff.” I went back to my office down the hall, picked up my bag, put on my coat, and rejoined her in the hall after turning out the last few lights.

“How're you and Jimmy liking the new place?” Marty asked as we headed out. “Jimmy” was FBI Special Agent James Morrison, who had somehow gotten sucked into several crimes that I was also involved in, and since we were both single and intelligent and reasonable human beings, the inevitable had happened and a couple of months earlier we had bought a house together. Marty had a proprietary interest in our relationship because James was some kind of cousin of hers (one of many in the greater Philadelphia area) and because she'd introduced us and seen us both through some traumatic events. She was a snoop, but a polite and well-meaning one, and she was willing to back off if asked.

For the past decade, I'd been living in Bryn Mawr, in what had once been a carriage house behind one of the big Main Line houses. It had been cheaply converted before I bought it, and I'd spent a couple of years improving it. It was small, but it had worked for me.

And then James had happened, and the carriage house simply wasn't big enough for two. And he didn't want to live way out in the suburbs. When we first met, his own place was a Spartan apartment near the University of Pennsylvania, in a converted triple-decker. As in my case, it suited him but it wasn't intended for two adults with decades' worth of stuff. So we'd taken the plunge and bought a Victorian in an area that wasn't quite city or suburb but the best of both.

“You know, I'm really not settled into this commute to
Chestnut Hill yet. I don't want to drive every day. I'm still trying to figure out the daily train schedule—I had the one to Bryn Mawr memorized, but this one is new to me. I catch a ride with James when I can, but his schedule is kind of unpredictable.” We'd been living in the house only a month, once all the closing formalities had been completed and we'd written checks with a horrifying number of digits on them, and we still hadn't established any kind of routine. But if that was the worst of my problems, I wasn't going to gripe. “Eliot waiting for you tonight?”

Marty and Eliot Miller, the Penn professor she'd been seeing, were moving more slowly than James and I were, and still maintained their own domiciles. Marty lived in a lovely nineteenth-century row house in a convenient Center City location—the better to walk over to the Society when the spirit moved her, which was often—and I had no idea where Eliot lived. He taught urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania, though, so I figured he probably lived not far from campus. Marty and I hadn't discussed their long-term plans, and she was volunteering little information, maybe afraid she would jinx the fledgling relationship. She had a couple of failed marriages on her résumé.

“Not tonight—he had an all-hands faculty meeting, and I had this, so we decided we'd see each other tomorrow. How's Lissa working out?”

Lissa Penrose was one of Eliot's advisees as she worked on a graduate degree. “Great. I've asked her to review the history of this building. She'll be working with Shelby, too.”

Shelby had taken over my previous position as director of development at the Society when I'd been abruptly elevated to the position of president, and we worked well
together. Her dash of Southern charm had proved to be an asset when wangling contributions from our members. She had submitted a brief report on contributions and attended this meeting for purely ceremonial purposes, as a senior staff member, but had disappeared quickly while I was still saying my farewells to the board members. “I'm hoping we can put together some material on interesting building details, to use for fundraising.”

We closed up the building behind us, making sure the security system was armed, and said good-bye at the foot of the stairs outside. Marty headed home, and I crossed the street and retrieved my car from the lot. At least this parking fee I could charge to the Society. At this time of night there was little traffic, and it didn't take long to reach home.

Home. I had trouble wrapping my head around that. The house was gorgeous, and I still tiptoed around it waiting for someone to tell me I wasn't worthy of it and throw me out. It had a parlor. It had five bedrooms. It was ridiculous for two people, but James had fallen for it on sight, and I had, too, when he showed it to me. And we could afford it, mostly. Neither the government nor mid-sized nonprofit organizations pay very well, but we were managing, albeit with not much with the way of furniture. But now it was . . . home.

I parked in the spacious three-car garage, then made my way to the back door, which led into the kitchen. “Hello?” I called out. “I'm home.”

I could hear James galumphing down the stairs (original woodwork! Never painted!), and then he joined me in the kitchen (which had a modern stove that terrified me with its array of knobs and digital indicators). As he approached I
marveled once again that this tall, dark (well, greying a bit), and handsome—and smart and successful—FBI agent had fallen for me. “How'd it go? Have you eaten?” Rather than waiting for an answer, he gave me a very satisfying kiss. I was definitely enjoying coming home these days.

When he finally let me go, I said, “I'll answer question number two first: no. What is there?”

“Check the fridge. I think there are still leftovers.”

“I'm afraid of the fridge. I keep thinking I'll start looking in there and I'll never find my way out again.” I walked over to the gleaming expanse of stainless steel, opened the door, and peered in. “I see . . . Ooh, Chinese. How old is it?”

“Three days, maybe?”

“Good enough.” I dumped a half-full carton of lo mein into a bowl and stuck it in the microwave. “As for the first question, fine. No surprises. The next couple of months will be chaotic, but we'll survive. Wine?”

“Way ahead of you.” James handed me a glass of white wine, and we clinked glasses.

“Ahh, that's good.” I sighed after downing a healthy sip and kicking off my shoes.

He carefully took my glass and set it on the shiny granite-topped island—and repeated his earlier greeting. It took a couple of minutes before we peeled ourselves apart. “Welcome home, Nell,” he said softly.

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