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Authors: Barbara Cleverly

Strange Images of Death

BOOK: Strange Images of Death
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Praise for Barbara Cleverly’s
Joe Sandilands series

‘Spectacular and dashing. Spellbinding.’

New York Times

‘Smashing … marvellously evoked.’

Chicago Tribune

‘A great blood and guts blockbuster.’

Guardian

‘Stellar—as always.’

‘British author Cleverly out-Christies Agatha Christie …’

Publishers Weekly
(starred reviews)

‘A historical mystery that has just about everything: a fresh, beautifully realized exotic setting; a strong, confident protagonist; a poignant love story; and an exquisitely complex plot.’

Denver Post

‘Evocative narrative, sensitive characterizations, artful dialogue and masterly plotting.’

Library Journal

And for
The Tomb of Zeus

‘Award-winning author Cleverly debuts a captivating new series. In the tradition of Agatha Christie, the characters are complex and varied. Amid the picturesque history of the island (of Crete), mystery and murder abound in this riveting novel.’

Romantic Times

‘For readers who love Elizabeth Peters and Jacqueline Winspear, Cleverly demonstrates a knack for creating full-blown historical puzzlers with complicated plots and engaging characters in unusual settings.’

Library Journal
(starred review)

‘Tucked into the wealth of archaeological and historical detail is a full-blown English houseparty murder … with a spirited, intelligent heroine, a glorious exotic setting, a clever plot and a touch of romance …’

Denver Post

 

Also by Barbara Cleverly

The Last Kashmiri Rose

Ragtime in Simla

The Damascened Blade

The Palace Tiger

The Bee’s Kiss

Tug of War

Folly du Jour

The Tomb of Zeus

Bright Hair about the Bone

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd

3 The Lanchesters

162 Fulham Palace Road

London W6 9ER

www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the UK by Constable, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2010

First US edition published by SohoConstable, an imprint of Soho Press, 2010

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

www.sohopress.com

Copyright © Barbara Cleverly, 2010

The right of Barbara Cleverly to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication

Data is available from the British Library

UK ISBN: 978-1-84901-118-1

US ISBN: 978-1-56947-632-1

eISBN: 978-1-56947-897-4

US Library of Congress number: 2009049928

Printed and bound in the EU

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

 

Prologue

Provence, South of France, 1926

He studied her sleeping face for the last time.

She was lying peacefully on her back, her fair hair spreading in ripples over the pillow. Warm-gold by day, the waves now gleamed pale silver, all colour bleached away by the moonlight. Her features also were drained and only the lips still showed a trace of emotion. They were slightly open and uptilted, perhaps in a suggestion of remembered and recent passion. He smothered the distasteful notion.

Such beauty!

He felt his resolve waver and was alarmed to acknowledge a moment of indecision. He reminded himself that this beauty was his—his to spare or to destroy—and a rush of exaltation swept away the slight uncertainty. It had been a wobble, no more than a weakness imposed on him by convention. Convention? Even at this moment of approaching ecstasy he paused to consider the word. From the Latin, of course. ‘A coming together’. In agreement and common consent. Well, convention would never direct
him
. It was his nature to step away from the crowd, to walk in the opposite direction, to think his own rebellious thoughts and to translate those thoughts into action. He would be true to his nature. He would assert his birthright.

He leaned closer until his face was only inches above the still form. He had a fancy that, if he pressed his lips to hers, he might catch her dying breath. The thought revolted and fascinated him in equal measure and he lifted his head. He took a deliberate step backwards. He would not touch her. No part of his body would make contact with hers. To test his resolve he contemplated trailing a lascivious finger along her smooth throat as others had, of allowing that finger to ease over the left collar bone until it encountered the imperfection of a tiny mole half-hidden by a fold of her white gown. His hand remained safely in his pocket. He would look. Admire. Hate.

He stood for a moment, a shadow among shadows. The garment he’d put on had been carefully chosen: an old-fashioned hunting coat (English tailoring, he did believe), it had been abandoned on a hook by the door in the cloak-room by some visiting milord, years, possibly decades, ago. The thick grey tweed was a perfect camouflage—it even had a hood—and, essential for his purpose, not one but two concealed poacher’s pockets. His fine nose was revolted by the smell of decay that lurked in the tweedy depths, still stained with the blood of long-dead creatures, but they accommodated the very special equipment he had needed to carry, covertly, along the corridors.

He played with the notion of taking out the heavy-duty military torch and lighting up her last moments, but an innate caution made him dismiss the idea. The moonlight was all the illumination he could wish for. A resplendent August moon shone through the uncurtained windows, coating the alabaster-fair features with an undeserved glaze of sanctity.

The Moon. Generous but demanding deity! He adored her. She was his friend, his accomplice. He welcomed the white peace and forgiveness she brought at the end of each day’s red turmoil and sin. Like some sprite from a northern folk tale, he came to life in the dark hours. His eyes grew wide, his thoughts became as clear and cold as the moon herself. His senses were sharpened.

He listened. He turned abruptly as a distant owl screeched and claimed its prey. A farm dog across the valley responded with a half-hearted warning howl and then fell silent, duty done. But from within the walls there was no sound. His stretched senses detected nothing though he could imagine the drunken snores, the unconscious mutterings, the hands groping blindly for a pitcher of cool water as his fellows slept, divided from him by several thick walls and a courtyard. He would be undisturbed.

The weight in his right pocket banged against his thigh and prompted his next move. He took out the heavy claw hammer and ran a hand over the blunt metal head; with the pads of his fingers he tested the sharpness of the up-curving, V-shaped nail-wrench that balanced it at the rear. He required the tool to perform well in both its capacities. It would smash with concentrated force and, with a twist of his hand, would lever and rip. It would be equal to the task. But there would be noise. He took a velvet scarf from his neck and wound it securely around the hammer head to muffle the blows.

He was being overcautious. No one would respond, even if the sounds cut through their wine-fuelled stupor. A strange light might possibly have excited curiosity and investigation by some inquisitive servant. No, he didn’t discount a dutiful response from one of these domestics if he were careless enough to draw attention. The live-in staff were well chosen, adequately paid and highly trained. So, no wandering lights. But a few distant creaks and bangs in a crumbling old building went, like the dog’s howl, unheeded by everyone.

He’d savoured the moment for too long. Enough of musing. Enough of gloating over her loveliness. Time to move on. Time to clear this filth from his path to make way for a worthier offering.

He took out the fencing mask he’d thought to bring with him and put it over his face. He wanted no tell-tale scratches raising eyebrows at the breakfast table. He pulled up the hood of the hunting coat to cover his hair. There would be no traces of this night’s activity left clinging to his person, attracting the attention of that sharp-eyed girl who cleaned out his room.

He was ready.

As a last flourish, he muttered cynically an abbreviated prayer for a lost soul in Latin: ‘
Quaesumus, Domine, miserere famulae tuae, Alienorae, et a contagiis mortalitatis exutam, in aeternam salvationis partem restitue.
Have mercy on the soul of your maidservant, Aliénore, and free her from the defilement of her mortal flesh …’

As he murmured, his supple fingers ran with satisfaction along the smooth wooden handle of the ancient hammer. He’d used it often and knew its strength. The muscles of his arms were accommodated to its use as those of a tennis player to his racquet, and they responded now with familiar ease as he swung the weight upwards over his head and brought it crashing down into the centre of the delicate face.

BOOK: Strange Images of Death
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