A Darker God (Laetitia Talbot Series #3) [NOOK Book]


Award-winning author Barbara Cleverly returns with this spellbinding new mystery featuring aspiring archaeologist Laetitia Talbot. In Athens in 1928, Letty begins a perilous race to unearth a plot steeped in betrayal, seething with retribution, and about to explode in a wave of lethal violence.

In the open-air theatre of the dark god Dionysos, Letty watches a performance of an ancient Greek tragedy. But the revenge that is exacted onstage, the...
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A Darker God (Laetitia Talbot Series #3)

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Award-winning author Barbara Cleverly returns with this spellbinding new mystery featuring aspiring archaeologist Laetitia Talbot. In Athens in 1928, Letty begins a perilous race to unearth a plot steeped in betrayal, seething with retribution, and about to explode in a wave of lethal violence.

In the open-air theatre of the dark god Dionysos, Letty watches a performance of an ancient Greek tragedy. But the revenge that is exacted onstage, the dagger that is wielded, and the blood that flows in full view of the audience are not theatrical effects. As Letty digs for clues, she unearths disturbing secrets and dark animosities with catastrophic implications worthy of a Sophocles—but of far more recent vintage.

Now, as a killer cuts a merciless swath across a country in the throes of political instability, Letty herself steps unawares into the murderer’s savage spotlight—a light so bright she may not be able to see the dark figure behind it until it’s too late.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1928, Cleverly’s third Laetitia Talbot mystery (after 2008’s Bright Hair About the Bone) offers a cleverer puzzle than its predecessors, but fails to measure up to her Joe Sandilands historical series (Folly du Jour, etc.). In Athens, the stabbed body of Sir Andrew Merriman turns up during a rehearsal of an English production of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. Merriman, a classics scholar, was about to finish writing a biography of Alexander the Great that would answer two burning questions about the conqueror—the identity of his murderer and the location of his tomb. Fortuitously, Det. Chief Insp. Percy Montacute of Scotland Yard, who recently has been “[s]econded to Athens” as a CID officer, is a member of the play’s cast. Aided by archeologist Talbot, Montacute investigates. Talbot, who had an affair with Merriman, is a less memorable lead than such other female sleuths of the same period as Maisie Dobbs and Phryne Fisher. (Apr.)
Library Journal
As a British theater company performs Aeschylus's famous play Agamemnon in an ancient amphitheater in Athens, a noted scholar is found murdered in the tub destined to be the scene of the Greek hero's final hour. It is 1928, and archaeologist Laetitia Talbot (Bright Hair About the Bone) is on hand to help in the production and later in the investigation. VERDICT In her fourth series title, Cleverly constructs a complex puzzle worthy of Agatha Christie. While her Joe Sandilands series was a beautiful effort, Cleverly has found her voice in Laetitia Talbot, and fans of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs and Kerry Greenwood's Phrynne Fisher will want to meet her. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 11/1/09; ebook: ISBN 978-0-440-33905-2.]
Kirkus Reviews
Marital and political discord in 1928 Athens. Plucky Laetitia Talbot (Bright Hair About the Bone, 2008, etc.) and formidable Lady Maud Merriman are sitting together in an Athenian amphitheatre watching a dress rehearsal of Agamemnon directed by Lady Maud's husband and Letty's ex-lover, scholarly archeologist Sir Andrew. The rehearsal is ruined when Sir Andrew winds up in the bathtub instead of the cloth dummy meant to receive Agamemnon's fatal wound to the heart. Whodunit falls to Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Percy Montacute, now seconded to Athens, and local security chief General Konstantinou. Percy immediately decides that Letty's perfectly suited to be his second-in-command, and she obliges, somewhat to the chagrin of her lover, cleric William Gunning. Maud's cousin Thetis, who played Clytemnestra and also happens to be another one of Sir Andrew's lovers, is jailed on murder charges, then released in time to argue with the new widow before Maud takes a fatal header from a second-floor balcony. Letty, named prominently in Sir Andrew's will, becomes a suspect. She's shot at, then abducted, then forced to bargain for her life with a Macedonian bent on a vengeance to be taken at the rescheduled opening performance of Agamemnon to be attended by Prime Minister Venizelos and his wife. There'll be more death along with a smattering of romance between Thetis and Percy before the final curtain rings down. Archeological treasures, a reenactment of a classical Greek tragedy and Balkan politics vie rather unevenly for prominence in this heavy-handed third outing for Letty. Agent: Juliet Burton/Juliet Burton Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440339052
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/23/2010
  • Series: Laetitia Talbot Series , #3
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 225,890
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Barbara Cleverly is an award-winning writer of seven novels including the New York Times Notable Book The Last Kashmiri Rose. She lives in Cambridge, England. Delta publishes both Ms. Cleverly's Joe Sandilands novels and her acclaimed Laetitia Talbot series (Bright Hair About the Bone) in the United States.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

May 16, 1928. London.

 George the Second, High King of the Hellenes, was decidedly not on his way back home to Greece. He would have been turned back at the border had he attempted to enter the country, his passport confiscated. He was striding about his room in Brown's Hotel in the heart of Mayfair, dressing for the evening's performance at Covent Garden. He hummed a snatch of the opera he'd seen the night before: Siegfried. Tonight he would enjoy Tannhauser and, after a day to recruit his strength, Gotterdamerung.

He posed himself before the cheval glass checking his tailcoat and white tie with a critical eye. His valet stood by anxiously with a clothes brush in hand. After a well-judged interval, an imperious finger pointed to a thread, a speck, a flake, invisible to any but the kingly eye. The valet silently flicked with the brush, tilted his head and surveyed the royal shoulder afresh, administered a second judicious flick, and stood back. Brooking was on loan from the Marquis of Melton to the King of the Hellenes for the duration of his stay in London, and Brooking was longing for the Wagner season to be over.

The evening clothes were perfect and perfectly fitted the elegant figure. Fussy bugger, was Brooking's opinion of his temporary master--but a rewarding man to dress. He knew how to wear a suit, all right. In the prime of his life--thirty-eight years old according to his passport (Brooking had checked)--his spine was as straight as a flagpole, his shoulders square, his bearing reflecting his formative years in the Prussian Guard. Unable to challenge the valet further, George lingered in front of the mirror, as he always did, apparently finding surprising and rather distasteful the image of himself in anything other than uniform. An active soldier, he had risen to the rank of Major General in the war against Turkey and had been devastated when he had been stripped of his military rank, along with his Greek nationality and his possessions, four years before. Forced out of office and into exile by a Revolutionary Committee. A committee led by a man who had become his personal enemy, his cynical tormentor.

But it could have been worse. At least he'd fared better than his Russian kindred; George II Oldenburg still had his handsome head on his shoulders. And the courts of Europe, many of them stocked with German relations of one sort or another, welcomed him. With Queen Victoria as his great-grandmamma, what doors would not open to him? He was a notable and sought-after figure on the social scene. "And, of course, George of Greece will be of the party . . ." were the words every hostess longed to utter.

"Your Majesty will be unaccompanied this evening?" Brooking thought he'd better check arrangements.

This evening, George would be sharing a box at the Royal Opera House with a crowd of like-minded Wagner lovers and he did not for one moment give any sign that he pined for the presence of his dark and beautiful queen at his elbow. His wife, Elisabeth, had elected to live out the years of exile in her own country of Romania, where from time to time, and increasingly rarely, George joined her. They had no children and were no longer intime. He remembered with a shudder one of her more reckless pronouncements. With a face like Medea she'd said: "I've committed every vice in my life except murder, and I don't want to die without doing that either." And she'd smiled at him. George had no intention of providing the means of fulfilling his queen's last desire.

"I go alone," he told Brooking with satisfaction.

A brisk tap at the door prompted a curt "See who that is."

The valet returned, unable to conceal a slight tension. "A gentleman wishes to see you, sir."

"At this unreasonable hour? Everyone's dressing! Why have they let him up?"

"I have explained that you are engaged for the evening, but he is most insistent. A young gentleman of Teutonic bearing, sir. Name of Kellerman. A Major Kellerman."

A card was handed over.

George studied it, his face expressionless. "Show the major in and leave us. Do not return on any pretext until you see him depart."

Brooking performed his duties calmly, then scurried down the stairs to take refuge in the Snug Bar of the pub opposite. From there, he could keep an eye on the door and be ready to hurry back as soon as the young gentleman left. He was taking the last swig of his pint and beginning to wonder whether he'd missed the visitor when he spotted him striding back down Albemarle Street towards Piccadilly.

When he returned, he found the king deep in thought. His long face was invariably lugubrious, but his unscheduled meeting had given him something of the appearance of a colicky horse, Brooking thought. Unusually, he was seated. He seemed not to notice that Brooking was back in the room and hovering anxiously. Finally, with a discreet cough, the valet decided to move things on. "Your taxi, sir? Would you like me to go down and have the doorman whistle one up for you? You have half an hour before the curtain goes up."

"No. I find I have to cancel my evening. No time to change. Get my theatre cloak, will you?" Suddenly resolute, he got to his feet. "I'm going out. To St. James's. I shall walk. You may expect me back by ten o'clock."

As Brooking held the door open, George paused and muttered:

" 'Mine honour is my life; both grow in one;

Take honour from me, and my life is done.'

"Wise words, don't you think, Brooking? A sentiment worth having?"

"Indeed, sir." Brooking had grown accustomed to responding with a fitting remark to the Challenge of the Quotation. "Would that be your German hero, Siegfried, speaking, sir? On contemplating a little dragon-slaying?"

"No." George shook his head. "That would be your English King Richard the Second, on contemplating his imminent death . . . But your mention of dragon-slaying is not inapposite."

The king's lips twitched in something very like a smile, and with a flash of unprecedented humour, he held out his arms for attention. "Yes, Brooking! Pass me my breastplate and helmet, would you? George has another dragon to slay!"

Chapter 2

May 30, 1928. Scotland Yard, London.

 Chief Inspector Percy Montacute waited to hear the discreet click as he gently closed the Assistant Commissioner's polished mahogany door behind him. He squared his shoulders and, with a suave smile and a greeting for all he encountered along the carpeted corridors of the third floor of Scotland Yard, Montacute made his way back to his own more modest office.

Once safely inside, he let out a roar, threw his file onto the desk, and aimed a fly half's mighty kick at the wastepaper basket, sending it careering across the room, spilling torn papers and envelopes as it went. Next he aimed a vicious right jab at the hat stand and knocked it to the floor. The stream of inventive oaths accompanying this activity would have raised admiring eyebrows amongst the men of his squad. Percy's explosions were not frequent but they were famed throughout the Force, and from the first rumblings announcing one, men gathered to listen. A safe procedure, since the Governor had never been known to vent his wrath on his own men. The targets of his fanciful and anatomically taxing suggestions--villains, politicians, and superior officers--always deserved it.

Red with rage, he fought to open the window and stuck his head out to take a few calming breaths of air. A hot May, a southerly breeze over the Embankment, and a low tide on the stinking Thames combined to frustrate him and had him slamming shut the window again. He stalked to his desk and rang a bell. The door opened at once and the young detective constable on duty looked in. He'd clearly been waiting close by, drawn by the sudden noise.

"Ah! Constable! Bring me a mug of tea, will you?" The voice was controlled and friendly. D.C. Perkins was reassured that he was in no way the object of Percy's murderous impulse.

"Right you are, sir. Got a pot brewing right now. Be with you in a tick." The young copper paused and lifted his eyes discreetly from the paper-strewn carpet. His voice took on a musing tone as he enquired: "Er . . . would you like me to send for one of the cleaning ladies? Looks as if they missed you this morning, sir? There's one of 'em just down the corridor rubbing up the nameplates. I can divert her up here for a spell . . ."

"Thank you, Constable. No need. I made the mess. And I'm still relishing it. I may yet add to it. I'll clear it up myself when I can bear it no longer. Now, what about that tea?"

Even the tea, served up in his special pint mug, did its bit to fan the flames of Percy's anger. He pictured the Assistant Commissioner sipping coffee from a Wedgwood china cup and his lip curled. He cursed his superior officer once again for an overbred, overpromoted, overconnected nincompoop. The man was unaware enough to be reporting back to the Chief Commissioner right now between sips of his fragrant Blue Mountain that the interview had gone according to plan. In fact, Chief Inspector Montacute, he might be saying--and Percy imagined their conversation with no difficulty--didn't appear to be quite the oik some people made out. (This use of the vernacular would be accompanied by an apologetic laugh.) . . . A nobody, of course, who'd reached the high-water mark of his career--and damned lucky to have got so far . . . a man of his dubious background . . . (Percy knew that "dubious" was probably the most polite description of his antecedents they could come up with. He was used to much worse.) . . . "It could never have happened before the war!" they'd have told each other, shaking their heads. Nevertheless, a surprisingly able detective. Chestful of medals, if he ever cared to parade them. Educated, too. Not many chaps about these days who could make a joke in ancient Greek . . . If it was a joke? If it was ancient Greek? One couldn't always be certain with Montacute. Could just as easily have been playing the smart-arse . . .

They might have concluded with the thought that, at any rate, the oik had agreed, with some reservations it had to be said, to fall in with their suggestions. Yes, his secondment to Greece was in the bag. They hadn't left him much time to consider it--quite deliberately--and the officer was most probably packing his tropical kit already. Yes, on the whole, it had gone well. Two birds killed with one stone. And the royal families of two countries would be graciously thankful . . .

An ominous unfinished comment which, in its oily and suggestive way, succeeded not in tantalising Percy Montacute but in raising his hackles.

"Sod the royal family!" he thought traitorously. "And sod their Greek cousins!" He snorted with derision. Greek! They were no more Greek than he was! German, weren't they? Or Danish? Throneless, anyway. Their King George was swanning around the capitals of Europe making mischief. In London right now, if Percy wasn't mistaken. Enjoying the Wagner extravaganza at the Opera House. In exile these four years. Kicked out for the second time. Surely they'd at last taken the hint? The modern Greece clearly considered itself a Republic as well as a Democracy. Percy couldn't imagine the circumstances in which a deposed royal family would have any cause to be "graciously thankful" to him.

He concentrated and tried to pull together his sketchy political knowledge. The king and his archenemy, the Cretan hero, Prime Minister-in-waiting Venizelos, were like figures in a Swiss weather clock. You never saw them both at the same time. One popped out as the other popped in. Sun and rain. Perhaps as well they didn't have a face-to-face encounter? Now, hadn't Venizelos also been here in London . . . ? There'd been something in the newspapers . . . A wedding photograph? Yes! Yes, that was it! Several years ago now . . . The elderly statesman and revolutionary had been getting married. In a Highgate registry office. Percy had almost shed a sentimental tear with the rest of the nation at the report. Twenty-seven years after the death of his adored first wife, the old feller had been getting hitched again to the resounding congratulations and back-slapping of admiring Londoners who loved nothing so much as a nice love story.

And what a plum he'd picked! Venizelos's bride was a younger and very rich and lively Greek-English lady. Percy had been intrigued to note that the happy couple had set off for California after their marriage. Tireless travellers, the pair of them. Percy approved. She was a politically ambitious lady, the second Mrs. Venizelos, by all accounts. And with her on his arm, the past and perhaps future prime minister of Greece was preparing to return to his homeland. To take up the reins of power after the summer's elections? Percy was uneasy. Did these events have any bearing on his own coming assignment? He didn't welcome a political element to crime-fighting. Diplomatic skulduggery was someone else's province.

And what had all that been about--the business the Assistant Commissioner had sneaked in towards the end of the interview? Percy frowned as he recollected the increase in speed of the man's speech, the dismissive delivery, the refocusing of the attention to a point over his shoulder, the accompanying bland smile--all signs, to Percy's experienced eye, that they had arrived at the crux of the matter at last.

The remarks slid in innocently enough, eased by the usual references to acquaintances in common: "You were in the same regiment as my old friend so-and-so, I think? Good! Good! You should look him up--he's presently in Athens at the Embassy . . . Oh, and by the way . . . there's a chap out there we'd like you to meet . . . bit of a live wire--ha! ha!--just your type . . . Does the name 'Merriman' ring any bells? A distant tinkle? Thought it might. He's quite the scholar but a man of action, too . . . rather too active for comfort, some do think . . . You'll have a lot in common. We'll give you an introduction. Understand you trod the boards, Montacute, during your stint at Oxford? Familiar with the playwright Aeschylus, are you? To be specific--his Agamemnon? Excellent! Excellent! Funny how these things work out, isn't it? Look--there's just a possibility our chap Merriman may be in need of a bit of surveillance, er . . . guidance, firm hand under the elbow, don't you know? Or even . . . um . . . direct action. We'll arrange it."

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    super historical mystery

    In 1928 in Athens, archeologist Sir Andrew Merriman directs a production of Aeschylus's Agamemnon in the Athenian amphitheatre. During a dress rehearsal, Sir Andrew replaces the dummy in the bathtub stabbing scene. He is dead with a knife to his heart as his wife Lady Maud and his former lover Laetitia "Letty" Talbot watch the practice session.

    Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Percy Montacute happens to be one of the performers while assigned to CID duty in Athens. He and Athenian security chief General Konstantinou lead the investigation with Talbot as a consultant while her lover William Gunning objects. The police quickly arrest Maud's cousin Thetis, another of Sir Andrew's lovers and who had the role of Clytemnestra, but free her. Observers inform the cops the two cousins argued loudly in public just before Maud fell off a balcony to her death. Since Talbot is named in Merriman's will, she becomes a suspect too. However, after being abducted by a psychopathic Macedonian, she realizes Sir Andrews' soon to be published work on Alexander is the underlying motive to the homicides that include more victims.

    Talbot's latest historical mystery (see The Tomb of Zeus and Bright Hair About the Bone) contains a super whodunit with a strong sense of time and place. The engaging storyline brings out Depression Era Greece through the archeologists, the play and the police procedural investigation. Although archeology seems to be a deadly affair in this series and none of the cast match up to Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands (would have been neat if he instead of Montacute was conveniently in Athens), fans will enjoy A Darker God, reminiscent of Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Cleverley is Fast Becoming One of My Favorite Authors

    her books are a little darker than Elizabeth Peters, but well researched and very well written. Love both series: Letitia Talbot and Joe Sanderling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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