The Edge of Doom (Kate Fansler Series #14)by Amanda Cross
Rich and witty, the literary whodunits by Amanda Cross are a delight for readers who like their mysteries smart and suspenseful. Now comes the highly anticipated sequel to her Kate Fansler novel, Honest Doubt, which the Providence Journal called “one of [her] best books in years.” Here, Cross takes her beloved protagonist into/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
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Rich and witty, the literary whodunits by Amanda Cross are a delight for readers who like their mysteries smart and suspenseful. Now comes the highly anticipated sequel to her Kate Fansler novel, Honest Doubt, which the Providence Journal called “one of [her] best books in years.” Here, Cross takes her beloved protagonist into uncharted territory, turning Kate Fansler’s world upside down.
Just when Kate Fansler thinks life couldn’t possibly hold any more surprises, she receives a phone call from Laurence, the eldest of her imperious brothers. But a woman as sharp as Kate knows that the moment one stops believing in life’s little bends in the road is the time when it has more twists in store.
Kate has always been different from the other Fanslers–a free and independent thinker in a family where propriety and decorum are prized above all. She has always assumed it was because she was the youngest and the only girl in the family. But over a drink with Laurence, Kate’s whole understanding of herself is thrown into question as he calmly tells her that a strange man came to his office claiming to be Kate’s father–and it’s quite possible that she is not a Fansler after all.
There are even more dangerous curves in the road for Kate Fansler, especially after she meets the man who calls himself her father. When more life-threatening secrets and lies emerge, Kate and the Fansler family are suddenly pitched perilously close to the edge of doom
From the Hardcover edition.
“No one has a sharper eye than Amanda Cross.”
–The Washington Post Book World
“Amanda Cross writes wonderfully witty mysteries full of well-developed characters and insights on modern foibles.”
–United Press International
“For more than twenty-five years Amanda Cross has been blazing a trail for the rest of us to follow.”
“A new Kate Fansler mystery . . . is always a treat for her longtime fans. . . . Cross clearly hasn’t lost her touch.”
–Minneapolis Star Tribune
Read an Excerpt
Such things become the hatch and brood of time.
Kate Fansler would have said, had anybody asked, that she rarely heard from her brothers these days, or they from her. Eleven, eight, and six years older than she, the senior among them was now past his sixty-seventh birthday. She and her brothers had rarely agreed about anything, though the passing years had brought some air of tolerance to their infrequent meetings, or perhaps it was only the final acceptance of the fact that they would never agree and had better discuss neutral subjects. Alas, there were few of these.
Even the weather, once innocent of causing political dissent, now stimulated mention of the greenhouse effect, the hole in the ozone layer, and the dangers threatened by the use of fossil fuels. Nor were Kate’s nieces and nephews, as a subject of conversation, beyond contention. On the whole, their views were closer to Kate’s than to their fathers’; even on that topic composure was likely to fail. In fact, Kate rarely thought of her brothers and confidently assumed that they returned the favor.
Her surprise, therefore, on receiving a letter from Laurence, her oldest brother, was profound. For this was not an invitation to a party, or even to a lunch during which money might possibly be discussed, but a request for Kate to meet him at his club on a “personal” matter. Kate grinned at that. Laurence had been one of the most adamant against the admission of women to all-male clubs, and here he was inviting his sister to meet him in those very precincts without, if she knew Laurence, even reflecting on the exaggerated fears of women in his club that had formerly haunted him.
The request was for Friday afternoon; Kate could guess why. The club would be less populated, and Laurence would be able usefully to pass the time before contemplating the weekend’s activities. He had been forced by his law firm’s long-standing and unalterable rules to retire at sixty-five, but because of his prominence in the firm and his still impressive connections, he was permitted to occupy an office—not, of course, the elegant corner one he had claimed in his prime, but an office nonetheless—to go to, to go home from, there to enjoy the occasional services of a secretary. Laurence, Kate could well surmise, had hated having to retire.
Kate was surprised to find herself puzzling over this invitation. She had some time ago come to the dreary conclusion that life could no longer offer the unexpected—except, of course, for those debilitating and often sudden bodily assaults common to aging; these could hardly be called unexpected, however impossible exactly to anticipate. And here, lo and behold, was an invitation from Laurence to meet at his club.
Kate could imagine no rational explanation for this astonishing summons. Laurence might be lonely—she suspected he had always been lonely, though perhaps not aware of it—but she would be the last person sent for to allay that suffering. He could hardly have decided to call money “personal,” nor could she imagine any reason why he might wish to discuss that subject, long since clarified between them. Kate had convinced him that she did not need his financial advice or counsel, nor did she welcome it. What else was there? Family problems? His wife Janice? But in no case Kate could think of was Kate the one—indeed she was probably the last one—to be called upon to deal with questions of his immediate family.
Well, it was a small surprise, she thought, calling to leave a message for Laurence to say she would meet him at the time and place mentioned, but it hardly qualified as an event. No, she was past interesting surprises in any area of life—of that she was certain. Not the academic world, nor global crises, nor territorial or religious wars, nor any call upon her abilities in literature or detection was likely to provide her with an expectation of what might be involved. There were no more surprises. Even Laurence, she supposed, would not really be a surprise; he would have thought of some hideously uninteresting, magnificently unstartling reason to speak with her.
Which goes to suggest that certainty on any matter is not one of the human attitudes the gods admire or tolerate. Kate should have remembered her Greek myths.
Laurence greeted her with all the awkwardness of near relatives who neither like each other nor often meet. He offered her a drink and ordered one for himself. Well, Kate thought, we both drink Scotch; I suppose that’s something. Laurence had commandeered a corner spot promising privacy, although the club’s conversations, if at all extended, were private; it was that kind of club.
In its ambience and furnishings, the room they were in was redolent of masculinity. There was no elephant head mounted on the wall, as at the Harvard Club, nor were there portraits of male administrators as at the Yale Club. The leather chairs were large, as befitted ample male bottoms, and the service staff was both male and obsequious. Kate, who was tall, nonetheless sank back in her chair, forced either to recline rather further than she would have chosen, or to sit firmly upright. Most of the men seemed to lean forward as they partook of conversations with other men.
They sat in silence until the drinks arrived, Kate observing her surroundings and Laurence looking as though he wanted to say something unimportant and pleasant, but found himself unable to decide on the appropriate subject. Kate wondered what he would have chatted about with a male colleague from Wall Street. When the drinks arrived, served with a flourish, and accompanied by a dish of nuts, she and Laurence raised their glasses in a mild salute. Kate settled down to listen.
“What do you think of Edith Wharton?” Laurence asked.
“What?” Kate said.
“Edith Wharton, the writer. Surely you’ve heard of her. You are a professor of literature, aren’t you?”
“Indubitably,” Kate said. “The question is: why should you care what I think of Edith Wharton?”
“Because I think you have a lot in common with her.”
Laurence could hardly have asked a question likely to astonish her more. If the club doorman had come up to inquire about her views on Jane Austen, Kate would have been less surprised than to hear her brother Laurence, who thought literature fancy stuff and very unmanly, bringing up Edith Wharton. As to that famous writer and Kate having anything in common, well, beyond respect for the English language—Kate took a rather larger sip from her drink, a sip almost qualifying as a gulp, and decided to meet Laurence on the ground he had chosen.
“Edith Wharton,” she began, setting down her glass, “was born in 1860 or thereabouts into one of those dreadful wealthy and well-established families at a time when girls didn’t attend school and didn’t do anything later in life except marry; her marriage was miserable. She wrote excellent novels, but she was forty before she published her first one. She lived abroad most of her life and built that amazing summer home in the Berkshires. What else? Laurence, she and I have absolutely nothing in common. Why on earth are we discussing her?”
Laurence sipped his drink and smiled in a rather satisfied way, as when one knows one has something interesting to impart and anticipates imparting it. “She had love affairs, she had no children, she had a private income, and she admired Henry James. It seems to me that’s rather a lot you two shared.” And he looked remarkably pleased with himself.
Kate stared at him. “Laurence,” she said, “please stop smirking and tell me why we are here having this conversation. I’m willing to wager that you’ve never so much as mentioned Edith Wharton before. When did you get up all these facts about her? And speaking of what Edith Wharton and I have in common, did you happen to notice that she died about ten years before I was born?”
“I didn’t say you knew her,” Laurence said. “I just mentioned that you had a lot in common.”
Kate began to suspect a brain tumor, so utterly uncharacteristic was Laurence’s interest in a woman writer, to say nothing of his extensive knowledge of her life. Did brain tumors usually take this literary form?
“Never mind,” Laurence said, looking more serious. “I’m just joshing you. I really have to tell you something.”
“To do with Edith Wharton?”
“In a way.” Laurence summoned the waiter for a second round of drinks, having offered Kate another which she had eagerly accepted; he now seemed to be wondering how to start the conversation over. Kate half expected, half feared to have references to Willa Cather thrust upon her.
“Edith Wharton had older brothers,” he said, after a pause.
“Laurence,” Kate began. “I admit it: Edith Wharton and I both had older brothers. She only had two, as I remember; I, you will recall, have three.”
Kate was rather ashamed to find herself so ungracious with Laurence, and determined to change her tone of voice to one more pleasant or, at least, less impatient.
Laurence seemed unmoved by her uneasy tone, or perhaps he had not noticed it. “Her mother was rather stiff and proper,” he said.
Kate tried to keep her tone even. “Yes, Laurence, our mother was proper but not stiff. Conventional, yes, but much more emotional than Wharton’s. Laurence, please”—she could not refrain from adding—“for the sake of my sanity, get to the point.”
“The point is”—he seemed to have to force himself to say it—“that Edith Wharton’s birth so long after her brothers’ gave rise to some speculation.”
“So it did. It’s been surmised that it might have been the brothers’ tutor who was the seducer. But it’s all nonsense; people love mysteries.”
“Why wasn’t there a child in between?” Laurence asked.
“There may have been miscarriages.” Kate was now past even the pretense of congeniality. “Laurence, what are you trying to say?”
And then Kate got it. “You can’t be serious,” she said. “Are you suggesting that our mother, that I, that—Laurence, are you going in for romance in your later years? You can’t be suggesting what I think you’re suggesting.”
But then Kate remembered that in fact this particular comparison with Edith Wharton had been made before in the family, a kind of joke about how different Kate was from all the rest of the Fanslers. She couldn’t now remember who had first mentioned Edith Wharton in connection with Kate, but no doubt that was what had brought Wharton to Laurence’s attention. Asking his wife or secretary to pick up a book on her had been no trouble; the Louis Auchincloss book must have been an obvious choice.
“Laurence, why are you bringing all this up at this moment?” Laurence sank back into his large leather chair with a smile of evident satisfaction. “I’m not suggesting your resemblance to Edith Wharton in this matter,” he said pontifically. “I know it for a fact.”
“You know! And you’ve waited all these years to tell me about this suspicion? What did you do, walk in on them while—Laurence, I can’t believe this of you. It can’t be your idea of a joke.”
“Of course I didn’t walk in on them. I never thought of any such thing. This man came to my office the other day and announced that he was your father. That he had been our mother’s lover. That’s how I know. Of course, I threw him out.”
“Literally?” Kate asked, entranced at the thought.
“No. He said he was leaving and could save me the trouble of throwing him out. Then he said that he was not after anything, he just wanted me, as the oldest son, to tell you because he was leaving you quite a lot of money. He said he had seen you upon occasion—giving a lecture, he said—and he had read your writings. He thought you were a worthy daughter. His words.”
“He’s obviously crackers,” Kate said, enjoying a rush of relief. Poor Laurence had taken all this seriously.
“He said he would have DNA tests done. He said if you would prick your finger and give him some blood, he would prove it. He would send me the laboratory report; I can check up on it. He said it will prove he’s related to you, that he’s definitely your father.”
Kate snorted, an unladylike expression she had acquired since her proper girlhood. “And you believed all this nonsense, and even went so far as to read a life of Edith Wharton. What made you think of Edith Wharton?”
“He suggested I read about her. I found something on her by Louis Auchincloss.”
“A literary critic born into the upper class; how appropriate.” Kate realized she was on the verge of becoming rude, had, in fact, become rude, perhaps to avoid serious worry about Laurence. Had he imagined the whole thing? “I remember Louis Auchincloss on Wharton,” she said. “He didn’t believe the tutor thing for a minute. Who, after all, could imagine a young man approaching Edith Wharton’s mother with sexual intentions? The whole idea is absurd.”
“But you said our mother was nicer than Edith Wharton’s mother,” Laurence said, but almost as though he had lost interest. Clearly, he was past arguing; he shrugged. “Look, Kate,” he said, “I haven’t mentioned this to anyone. It seemed wiser to tell you first. If you want to go to the ladies’ room and prick your finger and get a little blood on a Kleenex, I’ll give it to him and that will settle the whole matter. Why not?”
Kate was at first amused to think that she had to retire to the ladies’ room to bleed on a piece of Klee- nex; one could hardly, it appeared, prick oneself in the club lounge. Then she began to ponder it. Well, what could be the harm? This wasn’t like those novels of long ago where people with no evidence claimed to be the lost child or father of other people, as in Dickens’ novels and in Shakespeare’s plays. We had DNA now. So what the hell.
“All right, I’ll go to the ladies’ room—but I don’t have anything to prick myself with,” she said.
“I’ve brought a needle,” Laurence answered, producing it. He had planned this whole thing carefully. If he was ill, it was a serious matter.
Well, Kate thought, at the worst I will make a fool of myself. Reed and I can laugh about it. She took the needle Laurence held out, and went off to provide a blood sample. “But,” she said to Laurence, “I shall expect to find another drink waiting for me when I return. Losing blood is a serious business.”
But not as serious as losing your mind, she thought, walking from the room.
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