Grace Against the Clock (Manor House Mystery Series #5)

Grace Against the Clock (Manor House Mystery Series #5)

4.5 10
by Julie Hyzy

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When Marshfield Manor hosts a charity event, Grace Wheaton, the mansion’s curator and manager, is happy to lend a helping hand—until a killer makes an unwanted donation…

With the town clock in desperate need of repair, local lawyer Joyce Swedburg and her ex-husband, Dr. Leland Keay, are trying to put their differences aside to organize a


When Marshfield Manor hosts a charity event, Grace Wheaton, the mansion’s curator and manager, is happy to lend a helping hand—until a killer makes an unwanted donation…

With the town clock in desperate need of repair, local lawyer Joyce Swedburg and her ex-husband, Dr. Leland Keay, are trying to put their differences aside to organize a benefit at Marshfield Manor to raise money to restore the beautiful timepiece. While Grace appreciates the opportunity to support such a good cause, the tension between the unhappy exes is giving her the urge to put both of the organizers in time out.

But after Leland collapses on stage during the festivities, poisoned, Grace suspects there was more going on behind the scenes. Now, she’s in a race to catch a ticked off murderer, and, if she’s going to prevent anyone else from getting hurt, every second will count…

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Hyzy’s engaging fifth Manor House mystery (after 2013’s Grace Takes Off), eminent cardiologist Leland Keay, “widely considered to be Emberstowne’s most eligible bachelor,” is supposed to deliver the opening speech at a fund-raiser held at Marshfield Manor, but he collapses on the stage before the program begins. Grace Wheaton, the curator of the manor’s museum, rushes to the doctor’s assistance, but he soon expires, not of natural causes. The coroner determines that Keay, a recovering alcoholic, struggled with someone before that person injected him twice with a lethal dose of pure grain alcohol. An intelligent and perceptive sleuth, Grace works with the police to discover what secrets Keay hid that could have provoked his killer, while also dealing with house renovations and a former suitor. Cozy fans will be well satisfied. Agent: Paige Wheeler, Folio Literary Management. (July)
From the Publisher
Praise for the Manor House series

"Fans have grown to love Ollie Paras, the White House chef. They're going to be equally impressed with Grace Wheaton."—Chicago Sun-Times

"Hyzy is a master storyteller."—Escape with Dollycas

"Hyzy has done it again...Well crafted with the many twists and turns that readers demand in a mystery, paired with an eccentric cast of characters."—RT Book Reviews

"Well-reasearched and believable."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Hyzy will keep you guessing until the end and never disappoints."—

Library Journal
Managing historic Marshfield Manor might be Grace Wheaton's official job but sleuthing comes naturally, particularly when a key benefactor is poisoned at a big fund-raising event. Hyzy's fifth entry (after Grace Takes Off) in another winning cozy series.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Manor House Mystery Series, #5
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Joyce Swedburg tucked her fingers into the crook of Bennett’s right arm. “Dear man, it’s been too long. How have you been?” Without waiting for a reply, the statuesque woman draped her free hand over the other and pressed close, hugging the way a toddler might cling to a parent’s leg. “You’re as handsome as ever, you devil you.” Her lips spread into a serviceable smile as she turned to address her companion. “Don’t you agree, Leland?”
Frances nudged me—like there was any chance I might miss Ms. Swedburg’s over-the-top performance.
Dr. Leland Keay extended his hand to Bennett. “Good to see you again.”
Almost as tall as my boss, Keay’s dark features contrasted with Bennett’s fair skin and white hair. Keay was younger, by about twenty years, and beginning to sprout gray at his temples. This, along with his Barry White voice, made him quite the attractive package.
He was dressed in a tweed hunting jacket that sported suede elbows and a matching patch at one shoulder. His white shirt was starched, his slacks expertly creased. Handsome and successful, Dr. Leland Keay was widely considered to be Emberstowne’s most eligible bachelor.
I’d encountered Keay several times as we prepared for the fund-raiser scheduled for tomorrow night and had come to the opinion that, eligible or not, the rest of Emberstowne’s single ladies could keep him. Even though he was a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon with a reputation for being witty and charming, I found that Keay carried himself with a faint disregard for others and a perpetual absentminded air.
Keay and Bennett shook hands vigorously—the way men do when they’re happy to see one another but not comfortable enough to hug. The action should have dislodged Joyce Swedburg from her perch at Bennett’s side, but the woman held on for dear life. Both to Bennett’s arm and to her achingly artificial cheer.
The five of us were gathered in a wide, empty section of Marshfield Manor’s basement. Accessible via a single stairway, it offered a fun, unusual spot to throw a giant party. And that’s precisely what we planned to do.
Two connecting rooms had been reserved for our festive fund-raiser. This, the main section of the party area, would be set up for glittering socialites to enjoy appetizers and drinks. A perfect spot for mingling until the show began. The expansive space was airy and inviting, thanks to creative lighting and creamy-yellow brick walls. The ceiling was brick, too, crafted into neat, arched rows. At our feet was the kind of creaky wooden flooring you might find in an old department store or VFW dance hall. It gave the place charm.
Because we were belowground and centrally located beneath the mansion, no natural light streamed in. In a burst of brilliance, Joyce had arranged to rent six giant flat-screen televisions to serve as faux windows. These had been installed the day before, positioned vertically on two facing walls, and had been programmed to display live views from the highest vista of the closest mountaintop. If you looked closely, you could even see tiny Emberstowne bustling below.
With the dynamic “windows” in place, this main mingling area could have been mistaken for a refurbished warehouse loft in a gentrified urban setting. Banquet-sized and gorgeous, this section had never been included in any public tours. If we ever decided to utilize this area in the future, I’d consider making the flat-screen installation permanent.
“I can’t tell you how delightful it is to be working with you again, Bennett.” Joyce wagged a finger near his chin. “Your insights at the Chamber of Commerce have been missed.”
Bennett acknowledged her compliment. “And I am sorry to have relinquished my seat there. Unfortunately, I’ve been occupied with many other endeavors. I hope you understand that I couldn’t occupy a spot if I was incapable of delivering my best efforts.”
She tugged his arm closer and rested her head against his shoulder. “You’ve more than made up for it with your generous endowments.”
Sliding sideways, Bennett extricated himself from her double-handed clutch. “Grace and Frances have been keeping me updated with your plans. We are honored that you’ve chosen to host the benefit here at Marshfield.”
Joyce floated away from Bennett as though it had been her idea to break their physical connection. “There is no more perfect setting in all of Emberstowne. Except perhaps beneath the Promise Clock itself. But can you imagine having this affair in the streets? Then anyone would be able to join the party.” She gave a dramatic shudder. “We can’t allow that.”
The Chamber of Commerce, with Joyce as volunteer event planner, intended to raise money to refurbish the area surrounding the giant town clock, which had served as an unofficial entrance to Emberstowne for more than a hundred years. Named the Promise Clock because the citizens at the time believed that Emberstowne held great promise for success and prosperity, it lightly resembled Le Gros Horloge in Rouen, France.
The Promise Clock, which had lived up to its titular reputation until recently, was colossally sized. Set in the center of a massive archway that connected two now-abandoned buildings, the Renaissance-inspired glory differed from Le Gros Horloge in a couple of key ways: Our town’s clock, though somewhat less ornate, sported both hour and minute hands; and the edifice’s span was almost double that of its French predecessor.
That the arch’s width allowed for two-way traffic to pass beneath it was not the problem—the lack of traffic was. Very few residents traveled through that part of town anymore.
Over the past several years, in one of the ripple effects of the Great Recession, the touristy section of Emberstowne had begun to condense. Businesses at the edge of town had either moved to a more central location or shuttered completely. The establishments already on Main Street, like Hugo’s and other mainstays, had weathered the rough patch and were now enjoying a resurgence of business, but the area surrounding the Promise Clock had become a ghost town.
With weeds sprouting in the middle of the pavement, unrepaired sidewalks, and lonely buildings with broken windows, the only promise it held now was that this was an area best avoided. Though rich in history, the stretch was sorely lacking in commerce, making it Emberstowne’s biggest embarrassment. If it weren’t for the presence of the clock, the entire section of town might have been razed.
Tomorrow night’s fund-raiser had been conceived when costs to improve the roads and landscaping and to help smarten up the buildings far overran original estimates.
Despite the deterioration of the surrounding area, the clock’s inner workings ran on time and Emberstowne had expended the effort necessary to keep the clock’s face unmarred. In the past year, however, experts had noted structural problems. At the recent switch to daylight savings time, a worker who had crawled inside the arch to adjust the hands had nearly fallen through when the crumbling construction disintegrated beneath him.
All maintenance updates on the clock had been halted until a full overhaul and repair of the arch could be done. That took time. And money.
Tomorrow night’s benefit sought to solicit contributions from wealthy benefactors willing to donate a thousand dollars per person for the privilege of attending the Marshfield party. Bennett had generously offered to supply the space as well as the food. He’d also purchased tickets for a few of us on staff, to attend as his guests.
Although I’d been in contact with Joyce over the past few months, she’d been working most closely with our catering staff and with Terrence, our chief of security. Today was the first time she and Leland had shown up together. Until now I’d believed she was simply the head of the clock benefit committee and he the president of the Chamber of Commerce. I hadn’t been aware that the two had been married to each other once upon a time. Frances had provided that little tidbit moments ago.
Bennett waved his hand as though to encompass the space around us. “I must confess, however, to being surprised when Grace told me that you’d chosen this particular room for the party.”
I whispered to Frances, “How long have they been divorced?”
My assistant got that eager-to-gossip gleam in her eye. Drawing a hand up in front of her mouth while ogling the two in question—a conspicuous gesture that practically screamed that we were talking about them—she murmured, “Five years.” Her tadpole brows leaping high with glee, she added, “There’s quite a story there.”
“Not now,” I said.
Joyce was nearly as tall as her ex-husband. She sauntered over to him, ran a hand down the length of his tailored jacket sleeve—I could only imagine how soft that luxurious fabric was—and addressed Bennett over her shoulder. “Leland first suggested we hold the event upstairs in your foyer and adjoining rooms, but he has no imagination, do you, Leland?”
He didn’t answer. Arm-rub or no, he didn’t appear to be paying attention.
Joyce reached the far end of the space and turned around with an expression that was half bored, half amused. I got the impression that this woman had been born to perform. She extended both arms, hands upraised, looking a great deal like the Imperia statue in Konstanz, Germany, though offering far less cleavage, thank goodness.
Raising her voice, she adopted a beleaguered tone. “Everyone who visits Marshfield has seen the foyer,” she said. “Hundreds—no—thousands of people pass through your front doors each day, clutching their precious tickets. And what do they see first? The foyer. Forgive me, Bennett, but it’s not special.”
Leland wandered to the far end of the first room, stopping at the juncture where it ended and a small hallway leading to the auditorium began.
The doctor raised his voice to be heard over Joyce’s. “Where are the bathrooms?”
Joyce rolled her eyes. “Why on earth are you worried about that now?”
“Why do you think?”
She held a hand to her forehead and briefly closed her eyes. “You see what I have to deal with?”
Leland turned to me. “Quite a few of my patients are attending. Several are elderly and may be experiencing incontinence issues.”
I answered him. “They’re down the alcove to your left.”
He pointed. “What’s to the right?”
We’d been over this before. “That’s where David Cherk will be presenting ‘A History of the Promise Clock’ for the guests,” I said. David Cherk was a lauded, eccentric photographer who was regularly called upon to chronicle historic moments, and whose work adorned the interiors of most of Emberstowne’s municipal buildings. “That’s the auditorium.”
We used the term auditorium loosely. There were no seats, no lights, no sound system, no stage. Like an auditorium, however, the room was fan-shaped, wide at the entrance and narrow at the deep end, which was where the presentation would be held.
Keay disappeared to inspect the accommodations. I exchanged a glance with Frances. Among my concerns with holding the event down here were fire exits, capacity, and washroom facilities. There was only one official entrance to the space, down a narrow stairway that led from an EMPLOYEES ONLY door on the main level. We would have security officers stationed there tomorrow night to assist guests in finding their way to the party. But if anything should happen that might cause people to stampede out, the restricted egress had the potential to become a dangerous bottleneck.
Weeks ago, at my urging, Joyce had agreed to meet with a representative from the fire department to ensure that the event wouldn’t violate code. We’d gotten the all-clear, but I still would have preferred to hold the benefit on Marshfield’s main level. I was certain that we could have found a location that was special enough for this gala event.
Although there was only one official door to the party space, an emergency exit had been added some years back, probably when the mansion first opened to visitors. It evacuated into the employee underground garage, and accessing the exit involved hitting a crash bar, which set off ear-splitting alarms.
I wandered that way now, as Bennett, Joyce, and Frances chatted among themselves. Ahead of me, the auditorium was dark. I tried to envision how David Cherk’s entertainment would play out. He was due here soon. We’d set up this last-minute meeting between all parties for late in the day, when the mansion was closed to visitors. I wandered back into the main room and glanced at my cell phone to check the time. Almost as if I’d been clairvoyant, the device signaled a text.
Joyce, Frances, and Bennett looked up. “David Cherk is here,” I announced as I pulled up my walkie-talkie to alert Terrence to show the man in. Right on time.
“Oh dear.” Joyce held a palm up to her powdered cheek. “That man gives me the creeps. He has odd opinions about the strangest things. So precise and peculiar.” She shook her head and tsked loudly.
I understood where Joyce was coming from, though we could do without the theatrics. David Cherk wasn’t the sort of person I’d choose to hang out with in my free time, but Joyce’s comment still rankled.
With three skinny, black-clad assistants in tow, Cherk descended into our midst. The first time I’d met him, I’d been convinced that he purposely sucked in his cheeks. After a few minutes of conversation, however, I’d come to understand that his skeletal look wasn’t an affectation. Right now, as he smiled in greeting, I marveled at how mirth could appear so cold.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” he said to us in his sharp, starchy voice. “Are we all ready for the breathtaking presentation I have planned for tomorrow night?” He gave an exultant sigh as he clasped his long-fingered hands together in front of his chest. “So few of our citizens make time to visit the historical office to learn about our town and experience my artistry. I intend to give them a hint as to what they’re missing.”
Joyce inhaled deeply through her nose, making her nostrils clamp shut with effort. “David, darling.” Grasping his shoulders, she air-kissed him next to both cheeks. “So delightful to be working with you on this project. I can’t wait to see what you have in store. I would love to stay now and hear all about your little plans, but I’m needed elsewhere.”
Cherk blinked, clearly as surprised as I was.
“My understanding was that we were supposed to finalize everything during this meeting,” I said to her.
“And things are finalized. Everything is lovely, dear. See you tomorrow.”
“But the whole reason we set this up—”
“Other commitments. You understand.” She raised her hands helplessly. “You’re so capable, Grace. I’m not the least bit worried.” She ignored Frances, walking past her to rest both hands on Bennett’s arm. “Save me a dance tomorrow evening, my precious man. Will you?”
Bennett shot me the briefest glance. Ever the gentleman, he clapped a hand over one of hers. “Of course.”
Dr. Keay returned from the bathrooms, looking confused by the recent arrivals.
“Time to go, Leland,” Joyce said.
“Did I miss something?”
Joyce shot him an icy glare. “Don’t you always?”

Chapter 2

The moment Joyce Swedburg and Leland Keay departed, Cherk strode over and nodded toward the door. “That woman. She’d like nothing better than to see me fall on my face.”
“Then why would she have engaged your talents for the benefit?” I asked.
Cherk’s dark, sunken eyes, his ever-present five-o’clock shadow, and the curling twist of shellacked, dark hair over a deep widow’s peak made him look like an evil minion from a 1950s horror film.
“Joyce Swedburg has no choice. She’s a moth—a social, parasitic moth who lives a delusional life, believing herself a butterfly—and she’s stuck with me for this event because I’m the best this town has to offer. She gets her show, I get exposure. But we are trapped dealing with each other for the duration. Let me assure you: Neither one of us is turning cartwheels with joy.”
Surprised by his venom, I went momentarily speechless.
David, however, had more to say. “Joyce Swedburg is convinced I possess the soul of an automaton, rather than that of an artist.” He grimaced in her wake. “The woman is an ignorant fool.”
Bennett stepped forward. “I’m certain your exhibit will be well received,” he said, “and then Ms. Swedburg will be more than happy to brag that she had faith in you from the start.” To me, he added, “If you don’t require my presence any longer, I’d like to get back upstairs to attend to a few phone calls.”
“Thanks for coming down, Bennett,” I said. “We may not have accomplished anything, but I suspect it meant a lot to Joyce to have you here.”
Bennett gave a good-natured snort. “Who knows what that woman truly thinks? She says what she believes everyone wants to hear. If it weren’t for her talent as a fund-raiser, I’d be happy not to have to deal with her ever again.”
Cherk wiggled his fingers in the air. “Count me in on that.”
“Then we have a quorum,” Frances said.
Bennett’s mouth twisted downward. He looked away, shaking his head. “I shouldn’t have said anything. She’s a decent human being, deep down.”
“Deep down?” Frances asked. “Where are you looking? There isn’t enough depth in that woman for a respectable search.”
Visibly pained by having spoken unkindly about Joyce, Bennett turned to me. “I will see you tomorrow night at the benefit. I’m looking forward to meeting your young man again.”
“And he’s looking forward to seeing you.”
The “young man” Bennett referred to was Adam, lead singer of the well-known but not quite superstar-level band SlickBlade. Adam and I had met under difficult circumstances and, after a rocky beginning, had taken gentle steps toward forging a relationship. He lived in New York City, and that, coupled with the fact that he was often on tour with his band, meant that he and I didn’t get to see each other too often. I was okay with that. At least for now.
“Are you bringing a date, Frances?” Bennett asked. “You haven’t mentioned anything.”
My assistant’s cheeks colored. “It’s enough that I’m attending this soiree on a weekend, isn’t it?” Then, as though remembering who she was talking to, she amended, “Not that I don’t appreciate you buying my ticket. I didn’t mean that. But no, I’m not bringing anyone.”
“A shame,” Bennett said, which I thought was an odd response. He didn’t elaborate. “Good enough. I’ll see you all later.”
“We plan on blocking off a portion of this room for food storage,” I said to David when Bennett had left. We’d arranged to have antique ornamental screens brought in to hide necessary refrigeration and heating units. “I hope that won’t hamper your plans to set up.”
“Joyce, for all of her aggravations, is an effective organizer. I know precisely how much space I need to leave for you. She was very clear on that detail. Don’t worry.”
Cherk’s assistants hadn’t stopped working while we were talking. They kept busy unloading the props and decorations, barely speaking to one another.
I led Cherk to the auditorium, where he shouted, “Hello,” up toward the ceiling three times. When he smiled, he showed large yellow teeth. “The acoustics are tolerable.”
One of the assistants interrupted. “Where does the stage go, Mr. Cherk?”
“Stage?” I asked.
He tut-tutted. “A platform, really. It will raise me up about eight inches off the ground, but even that small amount will allow better viewing for those stuck in the back of the room. From what I understand, we’re expecting a hundred donors.”
“Ninety-four at last count.” I took another long look around. Our catering team would bring in folding chairs once the rest of the space was arranged.
Two of the assistants walked by, carrying very long, and apparently very heavy, rolls of purple velvet. I pointed. “What’s that?”
“Curtains, of course. If we’re to have a presentation here, we’re going to do it properly. I rented these from a theatrical supply house. By the time we’re set up, this will look like Carnegie Hall.”
“Can’t wait to see it.”
Next to me, Frances gave what sounded like a grunt.
Two more young people arrived to join Cherk’s team. “You have this many assistants?” I asked.
Bringing his hands up to face, he tapped the sides of his nose with his index fingers. “Are you always so full of questions?”
I didn’t answer.
With affected patience, he continued, “For your information, these are college students I hired to give me a hand. Theater majors, all. They’ll assist today and with the disassembling as well. I get the benefit of their expertise. They get extra credit in their courses.” Cherk rubbed his nose and started tapping it again. This was either one strange habit or the man had a tic. “Their professor is a friend of mine.”
“Convenient,” I said.
Two young men carried metal piping and heavy boards, which would eventually be connected together to form the stage. They worked hard, but clearly knew what they were doing. When they needed to ask Cherk a question or request clarification, they were respectful and quick. The stage came together at the far end of the room, right before our eyes.
“See how we’ve set up wings on either side?” he asked, pointing as the platform was assembled. Two of the assistants unrolled the purple velvet, ran a metal pole through a pocket at the top, and eased the entire length up into place. “This gives me the ability to hide the workings that will make the show come alive.”
“Like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz?”
Ignoring me, he blurted a sharp exclamation at the assistants and ran off.
Frances had been quiet for a while. The moment Cherk was out of earshot, she said, “Ninety-five.”
“Excuse me?”
“Ninety-five people are coming to this fund-raiser as of the most recent count.”
“That’s great.”
“Jack will be here.”
“He will?” I knew I couldn’t hide my surprise, so I didn’t bother trying. “Isn’t that a lot of money to spend on a benefit? Especially for someone who’s back in school?”
“The Mister paid,” she said. “You know how he is; he likes to keep everybody together, like a family. Even though Jack isn’t working at Marshfield anymore, the Mister thought that he ought to be here, so . . .” She let the thought hang.
“Bennett didn’t tell me.”
“He only arranged it today.”
I pulled in a deep breath.
“Good thing you’re bringing that Adam fellow as your date,” she said.
Not for the first time did it feel as though Frances had read my mind. This news made me especially glad that Adam was coming to town.
Although Jack had professed a willingness to rekindle whatever it was we’d started, recent changes in his life made me doubt his sincerity. His long-ago fiancée, Becke, had returned to Emberstowne, newly divorced with two little kids in tow. Jack had offered his father’s deserted home as a rent-free place to stay. There was still unsettled business between the two of them and I refused to be caught in the middle.
Frances added, “Plus the fact that Jack is an Embers . . .”
She let that thought hang, too, but I understood. Jack’s family had been among the first to settle in the town. The place was named for them, for heaven’s sake. With the historical theme, it made sense for Jack to be here. A long line of Embers men and women had, no doubt, trekked beneath the Promise Clock.
“Davey’s coming, too, I assume?” I asked, referring to Jack’s younger brother, who now worked for Bennett and lived in a cottage on Marshfield Manor’s property.
“He has a ticket. No idea if he plans to use it.”
The youngest Embers brother wasn’t a fan of parties and didn’t socialize much. “I suppose we’ll see.” I motioned toward Cherk, who was gesticulating wildly and shouting at his assistants. “Having a Davey and a David here at once could get confusing.”
“Are you kidding? One’s an athletic young man and the other is a walking corpse.”
I know she expected me to laugh, but I wasn’t feeling particularly amused at the moment. “With all of us Marshfield folks here as Bennett’s guests, it’ll be a miracle if they raise the kind of money they need. I hope people are generous when it comes to bidding at the silent auction.”
“Pheh,” Frances said. “Wait and see. The folks attending will be only too eager to prove how rich they are. Joyce Swedburg will get all she’s expecting and more. Mark my words.”
In almost no time at all, Cherk’s team finished and had packed up to leave. As they departed, our event planners from the Marshfield Hotel arrived to help finesse the scene. They were experienced in organizing weddings, showers, graduations, and other milestone celebrations often held at the hotel. Today they were charged with transforming this ruggedly beautiful basement into a place of elegance.
Frances and I stood back as tables were rolled in. Men and women, clad in black and white, snapped linen tablecloths into the air, allowing them to settle gently on one round table after another. A woman on a ladder reached high overhead to drape long stretches of tulle along the walls and to suspend more from the ceilings. Candles were placed here and there. They’d be lit the following day, shortly before the first guests arrived. I could already see how gorgeous this space, illuminated by the tall TV monitor-windows and flickering candlelight, would be.
“By the way, Frances,” I said as we moved deeper into the auditorium, “I appreciate you staying in town for the weekend. With as large a crowd as we’re expecting here tomorrow night, I feel better having both of us in charge.”
She pursed her lips and didn’t make eye contact. No one seemed to know what Frances did on weekends. All we knew was that she left town every Friday and didn’t return until Sunday evening. Beyond that, her life was a mystery. I didn’t push her and she never offered a clue.
The thought had occurred to me to have our sometime private investigator Ronny Tooney follow her to discover her secrets, but Frances’s life outside of Marshfield was none of my business and spying on her like that, simply to satisfy my curiosity, would be overstepping boundaries. Had our situations been reversed, I believed Frances would have had no such qualms.
“I’d better be getting time-and-a-half for this,” she said.
“Of course.” I tiptoed onto the makeshift stage, afraid of it wobbling beneath my feet. Within seconds, though, I realized that it was sturdier than I’d expected. “Nice,” I said.
Cherk’s student assistants had set up eight-foot-tall curtains on either side of the platform, and a wider curtain behind it. There was a sizeable space between the back of the center curtain and the rear wall. Plenty of room for Cherk to hide any equipment before and during the show. I was amazed at how quickly this end of the room had taken on the look of a serviceable, though miniature, stage.
“We ought to keep these students in mind if we ever want to hold a theatrical type of event down here,” I said. “They set this up so well and so quickly. It’s great.”
Even Frances seemed impressed. She perched her fists on her orchid-clad hips and gave the room a long look. “Not bad.”

Chapter 3

Back at our offices, Frances turned to me. “By the way,” she said as she sat behind her desk, “how are things going between you and Hillary?”
Hillary. Bennett’s forty-something, rudderless stepdaughter was at my home this very moment, and had been for some time. A few months ago, Bennett had told me that he’d engaged Hillary’s fledgling decorator service. I’d told him I thought that was a wonderful idea. That is, until I learned that he’d hired her to work on my house.
“It’s going as well as can be expected,” I said carefully.
Frances regarded me with a shrewd expression. “Cut the polite blather. I want details.”
I found myself admitting my surprise. “The good news is that Hillary is a talented taskmaster,” I said. “I’d expected her to be difficult to work with, and because she has absolutely zero experience with exterior renovation—”
“She doesn’t have much practice in interior renovation either,” Frances said.
“Nevertheless, it’s been going well. She clearly knows her limitations and so she subcontracts whatever is beyond her capabilities. For instance, we have a project manager on-site who has been an invaluable resource.”
“She can afford to hire talent because she’s spending the Mister’s money.”
“True enough,” I agreed. “Maybe that’s exactly what Bennett intended. Think about it: She’s learning on the job from the project manager. That can only help her succeed in future endeavors. And I have to admit; even though there is still work to be done, the outside of the house looks so much better already.”
“Your neighbors must be happy.”
“I’ll say.” I could barely make it to my front steps these days without one of them stopping by to talk about the changes. A few of them congratulated me on the updates, the rest felt the need to weigh in with their opinions. The most recent suggestion I’d gotten was to install a koi pond in the front yard. Lovely idea. Not my style.
“What’s the bad news?” Frances asked. “There’s always a flip side.”
“I shouldn’t complain,” I said. “Hillary hasn’t been unbearable to work with. Believe it or not, she actually listens to my ideas. And when she offers advice, it’s usually spot-on.”
“Not only that, she’s incredibly fond of my cat. They’ve become best buddies, in fact. Hillary is extremely protective of Bootsie and is very careful about not letting her get out.”
“I’m still waiting for the ‘but.’”
“But.” I heaved a sincere sigh. “I’m about ready to scream from the constant activity. There are workers everywhere, every day. Every minute, it seems. I can’t look out my window without fear of one of them staring back in. I would start counting the days until they’re gone, but I have no idea when that might be.”
“I wouldn’t put up with any of that,” she said. “Even if the Mister was paying for it.”
“Now that the exterior is progressing, Hillary wants to move indoors.”
“I wouldn’t like anyone telling me how to decorate my home.”
“She’s assessing my house even as we speak.” I glanced up at the clock. “A little while ago she texted me about an unexpected situation but was weirdly vague about it. I’m sure she’ll bring me up to speed tonight.” It was true that my house wasn’t designer perfect, but it was comfortable. My roommates and I had made it our own. Tackling the interior would be the worst part of the project. I dreaded the next steps.
Frances shot me a withering look. “A conversation with Hillary? That’s all the excitement you have planned for a Friday night?”
“Sounds pathetic, but I truly don’t mind. Adam won’t be in until the morning, and Scott and Bruce will be tied up at their wine shop until late. I might as well get this over with.”
“The Mister is a smart man,” she said.
That confused me. “I agree, but what makes you say that right now?”
“Hillary is his stepdaughter and you might very well be his niece. He’s doing all he can to get you two to work together. I think he wants you to be best friends.”
I choked out a laugh. “Not a chance.”
“Oh, really? A year ago you wouldn’t have had one good word to say about Hillary. And, trust me, she wouldn’t have had anything good to say about you.” Her carefully penciled brows rose up as though her point were obvious, but she continued anyway. “Seems to me his plan is working.”
“I don’t think he has any ulterior motive beyond helping Hillary get a foothold in business and helping me improve the appearance of my painted lady.” Even as the automatic response streamed out of my mouth, I realized that her observation had struck home. Bennett was fully capable of such a plan. Frances was right. And as much as it irked me, I had to admit that she usually was.

• *

With the construction crew’s trucks and equipment taking up space in my driveway, I parked across the street from my home, marveling at the change in its appearance already. The face-lift, though only half-complete, was remarkable.
Over the years, my painted lady had become more of a flaky lady, with her cracking paint and rotting windows. Old and tired, she’d begun falling apart piece by little piece.
Standing in the sunlight, I shielded my eyes, watching the window crew at work. They’d completed about three-quarters of the job, installing double-hung vinyl replacements, and it looked as though they’d have the remainder done in a day or so. The new windows’ bright white frames made me happy. They contrasted with the weathered exterior, but they offered a hint of the beauty to come.
Hillary and I were still in the process of discussing color choices for the siding. I’d seen a sage-green home with redwood- and butter-colored accents that I’d liked, but Hillary was pushing me to take another look at the blue-and-yellow combination she’d picked out. I wasn’t completely sold on the green, so I’d promised to give her suggestion consideration but only after the clock fund-raiser event was over. Right now I had its success, rather than color combinations, foremost on my mind.
Workers, mostly men, were in and out of my house constantly these days, whether to shore up a gable, repair a wall, or measure for gutters and downspouts. Although the project manager did his best to keep me updated as to what was going on when, I’d begun to lose track. I made a mental note to get caught up. Even though I’d approved the plans and it was now up to the experts to see those plans through, I preferred to stay closely tuned in.
I’d made it halfway across the street, when I heard someone call my name. I turned to see my next-door neighbor, Todd Pedota, making his way over, holding up a hand in greeting. Todd was in his late forties, divorced, living alone in a house that was a mirror image of mine. I’d encountered him now and again, and while he wasn’t the most unpleasant man I’d ever met, our interactions made my teeth hurt. He’d been the last of my neighbors to come over and chat. That had been by design. I’d worked hard to avoid him.
“Grace,” he said, “haven’t seen you around much since all the work began. You win the lottery or something?” He was one of those people who laughed at his own comments, funny or not.
“Nothing like that,” I said.
At about five-foot-ten, Todd kept himself hard-body fit. I suspected that he purposely flexed his biceps whenever women were around, in the hopes that they’d swoon. Today he wore a solid gray T-shirt that fit him like a second skin, and his rippling muscles looked like they were trying to wave hello. I ignored them.
I couldn’t say that Todd wasn’t good-looking. The cleft chin, chiseled jaw, and full head of highlighted hair combined for the kind of look that graced department store sale flyers. Handsome, yes, but the fact that I couldn’t read any emotion from his sunken eyes always made me wary. When he took a step closer, I took one back.
“A beautiful young woman like you suddenly decides to update her home for no reason?” His tone was teasing. Taunting, even. “What’s the occasion? Is there a new man in your life?”
“What could one possibly have to do with the other?”
“So you’re still single?”
Here we go again. “I never said there was no reason for the renovation,” I answered sweetly. “But I see no purpose in sharing that reason with you.”
Unfazed, he arranged his mouth into a smile showing his even, over-whitened teeth. His perfect choppers were the faintest shade of blue. “Maybe you’re dating one of these guys?” He gestured toward the half-dozen workers who were starting to pack up for the night. One of them waved to me. Oh, perfect timing.
“Aha,” Todd said. “Bingo.”
“Thanks for chatting, but I have a friend waiting for me inside.”
Todd raised his eyebrows, still smiling hard enough to blind me. “A friend, huh? Tell you what. If your friend ever lets you down, you know where I am.” He tilted his head toward his property.
“See you later,” I said, eager to get away.
“Hope so.” He lifted a finger and waved it at my house. “Nice changes, Grace. I like what you’re doing with the place. Keep it up.”
My jaw was tight. “So glad you approve.”

Chapter 4

Inside, I dropped my purse on the kitchen table and called out to Hillary. She’d texted me before I’d left Marshfield to let me know that she would be waiting with blueprints I needed to see. I wandered through the first floor but my designer was nowhere to be found.
About to start up the stairs, I tried again. “Hillary? Are you here?”
I heard the basement door open. “Grace,” she called from the kitchen. I wasn’t used to hearing women coo at me the way Hillary did. I supposed she’d grown so used to doing it with all the men she flirted with, she’d forgotten how to shut that little trait off. “You’re home.”
I retraced my steps through the dining room to greet her. How in the world she managed to look so cool and put-together even after a full day on a construction job was beyond my comprehension. Granted, she wasn’t doing the hammering and refinishing herself, but still. There was dust flying everywhere, yet apparently none of it dared land on her.
Hillary had been here this morning before I’d left for work, as she had most mornings since the renovation began. Although I knew she left the premises periodically throughout the day, she always looked as though she’d stepped out from a go-getter women’s magazine. Even now, having emerged from my dingy basement, there wasn’t a speck of dirt on her pink cropped pants, white wedges, and white silk twinset. I’d been in the house for less than a minute and I could already feel the construction dust settling into my skin and hair.
She’d come upstairs with Bootsie. The little rascal, who had been—at best—tolerant of the leash with me, now apparently delighted in her time in the harness with Hillary. Bootsie scampered between Hillary’s chic summer wedges, pouncing on the woman’s toes and making her laugh.
Bennett’s vacuous, self-centered stepdaughter had morphed into a smart businesswoman with good instincts. It didn’t hurt that she had a partner in this venture, Frederick, a man I had yet to meet. The elusive fellow had apparently provided financial backing for Hillary’s business, but I suspected he provided life-coaching advice as well. There was no way she could have made this dramatic of a turnaround in such a short period of time without help.
“Look,” Hillary said to my little tuxedo kitten as she lifted her up and held her close, “Mommy’s here.”
She handed her over. I accepted the bundle of fur and took hold of the leash, relaxing as Bootsie purred against my chest. It was good to be home.
“I got your message,” I said to Hillary. “When you say ‘unexpected,’ I take it to mean ‘trouble.’ What’s wrong?”
“I didn’t get into details in my message only because it’s so difficult to explain in a text. Come downstairs, I’ll show you.”
Her wedges clunked the bare wood steps that led to the basement, making it sound as though a giant was marching down the stairs. “We ought to get these carpeted at some point,” she said over her shoulder.
Bootsie appeared to have no opinion on the matter. She was content to be carried for now but would probably get antsy soon.
“Are the indoor workers almost finished for the day?” I asked as we reached the bottom. “I’d like to take Bootsie off her leash.”
“As a matter of fact, I was doing a final walk-through to make sure the coast was clear, when you got home.” She gave the cat an indulgent smile and scratched her under the chin. “You’ve been such a good girl today, haven’t you?” To me, she said, “The basement was my last stop. We’re all locked up. You can let her down if you like.”
I put Bootsie on the floor and unclasped the leash. Whether it was the freedom, the fact that things in the basement had been moved, offering a rearranged playground, or simply pure kitten joy, I wasn’t sure, but she immediately leaped away and out of sight.
Hillary laughed as we watched her go. “She’s such a character, that one.” Turning to me, she said, “But back to matters at hand,” and gestured for me to follow. I’d been in my basement a hundred times, but had to admit that I didn’t know it intimately.
Measured end to end, this belowground level stretched approximately seventy feet long by fifty feet wide. We sat at a high enough elevation to avoid flooding problems, which rendered the basement dry, yet the area remained musty. Smelling much like an antique shop, it was broken into smaller spaces by the furnace in the center, a storage room along one wall, and our laundry area near the base of the steps. A handful of above-grade windows dotted the walls, delivering scant light through dusty panes thick with cobwebs.
As basements go, it was no beauty. Bare plywood planks had been affixed haphazardly to its uneven walls. These sagging, stained shelves held cans of leftover paint, extra cleaning supplies for upstairs, and junk we didn’t know where else to store. A handful of pull-chain lightbulbs provided meager illumination.
Hillary pointed at a pile of boxes that had been relocated from the front of the basement to a spot closer to the washer and dryer. “I know you can’t fit any more in your garage at this juncture.” She gave me a pointed stare that I took to mean she expected me to clean that out soon. “But I thought that perhaps some of these things would be easier for you to get through if I left them out.”
“How thoughtful,” I said. She missed my sarcasm. Truth was, I did need to get through everything and do a massive purge, both here and in the garage. I simply hadn’t had the opportunity. When I finally got to the project, I wanted to do it right. That meant devoting lots of free time to going through all the “stuff” that my mom had relocated when she’d returned to live here after my dad died. I was looking forward to spending time with my mother’s belongings. I’d stumbled on one secret she’d taken to the grave. I wondered if there were more.
I followed Hillary past the storage room, around the furnace, to a spot near the front of the house along the west wall. Hillary stopped and pointed.
“That’s a workbench,” I said, stating the obvious. It was loaded with coffee cans full of nails, a toolbox, and at least a dozen cardboard boxes all labeled HARDWARE. I shrugged. “I’m guessing that my grandfather built it originally. It’s been here for as long as I can remember.”
Even though the bare wood structure was built into a space between two stone abutments, it squeaked and moved when Hillary gripped one side and wiggled it. “I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet this workbench has been around since long before your grandfather was.” She blinked. “Or should I say, your grandmother’s husband?”
We both knew what she was talking about, but I chose to focus on the implied question instead. “You think it has to go?”
Hillary scrunched up her pert little nose. “Definitely,” she said, not bothering to couch the answer in polite explanation. “It’s a hazard. Worse, it’s ugly.”
I tucked my hands into my hips and looked at the workbench, really looked at it, something I hadn’t done before. “You’re right,” I said. “It is an eyesore. And I wouldn’t want it to fall over on Bootsie.”
She pointed to the very top of the structure. “The only thing I’m concerned about is whether we’ll need to be prepared to shore up that area above it. See?”
I looked. She pointed to what looked like a railroad tie, except it was four times wider and at least three times the length. It sat above the workbench, holding up—
I couldn’t tell what it was holding up. “What an odd place for a beam that doesn’t seem to be attached to anything,” I said.
“When I pointed it out to the project manager, he thought it was possible that this was a load-bearing wall and warned me to be very careful about removing the workbench. He promised to take a closer look tomorrow.” She took a few tiptoe-y steps around the dusty monstrosity and pointed again. “Here’s the part that puzzled him most. The shelves are only about twelve inches deep, but the beam above looks to be more than two feet wide. Do you have any idea what’s behind here?”
“Not a clue.” I dragged an old chair over and stood on top to see if I could determine anything. Not that I would recognize a load-bearing wall versus one that wasn’t. Nor could I figure out why the beam was so much wider than the workbench itself. I’d never looked at it closely before—it had simply always been there and I’d accepted it as a given. “Hey, this is odd,” I said. “The beam looks as though it’s attached to the top of the workbench.”
“Exactly. Which means we can’t simply tear the thing out without first making sure the floor above won’t crash down on top of us.”
I got down from the chair. “Let me know what the project manager says.”
“Frederick had a marvelous thought about this,” she said. “I wanted to show you when you came in, but you needed to see the bench first.” She curled her finger and started back toward the laundry area.
“Frederick was here today?” I followed her. “I thought he was your silent partner.”
She giggled as though I’d said something truly witty. “Frederick is here every day.”
“How strange that we haven’t run into each other yet.”
“I keep forgetting that you haven’t met him. You will.”
When we returned to the area near the stairs, she made a beeline for a long, shallow plastic bin with a hinged white top, like the kind I kept under my bed to store sweaters. “I can’t take credit for this,” she said, “it was all Frederick. He’s the one who ran over to the Emberstowne historical society this afternoon. And good thing he did.”
“What did he need at the historical society?”
“Blueprints for your house.” She pulled up three packets of rolled drawings and stretched one out. “Isn’t this a find? We can study these and know precisely how to restore the interiors.” Catching herself, she added, “I mean, if you think that’s a good idea.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” I said. It was true. I spread my hands along the edges of the blue-tinted paper in order to get a better look at the drawings. This was like finding gold. I couldn’t keep the excitement out of my voice.
Hillary’s face lit up with what may have been the first genuine smile I’d ever seen on her. She was clearly taken aback by my reaction and it occurred to me, belatedly, that she’d probably been as leery about working with me as I was with her. Worse for her, in this situation, she was the one with something to prove. The pressure on her to succeed must be sky-high.
Up until now I’d been the one under the microscope. Even though Bennett had accepted me—had practically taken me in as family—Hillary had remained aloof. Recently, however, after she’d learned about my possible blood relation to Bennett, she’d begun to warm up a little.
Here, in my home, I wielded the power. She needed to work to make me happy with her changes and suggestions. Although I’d understood our new dynamic on a logical level from the very start, it wasn’t until this moment, after her spontaneous reaction to my happiness, that it had hit home.
“Frederick says that they’re probably not as old as the house,” she said. “But they’re the closest thing to an original plan that we have. Frederick borrowed them from the historical society and promised we’d return them no later than Monday morning.”
“I didn’t know that the historical society kept records of every house.”
“Not every,” she said with a little shrug. “Most, though. I think some were lost or misplaced through the years. Frederick was delighted to find out that yours were there.”
Each of the three rolls she’d pulled up was actually a set of multiple sheets. I flipped through them slowly, seeing the floor plans to my first level, the bedroom level, even the attic, before returning to the drawings of the basement.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for the Manor House series

"Fans have grown to love Ollie Paras, the White House chef. They're going to be equally impressed with Grace Wheaton."—Chicago Sun-Times

"Hyzy is a master storyteller."—Escape with Dollycas

"Hyzy has done it again...Well crafted with the many twists and turns that readers demand in a mystery, paired with an eccentric cast of characters."—RT Book Reviews

"Well-reasearched and believable."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Hyzy will keep you guessing until the end and never disappoints."—

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Julie Hyzy writes the White House Chef mysteries, including Home of the BraisedFonduing Fathers, and Affairs of Steak, and the Manor House Mysteries, including Grace Takes OffGrace Among Thieves, and Grace Interrupted, for Berkley Prime Crime. She has won the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for her work. A native Chicagoan, she thoroughly enjoys researching her books, especially when traveling to exciting new places is involved.

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Grace Against the Clock 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Julie Hyzy has done it again! What a wonderful mystery tour. The twists and turns had me guessing all the way through this captivating book. Revisiting the cast of characters, wandering through secret passageways, and cheering Grace on all the way. Cannot wait to see what adventures Grace and Juliie Hyzy have in store for us next! Loved it all the way through!
addictedPW More than 1 year ago
A baffling murder mystery during a gala at Marshfield Manor sets Grace and her cohorts off on another adventure to find first how the murder occurred and how the killer escaped. Rife with hidden passages, romantic entanglements and Emberstown history, this latest in the Manor House cosy mystery is one of the finest so far. Can't wait for the next installment of Grace. addictedPW
chefdt More than 1 year ago
Grace Against the Clock is the fifth book in the A Manor House Mystery series. Once again Hyzy has provided the reader with an engaging mystery. A well developed story with interesting and believable characters. Joyce Swedburg and her ex-husband Dr. Leland Keay are planning a fund raiser to cover the cost of repairing the Emberstowne village green clock. The fund-raiser is going to take place in an unused area of the Marshfield Manor's basement. As Grace is about to start the festivities, Swedburg has a case of food poisoning and is unable to attend, she finds that Dr. Keay is no where to be found. She asks David Cherk, a local photographer to look behind the curtains he had had erected for his evenings presentation, while she and Francis set off to check other nearby areas. As they are returning, Dr. Keay appears and stumbles onto the stage and falls, apparently in a drunken stupor. Grace runs to his side in time to hear the word injection from his dying breath. Leland had a history of alcohol abuse in the past, but everyone thought had been sober for five years since his being in an accident in which his mistress had been killed. It appeared to have been a "locked room" murder, but soon, with the help of the curator of the historical center, that in fact there is a "wood elevator" in the room. Grace now sets her sights on who might have known of this entrance and wanted to do away with Leland. Even though she was supposedly sick, Joyce becomes a prime suspect, as does Grace's neighbor, Todd Depota, whose wife was killed in the accident of Leland's. Meanwhile on the home front, Hillary, Bennett's step-daughter, is busy getting her decorating business going by rejuvenating Grace's Victorian home. Grace and Hillary have had issues in the past, but amazingly, things are going well with them. As work begins in the basement, Hillary soon find a locked metal door, similar in appearance to bank vault door, and when Larry the locksmith gets it opened there appears to be tunnel behind the door. But where the tunnel leads or who had made it is a mystery to everyone. Most all the characters from the previous books in the series are back once again. Bennett seems to be resolved that Grace will be involved with the investigation and pretty much lets Grace pursue the investigation with out too many comments. Francis is a wonderful character and this reader is beginning to enjoy the banter that she has with Grace. In fact, they both have seemed to accepted each other and their bickering seems to be of the good natured type. Scott and Bruce continue to be around as sounding boards for Grace. Once again PI Tooney puts his life on the line for Marshfield Manor and is rewarded nicely for his efforts. Most definitely will be watching for the next book in this exciting series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Noor does it have the bite of paranoid of the other genre take your pick but neit
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the-PageTurner More than 1 year ago
This is the fifth book in this really good series. It is so good to visit again with Grace and the people she knows. There are some you will really like and some you will love to hate. It is a well written mystery and ends with a cliff hanger
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Dollycas More than 1 year ago
When Marshfield Manor hosts a charity event, Grace Wheaton, the mansion’s curator and manager, is happy to lend a helping hand—until a killer makes an unwanted donation… Local lawyer Joyce Swedburg has convinced “the mister” to hold a charity event in the lower level (basement) of Marshfield Manor. Her ex-husband, Dr. Leland Keay is also lending a hand in the planning. Grace is happy to help any way she can but acting as a referee between the exes is not what she had in mind. The event barely gets started and the good doctor passes out on the stage. He appears to be drunk, but dead drunk. It seems Dr. Leland Keay has been poisoned. Grace determines there must have been something more going on behind the scenes. Now, she’s in a race to catch a ticked off murderer, and, if she’s going to prevent anyone else from getting hurt, every second will count… Dollycas’s Thoughts This time Grace takes us to a lower level of the manor and the basement of her beautiful historic home and they both reveal surprises. These surprises kept the pages flying. Julie Hyzy writes in such a way that the reader feels like part of the story. We are members of the crowd in both places just taking in the action. I was shocked to see how well Grace worked with Hillary on the details of the renovation of her home. Hillary was like a totally different person now that she is doing something she loves to do. Grace’s assistant Frances never fails to crack me up. They make a great team, even with the occasional barbs Frances throw out there. Detective Flynn just knows Grace is going to be butting in on his case and with his partner is out of commission he almost welcomes her help. I said almost because he really would like all the accolades to himself when the case is solved. But when she uncovers a very important clue he sees the writing on the wall. And Private Eye Tooney again finds himself in the right place at the right time. Hyzy just keeps getting better and better. With each story Grace continues to evolve and we learn more about Marshfield Manor too. I really enjoyed that the story also took us to Grace’s “Painted Lady” home. The outside renovations sound gorgeous. I hope to hear all about the inside too. You really can’t go wrong with a cozy mystery by Julie Hyzy. I have been delighted with each Manor House Mystery and the White House Mysteries too. They are all perfect to escape into on the beach or in a comfy chair in front of the fire.