The Grey Beginningby Barbara Michaels
Devastated by her husband's death, Kathy Malone has traveled to his childhood home, hoping to come to terms with the recent tragedy. Here in the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany, she seeks solace—and discovers something sinister instead. Befriending a lonely boy named Pietro—accepting the chilly hospitality of the aristocratic Contessa Morandini—
Devastated by her husband's death, Kathy Malone has traveled to his childhood home, hoping to come to terms with the recent tragedy. Here in the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany, she seeks solace—and discovers something sinister instead. Befriending a lonely boy named Pietro—accepting the chilly hospitality of the aristocratic Contessa Morandini—Kathy begins to uncover the pieces of an ominous puzzle and hints of a deadly obsession. And now she has stumbled upon a murderous plot that could cost Kathy her life—for it was meant to stay hidden . . . forever.
"It's got all the elementsa young woman whose enigmatic husband has just died, an ominous old Italian villa, a sinister contessa, excursions into the night....Barbara Michaels tells her story with grace, wit and unflagging suspense."San Jose Mercury News
"A new Barbara Michaels is always a treatI try never to miss one. Such a novel, with an intelligent heroine, is one of my greatest pleasures. Barbara always provides it."Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon
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From the Piazzale Michelangelo you can see all of Florence. In the sunlight of the afternoon it looked like one of the pietra dura inlays at which Florentine craftsmen excelled--a picture shaped from antique gold and semiprecious stones, amber and carnelian, topaz, heliodor, and chrysoberyl. Few cities are as beautiful; few can boast such a heritage. The names ring in the mind like trumpets--Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, Fra Angelico.
I sat sullenly in the car with my back turned to the, spectacular view. I didn't want to be there. I had done my damnedest to avoid the place, and Florence itself. On the map the route looked simple. Leave the Autostrada del Sole at Firenze Est, cross the Arno by the first possible bridge, and head north toward Fiesole, skirting the inner city. I never even made it across the river. The map didn't show the sprawling suburbs with their mystifying mazes of streets and their inadequate signs. At least when I reached ,the Piazzale Michelangelo I knew where I was. I stopped there because I had a feeling that if I turned the steering wheel one more time I would keep on turning it, around and around, in circles, till I ran into another car or a tree or somebody's front door.
Finger by finger I unglued my sticky hands from the wheel. The weather wasn't hot. It was early spring in Tuscany, crisp and cool despite the brilliant sun. My hands were slippery with perspiration and stiff with cramp. I had held that wheel in a death grip all the way from Rome. But I had made it--so far. If someone had told me three months ago that I would be in the hills above Florence, Italy, after driving arental car all those miles from Rome, I would have laughed-and laughed, and gone on laughing till a nurse came and gave me a shot.
It had happened, more times than I cared to remember. Even now I wasn't sure what had shaken me up and out of what Aunt Mary called "Kathy's high-priced crazy house." Dear, tactful Aunt Mary. Nobody in our family had ever had a nervous breakdown. Only weaklings had nervous breakdowns. That was how Aunt Mary referred to it; the newfangled jargon of psychiatry was not for her. Call it a crazy house or a nursing home or a psychiatric institution; call it a nervous breakdown or severe depression--or melancholia, as the Victorians did; it hurt just as much by any name.
Aunt Mary was smugly sure that it was her "down-to-earth, no-nonsense" lecture that had shamed me into getting my act together, after weeks of lolling around feeling sorry for myself. Dr. Hochstein took the credit for "curing" me with his new, advanced methods. Dr. Baldwin didn't think I was cured, "We haven't reached the root of the problem, Kathy. Four or five years of intensive psychotherapy. . ." Baldwin and Hochstein belonged to opposing schools,--Baldwin the traditionalist, Hochstein a firm believer in encounter therapy: Never mind what caused the problem, face it and learn to deal with it. Theoretically I've nothing against that approach, but the application of it in my case almost killed me. The first time Hochstein got me into a car I just sat there behind the wheel and sobbed till he let me get out. The second and third times weren't much better. I hated Dr. Hochstein, but it worked for me. I had just proved that it worked. Even in my carefree pre-breakdown driving career I'd have had qualms about driving on an Italian autostrada in a rented car.
I picked up the car at the airport outside Rome, avoiding the city traffic. But it had not been an easy drive. I had to concentrate fiercely on every movement I made and keep a close eye on the movements of other cars, all of which appeared to be driven by people even crazier than I was. I concentrated so hard I was able to forget, for minutes on end, the memory that haunted me--the bright-red Torino looking like a child's toy in the distance, spinning off the road, lifting in dreamlike, impossible flight before it dropped, down into the trees below. Then the sound, splitting the winter stillness, and the leaping column of flame and smoke.
I reached for my cigarettes. I'd quit smoking years ago, started again after . . . Baldwin protested. Baldwin didn't believe in crutches. When he lectured me about emphysema, heart trouble, lung cancer, I laughed and quoted Alfred E. Newman. What, me worry? Why should I worry, Dr. Baldwin? Who cares about heart trouble thirty years from now? The young lives are snuffed out too soon, mangled and crushed and burned. I saw it happen, Dr. Baldwin.
I moved so fast I bruised my knuckles getting out of the car. It was the only way I knew to stop that train of thought. Do something, anything, and do it fast.
I knew what I would see. I had read the brochures and seen the photographs. The view from the Piazzale is the view of Florence. But I didnt know it would be so beautiful. I couldn't see crumbling mortar or flaking paint. I didn't know the soft mist in which the city floated like the fairy laid of Lyonnesse was auto exhaust. I wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me, It was not a real city, it was a legend suspended above the earth, Avalon, swathed in veils of cloud.
I hung over the parapet for a while playing tourist with the other tourists, trying to see how many landmarks I could identify. Bruneffeschi's great dome, with Giotto's bell lower beside it; the slender crenellated tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and the spires of Santa Croce and the Bargello. The gentle curves of the Arno, gilded by sunlight, and the Ponte Vecchio.The Grey Beginning. Copyright © by Barbara Michaels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Peters (writing as Barbara Michaels) was born and brought up in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago's famed Oriental Institute. Peters was named Grandmaster at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986, Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar® Awards in 1998, and given The Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic in 2003. She lives in an historic farmhouse in western Maryland.
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Once again Barbara Michaels proves to be a stunning author in this novel. She creates a story blending mystery, romance, and magic that ends with a thrilling twist you'll find hard to believe.