Best known for her Catherine LeVendeur medieval series (The Witch in the Well, etc.), Newman turns to her hometown of Portland, Ore., for this lackadaisical 1860s historical. The rough young city is growing fast, creating a wealth of opportunities for unscrupulous businessmen. When Horace Stratton, who made his fortune in China, dies on his way back to Portland with his wife, Emily, the daughter of American missionaries in China, Emily must manage her new life alone. After delving into Horace's business affairs, Emily learns that his fortune came from the abhorrent opium trade. Her reform efforts trigger alarm among the city's power brokers. As bodies start piling up and her own safety is threatened, Emily struggles to find her place in a society that expects women to stay home and let men take care of things. All the elements are in place for a rich, multilayered story, but weak character development and the heavy-handed portrayal of the era's sexism make for a disappointing read. Loyal Newman fans may wish for a return to the 12th century. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Shanghai Tunnelby Sharan Newman
Portland, 1868. It is a rough hewn place, an exploding trading post that has dreams of becoming a metropolis.
Horace Stratton, one of Portland's wealthiest heirs, has decided to come home for good after amassing yet another fortune in Shanghai. With him comes his wife Emily, a shy daughter of missionaries, and their teenaged son. On the brink of that happy/p>
Portland, 1868. It is a rough hewn place, an exploding trading post that has dreams of becoming a metropolis.
Horace Stratton, one of Portland's wealthiest heirs, has decided to come home for good after amassing yet another fortune in Shanghai. With him comes his wife Emily, a shy daughter of missionaries, and their teenaged son. On the brink of that happy return, Horace suddenly falls ill and dies in San Francisco.
Emily and her son bring her husband home to Portland and they try to settle into this new culture. While they look as if they should belong, Portland is a strange and unsettling place for them.
Emily is guilt-ridden, but sorrow is one of the few emotions she didn't feel when told of her husband's passing. For Emily had learned more about her husband's past than anyone would believe. And she discovers that all of his schemes did not die with him.
His partners very much want Emily and her son to go away... by whatever means necessary. Emily will have to delve into her husband's seedy and painful past and set things right so that she can make a life for herself and her son in this strange land.
Shipping magnate Horace Stratton dies and leaves his wife to navigate his complicated business affairs, as well as the move he had begun from Shanghai to Portland, OR. In 1868, the latter city, though small, is developing its unique and diverse character: Italians operate restaurants, Chinese cook and labor, and the transcontinental railroad arrives. Emily Stratton finds that she is much stronger than anyone ever imagined, as she takes on her husband's business partners and investigates the murder of a man in her kitchen. Newman, author of the much acclaimed Catherine LeVendeur medieval mysteries, always does her research for her brilliant historicals. Recommended for mystery collections where historicals circulate.
Jo Ann Vicarel
“Readers looking for quality historical fiction ought to add Newman's name to their lists of must-read authors. Newman offers absorbing stories with well-drawn sympathetic characters.” Mystery Scene
“Newman mixes moral complexity and careful research to tell an entertaining tale.” Publishers Weekly on Heresy
“An unforgettable tale of vengeance and love and cruelty and death…Sharan Newman creates memorable characters who spring off the page breathing, crying, singing, laughing, as completely realistic as any people I have met. It is rare to find a book so historically accurate and enjoyable to read as this one is.” Mystery News on Cursed in the Blood
“Colorful characters and thoroughly researched culture add up to wonderful historical fiction.” Library Journal on Strong As Death
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The stench of embalming fluid rose from the open coffin and struck Emily with the force of a tidal wave. She put a scented handkerchief to her nose and pushed her tongue against the roof of her mouth to keep from gagging.
“Really, Mrs. Stratton,” Mr. Phipps was at her side in a moment. “It wasn’t at all necessary for you to do this. It’s better if you could remember your husband as he was.”
“I had to see him,” Emily said through the handkerchief. “I had to be sure.”
Phipps averted his eyes from the corpse. The embalmers hadn’t got to it soon enough.
“There was no need,” he repeated. “Can we please shut that now?”
Emily nodded. The poor man seemed on the edge of hysteria. One would think he’d never looked on death before. Emily did feel ill, but for a different reason. The man in the coffin was certainly Horace, her husband for the past eighteen years.
The lid slammed down. Phipps exhaled gratefully.
“There was never any doubt that it was Captain Stratton,” he told Emily with reproach. “I identified him myself and there were many at the hotel who knew him. You should have spared yourself this ordeal.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Phipps,” Emily said. “If I hadn’t seen him, there would always have been a doubt in my mind. Some part of me would have refused to believe he was gone and continued to expect him to return.”
Phipps nodded in sympathy. “I understand. At least he wasn’t lost at sea. Then you might have continued to hope forever.”
Hope? Emily almost laughed. Dread was the word she would have used. The thud of the coffin lid over Horace’s body was like a bell of freedom. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she feared the possibility that his death had been a ruse.
Now he could never hurt anyone again.
The feeling was followed by a sense of shame. Whatever else Horace had done, he had provided for her and their son. Perhaps she had been the one who had failed. Her husband had believed that the young daughter of an unworldly missionary could be dutifully trained to suit his requirements. Emily knew she hadn’t lived up to expectations.
Emily sighed as she turned away from the coffin. Now neither of them would have the chance to change.
Phipps took her arm and led her out of the funeral parlor. He wished the woman hadn’t been so insistent on seeing her husband’s remains. But it was hard to reason with a grief-stricken widow. Inwardly, he shook his head in amazement that any woman could have been so blind as not to have known the kind of man Horace Stratton was. But perhaps the merchant had behaved differently during his brief stays at his home in Shanghai. Many men showed one face to their families and another to the world.
It didn’t occur to him that the private face might be worse. Emily returned to her hotel room. She left Mr. Phipps in the lobby after assuring him that she would dine at the hotel. He didn’t press his invitation to join him and his wife at their home.
“Of course you need time to recover from all this.” He patted her hand. “To have come all the way from China and then have Captain Stratton die so suddenly while you were visiting in Monterey, you must feel devastated. Please feel free to call upon me at any time if I can assist you.”
Emily climbed the thickly carpeted stairs of the elegant hotel. Crystal chandeliers on each level glittered against mirrors, making the hallways seem infinite. The gaslight flickered in such a way that each reflection was slightly distorted, as if a hundred different faces looked back at her. She wondered if any of them were real.
In her room she was greeted by her maid, Mary Kate Kyne. Mary Kate was newly hired. Horace had insisted that his wife not bring any of the Chinese servants from Shanghai. He had been determined to make her adapt as quickly as possible to their new life in America. But at least it had been Emily and not Horace who had chosen the young Irishwoman, almost as new to the country as she. Mary Kate had been a chambermaid at the hotel in Monterey, where Horace had left Emily while he went up to San Francisco. She had proved so helpful and level-headed when word had come of his death that Emily had decided to take her on.
“There is no doubt,” she told Mary Kate, as the maid helped her off with boots and coat. “My husband is dead. Mr. Phipps assures me that I am now a wealthy widow.”
“Well, that’s something to be grateful for, isn’t it?” Mary Kate’s deep blue eyes showed her concern.
“It is,” Emily admitted. “My son shall want for nothing.” Her voice trembled. “My poor Robert! How can I tell him that his father has died? If only the ship would arrive. I can’t bear the fear that something might happen to him, too.”
Mary Kate made soothing noises. “It should only be a few more days before the lad is here with you. Didn’t you say he was taking the train across Panama instead of going all the way around South America like I did? Why, that journey should be nothing to a boy who’s traveled from China to Boston for his schooling.”
Emily smiled sadly. “I have no doubt that he’s enjoying the journey mightily. Robert always did love adventure. It seems odd that my husband was so insistent on our son studying law. You’d think he’d want Robert to become a merchant captain as he was.”
Mary Kate had quickly become used to her mistress speculating aloud and knew that she wasn’t required to comment. She took a clothes brush and began smoothing Emily’s crumpled wool skirt.
“Will you be taking Captain Stratton’s coffin up to Oregon?” she asked instead. Emily had said nothing of her plans. Mary Kate fretted that they might not include her, especially if Mrs. Stratton decided to return to China.
Emily nodded. “His sister telegraphed that she wanted him buried in the family plot. I replied that we would come as soon as Robert had some time to recover from the shock of such news on top of his long journey.”
She was quiet a moment, allowing the soft sound of the brush to calm her jangled nerves.
“Mr. Phipps seems to think that I should return to Shanghai,” she said at last, “but Horace wanted us to live in his old home in Portland. Even though it will be strange to me, I think that’s what we should do. There is nothing for me to return to. The house we lived in is let, the furniture all in boxes here at the wharf. I have no family there since my parents passed away.”
She closed her eyes as unwanted memories rushed in. She resolutely pushed them back, took a deep breath, and concentrated on the problems of the present. As Mr. Longfellow said, she would “let the dead past bury its dead.” It was enough to cope with the living.
But how was she to cope? Emily was truly grateful that she could live comfortably. She knew that she had no skills with which to support herself. In Shanghai the servants had been horrified at the idea that she should do anything but give orders and attend social functions.
She hadn’t been very good at that, either.
Suddenly she was the master of her fate. It terrified her. The next morning Mr. Phipps arrived at the hotel immediately after breakfast. He was armed with a portmanteau stuffed with documents for her to sign.
“What is all this?” Emily looked up at him in bewilderment.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” he smiled. “Just business papers, things to do with the estate. Unfortunately, Captain Stratton didn’t leave his affairs in the best of order. There was a will, of course. It leaves everything to you as guardian for your son, with provisions for your support once he comes of age. It will be formally read when you reach Portland. But there are a number of matters that can’t wait. If you’ll just sign these, I can take care of everything.”
He smiled again. Perhaps it was the light, but Emily had the oddest impression that his canine teeth were longer and sharper than normal.
“Thank you,” she said.
He gestured for her to sit at the writing desk.
Emily remained in her chair by the window.
“I know very little about my husband’s business,” she explained. “But I think it’s time I learned. Please leave everything with me for now. I’ll read it all and ask you if there’s anything I don’t understand.”
“But . . . but, Mrs. Stratton,” he sputtered. “It will take you days to go through all of this. Many of these matters require immediate attention.”
“I see.” Emily walked over to the desk and leafed through the pile. “In that case, perhaps you could put the most pressing business on top.”
Phipps was both amazed and infuriated that such a small woman could be so adamant. First the ghoulish need to see the body, now her stubborn unwillingness to leave financial affairs in his hands.
He wondered if she was as ignorant about Horace’s business as she pretended. What if Emily Stratton had even helped in some of the more unsavory aspects of the import trade? Her parents may have been missionaries, but that didn’t mean their daughter was a holy innocent.
Grudgingly, Phipps relented and agreed to leave the papers for Emily to study. He was glad that she would soon be the problem of the surviving partners in the captain’s firm up in Portland. Emily spent the evening going through the stack of paperwork, stopping now and then to take a bite from the tray of sandwiches that the hotel had sent up. At first the documents seemed tediously straightforward, one lading bill after another, lists of shipments of tea, spices, porcelain, silk, opium, all the things that made the dangerous Pacific crossing worthwhile.
But as she laid the papers out in neat piles, trying to arrange them by date instead of subject, Emily began to realize that the figures didn’t match. How could more have been delivered than had been put on the ship in the first place? She ruffled through the papers, hunting for a second lading bill. Perhaps Horace had added a consignment of fruit and sugar in the Sandwich Islands.
Emily rubbed her eyes and began again. She would not own that Mr. Phipps had been right about her ability to understand business. She would simply have to learn. It was either that or continue to allow her life to be controlled by others.
No. Never again.
With cold fingers, she picked up her abacus and tried to make the sums come out.
As she felt the familiar click of the beads sliding across the metal rods, Emily’s mind wandered back to her childhood. She had learned to do sums on an abacus. The Chinese children in the classroom had laughed at her at first, but soon they forgot she was a foreign devil and made her one of their own. Her parents had wanted her to understand Chinese ways so that she could one day preach the Gospel to the natives in terms they understood. What they had not realized was that their Methodist daughter was being converted herself.
Although marriage to Horace had meant moving away from the poorer quarter where the missionaries worked into the world of European traders and soldiers, Emily had still felt that, however bad it was, she knew the rules of the world she lived in.
Then her parents had been killed in Nanking, and Shanghai itself had come under siege from the Taiping revolutionaries. Horace had been at sea at the time, and she and Robert had faced the terror without him. Somehow, they had survived, although the horrors she had witnessed would be with Emily forever.
The events in Shanghai had convinced Horace that, as soon as the Civil War in America ended, Robert should return there with him to attend a preparatory academy in Boston. Two years later he had unexpectedly decided to move the family back to America and settle in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. There he planned on living well and impressing his friends with the wealth he had amassed in the Far East. He even spoke of entering politics.
Emily had not been consulted about any of this. She had been told to pack their things. A month later, they were at sea. Horace had arranged everything. Her only duty was to obey. Then he had died, leaving her to cope on her own.
Mr. Phipps had made it clear that Horace had expected her to continue to obey, to be a secluded widow, in mourning the rest of her life. What else was she good for?
Emily didn’t know, but she was determined to find out.
San Francisco was as alien to her as the moon. Portland might have been the land of Cockaigne for all she knew of it. How was she to navigate in this strange world? The only ray of hope was in knowing that Robert would be with her soon. Emily was resolved to be strong for him, to prove that she could care for them both. More than anything, she wanted to keep Robert from the influence of the sort of men that Horace had associated with. The only way to do that was to deal with them herself.
She gave a sharp breath of frustration. Why wouldn’t these stupid numbers add up?
The abacus slipped from her fingers and bounced on the carpet, beads spinning.
Mary Kate found her the next morning, slumped over the desk, her cheek stuck to a customs form.
“Gracious, ma’am!” She exhaled sharply. “You gave me a terrible turn, all crumpled over. I was that glad to find you still breathing!”
Emily groaned as she got up from the chair. “I’m sorry, Mary Kate.” The paper she had drooled on in the night detached from her face and fluttered to the floor. The maid picked it up.
“All those chicken scratchings!” she said. “Don’t tell me you spent the whole night winkling out the sense of them?”
Emily looked ruefully at the scattered papers. “I’m afraid not.” She sighed and stretched. “All I’m sure of is that Mr. Phipps was right when he said that Robert and I are provided for.”
She stopped, her arms still in the air, and looked down at her severe black dress. A month in America had made her aware that it was ten years behind the fashion.
“Mary Kate,” she decided. “It would be a shameful thing if you and I were to appear in Portland to meet my husband’s family dressed like paupers, don’t you think?”
Mary Kate put her hand down to cover the patch she had put on the one dress she owned that she thought good enough for a lady’s maid. “You don’t want them thinking you’re looking for charity,” she agreed.
Emily looked at the papers again, then at Mary Kate. An expression of wicked delight spread across her face. “You’re right,” she said firmly. “Help me gather these up and put them in the safe. You and I are going shopping. The wife of an English diplomat in Shanghai once told me that there was nothing like a new wardrobe to give a woman confidence. I am feeling very lacking in confidence at the moment. I’m going to test her theory. Put on your cloak, Mary Kate; we are going to be the most fashionable pair in the entire city.” When Mr. Phipps arrived to pick up the signed papers, he found an entirely new Emily waiting for him. She was head to toe in black mourning, as was proper. But instead of the plain-cut wool with the severe collar she had worn the day before, this costume was almost sumptuous.
The dressmaker had informed Emily that this was the finest in mourning wear. The dress was in the Gabrielle style and made of black gabardine that shimmered in the gaslight. It was buttoned down the front with jet beads and trimmed with black Cluny lace and floss tassels. At the back was a deep flounce. The woman had pieced it together that day from bits already in the shop. More clothing would arrive over the next week.
Mr. Phipps’s only perception was that this elegant figure was not the woman he had parted from two days previously. She was more composed, more assured. She even seemed taller. The transformation unsettled him greatly.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Phipps,” Emily greeted him. “Please sit down. Would you like some tea? No?”
She went over to the desk and selected a small pile of papers.
“I believe that these are the only ones that need my signature at the moment,” she said as she handed them to him. “I appreciate the work you did to allow me to access immediate funds. The rest of the documents will require further study, I’m afraid. I shall take them to Portland with me so that I can compare them with the records kept by Captain Stratton’s partners there.”
Phipps rose as if pulled at the end of a rope.
“Now, now, Mrs. Stratton,” he pleaded. “That isn’t at all the thing to do!”
“I believe I am now in charge of my husband’s business affairs, am I not?” There was the merest hint of a knife in her tone.
“According to his will, yes,” Phipps admitted. “But he never intended for you to sully yourself with the mundane details. It’s not fitting.”
She appeared to consider this. “It is true that I have allowed myself to be left in ignorance of the source of that which provides my daily bread,” she said. “My husband was of your belief that such matters were not a woman’s provenance.”
Mr. Phipps started to relax.
“And yet . . . ,” Emily added.
Phipps could feel his stomach tighten.
Emily smiled. “And yet he did leave the responsibility to me. I must at least try to fulfill his trust.”
“But, Mrs. Stratton. . . .”
“I am grateful for all you have done. Of course you must continue as agent to the company here in San Francisco.” Emily moved to open the door. “I shall take the steamer for Portland as soon as my son arrives. When we have settled in and buried Captain Stratton, I shall consult with his partners as to the future of the company.”
She glanced out the hotel window. “I see that the fog is clearing at last. Do enjoy the rest of the day.”
There was nothing the man could do but take his hat and go.
He went immediately to the telegraph office to warn Stratton’s partners just what was about to descend on them. Emily hobbled back to the chair and eased into it. These high heels might be the latest style, and they did put her a bit closer to being able to look Mr. Phipps right in the eye, but they were horribly uncomfortable to balance in.
The little man had made a good point. It was very strange that Horace had left his business interests to her without appointing someone to manage them for her. Certainly, he had never given any indication that he thought her capable of understanding commerce. He had told her more than once that she was a great disappointment to him, in all respects. Perhaps he had believed he would live long enough to pass everything directly to his son. Or it may simply never have occurred to him that she would actually try to manage things rather than turn business matters over to Mr. Phipps.
No, it wasn’t like Horace at all. Emily felt there was something she was missing.
There was a knock at the door.
“It’s the porter, ma’am.” Mary Kate was bubbling with excitement. “The ship from Boston has come in. Your son is here at last!”
Emily’s face lit. Robert! She fairly flew down the hotel stairs and into the waiting cab. In a few moments she would be able to hold her son in her arms again.
All the other worries were chased out by overwhelming joy.
Copyright © 2008 by Sharan Newman. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Sharan Newman is a historian, lecturer, and writer who has won many awards, including the Macavity for Best First Mystery, and the Herodotus for Best Historical Mystery.
Sharan Newman is a medieval historian and author. She took her Master’s degree in Medieval Literature at Michigan State University and then did her doctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara in Medieval Studies, specializing in twelfth-century France. She is a member of the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Association of the Pacific.
Rather than teach, Newman chose to use her education to write novels set in the Middle Ages, including three Arthurian fantasies and ten mysteries set in twelfth-century France, featuring Catherine LeVendeur, a one-time student of Heloise at the Paraclete; her husband, Edgar, an Anglo-Scot; and Solomon, a Jewish merchant of Paris. The books focus on the life of the bourgeoisie and minor nobility and also the uneasy relations between Christians and Jews at that time. They also incorporate events of the twelfth-century such as the Second Crusade and the rise of the Cathars.
The Catherine Levendeur mysteries have been nominated for many awards. Sharan won the Macavity Award for best first mystery for Death Comes As Epiphany and the Herodotus Award for best historical mystery of 1998 for Cursed in the Blood. The most recent book in the series The Witch in the Well won the Bruce Alexander award for best Historical mystery of 2004.
Just for a change, her next mystery, The Shanghai Tunnel, is set in Portland in 1868.
Newman has also written non-fiction books, including The Real History Behind the Da Vince Code (Berkley 2005) and the upcoming Real History Behind the Templars.
Newman lives on a mountainside in Oregon.
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In 1867 Horace Stratton decides to return home to Portland after a very successful business trip in Shanghai. Accompanied by his wife Emily and their teenage son Robert they reach San Francisco in January 1868 only Horace dies there. The dutiful daughter of missionaries, feeling some guilt for she knows she never lived up to her husband¿s expectations, Emily and Robert bring Horace¿s body home to be buried in Portland. The surviving Strattons plan to live in Horace¿s hometown not aware of how rough and tumble of a place it is in spite of leading citizens hoping to turn it into the San Francisco of the northwest. However, the widow and her son are not welcomed by Portland¿s elitists especially those who partnered with Horace. They are ignorant as to how much she really knows and understands about her late husband¿s unethical and mostly illegal activities and her plans to learn what she does not know. Still they will not take chances and plot to drive her and her son out of town if they fail to run her out then they will bury her next to her deceased husband. --- THE SHANGHAI TUNNEL (in an afterward Sharan Newman explains that the tunnels exist under Portland¿s streets) is an enjoyable and riveting historical amateur sleuth tale that brings alive Reconstruction Era Portland, which obviously has come a long way from its salad days. The Oregonians are a deep support cast, but the story line totally belongs to the courageous widow as she surprises everyone including her self with her grit by refusing to leave. Horace must be turning in his grave witnessing what he never saw in his wife as the mouse roars. Ms. Newman begins her new historical saga (see Catherine LeVenduer historical mysteries) with a winning mid nineteenth century thriller. --- Harriet Klausner