Snow White Red-Handed (Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery Series #1)

Snow White Red-Handed (Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery Series #1)

4.5 12
by Maia Chance
     
 

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Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…
 
1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a

Overview

Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…
 
1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.
 
To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out…

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/29/2014
Set in 1867, Maia’s lively debut, the first in a new cozy series, introduces actresses Ophelia Flax and Prudence Bright. The pair, finding themselves unemployed aboard a ship bound for Europe from New York, use their guile to persuade a fellow passenger, wealthy Mrs. Pearl Coop, to hire them as maids. Ophelia and Prue wind up working at the castle Mr. and Mrs. Coop own in Germany’s Black Forest. On the estate is a cottage that may have been the home of the original Snow White, the object of interest of two professors, Winkler and Penrose. Winkler dismisses all things fairy tale, while Penrose secretly hopes to demonstrate that such stories are rooted in fact. When Mr. Coop takes a fatal bite out of a poisoned apple, Prue is accused of murder. Determined to prove Prue innocent, Ophelia joins forces with Penrose, and each agrees to aid the other’s mission. The conclusion will whet the reader’s appetite for Ophelia and Prue’s next misadventure. Agent: Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Snow White Red-Handed

“Offering a clever twist on the tales of the Brothers Grimm, this debut historical cozy (and series launch) introduces an attractive, spunky heroine…and an entertaining, well-constructed plot that will satisfy fans of folklore and fairy tales.”—Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Deliciously Gothic, intriguingly different, this story plunges us into the world of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, where the greed and evil are all too real, and everyone has something to hide.”—Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author
 
“[Chance’s] lively debut, the first in a new cozy series…will whet the reader’s appetite for Ophelia and Prue’s next misadventure.”—Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
★ 11/01/2014
Victorian actress Ophelia Flax quits her music hall job to protect her ward, Prudence Bright, and signs on as a lady's maid to the wife of a crass American millionaire, Homer Coop. When the entourage arrives in the Black Forest of Germany, where Coop has purchased a castle, mysterious events occur. Discovered in the woods is a tiny cottage where a dwarf corpse is found. Is this Snow White's dwelling? Then Coop is killed after eating a poisoned apple, and the cottage's artifacts are stolen. The primary suspect is Prue, but Ophelia is determined to prove her charge's innocence, with the assistance of a handsome English professor of folklore. VERDICT Offering a clever twist on the tales of the Brothers Grimm, this debut historical cozy (and series launch) introduces an attractive, spunky heroine, full of piss and vinegar, and an entertaining, well-constructed plot that will satisfy fans of folklore and fairy tales.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425271629
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/04/2014
Series:
Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery Series, #1
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
467,620
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

She drew the slipper from her cloak. Her eyes, adjusting to the thin moonlight, picked out the faintest of shapes on a path between two rows of trees. Could they be . . . footprints?

1

SS Leviathan

Somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean

August 1867

Miss Ophelia Flax was neither a professional confidence trickster nor a lady’s maid, but she’d played both on the stage. In desperate circumstances like these, that would have to do.

“Who told you that our maid Marie gave notice?” Mrs. Coop said. Her diamond earrings wobbled.

Miss Amaryllis, sitting beside Mrs. Coop on the sofa, sniffed and added, “Uppity French tart.”

If ever there were two wicked stepsisters, here they were, taking tea in the SS Leviathan’s stuffy first-class stateroom number eighteen: thick-waisted, brassy-haired Mrs. Coop, clutching at her fading bloom in a deshabille gown of pink ribbons and Brussels lace, and her much younger sister Miss Amaryllis, a bony damsel of twenty or so with complexion spots, slumped shoulders, and a green silk gown that resembled a lampshade. They looked up at Ophelia, expectant and hostile.

Ophelia stood before them, tall and plain in the gray woolen traveling dress, black gloves, and prim buttoned boots she’d borrowed—stolen was such a rotten word—from the costume trunks of Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties in the ship’s hold.

“Your maid’s abandonment of her post,” Ophelia said, “came to my attention during my midday promenade on the first-class deck.”

She needn’t mention that her own cramped berth was in the bowels of third class, where it stank of sour cabbage and you felt the ship’s engines vibrating in your teeth.

“Embarrassing scene.” Mrs. Coop pitched herself forward to reach for a cream puff. “The way Marie threw her apron at me! She always did behave as though she were my—my superior.”

“It wasn’t your fault, ma’am,” Ophelia said. “French maids are notoriously fickle. They’re not the best for service, I’m afraid.”

“But everyone in New York’s got one. They’re simply mad for them.”

“It is my understanding, ma’am, that while a certain . . . class of society cling to the outdated notion that a French lady’s maid is the height of elegance, the Van Der Snoots and De Schmeers and”—Ophelia scanned the stateroom’s luxurious furnishings—“St. Armoire ladies have of late discovered that a Yankee lady’s maid is best.”

“Yankee?” Mrs. Coop’s bitten cream puff hovered in midair. Yellowish filling oozed from the sides.

“Yes, ma’am. Yankee girls are honest, hardworking, modest, and loyal.”

Miss Amaryllis slitted her eyes. “I suppose you’re a Yankee girl?”

“Indeed I am. Born and bred on a farmstead in New Hampshire, miss.”

That was true. She’d leave out the bits about the textile mill and the traveling circus. They didn’t have the same wholesome ring.

“I’ll find a new maid when we reach Germany,” Mrs. Coop said. “I’ve made up my mind. Why, if I had known Marie would quit in the midst of my honeymoon voyage, I’d have left her on the dock in Manhattan!”

“Another virtue of Yankee girls,” Ophelia said, “is their ability to arrange coiffures, make cosmetic preparations, and, if needed—although I’m certain ma’am has no need—apply powders and tints with a hand as subtle as nature herself.”

A lie, of course. But Ophelia was an actress—or she had been up until four hours ago, when Howard DeLuxe had given Prue the boot and Ophelia had been obliged to quit—and putting on greasepaint was one thing she knew how to do well.

“Yankee girls use face paint?” Mrs. Coop said. “Why, you said it yourself. They’re as plain as potatoes.”

“But they learned from their grandmothers, ma’am, the arts of medicinal plants. My own gran taught me to whip up an elderflower tincture that returns the skin to snowy youth—”

Another fib. But Mrs. Coop’s eyes glimmered with interest.

“—and a Pomade Victoria of beeswax and almond oil that makes the hair shine like gold, a salve of Balsam Peru that makes complexion spots vanish.” Ophelia leaned forward. “I could not help noticing Miss Amaryllis’s unfortunate condition.”

“Why, the cheek!” Mrs. Coop’s bosom heaved.

Miss Amaryllis glared up at Ophelia and bit into a biscuit with a snap.

“And,” Ophelia said, “a pleasant-tasting tonic of vinegar that slims a lady’s waist without effort.”

Mrs. Coop’s half-eaten cream puff plopped onto her plate.

Ophelia had hooked her halibut.

“Here,” Ophelia said, drawing two sealed envelopes from her pocket, “are my letters of reference. I, and my young acquaintance, Miss Prudence Bright, were traveling to England to work in the employ of Lady Cheshingham at Greyson Hall in Shropshire.”

Lady Cheshingham was, in truth, the lead character in the risqué comedy Lady Cheshingham’s Charge, which Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties had performed in May. The letters were forgeries Ophelia had penned an hour earlier.

Mrs. Coop fingered the envelopes. “Ah, yes, yes, Lady Cheshingham.”

“While already shipboard, I belatedly read a missive I’d received from Lord Cheshingham on the eve of our voyage, which informed me that the lady had passed away.”

“Good heavens.”

“Yes. A tragedy. She was so young.”

“I had heard so many wonderful things about her.”

“Miss Bright and I, then, are in want of employment.”

Want of employment didn’t really pin down the gravity of their circumstances. With the steamship barreling towards Southampton, Ophelia and Prue, with no jobs, only a few dollars, and no acquaintances in England, were well and truly up a stump.

“There are two of you?” Mrs. Coop sounded uncertain. “I—I must ask my husband. We are staying at our castle only until the winter.”

Castle? Hm. Surely a figure of speech.

“Of course,” Ophelia said, and made a show of tearing at the cambric handkerchief she’d plucked from her sleeve.

But she oughtn’t get too carried away in her role. Mr. DeLuxe had always complained that she, having once beguiled her audience, tended to careen towards the melodramatic.

She put the hankie away. “Have you, ma’am, tried Russian face powder?”

Mrs. Coop touched her thickly powdered cheek. “I’ve always used French.”

“Russian is the best, used first by the czarina Catherine. It’s got crushed pearls in it—pearls from the North Sea, which restore the complexion to a state of infancy. But don’t tell anyone. It’ll be our little secret.”

“Pearls for Mrs. Pearl Coop,” Miss Amaryllis said into her teacup. “How poetic.”

“It is easier, Amaryllis,” Mrs. Coop said through clenched teeth, “to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.”

“Whatever would I want with flies?”

“A figure of speech, dear. Perhaps it would be best if you married your own fly, rather than straggling along with Homer and me.”

“Homer a fly?” Miss Amaryllis smirked. “More of a frog, don’t you think?”

“If I may be so bold,” Ophelia interrupted, “it would be a privilege to attend to such lovely, refined ladies.”

Mrs. Coop blinked, and Miss Amaryllis leaned against the sofa arm and propped her chin sulkily on her hand.

Mrs. Coop sighed and picked up her cream puff. “It seems we’ve no choice in the matter. When can you start?”

Ophelia held in an exhalation of relief. “Immediately, ma’am,” she said.

*   *   *

“Well?” Prue flung herself face-up on her narrow berth. Her cheeks were blotchy and wet with tears.

Ophelia shut the cabin door. “We have jobs.”

“That’s splendiferous!”

“I am to be a lady’s maid—”

Prue’s face fell.

“—and you are to be a scullery maid.”

“Scullery maid?” Prue struggled to a seated position. Golden ringlets tumbled around her flushed face and her eyes of enamel blue. She was the closest thing to a china doll that a nineteen-year-old American girl could be. Until, that is, she opened her mouth to speak. “I ain’t cut out for a scullery maid, Ophelia. I’m clumsy, for starters, but more than that, I ain’t got the concentration to peel carrots all day.”

Ophelia wholeheartedly agreed. “You’ll manage,” she said. She stripped off the stolen gloves. “It’s only a bit of washing pots and scrubbing vegetables.”

“Why can’t I be a lady’s maid, too?”

“Mrs. Coop and Miss Amaryllis desired but one lady’s maid between them. We are lucky they agreed to take you on at all. Don’t look so weepy. It’s only for a few months, until we save up enough to buy passage back to America. Besides, we don’t have another plan.”

The plan had been to perform with Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties in its limited engagement at the Pegasus Theater on the Strand. “Limited engagement” meant for however long gin-soaked London gents would pack the seats to watch the troupe’s bawdy skits and musical numbers. “The Lusty Whalers of Nantucket” had top billing, alongside a bit about cowgirls and Indians, a romantic scene in which Ophelia played Pocahontas, and “Paul Revere’s Bride,” featuring a horse that galloped offstage with a scantily clad Puritan wench.

“We could go find my Ma,” Prue said. “Nat—you know, the feller who paints the scenery—told me this afternoon he heard she was in Europe.”

“We haven’t any notion where.” Ophelia sank onto the edge of her own berth. “Europe is enormous, not to mention expensive. And she could just as easily be in New York.”

“A scullery maid.” Prue’s tears were spouting again. “What’ll become of me? I ain’t got anyone. Ma never wanted me—”

“Now you know that isn’t true.” Ophelia handed over a hankie.

“If she’d hornswoggled a millionaire into marrying her when I was a baby, she would’ve left me then.”

“Nonsense.”

Prue noisily blew her nose.

Her mother, Miss Henrietta Bright, had been the star actress in Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties, and like so many actresses, she had supplemented her income with—to mince words—additional business endeavors. Last year, she’d run off with one of her admirers. Some said he was a Wall Street tycoon, others that he was a European blue blood. Either way, Prue’s mother had abandoned a flighty girl who possessed all the common sense of a tadpole. Ophelia had no living family of her own—a missing brother and a father she’d never met hardly counted—so she’d taken Prue under her wing.

Ophelia bent to unbutton the stolen boots; they were too small, and her toes felt numb. “You know I have a little money saved up, in the bank in New York—”

“For your farm! You’ve been scrimping for ages.”

“I have.” A vision of misty green fields, a white barn, and sweet-eyed dairy cows rose up in Ophelia’s mind’s eye. It was a vision that often lulled her to sleep, that got her through slushy November afternoons and exhausting double matinee performances. “When I buy my farm someday, well, you can come and live with me there.”

Prue wrinkled her nose. “Will I have to milk the cows?”

“Certainly not.”

“Snatch it, you’re just being nice. You’re always being too nice. Just because Mr. DeLuxe sent me packing don’t mean you should’ve quit.”

Ophelia said nothing as she yanked off the boots. But she knew exactly what became of pretty, silly, penniless girls who didn’t have a protector, and the idea of Prue alone on the streets of London didn’t bear thinking about.

“You could’ve been a lead actress someday, Ophelia. And now you’re just a maid.”

“Fiddlesticks. Acting has merely been a way to pay for my daily bread.”

“When you filled in as Cleopatra when Flossie broke her arm, you got a standing ovation and enough roses to fill three bathtubs. You were a stunner.”

“In a wig and greasepaint,” Ophelia said. “Gospel truth, it doesn’t concern me in the least that without Cleopatra kohl-lined eyes or Marie Antoinette rouged cheeks, I blend nicely into the backdrop. I’m five and twenty years of age, plenty old enough to have made peace with myself. I’m not saying I’m some mousy thing who gets stepped on—”

“Course not. You’re a beanstalk.”

“Not as tall as that, perhaps.” In truth, Ophelia was tall, and she had large feet, and no corset could mold her straight figure into a fashion plate’s hourglass. But her oval face, molasses-colored eyes, and light brown hair were presentable enough. “Anyway, since I’m an actress, a knack for blending in is an asset.” She wiggled her blissfully freed toes. “Now. If we’re ever to get back home in one piece, we ought to prepare ourselves for our new roles as maids.”

*   *   *

“Where in tarnation are they taking us?” Prue said three days later. She scrubbed at the grimy coach window with her fist. Their coach creaked and jostled up the mountainous road like a rheumatic mule. “Everything was all right until we got off at that bad railway station—”

“Baden-Baden,” Ophelia corrected from the opposite seat. “Baden means baths—it’s a thermal resort town.”

“That in your book?” Ophelia had had her nose stuck in some book she’d borrowed from Miss Amaryllis for the whole of their railway and boat journey between Southampton and Germany. It was called a Baedeker, Ophelia had told Prue. Whatever that meant. Prue hadn’t bothered to thumb through it. She considered herself a doing kind of person. Book learning gave her the jitters.

Besides, Ma had always cautioned that reading gave a lady a scrunched-up forehead and a panoramic derriere.

Baden-Baden, a German town nestled in plush hills, was called the Paris of the summer months. Leastways, that’s what the Baedeker said. All the cream of Europe’s crop, from Polish princes and British nobles to Italian opera stars and Russian novelists, gathered there to socialize, dance, take the waters, and gamble at the races or in the opulent gaming rooms.

But their coach had left Baden-Baden miles behind, and they were headed up into the mountains.

“I reckoned,” Prue said, “when we took that boat to Brussels, we were headed to civilization. But this!” She scowled out the window. Mountains reared up into the chambray-colored sky. “This looks worse than Maine.”

“We’re in the Black Forest, Prue. Haven’t you heard of it?”

“Never.”

“Your mother didn’t read you those fairy stories by the Grimm Brothers?”

“Read me stories?” Prue bit into one of the strawberry jelly sweets she’d spent her last penny on, back at the railway station. “Not her. But I sure know how to tell real diamonds from paste, and if a gentleman’s got a walloping bank account or is just trying to dupe a lady.” She chewed hard. The topic of Ma made her feel sore somewhere under her ribs. “Looks like the first-class carriage is getting away from us.”

“We are servants now,” Ophelia said. Her voice was gentle. “We can’t expect to ride with the family.”

“Can’t expect a decent coach, neither.”

“I allow, this coach isn’t the most comfortable—”

“It’s a rickety old rattletrap.” Prue eyed the black wood fittings around the window: carved thorny vines. “Or maybe a hearse.”

“We are fortunate to have found employment.”

“Well, don’t that beat all!” Prue exclaimed. “Look at that castle.”

“Where?”

“Up there.”

Ophelia followed Prue’s pointed finger. “That,” she murmured, “beats all indeed.”

High on a jutting stone outcrop, framed by pine trees, was a castle. It was built of pale stone, with turrets of various sizes, battlements, walls, parapets, and balconies. It glowed like an enchanted wedding cake in the afternoon sun, and hazy mountains stretched endlessly behind it like a painted theater backdrop.

“Ain’t got those in Maine.” Prue popped another strawberry jelly in her mouth.

“I think,” Ophelia said, “that’s where we’re going to live.”

2

Two weeks later

“Snow White’s little house,” Professor Winkler said in his thick German accent, “the house, you understand, in the wood wherein she lived with her seven dwarves, has been, according to the telegram, found.” He chuckled, holding tight to a hand strap as the carriage bumped up the mountain road. “Such beliefs, of course, are merely fancies of the peasantry. I cannot think how this American millionaire’s wife got hold of such a notion, particularly since she has been in Germany only a few weeks.”

“Curious indeed,” Gabriel Augustus Penrose said. “And I do agree with you, it goes without saying that superstitious stories are the product of debased minds and, I suspect, poor nutrition as well.” He tried to stretch his long legs, which were stiff from that morning’s fifty-mile railway journey from Heidelberg to Baden-Baden. “We are fortunate that the philological work that began with Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm laid the groundwork for a more enlightened understanding of fairy tales.”

“But the folk are wily, Professor Penrose, and ready to defend their backwards beliefs to the death. Why, once, in a dark, kleine hamlet in the Brigach River valley, I encountered an old crone who swore that she was the great-great-granddaughter of Gretel.”

“Of ‘Hansel und Gretel’?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow as he straightened his spectacles, a bemused, condescending look he’d perfected years ago.

“The same. How I did laugh at the miserable thing. By the sorry appearance of her teeth, I judged she had eaten a fair share of candy windows and cake roofs herself. Now, where is this Schloss Grunewald?” Winkler hunched his aged, oxlike frame to better see out the carriage window. “Mr. Coop’s telegram indicated that it was five miles from the Baden-Baden station. Ah. There. I see the towers through the trees. One of those piles the romantics renovated to appear more picturesque.”

Gabriel glimpsed the castle, too, floating like a mirage over a half-timbered village in a valley. “I was told,” he said, “that the schloss retains portions that are ancient, but the greater part was rebuilt in the twenties by the grandfather of the former owner—a certain Count Grunewald—as a summer retreat.” He paused to admire the effect of the castle’s creamy stones surrounded by emerald mountains. “So, it would seem that it isn’t only the peasants who indulge in romantic notions.”

Winkler gave him a sharp look. “It is not the same, is it?”

“Mmm,” Gabriel said, and pretended to be deep in a study of the passing forest.

Hang it. That had been a slipup.

Gabriel had built his academic career upon a rather snobbish outlook on the origins and significance of folklore. As professor of philology at St. Remigius’s College, Oxford, he painstakingly researched archaic texts to expose the deluded—but nonetheless fascinating—imaginations of a pagan folk that still lingered in remote pockets of modern Europe. Fairy tales and myths were nothing but drivel, he and his colleagues insisted.

He was obliged to keep it hidden that he believed quite the opposite. That he had believed in the inexplicable ever since that strange, magical dawn in the Crimea almost thirteen years ago.

“Thank you,” he said to Winkler, “for bringing me along, by the way. I’m interested to see how you set these superstitious people to rights.”

“I am called upon to do it more than I care to admit. The benefit is that the remote hamlets, where these summons usually bring me, have some of the best food and drink in all of Germany. Ach, the bratwurst I dined upon when some fools thought they had found golden straw sealed up in an ancient silo. I must have eaten two hogs’ worth! With a kraut to accompany it that—oh!—it was worth all the annoyance.” He smacked his lips.

“It was fortuitous that I encountered you at the university last night,” Gabriel said. “I usually conduct my evening studies at my rented rooms in the Klingenteichstrasse. I’d only gone in to the university because I’d forgotten a book.” Gabriel was spending the summer as a visiting scholar at Heidelberg University in order to examine a crumbling fifteenth-century manuscript.

“I am pleased to have you along.”

Gabriel eyed the black bag resembling a doctor’s bag on the seat beside Winkler. “What sort of things do you do when you’re called upon to investigate so-called fairy tale evidence?”

“It is all strictly scientific, very precise. While I, like you, am a philologist, as a young man, I studied chemistry. In that kit there”—Winkler gestured with his chins towards the bag—“you shall find an array of testing equipment.”

“Testing? For—?”

Winkler chuckled again. “Gold, my dear professor. The peasants always believe they have discovered dwarf’s gold.”

*   *   *

Winkler and Gabriel stepped down from their carriage into Schloss Grunewald’s forecourt.

“You the college men?” A middle-aged gentleman gestured towards them with a half-eaten apple.

“Professor Penrose,” Gabriel said, extending his deerskin-gloved hand. “And this is my esteemed colleague, Professor Winkler.”

“Coop. Homer T. Coop.” Coop’s handshake was as gruff as his American accent. He had a bristling mustache and side-whiskers, and his head was shrubbed with coppery hair streaked with gray. He was barrel-chested and wearing a well-tailored checked suit and a porkpie hat. His hands were not gloved, and they looked more suited to a railway gang laborer than a railway millionaire. “I want you to know straight off,” Coop said, “that I don’t have time for this tomfoolery. I telegraphed you on account of my wife, Pearl.”

“So you mentioned,” Winkler said, “in your telegram.”

“Her head’s rotted with this storybook nonsense, as if she were a little miss of six. One of the servants told her about the famous fairy tale professor in Heidelberg, and she wouldn’t stop buzzing in my ear like a dangnabbed mosquito about it until I agreed to send a telegram.” He gnawed his apple. “Never went to college myself. Guess I’m a good example of how you don’t need it.” He snorted. “I started off on Wall Street, you know. Worked for a Harvard man. He never did manage to get his snotty nose down low enough to sniff out a bad deal. Went bankrupt in forty-nine. That’s when I cleared out.”

“Shall we have a look at the find?” Gabriel said.

“It’s now or never,” Coop said. “I mean to raze the house once you’ve looked it over.” He suddenly bellowed, “Smith!” He threw the apple core onto the flagstones. “Smith,” he said to Gabriel and Winkler, “is my right hand. I don’t cotton to manservants and the like, such as you European fellers have. But for business matters, I’ve got Smith.”

“Mr. Coop?” someone said.

Gabriel and Winkler turned. It was a brilliant summer morning, and sunny where they stood, but half of the forecourt was still in shadow. So when Gabriel followed the meek voice, his sun-dazzled eyes convinced him that one of the crouching stone gargoyles that flanked the steps leading up to the castle doors had come to life and was skulking towards them.

Gabriel’s breath caught. There it was, that feeling he’d had a handful of times before. A sense of the bottom quite falling out of reality, and wonderment and magic gusting in.

He blinked. His eyes adjusted to the shadows, and he saw, with combined relief and dismay, that it was only a remarkably short gentleman and that the gargoyles by the stair hadn’t moved an inch.

“This here’s my secretary,” Coop said, “Mr. George Smith.”

Smith shook their hands. He had a face like an intelligent pug dog, and graying hair parted and combed like a schoolboy’s. He wore a neat suit of flannels and a bowler hat.

“Come on,” Coop said to Smith. “Let’s take these college boys out to the woods.”

*   *   *

They left the castle behind and tramped through rugged, sun-dappled hills for twenty minutes.

“Right through here,” Smith called over his shoulder. He led the way up through a dry gully, Gabriel close behind, followed by Winkler and Coop.

All of a sudden, a figure emerged on the path ahead. A sturdy woman, in a dust-colored walking costume, leather belt, and broad-brimmed straw hat. She was all alone. She strode towards them, a leather satchel swinging from her shoulder. She had a large, bland face, a nose like a drawer knob, and pale, nearly invisible eyebrows over lashless gray eyes. Her cheeks were flushed with exertion or, perhaps, sunburn.

The men paused to allow her to pass.

“Fancy meeting anyone out here in this wilderness,” she called.

British. The world was simply crawling with British tourists. You could be shipwrecked at the farthest reaches of the globe, wearing mere tatters and chomping coconuts, and look up to see one of the queen’s hale subjects striding out of the brush in a safari jacket and a pith helmet.

“Good morning,” Gabriel said. He lifted his hat. “Pleasant day for a tramp, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes,” she said in a hearty voice. “Absolutely ripping. Watch out for the flies,” she added over her shoulder. “Horrid little mites. Swarmed like cannibals and made a feast of my apple.”

She loped out of sight around a turn in the gully.

“Got to put up some private property signs, Smith,” Mr. Coop said.

They continued on their way up the path.

Presently, the gully opened out onto a forest glade filled with wild blueberry bushes and enormous trees.

The four men paused to mop their brows with handkerchiefs.

The glade had an enchanted feeling to it. Insects hummed, the air was spicy-sweet with pinesap and wildflowers, and sunlight mottled the mossy ground.

“The castle woodsman, Herz,” Smith said, “will cut these three trees just here”—he gestured with a small gloved hand—“and in preparation yesterday, he was clearing out the undergrowth. To get at the trunks of the trees, see.”

“Forgive my impertinence,” Gabriel said, “but why would one cut these trees? They must be at least four hundred years old.” The pine trees, as big around as barrels, rose cathedral-like into the azure sky. Aloft, their boughs bounced in the breeze.

“Clear the view,” Coop said. He propped his thick, booted leg on a boulder, pulled another green apple from his jacket pocket, and bit it. “I was looking out my study window and this here patch lay directly in my line of sight. Couldn’t see a consarned thing but trees. Damages the mind.”

“Trees do?” Gabriel said.

“They just sit there. No energy to them. That’s no way to succeed in life.”

“Ah.”

“Through here, then?” Winkler called back to them. He was bustling, black bag in hand, towards the hole in the thicket the woodsman had made. “Shall we proceed? I do not wish to forego luncheon.”

“I like that man,” Coop said, munching his apple. “Not like a college feller at all. Smith, get out your notebook. I’ve just had a notion for that St. Louis pickle.”

*   *   *

Gabriel followed Winkler into the hole in the thicket, where he found Winkler on his hands and knees.

Gabriel’s heart sped up a notch. There, as Coop’s telegram had mentioned, was a miniature house with a small door, just high enough for a five-year-old child to pass through. He knelt beside Winkler. “May I?”

“By all means. I have had my fill of such things.”

Gabriel pushed aside the tensile brambles that framed the door. The door was made of rough wood planks, and it was soft with decay. It had a small iron handle that felt, as he grasped it, like a toy. He pushed the door inward. Chunks of moss and dirt rained down from the roof, but the door opened. A dank odor of loam and subterranean vegetation swirled out.

Gabriel gasped.

A sliver of daylight illuminated a skeleton lying on the floor, just inside the door. Its bones glimmered whitely. Skull and spine were neatly arranged between short leg bones; one femur was missing. The arm bones were crossed over the ribcage, as in a tomb. Little bones, probably toes and fingers, were scattered about like breadcrumbs.

“What an ingenious hoax,” Winkler said. “The German volk, Professor Penrose, are perhaps the most enterprising of all the European peasants when it comes to such things. They do so want the rest of the world to believe in their fairy stories as much as they do.”

“That’s a tiny skeleton,” Gabriel said.

Ja. A child’s skeleton.”

“But the head is the size of a grown man’s.”

“It would have been but a simple matter to replace the child’s skull with an adult’s.”

“If this is a hoax, you would infer that the house is, what—twenty years old?”

“Fifty at most.”

“Then how would you account for the way the roots of that ancient tree have grown quite over the threshold?”

Winkler paused.

Gabriel pointed at the tree root in question, trying not to seem smug. Although he was beginning to believe this find was something very, very important, he could not let Winkler know he cared. “That would date the house to, oh, three or four hundred years, would it not?”

“There are various ways that the roots could have been placed like that, I have no doubt. Let us have a look inside, shall we?” He unbuckled his bag and took out a small gas lantern and a box of matches. Once the lantern was lit, he began to crawl through the door.

For a few seconds, Gabriel feared Winkler’s girth would not fit. But after a moment of straining, he popped through. Gabriel followed.

3

It was a one-room cottage, perhaps twenty by thirty feet. The roof had probably once been thatched, but now nothing was left but ceiling beams woven with brambles, which created a roof of green leaves. Splotches of sunlight fell through the leaves onto the dirt-covered floor. Gabriel made an exploratory probe in the floor with his penknife, revealing rotted floorboards.

Puzzling. Everything was coated with rot and loam. Everything, that is, except the skeleton. That had been laid out recently.

“Precisely like the Grimm tale,” Winkler said, holding up the lantern. “Little chairs and a table, and seven kleine beds along the wall there. Observe those small pots and kettles by the fireplace, and spoons and plates”—he lifted a dirt-covered plate from the table—“of pewter. Our charlatans were certainly faithful to the Grimms’ text ‘Schneewittchen’.”

“The style of the spoons”—Gabriel picked up a begrimed spoon from the table—“is sixteenth century, is it not? I don’t know a great deal about German antiquities, yet I recall seeing a similar design at a castle in Scotland.”

Winkler brought his lantern close and squinted at the spoon. “The peasants tend to reproduce the same styles for century upon century, making their objects difficult to date. They have not the capacity for originality, you see.” He crawled away. “What have we here?”

Gabriel looked up. Winkler held the lantern high. The middle ceiling beam glinted behind leafy brambles.

“Gold,” Gabriel said, and then recited a line from the Grimms’ “Snow White”: “The seven dwarves spent their days mining ore and digging for minerals.

Ach, you are falling under the spell, Penrose.” Winkler moved the lamp along the length of the ceiling beam. Much of it was coated with dirt. But here and there they saw that its surface was carved wooden relief, and flecks of gold leaf and colorful chipped paint still remained.

“We shall have this beam and the skeleton removed and carried to the castle,” Winkler said, “and clean and inspect them after luncheon. It must be twelve o’clock already.”

“If the images on this beam are still intact,” Gabriel said, “they could provide clues to the mystery of this cottage.”

It was an effort to sound disinterested. His secret life’s obsession was to compile a collection of relics that would at last prove, indisputably, that fairy tales were based upon historical events. Until he did so, however, he needed to keep quiet or become the laughingstock of academe.

“That is all very well and good.” Winkler had crawled past the skeleton and was pushing back out through the doorway. “But I am certain,” he said over his shoulder, “that what every party is most interested in is whether or not that is real gold leaf.”

*   *   *

When Gabriel joined Winkler back out in the forest glade, he saw three ladies and two gentlemen clustered about Coop and Smith. Not wishing to enter the fray, he paced off a distance, leaned against the trunk of a tree, and took the opportunity to write a few lines in the memorandum book that he always carried in his breast pocket.

Not a hoax, he wrote with a stub of pencil and underlined it twice.

Feminine titters caused him to lift his eyes. The newcomers were, he assumed, members of the Coop family, their visitors, and their servants. Smith had apprised Gabriel and Winkler of their names during the hike to the cottage.

There was an elegant lady of middle years, petite, brunette, possessing a rose-petal complexion and a refined mien. That was the Russian Princess Verushka, doubtless. The foppish, dark-curled young Adonis who loitered off to the side, smoking a cigarette and looking bored, was probably Mr. Hunt. Smith had said he was British. There was also a bony young lady—Miss Amaryllis, perhaps—with a large nose. She cast her eyes towards Mr. Hunt. He did not seem to notice. The other gentleman was a footman in green livery, holding a parasol over the ladies. He didn’t, to be honest, appear as dashing as footmen usually did. He was over fifty years of age, with a small paunch and disheveled gray hair that called to mind the expression gone to seed.

A somewhat blowsy-looking woman, yellow-haired and richly attired in a walking costume, was the source of the commotion. Gabriel pegged her as Mrs. Coop. She was pointing to the ground at the entrance of the cottage.

“The soil is sparkling!” Gabriel heard her cry. “It’s got gold in it, Homer. Look!”

A hubbub ensued, during which Winkler stooped to open his bag, scrape a sample of soil into a small glass vial, and cork it.

Gabriel suppressed a sigh. The greed and melodramas of the rich and bored were a larger part of his life—at least his life in England—than he’d wish. He longed to roll up his sleeves and begin conducting, inch by inch, an examination and catalogue of the cottage. But it was evident that he’d have to suffer through luncheon with this lot first.

He jotted more notes as Winkler, speaking in his booming voice, led the group into the thicket. Gabriel tried not to think about the damage they could inflict on the house, blundering about in there.

The footman had stayed behind. When he thought he was alone—he did not seem to be aware of Gabriel’s presence—he pulled a silver flask from his jacket, unscrewed the cap, and took a long swallow.

Then a small movement across the glade caught Gabriel’s eye. There was another young lady, one he hadn’t noticed at first, standing in the shade. Evidently there hadn’t been room enough for her to go into the thicket with the others, and she was waiting.

She was attired in a charcoal-gray gown with a white collar, and a dark bonnet. A poor relation or a paid companion. Or perhaps a lady’s maid. Although there was something graceful about her tall, slim figure, and she held her head so high that it was difficult to imagine she was a servant. Her face was, well, plain. It was a pure oval, very symmetrical, yet somehow, in its very purity, it just missed the pretty mark. Her darting dark eyes reminded him of the centers of poppies.

He hadn’t realized he was staring until her eyes riveted on him. A tingle ran down his spine.

She lifted her eyebrows. Gabriel yanked the brim of his hat down over his eyes and scribbled something absurd in his memorandum book.

*   *   *

“I simply must have you at my side this afternoon, Flax,” Mrs. Coop said. “I’ve come down with a sick headache, but I wouldn’t miss Professor Winkler’s gold test for the world. Tighter!”

“I’m doing my utmost, ma’am,” Ophelia said, straining to cinch Mrs. Coop’s corset laces.

After luncheon, Mrs. Coop had returned to her cream-and-gold jewel box of a boudoir, high in a turret of the castle, to change into her afternoon gown. She’d been breathless and disheveled, and determined to shrink her waist to a smaller compass.

Mrs. Coop’s disarray, and her sudden wish to appear pixielike, resulted, Ophelia suspected, from the presence in the castle of either Princess Verushka or Mr. Royall Hunt. Mrs. Coop and Miss Amaryllis had made the acquaintance of these two fashionable personages at some point in the last two weeks’ frenzy of excursions into Baden-Baden.

“You must,” Mrs. Coop said, “stay by my side with my smelling salts, should I need them, and fetch me glasses of water and whatever else I may need. I am not well, Flax—even Mr. Hunt noted that I’m white as a lily—yet this is perhaps the most thrilling day of my life.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ophelia said.

“Just think! Snow White’s cottage on my own estate. And a dwarf’s bones!”

“Mm.”

“Do I hear doubt in your tone, Flax?”

“Truth be told, ma’am, it is difficult for me to believe that that house belonged to creatures from a storybook.”

“Difficult to believe?”

“Well, ma’am, near impossible.”

Ophelia had performed with P. Q. Putnam’s Traveling Circus for two years, and she’d known a so-called dwarf. He’d been a shrimp, true, but there hadn’t been a thing magical about him. Unless you counted swearing like a sailor and smoking like a house on fire as magic.

“Of course.” Mrs. Coop sniffed. “I nearly forgot you’re a Yankee.”

Ophelia held her tongue; she was stepping out of character. It had to be the result of exhaustion. Mrs. Coop and her stepsister, Amaryllis, kept Ophelia on her feet from dawn to dusk, arranging their hair, pressing their clothing, mixing beauty concoctions, and running up and down the spiraling castle stairs fetching things.

How could anyone past the age of pigtails think Snow White and the seven dwarves had really existed? And it wasn’t only Mrs. Coop, who could be counted upon to be frivolous, who was entertaining the notion. Those two university professors were as well. The younger of the two professors, the tall, handsome, bespectacled one with the upper-crust British accent, looked far too intelligent to be taken in by such hogwash.

“There,” Ophelia said, tying a seaworthy knot at the end of the corset laces. “That’s as tight as I can get it. Will you be wearing the blue silk, ma’am?”

“No, no, the tea gown with the lavender stripes.” Mrs. Coop surveyed herself—still in only crinoline, petticoats, and corset—in a tall, gilt-framed mirror. She tipped her head sideways. “Whatever is wrong with this mirror? It’s gone all squat.”

Mirrors weren’t known for lying. But Mrs. Coop wouldn’t take kindly to that observation.

“I don’t think this corset is strong enough,” Mrs. Coop went on. “But it’s made of real whalebone, you know. It’s not one of those cheap starched things.”

Then it had been strong enough for the whale.

“Hurry up, Flax. Professor Winkler shall be starting soon.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

*   *   *

“The first item I require,” Professor Winkler said, once everyone had reassembled in the library, “is a small quantity of washing soda from the castle laundry.”

Ophelia watched from the shadows beside the fireplace. Winkler looked like an elderly walrus and had something of the snake oil salesman about him. But everyone else in the lofty, book-lined chamber—Mrs. Coop, Miss Amaryllis, Princess Verushka, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Coop, and Mr. Smith, even Karl the first footman, standing against the wall—was rapt with attention. The lone exception was the younger professor. Ophelia had overheard that he was called Professor Penrose.

While the others stared at Winkler, Penrose was studying their faces. His eyes, behind his spectacles, were hazel, and his eyebrows were straight and dark. His brown hair was as tidy as a professor’s ought to be, but how had his complexion come to be so suntanned, and his shoulders so broad, if he spent his days lecturing and reading indoors?

“Washing soda?” Mrs. Coop said. “Whatever for?”

“You do not intend to bore us with housework?” Princess Verushka added in her heavy Russian accent. She was hovering somewhere in her middle years, but she was a marvel of religious preservation, as Ophelia had heard it said of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Her mahogany hair gleamed, her figure was spry, her fair skin was lustrous, and Ophelia’s trained eye could not detect a particle of powder or paint.

“All, my dear ladies,” Winkler said, “shall become clear.”

Mrs. Coop rose and hurried across the library to yank the velvet bellpull in the corner.

“Luncheon, by the by, was superb,” Winkler said to Mr. Coop. “The sautéed liver! Your cook is a sorceress. Did you bring her from America?”

“Came with the castle.” It appeared that Mr. Coop had drunk heavily at luncheon. His neck was mottled and his eyes bleary. “Trained in gay Paree, I’m told. Durn well better be, I said to Pearl, for the greengrocer’s bills this place runs up.”

“It is a castle,” Mrs. Coop said in a pouting tone, returning to her seat. “You can hardly expect it to run itself.”

“Ah, but enchanted castles do,” Winkler said. He was taking small objects from a black leather bag and lining them up on a table in the center of the library. “Madam, I am given to understand you are taken with our European fairy stories.”

“I’ve adored them since I was a girl. I always dreamed of being a queen in a castle.”

“And now you are,” Miss Amaryllis said. She pursed her lips. “Fancy that.”

“Enough,” Mr. Coop boomed. “Your sister, Amaryllis, has been good enough to give you a roof over your head—begged me to do it, even though I preferred to let you make your own way in the world like everyone else. I gave in, but now you do gad-all but blight our honeymoon with your waspish sniveling.”

Ophelia scanned the library. Mrs. Coop’s lower lip was tremulous, and her hand was on her husband’s arm. Mr. Smith studied the Persian carpet. Princess Verushka fanned herself, nervous as a finch. Mr. Hunt, wearing a bland expression, reached to a side table and took a handful of sugared almonds from a bowl. The footman Karl gazed into space. Professor Penrose watched Mr. Coop.

And Amaryllis glared at Mr. Coop with murderous hatred in her eyes.

“You,” Mr. Coop said, wagging a thick finger at Amaryllis, “are a nasty witch—they got those in fairy stories, professor?”

“Homer, please,” Mrs. Coop hissed.

Amaryllis’s hands were trembling in her yellow silk lap. She swiveled her eyes from her brother-in-law to Mr. Hunt.

Mr. Hunt placed a sugared almond between his lips and crunched down.

Tears shimmered in Amaryllis’s eyes.

There was a knock on the door. It was a servant—Ophelia couldn’t see which one—who Mrs. Coop sent back to the servants’ regions to fetch washing powder.

“I do apologize for my sister,” Mrs. Coop said, taking her seat once more. “She hasn’t been herself as of late. The move from America.”

Amaryllis wore the martyred expression of Joan of Arc revolving on a roasting spit.

“Do you intend to stay in Germany permanently?” Penrose asked Mrs. Coop.

He was doing the gentlemanly thing and changing the topic. He did have kind eyes.

“Only through the autumn,” Mrs. Coop said. “Schloss Grunewald shall be our summer home, you see. I simply wouldn’t want to miss a New York season. Unless, of course”—she glanced out of the corner of her eye at Mr. Hunt, flicked her lashes—“one was to receive an invitation to England.”

All that corset-cinching had been for Mr. Hunt’s benefit, then. And Mrs. Coop a newlywed, too. Scandalous.

Mr. Coop, however, was now in the midst of a hushed conversation with Mr. Smith—the words St. Louis and red cent reached Ophelia’s ears—so he wasn’t aware of his wife’s flirtations.

Mr. Hunt, however, was. “A London season, Mrs. Coop—”

“Oh!” She toyed with her necklace.

“—would surely surpass any New York season. In New York, can you expect a social invitation from Her Royal Majesty Queen Victoria?”

“You don’t mean—”

“It has been known to happen.”

Mrs. Coop picked up the bowl of sugared almonds. Her eyes glittered with excitement. “More, Mr. Hunt?”

Penrose shifted in his chair.

Princess Verushka sniggered behind her fan. “Mrs. Pearl T. Coop in Buckingham Palace! Mon Dieu!” The princess, like all Russian aristocrats, spoke French.

Mrs. Coop cast the princess a look of loathing mingled, if Ophelia wasn’t mistaken, with fear.

4

After several minutes, there was another knock on the library door.

“Enter,” Mrs. Coop called.

The door swung open and Prue stepped inside.

Prue? Ophelia frowned. Prue was a scullery maid. Her duties confined her to the lower recesses of the castle. So what was she doing in an ill-fitting black parlor maid’s dress, ruffled apron, and white cap, carrying a bowl of washing powder into the library?

“Here.” Winkler pointed to the table.

Prue placed the bowl next to the several odd-looking instruments and vials Winkler had arranged on the tabletop.

Also on the table, Ophelia noticed for the first time, were a long, dirty piece of wood decorated with chipped paint and something underneath a white cloth. An ivory-colored thing extended a few inches beyond the cloth. A finger bone.

Prue turned to go.

“You’ve got nice, dainty hands,” Winkler said.

Prue froze. The room fell silent. She saw Ophelia for the first time.

Uh-oh. Prue had been crying. Her eyes and nostrils were pink.

“Would you,” Winkler said, “help us with our experiment?”

Prue clearly wanted to bolt out the door.

“Come now, a pretty girl like you ought to be happy to be the center of notice.”

A scowl washed over Prue’s features.

Ophelia prayed she wouldn’t say anything regrettable.

“Roll up your sleeves,” Winkler said. “You shall assist me.”

*   *   *

Prue gulped. All eyes were on her. Normally, that wouldn’t bother her a bit. She’d first appeared onstage at the age of two, dressed up like a dancing teapot, to the acclaim of all of New York’s theatrical critics. Or so Ma claimed.

But Prue had been stuck behind the scenes at the castle for near two weeks. She was dismal in the role of scullery maid; she’d never had what folks called a domestic education. Her hands were red from scrubbing the wrong way.

And her hands were still shaking from the shocking thing that had just happened to her.

“Gold,” Professor Winkler said, “is the only yellow-colored metal that is not affected by most acids. Therefore, we may test whether this”—he held up a gold-colored flake between metal pincers—“is real gold leaf or merely paint.”

Prue kept her eyes on the carpet. He was here, in the library. That lowdown, bullying scallywag. Blood thundered past her eardrums.

“The test is made with a blowpipe”—Winkler displayed a small instrument, like a metal straw that was curved on one end—“and nitric acid.” He smiled down at Prue. “You must be very, very careful, fräulein. One drop of this acid would corrode your pretty skin into yellow monster’s scales.”

Prue gaped up at him. She forgot all about the lowdown scallywag for a second.

“Let us begin.” Winkler ground the gold-colored flake into a powder with a mortar and pestle. Then he measured out portions of the gold powder and the washing powder with thimble-sized measuring spoons.

“This commonplace washing powder is also known as sodium carbonate. It removes oils and stains from textiles, but it is also an acid regulator in this test.”

He placed a small measure of the powder mixture into a recess in a block of charcoal.

“The candle, fräulein.”

Prue passed it to him, and he lit it.

The group of observers pressed closer.

Winkler put the metal blowpipe to his fleshy lips and blew the candle flame sideways, over the powders in the recess. The powders melted to liquid.

Winkler stopped blowing and extinguished the candle. “Now we wait.”

“May I go?” Prue whispered.

Nein,” Winkler said. “We shall wait.”

There were several minutes of hushed waiting. Prue lingered at the table while the others chatted. The lowdown scallywag was pretending he didn’t even recognize her. To soothe herself, she daydreamed about brown Betty pudding and peanut brittle.

Finally, Winkler announced that it was time to conclude the test. He tipped the melted powder into a vial of water. It dissolved in a flurry of golden dust, except for a small lump that sank to the bottom. With his pincers, he removed the lump and held it aloft.

“The nitric acid, fräulein.”

Prue’s hand quivered as she passed it over.

“The cork.”

She pried the cork off the bottle.

Winkler dropped the lump into the acid. It gleamed with an unmistakable luster as it sank and hit the bottom with a clink.

Mein Gott,” he murmured through his mustaches. “It is real gold.”

*   *   *

Gabriel was quiet as the rest of the party in the library—except the footman and the tall, serene lady’s maid—erupted into a dither. Unlike Winkler, his hypothesis had been that the paint from the cottage ceiling beam would prove to contain gold.

With the help of one of the footmen and the gardener boy, Gabriel and Winkler had hauled the contents of the cottage to the castle and placed them in the library alcove. Seven little wooden beds, seven chairs, and a table, all delicate with decay, were lined up next to crates of spoons and pewter vessels, just behind a velvet curtain.

After luncheon, he and Winkler had cleaned the beam to reveal a carved design of seven little bearded men in pointed hats, all in a row, with shovels and pickaxes on their shoulders. Gabriel had struggled to conceal his excitement. Winkler had laughed.

But how would Winkler explain the presence of real gold in what he’d deemed an elaborate peasant hoax?

Winkler, however, looked as bemused as ever as he glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. The old beast was already getting peckish for tea.

*   *   *

“Test the soil!” Mrs. Coop bounced on her crinoline like a schoolgirl. “Oh, professor, I’ll wager that it’s gold, too.”

Ophelia frowned. Why was Mrs. Coop so keen on gold? After all, she was a millionaire’s bride.

“Perhaps,” Winkler said. “I shall begin by refining a sample of the soil in question with the mortar, to ensure an evenly sized particulate.”

After he ground a measure of the soil into powder, he mixed it in a glass bowl with water, producing something like mud.

“Now for the sodium cyanide,” he said. He held up a vial of clear liquid.

“Cyanide!” Princess Verushka laid a hand over her heart.

“And I thought nitric acid was alarming,” Mr. Hunt said. He lit a cigarette.

“This,” Winkler said, grinning down at Prue, “is one thing I shall not allow your pretty hands to touch. This is deadly poison—do you understand? This solution of dissolved sodium cyanide crystals is far more toxic even than prussic acid, your common vermin killer. A few drops on the tongue would make you fall down dead.”

“Yes, sir,” Prue whispered.

Winkler proceeded to pour the cyanide solution into the sludge of soil and water, and mix it with a glass stirring stick.

“Cyanide has,” he said, “an affinity for gold—much like dwarves, ha ha. Stirring allows sufficient air into the mixture. Without air, the experiment would not work.”

Ophelia refrained from rolling her eyes. The professor’s hot air was probably responsible for putting countless college boys to sleep.

“Now,” Winkler went on, “I filter the mixture using that screen—fräulein?”

Prue handed him a small screen of fine metal mesh.

Winkler poured the sludge onto the screen, over a second bowl. A liquid dripped through, leaving the sludge on the screen. He set it aside.

“The final step is zinc powder. That small bottle there.”

Prue passed him a corked amber bottle.

“Not poisonous, I hope,” Mr. Hunt said in a droll tone.

Winkler tapped white powder into the bowl of liquid. “Quite innocuous. Now—observe.”

Everyone crowded close. Tiny flecks of gold winked in the whitish slurry of zinc.

“Is that—?” Mr. Coop said.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Deliciously gothic, intriguingly different, this story plunges us into the world of Brothers Grimm fairytales where the greed and evil are all too real, and everyone has something to hide." – New York Times bestselling author Rhys Bowen

Meet the Author

A finalist for the 2004 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award, Maia Chance is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. She is writing her dissertation on nineteenth-century American literature.

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Snow White Red-Handed 4.5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 12 reviews.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
Your Dream for a Great New Series Has Come True   Ophelia Flax and Prudence Bright have found themselves fired from their job as actresses half way across the Atlantic heading to England in 1867.  Acting quickly, Ophelia gets herself a job as the new lady’s maid to Pearl Coop, the new wife of American millionaire Homer T. Coop.  Prue is also hired as the new scullery maid.  Their new job takes them to a castle in Germany’s Black Forest.   Within two weeks of their arrival, a cottage is discovered on their property that some claim belongs to the dwarfs of Snow White fame.  At Pearl’s insistence, renowned fairytale scholars Winkler and Gabriel are brought in to investigate the site.  Things take a shocking turn when Homer is murdered the next afternoon after taking a bite of a poisoned apple.  What have Ophelia and Prue gotten themselves into?   I wasn’t quite sure what I would think of this book, but once I started to read, I was quickly hooked.  The story is fast paced with some wonderful twists and turns.  The story is told from Ophelia, Gabriel, and Prue’s points of view, and that added much to the end result.  The ending felt a little rushed, but it was a minor complaint.  The characters were solid as well.   This is a creative new cozy series that will delight lovers of fairytales and those looking for something slightly different in their cozy mysteries.  Personally, I can’t wait until the next in the series is released.
Sodapop74 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I dig the whole fairy tale angle and I love Ophelia. I can not wait to read the next book and will be keeping this author on my wishlist!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and I can't wait for the next one.
Raven_Oak More than 1 year ago
My favorite part of this series is the strong female characters with a biting sense of humor, particularly Ophelia. Maia Chance does an excellent job of layering her characters, yet giving them a touch of modernism that makes the reader able to identify with them. Ophelia and Prue find themselves out of work and end up working in a castle in the Black Forest out of desperation. The plot centers around whether remains found in a small hut are those from a fairy tale, particularly Snow White, and all the while, murder and mayhem occur. Maia Chance weaves historical fiction and fairy tale quite deftly, making her settings very solid and realistic. My only criticism would be my own frustration with why Ophelia would tie herself to Prue. I'm hoping that as we go through the series, more of their backstory comes out to explain this. Through her naivety and lack of worldly knowledge, Prue manages to believe the best of people and the world--to a flaw. Ophelia is constantly digging her out of trouble. I'd have left Prue hanging myself. I hope we get to see Prue's development as a character as she wises up in addition to Ophelia's growth. Overall, a solid read and a good fantasy-slanted mystery.
Justpeachy1 More than 1 year ago
What do you get when you combine a cozy mystery with a fairy tale? Snow White Red-Handed the new book from Maia Chance, that's what. The publishing world, as well as, the movie industry and television has been awash with so many fairy tale re-tellings that many readers may not think twice about a new one. But This book is quite different than what we've seen before. It is a historical cozy mystery set in the late 1800's and one that parallels the possible existence of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With everything from dwarf skeletons to poison apples, this is an interesting way to tell a whodunit. What I liked: I felt like this book was extremely unique. Not only is it set in the past in the time period of the original Grimm's fairy tale of Snow White, it is also a clue based mystery. There were so many interesting facts about the Black Forest and the surrounding towns, about the possibility that Snow White really lived and tidbits about the two actresses that end up as ladies maids and sleuths. This was a very creative endeavor by Chance and I truly enjoyed trying to figure it all out. Ophelia Flax and her partner in crime Prudence are a great crime duo. They start out seeming to be resourceful young women who end up with jobs a ladies maids to the annoying Mrs. Coop. When they end up in the middle of a murder, it's up to Ophelia to prove not only that Prue is innocent of the crime, but that Snow White's final resting place may have really existed. I loved Ophelia. She was funny and clever and had me rolling with her snarky sense of humor. I am a huge fan of sarcasm and dry wit and she had it to spare. A great new cozy heroine! All of the details about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were beautifully done. Chance interweaves the fairy tale lore throughout the book and makes it a large part of the mystery itself. Mr. Coop being done in by poison apple was a great touch and I felt like this book was a great nod to the Grimm brothers and their tales. There were so many motives it was a little bit of task to keep them all separate, but it certainly was not predictable. The clues were easy to understand but very hard to pinpoint. I didn't figure this one out until the main characters did and that's somewhat rare for me. But that made it all the more interesting. Bottom Line: I thought I had seen just about every kind of cozy mystery theme writers could come up with, but this mash up of a cozy with a fairy tale was brilliant. All of the original Snow White tidbits were fun to read about and to see where they would pop up in the book next. I loved the main character and found her humor appealing. This one was truly enchanting.
Joni0 More than 1 year ago
In Germany's Black Forest, a large castle looms on a hilltop surrounded by thick woods with a small town nestled at its base. A horse-drawn carriage transports four passengers to the castle: the demanding American lady of the manor, Mrs. Coop, prickly Amaryllis, gullible Prudence Bright and our heroine, Ophelia Flax. Shortly after their arrival, the castle buzzes with the news that Snow White’s cottage may have been found buried in their woods. Experts have been called in to determine if it’s real or a hoax, but how can they prove a fairy tale is real? It’s preposterous! Yet . . . death by poison apple is only the first coincidence. Miss Ophelia, along with able but irksome Professor Penrose, begin their own inquiries, encountering a host of possible suspects while they race against time and the police to find Snow White’s glass coffin and prove the identity of the murderer. After receiving an advance reader copy of Snow White Red-Handed, I offer my honest review. First, I appreciate Ms. Chance setting this story in the mid 1800s, shortly after the Brothers Grimm completed their final revisions of the original story and within a decade of the death of both brothers. For this reader, it seems a fitting way to honor them. As for my impressions of her story, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down. I was able to picture in my mind’s eye each character; some are laughable, some frightening, some irascible and downright mean, others oily and conniving, and others endearing, witty and delightful. Ophelia's one-liners made me laugh out loud, but she is a determined, smart and worldly-wise young woman who possesses a bit of Holmesian deduction. And yet, my favorite aspect of this story, one which will keep me reading the series, is Ms. Chance’s ability to conjoin the fairy tale with her characters’ human history. It’s quite original and deliciously clever!
bwilhoite 10 months ago
I loved this! A historical cozy mystery with a unique fairy tale twist. Everyone is looking for something and everyone has something to hide. Can't wait to read the next one.
AprilStu More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Forced myself to finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago