Strangers (Faye Longchamp Series #6)

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Overview

Faye Longchamp’s new archaeological firm has landed a project in St. Augustine, Florida.  In four centuries, America’s oldest city has accumulated skeletons that should probably stay buried.  Within a day of Faye’s arrival, a woman disappears, leaving behind blood, priceless artifacts, and a note asking for Faye's help.  The detective hires Faye to find the artifacts’ origin. But the ghosts of the Ancient City are demanding masters, and Faye is also driven to uncover their secrets—until it becomes ...

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Overview

Faye Longchamp’s new archaeological firm has landed a project in St. Augustine, Florida.  In four centuries, America’s oldest city has accumulated skeletons that should probably stay buried.  Within a day of Faye’s arrival, a woman disappears, leaving behind blood, priceless artifacts, and a note asking for Faye's help.  The detective hires Faye to find the artifacts’ origin. But the ghosts of the Ancient City are demanding masters, and Faye is also driven to uncover their secrets—until it becomes clear that what they seek is Faye herself.  And her child...

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Evans's fifth series mystery…reveals her skill in handling the details of a crime story enhanced by historical facts and scientific discussions on the physical properties of water. Along with further insights into Faye's personal life, the reader ends up with a thoroughly good mystery.” –Library Journal on Floodgates

“Evans's fifth (Findings, 2008, etc.) is an exciting brew of mystery and romance with a touch of New Orleans charm.” –Kirkus on Floodgates

STARRED REVIEW

“Evans always incorporates detailed research that adds depth and authenticity to her mysteries, and she beautifully conjurs up the Micco County, FL, setting. This is a series that deserves more attention than it garners. Fans of archaeological mysteries by Lyn Hamilton, Sarah Andrews, and Aaron Elkins will enjoy.” –Library Journal on Findings

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590587423
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 10/5/2010
  • Series: Faye Longchamp Series, #6
  • Pages: 250
  • Sales rank: 864,765
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Anna Evans, award-winning author of the six Faye Longchamp mysteries, has degrees in physics and engineering, but her heart is in the past. Faye lives the exciting life of an archaeologist, and Mary Anna envies her a little.  Her latest book, Strangers, is set in St. Augustine, where the ghosts of conquistadors, Native Americans, robber barons, and flappers roam.  Her books have found an unexpected home in schools, and when she's not writing her novels, Mary Anna works with teachers to develop ways to use popular fiction to teach math and science and history to kids who are surprised to find out that those subjects are interesting.  She is a co-writing a book on math literacy to be published in 2011.

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Read an Excerpt

Strangers

A Faye Longchamp Mystery
By Mary Anna Evans

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2010 Mary Anna Evans
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-744-7


Chapter One

Faye Longchamp-Mantooth was capable of lust. Her handsome husband Joe could turn her head without even trying, just by stooping down to tie his moccasins.

Since Faye was an archaeologist, sometimes the things that inflamed her passion weren't even alive. She had a specific fetish for handcrafted homes that bristled with wretched excess.

She lived in just such a home. Joyeuse, the two-hundred-year-old plantation house that had been handed down through her family for generations, was in the midst of an extensive restoration. It would always be in the midst of an extensive restoration. Quite frankly, it was a money pit. But she loved its finely restored spiral staircase because she and Joe had restored it themselves, and she adored the frothy perfection of the murals on its bedroom walls.

Her home had been built by slaves who were her ancestors. It had been built for those slaves' masters, who were also her ancestors. Joyeuse and its complicated history were as much a part of her family as her mother and her grandmother had been.

As Faye walked through the grand doorway of Dunkirk Manor, she felt a familiar quickening of her pulse. This, too, was a house worthy of lust.

The heavy door swung wide, and Faye walked in. The high-ceilinged entry hall functioned as a library and art gallery. Its ornate wooden staircase climbed past a fine collection of early-twentieth-century oils so vibrant that Faye made plans to come back and enjoy them more closely.

The staircase rose a balcony that circled the room and provided access to thousands of old books. Burgundy, navy, black, cocoa, crimson—their faded leather bindings were as colorful as the paintings on the walls below. The gilt lettering on their spines was worn, but it still sparkled.

Faye didn't just lust after old houses. She also lusted after books. Joe didn't mind. He knew she lusted after him, too.

He walked beside her through this living museum. His handmade moccasins didn't make a sound on the burnished oak floor. Faye and the rest of her work crew—Magda Stockard-McKenzie, Kirk Graham, and Levon Broome—clattered carefully across the gleaming floorboards in their work boots. Magda clutched her daughter Rachel's hand as if she were afraid the child would leave behind a trail of little-girl-shaped smudges.

There wasn't a speck of dust on those shiny oak floors. There wasn't a mote of dust in the cool quiet air. The wood-paneled walls gleamed behind gilt-framed paintings, and the leaded glass windows on either side of the enormous front door were surrounded by flawless velvet hangings in an unexpected but perfect shade of burnt orange. It was as if the Gilded Age had never ended, and an army of chambermaids prowled the house constantly, armed with feather dusters and lemon oil.

It was as if the phrase "minimum wage" had never been coined.

Glynis Smithson ushered them through all this perfection. She was the perfect person to do it. Glynis was tall. She was slim and willowy. Her sleek waist-length hair gleamed silver-blonde. Pale feathery eyebrows said that her hair color was natural. If she had piled that hair atop her head and pulled on a high-necked and bustled gown, Glynis could easily have stepped back to the time this house was new. Faye had the feeling that her clients had chosen their assistant for her retro glamour.

"Daniel and Suzanne will be right down," she said, leading them from the high-ceilinged entrance hall into the stupendously high-ceilinged atrium at the center of the house.

On cue, Daniel and Suzanne Wrather appeared on the third-floor landing and began making their way down one of the two mirror-image staircases that encircled the atrium. This room, too, was completely paneled and floored in oak. The banisters and stair rails were oak, too, ornately carved in a gothic style. An entire forest had died to build this house.

Looking at the enormous antique rug spread across the atrium floor, Faye saw that it was made of hand-knotted silk. Faye figured an entire army of Persian women had gone blind for the cushiness under her feet.

No windows lit the atrium, only a ceiling filled with stained glass skylights. In the absence of windows, more lush velvet hangings were draped around the doorways, their bittersweet orange bringing sunshine into a room that might otherwise have felt dark.

Daniel and Suzanne were navigating the stairs very, very slowly. Having just turned forty, Faye knew that her clients weren't much older than she was, but they seemed so. Suzanne was very thin, almost bird-like, and she had a habit of hugging her arms close to her body, elbows bent, like folded wings. Daniel's sandy hair was thin and it was the same graying shade of mid-brown as Suzanne's. Though Suzanne was tall, he was taller. Daniel's head bowed a bit, as if he were tired, but he retained a spring in his step as he descended the stairs. Perhaps his pace was hampered by Suzanne's slower movements.

Daniel's devotion to his wife of many years was palpable, and Suzanne never looked at him without smiling. As a newlywed herself, Faye just liked to watch the two of them together.

"You must be exhausted," Suzanne said, extending a maternal hand toward Faye.

Faye had found that her advanced pregnancy affected older women in this way. They urged her incessantly to sit down and put her feet up. As the months passed, this advice became more and more welcome.

"Let me show you all to your rooms. I see that you need some rest," Suzanne continued, looking at Faye with concern. Then she turned that same concerned focus on a monumental floral arrangement sitting on a plant stand between the two grand staircases. A full-blown pink rose was beginning to fade, and Suzanne apparently couldn't have that. She plucked the drooping bloom out of the arrangement and tucked it in her pocket, studying each of the other flowers for flaws before she turned away.

Then Suzanne led them out the right side of the atrium, through a vast dining room that was as shiny and oaky as the rest of the house. They walked toward the rear of the house, past a doorway to a modernized kitchen that extended across the full width of the atrium, shiny with immaculate stainless steel. Then they passed through a door that was finished in gleaming oak on the front and painted a nondescript brown on the other. It passed into a hallway painted dun-beige, with a ceiling so low that six-and-a-half-foot-tall Joe had to stoop.

An imaginary line seemed to run across the threshold of that door, and all the dust that was missing from one side of that line appeared to have been shunted to its other side. Cobwebs clung to the ceiling and dust was matted into their silk.

Suzanne was saying, "I apologize for our housekeepers. We just can't get them to come back here. If they only knew. This is the part of the house that isn't haunted." She took the teeth out of this statement with a quick laugh.

Faye didn't know how to respond. Should she say, "I can see that!"? Or should she lie and say, "Why, it's perfectly lovely back here!"? Instead she just smiled and opted to sidestep the issue. "Thanks so much for hosting us. We're a new business and it helps a great deal for us to have our travel expenses covered."

A row of white doors extended down each side of the dun-colored hallway. There were a whole lot of them. No wonder Suzanne had offered private rooms for each member of Faye's field team. Faye's internal compass told her that the hallway paralleled the back of the kitchen, which meant that the doors on the left opened to windowless rooms the size of monks' cells, judging by the short distance between doors. The rooms on the right were small, too, but there was at least a chance that they had windows ... presuming that Gilded Age employers had thought their household staff merited the luxury of a few panes of glass.

Suzanne and Daniel operated a bed-and-breakfast in Dunkirk Manor, so Faye had innocently expected fluffy pillows and fine linens and lots of chintz in her room. Au contraire. Now she knew what it was like to be the hired help.

Suzanne pointed to one of the identical doors—thankfully, on the side of the hallway where she might hope for a window—and said, "This one is for you and Joe," so Faye stepped in.

The paint around the doorknob was worn away to the bare wood. The drab wallpaper around the light switch was worn through to the bare plaster. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling. The only things of light and color in the entire room were the curtains surrounding the hoped-for window, which had once been a bright and sunny yellow-and-blue calico, and a tiny watercolor painting of a woman strolling on the beach at sunset. Judging by the style of the woman's dress, the painting had been done during the Depression, and Faye figured that was about the last time somebody had tried to make this room pretty.

Two narrow, iron-framed beds clung to the walls on her left and right. Pregnancy was wreaking havoc on her back and hips. Just looking at the thin, sagging mattresses on those beds made Faye hurt from her rib cage down.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Joe dragged one bed across the room and snugged it up against the other one. Joe wasn't real big on sleeping in separate beds. He wasn't even real big on staying on his own side of the bed.

Faye had been so excited to land this job. She still was. With her newly minted Ph.D., she and Joe had started their archaeological consulting business just in time for the economy to tank, taking with it the property development industry that fueled so much archaeological work. Excavating the rear garden of Dunkirk Manor to the strict standards of St. Augustine's archaeological preservation ordinance wouldn't be a quick job, and Faye's crew billed by the hour. This was a very good thing.

Her preliminary library research on the property said that the existing mansion had been built on undeveloped property in 1889—brand-spanking new, for St. Augustine—but that it had figured significantly in the city's history until the Depression. Henry Flagler, who'd kick-started the juggernaut that was Florida tourism, had been a frequent visitor at the Dunkirks' gala parties. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and virtually every other celebrity who had ever hit town—and there had been a lot of them before Palm Beach and Miami sprang up to steal the tourists away—had graced Dunkirk Manor with their presence.

Robert Ripley had been a guest here. He'd enjoyed St. Augustine so much that he'd bought the Castle Warden, quite near Dunkirk Manor, and used it as the home for his first permanent museum of oddities. He'd even featured the Dunkirk house in one of his Believe-It-or-Not columns, saying:

"Each staircase has thirteen steps to the second floor landings in the atrium and thirteen steps to the third floor landings. Thirteen leaded glass skylights shine above them, and each is adorned with thirteen peacock feathers. Thirteen paintings ring the walls. The inlaid mahogany rosettes in each corner of the floor have thirteen petals. Yet everything else in the room is perfectly symmetrical, making these odd-numbered features feel just ... wrong. It's the spookiest room in America. Believe It ... or Not!"

But, fascinating as Dunkirk Manor itself was, Faye wasn't working inside the house, so these things were just background for her project. Dunkirk Manor's glamorous history gave Faye historical justification to launch a significant field effort for a project that, in truth, wasn't glamorous at all ... but it was work.

For a consultant who got paid only when a client appeared with money in hand, work was work. And work was good.

Daniel and Suzanne wanted to build a swimming pool for their bed-and-breakfast guests, and Faye and Joe had been hired to make sure that the construction wouldn't be destroying anything historic. Or prehistoric.

Ordinarily, St. Augustine's City Archaeologist would have done the job herself, funded by the property owner, but Daniel and Suzanne had met Faye and Joe by chance two months before, while they all waited for seats at an overcrowded restaurant in the historic district. At the time, introverted Faye had wished the friendly couple would let her enjoy a rare evening on the town with her husband before the baby made date nights hard to do, but now she saw that business owners need to network all the time.

On the strength of that one casual encounter, Daniel and Suzanne had remembered her when they needed an archaeologist, and they'd gone to some effort to get permission to use her firm instead of using the city's staff. Hiring her through the nonprofit organization that maintained the house made a difference with the powers-that-be, for some reason Faye didn't understand. Mainly, she was just glad the job had come through.

She looked around the dreary little room, planning an immediate assault with a feather duster. Then she slid an arm around the waist of her tall, handsome, and sexy business partner.

"Well. At least it's free."

Chapter Two

Somewhere in St. Augustine, Florida, right this minute, someone is murdering history. It happens all the time.

When this city was founded, Elizabeth I was Queen of England. It was a single year after the death of Michelangelo, and the Renaissance had seized Europe with no intention of letting go. In other words, it was a very long time ago.

Since then, the Spanish built their city atop the site of a Native American village. Then the English came and went, and the Spanish came back. And now the Americans have held the land for nearly two centuries.

In St. Augustine, it is possible to drop your car keys and destroy something irreplaceable. Actually putting a shovel or a bulldozer blade into the soil ... well, such activities are highly regulated.

Some people resent being told what to do. And some people are capable of doing bad things ... evil things ... when they have dollar signs in their eyes.

Somewhere in the countryside outside the old city, a bulldozer is scraping away the topsoil to build an upscale development. A human finger bone, a broken war club, a few musket balls, two pieces of a long stone blade, a corroded crucifix, a scattering of silver rosary beads, and a startling amount of very old trash—the discovery of these things causes the developer a moment of consternation, but only a moment. They are quickly discarded.

The man in charge has just one thing to say.

"What the historic preservation people don't know won't hurt 'em."

Chapter Three

Faye knew that billions of women had been pregnant in the past. Millions of women were pregnant at any single point in time ... including, at the moment, her.

This meant that many, many people were precisely as physically miserable as Faye, and at precisely the same time. This didn't mean that she should be happy about the fact that her feet hurt. Nor that her ankles were so swollen that they felt squishy to the touch.

Faye's legs ached. Her back felt exactly as crummy as one would expect, considering that she spent her workdays in the classic pregnant woman's pose: feet slightly apart and pelvis tilted until her lower back was swayed into the shape of the letter C. As much as possible, she kept both hands pressed into that swayback, for support.

Soon, her crew would be finished with the test pits that she was watching them dig, and they could get to work doing some serious excavation. Faye knew she had no business standing on the lip of an archaeological unit and barking orders. If this baby gained one more ounce, her swayback routine wasn't going to be enough to counterbalance the extra weight. That ounce would pull her forward, right onto her face, which would be bad enough if she were standing indoors on a plush carpet. If Faye plunged forward, landing deep in a dirty hole, the situation would be damn near catastrophic.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Strangers by Mary Anna Evans Copyright © 2010 by Mary Anna Evans . Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Strangers is Ms. Evans 6th in her Faye Longchamps series.

    Faye and Joe have opened their own consulting firm and have landed a job in St. Augustine to research a B&B's owners property to determine whether or not they can dig a pool. Faye is very late in her pregnancy and Joe is hovering but sometimes even hovering can't stop danger.
    If you're a fan of Ms. Evans like I am you'd know that her series is set in Florida, well most of the time anyway, which is the home of Faye, and Florida is usually the setting for tourists no matter the city, I always love being educated while reading for pleasure and this novel was no different, in fact did you know that the word Strangers originally meant tourists and I'm sure any native will agree that tourists are indeed strange, but necessary. But let me get back on topic. Ms. Evans has as usual a very unique plot, though contemporary in nature we also deal a great deal with the past as our protagonists are archeologists and it's probably pretty unusual for said archeologists to be involved in murder and mayhem, but you'll find Faye and Joe deep in the middle of their job when a young woman goes missing. Her characters are wonderfully portrayed, all interesting and all very important to the story. And yes this is a who-done-it but I'll bet you don't know who done it until the very end when the author let's you in on her secret. The hero and heroine Joe and Faye are one of my very favorite couples in a literary series and if you've read the whole series you'll know what I mean, if not briefly it's their ancestral diversities and their own love story that has been told through out the series.
    If you like a mystery series with a little more bite than a cozy and yet not quite a thriller, this series will appeal to you. If you love well developed, well depicted characters with great stories of their own then you will love this. This novel stands well on it's own except for the background you will have learned about the characters. Ms. Evans kudos and I can't wait for the next one.

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  • Posted August 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Strangers

    Faye and Joe are a cute couple who have own archaeologist consulting firm. They are in St. Augustine getting ready to dig in the back yard of a manor. Things start to happen just in the first 24 hours of being in St Augustine along with some interesting finds in the back yard. This was an interesting read as I always have been fascinated by Archaeology and spice it up with some mystery was a fun read.

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