About the Author
PAIGE SHELTON had a nomadic childhood, as her father's job as a football coach took her family to seven different towns before she was even twelve years old. After college at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, she moved to Salt Lake City. She thought she'd only stay a couple years, but instead she fell in love with the mountains and a great guy who became her husband. After many decades in Utah, she and her family moved to Arizona. She writes the Scottish Bookshop Mystery series, which begins with The Cracked Spine.
Read an Excerpt
A Christmas Tartan
By Paige Shelton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Paige Shelton
All rights reserved.
I had a holiday dinner this evening and presents to wrap, but something else had suddenly become more important.
December 22 — the shortest day of the year in Scotland — had started off dark, was filled in in the middle with a little cloud-diffused light coming though the high warehouse windows, and then fell into darkness again around three thirty in the afternoon.
I'd been in the warehouse all day, alone except for a brief late-afternoon visit from my boss, Edwin MacAlister.
"Delaney, lass, I've acquired some items, and I'd appreciate it if you could give them a look. I'm off tae my cousin's in the country for the holiday, but I'll have my mobile available. I ... well, the box was left by my front door and I've some suspicion the items inside were stolen. Perhaps you could look at them and make some determination," he had said.
"Shouldn't we call the police?" I said, since I had no idea how I would determine if these items were stolen or not on my own.
Edwin raised one eyebrow.
"Right. Maybe we should leave the police out of this one," I responded. "At least for now."
"Excellent idea," Edwin said before he left me alone.
The warehouse had been Edwin's office, a secret room on the other side of a wall of his bookshop. It was where he gathered not only books, but a wide array of old items that he had deemed interesting at least, valuable at most. I'd just finished cataloging a collection of old mousetraps; most of them were brutal machines but were of some importance to at least one collector I'd found in Paris.
Edwin had hired me, a onetime museum archivist from Kansas, to help with all of his collections, and I'd only begun to scratch the surface. But the warehouse had become my space almost as much as it was his, as if our levels of dominion seemed to be meeting in the middle. I wondered if the room would ever become more mine than his. I doubted it.
Throughout the day I heard the bell jingle on the other side of the wall as customers moved in and out the bookshop and my coworkers' voices as they greeted and assisted them. Rosie, Hamlet, Edwin, and I had been busy this season.
Intermittently, I caught the scents of cinnamon and chocolate, and I knew Rosie was making tea and hot chocolate and spreading good cheer. She loved this holiday.
"Makes everyone sae cadgy," she'd said.
"Cadgy?" I asked.
"Happy, friendly, in good spirits," Hamlet translated.
I had few difficulties with the range of accents by now, but when Scots was spoken, I still needed some assistance. Rosie and my landlords, Elias and Aggie, all spoke with thick accents. I'd caught myself using a Scots word a couple of times, and Hamlet said that every now and then a wee bit of an accent snuck into my words.
My time in Scotland, though full of some crazy and even murderous adventures, was working out very well.
I turned my attention to the box. Inside were a stainless serving spoon (nothing fancy but seemingly old); a dusty, slightly frayed woolen tartan (a scarf, this one decorated with a plaid green and red pattern that made me think "Christmas"); a tarnished silver platter etched with what I thought were Christmas trees (I was pretty sure they were Scottish pine trees which were, naturally, the Scottish Christmas tree of choice); a brown button, and an old copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Edwin and I had immediately determined it wasn't a valuable edition, and had probably been printed in the 1950s or 1960s. The book's brown cover was faded and worn so much that it was almost unreadable. No matter that it was in bad condition and not an extremely rare copy, Edwin and I both had due respect for the book. In over a hundred and fifty years, A Christmas Carol had never been out of print — a rare feat in the book world.
I sensed that the items in the box were connected, though that might simply have been because they were in the same box together. Well, it was also something I really sensed. They felt like they belonged together.
I lifted the cover of the book carefully and looked at the first few pages; maybe there was an inscription that might give me a clue. But there was no writing on any of the pages other than what had been printed by the press. I thumbed through all the pages, once quickly and then again slowly. Nothing. No scribble, no bookmark, no leftover recipe card (the thing I most found in old books).
I closed the cover and ran my knuckle gently over it as my eyebrows came together. How was I supposed to figure this out other than to call the police and see if someone had reported the items stolen or missing?
And then it came to me. Edwin wanted me to listen to the book. He probably meant for me to ask it where the box had come from, and then wait patiently for an answer.
I'd told him about my quirk, about how books "talked" to me. In fact, my quirk was simply my intuition guiding me, using my strange ability to memorize words, particularly ones I'd read that had been spoken by characters in books, and then listen to them as they told me things, guided me.
Though sometimes an answer was uncannily specific, I couldn't ask a question that I somehow didn't already, deep inside, in that place where my intuition and subconscious hung out, know the answer to.
Luckily, I had read A Christmas Carol, as well as lots of mysteries and detective novels. There had to be a way to figure this out. There were plenty of books in the shop and many still on a shelf here in the warehouse. Surely, there was a detective in one of them who could guide me. Maybe Ebenezer Scrooge or Bob Cratchit could even offer some assistance.
I listened hard for my bookish voices.
And got nothing. Only the sounds and smells of holiday cheer floated in from beyond the warehouse's enormous red door.
I sighed and pushed my chair back. Maybe if I walked over to the shelves of books and looked at them while I listened. Maybe that would help. It couldn't hurt.
I'd moved a couple of the old mousetraps to a shelf above and behind my desk. I was careful with everything I researched and catalogued, sometimes too careful, but I must not have put the biggest, most horrifying trap — wire snaps and cages on a wooden frame almost the size of a shoebox — back far enough on the shelf. In my frustration I'd pushed my chair back a bit too far and, as I went to stand, I hit my head on the trap's splintered wood corner.
"Ouch!" I rebounded back into the chair and put my hand on the spot of impact. Reflexively I pulled it back to look for blood. Stars filled my eyes for a moment, but when they cleared, fortunately they didn't find blood. I turned to inspect the trap. Mostly I was glad it looked like my carelessness hadn't done it any harm. It had been built to be sturdy, apparently for a very long time.
I stood again, glad I wasn't woozy, though the spot on my head would sting for a few hours. I pushed the trap back, double-checked that it and the others were secure and out of the way, and then turned toward the books. As I took a step, my hand tipped A Christmas Carol off the desk.
"Good grief, Delaney. Get a grip," I said to myself as I crouched to gather the book.
It had fallen on its spine opened to pages forty-four and forty-five, though I don't know why I noticed that detail because there was something much more interesting to see. An old black-and-white photograph had slipped out of the book, its corner still tucked between some pages. I must not have looked through the book as thoroughly as I thought, or it had been caught tight inside.
Using my fingertips, I picked up the picture by its corner and held it toward the light coming from the ceiling fixtures.
A pretty woman who, at most, was in her early thirties smiled up at me. The picture was taken right before she laughed, I thought. Her hair and clothes were straight from the 1960s, the tailored, Jacqueline Kennedy look. Since the picture was black and white I couldn't know for sure, but I thought she was wearing the same tartan from the box and a brown coat that would be a perfect match for the button. She held up a small Santa Claus, probably an ornament. It looked old-fashioned, like it was made of carved wood. A silvery glare, perhaps from something the flash glinted off of, extended from her shoulder to the edge of the picture, but the rest of the background was only white.
Infusing my own moment of drama, I held my breath and slowly turned it over. I let out a small squeal of glee when I found a name inked in black cursive.
"Hello, Annabel, how are you?" I said as I turned the picture over again.
I did some quick math and figured that if Annabel was still alive she'd probably be somewhere in her eighties. I picked up the book and placed the picture into a protective sleeve before I fired up my computer and did a search for Ms. Cruickshank.
And found her. Maybe. I found a link that led to something listing three dots followed by "Annabel Cruickshank last known address" and then the address. Chances that I'd found the Annabel who was in the picture were slim, but it was all I had to go on, and the address was close by, more than worth a quick few-blocks journey.
Last time I'd been outside, which had been early that morning, the wind had been biting cold but there'd been no rain or snow. I glanced up at the dark windows and determined that though it was most likely still cold, there was also still no moisture coming from the sky. However, this was Scotland so that could change any minute.
I didn't want to take the time to call my landlord Elias to ask for a ride in his cab. I knew the bus routes well, but Annabel's address was only a few blocks away, according to the map I had pulled up. I would walk, and I would take the book and the picture with me. I'd deliver the rest later if I truly found the owner. Still in the protective sleeve, I slipped the picture back into the book and then put both of them in a paper bag, folding it securely. Finally I dumped everything out of my messenger bag except for my wallet and put the paper bag inside it. I snapped the flap closed and then lifted the strap over my head. I would leave the box with the other items locked inside the warehouse, safe on my desk.
I listened for familiar noises and realized there were none. I sniffed the air, searching for cinnamon or chocolate, but found neither.
"What time is it?" I asked myself as I glanced at my watch. I'd lost track of everything, and it sounded and smelled like my coworkers had closed the shop for the day, leaving without telling me goodbye. That wasn't totally unusual. I often got lost in my work, and since the holiday dinner was at Rosie's house, I guessed that Hamlet had gone to help her prepare.
I locked the warehouse door and peered inside the small kitchen, confirming it was dark, and all coffee pots and tea kettles had been put away for the day, before I climbed the stairs on this side, crossed over to the other side, and went down those stairs into the now darkened retail portion of the shop.
Something seemed off. I looked around as some light from the streetlamps cast blocky shadows here and there.
The best I could guess was that the center bookshelves were different, not as full as they'd been earlier. In fact, they were not as jam-packed and stuffed with books as they'd been since I'd first arrived in Scotland. I inspected them a little closer, but it was too dark to determine the titles of the few books still left on the shelves.
Someone had placed decorations atop the shelves too — a Christmas village. Though the small buildings weren't lit and I couldn't see the details, I'd seen my fair share of Christmas villages back in Kansas — small replicas of holiday-decorated shops and shoppers.
As I stepped out into the cold I had second thoughts about my plan not to use a cab or public transportation, but instead I pulled up my scarf (an early Christmas gift crocheted by Rosie) over my nose and mouth and started up the hill toward Cowgate. The wind was brisk enough that I kept my head down and didn't enjoy the holiday spirit displayed by the local businesses as I moved forward.
The entire city of Edinburgh got well into the holiday with strategically placed carnival-type rides and other special events throughout the city. The Christmas Market at St. Andrew Square was a celebration in itself. Christmas lights, music, food. The city embraced the holiday on a scale I'd never experienced before. So far, my first Christmas in Scotland had left me far too wide-eyed at moments. I didn't like showing my country-girl side, but it was impossible not to sometimes.
Recently, I had learned that it hadn't always been this way, that until the late 1950s / early 1960s Christmas wasn't celebrated with much exuberance, something to do with the predominance of the Presbyterian religion at the time. I'd meant to research the details but I hadn't yet. Hogmanay, which was the celebration of the New Year, used to be the more important of the holidays, but over the last fifty or sixty years Christmas had caught up, maybe even taken the lead.
The address I was looking for was on the corner of Cowgate and a close, or as Americans would call most of them, an alley, though closes were mostly more charming. I didn't know the story behind this close — they all had their own story about who famous or infamous had once lived there or what business had once been there — but I was sure that either Elias or his wife Aggie knew and would be able to tell me later this evening.
I'd become fairly acquainted with the city over the past months and in my memory the building on that corner housed a pub, or a restaurant, something that wasn't a place where I thought someone lived. But I also knew that flats, or apartments, were above many businesses.
I spotted the intersection and hurried even faster up the street, dodging only a few pedestrians. As I reached the building I realized that my memory must have been off. The three-story stone structure looked exactly like a place where people should live.
I wasn't sure if the doors I saw were the main entrance or if it was around on the close's side, so I stepped around the corner to explore.
And I suddenly felt like I'd been transported into another world, one that wasn't quite as welcoming as the one I'd just left. The close was more alley-like than charming, dark with no holiday lights. Two police cars were parked in a row in the narrow space, their sirens off but their lights blinking blindingly. I shielded my eyes and determined that the building's main doors were definitely on this side.
I stood there a minute and wondered if I should come back another day. I shouldn't bother whatever might be going on inside the building that required police attention.
But it was a building with a number of flats, and I was curious to find out if Annabel Cruickshank was inside, even more anxious, probably infused with a holiday spirit of good will (some cadgy, I thought with a smile) to return lost belongings to their rightful owner. If she was in there, chances were — I quickly estimated that there must be six flats inside — one in six that the police were visiting her.
I walked next to the narrow space alongside the police cars and into the cold building.CHAPTER 2
The main door had been propped open, but if it hadn't been I would have had to be buzzed in. As it was, once I was inside and unsure of which way to go, I peered backward at the names next to the corresponding buzzer buttons. I saw "A Cruickshank" next to the button for flat number four and the thrill of the chase warmed me despite the cold entryway.
Flat number four was probably on the second floor — two flats per floor — so I moved up the stairway, skipping every other step.
The building itself wasn't dreary, but the old walls and floors — just as naked of decorations as the close had been — could have used some tinsel or a light or two, at least some heating vents.
I stepped through another doorway and onto the second floor. I determined quickly that I'd been correct — two flats per floor. I headed toward the two doors set in the middle of the hallway, sure that one of them was the one I was looking for.
Just as I spied a black number four nailed onto a door, and before I could be pleased about my crack detective skills, the door opened.
Two police officers exited saying things like, "We'll get back tae ye, Ms. Cruickshank," and "I ken ye're worried, but we're on the case," and "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation."
I couldn't see her, but I heard an elderly woman's voice, clearly in distress and strained with emotion, come from beyond the door. "Please, please find her. I'm sae, sae worrit."
Excerpted from A Christmas Tartan by Paige Shelton. Copyright © 2016 Paige Shelton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A wonderful little mystery for the Christmas season. The author has the ability to describe everything in great detail that she sees and thinks. I felt like I was in Edinburgh. Even though this is a very short story I fell in love with all the characters and look forward to the next.
She is one of my favorite authors. I can't wait for her books to come out.
4.5 out of 5 stars rounded up. A Christmas Tartan is a novella that comes in between The Cracked Spine and Of Books and Bagpipes in the Scottish Bookshop Mystery series by Paige Shelton. It's a wonderful holiday story and a cozy mystery to boot! This novella is a little bit different from the other two full-length novels in this series (I can't really state how it is different though, as that would give some of the plot away). However, that being said, I really enjoyed this story! This story deals mostly with Delaney herself. Our other usual cast of characters have very little role in this mystery, but we do see them a little. This story has our heroine checking out the provenance of this mystery box of items. In doing so, she comes across an old, unsolved mystery of a missing young woman. This is just a fast-paced, fun little mystery to whet the appetite for the second book in the series. It's definitely fun and a page-turner, but there's not a lot of character development or personal relationship development in this book. Nothing that really seems important to the overall arc to the series. Yet, it's still a delightful read. There's not much else I can say without spoilers, so I'll just end with saying pick it up - you'll enjoy it!!
I enjoyed this mysterious story. The Cracked Spine is such a fun place to visit! Anxiously waiting for the next book in the series.