Edgar Award-shortlisted author Ashley Weaver returns with the fifth installment in the Amory Ames mystery series.
An Act of Villainy is an a gem, set in 1930s London and filled with style, banter, and twists that traditional mystery fans will positively relish.
"So you've gotten yourself involved with another murder, have you?"
Walking through London’s West End after a night at the theater, Amory Ames and her husband Milo run into wealthy investor and former actor Gerard Holloway. Holloway and his wife Georgina are old friends of theirs, and when Holloway invites them to the dress rehearsal of a new play he is directing, Amory readily accepts.
However, Amory is shocked to learn that Holloway has cast his mistress, actress Flora Bell, in the lead role. Furthermore, the casual invitation is not what it seems—he admits to Amory and Milo that Flora has been receiving threatening letters, and he needs their help in finding the mysterious sender. Despite Amory’s conflicting feelings—not only does she feel loyalty to Georgina, but the disintegration of the Holloways’ perfect marriage seems to bode ill for her own sometimes delicate relationship—her curiosity gets the better of her, and she begins to make inquiries.
It quickly becomes clear that each member of the cast has reason to resent Flora—and with a group so skilled in the art of deception, it isn’t easy to separate truth from illusion. When vague threats escalate, the scene is set for murder, and Amory and Milo must find the killer before the final curtain falls.
Also out now in the Amory Ames mysteries: Murder at the Brightwell, Death Wears a Mask, A Most Novel Revenge, and The Essence of Malice.
About the Author
ASHLEY WEAVER is the Technical Services Coordinator at the Allen Parish Libraries in Oberlin, Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She is the author of Murder at the Brightwell, Death Wears a Mask, and A Most Novel Revenge. Weaver lives in Oakdale, Louisiana.
Read an Excerpt
LONDON, JUNE 1933
Murder in Fiction is not nearly as thrilling as murder in real life.
This wicked thought slipped unbidden into my mind as my husband, Milo, and I exited a West End theatre after a performance of Death Comes at Midnight, an original drama sorely lacking originality.
My dearth of enthusiasm was not entirely the fault of the play. Truth be told, I rather suspected the blame should be laid at the feet of my recent endeavors in detection. I had found myself immersed in several mysteries as of late and, in consequence, the play's puzzle had proven less than enthralling.
It hadn't helped matters that Milo had, annoyingly, deduced the culprit and his motives not twenty minutes into the first act, and I had spent the remainder of the performance hoping that he would be proven wrong.
"Perhaps you'll guess the killer correctly next time, darling," he said, deducing my thoughts as easily as he had the solution to the play.
"It was too obvious," I retorted. "I was looking for a cleverer motive."
"Ah, I see," he replied with a smile.
"Mysteries are rarely ever that straightforward, as you well know."
"All the same, it's nice to take part in a mystery where loaded guns aren't being waved about," he answered dryly.
"I suppose," I said, though I still felt attempting to solve a fictional crime was disappointing in comparison to the real thing.
I took Milo's arm and we walked along Shaftesbury Avenue, making our way through the crowds of people coming out of other theatres into the brightly lit streets. It was a lovely evening, clear and cool, and I was glad that we had decided to walk to a restaurant in Covent Garden rather than take a cab. There was something magical about strolling through this part of town late at night, surrounded by other theatregoers, all of us laughing and talking about the performances we had just seen.
"I say, Milo Ames, is that you?"
We stopped and turned at the sound of the voice behind us.
It was Gerard Holloway, an old friend of Milo's. He came toward us through the crowd, smiling.
"It is you. And Mrs. Ames. How delightful." It did not escape my notice that he had not been certain it would be me on my husband's arm. Milo's reputation had been less than sterling in the past, and I suspected Mr. Holloway had encountered Milo on other occasions when I had not been the woman in his company.
"How are you, Holloway?" Milo asked.
"Never better," he said.
I had always liked Gerard Holloway. He cut a dashing figure. Tall and well built, he had a handsome, friendly face with a thin dark moustache above a mouth that was generally smiling. His pleasant appearance was complemented by his amiable disposition. The youngest of an earl's four sons, he had had the liberty to eschew duty and politics and had devoted his energies and wealth to a more creative milieu. He was a patron of the arts, known to frequent the theatre district, and was often looked to as the last word on the current trends in London theatre.
"Have you been to a play?" he asked.
"Yes, we've just seen Death Comes at Midnight," I told him.
"Of course. A mystery. That's rather in your line, isn't it?" he said with a smile. It had not escaped society's notice that Milo and I had been entangled in more than one murder investigation, and we had yet to live down our reputation. "How did you like it?"
"A bit predictable," Milo said.
"I thought the same," Mr. Holloway said. "It's only meant to be light entertainment, of course, so I suppose one shouldn't judge too harshly. But so many plays these days aren't what they used to be. I hope to do something on that score, however. I'm producing a new play of my own, The Price of Victory."
"Yes, I heard something about that," Milo said. "Wrote it yourself, didn't you?"
"Yes. The script's given me a devil of a time, but we've smoothed it over." He was warming to the subject now, the spark of enthusiasm gleaming in his dark eyes. "We've got Christopher Landon, quite a rising star, as our lead man. And Balthazar Lebeau in a supporting role."
"Lebeau is still acting, is he?" Milo asked.
"In a manner of speaking. Half the time, I don't know how the man manages to put one foot in front of the other, let alone turn out a decent performance, but his name still holds a certain sway. Besides, we have a bit of a history, and I feel I owe him a chance. Anyway, I think it's going to be a great success. We'll be opening this weekend. I hope you'll come and see it."
"We'd like that very much," I said, though I knew that Milo would probably be annoyed with me later for having agreed to see a play we would be required to praise, whatever its merits. My husband had very little patience for such things, and, even though Mr. Holloway was an old friend, I knew Milo would likely try to get out of attending.
"Good, good," Mr. Holloway said. "We've been working very hard on it. It's rather my pet project. That's why I decided to direct it as well. It's my first time at the helm, so to speak. I'm afraid I'm making a nuisance of myself about every last detail, but so far they haven't kicked me out."
Such a thing was unlikely, given that he had no doubt financed the entire venture. Mr. Holloway was incredibly wealthy, and, in addition to his interest in London's art world, he and his wife were involved in numerous charities throughout the city.
"How is Georgina?" I asked. It had been some time since I had seen Mrs. Holloway, though, over the years, we had formed a warm friendship through mutual social engagements and had worked on several charity committees together.
A strange expression flickered almost imperceptibly across his face, and he hesitated ever so slightly. "She's quite well."
"I'm glad to hear it. It's been a while since I've seen her. I'll have to ring her up."
"Yes, I'm sure she'd like that," he said. "Well, I'm afraid I must be off, but I do hope you'll come to the play."
"Thank you," I told him. "We'll look forward to it."
He hesitated, as though he wanted to say something else. Then he added, "And, Ames, perhaps we might have a drink together soon?"
"Perhaps at my club? Are you free tomorrow afternoon? Say three o'clock?"
"Yes, I think so," Milo said. "I'll stop by."
"Excellent," he said. "I'll see you then. Good evening, Mrs. Ames."
He tipped his hat then and left us.
"Laid that on a bit thick, didn't you?" Milo said mildly as I took his arm again and we resumed walking.
As I had anticipated, he was less than pleased that I had agreed to attend an amateur performance. "I couldn't very well refuse his invitation," I pointed out. "It's only one evening; it won't hurt to attend. Besides, you know Gerard Holloway never does things in half measures. I'm sure it will be a good play."
"That's not what I mean," he said.
I was suddenly confused. "Well, what do you mean?"
"Asking about Georgina."
I hadn't the faintest idea what he was getting at. "Why shouldn't I have asked about her?"
"Because Gerard Holloway's new play just happens to star his mistress."
I stopped walking and turned to face him. "What?"
He smiled. "My sweet, innocent darling. You really didn't know?"
"No," I said, genuinely shocked. Perhaps it was dreadfully naïve of me, especially given the less than perfect state my own marriage had once been in, but I still managed to be rather taken aback at the rampant infidelity in our social circle.
"It's been the talk of London. She's the theatre's newest darling, as well as Holloway's. Flora Bell, she calls herself. I'm rather surprised you haven't heard something about it."
I had long ago developed an aversion to the gossip columns. I could find no amusement in the troubles of others.
"It did cross my mind that he didn't mention the female lead in his play," I said. "And I thought he looked a bit strange when I asked about Georgina."
"I expect he thought you were pointedly mentioning her."
"I hope he did," I replied. "Someone ought to remind him of her. Poor Georgina. She must be dreadfully upset."
Of all the couples that I knew, the Holloways were perhaps the last I would have expected to have this sort of trouble. The pair had been a love match. They had married young and had always seemed very much devoted to each other. Their romance had, in fact, been the sort of fairy tale young women dreamed about. They had grown up together and suddenly found one day that they were in love. After an opulent wedding that had been the talk of London, he had whisked her away on a summer-long wedding trip, and that had only been the beginning. From then on, they had traveled to countless exotic locales, doing all manner of adventurous things.
Whenever I had seen them together, I had admired their relationship. I had often noticed between them the little unspoken hints of affection that truly happy couples shared, the subtle gestures and glances that spoke volumes. It was astounding to me that he had taken a mistress.
I didn't know why, but this news felt like something of a personal blow.
"She needn't worry," Milo said lightly. "These things never last."
I felt a little pang of sadness at this careless comment. Milo would know about such things, of course. But the knowledge that an affair would be short-lived did not make it any easier for the wife in question. Georgina was a strong woman, and I knew it was not likely she would take her husband's infidelity in stride. This could very well be the end of the Holloways' marriage.
"It may not last," I said quietly, "but the consequences of it surely will."
I didn't look at him, but I saw him glance my way out of the corner of his eye. He was aware, I knew, that I was thinking of the impact of past scandals upon our own marriage. We had surmounted our difficulties and the past was not something I liked to dwell on, but I could not help but feel exceedingly sorry for Georgina Holloway.
We let the subject drop as we reached the restaurant, but I was feeling much less carefree than I had been a few moments before.
I ought to have recognized the feeling then, but I didn't. Couched as it was, in the guise of concern about my friend's connubial disharmony, I am ashamed to say I hadn't an inkling that my unsettled feeling meant we were on the precipice of another mystery.CHAPTER 2
The Holloways' Marriage trouble was still on my mind the next morning as I sat down to breakfast. I didn't know why I couldn't seem to forget the matter. They were not, after all, the first couple of our acquaintance whose marriage had gone by the wayside. I had always felt, however, that their relationship was different from most, stronger somehow. Surely it was a shame to throw something so valuable away?
The more I considered it, the more certain I was that Gerard Holloway still loved his wife and was making a terrible mistake. If only he could be made to realize it before it was too late. The trouble with men was that it was very difficult to make them see how stupid they were being.
Milo's paper was folded by his plate, and, as he was still in bed, I picked it up, deciding to peruse the gossip columns over breakfast to see if there was any mention of Gerard Holloway and Flora Bell. It wasn't just morbid curiosity on my part. I felt the stirrings of the desire to take action.
I was glad that Milo was not awake, for he would know what I was thinking about and tell me not to interfere.
I flipped through the pages until I found what I was looking for. Nestled between wedding announcements and a notice about a charity gala, there was one small item that was clearly related to the matter:
A certain earl's son has continued to be seen in company with a certain actress. The lady in question seems to have captured his heart along with the lead in a new play. It remains to be seen whether her talents will translate to the stage.
I put the paper aside in disgust. Poor Georgina must be heartbroken. In that moment, I made up my mind. I was going to do what I could do to remedy the situation. At the very least, I could offer Georgina support and sympathy.
Now I just had to find a way to go about it. I could not very well show up at her door saying that I had heard about her husband's affair. We weren't on close enough terms for that. There had to be some other way for me to put myself into her company.
In the end, the means for doing so came from a most unexpected source. I glanced back at the paper, and my eyes fell on the notice for the charity gala. This time I noticed the names written there:
The charity gala held by the Honorable Mr. and Mrs. Gerard Holloway will commence following the opening-night performance of Mr. Holloway's new play, The Price of Victory, at the Penworth Theatre. The play, which features Miss Flora Bell and Mr. Christopher Landon, is expected to be a great success.
The notice gave the date as the Saturday three days hence and said that all tickets to the gala had long ago been sold, but tickets to the play were still available for the following weeks. Apparently, the opening-night performance was exclusive to gala-goers, the proceeds going to a notable charity. This sort of elaborate philanthropic function was very much in the Holloways' style, and they had had a great deal of success with it in the past.
I wondered why it was that Mr. Holloway hadn't mentioned the gala last night. Milo and I would have gladly contributed to the cause, even without tickets. Perhaps he had not wanted to mention the charity event, as it would only lead to conversation about Georgina. I imagined the whole thing must be very awkward for the Holloways, given the circumstances.
I glanced again at the odious bit of gossip beneath the gala notice. No doubt the snide remark about Mr. Holloway had been purposefully placed there. I felt another twinge of sympathy for Georgina. She would see her charity event through to the end, but I could only imagine how embarrassing this was for her.
My mind began turning, wondering how I could possibly be of some help.
I picked up my cup and had just drained the last of my coffee when there was a knock at the door. I glanced at the clock. It was very early. I wasn't sure who could be calling at this time of day.
A moment later, I heard the door open and the murmur of voices, and then my maid, Winnelda, hurried into the room.
"Your mother's here!" she whispered, her eyes wide. Winnelda served as my lady's maid, but she had never been properly trained for the position and was thus wont to make her emotions and opinions plain. Not that I blamed her in this instance. My mother could no doubt find a way to rattle the king himself. "She went right to the sitting room."
"Thank you," I said. "I'll go and speak with her."
I didn't know what my mother was doing here at this hour. What was more, I didn't know what she was doing in London. She and my father spent the majority of their time in the country, and when they did come to town we did not spend much time together. It was not that there was any animosity between us, but they had always treated me as they treated each other: with polite reserve tempered by the occasional hint of vague affection. Over the years, we had fallen into a comfortably distant relationship that seemed to work well for all concerned.
I walked to the sitting room and found my mother standing before the mirror, checking her lipstick. With the reflection of my face beside hers, I had to admit that we looked a good bit alike. We had the same dark hair, the same gray eyes, and the same mouth. She caught sight of me in the glass then and turned to face me. She was dressed in a black suit accented with rows of pearls and an ermine stole.
"Hello, Mother," I said.
"Hello, dearest," she said, holding out her fur-draped arms. I obediently went to her, and she embraced me, brushing kisses across my cheeks. She smelled, as she always had, of vanilla and rosewater.
The formalities thus observed, she stepped back and ran her eyes over me. "It's been far too long since I've seen you. Capri, Como, and then Paris and not a single letter to your dear mother. You're looking well, perhaps a bit too thin. And you've been in the sun. You'll ruin your complexion that way."
"Can I offer you some breakfast?" I asked.
"Thank you, no. You know I take only tea in the morning. It's much too early for eating."
"Yes, I was rather surprised you called so early."
"I've a busy day scheduled, and I wanted to see you first thing." She moved to a chair near the fireplace and took a seat.
I followed her lead and sat on the sofa. "How is Father?"
"He's much the same as always, I suppose," she said absently, shifting her fur on her shoulders. "But I haven't come for pleasantries. I've come to enlist your aid."
Excerpted from "An Act of Villainy"
Copyright © 2018 Ashley Weaver.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
First of all, this book is really PRETTY - the cover art is beautiful and even the typeface looks Art Deco (I checked to see if the font was mentioned at the end but it was not). If you like the series, buy the actual book! It's nice to hold in your hands. Second, the story is good fun. If you need a break from blood and guts, swearing, and/or the demonically possessed, Amory and Milo Ames are the two most civilized sleuths to come along in print since Agatha Christie ran out of typewriter ribbon. Take a little trip to middle class (this is British for "rich") London in the 1930s, enjoy this cleverly crafted whodunnit set in a West End theater, and then get on back to your usual slasher fiction - or not, because this might just be a world you want to stay in for a while, and Ashley Weaver has other stories to entice you.
I love Amory and Milo. I've been reading this series since the beginning, and they just keep getting better. I really enjoyed this one - and love the "realness" of the relationship between Amory and Milo. Long may they strive. I think they're getting happier together through each story. Keep them coming.
I'm a big fan of ashley weaver and this book is the best one ever. A sophisticated murder mystery set among the London aristocracy I b the 1920s. Altho each book stands alone , they are best read in order. Agatha christie would be jealous. Get a cup of tea and a scone then settle in for one of the best reads of your life.
This is an entertaining series with interesting characters and good mysteries. It has been fun to watch the two main characters grow and work on their marriage relationship. It's quite believable. This time they are caught up in theatre intrigue. The resolution, both as to who is guilty and how they uncover the culprit, is a nice surprise.