Anything Goes (Grace and Favor Series #1)by Jill Churchill
The crash of 1929 has ended the party for high-living New Yorkers Lily Brewster and her brother Robert and takes them from the upper echelons of the idle rich and deposits them to the lowly depths of the disillusioned poor. However, rescue arrives in the form of their recently deceased/b>/center>
The crash of 1929 has ended the party for high-living New Yorkers Lily Brewster and her brother Robert and takes them from the upper echelons of the idle rich and deposits them to the lowly depths of the disillusioned poor. However, rescue arrives in the form of their recently deceased great-uncle Horation who bequeaths to them Grace and Favor "Cottage" which is really a great sprawling mansion. And there's a fortune to go with it, but only if they reside there for ten years.
With no other alternative, the spirited Manhattanites move to a quiet and quaint Hudson River community and try to fit in. But they soon find out that great-uncle Horatio didn't die peacefully. He was murdered while on an elaborate sailing party on the Hudson River aboard his yacht and Lily and Robert are suspects. But when another corpse appears in the kitchen of the mansion, the siblings are determined to clear themselves. Without a clue how to begin, Lily and Robert start snooping, unaware that their savvy sleuthing could make them the killer's next targets.
Read an Excerpt
Lily was hot and cranky.
She shoved her damp, limp hair back under her wilted summer straw hat and closed her eyes for a moment. She was wearing her last pair of undarned silk stockings, which on such a blistering day had been an awful mistake. The taxicab, which was really just an old black Ford with TAXI inexpertly stenciled on the driver's door, kept lurching along the steep, tree-encroached tunnel of a road, tossing her around annoyingly. And if her brother Robert didn't soon stop that tuneless whistling, she'd have to consider throwing herself out the door and ending it all.
Or perhaps she'd just shove Robert out into the shrubbery.
They'd arrived by train from New York City in Voorburg-on-Hudson at noon on a steamy Saturday, and had taken a quick look around the attractive little pre-Revolutionary town. They'd waited for a taxicab quite a while before finding out that the town had only the one and the stationmaster had to locate the driver for them.
"He's usually here to meet the noon train," the stationmaster had said, "but he might still be at Mabel's Cafe."
Robert had laughed heartily at this. "In hard times, it's good to know there really is a Mabel's Cafe somewhere."
"Tired, darlin' Lil?" Robert asked later, as the taxi driver took a sharp turn, flinging them about in the backseat like dice in a cup.
"Tired and hot."
"But it's much nicer here than in the city today," Robert said.
She opened her eyes and glared at him. He looked as cool as an iced drink in a crystal glass. Sometimes she hated her brother. Especially when he was right. It was August and New York City was so hot that sometimes she feared her lungs would scald if she took another breath, and her feet would fry from the searing pavements. For the last week all she'd wanted in life was to be alone and stand dripping wet and naked in front of the squeaky electric fan she and Robert had in their tiny two-room apartment in the tenement in the Lower East Side.
But instead, she'd dragged herself off every weekday morning at eight and walked the twelve blocks to her dreary, menial job at the Chase National Bank where she sat on a high backless stool at a big table all day with seven other women and sorted checks into tidy piles. A comfortable chair and interesting conversation would have made the job more tolerable, but Lily had so little in common with the other women that they might as well have been speaking different languages. In fact, English wasn't the native language of several of them.
By the time she reached home at six, Robert had usually fixed her a light supper and was dressing for his evening of earning his living, such as it was. The jobs changedsometimes he was a bartender in the more socially acceptable speakeasies, sometimes he hired himself out as a dancing partner and escort to elderly ladies who fawned over him and introduced him to their friends as their favorite nephew.
His 'dear old biddies,' he called them privately.
Occasionally he substituted for the maitre d' at the Cafe Savarin, Fraunces Tavern, Luchow's or the Algonquinrestaurants that catered to those who had, against all odds, held onto their wealth. Lily often thought it must be humiliating for him to come down to being an employee rather than a customer, but he had never complained.
The only things Robert's jobs all had in common was that he had to look spectacularly handsome, speak well and own a tux.
This was good, because playing a fair game of polo, looking and acting top-drawer, and being relentlessly cheerful were Robert's only skills, highly developed as they were.
"We didn't have to come all the way up here, you know. It was all your idea," Robert said amiably. Robert was almost always amiable.
Lily wondered if she could reach the door handle on his side of the taxi before he could become aware of her intentions.
"And miss something that might help us crawl out of dire poverty?" she asked. "Attorneys don't put ads in the papers asking specific people to contact them for news to their advantage for no reason."
"I still think it's a con," Robert said cheerfully. "Some rumrunner is going to meet us at this cottage and tell us we can make a fortune with just a few illegal trips across the Canadian border. Still, it's a lark and gets us out of town for a day. Dear God, Lily, everything's so damned rural here, just a couple hours' train ride out of the city. Who'd have thought ..." He gazed out the window as though it were as foreign as a desert or an arctic landscape. "I'm just the tiniest bit afraid of trees, you know. You can never tell what they're going to do."
That made her laugh, as she knew he intended. "Trees don't do anything, Robert."
He grinned. "They get hit by lightning and splinter. I've read about that. And they drop leaves and bark that somebody has to pick up and discard. And sometimes peacocks nest in them overnight and mess up your car. That happened to me once at the Breakers."
In another life ... Lily thought. Our other life.
"Here you are, folks," the taxicab driver said, taking a sharp turn between two stone pillars that were nearly covered with ivy. "Honeysuckle Cottage."
Lily gawked at the structure, wondering how anyone could have misnamed it so badly. It wasn't a cottage. It was a great hulking monster of a mansion. And if there was honeysuckle growing anywhere, it was having to put up a good fight with the weeds, coarser vines and acres of ivy that almost entirely obscured the facade of the house and most of the windows. Aside from the few random turrets sticking up bravely through the greenery, it looked more like a burial mound with extremely luxuriant foliage than a house.
Lily counted out the driver's tab and added a frugal, but not downright stingy tip. "You'll come back for us in an hour?"
The taxi driver was counting the pile of change she'd given him. "Uh-huh," he said reluctantly, grinding the gears and chugging off.
Lily and Robert stared at the house for a long moment and Robert was the first to spot what might be a front door. He pushed aside an especially aggressive vine and knocked firmly. They heard footsteps, a crash that sounded like a small table falling over and a muffled curse, before the door opened.
The man standing in the semidarkness was small, elderly and had badly dyed black hair and a matching pencil-thin moustache. "You must be Miss Lillian Brewster and Mr. Robert Brewster. Come in, please. We'll talk in the library."
They followed him gingerly down the dark central hall, alongside a massive staircase and into a room at the back of the house. Robert amused himself by pretending to be blind and having to feel his way. Lily gasped as the stranger ushered them into the library. This room was magnificent. It was flooded with light from a pair of French doors and ranks of large windows in the back wall. Lily walked forward and realized the room presented a breathtaking panorama of a long green lawn and a superb view of the Hudson River, curving gently below them. None of the voracious vines were allowed to obscure the view from this room. The other walls were covered with bookshelves with elaborately etched glass doors protecting them from dust.
"I'm Mr. Elgin Prinney, Esquire," the elderly man said as he fastidiously swatted a large handkerchief at the seats of three chairs grouped at the end of a long, gracefully proportioned library table. "Please sit down."
Lily had to make a real effort to tear her gaze away from the river. She sat down in the chair facing the windows.
Pretending to fuss with the lock on his document case, Elgin Prinney secretly studied the young pair. A very good-looking young man who seemed frivolous but pleasant. And a girl with obvious good breeding who was far too thin and tired-looking for her own good. At least she loved the view. He hoped they really were the young people that he'd been searching for.
"I believe you've brought the documents I requested when you telephoned me?" Mr. Prinney said.
Lily opened the small case she'd been clutching for hours. She removed two baby books, hers and Robert's, which had family trees filled in on the front pages. Each book also had a formal invitation to their respective christenings, giving their parents' names and the dates of Lily's and Robert's births. She'd also managed to acquire copies of birth records from city hall, an obituary noting their mother's death and a more recent death certificate for their father.
October, 1929. Cause of death: suicide by defenestration.
She handed these items to Mr. Elgin Prinney, Esquire, and took a long envelope from her handbag. This contained her father's will, a picture of him from a newspaper clipping, another picture of him with Lily and Robert on the long porch of their summer home in Nantucket shortly before his death.
Mr. Prinney studied all the documents slowly and thoroughly, even looking at the backs of the newspaper clippings. Robert caught Lily's eye, grinned and winked at her.
"This seems to be quite convincing."
"Convincing of what?" Robert inquired.
"That you are the children of Caroline and George Brewster."
"Of course we are. Why would anybody be benighted enough to pretend to be us? Look here, old chap, what's this all about?"
Mr. Prinney sighed, leaned back in his chair and tented his short fingers. "Were you aware that your father had an uncle named Horatio Brewster?"
Robert looked at Lily. "Were we?"
"Yes, he visited us one winter at the Gramercy Park apartment when we were about six and eight. You must remember. He gave us lemon drops and we ate so many we were both sick all night. He's listed here on the family tree."
"And you had no further contact with him?" Mr. Prinney asked.
Lily shook her head. "My mother used to write everybody in the family a chatty Christmas letter and send pictures with it. And when she died, I used her address book to send cards. But I never received anything back from him so I stopped sending them."
"Do you remember what his address was?"
"Somewhere in Connecticut. I didn't think to bring Mother's address book. Uncle Horatio's address was in a town that started with an 'S' as I remember."
Mr. Prinney nodded approvingly. "Very well. I think this adds up to adequate proof of your identity. I'm sorry to have to inform you that Mr. Horatio Brewster died two months ago in a boating accident on the river. This had been his home for the last five years. He has left it to the two of youin a manner of speaking."
Lily and Robert exchanged a quick glance.
"In a manner of speaking, you say?" Robert asked. "Would you mind explaining what you mean by that?"
"It's somewhat like a grace and favor benefice, with your Great-uncle Horatio's own alterations."
"Grace and favor?" Robert asked. "That sounds terribly upper-crusty. What does it mean?"
Lily interrupted. "Robert, don't you remember Great-aunt Winifred in Coventry? We visited her when we were teenagers. She lived in a grace and favor house. King Edward gave it to her and Uncle for use during their lifetimes, as an honor to Uncle's outstanding civil service career."
"So, we inherit this ... uh ... house," Robert said, casting a wary glance back at the gloomy hallway, "but it doesn't really belong to us? We can't sell it, for instance?"
"That is roughly correct," Mr. Prinney said. "The will stipulates that you must both live in the house for ten years without being away for more than two months apiece in any given calendar year. But unlike a true grace and favor, it would then be entirely yours, to do with as you wish. If you fulfill this requirement, the house becomes yours."
Robert laughed heartily. "Live here for ten years? Mr. Prune ..."
"... Prinney, we couldn't afford to buy the wood to heat one room in the winter."
Mr. Prinney actually said the words "Tut-tut," which delighted Robert. Then he went on, "You need not concern yourself with that. Mr. Horatio Brewster also left a substantial amount of cash and assets in trust, the management of which is in my hands as trustee and executor. It allows for the maintenance of the house, the furnishings and the grounds, which I must admit have been sadly neglected. At the end of the ten years, the balance of the trust will also revert to the two of you, if you have fulfilled the conditions therein."
"A substantial amount of cash?" Lily murmured. "How substantial ... exactly?"
Mr. Prinney removed a folded sheet of ledger paper from his suit pocket and carefully opened it up. "As you know, the real estate holdings are worth only what someone is willing to pay for them, so they're difficult to assess accurately. And I admit I failed to stop at the bank today and check on the current amount of interest and today's gold prices, but as of last Monday the funds in the trust amounted to one million, eight hundred and twenty-three thousand, four hundred and nineteen dollars and seventeen cents."
Meet the Author
Jill Churchill has won the Agatha and Macavity Mystery Readers awards and was nominated for an Anthony Award for her bestselling Jane Jeffry series. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed Grace and Favor mysteries and lives in the Midwest.
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This is a real page turner. The character development is very detailed and makes you feel like you know the characters. It is a very realistic period piece murder set in the 1920's.
I have read all of Jill Churchill's Jane Jeffry books and couldn't wait for the next! This book took me ages to finish, thinking it would get better as it went on. It didn't. I guess I just missed Jane, the kids, the dog and her neighbors!