Bertie and the Tinman

Bertie and the Tinman

by Peter Lovesey


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Introducing Victorian England’s most illustrious amateur sleuth (if not necessarily its most adept): Bertie, Prince of Wales, who can’t help but poke his royal nose into a suspicious-sounding circumstance.

Bertie, Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, is a charismatic but self-indulgent man who enjoys the finer things in life, including dining, flirting, and flitting from party to party with his entire thirty-person staff in tow. But the fun and games come to a tragic halt when Bertie hears the shocking news that his friend the legendary jockey Fred Archer, known as the Tinman, has taken his own life. Bertie has his doubts that it was in fact suicide, especially considering the Tinman's ominous final words: “Are they coming?” Bertie resolves to discover the truth, looking for new suspects and evidence on a quest that will take him through some of the most disreputable parts of London, much to the dismay of his mother, Queen Victoria.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641291620
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/14/2020
Series: A Prince of Wales Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 571,757
Product dimensions: 4.99(w) x 7.49(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Peter Lovesey is the author of more than thirty highly praised mystery novels. He has been named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and has been awarded the CWA Gold and Silver Daggers, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, the Strand Magazine Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards, and many other honors. He lives in Shrewsbury, England.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Tinman asked, “Are they coming?” and reached for his revolver.
     His sister Emily made no response. She stood at a bedroom window of Falmouth House, near Newmarket, staring down at the curve of the gravel drive between the lawns. It was Monday afternoon, 8 November, 1886, about twenty past two. She made no response because she didn’t understand the question.
     She was bone weary, but profoundly relieved that her brother had rallied after a frightening weekend. On Thursday evening he had come back from the races at Lewes complaining of a feverish chill. Next day his temperature had soared dangerously. Two doctors had seen him, and a nurse from Cambridge had been engaged. Not until Sunday evening had his temperature started to drop. Last night, thank heaven, he had slept. This morning he had sat up in bed when his regular doctor called. His temperature was right down. Some of his friends had called to see him and he had chatted happily. A few minutes ago he had told Emily to send the nurse for lunch.
     “Are they coming?” What did he mean by that?
     Emily heard a sound behind her. She turned.
     The Tinman was out of bed and striding toward the open door in his nightshirt. He had the gun in his left hand.
     Emily’s throat contracted. She put her hand to her neck and cried out, “What are you doing?” She darted across the room toward him.
     He backed against the door and it slammed shut.
     She froze.
     He had lifted the gun and pointed it toward his own face.
     Until such a crisis occurs, nobody can know how they will react. Emily fought her paralyzing fear, flung out her arm and tried to stop him. She succeeded in pushing the gun aside. He grabbed her with his right arm, gripped her around the neck and thrust her against the door. They wrestled for what seemed like a minute.
     She shrieked repeatedly for help.
     He tightened the grip. Emily’s arms flailed uselessly. Considering how ill her brother had been, his strength was extraordinary, superhuman. He held her on his right side while he turned his face to the left and moved the muzzle to his mouth.
     She was powerless to stop him. She could only scream.
     He spoke no other words. He pulled the trigger and the shot hurled him backward. He hit the floor.
     Sobbing hysterically, Emily staggered across the room and tugged at the bell rope.
     Were they coming? It no longer mattered to the Tinman.
Chapter 2
31 December, 1886
I must say, it’s a queer thing to be sitting in my study on the last day of 1886, addressing someone not yet born, but that is what I take you to be. That is what you had better be. As for me, I am a dead man, or will be when you read this. And grossly libeled in the history books, I shouldn’t wonder.
     Not to prolong the mystification, my name is Albert Edward, and among other things notable and notorious, I am the Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. To please Mother and Country, I wear a straitjacket. This uncongenial garment is known as protocol. It obliges me to consign this intimate account of certain adventures of mine to a secure metal box in the Public Record Office for a hundred years. So I can confidently inform you that I am dead. As are all the other poor, benighted spirits I shall presently raise.
     Good day to you, then. Not a bad day to commence putting pen to paper. Christmas festivities over; too much fog about for shooting; flat racing finished for the year; and a certain lady who has been known to make agreeable incursions upon my time and energy is occupied for a season on the New York stage.
     In case it surprises you that the Heir Apparent’s waking hours are not filled with official engagements, allow me to state that I do my share of laying foundation stones, inspecting lines of guardsmen and handing prizes to clever dicks in universities. I do my share and the Queen’s as well, for it’s no secret that the Empress of India practices her own variety of purdah. The year of 1887 will be the fiftieth of her reign, her Golden Jubilee, and who do you think is acting as host? The royal families of four continents will be in attendance, and my most daunting task is to persuade the principal subject of all the rejoicing to emerge from her drawing room at Windsor for an afternoon.
     What a job! Like putting up a tiger without elephants or beaters.
     Steady, Bertie. This is a memoir, not a letter of complaint.
     It was seven weeks ago that I was given the shocking news that prompted me to turn detective. Yes, detective. Does that surprise you? It surprised me. I wouldn’t have dreamed of such an eventuality until it grabbed me by the beard and fairly hauled me out of my armchair. Yet now that I reflect upon it, I see that my unique position fitted me admirably for the challenge.
     On the afternoon of 8 November, 1886, the first report reached London by wire from Newmarket that Fred Archer had killed himself. You cannot imagine the sensation this caused. Archer, the greatest jockey ever to grace the Turf—and I am confident that you, a century on, will know his name, even though you have never seen his like—had blown his brains out with a revolver bullet. He was twenty-nine years old. This year he had won his fifth Derby, his twenty-first Classic.
     How shall I convey the shock that devastated the nation?
     Archer was a legend. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of him wherever he appeared. Women he had never met pressed passionate letters into his hand. Every owner in the kingdom wanted to retain him. He rubbed shoulders with the highest in the land. Well, the second highest, at any rate—Mama not being a frequenter of racecourses. Here, I must own to a personal interest. In April, 1886, Archer rode a doughty little filly by the name of Counterpane to victory in a Maiden Plate at Sandown Park: my first-ever winner on the flat. We were given a rousing ovation from the public. Sadly, two weeks later, Counterpane broke a blood vessel and dropped dead. I bore it with philosophy, yet looking back, I wonder if my filly’s untimely fate presaged the tragedy that befell her rider.
     I am told that when the dreadful news of Archer reached London, Fleet Street was impassable for the crowds massed outside the principal newspaper offices. Special editions of the evening papers carrying the bare statement that the great jockey was dead sold out in minutes. Extra-special editions were printed and the sheets were snatched unfolded from the bundles faster than the boys could hand them out.
     It chanced that the day following, 9 November, was the forty-fifth anniversary of my birth. As usual, flags were hoisted across the land, gun salutes were fired and church bells rang out peals at intervals from an early hour, but the gun crews and the bell ringers might as well have stayed in bed for all the attention my birthday received. One topic, and one alone, engrossed the nation. In the city, members of the Stock Exchange fought with umbrellas for the first edition of The Times.
      Those who obtained a copy read in the leading article, “A great soldier, a great statesman, a great poet, even a Royal Prince, might die suddenly without giving half so general a shock as has been given by the news of the tragical death of Fred Archer, the jockey.”
     How true! I was as shaken as any man, although I cannot forbear from pointing out that the remark about a Royal Prince was in deplorable taste, particularly on my birthday. One never knows what unpleasant shocks lurk unsuspected in the newspapers. I still bristle at the memory of learning in 1876 from The Times of India  of the proposal to confer the title of Empress on my mother. Neither she nor Disraeli (who accepted his own earldom the same year) had thought fit to tell me about the Royal Titles Act, and I protested vigorously to both, I promise you. In no other country in the world would the next heir to the throne have been treated with such disregard.
     Notwithstanding my misgivings about the press, I wanted to know about Archer. I turned out before breakfast and pedaled my tricycle furiously up the drive at Sandringham to meet the delivery boy. Gave him a shock, I fancy. I didn’t read the remarks in The Times at that juncture. It was all graphically reported in that more congenial organ, The Sporting Life.
     “Many happy returns of the day, Bertie, my dear,” piped my first lady as I repaired to the breakfast room. Dear Alix had made an exceptional effort to be on parade. I can reveal to posterity that the Princess of Wales is not noted for punctuality.
     The table was heaped with presents in brightly colored boxes tied with ribbon. A jug of Duminy, extra sec , was by my place and a servant hovered for my order. Alix was cooing like a basket of pigeons.
     “My birthday is blighted,” I informed her.
     I must explain that Alix was not aware at this juncture of the tragic tidings from Newmarket. The previous evening, she had retired early. I was entertaining certain of my birthday guests until late. I heard the news of Archer from Knollys, my secretary, about 1:30 a.m.
     Alix turned pale. She is inclined to anemia, anyway, and now she was more starched than the tablecloth. “Not another scandal, Bertie?”
     “Absolutely not. The very notion,” I protested in an outraged tone.
     “Then what can have happened?” She put her hand to her collar as another thought occurred. “It isn’t—tell me it isn’t—bad news from Windsor.” Inopportunely, a hint of color returned to her cheeks.
     “So far as I’m aware, Mama is in the pink of health,” I answered coolly, and then repeated, “The pink of health.” (Alix is rather deaf.) “‘Long to reign over us,’ as the Anthem perpetually reminds one.”
     She sighed slightly and leaned back. “What, then?”
     I tossed her The Sporting Life.
     “Took his own life?” she read aloud in that Danish chant of hers that makes everything she says sound like Little Jack Horner. “What an unexpected thing to do.”
     “Due to an aberration of the brain, if the report is to be believed,” I explained. “The poor fellow was apparently suffering the effects of typhoid.”
     “Apparently. You sound skeptical.”
     “I am,” I admitted, adding in a measured voice, “I am not unacquainted with the symptoms.”
     “Of course, my dearest,” Alix affirmed with eyes lowered, doubtless recalling how my father, Prince Albert, rest his soul, died of the dread disease and I myself had practically succumbed to it when I was thirty.
     I made a rapid summation that saved her the trouble of reading further. “It seems that yesterday morning Archer was pronounced better and was speaking normally to his friends and family. Sometime early in the afternoon, at Archer’s own suggestion, the nurse left the room to get some lunch. Mrs. Coleman, his sister, remained in the bedroom. She crossed the room to look out of the window, and Archer got up from the bed with a revolver in his hand. She ran to him and struggled with him, but he put it to his mouth and shot himself.”
     “Dreadful,” said Alix.
     “Rum is the description I would use,” said I. “I shall cogitate on this.”
     I sent word to the chef to prepare a full breakfast, as for a day’s shooting. That is to say, bacon and eggs, and plenty of them, followed by Finnan haddock, followed by chicken, followed by toast and butter, helped down with plenty of coffee. With me, breakfast has to be like the evil thereof in the Bible: sufficient unto the day. I had a strong premonition that this day would make heavy demands on my constitution.
     Breakfast was not long in coming, or going. I eat swiftly, and with relish.
     To please Alix, I unwrapped a box of Corona y Coronas and a pair of carpet slippers that she unsportingly informed me were exclusively for use in my bedroom at Sandringham, and then I was left to ponder further the strange suicide of Frederick James Archer.
     I can vouch for its dramatic effect upon body and brain. When it poleaxed me, toward the end of 1871, I was delirious for days. I am told that I shouted at my attendants, hurled pillows across the room and broke into songs of the sort that you won’t find in the English hymnal. Poor Alix had to be restrained from staying in the room with me on account of certain names I uttered in my ravings. Once she tried to enter secretly on hands and knees, and I felled her with a pillow. I was quite oblivious of my conduct, you understand. Even my devoted Mama the Queen was obliged to shelter behind a screen. I hovered between life and death for weeks on end. As the poet dramatically expressed it:
     Across the wires, the electric message came:
     “He is no better; he is much the same.”
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