Read an Excerpt
Beware the false face;
Can’t trust someone in this place.
Great minds have great ideas. Neil Bledsoe enjoyed a very good opinion of himself, but the inspiration which had struck so abruptly was brilliant, peerless—and the answer to all his problems.
Where the hell was that brochure? Impatiently, he dumped the wastebasket, ignoring the cigar ashes and crumpled balls of printer paper. He found it finally and spread open the wrinkled flyer. Quality printing, quality paper. No expense spared.
The first panel told the story:
THE CHRISTIE CAPER
A Centennial Celebration of the birth of
The greatest detective-story writer of all time
September 9–September 15
The Palmetto House
Broward’s Rock Island, South Carolina
Co-sponsored by England’s Present-Day Crime
Lady Gwendolyn Tompkins
and DEATH ON DEMAND Bookstore
Proprietor Annie Laurance Darling”
They’d all be there, all those bloody women writers and editors and agents and the damn pansy men who wrote whodunits instead of real blood-and-guts mysteries.
Neil leaned forward, selected a cigar from his humidor. When it was lit, he rolled the oily smoke over his tongue, savoring the pungent, masculine odor that enveloped him. Women hated cigars. So he smoked them everywhere. Especially in elevators. Inevitably, some skinny bitch complained, stabbed a red-nailed finger at the No Smoking sign. Neil took great pleasure in telling her where she could stick it. No-smoking laws were a joke. Was some asshole going to make a citizen’s arrest? Of him? He shifted his two-hundred-pound bulk until he could see his dark visage in that prissy damn mirror that Pamela’d put up. All that was left of Pamela.
A face to reckon with. Heavy, black brows drawn in a menacing frown. Florid, acne-scarred skin, tougher than leather. Nobody’d ever mistake him for one of those pansy writers.
And they hated him.
Hated him and feared him.
By God, he’d crash their party. He flipped through the brochure. A garden party, author panels, English dinners, a classic-car display, a Christie Treasure Hunt, a Christie Trivia Quiz, the Agatha Christie Come-as-You-Wish-You-Were Ball. He scanned the list of authors scheduled to attend. Bubbles of laughter stirred in his chest. Holy shit, it couldn’t be better. A conference filled wall-to-wall with his enemies. And if they weren’t enemies when he got there, he’d make damn sure they were before he left.
The registration form and hotel reservation slip were on the last panel of the brochure. Despite the cigar clamped in his teeth, his mouth split in a ferocious grin as he wrote his name in bold, black strokes.
Oh, Christ, was he going to raise hell.
Lucky, lovely, rich Linnet.
Luckiest girl in the world—or is she?
Victoria Shaw stood in front of the rural mailbox, the envelope in her hand. Her heart thudded. She’d walked up the lane too fast. Janice kept urging her to have a check-up. But what did it matter, really, how many heartbeats remained? She hadn’t cared, not since—
No, no, no. She wouldn’t think about it. She would not.
The frail hand holding the envelope trembled. If she mailed this letter, if she attended the conference, wouldn’t it reawaken not only the anguish but the poisonous fury that had corroded her spirit when Bryan died?
Not unless she permitted it to do so. She had learned one painful lesson these past lonely years. The mind could be controlled.
Not joyfully, perhaps, but effectively. Victoria had been forced to learn that lesson or go mad.
This conference, after all, was at least in part a tribute to Bryan’s greatness. Of course, its focus was upon Agatha Christie’s legacy to the world of the mystery, but Bryan was one of several authors of classic mysteries who were scheduled to be recognized in a retrospective for their contributions to the traditional mystery.
Bryan would be admired, praised. Once again his books would be talked about, valued.
She could hear the chug of the postman’s car, coming up the lane. Quickly, her heart pounding, Victoria yanked open the mailbox, thrust the letter inside.