Josie Prescott's friends thought she was nuts when she left her high-paying New York auction house job and her boyfriend to live on the rugged and beautiful New Hampshire coast. Truth is, Josie wondered a little herself—never mind that her peripheral involvement in a well-publicized price-fixing scandal made the possibility of a new start incredibly enticing.
Things are looking better, though, now that she's got her own auction business up and running and has made something of a success of her new life. That is, until she gets mixed up in murder, and the supremely eligible but emotionally distant local police chief seems to think she's the prime suspect.
Josie has suddenly got a lot to lose and no desire to leave her new life—or the possibility of a little romance—behind. So she sets her mind on identifying the killer and making the best out of her unfortunate circumstances. After all, Josie is grateful for her second chance in life and knows a third is just too much to ask…especially with a vicious killer on the loose.
Consigned to Death is the first novel in Jake K. Cleland's delightful series of mystery and antiques on the New Hampshire coast.
About the Author
Jane K. Cleland once owned a New Hampshire–based antiques and rare books business and now runs her own business communications firm in New York City. Consigned to Death is her first novel.
JANE K. CLELAND once owned a New Hampshire-based antiques and rare books business. She is the author of several previous Josie Prescott Antiques mysteries, is the winner of two David Awards for Best Novel, and has been a finalist for the Macavity and Anthony Awards. Jane is the former president of the New York chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and chairs the Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Novella Award. She won the Agatha Award for her book Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot. She is part of the English faculty at Lehman College and lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
Consigned to Death
By Jane K. Cleland
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Jane K. Cleland
All rights reserved.
Eric!" I shouted from under the table.
"Yo!" he answered cheerfully, close by.
"Didn't I tell you to use linseed oil on this one?"
I pushed myself out from under and stood up, brushing the grit from my hands onto my jeans. "Not on the back of the legs, you didn't."
"I thought I did," he said, beginning to hedge.
I'd been working hard and I was tired. Fighting an inclination to snap, I reminded myself that Eric was only nineteen, basically untrained but willing to learn, reliable, mostly honest, and pleasant to be around — overall, a much-better-than-average employee. I smiled a little, hoping to blunt the force of my next comments.
"I just looked at it, Eric. You missed the backside of all four legs. Everyone considering bidding on this table will know its quality. And if they're willing and able to pay the price I expect it to fetch, they will damn sure get down on their hands and knees and examine it closely."
He began to look embarrassed. The Mission-style table dated from the early twentieth century and featured select quartersawn oak finished in a warm brown. When properly oiled, the finish became lush and supple. It was a beautiful piece.
"The problem with poor-quality work," I continued, "is that it creates a negative image for the firm, implying that we're lazy or sloppy. People may even think we're sleazy. For instance, potential buyers might figure that we slapped some oil on the table as a quick fix, to disguise its previous ill-treatment. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah," he said, grinning sheepishly. "Sorry. I was in a hurry."
"Don't be. I pay you by the hour — you don't need to be in a hurry with a job like this."
I nodded and smiled again, sincerely this time. "Don't get me wrong. Being in a hurry is a good thing most of the time — you know me, I hate slow."
"Don't I know it," he responded, grinning back.
"Josie!" Gretchen called, her voice echoing in the cavernous warehouse. "Josie? Where are you?"
"Here, in the Wilson corner!" I answered, projecting my voice, referring to a roped-off area near the back where the Wilson estate's goods were being catalogued and readied for Friday's auction preview.
"There's a police officer to see you."
"What?" I called back to her, startled.
"A police chief," she answered, as if that helped to clarify the situation.
Leaving Eric at the table, I walked quickly toward the front, my unpolished engineer boots click-clacking on the concrete. I spotted a tall, broad-shouldered man, somewhere near forty, with dark, pockmarked skin and graying hair, waiting by the door that led from the warehouse to the entryway. He wasn't smiling. My heart began to thud. The last time a cop had asked to see me, it had damn near ruined my life.
Gretchen, my assistant, stood beside him, her copper-colored hair falling in cascades below her shoulders. Her green eyes were big with news, and her flawless ivory skin showed a slight flush.
"Hi," I said to the man as I approached. "I'm Josie Prescott."
"I'm Chief Alverez. Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"Sure," I answered, my internal trouble spotter whirring into high alert. "What's going on?"
"I'm the chief of Rocky Point," he told me, flipping open a worn leather case, showing me his badge. Rocky Point, a city of about hundred thousand, included almost three miles of New Hampshire's eighteen-mile coastline about ten miles south of Portsmouth.
"Chief of police?" I queried. "What's up?"
"I have a few questions about a case.... Maybe it would be better if we talked in private."
"Sure ... Gretchen," I said, turning to her, "you can go back to work."
She left, and I moved away from the door toward some used, oversized crates stacked like bricks in a corner of the warehouse near the office door. "Is this all right?"
From where I stood, I could see the entire warehouse, stocked with furnishings of various types, periods, and quality. To unknowing eyes it probably looked chaotic, but I knew better; it was a production line in perfect working order. Items came in for sorting; the good stuff got primped and primed and sent to auction, usually in-house; the junk, with a good piece or two thrown in to entice the faithful, was left in "as-is" condition for our weekly tag sale. Right now the warehouse was about half-full, and half-full was good. We were busy, and growing.
"Okay," I said. "We're private. What's going on?"
"I understand you knew Nathaniel Grant." It sounded more like an accusation than a question.
"'Knew' him?" I responded.
"'Did' I? Are you saying ... Is he ... What are you saying?"
"You haven't heard the news?"
"Where have you been this morning?"
In a nanosecond, I went from confused and slightly impatient to angry and rebellious. Tired of playing cat-and-mouse, I got mad, almost like a switch had been thrown. I stood still and stayed silent, eyeing him, waiting for information.
"Answer my question, please," he said quietly after a pause, his calm contrasting with my agitation. "Where were you this morning?"
Words my father used to speak heading into a difficult business meeting came to mind: the best defense is a good offense. "Not another word will I say," I stated, "until you answer my question about what's going on."
Alverez took a step closer to me. He was probably a foot taller than I was, which made him six one or better, and I suspected that he was using his height and bulk to try to intimidate me. It was working. I felt my palms become moist. I was shaking, but not enough, I hoped, for him to notice.
"Nathaniel Grant was murdered this morning," Alverez said.
I stared at him. "Mr. Grant was murdered?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered, watching me.
Tears came to my eyes. I swallowed and brushed them away. "Oh, my God! Poor Mr. Grant!" I exclaimed. "What happened?"
"I'm hoping you can help me sort that out."
I turned away, tears spilling down my cheeks. I couldn't speak.
"Seems like you knew him pretty well," Alverez said.
I shook my head, swallowed again, and used the back of my hand to dry my cheeks. I'd always felt things deeply, but I used to be good at controlling my emotional displays. I could hear my father saying, Feel all you want, Josie, but show nothing. In business, the more you show, the more you lose.
When I'd worked at Frisco's, the big auction house in New York City, before I'd been the prosecutor's star witness at my boss's price-fixing trial, I'd shown nothing. It wasn't the trial that got to me, although it was grueling; it was my co-workers' reaction to my involvement that stunned me speechless. Once my participation was known, colleagues whom I'd previously trusted wouldn't give me the time of day. I was shunned, and within weeks, I was forced out of the company. And then, a month later, my father died, and it was as if the world tilted, leaving me utterly off balance.
I was closer to being on even footing now, but I wasn't there yet. To say that I found it harder to contain my feelings didn't even begin to describe my lack of emotional control. It was as if my nerve endings were a little nearer to the surface.
I shook my head a bit to chase the memory away. I took a deep breath and looked up at Alverez, trying for a smile. "I'm being stupid, I know," I said. "I didn't know Mr. Grant, not really. I only met him a couple of weeks ago. And look at me." I swept away more tears. "It's just such a shock. And he was such a sweetheart."
"Tell me about him," Alverez said, leaning against the concrete wall.
I paused, thinking of what to say. "He looked like Santa Claus, except that he was short and sort of shriveled. But he had the beard and the belly and he was jolly as all get out."
"How did you come to meet him?"
"He wanted to sell a lot of furniture and art."
"Out of the blue?"
I swallowed again, fighting back sudden emotion. "Not really. His wife died, you know, about three months ago. The house is huge. Well, I suppose you know that. It was too much for him, I guess."
"So," Alverez said softly, "where were you this morning?"
"Is that when ... I mean ... when was he killed?"
"The medical examiner is still working on it."
I nodded. "I just can't believe it. Mr. Grant! I'm sorry ... Okay ... Let me think." I sighed and paused. "Okay. I got in around eight and was here working," I said, gesturing with a sweep of my hand that I meant inside the warehouse, "until around eleven-ten or eleven-fifteen. Then I drove out to Mr. Grant's house. I got there around eleven-thirty. We had an appointment, but he wasn't there."
"How do you know he wasn't there?"
"I knocked and rang the bell. I went around back and knocked on the kitchen door. I even peeked in windows, but I didn't see anything."
"What did you do then?"
"I thought Mr. Grant had mistaken the day. He's pretty old."
Alverez nodded. "So then what?"
I shrugged. "I sat in my car awhile. At quarter to twelve I rang the bell again, in case he hadn't heard it the first time. Then I left a message on his answering machine and came back here." I wiped away another tear. "I was planning on calling him again later today because I wasn't sure he knew how to use his answering machine." I smiled a little. "He was such a nice man. What happened?"
"We don't know yet. Do you?"
"Me? I don't know anything."
"Sure you do. You knew him and you were there this morning. What would be best is if you came with me to the station."
"Why?" I asked, startled, and immediately wary.
"To answer some more questions."
"I can't. I have too much work."
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist. It's important. And I could really use your help."
I looked at him, wondering what I should do. The Wilson estate needed careful sorting, and there were only two days until the auction preview. Sasha, an art-historian-turned-appraiser who worked for me, could handle that, I supposed. I'd remind Eric to be diligent. Or maybe not. I'd made my point earlier. Gretchen would hold the fort as she always did.
"I guess," I said. "I'd better call my lawyer."
"Why don't you have him meet you at the station house," he suggested.
"I'll let him decide."
"Who's your lawyer?"
I worked with lawyers in my business all the time, but I'd never needed one personally before. I swallowed, trying to focus. Who should I call?
Max Bixby came to mind. He was one of the first people I'd met when I'd moved to Portsmouth. I remembered his friendly welcome at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, and he'd been pleasant and accessible ever since. "I'm going to call Max Bixby," I said.
"He's a good man."
I turned away, heading for the office to talk to Gretchen. Before I reached the door, I stopped and turned back to him. He hadn't moved. His eyes were dark and knowing.
"May I ask you something?"
"Sure. Whether I answer, well, that depends."
I nodded. Tears came again, unexpected and unwanted. I turned away and wiped them away.
"How was he killed?" I asked quietly.
He shook his head. "That's under investigation."
I shut my eyes and shook my head. "Was he in the house?"
I shivered. Murdered and left alone to die in his own home.
After trying his office, I reached Max at home. I could hear a child crying in the background and a woman's raised voice.
"I'm sorry to disturb you at home," I said.
"It's okay, Josie. I'm glad to have an excuse to remove myself from the situation," he said with a laugh. "What started as a nice family lunch has disintegrated into a temper tantrum."
"Well, I hate calling you there, but I think I'm in trouble, Max," I said, getting to the point.
"Tell me," he ordered, and I told him the whole story.
"It's good you called," he said when I'd finished. "I'll meet you at the station house in a half hour. Wait for me in the parking lot."
I found Alverez where I'd left him, standing by the crates, scanning the room. I told him what Max said, and he nodded.
"Half hour's fine," he said. "I'll see you there."
I watched as he walked away, leaving me feeling alone, confused, and frightened.
Max and I stood on the edge of the sand dunes watching the ocean as we spoke. I know that it's popular not to like lawyers, but it's impossible not to like Max. He's paternal without being patronizing, direct but always respectful, and old-fashioned without being stodgy. He's probably about forty-five, but you think he's older from the way he dresses and conducts himself. He wears tweed jackets and bow ties, and he's almost courtly in manner.
"If I tell you not to answer any question, don't. Stop talking when I tell you. If you're unsure about an answer talk to me in a whisper first," he instructed me. "If you know the answer and I haven't stopped you, answer only what is asked. Don't give any extra information. The shorter your answer, the better. One-word answers are good."
"What if I can't give just a one-word answer? What if he asks for my impressions of something?"
"Assuming I don't stop you, try to answer it in one short sentence. Don't expound."
I nodded my understanding and agreement. The ocean was rough today. The bottle green water was dotted with whitecaps, and the waves were bigger than usual. It was mostly overcast. A storm was brewing.
Max told me his fee and I was glad that I had enough in savings so it wouldn't pinch to pay it. We crossed the street and entered the station house. The Rocky Point police station was new, built in the last year or two and designed to look like a beach house with a peaked roof and shingles left to weather to a silvery tone just like most of the houses along the shore.
Alverez pushed through the swinging wooden gate to greet us, then held it open for us to pass through.
"Thanks for coming. How you doing, Max?" he asked.
"Fine, thanks," Max said. "How've you been? I haven't seen you since last summer's clam bake."
"That was a good time, wasn't it?" Alverez asked. "Cathy," he called, "we'll be in the back."
A big blonde hurried out from somewhere on the left. "Did you see my notes?" she asked. "You had calls." She scooped up old-fashioned pink While You Were Out message sheets from a Formica-topped desk and handed them to him, spotted us, and looked at Alverez, a question in her eyes.
"This is Josie Prescott," Alverez said to her. "And her lawyer, Max Bixby. We'll be in room two, Cathy." To me he added, "Would you like some coffee or an iced tea or anything?"
"No, thanks," I said.
"You?" he asked Max.
"I'm fine, thanks."
He led us down a short hall to a cheerless room with a floor-to-ceiling wire-mesh cage partitioned in a corner. "That's creepy," I said, nodding toward it.
"Yeah. But necessary sometimes for our unruly guests."
"I guess," I said.
"Have a seat. I won't be long."
I sat so the holding cell was in back of me, out of sight. The chair was hard and uncomfortable. Max sat across from me and pulled a yellow legal pad from his briefcase. I leaned forward, resting my eyes on the heels of my hands, my elbows perched on the scarred wooden table. Max didn't speak, but I could hear him turning pages on his pad. Unexpectedly, the door latch clicked home with a sharp snap. I looked up, startled by the sound, feeling as trapped as if I'd been locked in the cage behind me.
Without a watch, which I never wore since it always seemed to get in the way when I was working, I had no way of knowing how long Max and I sat. It seemed a very long time, but I felt a sense of unreality, so maybe it wasn't long at all.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Alverez said when he came back, businesslike, carrying a collection of papers. "I have the medical examiner's preliminary report. Before I tell you about it, though, let me get the recorder set up."
"Recorder?" I asked.
"Tape recorder. So I don't have to take notes."
I looked at Max and he nodded.
"That's fine. I'm assuming we can have a copy of the tape?" Max asked.
"Sure," Alverez said.
I watched as Alverez positioned the small unit on the table and pushed a button. A red light appeared and I heard a whirring sound. Alverez gave our names, the date, and time.
Excerpted from Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland. Copyright © 2006 Jane K. Cleland. 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.
What People are Saying About This
"Antiques Roadshow fans and mystery lovers will delight in this erudite debut."
"A satisfying cozy debut….Cleland, who herself was once an antiques dealer…puts her insider knowledge to admirable use [and] proves adept at shifting suspicion from one character to another….Readers will want to see more."Publishers Weekly "Don't just browse through Josie Prescott's consignment shop mystery, savor the setting. Consigned to Death is chock full of charm, humor and intrigue in a cozy city on New Hampshire's coastline."Nora Charles, author of Death is a Bargain
"Josie Prescott is a nice addition to the ranks of female sleuths, and the antique-auction milieu provides an interesting background."Booklist
"Smart, ethical, and brimming over with antique lore…beautifully crafted, thoroughly enjoyable."Margaret Maron, author of Rituals of the Season
"Fans of The Antiques Roadshow and cozy mysteries will love…Consigned to Death. It's a real find definitely worth a nod and a bid."Karen Harper, author of The Fatal Fashione
"Learn from my mistake: don't start this one at bedtime. Consigned to Death is a satisfying mixture of suspense and romance set in the highly competitive world of antique auctions. I'm keeping my eye out for the next Josie Prescott mystery."Donna Andrews, author of Owl's Well that Ends Well
"With its cliff-hanger chapter endings and the sympathetic character, Consigned to Death will have the intrigued reader racing to the end."Bookbitch.com
"An absorbing and impressive first mystery, and readers will no doubt look forward to spending more time with Josie in the future."Mysteriousreviews.com
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a whistleblower, she left the Big Apple in ¿disgrace¿ for exposing a price-fixing scheme at Frisco¿s by her boss in court. Instead of accolades for her courage and conviction, the industry condemned her honesty and ethics. Thus, shook up by the negative reactions and not so subtle threats, she fled back to her home state, New Hampshire. Adding to her emotional instability is the fact her father just passed away.---------------- The now Portsmouth based antiques dealer Josie Prescott has her first potential major client, elderly wealthy recluse Nathaniel Grant but he was found dead in his nearby Rocky Point mansion after the duo connected. Police Chief Ty Alverez believes Josie is a prime suspect as does her lawyer Max Bixby as she had the opportunity being at the crime scene at approximately the time of death and her prints are on the murder weapon, a knife. Used to investigating though her objective is an antique normally, Josie begins making inquiries to uncover the culprit as she does not trust Alverez to look beyond her. Based on the theory someone knew she and the victim were working on a business deal, Josie finds suspects from within the family and within her industry, but feels whoever stole the valuable paintings especially the Renoir committed the homicide.----------------- The clever blending of the antique seller¿s world with a murder mystery makes for a delightful cozy that sub-genre fans will fully appreciate. Josie, as the center of the official investigation and her own holds the tale together while going through her list. Her relationship with Alverez adds to the fun as they are attracted to one another, but first comes proving her innocence. Readers will enjoy this intelligent whodunit starring a wonderful heroine.------------ Harriet Klausner
I really didn't like this book. The main character was a wuss. She was always bursting into tears, she had no backbone and was hard to take seriously. The other characters lacked substance and the plot was rather thin. Not a good book at all!
I love antiques and this is going to be a good series. I like the characters and all the details of the antiques.
Josie's new antique auction house in New Hampshire is beginning to take off, but then a potential wealthy client is found murdered and Josie is a suspect. The plot and characters were good, but the ending was weaker than it should have been.
Josie, the main character, MUST stop crying or having her eyes well up or fight back teaes, etc., so often...I'm all for a sensitive character, but this was ridiculous. Also, I hate to say it, but the murderer in this story was NO surprise...it was just about the first person you'd think it was....why was it SUCH a shock to Josie?
Josie Prescott keeps tabs on her antique business while being a suspect in a murder, following her lawyer's advice and trying to solve the cozy mystery. Phew! No wonder she cries so much. The pulse-pounding pressure mounts while Josie negotiates the pitfalls of antique prices, romance and clues. Like any good business person, Josie listens to advice from her lawyer and her deceased father and manages to keep trouble to a manageable size. The background information on running an antique business is woven into the puzzle and does not detract from the story. Jane K. Cleland has written a solid first novel. I look forward to reading Deadly Appraisal.
Josie Prescott has left New York behind to start a new life in New Hampshire. Everyone thought she was crazy to leave behind her big New York auction house job and her steady boyfriend for a new start in New Hampshire. Things are now beginning to look up for Josie as she has her very own antiques auction business up and running and it¿s beginning to be a successful venture. She then meets up with the eligible and handsome local police chief unfortunately he pegs her as the prime suspect in the murder of a local resident. Things go from bad to worse when a painting belonging to the victim turns up at Josie¿s business. Suddenly, Josie finds herself trying to identify a killer who has set their sites on Josie with the intention of trapping her in a web of death and deceit. With everything to lose Josie sets out to prove her innocence. A delightful addition to the mystery genre with an engaging new heroine. Josie Prescott is a fiercely determined heroine with an appealing personality full of purpose and life. Cleland presents to us the cutthroat world of antiques and auctions. Loaded with insider details of the auction world, Consigned to Death, is a beautifully written mystery, with a deft plot and loveable and detailed characters that pull you into the story and will keep you up into the night until you get to the satisfying finale. I for one am greatly looking forward to another mystery with the charming Josie Prescott.
I loved this book. Suspenseful, alluring, gripping, plus fascinating info on the antiques industry. I was late for work when I foolishly picked it up one morning to finish one chapter which turned into two, then three. Strongly recommend!