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Day of the Dandelion: An Arthur Hemmings Mystery

Day of the Dandelion: An Arthur Hemmings Mystery

by Peter Pringle


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Seeds of a new corn plant are stolen from Oxford University's botany lab, and the professor, Alastair Scott, and his Russian assistant, Tanya Petrovskaya, are missing.

Alarms ring in London and Washington, where intelligence officials know that Scott was working on a supergene that could allow control over the world's entire food supply.

The British government calls in Arthur Hemmings from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. To his coworkers, Hemmings is just another researcher in the herbarium, but for many years he has been a secret service agent, an outwardly rumpled but dashing covert adventurer.

Officials see a Moscow plot. Has Scott been kidnapped? Is he dead? Have Scott and Tanya fled to Russia? And why is Oxford's vice-chancellor withholding vital information?

The intrepid Hemmings follows a series of clues into the cutthroat world of international patents, where the hunt for priceless genes is always nasty and often deadly.

In Arthur Hemmings, Pringle has created an original heartbreaker of a hero, a botanist detective with a dash of James Bond. Facing murderous threats, Hemmings investigates fearlessly and with devastating precision. Handsome, witty, an ambitious cook, and a wine lover, he is irresistible to a much younger American female researcher.

Day of the Dandelion is a seductive modern hybrid of the thrillers of Graham Greene and the adventure novels of Ian Fleming, filled with political, scientific, and commercial intrigue, and laced with miracle plants, deadly toxins, kidnappings, and car chases. It will keep the reader in suspense and amused from prelude to postscript.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451623963
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 12/01/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Peter Pringle is a veteran British foreign correspondent. He is the
author and coauthor of several nonfiction books, including the
bestselling Those Are Real Bullets, Aren't They? He lives in New York

Read an Excerpt

Day of the Dandelion

An Arthur Hemmings Mystery
By Peter Pringle

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2007 Peter Pringle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416540755



Brunn, Moravia, Winter 1884

The abbot knew he was dying. Since the beginning of December, he had been

unable to summon the strength to take even a few steps in the monastery

garden. Each morning Frau Dupouvec, his housekeeper, wrapped his swollen legs

in thick cotton bandages to stanch the fluids his failing kidneys could no

longer remove. After a slight improvement in the summer, his sight had dimmed

again; now he could read only a few pages without severe eyestrain and,

sometimes, painful headaches. In recent days, the leaden cold of the

Moravian winter had seeped through the stone walls of the prelate's quarters

and seemed to settle most cruelly in his bones, his very being.

The monks at the Monastery of St. Thomas in Brunn were urgently praying for

their beloved abbot's recovery. They could not bear the thought of losing him

and had convinced themselves that he would get better. When ill health had

overtaken him before, he had always rebounded. The crippling backache that

had prevented him from tending his precious seedlings in the monastery garden

had come and gone. The eye ailment had arrived and then disappeared. Moreover,

he seemed far too young to die; he was onlysixty-three. His predecessor, a

frailer sort, had lived to be seventy-five. The abbot himself knew better

than his devoted brothers, however. He knew that he would not survive to see

another summer, perhaps not even another spring.

For several months he had not received visitors, but before Christmas he

told Frau Doupevec and Joseph, his manservant, that he would make an exception

for a young Russian botanist from St. Petersburg named Ivan Ivanovich

Petrovsky. A year earlier, Ivan Ivanovich had written the abbot asking for

permission to quote from his essay Experiments in Plant Hybridization.

The abbot had been surprised and immensely pleased by the request; it was the

only recognition for his breeding work on garden peas he had received from

his peers. At the time, he was too busy with the administrative duties of the

monastery, but now his workload had diminished and he had sent the Russian an


The day of Ivan Ivanovich's visit, in early January 1884, a surprisingly

sunny day, the abbot appeared to have made an astonishing recovery. He was

walking on his own, without the aid of Joseph's arm. He was reading without

eyestrain, the headache had gone, and mercifully, even the fluids had stopped

leaking into the bandages around his legs.

The abbot asked Joseph to light the stove in the Orangery, where he would

receive his visitor. He also wanted to take the Russian on a tour of the

monastery gardens to show him where he had planted his peas, where he had

potted his seedlings, and where he had observed the strange activities of the

bees in his apiary.

Joseph warned his master not to linger outside -- the January sunshine was

deceptive -- but the abbot had rebuked him with uncharacteristic sharpness,

"I am well aware of the meteorological readings, Brother Joseph."

Frau Dupouvec had also protested, "Father Abbot has not even put on walking

boots in five weeks, let alone ventured into the garden," she said sternly.

But the abbot had insisted. Since it was not wet outside, merely cold, he

would wear his felt boots, which would be loose enough for his tender,

bandaged legs.

When the Russian arrived, promptly at ten o'clock as invited, the abbot was

sitting upright in his favorite, wingbacked chair in the Orangery, facing out

toward the garden. He was dressed, as usual, in his ankle-length black

soutane, and Joseph had managed, after a struggle, to pull on the abbot's

felt boots. For the sake of good relations with Frau Dupouvec, the abbot had

allowed her to place a gray woolen blanket over his lap even though the

Orangery was now warming up nicely with the heat from Joseph's fire.

Ivan Ivanovich was a tall man with curly brown hair, a high forehead, and a

bushy beard. He wore a stiff white collar, a black frock coat, and high

leather boots, the traditional dress of the tsarist professorial class.

Behind the spectacles, clear blue eyes gleamed eagerly.

As the Russian entered the Orangery, the abbot rose to greet him with the

wide familiar smile that Frau Dupouvec had not seen in several months.

"I am so pleased you have come," said the abbot with outstretched hand.

"I am honored to meet you, Father," replied the young Russian, bowing. "Very

honored indeed."

From a respectful distance, Joseph and Frau Dupouvec watched as the abbot and

the young Russian engaged immediately in a discussion of the genus

Pisum. From the bright enthusiasm on the abbot's face and his energetic

gesticulations, Joseph recognized each stage of the beautiful pea experiments.

And when the abbot began shrugging his shoulders and raising his hands in

gentle frustration, Joseph understood he was talking about his more recent

encounters in the garden, with a plant that seemed to defy all his theories

about heredity -- the orange hawkweed, or Hieracium.

The abbot was talking heatedly and now loudly enough for Joseph to hear. "I

must admit to you, my dear friend, how greatly I was deceived in this

respect. I cannot resist remarking how striking it is that the hybrids of

Hieracium behaved exactly the opposite to those of Pisum. They

did not vary in shape or color, or in any respect, in the next generation.

They were identical to their parents. Suddenly, I found myself in danger of

having to renounce my experiments completely -- and, therefore, my theory of


Ivan Ivanovich let out a cry of protest. "But no, Father, you must not allow

such oddities to dissuade you from your theory. I, for one, perfectly

understand what you have discovered, and I believe that you have, indeed,

unearthed a provable theory of inheritance. Your valuable work must continue

and be repeated by others, as I am sure it will be."

The abbot adjusted his heavy frame in the chair, shifting his legs just a

fraction, a movement that clearly caused him considerable discomfort. Then he

again addressed his Russian visitor.

"I confess to you, dear friend, that part of my reason for seeing you today,

besides thanking you for your mention of my essay, is my hope that you will

continue my work. There is no one here at the monastery with sufficient

interest, or expertise, to keep the experiments going. In fact, there are

some, I fear, who will seek to destroy my scientific legacy as soon as I am


The abbot paused.

"I have an idea about the strange behavior of Hieracium. Evidently, we

are dealing with an individual phenomenon that is the manifestation of a

different law of nature from the one I have uncovered. It appears that the

seed of Hieracium can be made by the plant without fertilization. I

have found only one other plant that behaves in this way, the common

dandelion, of the genus Taraxacum. Dandelions, like hawkweed, do not

reproduce as males and females normally do. The mother cells can produce the

seed on their own, without fertilization by the pollen. In short, these

plants do not have sex, like other plants."

The abbot paused again, carefully weighing what he was about to say.

"Ivan Ivanovich, my friend, I wish you to do me the honor of accepting my

garden notes and other work that I have so far prepared on this matter. I

would be happy to assist you in transporting these materials to St.

Petersburg. May I ask bluntly, do you accept this assignment?"

The young Russian was stunned. He had not expected any such outcome. He had

wanted simply to pay his respects to this remarkable old man who, as an

amateur gardener, had apparently discovered a fundamental law of nature. For

a long moment he was silent.

Then the abbot asked him again, this time more anxiously and yet still

graciously. "It would make me most happy, I assure you, if you would accept

this assignment."

Ivan Ivanovich quickly pulled himself together. He would accept, of course.

"Father, I am honored that you have considered me worthy of such a task. I

will conduct the necessary experiments with all means at my disposal."

"Good, that is settled then," said the abbot, with obvious relief. "Now I

must tell Joseph to prepare the materials, and we will walk in the garden,

briefly, before lunch."


Excerpted from Day of the Dandelion by Peter Pringle Copyright © 2007 by Peter Pringle. Excerpted by permission.
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