Death in St. Petersburg (Lady Emily Series #12)

Death in St. Petersburg (Lady Emily Series #12)

by Tasha Alexander


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From New York Times bestselling author Tasha Alexander comes the latest installment in the Lady Emily series. Death in St. Petersburg is a gripping new tale that will mesmerize fans of historical fiction and classic mysteries alike.

After the final curtain of Swan Lake, an animated crowd exits the Mariinsky theatre brimming with excitement from the night’s performance. But outside the scene is somber. A ballerina’s body lies face down in the snow, blood splattered like rose petals over the costume of the Swan Queen. The crowd is silenced by a single cry— “Nemetseva is dead!”

Amongst the theatergoers is Lady Emily, accompanying her dashing husband Colin in Russia on assignment from the Crown. But it soon becomes clear that Colin isn’t the only one with work to do. When the dead ballerina’s aristocratic lover comes begging for justice, Emily must apply her own set of skills to discover the rising star’s murderer. Her investigation takes her on a dance across the stage of Tsarist Russia, from the opulence of the Winter Palace, to the modest flats of ex-ballerinas and the locked attics of political radicals. A mysterious dancer in white follows closely behind, making waves through St. Petersburg with her surprise performances and trail of red scarves. Is it the sweet Katenka, Nemetseva’s childhood friend and favorite rival? The ghost of the murdered étoile herself? Or, something even more sinister?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250146151
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/24/2018
Series: Lady Emily Series , #12
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 100,517
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Tasha Alexander is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lady Emily mystery series (Tears of Pearl, Dangerous to Know, and A Crimson Warning). The daughter of two philosophy professors, she studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, live on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming.

Read an Excerpt


St. Petersburg January 1900

From a distance, the crimson spray coloring the snow looked more like scattered rose petals than evidence of a grisly murder. Upon closer approach, however, the broken body, delicate and graceful, revealed the truth of the scene in its full horror. The victim's pale skin, almost translucent, had been slashed and desecrated in an act of inhumane violence. But even so, her beauty could not be denied. Perhaps St. Petersburg required elegance even in death.

Peter the Great's city, on the banks of the Neva River, was purpose built to impress, not with the heavy, fortified architecture one might expect from an all-powerful tsar, but instead with its refined civility. After traveling through Western Europe, he rejected Moscow and the Kremlin, with its citadel-like walls, and sent an army of serfs to dig canals that would remind him of Amsterdam. Alexander Pushkin, Russia's favorite poet, wrote "his will was fate." For a hundred thousand of those serfs, fate meant death, a price Peter did not hesitate to pay for his new imperial capital.

Historian Nikolai Karamzin said the city was founded on tears and corpses, but one would never guess that from its wide boulevards, gilded steeples, and sprawling palaces. The feathery snow that blanketed the city in the winter served as a scrim curtain through which peeked the bright walls of neoclassical buildings, painted in shades of pale blue, pink, coral, and pistachio. Sleek sledges, their runners gleaming, pulled occupants wrapped in sumptuous furs along icy white streets. To an outsider, it seemed more fairy tale than imperial seat.

And a fairy tale was precisely what had enchanted me that evening in the Mariinsky Theatre, home of the Imperial Ballet. Seated in its gilded perfection in a box adjacent to that of Tsar Nicholas II's, I felt the world around me fade into nothing as I watched the story of a princess turned into a swan and of the prince whose love might have saved her. The impossibly graceful dancers, standing en pointe, mesmerized. At least they mesmerized me. As for my husband, Colin Hargreaves, I could not be sure.

He had come to Russia for his work, having been summoned there with increasing frequency over the past few years. As one of the Crown's most trusted agents, his familiarity with the intrigues of the Romanov court proved invaluable to Queen Victoria, whose granddaughter, Alix of Hesse and by Rhine — now called Alexandra Feodorovna — had married the tsar. Not only could Her Majesty count on Colin to handle any political situations that might impact Britain, she could also trust him to take note of anything potentially threatening to Alexandra's happiness. St. Petersburg might be considered a beacon of culture and society by some, but to the queen it was little more than a thuggish backwater.

I do not mean to suggest Her Majesty was prepared to intervene on behalf of her granddaughter. She felt herself above petty court controversies, but this did not dissuade her from wanting to hear all about them. Although my husband would never comment on her motives, I remain skeptical that they went beyond a desire for base gossip.

Regardless, Colin spent a great deal of time in Petersburg. Our century had proved difficult for the Romanovs. Alexander I may have emerged victorious over Napoleon in 1812, but this was not the beginning of a glorious period for his family. His grandson Alexander II survived five assassination attempts before being murdered in 1881. The martyred tsar's son Alexander III responded by refusing to continue his father's liberal policies, and in 1887 police arrested a group of conspirators plotting to bomb the emperor's carriage. Nicholas II, his successor, bore a long scar on his forehead, the memento of an unsuccessful attack by a sword-wielding man who had been part of Nicholas's protection detail during a trip to Japan.

Safety was not something a Romanov could take for granted.

I knew little of Colin's precise responsibilities in the city. Covert activity, alas, must remain covert, even from one's spouse. I had long ago abandoned any attempt to persuade him to confide in me, although I am quite certain he enjoyed my efforts in that direction. He admitted to me, on more than one occasion, that they provided some of his most treasured memories from the early days of our marriage.

Accompanying him while he worked was ordinarily — and necessarily — out of the question, and I had begrudgingly grown accustomed to waiting — and worrying — at home in England. This time, however, an irresistible opportunity presented itself. My dear friend, Cécile du Lac, had invited me to join her on a visit to Princess Mariya Alekseyevna Bolkonskaya. Masha, Cécile promised, would show us that the season in St. Petersburg made London's attempts at high society seem the work of rank amateurs. Who could refuse such an offer?

Colin might have insisted I do just that, but he was already away, having left for Russia on Boxing Day. Our twin boys, Henry and Richard, and our ward, Tom, as dear to us as any son could be, lamented his absence even before his departure. He loved to indulge them and had constructed an elaborate zoo out of blocks on the floor of the library at Anglemore Park three days before Christmas. The boys had populated the enclosures with the small animal figurines their father brought them from Hamleys every time he went to London. Tom would turn four in another month, and the twins would follow suit in the spring. No sooner had they learned Colin would be away from home immediately after the holiday than they started to keen and wail like small Vikings mourning the loss of a beloved leader.

Colin informs me that Vikings neither keened nor wailed. I assume the astute reader understands my choice of the Viking analogy for its romantic yet masculine qualities and will not insist on a pedantic adherence to nothing but facts.

When Cécile's telegram arrived (mere hours after Colin had left), inviting me to join her for the New Year celebrations in St. Petersburg — the highlight of the Russian year — my excitement faded as I realized it would be impossible to make the trip in time to usher out 1899. Then I remembered that the Russians still used the old Gregorian calendar. Their January 1 was our January 14. I booked a sleeping compartment on the Nord Express via Berlin and Warsaw, delighted to find the entire trip would take only two days. Thus, I was able to welcome 1900 twice: once in England, and once in Russia. Furthermore, as the Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, I would be present for those festivities as well.

Often when he was working, Colin stayed in neighborhoods that could be described, at best, as dubious. I had visions of him taking rooms in a building much like that of Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov, skulking up filthy, narrow staircases and arguing with a conniving landlady. On this trip, there was to be no such adventure. He had booked an extremely comfortable suite at the Hôtel de l'Europe on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Mikhaylovskaya ulitsa. Fearing he might try to convince me to stay home if I gave him the chance, I delayed to the last minute the sending of a telegram of my own, informing him of my impending arrival and suggesting that I could stay with Cécile in the princess's palace if my presence proved inconvenient. The affectionate manner of his greeting when I arrived in his rooms told me there was no need to consider alternate accommodations.

And so he worked, disappearing for hours, and sometimes days, while Cécile and I went to the opera, balls, soirees, and other elegant gatherings. St. Petersburg charmed me thoroughly, and I was convinced no other city was so perfectly beautiful.

Until I stepped out of the lobby of the Mariinsky Theatre to see blood splattered like rose petals on the snow and the broken body of a slim dancer, still wearing the costume of the Swan Queen.

Ekaterina Petrovna November 1889

Ekaterina Petrovna Sokolova had been at the Imperial Theatre School for more than a year now, but she still cried every Sunday when her brother, Lev, left her at the building on Theatre Street after they'd attended service at St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral. All the other students went to the small chapel on the school's second floor, but her grandfather, whom no one dared deny anything, had got permission for Katenka to worship with her family.

What little of them was left. Along with her, it was only Grandpapa, Mama, and Lev. Grandpapa, a great hero in the Battle of Borodino, had never quite recovered from losing his son, Katenka's father, to the icy waters of the Gulf of Finland during a naval training exercise. That was why they went to St. Nicholas even though Grandpapa was an army man. Her other brothers and sisters — six of them — had all died in a cholera epidemic, and the old man had pinned his hopes on Lev, who was meant to continue the family's glorious military tradition.

Katenka didn't care why they went or what Lev was supposed to do. She liked nothing better than walking to and from the cathedral with her brother — well, almost nothing. Dancing, that was as good, but not good enough to keep her from being consumed with sadness when Lev held the heavy doors of the school open and waved as they slammed shut, separating her from him for another week.

Lev, seven years older than his sister, had showered her with affection from the day she was born, calling her his little angel. Katenka had started to dance almost as soon as she could walk and, when she was ten, had cried tears of joy at the news that she had won a spot in Petersburg's Imperial Theatre School. She had not anticipated how different living as a pépinière — a boarder — would be from the warm, loving home to which she was accustomed. She imagined tulle skirts and tiaras and the golden boxes and twinkling lights of the Mariinsky Theatre, not a hard bed in a cold dormitory and exhausting days spent practicing tendus. The dancers she had admired on stage worked hard to create the illusion of effortless grace, and now she, too, would have to learn how to ignore pain in the service of art.

Katenka dedicated herself to her training, hiding her homesickness as best she could. She loved ballet and adored the ritual of daily class, studying the perfect technique required by Marius Petipa, ballet master of the Imperial Theatre. Katenka would never become a prima ballerina if she could not satisfy his exacting demands. She had no trouble focusing on dance; there was nothing else to distract her. Making friends had never come easily to her, and her natural talent and the praise her efforts earned from her teachers made the other girls in her class envious. During that first year, only one reached out to her: Irina Semenova Nemetseva.

Irusya had no need for jealousy. She moved as if weightless. Her long legs, slim and muscular, carried her across rehearsal rooms as if she were flying rather than jumping. Unlike Katenka, whose shyness was often mistaken for aloofness, Irusya, gregarious by nature, drew others to her. When her parents sent a package of sweets, she shared them, telling the other girls fantastical tales of the enchanted woods that surrounded her family's dacha. Katenka would sit away from the group, never feeling welcome despite Irusya's invitations to join.

In the evening, after the lights were out, Irusya would flout the rules, slipping out of her narrow bed and into Katenka's, where they would snuggle close. They would discuss the day's activities: who had done well in class, who had shown fatal signs of laziness, who had failed to complete the dreaded work they were given in ordinary school subjects. Irusya excelled in all but mathematics. Katenka, to whom it came naturally, offered to help her but was denied.

"I shall never need mathematics," Irusya said. "A prima ballerina assoluta has no use for such things."

They heard the sharp sound of footsteps in the corridor: matron was coming. Stifling their giggles, they made themselves as small and still as possible. The door opened, letting in a sliver of golden light. A moment passed, and the door closed. In the morning, Katenka would scratch a small mark on the wooden trunk at the foot of her bed, marking another night they had successfully avoided being caught breaking the rules.


January 1900

After the curtain fell on the final scene, the crowd exited the Mariinsky Theatre bursting with energy and brimming with emotion, profoundly affected by the story of Prince Siegfried and the cursed Odette, who could be united only in death. Never before had I seen dancing like that, and from the animated chattering around me, I knew the rest of the audience had been as delighted as I.

We had all expected an exceptional performance. Irina Semenova Nemetseva, the young dancer only a few years out of school, whose meteoric rise through the ranks of the Imperial Theatre was already the stuff of legends, would make history tonight as the first person other than Pierina Legnani to dance the dual roles of Odette and Odile in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Marius Petipa, the great choreographer and ballet master of the Mariinsky, had named Legnani the first prima ballerina assoluta, the highest rank a dancer could achieve. He adored her and all but gave the ballet to her. He had developed the choreography especially for her, and she had caused a sensation by adding thirty-two fouettées, in which the dancer whipped her leg around while turning en pointe with impossible speed, to her solo in the third act, a feat she had first performed in Petipa's Cinderella, years earlier. Now close to her fortieth birthday, and no doubt knowing retirement was not far away, Legnani had agreed to let someone else dance the role and chose Nemetseva as her successor.

The audience had not seen the girl's fouettées.

An extra element of excitement was added to the performance when, before the third act, a man — Petipa himself, I learned from the more experienced ballet goers around me — had stepped out from behind the heavy red velvet curtain and called for silence. We all obeyed at once, as if God Himself had made the request. Then, in a loud, steady voice, he announced that the dual role of Odette/Odile would be danced for the remainder of the performance by Ekaterina Petrovna Sokolova. He gave no explanation, but irritation was evident on his face and in his tone. I wondered what had prompted the change, as did everyone around me. Chattering filled the theatre, and the conductor, when he appeared at his podium, had to turn around three times and glower before it became quiet enough for him to raise his baton and command the orchestra to play.

Whatever the cause of the last-minute substitution, Ekaterina Petrovna had risen to the occasion with aplomb. She looked the opposite of Nemetseva, her pale, golden hair a perfect contrast to her colleague's smooth, dark locks. This made it a tad hard to believe that she could have deceived Prince Siegfried into believing she was the same girl he had fallen in love with before the interval, but from the moment she started to move, she captivated the entire theatre. By the final act, no one remembered that earlier that night someone else had danced the role.

And now, as we poured out into the frigid night, everyone bundled in furs, Theatre Square was full of smart carriages waiting to collect their fashionable owners. I almost didn't hear the first scream, but the second was impossible to ignore. It pierced the taut air like a blade.

Nothing should have been capable of silencing the bustle in front of the Mariinsky, but by the time I heard a third scream, this one joined by a voice crying, "Nemetseva!" over and over, it was as if a sorcerer had cast a spell over the entire crowd. Everyone fell quiet and started to move almost in slow motion, following the sound of the cries. Colin, who had taken me firmly by the arm to keep us from getting separated, was the only person moving at full speed. Faster than that, in fact. He knew, as did I, that something was dreadfully wrong. We skirted the side of the building until we came to the source of the screams.

Two elderly women, their programs from the performance still clutched in their hands, were standing next to a delicate spray of crimson blood that colored the snow around the body of a ballerina. Beneath her, the oozing liquid was neither delicate nor crimson; it had pooled thick and dark. She was still dressed in a white tutu, its bodice and its full, stiff skirts decorated with feathers and glittering crystal beads. The ribbon on one of her satin slippers had come undone, but her tiara, pinned to her dark hair, remained perfectly in place.

"Stay back," Colin said, stepping forward and raising a hand to keep the crowd, now arriving in droves, at bay. He knelt on the ground and bent over her. There was no need to check for a pulse. No one could have survived the loss of so much blood. Someone shouted for the police; someone else began to sob loudly. The ballerina was on her stomach, but her face was turned to the side, visible enough to be recognized by her fans.


Excerpted from "Death in St. Petersburg"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Tasha Alexander.
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.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. St. Petersburg, January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: November 1889,
2. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: May 1890,
3. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: August 1896,
4. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: February 1897,
5. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: March 1897,
6. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: March 1897,
7. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: May 1897,
8. St. Petersburg, 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: May 1897,
9. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: July 1897,
10. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: August 1897,
11. St. Petersburg, January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: August 1897,
12. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: November 1897,
13. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: November 1897,
14. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: November 1897,
15. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: February 1898,
16. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: June 1898,
17. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: June 1898,
18. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: June 1898,
19. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: September 1898,
20. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: December 1898,
21. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: December 1898,
22. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: December 1898,
23. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: June 1899,
24. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: December 1899,
25. January 1900,
Ekaterina Petrovna: January 1900,
26. January 1900,
Author's Note,
For Further Reading,
Also by Tasha Alexander,
About the Author,

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