Death Mask

Death Mask

by Ellis Peters

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A troubled English boy sets out to uncover the truth about his father’s death, from the Edgar Award–winning author of the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael.
Following the death of his father at an archaeological dig in Greece, young Crispin Almond returned to England and the mother he barely knew. Now a difficult, morose, and unreachable teenager, he has been expelled from every school he’s attended. At her wits’ end, his mother decides Crispin needs a positive male role model and turns to a former friend, who disappeared from her life sixteen years earlier when she rejected his proposal of marriage.
Hired by the woman he always loved to be her son’s tutor, Evelyn Manville is determined to break through Crispin’s protective shell. But the closer he gets to the troubled teen, the more unsettling their relationship becomes. Because, despite having no evidence, Crispin believes his father’s death in Greece was no accident, and he’s been secretly manipulating events to prove it. And now his plan could be drawing a murderer into all of their lives.
With Death Mask, the Edgar, Agatha, and Gold Dagger Award–winning author of the Brother Cadfael Mysteries delivers a stand-alone novel that is “a literate and original piece of work” (Kirkus Reviews).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480445352
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 165
Sales rank: 201,290
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey during the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.

Read an Excerpt

Death Mask

By Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas Road Integrated Media

Copyright © 1959 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4535-2


I was drifting down a back street in Chelsea, fingering the loose silver in my trouser pocket, which represented all the money I had between myself and Aunt Caroline's spare room, and wondering whether the old girl would find it worth a loan not to have me on the premises, when a taxi stopped at a house just ahead of me, and a woman got out. I stopped in my tracks for the pleasure of watching her walk. Just of watching her walk, that's all. She sailed out of the car, leaned lightly back for an instant to slip the fare and a smile to her driver, and then sailed on across the broad pavement towards the door of the house. She carried her shoulders well back, and her head afloat like a flower on its stem, and moved with long, supple, resolute steps upon her objective; and her gaze seemed to be fixed always a little above everything that crossed her path, as though her sights were raised for a longer journey than the one which was apparent. Everything she did would always carry that implication of another, less obvious significance hidden somewhere behind and beyond the act as other people saw it.

I stood back against the house wall, and watched her, and thought how like Dorothy she was; and suddenly she turned her head a little, in the very act of stretching out a gloved hand towards the bell; and it was Dorothy.

I hadn't set eyes on her for over sixteen years, not since the day I asked her to marry me, and she turned me down. And there wasn't much external resemblance between this remarkably elegant woman of — let's see, it must be thirty-four — and that wild young creature of eighteen, elegant, too, in a lawless way, like an unbroken greyhound. The clothes were the last word in sophistication; for a fashionable concert violinist I suppose they had to be. So austere that virtually there was nothing there but a slender casing of two or three luxurious materials, and the shape of the body within them. And, of course, the hat, which was an enormous flat grey tam-'o-shanter in what I suppose was probably some kind of nylon tulle. She wore it not straight, which was the mode, to judge by what I'd seen around me in those few hours in London, but tilted slightly forward towards her brows, which were still high, shapely, and unplucked, and still gave her that faintly bewildered look of her extreme youth, as though the world never failed to astonish her. The poise of the hat and the poise of the head combined to detach her a little further from the object of her wonder, as though she drew back to take a more measured view, but without ridding herself of the impulse of startled disbelief.

And of course, I thought, enjoying the glimpse of her more than I'd dreamed possible, she won't know me from Adam by this time; and even if she did, she wouldn't particularly want to meet me me again. Why should she? We can hardly have much to say to each other, after sixteen years.

"Evelyn!" cried Dorothy in her gay, high, unself-conscious voice, calling half Chelsea to bear witness to her surprise and pleasure; and she swung smartly away from the door, and bore down on me with the same imperious stride, her hand out and reaching for mine. "I thought you were thousands of miles away, in the Persian Gulf, or somewhere. How lovely to see you again! Why haven't you ever written? Are you still angry with me?"

Very few women but Dorothy, I suppose, would greet a man with that question after sixteen years, just because on the last occasion when they met him they happened to turn down his offer of marriage. And probably no one but Dorothy could approach him with the assumption that he would still be angry about it, and be dead right.

"Don't be an ass!" I said, which, besides not being at all what I'd meant to say, was also a prevarication, if not a downright lie. I was still sore about that refusal. I hadn't realised it until I saw her again. Sixteen years blew away like a scud of dead leaves in the wind. "When did we ever write letters to each other? How are you, Dorothy? You're looking wonderful."

"I wasn't feeling wonderful," she said, "until now. Evelyn, are you really not angry? You do look cross. Are you sure it's not with me?"

"It's not with you," I assured her. "There's nobody in the world I could be more glad to see."

"Then come to this idiotic party with me." She waved a hand towards the lighted windows of the house. "We needn't stay long, but I promised to show up for a while. It's only Gilda Friedmann — I don't know if you know her, she paints, quite well when she's sober. Then we could go and have dinner somewhere together, and talk. Evelyn, it's years and years since we had a chance to talk to each other." She tilted her head back to look at me long and earnestly from under the shadow of the enormous hat, and I caught the full glow of those great eyes of hers, dark as violets, and saw the long, pure, slanting line of her cheekbones. She had always the air of an extremely aristocratic model, except that her eyes and mouth were kind, and wild, and alive in the patrician face, instead of fashionably blank. "Don't just go away from me with only a few polite words, I want to know all about you. Give me this evening! Unless, of course, you've got a date already?"

"I've only been back in London three hours," I said, "and I haven't seen a soul I know yet, apart from the firm. But how on earth can I walk in on this woman's party? I don't know her. And I'm not even presentable."

"Wait until you see the crowd Gilda collects! No one's going to notice you among her friends, except as being rather conservative in your dress. And as for gate-crashing, she won't even remember by this time who she invited and who she didn't. Not that she'd mind an extra man even if she did remember." Her hand was on my arm, she was drawing me irresistibly towards the light-blue door. She stabbed the bell with a long, delicate forefinger, and a shrill girl with long, blonde hair opened the door to us and screamed greetings, waving a glass in one hand.

"Up the stairs, darling, you know the way. I should stick to gin, poppet — or sherry. Rolie's been experimenting again — the cocktails are wonderful, but they kick like a mule. Whatever you do, don't mix your drinks tonight."

She shrieked after us up the staircase: "Don't ask Gilda where Bernie is — he's out cold already, and she's sensitive about it. But of course, you know all the pitfalls —"

"Do you?" I asked, stepping round a bearded gentleman who was nursing two glasses on the stairs, and supporting a very pretty and somewhat tipsy partner in one arm.

"In a way, yes. Bernie's her husband, and he thinks he has a strong head, and hasn't. They're not as bad as they look on nights like this. And neither am I. I only come to London when I must. I have other amusements."

I should have felt snubbed, if her face hadn't been so thoughtful, and her voice almost diffident in offering explanations. "We can't all be empire builders," she said, quite innocent of irony, retiring into that odd humility of hers, always unexpected, and usually inappropriate. "I didn't ask you how long you'll be in England, Evelyn? You're on leave, I suppose?"

"Not leave — I'm out on my ear." I was beginning to raise my voice in competition with the babel that rolled down upon us from the upstairs room, which was quivering and bulging with people.

Dorothy turned to stare at me in consternation. "Evelyn! They couldn't be so ungrateful! After all you've done for the company —"

"The company's out on its ear, too. Hadn't you heard? The local oil industry is now a native affair. We've all got the push."

"But how idiotic! The Sultanate will lose all its income —"

We reached the doorway. Two rooms had been rolled into one by the removal of a partition, and the resultant acreage heaved and throbbed gently with tightly packed humanity in arduous social movement. We launched ourselves into the press. The din was tremendous.

"It isn't a Sultanate any longer," I shouted, losing her round the plump shoulders of a middle-aged woman in metallic green. "They've had a revolution. Not before it was time!"

A tray of drinks, carried at the full stretch of a long arm, sailed perilously over my head, and was lowered to let me reach down two glasses. Large white teeth grinned at me amiably through a red beard. "These are guaranteed, old boy," said the owner of these assets confidentially. "I mixed 'em myself. Not a hang-over in a reservoir of the stuff."

Dorothy reappeared round his sleeve, accepted a glass, and shouted warmly: "How awful for you! I'm so sorry!"

"Don't be! I'd had enough. I was glad to come home. And the Sultan was no loss to anyone. He'll do far less harm on the Riviera, and help the local trade no end. He was no good for anything at home."

"But the company will find you another job, of course?"

"The company doesn't see its way. Times are bad. They're paying us off with a month's salary in compensation." I didn't tell her I'd lost my temper and told the personnel manager what the directors could do with their month's salary, and walked out without accepting it. That's the sort of thing you regret afterwards, when you begin counting your last few shillings, but you can never admit it.

"Then you're out of a job? Absolutely free?"

It sounded like the kind of freedom I might be in a hurry to surrender; but I never had time to say so, for at that moment we battled our way through to a far corner of the room, and Dorothy fell into the arms of a tall, gaunt, intense brunette, who must, I concluded, be Gilda. Two youngsters with pony tails, flowered skirts and pin heels stilt-walked between us in search of drinks, and I lost sight of the grey tulle hat for a while. The brunette, carrying on three conversations at once, and all at a high scream, fielded me, called me by the wrong name, and heaved me into the arms of a rather pretty blonde wrapped in a white nylon stole which proved to be a handicap in traffic.

"Any friend of Dolly's," said the blonde blithely, tugging one end of the thing from under a passing arm. "Let's get nearer the food, shall we? I'm starving! I will say Gilda does understand the importance of providing food at these affairs." The other end of the floating halter entangled itself in a naval officer's buttons, and being detached from that security, clung tenaciously to the gold braid of his sleeve, but we persevered. I was hungry, too; food seemed a sensible way of passing the time until Dorothy reclaimed me.

It was like any other party; that was something that hadn't changed during the years I'd been away. The women hesitated between the racy and the elegant, the men were mainly Bohemian but with islands of orthodoxy like the naval officer. By the time I lost the blonde several other people were calling me by my Christian name. Whether it was that, or the drinks, I began to feel more warmly towards the country I'd come home to.

Dorothy floated up behind me suddenly, clasped her long fingers round my arm, and whispered in my ear: "How are you getting on?"

"Famously. I no longer feel so alone."

She giggled, and vanished. I didn't see her again for three quarters of an hour, but this time, when she was flung against my shoulder, she linked her arm through mine, and hung on. The pale cheekbones were touched with a vivid rose colour, from the heat, from the cocktails, from a kind of social exhaustion, I didn't know which. Possibly I'd acquired a glow, too, for she was looking at me pretty narrowly.

"Evelyn, did you mean it? — about being out of a job?"

"Yes, of course I meant it. Why?"

"Take me out to dinner, and I'll tell you."

We were shouting again. It didn't matter; most of the people in that room were swapping confidences at the tops of their voices.

"Love to, but the way I'm fixed, you'll have to take me."

"You mean you're broke?" she cried, her eyes wide in astonishment. "Evelyn, why didn't you tell me?" And she sounded as exasperated and reproachful as she might have done twenty years earlier on finding me to be involved in some trouble I hadn't confided to her. Dorothy would always give away half of what was hers, if a friend was in need of it. Nobody knew that better than I did. We grew up next door to each other, and were cronies from the days when I was seven, and she was six; and maybe that was why she hadn't been able to think of me as a possible husband. I was too near to her to be seen in a just focus. "Come on, let's go somewhere where we can talk. Just let me say good-bye to Gilda, and I'm with you."

We struggled through the press together, disentangling ourselves once from the floating nylon stole of my blonde friend, ducking precariously under the tray of drinks that sailed by upon a palm noticeably less steady than when we'd entered, and took a bellowed leave of our hostess. Plainly she hadn't a notion who I was, so she fell back on the "darling" which was standard equipment here. It was getting insufferably hot; I wasn't sorry to escape.

We picked our way down stairs grown remarkably populous, and emerged into the cool middle evening; Dorothy slipped her arm in mine, and drew a deep breath, and let the social brightness fade out of her beautiful, clear, tired face.

"Evelyn," she said, "I'm a widow. Did you know? Not grass any more, an ordinary widow."

"Are you proposing to me?" I asked, interested. It slipped out before I was aware. Only once in my life had I ever considered what I was about to say to Dorothy, and look where it got me that time.

"After the last fiasco? What a hope! At least, I have got a proposal to make, of a kind, but it's strictly practical. No, it isn't, either," she contradicted herself impulsively the next moment, "it's a matter of needing help, and asking you to help me. Because I always could, and I don't think you've changed, and I don't feel that I've changed much, either, when I'm with you. If you know what I mean."

I knew what she meant.

"Did you know that Bruce was dead?"

"I read it in some newspaper, about three months ago. He was killed by a fall of stones on some dig in Greece, wasn't he? I'm sorry. I know you still had a certain feeling for him, even if —"

"Even if we couldn't live together." She gave me a quick glance, and looked away again, and I knew she was remembering as vividly as I was the day when I rushed home on my first leave, in 1941, frightfully self-conscious in my new uniform, and keyed-up for action, heroism, and sacrifice. I hardly waited to kiss my mother before hopping over the wall into the doctor's garden, next door, and asking if Dorothy was in. And the same night, in the unfathomable darkness of the blackout that was so unexpectedly friendly to lovers, I asked her to marry me. In what words, thank God, I can't remember; I was never eloquent, and the occasion probably undid me completely. The formula, in any case, couldn't have mattered. The disaster was more fundamental than that.

Dorothy laughed. Looking back on the awful moment from this distance, I could see that it was a laugh of sheer shock and disorientation; she laughed because the earth had reeled under her feet, and she'd lost her bearings. I'd always been there beside her, with her in every predicament her ingenuity and mine could concoct, with her in a sense in which a brother wouldn't have been with her. Brothers and sisters are rivals, and we'd always been allies, without a shadow of rivalry between us. If I'd had the sense to realise and draw back, if I'd given her until my next visit to think about it, everything might have been different. She might have made the essential readjustments, and seen me in a new light, she might even have been delighted with her discovery. But I was affronted, and confused, and I panicked, and pressed her for an answer. Then she said no, definitely, indignantly, shocked at the idea, as if I'd been proposing a kind of incest; and she pulled away from me, and ran into the house. And I was unspeakably hurt and humiliated, and probably so was she. I didn't go near her again, I didn't want to see or hear of her again. But I somehow never looked at anyone else, either.

These things are as delicate and difficult as marriage itself. No wonder I made such a mess of it, at nineteen and a bit, and starting with the disadvantage of being loved already in a different way.


Excerpted from Death Mask by Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas. Copyright © 1959 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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