Divine Inspiration

Divine Inspiration

by Jane Langton

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When an organist vanishes, the ex-cop turned Harvard professor is on the case with a “clever plot and [an] oversupply of lively, interesting characters” (Kirkus Reviews).
 An infant crawls in the dark, up the cold stone steps of Boston’s Church of the Commonwealth. It is a miracle that Alan Starr notices the child, so focused is he on the church’s new organ, whose pipes he is about to hear for the first time. He takes the baby in his arms and goes inside to inspect the magnificent new instrument, designed to the specifications of the church’s master organist, mentor to Alan and to Rosalind, the baby’s mother. When Alan takes the child to his neighboring home, he finds blood on the floor and no trace of Rosalind. In what should be the church’s finest hour, tragedy has struck. With the help of Homer Kelly, Harvard professor and casual sleuth, Alan combs the city for the missing mother. Together they learn that even God’s house can be a haven for the devil.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453247587
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 03/06/2012
Series: The Homer Kelly Mysteries , #10
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 410
Sales rank: 651,082
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Winner of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, Jane Langton (1922–2018) was an acclaimed author of mystery novels and children’s literature. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Langton took degrees in astronomy and art history before she began writing novels, and has set much of her fiction in the tight-knit world of New England academia.
She published her first novel, The Majesty of Grace, in 1961, and a year later began one of the young adult series that would make her famous: the Hall Family Chronicles. In The Diamond in the Window (1962) she introduced Edward and Eleanor, two New England children whose home holds magical secrets. Two years later, in The Transcendental Murder, Langton created Homer Kelly, a Harvard University professor who solves murders in his spare time. These two series have produced over two dozen books, most recently The Dragon Tree (2008), the eighth Hall Family novel.
Winner of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, Jane Langton (1922–2018) was an acclaimed author of mystery novels and children’s literature. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Langton took degrees in astronomy and art history before she began writing novels, and has set much of her fiction in the tight-knit world of New England academia.
She published her first novel, The Majesty of Grace, in 1961, and a year later began one of the young adult series that would make her famous: the Hall Family Chronicles. In The Diamond in the Window (1962) she introduced Edward and Eleanor, two New England children whose home holds magical secrets. Two years later, in The Transcendental Murder, Langton created Homer Kelly, a Harvard University professor who solves murders in his spare time. These two series have produced over two dozen books, most recently The Dragon Tree (2008), the eighth Hall Family novel.

Read an Excerpt

Divine Inspiration

A Homer Kelly Mystery

By Jane Langton


Copyright © 1993 Jane Langton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-4758-7


When I lay sucking at my mother's breast, I had no notion how I should afterwards eat, drink, or live.

Martin Luther

The baby was wide awake, although it was after his bedtime. His mother had dressed him in shoes and warm socks and a woolly hooded zipsuit. He was hot. He stood up in his crib and bounced, enjoying the creak of the springs. The curtains were drawn and he could see nothing in his little room but the dark shapes of the dresser and the changing table, and a streak of light under the door.

From the next room he could hear music, and his mother talking to someone. Her voice was comforting, as always. The music flowed around his head, his mother's words went up and down.

The other voice was sharper. "The car's ready. Your stuff is in the back seat. Let's go."

"I'm not coming. I've changed my mind."

"You've what?"

"I've got to tell them. I can't let him take the blame. I'm not coming with you."

"Look, I told you, it isn't just this fire, it's all of them. Not to mention manslaughter and murder. You're not just in trouble, you're in prison."

"I don't care. I want to tell them. I've got to."

"My God, Rosie, Kraeger's all right. His congregation has gorged itself on the pleasure of forgiving him. Forget about Kraeger. Come on."

"No, no, I've changed my mind. I'm not coming. I can't let him be blamed for what he didn't do. Let go of me, let go! Let go!"

The baby stopped bouncing and listened to the unfamiliar sound of a scuffle, and his mother's angry voice, shouting above the music. He began to cry.


... the great and perfect wisdom of God in His marvellous work of music ...

Martin Luther

Running up the dark steps of the Church of the Commonwealth, Alan Starr didn't notice the baby at first, crawling up the stairs ahead of him, all by itself.

He was absorbed in the muffled sound of the organ leaking through the closed doors. There were awful irregularities within each rank. No one would be able to judge the new instrument until he himself had voiced nearly three thousand pipes, nicking apertures, adjusting tongues, tuning wires and resonators.

Even so, even unvoiced, the organ responded brightly to James Castle's catapulting counterpoint. The driving sixteenth notes fell on Alan's ears like rain in a dry land. He had been born with a thirst for harmonious noise, for "Rock-a-bye, Baby" and all that came after. The sound of the new organ from Marblehead was piercingly clear. The old organ had never sounded like this, in spite of its fourteen thousand pipes and its swarming electropneumatic imitation of all the instruments in the orchestra.

But perhaps only James Castle was good enough to coax this sort of brilliance from the new organ. Castle was in a class by himself. He was, after all, the most famous student of the legendary Harold Oates. Since Alan in his turn was Castle's pupil, he sometimes imagined himself a kind of musical grandson of the great Oates.

"Is it true?" he had once asked Castle. "Did he really play like that? You know the way people talk." Alan rolled his eyes comically upward. "They say he was divinely inspired by God."

Castle had guffawed. "Divinely inspired? Harold Oates?" But then he grinned at Alan. "Well, who knows? Perhaps in his own way he was."

Now, hurrying up the church steps in the dark, Alan almost stumbled over the baby. He stopped short and looked at it in surprise. It was crawling up the cold stone steps of the Church of the Commonwealth, slapping down a hand on the step above, hauling itself up on one knee, sitting down with a thump, reaching up to the next step.

The baby was alone. No one else was climbing the steps behind it, or watching it from the sidewalk. What was a baby doing on the street alone in the dark? "Look here," said Alan, "where's your mother?"

The baby paid no attention. It caught sight of a man walking a dog along the sidewalk. At once it turned around and started down the stairs again, making extraordinary speed. Transfixed, Alan watched it patter after the dog, which was tugging its owner across Clarendon Street toward the building excavation on the other side. The traffic slowed down, then charged forward.

"Hey," said Alan. He galloped after the baby and snatched it up just as it put a hand down into the gutter. The cars rushed by, oblivious, while Alan stood on the curb, looking down at the child in his arms, breathing hard.

In the light of the street lamp he could see that it was quite a nice-looking baby with alert blue eyes. Its cheeks were plump and dirty, with clean streaks where tears had run down. Its face had a kind of hilarious expression.

Whose baby was it? Alan looked along the row of town houses and up and down the tree-lined park dividing the two lanes of traffic on Commonwealth Avenue. A few kids were moving past the marble bust of a long-forgotten mayor of Boston, heading for the bars on Boylston Street, their shoulders hunched against the cold. The baby's mother was nowhere in sight.

Music flooded out of the church. Castle was trying the reed stops. Even through the closed doors the sound was thrilling—the brilliant clarion, the rampant trumpet.

Alan had an appointment with Castle. They were to spend the evening in a swift overview of all the ranks, and Castle was going to say exactly what tonal values he wanted, and Alan was going to write it down. He was late. What the hell should he do with the baby?

It occurred to him that its careless mother might be in the church, listening to the organ. Holding the baby with one arm, Alan walked quickly up the steps. He had never held an infant before, but there didn't seem to be much to it. The baby fitted comfortably against his shoulder and chuckled in his ear.

He pushed open the door with one elbow, walked across the vestry and entered the sanctuary.

At once he was surrounded by the atmosphere of American Protestant holiness, circa 1887. The church had been built in obedience to the architectural ideals of John Ruskin. Ruskin's lamps of Obedience! Truth! Power! Beauty! Life! Memory! Sacrifice! had shone upon the supporting pilings as they were driven into the damp silt and clay of the filled land of Boston's Back Bay. The lamps had glistened on the rising walls of Roxbury pudding stone, on the checkered sandstone and granite of the tower, on the elaborate decoration of the interior. The winds of architectural fashion had long since blown out most of those noble lamps, one by one, but the usefulness of the building had not changed. It was still a sturdy and handsome structure, dark within, glowing with stained glass, gleaming with polished wood.

Only the lamp of Truth still flared up now and then, flickering brightly enough to fill the pews on Sunday mornings and brim the collection plates with dollar bills. The preaching, of course, had changed. The mild and respectable Protestant faith that had established the parish as a denomination unto itself in the middle of the nineteenth century had drifted farther from orthodoxy every year. The present pastor, Martin Kraeger, had started his ministerial life as a Lutheran, but he had grown farther and farther away from his background. Now what was he? A lapsed Lutheran, an occasional Transcendentalist, a moderate Unitarian, an unsilent Quaker and a wry Existentialist, with a few molecules of contemplative Buddhism thrown in. His congregation accepted the intellectual jumble. They seldom examined their pastor's tissue of beliefs, or attempted to unravel one piece of patchwork from another.

Alan walked up the center aisle, holding the baby, inhaling the scent of extinguished candles, the leathery smell of the old Bible on the pulpit, the stuffing in the pew cushions, the lingering fragrance of perfumed sopranos and clean-shaven tenors. There was still a hint of scorching in the air, a sharp recollection of the fire that had burned the balcony and destroyed the old organ and taken the life of the sexton, old Mr. Plummer.

Alan winced as he caught the acrid scent, remembering the anguished look on the face of Martin Kraeger the morning after the fire. Alan had been called in at once, to assess the damage to the organ. He had examined it in the presence of Kraeger, James Castle and Edith Frederick, church treasurer Kenneth Possett, and the chief from the local fire station on Boylston Street.

Kraeger's ugly face had been a study in wretchedness. He kept saying, "It was my fault." He had been smoking carelessly, he said, up there in the balcony, talking to Castle. And there had been lighted candles all over the place for the evening wedding. Had old Mr. Plummer extinguished them all? Were some of them still burning under the balcony when Kraeger left at midnight with Castle? Only a few hours later it had gone up in flames.

Kraeger had already confessed his fault to the firefighters as they dragged their hoses around the burning building. He had confessed it to the people watching the fire as they stood gaping behind a rope barrier. He had told the reporter from the Globe and the kids with the video camera from Channel 4. All New England had seen him the next morning on the local news. There he was in person, weeping over the burned body of Mr. Plummer. It was a gruesome and pitiful picture. "Entirely unfit for children," complained a committee of mothers in a letter of protest.

Alan had seen the episode on the morning news while he hauled on his clothes to go to the church. He had raced up Beacon Hill and down again from his room on Russell Street, and gasped his way across the Public Garden and arrived at the Church of the Commonwealth out of breath. Inside the sanctuary he found the others standing around the organ in the half-ruined balcony. As an organ student of James Castle's, Alan already knew Reverend Kraeger and Mrs. Frederick. Church treasurer Kenneth Possett was new to him, and the chief of the local fire department, and another stranger who came puffing up the balcony stairs, stumbling over the charred remains of chairs recently occupied by the choir.

It was a tall man in a rumpled shirt. "My God," said the man, "what a disaster. It's hard to believe a careless cigarette could have done all this."

"Oh, there you are, Homer." Kenneth Possett introduced Homer Kelly to Martin Kraeger, Mrs. Frederick, James Castle, the fire chief, and Alan Starr. "Homer's an old friend of mine. Right now he's teaching at that ancient institution of higher learning across the river, but he used to be a policeman. I thought he might be able to help us figure out what happened."

"It's not just a question of cigarettes," said the chief, turning to Homer. "It was candles too. That wedding, they had candles all over the place last night. It's a wonder there's any churchgoers left in the world, the way they go out of their way to burn themselves up with candles. Electricity, Jesus! You'd think Thomas Alva Edison never got born."

"It was all my fault," murmured Martin Kraeger. His exhausted face was still black with smoke. His hands were wrapped in bandages.

The fire chief looked at him grimly and said nothing, remembering the insane way Kraeger had rushed into the building at the height of the blaze to look for the missing sexton, endangering the lives of the firefighters who had to drag him out again—as if they didn't have enough to do, saving the rest of the building, watering down the blowing embers, watching the roofs of the neighboring town houses. The man was a maniac.

Ken Possett turned to Castle. "The point is, what are we going to do about the organ? Can anything be salvaged? Is it a total loss?"

And then Castle turned to Alan, the visiting expert. Alan had already made up his mind. He had glanced at the scorched façade pipes and opened the narrow door to the chamber where the others were massed in their thousands upon thousands. Everyone else looked at him too, and he shrugged his shoulders. "It's totaled, I'm afraid. Oh, you might salvage a few of the smallest metal flue pipes, but most of them are a dead loss. The wooden flues are wrecked, the solid-state control board is a mess, and the console"—Alan gestured helplessly at the blistered keyboards, the scorched rows of stop knobs—"well, you can see for yourselves, there's nothing left."

"All those pipes," whimpered Ken Possett, "fourteen thousand pipes, you're telling us they're all gone?"

"Well, say, thirteen thousand nine hundred of them. I'm sorry."

And then Mrs. Frederick stepped gallantly forward. "My mind is made up. The Church of the Commonwealth must have a magnificent pipe organ. Jim, I want you to pick the best in the world. It will be my gift to the church, in memory of Henry."

Afterward Alan tried to picture Jim's face—had there been a sly look of triumph? He couldn't remember. He had been too interested himself in the idea of the new organ. He had wanted to nudge Castle and say, "Marblehead, right?"

But Castle did not need to be told. Next day Alan accompanied him to Marblehead and showed him the organ that had been ordered and cancelled by a failing church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And then it had taken the people in Marblehead only a few months to adjust it to Castle's specifications.

And here it was, ready for tuning and voicing, Mrs. Frederick's magnificent new tracker organ, with casework of cherry and three thousand five hundred seventy new pipes rising in tiers beside the stained-glass window of Moses and the Burning Bush. For the next few months its destiny was up to Alan Starr.

The baby was beginning to squirm. Alan jiggled it up and down, and walked along the center aisle until he could look back up at the balcony and see Castle at the organ console. There he was, high above the rows of pews, his back to the pulpit, the pipes rising around him.

The fugue came to an end. Castle lifted his hands from the keyboard and held up one finger. Alan was silent, listening. The baby listened too. "Four seconds," said Alan.

Castle turned on the bench and looked down at him gleefully. "Four, right. Four seconds of reverberation. Pretty good. If we took out all the pew cushions we'd probably get five. Hey, what have you got there? Is that yours?"

"No." Alan bounced the baby in his arms. "I found it outside on the steps." He looked around. "I thought its mother might be in here someplace."

"The baby was on the steps? You mean all by itself?" Castle got up and leaned over the railing to take a look. "Babies shouldn't be left alone. Good Lord."

"I think it's going to sleep. Wait a minute. I'll be right up." Reaching into a pew he tumbled the cushion to the floor, then lowered the baby onto it and latched the pew door. "How's that?"

"Looks okay to me, but what do I know about babies? Hey, did you bring the extra stop knob?"

"Sure." Alan galloped up the steps to the balcony and took the blank stop knob out of his pocket. "What do you want it for?"

"Divine inspiration." Castle took the stop knob and tried it in the empty space above Spitzflute and Octave on the panel for the Great organ. "Put it right here."

"What do you mean, put it there? You want to add another rank? Good grief, you don't start with a stop knob, for Christ's sake."

"No, no, I don't want it connected to anything in particular. Just directly to God, that's all. It's for divine inspiration. I want you to paint DIV INSP on it. So I can give it a yank whenever I lose touch with whatever the hell's going on in the service. You know, whenever Kraeger mumbles in his beard or my page turner drops the music."

"Oh, right, good idea. Every organ should have a knob like that."

They got to work. Castle went through the ranks for the Great division, and went on to the Choir, the Positive, the Swell, the Pedal. Alan took notes.

"When are the thirty-two-footers coming?" said Castle, using both feet to send a deep Bourdon fifth shuddering through the building.

"Soon, I hope. Hey, what's that squeal?"

"God, it must be a cipher." Castle turned around on the bench. "Oh, no, it's not. It's your little friend. The baby's awake."

Alan raced down the balcony stairs and picked up the baby just as it flung one leg over the arm of the pew. In another moment it would have fallen into the aisle. At once it stopped crying and smiled at him.

"Cute little critter," said Castle, looking down from above. "Maybe it lives around here. Did you try the house next door?"

"No. Good idea." Alan bounced the baby gently. "Look, the job should take me three or four months, if the thirty-two-foot pipes get here soon. But I'll have the Great division done by the end of January. Mrs. Frederick wants to have a celebration. Can you find something to play on a single manual? Something really—what was the word—glorious?"


Excerpted from Divine Inspiration by Jane Langton. Copyright © 1993 Jane Langton. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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.

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Divine Inspiration (A Homer Kelly Mystery) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
thornton37814 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alan Starr has been commissioned to install the new organ and "voice" it for the Church of the Commonwealth in Boston's Back Bay after a fire. He finds a baby on the church steps and discovers the door has been left open in the apartment building next door. He discovers blood on the floor and finds evidence that the apartment belongs to an organist who studied under the same organist he did. He is determined to find her and calls in Homer Kelly for help. Circumstantial evidence suggests she is dead, but things aren't adding up. Langton has written a cozy mystery that is a cut above most others. Her characters are well-developed. I learned much about organs and the categories of pipes in this work. I loved the Back Bay setting as it is an area of Boston with which I'm very familiar. This is a cozy mystery with a lot of layers. There is so much more to the story than the main plot line. Highly recommended.