Lies That Comfort and Betray

Lies That Comfort and Betray

by Rosemary Simpson


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Lies That Comfort and Betray by Rosemary Simpson

From the author of What the Dead Leave Behind, this suspenseful and richly atmospheric mystery captures both the elegance and sophistication of New York’s Gilded Age—and the secrets and bloody terrors that lurk behind its elegant facades . . .
Heiress Prudence MacKenzie is a valuable partner to attorney Geoffrey Hunter, despite the fact that women are not admitted to the bar in nineteenth-century New York. And though their office is a comfortable distance from the violence of the city’s slums, the firm of Hunter and MacKenzie is about to come dangerously close to a high-profile killer across the pond . . .
Nora Kenny works in Prudence’s Fifth Avenue house, just as her mother once served Prudence’s mother. As children, they played freely together, before retreating into their respective social classes. Still, they remain fond of each other. So when Nora’s body is discovered in a local park, Prudence is devastated. As other poor, vulnerable young women fall victim, the police are confounded. Has the Ripper crossed the Atlantic to find a new hunting ground? Is someone copying his crimes? A former Pinkerton agent, Geoffrey intends to step in, and Prudence is equally determined. But a killer with a disordered mind and an incomprehensible motive may prove too elusive for even this experienced pair to outwit.
Praise for What the Dead Leave Behind
“Simpson's debut, first in a planned series, features complex characters, a vivid look at old New York in the late 1800s, and a mystery with a twist.” —Kirkus Reviews
 “This is a story to savor . . . Prudence is a stubborn, quick-witted American heroine who will remind readers of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Ashton and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey.” –Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496709110
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 01/30/2018
Series: A Gilded Age Mystery Series , #2
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 495,258
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Rosemary Simpson is the author of two previous historical novels The Seven Hills of Paradise and Dreams and Shadows, and a previous Gilded Age Mystery, What the Dead Leave Behind. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. Educated in France and the United States, she now lives near Tucson, Arizona.

Read an Excerpt


"Jack the Ripper's killed number seven. An Irish girl this time, younger than the others. Only twenty-five. The detective in charge had photographs taken of the scene and the victim. I don't think I'll buy a newspaper next week." Josiah Gregory rattled the pages of the New York Herald of November 10, 1888. The shocking story of the mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly was graphic and unsettling.

"Have you ever been to London, Josiah?" Geoffrey Hunter set down the New York Times, which was running the same story, but in far less detail; its readership preferred to be informed and only inadvertently titillated. The lead story in the column cabled by their London correspondent was the partisan wrangling of the Parnell Commission. Politics as usual first, then the Ripper.

"I haven't, sir. Mr. Conkling went, of course. Twice. Once in 1875, then again two years later. He was a great one for seeing everything there was to be seen, but I doubt he ventured into Whitechapel."

"You still miss him, don't you, Josiah?"

"Every day. I always will. You can't spend that much of your life with someone and not regret his absence. I was the senator's personal secretary from his first swearing in at the House of Representatives in Washington until he died. Almost twenty-nine years."

"You could retire, if that would suit you."

"And do what with myself, Mr. Hunter? I'd rather stay on here with you. I'm used to working, and I'm used to this office."

"What else does the Herald say about Mary Jane Kelly?"

"So much that I'd be careful not to leave the paper lying around where Miss Prudence might pick it up. The Kelly woman was a lady of the evening like all the others the Ripper's killed, but this time he did more damage to the corpse. The doctor on the scene is quoted as saying it was worse than anything he's experienced in dissecting rooms. The Ripper cut the body open and took out all of the organs. He sliced her face so badly it didn't look like a face anymore and nearly severed her head when he slit the throat. Then he hacked off all of her private parts. That's the short version, Mr. Hunter, and about all I care to read." Josiah folded the newspaper four times into a neat rectangle that he handed to his employer. "As I say, it's nothing Miss Prudence should see."

"I've already read the story, Josiah." The young woman standing in the doorway to Geoffrey Hunter's office was tall and slender, dressed in black, but without the long, heavy veils of full mourning. It had been more than ten months since her father's death, nearly eight since her fiancé had been murdered in the worst blizzard the northeastern seaboard had ever known. "You shouldn't leave the outer office unattended if you don't want intruders coming in unchallenged." Prudence MacKenzie smiled to take the sting out of her words, and was immediately transformed from a pretty girl into the kind of delicate beauty men instinctively want to possess and protect.

"Let me take that," Hunter said, standing to reach for a rectangular package secured in brown paper and tied with butcher's twine. "What is this, Prudence?"

"It's the Hunter and MacKenzie stationery," she said. "I decided I couldn't wait for delivery. I went by the printer's on my way here." Using the scissors Josiah handed her, Prudence cut through the string and then the sturdy wrapping. "What do you think?"

The letter paper was a heavy, off-white bond, the firm's name engraved across the top of each sheet in a thick calligraphic script. Hunter and MacKenzie, Investigative Law.

Josiah Gregory ran his fingers lightly over the lettering. "Mr. Conkling would have liked this," he said. "It's what he hoped for when he made out his will that last time."

Like Prudence's fiancé, Roscoe Conkling had been among the 200 New York City casualties of the Great White Blizzard, though it had taken almost a month before the damage done to his body during a long walk up Broadway at the height of the storm finally killed him. When he knew without a doubt that he would not survive, the former senator from New York deeded his office and his law practice to Geoffrey Hunter and wrote a letter in which he urged him to follow a profession that would give meaning to his life. Josiah Gregory, now a man of independent means through his longtime employer's generosity, had been an unexpected and invaluable bonus.

"I'll put this away." Josiah gathered up the new stationery, the wrapping paper, the twine, and the scissors. Moving quickly and quietly, with a deft neatness that defined his every movement and gesture, he retreated to his desk in the outer office. He'd give Miss Prudence and Mr. Hunter a few minutes to themselves before he brought in the coffee tray. November was always cold and damp; nothing made a New York winter bearable like strong, sweet coffee with a good dollop of heavy cream.

"I did read the article about the Ripper's latest atrocity." Prudence unfolded the newspaper Josiah had placed on Geoffrey's desk, settling herself in one of the client chairs to look at the headline. "I cannot imagine what kind of monster would do something like this, not once, but seven separate times. They're calling him a lunatic and a homicidal maniac. For once I don't think the press is exaggerating. He has to be insane, Geoffrey. It's the only explanation that makes any sense. Thank God it's not happening here."

"We've had our share of killers. No country or society is immune from violence. Think about what we did to one another not very long ago. The war's been over for twenty-three years, but for some people it's as though it were still being fought."

Matthew Brady's photographs of Union and Confederate dead on shell pocked battlefields had horrified and saddened a nation torn in two by irreconcilable beliefs and a warrior culture that enshrined blood sacrifice. Death had ridden the land for four long years, and when it was finally over, greed galloped in like a fifth horsemen of the Apocalypse.

There were more enormously wealthy men in America now than ever before, but there were also legions of hopelessly poor and homeless men, women, and children. Armies of exploited workers whose wages barely staved off starvation. Violence was commonplace in big city slums, but few of New York City's killings could match what Jack the Ripper was doing in the far away London cesspit of Whitechapel.

"How could he do what they say he's done? Especially this latest killing, this Mary Jane Kelly. The reporter writes that he carved her up as casually as a butcher does the carcass of a sheep hanging from a hook in a slaughterhouse. I don't think I'll ever be able to understand the man who did that."

"Would you be able to defend him, Prudence?"

"Women haven't been admitted to the bar in New York, Geoffrey. It's only been a few months since New York University finally allowed three women to enroll in their law courses. Whether they'll graduate with anything equivalent to a law degree is another matter entirely."

"You didn't answer my question."

"I'm not sure I can. My father taught me everything he knew about the law. Even though the lessons took place at home, I learned as much if not more than any intern in any law firm in the city. The Judge made sure of that. But since the bar is closed to women in this state, your question is moot."

"There was a killer in Austin, Texas, three years ago. He murdered eight people, seven of them women, mostly in service. Chopped them to death with an axe."

"Did someone defend him?"

"I don't think the murders have ever been solved."

"Like Jack the Ripper."

"One theory is that when a murderer leaves the area where he committed his crimes, he doesn't stop killing; he starts again in a different place. The Ripper is still somewhere in London; there's no telling how many more women he'll kill before something or someone forces him to leave."

"For an ex-Pinkerton, you don't sound very optimistic that the Austin killer or the Ripper will ever be caught."

"I'm not. You can trace a crime passionel to a spurned lover, and a murder committed in the course of a burglary to the man who's foolish enough to pawn what he's stolen. You can even link a poisoner to the victim. But if someone kills for the sheer pleasure of killing, and there's no personal link to his prey, then he'll only be caught by accident, by some small, fortuitous mistake he doesn't realize he's made."

"At least we don't have a Ripper in New York City." Prudence refolded the newspaper, placed it headline down on her partner's desk.

"Not yet. It's only a matter of time before someone decides that London shouldn't have all the glory."

"Surely not."

"Sooner or later we'll have an American Ripper, Prudence. For all we know he's already at work; the newspapers just haven't discovered him yet."

* * *

"Can you manage, girl?" Brian Kenny handed his daughter a heavy wicker basket containing the freshly butchered bodies of four of his wife's finest stewing hens. Wrapped in saltwater soaked toweling, they'd keep nicely until she could hand them over to the MacKenzie cook in the house on Fifth Avenue. "Mind you keep the lid on tight, now. Mrs. Hearne is that careful about what she puts in her soup pot."

Nora Kenny drew her small, slender self up to her full height of just over five feet. She'd bundled her black hair into a fisherman's knit cap for the cold, windy ride from Staten Island to Manhattan, but there was nothing she could do to keep the red from her cheeks. Chapped skin and lips were the price you paid in November for having a fair Irish complexion. "I'll be fine, Da. I've carried baskets heavier than this one many a time."

"Don't forget it's Sunday tomorrow. You don't want to miss Mass."

"I'll go to Saint Anselm's with Colleen." Nora had become good friends with Miss Prudence's maid, sharing a room with her whenever she worked at the Fifth Avenue house.

"One of your brothers will be here to meet the ferry next Saturday. Mind you're on time to catch it. Your ma will worry me to death if you don't."

She could feel a blush deepening the scarlet of her already cold reddened cheeks. It was always like that when she had something to hide.

"Go on then. The ferry's about to pull out."

A surge of passengers crowded across the dock toward the new paddle wheeler named the Robert Garrett. Nora slung the handle of the wicker basket over one arm, picked up her carpetbag with her free hand, and smiled up at her da. She was his only girl in a family of ten children, six of them still living, thank God. He worried about her more than he did any of the five lads. He'd been reluctant to let her go by herself to help get Miss Prudence's Fifth Avenue house ready for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but she'd reminded him of how welcome the extra wages would be and he'd given in. Brian had a terrible soft spot for his Nora.

As soon as the Robert Garrett pulled away from Staten Island into the choppy waters of the Hudson River, Nora found herself a comfortable seat in the portside saloon, the basket containing the plucked fowl sitting in an empty seat beside her, carpetbag at her feet. From this side of the ferry she could look out the windows that ran all along its side and see the enormous Statue of Liberty that had gone up on Bedloe's Island two years before. The weather on the day of the dedication had been bad enough to force cancellation of the planned fireworks. Nora remembered how disappointed they'd all been, crowded onto the family's two fishing boats to catch a glimpse of President Grover Cleveland, then forced to return to Staten Island in thick fog and heavy rain without having spied a single dignitary. The mist swirling up from the river today reminded her of that late October day in 1886. She and Tim Fahey had just begun walking out.

The ferry wasn't as crowded today as she'd thought it might be. Most of the seats were taken, but there were none of the weekday crowds pressed against the rails. Nora let her thoughts fly ahead to the mansion on Fifth Avenue where she'd be spending the coming week. She and her mother had both worked for the MacKenzie family since the Judge first built the Staten Island summer house named Windscape where he hoped his wife would recover from the tuberculosis. She didn't, of course. No one ever did, though sometimes the invalid coughed out bits of his lungs for years until the final hemorrhage.

Nora came to Windscape as a three-year-old, tied by a long rope looped around her waist and fastened to one of the thick wooden legs of the kitchen table so she wouldn't wander and get into mischief. Agnes Kenny kept a watchful eye on her daughter as she peeled potatoes, polished silverware, or baked the Irish soda bread that Sarah McKenzie loved to nibble with her afternoon cup of tea. The child was four when she was first let loose to play with Miss Prudence, the two of them a lively, mischievous pair whose antics brought a smile and occasionally a laugh to Miss Sarah's lips. Then a cough. Laughter always exacted a price. Nora remembered the sound of that coughing, how it echoed through the rooms, getting worse and worse until Miss Prudence's mother stopped coughing and the house became empty and silent.

Once they'd grown out of childhood, which happened early in their young lives, Miss Prudence and Nora seldom met, though Nora continued to accompany her mother whenever Agnes went to Windscape to cook or to clean. The Judge never spoke of selling the house, but he was seldom there. When the summer air in the city was brutally hot and hard to breathe, Judge MacKenzie brought his daughter across the river to the white painted house on the hill, but the young miss was never alone. There was always a nurse or governess or tutor beside her; she'd grown beyond the free, open play of the early years. She was being groomed to take her mother's place in a society from which Nora would forever be excluded.

That was the way of the world, her mother told her, reading the sadness in her daughter's expressive blue eyes. Miss Prudence didn't mean anything by it. She'd just moved deeper into the world she'd been born to, leaving her childhood playmate behind. Where she belonged. It was all about knowing your place and keeping to it. That was why her parents approved of Tim Fahey, why they'd pushed her in his direction and encouraged the engagement even when Nora herself was sure it was no longer what she wanted. Her ma said there wasn't a finer young man on Staten Island than Tim, and that Nora and Tim fit together as well as they did because they were so much alike. They lived in the same world.

She smiled at her da's caution to remember to go to Mass tomorrow. One of the reasons she was taking this early ferry was so she could stop by Saint Anselm's for Saturday confession on her way to Miss Prudence's house. She'd already confessed this particular sin to Father Devlin on the island more times than she cared to think about. She was sure he hadn't recognized her yet through the screen, but eventually he would and then there'd be hell to pay. Priests weren't allowed to reveal what they were told in confession, but she couldn't afford to take any chances.

She could walk in off the street to Saint Anselm's and be just another blue eyed, black haired Irish girl. Lost in the crowd. She'd been to Mass there many times with Colleen, but she didn't know any of the priests personally and they didn't know her. She'd whisper her sin through the grille, bow her head for absolution, gabble her penance at the altar rail, and be on her way. Ten or fifteen minutes at most. The hens wouldn't mind.

The other stop she had to make was more important. She decided to go there first, just in case it took longer than she had planned for. If she didn't make it to Saint Anselm's before confessions ended for the day she'd have to lie to her mother about receiving Communion on Sunday because you couldn't go to the altar with a mortal sin on your soul.

Then it would be back to Father Devlin again when she got home because she knew she wasn't going to stop. She was caught already, so what could it matter?

Unless something happened in the meantime. Unless she was wrong.

She'd told so many lies by now that a few more wouldn't trouble her conscience at all.


Weekly confessions at Saint Anselm's started at midafternoon during the winter months. The November sun usually set by five o'clock and even with snow on the ground to reflect the light from streetlamps, it was dark as well as cold. People wanted to get home.

This Saturday only one of the three priests assigned to the parish was on duty. Father Gerard Mahoney, Saint Anselm's sixty-year-old pastor, was confined to his bed with a mustard plaster on his chest. Father Kearns, the assistant pastor, had been called to the bedside of a dying child.

"I'll manage," Father Mark Brennan assured both his colleagues.


Excerpted from "Lies That Comfort And Betray"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Rosemary Simpson.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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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Lies That Comfort and Betray 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
Lies that Comfort and Betray is a snapshot of New York City and environs in 1888. Known as the Gilded Age, it was anything but for women and immigrants, with women delegated to the kitchen and nursery, and the Irish and dogs not allowed in 'the better' stores and bars. Prudence MacKenzie, who has studied the law and was her father's assistant before his death (women were not admitted to the bar in New York at that time), has had some sorrowful troubles behind her, but she rallies as best she can, using some of her recent inheritance to team up with Geoffrey Hunter, a former Pinkerton investigator, as a private firm of investigators. The day she picks up their new elegant business stationery, the New York Times is full of the details of the 7th Ripper murder in London. Before the week is out Nora Kenny is discovered in a Brooklyn park, eviscerated and cocooned in burlap. Nora is a Staten Island resident, a maid on the way to the city to assist the staff of her bosses' 5th Avenue home to prepare the house for the upcoming winter season. The New York Metropolitan Police move quickly to keep the case out of the speculative news, arresting Nora's intended and sealing him in the tombs. But only a week later another young lady, Ellen Tierney, this time a maid for the Nolan family living just blocks away from Nora Kenny's destination, is found in the courtyard of the Nolan home, eviscerated and bound in burlap as well. Again a quick arrest is made and Ellen's young man, an Irish cop is intombed for what the police is calling this copycat murder. The second murder was a bit shaky as far as acceptance of the police line by the press and the citizens of NYC. But when Sally Lynn Fannon is murdered in the same way, the press and citizenry demand a full and careful investigation of all of the murders and the release of the men falsely jailed. And the only way they will receive that truth of these atrocities is through the efforts of Hunter and MacKenzie, Investigative Law. The background on this novel is excellent, in time and place. The story is tight, the characters explored thoroughly, and though there are many, these characters steal a bit of your heart. I received a free electronic copy of this excellent historical novel from Netgalley, Rosemary Simpson, and Kensington in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
Lies that Comfort and Betray by Rosemary Simpson is the second book in A Gilded Age Mystery series. It is November of 1888 and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London with his savage butchery. Prudence MacKenzie is a partner in the private inquiry firm of Hunter and MacKenzie with Geoffrey Hunter in New York. Prudence is distressed when her childhood friend, Nora Kenny is ruthlessly murdered and left dead in Colonial Park. The manner in which Nora was killed mimics the Ripper’s. She had been expected at the MacKenzie home on Fifth Avenue to help prepare for the holidays. Where did she go after getting off the ferry from Staten Island? Then Nora’s fiancé is arrested for the crime and the police make him disappear. Prudence, Geoffrey and their well-connected assistant, Josiah Gregory start investigating by looking into Nora’s movements the day she died. They soon discover that Nora had secrets she was keeping from her family and friends. Then Ellen Tierney turns up dead in the same manner as Nora. Soon another woman is dead. There is a murderer loose in New York and the police just want to sweep the deaths under the rug. What connects the victims? Prudence and her associates intend to find out and put the killer behind bars. I thought that Lies that Comfort and Betray would be a historical cozy mystery. I quickly found out that Lies that Comfort and Betray is a dark and graphic novel. Readers are given detailed descriptions of the mutilation done to the bodies as well as graphic sex scenes (one person has a strange religious fetish described in detail). There is also foul language in the story. At the beginning, my attention was captured. After a while, though, my mind started to wander (I was bored). I thought the author was wordy and overly detailed (do we need to know what the church smells like for example). We are given the minutest of details. This led to a slow pace that lasted throughout the whole book. We are also given details on what every character is thinking and feeling (including the dog). I liked Prudence MacKenzie. I thought she was well-crafted and developed. She is a strong, intelligent female doing an unusual occupation (studied law with her father). She is also struggling to overcome her addiction to laudanum. It is a shame that women were not admitted to the New York State Bar at that time. I also liked the character of Josiah Gregory. The mystery is one, for the most part, that plays out (which I find frustrating). The killer is not introduced until the halfway mark and we are given one miniscule clue. Otherwise, we are not given the details needed until right before the reveal (which is drawn out). The ending does wrap up all the storylines. I did appreciate the mention of Jo’s Boys in the story (Prudence was reading it). While Lies that Comfort and Betray is the second book in A Gilded Age Mystery series, it can be read alone. The author includes a summary of what occurred in the first book as well as background on the main characters. With a different writing style this could have been an interesting novel (had potential).
chefdt More than 1 year ago
A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell Mystery series. I enjoy well written historical mysteries and the Veronica Speedwell series is one of my favorite series. They provide the reader with well-plotted and wonderfully told stories. Additionally, what I really love about this series are the characters Veronica Speedwell and Stoker. Both characters seem to love to deride each other and I quite often find myself chuckling at the banter between the two. But all in all, they truly have high respect for each other, I feel. Stoker has not shared a lot of his past, but with this book, we learn more of his past that has caused him to be the person he is today. Sir Hugo, head of Special Branch at Scotland Yard, has asked for a meeting with Veronica and Stoker as a suspicious event at an archaeological dig in Egypt has come to the attention of Sir Hugo and it will have a direct impact of Stoker and he hopes to avoid any bad publicity for Stoker. It has been learned that a tiara reportedly belonging to a princess has been reportedly stolen by the photographer, John de Morgan, from Sir Leicester dig. In addition, it is reported that dig has had a curse put on it. It has been reported that the God of the Underworld, Anubis, has been seen at the dig. It’s thought that de Morgan and have headed for England, but the day after arriving in England Caroline, de Morgan’s wife, reports her husband missing. Stoker had been married to Caroline and they had gone through a messy divorce and de Morgan had been his best friend, at the time. Sir Hugo was hoping that Veronica and Stoker would be able to find de Morgan and the tiara before the press would catch wind of Stoker’s connection and smear his name. But that was not to be as, J. J. Butterworth, a reporter with The Daily Harbinger, caught wind of this development and was taunting Stoker daily. Another excellently told and very interesting look at Victorian England. The book left me guessing until the end. I will be definitely be watching for the next exciting adventure with Veronica and Stoker.