USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR
“Has everything a mystery lover could ask for: ghostly presences, Italian aristocrats, jewel thieves, failed actors, sitar players, and magic tricks, not to mention dabs of authentic history and academic skullduggery.” – Publishers Weekly
“Pandian’s sprightly prose celebrates the pleasures of Italian painting, food, and landscape. The light touch, swift pace, and verve maintained throughout the novel disguise the deeper thought and scholarship underpinning the story, which like the stage props of a conjurer, make the magic happen.”– Linda Lappin, Author of Signatures in Stone: A Bomarzo Mystery
Can treasure-hunting historian Jaya Jones unmask a killer ghost?
A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters…
Filled with the unexpected twists, vivid historical details, and cross-cultural connections Pandian is known for, Michelangelo’s Ghost is the most fast-paced and spellbinding Jaya Jones novel to date.
When Jaya’s old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy’s Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail. From San Francisco to the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer. Untrustworthy colleagues, disappearing boyfriends, and old enemies—who can Jaya trust when the ghost wails?
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), action adventure, murder mystery series, book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books, international mysteries.
Books in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series:
- FOOL'S GOLD (prequel novella in OTHER PEOPLE'S BAGGAGE)
- ARTIFACT (#1)
- PIRATE VISHNU (#2)
- QUICKSAND (#3)
- MICHELANGELO’S GHOST (#4)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and been nominated for Macavity and Agatha Awards. Find her online at www.gigipandian.com.
Read an Excerpt
What makes something a treasure?
Is it an object's monetary value? Is it rarity? Beauty? Romantic association? Sentimental attachment? Artistic integrity?
Or perhaps a treasure is something lost and then found. A sense of discovery. A buried object hidden from sight. A puzzle that screams to be solved. The thrill of the hunt. The difficulty in locating it. Maybe it's the person to whom it once belonged. Or anything that once belonged to a pirate.
The people who write to me all had different ideas about what a treasure is. There were a lot of them. That's why I was drowning.
I held a six-inch gargoyle statue in my hands. Its left wing was chipped, making me wonder if the injury was deliberate as it was in depictions of Ganesha, the elephant deity with a broken left tusk. I examined the broken wing, then set the gargoyle on my crowded desk. Finding space required tossing three empty coffee cups into the trash and eking out a few inches between a dozen other trinkets people had sent. The plastic leprechaun was weirding me out, so I turned him away from me.
This gargoyle figurine wasn't a treasure. It wasn't even a clue leading to one. The plaster replica was a small gift from a woman who hoped I'd help her find a missing set of family heirlooms. I opened my laptop and began composing an email to gently point out that a private investigator would be much more useful to her than a historian.
"Building a menagerie of misfit good luck charms?" A handsome green-eyed man with dark brown skin grinned at me from my office doorway.
"Fish!" I jumped up and gave my brother Mahilan a hug. Even in my high heels, I had to stand on tiptoe to hug him properly. Mahilan was three years older than me, over a foot taller, and had skin several shades darker than mine. Most strikingly, his light green eyes stood out in contrast to my dark brown ones. We were opposites but at the same time unquestionably related. "I wasn't expecting you for a couple of days."
"I especially like the gargoyle. He's got more personality than the others."
"It's the chipped wing that gives him added character."
Hundreds of people had written to me since I helped find a long-lost treasure from India and return it to its homeland. An eager journalist misquoted me, reporting that I'd accept queries about treasures. The misquote spread across the internet, but my corrected quote didn't catch fire.
I shouldn't admit that I took a greater interest in many of the treasure seekers than in sending them polite thank-you notes. I've always maintained I'm not that kind of historian. You know the type. Those who seek out far-fetched treasures for fame and glory. One of my old professors, Lilith Vine, had fallen into that trap. It had ruined her career.
But I opened the emails and the physical letters. Every one of them. Sometimes it took me a while to get to them, but I did. I put in the work for the same reason I created an inviting office for my students, complete with comfy chairs and chocolate. If people were interested in history and valued my opinion, how could I not act respectfully in return?
"Please don't tell me I've been so immersed in replying to treasure seekers that I've been sitting at this desk for two days straight," I said. "Although it would explain why I'm so hungry."
Mahilan laughed and gave me another hug. "I've missed you, JJ. San Francisco is too far from LA. Can't you find a teaching job down south?"
"I've got a good life here." I mostly believed it. Nobody's life is perfect, right? "I'm finishing this last set of replies before teaching a class later this morning, but I could meet for lunch —"
"I'm not really here."
"Our flight arrived an hour ago. Ava forgot a few things so she wanted to stop by the store before we head to Napa for two days of wine tasting and fine dining. I dropped her off at the mall and thought I'd swing by to see you before picking her up."
"Napa? Are you sure that's a good idea? There's a fire raging near there."
"We checked. It's not near where we're staying. You're still up for lunch in two days when we're back, right? I want to be sure you have a chance to meet Ava."
"How can I refuse that invitation? You never let me meet your girlfriends."
"That's not true."
"It's so true."
I nodded. "To be fair, it's probably because you have a new one every two weeks."
"Hmm. I'm going to remain silent so as not to incriminate myself. Anyway, I can't believe you kept that tabla-playing Ganesha statue after Lane broke your heart. Though the craftsmanship is superb. It's from Kochi?"
I nodded mutely as my gaze leapt to the statue in the corner of my office. I hated lying to my brother. It was one thing to keep him out of the loop when all he'd do was worry, but to actively lie to him was a choice he'd perceive as the ultimate betrayal. When I was a kid, Mahilan had been more of a father to me than our dad. We'd been through a lot together, and we didn't keep secrets from each other.
But at the same time, it wasn't safe for anyone to know Lane Peters and I were in a long-distance relationship. I could be putting my brother in danger if I told him the truth. I never meant to find myself dating a man who'd been an art thief before turning his life around, but we can't help who we fall for. Lane and I had tried to stay apart, but it hadn't stuck. So here I was, lying to the people closest to me.
"Since you're hungry," Mahilan continued, thankfully ignorant of the tension that had crept into my body language, "let me buy you your favorite croissant sandwich. You like it with egg, honey, and peanut butter, right?"
"You're nearly the only person who says it without cringing."
"Years of practice."
"Give me one minute," I said. "And then I'm all yours." I sat down at my laptop to finish a three-quarters-written email to the treasure hunter who'd sent the gargoyle. If I didn't do it then, it wouldn't get done. I was at least three weeks behind already. It wasn't my real job, so it was my last priority. I did a quick scan of the other unread treasure-related messages in my inbox, hoping I'd made at least a dent that morning. Good. I was only two weeks behind now. Then an involuntary gasp escaped my lips.
"What's the matter?" Mahilan looked up from his cell phone.
"A ghost," I whispered. "A ghost from the past."CHAPTER 2
That afternoon, I drove to my old professor's home. Dr. Lilith Vine lived at Sea Ranch, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of San Francisco, not far from the private university where she now taught.
When a person you believe you've wronged gets in touch with you after years of silence, you grab your keys and go.
I slowed and shifted gears in my roadster on the winding coastal road, glancing in the rearview mirror as I did so. I frowned. Was that the same black jeep that had been behind me since I'd left San Francisco on the Golden Gate Bridge? Even if it was, taking the 101 freeway to Highway 1 was the easiest way to get from San Francisco to coastal northern California. Just because an old professor had something important to tell me in person didn't mean someone was following me. I was overly sensitive because a colleague had once followed me across southwest India while trying to scoop my discovery. I pushed the thought from my mind and focused on the winding asphalt and scenic ocean view — and on Lilith Vine's strange invitation.
Lilith hadn't included details in her email. She wasn't any more forthcoming when I called her, saying it was easier to explain in person. I wondered what ill-conceived idea she'd latched onto this time, though it also crossed my mind that the invitation might be more about reconciling than convincing me of the merits of the farfetched research she'd unearthed. All I could do on the drive was wonder. She'd been civil but curt on the phone, simply inviting me to her house, where she promised to show me something I'd find worth my time. That's why I found myself speeding up the coast after teaching my last class of the day.
The northern California coast was both similar to and the opposite of the beaches I remembered from Goa, India. The Goan coast was filled with seemingly endless sand and lush greenery, whereas jagged cliffs and surly fog covered the northern California coastline. With the drought, the hills to the east looked like brittle haystacks that had been haphazardly strewn about. But both settings had inspired my childhood imagination with their views of the sea. My heart beat faster each time I caught a glimpse of the precarious rocky cliffs along the edge of the twisting coastal highway. I was almost disappointed when I arrived at Lilith's house.
I parked the car and sat looking at the ocean for a few minutes before getting out. What was I doing here? I'd made my decision years ago, when I chose a different path.
A crisp wind blew my bob of black hair around my face as I rang the doorbell next to a farmhouse-style oversized front door. A few seconds later, the door eased open. Gray hair flowed down Lilith's back, tapering just above the folded waistband of her purple yoga pants. Her hair was the same as I remembered it, though her body was thinner with frailty rather than good health. She leaned on an intricately carved cane with a Chinese dragon handle.
"I take it you found the house easily," Lilith said. "Since you're early."
I'd left San Francisco when I said I would, but I'd never been good at sticking to speed limits.
"You're much shorter than I remember," she continued as she ushered me inside and closed the door behind me. "Your personality is far bigger than your body."
"Is that a compliment?"
"Do you need one? You seem to be doing quite well without me. Is that why you took your time getting back to me? It's rather urgent, you know."
"No, I don't know," I said, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice. It was a defensive reaction, I knew, because I'd always felt bad about how we left things. "You didn't tell me anything in the email or on the phone."
"In a few minutes, you'll see why it had to be in person."
I took a deep breath and looked around the high-ceilinged living room. Like many professors, Lilith had filled her house with books. Not like the organized bookshelves you see in movies, but tattered paperbacks and pristine hardbound books sharing the same shelf, next to piles of books on the floor that didn't fit onto the crammed bookshelves. The stone mantel above an ornamental fireplace was lined with framed photographs of her as a younger woman in various locations across the world, most of which included a handsome dark-haired man with a charming lopsided smile.
"I was sorry to hear about your husband," I said softly.
"I got your condolence card. I wasn't expecting that. Not after I ignored you for so long. I've followed your career proudly though." Her lips were dry and devoid of color, but warmth radiated from her smile. For the first time since I'd arrived, I felt that she was glad she'd invited me. She motioned for me to take a seat on a wicker couch and poured me a glass of water from a carafe resting on a mango wood side table adorned with carvings of elephants.
"It's good to see you, Lilith."
"If you'd written back to me sooner —"
"I had to change my email address and phone number after amateur treasure hunters across the world got them. I only read emails that come into my old inbox when I have extra time."
"So it was your colleague who pressured you into calling me," Lilith said as she handed me the water. She didn't pour a glass for herself, but lifted a clay coffee mug to her lips. The ice cubes that clinked and the glassy look in her eyes told me she hadn't given up old habits.
"He didn't prod you into calling me?"
"Who are you talking about?"
"What was the fellow's name? Krishnan. That was it. Naveen Krishnan."
I groaned. "Naveen?" After such a relaxing drive, the name of my backstabbing colleague was the last thing I wanted to hear.
"His bio was listed next to yours on the history department's website. Unlike yours, his had a link to his email address and phone number. I called him and told him how important it was for me to reach you. He was quite attentive."
I groaned. "I'm sure he was."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Naveen Krishnan and I don't collaborate well." Whatever important information Lilith was about to tell me, my rival already knew.
I steadied my breathing. I was getting ahead of myself. I didn't even know what Lilith thought so important that she got in touch after all these years.
Lilith barked a laugh. "Don't worry. I haven't told anyone else about what I'm telling you. Don't you know me well enough to know that? I simply told him it was important I reach you." She lifted the mug to her lips and took a long sip. The look of relief on her face confirmed my suspicions that it was stronger than water.
"What exactly is it that you're telling me?"
"I've done it," she said. "I've found something big. Something that will redeem my reputation. I know you all think I've been chasing the ghost of that first discovery in my twenties, but I'm not crazy, Jaya. I'm not. This time, the ghost is real."CHAPTER 3
My expectations shrank to a speck smaller than the tip of my stilettos. I'd heard Lilith's claims before.
Seven years ago, Lilith Vine had been a professor at the university where I was a first-year graduate student. She'd been granted tenure based on a notable discovery in Sri Lanka that she'd made while she was a PhD student. Following a clue in the novel of an early 19 century British soldier who fought in the Kandyan Wars, Lilith discovered an ancient religious text that had been preserved in a small temple.
It was clever research for a young historian studying religious history. She used fiction as a primary source for her historical research, realizing that much of what's recorded as fiction is based in fact. The combination of diligent research and creativity had led her to the connection nobody else had drawn.
That early success had gone to her head. She wanted to capture the fleeting feelings granted by fame and prestige. Instead of focusing on her work, she flitted from one project to the next, publishing fantastical ideas with nothing to back up her assertions. Because a reference in a pulpy novel had led her to a real-life discovery, she gave too much weight to potential facts in fiction. The more she struck out, the more she drank. She'd once been a draw for the university, but soon became a laughingstock. She was giving historians a bad name — and they noticed.
Even though tenure meant she couldn't be fired, she was given the least desirable teaching assignments and was shunned by her colleagues, making her life miserable. Lilith didn't have many options. She'd burned all of her bridges except one. She got an offer from a small university in northern California, and she wanted me to follow her there, offering to be my advisor in her new position.
A big part of me was drawn to Lilith. Her passion for her work was contagious. I had chosen my graduate program in part because of Lilith's interest in early trade routes across South Asia. That's why I said yes — before thinking better of it and reneging.
It was that false hope I'd given her that made me feel guilty. It's one thing to respectfully decline an offer. It's another to give someone hope before ripping it away from them. When other professors came to me and told me I'd be throwing away my career by following her, I listened to them. I picked the responsible, safe path. I chose to believe what everyone else told me: Lilith Vine was a crackpot.
It was the right decision to stay and work with Professor Stefano Gopal, but at the same time I'd wondered if Lilith had been unfairly judged. And I'd wondered what I might miss out on by choosing the safe road.
Looking at Lilith's earnest, drawn face, I asked myself the same questions yet again.
She picked up a leather-bound book. The dimensions were slightly larger than modern letter-size paper, and the cover was faded and dusty. There was no title, so I wondered if it was a ledger or diary. Whatever it was, it was old. The tremor in Lilith's hand as she held it up was barely perceptible. I wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't visibly annoyed her.
"This," she said, waving the book in her hand, "is a sketchbook from 16 century Italy."
"You're studying art history now?" It was a perfect example of why she couldn't be trusted.
She waved off my question. "What do you know about Renaissance Italy?"
"About as much as a college freshman. Which is why I don't pretend to study it."
"Don't be so narrow-minded, Jaya. Art and religion are inexorably linked. I thought you had an imagination. That you were different. That's why I thought we'd make such a great team."
I kept my mouth shut.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Michelangelo's Ghost"
Copyright © 2016 Gigi Pandian.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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