Artist Francis Bacon gets tangled up in murder while visiting the English countryside in the final mystery of this Lambda Award–winning series. Francis Bacon awakes in a four-poster bed with a punishing hangover and a naked footman beside him. The setting and company mean he’s in the country, and that spells disaster for an up-and-coming artist whose natural habitat is the nightclubs and back alleys of swinging Soho. But he’s put aside his distaste for the pastoral life for the sake of his favorite cousin, Poppy, a spirited young debutante who’s committed the biggest blunder a deb can make: She’s fallen in love with Freddie Bosworth—and must be rescued at all costs. Bosworth is a cad, an accused blackmailer with a love for Mussolini and dark secrets too terrible to tell. Fortunately, Poppy comes to her senses, breaking the engagement, and Francis thinks their troubles are over. But when the cousins take a walk through the manor grounds the next day, they find a handsome young man in a pin-striped suit lying dead in the grass. Freddie’s throat has been cut, and Francis’s life is on the line. Along his globetrotting adventures—which have taken him everywhere from Tangier to Berlin—Francis has been mixed up with spies, killers, and the misfits of the cities’ underworlds. Now Janice Law, the Edgar Award–nominated author of Afternoons in Paris , continues to imagine the early years of the fascinating Irish-born painter, a notorious bon vivant , in the thrilling last installment of her popular mystery series. Mornings in London is the 6th book in the Francis Bacon Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Janice Law (b. 1941) is an acclaimed author of mystery fiction. The Watergate scandal inspired her to write her first novel, The Big Payoff , which introduced Anna Peters, a street-smart young woman who blackmails her boss, a corrupt oil executive. The novel was a success, winning an Edgar nomination, and Law went on to write eight more in the series. Law has written historical mysteries, standalone suspense, and, most recently, the Francis Bacon Mysteries, which include The Prisoner of the Riviera , winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Gay Mystery Award. She lives and writes in Connecticut.
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Horses' hooves in the dawn — my father's third-rate string heading off for the morning gallops. That was my first thought, before I woke up enough to realize that my old life was mercifully long gone. I was grown up and far from Ireland and my father and all attendant miseries. No, even with my eyes still shut, I knew that I was a coming designer in London, my favorite place, and that any minute, I would hear Nan rattling in our small kitchen. She'd be filling the kettle and starting a rasher of bacon — if we were flush — and a couple of boiled eggs — if we were not.
Breakfast with Nan is almost the best possible start to a morning, and I opened my eyes, expecting my London bedroom with sketches pinned up on the walls and my drawing equipment strewn about, but ...
No! I wasn't in Ireland, but I wasn't in London, either. I was in a big four-poster with a moth-eaten canopy, and the handsome haunch beside me under the blanket belonged not to Maurice, my Aussie lover, but to — oh, yes, now it all came back to me — the agreeable footman who had looked so handsome in his knee breeches. Pity they ever went out of style. I'd given him a wink as he served the soup and met him at the kitchen garden while the rest of the company played charades.
Footmen and charades and horsey guests off for a morning ride meant I was in the country; that was bad. I hate the country. The fresh air tortures my asthma and bores lengthen the days with charades and gardening and sport. I was trapped in a genuine country house with only Jenkins, the agreeable footman, as consolation.
Why was I so far from my native habitat, Soho, Piccadilly, and Hyde Park Corner? Good question, Francis! I fought off the aftereffects of a convivial evening to remember. I was here for my cousin Poppy, who is a favorite even though she was a deb and belongs to a country house set. I'm normally in a different set altogether, but I'm fond of my cousin, who has been promoting my interests lately, pointing out folks who might patronize Avant Design.
She's had me going to parties, infantile but with drinks flowing, where she'll say, "He's filthy rich, Francis, you must meet him," or "I've told her you're an artist and a genius and that she simply must have one of your rugs." Thanks to Poppy, whose talents are currently wasted on costume parties and scavenger hunts, some of her fancy friends have been supporting the arts. And speaking well of me, too, I reckon, because just recently Nan came home with a copy of Connoisseur and said, "Look here, dear boy, you're famous." Avant Design was splashed over two pages that showed my chairs, Bauhaus and Le Corbusier adaptations via a clever East End workshop. "Of course it's uncomfortable," I heard Nan say one day, "you're buying a piece of art." My nan has taken to sales like nobody's business. The magazine also featured my rugs, lovely if I do say so myself, with the tasteful color combinations I learned in Paris applied to avant-garde German geometrics.
All in all, wonderful for business, and a day after the issue hit the stands, Poppy paid me a visit. She swept in, greeted Nan, and without even a knock, opened the studio door. My cousin was dressed to the nines, looking quite ravishing and burbling with enthusiasm. She kissed me not once but twice, scolded me for not having the Connoisseur issue more prominent in the showroom, then grabbed my arm. "Someone you've simply got to meet," she said, adding sotto voce. "I'm quite mad about him, so be extra nice."
I put the caps on my colored inks and set aside a design for some drapes to match a rug already commissioned, finished, and, better yet, paid for. The fortunes of Avant Design were looking up. Out in the showroom, Nan was kitted out in one of her dark lady's companion's dresses and doing a good imitation of an all-knowing gallery attendant. My old nanny has many talents.
She was pointing out the innovative construction of a metal frame chair with a leather seat and back, genuinely new here in London, if clearly inspired by Continental designs. An elegant chap with a wave in his hair and a Savile Row suit was posed with his head tipped to one side, the better to take in the beauties of the piece. I was anticipating a sale with the possibility of a celebratory dinner with Nan and Poppy when he turned around. Oh, oh, trouble. Big trouble.
His name was Freddie. I knew him in a number of senses, and I knew his reputation, too, which was not only bad but dishonorable. A gentleman can withstand bad, but dishonorable is another matter, and both is a real obstacle. I was uncertain how to greet him, but he solved the problem with a blandly supercilious look. Perhaps I really had slipped his mind or perhaps designers were a step down from footmen.
"Freddie!" A trill in Poppy's voice and another deeper note that alarmed me. I did hope she wasn't serious about this one. "You must meet Francis, my oh-so-clever cousin. Descended, he likes to think, from the more famous Bacon, but not more famous for long."
That was Poppy all over. She could set my teeth on edge, but her heart was in the right place.
"Francis, this is Freddie Bosworth, and he's just right for a rug! And maybe a chair!"
Freddie looked less than enthusiastic. Too bad for him. I'd seen Poppy at work before.
"Really, Freddie," she added, "your flat is too boring for words."
We shook hands while Poppy fluttered and Nan adjusted the sample chair just so and gave our visitor an appraising look. In these troubled times, when credit can only be extended with the greatest of care, Nan has a good eye for who has money and, even more important, for who is likely to part with it.
"Unusual," was Freddie's judicious opinion.
"Exactly what you need," said Poppy. "But a rug first. Now, this" — she pointed to a beige carpet with interlocking circles of bronze and maroon — "is exactly the thing for your bedroom, but in blues. You can do it in blues, can't you, Francis?"
"Can do and have done." I fetched my sample book and went on about color families and current trends, all the while keeping an eye on Poppy and Freddie. She's a charmer with curly chestnut hair and greenish eyes, petite and graceful, but, as I remember from childhood, tough and up for just about anything.
She's a good rider, golfer, and tennis player — all the sporty things I'm bad at — and almost totally unspoiled by education. Just the same, we hit it off right from the start, and she was kind to me many times when I was unhappy as a boy. Now I could see that she was smitten, all right. What was the point of breaking hearts her whole deb year only to fall for a slimy item like Freddie Bosworth?
Let me be fair. Freddie was six feet of well-aligned bone and muscle with jet-black hair and blue eyes, a fine jaw and a broad forehead, altogether a tempting item if you could overlook his bullying arrogance. I'd known his ilk during my brief but dismal public school incarceration, and my experience has been that his type doesn't improve with age. But was that Freddie's case? Was the leopard about to change his spots, give up guardsmen in the Hyde Park bushes, and become fiancé, husband, paterfamilias? I didn't think so. I charged him a bit more than usual and didn't start his rug until Nan booked the deposit.
Poppy stopped by a week later to approve the design. She perched on the edge of my drawing table and studied the sketch. "This is perfect. If the colors are true."
I pointed to the bits of wool attached to the display board. "They are always a little different — colored inks are not the same as the dyes for wool. And remember, lighting in the room makes a difference, too. The rug will look different in artificial light and will change even during the day."
"Freddie's bedroom has a big north window," she said, giving me a look to let me know she was well acquainted with Freddie's sleeping arrangements.
"Perfect," I said. "North light is the truest light."
"Go ahead then. I'll work on him for a chair, too. His flat is a good size but quite old-fashioned."
"No appeal in nostalgic charm?"
"My thought is a complete renovation," she said briskly. "Top to bottom and all mod cons."
"You're serious about him, Poppy."
"I'm crazy about him."
I sat down in my drafting chair. "Oh, Poppy!"
She put her chin in the air, preparing to be stubborn, heroic, bullheaded. "What's the matter?"
"He's Lord Byron without the talent. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know."
Poppy turned on her elegant heels and pretended to examine one of my sketches. "You're quoting, Francis. It's a bad, show-offy habit."
"I'm serious, Poppy. Think twice about Freddie. He's no gentleman."
"As if that ever mattered to you. As I recall, you've had some swains who were rather rough around the edges. Freddie's fun and he's interesting; I'm sick of bores who want to marry my money."
"The perils of being a beautiful deb. What does Freddie want?"
"Freddie's after my body, which is certainly refreshing. Plus he has his own money."
"He's delightful, though as for money ..." Blackmail was actually the nicest of the Freddie Bosworth rumors, but I bit my tongue. For all her frivolity, Poppy will defend a friend to her last breath. I'd benefited from that sterling trait more than once.
"He has enemies, you know." She was earnest now. "He's warned me. People who don't approve of his politics."
"Order and Christianity, of course." She spoke brightly, her moment of seriousness fled. "He quite worships Mussolini."
"I'm disappointed in you, Pops. It's much more fashionable to admire Stalin and the Reds."
"Left or Right, they're both mad. I hate politics," she said with the sudden passion that was Poppy all over. Brittle society chat hides her real feelings, which I'm beginning to think may frighten her. "We had the hunger marchers pass our back garden. Who's doing anything for them? I'll tell you who, only Mosley. He's the only one with a plan."
"At the moment, he's running a group of Blackshirts who beat up Jews in the East End." I knew that because some of my suppliers were German Jews fresh out of the Reich. Farsighted men, experienced in the carpet and furniture trades, who were now running small workshops in Hackney.
"Freddie says —" Poppy began, then stopped, perhaps sensing that I had no interest in what Freddie thought. In the future, Francis, keep your ears open and your mouth shut.
She hopped off the table and pulled on her gloves. "Rush the order, won't you, dear? Freddie's birthday's coming up, and I've found the most divine vase imaginable, a perfect blue to match his eyes."
With that, she swanned off, and I heard nothing more from her for several weeks — although I saw an announcement of her engagement in the Times. The rug came in, was delivered, was — hurrah — paid for by a check that proved good. Then I got an invitation, a formal invitation in a formal envelope from people I'd never heard of, to a weekend party in Sussex. This was immediately followed by a note from my cousin, a hasty scribble unlike her usual hand and quite without her bantering tone and promises of rich clients:
Accept the invitation from the Larkins. I'm in a desperate state and need you beside me. Please don't let me down.
What else could I do? Nan resurrected my evening clothes and insisted on a tweed jacket and plus fours for day.
Talk about a costume party!
"Remember you were raised to be a country gentleman," Nan said, and she would brook no dissent. My old nanny judges not, except in matters of dress and manners that reflect badly on my upbringing, which was mostly, and certainly most significantly, conducted by her. I was allowed to draw the line at an ascot. With my country house kit perfect, I set off from Victoria to help my cousin in her hour of need.
What did I find when I arrived? The flowing tears of some ghastly personal catastrophe? No, just a rather grand and very old country seat, complete with tenant farms and all the usual asthma-provoking livestock. I was met at the front door by the butler, heavy and white-haired, with enough gravitas for a cabinet minister. He told me that Miss Penelope was out driving with Mr. Freddie in the pony cart. Cross off one worry: If Pops had horse and whip in hand, Freddie would do well to keep in line.
In the meantime, entertainment was laid on for me. There were gardens to see, still at their pollen peak, and acres of ancestor portraits, with not even a Lely among them. There were shrubberies, too, crowded with rhododendrons, which I might have reconnoitered had I spotted the agreeable footman a bit earlier. There were meandering walks and a pond, a little banqueting house, and, just beyond the stables, roughly two and a half stories' worth of an early Norman ruin. My host, Major Larkin, regretted that this crumbling pile was set so close to the modern buildings; farther on amid the trees, it would have created "a charming prospect." I was thankful it was no farther. I'd already had the full inspection tour, because the lord of this pretty manor, educated at Sandhurst and wounded at Ypres, was in love with his estate. I never have luck with military types.
The major knew the age and provenance of everything, from the crypt in the oldest wing to the trophy spears in the billiards room to the big copper boilers in the kitchen, and he was eager for an audience and tireless as a guide. Having learned from Poppy that I was a designer, Magnus Larkin decided that I must be interested in architecture and furnishings, especially his. While other guests snoozed in their rooms or dozed in the library, I was escorted from top to bottom and assailed along the way by the dust of the centuries.
By dinnertime, only family feeling stood between me and the fast train back to London. I said as much to Poppy, who seemed as sprightly as ever when she finally appeared. Despite the desperation of her note, she had not sought me out when she returned from her drive. No, indeed, I met her in the corridor shortly before the dinner gong. She barely paused on her way to the stair, just touched my arm, and said, "Francis, you've come!"
I was feeling cranky. "For what reason is the question."
A pause, a beat. "You think I've gotten you here on false pretenses," she said. "But you'll see."
Then she tripped down the stair and into the salon, where she took Freddie's arm for the ceremonial procession to the dining room. As a usefully unattached male, I was paired up with the major's cousin, an elderly dame with a cloud of face powder and a roguish eye. She entertained me with accounts of parties past and of earlier generations of Larkins, a family history that made me think Freddie would fit right in.
He was up toward the head of the table, opposite Poppy, who I observed was not as merry as usual. She avoided eye contact with me and kept giving Freddie sharp, observant glances, while he made himself agreeable to Mrs. Larkin, a large woman with a Roman nose and an air of command.
"Of course, Eveline has the money," my dinner companion said, observing my interest. She nodded sagely. "She fancies herself an influence, don't you know."
I didn't. "Influence?"
"Politics." The old dame nodded her head. "The crowd of New Party people. I think only good taste keeps them from the BUF."
"The same. My father was an admiral. I disapprove of men wearing military dress unless they've taken the king's shilling."
I had to agree. I'd seen enough of uniformed men, except perhaps for footmen. I couldn't help giving one of them the eye.
With a wicked giggle, the old lady leaned over to whisper in my ear. "That's Jenkins. Used to be a dozen like him for every table. Before the war, they employed a footman for each guest. Imagine."
I could. I realized that I had been lucky to be seated below the salt and beside one of the more entertaining guests. The middle of the table held two gentlemen with Conservative Party connections who were talking shop, while from the head of the table, the major lectured their bright-eyed wives on church brasses, specifically those in the ancient church that was part of his fief. Doubtless, I'd see that tomorrow.
Excerpted from "Mornings In London"
Copyright © 2017 Janice Law.
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