“Charming debut.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Gordon strikes a harmonious chord in this enchanting spellbinder of a mystery.” – Susan M. Boyer, USA Today Bestselling Author of Lowcountry Book Club
“Just when you think you’ve seen everything, here comes Gethsemane Brown, baton in one hand, bourbon in the other. Stranded in an Irish village where she knows no one (but they all know her), she’s got just six weeks to turn a rabblesome orchestra into award-winners and solve a decades-old murder to boot. And only a grumpy ghost to help her. There’s charm to spare in this highly original debut.” – Catriona McPherson, Agatha Award-Winning Author of The Reek of Red Herrings
“Gordon’s debut is delightful: An Irish village full of characters and secrets, whiskey and music–and a ghost! Gethsemane Brown is a fast-thinking, fast-talking dynamic sleuth (with a great wardrobe) who is more than a match for the unraveling murders and cover-ups, aided by her various–handsome–allies and her irascible ghost. Can’t wait to see what she uncovers next!” – Chloe Green, Author of the Dallas O’Connor Mysteries
“A fast-paced drama that kept me engaged in all aspects in the telling of this multi-plot tale that was hard to put down…The windup to the conclusion had me quickly turning the pages as I had to know how this will play out and to the author, I say “bravo” because now I need to read the next book in this captivating series.” – Dru’s Book Musings
With few other options, African-American classical musician Gethsemane Brown accepts a less-than-ideal position turning a group of rowdy schoolboys into an award-winning orchestra. Stranded without luggage or money in the Irish countryside, she figures any job is better than none. The perk? Housesitting a lovely cliffside cottage. The catch? The ghost of the cottage’s murdered owner haunts the place. Falsely accused of killing his wife (and himself), he begs Gethsemane to clear his name so he can rest in peace.
Gethsemane’s reluctant investigation provokes a dormant killer and she soon finds herself in grave danger. As Gethsemane races to prevent a deadly encore, will she uncover the truth or star in her own farewell performance?
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), British mysteries, book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books, paranormal mysteries, Irish cozies, ghost mysteries, music mysteries.
Books in the Gethsemane Brown Mystery Series:
- MURDER IN G MAJOR (#1)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all…
A writer since childhood, Alexia Gordon won her first writing prize in the 6th grade. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. She established her medical career then returned to writing fiction. Raised in the southeast, schooled in the northeast, she relocated to the west where she completed Southern Methodist University's Writer's Path program. She admits Texas brisket is as good as Carolina pulled pork. She practices medicine in El Paso. She enjoys the symphony, art collecting, embroidery, and ghost stories.
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Gethsemane Brown leaned closer to the windshield. She could just make out a thatched cottage through the gray curtain of rain pounding southwestern Ireland's coast. The whitewashed house perched a few hundred yards from an ominous cliff. Farther up the road a lighthouse stood sentry over the rocky landscape. She rested her head against the window's cool glass, trying to ignore the sound of tires skidding on wet gravel, and reconsidered her any-job-is-better-than-no-job philosophy. Right now unemployment sounded appealing.
Next to her the car's driver, Billy McCarthy, kept his eyes on the tortuous road. "I hope you'll like Carraigfaire Cottage, Dr. Brown." Gethsemane flinched and held her breath as a rock wall loomed into view. Billy swore and spun the steering wheel hard. Car under control again, he continued. "Sorry about yer luggage."
One more disaster in a string of disasters. Stolen luggage, stolen money, stolen career. She'd been promised the assistant conductor position with the Cork Philharmonic. A shooin. She didn't even have to interview. She gave up everything for it — her apartment in Dallas, her furniture, her fiancé — and booked a one-way ticket to Ireland. To have it snatched by the music director's mistress ... She bit back an expletive. Now look at her, stranded halfway between the airport and the back of beyond, reduced to racing up a suicide hill toward — what? A deserted cottage in some village she'd never heard of. Why not go back? All the way back to the beginning, before the international concert circuit, before moving from place to place and job to job while climbing the ranks of the orchestra. Why not admit her ambitious, workaholic, jet-setting lifestyle ended up a bust and go back to Virginia where she'd grown up? Start over. And face Mother's disappointment and her eldest sister's ridicule? Gethsemane clutched her violin case to her chest and shuddered. Could be worse. She could be back in Finland where she'd been the only African American in the orchestra and she hadn't spoken the language. At least here they spoke English.
The car swerved. Billy wrestled the vehicle and swore again, not in English.
Gethsemane tightened her grip on her case. "What?"
"Nothin'. 'Twas Irish. Gaeilge. Not fit to translate in mixed company."
So much for speaking the language. To drown out the pounding of her heart she asked, "How long's it been since anyone lived at Carraigfaire?"
"About twenty-five years. Since my aunt and uncle died. Maybe you know of my uncle?"
"Of course I know Eamon McCarthy. I performed his "Autumn Nocturne" at my first recital. I was devastated when he — I mean, um ..."
Billy spared her a glance. "Murdered his wife and then committed suicide? That's the official story." He skidded to a stop in front of the cottage. "Unofficially?" He shrugged.
They dashed through the barrage to the front porch. Gethsemane tugged her rain-sodden dress, its navy skirt now more fit than flare, while Billy hunted on his key ring. Two days' continuous wear and a Second Coming-caliber downpour. How much more could her only outfit take? Even worsted wool had its limits. She silently cursed whoever stole her luggage. Then she cursed herself for having packed her raincoat and umbrella. Who goes to Ireland without keeping raingear handy? She looked wistfully at the car. At least her violin was dry. Billy fumbled a key into the bright blue cottage door. Gethsemane started to grumble then bit her lip. Her new landlord would think her as sullen as the weather. Instead she said, "When I was in New Orleans years ago with the chamber orchestra I heard voodoo priestesses paint their doors bright blue to keep out spirits."
"We don't try to keep our spirits outside in Dunmullach." Billy swung the door open triumphantly. "Wouldn't be hospitable."
Gethsemane stepped over the threshold. Mackintoshes and a newsboy cap hung from a coat rack. Two pairs of Wellingtons nestled underneath a bench.
"I thought you said nobody lived here." Water puddled around her feet.
"No one does." Billy hung his mackintosh next to the others. "This is a tableau."
"I plan to turn Carraigfaire Cottage into a museum. Arrange everything the way it was when Uncle Eamon and Aunt Orla lived here. It'll look like they just stepped out for a moment. Let me get you a towel." He disappeared upstairs.
Gethsemane padded down the hall, trailing wet footprints as she peered into rooms. A Steinway piled with sheet music dominated one to her right. Opposite, a massive roll-top desk shared space with a well-stocked bar cart, a leather sofa, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A lacy afghan draped over the back of the sofa provided the room's only feminine touch. Gethsemane sniffed. A faint odor, woodsy. Billy hadn't worn cologne. Had he? She sniffed again. The smell was gone.
Billy returned with a towel. "I think the time's right to open a museum. Uncle Eamon's garnered a new legion of fans since that woman's book came out."
An American author had recently published an unauthorized biography of Eamon. Trash. Gethsemane had tossed it into the recycle bin after the third chapter. The book reached number eight on the bestseller list the day she quit her job as concertmaster with the Dallas String Ensemble.
Billy offered to start a fire. He talked as he worked. "You'll have the run of the place. The lighthouse, too, if you like. Be careful on the stairs if you go up. A bit dicey."
Gethsemane toweled her hair. Let Mother call her nappy-headed. Her natural style held up better in the rain than relaxed tresses. "I appreciate your letting me stay here. You saved me from sleeping in the train station."
The fire roared to life. "I'm happy to find someone to look after the place. I travel on business. Makes it hard to take proper care of things here."
Gethsemane dried her feet then grimaced as she slipped them back into her still wet shoes. She backed up to the fire, enjoying the burn on her calves. "Ever think of turning this place into a B&B?"
Billy waved the suggestion away. "I'm no innkeeper. I'd have to hire someone. Even with increased music sales, Uncle's royalties barely cover restoration and maintenance, never mind a salary."
"Why not sell?"
"I've had a few offers, but none tempting enough to make me give up on the museum."
Gethsemane felt her skirt. Dry. "How about a tour?"
Billy led her through the rest of the house. Two bedrooms upstairs with a bathroom between. A parlor across the hall. The delicate furniture and gilt accents marked it as the lady of the house's answer to the downstairs man cave.
Billy gestured to the front bedroom. "Use this one." Inside, a bureau topped with men's toiletries and a silver-framed photo of a stunning brown-eyed blonde abutted an armoire. Opposite, a vanity laden with women's toiletries and a silver-framed photo of a handsome dark-haired man with a strong resemblance to Billy stood near a chifferobe. Gethsemane recognized the man as Eamon McCarthy. His eyes seemed greener in the photo than in magazines.
Gethsemane thanked Billy and followed him downstairs to the kitchen. She caught another whiff of the woodsy cologne.
"What're you wearing?"
"Wearing?" Billy asked.
Billy looked puzzled. "I'm not wearin' cologne. I'm allergic." A worried expression replaced the puzzled one. "And I don't smell anything."
"Leather, cedar, pepper, hay." Gethsemane took a deep breath. "Nice."
"I smell rain and peat, smoke from the fire."
"My imagination." Gethsemane chuckled. "Or a ghost."
Billy swallowed. "You're, er, not afraid of ghosts, are you?"
"I can't be afraid of what doesn't exist." Grandma's stories of the farmhouse door unlocking and swinging open at three a.m. without aid of human or animal notwithstanding.
Billy swallowed again. "It's only fair to tell ya that folks — not everybody mind ya — report hearing strange noises up here and seeing things out on the cliffs."
"Optical illusions, misinterpretations of natural phenomena." Gethsemane pressed her finger against the window and traced the outline of the mist-shrouded lighthouse looming atop the cliff's head. Forget Grandpa's account of a gray man materializing from the fog to portend death in the family. "Products of overactive imaginations stimulated by an eerie landscape."
"That's what I like about you Americans. Always ready with a rational explanation."
A recollection from Sunday school poked her in the back, sending a shiver down her spine: King Saul hiring a medium to conjure Samuel's ghost. She pushed it away.
"The pantry's stocked, so's the bar." Billy wrote on a notepad by the phone. "My number's here as well as the grocer's and the guards'. That's the gardaí, the police. I'll also leave Teague Connolly's number. Call him if you need anything while I'm gone."
"A good mate of mine. Orla's baby brother. Half-brother." He finished his notes. "Any questions?"
"How long does it take to walk to St. Brennan's from here? I have a meeting with the headmaster at five."
"It's about a twenty-minute walk. I'll send Father Keating, the school chaplain, up to give you a ride."
Billy retrieved Gethsemane's violin from the car and bid goodbye. The crunch of tires faded away. Time for a shower and nap before her appointment with the headmaster. She needed to be on her A-game if she was going to salvage her disaster of a life.
Upstairs, she studied her reflection in the vanity mirror. Mother was right, her thick hair was nappy. She sighed and examined the items on the vanity top. A sleek perfume bottle labeled Maywinds in gold script held the fragrance of vetiver, powder, roses. She lifted a squat cologne bottle from the bureau, Gaeltacht. A spray released a familiar aroma — leather, cedar, pepper, hay. Odd, Billy hadn't smelled it.
Remembering why she came upstairs, she found a bathroom cupboard with towels and Mrs. Leary's Buttermilk soap. Steaming shower water provided solace from disappointment and relief from the niggling unease of mysterious smells and murder-suicide.
Refreshed by her nap and shower, Gethsemane arrived at St. Brennan's School for Boys a few minutes early for her appointment. Father Tim Keating, parish priest as well as school chaplain, escorted her to the school office, a dim wood-paneled cavern. A few uncomfortable-looking students sat on uncomfortable-looking benches along the near wall. The secretary ushered Gethsemane and the priest to a door affixed with an oversized engraved brass plaque which read, Richard Riordan, Headmaster.
A cultured voice answered the secretary's knock. "Enter."
Inside, a distinguished-looking, impeccably dressed man rose from an ornately carved wooden desk to greet them. "Good evening, Dr. Brown. Father Tim, always a pleasure."
"Likewise, Richard," Father Tim said. "Now, if you'll both excuse me, I'm presiding over the Garden Committee's monthly meeting." He winked. "You know how the ladies get without a chaperone. Best of luck to you, Dr. Brown."
Gethsemane and the headmaster settled into chairs around his desk. Riordan opened a folder and turned pages. "Bachelor of Arts in music from Vassar College, Doctor of Arts from Yale University, a certificate in orchestral conducting from Yale as well. Multiple awards, including the Strasburg Medal and the Fleisher Prize. What an honor to have a musician of your caliber join our faculty, Dr. Brown."
"I can't tell you how much this opportunity means to me, sir." Not without admitting she'd rather play her violin for change on the nearest street corner than slink home defeated.
Riordan outlined Gethsemane's duties. "Four periods of general music education thrice weekly, individual music instruction twice weekly. You play the violin and —?" Gethsemane counted on her fingers. "Piano, viola, cello, guitar, percussion."
"Excellent. Your primary concern will be the honors orchestra, upper school boys selected by audition and recommendation. Unfortunately, the orchestra's been," Riordan crossed the room to a display case, "at sub-peak performance."
Gethsemane twisted in her chair. "Just how far 'sub-peak'?"
Riordan didn't answer.
Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" — her early warning system — sounded in Gethsemane's head. "How much time do I have to get them to peak performance?"
The headmaster rapped his knuckle against the display case. "This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Annual All-County School Orchestra Competition, returning, after twenty-five years, to Dunmullach's Athaneum Theater."
Tchaikovsky played louder. "When's the last time St. Brennan's won the competition?"
"St. Brennan's won" — Tchaikovsky screamed — "the inaugural competition, also at the Athaneum."
Gethsemane peered into the case. On the center shelf a golden piano-shaped trophy claimed pride of place. "When's this year's competition?"
Riordan's expression reminded Gethsemane of a boy hiding a failing report card from his parents.
"End of Michaelmas term," Riordan said. "Six weeks."
"Six weeks?" Gethsemane's eyes widened. "Six weeks? That's ..."
"Not a lot of time, to be sure." Riordan's expression brightened. "But you have the talent, expertise, and dare I say, genius required for the task. With your leadership, hard work, and a firm hand, I'm confident St. Brennan's will triumph."
The headmaster hesitated. "The boys are a bit — spirited. You know boys."
"I have two younger brothers."
"Then I'm sure it's nothing you can't handle. You're doubtless up to the challenge."
That word. Gethsemane hadn't backed down from a challenge since she was ten.
Riordan clasped his hands. Eyes downcast, he said, "It's only fair to tell you some of the faculty expressed — concern — over my decision to hire you."
"They were unfamiliar with your work, your reputation." Riordan met Gethsemane's gaze. "You'll show them."
First a challenge, now a dare. Getting an orchestra in shape to win a competition in only six weeks was impossible, but refuse a dare? Admit she couldn't do it? She could hear her sister snickering. If Holst could do it for St. Paul's ... "Don't worry, sir. St. Brennan's will rise like a phoenix." She fought the urge to cross her fingers behind her back.
"Excellent." Riordan returned to his desk and shuffled papers, dismissing her. "I expect you want to get back to Carraigfaire, settle in."
No time to settle in. It's not like she planned to make Dunmullach a permanent change of address. Six weeks was no time and, if she judged the headmaster's euphemistic assessment of the orchestra correctly, she'd be starting in the abyss.
* * *
Six weeks. Gethsemane banged open the cottage door, weary after the twenty-minute uphill trudge through the ever-present rain. She hung the borrowed mac on its hook on her way to the study where she flopped onto the sofa. Who was she kidding? Veronika Dudarova, herself, couldn't turn slacker school boys into a championship orchestra in six weeks. She should call Riordan, tell him she changed her mind. Suck it up and go back. It wouldn't be so bad. The "disappointed look" from Mother, relentless heckling from her eldest sister, smothering pity from the other ...
Blech. Even if crawling home didn't sound less fun than a gaping head wound, how would she get there? She'd canceled the stolen credit cards. Which were maxed out anyway. She had her passport and a hundred euros. She might get as far as Dublin or Shannon, but then what?
She studied the bottles on the bar cart and lifted a stout one with a bold black and red label. Waddell and Dobb Double-oaked Twelve-year-old Reserve single barrel bourbon, from Kentucky. McCarthy had good taste. She poured liquid amber into a heavy leaded crystal whiskey glass. Maybe she could borrow money. Not from Mother or her sisters — unless she wanted to hear about it until doomsday. Her brothers? They didn't have any more money than she did.
Her old professor. The maestro had helped her before. He'd gotten her into the Strasburg Competition, arranged her audition for the Cleveland Symphony, her first professional gig. He'd be at his villa this time of year, hiding from the modern world. No phone or internet. She'd write him a letter.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder In G Major"
Copyright © 2016 Alexia Gordon.
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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