First-rate storytelling, a fine choice for historical-mystery fans
|A female spymaster will face mortal danger to protect her husband and her queen. . .|
London, 1582: Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey, a talented and well-educated woman of independent means, is recruited by Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, to be lady-in-waiting to Lady Mary, a cousin of the queen. With her talent in languages and knowledge of ciphers and codes, she will be integral to the spymaster as an intelligence gatherer, being able to get close to Lady Mary just at the time when she is being courted by Russia’s Ivan the Terrible.
However, there are some nobles at court who will do anything they can to thwart such an alliance; and Rosamond soon realises the extent of the danger, when a prominent official is murdered and then an attempt is made on both her and Lady Mary’s lives. In her quest to protect her ward – and her estranged husband – Rosamond must put herself in mortal peril.
Fans of Emerson’s historical mysteries will be intrigued by the debut of grown-up Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey as “intelligence gatherer” in this first in a new Tudor series. Negotiations for an English princess to marry Russia’s Ivan the Terrible ensnare Rosamond and several other characters from the author’s Face Down series. High-spirited, educated, and independent, Rosamond is apparently ill suited to the position of gentlewoman to Lady Mary Hastings, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, a role Rosamond reluctantly accepts in order to protect her estranged husband, who has accompanied an English trading company to Russia. Planted in Lady Mary’s household to report conversations in Russian, Rosamond struggles first with boredom, then with growing concern as a death and subsequent attacks on members of the household lure her to investigate who and why someone would want to commit murder. Emerson draws on her solid knowledge of the period to evoke vividly daily life in late 16th-century England. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Mar.)
First-rate storytelling, a fine choice for historical-mystery fans
This new series by Emerson is a spin-off of her "Face Down" Elizabethan mysteries featuring Susanna, Lady Appleton. Rosamond Jaffrey was raised by Lady Appleton, even though she was the illegitimate daughter of Lady Appleton's late husband. In order to avoid an arranged marriage, Rosamond married a childhood friend, Rob Jaffrey, who lived on the Appleton estate. Now she has control of her own fortune and is enjoying life on her own terms when she is asked by a family friend to pose as a lady-in-waiting for Lady Mary Hastings, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, in order to gather information for Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen's spymaster. When Rosamond's contact is murdered and Lady Mary is injured, Rosamond uses all her skills to unmask the person behind the plot. At the same time, Rob is in Russia on business but has been arrested. VERDICT This novel is as much a spy thriller as a historical mystery. The author's detailed knowledge of the time period is evident as she interweaves historical figures with her fictional characters. An exciting final twist ties the two story lines together. Rosamond is a feisty, fiercely independent, and very likable protagonist. Recommended for fans of Emerson's previous series as well as for readers of Fiona Buckley, Karen Harper, and Amanda Carmack.—Jean King, West Hempstead P.L., NY
A lady of strong character is recruited as a spy in 1582 England. Rosamond Jaffrey is the bastard daughter of Queen Elizabeth's former agent Sir Robert Appleton, whose wife is no stranger to mysterious deaths (Face Down Beside St. Anne's Well, 2006, etc.). Spurning her birth mother's matchmaking, Rosamond has married and is currently estranged from Rob Jaffrey , who she believes is studying at Cambridge. When she married, Rosamond got control of her fortune and cut herself off from her family. But Master Nicholas Baldwin, a man she thinks of as an uncle, has come to London to recruit her as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen's secretary. Baldwin taught Rosamond Russian. She also knows French and has acquired a working knowledge of Polish from her maid. So Baldwin feels she's the right person to take on the delicate job of watching Lady Mary Hastings, cousin to the queen. The Russians have sent an emissary from Czar Ivan IV to enter into negotiations for his marriage to Lady Mary. Rosamond is anything but eager to become a waiting gentlewoman to Lady Mary, but when Baldwin tells her that Rob is in Moscow and in danger due to the czar's capricious temper, she agrees. While Lady Mary and her ladies are visiting the queen's wardrobe to pick out a gown, Rosamond's contact there dies by poison. Soon afterward, Lady Mary herself is poisoned but survives. Rosamond suspects the other waiting gentlewomen because they're close to Lady Mary. But which one could possibly want her dead? Despite orders to ignore the murder, Rosamond investigates and puts herself in danger. Emerson's headstrong sleuth, first introduced in her Lady Appleton series, begins a diverting series of her own with lots of twists and turns and Tudor tidbits.
Read an Excerpt
Murder In The Queen's Wardrobe
A Mistress Jaffrey Mystery
By Kathy Lynn Emerson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 Kathy Lynn Emerson
All rights reserved.
The crowd, more than two hundred strong, roared with laughter as the man in motley and his little dog capered across the boards used to construct the makeshift stage in the innyard of the Horse's Head. To fill the interlude between acts, the jester danced and sang and called out rude remarks to the audience.
Two tiers of galleries ran around three sides of the yard. On the lower, seated only inches above the player's head, a woman wearing a visor that concealed most of her face took as much delight in the merriment as any groundling. Such low humor, sprinkled with risqué puns and suggestive antics, was exceeding improper entertainment for a young gentlewoman. It was for precisely this reason that Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey found it so amusing.
Despite the ban on performances within London's walls, Rosamond had seen a half dozen plays in recent months. She had not yet visited the Curtain or the Theatre. To reach them she would have had to travel some distance north of the city, beyond Bishopsgate and past the muster ground and archery butts in Finsbury Fields and into Shoreditch. But she had been to the purpose-built playhouse in Newington Butts, a mile or so to the south, and this was the third play she had seen performed at the Horse's Head on St Margaret's Hill in Southwark.
The inn was small and hospitable and located conveniently close to the house Rosamond had purchased when she came into her inheritance. Despite the proximity, she was certain the innkeeper had no idea who she was. She did not rely upon the visor alone to conceal her true age and appearance, and she was vigilant both when she walked to the inn and going home again. Only once had anyone tried to follow her. It had been child's play to lose the fellow.
If she'd had a choice, she'd have taken the additional precaution of attending plays alone. Maids and grooms might be invisible to their masters, but other servants had no difficulty remembering what they looked like. Rosamond's maid had a distinctly foreign appearance, making her easier to recognize than most.
Women in the audience, especially seated in the galleries, were not an unusual sight when players plied their trade. Some, like Rosamond, had servants near at hand. Others sat next to a husband or some other respectable male relative. These were merchants' wives and daughters. Rosamond felt certain she was the only gentlewoman present.
At the other extreme were the whores. Any female who attended without an escort, especially if she dressed to catch the eye, was understood to be one of the so-called 'Winchester geese', women who earned their living in the Bankside brothels. On the surface, they did not look much different from other women Rosamond knew. It was their bold behavior and rich apparel – in clear violation of the sumptuary laws – that gave them away.
If she did not wish to be mistaken for one of them, Rosamond was obliged to suffer the company of both a maid and a groom. The necessity galled her, and made it more difficult to conceal her identity. Even the most loyal retainers were inclined to boast about their employers, and not all servants were devoted to their masters and mistresses. At an early age, living in a variety of households, Rosamond herself had learned how to worm secrets out of the stable boys, cooks, and laundresses. She'd also developed a facility for making the upper servants forget she was in the room, a ploy that allowed her to overhear what they talked about among themselves. When she'd set up her own household, she'd chosen her staff with great care.
Charles, her groom, was conveniently mute. He was also blessed with an unremarkable appearance, big enough to deter unwelcome interest in his mistress but not so muscular that he stood out in a crowd. He was a trifle slow-witted, although he understood Rosamond's instructions well enough. He could be trusted to pay their admission fee to the gatherer stationed at the entrance to the inn-yard and seemed to enjoy watching the players' antics almost as much as his employer did.
Rosamond had no doubt at all about her maidservant's loyalty. Melka's devotion belonged, first and foremost, to Rosamond's mother. She'd been sent to spy on Rosamond, as well as to serve her. That said, Rosamond knew that the older woman would die before she'd let any harm come to the girl she'd helped raise. The added advantage was that Melka, although she understood English and could parrot back entire conversations, did not like to give voice to her own thoughts in the language of her adopted country.
The host at the Horse's Head had never heard either Melka or Charles speak and he'd never seen Rosamond's face. Only the weight of her purse was of any interest to him. The lady in the visor could afford the best his inn had to offer. On this late November day in the year of our Lord fifteen hundred and eighty-two, during the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, she had paid extra to sit on a padded bench on the balcony outside one of the inn's best chambers. A small wooden table at her elbow held a bowl of hazelnuts and a jug of raspes, a wine made from raspberries.
A charcoal brazier, well worth the extra penny it had cost, gave off welcome warmth and helped dispell the late afternoon chill. Rosamond edged her leather-booted feet a little nearer to the heat and rearranged her fur-lined cloak to defend against errant breezes. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Melka sidle closer, pick up the bowl, and begin to shell the remaining hazelnuts, thus giving herself an excuse to linger in proximity to the brazier.
A flurry of catcalls drew Rosamond's attention back to the activity in the inn-yard below. The stage, no more than a series of broad planks laid across a dozen or more hogsheads of beer, swayed alarmingly as a player mounted it. For a moment, it appeared that the poor fellow would tumble backward onto the unforgiving cobblestones, but he righted himself in the nick of time. Red-faced, he ignored the laughter and taunts of the crowd and began his monologue.
Rosamond leaned forward, propping her elbows on the railing so that she could rest her chin on her folded arms. The people who had paid a penny apiece to stand and watch the action on the stage were almost as amusing as the play itself. In less than a minute, Rosamond spotted a cutpurse at work. She admired his dexterity as he snipped the silk points attaching a small velvet bag to the belt of an overweight merchant in a dark green gown. To Rosamond's mind, the fat man had no one but himself to blame for being robbed. Anyone with sense kept valuables out of sight.
The coins Rosamond carried with her were secure within a pocket sewn to the inside of her skirt and accessible only through a placket hidden in its folds. She wore both gown and cloak over that garment, making the money almost as difficult for her to reach as it would be for a thief.
Once the boy playing Dame Christian Cunstance appeared, the action on the stage moved apace. There were cheers when Dame Cunstance boxed the ears of her suitor. He'd courted the widow not for herself but because she had a marriage portion of a thousand pounds.
Rosamond cheered and stamped her feet in approval when the widow rallied her three waiting women and a brawl ensued. Every player in Lord Howard's company took part, milling about and whacking one another, landing kicks and blows with such enthusiasm that one of the boards flew up and sent a boy in woman's garments somersaulting into the audience. Rosamond laughed so hard that tears came into her eyes. She had to unhook her visor and reach beneath it with a handkerchief to wipe them away.
When the play was over, it was Rosamond's practice to remain seated and wait until everyone else had left the inn-yard before descending by way of the outer stair and slipping out through the entry passage. To keep darkness at bay as sunset neared, the inn's servants brought out torches to light the cressets beside the stage. These illuminated the entire inn-yard – spectators, stage, stables, and warehouses – but left the galleries in shadow. Like most inns, the Horse's Head was long and narrow, its yards stretching back from the street. There was room for shops between them – more concealment, should she need it – before she stepped out into the open.
This was the time when servants were most useful. Just in case their presence was not sufficient, Rosamond put one gloved hand on the dagger concealed in its purpose-built sheath in the lining of her cloak. She had learned caution at an early age.
Once clear of the inn, she and her escort walked briskly down St Margaret's Hill toward London Bridge, relying upon the sheer number of people still out and about to deter unwanted attention. The broad thoroughfare known as Long Southwark was crowded with the last rush of travelers leaving the city and the press of local folk heading home to sup or to the nearest alehouse for a drink. The Bridge Gate was about to be closed for the night.
In daylight, Rosamond did not hesitate to walk anywhere, even unescorted, but she was not fool enough to go about unprotected after dark. Keeping her hood drawn close about her face to further conceal her features, she hurried past two of the great inns of Southwark, the Tabard and the George, before stopping at a third, the White Hart, where she'd left her henchmen.
She paid them well. The instant she came into sight, two burly fellows chosen for their strength and their ability to keep their mouths shut, rose from a bench beneath a shade tree and fell into step behind Rosamond, Melka, and Charles. No one bothered them as they continued on their way. No one appeared to be following them, either.
Rosamond had to walk nearly as far as the Bridge Gate with its gruesome adornments – the severed heads of traitors, left to rot on iron spikes above the stone gateway – before she reached the street that would lead her home. By the light of lanterns set out by householders, the close-crowded buildings on the bridge rose up, dim and spectral. Beyond them, on the opposite side of the Thames, was London itself. In full daylight, dozens of church spires gleamed against the sky, towering over three- and four-story buildings. At night, lights winked here and there like fireflies, only hinting at the thousands of people living cheek by jowl in the chief city of the realm. Just before Rosamond turned east to plunge rapidly downhill into Bermondsey, she glanced at the far shore, her eyes drawn to the thick, ancient walls of the Tower of London. Even at night, they stood out.
The village of Bermondsey was separate and distinct from the borough of Southwark. Once it had been a popular spot for churchmen and noblemen to build houses. In more recent times, it had fallen out of favor. The fashionable location these days was to the west of the city, along the highway known as the Strand. Many of the unwanted estates on the south side of the Thames had thus become available for purchase by members of the gentry and wealthy merchants. Rosamond had acquired Willow House at a good price, complete with gardens and outbuildings. Strangely, there were no willow trees. The nearest Rosamond had seen grew along the path that ran beside the river.
Dismissing her escort in the courtyard, secure in the knowledge that she was safe in her own home, Rosamond hurried inside. Parts of her disguise had begun to itch, and she was hungry despite having gorged herself on hazelnuts.
'Fetch bread and cheese and bring them to me in my chamber,' she ordered, tossing her cloak, knife and all, to Melka.
By the time Rosamond reached the gallery, she had divested herself of her gloves and the silk visor and had tugged off the coarse black wig that had further concealed her true appearance. Hairpins pinged, landing on the wide wooden planks when she crossed the long, narrow room that led to her bedchamber. She sighed with relief as she scattered the last of them and masses of her own thick, dark brown hair tumbled down her back. It was almost long enough to sit upon and heavy when it was all piled atop her head. Her steps slowed as she gave her scalp a vigorous rubbing.
One hand dropped from head to jaw to pick at a large, hairy mole. She'd been too generous with her glue pot. It refused to come loose. Rosamond stopped three-quarters of the way across the gallery to dig in with her fingernails. The appliance clung stubbornly to the skin beneath. Even after she managed to pry it away, a sticky patch remained behind. Impatient, she scraped at it, giving herself a small scratch on her chin. It stung, but was scarce worth fussing over. Moving forward again, Rosamond reached up under her stomacher to remove the padding she'd used to complete the illusion of of a heavy-set older woman.
Her hand stilled when the tiniest of sounds reached her. She was not alone after all.
In a single motion, Rosamond stopped, stooped, and withdrew the second small, sharp knife she was accustomed to carry, this one sheathed in her right boot. It felt solid and reassuring, fitting her hand for size and weight. She had practiced with it, both stabbing and throwing. Thus armed, she advanced another step. There! A foot shuffled off to her left in one of the window alcoves.CHAPTER 2
Only candles lit the gallery, flickering eerily and giving off the faint smell of beeswax. The light was insufficient to make out the features in the painted faces in the portraits that lined the walls or the details on the shields displayed between them. There was no furniture, since the purpose of the room was to provide a space for exercise in inclement weather, but each window was set deep enough into the thick walls to accommodate a stone bench. Squinting, Rosamond at last discerned the figure of a seated man in an alcove.
'Come out where I can see you,' she ordered, pleased when her voice emerged strong and steady.
Instead of obeying her, he clapped his hands together once, then twice, then faster, as the spectators at the play had done. The applause continued until Rosamond lost her temper, plucked a candle from one of the wall sconces, and strode near enough to the presumptuous fellow to recognize him.
It had been nearly two years since they'd last met. His hair and beard were a bit more grizzled than she remembered, but otherwise he looked the same. In build he was short and stocky, with broad shoulders and intelligent dark brown eyes. His doublet was richly embroidered and he wore a hat in the latest fashion. He was a good deal older than Rosamond, having passed his fiftieth year. Mayhap that was why he did not appear in the least intimidated by the deadly little blade in her hand.
She lowered the knife.
'Most women would have run screaming from the room at their first glimpse of an intruder,' Master Nicholas Baldwin observed. He remained seated, anchored to the window seat by the immense gray and white striped feline across his lap.
'That thought never crossed my mind.'
'You barely thought at all.'
Baldwin idly stroked Watling, named after Watling Street, the old Roman road where Rosamond had found the cat as a kitten. The man's short, thick fingers skimmed over the animal's fur with a gentle touch and then shifted to scratch behind Watling's one whole ear. The other was crimped, damaged in some long-ago battle. For a moment, the only sound in the gallery was the cat's loud, ragged purr.
To herself, Rosamond conceded that she had acted impulsively. But was that not all to the good if taking action staved off unreasoning terror? The point was moot in any case. She had no reason to be afraid of Master Baldwin. A London merchant wealthy enough to own manors in both Northamptonshire and Kent, he had been in and out of her life so often when she was a girl that she'd come to think of him as an honorary uncle. As she had with all her kin, she'd severed her connection to him shortly after she'd come into her inheritance.
Belatedly, she was struck by a terrible thought. 'Is someone—?'
'No one is dead, or even ill.' He continued to pet the cat.
Excerpted from Murder In The Queen's Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Copyright © 2014 Kathy Lynn Emerson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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