My Darling Detective

My Darling Detective

by Howard Norman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328916273
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 416,389
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Howard Norman is a three-time winner of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a winner of the Lannan Award for fiction. His novels The Northern Lights and The Bird Artist were nominated for the National Book Award. His books have been translated into twelve languages. He divides his time between East Calais, Vermont, and Washington, DC.

Bronson Pinchot, an Audie Award-winning narrator and Audible's Narrator of the Year for 2010, received his education at Yale University, which filled out what he had already received at his mother's knee in the all-important areas of Shakespeare, Greek art and architecture, and the Italian Renaissance. He restores Greek Revival buildings and appears in television, film, and on stage whenever the pilasters and entablatures overwhelm him.

Read an Excerpt


The auction was held at 5 p.m. in the street-level drawing room of the Lord Nelson Hotel, here in Halifax. Death on a Leipzig Balcony, by Robert Capa, was the first item on the docket. The auctioneer had just said, “. . . taken on April 18, 1945,” when my mother, Nora Ives—married name, Nora Ives Rigolet—walked almost casually up the center aisle and flung an open jar of black ink at the photograph. I heard, “No, it can’t be you!” But it was my own voice, already trying to refute the incident. My mother was tackled to the floor by the auctioneer’s assistant. An octopus of ink sent tentacles down the glass. My mother was lifted roughly to her feet by two security guards and escorted from the room. And here I thought she was safely tucked away in Nova Scotia Rest Hospital, across the harbor in Dartmouth, room 340.

I had been at the hotel to bid on Forest of Fontainbleau, an 1863 landscape by Eugène Cuvelier, the tenth photograph on the docket. Of course I lost out on that. Because immediately I went to the police station on Gottingen Street. There, through the one-way window, I witnessed my mother’s interrogation at the hands of my fiancée, Martha Crauchet. “We get the Chronicle-Herald in the common room, interlocutrix,” my mother said to Martha. I saw Martha jot down a word on her legal pad; I assumed it was ‘interlocutrix.’ “Last week, Tuesday’s edition, maybe it was Wednesday’s, there was a notice of the auction. Right then I put my thinking cap on.” My mother fit on an invisible cap, like screwing in a lightbulb. “I decided it was best to leave during tea. You must understand, interlocutrix, that the hospital staff is always distracted during tea. I filched money from the attendant’s station. A little tin box they keep there. Then I slipped out the food service door. Free as a bird.”

“Then what—you made your way down to the wharf, right?” Martha said.

“I had on my good overcoat,” my mother said. “Not to worry I’d catch a cold.”

“And of course you now had pocket money for the ferry.”

“Once I arrived Halifax-side, I made my way to the Lord Nelson and sat down in the room where the auction was held. Have you ever been to the Lord Nelson, interlocutrix?”

“I have. Yes.”

“A very nice hotel, don’t you think? I sat there just as I pleased. Just like that. It was all quite exciting. I had my little jar of ink in my coat pocket. From Arts and Crafts.”

Transcript, March 19, 1977—Halifax Regional Police

The interrogation ended around 7 p.m. Before a police officer accompanied her on the return ferry to Dartmouth and then to Nova Scotia Rest Hospital, I watched my mother, still in the interrogation room, make a drawing of Halifax Harbor for Martha. She drew it on a napkin. My mother had been given cups of coffee and a scone to tide her over. She signed the drawing, and in addition wrote, “Thank you for the warmest conversation I’ve had in possibly three years. Let’s please stay in touch.”

I lived in the cottage out back of 112 Spring Garden Road, a big Victorian house owned by Mrs. Esther Hamelin, my employer. The other person who lived on the property was a Mrs. Brevittmore (whose position was referred to as the “all-purpose”), who occupied a large, sunny room toward the rear of the house, overlooking the spacious, manicured lawn and garden. Mrs. Hamelin had turned seventy on March first. As she put it, “I was born into money. It was from the fisheries.”

Mrs. Hamelin’s photographic collection was mostly on the walls of the master bedroom, down the hall from the library, and two guest rooms on the third floor had some photographs on their walls. Also, there were fifteen late-nineteenth-century French photographs in the library. In my time working for Mrs. Hamelin, I knew her to have plenty of people in for tea. Plenty of professors of art from far-flung places. Plenty of dinner parties, but no overnight guests. Depends, of course, on what one means by overnight guest. Because one morning at about 4:30 I did notice Mrs. Brevittmore leave Mrs. Hamelin’s bedroom, carrying a tray with teacups and saucers and a teapot on it. I had been an insomniac in the library, studying up on Avignon Pont St. Bénezet, 1861, by Édouard Baldus, which I was to bid on in London a week later. (I lost out on it seconds before the final gavel.) It depicted wooden boats along a riverbank, an unfinished stone bridge, quiet waters. Anyway, I heard a rustle in the hallway, looked up, and saw Mrs. Brevittmore closing Mrs. Hamelin’s bedroom door. When I mentioned this to Martha, she said, “Well, either they’d just had a rendezvous or they didn’t. Either-or, it’s none of your business. Love is difficult enough to find in the world, isn’t it, and judgments don’t have a place here. You’re either happy for someone or you’re not. I’m happy for them. If you aren’t, then I’m not happy with you. Like my mother put it, ‘Some things say a lot, even if you can’t pronounce all the words.’ Then again, my mother read a lot of Victorian novels.”

“Okay, fine, but by ‘rendezvous’ you mean—”

“Use your imagination, Jacob. It’s the one thing left you when someone’s door is closed. I want to meet those two. Please introduce me to them soon. It’s just not right that I haven’t met them yet.”

“Mrs. Hamelin wants to meet you too,” I said. “She told me she’s looking at her calendar for when.”

“She’s been looking at it a long time,” Martha said. “But I refuse to get grumpy about it. I just won’t. Things happen when they’re meant to, mostly. But you have told her we’re serious, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I have,” I said. “I most definitely have.”

My employment had originally been listed in the Chronicle-Herald: “Wanted: Live-in assistant. Must have special interest in travel. Interviews by appointment.” During my interview, Mrs. Hamelin asked how much education I’d had. I told her one year at Dalhousie University. She asked why I had dropped out. I told her I couldn’t afford the tuition. “Oh, I see,” she said, adding, “even though I’ve heard it’s modest for residents of Nova Scotia.” She asked my age. I told her I was twenty-nine. She asked how I’d been supporting myself, and I said, “Receiving and sorting stock at John W. Doull, Bookseller. Also, weekends I worked in the Halifax Free Library. My mother formerly was head librarian there.” She asked if I read a lot. I dissembled by replying with a question, hoping there was just enough irony in my voice to imply that the answer should be obvious. “Well, I am around books seven days a week, aren’t I?” She laughed hesitantly and asked if I’d done particularly well in any subject during my one year at university. I said, “That would have been a course called Introduction to Psychology.” She asked, “Why do you suppose you did well?” I said, “Because as I understood it, it was all about taking notice of people’s behavior and having strong opinions about it.” She said, “Good, good. Taking notice of people’s behavior at auction is very useful. You have to be competitive, especially at the opportune moment. You have to keep your wits about you. Do you think you’re up to that, Jacob?” “Yes,” I said truthfully, “and I also need the work. I’m helping support my mother.” She listed what would be my other responsibilities and then I was hired. “We’ll give it a try, then, you and I,” she said. Five weeks later in Amsterdam, I bid for and brought home Rock-Tombs and Pyramid, 1857, by Francis Frith, for three hundred dollars below what Mrs. Hamelin instructed was to be my ceiling bid. And that was exactly my bonus, three hundred dollars. A small fortune to me at the time, and still would be.

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My Darling Detective 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
panzy11 More than 1 year ago
I've been a big fan of Howard Norman's writing for years, which began when I read one of his earlier novels, The Bird Artist. Since that time, I've read more of his novels and enjoyed them as well. His latest, My Darling Detective, comes close to the pure reading joy I felt after I finished The Bird Artist. Mr. Norman has a distinctive style in which he creates a sense of immediacy and intimacy with his characters, that I feel like I know them, or at least would like to know them. The characters, and the story lines, are quirky which may put off some readers, depending on your reading tastes. While the novel certainly had its share of mystery elements to it, it was as much a poignant story about a young man trying to solve the mystery surrounding his childhood, so he can move forward in his adult life. And the people who help him get there - including his police detective fiancee, former employers, the library where he practically grew up in - all play significant parts in the story. There's plenty of sly humor and affectionate nods and winks to the beloved 'crime noir' eras of the past, to leaven the more serious moments. This book is a gem and I was sorry to see it end.