Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiressdaughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican propertyis no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.
John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victimor is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.
Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the façade of propriety masks danger.
To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, Chase must reveal a clever killer.
On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.
About the Author
S. K. Rizzolo was born in Aspen, Colorado, but raised in Saudi Arabia and Libya where her father was employed in the oil industry. Returning to the United States for high school and college, Suzanne earned an M.A. in English. Currently a high school teacher, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. The Rose in the Wheel, a mystery set in Regency England, was her first novel. http://www.skrizzolo.com/
Read an Excerpt
On a Desert Shore
A Regency Mystery
By S.K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2016 S.K. Rizzolo
All rights reserved.
The baby had cried for hours, a thin wail that grated on the nerves. He wished the crying would stop, but it would not let him rest when all he wanted to do was float untethered to the earth. Eventually, he gave up and came fully awake to who and where he was: Lieutenant John Chase of the Royal Navy in the hospital at Port Royal. New-come buckra, / He get sick, / He tak fever, / He be die; / He be die. When Chase's ship had entered the harbor, the singing and the clapping of the boatwomen selling fruits had seemed meant to give him merry welcome — that is, until he'd caught the words that floated over the water. He be die.
It was one of the ugly realities of the disease that the patient sometimes rallied only to succumb to the dread black vomiting — the coffee grounds, they called it — followed by the appearance of the ghastly yellow complexion, delirium, and death. Thousands and thousands of Chase's countrymen defending the British Empire in the West Indies had been lost to this fate. He'd been lucky. In his illness a host of spirits — nurses and servants — had attended him. He'd heard them chattering or glimpsed them drifting by his door as they crossed the piazza. Now the voices had stopped, and he seemed alone in the world, except for a flapping sound and its gentle breeze. Well, he thought wryly, if the fever declined to release him, he hoped the kindly hands would place his pistol within reach and leave him to put an end to the wretched work himself.
Mostly he thought about the woman called Joanna, even smiling to himself at the similarity in their Christian names. Even at the height of his fever, Chase had sensed her there, directing events. She came to poke and prod, oversee the changing of linens, or force him to swallow one of her foul concoctions. He awaited these visits, desperately, as if only Joanna had the power to stitch his sweating, puking body back to his soul. Once he had awakened to find the doctor, who reeked of brandy, standing over the bed, shaking his head to pronounce a sentence of doom. From what Chase had heard of the conventional treatments for "yellow Jack" — the bleeding and purging and the calomel, which made the saliva run like a river down the victim's face — he was not entirely sorry when the doctor went away again.
As the rank odor of his own body assaulted his nostrils, Chase grimaced, shifting his head on the pillow, and opened his eyes. Pain lanced through his skull so that he had to hold himself very still and wait, teeth gritted. But at least one question was resolved. The breeze was a gift from a boy who sat in a chair by the bed. Ten or twelve years old, he wore an oversized, striped cotton shirt rolled up loosely at the elbows and trousers of some coarse material. He had hung his broad-brimmed straw hat over the chair post and hiked up one bare foot to the wicker seat as he leaned forward, his forearm sweeping in a graceful arc to wield his fan.
Gingerly, Chase took stock. The candlelight playing over the child's curly head told him the hour was late. His fever had abated. The torment of the retching that emptied his guts had ceased, and the ache in his head, though excruciating, had receded. He felt cooler and appallingly thirsty. He tried to ask for a drink, but all that emerged from his throat was a feeble croak. Fortunately, that was enough to bring the boy to his feet. "Drink, suh?"
He nodded. With surprising strength, the boy pushed aside the mosquito net, slipped an arm under Chase's shoulders and held a glass to his lips. Watered Madeira slid over his tongue and down his parched throat. He felt a deep gratitude that brought tears to his eyes, though he wondered what the boy would make of a lieutenant of the Royal Navy crying like the infant who'd been haunting his dreams.
His gaze traveled over the nightstand, the small linen press, and the cane chair across which his dress uniform coat was draped, his black boots standing sentinel on the wooden floor-boards nearby. He checked that his cutlass still leaned against the wall under the jalousies, the slatted blinds that allowed air to circulate in this hot climate. Over them, transparent curtains stirred softly.
With an effort, he summoned the memory of a dinner at the home of a local planter to celebrate the end of the recent rebellion of the free Negroes known as the Maroons. When was this party — two days ago? Three? The guests had watched him with concern as his fingers fumbled at his fork and polite conversation withered on his tongue. All that food he hadn't been able to eat: turtle soup; duck and broiled salmon; roasted plantains; cassava cakes; platters of pineapple, oranges, mango, and pomegranate; a profusion of pastry. After dinner they'd tossed the white cloth in the air to remove the crumbs, not minding when a dish left in place crashed against the wall to shatter amid gusts of laughter. By then Chase had felt far too ill to join in the fun.
They had brought him here to this house near the harbor, where Joanna had guided him to bed, her touch like balm on his burning skin. When he was lying on his back, she'd cupped her hands over his cheeks and kissed his forehead, lingering over him as she tucked the coverings around him. Then she gave commands in her musical voice.
Joanna came in again now. A supple and stately young woman of medium height, she wore a stern aspect and balanced a clay pot between her hands. It was a clever face, lacking neither sensitivity nor kindness but speaking somehow of mystery, of hidden danger. The face interested Chase. It was as if she drew the energy in the room to herself, even the candle flame bending toward her in the slight disturbance of air.
Approaching the bed, she said, "Awake, suh? That be good news."
"What's that?" Gesturing at the pot, Chase got out the words with difficulty.
"Boiled thistle seeds to stop the purgin'. Lemongrass for fever. Something more, best not to know."
"You mean to poison me, Joanna?" A feeble joke. But Chase saw in dismay that the boy had leapt back, terror in every line of his body, his chair toppling to the ground. "Joanna. John Crow," the boy hissed. His eyes flashed a desperate defiance. In an instant, he was out of the room and the door banged behind him. Grimness hardened Joanna's expression. Deliberately, she picked up the chair.
Chase's brain felt too thick to understand. John Crow, he thought. The Jamaican turkey buzzard — harbinger of death. He saw himself riding down a blinding white road, gazing at the summits of mountains, their sides profuse with bamboo and prickly yellow and sweetly aromatic logwood. A guide rode at his side, pointing up at the buzzards with their bald red heads and black feathers. The buzzards circled in the sky, perched at the tops of the cotton trees, or feasted on the putrefying flesh of horses and cows. Chase shook off this memory impatiently. "What was wrong with that boy?" he asked Joanna.
"Nothing, suh. He no trust a woman with medicines, that's all. You take what I gib you now and go back to sleep." She lifted one of Chase's hands from the bedclothes, folded it tightly around the pot, and kept her own grip in place so that it wouldn't spill. Chase began to drink, trying not to choke. The mixture was thick and bitter with an underlying sweetness that cloyed, but he drank it all down obediently.
When he finished, he said, "I've been hearing a baby cry."
"No, suh. No baby here. You dreaming." But recognition had flickered across her face, and her attention on him seemed to sharpen. She was looking deep into his eyes as if trying to see to the bottom of a well.
Stubbornly, Chase persisted. "I heard it. A child wanting its mother."
A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. "You got some good ears on you, suh. Only baby I care for is miles away from here, and she got no reason to cry, far as I know."
"Your baby, Joanna?"
"Don't you worry. Sleep now."
She was already lowering him to the bed, but curiosity nagged him. "Why are you not with her?"
"Why, she goin' to be a fine English lady, suh. Mebbe someday you be dancing with her at a fancy party."
"It would be an honor, Joanna," he said and closed his eyes, too tired for more.
She straightened the covers and lifted her pot. "Go to sleep.
You soon wake and be better."
"You mean if I wake up?" Again, it was a pathetic attempt at a joke.
"Nah, suh. Do what I tell you. You is goin' to live."
Joanna had been right about that. But soon after his illness Chase had left Jamaica. He'd fought at Cape St. Vincent and Aboukir, where he'd been struck by the piece of metal that had ended both his dancing and his naval career. Like the hero of the fleet Horatio Nelson, he'd recuperated in Naples and, as Nelson frolicked with his mistress, Chase had enjoyed a similar relationship with Abigail, daughter of an American merchant. Abigail became his nurse and lover, got pregnant, and refused his offer of marriage. Back in her hometown of Boston, she'd borne Chase a child called Jonathan, having invented a suitably respectable dead husband. Chase had returned to London. A magistrate with a son in the navy had offered him a job working for Bow Street, charged with sticking a plug here and there in the crime that flowed through the city, as inevitable as the tides of the Thames.
But at stray moments, especially when he was tired or the filthiness of human beings weighed him down like a stone, Joanna would rise again in his memory. Chase had left the hospital without a backward look. He'd done nothing to thank a woman to whom he owed a great debt. He hadn't realized — then — that she, or rather the baby he'd heard crying in the night, would come into his life, many years later, in a different world, in England.CHAPTER 2
There had been no marriage for the West Indian nabob's daughter that season, even though everyone knew it was her father's dearest wish to see her settled in life. Men like Hugo Garrod got what they wanted, at least most of the time. They moved their ships across the globe, managed their sugar plantations from thousands of miles away, or penetrated faraway lands, seeking beautiful things to adorn their collections or grow in their gardens. They had survived hurricanes, the yellow fever, and slave revolts. They made their fortunes and returned home to live as English gentlemen. They reveled in their wealth and secured their legacies. What they didn't ordinarily do was employ a Bow Street Runner.
John Chase, the Runner in question, was no reader of the society columns, so he hadn't heard the speculation about Garrod and his family. Chase had done several tours in the West Indies when he was in the Royal Navy, but he'd never met Garrod or had any dealings with the West India Committee, the powerful merchants who influenced Parliament, hoping to fend off any further restrictions on slavery after the British slave trade had been abolished six years ago.
On that July day the summons brought Chase to the West India Docks in the Isle of Dogs. This was a tongue of marsh and pastureland formed where the River Thames looped in its progress toward Gravesend and the English Channel. Here the directors of the West India Company had constructed their modern marvel — a sweep of wet docks and warehouses encircled by a towering wall. A fortress, in fact, complete with a military guard, constables armed with swords and muskets, and a twelve-foot-wide moat. Chase crossed the bridge over the moat and paused to study the carving of a ship atop the stone gatehouse. It was the replica of a vessel that transported the sugar, rum, coffee, and tropical woods to these docks.
"Help you, sir?" inquired the guard. Several other constables, along with a smattering of what Chase took to be customs and excise men, flanked him, all staring at him with a barely veiled belligerence. Apparently visitors to these docks were discouraged, but he had a ticket signed by Garrod. Had Chase been brought to the docks to investigate an outbreak of theft? It seemed likely and would explain the wariness of the guards. He took out his Bow Street insignia, an ebony baton surmounted by a gold crown, and unscrewed the cap. Removing the paper stowed inside, he used the baton to gesture at two nearby roundhouses. "Lockups? Doubt many thieves run their rackets here."
"A few, sir, a few," replied the guard, his expression lightening as he recognized the Bow Street emblem. "They find a way, as I'm sure you know. Excuse me a moment." There was a pause as he patted down a laborer who had emerged from the staff entrance at the side of the central arch, running efficient hands over his numbered uniform smock, checking each of his pockets, and inspecting his shoes. The laborer looked sullen but submitted, before slouching away down the pavement.
Chase handed the guard his ticket. "John Chase, Bow Street. I have an appointment with Mr. Garrod."
"Yes, sir." The constable raised his eyebrows at one of the other guards, who gave a shrug eloquent of ignorance. Obligingly, the second guard went to deliver Chase's message.
A few minutes later he was shaking hands with Garrod and being led under the portico and past a statue erected in memory of one of the merchants responsible for these docks. Hugo Garrod carried a malacca cane, which he didn't seem to need, as he set off in a long, loose-limbed stride. From his perfectly barbered head to his shiny top boots, he looked like what he was — a successful gentleman of commerce. Power defined his high-colored face, which bore the ravages of age and long exposure to the sun — a webbing of lines at the eyes and around the mouth as well as faint discoloration spots on his cheeks and a tawny cast to his skin that had yet to fade despite his years in England. As they strolled together through the teeming scene, men fell back at his approach, touching their caps or murmuring respectful greetings. Garrod waved them away, his blue eyes aflame with a zest for life.
This place was a monument to men of his kind, its scope immense, awe-inspiring, and grand. A mechanism with countless moving parts, machinery that functioned through the synchronized efforts of several thousand human beings crawling over the landscape. The works, Garrod explained, consisted of two wet docks, the import and the export, which were connected to the Thames by basins and a system of locks to control the flow of water. As Chase and Garrod walked down a wide road in the import dock, a row of brick warehouses loomed to the left, their copper roofs glinting in the sun. Next to the warehouses the iron cranes used to hoist the goods looked like monsters stretching their necks to the sky.
A breeze lifted the tails of Garrod's coat, ruffling his white hair, but he didn't seem to notice. "The Jamaica fleet has just arrived. Otherwise, we could have met at my office in Mincing Lane. I'm glad you found your way here. Come, I'll take you inside one of the warehouses."
Chase inhaled the pervasive sweetness of rum overlaid by the stench of tar and bilge water. "No problems en route?" In wartime, it was necessary for merchant ships to sail under convoy, seeking safety in numbers and avoiding enemy vessels — French or American — or, just as bad, the swarm of privateers infesting the seas.
"No, we were fortunate." Smugness warmed the merchant's tone, and Chase wondered just how much money Garrod had made from this one shipment. If he'd grown rich from his sugar plantations, he must be vastly wealthier now that he was a director of these docks, an alderman for the City of London, a former member of Parliament, and the Agent for Jamaica.
When Chase didn't comment, Garrod said, "I am interested to hear more of your profession, sir. Am I correct in thinking it one that requires a sharp wit rather than a young man's strength? A happy circumstance in your case." He pointed at Chase's knee with his cane.
How had Garrod known about his old injury? Chase had left his own walking stick home today, for the summer heat had alleviated much of his usual stiffness. Garrod's letter had asked for him by name, but this was not in itself unusual because the Runners all had individual reputations, their exploits often described in the papers. Still, Chase suspected someone had spoken of him to this man. This suspicion was confirmed when Garrod added carelessly, "At the Battle of the Nile, was it? How did it happen?"
Excerpted from On a Desert Shore by S.K. Rizzolo. Copyright © 2016 S.K. Rizzolo. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Set in Regency England, S.K. Rizzolo’s series features the crime-solving adventures of a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've been trying for many years to figure out why the Regency period appeals to me so much in both historical fiction and mysteries (and real history) but I can't quite put my finger on it. My attraction to the era comes and goes; back in my 20's (the dark ages), I was really into Regency historical fiction, then I fell off, then I went back to those and mysteries, then I fell off again and now I'm back once more. It seems I can't stay away but I do know that part of my liking for it is a deep-seated love of American history and this period was certainly important to the left side of the pond. Anyhoo, there are particular authors that I can always count on to carry me away to the Regency and S.K. Rizzolo is one of them, without fail. I love the history of the Bow Street Runners, the beginnings of London's police, and John Chase really brings the Runners to life. Having to cope with two distinctly different cultures in his latest case brings out the best in him, piquing his natural-born curiosity and his (perhaps) unusual intelligence. When Hugo Garrod engages Penelope Wolfe to interview him for a magazine piece at the estate, she goes against the best advice of her dear friend Edward Buckler because she is in real need of income since her ne'er-do-well husband abandoned her. It's only natural for Chase to accept her help in finding the culprit behind the malicious events surrounding Marina, given their successful collaborations in the past, and Edward finds it impossible to remain uninvolved. A highlight of this series is the attention the author pays to various social issues of the day and in this book she tackles the British feelings regarding slavery and racism, specifically bringing it out in the story of a biracial daughter of a wealthy British merchant and his determination to introduce her to society. That girl, Marina, comes into her own during this very stressful time but what exactly is causing her so much difficulty in the rarified world of British society if not the facts of her birth? I so enjoyed being back in the company of Penelope, John and Edward and it's their personal stories that really draw me in with the crimes they work on being the icing on the cake. The ways they find to get to whatever truths are eluding them are entertaining and sometimes inspiring and, once again, Ms. Rizzolo takes us along for a delightful journey. The last few sentences leave the reader wanting more and I really wish I could twitch my nose and bring that fifth book into being right now ;-)
This is an excellent historical mystery. It is fourth in a series, and although it is the first one I have read, it was not a problem. The relationships between the core set of characters, John Chase, Edward Buckler and Penelope Wolfe seem to hint at some history between them that was probably from the first three books, but I didn't feel lost at any time. Bow Street Runner John Chase is hired to protect Marina, the illegitimate daughter of wealthy sugar baron Hugo Garrod, and to find the culprit behind mysterious tricks being played on Marina that seem to point to her Jamaican heritage and her mother's practice of Obeah. Rizzolo paints a perfect portrait of the social structure of the day - the prejudices against the working class and mixed races, and the struggle of a single woman of the time, whether as a widow or as a woman trying to support herself in the world. The mystery was well-plotted and well-paced. The list of suspects was difficult to narrow down, and the story kept me guessing right up until John Chase solved it. I recommend this book for any fans of historical mysteries. I also liked the friendship you could see between Chase, Buckler, and Penelope, and I will definitely go back and read the first books to see how they all came together.