Reconciliation Day

Reconciliation Day

by Christopher Fowler

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504045636
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 05/02/2017
Series: Bibliomysteries , #30
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 62
Sales rank: 233,501
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Christopher Fowler (b. 1953) is a British thriller writer of more than forty novels and short-story collections. He is best known for his Bryant & May mystery series, which chronicles two Golden Age detectives in modern day London. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Dagger in the Library award. Fowler splits his time between London and Barcelona.

Read an Excerpt

Reconciliation Day


By Christopher Fowler

MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media

Copyright © 2016 Christopher Fowler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4563-6


CHAPTER 1

From the journal of Jonathan Harker, July 2nd, 1893

Each day I expect the count to return. My work cannot be completed if he does not appear. But each day the door remains bolted, and I must return to my work again. I fear now that it will never be complete.

How well I remember the day I arrived. Never had I felt such a dread ache of melancholy as I experienced upon entering this terrible, desolate place.

The castle is less a schloss than a fortress, and dominates the mountain skyline. It is very old, thirteenth century by my reckoning, and a veritable masterpiece of unadorned ugliness. Little has been added across the years to make the interior more bearable for human habitation.

There is now glass in many of the windows and mouldering tapestries adorn the walls, but at night the noise of their flapping reveals the castle's inadequate protection from the elements. The ramparts and walkways appear unchanged from the time of their construction. I wondered if hot oil was once poured from them onto the heads of disgruntled villagers who came to complain about their murderous taxes.

There is one entrance only, and this at the top of a steep flight of steps, faced with a pair of enormous studded doors. Water is drawn up from a central well in the courtyard by a complicated wooden contraption. Gargoyles sprout like toadstools in every exposed corner. The battlements turn back the snow-laden gales that forever sweep the Carpathian mountains, creating a chill oasis within, so that one may cross the bailey without being blasted into the sky.

But it is the character of the count himself that provides the castle with its most singular feature, a pervading sense of loss and loneliness that wouldpenetrate the bravest heart and break it if admitted. The wind moans like a dying child, and even the weak sunlight that passes into the great hall is drained of life and hope by the stained glass through which it is filtered.

I was advised not to become too well-acquainted with my client. Those in London who have dealings with him remark that he is 'too European' for English tastes. They appreciate the nobility of his lineage, his superior manners and cultivation, but they cannot understand his motives, and I fear his lack of sociability will stand him in poor stead in London, where men prefer to discuss fluctuations of stock and the nature of horses above their own feelings. For his part, the count certainly does not encourage social intercourse. He has not even shaken my hand, and on the few occasions that we have eaten together he has left me alone at the table before ten minutes have passed. I have not seen him consume a morsel of food. It is as if he cannot bear the presence of a stranger such as myself.

I have been here for a month now. My host departed in the middle of June, complaining that the summer air was 'too thin and bright' for him. He has promised to return by the first week in September, when he will release me from my task, and I am to return home to Mina before the mountainpaths become impassable for the winter.

This would be an unbearable place to spend even one night were it not for the library. The castle is either cold or hot; most of it is bitter even at noon, but the library has the grandest fireplace I have ever seen. True, it is smaller than the one in the great hall, were hams were smoked and cauldrons of soup were boiled in happier times, and which now stands as cold and lifeless as a tomb, but it carries the crest of Vlad Drakul at its mantel, and the fire is kept stoked so high by day that it never entirely dies through the night. It is here that I feel safest.

The count explained that the library had once been cared for by its own custodian and that he had died at a greatly advanced age, and then only through an unfortunate accident. He had fallen into a fast-running river and drowned.

The heat from the fireplace is bad for the books and would dry out their pages if continued through the years, but as I labour in this chamber six days out of every seven, it has proven necessary to provide a habitable temperature for me. The servant brings my meals to the great hall at seven,twelve and eight, thus I am able to keep civilised hours.

Although I came here to arrange the count's estate at the behest of my employer Peter Hawkins, it is the library that has provided me with the greatest challenge of my life, and I often work late into the night, there being little else to do inside the castle, and certainly no-one to do it with.

I travelled here with only two books in my possession; the leather-bound Bible I keep on my bedside table, and the Baedeker provided for my journey by Mina, so for me the library is an enchanted place. Never before, I'll wager, has such a collection of English, Latin and European volumes been assembled beyond London. Indeed, not even that great city can boast such esoteric tastes as those displayed by the count and his forefathers, for here are books that exist in but a single copy, histories of forgotten battles, biographies of disgraced warriors, scandalous romances of distant civilisations, accounts of deeds too shameful to be recorded elsewhere, books of magic, books of mystery, books that detail the events of impossible pasts and possible futures.

Oh, this is no ordinary library.

In truth, I must confess I am surprised that he has allowed me such free access to a collection that I feel provides a very private insight into the life and tastes of its owner. Tall iron ladders, their base rungs connected to a central rail, shift along the book-clad walls. Certain shelves nearest the great vaulted ceiling have brass bars locked over them to keep their contents away from prying eyes, but the count has provided me with keys to them all. When I asked him if, for the sake of privacy, he would care to sort the books before I cast my gaze upon them (after all, he is a member of the Basarabian aristocracy, and who knows what family secrets hide there) he demurred, insisting that I should have full run of the place.

He is at times a charming man, but strange and distant in his thoughts, and altogether too much of an Easterner for me to ever fully gain his confidence, for I act as the representative of an Empire far too domesticated for his tastes and, I suspect, too diminished in his mind. Yes, diminished, for there is little doubt that he regards the British intellect as soft and satiated, even though there is much in it that he admires. He comes from a long line of bloodletting lords who ruled with the sword-blade and despised any show of compassion, dismissing it as weakness. He is proud of his heritage and discourses upon it freely. He has not learned to be humble, even though contrition is the only civilised response to the sins of the past.

I think perhaps he regards this vast library, with its impossible mythologies and gruesome histories, as part of the bloody legacy he will have to put behind him when he moves to our country. He is, after all, the last of his line. I suspect he is allowing me to catalogue these books with a view to placing the contents up for auction. The problem, though, is that it is almost impossible for me to judge the value of such volumes. Regardless of what is contained within, the bindings themselves are frequently studded with semi-precious stones, bound in gold-leaf and green leather, and in one case what appears to be human skin. There is no precedent to them and therefore there can be no accurate evaluation.

How then am I to proceed?


A Wizzair flight from London to Romania is deceptively cheap until you realize you can't take any carry-on luggage bigger than a toiletry bag. Once I arrived I found there were compensations; a top-notch three-course meal with wine in Cluj-Napoca set me back around fifteen dollars. Hell, my morning soy-decaf-latte and Danish habit in Manhattan was almost costing me that.

I knew the country wasn't getting many tourist visits at this time of the year because everyone else in the arrivals hall was standing on the Nationals side of the passport line. They were coming home after working in England. I'd come here because of Bram Stoker, or to be more precise, because of Dracula.

There are people who'll tell you I'm one of the two greatest experts on that novel in the world. I prefer to think of it as a field of one. Mikaela Klove is the other and she's an antiquarian. Does that make her an expert? She's certainly grown richer on her reputation than I have, but then, it's not a big field.

Dracula's popularity is second only to that of Sherlock Holmes's adventures, but this wasn't always the case. Stoker died broke. He'd written the book in competition with a swindler called Richard Marsh, who guaranteed that he could outsell Stoker and did so that same year with a novel called The Beetle. Marsh annually hammered out at least three books published through sixteen different houses, and was hugely popular. The Beetle was his best work, but even in this Marsh couldn't resist subterfuge; his vampiric insect is actually an old man in a woman's body who can turn into a giant beetle that alters everyone it comes into contact with, smashing up the social order. Everyone in the tale shapeshifts in some way. Dracula was less tricksy, kind of lurid and pulpy, epistolary and fragmentary in form, and published to decidedly mixed reviews. It just couldn't compete.

The pages of the original Stoker manuscript were heavily amended by hand and signed by the author. At that point the novel was titled The Undead, and had several marked differences from the published version. In Stoker's manuscript, after Harker and Morris kill Dracula, the count's castle is destroyed in a kind of volcanic eruption. That's not so far-fetched; Transylvania is an earthquake region, although Stoker never went there and only saw Castle Bran, the model for the count's home, in a photograph.

The manuscript had a further significant addition, a chapter concerning Jonathan Harker's work in the castle's library, which we never encounter in the printed edition. But something odd happened — the 529-page manuscript, the only copy, vanished for nearly a century. It reappeared as if from nowhere in 1980 and was auctioned at Christie's in New York, but failed to reach its reserve price and was withdrawn. Nobody knows what happened to it after that. The story of the world's rare objects is a history of secrecy and deception.

However, there was another artifact as rare, if more apocryphal, and two people knew of its whereabouts: an old guy who ran a bookstore in Sighisoara, and Mikaela Klove, who was Lithuanian, and currently halfway through a two-year residence in Transylvania, hence my trip there.

I wouldn't call Mikaela an enemy. I guess we're friendly rivals. But she's attractive and married to a Princeton professor and she's rich enough to be able to take time off from her lecture circuit in order to work on a study of Transylvanian culture, while I'm single and close to broke and can only get a week's break before having to return to my menial day-job in New York. I'm hungrier, and I'm craftier.

You've probably already decided who the villain is in this story. The penniless chancer loses out next to the beautiful high-minded cultural expert. But you know what? Bram Stoker wasn't so high-minded. He was a pulp hack who ended up a pauper, accidentally leaving a hundred thousand critical essays by academics like Mikaela in his wake.

I picked up a hire car at Cluj-Napoca airport and headed off toward Sighisoara, to meet with the guy who had promised to show me how I could find this mythical artefact. In return I was bringing him a gift for his collection, a very rare edition of Kafka's The Castle. It turned out that mine was a forgery, but a very good one. By the time his waning euphoria restored his critical abilities, I'd be on my way. Of course Mikaela knew where the item was as well, but I didn't want to alert her to my interest in it. I was going to casually drop it into the conversation and see her reaction. I figured she might be able to guide me through any access restrictions.

Transylvania is in central Romania, and is bordered by spear-like mountain ranges. The car I hired was a piece of junk called a Dacia Logan, and took hills like an old man with bad lungs climbing a staircase.

I passed through villages that hadn't changed in a thousand years, accessed through avenues of trees in the tops of which sat bushes of leeching mistletoe like cranes' nests. It's tempting to use the vampiric analogy here; it looked like everyone was getting something from someone else. Tucked away from the beauty spots were the smoke-belching factories owned by rich corporations getting a great deal on slave labor, a few of them from my own homeland.

As the Dacia struggled on I was overtaken by guys in black felt hats driving teams of carthorses, hauling logs. It looked as if the whole country ran on burning wood. The other thing I remember most about that journey was the graveyards. Every town had one built right beside its houses, as if to remind folk that they would always be surrounded by the dead.


From the Journal of Jonathan Harker, July 15th, 1893

Regarding the library: I have devised a system that allows me to create a table of approximate values, and for now that must suffice.

First I examine the binding of the book, noting the use of valuable ornamentation and pigments. Then I make note of the author and the subject, gauging their popularity and historical stature; how many copies have been printed (if indicated) and where; how many editions; the age of the work, its scarcity and length; and finally content, whether scandalous and likely to cause offence, whether of general interest, usefulness and the like. To this end I find myself making odd decisions, putting a history of Romanian road-mapping before The Life and Times of Vlad the Terrible because the former may be of more utility in charting this neglected territory. Thus the banal triumphs over the lurid, the ordinary over the outrageous, the obvious over the obscure. A fanciful mind might imagine that I was somehow robbing the library of its power by reclassifying these tomes in such a prosaic manner, that by quantifying them I am reducing the spell they cast. Fancies grow within these great walls. The castle is conducive to them.

Finally I've started upon the high barred shelves, and what I find there surprises, delights and occasionally revolts me. Little histories, human fables set in centuries gone by or years yet to come, that reveal how little our basest nature changes with the passing decades. These books interest me the most.

I had not intended to begin reading any of the volumes, you understand, for the simple reason that it would slow my rate of progress to a crawl, and there are still so many shelves to document. Many books require handling with the utmost care, for their condition is so delicate that their gossamer pages crumble in the heat of a hand. However, I now permit myself to read in the evenings, in order that I might put from my mind the worsening weather, my poor pining Mina and the thought that I could become a prisoner here.

The light in the library is good, there being a proliferation of candles lit for me, and the great brocaded armchair I had brought down from the bedroom is pulled as close to the fire as I dare, deep and comfortable. I am left a nightly brandy, set down before me in a crystal bowl. Outside I hear the wind loping around the battlements like a wounded wolf, and in the distant hills I hear some of those very creatures lifting their heads to the sky. The fire shifts, popping and crackling in the grate. The room is bathed in low red light. I open the book I have chosen for the night and begin to read.

Sighisoara looked shut. Its main attraction was a complete medieval village with covered wooden walkways. Around that was a town with one hipster coffee bar called the Arts Café, lots of bookshops (no English language volumes here), a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, some post-war Communist buildings finished in cheap crumbling concrete and some stunning fin de siècle neo-baroque houses painted in odd colors; rust red, custard yellow, lime green. I was told that during high season there were street bars and music festivals and tourists, but not in February, with wet sleet riving across the empty streets. There are a handful of shops selling tourist crap, the weirdest item being the pleading chicken, a china figurine of a bird with its wings pressed together in prayer, begging for its life. Eastern European humor; go figure.

I met up with my bookstore contact, handed the Kafka to him, watched his fingers fluttering through the pages with excitement, received an envelope in return and beat it.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Reconciliation Day by Christopher Fowler. Copyright © 2016 Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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