Secrets in the Stones

Secrets in the Stones

by Tessa Harris

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Overview

Secrets in the Stones by Tessa Harris

Within the mysteries of the body, especially those who have been murdered, 18th-century anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone specializes in uncovering the tell-tale clues that lead towards justice…

Newly released from the notorious asylum known as Bedlam, Lady Lydia Farrell finds herself in an equally terrifying position--as a murder suspect--when she stumbles upon the mutilated body of Sir Montagu Malthus in his study at Boughton Hall.

Meanwhile Dr. Thomas Silkstone has been injured in a duel with a man who may or may not have committed the grisly deed of which Lydia is accused. Despite his injury, Thomas hopes to clear his beloved's good name by conducting a postmortem on the victim. With a bit of detective work, he learns that Montagu's throat was slit by no ordinary blade, but a ceremonial Sikh dagger from India--a clue that may be connected to the fabled lost mines of Golconda.

From the mysterious disappearance of a cursed diamond buried with Lydia's dead husband, to the undying legend of a hidden treasure map, Thomas must follow a trail of foreign dignitaries, royal agents--and even more victims--to unveil the sinister and shocking secrets in the stones…

Praise for The Devil's Breath

"Excellent…Both literally and figuratively atmospheric, this will appeal to fans of Imogen Robertson's series during the same period." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780758293411
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 02/23/2016
Series: Dr. Thomas Silkstone Series
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 249,411
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Since leaving Oxford University with a History degree, Tessa Harris has been a journalist and editor, contributing to many national publications such as The Times and The Telegraph. She has also acted as a literary publicist for several well-known authors. Readers can visit her website at www.tessaharrisauthor.com.

Read an Excerpt

Secrets in the Stones

A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery


By TESSA HARRIS

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2016 Tessa Harris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7582-9342-8


CHAPTER 1

Hyderabad, India, in the Year of Our Lord 1775


From high up on a loop of the great wall, the bania watched the pinpricks of flame blister the blackened city. Swords in hand, blazing torches aloft, the nizam's men gathered near one of the thirteen great gates. The citadel was sealed. No one could enter and no one could leave. But most of the ordinary inhabitants were cowering inside their dwellings, fearful for their lives.

Bava Lakhani was the bania's name. He was a Gujarati merchant who'd always lived by his wits. He'd known he was taking a gamble, but in a land where fanciful stories grew like pomegranates, he was certain this legend was seeded in truth. For years he'd acted as a middleman between the jagirdars who owned the diamond mines and the Europeans. He would be the first to admit that he did not always play by the rules, the few that there were. Yet the gods had smiled on him so far. The French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and, of course, the English all knew him to supply a good bulse. They trusted him to select a few fine stones among those of poorer quality and to ask a fair price. When they opened the small purses, they were seldom disappointed: bloodred rubies, cobalt blue sapphires, and, of course, diamonds. Always diamonds. But what he had now was far too valuable to be included in an ordinary packet. What he had now might, just might, be a legend about to be uncovered, waiting to dazzle, delight, and amaze with its fantastical brilliance once it had been cut. What he had now might be worthy to grace the collections of the crowned heads of Europe, who would, no doubt, be willing to pay a most generous price for the privilege.

Yes, there was a risk. There always was, but this risk was bigger than all the swollen bulbs of the old rulers' tombs put together. And now it was looming over him like a monstrous cobra, readying itself to strike. There'd been an edict. Somehow, word had got out. Somehow the nizam's vakil had discovered that a miner had not declared his find and had escaped with a huge gemstone from the nearby diamond fields. The miner, a Dalit of the lowest caste, had come to him, and he, Bava Lakhani, had agreed to act for him. But the law was plain. Anyone who found a diamond of more than ten carats was required to hand it over to the governor of the mine. And that law had been violated. The Dalit risked death, and so, of course, did he. He knew that, should they be caught, their executions, the more torturous and gruesome the better, would serve as an example to others who might think of following in their wake. He tugged at his enormous moustache. The thought of his own death sent a runnel of cold sweat coursing down his back and set his heart beating as fast as a tabla drum. Now he must do, or die.

So secret was the mission and so precious the cargo that the transaction had to take place after dark. And how dark it was. Night coated the city's minarets and spandrels like melted tar. The air was close and the sky pregnant with monsoon rain. Everyone knew the Lord Indra would make the clouds burst any day now. Even though he was a good distance away, the bania could see the guards swarming like locusts on the poor quarter that oozed like a festering sore inside the walls. This was where the mosquitoes and rats were the fattest and the residents the thinnest. The stench was always bad, but at the end of the dry season, it was almost unbearable. Dust choked the narrow streets. And now it was mixed with something else. Fear. He could hear the shouts and screams, too. He knew the guards were approaching fast.

Scrambling down from the wall, the merchant nodded to his naukar. The servant, spindly as a spider, waited below, standing by a handcart that held a large hessian sack. The trader's gaze settled on the bundle. He gave it an odd look, taking a deep breath as he did so. The deal he was about to broker could mean life or death. The exchange he was about to undertake would seal not just his own fate but that of his only son and his sons, too.

"Come, Manjeet," he whispered. "We must hurry."


Nine years later, Brandwick Common, the county of Oxfordshire, England

The moment after the shot tore through the air there was silence. Silence and smoke. It was as if time itself stood still, caught up in the haze of gunpowder, watching to see what would happen. No one had to wait long. The man's mouth fell agape, and he gasped for the air that was already escaping from his punctured breast. He reeled backward, clutching his chest, then dropped, like a stone, to the ground.

"No. Please, God. No!" cried Lady Lydia Farrell. She rushed forward, careening down the hollow, followed by her maid, Eliza. When she reached the limp body, she slumped to her knees on the dew-sodden grass. A red stain was blooming on the man's chest. To her horror, she had seen the well-aimed shot hit Dr. Thomas Silkstone.

The apothecary, Mr. Peabody, was the doctor's second at the duel and the first to reach him. Lydia found him pressing hard on Thomas's breastbone, trying to stop the dark patch from growing. Jacob Lovelock, the groom, had been waiting with the carriage. As soon as he'd seen the doctor fall, he'd jumped down and begun to run over, too.

"Tell me he is not dead," Lydia whispered in disbelief. "He cannot be dead." She reached over and clutched Thomas's cold hand. Then her own heart missed a beat as she watched the apothecary rip open the bloodstained shirt to reveal the wound.

Mr. Peabody looked up. Even though it was a chilly morning, the little man's face was glistening with sweat. Lowering his head, he put his ear to Thomas's mouth, then felt for a pulse in his neck. "He lives," he told her after a moment. "But only just."

Lydia felt panic strangle her voice. "He can't die. He can't," she croaked. Eliza, fighting back her own tears, put an arm around her mistress, but Lydia would have none of it. She shrugged her off. "What must we do?" she asked Mr. Peabody.

"We must get him to the carriage, my lady," he replied.

The morning light was pearly, but a blanket of mist still hugged the ground and Lydia suddenly became aware of men's voices and the sound of horses. She struggled to her feet and could just make out a carriage on the opposite side of the hollow. A whip cracked and the carriage sped off, heading away from the common.

Jacob Lovelock saw it, too. "Coward!" he cried. "You bastard!" He coughed up a gob of spittle and sent it arcing in the carriage's direction.

The Right Honorable Nicholas Lupton was leaving the scene in all haste. It was he who had challenged the doctor to the duel. It was he who had fired the shot. And it was he who would face a murder charge if his opponent died.

"He'll not get away with it, m'lady," yelled the pock-marked groom, approaching fast.

Seeing her former steward make good his getaway, Lydia also felt the anger rise in her. Like the rat she knew him to be, he was deserting the scene, leaving his rival to die. She also knew her ire needed to be channeled. Now she must devote all her energies to saving Thomas and there was no time to waste.

"Jacob!" she cried to Lovelock. "Help here!" She pointed to Thomas lying motionless in Mr. Peabody's arms. "We need to get Dr. Silkstone to the Three Tuns."

A breathless Lovelock nodded and slid his arms under Thomas's legs.

"Be careful," Mr. Peabody instructed as he hooked his own hands under his patient's arms. Together the two men lifted him up.

"But he will live?" Lydia asked the apothecary as he staggered under Thomas's weight. Eliza steadied her mistress as they headed for the carriage.

Mr. Peabody, his face still grave, grunted, struggling with his burden. "We can but hope, your ladyship, but he needs great care," he told her.

Reeling across the wet grass, the two men arrived at the carriage and heaved their patient inside, laying him lengthways on a seat. The women followed and Eliza found a blanket to lay over him. Suddenly Thomas started to shake violently, and Lydia shot a horrified look at the apothecary.

"We must get him to the inn," said Mr. Peabody, feeling the pulse once more. "The professor should be there soon."

"The professor?" asked Lydia, frowning.

"Professor Hascher, from Oxford," replied the apothecary. "He will be on his way."

Puzzled, Lydia shook her head. News of the imminent arrival of Thomas's anatomist friend from Oxford, although most welcome, confused her. "But how did he ...?"

Mr. Peabody's eyes slid away from hers. "Dr. Silkstone made plans, m'lady," he said, returning to his charge and pressing on the wound.

"Plans?" repeated Lydia. "What sort of plans?"

Still not lifting his gaze, the apothecary bit his lip, as if trying to stop himself from divulging a secret.

"What sort of plans, Mr. Peabody?" she insisted.

The apothecary shook his head, and then regarded her for a moment.

"The doctor did not accept Mr. Lupton's challenge lightly," he began cryptically.

"What do you mean?" Lydia was growing increasingly irritated.

"I mean he conceived a way to thwart any possible injury, m'lady."

Lydia shook her head. "You are talking in riddles," she told him. "Please be plain."

The apothecary sighed, as if acknowledging defeat. "The doctor asked the blacksmith to forge him a light cuirass to repel the lead shot, m'lady."

"A cuirass!" exclaimed Lydia. "You mean armor?"

Peabody nodded. "I do, m'lady." He pointed to the bloody wound, and Lydia forced herself to look closer. She could see what he meant. There seemed to be some sort of metal sheeting under Thomas's shirt. "He also wore a layer of thick horsehair wadding beneath." The apothecary directed his gaze to a ball of coarse threads, now soaked in blood. "He hoped the lead shot would fail to penetrate the breastplate."

Lydia's red-rimmed eyes opened wide. "I see," she muttered.

Mr. Peabody shook his head. "Sadly, m'lady, the shot has clearly pierced the armor."

"But you say Professor Hascher is on his way!" There was a note of hope in Lydia's voice. She should have known that Thomas would not leave it to chance to dodge Lupton's shot. He was organized, meticulous, reasoned. He would not allow fortune to dictate his fate. There had been method in his apparent madness in accepting the challenge. But that method had most certainly failed him. She gazed at Thomas's deathly pale face and took his hand in hers once more. "Let us pray he can be saved," she whispered.


Back at Boughton Hall, Sir Montagu Malthus, the custodian of Lady Lydia's estate and official guardian to her young son and heir, Richard, was breakfasting in the morning room. A great raven of a man, and one of the finest lawyers in the land, he also carried a very personal grudge. He had made it his mission to prevent Lydia from marrying the American parvenu Dr. Thomas Silkstone, so destroying the English bloodline. So far, he had done rather well. The upstart doctor from the Colonies would surely admit defeat very soon, and as for poor dear Lydia, well, she was so highly suggestible that he could, and had, told her a pack of lies and she would believe anything he said.

Satisfied in such knowledge, he was now able to concentrate fully on his plans to enclose the whole of the Boughton Estate, fencing it off from the commoners and woodsmen. Over a bowl of hot chocolate, he was considering his day's tasks when Howard entered. From the anxious look on the butler's normally sanguine features, Sir Montagu could tell he had some urgent news to impart. Howard cleared his throat.

"Begging pardon, sir, but Peter Geech would speak with you."

Sir Montagu looked up from his bowl, then set it down.

"Geech?" he repeated. He wondered what the landlord of the Three Tuns had to relate that couldn't wait until later in the day. "Tell him to go away and return at a more civilized hour."

Howard looked uncomfortable. "He says it is most urgent, sir." Then, as if to press Geech's case further, the butler added: "It concerns Dr. Silkstone, sir."

"Ah!" Sir Montagu paused at the mention of Thomas's name and suddenly changed his high-handed tune. He dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "Then you better allow him in," he instructed.

Peter Geech, always with at least one of his beady eyes on the main chance, was shown into the morning room, clutching the brim of his tricorn. Sir Montagu eyed him like a hawk would a mouse or a vole before it struck, then signaled for Howard to leave.

"Well?" he said, as soon as they were alone. He did not invite the landlord to sit. "You have news concerning Silkstone?"

Geech thrust out his chin, as if he was proud to be the one to break the news. "I thought you'd like to know there's been a duel on the common, sir," he began. He paused for dramatic effect.

Sir Montagu paused, too, and arched one of his thick brows. "Tell me more," he said, leaning back in his chair.

"'Twixt Mr. Lupton and Dr. Silkstone, sir."

Now both of Sir Montagu's brows were raised in unison. He leaned forward, his interest piqued. "Has there indeed? And what, pray tell, was the outcome?"

Geech paused again, licking his thin lips, as if relishing what he was about to impart, but his silence spoke to Sir Montagu. He would say no more without a reward. The men's eyes met.

"A crown," said the lawyer.

Geech remained steadfast. "I was hoping ..."

Sir Montagu frowned and leered toward the innkeeper. "I could go to the village and ask any peasant on the street to tell me," he said coldly. "Then I could have your squalid tavern closed down!" He reached over the table and lifted the china lid of a jam pot, then shut it again to illustrate his point.

The landlord reddened and squeezed the brim of his tricorn. "Of course, sir," he said, suddenly losing his nerve.

"So?"

"Dr. Silkstone was wounded."

"Was he indeed?" There was a flicker of a smile on the lawyer's lips.

"Yes, sir. They brought him to the inn."

"They?"

"Her ladyship and her maid and the — "

"What? Lady Lydia?" At the mention of Lydia's name, the scowl returned to Sir Montagu's face. To the best of his knowledge, she was still sleeping soundly upstairs. He pushed himself away from the table and stood up. "Her ladyship is with him now?" The news clearly angered him. He strode over to the window.

"Yes, sir," continued Geech. "And now an arrest warrant for Mr. Lupton has been issued by Sir Arthur Warbeck."

Sir Montagu wheeled 'round, his hands behind his back. "Has it indeed? So the American might die?" He knew that if that were the case, a charge of manslaughter would be brought against the steward. "You have seen him?"

Geech nodded. "Hit in the chest, he was, sir. He's stone-cold out of it, sir, but Mr. Peabody is seeing to him."

Sir Montagu allowed himself a chuckle. "Peabody? That clown can kill a man as easily as any lead shot!"

Emboldened by the lawyer's response, Geech went on: "But I've been told to expect Sir Theodisius Pettigrew and another surgeon from Oxford presently, sir."

The news of the men's arrival wiped the smirk from Sir Montagu's face. "The coroner?" He walked forward and grasped the back of his chair. "And Professor Hascher, no doubt," he mumbled.

"Sir?" Geech did not catch the lawyer's words.

Sir Montagu reached into his pocket and produced two silver coins. He tossed them on the floor at the landlord's feet, one after the other. They rolled along the wooden floorboards and came to rest at the edge of a rug. "A crown for the information," he said, "and another to keep me abreast of the doctor's condition." As he watched Geech grovel to pick up the coins, Sir Montagu very much hoped that before the day's end the innkeeper would be the bearer of news of Thomas Silkstone's death.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Secrets in the Stones by TESSA HARRIS. Copyright © 2016 Tessa Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Secrets in the Stones 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
IReadWhatYouWrite More than 1 year ago
In India some years back a diamond was stolen and now, people are dying for it. Dr. Thomas Silkstone is an American anatomist in love with the Lady Lydia Farrell. The murder of her father sets in motion a mystery that will claim more lives in London and lead back to a heinous pact some years before in India. *** This is the first book I have read in this series, I was able to follow the story quite well, but there is a sense that there is a tremendous amount of history surrounding these characters. Given a chance, I would go back to the beginning to play catch up. When it comes to historical mysteries, I adore this time period when the science of forensics was born. The back and forth between the old guard with tradition and avarice on their side and the scientists looking for clues to the facts is always entertaining. This story is a joy to read as it is filled with evocative descriptions that fill the pages, painting the scenes of the book. “Night coated the city’s minarets and spandrels like melted tar”, “It was an area where the roofs of dwellings slumped like exhausted dockers after a hard day’s work”. So many details make this period piece come alive in the mind of the reader. It is the rather large and disparate cast of characters that truly make this story. None are one dimensional and all have a part to play in keeping the story moving at a steady pace. Though, if it is anywhere that the book doesn’t stand alone it would be that some of the obviously recurring characters are written as if the reader should already know who they are. All in all this is a fabulous story that I would enjoy exploring more. I am looking forward to reading more from this author 4 stars I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Bukgoddess More than 1 year ago
The final installment in the Thomas Silkstone mystery series? (Perhaps), but Secrets in the Stones, Tessa Harris' 6th (and most powerful) installment pits Dr. Thomas Silkstone against foes both known and unknown as he attempts to solve four gruesome murders (each surprising victim and manner of death leave him shocked at every turn). His pool of suspects even more so! Filled with so many compelling twists and turns until the final shocking truth is revealed to all. With the ever-present love of his life, Lady Lydia Farrell and the series' returning cast of characters which most certainly you cannot help but be endeared with, Thomas is determined to not put his personal life on track until he finds the answers to the mystery at hand no matter where they lead him.