The Bee's Kiss (Joe Sandilands Series #5)

The Bee's Kiss (Joe Sandilands Series #5)

by Barbara Cleverly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385340410
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/27/2007
Series: Joe Sandilands Series , #5
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 181,140
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Barbara Cleverly is the author of five novels of historical suspense, including The Damascened Blade, winner of the CWA Historical Dagger Award, The Last Kashmiri Rose, Ragtime in Simla, The Palace Tiger, and The Bee’s Kiss. She lives in Cambridge, England where she is now at work on the second Laetitia Talbot mystery, which Delta will publish in 2008.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

London, April 1926




"I do all my thinking in the car nowadays. And why? Because, whatever I do or say, I can't get away from blasted Audrey!"

A flash of resentment expressed itself in a sharp stab on the accelerator, and the red Chrysler two-seater swept smoothly onwards over the Hog's Back and on to London.

"Eight years ago she was innocent, pliable, uninventive but co-operative. And now? Sycophantic, eager to please but having no longer the power of pleasing. She'll have to go! And this time I shan't relent no matter how many damp handkerchiefs she waves before my face. She's completely suffocating me. I should have left her where I found hersecond from the right in the chorus of Florodora.

"It was a good idea, throwing my luggage in the back and just leaving. I certainly needed to get away, to get away to London . . . to get away from cosy domesticity in the country to the supple hospitality extended by the Ritz. 'Your usual suite?' I like that! I like the purring familiar voice, confidential and knowing, so calming in all this storm and stress. But nowwhat to look forward to? A dreary evening. Cousin Alfred's fiftieth birthday party. A roomful of people I hardly know. A roomful of dull nieces and nephews. Butyou never know your luck! That little girl who's just got herself engaged to the appalling Montyshe might be quite promising. Might be distinctly promising! I can remember everything about her except her name. Jennifer? Jasmine? Sure it began with a J . . . Joanna! Got it! Black hair in a fashionable bob, slender figure. Slanting green eyes. Naughty and knowing green eyes, perhaps? I'm sure I encountered a look of complicity when we met. And any girl cultivated by that louche lounge lizard Montagu Mathurin is bound to have reached a certain level of initiation into the ways of the world. An initiation acquired in an upper room at the Cafe Royal, perhaps. What can she see in him? Much too good for himshe's bound to have realized by now. It mightn't be such a bad evening after all!"

Detective Sergeant William Armitage's handsome features contorted briefly in an attempt to stifle a sigh, or was it a yawn? Overtime was always tedious but really, he feltand resented the feelingthat he was out of place here. He'd rather have been on duty at the dog track. Better still, he could have taken the day off and gone to Wembley for the Cup Final. A northern Derby but worth watching all the same. Still, you had to take what you could get these days. They were cutting down on overtime next week and the old man desperately needed that cataract operation. That didn't come free. Austerity. They were living in times of austerity, they'd been told. The force, just like everyone else, had to tighten its belt. Cut down on unnecessary expenses.

"Huh! Try explaining austerity to some of this lot."

He ran his eye with disfavour amounting to hatred over the birthday guests assembled in the private dining room of the Ritz. The end of the seemingly interminable speeches had come at last. The old geezer in whose honour they were celebrating fifty years of parasitic idleness risked running into his sixtieth year before his friends and relations had finished queuing up to listen to their own voices telling family jokes and relating embarrassing incidents in the fruitless life of Alfred Joliffe. But now the last cheery lie had been told and welcomed by the receptive audience and they were all knocking back the champagne. And this followed the sherry, the white wine and the red wine with the meal. Eyes were sparkling, laughter louder and shriller, behaviour more exaggerated. It all made his surveillance difficult. It had been a piece of cake while they were all seated at those little tables but now they were wandering about, going to the cloakrooms, stepping outside for a cigar, dancing in the small circle the Ritz flunkeys had cleared in front of the eight-piece band. Armitage wondered if young Robert, stationed outside in the corridor by the lift, had stayed alert.

His eye ranged over the men, about thirty of them in the group, eliminating the elderly, the unfit, the inebriated. That left twonothree whose movements he should follow closely. Waste of time. None of them looked remotely like a cat burglar. Still, what did a cat burglar look like? Nobody knew. Bloody clever, those ladsnever got caught. Briefing him, his inspector had explained that, in the series of break-ins and robberies that had occurred in London hotels in the last few months, the Ritz could well be the next target. Bedrooms had been entered sometimes by means of the fire escape and turned over, while the guests were busy at some sort of knees-up in the building. You could almost think somebody had checked they were occupied elsewhere and then ransacked their rooms but that was to imply that the burglar was one of their number, someone close who knew them and who could watch their movements unobserved. A member of their class. Obvious really. And Armitage had tried to put this idea into his boss's head. But, of course, no one in any position of authority was willing to believe this. Even the victims wouldn't admit the thought. Thieves were lower class, weren't they? Destitutes and relics of the war. ". . . terribly sad, darling, and naturally one understands and sympathizes, but it just has to be stamped out and quickly before one becomes the next insurance claimant."

There had been one sighting, but so far only one. A guest at Claridge's last month, returning unexpectedly to her room, had found a man standing inside. He was wearing evening dress and was very well spoken. A gentleman, she had said. Charming and attractive. He had apologized for mistaking the room, explaining that his own was on the floor below, and had left offering to buy her a drink in the bar to make up for the intrusion. It was some time before she realized that a hundred pounds was missing from her bag.

"And good luck to you, my lad!" thought Armitage mutinously. He was perfectly aware of a fellow feeling for anyone who had the nerve and the skill to pluck a living from these fat birds and yet he knew that if the occasion offered and he found himself feeling the collar of one of the light-fingered sportsmen he had been assigned to track down he would stifle his sympathy, bounce him off down to the clink and take all the credit that was going. "Felix! Felix, the Cat Burglar! Are you here now? Mingling with the crowd, unremarkable behind a fashionably languid voice and the right evening suit? Stalking your victim and preparing to nip off upstairs and do out a room? Waste of time, mate! I could tell you that. The jewel cases are lying open and empty on the dressing tables. It's all down here . . . must be ten thousand quid's worth of sparklers hanging round the undeserving necks of these toffee-nosed tabbies."

He looked again at the three young men who had caught his attention earlier. They were deep in serious conversation at the other end of the room. They were still sober, they were lithe and looked keen and clever. Were they up to something? It was just possible . . . He didn't want any amateurs fouling up his evening. Better be certain. He strolled around the perimeter of the room and edged within earshot of their table. So oblivious of his presence were they, their earnest debate continued without hesitation: a debate on the new backless, double-breasted waistcoatscould one possibly wear these things? Snooty Felbrigg had been seen in one . . . but on the other hand, Fruity Featherstonehaugh had been heard to declare them "flashy." Armitage was interested enough to linger close by until they delivered their decisiona decided thumbs down.

"Where are you, Felix?" he wondered. "Not at this table, I think."

He moved around towards the door, staying on the fringes of the party, confident that the official Ritz security staff uniform he had put on for the occasion would render him invisible. If they noticed him at all, the toffs would be mildly reassured by his presence. But the guests were paying him no more attention than they paid the waiter who served them their consommé en gelée. Apart, that is, from two young girls who had been eyeing him for some minutes now, giggling to each other behind their hands. Both were a little the worse for drink. Drink? The worse for something anyway.

The sergeant gave them his reproving police stare, which usually did the trick. He knew that he was a good-looking man and he came in for his share of female appreciation. It wasn't always unwelcome but he wanted no attention from this pair. Underdressed, in his opinion, for a family dothose wisps of dresses were a plain incitement to crimeand their eyes were too bright. They'd spent quite a long time out of the roomin the ladies' cloakroom perhaps?and Armitage's suspicious mind conjured up activities more often associated with nightclubs. Not Ciro's, he thoughtthe Embassy, more like. They said you could get anything at the Embassy. People of this class spent more on an evening's shot of cocaine than he spent on his week's rent. His stare grew more deadly.

The girls walked flirtily in front of him, turned and walked back again, passing more closely. The small evening bag one had been carrying suddenly slipped and fell at his feet. Automatically he bent and picked it up. Clicking his heels smartly, he held it out. "Excusez-moi, mademoiselle, vous avez laisse tomber ce petit sac."

Disconcerted, the girl took it from him. "Ooh, er, thank you," she mumbled.

"De rien, mademoiselle. De rien."

Wide-eyed and giggling, the girls scurried back to the flock.

He smiled with satisfaction. It never failed. He could always put people on the wrong footing by addressing them in French or German. The English would run a mile rather than deal face-to-face with a foreigner. He decided that if anyone else approached him he would give them a burst of Russian. He continued to survey the crowd. The three waistcoat fanciers were still at it and presenting no problems. No, if there was to be any suggestion of disorder arising from this group it was more likely to come from the women.

His eye followed the striking redhead he'd marked down earlier. She stood out from the crowd of flappers and gigglers, distinguished by her heightshe towered over most of the menand by her colouring. Her dark red hair was unfashionably long and piled on top of her head. This had the effect of lengthening further her elegant neck, her elegant neck around which hung a very remarkable necklace. Armitage had lost no time in giving it his professional attention. Emeralds, he judged, and the real goods. A family piece, he guessed, recently and fashionably reset. The stones were large, carried in a simple but heavy gold setting. She had chosen to emphasize their colour by wearing a low-cut gown of dark green taffeta which framed them as they lay gleaming against her smooth white throat.

He indulged for a moment or two in salacious thought. He acknowledged that she was, by his standards, quite oldperhaps even fortybut, given a chance to lay aboard, he wouldn't have refused. He didn't think many men would have refused. He watched on as she made her way towards the group of three who had become the focus of his surveillance. Well, at least it simplified things to have all his targets in one shot for a while. He approached the group softly, intrigued to hear their conversation. The woman laughed and flirted and sipped her cocktail prettily. The men vied to exceed each other in gallantry, obviously flattered by her attention. She twirled the stem of her glass and, when one of them noticed it was empty and called to a passing waiter, she asked for "Another French Rose. And no sugar round the rim!" He had not been keeping count but he was aware that she was drinking steadily, though you would never have guessed it from her speech or her behaviour. Yes, she could manage her drink, that one.

Now she was moving on to join that rancid toad Sir Montagu Mathurin at his table. There were stories circulating about him that made the sergeant's flesh crawl and for a split second he was tempted to approach and warn her to move on. But then he pulled himself up. What was he thinking of? The chap was probably her second cousin or something and, anyway, this lady was capable of looking after herself. She greeted Mathurin's rather sulky-looking little girlfriend (fiancee, rather, judging by the ring which was visible clear across the room) with much warmth but at once turned the full glow of her charm on the rogue Mathurin. This was decidedly a display of a sexual nature, Armitage reckoned, frowning anxiously as he watched the apparently casual but practised gesture with which she leaned towards him and adjusted his tie. Anybody could see what that meant! Even across the room the sergeant felt the force of it and he swallowed in sympathy. Certainly Mathurin was responding in a predictable way. It was a relief to see that after a few minutes of fascinating Mathurin she had the good manners to draw the fiancee into the conversation. Trouble averted then. The last thing he wanted was the distraction of a pedigree cat fight but all claws seemed to be sheathed. And this was the Ritz after all, not the London Apprentice. And these were ladies, not dockers' molls.

A clock chimed midnight and this was greeted with raucous calls for more champagne. The redhead rose to her feet and began to thread her way through the crowd towards the door. She paused, turned and directed a look at someone on the other side of the room. Damn! Armitage looked round but he wasn't quick enough to catch an answering look of complicity from any of the other revellers and wondered cynically which of the assembled men was the chosen one. He wished he had a mate in earshot to take on a bet with him. Whichever bloke rose to his feet and excused himself within the next five minutes, he reckoned was the lucky one. A matronly lady in wine-red brocade staggered to her feet and made her way, listing heavily, towards the door. A pretty girl in a short dress about as concealing as a cobweb noticed her predicament and with a cry of concern hurried after her, steadying her with a hand under an elbow and an encouraging smile. At a look from the maitre d'hôtel, a waitress scurried after the pair to check there were no embarrassing scenes in the corridor. A group of chirruping girls followed, flighting their way like finches to the powder room, and Armitage wondered what instinct compelled them to undertake this journey across the room in flocks. Mathurin, deserted for the moment by his fiancée, looked at his watch in anxietyor was it just boredom? But he stayed in his place. And that was the only excitement. After ten minutes Armitage decided with a sigh of relief that he'd misinterpreted the signals.

At exactly twelve fifteen he was given the nod by the maitre d'hôtel, and he embarked on the next stage of his surveillance. He was being cleared, as arranged, to make a tour of inspection of the exterior of the hotel. Action at last. A real job to do. His muscles began to tense in anticipation. It would be good to escape from this overheated room and overloud laughter to clear his lungs in the sharp London air. But he only had the designated half-hour. He slipped away and, having given a brief nod to young Robert by the lift, he hurried to pick up his bag of equipment from the staff cloakroom. On a wet dark night like this he needed his police-issue flashlight and some protection for his uniform. He couldn't come dripping back into the party room without raising a few eyebrows even amongst this paralytic mob.

Alert and purposeful once more, Armitage stepped out into the chilly April night.

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The Bee's Kiss (Detective Joe Sandilands Series #5) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Barbara Cleverly is most clever in this novel that one cannot put down. I was charmed by inspector Sandilands and wished I was dancing with him at the Ritz.I liked the additions of what a female perspective could bring. All around jolly good
Shutzie27 on LibraryThing 9 hours ago
A Bee¿s Kiss, the first installment in Barbara Cleverly¿s delightful Joe Sandilands series in which the detective is (finally) back in London, is one of the best mysteries the character series sub-genre has to offer.And make no mistake: I am speaking specifically of the mystery (i.e. the plot) of who killed the passionate, volatile, redheaded socialite-Wren in her suite at the Ritz. (The Ritz in the 1920s? Aside from a candle-lit Victorian library, does the backdrop get any better?)As a longtime armchair sleuth, I don¿t usually put a lot of effort into figuring whodunit¿after all, I read character series to relax.For me, the various investigators¿Ian Rutledge, Charles Lennox, Barker and Llewellyn, Maise Dobbs, Bess Crawford, Jane Austen, Jeremy Proctor¿are friends of a sort among whom I make regular rounds. When I read another installment in their respective series, in my mind I am dropping in on the good detective, cuppa in hand and ready to be regaled with another of their war stories.For that reason, character development has a tendency to stick in my head more than the details about the actual cases being solved. I have only hazy memories of some of the specific cases I've enjoyed in the past, but recurring characters remain sharp and vivid in my mind long after those details fade. That will not be the case with this Sandilands installment. In this case, I was surprised not only by whodunit but several other things besides.Cleverly, who in the previous books has given absorbing, sweeping portraits of life in the British Raj, (ranging from the smoldering Pathun tensions to the cloistered, suppressed life of a sheik¿s wife--one among several-- to the sweltering, gem-draped parties of the British nobility during the depths of the Indian summer) proves no less capable of pulling the reader through time when writing about Sandilands in London. The heady twenties, with its liberated women, radical art movement, subtle wealth decay encroaching on the guardians of ¿Old Money,¿ and vaguest whispers of impending war are all skillfully woven into one of the most simple¿yet complex¿mysteries I¿ve ever come across.Even one who isn¿t a regular reader of Sandilands series, or a fan of the period, can find themselves turning pages just to keep up with the continually twisting labyrinth of clues. The reader is easily razzle-dazzled by the variety of settings--a poor Russian neighborhood, the tree-lined avenues of the upper-crusts, a country estate home to a happily dysfunctional family--and doesn't mind one bit that they only add to the perplexing nature of the clues that are revealed. This is one not to be missed, and has permanently set to rest any qualms I may have had about Sandilands finally making it back to London. Clearly, no matter where the intrepid, romantic, and shrewd detective is, Cleverly¿s writing will ensure we enjoy watching him solve the case.
annbury on LibraryThing 9 hours ago
The fifth Joe Sandilands novel, and the first that is not set in India. Joe is back at Scotland Yard, and is involved in the investigation of the murder of a titled lady in a ritzy hotel -- indeed, at the Ritz. There are of course complexities piled on complexities, but I didn't find them that interesting, nor were many of the characters particularly sympathetic. Unlike the British Raj, London in the 1920's is a well-mined mystery locale, and Sandilands doesn't add that much to it.
picardyrose on LibraryThing 9 hours ago
Poor sense of the war, could have been I or II.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only wish all the books in the series were available on the NOOK
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RuthTC More than 1 year ago
I've been greatly enjoying this series by Barbara Cleverly. It's as much historical fiction as mystery; well-written, with excellent period details; interesting, well-developed, unusual characters that are easy to care about; a story line complex enough to require some concentration and effort but not so convoluted that you lose track of the plot. Early installments went annoyingly overboard on exclamation points in dialogue, but she seems to have calmed own on that front.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1926, Scotland Yard Commander Joe Sandilands has come home to England after working cases in India over the last few years (see THE PALACE TIGER and THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE). Though the locale changes, the scene does not as Joe is assigned to a homicide investigation. Someone brutally battered renowned Dame Beatrice Joliffe in her hotel suite at the London Ritz.-------------------- The victim was acclaimed for her efforts in WWI to establish the Women's Royal Naval Service and servings as a Wren. Thus the media is also sniffing around and making noise. Joe, assisted by former Army Sergeant Armitage and Constable Tilly Westhorpe, rejects the scenario that this was a random jewelry theft that turned ugly because the violence speaks otherwise. He wonders if her family or an acquaintance with a grudge committed a homicide but disguised it as a jewelry theft even as his superiors push him to walk gently as national security is whispered.------------------ This is a superb historical police procedural that contains an excellent whodunit enhanced by a terrific look at the Roaring Twenties in swinging euphoric post WWI London. Joe¿s change of milieu provides freshness to this great series as he and his team investigate a case that twists with every clue. Readers can solve the case, but not easily as the author cleverly provides the audience with a one sitting thriller.------------------ Harriet Klausner