When wealthy Edmond Connicle suddenly disappears, his distraught wife enlists the services of master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his loyal partner, Ethan Pruitt. Already on the case, however, is Scotland Yard's Inspector Varcoe. He suspects the Connicles' West African scullery maid of doing in her employer, especially when a badly burned body is discovered on the estate grounds with a sack of Voodoo festishes buried beneath it.
But all is not as it seems, and as more bodies are found, the pressure mounts on Varcoe, forcing him to forge an uneasy alliance with his nemesis, Pendragon. At the same time, Mrs. Connicle's fragile mental state appears increasingly more precarious. Could madness, not black magic, be at the root of these murders? To untangle the twisted truth, Pendragon and Pruitt must penetrate the hidden lives of the elite and expose the malevolent machinations of a ruthless killer. . .
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The Connicle Curse
A Colin Pendragon Mystery
By GREGORY HARRIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Gregory Harris
All rights reserved.
Annabelle Connicle was right; the blood was everywhere.
We had accompanied her back to her home in West Hampton, Colin as eager to see the scene of what sounded like a ghastly attack as I was to make certain she reached her home safely. The poor woman had already fainted once in our study and remained as pallid as milk glass, her lips tinged blue and her eyes so drawn and red that she looked not to have slept in days.
Several Scotland Yard carriages were on-site by the time we arrived at the Connicle estate. Mrs. Connicle had sent for them even as she herself had rushed to our Kensington flat to implore Colin's help. While it was the right thing to do, it was bound to prove problematic for Colin given that the Yard's senior inspector, Emmett Varcoe, was eternally envious of Colin's flawless record for solving the crimes we were brought in on. The one thing I was happy to note, however, was that the coroner's wagon was nowhere to be found. A positive sign that not only was there no body to collect but also that the reprehensible coroner, Denton Ross, would not be here. That suited me just fine.
Mrs. Connicle had insisted we come inside despite the fact that I had caught Colin staring with noticeable longing at the gardener's shed in the side yard, which a gaggle of bobbies were indifferently circling. The house was a hush of shadows and unease as we entered, the shades drawn, presumably to block any view of the work being done by the Yard. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust before I noticed the black-suited, heavyset man with a thinning pate sitting in the drawing room and the girl in maid's attire pacing the floor behind him. The instant the door swung back with a resounding click, the girl twirled about and bolted toward us.
"Oh, Mrs. Connicle," she gasped. "Thank heavens you're back."
"That's enough now, Letty," Mrs. Connicle said heavily as she steered the girl—for she didn't look older than her middle teens—to the young housekeeper who had presented herself upon our entrance. "Go with Miss Porter now. I simply haven't the heart to deal with your fretting." Miss Porter, a pretty, slight, brown-haired woman meticulous in her deportment and dress, stepped up right on cue, ushering the quavering girl out of the room with a finesse that suggested she had done it before. "You must forgive me." Mrs. Connicle sagged into the nearest chair, her tiny, winsome frame nearly swallowed by its generous dimensions. "I'm afraid I am quite done in."
"Annabelle ..." The portly man stood up and moved to us, adjusting a pair of glasses clinging to the bridge of his nose. I could tell at once, by both the suit he wore and the leather satchel he carried, that he was a doctor. "You have suffered a tremendous shock and I am certain these men understand that." He glanced at me before quickly flicking his eyes to Colin. "I take it Annabelle has retained your services to look into this ... this business, Mr. Pendragon?"
Colin gave him a stiff smile. "And you would be ...?"
"Dr. Benjamin Renholme." He stuck out his hand but did not belabor a smile. "I've seen to Annabelle for years. Edmond less so. He could be quite dismissive of the medical arts."
"Past tense?" Colin fished idly.
A disapproving frown settled onto the doctor's face. "I take it you have yet to see the shed?"
Mrs. Connicle groaned and Colin gave her a gentle smile before turning back to the doctor. "Sometimes people say things they do not mean and other times they spill what they did not intend. It can be a razor's edge."
The doctor took a moment before he gave a stiff nod. "No doubt. I'll take no umbrage. All that matters is that you discern what has become of Edmond." His words elicited another moan from Mrs. Connicle that finally stole his full attentions as he swooped over to her. "Come now, Annabelle. I have prepared a tincture of laudanum to help you relax. There is nothing more for you to do but let these men have a look about. I must insist you go upstairs and get some rest."
"I cannot rest until I know what has happened," she mewled in the most pitiful voice.
"We will let you know the moment there is anything to report," Colin said. "The doctor is right; you must attend to yourself just now."
She gazed at Colin, her thin, drawn face a mask of pain. "All right," she muttered. "All right ..."
Dr. Renholme shoved his glasses up onto his forehead as he bent forward to help her to her feet. She leaned against him and he guided her from the room with the gentle assurance of a man of his profession. Even so, the moment they disappeared Colin turned to me with a frown. "It seems to me that man is awfully full of himself."
I couldn't help chuckling. "You know ..." I said as we were finally able to head out of the house for the side yard, "... there are those who would say the same about you."
He shot me an unamused scowl. "Little, pesky, small-minded people, I should think." And this time I did not try to suppress my laughter.
The moment we cleared the corner of the house the phalanx of bobbies milling about became instantly apparent, so many that the little gardener's shed was almost inconspicuous amongst the quantity of navy-blue uniforms. Oddly, it appeared that nothing more was happening than idle conversation and the general passage of time. If a crime had been committed, it seemed lost on this leisurely band.
"Do you see Varcoe?" Colin asked.
"No. But you know he's here somewhere."
Colin pursed his lips. "Pity," he bothered to say as we reached the nearest cluster of men. "Excuse me ..."
The young officer we were nearest to turned from his companions with a frown. "Excuse yourself!" he snapped. "You can't be here. This is official Scotland Yard business."
His companions broke into laughter. "Don't you know who you're talking to, Lanchester?" clucked one of the older men.
Lanchester glared at Colin. "Should I?"
"You're a tosser." The older man snickered. "You're telling me you've never seen a picture of the renowned private detective Colin Pendragon?"
Young Constable Lanchester screwed up his face and gave a listless shrug. "I thought he was younger."
The men all brayed with laughter before one of them managed to halfheartedly say, "These young buggers don't have a lick of class. Don't let him bruise your ego. Not that he could."
"Pithy," Colin answered with a spectacularly forced smile. "But tell me, have you good men of the Yard managed to determine anything at all about Mrs. Connicle's missing husband thus far? Any explanation for all of the blood in the shed?"
Unfortunately, young Constable Lanchester found his tongue first. "I don't think that's any concern of yours, Mr. Pendragon," he shot back, punching Colin's name as though it tasted bitter on his tongue.
"Oh, lighten up," another of the more seasoned men cajoled, a sergeant I recognized by the name of Maurice Evans. "There's nothing much to see beyond about a pail of blood splashed across the walls. We can't even be sure whose blood it is."
Colin's eyebrows arched. "You mean to tell me you're discounting the obvious? How positively nouveau."
Sergeant Evans laughed. "You're a pip, Pendragon."
Colin managed another brief smile. "Mind if I take a look?"
"You sure about that, Sergeant?" Constable Lanchester could not seem to keep from piping up.
"Keep an eye on him," Evans allowed, waving the young man off.
Colin nodded to the sergeant as we headed around the small building, Lanchester and one of his mates in our wake. No one paid us much heed now that we had our escort, either presuming we must belong or not caring so long as someone else was responsible.
Colin pulled up short as we reached the entrance to the shed, but his face revealed nothing.
"Don't touch a thing," Lanchester piped up from behind us.
To my amazement, Colin held his tongue.
I stood beside him and gazed inside, finding myself staring at an inexplicable scene of carnage. It was just as Annabelle Connicle had said; the blood was everywhere. Great ropes of it were suspended from the ceiling like viscous stalactites, and swaths were splattered in huge arcing sweeps across the walls and assemblage of tools and yard implements hanging thereon. The floor also contained its own multitude of coagulated puddles, making it look as though a veritable battle had been fought and lost here. The most curious thing of all, however, was the simple fact that there was no body. How anyone could have walked away from such a scene was unthinkable.
"It's quite a sight, isn't it?" Sergeant Evans said as he approached.
"Are you sure it's blood?" Colin asked.
The sergeant chuckled and shook his head. "You really are a pip, Pendragon."
"May I?" Colin bothered to ask even as he stepped forward.
"If you must. But I'll ask you not to touch anything. And you, Mr. Pruitt, may remain outside."
"Of course," I said as I took a step back. Colin caught my eye as he cleared the doorway and I knew what he meant for me to do. I shifted sideways as though ducking from the sun's intensity and stared out toward a copse of trees near the edge of the property where a great deal more bobbies were loitering about. "You've got quite a contingent of men down there," I noted pointedly, and was pleased when Sergeant Evans and his two constables swung their gazes around, allowing Colin to quickly dab at one of the puddles. "Have they turned up anything?"
"I wouldn't know," Evans said. "This shed is my concern. I don't really give a shite what they're doing over there."
"Have they found something?" I pressed.
He turned back to me with a sharp look. "I didn't say that." His eyes shifted to Colin, who was now innocently glancing about. "That's enough, Mr. Pendragon. Come out of there now. Nothing but a rash of blood, same as you can see from the doorway."
Colin complied at once. "Is that the official consensus?" he asked, continuing to stare inside.
"What's that supposed to mean? You see something else?"
"I'm sure I see exactly what you do, but what I perceive could very well be different."
"Listen to him." Evans wagged a finger at Colin and snorted at his two companions. "No wonder you pique poor Varcoe's nerves. Who dragged you out here anyway?"
"The mistress of the house."
"Well, that may be," Evans said as he beamed at his companions, "but she sent for us first." They all nodded smugly.
"Sending for the Yard is a formality," Colin responded blithely. "I'm here because she means to learn what's happened." He gave a rogue's leer and began walking around the periphery of the shed as Evans and his men laughed, assuming, it would seem, that Colin had meant it as a joke. As Colin was about to make a second pass around the small building a familiar voice blasted out from the trees on our left.
"What in the devil's tortured ass are they doing here?!"
Colin looked over, his smile drooping. "A pleasure to see you as well, Inspector."
Inspector Varcoe stormed toward us with four officers at his heels, his tall, slender frame accentuated by his endlessly disheveled white hair with his face its usual shade of plum. Whatever foraging he had been up to seemed to have stirred him quite thoroughly. "You're not needed here, Pendragon. Take your toady and go back to your hole."
"How you flatter me," Colin replied with a lopsided smile that lit his dimples.
"This is official Yard business." Varcoe planted himself between Colin and the shed, his arms folded across his chest even as the color of his face deepened. "We most certainly do not need the assistance of amateurs trying to sully the good name of Scotland Yard."
"Now, Emmett. I've only ever tried to be helpful whenever I've solved your cases for you."
"You're not funny, Pendragon!" he snapped back. "Just what the hell are you doing here anyway?"
"Mrs. Connicle fetched us," Colin answered with a note of relish. "Though I'm sure she meant no affront to you and your fine horde of merry men," he added with a decided lack of subtlety. "But tell me, what has led you and your men to prowl about the trees?"
Varcoe gave a sly smile. "Seeing as how this is a Yard investigation, I'm afraid you'll just have to piss off."
Colin's grin froze as his jaw tightened and his eyes degraded to slits. I seized his momentary silence to interject the obvious. "You will remember that we can get a magistrate to formally assign us to this case before day's end."
Emmett Varcoe fixed his eyes on me with a loathing I found absurd. He was well aware that Colin's father wielded enormous power in both Parliament and Victoria's court. Yet when Varcoe's harsh smile slowly snaked into something more righteous, I knew exactly what he was going to say.
"Then you go right ahead. Go visit your lackey and get your scrap of paper. By the time you get back here we'll be long gone." His smile widened. "You're always welcome to our castoffs," he sneered.
"I could solve the riddles of the universe with what I've seen you and yours leave behind!" Colin snarled.
I feared we were on the verge of being forcibly removed when one of the inspector's men suddenly came bounding out of the trees. "You'd better come, sir," he called with noticeable agitation. "You'll want to see this."
Varcoe's eyes narrowed, but before he turned away he set his glare on Sergeant Evans and said, "Get these two out of here. I'll not have them around while we're conducting an investigation. You had best remember that, Evans." And with that pronouncement Varcoe bolted back to the woods with the man who had summoned him—quickly, frustratingly, disappearing from view.CHAPTER 2
While I am quite certain that there is no one of import who does not recognize Sir Atherton Rentcliff Pendragon as a force to be reckoned with given his lifetime of service to the Crown, it is still virtually impossible to get any bureaucracy to move at much more than a glacial pace. So it was with great relief that by dusk Colin and I had been granted a release from one of Sir Atherton's magisterial colleagues to conduct a concurrent investigation into the disappearance of Edmond Connicle. The moment we had that writ in hand we raced back to the Connicle estate just in time to catch the sun melting below the horizon as it gathered the last vestiges of its colorful skirts. Innumerable lanterns wagged in and out of the woods like so many lightning bugs, trundled to and fro by the bobbies still patrolling the area in spite of Varcoe's insistence that they would be long gone by the time we returned. It was unforgivable that he had cost us the daylight, but then Colin had hardly helped matters.
"You know," I spoke up as we picked our way down to the tree line behind the shed, "if you could be just a bit more tolerant of Varcoe once in a while, perhaps we wouldn't have to go through such machinations."
"I think I display the patience of a saint whenever I'm forced to deal with him," Colin scoffed. "After all, have you ever heard me enlighten him on what a bloody lout he is?"
"How that must burden you," I drolled.
He snickered as we reached the edge of the woods but got no farther before a small cadre of Yarders came hurtling toward us. Sergeant Evans, looking thoroughly wearied, was at their front. A look of surprise lit his eyes as he pulled up abreast of us, but before he could say a word Colin shoved the court's paperwork under his nose.
"Well, Mr. Pendragon." The sergeant heaved a sigh as he raised his lantern to read the hastily prepared document. "This didn't take you long at all. The inspector has only just left himself."
"Pity," Colin sniffed.
"Get on with your duties!" Evans snapped at his men. "You too, Lanchester," he added to the same young constable who had harassed Colin and me earlier. "I shall see to Mr. Pendragon and Mr. Pruitt." His men immediately struck off for the house with the exception of Lanchester, who paused long enough to furl his brow at Sergeant Evans before following the others. "He's a shite, that one. Forever trying to crawl up the inspector's bum. He'd better come around."
"God help you if he doesn't," Colin said.
The sergeant tsked as he turned and headed back toward the trees, his lantern held high out in front for us. "I take it you've come to see what we discovered down here."
"I'd wager it's the body of Edmond Connicle."
Excerpted from The Connicle Curse by GREGORY HARRIS. Copyright © 2015 Gregory 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was by first G. Harris novel, seems I’ve been writing that a lot lately…huh? And I have to say as with all books, when I first open, I always look at the page count. And when I noticed this one showing almost 300 pages I balked, I had only given myself two days to read processes and write the review. I was going to have some long nights ahead. Much to my delight however, once I started reading I was so in grossed, swept away, enchanted, charmed and all those other words we use and not just by Ethan and Colin but the housekeeper, the guys from Scotland Yard, even the dogs! (BTW I’ve always wanted one!) Before I knew it I was at page 160! The ‘who done it’ keeps you guessing right until the end, the tender touches and words between Ethan and Colin (this is not a hot sex fest ppl) just makes you want to say, ahhhh. The cheeky banter between Colin and the different characters just makes it a fun and entertaining read. My only complaint is, I would like to have a time line, and we got a general reference when they mentioned The Ripper case. But I’m a person that needs hard times, dates or descriptions to put me in the mood as it were. And we didn’t have that. I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review by Crystals Many Reviews
4.5 Stars! Gregory Harris' best yet! The Connicle Curse is the third installment in Gregory Harris' Colin Pendragon Mystery series. Collin Pendragon, is the bane of the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard's very existence as the London papers praise Pendragon for his excellent abilities of deduction which seem to thwart him to the very end casting doubt on his own fine abilities and that of the Yard! Colin Pendragon may have met his most puzzling case yet! Although determined to solve the case Colin is left feeling lead by the perpetrator of this crime down a path of their choosing, much to Colin's displeasure! An unaccustomed pairing with his arch nemesis, Inspector Emmett Varcoe of Scotland Yard is even more vexing. Colin with his trusted partner Ethan Pruitt will be lead down many a dark trail while they remain determined to bring justice to the innocents caught in this ever-growing web of deceit.
The best in the series so far. I can't wait for the next one.
It took me a bit to get back into Colin's life because it had been awhile since the last adventure, but I stuck to it. Great mystery, kept me guessing til the end. Looking forward to the next book.