Let the battle for souls begin in Dead Man's Reach, the fourth, stand-alone novel in D.B. Jackson's acclaimed Thieftaker series.
Boston, 1770: The city is a powder keg as tensions between would-be rebels and loyalist torries approach a breaking point and one man is willing to light the match that sets everything off to ensure that he has his revenge.
The presence of the British Regulars has made thieftaking a hard business to be in and the jobs that are available are reserved for Sephira Pryce. Ethan Kaille has to resort to taking on jobs that he would otherwise pass up, namely protecting the shops of Torries from Patriot mobs. But, when one British loyalist takes things too far and accidentally kills a young boy, even Ethan reconsiders his line of work. Even more troubling is that instances of violence in the city are increasing, and Ethan often finds himself at the center of the trouble.
Once Ethan realizes why he is at the center of all the violence, he finds out that some enemies don't stay buried and will stop at nothing to ruin Ethan's life. Even if that means costing the lives of everyone in Boston, including the people that Ethan loves most.
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Dead Man's Reach
By D. B. Jackson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 D. B. Jackson
All rights reserved.
Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, February 21, 1770
Ethan Kaille slipped through shadows, stepping from one snow-crusted cobble to the next with the care of a thief. He held a knife in one hand, his fingers numb with cold. The other hand he trailed along the side of a brick building, steadying himself as a precaution against the uncertain footing.
Dim pools of light spilled onto the street from candlelit windows. Flakes of snow dusted his coat and hat, and melted as they brushed against his face. Every breath produced a billow of vapor, rendering his concealment spell all but useless.
The air was still — a small mercy on a night as cold as this one — and a deep silence had settled over Boston, like a thick woolen blanket. Even the harbor, her waters frozen near to shore and placid where they remained open, offered not a sound. In the hush that enveloped the city, Ethan's steps seemed as loud as musket fire.
Will Pryor, who had stolen several gemmed necklaces and bracelets from the home of a merchant in the North End, lived here on Lindal's Lane, in a room above a farrier's shop. Ethan had followed the man for two days, and though he'd not yet seen the jewels in Pryor's hands, he had little doubt but that the pup still possessed them, and was merely biding his time until he could sell them without drawing undue attention to himself. Ethan was determined to keep him from finding a buyer. He feared, though, that the uneven sound of his footsteps would be enough to wake Pryor from a sound slumber, much less alert the thief to his approach.
Ethan reached the worn wooden stairway leading up to Pryor's room and began to climb, wincing at every creak, eyeing the window, which glowed faintly. It wasn't until he heard the murmur of voices, however, that he thought to examine the steps with more care. Leaning forward, squinting in the murky light, he felt his stomach clench.
Footprints in the snow. Several pairs.
Seconds later, an all-too-familiar voice called out, "Come and join us, Ethan. We've been waiting for you."
"Damn it!" he muttered, teeth clenched.
He kept still, snow settling on his shoulders, and he pondered his options. Realizing that he had none, he pushed up his sleeve, cut his arm, and whispered an incantation to remove his concealment spell.
A glowing figure appeared beside him, russet like a newly risen moon, with eyes as bright as flames. He was the ghost of an ancient warrior, tall, lean, dour, and dressed in chain mail and a tabard bearing the leopards of England's Plantagenet kings. He was also Ethan's spectral guide, the wraith of an ancient ancestor who allowed Ethan access to the power that dwelt at the boundary between the living world and the realm of the dead. For years, Ethan had called the ghost Uncle Reg after Reginald Jerill, his mother's waspish brother, of whom the ghost reminded him.
Reg regarded Ethan with an expression that bespoke both amusement and disapproval.
"I didn't know she was here," Ethan said.
Reg scowled, as if to say, No, but you should have.
Ethan could hardly argue. For years, Sephira Pryce, the so-called Empress of the South End, Boston's most infamous and successful thieftaker, had been interfering with his inquiries, swooping in at the last moment to take for herself items he had been hired to recover, stealing his clients and with them the finder's fees they paid. She reveled in tormenting him, although most times she seemed content to taunt and ridicule. On occasion, she set her toughs on him, allowing them to beat Ethan to a bloody mess. And every now and then, she threatened to let them kill him, and dump his body in the leas of Boston's Common.
That she and her men had reached Pryor first should have come as no surprise at all.
"Don't stand out there pouting, Ethan. It's only a few pounds. Mister Wells should never have gone to you in the first place. A man of means, of culture. He should have been mine."
Ethan glanced at Reg. "I'd gladly pay a few pounds if it meant a moment's peace and an end to her mocking."
Reg grinned and faded from view. Ethan cut his arm again before climbing to the top of the stairway and pushing open Pryor's door.
Three of Sephira's men stood before him, blocking his way. One of them, a brute named Afton, was as large as a British frigate and almost as welcoming. He had dark, stringy hair and a broad, homely face. Next to him, smaller, also dark-haired, stood Nap, a flintlock pistol in his hand, full-cocked and aimed at Ethan's heart.
The third man held a blade instead of a pistol. He had pushed up the sleeve on his left arm; a trickle of blood ran from a cut on his forearm, twin to the gash Ethan had carved into his own skin. Gaspar Mariz was a conjurer like Ethan, and though in private conversations he had declared himself Ethan's friend, he still answered to Sephira. Ethan had no doubt that if she ordered him to kill Ethan with a spell, he would attempt it. He stared at Ethan, his expression grim, the lenses of his spectacles catching the light of a candle so that they appeared opaque.
Behind these three were three others. Will Pryor, lanky, youthful, with yellow hair and dark eyes, sat in a chair, blood seeping from his nose and split lip, as well as from a raw wound on his temple. He watched Ethan, clearly uncertain as to whether his arrival presaged an escape from his predicament or a worsening of it. Another brute loomed over him: Gordon, as big and as ugly as Afton. And beside these two, a look of smug satisfaction on her lovely face, stood Sephira.
There could be no denying that she was beautiful; even Ethan, who had as much cause to hate the woman as anyone in Boston, had to admit as much. Ringlets of shining black hair fell over her shoulders. Her eyes, bright blue and dancing with mischief, shone in the candlelight. A black cloak that he assumed must be hers — it was far too fine to be Pryor's — lay on the thief's bed. She wore her usual street garb: black breeches, a white silk shirt opened at the neck, and a black waistcoat that hugged her curves with the ardor of a lover.
But though she was exquisite and alluring, her beauty put him in mind of a cut diamond. She was hard, remote, cold, and sharp enough to draw blood. He had never met anyone more ruthless or better suited to a life of thuggery and deception. She could be cruel as well as charming; he had known her to be shrewdly calculating one minute and utterly capricious the next. There was no predicting what she might do under any given circumstance, which was one reason why she could be so confounding as a rival.
Another reason: she — or at least men in her employ — bore responsibility for a good number of the thefts she investigated. She stole from the wealthy and then took their money as reward for returning their property, all the while basking in their praise. "She can solve any crime," they said, their praise as fatuous as it was fulsome. "No thief in Boston can elude the Empress." Those like Ethan, who encountered her in the streets, knew her for what she was: a brigand, bonny and winsome, but villainous. To the rest of the city, however, including its wealthiest and most powerful citizens, she was a heroine.
And tonight she had bested Ethan yet again; she would claim as her own the three pounds Mr. Wells had promised him. Ethan felt reasonably sure that this would be the extent of his loss for the evening. But he couldn't be entirely confident that the night wouldn't end in his death. Such were the risks of any encounter with Sephira Pryce.
She smiled at him as she would at an old friend, but then her gaze fell to the cut on his arm, and her mien turned icy.
"You shouldn't have done that."
"And you shouldn't be surprised that I did. You're going to have Nap take my knife. All your men are armed. Did you expect me to walk in here without any means of protecting myself?"
Sephira stared daggers at him, but then nodded once to Nap, seeming to concede the point.
Nap stepped forward and took the blade from Ethan's hand, all the while keeping his pistol trained on Ethan's heart.
"Will, how are you bearing up?" Ethan asked.
The thief swallowed. He cast a wide-eyed, fearful look Ethan's way, but a second later his gaze was drawn back to Nap's pistol. At last he gave a tentative shrug. "I don't know."
"He's quite the intellect," Sephira said, regarding Will with unconcealed scorn. "I find it hard to believe he eluded you for as long as he did."
"Aye, well thieves are easier to find when you have another thieftaker doing all the difficult work for you. Why are you here, Sephira? Have times grown so difficult that the Empress of the South End must abandon the warmth and comfort of her home for a mere three pounds?"
She tipped her head to the side, a coy grin on her lips. "I never see you anymore," she said, purring the words. "I've missed you."
Ethan offered no response.
Sephira began to pace the room. As she strolled past Will, she traced a finger lightly down the bridge of his nose. The pup looked to be on the verge of wetting himself.
"Wells is one of those clients I'm not sure you ought to be working for," she said at last. "You've seen his estate, you know the sort of men who live on his street." She halted, her eyes finding Ethan's. "I thought I had made myself clear on this point."
"You have," Ethan said, his tone light.
Arguing the point would have been useless. Sephira had told Ethan more times than he cared to remember that she expected him to limit his thieftaking to a clientele of her choosing. He could work for families of limited means, while leaving the wealthier clients for her. And he could work for those who came to him explicitly because they believed their property to have been spirited away by someone with access to the same conjuring powers that he possessed. This was her notion of an equitable arrangement. She appeared not to care in the least that he had never agreed to her terms, despite her threats of beatings at the hands of her men should he violate their "agreement."
"Yet, you took on the inquiry anyway," she continued, "without regard for my wishes. Will here is no conjurer, so I know that you didn't take the job because witchery was involved. Therefore, I can only assume that you deliberately ignored my previous warnings."
"And still you ask why I'm here."
It was his turn to concede the point. He did so with a shrug. "So have I earned another beating?" he asked. "Or do you plan to do worse this time?"
"Neither, actually. I'll take the gems, which Will was clever enough to hide on top of that table there. And I'll claim your fee from Mister Wells. I'll do the same with your next job, and the one after that. Perhaps, with time, you'll decide that working without being paid makes little sense, you'll concede that I've beaten you in this, as in everything else, and you'll start taking on the sort of clients I've been telling you to work for all along."
Ethan watched her, waiting for more: for the threats, for an order to Nap and his companions to bludgeon him a bit. But she said nothing else. She merely stared back at him.
"What?" she asked in unfeigned innocence — odd in and of itself coming from Sephira.
"That's surprisingly ... restrained of you."
"I can have them beat you, if you'd prefer," she said, sounding bored.
"No. Thank you, though." He tipped his head toward Will, who was listening to all they said and looking more anxious with every word. "What about him?"
"You know what Mister Wells would say."
"I do," Ethan said.
Wells, like others who had hired him to retrieve stolen items, would want to see the pup punished as severely as the law allowed. Indeed, if he was as vengeful as some for whom Ethan had worked, he wouldn't care about the limits of the law, and would want Will killed for his transgression.
"What?" Will asked, his gaze darting from one of them to the other. "What would he say?"
Before either of them could answer, several things happened at once. A pulse of conjuring power hummed in the floor; Ethan couldn't say with any surety whence it had come. He thought he saw a flash of light as well, but he had no opportunity to see what it was, or to ask Mariz if he had felt the spell.
Because at that moment, Gordon, without uttering a word, or giving any indication of what might have provoked him, stepped directly in front of Will, and began to beat the pup with his cobble-like fists. A blow to the side of the head nearly knocked the lad from his chair. A second broke his nose, so that blood gushed over Will's mouth and chin. One more, and the pup fell over, his chair toppling with him.
But Gordon wasn't through. He aimed a vicious kick at Will's side — Ethan heard ribs break.
At first, it seemed all of them were too shocked by the sudden assault to do more than gape. For seconds that might as well have been hours, none of them moved to intervene.
Sephira was the first to act.
"Gordon!" she shouted, the name echoing in the small room.
No response. The brute kicked Will a second time, then wrapped one fist in the pup's bloodstained collar and hoisted him to his feet, his other fist drawn back to strike again.
By this time, though, Afton, Nap, and Ethan had emerged from their stupor and were converging on the man. Afton grabbed Gordon's arm. Nap and Ethan wrested Will from the tough's grasp and set him back in his chair, which Sephira had set upright. The pup's head lolled to the side. He was unconscious; Ethan feared he might be dead.
Gordon struggled to free himself from Afton, the room quaking as the two behemoths wrestled each other.
Sephira planted herself in front of them. "Gordon, stop it!"
But still he fought, as if in a blind rage.
Another conjuring thrummed, this one coming from within the room. Gordon staggered, slumped in Afton's arms. Afton eased him to the floor, where he lay still, his chest rising and falling gently.
"Is he alive?" Sephira asked, turning back to Will.
Nap knelt beside the pup and put a hand to Will's neck, feeling for a pulse. "Barely," he said after a few seconds.
"What did you do?"
They all turned to Mariz, who alone among them had not moved, though the blood had vanished from his arm, expended in the sleep spell that subdued Gordon.
He glared at Ethan, his knife poised over his arm, ready to cut himself and conjure again.
"I don't know what you mean," Ethan said, knowing that he sounded slow-witted.
"What did you do to him?" Mariz repeated, his accent thickening as his anger flared.
Sephira snapped her fingers. Immediately, Nap stood once more and raised his pistol.
"You're saying that Kaille used his witchery on Gordon? That's why —?"
"I did not!"
"I sensed a conjuring, Kaille," Mariz said. "And for just an instant I thought I saw your spectral guide appear."
Ethan shook his head, even as he considered the magick he had sensed and the flash of light he thought he saw before Gordon struck his first blow at Will. He pointed to his forearm, which was still red with blood. "Look," he said, holding it out for Mariz and Sephira to see. "The blood's still there. Had I conjured, it wouldn't be."
Mariz blinked once, his brow creasing.
"Mariz?" Sephira said. Ethan sensed that she was seconds away from ordering Nap to pull the trigger.
"There are other ways for him to conjure. But the blood on his arm would have been easiest."
Sephira appeared unconvinced. "Unless he wanted to hide what he was doing, isn't that right?"
Mariz shook his head. "Even then I would see his guide, and feel his spell."
"But you say that you did — you saw the ghost and felt a conjuring. That's what you said."
"I thought his guide had appeared. It was there, and then it was gone. I might have imagined it."
Sephira frowned. Since the previous summer, when Ethan and Mariz had worked together to defeat a conjurer named Nate Ramsey, she had been distrustful of their friendship. Mariz's uncertainty was only making matters worse.
"Why would I make Gordon beat the lad?" Ethan asked her. "I'm the sentimental one, remember? That's what you always say. I was prepared to plead for Will's life. It's you who usually argues on behalf of vengeance for the client."
Excerpted from Dead Man's Reach by D. B. Jackson. Copyright © 2015 D. B. Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the 4th novel in the Thieftaker series of historical fantasies, but it could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. I have loved all 4 of these novels about Ethan Kaille, thieftaker (detector of thieves and recoverer of stolen goods) and conjurer in pre-Revolutionary Boston, but Dead Man's Reach is my favorite since it delves even deeper into the characters I've come to know and love in this series. These novels can get violent at times; Ethan has a knack, like his descendant Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files), of getting beaten up by bad guys. But he always catches the thief, sometimes with cunning and sometimes with magic. I highly recommend all 4 novels in the Thieftaker series.