In Victorian London, there exists no greater investigative team than master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his loyal partner, Ethan Pruitt. But it will take all their powers of deduction to determine if a fatal fall was a result of misery or murder . . .
Adelaide Endicott—elderly sister of Lord Thomas Endicott, a senior member of Parliament—has plummeted to her death from the third-floor window of her bedroom at Layton Manor. Did she take her own life—or was she pushed? Although Scotland Yard believes it is a clear case of suicide, Adelaide’s sister Eugenia is convinced otherwise . . .
Intrigued by the spinster’s suspicions, Pendragon and Pruitt look into the victim’s troubled mental state while simultaneously exploring who might have had a motive to push Adelaide to her death. As they begin to uncover a family history involving scandalous secrets, abuse, and trauma, mounting evidence suggests that there is evil lurking behind the closed doors of Layton Manor, and that it is of utmost urgency to expose it before another tragedy occurs.
Praise for Gregory Harris and the Colin Pendragon Mysteries
“The novel is well-paced . . . the interplay between Pendragon and Pruitt is interesting and complex . . . a number of unusual twists and turns.” —Mystery Scene on The Arnifour Affair
“An incredibly pleasing mystery . . . the author nails it yet again.” —Suspense Magazine on The Bellingham Bloodbath
About the Author
Gregory Harris is a graduate of USC who spent twenty years working on a variety of motion pictures and television series before turning his attentions to writing fiction. He resides in Southern California and is currently at work on the next installment of the Colin Pendragon series. Visit Gregory Harris online at www.GregoryHarrisAuthor.com and on Facebook at http://bit.ly/GregoryHarris.
Read an Excerpt
The Endicott Evil
A Colin Pendragon Mystery
By GREGORY HARRIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Gregory Harris
All rights reserved.
Eugenia Endicott was diminutive of height, stout of figure, and furious of face. Her thinning, silvery-white hair was pulled tight in a small roll at the back of her head that attested to the fineness of what hair she had left. Her austere black dress was wholly unadorned just as one would suspect for a woman in mourning, though she was not wearing the expression of one overcome by the burden of grief and horror at the sudden murder of her elder sister, Adelaide. That she was the only person who currently believed her sister murdered certainly explained some of the rage coloring her face — the Yard had as much as told her that an old woman tumbling out an upper-story window was hardly a concern of theirs — but it was the implication that Miss Adelaide could have done such a thing willfully that left Eugenia Endicott looking ready to claw Colin and me to shreds with her bare hands.
"Your insinuation is offensive, Mr. Pendragon," she was stating from her position in the doorway to her sister's room, her lips curled back as though she had come upon something rotting and foul, and I supposed she felt that she had. "The Endicott family has faultlessly served the Crown and Commonwealth for hundreds of years without the slightest whisper of scandal, and yet here you are, ferreting about in my poor sister's private quarters on a mission to decree whether or not she might have purposefully contributed to the end of her own life. It is unconscionable."
Colin turned toward Miss Eugenia from the casement window he had been carefully inspecting, the window Miss Adelaide's personal footman, Freddie Nettle, had been the sole witness to her falling from three nights prior. It was that event that had brought him to our door, begging us to prove his innocence in the face of Miss Eugenia's immediate allegations against him. "You do me a great injustice," Colin said quite simply. "I have not come to prove anyone's theory. Your Mr. Nettle may have retained my services, but you may rest assured that I am here only to uncover the truth, wherever that may lead. It is what I do."
"He is not my Mr. Nettle," she fired back. "He served my sister at her request, not mine. I never liked the man. What kind of name is Nettle anyway?"
Colin's left eyebrow arced toward the ceiling. "Tell me" — he continued to speak with uncharacteristic patience — "is there some reason you believe he would have taken your sister's life?"
"How the devil would I know that?! I am sure there is no explaining the mind of a deviant. Surely you would understand that better than any of us, Mr. Pendragon, given your unseemly line of work."
Colin allowed a thin smile to fleet across his lips. "I have found the reasons that compel those who commit terrible crimes to be as complex and fundamental as that which drives the rest of us. It can be a razor's edge...."
"Spare me." She bit out the words with the wave of a hand. "My sister was infirm, Mr. Pendragon. She could not walk. Mr. Nettle's sole function was to either push her about in her wheeled chair or carry her, as the circumstances necessitated. He brought her down every morning and took her up every night, doing as she bid on all but her most intimate needs. Adelaide had two nurses who shared duties in attending to such chores for her. But it was Mr. Nettle who slept in my sister's anteroom, not the nurse, though I was never settled with that arrangement," she added with noticeable distaste. "So how do you suppose Adelaide made it all the way from her bed to that ... window. ..." She said the word as though it were something indecent. "Mr. Nettle's claim that she did so on her own is preposterous and meant to cast doubt on his own disreputable character."
"Could she not support herself on her feet at all?" Colin pressed. "Is it not possible that she might have been able to hold on to the wall and make her way forward?"
Miss Eugenia's expression disintegrated even further. "I will not quibble with you about the state of my sister's ability to move."
"Of course not," Colin answered, his patience beginning to show signs of fracturing. "But Mr. Nettle states that he was woken in the middle of the night by your sister's screams, and when he rushed into her room it was to find her already by the window. Is it truly not possible —" But he got no further before Miss Eugenia blasted over him.
"I know what he claims. He claims that she unlatched the window and threw herself to the cobbles below before he could even attempt to reach her. She was eighty-three years old, Mr. Pendragon. Mr. Nettle is barely out of his twenties. Do you really believe such a story merits so much as a whisper of consideration?" She spoke in a tone that was harsh and acerbic, leaving no doubt as to precisely how she felt.
"I will not deny that his tale would seem to stretch the boundaries of credulity and sense, yet I can assure you that I have come upon equally implausible events over the years. And I have very often found that such events are not only explicable, but many times will lead to the very heart of the case itself."
She curled her heavily lined face into a most disapproving pucker. "This is not a case, Mr. Pendragon." Once again she was able to say a word as though it were foul and untoward. "It is the murder of my sister at the hands of a malevolent rogue. And you may be certain that I take great umbrage at your willingness to come here and root about my sister's room, giving credence to what that man has said against her."
"Miss Endicott —" Colin started to say, his own voice edging toward a tightness that concerned me, before being interrupted again as though he had not even taken a breath.
"I have known your family since long before you were born. Your mother ... God rest her soul ... was an outspoken and headstrong woman, but she would be scandalized to find her son here on such a devil's errand. As will your father when I inform him."
The muscles in Colin's jaw clenched as his eyes went dark and steely, and I knew he was about to say something regrettable. "Miss Endicott ..." I blurted before Colin could have a chance to say anything. "It would seem that Mr. Pendragon and I have been unforgivably insensitive." I nearly choked on the lie as I forced it past my lips, but was determined to avoid a surly visit from Colin's father demanding to know why we had so agitated a genteel spinster in the midst of her grieving; a spinster whose younger brother just happened to be a senior member of the House of Lords. "It is not our intention to suggest that your sister inflicted any sort of injury upon herself," I insisted, keeping my voice low and steady as I locked my gaze on hers and hoped that Colin would remain silent. "We would never presume to sully either your sister's memory or the reputation of the Endicott family itself. We mean only to ensure that the facts are appropriately gathered so that the scoundrel responsible is made to pay for his actions as he should, whether that might be Mr. Nettle or another."
She stared back at me and I could tell she was trying to gauge the depth of my sincerity as she did so. It took a long moment, but she finally relented, though in a notably begrudging way. "I suppose you have something of a point," she said, flipping her hand glibly as if I were just another domestic to be dismissed. "Scotland Yard has been woefully inadequate in responding to my insistence that they charge Mr. Nettle. It is appalling that everyone seems so content to believe that a righteous, God-fearing woman would harm herself." She shook her head and her expression soured. "It is really most unsavory."
"I'm afraid the Yard has its hands full with countless other cases," I pointed out, "so when a death occurs that would seem to be as straightforward as that of your sister ..."
"Straightforward?!" she barked.
"I meant only in its cause," I hastily added, desperate not to lose her dollop of goodwill. "Mr. Nettle appears to have told them a tale that they feel both sound and believable, which allows them to close one file without any undue fuss. They don't have the wherewithal to realize that there might indeed be a great deal more at hand here. That perhaps there is some reason why Mr. Nettle would wish to harm your sister." I continued to watch her to see if my supposition had struck a note, but her face remained unreadable behind its discontent.
"Well, of course there would be reasons," she sallied back after another moment, but did not elaborate.
"It is also possible" — Colin spoke up, and I could tell by the evenness in his tone that he had settled himself again — "that Mr. Nettle is mistaken about what he believes he saw. After all, he admits to having been awakened from a sound sleep. Without so much as a candle in hand, how can he be certain of anything that happened? For all we know, Miss Adelaide herself was disoriented and simply lost her balance...." He let his voice trail off.
"Oh ..." Miss Eugenia caught her breath, one hand flying up to her mouth, and I realized that, like me, this was a possibility she had not conceived of. "Oh ..." she repeated as she came into the room and nearly fell into one of the chairs just inside. "But could you ever prove such a thing?" And for the first time since our arrival she sounded almost contrite and dismayed.
"The truth can often be elusive, but it is never fickle." Colin flashed the barest of grins. "I believe it can be found whenever one seeks it with an open mind."
Miss Eugenia exhaled in a slow, arduous way, as though it had come from deep within. "Yes," she finally said. "I can see that I owe my sister better than the possible folly of my indignation over the perceived cause of her death. While I have never held Mr. Nettle in any esteem, neither do I wish to see him castigated for no greater reason than one moment's foolish misperception."
"There you are then." Colin gave a slight nod. "We are all intent on the same resolution."
"You have a most peculiar way of saying things," Miss Eugenia noted as her spine stiffened and her eyes once more assumed a stern cast. "I do believe I prefer the finer considerations of your point of view, Mr...." She turned to me and her face went blank, and I knew she had no memory of my name. And so it ever was.
"Pruitt ..." I said with a smile, "Ethan Pruitt."
"Pruitt ..." she repeated in a vague sort of way. "Why does that name sound familiar? Did your family come from Coventry?"
"No. We were from Leeds. Sheep farmers before my grandfather began working in the printing trade. My father was the first from his family to settle in London. He eventually became the Deputy Minister of Education," I heard myself brag before realizing what a dangerous wire I was walking.
"Oh ..." Miss Eugenia sucked in a startled breath as she leaned away from me, her ramrod posture accentuating what was clearly a desire to put space between the two of us. "Are you referring to John Pruitt? Was John Pruitt your father?"
I cursed myself for having said too much. "He was," I answered stiffly, knowing what would come next.
"How ... unfortunate," she said, her eyes darting away from me even as her face pinched with distaste. "Such a sordid end and all of it trundled out in the Times. It's a wonder you didn't move to the Continent. I can see why you understand how unacceptable it would be for the Endicott name to suffer any such similar stain."
"We seem to have traveled quite far afield from the topic at hand." Colin spoke up before I could even fathom how to respond. "Do we have your consent to continue our investigation into your sister's death?"
"You have better than that," she replied as she pushed herself back to her feet. "I shall hire you myself for just that purpose. And should you come to discover that my dear Adelaide did indeed suffer a terrible accident" — she let out a stilted breath — "then it shall be thus. But if you uncover the specter of malfeasance, then I will insist you persevere with Scotland Yard until they fulfill their rightful obligation by arresting that duplicitous Mr. Nettle." She nearly spit the man's name as if it were caustic or barbed in her throat.
I was so surprised by this sudden turn of events that I found myself quite at a loss for words and so it was Colin who responded first. "Yes," he managed to say quite effortlessly. "It is likely to be one or the other." Colin flashed her a mirthless smile that Miss Eugenia seemed quite content to accept as she started for the door.
"I hope you will join me for some tea in the drawing room once you have finished here," she said, turning back in the doorway and giving us a smile as forced and fleeting as Colin's had been. She did not wait for our answer before turning and leaving the room.
"I believe that is the first time I have ever heard your mother's memory exploited in order to get you to do something...." I remarked as soon as I knew Miss Eugenia was well gone. "Does she really imagine you to be so difficult?"
Colin gave a sly shrug. "Well, she has known me all of my life." He released a soft chuckle before abruptly waving a hand through the air as if to dismiss her as nothing more than a pestering insect buzzing about our ears, which is precisely what I knew he meant. "I told you before there was good reason she has always been a spinster." He turned back to the window and shoved both sides of it wide open, and then leaned out and began running his fingers along the wood casement. "I always found Adelaide a gentle soul if slightly potty in her thinking," he continued as he sat down on the sill, his broad shoulders not quite fitting between the mullion and the jamb so that he had to turn slightly sideways before he could stretch farther out and slide his hands along the smooth stones of the building itself. "But Eugenia was always just this side of intolerable."
"And Lord Endicott?" I could not stop myself from asking. "Which of his sisters is he most like?"
Colin swung back inside and quickly turned onto his belly, leaning back out in such a precarious way that I felt compelled to go over and grab his waistband for safety. "This is hardly the time to become spirited," he smirked over his shoulder.
"You're not funny. I only thought it best not to lose two people out this window."
He pushed himself back inside. "If I tumbled out that window, the only thing I think you would have saved was my trousers." He stood up and brushed himself off, nodding toward the gaping window. "Have a feel of the jamb along the outside. See if you notice anything."
I thought perhaps he was jesting at first, intending to get me dangling three floors above the ground just to rattle me, but there was earnestness in his expression and I realized that he was being perfectly serious. So, like the dutiful pupil, I did as he requested, finding myself leaning outside and struggling to keep my eyes from focusing on the cobbles three floors below. With my heart in my throat I reached down and ran my fingers along the bottom of the jamb. It took a moment, but I began to realize that there was a fairly regular pattern of pitting all along the jamb and up the vertical mullion that divided the window. I did not feel it nearly as distinctly on the window's head or sill, but it was quite distinct in the other areas. "What are those little nicks?" I asked as I gratefully ducked back inside. "It feels like a woodpecker has been searching for a meal up here."
"That's a rather fitting way of describing it," he muttered as he took my place leaning out the window before reaching around to shove the other side shut and quickly running his fingers along its outside jamb and rail. "It is something of a curiosity, wouldn't you say?" He hopped off the sill and reversed his position, pushing open the closed window and tugging the other one shut. Once again he slid his fingers along the jamb and rails of the closed window before popping up and stepping away. "A woodpecker ..." he chuckled under his breath and I suddenly felt unaccountably foolish.
"What is it? What are you thinking?" I pressed.
He tossed me a rogue's grin and headed for the door. "We shall have a look around downstairs and then we will know for sure. Come now, we mustn't keep Miss Eugenia waiting. In case you hadn't noticed, she hasn't the temperament for it." He wagged a finger and snickered before disappearing out into the hallway.
Had he not made such a hasty retreat he would have seen the rolling of my eyes. I was certain he did not need to poke about downstairs to discern the reason for the pitting around the window, which left me vastly more annoyed that I too was not able to ascertain the reason for it. Twelve years trundling along in his wake and I could still feel ever the laggard.
Excerpted from The Endicott Evil by GREGORY HARRIS. Copyright © 2017 Gregory Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I tried really really hard to make it through the book . I gave - up on page 103. The two story lines, one from a previous book , was a distraction . I kept hoping the primary story would become interesting , but for me it didn't happen