The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man

by P. N. Elrod

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765376312
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 10/25/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 600,461
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

P. N. "Pat" Elrod is the author of more than twenty novels and over twenty short stories, and is an editor and co-editor of several collections, including the New York Times bestselling anthologies Strange Brew and My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding

Read an Excerpt

The Hanged Man


By Patricia N. Elrod

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2015 Patricia Elrod
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4664-3


CHAPTER 1

In Which Miss Pendlebury Is Called to Duty


London, England, Christmas Morning 1879


No commonplace death would require Alex's presence at such an ungodly hour; calls to the house of a Reader at two in the morning were never of a social nature. She girded her emotional barriers for the possibility of brutal murder and sent up a silent request that it would not involve a child. Those were the worst, though, of course, none were ever pleasant.

Someone rang the front entry bell just as she was about to put out her candle and attempt sleep. Mrs. Harris, the housekeeper, was away visiting relations for the holiday, taking along the page and the maid, so Alex herself slipped downstairs. She did not bother with slippers, throwing a blanket about her shoulders against the chill.

A man's looming form showed through the door's frosted glass panels. He was too tall to be Sergeant Greene, who must also be away visiting family. Everyone had a holiday except herself, the luckless fellow sent to fetch her, and death.

She used her candle to light the gas sconce, instantly brightening the foyer. Wary for problems, she slid open a discreet drawer in the foyer table where she kept a revolver.

Clutching the blanket to her throat, Alex threw the bolt with her free hand and opened the door to the freezing night.

"Miss Pendlebury," said the tall man on her step. "You're needed."

The stranger held out a folded paper and, after his initial glance, looked at some point above her head, politely not noticing her state of dishabille.

He did not mistake me for a housemaid, she thought, sliding the drawer shut on the revolver. Why is that? Not from the blanket or what was visible of the nightdress under it. Then she remembered that no respectable servant would venture forth barefoot and without cap or dressing gown. Only the master or mistress of a house would do so. This was Baker Street, not Grosvenor Square, therefore the master or mistress of a house were not above answering their own—

She cut that thread of thought and took the paper. Scrawled in pencil was a Harley Street address and the name of the detective in charge of whatever investigation was presently taking place. Inspector Lennon, the toughest of a surly lot ... he'd be in a fine temper getting called in at this hour. He'd want things wrapped up quick to have the coming day free for Christmas dinner with his family.

Alex had a surfeit of relatives herself, but no intention of dining with any of them. A cold supper, hot cocoa, a good book, and sweet solitude by a crackling fire suited her better. That, and not being called to Read a suspicious death.

She abruptly noticed it was sleeting, rice-size beads collecting on her caller's shoulders and hair. "Oh, you must be frozen. Come in, Lieutenant." She stepped back to make room for him.

"Thank you, miss, don't mind if—" He got that look they always get. "Beg pardon, but how did you—?"

His regulation boots below his heavy ulster, hat tucked under one arm, and ramrod posture had given him away as a military man. She'd taken those in with her first glimpse, hardly aware of the process between observation and conclusion. While he could have been a sergeant, she added in his general manner, the cut of his hair, his carefully trimmed moustache and, of course, his accent, placing him as a scion of an upper-class house who had found a place in the Service. Whether he'd volunteered or had been transferred over as punishment for some infraction such as passing the port in the wrong direction at dinner, she did not know or care.

It would do no harm to add to her reputation; Alex preserved the mystery and made no reply.

"I shall return directly," she said, pointing to a chair where he could wait.

"Yes, miss. They asked you to hurry, if you'll pardon my saying."

"They always do, but the dead are a patient lot, I think."

"Yes, miss," he somberly agreed, this time not reacting to her knowledge that a death was involved. It was, after all, her trade.

She did not rush upstairs, but once there made a speedy toilet. Not knowing whether she'd be indoors or out, she prepared for the worst: long woolens under her winter knickerbockers, a wool waistcoat over a wool blouse. Her new cycling boots that went up to her knees took forever to button, but once done, she was ready for anything.

Alex descended the stairs smartly, pulling on gloves. Her driver rose, his mouth agape for an instant before he clamped it shut and assumed a studiously blank expression. She placed him as one of the vast number of males who still found females who chose to wear practical clothing to be an amusing (or even shocking) novelty. Punch printed many a cartoon in reaction to the transformations in fashion.

"Please, sir, we've had the vote for decades. Accustom yourself to fresher progresses" was the caption of one showing Lord Nelson's statue swooning at the sight of two respectable ladies in trousers strolling Trafalgar Square. Alex bought several postcards of that one to share with a few female friends who would appreciate the humor.

The emancipation the Equal Franchise Act gave to women had been the law of the realm for twenty years, but some men still grumbled about it, predicting the downfall of the British Empire—if not the end of the world—depending on the depth of their prejudice. So far, neither had happened, but Alex knew many lived on in hope, if only to have the satisfaction of saying, "Hah! Told you so!"

She took her cape-topped ulster from the hook by the door and allowed her visitor to help her on with it. When he offered he was simply showing common courtesy. Had he required similar assistance, she would have done the same. It would not have been easy; he was dashingly tall while she was little more than a few inches over five feet in her boots.

"Thank you, Lieutenant ...?"

"Brook," he said. "Attached to the Service by special order," he added.

That covers a number of sins, she thought. And by whose order?

Alex transferred the revolver from the foyer table drawer to her coat pocket, which raised an eyebrow on her escort, but it, along with a notebook and other odds and ends, was part of her normal kit when on duty. Though not strictly required to carry one, all Readers who dealt with criminal cases had to learn the use of firearms. Many times she'd been called to parts of London as dark and dangerous as any jungle, and she liked having the solid weight of a Webley on her person.

She donned her fore-and-aft hunting cap, tying the earflaps under her chin, and wrapping a muffler about her throat. Whatever awaited tonight, she would not suffer unduly from the cold.

Brook held the door. She almost threw him a salute in passing to find out if he'd return it out of habit. That would be inappropriate humor, given the situation. Instead, she went out, then locked up.

Their conveyance was an ordinary hansom, not the unadorned closed carriage the Service favored. Her driver was much too finely turned out to pass as a London cabbie, though.

I will have to send word upstream about that.

There was a fresh crop of New Year recruits to train, and none of the upper-class ones, including their hide-bound instructors, had the least idea how to blend into the vast background of commonplace London life. Brook was evidently one of them. A cabbie with an Eton accent? Quite ridiculous.

Alex climbed in, pretending to overlook the lieutenant's offered hand. Yes, definitely from some high stratum. His mother, or more likely his nanny, had taught him nice manners. Well and good. Alex appreciated nice manners. Had she been in a dress she would have accepted help, but the ease of movement her cycling costume allowed abrogated the need.

Brook put on his hat and touched the brim, and the cab rocked as he climbed up to the driver's seat.

She pulled shut the half doors that would protect her from some of the wet, and heartily wished for a more sheltering conveyance. Sleety wind stung her face as they trotted north along Baker Street, then cut right onto Marylebone Road, heading for the northern end of Harley Street.

London was usually clogged with all manner of vehicles, but not at this hour of night. Their trip was miserable, but brief. Brook pulled the horse up just short of the house. There was a hospital ambulance already waiting in front, and two men hunched in its lee, smoking cigarettes. They couldn't remove the body until she had a look at things.

Even in this weather, a few idlers hung about, hoping for a glimpse of something interesting or to earn or beg a copper. A constable kept them at a distance. Every window with a view of the street had one or more faces in it, taking in the show like theater attendees in private boxes.

How long has this been going on?

She preferred to arrive at the scene of a death as soon as possible, nearly always before the ambulance. Things were easier to Read when the residual emotions were uncontaminated by intrusive traffic or eroded by the passage of time. There were strict rules of preservation in place now, but not everyone followed them.

Investigations had a pattern: discover a body, notify a doctor or a constable depending on the circumstances. If there was anything suspicious about the death, clear the area and send for a detective from Scotland Yard and a Reader from Her Majesty's Psychic Service. Tonight, Miss Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury happened to be the closest.

Lieutenant Brook dropped down, one of his heels slipping on a patch of ice. He grabbed the hansom and kept his balance. This time she accepted his hand as she emerged.

"Have a care, miss," he advised kindly.

Would that be for the sidewalk, or for what waited inside the house?

She was familiar with the locale, often cycling along Harley Street, taking the air when the weather was temperate. The house was part of a row of impressive structures, each four stories tall with three dormers at the top, each made individual by the use of different colors of brick. They were wonderfully respectable and, despite high rents, much in demand by members of the medical establishment.

This one's wide door with frosted glass panes was very like her own. It was also noteworthy for being between two large bay windows, one for its own building, the second belonging to the neighboring house.

The lower facade of number 138 was of fine white stone with a faux Roman arch trimming the fanlight window. The metalwork screen on the fanlight, the elegant iron fence on either side, and the brass knob in the center of the door were all nearly identical to the front of her own house, but on a grander scale.

The keystone of the arch had a distinctive carved head, like a death mask, emerging from its surface. That was new. She'd have noticed such a thing on her last jaunt here some three weeks ago. Prior to that, the building had been vacant for about a fortnight. So the new tenant had been here less than a month and had money to spend on exterior decorations.

She wanted to ask who lived here, but that could wait. The Service was strict about investigative process and rightly so. They caught more criminals that way.

Inspector Lennon opened the door. Gaslight spilled out, catching on specks of sleet flying past. "Finally," he growled, looking her up and down. "Get inside and get on with it."

Despite tangible results that came from Readings, Lennon maintained a broad skepticism tinged with contempt for those with psychical talent, but followed official procedure to the letter. One could not lodge a complaint against that, however poor his manners.

"Good morning, Inspector," she said, mounting the three steps and entering, unruffled at being addressed like a lazy scullery girl.

"Nothing good about it, Miss Pendlebury, as you'll find out."

"Please, no information. Just tell me where." She removed her muffler and cap, stuffing them into her pockets, then took off her gloves.

"Upstairs, last room on the left."

Unbuttoning her ulster, she had a quick look around, unsettled by the similarity of the house's exterior to her own. The foyer was somewhat different, this one paneled in dark, shining wood, not bold, cheery wallpaper.

To her left was a sizable parlor with chairs and tables along the walls. The draperies on the bay windows were closed. The parlor obviously served as a waiting room. She could assume a doctor owned the premises, and that he might be a bachelor or widower. A framed print on the wall extolling the virtues of Dr. Kemp's Throat Elixir supported it. No lady of the house would have that up in even the public receiving areas. It was frightfully common.

"Where are the servants?" Alex asked.

"The whole lot's back in the kitchen." Lennon nodded toward a door under the stairs that must lead to that area. "We got them clear soon as may be."

She heard voices and clamor: someone sobbing, someone else clattering about with pots and pans, probably seeking solace in the familiarity of work.

"Inspector, would it be possible to have a cup of tea for me when I'm done?"

He grunted and looked at Brook, who had shadowed her inside. "My men are busy. You see to it."

The lieutenant might have wanted to watch her at work, but said, "Yes, sir," and went off. Imagine that: a member of the upper class fetching tea. The Service was a great leveler. To his credit, Brook gave no indication the task was beneath him. Sergeant Greene, born and raised in Whitechapel, would have balked, but only because he'd consider it woman's work.

Alex left her ulster on the banister and climbed the stairs with Lennon a few steps behind. He was a big man; they creaked under his boots. His hard gaze would be on the back of her neck, suspicious for any sign of weakness. She'd heard from others in her department that he took pleasure in intimidating them. He never said a word, letting a hard stare do the job of breaking their concentration. Complaints were lodged, but never went far. What could one say that would not sound like childish whining?

Ignoring his presence, Alex opened to the atmosphere of the house.

It was, surprisingly, buoyant.

Most doctors' offices had quite an awful mix of hope and despair, the latter being the natural result of patients getting bad news about their health. The darker, heavier feelings tended to be stronger, soaking into the walls like a case of damp. Those could be dispelled easily. Sometimes simply airing a room was sufficient. However rare sunshine was in English weather, especially in winter, there was always enough to scour most places of old emotions.

She reached the landing and focused on the left-hand door at the end of the hall.

Move slowly, test the way.

Sometimes there were nasty emotional jolts lingering near a death, the psychical equivalent of stepping on a nail. So far she picked up a general feeling of shocked disbelief, deep grief ... and horror.

She'd encountered those before, the normal residue left by those who found the body. People tended to have the same emotions when death paid a call. While she could not say that she was used to such, they no longer overwhelmed her. On her very first case she'd opened up too quickly and fallen over in a faint. The instructor had been prepared. Alex struggled awake to the burning sting of smelling salts in her nose and was sharply told to show greater care for herself. She got no more sympathy than a medical student fainting at their first anatomy lesson.

Of course, those students made a choice to become doctors or nurses. If unable and unwilling to handle the necessary requirements of their art, they could find another occupation. Alex had been born to this particular work. As with others possessing psychical talent, it ran in her family, and she had been blessed (or cursed) with a particularly strong ability. Her choices had been to learn to control it or go mad.

Perhaps I'm mad and no one's noticed yet.

She always thought that just before looking on a corpse. It was a tired observation, long bereft of its feeble humor, its very weariness a comforting affirmation that she was in her right senses.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hanged Man by Patricia N. Elrod. Copyright © 2015 Patricia Elrod. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Hanged Man 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
KEKimbriel More than 1 year ago
What if Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria) had a wake-up call prior to her crowning—one that caused her to battle for the rights of her citizens? What if British women had the vote in the 1850s, and their own property rights? What if Victoria had insisted on marrying a peer and not a prince? What if this all happened in a world where a Psychic Service was critical, because enemies dark and networked were attacking the roots of the empire? This is the world where **The Hanged Man** takes place, as we follow Alex Pendlebury (forensic psychic reader, daughter of a peer, and namesake of the queen) deep into a gaslamp adventure featuring dark magic, devious family, and layers of conspiracy. Elrod uses every trick in her arsenal to weave a totally believable tale of magic grounded in Victorian England. We have wonderful characters, intriguing magic talents, and more deception than we can toss a cloak over. Everything has a second—and a third—meaning, and the plot twists are not over until the last paragraph. If steampunk is your cuppa, and you love depth to your characters and story, this one is for you. Both fantasy and mystery, this tale will both give you everything you need to solve the game and also fool you until the end. Pick it up rather sooner than later. You won’t be disappointed. I checked it out of the library, but I'll be buying my own copy--and I'm looking forward to Alex's next adventure! This review was previously posted at Goodreads and other locations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Elrod delivered an excellent story here, with engaging characters, an interesting setting, and a strong plot. Kudos!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fun read. I am waiting on the next book. Hoping that this is a new series by one of my favorite authors!
TheAvidReader_KA More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading an excerpt from The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. It is an historical mystery set in a Victorian type London in 1879. It is similar to our Victorian era but there is a different monarch and more modern inventions. Her Royal Highness Queen Alexandrina Victoria in on the throne and she is married to Prince Consort Arthur (he was just a Lord before they married). The Queen was very progressive and granted voting rights to women in 1859. In 1847 the Queen created a new department called Her Majesty’s Psychic Service. They investigated all matters that were supernatural and they employed people with psychic gifts. Alexandrina “Alex” Victoria Pendlebury is a Reader with Her Majesty’s Psychic Services. Alex is named after her godmother, the Queen. Alex has been working for the department for three years. She is called out to examine crime scenes and witness. She can read the emotions in a room if she opens herself to them. It is Christmas Day (barely) when Alex is called out to investigate a death. Alex arrives to find Inspector Lennon on the scene. Lennon does not like the Psychic Services department nor the Readers. He makes fun and ridicules what they do (right in front of them). Alex goes into the room where the death occurred and sees a man hanging from the gas light. She avoids looking at the body to read the room. When she is finished with the room, Alex sees a familiar face. It is the valet of the owner, Percival Fingate. Fingate is her father’s valet. Turns out that the dead man is her father, Lord Gerard, and he was there under an assumed name. Alex has not heard from her father since she was fifteen. Why was he in London and who killed him? When they discover Alex is related to the victim, a new Reader has to be called to the scene. Alex waits with Sir Richard Desmond, the head of the Psychic Services. He arrived on the scene, but he stayed outside in a carriage (despite the sleet, cold wind, and snow). Alex waited with him. Alex is not sure why he is on the scene, but she is too upset to question it. Mrs. Emma Woodwake, a Reader and in charge of the psychical training branch of the Psychic Services, joins them. Mrs. Woodwake was the Reader called in to replace Alex. She no sooner joins them when the coach is attached by bandits with air guns. They escape in the carriage, but Sir Richard is shot. Alex takes them to a cousin who is a doctor to receive help. No sooner have they taken the bullets out of Sir Richard when the bandits strike again. Who is out to kill Sir Richard? Why did they kill Alex’s father, Sir Gerard? Something is going on and Alex wants to get to the bottom of it. We will have to wait for The Hanged Man to come out to find out what happens. When I picked this book on NetGalley it did not say it was an excerpt. I would not have chosen to read just an excerpt because it just leaves me frustrated (waiting for the book release). However, I did enjoy what I read. I give The Hanged Man 4 out of 5 stars. I liked the book, but did not love it (at least not the portion I read. The Hanged Man has a unique setting, an interesting mystery, and a good paranormal element. I will look forward to reading the rest of the book when it comes out. I received a complimentary copy of The Hanged Man from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are strictly my own.