The Semper Sonnet

The Semper Sonnet

by Seth Margolis


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In this stunning thrill ride, perfect for fans of Steve Berry, a poem holds the key to unlocking the past— and to eliminating the future.

Lee Nicholson takes the academic world by storm, seemingly unearthing a never-before published sonnet by William Shakespeare. When she reads the poem on the air, her words are ignored by all but a small group of people. There are the English and literature buffs. There are the curious and those who seek out hoaxes.

And there are men who will kill to keep the sonnet from every being read again.

Buried in the language of the sonnet, in its allusions and wordplay, secrets have been hidden dating back to Elizabethan times, shared by the queen and her doctor, by men who seek the crown and men who seek the world. If the riddles are solved, it could explode what the world knows of the monarchy. Or, it could release a pandemic more deadly than the world has ever seen.

Lee’s quest keeps her one step ahead of an international hunt—from the police who want her for murder, to a group of men who will stop at nothing to end her quest, to a mad man who pursues the answers for destructive reasons of his own. Globetrotting as she pieces together what Shakespeare meant, and what he meant to leave unsaid, Lee carries this intelligent thriller through to its gasp-out-loud conclusion.

"Imaginative plotting and depth of character distinguish this centuries-spanning thriller..."—Publishers Weekly

“This provocative and knuckle-biting thriller will have you on the edge of your seat as it careens through the hallowed halls of academia into the turbulent past. Hold tight to your farthingales: this is a roller-coaster ride of a book!”—C.W. Gortner, international bestselling author of The Last Queen

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682300565
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Pages: 374
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Seth Margolis live with his wife in New York City and has two grown children. He received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.

Read an Excerpt


Lee Nicholson walked carefully up the stairs to her third-floor apartment, balancing two cups of coffee and conflicting emotions. On the one hand, there was regret. How had she lost control of things last night and ended up with (she halted her climb briefly to recall his name) Alex? And how had he managed to remain there until the morning, resisting her efforts to rouse him until, craving caffeine, she left the apartment to fetch two large coffees from the Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and Eighty-First Street? She took hers black but didn't, of course, know how he took his, and spent several moments deciding what to do before splashing skim milk into his cup. How would she get him out of her bed and her apartment without having to make awkward small talk? She needed to get on with her day. What if he wouldn't leave?

On the other hand, there was pride. An appearance on the eleven o'clock news was hardly routine for a thirty-two-year-old English literature graduate student. She'd done well last night, smoothly describing how she'd come across the sonnet and built the case that it was by William Shakespeare, the first newly discovered work by the Bard in half a century. The Shakespeare establishment, a global industry of academics, writers, amateur historians, theater directors, actors, and critics, was still unconvinced of the sonnet's authenticity, and there were plenty of moments when Lee wondered if it was wise to risk her nascent academic career on a single piece of paper. But after last night, it was too late; appearing on the news program had been the point of no return. She'd staked her future on the sonnet.

The interviewer had seemed genuinely interested. Half her friends had been enlisted to record the show (Lee's non-cable reception was spotty, and she did not own a VCR, DVD player, or DVR). Her mentor at Columbia, David Eddings, had assured her that it was her looks and not her scholarship that had landed her a spot on the news. "Wear that cream blouse that falls open so becomingly, and make sure your hair's down, so it brushes your shoulders," he'd said. "When you pin it back you're a bit schoolmarmish, and that's precisely the image we'd prefer not to project to a mass audience. Anyway, you're hardly a schoolmarm, are you?"

He was always trying, in his smarmy way, to tease out details of what he probably liked to imagine was a libertine private life, and she'd been tempted, just to thwart him, to wear a turtleneck and bun. In the end vanity trumped revenge. He was, after all, the country's leading Elizabethan scholar and the man who would determine the fate of her dissertation. And she'd looked damn good, she thought, in the cream blouse that fell open perfectly to reveal just a shadow of cleavage. She'd availed herself of the network's hair and makeup people. Her eyes in the dressing room mirror had looked a deeper blue than usual, her cheekbones more pronounced. "Damn, I thought you were going to bring some culture to the show, but you look more like an actress than a grad student," the producer had told her as she was led onto the set.

Still high from comments like that, and from her mostly stammer-free recitation of how she'd found the sonnet and researched its provenance, she'd allowed herself to be seduced by the cameraman. Okay, they'd seduced each other. He was charming in a vaguely dopey way that was, thank god, nothing like the can-you-top-this wit she dealt with up at Columbia. He was a big guy, significantly taller than her five feet seven inches, in his thirties, she guessed, and the easy way he interacted with her, the confidence that came not from entitlement but from a profound lack of concern for where the encounter might lead, appealed to her. Everyone else in her life was so invested in the outcome of every interaction. And she hadn't wanted to be alone, not that night, when so much had gone right.

So she'd agreed to a drink at what turned out to be a dark, beery bar near the studio frequented by news folk, and after her second vodka tonic he'd escorted her home in a cab and then up to her apartment, and now she was carrying two large coffees upstairs and wondering how she'd allowed him into her bed in the first place and how she was going to get him out of it.

When she noticed her apartment door slightly ajar, her first thought was that he'd let himself out. Excellent. No forced chitchat, no awkward goodbyes between two people who had just shared life's most intimate and pleasurable experience and had zero interest in seeing the other ever again. Love gave the wound, which, while I breathe, will bleed. So wrote Philip Sidney, the subject of her doctoral thesis (a work in progress), more than 400 years earlier. Lee Nicholson would not be wounded. She would not bleed.

She pushed the door open with her foot and went in.

Something seemed off — that was her first thought upon entering the living room. The drawers in the chest next to the sofa were slightly open. One of the cabinet doors under her bookshelves was also open. The stacks of books and magazines and papers that covered most horizontal surfaces were slightly askew, as if someone had gone through them and not straightened them afterward. The room would look perfectly fine to a stranger, but it looked all wrong to her. When you lived alone, you became hypersensitive to the presence of an outsider. Someone had gone through her things.

Had she slept with a freak? He'd seemed quite normal the night before. So why had he gone through her things and then left without even bothering to fully close the door behind him? Had he taken anything? He must have realized that she knew where he worked.

She put down the coffees and headed for the bedroom, directly off the living room. What she saw there threw her back against the doorframe as if blown by a sudden wind.

He was on the bed, face up, a small black hole through his forehead. Red-black blood covered his eyes and cheeks. The covers were bunched at his ankles, exposing his naked body. Legs slightly to the side, as if he'd been trying to get off the bed when the bullet — for it must have been a bullet — hit him.

She couldn't take her eyes off him, yet she was simultaneously aware that her bedroom, too, had been searched. Everything looked right but felt wrong. She also sensed — knew — that she was alone. Whoever had done this was gone, leaving the door slightly open in their haste to get away before she returned.

Her jewelry, which she kept on an antique ceramic tray that had been her mother's, was on top of the dresser. Nothing seemed missing.

She should get the hell out of there. Yet her mind kept processing the scene with unexpected detachment, as if taking in a movie. Clearly it wasn't a robbery. Had the intruder been after him? She forced herself to remember his name: Alex. Had someone followed them home last night and then waited outside until she'd left?

She reached for the phone and punched in 911, almost without thinking, as if she'd done it a hundred times before.


The 20th Precinct on Eighty-Second Street near Columbus Avenue was a cheerless 1950s building that smelled of disinfectant. Lee had been taken there by the two policemen who'd arrived at her apartment within ten minutes of her 911 call. They'd called an ambulance moments after arriving, although they could see as easily as she that the man — Alex — was dead. They peppered her with questions about who he was. She told him what little she knew, vaguely embarrassed that a man found in her bed (found dead) was basically a stranger to her. They asked her to retrace every move she'd made since returning with Alex to her apartment the night before. When she reached the early morning walk to Starbucks, and then the return home to find the body, she became aware that their expressions had morphed from curiosity to skepticism.

"You left to get coffee, and came back to find a corpse in your bed?"

"That's what happened, yes."

"You could have made coffee at home, no?"

"I felt like getting some air." It sounded lame, even to her. "It's part of my weekend routine, going out for coffee."

And so it went, each answer she gave eliciting a new question, and greater skepticism. When a team from forensics arrived, the police told her to accompany them to the precinct.

She was led through the dimly lit lobby, the walls the same pale green ceramic tile used in her high school in western Pennsylvania, and into a battered elevator that lurched slowly to the second floor. She hadn't been handcuffed, thankfully. But the two cops gripped her elbows with such force she suspected she'd be bruised the next day. Their destination was a small room on the far side of an open office area containing several desks piled high with papers. No other officers were present. It was early, she reminded herself. Very early. The small room had a plastic sign on the door: Interrogation Room.

"That's reassuring," she said, nodding at the sign.

"Stay here, miss," one of the policemen responded. They left the room and closed the door behind them. She sat on one of two wooden chairs on either side of a small wooden table, deeply pitted and scarred, the finish peeling off in translucent flakes. On the wall to the right of the door, about two-thirds up from the floor, was a horizontal mirror — two-way, no doubt. She tried to ignore it but found herself glancing up every few seconds, intensely aware that she was probably being observed and convinced that she looked suspicious, perhaps even guilty. She glanced away, tried smiling, glanced back with a more somber expression. How was she supposed to look, under the circumstances? What did innocent look like?

When the door opened, after an endless wait that was probably no more than five minutes, she started so suddenly that her chair scraped the linoleum floor.

"I'm Detective Lowry." The woman was petite and attractive, with shoulder-length brown hair and a pale, smooth complexion that seemed at odds with the harsh, poorly maintained precinct building. Her eyes were light blue and seemed intently focused on Lee, even as the detective circled the small desk and sat down. She wore a tan wool sweater and gray slacks. A silver cross hung from a chain around her neck.

"May I call you Leslie?" The name on her driver's license.

"Most people call me Lee."

"Tell me what happened, Lee," she said as she opened a small notebook and clicked on a pen. It was stupid, really, but Lee had been expecting some words of consolation or empathy, given what she'd been through and the fact that the detective was a woman. The sudden launch of an interrogation — in an interrogation room! — was both disappointing and unsettling.

"I told the two officers who came to my apartment the entire story." Damn, why story? "The chain of events. They took detailed notes."

"I need for you to tell me what happened." She seemed disapproving. Had she never had a one-night-stand she later regretted?

"I think I should have a lawyer here with me," Lee said.

"You haven't been charged with anything, Miss Nicholson."

"But I can still call my lawyer." Not that she had a lawyer, or even knew one well enough to call so early in the morning, out of the blue. Was she even entitled to insist on one? "And I haven't been read my rights," she said, with a cringing sense that she was wading into the world of primetime cop shows without a sense of what really went on in these situations.

"You aren't Mirandized until you're charged. As for an attorney, if you want to call one, you may. How soon do you think he or she could be here?"

"I don't know, I —"

"Because if you answer my questions now we might be able to let you go sooner. But if you prefer to wait...."

Might be able to let her go?

"What was your question again?" she asked, her voice hoarse and faint.

* * *

She walked Detective Lowry through the past twelve hours, but this time she was stopped every few sentences with questions that sounded increasingly skeptical, at times borderline incredulous.

"Are you absolutely positive you never met Alex Folsom before?" "Yes, positive." She couldn't help glancing up at the mirror. Who was behind it, and what were they thinking?

"Were you aware of anyone following you last night when you brought Mr. Folsom to your apartment?"

"I was not." She'd been aware of very little, in fact. "I suppose there might have been someone."

"You suppose?"

She bristled at the mocking tone. She'd already recited her academic credentials. They seemed to bore Detective Lowry, whose pencil, which scrawled frantically across the small notebook to record the events of the evening and morning, froze at any mention of Columbia or her dissertation. Was she coming off as a pedant? Well, you didn't go to jail for pedantry.

"I don't think I was followed."

"And you didn't invite anyone else into your apartment?"

She forced herself to avoid looking at the mirror, behind which she imagined a dozen or more salacious grins.

"It was just the two of us." She smiled primly.

And so it went, for two uncomfortable hours. Every statement, no matter how seemingly innocuous, was challenged.

"There was no sign of forced entry," Lowry said.

"I told the police who came to my apartment, and I told you, I never lock the door when I'm just running out for coffee. The door to the building is locked, and there was a man in there this morning, which is another reason I didn't lock up."

"Yes, there was a man in there." Lowry scribbled something on her pad.

Occasionally the detective would leave the room, no doubt to consult with the rubberneckers on the other side of the mirror, then return with a fresh line of questioning. The room was beginning to feel warm, and she had the strongest sense that it was shrinking, the walls closing in. She'd held off giving her theory of why Alex had been killed, a theory — more of a conviction, really — that had taken shape slowly over the course of the long morning. Once Detective Lowry heard it she'd understand, and Lee would be allowed to go home.

Home? Would she ever be able to sleep there again, even after the ... crime scene had been cleaned up? Where would she go?

"Miss Nicholson?"

Detective Lowry was staring at her with something verging on concern. She was so pretty, Lee thought again, pretty in a delicate way that seemed at odds with her profession. But she sensed no empathy from her, a fellow single woman in New York (assuming the lack of a wedding ring could be trusted).

"Sorry, I was thinking...." Thinking about the rest of her life, which she suspected had just taken a gigantic detour. "You see, I think I know ... well, in fact, I do know, what happened. Well, why it happened."

Detective Lowry's eyes widened ever so slightly, a very tepid invitation to continue.

"It's about the sonnet," Lee said.

In the long minutes before the police had arrived at her apartment, she'd had the strongest sense that everything was just slightly off. Even the hundreds of books on the shelves in the living room were askew, as if each one had been removed from the shelf and replaced, but without the admittedly obsessive care with which she habitually arranged her beloved collection. In fact, nothing was precisely as it had been. Her apartment had been carefully searched in the fifteen minutes or so she'd been gone, but it had not been ransacked. Everything had been scrupulously put back in place — almost in place.

She'd shared this observation with the police at her apartment, but they'd seemed less then convinced.

"Looks neat to me," one of them had said. "You're telling me someone searched this place?"

The sonnet. Whoever killed Alex had been looking for the sonnet. It was the only thing of value she owned, other than a diamond pendant, a gift from her father, which had been ignored (a fact the police on the scene had been very interested in). A newly discovered Shakespeare sonnet, written in faded black ink in the Bard's own hand on a brittle piece of paper six inches tall by three inches wide, might fetch fifty or even a hundred thousand dollars at auction, perhaps more if her authentication were endorsed by the global Shakespeare establishment, which she felt confident it would be.


Excerpted from "The Semper Sonnet"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Seth Margolis.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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