Kathy Lynn Emerson here. Today is the release date for my historical mystery, Death of an Intelligence Gatherer, and I’m offering those who read the Maine Crime Writers blog a chance to win an autographed copy of the trade paperback edition. Names of everyone who leaves a comment below will be entered in a drawing to be held on Saturday, August 12. The winner will be notified by e-mail.
It is 1553 and England is plunged into turmoil by the succession of Mary Tudor to the throne. Unlike her father and brother, Queen Mary is a Catholic, determined to demolish the Church of England and force everyone to covert to her faith. Add conspirators, spies, a bit of romance, sibling rivalry, and a poisoning to the mix and you have the story of Cordell Ingram’s journey into exile on the Continent with her father and her struggle to find justice when she suspects he has been murdered because he was secretly gathering intelligence to foil a plot to overthrow the queen.
Here is an excerpt, the first of fifty chapters:
The windows in the upper room of the Catte Street house looked south over a half mile of narrow London streets and alleys. There were more than a hundred churches in the city. By day, even on an overcast afternoon, it was possible to pick out dozens of steeples jutting up above the closely packed houses and shops, but on the sixth of July in the year of our Lord 1553, an unnatural darkness obscured the view and painted everything murky gray.
At the first rumble of thunder, Cordell Ingram set her sewing aside and rose from the low bench she shared with her sister to cross the solar. Lightning flashed just as she reached for the shutters, intending to close the heavy wooden panels. It drew her gaze to the upthrust spire of one particular church. A second jagged scar of light illuminated the scene long enough for her to see a spiral of smoke curling with sinister intent around the bell tower. A moment later, yellow flames began to lick their way upward.
When Eleanor joined her at the window, the sisters watched, transfixed, until the spire, weakened by the strike, crumbled at its base and fell with excruciating slowness toward the street below. Eleanor gasped and retreated but Cordell, fearing what a shower of sparks might do to nearby wooden buildings, leaned out into the eerie mist. Unless a downpour followed the lightning, fire would spread rapidly, devouring everything in its path. All of London might burn.
As if in answer to a prayer, the deluge began. As rain fell in sheets, Cordell slammed the shutters closed and latched them, plunging the room into shadow.
Candlelight offered little reassurance while the storm raged. When Eleanor whimpered in fright, Cordell caught her hand and guided her to the padded bench where they had left their needlework. Although Cordell was younger by two years, she was taller and more sturdily built. She wrapped one arm around her sister’s shoulders and shifted her position until their heads nearly touched. Locks of Cordell’s dark, unruly, unbound hair, wet from the rain, mingled with the lighter-colored strands of Eleanor’s neatly combed tresses. That they were seated so close together created the momentary illusion that they each drew comfort from the other’s nearness.
Eleanor jerked upright, an expression of distaste on her heart-shaped face. “Your hair and clothing are drenched,” she complained. “Have a care you do not drip on my new silk sleeves. Water will ruin them.”
With a sigh, Cordell slid along the bench, putting as much distance as possible between them. Eleanor fussed with the dark green folds of her skirt, adjusting the opening at the front to reveal a forepart of brocaded ivory silk that matched her sleeves.
“I thought you were afraid of the storm.”
Eleanor sent a nervous glance toward the window. “It will pass.”
As if to mock her statement, thunder crashed so close to the house that the walls shook. The candles flickered ominously. Cordell held her breath, but none winked out. Rain continued to drum on the roof tiles as she picked up the shift she had been hemming, but she made no attempt to resume the chore. At her side, Eleanor sat stiff as a poker, hands clasped in her lap and eyes squeezed shut.
This was no brief downpour. It went on and on, terrifying in its intensity. Cordell lost track of time and could not help but feel she and Eleanor were cut off from the rest of the world. Her heart lurched when her father’s housekeeper, Ursula Ware, burst into the room.
“Not fit weather for man nor beast,” Ursula declared in a loud, carrying voice. Beefy arms hung from shoulders that sloped forward with age and her face was lined as a prune, but she could move as quietly and swiftly as a cat when she chose to. “Butcher’s boy says he saw blood‑colored hailstones near the banks of the Thames. An evil omen, that is. Means real blood will be spilt soon.”
“Superstitious nonsense,” Cordell said.
She doubted Ursula heard her. Between the rain, the thunder, and the wind rattling the shutters, the noise of the storm drowned out any words spoken more softly than a bellow.
“A church burned to the ground.” Ursula shouted. “You know what that means. It is an act of God when a house of worship is demolished, and a sure sign of more troubles to come.”
She set about lighting more candles, grumbling to herself all the while. Eleanor picked up her needle and embroidery frame and resumed stitching. Cordell glared at the shift in her lap, now sadly wrinkled where she had clutched the material too tightly.
She smoothed out the fabric and was searching for her dropped needle when she realized that the storm had abated enough to allow her to hear heavy footsteps approaching the solar. A moment later, her father stepped into the room.
Rainwater dripped from Sir Henry Ingram’s cloak to puddle on the floor. When he removed that outer garment, Cordell saw that the clothing he wore beneath it was drenched as well.
Eleanor was on her feet in an instant. “Whatever possessed you to come all the way from Greenwich in this weather?” she scolded him. “You will catch your death if—”
She broke off when he stepped more fully into the candlelight. His face was as gray as the stormy sky and his eyes were haunted.
“Father?” Cordell rose and started toward him. “What is wrong?”
“The king,” he said. “The king is dead.”
His words stopped her in her tracks. Although she and Eleanor lived in the London house or at Ingram Hall in Hertfordshire, Sir Henry had lodgings at the royal court and kept his family well apprised of what took place there. The young king, Edward the Sixth, had succeeded his father, Henry the Eighth, only six years earlier. Since he had not been old enough to rule on his own, a Lord Protector had been appointed to run the country. The duke of Somerset, who had held that post, had later been replaced by the duke of Northumberland, and from what Cordell knew of Northumberland, he would be loath to relinquish control of the government to a new ruler.
“What will happen now?” she asked.
“God only knows,” Sir Henry said, “for I do not.”
“Sit, Father.” Cordell took his arm and led him to the bobbin-frame chair near the hearth, but there was no warmth to be had from that source. As it was summer, the opening was filled with scented boughs. “Ursula, fetch mulled wine. Sir Henry is chilled to the bone.” The cooking fire in the kitchen could be revived even if it was down to embers.
“I do not understand,” Eleanor said when the housekeeper had left the room. “What is so uncertain? Surely the king’s sister will succeed to the throne.”
The rain still came down in torrents, but the thunder and lightning had ceased. It was possible to converse without shouting.
“Have you forgotten?” Sir Henry asked. “Both King Henry’s daughters were declared illegitimate and disinherited by their father. Moreover, King Edward, anxious to preserve the New Religion, made a will excluding both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession. He named their cousin, the Lady Jane Grey, to rule after him.”
Cordell felt a chill course through her that had nothing to do with the storm. “Was that his choice,” she asked, “or the duke’s doing?”
She might never have been to court herself, but everyone knew that the Lady Jane had recently been married to one of the duke of Northumberland’s sons.
“Does it matter?” Sir Henry asked. “The result is the same. The leading men at Edward’s court dare not allow his oldest sister, Mary Tudor, to take the throne. As a devout Catholic, Mary’s first act will be to restore that religion in England. She will force everyone to conform and punish those who were most fervent in establishing the reformed faith in place of the church of Rome.”
“How can she undo what it has taken two decades to build?” Eleanor asked.
Catholicism had been abandoned when she was still on leading strings and Cordell was a babe in arms. They had never known any other church than the one Henry the Eighth established in a fit of pique over the Pope’s refusal to grant him a divorce.
Sir Henry started to answer but broke off when Ursula returned with a goblet of spiced wine that had been heated until it steamed gently. He sent his housekeeper a pointed look as he accepted the offering.
“There are many people who only pretended to change their faith after King Henry broke with Rome. They have clung to the old ways in secret all these years and will not lightly accept anyone but Mary Tudor as her brother’s heir.”
“They will rebel?” Eleanor’s anxiety caused her voice to rise by half an octave.
Cordell, watching Ursula’s face, caught the flash of a satisfied smile before she made her features carefully blank.
“I fear so,” Sir Henry said. “In any case, the best and wisest course is to remain neutral until the succession is an accomplished fact. That is why I left court as soon as I heard of the king’s death.”
“But you have always supported the duke,” Eleanor protested. “And the New Religion.”
“I did not approve of all of Northumberland’s policies.” He sipped cautiously of the hot drink and some of the color returned to his face. “However, it is true that I hope to retain my position at court. If the Lady Jane becomes queen, little will change.”
“The duke will be the real ruler,” Cordell said.
Sir Henry nodded. “He will continue to run the country, as he has since Somerset’s execution. Queen Jane will have nothing to do but preside over a glittering court.” A fond smile brightened his countenance as glanced at Cordell. “If there is to be a new, young queen, there will be positions open for maids of honor. Perhaps you will be considered for one.”
Cordell, watching Eleanor, saw her sister’s eyes narrow at the suggestion. A delicately beautiful young woman, she possessed a winsome smile ideally suited to charm everyone she met, but just now it was nowhere in evidence.
Eleanor pursed her lips before bursting into speech. “I am the oldest. If one of your daughters goes to court, it should be me.”
Sir Henry’s face creased into a puzzled frown. “But you are to wed George Eastland next month. Maids of honor must be unmarried.”
Unable to offer an argument that could counter that fact, Eleanor retreated into sullen silence. Retrieving her embroidery, she resumed her seat in the bench and stabbed her needle into the fabric.
Cordell remained where she was, hovering beside her father’s chair. “Finish your wine,” she urged him. “Then change into dry clothes. You will take a chill if you continue to sit here in those wet garments.”
He glanced at her still-damp hair and smiled, but he obediently drained his goblet. “I will not argue, Cordell. Nor will I hear any argument when I tell you that it is late and well past the time you and Eleanor should already have been abed. We will talk more of the future in the morning.”
Cordell obeyed reluctantly. She tried to tell herself that it was just the storm that made her uneasy, but she could not shake the feeling that her father’s abrupt and unexpected return to Catte Street was even more worrisome.
Remember, you have to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing. Feel free to tell me what you think of the story so far.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.