We’re thrilled to share the duvet for The Curse of Penryth Corridor! On this Minotaur Books & Thriller Writers of America First Crime Novel Award-winning debut, Jess Armstrong fantastically brings the traditional Cornish countryside to life and introduces us to heroine Ruby Vaughn. Learn on for an excerpt from this atmospheric gothic thriller, hitting cabinets in December 2023!
Chapter One: An Undesirable Journey
There have been three issues a woman needed after the evening I had. One: a correct breakfast. Two: a shortage of daylight. And three—presumably most essential—espresso. Darkish, bitter, and at the very least two pots. However I had not one of the aforementioned. What I did have, nevertheless, was a splitting headache, a sunburn, and my octogenarian employer sitting alongside me in a deck chair with the Pall Mall Gazette and Globe in his palms.
I blinked within the brilliant morning solar then shut my eyes again tight. I braved a look down at myself, nonetheless wearing the identical ocher silk night robe from the evening earlier than. Particulars of which returned within the vaguest of sparkles, none of which had been notably illuminating. The close by bells of Exeter Cathedral rang out loud and clear rattling round in my gin-muddled head.
“Is there espresso?”
“Is that each one you need to say for your self?” Mr. Owen flicked one other web page in his paper, his dark-brown eyes fastened upon the newsprint. “While you didn’t come down for breakfast I believed you’d lastly gone and drowned your self on this loss of life pit you’ve dug in my rose backyard. But it surely appears you’ve almost executed the job in gin.”
I waved a hand at him ignoring the twinge of reality within the final barb. “It’s a washing pool, Mr. Owen. They’re going to be all the trend at some point. Apart from, your roses had been useless after I moved right here. I daresay I improved issues out right here.”
He chuckled beneath his breath. A minimum of he wasn’t terribly cross. He seldom was, irrespective of how deep my provocation. I sat up within the wood chair, pulling my knees in opposition to my chest wincing on the gentle. The blackcap within the tree close by was notably effusive in his morning tune. The guy was a bit extra cheerful than I.
He slid a wire-framed pair of sun shades throughout the desk between us and I breathed out a sigh of aid, taking them without delay. God bless him. A quickly cooling cup of tea sat on the desk beside me, and I couldn’t assist however smile. This was our behavior, he and I, had been since I’d answered his commercial for a room-to-let. Although I’d gotten fairly a bit extra within the discount. We’d lived collectively on this unusual little world right here within the western a part of Devon, and it suited us each high-quality. In identify, he owned all of it: the bookshop, the derelict mansion together with all the things in it—excluding my little vehicle and my clothes. Oh, and my jewellery. Not that I had a lot of that anymore as I’d taken a moderately bare-bones lifestyle because the finish of the battle. Fewer ties, fewer issues to lose.
With the solar now not assaulting my head, I opened my eyes to the inexperienced and gilt tiles of the pool, which sparkled again at me like a jewel field within the midmorning solar. And whereas he would possibly detest the factor, it was my best pleasure as we weren’t alongside the seaside. “Has Mrs. Adams arrived but?”
“After final evening, lass?” Mr. Owen raised an incredulous bushy white eyebrow.
I bit my lip—properly, if I may solely recall final evening it’d clue me in a bit as to my present state of being in addition to the situation of our housekeeper. My events did have a knack for getting out of hand. Final evening, from all proof, was no exception. And it began off so pretty too, with dinner and a little bit of port—which I consider was the 1907. We nonetheless had half a case within the cellar that I’d had introduced up particularly for the event. Adopted by literature and poetry. A smattering of philosophy till issues took a extra libertine bend. And so they at all times took a libertine bend. Mr. Owen would be part of within the revelry for the primary few hours, desirous to debate Marx, Nietzsche, or Freud, his favourite—I despised the man, however nobody was excellent. Not even expensive Mr. Owen.
“How dangerous was it?” I wrinkled my nostril.
He snorted once more and took a sip of tea, glancing at me over a gilt-rimmed teacup. “It wasn’t almost as dangerous because the one in February with the . . .” He gestured with a furrowed forehead. “You recall, the one with the goat dressed for the opera.”
I snorted again amusing. “She wasn’t dressed for the opera, she was Brünnhilde from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. Come now, we even noticed that one collectively in Hammersmith final winter. Keep in mind?”
“I don’t recall any sopranic goats after we had been in Hammersmith.”
“That’s not a phrase—”
He shrugged with a quirk of his white mustache. “It’s if I say it’s.”
I glanced across the eerily quiet backyard. It was too quiet. Ordinarily by this time of day Mrs. Adams can be bustling about casting me aggravated glances as she went about her duties. Probably gathering bits of data to hold again to the women’ auxiliary or no matter they name that kind of factor in Devon. “Mr. Owen . . . the place is Mrs. Adams? She hasn’t taken in poor health, has she?”
The outdated Scot’s dark-brown eyes had been heat and amused. Not that he’d ever admit to both sentiment. “Gone. Inside ten minutes of setting foot over the brink. One thing a few den of sin and vice. What’s that make now? The third housekeeper that’s scarpered this month?”
“Second.” However actually who was counting at this level. Actually, my events weren’t that scandalous. Even when I couldn’t recall the precise particulars of the affair.
“It’s for the perfect, as I needed to talk with you about one thing, lass. And if that outdated hen had been right here she’d by no means depart us in peace.”
One thing secret—now, that was fascinating. My morning was wanting higher already.
“You see, woman, I’ve been considering.”
Oh, expensive. Mr. Owen’s considering by no means boded properly. Normally, it was adopted by my being flung hither or yon on some mad escapade of his. I questioned briefly what he’d been like as a youthful man, touring the world till he ran out of funds, and returned again house with an unconventional spouse to arrange the bookshop right here in Exeter. After all, she handed away earlier than the battle, and all three of their sons throughout it. Leaving him a father in want of a kid, and I a toddler in want of a father. He by no means spoke a lot about his life earlier than I got here into it. Nor did I for that matter. The previous was no good to anybody, and digging about in it solely caused unpleasantness. It was greatest to depart it the place it was. Previous.
I took a sip of the tea, letting it wend its manner darkish and robust down my throat. “The place am I off to this time?”
“Am I that simple to learn?”
He folded his paper with a harrumph and set it down between us on the little metallic desk. “It shouldn’t be too troublesome for you this time. I would like you to hold a field of books to slightly city exterior Tintagel. I’ve an outdated good friend, you see.” He lifted his cup to his lips. “He’s a little bit of a folks healer.”
I arched an eyebrow. “A bit of a folks healer?”
Mr. Owen ignored me and carried on. “Lothlel Inexperienced, I consider the village is known as. Tiny little spot. Nothing however cows and cliffs and sweeping vistas dotted by creatures of the ovine persuasion. I daresay you would possibly even discover the place charming.”
Lothlel Inexperienced. My abdomen knotted on the identify. A spot I hadn’t considered in fairly a while. He’s a baronet, Ruby. Don’t you see what this implies? I feel, maybe, I may very well be joyful there. Her voice echoed in my thoughts. In reality, I made it a degree to not suppose on it. Or her. Or Cornwall for that matter. I’d expressly vowed to by no means set foot within the godforsaken county ever once more.
“It isn’t a lot of a city, thoughts. It’s a handful of miles from Bodmin Moor, on the best way to Tintagel. You’ve been there, haven’t you? On one in all your little sojourns. I may have sworn you’d gone off for a marriage some years again for a good friend of yours. Simply after you moved in right here.”
Sure, properly. The outdated man appeared to have a really eager reminiscence. Any hint of my good humor evaporated as I stared into my teacup, wishing for one thing a bit stronger than oolong in its depths. Oh, I’d been there. And I’d watched my greatest good friend—the one individual I’d ever actually cherished—marry one other. And never out of affection—that I may perceive—however out of . . . I wasn’t even certain out of what. Inertia maybe? “I’m afraid I’m not feeling fairly as much as—”
“Nonsense, youngster, you had been greater than capable of entertain your human menagerie final evening. And in case you may stick with it in such a way then, you are able to do this for me now. Inform me you took the good-looking one to mattress at the very least?”
Mattress? I’d simply spent the night in a deck chair. What feats of acrobatics did he anticipate of me? Apart from, I hadn’t taken a lover in a scandalously very long time, as sexual congress had misplaced a little bit of its appeal. I should be as dissipated because the neighboring girls’ affiliation whispered behind gloved palms. No, it was worse than that—I used to be struggling the worst case of ennui because the daybreak of the nineteenth century.
“What was his identify?”
I sniffed and took one other sip of tea. “I haven’t a clue to whom you might be referring. And I don’t consider it’s any of your enterprise what cavorting I do, or don’t do.”
He laughed once more and shook his head, “It’s not the mattress sport I take concern with, my darling woman, it’s that you simply’re losing your self on these younger jackanapes.” He pointed at me along with his forefinger. “A lady such as you, Ruby Vaughn, has extra potential than the lot of these gents who come right here each Saturday eve in hopes of getting in your good graces. Half of them couldn’t decipher their arse from their elbows if given a Michelin information.”
I almost snorted the tea out my nostril. My eyes watered. He wasn’t flawed. I used to be trying to find one thing. Wanted it. Solely I hadn’t fairly decided what precisely I sought.
Fiachna, Mr. Owen’s home cat, however, knew exactly what he was after. The good feline hopped up into my lap, purring loudly. I stroked his ebony ears. His claws caught the silk of my robe as he settled in for rub.
“I imply it, woman.”
“Why don’t you go if it’s that essential?” I shot again altering the topic.
“You already know my gout has gotten to the purpose I can hardly stroll.”
There was no arguing with him when he was on this temper.
He stretched, rising from his personal deck chair, and steadied himself on a easy rowan strolling stick. “Come alongside. I’ve one thing to point out you.”
Very properly then. I scooped Fiachna into my arms and set off inside, following Mr. Owen by the terrace doorways into his private library. He tugged on the heavy velvet drapes, permitting the morning solar in by the traditional leaded home windows. Illuminated mud danced within the air. The room was lined floor-to-ceiling in books. Darkish. Hidebound spines going through outward.
All of the mundane titles he stored within the bookshop, however this room—this room housed all of the exceptionally uncommon and beneficial tomes, together with these specific titles that the federal government took concern with.
He lumbered throughout the room and thwacked an infinite case along with his strolling stick. “These are them.”
A field of books?! A trunk extra like, and an outdated tatty one too. “What’s in there? The butcher? Are you sure Mrs. Adams left, or did you do her in and stuff her within the trunk so I can eliminate what’s left of her?” I wrinkled my nostril reaching down for the clasp, shifting Fiachna’s loud night breathing kind to 1 aspect. The black cat let loose a mewling sound of protest on the inconvenience and I set him down.
His cane got here down on the highest of the trunk with a loud crack about three inches from my fingers. “You’re to not open it. You perceive me, woman?”
He’d by no means spoken to me that manner earlier than and I didn’t care a lot for his tone. I opened my mouth to inform him the identical when it struck me—within the almost 4 years I’d lived with him, he’d by no means forbidden me to the touch something. By no means forbidden me to take a look at a e-book, even deal with one. I’d gone by a few of his most delicate tomes. Pages as skinny as butterfly wings and twice as fragile with out him voicing a single protest. What on this field may very well be so completely different?
“These are historic issues, my woman . . . harmful ones.”
“Actually, Mr. Owen, they’re books. How harmful can they be?” I used to be starting to surprise if maybe he was the one who had an excessive amount of to drink final evening.
He set his jaw agency beneath his thick white beard.
I glanced again down on the trunk. “They’re books, aren’t they? I used to be solely teasing about Mrs. Adams . . .”
“After all they’re books, lass. However books themselves are seldom the hazard, it’s what’s inside them that carries the danger.”
“Oh, good God, they’re not unlawful, are they? After the final time I believed you’d had your fill of banned books.”
“Me?” He gave me an harmless look.
“Nice. After the final time, I had my fill. I believed I made it completely clear I wasn’t shifting any extra unlawful books for you after you bought me locked up in Holloway Jail for 4 days!”
“It did wonders in your mood too, if I recall.” He chuckled low and shook his head waving me off. “Don’t take a look at me like that. You’re far too fairly to glare like my great-aunt Petunia. Apart from, there’s nothing in there to get you arrested this time.”
“You don’t have a great-aunt Petunia. And why can’t you ship me someplace fascinating? You know the way a lot I’d prefer to go to Egypt together with your good friend Mr. Carter. He invited me to affix him final time he was right here. Stated he may use somebody with my translation skills.”
Mr. Owen grumbled beneath his breath. “I haven’t a clue why Lord Carnarvon is so affected person with him. Mark my phrases, the person will discover nothing within the Valley of the Kings. I don’t even know why he retains throwing good cash after dangerous. Although I’ve heard Carnarvon’s going to tug funding quickly.”
“I believed you preferred him.”
“Carter?” Mr. Owen drew his brows up. “I do. However even I do know a nasty wager after I see one,” Mr. Owen snapped, placing an finish to that dialog. Once more. Fortunate Mr. Carter goes to Egypt. I . . . I’m going to Cornwall.
“There’s nothing unlawful within the trunk. Cease obvious on the field.”
“Oh, that’s a high-quality assurance.” However I used to be executed arguing. I’d already made up my thoughts to go. His field of forbidden books piqued my curiosity greater than I cared to confess, as I used to be fairly sure he knew. I used to be a predictable factor. Dangle the faintest trace of thriller earlier than me and I might be captured like a fox in a snare.
Mr. Owen sensed the change in my temper. His broad mouth curved up right into a smile and he laid a hand on my shoulder. “Possibly this journey is exactly what you want, my darling. You’ll come again together with your head clear. I knew a chap as soon as, William Bottrell, lengthy useless now however he traveled everywhere in the West Nation gathering their tales. It’s an historic place—Cornwall—filled with secrets and techniques and legends. I feel you’d get pleasure from it in case you gave it an opportunity.”
“Did Mr. Bottrell die in pursuit of mentioned tales?”
Mr. Owen laughed merrily, shaking his head. “The outdated Cornish folkways predate even the Romans. There are issues that happen there nobody can clarify, nobody dares query. In any case, Tintagel is the birthplace of Arthur, they are saying. The seat of kings. Maybe you’d discover it fascinating. Possibly it could show you how to to . . .” He gestured for a second, a glance of ache crossing his face earlier than he shook his head. “By no means thoughts me, lass. You go on. I’ll write down Mr. Kivell’s route.”
Folks healers, superstition, and certain no electrical energy.
Beautiful. Simply pretty.
Copyright © 2023 by Jess Armstrong. All rights reserved.