It's launch day for my 7th historical novel today: The Collectors!
The Collectors begins in 1872 and, in a way, it's my love letter to London. I love London, the museums, the thrill of the city, the history. There is so much to London, so many moments of courage and mystery. Some of those secrets are held by the Collectors. The story is fiction, but the backdrop is historic and rooted in reality. The streets of London that they walk and the sights that they see could really have been visited by Victorian Londoners.
Here is chapter one:
November 1, 1872
Revenge was sealed in a red-stamped envelope. It festered there, like the piles of molding cheeses— Roqueforts and Stilton, which the cook sealed away into the basement pantry. The delicate preserve of curds and whey were secure there, for the expansive shadows and clambering spiders kept out unwanted passersby, keen to procure a wedge for their own savoring. Surveying the cheeses, like a ship-master at the helm, the cook smiled.
Upstairs, paintings clustered as watchful guardians of the Borchardts' domestic events. There was Uncle Bartholomew, framed in oak, and looking even sterner than his name sounded. Prudence, a grandmother of several greats, looked on in earnest, her nose pinched as though she were just about to sneeze. Whether anyone would bless her if she did so was beyond the knowledge of the maid. She had only to contend with the gatherings of dust, accumulating in the corners, keen on collecting themselves into unwanted heaps.
Across town, Madam Hidgens would just be opening the millinery shop. She expected a quiet morning after last night's festivities. Hats and feathered masks had been hoarded by the town for weeks, the especially fine ones tucked away behind displays by the younger clientele until enough tuppence had been collected to purchase them. The Halloween masquerade was beloved, a height of fashion and of society that would not be matched again until the heads were bedecked in their Christmas finery. With a little sigh of relief, she relaxed into the prospect of a slower month ahead and turned her attention to the memories of last night. Truth be told, Madam Hidgens had preferred watching her hats dance across the ballroom last night, the crowning jewels atop the shimmering silks and taffeta that waltzed over the floor, to taking her own turn with a partner. There had been several gentleman kind enough to offer, not merely out of polite London manners, but because even at forty, Madam Hidgens turned more heads than a girl half her age. Those who were jealous might have suggested that it had more to do with her bank account, burgeoning under the benefit of society's well-dressed always looking their finest. To say so, though, would have been more than unkind and far from true. And as for Madam Hidgens herself, she always spoke the truth. It was more than could be said for some people.
George Patrick for one. He was young, walked with his hands in his pockets as though always clutching his money, and had the faint aroma of cornbread on him. He must have eaten pounds of it when he'd lived in America, for his pores still clung to it, emanating his roots. But, perhaps, that was only Madam Hidgens's uncharitable opinion, for George Patrick was fond only of his hat that he brought from home and never had occasion to dally in her shop looking for a companion for it or, at the very least, a replacement. It was with a sort of begrudging reluctance that she admired the craftsmanship of his hat. Just how had the silk managed to retain its rigidity for all of these years? It was five at least. Yes, she first remembered seeing him arrive in London five years ago. Even if his hat had been perfectly new then, it still seemed an oddity that he'd not had occasion to frequent her shop. And what was more, it hadn't been new. For, Madam Hidgens, to her chagrin, remembered when she'd first seen that hat and she noted that it'd looked a bit tired. A tingle of excitement thrilled through her at the thought of a new hat, for she loved to see a new hat on another's head even better than on her own. He'd not entered her store though, not on any occasion, for these past five years and he'd been to no other milliner either. George Patrick was a traitor to her cause. With time, there had been no new hats and, if anything, with age it had improved.
Millicent Brown would appreciate that. Her cheeses were the finest, the ones that the Borchardts' cook so admired and stored with such precision. Cooks who bustled through the fully-stocked shop, their lists so long they nearly trailed behind them, were welcomed of course. But, Millicent delighted in the picnickers. If there were one thing that years of sales had taught her it was that everything, especially cheese, tasted a hundred times better when eaten outside in the fresh air. Elias Penbrooke, in particular, consumed the Brie and Camembert, alongside the Wensleydale and Cheddar in epic proportions certain to be memorialized in the great works of Chaucer, Shakespeare or the more contemporary Dickens. Elias would chuckle prodigiously at Millicent’s insistence of the cheddar sonnet now, if not for one simple fact. Elias Penbrooke was not at the corner store on that morning. He was with the lions.
My best to you all,