In this clever reimagining of Charles Dickens’s life, he and fiancée Kate Hogarth must solve the murder of a spinster wearing a wedding gown . . .
London, June 1835: In the interest of being a good neighbor, Charles checks in on Miss Haverstock, the elderly spinster who resides in the flat above his. But as the young journalist and his fiancée Kate ascend the stairs, they are assaulted by the unmistakable smell of death. Upon entering the woman’s quarters, they find her decomposing corpse propped up, adorned in a faded gown that looks like it could have been her wedding dress, had she been married. A murderer has set the stage. But to what purpose?
As news of an escaped convict from Coldbath Fields reaches the couple, Charles reasonably expects the prisoner, Ned Blood, may be responsible. But Kate suspects more personal motives, given the time and effort in dressing the victim. When a local blacksmith is found with cut manacles in his shop and arrested, his distraught wife begs Charles and Kate to help. At the inquest, they are surprised to meet Miss Haverstock’s cold and haughty foster daughter, shadowed by her miserably besotted companion. Secrets shrouded by the old woman’s past may hold the answers to this web of mystery. But Charles and Kate will have to risk their lives to unveil the truth . . .
Charles offered his arm with a gentlemanly flourish. “Let us go upstairs.”
“When did you last visit your neighbor?” Kate asked, the pressure of her fingers almost unfelt against his coat. “I admit I am concerned, considering what Mr. Jones said. It was selfish of me not to demand we check upstairs right away.”
“You are never selfish, darling. Miss Haverstock uses that stick, you know, because of her bad hip. Maybe she couldn’t rise from bed yesterday.”
He and Kate stepped into the narrow hall between the sets of rooms. Opposite the front door to the building was a wooden staircase spanning the width of the hall, with extremely squeaky steps. Mrs. Haverstock was a small woman and didn’t make much noise going upstairs or moving in her rooms, which were over Charles’s. The noise she made was more like that of a mouse skittering than that of a full-grown person going about the business of their day.
As they climbed the steps, Kate having let go of his arm in order to lift her skirts slightly, he realized he hadn’t heard the mouselike sounds in days. When had he last seen his upstairs neighbor?
Kate glanced at him, a pinched expression around her eyes. “What is that smell, Charles?”
“Meat that’s gone off?” he asked, curling his lips with distaste. He’d smelled something like this before, half a year ago, when he’d been taken to the scene of a bloody suicide.
They reached the top of the stairs. The smell intensified. Kate coughed and pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and held it to her nose. “Maybe she is ill?”
Charles knew better, now that they were at the unremarkable front door of Miss Haverstock’s rooms. “It’s death, Kate. It can be nothing else.”
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