If Books Could Kill, page 1
If Books Could Kill
Murder is easy-on paper.
Book restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright is attending the world- renowned Book Fair when her ex Kyle shows up with a bombshell. He has an original copy of a scandalous text that could change history-and humiliate the beloved British monarchy.
When Kyle turns up dead, the police are convinced Brooklyn 's the culprit. But with an entire convention of suspects, Brooklyn 's conducting her own investigation to find out if the motive for murder was a 200-year-old secret-or something much more personal.
If Books Could Kill
The second book in the Bibliophile Mystery series, 2010
This book is dedicated to my mother, Patricia Campbell Beaver, whose good humor and love of life have always inspired me. I love you, Mom.
Heartfelt thanks to Maureen Child for great advice, fabulous ideas and unflagging support, and to Susan Mallery for her plotting genius and wise counsel. Thanks also to Christine Rimmer and Teresa Southwick, all part of the most amazing plot group ever. Gracias, my friends. Drinks are on me!
Once again, I am amazed and inspired by book artist Wendy Poma, who has the lovely ability to make an esoteric art seem approachable and downright fun.
Many thanks to my literary agent, Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, whose intelligence, charm and enthusiasm for my work make me the envy of all my friends.
I am so grateful to my new editor, the extraordinary Ellen Edwards, for taking Brooklyn -and me-under her wing. Thank you! Thanks, as well, to everyone at NAL who worked so hard to help Brooklyn hit it out of the park her first time up at bat.
I’m also indebted to P. J. Nunn and Breakthrough Promotions for helping to put this newbie author on the map. You are the best!
To the bookbinders, librarians and readers who have let me know how much they love Brooklyn, your support means so much to me.
To the Banditas, y’all rock!
Finally, a big, fat thank-you to my darling husband, Don, who makes me laugh and believes in me, always.
If my life were a book, I would have masking tape holding my hinges together. My pages would be loose, my edges tattered and my boards exposed, the front flyleaf torn and the leather mottled and moth-eaten. I’d have to take myself apart and put myself back together, as any good book restoration expert would do.
I had just finished my first glass of India Pale Ale in the pub of the Edinburgh hotel I’d checked into an hour earlier, and it seemed as good a time as any to throw myself a pity party and reflect on the strange turns my life had taken recently. I wasn’t happy about it. I needed to get back on track. And it occurred to me, why not treat myself as I would a damaged book? Study the twists and turns and knots and smudges that had left me short-tempered and befuddled. And threadbare. Then I could dust off my pages, resew the torn folds, trim the frays and smooth out the dents. And be my happy self again. Trust me, nobody liked a grumpy bookbinder.
“You look like you could use another, love, and quickly,” the waitress said, placing a second glass of ale on the table to replace the one I’d just swilled.
Great. Just in case I’d imagined things were okay with me, a kind stranger was here to assure me that I was indeed a total mess.
I smiled at her, an older woman with short, curly gray hair and a teasing grin, and said lightly, “I don’t look that bad, do I?”
She studied me for a moment. “Aye, you do, love. And for that, the IPA’s on the house.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said with a rueful laugh, then explained, “It’s just jet lag. I’ll be fine in twenty-four hours.”
She nodded judiciously. “Of course it’s jet lag if you say so.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied me. “But my woman’s intuition thinks ’tis a man you’re mulling over.”
I laughed a bit desperately. “Truly, I’m not.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Then you’ll be returning the IPA?”
“No.” I gripped the beer I’d been craving for the last six hours of my transatlantic flight. “No, I’m sorry. I’m going to need this.”
Her eyes twinkled gaily. “Aye, I knew it.” She tapped the side of her head. “Can’t another woman tell when one of her ilk is suffering, then? And isn’t it always about a man. Damn their skins!”
“Order up, Mary!” the bartender shouted.
“Haud yer wheesht!” she yelled over her shoulder, then smiled sweetly at me. “Enjoy your luncheon and take good care.” She turned and marched to the bar, where she bared her teeth at the burly bartender as she collected a tray of drinks.
I wasn’t an expert in the Scottish dialect, but I believed she’d just suggested to her boss that he shove a sock in his piehole.
I chuckled as I checked my wristwatch, then paid the bill. Barely an hour in Edinburgh and I’d fallen in love with the people all over again.
I’d arrived at the Royal Thistle Hotel after flying nonstop from San Francisco to London, then catching a quick shuttle flight north. I’d checked in, unpacked my bags and headed straight for the hotel pub to grab a sandwich and a beer. Now I was ready for a brisk walk out in the cold March air. In travel, I believed in hitting the ground running.
I was here to attend the annual Edinburgh Book Fair and was looking forward to visiting with friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while. I would be giving a few workshops, and there would be thousands of beautiful books and fine bindings to study and drool over. With any luck, I’d find one or two bargains to snag for my very own. I expected lots of good conversation and much pub crawling in one of the most delightful cities on the planet.
I should’ve been elated. Instead, I was sad and feeling a little overwhelmed, knowing that Abraham Karastovsky, the man who first taught me bookbinding years ago, the man I’d worked with most of my life and always considered a mix of beloved uncle and benevolent dictator, wouldn’t be in Edinburgh with me.
I’d known him since I was eight years old, when he’d repaired a favorite book my brothers had ruined. Fascinated with what he’d done, I’d gone back every day to watch him work in his small bindery, pestering him so much that he’d finally brought me on as his apprentice.
Now Abraham was gone, senselessly murdered last month, and I felt an emptiness I’d never experienced before. It didn’t help that the man had left me the lion’s share of his estate, some six million dollars, give or take a million. And while it gave me a secret thrill to know that in his will, he’d called me the daughter of his heart, I hated that I’d benefited so greatly from his death. After all, I was now rich beyond my wildest dreams and all it had cost was Abraham’s life.
I whipped around, then jumped up when I spied an old friend walking briskly toward me. “Helen!”
Helen Chin grinned as she glided confidently through the bar, her glossy black hair cut in a short, sassy bob. She’d always been demure and soft-spoken, a brilliant, petite Asian woman with lustrous long hair and a shy smile. The haircut and the confidence were major changes since the last time I saw her. That had to have been over two years ago, when we’d both taught spring classes in Lyon, France, at the Institut d’Histoire du Livre. But we’d first met and bonded while teaching summer courses at the University of Texas at Austin. A hurricane had come through, blowing the roof off the dormitory we were staying in. Nothing forges a friendship better than sharing trail mix and toothpaste while sleeping on cots in a crowded, smelly gymnasium for a week.
I gave her a tight hug. She felt thinner than I remembered.
“I saw your name in the program,” she said, and clasped my arms with both hands. “I’m so glad you’
“I wouldn’t miss it.” I took a closer look at her, checking out the new hairstyle, her pretty red jacket, black pants and shiny black shoes. “You look amazing, and you’ve lost weight. Are you moonlighting as a supermodel?”
“Oh, right,” she said with a laugh.
“Seriously, you look great.”
“Well, you don’t have to sound so surprised,” she said lightly, but I could sense the defensiveness underneath.
“Silly,” I said, avoiding the bait as I hugged her again. I casually looked around. “So where’s Martin?”
She waved her hand dismissively. “He’s here somewhere, but it doesn’t matter. I might as well tell you I’ve filed for divorce.”
I hoped my eyes weren’t bugging out of my head as I said, “No way! I’m so sorry.”
She gave me a pointed look. “Oh, please.” Then she slipped her arm through mine and we walked through the lobby. “You’re not sorry and neither am I.”
“How’s Martin taking it?”
“Not well, as you might expect.” She shook her head in disgust. “He was as big a jerk as everyone said, and I’m thrilled to be rid of him.”
I squeezed her arm. “Okay. Then I’m doubly happy for you and not sorry at all.”
Helen was right. I’d never liked Martin Warrington, and I wasn’t the only one. When she’d announced her engagement in Lyon, I hadn’t understood how such a smart woman could marry such an annoying man. Then I figured, with my own stellar record of bad choices and broken engagements, I was hardly one to criticize.
At the time, I was more sorry for myself than for her, because I knew we wouldn’t be able to be friends once she married Martin. He didn’t like me any more than I liked him, probably because I’d tried to talk Helen out of marrying him and he’d caught wind of it.
“So where have you been hiding?” I asked. “I didn’t see you in Lisbon.”
“Martin didn’t like me attending the book fairs.” She shook her head in irritation. “He said I flirted too much.”
Translation: Helen was a nice person; Martin was a toad.
“Did you happen to mention that attending book fairs is part of your job?”
“Don’t get me started,” she said, puffing out a breath. “I lost ten pounds worrying about it but came to realize there’s no making sense of it. Let’s just say I was a moron to put up with it as long as I did. And now I’m determined to have a fabulous time while I’m here.”
“Good.” I hugged her again. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too.” She giggled. “And I have so much to tell you.”
“Really? Let’s hear it. What’s going on with you?”
“You won’t believe it,” she said, moving closer to whisper in my ear. “I’m in love.”
“Shhh!” She waved her hand at me. “Nobody knows. We’ve kept it very hush-hush. It’s crazy, but I’ve never been so happy.”
She did look happy, and I was glad for her. Trust me. Anyone who had put up with Martin all this time deserved to be happy.
“Okay, we definitely have to talk,” I said, clutching her arm. “We can go up to my room. I’ll order drinks.”
“I can’t,” she said, pouting. “I’m off to meet a client. But look, a bunch of us are doing the ghost tour later. Join us. It’ll be a hoot. We can have a drink afterward, just you and me, and catch up.”
I caught someone moving in my peripheral vision.
“Hello, Martin,” I said loudly to alert Helen. He’d literally sneaked up on us, probably to overhear our conversation. What a creep. I hoped he hadn’t heard our plans, because I refused to spend any more time with him than was absolutely necessary.
“Hello, Brooklyn,” he said, giving me a smile I didn’t trust for a second.
I supposed some women would consider him handsome. He was tall and lean and wore white linen pants with a beige linen jacket. He looked elegantly rumpled, with boyish blond good looks and an easy grin. He owned a bookstore somewhere in London, and I always figured he had some family money tucked away. He was feckless and disdainful of most of humanity. I’d seen the way he treated Helen and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like him.
The smile disappeared as he confronted Helen. “I told you I’d meet you on the conference level.”
“And I told you I’d try to make it but probably wouldn’t be able to,” Helen said defiantly.
“We have to talk now.” He pushed up the sleeves of his linen jacket.
“I’m off to meet a client,” she said as she glanced at her wristwatch. “I can try to see you at two thirty.”
He tapped his elegantly shod foot as red blotches of annoyance cropped up on his cheeks. He shot a quick glance at me, then said to Helen, “I’m meeting with the president of King’s College at two and will be tied up all afternoon.”
Well, la-di-da. Was he trying to impress me?
“I’m sorry, Martin,” she said, but she didn’t sound at all remorseful. “Maybe tomorrow.”
His face puckered up as though he’d bitten into a lemon; then he flashed me a venomous look as if it were my fault his wife was insolent. “I can see you’re in a mood. I’ll speak with you later this afternoon.”
We both watched him stalk away.
“Gosh, I’ve put you in a mood,” I said, using air quotes as I tried to lighten the moment. “Sorry.”
“Yes, it’s all your fault.” She shook her head and tried to laugh. “What a pill.”
“You handled him well.”
“I’ve had some practice,” she said. “He makes it hard to be nice. Now, where were we? Oh, the ghost tour. Please say you’ll come?”
“Definitely. It sounds like fun.”
“Wonderful. I’ll add your name to the reservations.”
“Great.” We arranged a time and place to meet. Then she gave me a hug and took off, leaving me with a decision to make. It would be smart to take a nap, because I was starting to feel dizzy and sleep deprived, but I wanted to see and breathe in a bit of the city first.
I headed for the wide double doors but spied a sundries store tucked into the far corner of the lobby. I made the detour, walked in and found a candy bar for sustenance and a pack of cinnamon gum for clean breath. As I stepped up to the counter to pay, a tall, heavyset man pushed me aside, slapping a newspaper on the counter and reaching in his pocket for change.
He ignored me completely as he fished for coins.
I knew him. Perry McDougall, a pompous ass who thought he was smarter and better than everyone on the planet. Perry was one of Abraham’s contemporaries. He owned a rare-book store in Glasgow and fancied himself a scholar, specializing in Scottish history and the Georgian and Regency periods of the British monarchy. He’d always been a rude, angry man. Guess that hadn’t changed.
“Excuse me,” I said, getting more annoyed by the second. He hadn’t even glanced at me. In Perry’s world, only Perry mattered.
He took his change and folded the paper under his arm.
“I said excuse me,” I said more loudly. “You need to learn to wait your turn.”
He turned and sniffed at me. “I beg your pardon?”
“You can beg all you want, but it doesn’t mean you get to push people out of the way who were here first.”
He looked at me as if I’d soiled his shoes. “What are you raving on about, you silly wench?”
Blame the two beers and an extreme case of jet lag, but I moved up close to him and said, “I’ll show you raving, pal.” Then, without thinking, I grabbed his newspaper and waved it at his face.
He recoiled and I realized I’d lost what was left of my mind.
“Sorry,” I said, and handed his paper back to him.
His mouth opened and closed like a trout’s, but he finally said, “You’re a crazed bitch.”
“Oh, I’m a bitch because rude people piss me off? At least I said I was sorry. But not you. You’re just a big
“I know you!” he shouted after me. “You worked with Karastovsky. I’ll make sure you never work again, missy.”
Oh, crap. I rushed across the lobby and escaped through the automatic doors. What was wrong with me? I never confronted people. Was this part of my new weirdness? Was I going to turn into a crazy old crone and mutter to myself? Would I scare small children wherever I went?
But as I walked down the short drive in front of the hotel, I smiled and started to laugh. It felt good to yell at that rude bastard. And why was standing up for myself such a bad thing? As far as his warning shot went, he had no power over who hired me. Still, it gave me a chill to think he would try to threaten my career. I pulled my jacket tighter and raised the collar as a brisk wind blew across my neck.
I forced all thoughts of rude Perry out of my head so I could appreciate one of my favorite places in the world. As I approached the Royal Mile, I drew in the fresh air of Edinburgh and got my first real up-close taste of the ancient city.
The Royal Thistle Hotel was perched on a slope half a block down from St. Giles’ Cathedral in the heart of the Royal Mile. The afternoon air was cold and clear, the sky a deep blue with the occasional white puff of cloud. It was a perfect day for a solitary stroll. I turned left toward Edinburgh Castle, breathing in the scents and absorbing the sounds. I stared at the proliferation of souvenir shops selling everything from tartans and kilts to whisky, to ashtrays and coasters and shot glasses, to cashmere shawls and fisherman knit sweaters.
As I walked along the smooth stone sidewalk, I tried to tune out my angry run-ins with both Perry and Martin. I stared at the window display at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and laughed at myself for thinking I could actually handle a taste of Scotch right now, with jet lag tugging at me. I’d fall flat on my face and never make it back to the hotel. I made a mental note to stop back here in a day or so. I didn’t usually drink Scotch, but when in Scotland, a wee dram seemed the way to go.
Other author's books:
- The Book SupremacySweet Surrender, Baby SurpriseIf Books Could KillOne Book In The GraveAn Innocent In ParadiseThe Millionaire Meets His Match
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