Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

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Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

On Tour August 8 – September 2

Synopsis:

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

The tortured spirits of the dead haunt a Regency-era English manor—but the true danger lies in the land of the living in the third installment in the Lily Adler mysteries, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, the Carroways, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family seems delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Intrigued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—only to find that tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found killed in her bed.

The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

My Thoughts

Schellman’s second in the Lily Adler series places her firmly atop the collection of authors currently writing Regency mysteries. Lily is an admirable protagonist – intelligent, resilient, curious, and determined. The mystery here includes a “ghost” which adds a Gothic element to the story; in true Gothic form, this becomes more a tale of raw human emotion than supernatural in conclusion. I read a lot of these kinds of mysteries but what stands out for me in Schellman’s books is the attention paid to building tension through the emotions and experiences of her characters. I know that’s the authors job, but some are less successful at understanding, capturing, and presenting real emotion seamlessly. When I read the first Lily Adler book, I was reminded of the first time I read Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters who was, IMHO, arguably one of the best historical mystery writers. That sense was repeated in Death at the Manor, making me think Katharine Schellman is definitely a writer to watch as she develops the Lily Adler series. I’ll be recommending this to my readers and patrons at the library.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1639100784 (ISBN13: 9781639100781)
Series: Lily Adler Mystery #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

As they walked, Mr. Wright fell in step next to Ofelia. “Have you ever seen a ghost before, Lady Carroway?”

“I have not,” she replied, as polite as ever in spite of the hint of skepticism in her voice. “Pray, what does it look like?”

“Like a lady in white and gray,” he said, and Lily was surprised to see how serious his expression was. His frivolous, unctuous manner had dropped away, and he shivered a little as he gestured toward the windows. “No one has seen her face. The first time I saw her she was standing right there, bathed in moonlight, when I was returning from a late night in the village. And my sister saw her in the early morning only two days ago. Some nights, we have heard her wails echoing through the halls, even when she is nowhere to be seen.”

Lily exchanged a look with her aunt, who seemed surprised by the detail in Thomas Wright’s story and the quaver in his voice. Either he believed wholeheartedly in his ghost, or he was putting on a very convincing performance for his audience.

“And what does she do?” Ofelia asked, sounding a little more somber now, as they drew

to a halt in front of the windows. The small party looked around the corner of the hall. It was unremarkable enough, with several large paintings, and a tall, handsome curio cabinet standing in an alcove. An old-fashioned tapestry hung across one wall, though it was worn and faded enough that it was hard to tell exactly what picture it had originally presented.

“Nothing, so far,” Mr. Wright said, a sort of forced theatricality in his voice that left Lily puzzled.

She had expected, based on what Mr. Spencer had said the night before, to find an eager showman in Thomas Wright, ready to bask in the attention of curious neighbors, not a true believer in the supernatural. Glancing at Mr. Spencer out of the corner of her eye, she thought he looked equally puzzled.

“She stands and weeps, or floats around the hall and wails. Usually, if someone tries to draw close, she vanishes. But last month—” Mr. Wright’s voice dropped a little. He still glanced

uneasily toward the other end of the hall, as if momentarily distracted or looking for someone, before quickly returning his attention to his audience. “Last month she became angry when one of our housemaids came upon her unexpectedly. The lady in gray pursued her down the hall, wailing. Poor Etta was so scared that she fell down the stairs in her haste to get away. That

was when our servants started leaving.”

“I trust the housemaid has recovered?” Mr. Spencer asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“She has,” Mr. Wright replied. “But no one has tried to approach the lady in gray again. We think she wishes to be left alone.”

“Well,” Lily said, attempting a return to lightness, “as far as ghosts go, that sounds reasonable enough. I confess I feel that way often enough myself, especially after too many busy nights in a row.”

Ofelia, who had been looking a little wide-eyed, giggled, and Mr. Spencer quickly covered a cough that might have been a chuckle.

Mr. Wright scowled, his expression halfway between unease and displeasure. “I take it you are not a woman who believes in ghosts, Mrs. Adler?”

“I have never had the opportunity to find out whether or not I am,” Lily replied. “The homes I have lived in have all been stubbornly unhaunted.”

“For your sake, madam, I hope they remain that way,” Mr. Wright said. There was an unexpected note of resignation in his voice as he added, “It is not a comfortable thing to live with.”

“I would have thought you to be fond of yours, sir,” Lily said. “If you dislike her so, why go to the trouble of showing visitors around and telling them the story?”

Mr. Wright smiled, some of the showman creeping back into his manner. “Because you are here, dear ladies. And how could I resist such a beautiful audience?”

“Tell me, has your family any idea who this lady in gray might be?” Lily’s aunt asked politely.

He nodded, his voice dropping even further, and they all reflexively drew closer to hear what he was saying. “We each have our own theory, of course,” he said. “I believe it is my father’s great-aunt, Tabitha, whose bedroom was just this way. If you would care to see the spot?” He held out his arm to Ofelia, who took it. Mr. Wright, engrossed in his story once more, turned to lead them down the closest passage. “Tabitha died there some fifty years ago, of a broken heart, they say, after news arrived of the death of her betrothed in the colonies—”

His story was suddenly cut off by screaming. Not a single shriek of surprise or dismay, but a cry that seemed to go on without ceasing. Thomas Wright froze, the genial smile dropping from his face in shock. “Selina?” he called.

The screaming continued, growing more hysterical. Dropping Ofelia’s arm, he ran toward the sound, which was coming from the far hallway, past the stairs. The others, stunned into stillness, stared at each other, unsure what to do.

“I think it’s Miss Wright,” Mr. Spencer said, all traces of merriment gone from his face. “Wait here—I shall see if they need any assistance.” He made to go after, but Thomas Wright was already returning, rushing down the hall next to another man, who was carrying the screaming woman.

“The parlor, just next to you, Spencer!” Mr. Wright called. “Open the door!”

Mr. Spencer, the closest to the door, flung it open, and the hysterical woman was carried in. She was laid on a chaise longue in the middle of the dim little room, Mr. Spencer stepping forward to help settle her as the man who had carried her stepped back. Lily, glancing

around as she and the other ladies crowded through the door, thought it looked like a space reserved for the family’s private use, which made sense on an upper floor. Thomas Wright knelt next to the hysterical woman for a moment, clasping her hands.

“Selina?” he said loudly. But she kept screaming, her eyes wide and darting about the room without seeing anything. Judging by the round cheeks and dark hair they both shared, Lily thought she must be his sister. Whether they had other features in common was hard to tell when Selina Wright was in the middle of hysterics.

“Miss Wright?” Matthew Spencer tried giving her shoulders a shake. “You must stop this at once!”

But she clearly could not hear either of them. Thomas Wright took a deep breath and looked grim as, with a surprising degree of practicality, he slapped her across the face.

The screams stopped abruptly, her blank expression resolving into one of terror before her eyes latched on her brother. Her face crumpled in misery. “Oh, Thomas!” she sobbed, gasping for breath.

He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Selina, stop this—you must tell me what happened.” But she only shook her head, clutching at his coat with desperate fists and dropping her head against his shoulder, her weeping shaking them both. Mr. Wright turned to the servant who had carried his sister. “Isaiah, what happened to her?”

Isaiah was a young Black man with very short, curly hair and broad shoulders. His plain, dark clothing marked him clearly as a servant, though it was nothing so formal as the livery that

would have been worn in a great house. His wide stance spoke of confidence, and the easy way that Thomas Wright addressed him indicated long service and familiarity.

But there was no confidence on the manservant’s face as he hesitated, gulping visibly and shaking his head. His eyes were wide, and he stumbled over his words as he tried to answer, either unsure how to respond or not wanting to. “It’s . . . it’s Mrs. Wright, sir. She didn’t open her door when we knocked, and Miss Wright . . . she asked me to open it, since no one has the key . . . and she was there, sir—Mrs. Wright. She was there but she wasn’t moving. There was nothing we could do, but there was no one else there what could have done it. She’s dead, sir,” he finished in a rush. “Mrs. Wright is dead. She was killed in the night.”

Beside her, Lily heard Ofelia gasp, though she didn’t turn to look at her friend. Mr. Spencer looked up, his dark eyes wide as he met Lily’s from across the room. She stared back at him, frozen in shock, unable to believe what she had just heard.

“Killed?” Thomas Wright demanded, his voice rising with his own disbelief and his arms tightening around his sister.

“It killed her, Thomas,” Selina Wright said, raising her head at last. Now that her hysterics had faded, her cheeks had gone ashen with fear. “There was no one else who could have entered that room. The lady in gray killed our mother.”

***

Excerpt from Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2022 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman

Katharine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and now the author of the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Her second novel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
KatharineSchellman.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @katharineschellman
Instagram – @katharinewrites
Twitter – @katharinewrites
Facebook – @katharineschellman

Tour Participants:

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Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde

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Dead Man's Leap by Tina deBellegarde Banner

Dead Man’s Leap

by Tina deBellegarde

May 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Dead Man's Leap by Tina deBellegarde

DEAD MAN’S LEAP revisits Bianca St. Denis in Batavia-on-Hudson, New York

Rushing waters…dead bodies…secrets…

As Bianca St. Denis and her neighbors scour their attics for donations to the charity rummage sale, they unearth secrets as well as prized possessions. Leonard Marshall’s historic inn hosts the sale each year, but it is his basement that houses the key to his past. When an enigmatic antiques dealer arrives in town, he upends Leonard’s carefully reconstructed life with an impossible choice that harkens back to the past.

Meanwhile, when a storm forces the villagers of Batavia-on-Hudson to seek shelter, the river rises and so do tempers. Close quarters fuel simmering disputes, and Sheriff Mike Riley has his work cut out for him. When the floods wash up a corpse, Bianca once again finds herself teaming up with Sheriff Riley to solve a mystery. Are they investigating an accidental drowning or something more nefarious?

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed deBellegarde’s first book in the Batavia-on-the-Hudson series, and was pleased to find the same intricate plotting, character development, and vividly drawn action in this sophomore effort. The same characters are back and show promise of being further developed in future books. Here we get to learn a bit more about some of the key people among the village population. Small towns have big secrets, and deBellegarde explores that conundrum with a fast-paced story that includes two murders, decades apart. We learn a lot more about protagonist Bianca, and a little bit more about her potential love interest, Mike. I’m not sure how I feel about the burgeoning romantic situation between the two, but it does lend some tension to the narrative. Fans of small-town mysteries featuring an endearing set of characters will enjoy this.

Dead Man’s Leap explores the burden of secrets, the relief of renunciation, and the danger of believing we can outpace our past.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 1685120849 (ISBN-13: 978-1685120849)
Series: A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

He inched toward the precipice, his toes gripping the stone ledge as if they had a will of their own. He lifted his head and squinted into the sunlight still streaming through the blackening clouds. He took in the expanse of rushing water below. In all his eighteen years, Trevor had never seen the creek roil so ferociously.

A clap of thunder startled him. His toes relaxed, and he felt as if the slightest wind could take him over the edge. Lightheaded for a second, he regained his footing and his purpose.

He had no choice if he wanted all this to stop.

He needed to do it.

And do it now.

The downpour would break again soon. But for now, all he could hear was the rushing of Horseshoe Falls beneath him, the roar drowning out the noise of his past.

Of his father.

Of his mother.

Yes, his mother. He had expected his father to be weak, and wasn’t surprised at all after he left. But his mother? A mother’s love is supposed to be unconditional. At least that’s what she had always said before she had turned their world upside down. It was bad enough when she had played at being the sexiest woman in town. At least when his friends teased him then, it was meant to be fun. But this was worse, far worse. Now they wanted nothing to do with him. Now they used him as a punching bag.

His gang no longer looked to him as their leader. They ridiculed him for what his mother had done. From the beginning, he knew those kids were bad news. What choice did he have? In grade school he’d been bullied. Well, he had put a stop to that in high school. Can’t be bullied if you’re the biggest bully.

His mother was gone. His father was gone. And now his posse. First, it was the cold shoulder, and a few snide remarks. Then he was cornered in the locker room after the game one day. That was the hardest. He hadn’t taken a beating like that since the fifth grade. But the tables had been turned on him so fast that he never saw it coming. Trevor realized now that they were never friends. They were just a group of trouble makers who hung out together. Good riddance to them. He didn’t need them anymore.

Another thunderclap reminded him where he was. On the edge. Right on the edge. He either had to do this properly or he would be going over anyway.

Trevor looked over his shoulder one last time and heard a faint commotion in the background. Once they rounded the path, he closed his eyes and jumped.

* * *

Bianca St. Denis stretched to grab the cord just out of reach above her head and yanked on it with all her force to bring down the attic staircase. She tilted her head to avoid being struck as it made its way down. She unfolded the retractable stairs and put one foot on the first rung. But there she stopped, not sure she could take the next few steps. At forty-two the issue wasn’t her physical ability to climb the steps, she was active, even fairly athletic. The old saying went “the mind was willing but the body was not.” Well, in her case “the body was willing but the mind was not.”

She had stayed out of the attic all these months since Richard’s death. She had made do without her ski parka this past winter, and used Richard’s barn jacket she’d found in the mudroom instead. She had made do without the spring curtains she would normally switch out in the living room each March. The winter ones still hung heavy and foreboding. And she made do without the patio cushions she had sewn two seasons ago. She simply sat on the raw wood when she wanted to read or eat in the backyard. She hadn’t realized the number of things she had been doing without by avoiding the attic, not until the town started buzzing about the rummage sale. She pretended it was because she hadn’t had time to search for the items, but she knew better.

She took her foot off the rung, bent and picked up the stairs again, refolded them, and let them float to the ceiling. The hatch closed with a neat click.

* * *

Once Trevor hit the water, his tension disappeared. He welcomed the release and let himself drop. Slowly he was pulled down into the chaos of the rushing water, but his mind had floated above it all. He didn’t feel a thing, he observed it instead. He watched as his body sank, as it swirled in the vortex of the overfull creek. He watched as his body escaped the current and floated peacefully in the murky water. And he watched as he gave in to full renunciation and allowed the water to decide what was to become of him.

His thoughts slowed, as muddy as the water surrounding him.

They slowed, but he could not make them disappear.

He had managed to avoid jumping off Dead Man’s Leap every summer, but this year he knew he couldn’t get away with it. They had already threatened to make sure he jumped this year. That was only part of what the summer had in store for him. Who could he turn to? His grandparents had no idea what he was going through. They always hid their heads in the sand anyway. There was nothing they could do for him. So, he had taken matters into his own hands.

He was shocked when his head broke the surface, and despite himself he gasped for air in enormous mouthfuls until he gagged. He bobbed there, undecided, until he finally attempted the few strides to reach the cove. It took him longer than he expected, like swimming in molasses. A cross between his fatigue, his indifference, and the strong current kept him from reaching the bank in the three strokes it would normally require. On his knees, he crawled out of the pull of rushing water and dropped on the shore.

* * *

Leonard Marshall picked up the package, the paper crinkling in his hand. He carefully unwrapped one layer, then another. Layer after layer until he held the smooth tiny statuette in his hand. He trembled, and smiled, attracted and repulsed at the same time. How could such a tiny thing hold so many emotions for him? So much power over him? It was so small he could cradle it in the palm of his hand. He closed his fingers around it. It disappeared. He opened them again, and there it was. With it came a flood of memories. Exhilarating. His heart raced with a quick pat, pat, pat.

The basement door creaked. He took in a breath.

Time slowed and his heart with it.

Thump……thump……thump.

The light clicked on.

Another creak. Above him a step, a pause, another step. The door ached on its hinges as it opened wider. The light flicked off. The door closed. The steps faded. He let out his breath.

* * *

Trevor had never experienced fatigue like this. He crawled onto shore in the shadow of the cliff and collapsed. He never expected to make it out of the water, and now that he had, he lay there drawing in large mouthfuls of air, as if his lungs would never get enough. He stayed there, staring up at the sky, watching the dark clouds shapeshift. The rain would be there any moment, and to his surprise, he welcomed it.

As his breathing relaxed, he realized that the pain he felt was a sharp object stabbing his back. He rolled over, removed it, and threw it off to the side. As he turned to lay back down, his blurry eyes focused on the object. It was a bone. A human bone? He scrambled onto his knees and slowly made his way over to it. He was repulsed and fascinated, but mostly he was frightened by the sight of a bone and what that could mean. What had happened here, right here in this cove?

In the distance, he heard their drunken voices again. He knelt and grabbed handfuls of dirt to cover the bone. He heard them approach the edge of the cliff.

“He came this way. I saw him jump.”

“He’s too chicken, he didn’t jump. But when I find him, he’ll jump alright. He’ll jump or I’ll send him flying.”

“He jumped, I tell ya. Leave him alone. You wanted him to jump, and he did. I saw him. Let it go, already.”

“Yeah, well if he jumped, where is he?”

“You think he’s still under? You think he hit his head like that kid a while back?”

“I’m telling you, he didn’t jump.”

“There’s nowhere else to go but down. Of course, he jumped.”

“I’m going in. If he did jump, we’ll find him down there. He’s probably hiding under the cliff.”

Trevor carefully picked his way out of the cove. Scraping up against the cliff as close as his body would allow, he followed the contours until he came out on the other side of the falls. With his last bit of strength, he climbed up the rocky trail alongside Horseshoe Falls.

***

Excerpt from Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde. Copyright 2022 by Tina deBellegarde. Reproduced with permission from Tina deBellegarde. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Tina deBellegarde

Tina deBellegarde has been called “the Louise Penny of the Catskills.” Winter Witness, the first book in her Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery series, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, a Silver Falchion Award and a Chanticleer Mystery and Mayhem Award. Her story “Tokyo Stranger” which appears in the Mystery Writers of America anthology When a Stranger Comes to Town edited by Michael Koryta has been nominated for a Derringer Award. Tina’s short fiction also appears in The Best New England Crime Stories anthologies. She is the vice-president of the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a member of Mystery Writers of America and Writers in Kyoto. She lives in Catskill, New York, with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby where they tend to their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She winters in Florida and travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro.

Catch Up With Tina deBellegarde:
tinadebellegarde.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @tinadebellegarde
Instagram – @tdb_writes
Twitter – @tdbwrites
Facebook – @tinadebellegardeauthor

 

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And Every Word is True by Gary McAvoy

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And Every Word Is True by Gary McAvoy BannerOn Tour April 1 – May 31, 2019

Synopsis:

And Every Word Is True by Gary McAvoy

Truman Capote’s bestselling book “In Cold Blood” has captivated worldwide audiences for over fifty years. It is a gripping story about the consequences of a trivial robbery gone terribly wrong in a remote village of western Kansas.

But what if robbery was not the motive at all, but something more sinister? And why would the Kansas Bureau of Investigation press the Attorney General to launch a ruthless four-year legal battle to prevent fresh details of the State’s most famous crime from being made public, so many years after the case had been solved?

Based on stunning new details discovered in the personal journals and archives of former KBI Director Harold Nye—and corroborated by letters written by Richard Hickock, one of the killers on Death Row—And Every Word Is True meticulously lays out a vivid and startling new view of the investigation, one that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they pick up where Capote left off. Even readers new to the story will find themselves drawn into a spellbinding forensic investigation that reads like a thriller, adding new perspectives to the classic tale of an iconic American crime.

Sixty years after news of the 1959 Clutter murders took the world stage, And Every Word Is True pulls back the curtain for a suspenseful encore to the true story of “In Cold Blood.”

True crime fans will be fascinated by this fresh look into one of America’s most notorious crimes. Author Gary McAvoy relates a story that was very nearly lost to a shredder and refuse service in Oklahoma when Harold Nye’s wife emptied their home after his death. Nye was one of the lead agents who investigated the Clutter murders and who was befriended and interviewed by Truman Capote. A meticulous investigator, he kept dozens of journals and notes about the case which his son, Ronald, literally rescued from a trash can. 

As interesting as the new information on the Clutter case is, what is most intriguing here are the efforts of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the State of Kansas, which worked very hard to suppress the release of Harold Nye’s papers and notes. While there is no declaration of innocence for the killers ( there remains no doubt of their guilt), McAvoy and Nye call their motives into question in a gripping (if somewhat dry) treatment based on the copious notes and files kept by Harold Nye.

Book Details:

Genre: True Crime, Memoir
Published by: Literati Editions
Publication Date: March 4, 2019
Number of Pages: 310
ISBN: 978-0-9908376-0-2 (HB); 978-0-9908376-1-9 (PB)
Purchase Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble iBooks Kobo Goodreads

And Every Word Is True Book Trailer

 

Read an excerpt:

Over a half century ago, Special Agent Harold R. Nye of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI)—who would later become that agency’s third director—was thrust into an investigation to help solve what would eventually become an iconic tale of true crime in America: the brutal slayings of a Kansas wheat farmer, Herbert Clutter, and his wife and two children in November 1959.

A little more than 50 years later—being a dealer of rare collectible letters, photographs, manuscripts, and books—I was contacted by Harold Nye’s son, Ronald, in March 2012, revealing who his father was and what materials he had to offer for sale. As an ardent collector of historical autograph memorabilia since the 1980s, with a particular appetite for literary manuscripts and signed first editions, I felt privileged to be handling the sale of the rarest books and letters by Truman Capote—presentation copies personally given by the author to one of the principal investigators, during the time history was being made.

The books, first editions of both In Cold Blood and Capote’s earlier work Selected Writings, were each warmly inscribed by Truman to Harold Nye and his wife Joyce. That alone would generate solid interest in the sale, but this particular copy of In Cold Blood was also signed by 12 other people, including Logan Sanford, Director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation; the other three principal investigators in the case, among them Special Agent Alvin Dewey (who fared remarkably well in the story); and the director, actors, and crew of the eponymous 1967 movie, which used the Clutter house and other area locations to produce on film a chillingly authentic portrayal of what appeared on the page. As of this writing, only three such books signed by all principal figures are known to exist.

But the two personal letters Truman had written to Agent Nye were the most tantalizing of the lot. Both were sent in 1962 from his villa in Spain, overlooking the Mediterranean on the Costa Brava, where he spent three springs and summers writing much of his book. In one letter, neatly composed on thin pages the color of wheat, Capote laments having to suffer yet another delay in finishing his book, the Kansas Supreme Court having issued a stay of execution for the killers. For the frustrated author, this meant he didn’t yet have an ending—one way or the other—and he was to endure another three years before realizing that goal, with the hanging of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith in April 1965. For a collector, this is the most vivid form of autograph correspondence: handwritten documents richly infused with direct historical impact and solid provenance.

The second letter, also in Capote’s cramped, childlike scrawl but this one on 3-holed, blue-lined composition paper, teasingly informs Nye how often he appears in the book and that “…my editor said: ‘Aren’t you making this Mr. Nye just a little too clever?’

Along with the two signed books, then, these letters were to form the centerpiece of the auction. The rest of the material, though interesting on its own, held little tangible value to serious collectors. But it did contribute historical relevance and an in-person, chronicled authority to the auction as a whole, so we chose to offer all materials to the winning bidder—and only one bidder, since Ron Nye felt the material should stay together for historical continuity.

Sensing the gravity of the task ahead, like an eager historian I began educating myself more deeply in the Capote legacy. As I paged through Harold Nye’s investigative notebooks and copies of actual case reports he had written—not digging deep, just skimming the material—I was reminded of key passages in Capote’s masterwork—but they were hazy, since my first and last reading of it was the year it was published, in 1966. So I reread the book with new vigor—though now every word seemed to have fresh perspective, since I was privy to actual handwritten notes describing Nye’s interviews, his discovery of clues and gathering of evidence, his random thoughts, and a hastily penned transcript gleaned while extracting a confession from one of the killers—all of which made the experience as visceral as being on the scene in 1959.

I watched the indelible 1967 film “In Cold Blood,” as well as the 1996 TV production of the same name, followed by 2005’s film “Capote” and 2006’s “Infamous.” I absorbed Ralph Voss’s skillful examination of Capote’s book, Gerald Clarke’s rich biography, George Plimpton’s interviews with Capote’s “friends, enemies, acquaintances and detractors,” Charles Shields’ portrait of Harper Lee, and anything else I could find that brought objective viewpoints to the table—along with many not so objective.

As prepared as one could be, then, I began assembling the material for an online catalog exhibiting the auction—excluding, ultimately, the crime scene photos, most of which were simply too gruesome to release “into the wild,” realizing well before the auction went live that we would have no control over how they might be used in the future. Not wishing that burden on our shoulders, we removed the photos from the auction, and instead voluntarily sent them to the KBI for archival disposition.

To our surprise and dismay, a few days later we were served with a cease and desist letter from the Kansas Attorney General at the instigation of the KBI, claiming among other things that Harold Nye’s personal journals were state property and were possessed of “highly confidential information.” On the face of it this was a farcical claim at best, since they had never even seen the notebooks, not to mention that it had been well over 50 years since the case was closed and those charged with the crime had been executed, as the Court itself would ultimately point out. Our position, obviously, couldn’t have been more at odds with Kansas’s reckoning, and believing we were on the right side of the law, we took on their challenge. After a grueling legal battle lasting years, it’s clear now that Kansas thought Ron and I would just roll over and be done with it. That was their first mistake.

Over the time we prepared our defense—all the while baffled as to why Kansas was so vigorously mounting an expensive, and unusually high-level campaign of suppression and intimidation—a new thesis emerged that seemed at odds with the State’s declared rationale. And the deeper we looked, the clearer that proposition became. To our thinking—not to mention the views of independent lawyers, journalists, forensic criminologists, and others who in some way touched our case—it looked more and more as if Kansas had something to hide. At the very least there was something more to this story, and I intended to find out what it was.

And therein lies their second mistake and the irony of this cautionary tale: Had the State of Kansas simply avoided such heavy-handed tactics as pressing the lawsuit against us, and publicly tarnishing Harold Nye’s good name, we might never have discovered the sensational “new” details of the Clutter case that time and opportunity revealed as our own investigation deepened. Had they not interfered in our legitimate business—to provide for the Nye family’s medical needs by selling the books, letters, and notes that rightfully belonged to his father—the KBI would not now be suffering under the weight of the embarrassing disclosures being made here.

Throughout his life Truman Capote maintained that his book was “immaculately factual,” as he told George Plimpton in a January 1966 interview. Shortly after In Cold Blood first appeared in print—in September 1965, when the story was serialized in four consecutive issues of The New Yorker magazine—critics, pundits, and others assessing the work were already taking Capote to task for inaccuracies found in his account, or as one reviewer put it, “reaching for pathos rather than realism.” Not least among these was Harold Nye, who not only lived it, but whose prominent role in the book ultimately ensured a firsthand comparison of the known facts.

But for as much as Capote added to or reshaped the brilliant telling of his story, in analyzing Harold Nye’s notebooks I found that much had been omitted from In Cold Blood, and in many cases there were surprisingly crucial details that, at the time, would have appeared in the eyes of many to be of little value. It was only when other documents came into my possession that we were able to connect the dots, alluding to something very different than was passed on to readers of In Cold Blood.

In a striking coincidence, within a matter of weeks another new client—a grandson of Garden City Undersheriff Wendle Meier, one of the central characters in the story—consigned to me the Death Row diaries, family photos and correspondence, poetry, and a whole passel of riveting memorabilia given to Wendle Meier and his wife, Josephine, by one of the killers, Perry Edward Smith, on his way to the gallows. To be clear, I have no interest dealing in the so-called “murderabilia” market. But this was becoming more of a literary mystery the likes of which few people in my position could resist.

By this point any writer would feel grateful to have such an abundance of material to work with. But later, as a result of the media coverage our case had sparked, synchronicity struck again. I came into possession of copies of handwritten letters by the other killer, Richard Eugene Hickock, which had originally been sent to Wichita Eagle reporter Starling Mack Nations. Hickock had contracted with Nations to write his “life story” while he was on Death Row To the chagrin of both Hickock and Nations, though, no publisher showed interest in the book, High Road to Hell, at the time. But it’s clear from Hickock’s remarkable memory and his command of precise details, which both Capote and case investigators marveled over, that he did have compelling things to say.

As of this writing neither the Smith diaries nor the Hickock letters have been published, and only a handful of people have seen Hickock’s letters to Mack Nations. But at least one thing is clear from putting all this material together—it appears there was a good deal more to the foundations of Capote’s story than was originally told. And if there were any doubt as to whether Ron Nye and I would just give in to the bullying tactics of a well-funded state government—saving ourselves a lot of time and money fighting a senseless battle—the new evidence coming at us from all directions made it unambiguously clear that we were on to something. And we had to believe Kansas suspected it, too.

Presented here, then, are several new hypotheses—undoubtedly bound for controversy, while nonetheless supported by facts—including one in particular that would surely have given authorities in Kansas every reason to fight as hard as it did to keep this material from being published: that robbery may not have been the motive for the death of Herbert Clutter and his family.

Despite an abundance of leads pointing in this darker direction, it appears that the original KBI investigation overlooked this fundamental possibility, one that no responsible law enforcement agency would ever rule out, given the circumstances. Indeed, this was and remained for some time coordinating investigator Alvin Dewey’s strongest opinion, and he personally knew Herb Clutter very well.

Yet despite new information coming out years later, before the killers had even been executed, the Kansas attorney general at the time appears to have adopted a stance of letting sleeping dogs lie, without further investigation. But why? As is often the case with powerful institutions, could their keen drive for self-preservation have overshadowed a full accountability of justice?

Now, nearly six decades later, and with the passing away of nearly every involved character since 1959, it’s unlikely any final determination can be made, short of a “Deep Throat” insider emerging from the shadows of time. But much of what you find here will present compelling new arguments, and I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.

***

Excerpt from And Every Word Is True by Gary McAvoy. Copyright © 2018 by Gary McAvoy. Reproduced with permission from Gary McAvoy. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.

 

 

Author Bio:

Gary McAvoy

Gary McAvoy is a veteran technology executive, entrepreneur, and lifelong writer. For several years he was also a literary media escort in Seattle, during which time he worked with hundreds of authors promoting their books—most notably Dr. Jane Goodall, with whom Gary later collaborated on “Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating” (Hachette, 2005).

Gary is also a professional collector of rare literary manuscripts and historical letters and books, a passion that sparked the intriguing discoveries leading up to his latest book, And Every Word Is True (Literati Editions, March 2019), a revealing look at startling new disclosures about the investigation surrounding the 1959 Clutter family murders, heinous crimes chillingly portrayed in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” And Every Word Is True pulls back the curtain for a suspenseful encore to Capote’s classic tale, adding new perspectives to an iconic American crime.

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Author Spotlight: Crystal King


Crystal KingCrystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow and The Chef’s Secret.

What genre do you write and why?
I write historical fiction. It’s something I never thought I would write, until suddenly there I was writing a book about the historical past. But I don’t think I’ll always write historical fiction. I have several shelved fantasy novels that I hope I can get back to someday. I also have a couple ideas for some non-fiction books. I think that the publishing industry likes to have an author write in only one genre but I hope that I won’t be limited to that in my writing career.

What or who inspired you to first write? Which authors have influenced you?
I was a very early reader and that led me to begin writing when I was very young, at the age of five or so. I had great, encouraging teachers. I remember being chosen by my school to attend a young writers conference when I was ten. The author speaking was Madeleine L’Engle and I was so excited because I loved her books. My influences over the years have been eclectic, ranging from poets like Anne Carson and Czeslaw Milosz to authors such as Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anais Nin and MFK Fisher. I also love reading the classics such as Tacitus, Virgil, Herodotus, Dante and Shakespeare.

Do you ever cook any of the recipes described in your book?
Yes! That’s one of the most exciting things to me about exploring the lives of Italian culinary heroes. I think to really know my characters I have to cook the foods that they would have cooked or at least make a grand attempt to. The recipes aren’t always easy to decipher, and many of the ingredients are not as familiar today to a modern palate. Or they are things we just don’t eat any more. For example, peacock, crane, calves eyeballs, hedgehog, or porcupine. But there are many things in the 1570 cookbook that Bartolomeo Scappi wrote that we would find delicious, including apple crostata, braised beef, mushroom soup, fritters, and so much more. I include many of these recipes in The Chef’s Secret Companion cookbook, which can be found here. And if you are interested in ancient Roman food, check out my page all about the cuisine of that time, and you can also download the Feast of Sorrow companion cookbook too.

Do you write every day?
I don’t write every day although when I have made a practice of writing every day, I find that the book really sits with me and I can write quite fast. But since I have a day job and a lot of other activities it sometimes hard for me to write on top of all the other work I’ve done during that day. For the most part, I tend to write on the weekends. Usually I will clear all my Sundays and write several hours on that day.

Do you have a writing group?
I do. It’s a group of women that I’ve been meeting with for 12 or 13 years now. We meet every two weeks and usually go over a few chapters of whoever has chapters to share. They have helped me hack apart and reassemble all of my novels countless times. We call ourselves the Salt + Radish Writers because of our tradition of having salt, butter and radishes to nosh on during our yearly writing retreats in Maine, but also because salt is flavor, radishes are nourishment and those are things that we deliver to each other, and almost always, over a meal.

Name a quirky thing you like to do.
I don’t think this is actually terribly quirky but most people are surprised to know that I love video games. I tend to like games with rich story arcs, usually sci-fi or fantasy. My husband got me an Oculus Rift for Christmas and I have really had a lot of fun with that exploring virtual worlds. I’m super excited to see where that technology is going to take us in the next 5 to 10 years!

The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King


The Chef's SecretA captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.

Book Details:

  • Book Title: The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King
  • Category: Adult fiction, 352 pages
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publisher: Atria/Simon & Schuster
  • Release date: Feb 12, 2019
  • Tour dates: Feb 11 to 28, 2019
  • Content Rating: R (for a couple of explicit, but loving, sex scenes (no abuse or rape) and minor curse words)

To follow the tour, please visit Crystal King’s page on Italy Book Tours.

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Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound ~Books-a-Million ~ Kobo ~ iTunesGoogle Play ~ Book Depository

 
Meet the Author:

Crystal King Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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