A Dark and Stormy Murder (A Writer's Apprentice Mystery)

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PRAISE FOR

A Dark and Stormy Murder

“I can’t remember when I’ve been so enthralled in a story and its characters. This is a book that Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart would have loved, not to mention Elizabeth Peters and Victoria Holt. And what’s not to love? Writing that flows beautifully, suspense that builds slowly and almost unbearably, and a setting that is perfectly beautiful and mysterious, yet also menacing. I think fans of Susanna Kearsley and Deanna Raybourn will devour this book like I did.”

—Miranda James,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries

“Julia Buckley’s new
A Dark and Stormy Murder
is a traditional mystery reader’s dream. In this first of what I hope will be many adventures for Lena and Camilla, Buckley captures the sublime bond between beloved author and ardent fan.
A Dark and Stormy Murder
has it all: plenty of action, a dash of romance, and
lots
of heart.”

—Julie Hyzy,
New York Times
bestselling author of the White House Chef Mysteries

“An engaging cozy with a touch of Gothic,
A Dark and Stormy Murder
is a not-to-be-missed page-turner. Bring on book two in this charming series!”

—Terrie Farley Moran, Agatha Award–winning author of the Read ’Em and Eat Mysteries

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Julia Buckley

Undercover Dish Mysteries

THE BIG CHILI

Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries

A DARK AND STORMY MURDER

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

A DARK AND STORMY MURDER

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Julia Buckley.

Excerpt from
A Big Chili
by Julia Buckley copyright © 2015 by Julia Buckley.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 9780698406094

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2016

Cover illustration © by Bob Kayganich.

Cover design by Alana Colucci.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For Mary Stewart, who was the
best.

Acknowledgments

As always, I am grateful to my agent, Kim Lionetti, who shares my love of Gothic romantic suspense, and who helped me dream up the premise for this book.

I am very thankful to Miranda James, Julie Hyzy and Terrie Farley Moran, who said kind things about this book. Thank you also to the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime for their inspiration and support.

I am indebted to my editor, Michelle Vega, for her grace and kindness, and for her support of my books—this series in particular; indeed, thank you to everyone at Berkley Prime Crime for their admirable professionalism. I am also grateful to the folks at WYCC and their Mystery Marathon crew for letting me talk about the book on the air!

Thank you to my father, Bill, who serves as both editor and fan. I send gratitude as always to all of my teaching colleagues, especially those in the English Department:
Terese Black, Maggie Carey, Rose Crnkovich, Linda Harrington, Kathleen Maloney, and Margaret Metzger, and to librarians Molly Klowden and Sue Tindall.

A heartfelt thank-you to my mother, Katherine, for introducing me to the kind of books that Camilla Graham writes, and for reading and discussing them with me. At one time, we were our own little book club: my mother, my sister, and I.

Thank you to all of my siblings and siblings-in-law for their support of my literary endeavors: Bill and Ann in suburban Illinois, Claudia in Virginia, Chris and Cindy in Indiana, Linda and Kevin in Chicago.

Finally, I am ever grateful to the late Mary Stewart. I entered her literary landscapes decades ago, and I never really left. She remains alive in many books, but especially in fifteen suspense novels that enthralled millions of people.

Bestselling books by Camilla Graham

The Lost Child (1972)

Castle of Disquiet (1973)

Snow in Eden (1974)

Winds of Treachery (1975)

They Came from Calais (1976)

In Spite of Thunder (1978)

Whispers of the Wicked (1979)

Twilight in Daventry (1980)

Stars, Hide Your Fires (1981)

The Torches Burn Bright (1982)

For the Love of Jane (1983)

River of Silence (1985)

A Fine Deceit (1987)

Fall of a Sparrow (1988)

Absent Thee from Felicity (1989)

The Thorny Path (1990)

Betraying Eve (1991)

On London Bridge (1992)

The Silver Birch (1994)

The Tide Rises (1995)

What Dreams May Come (1996)

The Villainous Smile (1998)

Gone by Midnight (1999)

Sapphire Sea (2000)

Beautiful Mankind (2001)

Frost and Fire (2002)

Savage Storm (2003)

The Pen and the Sword (2005)

The Tenth Muse (2006)

Death at Seaside (2008)

Mist of Time (2009)

He Kindly Stopped for Me (2010)

(a four-year hiatus)

Bereft
(2015)

1

In her youthful and exuberant heart, she had never contemplated that her secret dream could ever really come true, and when it did, she found herself quite at a loss, as though the time of waiting for her miracle had ultimately been preferable to the daunting acceptance of destiny.

—from
The Salzburg Train

I
WAS IMMERSED
in
The Lost Child
, one of my favorite Camilla Graham novels, when an unlikely phone call changed my life.

In my quiet living room, things were placid: I sat on my couch in blue jeans, a sweatshirt, and fuzzy socks, cuddling my sleeping cat, Lestrade, whose large body practically warmed my entire right side. In the book, things were tense: it was dusk, and the Eiffel Tower gleamed gold in the background. The young Englishwoman, Philippa Earl, waited for the Frenchman, Henri, to get any news he might have about her lost charge, Colin, a sensitive nine-year-old who had somehow been taken from underneath Philippa’s watchful and loving gaze. She feared for the boy’s life, and the handsome Henri had told her, in a stolen conversation in the street, that he had more information for her. Now she waited beneath the tower in the chill of a
Paris spring, hoping against hope that little Colin, whom she loved more than his own parents did, would be returned to her. Lingering beneath her fear was a strange attraction to the mysterious Henri, the man who had murmured in her ear and briefly held her hand, hinting that all would be well . . .

The phone rang, and I jumped. Lestrade jumped, too, but then settled against my leg, glaring briefly at me before descending back into his luxurious slumber. His fluffy white belly was too great a temptation, and I ruffled it with my hand while I swiped the screen on my phone. Lestrade opened one eye, not sure whether to purr or swat my hand—both had been responses in the past, depending on his mood. His face, a pleasing mixture of gray, white, and buff, grew curious as I started speaking.

“Hello?”

“Lena. It’s Allison.”

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked, still sort of looking at my book.

“You’re reading. I can tell. Your voice is all soft and cobwebby. Take your nose out of the novel—this is important! I’m making your dreams come true!”

This was a clever ploy; she had my attention. “You mean you got Colin Firth to promise he’d call?”

Allison snorted. “He’s too old for you. No, this is much, much better! This is better than chocolate mousse with raspberries on top.”

Now I was sitting up straight. Lestrade moaned when I displaced him, then covered his little triangular face with his paws. “This is a trick. Nothing is better than chocolate mousse. What could you possibly have done for me in that
little Podunk town in Indiana? Did you find buried gold that will help pay off my student debt?”

“I wish. No, but this is better than gold to you, my little book lover. Or should I say, my little Camilla Graham lover!”

Now I was frightened. I had told Allison many times that I loved the Graham suspense novels, but she never seemed to take note of it; Allison wasn’t much of a reader, and she had never totally understood my obsession with books, although she had always supported my habit, buying me bookstore gift cards for every Christmas and birthday. She was thoughtful, my friend Allison.

“How are you even remembering her name?” I asked. She was trodding on very sensitive turf. I had loved Camilla Graham since I was thirteen years old and happened across
The Lost Child
in my school library. Within months I had read every book Camilla Graham had ever written; since then I’d reread them all. I perused them often, the way one might seek the comfort of a dear and special friend. I had needed that comfort today, which was why I was rereading her first, and perhaps best, novel.

“Oh, I guess I remember her name from seeing her every Saturday in my knitting group.”

“Ha ha. Hilarious. I now owe you one practical joke.”

Allison’s voice was firm. “Lena. She lives in Blue Lake. She’s
in my knitting group
. I only just realized who she was.”

“Get out. She’s English. She lives in London or somewhere.”

“Right. She did. But her husband was American, and he was from Blue Lake.”

My arms felt half-numb. It was true, Graham had married
an American; they had fallen in love on her first book tour, back in 1971, when she had ventured to Chicago in winter and met the love of her life at a Christmas party. “So?”

“So she lives here, in what she calls semiretirement.”

“She’s not retired! She’s working on a novel! I read an article about it in
Publishers Weekly
.”

“Yeah, she is writing a book. She told me about it. That’s where you come in.” A happy giggle escaped her.

“Wait. I think there’s been a misunderstanding. Some old lady in your knitting group—and by the way, how weird that you’re in a knitting group when you’re twenty-seven years old—told you that she’s writing a novel. And you have mistaken her for—”

“Oh, geez, I knew you’d do this. For a romantic, you’re such an unbeliever.”

“I’m just trying to clarify—”

“Okay. I just sent you a picture. Click on it.”

I held out the phone and opened the message from Allison. A woman sat there, a skein of yarn in her lap. Her gray hair was gathered in a casual bun, and her long, slender fingers held two green knitting needles. I recognized the hair, the perfect posture, the bright eyes, from the various book jacket covers I had studied over the years. It was her. Camilla Graham—my idol. In tiny Blue Lake, Indiana, where Allison had moved because her husband had gotten a job in the nearby town of Stafford. Blue Lake, Allison had insisted dreamily, was the most beautiful town in the area, and she and John had been quite confident about buying property there.

I clicked out of the photo and put the phone back to my ear. “I can’t believe this,” I whispered.

“Believe it. And also, we talked about you.”

“What? Oh God. What? Did you—embarrass me? Did you tell her I worship her like some fawning idiot?”

Allison giggled. “I did not embarrass you. I told her you’re her biggest fan, a great admirer of her work. I told her that you’re a writer, and your own efforts were inspired by hers. She asked if you had been published, and I said no, but that your graduate thesis was a full-length novel inspired by her work, and that it was very well-received by people in academia. How’s that?”

I cleared my suddenly dry throat. “It’s pretty good.”

“Then she said she would like to read it, so I sent her the copy I have on my computer—”

“Wait. Camilla Graham said she wanted to read my book?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I’m getting to that.”

“And you’ve already given it to her?”

“Yes. And she read it.”

“Oh God! This is horrifying. And wonderful. And horrifying! I don’t even want to know what she said. Don’t tell me.
Do not
tell me what she said, Allison! I don’t want to know.”

“She said she loved it.”

“Oh my gosh!” I fell over sideways on my couch, bound by a complicated series of emotions. “What are you even talking about?”

Allison was giggling again, joyful with her news. “And she said she would like to meet you. That she has a job proposal for you.”

“A job.” I had been looking for one of those for three months, ever since leaving grad school. My debt was
looming, my book was moldering, and my bills were accumulating. “What kind of job?”

“She didn’t say in so many words, but I get the sense she might want to hire someone to help her with her current book.”

“To help her.”

“Quit repeating what I say.”

“I’m in shock. I don’t even know what to think, let alone what to say.”

“Say you’ll do it.”

“You’re telling me that my writing idol, my hero since my tender teen years, is looking for a ghost writer. And somehow I am the
only candidate
? All the professionals she knows, with all the people in New York and London—”

Allison’s voice was almost an octave higher in its excitement. “But see, that’s why you’re perfect, Lee. She seems to want to keep this on the down low. Why would she consult anyone already in the industry? People in the book business? Why would she let them know, in that cutthroat world, that she’s slowing down a little? And then here you are: a fan of hers who knows her work intimately. A writer who can capture her own personal style. Someone who loves her genre as much as she does. See what I mean?”

I sat up straight. “When does she want to meet me?”

“She said you can do it over the phone. She claims that will be good enough.”

“A phone interview? Oh, God.”

“Then, when you get the job, you can move here! You can stay with John and me until you get settled—you haven’t seen our new house yet, anyway. And you’ll love Blue Lake in fall! It’s beautiful, like a storybook town.”

“What about Lestrade?”

Allison snorted. She didn’t like my loveable feline; she routinely called him “your gross cat,” but it was a misnomer. Lestrade was meticulously clean and generally charming; he was just large. I had rescued him as a kitten, so I had no idea of his parentage, but my friends always joked that one of his sires must have been a raccoon. Lestrade did have a remarkably stripy tail and a rather large lower body (which Allison called “your gross cat’s big butt”). Needless to say, Allison and Lestrade were not dear friends. “If you get the job, you’ll have to drive up here with your stuff, and your gross—I mean,
Lestrade
, and John and I can help you find a place to live. And you’ll be able to get out of your claustrophobic little apartment, and you won’t have to risk running into Kurt everywhere.”

Kurt. It almost didn’t hurt to hear his name these days. Today had been the six-month anniversary of our breakup—hence my reading of
The Lost Child
.

“This is going to be so much fun. I’m so excited!”

And so began a series of events. A call was arranged for that afternoon. I had a pad full of nervously scribbled notes, a box of tissues in case I cried out of sheer terror, and a pile of Graham’s books, in the event that I needed to consult a reference. I was literally trembling when the phone rang at four o’clock.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hello, is this Lena London?”

“Yes, this is Lena. Or you can call me Lee.”

“All right, Lena Lee. I am flattered to hear that you have read my books.” Her voice was soft, gentle, and did indeed have a trace of the British accent that I had always imagined.

“Oh, yes, ma’am. I’ve read every one. I was reading
The Lost Child
today when my friend Allison called.”

“Oh, indeed? And I suppose Allison gave you an idea of what I am looking for? A ghost writer, in a sense—someone who can help me brainstorm, and who can even write for me when I’m in a slump. I’d need you to be a bit of everything, I’m afraid. But I can pay you well, if you suit my needs.”

“I would love a chance to try, Mrs. Graham.” My voice quavered only slightly. I realized that I was clenching my fists, and I forced myself to relax.

“Oh, call me Camilla, dear.”

“Camilla,” I said, grinning like a maniac at Lestrade, who sat on my coffee table washing his face.

“I’ve read your book, Lena, so I know you can write. The question is, would you be willing to write as me, knowing you wouldn’t get the credit? Aside from a vague mention of you in the acknowledgments, of course.”

“That’s a fair question. I certainly want to publish my own books one day. But I would view this as an apprenticeship. Every apprentice has much to learn, and if I had the whole population of Earth from which to choose a mentor, I would choose you.”

There was a pause. Then her voice, sounding amused. “Normally I disapprove of flattery. But since your adulation is a quality that will benefit us both, I am relieved to hear it.”

“Ah,” I said, then glared at Lestrade, angry at myself for the dumb response.

“I can tell in an instant whether you will work out or not,” she said. “And I suppose it’s not fair to put you on the
spot this way. But I must ask you: who is your favorite character in
The Lost Child
?”

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