Author Interview ~ M.M. Hall
In 1911, England hovers on the cusp of change. A new king waits to be crowned. Women and the poor are fighting for their rights. Political turmoil rages throughout Europe. And a promising young artist lies dead in the heart of London.
Just another tragic death in a city filled with untimely demises. Or so thinks Hargreaves, the gifted, but troubled, Detective Inspector called in to investigate. Haunted by the tragedy of his own past, he is unprepared for the onslaught of long-buried memories and powerful emotions the case brings. Making his task even more difficult is the troubling presence of Daisy Cartwright, a wealthy widow closely connected to the victim, and a woman he feels inexplicably drawn to.
Untangling the tightly woven threads connecting the victim and the suspects, Hargreaves soon reaches a conclusion, only to have that theory shattered by the revelation that everything he has been led to believe is a lie. Groping through the silence and secrets, he uncovers a cold-blooded killer, and a connection to his own past that leaves him reeling.
Date Published: 3/31/13
The sun was slowly descending in the western sky, lengthening the shadows between the houses, when Hargreaves rang the bell at number 173 Charles Street in Mayfair. The street behind him was quiet, the brief lull in traffic between late afternoon and early evening creating a welcome respite from the usual noise and bustle of the city. His mood, however, was anything but restful. Keeping his temper in check, he lifted the brass knocker on the door, letting it fall heavily back into place. He’d known he would need to speak with Daisy Cartwright again; he’d just not planned on it being under these circumstances.
Less than an hour ago, he’d spoken with Winifred Evans. And the information she had given him regarding Daisy’s earlier visit had left him bristling with anger. Staring at the bright blue door, he felt the familiar tingling in his chest and shifted his shoulders uncomfortably.
A plump maid with curling brown hair and rosy cheeks answered the door. Catching sight of his tense features, she smiled tentatively. After gathering his name and the purpose of his visit, she left him in the foyer while she verified if her mistress was in. He watched her walk to the rear of the house, her gray skirt swirling around her ankles. As she disappeared behind a door on the left, he let his eyes roam across his surroundings. Black and white marble tiles spanned the length of the entrance hall. A large round, mahogany table stood in the center, topped with an immense silver vase filled with fresh flowers, their spicy aroma filling the wide space. The walls were painted the palest pink with rounded niches that contained elegant stone busts. Intricately carved plaster garlands of leaves and flowers edged the ceiling, which was dominated by a massive gold and crystal chandelier, its curved arms glinting dully as the last rays of the sun spilled through the fanlight above the door. Electric wall sconces had been placed with exacting perfection to illuminate the hall. A black telephone sat on a small table to his left. Without question, it was a house of wealth and taste, reflecting the latest advances of the Edwardian age.
The maid returned and quietly ushered him into a bright, light-filled room, two walls given over entirely to windows. Buttery yellow walls held deep shadows in the fading light. A thick Aubusson carpet in colors of muted green and rose covered the floor, and perfectly proportioned furniture upholstered in delicate floral pastels was artfully arranged across its surface. A minimum of fuss had been given to decorating with just a few vases of spring flowers and an occasional piece of china. A small assortment of framed photographs graced a table in the corner by the windows, and a single watercolor in a gilt-edged frame hung on one wall, the peaceful colors of the French countryside a perfect complement to the rest of the room.
Daisy was seated at a mahogany desk—an expertly crafted antique with rosewood inlay and curved side letter compartments. She laid aside her pen as he entered, looking up into his face expectantly. His chest tightened, but he ignored it.
“Inspector Hargreaves,” she said, rising from her chair and stepping forward with her hand extended. “This is a surprise. Can I offer you some coffee or tea? Or something stronger, perhaps?”
“No. Thank you,” he said stiffly, taking her hand in his. A tremor shot up his arm and his eyes locked onto hers. Dressed in a navy blue dress with delicate lace across the bodice, she looked effortlessly lovely, her hair pinned loosely on the back of her head, a few stray tendrils gently framing her face. The faint scent of lavender assailed his nostrils. Releasing her hand, he took a step backwards.
Turning to the maid, Daisy said, “That will be all, Bridget.” She gestured for him to take a seat on the sofa, asking, “What can I do for you?”
Hargreaves remained standing, coming directly to the point. “What do you think you’re doing, Mrs. Cartwright?”
Daisy’s eyes widened. “I beg your pardon? Doing about what?”
“You know exactly what. I’ve just come from speaking with Winifred Evans. She had some interesting things to say.”
Daisy paused for a brief second, as if gathering her thoughts. “I hope she was able to help you in your investigation.”
Hargreaves looked at her, his eyes narrowing. “Is that why you went to see her?”
Daisy’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Stop the pretense, Mrs. Cartwright. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Why are you attempting to meddle in this investigation? Or, are you, perhaps, conducting an investigation of your own?” With an effort, he kept the impatience from his voice.
“Of course not.” Daisy moved back to the desk, uncomfortable under Hargreaves intense gaze.
Hargreaves tossed his hat onto the sofa, stepping closer to Daisy. “Miss Evans told me about your conversation. How she hoped you would have some answers for her soon. In fact, she was rather surprised to see me. Felt sure that you would have already relayed any relevant details. She seems to think you’re working with the police in this matter. How did she come by that assumption?”
Daisy took a deep breath. “I have no idea.”
Hargreaves sighed inwardly. What was this woman up to? “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Mrs. Cartwright,” he said quietly, “but I must insist that you refrain from any further inquiries on your own. This is a murder investigation. It will be handled by the police.”
Daisy’s shoulders stiffened, a mixture of anger and impatience flashing in her eyes. “I will not,” she said firmly.
Hargreaves eyebrows rose. “I beg your pardon?” he asked, unsure if he’d heard her correctly.
“I will not,” she repeated, a look of resolve spreading across her features. He could see her chest rising and falling quickly.
“Meddling in a police investigation is—”
“I am not meddling, Inspector,” she interrupted. “And there is no law preventing me from asking questions or searching for information on my own.”
Damn the woman! First she interfered in his investigation, now she was going to explain the law to him?
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
She turned away, fiddling with the pen on her desk. “I have my reasons.”
“Which are?” he demanded.
“They are personal and not something I wish to discuss.”
He fought down a rising feeling of anger and frustration. “I understand that Eugene was a friend. But you need to understand that your interference could impede the investigation. Not to mention that it could also place you in danger.” The thought sent a pang of anxiety through him that he would have been hard-pressed to explain.
“I’m hardly placing myself in danger, Inspector,” Daisy said impatiently. “I’m merely asking a few questions. No harm in that. As you said, Eugene was my friend. And I would very much like to help Miss Evans. I don’t think the poor girl has a friend in the world.”
“Befriend her all you like. But the police will handle any investigation into the murder of Mr. Evans.”
“I’ve heard that before,” she said softly, the same emotion he’d detected in her before flashing behind her eyes. “And seen how inadequately it’s been handled.”
Just what was she referring to? Hargreaves eyes narrowed, wondering what she was hiding. “Are you doubting my ability to handle this case?”
Turning back to face him, she said, “It’s nothing personal, Inspector. It’s simply that I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the police.”
“And you feel you could do a better job of it?”
Daisy offered no response, their eyes locked in silent combat. Drawing in a deep lungful of air, Hargreaves said firmly, “Stay out of this investigation, Mrs. Cartwright. Have I made myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” Daisy said.