Hello World, Here I Come!

Launching a new book always feels a little like watching your child climb onto that big yellow school bus for the very first time. There she goes—your baby—into the big, wide world without you.

Obviously, a book can’t enter the world without an author, but when that long-awaited release day arrives, the author must sit back, hoping the world will take notice. Hoping the story you’ve spent a year creating will be read and enjoyed by others.

In exactly a week—on May 10thThe Shadow of Memory, the fourth in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, will make its debut. To celebrate, I’m giving away a signed copy (plus a few other goodies) to one lucky commenter during the month of May.

Here’s a sneak peek:

The Shadow of Memory Chapter One

Friday, August 21

Long Barston, Suffolk, England

The last place one expects to find a body is a graveyard. Above ground, I mean.

It started with Angela Vine’s hen party, what we in the States would call a bachelorette. There were twelve of us. Besides me, the only American, Angela had invited seven girlfriends from her days at university and veterinary college plus her very pregnant sister from Sudbury—the designated driver and the reason the party was being held three weeks before the wedding.

The festivities began with a champagne brunch at the Henny Swan a lovely pub on the River Stour, followed by Angela’s final dress fitting in Bury St. Edmunds. That evening we were joined by Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde, Long Barston’s local peeress, and Vivian Bunn, the bossy, opinionated, and lovable seventy-something with whom I was currently living.

After a smashing dinner at Finchley Hall, courtesy of Lady Barbara, we headed to the Finchley Arms for drinks and all-girl dancing. At nine-thirty we were on our way to the Rectory, where Hattie Nuthall, the rector’s loyal housekeeper, had promised us quantities of strong black tea and something sweet.

As far as hen parties go, Angela Vine’s was pretty tame. Of course, when you’re marrying a clergyman in the Church of England, a certain decorum is expected. Anyway, Angela wasn’t the type to hire male strippers or swill massive quantities of booze.

Good thing I have a graduate degree in British history and literature. More than two glasses of wine and I’m liable to start telling Beowulf jokes.

We marched arm in arm up Long Barston’s High Street, singing an off-key version of “Going to the Chapel.”

“I’m glad you came, Kate.” Angela threaded her arm around my waist. “We haven’t known each other long, but now you’re engaged to that handsome detective inspector, we have so much in common.”

“We do,” I lied. Actually, I had no idea what we might have in common. Gift registries? Baby plans? Not likely. I was a forty-six-year-old widow, the mother of two grown children. Angela was not quite thirty, just starting out in life.

In three weeks, she and Edmund Foxe, rector of St. Æthelric’s (I’d finally stopped calling him the dishy vicar), would be jetting off for a two-week honeymoon in Majorca. Then Angela would move into the Rectory, where she would make the perfect clergyman’s wife—caring, approachable, diplomatic, down to earth, and far too busy to pry into other people’s lives. She had her own veterinary practice, keeping Long Barston’s dogs, cats, budgies, hamsters, and occasional horses and farm animals in the peak of health As much as I like her—and I really did—Angela’s future was falling along pleasant but predictable lines.

Then there was my future—adrift, like my wedding plans, in a Never-Neverland of uncertainty. Tom and I, both widowed, both in our mid-forties, had been engaged for nearly three months. We still  hadn’t decided when we would tie the knot, much less where we would settle down as a married couple or how we would solve the thorny problem of two careers on two very separate continents. I owned a thriving antiques business in Jackson Falls, Ohio. Detective Inspector Tom Mallory—soon to be detective chief inspector when the odious DCI Dennis Eacles departed for his new position at Constabulary Headquarters—was busy catching criminals and generally keeping the peace in the English county of Suffolk.

Tom had hinted at a ring, rather mysteriously I thought, but had yet to produce one. Not that a ring mattered to me in the slightest. What did matter was the question of our future domestic arrangements. Tom owned a lovely period farmhouse in the nearby village of Saxby St. Clare. It came complete with a thatched roof, an inglenook fireplace, an Aga cooker, a beautiful garden, and a mother-in-law, Tom’s mother, Liz, who, I suspected, was still plotting my overthrow.

Buckingham Palace wouldn’t be big enough for the two of us.

“Come on, Angie,” one of the younger women called over her shoulder.

Angela jogged up to join them, her short tulle veil bouncing behind her. By the time we reached the Rectory, we’d segued into “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Even Vivian, not famous for frivolity, joined in.

We tumbled, laughing, through the door to find a table spread with homemade French macarons, individual raspberry cheesecakes, and tiny heart-shaped petit fours decorated with pink frosting roses and a toothpick flag saying I Do.

Later, after the tea and sugar kicked in, the mood turned nostalgic as the young women told stories about Angela’s day at university and peppered her sister with questions about pregnancy and childbirth. Angela was showing her ring around for the third time when Poppy, her best friend and former roommate at Leeds, took the empty chair next to me.

“Your turn soon, I hear,” she said, giving me a lopsided smile.

Poppy was a tall girl with an angular face and a long-standing boyfriend who, according to Angela, had so far shown no sign of moving the relationship forward.

“I don’t know about soon,” I said honestly. “Tom and I are still making plans.”

“Angela told us ho you and Inspector Mallory caught that killer last Christmas. But she never explained what you were doing in Long Barston.”

“No mystery. My daughter reads history at Oxford. She was one of the interns at Finchley Hall over the holidays. She invited me to stay with her for a couple of weeks.”

“Is that when you and Tom met?”

“Actually, we met a month before that in Scotland.”

“In Scotland?” Poppy sighed. “How romantic.”

“I was married to a Scot. He died four years ago. I went to the Isle of Glenroth to visit his sister. She owned a country house hotel there. Tom  happened to be staying.”

“The Highlands.” Poppy sighed again. “Was it love at first sight?”

“Something like that.” I decided not to tell her about the brutal murders, my own brush with death, and how, for a time, I had suspected Tom was the killer.

Poppy’s eyes looked slightly glazed, and I wondered how much she was taking in.

She covered a yawn. “Has anyone ever said you look like Charlize Theron? When her hair was dark, I mean. And, of course, your eyes are blue instead of green.”

“Kate, dear.” Lady Barbara approached us. “It’s rather late for the senior set. Time Vivian and I were tucked up in our beds.”

“Of course. Let me say goodbye to Angela and Hattie.”

“No, no—you stay and enjoy the fun. Vivian will see me home.”

“Actually, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep myself.” That wasn’t quite true, but with Lady Barbara’s failing eyesight and the slight unsteadiness I’d noticed in Vivian recently, no way would I allow them to trek through Finchley Park alone in the dark.

We gathered our belongings, thanked Hattie for the boxes of goodies she’d packed up for us, and said our goodbyes.

We followed the gravel path through St. Æthelric’s graveyard. Above us, the sky was a deep inky blue. The nearly full moon glowed like a giant baroque pearl, lighting our path.

I let the older women walk ahead of me so I could keep my eye on them. They were giggling like schoolgirls, which made me wonder how many Pimm’s they’d downed at the Arms.

Something purple caught my eye.

It was a sock. In a shoe. Attached to a leg.

A man sagged against a headstone. His chin rested against his chest.

“Stop,” I called out. “Someone’s ill.”

Crouching, I placed my finger on his neck.

I was wrong. Someone was dead.

Laying just beyond the man’s outstretched fingers, partially hidden by a tuft of grass, was a piece of folded paper.

I picked it up and read Vivian Bunn, Rose Cottage, Long Barston.

For those who read The Shadow of Memory, I hope you like it.

Authors, what is the hardest thing for you about launching a new book?

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