The Art of Betrayal

Launching a book feels a little like sending a child off to school for the first time. I remember that feeling, watching a big yellow school bus carrying one very small boy off to an unknown and scary world.

After more than a year of planning, writing, revising, and editing, The Art of Betrayal is finally out there. I hope Kate’s latest adventure wins a place in your TBR pile and in your heart.

Here’s a sample. To set the scene, it’s a glorious May in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, the kind of spring that almost convinces you nothing evil could ever happen again. American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton is holding down the fort at her friend Ivor Tweedy’s antiquities shop while he recovers from hip surgery. As evening gathers, Kate and Detective Inspector Tom Mallory join the villagers for the annual May Fair pageant, celebrating the discovery by a local sheep farmer in 1044 of a green-skinned maiden hiding in the hedgerow. Things don’t go exactly as planned.

Some families had brought lawn chairs. Others spread blankets on the green, where sweaty, exhausted children could sleep off their sugar highs. Tom and I reclaimed our park bench and settled in. As the twilight deepened, a hand-bell choir from St. Æthelric’s entertained us with tunes from Camelot.

The Green Maiden pageant began at nine sharp. Several portable light stands illuminated the stage.

Tom put his arm around my shoulder. I leaned back against his chest.

“Look,” I said as the first actors took the stage. “There’s Vivian and Lady Barbara.”

They were dressed in rough, earth-colored woolen tunics. With her round face and stout figure, Vivian looked the part. Lady Barbara, even with a tattered shawl tied around her thin shoulders, couldn’t have looked less like a peasant if she’d been wearing a tiara. Vivian gave me a surreptitious wave as they milled with the other peasants in front of a painted canvas backdrop depicting a line of timbered houses and a stone bridge. A banner read Year of Our Lord 1044. Three musicians in medieval clothing were playing Greensleeves.

In the first act, a young man wearing knee britches and a leather jerkin dashed onto the stage, waving his arms and looking generally gobsmacked. As the peasants gathered around to see what all the fuss was about, a second man in similar clothes appeared, leading a girl wearing a faux-leather shift by the arm. Her skin was the color of moss. Seeing the green maiden, the peasants fell to their knees and crossed themselves.

 I leaned over. “Where’s the dialogue?”

  “It’s pantomime,” Tom whispered.

A bit of flirting between the green maiden and a peasant youth ended in a wedding when the singularly miscast clergyman—Stephen Peacock from the Finchley Arms—made the sign of the cross over them.

In the next scene, a thatched canopy was carried onstage—a cottage, I supposed. The green maiden, dressed now in a long tunic and wimple, sat with her husband at a rough wooden table. His hand grasped an oversized tankard, but he appeared to have passed out. The green maiden, producing a vial from within her tunic, cackled at the audience and poured a measure of red liquid into the tankard. Waking up, her husband swilled his ale and belched. The crowd roared with laughter. The husband stood, clutched his stomach, and staggered off stage. Immediately, a mob of angry villagers carrying clubs and ropes surrounded the cottage. Inside, the green maiden cowered. Oh, dear. Four men unfurled a length of blue cloth and waved it gradually above their heads. Rising water? When the sheet dropped, the green maiden lay dead. Four men carried her offstage.

Everyone clapped.

“Is that it?” I asked. “Is it over?”

“Not quite,” Tom said. “First we get a nice speech by the lord of the manor, then the curtain call.”

The medieval lord—Mr. Cox, the local butcher—swaggered on stage in green velvet doublet and breeches, far from historically accurate, but oh, well. He gave a nice speech about accepting those who are different from ourselves. Finally, the entire cast filed out.

The crowd applauded wildly. The cast members were taking their final bows when a disturbance arose, stage left. Someone appeared out of the shadows.

The audience screamed and sprang to their feet, partially blocking our view.

A woman staggered toward the players, clutching her belly. Parents grabbed their children and their blankets and ran for their cars.

“What it is, Tom? I can’t see.”

He took my arm, and we pushed our way toward the stage. People were shouting.

          She’s been hurt. Somebody call for help.

          Look at the blood.

Several cast members tried to help the injured woman, but she pushed them away. She appeared to be focused on the actress playing the green maiden. Reaching out with both hands, she took hold of the actress’s tunic, nearly pulling the young woman to the ground.

The crowd parted. The front of the woman’s white blouse was soaked with blood.

To learn about the Kate Hamilton Mysteries and to find buy links, go to my website: www.connieberry.com.

 

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