Reading, Review Writing, Rithmatics and a Rook

It’s a double book review day! …because I’ve been sitting on these reviews for a while, and if I don’t put ‘em up on the blog today, when the heck will I?

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Book the First: “The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1)” by Brandon Sanderson

Genre: YA Steampunk Fantasy

Blurb: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in worldbuilding, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

The Rithmatist

My Thoughts: I picked up this book – my first taste of Sanderson lit – on the recommendation of a friend (holla, Chelsea!), and I gotta say, I really enjoyed it. Who knows how I’d have felt if I’d been left to try to envision Rithmatics on my own (visualization = not my strong suit), but happy days, the book actually included instructional illustrations before every chapter! So instead of feeling glumly out of the loop, I found myself studying the drawings with genuine interest, almost as if I, too, were a student at Armedius Academy.

Of course, not just every student is granted the opportunity to study Rithmatics in depth. For all his unflagging fascination and non-magical skill with the art, Joel has missed out on the chance to become a Rithmatist. (Forever?! Time may tell…) This causes him understandable disappointment, and some measure of scornful frustration at the seeming incompetence of fellow student – and lucky-duck Rithmatist – Melody. But there’s a dire mystery afoot, so naturally the pair figures out a way to ally against the threat.

I had a fun time trying to puzzle out the entity behind the kidnappings and/or murders. And spoiling nothing, I will say that the ending left me both with a satisfying “AHA! I knew it!” and an equally satisfying “What?! Oh my GOSH, I can’t believe it! Sanderson, you excellent fiend!”

Also, the world-building was awesome. And I say that as a reader for whom world-building is generally among the least of my interests. Just the fact that the United States had been reimagined as a bunch of islands tickled me no end. Throw in the charts of Rithmatic defenses, and I was straight-up sold.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Do it, bro.

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Book the Second: “Rook” by Sharon Cameron

Genre: Young Adult [Historical] Dystopia

Blurb: History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Rook 2

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

My Thoughts: Post-apocalyptic dystopia isn’t usually my scene, but this book got away with it clean, thanks to its future setting’s captivating aura of a Europe of centuries gone by.

And oh, the cleverness of the plot! Full of twisty intrigue from the get-go (which I, being neither twisty nor intrigue-y by nature, cannot help but admire), with a latter third careening at a pace that would not let up. On the micro level, I appreciated how the beginnings of each section tended to echo or cunningly follow-up the section before, everything carefully connected and choreographed; it was a treat to see that kind of artistic thought put into the storytelling structure.

Of course, if a story doesn’t have living characters, it’s got nothing.

“Rook” doesn’t got nothing.

*ignores the excess of negatives and questionable grammar* *moves on*

The main villain was scary-smart, so thank goodness the protagonists weren’t lacking in competence. Their schemes were as sharp as their banter, and their relationships dynamic. Also, I freely confess – it didn’t take long at all for René to charm me. I doubt he’d be surprised to hear it.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Do it or face the Razor.

(Do it or you may not know just what is this Razor to which I refer.)

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Such are my thoughts on the “Rook” and “The Rithmatist”. Have any of your own? Share below!

Fallen on a Good Read

Just when I’d figured this novel would end up in one of my “Books To Read Eventually” posts… surprise! I finally got around to both reading and reviewing it! #LikeABoss

Fallen on Good Times

The Book: “Fallen on Good Times” by Rewan Tremethick.

Genre: Paranormal Mystery

Blurb:

Fairy tales are warnings. Legend is history. Monsters are real.

Paranormal detective Laslo Kane learned the truth the hard way. He’s had enough of the supernatural trying to kill him, but his latest job offer could provide him with a way out. A desperate investor has come to him for help investigating the murder of his business partner, and the money he is offering could change Laslo’s life forever.

It quickly becomes apparent that the killing is just one of several and that they are all linked. Laslo must follow the trail, even though he knows exactly where it ends: the mob.

Can Laslo survive and claim his fee, or will earning a living be the death of him?

My Thoughts: I can personally vouch for this novel’s suitability as a read to pass the time during a long day of air travel. Pilgrim’s Wane is a far more interesting place than an airport – to the point that, for the first while, I wished to spend even more time among the city’s supernatural elements firsthand, rather than largely hearing about it via narrating protagonist Laslo Kane. Happily, the deeper Laslo gets into his investigation, the more exciting local color comes to light. Vampire thugs, spectral gangsters, the man who talks to ghosts…while, unbeknownst to him, being a ghost himself.

I love a mystery that keeps me continually surprised, and this novel accomplished just that. The jaded private eye found at the bottom of a scotch bottle is nothing new, but Tremethick spices up the cliché with a number of original touches and, try though I did to guess what was coming, the story stayed one step ahead of me all the way. Darned, too, if Laslo didn’t end up looking heart-soaringly heroic in the face of dark odds. That climax had me on the edge of my cramped little airplane seat!

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): If this concept seems in any way up your dark, sinister, potentially mobster- and/or werewolf-ridden alley, give ‘er a go.

And wouldn’t you know, that prize pack including a free copy of “Fallen on Good Times” (and a paperback ARC of “The Sun’s Rival”, among other titles) is still out there for the winning! If you haven’t yet, now’s a fine time to enter the giveaway.

Rewan Tremethick Halloween Giveaway

Whodunit and Y-U-M (Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell)

“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”

Danielle whipped up a logo for me, because she is awesome first class.

The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.

“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”

As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “Winnie Kepler, creation of author D.J. Lutz, describes herself thus:

I’m a 23-year-old female born and raised in Washington DC, recent college graduate (degree in business marketing and sociology!) currently employed in my grandmother’s diner located in a town so small there aren’t any stoplights until you get out to the highway. I may or may not have a boyfriend, a rookie police officer named Parker. It’s really up to him, I guess, but if I keep pushing him I think he will see things my way. He’s a good looking guy, just kinda oblivious at times. D.J. might be described the same way.

When I’m not baking cookies or slinging coffee at The Cat & Fiddle Café, I keep finding myself solving murders. For a small town, Seaview, Virginia has more than its fair share of people dropping dead. Probably not good for tourism.

Anyhow, Parker does what he can, but the police department always seems to need some extra help. That’s where I come in.

“Welcome, Winnie!” Will greets the young woman now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – this sorta-kinda-boyfriend of yours: He’s not better-looking than me, right? Like, scale of 1 to10, where would you place him? And what do you suppose it’ll take to get him to realize that you two are a thing?”

“Can any man be better looking than Will Scarlet?”

Will’s flushed smile says, “Well, not easily, no.

“And you have the pseudo-bad boy outlaw thing going for you – a deadly combination, if you ask me. But, Parker has the guy-in-uniform thing going for him, plus he’s probably an 8 out of 10. Which is good since I think guys who are 10s know they are 10s and as such become unbelievably dorky, obsessive, and narcissistic. Frankly, I have enough drama in my life.”

A delicate cough off-camera sends Will whirling around in his chair. “Nobody asked your opinion on my obsessively dorky narcissism, Allyn!” He turns back to Winnie. “Pardon. You were saying about your 8 of a man…?”

“Parker is the best my small town has to offer, and he treats me well. Intimidated by me is the same thing, right? Anyway, he knows we are an item; he just needs a little help with how he is supposed to act around me. I like to be in charge, but there are, ahem, times I want him to be ‘the man’. Do I have to tell him I like flowers and chocolates? And sometimes a bad guy just needs a punch in the nose. I mean, really, I can’t be expected to do everything around here. Did I mention he has nice eyes? And I purposely washed his uniform shirt in hot water so it would shrink a little bit. Got muscles, might as well show them off, right? Oops, TMI?”

Will grins. “No such thing as TMI, ‘round here. Now, I hear your book, the first in a planned trilogy, is called ‘The Apple Pie Alibi’. Lord, that title’s got me drooling. And you say you bake cookies. Just how big a role do desserts play in your life story, and is it too much to hope that you’ve brought a sampling of sweets with you today?”

“Dessert first, I say! Yes, this first book involves my grandma entering a cooking contest much akin to Food Network’s Chopped series. So D.J. put all of the recipes from those competitors, plus a few from the Cat & Fiddle Café, at the end of the book. Except for one competitor’s idea to have Mexican flan shot from a small hose attached to a miniature train, the desserts are awesome! It gets worse, I mean better, with the second book D.J. is outlining as we speak – The Milk Chocolate Murders. After the trilogy maybe he should write a diet book?”

“If the diet book’s titled ‘Dessert First’, I’m sold!”

“Oh, and I brought some cinnamon-apple crisp cookies, but I gave them to Allyn-a-Dale. Didn’t he mention it?”

Will whips back around. “ALLYN.”

“No one wants to watch you give an interview with your mouth full,” Allyn tosses back.

“Grr, fine. But I’d better not see any crumbs on your pretty face before the end of this. So, Winnie – as far as I know, most diners don’t require their employees to have much of a business marketing and sociology education. What sort of career plans did you have in mind when you went for your degree, and how did you end up in your position at your grandma’s diner, The Cat & Fiddle Café?”

“My parents are private investigators in Washington DC. I grew up watching them work all hours of the day and night, on call every day and all day. I just wanted a nice little office in a nice little (or big) office building. A place I could walk in from the elevator, say hi to Marge the receptionist and then pick up a cup of coffee on my way to my desk. I’d crunch some numbers, design a new product, check sales, all that office sort of thing. Then go home for the day, hit the gym and maybe plan my next vacation. BUT – apparently getting a job is not as easy as I had thought it would be. My dad said something about a wake-up call? Well, long story short, I ran out of cash so my only options were to move back home (yikes) or move in with my grandmother (double yikes!). It helped, though, that she lives above the diner she owns and operates. Free room and board in exchange for keeping the farmers in fresh coffee and ham biscuits while I search for a job. Pssst – don’t tell my parents, but I kinda like it here.”

“Lord help me, this interview’s got me famished. Let’s change the subject. The amateur detective thing. That’s awesome. I would love to get into that, if only I had any real observational skills to speak of. How do you go about solving murders?”

“Well, there’s the usual way: who has the motive and opportunity? The trick is that some people work really hard to hide the motive. So when dealing with a crime – and in little Seaview, Virginia, it always seems to be murder for some strange reason – I don’t trust anyone to be telling me the truth at first. Then it’s all about making the connections. Who is in cahoots with the mailman? Is the mayor really the father of three kids by the wife of the judge? And sometimes you just have to bluff. My dad calls it the ‘poke and hope’ method. You poke a hole in their story and hope the truth comes out.”

“Nice! Of course, my last question for you is no mystery. Tell me, what is your author D.J.’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He wiggles his brows. “Or would you rather kiss me?”

“I’d go for the kiss, but what if my grandma read this? She’d call me a two-timing hussy and throw me out on the street. Okay, maybe not, but why take chances? So that leaves us with one of D.J.’s deep, dark secrets. Hmmm. There was the time he…dang, here he comes. I’ll talk later about how he passed sixth grade algebra class by writing Monty Python skits the teacher enjoyed. Nice chatting. Gotta run!”

“Great talking to you, Winnie!” Will calls after her. “Now, Allyn, how ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor? …And those cookies, dammit?”

“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, passing the cookies along to the hangry host, “was brought to you by D.J. Lutz’s ‘The Apple Pie Alibi’. Quoth one Winnie Kepler:

D.J. has sent off his manuscript to several agents, many of whom wish him the best in his endeavors. Always the optimist, he takes those replies as a good sign. If one of the agents actually does take him on for representation, I hope I am the first to know. In the meantime, I have seen D.J. plotting the second novel in the trilogy in hopes of publishing both next summer through Penguin’s Book Country online writer’s community.

“Thank you, Allyn,” Will pauses inhaling cookies to say. “And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided in this post, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”

“Whodunit 10” or “For Whom the Crier Bell Tolls”

The final episode of the Bristol whodunit is here! With wildcard Town Crier Hannah in the clear, can Emeraude and the others uncover the murderer before the Queen’s parade? Can you?

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“A’right, a’right, a’right… think, think, think!”

Emeraude a’Right paced in small circles under the tree, avoiding slipping on its fallen acorns more by luck than any attention paid, for all her concentration was on the current conundrum.

“We’ve missed something. We’ve got to have missed something! The answer’s sure to be staring us right in the face, we’re just not seeing the big portrait, somehow. Let’s take it back to the beginning. When did we last see Jasper Trustworthy alive?”

“At the town meeting, early this morning,” recalled her cousin and fellow Crier, Harold Angel. “Nearly the whole of Bristol was there in the hour before the gates opened, to be sure that all went smoothly for the Queen’s arrival. (And we can see how well that precaution’s paid off…)”

“Right,” Emeraude nodded, ignoring Harold’s characteristically negative mutterings. “So his murder had to take place between the end of the meeting and just past the hour of ten-and-thirty, when Dorcas found him in the lake. Now, you and I were together that whole ninety minutes, Harold – greeted visitors at the gates together, hawked the show at the Three Sheets together, both our bells in our possession the whole time – so that rules either of us out as the killer. Now, Dorcas…”

Emeraude turned to the third cousin and Crier, Dorcas Oddpick. “You saw the body before we did, so you can help us fix the time of death more closely. At what time did you reach the bridge?”

“It was…” Dorcas paused to think, eyes rolled skyward as if the answer were written in the clouds. (Not that such a thing would be of much help to her, given that she was only barely literate.) “Yea, I remember, it was just ten-and-thirty. I know, because I had nearly reached the bridge before, but then I saw that I had forgotten my timepiece, so I had to go back to our room of green get it, and I made sure to check the timepiece when I reached the bridge the second time, to be certain that this time it was properly on my person, and it was.”

“All right, very good. And when you reached the center of the bridge, Jasper was in the lake?”

“Nay, he wasn’t in the lake yet,” said Dorcas. “He was on the bridge.”

“He was??” said Harold.

“Dead already?” asked Emeraude.

“Nay, he was alive. I waved at him, and said, ‘Good morrow, Jasper!’” Dorcas waved in demonstration. “Then I looked over the bridge’s rail, and waved at the turtles, and said, ‘Good morrow to you, Ralph! And to you, Ralph! And to Ralph!’”

“Yes, yes, but what about Jasper?” Harold demanded impatiently.

Dorcas frowned. “Quoth Jasper, ‘Aye, good morrow, Stinky and Flippy and Murky and Jim,’ and any number of names that were NOT those of the turtles. And I made every effort to educate him on the true names of the turtles, but he would relent not, and insisted on calling them by every odious appellation that did enter his dingy top-hatted pate. So I hit him with my bell.”

Emeraude and Harold stared at Dorcas, then at each other, then back at Dorcas to cry in unison, “YOU KILLED JASPER TRUSTWORTHY?!”

The face of a killer?!
(Photo cred to Ivan Phillips)
“Wait, *who* hath killed me, now?!” The dead man can’t believe it!
(Photo cred to John Karpinsky)

“Nay,” said Dorcas, looking affronted. “I merely hit him with my bell. Then he fell over the rail for a nap in the water.”

Harold dropped his face into his hand. “Which degree hath a murder when the killer kills without understanding that a death hath even occurred?”

“I know not,” Emeraude said wearily, shoulders slumped as if under the weight of the earth and its moon. “Nor do I know what is to be done now. How can we lead the Queen’s progress through town with a murderer in our midst?? In our very family?!”

From behind and above, an imperial voice rang out, “Thou canst if we do ask it of thee.”

In that moment, the second death of the day very nearly came to pass, for Emeraude’s heart stood still at the sight of none other than her beloved Queen Elizabeth, sitting in all regal glory upon her horse.

“Your Majesty!” Emeraude gasped, dropping down into a deep reverence.

Her Glorious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I! Long may she reign!
(Photo cred to John Karpinsky)

With a benevolent almost-smile, the Queen’s hand motioned in the “rise up” gesture. “It hath reached our ears what hath transpired, this day,” she informed the Criers. “And while the death of our subject Jasper Trustworthy is most unfortunate, we can lay no great blame on the hand that slew him, any more than we could were the killer a suckling babe with a bludgeon waving in its fist.”

“A most just comparison, Your Majesty,” Harold murmured.

“Therefore,” the Queen continued, “let us put the unpleasant incident behind us, noting only that, in future, it might improve the safety of this town were certain Criers to be given smaller, lighter, and less potentially-lethal bells.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the Criers spoke as one.

The Queen nodded. “‘Tis well. Now, let the parade begin!”

Overcome with joy, relief, and adoration for her monarch, Emeraude exclaimed, “God Save the Queen!”

“GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!” the answering call rose from every present British soul.

Within moments, the processional line was in order. Bells ringing, brass blaring, drums booming, and all faces bright with smiles, the parade stepped out and around and through the streets of Bristol, its Town Criers leading the way and calling ahead to the masses:

Ring, ring, ring. “Make way!” Ring, ring, ring. “Stand aside!” Ring, ring, ring. “Make way for Her Majesty!”

And the crowds of visitors stood in awe, clapped and cheered, and took instant portraits on battery-powered devices that had naught to do with the sixteenth century, all of them blissfully unaware of the Regina ex Machina-resolved drama that had taken place behind the scenes.

But that’s a Renaissance Faire for you.

THE END

“Whodunit 9” or “Surely You Jest”

With a little arcane assistance, the Town Criers have discovered that the murder weapon points directly to… one of their own.

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“A Crier bell?!”

Emeraude gasped, looking reflexively down at her own wood-and-metal tool of the trade. It was a hefty instrument, to be sure – quite useful for noisy clanging and, she supposed, for knocking the lights out of the likes of murder victim Jasper Trustworthy. “But it couldn’t have been me! I’d have known about it! And you’d been in my sight since the gates opened up until the body’s discovery,” she said, pointing to Harold Angel. Swinging her finger around to their mutual cousin, Dorcas Oddpick, she added, “And Dorcas knew not even that Jasper had been murdered, until we told her!”

“And we’ve all had our bells hanging from our belts all day,” said Harold, “so ‘tis not as if anyone else could have used one of them to kill Trustworthy.”

“And nobody who is not a Town Crier has any business bearing a bell,” Dorcas said virtuously. “Apart from the Bristol Buskin Frolickers, and they’ve only got a lot of little jingly bells, anyway. And flowers. A great lot of flowers.”

“Well, we know now that Jasper wasn’t killed with a flower,” said Emeraude. “Frankly, I don’t think any of us once supposed that he was. But if none of us three Criers murdered him, than who—” She stopped short, green eyes grown wide as a realization struck. “But of course,” she said. “We are not only three Criers: We are four.”

“God save the Queen, you’re right!” cried Harold. “We’ve forgotten all about cousin Hannah!”

“Who?” said Dorcas.

Little do the sea captains gathered behind them know, there are Fantastikal fairies lurking about. (As captured by Wayne Hile.)

“Hannah Masey,” Emeraude said in a rush. “Understandable if you remember her not, cousin – she’s as hard to catch sight of as a tricky Fantastikal, and we’ve not made mention of her name since way back in Part One of this story. Do you think she could have done it, Harold?”

“There is but one way to find out,” Harold said. “And it will be difficult to pull off, as it would involve confronting Hannah herself to get the facts, and who knows where she ever is?”

“We may not know where she is this moment,” said Emeraude, “but we know where she’ll be in five minutes.”

“We do?” said Dorcas. “That’s clever of us. Where will she be?”

“’Tis five mins until half past the hour of noon,” said Emeraude, displaying the face of her timepiece, “at which time all assigned to join in Her Majesty’s procession through Bristol are to gather beyond the town’s side gate. The Town Criers will be there to lead the parade.” She looked significantly at her cousins. “All four of them.”

The sleuthing Criers made all haste to the parade rendezvous, there to await the suspicious fourth of their number. And they weren’t the only ones there by a long shot. The area was crowded with townsfolk: Merchants selling everything from hats to llama-petting, joining the march in order to advertise their wares; Robin Hood and his Merry Men, bringing an outsized cake to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s imminent arrival; Dog and Pony, the Swedish Governess, the witch sisters, Captain Frobisher and his ship’s boy, Anne Drew, Tamora Skumm and Amil Stands, the floozies and the Italians… in short, pretty much everyone who had been in any way implicated or involved in the Criers’ murder investigation.

And once all the suspects are assembled, Emeraude thought, the big reveal of the murderer isn’t far behind.

They found the elusive Hannah Masey sitting underneath a tree, playing with fallen acorns. She looked up as a triple shadow fell over her, four eyes looking grimly down. (Dorcas’s eyes didn’t know how to look grim, and actually appeared to be looking more at Hannah’s acorns than at the suspected killer.)

Don’t let this lovely portrait by Steven Bourelle fool you: This could be a cold-blooded killer!

Emeraude wasted no time beating about the bush. “Where wert thou at the hour of ten and thirty this morrow, Hannah?”

“Ten and thirty?” Hannah screwed up her somewhat adorable face in thought. “I forget the precise location.”

“Do you indeed?” said Harold. “I suppose not that it was the bridge above Lake Elizabeth?”

“With your Crier bell?” added Emeraude.

“Well, aye,” Hannah said, “I believe my bell was with me at the time…”

“A confession!” said Harold. “So it was you all along!”

“What was me?” asked a confused Hannah.

“The one who murdered Jasper Trustworthy, that’s what!” said Emeraude.

Hannah gasped. “Jasper Trustworthy hath been murdered?”

“Oh, act not so surprised,” Harold sneered.

“But this is the first I’ve heard of it!” Hannah insisted. “I’ve been given nothing of this news, and I was never there to witness the murder firsthand.”

“Nor is anyone ever there to witness firsthand where exactly you are and what business you’re about,” said Emeraude. “I am most sorry to have to do this, Hannah, for you are family, but as the murder weapon was a Crier bell and no one can account for your whereabouts—”

From behind the trio of Crier backs, a cheery, not-quite-human voice piped up, “I can account for them!”

Emeraude, Harold, and Dorcas whirled around and tilted their heads up to behold the enormous, rather wooden smile of Jynks Jester. “Hannah was with me all morning,” Jynks declared. “She was acting as my spotter to ensure that small children ended up not within my blind spot. I have a rather limited range of neck movement, you know.”

Jynks Jester, with Stretch the sailor keeping a weather eye out for him, and the camera of Patty Smith keeping an eye on both of them.

“I was not aware he had a neck at all,” Harold muttered.

“I was not aware that he could talk!” Emeraude muttered back.

“Stretch the sailor was with us until a little after eleven, if my word’s not enough for you,” the gigantic jester went on. “And we never once went near the lake.”

“Hooray!” said Dorcas, clapping her hands. “That means Hannah’s in the clear!”

“Which means that we’re right back where this episode started,” Harold moaned.

Emeraude buried her face in her hands. “And the Queen will be here any minute!”

 

 

 

 

If it wasn’t Hannah whodunit, then who? And of equal importance, will the Criers be able to solve the crime before Her Majesty arrives? Don’t miss the stunning conclusion of the Bristol serial murder mystery, coming soon!

“Whodunit 8” or “WHATdunit?”

With the timepiece ticking down toward the Queen’s arrival, the Town Criers had split up to cover more ground on their murder investigation, with harrowing experiences on both sides….

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As arranged, Emeraude a’Right and Dorcas Oddpick met with their fellow Town Crying cousin Harold Angel at the Globe Stage to compare notes.

“I hope thou hast fared better than have we, Cousin,” Emeraude sighed, “for Dorcas and I have had no luck at all with the floozies.”

Harold raised an eyebrow. “Really? I would have figured they’d go for that sort of thing, if the price was right.”

Emeraude glared at him. “If I wished to hear that manner of off-color jesting, Harold, I’d not have sent in foreigners to interrogate Chastity Trollop on my behalf. From what I can make of their Englitalian, Chastity has been in the presence of her sister whores and/or various clients all morning long, leaving no time to go around murdering anyone, including Jasper Trustworthy. So that’s a dead end.”

“Life is a dead end,” Dorcas said in that deliriously philosophical way of hers.

“Erm, yes. Encouraging.” Eager to proceed to a more pleasant topic (and, at this point, even talk of rat-catchers qualified), Emeraude asked Harold, “Get anything useful out of Amil Stands?”

“Actually, I spoke with him not, but—”

“What do you mean, you spoke with him not?!” Emeraude demanded. “Honestly, Harold, I give you but a single task…!”

Harold held up his hands. “Hear me out, Emmers, I’ve got a fine excuse. I spoke not with the rat-catcher because, as I was on my way to find him, I was ambushed just off of Trader’s Cove!”

“Ambushed? By whom?”

Harold leaned in close to whisper with the weight that no regular-volume declaration could carry. “By the Sirens.”

The tuneful terror of Renaissance Faires far and wide.
John Karpinsky risked his soul to get this photograph.

Emeraude’s and Dorcas’s mouths constricted into appreciative “O”s. Living in a port town like Bristol had many advantages, but also its dangers. Proximity to enchanting she-monsters of the deep fell into the latter category.

“Mercy, Cousin!” Emeraude gasped. “How didst thou manage to escape their song with thy soul intact?”

“I nearly didn’t,” said Harold. “The tuneful trio had almost reeled me into their clutches when I was saved by the timely arrival of Randalf the Blue!”

The wonderful wizard of Bristol.
Photo by Tom George Davison

“The wizard of Bristol?” Dorcas cried.

“One and the same. He cast a counter-spell that stopped my ears long enough to make a getaway.”

“That was a lucky thing,” said Emeraude, much relieved.

“’Twas a twice lucky thing,” said Harold, appearing even more pleased with himself than usual, “for whilst I was thanking Randalf for saving my soul, I had the presence of mind to ask him if he would be able to look over a corpse and identify what it had died of.”

“Silly,” said Dorcas, disdainfully. “Corpses can’t die of anything. They’re already dead.”

“Split not hairs, Dorky,” said an irritated Harold. “The point is, Randalf said he would give it a go; even grabbed Doctor John Dee for a second opinion.”

The marvelous mage of the Queen.
Photo by Ivan Phillips.

“An impressive collaboration!” said Emeraude. “So, the town’s wizard and the Queen’s mage walked onto a ship… Trustworthy’s body was still safe aboard the Gabriel, I hope?”

“Aye,” Harold confirmed. “And the good news is that, between the two of them, they were no time at all in ascertaining the cause of Jasper’s death.”

“Good news? That’s fantastic news!” Emeraude cheered, bouncing on her toes with glee. “That’s a good third of the mystery solved! Go on, what was it that killed him?”

“Yea, well, that’s the bad news,” said Harold, expression dour. “The murder weapon… was a Crier bell.”

 

 

What does this new development mean for our Criers?! Is it a frame job? Or could Emeraude’s search for the murderer end disconcertingly close to home? Follow here to find out whodunit!

“Whodunit 7” or “Bawdy Language Barrier”

If you thought grilling Skumm was down and dirty detective work, thou hast as yet seen naught…

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Emeraude a’Right clutched her bell to her bosom, chewing her nether lip as she peered with trepidation at the Bristol hotspot known as Tuscany Tavern. “I know not if I can do this, cousin.”

“Wherefore not?” Dorcas Oddpick asked in perplexity (a state which, in truth, was by no means atypical for her). “You do appear to be clutching your bell to your bosom, chewing your nether lip, and peering with trepidation rather well.”

“Nay, Dorcas, I know I can do that. I meant I feel ill-suited to parley with yonder lightskirts, harlot, and trollop.”

“Such name-calling!” Dorcas tutted. “I’m surprised at you, Emmers. Is that any way to speak of a person?”

“One person, nay,” said Emeraude. Pointing to the tavern, she said, “Those three persons, aye.”

Lightskirts, Trollop, and Harlot,
making love to the camera of Nicole Dh.

As a general rule, Emeraude was not easily intimidated. After all, she was a Town Crier, an occupation in which bellowing charmingly at complete strangers was only routine. She felt herself a social match for just about anyone who ranked lower than the gentry. …except for Bristol’s women of professional ill-repute, Ginny Lightskirts, Jezebel Harlot, and the reason Emeraude was contemplating this confrontation at all, Chastity Trollop. (Not to mention Roxy Coxcomb, but the cast of this story is sprawling enough, so let’s stick with a lovely literary three.)

Official status-wise, employees of the town trumped floozies. Unofficial otherwise, the bawdy women dominated. During the last floozy/Crier encounter, it had been all Emeraude could do to keep Ginny from running off with her cousin Harold Angel, prevent Chastity from convincing Dorcas to embark on what the guileless girl had misconstrued as a career comprised of napping and cuddling, and absorb half the superficially innocent remarks made by Jezebel about trampolines and bananas. Emeraude had only barely gotten the Crying family out unscathed, and that had been without trying to run a murder investigation.

Photographic evidence of captain/floozy romance captured by Wayne Hile.

But there was a murder investigation on now, and Chastity Trollop was a “person of interest” in the case. Word was that the murder victim, Jasper Trustworthy, had made a nuisance of himself in connection with Trollop and her favorite customer, Captain Sir Martin Frobisher. The matter had to be gotten to the bottom of, and if Emeraude a’Right wouldn’t see it done, who would?

“Lady Crier!” a Romantically-accented duet called from behind.

Emeraude turned, and was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of her foreign friends. “Good den, Columbina! Pedrolino!” she greeted. “How goes… whatever you Italians do all day?”

Bristol’s very own Commedia Dell’Arte troupe, photographed by Ivan Phillips. That’s Pedrolino with the white hat, and Columbina with the flowers.

“Not-a so good,” said Pedrolino, his expression behind his custom artisan-made mask as sad as the strumming upon his ukulele. “We have-a lost Antonio.”

Stupino and Antonio, in less tragically separated times. Photo by Steven Bourelle.

Dorcas gasped in sympathetic dismay. “Not the oversized fish who so heroically saved your lives during your gondola ride to England?”

Si, the very same,” Columbina nodded, prettily batting her enormous lashes. With expansive, ballerina-like gestures, she elaborated, “Stupino and Arlecchino are-a looking for him all over town; and Dottore… well,” she waved dismissively, “he’s just-a being old, somewhere.”

“And in the meantime,” said Pedrolino, “we are-a looking for gainful employment.”

Emeraude’s face brightened as if from the glow of the Elizabethan equivalent of a light bulb flashing on above her head. “Of course!” she said, smiling widely at the sign borne by Columbina which proclaimed “Servants for Hyre”. “I can end one of your two searches here and now with a highly important assignment, if you’d like.”

“If-a we’d like?!” cried Pedrolino.

“We always-a like!” sang Columbina.

“We are At,” they said with a clap and a bow, “Your Service!”

“Brilliant,” said Emeraude. “Don your detective hats, Italians: You’ve got an interrogation to perform.”

Will enlisting foreign aid turn up any case-cracking evidence? How likely is it that the floozies’ double-entendres will translate for those speaking English as a second language? What is the Italian word for “banana”, anyway? For answers of relevance, stay tuned for the next episode in Bristol’s serial whodunit!

“Whodunit 6” or “Check, Prithee”

Jasper Trustworthy’s murderer is still at large! Are the Town Criers getting anywhere close to solving this mystery before Queen Elizabeth arrives in Bristol?

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The Shanty Sing typically took place in the town hub known as the Sun Garden. Why it was called the Sun Garden was anybody’s guess, as the nearest thing it had to a garden was the greenery growing atop the trellis roofs above rows of benched tables, and it certainly didn’t produce any sun. (If anything, that boast could be made by the blazing New Market area, more often to referred to by the locals as the Serengeti.)

A shot of Emeraude on location,
as captured by Steve Sptizer.

But regardless of its name’s suitability or lack thereof, the Sun Garden made a fine place to sing at people, as they weren’t likely to stray far from the food vended on either side of the street. So it was there that sailors and their local lady friends often gathered to share songs of the sea. Whether the particular lady friend of a particular sailor was to be found there at this particular hour was more than Bristol’s Town Criers could yet say. They would know better once they actually arrived there.

“Well, we’ve arrived here,” said Emeraude a’Right, stopping to have a look around her. “See you any sign of women of questionable morals, cousins?”

Dorcas Oddpick pointed. “Does yon woman count as morally questionable?”

Emeraude and Harold Angel followed the line of Dorcas’s finger toward the rear of the Lord Mayor’s Forum, better known as the Seven Deadly Sins Stage for the colorful characterizations painted thereon. Strategically located near the depiction of Gluttony stood a mobile cart labeled “Skumm Foodstuffs”, and beside it, its proprietor, Tamora Skumm herself.

“Morally questionable? Mayhap, mayhap not,” said Emeraude. “Gastronomically questionable? In faith.”

“We might ask her whether any of the floozies have been about, this morrow,” Harold suggested. He wrinkled his nose. “Merely attempt not to breathe too deeply while downwind of her wares.”

Could partaking from this cart count as an eighth deadly sin?…
Photo by Wayne Hile.

The Crier cousins approached the cart, and Tamora welcomed them with a smile, a bright contrast in her grimy face. “Good day, Criers!” she greeted in her lower-class-meets-country dialect. “Might I interest you in the stone soup? It needs but a little more seasoning, and someone to sing to it, and it will be ready to serve!”

“Nay,” Harold turned Tamora down flatly when her eager gaze fell upon him. “I do not sing, ne’er mind what a certain Christmas carol hath instructed you to hark.”

“I shall do it!” Dorcas volunteered. Leaning over the pot swimming with long-dead plant matter (and animal matter which may not have been dead until it flew into the brew), Dorcas broke into one of her favorite original ditties.

I like cheese, yes I do;

I like cheese, how ‘bout you?

Muenster, cheddar, Monterey, and bleu!

I like cheese – moo, moo, moo!

Leaving her cousin to her second number about one of the many turtles named Ralph, Emeraude asked Tamora, “Have you seen any of the local floozies, this day?”

“Not since yesterden, nay,” Tamora said. “They were here for the Shanty Sing, them and the crew of the Gabriel.”

Badly-bathed beauty shot!
Courtesy of Ivan Phillips.

“Captain Frobisher ‘n’ ‘em, aye,” Emeraude nodded. This much they knew. Almost as an afterthought, she asked, “Did you see Jasper Trustworthy then, as well?”

“Marry, did I. Even served him a bowl of soup. Of course, it had only been sitting for five days, at the time, so it was a bit underdone.” She shrugged. “Still, as he was willing to pay for it, I did not say him nay. A sale’s a sale.”

Emeraude fought to keep her face from twitching its way from her “pleasantly socializing” expression to one of utter revulsion. If Jasper Trustworthy had actually ingested any of Tamora’s “food”, that might be the mystery of his death solved, right there. Word on the street was that Skumm had lost a few husbands, that way. “Did you see him eat it?”

“Oh, ‘twas not for himself, he said,” said Tamora. “It was to go to the rat catcher. Something about experimenting with different kinds of bait.”

“Ah,” said Emeraude. “So Jasper had business with Amil Stands, withal.”

What do you think: Does this face scream “harmless innocence” or “low-down dirty guilt”? Pic by John Kapinsky.

“’Tis yet another suspicious character to add to the list,” Harold groaned in exasperation. “How in England are we supposed to speak to them all before the Queen’s arrival in…” – he checked Emeraude’s timepiece (for he had yet to learn to carry his own, and Dorcas’s was still dangling over the soup) – “…Little more than an hour??” he finished.

“And we have a double-hawk in five minutes,” Emeraude recalled. “We shall have to divide and conquer, cousins. Two at one hawk, one at another, and then two to find the floozies, and one to find the rat catcher.”

Harold raised a hand. “I volunteer to—”

“You will interrogate the rat catcher,” Emeraude said sternly. “And you will hawk at the Fountainside Stage. Dorcas and I will cover the Three Sheets and the floozies. Meet you by the Globe in twenty minutes. Be not late!”

And with grumbles from Harold, one last cadenza from Dorcas, and a wave exchanged between Emeraude and Tamora, the Criers went they separate ways.

Who killed Jasper Trustworthy? Was it a Skumm-y food vendor, a rat of a rat catcher, or was it… someone else? Keep following the clues along with the Town Criers, and see if you can uncover whodunit!

“Whodunit 5” or “What Do You Do with a Dead Non-Sailor?”

When we left Bristol’s Town Criers slash amateur sleuths, they had just made a discovery most disruptive to their investigation. To wit, they were suddenly short one corpse.

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“He could be anywhere!” Emeraude a’Right wailed, her usually unsinkable cheeriness sinking now. How could the Town Criers of Bristol solve Jasper Trustworthy’s murder – or even prove there had been a murder – with the body mysteriously vanished?

“Only anywhere the killer is,” said Harold Angel, grimly. “And the killer’s likely not had time to leave the town, yet. So the body must be somewhere nearby.”

“Mayhap Jasper went sailing,” suggested Dorcas Oddpick.

“Sailing on what, the Dreadnought?” said Harold, referring sarcastically to the ship moored permanently in the town’s New Market area, beside the Three Sheets Stage.

“Nay,” said Dorcas, pointing past the bridge rail behind her Crier cousins. “On the Gabriel.”

Emeraude and Harold turned, and contrary to all sensible expectation, there floated the Gabriel, flagship of Captain Sir Martin Frobisher.

The dashing captain himself, his likeness captured for the annals of history by Nicole Dh.

“How did that end up in Lake Elizabeth??” Emeraude wondered.

“Well,” Harold said, “Frobisher is known for being somewhat, ahem, directionally challenged.”

“Sooth enough, but is that not what his ship’s boy is for?”

As if invoked by the mere mention of the title, the red head of the ship’s boy appeared at the starboard rail.

Employing his finest Town Crying technique (deep breath, bellow from the diaphragm, never from the throat), Harold called up, “Ahoy, Anne! …Um, Drew,” he belatedly remembered to add. It was a well-known secret that Frobisher’s ship’s boy was, in fact, a girl; so well-known, in fact, that the only individual not in on the secret was Frobisher himself – and Anne had implored or threatened everyone to keep it that way. “Wherefore is the Gabriel sailing the lake?”

How Frobisher could mistake this fair face (as photographed by Wayne Hile) for that of a lad is anyone’s guess.

“Captain’s orders, Angel,” Anne Drew called down in her non-sailor-like upper-class dialect. “He insisted that we be the first sailors here, that he might map out the lake before anyone else, and thereby name it after himself.”

“The lake hath already been named after our most adored Queen Elizabeth, long may she reign!” shouted Emeraude. “What’s more, it hath already been included on the maps they do hand away free at the town gates!”

“So I did endeavor to tell him,” Anne said. “And thou canst see for thyself how well he did listen.”

“Have you been here long?” Emeraude asked, hopeful that one of the Gabriel’s crew may have witnessed Trustworthy’s body-napping (by which she did not mean Dorcas’s naïve theory of Jasper’s dozing in the lake).

“These last ten min,” Anne replied. “And an eventful ten min were they! The Captain pitched a fit over a trifle, and in turn pitched one of the men overboard! I lowered a rope to him, once the Captain’s back was turned, and when the lads and I hauled him up, he was bearing another fellow!”

“Was it Jasper Trustworthy?!” the Criers asked eagerly.

Anne Drew’s hat tassel bobbed in a nod. “Aye, and his soul gone down to the deep. …Or however deep this lake is. And that’s assuming the man had a soul to start with, as his behavior at the Shanty Sing yesterden might well lead one to doubt.”

“Wherefore, what did he did do at the Shanty Sing?” Harold asked.

“Let us say only that he caused some injurious mischief between the Captain and one of his favored, erm, shore companions.”

“And when you say ‘shore companion’…” said Emeraude.

“I mean a businesswoman of the night,” Anne clarified.

“Right,” said Emeraude, chewing her lower lip. She had dared to hope that it wouldn’t come to this, but it seemed now that there was nothing for it. “Don’t let that body off the ship, Anne Drew!” she called up. “We shall return for it as soon as we have means to examine it properly. In the meanwhile, cousins,” she resignedly addressed the Criers, “we have some Shanty Singing floozies to interrogate.”

Who killed Jasper Trustworthy? A hot-tempered Captain? A fraudulent ship’s boy? A wanton woman scorned? Stay tuned for the next installment when the Bristol’s Town Criers continue their quest to uncover whodunit!

“Whodunit 4” or “Witch Way for Answers?”

The serial whodunit’s trail of clues have led Bristol’s Criers to Bristol’s witches. Will an interview with the Normyl sisters cast some light on the murder of Jasper Trustworthy?

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Cousins Emeraude a’Right, Harold Angel, and Dorcas Oddpick – found the witches of Bristol in the last place they looked: The town graveyard. As it happened, this was also the first place they looked, and as sisters Gertrude and Beatrix Normyl were there, they thought it most time-efficient to discontinue their search.

Gertrude saw them coming from some paces off, and prodded Beatrix with her broomstick. “Look here, sister,” the green witch said. “It is the Town Criers, come to make inquiry of us as to the fate of Jasper Trustworthy.”

Gertrude Normyl, green witch and wise-woman of Bristol, seen here with a tiny owl which may be less a clue than it is simply adorable.
Photo cred to Steven Bourelle.

The Criers stopped short in surprise. “And by what witchcraft didst thou know of our coming??” Emeraude wondered.

“Indeed, it were a deduction most simple,” said Gertrude. “For, as I did leave the Swedish governess under the mistaken impression that Trustworthy hath been turned into a lizard of wood, I knew ‘twould be a matter of time only before that selfsame Swede did proclaim her supposed triumph to all who could make sense of her heavily accented jabber. And as our town’s Criers have attuned their ears to any and all news, however questionable, I have expected the better part of this hour to be visited by you and hounded for facts.”

Eyebrows raised, Harold turned to Emeraude. “That was some clever reasoning. Mayhap we could use these wise-women’s aid in our investigation.”

Beatrix chose that moment to cackle, chase at shadows, and pull expressions never before seen on a human face, causing Harold to amend, “Erm, or mayhap not both of them. (Why is it that half the people we’ve encountered this morning are mad?)”

“We’re all mad, here,” Dorcas said serenely. “’Tis a wonderland. Curiouser and curiouser. All ways are the Queen’s ways.”

“Grammercy for the reminder, Dorcas,” said Emeraude. The Criers had no time to dally: Her Majesty, Elizabeth – by God’s grace, the first sovereign of England to bear that name – was scheduled to arrive in town in less than two hours, and it would not do to have Jasper Trustworthy’s killer running around loose when that happened. With that in mind, Emeraude promptly brought the conversation back around to questioning the witches, asking Gertrude, “Were you aware that the real Jasper has been murdered?”

Gertrude blinked. “Murdered? And wherefore do you believe he hath been murdered?”

“Because we found him dead in the lake,” said Harold.

Beatrix Normyl, blue witch and outpatient from Bedlam Assylum, seen here ogling Conrad.
Photo cred to Steven Bourelle.

“Poor Jasper!” said Beatrix, wringing her hands. “Drowned in the lake! If only he were Conrad. Conrad can’t be drowned!”

“Conrad being…?” said Emeraude.

The blue witch pointed with a tortured-looking backscratcher to the tip of her hat, where dangled a tiny fish’s skeleton. “Conrad!” she announced, and broke into another round of cackles.

“It looks not as if Conrad’s lack of ability drown was enough to save him,” Harold remarked.

“And who’s to say that Jasper died by drowning?” said Emeraude. “He might have been beaten, stabbed or poisoned – or hexed,” she said, with a suspicious look at the witches, “ – and then tossed into the lake afterward.”

“Mayhap your investigation would go more smoothly,” suggested Gertrude, “were you to first ascertain the cause of Trustworthy’s death. The method might point to the murderer.”

“A wise-woman indeed!” said Emeraude. “Come, cousins – to the lake!”

Leaving words of farewell and gratitude behind them, the Criers made all haste back to the bridge over Lake Elizabeth. But, as they saw upon arrival, all haste was not enough.

“Oh, no,” Harold moaned.

“Huzzah!” Dorcas cheered. “Jasper woke up from his lake nap after all!”

“He did not awake, Dorcas,” Emeraude sighed. “He’s just gone. Someone has stolen the body.

How was Trustworthy killed? Whodunit? And where in all of England is the body?? As the questions pile skyward, stay tuned to find out what answers Bristol’s Town Criers turn up!