In a remote English manor house, modern admirers of the much ' maligned King Richard III ' one of Shakespeare's most extraordinary villains ' are gathered for a grand weekend of dress ' up and make ' believe murder. But the fun ends when the masquerade turns more sinister ' and deadly. Jacqueline Kirby, an American librarian on hand for the festivities, suddenly finds herself in the center of strange, dark doings ' and racing to untangle a murderous puzzle before history repeats itself in exceptionally macabre ways.
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July 27, 2004
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Excerpt from The Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters
The portrait was that of a man. Recent cleaning had brought out the richness of the colors: a background of smoldering scarlet, the crimson of rubies in the jeweled collar and hat brooch, the gold threads in the undertunic displayed by open collar and slashed sleeves. Yet the overall impression was sober to the point of grimness. Shoulder-length brown hair framed the man's spare face. It was not the face of a young man, although the subject had been barely thirty years of age when it was painted. Lines bracketed the tight-set mouth and made deep vertical indentations between the narrowed eyes, which were focused, not on the beholder, but on some inner vision. Whatever his thoughts, they had not been pleasant ones.
The portrait had an odd effect on some people. Thomas Carter was one of them. He had seen it innumerable times; indeed, he could summon up those features in memory more clearly than he could those of his own father, who was enjoying an acrimonious eighth decade in Peoria, Illinois. Thomas could not explain the near-hypnotic spell cast by the painted features, but he sincerely hoped they were having the same effect on his companion. He had private reasons for wanting Jacqueline Kirby to develop an interest in Richard III, quondam king of England, who had met a messy death on the field of battle almost five hundred years earlier.
Thomas had not changed a great deal since the day he and Jacqueline had first met, at the eastern university where Jacqueline was employed at one of the libraries. He had acquired a few more silver threads, but they blended with his fair hair. His baggy blue sweater tactfully concealed a slight tendency toward embonpoint. Thomas was a fair golfer and a good tennis player; but he was also an amateur chef, and this latter hobby left its marks on his figure. The blue sweater and the shabby tweeds were British made, but Thomas was not, although he was presently lecturing at one of England's oldest universities.
His prolonged bachelordom had given rise to predictable rumors. Thomas knew of the rumors and did not resent them; indeed, he encouraged them by his abnormal reticence about his personal affairs. Although he would have denied the charge indignantly, he was a rather old-fashioned man who believed that gentlemen do not boast of their conquests. He also found his reputation a useful tactical weapon. It reassured the ladies and put them off guard.
Neither this device nor any other had aided Thomas's campaign with Jacqueline. He had begun his pursuit the first day he saw her ensconced behind the desk in the library, glowering impartially on all comers from behind her heavy glasses. Thomas noted the emerald-green eyes behind the glasses, and the rich coppery bronze of the hair pinned back in a severe knot. He even judged, with fair accuracy, the figure under the tailored wool suit. The job offer from England ended the campaign before it had fairly begun. However, he and Jacqueline had become friends, and Thomas appreciated Jacqueline's quick unorthodox mind and weird sense of humor as much as he did her other attributes. When Jacqueline wrote him that she was spending part of the summer in England, he had replied enthusiastically, offering his services as guide to the glories of London. He had not, at that time, had ulterior motives. The motives had arisen in the interim, and had directed them to the place where they presently stood. The National Portrait Gallery, though one of London's accepted tourist "sights," was not high on Jacqueline's list of things to see. Thomas glanced at her uneasily. If she resented his arbitrary choice she would say so, in no mellow tones.