When Penelope Wintercraft-Hawkes, founder and director of the Tamburlaine Players Theatre Troupe, gets a December phone call from an unknown solicitor telling her she’s come into property, she thinks it’s a joke. But it’s no more than the truth: an elderly French aunt Penny never even met has died and bequeathed her niece not only a rundown Victorian playhouse in London’s EC4 district, but enough money to bring the theatre, the Bellefield, back to its glory days.
Penny hires her longtime companion, historic property restoration expert and leading light of the British traditional music scene, Ringan Laine, to restore the Bellefield to peak form. As Ringan hires workmen and oversees the onset of the restoration project, Penny and the Tamburlaine Players begin rehearsals for the Bellefield’s opening production: Euripides’ Iphigenia, a play Penny has felt driven to produce since walking through the Bellefield’s front doors.
But when Ringan tests the theatre’s sound system with a recording of a classic folk song, The Famous Flower of Serving Men, he’s made aware of the presence of an angry, violent spirit in the Bellefield. Penny hears a voice, first whispering, then screaming, in French. The Bellefield fills with invisible smoke. And when a workman dies on the premises, it becomes clear that only by tracking down the truth about the Bellefield’s ghost will the theatre ever be usable in safety.
The story that unfolds is one of murder, incest, and conscience. It takes all Ringan and Penny’s experience and expertise, and the help of a few extraordinary friends, to put a name to the violent madwoman who haunts the Bellefield Theatre, and to lay her to rest.
The Famous Flower of Serving Men is the second novel in the Murder, Music and Ghosts of the Past series.
“A mournful French ghost haunts a London theater.
Small-scale theatrical producer and actress Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes is surprised and thrilled to learn that she has inherited a beautiful London theater from distant French aunt Marie-Therese, who attended Penny’s recent productions of three classic French tragedies. The unused Bellefield’s prime location has Penny dreaming of a less nomadic existence for her troupe.
When she visits the building, she notices a pervasive foul smell but isn’t disquieted until the odor’s gone on her next visit. Meantime, Penny’s longtime lover, traveling musician/sometime contractor Ringan Lane, agrees to help with needed renovations. On their first visit together to the Bellefield, Penny hears muted French voices. Ringan does not, but when he’s thrown roughly from a ladder after a more insistent auditory assault, the couple is uncomfortably reminded of their encounter with ghosts the previous year (The Weaver and the Factory Maid, 2003). A little digging unearths the story of Eleanor, the Bellefield ghost.
Still, plans for the inaugural production, Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, proceed apace until Penny gets in hot water with investor David Harkins when he learns that she’s kept Eleanor from him. When workman Ray Haddon dies of a fear-induced heart attack, Penny knows she must release the ghost.
Welcome darker undertones expand the range of the debut’s refreshingly offbeat sleuthing, more focused this time on unraveling an academic puzzle than exposing a killer.”
Publication Date: 11/17/2004
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin’s Minotaur
Author: Grabien, Deborah
– Kirkus Reviews
“Grabien’s grasp of theater, folklore and history provides a feast of enjoyment.”
– Publishers Weekly
“An admirable blend of historical fact, folklore, and fancy – all told with compelling panache.”
– Library Journal
“The novel is a good read largely because of how Grabien doesn’t let anybody assume it’s really a ghost, but makes the ghost prove its existence. And because Grabien has noble and likable characters in Penny, Ringan and their friends, who undertake to learn who the ghost was in life and why the ghost is hanging around, bothering an entire block of modern London instead of going on to where ghosts should go.” [read more]
– San Jose Mercury News
“Penelope Wintercraft-Hawkes is thrilled when she learns she has inherited the Bellefield Theatre from a barely remembered aunt. She will now have a permanent home for her touring company, the Tamburlaine Players. She asks her longtime boyfriend, folklorist and house restorer Ringan Laine, to head the necessary restoration. To their dismay, they find that the theater is haunted by a vengeful spirit who employs burning smells, flashing lights, and even more violent measures to discourage the workers. Thanks to the previous haunting of Ringan’s cottage (see The Weaver and the Factory Maid [BKL O 1 03]), Penny has no trouble accepting the idea of a ghost, and, with the help of two researchers, promptly delves into the theater’s past to learn who the spectral presence is and what can be done to placate it.
Interesting period details from the late 1300s to the early 1400s, likable characters, and an absorbing plot distinguish this fast-paced mix of mystery and ghost story. Verses of a folk song head each chapter and are woven into the story.”
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Booklist (November 2004)
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