The Vital Principle (A Second Sons Inquiry Agency Mystery)
“This book reminds me of Amanda Quick’s writing, which I adore. Do yourself a favor and buy this book!”
—5 stars from Carolyn
In 1815, an inquiry agent, Mr. Knighton Gaunt, is asked by Lord Crowley to attend a séance for the purpose of revealing the spiritualist as a fraud. The séance ends abruptly, however, and during the turmoil, Lord Crowley dies, leaving Gaunt to investigate not only fraud, but murder. Suspicion turns first to the spiritualist, Miss Prudence Barnard, but as Gaunt digs deeper into the twisted history of the guests at Rosecrest, he discovers more deadly secrets. Inevitably, long-time friends turn against one another as the tension mounts and Gaunt is challenged to separate fact from fiction.
Book Excerpt from The Vital Principle:
In this scene, inquiry agent Knight Gaunt is questioning Miss Prudence Barnard, a spiritualist he was hired to expose as a fraud. While he doesn’t quite believe she murdered their host, he’s not entirely sure she didn’t, either, and she’s not making it easy for him.
“May came from the right, however. Past the dowager and Lord Crowley.”
“Question her, then.”
“Rest assured, I will. And the others came around the table from that direction, as well.” He glanced at her again, remembering the details. “You assisted the dowager, didn’t you?”
“I don’t remember precisely, but I supposed I might have.”
“She was standing a yard or so away from the table. And you stood in front of her with your back to the table?”
Her expression tightened. “Then you do remember. Although I'm sure you believe I was close enough to Lord Crowley to pour a few drops of Prussic acid into his brandy. That is what you’re insinuating, isn't it?”
While her accusation was true, he couldn't actually picture her doing that. He had closely observed her the previous evening, waiting for her to try some trick. If she had approached Crowley’s snifter that closely, he ought to remember it.
“If you wish to admit—”
“I do not.”
He nodded. It would have been extremely difficult for her to carry around a bottle of Prussic acid without either pockets or a reticule.
Of course, he intended to verify the lack of pockets or reticule with Miss Barnard’s maid and the other lady guests. One of them may have noticed.
“If you’d just ask the dowager—” She stopped and then added hastily, “But don’t bother her now. She’s not well. It’s been very difficult with first her husband dying and now her son….” She ended awkwardly and glanced away, turning to focus on the sewing basket and magazine. Then her gaze flashed to his. He could see a sudden memory leap into her mind as her expression changed.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I was wrong.” Her dark brows scrunched briefly. “I—”
She shook her head.
“What did you remember? There’s no point in holding back. Ultimately, I’ll discover the truth.”
This earned a small, tight smile. “You’re frightfully conceited.”
“Yes.” A smile twisted his mouth. “Now what did you remember?”
“I—it’s probably nothing.”
“Will you stop equivocating? If it’s something odd, I can assure you there were enough people in the room to help confirm it. There’s no point in being coy.”
“Is that what I’m being? Coy? How unusual.” She certainly had a talent for sweetly stated sarcasm.
“I’ll hold whatever you tell me in confidence. I’m reputed to be a reasonably fair man.”
“As long as women aren’t involved. And it conforms to your idea of the truth.”
“Undoubtedly.” He held her gaze.
She flushed and pushed at the magazine on the table with her fingertips. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me. You do rather have a reputation, however, for distrusting women. Although I’m sure you must have an excellent reason.”
“I assure you, I don’t dislike women.”
“As long as they stay comfortably in their place? And aren’t charlatans? We mustn’t forget how important absolute honesty is.”
“As long as you answer my questions truthfully, I’m completely impartial.”
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