A Portrait of Death
The Versipellis Mysteries Book 1
by Rhen Garland
Genre: Historical Supernatural Mystery
A Victorian house party, a supernatural mystery, and two very special investigators.
Immortal detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne have spent centuries searching through time for the reincarnations of their murdered wives. As their quest continues, they use their many lifetimes of knowledge to solve Gothic mysteries that can be unsettling, and sometimes terrifying.
Never before have they been faced with a case like this.
The great and the good are gathered for the social event of the season, but the evening comes to a horrifying halt when the mutilated remains of two men are discovered artistically displayed in the portrait gallery. As Caine and Thorne begin their investigations, they uncover more than the usual murderous web of intrigue, espionage, and treason.
An ancient evil is stalking ever closer, intent on finding that which they seek.
Where does the mysterious agent Versipellis fit into the case? And who is the shadowy figure watching Caine and Thorne with such interest?
Find out who, when, why, what, and how in this very Victorian murder mystery; the first instalment in a new Gaslamp fantasy series that drips with elements of Gothic mystery, historical urban fantasy, and rather a lot of blood as we follow the exploits of immortal Victorian detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne in the latter stages of the Victorian world.
“As soon as you start reading, it gets you hooked, and you just can’t put it down.”
“Wonderful twists and turns in the story line kept me wanting to read what happened next.”
“A great debut novel from an author with an amazing imagination.” – Katylou 1966
Lord and Lady Scott-Brewer sat in the library, partaking of one of their favourite pastimes; namely the character assassination of anyone they perceived as their social inferior. On this occasion it was of course Lady
Ellerbeck who bore the brunt of the onslaught, although “that jumped-up opium-pusher Draycott” came a pretty close second.
Lady Scott-Brewer was bemoaning the loss of three pounds and ten shillings to “that wretched American gel”, regardless of the fact that Lady Ellerbeck had actually been born in Surrey. While she complained, her husband fiddled
with his amethyst cufflinks and looked at the door that led to the Great Hall, trying to work out where the entrance to the servants’ quarters might be.
Lady Scott-Brewer, through some sixth sense brought on by many years of dealing with her husband’s little peccadilloes, snapped sharply, “None of your nonsense tonight, Barty!”
Lord Scott-Brewer visibly jumped. “My dear Rowan, I don’t know what—”
“Don’t lie to me, Barty, I know you!”
Her husband, catching the hard gleam in her eye, turned his gaze on the floor. “I’m sorry, my dear, I – I can’t explain why—”
“I know why,” Lady Scott-Brewer snapped bitterly. “The familial habits of a lifetime!”
She stood up and her corsetry creaked alarmingly as she towered over her thin little husband. He jumped to his feet, looking at her with something approaching terror. “My dear, are you all right?”
Lady Rowan sniffed with displeasure. “I am retiring to our suite.”
Lord Scott-Brewer looked flustered. “But my dear, the supper! It would be unpardonable to retire now!”
Lady Scott-Brewer glared at her husband of nearly thirty years with a look which combined dislike, distaste, and disgust. Many people in their inner circle would have dismissed it as her usual expression when observing her
husband. “I find the offerings of this weekend both dull and unappealing! Why Lady Marmis invited us to endure hideous modern caterwauling is beyond me. Opera at a weekend house party!” Her strident voice made her husband
cringe but she ignored him. Indeed, she continued robustly in the same vein. “I will not tolerate the alleged musicality of that person Sibelius, nor the pagan mewling of that modern creature, Giselle! Kindly inform anyone who asks that I am retiring for the evening.”
With this complete denunciation of the weekend’s entertainment, Lady Scott-Brewer swept to the door. As she reached the threshold, she turned and again addressed her husband. “And you know how I feel about alcohol, Barty. Not one drop!” With this final thrust, Lady Scott-Brewer and her formidable bust glided from the room.
As her husband sat alone at the green baize table, he was reminded that he and his wife were not been the only people in the library. Two tables of guests had eavesdropped from a distance, and had decided almost as one that it would be seemly to retire to the saloon to await the supper gong.
As the eight lords, ladies, clerical personages, and assorted others rose from their seats and made their way out of the library, they did not look at Lord Scott-Brewer. It would not have done to acknowledge his presence after
observing such a public set-to with his wife.
As the day guests disappeared, Lord Scott-Brewer sat in thought, staring at his short, stubby fingers. After a few moments had passed and all sound of his fellow-guests had faded, he lifted his head. Anyone who knew him would have been shocked at the change. The timid, henpecked little husband had disappeared, replaced by a sly, cunning man.
He got to his feet and walked towards the bar. With a mutinous expression, he picked up a tumbler and poured a generous double from a cut-glass crystal decanter. Replacing the stopper, he lifted the lid of the ice bucket and used the sharp ice pick to tap off some slivers of ice for his drink. He swallowed a large mouthful of whisky, and as he looked down at the large silver tray with its matching ice bucket and glittering ice pick, a thought slithered snakelike into his mind. Putting down his drink, a smile twisted his face as he lifted the ornate, vicious implement and turned it in his hands to catch the light.
Death In the Sound
The Versipellis Mysteries Book 2
Death and diamonds in the green heart of New Zealand.
Responding to a desperate plea from an old friend, Caine, Giselle, and Thorne, accompanied by Veronique the Labrador, travel to New Zealand to investigate a simple case of blackmail that explodes into a far more shocking crime.
A Psychic, a dancer, and illusionists are amongst the honoured guests invited to a weekend party aboard a luxurious paddle steamer moored in the isolated grandeur of Milford Sound, where reclusive millionaire philanthropist Octavius Damant is determined to throw his daughter a twenty-first birthday party to remember.
The celebrations are cancelled, however, when a hideous murder is committed and the engines are sabotaged, trapping everyone on board with a killer willing to stop at nothing to achieve their evil schemes.
As the body count rises, Caine, Giselle, and Thorne must piece together a devilish puzzle involving extortion, desire, the reappearance of the fabulous Larkspur Diamond, and the return of a face from Thorne’s past.
Just when they feel they are beginning to unravel the case, the truth about events centuries earlier threatens to destroy everything they thought they knew about their own past lives.
Find out who, when, why, what, and how in this very Victorian murder mystery; the second instalment in a new Gaslamp fantasy series that drips with elements of Gothic mystery, historical urban fantasy, and rather a lot of blood as we follow the exploits of immortal Victorian detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne in the latter stages of the Victorian world.
“Stephen King meets Agatha Christie” – Hammerhead
“An excellent plot with lots of unexpected twists and many multi-layered characters.” – Katylou 1966
“Magical, mysterious and memorable.” – The Northernreader
“Vibrant characters and dark deeds combine to produce a creepy, cleverly plotted murder mystery with exciting originality.” – Jane Hunt
Thorne looked at the piece of paper in his hand. How much would Aquilleia remember of them? Everything…or nothing? He turned back to the little bar and with a grimace ordered another whisky. Vasily, who was now permanently
manning the large selection of drinks, noted his expression and poured him a double.
As Thorne knocked his drink back in one, a hideous scream suddenly exploded from the deck above, the noise flooding through the small room like a malignant wave.
An unnatural silence descended as the guests gaped at each other like gaffed fish. Thorne choked out an oath and dropped his glass as he and Vasily turned to face the door to the port-side deck. They were quickly joined by Elliott, Colten, and a white-jowled Thornton.
As they made their way towards the door, Desdemonia and the two stewards appeared from the kitchens. Vasily held his hand out to his wife and spoke in an authoritative voice. “Stay here. Trevenniss, Callahan, stay with the ladies. The rest of you gentlemen, with me.”
The five men headed out as the screams continued, each piercing shriek seeming to redouble its efforts in an attempt to convey the suffering of its owner.
Giselle stood up and made to follow. Merry looked up, her eyes huge in her pale face. “Where are you going?” Her voice held a note of hysteria.
Giselle knelt by her chair. “I think it’s your Aunt Carolyn. Where is her cabin?”
Merry took a deep breath, attempting to marshal her thoughts. “Through the snug onto the deck, up the stairs, turn immediate left…it’s not the cabin before you, it’s to the left of that, just before the store cupboard.”
Giselle squeezed the girl’s hand. Josephine moved to sit closer to the young girl, who clutched at her.
Giselle gathered her skirts and turned to leave. As she did so, she caught Lady Carlton-Cayce’s eye. The Scandinavian beauty held her glance as Giselle continued on her way to Carolyn’s cabin.
As she swept up the stairs, she could hear the screams beginning to weaken. She walked faster, but before she reached the top of the stairs, she heard Elliott’s voice calling to someone. “It’s lye! Vinegar! For the love of the Gods, we need vinegar!”
Colten suddenly appeared, thrusting her aside as he ran down the stairs towards the kitchen, his usual dry demeanour supplanted by one of utter horror.
Giselle reached the first deck and found Thornton Rust gripping the rail, his well-rehearsed blustering manner forgotten as he vomited over the side of the boat. A feeling of dread consumed her as she approached the open cabin door
where a silent and shaking Sir Wesley stood, his eyes desperately averted from the hideous scene in the room beyond, but his ears could not block out the sounds; Carolyn’s screams had lessened in strength but had become more
unsettling: wet, rasping sobs that were far worse to hear.
As Giselle reached the doorway she took in the broken lock and splintered wood that showed it had been locked from the inside before being forced.
Thorne appeared from within the room, his face deathly pale. He grasped her by her wrists; his green eyes blazing with a violet light as his otherness fought to control his shock at what he had witnessed. His voice, usually light and
sardonic, was low and harsh. “No, Giselle ― don’t go in!”
As they stood in the doorway, the moaning sobs ebbed into a hideous, gurgling rattle.
Deathly silence filled the air, then suddenly, O.D’s shaking voice. “She’s dead, thank God, she’s dead!”
The Shadow of Death
The Versipellis Mysteries Book 3
An horrific discovery leads to Caine and Thorne’s darkest investigation yet.
Fifteen years after a series of ritualistic murders drove the families of Cove to send their children away to safety, the survivors are returning to celebrate their first Christmas back on their island home…but the killer has also returned, and they have unpleasant plans for those who fled their reign of terror so many years ago…
When a murder is committed during the Yule archery shoot, Caine, Giselle, Thorne, Aquilleia, and Veronique the Labrador find themselves thrown into a terrifying Gothic mystery that involves sinister cultists, family secrets, hidden passages, and the horrifying reappearance of the abomination Filicidae: a malevolent being who kills for pleasure.
Hope is offered by one of their kind from Astraea, whose gift could be used to defeat the creature once and for all.
But unbeknownst to Caine and his friends, deep in the catacombs of Cove Castle, there dwells a nightmare…
Find out who, when, why, what, and how in this very Victorian murder mystery; the third instalment in a new Gaslamp fantasy series that drips with elements of Gothic mystery, historical urban fantasy, and rather a lot of blood as we follow the exploits of immortal Victorian detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne in the latter stages of the Victorian world.
“The third book of the Versipellis mysteries is the darkest of the series so far and the best in my opinion.” – Hammerhead
“Garland is a great storyteller in her genre of the Victorian whodunnit with a supernatural twist” – Katylou 1966
“The emerging details of the “other realm” shows the wonderful imagination of this author. I certainly can’t wait for the next book in the series.”
“Holmes meets Highlander via Hammer House of Horror!
Luci was already on his second coupe of champagne when Cornelius and the others arrived. He greeted them with a smile worthy of a host and gestured expansively towards the groaning table. “Superb spread, my dear Cornelius! Ami, my darling, thank you so much for the invitation. I ran into some old friends and thought they might like to meet up with the old gang, as it were. Araby, Alistair, Perry, Sebastian ― I’m sure you remember the Pepperbelles,
Felix and Fern?”
Araby’s jaw clenched as she looked at the brother and sister who had been the cause of some of the more unpleasant memories of her early years at Cove Castle.
Tall and bony, with thin blond hair, pointed features, and judgemental eyes that gave one the sensation of being glared at by a malnourished and ill-mannered ferret, Felix Pepperbelle was the island’s querulous, aspiring firebrand. Fully equipped with delusions of both artistic and political adequacy, he was a dedicated and vocal proponent of anything that would not only upset the applecart, but fling it, along with its contents and driver, into the very river of history and replace it with his shining vision of the future…
which revolved around his hitherto-unrecognised artistic genius and unsurpassed political intellect.
He was clad in an uninspiring but expensive set of khaki-coloured tweeds that he had purchased from Savile Row and roughened on a cheese grater to make them appear well worn. His ever-present flat cap was perched at what he
believed to be a jaunty angle. He ran his thumbs along the edge of his pockets as though they were braces, and bestowed on the assembled group a smile that sat oddly on his pursed and disapproving face. “Morning, morning…and
how is everyone on this bright and hopeful day?”
Cornelius gave what could only be described as a lack‐lustre response as he cast his eyes back to the castle. What was keeping Merric? Dealing with this sort of thing was something the reluctant lord was simply going to have to get
used to…and he could damn well start with the odious Felix and his execrable sister, Fern!
The aforementioned Fern, the elder sibling by a few minutes, while not nearly as tall as her brother, was equally as bony. Her oxblood day outfit, though expensive, was quite badly fitted, designed as it was for a woman several inches taller and with rather more curves than sharp edges. Her over-jacket bunched in unbecoming folds around her armpits, and her bustle appeared to be on a par with the backs of her knees, lending her quite possibly the most peculiar shape ever inflicted on the female form. With her scrawny neck protruding above her ill-fitted jacket, her bulbous eyes that glared myopically at the guests, her total lack of chin, and her bustle scraping along the floor behind her, she gave the appearance of a goose preparing for war.
Her brother’s most devoted supporter, and his equal in pettishness, Fern also lacked social ability, decency, tolerance or politeness ― and the less said about her table manners, the better!
Cornelius gritted his teeth and glared at Luci, who took a sip from his glass and smiled back in his easy, charming manner. He knew full well the depth of the reciprocated feelings between the Pepperbelles and Cornelius. His smile
deepened; this should be an interesting morning!
Cornelius scowled. Hopefully they would be gone before the snow began; he had no desire to offer those two pontificating wretches a room for the night!
As he opened his mouth to speak, the nasal whine that passed for Fern Pepperbelle’s voice suddenly broke the silence as she guffawed loudly, her large teeth giving the visual effect of a braying donkey. “Alistair? Luci, I actually thought you said Alistair! Good joke there!”
Cornelius glared at her. “And why would you think it funny, Miss Pepperbelle?”
She looked at him incredulously. “Oh, I say ― after what he did? And then lacking the courage to admit it and running off like that…I always knew he was a bad lot; a murderous, capitalist—”
She almost doubled over as her brother elbowed her in the ribs with extreme force. He smiled in a distinctly obsequious manner at Cornelius. “What my sister was going to say was that we haven’t seen Alistair for many years—”
“Then your wait is over!” Cornelius, his face almost purple with rage, pointed a trembling finger at Elliott. “This is Alistair Burgoyne. And in answer to your sister’s revolting display of ill-bred, ill-mannered malice, there was never any
proof that Alistair attacked or murdered anyone! In fact, there is rather more evidence to the contrary!” He stared down the now slack-jawed siblings before him. “I have had enough of both you and your sister, Felix. Neither of you will
ever be welcomed here again, nor will either of you receive any form of hospitality from this family while I live! Begone, you greedy, sanctimonious, grasping wretches! Begone, or I shall practise my archery skills on you!”
Felix gaped at Cornelius and turned to look imploringly at Luci, who instead raised his glass with an expression of extreme enjoyment. “Well, Felix, Fern…it would appear that we have just seen hoist and petard made manifest! It has been long in coming, but it was a beautiful thing to witness! Do not wait upon the order of your passing, my dear Pepperbelles; the path to the village lies before you!”
I live in Somerset, England, with my book illustrating, folk-singing husband, approximately 5000 books, an equal number of ancient movies, and a large collection of passive-aggressive Tomtes. My achievements are more from the school of life, rather than that of College or University. My early years choice of reading material was rather suspect for my age. The first Agatha Christie I ever read was “By the Pricking of my Thumbs” when I was nine years old; a child of that age reading and enjoying a murder mystery about a child killer explains a great deal about the type of novel I write today.
When I was diagnosed with CFS at the age of thirty, I realised that I could either go mad staring at four walls all day, or I could try to apply what little parts of my brain still worked and have a bash at writing a murder mystery set in the 1920’s…things didn’t quite turn out the way I’d planned!
I thought when I finally started writing that my books would be genteel “cosy” type murder mysteries set in the Golden Era (I love the 1920’s and 30’s for the style, music, and automobiles), with someone being politely bumped off at the Vicar’s tea party and the corpse then apologising for disrupting proceedings. Instead, the late Victorian era came thundering over the horizon armed with some fantastical and macabre plotlines and a complete refusal to accept the word “no”; it planted itself in my stories, my characters, and my life, and would not budge.
I watch far too many old school murder mystery films, TV series, and 1980s action movies for it to be considered healthy. No one will play movie quizzes with me anymore…further evidence of a misspent youth!
I love the countryside, Prosecco, tea, the cocktail hour (the pinnacle of the civilised world!), and the works of Dame Ngaio Marsh, Dame Gladys Mitchell, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Dame Agatha Christie, Sir Terry Pratchett, Simon R Green, and David and Leigh Eddings.
My books are Victorian in era, messy in their murders, creepy in their otherness, and will make you double check the windows are all locked before you go to bed. What’s not to like about mysteries with a touch of Grand Guignol?
Find Rhen at the ChillerCon UK – Horror comes to Scarborough! (chillercon-uk.com) this week!
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