Welcome to the final stop on the blog tour for Castle Shade by Laurie R. King, the 17th book in the author’s Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series. My thanks to Christina Storey at Allison & Busby for inviting me to take part in the tour. You can read an extract from the book below and also listen to Laurie reading from the book here.
In addition, the publishers are currently running a giveaway (open to UK residents only) with the chance for one lucky person to win a set of paperbacks of the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series and a pot of beautiful honey. Three runners up will also receive copies of The Beekeepers Apprentice, the first book in the series, and some honey. You can enter via this link where you can also find terms and conditions.
And If you’re tempted to treat yourself to a copy of Castle Shade, the publishers also have an exciting promotion running at the moment. Purchase a copy of Castle Shade for £15 and get an exclusive signed bookplate from Laurie herself. There are a limited amount of these so don’t delay. Use the code ‘share15’ at checkout. You’ll get free postage & packing as well.
About the Book
A queen, a castle, a dark and ageless threat – all await Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in this chilling new adventure.
The queen is Marie of Roumania: the doubly royal granddaughter to Victoria, Empress of the British Empire, and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A famous beauty who was married at seventeen into Roumania’s young dynasty, Marie had beguiled the Paris Peace Conference into returning her adopted country’s long-lost provinces, single-handedly transforming Roumania from a backwater into a force.
The castle is Bran: a tall, quirky, ancient structure perched on high rocks overlooking the border between Roumania and its newly regained territory of Transylvania. The castle was a gift to Queen Marie, a thanks from her people, and she loves it as she loves her own children.
The threat is…now, that is less clear. Shadowy figures, vague whispers, the fears of girls, dangers that may only be accidents. But this is a land of long memory and hidden corners, a land that had known Vlad the Impaler, a land from whose churchyards the shades creep.
When Queen Marie calls, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are as dubious as they are reluctant. But a young girl is involved, and a beautiful queen. Surely it won’t take long to shine light on this unlikely case of what would seem to be strigoi?
Or, as they are known in the West…vampires.
Format: Hardcover (384 pages) Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 8th June 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery
Find Castle Shade (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17) on Goodreads
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Extract from Castle Shade by Laurie R King
‘But sir, madam – you know, strange things are happening in Bran, in recent times,’ the butler admitted. ‘It is why you are here. No doubt there are explanations, but still, the ignorant talk. A cow dies in a family having troubles with a neighbour – that enemy must have done it. A man goes into the forest and does not come out, evil is thought, not accident. Strange marks appear on walls, girls walking home hear noises in the night, dogs bark at nothing – sir, madam, you are educated people. I do not need to tell you that the simple person’s imagination picks up the unknown and builds a mountain of it. And the talk feeds itself.’
‘What kind of talk?’ Holmes pressed.
The butler was practically squirming in his chair. ‘Wicked talk. Irresponsible talk.’
‘Evil things! Things she would never permit to enter her mind! I have served her since the day she first came to Bran, five years ago. If anything … like that was entering this castle, I would know.’
I could feel Holmes settle, a reflection of my own thought: At last, we arrive at the core of the matter. ‘You are saying that gossip has started up around Queen Marie? Rumours of evil and corrupt doings, of her … taking advantage of the young women of the vicinity?’
‘Her Majesty is beautiful in her own person! She rides out for the joy of riding this countryside that she loves, she stops to talk to the people in their cottages because she cares for them, not because she …’ Again, his tongue froze rather than finish the sentence.
‘Because she is looking the place over with an eye to victims?’
Florescu looked ashamed, perhaps for having permitted the words to have been pronounced within this place.
‘Tell us about these “strange marks” on the walls,’ Holmes said.
‘I have only seen some. Most are scrubbed away quickly. By the fathers, you know? They fear they may be words their daughters should not see, and their sons should not learn.’
‘So these are obscenities?’
‘Some. When they started, in the spring, nobody knew – until a person who knew that word noticed and told the others. Now, when they appear, some may be bad, others not, but it is better to be safe and wash them away. They come at night, they are in simple chalk so a bucket of water deals with them, but they are disturbing. Some threaten girls – all girls, no names. “Girls here are not safe.” Which is very much not true. Others are not, er…’ His eyes flicked sideways at me, and he changed what he had been going to say. ‘They are not normal? Not the kind of words boys teach each other. They talk of pain, and power over the weak, using words many villagers have never heard. Words that are in no dictionary.’
‘And these words and threats are aimed at the queen?’
‘No. The other way. It is as if … as if she is the one saying them.’
‘What, you mean they’re signed with her name? Or, I suppose, title?’
‘That is not necessary. Not when they are written in her own tongue.’
‘Ah. They’re in English, then, these “strange marks.”’
‘Some of the marks are words, yes, and English. Others just marks.’
‘Some, I heard. The two I saw were symbols, of some kind. I took those down myself, as the villagers would not.’
He was clearly hiding something, and when Holmes spoke, his voice was crisp with irritation. ‘Mr Florescu, I would appreciate your help in this matter. I cannot work without cold, hard facts. I see that this causes you discomfort, but we are adults, and we both wish to present Her Majesty with a solution to her problem. Do we not?’
The man flushed, his very moustache quivering with indignation at the thought that he might not wish to serve his queen. He jerked open the top drawer of his desk and slapped a pad of paper down on the blotter, snatched up a pencil and threw a few lines on the page.
The first was a star inside a circle. The second was the overlapping W we had seen marked into the forest trees. ‘Those are just apotropaic – just marks meant to turn away witches,’ I said.
‘Yes. Superstition – pah! My village is small, but we are educated. The people here know better.’ His shame was palpable.
Holmes nodded thoughtfully. ‘So to be clear: the chalk marks that have been appearing are either rude words in English or obscene sketches. The residents take those down. But others are the marks meant to repel witches, and they sometimes leave those up. Is that right?’
‘I wash them, when I see,’ he declared.
‘Yes. Is it possible the villagers themselves are putting those up?’
He looked away. ‘Some are paint,’ he said, admission enough.
We had exhausted the question of the mysterious marks, I thought, and to rescue him from the embarrassment of his people’s gullibility, I returned to the question that had brought us here. ‘Before we go – Gabriela’s friend, the girl with the “active imagination”? What does she say happened to her?’
Before, Florescu had been uncomfortable, reluctant. Now his face shut down entirely. ‘Nothing happened.’
Holmes’ gaze snapped onto him. ‘That is not what we have heard, Mr Florescu.’
‘Nothing happened to the girl.’
Silence fell. We let it lie there.
After a moment, the moustache twitched. ‘The girl was walking home last night.’
‘Here. She works in the kitchen – a new girl. Vera Dumitru. They finished cleaning later than usual.’
‘What time was it?’
‘Near to midnight.’
Not long before Holmes and I went out. I did not look at him, but I knew his expression would be as chagrined as my own.
‘Was she alone?
‘Three girls left together. Two live on the other side of the village, Vera on this. They stopped at the road – probably smoking a cigarette, if I know them – and then the two went left and Vera to the right.’
‘The road to Brașov?’
‘The small road, past the churchyard. She says she was passing the church and heard a voice call to her. She was surprised, but not afraid, or so she says. This is a quiet village, you understand? Things that happen in cities are not found here. And there are houses all around, to hear if a girl …’
‘Is being attacked,’ I supplied.
‘Exactly! So she looked to see who it was, thinking maybe one of her brother’s friends was teasing at her, and she kept her voice small so as not to wake those sleeping. She said, who was there.’ He paused, noticed the pad still sitting on the desk and returned it to the drawer. ‘Who is there? The voice says, “Andrei.” This is a common name, so she says, which Andrei? And the voice says, “The one killed near Fagaraș during the War.” This was a boy she knew, a boy we buried. His body came here.’ Florescu looked up, the moustache lifted in an awkward smile. ‘She ran. Down the road to her home.’
Holmes, clearly not as disturbed by what that smile had revealed as I was, asked him for the boy’s name, and whether the girl Vera was generally flighty, and I think some other question that went past me, and Holmes may have asked to speak with the girl and Florescu replied that he would ask her father, and then perhaps some other conversation happened but not much, because we were on our feet and out into what seemed to be a beautiful spring morning, and I turned to Holmes and hissed, low, so as not to be overheard.
‘Holmes, did you see that?’
‘I saw that the man was hiding something, yes.’
‘No – I mean his teeth. When he smiled? The queen’s butler has fangs!’
About the Author
Laurie R King has has been writing crime fiction since 1987 and won many awards for her work in fiction including the prestigious John Creasey Dagger, the Edgar, the Nero and Macavity Awards. Her background includes such diverse interests as Old Testament theology and construction work, and she is the author of highly praised stand-alone suspense novels and a contemporary mystery series, as well as the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series. She lives in North California.