This has been an awful week, and now that I’ve expressed my outrage until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice, I’m looking around for things to make me forget reality entirely. I wrote my latest, Guinevere’s Revenge, in exactly that spirit. It’s an extremely light-hearted romantic mystery–Agatha Christie plus P.G. Wodehouse minus the racism.
The heroine, Stella Hart, is an American silent movie actress whose divorced socialite mother is married to an English lord. Stella is visiting the manor house for a shooting party and ends up solving a murder with the help of George Barrington, her stepfather’s favorite nephew. The story was inspired by screwball romances with lots of snappy banter like Bringing Up Baby and the kind of comforting mysteries where the bad are punished and the good go on in their goodness and all ends up right with the world. And right now, I really want to believe in that world, and I’m thinking maybe the rest of you might, too. Here’s an excerpt to show you what I mean:
“Thanks, Hennessey,” she said, taking the phone. “Hello? This is Stella Hart.”
“Finally,” a voice that was all too familiar boomed over the line. “You okay, dollface? It sounds like they’ve got you locked in an ivory tower. I’ve been trying to reach you all night!”
She slammed the phone down once, then three more times as if to break the connection for all eternity. George came out into the hall as she was putting the receiver down on the table, leaving it off the hook.
“Okay, Mugsy, where’d you hide the loot?” he teased.
“What?” She was too panicked to understand the joke.
“You’re behaving like a cat burglar who double-crossed her partners and absconded with the jewels.” He took her hand. “The jig’s up, kiddo.” For once his crooked smile made her want to cry. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“You’re closer than you think.” She had promised herself and poor Bertie that she wouldn’t breathe a word of this to anyone in England, but she had no choice. “You know all that money Lord Carraway thinks movie people make? It’s not quite so.”
“Darling, if you need money—”
“No, no, not me,” she said, smiling as she squeezed his hand. “Bertie’s last picture cost the lost treasures of Egypt to make. And he wasn’t as discerning as he might have been in how he got it. He borrowed money from what he called ‘a consortium of interested businessmen’ in New York to finish it, promising to pay them back when the picture was released.”
“What’s all this got to do with you?” George asked, frowning.
“The picture is a big success, but Bertie paid all the people who worked on it first,” she said. “Then he sort of . . . well, he spent a bundle on a leading man and a director for his next project.”
“Oh good lord . . .”
“He’ll definitely pay them back; he always does. But he’s taking a little longer than they were expecting, particularly with the picture doing so well.”
“Longer than he promised, you mean.”
“Yes, that.” She was in no fit state to explain away her stepfather’s faults the way she usually would have, not to George. She could never lie to George. “The leader of this . . .”
“Yes. He sent his son, Anthony, to Los Angeles to speak to Bertie about it, and Bertie asked me to . . . well . . . to distract him.”
“He did not!”
“Nothing awful!” she said, drawing him further from the dining room before he put the whole house in an uproar. “I just happened to run into the two of them at the Coconut Grove, and Bertie introduced us. I danced with Tony once or twice, and we drank some champagne. It was all perfectly innocent, really.” She hated the way George was looking at her, so sympathetic and horrified all at the same time. “But Tony apparently made more of it than I realized. He’s gotten sort of attached.”
George raised an eyebrow. “Attached?”
“He’s driving me crazy,” she confessed. “He sends me presents; he calls me night and day. The day I finally threw in the towel and ran, he had hired an entire string quartet to come to the set where I was working and play ‘Come to Me, My Melancholy Baby’ until I agreed to go out with him again.”
George laughed, the swine. “Sounds like the poor devil’s got it bad, sausage,” he said. “You should let him off the hook. Just tell him you’re not interested.”
“I can’t,” she said. “If I brush him off, he’ll remember about the money, and he might break poor Bertie’s knees or something.”
“Well, you can’t continue scurrying around the globe this way,” he said. “It’s round; you’ll eventually catch him up.” As he said this, she watched with horror as Hennessey came out, realized the phone was off the hook, and picked up the receiver.
“Hennessey, no!” she cried as he replaced it. Within mere seconds, it rang.
“Shush,” George said, pushing her gently aside to answer it. “Barrington Hall. George Barrington speaking.” She could hear Tony’s booming baritone, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. “Yes, Mr. Bartinelli, I’ve just been hearing all about you from our little Stella.” She grabbed his arm and gazed up at him with pleading eyes. “She tells me you’re quite a chap, and she’s quite taken with you.” He put his hand over hers and patted, giving her a nod that said he’d take care of everything. “Problem is, she’s my fiancée.”
“George!” she gasped.
“Yes, I knew it would be something of a shock,” George said, putting his hand over her mouth. “That scamp—I should have known better than to let her loose in California without me.” She heard Tony say something even more loudly than usual. “Yes, a good spanking is probably exactly what she needs. But what can I do, Mr. Bartinelli? I adore her.” A short pause. “Yes, I thought you’d understand.” Another pause. “Yes, it’s been in the works for years. Her stepfather is my uncle, you see.” Pause. “No, not that one—the other one, Lord Barrington.” Pause. “Too bad, yes. That would solve a great many problems, wouldn’t it?” Longer pause, and George frowned. “Now see here, Mr. Bartinelli, I hardly think . . .” Then he laughed. “Yes, I suppose I do understand. I’m just glad you’re taking it so well. She wasn’t too terribly naughty, was she? . . . Oh good, good, glad to hear it . . . No, no, not at all . . . That sounds fine. Good-bye.”
He hung up the phone. “I can’t believe it,” Stella said. “You darling madman . . . I can’t believe you told him we were engaged.”
“Inspiration of the desperate man and all that.” He looked a little pale. “And he believed it, by the way. Said it made perfect sense.”
“Well, what else could he say?” She felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “George, I swear I could kiss you.”
“Good,” he said, his voice rather hollow. “You’ll need the practice.”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“You’ll have to make a good show of it, sausage,” he answered with a sickly grin. “He’s on his way here.”
“He wants to be certain you’re happy with our engagement.”
“Oh for pity’s sake!”
“He’s only looking out for you, sausage. I think he really is quite smitten.”
“That’s very sweet, but dear heavens!” Could things get any worse? “Did you tell him we would just wait around here until his boat arrives?”
“Oh, his boat arrived this morning, half an hour after yours did.” She clutched his arm, too shocked to speak. “He’s at the post office,” he said. “He’ll be here in ten minutes.”
“George, really,” Mavis said, coming out of the dining room. “This is intolerable. They’re about to serve dessert.” She looked back and forth between George and Stella, the two of them sort of clutching one another like orphans in a storm. “What the devil is going on?”
“Mavis, darling, thank heavens you’re here,” George said, letting go of Stella to go to her. “We’re going to have to play a little game.”
Wanna know how it comes out? Get your copy from Amazon here.