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Murder at Hartigan House:

a brand new series reminiscent of

the Golden Age of Mysteries.

 

Welcome! Thank you for reading.

-Lee Strauss, author of Ginger Gold Mysteries

 

CHAPTER 1 - Murder at Hartigan House

Ginger Gold hesitated at the front door of Hartigan House. She hadn’t expected to feel anything, but instead she shouldered a heavy shawl of melancholy. This grand, three-storey structure built of limestone, situated in the picturesque Kensington neighbourhood of Mallowan Court, had grown tired over the war years. The stones greyer, the garden wilder. The house had been her home for the first eight years of her life. The last time she’d visited had been a decade earlier on her honeymoon.

Her mostly happy childhood was long gone as was her lovely husband.

Haley Higgins, Ginger’s good friend and travelling companion, noticed her disquietude. “Is everything all right?”

“Hartigan House holds a lot of memories.” Ginger was torn in her allegiances: London the place of her birth or Boston the place where she came of age. She’d lived in the brownstone on Beacon Hill for over twenty-two years, yet England was etched deeply in her soul.

And now, to finally return—it was with this disconcerting welcome. A telegram received while on board the SS Rosa: GHASTLY DISCOVERY IN ATTIC OF HARTIGAN HOUSE.

Ginger, rousing her inner strength, stepped to the front door and engaged the wrought iron knocker.

“This is your house, isn’t it?” Haley said. A lock of long, curly brown hair escaped its faux bob, and she pushed it behind her ear. “Surely you don’t have to knock?”

“I’m not in possession of a key and I’m quite certain the door is locked.”

Haley tested the knob and found Ginger’s prediction to be true.

Ginger adjusted her yellow cloche hat, trimmed with blue ribbon to match her fine linen suit purchased on 5th Avenue in New York and patted her red bob with gloved hands. Her Boston terrier Boss waited obediently by her feet.

Their arrival was expected. Ginger had telegrammed the details of her journey before leaving Boston, and the door soon opened. Standing before them was Mr. Pippins, the butler. The years seemed to have caught up with him. His shoulders slumped slightly, and his hair had all but disappeared. But his eyes remained their bright cornflower blue, and they twinkled as he stared back at her.

“My dear Lady Gold.” He spoke her name with a slight quiver, giving away the emotion he experienced at seeing her. A dramatic image flashed through Ginger’s mind: a scrawny redheaded girl held firmly by her father’s strong hands as she wept, her eyes locking with her beloved butler as her father took her away.

A tear escaped from the corner of her eye, and she threw herself into his arms. “Oh, Pips.”

Clive Pippins, stiffening at first to this unorthodox greeting, returned the embrace. Ginger released her hold, stepped back, and clasped her hands in front of her. She sensed Pippins’ embarrassment and shared in it. There were proper ways to do things, especially in England, and showing overt affection to a member of one’s staff was not proper. She cleared her throat and smiled. “It’s so good to see you again, Pips.”

Pippins stood tall, hands relaxed behind his back. “My sympathies, once again, on the loss of your father. Mr. Hartigan was a good man.”

“Thank you.” Ginger desperately missed her father, but seeing Pippins and knowing his devotion to her helped to ease some of the pain.

Ginger glanced at Haley who stood expectantly in her brown tweed suit and sturdy oxford heels. “Oh, my manners. Pippins, this is my good friend Miss Higgins.”

Pippins bowed. “Madam.”

“How do you do, Mr. Pippins,” Haley said with her noticeable Boston accent. She reached out her hand, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she smiled. “I’m a commoner.”

Pippins’ lips twitched in amusement. He accepted her hand with a sturdy shake.

“Miss Higgins was Father’s nurse for the last three years,” Ginger said. “She’s come to London to study at the London School of Medicine for Women.” Ginger linked her arm to Haley’s. “She’s going to be a doctor!”

Pippins nodded agreeably. “How wonderful.”

Ginger swooped up her Boston terrier and patted his black head affectionately. “And this is Boss. Short for Boston.”

“A fine-looking specimen, madam. How was your journey?”

“Quite lovely,” Ginger said. “Apart from a short but fierce storm, the weather was pleasant.” She omitted the news about the murder onboard the SS Rosa and the part she and Haley played in solving it.

Ginger finally had a chance to take in the foyer. Black and white tiled floor, a large chandelier that hung from the height of the second level, windows on either side of the double-panelled front doors that added natural light. The formidable areca palm plants in large ceramic pots hailing from India, once lined up along the base of the stairwell were missing—much to be expected when a house has been shut up for so many years.

“We don’t have a footman, madam,” Pippins said, “but I’d be happy to bring your things in.”

Pippins, a confirmed bachelor, had to be in his seventies now, and Ginger didn’t intend to burden him with such a laborious task. “That’s quite all right, Pips. I’ve arranged for our things to be transported here by motor-van. The driver will be able to manage.”

“Yes, madam.”

Ginger eyed him wistfully. “I don’t suppose you could call me ‘Little Miss’?” Little Miss had been Pippins’ pet name for her when she was a child. He was the only staff member to take time to entertain her. Subtle games like I spy and noughts and crosses (what Haley would call X’s and O’s)—never when her father was around, or in the presence of other staff as that would be unseemly for a member of staff. Her heart squeezed with the nostalgia.

“Little Miss, madam?” His eyes flickered with the memory, and he smiled. “I think not, madam.”

Ginger let out a playful sigh. The pet name didn’t suit a thirty-year-old woman anyway.

“Can I bring you some tea, madam?” Pippins asked. “After the train ride from Liverpool, you must be worn out.”

“Tea sounds marvellous, Pips, but first we must know what your urgent, mysterious message is all about,” she said referring to the telegram. Her curiosity was greater than her desire to put her feet up. Besides, she’d had a good sleep at the Inn they’d stayed overnight at in Liverpool, and currently didn’t feel all that tired. “I take it you’ve found something distasteful?”

“I believe he used the word, ghastly,” Haley said. “Such a strong word. I’m dying to know what it is.”

Pippins’ expression turned grave. “It is rather ghastly, so do prepare yourself. Please follow me.” A wide staircase circled up to the second floor, which horseshoed around the foyer giving the entrance its grand high ceiling. At the end of the passage was a door used by the servants to access the second floor. It opened to a small landing with steep steps that went down to the kitchen and up to the attic were the staff sleeping quarters were found. Rooms for women were in the west wing and the men’s rooms to the east.

“I do apologise for bringing you into the servants’ quarters, madam.”

“It’s quite all right, Pips.”

Ginger’s hope was that the problem in the attic was something trivial like dry rot or black mould. She wondered why Pippins hadn’t taken it upon himself to ring for repairs. Perhaps, since he was newly back to Hartigan House and answered now to her instead of her father, he no longer felt he had the authority to make such calls on his own.

“I’m filled with curiosity, Pippins,” Ginger said. “Do give us a clue.”

Pippins hesitated then said. “I’m really at a loss how to describe it.”

“Can we pause for a breather,” Haley said, stopping midway up the step. “I am out of shape.”

“I’m no better,” Ginger said. “Pippins is bringing us to shame.”

Pippins puffed out his chest with pride. “Years of going up and down daily, madam.”

Ginger laughed. “Perhaps we should take rooms up here, Haley.”

Pippins instantly turned serious. “Absolutely not, madam.”

Before Ginger could explain that she wasn’t serious, Pippins marched down the passage in the men’s quarters and opened the door to the very last room at the end. He removed a key from his pocket. “A skeleton key, madam,” he explained. “Opens all the attic doors.”

The lock clicked and the door swung open.

As Ginger reached the threshold, she couldn’t keep a gasp of horror from escaping her lips.

Oh mercy!

In the middle of the room, lying on the floor, was a decomposed body.

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CHAPTER 2 - Murder at Hartigan House

Ginger had seen her fair share of gruesome remains during the war, but still the sight of the bones on the floor in her house was shocking. “Who is it?”

“I wish I knew, madam,” Pippins said.

The small room was sparsely decorated with only a narrow bed up against the short wall and a wooden chest of drawers, coated in dust, against the taller wall. Haley approached the skeletal remains and gave them a cursory examination.

“The corpse is in dry decay. Pelvic bones indicate the victim is female, however we could surmise that by the dress. It appears the right hand is missing its distal phalanx.”

“The finger tip?” Ginger said. “What could’ve happened to it?”

“It’s hard to say.” She wrinkled her nose in contemplation. “I can’t be 100 percent sure, but I’d say these remains are at least ten years old.”

“Hartigan House was shut up ten years ago,” Ginger said, “which means the body was here when that happened.” She turned to Pippins who waited quietly by the door. “Pippins, how is it possible that this woman wasn’t discovered at that time?”

Pippins regarded her with a look of discomfort. “I’m afraid, madam, the door had been locked. We had a telegram from Mr. Hartigan, not to go inside.”

Mr. Hartigan? Ginger’s eyelashes fluttered at the implication. “My father?”

Pippins nodded. “You can understand why I haven’t gone to the police. I’m eager to keep rumours out of the tabloids. In fact, no one else in this house, besides the three of us, knows.”

“I appreciate your discretion,” Ginger said. The last thing she wanted was for her father’s good name to be dragged through the mud. The idea that he had somehow been involved in the demise of this woman sat like a boulder on her chest. She swallowed to push down the dread. “You did the right thing, Pippins.”

“Perhaps her clothes might be a clue to her identity,” Haley said.

The flattened red evening gown that was draped over the bones had been savagely attacked by insects, leaving damaging holes in their wake. Ginger squatted next to Haley and stroked the fabric carefully. “It’s a Lucile,” she said.

“A what?” Haley asked.

“The dress is a Lucile, an haute couture design by Lady Duff-Gordon.”

“How do you know that?”

“Lady Duff-Gordon has shops in New York. I recognise the lines. Creamy satin draping to the floor and a second shorter layer angling over the top from one hip. The contrasting black empire waist bodice, with matching silk bow pinned on the right side. You’re right about the timeline. This dress is about ten years old. I used to own a similar one myself.”

“Do you think the victim is from New York?” Haley asked.

“Not necessarily. The House of Lucile originated in London.”

“An evening gown would suggest she was at Hartigan House as a guest, would it not?” Haley said. “She must have been reported missing.”

Ginger conceded. “Yes, I suspect the police will be quick to identify her.”

Boss crawled under the bed and returned, fur covered in dust.

“Boss!” Ginger said. “Look how filthy you are now.”

“He has something in his mouth,” Haley said. She knelt and held out a palm. “Whatcha got there, ol’ boy?”

Boss released his findings and sat, his stub of a tail shimmering against the dusty wooden floor.

“What is it?” Ginger asked.

“It looks like the missing phalanx.”

“How did it get under the bed?”

“Rats?”

Ginger’s stomach clenched. A body lying in Hartigan House for over a decade? This was bad, very bad indeed.

“I’d like to know how she ended up in the men’s quarters.” Ginger said. She faced the butler. “Pippins, who last slept in this room?”

“These quarters were last occupied by Mr. Andrew Bailey.”

“Father’s valet?” Ginger groaned inwardly. She wished she could go to her father and demand an explanation, but alas, she could not. She would have to unearth this mystery, and her father’s alleged involvement, on her own. “Let’s not breathe a word of this for now.”

“Ginger,” Haley said. “You can’t lock the door and pretend this murder didn’t happen. She has family somewhere wondering about her. This has to be reported.”

“Oh, Haley, I know you’re right, but can we wait a day?” Ginger said. She needed time to think this through.

Haley sighed. “She’s been here for ten years. I suppose one more day won’t hurt.”

The chime from the front door sounded a peal that was loud enough to be heard on the third floor. “That will be our luggage,” Ginger said to Pippins. “Would you mind showing the driver in, and directing him to leave mine in my room and Haley’s in hers. The bags are clearly marked.”

Pippins disappeared and Ginger allowed the horror she felt to show. “Oh my goodness, Haley. My father knew about this!” Heat exploded on her cheeks as the severity of the situation blossomed.

Haley placed a steady hand of comfort on her shoulder. “Now, don’t jump to conclusions. We don’t know why he instructed the door to this room to be locked. It could be for innocent reasons and someone else with the knowledge took advantage.”

“Yes, yes, you’re right,” Ginger said, exhaling.

“All we know about the deceased is that she was a young female, and was about five feet, seven inches tall,” Haley said.

“And likely died on the thirty-first of December 1913,” Ginger added, “wearing a Lucile evening gown.”

Ginger tried to imagine the events that led to this poor woman’s death. And in Ginger’s very own home—it was too much to take in! Her knees quivered but she was loath to sit on the dusty camp bed. She paced a small circle instead.

“What do you want to do now?” Haley asked.

“I wouldn’t mind a lie down,” Ginger said, fighting a sudden wave of fatigue. The time change from Boston combined with this shocking news had exhausted her both physically and emotionally.

Haley closed the door behind them, and Ginger locked it, depositing the key into her skirt pocket. They descended to the second floor.

“It looks like you’re in this one,” Ginger said, as the reached the first room where the door was sitting open.

“How do you know?”

Ginger glanced down the passage at the second bedroom door left open. “Because I always stay in that room. It was mine as a child. Besides, your suitcases are in here.”

“So they are,” Haley said. Worry filled her dark eyes when she looked at Ginger. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Ginger swallowed. “I hope so.”

Book 3 of the Ginger Gold Mystery series

Ginger Gold receives a letter from her sister-in-law, Felicia, requesting Ginger come straight away to her late husband’s family home, Bray Manor. Dowager Lady Gold, Ginger’s nervous grandmother through marriage, believes the old manor is haunted.
Ginger doesn’t believe in ghosts, but is haunted nevertheless by memories of her husband and the lure of his gravesite she just can’t bring herself to visit.
In order to keep Bray Manor afloat financially, Felicia and Ambrosia opened the estate to the public for club meetings and special events. Knitters, stamp collectors, and fly-fishers converge weekly—targets for the poltergeist that seems to find amusement in hiding small things from their owners.
Bray Manor hosts a dance to raise money for maimed soldiers who struggle with peacetime after the Great War. Felicia invites her flapper friends and her new beau, Captain Frances Smithwick, a man Ginger has met before and definitely doesn’t like.
When the dance ends with the discovery of a body, Ambrosia is certain the poltergeist is to blame, but Ginger is quite sure the murderer is made of flesh and blood.

Now available for only 3.99!

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CHAPTER 3 - Murder at Hartigan House

Ginger stilled in the doorway of her bedroom as a flood of memories washed over her. All of her childhood belongings had been long since packed away, and the large room was now a mature luxurious design with gold and ivory furnishings and trim. A full-length ornately trimmed mirror stood in the corner near a matching dressing table. Two striped ivory and gold chairs sat in front of the long windows, perfect for catching the daylight over tea and for journal writing. The bed featured prominently against one wall with an extravagantly carved wood head and footboard.

She’d shared that bed with Daniel. They played Frank Croxton on the gramophone and danced on the shiny wooden floor to Road to Mandalay.

Ginger sank into one of the chairs. Boss, always attuned to Ginger’s emotions, climbed on her lap and nudged her cheek with his damp nose.

“Oh, Bossy. What would I do without you?”

Her fingers petted the animal as she stared blankly at her trunks, suitcases, and stacks of hatboxes.

The last time she’d seen her husband alive was in the summer of 1918 in France. He thought she was there in her role as a telephone switchboard operator, and she’d let him believe that. Her real role in the war had allowed her to pull strings so they’d have a day and a night’s leave together in a quaint little village near Marseille. For the twenty-four hours they were together, they agreed not to talk about the war. Ginger knew about the danger Daniel was in, and that he’d be heading back to Belgium the next day.

He had no idea how dangerous things were for her. He died before she could tell him the truth. It pained her that she had been denied the opportunity to explain.

A light tapping at the door snapped her to her senses.

“Come in,” she called.

A young maid with dark hair pinned back and a friendly face stepped softly into the room, tea tray in hand, and curtsied. “Hello, Lady Gold. Mr. Pippins thought you’d like tea brought up.”

“Yes, he’s right. I would love a cup.”

Lizzie poured. “Milk and sugar, madam?”

“Just milk. And what is your name?”

“Lizzie, madam.” She bobbed again. “Mr. Pippins also suggested you might like help unpacking?”

“That would be fabulous. My Boston gal refused to accompany me,” Ginger said. “Afraid of the water.”

“Oh, that is sad, madam,” Lizzie said. “To have such a grand opportunity and be stopped by a greater fear.”

Ginger considered her new maid’s perceptiveness.

Lizzie blushed, “Sorry, madam, I spoke out of turn.”

“It’s quite all right, Lizzie. You spoke the truth.”

“I’ll just be a minute to see if Miss Higgins would like tea, and I’ll be right back.”

Ginger smiled. “Of course.” She knew Haley would turn her nose up at tea, being the devoted coffee drinker that she was, and wasn’t a bit surprised when Lizzie returned almost immediately afterwards.

“Lizzie,” Ginger said, brightening. “Let’s start with the trunks, shall we?”

Unlike Haley, who’d helped on the steamship, Lizzie was well-versed in the different styles of dresses. “I was a lady’s maid in my last job,” she explained, “before she moved to Africa.” Her face showed genuine appreciation for the quality of Ginger’s evening gowns made of imported satiny-smooth silk, textured crepe, sheer chiffon and luscious velvet. “Are these from America?”

Ginger nodded at the obvious.

“They’re so lovely!”

“Thank you, Lizzie. There are plenty of dress shops in Boston and New York. Are you familiar with the dress shops in London?” Ginger thought she might be able to track down the Lucile dress. Maybe she could find someone who knew something of the victim.

“Somewhat, madam. My previous lady often spoke of them.”

“I’d be delighted if you could come up with a list of the most popular shops.”

“I suspect you’d want the salons?”

Ginger was pleased that this young girl seemed to know the difference. Salons designed and created unique dresses for each customer. Other shops had begun supplying more affordable factory-made dresses, a growing industry since the war especially with the younger flapper crowd. Ginger frequented both kinds.

Once Lizzie had emptied the trunks, she moved to the suitcases and hung the day dresses and tea dresses found there. Ginger busied herself by organizing her hats and accessories and putting away her jewellery and hatpins.

She remembered the photograph of her husband, so dashing in his lieutenant uniform, and removed it from her handbag.

Sir Daniel Livingston Gold, baronet, the one true love of her life. Ginger remembered how excited she had been to bring him here, to share her London home, and recount all her precious memories. Introducing her new husband to Pippins had been such a thrill. Ginger had thought Pippins to be tall, but her Daniel towered over him. With genuine warmth in his brown eyes and a sincere smile on his handsome face, he greeted Pippins with enthusiasm.

“Lady Gold speaks so highly of you, Mr. Pippins.”

Pippins eyes sparkled at her new title, his mouth pulling against his will into a grin. “You have a very fine bride, sir.”

“I do, indeed!”

Ginger smiled at the memory. “Lizzie, is there a frame around I could use?” She held up the photo for size. “I only have this plastic travel frame. So much lighter, you see.”

“Yes, madam. Is that Sir Daniel Gold, madam?”

“It is.”

“He was very handsome,” Lizzie bobbed quickly, “if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“I don’t mind, and I agree.”

Lizzie disappeared for a few moments and returned with an empty silver frame. Ginger slid the photo in behind the glass and set it on the night table beside her bed.

“It’s perfect.”

You've been reading Murder at Hartigan House

Book 2 of the Ginger Gold Mysteries series   ~   Release Date: June 6, 2017

 There’s a skeleton in the attic! Quite literally!

After a weeklong passage over the Atlantic from Boston to Liverpool, Ginger Gold arrives at her childhood London home—Hartigan House—to find decade-old remains from some poor woman hanging from a noose. Ginger’s Boston terrier, Boss, noses out a missing phalange from under the bed.
It’s a mystery that once again puts Ginger alongside the handsome Chief Inspector Basil Reed. Who is the victim? And how did she end up in Ginger’s home?
Clues lead Ginger and her good friend Haley Higgins to a soirée hosted in 1913 by Ginger’s late father, George Hartigan. A shadow of suspicion is cast on her father’s legacy, and Ginger isn’t so sure she wants to know the truth about the man she dearly loved.
Ginger decides to host another soirée, inviting the guest list from ten years previous. Before the night is over, another person is dead.

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