To Kingdom Come
by Claudia Riess
Amateur sleuths, Erika Shawn-Wheatley, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, art history professor, attend a Zoom meeting of individuals from around the globe whose common goal is to expedite the return of African art looted during the colonial era. Olivia Chatham, a math instructor at London University, has just begun speaking about her recent find, a journal penned by her great-granduncle, Andrew Barrett, active member of the Royal Army Medical Service during England’s 1897 “punitive expedition” launched against the Kingdom of Benin.
Olivia is about to disclose what she hopes the sleuthing duo will bring to light, when the proceedings are disrupted by an unusual movement in one of the squares on the grid. Frozen disbelief erupts into a frenzy of calls for help as the group, including the victim, watch in horror the enactment of a murder videotaped in real time.
It will not be the only murder or act of brutality Erika and Harrison encounter in their two-pronged effort to hunt down the source of violence and unearth a cache of African treasures alluded to in Barrett’s journal.
Much of the action takes place in London, scene of the crimes and quest for redemption.
The first page identified the journal’s owner and date of inception in neatly penned script:
Andrew James Dexter Barrett Book One: 22 March 1897 – 17 August 1897 The subject of where Book Two and beyond might have gone off to was not raised because it would have been futile and, at least for now, irrelevant. Erika carefully turned the page to reveal the journal’s first entry, thankfully in that same legible, script: 22 March, homecoming. They read on, silently.
Hard to believe it has been less than ten weeks since the SS Malacca, cargo steamship refitted as a hospital ship, set forth for the Benin coast with me and my fellow medics aboard. It seems like a lifetime ago, perhaps because I have become a new man, or rather a newly awakened man, in the interim.
I have learned firsthand what history books and hearsay can only, at best, inadequately describe, and I will never again shut my eyes to the indignities and injustices we self-proclaimed entitled few, heap upon our brethren: those less fiscally sound as well as those of darker skin.
On Saturday, 20 March, when the ship pulled into Gosport, England, Father was waiting for me on the dock in top hat and frock coat, dapper as the nobleman he is. As I heave-hoed my laundry bag containing the rescued Benin treasures into our horse-drawn carriage, Father commented on its obvious weight. “What have you got in there?” he asked, with barely a trace of curiosity. “Medical books and instruments,” I answered without hesitation, realizing as I uttered the words that I had no intention of bringing him into my confidence.
I had been getting about on my own for years and could very well have hired a carriage to take me on the sixty-six-mile journey home, but Father had been adamant about accompanying me, even though it meant that both he and his coachman must overnight at an inn to, and again from, Gosport. In retrospect, I wonder if his intention, perhaps not conscious, was to use our extensive time alone to reclaim his control over me, since he did, after all, spend a good deal of time speaking of his activities in the House of Lords and pressing upon me the certainty that I was “marvelously suited” to that rewarding life. Mid-point between Gosport and Hertfordshire, we rented rooms at the inn in Guildford, where Father and the coachman had stayed the night before. To dilute Father’s lecture disguised as conversation, I must have consumed more ale that night than I had in the previous six months.
I awakened this morning well rested, but with a raging headache. Father must have taken pity on me because for the balance of our journey he eased up considerably on his mission to refashion me as a slightly taller version of himself. We arrived home late this evening, and Mother’s embrace and smile of relief comforted me no end. Never mind my goals in life. All that mattered to Mother was my safe return to Barrett Farms.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Last year, Riess signed a second three-book contract with Level Best Books to continue the series that began with “Stolen Light.” The plot involved murder, the Italian Renaissance, and the Cuban Revolution—as well as a love story. The book was chosen by the Vassar travel program coordinator and the Vassar Latin American professor for distribution to the participants in their 2017 “people-to-people” trips to Cuba.
The latest suspense novel set in the art world, sleuths Erika Shawn, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, art history professor. Now married, the couple is caught up in a multiple-murder case involving the repatriation of African art and artifacts seized by the British in the late nineteenth century during the colonial era. Much of the action takes place in London, scene of the crimes and quest for redemption.
“Mystery. Passion. Crime. What more could a book-lover want!”
–Elizabeth Cooke, author of the Hotel Marcel Series
An engaging speaker, Riess has recently given several author talks via Zoom for libraries* and is scheduled for future Zoom and podcast events at more venues. Subjects include “Anatomy of a Murder Mystery,” “Dangerous Liaison: Fiction and History,” and “The Joys and Perils of Creating a Mystery Series.” Her talks are of interest to both authors and readers.
*“Thank you for a fun evening. It was very interesting to hear about the process of writing.”
–Jocelyn Ozolins, Head of Reference, Shelter Island Library
Claudia Riess has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker magazine and Holt Rinehart and Winston. She has also edited several art history monographs. For more about Riess and her work, visit www.claudiariessbooks.com.
All four books in the art history mystery series are available through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com,IndieBound.
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE
Claudia Riess will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.