Arsenic and Old Books (Cat in the Stacks Mystery)

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9780425277539: Arsenic and Old Books (Cat in the Stacks Mystery)

In this mystery in the New York Times bestselling series, librarian Charlie Harris and his cat Diesel have to battle a killer when a set of Civil War diaries inspires murder...
 
Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, Mississippi, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. She would like librarian Charlie Harris to preserve and substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy—something that could benefit her son, Beck, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.
 
Beck’s biggest rival would like to get a look at the diaries in an attempt to expose the Long family’s past sins. Meanwhile, a history professor is also determined to get her hands on the books in a last-ditch bid for tenure. But their interest suddenly turns deadly, leaving Charlie with a catalog of questions to answer. Together with his Maine Coon cat Diesel, Charlie must discover why the diaries were worth killing for before he too reaches his final chapter.
INCLUDES A BONUS SHORT STORY

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About the Author:

Miranda James is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries and the Southern Ladies Mysteries.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ONE

I checked my watch, then glanced at the clock on my computer. They both told me that it was seven minutes after one p.m. I resisted the urge to get up and pace around the archive office. Instead I turned my chair and looked at the large feline dozing on the wide windowsill behind my desk.

Diesel, apparently sensing my gaze, yawned and stretched. He meowed and rolled onto his side, head twisted so that he was staring at me almost upside down. He warbled a couple of times, as if to ask, Why are you so restless, Charlie?

“The mayor said she’d be here at one, and she’s late. You know how that bugs me,” I told the cat. “I’m curious to find out about these family documents she wants to talk to me about. The Longs have already given so many collections of papers to the archive, I have to wonder what they’ve been holding on to.”

The cat calmly began washing his right front paw.

“You may not be curious, but I am,” I told him. “It’s not every day that I get consulted by such an august person as Lucinda Beckwith Long.”

I heard a cough, and it didn’t come from Diesel.

“I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. Harris?”

I swiveled my chair to face the office door, and I could feel the blush starting. The mayor stood in the doorway, her expression puzzled.

I rose from my desk and walked around to greet Mrs. Long. “Yes, I’m Charlie Harris, Your Honor. Please come in. I was . . . Well, I was chatting with my cat. It’s a habit I have, you see.”

Mrs. Long nodded as she extended her hand. “I quite understand. My husband and I have three poodles, and we talk to them all the time.”

“Won’t you be seated?” I indicated the chair in front of my desk. Mrs. Long, clutching a tote and a black leather handbag, moved forward. She set the latter on the floor beside her when she took her seat. Clad in a chic crimson suit with a white silk blouse and colorful scarf knotted loosely around her neck, she looked cool and crisp and ready to get down to business.

I had seen the mayor on several public occasions, but never this close. She was shorter than I expected, probably no more than five-three, when she wasn’t standing on the spike heels I had seen her wear. Though I knew her to be in her mid-sixties, she exuded an air of youthful energy, as if she could barely contain herself. Even now I could hear her toe tapping on the hardwood floor of my office. I figured a mayor’s life must be hectic, even that of the mayor of a small city like Athena, Mississippi.

Mrs. Long appeared to be assessing me as I waited for her to speak. Diesel hopped down from his perch and padded around my desk to approach the mayor. He sniffed at her bags and then attempted to stick his head in the opening of the tote. Mrs. Long touched his head lightly to discourage him. “No, no, kitty, what’s in there is too old for you to play with.”

The cat stared up at her and warbled as if to say, Are you sure?

Mrs. Long smiled. “He seems to understand what I said, like our dogs do.”

“He’s a smart cat,” I said. “He’s also extremely curious.” As I spoke Diesel batted a paw at the tote bag. “No, Diesel, stop that.”

The cat threw a baleful glance my way. He stood, made a circle around Mrs. Long’s chair, and then came back to his perch on the windowsill behind my desk.

“Apparently he understands a firm no when he hears one.” Mrs. Long laughed. “Our dogs aren’t always so compliant.”

“He isn’t, either,” I had to admit. “Depends on his mood.” I waited a moment for the mayor to speak again. When she didn’t, I decided it was time to steer the conversation toward the reason for her visit. “I believe you wanted to consult me about some family documents.”

Mrs. Long picked up the tote and settled it in her lap. She delved inside and pulled out a large manila envelope. She leaned forward and placed it on my desk. A faint mustiness, overlaid with a whiff of mothballs, wafted out of the open end.

“Inside that you will find a volume of a diary written by Rachel Afton Long. I forget at the moment how many times a great-grandmother she is, but she was born around 1820 and died in the mid-1890s, if I am remembering correctly.”

I stared at the envelope before me, my excitement growing over the thought of handling such an old document. “How many volumes of her diaries survive?” I pulled open a side drawer of my desk and extracted a pair of cotton gloves. If I was going to be handling a book that was more than a hundred years old, I had to be careful with it.

“Four,” Mrs. Long replied. “I have glanced at them but I find the writing hard to read. From what I could glean, however, I believe she started the diaries a few years before she married my husband’s ancestor. The last diary is dated around 1875.” She shrugged. “I’m not entirely certain. The handwriting is small and cramped, and I got a headache trying to decipher just one page of it.”

“I’ll have a look at it,” I said. I held up my hands to show that I was wearing gloves before I extracted the volume, sliding it carefully out of the envelope. I let it lie on the desk as I put the envelope aside and examined the diary’s outward appearance. The cover binding of brown leather was cracked in spots and rubbed thin in others, and the spine was in similar condition. My nose twitched at the strong musty odor. I hoped the diaries hadn’t suffered water damage.

“Where have they been stored?” I asked.

“My son, Beck, discovered them recently in a trunk in the attic while hunting for something else entirely. I’d never seen them before, and I don’t believe my husband was aware of their existence, either.”

Andrew Beckwith Long, known as Beck to most, was an aspiring politician. His father, also an Andrew, had served four terms in the state senate. Recently, however, he had announced he planned to retire when his current term expired. Everyone assumed that Beck would easily win his father’s seat but there appeared to be strong opposition, in the form of Jasper Singletary, a young firebrand who served on the city council. Singletary was openly ambitious, and he had been publicly less than complimentary about the Longs and their political legacy.

“Are you and Mr. Long planning to add these to the collection of Long papers and memorabilia that we already have?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Long said. “They need to be better preserved than they have been. We have no idea how long they’ve been up in that attic, and there could be damage. None of us looked through them much because we were afraid to cause further problems. That’s why I wanted to bring them to you.” She paused. “I’m sure you’re aware of the terrible times that Athena faced during the Civil War and the brief occupation by Union troops. If Rachel Long recorded any of that, her information might be useful to historians.”

I nodded. My knowledge of Athena during the Civil War was sketchy, but in elementary school we had heard tales of the depredations of the Union Army in the winter of 1863. Our teacher, Mrs. Bondurant, had seemed so old to us at the time, we figured she was speaking from personal experience. I discovered later, when I was older and possessed a better sense of a person’s age, that Mrs. Bondurant was only thirty-eight and her grandmother, a Confederate widow, was the source of her stories.

“I’m sure there will be graduate students in the history department eager to examine them,” I said. “The Southern-history students are always looking for local primary sources for their theses and dissertations.”

“Excellent,” Mrs. Long said. “My husband and son will be delighted to hear it. They’re both avid readers of history, particularly of Southern history.”

“Do you have a few minutes, while I make a quick examination of the volumes?” I asked. “I can give you a rough idea whether we will need to do any conservation work with them.”

Mrs. Long consulted her watch. “I have about ten minutes before I need to be back in my office.”

“Good.” I opened the cover of the volume on my desk with a gentle touch. The inch-thick binding was loose enough that the cover lay open on the desk without strain. I wrinkled my nose at the smell again, but I knew I would soon become accustomed to it. The more the volumes were allowed to air out, the more the odor would dissipate.

The first page of the diary had only a few words in a small, but elegant, hand. I recognized the slightly tilted lettering as copperplate, a style of handwriting popular in the nineteenth century. The words proclaimed this as the diary of Rachel Adeline Afton, aged sixteen, with the date July 4, 1854. The paper was yellowed but still in good condition. I suspected that it was the more expensive rag paper rather than the cheaper wood pulp. The latter would have turned brown and brittle years ago and begun to disintegrate.

I turned pages carefully and skimmed the contents as I went. There were no blemishes I could see, no water stains, mold, or mildew. Overall, the diary appeared to be in remarkably good condition, other than the state of the binding and the worn cover. “If the other volumes are in similar condition,” I said, “then everything should be fine. Conservation work will be minimal, though we will store them in archival folders. The paper is acid-free and won’t affect the contents.”

“That sounds fine.” Mrs. Long smiled briefly. “We are placing no restrictions on these diaries, Mr. Harris. We want scholars to be able to use the contents for their work.” She stood and passed the tote with the other volumes to me.

I took the bag and pulled out the three remaining manila envelopes, each with a diary inside. “That’s excellent news. As soon as I’ve had the time to check each one more thoroughly, I’ll let the history department know about them.”

“They are already aware of the gift,” Mrs. Long said. “One of my husband’s good friends—and mine as well—is Professor Howell Newkirk. He was dining with us last night, and I happened to mention it to him.”

“I see.” That was unexpected news. I was acquainted with Dr. Newkirk. He was elderly, irascible, and pushy. He was also the most eminent historian on the Athena faculty, and he knew it. He demanded, and was usually given, what he wanted. I was surprised he wasn’t already in my office asking to see the diaries.

Mrs. Long smiled. “I know Howell can be, well, rather insistent on things, but I suggested that he give you a few days with the diaries before he even thought about assigning a student to work on them. There might be others interested in them as well.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Then I will make sure they are ready sooner rather than later. I will add these to the list attached to your original deed of gift for the rest of the collection, if that’s okay with you.”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Mrs. Long said. She hesitated a moment before she continued. Her eyes focused like lasers on me. “You might be aware that my son, Beck, plans to run for office in the near future. And that he is facing a challenge. Rachel Afton Long was an extraordinary woman, and the more the voters know about the history of the Long family and its achievements and triumphs, the more they will want to see a member of the family in office.”

With that, she nodded, gathered up her purse, and departed.

I stared at the pile of diaries on my desk. Why would the mayor think that Rachel Long’s writings could affect the outcome of a twenty-first-century political race?

TWO

I continued to puzzle over the mayor’s odd remarks while I worked on the four volumes of Rachel Long’s diaries. Perhaps Rachel had performed some heroic act during the Civil War that the mayor thought should be better known. Even if that were the case, I wondered how it would help Beck Long politically. I eventually decided that the mind of a politician worked differently from mine and put aside the question for later.

All four volumes were in very good condition, their mustiness aside. The most obvious problem for each was its binding. On all of them the leather had dried and cracked, and for the moment the best thing I could do was construct an archival box for each. I set the boxes on a nearby shelf. Until I finished with them, they would remain in the office with me. Then I would place them in the room next door where the bulk of the archive’s documents resided.

I now had less than a quarter hour left before it was time to head home. Diesel abandoned his perch and prowled around the office, a sure sign that he knew the time. He was as ready to go home as I was. The intense concentration of my task had left me with neck strain and a headache, and I quickly discovered I had no aspirin or ibuprofen in the office.

I needed to do one more job before we could leave, however. I wanted to add the diaries to the inventory of the Long family collection and update the record in the library’s online catalog. Later on I would catalog the diaries separately, but for now a note on the master record would suffice.

That task completed, I shut down my computer. Diesel waited by the office door. A few minutes later we headed down the sidewalk toward home. By the time we reached the house we both had wilted from the September heat and humidity. I was ready for a cold drink, and Diesel made a beeline for the utility room the moment I opened the front door.

In the kitchen I shed my jacket and briefcase and went to the fridge for the water pitcher. Two glasses later I felt cooler and no longer parched. Diesel came chirping out of the utility room to sit at my feet. He stared up at me and meowed loudly. I knew that meow. Either his bowls needed refilling, or the cat box needed cleaning. He wouldn’t stop talking to me until I took care of the problem.

Once I had accomplished these duties to the cat’s satisfaction, I poured myself another glass of water and sat at the kitchen table to relax for a few minutes.

The house felt empty. My daughter, Laura, now a married woman, had moved out after her June wedding and into the house owned by her husband, Frank Salisbury. Their wedding was a beautiful occasion, full of laughter and occasional tears. Throughout the ceremony I could feel my late wife, Jackie, by my side. Both Laura and Frank taught in the theater department at Athena College, and their teaching schedules kept them fully occupied. I saw them occasionally on campus, and they came for dinner once a week. Frank was a good man, and I was happy for my daughter. I missed her presence in the house terribly, though, and I knew Diesel did as well. I think Laura was his second favorite human after me.

The ring of the kitchen phone broke the silence. I wasn’t eager to answer it because family and friends usually called my cell phone. I thought about letting it go to voice mail, but in case it was important, I decided to answer.

I identified myself to the caller.

“Mr. Harris, my name is Kelly Grimes, and I’m at Athena College working on a project on the Long family. I’m looking at the library’s online catalog right now, and I see that the archive has evidently acquired several volumes of a diary by Rachel Afton Long.” She paused for a breath. “I believe they could be crucial to my research, and I was wondering if ...

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James, Miranda
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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In this mystery in the New York Times bestselling series, librarian Charlie Harris and his cat Diesel have to battle a killer when a set of Civil War diaries inspires murder. Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, Mississippi, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. She would like librarian Charlie Harris to preserve and substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy--something that could benefit her son, Beck, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate. Beck s biggest rival would like to get a look at the diaries in an attempt to expose the Long family s past sins. Meanwhile, a history professor is also determined to get her hands on the books in a last-ditch bid for tenure. But their interest suddenly turns deadly, leaving Charlie with a catalog of questions to answer. Together with his Maine Coon cat Diesel, Charlie must discover why the diaries were worth killing for before he too reaches his final chapter. INCLUDES A BONUS SHORT STORY. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780425277539

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In this mystery in the New York Times bestselling series, librarian Charlie Harris and his cat Diesel have to battle a killer when a set of Civil War diaries inspires murder. Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, Mississippi, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. She would like librarian Charlie Harris to preserve and substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy--something that could benefit her son, Beck, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate. Beck s biggest rival would like to get a look at the diaries in an attempt to expose the Long family s past sins. Meanwhile, a history professor is also determined to get her hands on the books in a last-ditch bid for tenure. But their interest suddenly turns deadly, leaving Charlie with a catalog of questions to answer. Together with his Maine Coon cat Diesel, Charlie must discover why the diaries were worth killing for before he too reaches his final chapter. INCLUDES A BONUS SHORT STORY. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780425277539

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Descrizione libro Berkley Books 2/2/2016, 2016. Paperback or Softback. Condizione libro: New. Arsenic and Old Books. Book. Codice libro della libreria BBS-9780425277539

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. In this mystery in the New York Times bestselling series, librarian Charlie Harris and his cat Diesel have to battle a killer when a set of Civil War diaries inspires murder. Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, Mississippi, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. She would like librarian Charlie Harris to preserve and substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy--something that could benefit her son, Beck, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate. Beck s biggest rival would like to get a look at the diaries in an attempt to expose the Long family s past sins. Meanwhile, a history professor is also determined to get her hands on the books in a last-ditch bid for tenure. But their interest suddenly turns deadly, leaving Charlie with a catalog of questions to answer. Together with his Maine Coon cat Diesel, Charlie must discover why the diaries were worth killing for before he too reaches his final chapter. INCLUDES A BONUS SHORT STORY. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780425277539

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