Darkness on His Bones: A James Asher vampire mystery

Darkness on His Bones: A James Asher vampire mystery

by Barbara Hambly

Hardcover(First World Publication)

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Overview

Simon. Something frightful has happened to Jamie. Please come . . .

When James Asher is found unconscious in the cemetery of the Church of St. Clare Pieds-Nus with multiple puncture-wounds in his throat and arms, his wife, Lydia, knows of only one person to call: the vampire Don Simon Ysidro. Old friend and old adversary, he is the only one who can help Lydia protect her unconscious, fevered husband from the vampires of Paris.

Why James has been attacked – and why he was called to Paris in the first place – Lydia has no idea. But she knows that she must find out, and quickly. For with James wavering between life and death, and war descending on the world, their slim chance of saving themselves from the vampires grows slimmer with each passing day . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780727885234
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 10/01/2015
Series: A James Asher Vampire Novel Series , #6
Edition description: First World Publication
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Barbara Hambly holds a degree in medieval history from the University of California and has written novels in many genres, from mysteries to science fiction and fantasy. Married to science fiction writer George Alec Effinger, she lives in Los Angeles and teaches at a local college.

Read an Excerpt

Darkness on His Bones

A James Asher Vampire Novel


By Barbara Hambly

Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2015 Barbara Hambly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84751-623-7


CHAPTER 1

From: W.W. Streatham, Secretary for Information, British Embassy, 39 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

To: Mrs James Asher, 16 Holywell Street, Oxford, England

28 July, 1914

James Asher met with accident last night critical condition Hôpital Saint-Antoine stop come immediately stop contact me on arrival stop yours etc

* * *

Mrs James Asher
c/o Lady Louise Mountjoy
48c Avenue Kléber
16ème Arrondissement
Paris

Don Simon Ysidro
c/o Barclay and Company
Rome Central Office
Rome

30 July, 1914

Simon,

Something frightful has happened to Jamie. In the middle of last month he crossed to Paris, ostensibly to attend a conference on Magyar verb forms, but in truth, I think, at the behest of some of his former colleagues in the Department. He arrived there (here?) on the 23rd. On the 28th of July I received a cable from someone in the Paris embassy. James had been found unconscious in the cemetery of the church of Sainte-Clare-Pieds-Nus, with a fractured skull, multiple puncture wounds in his throat and arms, and severe loss of blood, though no blood was found at the scene.

He has not yet recovered consciousness.

I have no idea where you are living to be found these days, but I beg of you, if you are in Europe and able to come to me, I am in desperate need of counsel and help.

I am staying with my Aunt Louise in the Avenue Kléber, but mostly I can be found at the Hôpital Saint-Antoine. Please come.

Ever,
L. Asher

CHAPTER 2

'Don Simon said you were a man of courage.' The glow of the candles James Asher had lit all around the small salon – for the old hôtel particulier on the Rue des Trois Anges had never even been equipped for gas, let alone electricity – seemed to outline in gold the woman in the doorway, and caught twin mirrors in her eyes, like a cat's, when she moved her head.

If he concentrated he could see her fangs.

But he had to concentrate. There was a sort of dreamy inattention that stole over one's thoughts when one dealt with vampires, the forgetfulness that usually comes with being overtired or preoccupied with other matters ... Asher had encountered it before. He guessed there were others somewhere beyond the dark doorways that led into the rest of the building and he'd placed his chair with some care, his back to a corner and the long windows that opened to the courtyard barely a yard from his left hand.

It was a drop of about fifteen feet but that risk was nothing compared to the danger he was in at the moment. He also knew that there was no other way to do this.

'Lady Montadour.' He rose and bowed deeply to her without stepping out of the circle of candelabra that ringed his chair. 'I hope you'll forgive my rudeness. I had no idea what your arrangements here were, and I feared that a note requesting an interview would result in either your retreat or my entrapment before I have a chance to explain to you the danger you're in.'

(Sunk deep in darkness his dreaming self shouted to him, Run, you idiot! They're behind you, around you ... His mind groped for the recollection, like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded. Cold hands gripping his arms, the razor pain of claws tearing open his throat. Colder lips against his skin as the blood welled forth. It slipped away.)

'I?' Elysée de Montadour crossed the salon and, dreaming, he both saw her and couldn't see her: the languourous glide of a ghost and then suddenly, unexpectedly, she was beside him in the circle of light. One hand in his and the other holding his arm, the fingers cold as marble (she hasn't fed ...). The mingled scents of blood and Houbigant's Quelques Fleurs.

She's changed her dress, his dreaming self observed.

Or was it on some previous occasion that he'd seen her lying in a coffin, dark curls spread around her delicate triangular face, beautiful beyond words in the light of his lantern? He couldn't remember. But if I saw her asleep in her crypt, why didn't I kill her?

A murderess who deserves death a thousand times? Why warn her of danger?

The answer was important but he couldn't recall it.

Did I see her in her coffin before speaking with her, or after? He couldn't recall that, either.

In the coffin she'd worn something white and gauzy that had clung to her rich breasts and tiny waist. Now she was dressed in a tobacco-colored Patou walking suit; its green silk trim brightened the emerald of her eyes. Lydia had one very like it. She hadn't donned gloves yet and her inch-long claws were sharp as a cougar's against his skin.

'I hope you haven't forgotten what happened to the vampires of Paris, the last time German armies marched into the city.'

'The Boche?' Her silvery laugh was forced, like the theatrical toss of her head. 'Those stupid cabbage-eaters aren't going to get within a hundred miles of Paris. The armies of France will take Lorraine before they've advanced two miles. They'll be cut off, left lying in their blood —'

'The armies of France are going to miss them entirely,' replied Asher. 'They'll be racing east to reconquer Alsace and Lorraine while the Germans are rolling down to Paris from the north, through Belgium. They know you're here, madame. They want you working for them.'

Memory drowned the dream again. Memory of trying to flee in darkness, and knowing it would do him no good. I was wearing silver in Elysée's salon ... But in his dream he felt the razor gash of teeth in his throat.

It was important to remember what had happened to the silver chains he'd worn.

Where was that?

Why did he remember walking down a turret stair with Elysée de Montadour carrying a branch of candles upraised behind him? Or was that part of another series of events altogether? One that might never have taken place?

There was a chapel ... A bone chapel, such as he'd visited in Spain and in Rome. The light of his lantern played across skulls, vertebrae, pelvises, radii. A man stood beside the altar and held out his hand to him, clawed fingers stained with ink. In the chalk-white face the dark eyes were filled with grief, and reflected the lantern-glow like a hunting cat's.

He's here ...

'Jamie?'

A voice – a woman's. I know whose voice that is. It came from far off.

From the land of the living.

He understood that the chapel was the realm of the dead.


'Jamie?'

Lydia Asher touched her husband's hand. The strong fingers were bruised and scratched, and claw gashes showed on either side of the bandages on his wrists. The windows of the ward stood open, the muggy August night suffocating. Even at this hour – and it was just after four in the morning – faint shouting drifted from the Rue Saint-Antoine, mingled with strains of 'La Marseillaise'. Tiny as seashells clacked on a nursery table-top she heard the hooves of a milk-cart's team; a distant taxicab hooted its horn. Vive l'Alsace! a drunken woman yelled, almost beneath the window. À bas le Boche!

The French army was readying for war.

And, Aunt Louise had remarked drily yesterday afternoon, it was preparing to leap eastward, to occupy the territory stolen from France in the previous war, at the first crack of a German shot which would exonerate them from the accusation that they were the ones who'd broken the peace. Leap eastward and leave Paris defended by only a handful.

Lydia had thought her husband had stirred, unshaven lips moving in his sleep. But he lay still as death, as he had last night and, the doctors told her, the night before, when they'd brought him in. His mustache and eyebrows, threaded with gray, looked nearly black in the glare of the ward's electric lighting. He'd had transfusions of blood but his face was still nearly as white as the bandages around his head, the dressings on his throat and arms that covered the slashes and punctures that she recognized as the marks of a vampire attack.

Jamie, no ...

A year ago he had sworn to destroy them. Was that why he'd come to Paris? To seek them out, like a madman? Or had there been some other cause?

On the small stand between his bed and the next, in a hospital dish, gleamed two short silver chains, which the doctors had told her had been wrapped around his hands when he was found.

He usually wore them on his wrists. Lydia guessed they'd saved his life. The one that he habitually had around his throat was gone.

They have to know he isn't dead.

She settled herself in the stiff wooden chair beside his bed.

That means they'll be back.


By four thirty it was growing light. Lydia paced from her chair to the window and back, restless from the herbs she'd taken; on a journey to China two years ago, she'd had ample opportunity to investigate the curious medicines relied upon by the Chinese doctors. The physicians here – and at home in England as well – scoffed at Lydia's observations and experiments, but she'd found, at least, several powders and tisanes that stimulated the mind and held off sleep far more effectively than any amount of café noir. Sleep was the one thing she couldn't afford just now. Not if Jamie had been so mad as to enter into open war with those who hunted the night.

Young Dr Moflet, the night surgeon, had smiled condescendingly when Lydia informed him that she had a degree in medicine from Oxford. 'Indeed, I suppose the English do give out such degrees to young ladies ...' But Dr Théodule, though he'd been practicing since the Franco-Prussian War, spoke as if he expected her to understand the effects and implications of head trauma and blood loss.

Neither man understood Lydia's insistence upon being at her husband's side from sundown till dawn.

Her desperation not to sleep.

Old M'sieu Potric in the bed across the aisle snuffled in his sleep. A few beds away, a working-man named Lecoq coughed, the gluey hack of pneumonia. Somewhere a band was still playing.

The door at the end of the long ward opened: Dr Moflet, trim and stylish with his close-clipped fair mustache and pomaded hair; Dr Théodule, stooped, white-haired, and resembling nothing so much as a wizard who has attempted to transform himself into a goat and had the spell fail halfway. The nurse Thérèse Sabatier followed them, grizzled and disapproving in her uniform of gray and white.

'Should Germany invade Belgium, I would consider it my duty to go.' Dr Moflet's voice was grave, and Dr Théodule sniffed.

'Should, he says. Of course they're going to invade, and be damned to their promises to respect Belgium's neutrality. It's the fastest route to Paris —'

Both men bowed at the sight of Lydia, who had whipped her spectacles off at the first echo of their voices in the hall. Bad enough, she reflected, that she'd been up all night and wasn't even wearing powder, much less the rouge and mascaro which usually mitigated her thin cheeks and unfashionable nose. There were only two people in the world she didn't mind seeing her with her glasses – gig-lamps, the other girls at Madame Chappedelaine's exclusive school for girls in Switzerland had called them – hanging on her face.

One of them lay unconscious at her side.

The other ...

The other, reflected Lydia, with a feeling of strangeness at the thought, had been dead for many years.

'He has rested well, your husband?'

Dr Moflet answered Dr Théodule's question before Lydia could open her mouth. 'I'm quite certain he has.'

To Lydia, in what he clearly considered a kindly tone, he went on, 'There is no reason for you to remain, madame. Given the extent of Professor Asher's injury, it's unreasonable to expect him to recover consciousness for at least another few days.'

The man means well, Lydia told herself. She had to bite her lower lip in the effort not to retort, Well, I'm only here because with war coming I thought the department stores would be too noisy to go shopping. She took a deep breath and answered the older man. 'Sometimes he's seemed to be dreaming. To be trying to speak.'

'That's good.' Dr Théodule nodded encouragingly. 'Did you take his pulse at such times?'

'Sixty beats at just after eleven; at two, sixty-two.'

Dr Moflet's chiseled mouth tightened, as if he considered a patient's pulse the affair of the ward nurse, certainly not that of the patient's wife.

'And no other change?' The old doctor felt Asher's wrist as he spoke, turned back his eyelid, withdrew his stethoscope from his frock-coat pocket to listen to his chest.

Lydia shook her head.

'It's early days, as Dr Moflet has pointed out.' Dr Théodule straightened up. 'If – for whatever reason – your husband fell from the tower of St Clare's church, as I suspect he might have, it is only to be expected. I have seen many men make a full recovery from worse. Shall I have one of the orderlies fetch a cab for you, madame? You can be sure that if there is any change you will be summoned immediately.'

'I still don't understand why —' Moflet began, and Théodule lifted one knotted old hand.

'She troubles no one, Moflet. If madame will come with me ...?'

After the stink of carbolic soap, iodine, and the sickly horror of gangrene, even the smoke outside and the nearby river smelled sweet. Though her degree was in medicine, Lydia was a researcher to the marrow of her bones. She hated hospitals. Hated the sense of helplessness, the grieving desperation of the bereft.

Pigeons circled in the gray sky, and from all directions bells chimed for early Mass. It would probably be the best attended morning service of the twentieth century, Lydia reflected. Wives, mothers, sweethearts, flocking to pray for the men who were even now packing their clothes, reporting to their areas of deployment, receiving from quartermasters and clerks rifles, ammunition, sturdy boots, and the bright blue-and-scarlet uniforms of which the French were so proud. ('Idiots!' Aunt Louise had harrumphed. 'They'll stand out a mile! As well stick a dartboard on their bottoms!')

The Métro still seemed to be open, though last night one of the visitors to the ward had spoken of a rumor that it would be shut down. In any case Lydia had no desire to descend to the darkness underground, even at the threshold of dawn. Vampires, she knew, had ways of remaining awake into the hours of daylight, as long as they were protected from the sun's killing rays. And she had learned also how common it was for vampires to have human servants.

As Jamie was their servant, she thought, back in London.

In view of the patriotic hysteria that seemed to have electrified the brain of every waiter, bus conductor, hospital orderly, and newsboy Lydia had talked to for the past three days, it was unlikely that anyone would even inquire were she to be 'accidentally' run down in the street or pushed off a church tower.

So she climbed into the red-and-yellow taxicab that pulled up before the hospital's steps, gave Aunt Louise's address, and apologized to the dark-browed Neanderthal at the wheel for the inconvenience of a journey across the center of Paris. 'Ce n'est rien, madame,' he returned in a voice like a friendly gravel-bucket. 'They've started requisitioning vehicles – trucks, automobiles, they even tried to get the horse from my cousin's coal-cart – so at least the journey will be swift. And just as well,' he added grimly. 'The men in this city all started drinking last night, poor saps, as soon as they heard the news. Celebrating! Damned fools. Every café has been open all night, and stands open still. Me at least no man will find pounding the door of their damn recruiting office.' He flipped a card from his pocket. 'The telephone number there is the café opposite the cab-stand, the Ax and Bow on the Avenue du Maine in Montparnasse. Ask for Stanislas Greuze.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Darkness on His Bones by Barbara Hambly. Copyright © 2015 Barbara Hambly. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Darkness on His Bones: A James Asher Vampire Mystery 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I+liked+learning+more+anout+Don+Simon%27s+background.+Yet+another+injury+for+Asher%2C+with+a+longer+recovery+time%2C+but+he+pulled+through+in+the+end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book, at least in part, because the true monsters aren’t the vampires. Many of the books in this series are about someone’s attempt to use the vampires to gain something for their country or, more often, themselves. This book haunts me because the cardinal uses Simon’s faith to turn him into a weapon against the “church’s” enemies, all the time holding out the promise of salvation he never means to deliver.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting double mystery. I liked finding out more about Simon’s past. One of the things I like most about Hambly’s writing is her ability to create well-rounded characters; she takes them beyond being simply good or evil.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not all by any means but a good insight into what makes him how he is, plus the beginnings of WWI. Not the srongest ofvthe series but highly enjoyable if you are a fan.
Muttcafe More than 1 year ago
Darkness on His Bones is a superb vampire fantasy set against the backdrop of late 19th century Paris. James Asher, scholar, spy, investigator, and vampire hunter lies unconcious in a Paris hospital bed, weak with loss of blood and injured in a fall. His wife Lydia arrives at his side, not knowing why he was in Paris, but certain there are vampires that will stop at nothing to kill him. She summons their close friend, and sometimes adversary – the vampire Don Ysidro. Perhaps he can protect them and discover why James was attacked. Meanwhile James dreams, wandering through memories that are not his own, knowing that there is something of great importance he must do. There is an artifact believed to strengthen the hold the master of the city has over the vampires in his nest. There are those who would take it, to wrest control of Paris and use it to manipulate the vampires. With war looming on the horizon, it will take all Lydia and Simon’s efforts to protect James and to stay alive. Barbara Hambly’s vampires are first and foremost predators. Although Simon Ysidro demonstrates his nobility and loyalty repeatedly, it is easy to understand the natural fear he provokes. The vampires of Paris are visibly dangerous, even those who claim not to mean them harm. Throughout the novel there is both the tension created by the coming war and the fear of the predators who hunt the night. Darkness on His Bones is a wonderful addition to the James Asher Vampire Series, certain to satisfy fans. While it isn’t necessary to read the books in order, I would advise reading a few of Hambly’s earlier James Asher novels before delving into Darkness on His Bones. 5/5 Darkness on His Bones is available for preorder and will be released October 1, 2015. I received a copy of Darkness on His Bones from the publisher and netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. —Crittermom