World-famous opera singer Maggie Tressider wakes up in a hospital after an accident, haunted by the certainty that she has committed a murder. Her doctor suggests that, with the help of a psychiatrist, she may be able to lay the nameless specter to rest. But Maggie chooses a very different expert to help her unearth the secrets of her past.
Her commission launches private investigator Francis Killian on a hunt across Europe in search of a grave. But the trail also leads him to one Bunty Felse, a former colleague of Maggie’s, and the wife of Inspector Felse. The successful end of Killian’s search is only the beginning of a long pilgrimage—a journey that leads not only back into the past, but also to a remote corner of the Austrian Alps where death awaits.
The House of Green Turf is the 8th book in the Felse Investigations, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Read an Excerpt
The House of Green Turf
The Felse Investigations: Book 8
By Ellis Peters
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1969 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
But for a five-minute shower of rain, and a spattering of penny-stone clay dropped from the tailboard of a lorry, Maggie Tressider would have driven on safely to her destination, that day in August, and there would never have been anything to cause her to look back over her shoulder and out of her ivory tower, nothing to make the mirror crack from side to side, nothing to bring any unforeseen and incomprehensible curse down upon her. She would have been in Liverpool by tea-time, relaxing before her concert; and then she would have dressed carefully and driven with her accompanist to the Philharmonic Hall, to give her usual meticulous performance in Brahms's 'Alto Rhapsody', which was one of the things she did best, and Schumann's 'Frauenliebe und Leben', which in her opinion was not. And the next day she would have shared the driving with Tom Lowell again on the way home, and then settled down to consider her next engagement, which was a recording session in London for a new and expensive Fidelio. And everything would have gone on hopefully and auspiciously, just as it had during all the past ten years, every new undertaking adding a further burnish to her reputation and fresh laurels to her crown.
But the clay fell, shaken loose from a careless load just where the road leaned the wrong way on the long curve by the brickworks; and a following lorry squashed the glutinous lump into a long, murderous slide, unobtrusive on the pale surface. And then the thin little shower came and passed, too feeble to wet the road thoroughly, but enough to leave sweaty globules all along the slide of clay, and give it a more treacherous sliminess. The trap was now all ready for the prey.
Maggie, new to the road but a good driver, estimated the angle of the curve as she reached it. It uncoiled right-handed in a sharp descent, one of those hazards due to be ironed out some day, when county funds permitted. It went on and on until it seemed they must be spiralling back beneath their own tracks, but Maggie continued to drive confidently round its convolutions, and checked her speed only slightly. At the most acute point of the curve the slide of clay waited for them, just where the gradient sagged away outwards instead of giving them support.
They hit it at forty, and everything went mad. Away went their wheels sidelong in a long glissade, while Maggie did all the correct things to adjust to the skid and get control again, and nothing responded. She fought the car with every sense and every nerve she had, and still inexorably, greasily, derisively, it went its own pig-headed way, outwards towards the white kerbing and the fall of tousled grass beyond. They hit the kerb and leaped shuddering into the air, and she dragged frantically at the wheel to get them back on to the road before they touched again, but then they were over, lurching in crazy, lunging bumps like an elephant amuck, down the tufted grass towards the quickset hedge below, and the stumps of three long-felled trees.
Earth and sky flickered and changed places, and sizzled and blinked out like broken film. She heard Tom cry out, and felt his hand beside hers on the wheel, which was no help at all. Doggedly she clung and swung, correcting head-long lurches as best she could, struggling to hold the car upright and bring it to a halt, but the gradient was against her. You might as well try to pat a bullet out of its course with your palm. But she never let go, and she never stopped crying.
She remembered yelling at Tom to loose his safety belt and jump, while they were still on the grass. But because of course he wouldn't, she remembered leaning across him and trying to open his door. A mistake, she had to take one hand from the wheel. Cool air blew in on her. The weight of the door swinging brought the car round and almost broadsided it short of the hedge, but its own impetus rolled it against the weight and sent it hurtling over in a slow somersault. The door flapped, like a wing trying to lift them clear, but as helpless as she was to save them. Then the seat beside her was empty, and the spiky shapes of the hedge surged upwards one moment, downward the next, to spear her, and the squat, solid, moss-grown stump of a tree launched itself from the sky to stamp her into the ground.
The world exploded in her face, and a fragmentation bomb in her lap. And then there was darkness, aeon upon aeon of darkness, and the last thing she knew, extended diminuendo long after everything else was gone, was her own voice, or perhaps only the silent phantom of her own voice, lamenting inconsolably: My God, what have I done! I've killed poor Tom! My God, what have I done, I've killed Tom, I've killed him ... killed him ... killed him ...
Two voices were discussing her over her head. They didn't know that dead people can hear. Quite dispassionate voices, cool, leisurely, and low. Either they had no bodies, or dead people can't see. She was dangling just below the level of consciousness, clinging to the surface like the air-breathing nymph of some water creature.
'Beautiful, too!' said the first voice critically.
'Nobody's beautiful on the operating table,' said the second voice cynically.
'Beautiful, gifted and famous. It seems some people can have everything.'
'What are her chances?'
'Oh, pretty good now. Nothing's ever certain, but ... pretty good. She had us on the run, though! Set on dying, you'd have said.'
'Scale tipped the right way in the end. Pity if she'd slipped through our fingers. Maggie Tressider ... what a loss!'
'"Maggie is dead. And music dies!"'
'Pardon?' said the first voice blankly, not recognising Byrd's despairing tribute to Tallis, his master and idol. But Maggie recognised it, and was enchanted, disarmed, humbled.
'Never mind,' said the second voice. 'She'll do now. That's one of us with the chance to begin again. I could almost envy her.'
Something pricked her thigh. She went down again gratefully, fathoms deep into the dark.
Faces loomed, receded and vanished like puffs of smoke. Voices, some of them real and some illusory, whispered, barked, shouted, fired themselves like pistol shots from every corner of unreality, in the crazy round-dance of disorientation. Hands lifted her, trickles of water fed themselves into her mouth. There were periods of light and sense, but she always lost them again before she could orientate herself or make anyone understand her. Pain, never acute but never absent, ebbed and flowed in a capricious tide. Through a shadowy underworld spiky with quickset hedges and shattering glass she pursued and was pursued, at every lucid moment reaching out feverishly after whoever was nearest: 'Tom ... please, find Tom! Never mind me, look for Tom ... he's hurt ...' And all the while the dead man pressed hard on her heels, tapping at her shoulder; but the voice that panted in her ear was always her own voice, thinly wailing: My God, what have I done? I've killed him ... killed him ...
Later she hurt all over, and that meant that there were senses there, nerves that were working, muscles that didn't want to work; and she tried to move, and did move, and that hurt more, but nevertheless was not discouraging.
A face hovered, impressed: 'My, you're mobile!'
'Tom ...' she said urgently. 'Please, I've got to know about Tom ...'
'Tom? Who's Tom?'
'Tom Lowell. He was with me in the car ...'
'Oh, he's all right. Don't worry about him. He was the lucky one, he got off with only a few bramble scratches and mild concussion. He was discharged yesterday.'
She couldn't believe it. 'You mean he isn't dead? Really he isn't? You're not just trying to keep me quiet by telling me that?'
'Not a bit of it! He's far from dead. If you're fit for visits tomorrow he's coming in, so you can see for yourself. Got his face scratched, but that's all the damage you'll see. He was thrown out just short of the hedge. You're the one who took the brunt, and you're going to be all right, too. Drink?'
'We were going to Liverpool,' said Maggie, groping after departed urgencies that might have validity again any moment. 'We should have been at a concert ...'
'Mr. Lowell fixed that as soon as he came round. We telephoned them, and they got somebody else. Everything's taken care of.'
So there seemed nothing more to ask about, and nothing more to say. She sank back into a chaos now less frightening because almost meaningless. Everything was taken care of. Tom wasn't dead. After all, she would never have to face his wife and try to excuse herself for the crash that killed him. He was alive, not even badly hurt.
Then if it wasn't Tom, who was it, tapping her on the shoulder, treading on her heels, dunning her for his life?
It wasn't any delusion, he was still there; even in the instant of absolute relief over Tom he had still been there, close and faceless, making use of her voice because he had no voice of his own, being dead: My God, what have I done? He's dead, and I killed him! My God, what have you done to me? Killed me ... killed me ... killed me ...
How could she have mistaken him for Tom? Only out of the remote past, where so much was forgotten, could something so ominous and shapeless surface again to haunt and accuse. When the waters are troubled, dead people rise. But all her dead were decently buried, and she had never done them any wrong.
'Nurse! There wasn't anyone else, was there? We didn't hit somebody else, when we crashed ...?'
'There was nobody else around. Just the two of you, as if that wasn't enough! What are you worrying about? You're both going to be all right.'
No answer there, either. Much longer ago, much farther away, than the badly-engineered curve by the brickworks. Somewhere, at some time, she had done something terrible to someone, something that destroyed him. Oh God, what was it? How could she know she had done it, and not know what it was? The silence that had covered it could only be her silence. She must have known at some time, and held her tongue in the hope of universal silence. And gradually drawn breath easily again, because there'd been no sound, nobody to rise up and accuse her, nobody to dig up what was dead, nobody she need fear, after all. Only herself, lulled, bemused, bribed, persuaded, subdued into acquiescence, but never convinced. Only herself and this roused ghost clawing at her shoulder, and this now constant and inconsolable ache inside her of a debt unpaid and unpayable.
'Well, how are you feeling this morning?' asked the ward sister, coming in on her daily round.
'Much better, thank you.' The patient was pale, lucid and astonished among her pillows, staring great-eyed at a recovered world in which she seemed to find nothing familiar. 'I'm afraid I've been causing you all a great deal of trouble.'
'You haven't done so badly, considering. You did give them rather a run for their money in the theatre – very naughty reactions to the anaesthetic. But that's all over now. Your temperature's been down to normal since last night, and Nurse tells me you're eating well this morning. Keep it up, and we'll be getting you out of bed in a couple of days.'
'I seem to have been lucky,' said Maggie, flexing her legs experimentally under the bedclothes. 'Everything works. What exactly did I do to myself?' 'It wasn't half as bad as it looked when they brought you in. A lot of blood, but no breakages. But you were pretty badly cut about, down below, you're going to look like a Victorian sampler when you get all that plaster off. Never mind, the scars won't be where they show, and if you usually heal well you may not have much to show for it in a year or so. There've been any amount of callers enquiring after you. Your sister telephoned, and your brother ... your agent ... In a few days we'll let you have a telephone in here, but not just yet. But I think we could allow you visitors this afternoon. Mr. Lowell sent you the roses, and said he'd be in to see you the minute we let him.'
'Wasn't I in a ward? I thought ... I seem to remember more beds ... a big room and a lot of people sleeping ...'
'Your agent asked us to move you into a private room, as soon as he knew what had happened.'
'Oh,' said Maggie, 'I see!' He would, of course, to him it would be a matter of first importance. 'It sounds silly, but I don't even know what hospital this is. I'd never driven that road before.'
'You're in the Royal, in Comerbourne. We're the nearest general to that nasty bend where you crashed. You're not the first we've had brought in from there, and I doubt you won't be the last. Take things easily, and don't worry about anything now, you're doing very nicely.'
'Everybody's being very kind. I'm sorry to be a nuisance.'
'It's what we're here for.' The ward sister looked back from the doorway, and saw the dilated blue-black eyes following her steadily from the pillow, but without any real awareness of her. They gave her the curious impression that they were staring inward rather than outward. 'There isn't anything troubling you, is there? If there's anything you want, anything we can do for you, you've got a bell there by your bed.'
'Thank you, really there's nothing more you can do for me.'
There was nothing more any of them could do for her. Not the ward sister, not the wiry little staff nurse with a bibful of pins, not the tall, splay-footed Jamaican beginner from Port Royal, who herring-boned up the ward like a skier climbing back up a slope, and warmed the air with her split-melon smile and huge, gay, innocent eyes; not the young houseman who made the daily rounds, nor the consultant surgeon who had sewn her torn thighs back into shape, not the anaesthetist who had kept her breathing on the table when it seemed she had been set on giving up the struggle. Nor her visitors, who came with flowers and chocolates as soon as they were allowed in: Tom Lowell, tongue-tied with unwary joy at seeing her on her way back to life, and half-inclined to blame himself, though heaven knew why, for what had happened; her agent, swooping in from London laden with roses and reassurances; a young conductor passing through Comerbourne on his way to an engagement in Chester; a famous tenor who had recorded with her a few months ago; a concert violonist, and others who had shared platforms with her. They sat by her bed for an hour or so, happy and relieved to find her recognisable for the same Maggie, with a steady pulse, a satisfactory blood pressure, and a voice unimpaired. They went away with the comfortable feeling of having visited and consoled the not-too-sick. There was nothing more she could do for them, or they for her.
The unidentified visitor, the one without a face, did not so much return after their going as sit with her silently throughout their stay, patient and apart, and move into her heart's centre when they went away. Often, then, she turned her whole attention upon him suddenly, in the effort to startle him into revealing some feature by which he could be recognised, before the concealing mists swirled over him and hid everything; but he was always too quick for her. She would not give up the search, and he would not be found.
But the visitors went away content, finding her as they had always known her, even though she would never be the same again. True, she had survived, physically she was intact, now that she was over the unexpected hazard of the anaesthetic. We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed, she thought, left alone in the relaxed hour before supper. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. About as long as it takes for a somersaulting car to smash itself against a tree-stump, and spill you out among the broken glass and twisted metal on to the grass. And probably about as long as it takes to launch the decisive word or act that looks almost excusable at the moment, and only afterwards, long, long afterwards, turns out to have been your damnation.
She awoke from an uneasy sleep in mid-afternoon, to find a small, elderly, shaggy man in a white coat sitting beside her bed. She had seen him making his official rounds twice since her admission, and she knew he was the consultant surgeon who had perseveringly stitched Humpty-Dumpty together again; but until this moment she had never seen him still, and never without his retinue.
'Good!' he said. 'I've been waiting for the chance to talk to you. You worry me.'
'Do I? I'm sorry!' she said, startled, and her memory fitted one detail, at least, into its true place. 'I know you now,' she said obscurely, 'you're the one who said I had a chance to begin again.'
'Did I? I don't remember that. But you have, that's true enough. What are you going to do with it?'
'Use it, I hope.'
Excerpted from The House of Green Turf by Ellis Peters. Copyright © 1969 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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