People magazine said of Katherine Neville’s debut novel and #1 international bestseller, The Eight: “With alchemical skill, Neville blends modern romance, historical fiction, and medieval mystery . . . and comes up with gold.” Mining a fertile territory of international intrigue, complex conspiracies, history-spanning storylines, and unstoppable female heroines, Neville has arguably struck gold with all three of these thrillers.
A Calculated Risk: In this New York Times Notable Book, computer expert Verity Banks is the one of the most powerful women in finance and has a shot at becoming director of security at the Federal Reserve. When her boss sabotages her career ambitions, Verity decides to get revenge by targeting the company’s balance sheet. Her old mentor, Zoltan Tor, will help her, but only if Verity agrees to an outlandish and dangerous wager. To beat both Zoltan and her boss, Verity must risk her professional reputation—and her very life.
The Eight: In sweeping parallel stories set in the 1970s and the 1790s, Catherine Velis, a computer expert, and Mireille and Valentine, novices in an abbey during the French Revolution, must prevent a legendary chess set containing secret powers from falling into the wrong hands. With its “combination of historical references, conspiracy theory and action/thriller format,” this #1 international bestseller “may have paved the way for books like The Da Vinci Code” (Publishers Weekly).
The Magic Circle: Suddenly in possession of a mysterious cache of medieval manuscripts that have the power to alter the destiny of humankind, nuclear scientist Ariel Behn is swept into the deadly center of international intrigue—and a mystery that dates back to the time of Christ—as she races to prevent a worldwide catastrophe in this USA Today bestseller.
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About the Author
Neville’s novels, which have been published in more than eighty countries, have been enriched by her twenty-year career as an international computer executive and consultant, which took her to live in six countries on three continents and twenty-six of the United States. She has also worked as a portrait painter, a commercial photographer, and a model. To learn more, visit her at www.katherineneville.com.
Read an Excerpt
In a shabby office overlooking the Judengasse, a pale young man sat alone, watching the sun rise. He had been awake all night, and stacked before him were many cups containing the thick residue of bitter Turkish coffee. The ashes of a fire lay cold in the grate, but to light another fire seemed to him an unwarranted expense. He was a thrifty man.
The room was painfully bare, containing only a few chairs and a splintered desk. Against one wall was the small hearth, and opposite it a dirty window overlooking the street. Near the window stood a wooden structure that nearly covered the wall. It resembled a bookcase, but was divided into large cubbyholes, each with a doorlike flap of woven straw. All these doors stood open.
The only objects of value in the room were the rich chartreuse Moroccan-leather chair in which the man was seated, and the gold pocket watch that lay open before him on the desk. Both were well-worn. They, and the house in the Judengasse, were his father's bequest, and he would keep them always.
The Judengasse was the street where Jews were permitted to live and to eke out an existence as best they could. For many, that meant their changing and lending money. At this hour of the morning the street was still quiet, for the hawkers were not yet abroad. Soon the moneylenders would bring tables out into the street, and over the doors of their houses they would string up the brightly colored banners that proclaimed their business. In a few hours, the street would be filled with color and with the clamor of men trading gold.
The young man sat in silence, and as the sun rose he leaned forward to light his thin Turkish cigarette with a tallow candle. A small gray dove alighted on the ledge outside the open window. The bird cocked its head from side to side, adjusting its vision to the dim light. The man sat without moving, but in his blue eyes there was a strange gleam, as if a dark coal were being blown alive. It was a frightening look, one which many had cause to wish to forget.
The bird paused only a moment, then fluttered to one of the cubbyholes in the large structure near the window. It hopped through the opening, and the straw flap snapped shut behind it.
The man finished his cigarette and drained the dregs of his coffee. He picked up the gold watch. It was five-seventeen. He crossed the room and opened the door of the cage. Placing his hand carefully inside, he gently stroked the bird until it was calm; then, closing his hand over the creature, he took it from the cage.
Around the bird's leg was a small oiled-paper band that he carefully removed. On the paper, a single word was printed: Ghent.
Ghent was a week's hard ride from Frankfurt, and the countryside between was littered with the remnants of armies searching for one another through the forests of the Ardennes. But five days after he departed Frankfurt, the pale young man, weary and mud-spattered, hitched his horse to a polished brass ring outside a house in Ghent.
The house was dark, and he let himself in with a key so as not to disturb the household. An old woman appeared on the landing in nightclothes, a candle in one hand. He spoke to her in German.
"Have Fritz take my horse around to the stable. After that, I wish to see him in the study."
Moonlight poured through the expansive mullioned windows of the study. Cut-glass decanters filled with liquor gleamed dully on the mahogany sideboard. Bunches of fresh-cut hollyhocks and gladiolus were arranged in deep vases, adorning the hand-rubbed marquetry tables placed about the room. A massive, carved pendulum clock stood beside the entry, and velvet-covered sofas were clustered near the marble fireplace. This room — so unlike the one he'd recently departed in Frankfurt — was kept immaculately, in constant anticipation of the owner's possible arrival.
He crossed to the windows, from which he had a perfect view of the townhouse opposite his own. The two houses were separated only by a small grape arbor. Both the parlor and drawing room of his neighbor faced the study where he stood, and he could clearly observe any activity there. He had taken this fully appointed house three months ago for that very reason.
He turned away and poured himself a cognac from the sideboard. He was weary, but he could not sleep — not yet. After nearly half an hour, the study doors opened and a large-boned man in rough clothing entered.
"Sire," he announced himself in thickly accented German, and paused for a response.
"Fritz, I am very tired." The voice was almost a whisper. "I must be certain that I know — I must know at once — if a messenger comes to that house. Is that clear?"
"Have no fear, sire, I shall remain here and watch. Any disturbance and I shall awaken you."
"There must be no mistake," the master said. "It is of the utmost importance."
Fritz waited by the windows throughout the night, but the house across the way lay silent in the moonlight. In the morning, the master arose, bathed and dressed, and came down to replace Fritz at his post in the study.
Their vigil continued for three days. The rains came and turned the countryside into pools of mud, making the roads nearly impassable. At the end of the third day, around suppertime, the old woman was just laying out a tray of food for the master when Fritz came in.
"Excuse, sire, but a man approaches — alone — by the eastern road from Bruxelles."
The other nodded, put back his napkin on the tray, and with a wave of his hand dismissed the two servants. Extinguishing the candle, he strode to the window and hid himself behind the damask draperies.
Within the neighboring house there was commotion. Several men bustled from room to room, lighting chandeliers and wall sconces with long blazing tapers. Soon the rooms glittered brilliantly, and through the dusk the watcher scanned the interior details: crystal that shimmered from the high-domed ceilings and dripped like diamonds from scalloped alcoves in the walls, furniture and draperies of richly embroidered tapestries in red and gold, mirrored walls and tables encrusted in gold leaf.
The pale young man tensed as he saw a single rider appear from the mist in the warm, wet twilight down the eastern road and approach the house opposite. The doors were thrown open and he was shown in at once, in his muddy cape and boots. The rider waited uncomfortably at the center of the room, turning his hat in his hands and gazing at the floor.
At last the inner doors burst open and a tall, heavyset man entered, surrounded by men and women who dropped back when they beheld the soiled and muddy horseman. The tall man paused expectantly, and the messenger bowed.
The observer at the window was scarcely breathing. He saw the messenger take two swift strides to the tall man and kneel as if in obeisance to a reigning monarch. The tall man stood in the center of the room, his head bowed, as one by one each person in the room came before him and knelt in the same fashion.
The pale young man closed his eyes. He stood for several minutes looking at nothing except his own inner vision. Then he turned and walked swiftly to the door.
Fritz was waiting outside, seated in a large chair in the foyer. He stood at once to attention.
"My horse," said the master softly, turning at once to ascend the broad staircase and gather his belongings.
He would not return to Ghent; his mission here had been accomplished.
He did not know how many days or nights he rode through the rain-battered countryside. The land was like a marsh, and against the driving rain he could not tell where the sky ended and the ground began. His horse stumbled more than once, sucked down by the slimy mud that seemed to have no bottom. Although his body ached with weariness, still he drove on and on — he could not stop. He was headed to Ostend and the sea.
It was the evening of the second day when, wiping his eyes against the leaden sweep of rain, he made out the lights of Ostend flickering through the thick mist. As he approached he saw boats lashed down against the piers, great white waves smashing against the quay. All the town, it seemed, had gone indoors, and every house was shuttered against the weather.
Along the quay he found an inn that seemed likely to have seamen stopping there. The innkeeper kindly came out and took his horse to shelter. He went inside, drenched and weary, and ordered a brandy that he downed quickly as he sat beside the fire.
The sailors there were drinking hard whiskey and muttering sourly about the weather, for they were losing work and money each day the rains continued. The room was filled with the sweetish-sour smell of their tobacco. A few men turned away from their talk, idly interested in the newcomer who had broken the monotony of their long indoor confinement.
"Where do you come from in this godless weather, friend?" asked one.
"I come from Ghent, and I am bound for London," he replied. He used the French word Londres, for he observed that although they spoke in Flemish, most were French, and he wished to win those over. Romance mixed with pecuniary interest lay in every Frenchman's soul, while practicality alone made up the heart of the Flamand.
He held up three fingers sideways to the barman, to show he'd have more brandy and it should be poured that deep.
"It's been a week we've been stranded here," said another sailor. "Our goods are rotting on the docks and in the bellies of our ships. Yesterday, two whole piers were torn away and washed into the sea. Many boats have been lifted up and smashed upon the quay. You may be waiting here a good long while before the weather will permit you safe passage."
"I must pass to London — safely or not — and I must go tonight," he replied. "Which is man enough among you to bear me across the channel?"
The sailors laughed and slapped one another on the back and pinched each other's arms. This was a wonderful joke; they'd never seen so great a fool as the young man who stood before them.
The oldest of the seafarers was sitting near the fire. His face was as gnarled and brown as a walnut, and the others had cleared a space for him respectfully. The young man surmised he was a captain — perhaps the owner of his own ship.
"You'll not get a man at Ostend to bear you across the channel tonight, lad," the elder said sternly. "The sea is the mistress of a sailor, and tonight she's wilder than a jilted woman. You'll not find a man at Ostend who'd put his head on her bosom, with the mood she's in tonight!"
The others laughed at that, and someone had a pitcher of brew sent around. Each man took a healthy drink from it, as if to wash away the thought of putting out to sea in such weather. But as they laughed and drank, the captain looked with a clear eye upon the stranger, and thought he might hear more.
"What business is it that takes you to London?" he asked.
"It's a matter of gravest urgency," the young man replied, sensing he'd found an attentive ear. "I must cross the channel tonight. It will take none but a man of soul, spirit, and courage to get me there."
He looked at each man in the room until his eyes rested again upon the old captain.
"But heed the danger —"
"I must cross the channel tonight."
"You will surely die — a boat cannot get off the dock with waves such as these."
"I must cross the channel tonight," he said again, in a voice so soft and steady that the sailors stopped their laughter and, one by one, turned to stare at the mud-caked stranger in their midst. No one had ever seen a man so calmly announce his own death.
"Look here," said the captain at last, "if you must, then it's a thing worth more than life to you, for the sea will rise up and kill you, as sure as sure."
The young man stood there, his pale hair and skin transparent against the firelight, his eyes — not leaving those of the old man for a moment — as colorless and cold as the winter sea.
"Ah — it is the evil eye!" whispered the old man, and spat upon the floor to ward it off.
The rain smashed against the shuttered windows and doors. A piece of wood cracked and leaped off the hearth, and a few of the men jumped. They glanced about nervously as if a ghost had entered; but no one spoke.
The stranger broke the silence. His voice was soft and low, but each man in the room heard precisely what he said.
"I am prepared to pay five thousand French livres — in gold, and now — to the man who will bear me across the channel tonight."
A shock ran through the room; there wasn't a ship lashed to the piers outside that was worth so great a sum, unless fully laden with the finest goods. The price he'd stated might buy two ships outright.
The seamen tamped their pipes and looked into their tankards. He knew they were thinking of their families, how rich their wives and children would be with so much money, more than any man among them could earn in a lifetime. They were thinking it through, and he gave them time to do it. They were casting the odds — reviewing how their luck had been running of late and calculating the risk, whether any man might run the channel tonight and make it across alive.
"I tell you" — the captain cut the silence, his voice a bit too loud — "that if any man goes out in the channel on a night like this, it's suicide. Only the devil would tempt a Christian seafaring man this way — and no Christian would sell his soul to the devil for five thousand livres!"
The pale young man placed his brandy glass upon the mantelpiece and walked to the large oak table at the center of the room, where all could see him clearly.
"Then what of ten thousand?" he said softly.
He tossed a bag upon the table, and it broke open. The sailors watched in silence as the coins spilled across the table and clattered to the floor.
In London, a light mist was falling.
When the doors of the stock exchange opened and its members filed in to take their places for the day's trading, a pale young man with cold blue eyes was among them. He removed his cape and left it and his gold-handled walking stick with the porter. Shaking hands with a few fellow members, he took his place.
Trading was erratic as British consols — war bonds — were being offered at large discounts. News of the war was bad. It was said that Blücher had been cut from his horse — his army had fallen to the French at Ligny — and that Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was holed up in a miserable rain at Quatre-Bras, unable to pull his heavy artillery from the mud.
Things looked bad for the allies — for if the British under Wellesley fell as quickly as the Prussians had, Napoleon would be firmly entrenched in Europe again, just three short months after his escape from Elba. And the British consols that had again been drafted to finance a costly war would not be worth the paper they were printed on.
But one man in the room had fresher news. The pale young man stood quietly at his post and bought all the consols he could lay his hands upon. If his judgment proved wrong, he and his family would be ruined. But his judgment was based upon information, and information was power.
At Ghent, he had watched the messenger arrive from the battlefield at Waterloo and kneel before a tall, heavyset man as if he were regent. That simple gesture signified that the outcome of the war was in the hands of the British — not the French as everyone supposed. For the name of the tall man at Ghent was Louis Stanislaus Xavier, Comte de Provence. He was known to all Europe as Louis XVIII — King of France — deposed by the usurper Napoleon Bonaparte one hundred days earlier.
But such information was power only if used quickly and effectively. Braving ruin and fear of death in the channel, the young man had arrived here, at the London Stock Exchange, only hours before the news of the French defeat at Waterloo. But by the end of several hours' trading, he'd bought so many devalued consols that he'd attracted much attention.
"I say — what is the Jew up to today, buying all these consols?" one exchange member commented to another. "Has he not heard the news of Blücher's defeat at Ligny? Do you suppose he thinks a war can be won with half an army?" "You might do well to follow him in the bidding, as I have," replied his acquaintance coolly. "It's been my experience, he is usually right."
When at last the news of Waterloo reached London, it was soon learned that the young man had indeed cornered the market on consols — at less than ten percent of the face value.
The man who'd questioned his reasoning found his young colleague entering the exchange alone one morning.
"I say, Rothschild," he said, clapping him heartily on the shoulder, "you've done quite well in these consols of yours. It's said you've made over a million pounds in profits in less than a day!"
"Is it?" said the other.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Three Novels"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
A CALCULATED RISK,
THE MAGIC CIRCLE,
A Biography of Katherine Neville,