When my husband and I first moved to Annapolis, Maryland and bought that big house on Prince George Street, I swore it would be my “terminal house” – the last time I’d leave it would be horizontal and feet first. Recently, though, Paul had been hinting that he’d like to find a weekend retreat, someplace where he could escape the constant on-call demands of his students at the nearby U.S. Naval Academy. He’d found the perfect place, too, in Elizabethtown, a bucolic seaside community on Maryland’s eastern shore. Sadly, the deal on our dream home on the Chesapeake Bay fell through because of some barely legal real estate shenanigans, so we bought a fixer-upper instead.
The ink was barely dry on the contract when I happened to run into my former boss, Fran, at The High Spot café. Fran told me about a cache of historic records dating back to the 1840s that had been discovered in the basement of the county courthouse. No use denying that I didn’t have any experience with historic records – I’d actually worked for the woman! – so I volunteered to help her sort and organize them. I was up to my elbows in moldy leather-bound volumes when Paul telephoned:
“You’re needed at the cottage, Hannah,” my husband said. “Rusty’s got the tile laid in the bathroom, but it seems we have a decision to make about the grout.”
“What’s to decide?” I asked. “Grout is grout.”
“You might think so, my dear, but I’m holding a color chart in my hands right now. There’s white, of course, but we’ve also got pure white, antique white, linen white . . .”
“Darling,” I interrupted, “White is white. Pick one.”
“Then there’s canvas, cinnamon, and silver,” Paul continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Mauve, rose, wheat, cocoa, cayenne, smoke, cadet blue and something called Navajo.”
“Navajo? What kind of a color is Navajo?”
“Kind of a warm beige. But you can see why I need you here.”
“Paul . . .” I began, thinking about the mountains of refuse we still had to dispose of in the courthouse basement.
“I’m leaning toward evergreen myself, maybe black,” he continued.
I had to laugh. “I’m sure. But you’re right, we’re going to have to live with the grout for a long time. Tell Rusty I’ll be home in about twenty minutes.”
I was addicted to those make-over shows on TV like Love It or List It and The Property Brothers, so it sounded so familiar – with a house renovation, there’s always something requiring your time, or your checkbook!
Rusty is our contractor’s son and it was he who made the horrific discovery a few hours later that changed everything — the mummified body of an infant hidden in the rubble of our chimney.
It didn’t take long for the shocking news to spread around town. Then Rusty was run off the road on his motorcycle and I began to suspect that there was something about the discovery that had put his life in danger. I began searching the old courthouse records, researching the history of our cottage, trying to find a connection between Rusty and the tiny, decades-old body and gradually, dark secrets from Maryland’s past began to ooze out. It wasn’t until we attended a Fourth of July picnic where Rusty’s mother was murdered that I knew there was something hidden in those records that somebody with either money or influence or both didn’t want made public.
It’s all over now, of course. We know who the baby was … but nothing in Elizabethtown will ever be the same. I’ve written the story down. I’m calling it “Daughter of Ashes” from a poem by Carl Sandburg about the aftermath of war.
Oh daughter of ashes and mother of blood,
Child of the hair let down, and tears,
Child of the cross in the south
And the star in the north . . .
Out of the storm let us have one star.
The poem gives me goosebumps, and I know my story will give you goosebumps, too.
You can read more about Hannah in Daughter Of Ashes, the 14th book in the “Hannah Ives” mystery series, published by Severn House Publishers. The first book in the series is Sing It To Her Bones.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on Friday, September 18 for the chance to win a print copy of Daughter Of Ashes. (US entries only, please.) Good luck everyone!
Meet the author
Marcia Talley is the author of DAUGHTER OF ASHES and thirteen previous novels featuring Maryland sleuth, Hannah Ives. A winner of the Malice Domestic grant and an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel, Ms. Talley won an Agatha and an Anthony Award for her short story “Too Many Cooks” and an Agatha Award for her short story “Driven to Distraction.” She is the editor of two mystery collaborations, and her short stories have been published in more than a dozen magazines and anthologies. She divides her time between Annapolis, Maryland and a quaint cottage in the Bahamas.
Of Daughter of Ashes Booklist says, “The books are full of joy and sadness, of brilliant light and terrifying shadow. Fans of the series will be well pleased, and readers who haven’t met Hannah should do so promptly.”
Visit Marcia at www.marciatalley.com