Book 2 in the Tosca Trevant Mysteries: Murders, a mysterious gemstone, and lost manuscripts offer banished Brit journalist Tosca Trevant a chance to earn her way back to her beloved Cornwall and her job in London. The strange happenings at her California island home include a woman dropping dead practically at Tosca’s feet, a famous author’s works showing up under suspicious circumstances, and a creepy collector of rare musical instruments. Helped by retired Secret Service Agent Thatch MacAuley and a few well-placed Cornish cuss words, Tosca digs deep to track down the killer.
“An exhumation! You saw Raymond Chandler’s dead body dug up and didn’t invite me along? That is inexcusable!”
Tosca Trevant snapped open her parasol inches away from Arlene Mindel’s nose, turned on her heel and marched off along Isabel Island’s seafront bathed in the Southern California sun.
“Re’m fay!” she muttered, the Cornish curse rolling off her tongue. “Imagine going to an event as exhilarating as an exhumation and not letting me in on it. A feature story on digging up the coffin of the crime-writing legend, the creator of the cynical, fictional detective, Philip Marlowe, would be a deliciously macabre piece, although I can’t possibly imagine why they did it. He died of natural causes. Still, if it turns out he was murdered, what a story! It would definitely help to promote me to crime reporter and get me back to England.”
“Tosca, wait! That wasn’t what happened.” Arlene hurried after her friend and neighbor as fast as her chunky figure allowed.
Ignoring Arlene’s shout, Tosca quickened her pace, paying no heed to the sparkling Pacific Ocean and immense Newport Beach harbor where tourists thronged Isabel Island, one of seven small islands within its bay. She still bristled at having been forced out of England five months earlier, but she had to admit that visiting with her race-car driver daughter, J.J., who now lived and competed in America, was a blessing.
Yet Tosca was still homesick for St. Ives, her hometown in Cornwall, and for her job in London. I’d fly back there tomorrow, she thought, if the royals would drop the threat of their silly lawsuit against me and my newspaper. So what if I discovered a scandal at Buckingham Palace? It wasn’t their first and won’t be their last.
“Tosca, wait up!”
Ignoring Arlene’s shout, Tosca tightened her grip on the pink parasol and thought how nice it would be to hold a real umbrella over her head, if only it would rain, and how wonderful to have need of her wellies. She remembered for an instant she’d told J.J. she had given the rain boots away, but instead she’d secretly hidden them in her empty suitcase, now stored in a closet, hoping against hope she’d need them.
Only twice since her arrival from London had rain clouds appeared over Isabel Island. The clouds hovered barely long enough to moisten the streets before moving toward the distant San Gabriel Mountains. What I’d give for a jolly good drenching, Tosca thought, as Arlene, dressed in too-tight jeans and an oversized T-shirt, jogged as fast as she could to catch up with her.
Panting between puffs of breath, Arlene managed to say, “It was a re-burial, that’s all. In his will Chandler said he wanted his wife, Cissy, to be buried with him. She died before him, and her body was cremated, but her ashes were lost until recently. After they were found in a mausoleum storage shed, Chandler’s historian, Loren Latker, asked Alyssa Wayne, John Wayne’s lawyer daughter, to get legal clearance so Loren could arrange a ceremony for the couple to be reunited. She did, and he did, and now Raymond and Cissy are finally together in the same grave. Isn’t that romantic?”
“The same grave! I’m sorry for biting your head off, Arlene,” said Tosca, slowing to a stroll and turning eagerly to her friend, “but he died more than forty years ago. I would love to have seen how he looked. Was there much decay? Was his skeleton all in one piece? What was he wearing? Had his hair grown? That happens, you know, after you die.”
“No, no. You’ve got it all wrong again. Good heavens, you are so bloodthirsty. The coffin itself wasn’t opened, only the grave was uncovered. Cissy’s ashes were in a brass urn, which was placed at Chandler’s feet. Then the grave was covered up again, and a service was held.”
Tosca stopped abruptly again and faced her friend.
“Did you just say, at his feet?”
“Well, yes. Cissy’s urn was set at the end of the coffin where the feet are. It’s customary.”
“Disgraceful! You see what women have to endure? At his feet indeed. Anyway, go on and tell me the rest.”
“It was a charming, nostalgic ceremony,” said Arlene, “complete with a minister, hymns and a Dixieland band playing Chandler’s favorite tunes. Afterwards we all went to the Whaling Bar, Chandler’s old hang-out at the Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, and drank gimlets, his favorite cocktail, if you remember. Such a shame the bar has been renamed, though.”
“Of course I remember the gimlets,” said Tosca. “He first tasted one in England when he lived there. London’s Savoy Hotel originated it with half gin, half Rose’s Lime Juice, but Chandler preferred his with vodka instead. Lime juice prevents scurvy, you know.”
“Scurvy? Is that some kind of scalp problem? ”
“No, silly.” Tosca laughed. “Scurvy was mostly a sailors’ disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C. It’s said that nineteenth century British admirals provided their men with lime juice during long sea voyages when there were no citrus fruits to be had.”
Arlene cocked her head to consider the information. She nodded once and said, “I know that Raymond Chandler was famous for talking about gimlets, and he mentions them in The Long Goodbye. We drank lots of them after the reburial.”
“Ah, yes, the exhumation that wasn’t. All right, Arlene. I apologize, but you do see my point, don’t you? Reminds me of the exhumations of other famous people. When I came to America this year I read that Christopher Columbus’s body had been shunted to six burial places in three different countries before it was finally put to rest in Spain.” Before Arlene could respond Tosca continued, “Indeed. And Eva Peron’s body traveled here, there and everywhere. At one time Juan Peron had her disinterred and then buried in Madrid before his third wife sent Eva’s body back to Argentina.”
“That’s bizarre. How do you know all this?”
“Don’t you watch the BBC News on television? I thought everyone did. Or should. You really must broaden your horizons, Arlene. In 2012 the BBC News did an exhaustive report on famous exhumations. It was fascinating. But right now I’m focused on Chandler and Cissy.”
Perhaps the re-burial, Tosca told Arlene, would provide a brand new angle for a newspaper feature about America’s creator of the hard-boiled detective story.
“I could focus on Chandler’s sensitivity and great love for a woman eighteen years his senior, whom he adored until his death, and how grievous it was that he had to wait more than fifty years after he died to be with her,” she said. “Plus, I can make it relevant to British readers by linking it to another great passion, the Duke of Windsor’s scandalous love for Wallis Simpson. She, too, was older than he. Yes, that should work.”
Satisfied with her strategy but unwilling to let her friend completely off the hook, Tosca added, “You know how hard I’m trying to convince my editor to promote me. I absolutely cannot go back home and keep writing that “Tiara Tittle-Tattle” column about the royal family any longer.”
“Not even with those two darling little babies that Kate and Wills have?”
“No, I’ve had enough of the palace and its goings-on. I am determined to be a crime reporter. This digging up of Chandler’s coffin could help. He’s been one of my idols for years, next to his great literary rival, Fuller Sanderson, of course. As for the gimlets, I much prefer Fuller’s White Russian cocktail. Not that anything’s better than my own mead, as you well know.”
Arlene again cocked her head as if considering a momentous decision. “Yes, I have to say that both are favorites of mine. The writers, I mean,” she added quickly at Tosca’s raised eyebrows. “That Cornish wine you make is, uh, quite interesting. I’m saving the bottle you gave me for a special occasion. But I’m not familiar with the rivalry between Chandler and Sanderson. What was it about? I suppose it was because they both wrote hard-boiled mysteries.”
“Yes, that, and the fact that they both fictionalized real Hollywood murder cases in their novels. For instance, in Chandler’s The High Window he wrote about an unsolved 1929 murder and suicide at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The police at the time never figured out which of two men was the murderer. The theory is that Ned Doheny was shot by Hugh Plunkett, who then turned the gun on himself, but it’s not clear-cut and hasn’t been solved. Hmm. That’s an idea. I might have a go at it as a cold case myself, as a matter of fact.”
“Really fun, interesting and vivid people solving mysteries…a spot of exotic Cornish swearing. I found myself turning page after page. Treat yourself and enjoy.”
—Anne Perry, best-selling author of Corridors of the Night
“The undauntable Tosca stumbles across another high society murder, with a long-lost literary manuscript at the center. Clever and fun – an engaging read!”
—Anne Cleeland, best-selling author of the Doyle & Acton mystery series