Twelve Nights by Penny Ingham – (The Heavenly Charmers series) Published: 2022 / 360 pages
Buy Links: Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bpYRlk
1592. The Theatre, London.
When a player is murdered, suspicion falls on the wardrobe mistress, Magdalen Bisset, because everyone knows poison is a woman’s weapon. The coroner is convinced of her guilt. The scandal-pamphlets demonize her.
Magdalen is innocent, although few are willing to help her prove it. Only handsome Matthew Hilliard offers his assistance, but dare she trust him when nothing about him rings true?
With just two weeks until the inquest, Magdalen ignores anonymous threats to ‘leave it be’, and delves into the dangerous underworld of a city seething with religious and racial tension. As time runs out, she must risk everything in her search for the true killer – for all other roads lead to the gallows.
John’s knees gave way and he crashed to the boards. The audience froze like a courtly tableau. The groundlings and the bum-cushions fell silent, not a single nut was cracked, nor an orange loudly sucked. Even the furtive fumblings and pleasurable moans on the back row ended abruptly. All eyes were on John’s collapsed form.
Suddenly, everything was in motion again. The players were converging on John, arms outstretched as if their touch might somehow heal him. Magdalen was moving too, running from the ‘tiring house to the stage, pushing her way through the players to fall to her knees at John’s side. He was having difficulty breathing, gulping for air. And then he vomited on the boards, a putrid broth of half-digested meat.
His lips were swelling and tinged with blue. Horror-struck, Magdalen realised she had seen this before. This was not stage fright, nor sweating sickness, nor plague. This was poison, most likely aconite, although they had called it wolfsbane on the farm.
The players closed up, a brightly coloured fortress of doublets and cloaks, kirtles and gowns, protecting John from a thousand pairs of morbidly curious eyes. Through the players’ legs Magdalen could see the groundlings pressing forward for a closer look and heard those at the front cry out, afraid they might be crushed. In the galleries, the audience was on its feet, the hum of voices growing louder. They sounded shocked but at the same time exhilarated, and at that moment she hated them all.
John continued to heave until his stomach was empty, and then he coughed up bile, and finally he coughed up blood. Sapped of strength, he curled into a ball, clutching his belly. Magdalen lifted his head onto her lap and removed his wig. His cropped, black hair was clamped to his scalp with sweat, but his skin felt cold.
‘They’ve done me in.’ His tongue was swollen, too big for his mouth, and his words were difficult to decipher.
‘Who?’ Magdalen asked urgently. ‘Who did this to you?’
‘I should have listened…’ His hand searched for hers and his fingers unfurled. There was a piece of paper in his palm, folded repeatedly until it was no larger than a sovereign. ‘Take it.’
She did as he asked. The paper was damp with his sweat.
‘This is… your fault…’ he gasped, fighting for air.
What on earth did he mean by that? Had she heard him correctly? ‘John, why is it my fault?’
But he didn’t speak again. Magdalen held him for what seemed an eternity, her arms growing numb from bearing his weight, unchecked tears running down her cheeks. London had seen so much death these last few years, but she had never grown accustomed to it. It still had the power to fracture her heart. But it was not the plague that had taken John to God. It was poison.
She looked up at the throng of players. For all their rivalries, they were a tightly-knit family, a band of brothers. She had known these men since she was a child, and it was impossible to believe any of them were capable of murdering John. Perhaps she was in some way responsible for his death. She thought back over the last twenty-four hours. If she had paid more attention, could she have prevented this? Would John still be alive?
Penny has a degree in Classics, and a passion for archaeology – during the summer months, you will often find her on her a ‘dig’ with a trowel in her hand. She has had a variety of jobs over the years, including ice-cream seller, theatre PR, BBC local radio, and TV critic for a British Forces newspaper.
She has written four novels – ‘The King’s Daughter’ is the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. ‘The Saxon Wolves’ and ‘The Saxon Plague’ are set in the turbulent aftermath of Roman Britain. Her inspiration for Twelve Nights grew from her love of the theatre in general, and Shakespeare in particular.
Penny has two grown up children and lives with her husband in Hampshire.
Website: Penny Ingham (wordpress.com) – Twitter: Penny Ingham (@pennyingham) / Twitter – Facebook: Penny Ingham Author Page | Facebook – Instagram: Penny Ingham (@penny.ingham) • Instagram photos and videos – Amazon Author Page: Amazon.co.uk: Penny Ingham: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle Goodreads: Penny Ingham (Author of The Saxon Wolves) | Goodreads