My apologies for the late update. I wanted to post this week’s update on 29 April, because this is the day the new trade edition of Beneath a Silent Moon goes on sale. I’m so excited to finally see it on the shelf! And I’m also running a bit behind, because I just returned from four days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. My good friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson and I go twice a year, see two plays a day, analyze the plays and talk about the connections to our own writing, and in between eat at some wonderful restaurants and find time for shopping. It’s always a great trip–so creatively energizing and so much fun.
All the plays we saw were wonderfully done, but three particularly resonated in thinking about my own work. A taut, energetic Coriolanus for it’s fascinating depiction of political maneuvering (after all, so many of many of my characters are politicians). A brilliant, innovative A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which reminded me of the debt Beneath a Silent Moon owes to the play (lovers changing partners beneath a silent midsummer moon). And a new play called The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler by Jeff Whitty. It’s set in a fantasy world in which fictional characters from plays, books, operas, movies, and television, live out their lives, caught in the infinite loop of the conflicts and choices their authors wrote for them. The can’t change the circumstances of their stories, but as long as they are remembered, they remain immortal. Once they are forgotten, they fade away. Hedda Gabler rebels against forever playing out the tragic existence Ibsen wrote for her and goes on a quest to rewrite her ending. But would a happy Hedda with a happy ending linger in the memory? Or would she simply fade away?
What do you think makes a character linger in the memory of readers and audiences? Do you imagine characters having adventures off the pages of a novel or play? Do you find every find yourself wanting to rewrite an author’s ending?
For the week of Beneath a Silent Moon’s release, the edition to the Fraser Correspondence is Lady Frances’s take on Charles and Mélanie, a few weeks before the book begins. It’s a letter she writes to her friend Louisa Drummond who is mentioned in Beneath a Silent Moon (Frances and Louisa invaded one of the Elsinore League’s gatherings).
And, as promised, here’s another brief teaser from The Mask of Night. Set early in the book, it involved another real historical figure, Lord Castlereagh (the Foreign Secretary) as well as the fictional Lord Carfax (chief of Intelligence) and Charles.
Lord Carfax pushed the door of his son-in-law’s study shut. The click of the latch echoed through the oak-paneled room. “Might I inquire what the devil you were thinking sending to Bow Street?”
Charles met his former employer’s gaze. “It seemed the obvious course of action with a dead body in the garden.”
“Since when have you been one to take the obvious course of action? I expect better of you, Charles.”
“But it’s hardly the first time I’ve failed to meet your expectations, is it, sir?”
“Don’t remind me,” Carfax said.
Lord Castlereagh strode across the room, a cloud of powder billowing from his wig. “Did you know he was in England, Carfax?”
Carfax turned his gaze from Charles to the Foreign Secretary. “Of course not. I’d have told you.”
Carfax and Castlereagh regarded each other, the uneasy balance of their relationship pulling between them. Spheres of control between the official world of the diplomatic corps and the unofficial world of intelligence operations frequently became blurry. Charles, who had served under both men as an agent and diplomat, had more than once been witness to the tension that could result.
“When,” Carfax said, “have you ever known me to withhold—”
“Count Nesselrode’s dispatches.” Castlereagh took up a position beside a wing-back chair, one hand gripping its high back. “The naval treaty. The incident with the frigate off Lisbon. The unfortunate business at the Russian Embassy last—”
“As I recall I told you everything you needed –”
“You blindsided me.” Castlereagh’s usually well-modulated voice cut across the study like the crack of a musket. “More than once.”
Carfax leaned against the desk, hands braced behind him. “Until I saw the body in the garden just now I had no notion the man in question was in England. I assume you’ll take my word for it, Robert?”
“When have I ever declined to take your word, Hubert?” Castlereagh’s cool gaze remained steady on Carfax’s face. “Which leaves the matter of what he was doing here.”
“I hate to ask troublesome questions,” Charles said, “but who was he?”
Carfax raised a brow at Castlereagh. “Would you prefer to explain or shall I?”
Castlereagh inclined his head. “Go ahead by all means. You know–knew—-him better than I did, after all.”
Carfax folded his arms over his furred velvet robe. “Does the name Julien St. Juste mean anything to you, Charles?”
“St. Juste?” Charles shook his head. “No.”
“It’s not surprising. He went by a different alias for each mission and managed to remain safely anonymous. Even to fellow agents like you. Our first record of him is in Paris in the years of the Directory. He was still in his teens. He worked as an assassin for Fouché in the French Ministry of Police. Later he sold information to our side. After that he began to work for the highest bidder—us, the French, the Russians. We also suspect he was the Empress Josephine’s lover. Before she was the Empress. Before she married Bonaparte and through the early years of their marriage.”
“You had Josephine Bonaparte under surveillance all those years ago?” Charles said.
“She was Barras’s mistress, and he was the most powerful of the Directors. Then she married Bonaparte. I suspected her husband was likely to prove a force to be reckoned with. One of the best ways to acquire a hold on a man can be knowing his wife’s indiscretions.”
Charles willed his face to remain blank. “Did Bonaparte know about the affair?”
“Apparently not. At least not at that time.” Carfax walked to a glass-fronted cabinet and touched the silver-framed miniature of Oliver and Isobel’s three children that stood atop it. “St. Juste continued to work for various sides during the Peninsular War. The last I heard of him, he was working for the French again at the time of Waterloo. I lost track of him after that. Until tonight.”
“But you’re sure the dead man is St. Juste?”
“When have you ever known me to forget a face?”
“I met him a handful of times as well. He wasn’t a man one easily forgets.” Castlereagh put up a hand to straighten his elaborate cravat, a rare gesture of discomposure. “What in God’s name was he doing here?”
“Precisely.” Carfax turned to face Charles. “We need to know why St. Juste met his death tonight. More important, we need to know what he’s been doing for the past four and a half years and what brought him to England now.”
Charles rested his shoulders against the bookshelf behind him. “It’s an interesting problem.”
“So it is. And you’re going to solve it for us. ”
“I wasn’t asking.
“I want you on this as well, Charles,” Castlereagh said. “I need someone I can trust.”
“Thank you,” Carfax murmured.
“I don’t work for you anymore.” Charles’s gaze flickered between the two men. “Either of you.”
“You’re still an Englishman,” Castlereagh said.
“British. You know what’s due to your country, whatever Radical nonsense you spout off in the Commons.”
“The war’s over.”
“One can scarcely turn round without stumbling over a former Bonapartist,” Castlereagh said.
“Oh, come, sir.” Charles shifted his shoulders against the cold glass at his back. “You’re starting to sound like the Comte d’Artois and the Ultra Royalists, seeing Bonapartists round every corner. Which is hardly likely considering how many are in prison. Or executed.”
Castlereagh tugged at the braided cuff of his frock coat. “I presume you noticed the Comte de Flahaut in the ballroom this evening?”
“I don’t imagine the ladies Flahaut flirts with are much concerned with which side he fought on.”
“Surely I needn’t remind you that flirtation can be a mask for other matters?” Carfax, who had fallen to staring at the miniatures, snapped his gaze back to Charles’s face. “Don’t pretend to be simple-minded, Charles. We’ve been sitting on a tinderbox since Waterloo. The French king’s hold on the throne is tenuous, the Russians aren’t happy about the Polish situation, Spain is threatening to revolt. And the Prince Regent couldn’t even open Parliament without a mob shooting at his carriage.”
“Are you saying you think St. Juste was hired by English Radicals?”
“We don’t know whom he was hired by. That’s the problem. But he wasn’t the sort of man to take a pleasure trip.”
Castlereagh spread his elegant fingers over the tufted leather of the chairback. “Whatever our differences, Charles, I can’t believe you wish to see the country of your birth disintegrate into the bloody mess we saw in France.”
“Don’t waste your breath, Robert. The appeal to God and country has never been much good with Charles.” Carfax fixed Charles with the steel-eyed look he wore when outlining a tactical mission. “Despite your tiresome tendency to think for yourself, you’re one of the best agents I’ve ever trained. You have a knack for investigations. Your work resolving the murder in Vienna was brilliant. Not to mention–” Carfax’s swallowed. “You performed ably in the business of my niece’s death two years ago.”
Charles’s fingers tightened on the cut velvet of his sleeves. He did not want to talk about Honoria Talbot and her murder and its aftermath. “Sir, it’s been barely two months since my son was abducted. We’re lucky he hasn’t suffered more, but he still has nightmares. He needs his parents—“
“We’re not asking you to leave London.” Something shifted in the hard set of Carfax’s features, so that Charles was looking not at his former spymaster but at the school friend’s father at whose house he had spent boyhood holidays. “I’m not insensible of what you all went through, Charles. But you’ve got Colin safely back, and the villains have been apprehended.”
“That doesn’t erase the scars. And my brother—“
“Your brother is buried. There’s nothing you can do save mourn him, and you’re not one to wallow in mourning. Mélanie will understand.”
Of course Mélanie would understand. Mélanie would never admit that any strain might be too much for her. For them. He couldn’t say to Carfax and Castlereagh, My marriage almost ended two months ago. My wife and I are still learning to know and trust each other again. And most certainly not, Anything that touches on international politics may be ground too dangerous for us to tread at present.
“You’re not a boy any more,” Carfax said. “You won’t fall apart. Not now.”
Charles forced himself to meet Carfax’s gaze. Twelve years fell away, and Charles was a young man of twenty, shirt cuffs buttoned low over wrists still raw and bandaged from his own inexpert attempt to slash them. Carfax was right. Whatever happened, he would never seek that way out again. He had responsibilities, people dependent on him. But at a time when there had seemed nothing to tie him to life, Carfax had come to his rescue. He owed the older man a good share of his sanity and quite possibly his life.
“I know you, Charles. You want to investigate this. You never could resist a challenge, even as a boy.”
Truth, always the keenest dart. “What I want and what’s best for my family isn’t the same thing.”
“I’m asking you as a favor, Charles,” Carfax said. “I don’t ask for favors unless the need is great.”
“Jeremy Roth is on his way here. He may be outside even now.” Charles pictured Roth joining Mélanie in the garden and mentally called himself seven kinds of fool. He’d told Oliver to ask for Roth because Roth was an honest man with a keen understanding, which God knew could not be said of all Bow Street Runners. But he’d have thought twice if he’d known he and Mélanie were going to be drawn into the matter.
“We can keep Bow Street out of it,” Castlereagh said. “The Chief Magistrate answers to the Home Secretary. I’ll have a word with the Lord Sidmouth.”
“That won’t stop the talk. Word’s going to get out that a man was killed here tonight. If Bow Street aren’t seen to be investigating, it will draw the wrong sort of attention to the matter. We’ll do better to involve them.”
Carfax and Castlereagh exchanged a look. Whatever their differences, Charles realized, the two men had played him brilliantly. “We’ll do better?” Carfax echoed.
Charles swallowed. Regret, anger, and alarm sat bitter on his tongue. Along with the seductive tang of danger. “I’ll work with Roth.”
“You’ll bring us what you learn?” Carfax asked in the same level, reasonable tone Charles had heard him use to order the assassination of a double agent.
“We’ll bring you what we learn,” Charles said.
As cold as the terrace had been, it was only now that he felt chilled to the bone.