Welcome to my world. I’m Jordan Bingham and it’s a typical day at Van Alst House, the immense pile of granite the wealthy Van Alst family build three generations ago. Now it’s owned and ruled by Vera Van Alst, a curmudgeonly book collector, last of the clan, and the most hated woman here in Harrison Falls, New York. And she’s also my boss.
I am Vera’s researcher and book scout. It’s the best job in the world and it’s allowing me to save to return to grad school after a financial disaster related to an ex. But that’s a story for another time.
As Vera never leaves the house, I’m the one who attends the book fairs, combs the second hand stores and bazaars, and does battle on the Internet to get the best deals on the rare fine first editions that Vera covets. I protect her from cheats and scam artists and other lowlife. I can spot them. I am, after all, the first member of my family to go straight.
I also put up with Vera’s moods, gravelly voice and whims. By the way, try not to be alarmed by the portraits of Vera’s unappealing ancestors in these hallways. It’s not their fault they look like that.
And watch out for the cats. One of them is quite … oh, sorry about that. We’ll, um, pick up a bandage when we get to my apartment.
I hope you didn’t mind the two story climb! I get these accommodations in the attic as part of my employment. A hundred years ago, this was maids’ quarters. Don’t you love that cabbage rose wallpaper and the flowered quilt on the bed?
I enjoy my little space. But it’s not even the best part. Let’s head to the library where the collection is. Vera has given permission for me to show you, but we should pick up the pace in case she changes her mind. It happens.
Yes, it is a long walk. I call this the endless corridor, but we’re here now. I’ll just key in the security code and we’re in. Right, I gasped too, the first time I saw it. Don’t you just adore the smell of the old leather bindings and the rosewood and beeswax? That’s an Aubusson carpet too. There are ten thousand volumes here between this main level and the mezzanine. Vera’s favorites are the classics from the Golden Age of Detection: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and all the greats. I love them too. Only Vera is allowed to sink into that leather chair and read them though. Just so you know.
We’ve just had quite an experience filling in the missing Dorothy L. Sayers collection. I didn’t think any of us would live to tell the tale. But now we should head back. I know that Signora Panetone has made some coffee and a plate of her famous almond cookies for you in the conservatory. Here it is now. Enjoy them, and understand that she’ll insist that you take a cookie tin of them home with you. Don’t bother to fight it. Resistance is futile.
Every morning at eight (and we are never late) the signora serves breakfast to Vera and me and my Uncle Kev who is the handyman, gardener, and whatever else is needed around the place. Uncle Kev takes a little getting used to. I’ll just mention that in case we run into him. Just keep an eye on your handbag.
Let’s step into the dining room. Isn’t it spectacular? I love that mile-long Sheraton table and the sterling candelabra. The black oak sideboard is magnificent.
So it’s dinner here every evening at eight on the nose. I can’t believe my good luck as I grew up on KD and beans and franks. Vera parks herself at that end of the table and I’m down here at other end. I always wear my high dress leather boots because of the cats. You can understand that. Since Kev has joined us, he eats half-way down the table. Vera doesn’t blink when he pours himself a tumbler of her best cognac. But then she thinks the sun shines—
Oh look at the time. I have an appointment shortly to negotiate for a lovely leather bound edition of Wilkie Collins The Moonstone. Vera has to have it and she doesn’t like the price. I’ll be in warrior mode.
Please take a look at the gorgeous grounds before you go. Be careful in case Uncle Kev’s on the tractor. He can be playful.
I’m glad you could join me. It’s the best job in the world, for sure, but sometimes it can be murder. We spill the beans on all that in The Sayers Swindle, the second “Book Collector” mystery.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon EST on December 21, and you will be entered to win a signed copy of The Sayers Swindle. One winner will be chosen at random. open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.
Meet the author
That shadowy figure known as Victoria Abbott is a collaboration between the always very funny and creative artist, photographer and short story author, Victoria Maffini and her mother, Mary Jane Maffini, award-winning author of three mystery series and two dozen short stories. Their first book in the series, The Christie Curse, has received excellent reviews and the second, The Sayers Swindle, recently hit the shelves this month. They are hard at work on the third installment: The Wolfe Widow (September 2014) and haven’t killed each other yet.
You can keep up with their characters on the thirtieth of the month over at Killer Characters and their culinary adventures at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen or by signing up for their newsletter at www.victoria-abbott.com or www.maryjanemaffini.com.