An extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times, Lady Frances Ffolkes is an Edwardian-era suffragette who has an uncanny ability to attract danger and romance.
When Major Colcombe, a family friend and war veteran, dies under mysterious circumstances, the good Lady discovers that he was working on a manuscript about South Africa’s bloody Boer War, which reportedly revealed a scandalous mistake that cost many innocent lives. Now, it’s up to Frances and her loyal lady’s maid, June Mallow, to track down the missing manuscript and bring the killer to justice. Despite kerfuffles with Scotland Yard and the British Secret Service, Frances never backs down and finds herself in several very unfortunate positions–and one very fortunate love triangle.
Death on the Sapphire is R. J. Koreto’s witty and winsome debut of a series that is sure to be fan favorite for years to come.
Like his heroine, Frances Ffolkes, R. J. Koreto is a graduate of Vassar College. He has spent most of his career as a financial journalist. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and his work has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He lives in New York, NY. This is his first novel.
“Upstairs teams with downstairs in this thoroughly entertaining, witty Edwardian mystery debut… A solid choice for fans of Robin Paige and Downton Abbey.”
“[A] refreshing debut… Readers will look forward to seeing more of Frances in the promised sequel.”
“Lady Frances is a strong, clever protagonist, in the mold of Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs.Lady Frances is a strong, clever protagonist, in the mold of Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs.”
“Fans of both Downton Abbey and Agatha Christie will embrace the subtly witty, refreshingly unconventional heroine in Koreto’s debut series.”
—RT Book Reviews
“I loved every minute… With a memorable heroine, rich atmosphere, and intriguing mystery, Koreto has created a book that will engage and entertain readers. I eagerly await book 2. Highly recommended!”
—Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice
“An intelligent and engrossing historical novel with an wonderfully independent heroine (of the right social class!) and her enterprising maid. But it is by no means a cozy story, delving into the grim realities of war.”
–Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mysteries
“R. J. Koreto introduces a delightful new heroine with Lady Frances Ffolkes. Everyone underestimates Lady Frances and usually to their dismay. You’ll love reading about her adventures as she takes time out from her efforts in the Women’s Suffrage movement to solve the murder of an old friend.”
–Victoria Thompson, bestselling author of Murder in Morningside Heights
“What a fun read, good storytelling that whisks along at a cracking pace, neatly plotted with a satisfying ending. Lady Frances Ffolkes is irresistible–caring, clever and resourceful. I look forward to meeting her again many times.”
–M.R.C. Kasasian, author of the Gower Street Detective series
“A memorable heroine–a young suffragette–and her equally dauntless maid engage in a battle of wits against the Establishment that is ready to kill to keep the truth buried. An enjoyable read.”
–Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries
“Spirited and tenacious, Lady Frances Ffolkes is a force to be reckoned with as she endeavors, undaunted by all obstacles, to find a missing manuscript and solve the murder of a family friend in this charming Edwardian-era mystery. With Death on the Sapphire, R.J. Koreto has given us a winning heroine and a thoroughly delightful read.”
–Ashley Weaver, author of the Amory Ames mysteries
“Suffragette Lady Frances Ffolkes takes readers on a spirited journey to locate a stolen manuscript and solve the murder of a family friend. Witty, tenacious, and thoroughly engaging.”
–Anna Lee Huber, award-winning and national bestselling author of the Lady Darby mystery series
The surprising coda to the tragic death of Major Daniel “Danny” Colcombe, a restless war hero, capped what was already an especially busy day for Lady Frances Ffolkes. The morning had been taken up writing a speech on women’s suffrage in her capacity as chair of the outreach committee of the League for Women’s Political Equality. Next was following up on arrangements for the Ladies’ Christian Relief Guild soup kitchen in the East End. She had also made an appointment for what would no doubt be a tedious meeting with Henry Wheaton, the family solicitor—ever since moving out of the family home and into Miss Plimsoll’s Residence Hotel for Ladies, she had started taking care of her own finances. A dull task, but rather liberating nonetheless for an independent woman.
But moving out hadn’t meant cutting ties, and she had just finished dining with her brother and sister-in-law. The three were relaxing in the drawing room of the Ffolkes house in London. Cook had made several dishes Lady Frances especially favored in honor of her visit, and now Frances sipped a little port, feeling good about all she had accomplished that day and well rewarded to be lounging in comfort with close family.
It was so delightful to see Charles and Mary exchanging fond looks three months after their wedding. That Frances had introduced them to each other pleased her on several levels: a loving wife for her dear brother, a devoted husband for her great friend Mary—plus the fact that Frances was now able to resign her job of running the family household. She had done it with great efficiency, as she did all her tasks, but did not particularly like it. Mary, by contrast, stepped cheerfully into the role of marchioness, happily managing the Seaforth estate with both pleasure and competence. As Charles, the consummate diplomat, would put it, everyone won.
Charles was talking enthusiastically about politics, as his father used to before him. His marriage wasn’t the only thing making him happy—with the twentieth century barely begun, the Liberals were back in power in Parliament, and the new prime minister had given him the much-coveted position as Undersecretary for European Affairs.
Cumberland, the butler, entered the room. No doubt he’d start clearing, and soon Frances would collect her maid from downstairs and head to her rooms at Miss Plimsoll’s.
“I beg your pardon, my lord, my ladies,” he said. “But Miss Colcombe has called.”
“Miss Colcombe? Kat Colcombe? She’s downstairs—at this hour?” asked Charles.
“Yes, my lord. She indicated it was a matter of great urgency.”
“It must be. Show her up at once.”
“Very good, my lord.”
Mary and Frances looked at each other. Kat’s older brother, Daniel, had been one of Charles’s closest friends. They had served together in the Boer War in South Africa, and he had died about two months ago in what was officially listed as an “accident” but some called suicide—although Charles refused to hear of that possibility.
Cumberland ushered Kat into the drawing room. She was still wearing full mourning, an elaborate and awkward black dress, and her hair was in disarray—a striking contrast to Mary and Frances, who were wearing the latest styles in dress and had their long hair done up perfectly by skilled maids.
Kat looked around the room, and before anyone could move, she ran and practically threw herself at Frances, bursting into tears.
“Oh Franny, it’s just too awful. It’s the final blow.”
“Here, my love, have some port. Steady yourself,” said Frances. She held the glass while Kat sipped it, as tears poured down her smooth cheeks. The poor girl really was quite young, and it was just her and her mother bearing the brunt as chief mourners.
“You’re so kind…I feel like such a fool, but there was nowhere else to go, and I couldn’t wait until tomorrow.”
“Just relax, you’re with friends now,” said Charles, showing a comforting smile that had charmed everyone from foreign diplomats to young ladies of society. Gradually, Kat calmed down, still holding onto Frances. The eminently practical Mary had realized that the wan Kat probably hadn’t eaten recently and asked Cook to send up a tray with toast and butter, plum cake, and tea.
“No man was dearer to me than your brother,” said Charles after Kat had eaten a little. “If there is any way I can help, you must let me know. I’ve always told you that.”
“This is going to sound so silly. I don’t have to tell you how hard the war hit him, but in recent months—until he died—he had seemed better in many ways. He had been writing a great deal, alone in his study. And one evening just a few weeks before he died, he said to me that if anything happened to him, I was to take the manuscript to you and see about publishing it. It was a war memoir, something he said was important. That scared me, I have to say, but he said it was just a precaution.”
Charles nodded. “He hadn’t said how far he had gotten, but he had mentioned to me and some of the other lads that he was putting something together.”
“Actually, he told me he was almost done,” said Kat, “And I agreed to his request, of course, thinking he was being a little dramatic.”
Then Danny had died, and in the grief and confusion, she had forgotten. First the police sealed off the study. Then, after they were done, the solicitors had taken over the room to organize the estate’s paperwork. It was only then that Kat had remembered the manuscript.
“I knew there had been gossip about my brother’s writing, so the police might’ve been looking for it, but it seems it had already disappeared,” she said with a sniffle. “He showed me where it was kept—on a shelf apart from other items. When I went to get it yesterday morning, it wasn’t there. There were hundreds of pages—it couldn’t be easily missed.” She had searched diligently and followed up with the police and solicitors, but they both were clear they had taken nothing.
“He asked me for a promise—and I let him down. I feel like I’ve lost him again.” And out came a fresh wave of tears.
Time to stop this, thought Frances. Kat was too young to be handling this, and her mother, Mrs. Colcombe, was a kind but vague woman who had been taken care of by her father, then her husband, and then her son.
“A fresh pair of eyes will help,” said Frances. “Here is what will happen. I will return with you tonight and stay over. And I’ll bring my maid Mallow.” The Colcombe household might still be in disarray, and an extra servant could be helpful. “Tomorrow we’ll have a look at the study together and see what we can find.”
Mary looked on with sympathy and Charles with relief. His little sister could be maddeningly unconventional and stubborn, but you could always count on her in a crisis.
“Oh would you, Franny? That would be so wonderful.”
Arrangements were quickly made. A footman was sent to inform the Colcombe coachman that they’d be leaving soon. Mallow, who was chatting with her fellow servants downstairs, was recalled, and Mary telephoned the Colcombe household to say Kat would be returning with a friend and maid.
Frances kissed Charles and Mary good-bye and promised to keep them informed, and then they were on their way. Kat and Frances sat next to each other in the coach, and Mallow sat opposite. Emotional exhaustion quickly hit Kat, who fell asleep on Frances’s shoulder.
“Mallow, Miss Colcombe has some problems she’d like me to help her with and is not entirely well. We will be spending the night at her house. I’ve asked the coachman to stop at Miss Plimsoll’s so you can pack an overnight bag for both of us.”
“Very good, my lady.” Perfectly agreeable, even cheerful, in the face of change.
“Did you have a nice evening downstairs with your old friends?”
“Yes, thank you, my lady. It’s always pleasant to see them again.”
“But they don’t call you ‘June’ anymore, do they? You are now ‘Miss Mallow.’”
Mallow preened. “Yes, my lady. It takes a little getting used to.”
And you love it, thought Frances. It had been quite a promotion for Mallow when Frances had elevated her from housemaid to lady’s maid upon their relocation to Miss Plimsoll’s, with an increase in wages to match her new job. Housemaids wore uniforms and were called by their first names. They shared a room with another maid. A lady’s maid wore her own plain dress and had her own room. She was called by her last name by her mistress and “Miss” by other servants. Mallow was young for such a promotion, but Frances had wanted someone she could train, as opposed to the “middle-aged dragon” her brother wanted her to hire, to watch over her, almost as a nanny.
“You won’t mind sleeping tonight in whatever accommodations they have at Colcombe house?”
“Not at all, my lady.” Mallow was affronted that any aspect of serving her ladyship could be a problem. Frances smiled in the dark, and Mallow mentally packed a bag so she could be in and out quickly.
Such last-minute travel changes were not usual among well-bred women. Lady Frances was the daughter of the previous Marquess of Seaforth and sister of the current one. As a young unmarried woman, her life should’ve been a series of afternoon visits and evening parties, but Lady Frances’s life was a little more…unpredictable.
Kat didn’t wake up even when the carriage stopped at Miss Plimsoll’s and Mallow jumped out. It was only a few minutes before Mallow came back down again, and they continued to the Colcombe House.
When they arrived, Frances quickly took charge, entering the house like a bolt of lightning. Her disconcertingly frank eyes took in everything, and a knowing smile played across her sensuous face.
Mrs. Colcombe, also festooned in black, fluttered around like a little bird and was proving incapable of coping with the return of her daughter and a guest. Apparently, she hadn’t even known Kat was gone until Mary had called the house. Of course, the Colcombe house, like most of the wealthy London homes, had recently installed a telephone, but women of Mrs. Colcombe’s generation tended to forget about it. The call had been a shock, and she had had to get smelling salts from her maid.
Frances ordered one maid to see the sleepy Kat to bed. Then she greeted Mrs. Colcombe. “Kat was visiting and became a little unwell. I’m sure she’ll be fine after some bed rest. You have been so overwhelmed, Mrs. Colcombe, I will stay the night to help in the morning.”
Briskly, she gave orders to make up the little settee in Kat’s room so she could spend the night with her.
“But the settee is so short, my lady,” said a maid.