Book Spotlight — Millstone of Doubt

3 Oct

A Bow Street Runner and a debutante in London Society use their skills to find the killer of a wealthy businessman, but the killer’s secrets aren’t the only ones they will uncover. 

Caught in the explosion of the Hammersmith Mill in London, Bow Street runner Daniel Swann rushes to help any survivors only to find the mill’s owner dead of an apparent gunshot–but no sign of the killer.
Even though the owner’s daughter, Agatha Montgomery, mourns his death, she may be the only one. It seems there are more than a few people with motive for murder. But Daniel can’t take this investigation slow and steady. Instead, he must dig through all the suspects as quickly as he can because the clock is ticking until his mysterious patronage–and his job as a runner–comes to an abrupt and painful end. It seems to Daniel that, like his earthly father, his heavenly Father has abandoned him.
Lady Juliette Thorndike is Agatha’s bosom friend and has the inside knowledge of the wealthy London ton to be invaluable to Daniel. She should be in a perfect position to help with the case. But when her trusted instructor in the art of spy craft orders her to stay out of the investigation, Lady Juliette obeys. That is, until circumstances intervene, and she drops right into the middle of the deadly pursuit.

When a dreadful accident ends in another death on the mill floor, Daniel discovers a connection to his murder case–and to his own secret past. Now he and Juliette are in a race to find the killer before his time runs out.

**************

EXCERPT

“This way.” Lifting his lapel to cover his mouth and nose, Daniel

made his way under a sagging beam toward the side of the warehouse that faced the river. Outside, a landing and a set of stairs hugged the side of the building, leading to a walkway over the waterwheel and the mill race that had been built to force water over the giant paddles. The wheel turned, but off balance, wobbling as if it had become disconnected from the shaft. Daniel gripped the railing, dizziness overtaking him as he looked down on the moving water.

Get hold of yourself, man. It won’t do for you to lose your head and need rescuing too. He steadied himself, refusing to show weakness in front of the viscount.

The walkway twisted around a corner and, though flat, felt as if it gained in elevation as the ground fell away beneath the supports. When Daniel navigated the water-splashed planks to the bend, his heart rate increased. He had no head for heights. On this side of the building, though the glass had been blown from the windows, no flames appeared. The villagers must be winning against the fire.

At the far end of the walkway, where it terminated against the stone wall, a man lay on his back, head and feet dangling, close to over- balancing and tipping into the river. As Daniel approached, the man stirred.

“Have a care. Don’t fall into the water.” Daniel touched his shoulder. “Easy . . . let me help you.” He put his hand under the man’s elbow and assisted him. “Slowly until you see if you’re injured.”

“What happened?” Grimaces accompanied every movement. “There was an explosion. Part of the mill is on fire, and you must have been knocked unconscious by the blast. Were you out here working on the wheel?”

The man blinked. “An explosion?” He put his hand to his head. “Working on the wheel? Of course, I wasn’t working on the wheel. I’m not a warehouseman.” He tried to straighten his waistcoat, which was too fine to belong to a laborer. “I’m an accountant. A man of numbers.”

Daniel studied the open window above them. “Then Someone was looking out for you, sir. You could have been blown into the water quite easily.” He pointed to the foaming water pouring off the water- wheel. “Let us get you to a less precarious spot.”

“You said it was an explosion?” The man groaned. “Mr. Montgomery was afraid of this, but I never thought they would do it. I thought it was all talk. Threats, nothing more.” The man remained rooted to the walkway, swaying slightly, squinting as if the sunlight reflecting off the water was too bright for his eyes.

Daniel’s attention sharpened. “Threats? Was someone threatening to do something like this?”

Nodding—and then wincing as if he regretted it—he spoke over the sound of the water rushing below. “Luddites. Anarchists. There was a message nailed to the door last week, and there have been others, letters. Mr. Montgomery was bringing in new methods, new machinery, which would increase the production of the mill while reducing the workforce needed to operate it.” Despite his lurching condition, the man paused to puff out his chest a bit and smooth his hair. “At my suggestion, of course. Mr. Montgomery relies upon me heavily for advice and direction in his business affairs.”

“What did the note say? Do you know who left it?” Daniel kept hold of the man’s elbow, but his detective’s curiosity took hold.

The man gripped the handrail and limped along the walkway. “I don’t know who wrote it, only that it promised retribution if we let workers go. It could have been anyone who works here or any of a dozen groups of rabble-rousers who are against progress.”

A hot coal of anger burned hard in Daniel’s gut. His initial hunch was confirmed. Violence to get attention. With no thought of the dam- age done to people and possessions. There would be no flour milled at this site for a long time, if ever again. Every man employed here was now without work. Every family who needed flour would have to find another source.

“Come. We’ll sort it out when we stand on firm ground.” Daniel handed the man up the steps to where Coatsworth waited and followed them both through the warehouse out into the street.

When they finally stood in the lane, Daniel asked, “Your name, sir?” He might prove a useful source of information as the investigation began.

“Mr. Earnshaw. Hubert Earnshaw. I am Mr. Montgomery’s accountant, both personal and business.” He didn’t seem to realize he had already told Daniel his occupation. “I had an appointment with Mr. Montgomery. The hallway from the milling floor was blocked by a cart that had overturned, and men were shoveling spilled flour. The air was thick with dust. I had to go around through the warehouse to enter from that direction. Mr. Coombe was there, carrying a toolbox . . . which is odd, because he doesn’t usually do manual labor. He’s the mill manager.”

“Mr. Earnshaw, where are the offices located? I need to find Montgomery.”

“The hallway to the left.” He pointed into the warehouse. “His office overlooks the race and wheel, though how he can stand the noise is beyond me. He says he likes the sight of the moving water.”

“Right. I’ll go back. Mr. Earnshaw, head that direction, and you’ll find people who can help you.” Daniel pointed up the lane toward where the Thorndike carriage sat at the far end. He caught sight of his cloak, still draped around Lady Juliette. She was bent over someone lying on the ground, and the red sash indicated the man next to her was Duke von Lowe.

Daniel shoved down the uncomfortable feeling in his chest at seeing them together and entered the warehouse once more.

Coatsworth, to his credit, followed Daniel back into the building, and this time they went deeper into the structure, entering the passage that must lead to the offices. At the far end of the stone hallway, shadows moved through the smoke and steam, pouring water on hot spots. Soot streaked the walls of the passageway. The machines and inner workings of the mill must have been destroyed, but perhaps the structure could be saved.

Montgomery would have a long task ahead of him to rebuild.

Two bodies lay in the hallway, strewn atop a pile of half-burned flour sacks that had spilled from a cart. This must be where they had been shoveling the flour Earnshaw mentioned. Daniel checked both men but found no sign of life. The blast must have sucked all the air out of the hallway and tossed them hard against the stone wall. He shook his head at the viscount and checked the office door opposite.

The top half of the door had once contained a glass window, but that opening now gaped. The rest of the door looked as if a sneeze would disintegrate it.

A blizzard of paper—some with charred edges—lay in drifts over every surface, and in the center of the room, sprawled like an abandoned rag doll, lay Mr. Montgomery.

Daniel rattled the door handle, surprised when the door remained firm. It was sturdier than he had thought. He reached through the broken glass to open it from the inside, but nothing happened. Feeling lower, he tried to locate the key, but only the keyhole met his fingertips. “Stand back,” he said to the viscount, who peered over Daniel’s shoulder before shouting “Garfield!” upon seeing Mr. Montgomery on the floor.

Daniel shoved him away, stepped back a pace, and raised his boot, kicking hard at the latch. Thankfully, the door splintered, rocketing open and thudding against the wall before listing on its hinges.

Coatsworth nearly ran Daniel over getting to Montgomery’s side. “Garfield.” He dropped to his knees and took the man’s hand, leaning over to press his ear to his chest.

“Is he alive?” Daniel squatted and touched Montgomery’s neck.

Nothing. He brushed aside some debris, and his hand stilled.

A perfectly round hole perforated Mr. Garfield Montgomery’s forehead.

He had not been pulped by the explosion. He had been shot.

***************

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Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling author and ACFW Carol Award winner and has been a Romantic Times top pick for her previous books. She loves Jesus, history, romance, and watching sports. This transplanted Kansan now makes her home in Rochester, Minnesota.

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One Response to “Book Spotlight — Millstone of Doubt”

  1. Cindy Davis October 3, 2022 at 1:11 pm #

    I have heard a lot of good things about this one 🙂

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