The bequest

Joanna Margaret

Book - 2022

After her professor's suspicious death, a PhD student uncovers dark machinations among her academic associates in this "richly atmospheric and irresistibly readable" (Joyce Carol Oates) Gothic mystery set between Scotland, Italy, and France.

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FICTION/Margaret Joanna
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Detective and mystery fiction
Thrillers (Fiction)
New York, N.Y. : Scarlet Press, an imprint of Penzler Publishers 2022.
Main Author
Joanna Margaret (author)
First Scarlet Press edition
Physical Description
viii, 398 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

PhD candidate Isabel Henley, the narrator of Margaret's impressive if flawed debut, follows her older college chum, Rose Brewster, to Scotland's St. Stephens University, where she learns that the rock-star feminist scholar who was to be her thesis adviser has just died in a hiking accident. Flash forward a few months. Only the occasional outing with Rose or fantasizing about a broodingly handsome young lecturer relieves the lonely Isabel's immersion in the lives of 16th-century monarch Catherine de' Medici and her female court. Rose's subsequent disappearance puts Isabel on the trail of a priceless emerald legend claims was brought from Brazil to Italy by the subject of Rose's dissertation, Catherine's courtier Federico Falcone. As Isabel embarks on a high-stakes intellectual treasure hunt that will take her from the Falcone family's Genoese palazzo to archives in Florence and Paris, the author not only maintains suspense but makes the historical figures come vibrantly alive through their correspondence. Indeed, the contemporary characters pale by comparison, and a couple of key figures swing wildly between winningly seductive and sociopathic, particularly as dictated by the hairpin turns of the far-fetched denouement. Despite such speed bumps, however, readers will eagerly await Margaret's next. Agent: Jody Kahn, Brandt & Hochman. (Oct.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Trying to save an endangered friend, a young American historian rushes around Europe trying to uncover a link between the court of Catherine de' Medici and a priceless emerald from the New World. Isabel Henley leaps at the chance to continue her historical studies by joining the graduate program at St. Stephens in Scotland, far away from her estranged family and her married professor/lover in Boston. She's also eager to study with Madeleine Grangier, "French feminist extraordinaire," and reconnect with Rose Brewster, the "beautiful wunderkind" who set the bar for Isabel in college in both scholarship and social success. But when she arrives, she learns that Madeleine has just died in a fall, and while it's been written off as an accident, there are some who find her death suspicious. Isabel throws herself into the challenges of research--her topic is the women of Catherine de' Medici's court--and breaking into the department's social hierarchy. Rose welcomes her with open arms, and she finds herself drawn romantically to another professor. Then Rose goes missing, and a suicide note is discovered. Weeks later, Isabel finds a hidden recording from Rose that reports she is being held against her will and urges Isabel to take over her research into a little-known Renaissance-era Italian family that may have been the owners of a priceless emerald, current whereabouts unknown. This research takes Isabel to Genoa, Florence, and Paris, always with the sense that Rose's captors are breathing down her neck as she works desperately to uncover the mystery of the Falcone family and the emerald, unsure of whom to trust. There's an academic bent to the mystery; this one will appeal to lovers of Dan Brown and Elizabeth Kostova and other mysteries of old documents and historical figures. For lovers of history mysteries: a less robust Da Vinci Code, less complex The Swan Thieves. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

She shut her eyes and took a few steps closer to the edge. She didn't need to run away. Not yet. Cold, loud wind rushed into her ears. A branch snapped, and she felt a presence. Smelling a hint of familiar perfume, she opened her eyes and swiveled around. "You startled me," she said, leaning forward, surveying the khaki-colored shrubs, the band of blue-black sea in the distance. Other than a few haggard trees, they were completely alone. "I've been curious about this view." She dropped her arms by her sides, and made an effort to lighten the tone of her voice. "Do you like it?" "Gorgeous. But didn't you see the forecast? They're expecting a storm. You should be careful. Everything can change out here. Very, very quickly." She looked up at the clouds. They were heavy, full. "I thought a couple of hours in fresh air, disconnected, might clear my mind. And I'm waiting for someone. Should arrive any minute." A single laugh. "It's windy today! You're too close to the edge. Let's go somewhere warm where we can talk." She stood still. "Did you think over what we discussed?" "Yes." "Well?" "I can't. I can't do it. I'm sorry." Crisp air swished through her hair, slapping it across her face. "It's okay. I understand. Did you tell anyone about what you saw?" She stepped back. "No one will hurt you, I promise. But I need to know." "Of course I didn't." A dense fog hovered over them. Soon she wouldn't be able to see the horizon. She twisted her hair into a bun, and glanced behind her. "You'll get along with my new student. She's very accomplished. Brilliant. She can help. With--anything." Her scalp itched with chilled sweat. She loosened her wool scarf, and a current of fear coursed over the bare skin on her neck. She understood. It was too late. She lifted her hand to her cheek to still her trembling jaw. The voice was gentle, consoling. "I only want to talk. There's no need to be afraid. I care about you, and will respect you, no matter what." She stepped closer. "And you know how I feel." A wordless struggle, a strong shove. "Je t'en pris," she said, on her hands and knees now. "Please. I'm sorry." With the second shove, a scrambling of gravel off the ledge, a choked cry melting into waves of wind as her body tumbles down, down, all the way to the rocks. And then silence. Only some air whooshing through the thin branches of sparse trees, and a crunching of footsteps, slow and unburdened. Excerpted from The Bequest by Joanna Margaret All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.