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Friday, June 24, 2022

A Portrait of Death (The Versipellis Mysteries Book 1) by Rhen Garland + giveaway

Review coming in a few days. The reviewer loves this story!

A Portrait of Death (The Versipellis Mysteries Book 1)
by Rhen Garland
July 12, 2021
Genre: Historical Supernatural Mystery
A Victorian house party, a supernatural mystery, and two very special investigators.


Immortal detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne have spent centuries searching through time for the reincarnations of their murdered wives. As their quest continues, they use their many lifetimes of knowledge to solve Gothic mysteries that can be unsettling, and sometimes terrifying.

Never before have they been faced with a case like this.

The great and the good are gathered for the social event of the season, but the evening comes to a horrifying halt when the mutilated remains of two men are discovered artistically displayed in the portrait gallery. As Caine and Thorne begin their investigations, they uncover more than the usual murderous web of intrigue, espionage, and treason.

An ancient evil is stalking ever closer, intent on finding that which they seek.

Where does the mysterious agent Versipellis fit into the case? And who is the shadowy figure watching Caine and Thorne with such interest?

Find out who, when, why, what, and how in this very Victorian murder mystery; the first instalment in a new Gaslamp fantasy series that drips with elements of Gothic mystery, historical urban fantasy, and rather a lot of blood as we follow the exploits of immortal Victorian detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne in the latter stages of the Victorian world.

"As soon as you start reading, it gets you hooked, and you just can't put it down."

"Wonderful twists and turns in the story line kept me wanting to read what happened next."

"A great debut novel from an author with an amazing imagination." - Katylou 1966

Book One: A Portrait of Death ~ Excerpts
New York
Tuesday 10th September, 1889
The horse drawn hansom cab slowly made its way along the city crescent, the cab’s curtained windows the passenger’s only protection from the worst of the New York weather.

The fog’s oily thickness dulling all sound of the vehicle’s traces as its icy fingers plucked at the exposed neck of the shivering cabby.

There was a sharp thump from inside the cab as the fare indicated their desire to stop. The cab slowed to a halt and a dark figure wrapped in an Ulster, and carrying a Gladstone bag alighted and paid the driver. As the cabby touched his hat and left, their fare paused to look up at the small, well-lit

airship passing overhead, the fog muffling the amplified message about the efficacious properties of Wolverstone’s Miracle Liver Pills. The figure pulled their black felt hat down over their eyes and turned their attention to one house in particular before quietly making their way down the narrow alley that ran to the back of the building; there were many things they had to arrange for the evening ahead, it simply wouldn’t do to have the lady of the house know they were there just yet!


Without effort, they lifted their victim and went through the door, closing and barring it behind them. Beyond the door lay a tiny courtyard, leading to three small rooms and the stairs to the second floor.

They would miss this place. It had served them well for many years, but now it was time to bring their carefully crafted plans to fruition. Entering the left-hand room, the figure paused in front of a large, ornate iron-bound chest,

covered with carvings of Ouroboros; snakes eating their own tails…the symbol of eternity. Lifting the lid with one powerful arm, the figure carefully placed the corpse into the lead-lined cavity. Taking a deep breath, the killer caressed

the dead face: stroking the curve of the jaw, the shape of the nose and ears, smoothing the hair…

Then the killer rose and began to smooth their own face in the same manner. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, their face was replaced by that of their victim.

The killer groaned as their body adjusted to the height and weight of the corpse in the chest, their spine cracking and shortening as they changed to resemble the object of their many months of study.

The transformation complete, the figure stood in the centre of the little room. Their clothes, now far too big for their new form, slipped to the floor as they looked in the polished brass mirror to judge their final appearance. An exact replica of the shell in the chest looked back. The physical change was always swift, but the memories of their victim would take a little longer to appear in their mind.

They were now perfectly placed for their plans to succeed!

Very little could stop them now—except, perhaps, him!


Lord and Lady Scott-Brewer sat in the library, partaking of one of their favourite pastimes; namely the character assassination of anyone they perceived as their social inferior. On this occasion it was of course Lady

Ellerbeck who bore the brunt of the onslaught, although “that jumped-up opium-pusher Draycott” came a pretty close second.

Lady Scott-Brewer was bemoaning the loss of three pounds and ten shillings to “that wretched American gel”, regardless of the fact that Lady Ellerbeck had actually been born in Surrey. While she complained, her husband fiddled

with his amethyst cufflinks and looked at the door that led to the Great Hall, trying to work out where the entrance to the servants’ quarters might be.

Lady Scott-Brewer, through some sixth sense brought on by many years of dealing with her husband’s little peccadilloes, snapped sharply, “None of your nonsense tonight, Barty!”

Lord Scott-Brewer visibly jumped. “My dear Rowan, I don’t know what—”

“Don’t lie to me, Barty, I know you!”

Her husband, catching the hard gleam in her eye, turned his gaze on the floor. “I’m sorry, my dear, I – I can’t explain why—”

“I know why,” Lady Scott-Brewer snapped bitterly. “The familial habits of a lifetime!”

She stood up and her corsetry creaked alarmingly as she towered over her thin little husband. He jumped to his feet, looking at her with something approaching terror. “My dear, are you all right?”

Lady Rowan sniffed with displeasure. “I am retiring to our suite.”

Lord Scott-Brewer looked flustered. “But my dear, the supper! It would be unpardonable to retire now!”

Lady Scott-Brewer glared at her husband of nearly thirty years with a look which combined dislike, distaste, and disgust. Many people in their inner circle would have dismissed it as her usual expression when observing her

husband. “I find the offerings of this weekend both dull and unappealing! Why Lady Marmis invited us to endure hideous modern caterwauling is beyond me. Opera at a weekend house party!” Her strident voice made her husband

cringe but she ignored him. Indeed, she continued robustly in the same vein. “I will not tolerate the alleged musicality of that person Sibelius, nor the pagan mewling of that modern creature, Giselle! Kindly inform anyone who asks that I am retiring for the evening.”

With this complete denunciation of the weekend’s entertainment, Lady Scott-Brewer swept to the door. As she reached the threshold, she turned and again addressed her husband. “And you know how I feel about alcohol, Barty. Not one drop!” With this final thrust, Lady Scott-Brewer and her formidable bust glided from the room.

As her husband sat alone at the green baize table, he was reminded that he and his wife were not been the only people in the library. Two tables of guests had eavesdropped from a distance, and had decided almost as one that it would be seemly to retire to the saloon to await the supper gong.

As the eight lords, ladies, clerical personages, and assorted others rose from their seats and made their way out of the library, they did not look at Lord Scott-Brewer. It would not have done to acknowledge his presence after

observing such a public set-to with his wife.

As the day guests disappeared, Lord Scott-Brewer sat in thought, staring at his short, stubby fingers. After a few moments had passed and all sound of his fellow-guests had faded, he lifted his head. Anyone who knew him would have been shocked at the change. The timid, henpecked little husband had disappeared, replaced by a sly, cunning man.

He got to his feet and walked towards the bar. With a mutinous expression, he picked up a tumbler and poured a generous double from a cut-glass crystal decanter. Replacing the stopper, he lifted the lid of the ice bucket and used the sharp ice pick to tap off some slivers of ice for his drink. He swallowed a large mouthful of whisky, and as he looked down at the large silver tray with its matching ice bucket and glittering ice pick, a thought slithered snakelike into his mind. Putting down his drink, a smile twisted his face as he lifted the ornate, vicious implement and turned it in his hands to catch the light.


About the Author
Rhen Garland is the author of the The Versipellis mysteries - a series of Gaslamp Fantasies set in the late Victorian, early Edwardian era that follow the adventures of immortal detectives Elliott Caine and Abernathy Thorne as they search through time for the reincarnations of their murdered wives...and solve a few murders along the way.

I live in Somerset, England, with my book illustrating, folk-singing husband, approximately 5000 books, an equal number of ancient movies, and a large collection of passive-aggressive Tomtes. My achievements are more from the school of life, rather than that of College or University. My early years choice of reading material was rather suspect for my age. The first Agatha Christie I ever read was "By the Pricking of my Thumbs" when I was nine years old; a child of that age reading and enjoying a murder mystery about a child killer explains a great deal about the type of novel I write today.

When I was diagnosed with CFS at the age of thirty, I realised that I could either go mad staring at four walls all day, or I could try to apply what little parts of my brain still worked and have a bash at writing a murder mystery set in the 1920's...things didn't quite turn out the way I'd planned!

I thought when I finally started writing that my books would be genteel "cosy" type murder mysteries set in the Golden Era (I love the 1920's and 30's for the style, music, and automobiles), with someone being politely bumped off at the Vicar's tea party and the corpse then apologising for disrupting proceedings. Instead, the late Victorian era came thundering over the horizon armed with some fantastical and macabre plotlines and a complete refusal to accept the word "no"; it planted itself in my stories, my characters, and my life, and would not budge.

I watch far too many old school murder mystery films, TV series, and 1980s action movies for it to be considered healthy. No one will play movie quizzes with me anymore...further evidence of a misspent youth!

I love the countryside, Prosecco, tea, the cocktail hour (the pinnacle of the civilised world!), and the works of Dame Ngaio Marsh, Dame Gladys Mitchell, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Dame Agatha Christie, Sir Terry Pratchett, Simon R Green, and David and Leigh Eddings.

My books are Victorian in era, messy in their murders, creepy in their otherness, and will make you double check the windows are all locked before you go to bed. What's not to like about mysteries with a touch of Grand Guignol?

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1 comment:

  1. I'm really looking forward to giving these all a read! Thanks so much for sharing this.