When Nat agrees to meet a friend in the archives of historic Barnard College after hours, she doesn't expect to find a hidden chamber or stumble across another dead body.
The Master's assistant has been murdered, and although Nat figures out who is responsible, finding the evidence is a challenge. Especially when the one ghost who witnessed the crime refuses to say what happened.
The closer Nat comes to finding the proof she needs, tempers flare and threats fly. The situation becomes a race against time, and just when she thinks she's won, Nat realises the murderer is willing to do whatever it takes to escape justice, including getting Nat out of the way.
Nat's miscalculation will cost someone their life, but whose?
If you like cozy mysteries where ghosts walk the halls, paintings come to life, wyverns play around, and magic seems within reach, the Oxford Key Mysteries are sure to delight.
Release date: July 18, 2020
Publisher: Marketing Chair Press
Print pages: 268
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Burglary at Barnard: A charmingly fun paranormal cozy mystery
I rush down the pavement, pausing only long enough to slide my badge through the keycard reader installed next to an ivy-covered, wrought-iron gate. It’s the second of January and Oxford’s streets are barren of any signs of life.
“It’s only eight o’clock at night, where is everyone?” I wonder as I let myself into the Barnard College grounds. Apparently, the city is still recovering from a long night of New Year celebrations. Two lone cars were the only sign of life I saw on my speed walk from my flat at St Margaret College, their headlights dazzling my vision for a few seconds each time.
When my fellow prefect Mathilde suggested we make a head start on our historical research into the origins of Oxford’s magic, I didn’t expect her to suggest we meet in the archives of the Barnard College library as soon as I got back from my holiday. Literally. After flying back from the ski resort, I caught a bus up from Heathrow, barely finding time to drop my luggage at my flat at St Margaret before dashing back into the centre.
As I stride across Barnard College’s commons, the thick stone walls of the 15th century buildings blocking all moonlight, I wish I had my wyvern along to keep me company. I realise how weird that sounds as soon as the thought crosses my mind.
Three months ago, I arrived at the University of Oxford as the new Head of Ceremonies. I was excited to take on my first task, organising the annual gala at St Margaret College. I didn’t expect to stumble over the dead body of St Margaret’s famed chef, nor did I expect I’d end up identifying her murderer. I definitely was not prepared for the college cat to turn into a wyvern and announce I had the magic of Oxford running through my veins. Those childhood stories my grandfather used to tell were true. Oxford is full of magic, and as a prefect, I can see all of it.
But the magic of Oxford isn’t working as it should, and it’s up to me, Mathilde and Kate, the third prefect, to find out why - which is why I’m stumbling around in the dark instead of unpacking my suitcase.
“Where is that doorway?” I mutter to myself. Barnard College claims to be one of the oldest in Oxford, and looking around at its buildings, I can see why. The grey-stoned walls and narrow windows are a far cry from St Margaret’s Edwardian facade.
I arranged a tour of the grounds before I left in December. Ms Evans, the college Master’s young assistant, acted as my tour guide. Tottering around in a pair of expensive Louboutin heels, she showed me the ageing chapel with its bare wooden benches and the famous stained-glass windows in the dining hall.
As we wandered through Barnard’s warren of walled courtyards and ivy-covered buildings, I could barely hide my disappointment in her attitude. Despite being several years younger than I am, she insisted I call her Ms Evans, acting more like the lady of the manor than the Master’s assistant. I had hoped to find another friend like Harry, but Ms Evans showed zero interest in anything other than her own social standing.
I halt under the yellow glare of a pathway light to consult my notes. “The Old Library… where is it? I know I wrote it down… Here it is. Ugh, the library is back in the main building.”
I spin around, retracing my steps until I find the sign for the Master’s Garden. The main building forms one side of its walls. I quicken my pace, composing excuses since I’m later than expected.
I need not have bothered. Mathilde scoops me into a quick squeeze as soon as I come into the main building.
“Happy New Year, Nat, and welcome back to Oxford,” she says.
“Happy New Year to you, as well, Mathilde. Did you have a pleasant holiday?” I ask. We exchange Christmas and Boxing Day stories as we climb the old wooden staircase to the next floor.
The main building is one of the oldest at Barnard, its front entrance guarded by massive wooden doors. At an imposing four meters tall, every centimetre of them is carved with scrollwork. I wonder when they were last opened. One of the doors features a lower panel that opens during the day to provide entrance for guests and visitors. At night they bolt it shut, which is why I came in through the garden gate instead.
The old library lays claim to most of the first floor, housing the college archives of historical manuscripts and ageing texts. You won’t find any popular fiction novels gracing its shelves. Those are stored in the new library, a soaring glass building located outside of the old college grounds.
Mathilde strides down the hall, her steps confident. She waves us to a halt at a set of wooden doors, the top panels fitted with lead-lined glass. I can barely make out the shapes of the front desk through the light coming in through the library’s outer windows. Mathilde slides her keycard through the reader, giving a small sigh of relief when the display light changes from red to green. With a sharp tug, we’re inside.
“Hold on, let me find the lights…” Mathilde disappears behind the front desk. At the click of a switch, lights flicker to life, illuminating the towering stacks in pools of yellow glow. The only sign of human presence is a lone book lying haphazardly on the floor at the end of a row of shelves.
I glance at Mathilde, suddenly less certain of our plan to search through the Barnard archives after hours. “Are you sure it’s okay for us to be here?”
Mathilde quirks an eyebrow, “I’m a librarian and you’re on staff. We’re hardly students sneaking in for illicit activities.” She doesn’t wait for any further comment, striding towards a bank of computers. “I’ll fire up the online catalogue. Can you find us a comfortable alcove to set ourselves up?”
Nodding, I step into the aisle and pass the first row of shelves. They’re over three meters tall. I have to crane my neck to see the top of them. Fortunately, there is a narrow ladder attached to the top of each bookcase, with wheels allowing it to glide to wherever it is needed.
The only sound I can hear is my breathing, occasionally interrupted by the click of Mathilde’s fingers on the keyboard. I hate to admit it, but the place feels creepy. I give my head a firm shake, putting a stop to any further thoughts in that direction. I’m sharing a flat with a wyvern and I regularly chat with ghosts. How can an empty old room possibly scare me?
I look over my shoulder, calling out to Mathilde, “I see some sofas at the far end of the room. Unless you want to camp out at one of the tables, I think they’re our best bet.” She nods her agreement, still engrossed in her search through the online catalogue.
I step past the first row of shelves, a quick glance confirming their only occupants are leather-bound books. The spines face outwards, their titles barely legible.
Strangely, the one thing I don’t see is any hint of an Eternal. You’d think in a building as historic as this one, at least a few ghosts would be walking along the hallways. Who knows? Maybe they take the holidays off.
I march onward, closer to the abandoned textbook lying on the ground. It’s weird that it’s lying there in the middle of the floor. Leaning over, I scoop it up, thinking to return it to its rightful home, but the leather spine, much abused by its fall, flakes off into my hand. Mathilde isn’t going to be happy about this.
As I turn right into the nearest aisle, I spot a mountain of books on the floor. They lie in a tumble, pages open and spines cracked. A shelf lies bare, its empty space no doubt their rightful home.
“What the???” My eyes scan over the pile, trying to make sense of the scene: ivory pages, leather spines, a few scroll cases added to the mix. And at the very bottom is a pair of Louboutin heels, their cherry red soles a pop of colour against the dull background.
“EEEEeeeppppp!” The squeal slips out of my mouth when I realise the heels are attached to a deathly still pair of legs. Mathilde comes rushing over, passing by me as I stand frozen in place, and going straight into the aisle to unearth the person buried underneath.
“Quick, call an ambulance!” she implores, tossing the rare texts aside as though they were discards in a discount bin. I drop the book to the floor when a familiar face and body emerges, completely still and devoid of any signs of life.
This snaps me out of my numb state. I reach over and grab Mathilde’s shoulder before she can do any further damage to the crime scene.
“I think it’s too late for that, Mathilde.”
She follows my finger past the still form to see a bloody brass candlestick rolled up against the base of the bookshelf.
Mathilde gasps as the implications set it. “Oh god, Nat, another murder!”
“That’s not our only problem,” I say, shaking my head. “I’d recognise that candlestick anywhere. I spent weeks looking at its matching partner at one end of High Table and wondering where this one had gone. Unless I’m mistaken, this candlestick is the one that went missing from St Margaret.”
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