Author: Thomas Shawver
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Thomas Shawver, author of The Dirty Book Murder and Left Turn at Paradise, returns to the surprisingly lethal world of rare books with a third enthralling novel featuring a most unlikely hero -- antiquarian bookseller Michael Bevan.
A furious man from nearby Independence, Kansas demands that Michael Bevan return a rare first edition of the Book of Mormon, claiming that it was mistakenly sold by a disgruntled descendant of A.J. Stout. Contained on the frontispiece are a list of Ford names dating from 1845 to the present. Beside each name, save the last two, is a check mark - but what could the checks signify? With this discovery, Michael Bevan stumbles onto a trail of hatred and murder stretching back to 1844.
Thomas Shawver is a former marine officer, lawyer, and journalist with American City Business Journals. An avid rugby player and international traveler, Shawver owned Bloomsday Books, an antiquarian bookstore in Kansas Cit
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Books a Million: Books a Million
Rolls of flab stuck out between the corpse’s deerskin shirt and breeches. The long scarlet wig had slipped off the bald pate; a cheap replica of a torque hung just under the double chin. On a nearby chair, someone had set a pair of leather dancing pumps and a plastic shield. A long spear, its rubber tip bent at a forty-five-degree angle, leaned against the makeshift stage.
Neither I nor anyone in the small crowd of mostly mothers and their preteen daughters responded to the question. They were still recovering from the shock of witnessing a fifty-year-old man, who, half an hour earlier, had—with left leg extended horizontally before him, right foot tucked neatly under his bum, and back straight as the letter L—elevated twenty inches above the deck before crashing to earth in a lifeless heap.
The kids had thought it was part of the act and laughed. Now they whimpered in the arms of their horrified parents. Each of the girls but one was dressed in a sequined dance costume costing upward of a thousand dollars. The outfits had nothing Irish about them except for elaborately embroidered Celtic designs.
The fashion exception was an adolescent girl. She wore soft-toed shoes like the other dancers, but the plaid skirt and light blue blouse were her Catholic school uniform. Perfectly straight hair, pale as an August moon, hung below her shoulders. Colorless, too, was her skin, so much so that I might have mistaken her for an albino had it not been for the orange-brown eyes that gazed straight ahead as if in a trance. She clutched a small comb in her right hand.
“This is no time for shyness,” urged the investigator, whose name was Buford Higgins. “Who’s the unfortunate fella?”
Natalie Phelan, she of the fiery gait and flashing temper who ran the Kansas City Celtic Heritage Center, piped up with equal bits sorrow and wonder as if the body belonged to the Savior himself. “That’s Liam O’Halloran, Mr. Higgins. How could you not know?”
“Eh? Not the O’Halloran of Bog Swirl fame?”
“The very same. A few years past his prime, of course.”
“More like an eternity.”
Pushing aside the EMTs who had rolled a stretcher next to the stage, Higgins knelt beside the corpse to better study the face.
When he spoke again his voice was reverent.
“So it is, Mrs. Phelan. Sure, and he’s a long way from Carnegie Hall.”
During O’Halloran’s salad days he and the supporting cast of Bog Swirl had indeed performed the Cattle Raid of Cooley in that prestigious New York City venue. The Raid was O’Halloran’s signature epic, played hundreds of times before thousands of enraptured fans wherever in the world the Irish Diaspora planted its tricolor flag. Millions more became acquainted through his performances on Public Television so that almost overnight three quarters of the English-speaking world claimed to have a touch of the green in their genes.
O’Halloran, whose real name was Augustus “Augie” Tatem of Ottumwa, Iowa, rode the wave for nearly a decade, culminating in command performances for the Taoiseach in Dublin and the Prince of Wales at Royal Albert Hall. Tens of thousands of people who wouldn’t be caught dead attending a ballet had been thrilled to watch the long-haired dancer, shillelagh in one hand and pagan maiden in the other, kick, leap, and prance across an enormous stage to the sounds of thundering drums and trilling pipes.
But it couldn’t last. The end of Bog Swirl came when O’Halloran broke his leg doing one too many signature backflips at a national Knights of Columbus convention in Allentown, Pennsylvania. After the last of the pipers was lured away by the siren call of a Carnival Cruise gig, O’Halloran fell to drink and dissipation.
It was Natalie’s plan to bring him out of retirement in Omaha to reminisce for a few minutes about the good old days then take a seat to watch the youngsters from the Doolan Academy perform.
Liam O’Halloran’s name still carried sufficient star power to entice women of a certain age who remembered his vulpine looks and the scandalous way he winked at the audience before leaping to save sacrificial Druid virgins. And, despite their initial shock at seeing what the years and drink had done, most felt his mere presence justified the fifteen-dollar entrance fee.
Clothed in his Hound of Ulster costume, he’d talked for over an hour in a soft lilt that none of the actual immigrant Irish in the audience could quite place—Dan Regan, the Kerryman, thought it was from Connaught; the Dubliner Bannon guessed Mayo; and Mrs. Hurley, always the cynic, suggested somewhere south of Pittsburgh—but his stirring rendition of The Hunt of Sliabh Truim proved that, no matter his origins, O’Halloran was a great Gael.
Many hundreds were in pursuit of the deer
Around us on the southern hill,
The battalions were on the watch for them--
Fierce was the onset!
The only boy in the Doolan Dance Academy stood off to the side of the stage. A ginger-haired kid, he was dressed in a canary yellow suit that made him look like a cross between Elton John and a doorman at the Hilton.
“It was Claire’s fault,” he said to Higgins, pointing a finger that nearly brushed the girl’s cheek.
“Here now, Rory,” his mother scolded. “There will be none of that.”
“But it started with her, like it did with Gramma.”
True or not, something strange certainly had occurred at the Center. Beautiful in one sense, horrific in hindsight. O’Halloran had finished his talk and started to climb off the low stage to polite applause when suddenly the pale girl began to sing, locking her eyes with his in a mystical embrace.
Her velvety voice was shimmering and clear and she sang in a language that might have been Gaelic, but possibly something else; something that came before that ancient tongue. Neither child nor adult moved as the mesmerizing notes wove sinuously through the room.
Then, in mid-voice, she abruptly stopped, returned to her chair, and slowly ran the comb through her hair as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.