What the Walls Know by Skye Alexander

About the Book

In October 1925, four New York City jazz musicians known as The Troubadours travel to the neo-Gothic Halcyon Castle near Gloucester, MA, home of occultist Duncan Fox, to perform a week-long series of entertainments. Halloween is Fox's fiftieth birthday and he's invited twelve family members and friends--including an astrologer, a tarot card reader, and a wizard--to celebrate with him.

The activities at Halcyon Castle, however, prove to be anything but what its name suggests. On the first night a Ouija board predicts the death of Fox's longtime friend Natalie Talbot from a heroin overdose. Her husband insists she never used drugs and suspects foul play.

Lizzie Crane, The Troubadours' beautiful and talented chanteuse, begins snooping into the unexplained death after local police place her and her colleagues under house arrest. She learns the deceased was a medium, who swindled many grieving people by pretending to communicate with their departed loved ones on the Other Side. Natalie Talbot also made enemies among some of the guests gathered at the castle. Soon the list of suspects grows to include the medium's lover, her cuckolded husband, and several others with vendettas to settle.

Natalie's death isn't the only mystery at Halcyon. The castle also has eerie voices emanating from its walls, a resident ghost, peculiar blinking lights, and secret passageways. As Lizzie pursues her quest into the strange goings-on, she discovers a plot to reap vengeance--and risks her own life in the process.

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October 1925, Gloucester, Massachusetts 

“Are you sure Dracula doesn’t live here?” Melody asked as they approached Halcyon Castle. The pretty blond musician peered nervously out the window of Sidney’s Buick, like a child watching a horror movie through her fingers.

“Don’t be a silly goose,” Lizzie chided her nineteen-year-old friend. “That’s just stuff and nonsense, designed to keep you awake all night. Bram Stoker has made a bundle scaring girls like you with his wicked tales.”

But she had to admit the Gothic Revival castle, perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the ocean, exuded doom and gloom. The estate sat on an isolated promontory that jutted into the north Atlantic, with only a single, winding driveway leading in and out. Two ferocious-looking metal dragons guarded the entry gate. The chilly drizzle and drifting fog made the place seem even more eerie. Lizzie stared up at the castle’s turrets with their slit-like windows, while thoughts of Anne Boleyn and other imprisoned ladies rose in her mind.

“I think it’s exciting,” said Bert, the young horn player who’d joined their group only a month ago, after the death of their previous saxophonist.

Melody hugged her arms across her chest and scrunched down in the backseat. “I think it’s creepy.”

“Well I think it’s quite dramatic and theatrical, don’t you, Sidney?” Lizzie asked her longtime friend, who sat beside her gripping the steering wheel as he assessed the situation.

“It’s a job, and a high-paying one at that,” he said flatly.

The dragon-guarded gate swung open to admit them. No sooner had they crossed through than it shut behind them with a loud clang. How could the gate operate on its own like that? Lizzie wondered. Despite her appreciation of drama, she felt apprehension rise in her chest. As Sidney shifted his prized 1925 Buick convertible into second gear, she realized they were cut off now from the mainland, trapped on the peninsula.

Beneath them, waves broke on the rocky neck. Sidney drove another fifty yards until he came to a moat of foaming seawater, spanned by a narrow wooden bridge. Fog slithered around them, veiling the way. Cautiously, he inched across the wet planks, into the castle’s granite-paved parking area where gas lamps struggled to cut through the thick evening mist.

Waving her hand dismissively, Lizzie said with more confidence than she felt, “Anyway, Stoker wrote all that Dracula stuff more than twenty-five years ago and no one’s produced a vampire yet. There’s nothing to worry about, Mel.”

Leaving the motorcar’s engine running, Sidney grabbed his umbrella and stepped out into the drizzle. “Wait here while I find out what’s what.”

“I’m coming with you,” Lizzie said. She pulled her cloche hat tight over her bobbed hair and turned up the collar of her rubber slicker.

They picked their way carefully across the slippery paving stones to a portico lit by a dim yellow lamp. Sidney grabbed a doorknocker shaped like a gargoyle and banged on an oak door studded with hand-cut iron nails. After waiting a minute or so, he knocked again. This time a panel the size of a sheet of writing paper slid open behind a metal grate, and someone eyed them from within.

“Good evening. I’m Sidney Somerset and this is Elizabeth Crane. We’re with The Troubadours from New York City.”

When the person behind the grate didn’t respond, he said, “We’re entertainers. Mr. Duncan Fox invited us here to perform for his guests this week.”

The panel slammed shut.

They waited a bit longer, then Sidney hammered on the door again.

“Do you think we’re in the wrong place?” Lizzie asked.

“There couldn’t possibly be two places like this in Gloucester, Massachusetts. But it is rather odd. I telephoned Mr. Fox yesterday to let him know when to expect us.”

“Well, no sense standing out here in the damp.” She brushed at the wet sleeves of her raincoat and turned to go back to the auto.

Just then the door creaked open on its iron hinges. A man with frazzled gray hair, a cardigan sweater buttoned haphazardly over his ample belly, stood staring out at them with intense dark eyes. A crimson scarf circled his neck and wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose. As he stepped back to let them enter, a broad smile lit up his face.

Entrez-vous,” he said heartily and held out his hand. “I’m Duncan Fox, your delighted host. So good of you to come. You must forgive my sister’s manners. Frances is the skeptical sort. Doesn’t trust anyone, not even me.”

About the Author

Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have appeared in anthologies internationally, and her work has been translated in more than a dozen languages. In 2003, she cofounded Level Best Books with fellow crime writers Kate Flora and Susan Oleksiw. The first novel in Skye’s Lizzie Crane mystery series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, set in 1925, was published in 2021; the second, What the Walls Know, was released in November 2022; the third, The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors, is scheduled for 2023.

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