A mashup of romance, mystery and adventure, the tenth book ties up previous threads, answers questions, and sets the scene for the Clearwater future. The series is best read in order, starting with ‘Deviant Desire.’ The non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ should be read before books nine and te
Clearwater will lose his entire fortune unless he cracks a musical code.
If Archer’s insane brother dies, their distant cousin, the evil Count Movileşti, will inherit everything, and with the influenza pandemic threatening the brother’s asylum, the outlook is grave. The only thing that can ensure Archer’s future is a legal document left behind by his grandfather, but the clue to its location is hidden within two pieces of music. Archer has one; the other is in Movileşti’s collection at Castle Rasnov.
Archer dispatches two of his team to the Transylvanian castle, and two to the Clearwater Archives in London, leaving the rest to search every inch of his country house. The men face their pasts and decide their futures as loyalties are tested, and death stalks the corridors of Larkspur Hall. With Movileşti on his way to claim the inheritance, everyone has a vital part to play and everything to lose as they race against time.
Set during the 1890 Russian influenza pandemic, The Clearwater Inheritance is a mystery thriller that takes us from Cornwall to Transylvania, and from the cellars of Larkspur Hall to the Orient Express.
Lord Clearwater is Archer to his friends and the 19th Viscount Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur to everyone else. He was the second son of the 18th viscount, Mathias Riddington and Lady Emily Hapsburg-Bran. He was educated at Millfield School prep school from 1868 to 1872 when he was sent to Dartmouth to begin his naval education and training.
In 1877, he became a lieutenant on The Britannia, where he served under his brother, Crispin, during conflicts on the Black Sea. Archer was honourably discharged from the navy in 1886 following a near-fatal injury inflicted by his own brother.
When Crispin was declared incurably insane, the 18th viscount reluctantly gave into Lady Emily’s wishes and arranged for Archer to succeed the title on his death. Mathias, Lord Clearwater died suddenly from heart failure in 1888, and the title passed to Archer. The inheritance, however, did not.
This interview with Archer took place before January 1890 and the events depicted in ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’
You have unusual Christian names. Can you explain them, and do you have any nicknames?
I suppose my forenames might be considered unusual, but they are perfectly explainable. My father, you see, was a devotee of the Hundred Years War and the Battle of Agincourt in particular. It was something to do with his sense of hating everything and everyone that was not British. My elder brother was named Crispin because Agincourt was fought on St Crispin’s day, and I was Christened Archer because it was the archers, they say, who won the battle for the British. Camoys, my second name, comes from Baron Thomas Camoys, who led the left flank of the soldiers on that day. I am lucky I was not named after the commander of the archers; otherwise I would have Erpingham as my second name. Why he could not have just called me Thomas and had done… But there we are. My father never liked me.
As for pet names, my elder brother had various unsavoury words for me, which I shall not repeat here. My mother and some of my close friends call me Archie, which I quite like. My Horse Master, Mr Kolisnychenko, calls me ‘Geroy.’ Apparently, in his village in Ukraine, that was the word they used for someone noble. The Geroys, in his mythology, were fierce warriors and very noble men. Mr Kolisnychenko has such names for everyone, including my friend Tom whom he calls ‘Bolshoidick.’ Bolshoi, of course, means ‘big’, so I rather got off lightly.
Where and when were you born?
I was born on the 26th of March 1859 in Clearwater House, Riverside, in London. What is now the London Borough of Riverside (south and north) was originally family land, my family being Riddington. We… I still own much property and land within what is now the borough and I keep my London house there. *
My mother kept a copy of The Illustrated London News from the day of my birth. You would rather think she had more pressing matters that day, but she was something of a collector. It was a Saturday, and the news was about the threat of war in Europe. Not much has changed.
*The area is now what we know as Knightsbridge, Belgravia, South Kensington and Chelsea. Ed.
How would you describe your childhood?
My first recollection is of being put in a tub of cold water by a large lady in black. This, I later discovered, was our nanny, and it was she who brought me up until the age of eight. My father was often away, managing to be at Larkspur when the family was in London, and in London when mother took me to Larkspur. At the edge of eight, I was sent to a preparatory school in Kent and only saw my parents on rare occasions. I saw my brother, Crispin, more often, and there were some happy times between us. That changed as he grew older until, when I was twenty seven, he was incarcerated because he was, by then, a lunatic. I suppose his tendencies had manifested themselves in our childhood, but had gone unnoticed. Because he was also my father’s favourite, they went unpunished. Where I was often birched for things Crispin had done, Crispin was allowed to get away with murder. He very nearly murdered me when he attacked me during a land skirmish when we were both fighting for the Odessians by the Black sea.
My point there is, my upbringing was traditional; boarding school, elocution lessons, Latin, the classics, a little music, but only because my grandfather encouraged it, and the usual rounds of what the Honourable Master Archer was supposed to do. However, Crispin was the eldest and the heir, while I was just the spare and never meant to take the title. Whereas Crispin’s education leant towards country pursuits, estate management, and so on, I am very pleased to say mine was more towards academia and the arts. My father, of course, put a stop to that with the military academy, and I attended Dartmouth and Greenwich naval training college from the age of thirteen to seventeen, when I received my first commission.
Life as the second son of a man with a title is not as pleasant as you might think. When my mother arrived to collect me for my first year at prep school, I didn’t know who she was.
Any particular childhood memories that stand out?
Apart from constant bullying by my deranged brother, whippings from my father, fierce nannies and cold dormitories, you mean?
Yes, actually, and it was something that happened when I was about thirteen and preparing to be shipped off to the military academy. I was at Larkspur, it was summer, and involved my, then, one and only friend, Tom Payne, who was then a hall boy. When my father was absent, my mother encouraged me to go below stairs. This was for two reasons. I firmly believe she wanted me to understand the servants’ lives so I would appreciate how lucky I was. I also think she knew I was a lonely child who craved to be loved, but she was unable to provide that love. As a result, I was able to spend much time with Tom, and we got ourselves into all manner of scrapes, much to the annoyance of Mr Tripp, my father’s butler, and to the amusement of the housekeeper, Mrs Baker.
One summer afternoon, there was some function or other taking place in the Hall and Tom and I escaped the clutches of Nanny and Tripp and set off on an adventure on the moors. (Larkspur Hall is on Bodmin Moor.) I can’t remember how it came about, but we ended up near what we called the Frog Pond, rolling down a hill and ending up on top of each other, me pressing down on him. I shan’t say more for fear of embarrassing Tom, who is now the Larkspur Steward, but I will drop a clue and say that was my first kiss. The joy and consequent confusion of that afternoon are offset by the horror and fear of an incident that had happened a few years earlier. Again, I had extracted Tom from below stairs (we were nine and eleven then) and persuaded him to slide down the marble bannisters on the grand staircase. It’s a horseshoe, you see, so we had one bannister each and would race from top to bottom. On this day, Mr Tripp caught us, and Tom fell. He could have died, but luckily, he only broke his arm. I was more scared that I’d hurt my friend than I was at the whipping I knew would come when Tripp told Father.
With good, there is always bad.
What do you measure success in? (Money, career, husband/wife, children, happiness, etc.)
I measure my success by the happiness and well-being of others. In other words, by the success of my charities and businesses. I don’t mean that to sound overly grand; as far as I am concerned, I do not do enough to help those who cannot help themselves, but I do what I can. Sometimes that’s in the Lords, lobbying parliament members to amend bills favouring the poor. Sometimes, and for me, principally, it is in the administration of my charities: A women’s refuge, St Mary’s Hospital, a relief fund for the out of work, and one for sailors unable to work because of injury while in service. Now, I also have the Cheap Street Mission for young men who, rather than prostitute themselves, want to better themselves. We give them the chance to start again. My secretary and lover, Silas Hawkins and I set it up following the Ripper incidents in 1888. Silas still oversees it from a distance, but it is now run by a young man who, like Silas, was a renter, thereby proving that my ‘system’ works.
As we speak, I am in the process of establishing what we must call an ‘Academy.’ It’s called that so we can secure funding and permission, my legal man tells me, but learning is only part of what we will do. The ‘House’ as I call it, is on the Larkspur estate and will be a place where young men (and one day, women, I hope), will be able to come to develop their talents in… well, in anything. My aim is to find a man to be the overseer, bring in mentors for the young men as and when required, and have a place where they can simply be and develop themselves. These young men will be from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as we help at Cheap Street. Mainly, I hope, they will be men who have fallen foul of the hideous Labouchere amendment. Men who been deemed criminals because of their ‘unspeakable acts’, their ‘deviant desire’ to love other men, or who have in some other way fallen foul of laws that forbid men from loving men. I believe the German doctor of the mind, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, coined the word ‘Homosexual’, but that sounds far too clinical for me. I refer to such men as ‘members of the crew’, mainly for their own protection.
So, to finally answer your question, I measure my success in the happiness of others. After all, there is no greater gift than to bestow joy.
The locomotive steamed west from Budapest, its steel plough slicing snow and hurling it aside in swathes. Its pistons pumped an incessant pulse, while the chimney belched a constant stream of smoke that billowed from tunnels and trailed behind to hover above the sleeping countryside.
Cities fell away to become dense forests topped with silvery-blue moonlight that bathed the land from the hedgerows to the star-showered horizon. The Danube glinted beneath the cloudless sky until the train left the river to its meandering and sped away on its own path. The warm throw of yellow light from the dining car brushed banks and fields, the silhouettes of the wealthy rising and falling over cuttings in distorted shapes and vanishing as the carriages pounded across bridges. Firemen shovelled, stewards served, and passengers dreamt of elegance in gently rocking bunks, unaware of the rise and fall of the hills, and the urgent night-cry of the whistle.
The Orient Express kept its times, crossed the borders, and made its destinations. It saw its passengers on and off through a night that held the continent from Constantinople to Calais in an icy grip as brittle as the thinnest crystal. Night ferries crossed the channel miles from the locomotive and its precious passengers, and the same moon glowed as full over them as it did over Larkspur Hall. The same light bathed the moor, its rises and valleys a patchwork of grey and silver shadows, the countryside blanketed in a fine covering of pristine snow.
An owl swooped from an ancient, weathered oak to glide across a frozen stream. Alert for movement but finding none, it rose on silent wings to watch over the estate where Larkspur waited in the pensive darkness, shuttered and blind. The owl circled the tower and followed the parapet, passing rooms where footmen slept, and dormers under which maids turned in dreams of sweethearts and summer days. Attracted by a solitary light, the bird landed on a cornice washed by the throw from an oil lamp and twitched its head, intrigued by and concerned for what took place inside.
Beneath the sloping roof, a young man sat on the edge of an older woman’s bed, holding her hand and mopping her brow. Her lips moved weakly, and her pale flesh was uncoloured by the lamp-throw which lit the man’s hair in shades of russet and bronze. Light caught the tears that dropped from his cheeks as, leaning closer to listen, he gripped the frail hand tightly, made promises, spoke comforting words and said thanks, until the life in her dulling eyes faded.
His head hung, and his shoulders heaved as he placed her hands across her chest. Wiping his cheeks, he closed her eyes before lifting the sheet to cover her head and said a final goodbye.
When the man approached the window and placed a candle there to flicker in remembrance, the owl dropped from the parapet and continued its flight. It passed the tower where a younger man slept beside a dying fire with a letter in one hand. Building plans, fallen from the other, lay on the floor abandoned to sleep.
The owl passed into the depths of night, while in the corridor beyond the tower, a butler turned down the gas until the passage was a monochrome path of dimly glowing glass and careful footsteps. Pausing at a door, he listened for sounds from within, but his master was sleeping, and he continued to where the two wings of the house met. There, with the grand hall in darkness, he slipped through the baize and followed the winding, stone steps to the ground floor, dimming lamps and securing locks.
The servants’ hall was deserted, but in a few hours, would begin another day as the hall boys laid the fire and stoked the ovens, swept the floors, and washed the tables long before the day considered dawning. The butler met his steward there and learnt his news. The men consoled each other, reminded themselves of their positions and responsibilities, and went their separate ways.
The steward took the path the butler had recently taken, along concealed passages, up the winding stairs, and emerged in the grand hall, there to pause for a moment to relive a memory before climbing to the first floor. Like his colleague, he stopped outside the master bedroom but didn’t disturb its occupant. Instead, let himself into his own room, there to mourn alone.
Throughout the Hall, bristles of moonlight investigated curtain edges and stole around them to play on rugs and furniture. Clocks ticked, and springs wound towards release. The considered chime of a grandfather clock struck regretfully from the library and echoed through the stillness, while the drawing-room carriage clock tinkled, polite and distant. In the smoking room, the Willard lighthouse clock tolled beneath its dome, and the brass spheres of the anniversary timepiece swung relentlessly back and forth.
In the study, soft ticking on the mantlepiece counted away the seconds, as the last of the embers shuffled through the grate to their rest. Gently, the hour passed, the echoes died, and Larkspur slept in darkness.
But not in silence.
At some time during the night, when clouds had put the moon to bed, and the owl had retaken its perch on the faraway oak, the wood and brass telegraph shocked itself into life. In the alcove beside the moon-forgotten desk, the steel pins snapped their delicate jaws in urgent rhythm, and the wheel turned.
Jackson was born in 2017 as the penname for me (James) so that I could publish my new gay fiction independently from my other writing work. I was born on the south coast of England during a blizzard, but now like to warm thing up with MM romance novels, gay mysteries and some occasional erotica. In 2007 I was awarded and EGPA award for my erotic short stories, and in 2018 I won a Best Screenplay award for one of my films. I am a diverse writer with thrillers, comedies and horror stories under my James belt, and now romance and mystery under my Jackson belt.
At the moment I am concentrating on two genres: older/younger MM romance, and youth mysteries with early 20s main characters and a love story included.
I live on a Greek island with my husband. My interests outside of writing and reading are outdoor pursuits, traveling, piano and genealogy. That’s probably why my books tend to involve characters who are musicians, writers, mystery-solvers and rock climbers; there’s a bit of me in every one.