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The Burning Glass

The Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron Series, Book Three
Five Star Publishing, September 2007
ISBN-10: 1594145911
ISBN-13: 978-1594145919

Wildside Press, November 2009
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 1-4344-0655-5


Worldwide Mystery Book Club, June 2012.
ISBN-13: 978-0-373-26802-3

Find the Book| Reviews | Excerpt |

 

The Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron series, a cross-genre (mystery, romance, paranormal) series featuring Michael and Rebecca Campbell-Reid from Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust in cameo roles.


Fire in the Borders

The rolling hills of the Scottish Borders have seen centuries of fireScots, English, battling kings, feuding lords, rampaging clansmen, raiding, looting, killing. But the fire at brooding Ferniebank Castle wasnt set by an enemy. Isabel Sinclair died there four hundred years ago, on her way to a lovers tryst, in the conflagration kindled by her own burning-glass.

Or so the story goes.

Now Jean Fairbairn is on her way to write Ferniebanks storyand to her own tryst with ex-cop Alasdair Cameron, who is now a caretaker of historic properties. He has at last lowered his personal drawbridge for Jean, and they plan to set decaying Ferniebank alight.

But theyre not alone. Ciara Macquarrie, a New Age mythobabbler from Alasdair's past, plans to transform the castle and its chapel into a bright new conference center and spa. Especially since the chapel was built by the same long-dead hands as cryptic Rosslynnow a hot tourist attraction, thanks to a popular story titled The Da Vinci Code.

In Scotland, plans go up in smoke. Stories shift and change like reflections in antique glass. Buried secrets rise to haunt the living. The Ferniebank clarsach, Isabels harp, disappearseven while its music lingers on. Vandals lurk in the night. Death visits both the castle dungeon and chapels ancient well.

To his frustration, Alasdair now has to work in the shadow of the official force. But when the darkness clears, its Jean who finds herself facing a murderer.

The Burning Glass is a story of mystery and suspense tightly woven with Jean and Alasdairs personal story. It takes place in Scotland, on the ever-shifting shore between history and myth, a place where (mis)perception kindles many a fire.

 
Reviews

"...a dangerous and intriguing investigation.  Authentic dialect...detailed descriptions of the castle and environs, and vivid characters recreate an area rich in history and legend.  The tightly woven plot is certain to delight history fans with its dramatic collision of past and present."
-- Publisher's Weekly, July 9, 2007

"A little romance, a dash of mystery and a soupcon of history make a hearty...dish."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"...a good solid story with characters you come to care about while learning to appreciate the slower life of the Scottish countryside and small villages. Carl also plays with expectations and often turns them on their heads surprising not only the characters but the reader. I loved this book for the characters, the ambiance, the history and culture of Scotland, and the ripping good story."
--Gayle Surrette, Gumshoe Review

"If you took one of the better X-Files episodes and turned it into a mystery novel with more mature characters, you would end up with something very like THE BURNING GLASS."
-- Mystery Book Reviews by Liz

"Wherever Jean goes, it seems trouble will follow and she and Alisdair are once again investigating strange occurrences and possibly murder. The third in a series, The Burning Glass is an entertaining mystery that can be read and enjoyed on its own - great for readers who are craving something light and fun."
--Becky Lejeune, bookbitch.com

"An adventurous romp inside ancient old buildings full of Scottish lore and legend...a fine mystery."
-- Diana Risso, Romance Reviews Today

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Excerpt
Chapter One

If two’s company and three’s a crowd, thought Jean Fairbairn, then an Edinburgh sidewalk during the Festival is infinity verging upon insanity.

Chanting “excuse me, pardon me, sorry,” she fought her way through the stream of pedestrians, dodged between a blue-painted, dreadlocked youth and the tourist taking his photo, and darted into the door of her office building. There she patted herself down. Mini-backpack, check. Manila folder, check. Cool. No, she’d been losing her cool in large chunks, like icebergs falling off a glacier, for quite some time now.

She stepped carefully up the spiral turnpike stair. The elongated triangles of the stone treads had been worn by centuries of feet into shapes resembling melted Brie, and injuring herself by falling up a staircase was just the sort of thing she was likely to do. Ditto for injuring herself right before running away with her lover . . . She wasn’t running away, she told herself. And she and Alasdair weren’t lovers. Not yet, anyway. Not in the full-body-cavity-search meaning of the word. Although the meeting of true minds counted as an intimate connection.

The Great Scot offices might be several stories up, but still the clamor of voices, amplified music, and tooting horns drifted through the windows along with the August heat and the perennial scents of diesel and cooking food. As Jean shut the door, the fresh-faced youth behind the reception desk looked up. “Ah, it’s yourself, is it?”

“It is, Gavin, a rat leaving the sinking ship. Not that Edinburgh’s sinking. Teeming ship, maybe. Leaping off the ark. Are lemmings rodents, do you know? I may be a rat, but I haven’t got an ounce of lemming blood.”

He stared, petrified in the act of lifting a mug to his lips. For seven months now they’d worked together, and still he occasionally looked at her as though she were speaking in tongues. Not that it was her American tongue that baffled him. Gavin was a smart kid, but when it came to following her mental arabesques, he was no Alasdair.

Although even Alasdair might be nonplussed at the lemming remark. “Never mind,” Jean said. “Is Miranda here? Or is she off on the cocktail and show-opening circuit?”

The cup completed its journey to Gavin’s lips, and he swallowed a fortifying swig. “Oh aye, she’s here just now. Had me buying tickets for the Puppetry of the Peni . . . Well, mind, the lads that use their, well . . .” His cheeks colored, not, probably, at the raunchiness of either title or concept but at mentioning them to a woman of his mother’s generation. Jean wished she’d seen his face when Miranda asked him to order the tickets.

The competition for audiences at the Festival Fringe meant that each show was more outrageous than the last. World-wise and world-easy Miranda would be entertained by a program straining at an envelope that was just fine in its original shape, thank you. Jean, though, was likely to turn scarlet, wince, or guffaw. Or all three. Especially since her thoughts were already playing delicately with aspects of male anatomy. One male. One anatomy. Connected to a psyche that could never be contained in an envelope.

Partly taking pity on Gavin, partly to conceal her own blush, she turned to inspect the stack of mail by the door. A letter with her name handwritten on a cream-colored envelope sat atop several press kits and beside the current issue of The Scotsman.

A notice on the newspaper’s front page read: “Stanelaw councillor goes missing. See page 4.” Stanelaw? Great. Just the village Jean wanted to see in the news yet again, when she was booked to spend two weeks there. First a famous antiquity had been stolen from the local museum, and now some functionary . . . She hadn’t even read the article yet, and already she was drawing dire conclusions. It would all turn out to be either a tempest in a Brown Betty teapot or something that was beyond her ken—if not beyond her brief as a journalist.

She collected the newspaper and the letter, left the press releases for Miranda to winnow, and pitched the manila folder onto Gavin’s desk as she headed for her office. “My expense account.”

If he hadn’t quite regained his composure, he was at least no longer decomposing. “It’s not been two months since you were running up bills at Loch Ness. Now she’s sending you to the Borders, is she?”

“Miranda and I,” Jean said, reminding him that she was a full partner in the history-and-travel magazine, “decided to kill several stories with the same stone. And I use the word ‘kill’ advisedly,” she added, with paranoia aforethought.

“No surprise you’d go turning up the murder mysteries. They’re stories, aren’t they now?” Gavin added the folder to one of the piles leaning against his desk like flying buttresses. The lad had learned his filing techniques from Miranda—and both of them could find what they were looking for as quickly as Jean could with her tidily labeled files. It wasn’t fair that the neatness of one’s records was in inverse proportion to the neatness of one’s life.

Gavin had also learned to repeat Miranda’s justifications of Jean’s unintended but still perilous adventures. “Right,” she said, and realized she was imitating Alasdair’s noncommittal coolth.

The editorial offices of Great Scot magazine occupied one story of a stone-built tenement, a medieval building that, like its neighbors, was tall, thin, and stern as a Calvinist elder. The scuffed pitch-pine floor of the hall creaked even without the pressure of footsteps, and furtive drafts rustled among the papers, so that every now and then Jean would find herself watching a page in a book turn by itself. But her allergy to the paranormal had never sniffled there, let alone exploded in a full apparitional sneeze. The rooms that had housed generations of people living, loving, dying, now held no resonances of them at all. That was just as well. Encountering a few souls who were not resting in peace was enough to make Jean grateful that so many were.

Miranda was sitting at her desk, holding the telephone receiver with her left hand and typing on her computer keyboard with her right. Jean waved, but there was no reason to stop and say, “Speak now or hold your peace until I get back.” With cell phones, e-mail, and several good highways between Edinburgh and Stanelaw, she was hardly going to be out of touch.

Miranda waggled her keyboard hand toward the door, rings glinting, and said into the telephone, “Oh aye, we’re after adding a Tours and Travels page to the website.”

And Great Scot territory expanded, Jean told herself. Soon there would be Miranda Capaldi action figures, complete with miniature computer, cup of café latte, and social register.

Her own office was a room that had been called a closet by the eighteenth-century household, and by twenty-first century standards was no more than a cupboard with a window. The trapped air was so hot and humid she could have raised orchids on her desk. Her books, manuscripts, magazines, and prints were limp and musty. This time of year, in her old office at the university in Texas, she’d have shivered beneath the vent of an air-conditioning system set to give frostbite to a penguin. Not that frigidity had defined all her former life as an academic, just too much of it. When she’d broken free, she’d done so with a vengeance, reporting a student for plagiarism and thereby initiating an academic scandal that had ended in court.

Jean threw open the casement window to be rewarded by a gust of noise like a slap in the face. The Borders, she thought with a sigh. Ferniebank Castle was half a mile from Stanelaw, which in turn was three miles from Kelso. Neither community was a metropolitan hub. No one except a tourist or two would disturb the peace and quiet. Ferniebank wasn’t yet a prime attraction on the theme-park-Scotland route, although with the new development, it would be.

Stanelaw. The theft. The councillor. Before she could open the newspaper, a brisk tap of boot heels announced Miranda’s entrance. Today her hair was stroked upwards and frosted at the tips, and she was wearing a denim jacket studded with crystals over flared jeans. Despite her own plain-vanilla twill pants, cotton blouse, and tapestry vest, Jean did not descend to making cracks about rhinestone cowgirls.

“You’re away, then?” her friend and partner asked.

“My bags are packed and ready to go, but by the time I stocked up for two entire weeks, I had to go ahead and hire the car yesterday. Now it’ll take me forever to get out of town.”

“Not a bit of it. The traffic’s coming into the town. You’ll be missing all the fun. I’ve got extra tickets for the Tattoo this weekend. Massed pipe bands. Loads of men wearing kilts.”

“Gavin tells me that’s not all you have tickets for.”

Miranda grinned. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Yeah, I know. Party pooper. Wet blanket. Going off with Alasdair is a pretty big step for me.”

“Your first dirty weekend together, eh? A dirty two weeks, come to that.” The arches of Miranda’s beautifully plucked eyebrows made question marks, inviting confidences. But the days were long gone—twenty years gone—when they had sat giggling in their dorm room, comparing the mating rituals of British and American boys.

“Just because you connected him up with the job at Protect and Survive,” retorted Jean, “doesn’t mean I owe you the gory details of our love, er, like-life.”

“No gore on this assignment.” Miranda handed down her decree. “In any event, if you’d not been involved in two criminal cases you’d not have met Alasdair, would you now? And don’t go saying that’s a mixed blessing. You’ve got roses in your cheeks you’ve not had for years.”

No use rationalizing that the roses in her cheeks owed more to the heat or the excesses of the Fringe Festival than to her new relationship. Jean reached for a letter opener and slit open the thick, beige envelope, revealing a thick, beige note card. Like the address on the envelope, the note was handwritten in a careless scrawl that implied the writer was too successful to bother with mundane issues like legibility.

“Mrs. Councillor Angus Rutherford is inviting me to tea,” Jean said, deciphering the missive. “Glebe House, Stanelaw, three p.m. on Saturday, 23 August. RSVP . . . Whoa.” Frowning, she grabbed the newspaper and flipped quickly to page four.

Stanelaw councillor goes missing.

Angus Rutherford was last seen on Thursday, 21 August, leaving the Parapluie Noire Hotel in Brussels for a flight to Edinburgh. He had attended a European Union workshop on “Countryside Resources and the Tourism Dilemma.” It was from the Stanelaw Museum that the famous Ferniebank Clarsach, a medieval folk harp, was stolen on Sunday 17 August. Then, Rutherford said . . .

Miranda plucked the invitation from her hand. “Ah, Minty Rutherford’s afternoon tea. Cucumber sandwiches, lemon curd, and Montrose cakes to die for.”

Jean turned the newspaper toward her.

“Oh my. Well, that’s easy enough to explain. The good gray Angus, embarrassed at losing the one notable artifact to the town tourist board’s name, decided to stay on and drown his sorrows in the fleshpots of the Continent. Stanelaw, even Kelso—as you Yanks say, they’re podunk. The boondocks. Never mind Minty and her cooking school.”

Cooking school? Jean envisioned boxes of Haggis Helper. “The letter’s postmarked day before yesterday. The same day Angus disappeared. Minty—Mrs. Councillor Rutherford must be worried about her husband. Maybe Alasdair can . . . No. He’s not a policeman, not any more.”

“The Rutherfords’ marriage might not be any more, either. Angus has been getting a bit restive, I’m hearing, though I’m hardly a close friend. You can ask Minty, if you like.”

“Or even if I don’t like?”

Miranda handed over the note and turned a mock severe look on Jean.

“Yes, yes, I know. Let my conscience, my curiosity, and my courtesy be my guide.” Jean tucked the card into the envelope. “I’ll see what Mrs. Councillor Rutherford volunteers to tell me. If I meet her. With Stanelaw having a mini crime wave, she may cancel the tea. I wonder how she knew I was coming? Oh. Elementary, my dear. Because I’ve got an interview with the woman who just bought Ferniebank. Karen, Kara—something like that—Macquarrie.”

“Ciara Macquarrie. She’s made a good fist of her Mystic Scotland tour company. We’ll be linking to her site from our own, like as not, though I’m after vetting her spiel beforehand. When you have your interview—”

“See if she’s telling her clients that Cairnpapple Neolithic Site is a landing pad for flying saucers. Alasdair’s and my ghosts being all the woo-woo you’ve got the patience for.”

“You’re not writing about Scotland if you’re not writing about ghosts,” Miranda returned. “Stanelaw Council, with or without Angus, is sure to have given Macquarrie public funds or tax breaks in addition to planning permission for renovating Ferniebank, and they’d not be doing that if she had no head for business.”

“Speaking of ‘countryside resources and the tourism dilemma,’ ” murmured Jean.

“Dilemma it is. Macquarrie’s planning a conference center in the castle and New Age spa on the site of the chapel and holy well. I reckon she’s the excuse for the tea, not to rain on your own parade.”

“Rain away. I’m only a mild-mannered travel-and-history writer, after all.”

“That you are.” Miranda didn’t descend to making any cracks about rhinestone detectives. She picked up a Ferniebank leaflet from Jean’s desk and held it to the light, so that the pen-and-ink drawings seemed particularly dark and dour.

The drawings probably catch the spirit of the place, Jean thought. As castles went, Ferniebank was nondescript. Not massive and imposing like Edinburgh or Stirling, not winsomely personable like Cawdor or Craigievar, not elegant like Floors or Culzean, it was a slab-sided, bare-bones Borders tower house. Few famous people had ever visited, and none of them had done anything noteworthy there. Supposedly Mary, Queen of Scots, had dropped by, but then, supposedly George Washington had slept in half the beds of colonial America. No, Ferniebank’s claim to fame was its chapel and healing well.

Miranda, as usual, was on the scent. “When you’re writing about Ferniebank Chapel and all, play up the connection with Rosslyn Chapel. That’s become quite the tourist attraction after the book and that film, what are they, The Michelangelo Cipher?”

“They’re a load of baloney, if you ask me, although, oddly enough, no one ever does, fiction being much more appealing than fact. It always has been. Some of the legends popularized by that book have been around for centuries, not that a legend is necessarily fiction.”

“There’s your job description in a nutshell.”

“Exploring the debatable shore where fantasy and reality intersect?”

“An area,” Miranda said, “that could do with being a demilitarized zone. As though it’s not bad enough censoring the novel, some folk have rioted over the film.”

“Too many myth-mongers have big chips on their shoulders,” agreed Jean, “especially when it comes to selling a product. And a belief system can be a heck of a product.”

“There you are, then.” Miranda cast the leaflet onto the desk like bread upon water. “I’m expecting a multi-part article on the facts, fictions, and fancies of Ferniebank, as well as anything else you’d care to add in: The Rutherford connection. The quest for the clarsach. The castle ghost. A white lady, is it?”

“A gray lady. There’s always a white lady or a gray lady or a green lady. Me, I’m holding out for a purple polka-dotted gentleman.”

Miranda laughed. “Obliging of Alasdair to caretake the place himself the fortnight, instead of assigning it to someone else. But that’s his privilege as chief of security for P and S, I reckon.”

“He trolled through the properties they manage until he found one that was private but fodder for Great Scot. Plus, Michael and Rebecca Campbell-Reid are spending the month in Stanelaw. Alasdair couldn’t have known Ferniebank was going to interest his crime-solving side, but then, not only can the man see ghosts. I swear he’s got ESP.”

“No one’s needing ESP to see that Ferniebank’s privacy is gone for good,” said Miranda. “Well then. Duncan’s arriving at six for an early dinner and the show. Best get cracking.”

“Cracking your whip over me, you mean? Yep, I need to get going. And get something to eat. I’ll need more than butterflies in my stomach.”

“One can’t live on love, no.”

“Love? It’s way too early to go there, Miranda.” Jean raised her hands, in a gesture partly “I surrender” and partly “back off, unexploded ordnance.”

With one of her patented wise smiles, Miranda backed off. She had never been married, let alone divorced, while both Jean and Alasdair had been there, done that, and bore the scars. Her long-time relationship with silverback lawyer Duncan Kerr had a lot to say for it—their parallel lives regularly intersected and then parted again, as though in the ordered steps of a minuet. What Jean was dancing with Alasdair was a traditional country reel, with lots of stamping, hand-offs, ducks, and twirls, all leading up to some seriously heavy breathing. As for leading up to love-cum-commitment, well, the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley . . . Time to get off the rodent kick.

She swept the newspaper, the invitation, and several printouts referencing Ferniebank’s long history into a folder and thrust the leaflet in after them. A glossy booklet with four-color photos was in the works, she was sure of that.

A siren sounded outside the window. Gavin’s telephone bleated and he answered. A moment later the phone in Miranda’s office beeped. She took a step toward the door, then back, her smile widening into a grin like a salute. Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead! But all she said was, “I’ll RSVP to Minty on your behalf. Give my regards to the Campbell-Reids, and thank Michael for the article on the amen glass. Kiss Alasdair for me. And don’t go borrowing trouble, not about him, not about your articles, not about”—the glistening pink nail on her forefinger tapped the folder in Jean’s hands—“the castle, the clarsach, or either of the Rutherfords. Cheerio.” She clicked off down the hall and into her office.

Jean shut her window, hoisted her bag, squared her shoulders, and headed for the front door. Trouble had recently been finding her. She didn’t need to beg, borrow, or steal it.

Just as she set her hand on the knob of the outer door, Gavin’s phone emitted another double bleat. “Great Scot Magazine,” he answered. “Oh aye, she’s just away, one sec. Jean?”

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