Jewel of the Thames

By Angela Misri
Fierce Ink Press, November 30, 2013, $16.99

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Do you have a young reader at home who craves an Arthur Conan Doyle style mystery story? Heck! Do you like young adult fiction with a strong female protagonist yourself?

Well, you need to read Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri, which presents Portia Adams, a quick-witted young woman who inherits the legendary dectective Sherlock Holmes’ dectective agency, and soon finds herself dreaming of solving crimes.

In this excerpt from chapter three, Misri demonstrates her ability to offer a clever and successful contribution to the mythos of Sherlock Holmes, and we find an exciting twist upon discovering who Portia’s grandfather is.

Read on and enjoy!

It took almost an hour for us to wend our way to our destination, and upon arrival, both Mrs. Jones and I leaned out of the cab in excitement.

Before us stood a brick townhouse in reasonable condition, two floors at least with very serviceable steps leading to a nondescript dark green door. The semi-circular stained glass window above the front door displayed the number in black, and a light could be seen within. On the left, or west side of the townhouse stood an ancient-looking bakery, Greek if I had to guess by the writing on the sign and the smells wafting from it. To the east were another seven townhouses obviously designed by the same hand, and having the same framing, stained glass and style of door.

“If’n you ladies are lookin’ for help, you might be better off with the boys at the Yard these days,” the cabbie remarked as we made no move to disembark.

I thought that a strange comment, and said so, but he just shrugged and said, “Mr. Holmes hasn’t been seen here nigh on fifteen years, I’d say, if not more. But it’s your lot, I said m’piece.”

Mrs. Jones had by now extended the correct fare to the man and was exiting the cab, so I did the same. As the cabbie pulled away, I turned to Mrs. Jones. “What did he mean — Mr. Holmes?” I asked, looking at the door and feeling my memory claw at me. “Surely he did not mean Sherlock Holmes, the detective?”

Mrs. Jones had meanwhile picked up the doorknocker and given it a sharp rap. “None other, my dear,” she answered.

“But why?” I said, stepping back from the front door to look at the full façade of the townhouse. “How did they come to own the building?”

The door swung open to reveal a good-looking gentleman only a few years my senior, with a half-eaten red apple in one hand. He was almost six feet tall, with wide shoulders, an athletic build and dark brown hair that curled at the forehead over inquisitive brown eyes. For the first time in almost a month I wondered how I looked and reached up to pat down what I was sure were unruly curls trying to escape my hat.

“Afternoon, ladies, what can I do for you?” he asked in a cordial bass voice. His trousers were half of a uniform, though I couldn’t place them right away. I glanced at his sleeves and decided against kitchen worker, and then at his hands, deciding against maître d’. Finally my eyes lit on the small loop on his belt revealing the uniform’s requirement to carry a baton.

“This is Miss Portia Adams,” offered my companion, “and I am Mrs. Irene Jones.”

“Ah yes, Mrs. Jones, your letter arrived two weeks ago,” he replied, his smile revealing a pair of dimples as he took a bite of his apple and stood aside to allow us entrance into a narrow hallway. “My parents have been expecting you.”

I closed the door behind us as the young man was taking Mrs. Jones’ coat. He took mine with another dimpled smile, and then beckoned us to follow him through a door and into the large sitting room on the main floor.

There sat two middle-aged persons with three middle-aged dogs sitting between them, all in various states of dozing. The sofas and chairs were all covered with a loud floral fabric that had only slightly dimmed over the years, their wooden legs a mix of styles that told a simple story of frugality I recognized from my own mother’s furnishing habits.

“Excuse me, they are quite hard of hearing,” the man said apologetically, and then taking a deep breath said in a much louder voice, “Mother, Father, our new landlady has arrived.”

I blushed at this characterization, having never owned anything to this point, let alone land with tenants. I glanced at the wallpaper in the room, which was as loud as the furniture, with large circular stamps in shades of gray and blue. The mother jerked awake with a start, turning sleepy eyes on us, but the older gentleman slept right on through, as did the three dogs. I didn’t recognize the breed of the dogs, though they all seemed to have a bit of bulldog in them from this angle — at least from their size and the amount of saliva barely held within their jowls. The young man leaned in now to speak directly in his mother’s ear.

“Miss Portia Adams, daughter to Marie Jameson is here, remember? She has taken ownership of the house.”

This was enough to spark a memory in the woman, and she kindly asked us to sit down and take our ease with a cup of tea.

“We were of course told of your mother’s untimely death, my dear,” said the woman, who had introduced herself as Mrs. Dawes, reaching out to pat my knee. “How terrible for you, poor thing!”

I thanked her for her solicitude, and she continued. “Your mum was a fine mistress, as was your grandfather before her. Raised the rent lightly, left management of the house to myself and now to my son. And we have been good tenants, if I do say so m’self.”

I had no idea if they had, having never heard of this property before the day of my mother’s funeral. Mrs. Jones spoke up at this point. “And the upstairs tenant?”

“Oh, moved out months ago. Brian here was takin’ advantage of the pause between tenants to fix it up a bit,” the woman said, nodding toward her son, who stood behind her chair finishing his apple. “We were about to put an advertisement in the paper to rent it when the lawyer’s letter arrived.”

“Ah, perfect! Then Miss Adams will be moving in upstairs as soon as possible,” Mrs. Jones said approvingly.

Once again my guardian had made a hairpin turn. I could scarcely mask my surprise. Everyone else in the room, at least those who were conscious, seemed equally surprised.

“Really?” Mrs. Dawes said, looking at us. “The two of you?”

“Oh heavens, no, I travel far too much to be considered an occupant of any one home,” Mrs. Jones answered haughtily, dipping her biscuit in her tea. “I will of course drop in from time to time to check on my charge, but I would like to enlist your help in ensuring her safety and care, madam.”

Mrs. Dawes sat up straighter at this responsibility and agreed to be of whatever help she could. They arranged a short-term plan wherein I would eat some of my meals with the family downstairs as I became accustomed to a new city, but my guardian made it clear that attendance was not mandatory, and was entirely up to me.

There was nothing left to do but to show me to my rooms. I followed Mrs. Dawes up the stairs to a second landing, where she opened the door to a medium-sized sitting room with a lovely brick fireplace. The wallpaper was thankfully muted, a pale gold background with brown fleur-de-lis accents, and the comfortable furniture also seemed to match the mood of the room, in various shades of brown. The wooden floors looked polished and well maintained, and the tiny kitchen was of a reasonable size for a single person. Everything seemed to be in a decent state, though a little old-fashioned and decidedly male when compared to my mother’s sitting room back in Toronto. No doilies or throw pillows, no small pieces of cross-stitch over the backs of chairs. But it was very clean, even the fireplace showing minimal soot, making me wonder if the chimney had been sealed up and the bricks were now a façade rather than a working fireplace.

I will admit to feeling not a little hurt and cross at the seeming ease with which my guardian had passed me off. This was an odd reaction since I enjoyed being in charge of my own life, which living by myself would grant me. But I forgot all about that when I saw the bookshelves in the sitting room. There were five of these massive dark wooden bookshelves, filled with volumes and reaching from floor to ceiling, their dominance of the north wall interrupted only by the curtains of the two windows.

A glutton for the printed word, I gasped at the treasure before me, barely hearing Mrs. Dawes as she led Mrs. Jones to the bedroom and directed Brian to deliver my meager belongings up here.

I don’t know how long I stood there. At some point Brian said from over my shoulder, “I thought it best to bring these back out of storage. You should be the one to decide where they go.”

“I should?” I answered, my eyes still locked on the precious tomes, though I could feel how close Brian was, and my stomach fluttered at it.

“Why, yes,” he said. “They passed to you the same as this house. And not a few of them were in fact written by your grandfather himself.”

I finally tore my gaze from the spines of the books. “My grandfather? These are his books?”

Nodding, he selected a brown journal from the bookshelf and handed it to me. “See?”

I read the cover page — The Adventures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, June-August 1852 — and my eyes traveled down to the author’s signature: “As faithfully recorded by Dr. John H. Watson.”

“Dr. John Watson,” I murmured, connecting the dots with a certainty that at once elated and shocked me.

“Your grandfather,” corrected Brian with another friendly smile, and he wandered away to speak to his mother.

Angela Misri is a journalist, writer and mom based out of Toronto, Canada. Her first book Jewel of the Thames was recently published by Fierce Ink Press. This is the first book in the series ‘A Portia Adams Adventures’ to be published, and Angela is hard at work editing books two and three right now.