"Engrossing" - A DEADLY FORTUNE by Stacie Murphy - Excerpt
"Murphy chillingly evokes some social ills of 19th-century America, including the complete control of women by their husbands. Readers will hope Amelia returns soon."
–Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
A Deadly Fortune
A historical mystery in the vein of The Alienist, in which a young woman in Gilded Age New York must use a special talent to unravel a deadly conspiracy.
Amelia Matthew has done the all-but-impossible, especially for an orphan in Gilded Age New York City. Along with her foster brother Jonas, she has parleyed her modest psychic talent into a safe and comfortable life. But safety and comfort vanish when a head injury leaves Amelia with a dramatically-expanded gift. After she publicly channels an angry spirit, she finds herself imprisoned in the notorious insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island. As Jonas searches for a way to free her, Amelia struggles to control her disturbing new abilities and survive a place where cruelty and despair threaten her sanity.
Andrew Cavanaugh is familiar with despair. In the wake of a devastating loss, he abandons a promising medical career—and his place in Philadelphia society—to devote himself to the study and treatment of mental disease. Miss Amelia Matthew is just another patient—until she channels a spirit in front of him and proves her gift is real.
When a distraught mother comes to Andrew searching for her missing daughter—a daughter she believes is being hidden at the asylum—he turns to Amelia. Together, they uncover evidence of a deadly conspiracy, and then it’s no longer just Amelia’s sanity and freedom at stake. Amelia must master her gift and use it to catch a killer—or risk becoming the next victim.
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A Deadly Fortune
Amelia returned to herself a sense at a time.
First a woman’s voice, brusque and echoing: “This way please, gentlemen. Set her down, thank you. We’ll take her from here.”
Throbbing pain filling her head to bursting. Mewling with it, clutching her temples with her hands. A foul taste in her mouth and a stench in her nostrils that she dimly recognized as coming from herself. Filth and bile and rust. Slow, shallow breaths. Slitted eyes opening against piercing light.
She blinked slowly, orienting herself. She was lying on the floor—on a stretcher—in a large, tiled washroom. And she was not alone. Three women wearing identical brown-striped dresses and stern expressions looked back at her. One opened the folder she held and looked down, making notes with a pencil. The scritching sound was as loud as a scream in the echoing room. The second held a cloth bundle and a limp canvas sack. The third stepped forward.
“Good. You’re awake. Do you understand me?”
Amelia tried to speak but found her voice wouldn’t obey. She managed a shadow of a nod.
“Do you know where you are?”
Shaking her head was beyond her capacity. She closed her eyes again. Frowned.
“This is the city lunatic asylum at Blackwell’s Island.”
Shock forced Amelia’s eyes wide open. The light assaulted her, sent a bolt of pain through her head, forced a strangled groan from her throat. Her stomach heaved, but it was empty, and all she did was retch pitifully.
“None of that. We’ll not be cleaning up after you.”
One of the others spoke. “Let’s get her seen to.”
Hands pulled her upright, and the room whirled sickeningly. Amelia closed her eyes again.
One of the women probed at her head, yanked at her tender scalp. “What on earth have you done to your hair?”
Amelia reached up with a trembling hand. Felt coils of hair, stiff with filth.
“I’m not going to waste all day trying to get this mess cleaned and combed out. We’re going to have to cut it off.” The speaker nodded to the one with the folder. “Make a note: there was an infestation of lice.”
Amelia ignored their chuckles as the woman reached into her pocket and produced a pair of scissors. Clumps of hair fell to the floor.
“There. Let’s get her cleaned up.” Two of them held her on her feet while the third stripped her, grumbling over the muck caked on her clothes. Naked, she was lifted into an enormous tub. The water was cold.
“In with you,” one of them muttered, prodding her hard in the back.
Amelia’s feet slipped out from under her, and the frigid water closed over her head. Her breath went out in a rush. She came up sputtering, the chill already seeping into her bones.
But it brought her further back to herself. She took more note of her surroundings as she was scrubbed with stinging soap and a coarse brush. Her hands and feet were blue with cold when the women finally lifted her out of the tub. She shuddered as they dried her with a length of rough toweling. They dressed her in a coarse linen shift and shapeless calico dress made for someone much taller. There was writing along the hem, illegible from her vantage point. A white cap and a pair of thin slippers completed her new wardrobe. Amelia’s own clothes disappeared into the sack, probably fit only to be burned.
“Now then,” the one with the folder said. “Carolina Casey, found in fits in a public park, possibly drunk, uncommunicative.” She tutted. “No known family or friends, adjudged destitute, committed by judicial order until such time as the asylum superintendent finds her fit to be released.”
Carolina. Who was . . . ?
“Lina,” she muttered. The cloak Jonas had saved for her. It had Lina’s name in it.
“Lina,” one of the nurses repeated, scratching something in the file.
Amelia opened her mouth to protest, to tell them her real name, to insist they let her go. Then some practical part of her mind, awake now for the first time since the park, realized how it would sound—half the women here must insist all those things with their every breath. No one would believe her; anything she said would be only further evidence of her madness. And Lina had no further need of her cloak or her name. She was gone to California. Amelia stilled, keeping an iron grip on the terror beating its wings against her chest. Her name didn’t matter. She could be Lina for now.
Excerpt © Stacie Murphy. Shared with permission for the blog tour.
Stacie Murphy grew up near Nashville, TN. She began writing A Deadly Fortune in 2017 as a way to force herself to stay off Twitter in the evenings. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and the worst cat in the world.
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Pegasus Crime
Release Date: January 5, 2021
Enter to win a copy of A Deadly Fortune by Stacie Murphy & a $50 Gift Card to Amazon or your favorite Indie store. Winner’s choice.
The giveaway is open to US only and ends on February 5, 2021. You must be 18 or older to enter. Void where prohibited by law. This giveaway is sponsored by the author and hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
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