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Roots of evil / Sarah Rayne.

By: Rayne, Sarah.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: London ; New York : Pocket Books, 2008Description: 584 pages ; 18 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9781847393517 (pbk.); 1847393519 (pbk.).Subject(s): Motion picture actors and actresses -- Fiction | Murder victims -- Fiction | Family secrets -- FictionGenre/Form: Thrillers (Fiction) | Fiction.DDC classification: 823/.92
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

Lucy Trent is used to having the legend of her glamorous grandmother unearthed from time to time - the infamous silent-screen actress Lucretia von Wolff, whose life ended abruptly in a bizarre double murder and suicide at the Ashwood film studios in 1952. Lucy rather enjoys Lucretia's legend - although most of the family would prefer it to be quietly forgotten.

But when a body is found in the now-derelict studios, brutalised in a macabre echo of the 50-year-old case, disturbing facts about the past begin to emerge. Facts which point back to the eerie legend of the child known simply as Alraune. The child named after Lucretia's most famous film. The child who may never have existed at all.

In the ensuing murder investigation, Lucy is to discover the truth about her family's dark and often poignant history - a history which spans the glittering concert halls of 1920s Vienna to the bleak environs of wartime Auschwitz.

And at the heart of it all lies the shocking truth about the mysterious child called Alraune.

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Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Chapter One It is not every day that your family's ghosts come boiling out of the past to disrupt your ordinary working day. Lucy Trent had not been expecting ghosts to appear today, and there had been no warning of their imminence. It had, in fact, been years since she had even thought about the ghosts. She had reached her office early and had spent most of the morning engrossed in a presentation for silent horror films from the 1920s: Quondam Films, who specialized in the restoring and marketing of old films, were putting together a marketing package aimed at the satellite TV networks, and Lucy had been given the task of setting up the presentation. She had only worked for Quondam for about six months, so it was quite a coup to be trusted with this project. She had been immersed in writing a summary of a fourteen-minute film from 1911 called The Devil's Sonata . Quondam had had this in their archives for several years and had been trotting it out unsuccessfully at regular intervals, so it would be particularly good if Lucy could flog it this time round. She was just describing how the charismatic violinist lured the kohl-eyed heroine into the deserted theatre, when reception phoned through to say there was someone to see her. A lady called Trixie Smith. No, she had not said what she wanted, but whatever it was, it seemed that only Lucy would do. The rather dumpy female in the small interview room shook hands with Lucy in a brusque, businesslike way, inspecting her from bright brown eyes. She was wearing a plain mackintosh and sensible shoes, and her hair, which was turning grey in pepper-and-salt fashion, was cut in a pudding-basin style. Lucy thought she might be a games mistress of the old style, or an organizer of therapy-type workshops for people to make raffia baskets. Intelligent, but possibly a bit tediously over-emphatic when it came to her own field, whatever her own field might be. She had probably brought in an ancient reel of ciné film that would turn out to be smudgy footage of great-uncle-somebody's boating holiday from 1930, and Lucy would have to find a tactful way of telling her that Quondam did not want it. But Quondam's policy was never to ignore a possible acquisition, so Lucy sat down and asked how she could help. Trixie Smith said, 'Can I make sure I've got the right person before we go any further? You are Lucretia von Wolff's granddaughter, aren't you?' Lucy thought, oh, blast, it's something to do with grandmamma. Another weirdo wanting to write an article or even a book. But she said, guardedly, that yes, she was Lucretia's granddaughter. 'Ha!' said Ms Smith. 'Thought I'd found the right Lucy Trent. Can't always trust reference books, though. Who's Who and all the rest of them - they often get things wrong. The thing is, Miss Trent, I'm doing a postgraduate course.' She named a smallish university in North London. 'Useful to have a doctorate in teaching, you see. More money.' 'You're a teacher.' It explained the brisk authority. 'Modern languages,' agreed Trixie. 'But the subject of my thesis is, "The Psychology of Crime in the Nineteen-fifties".' 'And,' said Lucy, 'you're going to use the Ashwood murders as the cornerstone.' 'Yes, I am.' A touch of truculence. 'I don't suppose you mind, do you?' 'Not in the least. Half the rainforests in South America must have been cut down to provide paper for books about Lucretia. She was a celebrity almost before the word was invented, and the Ashwood case was one of the biggest causes c?l?bres of its day.' Lucy paused, and then said, 'Listen, though, Ms Smith -- ' 'Call me Trixie, for goodness' sake. Life's too short for formalities.' 'Uh - Trixie, if you've got any wild ideas of solving a mystery, you should know there truly isn't one to solve. In the late twenties and thirties my grandmother was the original sultry temptress of the silent screen. The men adored her and the women disapproved of her. Her lovers were legion and her scandals were numerous. She got somehow tangled up in the Second World War - not very creditably by some accounts - and then afterwards she tried to make a comeback.' 'Ashwood Studios,' said Trixie Smith, nodding. 'She was making a film at Ashwood, wasn't she, and two men - both of them supposed to be her lovers - got into a jealous argument. Upon which Lucretia flew into a tantrum, killed both of them, and then killed herself - either from remorse at their deaths, or from panic at the thought of the hangman's noose.' 'Two murders, one suicide,' said Lucy rather shortly. 'And clearly you've found out most of the facts already. I don't think there's likely to be anything I can add to any of that.' 'Don't you care that your grandmother was branded as a double murderess?' Bother the woman, she was like a steamroller. But Lucy said, 'I don't know that I do care very much. I wouldn't have chosen to have a grandmother who was a murderess, and I'm not very happy about the alleged spying activities either - but it all happened a long time ago and it was years before I was born. I don't think any of the family is particularly bothered about it these days. I'm not; I never even knew Lucretia - oh, and I'm not named for her in case you wondered. But I hope your thesis works out well, and I hope you get your doctorate out of it.' She stood up, hoping this would end the interview. It did not. 'What I really want,' said Trixie, 'is to talk to any members of your family who might actually remember Lucretia. She had two daughters, didn't she?' 'Yes. They changed their surname after Lucretia died - or their guardians or trustees changed it on their behalf or something like that. My mother was the younger daughter -- ' Lucy hesitated briefly, and then said, 'She died when I was eight. The other daughter is my aunt - Deborah Fane.' 'The books all mention her, but I hadn't got a surname.' Trixie Smith wrote it down industriously and Lucy thought, Damn, I didn't mean to give that away. 'And she's still alive, is she?' said Ms Smith hopefully. 'Deborah Fane? How old is she? Would she agree to see me, d'you think?' 'She's certainly over seventy and her heart's a bit tottery - a touch of angina - but she's pretty lively. She might talk to you.' This was quite possible; it had been Aunt Deb who had told Lucy most of the stories about Lucretia, and she had always seemed to rather enjoy Lucretia's smouldering legend. Lucy rather enjoyed it as well, although she was not going to admit this to a stranger. The rest of the family had always found Lucretia slightly shameful, of course; and as for Edmund...Lucy repressed a mischievous grin at the thought of her cousin Edmund's probable apoplexy if he discovered that Lucretia was being dragged into the spotlight again. She said carefully, 'I could ask Aunt Deb if she'd talk to you. I can't promise anything, but give me your phone number and I'll call you later this evening. It's just background stuff you want, is it?' 'Mostly background. Although there is one other thing -- ' 'Yes?' There was no particular reason why Lucy should feel a sudden butterfly-flutter of apprehension, but she did feel it. 'I want to find out about Alraune,' said Trixie Smith. Alraune. The name dropped into the small room like a heavy black stone falling down a well. There were several possible responses to it; one of which was for Lucy to say, with extreme flippancy, 'Yes, wouldn't we all like to find out about Alraune, dear,' and then escort Ms Smith out of the building faster than a bat escaping hell. After which Lucy could forget this entire discussion, leave Lucretia with the brand of Cain on her sultry white forehead, and shut Alraune firmly back into the stored-away memories along with the rest of the ghosts. The second option was to look faintly bored and slightly disdainful, and to act as if a rather embarrassing gaffe had been committed. ('Oh, we don't talk about that, Ms Smith, not in public ...') The worst thing of all would be to say, in the kind of aggressive voice that positively invites an argument and a discussion, that Alraune had never existed, and add that the whole thing had been a publicity stunt dreamed up by journalists. Lucy said, 'But you must surely realize that Alraune never existed. It was all a publicity stunt dreamed up by journalists,' and Trixie Smith, with the air of one who has finally heard what she has been waiting for, said, 'Are you sure about that?' As Lucy made her way home that night, she hardly noticed the stuffy, crowded tube and the rush-hour jostle of people. She reached her flat, threw her coat into the wardrobe, and went through to the kitchen. She lived in the upstairs, left-hand quarter of a rather ugly mid-Victorian house on the edge of Belsize Park; the house was not quite large enough to warrant the term 'mansion' but it was not really an ordinary family house either, and the inside was very nearly palatial. It meant that Lucy had a huge sitting-room, which had originally been the house's master bedroom, and a tiny bedroom opening off it, converted from a dressing-room. The original landing, which was vast, had been partitioned so that she had a kitchen and bathroom at the front half, and the flat on the other side of the house had the back half. This worked reasonably well, although the dividing wall between the two bathrooms was a bit thinner than it should have been. Aunt Deb had always thought it rather a ramshackle set-up and Edmund had never understood how Lucy could live here, but Lucy liked it, partly because she had the feeling that it had once been a very happy house. She liked the feeling that over the years entire families had printed their cheerful memories on the old timbers, or that contented ghosts had pasted their shadows on to the walls. Memories and ghosts... She liberated a bottle of sharp dry wine from the fridge, and took it to the uncurtained window to drink. It was dark outside: the rooftops beyond the windows were shiny with rain, and there was a long, snaking bead-necklace of car headlights from the Finchley Road, which always seemed to be in the grip of its own rush-hour, no matter the day or the time. Alraune. It was years since Lucy had even heard the name. Her mother had always maintained that Alraune had genuinely been nothing more than a publicity stunt. A ghost-child created by the gossip-columnists, the conception and birth deliberately surrounded by mystery. It had just been something that would sell newspapers, and bring people flocking to see the films, she had said; Lucretia had always had an eye for a good story, and she had never had much regard for truth. But there had never been any such person as Alraune - why, the name alone went to prove that it was only fantasy. Mandragora officinarum . Mandrake root. For pity's sake, said Lucy's mother, who had lived a bright mayfly existence with her husband and small daughter, would even Lucretia name a child after a mandrake root! 'But it was a film !' Lucy had said to Aunt Deb years later. 'Alraune was the title of the first film Lucretia ever made! Didn't mother ever understand that?' Aunt Deb had said yes, of course, the name had come from the film - and a very outstanding film it had been in its day, by all accounts. But other than that, she would never talk about Alraune, although she once said that if even a tenth of the stories had been true, it must have been a childhood so bizarre and so bitterly tragic that it was best not to re-tell any of it. Alraune, either living or dead - and most probably dead - was better left in peace. Lucy frowned, and picked up the phone to ring Aunt Deb to explain about Trixie Smith. Aunt Deb would probably talk to Edmund about it all - she talked to Edmund about most things - and Edmund would be strongly disapproving of the whole thing, but Lucy could not help that. After she had done that, she would cook herself some supper and have another glass of wine, in fact she might even finish the bottle. Why not? Hearing Alraune's name again after all these years surely warranted it. Edmund Fane did not have to cope with rush hours or crowded tubes. He lived within two miles of his office, and he drove himself there and back each day. He liked his life. He was due to turn forty in a couple of months' time, which a great many people would have found vaguely alarming, talking about landmarks and watersheds, planning slightly hysterical celebrations or starting rigid exercise regimes that they would not keep up. Edmund had no intention of adopting such extreme behaviour; he viewed his fortieth birthday with quiet confidence and thought it was not being vain to look at his life with satisfaction. On the material side there were a number of pleasing credits. There was his house, which, although small, was two hundred years old, and not only carefully maintained but very tastefully furnished. No one realized what a kick Edmund got when guests complimented him on his possessions. There was his small solicitor's practice, which he had built up almost single-handed in the prosperous little market town, and there was another kick to be got there. 'Mr Fane,' people said. 'One of the town's leading solicitors.' People liked him, Edmund knew that. When he was still in his teens, they had said, Oh, what a nice boy! So responsible, so clever. And such beautiful manners. When he got a first at Bristol University people told Aunt Deborah how proud she must be of him. A brilliant future ahead, they said, and expressed surprise when he chose to come home and set up his own law practice, because wouldn't you have expected Edmund Fane - Edmund Fane with that first-class honours degree in law - to have aimed for something more high-flying? Rather odd that someone with such a brilliant mind should bury himself in a small country firm - why, it was barely five miles from the place where he had been born. Ah, but perhaps he wanted to remain near to Deb Fane who had been so very good to him, almost a mother to him, in fact. Yes, that would be the reason. Dear, thoughtful Edmund. On the strictly emotional side, the score was not quite so healthy, in fact Edmund admitted that if you were going to pick nits, you might say that the one shortfall in his life was the lack of a wife. But he had fostered a small legend about having carried a torch for some unspecified lady all these years, and it had worked very well indeed. (Poor Mr Fane, so romantically good-looking, and is it true that he never recovered from losing the love of his life...?) Aunt Deborah had once or twice wondered if Lucy and Edmund might one day get together - such good friends they had been in their childhood, and only cousins by marriage, and wouldn't it be nice? - but Edmund knew it would not be nice at all; Lucy would drive him mad inside of a fortnight. At around the time Lucy was drinking her wine and thinking about Alraune, and Edmund was reviewing his life with such satisfaction, a sharp and incisive mind was remembering a very particular childhood fear. It was a fear that still sometimes clawed its way to the surface, even after so many years and even when a degree of prosperity had been doggedly achieved. Even today, the fear that had ruled the life of a lonely child and that night after night had filled up a house had not completely faded. The house had been in Pedlar's Yard, once the site of an East London street market, once a busy little world of its own. The original cobbles were still discernible in places, but the market had been abandoned a century and a half earlier, and the houses and the surrounding areas were sinking into decay. No. 16 was squeezed between two larger buildings whose frontages both jutted out in front of it, so that it was always dark inside and there was a squashed-up feeling. On some nights in that house it was necessary to hide, without always understanding why. But as the years went by, understanding gradually unfurled, and then it was necessary to be sly about the hiding places, changing them, sometimes doubling back to earlier hiding places, because if you were found on the nights when fear filled up the rooms - the nights when he stormed through the house - terrible things could happen. None of it must ever be talked of. That had been one of the earliest lessons to be learned. 'Tell a living soul what I do in here and I'll break your fingers, one by one.' And then the thin angry face with its cold eyes suddenly coming closer, and the soft voice whispering its threats. 'And if you do tell, I'll know. Remember that. If you tell, I'll find out.' On those nights not my pleas, not mother's frightened crying - nothing - ever stopped him. She covered up the bruises and the marks and she never talked about the other wounds he inflicted on her in their bed, and I never talked about it either. She sought refuge in the tales she had stored away about the past; they were her armour, those tales, and they became my armour as well because she pulled me into the tales with her, and once inside we were both safe. Safe. But have I ever really been safe since those years? Am I really safe now? Copyright (c) 2006 Sarah Rayne Excerpted from Roots of Evil by Sarah Rayne All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.