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Master of Plagues

Master of Plagues, February 2015
Nicolas Lenoir #2
by E.L. Tettensor

Roc
Featuring: Nicolas Lenoir
368 pages
ISBN: 0451419995
EAN: 9780451419996
Kindle: B00LMGK434
Paperback / e-Book
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"Masterful Blend of the Detective Tale and the Supernatural"

Fresh Fiction Review

Master of Plagues
E.L. Tettensor

Reviewed by Debbie Wiley
Posted January 27, 2015

Science Fiction | Fantasy

Inspector Nicholas Lenoir has never faced a villain quite like this before. It seems like a medical nightmare... but this plague might be the work of man. As more and more Kennian residents fall victim to this merciless plague, Lenoir and his partner, Sergeant Bran Kody, are in a race against time. What diabolical plot is at work in the city of Kennian? And will the Adlai race hold the key to curing the plague?

MASTER OF PLAGUES is the second book in the Nicholas Lenoir series but can easily be read as a standalone story. References are made to the first book and Lenoir's involvement with the Darkwalker but readers can easily jump right into this deliciously dark mystery. However, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to read both books as E.L. Tettensor has crafted a series that has quickly moved to the top of my favorites list!

Lenoir has a renewed lease on life after the incidents detailed in Darkwalker. I love how E.L. Tettensor shows his relationships with Kody and the street urchin, Zach, as we begin to see a gentler side of the often enigmatic inspector. However, it is Kody who truly steps up to the plate in MASTER OF PLAGUES as he risks everything to do the job he believes in. I won't deny peeking at the end of MASTER OF PLAGUES to see how E.L. Tettensor was going to unravel the very sticky situations her characters find themselves in.

The worldbuilding continues to amaze me as MASTER OF PLAGUES delves deeper into the racism that divides the various cultures. I love seeing how the "modern" science handles the Adlai dark magic, particularly when the results are superior to their own. However, it is the sheer disdain shown for the health and welfare of the poor that shines through so clearly in E.L. Tettensor's world. It's easy to see the modern day parallels, particularly with the eerie similarities between the plague and Ebola.

MASTER OF PLAGUES is another spectacular tale from the very talented E.L. Tettensor. Once again, E.L. Tettensor has crafted a masterful blend of the detective novel and the supernatural as MASTER OF PLAGUES shows readers that sometimes the darkness that lies within the hearts of man is the greatest of all evils. I can't rave enough about MASTER OF PLAGUES or the Nicholas Lenoir series enough as both are highly recommended!

Learn more about Master of Plagues

SUMMARY

Unraveling a deadly mystery takes time—and his is running out…

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Darkwalker, Inspector Nicolas Lenoir throws himself into his work with a determination he hasn’t known in years. But his legendary skills are about to be put to the test. A horrific disease is ravaging the city—and all signs point to it having been deliberately unleashed.

With a mass murderer on the loose, a rising body count, and every hound in the city on quarantine duty, the streets of Kennian are descending into mayhem, while Lenoir and his partner, Sergeant Bran Kody, are running out of time to catch a killer and find a cure.

Only one ray of hope exists: the nomadic Adali, famed for their arcane healing skills, claim to have a cure. But dark magic comes at a price, one even the dying may be unwilling to pay. All that’s left to Lenoir is a desperate gamble. And when the ashes settle, the city of Kennian will be changed forever...

Excerpt

Chapter One

The shot almost took him.

If Lenoir had been wearing a hat, it would have been blown clean off. As it was, he felt his hair move as the bricks above his head exploded into dust, sending a shower of debris down the inside of his collar. Cursing, Lenoir ducked back around the corner of the building, fumbling for his own gun. Fool. You should have guessed he would be armed. Civilians rarely carried pistols, but this was no small-time thief. He had killed before, and left the auctioneer unconscious. Slow down, Lenoir. Think before you act. He would be damned if he got himself killed over a painting—and a crude, tacky, Braelish painting at that.

Cocking the hammer of his flintlock, Lenoir peered cautiously around the corner, but his quarry was nowhere to be seen. He stepped out from the cover of the wall, his gaze raking every trash heap, every doorway, every shadowed corner. The alley stretched on, empty, for another fifty feet before hitting Warrick Avenue. Lenoir hesitated, puzzled. He cannot have run that fast. Where could he . . . ?

A sound drew his eyes upward, and he caught a glimpse of movement. The thief was scrambling hand over hand up a drainpipe. Lenoir aimed his gun and fired, but he missed by a wide margin, earning himself a second dust shower. The thief did not so much as flinch, and within moments he was over the parapet and out of sight. Lenoir swore. He could not possibly follow; his body was thoroughly unequal to the task. His mind, though, might do better. He imagined himself standing on the roof, scanning his surroundings.

Warrick Avenue was too wide to cross from the rooftops. The thief would have to climb down first, and that would take too much time. He had not leapt across the alley, or Lenoir would have seen him. That left south toward Ayslington Street, or west toward Bridgeway. An athletic man might make the jump across Bridgeway—and the thief was obviously athletic, having made short work of the drainpipe. But it would be risky, and Lenoir doubted his man was any more eager than he to get himself killed over a painting, no matter how inexplicably valuable it might be. Ayslington would be the easier jump, for the streets were narrower than the avenues. South, then, he concluded, and sprinted back up the alley.

He banked onto Bridgeway and nearly collided with a fruit stand. Avoiding it landed him right in the thick of the foot traffic, and he had to put his shoulder into it, bowling a path for himself and ignoring the outraged cries that followed in his wake. He glanced up at the eaves as he ran, but there was no sign of the thief. No matter. His course is clear.

Just as he reached Ayslington Street, someone blasted into him from the side, throwing him into the path of an oncoming carriage. Lenoir might have met his end right there had he not been wrestled aside by a pair of meaty arms. The carriage rumbled past, so close that the hoofbeats seemed to ricochet inside Lenoir’s skull, drowning out even the cursing of the startled driver.

“Sorry, Inspector.” Sergeant Kody brushed at Lenoir’s coat in a feeble attempt to right it. “Didn’t see you coming.”

“Clearly.” Lenoir twisted out of the sergeant’s grasp. He was not sure what irritated him more: that Kody had stumbled onto the thief’s trail through sheer luck, or that he was not even winded from the chase. Lenoir, for his part, had to brace his hands against his thighs to catch his breath. His eyes scoured the rooftops. Nothing. “Damn! We missed him!”

“I heard a shot, but I wasn’t sure . . .” Kody trailed off as he followed Lenoir’s gaze. “He’s up there?”

Lenoir ignored the question. He squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating. Once again, he mapped out the block in his mind. Bridgeway to his right, Warrick to his left . . . They had reached the boundaries of Old Town, and Bridgeway would soon curve off to the west, leaving a narrow alley to continue on straight, like a tributary of a much larger river. He could make that jump and head west, but . . . Lenoir shook his head. “There is nowhere for him to go.”

“How do you figure that?” Kody gestured at the rooftops across Ayslington Street. “The end of that block hits the water. He could jump in the river and just swim away.”

“With a four thousand–crown painting in his pack? I think not.”

“West, then. He could jump the alley where Bridgeway curves off.”

“Old Town,” Lenoir snapped. “Peaked roofs.” Then it dawned on him. He turned and bolted back the way he had come, leaving Kody to follow. He could only hope the thief had lost time to indecision, or they may be too late. “Get your crossbow ready, Sergeant!”

By the time they got back to the alley, Lenoir was fit to collapse, but somehow he managed to calm his breathing as he trained his pistol on the narrow track of sky above his head, cocking the hammer of the second barrel. “Be ready.”

The sergeant frowned down the sight of his crossbow. “How will we know where—”

“Quiet.”

They had only a fraction of a moment to react. The crescendo of footfalls, the scrape of roof tiles, the faintest grunt of exertion—then the fluttering black cloak appeared overhead. Lenoir fired. He knew he had missed the moment he squeezed the trigger, but as always, Bran Kody found his mark. The thief did not scream, but Lenoir knew the bolt had taken him, for the man missed his jump and slammed onto the edge of the roof. He scrabbled at the tiles, but it was a lost cause; he plucked them loose like so many feathers, sending them spinning to the cobbles below, and soon after he followed them. Now he did scream.

He was still screaming when Kody flipped him over and wrenched his arms behind his back. The feathered end of a bolt protruded from his thigh. Lenoir procured the iron cuffs, but he could not get the man to stop writhing for long enough to get them on; after a cursory attempt, he left the business to Kody.

“No offense, Inspector,” Kody said, “but I’m not sure why you find these so difficult. They’re simple enough. See?” He demonstrated, as if he were teaching a child how to tie his shoes.

“No, Sergeant, I’m afraid I do not see. These Braelish devices are needlessly complicated. Give me a T-chain, and I am content. One does not need to weigh two hundred pounds to subdue the perpetrator while one fumbles with one’s keys. A simple twist will do the job.”

Kody looked at him askance. “Sure will, and crush his wrists in the bargain. Kind of barbaric, don’t you think?” With a final crank, he locked the second cuff and shoved the thief onto his belly.

“I was not aware the objective was to make the criminal comfortable.”

“What if the guy’s innocent?”

Lenoir stooped to retrieve the thief’s fallen pack. “If he is innocent, you should not have him in restraints.” He jammed his hand inside the pack, only to hiss and withdraw it again. A bead of blood appeared on his thumb.

“What is it?” Kody asked.

Lenoir drew out a ragged shiver of wood with a bit of canvas drooping from it. Slowly, forlornly, the rest of the painting followed, clinging to its shattered frame like a furled sail. “Garden By Evening, it would appear. What is left of it.”

Kody winced. “Lord Einhorn won’t be happy about that. Neither will the chief.”

“Lord Einhorn’s love affair with this monstrosity is obviously over, or he would not have put it up for auction. As for the chief . . . It is not our job to protect works of so-called art. We are policemen, not museum curators.”

Kody did not look convinced, and he gave the thief a shove with his boot. The man moaned something about his legs. “Broken, most likely,” Kody said. “Want me to carry him, Inspector?”

Lenoir did not doubt for a moment that the burly sergeant was strong enough, but the question still struck him as bizarre. “You are a sergeant, Kody, not some newly whelped street hound. Leave the heavy lifting to the watchmen.”

“I’ll go find one,” Kody said, and he loped off toward Warrick Avenue.

Absently, Lenoir flattened the bedraggled painting against the wall. He scrutinized its bold colors, its harsh, clipped strokes, its muddy texture. A garden only a Braelishman could love. “I shall ask the magistrate to be lenient, my friend,” he muttered to the thief, “for you have surely done a public service.”

“Destroyed,” said Chief Lendon Reck. “As in, destroyed.”

Lenoir shrugged. “Perhaps that is too strong. I’m sure it can be restored, though why anyone would wish to, I cannot imagine.” The chief gave him a wry look. “You’re an art critic now?”

“I am Arrènais, Chief. We are all art critics.”

Reck snorted. “Not to mention food critics, fashion critics, theater critics . . .”

“Criticism builds character.”

“I guess that explains why you lot are such a humble people.”

Lenoir’s lip quirked just short of a smile. “Undoubtedly.”

The repartee was short-lived. The chief’s countenance clouded over again, his thick gray eyebrows gathering beneath the deep lines of his forehead. “You want to tell me what in the below my best inspector is doing running down a thief? That’s his job.” He jabbed a finger at Kody.

The irony of this lecture was not lost on Lenoir. Small wonder Kody acts like a watchman, when you act like a sergeant. “I was not precisely running the man down,” he said, a little defensively. “I did not expect to meet the thief, merely to discover his hideout.” Reck spread his hands, inviting Lenoir to continue.

“The painting was stolen yesterday, from the auction house. His Lordship wished to recover it, and he asked for me personally. I intended to discover the thief’s hideout and assemble some watchmen to bring him in.”

“Didn’t quite go to plan, though,” Kody put in, helpfully.

“So you end up chasing him all over Evenside.” Reck shook his head. “I don’t know what’s got into you, Lenoir. A few months ago, I could hardly get you to take an interest in a murder investigation. Now you’re putting your life on the line for a stolen painting. You have a recent brush with death or something?”

This time, Lenoir chose to ignore the irony. “I thought you would want me to take the case, Chief. Lord Einhorn is a particular benefactor of the Metropolitan Police.”

“Don’t I know it! And now I have to explain to His Lordship how a valuable piece of art came to be destroyed!”

“I can explain it to him, if you wish.”

The wry look returned. “No, thank you. I’d like to make it sound like we regret ruining his painting.”

Lenoir shrugged. “As you like. And now if you will excuse me, I have a report to file. . . .” More accurately, Kody had a report to file, but Lenoir saw no point in bothering the chief with extraneous details.

“Later,” Reck said, rising and grabbing his coat from the rack. “You’re coming with me, Lenoir. We have business with the lord mayor.” Lenoir made only the barest effort to conceal his dismay. “We, Chief? I cannot imagine what His Honor could possibly—”

“Save it. I know how you feel about the man, but fortunately for you, it’s not mutual. His Honor has a crisis on his hands, and he wants our best. That means you. Now let’s go.” Turning to Kody, he added, “I’ll want that report when I get back.”

Lenoir trailed the chief down the stairs and into the kennel, bracing himself for the throng. The shift was just changing over, and watchmen teemed in every direction, choking the narrow avenues between work spaces. Sergeants tucked themselves more tightly behind their desks, and scribes pressed up against walls and collected in corners, clutching their ledgers and ink bottles and waiting out the tide. The chief made no such accommodation, nor did he need to; as soon as his boots hit the floor, the pack of hounds parted as if by some collective instinct, standing aside to let their alpha through. Lenoir followed closely in Reck’s wake, feeling the pack close up behind him.

The chief’s carriage waited for them in the street, a pair of watchmen serving as driver and footman. Reck waved the latter off as he climbed in, and he was still scowling when Lenoir took the seat across from him. “If you hate the carriage so much, why do you take it?” Lenoir asked, amused.

“For the dignity of the Kennian Metropolitan Police,” Reck said dryly. “If I showed up at the lord mayor’s mansion on horseback, I’d never hear the end of it.” He rapped his knuckles on the wall behind him, and the carriage started up.

The chief said nothing for the first several blocks, preferring to stare out the window, lost in the cares of his office. Ordinarily, silence suited Lenoir perfectly well, but he did not wish to arrive at the lord mayor’s without any notion of why he had been summoned. “There is a body, I presume?” he prompted.

“If only it were just the one.” Reck’s reflection in the carriage window was weary. Lines crisscrossed his pale face, each one a journey, tread and retread, like game trails in the snow. He had been strong once, Lenoir judged, a heavy like Kody, but in the ten years Lenoir had known him, he had always seemed . . . used. Not for the first time, Lenoir wondered why the man did not simply retire. He had earned his rest many times over. And if there was no one around capable of taking his place . . . well, that was not going to change anytime soon. The Kennian Metropolitan Police had a few stray threads of competence, but they were tightly woven into a fabric of mediocrity. Unless the chief planned to cling to his post until he died, he was going to have to accept the fact that his successor, whoever he was, was most likely not going to measure up.

In the meantime, Reck had more than one body on his hands. A serial killer, or a massacre? Sadly, the City of Kennian was no stranger to either. “How many dead?” Lenoir asked.

“Over a thousand, at last count.”

Just like that. A hard blow to the stomach.

Lenoir stared. “I don’t understand. There cannot have been a thousand murders in the entire history of the Metropolitan Police.” “Who said anything about murders?”

Lenoir frowned. “It’s not like you to be coy, Chief.”

Reck scowled back at him. “I’m not the one being coy. All I know is what His Honor’s letter said, and that wasn’t much. There’s some kind of epidemic at the Camp, and he’s afraid it’s getting out of hand.”

“I have heard the rumors, of course, but . . . what has it to do with us? It is unfortunate, but hardly unusual. Disease is the wildfire of the slums. You can count upon it razing the ground every now and then. It is not a matter for the police.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Lendon Reck, like Nicolas Lenoir, was not a man inclined to sentimentality. “Look, there’s no point grousing about it. The lord mayor calls, we come running.” The chief’s tone left little doubt about his own lack of enthusiasm for this endeavor, and Lenoir decided it was pointless to press the matter further. He would have his answers soon enough.

The walls outside the carriage window soon gave way to sloping lawns and manicured hedges, signaling their arrival at the mayoral mansion. Lenoir could not suppress a sour turn of his mouth. Emmory Lyle Hearstings had been lord mayor of Kennian for three years, and in that time, he had thoroughly distinguished himself as one of the most fatuous creatures on hind legs. Lenoir had never been endowed with a great store of patience, but few taxed his meager reserves more thoroughly than His Honor. The sole stroke of good fortune was that Hearstings was generally too thick to notice. Still, Reck was taking no chances: as the carriage shuddered to a halt, he leveled a finger at Lenoir and said, “On your best behavior, Inspector, or I’ll have you patrolling with the pups.”

Lenoir might have declared such an activity to be preferable to the current enterprise, but he had no wish to antagonize the chief further, so he merely nodded.

They were shown to a frilly parlor and offered tea. They both declined. The chamberlain invited them to sit, indicating a delicate-looking sofa upholstered with elaborately embroidered silk. Reck frowned at it dubiously, as though he had been invited to sit on a poodle. He opted for a more functional-looking chair instead. Lenoir perched on the proffered sofa, if a little gingerly.

“A fine piece, newly commissioned,” the chamberlain said, his pride evidently piqued by the chief’s rebuff.

“It’s . . . nice,” Reck said, a peace offering. “Goes with the style of the room.”

“Arrènais,” the chamberlain said, and Lenoir succumbed to a fit of coughing.

His Honor kept them waiting, as was his wont. It would not do for him to seem too available. Reck folded his arms and scowled at the carpet. Lenoir drummed his fingers on his trousers (the only genuinely Arrènais fabric in the room, or he was a fishwife.) The clock on the mantle measured out the passage of time with prim precision. The chamberlain reappeared now and then to update them on His Honor’s unavailability, and to offer tea. Eventually, he was obliged to draw the curtains against the increasingly intrusive slant of the afternoon sun.

By the time Hearstings graced them with his presence, even Reck had had enough; he sprang to his feet like a scalded cat. “Your Honor.”

“Chief Reck.” The lord mayor’s improbable mustaches perked up as he smiled. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long. And Inspector! I trust you are par rinn . . . er, par renne—”

“Very well. Thank you,” Lenoir said before further violence could be done to his mother tongue.

“Yes, well. Very good. Please, gentlemen, take a seat.” Hearstings lowered his own ponderous girth into an armchair. Even as he sat, he reached inside his jacket and consulted his pocket watch in a gesture contrived enough to grace a portrait, or perhaps even hard currency. “How are things at the station?”

“Fine, thank you, Your Honor,” Reck said.

“A lovely graduation ceremony last week. You must so enjoy welcoming the new lads.”

“One of the privileges of the job.”

“Excellent food too. We must be allocating too much coin to the Metropolitan Police!” His Honor barked out a laugh.

A vein swelled in the chief’s forehead, a sign every hound knew and dreaded.

Hearstings was oblivious. “By the way, Reck, are you looking into that business of Einhorn’s?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, good. I heard there was quite an incident at the auctioneer’s. Why, did you know—”

“Excuse me, Your Honor, I thought you wanted to discuss the Camp?”

“Ah, indeed.” The lord mayor assumed a solemn look, running his thumb and forefinger along his mustaches. “I’ll come straight to the point.”

Somehow, the chief managed to nod without a hint of irony.

“We have an epidemic in the Camp,” Hearstings said. “Horrid disease, from what I hear. Men bleeding to death from the inside out.” Reck grimaced. “Sounds ugly.”

“That’s an understatement. Have you ever heard of anything like it?”

The chief shook his head. “You, Lenoir?”

“No, Chief, I have not.”

“Neither has my physician,” said Hearstings. “So far, it’s confined to the Camp, thank God, but it’s making a damn mess of the place. If it gets out of hand, I’ll have panic on my hands.”

Lenoir did not doubt that was true, but he still failed to see where the police came into it. So did Reck, apparently, for he asked, “What exactly do you need from us?”

Hearstings fluttered his hand, as though shooing a fly. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but I promised Lideman I’d send for you. Head out there first thing in the morning. Talk to him. Hear him out, let me know if you think there’s anything in it, that’s all.”

Lenoir and Reck exchanged a blank look. “Lideman? And he is . . . ?”

“From the College of Physicians. Head of Medical Sciences. He’s been out at the Camp the past few days looking into this. He has . . . theories.”

“About what, exactly?”

“Why, about the disease, of course. About where it came from.”

“No doubt that is a fascinating puzzle for a physician,” Lenoir said, “but it is not the concern of the Metropolitan Police.”

Reck shot him a warning look. “What Lenoir means, Your Honor, is that my hounds are hardly qualified—”

“You misunderstand,” the lord mayor said. “I’m not asking you to solve a medical mystery. I’m asking you to look into a potential crime. You see, Lideman doesn’t think the disease reached the Camp on its own. He believes it was planted.”

For a moment, Lenoir was not sure he had heard right. “Planted. Meaning, deliberately.”

“Yes.”

Reck leaned forward, his chair creaking beneath him. “You think someone started a plague on purpose?”

“It sounds outlandish, I know, but Lideman is absolutely convinced. If he’s right, it means someone is trying to commit mass murder.”

More than a thousand bodies, the chief had said. And that was just the beginning. “If he is right,” Lenoir said, “someone is succeeding.”


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