Authors: David Dickinson
was born in Dublin. He graduated from Cambridge with a first-class honours degree
in classics and joined the BBC. After a spell in radio he transferred to television and went on to become editor of
In 1995 he was series editor of
, a three-part examination of its current state and future prospects. David lives in London.
Praise for The Lord Francis Powerscourt series
‘A kind of locked bedroom mystery … Dickinson’s view of the royals is edgy and shaped by our times.’
The Poisoned Pen
‘Fine prose, high society and complex plot recommend this series.’
‘Lovers of British mysteries will enjoy Powerscourt’s latest adventure.’
‘A cracking yarn, beguilingly real from start to finish … you have to pinch yourself to remind you that it is fiction – or is it?’
Titles in the series
(listed in order)
Goodnight Sweet Prince
Death & The Jubilee
Death of an Old Master
Death of a Chancellor
Death Called to the Bar
Death on the Nevskii Prospekt
Death on the Holy Mountain
Death of a Pilgrim
Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2008
This paperback edition published by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2009
First US edition published by SohoConstable,
an imprint of Soho Press, 2008
This paperback edition published 2009
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Copyright © David Dickinson, 2008, 2009
Permission to reproduce the works of W.B. Yeats has been kindly
granted by A.P. Watt Ltd on behalf of Gráinne Yeats.
The right of David Dickinson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights
reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than
that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication
Data is available from the British Library
US Library of Congress number: 2007038616
UK ISBN 978-1-84529-876-0
US ISBN 978-1-56947-570-6
Printed and bound in the UK by
CPI Mackays, Chatham ME5 8TD
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Consider Ireland. Thus you have a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church – and, in addition, the weakest executive in the world. That is the
Benjamin Disraeli, 1844
The box was brown and tightly bound with string. It sat happily on a small table in the front hall of the Powerscourt residence in London’s Chelsea. Indeed it looked as
if the person in charge of wrapping the parcel believed it would only survive the journey if virtually encased in strong twine. The top had so many lines criss-crossing it that it resembled a
master cobweb. Occasional loops under the knots bore witness to the fact that the wrapper might have preferred a different profession, pastry cook perhaps, or ornamental plasterer. Lord Francis
Powerscourt approached the object gingerly. The box bore his name on the front. He knew what was inside. He felt reluctant to open it. Maybe, he said to himself, the expectation is always better
than the reality. And he knew that one of the many divisions into which the world’s population is split – those who can whistle and those who can’t, those who adore Venice and
those who complain about the smell, those who can order drinks in theatre bars at the interval and those who can’t – was the distinction between those who can unwrap parcels neatly and
those who can’t. Powerscourt knew that his wife Lucy would have the thing open, the string tied neatly into a ball, the box itself virtually intact and available for reuse, in a minute or
two. And he knew, as night followed day, that his own efforts would be similar to those of his three-year-old twins, torn strips of cardboard lying all over the floor, pieces of string also strewn
on the ground to trip the unwary, a general sense of mess and disorder. Sighing slightly, he opened the drawer of the table and brought out a pair of scissors. Why did they have to put on so much
bloody string? he said to himself after a few minutes, with only three of the fetters broken. And why was the top of the box so hard to open? With growing irritation he forced the lid open at
The Cathedrals of England
by Francis Powerscourt
, it said on the cover of the book. He stared at it in wonder and disbelief. His name. His book. His cathedrals.
Had he not visited them all, walked their cloisters and their clerestories, climbed up their towers where the great bells rang out over fen and plain? Had he not worshipped at Matins in the morning
and with the sombre beauty of Evensong as the light faded from the day? He began to smile as he unpacked his treasures. There are a few great moments in a man’s life, he said to himself,
catching your first fish, scoring your first century, getting married, looking at your own newly arrived children so small and cross in their tiny white clothes. This was another, opening the first
book you had written. He remembered his oldest friend and companion in arms, Johnny Fitzgerald, telling him about the intense joy these occasions called forth, how for days afterwards you would be
drawn to the place where these very special first editions were being displayed, to touch them, to open them at random, caring little for the content, to smile once more, maybe even to laugh.
Johnny had compared it to the first time he tasted Chassagne-Montrachet, a sensation he, Johnny, had described as being akin to being received into heaven with a band of angels serenading you with
anthems of celestial glory.
There was a sudden burst of noise coming down the stairs. The twins, Christopher and Juliet Powerscourt, seemed to have escaped the attentions of whoever was meant to be guarding them. They were
singing some strange song that might once have been a nursery rhyme. They stopped when they saw the remains of the parcel and the string. Christopher pointed at the box and nudged his sister in the
ribs. He looked, his father thought, like a person who has forgotten the word for something in a foreign language.
Juliet eyed the object carefully.
‘Box,’ she said with a great effort, as if some mammoth feat of mental arithmetic had just been performed. ‘Box.’
‘Box good,’ said Christopher and led the charge down the rest of the stairs. Powerscourt noticed that their clothes were still clean even though they had been up for an hour or more,
a minor miracle where the twins were concerned. He thought of trying to explain to them that he had written the book but decided that it was no use. He might as well tell them that a man from Mars
had just landed in their back garden. They pulled the box on to the floor and Christopher climbed in. Juliet began gathering bits of string and said ‘Pull’ firmly to her father. Quite
what they had in mind was not apparent for at that moment two things happened simultaneously. Powerscourt’s wife, Lady Lucy, appeared at the top of the stairs and began summoning the children
back to their normal place of confinement at the top of the house, and there was a firm, confident knock at the front door.
Powerscourt ushered into his hall an immaculate footman, clad in black breeches and a black jacket with a rather daring yellow waistcoat and brilliantly polished black boots.
‘Lord Powerscourt?’ said the apparition with the yellow waistcoat.
‘I am he,’ said Powerscourt, smiling at the young man.
‘I have a message for you, my lord.’ The clothes, Powerscourt thought, might be the clothes of Mayfair and the West End, but the vowels were pure Whitechapel. ‘From my lord, my
lord,’ and he pulled an envelope from his inside pocket with the panache of a conjuror.
‘Forgive me,’ said Powerscourt, ‘and who might your master be?’
‘Sorry, my lord,’ said the footman, ‘forgive me, my lord. I work for Lord Brandon, the Earl of Lincoln, my lord. And forgive me,’ the young man began to stammer slightly
as if the whole ordeal of two lords in one sentence might be proving too great a burden, ‘my lord wonders if you could give an answer straight away, my lord.’
Powerscourt opened the envelope. ‘Dear Lord Powerscourt,’ he read, ‘I wish to take advantage of your wisdom in a troubling and troublesome matter. I do not feel able to
vouchsafe any details in this letter. Ill health leaves me unable to come up to town at present. I would be most grateful if you could feel able to come down and see me here at Kingsclere as soon
as possible. The matter appears trifling at present, but I fear greatly for the future. Your experience and your expertise are badly needed. Yours, Lincoln.’
‘Is there any reason, Lucy, why I shouldn’t go to Kingsclere in the morning?’ asked Powerscourt.
‘None at all,’ said Lady Lucy, seizing a twin firmly in each hand.
‘Please send the Earl my best wishes,’ said Powerscourt, ‘and tell him that I will call on him round about eleven o’clock tomorrow morning.’
The young man bowed and took his leave. The twins were transported to the top floor. Powerscourt grabbed half a dozen of his books and brought them up to the drawing room to show his wife.
The Cathedrals of England
, he read on the title page, by Francis Powerscourt, published by Constable, Orange Street, London, MCMV.