About the Book
Title: The Widow’s Son
Author: Thomas Shawver
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Thomas Shawver, author of The Dirty Book Murder and Left Turn at Paradise, returns to the surprisingly lethal world of rare books with a third enthralling novel featuring a most unlikely hero -- antiquarian bookseller Michael Bevan.
A furious man from nearby Independence, Kansas demands that Michael Bevan return a rare first edition of the Book of Mormon, claiming that it was mistakenly sold by a disgruntled descendant of A.J. Stout. Contained on the frontispiece are a list of Ford names dating from 1845 to the present. Beside each name, save the last two, is a check mark - but what could the checks signify? With this discovery, Michael Bevan stumbles onto a trail of hatred and murder stretching back to 1844.
Eulalia Darp lived in a three-story Victorian “painted lady” halfway up the western side of the hill, where a border of Japanese maples separated it from a row of fraternities.
Dusky greens and muted chartreuse created a daring but tasteful charm to the outside appearance of the house. Carved wooden images of red and yellow fruits highlighted details on shutters and pillars. Every third window featured stained glass. The paint was fresh and applied with meticulous attention to detail. Beneath the steep-pitched roof were multiple dormers, detailed bracket work, and delicately carved gingerbread bordering. Stenciled squirrels, rabbits, and other critters scampered after acorns among the corbels and ribboned roofline.
A golden retriever ran alongside my Jeep when I pulled onto the long gravel driveway. Getting out, I rubbed the dog’s ears and shook its proffered paw. It followed me onto the wraparound front porch, settling on its hindquarters when I rang the doorbell.
A few seconds later I heard heavy footsteps, and a deep voice announced, “I’m comin’. Hold your horses.”
The heavy oak door opened to reveal a sturdily built Native American whose head was the size, color, and shape of a bronze bowling ball, with about the same amount of hair. He wore a plain apron over a pair of jeans and faded paisley shirt with the sleeves rolled up, displaying Popeye-sized forearms.
Upon seeing him, the dog wagged its tail happily and received a biscuit in return.
“Now git back, Daisy,” he ordered. “Go on back home.”
Hearing our voices, a youth who had been throwing a Frisbee on the fraternity lawn next door ran up to the porch.
After securing a leash on the dog, he said, “Hey, Norm, Mom Morsley wants to see you about cleaning the chapter room at the house. We had a party last night and . . .”
“And a few of you young bucks got drunk and smashed up things. Don’t you worry, son; tell your housemother I’ll be over shortly.”
As the kid and the dog sauntered back to the fraternity, the man turned to me.
“You the book fella?”
“You don’ look like one.”
“I suppose I don’t.”
“Football or hoops? I know you didn’t play for the Jayhawks. I remember who all them fellas was when I coached at Haskell Indian Nations.”
“I was a linebacker for Iowa. Name’s Mike Bevan.”
“I’m Norman Tate,” he said as he extended a heavily calloused hand. “Stormin’ Norman to the boys over there.” He nodded in the direction of the Sigma Chi house before adding—I couldn’t tell whether with nostalgia or regret—“I was their janitor for thirty years. Coaching didn’t work out.” He looked back at me. “A Hawkeye, you say? You know Podolak?”
“Met him once at a reunion, but he played long before me. Is Mrs. Darp in?”
“It’s Miss Darp,” he corrected, adding a wink. “She’s a bachelor lady.”
Tapping a foot impatiently, I mentioned having an appointment to see her.
“I know you do. I’m jus’ wastin’ time while she gets settled.” He looked over his shoulder for half a minute, then back to me. “All right, you can come on in now. And let’s not take too long with her, if you follow what I’m sayin’.”
He led me through a high-ceilinged library stuffed with leather-bound books arrayed on ten-foot shelves and heavy library tables. Half a dozen original Hudson River School landscapes in unpretentious frames completed my impression of the owner’s quiet, reflective taste. A marble mantel over the fireplace boasted the works of Mark Twain, Washington Irving, Willa Cather, and Stephen Crane. The row stretched for several feet and was bound in place by Art Deco bookends featuring a pair of dancing harlequins.
Tate opened a sliding door and ushered me into a second, smaller room where three vintage kerosene oil lamps hanging from the high ceiling cast the space in an otherworldly glow. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the semidarkness, but when they did I had to check myself from doing a double take.
That’s because a doppelganger of Gertrude Stein sat with perfect posture on a chintz-covered couch before the fireplace. The couch looked as though only one person ever sat on it, and always in the same spot, exactly where she was now. On a nearby side table was a teacup and saucer with thin biscuits, the day’s , a notebook and pencil, and a neat stack of files.
It was immediately apparent that the fine sense of taste that had gone into Eulalia Darp’s house and collectibles did not extend to her person or attire; or maybe she preferred to focus on her possessions rather than any personal adornment.
Her hair was silver gray, trimmed in a severely short modern style that contradicted the rest of her appearance. She wore a shapeless green jumper, undoubtedly intended to disguise her large torso, which only made her resemble a slightly overripe pear. Large, round glasses that were in vogue in the 1950s dominated the small nose on her broad pink face. They couldn’t hide, however, the intelligent brown eyes that returned my gaze with a somewhat amused expression.
Like the room, she showed wear, but her calm and self-possessed carriage reflected durability. Had she been a book, I would have described her as “tightly bound in a thick, single volume; a little worn, but in fine condition.”
Thomas Shawver is a former marine officer, lawyer, and journalist with American City Business Journals. An avid rugby player and international traveler, Shawver owned Bloomsday Books, an antiquarian bookstore in Kansas Cit
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