Nick Paleologus is summoned by his family to help resolve a dispute which threatens to set his brothers and sisters against their aged and irrascible father. Michael Paleologus, retired archeologist and supposed descendent of the last Emperors of Byzantium, lives alone at Trennor, a remote and rambling Cornish house. A ridiculously generous offer has been made for the house, but he refuses to sell despite the urgings of his children, for whom the proceeds would solve a variety of problems. Nick accomplishes little in the role of mediator, and it is only when the stalemate is tragically broken that he and his siblings discover why their father insisted on rejecting the offer and what may really be the motives of the prospective buyer.
Their increasingly desperate efforts to conceal the truth drag them into a deadly conflict with an unknown enemy who, while carefully concealing his own identity, seems determined to force them into a confrontation with their family's past. Perhaps too late, Nick realizes that the only way to escape from their persecutor's trap is to hunt him down. But the hunt involves excavating a
terrible secret from their father's archeological career. And once that secret is known, nothing will ever be the same again.
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About the Author
Robert Goddard is the Edgar Award-winning, internationally bestselling author of Into the Blue , which won the first WH Smith Thumping Good Read Award, Long Time Coming , and the critically acclaimed James Maxted thriller series. He read history at the University of Cambridge and lives in Cornwall.
Read an Excerpt
He did not regret agreeing to go. He had long learned to accept the consequences of every decision he took with a degree of equanimity. Regret, then, was hardly the word for it. But consequences hatch slowly and not always sweetly. The long drive west had reminded him of the point more forcefully with every mile. His past was a hostile country, his present a tranquil plain. By going home he was not only abandoning a refuge, but proclaiming that he no longer needed one — which, naturally, he would have said was self-evidently true. But saying and believing are very different things, as different as noise and silence. And what he heard most through the tinted glass and impact-proof steel of his sleek grey company car ... was silence.
Heading west to reach home was also a contradiction in historical terms. However well he played the part of a coolly efficient middle-management Englishman, Nicholas Paleologus was, if his grandfather's genealogical researches were to be believed, something altogether more exotic: a descendant of the last Emperor of Byzantium. He had always displayed, and almost always felt, a keen disdain for his semi-legendary eastern roots. The attention they had attracted had been at best unwelcome, at worst ... But he did not care to dwell on the worst he could remember. Since isolating himself from his family, he had been prepared to admit to Greek ancestry, but nothing more, denying any imperial connection to those pitiful few who recognized the name.
It scarcely seemed likely, after all, that the last of the Paleologi should have found their way to England. Yet so their patchy history insisted. The Paleologus dynasty had ruled Byzantium for the last and least glorious two hundred years of its existence, until Emperor Constantine XI of that ilk had fallen defending the walls of Constantinople in vain against the besieging Turks in 1453. The disaster had scattered those of the family it had not destroyed, to mix with humbler bearers of the name around the Mediterranean, until Constantine's great-great-great-great-nephew, Theodore, fleeing an attempted murder charge in Italy, had set fugitive foot on English soil — and never left it. He had lived out his final years as a guest of the Lower family at their mansion, Clifton, on the Cornish bank of the Tamar, opposite Plymouth, in the parish of Landulph, where he had died in 1636.
It was Theodore Paleologus's memorial plaque in Landulph Church that had inspired Nick's grandfather, Godfrey Paleologus, to settle in the area and devote the numerous leisure hours a sizeable inheritance allowed him to proving his descent from the imperial line. He had bought a tumbledown farmhouse called Trennor halfway between the church and the village of Cargreen and slowly transformed it into a comfortable family home. A Plymothian by birth, he had never quite clinched his blood connection with the long-dead Theodore, but had at least achieved his ambition of being buried at Landulph, though not in the seventeenth-century Paleologus vault.
His son Michael had read archaeology at Oxford and gone on to teach it there. His five children, including Nick, had all been born in the city. But Michael had never sold Trennor, keeping it as a holiday home even after his parents' deaths and ultimately retiring there himself. Since his wife's death, he had lived alone, though four of his children were close by, tied to the area by choice or chance. Only Nick ploughed a distant furrow. And now he too was returning. Though not for long. And not, he suspected, for the very best of reasons.
It was Friday afternoon. A dank winter nightfall had outpaced him on the road. Maybe it was just as well, he thought, as the wayside mileage signs counted him down to his destination. Maybe the cover of darkness was what he needed. Cover of some sort, for sure. He always needed that.
Sunday would be his eldest brother's fiftieth birthday. Andrew farmed sheep on Bodmin Moor, cutting an ever more forlorn figure — according to their sister, Irene — thanks to divorce, estrangement from his only son and the dire state of British agriculture. A birthday party at Trennor — a gathering of the siblings — would do them all good, Andrew especially. It was a summons Nick could not very well ignore. But in luring him down, Irene had admitted that there was more to it than that. 'We need to talk about the future. I don't see how Dad can cope at Trennor on his own much longer. A possibility's cropped up and we'd like your input.' She had declined to be specific over the telephone, hoping, Nick inferred, to rouse his curiosity as well as his conscience. Which she had done, though not as conclusively as she must have hoped. Nick had agreed in the end because he had no reasonable excuse not to.
The rush-hour traffic was just beginning to thin as Nick reached Plymouth. He followed the A38 as it sliced through the city to the Tamar Bridge, where widening work slowed progress to a crawl over the broad, black expanse of the river. A train was crossing the railway bridge to his left, heading back the way he had come. He could not help wishing he was on it, could not help surrendering for an instant his well-practised equanimity.
But only for an instant. Then he was in control once more. On the other side of the bridge, he turned off into the centre of Saltash and doubled back through the oldest part of the town, descending the steep hill to the river, with the road and railway looming above him. As he turned right at the bottom of the hill, he saw at once ahead of him along the quayside the warmly lit windows of the Old Ferry Inn, where Irene Viner, née Paleologus, had presided as landlady for the past twelve years. The pub trade had been her husband's idea, following redundancy from Devonport Dockyard. But he had soon started drinking most of the takings, a problem Irene had solved only with the help of a divorce lawyer. She had freely admitted that running a pub had never been an ambition of hers, but had gone on to make a much better job of it than Nick would ever have predicted.
He pulled into the small yard behind the pub and edged his car into a narrow gap between Irene's Vauxhall and a large plastic bottle-bin, turned off the engine and climbed out. Only in that moment, he realized, had he really arrived, when he inhaled a first lungful of chill, moist riverside air. Almost vertically above him was the ancient span of the railway bridge, dark and silent now the eastbound train had passed. Ahead soared the modern road bridge, the workmen's cradles slung beneath it and the glare of the sodium lights confusing its shape. His sister had chosen a strange kind of home, one literally overshadowed by the structural necessities of travel and named in memory of one form of transport that was no longer to be found there. The Old Ferry was, however you viewed it, a dead end.
So it certainly seemed to Nick. But what of it? He was here for the weekend only. He had come, yes, but soon, very soon, he would go.
He fetched his bag from the boot of the car, walked round to the bar entrance at the front of the pub and dipped his head as he stepped in through the doorway. The nature of the building preserved the distinction between public and lounge, though Irene and her customers referred to the two rooms merely as front and back, served by a double-sided bar. The ceilings were low, the floors uneven, the walls as thick as a dungeon's. It did not wear its five hundred or so years lightly. But there was nothing museum-like about it either. Two fruit machines and a smattering of local youth ensured there was not a lot of fustiness to greet the newcomer.
Cigarette smoke was quite another matter. Nick, one of nature's non-smokers, coughed involuntarily as he strode through, drawing leery glances from the group by the fruit machine. The sight of a well-groomed, smartly suited stranger did not seem to please them, the family resemblance to mine hostess evidently escaping their notice.
The resemblance was, in truth, quite marked. They were of similar height and build; their sleek dark hair was touched with just about the same amount of grey; marginally too long in the face and aquiline in the nose to be described as conventionally goodlooking, they were striking in appearance nonetheless, likely to draw the eye in any gathering. Irene was perched on a stool behind the bar, gazing vacantly into the empty back room, sustaining a murmured conversation over her shoulder with the bottle-blonde barmaid who was keeping the youths out front plied with drinks.
'Here he is,' Irene announced as Nick stepped into her line of sight.
'Hello, stranger.' She hopped off the stool and came out into the room to kiss him. 'You're looking well.'
'Like the ensemble?' She gave a half-pirouette to show off her hip-hugging skirt and high-heeled shoes. Lamplight shimmered across her scarlet blouse. 'Friday-night finery for the locals. There are quite a few that would defect up the road to the Boatman but for my ankles, let me tell you.'
'I can believe it.' So he could, though Irene's admirers seemed to be in short supply at present, a point her slowly fading smile seemed to acknowledge.
'They'll be in soon.'
'Glad to have beaten the rush.'
'Looks like you came straight from the office to do it.'
'I put in the morning there, yeah.'
'Fancy a drink?'
'Later, maybe. I'd like to freshen up.'
'Of course. I'm forgetting how far you've come. Go straight up. I've put you in Laura's room. There's a quiche and salad in the fridge if you're hungry.'
'OK. See you in a minute.'
Nick opened the door marked PRIVATE next to the ladies' and went through to the narrow staircase that led up to the living quarters. He climbed the stairs two at a time to a cramped landing giving on to a sitting room and bedroom at the front, kitchen, bathroom and another bedroom at the back. The rear bedroom belonged to his niece, currently away at boarding school. The bed had been made up for him. He dumped his bag beside it, puzzled briefly over the identity of the girl in the poster behind the door, then headed for the bathroom.
Forty minutes or so had passed by the time Nick went down again and a dozen or more of the fabled locals were now installed in the back bar, swapping jokes and gossip. Some of them he dimly recognized and they him. It soon became clear that Irene had briefed them about his visit and its ostensible reason: the party at Trennor. He was made to feel welcome and stood drinks like one of the crowd. He did more smiling and small-talking over the next few hours than he normally spread over a month, till his jaw ached and a knot of tension in his stomach tightened into a ball of pain. Nobody asked him an obvious question: why not stay at Trennor, big enough to boast several empty bedrooms, including the one he had shared for so many years with his brother Basil, rather than squeeze in amidst Laura's fluffy rabbits and girl-band CDs? Which was just as well, because he could not have supplied an adequate answer. Irene was still holding out on him. Perhaps, he idly wondered during the third pint of Guinness that he regretted accepting, the locals already knew. Perhaps he was the only one who did not know. Then again, he thought, catching his sister's wary, warning glance through a whorl of somebody's cigarillo smoke, perhaps not.
It was nearly midnight before the last of the customers had been steered out into the darkness and the barmaid sent home after some desultory clearing-up. Irene lit her first cigarette of the evening, poured Nick and herself double Glenmorangies and joined him at the table nearest to the flame-effect gas fire, the artfully wavering light from it flickering on a beaten copper surround and a token pair of flanking horsebrasses.
'They seem a good-hearted bunch,' he remarked of the departed carousers.
'Not too hard on you, then?' She gave him a sympathetic smile over the rim of her tumbler.
'No. They were all —'
'I mean the experience. You don't like crowds, do you? Especially when you're supposed to be one of them.'
'I get by.'
'Do you? I worry about you, all the way up there, alone and — ' 'There's nothing to worry about.'
'There used to be.'
'But not any more.'
Seeming to take the hint, Irene changed the subject. 'Well, I'm glad you could make it.'
'Do you think Andrew will be?'
'Of course. Although ...'
'He won't necessarily show it.'
'You know what he's like. And he's more like it than ever, let me tell you.'
'Is a surprise appearance by his kid brother such a good idea, then?'
'We are a family, Nick. It can't be a bad idea to get together. Besides ...'
'You haven't dragged me down here just for the benefit of the birthday boy.'
'No.' She took a long draw on her cigarette. 'There's Dad too, of course.'
'Does he know I'm showing up on Sunday?'
'No. We thought we'd ... surprise both of them.'
'Anna and me.'
'What about Basil?'
'He knows what's going on.'
Since Basil had been living with their sister Anna for some time, that, Nick assumed, was more or less inevitable. 'Lucky him.'
Irene sighed. 'All right. Time to come clean. You haven't seen Dad in over a year. Well, he's gone down quite a lot lately. He's become ... frail, I suppose you'd call it. I remember him as such a big man. Now he's ... shrunken.'
'He is eighty-four years old.'
'And showing it. If Mum was still alive, it might be different. As it is, I don't see how he can stay at Trennor, rattling around that house on his own.'
'What about Pru?' Even as he mentioned his parents' long-serving cleaning lady, Nick calculated that she could hardly be far off eighty-four herself. 'Doesn't she keep an eye on him?'
'As far as her cataracts allow, yes. But she's not of much practical use any more. We have to face facts.'
'You mean Dad has to face them.'
'There's a place at Tavistock that Anna reckons would be ideal for him. Gorton Lodge.'
Anna being a nurse-cum-administrator at a residential home in Plymouth, she was, Nick supposed, qualified to judge in such matters. Still, there seemed to be an element of fence-rushing about it all. He winced at the unaccustomed sensation of sympathy for his father.
'She can tell you about it tomorrow night. She wants you to go over there for dinner. But Gorton Lodge is nice, believe me. The best money can buy round here.'
'That's something I — ' Nick broke off. A thought had come to him, spirited up by mention of the word money. Who was going to pay Gorton Lodge's fees? His grandfather's inheritance had not survived to the next generation. And his father had always let it be known that an academic's salary — not to mention five children — left him with little to provide for his old age. Nor were any of those children exactly coining it in. The only obvious source of funds was Trennor itself. But that was their inheritance. Why were Nick's brothers and sisters suddenly so eager to put it towards a comfortable dotage for their father? It was laudable, in a way, but it was also deeply uncharacteristic. 'The house would have to be sold, Irene.'
'And if Dad lives another ten years or more, even five ...'
'It won't make any difference.'
'No difference? That doesn't make sense. What's Trennor worth? Three hundred thousand? Three fifty at most.'
'On the open market, you're probably right.'
'What other market is there?'
'The closed kind. Someone's offered Dad half a million.'
Nick stared at his sister in astonishment. 'Half a million?'
'That's right. Five hundred thousand pounds. Cash on the table.'
'But ... Dad hasn't put it up for sale.'
'Hence the premium.'
'Currently lodged in a lawyer's suspense account to Baskcomb's satisfaction.'
Baskcomb was the family's solicitor, just as his father had been — and his father before him. The hopeful buyer was evidently serious. 'Who is this someone?'
'Name of Tantris. I know nothing about him. Sounds foreign. But then so do we. None of us has met him. He works through intermediaries.'
'Why does he want the place?'
'Does it matter?'
'It might. What does Dad say?'
'He says "no deal".'
'That's that, then.'
'Not if we talk him round. Show a united front.'
'So that's why I'm here.'
'Not really.' Irene looked reproachfully at him, as if disappointed by the suggestion that this was all there was to it. 'I thought you had a right to know. You stand to benefit along with the rest of us. Or lose, of course, if we throw Mr Tantris's money back at him.'
'It's Dad who'd be doing the throwing. And the benefit's questionable. It would just take Gorton Lodge that bit longer to work their way through the money. As far as I can —'
'Mr Tantris will pay the fees.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Days Without Number"
Copyright © 2003 Robert and Vaunda Goddard.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Robert Goddard is a new author, to me. I picked this book up from a second hand bookshop for coppers, and it has sat upon my shelf for quite some time before I bothered to read it. This was my loss. Robert Goddard will certainly go upon my list of authors for whose books I should look out.Days without number is that ideal escapism: it is a highly improbable story told in such a way as to appear realistic. Were I to précis the story, you would think it poor but, Mr Goddard keeps it zinging along. The storyline is different to anything else that I have read and I genuinely did not know where it was going until it arrived. Characters were friends then enemies and then friends again with startling regularity and one became as confused as our hero as to who could be trusted. This is all accomplished without the need for foul language or second rate sex scenes.This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of escapism and I would unquestioningly recommend it as light reading.
Another family-themed thriller from the master, again set in Cornwall, this time featuring the interestingly named Michael Paleologus.