Murder in the Forbidden City
Qing Dynasty Mysteries Book 1
by Amanda Roberts
Genre: Historical Mystery
When one of the Empress’s ladies-in-waiting is killed in the Forbidden City, she orders Inspector Gong to find the killer. Unfortunately, as a man, he is forbidden from entering the Inner Court. How is he supposed to solve a murder when he cannot visit the scene of the crime or talk to the women in the victim’s life? He won’t be able to solve this crime alone.
The widowed Lady Li is devastated when she finds out about the murder of her sister-in-law, who was serving as the Empress’s lady-in-waiting. She is determined to discover who killed her, even if it means assisting the rude and obnoxious Inspector Gong and going undercover in the Forbidden City.
Together, will Lady Li and Inspector Gong be able to find the murderer before he – or she – strikes again?
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Murder in the British Quarter
Qing Dynasty Mysteries Book 2
Once again, he must turn to the one woman who can help him. The woman he can’t stop thinking about.
Lady Li is trying to forget about Inspector Gong. He’s a danger to herself, her position, and her children’s future. But when he comes once again knocking on her door and asking for her assistance in solving a case, she can’t resist, despite her better judgment.
Lady Li’s language and diplomatic abilities allow her to freely enter the world of the Western visitors, but tensions between the foreigners and local people are increasing by the hour.
Will Lady Li and Inspector Gong be able to solve the crime without the answer leading China to war?
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Lady Li felt much more confident this time, in her new frock in the latest fashion, but she couldn’t ignore that the two of them together got even more stares than last time. She wasn’t sure if it was because there were two of them or because of how stunning Concubine Swan looked. Concubine Swan was a beauty by any standard. She had a long, lean body, but in the corseted French gown, she suddenly had curves in all the womanly places. She had allowed her hair to fall freely around her shoulders, which accented her nearly white skin and dreamy doe eyes. Lady Li had never felt intimidated by Concubine Swan before, but the more she looked around at the people—the men—staring at them, she had to accept that they were staring at Concubine Swan.
Lady Li shrugged the bit of self-consciousness niggling at the back of her mind away. She needed to focus on the task at hand. She rang the bell at the home of Lady Highcastle. A Chinese maid answered the door, her eyes wide at seeing two Chinese ladies in western dress standing there.
“Please let Lady Highcastle know that Lady Li is here to see her,” Lady Li said in English. She could have said it in Chinese, but she wanted to make sure that the maid would actually deliver the message.
The maid gave a curt bow and headed inside. She returned a moment later and opened the door wide.
“Lady Highcastle will see you,” she said in English. “Your maids can wait in the kitchen.”
Lady Li nodded to the maids as she and Concubine Swan were led to the parlor. Lady Li started for a moment when she saw there were two other ladies already there with Lady Highcastle: Mrs. Gibson and another woman she didn’t know.
“Lady Li!” Mrs Gibson called out as she crossed the room and took her hand. “How wonderful to see you again so soon. And what a lovely dress you are wearing.”
“It is just an ugly dress the shop had in stock,” Lady Li replied. “I thought that if I was going to resume my visits in the legation, I should update my wardrobe.”
“Well I think you look lovely,” Mrs. Gibson said. “And who is your friend?”
“This is my cousin,” Lady Li said. “My late husband’s cousin actually. She is practicing her English and wanted to accompany me.”
“I am Swan,” Concubine Swan said slowly and clearly, gripping Mrs. Gibson’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “I am her cousin.”
“Charmed,” Mrs. Gibson said. “Well, come over and sit down. Lady Li, I am sure you recall Lady Highcastle.”
“Just who I was coming to visit,” Lady Li said as she approached a younger woman with soft brown curls. “I am so sorry to have called when you already have visitors.”
“Not at all,” Lady Highcastle said. “I appreciate having company. This…sordid business has been terrible for my nerves. Do sit down and have some tea.”
Lady Li sat down on a small couch, and Concubine Swan sat next to her. Another Chinese maid who had been standing nearby offered each of them a teacup and poured the tea for them. Lady Li noticed that Concubine Swan gripped the delicate British-style cup firmly in both of her hands. She hadn’t considered giving the girl a rundown of British manners. She nudged Concubine Swan with her elbow and held up her own teacup, gently held by and handle with her fingers. Concubine Swan nodded and followed her example.
“Lady Li,” Lady Highcastle said, “do you know Mrs. Belvedere?”
Lady Li recalled that Mrs. Belvedere lived in the other house across from the Gibsons. “I’m afraid I do not,” she said. “You must be new to Peking.”
Mrs. Belvedere was older and had a face like a sour plum. “I have been here for two years,” she said. “But one never feels settled in a foreign country. Every single day is a struggle. Do you know I spent two hours at the bank yesterday trying to send money home? Two hours! The whole day was practically shot by the time I got back to the legation.”
All the ladies nodded and then sipped their tea.
“And you can never find good help,” Mrs. Belvedere continued. “None of the servants could catch up with their work when I got home. We were not served dinner until nine o’clock! I have never lived in a country with such lazy people. And we lived in India for a decade!”
Lady Li did not reply but kept to her tea.
“What is India?” Concubine Swan asked.
“Yìndù,” Lady Li said softly.
“Oh yes,” Concubine Swan said with a smile and nod.
“Have you been to India?” Lady Highcastle asked Concubine Swan.
Concubine Swan giggled. “No. I just know the name. Tea and opium, yes?”
The other women laughed uncomfortably.
“I am sure India has more than that to offer,” Mrs. Gibson said.
“But that is about it in a nutshell,” Lady Highcastle said.
“And malaria,” Mrs. Belvedere said. “And the heat. And the humidity! And the smell! Oh, my lord. If I never smell…”
“When will you return to England, Mrs. Belvedere?” Lady Li asked in the hopes of redirecting the conversation.
“Heaven knows!” she replied, throwing up her hands. “Have you heard about the ports being closed? We were supposed to leave next month so we can be home for Christmas. I tell you, that Mr. Hart is ruining lives as we speak. Not only was my husband’s ship locked in the port for some dreadful inspection, even passenger ships have been prevented from leaving.”
“How terribly inconvenient,” Lady Li said innocently.
“We were lucky that my husband’s captain was anxious to leave and left early,” Mrs. Gibson said.
“Well some of us weren’t,” Mrs. Belvedere said. “Our silk and porcelain goods were scheduled to ship next week, but Mr. Hart said that the inspection could last a month!”
“Not to mention the ships that now can’t get in,” Lady Highcastle said. “Most of our husbands import as well.”
“Indeed,” Mrs. Gibson said. “Our ship got out but our next arrival has been delayed indefinitely. I don’t know what Hart expects them to do. Just float around in circles for weeks on end? What about our letters from home?”
“It’s an act of war, I tell you!” Mrs. Belvedere exclaimed rather suddenly, causing Lady Li to nearly spit out her tea.
“Oh, Julia,” Lady Highcastle said, patting Mrs. Belvedere’s hand. “It can’t be a bad as that, can it?”
“It certainly is!” Mrs. Belvedere said. “We were awarded those trade ports fair and square after the last war. To close them is to violate the peace treaty.”
Lady Li could feel her left eye twitch and her cheeks burn. She knew she needed to keep silent if she wished to gain information from the ladies, but as she bit the inside of her cheek to the point of bleeding, she simply could not.
“I am sure that any losses will pale in comparison to the losses the Chinese suffered during the war,” she said. “The emperor died because of it. I am sure a few days’ delay of a ship is only a minor inconvenience.”
The other ladies were silent for a moment as the tension mounted. The other ladies shuffled uncomfortably as Lady Li locked eyes with Mrs. Belvedere.
“I would not expect you to understand matters of economic importance,” Mrs. Belvedere finally said to Lady Li. “Chinese women aren’t even allowed to go to school, much less be educated in such complex matters.”
“And considering how young England is when compared to China,” Lady Li said, “I can understand why your people have such little regard for the culture, the traditions, the architecture of the people you conquer.”
“Architecture?” Mrs. Belvedere scoffed. “You mean those ridiculous squat houses and open-air temples? It’s just wood and paint. Nothing of substance like the great marble structures we build. We did China a favor by burning down that wretched Summer ‘Palace’ as the locals like to call it.”
“Did you see the Summer Palace before your people came?” Lady Li asked.
“Of course, not,” Mrs. Belvedere said.
“I did,” Lady Li said. “I was there when it burned. I watched from a nearby cliff as hundreds of buildings, countless of pieces of art, and thousands of years of history went up in smoke. After your soldiers looted what they could like common thieves.”
“Oh, Lady Li,” Lady Highcastle said, her hand on her chest. “How terrible that much have been for you.”
“Well,” Mrs. Belvedere huffed. “You would think that you people would have learned your lesson. Defying the will of the British will only cost you dearly.”
“Did you learn your lesson after the American Revolution?” Lady Li asked. “Great Britain can only force its will upon the world for so long.”
Mrs. Belvedere stood. “Well, I think I have had quite enough tea. Good day to you all.”
The other ladies all stood. Lady Highcastle tried to see Mrs. Belvedere out, but she nearly rushed out without even a goodbye.
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