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After Alice Fell

After Alice Fell

Until she discovers the truth of her sister’s death, no one will rest in peace.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4,270 5-Star Reviews

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Winner of the 2022 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Historical.

New Hampshire, 1865. Marion Abbott is summoned to Brawders House asylum to collect the body of her sister, Alice. She’d been found dead after falling four stories from a steep-pitched roof. Officially: an accident. Confidentially: suicide. But Marion believes a third option: murder.

Returning to her family home to stay with her brother and his second wife, the recently widowed Marion is expected to quiet her feelings of guilt and grief—to let go of the dead and embrace the living. But that’s not easy in this house full of haunting memories.

Just when the search for the truth seems hopeless, a stranger approaches Marion with chilling words: I saw her fall.

Now Marion is more determined than ever to find out what happened that night at Brawders, and why. With no one she can trust, Marion may risk her own life to uncover the secrets buried with Alice in the family plot.

Click to Read The Synopsis

🟠 After Alice Fell

A gripping gothic mystery set in New Hampshire in 1865. The story follows Marion Abbott, a widow, and her brother Lionel Snow, who are summoned to Brawders House, an asylum, to collect the body of their sister, Alice. The official report claims Alice's death was an accident, but Marion suspects foul play. As she prepares Alice's body for burial, Marion discovers evidence suggesting murder, leading her to unravel family secrets and confrontations with her brother. Blakemore expertly portrays the societal constraints faced by women in the mid-1800s, highlighting Marion's struggles as a middle-aged widow. Against the backdrop of detailed historical settings, including the portrayal of women's clothing and household dynamics, the novel delves into themes of family, betrayal, and the quest for truth. With its haunting atmosphere and unexpected twists, "After Alice Fell" keeps readers on the edge of their seats until the thrilling conclusion.

🟠 Read Chapter One

Brawders House

Harrowboro, New Hampshire

August 1865

“Is it her?” The ward attendant holds up the oiled tarp. He chews on his dark mustache. Blinks and clears his throat. His breath is a mix of egg and old beer. “I am sorry, Mrs. Abbott. I must ask.”

I clasp and unclasp my reticule, the metal warm between my thumb and forefinger, the click comforting, steadying in this room with white tile walls and black grout. There’s a single circular grate in the corner; yellowed paint chips from the ceiling clog its pipe. The cold pushes through the floor, needles of ice that poke my thin-soled boots. Ill chosen, meant for summer, not this chill room. But I hadn't thought; I put on the first pair I found and last night’s stockings too, hung from the bedpost because I was too weary to put them away. 

A note delivered, too blunt:

Alice Snow deceased. Please collect.

The driver who delivered the note had waited, slumped against his hansom and fanning his face with a folded-up newspaper. His horse, roan and swayed back, drooled and ground his teeth. The air shimmered and blurred the edges of the fence and abandoned barn across the road. It was too early and already too hot. 

I had missed an eyelet when buttoning my boots earlier and now the leather cuts into my ankle. I rub the heel of my other shoe against it until the chafed skin burns. Paint chips drift into a crevice of the tarp’s fabric, stick like snow to the crown of this dead woman’s head. Neat straight part and white gray skin. Strands of ginger hair blood-stippled, a tangle loose and dangling. A mottled stretch of bruising across her forehead. I lower my gaze to the floor. There are divots there, hollows and gouges. Her body is cooled by a leather-strapped block of ice. The body who is Alice. Alice so still, Alice under the tarp. 

Alice, my sister.

She is not meant to be here, her mouth agape as if she was about to share a thought, like she used to when she was very young, her finger to her lip, a shake of that ginger-red hair, then “Marion, I wonder…” Or “Marion, it's an odd thing…” Her voice trailing away as she swallowed the words or clamped her jaw because I interrupted, finishing out whatever it was she wondered about or found odd. “Everything in and of itself, Alice, is so very odd that one must just consider it normal. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself mad.” 

The attendant stares at me. 

“It’s her.”  

He lowers the tarp, pulling it up to her forehead. It is too short. Her left foot pops free: crisscrosses of cuts, one mottled bruise, thin long toes. Maybe she’ll wriggle them now as she used to. “Look, Marion. I’m royalty. Look at my middle toe, look at its length.”

“You’ll need to sign the certificate.”

There, on the small desk by the square window that looks out on nothing, on a wall of brick and pipe, is the document. Smaller than I would expect. Simple and harsh.

 

Record No.: 4573

Name: Alice Snow

Sex: F

Date of Birth: Feb 3, eighteen hundred and forty-one

Age: 24

Date of Death: August 3, eighteen hundred and sixty-five

Cause of Death: Accident. Acute mania.

The doctor’s signature, just initials: JB

 I’ve seen too many of these, pinned too many to uniform lapels. I've seen so many dead: Antietam, Poplar Springs, Spotsylvania. Men stacked on carts, tarps too short to hide the high arches and missing limbs and nails rough cut. I’ve signed so many letters, whispers from the soon-dead to their loves. Forgive me. Help me. I am almost at heaven, mother.

One signature and Alice will be released. One signature to absolve this place of any responsibility for her slipping from the roof, absolve the staff from finding her body splayed on the pebbled drive, half-tangled in the sharp thorns of pink hedging roses. I dip the pen and hold it above the signature line. Ink beads at the nib and splatters.

“What time was she found?” I keep my eyes on the ink, watch it soak and spread along the short edge. 

His foot scrapes the stone floor. “You'd need to ask Dr. Mayhew.” 

“But Dr. Mayhew isn't here. He’s upstairs with my brother. You are here. Mr…?”

“Stoakes. Russell Stoakes.”

“Mr. Stoakes.”

The ink is a river now, rippling around the paper, a black frame around my sister’s name, her death, the date. When I hand it over, he’ll place it in the brown folder with her name printed neatly on the edge. 

 He waits for me to sign. He is cold as I am, has his arms crossed over his barrel chest and fists curled round his elbows. His eyes are a muddy hazel and flick with resentment. It’s not his fault he’s been assigned this duty. He taps his finger on the corner of the iced table. “She didn’t suffer.”

“Yes, she did.”

I turn from the desk, holding out the official certificate officially identifying the now official death of my sister Alice Louise Snow, and watch as the attendant flicks a glance at it before setting it atop the folder.

“She’s afraid of the dark.” I take my gloves from my pocket and fumble them on.  “I must find my brother.”

The door sticks as I open it and step to the hall. Low voices slip and mumble from both directions, from under other doors and away down the tunneled walk. Away from the white tile room with black grout and my Alice too silent under the tarp. 

Metal wheels squeal and chitter behind me, loud and then silent. I stumble forward, my chest tight, hand grasping for the solid wall. The brick is chipped and scratched from too much use. 

Mr. Stoakes’s footsteps are heavy on the stone behind me, following enough distance to keep out of my thoughts. The light is dull, just a slit of sun through high casement windows, heating the narrow glass and sheeting the interior with layers of dust. 

“Don’t follow me.” I grab at my skirts and gather them. 

He reaches for my elbow. “Best I help.” 

I twist and claw away from his grip. “Don’t follow me.”

***

 My sister lays on a bed of ice. Our brother Lionel waits in the garden. He’s met with Dr. Mayhew but refuses this task. They’ve left me to attend Alice and now I am lost in a jigsaw of halls and occasional gaslit lamps bolted to the wall. Steam pipes run the length, banging and knocking.

“Mrs. Abbott?” The attendant’s voice slips around corners and then is gone.

I follow the pipes through a door to a tunnel of red brick and a low heavy arch, lamps spaced twenty paces apart, and then another door to a hall with squared walls and rippled paint and metal latticed windows. A dance of signs, black iron, white letters, arrows every which way. Utility. Store C. Store D. Room A13. Utility B. Morgue.

I turn my back to that one, though I know if I follow that arrow, I’ll be on familiar ground. I’ll be back with Alice and can start again, trace my steps to the stairwell and up to the side door in the cheerful visitor’s lobby. It’s just a matter of steps then to the double doors and wide porch. Certainly, Lionel will be waiting. He’ll hand me up to the hansom cab, I’ll take out my handkerchief and wipe my forehead. “It’s so very hot,” I’ll say, and watch the jonquils lining the long drive doze and dance in the sun.

But I don’t want to go back to Alice. I can’t. I can’t see her body on ice. 

Utility. Store C. Store D.

My chest tightens. I press against the wall, hand to stomach, breath pulled through the nose. I scrape my fingers to the brick. I am lost here with Alice. 

She is meant to be alive. How can I tell her now how sorry I am? 

My knees give way. A door bangs, and there’s Mr. Stoakes, lumbering over. He passes the doors. Store C. Store D. Room A13. 

With a squat and hmph, he’s on his haunches. He blinks, rapid fire, and tightens his lips into a smile. “We can’t have this, Mrs. Abbott.”

 “Yes, I’m sorry.” I flatten my free hand to the wall. My heart slows. Let out a bark of a laugh. “I’m not like this, really. It’s the shock. It shouldn’t bother me; I was a nurse—”

“I’ll help you up, now.” As he stands, he keeps a hold on my elbow, light like a comfort. “There we are. Let’s find your brother.”

***
“There you are.” Lionel looks up from his watch, thumbing the case shut and sliding it into his vest pocket. He leans against the white railing in the one streak of sunlight, his hair bright copper, much like mine, darker than Alice’s. The sun reflects in his glasses as he turns to me. His coat is as blue as the sky behind him, as if he was set by a painter upon this porch, the coat and bright sheened vest provided from a costume closet.  A Languorous Day, the painting might be called. No one the wiser for the setting. No matter the confection of porticos and porches, vine-weaved lattice and wide sunny lawns, nothing masks the purpose. It is an asylum and until last night, my sister was an inmate within its walls. 

Lionel nods to Stoakes, then crosses to me and lays his hands on my shoulders before pulling me to him in a strong grip.

My ear presses against the pouch of tobacco in his coat pocket. He rubs the back of my neck, lays his cheek on my head and his breath warms my scalp for only a moment before stepping away.

I smell like death. It’s why he stepped away. The decomposing skin, the rot of liver and belly, the stench of gases, the sweet mildew and musk of it threads my black widow’s weeds and hair. Alice wraps around me like a shroud. 

“My God,” I say. “What have we done?”

“Not now.” He glances behind, to Stoakes, his eyes apologizing. Then he strides down the stairs to the pebble walkway, just one glance over his shoulder to make certain I’m following him. “Come along, Marion. The cab is waiting.”

He leans forward to talk to the driver. The horses are edgy, the cab rolls back then forward. 

I take his hand and clamber to my seat, folding my skirts round my thighs and settling into the cracked leather. The driver in his faded coat turns his head half round. His hat is dark rimmed with sweat and matted with horsehair. 

“Move on.” Lionel rests his hands atop each other, snaking his gloves between his palms.

The carriage sways and starts forward. 

“We’re all that’s left now.”

Lionel stares at a rip in the fabric, right near his shoulder. It’s been poorly mended. “Don’t be silly. There’s Cathy. Toby.”

“Your family,” I say. “Not mine.” 

We slow for the gatekeeper. He chucks his crutch under his arm and uses the gate for balance, his left trouser leg loose below the knee, swinging with the motion. Where, I want to ask? Antietam, Fredericksburg, a nameless creek in Virginia muddled with late spring runoff: I might have held his hand. Or lied and said there would be ether when there was none.

The driver turns the horses to the road. The light flicks through silver maples, planted to maintain privacy.

“She wasn’t well. If you’d been here, you’d have known.” His voice drips with accusation. “It wasn’t just voices. Not at the end.” 

“I don’t want this argument now.”

“You made a lot of excuses for her.”

I shake my head and look down at my lap, at the tangled mess I’ve made of the thumb of my glove. I’ve picked it apart, cotton and silk now torn and in knots.

Lionel stares, too, then pulls the glass open. Just outside his window, orange dahlias and red helenium line the drive, riotous and bloated with too much color. Just out mine is the brown brick building that holds Alice in its bowels. Two workmen sit astraddle on the far peak of roof. One fans his face with a wide brimmed hat, staving off the heat and mosquitos. The other slaps at his arm, then turns up his palm to stare at whatever’s left of the bug before wiping it off on his trouser leg.

“I was going to visit,” I say. “When I’d settled. This week or next.”

“She’d have refused to see you.”

“Why?”

“Do you need to ask that?” He points out my window to a narrow road that meets with ours. A mule with heavy head pulls the buckboard. A simple pine casket rests in the bed.  “There’s the wagon.”

The driver sits wide-kneed, round-backed, his chin jutted forward. He pulls the traces, slowing the mule, seceding the roadway to us. With a quick nod, he doffs his soft cap and holds it aloft as we pass by.

My chest burns with each breath. I force myself to watch the back of our driver. I count the stitches along the back of his brown coat. The fabric is faded nearly yellow at the shoulders. He’s mended a rip in the hem.

Lionel’s wife, Cathy, will be waiting at the house. She’ll have cleared the dining room and gathered muslins. I don’t think I can take her condolences any more than I could take them when Benjamin died. 

The horse whip bends and swings in its stand near the driver’s thigh, and he looks averse to using it. Other drivers flick and play the leathers on their horse’s backs, but he leaves it be, churrs and hums instead.

“Toby shouldn’t see Alice like this,” I say, my eyes following the swing of the leather. “He’s too young.”

“I’ll look out for him.” Lionel stretches his neck, first one way, and then the other before staring out his window glass.

There’s a quick movement along the stone fence. A shard of sun reflects off a white cap and pale wrists and forearms. A girl, wraith thin, scrambles over the fence, hands waving, black hair frazzled at the forehead. She jogs next to us, reaching out to catch the doorframe. Her eyes are the palest of green, nearly incandescent against the scarlet birthmark marring her cheek and jaw. 

“Mrs. Abbott. Oh please, Mrs. Abbott.” A wide scar rides along her chin and curves up as she speaks. “I need to talk to you.”

Lionel leans over me. “Get away from the carriage.”

“No, I need to talk to Mrs. Abbott. Please…stop the horses.”

The driver flicks his long whip, so it snaps the air by the girl’s leg. “Get back to work, Kitty Swain.”

“Oh, stop. Charlie, stop.” She calls and waves, stumbles in a divot as she sprints to keep pace. 

The horses are urged to a trot. The girl gives up, lifting and dropping her arms to her skirts. She stares at me, her mouth moving and something akin to pleading in her visage. But the words are lost in the horse’s clops and the squeals of the carriage axles.

A spit of sweat, icy and sharp stings my neck. I remove my kerchief from my sleeve and dab. But I turn my head, compelled to one last look at this pompous brick building with the inviting porch and grated windows and a cupola ringed with lightning rods. A single paned glass window in the middle dormer catches the sun and holds it. Each wing’s roof is steep pitched; easy enough to slip. 

Three stories. Four along the left wing where the ground slopes away. An accidental, unfortunate fall. Sunken eyes, gaping mouth, crisscrossed slices and scratches from the thorns. Bruising on her forehead. Blood-stiff hair. 

Three stories. Four at the apex.

How did you get on the roof, Alice?

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Meet the Author

Kim Taylor Blakemore writes historical novels that feature fierce, audacious, and often dangerous women. She writes about the thieves and servants, murderesses and mediums, grifters and frauds - the women with darker stories, tangled lies and hidden motives.

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