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Cover image for The famous flower of serving men
The famous flower of serving men
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books, 2004.
Physical Description:
215 p. ; 22 cm.


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Certainly some of the events are real---or, to be more accurate, they are partly hidden in a genuine English ballad that was composed and sung centuries ago. Just as the song in Grabien's well-received first novel in this unusual series, The Weaver and the Factory Maid , tells a story that may or may not be based on an actual event---but that in any case reflects perfectly the world in which it is set. And once again our two very modern principals, Penelope Wintercraft-Hawkes ("Oh, please, just 'Penny' ") and her lover, Ringan Laine, find themselves in uncomfortably closer contact with a long-gone world than they would like.
It all starts when a solicitor informs Penny that an elderly aunt, a woman she never met, has died and left Penny some "property in East Central London." The "property" turns out to be a realization of Penny's dream. She heads a touring theatre troupe that performs classic drama to audiences all over Britain and abroad. But Penny has yearned for a "home"---a theatre in London where she could prepare her season and launch her tours. And now, wonder of wonders, Aunt Mary--- Mary Therese Isabel Heatherington - whom Penny has never even met---has given her the very thing.

At first look, the condition of the building is dismaying. It is very old and needs considerable work. But practical Aunt Mary has left money toward that purpose, and Ringan Laine is a well-known and very talented restoration architect, who when he isn't singing and playing old English songs with the other musicians in his own traveling troupe, eagerly applies his skills to Penny's theatre.

And then, when Ringan is working alone late one afternoon, he is surprised to hear someone singing, singing a song so drenched with sadness he shudders at the sound.. The voice begins to be heard often during the day, and not only by Ringan. Who is the singer, what is the song that seems to have soaked into the old building's walls? Penny begins to dig into the history books and learns that there was much violence at the site centuries ago, violence that has left frightening remnants in the present. It is clear that before Penny can use her heritage they must find what terrible thing happened to the woman whose story the song seems to be telling, and what they can do to lay her ghost to final rest. Only when that is done can the curtain go up without mishap.

Author Notes

A former resident of England, Deborah Grabien now lives with her husband in San Francisco, California.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

More ghost story than crime caper, Grabien's second novel to mix historical sleuthing and old English ballads makes good use of its source material. As in The Weaver and the Factory Maid (2003), theater producer Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes and her boyfriend, Ringan Laine, a folklorist and restorer of period buildings, combine their separate passions with a not always welcome affinity for legendary ghosts. The unexpected inheritance of an abandoned London theater from a practically unknown aunt allows Penny to give her company the luxury of a home base. The aunt not only left her the theater but thoughtfully supplied funds to restore it. Unfortunately, the theater is home to an active and vindictive female ghost, whose presence is forcefully announced even before Ringan can begin renovations. In order to lay the ghost to rest, the well-matched Penny and Ringan must discover who she is and what happened to her. Effective storytelling gives the ghost's manifestations a gloss of credibility, while Grabien's grasp of theater, folklore and history provides a feast of enjoyment. Agent, Jennifer Jackson at Donald Maass. (Nov. 17) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Penelope Wintercraft-Hawkes is thrilled when she learns she has inherited the Bellefield Theatre from a barely remembered aunt. She will now have a permanent home for her touring company, the Tamburlaine Players. She asks her longtime boyfriend, folklorist and house restorer Ringan Laine, to head the necessary restoration. To their dismay, they find that the theater is haunted by a vengeful spirit who employs burning smells, flashing lights, and even more violent measures to discourage the workers. Thanks to the previous haunting of Ringan's cottage (see The Weaver and the Factory Maid 0 BKL O 1 03), Penny has no trouble accepting the idea of a ghost, and, with the help of two researchers, promptly delves into the theater's past to learn who the spectral presence is and what can be done to placate it. Interesting period details from the late 1300s to the early 1400s, likable characters, and an absorbing plot distinguish this fast-paced mix of mystery and ghost story. Verses of a folk song head each chapter and are woven into the story. --Sue O'Brien Copyright 2004 Booklist

Kirkus Review

A mournful French ghost haunts a London theater. Small-scale theatrical producer and actress Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes is surprised and thrilled to learn that she has inherited a beautiful London theater from distant French aunt Marie-Therese, who attended Penny's recent productions of three classic French tragedies. The unused Bellefield's prime location has Penny dreaming of a less nomadic existence for her troupe. When she visits the building, she notices a pervasive foul smell but isn't disquieted until the odor's gone on her next visit. Meantime, Penny's longtime lover, traveling musician/sometime contractor Ringan Lane, agrees to help with needed renovations. On their first visit together to the Bellefield, Penny hears muted French voices. Ringan does not, but when he's thrown roughly from a ladder after a more insistent auditory assault, the couple is uncomfortably reminded of their encounter with ghosts the previous year (The Weaver and the Factory Maid, 2003). A little digging unearths the story of Eleanor, the Bellefield ghost. Still, plans for the inaugural production, Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, proceed apace until Penny gets in hot water with investor David Harkins when he learns that she's kept Eleanor from him. When workman Ray Haddon dies of a fear-induced heart attack, Penny knows she must release the ghost. Welcome darker undertones expand the range of the debut's refreshingly offbeat sleuthing, more focused this time on unraveling an academic puzzle than exposing a killer. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Another "gentle ghost story" in a cozy series that features characters from old English ballads. Grabien lives in San Francisco. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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