Read a full summary of Cold-Blooded Myrtle, book #3 in Elizabeth C. Bunce’s Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries series. This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in Cold-Blooded Myrtle, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Susan Jensen, a new BSR contributor, who wrote this great recap! Visit her blog to check out what she’s reading and see what’s on her mind. See the end of the recap for links to her Goodreads and Facebook accounts.
Elizabeth C. Bunce
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Cold-Blooded Myrtle?
It’s Christmas time in Swinburne, England, and Myrtle, her governess (Miss Judson), and others are gathered in front of Leighton’s Mercantile awaiting the unveiling of Basil Leighton’s annual Christmas window display. As usual, a miniature replication of the village is unveiled.
Unusually, the display includes nearby Schofield College, where mini figures are shown gathering around the Campanile, the college’s belltower. In the center of the ring of people is a wishing well, painted black and tipped onto its side as well as a life-sized cluster of olives on the stem. The onlookers are puzzled by this part of the display. Mrs. Munjal is especially bothered by it. She mutters, “No. It can’t be. Not again.” Without any explanation, she leaves.
When Myrtle and Miss Judson enter the shop, they’re startled to see Mr. Leighton inside, sitting in a kitchen chair with a mug in his hand. His eyes are open and staring at nothing. The man is clearly dead. Both Constable Constairs and Dr. Munjal—the Police Surgeon—examine the body and conclude Basil probably died of a heart attack or stroke. The constable spies a note sitting on a barrel near Basil. Although he insists it’s gibberish, Myrtle recognizes it’s written in Greek and says: We owe a cockerel to Asclepius. The note makes no sense to anyone at the scene.
While the constable is distracted, Myrtle notices another curious piece of paper—a photograph that seems to have fallen from the window display. On it is pictured a small group of young men and women dressed for an expedition. A younger Basil Leighton is pictured as is—Myrtle is startled to see—her late mother, Jemima. On the back of the picture is written Cornwall, 1873.
Later that day, as Myrtle is talking about the death with her father, he confirms that Basil and Jemima Hardcastle did, indeed, know each other. They were both at Schofield College, he as a professor and she as his student. He also identifies the source of the words on Basil’s strange note. They’re a version of the last words Socrates said before his death: “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius; pay it and don’t forget.”
When Myrtle tells her father about the strange display of olives and a wishing well, he says it refers to a young woman named Olive Blackwell, who disappeared while attending Schofield College, never to be seen again. It was rumored that Olive had jumped from the belltower, but her body was never found. Because she was a member of a secret society formed by some of Basil’s students, the incident led to Basil’s dismissal from the college.
While talking to her father, Myrtle recalls that Socrates died by drinking poison hemlock. She believes the note is a message indicating Basil Leighton was poisoned. Myrtle convinces her father to take their suspicions to Dr. Munjal. While the men discuss the incident in private, Myrtle and Caroline Munjal find a hidden spot for eavesdropping.
Dr. Munjal was a student at Schofield at the time of Olive’s disappearance, but he insists he knows nothing about it. The men’s conversation suggests that Jemima, Myrtle’s mother, was caught up in the incident as well. Henry Spence-Hastings, Swinburne’s new Mayor, arrives soon afterward and Myrtle realizes he was also one of Dr. Leighton’s students at Schofield at the time.
The next day, Myrtle and Miss Judson go to the mercantile to check on Mrs. Leighton. Myrtle offers to go down into the cellar to feed more coal into the boiler. She is distracted by Mr. Leighton’s worktable, where she finds something curious among the detritus left over from his display building: a miniature Roman soldier. How would he fit into a replication of Swinburne?
From Mrs. Leighton, Myrtle and Miss Judson learn that Basil had received threatening notes written in Latin before he died. Because she does not know the language and because Basil burned them immediately, she does not know what they said or who sent them, although she suspects the Blackwell family.
Myrtle and Miss Judson visit Schofield College, where they inspect its Campanile from the ground. The tower is locked. Just then, a young woman approaches. She introduces herself as Leah. She’s the one who plays the bells—the carillonist—come to practice for her upcoming Christmas concert. Leah takes Myrtle and Miss Judson inside the Campanile and shows them how the bells can play automatically using a motor powered by the steam tunnels beneath them. She also shows them how she manually plays the bells.
When Leah leads them up a precarious passage to the belfry, Myrtle realizes that no one would have been able to carry another person to the top. Olive would have had to come of her own volition. Leah suggests Olive may be still alive, simply having run away to start a new life somewhere else.
When Myrtle arrives home, her father shows her the Police Surgeon’s report for Basil Leighton. The deceased did, indeed, die of hemlock poisoning. Later, while decorating their Christmas tree, Myrtle comes across an ornament that belonged to her mother: another Roman soldier. This one is stamped 1874 (the year Olive disappeared) and Cohortis Hadriani (Hadrian’s Guard). Arthur says it’s a relic from Jemima’s college days, Hadrian’s Guard being the secret society to which she belonged.
As Myrtle is thinking things over that night in bed, she realizes all artists sign their work. The display in the mercantile window must have been signed by whomever rearranged it from Basil Leighton’s original design—Olive Blackwell.
Myrtle goes to see Caroline Munjal. As she, Caroline, and Caroline’s sister are walking about town, they stop by the mercantile. They’re surprised to see the Christmas display in the shop’s window has changed again. Now, it shows a female figurine, richly bejeweled, rolled up in an elaborate miniature carpet. Myrtle immediately recognizes it as a depiction of Cleopatra’s ancient death. The girls take the information straight to Dr. Munjal. While the surgeon is summoning the police, Myrtle notices a note in his office with two words written in Latin, which refer to blackmail.
The Hardcastles’ cook gives Myrtle a pile of old correspondence between Jemima and two of her college friends, siblings David and Nora Carmichael. Myrtle and Miss Judson surmise the two were also Dr. Leighton’s students and probably members of Hadrian’s Guard as well.
Myrtle and Miss Judson attend a Campanile concert put on by Leah. When they get there, they are surprised to see the chairs for the audience have been arranged in an odd configuration. While Miss Judson seats herself outside, Myrtle joins Leah in the bell tower. From there, she can see the chairs are arranged to spell O-L-I-V-E. Myrtle thinks it’s a threat toward Leah, but Leah says she’s perfectly safe.
Myrtle and Miss Judson then go to the Antiquities Museum, where a dedication ceremony is being held in Dr. Leighton’s honor. Myrtle sees a display for The Saturnalia Chalice, an artifact from fourth-century Roman Britain that was discovered in Cornwall in 1873. Also looking at the chalice is a woman who introduces herself as Nora Carmichael. They also see Robert Blakeney (a solicitor in training who has helped with Myrtle’s previous cases) with another unfamiliar woman. This one is Imogen Shelley, a newspaper reporter recently arrived in Swinburne who has been writing sensationalized articles.
From Nora, Myrtle learns the Saturnalia Chalice was found on the dig depicted in the photograph of Jemima and the others in Cornwall, under the direction of Dr. Leighton. The discovery, she said, helped make the careers of all involved. A little later at the museum, Myrtle overhears an argument between Nora and Mayor Spence-Hastings. She accuses him of sending her a threatening note in Latin like the ones others have received. The Mayor says he did not send it. Nora says it’s impossible that Nora is still alive because David “took care of her” and then the Mayor “took care” of David. Neither Nora nor the Mayor know who killed Dr. Leighton.
Because of heavy snowfall, Myrtle and Miss Judson take refuge at Aunt Helena’s house for the night. In the morning, a ruckus outside disturbs the ladies’ breakfast. Police are circling the dead body of Nora Carmichael, who has been dressed up like Cleopatra and rolled in a rug. Imogen Shelley is also at the scene, taking notes for the newspaper. Myrtle tells the policemen Imogen was at the Antiquities Museum and saying ugly things about Nora. Imogen is subsequently taken to the police station for questioning. As a key witness, Myrtle also goes.
At the police station, Myrtle is started to see Mr. Blakeney. He informs her Imogen is his twin sister and he’s always having to get her out of scrapes. While discussing the Olive Blackwell case, “Genie” tells them David Carmichael received threatening letters before he died of an “accidental” fall in the Alps. She also says all of the police reports and newspaper article copies about the case are missing from the police station and newspaper morgue.
While Miss Judson and Myrtle’s father fight over Myrtle’s involvement in yet another murder, Myrtle takes refuge in a carriage house the Hardcastles use for storage. There, she finds an old letter to Jemima from David Carmichael, indicating that he loved Olive, that they were planning to run away together, and that Jemima had agreed to help Olive escape.
LaRue Spence-Hastings shows up at Myrtle’s house waving a threatening letter in Latin that her father received. Under the microscope, Myrtle sees it is written on a paper with an old Schofield College watermark, one used before Olive’s disappearance. Assuming the letter was written by someone from the Blackwell family, LaRue demands Myrtle and Caroline Munjal accompany her to the Blackwell home.
There, they find Olive’s sad old father. He shows them his crippled hands, which are clearly incapable of writing anything. They also spy an odd sampler done by Olive with a Bible verse about caves. Myrtle and Miss Judson later realize it’s a reference to the steam tunnels underneath Swinburne, by which Olive surely escaped.
Mrs. Leighton is arrested for her husband’s murder. Myrtle and Miss Judson go to the newspaper office where Genie works. On her messy desk, Myrtle spies a threatening letter just like the ones others have received. Genie says not to worry about it; she’s not. Myrtle and Miss Judson visit the Antiquities Museum again. They are allowed to examine the chalice up close. Using a magnifying glass, Myrtle spies engravings that depict the members of Hadrian’s Guard. She realizes with a shock that the chalice is not ancient at all. It’s a fake.
Myrtle, Miss Judson, Genie, and Mr. Blakeney hatch a plan to explore the tunnels under Swinburne and the mercantile. While the Blakeneys handle the former, Myrtle and Miss Judson do the latter. Myrtle discovers a hidden cavity in a wall in the mercantile, inside of which is a tunnel, the very one—she surmises—Mr. Leighton’s killer must have used. Inside it, she finds a scrap of fabric that matches the blue coat Genie always wears. She surmises that Genie is the murderer.
Later, Genie admits she has been writing the threatening letters. However, she denies being a killer and shows Myrtle that while the fabric of her coat is a lot like the one Myrtle found, it is NOT the same.
While out shopping the next day, Myrtle and her father run into Leah. While introducing herself to Arthur, Leah says her last name, which she hadn’t previously given: Blackwell. She is Olive’s sister. Then, they see a frantic Mr. Blakeney. He says he hasn’t seen Genie since the night before and that she never showed up at work. As the three are deciding what to do, they notice a new addition to the Christmas display in the mercantile window—a figurine laying on the steps of the Town Hall with stab wounds all over his body. Myrtle realizes it’s a message that someone, presumably Genie, is going to kill the Mayor.
How did Cold-Blooded Myrtle end?
While Arthur goes for the police, Myrtle and Mr. Blakeney run to the Mayor’s house to warn him. The Mayor tells them that Olive Blackwell had been threatening to reveal the truth about the chalice. The members of Hadrian’s Guard told her they would make her a full member if she kept her mouth shut. They brought her up to the tower, put a blindfold on her, and then she somehow disappeared.
Myrtle tells him about the tunnels and the Mayor says he designed them, even has an opening to them in his house. He asks Myrtle to take LaRue into them to keep her safe. An unhappy Myrtle goes with LaRue into the tunnels. As they search for a way out, they become lost and stumble upon the remains of Olive Blackwell. It’s apparent from their appearance that they’ve been there for some time. Olive is wearing a bracelet; when removed, a mechanism is revealed that was used to inject poison into her bloodstream.
Near the body are recently blown out candles, indicating someone was just here. Myrtle and LaRue hear a noise. It’s Genie, who is injured. Myrtle realizes then who the real killer is—Leah Blackwell. The girls help Genie, and they’re all rescued by Miss Judson, Arthur Hardcastle, and Mr. Blakeney. The rescuers explain that, after an attempt on the Mayor’s life, Leah has been apprehended and the Mayor is safe. The story ends with Myrtle, Arthur, and Miss Judson celebrating Christmas together.
There you go! That’s what happened in Cold-Blooded Myrtle. We hope you enjoyed this Cold-Blooded Myrtle summary with spoilers.
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