Severn House (September, 2018)
Kindle edition: $25.99
A Lord Byron Historical Mystery
by Shirley Wetzel
1873: Florence, Italy. Claire Clairmont is old now, living in genteel poverty with her niece Paula and Paula’s young daughter. She spends most of her days wandering through the Boboli Gardens, remembering the days when she was young and beautiful and in love with one of the world’s greatest poets, George Gordon, Lord Byron.
She knows her time will soon come to an end, but worries about how to ensure a good future for her loved ones. They have survived for years on the largesse of Claire’s stepsister, Mary Shelley, but that is no longer enough. When William Rossetti offers to purchase the letters she has saved from her relationships with Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his common-law wife Mary, she is reluctant. When Rossetti tells her that in the latest edition of Shelley’s biography she is mentioned only in passing, she reconsiders. She played a major part in that summer, and she refuses to be turned into a footnote to history.
His offer takes her back to 1816, to the time she and her friends called the “haunted summer.” To much of the world it was known as the year without a summer. Halfway across the world, Mount Tambora erupted in a violent ball of lava and fireballs, covering all the land and people around it in ash. The dust cloud was so huge it spread over Europe. The days were dreary and bleak, the nights chilly and long.
In this dismal summer, four people came together in Switzerland, forming an ersatz family of like-minded souls. All were expatriates from England for various reasons. Percy Shelley had left his wife and children behind to live with Mary Godwin. Claire, Mary’s stepsister, was disowned by her parents because of her headstrong, impulsive ways. She’d had a brief encounter with Byron in England, and believed he returned her passionate love for her. By the time he joined the trio weeks later she knew she was carrying his child. Byron, too, left behind a wife and child, but his scandals were even more serious than that.
The four spend idyllic days in a villa on the banks of Lake Geneva. At night the men wrote poetry, discussed poetry, and argued about poets and the merits of Roman versus Greek culture. During a contest to write the scariest short story, Mary penned the beginnings of the work that would win her fame and fortune: Frankenstein. Shelley and Byron wrote continuously. Claire built fantasies of the life she would have with Byron. Alas, that was not to be.
Their baby, Allegra, was born in England. Shelley and Byron took her into their charge. Claire left England, wander aimlessly throughout Europe, working as a governess, depending on the kindness of friends and strangers, never seeing her companions form that haunted summer or her baby again.
And now, because of Rossetti’s offer, she discovers the answer to one last secret, and settles her fate.
CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET is based on true events and contemporary resources. No one will ever know what really happened that summer of 1816, but who’s to say it didn’t happen that way.
Copyright © 2018 Shirley Wetzel. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!