Smoke Rose to Heaven: A Novel

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New York, 1872. Diviner Ada Moses is a finder of hidden things and a keeper of secrets. In her possession is a lost manuscript with the power to destroy the faith of tens of thousands of believers. When a man seeking the truth knocks at her door with a conspiracy theory on his lips and assassins at his heels, she must make a choice.

Spurred by news of a ritualistic murder and the arrival of a package containing the victim’s bloody shirt, Ada must either attempt to vanish with the truth or return the burden she has long borne to the prophet responsible for one of the most successful deceptions in US history.

Protecting someone else’s secret may save Ada’s life, but is that worth forcing her own demons into the light?

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Smoke Rose to Heaven, a companion novel to Gentleman of Misfortune, was released  February 4, 2020. Reviewers are welcome to request a complimentary e-book at s_angleton@charter.net. You can read an excerpt below.

 

Advanced Praise for Smoke Rose to Heaven

“An intriguing exploration of an oft-ignored part of U.S. history. Angleton’s lush prose and realistic characters are sure to cast a spell on readers and history buffs alike.”

—Nicole Evelina, USA Today bestselling author of The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy.

“A clever page-turner sprinkled with twists and turns of fate that kept me engaged to the end. I love it.”

—Pat Wahler, author of Western Fictioneers’ Best
First Novel of 2018, I Am Mrs. Jesse James

Smoke Rose to Heaven is a fascinating journey through mid-nineteenth century America during a time of intense religious fervor dotted with charlatans anxious to capitalize on it. Told through the eyes of young Ada who, after suffering the loss of her parents, grows up between these two forces in the persons of her zealous Aunt Harriet and guileful Uncle John. A fascinating look at a historical mystery that spell-bindingly blends fact with fiction.”

—Mary Beth Gibson, author of The Duncullen Saga

“Within the very first chapter, Smoke Rose from Heaven grabs you, intrigues you and pulls you in when a secret document sends a woman fleeing for safety. As the book takes you through Ada’s life of torn alliances, Angleton’s writing makes you feel every hurt and every triumph. This story is an entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking journey through zealous religion and underhanded spiritualism, and I thoroughly enjoyed how the book blended seamlessly with her other novel, Gentleman of Misfortune.”

—Tammie Painter, author of The Osteria Chronicles

Smoke Rose to Heaven

Chapter 1

1872

The fortuneteller had forgotten about him by the time the man worked up the nerve to knock on her door. Ever a keen observer, she had spied him earlier in the evening. For hours he stood just across the street, rebuffing the advances of prostitutes and evading the notice of the roaming packs of drunken sailors looking for trouble. The man appeared respectable enough, tall and slender in a dull brown sack suit. Respectability was rare on Water Street, and she assumed he must be a missionary.

Her evening had been busy with customers dropping in one after another. Several of the men she saw were newly arrived immigrants bound for work on the construction project for that ridiculous bridge to Brooklyn. Soon they would descend into the caisson that was described as the pit of hell and from which few men arose again unscathed. The workers came to her for hope, something she could not offer them. Even without the gift of supernatural sight, she could see their fates far too clearly.

Bidding farewell to her last customer, she watched him stumble into the night before locking the door. Exhausted, she dropped into the seekers’ chair to catch her breath and reflect on how even simple tasks had grown difficult. Then came the quiet yet insistent knocking at the door and she remembered the lurking, respectable man she’d seen outside earlier.

The fortuneteller opened the door and sensed immediately that the man was in danger just as certainly as she sensed the name by which he identified himself was not his own. What she failed to anticipate was that he would know her name.

“Pardon me, Madam, my name is Silas Allen. I’m looking for a woman by the name of Ada Powell.” He paused, perhaps trying to read her expression, though the fortuneteller would reveal nothing. Undaunted by her stoicism, Mr. Allen continued, “Are you Ada Powell?”

His tentative speech failed to mask that his words were more statement than question. She drew a labored breath, cleared her throat, and motioned for him to take a seat at her table. Ada Powell was indeed the nearest she had to a true name, but she had not heard it in years.

Ada took her own seat across the table from her visitor and examined him more closely before deciding how to respond. He was of middle age with coarse features, wild brown hair, and dark, tired eyes. His broad shoulders and calloused hands suggested that he was no stranger to manual labor. He wore a frayed coat that was clean, and a white shirt, crisp and fresh. He slumped slightly in the chair, a weary soul and, Ada decided, one who meant her no harm.

“Mr. Allen,” Ada began, careful not to betray her apprehension. “I have been called Ada Powell, though by few, and not for some time. May I ask how you have come to know this name?”

He made no attempt to answer her question, his expression breaking into a wide, crooked smile that made him appear several years younger. “Miss Powell,” he said, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table between them. “I’m glad to make your acquaintance at last. I am hoping you might help me solve a very old mystery.”

Relieved by his response, Ada returned his smile. For many years she had been in the business of solving very old mysteries, and for a moment, she allowed herself to consider that Mr. Allen’s arrival at her door did not portend some terrible danger.

“You certainly have my attention, Mr. Allen. How is it you think I may be able to help?”
He sat back in his chair, plunging his right hand into the pocket of his coat and drawing out a tattered book. “I wonder if you’ve ever read this.” He slid it across the table.

Ada coughed into the back of her hand before reaching for the well-worn book. She ran her thumb over the gold letters on the cover—The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon Upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi. Missionaries were a common nuisance around the Seaport, but none had ever dared intrude upon Ada’s business. A wave of anger washed over her. She pushed the book toward him. “I’m not interested, Mr. Allen.”

“Oh, no, no. I gave you the wrong impression, but I’m glad to know you are familiar with the work. I wonder also if you have read this one.” From his left pocket he took a second slim book and handed it to her.

Mormonism Unveiled by Eber D. Howe.” While Ada read, a shiver traveled down her spine. She knew the book well, but that someone might connect her with it was an uncomfortable notion. “So, you are not a missionary, then?”

Mr. Allen sighed, sitting straighter in his seat. “Once. Now I am an apostate.”

“Lucky for me, but I don’t understand. What exactly is this mystery of yours?”

“No doubt you have heard of the many legal entanglements and alleged violence of the Mormon sect in the Utah Territory over the last many years.”

Ada nodded. She had read the accounts of the tragedy at Mountain Meadows where a large wagon party made up of Arkansas farmers and their families fell under attack on its way through the Utah Territory. Initially blamed on unfriendly Indians, violent details soon emerged that placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Mormons. There were other rumors as well—stories of apostates murdered as atonement for their sin of attempting to leave the church, of a greedy prophet who forced young girls into illegal marriages, and of a territorial government run on corruption.

“I was a devoted member of the Latter-day Saints as established by the prophet Joseph Smith, but I found I could no longer support a faith built on deceit and brutality. I guess you could say I’ve been on something of a quest.”

“And your quest brought you here? I think you’ve been misled, Mr. Allen. I know little of Brigham Young’s church. Only what is reported in the papers.”

“Perhaps not, but I’ve heard you have a gift for finding things that remain hidden from others.” Mr. Allen tapped a finger on the cover of Howe’s book that now lay closed in front of Ada. “You see, this book describes evidence that might finally cause this whole false religion to crumble. The evidence has been lost for years, though there are those who have attempted to find it.”

“And what exactly is this evidence?” Ada wanted to trust this man. He seemed at once so vulnerable and yet self-assured, much like Ada herself. She was drawn to him in that way she always felt drawn to those who sought truth within faith.

“There is a novel, written many years ago, by a preacher named Solomon Spalding. The book was not published in his lifetime, but was known to many of his acquaintances, as it was his habit to read aloud long passages from it.”

Manuscript Found,” Ada whispered before deciding she shouldn’t.

Mr. Allen’s troubled eyes widened with enthusiasm. “Yes, yes!” he cried, beginning to stand. Seeing that Ada maintained her calm demeanor, Mr. Allen regained his composure and lowered himself once again into his chair. “There are many who have said that it is the true source of The Book of Mormon, that the prophet plagiarized the work and claimed it as Divine revelation. I’ve been looking for it.”

“And you believe I can help?”

Mr. Allen shifted in his seat. Ada feared he would stand again and begin pounding on the table as a fiery end-of-days preacher might strike a pulpit. He restrained himself, but it was with new vigor he brought several loose papers from his coat pocket. Mr. Allen shuffled the pages, crumpled and covered in scrawled notes, clearly familiar enough with their contents and organization to know where to find what he needed.

“Ah, my dear Miss Powell, I fear you may be the only one who can help. According to Mr. Howe’s book, the many works of Solomon Spalding were stored in a trunk by his widow Mrs. Matilda Davis, but when she allowed Mr. Howe access to them, he found the trunk which should have contained multiple stories contained only one.”

“So you believe Manuscript Found was removed from the trunk before that time?”

“I do.”

“By the widow?”

Mr. Allen shook his head. “I should think she’d stand to gain more from the fame that would accompany revealing the treachery of Joseph Smith than she would from hiding his dirty secret for him. No, I think someone else removed the manuscript, someone who would have had access but would have attracted little notice.”

“And you have some idea of who that might have been?”

“I was hoping that’s what you could tell me, Miss Powell.”

Cold sweat prickled at Ada’s forehead. This man probed a part of her life she kept locked away. Painful memories flooded her thoughts, and she wished more than anything to expel this man from the house, this intruder of the most sacred and secret parts of her inner self.

As her anxiety rose, the coughing began, and she was helpless to stop the forceful waves crashing through her abdominal muscles and up through her raw throat. She gasped for air, grateful to clasp the handkerchief Mr. Allen offered.

He shifted his attention to the cluttered bookshelf along the wall to his left until she regained her composure. When at last the attack subsided, Mr. Allen turned to her, his expression full of concern, but Ada cut him off before he could inquire after her health.

“Pardon me, but I don’t understand what you think I could do for you, Mr. Allen. I’m afraid I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

He offered a cautious smile. “Perhaps you could begin with your childhood memories from the brief time you lived with your mother and father in a boarding house in Hartwick, New York. Do you remember that?”

Ada felt the blood drain from her cheeks as she fought to maintain her composure.

Mr. Allen continued. “Zeviah Clark of Hartwick is a niece to Mr. Spalding’s widow, and it is in her home that Mrs. Davison kept the trunk containing her first husband’s writings. Do you know anything about the trunk, Miss Powell?”

Ada remained silent for several seconds, fixed in the expectant gaze of Mr. Allen’s dark eyes. She instinctively understood him to be a kind man, seeking only guidance and not at all confident he would receive it. As she looked at him, his eyes softened, his shoulders slumped. If he suspected she had anything to hide, he was not demanding it from her.

“I lived many places when I was young,” she began. “I was in Hartwick for a brief time and I believe we lived in a boarding house. Maybe it was with the Clarks. I was very young and I’m afraid my memories are not crisp. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”

Mr. Allen’s face fell, the hopeful gleam disappearing from his eyes. “I see. Can you tell me anything at all? Were there other boarders, perhaps the whisper of a name you might recall? If you can’t tell me anything, I fear the trail will go cold. The smallest detail, if you can provide it, might prove useful.”

Ada stood, signaling that Mr. Allen should also rise, which he obediently did. “It’s growing late, Mr. Allen, and I am tired. I’m sorry I could not offer you what you were hoping for, but I will try to comb through my memories and see if I might discover something to aid you in your quest. Can you come back tomorrow evening?”

He nodded and offered a cautious smile, thanking Ada for her time as he donned his hat and pushed his way through the door into the cold night. Ada watched after him, emotions she rarely allowed herself to dwell upon churning inside her. The breeze off the water was cold, the night overcast and dark. Ada shivered as Silas Allen made his way slowly along the now empty street.

When he faded from her sight she closed the door, enveloped once more by the warmth of the house. A fire burned low in the hearth, a pulsating glow of hot coals adding little light to that which spilled from the lamp on the table.

Ada breathed slowly, absorbing the rich colors of the room, feeling at once both comforted by the familiar space and burdened by the world she had constructed around herself. Her gaze paused on the bookshelf that had captured Mr. Allen’s polite attention and she laughed.

Pushing aside books on herbal remedies and incantations, each more decorative than useful, Ada slid from among them a slim package identified only by two lines of faded script. She placed it on the table, considering the opportunity she had received.

Through the years countless strangers had passed through Ada’s door to sit at her table and search not for her, but for what they hoped she could give them, a magical way to better understand the predicaments of their own lives.

But Silas Allen hadn’t come to find himself. He had come to find Ada. And he had come to find the manuscript resting upon her table.

Available February 4, 2020