Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s Sensational is the thrilling follow-up to Spectacle in which a killer haunts the Paris World’s Fair of 1889. We can’t wait to see what’s next for the magical Nathalie Baudin, but for now, we’re so excited to share the amazing cover and first chapter!
Sensational by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
The 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris is full of innovations, cultural displays, and inventions. Millions of visitors attend over the course of several months…so no one would notice if a few were missing, right? Maybe—but someone is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the guillotine with a display of their own: beheaded victims in some of the Exposition’s most popular exhibits.
Nathalie Baudin’s ability to see murder scenes should help, but she’s suffering the effects of her magic more than ever before. Fortunately she has other Insightfuls to team up with—if they can be trusted.
Nathalie rushed along the Seine, passing an array of concerned faces. If the French she caught among the swathe of languages was any indication, everyone thought she was being chased.
No, she was the one doing the chasing, so to speak. Of time. She was simply in a hurry, trying to get around all the ambling tourists and avoid being late. So far, nothing had gone as planned this morning.
First of all, Christophe had sent word for her to come to the public morgue even earlier than usual, if possible. The courier had arrived as she was leaving the apartment. While Nathalie composed a pithy response, Maman reminded her to pick up bread, and Stanley made figure eights around her ankles with a meow. Meeting S. and L. at the Palais des Beaux-Arts when it opens; will come immediately after. If Jules is there, ask him to please wait—coffee. Even that she had to start and stop twice, because Papa came over to give her a few sous for lunch. Second, the steam tram had been full—a frequent occurrence since the Exposition Universelle opened last month—and she’d had to wait for another.
Her eye caught the ivy-covered clock in front of the agriculture exhibit. She halted, heaving a sigh of relief and mopping her brow. Almost a quarter-hour to spare. All that nimble darting through the crowds had bought her some time after all.
Good. Now she could enjoy a stroll the rest of the way. Jules often encouraged her, with her swift walking pace and propensity to plan too many things in a day, to slow down. For the next few minutes, she would.
She took a left onto the bridge, the old Palais du Trocadéro from the last Exposition at her back. It was the colossal iron skeleton in front of her, its Venetian red arches beckoning her to the grounds, that took her breath away. Again.
The Tour Eiffel had only been completed in March, but Nathalie could barely remember the Paris horizon without it. Somehow, the architect Gustave Eiffel and his builders made three hundred meters of iron lattice into something beautiful (and proved the early critics wrong, which she liked even more). She’d gone twice already to the first platform, marveling at the view and the feeling that came with being almost 60 meters up. Soon the elevators would be operating, and she’d be able to ascend to the second platform and to the top. What would that be like?
As she crossed the bridge, stepping to the side to accommodate a carriage, the crowd grew even denser. The Tour Eiffel served as the grand entrance to the Exposition grounds. In the course of several months, ordinary land and city streets had been transformed into a wonderland of lush gardens and ornamental structures. From the Galerie des Machines at the opposite end to cultural pavilions on either side of the tower and throughout the grounds, the landscape had become the epitome of both here and elsewhere. This extravagant international showcase wasn’t the first world’s fair of its kind, but Nathalie was certain it would be the best.
She walked under the Tour Eiffel and through the queue of people waiting to go up, narrowly avoiding a spilled lemonade. Today marked her ninth visit to the Exposition. In her eighteen years she’d never experienced anything like it, this astounding display of culture and ingenuity. It was a celebration of the République, and despite never being prouder to be a Parisian, Nathalie found that the pavilions representing other lands intrigued her most. Jules, after reading four world history books in the months leading up to the fair, called it “Around the World in 80 Days on Champ de Mars.” She perused the Exposition’s 288-page Guide Bleu frequently; she wanted to see everything, do everything (except maybe the agriculture exhibits, which sounded tedious), and observe everyone she could at the Exposition from now until October. A world map accompanied all her visits; whenever she visited a nation’s pavilion, she circled the corresponding place on the map. She also notes of her encounters—a conversation she had, a food she’d sampled, a souvenir she’d bought.
Nathalie stepped out of the Tour Eiffel’s imposing shadow. Simone and Louis were easy to find, she in a white hat and fuchsia dress, he with well-coifed red hair and donning pale green. They were huddled over a grounds map at the designated meeting spot, the chairs in front of the Fontaine Coutan. A powerful, ornate display of classical figures bearing torches, the fountain announced the cobalt blue Central Dome with splendor. At night, the fountain was illuminated with streams of water in red, blue, green, and gold.
“I am so eager for this I scarcely slept last night! And still I was delayed,” Nathalie said, explaining why as she exchanged cheek kisses with both of them.
“The biggest culprit is Stanley, who tried to trip you, I’m sure of it.” Simone winked as she folded up the map and put it in her dress pocket. The three of them walked toward the Palais des Beaux-Arts, opulent with arched windows and lavish exterior, beside the Central Dome. Flags projected from the top of the building; down below, palm trees and people lined the parterre. “Look at that crowd.”
Nathalie squinted in the sunlight. “Much more than I expected at this hour.”
“Like a busy day at the morgue,” said Louis. “Which it sounds like it might be, if our favorite police liaison dispatched a courier to you so early. Mischief must be afoot. Mind if we go with you? Curious to see what body or bodies have prompted a sense of urgency.”
“What’s this mischief afoot talk?” Simone asked, tucking away an errant blonde curl. “Is that another Shakespeare reference?”
“Enough.” Simone gave Louis an affectionate poke. He was in an acting troupe now, and they’d performed Voltaire’s translation of Julius Caesar this spring. “That’s the second one this morning already. It’s too much for my unrefined cabaret sensibilities.”
“As You Like It,” Louis whispered.
Simone tapped him on the shoulder. “Saying it quietly doesn’t make it any less of a bad pun, Louis.”
Nathalie laughed and told them of course they could come along. Simone, once her neighbor, was more than a best friend. Ma soeur, they had taken to calling one another these days. Nathalie didn’t have a sister but if she could choose one, it would be Simone. Loyal, daring, and as colorful in spirit as she was in wardrobe.
Louis, Simone’s beau of two years, had become akin to a favorite cousin. Full of whimsical mischief and daring appreciation for life’s experiences, he was like no one else Nathalie had ever met. He and Simone, both a year older than she, made for an entertaining, well-suited pair. (“Like brie and raspberry,” as Simone often put it.)
The doors to the fine arts building opened right before they reached the portico, classical-style sculptures greeting them here as well. The fine arts exhibit devoted space to paintings and sculptures from France, England, and the United States, with the French art focused on creations from the French Revolution to the present. People disappeared through the sculpture-dotted archways as if the massive structure inhaled them. Nathalie, Simone, and Louis filed in, pressed from behind by the ever-growing horde.
Once inside, they looked around in awe, as they did with nearly every structure at the Exposition. The expansive, airy dome offered them paintings and sculptures at every turn.
“Where shall we start?” asked Nathalie, admiring the winding wrought-iron staircases.
“Let’s start down here and then go upstairs,” said Simone. The three of them started walking toward a gallery of paintings, planning their route through the building.
The chatter of the crowd filled the dome like bubbles in a covered pot, taking up every meter of space that wasn’t a display.
A woman’s shriek ruptured it, a blade through the veil of banter.
The echo disoriented Nathalie; for half a blink, she didn’t know where to turn. Then it became obvious.
“Over there,” said Louis, pointing to the Galerie Rapp. “Where the sculptures are.”
More beacons of distress.
A man’s voice, moaning in horror, followed by a woman shouting Garde! over and over again.
Screams swept the building like flames. The crowd spilled everywhere; most people bolted for the exit, some rushed toward the cries. Louis was closest to the commotion. He made eye contact with Nathalie and Simone, evading the people pushing past him. They nodded in silent agreement and followed him, wading their way through the rippling hysteria.
They were escorted through the gallery by crisply rendered sculptures capturing moments and essence. Women playing musical instruments. Gods in repose. Warriors bracing for battle. Infant angels reaching out.
Nathalie looked up to see a cluster of people pressed against the second-floor railing along the perimeter, gawking at something below. Their faces were frozen in horror, as if they’d become sculptures, too. Nathalie followed their gaze but still couldn’t see the source of the mayhem.
Then finally she did.
Being the tallest of the three, she saw it first. She stopped, five or six meters away, letting the mob buffet her.
Louis took another few steps and halted with a gasp.
“What is it?” asked Simone, standing on her toes.
Nathalie started to say, but before she could, Simone’s expression tightened into shock.
The end of the center row. Pedestals as tall as people, plaster busts atop them. Heads of emperors and philosophers, white and neatly cast, led the way to the final base.
That one held a severed human head.