We are very excited to have a proper first look at Lambda Literary award-winning author TJ Klune’s upcoming adult fantasy novel, Under the Whispering Door, which Klune has described as “a queer romantic comedy about ghosts in a tea shop.” So… that’s a place on our Most Anticipated Books of 2021 list secured. Set to hit bookshelves in March of next year, Under the Whispering Door is the story of “a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.” Check out the full synopsis below:
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead. Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, owned by a man named Hugo, who is just a regular tea shop owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over. But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help, he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life. By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.
And here is a first look at the beautiful cover (from Red Nose Studio) for Under the Whispering Door…
As promised, a sneak peek inside Under the Whispering Door…
Mrs. Ryan was crying.
Wallace hated it when people cried.
“How did you know?” she said, her cheeks wet as she reached for the Kleenex box on his desk. She didn’t see him grimacing.
“How could I not?” he said. He folded his hands on his oak desk, his Arper Aston chair squeaking as he settled in for what he was sure was going to be a case of unfortunate histrionics, all while trying to keep his nostrils from flaring at the stench of bleach and Windex. One of the night staff must have spilled something in his office, the scent thick and cloying. He made a mental note to send out a memo to remind everyone that he had a sensitive nose, and he shouldn’t be expected to work in such conditions. It was positively barbaric.
The shades on the windows to his office were pulled shut against the afternoon sun, the air conditioning blasting harshly, keeping him alert. Three years ago, someone had asked if they could move the dial up to seventy degrees. He’d laughed. Warmth led to laziness. When one was cold, one kept moving.
Outside his office, the firm moved like a well-oiled machine, busy and self-sufficient without the need for significant input, just as Wallace liked. He wouldn’t have made it as far as he had if he’d had to micro-managing every employee. Of course, he still kept a watchful eye, those in his employ knowing they needed to be working as if their lives depended on it. Their clients were the most important people on earth.
Which brought him back to Mrs. Ryan. The machine had broken down, and though no one was infallible, Wallace needed to switch out this part for a new one. He’d worked too hard to let the system fail now. Last year had been their most profitable in the firm’s history. This year was shaping up to be even better. No matter what condition the world was in, something always needed to be sued.
Mrs. Ryan blew her nose. “I didn’t think you cared.”
He stared at her. “Why on earth would you think that?”
“You’re not exactly the type.”
“Of course I—”
“It’s just that things have been so hard lately,” she said, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. “I’ve tried to keep it bottled in, but I should have known you’d see right through it.”
“Exactly,” he said, trying to steer the conversation back on course. The quicker he got through this, the better off they’d both be. Mrs. Ryan would realize that, eventually. “I saw right through it. Now, if you could just—”
“And you do care,” she said. “I know you do. After all, you left a floral arrangement on my desk for my birthday last month. Yes, it didn’t have a card, but a man of your importance is far too busy for personalizing a gift that could have ostensibly come from anyone. I didn’t need a card. I knew what you were trying to say. You appreciate me. And I so appreciate you, Mr. Price.”
He didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. He hadn’t given her a single thing. It must have been his secretary. He was going to have to have a word with her. Flowers were pointless. They always died, leaving behind a rotting mess that caused Wallace to sneeze ferociously. With this in mind, he picked up his ridiculously expensive Montblac pen, jotting down a note (IDEA FOR MEMO: PLANTS ARE TERRIBLE AND NO ONE SHOULD HAVE THEM). Without looking up, he said, “I wasn’t trying to—”
“Kyle was laid off two months ago,” she said, and about it took him a beat or three to remember who she was talking about. Kyle was her husband, which made him Kyle Ryan, a man with two first names, and therefore, not to be trusted. Wallace had met the man at a firm function (“Call me Kyle, bro. I insist! It’s great to meet you!”). Kyle had been intoxicated, obviously enjoying the champagne Moore, Price, Hernandez & Worthington had provided after yet another successful year. Face flushed, Kyle had held them all hostage with a ridiculously loud and embellished story, the details of which Wallace didn’t care to remember. He despised loud anything, much less loud men attempting to relive their glory days in a public setting.
“Oh no,” he said. “How tragic. Now that that’s out of the way, we should turn our attention to the matter at—”
“He’s having trouble finding work,” Mrs. Ryan said, crumpling up her tissue before reaching for another. She wiped her eyes, her makeup smearing. “And it couldn’t come at a worse time. Our son is getting married this summer, and we’re supposed to pay for half the wedding. I don’t know how we’ll manage, but we’ll find a way. We always do. It’s just a bump in the road.”
“Mazel tov,” Wallace said. He didn’t even know she had children.
Mrs. Ryan honked again into her tissue, a long and terribly wet noise that made his skin crawl. “And then there’s our daughter. I thought she was directionless and going to end up hoarding ferrets, but then the firm graciously awarded her a scholarship, and she finally found her way. Business school, of all things. Isn’t that wonderful?”
He squinted at her. He’d need to speak to the partners. He wasn’t aware they offered scholarships. They donated to charities, yes, but the tax breaks more than made up for it. He didn’t know what sort of return they’d see on giving money away for something as ridiculous as business school, even if it too could be written off. The daughter would probably want to do something as asinine as open a restaurant or start a non-profit. “I think you and I have a different definition of wonderful.”
She nodded, but he doubted immensely she actually heard him. “This job is so important to me, now more than ever. The people here are like family. We all support each other, and I don’t know how I’d have made it this far without them. And while I’d rather not have been found crying in the supply closet, at least I know—”
“That’s what that was?” Wallace asked with a grimace. “I thought you were taking inventory and the dust was affecting your allergies.” He’d need to remind his employees the supply closet was not a place to have an emotional breakdown. They should save that for when they weren’t on the clock and far away from the office.
She chuckled and sniffled at the same time, a feat Wallace did not want to see repeated. “It means more to me than you’ll ever know asking after my wellbeing. I don’t care what anyone else says, Mr. Price. You’re a good man.”
What was that supposed to mean? “What is everyone saying about me?”
She blanched. “Oh, nothing bad. You know how it is. You started this firm. Your name is on the letterhead. It’s…intimidating.”
Wallace relaxed. He felt better. “Yes, well, I suppose that’s—”
“I mean, yes, people talk about how you can be cold and calculating and if something doesn’t get done the moment you want it to, you raise your voice to frightening levels, but they don’t see you like I do. I know it’s a front for the caring man underneath the expensive suits.”
“A front,” he repeated, though he was pleased she admired his sense of style. His suits were luxurious. Only the best, after all. It was why part of the package welcoming those new to the firm listed in detailed bullet-points what was acceptable attire. While he didn’t demand designer labels for all (he could appreciate student debt), if anyone wore something obviously bought off a discount rack, they’d be given a stern talking to about taking pride in their appearance.
“You’re hard on the outside but inside you’re a marshmallow,” she said.
He’d never been more offended in his life. “Mrs. Ryan—”
“Patricia, please. I’ve told you that before many times.”
She had. “Mrs. Ryan,” he said firmly. “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, I believe we have other matters to discuss.”
“Right,” she said hastily. “Of course. I know you don’t like when people compliment you. I promise it won’t happen again. We’re not here to talk about you, after all.”
He was relieved. “Exactly.”
Her lip trembled. “We’re here to talk about me and how difficult things have become lately.”
Wallace could only blame himself for the apparent miscommunication. Well, himself and Mrs. Ryan. Mostly her. “We need to refocus—”
“Kyle won’t touch me,” she whispered. “It’s been years since I’ve felt his hands on me.”
He flinched. “I don’t know if this is appropriate, especially when you—”
“I know!” she cried. “How inappropriate can he be? I know I’ve been working seventy hours a week, but is it too much to ask for my husband to perform his matrimonial duties? It was in our vows.”
What an awful wedding that must have been. They’d probably held the reception at a Holiday Inn. No. A Holiday Inn Express. He had no doubt karaoke had been involved.
“But I don’t mind the long hours,” she continued. “It’s part of the job. I knew that when you hired me.”
Ah! An opening! “Speaking of hiring—”
“My daughter pierced her septum,” Mrs. Ryan said forlornly. “She looks like a bull. My little girl, wanting a matador to chase her down and stick things in her.”
“My god,” Wallace muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face. He didn’t have time for this. He had a meeting in half an hour that he needed to prepare for.
“I know!” Mrs. Ryan exclaimed. “The only reason I can even get up in the morning is knowing I can come here and just…escape from it all.”
He felt a strange twist in his chest. He rubbed at his sternum. Most likely heartburn. He should have skipped the chili. “I’m glad we can be a refuge from your existence, but that’s not why I asked you for this meeting.”
She sniffled. “Oh?” She smiled again. It was stronger this time. “Then what is it, Mr. Price?”
He said, “You’re fired.”
He waited. Surely now she’d leave, and he could get back to work.
She looked around, a confused smile on her face. “Is this one of those reality shows?” She laughed, a ghost of her former exuberance he’d thought had long since been banished. “Are you filming me? Is someone going to jump out and shout surprise? What’s that show called? You’re Fired, But Not Really?”
“I highly doubt it,” Wallace said. “I haven’t given authorization to be filmed.” He looked down at her purse in her lap. “Or recorded.”
Her smile faded. “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how to make it any clearer, Mrs. Ryan. As of today, you are no longer employed by Moore, Price, Hernandez & Worthington. When you leave here, security will allow you to gather up your belongings and then you’ll be escorted from the building. Human Resources will be in touch shortly regarding any final paperwork you’ll need in case you need to sign up for…oh, what was it called?” He flipped through the papers on the desk. “Ah, yes. Unemployment benefits. Because apparently, even if you’re unemployed, you can still suckle from the teat of the government in the form of my tax dollars. So, in a way, it’s like I’m still paying you. Just not as much. Or while working here. Because you don’t.”
She wasn’t smiling any longer. “I…what?”
“You’re fired,” he said slowly.
“Why?” she demanded.
Now they were talking. They why of things was Wallace’s specialty. Nothing but the facts. “Because of the amicus brief in the Cortaro matter. You filed it two hours past the deadline. The only reason it was pushed through was because Judge Smith owed me a favor, and even that almost didn’t work. I had to remind him that I’d seen him and his au pair-turned-mistress at the—it doesn’t matter. You could’ve cost the firm thousands of dollars, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the harm it would’ve caused our client. That sort of mistake won’t be tolerated. I thank you for your years of dedication to Moore, Price, Hernandez & Worthington, but I’m afraid your services will no longer be required.”
She stood abruptly, the chair scraping along the hardwood floors. “I didn’t file it late.”
“You did,” Wallace said evenly. “I have the timestamp from the clerk’s office here if you’d like to see it.” He tapped his fingers against the folder sitting on his desk.
Her eyes narrowed. At least she wasn’t crying any longer. Wallace could handle anger. On his first day in law school, he was told that lawyers, while a necessity in a functioning society, were always going to be the focal point of ire. “Even if I did file it late, I’ve never done anything like that before. It was one time.”
“And you can rest easy knowing you won’t do anything like it again,” Wallace said. “Because you no longer work here.”
“But…but my husband. And my son. And my daughter!”
“Right,” Wallace said. “I’m glad you brought that up. Obviously, if your daughter was receiving any sort of scholarship from us, it’s now rescinded.” He reached for his desk phone, hand knocking against his coffee mug (WORLD’S BEST BOSS, a gift from a former employee who died in a skiing accident or something equally as ludicrous; what was their name? Todd? Lisa?), causing it to slosh and splatter his desk. Mrs. Ryan started to rise as if she wanted to help, but he waved her off as he moved the files out of the way. The phone beeped when he pressed the green button at the base. “Shirley? Can you please make a note for HR that Mrs. Ryan’s daughter no longer has a scholarship through us? I don’t know what it entails, but I’m sure they have some form they have to fill out that I need to sign. See to it immediately.”
His secretary’s voice crackled through the speaker. “Yes, Mr. Price.”
He looked up at his former paralegal. “There. See? All taken care of. Now, before you go, I’d ask that you remember we’re professionals. There’s no need for screaming or throwing things or making threats that will undoubtedly be considered a felony. And, if you could, please make sure when you clear out your desk that you don’t take anything that belongs to the firm. Your replacement will be starting on Monday, and I’d hate to think what it will be like for her if she was missing a stapler or tape dispenser. Whatever knickknacks you have accumulated are yours, of course.” He picked the stress ball on his desk with the firm’s logo on it. “These are wonderful, aren’t they? I seem to remember you getting one to celebrate seven years at the firm. Take it, with my blessing. I have a feeling it will come in handy.”
“You’re serious,” she whispered.
“As a heart attack,” he said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to—”
“You…you…you monster!” she shouted. “I demand an apology!”
Of course she would. “An apology would imply I’ve done something wrong. I haven’t. If anything, you should be apologizing to me.”
Her answering screech did not contain an apology.
Wallace kept his cool as he pressed the button on his phone again. “Shirley? Has security arrived?”
“Yes, Mr. Price.”
“Good. Send them in before something gets thrown at my head.”
The last Wallace Price saw of Patricia Ryan was when a man named Geraldo—large and ominous, perfectly suited for such tasks, which is why Wallace had hired him in the first place—dragged her away, kicking and screaming, apparently ignoring Wallace’s warning about felonious threats.
The elevator doors slid shut, cutting off her outrage.
“Ah,” Wallace said. “That’s more like it. Back to work, people! Just because it’s Friday doesn’t mean you get to slack off.”
Everyone began moving as if a fire had been lit under them.
Perfect. The machine ran smooth once again.
He went back into his office, closing the door behind him.
He thought of Mrs. Ryan only once more that afternoon when he received an email from the head of Human Resources telling him that she would take care of the scholarship. That twinge in his chest returned, but it was all right. He’d stop for a bottle of Tums on his way home. He didn’t give it—or Patricia Ryan—another thought. Ever forward, he told himself as he moved the email to a folder marked EMPLOYEE GRIEVENCES.
He began to whistle a jaunty tune as he got back to work.
Two days later, Wallace Price died.
Used with permission from Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates; a trade division of Macmillan Publishers. Copyright TJ Klune (c) 2021.
TJ Klune is a USA Today best-selling and Lambda Literary award-winning author and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea, and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, Klune believes it’s important–now more than ever–to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.
Under the Whispering Door will hit bookshelves on March 2, 2021. It is now available for pre-order.