D. E. Meredith The Devil's Ribbon

ISBN 13: 9780753192283

The Devil's Ribbon

 
9780753192283: The Devil's Ribbon
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London swelters in June 1959, and trouble is brewing. Scotland Yard calls on forensic scientish Adolphus Hatton and his trusty assistant, Albert Roumande to help stop a series of violent murders of seemingly unconnected people, linked by the same macabre callign card.

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About the Author:

D.E. Meredith has travelled far and wide to some of the remotest places on earth which has fuelled her imagination and continuing lust for travel. After reading English at Cambridge University she became a campaigner for the WWF, and spent ten years working for the environment movement. She has flown over the Arctic in a biplane, skinny-dipped in Siberia, hung out with Inuit and Evenki tribespeople and dodged the Russian mafia in downtown Vladivostok. Meredith later became a spokesperson for the British Red Cross, spending six years travelling through war zones and witnessing humanitarian crises. The experience strongly influenced her crime writing, with its themes of injustice and inequality. She currently lives on the outskirts of London with her husband and two teenage sons. When not writing she runs, bakes cakes and does yoga to relax. www.demeredith.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
ST. BART’S HOSPITAL SMITHFIELD JULY 9, 1858
 
 
“The skin is cold and often damp, the tongue flabby and chilled like a piece of dead meat. The patient speaks in a plaintive whisper, tosses incessantly from side to side and complains of intolerable weight or anguish. He struggles for breath, points out the seat of his agony. If blood is obtained at this point, it is black, oozes like jelly, drop by drop. Toward the close, the patient becomes insensible and with a rattle in the throat, dies quietly after a long convulsive sob.”
All was silent in the morgue, save the scratch of a nib, as Professor Hatton copied out a passage from one of his well-thumbed medical journals, underlying words which reminded him not of the symptoms of cholera, but of his father who’d died on a suffocating night, reminiscent of this one.
*   *   *
He was pale, when his sister Lucy had taken his hand. “You did everything you could, Adolphus.”
“Yes, but it wasn’t enough,” he’d replied bitterly, as they’d stood among the handful of people who’d gathered by the newly dug graveside, watching as the coffin was lowered, knowing prayers were a comfort to some. He’d stared at the Hampshire earth and the worms made violet by the spades, thinking if there was a God, then how could this happen.... again?
*   *   *
Bone-tired, Hatton shook away the bad memory and forced his wandering mind back to his work, which was money well earned but giving him the damnedest headache, as he wrote on a neat, square of paper, “Note to self—alimentary canal, entry point? Sphincter muscle? Exit? See Mr. Farr’s work, London Medical Gazette, page 12—Broad Street Pump—how does cholera travel?
Outside, there was a sudden sound of wheels on cobbles, the creak of a chain and a harsh voice crying in the dark, “Bring ’em over ’ere. For pity’s sake ... ’ere, I say...”
Not more bodies, he thought. It was midnight and he’d only just finished cutting the last lot, making the cholera count what—twenty? He checked his notes—yes, twenty—which wasn’t enough to call it an epidemic yet, which was good news for Infectious Diseases, but for him? Well, thought Hatton, that was a moot point.
The harsh voice came again—
“Don’t lift the cover. Wheel it over there. There, I say. Leave the bodies by the water pump. Fussy devil? You ain’t heard the like. He’ll ’ave your guts for garters, if anyone touches that padlock.”
Hatton’s chief diener, Albert Roumande was on the far side of the mortuary, a question in his eye to which Hatton said, “I know, I know, Albert. I’m going.” Outside, in the moonlit yard, an arc of stars framed a paltry gang of body collectors who were gathered in a round with torches in their hands. Hatton snatched one of the torches. “For pity’s sake, put the damn flames out. Then for heaven’s sake clean yourselves up a bit. There’s a real risk of infection, here. Especially you! Have you learned nothing from us, lad?” The young man in question stood to attention, removing his cap in a quick show of deference, as Hatton shook his head at the youth’s disheveled appearance. “Monsieur Roumande has a mountain of work for you, so hurry yourself. Where have you been anyway? You’ve been gone hours already.”
Excusez-moi, but Monsieur Roumande said he needed me to visit Newgate, sir, and then go on to the Irish nests in the slums, where I heard the fever bell ringing. Shall I help shift the bodies, Professor?”
“Well, that’s your job, isn’t it?” said Hatton, cross, because he’d done a fifteen-hour stretch already. “Get the corpses into the mortuary, quickly, then it’s hot water and carbolic for the lot of you. No hands anywhere near the mouth, until you’re done with the cadavers and washed. Do you understand me, Patrice?”
The boy nodded, contritely.
“Very well, get on with it,” said Hatton, wiping a swathe of sweat from his neck, because the air in the morgue was uncomfortable and fetid, but it wasn’t much better out here, he thought. St. Bart’s Hospital had been built as a sanctuary for the sick on the ancient meadows of Smithfield, a holy place of medieval monks and healers, but the “smooth” fields had long become a market, and the market had long become a herding place for animals and a slaughterhouse for a thousand dead sheep, a million disemboweled pigs, the split carcasses of cattle. But it was a different sort of death tonight that demanded Professor Hatton’s attention.
Back in the cutting room, Albert Roumande wobbled precariously on a rickety chair, risking life and limb, but determined to hang up another posy of dried herbs to drive the scent of death away, because as chief diener—a word meaning only “servant of the morgue”—his work covered all matters of sanitation, odor control, preserving and pickling, the procurement of newfangled instruments, knife sharpening and bookkeeping. Added to which, being a man of rare intellect and an avid reader of everything from The Lancet to The London Medical Gazette, when it came to understanding the nuances of anatomy, in truth, he was barely a whisper away from Professor Hatton himself.
Roumande jumped down from the chair with remarkable dexterity as he announced, “If the summer keeps up at this temperature, we’ll soon be awash with corpses. But where and how to store them without buckets of ice?” He scratched his head. “That’ll be the next problem. The heat is choking the city, but at least we’ve someone committed to help us, at last.” He turned to their apprentice, Patrice. “But no peace for the wicked, eh? Go and get those cadavers onto the dissection slab, lad, and then I’ve got a treat for you.”
The boy wiped his hands on his apron and beamed, “A treat? For me, monsieur?”
“Learning and erudition, Patrice. You’ve been with us for almost a fortnight now and you can’t always be scrubbing and mopping. Put on some gloves, don a mask, and you can observe your first cholera cutting. Is that permissible, Professor?”
Hatton nodded, happy to leave such matters to Albert Roumande. A man who excelled not only in all things to do with the running of the morgue, but whose sage advice was something Professor Hatton—the younger man, at thirty-five—had come to rely on. For example, on how to raise children—“With love, Adolphus, nothing but love.” On how to sharpen a knife,Always, Professor. Against the blade.” On matters of dissection, “I think you’ve missed a bit, Professor.” And matters of the heart, “Like birds needs the sky, and stars need the moon, a man needs a wife, Adolphus...”
But tonight was not a night to contemplate matters of the heart. There was work to do. Standing under a sign which said Perfect Specimens for an Exacting Science—cherry red on Prussian blue—Hatton carefully inspected an array of surgical instruments, embossed with the doctor’s initials—ARH esq.
“The smallest, I think, for the child’s gut,” Hatton said to the sliver of silver in his hand.
“I agree with you, Professor,” said Roumande, rolling back his sleeves. “Here, Patrice, step up to the cadaver. See these scissors? They are typically used to separate the membranes out from the muscle. Each fold, each cavity may unlock a secret. Step forward, but touch nothing. Observe the organs carefully because later we shall expect you to draw them.”
Hatton prepared to delve in, to feel the flesh rip against the blade, and the muscle melt against metal. Muffled behind his calico mask, he said, “See here, as I draw the blade,” Hatton sliced the torso of a young Irish girl, creating a purple slit, a seeping Y, running through the skin down to the pelvis and then back again to her right breastbone. Roumande stood ready with a large pair of coal tongs, peering over the corpse and adding, “A perfect skin flap, and the infection is clearly denoted by the telltale blood. It resembles crème de cassis, n’est ce pas?”
The youth spluttered, “Excusez-moi, monsieur. S’il vous plait. Please, wait ... wait a moment, monsieur.”
“I have him,” Roumande crooked his arm around their apprentice. “Here, steady now. Sit down for a moment, but what on earth’s the matter? You’ve seen umpteen dissections before.”
Patrice put his head between his legs and retched into a nearby bucket, wiping his mouth, “Excusez-moi, excusez-moi...”
“Is it the girl that upsets you? Or the fear of these infected bodies?”
“It’s the black blood, like a witch or the devil’s...”
“Cholera isn’t the prettiest.” Roumande patted Patrice on the back, and then turning to Hatton, said, “The smalls will be more interesting for Mr. Farr, don’t you think? And we’re in luck tonight for we’ve a couple of babes, here.”
Hatton didn’t reply, his eyes still intent on the girl.
“Lost in thought, Adolphus?” asked Roumande.
Hatton shrugged, “You’re right, Albert. We should concentrate on the smalls.” He pointed his scalpel at the micelike shrouds. “And I’d wager those babies are twins.”
“My thoughts exactly, Professor. To compare the onse...

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