The Anatomist's Apprentice (Dr. Thomas Silkstone Series #1)

The Anatomist's Apprentice (Dr. Thomas Silkstone Series #1)

3.7 86
by Tessa Harris

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In the first in a stunning new mystery series set in eighteenth-century England, Tessa Harris introduces Dr. Thomas Silkstone, anatomist and pioneering forensic detective. . .

The death of Sir Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man—except his sister, the

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In the first in a stunning new mystery series set in eighteenth-century England, Tessa Harris introduces Dr. Thomas Silkstone, anatomist and pioneering forensic detective. . .

The death of Sir Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man—except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia.

Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, where his unconventional methods only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine Sir Edward's corpse. But it is not only the dead, but also the living, to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor's investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies. . .

Advance praise for Tessa Harris and The Anatomist's Apprentice

'"Tessa Harris has delivered a deftly plotted debut. Just when you think the puzzle is solved, she reveals yet another surprising twist which leaves you marveling at her ingenuity." —Carol Carr, author of India Black

"CSI meets The Age of Reason with a well-drawn, intriguing cast of characters, headed by the brilliant Dr. Thomas Silkstone. Full of twists and turns, Tessa Harris's debut mystery can confound the most adept reader. Vivid details pulled me right into the world of early forensic sleuthing. A page turner!" —Karen Harper

"Tessa Harris takes us on a fascinating journey into the shadowy world of anatomist Thomas Silkstone, a place where death holds no mystery and all things are revealed." –Victoria Thompson, author of Murder on Sisters' Row

"From dissection table to drawing room, this visit to late eighteenth-century England is chock full of intriguing twists and turns. Along with the visiting surgeon from the colonies, Dr. Thomas Silkstone, readers will find themselves challenged by the who, the how, and the why of murder at an idyllic Oxfordshire manor house." —Kate Emerson

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1780, Harris’s absorbing debut introduces anatomist Thomas Silkstone, an American living in London, whom the author credits with a number of firsts, including recording the stages of decomposition of corpses and observing insects on a cadaver to determine time of death. When the sudden demise in Oxfordshire of Lord Edward Crick, after violent convulsions, arouses the suspicions of his brother-in-law, Capt. Michael Farrell, Crick’s sister and Farrell’s wife, Lady Lydia, asks Silkstone to determine the truth. Silkstone’s attraction to Lady Lydia motivates him to go beyond merely identifying the possible poison responsible for the nobleman’s end and to explore the viability of various suspects. He proves a dogged investigator, even after several attempts to warn him off the case. Harris has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and even veteran armchair puzzle solvers are likely to be surprised. Agent: Melissa Jeglinski. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In 1780 London, American Dr. Thomas Silkstone is an up-and-coming star in anatomical dissection. When the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell asks for assistance investigating the suspicious death of her 19-year-old brother, the Earl of Crick, Thomas readily adds amateur sleuth to his growing list of accomplishments. With plenty of potential suspects, including the earl's brother-in-law, but little physical evidence, can Thomas's forensic skills decipher whether it was premeditated murder or unfortunate accident? It's difficult for the reader to determine the true nature of these characters, as each revelation adds a layer of conflicting information, leaving no clear heroes or villains. The glossary of historical terminology will be helpful for readers who remember to check it. VERDICT The author's attempt to include a bit of everything gives a less-focused feeling to the mystery, but smart misdirection and time-period-appropriate medical details make for a promising start to a new series. A strong choice for readers of Ariana Franklin and Caleb Carr or fans of Sherlock Holmes-style mysteries.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

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Product Details

Publication date:
Dr. Thomas Silkstone Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

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Copyright © 2012 Tessa Harris
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-6698-9

Chapter One

The County of Oxfordshire, England, in the Year of Our Lord, 1780

A stifled scream came first, shattering the oppressive silence. It was followed by the sound of a heavy footfall. Lady Lydia Farrell rushed out into the corridor. A trail of muddy footprints led to her brother's bedchamber.

"Edward," she called.

A heartbeat later she was knocking at his door, a rising sense of panic taking hold. No reply. Without waiting she rushed in to find Hannah Lovelock, the maidservant, paralyzed by terror.

Over in the corner of the large room, darkened by shadows, the young master was shaking violently, his head tossing from side to side. Moving closer Lydia could see her brother's hair was disheveled and his shirt half open, but it was the color of his skin as his face turned toward the light from the window that shocked her most. Creamy yellow, like onyx, it was as if he wore a mask. She gasped at the sight.

"What is it, Edward? Are you unwell?" she cried, hurrying toward him. He did not answer but fixed her with a stare, as if she were a stranger; then he began to retch, his shoulders heaving with violent convulsions.

In a panic she ran over to the jug on his table and poured him water, but his hand flew out at her, knocking the glass away and it smashed into pieces on the floor. It was then she noticed his eyes. They were straining from their sockets, bulging wildly as if trying to escape, while the skin around his mouth was turning blue as he clutched his throat and clenched his teeth, like some rabid dog. Suddenly, and most terrifying of all, blood started to spew from his mouth and flecked his lips.

Hannah screamed again, this time almost hysterically, as her master lunged forward, his spindly arms trying to grab the window drapes before he fell to the ground, convulsing as if shaken by the very devil himself.

As he lay writhing on the floor, gurgling through crimson-tinged bile, Lydia ran to him, bending over his scrawny body as it juddered uncontrollably, but his left leg lashed out and kicked her hard. She yelped in pain and steadied herself against the bed, but she knew that she alone could be of no comfort, so she fled from the room, shrieking frantically for the servants.

"Fetch the physician. For God's sake, call Dr. Fairweather!" she screamed, her voice barely audible over the howls that rose ever louder from the bedchamber.

Downstairs there was pandemonium. The unearthly cries, punctuated by the mistress's staccato pleas, could now be heard in the hallway of Boughton Hall. The footman and the butler emerged and began to climb the stairs, while Captain Michael Farrell put his head around the doorway of his study to see his wife, ashen-faced, on the half landing.

"What is it, in God's name?" he cried.

There were screams now from another housemaid as more servants gathered in the hallway, listening with mounting horror to the banshee wails coming from the young master's bedchamber. The house dogs began to bark, too, and their sounds joined together with Lydia's cries for help in a cacophony of terror that soon seemed to reach a crescendo. All was chaos and fear for a few seconds more and then, just as suddenly as it had left, silence descended on Boughton Hall once more.

Dr. Fairweather arrived too late. He found the young man lying sprawled across the bed, his clothes stained with slashes of blood. His face was contorted into a grotesque grimace, with eyes wide open, as if witnessing some scene of indescribable torment, and his swollen tongue was half protruding from purple lips.

The next few minutes were spent prodding and probing, but at the end of the examination the physician's conclusion was decidedly inconclusive.

"He has a yellowish tinge," he noted.

"But what could have done this?" pleaded Lydia, her face tear-stained and drawn.

Dr. Fairweather shook his head. "Lord Crick suffered many ailments. Any one, or several, could have resulted in his demise," he volunteered rather unhelpfully.

Mr. Peabody, the apothecary, came next. He swore that he had added no more and no less to his lordship's purgative than was usual. "His death is as much of a mystery to me as it is to Dr. Fairweather," he concluded.

News of the untimely demise of the Right Honorable The Earl Crick was quick to seep out from Boughton Hall and spread across to nearby villages and into the Oxfordshire countryside beyond within hours. Without a surgeon to apply a tourniquet to stem the flow, it gushed like blood from a severed artery. And of course the tale became even more shocking in the telling in the inns and alehouses.

"'Twas his eyes."

"I 'eard they turned red."

"I 'eard his flesh went green."

"'E were shrieking like a thing possessed."

"Maybe 'e were."

"Mayhap 'e saw the devil 'imself."

"Claiming his own, no doubt."

There was a brief pause as the drinkers pondered the salience of this last remark, until suddenly as one they chorused: "Aye. Aye."

The six men were huddled around the dying embers of the fire at an inn on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. It was autumn and an early chill was setting in.

"And what of 'er, poor creature?"

"'Tis said 'e lashed out at 'er."

"Tried to kill 'er, 'is own flesh and blood."

"And she so delicate an' all, like spun gossamer."

"'E was a bad 'un, all right," said the miller.

Without exception his five drinking companions nodded as their thoughts turned to the various injustices most of them had suffered at their dead lord's hands.

"'E'll be burning in hell now," ventured the blacksmith. Another chorus of approval was rendered.

"Good riddance, that's what I say," said the carpenter, and everyone raised their tankards. It seemed to be a sentiment that was shared by all those contemplating the young man's fate.

For a moment or two all was quiet as they supped their tepid ale. It was the blacksmith who broke the silence. "'Course you know who'll be celebrating the most, don't ye?" He leaned forward in a conspiratorial gesture.

The men looked at one another, then nodded quickly in unison at the realization of this new supposition that had been tossed, like some bone, into their circle.

"'E'll be rubbing his 'ands with glee," smirked the miller, sucking at his pipe.

"That 'e will, my friends," agreed the blacksmith. "That 'e will," and he emptied his tankard and set it down with a loud thud on the table in front of him, with all the emphatic righteousness of a man who thinks he knows everything, but in reality knows very little at all.

Outside in the fading light of the marketplace, the women were talking, too. "Like some mad dog, he was, tearing at his own clothes," said the lady's maid, who heard it from her cousin, who knew the stable lad to the brother of the vicar who had attended at the hall on the night of the death.

She was imparting her blood-curdling tale to anyone who would listen to her as she bought ribbon for her mistress at Brandwick market, and there were plenty who did.

So it was that inside the low-beamed taverns and in bustling market squares, in restrained drawing rooms and raucous gaming halls around the county of Oxfordshire, the death was the talk of milkmaids and merchants and gossips and governesses alike. Some spoke of the young nobleman's eyes, how they had wept blood, and of his mouth, how it had slavered and foamed and how foul utterances and curses had been spewed forth.

The more circumspect would simply say the young earl had died in extreme agony and their thoughts were with his grieving family. Nevertheless, from the gummy old widow to the sober squire, they all listened intently and passed the story on in shades as varied as the turning leaves on the autumn beeches; on each occasion embellishing it with thin threads of conjecture that were strengthened every time they were entwined.

Boughton Hall was a fine, solid country house that was built in the late 1600s by the Right Honorable The Earl Crick's great-great-grandfather, the first earl. It nestled in a large hollow in the midst of the Chiltern Hills, surrounded by hundreds of acres of parkland and beech woods. Its imposing chimneystacks and pediments had seen better days and the facade was looking less than pristine, but the neglect that it had endured over the past four years under young Lord Crick's stewardship could be easily remedied with some cosmetic care.

Lady Lydia Farrell loved her ancestral home, but now it was fast taking on the mantle of a fortress whose walls stood between her and the volleys of lies and insinuation that were being fired at her and her husband since her brother's death. The vicar, the Reverend Lightfoot, tried to comfort her as they sat in the drawing room one evening three days later. His face was mottled, like some ancient, stained map, and he rolled out well-practiced words of comfort as if they were barrels of sack.

"Time," he told her, "is the great physician."

She looked up at him from her chair and smiled weakly. His words, although well meant, did not impress her. She forbore his trite platitudes politely but remained silent, fully aware that while time may have been a great physician, it was not a good anatomist. The longer her brother lay in his shroud that held within it the secrets of his death, the sooner time would turn from a physician into an enemy.

Chapter Two

A good corpse is like a fine fillet of beef, the master would say—tender to the touch and easy to slice. He neglected to make any comparisons with the odor, however. Once it began to stink any cook worth her salt would throw the offending meat to the dogs. Not so with a cadaver. Unlike the side of an ox whose texture and general flavor benefited from a few days' hanging, the human body needed to be butchered, in the technical sense, ideally within the first few hours of its slaughter, or in this case, demise.

Despite the fact that this particular corpse was relatively fresh, however, it was still proving difficult. Rigor mortis was setting in and Dr. Thomas Silkstone knew he would have to work quickly if he wanted to dissect the intestinal lymphatics before they atrophied. The translucent flexible tubes that resembled a large tangle of string were already beginning to lose their elasticity, even though their unfortunate owner, a Mr. Joshua Smollett, had died only that morning. A former patient, he was one of the few visionaries to comprehend that if any strides were to be made in the field of medicine and the curation of diseases they could only be taken via the knowledge gleaned from the practice of anatomy. "Dissection," as the master, properly known as Dr. Silkstone's mentor, Dr. William Carruthers, would frequently say in his lectures, "is the key to understanding all illness."

Thomas often found himself inadvertently reciting Dr. Carruthers's mantras. He hated himself for doing it, after all he was now a qualified surgeon in his own right, but the influence of the old man's teaching had seeped into every fiber of his being and dictated every turn of his professional thoughts, every incision of his razor-sharp knife. "You are an artist," Thomas recalled him saying more than once. "You are a da Vinci, a Michelangelo. The scalpel is your brush and the corpse your canvas." It was hard to think of himself as an artist, however, when he had to breathe in short, sharp movements to stop himself retching.

It was autumn now, and the air was cool and relatively fresh, but when the temperature rose so, too, would the reek of decaying flesh. That was the time when only those with the strongest of constitutions could stomach the vile and noxious miasma, which rose throughout every dissecting room in London, fed by sunlight and heat.

It was rare for Thomas to handle a corpse such as Mr. Smollett's. Indeed, these days he was finding it increasingly rare to handle a corpse at all. When he had first come to London, a fresh-faced foreigner all the way from Philadelphia, the Corporation of Surgeons had invited him to participate in the dissection of a cadaver fresh from the gallows. He shuddered as he remembered them in their black robes and gray wigs, as they peered and prodded like so many vultures until they went in for the first incision. Even now Thomas found the whole affair utterly distasteful, despite the fact that the man they were mutilating was always a convicted felon and had, in all probability, mutilated several people himself while they were still alive.

It was only natural therefore that a man in his position and with such weighty responsibilities should seek out just a few of the many distractions that London offered. In his native Philadelphia he had enjoyed masques and balls, whereas here he found the company a little dull and markedly less refined. The ladies, too, he had noted, possessed by and large thicker ankles than their sisters in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless in London he had found salvation in the theater and, in particular, Mr. Garrick's in Drury Lane. He had read all the great philosophers but nowhere was the human condition so well expounded as in the great actor's production of King Lear.

As he worked on the flaccid body that had once housed Mr. Smollett, Thomas was in a reflective mood. Unlike most of his patients, who would make their loved ones swear as they sat by their deathbeds that their corpses would never be handed over for dissection, Mr. Smollett had no fear of forgoing the pleasures of paradise if he allowed his body to be opened. "St. Peter will welcome me whether I be in a shroud or in pieces," he had quipped on Thomas's penultimate visit, before his laughter had caused him to cough up blood.

Phthisis, also known as tuberculosis, also known as the white death, was the obvious agent of his demise. Thomas had found his lungs to be badly scarred as he had expected, but it was the lymphatic system that currently occupied him and so he had taken the opportunity of slicing into the lower abdomen. Mr. Smollett had been a portly gentleman to say the least, and by the time Thomas had peeled away through layers of cream-colored subcutaneous fat, the tissues and organs were becoming increasingly resistant to his scalpel. Not only that, but the light was now fading and he would soon have to resort to candles.

Mistress Finesilver, the wily housekeeper, had already warned him that too much household money was being expended on candles but a good, bright light was essential for his work. He would rather spend money on tallow than on port wine and had told her so, much to her annoyance. He put down his scalpel, wiped his hands on his large, stained apron, and fetched a candelabrum from the windowsill. Placing it on the table just by Mr. Smollett's left buttock, he struck a flint and lit a long taper. He could not afford himself the luxury of a fire that would turn the corpse even more quickly. Cradling the flame in his bloody hands, he lit the five candles so that Mr. Smollett's abdomen was gradually illuminated in a halo of soft light.

Now that Dr. Carruthers's failing sight had forced him to relinquish his work, Thomas had taken on his mantle. Gone were the days when Carruthers would pack a lecture theater to the rafters with students eager to see the precision with which he could remove a man's spleen or amputate a limb. Unlike his teacher, Thomas was no great showman. He preferred to work quietly and efficiently alone, making detailed notes of his observations as Dr. Carruthers had taught. He now labored in his erstwhile master's laboratory, graduating from the cramped, airless room at the rear of the Dover Street premises that once served him as a study. He had inherited Dr. Carruthers's spacious rooms in Hollen Street and all that came with them and that included the grotesque and disturbing creatures that now stared out at him reproachfully from their glass prisons in the half light, like forlorn captives frozen in time.


Excerpted from The ANATOMIST'S APPRENTICE by TESSA HARRIS Copyright © 2012 by Tessa Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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