Devoured (Hatton and Roumande Series #1)by D. E. Meredith, Denise Meredith
One of London's first forensic detectives chases a grisly killer in this stunning debut mystery rich in period detail and sinister intrigue.
London in 1856 is gripped by a frightening obsession. The specimen-collecting craze is growing, and discoveries in far-off jungles are reshaping the known world in terrible and unimaginable ways. The new theories of
One of London's first forensic detectives chases a grisly killer in this stunning debut mystery rich in period detail and sinister intrigue.
London in 1856 is gripped by a frightening obsession. The specimen-collecting craze is growing, and discoveries in far-off jungles are reshaping the known world in terrible and unimaginable ways. The new theories of evolution threaten to disrupt the fragile balance of power that keeps the chaotic city in ordera disruption that many would do just about anything to prevent.
When the glamorous Lady Bessingham is found murdered in her bedroom, surrounded by her vast collection of fossils and tribal masks, Adolphus Hatton and his morgue assistant Albert Roumande are called in to examine the crime sceneand the body. In the new and suspicious world of forensics and autopsy examinations, Hatton and Roumande are the best. But the crime scene is not confined to one room. In their efforts to help Scotland Yard's infamous Inspector Adams track down the Lady's killer, Hatton and Roumande uncover a trail of murders all connected to a packet of seditious letters that, if published, would change the face of society and religion irrevocably.
D.E. Meredith's measured prose and eye for exquisite detail moves seamlessly from the filthy docks on the Isle of Dogs to the jungles of Borneo and the drawing rooms of London's upper class. Her slow-burning mystery builds to a shocking conclusion, consuming victimsand Victorian Londonas it goes.
“Devoured steeps us in the danger of Victorian London and the discovery of modern forensics, combining classic storytelling with a finely-executed historical moment. Meredith packs her debut with charm and wit enough to carry us into any adventures to come with these sparkling characters.” Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Dickens
“Devoured is an absorbing mystery, with an atmosphere that captures wonderfully the contrasts of science and superstition, of domesticity and imperial exoticism, that made the Victorian era so richly interesting. Hopefully a sequel is already on the way!” Charles Finch, author of The Fleet Street Murders
“Lovers of Victorian mystery will delight in Denise Meredith's terrific debut, where murder, the science of specimen collecting, and early forensic medicine combine into a riveting adventure.” Stefanie Pintoff, Edgar Award-winning author of In the Shadow of Gotham
“Meredith's debut novel delves into the ugly secrets of that straight-laced time and believably renders life among the different social strata.... Think Michael Cox (The Meaning of Night) meets Jonathan Barnes (The Somnambulist). Strongly recommended for fans of historicals.” Library Journal, starred review
“Meredith's research is superb. The smallest details show the interior life of the characters and the conditions they lived in. This is a dark story, but fascinating and brilliantly executed.” RT BookReviews, 4 and a half stars
“Something special. And then some.... Meredith, an Englishwoman with a degree from Cambridge University, has a fertile mind, from which springs a shocking conclusion that, in retrospect, is perfectly apparent. She fills this story of unbridled evil and immense sorrow with memorable characters and graceful prose, and her portrait of a world at an intellectual crossroads is powerful and evocative.” Richmond Times Dispatch
“Cleverly plotted… charming and convincing--very well done, and this likable and brainy team of detectives probably has a future.” Sullivan County Democrat
“If this debut is any indication, we are in for a long run of entertaining and thoughtful books.… Dark, creepy and fascinating Devoured is a book that lingers long after the reading is done.” Crime Spree magazine
“Hatton and Roumande are instantly memorable characters. Like all good ideas, they are obvious now that someone has thought of them. They are like Holmes and Watson in a 19th-century version of Bones or CSI: Miami set in pre-Agatha Christie London.... This is a compelling and sparkling murder mystery set in a time of new scientific ideas of evolution; a time when religion and the establishment, the power-holding upper-class elite, had everything to fear from change. Meredith explores these ideas through the eyes of her extremely likeable protagonists.... This is a slow-burning mystery that addresses human frailties and desires, fears and hopes, which are as relevant today as they were back at the dawn of science a century and a half ago.” The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
“This debut novel by Denise Meredith is an entertaining read. It reminded me of Masterpiece Mystery... The author does a good job of bringing the wintry streets of Victorian London and the steamy jungles of Borneo to life as she tells her story.” Historical Novel Society
“Fans of historical mysteries, especially those set in Victorian Europe, will definitely want to read D.E. Meredith's Devoured. A high body count, creative death scenes, cruel villains, beloved heroes, intriguing plots and subplots, and an exotic setting make this novel an enjoyable read.” GumshoeReview.com
“Devoured is a fascinating and sinister mystery set in Victorian Londonin a time when a person could be killed for believing in something other than what was accepted.” Nightandweekends.com
“A complex amalgam of mystery and bloody terror, Devoured ties new and sacrilegious theories of evolution to the mysteries of nineteenth-century forensic techniques.… From the series of gruesome murders to the exotic delights of Broderig's letters to Hatton's burgeoning science, Meredith's tale is filled with dissenters and religious bigots, devious villains and buried animosities. The ultimate truths of men is lit by a microscope and a lamp, and it appears that all is ripe for Hatton and Adams to return in another outing, their vibrant partnership already taken to the brink as they walk the streets of a violent London, determined to protect the innocent against the deadliest schemes of men.” Curledup.com
1856. Depravity reigns from the jungles of Borneo to the drawing rooms of London.
Deep in the basement of London's St. Bart's hospital, Professor Hatton and his able assistant Roumande work in the new field of forensics, which has led Scotland Yard's Inspector Adams to call on them for clues in the death of Lady Bessingham, an eccentric who courted controversy. Lying semi-naked and butchered, with an unusual scent around her, the corpse is surrounded by her collection of tribal masks from the Malay Archipelago. Unfortunately, some of her jewelry is missing, as is a cache of letters written to her by Benjamin Broderig on an expedition to Borneo. He is desperate to retrieve those letters, which question whether man evolved from beasts, a theory violently disputed with the Duke of Monreith in the House of Lords. More deaths follow: a bookseller pinned to the floor like a specimen, a radical reporter with his neck punctured and stitched up, a Cambridge don skinned and stuffed, a spate of pubescent girls. Egged on by Broderig to investigate the Duke, who has unseemly sexual proclivities, Inspector Adams, who has a few impolitic ones of his own, demurs. While Hatton and Roumande sift clues, the most telling secrets are revealed by excerpts from Broderig's correspondence with Lady Bessingham. It takes all Hatton and Roumande's skills to assign blame appropriately and settle matters with discretion.
A so-so debut for forensic scientists Hatton and Roumande, with a few grisly bits and an endearing glimpse of a botanist collecting specimens in Borneo.
Read an Excerpt
St. Bart’s Smithfields, London 1856
Professor Hatton lay slumped. His silhouette devoured by thrown shapes from an ebbing fire which was burning low in a grate. The morgue was completely quiet. And in its chasm, Hatton’s eyes were shut, shielding out the peeling walls around him. One lamp burned on his desk. He was still awake, but only just, exhausted by the great task before him, knowing his science, forensics, was forever in doubt.
“Professor Hatton. Open up, sir. There’s a carriage waiting. You are needed urgently, sir.”
He shuddered, gathered his thoughts, wondering what the dev il time it was, but knowing Monsieur Roumande must have gone home already. Hatton found his surgical bag. He took his hat, cane, and coat down from one of the meat hooks; opening the mortuary door, he stepped into a moonlit yard. Lantern light illuminated folding drifts as he tumbled into the waiting carriage. There was no need to find his pocket watch because a bell was chiming somewhere, three times, across the velvet skies of London.
“Good evening, Professor Hatton. My name is Inspector George Adams of Scotland Yard. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
Hatton looked at the man sitting before him, who thumped the roof of the hansom with his cane and lit a cigarette, offering one to him. Hatton shook his head, his eyes still bleary with sleep. The coach lurched towards the river, which was nothing more than a tapered line, soon lost in a swirling pall.
“All will reveal itself when we arrive in Chelsea. Are you sure you won’t join me, Professor? They’re Turkish, you know.” Hatton shook his head again. The Inspector shrugged.“ It could be a very long night.”
Hatton took note of his companion, saying, “Your reputation goes before you, Inspector Adams. I presume this is a medical jurisprudence matter?”
“Yes, Professor,” said the Inspector, stretching his legs out, partly enclosed in a gabardine coat. “It’s a case of the upmost sensitivity. But I’ve been wanting to work with you for some time now; I’m intrigued by your new science, Professor.”
Hatton nodded. He knew a little of this man, but Albert Roumande knew more. Hatton had many times heard his Chief Diener talk of Scotland Yard’s new celebrity detective, reading bits out of the papers about various cases.
To work with Inspector Adams? Hatton allowed himself a smile.
“As I said, I’ve followed your work with some interest,” continued the Inspector, in what Hatton guessed was an eastern drawl, not unlike his own accent once, when he was a boy, but this man seemed to relish in his drawn- out vowels, whereas Hatton had long since rubbed the edges off, keen to meet the requirements for a new professorship at St. Bart’s and a position of limited standing. But here was a man who clearly took no prisoners, nor apologised for what he was. A man to admire, then.
“I’m flattered,” answered Hatton. “Perhaps it is the series of articles in The Lancet you refer to? We are so misunderstood, Inspector. Forensics needs all the friends it can get, and I understand from my fellow pathologists that you are indeed a friend. So, I’m delighted to finally make your acquaintance.”
“The Yard is modernising. Look at me, for example. Do you think I would have stood a chance ten years ago? A lad from Cambridgeshire? An out- of- town Special? But I’m a regular working- class hero now, if you follow the crime pages. Although, don’t believe everything you read about me, Professor.”
The horse whinnied as they reached their final destination.
“This way, Professor.”
Hatton followed, briefly stamping the snow off his boots, then went up the steps to a house on Nightingale Walk which loomed before him. An ornate gas lamp illuminated a green gloss door. Hatton looked skyward at the clear night sky, which was brilliantly lit by an arch of flickering stars. A flurry of snow caught his face and he relished the bite. It would be overbearingly warm inside.
“You should know this is the home of a bohemian, as they like to call themselves. Her taste is not the same as mine. Nor yours, I suspect.” Hatton didn’t know what the Inspector meant by this attempt at solidarity, but as they headed up the stairs he could see the house appeared to be crammed full of everything. Shelves were brimming over with a thousand books competing for space with rocks, shells, feathers, cases of moths and butterflies. Hatton stopped in his tracks as they turned a corner into an expression of pure evil. Slashed red and black, with eyes yellow rimmed and teeth as jagged as knives.
“A tribal mask, I think they call it,” said the Inspector. “So, you will meet their late own er now. Prepare yourself, for there’s a great deal of blood.”
The room was as the Inspector had described it. More jumble, and a small group of policemen, doing what Professor Hatton didn’t rightly know, but he could feel his temper rising as he saw these clodhoppers poking about amongst the victim’s possessions, clearly unaware that anything they moved or altered could wreck his forensic gathering.
“Please, Inspector. Would you ask your men to refrain from doing that? Yes, that!” One fellow was bending down over a four- poster bed and pulling off pillows. Hatton was no novice to murder. He told the policemen to stop everything they were doing and step aside.
The wave of uniforms parted to reveal the crime.
The body before him was shockingly white. She had melded pallid with the floor, which was covered in the softest, hand- stitched rug. Its hibiscus flower petals, its coconuts and palms, its swinging monkeys, becalmed by a seeping blackness still sticky to the touch.
Hatton was surprised to feel the warmth of her temple, although he knew it was fast ebbing away. He sprung his surgical bag open and, finding a thermometer, nodded to himself because first impressions were rarely wrong.
Hatton made a note. The state of rigor mortis was setting in just around the bottom of her jawline. Hatton stated the facts, “She’s been dead three hours, perhaps four, Inspector. The livor mortis effect is creeping across her body and her temperature will continue to drop, causing this blue marbled discolouration.”
Hatton knelt down and sniffed her skin. He felt his audience’s disapproval and so added, “It’s an unusual practice here in En gland, Inspector, but it’s a device I have adopted after hearing of my colleagues’ criminal successes in Germany, but it would be better without this infernal cigar smoke.” He sounded peevish but nevertheless couldn’t help himself, and so theatrically beat the air, which was already filled with the scent of tobacco. “When we take her to St. Bart’s, there will be no smoking there.”
“Well, of course not, Professor,” the Inspector said, drawing on his own cigarette and then, thinking better of it, stubbing it out. “But for those of us not so grounded in forensic matters, please, Professor, would you be so kind as to explain yourself?”
Hatton surveyed the room. Two men looked back at him, clearly not Adams’s minions. “Her scent is slightly odd,” he replied. “I won’t know what it is until I have dissected her.”
“Have you no respect, sir? Damn him, Adams. I thought you said this one was good. Dissected her? For God sake’s, man. You have no permission for that.”
The gentleman who had spoken was dressed in garb found only in the most elevated of London Society. Hatton had seen pictures of Sir William Broderig in the papers a great deal recently. The Liberal’s views on religion and science had ensured this peer was rarely out of the limelight. Coiffed and buffed to a shine, Sir William looked oddly out of place in this lair of death. Hatton looked at Adams for support, who interjected with, “It’s the word I think that vexes you, Sir William, but this is a police matter and so we must do as we see fit. I merely wanted Professor Hatton to see the crime scene.”
Adams turned to Hatton. “Lady Bessingham was a close friend of the Broderig family. Sir William lives in Swan Walk, just five minutes from here. A scullery maid found the body, raised the alarm, and Sir William called us immediately. Isn’t that right, sir?”
“I have known her since she was a child. And her late husband also. He was a dear friend of mine.” The gentleman stumbled a little, grasping the edge of an armchair.
“Hurry up and get Sir William a glass of porter, Constable.”
Sir William took the porter and, recovering a little, said, “I apologise, Professor. I am out of sorts. We’re most grateful for you coming here, but everything you see and hear to night must remain between these four walls. We need your absolute discretion.”
Hatton bowed. “Of course.”
Sir William gathered his thoughts and continued, “Lady Bessingham courted controversy before she died. As have I, Professor. But in death she deserves some dignity, surely? This brutal crime will have a thousand tongues wagging and a thousand of those Grub Street scribblers selling their lies for thru’pence. We will be awash with rumours before the sun has risen.” Sir William wrung his hands. “What ever you have to do, Professor, please do it, but I beg you, as a gentleman, proceed with the utmost discretion.”
Hatton answered that he would proceed as required and turned to the Inspector. “It’s a delicate question, but was she found semi- naked like this?” and as he spoke, Hatton ran his eye along the lines of her hips and curves. He was already elsewhere, thinking about the cutting of her flesh which lay ahead.
Adams nodded. “There’s a dress over the back of a chair in the adjoining room. There was a fire still smouldering in the grate when we found her. Its ebbing now, but the room, as you can feel, is still warm, although I doubt she slept like this. She still has her stockings and corset on. Not normal attire for bed even for a bohemian.”
Hatton looked around him for some sort of clue as to what she might have been doing half dressed like this, and then made another note. Perhaps she was simply preparing for bed when somebody found her. Hatton knew little of women, especially rich ones, but he knew enough to tell him that few prepared their evening toilette without a maid to carry out their bidding. To brush their hair, to unbutton their stays, to warm and fetch a nightdress. But there was no fresh nightdress on the bed and no warming pan, either.
“She hasn’t been moved or touched. She is exactly as she was found, Professor,” continued Adams. “But I think we need to get her to the mortuary now. We’ll follow you on with the hearse. I assume you are happy to be observed as you work?”
Hatton nodded, and if truth was known, he welcomed it. There was no opportunity here for theatrics or demonstrating his talent. “Yes Inspector, but it’s five hours till dawn. It’s midwinter and the mortuary is gloomy at the best of times, so with your leave, I shan’t start the cutting till ten o’clock. It’s easier to do such work when the sun has fully risen.”
The Inspector said, “But of course, Professor,” before turning to Sir William and saying,“ You and your son are free to go now, sir. Ah, forgive me, Professor. I should have introduced you before. This is Sir William’s son, Mr. Benjamin Broderig. He also knew our victim.”
Another stepped forward and shook Hatton’s hand. Hatton returned the gesture and took his face in, which was easy on the eye after so much elaborate detail. The son was sandy, sun- kissed. He nodded and said, “I believe you can help us find her killer, Professor. I’ve heard a great deal about your work. I’m a scientist myself and I’m honoured to make your acquaintance, but please forgive me, I must take my father home. But if I may, I will come by the mortuary room later. It would please my father knowing that one of us is with her. To the very end, if that’s how I can put it.”
Hatton was relieved for this support. “Of course, sir. Ask for me directly or for my Chief Diener, Monsieur Albert Roumande. I would be more than happy for you to observe. But, as I said to the Inspector, I shan’t start till ten, and so perhaps, now, you can get a little sleep?” The younger man nodded again, taking his father’s arm.
“Thank goodness they’ve gone,” quipped Adams. “I can do without the relatives breathing down my neck. But Sir William’s right about the press. They’ll be all over this one.” Inspector Adams looked at Hatton for a second, then brought out his tin of tobacco. Hatton, despite himself, said nothing.
“I prefer a cane tip. Wool gets in the teeth. Anyway, it’s going to be hard to operate in this jumble, eh, Professor?” The penny smoke was lit. “It will be easier once we’ve moved her, but do what you can. Do what ever you like, in fact.”
The Inspector smiled at Hatton as he billowed out a haze of smoke, then waved it clear again. Hatton got on with his work, looking around the room, which was a muddle of woven baskets and copper pots, fossils, lumps of crystal. And on a table by her bed, a gorgeous display of conches. Hatton would have loved to put one to his ear and listen to the waves, but instead just moved towards the shells, taking his little brush to gather evidence and to admire the largest, Strombus gigas. It was pink and wet with shine.
“A regular magpie, wasn’t she? No husband anymore to rein her in, but plenty of money and time on her hands, I dare say, to indulge in all flights of fancy. Perhaps a flight of fancy is what got her killed, Professor?” Adams showed less deference than Hatton, picking up the shell and holding it to his ear. For a moment he seemed lost in thought.“Marvellous things. Now then, let’s see what we can tell you. No sign of a struggle. No forced entry. Just the hall window slightly open to tell us someone was here that oughtn’t to be. We haven’t done a thorough search yet, but on the face of it and according to the servants”— he looked at his notes—“everything, more or less, as before. Apart from one thing. A missing maid. Name of Flora James, who’s been in ser vice here for three years and by all accounts was the mistress’s favourite. Pretty thing, I’m told. Fair- haired. Quite ladylike in her manners, of medium height, well turned out, nineteen or thereabouts. The description is a rough one but we’re putting a likeness together based on what we can gather. We’ll track her down, but it’s odd because there’s nothing of value missing, and if the little madam was a thief, well, the jewellery would be gone. Apparently, she had been sent ahead of the other staff, the day before Lady Bessingham’s murder. The rest were at the country residence, at a place called Ashbourne. Flora was on an urgent errand it seems. Are you listening to me, Professor?”
Hatton nodded, but was distracted by a tiny bird, which was scratching forlornly in the bottom of its cage. How he loathed the practice of keeping birds imprisoned like this. He had a mind to let the poor thing go, but thought better than displaying such unmanly sensibility in front of Inspector Adams. The detective might misjudge him.
He looked at the room again to find something— anything— which could illuminate this crime. There were three little upright music chairs by a bay window, covered in brocade dresses and piles of material. Nothing unusual in a woman’s dressing room, but then it came to him. It was the tiniest thing, but significant. Hatton looked at the highly polished writing desk.
“Are there any papers lying around, Inspector? Any correspondence, perhaps? Parcels waiting for despatch or post not opened?” Hatton paused waiting for a response.
“And your point, Professor? We’ve seen all her main correspondence, but they’re innocent affairs. Mainly orders for books, bills from dressmakers, and other such daily dealings with domestic matters. There are several bundles of letters to museums and other scientific institutions, as it appears our victim was rather doting on crusty academics. She provided some money, I understand, to several beneficiaries. I shall be investigating this further to establish any links to her death, but in my experience, Professor, the crime is often an obvious one. I suspect a lover or a thief.”
There was something in his approach, so defiantly de facto, that jarred Hatton, but nevertheless, he said again, “Yes, but has anyone checked to see if there were other, perhaps unfinished letters?” His eyes travelled, scrutinising this romantic testament to art and nature. A cacophony of silks, exotica, exuberant pictures of dark bodies jostling and dancing in the clearings of far- flung places captured in oil, and iridescent beetles in graded succession imprisoned in glass. Books deftly creased, to mark a point or a query.
“Look about the room, Inspector. What do you see?”
“I see a mess, Professor.”
“Well, I see something else. Something I have seen before but not in a house, rather in a University. This woman was at work in her boudoir, Inspector. At work on some intellectual pursuit, and if that’s the case, then why is her desk entirely clear of papers? Where are the thoughts, the observations?” Hatton
Excerpted from Devoured by D. E. Meredith
Copyright © 2010 by D. E. Meredith
Published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
D.E. MEREDITH read English at Cambridge, then ran the press office and the land mines campaign for the Red Cross, travelling extensively to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Rwanda during the conflicts. She worked as a consultant on media relations for Greenpeace and other worthy causes before embarking on "The Hatton and Roumande Mysteries" series for St Martin's Press (DEVOURED, Oct 2010, THE DEVIL'S RIBBON Oct 2011). She has two boys, a tall husband, a barking (mad) Parsons Terrier and lives at a secret location on the River Thames. When not writing, she runs, rides her bike like a lunatic or eats home made cake.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Perhaps the Victorian Age is misnamed and should be replaced by Darwinian Age as by 1856 scientists, treasure seekers and amateurs seem to be traversing the world in search of new species and odd or exotic ancient artifacts. London is not immune to the chaos as murder for possessions is not unique. Collector Lady Blessingham is murdered in her bedroom. Yet in spite of the homicide, her vast collection of valuable artifacts, tribal masks, and fossils seem untouched. Working from out of the morgue's basement with no funding, Forensics Professor Adolphus Hatton and his assistant Albert Roumonde arrive at Blessingham's home to conduct a scientific autopsy of the corpse. Their insistence on seeing the dead body at the murder sight is considered blasphemous by some Londoners especially religious people. They soon expand their search of the home for clues like motive as something was sought by the murderer and opportunity as the killer gained easy entrance. The pair assists Scotland Yard's Inspector Adams' search for the culprit. This fantastic Victorian Age whodunit is as much a historical tale as it is an investigative thriller. The wealth of detail is incredible as readers will believe they are in London in 1856 yet with so much vividness, D.E. Meredith never takes her eye off the mystery. Readers will relish this engaging story as Hatton and Roumonde apply the new "voodoo" science of forensics to the homicide. Harriet Klausner
Since I like historic settings and forensics, I thought I would enjoy this series, however I did not. Mistakenly, I purchased two in the series before I read the first one. That won't happen again. This book did not live up to my expectations. It was dry, the characters bland.