The Lazarus Curse

The Lazarus Curse

4.4 7
by Tessa Harris

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In 1780s London, American anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone is plunged into a swirling cauldron of sorcery, slavery, and cold-blooded murder . . .

When the sole survivor of an ill-fated scientific expedition to Jamaica goes missing upon his return to London, Dr. Thomas Silkstone--entrusted with cataloging the expedition's New World specimens--feels compelled to…  See more details below


In 1780s London, American anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone is plunged into a swirling cauldron of sorcery, slavery, and cold-blooded murder . . .

When the sole survivor of an ill-fated scientific expedition to Jamaica goes missing upon his return to London, Dr. Thomas Silkstone--entrusted with cataloging the expedition's New World specimens--feels compelled to investigate. There are rumors of a potion that has the power to raise the dead--and the formula is suspected to be in the private journal that has disappeared along with the young botanist.

As Dr. Silkstone searches for clues to the man's whereabouts, he is drawn deeper into a dark and dangerous world of vengeance, infidelity, murder, and the trafficking of corpses for profit. Without the support of his beloved Lady Lydia Farrell--from whom he has been forcibly separated by law--he must confront the horrors of slavery, as well the very depths of human wickedness. And after a headless corpse is discovered, Dr. Silkstone begins to uncover the sinister motives of those in power who would stop at nothing to possess the Lazarus potion. . .

Praise for The Dead Shall Not Rest

"Outstanding. . .well-rounded characters, cleverly concealed evidence and an assured prose style point to a long run for this historical series." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Populated with real historical characters and admirably researched, Harris's novel features a complex and engrossing plot. A touch of romance makes this sophomore outing even more enticing. Savvy readers will also recall Hilary Mantel's The Giant, O'Brien." --Library Journal

Praise for The Anatomist's Apprentice

"Densely plotted. . . We await--indeed, demand--the sequel." --The New York Times Book Review

"An absorbing debut. . . Harris has more than a few tricks up her sleeve and even veteran armchair puzzle solvers are likely to be surprised." --Publishers Weekly

"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." --Library Journal

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 06/23/2014
Conflicting attitudes toward slavery in Georgian England propel Harris’s stellar fourth historical starring American anatomist Thomas Silkstone (after 2013’s The Devil’s Breath). In 1783, the president of the Royal Society, Joseph Banks, honors Silkstone by inviting him to catalogue the flora and fauna gathered on a recent expedition to the West Indies. Two of the three expedition’s leaders died before their ship made the return voyage to England. The disappearance of the third leader, botanical artist Matthew Bartlett, and a notebook filled with essential details about the voyage’s discoveries further complicate the assignment. As Silkstone looks into Bartlett’s fate despite Banks’s opposition, he aids a gravely wounded slave, which draws him into the national debate on human freedom and dignity. Certain aspects of the plot resemble the storyline of Lloyd Shepherd’s The Poisoned Island, but they are sufficiently different to distinguish it, and the subplot neatly sets up the next book. Harris’s prose and characterizations have only become more assured. Agent: Melissa Jeglinski, Knight Agency. (Aug.)

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Publication date:
Dr. Thomas Silkstone Series , #4
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The Lazarus Curse

A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery



Copyright © 2014 Tessa Harris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7582-9337-4


The Elizabeth, somewhere in the English Channel November in the Year of Our Lord 1783

As he lay in his hammock, the young man dreamed he was back on the island. In the black of a jungle night the drums began. Low and throbbing, they drowned out the sound of his heartbeat. The rhythm was slow and steady at first, like the relentless turn of a rack wheel. Each beat was a footstep in the darkness, each pause a breath held fast.

In his mind's eye he saw himself and the rest of the party make their way toward the sound, slashing through the thick stems and waxy leaves, as the beat grew louder and louder. Reaching the clearing, they saw them: a circle of Negroes and at their centre a man gyrating madly, his head ablaze with bird plumes, dancing around a fire. In his hand he grasped a long bone at its heft, shaking it as he pranced wildly in the ring.

The victim, little more than a child, was brought to him struggling, flanked on either side by men. They held him in the centre of the circle, his cries for mercy drowned out by the sound of the drums.

The onlookers were shouting, cheering on the priest, as he whirled 'round like a demented dog. From time to time he would take a pipe made from hollowed-out sugar cane and blow a cloud of powder into the face of his victim. The drumbeats gathered momentum and the cries and caterwauls grew louder.

Someone in the crowd handed the magic man a skull; it looked like a human's. It was lined and filled with some sort of potion. To a great roar, he thrust it up to the victim's lips, forcing him to drink the contents. Seconds later the hapless boy was being whirled 'round rapidly like a spinning top until he finally lost his senses and fell to the ground, clutching his belly in agony.

As the victim writhed in the dirt, the sorcerer also began to judder violently. While the youth's body convulsed and shuddered, the magic man mirrored his actions as if the very ground beneath him were quaking. Then, when the boy's juddering lessened, so, too, did the priest's until he stopped as suddenly as he had started. The crowd was hushed, and watched as he examined the motionless victim until, with a triumphant whoop, he raised his arms aloft and pronounced him dead.

In his hammock, the young man, his dark brows knitted across his forehead, sat upright. His heart was pounding as violently as the jungle drums and his hands were clammy with fear. He looked down at the skeletal frame he hardly recognized as his own. He was safe on board the ship. Glancing to his left, he made out a circle of inky sky that was visible through the porthole. Dark clouds scudded across the moon, making the stars blink. He shivered with cold, but sighed with relief. It was the finest cold that had ever pricked his skin. It was English cold and after the steaming jungles of the West Indies it felt as sweet and as thrilling as the touch of a maiden.

There had been three of them on the expedition. It had been their mission to gather specimens of flora and fauna of potential interest to the medical fraternity. Dr. Frederick Welton, his assistant, Dr. John Perrick, and himself, Matthew Bartlett, were accompanied by ten porters and a guide. Battling through swamps and under endless attack from vicious mosquitoes, it had taken them two days to reach the Maroon encampment. Their reception was hostile at first. Indeed, they had feared for their lives, but, after much negotiation, they had managed to convince the priest, or obeah-man, and the rest of the elders that they meant no harm; that they were not spies. They were there to observe and learn. In return they gave them clothes and trinkets, beads and mirrors. Through smiles and slow gestures, the initial suspicion turned to mutual respect. They were fed and watered and in exchange the doctors were able to use iodine or sundry physic to treat some minor infections that native medicine had not been able to ease. Indeed, Dr. Welton managed to win the Negroes' confidence to such an extent that the priest allowed his myal men to show them how they treated various ailments with bark and sap from the plants of the forest.

Even though several days had passed since they set sail for England, the fear of what he had seen lingered. In his nightmares Matthew Bartlett relived his experience during his time in Jamaica a thousand times. The memories would stay with him forever. He dreaded closing his eyes for fear of seeing the horror replayed once more.

This time he remembered seeing the child lifted into a nearby hut, an open-sided shelter made of cut palm leaves, and laid on a reed mat. The women—there were four of them as he recalled—sat by the dead boy. They murmured low chants throughout the night, calling upon the spirits of their ancestors to help him.

At sunrise the following morning, the whole of the village was summoned by the blowing of a conch shell to watch once more. The boy's body was placed in the circle and the men began dancing around it, their feet stamping in time to the drumbeat. The mad priest's throaty bawl began again and so, too, did his dance, punctuated by obscene gestures and a frantic scrabbling around in the dirt. After what must have been an hour at least, someone handed him a bunch of herbs. The leaves were large and flat and he called for the boy's lips to be opened. Standing over the corpse he squeezed some juice into the child's open mouth and anointed his eyes and stained his fingertips. All the while the men sang and chanted around him in a circle.

It did not happen quickly. Another hour, maybe two, elapsed until it came to pass. And when it did, the crowd watched in stunned silence as slowly the boy's eyes opened. Another few moments and his fingers moved, then his toes, until finally the priest took his hand and he rose from his reed mat. The youth had been raised from the dead by the magic man.

"Like Lazarus," muttered Dr. Perrick, his eyes wide in awe.

"Fascinating," said Dr. Welton, looking up from his journal. He was recording everything he saw in detail, his pencil moving furiously across the page. Turning to the young man at his side he asked, "Mr. Bartlett, you have a sketch of this remarkable plant?"

Matthew Bartlett recalled nodding. He was a botanical artist and for the past two days he had been making detailed sketches of all the various plants that the obeah-men used in their medicine that appeared particularly efficacious in the treatment of native disorders and ailments. But this plant, the plant used by the sorcerer to raise the youth from the dead, was special, unique. It was the real reason for their mission.

Dr. Welton had been allowed to examine the victim the next time the ritual was performed, this occasion on a woman. He was able to confirm that there was no pulse, no breath, no heartbeat; that she was, medically, dead. And yet the following day she had been revived. She had stood up and walked, but there was something strange in the way she moved. He was allowed to check her vital signs once more and in her eyes he saw a faraway look. When he had inquired of the obeah-man whether she could speak, the priest smiled and shook his head. Pointing to his own head, he told the doctor that the woman's mind had been altered so that she would now obey her husband. Apparently her sin had been that of idleness. From now on, the obeah-man assured Dr. Welton, she would do whatever her husband told her, without question.

Now easing himself up on his elbows, the young artist shook the memory from his head. He needed to reassure himself that the expedition was over; that he and Dr. Welton and Dr. Perrick and the others were safe once more. But then reality hit him like a round of shot and he recalled that the doctors were not with him on the return voyage. Their legacy was on his shoulders. Everything they had seen and heard, learned and discovered in those few momentous weeks in Jamaica now rested with him.

He surveyed the deck. They were still there, the precious treasures; more than two hundred plants, insects, reptiles, and small mammals had been collected and stored in a variety of pots, jars, barrels, and crates.

Of all of the plants, however, the branched calalue bush, the Lazarus herb, as Dr. Welton dubbed it after Dr. Perrick's remark, was most prized. Hundreds of cuttings had been taken and bedded in pots that were regularly watered. The Elizabeth's captain, a Scotsman by the name of McCoy, had even vacated his cabin for the containers so that the tender shoots would receive the correct amount of sunlight. Yet just as the bloody flux had wreaked havoc among the sailors on the outward voyage, so too did pestilence and flies and salty sea spray cause the plants to wither and die. Finding himself in sole charge of the cuttings, the young man had tried his best to nurture them, protecting them from intense heat when the mercury rose or fixing them down in the storms. Yet despite his efforts, out of the scores of plant specimens, only a few survived.

Yet as important as the plants were, the real prize was Dr. Welton's journal, containing the formula for the extraordinary narcotic. And that was safe. Of that he could be sure. He patted the leather satchel emblazoned with the crest of the Royal Society that lay next to him in the hammock, containing his sketchbook and pencils.

The Elizabeth must now be in the Channel, he reassured himself. A few more hours and she would dock in London. The thought of treading on dry land brought a smile to the face of a young man who had had very little to smile about for the past three months. He settled back in his hammock, the very hammock that could so easily have become his shroud. Too often on the voyage they had wrapped a seaman's corpse in his own rectangle of canvas, pierced his nose with a darning needle to make sure he was dead, then with a few glib words had lowered him over the side. Why he had been spared the ravages of disease he did not know. Mercifully the flux had not returned with them. Yellow fever, too, had wrought havoc among the white men on the island, but had chosen to stay ashore. The seamen who died on the homeward journey had been taken by other ills or accidents.

The drumbeats in his nightmare soon turned into the jangle of the spars as they flayed the ship's masts frantically in the prevailing westerly. They were rising and falling in the swell, cresting waves with ease in the lee of the land. The salt tang of the spray filled his mouth and nostrils and up above he heard a lone gull cry. Closing his eyes, he felt the rhythm of the water rock him like a babe in his hammock and he willed the wind to strengthen, the quicker to blow them ashore, the quicker to dispel his lingering terror and further his purpose.


The knife men were assembled at the operating theatre at the anatomy school in London's Brewer Street. Before the sheet was pulled back, they had gathered 'round the table. The soles of their shoes rasped across the sand scattered on the floor to soak up the blood and other bodily fluids. The large window in the roof allowed the light to flood in, bathing the covered corpse in a bright halo. The men set their features appropriately, nonchalant yet sufficiently sombre as befitted the occasion. All of them had seen more corpses than a plague pit in an epidemic. They were hardened, self-assured. Somewhere in the cavernous room, a fly buzzed; its high-pitched drone a minor irritation that chaffed at the composure of the moment.

The men were all there at the invitation of Mr. Hubert Izzard, an eminent figure of the chirurgical establishment with a stature that matched his lofty ambition. Those minded to be cruel, and there were many, said he had the face of a prize fighter. His nose had been broken when he was young and it was flattened and skewed to the left.

At Izzard's sign, the beadle whipped away a cloth with all the flourish of a fairground conjuror to reveal the face that lay beneath on the table. The spectacle solicited the desired effect. In an instant, the men's expressions changed. Gone was the blasé air, the quiet cynicism, and in its place veneration. Like shepherds 'round the holy manger, they stared at the woman full of amazement.

Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a Philadelphian anatomist and surgeon, was among them. He had no particular regard for the men around him. He had even crossed swords, or rather scalpels, with some of them and his dealings with others in the medical profession left a bitter taste in his mouth. Most of the practitioners were old enough to be his grandfather. Most were set in their ways, convinced that bloodletting was a cure-all and that the possession of healthy bowels was the key to longevity. He, on the other hand, had different ideas and found his respect for his fellow anatomists and surgeons regularly tested. This, he feared, would be another such occasion.

After a moment's awe-filled silence, one of the surgeons standing next to Mr. Izzard managed to express the thoughts of the others.

"But how did you lay your hands on such a one?" he asked in wonderment.

Izzard's large mouth widened into a smirk. "Apparently the blacks are more prone to chills. They come to our inclement clime from the plantations, take cold and fever and die," he informed them, adding cheerfully: "Their great misfortune is our gain, gentlemen." A ripple of polite amusement circulated around the room like a gentle breeze.

The anatomist's eyes dwelt on the woman and he touched her head lightly, almost reverentially. "Is she not magnificent?" he said in a hushed tone, neither expecting nor receiving a reply.

The woman's beauty was beyond question. There was a Madonna-like serenity in her attitude, thought Thomas. She was clearly of African origin, her skin black as ebony and her features fulsome, yet angular. Her hair was cropped close against her skull and her lips were slightly parted, so that she gave the appearance of being merely asleep. Indeed, several of those gathered did secretly think that she might open her eye lids at any moment, so uncorrupted and perfect did she appear.

"But wait! There is more." Mr. Izzard raised up a long finger in the air and again the beadle rushed forward. With even greater theatrical flair he pulled back the sheet that covered the woman's torso. A collective gasp arose. She had been pregnant and her belly was as rounded as a whale. Glistening in the sunlight thanks to an application of teak oil, the sacred mound encasing an infant drew admiration from every quarter.

"Full term, gentlemen," announced Izzard over the din. The anatomists quietened down to listen. "She was fully dilated."

Walking over to a nearby table, he pointed to a large, leather-bound atlas. "You will all be familiar with the late, lamented Dr. William Hunter's epic work The Gravid Uterus," he said in a reverential tone. A murmur of acknowledgement rippled around the theatre. "And I know that a few of our older brethren will have witnessed Monsieur Desnoues's most extraordinary waxwork of a woman who died in labor with the child's head pushing through the cervix." One or two more senior members nodded. "But I aim to venture even further into the field of obstetrics and I can guarantee that you have not seen anything of this quality and this"—he fumbled for a word—"this freshness." Heads were shaken in agreement.

"What I propose to do today, gentlemen, is to dissect the abdomen, but initially leave the uterus intact," he announced. There was a chorus of approval.


Excerpted from The Lazarus Curse by TESSA HARRIS. Copyright © 2014 Tessa Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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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