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Cyrus Barker is undoubtedly England's premiere private enquiry agent. With the help of his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, he's developed an enviable reputation for discreetly solving some of the toughest, most consequential cases in recent history. But one evening in 1888, Robert Anderson, the head of Scotland Yard's Criminal Investigation Department (CID), appears at Barker's office with an offer. A series of murders in the Whitechapel area of London are turning the city upside down, with tremendous pressure being brought to bear on Scotland Yard and the government itself.
Barker is to be named temporary envoy to the Royal Family with regard to the case while surreptitiously bringing his investigative skill to the case. With various elements of society, high and low, bringing their own agenda to increasingly shocking murders, Barker and Llewellyn must find and hunt down the century's most notorious killer. The Whitechapel Killer has managed to elude the finest minds of Scotland Yardand beyondhe's never faced a mind as nimble and a man as skilled as Cyrus Barker. But even Barker's prodigious skills may not be enough to track down a killer in time.
About the Author
WILL THOMAS is the author of the Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn series, including The Black Hand, The Hellfire Conspiracy, The Limehouse Text, To Kingdom Come, and the Shamus and Barry award-nominated Some Danger Involved. He lives in Oklahoma.
Read an Excerpt
Anatomy of Evil
By Will Thomas
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Will Thomas
All rights reserved.
I understand it is said in scientific circles that if one attempts to boil a frog it will jump out of the pot, but if one raises the temperature of the water slowly it will never notice the difference until it is too late. That analogy comes to mind whenever anyone mentions 1888. We were not aware, my employer, Cyrus Barker, and I, that events of historic significance were happening around us. As usual, I was merely trying to get from point A, January 1, to point B, December 31, in one solid and very much living piece.
At that time I'd like to think I finally knew what I was about as an enquiry agent; that I was prepared for whatever might come through the door. I'd risked life and limb and had the wounds to prove it, and had contributed in my own way to one case or another. Even Barker would admit I wasn't a complete tyro, though occasionally I'd make a boneheaded mistake and he would look at me the way a hand plane regards a stubborn knot in a sheet of pine. We had made it through the summer months of that fateful year, the "far turn" as it were, and had rounded into the homestretch, but if I thought we had the track all to ourselves and the course was easy, I was very much mistaken.
"I've got to admit," I said to my employer, Cyrus Barker, one night in early September, "that I don't understand what all the fuss is about. It's just a couple of unfortunates."
Cyrus Barker looked up from the table, which held a scrapbook, a pot of paste, and a pair of scissors. He doesn't normally keep files catalogued this way, but when several articles appear in the newspapers on a particular subject that interests him, he sets them in order by cutting them out and pasting them in a scrapbook.
"Thomas Llewelyn, an unfortunate deserves as much justice under the law as a baroness," he said, regarding me gravely. We were at home, in his library in Newington, the unfashionable side of London. It was that time in the evening when one suddenly realizes there is a bed waiting, and wouldn't it be nice to crawl into it?
"You know that's not what I mean, sir. Of course they deserve justice. I'm not saying they don't, merely that theirs is a dangerous profession. They meet all kinds of men; sailors from every nation, criminals, even the odd maniac, I'm sure. I just don't see how their deaths merit so much public attention."
"By those standards we ourselves, when the time comes, should be relegated to the back pages with the agony columns, for our occupation is easily more dangerous than theirs and only slightly more socially acceptable."
Barker had finished covering the back of the article with glue, and had set it in place, smoothing it down with hands the size of small hams. The coal fire in the grate was reflected in his dark-lensed spectacles. He seemed determined to misunderstand me, but I was not done yet.
"The newspapers of London have gone out of their way to declare the town does not have a prostitution problem. One would think it does not exist here, but now two dollymops are dead within a month and it becomes a major crisis. The Police News I can understand, or the Star, but even the Times has begun devoting space to it."
"The women were savaged. Not merely were their throats cut, but they were disemboweled afterward. At least, I hope for their sakes it was afterward," he said.
"That makes it more sensational, but not more important," I said. "I, for one, have little interest in the matter. It is a Scotland Yard case, with all their resources, and frankly, they are welcome to it."
"It is just as well," the Guv said. "They are not likely to consult us over it."
"I'm glad to hear it," I replied. "I doubt I shall have anything to contribute."
"An enterprising young man such as yourself? I would think you'd be a font of suggestions for Scotland Yard."
"No doubt," I said. "But would they listen? When last I checked, they weren't hanging on my opinions."
"You're still young. Perhaps one day they shall," the Guv said. He was just past forty, and could still outrun me on a track, but he always spoke as if he'd lived for many decades and I should benefit from his sage advice.
"The odds on that are rather long, I'm afraid. But as far as these murders are concerned, how do we know they were done by the same fellow?"
"We don't. I suppose they could easily be random killings, but two murders of women of the same profession within a fortnight or so in the same district, by the same method?"
"It's some lunatic, like as not, escaped from an asylum. The human equivalent of a mad dog. Your skills are best served against intelligent criminals trying to fatten their bank accounts by trying something audacious. Something in the West End."
"Close to fashionable restaurants and shops?" Barker asked, raising his brows above the rims of his spectacles.
"It is awfully inconsiderate of this fellow to commit murders in unfashionable Whitechapel."
"True, but what does one expect from a madman?"
Barker picked up the scissors and began to cut around an article from the Daily Telegraph. I wasn't going to convince him to take my advice.
"I'll leave you to it, then. I'm for bed. Good night, sir."
"Good night, Thomas. Sleep well."
I stepped into the hall and trudged up the staircase to my bedroom. It was a small, monastic room with a bed, a desk and chair, and a bookcase full of my favorite books. An armoire held my clothes. My every possession on earth was in that one small room. I slid off my elastic-sided boots and wrapped my suit jacket around the back of the chair. I unknotted my tie and removed my collar, then doffed my waistcoat and slid down my braces. Then I lay down upon the bed fully clothed and prepared to wait. It was two hours until midnight, or as I preferred to think of it, the hunting hour.
Around half past ten, I heard Barker climb the stair to his garret overhead. It was a spacious room with sloping walls running the length of the house. From time to time, I heard him walk about above my head, preparing to retire. Within another half hour, he was snoring in his bed. His nose had been broken several times, and I had grown accustomed to the sound over the years.
Not much longer now, I told myself. Harm, Barker's prized Pekingese, waddled in according to his internal timetable and curled up at the foot of my bed. Soon, he too would begin to snore. The household began to settle. I heard the standing clock in the hall toll the quarter-hour chime. Outside, crickets formed a chorus in the nearby marshes.
I tried to distract myself. I thought about a girl, a particular girl, named Rebecca Mocatta. That summer she had married a rising young politician named Asher Cowen. I'd have preferred her to have a different last name entirely, but that's the way life is. Some people receive all the advantage, while others receive a good boot in the ribs for our troubles. Sometimes right over the heart.
No doubt there would be children soon. A rising young family and a credit to Bevis Marks Synagogue. Her parents would think her well shed of a young Welshman who had acted as shabbes goy in their home one Sabbath if they gave him any thought at all. We'd been alone for no more than a few minutes, but those moments had haunted me ever since.
Did she ever think of me? I supposed I wouldn't, if I were her. Still, it would be nice if she regretted never speaking to me again, if only for one minute, for sixty seconds together. That's all I would ask for, and no more.
Slowly, carefully I slid out of bed, pulled up my braces and donned my jacket. There was no need for a collar or waistcoat where I was going. Picking up my boots, I slithered fluidly out into the hall, and crept to the top of the stair. There was a creaking board a quarter of the way down, but by staying to the inside, I was able to reach the ground floor without making a sound. I turned the key in the lock and slid the bolt back slowly, knowing our butler, Mac, is a light sleeper. Stepping outside, I wriggled into my boots. I was free.
Jumping across the stream in Barker's garden, I skirted the stone lantern until I reached the moon gate, which I unlatched. In the lane, I took one last look back at the house, expecting to see an electric light go on somewhere. Nothing. I had successfully broken out of my own home. The night air was chilly and I put my hands in my pockets as I walked down the narrow alley behind the house. Somewhere a cat yowled, but otherwise, the neighborhood of Newington was as quiet as a tomb.
A half mile away was the stable where my horse, Juno, was boarded. It had been Barker's horse to begin with, but Juno and I had bonded so closely that when I finally had the money, I made him an offer on her, promising she would still be at his disposal when needed. He accepted, and it was done. The stable boy slept within the building itself, and he knew that we kept strange hours in our profession and to expect me at any time. He came out of a stall when I entered. There was straw in his hair and he was wiping his eye.
"Ho, Albert," I said.
"Evening, Mr. Llewelyn. Shall I saddle Juno for you?"
"If you would, please. I've got a late errand to run."
I reached into my pocket and handed him a shilling. Albert came instantly awake. I made my arrival worth his while. He led me to Juno's stall. The bay mare had been asleep as well, and did not take kindly to having her warm blanket removed in order to be sent into the cold September night. She squealed in protest, which woke the other horses, who answered her in sympathy. I went to my locker and found the box of sugar lumps I kept there. She needed a bribe, as well. She curled her lips in anticipation and stuck out her tongue to receive two lumps. Then she masticated them so long I began to wonder if she was indulging in sarcasm at my expense.
Returning to the locker while Albert haltered and saddled her, I took out a heavy Ulster greatcoat and a bowler hat. The coat was made of thick wool so full of lanolin that it repelled all moisture. I dug my toe into the waiting stirrup, grasped the reins and the side of the saddle, and drew myself up. Juno gave a final snort in protest. Albert offered me a riding crop, but I shook my head. Once I'm in the saddle, Juno and I become one. Her shod hooves clicked on the flagstones between the two rows of stalls. The boy opened the door wider and the two of us, horse and rider, rode out into the night. Within a few minutes, we were in Newington Causeway, heading north, toward the river and Tower Bridge. The south side of Whitechapel was on the other side.
A fog was rising, if one could call the mixture of soot and factory chimney effluvia a fog. It would be the perfect night to stalk prostitutes, dark and wet. The fog stung the eyes and settled in the back of the throat, leaving a bitter taste on the tongue. Building eaves began to weep as I passed and moisture trickled down sooty windows. My body was plenty warm in my coat, but my nose was cold. Juno's nostrils blew out plumes of white mist ahead of me and I felt as if I were riding a dragon.
I crossed the new bridge into Whitechapel, passing the Tower of London. Southwark and Lambeth had already gone to bed, but the 'Chapel is always awake. Men stood in front of public houses with glasses in hand, or staggered down the streets, supporting each other to keep from falling down. As I passed, women of all sorts leaned eagerly forward from the alleyways into the light, displaying themselves for my benefit. It had been a while since anyone here had seen a horse of Juno's caliber. This fellow, whoever he was, had a horse for riding. He must be a gentleman.
In Minories Street there was a stable with which I was acquainted that was still open though it was nearly midnight. I paid the men handsomely to brush and blanket Juno and I gave her a feed bag of oats. I headed north on foot, watching the faces of the few people who moved furtively along, heads down and hands in pockets or clutching their clothes around them. Like Cassius, they had a lean and hungry look. The thought penetrated my mind that I had no business being here. I was courting disaster. My bed awaited me a few miles south, yet stubbornly I refused to return there. I would see this through.
The Britannia was a shabby-looking public house at the corner of Dorset and Commercial Streets. A concertina was being played inexpertly within. When I entered, I could smell stale beer, rank cigars, and the odor of unwashed humanity. It made me want to gag, but in the past year or two I had learned to suppress such impulses. It was a natural part of life, a smell common to thousands of public houses. I tried to keep my emotions in check and not let my imagination get the best of me.
I spotted my quarry at a table near the far back. A homburg hat was pulled low over his eyes. He looked simultaneously nervous and dispirited. If I hadn't known better I might have thought he didn't want to be there. I ordered two half pints of bitter and carried them through to him at the table.
"Thomas!" he cried.
"Israel," I replied. "Are you ready? It seems a perfect night for it."
Israel Zangwill was my closest friend. When we had first met he was a teacher at the Jews Free School. Now he had become a reporter for the Jewish Chronicle. Israel was Whitechapel born and bred. He knew it better than anyone: its history, its cartography, and every crime ever perpetrated here. But there was something more. A year before, a girl he loved, the talented but melancholy poetess Amy Levy, had killed herself by putting her head in a gas oven. It had pushed his gentle soul to the edge.
Taking a gulp of beer, I made a face and set it down again. It had been watered down and probably given a jolt of opium to pep it up as well. I should have expected no less from such an establishment. Zangwill did not seem to notice and drank half the glass in one pull. He belched and excused himself.
"Made in Whitechapel, you know," he said. "Not three minutes away. You can't beat Albion Brown Ale."
"If they can't kill you one way, they'll do it another."
"Have you ever had that feeling as if you are children playing at being adults? I feel as if my father is going to catch me and tan my hide for being out so late."
"That's odd," I replied. "Sometimes I feel as if I'm a hundred years old."
Israel is not what one might call a handsome man. He is hatchet-faced and thin, and his eyes are bulbous, but those eyes see everything and the information he takes in is strained through his volatile brain, down his arm and into his pen. He is like a Jewish Dickens, combing the streets in the odd hours, taking impressions, crusading for better conditions, and occasionally getting himself in trouble.
"Have you got it?" Israel asked in too loud a voice, as if we were on stage and he wanted the audience to know he was Conspirator Number One.
I opened my coat and let him spy the Webley Mark III whose handle was sticking out of my breast pocket. "You?"
Zangwill reached down between his ankles and lifted a bull's-eye lantern. As I watched, he opened the hatch and lit the candle with the help of a box of vestas. His long fingers shook. He was clearly nervous.
"We could still call this off, you know," I said. "Be sensible, go home to bed, and never speak of this again."
"We've never been sensible before," he replied. "I see no reason to start now."
"That's the spirit," I said, slapping him on the shoulder. "Can you feel it? I think no woman in Whitechapel is safe tonight."
"Then let us get started," he replied.
Excerpted from Anatomy of Evil by Will Thomas. Copyright © 2015 Will Thomas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series...very engaging!
I've thoroughly enjoyed the series thus far and look forward to future adventures. These books are meticulously researched and very well written.
I do like the point of view of an assistant or partner, like Dr. Watson