Set amid the clip and clatter of hansom cabs and the popping of the gaslights, this intriguing mystery introduces Dr. James Mortimer, the man who brought the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles to the attention of Sherlock Holmes. Here, Dr. Mortimer tells a tale of how he came across his second and most challenging case ever.
In 1890, the young Dr. Mortimer is numb with grief over the death of his wife and decides to close his own practice and begin a new life for himself. He winds up in London and is asked to fill in for another doctor with an emergency. Dr. Mortimer agrees and his last call of the day brings him to an address in Aldgate where he meets the captivating Lavinia Nancarrow. Intrigued and worried by the overbearing solicitude of the girl's guardian who keeps her a virtual prisoner, Mortimer determines to discover the reasons behind Lavinia's confinement.
A retired Calcutta merchant with a guilty secret, a decadent fin-de-siecle artist who frequents an anarchist café in Whitechapel and a seemingly impossible murder are the key pieces in the puzzle, which Mortimer soon finds himself trying to solve, in Gerard Williams's Dr. Mortimer and the Aldgate Mystery.
Engagingly absent-minded but incessantly curious and observant, Mortimer is aided in his effort by his formidable consort, the liberated Dr. Violet Branscombe. Together they unravel a mystery as dark and sinister as the East End Alleys of Victorian London.
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About the Author
Gerard Williams lives in England where he works as a translator. Dr. Mortimer and the Aldgate Mystery is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Dr. Mortimer and the Aldgate Mystery
By Gerard Williams
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Gary Newman
All rights reserved.
I am that James Mortimer who in the year 1889 had the good fortune to bring the facts in the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles to the attention of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes.
Today is the twenty-fourth of July 1939, which marks the tenth anniversary of the death of John Watson, MD, whom I had the honour to call friend. I think it singularly timely, therefore, that I should now set down for my successors an account of the second – and most challenging – case that has ever come my way.
As this narrative unfolds, the reader will understand the reasons which have prompted me to direct that this, and other accounts of my life and cases, be held in a secure place until a period of not less than sixty years has elapsed.
Time presses, and not even the salubrious air of Torquay and the devoted care of my dearest wife can delay much longer that event which must inevitably close a long and strenuous life.
I open my story, then, with the first great grief of my life: the death of my first wife, Ruth, from diphtheria, in March 1890, not long after my arrival back from the sea-cruise on which I accompanied Sir Henry Baskerville after his ordeal under the claws and fangs of the Grimpen Hound.
Those who have known the final parting will scarcely need any description of the first pangs of bereavement. Suffice it to say that the hospitality and tactful companionship of Sir Henry in the first difficult days of stunned loss did much to put me back on an even keel.
I felt immediately on Ruth's death that I could no longer go on with life in Grimpen, and this sentiment persisted in the weeks that followed, so that at last I entrusted the sale of my practice to my solicitor. Along with the proceeds from this, I had the handsome bequest of a thousand pounds left to me by the late Sir Charles Baskerville, to say nothing of my late wife's consols, which yielded a steady hundred a year.
I found myself then very much on the sunny side of the financial street and, at one point, I even toyed with the notion of devoting the rest of my days to my old passion of archaeology. It seemed to me, for instance, that the kist-burials of the North Durham coast had been unaccountably neglected.
It was Watson who pointed the way for me. After my affairs at Grimpen had been wound up, I was invited to stay with him and his wife Mary – herself, alas, soon to be taken from us – in their charming house in Kensington, where Watson then had a practice. We were sitting at dinner on a golden May evening when I raised the matter, only to see Watson's square face set in mock rage.
'What?' my friend exclaimed. 'Retire at thirty! Preposterous! Activity is what you need, Mortimer: London!'
'Another practice?' I murmured doubtfully. 'I scarcely think I'm up to it, Watson. Ruth's death has completely taken the wind out of my sails.'
The grey eyes softened.
'You've been through the mill, I know, Mortimer and, well, some losses aren't for mending this side of Jordan ...'
Mary shot me a tender glance: thank God we cannot see into the future!
'But you must know,' Watson went on in a low, earnest voice, 'that in the end, it's our work that's our salvation. You're a medical man, and Lord knows there's plenty of call for your services, especially here in London. No need to try for a practice, either. Something in the way of a little foray, just to prime the pump, so to speak.'
'Er, have you anything in mind?' I asked. I had the distinct suspicion that something had been arranged.
'You are a lost man, James!' Mary remarked with a chuckle. 'Once John gets his teeth into something, he never lets go!'
We all laughed, then Watson spoke again.
'Well,' he said gruffly, 'something of the kind. Thing is, a friend of mine, Ferraby – we were at Barts together – urgently needs a locum for his practice in Eaton Square. His father has just died at Angmering, and his mother's quite gone to pieces, and if that weren't enough, it seems there's some irregularity in the accounts of the family business. Really, Mortimer, you'd be saving Ferraby's life. And think of the valuable introduction it would give you to London society!'
To cut a long story short, I allowed myself to be persuaded, and at ten o'clock the next morning, I was bustled into the drawing-room of Eustace Ferraby's elegantly appointed house in Eaton Square.
'Damn' providential your having turned up, Mortimer!' spluttered the beleaguered physician, after introductions had been made. He was a tall, pale man, beginning to run to fat, with a long, egg-shaped head, and a perpetual look of indignation in his eyes.
'Absolutely vital that I should get down to Sussex!' he exclaimed. 'Got a wire not half an hour ago: wretched chief clerk of my father's scooted. I shall be up to my neck in auditors, police, whole bally boiling! Oh, I forgot. Anything I can get you?'
'Not at this time, Ferraby: I was thinking in terms of an immediate start.'
'Oh, capital!' the doctor exclaimed, his long, hairless face lighting up. He leaped up from his chair and smoothed his immaculate frock-coat. 'No time like the present, hey? Better come along to the dispensary. Oh! You'd better meet Dolly; she'll surely be down to breakfast by now.'
I was whisked out into the hall, then over to the dining room, where Mrs Ferraby, a billowing, expensively dressed lady with a brilliant smile, was breakfasting in style, with two maids in attendance. I was from Devon? Charming. I knew Sir Henry Baskerville? Delightful. Did I hunt? She seemed not quite so charmed this time by my reply: amateur archaeology evidently cut no social ice in Eatonian circles. Still, the smile lost none of its candlepower. A gracious nod of dismissal. So looking forward to getting to know me better. Ferraby carried on the conversation as he led me down into the inner recesses of the building.
'You shall be living in, of course. I've sent Watson a note asking him to send along your things.'
Ferraby quickly introduced me to my duties: indeed, quick was the word, for my first patient was due at eleven. Transport was to present no difficulty, since I was to have the use of Ferraby's carriage and coachman for the duration. He and his family were to travel by cab to the station, en route to Angmering.
I recalled that Ruth and I had rented a cottage one summer in the village of Patching, not far from Angmering. I recalled the hot turf, and Ruth's solemn remark as we sat together on the crest of the Downs: 'It is all so beautiful, James. If only one could live forever ...'
By a quarter to eleven, Mrs Ferraby and the two misses had already set off in a four-wheeler for the station, and the doctor was standing at the front door with me, giving me some last words of advice as, watch in hand, he awaited his cab.
'Shouldn't be away longer than a fortnight,' he said. 'Dolly can't abide Angmering: well, this time she'll bally-well have to lump it! Where is that confounded cab! Oh, yes, Mortimer: every confidence in your tact and all that, but, er, thought I'd better let you know that your last visit today –'
I consulted the ledger which I'd carried to the door.
'Miss Lavinia Nancarrow,' I read out loud. 'What a singular and charming name, Ferraby.'
'Ditto the young lady, Mortimer! Utterly, but needs careful handling; very careful handling.'
'Influenza?' I queried, with eyebrows slightly raised, this time referring to the entry 'Ipec. op'.
'In this case, but highly strung. Very highly strung.'
I winced inwardly. Some pampered baggage, no doubt. Still, I supposed Ferraby needed all the rich patients he could get to keep up his sumptuous style of life, and I would have to do my best not to ruffle Miss Nancarrow's feathers. Rich, though? The East End address hardly confirmed this impression. I mentioned this.
'Damn the fellow! I shall lose my train! What's that? The address? Ginger Lane, behind Aldgate Station. My dispenser will give you written instructions how to get there. Rum sound to it, hey? Boynton-Leigh – that's the young lady's guardian – comes of a distinguished line of India nabobs. Indigo trade originally, I believe, but they have a finger in every pie. Where is that cab? He has a young son, too: Lance.'
'And Mrs Boynton-Leigh?'
'He's a widower: some chaps have all the luck. Oh! I'm dreadfully sorry, Mortimer! I didn't mean ... Why, here I am, preaching to you about tact, and all –'
'It is of no consequence, Ferraby. You were saying about Ginger Lane, the Boynton-Leigh ménage?'
'Ahem, yes. Well, seems Boynton-Leigh – you will be careful with him, too, Mortimer: Evangelical and all that – inherited the whole street from an old uncle, who was my father's patient. It used to be known as Boynton's Rents, back in Seventeen Hundred and Frozen Stiff! In fact, it's a rather fine old William-and-Mary terrace. Boynton-Leigh chose to come and live in Number One when he and his household came over from India. Sought seclusion from the wicked world, or something of the sort. It's a rum arrangement all round, but ours not to reason why. He knew his uncle had been my father's patient and asked to be put on my books when he arrived here about eighteen months ago.'
'And the son?'
'Lance. He's sixteen. Bit of a hothouse flower: back on compassionate leave, or whatever they have, from Dartmouth, on account of Miss Nancarrow's illness. He was sent to Dartmouth to have a man made of him. Uphill task, I should say.'
Just then there was a rattle at the foot of the steps.
'And not before time!' Ferraby exclaimed. He grabbed his Gladstone bag in one hand, shook mine with the other, and, with a cry of 'Good luck, old man!' scuttled down the steps and into the hansom. As the cab jerked into rapid motion, Ferraby's top-hatted head emerged from the window.
'Don't on any account give anything besides medicine to Miss Nancarrow, Mortimer!'
How flagrantly I was to disregard this curious advice!CHAPTER 2
At about twenty-to-six on that smoky, mild evening, I stepped out from the grimy portico of Mark Lane Station and made my way up Fenchurch Street to Aldgate Station, then turned up into Middlesex Street, which was as 'behind' the latter station as I could think of.
I had dismissed Ferraby's coach outside Gloucester Road Station a few minutes after five, as I had not wished to arrive outrageously late for my last appointment in the far East End, and had taken the five-seven train. Typically, in my hurry I had left my purse – along with the written instructions Ferraby's excellent dispenser had given me – on the counter of the station ticket-office. I had, however, heeded the coachman's dire warnings about carrying large sums on one's person in the East End, to the extent of entrusting my pocket book to him before entering the station.
The remark of my housemaster at Clifton came to mind: 'Your incorrigible woolgathering may land you in Queer Street ere long, Mortimer, but I fancy you'll see more of life than most of us do!'
Be that as it might, I had no more than the change from the purchase of my train ticket – fourpence-halfpenny – in my pocket when I left Mark Lane Station, so that, short of pledging my watch or hiring a hansom for the rest of the evening, a cab was out of the question. As the comings and goings of the local omnibuses were incomprehensible to me, it would have to be Shanks' Pony, then, and pretty briskly at that.
I soon reached the intersection with Wentworth Street and the neighbourhood took on a distinctly exotic air. I know the Hebrew alphabet through my interest in archaeology, and my rudimentary German enabled me to decipher the Yiddish invitation on the bill opposite me to come and enjoy a 'song, a laugh and a tear' at the East London Palace in Fieldgate Street. As I crossed the busy road, I pulled out my watch – when would I learn caution – and saw that I had just six minutes to be at my appointment in time.
'Ginger – G-I-N-G-E-R – Lane,' I repeated slowly to a plump lady who was selling old clothes from a barrow.
A shrug and a wry smile, then, in guttural English: 'Sorry.'
Then a little foxy-faced man in a shiny-visored cap, who was peddling pastry-rings from a wire rod. The same incomprehension, until I found the sense to hand him a silver threepenny-bit from my tiny budget and take one of his pastries off the ring. If you want to know the time, buy a watch!
'Right at the bottom!' the man said with a grin and a backward jerk of the head.
I walked briskly – four minutes left – down what turned out to be Cobb Street till, near the end and on the left, I saw what looked more like a gap in the wall than a public thoroughfare. I looked up at the faded street sign: GINGER LANE.
It was so very quiet down there. Well-kept mews on the left and a terrace of substantial old houses on the right. The lane ended in a graveyard of the sort which will be familiar to those who have read Bleak House, and its gateway, which once must have allowed access to White's Row through the high, otherwise blank wall backing the cemetery, was bricked up.
The first three old houses appeared to be unoccupied – at least the windows were shuttered – and the neglected state of the outside fittings, including some fine, late seventeenth-century doorcases, backed this supposition. These three houses looked as if they had not received a coat of paint for generations.
The fourth house – Number One – whose side windows gave on to the graveyard, was clearly the only occupied one in the whole ensemble, for the windows were visible and smoke was drifting lazily from the chimney. The front door was dark green and the brass knocker, in the shape of a hand clutching an orange, brightly polished.
However, the object which immediately grasped my attention was leaning against the nearby graveyard railings: a bicycle of the latest make and model. I looked at my watch: a minute in hand. I cast my eye over the unkempt waste of the graveyard and my mind wandered irresistibly to the last cemetery I had been in, in a dark Dartmoor dell. A sudden glint from the far corner dazzled me for an instant, breaking my reverie. Surely it came from a piece of very thick glass, with considerable reflective powers.
The door of Number One opened abruptly, and a sudden commotion engulfed me as I was sent reeling by a violent blow to my shoulder. It was only by dint of my letting go of my medical bag and clinging on to the iron rail which lined the steps that I was able to keep upright.
A hand grasped my elbow firmly, and I looked up into sympathetic grey eyes, fringed by tow-coloured lashes and masked by gold pince-nez, of a short, sturdily built young woman. And what a young woman! Clad from little, feathered trilby to bloomered legs in Jaeger tweed, she was the very image of the free, modern woman. She handed me my bag with a solicitous smile, and I studied the high-coloured face, every line of which showed strength and regularity, but without in any way diminishing its essential femininity.
'I do so beg your pardon!' the Amazon said in a well-modulated voice.
'Don't mention it!' I said. 'I should have been looking ahead of me!'
'A pity a lot more people don't look ahead of them, sir!' she remarked, glancing back at the now-closed green door. Then, nodding at my black bag, she remarked: 'A colleague, I think?'
A lady bicyclist was rara avis enough, but a lady doctor!
'I am a physician, ma'am, yes.'
'Then perhaps we may work together.'
Before I could reply, she had thrust a card into my hand and, turning on a sturdily booted heel, mounted her bicycle and pedalled off, her back as straight as a guardsman's, in the direction of Cobb Street.
The distant boom of a church bell reminded me of my duties, and I pushed the visiting card into my waistcoat pocket. I seized the brazen hand and knocked, and the door opened just as the last chime of six was dying away.
The raw-featured man in an alpaca jacket bore the true mark of the boxer: the ears. He was not tall, but very solidly built. His thin mouth was turned down like an inverted U, and the expression in his eyes was implacable.
'Yerss?' he growled.
'Please tell your master the doctor has come to see Miss Nancarrow.'
'You ain't Dr Ferraby.'
Excerpted from Dr. Mortimer and the Aldgate Mystery by Gerard Williams. Copyright © 2000 Gary Newman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very enjoyable. Sorry to find there were no more books in the series
In 1890 Dr. James Mortimer is unable to continue practicing medicine following the death of his wife due to diphtheria so he sells his practice. At the urgings of his friend, Dr. John Watson, James moves to London and joins the medical practice of Dr. Ferraby as an associate so as too not dwell on his loss. James¿ first patient is Lavinia Nancarrow who seems to be a virtual prisoner of her guardian, Archibald Boynton-Leigh. Unable to resist the urge to find out about this unusual arrangement, James begins to investigate what hold Archibald has on the charming Lavinia. However, unlike his good friends Holmes and Watson, sleuthing is a relatively new game for the doctor, who is not prepared for the impossible murder that he feels obligated to solve. DR. MORTIMER AND THE ALDGATE MYSTERY is a wonderful Victorian mystery that brings to life a more ominous and creepy side of London. The story line is very entertaining and the brief appearance of Watson should thrill the Holmes crowd. The mystery is clever, but Mortimer, whose first starring role is a smashing success (see HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES for a secondary role), will bring accolades to Gerald Williams. Harriet Klausner
Fun visit to Victorian London A fun visit to Victorian London.