1895. Victorian England trembles on the verge of hysteria in Vaughn Entwistle's The Dead Assassin. Terrorist bombs are detonating around the Capitol and every foreigner is suspected of being an Anarchist lurking beneath a cape.
Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle is summoned to the scene of a gruesome crime that has baffled and outraged Scotland Yard's best. A senior member of Her Majesty's government has been brutally murdered, and the body of his attacker lies close byriddled with bullets. More perplexing, one of the attending detectives recognizes the dead assassin as Charlie Higginbotham, a local Cockney pickpocket and petty thief. Higginbotham is not just an improbable suspect, but an impossible suspect, for the young detective watched him take the drop two weeks previously, hanged at Newgate Prison.
Conan Doyle calls in his friend Oscar Wilde for assistance and soon the two authors find themselves swept up in an investigation so bizarre it defies conventional wisdom and puts the lives of their loved ones, the Nation, and even the Monarch herself in dire peril. The murders continue, committed by a shadowy cadre of seemingly unstoppable assassins. As the sinister plot unravels, an implausible theory becomes the only possible solution: someone is reanimating the corpses of executed criminals and sending them shambling through the London fog… and programmed for murder.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Series:||Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Series , #2|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
VAUGHN ENTWISTLE grew up in Northern England. He completed a Master's Degree at Oakland University, and in the early nineties he moved to Seattle to work as a writer. In his spare time he ran a successful gargoyle-sculpting company. He often writes with one cat on his lap, a Brittany lying across his feet, and one or more cats sauntering across the keyboard. He recently moved back to England, where he lives in North Somerset.
Read an Excerpt
The Dead Assassin
The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
By Vaughn Entwistle
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Vaughn Entwistle
All rights reserved.
MURDER MOST 'ORRIBLE
A murder. Something nasty. Something twisted. Something baffling and bizarre. Why else would the police have sought me out?
Such thoughts rattled through the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle as he watched Detective Blenkinsop of Scotland Yard step into the Palm Room of the Tivoli restaurant and sweep his blue-eyed gaze across the crowded tables, searching for something.
Searching for him.
Go away blast you! Not now. Not tonight!
Thanks to the fame Sherlock Holmes had bestowed upon him, Scotland Yard often consulted Conan Doyle on crimes that confounded all conventional means of detection. They dragged to his door the most difficult cases. The inexplicable ones. The conundrums. The impossibly knotted yarn balls the clumsy fingers of the police could not unravel. Ordinarily, he was flattered to be consulted on such cases. But on this occasion, he wished he could throw a cloak of invisibility about his shoulders.
Determined not to make eye contact, he reeled in his gaze from the detective and lavished it instead upon his dinner companion. At just twenty-four years of age, Miss Jean Leckie was a ravishing beauty fourteen years his junior. The two had by happy accident occupied adjacent chairs at the November meeting of the Society for Psychical Research. In conversation it fell out that Miss Leckie shared Conan Doyle's fascination with Spiritualism and all things occult. After the meeting adjourned, she accepted the older man's invitation to supper, where she had just revealed — over a sumptuous repast of boiled fowl a la béchamel, braised parsnips, and crab-stuffed courgettes — that she herself was an amateur medium who had conducted a number of successful séances.
Throughout their conversation, Conan Doyle fought the urge to stare, but when he gazed into those hazel-green eyes, sparkling with fire and intelligence, his knees trembled like a schoolboy's in the throes of his first crush.
But it wasn't just Conan Doyle who found himself under the thrall of Miss Leckie's beauty. She was a radiant presence that coaxed furtive glances from dinner patrons sitting at adjacent tables. Under the Tivoli's electric lights, her dark golden hair shone. Her long face, with its high cheekbones, strong chin, and aquiline nose, evinced the classical proportions of a Greek bust. In their initial conversation, he had been struck by the musicality of her voice, and was thrilled to discover that she was a classically trained mezzo-soprano. And so, with every revelation of her wit, character, and accomplishments, Conan Doyle was drawn in deeper. By the time the bread pudding arrived at the table, hot and steaming in its tureen, he was utterly smitten.
For her part, Miss Leckie seemed as equally attentive of him, for she caught the look of discomfort that flashed across his face when he glimpsed the arrival of Detective Blenkinsop.
"Are you quite well, Doctor Doyle?" she asked. "You seem suddenly quite distracted."
Conan Doyle chanced to dart a quick look across the dining room and locked eyes with the young detective, who now steamed toward them with the dread determination of a mechanical homing torpedo.
"I'm afraid I have just seen someone I know."
A frown upset her perfect features. "Oh? Someone who shall be joining us?"
"Quite the opposite. Someone, I fear, who shall be tearing us apart."
Conan Doyle snatched the linen napkin from his lap, crumpled it in his fist, and tossed it down on the table. It had been a delightful meal, but the intrusion of Scotland Yard meant the evening had just crashed to an abrupt and unwelcome end. He watched Detective Blenkinsop's approach with dour anticipation, the food already curdling in his stomach.
He was not alone. Other diners recoiled at the officer's approach as a wave of shock and horror surged through the room. Women shrieked. Men shouted in outrage and lurched up from their seats. A string quartet had been playing a subdued air in a quiet corner, but now the despairing cellos groaned into silence. A matronly woman clutched her throat and half rose from her chair before swooning to the floor. Several chivalrous gents jumped to their feet to assist the lady, only to leap back as Blenkinsop swept through their midst like a nightmare torn loose of its moorings. When the detective drew closer, Conan Doyle took one look and understood why his approach elicited so much dread.
Blood ... Blood ... Blood ...
... and so much of it: an angry, violent crimson under the Palm Room's cheerful lights. The detective's regulation dark blue rain cape was drenched in pints of it, runneling fresh and sticky down his front and dribbling a crimson trail across the elegant marble floor.
As Blenkinsop arrived at their table, Miss Leckie stifled a shriek behind her hand, averting eyes rolling with horror.
Conan Doyle leapt to his feet, outraged. "Detective Blenkinsop! What on earth is the meaning of this? What are you thinking, coming into a public place in such a state? Are you mad?"
The young man stood before the table. Wavering. Unsteady on his feet. His eyes held the stunned look of crushed glass beads. It took a moment before he registered Conan Doyle's words and stammered out: "B-beg pardon, sir b-but I — I require your assistance, sir. I ... I mean I ain't never ... I ain't never seen nothing so ... 'orrible ..."
As a physician with years of medical training, Conan Doyle recognized the signs of a man going into shock — the ghastly pallor, the sweating brow — and concern swept aside his anger. He sprang from his chair, gripped Blenkinsop by the shoulder, and eased him into the vacated seat.
But the uproar the young detective had caused was far from over. Diners abandoned their tables and milled in confusion. Waiters scurried hither and yon, uttering soothing words to calm frantic diners and coax them back into their seats. The Tivoli's maître d' bustled up to Conan Doyle's table, jabbering hysterically. Instantly, the Scottish doctor became the calm eye in a swirling vortex of emotion. He was at his best in a crisis, and now he took command. Barking orders, the maître d' was chivvied off to fetch a large snifter of brandy. He had the detective's blood-drenched rain cape bundled up in an old potato sack from the kitchen and hauled away to be tossed into the furnace. And then he corralled two passing waiters: the first was sent to fetch Miss Leckie's hat and wrap; the second he dispatched to alert the driver of the hansom cab waiting for them outside. Poor Miss Leckie, rather overwhelmed by it all, said little as a waiter eased her into her coat, and then Conan Doyle escorted her to the waiting cab.
The doormen held the door for them and they stepped from the light and warmth of the Tivoli into a chill November night miasmic with swirling fog.
"I am so sorry our lovely evening must end in such an ugly way," the Scottish author apologized.
Miss Leckie smiled. "I, too, am sorry that our most elucidating conversation was interrupted."
"Perhaps you would allow me to invite you to another dinner, to make amends?" Conan Doyle blushed as he spoke the words, which had surged from him in an unrestrainable rush of emotion. The first dinner invite had come spontaneously. The two had struck up a conversation during the SPR meeting and the invitation to continue the exchange over supper seemed natural. But a second invitation smacked of an ulterior motive. He quailed, fearing he had overstepped the bounds of propriety. What he was doing could be seen as highly indecorous. Even scandalous. He was a married man with an invalid wife. Miss Leckie was a single lady much younger than he. But when he looked into those doeish eyes, a trapdoor in his chest dropped open and his heart plummeted through it.
A brief look of uncertainty crossed her face, but then the corners of her mouth curled in a coquettish smile. "That would be delightful."
He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, snatched free a calling card, and presented it to her. "Here is my card. Please let me know of a convenient time we might meet again."
"I look forward most anxiously," she said, plucking the card from his grip. And then, in an unambiguous sign of affection, touched a hand to his forearm. The press of her slender fingers, elegant in elbow-length gloves, lingered a moment longer than necessary.
"Until then," she said, smiling sweetly, "au revoir."
Crinoline rustled as she swept up her skirts and climbed into the hansom. Before the cab door folded over her legs, Conan Doyle checked to ensure that none of her skirts were trapped, then called up to the driver, "Blackheath, Jim, and drive carefully. The fog is worsening and you convey a most precious cargo."
The cabbie nodded. "The worst I seen this year, Doctor Doyle. But don't you worry none, she'll be safe as houses with Iron Jim."
Conan Doyle handed up a sovereign coin, scandalously overpaying. The cabbie tugged the brim of his rumpled bowler in salute, then shook the reins and clucked for the horse to pull away. Coach lights blazing, the hansom plunged into the murk and vanished from sight before it had gone thirty feet, but the image of her smile hovered eidetically on the roiling gray fog.
And then, gallingly, Conan Doyle remembered he had forgotten to ask for Miss Leckie's calling card in return. Apart from the fact that she lived with her parents in the London suburb of Blackheath, he had no clue as to her address.
The hansom's departure revealed another carriage waiting at the curbside: a Black Mariah, a hulking, four-wheeled coffin used by the Metropolitan police to haul criminals to jail and condemned prisoners to the gallows — evidently the means by which Detective Blenkinsop had arrived. Two uniformed constables hunkered on the seat, mouths and noses muffled with thick woolen scarves to filter the choking air. Even though two large coach lights burned bright on either side of the Mariah, the blinding fog also obliged two additional officers brandishing flaming torches to lead the horses and light the way.
A convulsive shiver shook Conan Doyle's large frame as the fog ran an icy finger down his spine. The November night was too bitterly cold to tarry long without a coat, and so he slipped quickly back inside the restaurant.
In the welcome warmth of the Palm Room, Conan Doyle dropped into his dinner companion's vacated seat and waited patiently until Detective Blenkinsop finished sipping his brandy, the color flushed back into his face, and the spark of intellect burned once again in his eyes.
"Obviously it's a murder," Conan Doyle ventured. "An extremely bloody one judging by the state of your raincoat."
The hand holding the brandy snifter tremored visibly. "It's a murder all right, sir. But not like nothing I ever seen before."
"It must be something truly dire to have distressed a detective used to witnessing the worst of humanity's deeds."
Blenkinsop shook his head. At just twenty-six, he was alarmingly boyish-looking. He had been promoted to detective just six months previously, in recognition of a feat of bravery: a deranged gunman walked into the crowd gathered outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and began firing his pistol at random. Two people had been shot dead as other constables looked on helplessly. Blenkinsop single-handedly tackled the madman to the ground and disarmed him. In recognition of his valor, he had been promoted to detective, the youngest ever on the force. Although he had grown the wispy suggestion of a moustache in an attempt to look older, he still more closely resembled a fresh-faced schoolboy summoned to the headmaster's office to receive a caning.
"I'd rather say as little as possible," Blenkinsop said. "I figured to fetch you so you can see for yourself." He tossed back the dregs of his liquor, nostrils flaring as he exhaled brandy fumes. "You might have a stiff 'un yourself, afore we go. I reckon even a doctor's nerves will need steadying."
Stepping into the chill night was like an open-handed slap across the face. For days, a pestilential fog, known in the popular vernacular as a "London Particular," had suffocated the capital city beneath a yellow-green blanket. Appearing each evening at the mouth of the Thames, the fog oozed up the river and spilled over onto the surrounding streets, submerging all but the tallest church spires. Fogs were common at this time of year, but rather than abating after a few days as most fogs did, the mephitic cloud seemed to worsen with each evening. After a full week of such fogs, the night air was cold and abrasive, a gritty cloud of pumice swirling with ash, soot, and firefly-like embers that burned the lungs and needled tears to the eyes. The fog muffled sound and shrank the sprawling metropolis to a murky circle of visibility, scarcely twenty feet in any direction.
Detective Blenkinsop snatched wide the battle-scarred rear door of the Mariah and gestured for the Scottish author to step aboard. "Forgive the means of transport, sir. Uncomfortable, I admit, but she'll get us there, no bother."
As Conan Doyle climbed into the boxy carriage, a strangely familiar smell assailed his senses — Turkish tobacco smoke — and he was surprised to find that the Mariah already had an occupant.
"Ah," spoke an urbane voice, "it appears I am not the only prisoner tonight. I bid you welcome, fellow riffraff."
It was only then Conan Doyle realized that the shadowy shape he had at first mistaken for a small bear was in fact a large Irishman.
Oscar Wilde wore a gorgeous fur overcoat with an enormous fur collar and cuffs. Atop his head perched a muskrat hat — a trophy fetched from his North American travels. Conan Doyle had ridden in Black Mariahs before, which invariably bore an aura of abject despair and reeked like public urinals in the worse part of London, but Wilde's expensive cologne and piquant tobacco smoke bullied the air of its malodorous stink while his insouciant gravitas commandeered the space and made it his own. A small oil lantern swung from a hook in the ceiling, and in the wan pulse of amber light the Irish wit resembled the sultan of some exotic country being carried to his coronation in an enclosed sedan chair.
Conan Doyle slid in beside his friend, and Detective Blenkinsop dropped onto the bench opposite. The door of the Mariah banged shut and a constable standing outside locked them in. The horses were gee'd up and the Mariah rumbled away on wobbly axles squealing for a lick of grease.
"I am always happy to see you, Oscar," Conan Doyle said. "But I confess you are the last person I would expect to meet in a Black Mariah."
The hot coal of Wilde's cigarette flared red as he drew in a lungful and jetted smoke out both nostrils. "Scotland Yard's best have been combing the city for you. Detective Blenkinsop recruited me to assist in the search. We stopped at The Savoy, Claridge's, and then your club. When you were discovered at none of them, given the hour, I plumped for the Tivoli and am gratified to see my guess was correct." Wilde swept Conan Doyle's dress with an appraising gaze and his full lips curled in a supercilious smile. "And now I understand why you were avoiding your usual haunts."
Conan Doyle stiffened in his seat. "I, ah ... I was supping with a friend. A fellow member of the Society for Psychical Research."
"A fellow member, but not a fellow, per se?" Wilde remarked in a deeply incriminating voice. "You are quite the dog, Arthur. I suspect you were entertaining a lady!"
Conan Doyle blanched as Wilde pierced the bull's-eye with his first arrow.
"I ... how on earth did you know that?"
Had it not been so gloomy, Conan Doyle's companions would have seen him blush.
"Your dress reveals much, Arthur. You are wearing a very fine bespoke suit — beautifully tailored might I add — rather than your work-a-day tweeds. You sport a beaver top hat, a fresh boutonniere, and have obviously spent a great deal of effort on your toilet, including taking the time to wax your extravagant moustaches, which I must confess positively coruscate in the light. Were we actually heading to jail you would be the talk of the prison yard. A man as practical as Arthur Conan Doyle does not take such pains with his attire to dine with an old school chum or a chalk-dusted academic. You have clearly dressed for a lady friend. A young and fetching lady, I would wager. Another good reason to dodge your usual haunts to avoid wagging tongues —"
Excerpted from The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwistle. Copyright © 2015 Vaughn Entwistle. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Murder Most 'Orrible,
Chapter 2. The Murderer in the Cupboard,
Chapter 3. Fenians, Anarchists, and Dynamitards,
Chapter 4. The Fog Committee,
Chapter 5. Raising Ghosts,
Chapter 6. An Ill-Timed Letter,
Chapter 7. Shanghaied in Waterloo,
Chapter 8. A Massive Attack of Heart,
Chapter 9. Jedidiah's Emporium of Mechanical Marvels,
Chapter 10. A Wilde Night at the Theater,
Chapter 11. An Unholy Resurrection,
Chapter 12. A Wonderful Evening Ends Horribly,
Chapter 13. The Assassin Kills Again,
Chapter 14. A Deeply Disturbing Discovery,
Chapter 15. Check and Mate,
Chapter 16. Look Upon My Works and Tremble,
Chapter 17. A Drowned Ophelia,
Chapter 18. Invitation to an Execution,
Chapter 19. Right Coffin, Wrong Corpse,
Chapter 20. An Encounter in a Pornographic Bookshop,
Chapter 21. Before Rigor Sets In,
Chapter 22. Cakes and Corpses,
Chapter 23. A Dinner Date to Remember,
Chapter 24. Useless Friends and Dangerous Drugs,
Chapter 25. Descent Into the Underworld,
Chapter 26. A Nice Night for a Drowning,
Chapter 27. A Pleasant Night Cruise upon the Thames,
Chapter 28. The Fog Descends,
Chapter 29. The Importance Of Being In Deadly Earnest,
Chapter 30. Chasing Monsters,
Chapter 31. A Toast to Death,
Chapter 32. A Wagnerian Death,
Chapter 33. A Summons to the Palace,
Chapter 34. The Sun Breaks Through,
About the Author,
Also by Vaughn Entwistle,