The first in the charming, evocative, and sharply plotted Victorian crime series that is "a deft blend of accuracy and frivolity, sure to please lovers of historical mysteries." (Shelf Awareness)After her father dies, March Middleton has to move to London to live with her guardian, Sidney Grice, the country’s most famous private detective.
It is 1882 and London is at its murkiest yet most vibrant, wealthiest yet most poverty-stricken. No sooner does March arrive than a case presents itself: a young woman has been brutally murdered, and her husband is the only suspect. The victim’s mother is convinced of her son-in-law’s innocence, and March is so touched by her pleas she offers to cover Sidney’s fee herself.
The investigations lead the pair to the darkest alleys of the East End: every twist leads Sidney Grice to think his client is guilty; but March is convinced that he is innocent. Around them London reeks with the stench of poverty and gossip, the case threatens to boil over into civil unrest and Sidney Grice finds his reputation is not the only thing in mortal danger.
About the Author
M. R. C. Kasasian is the author of The Mangle Street Murders,The Curse of the House of Foskett, Death Descends on Saturn Villa, and The Secrets of Gaslight Lane, all available from Pegasus Crime. He divides his time between Suffolk and Malta.
Read an Excerpt
Mangle Street Murders
By M. R. C. Kasasian
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2014 M. R. C. Kasasian
All rights reserved.
The Slurry Street Murders
Lizzie Shepherd got the chop
Right above the drinking shop.
Janie Donnell got chopped too.
Turnaround. It could be you.
Victorian skipping song (from Rhymes and Reasons by Jenny Smith and Alex Duncan MacDonald)
Eliza Shepherd was murdered. Her body was discovered on her bed at eight o'clock on the morning of Monday 28 January 1882 by her sister and roommate, Maria. They had lived on the top floor of a ramshackle pile of rooms over the Red Lion Public House, Slurry Street, Whitechapel.
Two hours later the body of Jane O'Donnell was discovered in another room along the corridor.
Both women had been brutally murdered. Their faces, limbs and torsos had been slashed and hacked exactly forty times each. There were no signs of robbery and, though there may have been a sexual motive, neither was a known prostitute. Eliza Shepherd worked as a seamstress and Jane O'Donnell had recently started serving in the bar downstairs.
In both cases the doors were bolted from the inside and had to be forced to gain access. There was little doubt, however, about the murderer's means of entry. The windows had been smashed from the outside. How the murderer reached the windows was another matter. They were some thirty feet above street level with no drainpipes or other climbing aids and it would be impossible to carry, set up and remove a ladder in such a busy thoroughfare without being noticed. The roof was not easily accessible and proved so rotten and unstable that it would not even support the small boy sent up by the police to inspect it.
It was difficult to imagine who would commit such savage acts and theories of animal attacks abounded, a gorilla from a travelling fair being most frequently cited. Rumours were rampant and a slavering lion cornered one night in Knackers' Yard turned out to be a tethered and elderly Shetland pony patiently awaiting its fate.
Stories of Springheel Jack, the legendary demon, were revived with numerous sightings of him leaping across the rooftops. In years gone by many a respectable girl had reported him jumping in front of her, shredding her clothes with his clawed hands and crushing his deadman's lips to hers, but he had never been known to kill before.
Death was common in the East End, violence and murder not rare, but the ferocity of these killings shocked even the police and the outcry led to questions being asked in both Houses of Parliament.
There was a flurry in the production of Penny Dreadful pamphlets with lurid accounts of other crimes tenuously linked to the two murders, and the press were soon issuing sensational claims about the identity of the killer. It was said that Rivincita, the Italian word for revenge, was smeared on the walls in blood and an account of a mysterious redheaded Neapolitan man seen acting suspiciously in the area led to a spate of attacks on immigrants around the docks.
A gruesome song, 'The Slaughterhouse of Slurry Street', became briefly popular as did a melodramatic production of Murder at the Red Lion but, with the lack of any real suspects and the absence of any further outrages, public interest waned.
The murderer was never caught but he was to inspire more than the writers of ballads and pamphlets. He was also to inspire at least one person to follow in his footsteps.CHAPTER 2
The Chelsea Strangler
This was my last day. Mr Warwick, the land agent, arrived promptly at nine, and I handed him the keys and set off in a cart without even a backward glance.
My family had lived in the Grange for three hundred years and no doubt it would stand the same again without us.
George Carpenter, the old gamekeeper, drove me with his ancient donkey, Onion, struggling up Parbold Hill and skittering down the other side so hesitantly that I feared we might miss the train, but we arrived in good time and George carried my carpet bag to the platform.
'Mrs Carpenter made you this.' He held out a small package in brown wax paper tied with brown string. 'She thought you might get hungry.'
I thanked him and he shuffled his feet.
'We held the Colonel in great regard,' he told me.
I put five shillings into his broken hand, and the train whistled and jolted and pulled away. And I wondered if ever I would see him again, or Ashurst Beacon, or the shallow poisoned River Douglas, winding as a saffron thread under the straight-cut Leeds–Liverpool Canal.
I changed stations at Wigan Wallgate, waiting head bowed at the roadside for a procession of miners' families to pass behind four coffins. It was only three days since the colliery explosion and the town was still angry.
At Wigan North Western I purchased a book from W.H. Smith & Son, and was soon off again in a ladies-only compartment with no corridor. It was a non- smoker but, as it was otherwise unoccupied, I was able to enjoy all of Mrs Carpenter's game pie, three cigarettes and a small cup of gin from my father's hip flask before the train ground screechily to a stop at Rugby.
There was a great deal of shouting and slamming, but I was beginning to believe that I should be left alone when, just as the guard blew his whistle, the door swung open and a middle-aged, well-dressed lady clambered aboard and sat opposite me. She had a haughty humourless expression and for a while we were silent, but then the lady sniffed the air.
'Have you been smoking?'
She took off her left glove, laid it with her hat on the seat beside her, and looked at me.
'What is that you are reading?' She peered over.'The Shocking Case of the Poisoner of Primrose Hill. What utter tosh. You should try The Chelsea Strangler. It is very grisly and much more amusing.' She sniffed again. 'You have been smoking.'
'I might have been,' I said and the lady smiled. She had small white teeth and her chin was pointed like a child's.
'Then you shan't mind if I do.' She produced a silver case from her handbag. 'Would you care for a Turkish?' She struck a red safety match and lit both our cigarettes with it, sucking deep into her breast. 'Oh, that is better. I have been absolutely frantic for one all day. Charles does not approve, which is why I keep my right glove on, to prevent my fingertips being oranged. Smoking is my great secret. Do you have any great secrets? Of course you have, and you must tell me the most scandalous of them before we quit this carriage.'
A long time ago I killed a man – the finest that ever lived – but I shall never hang for it.
'Charles says it stunts the growth,' the lady was saying. 'As if I am likely to grow in any desirable direction at my age. I shall be forty-two tomorrow, not that he will remember. He can recall all Dr Grace's batting scores but struggles with his own children's names. He forces small boys to learn dead Greek. What a gruesome thing to do.'
The lady took a breath.
'Happy birthday.' I offered her my flask and she swallowed a cupful in one draught.
'Harriet Fitzpatrick,' she said. 'Call me Harriet.'
'March Middleton. March.'
'Going to London, March?'
'Yes. It is my first time.'
'The best shops and the worst people in the world.' She stubbed her cigarette out on the floor. 'You may find the most exquisite dresses but have to step over a starving child to enter the premises. Are you visiting relatives?'
'I have no relatives,' I said. 'My poor mama's heart failed with the strain of being delivered of me twenty-one years ago, and my poor dear papa was killed last July when he fell over a waterfall in Switzerland. I spent the next three months writing an account of his life, which was published just before Christmas. Colonel Geoffrey Middleton, His Life and Times. Perhaps you have read it.'
Harriet shook her head and asked, 'But where shall you stay?'
'With my godfather who has kindly volunteered to become my legal guardian.'
'Oh, you poor thing.'
She had a tiny nose and I was quite envious of it.
'It is probably for the best.' I dropped my cigarette on the floor and ground it out with my foot. 'Papa took a great loss on the stock exchange last year and had heavily mortgaged the house. He left me so little capital, most of which I cannot touch until I am twenty-five, and such a small income from munitions that I could not hope to continue the maintenance of our home and, since the bloom of my youth is rapidly fading, I am unlikely to ensnare a husband before I am too old.'
Harriet laughed and said, 'Forgive me. Please continue.'
'If my godfather had not turned up,' I said, 'I do not know what I should have done for I am unsuited to trade and too proud to go into service. So I was most relieved when he wrote to offer his condolences and say that my father had done him a great kindness once, and that he was anxious to repay the debt.'
Harriet looked at me thoughtfully. 'May I ask when you last saw this good-hearted gentleman?'
'Oh, but I have never met him,' I said. 'Nor indeed do I recall my father ever talking about him.'
Harriet took another drink from my flask before handing it back.
'Are you sure your inheritance is small?' She looked at me as one might an injured stray. 'I should not like you to be tricked out of your fortune by some unscrupulous scoundrel.'
'It is very small indeed,' I said, 'and I did consider such a possibility. So, before I accepted the proposal, I instructed my father's solicitor to conduct some enquiries. By all accounts Mr Sidney Grice comes from a good family and is a man of the highest reputation.'
'Sidney Grice, the private detective?'
'You know of him?'
'I should say so,' Harriet said. 'One can hardly open a newspaper without learning something of his exploits. Why, only last week he very nearly foiled the kidnapping of the Archduke of Thuringia in Hyde Park, and it is rumoured that he has extricated the Prince of Wales from scandal on numberless occasions. Oh, you are so lucky. I wish I had such a dashing, heroic and clever man to look after me.'
We had two more cigarettes to celebrate my good fortune and finished the gin, and Harriet fell silent and I looked out of the window and watched the hills flatten and the greenery turn to brick and the bricks get higher and redder, and it seemed no time at all before we had pulled into Euston Station. 'Will you be all right?' Harriet asked, and I told her that I would.
'I come up on the same train, the first Tuesday of every month,' she said. 'If you should need a friend.'
'I am sure I shall make a great many friends,' I said, and Harriet looked at me.
'London can be such a lonely place.'
She stood and leaned forward to adjust her hat in the small mirror over my head. I got up, caught a glimpse of myself, my complexion unfashionably brown from too many long walks without a parasol and my hair dun and dull, and I thought of Edward for the hundredth time that day.
'Look out for pickpockets,' she told me, 'and foreigners.
Any more gin?'
'I am afraid not.'
A porter was coming up and Harriet pulled down the blind.
'Have you ever been kissed?' she asked.
'No,' I said as she leaned towards me, fragrant with lavender.
I closed my eyes.
'You have now,' she said, and the blind snapped up and the porter opened the door and we clambered down, and Harriet winked. 'Take care.' And she hurried off into the crowd.CHAPTER 3
The Pig and the Perfume
I found my way out easily to that monstrous arch known as the Gateway to the North, where I waited.
All around were the noise and confusion, but what struck me most forcibly were the smells. Smoke, horse excrement and unwashed bodies combined to create an overpoweringly noisome stench. Hundreds of carriages, from stately broughams to small landaus, vied with hansom cabs, omnibuses and delivery carts to make chaotic progress along the Euston Road, and countless pedestrians in finery or rags jostled between them, calling out to each other above the shouts of street sellers.
A grimy girl in a crumpled black dress stood against a pillar, looking about her expectantly.
'Are you Molly?' I asked.
'Shit off,' she said, and stumbled away.
'I shall take it that you are not,' I called after her.
I waited a few more minutes and looked about me. A pig had been tethered to a standpipe and a boy in a sailor suit was trying to ride it. The buildings were grimy and cloaked in a grey haze, for the air itself was dirty. I could feel it gritty on my skin.
A dumpy girl in a maid's uniform of black, with a pressed white apron, came hurrying up and approached two young ladies before myself.
She had a mass of ginger hair tied up under a starched white hat. Her nose was bulbous and her face pink and freckled.
'I'm Molly, Mr Grice's maid. I'm very sorry to keep you waiting, but we had a dead duchess to deal with, and she was a lot more trouble dead than when she was alive. May I take your bag? Please follow me.'
There was a squeal and a scream as we stepped out of the arch and I spun round to see that the boy had fallen and the pig was standing on him.
'Don't be afraid,' Molly said. 'It's only a pig.'
We made our way across the road followed by a dozen or so ragamuffins.
'Clear off,' Molly said, but they gathered round me, begging for pennies until I had none left to give.
'Mind where you step,' Molly warned. 'You wouldn't believe a horse could turn hay into something so nasty. Do you have horses in the country?'
'Yes, of course.'
'We have a lot in London,' she said. 'They bite.'
We got across the road and Molly pushed her way through a group of cloth-capped men standing outside a public house. 'Look out for pickpockets,' she told me over her shoulder, 'purse snatchers, sailors and foreigners. Those —'
There was a shrill wail, and I turned to see a man in a sealskin coat standing over a cowering woman and striking her upheld arms with a long stick.
'Stop that at once,' I called out, and he twisted round to look at me.
'Says who?' His words sprayed rancid into my face. 'We do,' I said.
'I don't,' Molly said, taking a step back. 'Not her,' I said. 'Me and Monsieur Parquet.' His eyes flicked about.
'I don't see no foreign geezer wiv you.' He poked the stick under my nose.
'Monsieur Parquet is the inventor of the synthetic perfume known as Fougère, which means "fern",' I said. 'You are probably unfamiliar with it.' I wiped my cheek with my handkerchief. 'But I always carry a little wherever I go, and if you will excuse me for a moment ...' I delved into my carpet bag. 'There you are.'
The man glanced at my bottle and laughed mockingly. 'What the hell —'
'Please do not swear,' I said, and puffed two squirts into his eyes.
'What the —' The man dropped his stick to clutch his face. The woman put down her arms and grinned bloodily. "E smell better now.' She scrambled to her feet and hobbled away. 'I'll get you later,' he called after her, violently rubbing his eyes. 'And you,' he added as we hurried off.
'A word to the unwise,' Molly said. 'It don't do to interfere between a man and a woman.'
'Would you rather I had let him hit her?'
Molly wiggled her nose. 'Who's to say she didn't ask for it? Men are more reasonable than we are. She probably looked at him funny or something.'
We turned left on to Gower Street and the commotion, though still great, decreased as we went along it. 'Another word,' Molly said. 'I shouldn't mention this to Mr Grice when you meet him. He don't like ladies what show off.'
A water cart trundled by.
'Why are the cobbles made of wood?' I asked.
'That is to muffle the horses' hooves,' she told me, 'so the sick can get some rest and the dying go to theirs a bit more peacefully. That's the Universitaly Hospital there. Mr Grice explained it all to me. He's a very clever man and very nice and he didn't even tell me to say that.'
Number 125 was a tall, terraced Georgian house, white-fronted on the ground floor and red brick above, with an iron balcony on the first floor and separated from the pavement by a basement moat and railings. We climbed the four steps to the black-painted front door, and Molly produced a key on a string from around her neck and admitted me to a long narrow hallway.
Excerpted from Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian. Copyright © 2014 M. R. C. Kasasian. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I could not put this book down and have been recommending it to all lf my friends. Fast paced and an all around great read, I cannot wait for the next one to come out later this year.
I started out being hooked to the story then got irritated and was going to return it to the library. Long story short I kept it read more and ended up going WOW! A new Arthur Conan Doyle in the making can't wait for the next book.
I didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I did. Although the detective involved (Mr. Grice) is arrogant and thoroughly unsympathetic, the heroine (his guardian) counteracted my negative feelings. March Middleton copes beautifully with his insufferable attitudes and together they (or rather Mr. Grice) winds up solving the mystery. Lots of fun and even a few laughs. Not heavy stuff but enjoyable nonetheless.
I really enjoyed this book. It held my interest and I love the characters. I especially enjoy March Middleton's ability to hold her own in every situation. Sidney Grice is brilliant but also has many flaws and is not infalible. This book made me want to read the next book in this series.
Sarcastic humor throughout.
I can't comment on mistakes that might have been made in the writing of this book. But I can state that I was thoroughly entertained from the beginning to the end, Waiting for the sequel.
I was disappointed in this book. Not quite a pastiche or homage: not sure what it was. The main (Holmes-like) character was so unlikeable. I kept hoping that he would redeem himself, but no such luck. I would not recommend this book, nor will I read any further installments.
Because I read quckly, I tend to prefer longer books. This is one of the few that I hoped was finishing before it was half over. Poorly paced, with little to no character development. Nothing is properly described unless it is sordid, sensational or stomach-turning. An author trying to cash in on all the elements of popular mysteries without success The author appears to have studied the latest mysteries set in Victorian London, copied their popular attributes, then added the elements popular in today's novels. Thus we have lesbian hints, lurid and graphic depictions of gore, vegetarian teetotallers.... save your money. An example of the gore and "gritty realism" imcludes a 14 year old mother who coughs up a pool of blood full of white worm casts. The mother's eyes are as dead as the baby she is holding.
There's a story in there somewhere, and perhaps in the hands of another author, we would find an interesting whodunit. But here, only characters whose quirks rob them of any other consideration and a plot that wants to hurry-up-and-wait while quirky characters display their quirks. It's called bad writing.
Mishmash combo of recent more popular authors but neither a borrower or lender be especially if it doesnt fit
Who drinks tea out of a thermos he invented with a short leg in a built up shoe and is a veggie with a cook who cant and a silly maid might be funny add a gin drinking smoking "nurse" with a dead lover and now apparently lesbian and enough grafic details of violence decaying bodies and slums and dying deformed babies and children might be four and five star to who? A series? The dregs of several writers who i also have stopped reading for the same reasons awful drek page counter