About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Alex Greican
“Peter?” Anna could hear how frightened she sounded, her voice echoing back to her from the flat face of a curio cabinet that blocked the narrow path. She stood still and listened, but there came no answering cry from her brother.
She called his name again, louder this time, but with the same result. Or, rather, the same lack of result.
“Perhaps,” she thought, “if I were to climb to the top of that curio, I would be able to see quite far along the path.”
She approached the hulking cabinet and opened the doors at the bottom. There was nothing inside. She slid open a drawer and pulled it out, set it beside her on the grass. She pulled herself up, hanging on tight to the knurled trim along the side, and used the empty slot where the drawer had been as a toe-hold. Once begun, the climb was easy, shelves positioned at convenient intervals as if it had all been purposefully fashioned for small children to scale. At the top was an elegant pointed facade and she clung to it and crouched low, willing herself not to look back down at the ground. “I am not really so high up, after all,” she thought. “Were I to fall, I might not break my arms and legs.” But this thought was not so comforting as she had felt it would be.
She looked ahead of her up the path, which wound around a dining set and through a great herd of French desk chairs, disappearing at the juncture of a Chippendale butcher block and a dollhouse cupboard. A small blue bird of some sort hopped from the base of a painted white sideboard, then flapped away to the top of a jumbled mountain of coatracks. Behind her, she could see that the sun was beginning to set, the sky bruised and livid.
She opened her mouth to call Peter again, but did not make a sound. All at once she felt utterly alone and afraid.
A grandfather clock chimed nearby. Startled, Anna lost her grip on the facade and nearly tumbled from her perch. She slid down the back of the curio and landed neatly on her feet on the packed dirt of the path.
“Well,” she thought, “I suppose there is nothing for it but to find Peter and drag him back home in time for his supper. Otherwise, we shall both get the switch and I should never forgive him if that happened.”
And so she mustered her resolve and marched away into the ever-darkening Wood without glancing back even once at the warm yellow lights of her house.
— Rupert Winthrop, from The Wandering Wood (1893)
He woke in the dark and saw that his cell door was open.
Just a crack, but lamplight shone through and into the room. He lay on his cot and watched that chink of yellow through his shivering eyelashes. But the door didn’t open any farther and the man—the man Jack—didn’t enter the room. Had Jack forgotten to latch the door after his last visit? Or was he waiting to pounce, somewhere just out of sight in the passage beyond the cell?
He kept his eyes half-shut and watched the door for an hour. The sun came up and the quality of light in the room changed. The crack between the door and the jamb remained the same, but the lamplight behind it faded, washed out by the brighter gleam of the rising sun. At last, he threw his thin grey blanket aside and sat up, swung his legs over the side of the cot and padded across the room to the bucket in the corner. When he had finished the morning’s business, he scooped sand into the bucket and went to the table under the window. He splashed water on his face from the bowl, his back to the open door, ignoring it. He drank from a ladle and looked out through the bars at the narrow stony yard, all he could see of the outside world. Then he went back to the cot and sat down and waited.
His breakfast didn’t come, but sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes Jack forgot or was busy. A missed meal here or there was hardly the end of the world. So he sat and he waited. He began to worry when midday passed without any sign of food. His stomach grumbled. He checked the positions of the shadows in the yard, but they told him nothing he didn’t already know. He had an excellent internal clock. He knew full well when it was time to eat.
When teatime passed with no tea or bread, he stood again and went to the door. He put his hand on the knob and closed his eyes. He concentrated on his breathing, calmed himself. He pulled the door half an inch wider and took his hand off the knob. He stood behind the door and braced himself.
But nothing happened.
Braver now, he touched the doorknob again, wrapped his fist around it and opened the door wide enough that he could see out into the hallway. He put his head out of the room and pulled it back immediately. But despite his expectations, nothing had hit him or cut him. Nobody had laughed at him or screamed at him. All was quiet.
And so he stepped out of the room for the first time in as long as he could remember. He wasn’t at all comfortable being outside his cell. His memory of the things beyond that room was vague and untrustworthy. He swallowed hard and looked back at his cot. It represented all he knew, relative security bound up with stark terror, the twin pillars that supported his existence.
He left it behind and crept down the passage on his bare feet, leaving the lantern where it hung on a peg outside the chamber. When he reached the end of the hallway there was another door and he seized the knob without flinching. He stifled a gasp when it turned under his hand and the second door swung open, revealing a long wedge of wan afternoon sunlight. He had expected the door to be locked, had expected to have to turn around and retreat to his cell and his cot and his bucket. Had, in fact, almost wished for it.
He stepped out into fresh air. He felt the warmth of the sunbaked stones on the soles of his feet. When his eyes had accustomed themselves to the bright light, he looked around him at the empty street and turned and looked up at the nondescript house that had been his home for so long. He didn’t ever remember seeing the front of the house before and it occurred to him that he might have been born there, might never have been outside it. Perhaps his half-remembered notions of the world beyond his cell were only dreams.
A breeze stirred the hair on his bare arms and he felt suddenly self-conscious. After hesitating a moment, he turned and went back inside, back down the passage, back into his room, to the cot. He picked up his grey blanket and draped it over his shoulders and left again.
Back outside he looked up and down the street and smiled. He had a choice to make and he felt proud to have been given the opportunity. Jack was testing him, he was sure of it. He could go left to the end of the road where he saw another street running perpendicular to this one. Or he could go right. Far away to his right he could see the green tops of trees waving to him from somewhere over a steep hill. Perhaps a park or a garden. Trees. He could imagine how their bark would feel under the palm of his hand. He was certain he had touched trees before. He really had been outside his room. He nodded. The trees meant something.
Walter Day turned to his right and limped naked down the street toward the beckoning green.
Plumm’s Emporium had for years occupied a large building at the south end of Moorgate, not far from where Walter Day spent a year in captivity and not far from Drapers’ Gardens, where Day found shelter in the trees. Plumm’s was bordered on one side by an accountant’s office and on the other by that famous Gentlemen’s Club: Smithfield and Gordon. In the winter of 1890 it had been announced that Smithfield would be moving to posher headquarters in Belgravia and the renowned entrepreneur John Plumm purchased the club’s building. At the same time, he made an offer to the accountant, who was only too glad to relocate. The Emporium then closed its doors for nearly four months. The great blizzard that hit London in March of 1891 slowed construction of the new building and caused much speculation about Plumm’s financial stability. There were rumors that corners had been cut and cheaper materials used in order to get the place ready for the announced date. But when it reopened it was three times the size and four stories taller and had adopted its founder’s name, John Plumm, though most shoppers continuing to refer to it simply as Plumm’s.
Beyond the cast iron and glass storefront, the ground floor of Plumm’s held two tea shops, a bank, three full restaurants, a public reading room, and a confectionary. There was an electric lift at the back, something most people had never seen, and this generated a fair amount of foot traffic, people coming in just to ride up and down. The first through third stories were supported by thick iron pillars and held a staggering variety of merchandise: toys and dolls, fabric of every variety, ready-made clothing, shoes and umbrellas and hats, groceries, baked goods and bedding, mens ties and cufflinks, coffee, books and maps and sheet music, jewelry, cutlery and crockery and cookware, rooms for lounging, rooms for smoking, and fitting rooms. At the top of the building was an enormous glass dome which was cleaned daily, along with the forty-three windows on the lower floors, by four men hired specifically for that purpose.
John Plumm himself gave a speech on the day of the opening and then stepped aside, gesturing wide for the gathered throng to enter. Men wearing white gloves held the doors open as hundreds of women (and more than a few men) hurried inside, and more staff waited within holding complimentary brandy and wine balanced on silver trays. These men, along with two hundred other Plumm’s employees, were housed on-site in apartments that faced Coleman Street. In this way, as John Plumm explained, there was always someone in the store, and no customer would ever want for advice or service.
There was a workshop next to the apartments at the back, where skilled artisans created papier mache mannequins and display racks made of wood and brass.
John Plumm was rarely seen on the premises, but his lieutenant Joseph Hargreave, who managed the daily affairs of the store, constantly patrolled the floor, adjusting scarves on the mannequins, resolving customer issues, and replacing the employees’ soiled white gloves when needed. Hargreave had an eagle eye for imperfections among his workers and had shown three shopgirls the door before end of business on Plumm’s opening day.
But he did not show up for work the second week after Plumm’s opened its doors to the public, leading many of his employees to think that perhaps Mr Plumm had taken matters into his own hands and let his overzealous manager go. Joseph Hargreave was never seen alive again and was quickly forgotten by everyone. Everyone, that is, except his brother Richard, who eventually decided to hire a private investigator to find Joseph.
On Monday, the evening after he left his cell, Walter Day hid, shivering, behind a stand of trees until Drapers’ Gardens had emptied. When he was alone he pulled up the grass beneath him and dug a shallow trench in the hard soil. He lay down and hugged his legs to his chest, waited until his teeth stopped chattering, and he eventually fell asleep.
Tuesday morning Walter kept himself hidden at the edge of the gardens until a vendor stepped away from his wagon long enough to scold a band of street urchins that were driving customers away. Walter snatched a loose cotton dress from the vendor’s awning where it hung. He pulled it over his head, then hungry and filthy and ashamed, but no longer naked, he scurried away. He clung to the side of the footpath, away from traffic and tried to seem inconspicuous in his lady’s dress, his bare feet visible below the hem. He found a half a fish pie discarded in the slush at the side of the road and ate it as quickly as he could, cramming the soggy mess into his mouth so fast that he couldn’t breathe. He watched the shadows and the passing people, while waiting for the man Jack to appear and take him back to his cell. When teatime had come and gone again, and Jack still had not materialized, Walter began to cry.
Wednesday, as omnibuses rattled past carrying early morning commuters, Day crawled out of the box he had slept in and joined the flow of pedestrians. When he came to a busy intersection, he watched a gang of children who rushed forward, one at a time, to assist people as they crossed the wet road, holding up their hands to halt the buses and taxis and private carriages, and collecting small coins in return. Hopeful, Walter caught a young woman’s attention and held out his elbow for her. She looked away, her cheeks red with embarrassment, and a man standing behind Walter threatened to send for the police. As the foot traffic thinned, it began to sleet. He took shelter beneath an oriel and sat on the ground, pulled his muddy dress down so that it covered his ankles, and waited.
On Thursday he returned to that same corner and watched the children more carefully, studied how they solicited pedestrians, and by afternoon had managed to help an elderly blind man cross the street. He earned a ha’penny in return and spent it on a cup of weak tea at a wagon across from the gardens. He slept in the trench again and used the dress as a blanket.
When he woke Friday morning, he found a small pile of clothing had been left on the ground next to him. A pair of patched and faded trousers, a threadbare shirt, a thick wool coat, and boots with a hole in one toe. Next to the clothing was a walking stick with a round brass handle. He recognized it as his own, from some long ago time, like seeing a cherished toy he had played with as a child. He looked around, but saw no one, and so he put on the new clothes and buried his dress next to the trench so that it would not be stolen or discarded. More appropriately attired, he was able to help seven people cross the busy intersection that day and, for the first time since leaving his cell, he ate an entire meal. That night he slept well and was not bothered by any rumblings in his stomach.
The children were waiting for him at his corner on Saturday. Walter listened as they explained their position. This was their corner and, although he was much larger than they were, they outnumbered him and would cause him grievous harm if he continued to interfere with their ability to earn a living. He nodded and wished them well and wandered away in search of another intersection. He had no luck, but later that day he was struck on the back of the head by a cigar butt that was carelessly tossed from a passing carriage. He picked up the smoldering butt and carried it away with him. Over the course of two hours, he found nearly twenty more, an even mix of cigars and cigarettes. He took them back to his trench in the gardens and unrolled them all, using a piece of bark stripped from a tree to catch the precious bits of tobacco left inside them. It took some time, but eventually he was able to form two new crude-looking cigars from the leftovers. He took off his boots, put the cigars in the toe of the left boot, and slept on top of them so they wouldn’t be stolen from him in the night.
On Sunday, he chose the two biggest and smartest of the children at the corner and made arrangements with them. He gave each of them a cigar and they shook hands. He spent the rest of the day combing gutters and alleyways, gathering butts and drying them in the sun. When he returned to the corner, his young business partners had sold the cigars and they each gave him half their earnings: four pennies. Walter ate another meal that night before getting back to work repurposing the used tobacco he had found. By the time he went to sleep he had five new cigars hidden in his left boot.
The vast majority of London had failed to note Walter Day’s disappearance and had gone about its business without marking his absence. But, even a year later, there were still people who woke up each morning with the expectation that they might see him again, perhaps that very day.
Among that select group was the former Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, who because of his headstrong and reckless manner had been let go from Scotland Yard. He had opened his own detective agency, which he now operated in a headstrong and reckless manner. His offices were housed in a compact two-room suite in Camden and a plaque outside the door read simply “Hammersmith.” Beneath that, in smaller script, were the words “Discreet Enquiries.”
The outer office lacked privacy, but the inner office lacked furniture, aside from a small table and a bedroll in the corner where Hammersmith often napped when sleep overtook him. Every other inch of floor space was occupied by stacks of notes and newspapers, sketches and blurry photographs, witness reports, location descriptions, a record of every step Hammersmith had taken in the year since his closest friend and colleague had vanished.
One thick file folder was dedicated to the other cities and countries where men matching Walter Day’s description had been seen. Hammersmith had traveled to Ireland and France, and even as far as New York in his search, but being cooped up aboard a ship for weeks on end had frustrated him and made him wary afterward of any leads that might take him away from London.
Hammersmith knew he was not the detective Walter Day had been and he felt he had to work twice as hard to make up for his lack of skill. For every dead end he encountered in his search for Day, he redoubled his efforts until his determination became an end in and of itself.
Hammersmith (the agency) had few clients and they labored under the false impression that Hammersmith (the detective) worked for them. He did not. He worked for Claire Day only, and he cared about little other than finding her husband. He had two employees, both of them young women he had met in the course of a previous investigation.
Eugenia Merrilow sat behind a desk just inside the front door and screened potential clients. If a case was simple enough and if she judged that the agency was close to running out of oil for the lamps and therefore needed money, she would take down pertinent details and promise to pass the information on to Mr Hammersmith. In fact, she gave nearly all their new cases to Hatty Pitt.
Hatty had become a widow when she was seventeen years old. A murderer called the Harvest Man had escaped prison, tied Hatty to her bed, and butchered her husband John Charles Pitt. She had been unhappy in her marriage and was pleased to have got her freedom back (a selfish thought that never failed to cause a twinge of guilt and sorrow for poor John Charles).
Hatty had no training as a detective, no training in anything else, either. But she had been interested and available when Mr Hammersmith had announced he was opening his own detective agency. When he had taken her on, she’d assumed she would be his secretary or clerk and the thought had been acceptable, but not really very exciting. She had a new lease on life, and she had decided early on that she didn’t want to do the same sorts of things her friends were all doing, the same sorts of things she surely would have done if she’d remained married to poor John Charles. (“Poor” was beginning to seem like John Charles’s first name.) And so she had persuaded Mr Hammersmith to hire Eugenia Merrilow as well, suggesting that it might take more than two people to manage the task of finding anyone in a city the size of London. It was her way of paying Eugenia back for taking Hatty in when she had first lost John Charles and had nowhere else to go. Eugenia had not asked for a salary (she was wealthy and bored), but wanted interesting work, which meant Mr Hammersmith could afford her. With Eugenia to take up the secretarial duties, Hatty had been free to begin insinuating herself into Mr Hammersmith’s investigative work. He had been too distracted to object or even to notice what she was doing. Within a few months she had created a satisfying occupation for herself.
The cases Eugenia gave her were simple enough: follow a wandering husband on the train and note where he disembarked, deliver a note of foreclosure to a small business, hunt down a missing pet, etc. She thought the fact that detective work was not commonly performed by women actually gave her an advantage. No one suspected her of following them, no one viewed her inquiries as suspicious. She was nearly invisible. Eugenia did not accept cases that involved any hint of serious danger, and Hatty consulted with Mr Hammersmith who seemed always to be under the impression that Hatty was asking hypothetical questions. He would generally give her an hour of his time before she could see his attention wandering back to the case of the missing Inspector Day. She was often frustrated by his single-mindedness, but admired his sense of purpose and his dogged determination.
She also admired his long eyelashes and his long fingers and the way his uncombed hair flopped down into his eyes at inconvenient moments. She suspected Eugenia Merrilow harbored similar feelings, but the two of them had never discussed the matter.
Most days, when Eugenia unlocked the door and brought the post to the desk, Hammersmith would emerge from the inner office, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes. He would greet her absently, take his hat from the rack, and leave. Some days he would go to Scotland Yard and pester Inspector Tiffany or Inspector Blacker. They were sympathetic, but never had any new information for him about Day’s disappearance. The men of the Murder Squad had finished moving to a new headquarters on the Victorian Embankment and their search for Day was necessarily interrupted by the minutia of daily life, by other cases, by other crimes.
Some mornings Hammersmith would visit Claire Day and they would discuss the investigation. Walter Day’s wife was now caught up in her own routines and distractions, the demands of four children, a busy household staff and a new career. It was a poorly guarded secret that Claire had written a popular book of children’s rhymes under the pen name Rupert Winthrop. But a series of unfortunate events in the previous year had traumatized her to the extent that she rarely went anywhere in London alone. She still wrote her poems and had begun to think she might like to write a prose story for children. In the evenings after the dishes had been cleared, she would compose a new rhyme and read it to her adopted boys Robert and Simon (they had been orphaned by the Harvest Man, the same madman who had widowed Hatty Pitt) before tucking them into bed. Then she would work until dawn or sometimes she would lie in her bed and watch shadows move across her ceiling. She did not sleep much and her eyes were generally as bloodshot as Hammersmith’s. The sales of Claire’s poems, and the advance she had received for her next book, had paid for the Hammersmith Agency’s office.
The blizzard of that March had kept most people inside, where they didn’t get into the sorts of trouble that might require detecting of the private variety. But the sun had begun to come out sporadically and snow had melted and become slush, which was now beginning to disappear as well. People were leaving their homes and, after being pent-up for so long, were getting into all manner of mischief, both minor and calamitous.
On the first warm day of spring, fog had lifted off the Thames and invaded the neighborhoods north of the river. Hatty stood in the outer office, watching grey nothingness roll by outside the window, obscuring the fish and chips shop across the street. She held a pencil and a small notebook of the sort preferred by her employer. Eugenia sat behind her desk, sorting papers into piles that Hatty suspected were entirely random. Eugenia had provided (and was prominently posed in) the many framed photographs of tableau vivants that lined the agency’s walls. Across the desk from her, draped across the client chair like an empty suit, was a bespectacled older man with a silver fringe of hair and an untidy mustache. He had carefully arranged two long hairs across the gleaming pink expanse of his scalp. Hatty felt pity and a touch of admiration for the futile vanity of her new client.
“I would like to speak directly to Mr Hammersmith,” the man said. “This is a matter of some importance to the family, as you may imagine.”
“I’m afraid,” Hatty said, “that Mr Hammersmith is busy elsewhere at the moment, but he will review my notes the moment he returns.”
“I’ll wait for him.”
“It may be some time.”
“Then I’ll find another detective.”
“You should certainly feel free to do so, sir, but Mr Hammersmith asked me to tell you how much he appreciates your confidence in him. He wanted so very badly to meet you himself.” In fact, Hammersmith had said no such thing. He had probably forgotten all about the meeting and the potential client, who was now drawing himself up in the chair and adjusting his waistcoat.
“Then why isn’t he here?”
“He’s with the Commissioner of Police,” Eugenia said. “You can’t very well say no to the Commissioner of Police when he sends for you.”
Hatty frowned at Eugenia, but Eugenia didn’t notice, didn’t even look up from her busywork. It was the standard lie they always gave and it made Mr Hammersmith seem very important indeed, but Hatty didn’t care for it. As far as she was concerned, the business of the Hammersmith Agency was the uncovering of lies, not the propagation of them. When Eugenia didn’t note her disapproval, Hatty gave up and turned her attention back to the client.
“Mr Hammersmith had to go immediately to see about the details of another case.” It was not entirely a lie.
“Called on by Sir Edward himself?”
Now the client was impressed and Hatty knew they had him on the hook. She just wished she’d been able to impress the man herself, instead of invoking Sir Edward’s reputation in order to secure this new piece of business. She glanced at the first page of her tiny notebook.
“Your name is…?”
“I never gave my name when I made this appointment,” the man said. “I didn’t want the family’s reputation to be jeopardized.”
Hatty made an impatient gesture at Eugenia, who glared at her for a moment before rising and retreating to the inner office. Hatty took her chair and set the notebook on the desk in front of her. She couldn’t very well stand against the wall and question their new client.
“Surely you don’t mind telling me your name now that you’re here, sir,” Hatty said.
Hatty interrupted him. “Then what is the nature of your trouble?”
“My brother is missing. I wouldn’t say he’s disappeared so much, only that I don’t know where he is.”
“Of course. Well, you’ve come to the right place. We specialize in looking for missing people.” True enough, although Hatty didn’t mention their lack of success in actually finding missing people. “But we can’t begin to search for your brother unless we know his name.”
“I don’t doubt it, but see here, young lady, this is a very delicate situation.”
“A business matter hinges on his availability?”
“Something like that.” He sat up even straighter now. “In fact, his position has been given to someone else in his absence and I have every hope that the situation might still be reversed. But how did you know?”
“I told you. We do this sort of thing all the time.” Hatty had made an educated guess based on the client’s pomposity. She leaned forward over the desk and lowered her voice. “Anything you tell us will be held in the strictest of confidence. Just as it says on the sign outside. We are extremely discreet.”
The man cleared his throat and looked around the tiny room as if to assure himself that they were alone. His nostrils needed to be trimmed and Hatty noticed a dried yellow nugget clinging for life to the wiry grey hairs. She absently rubbed her own nose. It had been broken a year before and had healed with a slight bump halfway down the bridge. She thought it gave her a worldly appearance and she took perverse pride in this exotic imperfection.
She waited, her pencil poised over a blank sheet in the notebook, and finally the man cleared his throat and spoke. “If… I mean to say, once you find my brother I would like all notes and records of your enquiries turned over to me so I may burn them.”
“As you wish,” Hatty said. First, get the man to talk, then worry about keeping promises.
“Good. Well, then… I say, this is awkward.”
“I’ve never had occasion to employ your sort before, you know.”
“Ah. My sort.”
“It feels a bit…” The man left off as if there were too many adjectives to choose from.
“Your brother’s name?”
“Yes. Just so. His name.” A deep sigh and the man straightened his shoulders, ready to take the plunge. “His name was, pardon me, his name is Joseph Hargreave.”
Hatty wrote this down. “And your name?”
“You need my name as well?”
“It would help us when it comes time to make out the bill for services.”
“Of course. My name is Richard Hargreave. Doctor Richard Hargreave.”
“And what’s happened to your brother?”
“He left the flat, we share an apartment in the city, three mornings ago very early, straight after breakfast, and was headed for the store, but he never arrived. The first day he was gone I became mildly concerned because he usually tells me if he has an engagement and needs me to allow for his absence. By that evening I was distraught and have remained so ever since.”
“You say he sometimes has engagements? Business affairs?”
“He manages the bulk of our parents’ estate, which keeps him just busy enough, I suppose, in addition to his duties at Plumm’s. Occasionally he has to meet with a banker or with our solicitor about one thing or another having to do with our investments. I don’t trouble myself with all that, but he’s quite capable.”
She had written the word “Plumm’s” in her notebook and underlined it, but she decided to wait a moment before following up. She didn’t want the client to lose his train of thought. “And you think he would have told you if he had a meeting of that sort? With an investor? Is it possible he’s had to leave town for some reason and it slipped his mind that he hadn’t informed you?”
“No, no, no. His money is also my money, after all. He always keeps me up to the minute about everything. He wouldn’t have… Well, he would have told me, that’s all.”
Hatty looked up from her notebook. “You’re afraid he’s met with foul play?”
“I certainly hope not. But the thought has occurred to me and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I’d say you’ve done it already. You’ve come to us and put the matter in our hands.” She smiled at him and he managed some sort of a sneer in return. “Now,” Hatty said, “I need details. Tell me everything you can about his habits, his appearance, his acquaintances, everything you can think of that might be helpful.”
“And you’ll relay this information to Mr Hammersmith straight away?”
“Very well.” Dr Richard Hargreave cleared his throat and adjusted his spectacles on his nose and began to talk about his brother. The nugget of snot dropped to his lap and Hatty looked down at the desk and wrote as fast as she could.
A two-wheeler pulled up to the mouth of a narrow alley in Saffron Hill. Two people alighted, a man and a woman, both dressed head to foot in black. Their fashions indicated they were not native to England. The man took a bag from the floor of the cab and tipped the driver, who sped away as fast as his horse could move. The couple in black stepped into the alley and walked slowly along, looking all round them at the stalls of stinking fish and yesterday’s vegetables. The man held his elbow out to the woman, who slipped her arm in his. A pickpocket circled them and darted back, but the man in black casualty swung his bag, without looking, and the pickpocket went down in a heap behind them. They walked on as if they hadn’t noticed him.
The alley wandered on and they followed it through the fog, their bootheels clacking on broken stones, awnings above them dripping on the woman’s umbrella, held above them both. They did not speak, nor did they look at each other, but they stopped together when they reached a small home with no garden and a stinking garbage pile against the front bricks. One shutter was painted with the notice: Logings for Traffelers.
The man led the way to the front door, and without knocking opened it for his companion. She nodded to him as she passed over the threshold. Inside, the place was small and damp, and reeked of old sweat and gin. A tiny old woman came rushing from some back room to greet them.
“Yer in luck,” she said. Her voice was thick, both with liquor and a cockney dialect. “I’ve two beds left.”
“We’ll take a room to ourselves,” the man said.
“Oh, you’d be wantin a posher place’n this, then. We goes by the mattress here and you’ll be furnishin yourselves when it comes to linens.”
“A room,” the man said again. His companion did not speak, nor did she look at the landlady. She stared straight ahead and worried her thumb along the handle of her umbrella.
“That’d come dear, sir,” the old woman said. “I can’t be givin’ out a whole room to just two people, can I?”
Now that the matter had come down to money, the man seemed to relax. He smiled for the first time, and when he did the landlady shivered.
“We’ll give you forty a week for the room. Two weeks in advance. And we’ll take our meals elsewhere.”
“Forty? A week?” The old woman leaned toward him and shook her head. “I hate to say it, I do, but you can get a better place’n this for forty a week, sir.”
“Well then, I’ll take yer money. What name would you like on the register?”
“None. If we wanted a name on the register, we’d stay somewhere that didn’t smell of rat piss.”
“Gotta put sumpin down for the inspectors.”
“Very well, put down Parker.”
“Mr and Mrs, then?”
“If it suits you.”
“Gimme an hour or so to clear out a room.”
“Clear the mattresses off the beds, too, or the floor if there are no beds.”
“We got proper beds here, like.”
“Good. Send a boy round for new mattresses. Clean mattresses. We’ll pay for those too.”
“And linens. New. Never used. Have them on the beds when we return.”
“New mattresses, new linens. That’ll cost, sir.”
The man smiled again and the old woman backed away from him. He reached into his pocket and drew out three coins. He took the landlady’s hand, turned it over and laid the coins on her palm. “I trust that will suffice.”
The old woman drew in a sharp breath through her nose and nodded. The man nodded in return.
“Never seen a lady wear a man’s clothings before.” The old lady jerked her thumb in the woman’s direction. “Don’t she talk?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t want her to talk,” the man said. “I’m the polite one.” He took his companion’s arm and the two of them left the house without another word or a backward look. The man pulled the door quietly shut behind them.
When she was sure they were gone, the old woman clutched her wrist where the man had touched her. It felt icy cold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I think the little story woven into the main plot is distracting and doesn't help the book as a whole. Perhaps it is meant to enhance the suspense, but I found myself skimming through those parts. Other than that it's a great book.
Not His Best I have read all of this author's books and enjoyed every one of them. This novel is formulaic with an unending chase for Jack the Ripper and his gruesome tortures perpetrated on his victims. Enough already! I hope future products are more original...….this plot has more than run its course.
I cannot believe I flew through this series so fast! I felt I could not put the current book down and now I will suffer until the next one comes out! I was totally surprised at the outcome of one romance (won't spoil the story for others) and look forward to what story Fiona will be a part of in the next book. I hope the Days can work out their lives because Clair deserves some happiness! Also, is there any hopefor Mr. Oberon?
Just finished. This is a great series. Based on the back of the book about the author, he is currently working on another in this series. This was fast moving . Would make a great TV series (think Ripper street) Highly recommend. The ripper may be back yet!
Inspector Walter Day was kidnapped and held for one year by a man named “Jack.” Whatever the latter inflicted upon Day, he no longer has any memory of his previous life. Now he manages to escape, although he does so with great trepidation as he fears Jack is just around every corner waiting to grab Day and return him to his imprisonment. Little by little, he inches his way back into society, shaping and selling old cigarette and cigar butts he has reformed into new products. He even manages to enlist homeless urchins to assist him and pays them for their efforts. Day’s old friend, Nevil Hammersmith, a former Sergeant who lost his job over a case that also involved the disappearance of Day, has formed a private investigation agency with two female assistants. Although he takes on new cases, his obsession is finding Day. He even hires two bounty hunters to find and eliminate Jack, believing if he is removed Day will reappear. However, the two chilling bounty hunters are about much more than heeding Hammersmith. The reader wonders if this “Saucy” Jack is really Jack the Ripper, the killer who was feared by every decent British citizen. Even Hattie, Hammersmith’s assistant, gets involved in the missing persons search. The owner of a brand new, gaudy and innovative department store (new for that time period of the late 1800s) is also involved accidentally and undergoes a dramatic transformation. The mystery will be solved but one must journey through several harrowing scenes and a very handy, albeit somewhat contrived, resolution for all characters that should greatly please lovers of the crime/thriller genre. This reviewer has not read the previous books in the series, but that doesn’t matter as this is a fine stand-alone mystery that will probably draw readers to read the other novels as well. Nicely crafted, Alex Grecian!
Lost and Gone Forever by Alex Grecian is the 5th book in his Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad series. I have not read the earlier books in this series, and it did read somewhat well as a standalone. However, I was at a disadvantage not knowing the characters, and what had happened in previous books. Because of this, if I was rating the story, I would not give it the proper rating it probably would deserve. I will recommend that if you decide to read this series, start with the first book. Nevil Hammersmith, a sergeant on Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, left his job at the end of the last book to open a detective agency. Nevil’s only client was Claire Day, who is the wife of Walter Day, a police inspector who has been missing for a year. This was the main reason Nevil is no longer with Scotland Yard, as he refuses to give up on Walter, spending all his spare time trying to find him. It is suspected that Saucy Jack (Jack the Ripper), has kidnapped Walter. The story does start early on with Walter Day waking up in his cell, and finding the door open. Walter manages to escape, or did Jack purposely leave the door open? After a year in captivity, Walter is not himself. He remembers little of who he is, and only knows and fears Jack. He slowly begins to find things in town, including learning from young boys how to make money in the street, a lady whom he will begin to work for, and eventually Jack, who encourages him to go back home. But Walter is afraid to go home, as he doesn’t remember his wife or anyone. Jack is still a killer, but can be very charming. He has an ulterior motive, which he wants Walter to help him with. Walter doesn’t know this, but Jack has left something for him that will flash his memory. While Walter continues to live quietly in hiding, Nevil is trying to find his friend, and soon some sightings of Walter will encourage him and Claire to keep looking. Nevil’s assistant, Hattie works on other cases to help take in some money to the agency. It is Hattie, working on her own, who will find a dead client that will be another victim of Jack the Ripper, bringing her into Nevil’s case. There is also the addition of a weird couple that will prove dangerous to all those involved with looking for Walter and Jack. There are many characters in this book, as Grecian’s story moves at along at a steady pace, and also gives us a nice picture about those characters, who have been in the previous books. Without that I might have been lost. What follows is an interesting, and at times exciting story that will have some twists, as we race to the tense finish. I did enjoy this book, but did find myself a bit confused with the different characters being part of this overall story. If you like a mystery thriller, in old time Victorian England and with Scotland Yard, Jack the Ripper as the background, you will enjoy this book. Once again, it is best if you start from the beginning.
Wow, wow, wow. This was I think the best one so far of the Murder Squad books. I just could not put this one down. The hunt for Jack the Ripper continues, or is he dead? They are also missing one of their best detectives, Walter Day, or is he dead? This one has murderers coming out of the woodwork as two hired assassins are brought in to take care of Jack the Ripper and they are not your average assassins. There are lots of plot twists and twists to the plot twists. I just absolutely loved it and sped right through this book. Jack was on a mission and no one or nothing was going to stop him. There are definitely pulse generating thrills and a few shouts to the characters "don't go in there". I just love when I get involved in the story. HA! If you haven't tried Alex Grecian, this is definitely a great one to start with, you will definitely be hooked! Thanks Penguin Group Putnam for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review!