'Vivid, pungent and perilous' CHRIS BROOKMYRE on Beloved Poison 'Evocative...brilliant plotting' REBECCA GRIFFITHS on Beloved Poison A gripping and darkly atmospheric thriller set in Victorian London, perfect for fans of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Strangers Diaries and The Silent Companions. London, 1851. Restless and bored after a long hot summer, apothecary and poison expert Jem Flockhart decides to redesign her physic garden. But plans are thrown into confusion when a man's skeleton is unearthed from beneath the deadly nightshade, a smaller, child-like skeleton curled at its feet. The body bears evidence of knife wounds to its ribs and arms, and is accompanied by a collection of macabre objects: a brass bowl, a curious coin-like token, a set of tiny ivory sculls. The police claim the victim is too long-buried for answers to be found, but for Jem, a corpse in her own garden is something that cannot be ignored. The plans to the garden, laid out some forty years earlier, reveal a list of five names. When Jem and Will start asking questions, the murders begin. Each victim has a past connection with the physic garden; each corpse is found with its jaw broken wide and its mouth stuffed with deadly nightshade. As they move closer to uncovering the truth Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain encounter a dark world of addiction, madness, power and death that strikes at the very heart of Jem's own history. This time, the poison is personal. . . Praise for E. S. Thomson's novels: 'Superb' Sunday Express 'Gothic. Gory. Glorious . . . E. S. Thompson's Jem Flockhart books are the best I've read in years. Jem is just my kind of heroine: scarred, smart, complex, and unapologetically queer ' Kirsty Logan, author of The Gloaming 'Love evocative descriptions of Victorian London and brilliant plotting? Then grab a copy of this!' Rebecca Griffiths, author of The Primrose Path 'Here's a tale of Victorian London to freeze your blood on a cold winter's night' Evening Telegraph 'Jem Flockhart's London is vivid, pungent and perilous' Chris Brookmyre 'Complex, harrowing and highly enjoyable' Daily Express 'A marvellous, vivid book' Janet Ellis 'Jem Flockhart is a marvel. . . This vivid journey into the dark side of the human soul is a thoroughly engrossing tale' Mary Paulson Ellis, author of The Other Mrs Walker
Release date: April 15, 2021
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Print pages: 368
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Notes on the poisonous nightshades (Solanaceae).
Also known as deadly nightshade, banewort, Devil’s cherries, belladonna lily, dwale.
Dingy purple flowers appear from June and July through to September. Afterwards, the plants become studded with small, sweet berries the size and colour of sloes but shiny as polished jet. The dull, darkish leaves have downy hairs on the obverse, and a bitter taste, whether fresh or dried.
The roots are thick, fleshy and white, and characteristically some eight inches in length. It is a temperamental perennial, though once established plants can last for many years, and may grow up to six feet tall. When crushed, the fresh leaves give off a repulsive, corrupt odour.
A lover of shade and dim light, the deadly nightshade prefers well-drained soil, favouring freshly turned earth – often graves, or old ruins.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, the roots especially. The leaves and flowers are less so, the berries least of all.
The poison is fast acting. Symptoms include dilated pupils, blurred vision, increased heart rate. The skin turns hot, dry and red. Disorientation, hallucinations, impaired vision are notable symptoms. Behaviour often turns aggressive, sometimes wildly so. Dilated pupils are a distinctive characteristic. The effects of the toxin may linger for some time, and there are instances of those who have lost their wits completely, so terrifying are the hallucinations experienced while under its influence.
The stomach contents must be evacuated, and the stomach washed clean. Stimulants, such as strong coffee, might also be administered. Death is certain if the herb is taken without care.
Powdered roots and leaves can be efficacious against colic, asthma, problems with the menses, seasickness, and an excess of stomach acid.
According to legend, the plant belongs to the Devil, who tends it at his leisure. The name ‘Belladonna’ is said to refer to an ancient superstition, whereby at certain times of the year the plant takes the form of an enchantress of extraordinary beauty upon whose face it is dangerous to look, though the name is more usually associated with the mediaeval Italian practice of using the tincture to brighten ladies’ eyes.
Belladonna is fabled to be one of the principal ingredients of ‘flying ointment’, a salve beloved by witches and applied internally via the blunt end of a broomstick.
Mother Nature has divined many ways to kill the uninitiated. The sap of the curare vine will leave you a living corpse awaiting death by asphyxiation. The tubers of the blood root cause suffocation and coma. The crimson berries of the yew – succulent mid-winter fruits, as tempting as sweeties – would have your heart fail by the time you reached the lychgate. Death lurks in every hedgerow, every garden, every lover’s bouquet. Monkshood will turn your veins to ice, cuckoopint will blister your innards until you bleed to death. The water in which you sit your bunch of spring daffodils, or your lily-of-the-valley nosegay, if sipped, will stop your heart in an instant.
Some years ago I started work on a Treatise on Poisons, my old friend Dr Bain my companion amongst the toxins. But Dr Bain died, and our work was never completed. I could not bear to look at it when he was gone, as it brought back memories upon which I had no wish to dwell. Of course, time works its deft magic on us all, and that which we were once unable to contemplate without our heart breaking becomes endurable as the months and years pass. I had always known I owed it to Dr Bain to continue our work and, that winter, I took out our manuscript, and the notes we had taken, and resolved to complete what we had started. It was that, above all else, that had led us to where we were now, the two of us – Will and I – standing side by side in the physic garden, looking down at a corpse.
It was Will, along with my apprentices Gabriel and Jenny, who found it. At first, they thought it was nothing but stones, old roots, bits of pipe. But Will had unearthed more corpses than any of us, having once been commissioned to empty St Saviour’s graveyard, and for him there could be no mistaking it. ‘Bones, Jem,’ he said, wiping his hands on his gardening apron. ‘Human bones.’ At that I had left my work in the glasshouse and come to see for myself: a ridge of ribs, dark with earth, gripped tightly by the roots of the deadly nightshade, as if the poison were determined to keep the corpse for its own.
Will and Gabriel had removed what parts of the plant they could, both of them wearing the thick leather gloves and aprons that the job demanded, for every part of Atropa belladonna is poisonous. The soil beneath seemed darker than the surrounding stuff, as if the flesh that had given the bones grace and form had leached into the ground in a dark ooze.
Once a part of St Saviour’s Infirmary in the dirty heart of London, the physic garden I now owned had been tended by my family for as long as anyone could remember. Its history was my history, and I could not help but feel that whatever crimes were hidden in its earth were mine to answer. I said nothing of this at that time, however, and we turned our faces to the ground, scraping carefully so as not to disturb the lie of the body. Overhead, the sky darkened. Gabriel lit a lantern and set it beside the hole. Beside the grave. The light shone yellow on our hands, and on the bones as we dug away the dirt.
‘It’s in a curious position,’ said Will. ‘There’s nothing restful about the way this person met their end.’
I could not disagree, for what we had uncovered was monstrous in appearance, the back arched, the chest flung upwards, the ribs splintered as if something had burst from its heart. The bones of the hands, still manacled by the nightshade’s roots, were claw-like, the fingers bent and clutching, the arms drawn up as if warding off an attacker. The head was thrown back, the dislocated jaw yawning wide. A fist of dark earth and a great tangle of roots plugged its scream.
‘We should send Gabriel for the constable,’ said Will. ‘The Watch goes down St Saviour’s Street at six and it’s almost that time—’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Let’s not be rash.’
‘Rash?’ said Will. ‘We’ve found a corpse. What is there to hesitate over?’
‘Evidently it’s been here for some time. Another few hours will make no difference. And I want to look at it more closely, to see what we can learn about it. The constable will do a very brisk job and all manner of observations will be obliterated by his clod-hopping feet.’ I bent my face close to the skull, the lantern in my hand. A thick, pale root, hairy and obscene, snaked in and out of the eye sockets. I saw a scrap of something damp and sticky-looking adhering to the left temple, and a wiry tuft of hair. Another root had forced the bones of the jaw apart, and they were thickly matted about the head and neck, the chest and ribs. The bones themselves were entirely without flesh, for although the heavy clay of London is the enemy of decay, my garden has been tended by apothecaries for centuries. Its earth is well drained and friable, its worms fat and healthy. Dead flesh would not last long in it.
‘When might the body have gone into the ground?’ said Will. ‘The same time this belladonna was planted, I presume?’
‘I imagine so,’ I replied. ‘The deadly nightshade has always been here, for as long as I can remember. It’s a lover of disturbed soil – graves are its speciality.’
Will looked down at the contorted figure. ‘It looks as though the bones themselves have spawned the weeds,’ he muttered.
‘Belladonna is not a weed.’ I could not help myself, though I knew what he meant. There was something grotesque about the way the pale roots gripped the bones, forcing them apart. The plant itself, pulled from the earth, lay wilting guiltily beside the hole.
‘Had the seeds been ingested?’ he added. ‘The berries? They look tempting enough. Until I met you I had no idea how poisonous they are.’
‘And you a country boy too. Did you not see them in the hedgerows of whatever yokel’s backwater you grew up in?’
‘Fortunately I only ate blackberries as a boy.’ He pulled his gloves back on. ‘And Bath is not a backwater, though I admit it is full of yokels. As for this noxious weed – and I will call it that – why do you grow it if it’s so toxic? I assume it has some medicinal uses?’
‘Pain relief, menstrual problems, peptic ulcers, inflammation. Motion sickness. It’s not without its uses though the dose must be carefully measured.’
‘What happens when you take too much?’
‘Madness and death,’ I replied. ‘The usual things.’
‘And you know this how?’ said Will. ‘Have you tried it?’
‘No,’ I said. I was lying, of course. I had taken deadly nightshade with Dr Bain during an evening of experimentation that still haunted me, and I had no wish to resurrect the memory. The demons I had seen, conjured up by my own imagination, were recorded in our notes. Even now, years later, I still could not bear to read them. I had recovered, but Dr Bain, fascinated and – as was his way – jealous that I had experienced what he had not, had taken an even larger dose. I had watched him run screaming into the night pursued, in his mind, by devils and creatures more diabolical than anything hell had to offer. In the end, to protect him from himself, I had held him down while the superintendent from Angel Meadow Asylum strapped him into a straitjacket. He raved for two days, so that we both thought his wits might be lost for ever. After that, he lay exhausted, hardly able to speak, too terrified to sleep for fear of what awaited him there. But I said nothing of this to Will. He already knew that I wanted to continue the work on poisons that I had started with Dr Bain, but as we were standing looking down at the bones of a corpse now did not seem the best time to share my anecdotes.
The skeleton itself was easy enough to disinter. We started at the skull and worked our way down, carefully removing the loose soil from about the bones with trowels and boot brushes. At the feet, however, we came to a halt. Will stood back, appalled.
‘Jem,’ he whispered. ‘I think there are other bones here too. Small ones.’ I peered into the hole. Five tiny finger bones grasped the dirt, the way a sleeping baby might hold tight to its coverlet.
Jenny, my junior apprentice, gasped as she peeped over Will’s shoulder. ‘A baby! Oh, the poor little mite.’ Jenny had come to us only recently. A refugee from a brothel on the waterfront near the docks, she had originally found a new home as apprentice apothecary on the Seamen’s Floating Hospital. When her master died she had come to live with us. She was, I guessed, no more than thirteen years of age, but I knew she had seen and done things that would make others blench. Dead babies were something with which she was sadly familiar.
‘It’s not a baby, Jenny,’ I said. ‘Not unless it’s a baby with a tail.’ I bent down, and from the small mass of bones we had unearthed I plucked up a skull – small, with gaping eye sockets and sharp pointed teeth. ‘It’s a monkey, though I’m not sure what kind.’
There was more too. ‘Look at those,’ said Will. ‘I’ve never seen anything like those before. Have you?’
I picked from the soil one of the objects he was pointing to. It was made of ivory, no bigger than a crab apple, smooth and globe-like in my hand. A perfect imitation of a human skull: rounded cranium, deep eye sockets, grinning teeth set in a carved, angular jawbone. More macabre still, there appeared to be a considerable number of them. I told Gabriel to fetch a pail of water from the pump near the glasshouse and he and Jenny washed them free of dirt. When we set them out side by side, I could see that their expressions varied slightly – this one had closer eye sockets, that one a missing tooth, another was without teeth altogether. Every one of them had a small hole, blocked with dirt, at each temple, as if they had once been strung up, one beside the other. All together there were some forty-five of them. The sight left all of us without words. I stuffed them in a sack so that we did not have to look at them, though even the clack, clack, clack they made as they rolled and shifted made me uneasy.
‘And what about this?’ said Gabriel. ‘Looks like a soup dish. Do you think it is?’
‘No,’ I said. Could the lad think of nothing but food? ‘I don’t think this was for soup. But it does look familiar.’ We had found it lying against the right leg of the skeleton, as if it had been tossed into the grave along with the skulls and the monkey: a shallow bowl, some twelve inches wide and three inches deep. Perhaps made of silver, it had grown black during its time underground, the patterns on its rim choked with dirt.
‘It’s for blood,’ said Jenny. She was wearing one of my old stovepipe hats, as she always was, and her eyes were dark beneath its crooked brim and the rough fringe of her hair. ‘When the physician comes.’
‘Is it?’ said Will.
‘Perhaps,’ I said. It certainly reminded me of the basins used by physicians when they bled a patient. Some bowls had an indentation, or lip of some kind, where the patient’s arm might rest. Some, like this one, did not. We’d had pewter ones at St Saviour’s that were just the same size and shape. ‘If the patient is lanced, or scarified, the blood might be collected in a vessel such as this,’ I said. ‘But we can’t be certain that’s what this one was for.’
‘What else might it be?’ said Will.
I shrugged. ‘I have no idea. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, that’s all.’
Night had fallen, the lantern light throwing long shadows across the grass. A mist was creeping up from the river, as it so often did during the winter, and the garden had taken on a gritty, indistinct appearance. I felt a sickness in my stomach that my physic garden, the one place I had always looked upon as a sanctuary from the evils of the city, was now tainted by death. And I could not turn my back on our discovery either, for it was my garden, my belladonna bushes, this skeleton was a part of my family’s past. If I had known where my questions would lead I would have pushed it straight back into the cold dark earth and stamped the sod down hard. But I did neither of those things. And so it began.
I told Jenny to bring around the handcart so that we might take the bones and other items back to the apothecary. I sent Gabriel to fetch the Watch, though there was little to be done at that hour of the night. The constable Gabriel brought to the physic garden showed little interest in our findings. ‘It’s remains, sir,’ he said, as if I had no idea what I was looking at. ‘Them’s human bones.’ He looked tired and uncomfortable. His hat, a black chimney pot lined with steel to deflect an assailant’s cudgel, seemed to weigh him down. He took it off and set it on the ground. Its sturdy construction meant that it might also be used to stand on, to see over a wall or in at a window, perhaps. This constable chose to use his as a stool, however, and he lowered himself onto it with a sigh, gingerly touching his finger to the red mark the thing had left on his forehead. ‘Oh dear, sir,’ he said, gazing at the tiny bones of the monkey. ‘Baby, is it, sir? P’raps this is a girl what’s fallen, sir. If you take my meaning. It’s not uncommon.’
‘It’s a monkey,’ I said. ‘These are monkey bones.’
‘I never liked monkeys,’ he replied. ‘And these other things.’ He gestured to the bowl and the collection of ivory skulls. ‘What might these be? Looks like his swag to me, sir. Some travelling gypsy fellow, no doubt. Stole some things, p’raps from a doctor? Who else might have a bag o’ little skulls? And we are in the old physic garden for St Saviour’s, you know.’
‘Are we?’ I said. The man was an idiot. Did he not know I had once been apothecary to St Saviour’s Infirmary? And what sort of a doctor owned ‘a bag of little skulls’? None that I had ever met, and I’d seen them all!
‘Why, yes sir.’ He gave me a pitying look. ‘This fellow’ll just be some sneak thief what came a cropper. Been dead a long time too, sir. Not much hope of finding anything out about him now, is there?’ He looked pleased with himself at having so readily dismissed the matter. ‘I’ll tell the magistrate, but I’m sure he’ll agree with me. Besides, we’ve enough to do with the recent dead, sir, never mind a set of old bones what’s probably come from the Infirmary. I mean, must be twenty, thirty years this’n’s been in the ground, judging by the state of him. Get the sexton at St Saviour’s to put him in the proper place. Graveyard’s just along the road.’
‘Might you be able to put this in the Police Gazette?’ said Will. ‘Someone might know something and come forward.’
‘We might be in the Gazette!’ breathed Gabriel. ‘Did you hear that, Jenny? Why, we’ll be famous across all London!’
‘Well? Might it be possible?’ I addressed the constable, but he was shaking his head.
‘Bless you sir, these bones ain’t important enough for that. Best just pass them over to the sexton like I said.’ He stood up and put his hat back on. ‘Lord, but this thing’s a burden. Makes my head ache. Chafes somethin’ rotten too.’
‘Try this.’ I fumbled in my satchel and pulled out a small pot of salve. ‘Comfrey, lavender, arnica in a base of beeswax and honey. Rub it on at night where your hat rubs the skin. I have a tincture of feverfew, skullcap and laudanum that you can try for the headaches too, if the salve doesn’t work, but that’s at the apothecary. Call in next time you’re passing. Fishbait Lane.’
‘Oh! Thank you, sir!’ He took the pot and sniffed warily at the contents. A smile creased his face. ‘Lavender! Reminds me of the smell of my mam’s laundry cupboard, sir. Loved hiding in the laundry, especially when she was after me with the strap.’ He pocketed the salve and pulled his tunic straight. ‘Well then, sir, I’ll see what I can do. If we’re lucky these here bones’ll be in the Gazette tomorrow. Might produce a bit of interest. These things usually do.’
We were all relieved to get back to my apothecary on Fishbait Lane. The air was warm, and sweet with the scent of cardamom, camomile and rose petals. Mrs Speedicut, who had once worked with me as the matron at St Saviour’s Infirmary, was sitting in front of the fire with her legs stretched out before her. She had been out of work for some months, and I had finally caved in and offered her temporary employment looking after Will while he was sick. Will had suffered a dose of whooping cough, combined with a bronchial infection, and it was a surprise to us all that he had recovered. Since then, I had employed the woman as a cleaner, though it seemed to me that she had done little more than doze in front of the fire, and complain that I would not let her smoke her evil-smelling tobacco in the shop.
I kicked the slattern’s chair. ‘Madam,’ I said. ‘Do I pay you to sleep?’
She opened her eyes and regarded us from between narrowed lids. ‘Mr Jem,’ she said. ‘And Mr Quartermain too. Ain’t you workin’, sir?’
‘No,’ said Will. ‘You may recall I am recovering from an illness.’
She grunted. ‘Whooping cough? That ain’t much to speak of. I’ve ’ad that many times. And the cholera. Not to mention the nirls, the bots, and the phlegm. Black phlegm,’ she said. ‘That were the worst.’
‘If you smoked less, madam, I believe your phlegm would be less black and cause you less trouble,’ said Will.
‘Stop your bickering,’ I said. ‘We have work to do. Clear this table, please. And close the shop. It is too late for customers now.’
On the apothecary table I set the bones out in order, from the cranium, to the phalanges, in the shape of the person they had once been. The monkey too I laid out as best I could. I wanted to examine them both as closely as possible, and I put lanterns about the table, and hung them from the ceiling, so that everything was illuminated. I took out my magnifying glass, and my notebook. The others watched in silence as I bent to my task.
‘Well,’ I said after a while. ‘It’s definitely a man.’
‘How can you tell?’ said Will.
‘A number of things. The bones of a male tend to be thicker, the areas of muscle attachment more defined than in females. It’s the cranium especially, though – forehead, eyes, jaw.’ I held up the skull, turning it this way and that. ‘Viewed in profile, female skulls have a more rounded forehead. You can see this one tends to slope backwards. And look at the supraorbital ridge—’
‘The ridge along the brow. It’s more prominent in males. The eye sockets of women are rounder, with sharp edges to the upper borders, whereas a male has squarer orbits. See here?’ I pointed the skull towards him. ‘The jaw too is square, the line between the outer edge and the ear is vertical. In females the edge of the jaw slopes more gently.’
‘Well, he was some six feet tall. Judging by the scrap of flesh and hair at his temple he had dark hair. The skull also tells us that he’d had a violent life.’ I ran my finger over the right eye socket, pressing down on a deep depression in the bone. ‘The bone has been crushed. Splintered. A violent blow to the head, across the eye. His cheek bone shows evidence of trauma too. And the nose.’
‘Perhaps a fall?’
‘Perhaps, though a fall might result in a broader area of trauma, especially on the eye socket. And it would have to be a pretty bad fall.’ I shrugged. ‘Either way I would expect this man to have been either blind in one eye, or to have lost the eye altogether. Probably the latter.’
‘And this is what killed him?’
‘No. This is an older injury. You can see where the bone has healed itself. There’s other evidence of violence too, also from some time before he died. A broken leg, a broken foot, a broken arm, shoulder, knee. Fingers missing from the right hand – well, half of the fingers. He would have had stumps at least.’
‘Perhaps we left some tiny finger bones in the ground,’ said Gabriel. ‘You know. The end bits.’
‘I think not,’ I said. ‘The bones I have here tell me that the fingers were lost some time ago. Some time before he met his end.’
‘Don’t like having a body on the table like that,’ said Mrs Speedicut suddenly. ‘Should be buried proper. Right away too!’ She eyed the blackened bleeding bowl, and the collection of ivory skulls which Jenny had set out before her in a grinning row upon the hearth. ‘Them especially,’ she said. ‘Ain’t Christian. Ain’t civilised.’
‘Christian?’ said Will. ‘What on earth does that have to do with it?’
‘Them skulls. That bowl. Them bones. Heathen, that’s what they are!’
‘This man will have been quite distinctive,’ I said. ‘Even in London. He was blind in one eye, and judging by the bones of his legs, he was a cripple too. He will have walked with a pronounced limp, or more likely with a stick or a crutch – perhaps two crutches. His front teeth were missing. He travelled with a monkey, and he was probably a beggar, or at least impoverished, as what man can work without the fingers of his right hand?’
‘Perhaps he was left-handed,’ said Gabriel. ‘I am.’
‘Perhaps,’ I said. ‘Though the balance of probability rests with his being right-handed, as most people are. The monkey might have been a way of earning money, as he was unable to earn it himself. Unless it was a companion.’
‘No wedding ring?’ said Will.
‘No. But that’s not uncommon.’
‘So how did he die if it was not by these wounds?’
‘I’m not sure,’ I replied. ‘This is the part that perplexes me. You recall the arrangement of the bones as we found them? The head thrown back, the arms clutched upwards, the spine arched so as to be bent towards the heels?’
‘Recall it?’ said Will. ‘I will never forget it.’
‘From the way his jaw was torn apart and writhed about with roots I suspect his mouth was filled with nightshade berries, though I cannot be certain. As for the position in which he was lying there are only two things that might cause a body to spasm in such a way. The first is lockjaw. The second is strychnine poisoning.’
‘And which interpretation do you favour?’
‘Lockjaw would suggest misadventure,’ I said. ‘Dirt enters a wound. Certainly there may well be tetanus somewhere in the ground in the garden. But the illness doesn’t manifest immediately, and what is noticeable about tetanus is that the muscles relax after death. This man’s muscles had not relaxed.’
‘Perhaps he was buried alive,’ said Will.
‘I think not, but I’ll come to that in a moment.’
‘Strychnine is a different matter entirely.’
‘So he was poisoned?’
‘Quite likely. Strychnine is found in the fruits of Strychnos nux-vomica. The plant is native to India but can be grown in many other places. I have some in the glasshouse. It’s one of my most poisonous.’
‘Why on earth do you grow it if it’s so poisonous?’
I shrugged. ‘We use it to kill the rats.’
‘It has no medicinal uses?’
‘It can improve athletic performance if used in strictly controlled doses and administered by an expert, but it has no real medicinal value. The poison acts quickly too, so you have no time to go anywhere or do anything. The point I’m trying to make is that the victim dies in agony, the body spasming back and forth uncontrollably while the poison courses through the veins. I have heard of the bones snapping under the strain, so vicious are the contractions of the muscles. It’s a terrible and agonising
way to die, and a fearful death to behold. And, unlike tetanus, the body remains in its contorted position after death. For that reason alone, I think that is what we’re looking at here.’
‘And there’s no antidote?’
‘Not really. An emetic might work if only a little of the fruit, or the poison, was ingested.’
‘But it could be an accident?’ Will persisted.
‘You’re suggesting he went into the glasshouse, plucked the admittedly attractive orange fruit of the strychnos, and ate a few to see how they tasted?’
‘It’s possible, isn’t it?’
‘It’s possible,’ I said. ‘Though they smell and taste horrible. But is it probable? Anyway, there’s more.’ I put the skull down and picked up one of the ribs. ‘There are a number of more recent wounds. This is the third rib on the right-hand side. You see this?’ I pointed to a small v-shaped mark on the edge of the bone. ‘This is the mark of a knife blade. You can see that it’s recent, or at least was done immediately prior to, or after, death, as the bone has not healed itself. Sternum, ribs, the bones of the lower arm – all bear marks like this.’
‘Meaning, Will, that this man was stabbed. Over and over again. I have counted five wounds, at least. Five places where the blade of a knife nicked the bones. Some are deeper than others, as if some of the blows were more forceful, but there is no mistaking them. I cannot say what sort of knife it was – my guess, given the location, would be that it was a pruning knife, not unlike this one.’ I held up my own knife. It was one that my father had given me. I k. . .
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