I’ve been working, and editing, and writing, and editing, and researching, and editing, pretty much non-stop lately. My next book, The Half Killed, is due out later this year. It takes place in the late nineteenth century, in London. A former spiritualist, Dorothea Hawes, is forced to contend with a series of murders – many of them connected to herself – and seek to find the culprit, who may or may not be of this world.
And so, I give you an excerpt – a rather lengthy one! – of the first chapter. Okay, pretty much the entire first chapter. Because I’m nice like that.
The Half Killed
The body doesn’t move. I don’t expect it to, and yet I’m transfixed all the same. My eyes search the thick block of a neck for the slightest vibration that would indicate a flow of blood beneath the skin. The skin itself is enough to intrigue me, cast in a pallor that no virulent illness could begin to imitate. It is this shade, this absence of color that makes the deep bruises beneath the jaw stand out, curving in a mockery of the smile that still graces the frozen features of the dead man’s face.
A push from behind forces me to take a step forward, my heel slipping on the greasy cobbles. It is a small group of onlookers gathered around the scene, but no one lingers for more than a passing glance. The poor man has nothing to recommend him. See there? The scuffs on his boots? And look at the patches on his coat, the fabric worn so thin it could lead a double life as a strip of cheesecloth. And what about his face? Oh, it’s not a handsome one. A face that could earn naught but a mother’s love, as is often said. And so the pedestrian moves on, their pace quickening until the shout of a seller or the rumble of a passing dray erases the memory of the dead man from their mind.
I know that I shouldn’t stay very long myself. Another glance from the constable, and I wonder if I’ve already worn out my welcome. His uneasiness grows the longer I stand here, and when his partner finally joins him, there is a great deal of whispering, punctuated by more than a few looks in my direction.
Not only because I’m a woman, surely. But because I am a young woman, modestly dressed, wandering the streets before the first rays of the sun have touched the dome of St. Paul’s. And most shockingly of all, because the sight of a recently deceased man sprawled across the edge of the pavement does nothing to disturb my feminine sensibilities.
And why should it? There’s nothing particularly gruesome about the scene. No blood, no other visible marks or wounds apart from the row of dark bruises beneath the unshaven jaw. If the eyes weren’t open, gazing up at the channel of brightening sky, I could almost fool myself with the belief that he had simply passed out, that any moment, he’ll groan and grumble back to life, waving his hand to clear away the inebriated haze that settled on his mind some hours before dawn.
But he doesn’t move, and one of the constables takes the liberty of borrowing a tarpaulin from a local shopkeeper, the better to shield the inert form from view. Move along, my mind tells me. Nothing more to see. And though I’m tempted to argue, I put on my best show of moving on, of slipping into the crowd and allowing their rapid pace to carry me back toward home.