Authors: Anne Perry
A Fawcett Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1991 by Anne Perry
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Fawcett Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Fawcett is a registered trademark and the Fawcett colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-85131
“[A] devious affair of passion and political intrigue in Victorian London.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“So pulsates with the sights and sounds of Victorian London that the reader soon gets caught up in Anne Perry’s picaresque story of life, love, and murder that involves both the upper and lower classes of that colorful era.”
—The Pittsburgh Press
SILENCE IN HANOVER CLOSE
“[A] complex, gripping and highly satisfying mystery … An adroit blend of thick London atmosphere and a convincing cast … A totally surprising yet wonderfully plausible finale.”
DEATH IN THE DEVIL’S ACRE
“An exquisitely detailed addition to Perry’s outstanding series.”
By Anne Perry
Published by The Random House Publishing Group:
Featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt:
THE CATER STREET HANGMAN
DEATH IN THE DEVILS ACRE
SILENCE IN HANOVER CLOSE
THE HYDE PARK HEADSMAN
HALF MOON STREET
THE WHITECHAPEL CONSPIRACY
LONG SPOON LANE
BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS
Featuring William Monk:
THE FACE OF A STRANGER
A DANGEROUS MOURNING
DEFEND AND BETRAY
A SUDDEN, FEARFUL DEATH
THE SINS OF THE WOLF
CAIN HIS BROTHER
WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE
THE SILENT CRY
A BREACH OF PROMISE
THE TWISTED ROOT
SLAVES OF OBSESSION
FUNERAL IN BLUE
DEATH OF A STRANGER
THE SHIFTING TIDE
The World War I Novels:
NO GRAVES AS YET
SHOULDER THE SKY
ANGELS IN THE GLOOM
AT SOME DISPUTED BARRICADE
WE SHALL NOT SLEEP
The Christmas Novels:
A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
A CHRISTMAS VISITOR
A CHRISTMAS GUEST
A CHRISTMAS SECRET
A CHRISTMAS BEGINNING
A CHRISTMAS GRACE
To Meg MacDonald, for her friendship
and her unfailing faith in me
to Meg Davis, for her friendship
and her guidance and work.
at the smoking ruins of the house, oblivious of the steady rain drenching him, plastering his hair over his forehead and running between his turned-up coat collar and his knitted muffler in a cold dribble down his back. He could still feel the heat coming from the mounds of blackened bricks. The water dripped from broken arches and sizzled where it hit the embers, rising in thin curls of steam.
Even from what was left of it he could see that it had been a gracious building, somebody’s home, well constructed and elegant. Now there was little left but the servants’ quarters.
Beside him Constable James Murdo shifted from one foot to the other. He was from the local Highgate station and he resented his superiors having called in a man from the city, even one with as high a reputation as Pitt’s. They had hardly had a chance to deal with it themselves; there was no call to go sending for help this early—whatever the case proved to be. But his opinion had been ignored, and here was Pitt, scruffy, ill-clad apart from his boots, which were beautiful. His pockets bulged with nameless rubbish, his gloves were odd, and his face was smudged with soot and creased with sadness.
“Reckon it started almost midnight, sir,” Murdo said, to show that his own force was efficient and had already done all that could be expected. “A Miss Dalton, elderly lady down on St. Alban’s Road, saw it when she woke at about quarter past one. It was already burning fiercely and she raised the alarm, sent her maid to Colonel Anstruther’s next door. He has one of those telephone instruments. And they were insured, so the fire brigade arrived about twenty minutes later, but there wasn’t much they could do. By then all the main house was alight. They got water from the Highgate Ponds”—he waved his arm—“just across the fields there.”
Pitt nodded, picturing the scene in his mind, the fear, the blistering heat driving the men backwards, the frightened horses, the canvas buckets passed from hand to hand, and the uselessness of it all. Everything would be shrouded in smoke and red with the glare as sheets of flame shot skywards and beams exploded with a roar, sending sparks high into the darkness. The stench of burning was still in the air, making the eyes smart and the back of the throat ache.
Unconsciously he wiped at a piece of smut on his cheek, and made it worse.
“And the body?” he asked.
Suddenly rivalry vanished as Murdo remembered the men stumbling out with the stretcher, white-faced. On it had been grotesque remains, burned so badly it was no longer even whole—and yet hideously, recognizably human. Murdo found his voice shaking as he replied.
“We believe it was Mrs. Shaw, sir; the wife of the local doctor, who owns the house. He’s also the police surgeon, so we got a general practitioner from Hampstead, but he couldn’t tell us much. But I don’t think anyone could. Dr. Shaw’s at a neighbor’s now, a Mr. Amos Lindsay.” He nodded up the Highgate Rise towards West Hill. “That house.”
“Was he hurt?” Pitt asked, still looking at the ruins.
“No sir. He was out on a medical call. Woman giving birth—Dr. Shaw was there best part of the night. Only heard about this when he was on the way home.”
“Servants?” Pitt turned away at last and looked at Murdo. “Seems as if that part of the house was the least affected.”
“Yes sir; all the servants escaped, but the butler was very nastily burned and he’s in hospital now; the St. Pancras Infirmary, just south of the cemetery. Cook’s in a state of shock and being looked after by a relative over on the Seven Sisters Road. Housemaid’s weeping all the time and says she should never ’ave left Dorset, and wants to go back. Maid of all work comes in by the day.”
“But they are all accounted for, and none hurt except the butler?” Pitt persisted.
“That’s right, sir. Fire was in the main house. The servants’ wing was the last to catch, and the firemen got them all out.” He shivered in spite of the smoldering wood and rubble in front of them and the mild September rain, easing now, and a watery afternoon sun catching the trees across the fields in Bishop’s Wood. The wind was light and southerly, blowing up from the great city of London, where Kensington gardens were brilliant with flowers, nursemaids in starched aprons paraded their charges up and down the walks, bandsmen played stirring tunes. Carriages bowled along the Mall and fashionable ladies waved to each other and displayed the latest hats, and dashing ladies of less than perfect reputation cantered up Rotten Row in immaculate habits and made eyes at the gentlemen.
The Queen, dressed in black, still mourning the death of Prince Albert twenty-seven years ago, had secluded herself at Windsor.
And in the alleys of Whitechapel a madman disemboweled women, mutilated their faces and left their bodies grotesque and blood-drenched on the pavements—the popular press would soon call him Jack the Ripper.
Murdo hunched his shoulders and pulled his helmet a little straighter. “Just Mrs. Shaw that was killed, Inspector. And the fire seems, from what we can tell, to have started in at least four different places at once, and got a hold immediately, like the curtains had lamp oil on them.” The muscles tightened in his young face. “You might spill oil on one
curtain by accident, but not in four different rooms, and all of them catch alight at the same time and no one know about it. It has to be deliberate.”
Pitt said nothing. It was because it was murder that he was standing here in the mangled garden beside this eager and resentful young constable with his fair skin soot-smudged and his eyes wide with shock and the pity of what he had seen.
“The question is,” Murdo said quietly, “was it poor Mrs. Shaw they meant to kill—or was it the doctor?”
“There are a great many things we shall have to find out,” Pitt answered grimly. “We’ll begin with the fire chief.”
“We’ve got his statement in the police station, sir. That’s about half a mile back up the road.” Murdo spoke a little stiffly, reminded of his own colleagues again.
Pitt followed him and in silence they walked. A few pale leaves fluttered along the pavement and a hansom cab rattled by. The houses were substantial. Respectable people with money lived here in considerable comfort on the west side of the road leading to the center of Highgate, with its public houses, solicitors’ offices, shops, the water works, Pond Square, and the huge, elegant cemetery spreading to the southeast. Beyond the houses were fields on both sides, green and silent.