printed copy

The Anatomist's Apprentice: A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery

Tessa Harris

ISBN 9780758266989
Publish Date 12/27/2011
Format
Categories Kensington, Historical

In the first in a stunning new mystery series set in eighteenth-century England, Tessa Harris introduces Dr. Thomas Silkstone, anatomist and pioneering forensic detective…

The death of Sir Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man—except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia.

Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, where his unconventional methods only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine Sir Edward’s corpse. But it is not only the dead, but also the living, to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor’s investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies…

Advance praise for Tessa Harris and The Anatomist’s Apprentice

'"Tessa Harris has delivered a deftly plotted debut. Just when you think the puzzle is solved, she reveals yet another surprising twist which leaves you marveling at her ingenuity." --Carol Carr, author of India Black

"CSI meets The Age of Reason with a well-drawn, intriguing cast of characters, headed by the brilliant Dr. Thomas Silkstone. Full of twists and turns, Tessa Harris's debut mystery can confound the most adept reader. Vivid details pulled me right into the world of early forensic sleuthing. A page turner!" --Karen Harper

“Tessa Harris takes us on a fascinating journey into the shadowy world of anatomist Thomas Silkstone, a place where death holds no mystery and all things are revealed.” –Victoria Thompson, author of Murder on Sisters’ Row

"From dissection table to drawing room, this visit to late eighteenth-century England is chock full of intriguing twists and turns. Along with the visiting surgeon from the colonies, Dr. Thomas Silkstone, readers will find themselves challenged by the who, the how, and the why of murder at an idyllic Oxfordshire manor house." --Kate Emerson

Chapter One

The County of Oxfordshire, England, in the Year of Our Lord, 1780

A stifled scream came first, shattering the oppressive silence. It was followed by the sound of a heavy footfall. Lady Lydia Farrell rushed out into the corridor. A trail of muddy footprints led to her brother’s bedchamber.

“Edward,” she called.

A heartbeat later she was knocking at his door, a rising sense of panic taking hold. No reply. Without waiting she rushed in to find Hannah Lovelock, the maidservant, paralyzed by terror.

Over in the corner of the large room, darkened by shadows, the young master was shaking violently, his head tossing from side to side. Moving closer Lydia could see her brother’s hair was disheveled and his shirt half open, but it was the color of his skin as his face turned toward the light from the window that shocked her most. Creamy yellow, like onyx, it was as if he wore a mask. She gasped at the sight.

“What is it, Edward? Are you unwell?” she cried, hurrying toward him. He did not answer but fixed her with a stare, as if she were a stranger; then he began to retch, his shoulders heaving with violent convulsions.

In a panic she ran over to the jug on his table and poured him water, but his hand flew out at her, knocking the glass away and it smashed into pieces on the floor. It was then she noticed his eyes. They were straining from their sockets, bulging wildly as if trying to escape, while the skin around his mouth was turning blue as he clutched his throat and clenched his teeth, like some rabid dog. Suddenly, and most terrifying of all, blood started to spew from his mouth and flecked his lips.

Hannah screamed again, this time almost hysterically, as her master lunged forward, his spindly arms trying to grab the window drapes before he fell to the ground, convulsing as if shaken by the very devil himself.

As he lay writhing on the floor, gurgling through crimson- tinged bile, Lydia ran to him, bending over his scrawny body as it juddered uncontrollably, but his left leg lashed out and kicked her hard. She yelped in pain and steadied herself against the bed, but she knew that she alone could be of no comfort, so she fled from the room, shrieking frantically for the servants.

“Fetch the physician. For God’s sake, call Dr. Fairweather!” she screamed, her voice barely audible over the howls that rose ever louder from the bedchamber.

Downstairs there was pandemonium. The unearthly cries, punctuated by the mistress’s staccato pleas, could now be heard in the hallway of Boughton Hall. The footman and the butler emerged and began to climb the stairs, while Captain Michael Farrell put his head around the doorway of his study to see his wife, ashen-faced, on the half landing.

“What is it, in God’s name?” he cried.

There were screams now from another housemaid as more servants gathered in the hallway, listening with mounting horror to the banshee wails coming from the young master’s bedchamber. The house dogs began to bark, too, and their sounds joined together with Lydia’s cries for help in a cacophony of terror that soon seemed to reach a crescendo. All was chaos and fear for a few seconds more and then, just as suddenly as it had left, silence descended on Boughton Hall once more.

Dr. Fairweather arrived too late. He found the young man lying sprawled across the bed, his clothes stained with slashes of blood. His face was contorted into a grotesque grimace, with eyes wide open, as if witnessing some scene of indescribable torment, and his swollen tongue was half protruding from purple lips.

The next few minutes were spent prodding and probing, but at the end of the examination the physician’s conclusion was decidedly inconclusive.

“He has a yellowish tinge,” he noted.

“But what could have done this?” pleaded Lydia, her face tear-stained and drawn.

Dr. Fairweather shook his head. “Lord Crick suffered many ailments. Any one, or several, could have resulted in his demise,” he volunteered rather unhelpfully.

Mr. Peabody, the apothecary, came next. He swore that he had added no more and no less to his lordship’s purgative than was usual. “His death is as much of a mystery to me as it is to Dr. Fairweather,” he concluded.

News of the untimely demise of the Right Honorable The Earl Crick was quick to seep out from Boughton Hall and spread across to nearby villages and into the Oxfordshire countryside beyond within hours. Without a surgeon to apply a tourniquet to stem the flow, it gushed like blood from a severed artery. And of course the tale became even more shocking in the telling in the inns and alehouses.

“ ’Twas his eyes.”

“I ’eard they turned red.”

“I ’eard his flesh went green.”

“ ’E were shrieking like a thing possessed.”

“Maybe ’e were.”

“Mayhap ’e saw the devil ’imself.”

“Claiming his own, no doubt.”

There was a brief pause as the drinkers pondered the salience of this last remark, until suddenly as one they chorused: “Aye. Aye.”

The six men were huddled around the dying embers of the fire at an inn on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. It was autumn and an early chill was setting in.

“And what of ’er, poor creature?”

“ ’Tis said ’e lashed out at ’er.”

“Tried to kill ’er, ’is own flesh and blood.”

“And she so delicate an’ all, like spun gossamer.”

“ ’E was a bad ’un, all right,” said the miller.

Without exception his five drinking companions nodded as their thoughts turned to the various injustices most of them had suffered at their dead lord’s hands.

“ ’E’ll be burning in hell now,” ventured the blacksmith. Another chorus of approval was rendered.

“Good riddance, that’s what I say,” said the carpenter, and everyone raised their tankards. It seemed to be a sentiment that was shared by all those contemplating the young man’s fate.

For a moment or two all was quiet as they supped their tepid ale. It was the blacksmith who broke the silence. “ ’Course you know who’ll be celebrating the most, don’t ye?” He leaned forward in a conspiratorial gesture.

The men looked at one another, then nodded quickly in unison at the realization of this new supposition that had been tossed, like some bone, into their circle.

“’E’ll be rubbing his ’ands with glee,” smirked the miller, sucking at his pipe.

“That ’e will, my friends,” agreed the blacksmith. “That ’e will,” and he emptied his tankard and set it down with a loud thud on the table in front of him, with all the emphatic righteousness of a man who thinks he knows everything, but in reality knows very little at all.

Outside in the fading light of the marketplace, the women were talking, too. “Like some mad dog, he was, tearing at his own clothes,” said the lady’s maid, who heard it from her cousin, who knew the stable lad to the brother of the vicar who had attended at the hall on the night of the death.

She was imparting her blood-curdling tale to anyone who would listen to her as she bought ribbon for her mistress at Brandwick market, and there were plenty who did.

So it was that inside the low-beamed taverns and in bustling market squares, in restrained drawing rooms and raucous gaming halls around the county of Oxfordshire, the death was the talk of milkmaids and merchants and gossips and governesses alike. Some spoke of the young nobleman’s eyes, how they had wept blood, and of his mouth, how it had slavered and foamed and how foul utterances and curses had been spewed forth.

The more circumspect would simply say the young earl had died in extreme agony and their thoughts were with his grieving family. Nevertheless, from the gummy old widow to the sober squire, they all listened intently and passed the story on in shades as varied as the turning leaves on the autumn beeches; on each occasion embellishing it with thin threads of conjecture that were strengthened every time they were entwined.

Boughton Hall was a fine, solid country house that was built in the late 1600s by the Right Honorable The Earl Crick’s greatgreat- grandfather, the first earl. It nestled in a large hollow in the midst of the Chiltern Hills, surrounded by hundreds of acres of parkland and beech woods. Its imposing chimneystacks and pediments had seen better days and the facade was looking less than pristine, but the neglect that it had endured over the past four years under young Lord Crick’s stewardship could be easily remedied with some cosmetic care.

Lady Lydia Farrell loved her ancestral home, but now it was fast taking on the mantle of a fortress whose walls stood between her and the volleys of lies and insinuation that were being fired at her and her husband since her brother’s death. The vicar, the Reverend Lightfoot, tried to comfort her as they sat in the drawing room one evening three days later. His face was mottled, like some ancient, stained map, and he rolled out well- practiced words of comfort as if they were barrels of sack.

“Time,” he told her, “is the great physician.”

She looked up at him from her chair and smiled weakly. His words, although well meant, did not impress her. She forbore his trite platitudes politely but remained silent, fully aware that while time may have been a great physician, it was not a good anatomist. The longer her brother lay in his shroud that held within it the secrets of his death, the sooner time would turn from a physician into an enemy.

About Tessa Harris:

Since leaving Oxford University with a History degree, Tessa Harris has been a journalist and editor, contributing to many national publications such as The Times and The Telegraph. She has also acted as a literary publicist for several well-known authors. Winning a European-wide screenplay writing competition led to the optioning of a screenplay, set in 18th-century England. Using her researches into the period, she wrote The Anatomist’s Apprentice.

Maureen McLean Photography

Shadow of the Raven Q&A

At the end of The Lazarus Curse you left your readers hanging on a cliff. Is that situation resolved in Shadow of the Raven?

Yes. In fact a few readers asked me to tell them what happens next! Obviously I’m not going to let on, save to say that while the course of true love does not run smoothly in Shadow of the Raven, it comes a little closer to a resolution.

Romantic Times said: “The twists and turns never stop, making Shadow of the Raven impossible to put down”. How do you keep your plots boiling?

There’s some careful planning, but there’s also an element of chance, too. A word, a phrase or a situation may trigger something completely different in my mind. The plot has sometimes turned on a sixpence and gone off in another direction. I very often start off with a murderer, only to change the identity of the culprit at the end. It certainly makes the writing process exciting for me and, I hope, it keeps the reader guessing all the time, too.

Each novel seems to have a different theme or backdrop. What is it in Shadow of the Raven?

The latter half of the 18th century was a time of incredible social upheaval in the countryside. In England it also saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. The villagers and commoners on the Boughton estate face eviction in this novel, as well as having to deal with the fall-out from at least one murder deep in the woods, as well as being rocked by some shattering news.

Your research appears very detailed. How do you go about it?

Most authors of historical novels will tell you that the research is absolutely the best bit! For ‘Shadow’ I visited some wonderful open air museums that focused on rural crafts and traditions. I talked to people who practice the ancient crafts of coppicing and charcoal making, too. I also went on a tour of mills in the Cotswolds, as well as trawling through lots of old documents. Fascinating stuff!

What’s next for Dr Silkstone?

I’m currently working on the sixth novel in this series. The past comes back to haunt Thomas and Lydia in this one. Fans of The Anatomist’s Apprentice will recognize some of the characters and it’s going to get very nasty!


Average Customer Review

Based on 5 reviews


Customer Review

A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery! (Monday, February 20, 2012)
Reviewer: Kathy Jund

The Anatomist’s Apprentice is the first installment in what promises to be an exciting new mystery series from debut English author Tessa Harris. In the Anatomist’s Apprentice Ms. Harris introduces us to her main character, Dr. Thomas Silkstone. Dr. Silkstone is a young American doctor of Anatomy originally from Philadelphia who travels to 18th Century London to garner additional training from the world famous surgeon who holds court in England’s most prestigious teaching college. Through a twisted turn of events, Dr. Silkstone finds himself embroiled in determining the cause of what appears a questionable death of a member of the aristocracy. In a race against time, Thomas’s analytical mind and hunger for the truth drives him on an exciting journey to unearth the clues that will lead him in identifying the true cause of death. Dr. Silverstone’s unyielding search, which contains both a personal as well as a professional reasoning to determine whether natural causes or foul play is at hand, finds himself drawn to look for answers outside of what the body is telling him. Thomas’s unrelenting inquiries find him the target of someone who means to put an end to his investigative pursuits at any cost. Dr. Silverstone’s actions considered beyond the traditional scope of his duties as an anatomist provide us with an early glimpse of the field that will soon evolve into modern day Forensic Science Investigation. A fast-paced story with many twists and turns that will keep you enthralled until the final pages. The accolades for this book speak the truth; you will not be able to put this book down. As we find ourselves captivated by Ms. Harris’ first installment, one can only wait impatiently for the next chapters in the investigative adventures of Dr. Thomas Silkstone!

A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery! (Monday, February 20, 2012)
Reviewer: Kathy Jund

The Anatomist’s Apprentice is the first installment in what promises to be an exciting new mystery series from debut English author Tessa Harris. In the Anatomist’s Apprentice Ms. Harris introduces us to her main character, Dr. Thomas Silkstone. Dr. Silkstone is a young American doctor of Anatomy originally from Philadelphia who travels to 18th Century London to garner additional training from the world famous surgeon who holds court in England’s most prestigious teaching college. Through a twisted turn of events, Dr. Silkstone finds himself embroiled in determining the cause of what appears a questionable death of a member of the aristocracy. In a race against time, Thomas’s analytical mind and hunger for the truth drives him on an exciting journey to unearth the clues that will lead him in identifying the true cause of death. Dr. Silverstone’s unyielding search, which contains both a personal as well as a professional reasoning to determine whether natural causes or foul play is at hand, finds himself drawn to look for answers outside of what the body is telling him. Thomas’s unrelenting inquiries find him the target of someone who means to put an end to his investigative pursuits at any cost. Dr. Silverstone’s actions considered beyond the traditional scope of his duties as an anatomist provide us with an early glimpse of the field that will soon evolve into modern day Forensic Science Investigation. A fast-paced story with many twists and turns that will keep you enthralled until the final pages. The accolades for this book speak the truth; you will not be able to put this book down. As we find ourselves captivated by Ms. Harris’ first installment, one can only wait impatiently for the next chapters in the investigative adventures of Dr. Thomas Silkstone!

Was it a natural death or was it murder??? (Monday, February 13, 2012)
Reviewer: Book Faerie

Was Edward's death natural or was it murder?

This is the first Dr. Thomas Silkstone mystery and it's a really tangled tale. Set in eighteenth century England, forensics is not a developed science yet. Lydia's brother's death was horrible and she's just not sure that he wasn't poisoned. So she approaches an anatomist and asks him to see what he can find.

Thomas has to work with a dessicated body, but he gets samples to test for various chemical reactions in an effort to determine cause of death. What he finds out is that he's proven the known causes of death have not happened. But he also believes Edward didn't die naturally.

Ms. Harris does a wonderful job of muddying up the water and giving you no real leads. Even a confession by a suspected murderer does not lead to where it should. What she did, didn't kill him. As the story moves along, more people die. And there is more than one murderer...

This is very interesting tale with evil all about. The characters are well developed and have many layers of personality. Edwards' killer was not even on my suspect list and the method of murder was was impossible to detect in that era.

If you like a good twisted tale this one will keep you going. Grab yourself a copy and sit down for a good read.

Happy reading.

Eighteenth Century CSI (Monday, January 30, 2012)
Reviewer: Linda Hasper

The science that we now accept as truth has not always been seen as factual. Anatomy was not always an accepted science and in its early years was even viewed with suspicion. The Anatomist’s Apprentice is set in eighteenth century England when the science of anatomy was young and just being pioneered. It had yet to become accepted as legal evidence. Against this background, we meet Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a transplant from Philadelphia who comes to London to study anatomy with a doctor in London.
He is asked to look into the death of a young Lord in Oxfordshire and he proceeds in a scientific manner, ruling out causes and trying to discover the true reason for the death. He peels back layers of deception as deftly as he peels back layers of flesh. His methods are met with suspicion and doubt but eventually clear the innocent. There is more to this mystery as he persists to find the guilty party.
Well-plotted, leaving no loose ends, the author leads us through facts and false accusations to uncover the real killer and the true motive. The story moves along at a good pace with an interesting plotline and good writing. We ourselves are treated to descriptions of the insides of the human body as Dr. Silkstone slices and dices his cadavers. The author has a little fun with the anatomy description, giving us this image of a pompous doctor: “As an inadequately drained abscess discharges pus, so superciliousness seeped from every pore of this affected little man.” Thomas Silkstone is a likable doctor and detective. His character is based on the many students who came to England and Scotland to study anatomy during the late eighteenth century, and the plot is inspired by an actual murder trial which was the first ever to have an anatomist called as an expert witness. This is the first offering of an intended series which looks like it will be something to follow. Very enjoyable, and a good mystery.

Anatomist cuts through deception in new mystery (Friday, December 23, 2011)

The science that we now accept as truth has not always been seen as factual. Anatomy was not always an accepted science and in its early years was even viewed with suspicion. The Anatomist’s Apprentice is set in eighteenth century England when the science of anatomy was young and just being pioneered. It had yet to become accepted as legal evidence. Against this background, we meet Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a transplant from Philadelphia who comes to London to study anatomy with a doctor in London.
He is asked to look into the death of a young Lord in Oxfordshire and he proceeds in a scientific manner, ruling out causes and trying to discover the true reason for the death. He peels back layers of deception as deftly as he peels back layers of flesh. His methods are met with suspicion and doubt but eventually clear the innocent. There is more to this mystery as he persists to find the guilty party.
Well-plotted, leaving no loose ends, the author leads us through facts and false accusations to uncover the real killer and the true motive. The story moves along at a good pace with an interesting plotline and good writing. We ourselves are treated to descriptions of the insides of the human body as Dr. Silkstone slices and dices his cadavers. The author has a little fun with the anatomy description, giving us this image of a pompous doctor: “As an inadequately drained abscess discharges pus, so superciliousness seeped from every pore of this affected little man.” Thomas Silkstone is a likable doctor and detective. His character is based on the many students who came to England and Scotland to study anatomy during the late eighteenth century, and the plot is inspired by an actual murder trial which was the first ever to have an anatomist called as an expert witness. This is the first offering of an intended series which looks like it will be something to follow. Very enjoyable, and a good mystery.


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