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