C Harris: Where Shadows Dance

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C Harris Where Shadows Dance
  • Название:
    Where Shadows Dance
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  • Жанр:
    Иронический детектив / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-1-101-47594-2
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Where Shadows Dance: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Regency London: July 1812. That’s the challenge confronting C.S. Harris’s aristocratic soldier-turned-sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr when his friend, surgeon and “anatomist” Paul Gibson, illegally buys the cadaver of a young man from London’s infamous body snatchers. A rising star at the Foreign Office, Mr. Alexander Ross was reported to have died of a weak heart. But when Gibson discovers a stiletto wound at the base of Ross’s skull, he can turn only to Sebastian for help in catching the killer. Described by all who knew him as an amiable young man, Ross at first seems an unlikely candidate for murder. But as Sebastian’s search takes him from the Queen’s drawing rooms in St. James’s Palace to the embassies of Russia, the United States, and the Turkish Empire, he plunges into a dangerous shadow land of diplomatic maneuvering and international intrigue, where truth is an elusive commodity and nothing is as it seems. Meanwhile, Sebastian must confront the turmoil of his personal life. Hero Jarvis, daughter of his powerful nemesis Lord Jarvis, finally agrees to become his wife. But as their wedding approaches, Sebastian can’t escape the growing realization that not only Lord Jarvis but Hero herself knows far more about the events surrounding Ross’s death than they would have him believe. Then a second body is found, badly decomposed but bearing the same fatal stiletto wound. And Sebastian must race to unmask a ruthless killer who is now threatening the life of his reluctant bride and their unborn child.

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C. S. Harris

Where Shadows Dance

To my mother,

Bernadine Wegmann Proctor,

1917-2010

The old tree groans to the blast; The falling branch resounds. The wind drives the clung thorn Along the sighing grass; He shakes amid the night. Dark, dusky, howling is night, Cloudy, windy, full of ghosts; The dead are abroad; my friends Receive me from the night.

—from “The Six Bards,” James MacPherson, 1736—1796

Chapter 1

 Friday, 24 July 1812

A cool wind gusted up, rustling the branches of the trees overhead and bringing with it the unmistakable clatter of wooden wheels approaching over cobblestones. Standing just outside the open gate to the alley, Paul Gibson doused his lantern, his eyes straining as he peered into the fog-swirled darkness. Thick clouds bunched overhead, obscuring the moon and stars and promising more rain. He could see nothing but high, rough stone walls and a refuse-choked muddy lane curving away into the mist.

A dog barked somewhere in the night. In spite of himself, Gibson shivered. It was a dirty business, this. But until the government revised its laws on human dissection, anatomists like Gibson could either resign themselves to ignorance or meet the resurrection men in the darkest hours before dawn.

Paul Gibson was not fond of ignorance.

He was a slim, dark-haired man of medium height, Irish born and in his thirty-second year. Trained as a surgeon, he’d honed his skills on the battlefields of Europe. But a French cannonball that shattered the lower part of one leg had left him with recurring pain and a weakness for the sweet relief to be found in poppies. Now he shared his knowledge of anatomy by teaching at hospitals like St. Thomas’s and St. Bartholomew’s, as well as working out of his small surgery here at the base of Tower Hill.

The dog barked again, followed this time by a man’s low curse. A two-wheeled cart loomed out of the mist, the rawboned mule between the poles snorting and jibing at the bit when the driver drew up with a guttural, “Whoa there, ye bloomin’ idiot. Where ye think yer goin’? We got one more delivery t’ make before ye can head home t’ yer barn.”

A tall, skeletally thin man in striped trousers and a natty coat jumped from the cart and tipped his top hat in a flourishing bow. As he straightened, a waft of gin underlaid with the sweet scent of decay carried on the wind. “We got him fer ye, Doctor,” said Jumpin’ Jack Cochran with a broad wink. “Mind ye, he’s not as fresh as I like me merchandise t’ be, but ye did say ye wanted this particular gentleman.”

Gibson peered over the cart’s side at the bulky, man-sized burlap sack that lay within. Another name for the resurrection men was the sack-’em-up boys. “You’re certain you’ve got the right one?”

“It’s him, all right.” Cochran motioned at the sturdy lad who accompanied him. “Grab the other end there, Ben.”

Grunting softly, the two men slung the burlap-wrapped merchandise off the back of the cart. It landed heavily in the rank grass beside the gate.

“Careful,” said Gibson.

Cochran grinned, displaying long tobacco-stained teeth. “I can guarantee he didn’t feel a thing, Doctor.”

Hefting the heavy sack between them, the two men carried the merchandise into the stone outbuilding at the base of Gibson’s overgrown garden and heaved it up onto the granite slab table that stood in the center of the room. Working quickly, they peeled away the mud-encrusted sack to reveal the limp body of a young man, his dark hair fashionably cut, his hands soft and well manicured, as befitted a gentleman. His pale, naked flesh was liberally streaked with dirt, for the body snatchers had stripped off his shroud and grave clothes and stuffed them back into his coffin before refilling the tomb. There was no law against carting a dead body through the streets of London. But stealing a cadaver and its grave clothes could earn a man seven years in Botany Bay.

“Sorry about the mud,” said Cochran. “We’ve had a mite o’ rain today.”

“I understand. Thank you, gentlemen,” said Gibson. “Here’s your twenty guineas.”

It was the going price for an adult male; adult females generally went for fifteen, with children being sold by the foot. Cochran shook his head and hawked up a mouthful of phlegm he shot out the door. “Nah. Make it eighteen. I got me professional pride, and he’s not as fresh as I like ’em t’ be, even if he was kept on ice afore he was planted. But ye would have this one.”

Gibson stared at the pallid, handsome face of the body lying on his dissection table. “It’s not often a healthy young man succumbs to a weak heart. This gentleman’s body has much to teach us about diseases of the circulation system.”

“Weery interestin’, I’m sure,” said Cochran, scooping up his muddy sack. “Thank ye kindly fer the business, and a weery good night t’ ye, sir.”

After the men had left, Gibson relit his lantern and hung it from the chain suspended above the table. The lantern swayed gently back and forth, the golden light playing over the pale flesh of the body below. In life, his name had been Alexander Ross. A well-formed gentleman in his mid-twenties, he’d had long, leanly muscled arms and legs and a broad chest tapering to a slim waist and hips. He looked as if he should have been the epitome of health. Yet five days ago, his heart had stopped as he slept peacefully in his own bed.

The delicate dissection of the defective heart would need to wait until daylight. But Gibson set to work with a bowl of warm water and a cloth, sponging off the mud of the graveyard and casting a preliminary practiced eye over the corpse.

It was when he was washing the soil from the back of the man’s neck that he found it: a short purple slit at the base of the skull. Frowning, Gibson reached for a probe and watched in horror as it slid in four inches, easily following the path previously cut through living flesh by a stiletto.

Taking a step back, he set aside the probe with a soft clatter, his teeth sinking into his lower lip as he brought his gaze back to the young man’s alabaster face. “Mother of God,” he whispered. “You didn’t die of a defective heart. You were murdered.”

Chapter 2

The first rays of the rising sun caught the heavy mist off the river and turned it into shimmering wisps of gold and pink that hugged the wet rooftops and church spires of the city. Standing beside his bedroom window, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, cradled a glass of brandy in one hand. Behind him lay the tangled, abandoned ruin of his bed. He had not slept.

He was a tall man, leanly built. Not yet thirty years of age, he had dark hair and strange yellow eyes with an unnatural ability to see clearly at great distances or at night, when reality was reduced for most men to vague shadows of gray. Now, as the world outside the window brightened, he brought the brandy to his lips only to hesitate and set it aside untasted.

There were times when memories of the past tormented his sleep and drove him from his bed, times when his dreams echoed with the crash of cannonballs and the screams of mangled men, when the cloying scent of death haunted him and would not go away. But not this night. This night, he was troubled more by the present than by the past. By a life-altering truth revealed too late and a future he did not want but was honor bound to seek.

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