London, June 1914. A young man is mauled to death at London Zoo after deliberately climbing into the bear pit. Shortly afterwards, another young man leaps to his death from the notorious Suicide Bridge. Two seemingly unconnected deaths – and yet there are similarities.
Following a third attempted suicide, Detective Inspector Silas Quinn knows he must uncover the link between the three men if he is to discover what caused them to take their own lives. The one tangible piece of evidence is a card found in each of the victims’ possession, depicting a crudely-drawn red hand. What does it signify? To find the answers, Quinn must revisit his own dark past. But can he keep his sanity in the process …?
R. N. Morris is the author of eight historical crime novels. His first, A Gentle Axe, was published by Faber and Faber in 2007. Set in St Petersburg in the nineteenth century, it features Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Dostoevsky’s great novel, Crime and Punishment. The book was published in many countries, including Russia. He followed that up with A Vengeful Longing, which was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. A Razor Wrapped in Silk came next, followed by The Cleansing Flames, which was nominated for the Ellis Peters Historical Novel Dagger. The Silas Quinn series of novels, set in London in 1914, began with Summon Up The Blood, followed by The Mannequin House, The Dark Palace and now The Red Hand of Fury, published on 31 March, 2018.
Taking Comfort is a standalone contemporary novel, written as Roger Morris. He also wrote the libretto to the opera When The Flame Dies, composed by Ed Hughes.
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This extract continues the scene that appeared in Jessica’s Reading Room on 27th June. The investigation in The Red Hand Of Fury is prompted by the bizarre deaths of three young men. Apparently suicides, the deaths share a number of common features, most strikingly that the dead men are all naked. The first of these deaths takes place in the polar bear enclosure at London Zoo…
Harold began to pull at his clothes. He was hardly conscious of what he was doing, or why.
The clamour of the bear’s ill will left little room for thoughts of his own.
First his jacket came off, discarded carelessly on the ground behind him. Next he tore away his waistcoat, and then the shirt, which was ripped apart with the force of his undressing. He would meet the bear on equal terms, without the trappings of civilization or even basic humanity. If anything he would become more bear than the bear. He would not have it said that he had an unfair advantage over his adversary.
As Harold kicked away his shoes and stepped out of his trousers, the bear’s rage filled his head with its noise. It seemed it had found a way to transmit the screams of the human females, whom it was bent on attacking as soon as it was at liberty.
Harold was completely naked by the time he scaled the railings to the enclosure. The polar bear maintained its show of serenity, but he could tell it was rattled. It had cranked up its mental assault, amplifying the sounds of women screaming in his head.
Still the bear feigned interest in its toes. It seemed to have sated its appetite for dead fish.
Harold held on to the horizontal bar of the railings. It was about a ten-foot drop to the terrace where the bear was. The strain began to tear at his fingers and arms. He would have to let go soon. His arms were about to pop out of their sockets. But the pain was worse when he let go. It ripped across his thighs and torso and snagged at his penis as his body scraped down the concrete wall.
He landed heavily, feeling the kick in his ankles before toppling over on to his side.
He screamed himself back into his rage before clambering to his feet.
The stench down in the enclosure was ripe. He could smell the raw fish, of course, warming in the sun. And then there was the smell of the excrement produced by a diet consisting solely of raw fish. On top of that there was the animal smell the bear produced to mark out its territory.
Harold breathed in all this but it did not intimidate him.
He felt an instinctive repulsion.
He stretched out his arms and extended himself to his full height as he faced up to the bear. His mouth opened and his throat vibrated with a howl of primal rage. The roar drowned out all other sounds, silencing at last the violent screeches and clangs and screams transmitted by the bear.
The bear broke off consideration of its toes and looked up. Its expression was mildly curious, though there was perhaps an air of being inconvenienced that might have given a more perceptive intruder pause for thought. For a second or two it seemed to be engaged in some kind of calculation.
In the end, it decided to overcome its natural indolence to defend itself. It rose on its hind legs, to its full massive height, towering over its adversary. It gave an answering growl, an effortless bass rumble that suggested untapped resources of power and violence.
But Harold was deaf to such alarm signals. He rushed towards the sound. He kept up his own roar, but to any ears other than his own it must have sounded puny by comparison.
He held his hands tensed open in front of him as if he fully expected to tear his foe apart.
The bear watched him approach with a kind of bemused indignation and, at the last possible moment, merely batted him away with its unfurled claw, as a man might swat a bothersome insect.
The man’s body sprawled with everything akimbo as it flew through the air. The skull struck the concrete first, with a sickening crack. The man fell as limp as a crumpled sack and lay unmoving.
The bear’s nostrils twitched. In the scent of fresh blood it detected the promise of an unexpected variation from the monotony of its diet.
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