To Doctor Dody McCleland, the gruesome job of dealing with the results of an explosion at the Necropolis Railway Station is testing enough. But when her suffragette sister Florence is implicated in the crime, matters worsen and Dody finds her loyalty cruelly divided. Can she choose between love for her sister and her secret love for Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, the investigating officer on the case?
Dody and Pike's investigations lead them to a women's rest home where patients are not encouraged to read or think and where clandestine treatments and operations are conducted in an unethical and inhumane manner. Together Dody and Pike must uncover such foul play before their secret liaisons become public knowledge - and before Florence becomes the rest home's next victim.
Wake up, Miss Dody, wake up.’ Annie’s voice invaded Dody’s dreams. She screwed up her eyes under the lemony flare of the electric light and focused on her bedside clock — ten past three — and moaned.
‘Telephone call for you, miss. The police want a word,’ her maid said.
At the mention of police, Dody flung back the bedclothes and allowed Annie to help her into her silk kimono and slippers.
‘Did the policeman give you his name?’
‘No, miss. But it weren’t Chief Inspector Pike if that’s what you were thinking.’
Annie never tired of showing her disapproval of Matthew Pike, a regular visitor to the house. In most households the maid would be disciplined for such impertinence, but in her own home Dody preferred to choose her battles. There were battles enough to cope with at the mortuary. She sighed, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and made her way down the three flights of stairs to the telephone in the hall.
Superintendent Shepherd’s fuss and bluster made his voice hard to hear above the static. She dug the telephone’s receiving device into her ear, only catching fragments of speech. ‘Necropolis Railway … explosion … bodies … Armageddon …’
‘You want me at the railway station now to help retrieve body parts?’ Dody translated.
The static on the line was swept away as if by a broom. ‘Miss, err, Doctor. Have you not listened to a word I’ve said?’
Battles, Dody reminded herself. ‘I’ll be there as soon as I can, sir.’ She set the earpiece back on its hook and turned to Annie who was hovering on the stairs. ‘Wake Fletcher, please, and have him bring the car to the front of the house. And give Florence my apologies when she gets up — I assume she’s home now? I’ll probably miss her at breakfast.’
Annie glanced back up the stairs and opened her mouth as if she were about to say something, then changed her mind. Dody had no time for playing games with the maid. ‘Lay my work clothes out on the bed, please.’
‘Cape too, Miss Dody?’
‘No, I think my black velvet coat is more appropriate. I will need full use of my hands and the cape will get in the way.’
The black will also hide the stains, Dody thought as she steeled herself for whatever the night had in store for her.
Headlamps from half a dozen police vans and several fire engines shone on what was left of the station. Fletcher parked on the other side of Westminster Bridge Road and opened the passenger door for Dody. As soon as she stepped from the car a police sergeant scurried over to her.
‘You can’t park ’ere, ma’am, the ’ole place is out-a-bounds.’ Behind him other policemen were attempting to erect wooden barricades around the perimeter of the bombsite, their progress hampered by a crowd of spectators, many wearing overcoats over their night things, jostling for a closer look at the carnage.
‘Give us a look!’
‘What’s goin’ on ’ere?’
‘That racket near shook me out of bed!’
‘This road needs to be blocked off too,’ the sergeant shouted over his shoulder before returning his attention to Dody.
‘I’m Doctor McCleland, senior autopsy assistant to Doctor Bernard Spilsbury. Superintendent Shepherd has requested my presence at the scene.’ Dody had to shout above the din of police whistles, clanging bells, and the cries of the onlookers. She had no formal identification with her, but found a letterhead from the Paddington Mortuary in her pocket and handed it over.
The sergeant glanced at it and nodded his head. ‘That’ll do. Come with me then, ma’am, and watch your step.’
Dody told Fletcher not to wait, that she would find a telephone and call when she needed a lift home. She followed the sergeant, picking her way across rippled tarmacadam that could have been shaped by the sea. A fire engine chugged past, heading away from the Necropolis Station, firemen clinging to its sides. Dull light reflected through the soot on the men’s once dazzling brass helmets. Another engine near a cluster of police vans broke away, also heading for home. Perhaps the fire is under control now, Dody thought. She could see no flames from the ruined station and only the occasional thin plume of smoke.
She had never seen the aftermath of an explosion before and the first thing that assaulted her senses was the appalling smell. A projectile must have penetrated a sewerage pipe near a public convenience and raw sewage flooded the area, motorcar headlamps dancing upon pools of effluent. After carefully stepping around one such evil-smelling mire, she found herself confronted by a miasma of other odours: brick dust, industrial-smelling smoke, and a metallic tang she guessed might be gunpowder. No odour of recent death, thank goodness. Now that was a smell to which she was accustomed.
I was born in Germany and educated at an English boarding school while my parents travelled the world with the British army. I think the long boring plane trips home played an important part in helping me to develop my creative imagination.
I settled with my parents in Western Australia in 1976, became a nurse, married young and had three children. Not surprisingly, it took ten years to complete an Arts degree (English lit) at UWA.
In 1990 my family and I moved to a small farm 40 kilometers NE of Perth (Western Australia) where I established a Suffolk sheep stud, reared orphan kangaroos and embarked upon a life of crime writing.