Message From The Author
I started writing a few years ago, almost by accident. I had no ambitions to write a novel, it just happened. I had just been on one of my endless runs (I live near an amazingly beautiful London park close to the glorious River Thames), was between contracts and as a distraction from the builders in the house with inevitable noise, dust and endless request for cups of tea, instead of focusing on what I should have been doing (the housework, the next pitch), I found myself reading copy of The Malay Archipelago which was lying around the house. And it blew me away.
Set in Borneo, this travelogue is an amazing window into the mind and times of one of the world’s greatest Nineteenth Century naturalists - Alfred Russel Wallace (who makes a guest appearance in my book, playing chess with the character, Benjamin Broderig up in the mountains near Sarawak). Wallace was a scientific genius, overshadowed through history, by his far more famous contemporary, Charles Darwin. But this book set my imagination alight, with its tales of what it was really like to be a specimen collector in the 1850s as Wallace, travelled with his gun and his nets, into the remotest corners of the earth looking for birds, butterflies and beasts.
I started doodling initially on the back of envelope on a skiing holiday. There was a story here, a work of fiction to be written, I just knew it. And, I thought, if understanding flora and fauna was such a mind blowing experience for the Victorians (a bit like the breaking the gnome is for us, today), then what about forensics? What was happening with that?
Visits to various museums quickly followed, plus reading around the period, and I started to discover that this was a moment in history was when everything was exploding – industrialisation, politics, trade, class, colonial ambitions, loss of faith. And London was a melting pot or race, greed, sex and personal ambitions.
I’ve always loved the Victorians, and as a teenager devoured crime (excuse the pun) and relished adventure stories set in exotic locations. Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad. I lapped this stuff up, progressing quickly onto Dickens, Flaubert, Mrs Gaskell, George Elliot, Tennyson et al. So my imagination was already steeped in everything nineteenth century and of course, the gothic tradition. As soon as I started to write, the novel literally poured out of me and I felt at home.
In Devoured we meet Professor Adolphus Hatton (London’s first forensic scientist) and his trusty French morgue assistant, Monsieur Albert Roumande. Together, they work out of a basement in St Bart’s hospital carrying out autopsies for Scotland Yard, often in secret. During this, their first case, we meet an array of other quintessentially Victorian characters, which definitely verge on the outlandish!
At the beginning of the story, a rich patron of the Sciences – the glamorous Lady Bessingham – has been brutally murdered amidst her vast collection of ammonites, butterflies and tribal masks. A series of letters have gone missing, which were written from the steaming jungles of Borneo, penned to her by the young ingénue collector, Benjamin Broderig who’s now back in London.
Adolphus Hatton gets pulled in on the case by the notorious celebrity detective, Inspector Adams who is hounded by a personal secret he can’t seem to escape. Along the way, two stories merge - a series of bizarre murders involving the so-called “Botanicals” in London and, as the missing letters get passed from person to person, a hunt for orangutans two years earlier in Borneo.
And what about our “hero” who has to solve the crime? Adolphus Hatton is an intense, repressed uptight, overworked Victorian Englishman. His work is deemed to be Godless, highly controversial, next to devil worshipping. Unmarried and mainly stuck in the mortuary, poor Hatton’s a little bit adrift in the world outside the confines his work. He has to prove himself and his “voodoo” new Science – Forensics.
I love writing descriptive prose on nature (I used to work for the World Wildlife Fund!) so penning about butterflies, jungles and mud skippers was right up my street. I’m half Irish and I think as a race, we are natural born story tellers. My grandfather told me stories by the turf fire in County Cavan when I was little, and my great grandfather used to model himself on George Bernard Shaw (bushy beard and all) - so perhaps it’s in the blood! Three years in, I realise that writing’s such a solitary pursuit. You have totally emerge yourself in the world of the imagination, live and breathe and understand the characters you create. My previous work always saw me involved in very front line jobs for large organisations and being part of a in a team. Working with the media in war zones with the Red Cross and running high profile campaigns for mainly environmental charities. By comparison, novel writing seems such a huge indulgence. Pure entertainment for me, the writer – and hopefully, the reader, too!
Devoured is my first book and I have to say, I’m totally hooked.
- D. E. Meredith
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