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Ruler of the Night
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1855. The railway has irrevocably altered English society, effectively changing geography and fueling the industrial revolution by shortening distances between cities: a whole day’s journey can now be covered in a matter of hours. People marvel at their new freedom.
But train travel brings new dangers as well, with England’s first death by train recorded on the very first day of railway operations in 1830. Twenty-five years later, England’s first train murder occurs, paralyzing London with the unthinkable when a gentleman is stabbed to death in a safely locked first-class passenger compartment.
In the next compartment, the brilliant opium-eater Thomas De Quincey and his quick-witted daughter, Emily, discover the homicide in a most gruesome manner. Key witnesses and also resourceful sleuths, they join forces with their allies in Scotland Yard, Detective Ryan and his partner-in-training, Becker, to pursue the killer back into the fogbound streets of London, where other baffling murders occur. Ultimately, De Quincey must confront two ruthless adversaries: this terrifying enemy, and his own opium addiction which endangers his life and his tormented soul.
Ruler of the Night is a riveting blend of fact and fiction which, like master storyteller David Morrell’s previous De Quincey novels, “evokes Victorian London with such finesse that you’ll hear the hooves clattering on cobblestones, the racket of dustmen, and the shrill calls of vendors” (Entertainment Weekly).
A NEW KIND OF DEATH
It's difficult to imagine the extent of the British Empire during the nineteenth century. British maps of the era depicted its territories in red, vividly illustrating that they stretched around the globe: Canada, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Cyprus, a large swath of Africa, India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, on and on. As the saying went, the sun never set on the British Empire. It dominated a quarter of the planet's landmass and a third of everyone living on it, far more than Alexander had conquered or the Romans had dreamed of possessing.
Britain—the nation that controlled this immensity—was, by comparison, small. At first, this might be surprising, but Britain's compact size gave it a major advantage over larger areas such as Europe and the United States. Ideas and innovations could spread rapidly throughout its limited space, creating a strong core for the empire's globe-spanning might—a power that increased dramatically after the invention of a new wonder of the world.
The distance between the port of Liverpool and the factories of Manchester is thirty-five miles. Today, that distance can be traveled in as little as half an hour. But in the early 1800s, wagons and barges were the only ways to transport raw materials and finished products. Both methods were difficult and time-consuming, limited by potholed gravel roads or narrow congested canals, requiring at least a day's travel under the best of conditions and weeks of delays during the worst of winter.
But in 1830, something astonishing was created—a railway between Liverpool and Manchester, the first of its kind. That railway was so expensive and experimental that many financiers considered it a folly, yet it proved so successful that only a month after it opened, a railway from Manchester to London was proposed. Ten years later, almost two thousand miles of tracks crisscrossed England. By 1855, a mere twenty-five years later, six thousand miles of tracks united every corner of the nation, with more being planned.
Materials, products, and coal could now be transported with such speed and profit that more and more factories were built until, within a few amazingly rapid decades, England became the first nation to take full advantage of the Industrial Revolution, achieving unprecedented world dominance.
Thomas De Quincey, one of the most notorious and brilliant literary figures of the nineteenth century, mourned the change. "Out of pure blind sympathy with trains, men will begin to trot through the streets," the Opium-Eater wrote, "and in the next generation, they will take to cantering." In his nostalgic essay "The English Mail-Coach," he eulogized the horse-driven vehicles upon which he'd traveled in his youth. Their dependable ten miles an hour had been fast enough for him. He'd felt a unity with the landscape through which he'd passed and a sympathy with the mighty animals that charged him forward. Now, as trains reached an unimaginable velocity of fifty miles an hour, it seemed to him that "iron tubes and boilers have disconnected man's heart." He recalled the excitement with which a trumpet had once heralded the arrival of a mail coach into a relay station and the awe of the spectators at the thunder of the horses. "The gatherings of gazers about a mail-coach had one center and acknowledged only one interest. But the crowds at a railway station have as little unity as running water and own as many centers as there are separate carriages in a train."
Always interested in violent death, De Quincey was quick to note that on the first day of the Liverpool to Manchester railway, a politician named Huskisson had climbed down from the ceremonial train when it stopped to put water in its boiler at the midpoint of the inaugural journey. Huskisson wanted to apologize for his recent argument with England's then prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, whose victory over Napoléon at the Battle of Waterloo had made him one of the most revered men in the nation. Huskisson proceeded along the tracks, reached the prime minister's compartment, and shook hands with him, becoming so distracted that only at the last moment did he notice a locomotive speeding toward him on a parallel set of tracks.
The prime minister's train began to move forward. Huskisson hurried next to it. He grabbed a door to climb inside, but the door swung open into the route of the approaching train. He dangled, lost his grip, fell onto the tracks, and was run over.
The news of Huskisson's gruesome death spread across the country, making him famous, causing people throughout England and the world to become aware of this stunning invention and a new kind of transportation that they couldn't previously have imagined.
But the railway also brought a new kind of death, and as De Quincey—an expert in the fine art of murder—discovered, there were many more deaths to come.
I seemed every night to descend into chasms and sunless abysses,
depths below depths, from which it seemed hopeless that I could
—Thomas De Quincey,
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
The Opium-Eater is [the] ruler of the night.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson to Thomas De Quincey
THE LOCKED COMPARTMENT
On Thursday evening, 22 March 1855, a frowning gentleman studied a two-page document that lay on his substantial desk. His name was Daniel Harcourt. Fifty years old, the solicitor was stout, a consequence of his sedentary profession. His gray frock coat and waistcoat were of the finest tailoring. His gold watch chain indicated his respectability. The glowing coals in his fireplace worked to remove the damp chill from a recent rain, but at the moment, a fire wasn't necessary. As Harcourt looked up from the pages, he felt the internal heat of triumph.
"Are you quite certain about these details? The house in Bloomsbury? Everything?"
The man who stood on the opposite side of the desk wore a faded greatcoat of inferior quality. His raw face had the creases of someone who worked outside for long periods in all kinds of weather.
"I did the job myself, Mr. Harcourt. If you patrol the streets the way I did for ten years, you get to know who to talk to. Newsboys, crossing sweeps, water boys at cabstands—that sort don't miss a thing, and for as little as sixpence, they'll prove it. The best street artist in Bloomsbury drew the man's face. What I gave you is gospel."
Harcourt removed a piece of paper from a desk drawer and slid it toward the man. He dipped a pen into an inkwell and handed it to him. "Write your name."
"But you already know my name. It's John Saltram."
"Write it anyhow."
"You think I don't know how to write?" Saltram asked with muted indignation. "You think the Metropolitan Police Force hires constables who can't write?"
Harcourt set a gold sovereign next to the piece of paper. "Humor me. Write your name."
After a long look at the gold coin, Saltram obeyed, scratching with the metal nib. "There, you see," he announced, returning the pen and the piece of paper.
"This isn't the same handwriting that's on the pages you gave me," Harcourt observed.
"I said I could write. I didn't say I could write neatly. My missus wrote those pages. She put down what I told her. I wasn't about to trust it to anybody else."
"How do I know she didn't make a copy? How do I know you won't try to sell these pages to the man you followed?"
"That wouldn't be too smart of me, would it, Mr. Harcourt? I want steady work, not trouble, from a man the likes of you."
Harcourt thought a moment and put five more gold sovereigns on the desk. They were the equivalent of five weeks' pay for a constable.
"Here's what we agreed upon," he said. "Keep the other sovereign as a bonus."
"Thank you, Mr. Harcourt. Thank you kindly." Saltram stuffed the coins in a pocket of his trousers. "Any more work you need me to do…"
"I can always use a man who controls his tongue. In fact, your services might be required very soon. But right now, it's late, and I'm certain you want to return to your wife."
"Yes, Mr. Harcourt. Very good, Mr. Harcourt."
As Saltram backed away, he wiped a hand across his lips in a manner that suggested he intended to go to a tavern rather than to his wife.
Harcourt watched him step into the lamp-lit corridor outside the office and shut the door. He listened until he could no longer hear Saltram's footsteps descending the stairs.
Only then did he allow the heat of triumph to thrust him into motion. He quickly removed his gold watch from his waistcoat. The time was twenty-seven minutes after eight. He seldom worked this late, but there hadn't been a choice—his meeting with Saltram had needed to occur when the building was deserted and no one would see the man arrive.
In a rush, he tossed the piece of paper with John Saltram's name into a wastebasket under his desk. Then he hurriedly put on his overcoat, gloves, and top hat. He shoved the two-page document into a leather case, grabbed his umbrella, extinguished the lamps in his office, and stepped into the hall. After locking the door, he swiftly descended the stairs, extinguishing more lamps as he went.
Harcourt's office was in Lombard Street, which tonight was cold and thick with mist. It was one of the shortest streets in this exclusive business district of London, a square mile known reverently as the City, always with a capital C. But despite the modest length of Lombard Street, its location near the palatial Bank of England and the Royal Exchange made it one of the most influential places in the world.
Harcourt took long steps over the dark, wet pavement and reached a cabstand at the corner. During the day, there were as many as twenty cabs here, the most that the law permitted at one time, but now, after business hours, he felt lucky to find two.
Climbing rapidly into the first, he called up to the top-hatted driver on his roost at the back, "Euston Station! I need to be on a nine o'clock train!"
"That doesn't give us much time, guv'nor."
"Triple your usual fare."
The driver enthusiastically cracked his whip, and the sprightly two-seated cab surged forward. The clatter of the horse's shoes echoed off the deserted stone buildings. At once, the driver dodged this way and that through a sudden chaos of vehicles coming north from Blackfriars Bridge. Cracking his whip harder, he urged his horse along Holborn Hill and turned right into Grays Inn Road.
Harcourt patted his leather case with the pages inside it. As the cab passed a mist-shrouded streetlamp, he studied his watch and saw that he now had only ten minutes to reach the station.
Harcourt tried to breathe slowly and calmly. He never failed to be nervous whenever he needed to make a railway journey. He remembered the mail-coach era, when speed was exhilarating rather than threatening.
"Nearly there, guv'nor," the driver called, swerving left into the New Road.
"It's almost nine o'clock!"
"No fears, guv'nor. Just have your coins ready when you jump out."
As Euston Square appeared before him, Harcourt clutched his document case and umbrella, waiting anxiously for the cab to pass through the immense Roman arch that led to the station. At the curb, he threw the coins to the driver and raced into the Great Hall. Ignoring the pillars, statues, and grand staircase, he reached the only ticket window that remained open.
"The nine o'clock to Sedwick Hill," he told a clerk, shoving a crown toward him.
The clerk didn't need to ask if he wanted first class; Harcourt's gold watch chain told him everything. "Better hurry, sir."
Harcourt grabbed the ticket and rushed away.
"You forgot your change, sir!"
Ignoring the shout behind him, Harcourt pushed through a gate and reached the platform. After the classical architecture of the Great Hall, the ugliness of an iron-and-glass ceiling stretched before him. Smoke from countless departing engines had coated the glass with soot.
Harcourt showed his ticket to a guard and hurried along the waiting train, its hissing engine seeming to indicate impatience. He passed the third-class carriages in which passengers could only stand. Then came the second-class carriages with their hard benches. The social importance of wealthy passengers required them to take precedent and be at the front, even though that put them behind the noise and sparks from the belching engine.
Out of breath, Harcourt finally reached two first-class carriages. Each had several compartments, and each compartment had its separate entrance.
He peered through the first open door, but that compartment had passengers. He loathed sharing a confined space with strangers. Propriety obligated him to exchange a few pleasantries with them, but after that, the situation became awkward. During daylight, he could ignore the other occupants by reading a newspaper that he'd purchased from the W. H. Smith bookshop in the station, but at night, the single lamp in each compartment wasn't sufficient to allow him to read, forcing him to avoid conversing with strangers by staring out the window into the darkness.
The passengers Harcourt saw through the open door didn't look like they belonged in a first-class compartment anyhow. One was a short elderly man who wore what appeared to be a suit appropriate for attending a cheap funeral. Even the single lamp in the compartment was enough to show that the little man was agitated. Although he was seated, he moved his boots up and down as though walking in place. He clenched and unclenched his hands. His face was beaded with perspiration.
Seated opposite him, the elderly man's young female companion looked peculiar also. She was attractive, Harcourt admitted, with lustrous blue eyes that turned to focus on him through the open door, but her clothing had the same look of belonging to a mourner at a cheap funeral, and she wore, in place of the fashionable hoops of ladies in society, trousers, which were evident to the observer because they extended below her skirt. No, Harcourt was definitely not inclined to spend even twenty minutes locked in a compartment with two such people.
He hurried nearer to the front of the train and peered through the next open door. Mercifully, the lamp on the wall revealed that there weren't any occupants.
The small compartment had four seats on the right and four on the left, facing each other. A farther door allowed access if the train arrived at a station that had a platform on the opposite side. There wasn't a corridor linking all the compartments; instead, each set of passengers occupied an isolated chamber.
Harcourt climbed inside and settled onto a thick cushion of blue satin. As he placed his document case and umbrella next to him, he realized how agitated he'd become during his rush to reach the train. He removed one of his gloves and touched his face, discovering that his cheeks were slippery with perspiration. Reminded of the little man in the compartment behind him, he wondered if he'd been too quick to pass judgment.
"Just in time, sir," a guard said at the open door.
"Indeed," Harcourt replied, concealing his relief.
But he wasn't the person whom the guard had addressed.
An out-of-breath man climbed into the compartment, politely looking down so that he and Harcourt wouldn't be forced to converse. In fact, the newcomer was courteous enough to move all the way over and sit near the other door. He even sat on the same side as Harcourt, relieving them of the awkwardness of facing each other.
Harcourt leaned back but couldn't relax. There hadn't been time to send a telegram to the man he was hurrying to see, but he assumed that when he reached Sedwick Hill, someone in a local tavern would be eager to earn a half crown and take a message to the nearby estate. A carriage would soon arrive for him. The household would be in a state of confusion, having been roused by his urgent summons, but when Harcourt delivered the two precious pages, he had no doubt that his client would be immensely grateful.
The guard shut the door, inserted a key, and locked it. Despite the hiss of the locomotive, Harcourt heard the scrape of metal as the guard locked the next compartment also—and the next and the next.
When Harcourt was a child, his two older brothers had locked him in a trunk in a storage room. Squeezed by the dark, narrow confines, he'd pounded at the lid, begging to be let out. The trunk's interior had become warm and damp from the accumulation of his frantic breathing. His shouts had weakened, his breath slowing, his mind blurring. Abruptly, light had blinded him as his brothers threw the lid loudly open and ran away, laughing.
Harcourt couldn't help remembering.
The man who shared his compartment seemed anxious also, sitting rigidly straight.
As the locomotive made chugging sounds, the iron pillars on the platform outside appeared to move. Through the window, Harcourt watched the soot-blackened glass ceiling recede as the train departed the station, heading north. He had difficulty concentrating on the view, if it could be called that, because of the distraction of the brass bars at the window. The bars prevented passengers from leaning out and being killed by a blow to the head from an object that the train passed. For a similar reason, each compartment was locked from the outside, lest someone accidentally open a door or even do so deliberately, foolishly peering out for a better view and then perhaps being struck by something or losing his or her balance and falling.
Harcourt knew the practical reasons for this arrangement, but his face was nonetheless covered with perspiration, since he didn't think of this as a train compartment. With its barred windows and locked doors, it felt like a prison cell.
The man who shared the narrow enclosure stood. He shifted past the armrests and sat opposite Harcourt, their knees almost touching.
What unmitigated rudeness, Harcourt thought. Is he a speculator? Does he hope to sell me something?
Peering resolutely toward the darkness beyond the window, Harcourt ignored the man.
"Good evening, Mr. Harcourt."
How the deuce does he know my name? Unable to resist, Harcourt turned his gaze in the stranger's direction.
The stranger had kept his head down when he'd entered the compartment. But now he raised it and looked into Harcourt's eyes.
"You!" Harcourt exclaimed.
As the man lunged, Harcourt grabbed his umbrella, hoping to defend himself. But the man yanked it from his grasp and threw it onto the floor. Squeezing Harcourt's throat with one hand, he drove a knife toward Harcourt's chest with the other.
The knife struck something solid and slid off.
The attacker cursed. Harcourt gasped, struggling to push away the hand that choked him.
From the Journal of Emily De Quincey
After our three-month stay in London, I did not expect that the respite Father and I enjoyed from our infinite bill collectors would end so abruptly. In the weeks since the threat against Queen Victoria had been eliminated, I took advantage of my twenty-second birthday to appeal to Father's sentiments and compel him to admit that his decades-long reliance on opium could not continue without lethal consequences. Two days of remaining awake were followed by twenty-four hours of twitching sleep in which all of history's armies marched through his nightmares and the ghosts of his sisters and my mother spoke to him. He could eat almost nothing except bread soaked in warm milk. He confessed to consuming as much as sixteen ounces of laudanum—a concoction of powdered opium dissolved in brandy—each day. That amount of spirits would have been destructive enough even without the addition of an opiate.
Under Dr. Snow's guidance, Father reduced his intake by half an ounce for three days and then another half an ounce for three days and so on. At the slightest sign that his body was rebelling, Father was instructed to add a quarter ounce to the level he had reached and remain there until the headaches and tremors abated. Then Father was to continue attempting to reduce his intake in half-ounce stages.
This method not only made sense but also appeared to be effective. Father managed to reach a level of eight ounces per day. It remained an enormous amount, considering that people who weren't accustomed to opium might die if they swallowed a full tablespoon, but Father had accumulated more than four decades of tolerance for it.
His blue eyes became clearer. He ate broth and eventually dumplings. He began writing again, adding new material to the volumes of his collected works that his Scottish publisher was preparing. Having received new pages, Father's publisher actually sent us ten pounds, an unexpected kindness given that Father had long since spent the money that his publisher was obligated to pay him.
Our dear new friends Sean and Joseph (I refer, of course, to Detective Inspector Ryan and Detective Sergeant Becker) were delighted by Father's progress and gave him every encouragement, as did I. But they did not know Father the way I did, and all the while he reduced his intake, I couldn't help remembering the several times in which I had made this journey with him. In particular, it troubled me that one of Father's writing projects was a new version of his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater—not merely a revision but an enlargement. Just when I'd hoped that he could free himself from the drug, he was revisiting the tormented text he'd written a lifetime ago, once more describing the harrowing events that had contributed to his need for opium. Again he wrote about having nearly starved to death as a seventeen-year-old beggar in the wintry streets of London. Again he wrote about tragic Ann, his first love, a fifteen-year-old girl of the streets who'd saved his life when he collapsed from hunger but who had then disappeared forever.
I did my best to distract him. On that Thursday evening, to celebrate the halfway point in Father's opium reduction, Sean and Joseph accompanied us to a much-talked-about newly opened chophouse in Soho. Sean's abdominal wound had healed properly this time, and Joseph no longer suffered the double vision that the blow to his head had caused. All in all, our improved conditions were reasons for celebration. Father even offered to use part of our recently acquired ten pounds to pay for our feast.
"No need, sir. We forgot to tell you that Joseph and I are now rich," Sean reported.
"Rich?" Father asked, looking puzzled.
"Indeed. Because of our injuries, we each received a bonus of five pounds from Scotland Yard's special fund. We can't think of a better way to spend some of our vast wealth than by treating you and your daughter to a meal."
The chophouse's floral-patterned ceiling was a wonder to behold, as were the brightly colored segments of glass in the overhead lamps and the elaborately framed mirror above the fireplace. Everything was so pleasant that in the hubbub of conversations, no one paid attention to my bloomer skirt or the scar on Joseph's chin or Sean's Irish red hair when he took off his cap. Customers didn't even seem to notice how short Father was.
But no sooner did we all sit at our table than my smile died, as I saw a change—much too familiar—come over him. It always began with his eyes. Their blue acquired the brittle look of ancient porcelain. Then his face became pale and glistened with sudden sweat. His cheeks seemed to shrink and develop more lines. He clutched his stomach.
"Rats," he said, trembling.
A man at the next table dropped his fork. "Rats? Where?"
"They gnaw at my stomach." Father moaned.
"The chophouse served you rats?"
"My father is ill," I told the man. "I'm sorry we disturbed you."
"Rats in his stomach? Then he needs a cat in his stomach."
As Father groaned, Sean and Joseph helped him outside. A rain earlier in the evening had given London a rare sweet scent. I hoped that it and the cold mist enveloping us would brace him and moderate his torment.
"Emily, should we take him to Dr. Snow?" Sean asked.
"I don't believe it would help. I've seen this happen before. There's always a level of opium below which Father can't descend."
Obeying the doctor's instructions, I removed a laudanum bottle and a teaspoon from my pocket.
From painful experience, I knew there was no other way. The teaspoon of the ruby liquid did its work. Father's breathing became less agitated. Gradually he stopped trembling.
- "Stellar writing and storytelling. . . . Real historical figures mix with the heroes, and the thriller elements are both terrifying and grotesque. Morrell's impeccable research shines. . . . Readers will feel transported to Victorian London with all of the sights and sounds that go with it."—Jeff Ayers, Associated Press
- "An elegant and sumptuously entertaining journey into Victorian London highlights this superb thriller by the end of Rambo. Wondrously gothic, Morrell's concluding chapter of his trilogy centering on the exploits of historical figure Thomas De Quincy will appeal to old-school mystery fans of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as mainstream thriller audiences. A truly rare and special read."—Jon Land, Providence Journal
- "An absolutely terrific series"—Dean Koontz
- "I love this series. Ruler of the Night actually made me believe I'd stepped into Victorian London. It's an exciting blend of high-thriller and Dickens, with parallels to our own time that are both fascinating and unsettling. I've been a Morrell fan for years, and Ruler of the Night is as gripping as anything he's done."—John Sandford, author the New York Times-bestselling Extreme Prey
- "Spectacular . . . The narrative builds to a powerful but bittersweet ending."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "Morrell's deft hand with thriller plotting provides copious chills and procedural satisfaction, but it is his mastery of character, shrewd exploitation of Victorian details and attitudes, and tonal sophistication that seduce and delight. . . . It's a cracking yarn, irresistible as an emergency bottle of laudanum secreted in a shabby coat pocket. Richly detailed and engrossing; Morrell animates the Victorian era and delivers genre thrills with rare style and panache."—Kirkus Reviews
- "A joy to read. . . . [Morrell] expertly immerses us in another country and another time, while delivering characters so real they could be living next door to us right now. . . . For all its Victorian trappings, Ruler of the Night is a novel that feels as timely as ever."—Betty Webb, Mystery Scene
- "A complex, top-notch mystery, with a large cast of characters and multiple, interwoven plotlines.... Philosophical, uncannily perceptive De Quincey competes well with Sherlock Holmes for brilliance.... You don't have to read this series in order, but you'll want to read every volume."—Booklist
- "Morrell excels at constructing historically accurate mysteries with enough melodrama to satisfy any lover of Victorian novels. His protagonists are fascinating and entertaining; aficionados of the trilogy are going to miss De Quincey and company."—Library Journal
- "With Ruler of the Night, David Morrell concludes the most compelling, devious and fascinating mystery trilogy in decades. They'll be reading these De Quincey novels for generations. Bravo!"—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Kill Switch and Ghost Road Blues
- On Sale
- Nov 28, 2017
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Mulholland Books