It is said that everyone has a book in them. That may be true. But whether they have the strength, energy, focus, and determination to bring it to fruition is another question entirely. A book is a lot of work. Even if you do it badly, it’s still a lot of work, a venture that should not be entered into lightly. Usually it begins with a memory, a thought, a passion that will not go away.
It started that way with Grandpa, and it wasn’t until I was about 8 that I discovered my grandfather’s past. On the bottom shelf of the sitting room bookcase hid a book entitled “40 years at Scotland Yard.” I found him mentioned there. He had been a young surgeon, from London University Hospital, and at the age of 22 had become an assistant to Dr. Baxter Phillips, one of the designated surgeons performing autopsies for Scotland Yard.
It was years before I understood the extent of public interest in what were known as the Whitechapel Murders in 1888 attributed to Jack the Ripper. The crimes against women that took place in Victorian times were not restricted to these particular murders. One such my grandfather had to give evidence in was of a woman’s torso that was found beneath a railway arch crammed into a suitcase.
One day, I heard my grandparents talking about earlier cases. By then they had retired to a small village upstream from London. Apparently my grandfather had performed autopsies on bodies fished out of the Thames, bloated and distorted, bodies so riddled with fleas that he kept a pad of cotton wool doused chloroform to attend to the autopsy.
When Grandpa died, he left several small black notebooks that he would fit in his waistcoat pocket when he went on a police call. A couple were still around when I was 10 or so. He must discarded the others once he had made his report. But one he kept.
My grandfather’s normal handwriting was Spencerian and precise in nature. In this small notebook the pencil notes were almost spastic, as if he had received a great shock, and it was quite clear that the body for which he was taking notes was dismembered and pinned to the wall. The notebook has subsequently gone missing, but my sister remembers seeing it, and she is 15 years younger than I. Later, my mother, when she knew I was going to be a writer gave me the remaining blank one in which to keep my notes.
Connecting the Dots
One of the main characters in “The Domino Deaths” is a fictionalized version of my grandfather, the man who so inspired me. I have given him a similar back-story and tone of voice. The village of Pangbury on Thames is a reimagined version of the historical village in which I grew up. But names and events are all fiction, referring to that time in England at the end of the war.