As the years fall away and the atmosphere of the time rises up from the murk, the gruesome events of 1879 return to haunt West London where a tale of revenge plays out and
a possibly innocent man was hanged. From census records, birth and death registers, old newspapers and marriage indexes, author Dan Waddell levitates the delicate tendrils of a group
of family histories through time into a compelling account of the insidiousness of human nature and the lengths
to which a vicious killer will go to exact revenge.
DCI Grant Foster, DS Heather Jenkins, and the chiseled DI Andy Drinkwater of the West London Murder Command are called to grounds of St. Johns Church to investigate a gruesome discovery. A male in his early thirties lies dead; his hands gone, the ends of both arms are livid, now only fleshy stumps with jagged bone protruding. The cause of death seems to be a single stab wound to the heart.
It isn’t until the official post-mortem that Foster sees certain cuts on the man’s chest, the outlines of each resembling the five figures which
might be index numbers to family records. It also seems as though they were made after death and were probably meant for the eyes of the investigators. A grim
but determined mood sets the scene for this dark and bloody investigation. There seems to be no explanation why the man,
bank trader James Darbyshire, last seen with friends drinking in one of the Ladbroke Grove pubs, would ever have been murdered.
The inimitable Foster is the first to realize that the crime is beyond the usual mundane murderous language of drugs, money, rage and envy. Frustrated that the killer has left no detail, no trace, clue or weapon at the scene, and that no witnesses had come forward and that there is no obvious motive, Foster uses the one piece of information that might be able flick the switch and illuminate the investigation.
Perhaps Nigel Barnes, a specialist in genealogy, holds the key as the family historian is asked by Foster to delve deep into long-held indexes. As Nigel loses himself in the bureaucratic traces of the long-departed, the bodies begin to pile up, each one more mutilated then the last - a head scalped and another
with eyes horrifically gouged out. Then the case gets a break when Nigel discovers the death certificate of a man found stabbed to death in the grounds of St. Johns Church back in March 1879, the same date that James Darbyshire’s body was discovered.
Suddenly everything takes on new meaning as Grant and Nigel, Heather and Andy stumble onto information that has thus far eluded them. The only constant is the reference and the fact that the place and time accord with a series of murders in 1879. As the narrative accelerates towards its gruesome conclusion, the Squad
is surrounded by a past that has until now been buried and hidden. Dark secrets offer a glimpse behind London’s net curtains and the serial killers “who write their name into London legend.”
A compelling peek into the darker side of human nature, The Blood Detective
proves the past cannot be erased so easily and that it always seeps back through
the soil, “like blood through the sand.” The novel is a genealogist's panacea
and provides some fascinating lessons in family history research while also
serving as a fast-paced, well-plotted thriller that lays bare the essential
foundations of human depravity. Waddell uses his journalistic sensibilities to
great effect, accelerating the story at breakneck speed, his narrative always
focused and controlled. Although much of the story remains formulaic police
procedural, the author’s powerful writing style holds up the tension well into
the final blood-churning clash between killer and cop that proves once and for
all that the past is neither banished or ignored.