Devoured (A Hatton & Roumonde Mystery)
D.E. Meredith
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Buy *Devoured (A Hatton & Roumonde Mystery)* by D.E. Meredith online

Devoured (A Hatton & Roumonde Mystery)
D.E. Meredith
Minotaur Books
304 pages
October 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A complex amalgam of mystery and bloody terror, Devoured ties new and sacrilegious theories of evolution to the mysteries of nineteenth-century forensic techniques. In Meredith's novel, the march of scientific progress is indeed mired by religious fanaticism as a noxious serial killer prowls the dank alleyways of London, using death to advance the agenda of the city's wealthy and politically affluent.

While a series of letters from the remote jungles of Borneo frame the author's tale, the violent slaying of London philanthropist and socialite Lady Bessingham propels the murder investigation led by forensic specialist Professor Hatton of London’s St. Bart’s Hospital, his assistant Albert Roumande and Scotland Yard's Inspector Adams. The letters, from Borneo and dated 1855, are the first in a series from specimen collector Benjamin Broderig thanking Lady Bessingham for her unstinting support of his scientific endeavors.

When Hatton and Adams are suddenly called to Lady Bessingham's home on Nightingale Walk, they discover her brutally bludgeoned to death. On closer examination, Hatton discovers tiny chips of stone embedded in her skull. Also, her maid, Flora James, has gone missing. A girl of some substance, Flora was considered the perfect candidate to deliver a collection of secret letters. She was apparently sent ahead of the other staff the day before Lady Bessingham’s murder with a plea to give a scroll of weather-beaten golden parchment to Dr. Canning, an anthropologist and naturalist of the London museum.

Adams and Hatton are anxious to find something - anything - which might illuminate the dastardly crime. Lady Bessingham was already courting controversy. A close friend of the Broderig family, she provided money to several beneficiaries. She also played host to various men of science and philosophy who were promoting ways of thinking that clashed with men like the bombastic, traditionally-minded parliamentarian The Duke of Monreith.

As the bells of Westminster ring their sonorous chimes and a thick fog rises across the city, in Meredith’s hands, London becomes a dark landscape of winter-clad people, horses and carriages, where the murder of botanists and prostitutes somehow seem connected. Trapped in consequences of her own making, the evil dressmaker Madame Martineau becomes a pivotal character in the story, secretly plotting and exploiting, seeking to topple the wealthy and influential with her seditious pamphleteering.

Madame's vision for the future is big and bold, but her ambition, “like clothes stitched,” comes with a snag. As Madame fends off those who would bring her down, Hatton cuts into the dead flesh of Lady Bessingham and Adams continues to suspect Benjamin Broderig’s urgent pleas. Personal and distinctively written on parchment, Broderig is strangely anxious for his mysterious letters to be returned to him as soon as possible.

From the series of gruesome murders to the exotic delights of Broderig’s letters to Hatton’s burgeoning science, Meredith’s tale is filled with dissenters and religious bigots, devious villains and buried animosities. The ultimate truths of men is lit by a microscope and a lamp, and it appears that all is ripe for Hatton and Adams to return in another outing, their vibrant partnership already taken to the brink as they walk the streets of a violent London, determined to protect the innocent against the deadliest schemes of men.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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