The Butchered Man by Harriet Smart

The Butchered Man by Harriet Smart.

I’m not a big fan of the whole bonnets and frocks obsession that seems to run through a great deal of both TV and literature and I tend to steer clear of historical dramas of both kinds because it seems for me to get bogged down to easily in eye candy of the sartorial kind. I have about as much fashion sense (or interest for that matter) as a whelk so I am wary of period fiction as much of what I have read spends what feels like weeks describing precisely how fetching someone looked in their new gown.

However, I like a good murder and the more brutal, the better. I’ve grown tired though of the complex and confusing contemporary murder lit, where the star of the show is forensic science and every one else is a bit part player. So finding Harriet Smart’s The Butchered Man was a real treat.

Here’s the synopsis:

When a  mutilated corpse is found in a ditch outside the ancient city
walls of Northminster, the Chief Constable, Major Giles Vernon,
and his new police surgeon, Felix Carswell, are drawn into a
complex murder enquiry.

Northminster is  a cathedral town under siege from industrialisation, a  population explosion and all the attendant horrors of poverty,
disease and crime. Appointed only two years ago, Major Vernon
has transformed the old city watch into a modern police force.
This challenge has been a necessary distraction from his
troubled personal life – his wife is now in an asylum and the
vulnerable Giles is in emotional limbo.

Newly qualified  and energetic, Felix Carswell is determined to make his own way  in the world, on his own terms. The bastard son of prominent  Whig politician, Lord Rothborough, Felix was raised by a
Scottish clergyman and his wife. However Rothborough has grand
plans for his natural son and will not let him be. Felix suffers
from divided loyalties and a confused identity – he is far
more like his autocratic father than he would like to admit.

Together the two  men set out to solve the mystery of the Butchered Man and  although they are forced in the course of it to face hard facts  about themselves, they also forge a friendship that will serve
them well in future investigations.”

Grand, eh?  Combine the best of CSI logic (though set in a time when  virtually all the science we take for granted is unknown) , the
characterisation quirks of Brother Cadfael, and a dash of Film
Noir and you have a thoroughly enjoyable romp through an old
fashioned murder mystery with twists and turns enough to keep
armchair detectives guessing. There’s deep motives at play, some
of the very deepest but in some way what endears this book to me
most is the relationship that grows between the two main
characters. It’s masterfully done, steering clear of the typical
father-figure mentoring it could so easily have slid into, and
steering equally clear of the somewhat suspect bro-mance
scenario a lesser writer would have gone for. This is a
partnership of equals, but the men themselves struggle to accept
this and watching their struggles to work together is adds a
frisson of conflict and friction to the mix and stops it getting
too cosy. 

If you’re a fan of detective fiction then you’ll probably love this tale. If you love historical dramas, then I suspect you’ll also love it
too. Lovers of bonnets and frocks will be happy enough too,
though there wasn’t so much that people like me started yawning.

So if you fancy a taste of something a little different from your usual  fare, then pick up a copy of The Butchered Man either at Amazon or via Harriet’s own website. ( see below)

Baker Street Blues- a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes


Baker Street Blues- a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and to Sherlock Holmes


I confess. I’d never been to Baker Street in all my long years as a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I’d travelled along it in a bus, or in a taxi but never set foot there until this Sunday.

As I stood on the escalator coming up from the Tube, a tune began in my head. It was almost involuntary and a bit of a surprise to me. Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street is a total classic and has bitter-sweet significance to me, which is a story I shall keep secret for the moment. As I reached the station exit, the soaring guitar was being overtaken by the saxophone solo and as I stepped finally onto Baker Street, the lyrics began….

Winding your way down Baker Street, Light in your head and dead on your feet…”

Pretty much summed up how I was feeling. I’d had a thirteen and a half hour working day the day before and had the same that day, though in effect I was free to do what I felt like, while remaining on call. Tiredness notwithstanding, a massive grin spread across my face, the first spontaneous smile I have had for a long while, or so it feels. I joined the queue at the museum and continued to grin for the next hour.

 Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most famous creation of the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but its easy to forget that Doyle was responsible for another fabulous creation too, Professor Challenger, the hero of the novel The Lost World, that has been made into many films since. Sir Arthur was a medical doctor, graduating from Edinburgh, and had a questing mind that took him to many places that were unusual for a man of his class. He did a tour as a ships’ doctor on a voyage to the West African coast, which probably opened the mind of the young Arthur greatly. His lack of success as a medical doctor gave him time to write; he had written as a medical student and his long hours waiting for patients when he first set up practise in Southsea gave rise to the first appearance of Holmes in A Study in Scarlet. Later, set up as an ophthalmologist and recorded he had not a single patient! In total, Doyle wrote four Holmes novels and 56 short stories. Many have been made into films and TV shows, and writers have produced endless tributes and pastiches to the great detective.

Visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street was for me akin to a tongue-in-cheek pilgrimage as I fell in love with the great detective when I was nine years old. I passed on this love to my daughter who had the stories read to her as bedtime stories. What makes me love him so?

 It’s hard to explain but there was such hope for me in the discovery of a truly clever hero to look up to and aspire to be like. Holmes is thought to be based on Professor Joseph Bell, Doyle’s old university professor, and the fact that while the man himself is fictional, there was a real person behind the stories, gave me a lot of hope that somewhere intelligence is valued above other attributes.

Holmes is a perennial favourite for film and TV and a recent BBC mini series Sherlock relaunched the iconic Holmes to a new public, updating the tales to be set in the present day with huge success. I can only hope that the next series is as excellent as the previous one.

Anyway, if you are not already a fan of Holmes, then what are you waiting for? It’s elementary, my dears!