Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd. My thanks to Nikki at Melville House for the invitation to join. I have an extract to share with you all today but first let’s see what this first book in the Harry Hunt Adventures series is all about.
Author : Robert J. Lloyd
Title : The Bloodless Boy
Series : Harry Hunt Adventures #1
Pages : 464
Publisher : Melville House Publishing
Publication date : November 2, 2021
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
The City of London, 1678. New Year’s Day. Twelve years have passed since the Great Fire ripped through the City. Eighteen since the fall of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of a King. London is gripped by hysteria, and rumours of Catholic plots and foreign assassins abound.
When the body of a young boy drained of his blood is discovered on the snowy bank of the Fleet River, Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments at the just-formed Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge, and his assistant Harry Hunt, are called in to explain such a ghastly finding—and whether it’s part of a plot against the king. They soon learn it is not the first bloodless boy to have been discovered.
Wary of the political hornet’s nest they are walking into—and using scientific evidence rather than paranoia in their pursuit of truth— Hooke and Hunt must discover why the boy was murdered, and why his blood was taken.
| EXTRACT |
THE SMELL OF fish, flesh, and fruit from the Stocks. Breakfast.
By the statue overlooking the market—Charles II and his mount trampling Oliver Cromwell’s head—Harry bought a pastry and Dutch biscuits from a man half-asleep by his stall. The pastry was too hot to eat, and too hot to hold. He swapped it from hand to hand as he walked. Up the gradual climb of Cheapside. Past where the Cross had stood until its destruction by Puritan enthusiasm. This had happened ten years before Harry was born, yet people still referred to it as a landmark—the more pious offered their thoughts on the Whore of Babylon as they did.
Friday Street, Gutter Lane, Foster Lane, and Old Change.
Here, all had burned in the Conflagration. In between these town- houses, warehouses, and shops—brick and stone, to the post-Fire regulations and standards—some spaces still remained. Sad patches of land, never reclaimed, their charred ruins dispersed over time, replaced by litter, nettles, and dirt.
Lines of stones reached up from the wharfs. The largest took days to be dragged from the quayside. The Cathedral awaited them, its ribs and stomach open to the sky. Surrounding it lay more stones, bricks, earth, and timbers. Like organs cut from it, more than materials to build it up.
From where the arch of Newgate used to be, before fire, too, destroyed it, Harry walked down the winding lane of Snow Hill, sliding, almost falling, and then to Holborn Hill. Wiping the last pieces of pastry from his fingers, he transferred his attention to a biscuit. He was at Holborn Bridge, spanning the Fleet River.
‘HOY! GO NO further!’
An old man in a coachman’s coat stepped out from the doorway of the Three Tuns, halting Harry with an unsteady palm. His face was a cracked glaze of lines under a worn-out montero. The wool of the hat was wet through, sagging over his shoulders. Despite his age, he was a hard-looking man, and far broader than Harry.
‘What happens here?’ Harry asked, in as business-like a tone as he could muster, wiping biscuit crumbs from his chin.
‘A finding—no mind of yours!’
‘If Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey’s done the finding, then I’m to meet him. Mr. Robert Hooke accompanies the Justice, does he not?’
The man, a constable of the watch, scowled at him.‘I am Mr. Harry Hunt, Observator of the Royal Society, and assistant to Mr. Hooke,’ Harry added grandly.
With a cursory thumb, the constable sent him down to the river.
ROBERT HOOKE HAD shaped this place, overseeing the Fleet’s straightening, deepening, and widening. It had taken four years of difficulty and disaster: the riverbed re-dredged after floods, the weight of the banks breaking the new timber wharfs, piles, and footings, the groundwater sweeping away the sluices and drains. The dumping of refuse from the abattoirs and households had continued, and rain washed in the wreckage left over from the Conflagration.
At last, it was finished. Vastly more expensive than the City had envisaged, the Fleet Canal was the biggest project of rebuilding the new London. All the way to the Thames was now smart with paved quaysides, and the watermen in their wherries could reach as far as the new Holborn Bridge.
Before, its main users had been floating dead dogs—their corpses bumping, sniffing one another in death as they had in life. Upstream, the Fleet continued as it always had: a silty, muddy-banked ditch. It disappeared into the hillside through an arch, a huge iron grating holding back the filth from Turnmill Brook.
Hooke sheltered beneath the span of the bridge. Harry easily recognised his hunched form, the twist in Hooke’s back diminishing what would have been a tall stature. Without the cover of a wig, his hair hung over his large forehead and stuck to his sharp chin, and his long nose, its nostrils red- rimmed, had a dewdrop hanging from its tip. He wore his favourite over- coat, a natural grey colour.
His protuberant silver eyes acknowledged the younger man’s arrival, but he said nothing to him.
Next to him, contrastingly upright, stood a tall, impressive man in a long black camlet coat, black leather gloves, and a large black hat. A sword, sheathed in a black scabbard, poked out behind him. His peruke, also black, swept around his large head and down over his shoulders. A single touch of ostentation: a band of gold fabric encircling the hat lessened his Puritan severity.
Sir Edmund resembled, Harry thought, a large inquisitive raven.
Harry jumped down from the quayside’s low wall, slipping on the bank. The Fleet slid viscously over the mud, eroding the snow to a clean, frosty edge. Hooke merely pointed, directing Harry under the bridge. Northwards, away from the new wharfs of the Canal. Along the old, untouched muddy bank. Harry walked past the two men, through the shadow of the arch, and back into the brightness of the falling snow.
HIS REACTION WAS not worthy of a new philosopher of the Royal Society. Harry urged himself to become cooler, more dispassionate, as Mr. Hooke would want him to be.
A dead boy, naked, possibly as young as two years, at most as old as three, lay in the mud on his side. Back curved, head bowed to his chin, arms and legs folded to his body. The falling snow softened his outline, making it look as if he had come up from the ground. Digested, then expelled.
‘A happy New Year’s Day to you, Harry,’ Hooke said ironically, now striding after him, the mud under the snow sucking at his shoes. Suffering from a cold, his thin, nasal voice struggled through the phlegm at the back of his throat.
Sir Edmund followed them out from under the bridge. His face was the colour of raw meat, long with a solid jaw, and his mouth had lips so thin it looked like an incision. His complexion, with its furrows and broken veins, betrayed a life in the open air.
‘Mr. Hooke described you.’ Sir Edmund did not wait for Hooke to make the proper introduction. ‘Already I am impressed.’
His voice resonated from his diaphragm. Harry thought he felt and heard it in equal parts. Seldom to receive flattery from men of such rank. He wondered how Hooke had termed his description.
‘Harry was my apprentice, but is his own man now,’ Hooke said. ‘To business, Sir Edmund?’
Hooke stooped nearer the body. ‘An angler made the find,’ he explained to Harry. ‘Looking for grig eels, says he. He must be a night-bird for suchlike.’
‘Eels tend not to stir by day,’ Harry affirmed, swallowing. He tried to control the trembling that had started in his right thigh, hoping the older men would ascribe it to the cold. The vapour in the air signalled his short, shallow breaths.
‘There are marks of unusual dispatch,’ Hooke said, not noticing, intent on the boy.
‘The eel fisher,’ Sir Edmund added, removing his gloves, ‘ran to tell and cannot bring himself back. He cowers in the Three Tuns.’
The Justice produced a black notebook from his pocket, leather-bound, and a portable pen and ink set. ‘A blasphemous crime.’ He rubbed at his mouth.
Harry noticed Sir Edmund had a twitch in his orbicularis oris, a strand of muscle pulling at his bottom lip.Still trembling himself, but mindful of the dictates of the Royal Society—and of Robert Hooke, who used to be his master—Harry bent to brush snow from the body.
The boy’s skin, pale as the snow he lay in, was untouched by signs of decay. His eyes, still wide open, had irises an unusual blue. Towards indigo. An eye withheld the image it last perceived, Harry had heard. Looking into them, he saw only his own reflection.
‘The eyes are not filled with a pestilent air,’ Sir Edmund observed. ‘He is recently dead.’
‘Not recently,’ Hooke corrected him. He saw the Justice’s perplexed look but offered no further explanation. Instead, he placed the end of his finger over his right nostril and ejected snot from the left, directing it into the river.
‘What’s this rectangle on him?’ Harry asked, looking at a thinner dusting of snow on the uppermost part of his ribs.
‘A letter was left,’ Hooke answered.
‘I have it,’ Sir Edmund said, producing it from inside his coat. It was small, with a broken black wax seal. ‘I shall study it later, in the warm.’ He slid the letter back out of their sight.
Hooke held Harry’s arm, stopping his question for the Justice.
Instead, Harry brushed more snow from the boy, rolled him onto his back, and moved the limbs to see. ‘The manner of death’s easy enough to read.’
‘Immediately explicable,’ Hooke agreed.
‘Well, then? How did he die?’ Sir Edmund asked them.
‘You have seen these puncture marks on the body?’ Hooke indicated the insides of the tops of the legs. ‘Each with writing by it, in ink.’
‘I have. The neatness of lettering next to each hole is remarkable.’
‘Going into the skin,’ Hooke continued, ‘and on, deeper, into the iliac arteries, these holes show the insertion of hollow tubes. They have a similar diameter to the shaft of a goose feather. There are four such apertures, used to drain him of his blood.’
Sir Edmund winced, then made a note in his book.
Hooke inspected the writing by each hole. ‘A living body, when pierced, seeks to stem the blood’s flow. The blood sticks at the wound, growing thick from coagulation. Losing too much blood brings death by its heat being lost, and elemental or humourical imbalance.’
He loudly cleared his other nostril. It seemed to aid his thinking. ‘When the action of the heart has ceased, the flow of blood goes still. The texture of this boy’s skin is papery to the touch. The feel of the flesh beneath, with the presence of these piercings, reveals all of his blood was taken.’
‘His heart weakened, then stopped, before it could further expel his blood through these holes.’ Sir Edmund demonstrated his understanding. ‘How, then, was the remainder of his blood taken?’
Harry thought for a moment. ‘By making a Torricellian space, the vacuum encouraging the blood to flow.’
Hooke looked at him, pleased.
‘Why a need for all this boy’s blood?’ Sir Edmund asked them.
Hooke shrugged, his hunched back rocking with the gesture. ‘These holes show the signs of repeated insertion. This writing on the body shows when.’
They stared at the four holes, each having a cluster of dates by it.
‘The oldest is from nearly a year ago,’ Harry said, reading 15th Febry. 1676/77. ‘Whoever marked these days clings to the old style of calendar.’
Hooke made a circle with the point of his finger around one of them. ‘They show no signs of healing.’
‘He was preserved for perhaps a year,’ Harry said.
‘No signs of freezing, or embalming.’
‘Again, a Torricellian space, Mr. Hooke. A vacuum preventing decay.’ ‘Why, though, this need for blood?’ Sir Edmund asked them, writing rapidly in his book. ‘It is papistry, mark my words.’
Hooke looked at him mildly. ‘You steer us where we do not necessarily wish to go. Nothing here shows Catholicism.’
Sir Edmund’s expression darkened, and he snapped his gloves together.
‘Infusion?’ Harry suggested, a little to cheer the Justice.
‘Into another, Harry? Our own trials at the Society have been too often unsuccessful.’
‘Mr. Coga received very well the blood of a lamb.’
‘He had only small amounts infused. Indeed, he wanted to undergo the procedure again, thinking he benefitted from some symbolic power, the lamb’s blood being the blood of Christ, as Christ is the Lamb of God.’ Hooke gave a wry smile. ‘His religious zeal may have protected him. Other infusions ended in agony and tragedy. Into many others then, Harry? In modest amounts?’
Hooke, ignoring the Justice’s irritable look, spoke to Harry with a professorial air, that of a teacher with his favoured student.
Sir Edmund’s irritation was a mask for his disgust. The way of this boy’s death revolted him, and he had never met two people who discussed such phenomena as affectionately as these. Even the lowliest chirurgeons of his acquaintance at least pretended delicacy and deference.
But, he did not doubt, they would be useful to him.
‘Pope Innocent VIII,’ he offered, ‘when given blood from boys to rejuvenate him, received Catholic blood. There was no countenancing any other.’
‘The project failed,’ Hooke said dismissively. ‘He died soon after.’
Sir Edmund growled, and one hand clenched into a fist. ‘Elizabeth Báthory bathed in the blood of her victims, to keep her youth.’
‘She was a Calvinist,’ Hooke replied.
Harry concentrated on the body, avoiding their debate. He wiped off the falling snow with the edge of his hand. On the boy’s chest were fine splashes, white, almost transparent. He picked at one, and it folded flakily under his fingernail.
‘Candle wax,’ he announced. ‘Beneath, the skin’s unaffected. The wax dripped after he died.’
‘Worked on at night?’ Hooke wondered, squatting next to him. ‘Or in a darkened place. A candle lodged upon his ribs to provide a light to work by.’ Hooke looked closely at the wax. ‘This is bleached beeswax. An extravagance in most households.’
‘Liturgical candles!’ Sir Edmund looked triumphantly at them. ‘Catholic practices!’
‘Such candles are not only employed at Mass,’ Hooke said.Sir Edmund showed them his annoyance by his laboured concealment of it. He gestured at the snow on the ground. ‘You see the curious lack of prints.’
‘Only our own, and those of the eel fisher,’ Harry agreed. ‘His steps are clear. He stopped well short of the body.’
‘He could not take himself closer when he realised his discovery,’ Sir Edmund said. ‘How did the boy arrive here? Surely, by water.’
‘There are no marks in the mud, leading from the Fleet,’ Hooke replied.
The Justice looked around them. ‘The fall of snow covers the mud about the body. Any impressions have disappeared.’
‘You play the Devil’s Advocate.’ Hooke indicated the smears on their legs. ‘We make deep impressions. Such holes could not have filled.’
‘We are close enough to the Thames for the ebb and flow of its tide to reach here. The rising water has removed any footprints . . . ?’ The question in Sir Edmund’s voice suggested his lack of conviction.
‘The tide ebbs, but gently, and we are close to the neap tide, in the first quarter of the moon, when the water does not rise so greatly,’ Hooke told him.
Sir Edmund stared through the murky surface of the Fleet. ‘There are no rubs from a wherry’s keel. The boy was not dropped from up on the quay, he being too far from the wall. Nor was he dropped from the bridge.’ He shifted uneasily. ‘Everything must have its cause, and leave evidence of its passing. A murderer may conceal the reason for his crime, yet, given the body, his methods at least—of killing and disposal—are always apparent.’
A little further along the bank was the eel fisher’s large box of bait. It had ropes attached for transporting on his back. Going to it, Harry saw it was full of lampreys. Their sucking mouths pouted stupidly up at him. A film of slime covered their lengths.
‘He wants a large haul, with this much bait.’
They walked back along under the bridge and climbed to the quayside.
‘Here in this place openly . . . it is not a thing hotly wrought.’ Sir Edmund looked back down at the bank. ‘This boy suffered an elaborate killing.’
Well, I don’t know about you but I would sure like to find out what the heck this is all about!
Luckily, The Bloodless Boy is out today so you can grab yourself a copy right away! And if you have a moment, why not wish Robert a Happy Publication Day over on twitter.
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |
Robert J. Lloyd grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa (his parents worked in the British Foreign Service), and then in Sheffield, where he studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter but moving to film, performance, and installation. His MA thesis on Robert Hooke and the ‘New Philosophy’, inspired the ideas and characters in The Bloodless Boy. He lives in Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons. This is his first book.