A wrongful death sentence from over one hundred years and the grisly murders of five people in central London reverberate throughout the bloody hands of time from 1879 to the present day in this gruesome but always compelling account of the insidiousness of human nature and the lengths that a vicious killer will go to exact revenge. Blood Detective introduces us to DCI Grant Foster and DS Heather Jenkins and the chiseled featured DI Andy Drinkwater, all three heading up the West London Murder Command and all called to grounds of St Johns Church, on the hill by Ladbroke Grove where a horrific discovery lies in wait. The body is of a male in his early thirties. But truly shocks the detectives are the hands, or rather the lack of them, at the end of both arms are just livid, fleshy stumps, jagged bone protruding, the cause of death, a single stab wound to the heart while the chest is covered with superficial cuts. The only indication that anyone around was a drunk woman, by the name of Ciderwoman a derelict, who often used part of the churchyard where the body was found, but she's antagonistic and belligerent and can offer little input into who she saw that night.
It isn't until the official post-mortem that Foster sees certain cuts on the man's chest, the outlines of each cut resembling the five figures. The cuts were made after death and most possibly meant for the eyes of the investigators. A grim and determined mood sets the scene for this dark and bloody investigation. The man, James Darbyshire, a bank trader, was last seen with friends drinking in one of the local pubs. While Jenkins is positive that James' death is somehow linked to the fate of a suicidal tramp found dangling from the frame of a park swing the previous Sunday morning, Foster is the first to realize that the crime is beyond the usual mundane murderous language of drugs, money, rage and envy.
Central to the investigation is that the perpetrator uses a church yard as a dumping ground for his victims. When Foster realizes that the cuts on Darbyshire's chest are in fact index numbers to family records, he seeks out the services of family historian Nigel Barnes. A specialist in genealogy the kindly Nigel is all to readily enthralled to be helping out in the case. Ironically it is Nigel who holds the keys, delving into the long-held indexes, losing himself in the bureaucratic traces of the long departed. As the bodies begin to pile up, each one more mutilated then the last - a head scalped and another whose eyes have been horrifically gouged out, the case gets a break when Nigel discovers the death certificate of a man, Albert Beck, found stabbed to death the grounds of St Johns Church, in March 1879, the same day James Darbyshire's body had been discovered.
When more victims materialize from 1879, all of them stabbed, the case takes on new meaning as Grant and Nigel stumble onto information that has thus far eluded them in the investigation. The killer leaves no detail no trace, clue or weapon at the scene, and the only constant is the reference and the fact that the place and time accord with the murders of 1879. A compelling peek into the darker side of London history, The Blood Detective proves the past cannot be erased so easily, seeping back through the soil, "like blood through the sand." Here are dark secrets that offer a glimpse behind the city's net curtains and serial killers "who write their name into London legend."
All of Waddell's protagonists are suddenly propelled back into the 1870's where a tale of revenge plays out and perhaps innocent man was hanged. Amid census records, birth and death registers, old newspapers and marriage indexes, the delicate tendrils of a group family histories prove to be Foster's only hope in his efforts to crack the case. The novel is a genealogists delight, providing some of the most fascinating lessons in family history while also serving as fast paced and well plotted thriller where the foundation of human depravity is ever-present. Waddell uses his journalistic sensibilities to great effect, accelerating the story at breakneck speed and although the story is mostly formulaic, the tension ever lets up, the final clash between killer and cop almost too hard to read. In the end, Barnes and the others cannot help but be surrounded by a past that up until now has been kept buried and hidden, yet finally comes to the surface, refusing to be banished or ignored. Mike Leonard December 08.