Thursday, November 30, 2023
The Silent House of Sleep
‘No one likes death. It just happens to be our business.’
Nobody who meets Dr Jack Cuthbert forgets him. Tall, urbane, brilliant but damaged, this Scottish pathologist who works with Scotland Yard is the best the new DCI has seen. But Cuthbert is a man who lives with secrets, and he still battles demons brought back from the trenches.
When not one but two corpses are discovered in a London park in 1929, Cuthbert must use every tool at his disposal to solve the mystery of their deaths. In the end, the horrifying truth is more shocking than even he could have imagined.
As he works the case, Cuthbert realises that history rarely stays in the past. And even in the final moments, there is still one last revelation that leaves him reeling.
Author Bio –
Allan Gaw is a Scot who lives and works near Glasgow. He studied medicine and is a pathologist by training but a writer by inclination. Having worked in the NHS and universities in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and the US, he now devotes his time to writing.
Most of his published work to date is non-fiction. These include textbooks and regular magazine articles on topics as diverse as the thalidomide story, the medical challenges of space travel and the medico-legal consequences of the Hillsborough disaster.
More recently, he has been writing short stories, novels and poetry. He has won the UK Classical Association Creative Writing Competition, the International Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize, the International Globe Soup 7-day Writing Challenge and was runner-up in the Glencairn Glass/Bloody Scotland Short Crime Fiction Competition. He has also had prose published in the literary journal, From Glasgow to Saturn and anthologies from the Edinburgh Literary Salon and Clan Destine Press in Australia. His poetry has been published by Dreich, Soor Ploom Press and Black Bough Poetry. His debut poetry collection, Love & Other Diseases, was published in 2023 by Seahorse Publications.
The Silent House of Sleep is his debut novel and is the first in the Dr Jack Cuthbert Mystery series.
You can read more about him and his work at his website: https://researchet.wordpress.com/ .
Social Media Links –
Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/ResearchET
The Silent House of Sleep
This extract is from the opening of chapter three where we learn of the discovery of a body in a shallow grave two months after the disappearance of the law student, Freddie Dawson. The Scottish pathologist, Dr Jack Cuthbert, who works in London with Scotland Yard, is called to the scene. There we have our first glimpse of him at work.
London: February 1929
‘…and then you called the police, sir?’
‘What else was I to do, officer? It was horrible. I didn’t know what it was at first, but then I knew it had to be a body. There was such a stink. It was Sheba who found it. I don’t know how much she disturbed it. I’m sorry about that. I certainly didn’t touch it. I didn’t have to — I knew there was nothing I could do.’
‘Please don’t distress yourself, sir. There are just a few more questions to ask if you don’t mind…’
Detective Sergeant Baker had switched shifts and found himself on an early that day. He was now sitting with Mr Danvers on the park bench, taking his statement. All the while, the labrador, still scenting what she had unearthed 30 yards away, was straining to get back to it. Baker, who had already seen what the dog had discovered, was pleased he only had a human nose. He was already feeling sorry for the pathologist who would be called out to deal with it.
When Cuthbert arrived at the Common, the uniformed officers were gathered across the expanse of grass near a small copse of trees. They were clustered around a hollowed area about 20 yards from the pathway. He strode towards them and was immediately recognised by Sergeant Baker whom he had previously met under similar circumstances.
‘Good morning, Dr Cuthbert. The remains are just over here, sir. They were discovered at around half past six this morning by a dog walker. The dog has caused some disturbance, but it looks to be minimal. Otherwise, the scene is untouched in accordance with your standing instructions.’
‘Very good. And, of course, good morning to you too, sergeant.’
Cuthbert walked on ahead of the sergeant, towards the find, and Baker was reminded just how tall and broad the man was. Both men were in their early thirties but that was almost all they had in common.
When anyone at the Yard spoke of Cuthbert, what they usually talked about were his boots. They were always polished to a mirror-like gloss. Baker had also always admired his clothes, which he could see were expensively cut and well pressed. But, more importantly, he was pleased to have this pathologist on the case because he always gave out an air of calm authority. Indeed, he had a reputation at the Yard as the most meticulous of all the police pathologists.
Cuthbert’s ideas of crime scene management and his methods were thought by some to be mere affectations. They would even on occasion say as much out loud. Others failed to understand his requirements. Baker was not one of them. He had already worked with Cuthbert on several cases over the last months and had been impressed by the towering Scotsman’s approach. Today, he set out to ensure that he had everything he needed to work the case. Baker’s own job would be that much easier if he let the doctor do his because Cuthbert also had a reputation for getting it right.
As expected, Cuthbert’s first action was to take the attending constables aside and brief them on how he wanted the scene protected. They were to rope off the area and station themselves around the perimeter to prevent any intrusion.
Next, as part of his routine, Cuthbert changed from his overcoat into a white coat. From his bag he took a pair of rubber gloves, two metal probes, a notebook and a pen. Using the probes, he began to separate away the mud and bracken to reveal more of the body. Regularly, he would pause to make notes on the numbered pages of his book, neatly recording every detail of the work in black ink.
Half an hour later, relatively little had been uncovered, such was the slow and painstaking way in which Cuthbert worked, but there were already two pages of notes. Sergeant Baker was expecting Inspector Franklin at any moment, as the news of the discovery on the Common would have reached his desk by now. Right on schedule, a police car drew up at the north gate and Franklin got out.
‘Just to let you know, Dr Cuthbert, Inspector Franklin is on his way over.’
Cuthbert did not break his concentration but did register the faint alarm in the sergeant’s voice. He was well aware of the inspector, and there was no love lost between them. His work was not fast enough for Franklin, who wanted quick answers, even if they were the wrong ones. As the inspector approached the rope cordon, he hitched it up and was irritated that he still had to stoop to enter.
‘So, what’s the story, doctor?’
‘Good morning, inspector. Do watch where you’re putting your feet, won’t you?’
‘I don’t have all day, sir.’
‘Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to be patient for this one.’
‘Is it Dawson?’
‘Missing person in December, male, early twenties, student, average in just about every way.’
‘No, I would say it is unlikely to be your Dawson.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Well, for one thing this is the body of a much older man, say in his sixties. Also, from a very preliminary assessment, the deceased was short and probably overweight. However, as you can doubtless see, inspector, nothing is that clear, as yet. I need to get the remains out of the ground and back to the slab. And given the state of decomposition, that needs to be done very carefully. Only after a thorough examination in a good light, will I be able to start giving you some answers.’