Beastly Bones, the sequel to William Ritter’s Jackaby, follows supernatural detective assistant Abigail Rook and her boss, R.F. Jackaby, as they investigate phenomena in 1892 New England. Not only are the covers of these two novels works of art in their own right (seriously, check out both jackets below), but Ritter’s tales are fast-paced and full of intrigue. See an exclusive excerpt of Beastly Bones below, in advance of its Sept. 22 publication.
BEASTLY BONES by William Ritter
Our ride through the early morning streets was a cold one, and so was the body at the end of it. Mrs. Beaumont lay on her back on at the feet of a plush divan when we arrived, the intricate swirls and rosettes of a Persian carpet splaying out beneath her.
“Maybe it’s best if you wait outside, young lady,” said Marlowe.
I shook my head. “If you’ve enlisted Mr. Jackaby, then you’ve enlisted me as well, commissioner.” I plucked up my nerve and my notepad, and began to record the scene before me. Marlowe turned his attention to my employer, who was already bent over the body.
Jackaby stood beside the corpse, his hands hovering over her body, stirring the air. “There has been an abomination in this house.” He pulled back with a grimace, rubbing invisible particles from his fingers with distaste.
“You mean like a murder?” Marlowe suggested flatly.
“Worse,” said Jackaby. He drew a magnifying glass from his pocket, but rather than gazing through it, he held it by the glass and used its stem to gently nudge the lace collar away from the woman’s neck.
“I was wondering how long it would take for you to find that.” Marlowe paced around the body and stood across from Jackaby. “What do you make of it?”
I inched closer and peered over my employer’s shoulder. On the woman’s right side, just beneath her jaw, was an oblong blemish the length of my forefinger—a violet bruise, dappled with dark plum spots. Within the mottled oval was a pea-sized circle of deep red where the woman’s skin had been pierced.
“Peculiar,” said Jackaby. “There ought to be two.”
“There’s no exit wound,” Marlowe informed him. “It’s the only mark we’ve found on the body. Doesn’t look like a typical gunshot, but I’ve asked the coroner to look for bullet fragments, all the same.”
“He won’t find any,” said Jackaby without looking up. “It’s not a projectile, it’s a puncture. The assailant struck the jugular directly. Exsanguination is almost certainly the cause of death. The lack of blood about the body and the burst capillaries around the injury indicate suction…”
“A vampire,” I said.
Jackaby tucked the magnifying glass back into his coat. “A touch too glaring for my taste, Miss Rook, but that would be the most obvious conclusion.”
Marlowe groaned and rubbed the bridge of his nose with one hand.
“You disagree?” Jackaby said, rising.
“Of course I disagree. The ‘most obvious conclusion’ is a lunatic with an ice pick or, a jealous lover with a letter-opener…” He took a deep breath. “…But the most obvious conclusion keeps falling short—which is why you’re here. So, that’s your first guess, then? You’re opening with vampire?”
“I’m not ruling out the Russian strigoi, or Chinese jianshi. This is a country of immigrants, after all. There are also countless numbers of demons and ghouls known for bleeding their victims dry, but vampires certainly make the list.”
The commissioner sighed. “Not a word of this leaves this room. I mean that, and stay away from the press, both of you. Reporters haven’t stopped hounding me for details from our last case—and they would have a field day with a vampire in New Fiddleham.
“So you’ve brought us here just to shut us up?” said Jackaby. “You know very well you can’t make this go away by not believing in it.”
Marlowe stared at the corpse on the carpet for several seconds. “Yeah, I know.” he grunted. “I didn’t believe in redcaps or werewolves a month ago—but apparently they didn’t much care what I believed. I think it’s fair to say I’m a little more open to the existence of monsters today.”
“Charlie isn’t a werewolf,” I said, defensively. “And he’s not a monster.” Charlie Cane was the only police officer willing to listen to us during our last case. He was paranormal, it’s true—possessed of the ability to assume the form of a great hound—but he was still every bit a gentleman. Charlie had sacrificed his greatest secret to protect the city—to protect me—and yet he had been rewarded for his courage with exile into the countryside.
“You’re right about that. He’s a sharp officer who knows the value of discretion, which is one of the reasons he kept this strictly confidential.” Marlowe pulled a slim envelope from his pocket. It bore Charlie’s pseudonym, C. Barker, and I recognized his handwriting at once.
“Madeleine Brisbee…” Jackaby read over my shoulder. “Why is that name familiar?”
“My word! She’s the woman from the article,” I said. “The one who passed away out by the excavation site! But, they said foul play was not suspected.”
“Don’t believe everything you read in the papers. She was found on the rocks—banged up from a short fall. No broken bones, though, no blood, nothing that should’ve been fatal. Local doc called it overexertion. Local cop disagreed.”
“I take it the local cop was Charlie?” I said.
“Cigar for the lady,” Marlowe said flatly. I flipped to the next paper, and found a rough pencil sketch of a woman’s head and neck, complete with a shaded oval just beneath her jawline, one dark spot inscribed within it.
“Commander Bell told him it was just an indentation from the rocks, but Charlie wasn’t convinced. The sketch arrived in yesterday’s post, so you can imagine my surprise when my men brought in an identical report about Mrs. Beaumont this morning.”
“People are dying in my city, and I’ve got nothing but children’s stories to tell their families,” Marlowe said. “I need to know exactly what we’re dealing with. I’ve got my men on alert here in New Fiddleham, but Commander Bell has no idea how to handle something like this, and I’m not even sure he would believe us if we involved him.”
“Yes. Nothing more frustrating than a bullheaded lawman.” Jackaby raised his eyebrows meaningfully at Marlowe, but the Commissioner ignored him.
“Charlie is lucky enough the press didn’t recognize him the first time they came to the valley. He’s already put his neck out further than he should. What we need is a thorough, discreet report from somebody accustomed to working outside the usual parameters of the law.”
“What a coincidence,” Jackaby said. “I’ve been thinking of putting that very thing on my business cards. So you’re sending us on assignment?”