Read The Devil's Grin - a Crime Novel Featuring Anna Kronberg and Sherlock Holmes Online
Authors: Annelie Wendeberg
Tags: #Romance, #Murder, #women in medicine, #victorian, #19th century london, #abduction, #history of medicine, #sherlock holmes
The Devil’s Grin
© 2012, Annelie Wendeberg
Published by Annelie Wendeberg
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express
ed written permission from the author/publisher. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Sherlock Holmes, Dr John Watson, and Mrs Hudson are characters by Sir A. C. Doyle. All the others are mine. Should you feel the urge to recycle my characters for your own work, wait until I’m dead for at least seventy years. Also, I should mention that this story is a wild mix of fiction and historical facts. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of my imagination, used fictitiously, or did happen a very long time ago. I herewith apologise to all the (now dead) people I used and abused in my novel, such as Broadmoor’s superintendent Nicholson, the entire board of Holborn’s Union, Dr Robert Koch, Dr Kitasato, Dr von Behring, and others. I also apologise to all Sherlock Holmes fans should they feel their Holmes got abused by me, too.
I never considered writing anything but science papers. Not until my family and I moved into a house with a history dating back to 1529. While ripping off all ‘
’ to restore some of the house’s historic charm, we found a treasure. Hidden underneath the attic’s floorboards, among thick layers of clay, sand, and larch needles were a dozen slender books bound in dark leather. These were the journals of Dr Kronberg.
Magnus - husband, lover, brother in arms
Part One - Anna
History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes,
and misfortunes of mankind.
finally found the peace to write down what must be revealed. At the age of twenty-seven, I witnessed a crime so outrageous that no one dared to tell the public. In fact, it has never been put in ink on paper - not by the police, journalists, nor historians. The general reflex seemed to have been to forget what had happened.
I will hide these journals in my old school and beg the finder to make public what they contain. Not only has the crime to be revealed, but I also wish to paint a different picture of a man who came to be known as the world’s most famous sleuth.
One of the first things I learned as an adult was that knowledge and fact meant nothing to people who were subjected to an adequate dose of fear and prejudice.
This simple-mindedness was the most disturbing attribute of my fellow two-legged creatures. Yet, according to Alfred Russel Wallace’s newest theories, I belonged to this same species - the only one among the great apes that had achieved bipedalism and an unusually large brain. As there is no other upright, big-headed ape, I must be human. But I had my doubts.
My place of work, the ward for infectious diseases at Guy's Hospital in London, was a prime example of the aforementioned human bias against facts. Visitors showed delight when entering through the elegant wrought-iron gate. Once on the hospital grounds, they were favourably impressed by the generous court with lawn, flowers, and bushes. The white-framed windows spanning from floor to ceiling of bright and well-ventilated wards gave the illusion of a pleasant haven for the sick.
Yet, even the untrained eye should not fail to notice a dense overpopulation: each of the forty cots in my ward was occupied by two or three patients, bonded together by bodily fluids, oozing either from infected wounds or raw orifices. Due to the chronic limitation of space, doctors and nurses had learned to disregard what they knew about transmission of disease under crowded conditions: it spread like fire in a dry pine forest.
However, everyone considered
the situation acceptable, simply through habit. The slightest change would have required the investment of energy and consideration; neither willingly spent for anyone but oneself. Therefore nothing changed.
If I had an even more irascible temperament than I already possessed, I would hold hospital staff responsible for the death of countless patients who had lacked proper care and hygiene. And yet, the ones who entrusted us with their health and wellbeing must share the guilt. It was common knowledge that the mortality of patients in hospitals was at least twice that of those who remained at home.
Sometimes I wonder
ed how people could have possibly got the idea that medical doctors could help. Although circumstance occasionally permitted me to cure disease, today there was no such prospect.
wire a nurse handed me complicated matters further:
To Dr Kronberg: Your assistance is required, possible cholera case at Hampton Water Treatment Works, come at once, Inspector Gibson, Scotland Yard.
I was a bacteriologist and epidemiologist, the best to be found in England. This fact could be attributed mostly to the lack of scientists working within this very young field of research. In all of London, we were but three - the other two had been my students. For the occasional cholera fatality or for any other victim who seemed to have been felled by an angry army of germs, I was invariably summoned.
As this call came with some frequency, I had the pleasure of meeting most of the Metropolitan Police inspectors at least once. They were a well-mixed bunch of men whose mental sharpness ranged from that of a butter knife to an overripe plum.
Inspector Gibson belonged to the plum category. The butter knives, fifteen in total, had been assigned to the murder division - a restructuring effort within the Yard in response to the recent Whitechapel murders and the hunt for the culprit commonly known as Jack the Ripper.
slipped the wire into my pocket and asked the nurse to summon a hansom. Then I made my way down to my basement laboratory and the hole in the wall that I could call my office. I packed a few belongings into my doctor’s bag and rushed to the waiting cab.
The bumpy one-hour ride to Hampton Water Treatment Works was pleasant, as it presented views London could not offer: bright sunshine, fresh air, and once in a while a glimpse of the river that still reflected the light. Once the Thames entered the city it turned into the dirtiest stretch of moving water in the whole of England. Crawling through London it became saturated with cadavers from each of the many species populating the city, including their excrements. The river washed them out onto the sea where they sank into the deep to be forgotten. London had an endless supply of filth, enough to defile the Thames for centuries to come. At times this tired me so much I felt compelled to pack my few things and move to a remote village. Perhaps to start a practice or breed sheep, or do both and be happy. Unfortunately, I was a scientist and my brain needed exercise. Country life would soon become dull, I was certain.
came to a halt at a wrought-iron gate with a prominent forged
Hampton Water Treatment Works
sign arching above it, its two sides connecting large pillars of stone. Behind it was a brick complex made of two impressively tall towers on either side of a three-storey building.
Londoners had been drinking their own filth
for centuries whenever they took water from the Thames within the city. Recurring cholera outbreaks were but one of the many consequences. It took the progressive engineer Thomas Telford more than twenty years to convince the government of the imminent need for clean drinking water. Finally, in 1852 the Water Act was passed and Hampton Water Treatment Works were built.
Roughly half a mile east from where I
stood, an enormous reservoir was framed by crooked willows and a variety of tall grasses. My somewhat elevated position allowed me to look onto the water’s dark blue surface decorated with hundreds of small white splotches. The whooping, shrieking, and bustling about identified them as water birds.
ped away from the cab and walked past three police officers - two blue-uniformed constables and one in plain clothes, being Gibson. The Bobbies answered my courteous nod with a smile, while Gibson looked puzzled. The other two men I was aiming for were, I hoped, water works employees.
One was a bulky yet healthy-looking man of approximately seventy years of age. His face was framed by bushy white whiskers and mutton chops topped up with eyebrows of equal consistency. He gave the impression of someone who would retire only after falling down dead. And he was looking strained as if his shoulders bore a heavy weight.
I am Dr Anton Kronberg.
The Yard called me because of a potential cholera fatality in the water works. I assume you are the chief engineer?’
Yes, I am William Hathorne. I found the dead man.’
I noticed Gibson huffing irritably. Probably I was undermining his authority yet again. Although this would require a certain degree of learning ability on his part, I was still surprised that he obviously hadn’t yet become accustomed to my impertinence.
Was it you who claimed the man to be a cholera victim?’ I asked the chief engineer.
How did you know?’
, his gaze falling to his shoes. ‘I lived on Broad Street.’
wondered whether he had lost his wife or a child, since he apparently still remembered the haggard and bluish look of a cholera death.
I’m sorry,’ I said quietly.
in silent response.
Thirty-five years ago, the public pump on Broad Street had infected and killed more than six hundred people, which marked the end of London’s last cholera epidemic. People had dug their cesspit too close to the public pump. As soon as both, pump and cesspit were shut down, the epidemic ceased. How many people would die when a cholera victim floated in the very source of London’s drinking water? I wondered.