There is a folder of photographs in the English National Archives, within a bigger folder of documents. If you’re not careful you don’t realise they are photographs – but you need to be careful. For when you open them you get a horrible shock. Depending on the order the last person has left them in you’re going to see a pair of legs hacked off at the top of the thigh standing to unwieldy attention against a white tile wall.
You’re going to see a naked female torso in medium shot, lying on a dissecting table with the same legs laid out below them but separated from them so that you can see they are a match but no longer connected.
You’re going to see that torso, without legs, arms or head in terrible and shameful and pitiless close-up from every possible angle.
The victim of the Brighton Trunk murderer, exposed for all to see in Sir Bernard Spilsbury’s pathology laboratory in London, June 1934.
Her murderer was never exposed because never found.
That murder is one half of City of Dreadful Night. (Title courtesy of a suitably gloomy Victorian poem and a Rudyard Kipling story.)
The other half is modern policing from the top down. A Chief Constable defending his officers who have messed up big time in a contemporary armed operation. His police authority and a devious government spin doctor (actually, that “devious” makes that phrase a tautology, doesn’t it?) force his resignation, with a little bit of black ops’ scandal thrown in.
The ex-chief constable is out for revenge and the truth about what happened at that armed operation – now being called The Milldean Massacre.
Brighton, Brighton – so seedy yet so swish they had to name it twice. Okay, strictly speaking they named it Brighton and Hove but that somehow doesn’t quite work. But, in writer terms, so big you have to give it a trilogy. (Or a great series, like that of Peter James.)
So City became the first of three. Last King of Brighton comes out in February 2011. God’s Lonely Man in August 2011. It’s a twisting story. The sequels extend it and revisit both the Trunk murder and the contemporary story. They can be read in any order but City first is best. The plotting was inspired by that of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, in which everything shifts with each successive novel in the series. Hope people stay with it.
City of Dreadful Night by Peter Guttridge is published by Severn House