Book Spotlight — The London Monster by Donna Scott
Publication Date: 21st November 2020
Publisher: Atlantic Publishing
Print Length: 322 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Mystery
In 1788, exactly one hundred years before Jack the Ripper terrorizes the people of London, a sexual miscreant known as the London Monster roams the streets in search of his next victim…
Thomas Hayes, having lost his mother in a vicious street assault, becomes an underground pugilist on a mission to rid the streets of violent criminals. But his vigilante actions lead to him being mistaken for the most terrifying criminal of all.
Assistance arrives in the form of Sophie Carlisle, a young journalist with dreams of covering a big story, though she is forced to masquerade as a man to do it. Trapped in an engagement to a man she doesn’t love, Sophie yearns to break free to tell stories that matter about London’s darker side—gaming, prostitution, violence—and realizes Tom could be the one to help. Together, they come up with a plan.
Straddling the line between his need for vengeance and the need to hide his true identity as a politician's son becomes increasingly difficult as Tom is pressured to win more fights. The more he wins, the more notoriety he receives, and the greater the chance his identity may be exposed—a revelation that could jeopardize his father’s political aspirations and destroy his family’s reputation.
Sophie is also in danger as hysteria spreads and the attacks increase in severity and frequency. No one knows who to trust, and no one is safe—Tom included, yet he refuses to end the hunt.
Little does he realize, the monster is also hunting him.
Buy links: Amazon
I have little patience for misinformation. First of all, I did not attack a Miss Kitty Wheeler in the Ranelagh pleasure garden. I only whispered some indelicacies in her ear. There were far too many people meandering about on that enchanted summer night, so I would never have been so reckless as to draw my knife. I am not a fool, after all.
But the papers always manage to get it wrong. Or perhaps it’s the women. I have been described as a thin, vulgar-looking man with ugly legs and feet. How would they know the true nature of my legs and feet? Do I go about without stockings and shoes? I think not! Some accounts describe me as short with a villainous, narrow face, yet others paint me as a small, big-nosed man with curly hair, a tall man of regular features, or foreign-looking with a dark complexion. I have been said to wear all-black clothing, a brown greatcoat and striped waistcoat, or a blue silk coat with ruffled details and blue and white stockings. They say I have long slicked hair, plaited behind and turned up, or loose curls and a round or cocked hat with or without a cockade. Essentially, I look like everyone or no one at all.
The Morning Chronicle has often referred to me as a ‘miscreant’ or a ‘wretch’. The Oracle is less judgmental and therefore uses terms like ‘attacker’ and ‘perpetrator’. But the World is the most accurate of the papers, for it portrays the women as the real monsters. They are the ones whose histrionics and featherbrained ways have placed all men in danger, for any innocent man can be accused of being me with one wrong look or harmless suggestion.
And that is how I do it. First, with a kind word or two, and then with a proposition. The circumstances—whether the object of my affection sways her hips when she walks or strides forward with impatience and arrogance—will determine how I choose my words. The lady who entertains me first with the rhythmic swish of her skirts as I follow behind her will always get the kinder introduction. Perhaps a compliment before I express my true wishes. But it is the haughty jilt who will take the brunt of it.I might whisper a vulgarity in her delicate pink ear, comment on my growing arousal or the bounce of her breasts. What brings me the most pleasure is that first gasp, the initial moment of shock which registers in her raised brow and parted lips, a sure sign I have offended. After that, it is not exactly pleasure I feel, but anger that burns my chest—a building rage. Every desire I’ve ever had spills freely from my tongue and coats her like the soot on a hearth’s bricks. She might fight to get away—most of them do—but I am stronger, faster.And it is only then that I draw my blade.
Newgate Prison, London
Even as he stood atop the wooden cart with his hands bound and a rope around his neck, Thomas Hayes didn’t regret what he had done. Only three people knew the truth of it, of course—the lady involved, her assailant, and him. But without the victim coming forth, no one would believe Tom’s pleas of innocence.
Behind him, a chandler stirred the boiling tallow that was meant to cover Tom’s dead body when the deed was done. The unpleasant odour of rancid lard filled his nostrils, yet strangely made him awfully hungry at the same time. He should have been hanged in the morning, but as the hours passed and no one came to retrieve him, he thought they’d reconsidered and decided the best way of death would be from starvation. He hadn’t eaten in two days, either because his gaolers forgot to feed him or because they simply thought it unnecessary. Either way, his mouth watered and stomach growled in what was to be the last day of his two and twenty years of life.
He imagined his father’s expression when he finally read the news from the Morning Herald or the Public Ledger: Son of Candidate Joseph Hayes Hanged at Newgate for Attempted Murder. His father’s face would drop into his hands, his head shaking with disappointment, and his dreams of becoming a member of the House of Commons turning to ash with each blazing written word.
The two men awaiting execution to Tom’s left mumbled their prayers. Tom had said his that morning as he took the sacrament from the chaplain, having satisfied the man’s religious estimation that he was truly repentant. But he wasn’t. He’d do it all again if presented with the same circumstances.
The gibbet stood only a foot higher than his head, and the ground little more than three feet below him. He wore the same clothes he had been wearing the night he had attended the party at Apsley House, and knew with certainty that had his brothers been informed of his fate—another reason to curse him for ruining their family name—they would purchase his clothing and shoes back from the executioner once he was hanged. They were plain but beautifully made, his coat and breeches of the finest worsted wool and his shirt of white linen, now stained from weeks lying on the dirt floor of his cell. Sadly, his recently purchased cocked hat was nowhere to be found. The two men beside him were less formally dressed, both in crudely made hemp clothing, their brown forms slumped and feeble. From the look on the spectators’ faces, he knew that he stood out like a peacock on parade.
The constable beside him nodded, and the executioner covered Tom’s bare head and face with a coarse white linen sack. “There you go, lad.”
The bag scratched the skin on the bridge of his nose, so he tried to wriggle it away as best he could, considering the rope pressed tightly against his throat. He was to be hanged in chains once he was declared dead—as were all felons, particularly those accused of attempted murder—and placed on display as carrion for nearby birds looking to feast on his remains. That part bothered him the most. He thanked God that his mother wasn’t alive to see it.
The crowd suddenly hushed, telling him he had only seconds left to live. He took a deep breath through his mouth to avoid the tallow stench and relaxed as much as he could. The sound of a bare hand slapping the horse’s hindquarters, then the jingling of its tack registered in his mind as the last sounds he would ever hear. The cart below him shifted forward, and he stumbled to stay atop, but the flooring disappeared and the noose jerked him upright unforgivingly. It was the last thing he remembered.
# # #
He awoke facedown in the dirt, a searing pain above his brow and between his eyes. Someone had loosened the rope from around his neck, but the sack remained over his head. His throat burned and jaw ached.
“’Tis God’s will that he live. ’Tis God’s will!” He recognized the chaplain’s voice full of excitement. Multiple hands flipped him onto his back, and fingers worked frantically to remove his hood. Although his eyesight was blurry, he could make out the dark shapes of several heads hovering over him, gasps and mumblings about God’s intervention stemming from their direction.
“It broke right through!”
“Thomas, can you hear me?” the chaplain asked.
Tom tried to clear his throat to speak but only managed a guttural sound.
“I think he’s trying to say something.”
Someone grasped his hand and rubbed it briskly. “Can you hear us, lad?”
He blinked, the realization that he was still alive finally striking him. In the near distance, the horse jingled its tack and snorted.
“Lift him up.”
A group of hands forced him into a sitting position, causing the pain in his brow to worsen. Someone slipped the noose over his head and set it on his lap. The rope was heavy, sturdy, and in one piece. He rubbed the top of his head, which already had a nice goose egg forming on it.
“What happened?” he croaked.
The chaplain leaned over him, his face slowly coming into focus. “The gibbet snapped. ’Twasn’t meant to be.”
So that’s what had struck his head. Three other men crouched around him, waving back the throng. One of them held up the splintered wood. Even with faulty vision, Tom could see that woodworm had eaten it through.
“God has spared you, my son.”
“We should call the magistrate.” The constable, still holding his pike, frowned. “Lucky fop.”
# # #
It was a short walk to the Old Bailey, but the best walk of his life. The bright blue of the cloudless sky above and the crunch of the gravel beneath his feet suddenly seemed extraordinary. Tom inhaled through his nose, taking in the sweaty stench of stabled horses mixed with the tangy odours of a nearby butchery. Nothing had ever smelled better.
With the constable’s tight grip on his arm, he entered through the gate in the brick wall, occasionally wriggling his fingers and touching the sensitive flesh around his neck to ensure he was truly alive. He had survived his own hanging.
The courtroom looked nothing like it had at his trial. This time, due to the late hour, the four brass chandeliers were lit, casting dull yellow light on the heavy wooden benches and semicircular mahogany table in the centre. Except for a sprinkling of the few spectators who followed them in, the room was mostly empty.
The chaplain spoke first, his eyes round with excitement. “He should be set free! God has spoken!”
Tom stood at the bar between the chaplain and the constable, facing the judge. He was a serious-looking man, his forehead high and framed by the cascading curls of his white peruke. He scratched the side of his nose with a long finger. “And you say the victim never filed a complaint?”
“No, milord,” Tom replied in a scratchy voice, the pounding in his forehead becoming more prominent with every word spoken. “He fled when . . . the crowd arrived.”
“He? I thought the victim was a woman.”
Tom took a deep breath, his throat searing from the effort. “He had attacked a woman and then I attacked him . . . well, not attacked, exactly. . .”
The judge stared at him sideways. “Then who filed the complaint against you?”
“A constable, I believe.” Tom had been through all of this before. The dark street. The woman calling out for help. A well-dressed man pointing a knife at her hip. The struggle. And then a swarm of onlookers holding him facedown on the cobbles, his nose bloodied and throbbing. Much of the attack had even been written about in the papers, although highly inaccurate. “You see . . . I was defending the woman . . . from the London Monster, and—”
“The London Monster?” the judge asked incredulously. “Did you see him? Could you identify him?”
To his right, a young clerk of sorts scribbled notes on paper. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen or so, for he hadn’t a sign of a single hair on his chin.
“I only know . . . that he was tall . . . and thin with light brown hair,” he answered gruffly.
“Well, that narrows it down to half the men in England.” The judge scrawled something on a piece of paper.
“It was . . . dark, you see.”
The chaplain approached, recognizing Tom was struggling to speak. “’Twas all a misunderstanding. The crowd thought he was the one who attacked the lady. But he was coming to her aid, milord. An honourable behaviour.”
“And you know this how?”
“It sounds as if he confessed naught.”
The chaplain lowered his head. “Well, there were other sins, but . . . none of which pertain to this matter.”
Tom wanted to smile, but it hurt too much.
“Indeed,” the judge said, squinting his dark eyes. “I am not here to retry his case, sir. This is a highly unusual circumstance that requires careful deliberation and good judgment. A failed hanging does not guarantee freedom.”
“Yet it is clear God has had a hand in this, milord.” The chaplain elbowed Tom to speak.
Tom cleared his throat. “I am most grateful . . . for any consideration you might give me, milord.”
“I will review the facts and then make my recommendation.” The judge left the room, turning back once only to harrumph.
Tom sat on a wobbly stool for the rest of the afternoon, awaiting word of his fate. He could be hanged again, transported to America, or set free. He hoped for the latter of the three possibilities, considering death and indentured servitude didn’t seem particularly appealing. Not that his brothers would mind. Either result would keep him out of their lives, rendering him incapable of further soiling their good family name. It would break his father’s heart, though. He always took the news of Tom’s unfortunate ‘misadventures’ personally, as if it were Tom’s intention all along to destroy his father’s efforts to gain the respect of those who never had to engage in the ‘dirty’ business of commerce in order to feed their families.
The young clerk sat quietly against the wall, occasionally shooting Tom a quick smile. Of compassion or amusement, he couldn’t tell. Nevertheless, it was unsettling.
Just before dusk, the judge returned, his brow furrowed and the corners of his mouth caked with breadcrumbs. Tom’s stomach growled, reminding him of his hunger.
The judge readjusted his periwig with a quick tug over his forehead. “Thomas Hayes, I am recommending you be set free.”
“Bless you, milord! Bless you.” The chaplain nodded, his hands pressed together in prayer. “God will remember—”
“Quiet, please.” The judge held up one bony finger that wagged in Tom’s direction. “You are not absolved of the offense, however. Before your release, you will be branded, so as to mark you for your crime.”
Tom imagined what his brothers would say about him being forever marked as a criminal. Perhaps a hanging might be better after all.
Donna Scott is an award-winning author of 17th and 18th century historical fiction. Before embarking on a writing career, she spent her time in the world of academia. She earned her BA in English from the University of Miami and her MS and EdD (ABD) from Florida International University. She has two sons and lives in sunny South Florida with her husband.Her first novel, Shame the Devil, received the first place Chaucer Award for historical fiction and a Best Book designation from Chanticleer International Book Reviews.
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