Exclusive excerpt from Brian Ruckey's THE EDINBURGH DEAD

Thanks to the cool folks at Orbit, here's an extract from Brian Ruckley's latest, The Edinburgh Dead. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Edinburgh: 1828

In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

The Edinburgh Dead is a powerful fusion of gothic horror, history, and the fantastical.


“You there,” Quire heard the boy’s father suddenly saying, and he spun back to see what was happening.

The lantern’s light swept up and around, washing over the church, picking out for a moment the rough surface of the stone blocks, flashing from icicles hanging from the edge of the roof, rushing on and down. It fell across Munro’s shoulders and spilled around him, conjuring up out of the darkness ahead a strange tableau.

One man was already partway out over the graveyard wall. He dropped down out of sight even as Quire drew breath to shout, leaving only the image — a mere fragment of a moment, glimpsed at the light’s edge, and then gone — of a black- gloved hand clinging to the top of the wall.

That left one bulky figure inside the graveyard’s bounds, turning back towards them even as Munro drew near. There was a shovel hanging slack in one of the man’s big hands.

“Wait,” shouted Quire, trying to rush forwards but hampered by the snow that gave and slipped beneath his boots.

He glimpsed the disturbed grave: the sod slightly lifted, some black soil exposed. The body snatchers had hardly begun their work before being interrupted.

“Have you no shame, man?” Munro was shouting, entirely overcome by outrage.

“Wait,” Quire cried again.

He was staring at the grave robber’s face, though he could not see it well, for Munro’s head kept casting it into shadow or blocking his view as the church elder continued his querulous advance. But what little he could see worried him. The object of Munro’s ire was impassive, looking at them with a blank indifference entirely unsuited to the moment. His unblinking eyes seemed to encompass the whole dark scene without comprehension, as if he were unable, or disinclined, to distinguish living man from inanimate stone and snow.

“You’re desecrating . . .” Munro began.

The grave robber took one long stride forward, his leading foot stamping down into the snow. His arm came up smooth and fast, sweeping the shovel through the night air as if it were weightless. Its metal blade hit Munro’s head edge on, crunching in just above the crest of his cheekbone.

The terrible blow turned Munro about. He spun, and toppled, falling face first. He did not raise his arms to break the fall.

Everything after that happened quickly. Munro’s attacker made for the wall. Quire dropped the lantern and went to his knees beside Munro. The fallen man’s son slumped down as well, taking his father’s hand in his own.

“Father, Father,” he said, over and over again.

Quire tried gently to turn Munro on to his back. He knew, at once. He could tell, in the leaden weight of the shoulder at which he tugged; the utter motionless of the form. The side of Munro’s face was smashed in, bone visible in the crevice the shovel had opened up. His left eye was displaced. Shallow, flighty breaths rushed in and out of him, but Quire knew they would soon cease. It would be only minutes. The man was dead; his body just had not yet conceded the fact.

Quire looked over his shoulder. The second grave robber — the murderer — was atop the wall, swinging his lagging leg over. Not hurrying, not looking back. The bloodied shovel scraped against the stone.

“Father,” Duncan Munro whimpered.

“Stay with him,” Quire said. “Give me the gun.”

He made that last demand with reluctance — loading the thing had been reminder enough for one night of times past — but he was not about to test his skill with the baton against a shovel. The young man did not hear him. He was entirely possessed by the awful sight of his father, whose last breaths were pluming out between already pale lips, frail nets of steam cast into the winter night.

Carefully, Quire reached for the Brown Bess, dropped and forgotten in the snow. His heart ached; he had some sense of the inexpressible, appalling holes being torn in the younger Duncan Munro at this moment.

The fallen lantern lay on its side, flame still fluttering, throwing unsteady sheets of illumination across the graves. Quire left it where it was. Duncan might need it, and Quire surely did not. It would rob him of his night eyes, and you could not shoot into darkness without eyes accustomed to it. He had learned that quickly enough in Spain.

The wall was a head higher than Quire. He threw himself at it, got both elbows hooked over, and dragged himself up.

Rough ground sloped away from the foot of the wall. Humps and hollows, their underlying nature disguised by the snow, made an undulating descent towards the banks of Duddingston Loch. Two figures were fleeing across that narrow expanse. The first was already disappearing into the dense, obscuring vegetation at the edge of the ice; the second, bigger, slower, shovel still held loosely in one hand, was closer.

A fatter, brighter moon would have helped a good deal, for the world was indistinct. Imprecise. All shapes and shadows and shades of grey. But Quire knew — everybody knew — that the Resurrection Men did not come on the nights of a full moon. They liked the dark. So be it.

He dropped down from the wall far more carefully than his surging anger would have wished. He did not want a turned or broken ankle ending his hunt before it was properly begun. The snow cushioned his landing, and he sprang forward. Down across the field he ran, leaping from high point to high point, snow making clouds about his pounding feet. He carried the musket in one hand, hip-high, barrel to the fore, pointing the way ahead.

The first of the grave robbers — Blegg, a silent voice insisted over and over again within him; Blegg — was out of sight, vanished into the willow trees and reed beds, swallowed up by the enveloping darkness. But the second, Quire knew he could catch. The man had a long stride, but he ran with a strange lack of urgency. He was only now crashing noisily through the tangled bushes that marked the transition from land to water. Land to ice.

The slope levelled out beneath Quire’s feet. He found himself, surreally, running through a thick stand of tall reeds and bulrushes. Running on ice. He slowed, and that very caution, the change in his stride, sent his leading foot skidding out from under him. He fell heavily on his side, trapping the musket beneath his body and grinding the knuckles of the hand that held it into the ice. For one moment he was looking up through the forest of reeds, seeing them swaying above him, and beyond them the starry sky, black as ink.

Then he rolled on to his hands and knees, pushed himself up, and ran out on to the ice. A flat, open field of snow, stretching almost to the limits of his vision, though he knew that by day this did not seem a great body of water. Ghostly, almost, in its featureless perfection. Not silent. Quire could hear three things: his own increasingly heavy, increasingly strained breathing; the hollow, crunching thud of his feet beating on the hard skin of the loch; and another set of feet, out of time with his own, up ahead.

He saw his quarry lope to a gradual halt, and turn about and stand there, almost at the very centre of the loch. The grave robber waited. Quire’s blood was running hot and hard, but not sufficiently so as to render him witless. He slowed too, and approached the man at a slow walk, hefting the Bess in two hands now. Hoping that it would still discharge, if called upon; it had been so long since he had had to think of such things that he had failed to check it after climbing over the wall, or falling on the ice. Perhaps his blood was indeed running too hot for his own good.

“Put that shovel down, would you?” he called as he closed to within twenty paces.

He was startled by how loud and clear his voice sounded on the still, frigid air with the ice to set it ringing out in all directions. He stopped, and stood with his finger resting lightly on the trigger.

The man to whom he had spoken gave no response. Gave no sign at all, in fact, that he had heard Quire, or noticed his approach. Quire frowned. It was difficult to be certain, for he could see not much more of the man than his outline, but he did not seem to be breathing hard, as his exertions should surely have required.

“If you make me ask again, I’ll not be so polite,” Quire said.

The man came forward without haste; one, two long strides closing almost half the gap to Quire.

“For God’s sake, man,” Quire shouted, alarmed by the sudden arrival of a moment from which there would likely be no good outcome.

He hesitated, just for the space of one breath, hampered by an acquired restraint that never would have troubled him in his younger days. He had unlearned just enough to make him pause, make him think where once there would have been no thought.

He set the Brown Bess to his shoulder, shouting as he did so: “Stop.”

The man was raising the shovel. Quire sighted along the barrel, staring into the black mass of the man’s chest, worrying whether he could trust his left arm to hold the gun steady. Another half a second of doubt, washed away by one thought: he’s already killed one man tonight. He squeezed the trigger.

The rasping click of the hammer falling, the flint sparking. A flaring, blinding light in his right eye. Smoke puffing upwards. The musket kicking his shoulder, sending out a lance of flame and more white smoke from its mouth. The crash of the shot, loud as a cannon out here on the ice, echoing from the trees around the loch and from the great night- clad mass of Arthur’s Seat.

Quire blinked, chasing the dancing lights out of his eye, squinting through the drifting smoke. It had been a good shot, undoubtedly; he had put the ball right into the man’s chest. Probably killed him. He was therefore astonished to find the great dark figure bearing down on him at pace, the shovel lifted one- handed against the sky. That great spade was about as long as Quire’s own arm, and looked to be solidly made; how this man was wielding it like a little axe for chopping kindling was beyond him. His bewilderment did not slow him down.

Ears still ringing with the sound of the shot, he slithered to one side, finding the ice so treacherous that he had to go down on his haunches and up again to keep his balance. He lurched sideways, to avoid the blade of the shovel as it came scything down and bit into the ice, sending up a spray of chips.

Quire set both hands on the barrel of the gun. It was hot, but not unbearably so. He swung it without taking too much trouble about the aim. Just connect with the dark form assailing him; just knock the man down. He did land the blow, but it was inconclusive, the butt of the musket skidding off shoulder and forehead. The gun’s weight carried Quire round, his heels sliding helplessly over the ice.

He fell backwards, banging his skull against the rock- hard skin of the loch. It saved him, for the shovel came lashing back on a flat arc that would have struck him had he not fallen. Quire rolled. Heard another blow crunching down where he had been. Heard too a splintering, creaking groan run through the ice upon which he lay; felt a tremor. Fear coursed through him, then. They were far from the shore. Far from the thickest, firmest stretches of ice where it was anchored to the land. Too late to discover caution, though.

“Bastard,” he hissed, scrabbling, rolling.

A ferocious kick caught him in his stomach, just under the ribs, and lifted him, sent him sliding. It drove the wind from his lungs too, and his chest cramped down upon its own emptiness. The musket fell from his hands. He looked for it, and reached for it.

And he saw his assailant, poised for that one brief shard of time on one foot, go down through the ice. It gave with a brittle crackle of defeat, whole plates of it fracturing, and the big man slipped silently and instantly into the black water beneath. The ice beneath Quire’s legs gave too, and his feet dipped into the chill loch. He gasped and clawed himself forwards. He could hear the whisper of cracks running beneath him. His hips broke more ice. His flooded boots were like chill fists about his ankles, pulling at him. He hauled and strained, panic putting a desperate strength into his raking fingers and his shoulders, and he dragged himself just far enough to be able to swing his legs up and out of the water.

Quire lay on his back, sucking in the frosted air, blowing out grateful fogs of breath. The stars above glimmered. Moment by moment his breathing slowed, and he mastered the shock of fear. He got on to his hands and knees, every movement tentative, measured, and reclaimed the gun.

He looked back into the dark maw opened up in the ice. Little tremulous waves in the water’s surface caught tiny glints of moonlight. There were no hands reaching for the jagged edges of the hole. No sign at all of the grave robber.

Quire did not get to his feet. He did not trust the ice. Instead he crawled like a child, testing each placement of hand and knee before allowing his weight to fall through the limb, dragging the musket along as he went. His feet were numb and heavy.
Only when he had put a slow twenty yards between him and the broken ice did he rise cautiously, holding the Brown Bess out horizontally as he did so in the hope it might wedge itself across any gap should the ice break. He was starting to shiver.

He stood and looked out over the dark plain of the loch. All was still and quiet, as if nothing had happened, as if there were only the ice and the water beneath it and the world was just as it had always been. Quire blew into his left hand, the hot breath stinging his gelid skin.

Then there was a crunching thud from far across the loch. Quire squinted into the night, and saw nothing. It came again, a strangely muffled, dull sound. Like someone beating at a distant door. At the dimmest, furthest extent of his vision, he saw a patch of ice burst up, close to the southern shore. Numb — his body from the cold, his mind from disbelief — he watched the surface of the loch break apart from beneath and a dark form rise from it and force its way towards the land. He could hear quite clearly the ice splintering and shattering as the figure made its lurching retreat into the darkness.

After a moment or two the sound died away, and Quire could see nothing more. He stared out into the night for a little while longer, then turned back towards Duddingston village and began to walk, shaking.

1 commentaires:

Bets Davies said...

Yay! Fusion fiction. I love when authors leave genre and sub genre behind to utilize techniques and styles from multiple genres to create a delightful cocktail. I usually do fusion fantasy.

What is it about Edinburgh that is just so much fun? Never seen it done quite so early or quite so involved in grave robbing.

Stylistically beautiful and stark, I find the writing in this sample great, as well as the plot. My only reservation would be that the character's also feel somewhat stark and removed. Rather than feeling with them, I feel as if I am watching them at a distance. A perfectly valid way to write. I just happen to enjoy being up close and personal with my people in books. All the same, I don't think I'll be able to resist.