To explain the genesis of ‘The Bleeding Heart’, I need to explain something about the series it fits into. For the past eleven years I’ve been writing a set of stories that have become incredibly close to my heart. The Bryant & May mysteries started with a single novel called ‘Full Dark House’, which centre-staged a pair of argumentative elderly detectives. The book was filled with arcane London lore, and I imagined few people would be crazy enough to buy something that harked back to Golden Age fiction while set in the present. I didn’t realise what I’d set in motion.
‘Full Dark House’ was in effect an ‘origin’ story. It’s therefore the first one new readers buy if they decide to start the series. Which is wrong, as each volume is an entirely separate entity typifying a certain kind of mystery , from Whodunnit to Locked Room to Chase.
Which brings me to ‘The Bleeding Heart’. London is so packed with myths and histories that I never know where to start with each new volume. For a lunch with my publisher, we went to Bleeding Heart Yard in London’s Clerkenwell. It’s where my mother met my father, but it also has a strange tale to tell, involving a seduction, a murder and the Devil himself. Dickens used the tale, and so have other authors, but now the legend is rather forgotten, so I thought I’d give it to my detectives to test-drive, as it were.
What came from this is one of the craziest books I’ve yet written in the series, because when I drew a radius around the site I realised I could include other strange tales, one involving bodysnatchers.
London has a lot of odd little green spaces, and one thing that has always struck me is how we accept that they might contain tombstones around their edges. But instead of the park having a sign that reads; ‘Caution – May Contain Tombstones’, Londoners sit on them and eat sandwiches, oblivious about who is contained inside. They’re just a part of the landscape.
This latest case involves a teenager who sees a dead man rising from his grave in just such a London park, and hears him speak. The next night, the boy is killed in a hit and run accident. Stranger still, in the minutes between when he is last seen alive and found dead on the pavement, someone has changed his shirt.
But Arthur Bryant is not allowed to investigate. Instead, he’s sent off to find out how someone could have stolen the ravens from the Tower of London. It appears that all seven birds have been snatched from one of the most secure buildings in the city. And legend says that when the ravens leave, the nation falls.
The story ends up involving a great many weird legends of the city, and ties everything up at the end. Does this mean I’m running out of ideas now? Wait for next year’s volume, which I’ve just finished.
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