The Hanged Man Rises


UK (C'wealth) Simon & Schuster


World Rights Eve White
Film Rights Eve White


Age Range 11+
Category Fiction
ISBN-10: 085707864X
ISBN-13: 978-0857078643


When their parents are killed in a fire Titus Adams and his sister Hannah are left to fend for themselves in the cruel and squalid London of 1866. But that’s the easy part. His friend and saviour, Inspector William Pilbury, has just caught and hanged a child-murderer, so why haven’t the murders stopped? After discovering the horrifying truth Titus must find a way to end the killings before the Inspector himself is sent to the gallows. Alone, except for a young and possibly bogus medium, he sets about saving his friend and protecting what remains of his family in the face of an evil that cannot be contained, even by death.

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Their feet on the steps were like the cracks of a rifle. Titus wasn’t superstitious but all the way down he had the very strong sensation of being watched. When they got to the bottom of the staircase a long brick corridor stretched ahead of them. All was silent. There was not even the ticking of a beetle or the scurry of mice as they passed down the corridor towards the wavering grey light at the end. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom Titus noticed that the walls were not bare. Beside him was a plaster death-mask of some crone, the eyes sewn shut, the toothless mouth grinning. Further on was a large bone, black with age and carved with some intricate language he could not read. What looked like a human foetus grown almost to full term turned out to be the desiccated corpse of a monkey, nailed up by its brown little hands. Its eyes, which must have dried out and fallen into its skull, had been replaced by pieces of mirror. He pressed himself against the opposite wall to pass it, only to brush against a clutch of chicken feathers, their tips caked with dried blood. He couldn’t stop a gasp of horror escaping his lips as he jerked away. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ Pilbury murmured, ‘This mumbo jumbo has no power to hurt you.’ ‘I know,’ he said, trying to keep his voice steady. The smell of pig fat grew stronger and now he could make out the back wall of the tunnel some way ahead. Frail yellow light fell from an opening just to the right of it. He began to hear, over the pounding of his heart, a rhythmic clicking, like that of a beetle of cockroach. He tried to swallow the panic that rose up at the thought of them scuttling around his feet. The Inspector’s pace slowed as they approached the end of the tunnel, his black silhouette a reassuring barrier between Titus and whatever lay beyond. Only the tips of his boots gleamed, unblemished amidst the filth. He stopped just short of the rectangle of light that fell on the floor and murmured: ‘Stay here. Use your eyes and your ears.’ Then he stepped into the light. Titus pressed himself against the wall and eased along it until he had a view of the room beyond. The old woman sat on a wooden chair in the middle of the room, knitting with invisible thread. A fire burning low on the floor in front of her cast the only light. Lining the walls were shelves that stretched off into the darkness. The shelves were filled with lumpen shapes: a jawbone, a pelvis, a skull. The ceiling was low enough that Pilbury had to hunch his shoulders. Rancer must have scuttled around the place on all fours. ‘What are you knitting, Madam?’ Pilbury said. ‘The hair of children. If a barren woman secretes such a patch inside her girdle she shall become fertile.’ There was something strange about the way she spoke, as if she was trying to swallow something large or unpalatable and now, as she squinted up at the policeman Titus could see that the knot of her shawl was forcing her head over to one side. The smell of honey was strong and he noticed, beside her stool, a large glass jar filled with an amber substance. Floating in this viscous liquid was the body of a cat. Goosebumps rose up on his arms. ‘Is that honey, madam?’ Pilbury said, his voice light. ‘Honey is a natural preserver, of body and spirit. The ancient Egyptians could revive a person who had been so embalmed, even after many years had passed,’ she said, then added quickly, ‘This wisdom is lost to us now, of course.’ ‘But clearly you believe,’ Pilbury said, gesturing to the cat. ‘That is Osiris,’ the woman croaked, following his gaze. ‘The best and most loved of my darlings.’ As she turned her head Titus could see that the knot at her throat was not the fabric of her shawl but an enormous excrescence of flesh, criss-crossed with swollen veins. He recoiled from the sight and her eyes darted, quick as fleas, in his direction. He drew back and waited a moment or two before peeping round the wall again. She was smiling at him.

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