A chance encounter leads a reporter into grave danger.
Two years after Alexander Lonsdale left the Colonial Service in Africa in 1880, disgust with their dealings brings him back to London, where he lives with his barrister brother, Jack, and works at the Pall Mall Gazette, a small but influential paper whose assistant editor is the well-known W.T. Stead. Returning home from another failed attempt to interview Dr. Wilson of the Zoological Gardens, he notices a fire and stops to investigate. Mr. Donovan, the homeowner, ran out of his house yelling about a chimney fire, ran back in, and died in the blaze. A prostitute tells Lonsdale that she knows a lot more about that death and several others and arranges a nighttime meeting in Regent’s Park. Curiosity, meanwhile, leads him to the morgue and Dr. Bradwell, who reveals that Donovan did not die in the fire and that someone had removed his cerebrum. When Lonsdale finally catches up with Dr. Wilson, he asserts his strong belief in a eugenic approach to human breeding that would cull undesirable traits from the species. That night, Lonsdale is attacked as he approaches his meeting with the prostitute, then he finds her and another man brutally murdered. Lonsdale explains his reasons for being there to Inspector George Peters, who, along with his superiors, puts pressure on Lonsdale to repress the story. Although Stead wants him to work on other matters, he does assign tough, ambitious reporter Hulda Friederichs to help Lonsdale track down more information. Their discovery of many more people murdered for their cerebrums leads them to a conspiracy covered up by people in high places and puts Lonsdale’s entire circle of friends and family in danger.
In this series kickoff, Beaufort (The Killing Ship, 2016, etc.) introduces an intriguing new sleuth and an eerie mystery, cleverly mixing historical figures and crackpot theories that are still around to this day.