Wolfsbane: Mortlake Series Book 1
Wolfsbane: Mortlake Series Book 1
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When savage death stalks the British countryside, there’s only one man to call…
In the aftermath of a vicious attack, Tara Pride, a young American student, doesn’t know where to turn. Terrified and distraught over the death of her friend, she’s convinced this is more than just wild dogs or rabid animals. So she reaches out to the one man who might believe her—paranormal investigator and Cambridge professor, Marcus Mortlake.
At first glance, Mortlake seems an unlikely candidate to battle the supernatural considering his eccentric character. But despite his curmudgeonly exterior, Mortlake has faced evil beyond imagination, and put his life on the line countless times to defend humanity.
Now, Mortlake and Tara find themselves facing a deadly enemy: Rupert Gonfallon, a wealthy and sadistic Lord, who owns the land where the attack took place. And Mortlake is certain Rupert is connected to a string of bloody murders.
But the truth is even more dangerous than the professor suspects. A pack of savage killers lurks within the Lord’s estate harboring a sinister agenda. Infecting themselves with an ancient curse to gain power and strength, these ravenous beasts claim the dark forests as their territory.
Now, their infection is spreading. And unless Mortlake can stop them, the countryside will run red with the blood of fresh prey…
Inside, it was not clear if the place was supposed to be an amusingly retro take on a shabby eatery or a bold affirmation of terrible British cuisine. Tara decided to err on the side of caution and ingest nothing. She nodded to the girl behind the counter and joined the men at a small table. Mortlake introduced the stranger as Detective Inspector Rob Westall. The name rang a bell.
“People bursting into flames?” she said.
“My fame precedes me,” he said affably. “Yes, that was when I met the prof here. Haven’t been able to shake him since. We’re like Mulder and Scully, only I’ve got longer legs than Gillian Anderson.”
“Do you want a cuppa?” asked Mortlake, gesturing at a small, stainless steel teapot. As well as the inevitable British “cuppas”, the two men had had a full English breakfast. Two nearly empty plates were swimming in grease and egg yolk. Tara shook her head.
Westall was pleasant enough, but he clearly expected to go over the attack again. Tara bridled at this, pointing out that she had given Mortlake all the details.
“Yeah, I know it’s tedious and irritating,” Westall conceded. “But it’s also a very common practice. If a person makes up a story, they tend to say the same detailed stuff over and over with little variation. An honest recollection is always going to be incomplete, messy, even contradictory in some ways. Just the opposite of what you might expect, in fact. Honest people are much less consistent than practiced liars because memory is a bit treacherous. So, will you tell me what happened?”
Tara was mollified and did her best to recall her ordeal. Westall focused more on times and places, and she got the impression he was well up on the area where it happened. Then he focused on her escape, going over and over why the beasts had taken down Josh but somehow let her go.
“I don’t know!” she said several times.
“I have a theory about that, if it might help,” Mortlake said.
He produced his phone and showed her a picture of a blue flower, asked if it looked familiar. Tara took the phone, peered at the picture, then shrugged.
“Could be. I remember some wildflowers, they were blue… Yeah, that looks like them. Why?”
Mortlake looked from her to Westall. The detective sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“Okay, I know I won’t like this,” said Westall. “Tell me it’s a magical herb, straight from the realm of the pixies.”
“Not exactly,” Mortlake said. “It’s actually a very poisonous wild plant called Aconitum or monkshood. But it does have another name.”
He paused, obviously for dramatic effect. But he paused just a heartbeat too long.
“Wolfsbane,” put in Westall. “Sometimes called the Queen of Poisons, or Plant Arsenic.”
Seeing Tara’s expression, he laughed.
“History of crime—one of my little hobbies, if you can call it that. Poisoning was a popular crime in the old days, I’ve read a few books about it. Before modern medical science, aconitum was a good way for a wife to get rid of a troublesome husband—or vice versa. Brew up a few plants, slip it in his porridge. Nowadays, very few people try it—march of progress and all that.”
Mortlake looked deflated at having his dramatic revelation stolen from him.
“Wolfsbane indeed,” he said. “I forgot your fascination with the crimes of the past.”
He turned to Tara.
“Try this working hypothesis—you fell into a patch of the stuff, and that wildflower protected you. According to folklore, it’s far more toxic to lycanthropes than people. You got a rash that cleared up in a day or so, they would have suffered far worse.”
“That makes sense, I guess,” she said, handing the phone back to Mortlake. “But I’ll bet the Inspector here doesn’t believe in werewolves running amok in England.”
“Better to say I don’t want to believe in them,” Westall corrected her. “Apart from anything else, how can you charge somebody with a crime committed while they were transformed into a different species? The Crown Prosecutor wouldn’t touch that and he’d be quite justified. It’s my job to catch criminals, so I’d rather believe we’re dealing with hunting animals of some kind, and that makes their owners guilty of any number of serious offenses.”
“You think Tara saw some kind of exotic hunting animal?” Mortlake demanded. “How likely is that?”
“As a police officer,” Westall replied, “I would say it’s more likely than lycanthropy. But… I’m sure there is something going on down there at Gonfallon’s family home, and it’s damn peculiar. One of his employees contacted me, and before I could get much out of him, he was dead. Guts all over the place. Dog attack—that’s the expert opinion. Teeth and claws. But it happened in the middle of London, and nobody saw any dog. But I did see a van, and when I checked the partial plate I got, sure enough, it matched the registration of a van owned by the Mordaunt estate.”
Tara thought this over.
“So Gonfallon took one of his pet werewolves to London to kill a guy who was going to blab?”
“Can we stop calling them werewolves, please Tara?” Westall pleaded. “Just hunting beasts. Exotic predators. Any expression that keeps the paranormal at arm’s length.”
They talked some more, Westall admitting that his superiors did not want to antagonize someone as well-connected as Gonfallon. The van’s presence at the scene had been confirmed via CCTV. But cameras covering the area around the alley seemed to have malfunctioned for just a few minutes at the vital time.
“Not unheard of,” Mortlake remarked. “Paranormal phenomena mess up digital technology. I’ve often wondered if it isn’t some kind of quantum effect.”
Tara rolled her eyes.
“An idea doesn’t become scientifically valid just because you throw in the word ‘quantum’,” she pointed out. “Maybe his lordship has friends in high places who made sure the tapes were erased?”
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