"Heart of Cruelty is an atmospheric gothic tale that is an emotional read filled with three-dimensional characters that you find yourself fully invested in their journey."
Heart of Cruelty
Gothic Secrets in Victorian Birmingham
A forbidden love illuminates an unbearable truth.
Jane Verity’s dream of a romantic life in the theatre ends in the workhouse, where she is subjected to violent abuse.
When Coroner William Doughty rescues her on his way to an inquest on a young inmate who committed suicide, it alters the path of his life. Powerfully attracted to her, he employs her as his maidservant, to care for his ailing wife.
In his household, Jane discovers the truth about the inquest and pieces together the dark secrets of a powerful abuser. As Doughty struggles with his passion for her, she must convince him to act, even though exposing the truth will destroy his marriage and his career.
The twisting darkness of this story pervades a bittersweet romance and explores the risks of allowing desire to triumph over reason.
An Excerpt from
Heart of Cruelty
The fragmenting bones squirted putrid marrow up at us. Sweat soaked the armpits of my dress; my shoulders were burning, my hands blistering. The bone-meal had to be shovelled into sacks and a new load of bones fetched. It had been just after six o’clock in the morning when we had started; now the chapel bell was striking ten.
‘Are yer hungry in yer bellies now, yer idle bitches?’ Siviter demanded. ‘There’ll be nought for yer today, no bread nor water, only work. Let yer lying tongues go dry, teach yer a lesson.’
It was the day after Ash Wednesday, when we had already endured a fast, but we made no reply, and kept on banging the iron rammer down, its thuds reverberating in the stone enclosure.
‘Idlers like you get a night in the lock-up,’ gloated Siviter.
I had been in there once before, for some infringement of rules I had not understood, hungry, thirsty and alone in the fetid gloom behind the iron door.
‘I won’t.’ I let go the rammer and stood doubled over, my hands dropping to my thighs. ‘It’s not right.’
‘Get back on the job yer!’ Siviter lashed out with his cane. ‘I’ll kill yer, lazy drab!’
The blow jarred my spine and cold needles of pain shot down into my legs. I heard a man shout. As I tried to straighten up, another whack of Siviter’s cane caught my head and knocked off my cap.
‘Jane!’ Clara cried out, but she did not come to me.
The pain was immense. I put my hand to my head; it came away wet, and red. I knew Siviter had not finished. I was overwhelmed by fear, and by the grotesqueness of the scene: the hideous walls of the workhouse yard, the fetid reek of the bones, the blood filling my palm. His next blow sent me crumpling forward so that I lay curling my arms over my throbbing head, my face to the slimy cobbles, one eye open to the red rivulet of blood that trickled between them. As I heard Siviter’s cane whistle again through the air, there came another shout from across the yard.
‘Coroner Doughty, sir, good morning sir,’ he called out, and to Clara and I he muttered that we should get back to work.
I could not move.
‘Mr. Siviter.’ A cold, clear voice came closer to where I lay. ‘Mr Siviter!’
‘Good morning to yer, sir, Dr Doughty, sir, a fine morning too.’
Then I saw darkness and heard nothing.
After a time I smelt a gentleman’s cologne, and found I was lying on my side. My head throbbed as something pressed it down against the cobblestones.
My first sight of Doughty was of his wrist emerging from a white shirt-cuff, of his black coat sleeve, and the corner of his handkerchief. He was kneeling beside me on the filthy cobbles of the Workhouse courtyard, applying pressure to my wound. As he lifted the handkerchief I raised my eyes to his: wide-open, dark, intent on mine…
Excerpt Copyright © Maybelle Wallis. Shared as part of blog tour.
Maybelle Wallis has created many short stories, which are free to read on her website HistWriter.com, but her ambition has always been to write historical novels. She believes that men and women in other times were like us: dreaming the same dreams, committing the same sins, and falling in love with the wrong people. She is inspired by the 18th and 19th centuries, when science and reason started to shape the modern world, and enjoys the work of the greats of that era like Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens, as well as contemporary historical authors like Sara Waters, Essie Fox, Helen Dunmore and Laura Purcell.
Maybelle is a doctor who trained in London, England, and has worked in Coventry, Birmingham, Sandwell and, since 2017, in Wexford, Ireland. She began studying Creative Writing with the Open University in 2011. Ever since, she has developed her fiction writing by sharing critique: studying with Writers’ Workshop (now Jericho Writers), and joining a critique group of historical writers from an online course with the University of Iowa. She has written with the Telegraph Creative Writing Group, Birmingham NaNoWriMo, and Wexford Write Club.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Poolbeg Press
Release Date: October 21, 2020
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