A Tale without a Fairy.
Sometime between the hour of one and four in the morning, a frayed slipper was left on the marble stair of an opulent house.
The heel was covered in blood.
So was the massive bedchamber, where gilded mirrors had been smashed and ornate furniture overturned, revealing an endless maze of rare books and a blood-smeared floor.
It was there the constables found renown philanthropist Bartholomew Edgar Ridley laying in a pool of blood that fingered out in endless streams, soaking parchments as old as the crusades. His nude body had been cleaved with an axe, pieces of him flung as far as the ceiling.
Nothing had been taken, but tucked into the gore of his broken sternum was the feather of a black raven.
Its macabre meaning was examined by many but understood by none.
Whatever truth was lost by the gruesome broadsides everyone now sought to purchase for halfpence on the street, it did not change the tragic events now known as The Black Raven Murder.
A twelve-year-old boy who might have witnessed some of the events of that night was all that remained. His head had been bludgeoned and his body stuffed into a trunk whose lock had to be smashed to get to him. Miraculously, he survived.
His French-born mother, who had been separated from his father, rushed to be at his side.
From that moment forth, Evan Oswald Ridley became London’s greatest preoccupation.
Bystanders and journalists crowded at the gates of his mother shouting endless questions about the gruesome murder and what the boy did or did not see.
Little is known about Evan after that.
Some insist the incident had deranged him, forcing him into bedlam. Others claim he was sent to France to reside with his mother’s cousin, a ‘police spy’ known as Eugéne Vidocq.
What is known is that many years later, an estate lawyer delivered a sizable stack of documents to an unusual young man living in Paris who had inherited an equally unusual legacy. An astounding collection of rare books worth a quarter of a million stuffed into a massive house on Basil Street, which had been locked up since the murder, now belonged to Evan Oswald Ridley.
To the horror of polite society, he returned to London and moved into the abandoned house.
It was there, at 221 Basil Street, Ridley became the whisper of every woman’s fantasy and every criminal’s living nightmare.