Exclusive Excerpt: The Ornamental Hermit by Olivier Bosman

A D.S. Billings Victorian Mystery – Book 1

“Ah, Doctor Smith,” the shopkeeper said as Billings walked tentatively into the dimly lit shop. “How are you? So nice to see you again.”

“I am well, thank you.” Billings’ face was tense and his hands were trembling. He clenched his fist behind his back and gritted his teeth. He instantly regretted entering the shop. “I believe you have a new series in,” he asked.

“I do indeed, I do indeed. I have it right here.” The shopkeeper crouched down and took a large brown paper envelope from beneath the counter. He was a short corpulent man with dark, oily skin. Of Arab descent, perhaps. Or maybe Greek. He called himself Al Bull, but Billings knew that that wasn’t his real name. He smiled sleazily, almost mockingly, as he pulled a series of cabinet cards out of the envelope and displayed them one by one on the counter. They were albumen photographs of young, nude men, practising various sports in a forest meadow. There was one of a naked discus thrower looking like a Greek statue. There was one of two men wrestling by a river, and one of a naked man leaning against a tree holding a javelin. Billings could feel the blood rush to his face as he looked at the photographs.

“They’re from a German sports camp,” the shopkeeper said. “They have the young men exercise in the nude, in keeping with the custom of the original Greek Olympics.”

Billings looked away, desperate to conceal his blushing. “These will do. Thank you,” he said, swallowing.

“I thought they would.” The shopkeeper smiled as he collected the pictures and pushed them back into the envelope. “Are the anatomical classes going well, Doctor Smith?”

“Very well, thank you.”

“I’m sure these photographs will be of great benefit to your students.”

“I’m sure they will. How much are they, please?”

“Seven and sixpence, please.”

Billings ruffled in his pockets for the money.

“I also have a series of photographs from the South Seas,” the shopkeeper continued, “of very young boys in provocative poses. Would that perhaps be of interest to your anatomy students?”

“No, thank you. Just these will do.” Billings lay the money on the counter and picked up the envelope. He tried sticking it into the inside pocket of his great coat, but it wouldn’t fit. He folded the envelope and tried again, but still it was too big.

The shopkeeper watched with an amused glint in his eye as a flustered and harried Billings continued to struggle with the envelope. “You’ll damage the pictures like that,” he said.

Billings didn’t reply and tried one more fold.

“Is it just muscle structures your students are interested in?” the shopkeeper asked after Billings finally succeeded in putting the envelope away. “Or do they like young, lithe physiques as well? Because if so, I have some pictures in the back room which might interest you.”

“No, thank you, Mr Bull. I’m in a hurry.”

“Oh, it won’t take long, Doctor Smith. My assistant Charlie will gladly show you. You haven’t met Charlie yet, have you? He is a very pleasant young man. I am sure you’ll like him – Charlie!”

A young man pulled open the black curtains which divided the shop from the storage room and moved to stand behind the counter next to the shopkeeper. He had a gleeful and cocksure expression in his hazel-green eyes. His thick, dark blond hair was ragged and uncombed (it was so thick, it was practically uncombable). His shirt was only half-tucked into his trousers and the top buttons were undone, revealing pale flesh and a few curly chest hairs. Billings, who had been desperate to turn his back on the shopkeeper and rush out of the shop, raised his head to look at him and was instantly infatuated. Everything about the young man displayed confidence and carelessness, the exact qualities Billings never possessed, and he was fascinated.

“Charlie, this is Doctor Smith,” the shopkeeper said. “Doctor Smith is an expert in anatomy. Doctor Smith, this is Charlie,” he now pointed to his assistant, “who, as you can see, has a very lovely anatomy.” He laughed. And Charlie laughed along with him. But Billings was not amused and looked away embarrassed. “Go on, Doctor Smith,” the shopkeeper continued. “Let Charlie show you what he’s got. It won’t take long, but I’m sure it’ll be to your satisfaction. Ain’t that right, Charlie?”

“That’s right, Mr Bull,” Charlie answered with that nasal Cockney twang which Billings always found so ugly, but which now sounded so lovely coming from Charlie’s lips.

There is an intricate link between delusion and depravity, Billings thought afterwards. The one always precedes the other. He’d had a deluded notion that it was better to love and lose than never to love at all; that a man needed to be touched and held regularly in order to function properly; that all men were entitled to some carnal satisfaction, regardless of their preference or inclination. These deluded notions had passed through his mind shortly before committing the act of depravity which was to follow.

He followed Charlie into the back room. The room was packed with crates and boxes. Billings stood in the middle of the room rigidly, pale and nervous, while Charlie closed the black curtain and turned around to face him.

“Well then, Doctor Smith,” he said, looking at Billings with that cheeky smile. “What do you want to do?”

“Do?” Billings was trembling and sweating. “I thought you were going to show me some more pictures?”

“Pictures?” he laughed. “What do you wanna see pictures for, if you can have the real thing? It’s a bob for a rub, a shilling and sixpence for a bagpipe, and a half crown if you want the full story. But we’d have to do that somewhere more discreet. Mr Bull has a room with a bed available upstairs which you can rent for a shilling. So what will it be, then?”

“I… um…”

“You’re in a hurry, ain’t ya? So I’ll give you a bagpipe. It won’t take long. You got the money on ya?”

Billings rummaged in his pocket and took out some coins to show Charlie.

“You can pay Mr Bull on your way out. Now, come and stand by the light.” Charlie walked towards the wall opposite the window and turned the key on the gas lamp. Billings remained standing on the spot, unsurely, putting the coins back in his pocket. Charlie looked back at him and frowned. “Well, come on then.”

“I… um… I think I’d rather look at the pictures,” Billings said.

Charlie laughed. “Will you stop going on about the pictures. Can’t you see I’m offering you the real thing? Now come here.”

Billings approached him reluctantly. Charlie grabbed the lapels of Billings’s greatcoat and pulled him towards him, then proceeded to cover his face and neck with kisses. Billings felt his heart pound as Charlie’s hands reached into his greatcoat and grabbed hold of his chest. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists as Charlie proceeded to slide his hand down towards his crotch. Goosebumps rose all over his body and shudders rushed through him like electric current when Charlie knelt down before him and started unbuttoning his trousers. He took a deep breath and flung his head back when suddenly, through his closed eyelids, he saw a flash of light which woke him from his erotic trance.

“What was that?” he said, pushing Charlie’s fumbling fingers away from his trouser buttons.

Charlie looked up and frowned. “What?”

“There was a flash of light.”

“I didn’t see nothing.”

Billings’s heart was still pounding, but this time with alarm, rather than titillation. “There was a light,” he said as he rushed towards the window and opened the shutter. “I clearly saw a light.”

“It was probably lightning.” Charlie was still on his knees by the gas lamp.

“It can’t have been lightning. It’s not raining.”

Billings stuck his head out of the window and looked up and down the narrow alleyway which led from the shop’s back entrance to Praed Street. There was nothing there other than a few empty crates which had been stacked against the wall.

“It must’ve been dry lightning, Doctor Smith. Nothing to worry about. Now, come over here and let me finish giving you your bagpipe. I ain’t even started yet.”

Billings turned to look back at Charlie, kneeling on the cold brick floor. The gaslight flooded his head and Billings could see the dirt on the back of his neck and his shirt collar. He also saw black specks crawling through his unruly hair. Was it lice? Charlie suddenly didn’t look so appealing anymore. That cheeky, cocksure smile was replaced by a bored and impatient frown and Billings felt dirty and sleazy. The thought of that dirty boy’s hands all over him suddenly made his whole body itch. How could he have allowed himself to sink to this?

“I had better go,” he said, buttoning up his trousers and tucking in his shirt.

“Ain’t you gonna let me finish giving you your bagpipe?”

“I’m sorry. I have to go.”

“You are still gonna pay me ain’t ya?”

Billings dug into his pocket and took out some coins. “I have two shillings,” he said and held out the coins to Charlie.

“You gotta pay Mr Bull at the counter.”

“Why don’t you take them off me?”

“I don’t know, Doctor Smith,” Charlie said hesitantly. “I ain’t supposed to. You gotta pay Mr Bull at the counter.”

Billings approached him, grabbed his hand and placed the two shillings in it. “Keep the money for yourself.” He closed Charlie’s fingers over the coins. “I’ll tell Mr Bull that I changed my mind and that nothing happened. Which is the truth.” He then turned his back on Charlie, cut through the black drapes and walked back into the shop.

“Finished already?” the shopkeeper asked, confused.

“I have to go, Mr Bull.”

 Billings rushed passed him and out of the shop. As he crossed the corner into Edgware Road, he bumped into a man carrying a heavy black leather case over his shoulder, knocking the man’s hat off his head.

“Oh, I do apologise,” Billings said while the man crouched down to pick up his hat.

The man lifted his head and looked at him. Then a broad smile appeared on his face. “You again!” It was Jeremiah Rook. “What a coincidence!”

Billings looked at him suspiciously. Was it really a coincidence that he should bump into the reporter twice on the same day, in two different towns?

“You should watch where you’re going, Mr Billings,” the reporter continued. “You nearly made me drop my equipment.”

Billings looked at the leather case hanging from the reporter’s shoulder and wondered what it contained.

“’Ere, you’re not shadowing me, are ya?” the reporter asked with a cheeky smile.

“I might ask you the same question?” Billings replied tersely.

“Why would I shadow you? Have you been doing something you shouldn’t have?” There was a mocking glint in the reporter’s eyes as he asked this, and Billings’s attention was again drawn to the suspicious case on the reporter’s shoulder.

“I expect it’s just a coincidence, then,” Billings concluded. “We must’ve taken the same train back from Oxford and we must both be on our way home.”

“I expect that must be the case.”

“Well, good day to you then, Mr Rook.” Billings  tipped his hat at him. “I’d best be on my way.”

“Good day to you, Mr Billings.”

When he got back home, Billings rushed straight to his room, took the envelope out of his pocket, grabbed a box of matches from the windowsill, crouched down before the fireplace and set fire to it and its contents. Watching the cindered remains disappearing down the roster, he decided he’d take a generous dose of morphine that night. He was determined to sleep soundly. He’d sleep so soundly that, when he’d wake up the following morning, it would be as if this whole day had never occurred. As if the day had just been a bad dream. Like one of those morphine-induced nightmares he sometimes had. He hadn’t given in to temptation. He hadn’t soiled his consciousness. He hadn’t plotted to maltreat another fellow human being. He hadn’t risked jeopardizing his career. It had all been a bad dream, that’s all. A bad, disturbing dream, the likes of which he’d had many times before.


‘The Ornamental Hermit’ is a thrilling mystery which leads the reader on a colourful journey into Victorian England.’

The year is 1890. Detective Sergeant John Billings is a Quaker. He sees God in everyone and takes other people’s suffering to heart. He is an honest and hard working man who has risen swiftly through the ranks to become one of Scotland Yard’s youngest detectives. But in his private life he struggles with the demons of loneliness, morphine addiction and homosexuality.

More about author Olivier Bosman:

Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I’ve spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have now finally settled down among the olive groves of Andalucia. 

For updates on my latest projects and the occasional freebie, please join my mailing list.


Excerpt & FREE Giveaway: Pretty Boy Dead by Jon Michaelsen

Excerpt: Pretty Boy Dead (a Kendall Parker Mystery)

The call came through Sergeant Kendall Parker’s cell during his regular morning coffee run to the Landmark diner on Cheshire Bridge Road. Moments later, the detective slapped a blue light on the roof of his silver-blue cruiser and sped through the Morningside neighborhood, an overpriced in-town section on the northern fringes of the city. He turned off Cheshire Bridge Road to Piedmont and punched the accelerator after maneuvering around a few startled drivers. The traffic proved thicker than he’d expected this morning, forcing him to jockey along Piedmont Avenue and zigzag through the southbound lanes. The call had directed him to Piedmont Park, a popular one hundred and sixty-eight-acre triangle of land in the heart of Midtown, originally named for its crop-producing milieu connecting downtown and the tony Buckhead community lying northeast of the city. A body found in a runoff ditch at the park’s southernmost corner revealed no identification or apparent cause of death. The male victim had likely washed downstream during last night’s heavy spring ran.

Turning east on Monroe, Parker spotted a pair of blue and whites angled on 10th Street across from Grady High School’s new football and track field. Early rising joggers sprinkled the gravel running track that circled the perimeter of the field, several gawking at the flashing lights invading their area.

The Criminal Investigation Division dispatched at least three investigators to the scene of every death in the city: two from Homicide and another from either Sex Crimes or the Robbery unit. CID personnel received their orders from the homicide detective on call even though the homicide sergeant ultimately ran the investigation. Sgt. Kendall Parker led the charge today. Most referred to him by last name only. Parker was a major-crimes investigator for the department, CID, his rank Master Sergeant, a ten-year veteran with APD, the last six with the Homicide Squad.

Parker ran two wheels of his car over the curb and killed the motor, extricating his linebacker frame from the vehicle and striding across the grassy plane toward the dark blue uniform standing at the perimeter of a paved walking trail. He flashed his shield to a beat cop standing guard at the scene, who pointed him in the direction of the body without introduction.

Head down to protect his face from the assault of thorns, he trudged through a thicket of overgrowth and underbrush, the branches snatching at his trousers and poking through the fabric, nicking his flesh. He emerged at the crest of a wide drainage ditch. Looking out, he noticed that the storm basin sliced through the southeastern edge of the park and vanished through a giant steel cylinder set beneath 10th Street. He came upon a second cop sitting on the angled concrete about thirty yards from the body, and revealed his badge again.

“Anyone touched the body?”

“No sir,” the man called, shielding his eyes from the bright sun with an upraised arm and stood to meet the sergeant. “Ain’t let nobody down there, sir,” he said, jutting his chin toward the corpse below. “Waitin’ for the MPO.” He followed along, but became alarmed when Parker did not stop. “Hey, you can’t go down there.”

The sergeant reached the precipice of the concrete gully. A body lay tangled in a web of branches and debris, face up in a flow of shallow water. The stiff wore a type of dark overcoat, raincoat, or canvas outerwear. A strong odor, often associated with a bloated cadaver, wafted in the breeze. Parker squatted, angled his six–foot four-inch frame to make the steep trek into the ditch, and walked the edge of water this side of the cadaver, careful not to contaminate the scene.

“Ignore me,” Parker called over his shoulder. “I won’t touch a thing,” he said, cursing the cop under his breath. Damn rookie.

The officer’s face glowed red. He perched himself in a spot above the basin, jotting the detective’s name and badge number in his spiral notepad while, no doubt, awaiting his supervisor.

The detective pushed mirrored shades over his head of thick, dark curls, his brown eyes sweeping the area. He withdrew a pocket notepad—as much a part of him as the shield he wore clipped on his belt—and noted the time, location, and weather conditions. Surveying the area, he sketched out the scene while completing a spiral search, working his way toward the remains. A crime scene crew would trudge the same route when they arrived to videotape the scene, but Parker needed his own notes for later recall.

“Call came in at 6:42 a.m.,” a voice said from behind the sergeant.

Parker scowled and glanced over his shoulder, recognizing Timothy Brooks, an overzealous rookie detective recently assigned to the squad.

Brooks clambered into the gully, slipping and sliding on his backside until the heels of his big wingtips caught hold at the bottom of the ditch but not before his right foot landed in the water.

“Watch it,” Parker pointed and snapped. “You’ll fuck up the scene.”

“Sorry.” Brooks stepped back shaking water from his shoe. “Homeless man spotted the body at first light.” He continued without missing a beat and brushed the seat of his pressed khakis. “Perelli’s taking his statement up near the toilet-house. Dispatch traced the call to the emergency phone up there.”

Brooks sported a wide, Cheshire cat grin as he approached his new boss and stopped several feet from the body, tucking both hands in the flat-front pockets of his trousers. The beat cop resting on the embankment ventured forward.

Path victim took to Piedmont Park in Atlanta

Parker shook his head and waved his arms at both of them. “Get the hell back.”

Brooks obliged, retracing his steps double-time and shuffling the objecting officer back up the embankment. The cop shouted expletives indecipherable to Parker as he turned his attention back to the cadaver. Brooks had to learn his preference for spending a few minutes alone at a fresh crime scene, so best start now. Parker viewed the precious time alone a ritual of sorts, a rite of passage earned by years of long hours spent investigating the deaths of others. He’d be chastised by his commanding officer later.

A body commanded the heart of any homicide. Parker’s badge required him to confront the remains, regardless of circumstance or condition. Years of experience had taught him emotional detachment was the key to any successful investigation and although that theory may work for some, deep down inside he knew better. Soon, he’d relinquish a piece of his soul to this abandoned corpse, as with every other that followed. Truth be told, he died a little death at the beginning of every homicide investigation.

A cool breeze drifted through the basin and eased the queasiness in his gut. He popped a handful of antacids in his mouth and slipped a pair of latex gloves on before kneeling over the sunbaked cadaver. Clicking on the handheld recorder that he carried in his pocket, he described the body in detail. “Male, Caucasian, late teens-early twenties, approximately 5’10, one-hundred seventy to eighty pounds. Dark hair trimmed close, and no obvious signs of trauma. Clothes appear expensive and not threadbare, not the mark of a vagrant or a street kid,” he said. He swallowed a build-up of phlegm at the back of his throat. The stale, decaying odor skimming the surface of trickling water in the gully was stifling. He continued moving his eyes in a grid pattern over the discovery.

Parker avoided looking at the blanched face, the cloudy blue eyes, and bloated skin of the body. He used a pen from his chest pocket to probe the collar of the victim’s overcoat, lifting the damp fabric of the shirt beneath. A thick, gold chain surrounded the puffy neck, herringbone links wedged into the skin sparkling in the bright sunlight. In the murkiness to his left, a large dial, chrome-banded watch clung to a swollen wrist. The awkward angle of the arm displayed the crystal of the timepiece, cracked and filled with water, time frozen at a quarter past one, perhaps a clue to time of death. The right hand of the victim held a dark leather glove.

Leaning over the body for closer inspection, Parker speculated how the kid might have ended up like this, a technique he often used to get inside the victim’s head, sifting through pieces of the scene and condition of the body to connect the dots. These days, nothing in his line of work appeared simple and straightforward. Days, perhaps weeks, would pass before he would ferret out the reason behind the young man’s death, if ever.

The smell of raw sewage tickled the hairs in his nostrils as he studied the body. Despite the scripts churned out of Hollywood like a carnival music machine, cops never became used to seeing such gore, the sickly-sweet scent of rotting flesh, vicious crimes against another human being. The carnage worked to further harden their hearts from life’s other assaults and question the existence of faith, forcing the soul into tolerance and acceptance. The detective displayed impenetrable tolerance, but acceptance? Never. It came with the territory.

Parker stared at the corpse, seeing not the man lying before him, but the haunting image of another. The obsession was never far from his mind, clouding his thoughts and perhaps his judgment. It was an effigy of a young man taller and wider-shouldered than the one lying flat in the stream of water, an imagined reflection sinking to the depths of much deeper water no amount of scotch could erase. The urge to reach out and grasp the phantasm in his mind’s eye passed as a prickly chill nipped the back of his neck and reminded him that he had a job to do.

He called out for Brooks to join him.

The rookie bounded down the slope on cue.

“Have you called the M.E.?”

Brooks nodded in bobble-head speed.

“So, where the fuck is she?”

Parker stood after finding no identification on the body. A reflection caught the corner of his eye as he turned to walk away. Shifting his feet to the outer perimeter of the corpse, careful not to disturb the zone, he reached over a mound of debris and lifted the edge of a waterlogged matchbook with the tip of his pen. He recognized the name embellished across the silvery cardboard. It belonged to a small neighborhood bar up the road and across from the park.

“Get some men to search the grounds for evidence,” Parker said, leaving the matchbook where he found it. “See if you can locate the missing glove…and a cell phone.”

“Cell phone, sir?” Brooks asked.

“The victim’s cell. Everyone has a cell phone these days, and it ain’t on the body.”

Parker glanced back at the dead man, a moment of antipathy passing through his core before turning away, the lasting image taking its place among countless others extolled in his memory. “Put in another call for the ME.”

The sergeant ripped off the latex gloves and stuffed them in the pocket of his coat.

Piedmont Park near where victim found


A murdered male stripper.

A missing go-go dancer.

When the mangled body of a young gay man is discovered in a popular Atlanta park, advocacy groups converge on City Hall demanding justice. Media are quick to pin the brutal homicide on a drug-addicted, homeless teen. Atlanta Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker isn’t so convinced, even after the suspect assaults his homicide partner with a deadly weapon. But the investigation takes a disastrous turn, and a suspect in custody ends up dead. 

It becomes a race against time for the veteran detective to solve the apparent gay-bashing, but when a tenacious reporter threatens to expose a police cover-up, Parker is forced to make an impossible choice: stand firm for justice, or betray the brotherhood in blue. 

The odds against him, Parker will need to rely on his keen instinct and experience as a streetwise cop to catch a brutal killer. Yet success often comes at a price, and for Parker, it may mean having to reveal his most closely guarded secret.

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Author Jon Michaelsen

Jon Michaelsen is a writer of Gay fiction & Speculative fiction, most with elements of mystery and suspense/thriller.

Born near the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Southwest Georgia, at ten he moved with his family to Atlanta, where he has remained. With more time to focus on writing after retiring from a corporate career of twenty-five years, he began publishing short-fiction for a few years before debuting his first novel, Pretty Boy Dead, which earned a Lambda Literary Finalist gold seal for Best Gay Mystery.

He continues to publish both short fiction and long fiction, while drafting his second novel in the Kendall Parker Mystery series, The Deadwood Murders, which is scheduled for publication in Spring 2019.

He lives with his husband of 32 years, and two monstrous terriers.

Contact him at: Michaelsen.jon@gmail.com

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