Written by Keith McCarthy –– Picture an old man alone except for his daughter, living in an secluded and abandoned infirmary. He hears voices. Not just ordinary voices, but the voices of the three ancient Muses – Mese, Nete and Hypate, hot on the line from Delphi – and their distinguished father Apollo. Although Apollo was revered as the god of light and the sun, there is neither light nor sunshine in the life of Leo Guthlac Banneker. The three weird sisters of Delphi were known as the Muses of the Lyre, that harp-like instrument. Now, Banneker is trying to make a lyre. Nothing odd about that, you might think, but the materials he is using might give you pause for thought. For the frame of the instrument he is using his late wife’s vertebrae. And the strings? You might not want to go there, but go there you must. Banneker is using the small intestine of – yes, you’ve guessed it – the deceased Mrs Banneker.
At this point, you may think that you’ve stumbled into a John Carpenter movie rather than an English crime novel, but be patient. In addition to his creative skills with human body parts, Banneker becomes unhinged if anyone knocks on his door without warning. In the unkempt grounds of the house lies the body of a tramp who stopped to ask for sustenance. As we read, he is joined by a cyclist whose only sin appears to be that he knocked on Banneker’s door to ask directions.
At this point, the crime story begins to grow more conventional wings. A young couple, Tom Newman and Natasha Vogt, are driving through the night to visit Tasha’s great-uncle Martin, who lives alone in his large house, atop a hill. When they arrive, they can’t make Martin hear, so they let themselves in, only to find him alone on the floor of his study pierced through and through by a Samurai sword. We now learn that Martin Waldeyer was the father of the late Mrs Banneker, father-in-law to Leo Banneker, and grandfather to Banneker’s sole companion, his daughter Simone. Both surviving Bannekers have long since disappeared, after a family row. Inspector Beauchamp, of Herefordshire CID, and his rather odd Sergeant, Jeremiah Brierley, arrive at the scene, but cannot agree if Waldeyer’s death is suicide or something more sinister.
As the police cautiously circle the case, Tom Newman is less circumspect. He removes something from the scene of Waldeyer’s death, un-noticed by the police. It is a beautifully crafted musical pipe, made of bone, and it seems to have been recently posted to the dead man. Newman is a pathologist, and he soon realises that the pipe has its origin inside a human body, and that some terrible secret links Waldemeyer with the missing Bannekers.
McCarthy certainly loves his language, and I admit that, as the story developed, I had to reach for the dictionary more than once. This is slightly irritating but perhaps this says more about me than it does the author. McCarthy is a medical man himself and, given Leo Banneker’s morbid obsession, there were plenty of physiological references which I needed to look up. This being said, Memento Mori is a deeply dark and disturbing novel, not without the occasional flash of ghoulish humour, but a journey nonetheless into the most unlit corners of the human mind. The terrors that lurk in those shadowy corners may make you rush to finish the book and put it down to go to sleep – with the light on.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars