I had dinner with Kathy Reichs on Tuesday night, who was in a celebratory mood after learning her new novel had gone straight in the UK hardback chart at No.1.
She is a really delightful lady – very intelligent and extremely funny, but with the assembled company around that table, this was never going to be a dinner for the squeamish. In addition to Kathy, who as well as being a global bestselling author is a practicing forensic anthropologist, there was her companion, Robert Dorion, who is a forensic dentist, based out of Montreal, and wrote the definitive book on the subject, Bitemark Evidence, my old friend Dr Peter Dean, police surgeon and Coroner for Essex, and the immensely smart and fun Susan Sandon, Kathy’s publisher (who was also mine when I was at Penguin some moons ago).
The conversation began to degenerate as we pondered the menu, with Kathy leading a detailed forensic analysis on all the meat dishes on offer. I’m not sure quite what prompted me to order sweetbreads in the company of two people who have seen more decomposing internal organs than most of us – perhaps it was the challenge. I was soon regretting it. When my plate arrived the sweetbreads were subjected to forensic scrutiny, followed by Kathy telling me, animatedly, that these were the thymus, and explaining exactly where in the body they were located – followed by their function. By the time she had finished I could have done with a doggy bag to slip them into, as I had suddenly, mysteriously, lost my appetite…
Apart from that, the restaurant, Roussillon in Pilmlico, was one of the very best places in London that I have eaten in for a long time. The food was quite stunning, the staff among the nicest I can ever remember, and of the copious libations of champagne and wine was – unexpectedly – a memorable Soave.
However, not content with ruining my dinner, over breakfast at Claridges the following morning the full British works – eggs, bacon, mushroom, sausage (clearly spending your working hours with the dead gives you an appetite) – Robert Dorion cheerfully talked me through the poisons and bacterias secreted in a human bite – as part of my research for my next novel, Not Dead Enough, and how within a few days it could kill you if not treated. A human bite is one of the most venomous bites on the planet. We apparently contain all kinds of nasties. Which could explain something that has puzzled me for a long time:
Some years ago, whilst staying with some friends in Brecon in Wales, we set off for a Sunday morning hike up the Brecon Beacons. But our friends’ elderly long-haired daschund was having problems climbing up into the car. It got its front paws over the door sill but couldn’t get its hind ones to follow. I gave it a helpful lift up, and for my troubles, it bit me, deep and hard, with elderly, spiky teeth the colour of rust. Instead of our hike I ended up in the A&E department of Brecon hospital having a tetanus jab. A few days after we had returned home I rang my hosts, who asked, concerned, how my hand was. I told them it was fine and jokingly asked how the dog was. “Dead,” they replied. It had been diagnosed with acute septicaemia the day after biting me and was dead forty-eight hours later. You have been warned… I don’t bite – no need to – I now just let my enemies bite me!