On June 9, 1870, Charles Dickens died of a stroke after working on his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But for T. Thurai, this unfinished work created not one mystery, but two. It also had an unexpected result … a new short story.

Dickens: The Two Mysteries of Edwin Drood

On June 9, 1870, Charles Dickens died of a stroke after working on his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It seems appropriate that the man who wrote over 70 works should, at his death, have created a promising new detective genre: one in which the reader must solve the mystery.

This last, unfinished work has continued to tease Dickens’s fans for generations. What happened to Edwin Drood? Did he die? If he did, who killed him? But for me, the book also contains another enigma.

Having spent nine years researching and writing The Devil Dancers, a novel set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), I was intrigued by Dickens’s reference to that country in Edwin Drood. This, for me, was the real mystery. At a time when the British Empire encompassed the globe, one might have expected a reference to India – or even the North West frontier – but why Ceylon?

To try and resolve this puzzle, I made several trips to Rochester Cathedral, the setting for Edwin Drood and the place where Dickens wished to be buried. As Dickens makes a number of references to memorial tablets and inscriptions in the book, I spent a considerable amount of time reading memorial plaques, thinking that these might provide a clue. But, although I found many references to India, Afghanistan, Africa and Canada, there was no mention of Ceylon.

In fact, I had to look much further afield for a connection between Dickens and Ceylon. The answer came from a forgotten graveyard in the ancient Sri Lankan town of Kandy, just yards away from the famous Temple of the Tooth.

This was the last resting place for British soldiers, civil servants and their families. Among those buried there is one William Charles MacReady (d. 1871), a civil servant and linguist whose father, a celebrated actor – also called William – was known to Dickens.

By the time I discovered this connection, I had unearthed some fascinating stories. One related to a soldier, Captain James McGlashan, who died after completing a 100-mile trek from one end of Ceylon to the other.

Closer to home, a wall tablet in the parish church of Chilham, near Canterbury, revealed another extraordinary story. It gives a detailed account of how Frederick Lacy Dick, a district magistrate in a coastal district of Ceylon, was ambushed and shot “by an unseen hand”.

The story on this commemorative tablet struck a chord with me. It was not only relevant to the period in which Dickens lived and worked, but it provided a fascinating insight into the life of a British civil servant in Ceylon.

These accounts were too good to waste, so I incorporated them into a short story; at the same time, offering my own solution to the central mystery of Edwin Drood.

Do read it and see if you agree with my conclusion.

My short story The Cinnamon Peeler’s Daughter can be downloaded free from my website: www.thedevildancers.com (Reviews and Links page).

For those hankering for total Dickens immersion, Kent has two major Festivals in June.

These take place at:

(i)   Rochester (8 – 10 June) http://bit.ly/JwUsqD

(ii)  Broadstairs (16 – 22 June) http://bit.ly/LwKCEx