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The novel, set in the industrial South Wales of 1904 sees Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show turn up in the town of Pontypridd. Inspector Frank Parade is a tough, no nonsense policeman who couldn't care less about, what he calls, silly cowboys and Indians . It is not a view shared by the young Constable Davies who idolises Cody and is totally overawed in his presence. Soon the trio are investigating a string of murders that have their origins in Whitechapel, London when the killer know as Jack the Ripper prowled the streets.
The biting cold forced Parade to dig his hands deeper into his pockets. He listened for the whistle that would signify the train was on the last leg of its journey, cornering at Treforest before coming into Pontypridd Train Station. He peered across the Tumble, where the constable was waiting; manning the other end of the rope cordon they set up to allow the cattle safe passage across the tramway and onward to the slaughterhouse. The irony in this was not lost on the police inspector.
Two pieces of rope were tied to each side of the station entrance and then run across the Tumble, and secured to the stockyard gates. At regular intervals, they had tied colorful ribbon to the rope in order for it to be fully visible to the cattle and keep them within its field of containment. For the moment all traffic along the Tumble was stopped, including the trams, which usually passed every fifteen minutes, so they had to get this over and done with as quickly as possible.
“Shouldn‟t be too long,” Parade shouted across to the constable.
He hoped the train was on time, as it was difficult enough keeping the thoroughfare clear at the best of times, let alone on a bustling market day. A day when thousands would swarm into the town, coming from miles yonder to shop in a market that was world famous for its range of goods. The crowds coming to town for the circus would only exacerbate the situation.
Pontypridd was a vibrant cosmopolitan town and had all the problems that went with such prosperity. Alongside the great wealth there existed extreme poverty, and the streets were often lawless – river traders, gypsies, pickpockets, drifters, even escaped convicts ranging from petty thieves to crazed killers would come up the canals and make for the plentiful alehouses. There they mingled and lost themselves among the sea of faces.
The town, once a rural backwater village, was born out of the industrialization of the surrounding areas and benefited from its close proximity to the Glamorganshire Canal. This allowed access from Merthyr‟s coalfields to the docks in Cardiff and from there the world beyond. Eventually the Taff Vale Railway linked Pontypridd to the Rhondda, creating a fast and efficient artery into the coal scarred hills.
Each year would see over 57 million tons of steam coal shipped down from the Black Klondike, as the valleys were now known. The coal would then be transported down to Cardiff and Barry and sent around the world. Fires, the industrialized world over burned bright with Rhondda coal.
Suddenly the train whistle sounded and Parade gave Davies the thumbs up. At last things would get moving, and as soon as they saw the cows across the Tumble, and down to the stockyards, they would be able to get about their business. They were policemen, not cattle drovers, but Parade knew they had no choice but to secure the streets for the cattle to cross.
One time a bull went berserk and rampaged across the Tumble and down to Mill Street, where it smashed through a fence and went straight into the market, tossing vendors‟ goods every which way. Miraculously no one was hurt other than an old woman who‟d sprained an ankle in her clumsy, terrified escape from the creature‟s path. The financial damages however ran into hundreds of pounds. Damages which had to be paid for by the district, which was something Parade still heard about whenever the chief constable was in town. They waited ten more minutes before they heard the whistles of the drovers and then a rumble, like thunder, as the cattle were led across the narrow bridge that took them above the tracks.
A few more minutes went by and then the cattle were spewing out of the station and onto the Tumble. They veered to the left but were driven back into order by Davies jumping up and down, blowing his whistle, and waving his arms about above his head.
“Good man,” Parade shouted, but it was useless. There was not the remotest possibility of his voice carrying above the thunderous, earth-shaking roar of the cattle as the brainless creatures surged forward, unsure of where they were going, but going all the same. At times it looked as if they would try and break through the rope cordon, but its movement drove them back into some sort of line.
Two men came out of the station behind the cattle and walked on either side of the herd but just inside the cordons. They had wooden rattles, which they shook to move the cattle forward, and thin canes, which they used to swipe the air behind the cattle. The creatures surged with all the grace of an epileptic in full seizure.
Parade saw a cow coming toward him, a particularly large beast with red markings like blood upon its face, which served to give it a demonic look. It seemed oblivious to the rope blowing back and forth in the wind and didn‟t seem to want to stop. The policeman blew his whistle and drove the cow back into line with the others.
“Bloody dumb animals,” Parade said and looked across the Tumble when something caught his eye. There was a dog, a damned terrier, and it was running, yelping, toward the cows that were barely contained within the rope cordon.
Parade turned and was about to lunge for the dog when one of the cows struck him from behind and he was thrown face down to the ground. Although he couldn‟t be sure, he thought he heard a high-pitched laugh come from Davies as his helmet clattered across the ground.
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