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Gazing out into the glowing curtain of evening summer rain, his body floods with fear as a cold hand clamps over his mouth. He doesn't even have a chance to scream as he is pulled down into the dark.
When actor Majid Rahman's body is found in a neighbourhood allotment in Leicester, Detective Vijay Patel is one of the first on the scene, but is unable to save the man. Although his mother's house backs onto the gardens, he resolves to let the local police do their work.
But after a neighbour is kidnapped and the detective in charge doesn't want to know, Patel vows to find the killer.
When Patel uncovers a leather bag stuffed with money and a gold necklace near to where Majid's body was found, he realises this case may be a lot bigger than he'd imagined. Just as he starts to get close to the truth, the witness he was hoping to speak to is shot in front of him, and Patel must flee for his life.
Just when Patel is finally on the killer's trail, he finds a clue that shocks him to his very core: this case may be closer to home than he ever could have imagined. Could stopping this twisted killer from stealing more lives mean paying the ultimate price for Patel?
A totally gripping crime thriller, packed with suspense and twists you'll never see coming. Fans of Ian Rankin, Abir Mukherjee and Val McDermid will be utterly addicted.
What readers are saying about Anita Sivakumaran:
'Wow just incredible... The killer's identity just took my breath away... Breathtaking suspense and mystery that will blow you away... Outstanding. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐' Surjit's Book Blog⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Wow, wow, wow. I just couldn't put this one down. An absolute masterpiece. Gritty, fast paced, brilliant... Loved loved all the characters... One of the best crime books I have ever read. Just wonderful. Will be recommending this to everyone.' Bestselling author Renita D'Silva ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Absolutely gripping... So intense... The twists I encountered along the way were so unexpected... I could not stop to put this down at any point... Gave me tingles... I was so nervous about how this book was going to play out.' Twilight Reader ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Completely pulled in... I have devoured this book in one sitting.' Little Miss Book Lover 87
'Twisty... I didn't guess the denouement at all, even as the book was racing towards its conclusion.' The Quick and the Read
'Exciting... A super-gripping new thriller series... You'll be kept guessing as to the killer's identity throughout... Will have you totally hooked.' Cosmopolitan
'Gripping... Very well drawn characters... Recommended!' NetGalley Reviewer
'Fast-paced and riveting.' Beyond the Books
'Anita Sivakumaran is an exciting new name in crime fiction.' The Times
Release date: November 10, 2022
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Print pages: 100000
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So, the toast barely finished, the tea too hot to drink and abandoned on the dresser, Clive pulled on his wellies and mac. He didn’t miss Sylvia’s sharp tongue, truth be told, but this silent pleading … Pleading from a proud woman, the dread of his saying no. All this spurred him outside in biblical weather conditions.
Flapping open the broken umbrella, its steel tip a blur of dried mud from when he leaned on it while peering at the tomatoes to check their ripeness, he called, ‘Back soon, me duck,’ before opening the front door to the grey blizzard.
Bastard slugs. This May Bank Holiday, like so many in recent years, proving to be a washout. Now, Monday afternoon, a veritable storm raged, perfect conditions for slugs to rise and devour cottage vegetable gardens. In all the years that Sylvia had her ol’ lottie, she’d kept on top of the slimy critters, her plot free of weeds, the soil pristine, nowhere for the grubbins to lurk. Now it wasn’t so easy. The allotment paths were wheelchair unfriendly, to say the least. Clive did his best, but with his hips, he couldn’t kneel or stay bent at the waist for more than a few minutes.
He felt a twinge in his right hip as he shuffled up to the gates. All Sunday he’d stayed in with Sylvia, resisting the temptation to turn the central heating on, nearly lighting some old newspaper and kindling that lurked in the hearth of the woodburner but denying himself that comfort. Instead, he’d busied himself googling solutions for the slug problem. This morning after breakfast he’d set to work on old Tupperware containers Sylvia had kept from when the children were little – she hated throwing anything away. He drilled holes into the lids and poured in the Foster’s Lager, which would both attract and drown the slugs.
Clive pulled open the metal gates to the allotment – someone had left them unlocked, again – and walked through the grassy accessway that ran between the allotment land and the back of a row of terraced houses.
He passed a back gate with its old ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign. Instinctively he looked down and watched himself step on a dog turd. Typical. Cursing, he wiped his boot on some grass, then spotting another pile, he gathered some leaves, scooped it up and slung it over the small gate. Gathering up his basket of slug traps he noticed a smear on his hand. Cursing louder, he went to the allotment tap, and then proceeded to lay down the traps in Sylvia’s greenhouse.
The dog’s owner curled his bottom lip as he watched Clive stomp away from his back gate. He stood just a foot away from his top-floor window. From there he had a view of the whole allotment. He could see the vandals as they came and went. He could see the so-called respectable old gentleman slinging poo into his tidy garden.
He waited, he had little else to do these days, passing the time by looking out the window, catching glimpses of Clive as he shuffled around in the greenhouse, then to’d and fro’d with the watering can in the rain.
He watched Clive finish and trudge back past his gate again. And, after he heard the metal gates being pulled shut, he went downstairs, coaxed a reluctant dog out into the rain. He opened the garden gate, placed his foot under the dog’s belly, half lifted it over the step, its short legs scrabbling in the air. Giving the animal a stern face, he shooed it onto the vegetable plots.
The dog, an unwell, uneven-tempered mongrel, whined for a while, then began sniffing about. It passed its own smells of shit and piss, some old, some recent, skirted the vegetables, cocked a hopeful ear for the frogs that lived near Sylvia’s greenhouse. It went to the corner of the common lot, which the people from the terraced houses used for dumping things they were supposed to take to the tip. It rootled among the rubbish, the broken bits of plastic bottles and lager cans, wooden chairs missing legs or backs, some metal plates, parts of a fridge, the drum from a tumble dryer, then came upon a brown leather valise.
The dog nosed open its flap, sniffed at the paper and plastic smells inside. It smelled faintly of old peanuts, but the dog found nothing actually edible. Cocking an ear for sounds, the dog licked the raindrops off its own nose, yawned. Then it shuffled into position, crooked its back and strained. It did its business in the mouth of the open valise. Then the dog trotted back to the gate and whined till it was let back in.
In the evening, as the watery sun disappeared for the night, a hedgehog uncurled from under the valise flap, and emerged to look for a quieter bolthole. It had found a nice burrow under a pile of dried brambles before all the disturbances began, before the flap appeared to roof its new home. Its movement pushed the flap up and over, closing the valise again.
Not long after, a teenage gang convened at their usual spot, by the allotment gates, which as usual were open. So they went in to smoke spliffs by the unofficial tip. In the failing light, one of them noticed the brown bag. He eagerly picked up the bag and opened it. ‘Eeow,’ he said, turning his face away in disgust.
‘Wassup, bruv?’ said his friend.
‘It stinks, man,’ said the spiky youth and flung the bag as far as he could. By the time his brain registered the valise’s heaviness, his arms were already sending it away into 2B’s flower bed.
By Tuesday evening, the rain had eased off and Clive returned to the allotment, keen to see if his traps had worked. Indeed, they had; the smell far from pleasant, but gosh it felt satisfying. Decades of growing vegetables and Sylvia had never discovered this trick. Who would have thought slugs were mad for beer? Perhaps they weren’t so different from humans, after all.
He gathered up all the containers into an old plastic tub and, hips aching, went over to the compost bins. Then he wondered about introducing a sudden glut of dead slugs steeped in stale beer into Sylvia’s compost. Wasn’t beer full of salt? No, he didn’t think she’d approve. He cast his eyes about, unwilling to dispose of the stinky things anywhere on Sylvia’s plot, briefly contemplated the dog gate, then settled on the common bit of land, used as a tip by the inhabitants of the terraced houses. He noticed new beer cans. He should write to the secretary about it. Take over the complaining from Sylvia.
He squinted in the failing light. Should have come a bit earlier. He put down the tray, and shook free a chair from the rubbish, startling a frog. No. Broken. He slung it back on the heap and emptied the slugs and beer. When he turned to go he spotted the shoe.
He bent, peered at it, picked it up, looked some more, trying to read without his glasses. ‘Oh my,’ he said out loud, when he made out the letters PRADA. His size too. The soles were a bit muddy but otherwise dry under the brambles.
He slipped off his welly, teetering a bit as he tried not to put his socked foot on the wet ground, slipped the shoe on. Perfect fit. He couldn’t believe someone from the terraces could own, much less throw out an expensive, branded shoe. If people threw away this kind of stuff, he wouldn’t complain about fly tipping. Wouldn’t it be dandy if he had the pair? He began looking about in the failing light, wishing he could see better. He imagined the look on Sylvia’s face when he walked into the house in his artfully scuffed Pradas.
Welly in one hand, slightly off balance, he poked around the rubbish. He had no luck, never had. His eyes roved over the rubbish as evening came on, and there, by the side of the broken wheelbarrow, in a tangle of brambles, was that it? Yes, the other shoe, sticking up out from the thorny sticks. He pulled the shoe from the brambles. Staggered back empty-handed. It wouldn’t come off.
This shoe still clung to its owner’s foot.
Vijay Patel leaned forward in his seat at the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, his heart for the first time in weeks experiencing a flutter of excitement. The Indian Captain, Virat Kohli, stepped forward to hit a cover-drive. Patel had a fine outfield view. This, the last in a four-test series, and England led 1–0. Patel sat in a box filled with the management team from Ageas Chemicals. He’d shaken hands with the five chemical execs, all of South Asian origin, had partaken of the complimentary nibbles and champagne, chatted, mostly about the weather, the pitch and India’s bowling efforts, and let the small talk wind down as the wickets began to fall.
Holed up in his mother’s house since his return from India, healing from wounds both mental and physical, Patel had been surprised by a call from his former cricket mentor, Sir Roger Wallace.
‘Heard you were in Leicester,’ said Sir Roger. ‘Come to the match tomorrow. I’ll send over a ticket.’
Patel had been too surprised to say no. He’d barely left the house since collecting his things from the London flat he’d shared with his ex-fiancée Sarah two weeks ago.
The ticket arrived and he’d wavered until his mother’s incessant phone conversations, her voice penetrating brick and eardrum, had driven him out of the house at ten, and he’d boarded the train to Nottingham, then the bus to Trent Bridge. He’d arrived as the fifth over of the morning session ended at 11.30.
Kohli’s partner Sharma blocked all six balls of the next over. One of the men behind him groaned. For weeks now, Patel had lurked in a pit of gloom back in his childhood home. An Indian son’s rightful home was forever his parents’ and Patel for once felt grateful for the unquestioning graciousness with which his mother took him in.
He’d already extended his sick leave twice. For a few days now he’d been working on two different email drafts saved in his police account. One, a letter extending his sick leave for the third time, the second, a letter accepting the Met’s redundancy offer. The force was making cuts. Late last night his mother had found him in front of his laptop for the umpteenth time, head in his hands, and urged him to get some fresh air, go and meet people, do something, for heaven’s sake.
Since his return from India he had endured endless debrief sessions, trauma counselling, treatments for his shattered elbow. The same GP who didn’t give a monkey’s about his three-month-long cough agreed to sign him off work for as long as he wanted after a two-minute conversation. This while going through the process of uncoupling from his fiancée. Then he extricated seven years’ worth of accumulated stuff from what had been their flat and moved back to Leicester – temporarily.
Someone passed him a pair of binoculars. Patel adjusted the focus on Kohli’s face. Switched on. Eyes wide, lips pursed. He fought the bowlers just as hard in every game of cricket, no matter the colours they wore, the continent they played in. In this case, of course, being a test match, they all wore white. The ball swung wildly. Overcast, damp in the air. Stuart Broad had a grin like the cat that got the cream. Three wickets in his bag already.
‘Tough batting conditions,’ commented the man beside him, compulsively crunching his way through a third packet of peanuts. They were all men, the chemical execs.
The Indians were struggling to adjust to English conditions. Each day a mystery, weather-wise. Test cricket in England, a game of weather-cat and weather-mouse. The clouds parted, the sun shone, the ball sliced the air, fast. The clouds loomed, and moisture in the air made the ball swing viciously. The Indian batsmen, supposedly the best in the world, tumbled. All but Kohli. A final, bright star in a fading sky. His fifth partnership. Short ball. He cut it beautifully between third slip and gully for four.
The Indians were now 148 for 7. What, thought Patel, kept him going? Kohli’s fight in this patently losing battle felt to Patel like a physical assault on his own numb, gloom-filled body. It’s just a game. No one’s life is on the line.
Patel took his leave of the execs with a sense of relief. He made his way past the half-empty stands to the stairs that led down to Fox Road exit. As he rounded the top of the stairwell, he heard running steps behind and, for a moment, his heart thudded, remembering …
Just a gofer. ‘Excuse me?’ said the teenager with floppy, well-kempt hair, his all-access badge flapping on his chest. Did he leave his wallet on the seat?
‘Sir, Mr Patel, you’ve been asked to come to the players’ lounge.’
‘Oh, who asked?’
‘The chairman,’ he said, breathlessly. ‘They are all coming in now for tea.’
Patel had assumed Sir Roger was too busy to make time for his former protégé. Now Patel didn’t think he had the stomach for socialising. But the boy waited, shifting on his feet. Patel didn’t want him to get into trouble.
‘OK,’ he said. Just a quick hello.
The enclave underneath the home team’s dressing room boasted very little of the sophistication promised by the seductive term ‘members only’. Nothing fancy. Just tables and chairs and the brown carpeting ubiquitous of English clubs. Here the difference was usually the star quality of the players attracting hangers-on and superfans salivating at the fringes. Two security men stood by the entrances, hands together. The catering staff were laying out trestle tables. Hardly anyone there yet.
‘Sir Roger won’t be a minute,’ said the gofer, and left the clubhouse on more errands.
With Indian and Pakistani cricket, usually a clutch of well-connected young women hung around the cricketers, dreams of eternal love and celebrity lifestyle alive in their over-mascaraed eyes. Today, for some reason, there was no gaggle of girls. Just one, drink in hand. She caught his eye, looked away and frowned.
He went to the bar, gave the hard liquor an old-fashioned stare, asked for a glass of orange juice.
The first players rolled in.
Turning with his glass, he noticed the woman, also holding an orange juice, accost Ryan Gonsalves, number six in the Indian batting line up. Ryan! Balding, sweaty and stout: hardly the man the girls usually went after.
Ryan seemed agitated. He said a few words, stepped back nervously. The girl, Patel now noted, did not have the iron-straight hair favoured by the typical groupie. Her hair curled and spiked, unkempt. She wore low-slung jeans and a crumpled, stained white top.
A rucksack hung from the crook of her index finger, behind her left leg, as though she was trying to hide it, as though she had turned up with her travel bag. Aware of eyes on her, she turned and caught Patel’s gaze before turning back to Ryan.
Patel could not fathom what she wanted with Ryan. Perhaps a stalking fan? She didn’t seem the type to be into cricket.
A security vassal turned up at Ryan’s side, primed to nose out agitation and nip it in the bud. He escorted the woman from the clubhouse. The big-suited brute steered her by her elbow. And then it struck Patel. She was a reporter. Distaste soured his mouth. Reporters had hounded him on his return from India, so much so that he’d stopped going out at all and his mother had to go out through the neighbours’ via a gap in the fence. He wondered what this one wanted from Ryan.
‘Patel! Where have you been hiding?’
Sir Roger Wallace, chairman of the England Cricket Board. Grey hair and arched brows gave him a prematurely Gandalf quality. He’d taken Patel under his wing early in his cricket career, when he hadn’t been this grand, though still fairly so. He’d been kind to Patel when he’d been green and skittish. Sought him out for chats, given him pointers about regulating nerves. Patel still did the breath counting.
‘Holed up at home licking my wounds,’ said Patel.
‘Little birdie told me you were in Leicester. I thought you lived in London, being a hotshot policeman.’
‘Not any more,’ said Patel.
‘They didn’t send you here on a case?’
‘No, sir. Just taking a breather after … um, India.’
‘I see … ’
People were coming in, greeting Sir Roger. While some showed deference in their attitude to him, there were also glances and smirks. Patel recalled a small item in the Sun a few months ago, scanned and emailed to him by a helpful cricket enthusiast uncle. Something personal, not to do with the cricket board. The usual sniggering gossip. He tried to remember the details. Family business? His stepson had filed a lawsuit, that was it.
Sir Roger gave him his attention once more.
‘So, what’s new with you, Patel?’
Patel rolled out the usual inanities, but Sir Roger didn’t seem to be listening. He seemed a tad edgy.
‘Well … ’ Sir Roger paused as if, for once in his entire life, lost for words. Then someone waved him over. Sir Roger held up his hand in response, then said, ‘Got to go. I thought I’d see if you needed, you know, any help or information, if you are … ’
Patel looked back at the older man, confused.
The sentence died on his lips. He suddenly leaned in close, whispered, ‘You saw that girl … ’
‘Who is she?’
‘Don’t know. Probably press, yes. Likely nosing around about that dead actor.’
This surprised Patel. ‘Majid Rahman?’
‘Yes, he used to hang out with a couple of players. Indians, of course. Nothing to do with us. Are there suspicions about his death?’
‘As far as I know, well, so my mother informs me, Majid Rahman’s death was accidental overdose. She reads the tabloids. A drug addict, apparently.’ He didn’t add that his mother was secretary for the allotment grounds where Majid’s body had been found.
‘Is that so? I didn’t know that. I need to find out how a journalist got through security. My own backyard.’ He shook his head at the security staff standing at the door. ‘Anyway, Freddie wants a word. Endless flimflam. See you in a minute.’
More men tracked in. Nursing his orange juice, Patel felt like a fish out of water. It’d been too long since his departure from cricket. He knew the coach, the physio, a couple of assistants, but the players were all too young. Their presence, their muscled, sweaty young men’s bodies, induced a welter of envy in him. His old acquaintances nodded, grinned, swapped hellos, but conversation was limited to an exchange of banalities. He needed to leave.
Waving a goodbye to Sir Roger who nodded absently, still deep in a tête-à-tête with a suited board member, he left the grounds. You just can’t go back, he thought.
Walking down Radcliff Road, Patel passed a bunch of raucous young men flinging beer cans into the grey water. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed the reporter following a few paces behind him. His hackles began to rise.
He couldn’t be sure if she was following him or just going to the station as well, along with a thousand o. . .
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