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‘ Captivating and thrilling… the twists kept coming… leaving me hanging onto every word rapidly turning pages hungry for more, reading late in to the night… Go and buy this book you won’t regret it! ’ Bonnie’s Book Talk, 5 stars
When a young woman’s body found hanging upside-down from a crucifix in an abandoned church, Detective Lucy Harwin is plunged into a case that will test her to her very limits.
Before Lucy even has time to get started, another body is found. And this time it’s someone Lucy and her team consider one of their own; the chief’s mother. Her body too is hanging upside-down, so Lucy fears there’s a serial killer stalking the streets of her small coastal town.
Lucy knows the chief is a good man. She trusts him, but can’t pin down his alibi. Just as she’s beginning to suspect the worst, she pushes for a test on some animal hairs, and uncovers a link to an old unsolved murder.
Lucy knows she’s getting close, and works around the clock to catch this killer before he strikes again. But then the trail leads her to the church where her teenage daughter volunteers. Can Lucy prevent a tragedy that will tear her world apart again?
An addictive and unputdownable crime thriller that will hook fans of Patricia Gibney, LJ Ross and Angela Marsons from the very first page.
What readers are saying about Last Light :
‘ Explosive straight out of the gate… I loved everything about this book… This is a seriously good book… in my top 5 of my favourite books of 2018, I loved it, it was really good. If I could give it more stars I would.’ Bonnie’s Book Talk, 5 stars
‘ Brilliant… A must-read book, twisty, gripping and one hell of a read.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘I was captivated… kept me engrossed from start to finish… if this is the first DI Lucy Harwin book you read, I can guarantee you will read the rest of the series and wait for the next instalment as eagerly as me.’ Nigel Adams Bookworm, 5 stars
‘ Honestly, I will read anything by Helen Phifer. She didn’t disappoint with her latest book. There were amazing twists and turns.’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
‘A first-class read, fast-paced, well-constructed and with believable characters… Recommend it highly.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘Another non-stop read for me. Very tightly paced and great, great characters… that's what makes these books"must reads" for me.’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
‘ Wow! What a brilliant read!… I finished Last Lig ht in just a few hours.’ Booking Good Read, 5 stars
‘ A real page-turner, I read this book in one sitting. This is a book you can't put down. I was hooked from the first page… OMG what a case… I honestly had no idea who the killer was until it was revealed. This is a real rollercoaster of a read… will get your heart pumping. I absolutely loved it.’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
‘ Outstanding... More ups and downs than the big dipper.... Lots of twists and turns and I was up several nights late desperate to find out what happened. Cannot wait to read more books in this series.’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
‘ Fabulous … a real unputdownable read which I just ploughed through. This author can really write one heck of a good plot and I hope the next book won’t be too long in coming so if you want a terrific read well here you have it look no further it’s brilliant!!!’ Goodreads Reviewer
Release date: November 16, 2018
Print pages: 296
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Detective Inspector Lucy Harwin parked in the small car park on the opposite side of the road to the crime scene and got out of her car. She surveyed the area; there were no houses which faced directly onto what was left of the derelict St Cuthbert’s Church. A row of terraced houses that backed onto the fringe of the car park had upstairs windows which gave a view of the side of the church. But each house was in darkness; there wasn’t going to be much scope for any witnesses. They were too far away and the wrong angle. Her only hope was if they had external CCTV but judging by the peeling paint and graffiti on the walls it was unlikely.
An ambulance was parked further down the street. She crossed towards the two officers standing by the entrance of the church; the older of the two had been in the job longer than she had, while his student, judging by their collar number, was fresh out of training. As she got closer she knew by the look on the student officer’s face it was going to be bad. The crime scene log was clutched in his shaking hands, and she felt sorry for him. Dead bodies were hard to cope with no matter how long you’d been in the job. The loud roar of her friend and colleague Detective Sergeant Mathew Jackson’s pick-up as it turned into the deserted street made her pause: she might as well wait for him before she started. He parked and jogged across the road to where she was standing. Much to her annoyance he never looked as if he’d been woken up in the middle of the night. His suits were always immaculate, his shirts never creased.
She turned back to the officer and held out her hand to shake his. She’d never met him before and wanted to show him a little respect.
‘DI Harwin and DS Jackson, would you mind talking us through what happened?’
He shook his head. ‘Some teenagers decided to do a spot of ghost hunting and found a way in to the church. They got a lot more than they bargained for. I mean I got a lot more than I bargained for; I thought they were pissing around when they called it in.’
‘Ghost hunting in a church? In this church? It’s falling to bits and a deathtrap.’
‘I suppose it’s as good a place as any. One of the kids is in the back of the ambulance under sedation. He wouldn’t stop screaming. His parents are on their way to collect him.’
‘Where are the rest of them?’
‘In the back of the van.’
‘Are they suspects?’
‘No, at least I don’t think so. They’re twelve and thirteen years old. She looks like she’s been here awhile.’
‘So, we’re treating them as witnesses?’
‘Yes, ma’am. Well sort of, I don’t think we can actually assume they saw anything apart from discovering the body. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
‘You can say that again. Thanks, I suppose we better get suited and booted.’
She turned to walk back to her car where she kept a supply of protective clothing. Mattie followed. He was quiet for a change and Lucy wondered if he’d been busy. He didn’t look like he’d been rudely dragged out of bed. She opened the boot and passed him some packets. Ripping them open they dressed themselves in paper overalls, shoe and leg covers. Pulling on rubber gloves last; as they crossed the road Mattie whispered, ‘You can go in first, Lucy.’
There was a small gap in the metal fencing which had been erected around the building to keep the kids and teenagers out. The church had been boarded-up for a couple of years, set on fire more times than she could count. Squeezing through the gap, she walked towards a small doorway with a wooden board that was hanging on by a thread and just big enough to get through. She noted the faded, dark red, upside-down cross that had been spray-painted onto it. Turning on her torch she stepped into the blackness and shone it onto an overgrown mess of weeds, litter, rubble and empty beer cans. The woodwork, or what was left of it, was a charcoal mess. She didn’t need an expert to tell her it was also unsafe. She waited for Mattie before she moved further in. He clambered through the gap.
‘Bloody hell, this place is a deathtrap. I bet we’re not supposed to be in here. It looks like it might collapse at any moment.’
Lucy inhaled. The faint smell of decomposition filled her nostrils. They were lucky it was February and freezing cold, otherwise it would smell a whole lot worse. She moved forward, trying to keep to one side as best as she could, until finally the horror was clear to see. The dead body, hanging upside down on a crudely fashioned crucifix made from mismatched pieces of blackened timber, was bad, but it was nothing that she couldn’t cope with as she shivered and stamped her feet to keep the circulation flowing. She moved closer – it was the smell of the thick, congealed, sweet-smelling blood that had run down the body in rivulets, staining the white nightdress and turning it into a crimson, bloody, wet mess that made her gag.
‘What happened for you to end up this way?’ she whispered to the body. She knew that sometimes humans were not as innocent as they appeared; the dark secrets they kept locked away could sometimes be the reason for their murders.
Mattie stood behind her and whispered, ‘What the fuck?’
Lucy nodded in agreement. What else was there to say about it? This image was now ingrained in her memory. It would never be erased. She might well be able to store it away, but it would always be there, threatening to appear when she was doing her best to live a normal, happy life. Doing things that normal, happy, people did. She tried to remember exactly when the last time was she’d done anything remotely normal, but couldn’t, having devoted the last ten years of her life to serving her queen and country with every inch of her heart and soul.
For some reason she’d lost her voice; it didn’t want to come out. It was caught in the back of her throat.
‘I think we need to get the scene examined and the doctor here. There’s nothing we can do for her except find whoever did this.’
Mattie nodded, and Lucy turned and walked out the way she’d come in. Outside in the car park there was not only an assortment of police vans, but also two fire engines. The whole circus was here. Detective Chief Inspector Tom Crowe had arrived and was talking to the fire officers. He waved her over, and she headed in his direction.
‘Lucy, you’re not to go back inside until the fire service has assessed the scene and made it safe.’
‘Sir, that could take hours.’
‘I know, but we need to put the safety of the officers and civilians working the scene first. There’s nothing we can do about it if you’re in there and the building collapses – it’s going to be a nightmare.’
He pulled out his phone, and she wandered back to Mattie.
‘We have to wait for the all-clear to go back in.’
He shook his head. ‘Christ, we’re going to be stuck here all night.’
She shrugged. ‘Did you have something better to do?’
‘Well, yes. Sort of and it’s bloody freezing.’
‘Come on, we’ll go and talk to our expert eye witnesses. At least it’s warm in the van.’
Two hours later the fire service had agreed the safest point of entry, which, surprisingly enough, was the same one that Lucy and Mattie had already used. Tom was shouting into his phone, and Lucy got the gist as she heard the words: ‘Crime Scene Manager, patrols to secure a cordon and the area locking down’. He was a bit slow tonight. She’d requested everything on arrival, and the crime scene investigators had gone in to document the scene.
‘So, how did we find her?’
‘Well, sir, some kids scaled the fencing to come into the church and do a spot of ghost hunting. She looks like she’s been here at least twenty-four hours, but the doc will tell you more than I can on that score.’
‘Where are the kids?’
‘I’ve spoken to them and got first accounts, and they’ve all been taken home. I’ll send officers to get statements tomorrow. I think they’ve had enough excitement for one night.’
‘You can say that again. I bet it’s quite some time before they decide to go ghost hunting again. Do we have any ID on the vic?’
Lucy shook her head. ‘We have nothing, although the body hasn’t been searched yet. It’s highly unlikely, because she’s wearing a nightgown, but you never know. Do you want to take a look?’
She could tell by the pained expression on his face that he most definitely didn’t want to take a look, but it was his job. He had to.
‘Should I lead the way, or do you want to go in alone?’
‘I’ll follow you.’
She led him to the metal plates that had been put down by the on-duty CSI, Amanda. Walking single file, he looked at the upside-down cross on the board which was now propped against the side of the church. She smelt the Home Office pathologist before she saw her, swathed in a mist of Chanel. Catherine Maxwell caught all of the bad jobs she did – they were an unlikely pair of crusaders in the fight against evil.
Lucy turned to her and smiled. ‘Catherine, thanks for coming.’
‘There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, except maybe sleeping. At my age I need my beauty sleep you know.’
Lucy smiled at her; Catherine Maxwell was the most attractive, glamorous woman she’d ever laid eyes on. She most definitely didn’t look her age, which Lucy guessed to be somewhere in her late forties.
Tom paused, lifting his arm for the doctor to go first. ‘We’ll let you take a look and be in shortly.’
‘That’s very kind of you.’ She walked in, carrying her heavy case.
Lucy whispered in Tom’s ear, ‘Anyone would think you didn’t want to go in, boss.’
He whispered back, ‘I don’t. My stomach feels a bit off to be honest and I have the headache from hell. The last thing I need is to stand in close proximity to a decomposing body.’
‘Bless you, if it’s any consolation she doesn’t smell that bad. At least if you don’t get too close she doesn’t.’
‘Thanks.’ He inhaled deeply then stepped inside, walking as near to the corpse as he dared yet not getting too close.
Catherine was taking samples from the body. She nodded at them both.
‘Do you know how long she’s been here, Catherine?’
‘Hard to be exact, Tom, but you know that. Judging by the fact that she’s in full rigor I’d say at least twelve hours. Her body temp is the same as the ambient surroundings, so she’s been dead awhile.’
He stared at the deep wound on the victim’s throat. ‘Cause of death is pretty obvious even to me.’
‘It might look obvious, but you never can be one hundred per cent sure until the post-mortem. For all we know she could have died several ways. It doesn’t look as if there’s enough arterial spray for blood loss to have been the cause. I’m tempted to say her throat was cut after death, but that would be speculation and we all know what that can lead to.’
Tom took a step closer, crouching down. He looked up at the body that was tied to the roughly fashioned cross, studying the open, blood-crusted wound on her neck. ‘Did you notice the inverted cross on the board outside? It looks to me like someone decided to take up devil worship. Have we got any devil worshippers on our books, Lucy?’
‘Sir, are you being serious? Devil worship? In Brooklyn Bay? I’ve never heard of it, and as far as I’m aware no, we haven’t got anyone who is a self-confessed devil worshipper on the system. Apart from the body and a faded piece of graffiti outside there’s nothing to suggest it. I’d have expected candles, pentagrams, some kind of altar.’ Just to be sure she slowly moved her torch beam over the darkest corners of the building.
‘Yeah, well neither have I but what else have we got to go on? It’s a definite line of investigation and I want it looked into. We can’t rule anything out, just because it seems ridiculous.’
Catherine arched an eyebrow at Lucy. ‘I think I’d prefer to go off the hard evidence and work it out. We can’t go around saying there’s a bunch of satanists in town.’
‘I didn’t say we could, it’s just a suggestion.’
He stood up and walked back outside.
Catherine whispered, ‘I think he watches too much television.’
‘You and me both.’
‘This is going to be an interesting case, Lucy, aren’t you glad you were on-call for your first official murder investigation?’
She shook her head. ‘For once, I wish I wasn’t. My stomach almost fell out when I took the call; it’s not a straightforward sudden death, is it? There’s a lot to be said for rest days and working upstairs in the Intel unit.’
Catherine placed her samples in the heavy, metal case. Taking out brown paper bags, she secured them around both hands of the corpse to preserve any evidence.
‘You can let the undertakers move her when you’re ready. I’ve taken my preliminary samples. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
Lucy watched the doctor leave then turned to look at her nameless victim.
‘I don’t know who you are or why you were killed, but I promise I will find out, and catch whoever did this to you.’
Taking one last look, she left; there was so much that needed to be done. She glanced down at her watch – it was almost two. She was going to the station for a large mug of strong coffee and to get the investigation going. Her bed wouldn’t be getting slept in tonight.
Lucy came out of the daily morning meeting, which had been held at nine thirty prompt with the heads of each department and the chief superintendent, with glazed eyes. She went back downstairs to the first floor where the CID office was situated. The members of her team that were on shift today were waiting for the list of jobs she would have been tasked with, though they looked as enthusiastic as she felt.
‘Well that’s thirty minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Nothing of note: a couple of attempted shed breaks overnight that I said we’ll pick up, and a domestic that Public Protection Unit have picked up. The Super wants to know why we haven’t got an ID on the victim and a half-decent suspect for the crucifix killing. I’ve told him that we’re working on it as a matter of urgency.’
She walked over to the whiteboard, where she’d stuck a photograph of the victim’s face to it and a couple of the crime scene photos. ‘Gather round you lot. I need an ID on her like now.’
Detective Constable Colin Davey, Lucy’s go-to guy for anything computer related, shuddered.
‘That’s a terrible way to die, having your throat cut and bleeding to death upside down. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of what was going through her mind, and why here, why would anyone choose Brooklyn Bay? It’s not a big city or even that busy for a town.’
‘Col, please can you check the intelligence system for me? I’ve sent a global email with a photo of her face asking if anyone can ID her.’
Col, who was now staring back at his computer monitor, held up his hand. ‘We have an ID; one of the PCSOs has just emailed to say that she looks like a woman called Sandy Kilburn who lives on Bridlington Court. Give me a minute.’ He began tapping on the keyboard. Lucy wanted to kiss Col – having an ID made her life so much easier.
‘Here you are, boss, it’s her.’ Crossing the room she looked at the enlarged mugshot on the screen; it was a few years old, but it was definitely their victim.
‘God I love it when things go right for a change. Brilliant, so Col, you do the background checks.’ She looked at Mattie, and Rachel who was another of her detectives. ‘Can you two grab CSI and go to her flat? I want it locked down and searched for any evidence.’
They both nodded. Lucy began to write ‘Sandy Kilburn’ above her photograph in red marker. The overwhelming tiredness she’d felt sitting in the morning meeting had been pushed to one side. Forgotten; now they had viable information and an ID, they were closer to finding whoever was responsible. Somebody had to know something. As Mattie and Rachel stood up she turned to face them.
‘Oh, and the DCI’s mum’s decapitated cat needs looking at.’
There was a loud groan and several head-shakes.
‘Seeing as how Detective Sergeant Browning is late, he can have the dead cat.’
Browning walked in just as she’d finished speaking, and Lucy waved him over.
‘That was good timing. We have a murder enquiry on the go, and there’s a dead cat waiting for you to look at.’
‘What’s a dead cat got to do with me? Give it to some nice, keen student on section or a PCSO – they love that kind of stuff.’
‘I would if it wasn’t the boss’s mum’s beloved cat. Its head’s been hacked off and left on her front doorstep; she’s very upset.’
Browning grimaced. ‘I’m very upset; I don’t like cats.’
‘The boss has it in his head that the victim found last night in the burnt-out church was killed by a devil worshipper. I don’t want anyone saying we didn’t check the dead cat to make sure it wasn’t another sacrifice to Satan.’
‘You’re kidding me, right?’
‘I’m afraid not. I’m being serious. If there are any satanic symbols or candles then call CSI out to photograph the scene. I need someone with a bit more experience to assess the situation and that’s you.’
‘Bloody hell, what’s happened? I feel as if I’ve stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone.’
‘Look, I don’t really believe it either. Hopefully there won’t be anything to suggest it’s anything more than a neighbour with a grudge.’
He shook his head in disbelief, turning to walk back down the stairs. Lucy wondered what had put him in such a bad mood so early in the day: she hadn’t meant he had to go right now.
She went into her office and closed the door, needing five minutes to clear her head. Her mobile began to ring; glancing at the number, she wondered if she should answer. No doubt it would be some drama. It didn’t stop, so she picked it up.
‘Did you tell Dad I couldn’t go to Maisie’s party tonight?’
Her daughter’s voice echoed down the phone and she knew she should have ignored the call.
‘You know why! You didn’t go to school all week and spent most of it in that shithole of a cellar at the youth club. Not to mention you broke into the bloody cellar in the first place. There are laws against that kind of behaviour, Ellie.’
‘I hate you.’
The line went dead, and Lucy sighed. ‘Yes, I know you do.’ She’d had no idea being the parent of a teenage girl would be quite this traumatic. She’d been ready for the mood swings and attitude, something which had marred her own teenage years. She hadn’t been ready for the lies and borderline criminal behaviour, not to mention the drinking and manipulation. Ellie was spending a couple of nights at her dad’s. Lucy was well aware that Ellie was trying to push her luck with the both of them. She’d only recently split up with George, and already their daughter had figured out that it might not be a bad thing, realising that she could play them off against each other to her advantage, which she supposed any teenager in the same situation would do. As frustrating as her attitude was, Lucy loved her more than life itself.
There was a knock on her door and she waved Col in. He handed her a sheaf of papers still warm from the printer.
‘Sandy Kilburn has quite a dossier; she has previous for drunk and disorderly, assault, sex in a public place, shoplifting. It’s all there for you to read.’
‘Thanks, Col, at least it gives us something to work with.’
He nodded. ‘Yep, you can say that again.’
Closing the door, Lucy wondered if this was some kind of revenge killing. Revenge for what though? What could Sandy have done to have made another person so angry with her that they wanted to leave her in the burnt-out shell of a church, bleeding to death on a makeshift crucifix?
Browning parked the unmarked Ford Focus outside the tired-looking semi. He’d imagined the boss’s mother living in one of those new retirement flats on the seafront. Not sure what he was going to do with a decapitated cat, he sighed. Getting out of the car he pushed open the rickety gate and walked up the uneven brick path. The weeds were winning the battle for this garden, which was a shame. A selection of rose bushes sported some beautiful blooms despite being strangled by copious amounts of bindweed running through them. He didn’t care much for the organic stuff; he much preferred a short blast of chemicals to do the job. As he approached the front step his eyes fixated on the bloodied corpse of the headless cat. She could have at least covered it with a bin bag or something. It was lying there in all its stiff, dead glory for the world to see. He looked around for its head and was taken aback to see it sitting in a plant pot as if it was a prize flower that had been nurtured and grown for display. He felt his stomach lurch. The poor bastard was staring right at him, its green eyes now covered with a milky film. Browning shuddered. Normally it was the cat who was the hunter – who had decided to turn the table and hunt the cat? There were no satanic symbols or anything else to suggest devil worship.
‘He was such a good boy, who would do such a thing?’
Browning tore his gaze away from the cat and looked up to see the old woman dabbing her eyes with the corner of a tissue.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know. It’s horrible. I’m Detective Sergeant Peter Browning, Tom asked me to come. Should we go inside for a chat?’
She turned and he followed her inside, relieved to not have to stare at the abomination any longer, although someone was going to have to scoop its sorry arse into a bin bag to get rid of it. She led him into a living room which was an explosion of eighties floral and striped paper, the bright yellow faded enough he was thankful he didn’t have to shield his eyes from the glare. It was messy, nothing like he’d expected, and in the corner on the floor was a place mat containing bowls of dry cat biscuits and water. He tried not to draw attention to them. The woman was still wiping her eyes with a tissue. She pointed to the gap on the sofa next to a pile of People’s Friend magazines, and a stack of newspapers which were yellow and turned up at the corners. He never imagined the boss would let his mother live like this. It wasn’t dirty, just cluttered and full of junk. He squeezed his bulk into the space and waited for her to sit down in the chair opposite him.
‘I really thought that Tom would have come himself. I suppose he’s too busy. He’s always at some kind of meeting; if they . . .
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