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Detective Ford has a cold-blooded killer to catch. But can he escape his own dark secrets?
Barely a month since his promotion to Inspector, DI Ford is called in to investigate the murder of a young nurse and her son in a small flat in Salisbury. There are few clues, and no apparent motive, but Ford can sense that there’s a serial killer at work. After all, he knows from brutal personal experience how killers cover their tracks…
It’s been six years since Ford lost his wife in a climbing accident—an accident he caused. He is desperate to keep the truth hidden, especially from his son, Sam. But Ford’s new partner, Dr Hannah Fellowes, is a crime scene investigator with a ruthlessly analytical mind, and as they work together to track down the killer, his crippling guilt is compounded by fear of exposure.
When instinct leads him towards a high-profile suspect, his superiors’ warnings just make him more determined to connect impulse and fact. But can Ford hold it all together—the case, his life—long enough to stop the killer?
Release date: November 10, 2020
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Print pages: 364
Reader says this book is...: clever protagonist (1) high body count (1) realistic characters (3) rich setting(s) (1) unexpected twists (2) entertaining story (2) terrific writing (1) unputdownable (2) action-packed (1) emotionally riveting (1) likable hero (1) red herrings (1) satisfying ending (1) suspenseful (1) witty (1)
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Listen to a sample
Summer | Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales
Ford leans out from the limestone rock face halfway up Pen-y-holt sea stack, shaking his forearms to keep the blood flowing. He and Lou have climbed the established routes before. Today, they’re attempting a new line he spotted. She was reluctant at first, but she’s also competitive and he really wanted to do the climb.
‘I’m not sure. It looks too difficult,’ she’d said when he suggested it.
‘Don’t tell me you’ve lost your bottle?’ he said with a grin.
‘No, but . . .’
‘Well, then. Let’s go. Unless you’d rather climb one of the easy ones again?’
She frowned. ‘No. Let’s do it.’
They scrambled down a gully, hopping across boulders from the cliff to a shallow ledge just above sea level at the bottom of the route. She stands there now, patiently holding his ropes while he climbs. But the going’s much harder than he expected. He’s wasted a lot of time attempting to navigate a tricky bulge. Below him, Lou plays out rope through a belay device.
He squints against the bright sunshine as a light wind buffets him. Herring gulls wheel around the stack, calling in alarm at this brightly coloured interloper assaulting their territory.
He looks down at Lou and smiles. Her eyes are a piercing blue. He remembers the first time he saw her. He was captivated by those eyes, drawn in, powerless, like an old wooden sailing ship spiralling down into a whirlpool. He paid her a clumsy compliment, which she accepted with more grace than he’d managed.
Lou smiles back up at him now. Even after seven years of marriage, his heart thrills that she should bestow such a radiant expression on him.
Rested, he starts climbing again, trying a different approach to the overhang. He reaches up and to his right for a block. It seems solid enough, but his weight pulls it straight off.
He falls outwards, away from the flat plane of lichen-scabbed limestone, and jerks to a stop at the end of his rope. The force turns him into a human pendulum. He swings inwards, slamming face-first against the rock and gashing his chin. Then out again to dangle above Lou on the ledge.
Ford tries to stay calm as he slowly rotates. His straining fingertips brush the rock face then arc into empty air.
Then he sees two things that frighten him more than the fall.
The rock he dislodged, as large as a microwave, has smashed down on to Lou. She’s sitting awkwardly, white-faced, and he can see blood on her leggings. Those sapphire-blue eyes are wide with pain.
And waves are now lapping at the ledge. The tide is on its way in, not out. Somehow, he misread the tide table, or he took too long getting up the first part of the climb. He damns himself for his slowness.
‘I can lower you down,’ she screams up at him. ‘But my leg, I think it’s broken.’
She gets him down safely and he kisses her fiercely before crouching by her right leg to assess the damage. There’s a sharp lump distending the bloody Lycra, and he knows what it is. Bone.
‘It’s bad, Lou. I think it’s a compound fracture. But if you can stand on your good leg, we can get back the way we came.’
‘I can’t!’ she cries, pain contorting her face. ‘Call the coastguard.’
He pulls out his phone, but there’s no mobile service down here.
‘Shit! There’s no signal.’
‘You’ll have to go for help.’
‘I can’t leave you, darling.’
A wave crashes over the ledge and douses them both.
Her eyes widen. ‘You have to! The tide’s coming in.’
He knows she’s right. And it’s all his fault. He pulled the block off the crag.
She grabs his hand and squeezes so hard it hurts. ‘You have to.’
Another wave hits. His mouth fills with seawater. He swallows half of it and retches. He looks back the way they came. The boulders they hopped along are awash. There’s no way Lou can make it.
He’s crying now. He can’t do it.
Then she presses the only button she has left. ‘If you stay here, we’ll both die. Then who’ll look after Sam?’
Sam is eight and a half. Born two years before they married. He’s being entertained by Louisa’s parents while they’re at Pen-y-holt. Ford knows she’s right. He can’t leave Sam an orphan. They were meant to be together for all time. But now, time has run out.
‘Go!’ she screams. ‘Before it’s too late.’
So he leaves her, checking the gear first so he’s sure she can’t be swept away’. [GH1] [CM2] [JS3] [AM4] He falls into an eerie calm as he swims across to the cliff and solos out.
At the clifftop, rock gives way to scrubby grass. He pulls out his phone. Four bars. He calls the coastguard, giving them a concise description of the accident, the location and Lou’s injury. Then he slumps. The calmness that saved his life has vanished. He is hyperventilating, heaving in great breaths that won’t bring enough oxygen to his brain, and sighing them out again.
A wave of nausea rushes through him and sweat flashes out across his skin. The wind chills it, making him shudder with the sudden cold. He lurches to his right and spews out a thin stream of bile on to the grass.
Then his stomach convulses and his breakfast rushes up and out, spattering the sleeve of his jacket. He retches out another splash of stinking yellow liquid and then dry-heaves until, cramping, his guts settle. His view is blurred through a film of tears.
He falls back and lies there for ten more minutes, looking up into the cloudless sky. Odd how realistic this dream is. He could almost believe he just left his wife to drown.
He sobs, a cracked sound that the wind tears away from his lips and disperses into the air. And the dream blackens and reality is here, and it’s ugly and painful and true.
He hears a helicopter. Sees its red-and-white form hovering over Pen-y-holt.
Time ceases to have any meaning as he watches the rescue. How long has passed, he doesn’t know.
Now a man in a bright orange flying suit is standing in front of him explaining that his wife, Sam’s mother, has drowned.
Later, there are questions from the local police. They treat him with compassion, especially as he’s Job, like them.
The coroner rules death by misadventure.
But Ford knows the truth.
He killed her. He pushed her into trying the climb. He dislodged the block that smashed her leg. And he left her to drown while he saved his own skin.
Six years later | Summer | Salisbury
Day One, 5.00 p.m.
Angie Halpern trudged up the five gritty stone steps to the front door. The shift on the cancer ward had been a long one. Ten hours. It had ended with a patient vomiting on the back of her head. She’d washed it out at work, crying at the thought that it would make her lifeless brown hair flatter still.
Free from the hospital’s clutches, she’d collected Kai from Donna, the childminder, and then gone straight to the food bank – again. Bone-tired, her mood hadn’t been improved when an elderly woman on the bus told her she looked like she needed to eat more: ‘A pretty girl like you shouldn’t be that thin.’
And now, here she was, knackered, hungry and with a three-year-old whining and grizzling and dragging on her free hand. Again.
‘Kai!’ she snapped. ‘Let go, or Mummy can’t get her keys out.’
The little boy stopped crying just long enough to cast a shocked look up into his mother’s eyes before resuming, at double the volume.
Fearing what she might do if she didn’t get inside, Angie half-turned so he couldn’t cling back on to her hand, and dug out her keys. She fumbled one of the bags of groceries, but in a dexterous act of juggling righted it before it spilled the tins, packets and jars all over the steps.
She slotted the brass Yale key home and twisted it in the lock. Elbowing the door open, she nudged Kai with her right knee, encouraging him to precede her into the hallway. Their flat occupied the top floor of the converted Victorian townhouse. Ahead, the stairs, with their patched and stained carpet, beckoned.
‘Come on, Kai, in we go,’ she said, striving to inject into her voice the tone her own mother called ‘jollying along’.
‘No!’ the little boy said, stamping his booted foot and sticking his pudgy hands on his hips. ‘I hate Donna. I hate the foobang. And I. Hate. YOU!’
Feeling tears pricking at the back of her eyes, Angie put the bags down and picked her son up under his arms. She squeezed him, burying her nose in the sweet-smelling angle between his neck and shoulder. How was it possible to love somebody so much and also to wish for them just to shut the hell up? Just for one little minute.
She knew she wasn’t the only one with problems. Talking to the other nurses, or chatting late at night online, confirmed it. Everyone reckoned the happily married ones with enough money to last from one month to the next were the exception, not the rule.
‘Mummy, you’re hurting me!’
‘Oh, Jesus! Sorry, darling. Look, come on. Let’s just get the shopping upstairs and you can watch a Thomas video.’
‘I hate Thomas.’
‘I hate them even more.’
Angie closed her eyes, sighing out a breath like the online mindfulness gurus suggested. ‘Then you’ll just have to stare out of the bloody window, like I used to. Now, come on!’
He sucked in a huge breath. Angie flinched, but the scream never came. Instead, Kai’s scrunched-up eyes opened wide and swivelled sideways. She followed his gaze and found herself facing a good-looking man wearing a smart jacket and trousers. He had a kind smile.
‘I’m sorry,’ the man said in a quiet voice. ‘I couldn’t help seeing your little boy’s . . . he’s tired, I suppose. You left the door open and as I was coming to this address anyway . . .’ He tailed off, looking embarrassed, eyes downcast.
‘You were coming here?’ she asked.
He looked up at her again. ‘Yes,’ he said, smiling. ‘I was looking for Angela Halpern.’
‘That’s me.’ She paused, frowning, as she tried to place him. ‘Do I know you?’
‘Mummee!’ Kai hissed from her waist, where he was clutching her.
‘Quiet, darling, please.’
The man smiled. ‘Would you like a hand with your bags? I see you have your hands full with the little fellow there.’ Then he squatted down, so that his face was at the same level as Kai’s. ‘Hello. My name’s Harvey. What’s yours?’
‘Kai. Are you a policeman?’
Harvey laughed, a warm, soft-edged sound. ‘No. I’m not a policeman.’
‘Mummy’s a nurse. At the hospital. Do you work there?’
‘Me? Funnily enough, I do.’
‘Are you a nurse?’
‘No. But I do help people. Which I think is a bit of a coincidence. Do you know that word?’
The little boy shook his head.
‘It’s just a word grown-ups use when two things happen that are the same. Kai,’ he said, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, ‘do you want to know a secret?’
Kai nodded, smiling and wiping his nose on his sleeve.
‘There’s a big hospital in London called Bart’s. And I think it rhymes with’ – he paused and looked left and right – ‘farts.’
Kai squawked with laughter.
Harvey stood, knees popping. ‘I hope that was OK. The naughty word. It usually seems to make them laugh.’
Angie smiled. She felt relief that this helpful stranger hadn’t seen fit to judge her. To tut, roll his eyes or give any of the dozens of subtle signals the free-and-easy brigade found to diminish her. ‘It’s fine, really. You said you’d come to see me?’
‘Oh, yes, of course, sorry. I’m from the food bank. The Purcell Foundation?’ he said. ‘They’ve asked me to visit a few of our customers, to find out what they think about the quality of the service. I was hoping you’d have ten minutes for a chat. If it’s not a good time, I can come back.’
Angie sighed. Then she shook her head. ‘No, it’s fine . . . Harvey, did you say your name was?’
‘Give me a hand with the bags and I’ll put the kettle on. I picked up some teabags this afternoon, so we can christen the packet.’
‘Let me take those,’ he said, bending down and snaking his fingers through the loops in the carrier-bag handles. ‘Where to, madam?’ he added in a jokey tone.
‘We’re on the third floor, I’m afraid.’
Harvey smiled. ‘Not to worry, I’m in good shape.’
Reaching the top of the stairs, Angie elbowed the light switch and then unlocked the door, while Harvey kept up a string of tall tales for Kai.
‘And then the chief doctor said’ – he adopted a deep voice – ‘“No, no, that’s never going to work. You need to use a hosepipe!”’
Kai’s laughter echoed off the bare, painted walls of the stairwell.
‘Here we are,’ Angie said, pushing the door open. ‘The kitchen’s at the end of the hall.’
She stood aside, watching Harvey negotiate the cluttered hallway and deposit the shopping bags on her pine kitchen table. She followed him, noticing the scuff marks on the walls, the sticky fat spatters behind the hob, and feeling a lump in her throat.
‘Kai, why don’t you go and watch telly?’ she asked her son, steering him out of the kitchen and towards the sitting room.
‘A film?’ he asked.
She glanced up at the clock. Five to six. ‘It’s almost teatime.’
She smiled. ‘OK. But you come when I
call you for tea. Pasta and red sauce, your favourite.’
She turned back to Harvey, who was unloading the groceries on to the table. A sob swelled in her throat. She choked it back.
He frowned. ‘Is everything all right, Angela?’
The noise from the TV was loud, even from the other room. She turned away so this stranger wouldn’t see her crying. It didn’t matter that he was a colleague, of sorts. He could see what she’d been reduced to, and that was enough.
‘Yes, yes, sorry. It’s just, you know, the food bank. I never thought my life would turn out like this. Then I lost my husband and things just got on top of me.’
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