The Girls in the Lake
"Another thrilling, tightly plotted addition to this already fabulous series...I loved this book…fast paced, realistic… plenty of action, mystery and suspects. Definitely comes highly recommended and deserves all of 5 stars." 5 starsNetGalley Reviewer
Peering over the side of the boat, the glare of early morning sun catches on something pale in the inky water. The boy’s curious fingertips break the surface, pulling up a tangle of long blonde hair from the reeds below…
The discovery of a girl floating face down in Lake Windermere, her naked skin almost translucent in the freezing water, looks like yet another tragic teen suicide. But the victim’s lack of clothes make Forensic Pathologist Beth Adams want to investigate further. Anything to distract her from the arrival of her abusive ex-boyfriend’s body on the mortuary table that morning.
With witnesses keeping tight-lipped and any clues washed away by the tides, it’s up to Beth to find the evidence her team needs. But then another girl is found in the lake, this time still clinging to life. She tells them she was at a party on a boat, and that she was pushed…
As more bodies surface, tiny traces of boat paint lead Beth to a tragic accident involving a group of school children years ago, and the feeling that the killer might be closer than anyone could ever have imaged. But with her personal life spinning out of control, can she persuade her team before another life is lost?
An absolutely unputdownable serial killer thriller that will have you sleeping with the lights on. Fans of Patricia Gibney, LJ Ross and Angela Marsons will have to hold on tight for this nail-biting rollercoaster ride!
Readers love The Girls in the Lake :
" Brilliant… keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the last chapter...loving this series and the characters in it." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
" Plenty of twists… I didn’t want to put it down… suspenseful and riveting, you will want time to read it in one sitting." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
" Hooked from the beginning and it kept me engaged until the very last page." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
Release date: December 9, 2019
Print pages: 302
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The Girls in the Lake
Ethan tried to open his eyes and immediately shut them again, groaning as the boat lurched violently to one side. His stomach contracted; he shouldn’t have drunk so many lagers last night, not to mention the vodka chasers. He didn’t even remember how he’d got down below deck and into the cabin. He patted his body; at least he was fully dressed. But where was that girl he had been talking to? The one with the white-blonde hair and pretty eyes. They’d been chatting and laughing most of the night. Trust him to have got so drunk that he never had the chance to even kiss her. It wasn’t often he met someone new, not in a small town like Windermere where everyone knew everyone. She’d mentioned she was from Devon and had only been here in the Lake District a couple of weeks working at a local hotel. If only he could, for the life of him, remember which one.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of something bumping against the side of the boat. He sat up, his head exploding with pain at the sudden movement. More slowly, he slid off the bed and went into the narrow bathroom to relieve himself. He didn’t even look in the mirror. He didn’t want to know what a state he must look.
Knocking on the other cabin door as he passed, he listened for a response, suddenly imagining the girl he liked in bed with James. Not that he could blame her: James was the one with the fancy boat, the penthouse apartment and more money than he actually knew what to do with. There was no reply. Opening the door, an empty, messy cabin bed stared back at him.
Up the steps and out on deck, there was no sign of anyone amongst the mess of empty champagne glasses, lager cans and vodka bottles. He shivered. The autumn sun hadn’t risen yet and there was a gale-force wind blowing across the lake, whipping the water into a frenzy and making the boats unsteady on their moorings. Looking around, the only sign of life was a flock of goldeneye ducks swimming past the marina, looking to take shelter from the approaching storm.
He was just thinking how glad he was that James hadn’t been too drunk and he had put the boat back on its mooring, when he heard that thud again. One of the small dinghies must have come loose. He didn’t want to have to climb down and drag it away, but there was no one else around and it wasn’t fair to let James’s boat get damaged just because he had a hangover and couldn’t face it. It wasn’t the sort of thing you did to your best friend, even if they could afford to get the damage fixed without blinking an eye. Stumbling as the boat rolled to one side again, he grabbed hold of the rails, his head leaning over, and he stared down into the inky waters of Lake Windermere. The glow from the lamps along the quay gave just enough light to see there was something in the water; in the shadow of the boat it looked as if a clump of reeds had got tangled in the anchor chain. Leaning further over, he blinked a couple of times and focused his vision, realising too late that they weren’t reeds at all.
It was a woman, floating face down in the water, her long, blonde hair fanned out around her shoulders and snagged onto the anchor chain. A scream so loud it echoed around the marina left his mouth. Heart pounding, he jumped down from the boat and onto the jetty. If he could get her out of the water, he might be able to resuscitate her. Pulling his phone from his pocket as he ran, he dialled 999 and asked for the police and ambulance, giving his location. Dropping to his knees, he reached for her, but she was too far away. Desperately he looked around for something to try and grab her with, or someone to help. Why had no one come to see why he was screaming? Where was Pete? – he practically lived down here! It might take the police forever to get to the marina.
Pulling off his jeans, which he knew would weigh him down, he plunged into the freezing water, hitting it hard. In a couple of strokes he was close enough to grab the girl around the waist. He turned and tried to swim, taking her towards the jetty, but she wouldn’t move. He tugged and tugged but her hair was knotted around the thick, rusted chain that held the anchor. He grimaced. He knew deep down that it was too late for the girl, her body cold and rigid in his arms, but he had to carry on. He couldn’t leave her there. Grabbing the length of her hair that was caught around the chain, he tried to untangle it with trembling hands. But the shock of the freezing water was cutting off the feeling in the tips of his fingers. He had no choice but to pull it as hard as he could, and finally, she was free and he was able to drag her towards the jetty where, at long last, he could hear the shouts and pounding feet of the police as they ran along the wooden causeway to help him. He’d never been so relieved to see a copper in his life.
Hands reached down and grabbed the girl, pulling her out of the water. Then they leant over and pulled him out too. He fell onto the rough boards on his hands and knees. His teeth were chattering, and he couldn’t speak. A blanket was wrapped around him as a strong pair of arms lifted him to his feet.
‘Well done, son, that was pretty damn brave of you. Let’s get you to the ambulance to get checked out and before you catch your death.’
Ethan didn’t argue, letting the officer lead him towards the ambulance that had just pulled up onto the walkway. He looked back at the girl, horror flooding through him as it dawned on him that he knew her: he’d spent last night laughing and sinking vodka shots with her. It was the beautiful girl with no name. The one he’d hoped would be lying next to him when he’d woken up less than twenty minutes ago.
Beth’s body hit the surface of the water like a brick. Then she was sinking under, her arms and legs tied together, the weight of her clothes dragging deeper and deeper though she struggled. Her lungs burned, craving air, and the pressure screamed in her ears. Somewhere nearby the hum of a boat’s engine getting closer caught her attention. Someone coming to help, or to finish the job? She screamed into the abyss, her lungs filling with water and making her cough and sending a flurry of fear-filled bubbles to the surface. That was it, her last breath. Wasted.
She woke with a start, sucking in air as if breathing for the first time. She was in bed. Thank God. She blinked hard to push away the nightmare that had haunted her for weeks, and wiped the sweat from her face with the corner of her quilt. Her phone was vibrating on the bedside table. Reaching out, she grabbed it before it woke Josh, who was sleeping soundly beside her.
‘Adams,’ she whispered, still panting a little.
‘Sorry to bother you, Doctor Adams, it’s Helen from the control room at Penrith. Someone’s found a body in Lake Windermere.’
She was out of bed and on the landing in an instant.
‘Bowness Bay Marina on Glebe Road.’
‘I can be there in fifteen.’
‘Thank you. Someone is calling the duty DS as we speak. You answered before he did, so you might want to give it ten minutes before you leave so we can get hold of him.’
She smiled, thanking her and ending the call. It would only be a few seconds before the phone on Josh’s side of the bed began to ring. So much for trying not to wake him. She padded along the corridor to the bathroom to splash some water on her face and brush her teeth. By the time she was dressed Josh was on his way out of the bedroom, his hair ruffled, his eyes crinkled against the bright bathroom light.
‘Got to love an early call out,’ he grunted.
She laughed. ‘I never realised just how much of a miserable bugger you are in the morning.’
Josh smiled. ‘I didn’t realise how annoyingly perky you were this early, so swings and roundabouts.’
She shrugged. ‘At least we’re alive to complain, not like the poor soul they’ve just pulled out of the water.’ She crossed the hallway and kissed his bristly cheek. ‘I’ll see you there, Detective Sergeant Walker. Maybe for the sake of everyone at the scene you should make yourself a quick mug of coffee and a slice of toast.’
She turned and ran down the stairs. Going into the kitchen, she grabbed a Mars bar out of the cupboard. Josh followed her in and she threw it across the room towards him.
‘At least eat that; the sugar will give you a boost and maybe improve your mood.’
She’d known he wouldn’t bother making toast and coffee. Like her, he’d want to get to the scene as fast as he could.
She looked out of the huge picture windows; it was still dark outside and the sun wouldn’t be up for another hour. She looked down to the shadow-steeped view of the water, the wind scudding across the white-topped waves, simultaneously admiring its beauty and shivering at the memory of her dream.
Opening the cupboard by the front door, she pulled on her thick, insulated jacket and grabbed the heavy case she kept in there for emergencies. Josh watched her and smiled as she passed him his almost matching North Face jacket. Then she sat on the bottom step, waiting for him to leave first. He walked out of the front door, not turning to wave or say goodbye. There was little point: they were both heading to the same scene.
Beth went to her car and waited, turning the heating on full, until Josh’s car was well ahead of her through the gates and out onto the deserted country road. It wouldn’t look good if they arrived in the same car at this hour; their relationship was new and they’d both decided to keep it quiet for the time being. There was no need for anyone to know about them. It was their business.
Beth drove cautiously even though the winding roads were deserted, aware that she was still tired, her senses not quite clear after the nightmare and the rude awakening. She indicated as she turned the car into the marina. It was a lovely place, especially in summer with all the boats moored up and bobbing around in the breeze. She’d spent several happy, warm evenings sitting outside the pub nearby drinking a chilled glass of wine and admiring the view.
Seeing the blue flashing lights ahead, she blinked several times; it was time to focus her mind on the job in hand. It wasn’t the first time she’d been called to a drowning; in fact, it was probably one of the most common causes of death in the Lake District after road traffic accidents and deaths on the fells. Almost every year, especially in the summer months, someone would underestimate exactly how cold or deep the water was and get themselves in trouble. The lights ahead led to an ambulance. She parked near a walkway down to the marina between the pub and the row of gift shops. There were several police vans nearby and the entrance to the slipway had been taped off.
She parked on the opposite side of the road, glanced over and smiled at Josh. They had been living together for a month or so now, but very few people knew. She liked her privacy, and Josh was technically still married to Jodie, though they had separated after he found out about her affair. Beth’s life had changed beyond belief since the man she’d once loved tried to kill her. She’d lived as a recluse for the past seven years after her ex-partner, Robert Hartshorn – the man she once thought she would spend the rest of her life with – had plotted, then tried to kill her in the home she’d shared with him then. Thankfully, she’d survived, albeit mentally scarred and terrified of her own shadow, but she hadn’t given in. Just a few weeks ago, when she’d been involved in an investigation where girls had been murdered and their bodies hidden in other people’s graves, Robert Hartshorn had resurfaced as the main suspect and he had tried to kill her again. Both times that Robert had attempted to kill her, Josh had been the one to save her – Beth owed him everything.
As she dressed in the protective clothing from the back of her car, bending to shield herself from the wind, she thanked her lucky stars she was alive and that Robert was safely behind bars. She could handle a few nightmares and was very slowly beginning to feel safe again. Being with Josh helped; he made her feel safe.
She took her time, knowing that Josh would want to be first on the scene. He always did. Checking her watch, she gave him five minutes to assess the incident, and then she grabbed the case and walked down to where the officer was standing with a crime scene log book, guarding the entrance. Signing herself in and walking towards the marina, she could see the body laid out on the wooden planks of the jetty, and she shuddered against the fine mist of rain as it blew across the lake towards her, tiny flecks of icy water kissing her skin. What a cold, gloomy day to die, she thought, but death was death and, as sad as the reality was, it kept her in a job. At times she’d wondered how on earth she could do this job day in, day out, but what kept her going was knowing that she could use her forensic pathologist skills to help the families left behind get answers. That made it all worthwhile.
‘Morning, Doctor Adams.’
The voice startled her. So lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t realised Josh had appeared beside her.
‘Good morning, Detective Sergeant.’
She gave him a little smile, glad that their personal relationship had no bearing whatsoever on their professional lives, which was how she liked it.
The officers, Josh and the paramedics all stood back leaving her to walk alone along the narrow jetty to where the naked body of a young woman was laid out. Pausing in front of her, Beth felt as if time had frozen; the cold chill in the air made her shudder. The only sound was the water lapping against the sides of the many different yachts and motorboats, all moored up in uniform rows on jetties like the one she was standing on. Daylight was beginning to pierce the dark clouds, although the sun wouldn’t rise for at least another hour. It was just her and the dead girl, no one else mattered. They’d all stopped what they were doing to let her do her job and for that she was thankful.
Jerking herself back to the moment, she took in the body in front of her, the glazed eyes staring up into the sky. Whoever this woman was with her porcelain, blemish-free skin, blue eyes and full lips, she was stunning. Beth bent down to examine her closely. There were some superficial skin bruises on her extremities and some abrasions on the right side of her face but the white, frothy foam coming from the woman’s mouth was consistent with drowning.
Turning around, Beth raised her voice. ‘Do we know exactly where she was in the water?’
The officer who had been first at the scene took a step forward and answered. ‘The guy who found her and pulled her out said she was on the port side of that boat.’ He pointed to the large, very expensive motor cruiser next to them.
‘Which way was she facing?’
‘No, sorry, I meant which way was her head pointing: towards the lake or the marina?’
He shrugged. ‘I didn’t ask, but he’s over there in the back of the ambulance still.’
Josh, who was standing next to him, shouted against the wind. ‘I’ll go and check.’
Beth smiled at the officer. ‘It’s okay, I just need to know to see if the marks on her body and face can be accounted for.’
She looked back down at the girl and felt her heart contract in sorrow for the loss of a life so young. Turning the girl’s head to the side, she noted there was no rigor, indicating she hadn’t been in the water too long before she’d been found. That was a relief, of sorts.
Josh returned, walking closer so he didn’t have to shout. ‘He said her head was facing out towards the lake; he also said her hair was caught on the anchor chain and he had to forcibly pull it away to get her free. He woke up to the sound of thudding against the side of the boat, came above deck and looked over to find her floating face down in the water.’
‘Ah, that would explain the injuries and also why she didn’t sink. Normally when someone drowns, the body sinks to the bottom as the water pressure compresses the gases in the chest and abdominal cavities. This results in the body displacing less water and sinking deeper, becoming less buoyant the deeper it goes.’
Picking up the woman’s hands, she studied her slender fingers and nails; there were no defence marks on them, nothing to suspect foul play, although Beth couldn’t rule it out until she’d performed the post-mortem. She continued working her way around taking the relevant samples and the victim’s body temperature.
‘So, any initial observations?’
Beth turned to Josh. ‘Why is she naked?’
‘The witness said she was on the boat with him and four others until the early hours. They were drinking heavily. Her clothes are all discarded on the deck in a pile. It’s likely she decided to go for a midnight swim and didn’t realise how cold the water was?’
‘Maybe. It doesn’t look suspicious to me at this moment in time; however I still need to do a full post-mortem cataloguing the bruising and abrasions, then check they correspond with the witness statement before I can give you a definite answer.’
He nodded. ‘Thanks, Beth.’
She stood up. ‘My pleasure. Poor girl, they say drowning is a peaceful death. I don’t think falling into a freezing cold lake and swallowing the water until your lungs feel as if they’re going to burst could ever be peaceful.’
Snapping the locks on her case shut, she turned to Josh. ‘You know where to find me if you need anything. I’ll see you at the hospital.’
Then she left, heading back towards her car with a heavy heart.
They finally got clearance to move the body about an hour after Beth had left. Josh could hardly bear to look as the girl was placed into the black body bag, the sound of the zipper sealing her fate forever.
‘What a bloody shame,’ he said to Patrol Sergeant Karen Taylor, who was standing on the opposite side of the jetty. ‘Long time no see, how are you?’
She shrugged. ‘I’d be better if I wasn’t freezing to death standing here.’
Josh walked over to her, curious. ‘Why are you here?’
‘I’m on my way to Kendal, they’re short-staffed. I heard this come in and thought I’d swing by on my way. You know how it is, Josh, I like to keep you lot on your toes.’
He smiled and laughed. ‘How am I doing up to now?’
She shrugged. ‘Not bad. Are you sure it’s accidental though? I mean you’d have to be totally off your trolley to strip naked and jump into the lake at this time of year.’
‘The doc seems to think it is, but I agree with you that it seems like a mad thing to do. There are no obvious signs of foul play and judging by the number of empty alcohol bottles on the boat she came off, I’d have to say her judgement may have been a little distorted. The post-mortem will tell us for sure.’
‘How is Beth by the way?’
He wondered if she knew about their relationship – gossip spread faster than the flu in the station. The. . .
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