'A fabulous page-turner that will keep you guessing and guessing' CARA HUNTER 'Intense, clever writing and packed with twists and turns' DERVLA MCTIERNAN 'Another twisty and intense thriller from the great Jo Spain' ADRIAN MCKINTY He jumped to his death in front of witnesses . Now his wife is charged with murder. Five years ago, Erin Kennedy moved to New York following a family tragedy. She now lives happily with her detective husband in the scenic seaside town of Newport, Long Island. When Erin answers the door to Danny's police colleagues one morning, it's the start of an ordinary day. But behind her, Danny walks to the window of their fourth-floor apartment and jumps to his death. Eighteen months later, Erin is in court, charged with her husband's murder. Over that year and a half, Erin has learned things about Danny she could never have imagined. She thought he was perfect. She thought their life was perfect. But it was all built on the perfect lie. 'Superbly written, cinematic and pacy!' STEVE CAVANAGH 'Domestic noir at its best' M. T. EDVARDSSON 'Grabs you by the throat' LIZ NUGENT 'A top-notch thriller' T. M. LOGAN 'Chilling and all too plausible' JAMES OSWALD 'I loved this book and it deserves to fly to the top of the charts' ELLY GRIFFITHS 'A sure-fire smash hit!' CAZ FREAR ' The Perfect Lie will pin you to your seat until you reach the last page' JANE CASEY
Release date: May 13, 2021
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Print pages: 400
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The Perfect Lie
The day your life changes can begin in the most ordinary way.
Danny’s arm is draped across my body and I wake to the feel of him stirring.
His hand cups my face. I sense he’s actually been awake a while; that he might, in fact, have been watching me.
‘You had a nightmare,’ he says.
I crawl into the space of his body and inhale him.
I had a nightmare, again.
I never have to pretend with Danny.
My husband knows my history, all the things that haunt me.
The bad dreams are frequent, even after all this time. The feeling of being suffocated, of screaming but no sound coming out. The feeling that there’s nobody there to help.
Danny, too, has seen evil. I guess it’s what drew me to him.
My parents might struggle to forgive me for emigrating to this side of the pond but I made a decent dent in hostilities when I married a cop.
Danny kisses away the residue of the dream and then we make love, slowly, at his insistence.
He’s intense, quiet; there’s meaning in all his movements and his eyes never leave mine. Danny’s had a lot on his mind recently. Work, long hours, late nights. There’s ongoing trouble in his job but we don’t talk about it. Our promise to each other is to keep his work and our home life separate. But I’ve barely seen him these last few weeks and last night we exchanged only a few words. I guess both of us are due a reminder that it’s us against the world, even if the world keeps intruding.
When we’re done, he rests up on one arm and tickles my nose with his. His forehead is damp; his eyelashes long enough to make any woman jealous.
I laugh – a giddy release.
‘Hey!’ he says.
‘I’m laughing with you, not at you, Detective,’ I say.
‘Mm-hm. How do you want your eggs?’ He jumps up, an athlete’s recovery time, asking for my breakfast order but, I can tell, already distracted by the day ahead.
‘From a chicken,’ I say.
‘Duck, you sucker,’ he shoots back. Then, hesitantly, ‘Sorry.’
‘For not giving me an orgasm?’
He smiles, but his eyes don’t play ball. Danny is drowning. He needs time off; I know he does.
‘For having to leave you,’ he says. ‘I love you.’
‘The bed’s not the same without you, but I’ll forgive you if you get the coffee going.’
Danny heads for the kitchen and I lie there, listening to him tinkering with the temperamental coffee pot, then padding towards the bathroom down the hall. I hear the sound of the shower being turned on. It needs a full three minutes before it reaches any temperature above freezing.
The bedroom is already awash with sunlight, even though it’s barely 7 a.m. I ordered the drapes online and their blackout ability was oversold. It bothers Danny more than me; he’s a light, restless sleeper. I love waking to sun, I love waking to rain. Let it all in. Be happy to be alive.
It feels like a good day. Hell, I might go on that run I keep threatening. On the beach, before the tourists hit. Then I’ll read through some manuscript submissions and check in with the office – the joy of working from home and making my own hours. When we first moved here, I commuted daily to the city and the publishing house I work for. Three hours a day on a train to and from paradise. I’d planned to go freelance but my boss offered option C and I’ve never looked back.
I force myself to sit up and search the floor for clothing, find Danny’s T-shirt and a pair of leggings.
In the large, open-plan area that comprises the main living space of our top-floor apartment in Newport, Suffolk County, I’m faced with the detritus of last night’s takeout. White cartons and plates congealed with chow mein and egg fried rice. I glance at the sink, already overflowing with crockery, and then at our faulty dishwasher and sigh.
Part of the lease’s selling point was all mod cons included.
I turn the dial on our old-fashioned radio to listen to the local morning news programme, then make a start.
What our apartment lacks in efficiency, it makes up for in location. Our pretty white-painted building, with its black Georgian-esque ornamental window shutters, has an unimpeded view of Bellport Bay, right over to Fire Island. We’re a minute’s walk from the beach, its miles of grassy dunes and white sand; two minutes away from McNally’s, our regular bar; and we’ve a host of restaurants and stores at our disposal.
This town is a picture-perfect diorama of a Long Island seaside port and our apartment is slap bang in the middle of it.
I open the floor-to-ceiling French windows to admit some of the already hot summer’s day and let the salty sea air hit my lungs.
The news programme is hosting a panel discussion and I listen as a contributor, who’s also running for office, gets stuck into Newport PD. They discuss the latest hot controversy – the failure of the local PD to deal with an increase in drug dealing, a problem that’s spilled over from Nassau County. The locals in these parts get quite agitated about tourism-impacting headlines and this issue is definitely a vote-getter. Another of the panellists is shrieking about ineptitude and corruption in law enforcement when I turn off the radio.
Danny works in homicide, not drugs, so the latest furore doesn’t have direct relevance for him. But attacks such as these put a dent in the morale of every police department. It’s hard enough doing an often thankless, frequently dangerous job on low pay without enduring unfounded and ignorant accusations about competence.
I’ve done a decent surface clean by the time the coffee is in the cups and the shower has stopped running. I wonder if I can talk Danny out of a quick scrambled eggs and into stopping by the new diner on Maple Street before he leaves for work. We can discuss the long-awaited weekend we have planned. Danny has vowed to take next Saturday through Monday off. We’re going to drive up to Hartford, stay somewhere quaint, eat and drink our way through New England.
And then: a cop’s knock on the door. Quelle surprise.
They have a special sound, those fists the police learn to make.
I mutter under my breath. It’s not even 7.15 on a Tuesday morning and already Danny’s being summoned for work. Bang goes the dream of us sharing pancakes.
Another rap on the door, seconds after the first.
Fuckity fuck, I’m coming.
I can hand over my detective husband for the rest of the week, I remind myself, because then he’s all mine for a good seventy-two hours.
I ignore my inner warning system, reminding me of all the other times in the last two years when I forgot I was with a cop and made plans.
I open the door and see Ben Mitchell, Danny’s partner, standing there.
Danny told me that when they were first paired, back in homicide in Manhattan, the boys on the force used to hum ‘Ebony and Ivory’ every time the two of them entered the office together. Ben’s blond and his skin is practically translucent. Danny is as black as night. There wasn’t a whole lot of woke thinking behind that one.
The two men work well together, but Ben and I don’t. I got the sense, early, that he didn’t like me. I think it’s down to the fact that Danny used to follow Ben around like a little puppy. In fact, Ben’s the reason Danny works and lives in Suffolk County. Then I came along and inserted myself in the middle of the bromance.
There are two other uniformed officers in our hallway and Ben has a look on his face that tells me, for the love of all that is holy, something big has happened and the forthcoming weekend is now a non-runner.
I never learn.
Behind me, Danny enters the living space and I know he’s seen Ben’s face too. He’s probably already planning how to make it up to me.
‘Erin,’ Ben says, his voice grave, ‘I’m afraid I have bad news.’
The day your life changes can begin in the most ordinary way.
I’ve experienced it once before. Just like this, the knock on the door.
I wait for it, my stomach tight, the battle response of a war-weary soldier.
Ben’s expression changes – his attention is drawn over my shoulder, to Danny.
I turn, thinking Danny has caught Ben’s tone, recognises it, and is probably readying himself to comfort me. I might be far from my family, but he’ll get me to them, ASAP. He’ll take care of everything.
But Danny’s not looking at me.
He’s staring at Ben, utter defeat on his face.
Then my husband walks to the French windows and out on to the small balcony.
I watch him, confused.
He turns, I catch his eye.
Danny doesn’t look like Danny at all.
His expression is indescribable. A mixture of pain and apology. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but instead, just swallows. He looks away, like just the sight of me is causing him pain.
He lifts one leg over the balcony.
What the fuck are you doing, I think, but am too confused to say.
Then he raises the other leg so he’s sitting on the iron grille.
He uses his hands to push himself off.
Sudden movement at the door as Ben and the others rush into our apartment.
Four floors down, there’s a thud.
That’s my husband’s body.
It’s all over in seconds.
Somebody has tried to make the bowels of Suffolk County Court seasonal. A mini Christmas tree looped with cheap tinsel scents the guards’ office with pine and a small portable radio is dialled to a station that’s playing festive tunes on loop.
It’s incongruously cheery.
I think of Christmas three years ago, the first in our then new apartment. Danny and I had only been married a couple of weeks. I’d picked up a plug-in, artificial, cheap white tree in a thrift store, just to tick a box. I wasn’t a fan of the season. I’d fallen out of love with it back in Ireland, right about the time the world had reminded me there’s no Santa Claus, no magic, no innocence at all.
Danny, though, was the Christmas fairy incarnate. Six feet of rugged hunk who liked nothing more than watching Home Alone while munching on candy canes.
I heard him before I saw him, outside our front door, struggling to get his key in the lock, cursing as he tried to turn it just the right way, jiggling and pushing it at the same time. That door, he was fond of saying, expects you to whisper to it like a lover before it’ll open up.
He’d dragged in a six-foot Fraser fir and laughed at the look of surprise mingled with horror on my face.
‘We don’t have enough decorations,’ I’d said. ‘And how the hell did you get that thing in the lift?’
‘I took the stairs,’ he’d replied.
Then he’d wrapped his arms around me.
‘She’d want you to enjoy our first Christmas here,’ he’d whispered in my ear.
That Christmas, Danny reminded me there was no guilt in living.
He made cinnamon toast, along with eggs, his expert culinary turn, and handed me a beautifully wrapped box. He’d bought me a green cashmere scarf from Barney’s, one that would suit my black hair and emerald eyes perfectly. By eleven, we’d had a whole bottle of champagne. Lunch in McNally’s with its owner and our friend, Bud, an experience made edible by our inebriation. A heady mix of seasonal cocktails back in the apartment, then some fooling around on the rug beneath the Fraser, during which we discovered exactly what people mean when they say those pine needles get everywhere.
All happy memories.
They make me wince.
Karla arrives and sits down beside me, a billow of ridiculously shiny black hair and expensive material she wouldn’t usually wear, smelling of red apples and cold air.
‘The blouse looks good on you,’ she says, teasing a button closed and tucking my hair behind my ear. Convent girl; that’s the look she’s going for. She visited yesterday to drop off a new outfit, told me to scrub up so I look like I actually give a fuck about living. She also tried to press a holy medal into my hand but I refused to take it. She can pray to the God she believes in. I’m trusting to the justice system. I’m not sure which one of us is more deluded.
When I first walked into Karla Delgado’s office in Patchogue, I had no idea how things would end up. But, within an hour of meeting her, I knew that if I was ever in a corner she was somebody I’d want on my side. At thirty-five, she’s only three years older than I, but she’s the person I’ve come to depend on.
I can’t lean on my family.
They expect what we got before.
They don’t understand what it’s like over here. They don’t understand how flawed the system is.
‘Are you ready?’ Karla asks.
‘No,’ I answer, honestly.
She watches me for a moment, knows that I’ll stand and walk into court when I’m told.
I’ve been saying no for the last seventeen months while still putting one foot in front of the other.
She leaves, tells me she’ll see me in there.
When I enter the courtroom, I’m taken aback by its size.
It’s small – tiny – with wood panelling on the walls, church-like pews, a witness box, the judge’s bench, the defence and prosecution tables.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot some of Danny’s former colleagues to the rear of the court. I recognise them, even in civvies. Colleagues and friends, allegedly.
One of them glances in my direction and the others follow his gaze.
The look on their faces.
I turn my head away, heat in my cheeks.
Everybody here wants the truth.
Not all of us agree on what that means.
There’s a flutter of activity.
The sheriff appears, announcing Judge James C. Palmer. A native of Sag Harbor, Karla tells me. Yale law and renowned prosecutor in his day. Experienced, conservative, but fair.
Karla crooks her arm under mine to help me stand.
I’m about to be tried for murdering my husband.
When I first met Danny, in the summer of 2017, I was on a night out with a mission to find a New York firefighter for my sister, Tanya.
She’d flown over for a long weekend and after ticking the tourism boxes with an open-top green-line bus tour and burgers in the Empire diner, we’d headed to a bar in Tribeca where my co-workers assured me all the hot emergency responders hung out.
‘Does it have to be a firefighter?’ I asked Tanya. ‘Will you settle for a Navy Seal, or, I don’t know, a meter maid? Is it just the uniform?’
Tanya slammed her tequila and surveyed the room.
‘My ass is on fire and I need somebody to—’
‘Thank you, that will do.’ I cut her off.
I ordered two more tequilas, wincing at the thought of what the night was doing to my credit card. I’d moved quickly up the ranks of the publishing house I worked in but I was at least a year off becoming a senior editor and my junior salary just about covered my rent and a basic social life.
Tanya had already gone to mingle by the time the drinks were served, and by mingle, I mean Captain Ahab leaving port to hunt Moby Dick. She returned with two men, one whose name I barely caught before she had her tongue down his throat (our mother used to warn us kissing could get you pregnant and with Tanya, you could see why). The other, Danny, was meant for me, even if I hadn’t asked for him.
‘FDNY?’ I asked, taking in his wide shoulders and strong arms.
‘Newport PD,’ he said.
I snorted my drink.
‘You’re a hick.’
He watched me, quietly.
‘I’m from the city. Served NYPD up until a few months ago. Nothing wrong with wanting a quieter life.’
‘Yet, you’re drinking here. Get sick of the moonshine out in the sticks?’
‘Danny Ryan,’ he said, holding his hand out.
‘You’re kidding,’ I said.
His face filled with amusement.
‘What’s wrong with my name?’
‘Your name is more Irish than mine and I’m named after the country. You’re not really called Danny Ryan?’
‘You think I can’t be from Ireland because I’m black?’
‘Relax, Irish.’ He smiled. ‘I’m not going to cite you for hate crimes.’
I laughed nervously, hoping he was joking. It was something I was still trying to get my head around, living over here. Wit and sarcasm is carved into our DNA back home but most of the Americans I worked with were straighter than the Stanford Linear Accelerator.
‘Might have to arrest your sister and her date for lewd behaviour in a public place, though,’ he said, a smile on his lips as he sipped his Sam Adams.
‘Isn’t he a cop, too?’ I asked.
‘He’s a court clerk, I think,’ he answered.
A room full of public service men and my sister had inadvertently stumbled upon the only other civilian apart from the bar staff.
‘I’ve no idea where Ryan comes from,’ Danny said. ‘But maybe we’re cousins?’
I watched his face closely. Okay, there was humour there. Humour, and total fuck-me eyes.
‘How long are you staying, anyway?’ he asked.
‘I live here,’ I said. ‘My sister’s the tourist.’
And with that, the most glorious grin broke out on his beautiful face.
‘Well, then,’ he said.
‘Well, then,’ I replied.
‘No thinking,’ he said. ‘Your favourite movie ever.’
‘A Fistful of Dynamite. Do I pass?’
‘Duck, you sucker.’
‘You’re a fan?’
‘James Coburn doing a dodgy Irish accent, Rod Steiger in anything, Sergio directing and Ennio Morricone scoring. It’s the best film of all time.’
The next morning, Tanya had to get her own hangover pain relief drugs from Walgreens.
Six months later, we got hitched.
Marry in haste, my mother always said, repent at leisure.
When I wake in the back of the stationary ambulance, the paramedic tells me I’ve been out cold for thirty minutes, but my head feels so fuzzy, he could have told me thirty days. I try to talk but my tongue is too large for my mouth and I can taste something metallic. I blink, realising that I’ve been given something. The pinch on the front of my hand confirms it. A cannula is taped there and the paramedic holds me gently, but firmly, as I lift my head and try to see what else has been done to me.
And even as the thought enters my consciousness, the heat drains from my body and I see it all over again: his eyes as he looked at me one last time, his leg swinging over the balcony.
Him jumping, me falling.
It was a nightmare, wasn’t it?
Then Ben is standing at the ambulance doorway and I know it happened, because otherwise Danny would be in here with me, holding my hand.
‘What . . .’ I croak.
‘Is she okay?’ he asks the man tending to me.
‘Small bump on her head from the fall; I’ve given her a mild sedative so she’s probably a bit groggy, but fine.’
‘Is Danny okay?’ My voice is small between them.
Silence. The paramedic looks away. A barely perceptible shake of Ben’s head.
‘Is he . . . ?’
I can’t even finish the sentence. All I can think of is the verge of concrete that separates our building from the landscaped gardens that surround it.
‘I need to see him,’ I say, hauling myself into a sitting position, my limbs so limp and heavy I can imagine this is what paralysis feels like.
‘You can’t see him,’ Ben says, which infuriates me just enough to send adrenaline shooting down my legs and get me standing.
‘I want to see his face!’
‘You can’t,’ Ben says.
Doesn’t matter. I’m fighting. I try to get out of the ambulance, screaming blue murder, sobbing, as the paramedic and Ben restrain me.
He’s only thirty-three. Danny is only thirty-three.
He cannot be dead. You can’t just . . . die.
‘I have to see him!’ I yell. ‘I want to be with my husband! I want to see his face!’
‘Four floors, Erin,’ Ben cries and there’s enough emotion in his voice to bring me to a halt. ‘You don’t want to see him. You . . .’
His voice trails off. My head is swimming, filled with a whooshing sound that makes him sound much further away.
‘You wouldn’t recognise him,’ Ben says.
They don’t bring me to hospital. I refuse to go.
But they won’t let me back into our apartment, either.
I have nothing with me. No phone, no purse, no keys.
The woman who leases the apartment directly beneath ours comes to wait with me beside the emergency vehicles. She gives me a pair of flip-flops, because I’ve nothing on my feet. She also brings coffee but I can’t taste the sugary sips she makes me take.
Other neighbours hang back, but they’re all out, standing by the cultivated shrubbery, hands to their mouths, shock written all over their faces. Even our creepy neighbour from across the hall, the one who watches everything but barely says hello.
Most of the apartment residents knew Danny. They liked having a detective in one of the units – it made everybody feel safer.
Around us, life continues as normal. Bells ring out in St. Catherine’s Church, the tip of its spire visible beyond the adjacent park. The small road that leads to the dunes is already filled with cars parked up: family vehicles, their owners on the beach with dogs and Frisbees, barbecues and sun cream.
Yellow tape flickers by the pink hydrangeas at the side of our building.
Four of them have come down now with boxes. I recognise them – they’re Danny’s files. I guess they have to remove remnants of his work from the apartment, now he’s removed himself from the apartment. They have other things, too. His laptop. His phone. His gun.
His gun was in the safe in our bedroom.
He could have used his gun.
He didn’t have to do it in front of me.
I’m resisting, with every fibre of my being, the urge to run at that yellow tape, to dive under it and get to my husband. To lie beside him and hold his hand while all this is happening. To curve myself into his shape and tell him I’m here, that I won’t leave him, even if he left me.
It’s only abject fear of what I’ll see that’s keeping me rooted to this spot.
Ben said he landed face down.
I never see my husband dead.
I’ll regret this decision for years to come. Forever.
Instead of moving, I keep asking why over and over. What possessed him? Was he possessed?
It’s hard to analyse anything when the same horrific scene keeps replaying itself in my head and I’m trying not to scream, not to collapse, not to sob.
Ben walks towards me. The neighbour from downstairs slips away as I take the bag Ben hands me and rummage for my phone, which he’s put inside.
The screen is blank. No missed calls, no texts, but then, what was I expecting?
Sure, my world has just imploded, but nobody knows yet.
How could they? I’m the one who has to tell them.
‘I don’t understand,’ I say to Ben.
His face is a mask of professionalism and I want to smack it, to shake some feeling into him. He was there, he watched his partner jump to his death. How is he so calm?
‘Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?’ he asks. ‘They can give you something.’
‘I don’t need anything!’ I sob.
‘You might, later, to help you sleep. You can go back in, in a while. Unless you’d rather stay somewhere else.’
‘What’s wrong with you?’ I say. ‘Did you not just see that? What the hell just happened? You’re his partner! Why did he do that?’
‘You tell me,’ Ben says, and his tone is angry. He turns away so I hardly catch his next sentence. ‘You’re his wife.’
I drop my bag, phone and all, and grab his arm, my fingers digging into the flesh underneath his jacket sleeve.
‘What does that mean? You think I knew he was going to do that?’
‘I . . . no. Of course not.’
Ben removes my hand, gently, his face contrite. I think this might be the first time Ben has ever touched me. I’ve known him almost two years and we’ve rarely gone beyond spiky small talk.
‘It’s nobody’s fault,’ he says. ‘When people do these things . . .’
‘People?’ I echo. He’s slipping back into work mode. Giving me the line.
Danny wasn’t people. He was my husband. He was a respected detective. He was Ben’s friend.
Ben starts to walk away.
A sudden, cold knot of fear tightens in my stomach.
‘What was it?’
‘You came to my door this morning. You said you had bad news.’
‘It was nothing,’ he says. ‘Nothing at all.’
‘Ben, please, when can I see him?’
Ben shakes his head.
‘There’s going to be an autopsy,’ he says.
I can’t stay in the apartment that night. Nor in the building, despite my downstairs neighbour practically bending over backwards in her efforts to take care of me.
I need to be on my own.
I am on my own.
Danny isn’t just my husband. He’s my best friend. He’s my only immediate family in America.
Sure, I have a circle. My work colleagues are all good folk; and all live in Manhattan.
Danny’s family is American, but there’s nobody close by. He’d been raised in New York but when his mother became a widow she used her husband’s pension pay-out to fulfil her lifelong dream of moving back south where she’d come from, but this time to Florida. Danny’s younger brother Mike serves in the military and is rarely on US soil.
Danny used to say the force was our family but I never felt that. I wasn’t a police wife – I had my own life, my own job. I wasn’t into the whole rotating barbecues on the weekend, watching other people’s kids play softball, organising trips t. . .
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