Untitled New Novel
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The twisty and addictive new thriller from the bestselling author of Deliver Me.
HEAR WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT KAREN COLE:
'Every time I thought I had it sussed a curveball was thrown. Beautifully dark and compelling'
Caz, Amazon reviewer
'If you like Karin Slaughter you will love this!'
Cath, Amazon reviewer
'I was constantly guessing throughout and I still didn't see that ending coming even though the clues are there!'
Chanel, Amazon reviewer
'I absolutely loved this book. I could never have guessed the outcome'
Annie, Amazon reviewer
Ashrae, Amazon reviewer
Release date: November 10, 2022
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Print pages: 352
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Untitled New Novel
The book is waiting on my doormat when I wake up.
A normal book. Nothing unusual.
I pick it up, tear off the brown cardboard wrapping and run my fingers over its smooth cover. On the surface it’s just another run-of-the-mill thriller. Publishers send them to me all the time, hoping I’ll provide publicity by writing a good review on my blog or in the Post. From the looks of it, this one is no different from the rest – a twisty, not-so-mysterious mystery. I’ve read so many of them I can usually guess what will happen in the end.
On the front there’s a picture of a sheer rock face with a small, silhouetted figure perched on top like a bird about to take flight. The title, Falling, is splashed across the page in slightly raised, dark blue letters and the author’s name, Avery Lewis, is written underneath in slightly smaller font. The blurb at the back informs me that it’s the fourth in the Inspector Hegarty mysteries and that I won’t be able to put it down.
Under the book there’s a postcard from Dad who’s on a skiing holiday in France. Chris, the half-brother I’ve never met, has added his name in large, clumsy letters at the bottom with a row of kisses. I can just imagine Olena sitting them both down in their luxurious chalet and forcing them to write it. I can hear her tinkling laugh as she takes off her fur hat, tosses her golden, blonde hair and bats her false eyelashes.
‘Really? Do I have to?’ Dad says in my imagination.
‘Oh, yes, for me, please, my darling boy’ (that’s what she calls him, darling boy). ‘They are your daughters after all.’
I tear the postcard neatly into four pieces and chuck it in the bin. I haven’t had anything to do with Dad since I moved to England from Cyprus and I’m not about to start now.
Then I weigh the paperback in my hands and thumb the pages, inhaling its potent, new-book smell. At this moment, I have no idea how much this seemingly innocent novel is going to change my life. If I did, I’d probably make a bonfire in the garden and burn it or toss it in the bin along with Dad’s postcard.
But I don’t throw it away. Instead, I carry it, like the Trojan Horse it is, into the kitchen where Athena’s sitting, hunched over a bowl of cereal. She glances up at me with bloodshot, sleepy eyes.
‘What’s that?’ she croaks.
‘Nothing exciting.’ I put the book on the table and pour myself a coffee, glancing critically at my younger sister.
She looks rough. Her thick, brown hair is a mess. Her mascara is smudged, and her silky, teal crop top is stained with wine.
‘What time did you get home last night?’ I ask, trying not to sound judgemental.
‘Twenty minutes ago, if it’s any of your business.’ She takes a slow sip of coffee and eyes me coldly over the rim of her mug. Her voice is hoarse as if she’s been smoking all her life.
At least she’s speaking to me today.
The things we both said last night linger in the air, poisoning the atmosphere. It started as a disagreement over money: our landlord has recently put the rent up and we’ve been having problems paying. Athena thinks we should accept Dad’s ‘generous offer of help’. She thinks I should forgive him and move on. But for me that’s out of the question.
The argument became heated and soon morphed into a full-blown fight – personal and ugly. The past was weaponised. I think at one point I called Athena selfish, and I know she called me a coward.
Coward – the one word she knew would hurt the most.
Still, she’s my sister. We’ll forgive each other eventually. We always do.
‘Where did you go last night?’ I ask carefully, slotting a slice of bread into the toaster, staring out at our small, bedraggled garden and the cold, grey sky beyond.
‘We ended up at some guy’s house.’ She shrugs vaguely and picks at her nail varnish.
I sigh. ‘Haven’t you got lectures today?’ My annoyance is mixed with guilt. I promised myself I would look after Athena while she’s living with me in London and, so far, I haven’t done such a great job.
‘I’ve got a seminar, but I think I’ll skip it this morning. I feel like crap.’ She stands up abruptly. ‘I’m off to bed. Goodnight, Alex.’
I watch as she shuffles out the door. I can’t believe the change in her. Athena has always been the model sister in our half-English, half-Cypriot family. Head girl at school. Voted by her classmates as most likely to succeed. While I was skipping school and generally rebelling against everything, Athena always strove to be perfect. As a teenager any grade less than A star would result in months of soul searching and furious study. Lately though, I hardly recognise her. She doesn’t seem to care about her degree, and she’s been running wild, as if, for all those years, the bad behaviour had been bottled up inside her and now someone had shaken the bottle and unscrewed the lid.
Oh well, what can I do? I’m not her mother.
She hasn’t got a mother.
I try to prevent my thoughts from running down dark and familiar paths by flicking idly through the book I’ve been sent.
On the last page, there’s a short bio.
Avery Lewis was born in Cornwall. For many years she worked in London as an accountant at a large financial services firm before giving up the rat race to move to Cornwall where she lives with her husband and two children, a dog, a goat and seven chickens.
It sounds cute and homey, I think, and doesn’t quite square with the photograph at the back of a slightly haughty-looking woman with sleek ash-blonde hair and dark, impenetrable eyes.
To Joe – all my love to infinity and beyond, says the dedication on the second page.
I’m guessing that Joe is Avery’s husband and that she’s a fan of the Toy Story movies.
Absent-mindedly, I take a bite of toast and start reading the first chapter.
No one knew who the dead woman was.
A dog walker found the body on the beach below the cliffs at Bosigran and alerted the police.
Detective Harry Hegarty had checked the missing persons register and spent all morning talking to people in the nearby villages but had failed to come up with any leads. There was no one who even came close to matching the dead woman’s description. Now he was sitting in the caravan – his home until the renovations to his cottage were completed – listening to Radio 2 and staring at photos of the victim spread across the small, pull-out table.
The case was strange and perplexing. For one thing she didn’t look like the kind of person who wouldn’t be missed. Her clothes were expensive, and she was wearing a gold band on her ring finger. In her pocket was a paper napkin with a five-digit number on it. But apart from that and the wedding ring there had been nothing about her person to identify her. She had no purse, no credit cards and no distinguishing marks. Also, the mauve silk shirt and tight skirt she’d been wearing weren’t exactly suitable for a walk in the country.
It was almost as if she’d dropped from the sky and for one crazy moment it occurred to him that she could have fallen from a plane. It wasn’t as ridiculous as it sounded. It had happened before. He remembered reading about it in the papers. A Kenyan stowaway, presumably an illegal immigrant, had fallen from the landing gear compartment as a plane was landing in London.
But Bosigran cliffs weren’t under a flight path and the autopsy revealed that the woman’s injuries were probably caused by a fall of about twenty-six metres, exactly the height of the cliffs. In Hegarty’s view, the most likely explanation was suicide. But if that was the case, how had she got there? There was no vehicle in the small car park near the site. Had she walked to the cliff edge and if so, from where? The nearest houses were several miles away.
I reach the end of the page and close the book with a snap. Then I yawn and glance at my watch.
7.10 am. Shit.
I’m going to be late for work unless I hurry. I can’t afford to be late. They’re already talking about downsizing at the paper, and I’m pretty sure there’s a target on my back. Last in, first out. I don’t want to give them any excuse to get rid of me. If I lost my job, then Athena and I really would be in trouble. I drain my coffee, pull on my coat and scarf and dash out the door, down the road to the tube station.
It’s not my day. The train stops halfway along the line and while we’re stuck at the station, a bored voice on the intercom announces something about a fault on the line. I tut and raise my eyebrows along with all the other passengers and I follow the confused and disgruntled crowd to the replacement bus that’s been laid on.
Not only that, but the elevator in our building is broken and I have to run up four flights of stairs to get to our office. When I finally arrive, I’m dishevelled and short of breath and the morning briefing has already started.
Everyone is sitting round the dark wood, oval table in the meeting room.
‘Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Alex,’ Lou says sarcastically as I sidle in, trying my best to be invisible.
‘I’m so sorry, the train was . . .’
She casts a withering look my way and raises her hand to shush me.
‘Dan was just telling us this great idea he has for a feature on immigration,’ she says. ‘Please carry on, Dan.’
Dan smiles, a slight, smug lift of the lips, and begins to expound on his theme as I creep into a seat at the table, getting out my iPad as silently as possible.
‘And so, I want to get away from the sense of immigrants as faceless numbers and look at the individual experience . . .’ he’s saying.
I drift off. I’m still brooding over my argument with Athena last night and our dire financial situation. She has a point. We’re already barely scraping rent. But the thought of accepting money from Dad is repugnant. There must be another way. I need to work out how to get more advertising for my blog or maybe I can start working weekends. I noticed they were hiring at the Turkish café by the tube station. How hard could it be to get a job there? Athena could work weekends too. It’ll be okay. We will manage.
‘How about you, Alex?’ Lou’s question jolts me out of my thoughts, and I start and blush.
‘Erm, sorry I didn’t catch what you said.’
She purses her lips. ‘What have you got for us? Did you manage to get that interview with Gemma K?’
Gemma K is a singer, who used to be part of a successful pop band in the nineties. She’s just written an autobiography which is currently topping the bestseller charts. I’ve been trying to contact her for an interview for several days without any success.
‘Not yet,’ I mumble. ‘I’m working on it.’
‘That’s a shame.’ Lou frowns and taps her fingernails impatiently on the desk. ‘Well, have you got anything else for us in the meantime?’
‘Um . . . I was thinking about writing something about traditional children’s books and how young girls are stereotyped,’ I improvise.
Lou’s frown deepens. ‘Maybe, if you can find a new angle. But I think that topic has already been done to death.’ She closes her file and stretches her mouth into a tight smile. ‘Never mind, Alex, I’m sure you’ll think of something fantastic.’
Those are the words she says. But her eyes say something else. Something that sounds to me very much like, ‘Your days are numbered at this paper, Alex. You’d better start packing up your things and looking for another job.’
Trying to stay positive, I head to my desk and phone Gemma K’s publicist again.
He sounds irritated and preoccupied. ‘Gemma’s out of the country until next week, I already told you that.’
‘Well, maybe we could organise a video call or . . .’
‘I don’t think so,’ he cuts me off. ‘Look, we’ll get back to you when she has time, okay?’ he says and hangs up before I have time to reply.
I sigh and log into my computer, read and answer a few emails. Then I do some research on Gemma K just in case by some miracle I ever manage to get an interview with her. I read about her teenage struggles with drug addiction and her on/off relationship with the lead guitarist who apparently has been unfaithful to her several times.
Then, on impulse, I type Avery Lewis into the search engine.
She pops up on Goodreads as the author of Little Nobody, the first Harry Hegarty novel, and on a few other sites. There are a couple of photos: a black and white picture of her gazing dreamily into the distance, and another where she’s resting her chin on her hands and smiling winsomely at the camera.
Underneath the images there’s a news piece. From the Cornish Gazette, dated just over ten months ago.
Intrigued, I click on it and find myself looking at a photo of a bleak stretch of Cornish coast draped with police tape flapping in the wind. I scroll down and read the accompanying article.
Local Woman Believed Drowned
A local woman who went missing a week ago is believed to have lost her footing and been swept away to sea, police said yesterday after her belongings were found by a hiker on the cliffs at Bosigran.
Police are keeping all lines of enquiry open and have appealed to the local community for information after Avery Lewis, 41, disappeared in a lonely spot at the base of Bosigran cliffs.
‘I’m not giving up on her yet,’ her husband Joseph Lewis, 36, told the Gazette. ‘She could still be alive.’
Is she dead? I hope not. But it seems pretty likely all things considered. I scroll down, curious to see if there’s any more information. But there’s nothing to suggest she turned up alive.
I scan the news story again.
Bosigran. My eye snags on the word and my breath hooks in my throat. Wasn’t that the place . . .?
What a weird coincidence.
Avery Lewis fell off the cliffs at Bosigran – in exactly the same place as the character in her book.
When I arrive home at the end of the day, Athena’s bedroom door is firmly shut. In the kitchen the dishes are piled high by the sink, the counter is covered with crumbs and there’s an open pot of peanut butter on the table with the knife still wedged inside. In the living room Athena’s folders and books are scattered everywhere and the snake’s cage is wide open. I sigh and look in the bedding at the bottom of its tank. Sometimes it buries itself in the straw. But it’s not there, which only means one thing: it’s loose somewhere in the flat.
Why did I agree to Athena getting a snake in the first place? The last time it disappeared it was missing for days, and we finally found it coiled on a ledge halfway up the chimney.
I bite back a wave of fear-fuelled anger. I can just about cope with the creature when I know where it is. When I don’t, I’m constantly on edge, wondering when it’s going to slither up behind me and slide its way up my leg. I can’t help feeling that on some level Athena’s done this deliberately as a way of getting back at me for our argument last night.
I storm to her room and hammer on the door.
She’s sitting on her bed looking at her laptop and the snake is winding itself around her shoulder, its flicking tongue probing the air.
I shudder. ‘I’ve been at work all day,’ I say. ‘Do you think that maybe you could get out of bed and clean up the kitchen? And can you put that thing back in its cage please?’
Athena doesn’t look up. ‘She’s not a thing. Her name’s Ruby and she’s not doing you any harm.’
‘Yes, but I can’t relax when she’s out of her cage.’
‘She needs her exercise,’ she mumbles. Then she tips her head back and I see that her eyes are red from crying. My anger immediately dissolves. Athena rarely cries. Like me she learned to hide her feelings at a young age, so I know it must be something serious.
‘What’s up, Athie?’ I ask more gently.
‘It’s nothing,’ she says.
‘It must be something. What is it? Your course? A boy? You know they’re not worth it.’
Athena strokes Ruby’s tail. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Okay. But you know I’m always here if you do.’
‘I know.’ She nods and stands up. ‘I’ll put Ruby in her cage, if you want.’
‘It’s okay. I’m going to go out for a run anyway. You can keep her out until I get back.’
I slip on a T-shirt, leggings and running shoes. Then I head across the road to the woods opposite our flat. It’s a cold winter’s day and the ground is hard and compacted with frost. My breath clouds in the air as I follow my usual route into Epping Forest, past a couple of dog walkers and another runner snorting like a bull. A weak sun breaks through the branches of the trees, creating small pools of light where the frost has melted and I settle into a steady rhythm, enjoying the feeling of power in my limbs and the clarity that physical effort brings.
I started running a few years ago. After I left university, I went through a rough patch. I was having trouble finding a job and my long-term boyfriend, Isaac, broke up with me because he wanted a commitment that I wasn’t willing to give. After several lonely months of firing off applications and attending interviews with no response, I became depressed to the point where I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Eventually, worried that I was going to turn out like my mother and realising that I needed to do something, I went to the doctor, who, amongst other things, suggested that running might help.
I haven’t stopped since. I love the way it makes me feel. When I run, all my worries slough off like Ruby shedding her skin and I know that I can tackle anything the world throws at me. More than once, I’ve come up with the solution to a difficult problem while on a run.
Today, as I skirt the edge of the lake, I think about Avery Lewis. How did she end up falling off a cliff in the same place as the character in her book? Was she inspired by her own writing to make some dramatic suicidal gesture? Instinctively I know that her death and the strange connection with her novel will make a good news feature. I’m badly in need of a story to impress Lou and I think this just might be the one.
I pass another jogger, who nods briskly at me. I smile back vaguely. I’m trying to think of a headline that sums up the mystery and is also pithy and engaging. ‘A Case of Life imitating Art’ maybe, or ‘The Mysterious Death of the Thriller Writer’. Yes, I like the second one. Who doesn’t love a mystery? But I need more information about Avery Lewis before I start writing and the obvious course of action is to speak to her publisher to see what I can find out.
Back home, I peel off my sweaty clothes and leap into the shower. After washing and dressing, I root around in the freezer and pry out some frozen chicken, chips and peas. That’ll do, I think. I’m far too tired and preoccupied to cook anything more complicated.
Then I knock softly on Athena’s door and open it carefully.
‘Athie, do you want something to eat?’
No answer. She’s fast asleep in bed. The covers have slipped off onto the floor. She’s curled up on her side in a foetal position. Her cheeks are faintly flushed and her eyelids flickering. She looks young and innocent, and I feel an unexpected surge of love. Our argument last night doesn’t seem important anymore. I pick up her duvet, gently tuck it around her and kiss her on the nose. Whatever’s been bothering her, sleep will probably help.
In the living room with Netflix on and Ruby safely back in her cage, I eat my dinner alone with the plate balanced on my lap. I’m reaching the end of the second season of Peaky Blinders and it’s getting exciting, but this evening I’m finding it hard to focus, and after a while I pause the TV, realising I have no idea what’s just happened.
I put my plate in the dishwasher and pace the kitchen. I can’t stop thinking about Avery Lewis. My eye strays to the paperback, still lying on the kitchen table where I left it this morning. I pick it up and flick through the pages to the acknowledgements at the back.
Firstly, I want to thank my agent Olivia Brown for always having my back and I’d also like to express my gratitude to my brilliant editor, Lucy Rivers . . .
I switch on my laptop and type in her name. It doesn’t take long to find her. A photo of a cheerful-looking young woman pops up on the screen. According to Google, she works for a small literary agency called Peppercorn Books and on her profile it says that she’s interested in representing young adult and psychological thrillers as well as literary fiction. There’s a list of her more famous clients. And at the bottom of the page there’s also a contact phone number and email address.
I don’t waste any time. Once I’ve made up my mind, I can be laser-focused on the task in hand. Composing my message carefully, I explain that I work for the Post and would love to interview Avery Lewis for an article . . .
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