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Archive for the ‘thriller’ Category

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Published: 15 May 2017

Description:

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

My Thoughts & Review:

Block 46 is quite possibly one of the most magnificent books I have read, it’s absolutely flawlessly plotted, rich in characters and has an astounding level of detail woven into it.  There are so many layers to this novel that it’s hard to begin to describe just how powerful this is.

The uppermost layer of the plot is a murder investigation, one which sparks tangents shooting off like electrical currents in several directions.
Linnea Blix is a much loved and talented jewellery designer so her failure to appear at the grand unveiling of her latest collection is worrying.  When her naked and mutilated corpse is discovered is Sweden, red flags are raised because of the resemblance to a case being investigated in London.  The best friend of Blix is writer Alexis Castells, who soon ends up working with profiler Emily Roy in a bid to discovering her killer.

From here the reader is drawn into a dark thriller that is rife with tension and utterly unnerving.
Johana Gustawsson then adds in another layer to “Block 46”  by incorporating a timeline from 1944 where a young man named Erich Hebner is incarcerated in Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  It is through glimpses of the horrendous and torturous conditions that the reader experiences some of the most harrowing storytelling.  The skill that Gustawsson exhibits in her writing is immense, she details the abhorrent conditions so that the audience is fully aware of the violence, lack of humanity and evil that emanated from the Camps and the ruling forces.

And if this wasn’t enough to make this book standout, then take a look at the characters involved.  A colourful collection of personalities make for some incredibly interesting reading, Alexis Castells and Emily Roy are superb characters, both strong in their own ways, and have qualities that are vital to the roles they play.  Alexis Castells is caring and warm, she is a calming influence on those around her but underneath it all she bears the scars of her past.  Emily Roy on the other hand is a wonderful contrast to this, her clinical approach to her work and interactions can be seen as blunt and cold but she almost needs to be that way in order to do the job that she does.
The glimpses into the mind of the killer that are sprinkled throughout the narrative give an insight into a truly twisted and chilling persona.  There is no doubting that this is a very dangerous individual who enjoys the thrill of the hunt when it comes to victims, and the sheer elation felt when a kill and torture sequence has been complete.

If shock value is what you are looking for then this is the book for you, there are some moments in this that you almost need reminders to keep breathing, the urge to hold your breath in anticipation is high.  The way that Johana Gustawsson plants the seeds of suspicion in the heads of her readers is cleverly done, many will read this book and all the while be trying to guess ahead as to who the killer is, what the motive is etc and good luck is all I can say.  This was a book that well and truly caught me off guard, there were aspects of the plot that I would never have guessed.

I want to offer my thanks to Maxim Jakubowski for the wonderful translation of this book from French into English, it takes incredible skill to translate any document from one language to another and here I feel that the skills of the translator deserve a round of applause as this book reads to well that you could be forgiven for thinking it had originally been penned in English.

My heartfelt thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for sharing this epic novel with me and for having me host this stop on the blog tour.

 

You can buy your copy of “Block 46” via:

Amazon
Orenda Books eBookstore
Wordery
The Book Depository

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

FINAL block 46 blog tour poster

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Published: 18 May 2017

Description:

A young man is found in a riverside park, his head bashed in with a rock. The only clue to his identity is an admission stamp for the local gay club.

DS Lucy Black is called in to investigate. As Lucy delves into the community, tensions begin to rise as the man’s death draws the attention of the local gay rights group to a hate-speech Pastor who, days earlier, had advocated the stoning of gay people and who refuses to retract his statement.

Things become more complicated with the emergence of a far right group targeting immigrants in a local working-class estate. As their attacks escalate, Lucy and her boss, Tom Fleming, must also deal with the building power struggle between an old paramilitary commander and his deputy that threatens to further enflame an already volatile situation.

Hatred and complicity abound in the days leading up to the Brexit vote in McGilloway’s new Lucy Black thriller. Compelling and current, Bad Blood is an expertly crafted and acutely observed page-turner.

My Thoughts & Review:

Bad Blood is the fourth book by Brian McGilloway to feature DS Lucy Black, and thankfully for me this can read well as a stand alone book, although after reading this I am very keen to go back and catch up on the previous three books.

There is a very current feel to this, the plot incorporating the Brexit referendum as well as issues of racism, immigration and homophobia.
DS Black and her superior officer, DI Tom Fleming are members of the Public Protection Unit which requires them to assist on numerous investigations including the murder of a gay teenager.   With the influx of crime on the Greenway estate, racist attacks and and building unrest it soon becomes clear that their investigations will be far from easy, the PPU having to sensitively navigate round certain figures within the communities to get the answers they need.  The way that Brian McGilloway manages to weave threads of different factions and their grievances is very interesting.  From those who would fight in favour of bakeries discriminating against homosexuality for religious reasons all the way through to people retaining anger at the injustices of the Troubles, the author manages to incorporate details that add to the plot but never overshadows the main storyline.

As a police procedural this is a good read, there are enough twists to the plot to keep a reader interested and keep them guessing as to what may happen.  There are some incredibly well created characters that will delight readers.  DS Lucy Black is a refreshing change from the usual detective, she does not appear to be damaged or have a horrendously sordid backstory and instead works well with others to do her job well.

My thanks to Hayley Camis and Corsair for the opportunity to read and review this book as well as for being part of the blog tour.

You can buy a copy of “Bad Blood” via:

Amazon
The Book Depository
Wordery

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour for reviews and extracts!

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bluegoldcover

Published: 11 May 2017

Description:

The near future. Climate change and geopolitical tension have given rise to a new international threat – a world war for water. This most vital of resources has become a precious commodity and some will stop at nothing to control its flow.

When a satellite disappears over Iceland, Sim Atkins thinks he knows why. He is given the chance to join the hallowed Overseas Division and hunt for the terrorists responsible. But his new partner Freda Brightwell is aggrieved to be stuck with a rookie on such a deadly mission. Freda’s misgivings are well founded when their first assignment ends in disaster – a bomb destroys a valuable airship and those responsible evade capture. Seeking redemption, the British agents follow the trail to a billionaires’ tax haven in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and uncover a web of deceit that threatens global war. Whom can they trust?

As the world edges ever closer to destruction Sim and Freda must put their lives on the line to prevent Armageddon – and protect the future of ‘blue gold’. David Barker’s gripping debut will thrill fans of Scott Mariani, Steve Berry and Richard North Patterson.

My Thoughts & Review:

The plot of this book piqued my interest when I first heard about it, it’s a thriller with a very scientific and future world feel.  I don’t tend to read many scientific based novels, I’m a reader who likes the action to be set in the current world (or indeed a time period  that has already elapsed), but there was something about the way that this was written that made it very readable and captivating.

I’m sure most people will say that the start of this book really grabs their attention but it really does, the writing is so taut and atmospheric.  It’s hard for the reader not to feel like they are surrounded by the massive snowdrifts, gun toting choppers and danger.  And just as you prepare to get lost in a world of action and peril, the perspective shifts to a perilous situation of a different kind, Sim Atkins reminiscing that things had been so different two months previously when he was sat at home playing a computer game.

It is in the first section of the book that we meet the main characters and learn about their histories, and the concept of an international war over water.  Water is a resource that you don’t often think of as running out, and so by featuring it in this way it gives the reader something new.  I also found that this sparked a great conversation with my husband on “what if”, it was quite interesting to allow my imagination to wander freely for a while pondering this.

Sim is a character that readers will quickly come to like, his sense of humour and personality are on the right side of fun to lighten the situations he finds himself in.  Freda Brightwell is a character that has a backstory and one that as a reader I could not wait to delve into.  The snippets of her childhood she shares through classic film quotes are brilliant and show off a side of this character that I’d love to see developed in future novels.  Sim of course will feature in the next novel, the sneak preview of the sequel at the back of this book well and truly ensured that I would be hooked for “Rose Gold”, now I just need to find out when I can read it!

This is a very intelligently written novel, the timeline throughout is disjointed but in a way it gives the reader a wonderful feeling of being immersed in the action and means that they experience the unravelling of salient plot points at just the right time, however this may not be preferential for all readers.  The level of detail that David Barker includes in both the description of this characters as well as settings is top rate.  I felt that I was able to see the activity at the airstrip, taste the sands in the desert and feel the painful chill of the Himalayas as well as the perilous situations the characters found themselves in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and flew through it, eager to find out what happens next, now the wait for “Rose Gold”…..please don’t leave us waiting too long Mr Barker!!

You can buy a copy of “Blue Gold” via:

Urbane Publications
Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

My thanks to David Barker and Urbane Publications for the opportunity to read this and take part in the blog tour.


Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest thriller to feature vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker.  I am delighted to share an extract with you from Paul’s novel, so sit back and enjoy!

Description:

Reconciliation for the Dead aw.indd

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.

You can buy a copy of “Reconciliation for the Dead” via:

Amazon
Orenda Books eBookstore
The Book Depository
Wordery


Book Extract:

Prologue
12th October 1996 Maputo, Mozambique

Claymore Straker stood in the long bar of the Polana Hotel, drained the whisky from his glass and looked out across gardens and swaying palms to the drowning mid-afternoon chop of the Indian Ocean. For the second time in his life, he’d been forced to flee the country of his birth. Two weeks ago he’d crossed the border, made his way to the ocean, and arrived here. Back again in the land of spirits, he’d determined that, this time, he would disappear forever. And then Crowbar had showed up. Just how his old platoon commander had managed to find him, he still had no idea. Crowbar had simply lumbered into the little café near the Parque de Continuadores and sat opposite him as if meeting for coffee in Mozambique was something they did every day. They didn’t talk long. Ten minutes later he was gone, vanished into the braying confusion of the city.
And Crowbar had been right, of course. About the things you couldn’t change. About the apportionment of blame. About everything. But the relics Crowbar had left on the table that day – the canister of 35 mm film now clutched hard in Clay’s right fist, still undeveloped after all these years; the blood-stained notebook now thrust deep in his jacket pocket – had changed everything. History has a way of orbiting back at you; and promises, he now knew, while they may be broken, never die.
After he’d made the decision, it had taken the better part of a week to track her down. Time he didn’t have. In the end it had been Hamour, a one-time colleague of hers from Agence France Presse in Istanbul, who had provided the breakthrough. Although Hamour hadn’t spoken to her for more than six months, he’d heard that she’d gone to Paris. He’d given Clay the name of an associate on the foreign desk there. It was enough. Clay had been able to convince the guy that he had a story worth telling, and that only she could tell it.
He’d had her number for over twenty-four hours now, but each time he’d picked up the phone, he’d stopped mid-dial, overcome. He wasn’t sure why, exactly. Perhaps it was because of the burden he’d asked to her carry once before, the guilt he still felt. Maybe it was because of what they’d almost shared – and then lost. Memory is a strange, malleable, and, he had come to realise, wholly undependable quantity. And nothing, it seemed, was immune from time’s inexorable winnowing, that hollowing erosion that, eventually, pulled the life from everything.
‘Mais um,’ Clay said, pointing to his glass. One more.
The barman poured. Clay drank.
It hadn’t been that long ago, really. Thirteen years. He’d arrived here in late ’81, in the middle of a civil war; left in early ’83. And now he was back. The place looked different, the whole city built up now – all the new peace-time buildings. Even this hotel, the grand old lady of Maputo, had undergone a facelift. The old, caged, rosewood elevator was still here; the bar with its marble tiles and teak counters; the same palm trees outside, that much older. But so much of the past had been shaken off like dust, the dead skin of years peeled away in layers. And now that he was back in Africa, it was as if he’d never left.
A uniformed bellhop approached and glanced at Clay’s stump, the place where his left hand should be. ‘Senhor?’ That look on the guy’s face. Clay nodded, reached under his jacket, ran the fingers of his right hand across the rough meshed surface of the pistol’s grip.
‘Your call is through, Senhor.’
Clay finished his drink and followed the bellhop to the telephone cabinets near the front desk. He scanned the lobby, closed the door behind him and picked up the phone.
‘Allo? Who is this?’ Her voice. Her, there, on the other end of the line.
He could hear her breathing, her lips so close to the mouthpiece, so far away. ‘Rania, it’s me.’
A pause, silence. And then: ‘Claymore?’
‘Yes, Ra. It’s me.’
‘Mon Dieu,’ she gasped. ‘Where are you, Claymore?’
‘Africa. I came back. Like you told me to.’
‘Claymore, I didn’t…’ She stopped, breathless.
‘I need your help, Rania.’
‘Are you alright, Claymore?’ The concern in her voice sent a bloom of warmth pulsing through his chest.
‘I’m … I’m okay, Rania.’
‘C’est bon, chéri. That is good.’ And then in a whisper. ‘I’m sorry for what happened between us, Clay.’
‘Me too.’
‘Thank you so much for the money. It has made a big difference.’
‘I’m glad.’
‘I never thanked you.’
He wasn’t going to ask her.
‘Are you going to testify, Claymore? Is that why you are there?’
‘I’ve already done it.’
‘That is good, chéri. I am proud of you. How was it?’
As he’d left the Central Methodist Mission after the first day, the spectators had lined both sides of the corridor, three and four deep. At first, they stood in shocked silence as he walked past. But soon the curses came. And then they spat on him.
Clay cradled the handpiece between his right shoulder and chin, covered his eyes with his hand a moment, drew his fingers down over the topography his face, the ridgeline of scar tissue across his right cheek, the coarse stubble of his jaw. He breathed, felt the tropical air flow into his lungs.
‘I need your help, Rania. It’s important.’
A long pause, and then: ‘What can I do?’
‘I need you to come to Maputo.’
‘Mozambique? Is that where you are?’
‘Yes.’
‘When?’
‘As soon as you can.’
Voices in the background, the screams of children, a playground. ‘Rania?’
‘Clay, cheri, please understand, it is not so easy. I have obligations.’
‘I have a story for you, Rania, one the world needs to know.’
‘Clay, I … I cannot. I am sorry. Things have changed. I am very busy.’
‘A lot of people have died for this, Rania.’
A sharp intake of breath.
‘And it’s still going on. The guy is still in his post. After all this time. It’s fucking outrageous.’
‘Slow down, Claymore.’
‘I tried to find him, rania. They said he was in Libya, but I know he’s still here.’
‘Who, Claymore? Who are you speaking of?’
‘O Médico de Morte.’ ‘
Claymore, please. You are not making sense. Is that Portuguese?
“The Doctor of Death”?’
‘That’s what they called him in Angola, during the war. I never told you about it. It was too … too hard.’ There were a lot of things he hadn’t told her.
‘What does this have to do with you, Claymore?’
‘I don’t have time to explain now, Rania. You have to come.’
‘Let me think about it, Claymore. I need some time, please. Can I call you back?’
‘When?’
‘At least a few days. A week.’
‘I don’t have that long, Rania. They’re after me.’
‘Mon Dieu, Claymore. What is happening?’
‘I can’t tell you over the phone, Rania.’
‘Who is after you? What is going on, Claymore?’
‘I’ll tell you when you get here.’
‘Alright, Claymore. Call me in two days. I will see what I can arrange.’
‘Thanks, Rania. Two days. This time. This number.’
Clay was about to hang up when he heard her call out.
‘Claymore.’
‘What is it Rania?’
‘Clay, I—’
‘Not now, Rania. Please, not now.’
Before she could answer, Clay killed the line. He cradled the handpiece and walked across the polished marble of the lobby to the hotel’s front entrance. A porter held the door open for him. He stood on the front steps and looked out across the Indian Ocean.
The sea breeze caressed his face. He closed his eyes and felt time fold back on itself.

Part I

No Longer Knowing

Fifteen Years Earlier: 22nd June 1981,  Latitude 16° 53’S; Longitude 18° 27’E,  Southern Angola

Claymore Straker looked down the sight of his South African Armscor-made r4 assault rifle at the target and waited for the signal to open fire.
For almost a year after leaving school to enlist, the targets had been paper. The silhouette of a black man, head and torso, but lacking dimension. Or rather, as he had now started to understand, lacking many dimensions. Blood and pain – surely. Hope and fear – always. But more specifically, the 5.56 mm perforations now wept blood rather than sunlight. The hollow-point rounds flowered not into wood, but through the exquisite machinery of life, a whole universe of pain exploding inside a single body – infinity contained within something perilously finite.
Just into his twenty-first year, Claymore Straker lay prone in the short, dry grass and listened to the sound of his own heart. Just beyond the tree line, framed in the pulsing pin and wedge of his gunsight, the silhouette of a man’s head moved through the underbrush. He could see the distinctive FAPLA cap, the man’s shoulders patched with sweat, the barrel of his rifle catching the sunlight. The enemy soldier slowed, turned, stopped, sniffed the air. Opal eyes set in skin black as fresh-blasted anthracite. At a hundred metres – less – it was an easy shot.
Sweat tracked across Clay’s forehead, bit his eyes. The target blurred. He blinked away the tears and brought the man’s chest back into focus. And for those few moments they shared the world, killer and victim tethered by all that was yet to be realised, the rehearsed choreography of aim and fire, the elegant ballistics of destruction. The morning air was kinetic with the hum of a trillion insects. Airbursts of cumulus drifted over the land like a year of promised tomorrows, each instant coming hard and relentless like a heartbeat. Now. And now. And above it all, the African sky spread whole and perfect and blue, an eternal witness.
A mosquito settled on the stretched thenar of Clay’s trigger hand, that web of flesh between thumb and forefinger. The insect paused, raised its thorax, perched a moment amidst a forest of hairs. It looked so fragile, transparent there in the sun, its inner structure revealed in x-ray complexity. He watched it flex its body then raise its proboscis. For a half-stalled moment it hovered there, above the surface of his skin, and then lanced into his hand. He felt the prick, the penetration, the pulsing injection of anaesthetic and anti-coagulant, and then the simultaneous reversal of flow, the hungry sucking as the insect started to fill itself with his blood. Clay filled his sights with his target’s torso, caressed the trigger with the palp of his finger as the insect completed its violation.
Come on.
Blood pumping. Here. There. Come on.
The mosquito, heavy with blood, thorax swollen crimson, pulled out.
What are we waiting for?
He is twenty, with a bullet. Too young to know that this might be the moment he takes his final breath. To know that today’s date might be the one they print in his one-line obituary in the local paper. To understand that the last time he had done something – walked in the mountains, kissed a girl, swam or sang or dreamed or loved – could be the last time he ever would. unable yet to comprehend that, after he was gone, the world would go on exactly as if he had never existed.
It was a hell of a thing.
The signal. Open fire.
Clay exhaled as he’d been taught and squeezed the trigger. The detonation slamming through his body. The lurch of the rifle in his hands. The bullet hurtling to its target. Ejected brass spinning away. Bullets shredding the tree line, scything the grass. Hell unleashed. Hades, here. right here.
The target was gone. He had no idea if he’d hit it. Shouting coming from his right, a glimpse of someone moving forwards at a crouch. His platoon commander. Muzzle flashes, off to the left. rounds coming in. That sound of mortality shooting into the base of his skull, little mouthfuls of the sound barrier snapping shut all around him.
Clay aimed at one of the muzzle flashes, squeezed off five quick rounds, rolled left, tried to steady himself, fired again. His heart hammered in his chest, adrenaline punching through him, wild as a teenage drunk. A round whipped past his head, so close he could feel it on his cheek. A lover’s caress. Jesus in Heaven.
He looked left. A face gleaming with sweat, streaked with dirt. Blue eyes wide, staring at him; perfect white teeth, huge grin. Kruger, the new kid, two weeks in, changing mags. A little older than Clay, just twenty-one, but so inestimably younger. As if a decade had been crammed into six months. A lifetime.
‘Did you see that?’ Kruger yelled over the roar. ‘Fokken nailed the kaffir.’
Clay banged off the last three rounds of his mag, changed out. ‘Shut up and focus,’ he yelled, the new kid so like Clay had been when he’d first gone over, so eager to please, so committed to the cause they were fighting for, to everything their fathers and politicians had told them this was about. It was the difference between believing – as Kruger did now – and no longer knowing what you believed.
And now they were up and moving through the grass, forwards through the smoke: Liutenant Van Boxmeer – Crowbar as everyone called him – their platoon commander, shouting them ahead, leading as always, almost to the trees; Kruger on Clay’s left; Eben on his right, sprinting across the open ground towards the trees.
They’d been choppered into Angola early that morning; three platoons of parabats – South African paratroopers – sent to rescue a uNITA detachment that had been surrounded and was under threat of being wiped out. A call had come in from the very top, and they’d been scrambled to help. uNITA, União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola – South Africa’s ally in the struggle against communism in Southern Africa – were fighting the rival MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, and its military wing FAPLA, Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola, for control of the country. uNITA and MPLA were once united in their struggle to liberate Angola from Portugal. But when that was achieved in 1975, they split along ideological lines: MPLA supported by the Soviet union and its allies; uNITA by South Africa and, some said, America. That was what they had been told by the Colonel of the battalion, anyway. The Soviets were pouring weapons and equipment into FAPLA, bolstering it with tens of thousands of troops from Cuba, East Germany and the Soviet union itself, transforming FAPLA from a lightly armed guerrilla force into a legitimate army. As a consequence, things were not going well for uNITA, and it was up to them to do everything they could to help. South Africa was in mortal danger of being overrun by the communists; their whole way of life was threatened. This was the front line; this was where they had to make their stand. Everything they held dear – their families, their womenfolk, their homes and farms – all would be taken, enslaved, destroyed if they were not successful. It was life or death.
Clay remembered the day he left for active service, waiting at the train station, his duffel bag over his shoulder, his mother in tears on the platform, his father strong, proud. That was the word he’d used. Proud. He’d taken Clay’s hand in his, looked him in the eyes, and said it: I’m proud of you, son. Do your duty. It was just like in the books he’d read about the Second World War. And he had felt proud, righteous too, excited. He couldn’t quite believe it was happening to him. That he could be so lucky. He was going to war.
That was the way he remembered it, anyway.
Clay reached the trees – scrub mopane – Kruger and Eben still right and left, on line. They stopped, dropped to one knee. It was the middle of the dry season, everything withered and brown. Crowbar was about twenty metres ahead, standing beside the body of a dead FAPLA fighter, the radio handset pushed up to his ear, Steyn, his radio operator, crouching next to him. By now the shooting had stopped.
‘What’s happening?’ said Kruger.
Eben smiled at him. ‘That, young private, is a question for which there is no answer, now or ever.’
The kid frowned.
Eben took off his bush hat, ran his hand through the straw of his hair. ‘And the reason, kid, is that no one knows. The sooner you accept that, the better it will be. For all of us. read Descartes.’
Clay glanced over at Eben and smiled. Another dose of the clean truth from Eben Barstow, philosopher. That’s what he called it. The clean truth.
Kruger looked at Eben with eyes wide. ‘read?’ he said.
Eben shook his head.
Crowbar was up now, facing them. He looked left and right a moment, as if connecting with each of them individually. And then quick, precise hand signals: hostiles ahead, this way, through the trees, two hundred metres. And then he was off, moving through the scrub, the radio operator scrambling to keep up.
Kruger looked like he was going to shit himself. Maybe he already had.
‘Here we go, kid,’ said Eben, pulling his hat back on. ‘Stay with us. Keep low. You’ll be fine.’
And then they were moving through the trees, everything underfoot snapping and cracking so loud as to be heard a hundred miles away, a herd of buffalo crashing towards the guns. The first mortar round hurtled in before they’d gone fifty metres.
It landed long, the concussion wave pushing them forwards like a shove in the back. They upped the pace, crashing through the underbrush, half blind, mortar rounds falling closer behind, the wind at their backs, smoke drifting over them. Clay’s foot hit something: a log, a root. Something smashed into his stomach, doubling him over, collapsing his diaphragm. He fell crashing into a tangle of bush, rolled over, gasped for breath. And then, moments later, a flash, a kick in the side of the head, clumps of earth and bits of wood raining down on him. Muffled sounds coming to him now, dull thuds deep in his chest, felt rather than heard, and then scattered pops, like the sound of summer raindrops on a steel roof, fat and sporadic; and something else – was it voices?
He tried to breathe. Sand and dead leaves choked his mouth, covered his face. He spat, tearing the dirt from his eyes. A dull ache crept through his chest. He moved his hands over his body, checking the most important places first. But he was intact, unhurt. Jesus. He lay there a moment, a strange symphony warbling in his head. He opened his eyes. Slowly, his vision cleared. He was alone.
Smoke enveloped him, the smell of burning vegetation, cordite. He pushed himself to his knees and groped for his r4. He found it half buried, pulled it free and staggered to his feet. The sounds of gunfire came clearer now, somewhere up ahead. He checked the r4’s action, released the mag, blew the dust free, reinserted it, sighted. The foresight was covered in a tangle of roots. Shit. He flipped on the safety, inspected the muzzle. The barrel was clogged with dirt. He must have spiked the muzzle into the ground when he fell, driven the butt into his stomach. Stupid. unacceptable.
Ahead, the grind of Valk 2’s MAG somewhere on the right, the bitter crack of AK47s. Smoke swirling around him, a flicker of orange flame. The bush was alight. He stumbled away from the flames, moved towards the sounds of battle, staggering half blind through the smoke. There was no way his r4 could be fired without disassembling and cleaning it. He felt like a rookie. Crowbar would have a fit.
By the time he reached Eben and the others, the fight was over. It hadn’t lasted long. Valk 3 had caught most of the FAPLA fighters in enfilade at the far end of the airstrip, turned their flank and rolled them up against Valk 5. It was a good kill, Crowbar said. And Valk 5 had taken no casualties. One man wounded in Valk 3, pretty seriously they said: AK round through the chest, collapsed lung. Casevac on the way. They counted sixteen enemy bodies.
Crowbar told them to dig in, prepare for a counterattack, while he went to meet up with the uNITA doffs they’d just rescued. The platoon formed a wide perimeter around the northern length of the airstrip and linked in on both flanks with Valk 3 and Valk 2. Their holes were farther apart than they would have liked, but it would have to do. After all, they were parabats – South African paratroopers – the best of the best. That’s what they’d been taught. Here, platoons were called Valk; Afrikaans for hawk. Death from above. Best body count ratio in Angola.
Once the holes were dug and the OPs set, they collected the FAPLA dead, piling the bodies in a heap at the end of the airstrip. A few of the parabats sliced off ears and fingers as trophies, took photos. Behind them, the trees blazed, grey anvils of smoke billowing skywards. Clay stood a long time and watched the forest burn.
‘Once more ejected from the breach,’ said Eben, staring out at the blaze.
Clay looked at his friend, at the streaks of dirt on his face, the sweat beading his bare chest. ‘Where’s Kruger?’
Eben glanced left and right. ‘I thought he was with you.’
‘I got knocked down before we got fifty metres. Never saw anyone till it was all over. Never fired a shot.’ He showed Eben his r4.
‘I never took you for a pacifist, bru.’ Eben jutted his chin towards the pile of corpses. ‘You must be very disappointed to have missed out.’
Clay gazed at the bodies, the way the limbs entwined, embraced, the way the mouths gaped, dark with flies. This was their work, the accounting of it. He wondered what he felt about it. ‘I better get this cleaned, or the old man will kill me,’ he said.
Eben nodded. ‘I’ll go find Kruger. No telling what trouble that kid will get himself into.’
Clay nodded and went back to his hole. All down the line, the other members of the platoon were digging in, sweating under the Ovamboland sun. He dug for a while and was fishing in his pack for his cleaning kit when Eben jogged up, out of breath.
‘Can’t find Kruger anywhere, bru. No one’s seen him.’
‘He’s got to be around somewhere. Crowbar said no casualties. Did you check the other Valk?’
‘Not yet.’
Clay shouldered his r4. ‘Let’s go find Crowbar. Maybe he’s with him.’
They found Liutenant Van Boxmeer towards the western end of the airstrip, radioman at his side. He was arguing with a black Angolan uNITA officer dressed in a green jungle-pattern uniform and a tan beret. The officer wore reflective aviator ray-Bans and carried a pair of nickel-plated .45 calibre 1911s strapped across his chest. Beyond, a couple of dozen uNITA fighters, ragged and stunned, slouched around a complex of sandbagged bunkers. As Clay and Eben approached, the two men lowered their voices.
Clay and Eben saluted.
Crowbar looked them both square in the eyes, nodded.
‘Kruger’s missing, my Liutenant,’ said Eben in Afrikaans.
Crowbar looked up at the sky. ‘When was he seen last?’
‘Just before the advance through the trees,’ said Clay.
Crowbar’s gaze drifted to the muzzle of Clay’s r4. Clay could feel himself burn.
‘Find him,’ said Crowbar. ‘But do it fast. FAPLA pulled back, but they’re still out there. Mister Mbdele here figures we can expect a counterattack before nightfall.’
‘Colonel,’ said the uNITA officer.
‘What?’ said Crowbar.
‘I am Colonel Mbdele.’ He spoke Afrikaans with a strong Portuguese accent. His voice was stretched, shaky.
‘Your mam must be so proud,’ said Crowbar.
Eben smirked.
The Colonel whipped off his sunglasses and glared at Eben. The thyroid domes of his eyes bulged out from his face, the cornea flexing out over fully dilated pupils so that the blood-veined whites seemed to pulse with each beat of his heart. ‘Control your … your men, Liutenant,’ he shouted, reaching for the grip of one of his handguns. A huge diamond solitaire sparked in his right earlobe. His face shone with sweat. ‘We have work here. Important work.’
Crowbar glanced down at the man’s hand, shaking on the grip of his still-holstered pistol. ‘What work would that be, exactly, Colonel?’ he said, jutting his chin towards the FAPLA men lounging outside the bunker.
As the Colonel turned his head to look, Crowbar slipped his fighting knife from its point-up sheath behind his right hip.
Mbdele was facing them again, his nickel-plated handgun now halfway out of its holster, trembling in his sweat-soaked hand. The metal gleamed in the sun. Crowbar had closed the gap between them and now stood within striking distance of the uNITA officer, knife blade up against his wrist, where Mbdele couldn’t see it.
‘FAPLA will attack soon,’ shouted Mbdele, his voice cracking, his eyes pivoting in their sockets. He waved his free hand back towards the bunker. ‘This position must be defended. At all costs.’
Crowbar was poised, free hand up in front of him now, palm open, inches from Mbdele’s pistol hand, the knife at his side, still hidden. Clay held his breath.
‘And what’s so fokken important that you brought us all this way, meu amigo?’ said Crowbar in a half-whisper.
Mbdele took a step back, but Crowbar followed him like a dance partner, still just inches away.
‘I said, what’s so fokken important?’
‘Classified. Not your business,’ shouted Mbdele, spittle flying. ‘These are your orders. Your orders. Check. Call your commanders on the radio.’
Crowbar stood a moment, shaking his head and muttering something under his breath. ‘And here are your orders, Colonel,’ he said. ‘You and your men get the fok out there and cover our left flank, in case FAPLA tries to come in along the river.’
Sweat poured from the Colonel’s face, beaded on his forearms. ‘Não, Liutenant,’ he gasped as if short of breath. ‘No. We stay here. Aqui.’ He pointed towards the bunker complex. ‘My orders are to guard this. And your orders are to protect us.’
Clay glanced over at Eben. It was very unusual for a uNITA officer to question their South African allies. The Colonel was treading a dangerous path with the old man. Just as odd was uNITA clinging to a fixed position. They were a guerrilla force, fighting a much larger and more heavily armed opponent. They depended on movement and camouflage to survive.
Eben frowned, clearly thinking the same thing: whatever was in that bunker, it must be pretty important.
‘Our orders are to assist,’ said Crowbar. Clay could hear the growing impatience in his voice. ‘That means we help each other.’
The Colonel glanced back at his men. ‘I am the ranking officer here, Liutenant.’
Crowbar’s face spread in a wide grin. ‘Not in my army, you ain’t.’
Then, without taking his eyes from Mbdele, he said: ‘Straker, tell the men to get ready to move out.’
Clay snapped off a salute.
‘What are you doing?’ blurted the Colonel. ‘You … You have orders.’
‘Help us, Colonel, and we’ll help you,’ said Crowbar, calm, even.
‘We’re short-handed here. Outnumbered. Get your men out onto our flank or we ontrek. Your choice, meu amigo.’
The Colonel tightened his hand on his pistol grip. ‘This is unacceptable,’ he shouted. ‘Inaceitável.’ He rattled off a tirade in Portuguese.
Crowbar stayed as he was, feet planted, knife still concealed at his side. ‘Try me, asshole.’
The uNITA Colonel puffed out his cheeks, glaring at Crowbar, trying to stare him down.
Crowbar jerked his head towards Clay and Eben. ‘Move out in ten. Get going.’
Clay and Eben hesitated.
‘Now,’ said Crowbar.
Clay and Eben turned and started back to the lines at the double.
They’d gone about ten meters when they heard the Colonel shout: ‘Wait.’ Clay and Eben kept going.
Then Crowbar’s command. ‘Halt.’ They stopped, faced the two officers.
‘I will send half my men to the left flank,’ said the Colonel.
Crowbar muttered something under his breath. ‘Tell them to report to Liutenant DeVries.’ He pointed towards the bush beyond the bunker. ‘Over there.’
For a moment the Colonel looked as if he was going to speak, but then he swallowed it down.
It happened so fast Clay almost missed it. Mbdele was down on the ground, his gun hand in an armlock, the point of Crowbar’s knife at his throat, his 1911 in the dirt under Crowbar’s boot heel. Mbdele wailed in pain as Crowbar wrenched his arm in a direction it was not designed to go.
‘You ever think of pulling a weapon on me again, meu amigo,’ said Crowbar, loud enough so that Clay and Eben could hear, ‘and it will be the last thing that goes through that fucked-up up brain of yours.’
And then it was over and Crowbar was walking away, leaving Mbdele sitting in the dirt rubbing his arm.
‘Fokken uNITA bliksem,’ muttered Crowbar, falling in beside Clay and Eben. ‘I trust those fokkers about as much as I trust the whores in the Transkei.’
Eben grinned at Clay. ‘Quite the get-up. Those twin forty-fives.’
Crowbar glanced at Eben, but said nothing.
‘Did you see his eyes?’ said Eben. ‘He was wired up tight.’
‘Fokken vrot,’ said Crowbar, slinging his r4. ‘Fokken pack of drugged-up jackals.’
‘What’s so important about this place, my Liutenant?’ said Clay.
Crowbar stopped and squared up to Clay. ‘What’s it to you, troop?’
Clay stood to attention. ‘I just meant, those bunkers…’
‘They’re important because I say they’re important, Straker.’ ‘They don’t seem like much.’
Crowbar leaned in until his mouth was only a few inches from Clay’s face. ‘The only thing you need to know is right there in your hands. understood?’
‘Ja, my Liutenant,’ said Clay, rigid.
‘And that goes for you too, Barstow. Couple of fokken smart-arse soutpiele.’ Salt-dicks. English South Africans. ‘Now get out there and find Kruger. Take that black bastard from 32-Bat with you.’
‘Brigade,’ said Clay. ‘His name is Brigade, sir.’
‘I don’t give a kak what his name is,’ said Crowbar. ‘He’s our scout, he knows the country. Take him with you.’
Clay nodded.
‘And do it quick, Straker. Cherry like Kruger, you don’t find him by nightfall, he’s as good as dead.’
Clay and Eben started moving away.
‘And Straker,’ Crowbar called after them.
Clay turned, stood at attention.
‘I catch you again with your weapon in that state, and the commies’ll be the last thing you have to worry about. I’ll shoot you myself.’

South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Transcripts.  Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg,  13th September 1996
Commissioner Ksole: And you are here, why, Mister Straker?
Witness: To tell the truth, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: The truth. Why now, Mister Straker? It was a long time ago.
Witness: Because, sir, it’s killing me.
Commissioner Ksole: Do you wish to apply for amnesty, Mister Straker?
Witness: If that’s possible, yes, sir. I do.
Commissioner Ksole: Can you please tell the commission, are you the same Claymore Straker who is wanted for murder and acts of terrorism in Yemen?
Witness: Those charges have been dropped, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And, Mister Straker, in Cyprus, also?
Witness: I served time in prison in Cyprus, yes, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And you provide this testimony of your own free will?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And you understand, Mister Straker, that any information provided here can, and if necessary will, be used against you in a court of law if the circumstances warrant? That this commission has the power to recommend legal action against a witness if it sees fit?
Witness’s answer is unintelligible.
Commissioner Barbour: Speak up, Mister Straker, please. Do you understand the question? Witness: Yes sir, I do. Can and will be used against me.
Commissioner Barbour: And this incident – this series of incidents – occurred on the, ah, the border, during the war in Angola. Is that correct?
Witness: Yes, sir. While I was serving with the 1st Parachute Battalion, SADF. It was my third tour, so it would have been 1981.
Commissioner Barbour: And the UNITA Colonel, Mbdele. Did you know him by any other name?

Witness: No, sir. Not then.
Commissioner Barbour: And later?
Witness: Yes, sir. The people called him O Coletor.
Commissioner Barbour: Sorry?
Witness: It’s Portuguese, sir: ‘the Collector’.
Commissioner Barbour: Thank you. Did you ever find out what was in the, ah, the bunker? Witness: Yes, sir, we did.
Commissioner Barbour: What did you find, son?
Witness does not answer.
Commissioner Barbour: Son?
Witness: The truth, sir. We found the truth.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: It says here, in your service records, Mister Straker, that at the time of your dishonourable discharge from the army you were suffering from mental illness, including extreme instability, episodes of random violent behaviour, complex and consistent delusions, and persistent hallucinations. Do you know what the truth is, Mister Straker?
Witness does not respond.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Answer the question, please.
Witness. Yes.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Yes, what?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Commissioner Barbour: That’s not what he meant, son.
Witness: Yes, I … I’ve learned to…
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Learned to what, Mister Straker?
Witness: I’ve learned to distinguish.


Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

Reconciliation for the Dead Blog Tour poster

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Description:

‘Composed of over sixty per cent water itself, a human body isn’t naturally buoyant. It will float only for as long as there is air in its lungs, before gradually sinking to the bottom as the air seeps out. If the water is very cold or deep, it will remain there, undergoing a slow, dark dissolution that can take years. But if the water is warm enough for bacteria to feed and multiply, then it will continue to decompose. Gases will build up in the intestines, increasing the body’s buoyancy until it floats again.
And the dead will literally rise . . . ‘

Once one of the country’s most respected forensics experts, Dr David Hunter is facing an uncertain professional – and personal – future. So when he gets a call from Essex police, he’s eager for the chance to assist them.

A badly decomposed body has been found in a desolate area of tidal mudflats and saltmarsh called the Backwaters. Under pressure to close the case, the police want Hunter to help with the recovery and identification.

It’s thought the remains are those of Leo Villiers, the son of a prominent businessman who vanished weeks ago. To complicate matters, it was rumoured that Villiers was having an affair with a local woman. And she too is missing.

But Hunter has his doubts about the identity. He knows the condition of the unrecognizable body could hide a multitude of sins. Then more remains are discovered – and these remote wetlands begin to give up their secrets . . .

With its eerie, claustrophobic sense of place, viscerally authentic detail and explosive heart-in-mouth moments, The Restless Dead offers a masterclass in crime fiction and marks the stunning return of one of the genre’s best.

My Thoughts & Review:

I have to admit that this was the first book by Simon Beckett that I’d had the chance to read, but soon went back and bought the previous books so that I could devour them all.  Fear not though, this book reads perfectly well on it’s own as there is ample detail given as to David Hunter’s background etc so that you don’t feel you’ve missed anything salient.

The plotting of this novel is absolutely brilliant and keeps the reader hooked.  David Hunter is a forensic anthropologist, his consulting work with the Police has all but dried up and he is questioning whether his contract with his university will be renewed, so when he receives a phone call from DI Bob Lundy from Essex Police to help with the recovery of a body from an estuary he is only too keen to help.

The Police are already presuming the identity of the corpse, or more hoping that it’s the body of a man suspected of murdering his lover and subsequently committed suicide, but need Hunter’s expertise to aid with the recovery and identification due to nature having taken its toll on the body.
Hunter voices his doubts about the identity, and almost immediately finds himself at odds with the local police and the father of the (presumed) deceased.  Sir Stephen Villiers is very influential in the local area and has friends in the highest of places, including within the Police force.
Far from being a quick job, the investigation becomes incredibly convoluted, especially when more remains are discovered.  A conflict of interest makes Hunter’s job much harder, but that’s nothing compared to the family tensions, lies, secrets and local feuds that surround him.  Hunter and the Police have to tread a careful tightrope in order to solve the case.

What I liked most about this book was the fact that I could just become utterly lost within the pages, usually when you first encounter a character mid series there is the awkwardness of not having their full backstory, not knowing them overly well or in some cases not being familiar with the author’s style of writing, but in this case I immediately felt like I’d put on an old glove.  This book read so well as a stand alone story (I did go back and buy the previous books because I wanted to find out more about David Hunter and his life), the way in which the Backwaters are written makes them so incredibly dangerous and mysterious.  I had the delight of sharing a post from Simon Beckett about the importance of setting on the blog tour and I have to say that the detail he includes for his settings is phenomenal.  The plotting is brilliant, well fleshed out characters and the level of detail in this novel make it one of the best thrillers I’ve read so far this year!

You can buy a copy of “The Restless Dead” via:

Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

My thanks to Transworld Books for the opportunity to read and review this novel, as well as take part in the blog tour for publication of “The Restless Dead”.

 

 

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Hello and welcome along to to my stop on the blog tour for Ice Cold Alice by C.P Wilson, I am so excited to share my review of this thriller with you.

Alice final .jpg

Published: 12 April 2017

Copy provided by Bloodhound Books

Description:

They thought that they had all the power, until she took it from them.

A killer hunts abusive spouses, blogging about their sins post-kill. Soon the murders and the brazen journaling draws the attention of Police Scotland’s CID.

This killer works with surgical preparation, precision and skill, using a unique weapon of her own and never leaves a trace of evidence behind.

Edinburgh’s DI Kathy McGuire, nearing the end of her career, begins the hunt for the murderer as a media frenzy erupts. But McGuire might have met her match…

What has led this killer to take the law into her own hands?

Is the woman accountable really a cold-hearted killer or a desperate vigilante?

My Thoughts & Review:

“Ice Cold Alice” was one of those books that as soon as I saw the description I just knew I had to read the book.  Granted one of the main themes of the book may not be the easiest of topics to write or read about, I have to say that the author has done a stellar job.
The theme of abuse is explored well and in doing so Wilson has created a character who is ridding the world of abusive men one by one.
Alice is a character that mesmerises readers, we shouldn’t really like her because at the heart of the matter she is a murderer, a cold hearted one at that but there is something about the way that this character has been created that just makes the reader empathise with her and want to succeed at what she is doing.
Cleverly, this book is more than just a thriller, it also makes the reader think about what justice and punishment is and whether the form it takes is acceptable for society.

Without going over the plot too much I will say that Alice is a vigilante, and on paper her alter egos are as far apart as the North and South Poles.  A successful author of YA novels who becomes a stalker and murderer of abusive men at night, and she doesn’t seem overly concerned about people knowing, in fact she blogs about the kills under the name Tequila Mockingbird.   What then follows is a tantalising game of cat and mouse following the vigilante on her murdering crusade and a narrative that draws from past events.  

This was a fast paced read and one that hooked me in from the start, I needed to keep reading to find out what happened next.  A cleverly woven plot with some brilliant characters makes this a must read for fans of crime thrillers.  It’s just an incredibly hard book to review as there are so many things I want to say and have to keep deleting through fear of giving away spoilers.  Take my word for it, this is a book you’re gonna want to read!

You can buy a copy of “Ice Cold Alice” via:

Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

 

 

 

 

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Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Paul Finch’s latest thriller to feature the legendary DS Heckenburg.  I am so excited to be able to share an extract from “Ashes to Ashes” with you, and at this point I will forewarn you that there is some ‘colourful’ language used in the dialogue between characters so if this is likely to cause you offence please feel free to skim over it.

Description:

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John Sagan is a forgettable man. You could pass him in the street and not realise he’s there. But then, that’s why he’s so dangerous.

A torturer for hire, Sagan has terrorised – and mutilated – countless victims. And now he’s on the move. DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg must chase the trail, even when it leads him to his hometown of Bradburn – a place he never thought he’d set foot in again.

But Sagan isn’t the only problem. Bradburn is being terrorised by a lone killer who burns his victims to death. And with the victims chosen at random, no-one knows who will be next. Least of all Heck…

 

You can buy a copy of “Ashes to Ashes” via Amazon here or via Wordery here

 


Extract from Ashes to Ashes:

Calum and Dean did all these things because they could.

There was no other reason. It gained them nothing except perhaps more notoriety.

But that didn’t matter where Calum and Dean were concerned. It was a very personal thing for these two lads. It was about being who they were – exactly who they were. Expressing themselves in precisely the way they wanted to, with no one else doing anything to stop it.

But eventually even they had to draw the line somewhere. They’d been drinking since lunchtime after all, and were completely sozzled even by their normal standards.

They ambled away from club-land, the Saturday night hubbub fading behind them, the jaunty music gradually losing all definition, dwindling into a dull, distant, repetitive cater­waul.

In the Parish Church yard, they took a minute out.

This was a cut-through between shops and offices during the day, but now it lay quiet under the phosphorescent glow of a single streetlamp, which glimmered eerily on the flag­stones where so many epitaphs had once been engraved and yet now were almost indiscernible through age. Bradburn Parish Church dominated the peaceful scene, its innumerable gargoyles jutting out overhead. To the right of it, the so-called Bank Chambers, a row of counting houses, brokerages and solicitors’ offices, led away down an arched passage, the entrance to which was opaque with night-mist.

The sight of that reminded them both, even if only inter­nally, that their bodies were rapidly cooling. Unconsciously, Calum scratched his itchy blubber before pulling his sweater back on. Together, they slumped down onto the War Memorial steps in the middle of the yard, Calum licking at the fresh but stinging notches on his knuckles. Before long, a soft snore issued from Dean’s puckered, spittle-slathered mouth. Dead to the world, he’d tilted back against the orderly lists of heroic names inscribed on brass plaques around the base of the Memorial’s obelisk.

‘Dean! . . . fuck’s sake!’ Calum nudged him with his elbow. ‘Gi’ us a fucking smoke!’

Dean muttered in response, and slapped at his right hip pocket.

Calum rummaged in there and found a single crooked joint. It was half-smoked already and bent at a right angle. He straightened it out, stuck it between his lips and dug deeper into his friend’s pocket, finding and discarding all kinds of crumby, sticky, manky crap, before retrieving a lighter.

And only then did he become aware that someone was standing in front of him.

Calum glanced up, vision blurring as his eyes tried to focus through the late-night gloom. The newcomer blotted out all light from the single lamp, casting a deep shadow over the lads. But he wasn’t completely in silhouette. Calum could distinguish dark clothing and the bland, bespectacled features of someone he thought he’d spotted a couple of times in the bars earlier.

‘Good evening,’ the newcomer said.

‘Who the fuck are you supposed to be?’ Calum sniggered. ‘Clark fucking Kent?’

‘I’ve got a message for your boss.’

‘Who the fuck are you?’

‘Here are my credentials.’ The newcomer jammed a black-gloved hand into his overcoat pocket, but when he brought it out again, it held a wadded rag, which, as he leaned down, he squashed against Calum’s face, using his other hand to clamp the back of Calum’s head, allowing no room at all for manoeuvre.

The young hoodlum tried to struggle, but what remained of his strength and awareness deserted him remarkably quickly.

‘Now, don’t breathe too deeply,’ the man said, lowering him to the ground. ‘I need you conscious again very soon. And you –’ He turned to Dean, who, more through some basic animal instinct than anything else, was trying to shake himself awake. The newcomer reached for something he’d laid against the steps. It was half a pool cue, the slimmer end neatly sawn off. ‘You can have a longer snooze.’


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