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A Killing of Angels: A Thriller

A Killing of Angels: A Thriller

by Kate Rhodes

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The first death looked like a suicide. But someone had tucked a picture of an angel and a handful of white feathers into the banker's pocket before pushing him in front of a train. A killer is stalking The Square Mile—the financial district in London—an avenging angel intent on punishment. But why these victims? What were their sins?



The first death looked like a suicide. But someone had tucked a picture of an angel and a handful of white feathers into the banker's pocket before pushing him in front of a train. A killer is stalking The Square Mile—the financial district in London—an avenging angel intent on punishment. But why these victims? What were their sins?

Psychologist Alice Quentin swore she'd never get involved with police work again. Her duty is to the living, not the dead. But she owes Detective Don Burns a favor. He was the one who would sit for hours when the last case they worked on together had landed her in the hospital. That case had clearly taken its toll on him, and his career, too. So when he comes begging for help, how can she refuse?

In order to find the murderer, Alice and Detective Burns must dig deep into the toxic heart of one of the major financial centers in the world. A place where money means more than life, and no one can be counted innocent.

A Killing of Angels is the second book in Kate Rhodes' Alice Quentin Series.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Young London-based psychologist Dr. Alice Quentin consults with the police occasionally, helping with serial killer profiling. DCI Don Burns begs her to help on a new case even though she is still suffering from the last one (Crossbones Yard), which almost cost her her life. Now it looks like a serial killer is targeting bankers affiliated with a particular financial institution called Angel Bank; the killer's calling cards are angel-related art postcards, designed to coordinate with each murder. Alice's curiosity is greater than her fears, so she dives in. At the same time, a vigilante psych patient, who has made it his mission to protect Alice at any cost, is stalking her. As the serial killer's victims mount, Alice doubts her own sanity, making her profiling ability somewhat skewed. VERDICT The sophomore outing for psychologist Alice Quentin ranks high on the violence meter. Rhodes's menacing tone is overlaid with an academician's love of art history, and the psychological tension is huge. Don't turn the lights off!
Kirkus Reviews
Dr. Alice Quentin is back, and she's involved in another series of murders, this time in the financial world. Police investigator Don Burns, who at last sighting (Crossbones Yard, 2013) was Quentin's foil at the London Metropolitan Police, is newly single and has slimmed down, toned up and quit smoking. Now he's knocking on Alice's door because the Met has a case they can't solve without her. This time, someone is killing off individuals associated with the Angel Bank, leaving behind a picture of an angel and a sprinkling of white feathers with each body. Alice, a psychologist, is brought in to assist. Soon, she is neck deep in the investigation and flirting with a new romance, but first she must move past her aversion to relationships. As the murderer keeps racking up kills, Alice's wandering, drug-addled brother, cold and withdrawn mother, and requisite beautiful and zany best friend are brought in to spice up the frequently plodding story. Many of the secondary characters are over-the-top, most notably an officer assigned to the case who dislikes her on sight and comes across as a cartoonish, sneering Snidely Whiplash. While the prose is adequate, the author often opts for the obvious over the subtle. The fact that London is in a heat wave, which is incidental to the story, is mentioned repetitively, as is a case from the author's previous novel, which is often referenced but never explained. Readers will find it difficult to sympathize with Alice when she elects not to report a patient who physically attacked and is now stalking her. Though the glimpse of London caught in the grips of a financial downturn and filled with a population trapped in its sweltering environs proves interesting enough, not everyone will find that the setting redeems the lackluster plot. A so-so outing that won't win Dr. Alice Quentin additional literary followers.

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St. Martin's Press
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Alice Quentin Series , #2
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Read an Excerpt

A Killing of Angels

By Kate Rhodes

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Kate Rhodes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01431-3


The foyer was heaving when I reached Guy's. A gaggle of new interns was being shown around, and I couldn't help pitying them. They were beginning their careers in the middle of the worst heat wave for fifty years, and the temperature was about to rise even higher. They had a year of hell to look forward to - sixteen-hour days of fretting over every diagnosis, with registrars bullying them at every turn. I forced myself to summon the lift. Even though I'd been using it every day, my claustrophobia was refusing to come under control. Jogging twenty-four flights of stairs to my department still seemed a far easier challenge.

Someone tapped me on my shoulder as I pressed the button. When I turned round, a young man was staring down at me. He was standing much too close, a flush of red across his cheekbones, hair shaved to a raw stubble. My mouth opened to say hello, but his name escaped me for a second.

'You don't even know who I am.' His breath smelled of cigarettes and last night's beer. 'I'm just a number to you, aren't I?'

'Of course I know you, Darren.' His probation officer had brought him to one of my anger management groups, and gradually he'd begun to join in, volunteering ideas without being asked.

'You cancelled my group, just like that.' His hands clapped together like a book closing, inches from my face. 'No one even told me.'

'I'm sorry, you should have had a letter.'

'Who needs a letter? I haven't even got a fucking address.'

There was a mist of sweat on his forehead, eyes staring, as though he held me responsible for every bad thing he'd seen. And that's when I made my mistake. I took a step backwards to let him cool down.

'That's right,' he snapped. 'Walk away, you stuck-up bitch.'

Things went into slow motion after that. His arm coiled back, and his fist flew towards my face. I dodged just in time, because the first punch landed on my shoulder, then another on my ribcage, knocking me to the ground. When I looked up again, two interns were holding his arms, but the fight had already drained out of him. He was pale with shock, like a child waiting to be punished.

'Call the police,' one of the interns yelled at the receptionist.

'No need. It was a misunderstanding, wasn't it, Darren?' I struggled back onto my feet.

'What have I done?' He kept repeating the words to himself like a new mantra, his eyes screwed tightly shut.

'You can let go of him,' I told the two interns. 'You'll behave, won't you, Darren?'

He gave a miserable nod, and I made him sit down on one of the hard plastic chairs by the entrance. The receptionist was flicking through a magazine. Assaults on members of staff must have become so routine, she no longer batted an eyelid. Darren stared at the floor, his elbows propped on his knees.

'I never hit a woman before.' He dragged his sleeve across his face. 'You should let them put me away.'

'That wouldn't help, would it? But you've got to stop this. It can't happen again.'

His tears splashed on the tiled floor, and I rested my hand between his shoulder-blades.

'It's all right, I know you didn't mean it.'

'Nothing makes sense any more.' His voice had dropped to a whisper.

The pain in my side was still throbbing, but there was no sense of panic. This was nothing, compared to the things I'd already lived through.

'We'll help you,' I told him. 'Things will get better.'

He shook his head vehemently. 'I got the sack. I'll never find another job.'

'What were you doing?'

'Cleaning, in a bank. I was lucky to get it. No one gives work to ex-cons.'

'They will, if you keep trying.'

After a few minutes he seemed calmer. He waited in silence while I booked an emergency appointment with my boss the next morning – Hari has the ability to neutralise even the worst kinds of rage. Darren clutched his appointment card, but his gaze had slipped out of focus, as if he was having trouble seeing me properly. When I looked back he was still staring at me as I got into the lift.

I wanted to pull up my shirt to inspect the damage, but a gang of nurses had pressed in behind me, chattering gaily to each other. It was my ribs that hurt most, a hot burst of pain every time I breathed, and there was no chance of going home. Patients were booked at forty-five-minute intervals for the whole day, and most of them had waited months for an appointment.

My consulting room smelled of stale air, dust and cleaning fluid. The air conditioning had packed up just as summer came to the boil, but the maintenance team was still on strike. I opened the window and tried to catch my breath. Two hundred feet below me, London glittered. The Thames was binding south and north together, like a skein of dark brown thread. The city was a haze of sunlight and reflected glass – from this distance it was hard to believe it had run out of cash. I glanced around my room. Almost everything was waiting to be replaced, and my computer had developed a habit of withholding information. It occurred to me that a normal person would have been weeping buckets by now, releasing the shock of the attack in one quick outburst. The idea made me envious. My emotions were still as unpredictable as my computer, with broken connections and gaps in the circuitry. I gritted my teeth and got ready for the first appointment of the day.

Hari appeared at eleven o'clock. He looked as calm as always, beard neatly trimmed, wearing his immaculate saffron turban, eyes wide with concern.

'Why are you here? You should go home.'

'I'm okay, really.'

'No one's indestructible, Alice.'

I knew he was remembering my injuries after the Crossbones case, and I wanted to tell him to stop fussing, but his kindness negates every argument.

'Can I get you anything?' he asked.

'Funding for my therapy groups, please. Or a lot more people are going to get hurt.'

Hari looked embarrassed. 'The trustees aren't listening. I've sent a complaint to the BPS.'

I shot him an ironic smile. There was nothing the British Psychological Society could do, because they didn't hold the purse strings. He patted my hand, then escaped back to his office.

By the time my last patient arrived, I was high on Nurofen and lack of oxygen. It didn't take long to diagnose her social phobia. Everyone and everything scared her – parties, strangers, walking through crowds. All she wanted was to barricade herself in an empty room where no one could reach her, for the rest of her days. But the session reminded me why I'd opted for psychology instead of medicine. Her troubles shrank as she voiced them, and by the end she looked relieved. I knew she'd respond well to rational-emotive therapy, because she was keen to learn techniques that would help her recover. I told her she'd need between ten and twelve sessions, and advised her to try exercise – yoga or t'ai chi. She still looked anxious as she prepared to leave. A world of uncontrollable noise was waiting outside, strangers barging past while she clung to the edges of buildings.

The thermometer in my room had reached thirty-two degrees, and the pain in my ribs felt like someone was beating them into shape with an invisible hammer. Someone knocked on the door while I was packing my briefcase.

'Come in,' I called.

My visitor was vaguely familiar, tall and heavily built, like a rugby player gone to seed. His suit hung from his wide shoulders, as though a bigger man had loaned it to him for the afternoon. But it was his eyes that gave him away, bright and obsessive, determined not to miss a trick.

'It's like a blast furnace in here, Alice.'

'It's never who I think it is.' I gaped at him. The shape of his face had changed completely, from a circle to an oval. 'You've been going to the gym, DCI Burns.'

'Tell me about it.' He pinched the baggy material of his jacket. 'This is my third new suit.'

It had been over a year since I'd worked as a consultant on the Crossbones case, helping him track down the serial killer who'd been targeting women in Southwark. Since then he'd shrunk from the kind of huge man that children jeer at in the street to a couple of stone overweight, and his terrible inch-thick glasses had been replaced by the thin-framed kind that journalists wear. Even his smile looked different. He rubbed a hand through his dark hair, embarrassed about being scrutinised.

'How much have you lost, Don?'

His shoulders jerked awkwardly. 'Five stone or thereabouts.'

I let out a gasp of amazement, my ribs protesting at the sudden movement. I kept trying to put my finger on something else that had changed – it looked like his confidence had deserted him.

'What have you been up to?' he asked.

'Research, mainly.' I pointed at my new book on the shelf, and he helped himself to a copy.

'Treatment Options for Violent Personality Disorders, by Dr Alice Quentin. Sounds like perfect bedtime reading.'

Burns's accent was exactly as I remembered it, still veering back and forth between Bermondsey and the Scottish lowlands, like the needle in a broken compass.

'But you're not here to borrow a book, are you?'

He turned to face me. 'I need your help. You're the only shrink I can work with, but I know the last time was tough.'

Tough was an understatement. I'd been in hospital for two weeks, recovering from a fractured skull. Since then I'd avoided working for the Met, just doing a handful of mental health assessments at police stations, and prison visits to diagnose suicide risks.

'What's happened this time, Don?'

'A bloke went under a train at King's Cross on Friday. Leo Gresham, a big investment guru in the City. Can I show you the CCTV?'

He pushed his memory stick into my computer, and grainy black-and-white images trailed across the screen in slow motion. I had a bird's-eye view of a packed underground platform, more commuters piling in every second, pressing forwards as the train arrived. Then a man pitched face first onto the tracks, arms flailing. The last thing I saw was the pale sole of one of his shoes.

'My God.' I clapped my hand over my mouth.

It was impossible to tell who'd pushed him, but a man in a dark top was standing behind Gresham, his hood low over his face. When I looked again, he'd already vanished.

'It's the driver I pity.' Burns's sharp eyes observed me. 'I wouldn't fancy his nightmares.'

In spite of myself, I felt involved. You can't watch someone die like that without wanting to snatch them back onto the platform.

'Gresham lost an arm and both legs, he kept screaming that he was pushed,' Burns said. 'He survived for hours in intensive care.'

'I still don't see where I come in.'

'I want you to work with me. All the evidence is going into HOLMES 2, in case he does it again.'

'Aren't you jumping the gun? It's probably payback for a dodgy business deal, isn't it?'

'I'm not taking any chances. Gresham worked for a bank called the Angel Group. We found this in his pocket.'

Burns handed me a postcard, wrapped in a clear plastic bag. It was a close-up of an angel's face. Apart from a bloodstain smeared across her forehead, her features were perfect. Her pale eyes gazed at me calmly, as though she knew I could still be saved. The writing on the back explained that she was An Angel in Green with a Vielle, painted by a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci's, hanging in the National Gallery. My curiosity was growing – the killer would make a fascinating case study. I could imagine him browsing through the museum's gift shop for the loveliest image he could find.

'One calling card doesn't make a serial killer.' I passed it back to him.

'We found white feathers in his pocket too. The lab's checking them out.'

The strength of Burns's gaze was unsettling. It didn't let me forget all the times when he'd visited me in hospital. I used to wake in a panic and see him there in the half-dark, patient as a guard dog. He'd sit for hours by the window in my room without moving a muscle. It was hard to guess what had happened to him since then. His expression was so tense it looked as though he was hanging onto his nerve by a fingernail.

'Tell me the real reason you're here,' I said.

He shifted in his seat. 'They demoted me after Crossbones – the top brass said I mishandled the investigation. I got transferred to King's Cross two months ago. The team don't trust me, and the boss lady's watching me like a hawk.' He leant forwards, palms together like he was offering up a prayer. 'I can't do this without you, Alice.'

It didn't take a mind-reader to realise that emotional blackmail meant Burns was down to his last chance. One touch would have made him resonate like a violin string.

'Would I have access to all the evidence files?' I asked.

He nodded earnestly. This man was a far cry from the old Burns, working too hard but so disorganised that he forgot to pass on vital information. He seemed desperate to turn over a new leaf, and his gaze was starting to feel intrusive. It reminded me of Darren's stare, before he threw his punch.

'I'll let you know tomorrow, Don.' I glanced at the papers on my desk. 'I need to talk to my boss.'

Burns disappeared into the corridor and suddenly the heat felt unbearable. Even with the door wide open, it was difficult to breathe.


I inspected the bruise in the hall mirror. It had changed colour overnight to a vivid purple, six inches in diameter, and it hurt every time I moved. I pressed the wound gingerly. At least the rib felt intact – cracked rather than broken, so it would mend in days instead of weeks. The mark on my shoulder was less spectacular, a dull midnight blue. I emptied some ice cubes into a freezer bag then lay down on the sofa. The cold started to numb the pain immediately, and I concentrated on small mercies - if Darren had meant business, he could have beaten me to a pulp. With luck and a handful of painkillers, I'd get through the day.

A text arrived from Hari while the ice was taking effect, advising me to stay at home. I deleted the message immediately and forced myself to sit up. Hari had been a friend for years, but he still didn't understand that sick days weren't in my repertoire. I'd rather drag myself across hot coals than languish on the sofa, watching TV. I went into the kitchen and dumped the ice cubes in the sink. Through the wall I could hear my brother shuffling around in his room. Will was another good reason to haul myself into work. I couldn't face the morose silence while he stared out of the window. Although he'd never blamed me, his injuries were my fault. If I'd been smarter I could have prevented him falling from a third-floor window, the bones in his legs shattering as he hit the concrete. It wasn't surprising that the trauma had made his drug habit even harder to control.

A huddle of patients was waiting outside the therapy room when I got to work. Some came from the Probation Service, and others had been referred by their GPs, but everyone was there for the same reason. They were struggling to keep a lid on their rage. When I broke the news that there would be no more sessions, their reactions varied from outrage to resignation. But it was the rest of the week's groups that worried me more. They'd already been cancelled – I wouldn't even get the chance to say goodbye.

I took a walk round the quadrangle. Exercise has always been my preferred method for keeping rage under control. I hoped the stroll would clear my head, but the heat was already punishing. The hospital gardeners seemed to be sticking to the hosepipe ban, because the roses were struggling to bloom, and the lawn was a parched brown, aching for a sign of rain.

When I got back to the clinic I asked one of the receptionists if Darren had kept his appointment.

'He was a no-show, I'm afraid.' She looked apologetic, as if she was the reason he'd stayed away.

I was incandescent as I walked back to my office, ribs protesting with each step. Knowing Darren hadn't bothered to pitch up made me regret my decision. I should have let the police prosecute him for assault. It was a struggle to calm down in time for my next patient.

By six o'clock the temperature was tropical, my cheese plant withering before my eyes. Keeping the fan on full blast had no effect, apart from circulating stale air from one side of the room to the other. Normally I'd have pulled on my trainers and sprinted down the fire escape, but today a slow walk was the best I could hope for. The hospital foyer was almost empty, apart from a few visitors arriving with flowers and magazines, the last day-shift nurses racing for the Tube. Commuters were flooding out of London Bridge station, shedding clothes as they walked – jackets, ties, cardigans, anything they could get away with. I had no choice but to limp behind them, a spasm of pain jolting through my chest with each footfall. By the time I reached the river I had to sit down. A cluster of tourists was blocking the walkway, taking snaps of each other, silhouetted against Tower Bridge. The last quarter of a mile took forever, dragging myself across the boardwalk at New Concordia Wharf. When I got to Providence Square I was ready to lie down in a darkened room.


Excerpted from A Killing of Angels by Kate Rhodes. Copyright © 2013 Kate Rhodes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

KATE RHODES was born in London and lives in Cambridge, England. She completed a doctorate in American literature, then taught English at universities in Britain and the United States. She is the author of the novel Crossbones Yard and two collections of poetry and has received a number of honors and awards for her writing.

KATE RHODES was born in London and lives in Cambridge, England. She completed a doctorate in American literature, then taught English at universities in Britain and the United States. She has published two collections of poetry, and has received a number of honors and awards for her writing. Crossbones Yard is her debut novel.

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