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Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster is called to a homicide at the home of a single mother in Queens Park, London. Her throat has been cut from ear to ear and her body dumped in the garden. Her daughter and only child, Naomi, who has just turned fourteen this day, is missing. As the hours tick by, the feeling grows among Foster's colleagues that this is most likely becoming a double-murder inquiry. With nothing in the present to indicate a motive, Foster decides to delve into the dead woman's past, only to ...
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Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster is called to a homicide at the home of a single mother in Queens Park, London. Her throat has been cut from ear to ear and her body dumped in the garden. Her daughter and only child, Naomi, who has just turned fourteen this day, is missing. As the hours tick by, the feeling grows among Foster's colleagues that this is most likely becoming a double-murder inquiry. With nothing in the present to indicate a motive, Foster decides to delve into the dead woman's past, only to find out she does not have one. He calls on genealogist Nigel Barnes. The trail takes Barnes back to late Victorian England where it abruptly ends with a young couple who came from the United States to England. Nigel's quest takes him on a trip through the violent history of the Mormon church as he and Foster race to solve a shameful, long-kept secret that is about to have bloody repercussions in the present, and for which someone is seeking vengeance.
"...solidly plotted...boasts a protagonist whose unusual profession gives the story an added element of intrigue: using genealogy to unlock the victim’s past and explain a contemporary crime. A definite winner, and further proof that Nigel Barnes is going to be a strong series lead." —Booklist
Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster emitted a weary sigh as he crouched over the woman’s corpse, arc lights in the garden bathing them both in bright light, anticipating the first light of dawn. During his convalescence, human nature had not taken a turn for the better. He rose to standing, wincing slightly at the bolt of pain searing up his leg from the metal plate holding his right shin together, then shuddered as he felt a cold cough of wind on the back of his neck. He’d not worn a coat, assuming when he was called and told of a woman’s murder at her house she would be found inside, and not outside on a small, slightly overgrown lawn.
The throat had been cut. The body was framed by a wide slick of blood. He looked around the garden. The fences at all three sides were high, giving a degree of privacy, though the upstairs windows of the properties on both sides would have had a partial view. Young professional couples lived either side and got home after dark. Neither of them had seen the body. Still, to Foster it seemed the killer had taken a strange risk.
He returned to the house. The sitting room was neat and ordered, no signs of a struggle. Foster rubbed his face with his right hand. It was his first week back, early November. He’d insisted on being on call. The call had come that Tuesday morning at 4 a.m., four hours after the body had been discovered. He climbed into his old suit, realizing only then that he could fit his thumbs into the gap between his gut and the waistband, forcing him to dig out a belt and pull it to the tightest notch. It had been just over six months since he’d been tortured and beaten and saved only seconds from death. The thought of getting back on the job had kept him going during some long dark nights of the soul. During some nights, when the dreams were at their worst, Karl Hogg’s hot breath still in his nostrils, the excruciating pain as both tibia and fibula snapped under the weight of Hogg’s mallet, he’d thought this moment might never arrive.
But here he was; his first case back.
He had anticipated a gang killing, probably some hapless kid stabbed in the street in Shepherd’s Bush or Kensal Rise. Instead he’d got this – a woman lying dead in a garden, in a lavishly furnished Victorian terrace, on a quiet affluent street in Queen’s Park, a middle-class ghetto between Kensal Green and Kilburn.
Detective Inspector Heather Jenkins walked into the sitting room with a scene of crime photographer at her shoulder. ‘Mind if I …’ he said, motioning towards the garden nervously.
‘Fill your boots,’ Foster said.
He turned to Heather. Her hair was scraped and tied back off her face and she looked pale and worn. Bad news, he thought.
‘The victim’s name is Katie Drake,’ she said. ‘Thirtyseven years old. An actress. The neighbours two doors down found her. They had a set of keys. They were alerted by a friend of Katie’s after she and her daughter failed to turn up at an ice-skating rink to celebrate the daughter’s fourteenth birthday.’
Foster felt a shudder of apprehension. ‘And where’s the daughter?’
‘We don’t know. She’s missing.’
Everything and everyone was gathered. The Met’s murder squad and all its resources out en masse. Dogs, helicopters, hundreds of officers preparing to knock on doors, ready to shake down every paedophile and pervert in West London and beyond. All waiting for the onset of daylight before they got started. A cursory check of Katie Drake’s body estimated she had been dead since the previous afternoon, perhaps as early as 2 p.m. Her daughter, Naomi, was last seen leaving school at 3.15 p.m. Her schoolbag was downstairs. She’d made it home. But then what? The signs weren’t good. Find them in the first six hours or you’re looking for a dead body. That was the mantra when it came to a missing child. Unless …
They could not discount the idea she had done this. Killed her own mother and run.
Foster stood in the victim’s sitting room, holding and staring at a school photograph of her daughter as if it would yield him a secret. He replaced it on the mantelpiece, her face etched on his mind. The long, straight blonde hair; the pale blue eyes; the hopeful, uncertain smile of a girl on the edge of womanhood. He wondered with a sense of dread about what state she would be in when they eventually found her.
He glanced around the room. It was immaculate, barely a spot of dust anywhere, books and magazines straightened into neat piles on the coffee table, cushions plumped and cornered neatly at each end of the sofa. Perhaps Katie Drake was one of those people who couldn’t abide mess. He wandered through to the kitchen, situated at the back of the sitting room, off what was presumably once a dining room until it was knocked through.
Again, nothing out of place. Two glasses sat on the draining board. They had been washed. The kettle was unplugged and the coffee-maker pristine. Foster pressed the lid of the metal bin with his foot and it swung open. Nothing much to report in there. The fridge was well stocked. Looked like Katie and her daughter liked to eat healthily going by the amount of soups and salad materials.
Foster called a member of the forensic team over to remind them to examine the two glasses beside the sink. He checked the windows and doors all over the house. No sign of forced entry. The killer had been allowed in. The girl? He glanced one more time at the photograph on the mantelpiece. Slit her mother’s throat? He doubted it. But he could be wrong.
Foster returned to the garden where Katie Drake’s body still lay, housed in a tent. Edward Carlisle, the pathologist, was going about his duty with grim efficiency. The body might not be moved for a while, until the whole scene was processed.
Carlisle spotted Foster enter, the serious frown he adopted for his work lifting briefly
‘Good to see you again, Grant,’ he said, his usually rich public school voice ravaged by the effects of a cold. ‘On the mend?’
‘Never better,’ Foster replied breezily, not wanting to dwell on it. what have you found?’
He turned his face up. ‘I’ll need to have a closer look in a post mortem. The throat was slit out here, though.’
Heather slipped into the tent beside him. He could tell from her face she had more news.
‘We’ve found Naomi’s father,’ she said. ‘Stephen Buckingham. ’
‘Let’s pay him a visit.’
Stephen Buckingham looked like a man standing on the edge of a precipice from which he would soon be pitched. He sat in the blue-upholstered armchair in the living room of his house in Esher, eyes wide. Foster sat across from him, nursing a cup of tea provided by Buckingham’s second wife, a shy, conservatively dressed woman, who padded around them softly, casting nervous, anxious glances at her husband. It was shortly after nine o’clock and the couple’s two children had left for school.
Foster had broken the news about his ex-wife’s death and his daughter’s disappearance. He’d asked whether Buckingham had had any contact with either of them the day before.
‘I was in Leeds on business,’ he said softly, looking down at his fingers, which picked and played with each other. ‘It was Naomi’s birthday so I called her mobile at lunchtime. The call was very quick because she was out getting something to eat with friends and it was difficult to hear over the traffic, the sirens …’
Foster nodded, he knew the feeling. The sound of the city.
‘She seemed pretty excited about going skating with her mum and her friends and then a meal. I said I’d see her Saturday …’
His voice tailed away. Foster didn’t interrupt.
‘We were going shopping in town. My treat. Her mother wasn’t fond of it, thought I was spoiling her. But there was little I did with Naomi that her mother approved of.’
Foster asked when he had arrived back from Leeds.
‘I flew back. My plane arrived at Heathrow just before ten o‘clock at night. I was tired so I got a cab back here. It was shortly after eleven when I got here, isn’t that right, Sheila?’
Sheila bit her lip and nodded. ‘About that time, yes,’ she agreed softly
‘Sorry, can you excuse me?’ Heather said, standing by the door. ‘I just need to make a call.’ She slipped out.
‘When did you and your first wife separate?’ Foster asked.
‘Eleven years ago, when Naomi was three. It just wasn’t working. It was pretty volatile for a while afterwards, but while Katie was hot-headed, she also loved Naomi with everything she had, and knew she couldn’t keep me away. We soon fell into a routine. My work takes me away, but I always make time to see her and spend time with her. I’ve remarried since, had two more kids, but it never affected my relationship with Naomi.’
Had Katie remarried?
Buckingham shook his head. ‘No. There had been other men, that much I know from Naomi. But she wasn’t a tittle-tattle and, to be honest, I wasn’t really that interested. I don’t think she was seeing anyone at the moment. In fact, from what I’d gleaned from Naomi, I sensed Katie had been having a hard time of it.
‘In what way?’
‘Not entirely sure. She was an actress. When I first met her, she was a real beauty. She got lots of work, some TV, adverts, mainly stage work, which was her real love. In recent years it had all gone a bit quiet. I think that got her down. Naomi made a few oblique references to her mother drinking. She never touched a drop when we first met, which was why it jarred with me a bit. She liked to smoke reefers back then.’
‘What about Naomi? Did she have any boyfriends?’ Buckingham smiled for the first time. ‘You’ve seen her picture. What do you reckon? From what she said, she seemed to be beating them off with a stick at school.’
The smile vanished. The vacant stare returned.
Had she mentioned anyone in particular?
Buckingham looked up at Foster, as if noticing him for the first time. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered. ‘Miles away.’
‘Did Naomi mention any boy in particular, one that might have been pursuing her perhaps?’
‘No. She did mention one boy she fancied who was a bit older. He was in a band. The name escapes me. The reason I remember is that he was quite a bit older, seventeen or something, and I thought that was a bit too old and said so. She said she was at the back of the queue anyway.
There was another silence as Buckingham scratched at his wrist and Foster wondered whether, if his own life had taken a different turn, or his personality had, he might have been playing an active part in a fourteen-year-old’s life. And, not for the first time, given the pain and suffering this man was experiencing, whether it was all worth it. Was living your life with only one person to worry about the easiest option?
‘What do you think has happened to her, detective?’ Buckingham’s weary voice betrayed his hopeful expression.
Foster shrugged. ‘I hope we find out soon,’ he said. ‘Rest assured we’re putting every resource we can muster into finding Naomi.’
He paused before his next question.
‘Are you a wealthy man, Mr Buckingham?’
The man’s eyes narrowed. Then he realized what Foster was alluding to. ‘I’m comfortably off, no more. I publish three magazines, none of them that successful. You think I’ll get a ransom demand?’
Foster could see a glint of hope in his manner and expression. That would at least mean Naomi was still alive. He also knew Buckingham was downplaying his wealth. This house, Foster estimated, was worth at least a million. A black Mercedes convertible was parked on the drive. He had spoken about the money he liked to spend on his daughter. They could not rule out a financial motive.
‘Keep your phone switched on,’ he said. He cleared his throat. ‘If we don’t find Naomi, you might want to consider making a public appeal.’
‘Whatever it takes.’
Heather slipped back into the room, smiled apologetically at Buckingham. She caught Foster’s eye and nodded. She’d made a few calls. Buckingham’s story stood up. He’d been on that plane.
‘Did you know much about your ex-wife’s daily life, her routine?’
Buckingham shook his head. ‘Next to nothing. She was quite often at home during the day, I know that. We really had very minimal contact outside the odd conversation about Naomi.’
‘Did she have friends?’
‘I’m sure she did. Her best friend was always Sally Darlinghurst, another actress. They met in repertory shortly before she met me. They were inseparable back then. I think they were still in touch, but don’t quote me on it.’
Foster scribbled the name down. ‘One last question, Mr Buckingham. What was the relationship like between your daughter and Katie?’
He gave it some thought. ‘OK. I think they were very close. Too close, perhaps.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, her mother was very possessive of her. I got the feeling that as she moved away – grew up, met boys – her mother would feel left out. Naomi was Katie’s entire world in many respects. I actually feared for Katie when the time came to cut the apron strings. Naomi was already feeling a bit smothered by her, so she said.’
‘Did they fight?’
‘I think so. You know how it can be, mothers and daughters.’ His face dropped. ‘You don’t think …’
Foster shrugged. ‘We need to look at all eventualities. You mentioned to me that your ex-wife was a goodlooking woman. Given the fact she’d been in the public eye, did she ever receive the attentions of any unwanted admirers?’
‘What? Like a stalker?’
‘Yes, like a stalker.’
He shook his head slowly. ‘Not that I’m aware of. She did get a few letters when I knew her, blokes who’d seen her in a play or on television. She once did a nude scene in a TV play that attracted a slew of cards and letters, some rather ribald in nature. The odd photo, too. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with all that but she brushed it off, made me feel a bit of a prude. But no one physically followed her or pursued her – not that I knew of, anyway. ’
Foster nodded. They were already in touch with her agent. She might know more.
‘How about family? Before we take steps like making a television appeal and using the media, we need to track down her next of kin. Make sure they’re all aware of her death. Can you tell us where to start?’
Buckingham rubbed his chin ruefully. ‘I’m afraid I can’t.’
‘I knew Katie for more than five years, intimately. She never once mentioned any family, and never spoke about it.’
‘Never. I asked. I probed. But she closed down any discussion about it. She acted like she had no family. She went to school, came to London and went to drama school, and supported herself by waitressing in her spare time, which is how I met her. That’s all she ever told me.’ He must have noted Foster’s incredulity; he sniffed derisively, as if sharing the detective’s disbelief. ‘I know – madness, isn’t it? But I just grew to accept that it was a closed book. I did find out that Drake was a stage name. You’ll understand why she changed it when I tell you that her real surname was Pratt.’
‘But surely Naomi must have asked, wanted to know who her grandparents were?’
‘She did. But her mother always changed the subject. She told me that one day she would do a bit of research into the family history, find out more, but she wouldn’t do that behind her mother’s back.’
Foster found himself looking at Jenkins.
Her eyes told him she was thinking the same.
BLOOD ATONEMENT. Copyright © 2009 by Dan Waddell. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y 10010.
Posted February 1, 2013
If you enjoyed the first book in the series (I believe it one an Edgar Award), you might be dissapointed by this entry. It wasn't as interesting as the first, though it does provide seem deepening of characterization.
Part of the problem was that the story seemed so far fetched. Still, if there is a 3rd - I'll give it a shot.
Posted November 11, 2009
I picked up this book while strolling through the mystery section of my local B&N because I was recently doing some geneology on my family and found out my great-great grandmother's maiden name was Waddell and was born in Scotland. I immediately was drawn to the idea that a mystery, with a protagonist as a geneology researcher, written by a man named Waddell was just too much coincidence to pass up.
We may be cousins, 100 times removed, but i felt a sense of family responsibility to critique the book (okay - a bit of a stretch, but it did give me an excuse to critique)
Dan wrote a fascinating account of the sometimes weird inner workings of the Mormon church and tied it into a good old fashioned murder mystery. The characters were at times a little too vivid, and at other times needed a little more development, but I could see this as a romping good TV movie - without the bad language. The personal relationships were a little baffling as well, but it all worked out in the end and I was pleasantly satisfied of the outcome by the last page. Definitely a good read.
It's been several weeks now and the thing that still stands out in my mind is that a perfectly good running dialogue or action scene could be so totally ruined by the use of an obvious, gratuitous use of the "F" word. Each time he did it, it startled me out of the book into "what? people don't really talk like that!" So the reality of the story vanished for the few moments it took me to get back into the story again. This is my only advice to my cousin Dan...stop the (bad) swearing - it doesn't do the story any good and it distracts your reader. And if your companions talk this way - I suggest you spend less time with them. Maybe look up some long lost relatives for more qualilty company.
Posted August 2, 2009
Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster arrives at the scene of a particularly gruesome homicide to lead the investigation. In middle class Queens Park section of London, someone cut the throat of thirty seven year old single mom Katie Drake on the birthday of her teenage daughter who just turned fourteen years old daughter. It turns out Naomi is missing.
No motive or clues to the daughter's whereabouts surface. As hours pass with nothing, Foster and his peers begin to believe a double homicide occurred and the second corpse will be found shortly. Foster digs into the victim's past to see if a motive surfaces, but to his shock there is no Katie Drake. The Inspector asks Scotland Yard consulting genealogist Nigel Barnes to follow the limited trail. Barnes finds a link back to late Victorian England when a couple came over from the Sates and had ties to the Mormon Church. He and Foster fear further BLOOD ATONEMENT will follow.
The sequel to THE BLOOD DETECTIVE is an engaging genealogy murder mystery that is fun to follow but leave your plausibility meter parked elsewhere as the motive is over the top of Big Ben. Still following the inquiry into the history of the Mormon Church is intriguing especially Barnes' investigation as fans, which are willing to ignore believability and too much left to flukes of chance, will enjoy Dan Waddell's rotting family tree whodunit.
Posted July 28, 2011
No text was provided for this review.