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The Night Ferry

The Night Ferry

2.8 6
by Michael Robotham

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A young policewoman breaks all the rules to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the best friend she betrayed in this stunning follow-up thriller from the author of Suspect and Lost.

Ali Barba, a Sikh detective with the Metropolitan Police, is recovering from injuries sustained in the line of duty when she receives a letter from her


A young policewoman breaks all the rules to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the best friend she betrayed in this stunning follow-up thriller from the author of Suspect and Lost.

Ali Barba, a Sikh detective with the Metropolitan Police, is recovering from injuries sustained in the line of duty when she receives a letter from her estranged friend, Cate, imploring her to come to their high school reunion. Alarmed by the urgent tone of the note, and eager to make amends for her unforgivable past behavior, Ali goes to the reunion. Cate is pregnant, but before Ali has the chance to congratulate her, Cate hurriedly whispers, “They want to take my baby. You have to stop them.” It is the only hint of Cate’s troubles Ali manages to get. As they are leaving the reunion, Cate and her husband are run down by a car and killed. The mystery darkens when it is discovered that Cate had faked her pregnancy by tying a pillow underneath her dress.

All Ali has to go on is a file in Cate’s desk that contains two ultrasound pictures, letters from a fertility clinic, and various papers that seem to confirm the unborn baby’s existence. As she puts together the pieces, her search takes her to Amsterdam and into the company of some very unsavory people on both sides of the Channel who'll do anything to thwart her investigation.

A gripping thriller and a searing tale of the search for redemption, The Night Ferry is Michael Robotham’s finest novel yet.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

At the start of the sharply plotted third thriller from Australian author Robotham (after Suspect and Lost), London police detective Alisha Barba, a Sikh woman who's recovering from a back injury incurred in the line of duty in Lost("After six operations and nine months of physiotherapy I am fit again, with more steel in my spine than England's back four"), receives a brief note from a school friend, Cate, whom she hasn't heard from in eight years: "I'm in trouble. I must see you. Please come to the reunion." At the school reunion, the pregnant Cate tells Ali that someone is after her baby. As Cate and her husband, Felix, are leaving the event, a car strikes them both, killing Felix instantly and fatally injuring Cate. Insp. Det. Vincent Ruiz, Ali's crotchety colleague, accompanies her to Amsterdam in search of answers that involve drugs and frozen human embryos. In keeping with the opening sentence's invocation of Graham Greene, the author's terse, resonant prose hides more than it reveals. Readers will hope Robotham has many more books of this caliber in him. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Quite a change of pace for the colleagues of retired Metropolitan Police Inspector Vincent Ruiz (Suspect, 2005; Lost, 2006): The detective isn't the leading suspect, but merely a loose cannon. It's been eight years since Alisha Barba last heard from her old one-time school friend Cate Elliot (and the reason why they're no longer friends turns out to be a doozy). Now Cate suddenly begs Ali to come to their school reunion. Then, just as suddenly, Cate, married, pregnant and openly fearful that "they want to take my baby," is run down along with her husband, and it turns out that she's not pregnant after all. Ali, on medical leave from the Met's Diplomatic Protection Group, can't help asking why Cate would pretend to be having a baby and who was responsible for the suspicious accident that killed her husband and left her shattered and comatose. The answers will take her from a burning building to Amsterdam's red light district to an England-bound ferry where she'll be called on to deliver the baby about whom Cate was so frantic. Along the way, she'll run afoul of colleagues at the Met who take her for an arsonist, the Scotland Yard super who wants to shunt her into Recruitment, an Amsterdam cop who threatens to arrest her for kidnapping, Cate's parents and some very serious criminal types. Heartfelt and gripping, but neither as surprising nor as original as Robotham's first two novels.
From the Publisher

Praise for Suspect:
“A dramatic well-written debut novel.” —New York Times
“A lightning-paced debut.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A gripping first novel—taut and fast-moving.” —Washington Post
“Readers will forget their own jobs, meals and families while they race to find out which one of his targets the killer actually hits before he’s brought down.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Praise for Lost:
“Robotham spins an agreeably complex plot, and he has an eye for peripheral details.” —Entertainment Weekly
"In his second novel, Robotham deftly mixes sentiment and noir to create a complex mystery.” —People
“A satisfying and intricate tale of deception, double crosses, murder, and twisted familial love.” —Miami Herald

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.00(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Night Ferry

By Michael Robotham


Copyright © 2007 Michael Robotham
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385517904


It was Graham Greene who said a story has no beginning or end. The author simply chooses a moment, an arbitrary point, and looks either forward or back. That moment is now—an October morning—when the clang of a metallic letter flap heralds the first post.

There is an envelope on the mat inside my front door. Inside is a small stiff rectangle of paper that says nothing and everything.

Dear Ali,
m in trouble. I must see you. Please come to the reunion.
Love, Cate

Sixteen words. Long enough to be a suicide note. Short enough to end an affair. I don’t know why Cate has written to me now. She hates me. She told me so the last time we spoke, eight years ago. The past. Given long enough I could tell you the month, the day and the hour but these details are unimportant.

All you need to know is the year—1998. It should have been the summer we finished university; the summer we went backpacking across Europe; the summer I lost my virginity to Brian Rusconi and not to Cate’s father. Instead it was the summer she went away and the summer I left home—a summer not big enough for everything that happened.

Now she wants to see me again. Sometimes you know when a story begins…


When the day comes that I am asked to recalibrate the calendar, I am going to lop a week off Januaryand February and add them to October, which deserves to be forty days long, maybe more.

I love this time of year. The tourists have long gone and the kids are back at school. The TV schedules aren’t full of reruns and I can sleep under a duvet again. Mostly I love the sparkle in the air, without the pollen from the plane trees so I can open my lungs and run freely.

I run every morning—three circuits of Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, each one of them more than a mile. Right now I’m just passing Durward Street in Whitechapel. Jack the Ripper territory. I once took a Ripper walking tour, a pub crawl with ghost stories. The victim I remember best was his last one, Mary Kelly, who died on the same date as my birthday, November the ninth.

People forget how small an area Jack roamed. Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Whitechapel cover less than a square mile, yet in 1888 more than a million people were crammed into slums, without decent water and sewerage. It is still overcrowded and poor but that's only compared to places like Hampstead or Chiswick or Holland Park. Poverty is a relative state in a rich country where the wealthiest are the first to cry poor.

It is seven years since I last ran competitively, on a September night in Birmingham, under lights. I wanted to get to the Sydney Olympics but only two of us were going to make it. Four–hundredths of a second separated first from fifth; half a meter, a heartbeat, a broken heart.

I don’t run to win anymore. I run because I can and because I'm fast. Fast enough to blur at the edges. That’s why I’m here now, flirting with the ground while perspiration leaks between my breasts, plastering my T–shirt to my stomach.

When I run my thoughts become clearer, or at least concentrated. Mostly I think about work and imagine that today someone will call and offer me my old job back.

A year ago I helped solve a kidnapping and find a missing girl. One of the kidnappers dropped me onto a wall, crushing my spine. After six operations and nine months of physiotherapy I am fit again, with more steel in my spine than England’s back four. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know what to do with me at the Metropolitan Police. I am a wonky wheel on the machine.

As I pass the playground, I notice a man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper. There is no child on the climbing frame behind him and other benches are in sunshine. Why has he chosen the shade?

In his mid–thirties, dressed in a shirt and tie, he doesn't raise his eyes as I pass. He’s studying a crossword. What sort of man does a crossword in a park at this hour of the morning? A man who can't sleep. A man who waits.

Up until a year ago I used to watch people for a living. I guarded diplomats and visiting heads of state, ferrying their wives on shopping trips to Harrods and dropping their children at school. It is probably the most boring job in the Metropolitan Police but I was good at it. During five years with the Diplomatic Protection Group I didn't fire a shot in anger or miss one of the wives' hair appointments. I was like one of those soldiers who sit in the missile silos, praying the phone never rings.

On my second circuit of the park he is still there. His suede jacket is lying across his lap. He has freckles and smooth brown hair, cut symmetrically and parted to the left. A leather briefcase is tucked close to his side.

A gust of wind tears the newspaper from his fingers. Three steps and I reach it first. It wraps around my thigh.

For a moment he wants to retreat, as if he's too close to the edge. His freckles make him look younger. His eyes don't meet mine. Instead he bunches his shoulders shyly and says thank you. The front page is still wrapped around my thigh. For a moment I'm tempted to have some fun. I could make a joke about feeling like tomorrow’s fish–and–chips.

The breeze feels cool on my neck. “Sorry, I’m rather sweaty.”

He touches his nose nervously, nods and touches his nose again.

“Do you run every day?” he asks suddenly.

“I try to.”

“How far?”

“Four miles.”

It’s an American accent. He doesn’t know what else to say.

“I have to keep going. I don’t want to cool down.”

“Okay. Sure. Have a nice day.” It doesn’t sound so trite coming from an American.

On my third circuit of the park the bench is empty. I look for him along the street but there are no silhouettes. Normal service has been resumed.

Farther along the street, just visible on the corner, a van is parked at the curb. As I draw nearer, I notice a white plastic tent over missing paving stones. A metal cage is propped open around the hole. They’ve started work early.

I do this sort of thing—take note of people and vehicles. I look for things that are out of the ordinary; people in the wrong place, or the wrong clothes; cars parked illegally; the same face in different locations. I can’t change what I am.

Unlacing my trainers, I pull a key from beneath the insole and unlock my front door. My neighbor, Mr. Mordecai, waves from his window. I once asked him his first name and he said it should be Yo’man.

“Why’s that?”

“Because that's what my boys call me: ‘Yo man, can I have some money?’ ‘Yo man, can I borrow the car?’ ”

His laugh sounded like nuts falling on a roof.

In the kitchen I pour myself a large glass of water and drink it greedily. Then I stretch my quads, balancing one leg on the back of a chair.

The mouse living under my fridge chooses that moment to appear. It is a very ambivalent mouse, scarcely bothering to lift its head to acknowledge me. And it doesn't seem to mind that my youngest brother, Hari, keeps setting mousetraps. Perhaps it knows that I disarm them, taking off the cheese when Hari isn't around.

The mouse finally looks up at me, as though about to complain about the lack of crumbs. Then it sniffs the air and scampers away.

Hari appears in the doorway, bare-chested and barefooted. Opening the fridge, he takes out a carton of orange juice and unscrews the plastic lid. He looks at me, considers his options, and gets a glass from the cupboard. Sometimes I think he is prettier than I am. He has longer lashes and thicker hair.

“Are you going to the reunion tonight?” I ask.


“Why not?”

“Don’t tell me you're going! You said you wouldn’t be caught dead.”

“I changed my mind.”

There is a voice from upstairs. “Hey, have you seen my knickers?”

Hari looks at me sheepishly.

“I know I had a pair. They’re not on the floor.”

Hari whispers, “I thought you’d gone out.”

“I went for a run. Who is she?”

“An old friend.”

“So you must know her name.”


“Cheryl Taylor!” (She’s a bottle blonde who works behind the bar at the White Horse). “She’s older than I am.”

“No, she's not.”

“What on earth do you see in her?”

“What difference does that make?”

“I’m interested.”

“Well, she has assets.”


“The best.”

“You think so?”


“What about Phoebe Griggs?”

“Too small.”

“Emma Shipley?”



“Very funny.”

Cheryl is coming down the stairs. I can hear her rummaging in the sitting room. “Found them,” she shouts.

She arrives in the kitchen still adjusting the elastic beneath her skirt.

“Oh, hello,” she squeaks.

“Cheryl, this is my sister, Alisha.”

“Nice to see you again,” she says, not meaning it.

The silence seems to stretch out. I might never talk again. Finally I excuse myself and go upstairs for a shower. With any luck Cheryl will be gone by the time I come down.

Hari has been living with me for the past two months because it’s closer to university. He is supposed to be safeguarding my virtue and helping pay the mortgage but he’s four weeks behind in his rent and using my spare room as a knocking shop.

My legs are tingling. I love the feeling of lactic acid leaking away. I look in the mirror and pull back my hair. Yellow flecks spark in my irises like goldfish in a pond. There are no wrinkles. Black don’t crack.

My “assets” aren’t so bad. When I was running competitively I was always pleased they were on the small side and could be tightly bound in a sports bra. Now I wouldn't mind being a size bigger so I could have a cleavage.

Hari yells up the stairs. “Hey, sis, I’m taking twenty from your purse.”


“Because when I take it from strangers they get angry.”

Very droll. “You still owe me rent.”


“You said that yesterday.” And the day before.

The front door closes. The house is quiet.

Downstairs, I pick up Cate’s note again, resting it between my fingertips. Then I prop it on the table against the salt and pepper shakers, staring at it for a while.

Cate Elliot. Her name still makes me smile. One of the strange things about friendship is that time together isn’t canceled out by time apart. One doesn’t erase the other or balance it on some invisible scale. You can spend a few hours with someone and they will change your life, or you can spend a lifetime with a person and remain unchanged.

We were born at the same hospital and raised in Bethnal Green in London’s East End although we managed to more or less avoid each other for the first thirteen years. Fate brought us together, if you believe in such things.

We became inseparable. Almost telepathic. We were partners in crime, stealing beer from her father’s fridge, window shopping on the Kings Road, eating chips with vinegar on our way home from school, sneaking out to see bands at the Hammersmith Odeon and movie stars on the red carpet at Leicester Square.

In our gap year we went to France. I crashed a moped, got cautioned for having a fake ID and tried hash for the first time. Cate lost the key to our hostel during a midnight swim and we had to climb a trellis at 2:00 a.m.

There is no breakup worse than that of best friends. Broken love affairs are painful. Broken marriages are messy. Broken homes are sometimes an improvement. Our breakup was the worst.

Now, after eight years, she wants to see me. The thrill of compliance spreads across my skin. Then comes a nagging, unshakable dread. She's in trouble.

My car keys are in the sitting room. As I pick them up, I notice marks on the glass–topped coffee table. Looking closer, I can make out two neat buttock prints and what I imagine to be elbow smudges. I could kill my brother!


Someone has spilled a Bloody Mary mix on my shoes. I wouldn't mind so much, but they’re not mine. I borrowed them, just like I borrowed this top, which is too big for me. At least my underwear is my own. “Never borrow money or underwear,” my mother always says, in an addendum to her clean–underwear speech which involves graphic descriptions of road accidents and ambulance officers cutting off my tights. No wonder I have nightmares.

Cate isn’t here yet. I’ve been trying to watch the door and avoid talking to anyone.

There should be a law against school reunions. They should come with warning stickers on the invitations. There is never a right time for them. You're either too young or too old or too fat.

This isn’t even a proper school reunion. Somebody burned down the science classrooms at Oaklands. A vandal with a can of petrol rather than a rogue Bunsen burner. Now they're opening a brand-new block, with a junior minister of something–or–other doing the honors.

The new building is functional and sturdy, with none of the charm of the Victorian original. The cathedral ceilings and arched windows have been replaced by fibrous cement panels, strip lighting and aluminum frames.

The school hall has been decorated with streamers and balloons hang from the rafters. A school banner is draped across the front of the stage.

There is a queue for the mirror in the girls' toilets. Lindsay Saunders leans past me over the sink and rubs lipstick from her teeth. Satisfied, she turns and appraises me.

“Will you stop acting like a Punjabi princess and loosen up. Have fun.”

“Is that what this is?”

I’m wearing Lindsay’s top, the bronze one with shoestring straps, which I don’t have the bust to carry off. A strap falls off my shoulder. I tug it up again.

“I know you’re acting like you don’t care. You’re just nervous about Cate. Where is she?”

“I don't know.”

Lindsay reapplies her lipstick and adjusts her dress. She’s been looking forward to the reunion for weeks because of Rocco Manspiezer. She fancied him for six years at school but didn’t have the courage to tell him.

“What makes you so sure you’ll get him this time?”

“Well I didn’t spend two hundred quid on this dress and squeeze into these bloody shoes to be ignored by him again.”

Unlike Lindsay, I have no desire to hang around with people I have spent twelve years avoiding. I don’t want to hear how much money they make or how big their house is or see photographs of their children who have names that sound like brands of shampoo.

That’s the thing about school reunions—people only come to measure their life against others and to see the failures. They want to know which of the beauty queens has put on seventy pounds and seen her husband run off with his secretary, and which teacher got caught taking photographs in the changing rooms.


Excerpted from The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham Copyright © 2007 by Michael Robotham. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Before writing full-time, Michael Robotham was an investigative journalist in Britain, Australia and the US. He is the pseudonymous author of 10 best-selling non-fiction titles, involving prominent figures in the military, the arts, sport and science. He lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.

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The Night Ferry 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why oh why cant I. Some one please tell me.........
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
super_shiloh More than 1 year ago
I don't know why others rated this book so low on the scale, it was a very interesting read and kept me captivated from start to finish. I picked it up for a pound while traveling abroad in Scotland, and it kept me entertained the entire 12 hr flight back to America. If nothing else, definitely held my interest and opened my eyes to human trafficking. It was one of those books tht makes you think. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The plot, characters, and outcomes of this novel just don't rise to the level required by the situations and issues it purports to address. Barba is a sympathetic character but seems to be in way over her head as she confronts human trafficking, surrogate parenting for the price of freedom, and the seedy world of prostitution (legal and otherwise) on an international level. Of course, these compelling social issues are interwoven with her personal struggles, and the latter are the only issues she is somewhat able to resolve by the novel's end. Not a bad read, but a ride I could have skipped.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a first time reader of Robotham I enjoyed this fast paced book immensely. Lots of layers.