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From the Publisher"The most suspenseful book I read all year."—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
"Pleasantly creepy....plotted with precision and narrated with real intelligence."—The New York Times Book Review
In "the most suspenseful book I read all year" (Stephen King), a psychologist faces off against a killer who destroys his victims from the inside out.
Joe O'Loughlin is in familiar territory-standing on a bridge high above a flooded gorge, trying to stop a distraught woman from jumping. "You don't understand," she whispers, and lets go. Joe is haunted by his failure to save the woman, until her teenage daughter finds him and reveals that her ...
In "the most suspenseful book I read all year" (Stephen King), a psychologist faces off against a killer who destroys his victims from the inside out.
Joe O'Loughlin is in familiar territory-standing on a bridge high above a flooded gorge, trying to stop a distraught woman from jumping. "You don't understand," she whispers, and lets go. Joe is haunted by his failure to save the woman, until her teenage daughter finds him and reveals that her mother would never have committed suicide-not like that. She was terrified of heights.
What could have driven her to commit such a desperate act? Whose voice? What evil?
Having devoted his career to repairing damaged minds, Joe must now confront an adversary who tears them apart. With pitch-perfect dialogue, believable characters, and astonishingly unpredictable plot twists, Shatter is guaranteed to keep even the most avid thriller readers riveted long into the night.
"Pleasantly creepy....plotted with precision and narrated with real intelligence."—The New York Times Book Review
"Pleasantly creepy....plotted with precision and narrated with real intelligence."—The New York Times Book Review
Winner of Australia's Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel, Robotham's compelling fourth thriller (after The Night Ferry) finds clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin and his family in Somerset, where he teaches part-time at the University of Bath. When Joe fails to persuade a suicidal woman not to leap from a bridge to her death, he becomes obsessed with understanding the woman's motives. The woman's grief-stricken teenage daughter tracks down Joe, but the police don't take notice until another woman ends up dead under suspicious circumstances. Joe calls on an old friend, retired London detective inspector Vincent Ruiz, and together they race to catch a killer who uses psychological techniques Joe recognizes from his own practice to destroy people. Robotham smoothly mixes Joe's investigation and personal struggles with glimpses into the killer's mind. Even the sharpest readers may not anticipate all of the plot's agile switchbacks or foresee the chilling climax. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Retired psychologist Joe O'Loughlin is coping with his Parkinson's disease by leading a quiet life with his family on the London outskirts, lecturing at a nearby university. His hopes for peace are dashed, however, when he is literally pulled from a lecture and asked to coax a suicidal woman from a bridge. The woman, naked, in high heels, and talking on a cell phone, seems transfixed by the call and ends up taking her own life. Although it's quickly labeled a suicide by the authorities (for obvious reasons), Joe doesn't agree and sets about trying to solve the mystery, which deepens when a second, similar death occurs. Initially rebuffed by the police, Joe calls in his old friend, retired policeman Vincent Ruiz, whom readers will recognize from Robotham's earlier thrillers Suspect, Lost, and The Night Ferry; Joe also figured in Suspect and Lost, and together they start a harrowing investigation. Robotham once again delivers. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/1/08.]
There is a moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectation, all faith, all desire. I own that moment. It belongs to me. That’s when I hear the sound, the sound of a mind breaking.
It’s not a loud crack like when bones shatter or a spine fractures or a skull collapses. And it’s not something soft and wet like a heart breaking. It’s a sound that makes you wonder how much pain a person can endure; a sound that shatters memories and lets the past leak into the present; a sound so high that only the hounds of hell can hear it.
Can you hear it? Someone is curled up in a tiny ball crying softly into an endless night.
University of Bath
It’s eleven o’clock in the morning, late September, and outside it’s raining so hard that cows are floating down rivers and birds are resting on their bloated bodies.
The lecture theater is full. Tiered seats rise at a gentle angle between the stairs on either side of the auditorium, climbing into darkness. Mine is an audience of pale faces, young and earnest, hung over. Fresher’s Week is in full swing and many of them have waged a mental battle to be here, weighing up whether to attend any lectures or go back to bed. A year ago they were watching teen movies and spilling popcorn. Now they’re living away from home, getting drunk on subsidized alcohol and waiting to learn something.
I walk to the center of the stage and clamp my hands on the lectern as if frightened of falling over.
“My name is Professor Joseph O’Loughlin. I am a clinical psychologist and I’ll be taking you through this introductory course in behavioral psychology.”
Pausing a moment, I blink into the lights. I didn’t think I would be nervous lecturing again but now I suddenly doubt if I have any knowledge worth imparting. I can still hear Bruno Kaufman’s advice. (Bruno is the head of the psychology department at the university and is blessed with a perfect Teutonic name for the role.) He told me, “Nothing we teach them will be of the slightest possible use to them in the real world, old boy. Our task is to offer them a bullshit meter.”
“If they work hard and take a little on board, they will learn to detect when someone is telling them complete bullshit.”
Bruno had laughed and I found myself joining him.
“Go easy on them,” he added. “They’re still clean and perky and well-fed. A year from now they’ll be calling you by your first name and thinking they know it all.”
How do I go easy on them, I want to ask him now. I’m new at this too. Breathing deeply, I begin again.
“Why does a well-spoken university graduate studying urban preservation fly a passenger plane into a skyscraper, killing thousands of people? Why does a boy, barely into his teens, spray a schoolyard with bullets, or a teenage mother give birth in a toilet and leave the baby in the wastepaper bin?”
“How did a hairless primate evolve into a species that manufactures nuclear weapons, watches Celebrity Big Brother and asks questions about what it means to be human and how we got here? Why do we cry? Why are some jokes funny? Why are we inclined to believe or disbelieve in God? Why do we get turned on when someone sucks our toes? Why do we have trouble remembering some things, yet can’t get that annoying Britney Spears song out of our heads? What causes us to love or hate? Why are we each so different?”
I look at the faces in the front rows. I have captured their attention, for a moment at least.
“We humans have been studying ourselves for thousands of years, producing countless theories and philosophies and astonishing works of art and engineering and original thought, yet in all that time this is how much we’ve learned.” I hold up my thumb and forefinger a fraction of an inch apart.
“You’re here to learn about psychology—the science of the mind; the science that deals with knowing, believing, feeling and desiring; the least understood science of them all.”
My left arm trembles at my side.
“Did you see that?” I ask, raising the offending arm. “It does that occasionally. Sometimes I think it has a mind of its own but of course that’s impossible. One’s mind doesn’t reside in an arm or a leg.
“Let me ask you all a question. A woman walks into a clinic. She is middle-aged, well-educated, articulate and well-groomed. Suddenly, her left arm leaps to her throat and her fingers close around her windpipe. Her face reddens. Her eyes bulge. She is being strangled. Her right hand comes to her rescue. It peels back the fingers and wrestles her left hand to her side. What should I do?”
A girl in the front row nervously raises her arm. She has short reddish hair separated in feathery wisps down the fluted back of her neck. “Take a detailed history?”
“It’s been done. She has no history of mental illness.”
Another hand rises. “It is an issue of self-harm.”
“Obviously, but she doesn’t choose to strangle herself. It is unwanted. Disturbing. She wants help.”
A girl with heavy mascara brushes hair behind her ear with one hand. “Perhaps she’s suicidal.”
“Her left hand is. Her right hand obviously doesn’t agree. It’s like a Monty Python sketch. Sometimes she has to sit on her left hand to keep it under control.”
“Is she depressed?” asks a youth with a gypsy earring and gel in his hair.
“No. She’s frightened but she can see the funny side of her predicament. It seems ridiculous to her. Yet at her worst moments she contemplates amputation. What if her left hand strangles her in the night, when her right hand is asleep?”
“There are no obvious neurological deficits—no paralysis or exaggerated reflexes.”
The silence stretches out, filling the air above their heads, drifting like strands of web in the warm air.
A voice from the darkness fills the vacuum. “She had a stroke.”
I recognize the voice. Bruno has come to check up on me on my first day. I can’t see his face in the shadows but I know he’s smiling.
“Give that man a cigar,” I announce.
The keen girl in the front row pouts. “But you said there was no brain damage.”
“I said there were no obvious neurological deficits. This woman had suffered a small stroke on the right side of her brain in an area that deals with emotions. Normally, the two halves of our brain communicate and come to an agreement but in this case it didn’t happen and her brain fought a physical battle using each side of her body.
“This case is fifty years old and is one of the most famous in the study of the brain. It helped a neurologist called Dr. Kurt Goldstein develop one of the first theories of the divided brain.”
My left arm trembles again, but this time it is oddly reassuring.
“Forget everything you’ve been told about psychology. It will not make you a better poker player, nor will it help you pick up girls or understand them any better. I have three at home and they are a complete mystery to me.
“It is not about dream interpretation, ESP, multiple personalities, mind-reading, Rorschach Tests, phobias, recovered memories or repression. And most importantly—it is not about getting in touch with yourself. If that’s your ambition I suggest you buy a copy of Big Jugs magazine and find a quiet corner.”
There are snorts of laughter.
“I don’t know any of you yet, but I know things about you. Some of you want to stand out from the crowd and others want to blend in. You’re possibly looking at the clothes your mother packed you and planning an expedition to H&M tomorrow to purchase something distressed by a machine that will express your individuality by making you look like everyone else on campus.
“Others among you might be wondering if it’s possible to get liver damage from one night of drinking, and speculating on who set off the fire alarm in Halls at three o’clock this morning. You want to know if I’m a hard marker or if I’ll give you extensions on assignments or whether you should have taken politics instead of psychology. Stick around and you’ll get some answers—but not today.”
I walk back to the center of the stage and stumble slightly.
“I will leave you with one thought. A piece of human brain the size of a grain of sand contains one hundred thousand neurons, two million axons and one billion synapses all talking to each other. The number of permutations and combinations of activity that are theoretically possible in each of our heads exceeds the number of elementary particles in the universe.”
I pause and let the numbers wash over them. “Welcome to the great unknown.”
“Dazzling, old boy, you put the fear of God into them,” says Bruno, as I gather my papers. “Ironic. Passionate. Amusing. You inspired them.”
“It was hardly Mr. Chips.”
“Don’t be so modest. None of these young philistines have ever heard of Mr. Chips. They’ve grown up reading Harry Potter and the Stoned Philosopher.”
“I think it’s ‘the Philosopher’s Stone.’ ”
“Whatever. With that little affectation of yours, Joseph, you have everything it takes to be much loved.”
He doesn’t bat an eyelid when I stare at him in disbelief. I tuck my battered briefcase under my arm and make my way towards the side door of the lecture hall.
“Well, I’m pleased you think they were listening,” I say.
“Oh, they never listen,” says Bruno. “It’s a matter of osmosis; occasionally something sinks through the alcoholic haze. But you did guarantee they’ll come back.”
“They won’t know how to lie to you.”
His eyes fold into wrinkles. Bruno is wearing trousers that have no pockets. For some reason I’ve never trusted a man who has no use for pockets. What does he do with his hands?
The corridors and walkways are full of students. A girl approaches. I recognize her from the lecture. Clear-skinned, wearing desert boots and black jeans, her heavy mascara makes her look raccoon-eyed with a secret sadness.
“Do you believe in evil, Professor?”
She asks the question again, clutching a notebook to her chest.
“I think the word ‘evil’ is used too often and has lost value.”
“Are people born that way or does society create them?”
“They are created.”
“So there are no natural psychopaths?”
“They’re too rare to quantify.”
“What sort of answer is that?”
“It’s the right one.”
She wants to ask me something else but struggles to find courage. “Would you agree to an interview?” she blurts suddenly.
“The student newspaper. Professor Kaufman says you’re something of a celebrity.”
“I hardly think…”
“He says you were charged with murdering a former patient and beat the rap.”
“I was innocent.”
The distinction seems lost on her. She’s still waiting for an answer.
“I don’t give interviews. I’m sorry.”
She shrugs and turns, about to leave. Something else occurs to her. “I enjoyed the lecture.”
She disappears down the corridor. Bruno looks at me sheepishly. “Don’t know what she’s talking about, old boy. Wrong end of the stick.”
“What are you telling people?”
“Only good things. Her name is Nancy Ewers. She’s a bright young thing. Studying Russian and politics.”
“Why is she writing for the newspaper?”
“ ‘Knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use.’ ”
“Who said that?”
“A. E. Housman.”
“Wasn’t he a communist?”
It is still raining. Teeming. For weeks it has been like this. Forty days and forty nights must be getting close. An oily wave of mud, debris and sludge is being swept across the West Country, making roads impassable and turning basements into swimming pools. There are radio reports of flooding in the Malago Valley, Hartcliffe Way and Bedminster. Warnings have been issued for the Avon, which burst its banks at Evesham. Locks and levees are under threat. People are being evacuated. Animals are drowning.
The quadrangle is washed by rain, driven sideways in sheets. Students huddle under coats and umbrellas, making a dash for their next lecture or the library. Others are staying put, mingling in the foyer. Bruno observes the prettier girls without ever making it obvious.
It was he who suggested I lecture—two hours a week and four tutorials of half an hour each. Behavioral psychology. How hard could it be?
“Do you have an umbrella?” he asks.
My shoes are full of water within seconds. Bruno holds the umbrella and shoulders me as we run. As we near the psychology department, I notice a police car parked in the emergency bay. A young black constable steps from inside wearing a raincoat. Tall, with short-cropped hair, he hunches his shoulders slightly as if beaten down by the rain.
Bruno acknowledges him with a half-nod.
“We have a situation on the Clifton Bridge.”
Bruno groans. “No, no, not now.”
The constable doesn’t expect a refusal. Bruno pushes past him, heading towards the glass doors to the psychology building, still holding my umbrella.
“We tried to phone,” yells the officer. “I was told to come and get you.”
Bruno stops and turns back, muttering expletives.
“There must be someone else. I don’t have the time.”
Rain leaks down my neck. I ask Bruno what’s wrong.
Suddenly he changes tack. Jumping over a puddle, he returns my umbrella as though passing on the Olympic torch.
“This is the man you really want,” he says to the officer. “Professor Joseph O’Loughlin, my esteemed colleague, a clinical psychologist of great repute. An old hand. Very experienced at this sort of thing.”
“What sort of thing?”
“On the Clifton Suspension Bridge,” adds Bruno. “Some halfwit doesn’t have enough sense to get out of the rain.”
The constable opens the car door for me. “Female. Early forties,” he says.
I still don’t understand.
Bruno adds, “Come on, old boy. It’s a public service.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“Important business. A meeting with the chancellor. Heads of Department.” He’s lying. “False modesty isn’t necessary, old boy. What about that young chap you saved in London? Well-deserved plaudits. You’re far more qualified than me. Don’t worry. She’ll most likely jump before you get there.”
I wonder if he hears himself sometimes.
“Must dash. Good luck.” He pushes through the glass doors and disappears inside the building.
The officer is still holding the car door. “They’ve blocked off the bridge,” he explains. “We really must hurry, sir.”
Wipers thrash and a siren wails. From inside the car it sounds strangely muted and I keep looking over my shoulder expecting to see an approaching police car. It takes me a moment to realize that the siren is coming from somewhere closer, beneath the bonnet.
Masonry towers appear on the skyline. It is Brunel’s masterpiece, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, an engineering marvel from the age of steam. Taillights blaze. Traffic is stretched back for more than a mile on the approach. Sticking to the apron of the road, we sweep past the stationary cars and pull up at a roadblock where police in fluorescent vests control onlookers and unhappy motorists.
The constable opens the door for me and hands me my umbrella. A sheet of rain drives sideways and almost rips it from my hands. Ahead of me the bridge appears deserted. The masonry towers support massive sweeping interlinking cables that curve gracefully to the vehicle deck and rise again to the opposite side of the river.
One of the attributes of bridges is that they offer the possibility that someone may start to cross but never reach the other side. For that person the bridge is virtual; an open window that they can keep passing or climb through.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a landmark, a tourist attraction and a one-drop shop for suicides. Well-used, oft-chosen, perhaps “popular” isn’t the best choice of word. Some people say the bridge is haunted by past suicides; eerie shadows have been seen drifting across the vehicle deck.
There are no shadows today. And the only ghost on the bridge is flesh and blood. A woman, naked, standing outside the safety fence, with her back pressed to the metal lattice and wire strands. The heels of her red shoes are balancing on the edge.
Like a figure from a surrealist painting, her nakedness isn’t particularly shocking or even out of place. Standing upright, with a rigid grace, she stares at the water with the demeanor of someone who has detached herself from the world.
The officer in charge introduces himself. He’s in uniform: Sergeant Abernathy. I don’t catch his first name. A junior officer holds an umbrella over his head. Water streams off the dark nylon dome, falling on my shoes.
“What do you need?” asks Abernathy.
“We don’t have one. She won’t talk to us.”
“Has she said anything at all?”
“She could be in shock. Where are her clothes?”
“We haven’t found them.”
I glance along the pedestrian walkway, which is enclosed by a fence topped with five strands of wire, making it difficult for anyone to climb over. The rain is so heavy I can barely see the far side of the bridge.
“How long has she been out there?”
“Best part of an hour.”
“Have you found a car?”
“We’re still looking.”
She most likely approached from the eastern side which is heavily wooded. Even if she stripped on the walkway dozens of drivers must have seen her. Why didn’t anyone stop her?
A large woman with short cropped hair, dyed black, interrupts the meeting. Her shoulders are rounded and her hands bunch in the pockets of a rain jacket hanging down to her knees. She’s huge. Square. And she’s wearing men’s shoes.
Abernathy stiffens. “What are you doing here, ma’am?”
“Just trying to get home, Sergeant. And don’t call me ma’am. I’m not the bloody Queen.”
She glances at the TV crews and press photographers who have gathered on a grassy ridge, setting up tripods and lights. Finally she turns to me.
“What are you shaking for, precious? I’m not that scary.”
“I’m sorry. I have Parkinson’s Disease.”
“Tough break. Does that mean you get a sticker?”
“Disabled parking. Lets you park almost anywhere. It’s almost as good as being a detective only we get to shoot people and drive fast.”
She’s obviously a more senior police officer than Abernathy.
She looks towards the bridge. “You’ll be fine, Doc, don’t be nervous.”
“I’m a professor, not a doctor.”
“Shame. You could be like Doctor Who and I could be your female sidekick. Tell me something, how do you think the Daleks managed to conquer so much of the universe when they couldn’t even climb stairs?”
“I guess it’s one of life’s great mysteries.”
“I got loads of them.”
A two-way radio is being threaded beneath my jacket and a reflective harness loops over my shoulders and clips at the front. The woman detective lights a cigarette and pinches a strand of tobacco from the tip of her tongue. Although not in charge of the operation, she’s so naturally dominant that the uniformed officers seem more ready to react to her every word.
“You want me to go with you?” she asks.
“I’ll be OK.”
“All right, tell Skinny Minnie I’ll buy her a low-fat muffin if she steps onto our side of the fence.”
“I’ll do that.”
Temporary barricades have blocked off both approaches to the bridge, which is deserted except for two ambulances and waiting paramedics. Motorists and spectators have gathered beneath umbrellas and coats. Some have scrambled up a grassy bank to get a better vantage point.
Rain bounces off the tarmac, exploding in miniature mushroom clouds before coursing through gutters and pouring off the edges of the bridge in a curtain of water.
Ducking under the barricades, I begin walking across the bridge. My hands are out of my pockets. My left arm refuses to swing. It does that sometimes—fails to get with the plan.
I can see the woman ahead of me. From a distance her skin had looked flawless, but now I notice that her thighs are crisscrossed with scratches and streaked with mud. Her pubic hair is a dark triangle: darker than her hair, which is woven into a loose plait that falls down the nape of her neck. There is something else—letters written on her stomach. A word. I can see it when she turns towards me.
Why the self-abuse? Why naked? This is public humiliation. Perhaps she had an affair and lost someone she loves. Now she wants to punish herself to prove she’s sorry. Or it could be a threat—the ultimate game of brinkmanship—“leave me and I’ll kill myself.”
No, this is too extreme. Too dangerous. Teenagers sometimes threaten self-harm in failing relationships. It’s a sign of emotional immaturity. This woman is in her late thirties or early forties with fleshy thighs and cellulite forming faint depressions on her buttocks and hips. I notice a scar. A cesarean. She’s a mother.
I am close to her now. A matter of feet and inches.
Her buttocks and back are pressed hard against the fence. Her left arm is wrapped around an upper strand of wire. The other fist is holding a mobile phone against her ear.
“Hello. My name is Joe. What’s yours?”
She doesn’t answer. Buffeted by a gust of wind, she seems to lose her balance and rock forward. The wire is cutting into the crook of her arm. She pulls herself back.
Her lips are moving. She’s talking to someone on the phone. I need her attention.
“Just tell me your name. That’s not so hard. You can call me Joe and I’ll call you…”
Wind pushes hair over her right eye. Only her left is visible.
A gnawing uncertainty expands in my stomach. Why the high heels? Has she been to a nightclub? It’s too late in the day. Is she drunk? Drugged? Ecstasy can cause psychosis. LSD. Ice, perhaps.
I catch snippets of her conversation.
“No. No. Please. No.”
“Who’s on the phone?” I ask.
“I will. I promise. I’ve done everything. Please don’t ask me…”
“Listen to me. You won’t want to do this.”
I glance down. More than two hundred feet below a fat-bellied boat nudges against the current, held by its engines. The swollen river claws at the gorse and hawthorn on the lower banks. A confetti of rubbish swirls on the surface: books, branches and plastic bottles.
“You must be cold. I have a blanket.”
Again she doesn’t answer. I need her to acknowledge me. A nod of the head or a single word of affirmation is enough. I need to know that she’s listening.
“Perhaps I could try to put it around your shoulders—just to keep you warm.”
Her head snaps towards me and she sways forward as if ready to let go. I pause in mid-stride.
“OK, I won’t come any closer. I’ll stay right here. Just tell me your name.”
She raises her face to the sky, blinking into the rain like a prisoner standing in a exercise yard, enjoying a brief moment of freedom.
“Whatever’s wrong, whatever has happened to you or has upset you, we can talk about it. I’m not taking the choice away from you. I just want to understand why.”
Her toes are dropping and she has to force herself up onto her heels to keep her balance. The lactic acid is building in her muscles. Her calves must be in agony.
“I have seen people jump,” I tell her. “You shouldn’t think it is a painless way of dying. I’ll tell you what happens. It will take less than three seconds to reach the water. By then you will be traveling at about seventy-five miles per hour. Your ribs will break and the jagged edges will puncture your internal organs. Sometimes the heart is compressed by the impact and tears away from the aorta so that your chest will fill with blood.”
Her gaze is now fixed on the water. I know she’s listening.
“Your arms and legs will survive intact but the cervical discs in your neck or the lumbar discs in your spine will most likely rupture. It will not be pretty. It will not be painless. Someone will have to pick you up. Someone will have to identify your body. Someone will be left behind.”
High in the air comes a booming sound. Rolling thunder. The air vibrates and the earth seems to tremble. Something is coming.
Her eyes have turned to mine.
“You don’t understand,” she whispers to me, lowering the phone. For the briefest of moments it dangles at the end of her fingers, as if trying to cling onto her and then tumbles away, disappearing into the void.
The air darkens and a half-formed image comes to mind—a gape-mouthed melting figure screaming in despair. Her buttocks are no longer pressing against the metal. Her arm is no longer wrapped around the wire.
She doesn’t fight gravity. Arms and legs do not flail or clutch at the air. She’s gone. Silently, dropping from view.
Everything seems to stop, as if the world has missed a heartbeat or been trapped in between the pulsations. Then everything begins moving again. Paramedics and police officers are dashing past me. People are screaming and crying. I turn away and walk back towards the barricades, wondering if this isn’t part of a dream.
They are gazing at where she fell. Asking the same question, or thinking it. Why didn’t I save her? Their eyes diminish me. I can’t look at them.
My left leg locks and I fall onto my hands and knees, staring into a black puddle. I pick myself up again and push through the crowd, ducking beneath the barricade.
Stumbling along the side of the road, I splash through a shallow drain, swatting away raindrops. Denuded trees reach across the sky, leaning towards me accusingly. Ditches gurgle and foam. The line of vehicles is an unmoving stream. I hear motorists talking to each other. One of them yells to me.
“Did she jump? What happened? When are they going to open the road?”
I keep walking, my gaze fixed furiously ahead, my left arm no longer swinging. Blood hums in my ears. Perhaps it was my face that made her do it. The Parkinson’s Mask, like cooling bronze. Did she see something or not see something?
Lurching towards the gutter, I lean over the safety rail and vomit until my stomach is empty.
There’s a guy on the bridge puking his guts out, on his knees, talking to a puddle like it’s listening. Breakfast. Lunch. Gone. If something round, brown and hairy comes up, I hope he swallows hard.
People are swarming across the bridge, staring over the side. They watched my angel fall. She was like a puppet whose strings had been cut, tumbling over and over, loose limbs and ligaments, naked as the day she was born.
I gave them a show; a high-wire act; a woman on the edge stepping into the void. Did you hear her mind breaking? Did you see the way the trees blurred behind her like a green waterfall? Time seemed to stop.
I reach into the back pocket of my jeans and draw out a steel comb, raking it through my hair, creating tiny tracks front to back, evenly spaced. I don’t take my eyes off the bridge. I press my forehead to the window and watch the swooping cables turned blue in the flashing lights.
Droplets are darting down the outside of the glass driven by gusts that rattle the panes. It’s getting dark. I wish I could see the water from here. Did she float or go straight to the bottom? How many bones were broken? Did her bowels empty the moment before she died?
The turret room is part of a Georgian house that belongs to an Arab who has gone away for the winter. A rich wanker dipped in oil. It used to be an old boardinghouse until he had it tarted up. It’s two streets back from Avon Gorge, which I can see over the rooftops from the turret room.
I wonder who he is—the man on the bridge? He came with the tall police constable and he walked with a strange limp, one arm sawing at the air while the other didn’t move from his side. A negotiator perhaps. A psychologist. Not a lover of heights.
He tried to talk her down but she wasn’t listening. She was listening to me. That’s the difference between a professional and a fucking amateur. I know how to open a mind. I can bend it or break it. I can close it down for the winter. I can fuck it in a thousand different ways.
I once worked with a guy called Hopper, a big redneck from Alabama, who used to puke at the sight of blood. He was a former marine and he was always telling us that the deadliest weapon in the world was a marine and his rifle. Unless he’s puking, of course.
Hopper had a hard-on for films and was always quoting from Full Metal Jacket—the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman character, who bellowed at recruits, calling them maggots and scumbags and pieces of amphibian shit.
Hopper wasn’t observant enough to be an interrogator. He was a bully, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to know people—what frightens them, how they think, what they cling to when they’re in trouble. You’ve got to watch and listen. People reveal themselves in a thousand different ways. In the clothes they wear, their shoes, their hands, their voices, the pauses and hesitations, the tics and gestures. Listen and see.
My eyes drift above the bridge to the pearl-gray clouds still crying for my angel. She did look beautiful when she fell, like a dove with a broken wing or a plump pigeon shot with an air rifle.
I used to shoot pigeons as a kid. Our neighbor, old Mr. Hewitt who lived across the fence, had a pigeon loft and used to race them. They were proper homing pigeons and he’d take them away on trips and let them go. I’d sit in my bedroom window and wait for them to come home. The silly old bastard couldn’t work out why so many of them didn’t make it.
I’m going to sleep well tonight. I have silenced one whore and sent a message to the others.
To the one…
She’ll come back just like a homing pigeon. And I’ll be waiting.
A muddy Land Rover pulls onto the verge, skidding slightly on the loose gravel. The woman detective I met on the bridge leans across and opens the passenger door. Hinges groan in protest. I’m wet. My shoes are covered in vomit. She tells me not to worry.
Pulling back onto the road, she rips through stiff gears wrestling the Land Rover around corners. For the next few miles we sit in silence. “I’m Detective Inspector Veronica Cray. Friends call me Ronnie.”
She pauses for a moment to see if the irony of the name registers. Ronnie and Reggie Kray were legendary East End hard men back in the sixties.
“It’s Cray with a ‘C’ not a ‘K,’ ” she adds. “My grandfather changed the spelling because he didn’t want anyone thinking we were related to a family of violent psychopaths.”
“So that means you are related?” I ask.
“A distant cousin—something like that.”
Wipers slap hard against the bottom edge of the windscreen. The car smells vaguely of horse manure and wet hay.
“I met Ronnie once,” I tell her. “It was just before he died. I was doing a study for the Home Office.”
“Where was he?”
“The psychiatric prison.”
“That’s the place.”
“What was he like?”
“Old school. Well-mannered.”
“Yeah, I know the sort—very good to his mother,” she laughs.
We sit in silence for another mile.
“I once heard a story that when Ronnie died the pathologist removed his brain because they were going to do experiments. The family found out and demanded the brain back. They gave it a separate funeral. I’ve always wondered what you do at a funeral for a brain.”
She drums her fingers on the steering wheel.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know, back there on the bridge.”
I don’t answer.
“Skinny Minnie made the decision to jump before you even stepped up to the plate. She didn’t want to be saved.”
My eyes wrench to the left, out the window. Night is closing in. No views remain.
She drops me at the university, holding out her hand to shake mine. Short nails. A firm grip. We pull apart. Flat against my palm is a business card.
“My home number is on the back,” she says. “Let’s get drunk sometime.”
My mobile has been turned off. There are three messages from Julianne on my voicemail. Her train from London arrived more than an hour ago. Her voice changes from angry to concerned to urgent with each new message.
I haven’t seen her in three days. She’s been in Rome on business with her boss, an American venture capitalist. My brilliant wife speaks four languages and has become a corporate high-flyer.
She is sitting on her suitcase working on her PDA when I pull into the pickup zone.
“You need a ride?” I ask.
“I’m waiting for my husband,” she replies. “He should have been here an hour ago but didn’t show up. Didn’t call. He won’t turn up now without a very good excuse.”
“That’s an apology, not an excuse.”
“I should have called.”
“That’s stating the obvious. It’s still not an excuse.”
“How about if I offer you an explanation, a groveling apology and a foot rub.”
“You only give me foot rubs when you want sex.”
I want to protest but she’s right. Getting out of the car, I feel the cold pavement through my socks.
“Where are your shoes?”
I look down at my feet.
“They had vomit on them.”
“Someone vomited on you.”
“You’re drenched. What happened?” Our hands are touching on the handle of the suitcase.
“A suicide. I couldn’t talk her down. She jumped.”
She puts her arms around me. There is a smell about her. Something different. Wood smoke. Rich food. Wine.
“I’m so sorry, Joe. It must have been awful. Do you know anything about her?”
I shake my head.
“How did you get involved?”
“They came to the university. I wish I could have saved her.”
“You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know her. You didn’t know her problems.”
Dodging the oily puddles, I put her case in the boot and open the driver’s door for her. She slips behind the steering wheel, adjusting her skirt. She does it automatically nowadays—takes over the driving. In profile I see an eyelash brush against her cheek as she blinks and the pink shell of her ear poking through her hair. God, she’s beautiful.
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her in a pub near Trafalgar Square. She was doing first-year languages at the University of London and I was a post-grad student. She’d witnessed one of my best moments, a soapbox sermon on the evils of apartheid outside the South African Embassy. I’m sure that somewhere in the bowels of MI5 there’s a transcript of that speech along with a photograph of yours truly sporting a handlebar moustache and high-waisted jeans.
After the rally we went to a pub and Julianne came up and introduced herself. I offered to buy her a drink and tried not to stare at her. She had a dark freckle on her bottom lip that was utterly mesmerizing… it still is. My eyes are drawn to it when I speak to her and my lips are drawn to it when we kiss.
I didn’t have to woo Julianne with candlelit dinners or flowers. She chose me. And by next morning, I swear this is true, we were plotting our life together over Marmite soldiers and cups of tea. I love her for so many reasons but mostly because she’s on my side and by my side and because her heart is big enough for both of us. She makes me better, braver, stronger; she allows me to dream; she holds me together.
We head along the A37 towards Frome, between the hedgerows, fences and walls.
“How did the lecture go?”
“Bruno Kaufman thought it was inspired.”
“You’re going to be a great teacher.”
“According to Bruno, my Parkinson’s is a bonus. It creates an assumption of sincerity.”
“Don’t talk like that,” she says, crossly. “You’re the most sincere man I’ve ever known.”
“It was a joke.”
“Well, it’s not funny. This Bruno sounds cynical and sarcastic. I don’t know whether I like him.”
“He can be very charming. You’ll see.”
She’s not convinced. I change the subject. “So how was your trip?”
She begins telling me about how her company is negotiating to buy a string of radio stations in Italy on behalf of a company in Germany. There must be something interesting about this but I turn off well before she reaches that point. After nine months, I still can’t remember the names of her colleagues or her boss. Worse still, I can never imagine remembering them.
The car pulls into a parking space outside a house in Wellow. I decide to put on my shoes.
“I phoned Mrs. Logan and told her we’d be late,” Julianne says.
“How did she sound?”
“Same as ever.”
“I’m sure she thinks we’re the worst parents in the world. You’re an über-career woman and I’m a… I’m a…”
“That’ll do it.”
We both laugh.
Mrs. Logan looks after Emma, our three-year-old, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Now that I’m lecturing at the university we need a full-time nanny. I’m interviewing on Monday.
Emma charges to the door and wraps her arms around my leg. Mrs. Logan is in the hallway. Her XL T-shirt hangs straight from her breasts covering a bump of uncertainty. I can never work out if she’s pregnant or fat so I keep my mouth shut.
“I’m sorry we’re late,” I explain. “An emergency. It won’t happen again.”
She takes Emma’s coat from a hook and thrusts her bag into my arms. The silent treatment is pretty normal. I lift Emma onto my hip. She’s clutching a crayon drawing—a scribble of lines and blotches.
“For you, Daddy.”
“It’s wonderful. What is it?”
“I know that. What is it a drawing of?”
“It’s just a drawing.”
She has her mother’s ability to state the obvious and make me look foolish.
Julianne takes her from me, giving her a cuddle. “You’ve grown in four days.”
“Indeed you are.”
“She’s at home, sweetheart.”
Charlie is our eldest. She’s twelve going on twenty-one.
Julianne straps Emma in her car seat and I put on her favorite CD, which features four middle-aged Australian men in Teletubby-colored tops. She babbles from the back seat, pulling off her socks because she likes to go native.
I guess we’ve all gone a little native since we moved out of London. It was Julianne’s idea. She said it would be less stressful for me, which is true. Cheaper houses. Good schools. More room for the girls. The usual arguments.
Our friends thought we were crazy. Somerset? You can’t be serious. It’s full of Aga louts and the green wellie brigade who go to Pony Club meetings and drive four-by-fours towing heated horse floats.
Charlie didn’t want to leave her friends but came round when she saw the possibility of owning a horse, which is still under negotiation. So now we’re living here, in the wilds of the West Country, being treated like blow-ins by locals who will never entirely trust us until four generations of O’Loughlins are buried in the village churchyard.
The cottage is lit up like a uni dormitory. Charlie is yet to equate her desire to save the planet with turning off the lights when she leaves a room. Now she’s standing at the front gate with her hands on hips.
“I saw Dad on TV. Just now… on the news.”
“You never watch the news,” says Julianne.
“Sometimes I do. A woman jumped off a bridge.”
“Your father doesn’t want to be reminded…”
I lift Emma from the car. She immediately wraps her arms around my neck like a koala clinging to a tree.
Charlie continues telling Julianne about the news report. Why are children so fascinated by death? Dead birds. Dead animals. Dead insects.
“How was school?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
Charlie rolls her eyes. I have asked her this same question every afternoon of every school day since she started kindergarten. She gave up answering long ago.
The house is suddenly filled with noise and industry. Julianne starts dinner while I bath Emma and spend ten minutes looking for her pajamas while she runs naked in and out of Charlie’s room.
I call downstairs, “I can’t find Emma’s pajamas.”
“In her top drawer.”
“Under her pillow.”
I know what’s going to happen. Julianne will come all the way upstairs and discover the pajamas sitting right in front of me. It’s called “domestic blindness.” She yells to Charlie. “Help your father find Emma’s pajamas.”
Emma wants a bedtime story. I have to make one up involving a princess, a fairy and a talking donkey. That’s what happens when you give a three-year-old creative control. I kiss her good night and leave her door partly open.
Supper. A glass of wine. I do the dishes. Julianne falls asleep on the sofa and apologizes dreamily as I coax her upstairs and run her a bath.
These are our best nights, when we haven’t seen one another for a few days; touching, brushing against each other, almost unable to wait until Charlie is in bed.
“Do you know why she jumped?” asks Julianne, slipping into the bath. I sit on the edge of the tub, trying to keep contact with her eyes. My gaze wants to drift lower to where her nipples are poking through the bubbles.
“She wouldn’t talk to me.”
“She must have been very sad.”
“Yes, she must have been.”
Midnight. It is raining again. Water gurgles in the downpipes outside our bedroom window, sliding down the hill into a stream that has become a river and covered the causeway and stone bridge.
I used to love being awake when my girls were sleeping. It made me feel like a guardian, watching over them, keeping them safe. Tonight is different. Every time I shut my eyes I see images of a tumbling body and the ground opens up beneath me.
Julianne wakes once and slides her hand across the sheets and onto my chest, as if trying to still my heart.
“It’s all right,” she whispers. “You’re here with me.”
Her eyes haven’t opened. Her hand slides away.
At six in the morning I take a small white pill. My leg is twitching like a dog in the midst of a dream, chasing rabbits in its sleep. Slowly it becomes still. In Parkinson’s parlance, I am now “on.” The medication has kicked in.
It is four years since my left hand gave me the message. It wasn’t written down, or typed or printed on fancy paper. It was an unconscious, random flicker of my fingers, a twitch, a ghost movement, a shadow made real. Unknown to me then, working in secret, my brain had begun divorcing my mind. It has been a long drawn-out separation with no legal argument over division of assets—who gets the CD collection and Aunt Grace’s antique sideboard?
The divorce began with my left hand and spread to my arm and my leg and my head. Now it feels as if my body is being owned and operated by someone else who looks like me, only less familiar.
When I look at old home movies I can see the changes even two years before the diagnosis. I’m on the sidelines, watching Charlie play football. My shoulders are canted forwards, as though I’m braced against a cold wind. Is it the beginning of a stoop?
I have been through the five stages of grief and mourning. I have denied it, ranted at the unfairness, made pacts with God, crawled into a dark hole and finally accepted my fate. I have a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder. I will not use the word incurable. There is a cure. They just haven’t found it yet. In the meantime, the divorce continues.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve come to terms with it now; that I’m happier than ever before; that I have embraced life, made new friends and become spiritual and fulfilled. I wish.
We have a falling-down cottage, a cat, a duck and two hamsters, Bill and Ben, who may in fact be girls. (The pet shop owner didn’t seem exactly sure.)
“It’s important,” I told him.
“I have enough women in my house.”
According to our neighbor, Mrs. Nutall (if ever a name suited…), we also have a resident ghost, a past occupant who apparently fell down the stairs after hearing her husband had died in the Great War.
I’m always amazed by that term: the Great War. What was so great about it? Eight million soldiers died and a similar number of civilians. It’s like the Great Depression. Can’t we call it something else?
We live in a village called Wellow, five and a half miles from Bath Spa. It’s one of those quaint, postcard-sized clusters of buildings, which barely seem big enough to hold their own history. The village pub, the Fox & Badger, is two hundred years old and has a resident dwarf. How rustic is that?
We no longer have learner drivers reversing into our drive or dogs crapping on the footpath or car alarms blaring in the street. We have neighbors now. In London we had them too but pretended they didn’t exist. Here they drop by to borrow garden tools and cups of flour. They even share their political opinions, which is a total anathema to anyone living in London unless you’re a cab driver or a politician.
I don’t know what I expected of Somerset but this will do. And if I sound sentimental, please forgive me. Mr. Parkinson is to blame. Some people think sentimentality is an unearned emotion. Not mine. I pay for it every day.
The rain has eased to a drizzle. The world is wet enough. Holding a jacket over my head I open the back gate and head up the footpath. Mrs. Nutall is unblocking a drain in her garden. She’s wearing her hair in curlers and her feet in Wellingtons.
“Good morning,” I say.
“Rain might be clearing.”
“Fuck off and die.”
According to Hector, the publican at the Fox & Badger, Mrs. Nutall has nothing against me personally. Apparently, a previous owner of our cottage promised to marry her but ran off instead with the postmaster’s wife. That was forty-five years ago and Mrs. Nutall hasn’t forgiven or forgotten. Whoever owns the cottage owns the blame.
Dodging the puddles, I follow the footpath to the village store, trying not to drip on the stacks of newspapers inside the door. Starting with the broadsheets, I flick through the pages, looking for a mention of what happened yesterday. There are photographs, but the story makes only a few paragraphs. Suicides make poor headlines because editors fear a contagion of copycats.
“If you’re going to read ’em here I’ll bring you a comfy chair and a cup of tea,” says Eric Vaile, the shopkeeper, peering up from a copy of the Daily Mirror spread beneath his tattooed forearms.
“I was just looking for something,” I explain, apologetically.
“Your wallet, perhaps.”
Eric looks like he should be running a dockside pub rather than a village shop. His wife, Gina, a nervous woman who flinches whenever Eric moves too suddenly, emerges from the storeroom. She’s carrying a tray of soft drinks, almost buckling under the weight. Eric steps back to let her pass before planting his elbows on the counter again.
“Saw you on the TV,” he grunts. “Could’ve told you she was gonna jump. I could see it coming.”
I don’t answer. It won’t make any difference. He’s not going to stop.
“Tell me this, eh? If people are going to top themselves, why don’t they have the decency to do it somewhere private, instead of blocking traffic and costing taxpayers money?”
“She was obviously very troubled,” I mumble.
“Gutless, you mean.”
“It takes a lot of courage to jump off a bridge.”
“Courage,” he scoffs.
I glance at Gina. “And it takes even more courage to ask for help.”
She looks away.
Mid-morning I call Bristol Police Headquarters and ask for Sergeant Abernathy. The rain has finally stopped. I can see a patch of blue above the tree line and the faint traces of a rainbow.
Gravel and phlegm down the phone: “What do you want, Professor?”
“I apologize for yesterday—leaving so suddenly. I wasn’t feeling well.”
“Must be catching.”
Abernathy doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m unprofessional or inept. I’ve met coppers like him before—warrior types who think they’re separate from normal society, above it.
“We need a statement,” he says. “There’ll be an inquest.”
“You’ve identified her?”
There’s a pause. My silence irritates him.
“In case it escaped your attention, Professor, she wasn’t wearing any clothes, which means she wasn’t carrying any identification.”
“Of course. I understand. It’s just—”
“I thought somebody would have reported her missing by now. She was so well groomed: her hair, her eyebrows, her bikini line; her fingernails were manicured. She spent time and money on herself. She’s likely to have friends, a job, people who care about her.”
Abernathy must be taking notes. I can hear him scribbling. “What else can you tell me?”
“She had a cesarean scar, which means children. Given her age, they’re probably school age by now. Primary or secondary.”
“Did she say anything to you?”
“She was talking to someone on a mobile phone—pleading with them.”
“Pleading for what?”
“I don’t know.”
“And that’s all she said?”
“She said I wouldn’t understand.”
“Well, she got that much right.”
This case annoys Abernathy because it isn’t straightforward. Until he has a name, he can’t gather the required statements and hand it over to the coroner.
“When do you want me to come in?”
“Can’t it wait?”
“If I’m working Saturday, so can you.”
Avon and Somerset Police Headquarters is in Portishead on the Severn Estuary, nine miles west of Bristol. The architects and planners were perhaps laboring under the misapprehension that if they built a police headquarters a long way from the crime-ridden pockets of inner-city Bristol, the perpetrators might relocate and join them. If we build it—they will come.
The skies have cleared, but the fields are still flooded and fence posts stick out of the brackish water like the masts of sunken ships. On the outskirts of Saltford, on the Bath Road, I see a dozen cows huddling on an island of grass surrounded by water. A broken bale of hay is scattered beneath their hooves.
Elsewhere waves of water, mud and debris are trapped against fences, trees and bridges. Thousands of farm animals have drowned and machinery lies abandoned on low ground, caked in mud like tarnished bronze sculptures.
Abernathy has a civilian secretary, a small gray woman whose clothes are more colorful than her personality. She rises grudgingly from her chair and ushers me into his office.
The sergeant, a large, freckled man, is seated at a desk. His sleeves are buttoned down and starched resolutely with a sharp crease running from his wrists to his shoulders.
He speaks in a low rumble. “I take it you can write your own statement.” A foolscap pad is pushed towards me.
I glance down at his desk and notice a dozen manila folders and bundles of photographs. It’s remarkable how much paperwork has been generated in such a short space of time. One of the files is marked “Postmortem.”
“Do you mind if I take a look?”
Abernathy glances at me like I’m a nosebleed and slides it over.
AVON & SOMERSET CORONER
Postmortem Report No: DX-56 312
Date and time of death: 28/09/2007. 1707 hours.
Weight: 58.52 kgs.
Height: 168 cms.
Eye color: Brown
The body is that of a well-developed, well-nourished Caucasian female. The irises are brown. The corneas are clear. The pupils are fixed and dilated.
The body is cool to the touch and there is posterior lividity and partial rigidity. There are no tattoos, deformities or amputations. The victim has a linear 5 surgical scar on her abdomen at the bikini line, indicating a prior cesarean section.
Her right and left earlobes are pierced. Her hair is approximately sixteen inches in length, brown, with a wave. Her teeth are natural and in good condition. Her fingernails are short, neatly rounded with polish present. Pink polish is also present on her toenails.
The abdomen and back show evidence of significant soft tissue abrasions and heavy bruising caused by blunt force trauma. These markings are consistent with an impact such as a fall.
The external and internal genitalia show no evidence of sexual assault or penetration.
The facts have a stark cruelty about them. A human being with a lifetime of experiences is labeled like a piece of furniture in a catalog. The pathologist has weighed her organs, examined her stomach contents, taken tissue samples and tested her blood. There is no privacy in death.
“What about the toxicology report?” I ask.
“It won’t be ready until Monday,” he says. “You thinking drugs?”
Abernathy is on the way to saying something and changes his mind. He takes a satellite map from a cardboard tube and unrolls it across his desk. Clifton Suspension Bridge is at the center, flattened of its perspective until it appears to be lying on top of the water instead of seventy-five meters above it.
“This is Leigh Woods,” he says, pointing to an expanse of dark green on the western side of Avon Gorge. “At 13:40 on Friday afternoon a man walking his dog on the Ashton Nature Reserve saw a near-naked woman in a yellow raincoat. When he approached her, the woman ran away. She was talking on a mobile and he thought it might be some sort of TV stunt.
“A second sighting was made at 15:45. A delivery driver for a dry cleaning firm saw a fully naked woman walking along Rownham Hill Road near St. Mary’s Road.
“A CCTV camera on the western approach of the bridge picked her up at 16:02. She must have walked along Bridge Road from Leigh Woods.”
The details are like markers on a time line, dividing the afternoon into gaps that can’t be accounted for. Two hours and half a mile separated the first and second sightings.
The sergeant flicks through the CCTV images so quickly it appears as if the woman is moving in juddering slow motion. Raindrops have smeared the lens, blurring the edges of each print, but her nakedness couldn’t be sharper.
The final photographs show her body lying on the deck of a flat-bottomed boat. Albino white. Tinged with lividity around her buttocks and her flattened breasts. The only discernible color is the red of her lipstick and the smeared letters on her stomach.
“Did you recover her mobile?”
“Lost in the river.”
“What about her shoes?”
“Jimmy Choos. Expensive but reheeled.”
The photographs are tossed aside. The sergeant shows little sympathy for the woman. She is a problem to be solved and he wants an explanation—not for peace of mind or out of professional curiosity, but because something about the case disturbs him.
“The thing I don’t understand,” he says, without looking up at me, “is why did she go walking in the woods? If she wanted to kill herself, why not go straight to the bridge and jump off?”
“She could have been making up her mind?”
He’s right. It does seem bizarre. The same is true of the body art. Suicide is the ultimate act of self-loathing, but it’s not usually characterized by public self-abuse and humiliation.
My eyes are still scanning the photographs. They come to rest on one of them. I see myself standing on the bridge. The perspective makes it look as though I’m close enough to touch her, to reach out and grab her before she falls.
Abernathy notices the same photograph. Rising from his desk, he walks to the door, opening it before I get to my feet.
“It was a bad day at the coal face, Professor. We all have them. Make your statement and you can go home.”
The phone on his desk is ringing. I’m still in the doorway as he answers it. I can hear only one side of the conversation.
“You’re sure? When did she last see her?… OK… And she hasn’t heard from her since? Right… Is she at home now?…
“Send someone to the house. Pick her up. Make sure they get a photograph. I don’t want a sixteen-year-old identifying a body unless we’re bloody certain it’s her mother.”
My stomach drops. A daughter. Sixteen. Suicide is not a matter of self-determination or free will. Someone is always left behind.
It takes me ten minutes to walk from the Boat House in Eastville Park to Stapleton Road. Avoiding the industrial estates and the slime-covered canal, I follow the concrete brutality of the M32 flyover.
The plastic shopping bags are cutting into my fingers. I put them down on the footpath and rest. I’m not far from home now. I have my supplies: meals in plastic trays, a six pack of beer, a slice of cheesecake in a plastic triangle—my treats for a Saturday night, purchased from a Paki grocer who keeps a shotgun under his counter, next to the porn magazines in their plastic wrappers.
The narrow streets cut in four directions, flanked by terraces and flat-fronted shops. An off-license. A bookmaker’s. The Salvation Army selling secondhand clothes. Posters warn against curb crawling and urinating in public and, I love this one, putting up posters. Nobody takes a blind bit of notice. This is Bristol—city of lies, greed and corrupt politicians. The right hand always knows what the left is doing: robbing it blind. That’s something my dad would say. He’s always accusing people of ripping him off.
The wind and rain have stripped leaves from the trees along Fishponds Road, filling the gutters. A street-sweeping machine, squat with spinning wheels, weaves between the parked cars. Shame it can’t pick up the human garbage—strung-out slum kids who want me to fuck them or buy crack from them.
One of the whores is standing on the corner. A car pulls up. She negotiates, throwing her head back and laughing like a horse. A doped horse. Don’t ride her, mate, you don’t know where she’s been.
At a café on the corner of Glen Park and Fishponds, I hang my waterproof on a hook beside the door and my hat next to it, along with my orange scarf. The place is warm and smells of boiled milk and toast. I choose a table by the window and take a moment to comb my hair, pressing the metal teeth hard against my scalp as I pull it backward from my crown to the nape of my neck.
The waitress is big-boned and almost pretty, a few years shy of being fat. Her ruffled skirt brushes against my thigh as she passes between the tables. She’s wearing a plaster on her finger.
I take out my notebook and a pencil that is sharp enough to maim. I begin writing. The date comes first. Then a list of things to do.
There is a customer at a table in the corner. A woman. She’s sending text messages on her mobile. If she looks at me I’ll smile back.
She won’t look, I think. Yes, she will. I’ll give her ten seconds. Nine… eight… seven… six… five…
Why am I bothering? Uppity bitch. I could wipe the sneer off her face. I could stain her cheeks with mascara. I could make her question her own name.
I don’t expect every woman to acknowledge me. But if I say hello to them or smile or pass the time of day, they should at least be polite enough to respond in kind.
The woman at the library, the Indian one, with hennaed hands and disappointed eyes, she always smiles. The other librarians are old and tired and treat everyone like book thieves.
The Indian woman has slender legs. She should wear short skirts and make the most of them instead of covering them up. I can only see her ankles when she crosses her legs at her desk. She does it often. I think she knows I’m watching her.
My coffee has arrived. The milk should be hotter. I will not send it back. The waitress with the almost-pretty face would be disappointed. I will tell her next time.
The list is almost finished. There are names down the left-hand column. Contacts. People of interest. I will cross each of them off as I find them.
Leaving coins on the table, I dress in my coat, my hat and my scarf. The waitress doesn’t see me leave. I should have handed her the money. She would have had to look at me then.
I can’t walk quickly with the shopping bags. Rain leaks into my eyes and gurgles in the downpipes. I am here now, at the end of Bourne Lane, outside a gated forecourt, fenced off and topped with barbed wire. It was once a panel-beaters or some sort of workshop with a house attached.
The door has three deadlocks—a Chubb Detector, a five-pin Weiser and a Lips 8362C. I start at the bottom, listening to the steel pins retracting in their cylinders.
I step over the morning mail. There are no lights in the hallway. I removed the bulbs. Two floors of the house are empty. Closed off. The radiators are cold. When I signed the lease, the landlord Mr. Swingler asked if I had a big family.
“Why do you need such a big house?”
“I have big dreams,” I said.
Mr. Swingler is Jewish but looks like a skinhead. He also owns a boardinghouse in Truro and a block of flats in St. Pauls, not far from here. He asked me for references. I didn’t have any.
“Do you have a job?”
“No drugs. No parties. No orgies.”
He might have said “corgis,” I couldn’t understand his accent, but I paid three months rent in advance, which shut him up.
Taking a torch from on top of the fridge, I return to the hall and collect the mail: a gas bill, a pizza menu, and a large white envelope with a school crest in the top left corner.
I take the envelope to the kitchen and leave it sitting on the table while I pack away the shopping and open a can of beer. Then I sit and slide my finger beneath the flap, tearing a ragged line.
The envelope contains a glossy magazine and a letter from the admissions secretary of Oldfield Girls School in Bath.
Dear Mrs. Tyler,
In reference to your request for addresses, I’m afraid that we don’t keep ongoing records of our past students but there is an Old Girls website. You will need to contact the convenor Diane Gillespie to get a username, pin and password to access the secure section of the site containing the contact details of old girls.
I am enclosing a copy of the school yearbook for 1988 and hope it will bring back some memories.
Good luck with your search.
The front page of the yearbook has a photograph of three smiling girls, in uniform, walking through the school gates. The school crest has a Latin quotation: “Lux et veritas” (Light and Truth).
There are more photographs inside. I turn the pages, running my fingers over the images. Some of them are class photographs on a tiered stage. Girls at the front are seated with knees together and hands clasped on their laps. The middle-row girls are standing and those at the back must be perched on an unseen bench. I study the captions, the names, the class, the year.
There she is—my beloved—the whore’s whore. Second row. Fourth from the right. She had a brown bob. A round face. A half-smile. You were eighteen years old. I was still ten years away. Ten years. How many Sundays is that?
I tuck the school yearbook under my arm and get a second can of beer. Upstairs a computer hums on my desk. I type in the password and call up an online telephone directory. The screen refreshes. There were forty-eight girls in the leaving year of 1988. Forty-eight names. I won’t find her today. Not today, but soon.
Maybe I’ll watch the video again. I like watching one of them fall.
Charlie is dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, dancing with Emma in the lounge. The music is turned up loud and she lifts Emma onto her hip and spins her round, dipping her backwards. Emma giggles and snorts with laughter.
“You be careful. You’ll make her throw up.”
“Look at our new trick.”
Charlie hoists Emma onto her shoulders and leans forward, letting the youngster crawl down her back.
“Very clever. You should join the circus.”
Charlie has grown up so much in the past few months it’s nice to see her acting like a kid again, playing with her sister. I don’t want her to grow up too quickly. I don’t want her becoming one of the girls I see roaming around Bath with pierced navels and “I-slept-with-your-boyfriend” T-shirts.
Julianne has a theory. Sex is more explicit everywhere except in real life. She says teenage girls may dress like Paris Hilton and dance like Beyoncé but that doesn’t mean they’re making amateur porn videos or having sex over car bonnets. Please, God, I hope she’s right.
I can already see the changes in Charlie. She is going through that monosyllabic stage where no words are wasted on her parents. She saves them up for her friends and spends hours texting on her mobile and chatting online.
Julianne and I talked about sending her to boarding school when we moved out of London, but I wanted to kiss her good night each evening and wake her of a morning. Julianne said I was trying to make up for the time I didn’t spend with my own father, God’s-personal-physician-in-waiting, who sent me to boarding school from the age of eight.
Maybe she’s right.
Julianne has come downstairs to see what the fuss is about. She’s been working in the office, translating documents and sending e-mails. I grab her around the waist and we dance to the music.
“I think we should practice for our dance classes,” I say.
“What do you mean?”
“They start on Tuesday. Beginner’s Latin—Samba and the Rhrrrrumba!”
Her face suddenly falls.
“I can’t make it.”
“I have to get back to London tomorrow afternoon. We’re flying to Moscow first thing Monday morning.”
“Oh, Dirk the Jerk.”
She looks at me crossly. “You don’t even know him.”
“Can’t he find another translator?”
“We’ve been working on this deal for three months. He doesn’t want to use someone new. And I don’t want to hand it over to someone else. I’m sorry, I should have told you.”
“That’s OK. You forgot.”
My sarcasm irritates her.
“Yes, Joe, I forgot. Don’t make an issue out of it.”
There is an uncomfortable silence. A gap between songs. Charlie and Emma have stopped dancing.
Julianne blinks first. “I’m sorry. I’ll be back on Thursday.”
“So I’ll cancel the dancing.”
“You go. You’ll have a great time.”
“But I’ve never been before.”
“It’s a beginner’s class. Nobody is going to expect you to be Fred Astaire.”
The dance lessons were my idea. Actually, they were suggested by my best mate, Jock, a neurologist. He sent me literature showing how Parkinson’s sufferers benefit from practicing their coordination. It was yoga or dancing lessons. Both if possible.
I told Julianne. She thought it was romantic. I saw it as a challenge.
I would throw down the gauntlet to Mr. Parkinson; a duel to the death, full of pirouettes and flashing feet. May the best man win.
Emma and Charlie are dancing again. Julianne joins them, effortlessly finding the rhythm. She holds out her hand to me. I shake my head.
“Come on, Dad,” says Charlie.
Emma does a bum wiggle. It’s her best move. I don’t have a best move.
We dance and sing and collapse on the sofa laughing. It’s a long while since Julianne has laughed like this. My left arm trembles and Emma holds it still. It’s a game she plays. Holding it with both hands and then letting go to see if it trembles, before grabbing it again.
Later that evening when the girls are asleep and our horizontal waltz is over, I cuddle Julianne and grow melancholy.
“Did Charlie tell you she saw our ghost?”
“On the stairs.”
“I wish Mrs. Nutall would stop putting stories in her head.”
“She’s a mad old bat.”
“Is that a professional diagnosis?”
“Absolutely,” I say.
Julianne stares into space, her mind elsewhere… in Rome perhaps, or Moscow.
“You know I give them ice cream all the time when you’re not here,” I tell her.
“That’s because you’re buying their love,” she replies.
“You bet. It’s for sale and I want it.”
“Are you happy?” I ask.
She turns her face to mine. “That’s a strange question.”
“I can’t stop thinking about that woman on the bridge. Something made her unhappy.”
“And you think I’m the same?”
“It was nice to hear you laughing today.”
“It’s nice to be home.”
“Nicest place to be.”
Monday morning. Gray. Dry. The agency is sending three candidates for me to interview. I don’t think they’re called nannies anymore. They are carers or child-care professionals.
Julianne is on her way to Moscow, Charlie is on the bus to school and Emma is playing with her dolls’ clothes in the dining room, trying to put a bonnet on Sniffy, our neurotic cat. Sniffy’s full name is Sniffy Toilet Roll, which is again what happens when you give a three-year-old the naming rights to family pets.
The first interview starts badly. Her name is Jackie and she’s nervous. She bites her nails and touches her hair constantly as if needing reassurance that it hasn’t disappeared.
Julianne’s instructions were clear. I am to make sure the nanny doesn’t do drugs, drink or drive too fast. Exactly how I’m supposed to find this out is beyond me.
“This is where I’m supposed to find out if you’re a granny basher,” I tell Jackie.
She gives me a puzzled look. “My granny’s dead.”
“You didn’t bash her, did you?”
I cross her off the list.
The next candidate is twenty-four from Newcastle with a sharply pointed face, brown eyes and dark hair pulled back so tightly it raises her eyebrows. She seems to be casing the house with the view to robbing it later with her burglar boyfriend.
“What car will I be driving?” she asks.
She’s not impressed. “I can’t drive a manual. I don’t think I should be expected to. Will there be a TV in my room?”
“There can be.”
“How big is it?”
“I’m not sure.”
Is she talking about watching it or flogging it, I wonder. I scrub out her name. Two strikes.
At 11 a.m. I interview a pretty Jamaican with braided hair, looped back on itself and pinned with a large tortoiseshell clip at the back of her head. Her name is Mani, she has good references and a lovely deep voice. I like her. She has a nice smile.
Halfway through the interview, there’s a sudden cry from the dining room. Emma in pain. I try to rise but my left leg locks. The effect is called bradykinesia, a symptom of Parkinson’s, and it means that Mani reaches Emma first. The hinged lid of the toy box has trapped her fingers. Emma takes one look at the dark-skinned stranger and howls even louder.
“She hasn’t been held by many black people,” I say, trying to rescue the situation. It makes things worse. “It’s not your color. We have lots of black friends in London. Dozens of them.”
My God, I’m suggesting my three-year-old is a racist!
Emma has stopped crying. “It’s my fault. I picked her up too suddenly,” Mani says, looking at me sadly.
“She doesn’t know you yet,” I explain.
Mani is gathering her things.
“I’ll call the agency,” I say. “They’ll let you know.”
But we both realize what’s happening. She’s going to take a job elsewhere. It’s a shame. A misunderstanding.
After she’s gone, I make Emma a sandwich and settle her for her afternoon nap. There are chores to do—washing and ironing. I know I’m not supposed to admit such a thing, but being at home is boring. Emma is wonderful and enchanting and I love her to bits but there are only so many times I can play sock puppets or watch her stand on one leg or listen to her declare from the top of the climbing frame that she is indeed the king of the castle and I am, yet again, the dirty rascal.
Looking after young children is the most important job in the world. Believe me—it is. However, the sad, unspoken, implicit truth is that looking after young children is boring. Those guys who sit in missile silos waiting for the unthinkable to happen are doing an important job too, but you can’t tell me they’re not bored out of their tiny skulls and playing endless games of Solitaire and Battleships on the Pentagon computers.
The doorbell rings. Standing on the front step is a chestnut-haired teenager in low-slung black jeans, a T-shirt and tartan jacket. Ear studs like beads of mercury glisten on her earlobes.
She is clasping a shoulder bag hard to her chest, leaning forward a little. An October wind whips up an eddy of leaves at her feet.
“I wasn’t expecting anyone else,” I tell her.
Her head tilts to one side, frowning.
“Are you Professor O’Loughlin?”
“I’m Darcy Wheeler.”
“Come in, Darcy. We have to be quiet, Emma is sleeping.”
She follows me along the hall to the kitchen. “You look very young. I expected somebody older.”
Again she looks at me curiously. The whites of her eyes are bloodshot and raw from the wind.
“How long have you been a child-care professional?”
“How long have you looked after children?”
Now she looks concerned. “I’m still at school.”
“I don’t understand.”
She hugs her bag a little tighter, steeling herself. “You talked to my mother. You were there when she fell.”
Her words shatter the quietness like a dropped tray of glasses. I see a resemblance, the shape of her face, her dark eyebrows. The woman on the bridge.
“How did you find me?”
“I read the police report.”
“How did you get here?”
“I caught the bus.”
She makes it sound so obvious, but this isn’t supposed to happen. Grieving daughters don’t turn up on my doorstep. The police should have answered Darcy’s questions and given her counseling. They should have found a family member to look after her.
“The police say it was suicide but that’s impossible. Mum wouldn’t… she couldn’t, not like that.”
Her desperation trembles in her throat.
“What was your mother’s name?” I ask.
“Would you like a cup of tea, Darcy?”
She nods. I fill the kettle and set out the cups, giving myself a chance to work out what I’m going to say.
“Where have you been staying?” I ask.
“I’m at boarding school.”
“Does the school know where you are?”
Darcy doesn’t answer. Her shoulders curve and she shrinks even more. I sit down opposite her, making sure her eyes meet mine.
“I want to know exactly how you came to be here.”
The story tumbles out. The police had interviewed her on Saturday afternoon. She was counseled by a social worker and then taken back to Hampton House, a private girls’ school in Cardiff. On Sunday night she waited until lights out and unscrewed the wooden blocks on her house window, opening it far enough to slip out. Once she had dodged the security guard, she walked to Cardiff Central and waited for the first train. She caught the 8:04 to Bath Spa and a bus to Norton St. Phillips. She walked the last three miles to Wellow. The journey took most of the morning.
I notice the grass clippings in her hair and mud on her shoes. “Where did you sleep last night?”
“In a park.”
My God, she could have frozen to death. Darcy raises the mug of tea to her lips, holding it steady with both hands. I look at her clear brown eyes, her bare neck; the thinness of her jacket and the dark bra outlined beneath her T-shirt. She is beautifully ugly in a gawky teenage way, but destined in a few years to be exceptionally beautiful and to bring no end of misery to a great number of men.
“What about your father?”
“No idea. He walked out on my mum before I was born. We didn’t hear from him after that.”
“Not at all?”
“I need to call your school.”
“I’m not going back.” The sudden steel in her voice surprises me.
“We have to tell them where you are.”
“Why? They don’t care. I’m sixteen. I can do what I want.”
Her defiance has all the hallmarks of a childhood spent at boarding school. It has made her strong. Independent. Angry. Why is she here? What does she expect me to do?
“It wasn’t suicide,” she says again. “Mum hated heights. I mean really hated them.”
“When did you last talk to her?”
“On Friday morning.”
“How did she seem?”
“What did you talk about?”
She stares into her mug, as if reading the contents. “We had a fight.”
“It’s not important.”
“Tell me anyway.”
She hesitates and shakes her head. The sadness in her eyes tells half the story. Her last words to her mother were full of anger. She wants to take them back or to have them over again.
Trying to change the subject, she opens the fridge door and begins sniffing the contents of Tupperware containers and jars. “Got anything to eat?”
“I can make you a sandwich.”
“How about a Coke?”
“We don’t have fizzy drinks in the house.”
She’s found a packet of biscuits in the pantry and picks apart the plastic wrapping with her fingernails.
“Mum was supposed to phone the school on Friday afternoon. I wanted to come home for the weekend, but I needed her permission. I called her all day—on her mobile and at home. I sent her text messages—dozens of them. I couldn’t get through.
“I told my housemistress something must be wrong, but she said Mum was probably just busy and I shouldn’t worry, only I did worry, I worried all Friday night and Saturday morning. The housemistress said Mum had probably gone away for the weekend and forgotten to tell me, but I knew it wasn’t true.
“I asked for permission to go home, but they wouldn’t let me. So I ran away on Saturday afternoon and went to the house. Mum wasn’t there. Her car was gone. Things were so random. That’s when I called the police.”
She holds herself perfectly still.
“The police showed me a photo. I told them it must be somebody else. Mum wouldn’t even go on the London Eye. Last summer we went to Paris and she panicked going up the Eiffel Tower. She hated heights.”
Darcy freezes. The packet of biscuits has broken open in her hands, spilling crumbs between her fingers. She stares at the wreckage and rocks forward, curling her knees to her chest and uttering a long unbroken sob.
The professional part of me knows to avoid physical contact but the father in me is stronger. I put my arms around her, pulling her head to my chest.
“You were there,” she whispers.
“It wasn’t suicide. She’d never leave me.”
“Please help me.”
“I don’t know if I can, Darcy.”
I wish I could take her pain away. I wish I could tell her that it won’t hurt like this forever or that one day she’ll forget how this feels. I’ve heard child-care experts talk about how fast children forgive and forget. That’s bullshit! Children remember. Children hold grudges. Children keep secrets. Children can sometimes seem strong because their defenses have never been breached or eroded by tragedy, but they are as light and fragile as spun glass.
Emma is awake and calling out for me. I climb the stairs to her room and lower one side of her bed, lifting her into my arms. Her fine dark hair is tousled by sleep.
I hear the toilet flush downstairs. Darcy has washed her face and brushed her hair, pinning it tightly in a bun that makes her neck appear impossibly long.
“This is Emma,” I explain as she returns to the kitchen.
“Hi, gorgeous,” says Darcy, finding a smile.
Emma plays hard to get, turning her face away. Suddenly, she spies the biscuits and reaches out for one. I set her down and, surprisingly, she goes straight to Darcy and crawls onto her lap.
“She must like you,” I say.
Emma toys with the buttons of Darcy’s jacket.
“I need to ask you a few more questions.”
“Was your mother upset about anything? Depressed?”
“Was she having trouble sleeping?”
“She had pills.”
“Was she eating regularly?”
“What did your mother do?”
“She’s a wedding planner. She has her own company—Blissful. She and her friend Sylvia started it up. They did a wedding for Alexandra Phillips.”
“A celebrity. Haven’t you ever seen that show about the vet who looks after animals in Africa?”
I shake my head.
“Well, she got married and Mum and Sylvia did the whole thing. It made all the magazines.”
Darcy still hasn’t referred to her mother in the past tense.
It’s not unusual and has nothing to do with denial. Two days isn’t long enough for the reality to take hold and permeate her thinking.
I still don’t understand what she’s doing here. I couldn’t save her mother and I can’t tell her any more than the police can. Christine Wheeler’s final words were addressed to me but she didn’t give me any clues.
“What do you want me to do?” I ask.
“Come to the house. Then you’ll see.”
“She didn’t kill herself.”
“I watched her jump, Darcy.”
“Well, something must have made her do it.” She kisses the top of Emma’s head. “She wouldn’t do it like that. She wouldn’t leave me.”
The eighteenth-century cottage has gnarled and twisted wisteria climbing above the front door, reaching as high as the eaves. The adjacent garage was once a stable and is now part of the main house.
Darcy unlocks the front door and steps into the dimness of the entrance hall. She hesitates, jostling with emotions that retard her movements.
“Is something wrong?”
She shakes her head unconvincingly.
“You can stay outside if you like and look after Emma.”
Emma is kicking up leaves on the path.
Crossing the slate floor of the entrance hall, I brush against an empty coat hook and notice an umbrella propped beneath it. There is a kitchen on the right. Through the windows I see a rear garden and a wood railing fence separating neatly pruned rose bushes from adjacent gardens. A cup and cereal bowl rest in the draining rack. The sink is dry and wiped clean. Inside the kitchen bin are vegetable scraps, curling orange peel and old teabags the color of dog turds. The table is clear except for a small pile of bills and opened letters. I yell over my shoulder. “How long have you lived here?”
Darcy answers through the open door. “Eight years. Mum had to take out a second mortgage when she started the company.”
The living room is tastefully but tiredly furnished, with an aging sofa, armchairs and a large sideboard with cat-scratched corners. There are framed photographs on the mantelpiece. Most of them show Darcy in various ballet costumes, either backstage or performing. Ballet trophies and medals are lined up in a display case, alongside more photographs.
“You’re a dancer.”
It should have been obvious. She has the classic dancer’s body: lean and loose-limbed, with slightly out-turned feet.
My questions have brought Darcy inside.
“Is this how you found the house?”
“You haven’t moved anything?”
“Or touched anything?”
She thinks about this.
“I used the phone… to call the police.”
“The one upstairs.”
“Why not use this one?” I motion to the handset of a cordless phone, sitting in a cradle on a side table.
“The handset was on the floor. The battery was flat.”
A small pile of women’s clothes lie discarded at the base of the table—a pair of machine-distressed jeans, a top and a cardigan. I kneel down. A flash of color peeks from beneath the sofa—not hidden but tossed away in a hurry. My fingers close around the fabric. Underwear, a bra and matching panties.
“Was your mother seeing anyone? A boyfriend?”
Darcy suppresses the urge to laugh. “No.”
“What’s so funny?”
“My mother is going to be one of those old women with a herd of cats and a wardrobe full of cardigans.” She smiles and then remembers she’s speaking of a mother without a future.
“Would she have told you if she was seeing someone?”
Darcy isn’t sure.
I hold up the underwear. “Do these belong to your mother?”
She nods, frowning.
“She was like really obsessed about stuff like that, picking up things. I wasn’t allowed to borrow any of her clothes unless I hung them up or put them in the wash afterwards. ‘The floor is not a wardrobe,’ she said.”
I climb the stairs to the main bedroom. The bed is untouched, without a crease on the duvet. Bottles are lined up neatly on her dresser. Towels are folded evenly on the towel rails in the en suite.
I open the large walk-in wardrobe and step inside. I can smell Christine Wheeler. I touch her dresses, her skirts, her shirts. I put my hands in the pockets of her jackets. I find a taxi receipt, a dry-cleaning tag, a pound coin, an after-dinner mint. There are clothes she hasn’t worn in years. Clothes she is making last the distance. Here is a woman used to having money who suddenly doesn’t have enough.
An evening gown slips from a hanger and pools at my feet. I pick it up again, feeling the fabric slide between my fingers. There are racks of shoes, at least a dozen pairs, arranged in neat rows.
Darcy sits on the bed. “Mum liked shoes. She said it was her one extravagance.”
I remember the pair of bright red Jimmy Choos that Christine was wearing on the bridge. Party shoes. There is a gap for a missing pair at the end of the lower shelf.
“Did your mother sleep naked?”
Excerpted from Shatter by Robotham, Michael Copyright © 2012 by Robotham, Michael. 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.
Posted July 28, 2009
I had never heard of Michael Robotham before I happened to come across a list of good summer reads from none other than Stephen King. Being a fan of Mr. King's work I thought I would peruse his list to see if there was anything on the list that would grab my interest. Shatter not only grabbed my interest, it held on to it and would not let it go until I finished the book. It is a psychological thriller that is compelling, gripping and at times terrifying. If you are a fan of this type of read then I would highly recommend you make this your next book. I finished the book in three days and will be looking for his other works right away.
8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 14, 2012
Spine-tingling, edge of your seat thriller, keep turning the pages! How can someone have such an evil mind?! Who could do such a thing?! Every situation makes you want to help Joe solve these heinous crimes and bring justice to the families. Even at the possible cost of his own marriage, Joe cannot turn away and let others try to apprehend a mastermind who seems to be able to control women’s minds.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 25, 2009
Posted May 2, 2009
This is a thriller that was difficult to put down. Definitely a great read. When shopping for a book to read, I compare other books to this one hoping they will be just as good, but I haven't found one like it yet. I have read all his other books and cannot wait for his next one. Great job Mr. Robotham!
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 21, 2012
Like early James Patterson, this is suspenseful and engrossing. The identity of the psychopath is revealed surprisingly early and the last 100 pages feel dragged out, but this kept me fully entertained for the better part of a weekend. Certainly recommended!
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 14, 2012
A fantastic book, but once again the story does not have a proper ending, the author has left it up to the imagination of the reader. The strong characterizations blend well with the storyline, a thriller and definately a page turner. Smooth and well flowing words and sentences make this an enjoyable read. I'm giving it four stars only because the ending left me with a question mark. It seems that the author simply wanted an end.
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Posted July 6, 2012
Posted June 25, 2012
Good read, great characters. Interesting plot, suspenseful. After reading this, I got Bleed for Me by the same author--I think it was even better.
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Posted April 10, 2012
Posted March 29, 2012
This was a really good book. Even though you begin to put the pieces together before the book ends, you have to keep reading to see exactly how they fall together. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.
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Posted February 27, 2012
If you never have heard or read michael robotham's book, Shatter, this is a must read.. if you salivate for mystery and suspense you will not regret spending your time with the read.. ill continue reading his books forever.
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Posted February 18, 2012
Let me just begin by saying this was a FANTASTIC read! This book started off intriguing and did not disappoint. It took off from about the 2nd chapter & did not let up until the very end.
It tells the story of Dr. O'Loughlin who is a psychiatrist. After completing a lecture at Bath University he gets "volunteered" by his department chair to take him place with a police matter. He is taken to a suspension bridge in the middle of a rainstorm (it is England after all) to try to prevent what appears to be a suicide. The woman is on the edge of the bridge naked, with slut written across her stomach in red lipstick, & a cell phone pressed to her ear. She looks at the doc, says, "You wouldn't understand," & jumps to her death.
It is written off as a typical suicide...& then strange things begin to happen. I don't want to say much more, but I will leave it off by saying that in the end the good doctor is left wishing he would've walked away from the hulking police officer that rainy afternoon.
I look forward to the next book in the series & a long relationship with the books of Michael Robotham. What a writer!!!
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Posted September 24, 2009
Joe O'Loughlin is a psychologist who finishes giving a lecture to his class when the police ask his help with a woman who is naked and contemplating suicide. When he gets to the bridge where the woman is standing, she says, "you don't understand" and jumps.
Joe is a moral man and has trouble dealing with the fact that he couldn't save the woman. Then her sixteen year old daughter, Darcy Wheeler, comes to his home. She tells Joe that her mother, Christine, was afraid of heights and wouldn't have committed suicide in that manner. Because he was feeling bad about her death, he decides to look into it.
He speaks to Christine's business partner, Sylvia Furness but doesn't get anywhere. Then he calls his friend, Vincent Ruiz. Vincent is a retired police investigator. Together they retrace Christine's last steps and find a note asking for help. They show the note to the police and now the case turns into murder.
Soon after, Sylvia Furness's body is found. She's also naked and handcuffed to a tree. She died from exposure. The reader is able to learn her suffering before death. The killer had called Sylvia and said he had her daughter and would rape her unless Sylvia would switch places with her and do what he demands.
With her death, the police ask Joe's official help.
In other chapters the reader learns about the killer and his background. He was in Afghanistan and worked in intelligence. He was a ruthless investigator. We also learn that he is a control freak and his wife and daughter are missing. He is looking for them and taking his hatred out on his wife's friends.
This is a good story. The protagonist shows his humanness. He has flaws both physically (He's aflicted with Parkinson's) and in action (where he can't save the first woman from suicide). Even so, he performs heroically. Darcy Wheeler is also an interesting character. Since this is a series, I hope to read more about her in the future.
The novel has been nominated for a Barry award and the 2009 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and CWA Dagger Award.
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Posted May 11, 2013
Part of my pleasure when reading mysteries is when I am able to connect to the lives of the recurring characters, and this author is
very talented in the ways used to achieve this. The book centers around the life and family of psychiatrist Joe O'Laughlin, but the mystery to
be solved is gripping, believable and beautifully written. It was hard to put aside, and had enough red herrings and plot twists to keep
you turning the pages eagerly. At the end, I care about Joe's relationship with his children, his marital problems, and even have a bit
of empathy with the killer. Robotham's books will definitely go on my list of books to read.
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Posted May 11, 2013
Posted February 5, 2013
Posted January 23, 2013
Never heard of this author but decided to give this a try. Very glad i did! I can see this being made into a movie. Very captivating and fast paced! Now have a new author to look for!
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Posted December 17, 2012
Posted December 11, 2012
I thought the book was fantastic. I'm not completely up to date on all the psychology details in the world but this book had such an interesting look into the minds of different people. Robotham was wonderful in creating different characters and really getting down to their essence of who they are and the voice of that character. Its because of these characteristics that really drew me into the book. I love mysteries and this book was a good read to temper that thirst. If you love the minds of killers and the minds of those affected, pick up and read this book. Great book, enjoy.
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Posted November 27, 2012