Lena Grey is found guilty of murdering her husband, who was found smothered in their bed. She offers no defense, and serves fourteen long years in prison. But within months of her release nearly two decades later, his body is found in a disused morgue, recently killed. Who was the man she killed before, and why did she lie about his identity?
Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his Derbyshire team try to discover how such a well-orchestrated deception could have occurred. DC Connie Childs is convinced that something greater than marital strife caused the murders, but before Lena can be questioned further, she vanishes. Back in Lena’s childhood home, her sister Kat, a therapist, is shocked by her sister’s duplicity. When she begins to receive mysterious packages from a young man claiming to know her sister’s location, Kat is drawn into her own investigation of her family’s well-hidden secrets. As her inquiries begin to collide with the murder investigation, a link to the sisters’ teenage lives emerges, and the line between victim and perpetrator becomes blurred in this tightly-plotted, compelling novel perfect for fans of Deborah Crombie and Sharon Bolton.
About the Author
SARAH WARD is an online book reviewer at her blog, Crimepieces and a judge for the UK based Petrona Award. Her debut novel, In Bitter Chill, began the crime series set in rural Derbyshire, England, where Sarah lives.
Read an Excerpt
A Deadly Thaw
By Sarah Ward
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Sarah Ward
All rights reserved.
Sunday, 19 September 2004
Lena felt his emotional withdrawal before the physical. He rolled away from her and reached for his phone. 'You could've waited at least five minutes before checking that thing.' She kept her voice light but could feel his irritation. He kept his face turned away from her, and, in the gloom, she could only see the curls of his too-long hair reflected in the meagre moonlight coming in through the window.
'I've got a lot of things to do before I leave the country. Loose ends to tie up. You wouldn't know, but it's not easy moving anywhere. Especially overseas. I need to be on my phone twenty-four seven.' He turned onto his back without looking at her, still clutching the mobile in his hand, and listened to his messages. The white incandescent light from the device threw a pallid glow across the blankets. She slid out of the bed and padded to the bathroom.
The cold porcelain tiles chilled her feet. Sitting on the toilet, she heard the murmur of a hushed conversation. She eyed the shower nozzle over the ancient bath and, getting up, turned it on to its full strength. The water was hot, although the spray took time to splutter into life. When the steam rose from the floor of the bath, she stepped into it and allowed the scalding water to drench her skin.
By the time she returned to the bedroom he was asleep, snoring softly on his back, his face turned into the pillow. He had placed his phone on the bedside table. She went over to it and scrolled through the calls made. A set of random digits. No names attached. She stared at the numbers for a moment and then put the phone gently back on the table and joined him in bed. He continued to snuffle in his sleep, and she turned away from him.
On the white wall opposite she followed the light of the phone, measuring with her eyes the shape thrown by the pale glow. It was distended at one end, the light merging from a sickly green into a pale red. She squinted at the image to bring it into focus and frowned. It wasn't a trick of the eyes. The red hue suggested a source of light other than the phone she'd just examined.
In the darkness, she got up to track the origin of the other light and went softly towards the leather jacket that he'd thrown over the chair in his haste to join her in the bed. Inside the jacket, she found another phone, with a light indicating a low battery. Her fingers fumbled over the keys. After two minutes, she placed the mobile back into the jacket's top pocket and went over to the bed. He was still on his back, his chest rising with each snore. She picked up the pillow from her side, which gave off the unfamiliar odour of her new hairspray. She placed it over his head and pushed.CHAPTER 2
Detective Inspector Francis Sadler looked down at the rigid corpse of the ashen man lying on the stone slab and swallowed the bile that had risen in his throat. The corpse had a solid muscularity that death hadn't yet robbed it of. Sadler noted the large biceps visible through the thin cotton of the man's grey T-shirt. It was a good place to focus his attention, because his eyes were irresistibly drawn to the bloom of red that spread out from the chest. The poppy-red stain suggested the victim hadn't bled as much as Sadler would have expected for a gunshot wound. Death had come quickly; the pumping heart stilled in a beat. Someone with a good aim or a lucky chance.
His eyes moved upwards. It was the face of all the dead he had seen. Devoid of expression. If you could tell how someone had died by reading their faces, it was an art that Sadler had yet to master.
'Great place for a body. A morgue. I'd have never thought of looking there.'
Sadler looked across at the pathologist, Bill Shields, who was typing something onto his tablet with one finger. Bill's eyes met his, and he shrugged. 'Simply stating a fact. A first for me. I still have the capacity to be surprised, you know.'
A slight noise from the doorway alerted Sadler to the fact that Detective Constable Connie Childs had arrived. She was sweating slightly, small drops of moisture scattered across her temple, which she brushed with her sleeve. She looked around the room, and Sadler could see her assessing the paint hanging in strips off the wall and the cracked stone tiles steeped in damp. Only when she had taken this in did she finally look at the man lying on the stone block.
She turned to Sadler with a glint of amusement in her eyes. He could feel his mood darkening. 'Bill's already made the joke, thank you Connie.'
'I haven't said anything.' She shot Bill a conspiratorial look, and Sadler saw the pathologist smile into his computer. 'Sorry I was late. I had to leave the car on the road and follow the track up here on foot. Like everyone else it seems. There are no signposts at all, you know.'
'I'm not surprised. The only visitors here these past fifty years, I suspect, have been ghouls looking to visit a place that should be left to history. It was one of them that found the body. An urban explorer he called himself. He seems genuine enough though. Even has his own website.'
'It is a morgue, isn't it? Who would build something like this in the middle of nowhere? What's the name of this place again?'
'Hale's End Mortuary. It must be coming up for its centenary. It was built during the First World War to help process the casualties that were being shipped back from France. It's got an interesting history.' Sadler felt another urge to leave the dank building.
Connie had perked up. 'The First World War! Why would the casualties end up in Derbyshire?' She sounded curious. Really they should have been looking at the body behind them, but Sadler welcomed the distraction. He looked at the green algae-covered floor as a beetle scurried in front of him, seeking refuge in the deeper darkness of the room's recesses. 'You need to read up on your history. There were over thirty-eight million casualties in that war. They ended up where there was room, including here in Derbyshire. There were three hospitals at one time in Buxton looking after the injured. They requisitioned buildings for the war effort and converted them into temporary hospitals.'
'But this looks permanent.'
Sadler could feel the bile rising again. 'A lot of the injuries were severe. People more often than not died from their wounds. So you needed a mortuary. They built this place to prepare the bodies to be sent to wherever for burial.'
Connie was looking at him now, her focus shifting from the room onto him. 'You know a lot about it, if you don't mind me saying.'
Sadler did mind. The place had been a regular haunt when he'd been a bored teenager looking for an evening's recreation. He could remember breaking into the building a couple of times with his friends. They would scale the ageing wire fence and, with torches in their hands, scare themselves by larking around in the chilled building.
Once, he remembered, he had lain on one of the two cold trays and pretended to be dead. His friend, Michael, had made a more convincing corpse with his hands pressed primly together. Sadler could remember his heart thudding in his chest and the cold finger of fear on him. To Connie, he simply said, 'It's well known locally.'
'First time in a long while it's seen a dead body, though,' said Connie.
Bill Shields put his tablet into a supermarket carrier bag and tied a knot in the top. 'I'm done. I'm not doing the PM here, as much as I'd like to for historic purposes. You know, to see what it used to be like.' He must have seen Sadler's face because he winked at Connie and walked out.
Sadler looked after him and wished that he could follow him into the clear air.
Connie was leaning over the body. 'We should be able to get a positive ID, though. He looks like a recent one. Did Bill give you an estimate of the time of death?'
'Within twenty-four hours, he thinks. That would go with your more prosaic way of guessing these things.'
Connie looked downcast, and Sadler felt a sharp pang of regret. Wasn't it a good thing that one of his colleagues wanted to make her own conclusions based on the evidence before her?
Sadler shook his head. 'No. But there's no need. I know who he is.'
She swung around with a look of shock on her face. 'You know him? Why didn't you say so when I came in?'
Sadler looked at the ground. 'His name's Andrew Fisher. Same age as me. Same school, even.'
Connie moved away from the body and joined him. 'Did you know him well?'
'Not very. I saw him around Bampton occasionally. I didn't even know him well enough to say hello. Maybe a vague nod of recognition. That was it.' Sadler could feel her eyes on him.
'If you don't mind me saying, you look a bit shocked for someone you didn't know well.'
He turned to her. 'Shocked? Yes, you could say that. Andrew was murdered in 2004. Asphyxiation.'
'His wife was convicted of his murder. She served a long stretch in prison. Less than the statutory fifteen years minimum, I heard. She was a model prisoner and pleaded guilty. She's now out on parole.'
'You're kidding. This guy's not been dead for twelve years. Unless he was kept in a freezer.'
Sadler, irritated, wanted to smoke one of the cigarettes he had given up twenty years earlier. 'I'm not suggesting he was kept in a freezer. The body was positively identified in 2004 and a funeral was held. I'd only recently joined CID. I remember the case well because, as I said, I knew Andrew.'
'And this person has turned up dead in Hale's End morgue.'
She was baiting him. He recognised it and could do nothing to quell the irritation. 'We clearly identified the wrong person.'
'That's not possible, is it? These days, I mean.'
Sadler turned to look at the body of his childhood contemporary. 'Possible or not, over there I'm pretty sure is the body of Andrew Fisher. Who was supposedly killed in 2004.'
'And who identified the body? I mean, we're looking at a miscarriage of justice here if his wife served time for his murder. Who gave the positive ID?'
Sadler let the weariness wash over him. 'His wife, Lena.'CHAPTER 3
Kat was fascinated by the scar on Mark's face. His right cheek had a narrow perpendicular mark that, in a previous session, he'd revealed was the result of his mother throwing a vegetable knife at him when he was ten. His reflexes hadn't, at that stage, advanced to the degree they'd reached by the time he left home when he was fifteen. He had ducked the flying blade, which, a doctor later suggested, had prevented it piercing his windpipe. But it sliced through his cheek, which bled with a profusion of crimson that had alarmed his mother so much that she had driven him to the A&E department with a warning to say that he had tripped and fallen onto the sharp edge of the kitchen counter.
At the hospital, a young registrar from the Sudan had played enough childhood games with knives to recognise a blade wound and, after sending Mark's mother away with a nurse to get a cup of tea 'for her shock', had asked him what had happened. Mark, yet to develop the sheen of protection that had served him so well up until six months ago, had told him. The doctor had said nothing, patched him up and wished him good luck.
'What should I say to her in my reply?'
Kat shifted in her seat. Mothers and sons. It had fascinated the Ancient Greeks, and sometimes she wondered how little had changed. Mark possessed the strength of character to leave when he could, going to stay with an elderly uncle whose fundamental dislike of women had extended to his niece. His financial support of Mark had been as much to do with his distrust of all things female as with a desire to stand up to his niece's abuse of her son. Yet Mark, at thirty-five, was once more being tormented by his mother.
'What would you like to say to her? Say out loud what you really want to write in your response.'
It was an old counselling trick. People rarely wrote what they wanted to say in the same way that they rarely said what they wanted to. Therapy was a way to air unspoken grievances. Kat let the silence settle around them.
'I want to say, "Thanks for nothing for getting in touch. I made my decision to sever all ties with you when I was fifteen. I've never regretted it for a moment. So, whatever the reason is for getting in touch with me, thanks for nothing." That's what I want to say to her.'
Kat waited, but nothing else came. Mark had returned to that fifteen-year-old self, his arms folded and refusing to look her in the eye. She tried another tack. 'Do you know why she's decided to contact you now?' She watched him shake his head. 'Do you want to try and guess?'
She glanced at the clock. The hour was nearly up. Mark had dropped the news about his mother's email in the last fifteen minutes. She had seen his agitation build up in the preceding forty-five, but gentle questioning hadn't revealed anything until he had suddenly blurted out the reason for his tension. 'We're going to have to stop shortly. Are you going to be okay until the next session? We can always meet later in the week if you want.' Now that the session was coming to an end, Kat allowed herself to relax with her client. Despite his agitation, he was smiling across at her, and she felt like grinning back at him.
'It's fine. I like my routine, you know.'
Kat didn't know. He was her first client who had served in the army. He'd seen action too, in Iraq, although it was his childhood that had sent the demons to him, not those days in the heat of the Middle East. She showed him to the door, but he didn't leave straight away.
He was standing in front of her. A little uncertain. She felt she should move away from him, give him more space, but she was enjoying his proximity. 'Is everything okay? I have another client in half an hour.' She looked up again at the clock. 'But if there's something you want to talk about now ...' He was shaking his head. 'Until next time then.'CHAPTER 4
'My God, it's the House of Usher.'
Detective Sergeant Damian Palmer smirked next to Connie but said nothing in response. It was officially his day off. He'd been grumbling the day before about a shopping trip to Sheffield with his wife, Joanne, but as soon as he heard about the body on the local radio, he hotfooted it back to Bampton, and Connie picked him up from the train station.
He didn't look very happy, but Connie couldn't tell if it was because of his disturbed leave or the fact he'd missed seeing the body. Probably both. She looked up again at the house, shocked that so dilapidated a building had been able to survive the gentrification of Bampton. It was a huge Victorian edifice, made from limestone probably quarried from the nearby hills and erected in the days when the purpose of your residence was to overwhelm and impress. But creating an imposing home also required money to keep up appearances, and Lena Fisher clearly didn't have the cash to spend on the façade of the house. Or, if she did, she wasn't spending it where it was needed.
The house wasn't in a much better state than Hale's End Mortuary, and at least that was boarded up. Here was a building being lived in. The stone was solid enough. There wasn't much that years of neglect could do to limestone. However, the wooden windows were another matter. They were not only rotten, it looked like someone had attempted to repair them with strips of cardboard and tinfoil. Some roof slates had slipped out of their fastenings and were lying in a heap near the rusty wrought-iron gutter. At the top of the building, set into the stone under one of the eaves, was the house's name, Providence Villa.
Connie would have believed the house to be abandoned if it weren't for the line of washing hanging to one side. It suggested that the address Lena had given to the Probation Service was the correct one. Although, if appearances were anything to go by, God knows what state she would find the occupant in.
They walked up to the front door. The old brass knocker was strangely comforting in its solidity. Connie noticed with surprise that the face in the rusting metal was a Green Man. He leered out at her from the metal oak leaves. Palmer lifted and dropped the brass ring, and Connie listened to the sound echo around the house. It appeared empty, and she wondered how much furniture was on the other side of the door. She was about to peer through one of the grubby windows when the door opened, and there stood a woman.
Excerpted from A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward. Copyright © 2016 Sarah Ward. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Despite being titled an Inspector Sadler novel, "A Deadly Thaw" reveals the investigations of two women, Kat and Connie, into the strange circumstances of the murder of Lena's husband. Lena has finished serving her time in prison for her admitted killing of her husband by smothering him with a pillow in their bed when his body turns up as being shot twelve years after his previous death. Stumped, the police now have many questions as to who was the first man killed and why. Kat, Lena's sister, is left with sparse clues from her sister to chase down as well as she can and turn the evidence over to the police. Connie is an investigator making the most strides on the case (assigned to her, Palmer, and Sadler). I won't give anything away, but what a mystery! I could not figure out the why or how and did not guess the series of events or killer of Lena's husband all the way until the end. The book keeps you on your toes all the way throughout, learning little pieces through both Kat and Connie. I really liked that Kat turned evidence over to the police without much ado, not trying to be an investigator herself, only looking so far as to find her sister and figure out what the heck all of the "gifts" mean. It's definitely a procedural mystery in terms of content. A few thriller moments, but mostly good police work in uncovering past mistakes and solving the crimes which have been committed. Kat and Connie were easily likable and flawed people. Although most of the glimpses we got of each of them was of their steps towards the case, we get a few glimpses of their personal lives. Kat is a therapist trying to manage her patients, her personal life, and her sister, not always terribly well- she toes some lines but does not really cross them in ways that would be inappropriate. Connie has her own problems with being the woman in a man's world (for instance, she's the only one addressed by first name, all men are addressed by last) and navigating professional and personal relationships. It's an interesting study in more modern sexism, and there are definitely some events that will ruffle feathers (from past and present). I really enjoyed the story and the characters- loved that the mystery kept me guessing until the end and was satisfied with how it all turned out. Please note that I received this book from the publisher through netgalley in exchange for my honest review.