The last time Anthea Gibson saw her seven-year-daughter, Lucy, the girl was thrilled to be heading off to her first village fair. Then, a parent’s worst nightmare: Lucy never comes home. As the disappearance stretches from hours to days without any leads, Lambert and Hook fear the worst and cast a wider net over suspects: a roustabout well-known for his unsavory habits; a local female loner with a disturbing want of a child; Anthea’s estranged and pitiable husband, as well as her current lover; and even the distraught mother herself who may have a motive for seeing Lucy spirited away.
But when another child vanishes from the area, and something terrible washes up on the shores of the Wye River, the case takes a breathtaking twist. And even the seasoned investigators aren’t prepared for how dark it’s going to get.
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'All the fun of the fair!'
It took Lucy Gibson a little while to get all of the words on the poster. They were scrawled in big blue letters and Lucy wasn't used to reading everything in capitals.
She was a good reader now. She'd heard her teacher tell her mum that she was coming along fine, after a difficult start. These weren't big words, any of them, but it took her a while to make out what the notice said because of the capitals. And she didn't quite understand what the strange punctuation mark at the end meant. Mrs Copthall had told them about exclamation marks, but said they weren't to worry too much about them yet. Lucy had promptly dismissed them from her thoughts – there were quite enough difficulties with this strange business of reading, without struggling with things Mrs Copthall said she shouldn't worry about.
The man used his staple gun to pin down the edge of his poster, then stood back like an artist to admire his handiwork. He looked big and powerful to Lucy. Squat and powerful, an adult might have said. But to Lucy Gibson the man was tall as well as wide; when you are seven, all adults seem tall. Even the girl standing beside her, Daisy Cornwell, seemed tall to Lucy, though she was only nine and looked thin and bony to the adults who controlled the world.
It was Daisy who now took Lucy's hand firmly in hers, conscious of her responsibility and very proud of it. It wasn't far from the school to the road where they lived, scarcely more than two hundred yards. There were no major roads to cross. That's what Lucy's mum had said when she asked Daisy to bring her daughter safely home from school. Nevertheless, it was a responsibility. Daisy's mum had stressed that to her and told her to come straight home and keep a tight hold on Lucy's hand. From the lofty experience of her nine years, Daisy recognized the tone in her mum's voice. Adults, and mums in particular, always fussed about things that were really quite straightforward.
But it was the first time she had done this, so she was being very grown-up and responsible. 'We'd better get you home,' she said officiously to Lucy. 'We don't want your mum getting worried, do we?' That was the kind of silly question adults asked; Daisy felt herself very much an adult today.
'What's a fair?' said Lucy.
'It's good, the fair,' said Daisy. 'You'll enjoy it. That's if you're allowed to go. It costs money.' That was all you needed to say. If things cost money, grown-ups always became keen on them.
Lucy looked doubtfully after the big man who had put the poster up on the noticeboard on the edge of the common. He was now stumping away towards the battered white van in which he had come here. 'Why d'you have to pay?'
Daisy gave the superior smile that comes from experience. 'You pay to go on the rides. They'll be putting them up tomorrow, ready for the weekend.'
'What sort of rides? Donkeys?' Lucy frowned. She remembered racing along the sands and screaming, whilst a rough man trotted beside her and told her to hold on tight. She'd pretended to enjoy it, because she'd been told it was a treat, but in truth she'd been glad when it was over, glad when she'd no longer had to feel the rough coat of the donkey scratching the tender skin on the insides of her bare legs. She didn't want donkeys coming to the common. That was a place where you threw tennis balls and tried to catch them, and patted friendly dogs.
'No, not donkeys!' Daisy Cornwell shook her head with a condescending smile at such ignorance. 'There'll be proper rides, with things going round and round and up and down. You pay to go on those. You can ride on a motorbike or on a little bus or on the footplate of an engine.' She couldn't remember what else there had been. It was a whole year ago now and she'd only been eight then, hadn't she?
'I can't drive a bus. I'd fall off a motorbike.'
'You don't have to drive, silly.' Daisy's immensely superior experience edged her voice with contempt. But she found it difficult to explain exactly why small people didn't need to drive. 'They're toy ones, fastened to the floor of the ride. But big enough to sit in. You pay when the man comes for the money. Then you go round and round and up and down on the ride. It's good. Your parents pay for you and wait for you at the side.' She looked down at the small, round face that was gazing at her so trustingly. 'Yours might go on with you, because you're still small.'
'I'm not that small!' The protest sprang readily to Lucy's lips because she'd made it so often.
'They won't want you going on the big rides on your own. Not at your age.' Daisy knew that she wouldn't be allowed to go to the fair on her own either, but she wasn't going to admit that to Lucy.
'Shan't go, then. Not bothered.' That was Lucy's unthinking, petulant reaction, her seven-year-old determination to assert herself in the face of this condescension from the bigger girl who was holding her hand so firmly. She knew that she wanted to go to the fair really, that her heart was eager for this new, exciting, perhaps frightening experience. It was all right being frightened when you had your hand held by a grown-up person and could bury your face in your mum's coat if it got too bad.
She told her mum that the fair was coming when Daisy delivered her to her home. She acted as if she knew all about fairs and had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this one for weeks. Her mum seemed to accept that.
'They grow up so fast, don't they?' Lucy heard her saying to their neighbour over the garden fence a few minutes later. It was a thing Lucy often heard her mother saying; she didn't know why she said it, but it seemed on the whole a good thing to say, because other people always agreed with her about it.
Mrs Gibson had greater things than fairs to worry about at present.
They had fish fingers and chips and peas for tea. Lucy liked that and left a very clean plate, which always pleased her mother. She felt better when she'd eaten. She'd only just started at the junior school and it was hard work after being one of the big girls last year in the infants. Mrs Copthall told them that they were in the big school now and had to work hard, and they didn't get the rest period they'd had in the afternoons in the first school, when they'd laid their heads on the desks on top of their arms and closed their eyes for a little while.
And you had to be careful at playtimes. You had to keep to your own bit of the yard and out of the way of the big boys and girls. They played their own games and didn't want little kids getting in the way. There were all kinds of things she was having to learn, as well as the things in the classroom which the grownups seemed to think were the only things that mattered. She came home very tired, but she always felt better after her tea.
They had homework now. Lucy had welcomed the idea at first, as another acknowledgement of her new school status, but after six weeks she had decided it was a nuisance, when she wanted to be playing with her toys or stroking next door's new kitten in the garden. It wasn't too bad tonight, because her mum seemed preoccupied with other things and was just as anxious to have it out of the way. She reeled off the ten words she had to learn to spell and was pretty sure she'd made a couple of mistakes, but her mother didn't seem to notice. She slammed the book shut as if she was as glad to be done with it as her daughter was.
Lucy talked about the fair again as she was putting on her jim-jams and getting ready for bed. 'There's different rides. They go round and round, faster and faster.' She added the last bit herself to make it sound more exciting. Mrs Copthall said you had to use your imagination to make things more exciting when you were writing. She wasn't writing now, but you had to practise, didn't you?
'We'll talk about it later in the week. You need to go to sleep now. And I need to get on with my jobs downstairs. There isn't time for a story tonight. I expect you'll be reading your own stories soon. You're getting to be a big girl now.'
Everyone told Lucy she was becoming a big girl. She'd liked it at first, but she was bored with it now. People seemed to say it when they couldn't think of anything else to say. Or when they didn't want to talk about what you wanted to talk about. She said stubbornly, 'I really want to go to the fair. All the others in my class will be going.' She'd no idea whether that was true, but it was usually a good argument, one that the grown-ups found hard to reject.
Her mum kissed her forehead. 'I expect you'll be able to go. Perhaps Matt will take you.'
Lucy wanted to say that she didn't want to go with Matt, that she wanted her dad back, that she wanted her dad to take her to the fair. But that would only upset her mum, and she didn't want to do that now, when she was lying flat in her bed in her clean jim-jams and could still feel the cool touch of her mother's lips upon her forehead.
She still felt vaguely unhappy when her mother had shut the door and gone downstairs. It was going dark early now that October was here. She'd liked it better in the summer when the sun was still an orange glow behind the curtains. Her dad had been here then, coming up to tuck her in on some nights. Now it was Matt who was the man in the house and he wasn't here all the time. Matt was all right, she supposed. He was kind to her, in a curious, careful sort of way. But he wasn't her dad. Mum said she'd soon get used to Matt, and perhaps she would. But she wasn't sure she wanted to get used to him.
Lucy Gibson stared up at the ceiling for a while, then fell fast asleep.
The men were erecting the fairground rides when Daisy took Lucy home from school on Friday. They were powerful men, who wore only dirty white vests and torn jeans above their trainers. Most of them had lots of tattoos. Some of these had words that Lucy couldn't read; some had snakes and lions and tigers; all of the designs rippled and flowed with the movements of the men's bodies. There was just one woman working with them; she was young, but she had tattoos as well.
The two girls stood well back from the wooden structures which were growing before their eyes. All this movement and effort had to be accorded a certain caution. Everything was urgent, as if these people were working frantically towards a deadline. If you got too near to the action, things might fall on you or hit you as the builders turned quickly, and it would be your own fault if that happened.
Lucy held the hand she clutched a little more tightly as she watched the sea of dark-blue limbs moving above her. 'I don't like tattoos,' she announced to Daisy. She'd only just decided that, after watching the men and the woman whirling their limbs in swift activity for several minutes.
'My sister's got one,' said Daisy. She paused for a moment, waiting for a reaction from her young charge. They watched a brawny man whirl a strut of wood which seemed impossibly long. 'My mum doesn't like it, but Pat says it's better than the ring in her belly-button that she might have had.'
'Belly-button,' said Lucy appreciatively. She liked that word – it had a good sound and it was just rude enough for her to enjoy repeating it. She could see the man's belly-button when he lifted the wood above his head and his shirt shot up and showed his stomach. She wondered if he had tattoos lower down on his belly, on the bits you were never allowed to see. Perhaps he even had them on his bum – he seemed to have them everywhere else. She giggled a little to herself at that daring thought, but didn't say anything. She wasn't allowed to say bum. She wondered if Daisy, who was two years older than her, was allowed to say bum.
There were dragons and unicorns on one of the roundabouts. That was the one that looked almost complete now. The dragons looked very battered, with shiny noses where people had clung on to them and paint missing at the sides where thousands of legs had clambered across them. They were the least frightening dragons that Lucy had ever seen, nothing like the ones in books which had fierce red faces and belched out fire from their nostrils. These dragons looked as though they might make quite good pets, like Mr Chadwick's old Labrador which lived at the end of her road. Did dragons have warm pink tongues, like old Barney? She rather thought the dragons on the roundabout would have warm pink tongues.
She told her mother about the dragons and the unicorns when they got home. Her mum didn't listen to her properly; she was busy giving Daisy a bar of chocolate for bringing her daughter safely home all week. Lucy thought she'd like to ride on the unicorn and clasp her hands around its horn, where so many thousands of hands had been before hers. She knew all about unicorns from a story they'd had when she was still in the infant school. She hadn't actually seen one. She checked the forehead of every horse she met, but she hadn't yet found one with a horn or even a bump that might grow into a horn. Unicorns must be quite rare.
She chattered on about the fair, but she didn't mention the men and their tattoos. Her mum didn't like tattoos and she might stop her going to the fair if she thought it was run by people with blue pictures and blue writing all over them. Lucy decided she didn't like tattoos much herself. They were frightening things, especially when you didn't understand what they were about and they bulged and rippled as people's bodies moved beneath their skins.
Her mum let her set the table, because Matt was coming tonight. Lucy laid out the cutlery with great care, remembering the order her mum had taught her and placing each knife and fork and spoon precisely as her tongue flicked each side of her mouth in turn. Mum was very pleased that Matt was coming. 'You'll have to be a good girl and keep quiet. Matt's been at work all week and he'll be tired.'
Lucy wished she could be as excited as Mum about Matt. But all it meant to her was that tea was going to be late, when she was hungry. Mum said she could watch television whilst she waited, and she put CBeebies on and sat in the big armchair with her legs stretched out as far as they would go in front of her. After a little while, she wandered into the kitchen and stood on one leg with both hands on the back of a chair, watching her mum at the stove. 'Will it be long?' she asked plaintively.
'Not long now, love. Matt will be here soon. He rang to tell me that five minutes ago. He's very thoughtful about these things, isn't he?' Lucy's mother seemed to be reassuring herself, but Lucy wasn't interested in that. Instead, she looked at the table and thought of when her dad had sat beside her and helped her with her food. She must have been very small then. She was a big girl now, as everyone kept telling her, and she must get used to a new situation. That was what her mum said. Mum seemed to say it almost every day now. Lucy wasn't quite sure about Matt. She thought she liked him, as people said she should. But he wasn't her dad, was he? Everyone said she must move on when she pointed that out. She wasn't quite sure what 'move on' meant. She wasn't going to forget her dad, whatever they said. But already she was finding it difficult to get a proper picture of him and how it had been between them. She wished she could see her dad more often.
And then Matt was in the house, ruffling her hair and smiling at her and calling her 'young 'un'. He went into the kitchen with Mum and shut the door firmly behind him, and they were quiet for what seemed to Lucy a long time. She heard her mum giggling a couple of times and whispering, so it must be all right.
Then the door burst open and there was food and noise, and both Mum and Matt were fussing over her. 'And what have you been up to this week, young lady?' said Matt when they were all sitting at the table with Mum's cottage pie and fresh green beans in front of them.
Lucy wished they'd just let her eat. She was hungry and she hadn't mastered this thing grown-ups seemed to do without any effort: talking whilst they were eating. When she tried to do it, she was told not to talk with her mouth full. The world seemed to get more confusing as you got bigger. It didn't seem any easier when her mum said brightly, 'Tell Matt about the fair,' and then turned to him herself and said, 'She's been getting more and more excited about it. She hasn't been old enough to appreciate a fair before.'
Adults were like that. They suddenly spoke as if you weren't there. They asked you to talk and then made some remark that somehow left you very little to say. Lucy said, 'I can't talk about the fair now. I mustn't talk with my mouth full.' Then she smiled down into the last of her cottage pie, feeling that she'd really said something quite clever.
They had strawberries and ice cream for afters, because Matt liked that. 'Make the most of this,' her mum told them, 'because these are probably the last British strawberries you'll have this year.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cry of the Children"
Copyright © 2013 J.M. Gregson.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seven-year-old Lucy Gibson can barely contain her excitement when she learns that the funfair has come to town and Matt, her mother's new boyfriend, has agreed to take her. Despite her slight uneasiness in Matt's company and her upset over her parent's split, she readily goes off with him one evening, as excited as only a young innocent child can be. The next morning, Chief Superintendent Lambert briefs DS Bert Hook and DS Ruth David on the disappearance of a young seven-year-old local girl from a funfair the previous evening. On questioning her distraught mother, it appears that Lucy has vanished into thin air and so begins an intense investigation, racing against time, to discover who took the young girl - and to prevent more children from going missing before it's to late..... A slightly stolid British police procedural, the character development is the saving grace of this book, making it a fun read. One quickly comes to identify with both Hook and Lambert, and with many of the less savory individuals in the story, as well. J.M. Gregson has managed to create characters that reader can immediately connect to particularly appreciated that both men went home to modest homes with normal families and normal hobbies... no drinking to insensibility whilst directing Wagner, no illicit assignations with co-workers. That was refreshing! This is a terrific book that provides a very well constructed mystery, investigated by a character who provides consistent entertainment. It's part of a series of books featuring Chief Superintendent John Lambert and Detective Sergeant Bert Hook the chemistry and the friendship between them is a big part of why I enjoyed this book.