Leonard Lawson was a respected professor of medieval art. He lived a quiet life in a suburb of Liverpool with his grown-up daughter. As far as anyone knew, he had no enemies. Louise Lawson watched her father die. Before she blacked out, she saw his body mutilated and deformed, twisted into a hellish parody of the artworks he loved. Investigating a killer bringing medieval horror to Merseyside, DCI Eve Clay must overcome her own demons to unpick the dark symbolism of the crime scene. A 50-year silence has been broken—with a message written in blood.
About the Author
Mark Roberts was a teacher for 20 years and now works with children with severe learning difficulties. He is the author of What She Saw, which was longlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger.
Read an Excerpt
By Mark Roberts
Head of Zeus, Ltd.Copyright © 2016 Mark Roberts
All rights reserved.
'He's been slaughtered.'
The old woman's words rolled around DCI Eve Clay's head as she sprinted from her car to the Sefton Park entrance of Lark Lane, where Scientific Support officers had already sealed off the scene of the crime.
'DCI Clay!' she told the constable running the log at the top of the lane.
'He's been slaughtered.' That's what the old woman had apparently said to the witnesses who had discovered her wandering at the junction of Pelham Grove and Lark Lane. But that was all.
The moon hung low in the clear sky. Sharp light fell on the glass façades of the shops and restaurants on either side of Lark Lane and, for a moment, Clay imagined she was running down a locked-in corridor of ice.
Closing in on a group of people under a streetlight, Clay slowed to read the scene. A female constable was crouched on her haunches next to an old woman lying in the recovery position on a pair of padded coats on the pavement. Looming above her, DS Gina Riley was deep in conversation with a couple, a man who looked like he'd been made from rubber tyres, and a beanpole woman. They put Clay in mind of Popeye and Olive Oyl.
'DCI Eve Clay.' She showed her warrant card. 'You're the couple who found her?'
'Yes,' said the man.
The woman looked at Clay with pleading eyes.
'Thank you for helping her. Do you know the old lady's name?'
'No!' They answered in one voice.
'Do you know where she lives?' asked Clay.
'Pelham Grove, I'm pretty sure,' said the woman.
'I've seen her coming in and out of the even side,' said the man.
'But she didn't appear to be physically injured?'
'Not until she fitted and smacked her head on the pavement.'
Clay stooped to take a closer look at the old woman, at the fresh wound on her forehead. The coats had been carefully laid under her body to stop her temperature from plummeting on contact with the freezing pavement, and the recovery position was neatly executed. She looked up at the witnesses.
'Are you care workers?' They looked at each other as if Clay was a gifted psychic. 'You've made a really good job of this.' She stood up to her full height. 'So, what happened?'
'She was wandering around in the middle of the road. We approached her and she said, He's been slaughtered. Then she wandered here, to this spot, had a seizure and hit the deck. We called 999. She stopped fitting after a minute and fifteen. We timed it. When she stopped fitting, we put her in the recovery position.'
'You didn't see anyone else around?' asked Clay.
'No,' said the man, calmly and firmly.
'Take me to where you think she lives,' said Clay.
A police car, siren off, blue light turning, sat outside The Albert on the corner of Lark Lane and Pelham Grove. Clay followed the man and woman into Pelham Grove and took in the whole scene with a 360-degree turn.
DS Karl Stone was getting dressed in a white protective suit at the back of a Scientific Support van.
Facing each other on either side of Pelham Grove, the tall Victorian terrace houses looked eerie in shadows and moonlight.
'Used to be large single dwellings, family homes when families were big,' said Stone. 'Most of the houses are flatted now, mainly student accommodation.'
Clay did a mental date check: the middle of December. 'A witness famine.' She sank deeper into the logic of the time and place, scanned the houses picked out by the Scientific Support van's Night Owl light. 'Looks like she's walked out of her home, away from the scene.' Clay combed the pavement with her torch, but there were no obvious bloodstains.
An ambulance siren drew closer at speed, giving Clay an unpleasant itch under her wrist. Not much time.
She dressed quickly in a protective suit. Lights came on in bedrooms as people woke up to the gathering police presence on their doorsteps. Her heart sank. Whatever had happened, it looked like those neighbours who were still in residence had slept through it.
'Who's the he? Who's been slaughtered? Husband? Brother? Father? Son?' A thought hit her hard. 'The killer's timed this so that the students wouldn't be around.'
As DS Bill Hendricks hurried into Pelham Grove, he called, 'The paramedics are loading her on to a trolley stretcher.'
'DS Riley!' called Clay. 'You go in the ambulance with the old woman. Call me when she comes round.'
'I got it!' Riley shouted back.
'DCI Clay!' The man's voice was loud and urgent. He was facing a house near the centre of the terrace. 'We're pretty certain this is the one.'
Clay hurried along the pavement and up the stone steps. She reached down to the edge of the door and gave it a shove with her gloved fingers.
The door opened a few centimetres. A strange pattern of light emerged within the house.
She turned to the witnesses. 'I think you're right. This is it.' DS Bill Hendricks and DS Karl Stone were behind her. 'You've given your details to the WPC?' They nodded. 'Thank you for your assistance.'
'We won't breathe a word to anyone about any of this,' said the woman.
'I'd appreciate that,' said Clay. 'Because if there has been a murder, my guess is the killer lives around here.' She registered their astonishment, allowed the uncomfortable notion to sink in. 'You've helped the old lady. Help me with your ongoing silence.'CHAPTER 2
Clay opened the front door a little wider and eyed the door bell covered with two beige sticking plasters in an uneven X. The home of a person or people who did not expect visitors.
The flickering light inside the property grew brighter.
The door of the neighbouring house opened. A middle-aged man, blinking himself awake, asked, 'What's going on?'
'Who lives here, sir?' Clay asked him, holding up her warrant card.
'Professor Leonard Lawson and his daughter Louise.'
'Karl,' she said to Stone, 'talk to this gentleman, please. DS Hendricks, I'd like you to come inside the house with me.'
She looked around, saw DS Terry Mason and his assistant Sergeant Paul Price with two large evidence bags crammed with aluminium stacking plates.
Clay pushed the door open wide.
As the hall came into view, her eyes were drawn to the top of the staircase. A faulty white electrical appliance appeared to be casting out bands of intense light from a room upstairs.
She took in the whole scene. To the right of the staircase, and in the doorways leading into the rooms downstairs, nothing appeared to stand out.
Clay turned her attention back to the light at the top of the stairs.
'OK, Terry, plate up the floor from the front door to the top of the stairs. We're aiming for wherever that light's coming from.'
'He's been slaughtered!'
Within seconds, Mason and Price were at the stairs, three plates down, three steps forward, moving with acrobatic precision. With moth-like compulsion to get directly to the light, Clay was grateful for their speed but also tempted to call, Go faster, faster, faster!
She stepped into the hall, followed the Scientific Support officers on to the stairs. She looked up at the light and called, 'Police! Anyone there, call out to me! We're coming up the stairs!'
Light bounced from a bedroom and shadows danced inside the light. Mason and Price were on the upstairs landing, heading towards it.
The dizzy days of Clay's youth flashed through her mind, school discos and rock concerts. 'It's a strobe light!' she said. And the strangeness of such an item in this place made her wonder out loud, 'But why?'
'We'll soon find out,' said Hendricks, at her back.
'Paul?' DC Price looked at DS Mason. 'As soon as we've plated up here, I'll carry on upstairs while you go down and look for a point of entry.'
They were at the bedroom door and Clay was at the top of the stairs.
'OK!' said Clay. 'Stop there! Thank you.'
'Eve!' Stone called from the front door. 'The neighbour told me he's been asleep since ten o'clock last night. Didn't hear or see a thing. Doesn't know jack.'
The father? thought Clay. He's been slaughtered.
Her senses flared into life.
'Karl, as soon as DC Price has finished putting the plates downstairs, I want you to start rooting through the house with him and looking for any information you can about the Lawsons.'
Clay turned her attention back to the bedroom door.
Light. Bright, fast-moving, repeating patterns of pure white light poured from the bedroom, swamping the darkness of the rectangular upstairs landing.
At the bedroom door, DS Mason handed her the stepping plates inside an evidence bag.
She looked at him. 'Go and prepare downstairs.'
Deeper inside the house, Clay heard air rattling in the pipes. The screw at her centre turned, clarity increased and she was compelled to get inside the bedroom.
The faintest smell of blood sharpened in her nostrils.
She opened the bedroom door wide enough to place down two plates, sufficient for her to stand inside the room and look at what had happened under the relentless white light of the stroboscope.
She glanced back at Hendricks and caught her own reflection in an oval mirror on the landing wall. The pattern of light transformed her into something other than her normal self. Her tall, thin body hidden by a white protective suit, her black hair concealed by a hood, only her face visible.
Turning back to the bedroom door, Clay heard her own voice – 'Call out if you can hear me?' – even though she knew in her heart there would be no sign of life, that she had arrived at a place made forever different because a killer had called there. The wind whispered 'Murder' as it pushed on the window frame.
She stooped, pressed her little finger to a spot near the bottom of the door and began to open it.CHAPTER 3
Clay looked through the widening gap in the doorway and counted to three as strobe light bombarded the walls and ceiling and darkness drummed inside its stark white rhythm.
She entered the room and her eyes settled on the right-hand corner and the source of the disorientating light. The effect was bizarre.
An old man's naked body appeared to hang upside down in mid-air. His arms stretched straight up to the ceiling. His legs, bent at the knee, feet parallel to his hands, mirrored the arms. The flat of his back was half a metre from the carpet, a human being as a crooked U, defying gravity.
She took out plates from the evidence bag and, advancing towards the corpse, laid them down and stepped on them.
'Come in, Bill. Take a video on your phone as you do so! I want a filmed record of what the killer wanted us to see.'
He stepped in behind her and she felt a crumb of comfort, sensing his tall, physical presence. 'I'm filming!'
'I need to get closer. I need to know what's really going on here.'
As she stepped nearer, Clay made out the shape of a long, thin line above Leonard Lawson's body, a line that came and went under the bullying light. She reached out her right hand and with her index finger touched the solid shape of the line. It felt like wood. She looked closer, at his wrists and his ankles, and saw that he was tied to a wooden pole by dark, ragged rope.
His head lolled back, thin wisps of long, grey hair dancing in the mean breeze that leaked through the old wooden window frame behind his suspended corpse.
She concentrated on his face and head. His eyes showed just red-streaked white, the irises having rolled to the back of his head. On the left-hand side of his skull there was a vivid mark, where a blunt object had smacked him with force.
Clay looked for the beginning and the end of the pole from which he was hanging. She traced the top of the pole to the corner where two walls met and the bottom to the base of the bed beneath the mattress.
Closing her eyes, she digested the details in her mind and prepared to empty her senses to focus long and hard on the whole picture: Leonard Lawson strung up like a beast, his body staged above a strobe light.
But the shadow-rich cave in her own head was invaded by the patterns of light and dark that had battered her retina. She opened her eyes and looked again.
The light fell with such energy and recklessness that it stripped death from the old man's features. It turned his face into a shifting façade of extreme emotions, almost within the same second. In silence, he laughed hysterically then veered into an ecstasy that morphed into absolute madness.
'What's that?' Clay asked, her skin crawling, noticing another piece of wood that had been shielded by the thick pole from which Leonard Lawson's body was suspended. She angled her head and drove a beam of torchlight on to this other length of wood. Then she crouched on to her haunches and checked his bare back.
'We'll have to turn the strobe off and the main light on.'
She reached down to the electrical socket on the skirting board and plunged the room into virtual darkness. Second-hand streetlight seeped in through a gap in the curtains and Clay used her torch to make it back to the door.
'Jesus! What have you seen, Eve?' Hendricks asked.
'Have a look for yourself. Are you ready?'
Clay turned on the main light and called central switchboard.
'DCI Clay. Pelham Grove off Lark Lane is now a murder scene. I want as many officers as we've got in and around the Sefton Park area.'CHAPTER 4
Stone weighed up the spaces downstairs in the Lawsons' house, noticed that there was no sign of disturbance or violence.
Starting in the hallway, he gained an overview of all the downstairs rooms with the lights on and doors wide open. In the living room at the front of the house, DC Price brushed the door with black fingerprint dust.
Stone moved to the next room. Door open and light on, the room was full of books and dominated by a huge walnut desk on which sat an old Imperial typewriter. Professor Lawson's study.
Next to the study, Stone discovered a small parlour with a three-piece suite and a coffee table; the best furniture so far, from a bygone age when perhaps the Lawsons received visitors.
At the kitchen door, Stone listened. From upstairs, Clay and Hendricks's voices travelled through the fabric of the building and Mason moved around with stealth and speed.
A lightbulb hung from the ceiling, thinly disguised by a brown lightshade. He turned the kitchen light on and off and on again and saw a stove from the 1970s and a 1960s Formica-topped dining table and chairs.
Coldness sailed into Stone's face from the back door as he looked for a point of entry. He counted: sixteen rectangular pieces of glass in the wooden door, each of which appeared whole and untouched. The wind crawled under the door and round the top and side, whispering, hissing.
Stone looked at the door handle, the skeleton key in the mortise lock and the pane of glass closest to it. He clicked his torch on and explored the edges of the pane. Fine flakes of gloss paint littered the ledge, sitting among sand-like grains of glass.
He turned the key in the lock and opened the door, calling, 'Pricey, can you stop what you're doing and come here right now!'
Brush and dust pot in hand, DC Price marched across the kitchen.
'What have you got, Karl?'
'Put your hand by that bottom ledge.' Stone pointed at the glass rectangle nearest the lock. As Price put his brush into the dust pot to free up his right hand, Stone crouched outside the kitchen door. 'Don't move your hand!'
Stone pressed both index fingers into the top corners of the glass rectangle and it moved, slowly at first, then falling easily into Price's hand.
'Neat and tidy. Taken out and put back in its place,' said DS Stone.
Holding the glass by its top two corners, DC Price held it up to the light and examined the surface. 'Not that neat, not that tidy.'
Stone took the glass from Price and saw a set of clear fingerprints. He handed it back and said, 'We need to get this off to be processed against the national fingerprint database right now.'
On his iPhone, Stone opened Messages, Contacts and texted Clay: Eve, we have a point of entry, the back door of the house leading out from the kitchen. There are clear prints on the glass. If they belong to the killer and he has a record, he might as well have left his name and address.
He pressed send and watched Price, in the hall, slip the glass into a plastic evidence bag and hand it to a constable at the front door.
Stone walked into the front living room and looked around. With no pictures on the walls, an old-fashioned green velvet three-piece suite and a basic television set, it felt miserly.
Excerpted from Dead Silent by Mark Roberts. Copyright © 2016 Mark Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus, Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About Dead Silent,
Prologue: Thursday, 24th October 1985,
Part One: Darkness,
Part Two: Sunrise,
Part Three: Sunset,
Epilogue: Friday, 21st December 2018,
About Mark Roberts,
The Eve Clay Series,
An Invitation from the Publisher,