In Northern Ireland’s darkest corner, the Troubles have never ended
Though bombs no longer rock Belfast, for some the fight goes on. Retired Special Branch agent David Hughes disappears after looking into the previously closed case of Oliver Jordan, who went missing at the hands of the IRA decades ago. Soon after, a former spy is found bludgeoned to death, the day after placing his own obituary in the newspaper. Beneath Northern Ireland’s modern calm, ancient jealousies threaten to rend the country asunder once more.
A Catholic detective in a Protestant nation, Celcius Daly knows too well the agonies of sectarian strife. To solve this string of murders, he must reach decades into the past, confronting a painful history that Ireland would prefer to forget.Disappeared is the 1st book in the Inspector Celcius Daly Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Anthony Quinn (b. 1971) is an Irish author and journalist. Born in Northern Ireland’s County Tyrone, Quinn majored in English at Queen’s University, Belfast. After college, he worked a number of odd jobs—social worker, organic gardener, yoga teacher—before finding work as a journalist. He has written short stories for years, winning critical acclaim and, twice, a place on the short list for the Hennessy Literary Awards for New Irish Writing. His book Disappeared was nominated for the Strand Critics Award for Best Debut Novel, and Kirkus Reviews named it to their list of 2012’s Top 10 Best Crime Novels. Quinn also placed as runner-up in a Sunday Times food writing competition. Quinn continues his work as a journalist, reporting on his home county for the Tyrone Times.
Read an Excerpt
By Anthony Quinn
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2012 Anthony Quinn
All rights reserved.
One month later, Coney Island, Lough Neagh
"This time they plan to kill you."
Joseph Devine turned his head in the cramped bird-hide to see who had spoken, but there was no one there. His eyes were tired, and were watering in the biting wind that gusted a mile from the gray shore.
"For God's sake, hasn't scaring me been enough?" he whispered.
"Not this time. Not for them. They've waited too long."
"I never harmed anyone," he said. But that was what he always claimed.
All day he had been hiding on an island that was a haven for waterfowl but a precarious sanctuary for a frightened old spy.
Even here, the voice had followed him.
"I've given up informing," he pleaded. "I've stopped pretending to be something I'm not. Can't they see that?"
"Don't you know, Joseph?" goaded the voice. "A spy without an act is very soon no spy at all."
There was nothing more he could say.
He peeped through the binoculars at the scene he feared had been planned as the stage for his death—an empty cottage huddled within a wooded shoreline. It was still difficult for him to imagine that he was going to die now, at this stage of his life, with the Troubles over, and a cease-fire in place.
The voice had him hemmed in with guilt.
"Your conscience has finally worn you out, Joseph. It waited patiently all these years. It had an advantage over you. Time."
For most of his life Joseph Devine had been running from someone or something, the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the IRA, strange cars in the rearview mirror, unexpected phone calls late at night, even the shadows at the bottom of the lane. Not that he would ever admit a tremor of remorse for the betrayals he had carried out during his forty-year career, but he had never stopped glancing over his shoulder, looking for the shadows he knew would always be there. When the Troubles ended, and Special Branch effectively retired him, his greatest fear was that suddenly he had eluded even the most secretive of his pursuers. What void had he tumbled into now they were gone? If no one was watching him, he knew he would never be free from himself and the voices in his head.
The plaintive call of a mallard drake cut through the air and, cupping his hands, he made a raspy guttural sound in reply, stringing four hail quacks together quickly, coaxing the anxious bird to return to the hide. He was keeping the creature close by in the hope that it would toll an alarm at the approach of an intruder. He expected even the snap of a twig end to set off a Geiger counter of quacking.
The drake heard the imitation of a hen in distress and, banking hard, turned and flew straight back. About twenty yards from the hide, it fluttered its wings and landed on the water. Devine allowed himself a brief smile at the bird's smooth return.
"That's more like it," said the voice. "Now you're covering the angles. After all, there's no better spy in the world than a wild bird. A master stroke of geometry, Mr. Devine, as Master Brannigan, old Brandy Balls himself, would have said."
With the sky coaxing the last embers of light from the western horizon, Devine lifted the binoculars again and checked the house he had hoped would be a place of rest in his old age. He scrutinized the bottom of the lane, the impassable thicket of blackthorns that bounded the untended garden, the alignment of the ragged curtains in the cottage windows, watching for a sign of the shadows he had been hiding from since he was a teenager.
A hunting gun lay by his side, the thin barrels resting against his stubbled cheek. He cursed, remembering he had not practiced shooting with his new gloves. Their thickness might change the way he held the weapon and pulled the trigger. He stretched his tired fingers, feeling the damp chill that had penetrated even the leather, and tightened his grip on the binoculars.
A straggle of crows spun away from a nearby oak tree and his close-up view of the cottage wobbled. When he refocused, the house still sat softly on the shore. But for the absence of smoke curling from the chimney, it was an image of domestic peace. The crows settled down and night leaned along the shoreline. He sighed and dropped his gaze.
"Time to rest now, Joseph," purred the voice. "It's been hard work keeping up the pretense all these years. The effort has worn you out. God knows, it's a miracle how you survived at all."
Barbs of frost rose from the freezing floorboards, sending spikes of cold through his feet and knees. He felt himself sink inward like a hibernating animal, the cold gravity of winter pulling at the core of his being. The strain of the daylong surveillance had taken its toll.
"Close your eyes and sleep, Joseph. You've found the perfect hiding place for the perfect spy."
Although he was sure his enemies were buried in their graves, their ghosts had been patrolling his dreams for years, tormenting him, coming for him at night in flurries like leaves from an immortal tree. His only relief was in playing his favorite record, the earliest present from his father, a scratched recording labeled Dawn in the Duck-Hide. Side one was a narrated introduction to fowl hunting, while the flip side played uninterrupted sounds of marsh creatures waking at sunrise.
A keen duck hunter all his life, the recording never ceased to enthrall him. The cries, warbles, and soft ruffling calls soothed his mind, inducing the rush of equilibrium through his veins he had once found in alcohol. It was during one such listening that a solution presented itself as to how he might finally free himself of the past.
He had been deluding himself, however. When the phone rang that morning, a convinced panic took hold of him. The familiar voice at the other end had spoken only a few words, but the call prompted his flight from the confines of the cottage. He knew then without doubt that his enemies were assembling for their final act of revenge.
The back door was stiff with frost, and he had to heave it open with his shoulder. Though his arthritic hands ached, he dragged the rowing boat along a slippery bank to the shore, his breath carving contorted shapes in the air. The sharpness of the morning strained his lungs, and welts of ice cracked beneath his boots, tearing the stillness of the shoreline.
The island. He was sure his pursuers were unaware of the refuge he had created there. He had not survived all these years without at least a vestige of his old craftiness.
The shadows began their pursuit when he was a teenager. He thought the sleek car was lost and its occupants looking for directions, pulling up alongside him as he trudged home from a football match. The driver's window rolling down to reveal a man with a gray face and gray eyes, his voice low and deep as the powerful engine of the car.
"Fancy playing for the opposition, Joseph?" he said with a smile.
His name, how had the man known that? For a second he innocently thought the driver was the manager of the neighboring parish's team.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked.
"That's not important right now, Joseph. Let's just say I'm a scholar and my special field of study is you." His cold eyes narrowed, searching the boy's face for a reaction.
"All I want is a little information about some bad boys, like who's doing what and with whom. We'll look after you, pay you well, sort you out if you get into trouble, help you if the soldiers give you hassle."
He stepped back, his trainers sinking into the roadside mud, overwhelmed with the feeling that he had become a keyhole through which a very bright light was shining.
"No thanks, mate," he said, unable to stop the panic squeezing through into his voice.
The man, whom he came to know simply as the Searcher, nodded slowly and seemed satisfied with his response.
"Fine, no harm done then," he said, rolling up the window. He gave a half-salute and drove off.
But there were more encounters on empty roads, with conversations about uncles who had been beaten up, sick relatives harassed by soldiers, and warnings that he was being followed by paramilitaries. Sometimes promises of money and fast cars were made, sometimes veiled threats uttered, and all the while the Searcher's cold eyeballs stared relentlessly into the boy's, steady as magnetic needles, pointing to the flaw, the line of weakness inside him he had not suspected was there.
In the years of subterfuge afterward, he had grown to realize one inescapable truth—that his first act of betrayal was like a fire that would never completely burn itself out. He had run through his life like a child in a dark forest, longing for an all-consuming betrayal to blaze behind him, burning everything, leaving behind only ashes, no smoke, no sparks, no burning embers, no traces, no shadows, only ashes.
The distant croak of a crow stirred him from a brief and uncomfortable sleep. He listened intently to its pattern. Caw-aw, caw-aw, caw-aw. Even though the call was half drowned in the evening fog, he recognized it as the crow's signal that all was safe.
He smiled at the thought of relying on a crow to keep his darkest terrors at bay. On a hunting expedition, he would have thought nothing of blasting it out of the sky.
It was roosting time now, and all along the shore, waterfowl were swarming back to their nests, their calls bubbling up into the gathering night. Closing his eyes, he assembled the roosting calls in his mind, mapping out their locations on the island. In the dark of the hide, his sense of place was delicately rooted by this shifting web of birdcalls, and as he listened to their noises and the twilight ruffling of their wings, he was slowly lulled back to sleep.
A distressed croak from the mallard woke him with a start. The sound filled him with concern, the quack resembling a death cry, a wet gouging sound throttled from the bird's throat. He climbed out of the hide and waded toward the source of the quacking, but the sound had abruptly ceased, swallowed up in the darkness of the freezing night.
Another distressed quack sounded in the undergrowth. This time in the clear air, he heard the crack in the call. A wrong note. A human note. The person imitating the call was an expert but his ears were no longer deceived.
A movement snatched the focus of his eyes and he knew then that a path leading to death had opened up. The reeds moved and he sensed the shadows hasten toward him. Plunging through the marsh to the duck-hide, he caught sight of another shape looming before him. As he wheeled around, he heard a noise that sounded like laughter.
The voice he had heard that morning on the phone spoke in the darkness. It had changed subtly, deformed after all these years with contempt or illness. He tried to pinpoint its location, a black orifice amid the silently moving shadows, directing them toward their prey.
He had not realized his pursuers would be that many. Their number filled him with dread. What if they all wanted retribution, to have him divided up and subjected to their individual versions of hell? How many deaths could a man endure?
He surrendered his last hope when a heavy object struck him across the face and his mouth filled with blood. Another strike sank his left eye into his skull like a nail.
His remaining eye gaped around as the shadows tore at his clothing and rained down blow upon blow, stripping him to his bare skin. And then an executioner's silence as they paused for breath. Holding his naked sides, he tried to roll away, his body doubling up with pain.
"You murderous bastard," said the familiar voice close to his blinking eye, a cold smile drawn across his lips like a visor.
"I never killed Jordan, if that's what you believe," he pleaded.
"But you were in cahoots with those who did," the voice countered, thick with saliva, ready to gobble up the cold dish that was being served.
"I just wanted to help his family. Make amends for what happened."
Too hurt to move he tried to beg for mercy.
"I give up, I give up," he whispered, more in the form of a promise to himself.
But the shadows did not give up until it was almost dawn. Pounding and hacking at his body as if they had been fasting for years from violence to enjoy this feast.
When they had finished their job and left the island, a flock of crows gathered around the victim. As the dawn's stain seeped through the sky, the crows began their scolding, their cries obliterating the usual morning chorus, screaming and condemning the grisly sight before them. But there was no audience left to hear them. A thin rain began to fall, coming down like a curtain over the informer and the island that was a haven for waterfowl.CHAPTER 2
They had told the new police recruit a lot of his time would be spent in the company of drunken people. When he answered the urgent call on Saturday night, he was beginning to realize this was an absurd understatement. The officer had just finished his first tour of the pubs of Armagh City with a colleague. He was feeling irritable, unused to the clamor at closing time, the staggering drunks gaping through the windows of the patrol car, their exaggerated shouting and laughing penetrating the reinforced glass. He could not escape the observation that the throng of young people cavorting down the street was like a poisoned organism celebrating its own death throes.
He had been revolted by the sight of bodily fluids ejected in alleyways and against walls—the bubbling mess of nighttime intoxication washing down the streets of the ecclesiastical city. Sitting in the passenger seat, he had felt like a diver trapped in an underwater cage, flinching at the grinning under-faces of sharks reeling by.
"There's nothing stopping them from partying now," the older officer had remarked.
Northern Ireland's rural towns were no longer mute, inhibited little corners of sobriety and sectarianism. To his colleague, however, the liberated nighttime scenes were a strong endorsement of the curative powers of a little terror. Say what you like about the paramilitaries and trigger-happy troops, they knew how to keep the rabble in their place.
In the quiet of the control room, the new recruit listened to the stricken caller and assumed it was a case of a drunken relative not arriving home. He suspected the caller herself might be intoxicated too. He almost had to hold the phone away from his ear to grasp what she was saying. He fumbled for a notepad. Behind the high-pitched words, he detected a sinewy note of control in the woman's voice, as though her usual self-command had been overwhelmed by a wave of turmoil. The officer took the details and checked the whereabouts of the patrol car.
Then he donned a bulletproof vest and stepped outside into the protective shadow of the watchtower, where he lit a cigarette. The female desk sergeant he would normally have chatted and flirted with at this hour was unfortunately off duty. Dealing with the boredom of the long wait till dawn was a professional technique the young officer had yet to master.
He stubbed the cigarette out and came to a decision. Inspector Celcius Daly always reminded the night-shift officers to phone him if anything unusual occurred, especially at the weekend. By this, he meant to exclude the long tail of alcohol-related crimes. The request, usually delivered with Daly's stray, fatigued eyes sweeping upward as if in prayer, had the effect of motivating the officer to handle alone whatever problems arose. On this occasion, however, the new recruit decided to press ahead and risk Daly's irritation.
Celcius Daly had sat up late drinking whiskey by a turf fire in his father's cottage. The turf belonged to a moldy batch his father had cut the previous summer. The old man had probably handled each piece five times before bringing them home and still they were wet. The damp smoke had filled the room and triggered a coughing fit. Daly had wrapped himself in a duffel coat and made his way out to the open porch, where the air was sharp and clean but cold.
He saw the moon rise and combine with the frost to form a silvery rime on the ridge of potato drills his eighty-two-year-old father had watched over until the week of his death. He refilled his glass and returned to stare at the broken ridges shining in the moonlight like the rib cage of a hungry beast. In his intoxicated state, he must have found the moonlit tableau diverting. It was well after three a.m. before he stumbled to bed.
The phone jarred him from his sleep. His stomach leaped, and he cursed involuntarily. He had just slipped into a remarkable dream—a series of lottery balls swiveling into view, their numbers shining with the luminosity of a premonition. He had watched them drop into place: 49, 11, 21, 7 ...
Excerpted from Disappeared by Anthony Quinn. Copyright © 2012 Anthony Quinn. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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What People are Saying About This
“Quinn has developed a plot that immerses the reader into a darkness we have only read about in the papers or seen on the late night news.” —The State-Journal Register
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An excellent read. The main character, Celsius Daly, isn’t your usual type of detective. The plot is strong and original, writing is compelling. Very enjoyable, and highly recommended. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A modern take on noir, as dark as a pint of Guinness and just as satisfying.