It is eleven days before Christmas, and an early morning fire rages through a West London square, engulfing a convent tucked within a handsome residential neighborhood. Detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller arrive at the dreadful scene to find eleven dead bodiesbut there were only ten nuns in residence. Despite the department’s top brass pressing for the case to be solved before the holidays, the detectives suspect more than mere arson. Why did the nuns make no move to escape the fire? Who is the eleventh victim? And where is the convent’s influential priest liaison to the church, the one man who can answer their questions?
Shortlisted for the coveted Old Peculier Novel of the Year award, Eleven Days, the new entry in Sherez’s acclaimed series which began with A Dark Redemption, follows Carrigan and Miller as they unravel an elaborate mystery that spans four decades and two continents. On their second case together, the partners, at once fresh and familiar, confront both their haunting pasts and the dangers that threaten to cut short their futures. As pressure intensifies to close the case, they struggle to solve a hidden history whose exposure threatens both the church and the political establishment.
“Sherez scores high marks for his writing and characterization. Carrigan and Miller are shaping up to be an attractive duo.”The Times
“Engrossing . . . A surprising plot and well-developed characters led by Carrigan and Miller make for a highly satisfying mystery.”Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Stav Sherez is a freelance journalist and the author of three previous novels. The Devil's Playground (2004), his debut, was described by James Sallis as "altogether extraordinary, it introduces a major new talent," and his second novel, The Black Monastery (2009), was described as "dynamite fiction" in the Independent and 'spectacular' by Laura Wilson in the Guardian. A Dark Redemption (2013, Europa Editions) was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and is the first of a striking new police procedural series featuring DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller.
Read an Excerpt
Who are you?' the old woman said, pushing his hand away, her eyes wrinkled in confusion. She looked up at the nurse. 'Who is this man? Why did you bring him here?' Her voice was thin and wheezy and she lay swaddled in bedding, her skin as rumpled and folded as the blankets covering her. A single tear fell from her left eye and when Carrigan reached over to wipe it away the old woman flinched, shrinking back and pulling the sheets up over her head.
'It's okay,' the nurse said, and it took Carrigan a moment to realise she was addressing him and not the old woman. 'Probably better if you don't crowd her, she's very upset at the moment.'
He took a step back and then another. He listened to the machines that surrounded the bed beeping away, a slow rhythmic pulse that mimicked a heartbeat. He could hear relatives weeping in the room next door, the anguished cries and stifled sobs of other people's grief.
'Keep him away from me. Keep him away ...' the old woman kept repeating in a dry rasp, her bony fingers clutching the bedposts. 'I know why he's here. I know what he wants to do to me.'
Carrigan stepped back as the nurse tried to calm her with soft reassurances. She gently loosened the old woman's fingers from the bedposts and patted her head as if she were a newborn. The heat in the room was overwhelming, the windows barred, the radiators turned up high. The phone in his pocket was vibrating but he ignored it.
'I'm sorry you had to see her like this,' the nurse smiled awkwardly, exposing teeth straight and white, the faintest hint of gum. Her black hair caught the light and, for a brief moment, she reminded him of someone else and years ago.
He approached the bed cautiously, studying the old woman. How she'd changed. It was almost as if he were the one incapable of recognising her rather than the other way around. She seemed unravelled and trapped, lost in runaway memories, bone-pain and boredom; all the things that eventually catch up to you. He leaned over the bed and whispered in her ear.
She blinked twice and it was like she'd suddenly awoken from a deep and vivid dream. 'Why didn't you bring Louise?' she said, grabbing his wrist.
Carrigan tried to extricate his arm from her grip but it was surprisingly strong. He could feel the sharp drag of her nails against his skin, the press of flesh he knew so well, the simple entreaty communicated by this familiar gesture. These were the worst moments, when lucidity peeked through the fog of drugs and dying brain cells, when she remembered briefly who she was and who she'd been.
'Loui —' The words died in his throat and he leaned over and squeezed his mother's hand. 'She's at home with the kids. I'll tell her you asked after her.'
'Why doesn't she come to visit me any more?' his mother asked, and Carrigan had to turn away, not knowing what he could say or quite how to say it.
They stood outside the door to his mother's room, the nurse apologising for the old woman's behaviour, Carrigan nodding and shrugging, barely taking any of it in. His phone kept buzzing but it was his day off and he wasn't going to answer it. There were four messages from his superior, DSI Branch, three from Geneva, and several unidentified numbers. Whatever it was, he didn't want to know.
'Unfortunately, we see this quite often,' the nurse said, interrupting his thoughts. 'They start imagining things, almost always bad things. It's as if all the darkness they've successfully suppressed throughout their lives suddenly finds a way out.'
He turned towards her and shrugged and said, 'The brain can be a wonderful thing.'
The nurse gave him a strained smile and he could see that under the patina of back-to-back shifts and bedside dramas there was something beguiling about her face, some slight flaw in symmetry. 'She thought the attendants were sexually assaulting her. She tried to escape and fell from the bed. It's lucky she only broke her hip.'
He nodded because there was nothing to say to this, no easy answer that would make sense of why his mother's final years should be a drawn-out agony of fear and forgetting. She'd been in the nursing home four years now and it had been the most difficult decision he'd ever had to make. But, lately, she'd been getting worse — the broken hip was only the most recent in a long line of ailments and minor injuries, each taking her one step further away from the woman he remembered.
'She keeps asking for Louise, though,' the nurse continued. 'That's a good sign — a sign that some part of her is still interacting with the real world.'
He looked down at the cracked linoleum patterned with shoe scuffs and the snaky smears of trolley wheels. 'Louise was my wife. She passed away three years ago.'
The nurse gently placed her hand on his arm. 'I didn't realise.'
He could feel the heat of her body filling the cold spaces inside him and he shivered involuntarily and took a step back, glad that the nurse didn't try to console him with platitudes or empty phrases meant to make him feel better. He looked into her stark black eyes and saw storms and rages and everything she'd ever tried to forget, and he held her stare until they both looked away, slightly embarrassed.
'Thank you for taking care of her.'
'It's what I do,' she replied, her smile tempered by what had passed between them. 'My name's Karen ... if you ever need anything ...'
He reached out and shook her hand, feeling the warm blanketing of her palm against his cold flesh. 'Jack Carrigan.'
* * *
The phone in his pocket kept buzzing but he didn't want to look at it, let alone answer it. The walls were peppered with signs telling visitors to turn off their mobiles and he cursed himself for not having done so when he got here. His mother had been transferred from the nursing home to the hospital in the early hours of the morning and he felt lost and confused in these blank tunnelled spaces. He walked past rooms screened off where he heard relatives talking, arguing, sobbing behind blue curtains. Orderlies brushed past him pushing shrunken figures drowning in their wheelchairs. Wall-mounted TVs scrolled silent scenes of dusty revolution, earthquake and endless war. He looked in vain for the exit but the colour-coded signs only pointed towards the gloom of radiology units, oncology departments and the recurrent miscarriage clinic. All he wanted to do was get out of there and sink several espressos somewhere dark and empty where his thoughts wouldn't be crowded by the noise of other people's lives. He turned into another corridor identical to the one he'd just left. A wave of dizziness overtook him and he had to stop and steady himself against the wall. He took several deep breaths. The smell of fresh raisin cake filled his nostrils and he looked around, unsettled, but he could not see its source.
And then he remembered. An autumn day, the sun arcing through the windows of the house, splashing the kitchen with golden spray, each dust mote suddenly visible. His mother standing beside him, putting the last touches on his school uniform, and the smell of raisin bread as it cooked in the oven. The way you could almost taste certain smells, and the rough warm feel of her fingers as she pushed a stray lick of hair from his forehead. And, God, how she'd laughed, one of the only times he ever remembered her laughing, as he sank to his knees and knelt in front of the oven as if before some strange altar, his eyes glued to the miracles occurring within.
He tried to shut down the flashing rush of images, to focus on the next few moments, the next few hours, the slow sipped coffee the minute he got out of there, the double bill at his local cinema tonight, but it was no use.
He started back down the winding corridor, wondering if he would ever find his way out, when he turned a corner and saw the main exit, a group of people lined up in front of the admissions desk, doctors, nurses and the harried relatives of patients, and then he glanced to the front of the queue and saw Geneva arguing with the duty nurse, earplugs dangling from her neck and a can of Coke in her hand.
'I tried calling you. Several times.' She stepped away from the desk and he saw something in her expression and knew this wasn't going to be good.
'My day off,' he replied, annoyed but, he had to admit, also a little intrigued by what would bring her here. He was about to ask when he felt someone's hand alighting on the back of his jacket and his name being called. He turned round to see Karen detaching herself from a group of nurses clustered around the drinks machine.
They looked at each other mutely, a couple of feet apart, and Carrigan thought it felt like holding your breath.
'Lucky I caught you,' Karen said, breaking the silence, reaching into her jacket and pulling out a small white business card. 'I forgot to give you this.' She looked at it once then handed it to him. 'She'll probably be here a couple of weeks. If there's anything you want to discuss, just give me a call.'
He took the card and, without reading it, put it in his pocket. 'Thank you.'
She placed her hand on his shoulder. 'Don't worry. It gets better, you just have to —'
'I hate to interrupt.' Geneva stepped into the space between Carrigan and the nurse. She stared at Karen, her eyes flat and cold. 'But we really have to go.'
'Of course you do,' Karen replied softly, her shoulders dropping as she turned and melted back into the swirling crowd of giddy nurses.
'What the hell was that all about?' Carrigan snapped the seatbelt into its holder, catching the skin between thumb and forefinger, and cursed under his breath.
'Something's come up,' Geneva replied as she swung the car out of the parking space, through the main gate and back into the rush and glare of the city.
He nodded impatiently and stared up at the bleached sky, realising that while he'd been inside the hospital it had started to snow. Small white clumps fell lazily, spinning and dancing against the streetlights as the radio crackled news about a shooting in Peckham, a multiple vehicle collision on the M4, a rape in Richmond. 'How the hell did you know where to find me?'
'You told me.' Geneva almost hit a cyclist, swore and turned up the radio. 'Don't you remember?'
He couldn't but he nodded anyway, not wanting an argument, noticing how she'd closed herself down as soon as they'd entered the car. 'When did the snow start?'
'About an hour ago.' She took the Westway and they glided above the city, shrugging off the pink and brown houses, the dark wet streets and streaked parade of blurry lights. The sky turned steely and white as the snow bounced and starred on the windshield. 'Who was that you were talking to?' Geneva asked, her eyes squinted on the road ahead. 'She seemed very pretty ...'
'Were you visiting someone you know?'
'What the hell does it matter? Why am I even here?' He leaned forward and felt the seatbelt bite into his shoulder as Geneva pumped the brakes and swerved behind a lorry.
'Don't shout at me. Please. I'm trying to drive. This wasn't my decision.'
He took a deep breath, looked down, saw the coffee she'd bought for him going cold in the drinks holder. 'Sorry ... Christ ... it's been a long day.'
'It's going to get longer, I'm afraid,' she said, and this time he thought he could detect a note of sympathy in her tone. She reached for her lighter, the car starting to swerve across lanes. He took the cigarette from her mouth and lit it, the sudden taste unleashing a deluge of memories, then passed it back to her.
'Branch came to see me.' She took several quick drags, screwed up her face and threw the rest out the window. 'Wasn't happy.'
'What's so damn important he has to ruin my day off?'
She looked at him for the first time since they'd got into the car, her lips pressed tightly together. 'I don't know. He just told me to get you. He gave me an address, said there's been a fire.'
'A fire?' Carrigan shook his head, wondering if this was another of the super's increasingly irritating attempts at winding him up. Branch had never liked him and, after the events of last autumn, he no longer even bothered to hide it, sending Carrigan on wild-goose chases and waste-of-time inquiries whenever he could get away with it. 'Jesus, why us? We're not the bloody fire service.'
Geneva stared at the road ahead and said nothing; a year now they'd been working together and she was just learning to read his moods, knowing that when he got like this it was better to keep quiet and let him burn himself out. Being partners on the job was a lot like marriage in that respect, she thought, and then wished she hadn't, as the memory of Oliver, her ex-husband, came rising up out of the dark.
They descended from the flyover and splashed back into the city and suddenly it was all around them — the shuffle and hum of people, eleven days before Christmas, trying to get their shopping done, chatting and smoking outside pubs, kissing goodbye on street corners and staring up in wonder at the ghostly discs of falling snow.
But inside the car there was only silence. Carrigan closed his eyes, a headache beginning to spread across his skull, and took three deep breaths, his nostrils suddenly puckering. His eyes snapped open. He sniffed the air and checked the back seat.
'I hope that's not your cigarette.'
He'd meant it as a joke but somehow it hadn't come out like that at all. Geneva didn't answer but she rolled up her window and he knew that she'd smelled it too.
They turned off Queensway and into a narrow residential street, parked cars and spindly trees bordering them on both sides. The smell was stronger now, more acrid, and the day had begun to darken rapidly as if a curtain had been pulled across the sky.
Geneva stopped the car and they both sat there in silence. Through the murk of twisting smoke and smeary haze, they could see a sky lit up in orange and red streaks.
Carrigan stared up, entranced, everything else forgotten for the moment, and it took him a few seconds to realise that something was wrong.
He blinked but it didn't change a thing. He opened the car door and looked up at the sky unable to believe his own eyes.
Black snow was falling on the streets of Bayswater.CHAPTER 2
A thick column of smoke rose above the tall houses of St. Peter's Square. The far end of the street was blocked by two fire engines, a police patrol vehicle and a gathering crowd.
'It's like bloody Bonfire Night,' Carrigan grumbled as Geneva parked the car on a double yellow line outside the Greek Orthodox cathedral. The black snow was coming down heavy and thick and it was getting hard to see, the lights of the fire engines and patrol vehicles streaked and smeared against the dizzy profusion of snow.
Carrigan was unprepared for the sheer noise of the fire, the crackle and roar filling his ears as they made their way down into the square, past the fire service barricades and the silent trellised homes whose residents were crowded on narrow balconies, their heads craned towards the raging spectacle, eyes wide in mute astonishment.
Carrigan searched for the uniforms but there were so many people, all moving fast, that it was hard to get a sense of the scene. Fire engines edged towards the burning building, their ladders projecting into the night, hoses unfurling, the firemen wiping sweat from their brows and conferring among themselves. A small group of onlookers had managed to get past the initial cordon and were staring up, hypnotised, while others held phones above their heads as if in supplication, pushing one another aside for the best view. And yet, above all this, there was a sense of quiet celebration, of expectancy, perhaps the hope for a sprinkle of seasonal magic to light up everyday life.
'Christ, it's a fucking circus,' Carrigan said, approaching the fire command unit. Geneva tugged his sleeve and pointed out three uniforms, standing and watching the blaze, as transfixed as the public. From somewhere, maybe the next road along, they heard the ghostly voices of carol singers getting louder and then diminishing as the wind changed direction.
'Who's in charge here?'
The uniforms turned to see Carrigan standing behind them. They quickly adjusted their postures and looked at the floor. 'Forget it,' Carrigan said. 'We need to set up a perimeter, did no one think of that?'
The three looked at each other as if they'd been caught smoking by a teacher.
Carrigan ordered them to start clearing the area of onlookers and residents. He stared up at the large detached house, now totally engulfed in flames, yellow and red and blue, silently praying that the occupants had been shopping when the fire broke out. If the house had been empty it would mean he could hand the case over to another team. 'Happy Christmas!' he told the constables, and headed towards the main fire truck.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Eleven Days"
Copyright © 2014 Stav Sherez.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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.
What People are Saying About This
“A superior novel, well written and plotted, with a convincing backdrop about a continent that rarely features in crime fiction.” —Marcel Berlins, THE TIMES
“Fast paced and slick, this is the first in what could well be an outstanding series.” —Laura Wilson, GUARDIAN
“A Dark Redemption is a clever, multi-layered beginning to a promising new series . . . Sherez does a masterful job with a particularity haunting plot.”—Henry Sutton, (Book of the Week) The Daily Mirror
“This intriguing and well-written thriller is highly original . . . Sherez ventures into a part of London that crime fiction readers probably never see. A salutary read, highly recommended.”—Jessica Mann, Literary Review