The first book in a gripping new crime series featuring DCI Anna Tate.
When nine children are snatched from a nursery school in South London, their distressed parents have no idea if they will ever see them again. The community in the surrounding area is in shock. How could this happen right under their noses? No one in the quiet suburban street saw anything – or at least that's what they're saying.
But DCI Anna Tate knows that nothing is impossible, and she also knows that time is quickly running out. It’s unclear if the kidnappers are desperate for money or set on revenge, but the ransom is going up by £1million daily. And they know that one little boy in particular is fighting for his life.
It’s one of the most disturbing cases DCI Anna Tate has ever worked on – not only because nine children are being held hostage, but because she’s pretty sure that someone close to them is lying…
The first book in a gripping new crime series, perfect for fans of Angela Marsons’ Detective Kim Stone Series and LJ Ross’ DCI Ryan Mystery series.
What others are saying about IN SAFE HANDS:
‘What a page turner!’ Reader review
‘If you’re looking for a book that will delight you whilst creeping you out, entertain while keeping you awake NEEDING to know what will happen, then you need this book.’ Reader review
‘A very fast paced book … I raced through it in one sitting… I can't wait to see what Anna Tate does next!’ Reader review
‘Full of suspense with a full cast of well developed characters, the story was engaging and original. Really looking forward to the next book in the series’ Reader review
‘In Safe Hands, is hard hitting, gripping, suspenseful, chilling… A cat and mouse, race against the clock that felt like a whirlwind… it's such a corker of a read!’ Dash Fan Book Reviews
‘A totally different book with a different premise to the norm… The story twists and turns and I will certainly be reading the next one in the series’ Reader review
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About the Author
J. P. Carter is the pseudonym of a bestselling author who has also written sixteen books under the names Jaime and James Raven. Before becoming a full-time writer he spent a career in journalism as a newspaper reporter and television producer. He was, for a number of years, director of a major UK news division and co-owned a TV production company. He now splits his time between homes in Hampshire and Spain with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
It was a quiet morning so Detective Chief Inspector Anna Tate was taking the opportunity to get to grips with the pile of paperwork on her desk. There were witness statements, forensic reports, and dozens of crime scene photographs.
All the documents and pictures related to the eleven ongoing cases that were being dealt with by the Major Investigation Team based in Wandsworth, South London.
The team were making slow progress on most of them, partly because they had run out of leads and partly because resources were almost at breaking point. But it was the same story all across London, which had been hit by a perfect storm of soaring crime and police manpower cuts.
For Anna the quiet days were the hardest because she had too much time to dwell on the personal issues that made her life so difficult. This morning her thoughts kept switching between her troubled past and the argument she'd had the previous evening with Tom over their future together.
It was why she was finding it difficult to concentrate on the file she was currently wading through. This one dealt with the murder of a teenage girl in Battersea. Her body had been found four months ago and they were still no nearer to finding her killer.
Anna sighed as she picked up a photograph of the girl's body lying in a narrow alley. She'd been badly beaten and sexually assaulted, and it had happened only three days before her sixteenth birthday.
Anna was still staring at the photo half a minute later when her office door was thrust open and Detective Inspector Max Walker came rushing in. His face was pinched and tense and his bald head was shiny with perspiration.
He held up a sheet of paper and said, 'We've got a live one, guv. Call just came in and it sounds pretty serious.'
Anna was at once alert. Even though he was still in his early thirties, Walker was one of the most experienced members of her team, and he was not prone to exaggeration.
'There's an ongoing incident at a nursery school in Peabody Street, Rotherhithe,' he said. 'Three men with guns entered the place and locked the all-female staff in a storeroom. There are four of them and one has been badly beaten.'
Anna jumped to her feet.
'Who called it in?'
'One of the women from inside the room. She used a phone the men didn't know they had.'
'Jesus. If it's a nursery then there must be children.'
Walker nodded. 'There are nine kids apparently, but the staff have no idea what's happening to them because they were put into another room.'
Anna felt her chest contract as the adrenalin fizzed through her veins.
'Have shots been fired?' she asked.
Walker shook his head. 'Not so far.'
'Thank God for that.' She grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. 'We'd better get over there fast.'
Minutes later they were in an unmarked pool car that was among dozens of police vehicles from all over South London converging on the Peabody Nursery School in Rotherhithe. Walker was driving while Anna concentrated on the constant stream of updates over the radio.
She learned that an armed response team was being dispatched and that the three men who had descended on the nursery had posed as detectives from Rotherhithe CID.
She also took a call on her phone from her boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Nash.
'I've just been told what's going down,' he said. 'I'm in a meeting at the Yard so I'll be monitoring the situation from here. Meanwhile, you're authorised to assume the role of senior investigating officer. Everyone will know by the time you get there.'
'Thank you, sir,' Anna said. 'I'll keep you posted.'
Information was continuing to come from the woman who had called it in. She'd identified herself as Sarah Ramsay, the owner and manager of the nursery. The emergency operator had kept her on the line so that she was effectively providing a running commentary. But what she had to say was useful only up to a point. She didn't know if the armed men were still on the premises or if the children were being held hostage.
Not knowing what to expect when they got there was causing Anna's stomach to twist with grim apprehension.
'We should be there in under ten minutes, guv,' Walker said as he stamped on the accelerator, propelling them through a set of red lights with the siren blaring.
Anna did a Google search for the Peabody Nursery in Rotherhithe. She discovered that it was one of a chain of half a dozen Peabody Nurseries across London that catered for children between the ages of three and five. The one in Rotherhithe was the first, hence the name of the chain. There were exterior photos of the single-storey building and the bright and cheerful rooms inside.
It had its own website that described it as a school where parents could 'leave their little ones in the knowledge that they would always be safe and secure'.
Anna reflected on the horrible irony of this statement as Walker steered them through the traffic at breakneck speed. She could no longer distinguish whether the pulsing in her ears and the hard pounding in her chest were caused by the shrill siren of the police car, or the sheer dread she felt as they got closer to Rotherhithe. Anna swallowed hard as she gripped the corner of her seat, concentrating on the road in front of her and pushing thoughts of what they might find when they reached their destination to the back of her mind.CHAPTER 2
They got to Peabody Street just minutes after the armed response team. Two squad cars had also just arrived and were being used to cordon off the road at both ends.
A uniformed officer waved them down and gestured for Walker to park against the kerb behind one of the ARVs.
Anna climbed out and flashed her warrant card, then hurried over to where the armed officers had gathered on the pavement in front of the nursery school. It was sandwiched between a three-storey block of flats and a church community centre. The small, red-brick building was set back behind a five-foot-high wall, and the front door stood half open. There were two cars parked on the forecourt, but no sign of life.
The armed officers – members of Scotland Yard's specialist firearms command – were waiting behind the wall for the signal to go in. All six were kitted out in black helmets, visors and Kevlar body armour. They carried assault rifles and Glock 17 pistols.
Anna approached the team leader and was pleased to discover that they knew each other. Jason Fuller was a tall, middle-aged guy with craggy features and a strong jawline. Their paths had crossed more than a few times over the years.
'I heard you were on your way,' he said. 'And I'm guessing you know about as much as I do.'
Anna nodded. 'Four female staff members locked in a storeroom by three men who turned up armed with guns. It happened about forty minutes ago. And there were nine children here at the time who were apparently put into another room.'
'And we don't know if the perps are still inside or if we're dealing with a hostage situation.'
'That about sums it up,' Anna said. 'But we can't afford to hang around waiting for something to happen. We have to go in.'
'I agree, but not before we're ready. There are no sounds coming from inside, and so far we haven't spotted movement at any of the windows. I've got my men checking the rear of the building and I want to see if we'll get a response through a megaphone appeal first.'
Anna knew that he was right to be cautious. If the three men were still inside then God only knew how they were going to react when they stormed the building. The counter-terrorism unit were also on standby, though the very thought of this being a terrorist attack caused the blood to stiffen in Anna's veins. Behind her, a police radio crackled and she heard a disembodied voice informing everyone that the women were still locked in the storeroom.
Walker was standing right behind her with several uniforms. She saw that two more squad cars and an ambulance had turned up. Neighbours had also started to gather beyond the cordons.
The scene was bathed in bright August sunshine and the temperature was rising. Anna's blouse was already sticking to her back beneath her jacket.
She'd been a copper for seventeen years and had never experienced a situation quite like this before, where nine infants were thought to be involved and at risk. Nine toddlers, presumed to be between the ages of three and five; completely helpless and vulnerable. Were they still in the building, locked up in a different room from that in which the staff were being held captive? And, if so, had they been harmed in any way? Or were they about to be?
Anna swallowed hard as an icy dread formed in her throat. There were too many unanswered questions at this stage. Too much they didn't know. It might have appeared to the onlookers that they had the situation under control but that was far from the truth.
'There's more info on the woman who's been beaten up,' Walker said, as he stepped up beside her while holding his phone against his ear. 'Her name's Tasha Norris and one of the gunman smashed her over the head with the butt of his pistol. She's unconscious and in a bad way apparently.'
All the more reason to go in, Anna thought. She turned back to Fuller and saw that he'd been handed a megaphone.
'I just heard from our guys around the back,' he told her. 'The garden's empty but the rear door is wide open. Nobody is visible, though.'
He raised the megaphone to his mouth and faced the nursery. As he spoke through it, his voice drowned out all other sound.
'This building is surrounded by armed police,' he said. 'I urge everyone inside to drop your weapons and leave through the front door with your arms in the air, otherwise we will be forced to enter the building.'
There was no response, and the silence that followed screamed in Anna's ears.
'We have no choice now but to go in,' she said after about twenty seconds.
That was Fuller's cue to mobilise his team. He waved his hand and gave instructions through his headset microphone.
His officers responded by rushing through the open gate and across the forecourt. Anna watched from beyond the wall. As always, she was impressed by their slick professionalism and the fact that they were prepared to put their own lives on the line. The raw tension in the air was palpable and Anna found herself holding her breath as she waited for something to happen.
Thankfully the team encountered no resistance as they approached the building. They paused only briefly before stepping through the open door. The absence of gunfire prompted Anna to follow them, and Walker and several uniforms were close behind.
She heard shouting from inside as she got close to the entrance and assumed it was Fuller's men announcing their presence.
She stayed outside until the all-clear was given after less than a minute. Her internal dialogue was on prayer mode as she stepped inside: Please, God, let the children be unharmed ...
Passing through the doorway, she noticed the security camera above it and the password-protected panel on the wall. She logged the information in her brain to consider later when it came to determining how the men had got into the building.
A short corridor led to a door giving access to a large, brightly coloured playroom. It was crammed with toys, miniature vehicles, a playhouse and several tables cluttered with crayons, drawing paper and books.
But Anna's attention was seized by loud cries coming from one of the four other rooms that led off the playroom.
'It must be the storeroom,' Fuller said, pointing to the closed door. 'We can't find the key so we're gonna have to break it open.'
One of his men was telling those inside to calm down and step away from the door. The same officer then used his boot to kick at it three times before it gave way.
There was a light on inside the storeroom and it revealed a sight that made every muscle in Anna's body go stiff.
A woman was lying on the floor with the back of her head resting in a small pool of her own blood. Two other women were kneeling beside her and a third was standing over them with a mobile phone in her hand.
'Tasha needs to get to a hospital,' one of them cried out. 'We can't wake her up.'
The distraught women all appeared to be in their twenties or early thirties and were casually dressed in matching blue T-shirts and jeans. Their eyes were cloudy with fear and their faces awash with tears.
'Stay calm and step out,' Anna said, keeping her voice low so as not to inflame an already stressful situation. 'We'll call the paramedics.'
The women quickly exited the room, and Anna half expected them to break down in floods of tears. But instead all three dashed across the playroom to one of the other doors that had a sign on it which read: Quiet Room.
The first to reach it peered inside and then let out an anguished cry that sent a bolt of ice down Anna's spine.
'Oh my God,' the woman screamed. 'They're gone.'
Anna stepped forward and looked into the room, which contained a sofa, a few chairs and a low table.
One of the other women turned to the nearest uniformed officer and said, 'Have you searched the rest of the building? Are the children here?'
The officer shook his head. 'I'm afraid not.'
The woman's hand flew to her mouth. 'Those men must have taken them,' she said, her voice cracking with emotion. 'They've been abducted.'
Anna closed her eyes, steadied her breathing. That word: abducted. As always, it stirred up painful memories and caused an ache to swell in her chest. She shook her head, swallowed hard, and realised that this case was going to be an emotional rollercoaster.CHAPTER 3
Ruth Brady checked her watch and saw that she had time for one more cup of coffee. She didn't have to be at the restaurant until midday and it would only take her roughly forty-five minutes to get there.
She put the kettle on and as it started to boil she decided to phone her husband to let him know about her change of plan.
She went back into the living room, fished her mobile from her handbag, and speed-dialled Ethan's number. While she waited for him to answer she stepped over to the window and looked out on a lovely bright morning. Their two-storey town house was in the heart of Bermondsey and overlooked a busy main road. But rush hour was over and the traffic was moving freely.
When Ethan didn't answer she assumed that he must be in a meeting, so she tapped out a short text message.
Had to drop Liam off at the nursery after all. Will explain why later. Will you be able to pick him up at 4pm if I'm not back in time? Xx
She hadn't planned on taking Liam to the nursery today. Ethan had bought them tickets for the Shrek Adventure attraction in central London. He'd had to pull out himself but had insisted that she should go and treat their son to a fun day out.
And she'd intended to do just that until she got the call from Howard Browning, the editor of a new London-based magazine. Browning had invited her to a meeting at a restaurant close to his office across the Thames in Wapping. He wanted to talk about some feature ideas Ruth had submitted. As a freelance journalist keen to increase the income from her work, it was too good an opportunity for her to pass up.
Ethan earned a good salary as a computer programmer, but living in London was expensive. There was the usual mortgage and bills, but council tax and parking fees were extortionate in comparison to other parts of the country. Plus there were the costs associated with Liam's condition, a condition that blighted his life and theirs.
She still turned cold whenever she thought back to how the hospital consultant broke the news to them shortly after their son was born three years ago.
'I'm sorry to have to tell you that Liam has cystic fibrosis,' he said, and when he saw the confusion on their faces, he added, 'It's a condition that can be treated but not cured. And life expectancy is in the mid-forties.'
In the weeks that followed they found out all they could about cystic fibrosis, or CF. While Ruth had become used to reeling off the same line as means of explanation: 'It causes mucus to clog vital arteries and the digestive system, making it difficult to breathe and digest food', she didn't think she would ever come to terms with the fact that Liam's life would be short and difficult, a journey he'd only just started.
Coping with it wasn't easy. Ruth hadn't been able to return to her full-time position as a staff journalist after maternity leave because looking after Liam was a job in itself, with frequent trips to the hospital for check-ups and physiotherapy sessions. They also had to administer regular doses of medication and do their best to ensure he didn't fall victim to infections.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In Safe Hands"
Copyright © 2019 J.P. Carter.
Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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