'A must-read' Mark Billingham
'Val McDermid meets Stephen King' Hadley Freeman
Karl Savage is dead.
He must be. His ex, Anjelica, is in prison for murdering him in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains.
So when Anjelica begs investigative journalist Morgan Vine to prove her innocence, it seems an impossible task. It doesn't matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she's petrified of fire. The whole world knows Karl is dead.
Then he turns up outside Morgan's window . . .
Praise for KILL ME TWICE and Simon Booker
'Full of twists, turns, surprises. Everything you want in a pacy, page-turning thriller' Neil Dudgeon, Midsomer Murders
'Booker's long experience in writing for television has granted him a sure grasp of character, and his skills do not desert him in Kill Me Twice . . . Vine is a distinctive heroine' Best Thrillers Roundup, Guardian
'Unputdownable. A mercilessly gripping read, and such a pleasure to meet Morgan Vine again' Deborah Moggach
'Another brilliant, edge of your seat thrill ride' Kate Rhodes
'A cracking crime novel with everything you want from a thriller' Martyn Waites
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Someone is watching.
She can feel his eyes.
But there's no one in sight.
No one down on the shoreline or in the woods up ahead.
Morgan and her daughter have had the cliffs to themselves since the rain died away and the sun began to shine. No sign of another soul since leaving the beach and climbing the steps to the windswept path looking over to France. Once you get past the golf course (the ugly clubhouse, the manicured green) things get rougher.
The track dips into a wooded hollow then rises towards a kissing gate. Looming on the horizon is the memorial to those who kept the Channel open during two world wars. On a normal day the obelisk is a beacon spurring Morgan towards coffee at the White Cliffs Café. This is not a normal day.
Her instincts are right.
Someone is watching.
The savage blow to the back of her head comes out of a clear blue sky. One minute she's trying to talk twenty-year-old Lissa out of getting breast implants, the next she's face down in a puddle, crying out in pain. Her first thought is for her daughter.
Is their assailant a mugger?
Sprawled in the mud, she doubles up in agony as a heavy-booted kick connects with a rib. The pain is white hot, obliterating everything except Lissa's cries.
'No! Leave her alone!'
Another kick, this time in the stomach. Then, blinded by pain, face half submerged in a puddle, Morgan can hear the struggle as the attacker goes after Lissa. The thud as she is hurled to the ground. The sound of blows to her body. She tries to struggle to her feet, to protect her daughter.
NOBODY HARMS MY CHILD.
But she can't move.
Seconds before she blacks out, she's aware of a metallic sound: the unmistakable clink of a Zippo lighter, the rasp of its flint. As she drifts towards unconsciousness, her nostrils detect a distinctive smell.
Her daughter's hair.
The sound of the Zippo haunts Morgan's dreams. For forty-eight hours she refuses to leave Lissa's bedside, sleeping fitfully in a hospital chair, trying not to weep at the pain searing her ribs despite the powerful painkillers. She must stay strong. For her daughter's sake.
'Did you see his face?'
Detective Inspector Neville Rook has kind eyes but Morgan fears he'll never trace the maniac who set fire to Lissa's hair. Neither woman saw their assailant. There were no witnesses.
Morgan's ribs are bruised but not broken. She's been told she's lucky. Lissa has lost most of her hair but is deemed 'lucky' too. Shocked and bruised, but otherwise unharmed. At first, Lissa wept uncontrollably, which the doctor said was normal – a natural reaction to violent trauma – but she seems to have calmed down, settling for being moody instead. Just for a change.
After two days of sympathetic police officers and brusque doctors, Morgan is allowed to drive her daughter home, to the converted railway carriage on Dungeness beach. The sun is shining – an Indian summer day in mid-October – but a stiff wind is blowing in from the sea, singing in the power cables strung across telegraph poles. A couple of miles to the west, she can make out the shape of the prison. To the east lies the vast nuclear power station, dominating the landscape for miles around. And in between, the abandoned fishing boats, derelict shacks and piles of rusting scrap that make the desolate shoreline resemble the location of a post-apocalypse movie.
In the cluttered kitchen, setting the kettle to boil, she picks her moment to ask Lissa if she wants to move away from this bleak but beautiful place. Perched on a windswept spit of shingle half a mile from the nearest neighbour, the quirky, ramshackle house with its rickety lean-to is no one's idea of a safe haven. Clusters of wild flowers and sea kale soften the rugged shoreline and the wildlife is breathtaking – stoats, weasels, badgers, dragonflies – but wouldn't it be more sensible to live somewhere less isolated, somewhere ordinary?
'Fuck "sensible",?' says Lissa. 'It was just a random attack.' Then, less confidently, 'Anyway, if we leave because we're scared, he wins. We can't let him win.'
Morgan wonders if the reason for her daughter's determination to stay in the area has more to do with unrequited love than defiance. She hasn't been allowed to meet Pablo and knows little about him except that he's older (Lissa scorns men her own age) and lives in a camper van. He doesn't seem to have been around for at least two weeks. Lissa has taken to sleeping at home, surviving on Weetabix and Haribo and checking her iPhone every few minutes – a sure sign of a break-up. Any hope of cosy mother–daughter chats ('what is it with men?') was dashed long ago. Both are lousy pickers.
No offence, Mum, but your exes? Including Dad? I'd be, like, yeucch! Swipe left.
It's true – Morgan's love life is a joke, a fact underlined by last year's fling with a fellow hack now known as 'The Shit'. When she discovered that he was married she deleted his number, burned the tacky lingerie he'd given her and ignored his messages. He retaliated by awarding her book a one-star review on Amazon.
Despite his petty gesture, Trial and Error: a History of Miscarriages of Justice has paid off her overdraft. Its surprise bestseller status has rescued Morgan's career from the doldrums, allowing her to reinvent herself as an expert in the controversial field of wrongful convictions. The Guardian dubbed her 'full of fury and passion, a one-woman Innocence Project'. Editors now respond to her impassioned emails concerning verdicts she believes require urgent re-examination. So far, however, no newspaper will hire her to champion the hapless souls who fall foul of the British criminal justice system.
Sorry, Morgan. All down to money.
She doesn't take it personally. She understands the reality of what remains of the newspaper industry: dwindling circulation; staff cuts; slashed budgets. Why fund a fishing expedition when you can fill your pages with TV tittle-tattle for free? Adapt or die. Ask the Star or the Sun.
Pro Bono seems different. The webzine start-up has offered to publish the next investigation Morgan undertakes which, if today goes according to plan, may be fast approaching.
As well as rejuvenating her career, Trial and Error has prompted a flood of letters from prisoners protesting their innocence. Morgan's kitchen is littered with Jiffy bags bulging with mail forwarded by her publisher. She reads every letter. A few have the ring of truth but many more reek of lies and desperation. Nine times out of ten she has no choice but to reply 'there's nothing I can do', or, at best, forward the letter to bona fide innocence projects. Their volunteers – idealistic law students – are overzealous and under-resourced, but once in the bluest of moons there's a chance they can offer greater hope than Morgan's solo effort.
Amongst the letters, one protestation of innocence has captured her interest.
Twenty-seven years old, a care home cook serving a lengthy sentence in HMP Dungeness for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, the father of her baby. A line from one of her letters has stayed with Morgan.
Please help me. This is the one place you can die of hope.
The prison is on Morgan's doorstep. More importantly, she feels an affinity with a fellow single mother. And there is something about the way Anjelica was demonised by the tabloids.
Mum murdered ex-lover while baby slept.
Morgan remembers the story well: a late-night arson attack on a flat in Dalston, east London. Anjelica is said to have driven across the city in the small hours to torch the home of her ex-boyfriend, Karl Savage. After their bitter break-up, he'd threatened to abduct their three-month-old son and take him abroad.
Morgan recalls her own doubts about the guilty verdict. On the night in question the baby was running a temperature. Anjelica had taken him to the doctor. She was told to come back the following day if he was still unwell. To torch Karl's flat at 3 a.m. she would have had to leave the sickly infant alone for hours or take him with her, driving across London without being caught on CCTV. Nothing at the trial or in the press raised any doubt about Anjelica's devotion to her son.
Something wasn't right.
Intuition has its place, but before Morgan will commit time and energy she needs solid evidence that the system has messed up. The tone of Anjelica's letter – desperate, impassioned – has prompted her to take a crucial first step. A prison visit is set for lunchtime.
Now, her ribs are aching. She downs two more painkillers then picks up her keys.
'Will you be OK on your own? Couple of hours?'
Slumped on the sofa, Lissa nods, eyes not straying from her phone.
'Heard from Pablo?'
'Are you staying home all day?'
A roll of the eyes.
'No. Going to Piccadilly to show off my new hairstyle.'
Morgan takes the bolshy attitude in her stride. Why wouldn't Lissa be stroppy? She was attacked in broad daylight. If she hadn't doused herself in a puddle her burns would have been much worse. As it is, her hair is mostly gone, but at least her scalp and face are virtually unscathed.
Her psyche is another story.
Violence changes people.
And she's already been through more than any twenty-year-old should endure, thanks to a misguided fling with another Shit.
The worry keeps Morgan awake. For some time, her daughter has shown signs of being borderline agoraphobic: anxious about leaving the house, except to see Pablo; wary of strangers; panic attacks. The cliff-top assault has done nothing to help her state of mind.
Morgan heads for the door. Outside, on the deserted beach, the wind has died down and the sun is warm. She winces in pain, clutching her ribs as she eases herself into the Mini. Lissa hurries out of the house, holding her mother's old leather jacket.
'You forgot this.'
'It's too warm for a jacket.'
Lissa looks away.
'Might rain. Take it, just in case.'
Frown deepening, Morgan places the jacket on the passenger seat then drives off.
The sky is blue.
Not a cloud in sight, no hint of rain.
Why is her daughter so insistent?
The question soon assumes fresh urgency. The drive to HMP Dungeness takes four minutes. Morgan could walk it in fifteen, but not today. Not with aches and bruises that make her feel twice her age. Parking the Mini, she dons the leather jacket, despite the heat. Not long ago the car was broken into and her belongings were stolen. Once is enough.
Entering the prison building, she shows her visitor's order and leaves her phone at the gate, exchanging small talk with the officer designated to escort her along the brightly lit corridors and through a series of locked gates. They know her here. Not long ago she was a regular, running the men's reading group on C-Wing.
Today she's heading for A-Wing. The Mother and Baby Unit, aka MBU.
One of a handful of unisex prisons in the UK, HMP Dungeness has acquired a fearsome reputation thanks to its new governor, Ian Carne. Inevitably nicknamed 'Genghis', he was parachuted in to replace the previous incumbent whose early retirement 'for personal reasons' took everyone by surprise. 'Genghis's' regime is tough for prisoners and staff alike. Spot checks for drugs and phones. Zero tolerance for violence. No second chances.
At the MBU gate Morgan resists the temptation to stroke the sniffer dog, a black Labrador. These are working dogs, not pets. She's instructed to sit on the Body Orifice Scanner, then receives a brisk rubdown from an unsmiling female officer who could use a mint.
'Open your mouth.'
Morgan does as instructed. The woman moves closer, peering under her tongue.
The officer leaves. Morgan sits on a bucket chair, scanning the rules and regulations.
Aiding and abetting an escape will lead to imprisonment.
No photography. No drugs. No bullying.
Only yesterday she read about new, metal-free plastic mobiles in the shape of tubes of lipstick, designed to make them easy to hide inside a prisoner's body. Or a visitor's. Little wonder there's a clampdown.
After a ten-minute wait another officer arrives, keys jangling on his belt. Morgan has met him before. Knocking sixty – maybe older – probably close to retirement. Beefy, bald, stubbly chin. His name is Trevor Jukes. He gives Morgan a lopsided smile.
''Morning, Miss. I need you to put your jacket in a locker.'
Morgan raises an eyebrow.
'Can't take anything onto the wing, not even coats.'
'But I've been searched.'
His smile thins.
Morgan remembers Lissa pressing her to wear the jacket. She feels a frisson of anxiety then dismisses it straight away. She has passed the checks. The sniffer dog showed no interest. Slipping off the jacket, she puts her hands in its pockets and feels around. Empty.
'No, no problem.'
Jukes places the jacket in a locker. He hands her a numbered plastic tag.
'I'll take you to Miss Fry.'
He unlocks the gate. Whistling the theme from The Archers, he leads her through an AstroTurf exercise yard bordered by fencing topped with razor wire. Two female prisoners in their twenties are approaching from the other direction. One has a port wine stain on her right cheek, the other has pink hair.
'Where are you ladies off to?'
'See the doctor, Sir.'
Sir. Miss. Mister. Morgan finds the formality comical, but it's designed to foster respect between staff and inmates and seems to have the desired effect. Except when things kick off. Which can happen at any time.
Unlocking the gate to A-Wing, Jukes ushers her inside. The hubbub is raucous but not menacing, the way it can be on a men's wing. Dozens of women queue for microwaved baked potatoes and a thin brown sludge that might be chilli. Almost all wear tracksuits and trainers. A few glance at Morgan, mildly curious, but most are focused on their lunch.
She signs in at the wing office then follows her squeaky-shoed escort along a corridor and through another set of locked gates, the babble of canteen conversation receding into the distance.
'I'm reading your book,' says Jukes over his shoulder.
Surprised, Morgan says nothing, waiting for more.
'I borrowed it from Anjelica Fry. Thought I'd see what all the fuss is about.'
'I'd be interested to know what you think.'
'No, you wouldn't.'
'I have to work with these people, Miss. They're innocent, apparently – all hundred-and-twenty-two of them. Trust me, you don't want to know what I think. Especially of Anjelica Fry.'
Morgan is nonplussed. As a rule, prison officers stay poker-faced in front of civilians, remaining non-committal about inmates in their care. It's rare for an old hand like Jukes to drop his guard. She's tempted to argue, to cite cases in her book.
Are you suggesting there's no such thing as a miscarriage of justice? Hillsborough? Timothy Evans? Derek Bentley? The Birmingham Six? The Guildford Four? And don't get me started on all those mothers wrongly imprisoned for killing their babies because some egomaniacal 'expert witness' got it wrong. Can you imagine a worse agony?
These thoughts flit through Morgan's mind, but that's where they'll stay. It's never smart to alienate a prison officer, not if you're considering resuming your status as a regular visitor.
Jukes leads her up a flight of stairs then stops at a door and punches in a four-digit code. Entering the MBU, Morgan is immediately aware of a change in atmosphere: calmer, more like a nursery than a prison, primary colours on the walls. Occupying the entire landing, the unit is open plan – a dozen cubicles separated by low partition walls. Each woman has a bed, a locker and a cot. The peace is disturbed by a couple of crying babies at the far end of the landing, but most are sleeping or occupied by their mothers. A couple of women are breastfeeding, others tend to their babies, chat to each other or nap. One stands at the communal changing table, struggling to put a nappy on a newborn.
Excerpted from "Kill Me Twice"
Copyright © 2017 Simon Booker.
Excerpted by permission of Bonnier Zaffre Ltd..
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