Detective Helen Grace has never seen such destruction. Six fires in twenty-four hours. Two people dead. Several more injured. It’s as if someone wants to burn the city to the ground...
With the whole town on high alert, Helen and her team must sift through the rubble to find the arsonist, someone whose thirst for fire—and control—is reducing entire lives to ash.
One misstep could mean Helen’s career—and more lives lost. And as the pressure mounts and more buildings burn, Helen’s own dark impulses threaten to consume her…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof
Copyright © 2016 M.J. Arlidge
Luke scrambled through the open window and onto the narrow ledge outside. Grasping the plastic guttering above his head, he pulled himself upright. The guttering creaked ominously, threatening to give way at any moment, but Luke couldn’t risk letting go. He was dizzy, breathless and very, very scared.
A blast of icy wind roared over him, flapping his thin cotton pajamas like a manic kite. He was already losing the feeling in his feet—the chill from the rough stone creeping up his body—and the sixteen-year-old knew he would have to act quickly if he was to save his life.
Slowly he inched his way forward, peering over the lip of the ledge. The cars, the people below, seemed so small—the hard, unforgiving road so far away. He’d always had a thing about heights, and as he looked down from this top-floor vantage point, his first instinct was to recoil. To turn back into the house. But he stood firm. He couldn’t believe what he was contemplating, but he didn’t have a choice, so releasing his grip, he hung his toes over the edge and prepared to jump. He counted down in his head. Three, two, one . . .
Suddenly he lost his nerve, dragging himself back from the brink. His spine connected sharply with the iron window frame and for a moment he rested there, clamping his eyes shut to block out the panic now assailing him. If he jumped, he would die. Surely there had to be another way? Something else he could do? Luke turned back toward the window and looked once more at the horror within.
His attic bedroom was ablaze. It had all happened so quickly that he still couldn’t process the sequence of events. He’d gone to bed as usual but had been woken shortly afterward by a chorus of smoke alarms. He’d stumbled out of bed, groggy and confused, waving his arms back and forth in a vain attempt to disperse the thick smoke that filled the room. He’d managed to scramble to the door, but even before he got there, he saw that he was too late. The narrow staircase that led up to his bedroom was consumed by fire, huge flames dancing in through the open doorway.
The shivering teenager now watched as his whole life went up in smoke. His schoolbooks, his football kit, his artwork, his beloved Southampton FC posters—all eaten by the flames. With each passing second, the temperature rose still further, the hot smoke and gas gathering in an ominous cloud below the ceiling.
Luke slammed the window shut and for a second the temperature dropped again. But he knew his respite would be brief. When the temperature inside grew too great, the windows would blow out, taking him with them. There was no choice. He had to be bold, so turning again, he took a step forward and, calling out his mother’s name, leaped off the ledge.
It was almost midnight and the cemetery was deserted, save for a lonely figure picking her way through the gravestones. Simple crosses sat cheek by jowl with ornate family tombs, many of which were decorated with statues and carvings. The weatherworn cherubs and angels of mercy looked lifeless and sinister in the moonlight and Helen Grace hurried past them, pulling her scarf tight around her. The scarf had been a Christmas present from her colleague Charlie Brooks and was a godsend on a night like this, when darkness clung to the hilltop cemetery and the temperature plunged ever lower.
The frost was slowly spreading and Helen’s feet crunched quietly on the grass as she left the main path, darting left toward the far corner of the cemetery. Before long she was standing in front of a plain headstone, which bore neither name nor dates, just a simple message: “Forever in my thoughts.” The rest of the headstone was blank, with no clue as to the deceased’s identity, age or even sex. This was how Helen liked it—and it was how it had to be, as this was the last resting place of her sister, Marianne.
Many criminals go unclaimed upon their death. Others are quickly cremated, their ashes scattered to the winds in an attempt to blot out the very fact of their existence. Others still are buried in faceless HMP cemeteries for the undesirable, but Helen was never going to allow that to happen to her sister. She felt responsible for Marianne’s death and was determined not to abandon her.
As she looked down at the simple grave, Helen felt a sharp stab of guilt. The anonymous nature of Marianne’s epitaph always got to her—she could feel her sister pointing her finger at her accusingly, chiding Helen for being ashamed of her own flesh and blood. That wasn’t true—despite everything, Helen still loved Marianne—but such was the notoriety of her sister’s crimes that she’d had to be buried without ceremony, to avoid the prurient interest of journalists or the justifiable ire of her victims’ relatives. Safety lay in anonymity—there was no telling what some people might do if they found out where this multiple murderer had finally come to rest.
Helen was the only person present at her sister’s committal and would be her sole mourner. Marianne’s son was still missing, and as nobody else knew of the grave’s existence, it fell to Helen to battle the weeds and honor her memory as best she could. She came here once or twice a week—whenever her shift patterns and hectic work schedule allowed—but always in the dead of night, when there was no chance of being followed or surprised. This was a private, painful duty and Helen had no need of an audience.
Replacing the flowers in the urn, she leaned forward and kissed Marianne’s headstone. Straightening, she offered a few words of love, then turned and hurried on her way. She had wanted to come here—she never ducked her duty—but the winds were arctic tonight and if she stayed here much longer, she would suffer for it. Helen loathed illness—her life never seemed to allow for it anyway—and the thought of being tucked up at home in her flat suddenly seemed very attractive indeed. Hurrying back down the path, she vaulted the locked iron gates and made her way back to the car park, now cheerless and deserted save for Helen’s Kawasaki.
Reaching her bike, Helen paused to take in the view. One could see the whole of Southampton from the top of Abbey Hill, and this vista always cheered her, especially at night, when the lights of the city below twinkled and glistened, full of promise and intrigue.
But not tonight. As Helen looked down at the city that had been her home for so long, she caught her breath. From this high up, she could see not one, not two, but three major fires gripping the city, fierce orange tongues of flame reaching up toward the heavens.
Southampton was ablaze.
Thomas Simms slammed the car horn and swore violently. Despite the late hour, the traffic near the airport had been murder, thanks to a truck shedding its load. Having eventually escaped that snarl-up, Thomas had seemed set fair for the short drive back to his home in Millbrook—only to run straight into another jam. It was past midnight now—where the hell was all this traffic coming from?
He flicked through the local radio stations searching for a traffic bulletin but, finding nothing, save for late-night phone-ins, impatiently switched off the radio. What should he do? There was a shortcut coming up, but it would mean diverting through the Empress Road Industrial Estate, not something he was keen to do, given the prostitutes who’d be there at this time of night. The sight of them, half-naked and shivering, always depressed him and he never felt comfortable sitting at the slow-changing traffic lights, eyed up by pimps and working girls alike. Given the choice, he preferred to stick to the main roads, but the sound of approaching sirens made up his mind. A fire engine and an ambulance were trying to bully their way through traffic. If they were heading in his direction, that could only mean that there was trouble ahead.
Slipping into first gear, Thomas mounted the lip of the pavement and drove for twenty yards before turning sharply left down a dark one-way street. Suddenly liberated, he drove too fast, speeding past the 30 mph sign as if it didn’t exist, before catching himself and lowering his speed to a more sensible level. If he was lucky, he would be home in five minutes—kissing his wife and kids good night before flopping into bed. There was no point in getting pulled over by the cops now that the end was so nearly in sight.
He worked sixteen-hour days at his import business near the airport, and he missed his family—but he was no fool. So though he was tempted to run the red light on the Empress Road, to escape the unwanted attention of the scrawny drug addict in hot pants, he waited patiently for the light to change, distracting himself from the unpleasant sideshow by thinking of the warm king-size bed that awaited him at home.
He drove through the city center, then picked up the West Quay Road before finally hitting the home straight. Millbrook wasn’t a fancy neighborhood, but the housing was solid Victorian, the neighbors were decent and best of all it was quiet. Or at least usually it was. Tonight there seemed to be a lot of people about, the majority of them making their way toward Hillside Crescent—his road.
Thomas muttered to himself. Please God there wasn’t some kind of party going on. A couple of the more expensive houses had been occupied by squatters recently, and local residents had been kept awake as a result. But things had been quiet of late and, besides, the people hurrying toward Hillside Crescent were not ravers; they were ordinary mums and dads, some of whom he recognized from his morning run.
The expressions on their faces alarmed him, and as he approached the turn for his street he realized why they looked so concerned. A huge plume of smoke billowed into the night sky, illuminated by the somber sodium glow of the streetlights. Someone’s house was on fire.
No wonder everyone was worried—the housing round here was gentrified Victorian, all scrubbed wooden floorboards and feature staircases. If the fire jumped from one house to the next, then who was to say where it would end? Fear gripped him now as he sped down the street, honking his horn aggressively to clear his path of gawpers. What if the fire was close to his house? Immediately he clamped down his fear, telling himself not to be stupid. Karen would have called him if she was concerned about anything.
The street was blocked now with ambling pedestrians, so Thomas pulled over to the curb and climbed out. Locking the door, he started to jog down the street. The fire was near his house—it had to be, given the direction of the smoke and the concentration of people at the far end of the street. His jog now turned into a full-on sprint as he barged startled onlookers out of his path.
Breaking through the throng, he found himself at the bottom of his drive. The sight that met him took his breath away and he suddenly ground to a halt. His entire house was ablaze, huge flames issuing from every window. It wasn’t a fire; it was an inferno.
He found himself moving forward and turned to find his neighbor gripping one of his arms, guiding him gently toward the house. The expression on her face was hideous—a toxic mixture of horror and pity—and it chilled him to the bone. Why was she looking at him like that?
Then Thomas saw him. His boy—his beloved son, Luke—lying on the grass in the front garden. Shaded by the mulberry bush, he lay with his head on the lap of another neighbor, who was talking to him earnestly. It would have been a touching sight were it not for the crazy angles of Luke’s legs, bent nastily back on themselves, and the blood that clung to his face and hands.
“The ambulance is on its way. He’s going to be okay.”
Thomas didn’t know whether his neighbor was lying or not, but he wanted to believe her. He didn’t care what injuries his son had sustained as long as he lived.
“It’s okay, mate. Dad’s here now,” he said as he knelt down next to his son.
The ground around Luke was covered with leaves and branches from the mulberry bush and in an instant Thomas realized that his son must have jumped. He must have leaped from the house and landed in the bush. It probably broke his fall—might even have saved his life. But why was he jumping at all? Why hadn’t he just run out the front door?
“Where’s Mum? And Alice? Luke, where are they, mate?”
For a moment, Luke said nothing, the agony racking his body seeming to rob him of the ability to speak.
“Has anyone seen them?” Thomas cried out, panic rendering his voice high and harsh. “Where the hell are they?”
He looked back at his son, who seemed to be trying to raise himself, in spite of his injuries.
“What is it, Luke?”
Thomas knelt in closer, his ear brushing his son’s mouth. Luke struggled for breath, then through gritted teeth finally managed to whisper:
“They’re still inside.”
Helen Grace flashed her warrant card and slipped under the police cordon, walking quickly toward the heart of the chaos. Three fire engines were parked outside Travell’s Timber Yard, and more than a dozen firefighters were tackling a blaze of monumental proportions. Even from this safe distance, Helen could feel the intense heat—it rolled over her, clinging to her hair, her eyes, her throat, seeming to revel in its power and appetite for destruction.
Travell’s Timber Yard was one of the largest in Southampton, a prosperous family business popular with tradesmen and builders for the length of Hampshire. But little or nothing of this successful venture would survive the night. From humble beginnings, this city center outlet had grown year on year, culminating in the construction of a huge warehouse where timber of every variety, shape and size could be found. Helen watched now as this cavernous building raged in flame, its metal skeleton shrieking in the heat as the windows shattered and fire rained down like confetti from the disintegrating roof.
“Who the hell are you? You can’t be here.”
Helen turned to see a firefighter from the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service approaching her. His face was caked in dirt and sweat.
“Detective Inspector Helen Grace, Major Incident Team, and actually I have every right—”
“I don’t care if you’re Sherlock Holmes. That roof is going to go any second and I don’t want anyone standing nearby when it does.”
Helen cast an eye over the roof in question. It was buckling now as the fire ripped through it, seeking new fuel and fresh oxygen. Instinctively she took a step back.
“Keep going. There’s nothing for you here.”
“Who’s in charge?”
“Sergeant Carter, but he’s a bit busy at the moment.”
“Who’s the fire investigation officer on duty?”
He walked back toward the fire engines—two of which were now moving away from the scene.
“You’re leaving?” Helen asked, incredulous.
“Nothing we can do here, except contain it. So we’re being sent elsewhere.”
“What are we looking at? Any chance it could have been accidental? An electricity short? Discarded cigarette?”
The exhausted firefighter cast a withering look in her direction. “Three major fires on the same night. All starting within an hour of each other. This wasn’t an accident.” He fixed her with a fierce stare. “Someone’s been having a bit of fun.”
The lead fire engine paused as it passed, allowing the firefighter time to clamber up into the passenger seat. He didn’t look back at Helen—she was already forgotten, he and his team discussing the trials that still lay ahead. Helen watched the flashing blue lights disappear down the street before returning her attention to the huge conflagration behind.
Seconds later, the roof collapsed inward, sending a vast cloud of hot smoke and ash billowing toward her.
Thomas held up his hand to shield his face, then plunged through the front door into the house. Immediately his mouth and lungs filled with thick, sooty smoke and he began to choke. It was impossible to see—the smoke collecting under the hallway ceiling formed an impenetrable cloud. He had taken only a few steps and already he felt himself succumbing to the foul atmosphere, the carbon monoxide steadily driving out the evaporating oxygen.
Gasping, he fell to the floor. The carpet had already burned out and though it was agony to touch, the air down here was free of smoke and breathing was a little easier. Scrabbling forward, he made his way to the central staircase. The bedroom he shared with Karen was on the second floor—Alice’s bedroom right next to theirs. Somehow he had to get up there. Karen was in sole charge of the kids tonight and there was no way she would have gone out leaving Luke behind. They had to be in here somewhere.
His hands were blistering, his clothes starting to smolder and fizz, but on he went. Eventually he collided with something hard and realized he was at the bottom of the stairs—or what remained of them. The basic shell of the staircase was intact, but the whole thing was transformed—instead of a dull, polished brown, the boards now glowed a fierce orange, the burning wood spitting and crackling at him.
“Karen?” His voice was hoarse and weak. In spite of the intense heat that burned his mouth and throat, he shouted again, louder this time.
“Karen? Alice? Where are you?”
“Please, love. Talk to me. Daddy’s her—”
He suddenly petered out, a deep, wretched anxiety paralyzing him. He coughed again, more violently this time. Time was running out—he had to do something. Summoning his courage, he moved forward onto the first step. His foot went straight through it as if it were made of dust and he stumbled slightly. Righting himself quickly, he tried the next step up, but this collapsed too. Dear God, what was happening? Could this be real?
He scrambled at the third, fourth, fifth step, but could find no purchase.
His voice was limp now and drained of hope. He hung his head, overcome and exhausted, his mind starting to spin as the lack of oxygen took hold. As he stood there, not moving, a new smell filled his nostrils. It smelled like burning leather and looking down, Thomas was surprised to see that his shoes were on fire. As were his trousers. And his jacket. He was now a walking flame.
Turning, he stumbled back toward the front door. He would never forgive himself for abandoning his wife and his baby girl, but he knew now that he would die if he stayed here a moment longer. He had to get out for Luke’s sake, if not his own.
Bursting from the front door, he collapsed upon the soft grass. Before he knew what was happening, he was turning over and over, dozens of hands rolling him on the grass to extinguish the flames. As he lay there, his head hanging upside down, he glimpsed the arriving fire engines and ambulances. The firefighters sprinted past him and moments later Thomas found a paramedic helping him to sit up.
“My son,” Thomas whispered. “Go to my son.”
The paramedic said something back, but Thomas couldn’t hear her. The whole world was strangely muted, though whether this was through injury or shock Thomas couldn’t tell. The paramedic was shining a flashlight into his eyes now, then his throat, assessing the extent of the damage. Thomas didn’t care what became of him—were it not for Luke, he’d have happily succumbed to death rather than face the prospect of losing his girls. But even so—even as he dismissed his own existence out of hand—he was still surprised by the sight that greeted him when the attending paramedic lifted his arm to take his pulse. His jacket had burned clean off, his watch had disappeared and when the paramedic reached over to touch his horribly blistered wrist, the melting skin came away in her hands.
The ax connected sharply with the windowpane, sending shards of glass spiraling into the house. With the central stairwell all but destroyed, Fire Officer James Ward and his partner, Danny Brand, had opted for a second-floor entry, heading through one bedroom window while their colleagues pumped gallons of water in through the other. Time was of the essence—the fire was on the point of going over, after which the house would be unsafe to access.
Brushing the glass aside, James stepped into the house. Immediately the charred boards beneath his feet groaned, threatening to give way. He hesitated, clinging to the window frame for support, before choosing a different route forward. This time the groan was less pronounced and he moved on swiftly but steadily, testing his path as he went. Danny waited for a while before following. This was standard practice—best to lose one officer rather than two, should the flooring give way.
The heat was savage, buffeting his protective suit. James could feel rivulets of sweat pouring down his body. He was uncomfortable and anxious, but he was calm. He had a job to do. It was highly unlikely that anyone had survived, but they had to look. If they were anywhere, they would be on this floor, where the main bedrooms were located. James scanned the master bedroom, but there was no sign of the wife or the girl, so he moved forward. As he did so, his foot shot through the floor. Instinctively he grabbed at a light socket and managed to right himself, dragging himself up from the large hole that had opened up in front of him. He could see through now to the ground floor, a smoking mass of burned furniture and fragmenting walls. Taking a breath, he leaped forward, clearing the hole and landing on the threshold of the landing. For a moment he teetered perilously on the edge, before he gained his balance once more and pressed on.
He moved into what looked like a child’s bedroom. The letters that had been stuck to the door—A-L-I-C-E—remained there, oddly unaffected by the fire destroying the rest of the house. James eased the door open to afford himself a proper view of the room beyond. A single bed, a few bits of furniture, a teddy bear on the floor—but no sign of Karen or Alice Simms. His first instinct was to move into the room to conduct a more detailed search, but something made him hesitate. There was a sound, a steady insistent sound, drawing his attention away from the bedroom to the bathroom nearby. It was hard to be sure, but it sounded like a kind of hissing. But not the hissing of burning furniture or a smoldering fire. This was different.
He moved toward the sound, one step at a time. Danny hung back once more, alive to the danger, so James gestured that he intended to check out the bathroom. Danny tapped his wrist, the customary signal that they would need to withdraw in a minute or two—with each passing second the strength of the internal fabric of the house was being degraded. James nodded—he knew that the clock was ticking.
Passing through the doorway, navigating by touch as much as by sight, he was surprised to see that the shower was on in the bathroom. No wonder there was so much smoke, the water vapor being consumed by the flames that raged all around. Dropping down to his hands and knees, he crawled forward fast, a sudden thought gripping him.
And there they were, Karen Simms and her six-year-old daughter slumped at the bottom of the shower cubicle, the glass door shut to keep the fire out, the water cascading down on them to keep them from burning to death. James still didn’t hold out much hope—they had probably died of smoke inhalation some time ago. Both appeared to be facedown in the shower stall, which didn’t bode well.
Reaching up, he located the handle of the shower door and pulled it open. A small cascade of water flooded out, creating another hissing burst of boiling steam. He moved closer to the bodies and was surprised to see that both their mouths seemed to be clamped to the shower drain. Suddenly he got it—they were taking in oxygen through the drainpipe.
Hauling Karen over, he looked into her eyes. She was unconscious, but where there was life, there was hope. Beckoning to Danny, he passed the heavy weight of the comatose woman to him. As he did so, the young girl stirred. No more than a small movement, but enough to send a shot of adrenaline through James. Perhaps there was a chance they would both survive.
Scooping the girl up into his arms, James turned to follow his colleague. The odds were still in the balance. The building was collapsing around their ears, and the extra weight they were carrying would seriously compromise their chances of making it out alive, but they had to try.
It was now or never.
“How is she?”
Charlie turned to see Steve silhouetted in the doorway. Jessica, whom Charlie still called her baby despite the fact that she was now sixteen months old, was suffering from a nasty cold. The numerous doses of Calpol and Sudafed had achieved little—Jessica remained resolutely unhappy, her sinuses blocked and painful. Like most small children she had let her parents know that she was suffering—keeping Charlie up into the small hours nursing her.
Charlie raised a finger to her lips and gestured to Steve to stay where he was. Two hours of cuddling and reassuring had finally paid dividends and Jessica was asleep once more. Charlie made to leave, then paused to look back at Jessica. There was no sweeter sight for her than that of her little girl slumbering happily in her cot, boxed in by soft toys and her old baby blanket. It always warmed her heart to see her like this and she could have gone on staring at her for hours, but wisdom prevailed. Charlie knew she had better get going while the going was good, so avoiding the creaking floorboards, she tiptoed out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
“Do you want a glass of water?”
Steve was halfway down the stairs, making for the kitchen.
“I might have a hot drink,” Charlie replied, following him down the stairs. She was wide-awake now and, despite the late hour, she would need to decompress a little before she could go to bed. It was amazing how stressful it could be, trying to persuade a toddler that it was in her best interests to go to sleep.
While the kettle boiled, Charlie flicked the TV on. Immediately the rolling-news channel burst into life—a legacy of Steve’s viewing, no doubt, as she was more of a Sky Atlantic girl. She was about to flick over to something less real when she paused. The pictures on the TV surprised and alarmed her. Dominating the screen was live footage from an antiques emporium—a secondhand bric-a-brac-style place on Grosvenor Road. Charlie knew it well—she’d bought a few odds and ends from there in the past; but now the whole place was ablaze, the attending firefighters making little progress in tackling the huge fire. To the right of the screen, in a sidebar, were smaller images from two other incidents—one of a blaze similar in size and scale to the one at the emporium, the other appearing to be a nasty house fire. All of them were in Southampton.
Charlie’s mobile rang, loud and shrill, making her jump. Shooting a look at Steve, who’d now joined her, Charlie scooped up her phone and answered it.
“Hi, Charlie. It’s DC Lucas here.”
“Sorry to call you in the middle of the night, but you’re needed. DI Grace has called everyone in. We’ve got three serious fires in the city center—”
“I’m watching them on the TV now.”
“Half an hour, okay?”
Moments later, Charlie was in Jessica’s room once more. Now smartly dressed, her hair tied back in an approximation of professionalism, Charlie leaned in and risked Steve’s wrath by gently kissing her baby girl good-bye. Whenever she went to work she felt guilty—for leaving her baby, for relying so much on Steve to handle things on the domestic front—and the kiss went some way to mitigating those feelings. It was tough and she often felt physically sick leaving the house, but there was nothing else for it. There is one simple rule for working mothers—you have to work harder and longer than everybody else just to be taken seriously. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, but it was the way of the world, which was why, having kissed Steve good-bye, Charlie unchained the front door and stepped out into the night.
Detective Superintendent Jonathan Gardam stood stock-still, taking in the scene at Bertrand’s Antiques Emporium. He was new to the city—a few months into his tenure as the new station chief at Southampton Central—and if he was honest he was still finding his feet. He had been a frontline officer for so long, a very active and visible DCI in London before his recent promotion, and sitting in meetings all day wasn’t his style. He knew it came with the rank, but privately he was pleased for an excuse to be back in the thick of the action.
He walked in the direction of his DI, who was hard at work marshaling the troops. Helen Grace came with a considerable reputation for both brilliance and truculence, but so far Gardam had found her to be both pleasant and professional. She knew how to lead, how to make decisions, and that would prove crucial in what was already gearing up to be a major investigation. As he approached her, she turned and came toward him.
“Do we have any casualties?” Gardam asked.
“No fatalities so far. We have four injured at the house fire in Millbrook, three seriously. There was no one on-site here or at the timber yard, so unless the fire team turns up any unpleasant surprises, we should be okay on that front.”
“And it’s definitely arson?”
“Looks that way.”
“Any idea why these three sites might have been targeted?”
“We’re pulling the owners in and we’ll be talking to the family in Millbrook when we get the chance, but there’s nothing obvious. Two are commercial, one domestic, they’re all in distinctly different parts of town—we can’t even be sure yet that the fires were started by the same person, as they started at very similar times. Ever come across anything like this before, sir?”
“Not on this scale,” Gardam replied cautiously. “This feels . . . organized.”
Helen nodded—she’d had the same unsettling feeling since she arrived at the antiques emporium. There’d been no reported incident directly preceding the fire, no witnesses to any unusual activity—the site had just gone up in flames.
“Travell’s was the first fire?”
Helen nodded, then continued:
“First 999 calls were at eleven fifteen p.m. This place was next—the calls coming in at around eleven twenty-five p.m. The house in Millbrook about fifteen minutes after that.”
“If the fires were set by the same person, it’s an interesting escalation,” Gardam continued. “The first two sites are big and impressive, the third site much smaller, more domestic, yet potentially much more deadly. Whoever set the fire must have assumed there would be people asleep in the house—”
“Which might suggest they are the real targets,” Helen interrupted. “If they were, then what better way to tie up the fire services than by creating two huge fires in other parts of town? We’ve seen that kind of calculated fire-starting in the States. No reason why it couldn’t happen here . . .”
Even as she said it out loud, Helen’s mind began to turn. It made sense and would be a good way of disguising the true intent of the crime. There was so much more to learn about tonight, so much evidence to be sifted and questions to be asked, but already Helen’s instincts were telling her that this was no ordinary crime. In the sixteen months since the death of Ben Fraser, her life had been pleasantly mundane. But that was all over now.
Once more she was being sucked into someone else’s nightmare.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Liar Liar is the fourth book in the Helen Grace series by M. J. Arlidge. In this story, Helen (& team) are dealing with an arsonist who is targeting families at home. The story is fast-paced, and keeps the reader interested. If you like police/crime stories, you'll enjoy this series. Helen Grace is flawed, which makes her perfect. She's a much more accessible and likable as a character than a SuperWoman would be. The last third of the book really gripped me, and even though I didn't want the story to end, I rushed through it to find out the WHO behind the fires. I'll just say Wow. No spoilers here :) All in all, a great read, and I'm glad I found this series!
I am a MJ Arlidge fan! I love how the books are titled. I love Detective Helen Grace. I love! This is the fourth in a series and I liken these books to Criminal Minds where each story/killer is self contained in each book, but I would recommend starting at the beginning because there are character arcs for the detectives who are running the cases. This case was about someone who was setting multiple fires in the city each evening. The fires were usually two businesses and then a home. As in each of the Detective Helen Grace books you think you are going down a road and then a turn happens and it may be jarring, but in the end you are satisfied! I will continue to read this series one by one, I just adore these books! They are as close to cozy mysteries as this mystery/thriller reader will get.
This has been my favorite Detective Helen Grace series. This really kept me on my toes. We learn a little more in each book about Helen and the rest of the crew. Also this story line is wonderful. Who could be starting all of these fires almost nightly. This is scaring everyone and the police. Will they ever be able to figure out the culprit. I received this book from Firsttoread for a fair and honest opinion. I give this a five out of five stars.
Arlidge has done it again. Another marvelous story in the Helen Grace series! This book, as the others in the series, keeps you engaged from the moment you begin reading to the very last word. The way he manipulates the twists and turns - just when you feel you have figured out "who done it," he throws in another possibility or character to make you second guess yourself. Reading the Helen Grace series from the beginning is not necessary, but I feel it is beneficial to the storyline and characters. Starting at the beginning of the series enables you to more thoroughly understand DI Helen Grace and her connections and relationship to other characters. You will never grow tired of this series; at least I have not.......yet!
Liar Liar by M.J. Arlidge is the fourth book in A Helen Grace Thriller series. Detective Inspector Helen Grace has a new boss. His name is Detective Superintendent Jonathan Gardam. He is more of a hands on boss. Helen is still trying to figure him out. Helen just finished a tough case when three fires break out in one night. Two are businesses but one is a Victorian home. The fire was set at night while the family was asleep. The eldest son, Luke jumped out of the attic window (the only way he could escape) and suffered severe injuries. Thomas Simms was just arriving home from a business trip and discovered his house in flames. The wife and daughter are still inside. The fireman found them in the shower in the bathroom with the water running (to get oxygen). Who set three fires in one night? Helen Grace and her team are on the case to find the arsonist. Deborah Parks is the arson investigator assigned the case. Deborah discovers that all the fires were set the same way. Then there are three more fires. Again, only one was a home. Can Helen Grace and her team find the culprit before there are more victims? Is there any connection between the victims? The team needs to work quickly and Detective Superintendent Gardam is breathing down their necks (he is keeping a close eye on the investigation and Helen). The tension is getting to Helen, and she makes a mistake that could affect her professional life (she tries to keep her personal and professional lives separate). It is going to be a bleak Christmas unless they catch this firebug! Liar Liar is well-written and easy to read. It has a fast pace that makes it hard to put down. There are some great, unexpected twists in the book (loved them). In order to understand everything about Helen Grace, you really need to read the other books in the series. Each book is based upon the previous novel. Helen is a unique character. Helen is a strong woman, but she is also weak. I liked how we got to know more about DC Charlie Brooks in this book. We got a look at her personal life. How Charlie has to juggle her family (husband and baby daughter) and her work (with its unpredictable hours). I give Liar Liar 5 out of 5 stars. I love M.J. Arlidge’s complex characters and crimes as well as the setting in Southampton, England. I cannot wait for the next book in A Helen Grace Thriller series. I received a complimentary copy of Liar Liar from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the novel.
I love a good series. Helen Grace is a series yet each book can be read as a standalone. The characters (Helen Grace) appears in each one but each story is its own crime to solve. Liar Liar is a thriller with plenty of actions, lots of surprises, and a ton of action. Sounds perfect, it is! DI Helen Grace is an amazing character. She is a complex woman, working in a man’s world, and solving horrible crimes. In this book she is trying to find a serial arsonist. There is a race against time and even when the newspaper journalist starts writing stories about how she is failing to do her job she never strays from the path. She knows the route needed to find the perpetrator and does what needs to be done to solve the crime. I love the format that M.J. Arlidge uses. The short chapters, broke into different characters and events, make the book easy to read. The story moves so quickly that it seemed I had just started it and I was already done. It was interesting to read the different points of view and different happenings of the same timeframes. The ending… oh the ending. I am not sure what I am thinking more of. The person who was guilty of the arsons and how they were caught or the hint at the next book in this series. This is an amazing book. I have recommended past Helen Grace books and cannot wait to share my thoughts on this one to my fellow thriller/suspense readers.
This is my fourth book by M. J. Arlidge and as usual, he never fails to entertain. This one has an arsonist and, of course, the list of suspects is short at first as there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the attacks. However, once the reasons start to unfold, I was totally creeped out by the thoughts and reasons of the arsonist. Naturally, I did not want to put this book down, but life has a tendency to get in the way sometimes. Ugh! I can say that I truly enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it. I received a free e-galley to read and provide an honest review thanks to Penguin Books and Net Galley.
Helen Grace is an interesting hero. In this adventure she has to cope with a strange new boss, a loopy dominator, and a puzzling series of deadly arsons. The suspense builds as the fires continue and the clues become more baffling.. The book is difficult to put down. As in the previous stories, the narration switches characters and places within the same paragraph, forcing the reader to back up and figure out what is going on. The plot is clever, and the interplay between very realistic people makes for a great read.
If you haven’t read any of the Helen Grace stories, you are missing out on a terrific series! Although a series, each one can be read as a stand-alone, although I always recommend that they be read in order. DI Grace is such a complicated character, but that is what makes her so intriguing. I have seen her grow since the first book, and even though there are still issues that she deals with, she’s coming to terms about what her life is like now and what she envisions in the future. She’s making friends.. something she’s never allowed herself before. Six fires over a 24-hour period. People have died horrible deaths. More have been burnt and/or injured in other ways. With no connecting threads and no known motives, Grace and her team are beside themselves. Panic is rising among the citizens of this community and families of the victims are screaming for justice. When they finally locate a possible witness, she swears it was one of their own …. One of their own firefighters. But can the witness be trusted? Grace understands how precariously her job rests on handling this as delicately as possible. It’s a race to the end to prevent any more fires or lose any more lives. The ending was a surprise … I absolutely did not see that coming. And there is a sub-ending …something that relates very personally to Grace. It’s almost creepy. 5 Stars for the book, 5 Stars for the series. Many thanks to the author / Berkley Publishing Group / NetGalley / First To Read who provided a digital copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.