Ice-cool Detective Inspector Sarah Quinn and fiery reporter Caroline King lock horns once again in this latest intriguing mystery.
When the body of a teenage girl is found in a local park, it is assumed she is the latest victim of a serial sex offender who has been plaguing the area. But when it transpires that the dead girl’s best friend is missing, DI Sarah Quinn is drawn into a complex murder investigation where nothing is as it seems.
With the investigation heading nowhere - not helped by the hostility of the victim’s distraught father, nor by Sarah’s unsympathetic new Chief Superintendent who seems determined to undermine her – a shocking turn of events leads Sarah to question her own judgement. And that’s before she encounters her old foe, calculating journalist Caroline King …
About the Author
A former newspaper reporter, broadcast journalist, BBC TV News presenter and producer, Maureen Carter is the author of the highly-acclaimed Bev Morriss and DI Sarah Quinn police procedural series. She lives in Birmingham.
Read an Excerpt
Next of Kin
A DI Sarah Quinn Mystery
By Maureen Carter
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Maureen Carter
All rights reserved.
The clacking of stilettos on concrete sounded even louder when the girl turned into the quiet side road. At this time of night there was little competition – the occasional motor, a distant police siren, snatches of telly drifting from the odd front room. Most houses were in darkness, people tucked up in bed. Under the next street light, she checked her watch. Boy was she cutting it fine. That last vodka-lemonade might not have been the best idea in the world.
She fumbled in her coat pocket for a mint then picked up her stride. If her dad caught a whiff of booze, let alone smoke, on her breath he'd give her a hard time. Nah. She smiled. He was an old softie really, just dead protective, he'd wrap her in mink-lined cotton wool – if she let him.
She'd bet anything he'd still be up pretending to watch Newsnight. And her mum. They rarely went to bed without knowing she was home safe. Plus it was school in the morning and she'd promised faithfully to be back by eleven. If she didn't get a move on, Dad would ground her for at least a week, assuming he didn't kill her first. As if. Her wry smile turned into a snort and culminated in a hiccough. An old man glared at her as she walked past but, given his Alsatian was peeing up a lamppost, Granddad didn't have a leg to stand on when it came to social niceties.
Through the railings and trees she caught tantalizing glimpses of the back of her house, flashes of white brickwork; moonlight glinting off the slates. Taking a short cut across the kids' play park would make all the difference. She'd done it loads of times. On the downside, if her dad found out he'd go ballistic. He'd been even worse since the recent stories in the news, but the attacks had happened miles away on the other side of the city.
The girl heard a car slow down and slipped her phone from her pocket, making as if she was talking to a mate on the line. Out of the corner of her eye she caught the driver giving her the once-over as he cruised past. He'd know her again. And she made sure he knew she'd taken a pic. Why not? No harm in playing it safe. A girl had to be streetwise these days. Something else her dad didn't give her credit for.
Hence the white lies.
Like telling him she'd be at Natalie's tonight, revising. The nearest they'd got to anything scholarly was swapping notes on studenty-types in The Dark Horse. A cute guy, who'd invited her to a gig tomorrow, had scored top marks. She'd turned him down though – had a prior arrangement. She'd not even told Nat much about her new fella. Knowing Natalie, she'd only try and muscle in. She had some bloke anyway. Right sugar daddy, if you asked Lisa.
Bottom line was: being grounded was so not an option.
The girl glanced over her shoulder, scanned both sides of the street and slipped through a gap in the railings. She paused for a few seconds, ears pricked, then headed for the track through the trees. Under the overhang the patchy light dimmed, dipped even further when dark clouds momentarily obscured the moon. Good job she wasn't easily spooked.
The heels were a pain though, walking was even harder going on the soft earth. That problem she could remedy. Clinging to a slimy trunk with one hand, she delved in her bag. If she'd had any sense she'd have changed into the flats before getting off the bus. Should've taken off her face then, too. Another rummage produced a pack of wipes. Dad reckoned girls who wore too much make-up were asking for trouble.
She felt guilty lying to him, but really, he brought it on himself. She'd be sixteen in a few days. Not a child anymore. She had a fake ID, though bar staff rarely asked to see it – thanks to good old Rimmel. Smiling, she chucked the dirty wipe in the bushes. Bare-faced lies from now on then.
A faint creak to the left sent the hairs on the back of her neck rising. Heart racing, she glanced in the direction of the noise. She heard it again. Then made out the silhouette in the dark of a swing which was slowly swaying. She almost laughed out loud with relief. Even when she'd played on them as a nipper, the seats had been warped and the chains rusty.
Walking on she popped another mint in her mouth. The smell mingled with the scent of citrus on her skin and certainly masked the bad egg stink coming from the pond.
Hiking her bag, she picked up the pace again. She'd just spotted a light come on in the bathroom window. She'd be home before she knew it. Home and dry.
It didn't immediately occur to her to wonder how or why only one swing had been set in motion. In fact, it didn't occur to her full stop.CHAPTER 2
Early morning and a late winter frost glittered across the park like tiny shards of glass, a weak sun cast spindly shadows from a line of skeletal trees. It was no rural idyll. The traffic buzz and stench of fumes drifting from the main drag through Selly Oak shattered any natural illusions. Not that Sarah Quinn currently registered either the terrain or the extraneous noises. Indeed, the tall, blonde detective was only vaguely aware of the damp seeping through the fabric of her one-size-fits-all white forensic suit. If she'd given the spreading clamminess any thought, she'd have considered it a minor inconvenience, and little wonder given she knelt close to a small, shallow pond and the top half of a near naked body.
A middle-aged jogger had made the triple-nine call. He'd had the nous to keep his distance, not further disturb the already churned ground. The guy was now in the back of a squad car being interviewed again, this time by Sarah's partner DC Dave Harries.
The first attending officer had taken one look at the scene and requested CID backup. Like every West Midlands cop, he had Operation Panther in mind. The inquiry into a series of rapes and attempted rapes had been ongoing for more than a month, with an attack almost every week. As senior investigating officer, Sarah had her doubts – Vickie Park was off the perp's beaten track, the violence here bore little relation to what had been meted out before.
Still, open mind and all that. They had to play it by the book, this time the murder book. Even before she'd arrived the forensic corridor had been established, a more extensive outer cordon staked, its blue-and-white tape flapping desultorily, like limp bunting in a light breeze. Beyond it officers in navy blue overalls could be seen on their knees finger-tipping the grass, breathing out what looked like puffs of smoke. Closer at hand the forensic team congregated round the back of a white transit sipping coffee from steel flasks and waiting for a nod. Given the surrounding undergrowth resembled a beer garden after a stag weekend, they'd have their work cut out. And God alone knew what they might dredge up from the bottom of the pond.
Sarah smoothed her left temple. Saw a long day ahead and simultaneously glimpsed the gathering media. An advance pack of reporters and snappers watched through the railings, cameras and notebooks in hand.
Making mental notes Sarah resumed her visual examination of the slight slender body. Boyish hips and pale splayed legs were just discernible swaying gently under several inches of murky water, the trunk lay face down on wet scrubby grass, the right arm stretched full tilt over the head, the left tightly tucked in.
Irrelevant whimsical notion, but to Sarah it looked like a freeze frame of a young woman caught mid-stroke doing the front crawl. Even the dark hair plastered to the scalp resembled a bathing cap, until a closer stomach-churning look.
Sarah sat back on her heels and lifted her gaze. 'Initial thoughts, Richard?'
'There must be easier ways to make a living.' A mask covered most of the pathologist's face but there was no hint of levity in the dark eyes. Richard Patten's good looks and easy charm generally brightened a crime scene. Right now, not so much. Likely his frequent proximity to the dead had rubbed off some of the shine.
'Maybe give me a steer how she died first?' Sarah asked.
'I'll tell you one thing. She didn't get cramp skinny dipping.' Again, Patten's voice was too clipped to be glib. He'd clearly read the girl's death pose in a similar way to Sarah. 'The head injury alone was probably enough to kill her,' Patten said. 'Then there's the shock, blood loss, possible heart failure, hypothermia.'
Sarah nodded, got the picture. A piece of it at least. She watched him lift one of the waxy hands and gently cradle it in his own latexed fingers. 'Have you seen this?'
She nodded again. The girl's nails were broken, caked with blood, full of dirt. Hopefully they harboured more than that – DNA would do nicely for a start.
'She'd tried dragging herself out of there, Sarah.'
'Poor soul must've been bloody terrified.' Briefly the DI closed her eyes, pictured the young woman's final moments: attacked, fatally injured, flailing in the icy water. Begging for help that never came.
For pity's sake, woman. She urged herself to get a grip. Emotional involvement was no part of detective work. Not the way Sarah operated. Fellow cops called her the Snow Queen for a reason. Dave Harries' Mr Nice Guy approach had better not be catching. She might be closer to her DC in more ways than one nowadays – but not that close.
As Patten continued taking samples, Sarah scouted the lie of the land, took in the tatty bowling green, tired looking clubhouse, children's play area. A weathered statue of Queen Victoria that gazed down indifferently had clearly seen, and overseen, better days. Shame the old girl couldn't talk.
People living in properties overlooking the park wouldn't have that problem though and hopefully they'd have spotted something, someone. A handful of locals had already turned out for a closer butcher's. Not that they'd get past the burly uniform at the gate. But why were people such ghouls?
Wincing, Sarah shifted her weight to the other knee. She was trying to work out why the attacker had struck by the pond when there were less exposed areas close by. She glanced back at Patten.
'Could she have regained consciousness after the blow to the head? I'm thinking she might have come round, say, in those bushes.' Patten's gaze followed her pointing finger. 'She'd be disorientated, staggering about in the dark,' Sarah elaborated. 'Maybe miss her footing?' The theory sounded lame even to her ears but better, surely, than the victim knowing she'd been chucked in a scummy pond like a piece of rubbish. Not that it mattered either way. When push came to shove, she was no less dead.
'I very much doubt it.' Patten sealed some of the nail scrapings in a clear plastic bag. 'No one's going walkabout with an injury like that. Look at it.'
She shuddered, thankful again there'd been no time to grab breakfast. The back of the young woman's skull had caved in, flecks of bone like shattered eggshell. The murder weapon was no blunt instrument, more like a rock, a brick, something jagged, lethal. Whatever they were looking for had vanished along with most of the victim's clothes. An animal print skirt ridden up to her waist and a flimsy tee-shirt was all that protected what little dignity remained.
Sarah narrowed her eyes. Where were her shoes? And surely she'd worn a coat? She must've had a bag with her as well, at least a phone. The more she saw, the less likely it looked that the crime was connected to the Panther incidents. It didn't feel right, didn't fit the pattern. Could robbery be the motive? Some off-his-face smack-head desperate for cash?
On the other hand if Patten was on the money and the victim had been alive – just – and the perp had thrown her in to drown, then as well as being pretty damn callous it was a smart move. Where better – make that worse – than a stagnant pond to compromise evidence, muddy the investigation waters?
Surely the perp believed she was dead, or he'd have finished her off before leaving the scene?
'I can't do much more here.' Patten glanced up. 'Sarah?'
She frowned. 'Sorry, I was —'
'Miles away. I noticed. I need to move her now. You OK with that?' It sounded more like a warning to brace herself than a request for permission. Had he picked up on her uncharacteristic flakiness? She made a mental note: curb unguarded expressions.
'Sure. Whenever you're ready.' She stood and stepped back before turning her head at a growing clamour by the gates.
'I blame all those CSI programmes,' Patten muttered. 'Wouldn't you think they'd pipe down, show a bit of respect?' He beckoned one of the forensic guys over. Simon? Steve? No matter. He'd help with hauling the woman's dead weight from the water.
Frowning, Sarah glanced over at the gates again. Just what was kicking off there? The uniform looked to be in some sort of slanging match with a beefy bloke in a grey tracksuit. The way the man's fist was flying, the only place he'd be running to was the nick.
'Sarah?' Patten broke her train of thought.
Tight-lipped, she refocused. The girl lay on her back now, blue eyes gazing sightlessly at the cloudless sky. She looked younger than Sarah had first estimated. With the flawless complexion, full lips, eyelashes so long they could have been false, the girl would've matured into a real beauty.
Except some bastard had stripped her of any sort of future.
'What a waste.' Patten shook his head.
'What the hell was she doing here?' Sarah murmured.
'That's more your territory, detective.'
She hadn't expected a response and gave a distracted nod. At this stage an inquiry was little more than a shed-load of unanswered questions, the victim nothing but a blank sheet. With no ID they didn't even have a name to go on, let alone next of kin. Ducking under the tape Sarah removed the cap, peeled off the gloves, finger-combed her hair. Until not so long ago it had been waist-length, even now the close crop took her by surprise.
'Get your effing hands off me.'
She spun round to see tracksuit man hurtling across the grass shrugging off one of the search team. The guy was so focussed Sarah doubted he heard the officer's shouted warning about it being a crime scene. Gasping for breath, shoulders heaving, he halted just short of the tape horrified gaze fixed on the body.
'No. No. No. I knew it. I knew it.' He sank to his knees, pressed both hands against his cheeks.
Sarah took a step closer. 'Knew what, sir?'CHAPTER 3
Ian Webb knew the victim was his daughter, Lisa. Four days shy of her sixteenth birthday. This and the fact the family – wife, Angela; son, Anthony – lived a stone's throw from the park was all Sarah had elicited so far. She and the search guy had helped Webb stagger to one of the benches where he now sat hunched forward, elbows on knees, shaking like leaf jelly.
Perched alongside, Sarah kept close watch on the colour of his skin, the rise and fall of his chest. She gave him ten, maybe fifteen seconds before asking gently, 'When did you last see Lisa, Mr Webb?'
The starter was easy, non-judgemental. Sarah had a bunch of follow-ups that she suspected would be less so: why wasn't Lisa at home last night? Did she make a habit of staying out? Had there been a row?
He either hadn't heard or needed a prompt. 'Mr Webb —?' She watched him lace his fingers, the skin stretched tight across the knuckles looked in danger of splitting.
'This'll kill her mother.'
Sarah stifled a sigh. Not only did they need to establish Lisa's last known movements as a matter of urgency, but the girl's death wasn't doing much for her father's health. Ian Webb didn't strike her as cardiac arrest material, but you could never tell. She thought he probably needed a doctor, but any delay in questioning could further harm the inquiry. The killer already had several hours start on the squad.
Glancing up, she spotted Harries cutting across the grass heading their way. The bounce in his step might mean he'd had more joy with the jogger than she'd so far found with the father, but then Dave's youthful enthusiasm was still intact, not to mention his passion for the job – and her. She masked a smile, not hard when she looked back at Webb.
'I know it's difficult, sir, but I really need some answers.' Even the questions she'd posed hadn't been addressed. Delaying tactics? Deep shock? Unlike his breathing, which was shallow and ragged. In the impasse she studied the man a little further: late forties/early fifties, thick black hair with the merest hint of grey, broad shoulders, strapping build, meaty fists, well able to look after himself.
Diminished now by feeling he'd failed to look out for his daughter?
'Mr Webb? We can talk here, or I can get a colleague to run you home, while —' I get out of this gear.
Excerpted from Next of Kin by Maureen Carter. Copyright © 2015 Maureen Carter. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Next of Kin is an extremely dark novel, and is best suited for adult readers. It is a gritty, realistic police procedural that may be disturbing for some readers as sexual assault plays a major role. When the body of a teenage girl is found, it is assumed she is only the latest victim of a serial rapist. The case becomes more complicated when police discover that the dead girl’s friend is also missing. Detective Inspector Quinn is assigned the case, but is undercut at every turn. The victim’s father is angry, but refuses to cooperate with Sarah. The Chief Superintendent has assigned another Detective to assist, one who closes cases, but is known to cut corners. Both the Chief Super and DI Brody want Sarah out of the picture, and this case may be the means of achieving that goal. Caroline King may not be writing for the papers anymore, having devoted herself to writing books, but she still has journalistic savvy and an eye for news. She wants to do a book on rape, from the perspective of the rapists and the victims, but in a way that hasn’t been done before. To that end, she is wooing Quinn’s former Captain for an in. But her link is closer than she knows. The investigation is complicated when a convicted sex offender, identified by an anonymous call is found brutally murdered. With more deaths following and few leads in sight, Quinn needs to salvage the case and her career. Next of Kin is a novel that lingers on the reader’s mind long after the final page. Sexual assault is a brutal crime that damages the victims, the families, and those who are wrongly accused. Next of Kin is a novel of crime and consequences, dark and disturbing, but ultimately unforgettable. 5/5 Next of Kin is available for preorder and will be released March 1, 2016. I received a copy of Next of Kin from Severn House and netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. —Crittermom