“The DI Marnie Rome series [is] one to watch.” —Shelf Awareness
The gripping follow-up to Sarah Hilary’s acclaimed debut Someone Else’s Skin, No Other Darkness finds mystery’s “impressive new cop-heroine” (The Times, London) on a case that hauntingly echoes her own family tragedy. Detective InspectorMarnie Rome and her partner Detective Sergeant Noah Jake are investigating the recent discovery of two dead boys in a bunker beneath a London garden. Terry and Beth, under whose garden the bodies were discovered, have two children of their own, and are also fostering a difficult boy named Clancy. Clancy reminds Marnie of her foster brother Stephen, who murdered her parents. Is Marnie’s past blinding her to the truth? Only one thing is certain: when Terry and Beth’s biological children vanish, Marnie can’t waste a moment finding them.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Justine Eyre is a classically trained actress who has narrated over three hundred audiobooks. With a prestigious Audie Award and four AudioFile Earphones Awards under her belt, Justine is multilingual and is known for her great facility with accents.
Read an Excerpt
Five years ago
Fred’s crying again, a snotty noise with a whine in it, like the puppy when she’s shut outside. Archie’s the oldest so it’s his job to take care of Fred when Mum and Dad aren’t around, but he’s fed up of drying Fred’s tears and wiping Fred’s nose. Most of all, he’s fed up of telling Fred it’s going to be okay. Archie doesn’t like telling lies, especially not to his little brother.
Fred’s only five but he’s got a way of looking at you like the puppy when he knows you’re lying. ‘No more scraps, girl. All gone,’ but Budge always knew Dad was lying and she started whining even before he shut her outside. There’s a smeary spot on the sliding door where she put her nose when she looked at you, begging to be let back in.
‘I want Mummy,’ Fred hiccups. ‘Where’s Mummy?’
He’s twisted the sleeping bag so that Archie can’t see the zipper. There’s a long dirty streak up the side of the bag where the cement floor’s rubbed. The sleeping bag smells bad, like everything else down here. Fred smells bad, and so does Archie.
He says, ‘You’ve got to lie still. It’s night-time, go to sleep.’
‘It doesn’t feel like night-time,’ Fred whines.
There are no windows down here, so Archie can’t show Fred the dark outside, the way he would at home. He shows Fred the watch face, even though Fred’s only just learning to tell the time. ‘Little hand’s on the eleven, see? That means it’s eleven o’clock.’
‘I want a banana,’ Fred sobs. ‘Elevenses I have my banana.’
‘That’s eleven in the morning. This’s eleven at night.’
‘Then I want Mummy to tuck me in.’
Archie’s skin’s too tight around his neck. ‘You are tucked in,’ he says. ‘I tucked you in.’
He rolls away so that his back’s turned to Fred. It’s mean, but it’s what Archie does at home so he thinks maybe Fred will take the hint and go to sleep. After a bit, he decides it must’ve worked because Fred’s gone quiet, except for a couple of sniffs, and that whistle in his chest. His face is white but it’s a hot white, like when the sun’s gone behind clouds.
The whistle in his chest means something’s wrong inside.
Archie knows his brother’s hungry, because he’s hungry too. If he was back home he’d say, ‘I’m starving,’ but he’s scared to say that here, in case it’s true. In case they really are starving, him and Fred. Archie won’t tell lies, and he won’t say things – terrible things – that might be true. In case it makes them come true, like a jinx, or a dare.
When Fred says, ‘Mummy’s never coming, nor Daddy,’ Archie tells him to shut up. It’s the only time he gets angry with his brother. ‘Of course they’re coming. Shut up.’
Archie blinks his eyes open in the dark. He doesn’t need to pretend for Fred, not right now. Even if he’s awake, Fred can’t see. He saw the watch because it’s got a little light in the side, but it’s too dark for him to see Archie, and anyway, Archie’s turned away. He could pick his nose or cry – he could cry for Mum and Dad, as long as he cries quietly – and Fred won’t know. He can’t see Archie’s face, just the back of Archie’s T-shirt where the label sticks up.
Archie should’ve put on pyjamas at bedtime. He made Fred put on pyjamas, but it was hard work and by the end of it Archie was too tired to be bothered with his own, so he’s gone to bed in his T-shirt and shorts. It’s the first time he’s done that: broken the rules. He should’ve brushed his teeth, too, but he didn’t. He made Fred brush his teeth and then he pretended he’d done his, when Fred was using the bucket.
It scares Archie that he’s started breaking the rules, but it also makes him feel brave, like when he stood up to Saul Weller at school. Instead of hitting Archie harder, Saul gave him a brofist. Sometimes it pays to break the rules.
The T-shirt label tickles. Archie’s neck is bony, and every bit of him hurts. He’s cold all the time. If he was at home, he’d pull the duvet higher. The sleeping bag won’t be pulled. It’s sweaty inside, and it stinks. Archie hates the stink almost as much as he hates the dark, although he’d never admit it, not to Fred, not even to himself.
At home, their bedroom’s at the top of the house and Mum used to say she’d put up special curtains to block out the light, but she never did and Archie’s glad because he doesn’t like the dark and besides there’s a tree outside their window where a blackbird nests. They couldn’t see the bird if the curtains were special.
Archie wishes there was a window down here.
But all he’d see would be earth, packed and black.
Even if the window was in the roof, like the one in Saul Weller’s house, all he’d see would be earth.
They’re buried, underground.
The thought makes Archie sick, makes his wrists skip like he’s run a race. A sour taste leaks into his mouth, like puke coming up. He doesn’t want to think about it. He screws his eyes shut and thinks of the blackbird, its yellow beak and blinking eye, watching through the branches of the tree at the top of the house where the light comes in and puts stripes across the foot of his bed, and Fred’s.
Fred murmurs in his sleep, ‘Mummy. Mummy . . .’
He has to keep quiet. They both have to keep quiet. That’s the first rule, and the most important one. They promised to keep quiet.
Archie curls his hands and fits a fist into his mouth to stop him from hushing Fred, from saying, ‘It’s all right. She’s coming, it’s all okay,’ because it’s wrong.
It’s wrong to tell lies, especially to your little brother.
DS Noah Jake watched Debbie Tanner swinging between the station’s desks with her cake tin, like a burlesque dancer collecting big tips. DS Ron Carling dipped a hand into the tin with his stare on DC Tanner’s chest as if someone had stuck it there: googly eyes. Debbie had a stupendous chest; it managed to make her plain white shirt look like a basque.
‘Muffins,’ she said. ‘Home-made.’
Carling took a muffin from the tin, making appropriate noises of approval. He’d put on three pounds since Debbie joined the unit.
Noah’s phone buzzed: a text from Dan. Not work-safe, not remotely. Noah wiped the text with his thumb, holding in a smile. The cake tin landed under his nose.
‘Take two,’ Debbie said. ‘Unless Dan doesn’t have a sweet tooth.’ She gave a conspiratorial smile. ‘But he’s going out with the best-looking DS in London, so I’m guessing he does.’ She proffered the tin. ‘I made them fresh this morning.’
‘Thanks, but it’s a bit soon after breakfast for me.’
What time did she get up, to bake a tin of muffins before 9 a.m.?
‘I’ll leave one for later.’ She plucked a muffin and placed it next to Noah’s keyboard, where it pouted at him from its paper cup. ‘Next time I’ll make a Jamaican batch. Banana pecan. Maybe your mum has a recipe?’
‘DS Jake, a minute?’ DI Marnie Rome beckoned from the doorway to her office, looking pin-neat in a charcoal suit, her short red curls tidied back from her face.
Noah got to his feet, pocketing his phone.
DC Tanner followed him into Marnie’s office, swinging her tin. ‘Muffin? I make them with courgette. It’s much better for you than butter. Not that you need to watch your figure.’ She patronised Marnie’s flat chest with a sympathetic smile, reaching her free hand for the pot plant on the edge of the desk, feeling with her fingers for the soil packed around its roots.
Marnie sat behind her desk, nodding at Noah to take the chair on the other side.
The plant was a cactus which, when it was in the mood, gave out spidery white flowers. It was giving them out now, but Debbie checked the soil anyway, as if someone as busy as DI Rome couldn’t be relied on to look after a cactus. Noah winced at the familiarity, but Marnie simply said, ‘How’s the paperwork going, detective?’
‘I’m right on top of it,’ Debbie promised. She turned on her heel and wove her way back to her desk, prow and stern swaying dizzily. No wonder Ron Carling and the others stared.
Noah didn’t stare. He was watching DI Rome. She had her case face on: a new line, thin as a thread, at the bridge of her nose. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Bodies,’ she said. ‘In Snaresbrook . . .’
‘How many bodies?’
‘Two.’ She held his gaze steadily and with a measure of sympathy. ‘Young children.’
His first case with dead children; well, he’d known it would happen sooner or later. ‘Snaresbrook, that’s . . .’
‘Out east, past Leytonstone . . . Not our usual stamping ground.’ Marnie put back her chair and stood, waiting while Noah did the same. ‘But it’s under the Met’s jurisdiction and I know this place, or rather I know the street. So they put the call through to here.’
‘What place? I mean, how do you know it?’
‘Blackthorn Road.’ Marnie picked up her bag. ‘I headed up an investigation there eighteen months ago.’
Before Noah’s time with the major incident team. ‘What was the case?’
‘Domestic, with complications.’ Clipping the words back, her eyes already in Snaresbrook, working this new case.
‘Complications?’ Noah echoed.
‘A missing child. For a while it looked like an abduction, or worse.’
‘But it wasn’t?’
Marnie shook her head. ‘We found her safe and well. There’s no obvious connection between that and . . . this.’
The way she said this made Noah’s skin creep. ‘Except it happened on the same street.’
‘Four houses down. And some time ago, judging by what they’ve found. And where they found it.’
She read his look of wary enquiry. ‘Underground. This was a burial, but not in the usual sense. I don’t know much more than that. I’ve asked DS Carling to take a first look at Missing Persons. You and I need to get over there.’
Noah’s imagination was conjuring images, each worse than the one before.
A burial, but not in the usual sense . . .
Marnie touched his elbow briefly before she nodded at the door. ‘Let’s find out.’
Sweat made Marnie’s shirt cling to the small of her back. Instinct pinched shut her nose in protest at the smell: sweet and bloated by rot. A bluebottle brushed at her wrist and she flinched through the latex glove. It hadn’t hatched down here; if it had, the whole place would be foul with flies. A solitary bluebottle had followed her down, seeking the source of the smell, sweeping the dark with its droning before it settled, as she had, by the side of the bed. Useless to bat it away; it had found what flies like best: dead meat.
Every one of Marnie’s muscles screamed at her to get out, away, her blood flooded by adrenalin, skin twitchy with distress. She stayed where she was, crouched by the side of the makeshift bed. She couldn’t leave them, not yet; it was scary down here in the dark.
The bluebottle had gone quiet, crawling. She made no attempt to knock it away, grateful at some level for the sound it made, an almost human sound. It was too quiet down here.
High overhead, the sky squatted.
A small square of sky, too far away for warmth or light. Marnie had to rely on a trio of police torches, their focus turned to flood, burning at intervals around the room.
If you could call it a room. Thirty feet by fifty of cemented walls and floor, bruised by damp, the ceiling supported by two cement pillars.
Twelve feet underground.
It was a pit.
A burial, but not in the usual sense . . .
Marnie had instructed Noah to stay with the family who’d found the pit, up in the clean air of the garden at number 14 Blackthorn Road. Then she’d climbed down, because she needed to see what they were dealing with.
You entered the pit from a manhole, by way of a rusting ladder. The rungs of the ladder had bitten her gloved palms, shedding sharp flakes of orange iron.
White torchlight burned on the raw walls, and on the makeshift bed.
Marnie couldn’t look at the bed, not properly. She wasn’t ready.
Instead, she looked around the floor, at the mess of tin cans and clothes, picture books and toys. Keeping very still out of respect for the crime scene, waiting for Fran Lennox and Forensics. Her eyes scanned the dark, making a mental inventory ahead of the official one.
Two small pairs of black trainers with Velcro fastenings stood at the foot of the bed. Two blue anoraks, camouflage-patterned, hung from a nail knocked into the wall. A handful of picture books lay on the cement floor. The books were swollen, the way a telephone directory swells if it’s left in the rain on the doorstep of an empty house. Ink had run across the covers, making monsters of ducks and puppies and robots.
A low pyramid of food cans was stacked against one wall. Damp had stripped the labels away and eaten into the tin. The cans had ring-pulls in their lids, tricky for small fingers. The soft toys – a monkey in a striped T-shirt, a squirrel with a red tail – sagged with damp. An abandoned jigsaw puzzle had peeled into pieces of green card. The lid of the box showed a busy farmyard under a blue sky. The jigsaw was simple enough for pre-schoolers, but thanks to the damp, its sky was indistinguishable from grass, its corners gone for ever.
Marnie’s eyes burned, looking at the jigsaw. How cruel would you have to be to put a picture of grass and sky down here where there was only grey cement and creeping damp?
She listened for sounds from the garden overhead, but it was quiet. The cement was thick, with three feet of soil above it, stopping sound from getting in, or out.
The river ran not far from the foot of the garden; she could smell it. Had it flooded down here then drained away? Was she looking at death by drowning? She didn’t think so.
Not poison, either. The bodies were too . . .
She struggled for the right word. Peaceful? Relaxed? Neither word was right, but poison would have looked different. The bodies on the bed were curled together. Sleeping, except that they weren’t. A watch hung off one little, brittle wrist. It had long ago stopped ticking.
What was she seeing? A slow starvation? Sickness? Suffocation?
Probably not suffocation; damp and mould meant the air had been getting in, by accident or design. Design, she guessed. This was a bunker, most probably intended for storage, although she couldn’t rule out Cold War paranoia. It’d been built for the living, not the dead.
Which hadn’t stopped someone doing . . . this.
She touched her hand to the side of the makeshift bed, even though it made no difference now. She was too late. By her best guess, some years too late. Four, five years? Fran Lennox would know. She was on her way with a full forensic team. The trail was cold, too cold for twenty minutes to make a difference. Soon Marnie would start bagging and tagging. She’d be a detective. Right now, she wanted to be a human being. An appalled human being, sitting in silence with two other, smaller ones. Just for a minute; Fran would be here soon.
Marnie murmured it to the little bodies on the bed: ‘She’s coming. She’ll be here soon.’
She looked away from the bed, to the wall where the food cans were stacked. The bunker was organised like living space: the food kept as far as possible from the corner where a bucket was covered with a mouldy towel. The bed was segregated from the play area by a space for getting dressed and undressed. The degree of organisation said this was a long-term arrangement. Permanent, the way a life sentence is permanent. Pitiful.
She tried to imagine bagging and tagging the contents of the bunker. Most of it would fall apart the second it was touched. Rust had eaten under the ring-pulls on the tins, growing ghostly green flowers. The tins touched a memory, frail, in the back of her head. Steel wants to be iron oxide. She’d learned that at school, remembered the teacher telling the class, ‘We dig it up and beat it into steel, but it doesn’t last. Steel wants to be iron oxide.’ Kettles, cans and cars, the foundations of a thousand high-rises, all with the same ruddy heart lusting to be iron oxide again, to corrode or collapse. It was happening down here, in the dark. She could taste the iron on her tongue, its flavour like blood.
She shone her torch on the nearest of the cans, to check whether any attempt had been made to open it, and to see what kind of food it contained.
In the wreckage of one peeling label she read: Peaches.
She must’ve eaten tinned peaches as a child. Syrupy, slippy, a pink taste although the fruit was orange. She reached out and touched a fingertip, just a tip, to the nearest can. Rust whispered under her gloved touch, like feathers.
They wouldn’t get fingerprints from anything in here.
In which case, how would they find whoever did this?
She needed to know who was responsible for what she couldn’t look at, not yet.
Her mobile phone pressed hard into her hip as she crouched by the side of the bed. The torchlight didn’t make a difference, not really. It just stirred at the shadows, like a stick stirring at mud. She looked around for child-sized torches. Surely they weren’t expected to get dressed in the dark, or to use the bucket in the dark, and why allow them books unless . . .
Under the pillows.
They’d put the torches under their pillows, to keep them safe and close at hand. They’d cuddled together because of the dark. Scared . . .
The word wasn’t big enough.
She eased upright, far enough to stop the phone bruising her hip.
She’d invited Noah Jake to this party; his first case with dead children. She felt a pang of regret. She’d attended plenty of crime scenes. They were never pretty. But this one was up there – down here – with the worst. Her body was cramping, sending a scramble of distress signals to her brain. She should go up, back into the fresh air.
You can’t leave them alone down here.
She couldn’t. Not until the forensic team arrived.
The family up there – the family who had found the bunker – how much did they know?
The pit was in their garden, where their kids played. Marnie hadn’t met any of the kids, but she’d met their dad, Terry. He’d been digging a new vegetable patch when he found the pit, was still grey with shock when Marnie and Noah arrived, his spade abandoned, its cutting edge silvered by contact with the manhole cover.
‘We only moved in a year ago.’ His voice was knocked to the back of his throat. ‘There was nothing on the searches to suggest anything like this. I checked the survey for soil contamination, sewerage pipes. There was nothing. It’s why I thought it was okay to climb down . . .’ He kept wiping his hands on his jeans. His eyes were blown wide, his nose pinched shut. A handsome man, grey with shock. Terry Doyle.
He’d waited in the garden for Marnie and Noah. His wife, Beth, had stayed inside the house, a long way from the bodies, thanks to the length of the garden. Marnie had caught a glimpse of the woman’s face, a toddler at her hip, his thumb wedged in a wet mouth.
‘How long . . .’ Terry had whispered to Marnie and Noah as they stood at the side of the pit. ‘How long have they been down there?’
‘We’ll find out. Mr Doyle? Please wait with your wife in the house. DS Jake will take care of you.’
‘I couldn’t . . . I didn’t like to leave them.’ His eyes were all pupils, struggling to adjust to the light after being down in the dark. ‘It didn’t seem right, to leave them. They’re so little . . .’
‘I understand. DS Jake?’
Noah had taken the man’s arm, unobtrusively, steering him back towards the house, where his wife was waiting. Marnie had climbed down into the pit, rigging police torches to break up the blackness. At the foot of the ladder, she’d listened for the sound of the two men walking back up to the house. It was just possible to hear their footfall overhead, which made her wonder whether anyone might’ve heard crying, or calling, from the bunker. Not the Doyles, who only bought the house a year ago. Before that, for years, it was all fields.
She’d been in Blackthorn Road when the houses were brand new, eighteen months ago.
The bodies had been here a lot longer than that.
Terry hadn’t wanted to leave them. Marnie liked him for that. Most people would have been revolted, by the smell apart from anything else. He was distressed, but in the same way Marnie was. He didn’t try and run, even though he’d seen what she was seeing.
How far down had he climbed before he realised what he’d found? They’d need to swab him for DNA, just in case. Fran would be able to answer his question about how long the bodies had been here. She’d be able to answer Marnie’s questions too, about how they died. If they got lucky, Fran would find evidence of who had done this, so that Marnie could start doing her job properly instead of crouching here, knowing she was too late . . .
A shadow fell on her from above. It climbed the walls for a second, as if scared by the torchlight, before settling on her neck. Where it settled, she burned with scrutiny.
She looked up, blind, at the open square of the manhole.
When her eyes adjusted, she saw the shape of a head and shoulders.
Not tall enough for Noah, or Terry Doyle.
A teenage boy, his face blotted out by the sky.
Marnie’s skin shivered.
Memory snatched her, for a second. From the dark that stank of death and the pitiful little huddle she’d first seen in Terry Doyle’s eyes, to another place where she’d crouched, afraid to look and afraid to leave. The bluebottle, buzzing at her wrist, brought her back.
She blinked, and when she looked again, the boy was gone.
Just the ghost of him, a retinal imprint, against the squatting sky.
Inside the forensic tent, it smelt green. Not of death, more like compost.
To Noah’s right, the open manhole sent up a solid column of curdled air. The ground was spongy under his feet. He was glad he’d left his jacket in the car; the polythene walls of the tent were starting to sweat, and so was he.
‘You’re looking at penicillin. It loves to grow on dead meat.’ Fran Lennox sent a grim smile across her shoulder. ‘This’s the stuff they feed you when you’re sick.’
‘Nice.’ Just looking at the narrow manhole made Noah dizzy; he couldn’t imagine how Marnie had felt down there in the dark with the bodies.
After Fran’s team arrived, Marnie had gone into the house, asking Noah to oversee the perimeter of the crime scene; a test for his resolve, he assumed.
Forensics had brought the bodies up, taking special care, carrying the children so carefully the penicillin was still intact, whiskers of mould reaching from the shrunken nostrils of the small faces. The bony shape of both skulls showed white and round through ruined scalps of skin.
‘The bunker wasn’t airtight?’
‘Good thing too; airtight would’ve rotted worse than this.’ Fran hadn’t taken her eyes off the bodies. ‘I had to open a sealed casket one time . . . Like soup in a satin bowl.’
Noah watched in silence as she took charge of preparations to remove the bodies to the pathology lab. His head was hurting. Not physical pain, more like the steady punching of a pulse. Sometimes in this job it felt like an affront to be alive.
The dead children were six, seven years old. Just little children. Mould had made them into old men with frail white beards.
A member of Fran’s team bagged the clothes from the bunker: trainers and jumpers. Navy anoraks, printed with camouflage. On the smaller body: the patchy remains of what looked like red plaid pyjamas.
‘Are they boys?’ Noah asked.
‘No way of knowing,’ Fran said. He heard the hurt in her voice, under its protective layer of morbid humour. ‘They’re pre-adolescent. No sexual dimorphism to speak of.’
Both bodies fitted in the single bag, with room to spare. It was too risky to try and separate them here. Fran would tackle that task back at her lab; her turn to keep vigil.
‘How long do you think they were down there?’
‘Who knows?’ Fran rested her hand lightly on the body bag. ‘I’d say they’ve been dead four years, maybe longer.’
The children had curled together, their bodies making a tight comma, the bigger child hugging the chest of the smaller one, an elbow reduced to a pitiful knot of bone that made Noah’s eyes ache. When Fran drew the zipper on the body bag, he blinked and felt the throb of tears behind his eyelids.
• • •
Outside the forensic tent, the Doyles’ garden was a bright assault of colour. The house had the surprised, scrubbed look of a new-build. Three floors, a pantiled roof ruined by solar panels, a pair of green drums collecting rainwater. The garden had been dug over either side of a long lawn. For vegetables; Noah recognised the leaves of potato plants, radishes and beetroot.
‘Isn’t it awful?’ Debbie Tanner picked her way across the lawn to join him, her face mottled with dismay. ‘How old do you reckon they were? Six, seven? Little mites . . .’
‘Is there anything from Missing Persons yet?’
‘Ron’s still looking. Nothing from five years ago, but we haven’t much to go on yet.’
‘How’s the family holding up?’
‘Paramedics are checking them for shock, the dad especially. He says he’s just glad she didn’t see what was down there. Poor bloke’s in a bit of a state, been crying his eyes out. The boss is with them, working her magic.’
‘What magic?’ Noah knew what she meant, but he was intrigued to hear her describe what DI Rome did.
‘You know. Making them feel like there’s no one else that matters in the whole world but them and what they’ve seen. She’s brilliant. Most DIs don’t go near witnesses, or victims come to that. Not unless there’s been a complaint. I certainly never worked with one who did. I suppose she’s got a special empathy, after what happened.’
Debbie had found out details of Marnie’s past that Noah hadn’t known until she started sharing her knowledge around the station. He’d been with Marnie’s team less than eighteen months. Debbie’s stories dated back five years. Noah had warned her to be careful it didn’t reach DI Rome – the things she’d uncovered, or the fact that she was sharing the information freely with her colleagues – because no good could come of it. Marnie was entitled to her privacy, and even if she wasn’t, Noah knew she’d fight to protect it, the same way she’d fight to uncover the truth of what had happened to the children they’d taken from the bunker.
‘Any sign of the press yet?’
‘Not yet, but you know what they’re like. The OCU’s on his way.’ Debbie hugged her arms under her chest. ‘Kiddies are always headlines.’
Not these children, or not five years ago, otherwise Missing Persons would have given them names by now.
So who were they? And why had no one reported them missing?
The dirt from the Doyles’ garden had been trodden into the house, a dark trench from the garden through to the kitchen. The same dirt was under Terry’s fingernails, and his wife’s.
‘We’re putting in a vegetable patch, encouraging the kids to be self-sufficient.’ Terry wiped his hands on his jeans. They were raw, as if he’d washed them more than once since finding the pit. ‘I was on my own out there, thank God.’
Marnie needed to take his boots, and maybe his clothes, depending how close he’d been to the bodies. ‘You said there was nothing on the survey to suggest a bunker?’
‘Nothing. It’s why I thought it’d be safe to lift the manhole.’
‘How easy was it to do that?’
‘It wasn’t hard. I’ve lifted flagstones that weigh a lot more.’ He cringed, as if he was afraid she’d interpret this as machismo. He was a shade over six feet tall and slim, in good shape for a man in his early forties. ‘If I’d known what was inside . . . As soon as I saw them down there, I called the police. But I disturbed a crime scene.’ His mouth wrenched. ‘I’m so sorry. If I’ve made it harder for you to find who did that . . . I’m so sorry.’
‘It can’t be helped.’ Marnie picked up the mug of tea he’d made, asking the next question as gently as she could. ‘How far down did you climb?’
‘Four, maybe five rungs?’ His voice was ashy at the edges, fierce tears in his eyes, the kind you fight to hold in.
‘Did you – I’m sorry – did you touch anything, other than the ladder?’
He flinched. ‘Absolutely not.’
‘Good. I’ll have to take your boots, to rule out anything that might’ve been dislodged.’
He nodded his acceptance and she waited a beat, to let him know that this part of the interview was over. ‘You’ve done a lot of work out there.’ The earth had been dug over, more than once. ‘Is this the first time you’ve found anything unusual? I don’t mean the bunker. Other things, maybe clothes or jewellery?’
‘Nothing like that. We’ve been digging for a few months, getting it ready for the planting. The soil wasn’t worth much when we started. We’ve managed to make it better.’
‘How do you do that?’ Marnie asked. ‘Make soil better?’
‘It was mostly sand when we moved in. I guess it’s a cheap base for the developers to use, but it’s no good for growing anything. No nutrients, for one thing, and it won’t hold water. I had to put a lot of compost down, keep turning it during the winter.’ He mimed the action. She could see the strength in his wrists. ‘By spring we had a halfway decent bed for the veg.’
‘Terry’s a great gardener,’ Beth said. ‘He does most of the gardens in the street.’ It was the first time she’d spoken since the three of them had gathered in the kitchen. ‘It’s good for the kids to have a sense of permanence, and to be self-sufficient.’
‘Will we have to move out?’ Terry asked. ‘While you’re investigating?’
‘I’m afraid so. It’ll be for the best. Things are going to be busy here for a while. You won’t get much peace.’
The press were coming. She could feel the heat of their curiosity at her heels. OCU Commander Tim Welland was on his way too. In his words, ‘To check the fan’s working before the shit hits.’
‘If you can find us a place big enough to stay together as a family,’ Terry said. ‘I know we’re not conventional, but it matters. We’ve worked really hard for this.’
Beth said, ‘Tommy’s sleeping. I managed to put him down for a nap.’ The toddler she’d held on her hip earlier. ‘Carmen will be home from nursery soon. One of the other mums brings her. I take her little boy in the mornings . . .’ She glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘Then there’s Clancy . . .’
Terry reached for Beth’s hand and held it. ‘We’re new foster parents.’ He forced a smile. ‘For our sins. If you could find us somewhere we can stay together . . .’
Marnie knew what Tim Welland would say. Her priority was protecting the crime scene; she owed her first duty to the dead, not the living. ‘How new?’
‘Since we moved here. It’s one of the reasons we wanted a big house.’
‘How many kids are we talking about?’
‘Just Clancy, for now.’ Terry squeezed his wife’s hand. Marnie would’ve missed it, if Beth hadn’t turned the flinch into a smile. ‘Clancy Brand.’
‘How old is Clancy?’
‘He’ll be fifteen in a couple of months.’
‘He’s not in school?’
‘He’s not . . . a hundred per cent at the moment,’ Terry said.
‘We kept him home today,’ his wife added. ‘In case it’s catching.’
The lie stained her neck dull red.
Some people could lie without colouring, but Beth Doyle wasn’t one of them. She was pretty, in a passive way. You’d struggle to remember her face when it wasn’t right in front of you. Soft mouth and eyes, the kind of fair hair that looks grubby unless it’s just washed.
‘So with Tommy and Carmen . . . Clancy makes three kids in the house?’
‘Four.’ Beth put a hand to her stomach. She wasn’t showing yet, the bump hidden under a denim smock.
‘Congratulations,’ Marnie said.
‘It’s a big house. It needs children. Everyone says we’ve too much love for three kids . . .’
They’d put their stamp all over the big house, judging by the kitchen: comfortable and chaotic, cup rings on the table where it looked like a grenade had gone off in a jar of Marmite; fall-out from the family breakfast. Children’s drawings were Blu-tacked to the walls, next to dirty thumbprints at toddler height. Marnie wasn’t a fan of mess, but mess meant living – risk, courage and failure, all the things that mattered.
A noise in the street brought Beth to her feet. ‘That’ll be Vic, with Carmen.’ She headed in the direction of the front door.
Terry stood and started clearing mugs from the table. Marnie helped, taking an abandoned plate of wrinkled orange segments to the pedal bin. ‘Compost.’ Terry intercepted the plate with a grimace. ‘Thanks.’ He deposited it in a green plastic container with a slatted lid.
He washed the cups, running hot water sparingly at first and then for longer, scrubbing at his already raw hands, strong wrists wringing repeatedly under the flood from the tap until they turned first white then red from the heat.
‘If you need to talk,’ Marnie said, ‘I know someone in Victim Support.’
‘Thanks.’ Terry stopped washing and reached for a towel to dry his hands. ‘I’ll be okay. I’m thinking the fewer strangers in the house the better, at least for a bit.’ He blotted at the wet between his fingers, his eyes blank and grieving.
The paramedics had given him the all-clear, but Marnie was familiar with the tricks shock could play, how it went into hiding only to jump out at you, repeatedly. ‘The person I’m thinking of is very good. He won’t ask questions. He’ll listen, if you need that. You’ve got a lot on your plate here. I can’t see you wanting to talk to Beth about what you saw.’
‘Not in her condition,’ Terry said mechanically.
‘I saw it too,’ Marnie said. ‘I know how hard this is.’
He nodded. ‘Thanks. If you could leave a number for Victim Support, I’ll make the call a bit later, when it’s quiet here.’
Marnie wrote down Ed Belloc’s name and number, handed it to Terry.
He folded the slip of paper once, and then again. ‘When you find out who they are . . . will you tell me their names?’ He folded the paper a third time, scoring the fold with his thumbnail. ‘Please. I’d like to know their names.’
Marnie nodded. ‘Yes.’
Beth came back into the kitchen with a scowling three-year-old in a pink duffle coat, yellow hair in fraying plaits, small mouth shut above an obstinate chin.
‘Carmen’s home,’ Beth said. ‘Here’s Daddy, see. Say hello to Daddy.’
Carmen marched across the kitchen to her father, buried her face in his shins and started to howl. Terry didn’t pick her up, squatting instead on his heels. ‘Did you have a hard day, honey-bee?’ He put an arm around her shoulders and stroked her hair in a steady rhythm.
Carmen wept into his chest. Tears of outrage, Marnie guessed, from the angry noise she was making. Terry looked a question across at Beth, who shook her head defeatedly. He kept stroking the child’s hair. ‘Honey-bee, it’s all fine now. You’re home now.’
Beth said, ‘Let’s you and me go for a walk, yes? Let’s put our wellies on and find some puddles to jump in . . .’ She reached for the boots that Terry had taken off.
‘Sorry,’ Marnie reminded her. ‘I have to take those.’
‘Oh. Yes.’ Beth looked around for another pair of wellingtons.
When she tried to take the child from Terry, Carmen stiffened and started to scream, the kind of noise that made car alarms sound sweet.
She was still screaming five minutes later, when Marnie left the house.
In Blackthorn Road, Noah was making small talk with a PCSO, who was describing in forensic detail how much better crime-scene tape used to be, back in the day. ‘Wouldn’t wipe my arse on this new stuff . . . ’
When Marnie came out of number 14, Noah headed in her direction.
‘How’re they doing? How’s Terry?’
‘In shock, trying to cope . . .’ She turned to look at the Doyles’ house. ‘I left him Ed’s number. What did Fran say?’
‘That she’ll call as soon as she has something. They’re too young for her to tell if they’re boys or girls.’ He paused. ‘I think from the clothes, they’re boys. What’d you think?’
‘Boys,’ Marnie said, ‘but I may be wrong.’ She was studying the house.
Noah had done the same. The back of a house was only half the story; they needed to see the face it showed to the street. Houses are among the biggest lies we tell ourselves, hadn’t he read that somewhere? Most weren’t about the necessity of living; they reflected money or taste or aspiration. Mortgages meant you didn’t have to have, you just had to want.
Number 14 Blackthorn Road was bland and unsmiling, its broad shoulders shrugged up against the house to its left. It was an end-of-terrace, where the weight of the other houses rested. The front door had been painted white, ruined by the weather. Fingerprints stained the area around the lock. A trio of wheelie bins was parked to the left of the door. As lies went, number 14’s was a modest one. The terrace was aggressively uniform, in the manner of most new-builds. Seven houses on each side. Number 14 was a little larger, but not by much. Every house had three floors, the third being a faux attic conversion. They didn’t look like they’d been standing more than a couple of years.
‘What was here, before the houses?’ Noah asked.
‘Fields,’ Marnie said. ‘And beech trees.’
The beech trees had survived, flanked at the foot of the Doyles’ garden. The houses weren’t built when the children were buried in the bunker.
Noah said, ‘You were here, eighteen months ago . . .’
‘When the houses were brand new, yes.’
‘Did you meet whoever was living in number 14?’
‘No one was living here. It was the last house to be sold.’
‘The last?’ Noah looked at her in surprise. ‘It’s a good size. End terraces usually go first. Was it a lot more expensive?’
‘No, just a lot less finished.’ Her voice was dry. ‘It was the developer’s show home. They cut corners to get it ready in time. Then someone noticed the ventilation pipes weren’t connected. The overflow fed into the walls instead of outside. Little things like that.’
‘That and the bunker in the garden . . . You think the developers knew about it?’
‘They built the houses . . . over the boys?’
‘If they’re boys,’ Marnie said. ‘Yes.’
A movement at the window on the third floor made them look up, too late to see anything other than the curtain dropping back into place.
‘Clancy,’ Marnie said, in the same dry voice as before. ‘The Doyles are fostering him. He was watching me in the bunker, too.’
‘Yes, I saw him at the house . . .’ Noah hated the feeling of being watched. He imagined Marnie felt the same.
They looked at the window for a minute, but the curtain didn’t move again.
At his side, Marnie shivered. ‘Come on. Before the ghosts get the better of me.’
She started walking in the direction of the squad car, carrying the wellington boots she’d taken from Terry.
Noah followed. ‘Ghosts?’
‘This road,’ she swung back to look at him, ‘is full of ghosts. Can’t you feel them?’
Lawton Down Prison, Durham
The ghosts are out in force today. I can smell them. Sweet and biscuity, like just-washed hair before bedtime. I want to tuck them in and lie down beside them, breathe their sweet smell, bury my nose in their little necks and whisper through the dark.
I daren’t, of course.
For one thing, Esther would hear.
The ghosts are scared of Esther. They won’t come close when she’s here, no matter how wide I spread my arms. It’s as if she’s still killing them, over and over.
She can’t stop. I don’t think she ever will.
It’s who she is.
Everyone is scared of Esther, even grown men, policemen.
She’s a special kind of monster.
OCU Commander Tim Welland looked like an avalanche waiting to land, his big face fisted in a frown. ‘Where’re we up to, detectives? And don’t sugar-coat it.’
‘Two small children,’ Marnie said, ‘dead and down there at least four years. Fran’s doing the post-mortems as a priority.’
Welland looked the length of Blackthorn Road. ‘Who found them?’
‘Terry Doyle. It’s his garden, but four years ago there weren’t any gardens, only fields. We’re looking for someone who knew this place before the houses went up.’
‘Missing Persons haven’t turned up any names, is that right?’
‘Four years ago . . .’ Welland pulled at his lower lip.
‘At least four years.’ Marnie glanced at her watch. ‘Fran should have some answers for us soon. Nothing definitive perhaps, but she’ll have something. And Missing Persons; two small children can’t have vanished without someone reporting it. Not even in London.’
‘Right . . .’ Welland leaned on the word until it buckled. He sniffed. ‘I smell scumbag . . . The media’s en route. You’ll want to field that, detective.’
‘I’ve got it.’ Marnie nodded. ‘Press briefing at the station in a couple of hours.’
‘Have you spoken with the Finchers?’ Welland said next.
‘And that neighbour of theirs, what was his name? Dougal . . .?’
‘Douglas. Doug Cole.’
‘Right, gutless Douglas . . .’ Welland curled his lip. ‘Have you spoken with him?’
‘Not yet. I don’t want to waste time. We’re looking for someone who was here four or five years ago. Cole and the Finchers have lived here less than two years.’
‘You’re not looking for someone who was living here, just someone who knew about the bunker down there.’
‘And you think Mr Cole might have known that?’
Welland tipped his face to the sky. ‘What do I think about Mr Cole?’ He brought his stare down to Marnie’s face. ‘I think gutless Douglas is exactly the kind of freak who’d buy a house close to where he buried bodies years ago.’
Marnie was silent for a second. Then she said, ‘Okay. I’ll look into that.’ She made it sound like a dead end. ‘Maybe someone will remember the bunker being built.’
Welland sniffed again. ‘And find the bastard who put houses over it. We’ll hit him with a planning violation, if nothing else.’
Noah said, ‘There’s a housing estate a couple of streets away, built in the sixties by the look of it. Someone there should remember any building that went on.’
Marnie nodded. ‘We could use some extra hands,’ she told Welland.
‘Let’s hear how loud the press yelp first. That usually gets us attention in high places.’
‘You don’t want to try for a pre-emptive strike?’
‘On this budget? The only thing I’m pre-empting is an overdraft. You’ve got a good team.’ He nodded at Noah. ‘Stretch it.’
Movement at the upstairs window of number 14 made him frown in that direction.
‘Who’s the ghoul?’
Same curtain as before. It fell back into place when they looked up.
‘Clancy Brand,’ Marnie said. ‘The Doyles are fostering him.’
‘Terrific.’ Welland wiped his nose with his fingers. ‘Try and keep his teenage hormones clear of our crime scene.’
• • •
After Welland had left in his car, Marnie and Noah walked up to number 8.
Douglas Cole’s house was a mid-terrace with the same unsmiling face as number 14. Marnie knocked on the door and they waited, but there was no answer. No car parked in the resident’s space. Empty bins outside; Noah checked.
‘Bin day,’ Marnie said. ‘I asked the Doyles. He’s probably on his way home. Come on.’
They headed back to her car.
‘Did you speak with Clancy?’ she asked Noah. ‘When you saw him at the house?’
‘Not really. I asked if he was okay and he grunted at me. I’d say he’s a typical teenage boy. Not that I’m an expert on typical teenage boys . . .’
‘You’ve got a younger brother,’ she remembered.
‘Sol.’ Noah nodded. ‘He’s more typical than me, I guess.’
‘Typical is overrated . . . So you asked Clancy if he was okay.’
‘I tried to. He wasn’t exactly communicative. I’d say he’s not a fan of the police.’
‘You think he’s been in trouble with us?’
‘Possibly. Could just be an authority thing. You said he was off school.’
‘Beth says he’s sick, but I wonder if he’s been excluded.’
Marnie put the wellingtons into a forensic bag in the boot of the car. ‘There’s something going on with him, something they didn’t want to talk to me about.’
‘I’ll check,’ Noah said again. ‘Clancy Brand, right?’
‘Yes.’ Marnie worked a crick from her neck with the heel of her hand, smelling the bunker in her clothes. ‘I met Carmen, their three-year-old. She looks like hard work. Tommy’s a toddler, and Beth’s pregnant again. We’ll need to be careful.’
They got into the car.
‘Four kids . . . That’s not a family,’ Noah objected as he fastened his seat belt, ‘it’s a recruitment drive.’
‘You don’t believe in too much love?’
‘Not without a lot of alcohol involved. But what do I know?’
‘The Doyles must be doing something right for the system to let them foster.’ Marnie pulled out into the traffic headed back into town. ‘I like them, him especially. He was kind about the kids, didn’t want to leave them alone down there . . .’
‘Someone did,’ Noah said. ‘Otherwise how did it happen?’ He looked grim.
Marnie knew he was trying hard to treat this case like any other. Knew, too, how impossible that was. Dead children changed everything.
‘Do you think they’re brothers?’ Noah asked.
‘Perhaps . . .’
Hard to detect any physical resemblance between the children. Nearly impossible to detect any resemblance to anyone who’d once lived or laughed, or kicked a ball around a yard, or called for his mum when he fell and scraped a knee, fought with his brother at bedtime. Only the way they’d looked when they died, so tightly curled together, hinted at how they might have been, alive. The older child protecting the smaller one, or simply sharing body heat, trying to keep warm.
‘Ron wants to look at child sex offenders in the area,’ Noah said. ‘I told him to go ahead.’
‘Make sure he understands we’re talking at least four years ago.’
Noah nodded. After a moment, he said, ‘Who is gutless Douglas?’
‘He’s an accountant, a friend of the Finchers.’
‘Commander Welland likes him for this . . .’
‘We’d all like a short cut to finding whoever put those children down there.’ Marnie didn’t want to raise Noah’s hopes. ‘Mr Cole rubbed Welland up the wrong way, it’s true. But you and I know how easily that’s done.’
‘You don’t fancy Cole for this?’
‘Not remotely.’ She paused. ‘But I’ve been known to get things wrong. I’ve got his number. We’ll talk with him as soon as he’s home. And we’ll talk with the Finchers.’
‘The family with the missing child . . . But that ended happily, you said.’
‘People have long memories, and it was messy for a while. I’ll brief the team about it. We should lean on Missing Persons. The sooner we have names, the better.’
‘Ron’s on it,’ Noah said.
Someone was missing the dead children, whether or not they were siblings. Perhaps Marnie should hope for brothers; only one set of parents to be broken by the news. Assuming they didn’t already know what had happened. Assuming they weren’t responsible for making, or letting, it happen. Sooner or later, they were going to have to entertain that possibility.
‘They looked like brothers,’ Noah said. ‘The way they were sleeping . . .’ Sadness thinned his face. ‘I think they were brothers.’
• • •
As they reached the station, Marnie’s phone played Fran Lennox’s tune.
She swung into the car park and picked up. ‘Fran, you’ve got something for me?’ Her eyes went to Noah. ‘For us?’
‘You’re not going to like it,’ Fran said, ‘but yes. Not much, not yet, but something.’
‘I’ll be right over.’ Marnie ended the call.
‘News?’ Noah asked. An edge in his voice; on his guard against this case.
Marnie wondered in what way Sol, Noah’s brother, had been a more typical teenage boy. Less sensitive, perhaps, or more content with easy answers to life’s worst questions.
‘Stay here. Organise the house-to-house at the flats, and keep an eye on the team.’ She could sense their frustration already, like too much static. ‘I’ll get back as soon as I can.’
‘What about the press briefing?’ Noah asked.
‘Stall it. Tell them we’re doing real police work and remind them it takes time. If we’re lucky, some of them might even appreciate that.’
Fran said, ‘They’re boys. Neither is older than eight. It’s not infallible, but going by the length of the molars and the chin span, I’d say we have two boys, one about eight years old, the other between four and five. I’ll know more when I’ve done the proper tests.’
Marnie pulled out a chair and sat the other side of Fran’s desk. The office was tiny, barely enough room for one person, let alone two. ‘What else?’
Fran had a plate of toast, and two big mugs of tea. Marnie had never seen her eat proper food. It explained how ravenous she always looked, a starving pixie with a spiky blond crop. ‘I think they’re brothers. I can’t confirm it without tests, but you saw the shape of their skulls. Too similar for it to be a coincidence. And the short shin bones, narrow shoulders . . .’ She folded a slice of toast and took a bite. ‘Of course some of it’s due to malnutrition, and light deprivation. I’d say they were down there a good few weeks before they died.’
‘And how long afterwards, how long since they died?’
‘At least four years, maybe as many as five.’ Fran folded a second slice of toast, still eating the first. ‘No wounds on their bodies, nothing obvious in the airways and no evidence they were constrained. No sign of a struggle, all bones intact.’
Marnie processed this in silence. ‘So . . . how did they die?’
‘I’ll know more after the autopsy, but if you’re pressing me for a gut feeling, I’d say they slowly starved.’
Marnie’s throat griped in protest. ‘There was food in the bunker. Tins . . .’
‘Maybe they’d got too weak to open them. Maybe it was the cold, exposure. Lack of light, rotten air . . . They were down there a good while. It’s possible they just . . . got sleepy, cuddled together for warmth and didn’t wake up.’ From the way she said it, it was clear Fran meant this to sound peaceful, a gentle death.
To Marnie, it sounded monstrous. ‘Who would do that, leave them down there to die?’
Fran dusted crumbs from her shirt. ‘That’s your territory. The only way it would be mine is if I find the bastard’s DNA on their bodies, or in their bodies, which I sincerely hope I don’t. Sorry not to be more optimistic.’
‘We’ve swabbed everything we could down there. One thing . . . do you think the bunker stayed shut the whole time after they died?’
‘I’d be guessing, but yes. If it was airtight, that would be different.’ Fran chewed for a minute, thinking it over. ‘They were pretty well preserved. If the manhole was disturbed, I’d have expected more evidence of decay. And bugs, rodents. You name it. Forensic fauna, as we’re encouraged to call it. There was nothing like that.’
Forensic fauna . . . Rats, she meant. And flies, like the one that had gone down into the dark with Marnie. ‘So the chances are, whoever put them down there left them and didn’t come back? Not even to check whether they were dead.’
‘You wouldn’t need to check. Whoever left our boys down there knew exactly what they were doing.’
‘Except that they left food and water, blankets . . . Maybe they meant to come back.’
‘And what – got distracted?’ Fran shook her head. ‘We’re not talking about a dog in a hot car. These were little boys, buried underground without daylight, getting weak and sick.’
‘Maybe they couldn’t go back for them,’ Marnie said, ‘because something happened.’
‘You think the murderer’s dead?’
‘Not dead, necessarily. But he or she could’ve been arrested. If our boys weren’t the first children they’d taken . . .’
‘Or our boys were the first, but he or she went after more?’ Fran wiped her mouth on a piece of paper towel. ‘It’s possible. But if we’re talking about an arrest, why didn’t they tell the police about the bunker? These boys didn’t die quickly. There might’ve been time to save them, which might have meant leniency.’
‘True.’ Marnie had only half believed in the idea of an arrest or an accident. It was too neat, and much too convenient. ‘You say they didn’t die quickly . . . Is there any way of knowing how long they were alone down there? We’re assuming they had company to begin with.’
‘The food, and the bucket.’ Fran nodded. ‘Traces of bleach in the bucket suggests it was cleaned not long before it was last used. If they’d been down there a long time, unsupervised, I’d have expected more waste, and more mess. Two small children in an enclosed space . . . I’d say days, rather than weeks. Not long, in the scheme of things.’
She reached for her mug. ‘Of course, we don’t know for sure that they died alone. Whoever did it might’ve stayed down there to watch.’ She sipped at the tea. ‘Perhaps they only left when it was obvious the boys were dead, or dying.’
‘Stayed to watch?’ Marnie shivered. ‘Jesus. That’s cold.’
‘A whole new level of nasty, but I wouldn’t discount it, at least not quickly. Whoever did this, however it was done, it was wicked. You can’t always slice that into degrees.’
A photo cube on Fran’s desk was filled with Polaroids of her and her brothers. She came from a big family: seven brothers; Fran was the only girl. The boys doted on their little sister, the police pathologist.
‘You’re ruling out poison?’ Marnie said. ‘And smothering?’
‘Smothering, yes, unless the post-mortem throws up any surprises, but plenty of poisons are hard to trace after even a day or two. We’re talking four or five years, maybe a bit longer than that. I can’t rule it out. In any case,’ Fran picked crumbs from the desk, one by one, dropping each crumb into the plastic bin at her side, ‘our boys wouldn’t have needed a serious dose of anything dangerous. Too much Night Nurse would’ve done the trick, sent them to sleep with no chance of waking up, given how weak and malnourished they were.’
She cleaned the ends of her fingers with a tissue. ‘I can’t be sure, but I think . . . I hope . . . it would have been a quiet death.’
A quiet death.
Marnie didn’t believe that. She could see and taste and hear the noise of their dying, alone and scared. Her ears rang with outrage at the noise. ‘So I’m looking for brothers who went missing up to five years ago. Any other clues to where they might’ve come from?’
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
NUMBER OF HEARTS: 4 3/4 No Other Darkness is Ms. Hilary’s follow up story to her amazing debut novel Someone Else’s Skin (go read this one!!!) and boy howdy did she knock this one out of the park!!!! No Other Darkness is filled with so many twists and turns that I worried I would never find my way out of the maze of this story. We find our self once again following DI Marnie Rome investigating the finding of two young bodies. Two young bodies that have been down in that bunker for 4-5 years. Two young bodies in the dark, in the cold and left behind. Man, I am not even sure how to tell how much this story was disturbed me and intrigued me. I don’t want to say anything to give anything away or give you any clues. If you are a suspense fan you will love this series. I am already excited for the next DI Marnie Rome story. Ms. Justine Eyre as always does an amazing job as her role as narrator. Ms. Eyre is one of my favorite narrators out there. I love a narrator that can make each character sound so different. It is great when you can close your eyes (but not while I am driving, which is where I do most of my listening), just listen and you know who each character is speaking before you are told. Again, I can not wait for the next novel in this series. And yes, it will be on my pre-order audible list. Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tantor Media in exchange for an honest review. This review is my own opinion and not a paid review.
When it comes to handling dark topics and the murder of children, authors sometimes have difficulty dealing with the issues in a manner readers find appealing. Author Sarah Hilary does an excellent job tackling these tough issues in her latest release, NO OTHER DARKNESS. Hilary quickly draws readers in and has crafted such a story readers have to know the ending despite the darkness shadowing the events. Detective Inspector Marnie Rome and her partner, Detective Sergeant Noah Jake, have been called in to investigate the discovery of two dead boys in a bunker beneath a London garden. The owners of the garden have two children of their own, as well as a difficult foster boy. When the biological children vanish, Marnie and her partner have to act fast to find them before it’s too late. Hilary weaves in bits of troubling background for Marnie, as well as difficulties for Noah. Giving insight into the lives of the officers makes the characters more realistic and easier for readers to relate to. The dynamics of Marnie and the other officers and their ways of dealing with the events enhances the story and gives it depth. Hilary’s rich descriptions and eye for detail places the reader among the characters and in the various settings. The haunting story moves at a quick pace and is filled with twists and turns. The psychological aspects of the story holds readers spellbound until the startling conclusion. NO OTHER DARKNESS is the second installment in the Detective Inspector Marnie Rome Mystery series, but can be read as a standalone. New readers to the series aren’t left in the dark and returning fans aren’t bombarded with lots of repeat information. This poignant thriller combines many elements to make it a story well-worth reading. The characters will remain with you as their stories touch on issues close to the heart. A riveting novel of love, family, pain, destruction and the extremes people sometimes go. FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.
No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary is a British suspense/thriller novel. It is the second book in the DI Marnie Rome series. DI Marnie Rome and her team are called to investigate the deaths of two children. Terry Doyle was creating a vegetable garden in the backyard of their home on Blackthorn Road when they discovered a manhole. When Terry opened it up and went down the steps, he found two bodies lying on a bed. They turn out to be two little boys, Archie and Fred who have dead at least five years. They were put in the bunker with toys and canned food. Who would have put two little boys in a hidden bunker and left them there? Marnie, DS Debbie Tanner (the flirt), DS Ron Carling (the pessimist), DS Noah Jake (dedicated and smart), and Fran Lennox (forensics and coroner’s office) will have to work hard to figure out who put those little boys in harm’s way. This case will bring up feelings from Marnie’s past. She was just getting over the death of her parents who were murdered five years previously. They were killed by their foster child who has never told Marnie why he killed them. Their current case involves a foster child named Clancy Brand. He is fourteen (same age as the kid who killed Marnie’s parents). Is Clancy involved in the murder? Are the two cases connected in some way? Then when Terry Doyle’s two children turn up missing, the team will have to work quickly to solve the case. No Other Darkness was an interesting book, but it did not engage me. I was disappointed in it. I think it went on way too long and the writer just put too many elements into the book. After a while it got a little confusing. I give No Other Darkness 3 out of 5 stars. There are some rambling paragraphs were Marnie is thinking (I could have done without them). The book also leaves us with unanswered questions (which probably means they will be answered in other books) which I found disappointing. I prefer for everything to be wrapped up in one book. No Other Darkness can be read without having read the first book in the series. I received a complimentary copy of No Other Darkness from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.