Jane Bennett, senior Detective Sergeant for the murder squad at her London police precinct, is having a terrible day. Her boss, Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer, has just returned to work after two weeks on "leave," though Jane knows it was really more like a suspension. He's still shaken by the loss of a victim in their last murder case, and Jane is still stung that Lockyer didn't trust her enough to confide in her about the case before it was too late.
But neither of them has the luxury of time to dwell on past grievances. Jane has just received a phone call from a good friend saying that her husband Mark Leech, a retired policeman, has disappeared. When Jane finds dramatic blood splatters in the laundry room, she knows Mark is seriously injured at best, and they don't have any time to waste. And then the body of a young girl is discovered in a tomb under a London greenway, and police resources are stretched even thinner…until it starts to look like the two cases might be related.
No Place to Die is another spine-tingling mystery with complex, three-dimensional characters from suspense master Clare Donoghue.
About the Author
After ten years in London, working for a City law firm, CLARE DONOGHUE moved back to her home town in Somerset to undertake an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University. In 2011 the initial chapters of Never Look Back, previously entitled Chasing Shadows, were longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award. No Place to Die is Clare's second novel.
After ten years in London, working for a City law firm, CLARE DONOGHUE moved back to her home town in Somerset to undertake an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University. In 2011 the initial chapters of Never Look Back, previously entitled Chasing Shadows, were longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award. Never Look Back is Clare’s first novel.
Read an Excerpt
No Place to Die
By Clare Donoghue
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Clare Donoghue
All rights reserved.
22nd April – Tuesday
'I know,' she said, waiting for the next line in what was a well-rehearsed piece. 'Yes, Mother, I'm aware of that.' Jane looked at the clock on the bottom right-hand side of her computer screen. 'I agree. I'll call as soon as I leave.' The seconds ticked by. 'Yes, clean ones are in his room.' She resisted the temptation to drum her fingers on the desk. 'That's right, where they're always kept.' Jane could sense other people in the office beginning to tune into her conversation. 'Nothing. There was no tone. Sorry – yes, you're right. I'll be home soon.' Almost there. She hoped. 'Before eight. Yes. Okay. Yes. Good. Thanks, Mum. Bye.'
Detective Sergeant Jane Bennett put the phone back in its cradle, closed her eyes and let her head drop onto her desk with a thud.
Her mother didn't object to looking after Peter. Far from it. She was 'happy to help'. Jane would have the words engraved on her mother's tombstone: 'Celia Bennett, beloved wife, mother and grandmother. "Happy to help".' The image relaxed Jane's shoulders and she smiled. The ten-minute ear-bashing she had just endured was routine. The caveat to her mother's favourite phrase was full entitlement to bitch and moan whenever the mood struck. Jane didn't mind. Her working life didn't allow for routine, something that her son craved. She couldn't be there all the time. So every pick, veiled dig, subtle criticism or direct assault that her mother levelled against her was worth it.
She lifted her head off the desk, using her fingertips to pull her fringe back into place. The heat of the day had all but gone. She turned and pulled her jacket off the back of her chair and slipped it on. Peter would be eight in June. When Jane looked at him she still saw the chubby, red-faced baby who was always hungry. That was before his autism had been diagnosed, before the invisible barrier separating mother and son had been explained. Eight years old. She couldn't believe it. She would have to organize a party, get his friends over. Her mother would help. Jane rolled her eyes. It was an involuntary action, or rather a pre-emptive reaction to what her mother would say. She pushed the power button on her laptop and waited for it to shut down.
One quick meeting with department heads, a briefing with the team and then she should be able to head home. She slipped her laptop into her bag, surveying the files on her desk, deciding what she needed to take home with her. She wanted to be ready the second the briefing was over. Peter had already picked out a book for tonight's bedtime story. A bedtime story that Jane had promised to read to him. Her eyes settled on the most current file on the Stevens case. She shook her head. A serial killer in Lewisham. Five women dead. She couldn't get her head round it. The man responsible was behind bars, had been for two months, but it wasn't over. Not yet.
She still had one girl to find.
The young woman's face had been a shadow, following Jane wherever she went. She picked up the file and two memory sticks and pushed them into her bag. It would take months – years – to erase the images that she and the rest of the team had witnessed. The killer's two-bedroom semi could have been wallpapered with all the photographs found in his home-made darkroom. The majority were shots of his victims, names and faces Jane knew well, but there were a handful of pictures showing girls that no one knew. It was her job to identify and find them, to make sure they had been photographed – and nothing more. Two girls had been found safe and well, but the third? Only time would tell. Jane looked up and spotted her boss, DI Mike Lockyer, walking towards her. He returned her smile, but his pale skin and shadowed eyes didn't match his expression.
'Jane,' he said, resting his arms on the partition that separated her desk from the rest of the open-plan office. 'How are you getting on with the Schofield case?'
'We're pretty much there, sir,' she said, reaching for the corresponding case file on her desk. 'The husband's with the custody sergeant downstairs. I don't think it'll take much to get him to talk.' She watched Lockyer nod, rubbing his eyebrow, his fingers tugging at the skin around his eye. He had lost weight. He had the look of a sheet that had been left in the dryer too long: crumpled.
'Are you leaving him for the morning then?' he asked, no longer looking at her, his eyes no longer engaged.
'Yes, in fact I was going to suggest Chris ran the interview,' she said, putting the file back in its place, straightening the edges with her palms. She could see that he wasn't really interested. In fact he had just about got by doing the bare minimum, since his return to the office three weeks ago.
He was shaking his head, staring across the office. 'I don't think that's appropriate, Jane, do you?' he said. 'Once Schofield's admitted it, maybe; but to send Chris in at this stage – before we know we've got enough evidence to convict, with or without a confession – is just a risk. A risk I'm surprised you're prepared to take, considering the mess the guy made of the wife. Have you even looked at the crime-scene images?'
Jane sat back in her chair. His words didn't bother her, and neither did the disapproval and judgement in his tone. But the look in his eyes made her stop and think about how to respond. She knew he was struggling to come to terms with what had happened on the Stevens case, but what more could she do? He wouldn't talk to her; hadn't talked to her. He hadn't trusted her, and that hurt. More than she was willing to admit. She had always assumed that their relationship went beyond being mere colleagues; that he respected her, considered her a friend. His actions had proved her wrong on both counts. Now he prowled the office like some phantom from a horror movie, his eyes black, empty of reason. Most of the staff had taken tongue-lashings. But Lockyer was the boss. It wasn't unusual to hear his shouts reverberating around south-east London's murder-squad offices. But now he seemed to be going off the deep end about nothing, while overlooking something vital. She had been covering for him for weeks, but his behaviour had not gone unnoticed. Roger, the Senior Investigating Officer for the Lewisham squads, had already pulled Jane into his office and told her to keep an eye on him.
'Not a problem, sir,' she said now, her voice quiet, her words measured. 'I'll take Chris in with me on the initial interview and, if Schofield confesses, I'll let Chris take over, under my direct supervision.' She waited for some kind of response, or at least recognition, but there wasn't any. 'Are you happy for me to do that, sir?'
He shrugged his shoulders. 'It's your case, Jane. Do what you like – you don't need me to babysit you. I don't need the details, just get it done. I've got enough on my plate.' He ran his hands through his hair before dragging them down his face, his sallow skin pulled out of shape by the action. 'I'll see you in the briefing.' With that, he turned and walked back across the room, into his office, closing the glass door behind him. The sun was setting outside his window. He sat motionless, his face silhouetted by the fading light. Jane couldn't take her eyes off him. She wondered how long her boss could subsist on anger and regret.
As she stood to leave, her mobile started to ring. She glanced down at the name on the screen. It was Sue, a fellow copper, albeit a retired one. They hadn't spoken in months. Jane glanced at the clock mounted on one of the pillars in the centre of the open-plan office. It was ten past seven. Peter would be going to bed soon. The ringer on her phone seemed to increase in volume as if it could sense her indecision. 'Oh, all right,' she said, dropping back into her chair. 'Sue, hey. How are you doing?' Silence greeted her. 'Hello,' she said, straining to decipher the muffled sounds coming from the other end of the line. It was then that she heard a sniff. 'Sue, are you okay?'
'It's Mark,' Sue sobbed, more than said, down the phone. 'He's gone.'
Jane felt a flood of relief that she had answered the call, but a tug of guilt that she wasn't going to be reading Peter his bedtime story after all. She might just make it home for lights out. 'Oh, Sue, I'm so sorry. What's happened?' she asked, sitting back in her chair. 'I didn't realize you guys were having problems again.'
'What? No, Jane, it's not that. He's just gone. There's blood, Jane ... Mark's gone.'CHAPTER 2
22nd April – Tuesday
Three hours later Jane was standing in Sue Leech's kitchen, surrounded by terracotta-coloured walls and ceramic wall hangings from trips abroad. Worktops lined the room, but there wasn't an inch of space. Every surface was covered in ornaments, numerous glass paperweights, cookery books, sunglasses, paperbacks and drawings by the children. There were two noticeboards on the wall opposite the fridge overflowing with scraps of paper, receipts and more drawings, all held in place by a few coloured pins. In the centre of the room was a large pine dining table with six wheelback chairs. On any other day Sue's kitchen would have been a perfect representation of a bustling family home.
The forensic team was working in the utility room.
Initial testing had revealed extensive blood-spatters on one wall. Scene-of-crime lights seemed to illuminate the entire rear of the house, as well as half the garden. Jane could see Mark's herb garden, just beyond a small patio. It was his pride and joy, but somehow it looked spoiled by the glow cast over it. Whether the blood found was his remained to be seen. The lab had a major backlog from a gang-related incident that had happened over the Easter weekend. Three young lads had lost their lives, and another four had been injured. The side-street in Camberwell where it all happened was still a mess. Baseball-bats-versus-machetes was never going to be a fair fight. Jane turned away from the harsh spotlights and refocused her attention on her friend.
Sue was sitting at the kitchen table answering questions in a monotone. She had lost weight since Jane had last seen her. The grey jumper she was wearing hung off her frame, her slim-fit blue jeans no longer tight. Her face looked gaunt, framed by an unkempt greying bob. Her appearance was understandable, given the circumstances, but Jane couldn't help wondering what else was going on in Sue's life. She looked like a woman who had been under a considerable amount of stress for months, not hours. The constable conducting the interview was a new recruit to the Missing Persons team and couldn't have been more than twenty-two. She looked pained to be at the centre of such emotional turmoil. She kept reaching over and touching Sue's arm. The gesture showed a vulnerability that Jane wasn't accustomed to witnessing from her own, more seasoned team. The majority of the DCs and DSs in the murder squad had been recruited by Lockyer – herself included. His position was clear: allowing personal feelings into a case clouded your judgement and led to mistakes. Not that he had observed his own rules. His behaviour on the Stevens case had made him a poster child in Lewisham nick for 'what not to do'.
The sound of the young constable's voice brought Jane's thoughts back into focus.
'When did you arrive home?' the constable asked.
'Today, about six-fifteen,' Sue said. 'We spoke last night, Mark and I, about what time me and the kids would be home – what we should have for tea. He was going to cook a lasagne.'
Jane replayed her own conversation with Sue when she had arrived at the house in Bromley three hours ago. On the drive over from Lewisham she had run through as many scenarios as she could think of, trying to find an explanation for Mark's disappearance. In Catford, with the dregs of the rush-hour traffic slowing her progress and horns blaring, she had toyed with the idea that Mark might be having some kind of mid-life crisis, arriving home with a new haircut and a Porsche. She had dismissed the idea as stereotypical and stupid. Mark was an ex-copper: 'rational' was his middle name. As she had passed Beckenham Hill and negotiated her way around a three-car shunt, she had thought about the obvious scenario: that Mark had found someone else. Again, it hadn't felt right. Mark and Sue had been together for thirty ... thirty-five years. They had met on the force in their early twenties, married within two years and then spent the next fifteen working their way up in their respective departments. Thomas, their eldest son, had been born on Sue's fortieth birthday, and George had arrived two years later. By the time Jane passed Millwall training ground she was running out of ideas. She knew that Mark had suffered from anxiety attacks since his retirement from the force five years ago. The transition from a detective chief inspector in the murder squad to stay-at-home dad and retiree had been tough. Sue had told Jane on several occasions that Mark felt redundant – without focus, emasculated somehow. She rubbed her eyes, resisting the urge to shake her head.
From the second Jane had crossed the threshold into Sue and Mark's home she had known something was wrong. Despite the welcoming lights in the hallway, the plush Persian rug beneath her feet and the warm honey-coloured walls, there had been something ominous, a coldness. She thought about the blood in the utility room. Was it possible that Mark's mental state was worse than Jane, or even Sue, had realized? Could this be a suicide? Sue's eyes told her that the same thought had more than crossed her mind. It was a potential reality that seemed to be crushing the very breath out of her. Jane had pulled out a chair, sat down and taken her friend's hand. 'We'll find him, Sue,' she'd said, surprised by the assurance in her tone.
'Can you take me through what happened after you arrived home, Mrs Leech?' the constable asked, giving Jane a nod. She recognized the gesture from her own experience as a fresh-faced recruit. It was a silent thank-you from a young DC who felt way out of her depth.
Sue took a deep, shuddering breath. 'Thomas and George went straight upstairs to play on their Xbox and I came into the kitchen, made a pot of tea and opened my mail.' She gestured to a pile of half-opened post on the table.
The constable scribbled in her notepad, nodding. 'And did you notice anything out of place, out of the ordinary?'
Jane watched as Sue looked up at the ceiling, as if searching for information. 'No, not really,' she said, squeezing Jane's hand. 'The boys called out when we first came in and, when Mark didn't respond, I just thought ... I can't remember what I thought, but I wasn't concerned. I guess I just assumed he was in his shed or out at the shops.' A single tear rolled down Sue's cheek and came to rest at the edge of her lips.
'I know this is difficult, Mrs Leech, but anything you can tell us will help.'
The reference to 'us' didn't escape Jane's notice. Part of her was tempted to intervene, give the girl a break and push on to the more salient information, but she resisted. The constable was right. Even the most insignificant detail could be crucial in cases of disappearance. Given the evidence in the utility room, treating this like a standard 'missing person' seemed ludicrous.
'It's all right,' Sue said, her tone almost soothing. She had been a senior DI before her retirement, working in the family unit. Cases like this would be all too familiar, but no amount of experience could help when it involved your own family. Jane knew that she herself would be a wreck if anything happened to Peter, but despite Sue's tears there was a calmness to her demeanour that Jane couldn't help but admire.
'At what time, approximately, do you think you entered the utility room?'
'About six-thirty,' Sue said, looking down at her hands. 'The cat needed feeding, and I wanted to put the boys' football kit on to wash. That's when I saw the blood on the floor.'
'What made you think the substance was blood, Mrs Leech?' the constable asked, her pen poised over her notebook.
'I'm a retired police officer, not to mention a mother. It's a familiar site in a house full of boys.' The carefree comment seemed to catch her by surprise. Jane could almost feel the atmosphere shift in the room, as if the normality of Sue's words had disturbed some negative ether surrounding them. 'I just knew it was blood.'
'Could you describe it, Sue?' Jane asked, before she could stop herself.
'It was about the size of a ten-pence piece,' Sue said, holding up her thumb and forefinger to demonstrate. 'It was to the left of the doormat. I was bending down to put the boys' clothes into the machine. At first I thought it might be from one of the boys: a nose-bleed, or Mark had cut himself in the garden, but there was something – I don't know what – there was just something about it that scared me. I didn't even notice the marks on the wall until you guys got here.'
Excerpted from No Place to Die by Clare Donoghue. Copyright © 2015 Clare Donoghue. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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