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
They’ve cordoned off the house by the time she gets home. A uniformed stranger is unwinding police tape, methodically.
Marnie watches from the safety of the car, her fingers icy on the ignition key, the engine running as if she might make a quick getaway, drive past and keep driving . . .
She knows she won’t get through the police cordon, but she also knows she has to. Whatever else is in the house and she’s scared, so scared her teeth ache answers are in there. She needs to get inside.
She cuts the engine, burying the keys in her fist, their teeth biting the hollow pocket of her palm. She’s shivering before she’s out of the car.
An ambulance, there’s an ambulance, but it’s standing silent, no sirens or sweeping lights. The crew’s in the house, no one’s in a hurry to leave. That’s not good. It means there isn’t any hope, the worst possible thing has happened. Her face is wet and she looks for rain, but the sky’s empty, grey, as if someone has dragged a tarpaulin across it. There’s no rain, just the dull, raspy pressure that comes before a storm.
It’s been raining all month. Like the rest of London, she’s got used to it; there’s an umbrella in her glove compartment, another in her desk back at the station, and in the bag at her shoulder. She’s not going to get wet queuing for coffee or coming out of the tube station, or standing around at crime scenes. Be prepared isn’t a motto, it’s common sense. When you can pull it off. When it’s not something so huge and horrible you’re afraid to get close.
She looks for the PCSO.
There, wearing a fluorescent vest over his uniform by the side of Dad’s car, the brown Vauxhall, his pride and joy. The car manages to shine even without the sun, like the windows to the house, dazzling her. As if everything behind the tape is made of glass, breakable. Even the hanging basket of petunias over the door. Breakable.
Marnie stands on the pavement, her teeth knocking together with cold, knowing she has to get into the house, knowing she can’t.
She’s fourteen again, home late, hoping to sneak in under her parents’ radar. Her eyes are itchy with mascara, her tongue dry and patchy with tequila. It feels like a snake’s crawled inside her left boot and strangled her toes to sleep. She’s limping, heroic and guilt-stricken. She’ll never make it in there alive . . .
She shakes herself back into the present. She’s not fourteen. She’s twenty-eight, petrified of what she’s going to find on the other side of the police cordon. Silence, and that dark zoo stink that’ll be in her clothes for hours and on her skin for longer.
She forces herself to think of something else. A different crime scene, one she’s survived, worse than whatever’s waiting in the house. Albie Crane . . .
She thinks of Albie Crane. A homeless old man, no next of kin. Burned alive in a doorway down by the docks, by kids high on pocket-money-priced pills. Back before the rain started, while it was still dry enough for an old coat and six flattened cardboard boxes to burn all night so that what’s left is a sticky mess of flayed ribs, a blackly lacquered skull. Old Albie Crane with no one to cry for him, and she made herself repeat the lie, ‘He was sleeping when it happened,’ as if you could sleep through a thing like that. The worst she’d seen, or smelt, until the next thing: a couple in a house fire, melted together by the flames.
The PCSO is young enough to have acne, but it doesn’t make any difference. He’s in charge here. He could stop the Chief Constable crossing that line.
Something a breeze, traffic makes the police tape stiffen and turn. The sound it makes is snick-snick-snick.
The edge of her eye catches Mrs Poole, her parents’ neighbour, huddled in the porch of number 12. Her face is spotty with shock and there’s a foil blanket around her shoulders, but no one is with her. All the action is next door. No one else is hurt, or the cordon would be wider.
Normally, that would be a comfort, the fact that the damage is contained. Private.
Seeing Marnie, Mrs Poole moans, a hand coming up to hide her mouth.
Marnie ducks to pass under the tape.
‘Miss. You can’t go in there.’ Up close, the acne is lurid, red and yellow. The PCSO squares up to her, authority lending him an inch in all directions.
She shows her badge, remembering too late that after the DS, it gives her surname. Rome, like the couple in the house. DS Marnie Rome. Greg and Lisa’s little girl.
A big hand on her shoulder makes her jump.
Tim Welland, her boss.
Now she knows it’s as bad as it gets.
‘DS Rome,’ he says quietly. ‘Marnie.’
Using her first name. It’s worse, much worse.
‘Please.’ She just wants to get inside the house. She’s shaking with cold out here. ‘Sir, please . . .’
He steers her with his hand on her shoulder, back towards the tape. She feels it tap the waist of her shirt. ‘Sir . . .’
Welland has a scab above his left eyebrow, too high to be a shaving scar. It’s crusty, ringed like a bull’s eye. Red veins spoil the whites of his eyes. He looks ill. Old.
‘Let me go in,’ she says. ‘Please. Let me go in to them.’
‘Not yet. Not yet.’
He holds her in place with his bear’s paw, but he can’t stop her seeing past his shoulder to where a SOCO is coming out, bloody knees to his white overalls and a polybag held in front of him, at arm’s length.
A knife. Mum’s bread knife, its steel teeth full of tattered red skin.
There’s a low noise of protest, like an animal in chronic pain, before a dry barking sob. Marnie can’t stand it, wants to block her ears, but it’s her mouth she needs to block; the sound’s coming out of her.
Welland lowers her to the kerb. She fights him. She’s not this person. She won’t be this person the one who collapses and weeps at the roadside, who can’t take the knock on the door, who falls and never gets back up again.
The victim. She won’t be the victim.
‘Take a minute, Detective.’ Welland’s hand is heavy on the back of her neck. She has no choice but to put her forehead on her knees. ‘Just . . . take a minute.’
From the road, DI Marnie Rome’s flat was stucco-fronted, very neat and narrow. Noah Jake imagined she’d furnished it plainly, with an eye for functional style. Wooden shutters at the windows, a stone-coloured vase filled with upright orange flowers. A hall-floor flat, two bedrooms, Noah guessed. He was curious to see inside, but not enough to make a nuisance of himself, resting his hands on the steering wheel instead and waiting, seeing the light lift from the stucco as the sun broke through London’s cloud cover.
Some days it was easy to remember the city was built on plague pits. Nothing stood still, not even the road, throbbing with traffic from the main drag into the West End. He’d read somewhere probably in one of Dan’s exhibition guides that Primrose Hill had narrowly missed being a mass graveyard; nineteenth-century plans were drawn up for a multi-storey pyramid taller than St Paul’s, to house five million of the city’s dead. This was back when the town planners were obsessed with Egyptology, hurling hieroglyphs at everything, on the advice of returning tomb-raiders. Now it was the all-seeing London Eye that dominated the city’s skyline, its spindle like a church spire, turning.
Noah checked his watch, and then the flat.
DI Rome’s front door was dark blue, glossy. Like her eyes. The kind of door with deadlocks. In another minute, she’d be running late. He’d never known her to run late. Should he knock on the door? No, that’d be intrusive. He hadn’t learned much about Marnie Rome in the five months he’d been working with her, but he’d learned that she was an intensely private person.
The blue door opened in any case, before her minute was up. She came down the steps to the car, wearing a dark trouser suit over a white shirt, a tooled leather bag at one shoulder. Everything about her was neat, from her short red curls to her low heels.
Noah checked the passenger seat of the car, even though he knew it was clean, dusting the sleeves of his suit in the hope it would pass muster. He reached across to push open the door for her. ‘Morning.’
‘Good morning.’ She slipped into the car, dropping her bag on the floor. ‘You were lucky with the parking.’
‘I got here early, thought we’d better not be late.’
‘You thought right.’
Noah started the engine, waiting for Marnie to put on her seat belt.
She saw him waiting and smiled, fastening the belt with extravagant care. ‘Safety first, Detective.’
Safe was the last thing Noah Jake felt, half an hour later, looking at the photographs on OCU Commander Tim Welland’s desk.
‘Nasif Mirza.’ Welland tossed down the photos, one after another, as if he was dealing a pack of cards. ‘A person of interest in a serious assault. Involving a scimitar, in case that wasn’t clear yet.’ The photos made his desk look like the storyboard for a horror film. A glossy 18-certificate horror film with DVD-extra deleted scenes.
Marnie Rome picked up a photo and studied it before putting it back down. Noah kept his hands out of sight, under the lip of the desk.
Welland said, ‘You’re looking at what’s left of Lee Hurran’s right arm.’
What was left was yellow, knuckled by fat, frilled by torn flesh. The scimitar had severed Hurran’s hand at the wrist. Not a clean amputation; it had taken two or three blows to get the hand off, the raw stump of wrist bone splintered by the impact.
Noah’s palms prickled with sweat. It was stiflingly hot in this office; Tim Welland was in remission from skin cancer and kept the heating turned up all year round. Immune to the heat, Welland never broke a sweat. Nor did Marnie Rome. Noah glanced in her direction, seeing the crisp edge of her shirt, the cool skin of her neck. A bead of perspiration inched its way between his shoulder blades, itching.
‘Hurran won’t give evidence. Popular theory is that he’s scared of losing his other hand, or possibly his balls.’ Welland nodded at the photos. ‘Nasif isn’t fussy when it comes to butchery.’
‘Hurran’s still in hospital.’ Marnie’s eyes flicked across the litter of photos. ‘They’re monitoring for infection. There was a lot of dirt in the wound . . . Maybe he’ll feel safer when he’s back home.’
‘Home being the shithole estate where they found him? I tend to doubt that.’
‘We have the scimitar. With Mirza’s prints on it. That’s no good?’
‘Not even close. The Crown Prosecution Service,’ Welland served each syllable as if it was an individually foul taste in his mouth, ‘need more evidence before they’ll make a move against Nasif. Apparently this . . . dog’s dinner isn’t enough.’
Marnie picked up the worst of the photos for a closer look. Noah wished he had her backbone for this part of the job. He was too easily disgusted, needed to toughen up, get used to seeing things like this. Things like . . .
Lee Hurran’s hand, half eaten. By rats, or a feral cat. The hand wasn’t found in the warehouse where the attack happened. Nasif Mirza, or someone, had tossed it over a wall, into a fly-tipped piece of scrubland.
‘Ayana Mirza . . .’ Marnie started to say.
‘CPS wants a statement from her,’ Welland said, ‘about her brother’s violent temperament. Better still, they’d like her to press charges for what was done to her.’
‘We can arrest Nasif without her testimony.’
‘For this?’ Welland pointed at the photographs. ‘Or the other thing?’
Noah didn’t want to think about the other thing what Nasif Mirza had done to his sister, in their family home. The pictures of Hurran’s half-eaten hand were bad enough.
Neither he nor Marnie had met Ayana Mirza. They’d inherited the case from another department, a casualty of the recent public-sector cuts.
‘CPS is cagey about the chances of bringing Nasif to trial,’ Welland said. ‘Other prints on the scimitar, the chance it was stolen, blah-blah. They think Ayana’s evidence might swing it. She’s a walking testament to Nasif’s worst tendencies. No denying she’d look good in court.’
‘And they don’t see this as victim harassment?’
‘They’re cagey, Detective. You and I know what happens when the CPS gets cagey.’
‘I know what happened to Ayana.’ Marnie’s eyes were dark. ‘It wasn’t just Nasif, either. It was three of them her brothers.’
‘The crap that happens in families . . .’ Welland winced, as if he’d said something tactless, cutting his eyes away from Marnie.
She shrugged. ‘It’s a good living, if you’re a psychiatrist.’
Noah felt he’d missed a beat, tuned out for a vital second. The heat was boiling his brain in his skull. How could Welland work like this?
‘You’ll want to tread carefully. She’s terrified of her brothers tracing her. She’s hiding . . .’ Welland consulted a notepad.
‘In a women’s refuge in Finchley,’ Marnie supplied. ‘I spoke with Ed Belloc.’
‘Finchley.’ Welland nodded. ‘What’s Ed got to say about her?’
Ed Belloc worked in Victim Support. Noah hadn’t met him, but from what Marnie said, he was a good man doing a difficult job. He’d helped the police to trace Ayana Mirza after she escaped her family.
‘She won’t risk upsetting the refuge,’ Marnie said, ‘or losing her place there. She doesn’t have many options, can’t afford rent. If she gets a job or starts claiming benefits, there’s the danger her brothers can trace her through her National Insurance number. So . . . she’s trying to stay missing.’
Welland nodded. He climbed to his feet. ‘DS Jake, you’ll want to check your emails. DI Rome, a word?’
Marnie waited while Noah left the office, knowing what was coming. She folded her hands in her lap as a contingency against fidgeting. The ends of her fingers were sticky from touching the photos; she wanted to wash. It didn’t help that Tim Welland kept this place heated like a sauna. She’d bet Noah Jake was running a cold shower in the station’s washroom.
When they were alone, Welland leaned back, steepling his thumbs under his chin. ‘How’re you doing?’
Under the hot light, the dome of his head was glassy and freckled. His face, with no eyelashes or brows, looked naked. Open. Good for drawing confidences, or confessions. He’d come close to losing an eye to the cancer. Even now, in remission for two years, the shadow of the disease tugged at the skin there, keeping the eye bleakly peeled so that those who didn’t know about his operations his battle joked that Tim Welland slept with one eye open.
‘I’m fine.’ She smiled across the desk at him. The heat shone on the photos scattered between them. Teeth marks on Lee Hurran’s dead hand. Had he asked to see it? she wondered. Hurran. Had he asked to see his hand, even though there was no hope of surgeons reattaching it? By the time they found it, it was long dead.
‘I’m fine,’ she repeated.
Welland searched her face for another answer. Some of this, she suspected, was box-ticking. Management 101: Show concern for those under your command, especially at times of stress. He wasn’t enjoying it. ‘I may do a terrific impersonation of an insensitive shit, but I know what day it is.’
‘It’s Friday,’ she deflected, still smiling.
He nodded at the wall calendar. Pictures of bridges. Welland loved bridges. March’s picture was the rolling bridge in Paddington Basin. It looked like a giant hamster wheel.
‘Tomorrow . . . it’ll be five years to the day. How’re you coping?’
‘By not counting,’ Marnie said.
Not counting, not remembering. Not sharing.
‘But you’re still seeing him.’
‘Yes.’ She’d never made a secret of her visits, knowing Welland would find out anyway; murder detectives didn’t go into secure units without lighting flags on the system. ‘Tomorrow, in fact.’
‘Tomorrow,’ Welland repeated. ‘On the anniversary.’
‘It was booked ages ago. I’m not taking balloons.’ The smile hurt her face but she stuck with it. ‘If that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘Of course I’m not thinking of bloody balloons. I’m thinking of what he did, five years ago . . .’
‘A long time, five years.’ She picked up a photo of Lee Hurran’s hand, pretending to study it again. It meant she could lose the smile, for one thing. ‘For him. Five years is a long time, for Stephen.’
‘Not long enough,’ Welland growled. He cleared his throat. ‘Detective Inspector . . . Marnie.’ He grimaced. First names weren’t his thing. It’d been hard on him five years ago, outside her parents’ house, calling her Marnie, holding her in his arms.
She decided to spare him any further discomfort. ‘I’ve got a job to do.’ She stood up. ‘Clearing the way for the CPS, right?’
Welland looked relieved, hunching back in his chair, freeing his fingers to wash at his face, where the skin was taut from repeated surgery. ‘Right.’
In Finchley, the clouds had beaten the sun into submission.
The women’s refuge was brown concrete, built low to the ground, its flat roof swollen with too many coats of tar. Scaffolding cross-hatched the facade, red and white tape making barber’s poles of the metal struts. A shallow wall of rain-welted polythene ran around the lip of the roof. With every window blacked out, it would’ve been easy to mistake the place for a condemned building, derelict.
‘First impressions?’ Marnie asked, as she cut the car’s engine. ‘I can’t say I’m digging the prefab chic.’
‘It’s a serious contender for the most depressing place I’ve ever seen.’ Noah peered through the windscreen. ‘Maybe it’s better inside . . .’
‘That’s what Ed says. About the average refuge, anyway.’ Marnie climbed from the car. ‘Not sure about this one.’
Noah followed her. Passing traffic shifted the polythene sheeting, the sound like sand under shoes. From the scaffolding, a seared metal smell. Holes pitted the path to the main entrance, where a dodgy tarmac job hadn’t taken. The place was a dump.
‘What’re they doing to the roof?’ Noah asked.
‘No idea. Maybe it’s leaking.’ Marnie stood looking at the blind windows of the refuge. ‘Imagine living like this, without trace. I don’t think I could do it. Could you?’
Noah said, ‘If I was desperate, maybe. If there was no other choice.’
‘Sure, if you were desperate.’ She put a hand to the side of her neck. ‘If this is where Ayana Mirza feels safe, we need to respect that. If we can persuade her to give evidence against her brothers, that’s a bonus. But let’s tread gently.’
Noah nodded. Above them, the clouds were gleaming, grey. ‘It’s going to rain,’ he said. ‘I hope they’ve got the roof properly sealed.’
‘That’s not rain.’ Marnie glanced at the sky. ‘It’s a storm. Can’t you smell it?’
Inside, the air felt stripped dry, charged with static. Now Noah could smell the storm. The silence in the refuge was artificial. Untrustworthy. Marnie tensed, turning back to consider the door as it swung shut behind them. ‘What happened to the security?’
The Cyclops lens of a CCTV camera, mounted on the wall outside, gave back their faces in miniature. Marnie had her ID in her hand, but no one was asking to see it.
‘The door was on the latch,’ Noah said. ‘Was it?’
‘Yes.’ Marnie stood taking stock of the silence.
‘Maybe they’ve evacuated the building, while the scaffolding’s put up.’
‘Not according to Ed. Support staff work nine to five, Monday to Friday. There should be someone in charge. Come on.’
They started down an empty corridor that smelt of stale cigarettes, talcum powder and milk. At the far end: a fire exit, closed. The silence was thicker than ever.
Noah rubbed his fingers, chilled. It wasn’t just the quiet; everything felt wrong about the refuge, as if they were walking into a trap or
A scream tore up from their right.
Marnie Rome broke into a run.
Noah stayed at her heels, the back of his neck spooked into goose bumps.
As they reached the room, the screaming stopped. Abruptly, as if someone had thrown a switch. An obese girl in a black tracksuit stood with her hands over her mouth, in the middle of a huddle of silent women. The room had wide windows hidden by curtains, and murals on the walls: jungle animals in tall grass. Surreal.
A man was on the floor, a woman standing over him with a knife, bloody and wet.
DI Rome put out a hand to her. ‘All right. It’s all right now.’
The woman’s eyes swung at her, wildly. The knife jumped in her fist.
Noah, who’d been reaching for his phone, stopped. Wanting his hands free in case she went for Marnie, or one of the others. His heart was pelting in his chest. On the floor, the man’s feet kicked. Noah needed to get down there and help, but he was afraid to move while the woman looked like this: frantic, capable of anything. Static had stuck her long blonde hair to her face in spikes.
Marnie said, ‘This is DS Noah Jake.’ Her voice was rock-steady, calm. ‘I’m DI Rome. We’re here to help.’ She nodded at Noah, her eyes not leaving the woman’s fist.
The knife stopped jumping. The woman tensed with listening, as if her whole body was an ear, watching the calm expression on Marnie’s face, hypnotised by it.
Noah had forgotten Marnie Rome could do this. Talk people down. He’d seen it at the station, but never in an armed situation. Keeping his eyes on the knife, he took out his phone and dialled 999. ‘Ambulance, please.’ He gave the address, aware of the breach of protocol; the refuge address was a closely guarded secret, for the sake of the women’s safety.
It was a kitchen knife, an ordinary kitchen knife. In the woman’s fist.
Someone had thrown a big bunch of yellow roses on the floor. The man’s feet kept kicking, smearing petals into the carpet. He was wheezing, red spreading on his chest.
‘DS Jake,’ Marnie prompted.
Noah pocketed his phone and crouched, checking for a pulse in the man’s neck, searching with his free hand for the source of the blood: a single stab wound at the base of the ribs on the right side. His fingers slipped in the mess of torn tissue and he pitched forward a fraction, sickened. ‘Sorry, I’m sorry . . .’ He put a fist to the floor to get his balance back, keeping his other hand tight over the wound.
‘It’s all right,’ Marnie said. It took Noah a second to realise she was speaking to the blonde woman behind him. ‘Put the knife down, or give it to me. I’ll take care of this. Of you.’
The wounded man’s face was square and pitted, pasty. The air staggered in his chest, pink froth bubbling from his lips. Noah glanced up, trying to get some measure of what had happened here. The woman’s face was white, her eyes black. Her fist was red. She’d pushed the knife as far as it would go into the man’s chest, deep enough to wet her fingers with his blood. An eight-inch blade. All the way in. That meant . . .
Noah felt the suck of the wound under his palm. Bright spittle frothed from the man’s mouth. His lung was perforated.
Noah needed to stop the lung collapsing. He had to stop it, right now.
He pressed his left palm to the sucking wound, sliding his free arm under the man’s neck so he could prop him into a sitting position. It wasn’t easy. The man was over six foot and heavily built, padded everywhere with fat and muscle.
Blood filled Noah’s palm hotly. He had to stopper the stab wound, make it airtight.
He knew this . . .
Trauma training. In theory, he knew it. First time in practice.
‘Here.’ A slim dark girl knelt next to him, holding out a Pay As You Go phone card and a cotton scarf, orange and pink. ‘Use these.’
A flood of relief pushed adrenalin into the right places. ‘Thanks.’ Noah could use the phone card, but not the scarf. ‘Is there cling film? In the kitchen?’
She gave a sharp nod and straightened, disappearing from his line of vision. Noah took the man’s weight, saying, ‘Spit, if you can.’ The less froth in his mouth, the better.
Behind them, DI Rome was holding the blonde woman. Noah couldn’t see the knife now, but he could hear the woman sobbing, her teeth snapping with shock. One of the others said, ‘How did he get in here?’ It was a girl’s voice, rising to a scream as she repeated it: ‘How the fuck did he get in here?’
Marnie murmured something and the screaming stopped. The dark girl returned to Noah’s side, with a roll of cling film. He covered the stab wound with the phone card in the hope it would stop more air escaping from the punctured lung, before reaching for the film, struggling with it until the girl knelt, the two of them passing the roll between them, the girl helping to support the injured man’s weight. She was strong, despite her small frame. She tore the cling film with her teeth when Noah had enough to bind the man’s chest three times, making the wound airtight.
‘Thanks.’ He looked at her for the first time, seeing a straight sheet of black hair, an oval face, almond eyes, the left one a milky ruin, burned at the lid and brow. ‘Ayana?’
‘Yes.’ She was Nasif Mirza’s sister, the woman they’d come to question. She was nineteen years old, but looked younger.
DI Rome crouched on her heels by their side. ‘How’s he doing?’
‘His lung’s collapsing. We’ve done what we can, but he needs to get to a hospital.’
Marnie shoved a stray curl from her eyes with the back of her hand. ‘His name’s Leo. Leo Proctor.’ She nodded at Noah. ‘Good job, Detective.’
‘I had help.’
Marnie nodded at Ayana. ‘Good job.’
Ayana wiped blood from her hand on to her skirt. ‘I don’t understand how he got in. It is safe. They always lock the doors. I’ve checked.’ She stopped, aware that her voice was the loudest sound in the room; the wounded man had stopped kicking, his breath clicking wetly in his chest. ‘They always lock the doors,’ Ayana repeated.
Someone sobbed; the blonde woman with the bloodstained hand. An African girl with braided hair was holding her. Both women wore the same shapeless clothes: grey sweatpants and shirts.
‘She’s in shock.’ Marnie looked down at the injured man. ‘She’s Hope Proctor. This is her husband. I’ll make sure the ambulance knows where we are.’
Fuck. Two police cars. Three, if he counted the unmarked Mondeo.
Bitch had backup.
He sat very low in the car, pulling at the cap he’d bought at the tourist stall: I London. Its peak hid his eyes and mouth. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be in a car, let alone within a hundred yards of the women’s refuge. The sudden wail of a siren had him fumbling at the car key, snagging its teeth in the ignition. Clumsy bastard.
She did that to you . . .
He dropped his hand into his lap, checking the mirrors. The rain kept coming, as if someone had unplugged the sky, sheets of the stuff, thick and chilly, making the car steam. He ran the wipers, clearing the inside of the windows with the cuff of his overalls, so he could keep watch.
Fuckedif he was running.
It’d taken him weeks to track her down to this dump. The refuge stank, even from a distance. Damp. Yeasty. She’d smelt that way. It’d turned him on, once.
An ambulance shaved the pavement as it parked up, the gutter throwing a wave of rain as the vehicle’s back doors banged open.
He slunk lower in the seat. Watching to see what came out of the refuge, whether it’d be a man or a woman, alive or dead.
Better not be her . . .
It’d better fucking not be her.
He wanted to do her with his bare hands. Just the two of them, the way it’d been before. Except this time, he wouldn’t turn his back.
That’d been stupid.
He wouldn’t make that mistake again.
The paramedics one male, two female arrived shiny with wet. At some point in the last hour, the rain had started. Monsoon-force now, slapping up from the roof of the ambulance, stuttering in the potholed driveway.
‘We’ve got him, thanks.’ A paramedic nodded at Noah.
He moved out of the man’s way before climbing to his feet, stiff-kneed and shaking.
The paramedic glanced up. ‘Okay?’
Noah nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘Leo, is it? All right, mate, we’re going to make you more comfortable.’
Noah stepped away, to give them room to work.
On the sofa, Leo’s wife was sitting wrapped in a shock blanket, her shoulders circled by her African friend’s arm. A female paramedic knelt next to them, winding a bandage around Hope’s right hand; she’d cut herself, on the knife. Her friend was holding a wad of rusty cotton in her left fist. Behind them, the jungle mural was an aggressive arc of green, tall grass parting around a lion’s pink muzzle.
Yellow light snapped across the ceiling, making the women cringe: lightning.
DI Rome had been right about the storm. She was briefing the police team who’d arrived with the ambulance, speaking quietly, holding their attention. Noah watched, knowing what was going through her mind: the need not to compromise the evidence, to manage her witnesses; the fact that she’d have to reconstruct all this in court. Training drummed it into them: ‘One chance to get it right, and in the right order.’
‘Let’s get you on the stretcher, Leo.’
Ayana and the others watched the paramedics with the false calm of those who’d witnessed trauma before, and often. Noah needed to wash the blood from his hands, make himself less frightening.
He left the dayroom and found the kitchen. Children’s paintings were pinned to three of the walls, fastened to the fridge by magnets. Outside, the concrete yard was empty except for noisy sheets of rain. The ordinariness of it made Noah blink. Had he really just sealed a man’s lung with a phone card? Yes, his palms were sticky with Leo Proctor’s blood. Adrenalin made the ends of his fingers jump. His mouth tasted of copper coins, cheap.
A drawer hung open under the sink. He guessed it was where Ayana Mirza had found the cling film. He closed it, checking the other drawers for cutlery. Looking for knives like the one the forensic team had just bagged the blade with Leo Proctor’s lung tissue on it. Nothing sharper than a potato peeler in any of the kitchen drawers. Noah kept searching and found the knives, finally, on top of the fridge, in a blackened, greasy butcher’s block. Out of the reach of children. Hope Proctor would’ve needed a chair to reach the block. Noah didn’t touch it. He ran the hot tap, scrubbing at his palms with the pads of his thumbs, waiting for his pulse to slow.
Lightning cut across the yard, its bright reflection trapped for a second in the sink. He counted six before the thunder came. The storm was closing in.
‘How’re you doing?’ Marnie Rome was in the doorway.
‘I’m good.’ He tore a sheet of paper towel. Dried his hands. ‘You were right about the storm.’ It sounded like someone was stir-frying the yard, rain spitting, sending up a smoky mess of steam.
Marnie came to the sink. ‘We’re going to be a while taking witness statements. Most of the women are calm, but I don’t trust that to last.’ She stripped off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves before soaping her hands as he had done. ‘You impressed the paramedics with your first aid. Not bad for a copper was the consensus.’
‘Trauma training,’ Noah said. ‘Did they say anything about his chances?’
‘Just that you’d done good, but a punctured lung is a punctured lung.’
‘Why did she do it, did she say?’
‘She’s not said anything.’ Marnie’s quick eyes flicked to the butcher’s block on top of the fridge. She touched the left side of her neck, as if it hurt. ‘Her friend with the braids, Simone, says the knife was Leo’s, that he came here armed. If that’s true, it was probably self-defence.’
‘He came here with a knife?’ Noah thought of Proctor’s dead weight, his face turned inside out with pain. Hope was half her husband’s size, weighing maybe eight stone. Leo was nearer seventeen. Noah’s arm ached where he’d held Leo in a sitting position until the paramedics took over. ‘How did she get it off him?’
‘I don’t know. It’s something I need to find out. We’re not short of witnesses, but it’s too soon to start taking statements, that’s what the paramedics think.’
More lightning lit the yard. Steel-coloured, like a snapped cable. Marnie rolled down her sleeves, leaving the cuffs loose.
‘Let’s make some tea . . .’
Noah searched for mugs in the cupboard above the stove.
Marnie filled the kettle and plugged it into the wall. ‘The advice is not to move Hope until she’s less stressed.’ She glanced at the window, which was swarming with rain. ‘Simone says she’s scared of water. That Leo used to make her sit in the shower for hours on end, to get clean.’ Her eyes blanked with censure. ‘Just one of the reasons she was hiding here.’
Noah remembered the scream: ‘How did he get in here?’ and although they’d meant Leo Proctor, he knew the women might just as easily be afraid of him. A stranger, male. He wondered why Marnie hadn’t come alone. ‘How did Leo get in?’
‘Something else I don’t know. Jeanette, she’s the screamer, is insisting the doors were locked, standard procedure. She’s in charge of security, for what that’s worth. From the smell of her, she was on a fag break. She’s concerned to let us know she was taking care. A bit too concerned.’
‘You think she’s covering her back?’
‘I’m entertaining that possibility.’
‘Is she under arrest?’
‘Hope? I should caution her before asking questions.’ Marnie sounded reluctant. ‘I’m thinking it can wait until she’s less stressed. She isn’t going anywhere.’
Noah thought of the way Hope shook as her husband lay with one lung collapsing, big fists empty at his sides. Leo wore a wedding band. Did Hope? Noah couldn’t remember. He needed to pay better attention to details like that. ‘What happened to her hand? I saw them bandaging it.’
‘She was clumsy with the knife, but the paramedics say it’s superficial, not much more than a scratch.’ Marnie poured boiling water into the mugs. ‘Jeanette says she didn’t see anything more than we did. She was at her post, only arrived in the dayroom after Leo was laid out on the floor.’ Her voice was tinder-dry, not believing this version of events. She picked a crushed yellow petal from the knee of her trousers. ‘Roses. How romantic . . .’
‘You think he meant to use the knife on her?’
‘Why else would he bring it? I’m tempted to think the roses were for hiding the knife, until he got inside.’
Noah opened the fridge to get a carton of milk. ‘What about our witnesses?’
‘Simone. Ayana. Mab, who was hiding behind the sofa, but with a clear sightline. Two others I’ve yet to speak with . . . I’m discounting Jeanette, for now.’
Five witnesses. All women in hiding from abusive men. How’d it felt, seeing Leo Proctor walk in, wielding a knife? Watching Hope stab her husband, possibly fatally.
‘Is there CCTV in the dayroom?’
‘Only at the front entrance if it’s working. I’ve put a call through to the station about getting hold of the footage. No CCTV indoors. It’s important for the women to know they’re not under surveillance. It’s one of the ways they feel safe . . .’ Marnie picked up the tray. ‘You’re thinking how much easier it’d be if we had impartial evidence of what happened before we got here?’
‘Less legwork, more luck?’ She looked mournful. ‘No one loves us that much.’
Hope Proctor hadn’t moved from the sofa, sitting under the mural of the lion’s mouth with her friend Simone. Noah looked around, seeing the dayroom properly for the first time. A widescreen TV took up most of one wall, the plaster cracked around its steel brackets. Sofas and chairs faced the screen, as if the TV was a fireplace. Everything in the room looked cheap and disposable, with the surface shine of a catalogue purchase. The thin carpet carried a shallow stain, already turning black. Someone had cleared away the roses, but one or two petals remained, bruised by feet.
Hope and Simone weren’t alone in the room. Three women sat on a second sofa. Two were young, dark-haired. The third was a much older woman in a floral dress, gloved hands cupped in her lap as if she was hiding something there, her mouth turned inwards, cheeks collapsed from lost teeth. Mab, Noah guessed. Jeanette, who should’ve been watching the door, was sitting apart from the others. Ayana Mirza was standing by the window, twisting the orange and pink scarf between her hands.
Thick curtains hid the view outside. The rain was a constant tattoo, drumming on the windows and walls. Hope flinched from the sound, as if the rain was hot and hitting her bare skin. Simone hugged her, the foil shock blanket rustling under her grip. She had Hope’s blood on her hands, sheening her fingers.
‘Tea.’ Marnie Rome shared her smile around the room. It was a great smile, reassuring without being overfriendly. Noah was trying to learn a similar smile. ‘I don’t know who likes sugar. Could someone give me a hand? Simone?’
Simone got up from the sofa. She’d threaded the braids with lemon beads, glass. The beads tapped together as she moved, concentrating on the task DI Rome had given her. She was about Ayana’s age, young enough to be pleased by Marnie’s approval.
Hope Proctor reached for Noah’s hand. ‘You were with him. Was he scared? Was he angry? Oh God . . .’ Her voice was fierce, low in her chest and deeper than he’d expected. Her face was blotchy with distress, her bandaged hand child-sized, fingertips icy with shock. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Did he know he was dying? Was he very angry?’
Noah sat in the space left by Simone. ‘He was in shock,’ he said softly. ‘Like you.’
‘The paramedics got here quickly,’ Marnie added. ‘That’s a good thing. It means he has the best chance to pull through.’
Hope swivelled towards her, losing another layer of colour. ‘Pull through . . . Pull . . . Oh God.’ She put her hands to her face. The grey sweatshirt was much too big, its sleeves falling back to show bruises on her wrists and forearms. Noah had to look away.
Ayana was sipping tea, over by the window. She’d given him her phone card, knowing he could use it to stopper the sucking wound in Leo Proctor’s chest. How had she known that, and what else did she know?
Noah couldn’t forget the reason they’d come here, what Commander Welland was expecting from this visit: a statement attesting to Nasif Mirza’s violent temperament.
Hope rocked on the sofa, holding her hair from her face. Noah could smell the blood on her hands. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, in the same fierce voice as before. ‘I’ll be okay in a minute. You can charge me. You’re waiting to do that. I understand.’
‘There’s no hurry,’ Marnie said.
‘Why were you here?’ Each question was on an intake of breath, as if speaking was an effort, but one Hope was determined to make. ‘Thank God you were, but why?’
‘We came to see Ayana.’
Hope looked towards the window, then away, at the other women holding mugs of tea. ‘I can’t drink anything.’ She dipped her head, her throat convulsing. ‘Please. I’ll be sick.’ Her irises were slim rings around blown pupils. A frown emphasised the deep crease between her brows, suggesting this state of heightened anxiety was normal.
‘You don’t need to drink anything,’ Marnie said.
Simone moved back to the sofa, opening the circle of her arms to hug Hope.
Noah crossed to where Ayana was standing. ‘How are you?’
‘I’m fine.’ Her voice was very steady, her gaze unblinking. She had a south London accent, picked up at school, he guessed.
‘That was quick thinking, before. With the phone card.’
‘And the cling film.’ She gave a slight smile. ‘I saw it on television. A cop show. I watch a lot of television here. Soap operas. Phone-ins. Very bad for me. Everything here is a bad influence.’ She widened the smile, showing even teeth. ‘I like it very much. I read, too, and study. Criminal psychology.’
‘A distance-learning course?’
She nodded. She couldn’t leave the refuge, Noah knew that much. She looked at the sofa where the three women sat in silence, Mab and the two dark-haired girls. ‘They offered me a place with other Asians. That is how they put it: other Asians. I knew someone in a place like that. The women working there gossiped at the mosque.’ She put her lips to the mug. ‘I prefer it here.’
‘I don’t know how he got in. It is safe. They are very strict. The doors stay locked unless we ask.’ She frowned at the room. ‘We like them locked.’
Like a prison. A prison with television and books, and the chance to study, make friends. Noah wondered about the phone card, whose number she called when she needed to talk. Perhaps the card was for the television phone-in shows.
Rain shook the window next to their heads. He could smell it, tinny and cold, through the heavy curtains. ‘Let me get you a new top-up card, for your phone. You have a mobile?’
‘Yes.’ She touched a woven purse at her waist. ‘Thank you. There wasn’t much on the card. Less than five pounds.’
‘I’ll get you a new one,’ Noah promised.
They couldn’t quiz her about Nasif so soon after the stabbing. It would’ve been tough enough before, knowing what Nasif and the others did to her.
Ayana’s brothers. In her own home. Two of them held her down while the third squirted heavy-duty bleach into her eyes. When they let her up, she managed to grope her way out of the house and into the street, screaming for help.
Surgeons saved her right eye. They couldn’t save the left.
Blind in one eye, she could still see. The CPS believed her witness statement would help to put Nasif behind bars, but so far she’d kept quiet about what her brothers had done. According to the notes that Noah and Marnie had inherited, in the hospital after the bleach attack, no one visited Ayana. Until the third day, when a woman arrived, alone, clutching a hooded anorak. ‘I have come to take my daughter home.’
It was Mrs Mirza. Ayana’s mother.
Ayana didn’t stop screaming until the woman went away.
‘A knife?’ OCU Commander Tim Welland echoed. ‘At a women’s refuge? I thought these places were meant to be secure?’
‘We’re working on that now.’ Marnie moved aside to let the family liaison officer go past her, in the direction of the dayroom. ‘We need to find out how Leo got in, and how he knew his wife was here. But first we need to make everyone feel safe again.’
‘After a stabbing?’ She could hear Welland grimacing at the other end of the phone: good luck with that. ‘How’s Ayana Mirza?’
‘She helped Noah save Leo Proctor’s life.’
‘If they’ve saved it. From what you said . . .’
‘Proctor was stable when the ambulance took him.’
‘Do you think she meant to kill him?’
Marnie rubbed at the ache in her neck, petting the pain the way she’d learnt to, as it strayed around her body. ‘It was self-defence, that’s what our witnesses are saying.’
‘Reliable, are they?’ Scepticism soured Welland’s voice. ‘A knife in the lung sounds to me like attempted murder. I’m not saying she didn’t have a good reason to do it; I don’t suppose she was in that place from choice.’
‘You haven’t seen her, or heard her. She’s scared he’s going to live, but she’s not making excuses. And yes, she’s covered in bruises, of course she is.’
When she’d taken the knife away, Hope’s hand had been shaking. Marnie had understood, for the first time, how frightening it was to use a knife as a weapon, deadly.
‘I’m going to take her to the hospital,’ she told Welland, ‘and get her checked over.’
‘How’s DS Jake bearing up?’
‘He’s good. I’ve told him to get clean. He’s got a change of clothes at the station . . .’
‘A mess, is he?’
‘Proctor leaked all over him, so yes.’
Welland heard the cool edge in her voice. ‘Are you handling this all right?’
She looked the length of the corridor, to the locked fire exit. ‘It’s a domestic with a knife. Half this job’s domestics with knives, but . . . Proctor’s stable. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t pull through. He’s a big bloke, lots of padding.’ Not a murder, in other words. ‘To be honest, I’m more worried about Hope. I want to know what happened before she came here, to make her come here.’ Answers. She wanted answers.
‘Have your plans changed?’ Welland asked abruptly.
‘For tomorrow?’ She shoved her hair from her face. ‘No. Of course if Proctor dies . . . then I’ll reschedule.’
‘Stay in touch,’ Welland said. ‘I need to know you’re on top of things.’
‘Of course.’ She pictured his open face, inviting confidences. Personally, she had no problem keeping secrets from Tim Welland. He knew too much about her already. She was glad of any secrets she could keep, insulation against his questions, his knowing.
He knows how they died, she’d often think, how they looked when they were dead. How I looked, weeping in the street outside but he doesn’t know that I like salted chocolate or dumb TV spy shows where the heroine wears a different wig every week and kicks the crap out of everyone. He doesn’t know if all else failed about the writing. The words on my skin.
Secrets she’d kept from everyone. From Greg, her dad. From her mum, Lisa. From Lexie, the therapist they’d assigned her after the murders. Even from Ed Belloc, with whom she trusted most secrets, instinctively.
The clichés of her skin, teenage rebellion writ large. Embarrassingly so, now she was into her third decade, regretting the bilious girl she’d been, with her mascara-laden eyes and her biker boots, her studied solitude and near-autistic silences. She’d stopped being that girl when she was Ayana’s age, nineteen; hormones shucking away like the bark on a plane tree losing London’s poisons in the shedding of its scales. Fired with purpose, she’d considered a career with the air force. All that speed and power, the endless sky and adrenalin rush. She’d settled impatiently on the police. Never intending the choice to stick, seeing it as a way to rid her feet and fingers of their itch to get away, escape . . .
Afraid that if she took too long choosing a path, she’d become that girl again. The one who crept from her parents’ house while Greg and Lisa Rome were sleeping and caught the first bus into town, to a place where she could pay a man with the cleanest hands she’d ever seen to inscribe her teenage skin with black, stinging secrets.
Not her in the ambulance. A stranger, big bloke with an oxygen bag over his face.
No one he knew.
He wiped the steam from the inside of the windscreen with the damp cuff of his overalls again. Under the peaked cap I London his mouth shifted to a smile.
Then doors were opening and closing, police everywhere, and he had to start the car, pull away. He couldn’t risk them catching him. He shouldn’t be driving, too many points on his licence apart from anything else, but how was he supposed to get around?
The police’d love to pick him up. He knew that.
He parked two streets away, the engine running, wipers slicking rain so he could keep watch for them leaving, red tail lights telling him the coast was clear. He didn’t need much. Just a chance. Maybe twenty minutes, maybe less.
Street lights were coming on, too early as usual. London trying too hard, thinking it could throw up a new building and no one would notice the shit on every street corner, the beggars and hen parties, puddles of puke, and whores everywhere.
He’d watched TV the other night, some crap with a bent politician who’d punched a bloke into a coma and couldn’t stop crying about it, standing round in the rain, snot running down his face. The camera kept filming London from the air, trying to make it look like LA, with skyscrapers and fancy helipads, what a fucking joke. London never looked like that, not from down here, where life was lived.
He waited ten minutes, then drove around the block, back to within eyeshot of the refuge. Rain had made a river of the driveway, washing off the roof in a filthy waterfall.
The unmarked Mondeo was still there, and the two police cars, but they hadn’t been for him, or her. It was just a coincidence.
People didn’t believe in coincidences; they looked the other way. That was what he needed right now. Just ten minutes, or twenty, when everyone was looking the other way and he could do it . . .
The refuge didn’t look too safe, not much of a hiding place. Silly bitch, thinking he couldn’t get to her in there. Failing all else, there was a fucking great hole in the roof.
He didn’t need a lot of time. He’d have liked the luxury of taking his time, but those days were gone, he knew that; no more slow dances, seeing her squirm.
This time it’d be hard and fast and over with. She wouldn’t be running and hiding when he was done with her.
He reckoned he needed twenty minutes, tops.
You fucking evil bitch your dead. You think your safe. Think again cunt.
Blue biro had scratched the words on to a sheet of lined paper, torn roughly from a notepad. The ink had clotted in places, thinned in others. The author had gone back over some of the words, where his pen had failed.
Marnie Rome held the page to the hospital’s overhead light, studying the clots and scratches, the scarred surface of the sheet.
You could tell a lot about a person from his handwriting. From what he wrote, the pen and paper he chose. You could tell the surface he wrote on, whether he was drunk or ill. It was all in the indents and impressions. Even if you didn’t have the original, if all you had was the pad he used. Indents went deep, and you could create a vacuum on the blank page run an electric bar over it, glass beads with carbon powder that stuck to the indents and revealed words like magic. Marnie had worked with a police documents examiner. She knew all about the tricks, the science involved.
You think your safe. Think again cunt. Not much magic needed here. No secret messages. Just three lines of hate-fuelled threat.
Marnie had found the letter in Hope Proctor’s bag, unsigned.
She had no immediate way of knowing whether Leo Proctor had written it. She’d looked through his wallet, but the signature strips on his bank cards were worn to smudges; it was all chip-and-pin these days. She took out her phone and called Noah Jake. ‘I need an example of Leo’s handwriting.’
‘Okay,’ Noah said. ‘What’ve you found?’
‘Not much.’ She turned the sheet of paper in her hand. ‘Just a little light reading, courtesy of an illiterate . . . Where are you?’
‘At the station, getting a change of clothes. How’s Leo?’
‘Alive, the last I heard. Try to get me a sample of his handwriting. Maybe there’s something in Hope’s things at the refuge. And see if you can speak with Ayana. You’ve got a connection with her.’
‘A connection?’ Noah echoed.
‘She helped you keep Leo alive. You made a good team. Use that. See if you can’t get what Welland wanted from this.’
‘You think she’ll talk to me, alone?’
‘You’re not alone. You have Family Liaison. And I’ve asked Ed Belloc to drop by later. Just . . . see how Ayana feels. I’m betting she’ll talk to you. Sometimes it helps to be a stranger.’
‘Okay,’ Noah said. ‘I’ll do my best.’
‘Good. I’ll see you back there after I’ve spoken with the doctor, and Hope.’ She rang off, checking her wristwatch.
In eight hours, it would be tomorrow. The fifth anniversary of their deaths. What’d she said to Welland?
I’m not counting.
She folded the threatening letter and put it in her pocket. She had to discount it, for now; dangerous to second-guess what Noah might come back with. The letter might not even match Leo’s handwriting, or he could’ve disguised his writing; the bad grammar could be deliberate misdirection. Hope was articulate, intelligent. How likely was Leo to be illiterate? He worked on a building site. Marnie didn’t know much more than that. Not yet. She needed the doctor’s exam to confirm how badly he’d abused his wife. She sympathised with Hope’s effort to salvage some shred of dignity and privacy after the events of the morning, but she’d insisted on the exam. Hard evidence, Welland called it.
Hope Proctor had put a knife into her husband’s lung. Marnie needed to know how, and why. At the refuge, Simone Bissell had said, ‘She can’t see straight. She puts things on the edge of tables and spills stuff all the time. He’s hit her so much she can’t see straight any more. She didn’t know where she was sticking that knife.’
She stuck it in her husband’s chest, deep enough to puncture his lung.
Leo was a big man. A big target.
Hope was scared, at the end of her rope. Marnie could believe that. The threatening letter was opaque in places, where Hope had handled it with sweating hands. It was possible she’d panicked, pushed the knife into Leo’s chest in blind terror.
A kitchen knife. Black handle, sweeping steel blade. Thirty quid; maybe forty in a good shop. A proper piece of kitchen kit, endorsed by a celebrity chef, his signature printed in black on the silver blade, and again in silver on the sleek black handle.
Marnie had the knife in an evidence bag back at the station. It balanced beautifully in her hand. At least she imagined it did; she’d yet to work up the courage to touch it.
A hospital porter pushed an empty trolley through swing doors at the end of the corridor, the sound like a small explosion.
‘She’s ready for you.’ The doctor, bespectacled, thirty-something, looked weary as he approached.
‘What’s the verdict?’ Marnie asked.
‘I’ve seen worse cases, but they tend to be working girls. Vaginal bruising consistent with object insertion.’ He referred to his notes, reading in a routinely bland voice. ‘Bite marks to her breasts and thighs. Fissures and scarring consistent with a prolonged history of anal sex. Surface bruising to her arms and legs. A belt most probably caused the bruises on her back. The sorts of injuries you might expect to see on someone indulging in sadomasochistic sex.’
This had happened in Hope’s home. Behind closed doors.
Marnie’s skin shivered; the sensation as familiar to her as yawning.
Home sweet home.
Did that exist for anyone, anywhere?
‘The examination upset her,’ the doctor was saying. ‘I prescribed a sedative. You’ll want to be gentle with her, although there’s nothing wrong with her intellect.’ He gave a shrewd, admiring smile. ‘She’s not in the mood to be patronised.’
‘How’s her husband, any change?’
‘None at all.’ He referred to a separate set of notes. ‘I can tell you he has liver damage, long-term, not yet acute.’
‘He’s an alcoholic?’
‘Almost certainly. His blood alcohol level indicates he’d been drinking heavily in the two hours before he was admitted.’
In other words, Leo Proctor went to the refuge armed and blind drunk.
‘Apart from that? Minor injuries consistent with his work in construction, and his pastime of rugby. According to his hospital records, we’ve treated him for cracked ribs on a couple of occasions, contact-sport injuries. Eight months ago, we treated him for two broken bones in his right hand. We call it a boxer’s fracture.’
‘Boxer’s fracture?’ Marnie repeated. ‘Does that mean he broke his hand hitting someone?’
‘Or something. A work-related injury, according to the records.’
‘Can you give me dates and details?’ She scanned the sheet of paper he handed her. Leo Proctor broke his hand eight months ago. Hitting something, or someone. Hope was living at home eight months ago. She pocketed the sheet, next to the threatening letter. ‘How soon after he wakes up can we talk to him?’
‘We’ve inserted a chest drain. Between that and the blood loss, he’s best off unconscious. A punctured lung’s a serious injury, especially when it involves a knife wound.’
‘She panicked,’ Marnie said. ‘That’s what the witnesses say.’
‘Just bad luck she found his lung.’ He looked again at Hope’s medical notes. ‘Or good luck . . . The cut to her hand, incidentally, is superficial. To answer your question, it’s too soon to say when he’ll come round.’
‘But he will? Come round.’
‘That’s our expectation at this stage.’
Leo Proctor wasn’t going to die. Good. Marnie wanted to question him, and she wasn’t inclined to be gentle, the way she intended to be with his wife.
‘Something else,’ the doctor said. ‘I’ve no idea if it’s significant.’ He nodded at his notes. ‘They have matching tattoos.’
‘They . . .’
‘We nearly missed it on him, too much blood for one thing. Hers is, ah, just beneath her right breast.’ This embarrassed him in a way the sexual abuse didn’t. ‘A heart with an arrow through it.’ He grimaced. ‘Hardly the most original sentiment.’
‘Where’s his?’ Marnie’s skin was burning under her ribs, and above her hips. ‘You said you nearly missed it. Where’s his tattoo?’
What People are Saying About This
“Fans of Val McDermid and Ian Rankin will love this tremendous debut. Someone Else’s Skin puts Sarah Hilary and DI Marnie Rome squarely on the map. A gripping, disturbing examination of domestic violence with gravitas in spades, this book haunts you well after its finish.” – Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author of Through Evil Days
“A truly engrossing read from an exceptional new talent. Hilary writes with a beguiling immediacy that pulls you straight into her world on the first page and leaves you bereft when you finish. Intelligent, emotional and totally unexpected in terms of where it goes. I truly loved this book” – Alex Marwood, author of the Edgar Award-winning The Wicked Girls
“So brilliantly put together, unflinching without ever being gratuitous… and I love the way Sarah writes - every other page has a line I wish I'd thought of myself. It’s the best crime debut I've ever read and deserves to be MASSIVE” – Erin Kelly, author of The Poison Tree
“If this first entry is anything to go by, Hilary's sense of plot and subtle character building will make the DI Marnie Rome series one to watch.” – ShelfAwareness
“[Hilary] skilfully interweaves multiple viewpoints on the way to the mystery’s unsettling conclusion.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Gripping and full of graphic details about the lives and psychology of her characters, both abusers and their victims. You might be surprised at the end to learn which is which.” – Mystery Scene
“What an entry on to the thriller scene Hilary has made with Someone Else’s Skin. She writes deftly, unobtrusively, subtly drawing her readers in… it’s the story that really drives this novel, though, and this is a corker: twisty, tricksy and, on occasion, seriously scary. This is an extraordinarily good debut.” – The Observer (London)
“Sarah Hilary’s impressive debut, Someone Else’s Skin, introduces Detective Inspector Marnie Rome, who is, I believe, unique among fictional cops in having had both her parents knifed to death by a teenager who lived with the family. The outwardly tough, inwardly mixed-up Rome visits a local women’s refuge with her colleague DS Noah Jake. As they walk in, they witness a resident viciously stabbing her tormentor husband. Later, she disappears with another woman from the refuge. The book’s central theme is domestic violence, which Hilary handles unflinchingly with force and passion. DI Rome is an appealing creation.” The Times (London)
“A tense, deep and dramatic tale of domestic violence.” – The Independent (London)
“There’s an accomplished writer learning her trade here and it richly deserves to succeed” – The Daily Mail (London)