Through a particularly ill-fated series of events, couch potato Maeve Kelly, an elementary school teacher whose mother always assured her “curvy” girls shouldn’t waste their time trying to be fit, has been forced to sign up for the Other Half, Bath’s springtime half marathon. The training is brutal, but she must disprove her mother and collect pledges for her aunt’s beloved charity. What Maeve doesn’t know is just how vicious some of the other runners are.
Meanwhile, Detective Peter Diamond is tasked with crowd control on the raucous day of the race—and catches sight of a violent criminal he put away a decade ago, and who very much seems to be up to his old tricks now that he is paroled. Diamond’s hackles are already up when he learns that one of the runners never crossed the finish line and disappeared without a trace. Was Diamond a spectator to murder?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The city of Bath isn’t all about Roman plumbing and Georgian architecture.
It offers unrivalled facilities for getting rid of unwanted corpses. Beneath the creamy, sun-kissed squares, crescents and terraces is a rat-infested underworld undreamed of by most visitors, a dark, dank warren of cellars, vaults, culverts, sewers and drains. And the surrounding hills are riddled with miles of mines, quarries and tunnels, all but a few disused and some no longer mapped or remembered.
The Finisher got his reputation by completing the job. He had no wish to be investigated, so he left no clues. He preyed on the losers. “Defy me and you’re finished,” he would say. “I’ll finish you myself and you won’t be the first.” He wasn’t bluffing. He’d killed at least once before. His victim simply vanished from the scene. It was a deliberate act of terror and it worked. The select group he informed about the murder said nothing for fear they would be next.
His method of killing was simple and left nothing to chance. After a short moment of violence, life ebbed away in a series of satisfying, calm exhalations, each softer than the last, until they stopped.
The easy part.
Murder is only the beginning.
Killers throughout history have faced the problem of how to dispose of the body. Landru tried with a large stove, Haigh an acid bath and Christie home decorating; all three were caught. It’s almost impossible to leave no trace. What is more, there isn’t much time for clever stuff. Burial is a favoured method but is hard work. Just to conceal the volume of a body requires shifting large amounts of earth, which is why so many murdered corpses are found in shallow graves. The other drawback is that the disturbance of the ground is obvious. Immersion in deep water involves transport and navigation and the use of weights to keep the body from rising to the surface. Dismemberment is messy and multiplies the task. Dropping the victim into unset concrete is said to have worked, but can be difficult to arrange unless you’re a construction worker. Even then, your mates may well ask questions. For the same reason, feeding body parts to pigs is risky because someone is sure to notice.
Through the blessing of geography, the Finisher didn’t need to use any of the flawed methods listed above. He’d given thought to the problem of disposal. He knew what to do.
He lived in Bath.
In Concorde House, northeast of Bristol, where Bath’s Criminal Investigation Department had been put out to grass for reasons of economy, Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, the senior man, walked in with a large roll of laminated paper, unfurled it and pressed it against the wall.
“Help me, will you? Drawing pins, anybody, at least six.”
“What’s this, guv?” Keith Halliwell, his deputy, asked.
“What does it look like?”
“A wall chart?”
“Top of the class.” Diamond looked over his shoulder. “Someone must have pins.”
“Blu Tack would be better for the wall,” Sergeant Ingeborg Smith said.
“Sod the wall,” Diamond said. “My arms are aching.”
Ingeborg took some Blu Tack from her drawer and went to help. The chart, as wide as Diamond’s reach, was soon in place.
Constable Paul Gilbert stepped up for a closer look and ran a finger down one of the columns. “It looks like a staff planner.”
“You’ll go far,” Diamond said. With undisguised pride, he told the team, “The entire year at a glance.”
No one else looked enthusiastic.
“If you don’t mind me saying, it’s hardly cutting edge,” Ingeborg said. “The software on Office is better than this.”
Diamond was unmoved. “You can’t stick software on the wall where everyone is going to see it. We want the top brass to know how busy we are, don’t we? I’ve started filling it in. Feel free to add significant dates using one of the wet-wipe pens. We’d better agree on a colour coding. I’ve bagged red.”
“This is to impress Georgina?” Halliwell said.
“Or the Chief Constable, the Police and Crime Commissioner or any of the inspectorate passing through. We don’t want them thinking we’re overstaffed.”
“What does the H stand for?” Gilbert asked. “Holidays?”
The letter H was all over the chart.
“Optimist,” Inspector John Leaman said.
“It’s not important,” Diamond said.
This satisfied nobody.
“Is H one of us?” Halliwell asked, turning pink.
“And who might that be?”
Smiles all round.
“Actually,” Diamond said, “it’s for home.”
He shook his head, chastened at how slow they were for a bunch of detectives. “Home matches. Rugby fixtures when Bath are playing at the rec. Significant dates, I said. Get it?”
“We can put in stuff like that?”
“Birthdays, anniversaries, dental appointments, just as long as it gets filled in. This is smoke and mirrors, understood?”
Finally they got it. Wet-wipe pens were put to good use in the next hour. The planner changed from largely white to an abstract expressionist masterpiece. How disappointing that it wasn’t noticed by the Assistant Chief Constable, Georgina Dallymore, when she looked in.
Blinkered, it seemed, she marched straight past and into Diamond’s office.
He looked up from his coffee.
Georgina was in uniform as always. She must have put on her jacket in a hurry because one of the silver buttons was in the wrong hole. She tightened her black tie. “Peter,” she said in a tone of doom, “you will have seen the latest directive from the Home Office.”
Most directives came from Avon and Somerset headquarters. This had to be serious.
“On your computer, forwarded from me two hours ago.”
His PC was in sleep mode. He touched the keyboard and play resumed of a clip of the gunfight from High Noon. He reached for the mouse and tried to access his emails. The music got louder.
“For heaven’s sake,” Georgina said. She reached for the top of the monitor and pressed the off button. “I’ll save you the trouble. The threat level from terrorism has been raised from substantial to critical.”
He sat back in the chair. “Why is that?”
“It’s not for you or me to ask,” she said. “New intelligence, no doubt. To quote from memory, all police forces are instructed to put security measures in place to ensure that there is a heightened presence, overt and covert, at major public events.”
“Overt and covert. Typical Whitehall-speak.”
She ignored that. “Covert means plain clothes. That’s you.”
He made a covert change of emphasis. “We don’t do major public events. We’re more dignified in Bath. Antiques fairs won’t be a target for terrorists.”
“You’ve forgotten something.”
“The Jane Austen Festival?”
“The Bath Half.”
A half was a measure of beer to Diamond. He frowned.
“Don’t be obtuse,” Georgina said. “The long-distance race. You know perfectly well what I’m talking about.”
He did now. The Bath Half Marathon, known affectionately as the Barf Arf, was undeniably major, one of the most popular road races in the country, through the city streets over a flat, fast course favoured by runners wanting to achieve fast times. More than twelve thousand took part and three times as many cheered them on. If you hadn’t signed up six months ahead, you could expect to go on a waiting list.
“That counts as major, I guess,” he conceded.
“It’s huge,” she said.
“But it’s on a Sunday.”
“Immaterial. You must bring in everyone for this.”
“I’d love to,” he said, “but don’t count on it. I’ll need to check the planner. When is it—March? Heavy month.”
“The planner? Since when have you planned anything?”
He ushered Georgina out of his office and into the CID room where the wet-wipe ink was barely dry on the new chart.
Her face was a study in disbelief. “What on earth . . .?”
He ran a finger down one of the columns. “March, we said. Generally the third Sunday, is it not?” He touched the little square too heavily and smudged the letters into a blood-red fingerprint. “Oh fiddlesticks, can’t read it now. Good thing we’re colour-coded. Wouldn’t you know it? Red is me. What was I down for on the third Sunday?”
“Whatever it was, it’s got to be cancelled.” Georgina moved closer and peered at what remained. “It looks like the letter H.”
“That’ll be the Saturday.”
“It overlaps two squares.”
“My clumsy lettering—or the whole weekend is spoken for.”
“Not anymore,” she said. “There are red H’s all over the thing. What do they stand for?”
“Headquarters,” he answered without pause or guilt.
Georgina’s cheeks turned the colour of the smudged square. She had always treated police headquarters as if it were the holy of holies, but lately, knowing that the position of Deputy Chief Constable was vacant and needed to be filled soon, she scarcely dared speak its name. “Is there something you haven’t told me?”
He nodded. “This puts me in a delicate position.”
“I can’t think why.”
“I’m not authorised to confide in anyone else.”
“Nothing personal, ma’am. One of those need-to-know situations.” He let that sink in before adding cheerfully,
“But don’t worry. I can tell headquarters this date is out, cancelled on your orders.”
“Don’t do that,” she said in alarm. “Headquarters has priority here. We can manage without you, even if I have to wear plain clothes myself.”
He picked up one of the pens. “I’ll write it in again, then.”
Simple as that. So simple that he felt a stab of conscience. Did he really want to excuse himself from duty on the day? He’d feel a right shit when everyone else gave up their Sunday. Why had he done this? Mainly out of mischief. His superior always sounded so superior that she brought out the rebel in him. Now he’d need to find a way of telling her.
But Georgina hadn’t finished. She was still studying the planner. Nothing was said for some time. She took a step back with arms folded before leaning forward and staring at an empty square. “I see that Sunday April nineteenth isn’t marked.”
He checked. “Correct.”
“So you’re available. That’s the date of the Other Half.”
The Other Half had been thought up a few years ago by some people who applied too late for the Bath Half. They’d had the good idea of organising a little brother to the main race on a different Sunday over a more challenging route mainly along towpaths, footpaths and disused railway tunnels. The modest numbers of the first year had grown to over five thousand starters.
A major public event, undeniably.
“Give me your pen,” Georgina said. “I’ll put a large O, for Other.”