When Katie Straw's body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police are ready to write it off as a standard-issue female suicide. But the residents of the domestic violence shelter where Katie worked disagree. These women have spent weeks or even years waiting for the men they're running from to catch up with them. They know immediately: This was murder.
Still, Detective Dan Whitworth and his team expect an open-and-shut caseuntil they discover evidence that suggests Katie wasn't who she appeared. Weaving together the investigation with Katie's final months as it barrels toward the truth, The Keeper is a riveting mystery and a searing examination of violence against women and the structures that allow it to continue, marking the debut of an incredible new voice in crime fiction.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.06(w) x 7.73(h) x 0.61(d)|
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Katie leans over the bar. She shouts her order in the ear of the bored-looking bartender, whose long ponytail is as pretty and silky as a girl's. She and her friends have only been in the club for an hour; the watery assault on the senses and calculated euphoria have started to wear off, but they aren't yet so drunk that they've been enveloped by generosity and money has stopped mattering. It's a wrench to bellow the order for seven drinks.
She's starting to feel a bit sick. She didn't have dinner.
Along the bar, a boy is smiling absently at her.
He's the kind of boy she'd never normally look at uninvited. His face looks like it was painted in bold brushstrokes - blond hair, almost cherubic features. Yet the soft-full lips and long lashes are assembled against high, flat cheekbones, languid bedroom eyes. He looks like he was composed with a purpose, rather than being, like everyone else, the product of random genetic entropy.
He's beautiful. So beautiful that Katie doesn't bother to ask herself if he's her type. He's everyone's type, surely. An objective work of art.
He smiles at her more distinctly, his eyes coming into focus. They're green, not the expected blue. They cut through the club-haze, looking straight at her.
Or maybe not. Maybe that's just a trick of the light. Katie looks hurriedly away.
'Forty-two pounds, please.'
The barman holds out the card machine. En garde.
By the time Katie's finished fumbling with her PIN and has returned her debit card to her bra, the beautiful boy is gone. She takes the tray of mojitos to the cramped grouping of leather pouffes where her friends sit, two to a pouffe. She yells above the noise that she's going outside for a minute, and leaves, taking her drink with her. She can sense the disgruntled looks shooting from smoky eyes and catching into her back.
She feels guilty. They haven't all been together like this since they graduated and came back home. Most of her friends are on day release from their relationships - serial monogamists, all of them. Seven years at a girls' school will do that to you.
It's February. The quiet, wintry air settles Katie's senses, a cooling shower on her overheated skin.
She drifts towards the edge of the smoking area. Really, it's just a section of alleyway behind the club with a couple of empty glasses on the floor. For years it's been ruled over by the same gregarious Polish bouncer, who used to remember her name. There are no ashtrays or seats, only men in sweaty polyester shirts and squeaky brogues, smoking roll-ups and leaning unnecessarily close to speak to eager-looking girls. Their edges seem blurry against the night, as if they might float away like large, pale balloons.
Katie watches it all. No one seems to see her.
She has always done this - wandered off by herself on nights out. Her friends are used to it. Perhaps it's an odd thing to do, but it helps her and it doesn't seem to harm anyone else. It soothes ... something. To call the something an anxiety attack would feel too self-absorbed. But there is definitely something in her that needs soothing. Especially today.
Being here - being home - drags Katie's heart down, but for now she doesn't have a choice.
'Home' is on the outer fringes of what can reasonably be considered London, though the association is more by map than spirit. It's a twenty-five-minute train journey from the centre of things, although rush hour stretches out that timespan indefinitely. Here, a lone suicide on the train tracks can throw a whole swathe of London's workforce into an agony of grumbling, packed as they are on to the slender margin of a single railway line. People move here for the good schools, and stay because the property prices dart upwards, just as surely as gravity pulls everything else down. Fresh graduates return to their parental homes like flocks of migrating birds.
Nothing can go too badly wrong here. It's difficult to leave. Or maybe it's just easy to stay.
Being home means being out. Out-out, even though this group of friends made far more sense in the context of ibuprofen in school bags, borrowed class notes, a seemingly endless sense of imprisonment. Being in a bar with them, drinking the alcohol they'd once coveted so distantly, wearing the short skirts they'd been forbidden from - it doesn't feel quite right.
But they've all trickled back home, so here they are. Every day they head into the City to populate Excel spreadsheets in different offices, telling themselves that it's somehow connected to their degrees, or else just that it's experience. Going out-out seems like the obvious thing to do with these early pay cheques. Now Christmas is entirely over, they might as well come to terms with the fact that this, for the time being at least, is where they are.
Katie doesn't smoke, but she wishes she did. It would give her something to do, and save her from wondering if people think she looks odd out here by herself.
The man who steps in front of her, seemingly from nowhere, is thin and dark, maybe an inch or two taller than her. His build is wiry - he probably weighs less than her - but he seems to take up space in a decisive way that she's immediately drawn to. He looks at her with a directness that makes everyone else's eyes seem veiled.
He smiles at her, holding out his hand with a formality that she assumes is ironic.
She feels like she's being set up for a joke that won't include her. She waits a couple of beats too long before replying.
He doesn't say anything further, but seems to wait, his mouth smiling and his body relaxed, his eyes following the lines of her face as if examining a map. She shifts, her ankles twisting slightly above her pencil heels. She wonders if her face is red.
'I didn't see you inside.'
'I wasn't enjoying it much. Came out here. I'm guessing you were feeling something similar?'
'But you must have been enjoying it a bit, or else you'd leave.'
She smiles, because that's an answer in itself to statements like those.
'Maybe going to clubs is worth it,' he says, 'even if only so you can find the people who aren't into clubs either.'
She laughs. She doesn't find his comment funny, but he grins as if he's expecting a laugh, so she provides it.
They amble in the usual circles of half-drunk conversation. She asks the usual questions. Come here much? What do you think of this DJ? She forgets his answers almost as soon as he gives them, focusing instead on the timbre of his voice. It's deep and strong and very discernibly male, accented a few layers of privilege below her own.
'What do you do?'
The question slips out just a second or two before she's thought about it properly. She shrinks inside. That question wasn't on the setlist. She's made this mistake before, and men have looked at her with seasoned disappointment, as if she has just signalled to them a fundamental incompetence at living in the moment.
But Jamie doesn't seem to mind.
'I'm a prison officer. Well. Juvenile facility.'
He folds his arms. His movements have the studied sharpness of a newly trained actor.
Maybe this line of conversation is an unexpected rope that she can pull herself along.
'Do you like it?'
'No. But the pay's decent.'
'Yeah.' She laughs. 'I know the feeling.'
'That's life, I guess. But it'll get better, I know it will.'
His eyebrows are thick and surprisingly black, which gives an air of resolution to all his expressions. He seems like someone who keeps his ideas hard and simple, like daggers that can be drawn cleanly from their sheaths.
Katie likes that.
They keep talking. Her attention, such as it is, sways when the beautiful boy from the bar comes outside and stands alone at the other end of the smoking area. Half is caught following the disintegrating column of ash between his long fingers. Maybe Jamie will excuse himself before it burns away completely.
But he doesn't, and the beautiful boy doesn't linger, and Katie and Jamie talk on.
At a break in the flow - if you could call it a flow - she suggests that they go back in. Jamie frowns. She wonders if she has somehow misread him.
But then, to her surprise, he takes her hand and leads her back inside. His grip is warm and dry and firm.
As they go down the stairs together, her mind works through a series of possibilities, like trying a set of keys in a lock.
She could abandon Jamie now and go back to her friends.
She could accept one drink from him and then make an excuse.
She could drink with him into the night. Dance with him, her hands resting on his slim shoulders, a fuzzy heat growing between her thighs as she allows herself an occasional glance at the beautiful boy.
She could get a taxi home with her friends, like they all agreed at the beginning of the night.
She could go home with Jamie.
She could take him by the hand and lead him to a dark corner of the alley behind the club. She could sink to her knees before him and let his hands rest on her head as she takes him in her mouth, like he's giving her his blessing for a religion she's not yet sure she believes in.
Jamie taps Katie on the elbow. She turns around and he hands her a glass of clear liquid over ice. He didn't ask her what she wanted so she's not sure what it is, but she smiles at him and takes a sip, identifying only something strong and chemical.
'I got you a double,' he says.
She resolves, before she's too drunk to resolve on anything, that she's going to keep drinking, and that she's going to fuck him. She decides it now, before she can get too caught up in the question of whether or not it's what she really wants.
They talk. Or rather, he talks. She says little, focusing on enunciating her few words clearly. She nods and smiles and occasionally lets her hand brush against his thigh. He doesn't seem to understand what she's inviting him into and looks her square in the eye every time they touch. It surprises her how unimpressed he seems. He doesn't appear to particularly enjoy her touch, but he doesn't step away either. After a few minutes he puts an arm around her shoulders, continuing to yell something that she can't hear over the music.
Then, without warning, he puts a hand on the back of her head and crushes his mouth against hers.
She opens her lips, as if obeying a cue. His tongue makes a measured, inspecting progress around her mouth. Her body seems prepared to let him in.
He doesn't keep buying her drinks. He doesn't even keep kissing her for long. Once the terms of their embrace have been set, he goes back to talking. About how he's thinking about going into the army.
Katie is sobering steadily, but she doesn't let the ebbing warmth around her eyes force her to consider whether she's making a mistake.
Over Jamie's shoulder, she sees her friends swaying towards the exit and disappearing up the stairs.
They return a few seconds later, their faces dressed up with expressions of pantomime horror. They gesture at her to join them. She flaps a hand at them behind Jamie's back as if to say, Go on! Her friends leave, eyebrows raised. Katie allows the same hand to slide around Jamie's waist and pull him closer.
Jamie frowns at her.
'You know, I'm not that kind of guy.'
Her hand, which was sliding down towards his bum, stops abruptly.
'And you don't seem like that kind of girl either.'
The pause is filled by the throb of the music. Katie feels a slow cascade of shame burning through her chest. She withdraws her hand, and Jamie catches it. He takes it in both of his own and spreads the fingers, inspecting it carefully as if assessing its worth. He looks at her and smiles. For the first time, he seems really good-looking.
'Let me get to know you. Properly.'
Katie doesn't say anything. It didn't feel like the kind of request she needs to answer out loud.
'Can I walk you home?' he asks. He laces his fingers into the hand he's captured.
She doesn't want to walk home. She's wearing high heels and it's over a mile. Besides, she isn't sure what they'd talk about on the way. Suggesting they get a cab would feel somehow tone-deaf, and she doesn't think he'll want to sit with her on the night bus, exchanging the banalities of increasing sobriety while she tries to avoid spearing McDonald's chips on her heels.
'Trust me. I'll be worrying about you if you go off by yourself.'
She laughs, but he doesn't.
'Look, I'm not going to try it on with you, if that's what you're worrying about. Just want to deliver you to your door, safe and sound.'
Why is she making this so much more complicated than it needs to be? If there was anything to worry about with Jamie, then she shouldn't have accepted the drink he gave her. But she did, and there's no harm done.
'I can get a cab,' she says, even though she doesn't mean it.
'Not a chance. Do you know how many women are raped by unlicensed minicab drivers?'
She makes to take a little step from him, but his hand is resting in the small of her back and it seems to stop her from moving, though he's not actually exerting any force.
She nods, though she's not sure what part she's agreeing to.
'Let me just go to the loo quickly.'
He grins and leans forward to kiss her lightly on the forehead. It feels more abruptly intimate than all their previous contact.
There is no quickly, of course.
Katie stands in the queue for a single bathroom stall, watching as the girls around her, clearly strangers, move into a slurring sisterliness as they wait. One of them puts a little white pill in her mouth. She catches Katie's gaze and holds out her hand. Katie shakes her head.
She stands in front of the mirror, looking deep into her own irises. To see if they are any different from usual.
But she sees only herself - only the usual blankness. Her eyeliner has flaked off and is lying in the creases of skin underneath her eyes. Her face looks greyish in the bathroom light, underneath the red flush from the hot club. The swaying glow is nearly gone.
Reading Group Guide
1. The author of THE KEEPER has worked in the domestic violence shelter. How do you feel that helped her in writing the novel? How did the setting of the shelter influence the atmosphere? What aspects of that world felt particularly authentic?
2. Although Katie’s death occurs at the beginning of the book, she continues to be a major character. How well did you feel you got to know Katie through the glimpses into her life? Was the experience of this difference from reading other procedurals because of this? How is the narration of Katie’s story unique among crime fiction tropes?
3. Traditionally, in relationships between men and women, there are some dynamics that are thought of as socially acceptable or even desirable—such as jealousy, hyperattentiveness, or taking charge. But when taken to their extremes, these attitudes can lead to real violence. The examples in the novel are, of course, on the more grave end of the spectrum; what are some examples of problematic behavior that might seem harmless on a day-to-day basis, but could be a warning sign when seen over a longer period?
4. The women at the domestic violence shelter come from varied and diverse backgrounds. How do you think the women’s pasts effect the way their stories are received by others? Lynne, for example, is blond, blue-eyed, middle class, and a mother. How is she treated differently than Jenny, who is a sex worker? What additional barriers does Sonia face due to being black? Does Nazia have to deal with preconceptions about Muslim people? What other examples can you find of characters being marginalized because of their identity?
5. An early suspect is an internet troll who makes derogatory and threatening comments toward women. Society has seen a recent insurgence of online movements made up of men that dehumanize and degrade women. The suspect in the book insists that he would never actually hurt anybody in real life. Where is the line between an online threat and physical violence? Does a man’s online activity make him a potential danger?
6. Much crime fiction focuses on a male detective with a strong moral center. How does Whitworth compare to other detectives you have seen in fiction? How does the author’s portrayal of Whitworth serve to reveal inadequacies within the justice system?
7. There is a big twist at the end. Were you surprised? If you did see it coming, at what point did you start to have your suspicions?