Psychologist Alice Quentin has been looking forward to a break from her hectic London life. She has vowed to stay clear of police work. The previous cases she helped the police with have left her scarred. So, when Alice is given the rare opportunity to study treatment methods at Northwood high-security hospital outside of London, she is eager to get to work.
But then a young girl is discovered, dressed all in white, on the steps of the Foundling Museum. Four girls have recently gone missing in North London—this is the third to be found, dead. The fourth may still be alive, and Alice Quentin may be able to help. Britain's most prolific child killer, Louis Kinsella, has been locked up in Northwood for over a decade. Yet, these recent kidnappings and murders are clearly connected to Kinsella's earlier crimes. It seems that someone is continuing where he left off. So, when Detective Don Burns comes asking for Alice's help, how can she refuse? Alice will do anything to help save a child—even if that means forming a relationship with a charismatic, ruthless murderer. But Kinsella is slow to give away his secrets, and time is running out for the latest kidnap victim, who is simply trying to survive. In her quest to save a life, Alice finds she has put her own life on the line.
The Winter Foundling is Kate Rhode's exciting thriller featuring Alice Quentin following Crossbones Yard and A Killing of Angels.
About the Author
KATE RHODES was born in London and lives in Cambridge, England. She completed a doctorate in American literature, then taught English at universities in Britain and the United States. She is the author of the novels A Killing of Angels and Crossbones Yard as well as two collections of poetry. She has received several honors and awards and won the Ruth Rendell Short Story Competition.
KATE RHODES was born in London and lives in Cambridge, England. She completed a doctorate in American literature, then taught English at universities in Britain and the United States. She has published two collections of poetry, and has received a number of honors and awards for her writing. Crossbones Yard is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Winter Foundlings
By Kate Rhodes
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Kate Rhodes
All rights reserved.
The chill attacked me as soon as I stepped out of the car. It made me wish I'd worn a thicker coat, but at least it made a change from the misery on the radio – weathermen predicting more snow, train services at a standstill, and another girl missing from the streets of north London. I picked my way across the ice, pausing to admire Northwood in its winter glory. Rows of dark Victorian tenements stood shoulder to shoulder, braced against the wind. My colleagues at Guy's thought that I'd taken leave of my senses. Why would anyone rent out their London flat and swap a comfortable hospital consultancy for a six-month sabbatical at the country's biggest psychiatric prison? But I knew I'd made the right choice. The British Psychological Society had invited me to write the first-ever in-depth study of the regime at the Laurels, home to some of the country's most violent criminals. The work would be fascinating, and provide an ideal subject for my next book, but that was just part of the reason. If I could handle six months in the company of serial rapists and mass murderers, it meant that I was cured. The suffering and deaths I'd witnessed during the Angel case hadn't left a scratch.
A mixture of curiosity and fear quickened my heart rate as I approached the entrance gates. The warning signs grew more obvious with each step – barred ground-floor windows, razor wire and searchlights. Dozens of reminders that the place was a prison for the criminally insane, as well as a hospital. The security guards gave cautious smiles when I reached reception: two middle-aged women, one tall, one short. Neither seemed overjoyed by their choice of career.
'Bitter out there, isn't it?' the tall one said.
The smaller woman gave me an apologetic look before turning my handbag upside down and shaking it vigorously. A flurry of biros, lipstick cases and old receipts scattered across the counter.
'I'm afraid mobiles aren't allowed,' she said.
'Sorry, I forgot.'
'You wouldn't believe the stuff people try and take inside. Drugs, flick knives, you name it.'
I processed the idea while she searched my belongings. It was hard to imagine anyone bringing weapons into a building packed with psychopaths, unless they had a death wish themselves. She led me to a machine in the corner of the room.
'The card's just for identity,' she said. 'Our doors open with keys or fingerprint recognition.'
I pressed my index finger onto a glass plate, then a light flared, and the machine spat out my ID card. The woman in the photo looked unfamiliar. She had a caught-in-the-headlights stare, cheeks blanched by the cold.
The site map the security guards gave me turned out to be useless. Paths narrow as shoelaces twisted through the maze of tenements packed tight inside the walls of the compound. The architecture was designed for maximum surveillance, hundreds of windows staring down as I wandered in circles, until the Laurels loomed into view. The building had been a cause célèbre when it opened five years ago, protesters outraged that it had consumed thirty-six million pounds of taxpayers' cash. It was a stark monument to modern architecture, surfaces cut from steel and glass. Walking inside felt like entering a futurist hotel, apart from the security measures. Two sets of doors snapped at my heels as I crossed the threshold.
I felt apprehensive as I searched for the centre director's office. Dr Aleks Gorski had a formidable reputation. When a prisoner escaped from the Laurels the previous year, he had refused to take responsibility, blaming the government for cutting his security budget. Gorski went on the offensive as soon as the prisoner was recaptured, giving angry interviews to the press. His outspoken style had cost him some important allies. It was common knowledge that his seniors were longing to have him removed.
Gorski seemed to be fighting a losing battle with his temper when I found the right door. He was around forty, wearing a tight suit and highly polished shoes, black hair shorn to a savage crew cut. His smile was too brief to be interpreted as a welcome.
'Our appointment was at nine, Dr Quentin.'
'Sorry I'm late, the M25's closed. Didn't you get my message?'
He sat behind his desk, eyeing me across yards of dark brown mahogany. 'Your head of department says you want to write a book about us. What do you plan to focus on?' Gorski's speech was rapid and a fraction too loud, with a strong Polish inflection.
'I'm interested in your treatments for Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder. I'd like to learn more about your rehabilitation work before release.'
'Very few of our men ever leave, but you're in the right place to study mental disorder. This is the DSPD capital of the world. The only reason our inmates are here is because the prison system spat them out.' He observed me coolly. 'Do you know how long our female employees normally last?'
'Four months. Only a few stay the distance; the ones that carry on fall into two categories – the flirts and the lion tamers. Some are attracted to violent men, and the rest have got something to prove. It's too soon to guess which category you belong to.'
I gazed at him in amazement. Surely statements like that had been outlawed years ago? 'That's irrelevant, Dr Gorski. I'm here to learn about the welfare of your patients.'
'It's your own welfare you should worry about. Last summer an inmate attacked one of our nurses so savagely she was in intensive care for a week. These men will hurt you, if you fail to look after yourself. Do you understand?'
He gave a curt nod. 'In that case, I'll give you a tour.'
By now I was yearning for my regular boss at Guy's. He was so chilled out that he had a sedative effect on everyone he met, but Gorski seemed as volatile as his patients. He would register a high score on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, ticking all the boxes for aggression and lack of respect for social boundaries.
I inhaled a lungful of the building's smell as we crossed the corridor. It reminded me of all the hospitals I'd ever visited: antiseptic, air freshener, and something indescribable being char-grilled in a distant kitchen. An overweight young man was being led towards us. Two orderlies were flanking him, another following at a respectful distance, as if a backwards kick might be delivered at any minute.
'What's your staff-to-patient ratio?' I asked.
'We're short-staffed, but it should be three to one.'
'Is that level always necessary?'
He nodded vigorously. 'Fights break out all the time. Yesterday an inmate had his throat slashed with a broken CD case. He needed twenty stitches.'
The day room seemed to tell a different story. A cluster of grey-haired men were huddled in armchairs, watching A Place in the Sun. From a distance they looked like a gang of mild-mannered granddads, dressed in jeans and tracksuits, sipping from mugs of tea. Female staff must have been a rarity because their heads swivelled towards me in perfect unison. Lacklustre Christmas decorations dangled from the ceiling, but everything else at the Laurels looked brand new. There was a games room for table tennis and pool, and a gym packed with running and rowing machines. The place even had its own cinema.
I saw a different side to Gorski as we wandered through the building. He spoke passionately as he explained the holistic approach he planned to adopt, if funding increased. Psychologists and psychiatrists would work alongside creative therapists, to create individual treatment programmes, and inmates would spend far more time outside their cells. At present the centre could only afford to employ one part-time art therapist. It was snowing again when we came to a halt beside a set of sealed windows.
'Do your patients ever use the main hospital facilities?' I asked.
'If they make good enough progress. I can show you an example.'
Gorski pressed a touch pad and the doors released us into the compound. I had to trot to keep up, brushing snowflakes from my face. Two male nurses were loitering outside the library, shivering in the cold. The building's high ceilings and stained-glass windows suggested that it had been the hospital chapel once, but the place had been neglected. Many of the shelves were empty, out-of-date books stacked in piles by the door. The choice of DVDs was limited to The Green Mile, Top Gun and The Shawshank Redemption. Apart from a librarian sitting on the other side of the room, head bowed over a pile of papers, the reading area was empty.
'Do you recognise him?' Gorski whispered.
On closer inspection I saw that the man's left wrist was handcuffed to the metal frame of his chair, and when I studied him more closely, I realised it was Louis Kinsella. He twisted round in his seat to face us, and his gaze had a disturbing intensity. He still bore an uncanny likeness to my father. Even his stare was identical, letting me know that I'd failed him without uttering a word. But he'd aged considerably since he'd filled the front pages seventeen years ago. His Eton-cropped hair had faded from brown to grey, and his features were more angular, with gaunt cheekbones and a prominent forehead. Only his half-moon glasses had remained the same. I'd been revising for my GCSEs when Kinsella's killing spree hit its peak, and his face had lodged in my mind, among the facts I'd memorised. Maybe he fascinated me then because my father was gravely ill. He was being cared for at home, but he'd lost the powers of speech and movement. While his physical powers waned, his doppelgänger had suddenly become Britain's most prolific child killer – a record that Kinsella still held after almost two decades.
His eyes followed me as we turned to leave. The chill felt deeper as we stepped outside, and when I looked down, I saw what had transfixed him. Snowflakes had melted into the red fabric of my coat, darkening it, like spatters of blood.CHAPTER 2
'Everyone reacts like that. Some of my staff won't even stay in the same room. It's the silence they can't stand.' Gorski gave a condescending smile as he watched me shiver.
'What do you mean?'
'Kinsella's choosy about who he communicates with. Most people get the silent treatment. He sends me written complaints occasionally, but he hasn't spoken in years. It's a protest, because his last tribunal failed – he wants to finish his sentence in prison.'
'He thinks he's cured?'
'Louis claims that DSPD isn't an illness. He says it's a personality trait. Now that he's learned to control his impulses, he should be released. His lawyer makes quite a convincing case.'
'But you don't agree?'
'Of course not. The only reason he hasn't killed recently is because he hasn't had the chance. You must have heard what happened at Highpoint?'
'He attacked someone, didn't he?' I remembered seeing a newspaper headline years ago, but the details had slipped my mind.
'He gouged out a prisoner's eye with his thumbs.' Gorski monitored my reaction, then turned away. He seemed determined to make my introduction to the Laurels as unsettling as possible.
The isolation unit was the next highlight on my tour. The windowless cells were padded with dark green foam rubber. If the intention was to pacify patients with subdued colours, the screams from a cell nearby proved that the strategy had backfired. When I peered through the observation hatch, a young man was hurling himself at the wall, then scrambling to his feet and trying again, as though he'd located an invisible door.
'One of our new recruits,' Gorski muttered.
The combined effect of encountering Louis Kinsella, and watching someone ricochet round a padded cell like a squash ball was making me question my decision. Maybe I should have stayed at Guy's and committed myself to a lifetime of helping depressives lighten their mood.
Gorski came to a halt beside a narrow door, then dropped a key into my hand. 'This is your office; my deputy Judith Miller will be supervising you. She'll be at the staff meeting on Wednesday.'
I wondered how long Dr Miller had coped with life at the Laurels. Given her boss's unpleasant manner, I suspected she must be a lion tamer rather than a flirt. I twisted the key in the lock and discovered that my new office was no bigger than a broom cupboard. A narrow window cast grey light across the walls, and the desk almost filled the floor space, a threadbare chair pressed against the wall. Gorski's footsteps had faded into the distance before I could complain.
I spent the rest of the afternoon failing to launch my Outlook account. Someone had left me a pile of papers, including a list of therapy groups to observe, and dates of meetings with the care team. I searched through the pages, looking for familiar names, half expecting Gorski to have booked one- to-one sessions with his most famous psychopaths to test my nerve.
Northwood's staff common room was a million miles from the café at Guy's, which was always packed with talkative nurses. A handful of staff members were sprinkled round the room, staring thoughtfully into their coffee mugs, and I could understand why. They were on high alert all day, waiting for chaos to break out. A few people stared at me curiously as I crossed the room, before returning to quiet contemplation, and I tried to picture how they vented their repressed tension when they got home. Maybe they put on Nirvana at high volume and head-banged around their living rooms. I collected a drink from the vending machine and stood by the window. The view was another reason for the sombre atmosphere. Snow was still falling, security lights blazing from the perimeter wall, an ambulance waiting by the entrance gates. The place looked as secure as Colditz: a few patrolmen with bayonets and Gestapo crests on their caps would have completed the scene. I glanced round the room again, but no one met my eye.
On the way back to my office, I saw a prisoner refusing to follow instructions. He looked like a textbook illustration of mental disorder. Everything about him was ragged, from the tears in his sleeves to his unkempt beard.
'I shouldn't be here,' he yelled at a trio of male nurses. 'They're trying to kill me.'
The man's claw-like hands kept plucking at his clothes, and I wondered what his original crime had been. An orderly was struggling to grab his arm. From a distance it looked like he was trying to tether a scarecrow to the ground in the middle of a full-force gale.
* * *
It was dark by the time I left. Someone had cleared the paths, but the car park was still covered in snow. A van edged across the uneven surface, wheels spinning, before disappearing into the woods. My Toyota was groaning with cardboard boxes, containing everything I needed for the next six months, and I was keen to find my rented cottage. But when my key twisted in the ignition, nothing happened. The engine didn't even clear its throat. I drummed my fists on the steering wheel and breathed out a string of expletives. In my race to meet Gorski, I'd left the sidelights on. A gust of freezing air greeted me when I wrenched the door open, the hospital lights glittering on the horizon as I hunted in the boot for jump leads, cursing quietly to myself.
'Are you okay?' a voice asked.
When I straightened up, a man was looking down at me. It was too dark to tell whether he was concerned or amused.
'My battery's dead.'
'Stay there. I'll bring my car.'
He parked his four-wheel drive in front of my Toyota, and took the leads from my hands. I felt like telling him I could do it myself, but at least it gave me time to observe him. He was medium height and thickset, his cap so low over his forehead that I couldn't see his hair colour. All I could make out was the fixed line of his jaw, wide cheekbones, and his blank expression. It was hard to know whether he loved rescuing damsels in distress, or resented every second. He didn't say a word as the engines revved. Icy water leaked through the soles of my shoes, but he seemed comfortable, wrapped in his thick coat and walking boots. I got the impression that an earthquake would struggle to disturb his inner calm.
'You're the new recruit, aren't you?'
'That's me.' I nodded. 'I'm at the Laurels, doing research.'
'Lucky you. Up close and personal with our world-class freaks and psychos.' His expression remained deadpan.
'Are you on the clinical team?'
He gave a short laugh. 'God, no, I'd probably kill someone. I'm a humble fitness instructor.'
The man looked anything but humble. There was something disturbing about his eyes, so pale they were almost colourless. The car purred quietly as he unhooked the jump leads.
'You're a life-saver. I owe you one.'
'Buy me a drink some time. Did anyone tell you what happened to Gorski's last visitor?'
'It's probably best you don't know.' He raised his hand in a brief salute then walked away.
I was so happy my car had revived that I didn't question his statement. He'd disappeared down the exit road before I realised he hadn't even told me his name.
Excerpted from The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes. Copyright © 2014 Kate Rhodes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I’m amazed I haven’t heard more about this author before because her book is pretty amazing.The Winter Foundling offers an interesting setting (a psychiatric hospital), where Britian’s most prolific child killer is locked up, an engaging main character who is a psychologist (rather than the usual detective) and a plot that is fast-paced and ruthless. A gripping thriller that I’d recommend to all thriller fans. I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.