A dark slice of Cardiff crime for fans of TONY PARSONS, JAMES OSWALD and LUCA VESTE. There isn't always a welcome in the valleys . . .
Bombs detonate in a busy souk, causing massive devastation.
An explosion rips apart a mosque, killing and injuring those inside.
But this isn't the Middle East - this is Cardiff . . .
In a city where tensions are already running high, DC Will MacReady and his colleagues begin the desperate hunt for the attacker. If they knew the 'why', then surely they can find the 'who'? But that isn't so easy, and time is fast running out . . .
MacReady is still trying to prove himself after the horrific events of the previous year, which left his sergeant injured and his job in jeopardy, so he feels sidelined when he's asked to investigate a vicious knife attack on a young woman.
But all is not as it seems with his new case, and soon MacReady must put everything on the line in order to do what is right.
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About the Author
Mike has previously had two novels published and was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year and was on the list of Waterstones 'New Voices'. His second novel, Ugly Bus, is currently in development for a six part series with the BBC.
He lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife, children and a senile dog who enjoys eating furniture.
Read an Excerpt
By Mike Thomas
Bonnier Zaffre Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Mike Thomas
All rights reserved.
It was a beautiful day in a summer of beautiful days.
Late August, and everyone was accustomed to the temperature now: weeks of cloying heat making sweat-sheened brows and shirt-backs slick with perspiration the norm. Kaftans and loose-fitting dresses and sandals treading arid ground. Shorts and T-shirts and seared skin itching beneath knock-off football shirts, cheap sunglasses sitting above bright and genuine smiles. The world was a happier place. Upbeat. Lighter.
The sun does that to people, he thinks. For a little while, at least. Gives them just enough good times to bank the memories, ready to draw on during the harsh winter which lies ahead. Ready for the darkness.
He smells citrus and mint and smoked animal flesh as he slides from the beat-up car, reaches back in to grab his belongings from the dusty passenger seat. Breathes in the aroma as he shrugs on his rucksack, adjusts his baseball cap and shades, listens to the shouts from the vendors, to the various sound systems battling for attention: Berber flutes, the bouncing basstwang of reggae, the percussive beats of drums iced with the tsss of finger cymbals, the music louder and more intoxicating as he wanders through the open entrance gates. Face downcast, he pushes through the sticky bodies of the crowd, through still air which seems to thicken and catch in his throat.
This market, this souk, is full. A noisy mess of colour and energy, of spices, preserved lemons and handbags, of shawls and carpets and a thousand pairs of shoes for sale. Clutches of people catching up and talking of family, of loved ones, of all the things which make life tick tock in that mundane yet wonderful way when you're a part of it. Tick tock. Tick tock. And the sun beats down and they swig at water bottles, sip at spiced tea and freshly squeezed orange juice, hands swinging plastic sacks filled with yams and figs, with third-hand clothing, with decade-old video games, with just-couldn't-resist bargains to be used once and instantly forgotten.
He finds the food stall immediately, drawn by the delicious smell drifting on smoke over the crowds: a makeshift grill beneath a sun-bleached canopy, trestle tables lined with earthenware dishes of tabbouleh, hummus, just-charred spiced sausages and myriad sweet pastries. Great shanks of meat hang from the creaking timbers, unbothered by the buzzing flies and casting long shadows onto the faces of the two Somali men – brothers, they must be, he thinks, eyeing them – who laugh and joke with glossy customers, with the mishmash of nationalities who have flocked here from surrounding towns and villages to cluck in their mother tongues over dried fruits and bowls of couscous.
Off to one side he waits a while. Just is, as unmoving as the air which warms his lungs. The people at the stall are so happy, emitting satisfied moans as they chew. The brothers moving this way and that, rolling wraps, slathering them with harissa, handing them over to grabbing hands. He finds one of his feet tapping to the music, glances around and sees garishly clad women dancing through streams of grinning people, an oily chancer hassling families for a paid photograph with the snake he has draped over one forearm.
Tap, tap. Tick tock. He begins to drift, such is the atmosphere. Momentarily forgets where he is. Starts to lose himself. A small part of him enjoying what is going on here. He looks down again, thinks of walking away. Leaving the market. Getting into the car and driving into the morning haze.
He is a moment from going home when he hears the unmistakeable sound of someone hawking mucus from the depths of their chest. Hears them spit the resultant phlegm, sees it land in the dirt just inches from his right foot. It sends a minute mushroom cloud of dust rippling outwards, one edge of it settling on the bulled toecap of his army surplus boot.
He glances up from under the brim of his 'ball cap. Notices the three figures. Three teenagers, all faded branded sports gear and leers. Staring at him. Motionless, like him.
He swallows. Moves through the crowd, moves away from them. No aggro here. Not today. He doesn't want it. Doesn't need it, not now of all times. And yet they follow him, move parallel with him, pushing through the throng, their belligerent faces bobbing over the heads of the people, seeking him out, their nasty, toothy grins visible over mops of hair and ponytails and braids and sunglasses. And he is trying to work out why, why him, why now, what do they want, what has he done to them, and then they are in front of him, one of them poking a finger into his chest, hard, and he remembers they don't need a why, and he needn't have done anything to them, and that is why he is here.
They circle him, step closer, uncomfortably close, invading his personal space, and one of them, a thickset teen with a shaven eyebrow, reaches out, grips his coat by the collar and yanks at him.
And this is a little inconvenient, but it was time to start anyway.
Deep breath. Deep, deep breath.
He pulls aside one flap of his jacket, shows them what hangs beneath.
Three pairs of eyes widen. The one with the eyebrow, his hand falls away. Lifts upwards, as if to ward him off. Head shaking. The three of them, backing away and into the scrum of oblivious market-goers. Their shouted warnings drowned by the music.
He smiles. Calmer than he thought he would be. Shrugs off his rucksack and places it on the ground. Reaches inside and pulls them out. One, two, three. Enough for now. Digs out his lighter, sparks it. Watches the dancing women, the happy families. Taps his foot and nods his head in time to the beat from a nearby sound system.
Lights one of the fuses and tosses the IED into the crowd.
Hoists his ruck to one shoulder, walks away, quickly, twenty feet or so, lights another fuse, tosses another IED, swivels on his heel, lights and lobs the third. Walks over to the stall with the Somali brothers, customers still gathered for the street food, joins the jam in front.
Waits, eyes unblinking behind his shades.
They're louder than he thought they would be, and he flinches a little as the bombs go off. The people in front of him at the stall, they hunch down, confused, the market suddenly quiet, just for a few seconds, and then the screams begin, and the wails can be heard over the music, and the people no longer wish to purchase food and scatter like rats, and the Somali brothers have stopped, mouths agape, looking past him, behind him at some unspeakable horror, one of them with a half-rolled flatbread hanging limply from frozen fingers.
Then they notice him. Standing there. Alone. A grin beneath his shades.
Head bobbing to the music. Foot still tapping away.
'Don't,' he warns, because he still has to finish this, but the brothers, they know, they're coming around the stall, advancing on him, grabbing hands raised and lips drawn back as they snarl and holler and he can't understand a word they're saying and he has no time for this so swipes back the flap of his jacket, raises the sawn-off he's tied to his shoulder and levels it at them. Neither man sees it. Two quick taps on the trigger and they both lurch backwards and out of sight. He notices blood in the tabbouleh, on top of the trestle table. Breaks open the shotgun, drops the spent cartridges into his jacket pocket. Reloads the barrels, racks them closed.
The building is at the back of the market, a thrown-together effort of breezeblock and chipboard and indifference. He heads for it, ignoring the screams and the rivulets of red, and when he reaches the door he kicks it open, quickly scans the interior: concrete floor, solitary desk and chair, titty calendars, television, all wrapped in the smell of chicken fat and cheap cigarettes.
A pair of wide, white eyes peeking over the rim of the desk.
He swings the shotgun around, aims at them.
The market owner. He bolts upright from behind the desk. One hand skywards in half-surrender, the other clamping a mobile phone to his ear. The dark skin of his face drenched with sweat, his underarms shadowy blooms of perspiration on the fabric of his lime polo shirt.
'Don't shoot,' the market owner pleads.
He drops the rucksack. Cocks his head. Listens. Can hear a voice on the other end of the line from where he stands: urgent, shrill.
Sir, where are you? We're tracing the call, but where are you?
'I won't,' he says, and sparks the lighter. Touches it to the fuse inside the rucksack. Tosses the whole thing to the desk and leaves.
He hears the door slam, the market owner yelling after him, quickens his pace, time against him. Tick tock. Breaks into a sprint, the rucksack going up in the office behind him, a colossal whump of an explosion, the earth quivering beneath his boots, almost throwing him forwards and off his feet, but he regains his balance and runs through the dead and the dying, looks around at what he has done as he goes, sees sprayed spices and torn baskets and punctured tinned goods, bodies and body parts, the music still playing, so incongruous, so surreal, and then he is out through the gates, running with the panicked crowd – mingling, disappearing – and he hears no sirens so yanks open the car door and dumps himself inside and starts the engine and drives away.
And it is such a beautiful day in Cardiff.CHAPTER 2
All Inspector James Doolan could think was: don't fuck this one up.
Five years in, twenty-eight years old and a fast-tracker being groomed for better things – he'd already had the nod that he was looking at National Police Chiefs Council rank by the time he hit fifteen years in the job – he'd done all the courses, the classroom exercises covering hostage negotiation and crime scene containment, the practicals and hands-on riot training days where he'd suffered the sniggers and catcalls as the bottom-feeding PCs gleefully threw Molotovs and rubber bricks at his riot shield. He'd understood their enmity towards him: he was an accelerated promotion drone, the type hated by response cops and frontline departments who were at the coalface day in day out, who assumed he spent his hours hidden in an air-conditioned office formulating pie charts and massaging crime figures for the bean counters at HQ and the Home Office.
It made him want to be a better officer, to spend more time – any time that he could – on the street, to prove to any and all of them that he could cut it, that he wasn't just another clone, that they could rely on him. But his life, since joining, had been a whirlwind of examinations and self-reflective essays, of soft handshakes and knowing smiles from seniors with silver spaghetti on their epaulettes, of complete and utter immersion in every aspect of police policy and procedure, from filling out the most mundane of property labels to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement strategy meetings about the latest shithouse rape merchant who'd decided to set up a squalid home in the division he now ran as its new bronze inspector.
Yet none of it had prepared him for this.
This was carnage.
Out of control.
They even had the army here, for Christ's sake.
The National Police Air Service chopper thundered overhead, whipping a rising funnel of dark smoke into a drab spiral which hung against the bright-blue summer sky. A fire still raged somewhere inside Bessemer Road Market and firefighters hovered outside the cordon tape, hoses poised and at the ready, unable to enter, frustration etched on their faces. Radios from ambulance crews, paramedics, fire and police officers crackled and bleeped, filling the air with metallic voices. TV crews jostled for space, interviewing members of the public who'd turned up to gawp or weep openly, questioning PCSOs who lined the police tape, even questioning each other when they ran out of people to collar, before turning to camera to opine and theorise for their ever-hungry twenty-four-hour-news junkies. So loud here, with everyone milling around helplessly, watching through the gaps in the metal perimeter fence as teams of firearms officers and army personnel worked the scene, moving quickly and quietly, Heckler & Koch submachine guns sweeping and clearing.
Over it all, audible and gut-scraping: the moans of the injured.
Still inside. Still untreated, twenty minutes after some lunatic had decided to attack the market. Nobody was allowed in, not until the Tac teams had declared the scene safe.
'Gold is still ten minutes away. She's asking for an update.'
Doolan looked at his companion: an unreconstructed dinosaur of a PC named Derek, who had been 'gifted' to him as his radio operator. Doolan knew it was because nobody else wanted to work with a slick career boy such as himself, and that management had nowhere else to place Derek, who was a lazy uniform-carrier from somewhere near Pontypridd who still described female officers as split-arses and them lesbo types.
Doolan shook his head. 'Tell her I'd prefer to have some CID suits here to take ownership of this thing.'
The PC arched an eyebrow, reached up to one of his radios. 'Really?'
'No, Derek,' Doolan sighed, more out of disappointment that Derek clearly felt somebody else would do a better job of running this incident. 'Tell her there is no update. Firearms are still clearing.'
'Bet you'd prefer to be in your cushy office, though,' Derek smiled. Added as an afterthought: 'Sir.'
Doolan turned to him. Thought about chewing him out. Decided against it. 'Just tell her.'
Derek shrugged, began to transmit. Hesitated. Placed a finger up to his earpiece, screwed up his face in concentration.
Doolan watched, eyes narrowed, as Derek's eyes did the opposite.
'What the fuck?' Derek blurted.
Doolan glanced upwards, saw the chopper suddenly peel away, nose down and heading west towards the coast at speed. Heard rapid footfalls and shouts and the roar of engines behind him, spun around to see paramedics sprinting back to their wagons, firefighters yanking open doors to their engines and clambering in, an ARV car printing tyre marks on tarmac as it powered out of the cordon. Mobile phones trilled and blasted ringtones, dozens of radios squawked in unison.
He looked back to Derek. 'What is it?'
'There's been another one'
It didn't compute. Doolan shook his head, his stomach a knot. Another what?'
'The guy who did this ...' Derek said robotically, finger still up to his ear. 'Same description ... clothing ... he just hit a mosque in Penarth. There are casualties ...'
Doolan blanched. 'No. It can't be. He barely had time to get from here to there ...'
Derek was glancing about. 'We don't need this now.'
'The city doesn't need this now' Doolan replied. 'The Castle case. It's already enough. Too much'
'Gold is diverting to Penarth,' Derek said, listening to a different radio.
'Good' Doolan closed his eyes.
Wished, for the first time in his career, that he really was in a cushy office creating a pie chart.CHAPTER 3
Five of them sitting in the dock of Crown Court One. A row of apathy and barely concealed arrogance. Wrapped in oh-so-civilised black tie and white shirt combos which were only marginally less ill-fitting than the uniforms worn by the equally uninterested G4S prison officer civvies who bookended the accused.
DC Will MacReady saw their disgraceful sniggers and winks to their friends and fam in the public gallery. The sideways glances and wanker hand gestures and sullen stares at any police officer who happened to be in the courtroom. All of it in front of the deceased's parents, who had attended every day of every week since the trial began, shuffling in with backs bowed as if broken from the weight of it all, who had sat and listened, jaws tightening, as the prosecution barrister listed the injuries to their sixteen-year-old son, their kid who went out and never returned, their boy who suffered horrendous bruising and broken bones and multiple puncture wounds from a knife, one of which was delivered with such venom that it cleaved a rib clean in half before puncturing his heart.
Alexander Castle. Just sixteen, a high-achieving, sport-loving student, never in trouble in his life and on a night out with friends to celebrate finishing his GCSE exams. The antithesis of the teenagers fidgeting in the dock – all of them known to police for years, with myriad pre-convictions and much time spent over the wall in prison. Theft. Dwelling burglaries. Public order. Dealing. Dozens of street robberies where they pulled knives on anyone who dared resist.
Excerpted from Unforgivable by Mike Thomas. Copyright © 2017 Mike Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Bonnier Zaffre Ltd..
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
From the opening pages of "Unforgivable" you are thrown into this hard hitting, gritty and true to life story full force. An lone attacker enters a yearly multicultural market/Souk in Cardiff and starts throwing IED's and then continues to set off a rucksack bomb. Death, panic and commotion ensues. Shortly after an explosion rips apart a mosque, while in a courtroom across the city a group of Asians are on trial for the vicious assault and murder of a young white male. The details of the murder are horrendous and quite upsetting - quite understandable that there is now unrest in the city due to this crime. The author Mike Thomas describes the vibrant Souk in such detail as to make you believe you are actually there, smelling the spices and the food cooking and listening to all the different languages chattering about. DC Will MacReady and his colleagues are tasked with finding the attacker - whilst still trying to prove himself after a horrific event the previous year. However, he feels sidelined when he's asked to investigate a vicious knife attack on a young woman. I haven't read the first in the MacReady series but there's enough in this book for it to be read and understood as a standalone. I wasn't aware there were so many different departments across the police force and the author is well informed at all the different jobs that these officers do. There was a lot of sarcasm and negativity between the officers at times, but under pressure like they were here, I imagine this would be normal. Action packed tension filled with emotion and intrigue this book is a brilliant read. Combining a police procedural with a powerful thriller storyline - I highly recommend "Unforgivable" and I would happily read more by Mike Thomas again. 4 stars