Authors: Mo Hayder
Praise for Mo Hayder's
“A top-notch debut thriller, a deftly plotted assault on the nerves … Graphic, disturbing, splendidly readable.”
“A crime thriller with a worldly, been-around-the-block sophistication … a tight yarn with well-researched detail on postmortems, crime-scene scrutiny, chemical and medical analysis and police procedure … Ms. Hayder's writing is crisp and tart.”
The New York Times
“A blood-curdlingly creepy debut thriller …
's plot has more twists than a surgeon's knot.”
“This nerve-pulsing thriller preys on expectations to give readers a graphically told, disturbing story.”
The Poisoned Pen
“I have to hand it to this author…. In thehands of a lesser writer, this plot would not have worked … her work here is impressive. I won't hesitate to read her next book.”
“It'll scare the hell out of you.”
“Riveting … eerie and tense … a frightening book!”
Also by Mo Hayder
HEN IT WAS ALL OVER, DI
Jack Caffery, South London Area Major Investigation Team (AMIT), would admit that, of all the things he had witnessed in Brixton that cloudy July evening, it was the crows that jarred him the most.
They were there when he came out of the Peaches' house—twenty or more of them standing in their hooded way on the lawn of the neighboring garden, oblivious to the police tape, the onlookers, the technicians. Some had their beaks open. Others appeared to be panting. All of them faced him directly, as if they knew what had happened in the house. As if they were having a sly laugh about the way he'd reacted to the scene.
Later he would accept that the crows' behavior was a biological tic, that they couldn't see into his thoughts, couldn't have known what had happened to the Peach family, but even so the sight of them made the back of his neck tingle. He paused at the top of the garden path to strip off his overalls and hand them to a forensics officer, pulled on the shoes he'd left outside the police tape and waded out into the birds. They took to the air, rattling their petrolly feathers.
Brockwell Park—a huge, thrown-together isosceles of forest and grass with its apex at Herne Hill station—rambles
for over a mile along the boundary of two very different parts of South London. On its western perimeter, the badlands of Brixton—where some mornings council workers have to drop sand on the streets to soak up the blood— and, to the east, Dulwich, with its flower-drenched almshouses and John Soane skylights. Donegal Crescent lay snug up against Brockwell Park—anchored at one foot by a boarded-up pub, at the other by a Gujarati-owned corner shop. It was part of a quiet little council estate, rows of fifties terraced houses bare to the sky, no trees in the front gardens, window frames and doors painted chocolate brown. The houses looked on to a horseshoeshaped piece of balding grass where kids skidded their bikes in the evening. Caffery could imagine the Peaches must have felt relatively safe here.
Back in his shirt sleeves, grateful for the fresh air outside, he rolled a cigarette and crossed to the group of officers next to the Scientific Support Command Unit's van. They fell silent as he approached and he knew what they were thinking. He was only in his midthirties—not a senior-rank warhorse—but most officers in South London knew who he was. “One of the Met's Young Turks,” the
had called him. He knew he was respected in the force and he always found it a bit freaky.
If they knew half of it.
He hoped they wouldn't notice that his hands were trembling.
“Well?” He lit the cigarette and looked at a sealed plastic evidence bag a junior forensics officer was holding. “What've you got?”
“We found it just inside the park, sir, about twenty yards from the back of the Peaches'.”
Caffery took the bag and turned it over carefully. A Nike Air Server trainer, a child's shoe, slightly smaller than his hand. “Who found it?”
“The dogs, sir.”
“They lost the trail. At first they had it—they had it good, really good.” A sergeant in the blue shirt of the dog handlers' unit stood on tiptoe and pointed over the roofs to where the park rose in the distance, blotting out the sky
with its dark forests. “They took us round the path that scoots over the west of the park—but after half a mile they just drew a blank.” He looked dubiously at the evening sky. “And we've lost the light now.”
“Right. I think we need to speak to Air Support.” Caffery passed the trainer back to the forensics officer. “It should be in an air-drying bag.”
“There's blood on it. Didn't you see?”
The SSCU's dragonlights powered up, flooding the Peaches' house, spilling light onto the trees in the park beyond. In the front garden forensics officers in blue rubberized suits swept the lawn with dustpans, and outside the police tape shock-faced neighbors stood in knots, smoking and whispering, breaking off to huddle around any plainclothes AMIT detective who came near, full of questions. The press were there too. Losing patience.
Caffery stood next to the Command Unit van and stared up at the house. It was a two-story terraced house— pebble dashed, a satellite dish on the roof and a small patch of damp above the front door. There were matching scalloped nets in each window, and beyond them the curtains had been drawn tight.
He had only seen the Peach family, or what was left of them, in the aftermath, but he felt as if he knew them. Or, rather, he knew their archetype. The parents—Alek and Carmel—weren't going to be easy victims for the team to sympathize with: both drinkers, both unemployed, and Carmel Peach had sworn at the paramedics as they moved her into the ambulance. Their only son, nine-year-old Rory, Caffery hadn't seen. By the time he'd arrived the divisional officers had already pulled the house apart trying to find the child—in the cupboards, the attic, even behind the bath paneling. There were traces of blood on the skirting board in the kitchen, and the glass in the back door was broken. Caffery had taken a Territorial Support Group officer with him to search a boarded-up property two doors down, crawling through a hole in the back door on their bellies, flashlights in their teeth like an
adolescent's SAS fantasy. All they found were the usual homeless nesting arrangements. There was no other sign of life. No Rory Peach. The raw facts were bad enough and for Caffery they might have been custom-built to echo his own past.
Don't let it be a problem, Jack, don't let it turn into a headfuck.
“Jack?” DCI Danniella Souness said suddenly at his side. “Ye all right, son?”
He looked round. “Danni. God, I'm glad you're here.”
“What's with the face? Ye've a gob on ye like a dog's arse.”
“Thanks, Danni.” He rubbed his face and stretched. “I've been on standby since one o'clock this morning.”
“And what's the story on this?” She gestured at the house. “A wain gone missing, am I right? Rory?”
“Yes. We're going to be blowing some fuses on it—he's only nine years old.”
Souness blew air out of her nose and shook her head. She was solid, just five foot four, but she weighed twelve stone in her man's suit and boots. With her cropped hair and fair, Caledonian skin she looked more like a juvenile dressed for his first court appearance than a forty-year-old chief inspector. She took her job very seriously. “Right, the assessment team been?”
“We don't know we've got a death yet. No dead body, no assessment team.”
“Aye, the lazy wee bastards.”
“Local factory's taken the house apart and can't find him. I've had dogs and the territorials in the park. Air Support should be on their way.”
“Why do ye think he's in the park?”
“These houses all back onto it.” He pointed toward the woods that rose beyond the roofs. “We've got a witness saw
heading off into the trees from number thirty. Back door's unlocked, there's a hole in the fence, and the lads found a shoe just inside the park.”
“OK, OK, I'm convinced.” Souness folded her arms and tipped back on her heels, looking around at the technicians, the photographers, the divisional CID officers. On the doorstep of number thirty a camera operator was
checking his battery belt, lowering the heavy Betacam into a case. “Looks like a shagging film set.”
“The unit want to work through the night.”
“And what's with the ambulance? The one that almost ran me off the road.”
“Ah, yes—that was Mum. She and hubby have both been trundled off to King's. She'll make it but he hasn't got a hope. Where he was hit—” Caffery held his palm against the back of his head “—fucked him up some.” He checked over his shoulder then bent a little nearer to her, lowering his voice. “Danni. There're a few things we're going to have to keep from the press, a few things we don't want popping up in the tabloids.”
“It isn't a custody kidnap. He's their child—no exes involved.”
“A tiger, then?”
“Not a tiger either.” Tiger kidnaps meant ransom demands and the Peaches were not in an extortionist's financial league. “And, anyway, when you look at what else went on you'll know it's not bog standard.”
Caffery looked around at the journalists—at the neighbors. “Let's go in the van, eh?” He put his hand on Souness's back. “I don't want an audience.”
“Come on, then.” She hefted herself inside the SSCU's van and Caffery followed, reaching up to grip the roof rim and swing himself inside. Spades, cutting equipment and tread plates hung from the walls, a samples refrigerator hummed gently in the corner. He closed the door and hooked a stool over with his foot and handed it to her. She sat down and he sat opposite, feet apart, elbows on his knees, looking at her carefully.