Unconventional Detective Inspector Liam McLusky is plunged into a major murder investigation in this gritty police procedural series.
On his first day back at work following his suspension, DI McLusky finds himself in the midst of a major murder enquiry when a body is discovered in the canal at Netham Lock. Chained, weighted down, tied to a buoy by the neck, it has all the hallmarks of a premeditated, ritualistic killing. As he questions those who knew the victim in an attempt to uncover the dead woman’s secrets, McLusky’s investigations are disrupted by the discovery of a second body. Bound and gagged like the first – but there are differences.
If McLusky could only work out what connects the victims, he would be one step closer to catching the killer – and preventing more deaths.
Meanwhile, his rival DI Kat Fairfield is pursuing a routine investigation which takes a decidedly sinister turn …
About the Author
Born in Germany, Peter Helton now lives in Bath, Somerset. He has a Fine Art degree, and paints and exhibits regularly in London, Cornwall and Bath, writing in his spare time. As well as the Chris Honeysett mystery series, he is the author of the DI Liam McLusky series.
Read an Excerpt
A Good Way to Go
A Detective Inspector McLusky novel
By Peter Helton
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 Peter Helton
All rights reserved.
It was late, much later than she had planned to get home, but it had been a good evening and for once she had really enjoyed herself. Jasmine Rogers took her mobile from her handbag before dumping the bag on the hall table. Shouldn't have had the coffee of course, it was back to work first thing tomorrow, or today, to be precise, but she was always faintly nervous around other people's dinner tables and it was good to have something to hold on to, a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a cigarette. No one smoked anymore of course, she was the last of her friends to have given up and it was at gatherings like tonight's when she longed to be able to reach for a cigarette. She was glad there were none in the house right now, the urge was so strong. In the sitting room by the sofa she kicked off her shoes – you were seventy per cent more comfortable with your shoes off, she had read somewhere – and went into the kitchen without bothering to turn on the light. Jasmine had lived in this tiny two-bedroom house for twelve years now and was sure she could navigate every inch of it blindfolded. Having filled a tall glass with water from the tap she greedily drank from it, then refilled it. She'd had too much wine too and hoped the alcohol would win over the caffeine once she got to bed. There was nothing worse than ... than ...
A sudden feeling of unease appeared as if from nowhere. She lost the thread of her thought and stopped halfway to the door. Standing very still in the dark she sniffed the air. What was that smell? A strange smell. No, not strange, unfamiliar. A smell that didn't belong here. A faint whiff of something like cheap aftershave or air freshener. Perhaps she had brought it with her from the party though she didn't remember smelling it there. Did she carry it with her from the minicab? That certainly had smelled of all sorts of things, some best not too closely analyzed.
Jasmine tried to shrug off the feeling of unease and left the dark kitchen. She carried her glass of water, a nightly ritual, to the bottom of the stairs where she flicked off the downstairs lights. Just as she did so an after-image of the little dark wood mantelpiece tugged at her eyes and once more made her stop in the dark. Was something missing there? She flicked the light back on and went to examine it.
The house was sparsely decorated and there were few ornaments – you had to show restraint in a house this small – and the same five items, dutifully dusted once a week, had stood on top of the mantle for years: a tiny fake bronze of a satyr brought back from Crete; a heavy lump of pink quartz inherited from an aunt; a black ceramic candle stick holding a red candle she never lit; a framed picture of her younger self cuddling a dog now long dead; and a hand-carved wooden bowl with a rose motif around the rim, always empty. It was all there, all five items.
Then why did it make her feel queasy to look at them? Perhaps she was more drunk than she realized. A sip of water. She didn't really feel sick, it was more a mental queasiness, like having been asked an urgent question in a language she barely understood. She tore herself away, turned off the lights again and this time climbed the short stair, automatically avoiding the spot that creaked on the third step from the top.
On the narrow landing she halted and sniffed again: those refreshment towels soaked in eau de Cologne that you got with finger food? As always she had left the narrow window on the landing ajar since all the kitchen odours seemed to waft upstairs, so perhaps that was how the smell had drifted in. In her bedroom – she used the smaller, quieter one in the back – she undressed. What a relief. The place felt stuffy. It was unnaturally mild for the middle of March but she just knew that the moment she turned the heating off the weather would turn icy again. She flicked off the light and opened the window a crack to let in some air. Below, quietly, almost imperceptibly, her little low-maintenance garden was awakening in the mild air. Yet even here at the window she thought she could smell the faint, alien perfume. She had it in her nose now, she supposed, no point in obsessing about it. Living alone could turn people peculiar; she always worried about that, worried she was becoming eccentric. Peculiar habits. Obsessions. Talking to yourself.
'Talking to yourself,' she said aloud to her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The buzz of her electric toothbrush was loud in her ears, drowning out the little night noises. She was glad this was a quiet neighbourhood – quiet for Bristol, anyway – and her neighbours on both sides elderly. Never a noise. Probably asleep since ten. As she replaced the toothbrush on its holder the smell came strongly into her nostrils. She had it now: deodorant. All-over body spray. One of those things that made men irresistible in television adverts. Someone out there must have seriously overdone it.
She padded back into the bedroom in the dark and slid into bed. The sheets were cool on her skin but that wouldn't last. She really liked her days warm and her nights cool. Lying on her back she plucked the blanket loosely around herself and closed her eyes.
With the window and the door to the landing open a tiny breath of air stirred from time to time, caressing the skin on her exposed arms. Forty-six years old and all that touches me is the wind. Don't go there, or you'll never sleep. She reached for her glass of water, always in the same place so she could find it in the dark.
The mantelpiece. Jasmine shot upright, pulled the bed sheet up to her neck and swung her legs out of bed. She knew now. The phone, the phone, where was her mobile? Now she knew there was someone in the house. It didn't come from outside, the smell was here, on the inside. Because someone was here. Her feet tangled with the bed sheet on her flight to the door where she ripped her dressing gown off the hook and frantically struggled into it. She couldn't smell it now but she knew someone was hiding. The proof was downstairs. Why did she leave her phone there? Never let your phone out of reach, it's not safe, not even in your own house. Irresolute she stood on the landing. The spare bedroom. Its door was closed. He had to be in there. It was the only place she hadn't been in tonight. Her nostrils flared as she tried to sniff out the intruder. He was waiting in there. Get to the phone. Downstairs. Get to the phone. Holding her breath she backed away from the closed door to the top of the stairs. With infinite care she let herself down along the handrail, backwards, avoiding the stair that creaked, step by step, down to the bottom. Her hand fluttered as she groped for the light switch, never taking her eyes off the top of the stairs.
She forced herself to look at the mantelpiece again, eyes wide, unblinking. Her stomach contracted into a twisted ball of fear. Yes, there were the same five ornaments that had always been there. But the order had been reversed as though she was looking at it in the mirror. Her eyes sought other surfaces. The top of the television: ceramic dog and glass paperweight, reversed. The bookshelf: pine cone, sea shell and Moroccan lantern, wrong way around. Even the cushions on the sofa: swapped over. The telephone on the writing desk by the window looked miles away. She felt she might never make it across the room. Her mobile lay on the coffee table. She tiptoed across to it, scrabbled it off the shiny surface of the table and dialled the emergency number.CHAPTER 2
The ashtray was full. And the tray appeared to be stuck. Perhaps it really was time to buy a new car then. If and when. McLusky dropped the cigarette end out of the window where it expired with a hiss on the wet tarmac. The country lane was quiet. Magically the rain had stopped at the precise moment he had left the pub and now he could see the clouds were breaking up, revealing the first stars. It was still too warm for the time of year but the air felt clear now, and wonderfully breathable.
He worried with his thumbnail at a small crack in the windscreen. Of course the old Mazda had more serious faults than a cracked windscreen and an ashtray that couldn't be emptied. He had bought the sports version, which meant the engine was thirsty. Neither heater nor air con worked. Driving below thirty made something under the bonnet – all things mechanical were mysterious to McLusky – screech in protest. He also thought the front right corner sagged a bit, which might explain why the steering always pulled a little to one side. If and when, he would buy a new car. Not a new new car obviously, but perhaps not another impulse buy.
He was thirsty again now. Beer created its own thirst. Normally there'd be a bottle of water rolling around somewhere but he knew it was empty. The problem with drinking in country pubs was the whole thing about driving back afterwards; if you stuck to the drink-and-drive limit it was hardly worth going there and if you didn't then you risked your licence. And if you were a detective inspector, your job.
If and when they gave him his job back. He'd find out soon. But if he added a drink-and-drive charge to his tally his career would definitely be finished, Superintendent Denkhaus would see to it. Which is why he had pulled over just a couple of miles from the pub when he realized he really had overdone it this time. He'd been sitting in this passing place, just beyond a crossroads of single-track lanes for half an hour now. He should have eaten something at the pub but the only things they'd had left were a few sandwiches and some samosas. McLusky hadn't been tempted. If at all possible he avoided triangular food. Food shouldn't be triangular, it simply wasn't natural.
Let the effect of the beer wear off a bit. Normally the chances of being stopped weren't that high, unless you drove like an idiot right in front of a patrol car. His problem was that he had managed to make himself conspicuous by getting a suspension for unauthorized firearms use, the firearm in question being a confiscated sawn-off shotgun. Which was another argument for buying a new car: since he had been suspended, everyone on the force seemed to recognize an olive green Mazda 323 with a long scrape along the passenger side and an unearthly engine noise.
He lit another cigarette. Nine weeks of enforced idleness. What could have taken them so long? Nine weeks was more holidays than he had taken in years. He had spent all of it in the city, reading in steamed-up cafés, brooding in pubs, rattling about in the flat he rented above Rossi's, the Italian grocer's in Northmoor Street. He had adopted The George, a countrified pub just north-west of the city, for some of his drinking after twice running into CID colleagues from Albany Road station in his more usual haunts. It was the solicitous questions as much as the gossip he found hard to cope with. Many officers drank at the Green Man of course, a pub virtually monopolized by CID. McLusky was glad for the Green Man; he thought of it as 'bunching the idiots' and studiously avoided the place.
He took a deep drag from his cigarette and gave the ashtray another try. Perhaps if he pulled hard enough and twisted upward at the same time ...? The tray flew out of its socket, showering him with cigarette butts and enveloping him in a thick cloud of bitter ash.
'Marvellous.' He could taste cigarette ash on his lips and spat out of the window. Then he got out and started brushing ash and fag ends off the seat, the steering wheel and himself. 'Filthy habit, Liam,' he admonished himself. McLusky had given up smoking several times but never for longer than a few ill-tempered weeks.
The sound of an engine made him stop and listen. He got back behind the wheel. The lane was very narrow, despite the passing place, and the approaching car, definitely a car, sounded as though it was travelling at speed. A sudden attack of paranoia made him take the keys out of the ignition, so as not to appear drunk in charge of a vehicle. He slid down low in the driver's seat, stirring up more ash that tingled in his nose. In no time at all the car appeared in the rear-view mirror. Being a police officer he recognized the make of the car even in the dark from its silhouette: a clapped-out, ancient Golf. He looked around. Only one headlamp was working and the interior lights were on. Two young men in the front, wearing identical blue baseball caps. Going too fast. Looking panicked. Now McLusky could hear the wail of a following police siren, getting closer. There came the tyre-screech of hard braking. He watched with disgust as the Golf snaked to a stop just past the narrow turn-off, reversed, then disappeared up the lane. The car's lights disappeared, the cabin lights winked out at last. Seconds later a small, rural patrol car blew past his window, the driver never giving him or the turn-off a glance, carrying straight on.
'You won't catch them like that, laddie,' McLusky called after him and started his engine. It screeched like a banshee. He accelerated away hard, turned into the lane the Golf had taken, and accelerated some more. Because of his suspension from duty he no longer carried his airwave radio or it would have been simple to let control know which way the suspects had taken. He also had no siren on the car but he did manage to lay a groping hand on the magnetic blue beacon, reached through the window and stuck it on to the Mazda's roof. Of course he had no idea why the patrol car was chasing them but it hardly mattered; if they refused to stop for a siren then they were always worth checking out. He could no longer see them and the patrol car's siren had disappeared too. He was pushing hard along the narrow lane. It rose and fell, curved left and right as it followed the contours of the fields, hidden on both sides behind dense hedges. It might of course simply be a drunk driver trying to avoid losing his licence. It occurred to him that so was he, and for a moment his foot went light on the accelerator. But after all he, McLusky, was on the side of the angels. Generally speaking. And anyway, he felt fine now, was probably barely over the limit.
He caught a faint glow of brake lights far ahead and pushed on. He was unfamiliar with these lanes. Another narrow crossroads, fingerposts unreadable as he flew past them, following the beacon of brake lights ahead. More than once he had to brake heavily to avoid ending up in one hedge or another. The steering really was a bit vague but the engine was fine, it really did move, this thing.
Then all at once he was right behind them. He could see the panicked white face of the passenger as he squinted over his shoulder. McLusky flashed his headlights. 'Yes, it's the feds, you morons!'
The fleeing driver responded by speeding up. McLusky thought he saw wisps of steam or smoke escaping from the bonnet of the Golf as the distance between the two cars increased once more. He hung back. Somewhere in a stone-cold sober corner of his mind he knew that the responsible thing was to let the two idiots go before they crashed their car. But the greater part of him, the one in charge of this evening's entertainment, really wanted to see the little buggers stuff their car into a hedge. His foot pressed hard on the accelerator. Steering through the corners required an equal mix of skill and luck now, then all of a sudden he had caught up with them again. He drove as close to their rear bumper as he dared, his lights on full beam now, dazzling in the fugitives' mirrors.
Then he saw it coming, long before the fleeing driver did: a sharp, almost right-angled corner, marked by three cat's-eyed poles. McLusky braked hard, dipped his lights and wrestled his car to a stop just in time to watch it happen.
By the time the other driver reacted it was already too late. He stood on the brakes, locking the wheels. From that moment on he was just another passenger: locked wheels don't slow down. Unstoppable, the old Golf skidded, turning to the right until it arrived at the corner sideways. Its nearside wheels briefly dipped into the ditch before the car flipped over and flew through the hedge. It disappeared in a cloud of leaves, dust and smoke on the other side.
McLusky pulled forward around the corner beyond the scene of the accident and got out. A few yards further on he vaulted a five-bar gate into the field that the hedge was protecting.
Excerpted from A Good Way to Go by Peter Helton. Copyright © 2014 Peter Helton. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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