Jack Harmon craves silence and a bird's eye view. From his new home in Palmyra Tower, he can raise binoculars to watch over west London. If he watches for long enough, he will learn who has secrets. He will learn who plans to kill. But Jack does not see everything. A man has died beneath a late-night train, and Jack's friend Stella, the detective's daughter, suspects it could have been murder. Now Jack and Stella are stirring up the past with questions that no one wants answered—questions that lead to an unsolved case nearly 20 years old.
About the Author
Lesley Thomson is the author of the Detective's Daughter series.
Read an Excerpt
The Detective's Secret
By Lesley Thomson
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2015 Lesley Thomson
All rights reserved.
Monday, 16 September 2013
Forty-three minutes past eleven. Dead on time, Jack brought his train to a stop at Ealing Broadway Underground station. Late-night passengers decanted and straggled up the stairs to the street. As usual he had seven minutes and thirty seconds before his journey to Barking. He would stable the train at the Earl's Court depot and then the night was his.
Ealing Broadway was the end of the line. On autopilot, Jack strolled up the platform to what, with the 'turn around', was the front of the train, glancing into the carriages. There was one woman in the second car. She was leafing through a Metro and looked up as he came alongside her. He thought he saw a flicker of fear pass across her face and quickened his pace. At this time of night a woman travelling alone might feel vulnerable; Jack hoped she would see his uniform and know he was a driver and not a passenger who could threaten her.
He opened the front cab door. Being a driver he swapped between different, but identical cabs at each end of the train during the course of a day or night. Travelling up and down the District line, he was never in one place for long: he thrived on the mix of stability and change. As the proprietor of a cleaning company, Stella restored stability in different locations. Pleased by this tenuous link between their working lives, Jack considered texting her. He put his hand in the fleece pocket of his uniform for his phone. But Stella called a spade a spade. His whimsy frustrated her and at this time of night would worry her. When Stella worried about Jack, she allocated him cleaning jobs – he worked part-time for her cleaning company, Clean Slate. Thinking of Stella made him wistful because since her mother had gone on holiday to Australia, she hadn't been herself. The change was fractional: a pause before she replied, an arrangement misremembered, a minute late to meet him because she'd walked the dog. Stella cared about her mum more than she let on.
Her father too. Two years after his death she still cleaned his house, ate supper there and did her emails at his computer with no sign of selling the place. Jack had once asked her if she was maintaining it for her father's ghost. She had retorted that she was waiting for the housing market to pick up. But prices were rising and even next to the Great West Road, the end of terrace in Hammersmith would fetch a small fortune. He dismissed the lurking notion that it was not a ghost Stella was waiting for, but a real live man. When Stella ended a relationship – eventually she always did – the dumped partner ceased to exist. Except her last man, the one who she thought a David Bowie lookalike, had left her with a dog; undeniable proof he had existed for her once.
He felt something in his pocket and fumbling under his phone pulled out a folded slip of paper.
Apartment in Water Tower.
A cosy home with detailed views.
If you crave silence and a bird's eye view – Jack squinted at the type in the watery lamplight – then Palmyra Tower is your home. Guardian wanted for Grade 1 listed Water Tower. You will sign a year-long contract with no breaks and be available to take up residence as soon as your application is accepted.
It was the flier he had found lying on the doormat when he left the house that morning. He had shoved it in his jacket pocket and, intent on getting to work, had thought no more about it. Reading it now, Jack was intrigued by the imperative you will. He touched his face to stop an involuntary twitch and, shivering, zipped up his fleece. The cheap pink paper didn't compete with Clean Slate's glossy brochure.
The style was a marketing ploy that Stella would reject as too obvious an attempt to be different. However the paper did carry an unnerving air of authority, so in that sense it had worked.
Beneath the text was a fuzzy photograph of the tower. It was functional, effectively a tank on stilts; a caged fire escape-like structure attached to one column gave access to it. It stood metres from Chiswick Eyot, an island in the Thames. As a boy, Jack had once tried to climb it, but couldn't open the cage. The steep aluminium staircases and narrow treads were not for the vertiginous.
There was no phone number on the flier. At last he found an email address in tiny lettering: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regardless of the amateur appearance, Jack guessed there would be a deluge of responses. For many, the tower would be the dream home. He scrunched up the flier and stuffed it back in his pocket. Leaning back on the cab door, Jack gazed up at the sky.
This section of the District line was above ground. The moon was a waning crescent in the sign of Leo. Stella was a Leo, as his mother had been. Two women with attitude, courageous and strong-willed. Jack's mother had died when he was a boy so what he didn't know about her he made up; this meant she was his particular brand of perfection.
A plane cut below the moon on its descent into Heathrow, the rumble of its engine carrying on the night breeze. Jack thought of the moon as his friend; it accompanied him on his walks. Or it had until he promised Stella to 'stop all that', although he doubted she understood what 'all that' was. The second hand on his watch ticked towards three minutes to twelve.
As soon as he stepped into the cab, Jack had a premonition of what would happen when he turned the key – it had happened here before. The motor whirred, but didn't start. His train was going nowhere.
He reported the train out of service, activated the door at the rear of his cab and went down the aisle of the cars ushering passengers off: seven altogether. Vaguely he noticed that the woman he had seen earlier wasn't among them. Back on the platform Jack felt a pricking at his temples: like last time, this breakdown was a sign. Like all signs, its meaning had yet to reveal itself.
The coffee stand was shut; a metal box covered with stars, it might be a magic trick about to emit a cloud of doves and many wished-for things. The moon had gone behind a cloud and the temperature had dropped. Jack picked up an empty coffee cup from the platform and tossed it into a litter bin two metres feet away. Bull's eye. The tracks hummed. He returned to the top end of the platform and, as the train approached, tipped a hand to the driver. His greeting wasn't returned. When the train was stationary, he peered into the empty cab at the rear.
With no train, he had no set number. Set numbers were the means of identifying a train and allocating it to a driver, but to Jack the set number was a sign. This train's number was 126. The last time this happened, his set number was 236 and led him to Stella.
Jack was tempted to rush from the station to evade whatever fate 126 decreed.
Running away is no escape if you don't know which direction is 'away'.
Jack rubbed his temples to eradicate the voice. Recently it came unbidden, like the voices of a high fever, and uttered dictums like a seer. It didn't feel his own. He looked up and saw the driver walking the length of the train towards him.
'All right?' Jack nodded.
'You're Jack.' The man had acne and looked no more than sixteen. 'They said you'd be here.' He offered no clue as to what he thought about this.
'Yes.' Jack agreed.
'I wanted you as my trainer, but you were fully booked,' the driver continued in a querulous tone.
'Ah.' Jack smiled. 'No matter, we're all the same.' Not true. He knew he was the best trainer, as he knew, although Stella never told him, that he was her best cleaner. Fact. Jack climbed into the cab after the driver. The doors swished shut.
The driver gripped the handle, his every nerve directed to his task. This wasn't the first time Jack had witnessed the terror of a novice driver. For him, responsibility for hundreds of passengers had come naturally when he had settled into the seat for the first time. It had felt right. But Jack wasn't like others.
Hands resting on thighs, Jack gazed out at bunched cables and silver rails converging and parting as the train left the station and increased speed.
On Google Street View, Jack could travel with the roll and click of a mouse. As if operating it now, he zoomed in on Stamford Brook station and focused on the strip of platform hundred metres away. Yet again he was reminded of the toy station he had bought as a boy. Grey and brown plastic with a detachable ticket office and a couple of sweet-vending machines, added for free because the toyshop man had felt sorry for him.
Jack's train slowed as it entered Stamford Brook station. There was one man on the westbound platform: he would have a wait: the information board was blank. Trains would be diverted to Richmond because of his dead train at Ealing Broadway. He felt a flash of poignancy that he had abandoned it to be shunted without him to the Acton depot. His concern for inanimate things frustrated Stella.
Jack's attention was taken by the headlights of a Heathrow-bound Piccadilly train lighting up the rails ahead. After Hammersmith, it wouldn't stop until Turnham Green.
Nervous of overshooting the platform, his driver was applying the brake too soon. The last time Jack's train had broken down at Ealing Broadway, he had been sitting in the cab of a novice driver. Everything about this man was the same as the other; both moved their lips as if silently talking. The Piccadilly train was nearly on them – its headlights flooded the cab. He braced himself for the slipstream after it passed his train.
Jack glanced again at the platform for Richmond: still no train on the board. No need to hurry, but the man on the platform was hurrying. The wheels of the oncoming Piccadilly line train clackety-clacked closer. A tinny announcement came through the platform speakers: 'Stand well away from the edge of platform two. The next train is not scheduled to stop at this station.'
Five metres to go until the end of their platform. Jack's sense of déjà vu was oppressive, as if the last time had been a rehearsal for tonight.
'Take it right up,' he said softly, using the same phrase as last time. 'Get your passengers off. We don't want them pitching on to the line.' The man shoved the handle forward. Jack smelled his fear. 'Keep connection with the lever, coax it. The engine is you and you are the engine.' Something was wrong.
All stories are the same.
Jack banished the unwanted voice and saw the man on the platform lit by the headlamps of the Piccadilly train. The man gave a backward glance and abruptly broke into a run along the platform. Did he think the Piccadilly line train would stop? He was looking at Jack – not a glance, a proper look as if trying to express something. Jack had seen the expression before. Then the man was in mid-air above the tracks, caught in the glare of light as the Piccadilly line thundered into the station. The man's body hit the windscreen and rolled under the cab. All was over in a second. Carriages jolted along and blocked Jack's view. Both trains halted. Jack looked at his watch. Six minutes past twelve: 126.
A haunting wail carried across the station. The Piccadilly driver was sounding the whistle for staff to assist trackside. The bleak marking of a life extinguished.
Jack's driver was a waxwork, his hand frozen over the controls. He had berthed their train perfectly, seemingly unaware of what was happening metres to his right.
Later, at the inquest, Jack found that his driver had indeed seen nothing. Only Jack and the Piccadilly Line driver, a man called Darryl Clark, had witnessed the incident. The few District line passengers had been asleep or plugged into headphones in a private world and although the other train was packed, it was impossible for anyone to have seen the man go under the front of the cab.
'What's your name?' Jack touched the man's arm, intending to ground him.
'Alfred Peter Butler,' he replied as if reporting for duty.
'You did well, Alfred. We'll stop here, you need a break and I think they might need some help here.' Accompanying Alfred Peter Butler through the carriages, for the second time in an hour, Jack informed passengers that a train was out of service.
Like Stella, Jack was comfortable with emergencies, everyone acting according to their role. While the tannoy announced delays, he and his driver checked seats and gangways for abandoned possessions. In the past he had found wallets, handbags, a tatty London street atlas that he had been allowed to keep, even a Springer spaniel lashed to a pole by its lead.
Alfred Peter Butler escorted their little troop down the stairs and across the station concourse, Jack bringing up the rear. To their right, Piccadilly line passengers were streaming down the westbound staircase, there was the buzz of muted exchange, word had got around.
It was a 'One Under'.
Jack Harmon dubbed himself a flâneur; he walked the night-time streets of London, observing others unobserved. Unlike a flâneur, he cared about those he watched. Courting mortality, feeling the imminence of death, he hunted out those with darkness in their souls and minds like his own. Jack entered the homes of what he dubbed his 'True Hosts', those who had killed or would kill if he didn't stop them.
Jack was quite aware that he sought a re-enactment of the day his mother had died, a day that for him, as for many, was when his world stopped. As when a film is watched again and again in the vain hope that the next time the victim won't die. He drove in the tunnels of the London Underground to find his way back to before.
Affecting nonchalance, Jack strolled across the station, singing softly:
'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.'
His hair blown back from his face by a cold night breeze, Jack guided passengers through the gap in the concertinaed gate to the street. Even though it was after midnight, traffic on Goldhawk Road was nose to tail, slowing for those filing over the zebra crossing. Someone was watching Jack from the top deck of a 237 bus; he supposed it was a man – a baseball cap was pulled low over the eyes. The bus moved towards King Street and the reflection of the blue station fascia wiped the figure out.
In ten years of driving a train, Jack hadn't had a suicide. Some drivers had it twice, while others went their whole working lives without a person jumping in front of their cab. Jack could not shake the conviction that tonight's incident was the culmination of many signs.
The station office reeked of sour sweat. Alfred Peter Butler was huddled in a corner nursing a mug of tea, staring at his feet. The other driver was texting on a BlackBerry, thumbs skimming the tiny keys. Someone on the phone confirmed that the 'customer' was dead. Jack refused tea. He kept to himself that he felt nothing. He told himself that since his mum died, he had nothing left to feel. Jack fastened the grille and ran up the stairs.
There was no one on the platform where the man had been. Lights from the train cast bleak stripes of light across the tarmac. Jack could feel the dead man's presence in the deserted station.
Staff had rigged up lighting gear for the paramedics, due any minute. Confident that the train driver had dropped circuit breakers to cut the electricity, Jack vaulted on to the rails and crunched over the ballast. Sharp stones jabbing him, he peered beneath the train's underbelly.
A splash of red. A hand curled over the live rail. The man wore a wedding ring; the thick gold band spoke of status, hopefully of love.
'Wake up,' Jack had said to his mummy.
He leant in and touched the man's ring finger. It was warmer than his own and still pliant.
'I will save you,' he had told his mummy.
Blood was soaking the front of the man's shirt. Globules of blood seeped into the ballast. Jack trembled; his teeth began to chatter. The man's eyes – hazel flecked with green, the pupils dilated – fixed Jack with the impassive gaze of the dead.
Eyes are like fingerprints, they don't alter with age.
Excerpted from The Detective's Secret by Lesley Thomson. Copyright © 2015 Lesley Thomson. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Once again, I chose a book that's part of a series I haven't read. I will say, that though there are references to the first book, THE DETECTIVE'S DAUGHTER, this one still works well as a stand-alone. Stella Darnell was the detective's daughter and now she's solving cases of her own. A man has died beneath the wheels of a train, Along with her friend, Jack Harmon, she suspects that it was murder and not an accident or suicide. Their investigating leads to an unsolved case 20 years old ... and someone is watching and is not happy. This was an easy read. Not breathtakingly suspenseful, but still an enjoyable read. I would like to go back and read the first in the series to get more of a handle on who Stella and Jack really are and how their relationship came to be. And I'd really like to know what kind of relationship Stella had with her father. My thanks to NetGalley / Trafalgar Square Publishing/ Head of Zeus who furnished a digital copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
The Detective’s Secret by Lesley Thomson is a very long drawn out novel. Stella and Jack have other jobs, but they have also had success in solving mysteries. William Frost wants to hire them to find out what really happened to his brother, Rick. Jack actually saw Rick run and jump in front of a train. Was it suicide or did someone make him do it? There is also the mystery of what happened to a man who was locked in a water tower back in the late 1980’s. The two mysteries are linked. Stella and Jack work to solve them. I did not enjoy The Detective’s Secret. It is a very long and protracted novel with an extremely confusing beginning. I did not think it would ever end (and I was sorry I ever agreed to read it). I managed to finish the novel, but my heart was not in it. The main characters are not likable. Jack is creepy and likes to say these strange rhymes. Stella is a worry wart and I did not like her attitude towards Stanley, the dog. The only interesting thing in this book was the two mysteries (that were tied together). I give The Detective’s Secret 2 out of 5 stars (for the mysteries and how they were linked together). There are a lot of descriptive paragraphs that could have been eliminated (they were completely unnecessary). I received a complimentary copy of The Detective’s Secret from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.