Death is no stranger to Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan, but she isn’t the only one from her small, coastal suburb to be intimately acquainted with it. Years ago, teenager Seán Hennessey shocked the tight-knit community when he was convicted of the brutal murder of his parents and attempted slaying of his sister, though he always maintained his innocence. Now, Seán is finally being released from prison—but when his newfound freedom coincides with the discovery of two bodies, the alleged connection between the cases only serves to pull Frankie further from answers even as it draws her closer to her town’s hidden darkness. With a television documentary revisiting Seán’s sentence pushing the public’s sympathies into conflict on a weekly basis, a rabid media pressuring the police like never before, and a rising body count, Frankie will need all of her resources if she is not only to catch a killer, but put to rest what really happened all those years ago.
A dark, irresistible cocktail of secrets, murder, and family, Olivia Kiernan’s latest is an impossible-to-put-down triumph.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Olivia Kiernan
C H A P T E R 1
There are times in my line of work when I have to sit down with a known killer. Shake their hand. Talk to them. Where I have to let them think we’re on a level, that their mind isn’t so far from my own. It’s a fine balance of control and you want them to believe they have it, even when they don’t but especially if they do. You’ll get the odd detective, wet behind the ears, who’ll talk about building trust, a knowing glint in their eye because they think if a murderer chats with them, they’ve won them over, that their perp will peel off their mask and spill all.
But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that when a killer smiles at me, it’s not me who’s doing the indulging but them doing the tolerating. Thing is, no one really knows what a person is capable of, despite the smile on their face, the firmness of their handshake, or whether they look you in the eye as they lie to you.
I watch him make his way through the bar, trainers soft, heels sure. He is almost unrecognizable. Another bloke looking for a pint on a Sunday evening. He finds me at the back of the pub, holds out a hand. Fingers flex, shape around mine; calluses, a ridge along the top of his palm. Neat nails clipped back. The muscles bundle in his forearm as he squeezes my hand.
“It’s good to meet you, Detective,” he says, smiling. I feel his eyes take in the measure of me and I hope for his sake he’s seeing more than a blonde in a suit.
A man free of his sentence. I watch him put his smile away, pull out a chair, lean strong hands on the table as he sits down. He’s tall but I almost match him for height. Overall, he’s a good-looking guy. Blue-eyed. A slim build, hair cut short, a fine shade of gold. A man who murdered his parents, tried to murder his younger sister. And the question is not whether he’s a murderer but whether fifteen years inside is enough to change a person.
Tanya West is also sitting at the table. She’s keeping it casual. A black T-shirt over blue jeans that could’ve come from the teens department. Dark hair pulled back into a high bun, large silver hoops dangling to her shoulders, a silver stud in her nose. I can feel her quick, dark eyes watching the interaction between Hennessy and myself. Tanya is a lawyer. The pain-in-the-backside kind: a defense lawyer. No detective working this side of murder likes defense lawyers. How many times have I watched serious criminals walk because of a crafty defense team? Not to mention that their job is to show up our stupidities, where we’ve fucked up, spoken to a suspect at the wrong time, or where the wrong procedure has invalidated solid bloody evidence.
Defense is the line we have to push our cases across. And Tanya’s good at her job. You could catch a perp in the act, elbow deep in the entrails of their victim, and Tanya could convince a court that he’d only tripped over the body and landed hands down in the victim’s guts. But I can’t dislike Tanya. Her aim is not to trick or fool the law but to ask justice to bring its best game. Besides, she’s my sister-in-law and I guess family counts for something because there are not many who could persuade me to sit across from a convicted murderer and listen to what he has to say, but Tanya can and has. Although, she was cute enough to keep the fact it was Seán Hennessy to herself.
“Good to see you again, Seán,” she says. “Well”—she slants me a grin—“now we’ve got that warm greeting out of the way. Let’s get started.”
I rest back against my seat, unable to move my eyes from Seán Hennessy. Unable to shake the image of his crimes from my head. The furious mess of murder. The happy spree of knife wounds over his mother’s body, his father’s. His sister’s.
Tanya places a file on the table and lays her hands on it with a kind of reverence. “Seán, we’re very lucky that Frankie is willing to consider your case.” She turns, smiles at me. “She’s one of the best.”
“Of course, of course,” he murmurs. Lips dry. His tongue clacks in his mouth. Along his hairline, the wet gleam of moisture. He wipes it away with quick fingers. “I’m very grateful, Detective.”
Looking at Hennessy is enough to make me doubt the point of my own career. Where’s the remorse? Not sitting across from me. He took two lives, almost a third. He’s served his time and now here he is. “I didn’t do it,” he says.
I rub the base of my neck. “I can’t stay long.”
He glances at Tanya then to me, leans back, and runs his hands over his pockets. “Well, let me get you a drink. What’ll you have?”
“No thanks. I’m on call.” He stops. “Tanya?”
“Thanks, Seán. A sav blanc, please. Small,” she answers.
He looks to me again, as if he’s about to ask me if I’m sure, but he thinks better of it. “Grand. Grand.”
He gets up, steps away from the table, back through the Sunday punters, head turning from side to side as he works his way to the bar, eyes stalking the room. The pub we’re in was a favorite of mine when I still lived at home. It used to be a one-room treasure, where you could fall in the door to a row of bar stools, and that was it. At some point in the last few years, it’s been gutted out and extended but the owners have tried to capture that old-bar feel—dark wood booths, low ceilings, and dull wooden floors. I watch Seán step up to order, rest his foot casually on the shining brass footrest that runs along the base of the bar. The barman looks up from the other end of the room, finishes wrapping a set of cutlery in a paper napkin, then approaches Seán with a nod.
I lean toward my sister-in-law. “Christ, Tanya, you never told me it was Seán fucking Hennessy you were working with.”
She gives a tiny shrug. The thin hoops of her earrings bounce off her shoulders. “You never asked.” She fixes her attention on the file. “Does it matter who it is? He has a good case for appeal.”
“He murdered his bloody parents.”
“There’s room for doubt.” She throws a quick glance at Seán across the bar, keeps her voice low. “We’ve been approached by a production company called Blackthorn Films. They’re doing a documentary on Seán’s case. It’s due to air in the next week. This could do wonders for our charity’s profile.”
Tanya’s charity, Justice Meets Justice, works on new evidence or overlooked avenues of investigation on cases where they believe there might have been a miscarriage of justice. An innocent person convicted for a crime they didn’t commit.
I’m busy but since the Costello case a few months back, nothing has broken my stride on the murder front. The Bureau for Serious Crime is doing its job. Set up three years ago to keep a focus on complex investigations in Ireland in a world where increasingly our law enforcement must look outwards, the aim of the Bureau is to remain a bastion of defense against our own criminals. Four districts of the gardaí’s finest detectives with a central hub in Dublin, run by me. We are a flexible, well-oiled machine that can step in where local resources are scant, or conversely handle those cases of national concern that feed the media. And the last few months have seen me on a roll. Three cases slapped down and filed away as if I’d been working on a kids’ crossword.
I sigh. “What do you need me for?”
“It would help to have a detective chief superintendent on board. Even if not in an official capacity. We don’t have anyone with your skill set. You’re good at reading people, Frankie.”
I look across the bar at Hennessy. I could make short work of this, run a few interviews, get to the real truth of why he thinks his conviction should be scrubbed out. I’m curious as to what it is that has Tanya so worked up about his case. She knows I can’t resist a puzzle. Even one I know already has an answer.
“This isn’t about money?” I check.
She flushes but keeps a lid on whatever emotion is behind her reaction. “This is a big risk for us. With the media interest, if we come out looking like mugs, we’ll not survive it. But if we’re right, this will make us.”
I watch Hennessy as he waits for the drinks. The barman reaches for glasses. He laughs at something Hennessy says, his thin shoulders shaking in response. And I can see how the public will be seduced by Hennessy if a documentary airs. He’s not hard on the eyes. He appears kind. He seems normal. Like one of us. He wears his sheep’s clothing with ease.
I think of the constant reports of serious crime that pass our desks daily and the careful designation of energy and money to each one. Even looking at Hennessy’s case in the hours around my work, it would be hard to justify the time.
I hear the regret in my voice when I speak. “Tanya, I’m sorry but I don’t think I’m the right person for this. The law served up the right sentence that day, and I don’t believe society owes Seán Hennessy one further moment of thought. From what I can remember, there was a crate-load of evidence, as well as witnesses.”
“But what if the evidence was wrong?”
“Wait!” She holds up a palm. “Bríd and Cara Hennessy’s blood was found beneath Seán’s fingernails and on his shirt. What if I told you that the first paramedic on the scene assessed both Bríd and Cara”—she counts off both of the victims on her fingers as she speaks—“but then treated Seán for shock?”
“Come on, Frankie. It’s cross contamination. This was one of the major pieces of evidence submitted by the prosecution. What if there were more errors?” She gives me an intense look and pulls the file back across the table. Opens it. “Blackthorn Films. They’ve won awards. This is going to be big. The charity can’t pass it up. Yes, we need the funding, but more importantly, I believe him.”
The memories I have of the Hennessy murders come drenched in an incongruous golden sunshine. It had been a scorcher of a summer. Heat drives up crime rates, with August being the time when families are most at risk of turning on one another. You could say that working on the force we were expecting something like it to happen but to be honest no one truly expects a person to murder his family. Even when you’re standing over the bodies it’s hard to believe.
“I don’t,” I say to her.
“And that’s okay,” she says quickly. “I only want your opinion. We just need an objective voice. Your expertise in profiling, at compiling cases, would be invaluable to us.” She slides the file across the table. “There’s documentary footage in the folder. One-on-one interviews with Seán. Three hours of unedited material in total. I’ll send it to your email too but you’ll need the password to access it.”
Hennessy returns to the table. “Here you are.” He places a glass of wine in front of Tanya then sits down, a pint of lager safe in his hands.
Somehow, I make myself speak to him. “Why do you want to do this, Mr. Hennessy?” I know the answer. Money. Always. But sometimes, with killers of this nature, it’s simply attention. The narcissist can’t resist indulging his own reflection.
He lifts the pint to his mouth, takes a drink. Blue eyes flash at me. Meek. The right touch of sadness and regret. Perfectly measured. “My sister.” He says it quiet, and I think there’s some shame in him after all.
“The way things are, I’ll never see her again.”
“That’s probably for the best. Don’t you think? Shouldn’t she be allowed to live her life in peace? To move on?”
There’s a slight rise to his shoulders; the gray neck of his hoodie bunches. His hands stiffen round his drink. He looks down. “I don’t think it does anyone any good to live a lie.”
“I doubt your sister believes she’s living a lie. Out of everyone, she knows exactly what happened. She was there. And if she’d wanted to contact you, she would have done so already, right?”
He nods as if he was anticipating my response then says with a stubborn note of determination, “If Cara doesn’t want to see me, there’s nothing I can do about that. But she should know the truth.” A thick kind of anger closes round my neck. I feel it redden my face. I look to Tanya, but she’s avoiding my eyes, her face a pale slate of neutrality.
“She already knows the truth,” I say. And the confidence stumbles on his face. “Mr. Hennessy, I believe you slaughtered your parents and almost managed to kill your sister.” He flinches but I continue. “I believe justice has been served and its only fault is that you are free to sit here, across from me, and discuss how you can rescind that sentence.”
He slides a hand over his face, squeezes his eyes with his fingertips. Tanya gives me a look that could work as a slap in the mouth but I want him to know whose side I’m on. Always, victims first.
Finally he speaks. “I get it. I was convicted. Now I’m guilty until proven innocent.” And when he looks at me again, there are tears watering in his eyes. “But I swear to you, I didn’t do it.” The last comes out between tight lips, an urgent rasping whisper.
There’s a clatter of cutlery from behind the bar and I glance over in time to see the barman bend to collect whatever’s fallen to the wooden floor. When he straightens, he wipes a knife on the cloth at his shoulder then resumes wrapping the cutlery in a paper napkin.
I turn to Tanya. The thin lines of her eyebrows are raised in an expression of hope and encouragement. I suspect she knows as well as I do what the answer will be. I sigh. “I’ll look at the footage. But that’s all.”
“That’s great, Frankie.” She smiles her enthusiasm.
Seán nods and for a moment, it looks like he might grip my hands. His slide across the table but he stops halfway. “Thank you.” Tanya is already retrieving more documents from her bag.
More homework for me. “Here’s a summary of our approach. We’ve a new office in the city, off the quays.” She places a business card in front of me. “But it should be easy to touch base. As you know, I’m doing most of my work from home.”
Home translates into my parents’ house on Conquer Hill in Clontarf. I picture my folks’ spare bedroom turned into an incident room. Justin, my brother, and Tanya are waiting to move into their new home. Justin, a real estate lawyer, is laid-back to the point of horizontal and has somehow managed to mistime the chain in the purchase of their new home and now he finds himself back at our parents’ at the age of thirty-seven. I wonder how my mum is coping with Tanya running a criminal review from their house.
She passes me the documents. “You can keep those. They’re copies.”
I take them, slide them into my bag, and she tells me that I can take my time with the report but perhaps it would be helpful to have it in the next month. My phone breaks through her instructions and I have never been more grateful for the interruption.
“Excuse me.” I stand, move away to the back of the room.
Press a finger over my ear. “Sheehan.”
“Frankie, it’s Clancy. Looks like we’ll be seeing you tonight after all.” Jack Clancy, the assistant commissioner, my boss, friend, and in a lot of ways persecutor.
“Trust me when I say the interruption is a welcome one,” I reply.
The sound of the sea crashes down the line. The wind buffets against the speaker. He raises his voice. “Where are you?”
“Near my folks’.” I check my watch. It’s seven forty-five. “What is it?”
“We’ve two bodies. At the church. St. Catherine’s.”
“Here?” I walk out of the pub, turn, face into the wind that’s sweeping in across the water. Clontarf is a suburb along the coast, a stone’s throw from Dublin’s center. Its name is synonymous with battles and victory. A streak of pride that once upon a time we rose up and conquered Vikings. Clontarf, the making of me, my home.
“Yeah. This one’s a headliner; you’d better get down here,” Clancy says.
I look down the street, back toward the city, where Dublin’s lights are just awakening in the distance, then out to sea, where the sun is low on the horizon, hidden behind thick clouds. The path of the promenade is picked out in amber streetlight. A few walkers are striding along the path, coats done up to the neck, arms beating steady rhythms along the seawall.
“I’ll be fifteen minutes,” I say then hang up. I picture the church, St. Catherine’s, at the mouth of Clontarf, dark and brooding in her iron cage. I pocket my phone and head back into the pub.
Tanya stands. “You have to go?” “Yeah.”
“Right.” She stands, one hand against the table, the other pitched against her hip. “I’ll call you tomorrow then?”
I take a deep breath. “Sure.” She smiles. “Thank you.”
I collect my coat from the back of the seat and face Seán Hennessy. I’m about to throw out the usual platitude—it was nice speaking with you, or meeting you—but I can’t. Instead I hear myself saying: “Enjoy your freedom, Mr. Hennessy.”
And he frowns. “Thank you for your help, Detective.”
Out on the street, I listen for sirens, search for blue lights. Already I’m at a run in my head. I should be disturbed by the drive in my blood, a sick kind of curiosity that all detectives house in the darkest corners of themselves. A little kick of excitement stitched up with a fearless kind of hope.
I walk down the street. The wind, full of the stink of seaweed and salt, rushes at my face. The summer has been one rainfall after the next, and if not that, the days are so cold you couldn’t tell which arse-end of the year it is. I grip the edges of my coat together and quicken my pace. By the time I get to St. Catherine’s, my hands and face are numb. I shake out my fingers and peer in at the church. The building crouches beneath a few thick elms that creak in the turning air. It’s set well back from the road. Uniforms walk the grounds, marking out the scene with blue-and-white tape. There are three cars pulled up nearby. I spot Clancy’s among them. I duck under the tape and one of the officers approaches with the log-in book.
“Evening, Detective Sheehan.”
I sign the book. Add the time. “The coroner here?”
“She’s inside. Forensics got here twenty minutes ago.”
“Thanks.” I move toward the entrance. Large oak doors pushed back into the dim shadow of the church. I step inside, and the sound of my footsteps comes back to me from the arched ceiling. Clancy, a couple scene of crime officers, and a woman I recognize as the coroner have congregated at the center of the main aisle. I take out my torch, switch it on, cast the beam around the entrance. Mass leaflets stacked in a cardboard box to the right. A sprinkle of confetti, forgotten, beneath the first pew. A tower of wicker baskets leaning to a topple behind the door. There’s a box of foot protectors and plastic gloves nearby. I slip them on and walk slowly up the aisle.
The woman’s body appears first, a foot, bare sole, milky white in the shadows She’s naked from the waist up, a pair of dark jeans belted around her hips. She’s on her front, arms bent, cheek turned. You could think her sleeping but for the injuries down her back and at her throat. Her eyes and mouth are open, the startle of death on her face. Beside her, a second victim, a man. Dead. Dead as can be. Days, by the looks of it. Death mottle over his hands, his face. He’s clothed, a priest. Black suit. The collar, white as angels shielding his throat. In his palm, a knife. Not gripped. Not grasped. But sleeping there in cold flesh. Cold metal, cold blade.