When a 17-year-old Moldovan boy is found dead on Hampstead Heath, the case falls to DCI Karen Shields and her overstretched Homicide & Serious Crime Unit. Karen knows she needs a result. What she doesn’t know is that her new case is tied inextricably to a much larger web of gang warfare and organised crime which infiltrates almost every aspect of London society.
Several hundred miles away in Cornwall, Detective Inspector Trevor Cordon is stirred from his day-to-day duties by another tragic London fatality. Travelling to the capital and determined to establish the cause of death and trace the deceased’s daughter, Cordon becomes entangled in a complicated situation of his own. A situation much closer to Karen’s case than either of them will ever know.
Brilliantly plotted and filled with rich, subtle characters, John Harvey’s latest novel reveals him once again as a masterful writer with his finger firmly on the pulse of twenty-first century crime.
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About the Author
John Harvey (b. 1938) is an incredibly prolific British mystery writer. The author of more than one hundred books, as well as poetry and scripts for television and radio, Harvey did not begin writing professionally until 1975. Until then he was a teacher, educated at Goldsmiths College, London, who taught literature, drama, and film at colleges across England. After cutting his teeth on paperback fiction, Harvey debuted his most famous character, Charlie Resnick, in 1989’s Lonely Hearts, which the English Times called one of the finest crime novels of the century. A police inspector noted for his love of both sandwiches and jazz, Resnick has starred in eleven novels and one volume of short stories. The BBC has adapted two of the Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment (1990), for television movies. Both starred Academy Award–nominated actor Tom Wilkinson and had screenplays written by Harvey. Besides writing fiction, Harvey spent over twenty years as the head of Slow Dancer Press. He continues to live and write in London.
Read an Excerpt
By John Harvey
Pegasus Books LLCCopyright © 2012 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
The face looked back up at her from beneath the ice. Dead eyes, unblinking, their focus defused as if through bottled glass. Off to one side, a small covey of ducks, uncomprehending, shuffled this way and that. In places, Karen Shields thought, the skin would have stuck fast: the forehead, the bridge of the nose, the chin. Little doubt the substance that had pooled close alongside the head, then frozen, was blood. That wanker, she thought, the artist – what was his name? – a small fortune for slicing animals in half and shoving them on display, pickled in formaldehyde.
Officers in protective clothing were cordoning off the path that ran down between the ponds with tape, no urgency now, time theirs to take. A brace of early runners stymied in their tracks, hats and gloves, jogged up and down, looking on; Karen could see their breath bobbing in the air.
When the call had come through she'd fumbled uneasily awake, mobile falling between her fingers and down on to the bed.
'Hey!' A shout as she leaned her elbow against something soft in the shape alongside. 'Hey! Go easy, yeah? Chill.'
She had almost forgotten he was there.
She spoke briefly into the phone then listened, the man beside her moving grudgingly to give her room, whatever was tattooed between shoulder blade and neck starting to fade into the natural darkness of his skin. She wondered if she would pick him out again in a crowded bar. If she would want to.
'Twenty minutes,' she said into the phone. 'Thirty, tops.' No way she was leaving without a shower.
'What's all the fuss?' the man asked.
Scooping up his shirt and trousers from near the end of the bed, she tossed them at his head. 'Dressed, okay?'
She arrived as the Crime Scene manager and his team were assembling: no agreement as yet on the best way to free the body from the ice. Someone from the Coroner's Office would decide.
Where the ground rose up beyond the pond's edge, threads of trees were laced against the sky. Christmas in four days. No, three. Presents bought for her family in Jamaica but still not sent. Come spend it with us, her sister had said, Lynette, the one in Southend with the twins. You don't want to spend Christmas on your own.
'Ma'am.' Without his helmet, the young PC barely topped her shoulder. 'The Chief Super, he wants a word.'
Karen looked up.
Burcher was standing on the broad slope of path that led on to the Heath, beyond the point where the route for entry and exit to the scene was marked. Overcoat unbuttoned, green wellingtons protecting the trousers of his suit, pale yellow gloves. Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony Burcher, previously with Covert Intelligence and now head of Homicide and Serious Crime Command. Twenty-four Homicide teams under his control, one of them hers.
'What the hell's he doing here?' Karen asked.
Burcher stood with one glove removed, as if he might want to shake her hand. Waiting for her to come to him.
'All under control?'
'No idea yet, of course, who ...?'
Karen shook her head.
'Yes, well ...' His gaze slipped past her, attention caught for a moment by something at the farther side of the pond. 'I was in the area, last night, friends. Picked up the call first thing.'
There were more people gathering now, peering interestedly before being moved on: cyclists on their way to work, solitary walkers, joggers, people with dogs, too many dogs. The gravel was deeply freckled with frost.
'Much on your plate right now, Chief Inspector?'
Her plate. Oh, yes. A double murder for starters. Holloway. Mother and child. The mother only seventeen, little more than a child herself. Battered, then stabbed: edge of a stool, underside of a saucepan, a kitchen knife, whatever had been to hand. The child, a girl, suffocated with pillows, three years old. The estranged father had been seen hammering on the door of the flat two days before. 'I'll kill you, you bloody bitch! Bloody kill you!' The neighbours had heard it all before, shut their windows fast, turned up the volume on the TV, made yet another cup of tea. Karen had seen it, too. Too many times now. Inadequate men unable to cope without anger, lashing out. Family life. The police were, as the phrasing went, anxious to speak to the father, Wayne Simon, in connection with both deaths.
So far there had been sightings in Sheffield, Rotherham, Leeds. Rumours he'd slipped abroad. Karen would still not be surprised to find he'd strapped himself into his car in a lock-up somewhere, sucking down carbon monoxide; either that or hanged himself from a length of flex; walked off the edge of a cliff. Beachy Head, that was popular. More often than not, it was what they did, men like that, men she despised, too cowardly to face the consequences of their actions, the way they'd lived.
More recently there'd been a shooting in Walthamstow. All the appearances of a drug deal run sour. The teenage victim gunned down as he ran. Some disagreement still as to how involved he had been, mistaken identity a possibility, the family swearing by his good name – a lovely boy and loving son, a grade A student, college place secured. So far, there had been two arrests, both men – Liam Jarvis and Rory Bevan – released, insufficient evidence to charge.
Before that a fatal stabbing in Wood Green. An argument over nothing that had ballooned from threats to fists, fists and boots to knives. By rights it should have been handed over, lock stock and barrel, to Operation Trident, which dealt with violent crime in the black community, but since the new government had taken power Trident's resources had been cut and they were already overstretched. Sixteen murders in London the year just ended, none of the victims older than nineteen.
'Enough, sir,' Karen said.
'Handle this yourself then, or ...?'
'A reason why I shouldn't? Sir?'
Something interested him near the toe of his boot. 'See how it develops, but at the moment I can't see any need ...'
'You know, delegate. Reassign. Besides ...' Inclining his head towards her, he smiled. 'Can't go on plundering the minority thing for too much longer. Good result now, not go amiss. Been a while.'
'Which minority thing is that, sir? The gender minority or the black?'
'Either. Both. You choose.' The smile had disappeared.
Fuck you, Karen thought, the words unsaid.
Burcher heard them nonetheless, read them in her expression, her stance.
'Don't let me keep you, Chief Inspector.'
A magpie startled up raucously from a branch as she walked away.
Back down at the pond, they were gingerly breaking the ice in a broad circle around the body, preparing to float it closer to the shore.
All the way back to the office it nagged at her, a good result, not go amiss. Knowing it to be true. She remembered the first time she'd been introduced to him, Burcher, some function not long after he'd been confirmed in post; the way he'd looked at her, appraisingly, so much prime meat.
She'd seen the victim's face freed from its frozen mask before she'd left, the last drops of moisture caught along his upper lip, hair that curled against the nape of his neck: a young man's face, eighteen at most. Younger. The body stripped naked before immersion. Two knife wounds in his back, either one deep enough to have punctured his lungs. Bruises. Other marks. The second finger of his left hand missing, severed below the knuckle. Expediency? Identification? A stubborn ring?
At the last check there were no mispers that matched, no worried parents, lovers, brothers, aunts. Not his. Within an hour, the details, such as they were, would have been passed on by the Press Bureau to the media. Some Riz Lateef wannabe on work experience with BBC London News, shivering in front of the camera and hoping her make-up hadn't smudged and the cold wouldn't make her nose run. If nothing new had emerged by the end of the day, they'd release the victim's photograph in time to catch the dailies, maximum exposure, pray no natural disaster or ministerial cock-up shunted them off to the bottom of page six or eight.
On the computer screen the images were strangely bleached out, so that the face resembled something sculpted, cast in plaster: Roman, Greek. An altarpiece. A minor god. All colour gone from his eyes.
Karen remembered his eyes.
His eyes had been blue.CHAPTER 2
Christmas came and went. Karen spoke to most of her close family on the day itself – mother, uncle, aunt, a smattering of cousins – trying not to count the cost of calls back and forth to Jamaica; talked to her sister later, reining in her impatience while her nieces vied with one another over never-ending litanies of presents.
Mid-afternoon, she sat herself down in front of the TV, a bargain meal from M&S assembled on her tray, a decent red to wash it down. New Year's Eve she went for a meal in Exmouth Market with four of her girlfriends, then on to a club near the Angel; not for want of offers, she was home by half twelve, in bed before one alone, reading a book. There'd been a time, not so long ago, when if she hadn't pulled she'd have reckoned the evening a failure.
God, girl, she thought, you're getting old!
January kicked off with sleet, then rain, then snow, then sleet again. At night it froze. Coming down the steps from her front door her first full day back in the office, she'd almost lost her footing, had to grab hold of the railing to avoid going headlong. The pavement was like a skating rink, ice packed solidly along the kerb's edge. Fresh snow fluttered, moth-like, in her face as she walked. The latte bought at Caffè Nero had lost most of its heat before she even reached the Tube.
Photographs and a description of the Heath victim had been passed on to the Met's Intelligence Bureau before the holiday for possible identification. Since when, nothing. Karen had emailed the Intelligence Bureau's Co-ordinating and Tasking Office from home and chased up her request. Co-ordinating and Tasking Office – it sounded like something out of Bleak House, the boxed set of which her sister had sent her for Christmas. Automatically generated, a reply had bounced back by return. This office is currently closed.
At her desk her stomach rumbled; coffee aside, no breakfast. Maybe she should give Mike Ramsden a call: Ramsden, for years now her bag man, aide-de-camp, her sergeant-at-arms. Mike, if you're coming in, you might stop off at Pret and pick up one of those egg and tomato baguettes. Pain au something while you're about it.
She wondered if he'd spent Christmas alone like her or whether he'd found company; Ramsden, who seemed to be permanently between wives, usually other people's.
Pushing back her chair, she walked to where the detailed map of the area where the body had been found was pinned to the wall.
The road from the Whitestone Pond down towards South End Green allowed access to that side of the Heath at several points, none of which – Karen had found this almost impossible to believe – were directly covered by CCTV. The only cameras on that stretch of road belonged to private individuals intent on protecting their valuable property and focused accordingly.
'Most of them locked up and shuttered,' Ramsden had said in disgust. 'Wintering in fucking Mustique.'
As far as they'd been able to determine, the actual killing had taken place off the path to the north of the pond: traces of a struggle that had been brutal and swift, branches broken, hard earth kicked up, filaments of blood that had proved, discouragingly, to be the victim's own and nothing more.
There was no sign of the victim's clothes in the immediate vicinity; stripped from his body, they'd likely been bundled into bin bags and burned or else been transported to some far-flung field, a contribution to the national landfill.
The area around the pond had been fingertip searched, bins, drains, bushes, everything. The pond itself had been drained. Thirty-one large bags of debris to be sifted and listed; at the last count, seventeen were still in storage, slowly festering. She had asked for volunteers to sort the remainder – no overtime, just a sign or two of her endearing love and respect – but with half the world still on holiday, takers were few.
Through the square of window, the sky was a resolute grey.
The snow had faltered to a halt.
Perhaps she would call Mike Ramsden after all. They could get miserable together, curse the world.
Even as she was thinking that, the phone rang at her desk.
It was Gerry Stine, Intelligence Support. Karen listened, made careful notes, confirmed the information and thanked Stine profusely, wishing him the happiest of new years. After checking against UK Border Agency records, he had come up with a name. Petru Andronic. Country of origin: the Republic of Moldova. Date of birth: 27 November 1994. Seventeen years old.
Almost unbelievably for someone his age, he had no account traceable on Facebook or any of the other social networking sites, nor on Twitter. Even more remarkable, an initial check of the major networks failed to register him as the owner of a mobile phone: presumably he used a cheap prepaid model or, if the need arose, borrowed a friend's.
Karen shook her head: the Republic of Moldova. She didn't think she even knew where Moldova was. Not enough to point to it on a map. She had heard of it, at least. Or was that Moldavia? The same country, different names? You say Moldova and I'll say Moldavia.
She looked again at her notes. Andronic had applied for a student visa in the summer of the previous year.
She speed dialled Ramsden's number.
The background noise suggested he was engaged in a one-man Status Quo revival.
'Leyton High Road, Mike, you know it?'
'Back of my hand.'
The college was squeezed between a discount DIY store and a halal butcher's and, even though it was doubtful the new term had started, a dozen or more putative student types were standing around on the pavement outside, heads down, plugged into their iPods and MP3 players; smoking, most of them, occasionally stamping their feet but otherwise feigning not to notice the extreme cold.
A narrow corridor led to some narrow, uncarpeted stairs. This college is fully recognised by ASIC, read a poster on the wall, the Accredited Service for International Colleges. The No Smoking sign had been decorated with the smiley face of someone enjoying a large spliff. Please do NOT bring food into the building had been handwritten on a sheet of A4 and pinned alongside.
There was a door on the first landing labelled General Office, another poster, purple and gold, fixed to the wired glass: OTHM in big capitals – Registered Centre for the Organisation of Tourism and Hospitality Management, supporting the tourism and hospitality industry throughout the world.
'Who'd have thought it?' Ramsden said. 'The centre for tourism and hospitality, here in downtown Leyton.'
The woman behind the desk – middle-aged, spectacles, brown hair dislodged on one side from the combs intended to secure it in place – scarcely glanced up from what she was doing. 'If you want to enquire about courses, enroll a student, prospectuses are all online. Keeps the print costs down. Application's the same.'
No immediate reply, she half-turned in her chair. There was another door behind her: Dr D. G. Sillet, College Principal.
'Is it the gas? It's not the gas? Gas and electric? Public utility bills, all paid, direct debit, straight from the bank. If payments are delayed, I'm afraid that's not of our doing.'
Karen took out her ID and placed it on the desk.
The woman shook her head and another strand of hair slipped astray. 'I've told them till I'm blue in the face, we've all told them, don't block the pavement outside, it constitutes a public nuisance. But do they listen?' A small grunt. 'Do they understand?'
'Petru Andronic,' Karen said. 'He was a student here.'
The woman removed her glasses and looked them up and down. Ramsden in well-worn leather jacket, stomach resting easily on the belt of his jeans. Karen, thanks to her boot heels, taller by a couple of inches; black trousers that accentuated the length of her legs, black woollen belted coat, sweater, scarf loose about her neck.
'Was he?' the woman said.
'Apparently. He applied, at least. Summer of last year.'
'Many apply. Few are chosen.' Pleased with that, she allowed herself a little smirk.
'Keep records?' Ramsden asked.
'Matter of minutes, then, if that. To check.'
The door to the inner office opened and a man stepped through, late forties, balding, a suit that had been to the cleaner's too many times.
Excerpted from Good Bait by John Harvey. Copyright © 2012 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
Crime fiction at its best.
John Harvey writes the way we all wish we could write. His stories are filled with the blood of true character.