THE VOICE SEEPS LIKE BLOOD...
Two years ago, Derek Tyler confessed to a sickening quartet of murders. Now the convicted perpetrator remains locked away, as do the gruesome, inimitable details of his crimes, which is precisely why this can't possibly be happening all over again--but it is.
SOOTHING, CAJOLING, PRAISING, COMMANDING...
One by one, mutilated corpses are turning up, each marked by the unmistakable calling card of the same warped killer. Still shattered in the wake of her own unbearable trauma, Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan is called in to make sense of the implausible scenario, with criminal psychologist Tony Hill on hand to complicate matters at every turn.
AS IMPOSSIBLE TO SILENCE AS IT IS TO DEFY.
As a seasoned profiler, Tony is convinced that the new murders aren't the work of a copycat killer. Together, he and Carol prowl the mist-shrouded alleyways of tawdry Temple Fields, tracking a cunning serial killer who seems to be safely locked away yet somehow simultaneously on the loose, preparing to strike again...
"McDermid is unusual in her ability to keep the suspense high while constructing social mysteries that are far-ranging in their implications...McDermid brings to her mysteries an unusual capacity for compassion, both for victims and for the detectives whose lives are shattered tracking down the killers."
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August 01, 2006
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Excerpt from The Torment of Others by Val McDermid
Just because you hear voices, it doesn't mean you're mad. You don't have to be well smart to know that. And even though you did all that stuff that made the jury look sick to their stomachs, at least you're clever enough to know that doesn't make you a nutter. All sorts of people have other voices in their heads, everybody knows that. Like on the telly. Even though you can believe it when you're watching it, everybody knows it's not real. And somebody's got to have dreamed it up in the first place without them ending up where you have. Stands to reason.
So you're not worried. Well, not very worried. OK, they said you were insane. The judge said your name, Derek Tyler, and he tagged you with the mad label. But even though he's supposed to be a smart bastard, that judge didn't know he was following the plan. The way to avoid the life sentence that they always hand down when somebody does what you did. If you make them believe you were off your head when you did it, then it isn't you that did the crime, it's the madness in you. And if you're mad, not bad, it stands to reason you can be cured. Which is why they lock you up in the nuthouse instead of the nick. That way the doctors can poke around in your head and have a crack at fixing what's broke.
Of course, if nothing's broke in the first place, the best thing you can do is keep your mouth zipped. Not let on you're as sane as them. Then, when the time is right, you can start talking. Make it look like they've somehow worked their magic and turned you into somebody they can let out on the street again.
It sounded really easy when the Voice explained it. You're pretty sure you got it right, because the Voice went over it so many times you can replay the whole spiel just by closing your eyes and mouthing the words: "I am the Voice. I am your Voice. Whatever I tell you to do is for the best. I am your Voice. This is the plan. Listen very carefully." That's the trigger. That's all it takes. The intro that makes the whole tape play in your head. The message is still there, implanted deep inside your brain. And it still makes sense. Or at least, you think it does.
Only, it's been a long time now. It's not easy, staying on the wrong side of silence day after day, week after week, month after month. But you're pretty proud of the way you've hung on to it. Because there's all the other stuff interfering with the Voice. Therapy sessions where you have to blank what the real nutters are going on about. Counselling sessions where the doctors try and trick you into words. Not to mention the screaming and shouting when somebody goes off on one. Then there's all the background noise of the day room, the TV and the music rumbling round your head like interference.
All you have to fight back with is the Voice and the promise that the word will come when the time is right. And then you'll be back out there, doing what you've discovered you do best.
Find them in the first six hours or you're looking for a corpse. Find them in the first six hours or you're looking for a corpse. The missing children mantra mocked Detective Inspector Don Merrick. He was looking at sixteen hours and counting. And counting was just what the parents of Tim Golding were doing. Counting every minute that took them further from their last glimpse of their son. He didn't have to think about what they were feeling; he was a father and he knew the visceral fear lying in wait to assail any parent whose child is suddenly, unaccountably not where they should be. Mostly, it was history in a matter of minutes when the child reappeared unscathed, usually grinning merrily at the panic of its parents. Nevertheless it was history that left its mark bone deep.
And sometimes there was no relief. No sudden access of anger masking the ravages of ill-defined terror when the child reappeared. Sometimes it just went on and on and on. And Merrick knew the dread would continue screaming inside Alastair and Shelley Golding until his team found their son. Alive or dead. He knew because he'd witnessed the same agony in the lives of Gerry and Pam Lefevre, whose son Guy had been missing now for just over fifteen months. They'd dragged the canal, combed the parks and wasteland within a two-mile radius, but not a trace of Guy had ever surfaced.
Merrick had been the bagman on that inquiry, which was the main reason why he'd been assigned to Tim Golding. He had the knowledge to see whether there were obvious links between the cases. But beyond knowledge, his instincts already nagged that whoever had snatched Guy Lefevre had now claimed his second victim.
He leaned against the roof of his car and swept the long curve of the railway embankment with binoculars. Every available body was down there, combing the scrubby grass for any trace of the eight-year-old boy who had been missing since the previous evening. Tim had been playing with two friends, some complicated game of make-believe involving a superhero that Merrick vaguely remembered his own sons briefly idolizing. The friends had been called in by their mother and Tim had said he was going down the embankment to watch the freight trains that used this spur to bring roadstone from the quarry on the outskirts of the city to the railhead.
Two women heading for the bus stop and bingo thought they'd caught a glimpse of his canary yellow Bradfield Victoria shirt between the trees that lined the top of the steep slope leading down to the tracks. That had been around twenty to eight. Nobody else had come forward to say they'd seen the boy.
His face was already etched on Merrick's mind. The school photograph resembled a million others, but Merrick could have picked out Tim's sandy hair, his open grin and the blue eyes crinkled behind Harry Potter glasses from any line-up. Just as he could have done with Guy Lefevre. Wavy dark brown hair, brown eyes, a scatter of freckles across his nose and cheeks. Seven years old, tall for his age, he'd last been seen heading for an overgrown stand of trees on the edge of Downton Park, about three miles from where Merrick was standing now. It had been around seven on a damp spring evening. Guy had asked his mother if he could go out for another half-hour's play. He'd been looking for birds' nests, mapping them obsessively on a grid of the scrubby little copse. They'd found the grid two days later, on the far edge of the trees, crumpled into a ball twenty yards from the bank of the disused canal that had once run from the railhead to the long-silent wool mills. That had been the last anyone had seen of anything connected to Guy Lefevre.
And now another boy seemed also to have vanished into thin air. Merrick sighed and lowered the binoculars. They'd had to wait for daylight to complete their search of the area. They'd all clung to a faint hope that Tim had had an accident, that he was lying somewhere injured and unable to make himself heard. That hope was dead now. The frustration of having no leads bit deep. Time to round up the usual suspects. Merrick knew from past experience how unlikely it was to produce results, but he wasn't prepared to leave any avenue unexplored.
He pulled out his mobile and called his sergeant, Kevin Matthews. "Kev? Don here. Start bringing the nonces in."
"No sign, then?"
"Not a trace. I've even had a team through the tunnel half a mile up the tracks. No joy. It's time to start rattling some cages."
"How big a radius?"
Merrick sighed again. Bradfield Metropolitan Police area stretched over an area of forty-four square miles, protecting and serving somewhere in the region of 900,000 people. According to the latest official estimates he'd read, that meant there were probably somewhere in the region of 3,000 active paedophiles in the force area. Fewer than ten per cent of that number was on the register of sex offenders. Rather less than the tip of the iceberg. But that was all they had to go on. "Let's start with a two-mile radius," he said. "They like to operate in the comfort zone, don't they?" As he spoke, Merrick was painfully aware that these days, with people commuting longer distances to work, with so many employed in jobs that kept them on the road, with local shopping increasingly a thing of the past, the comfort zone was, for most citizens, exponentially bigger than it had ever been even for their parents' generation. "We've got to start somewhere," he added, his pessimism darkening his voice.
He ended the call and stared down the bank, shielding his eyes against the sunshine that lent the grass and trees below a blameless glow. The brightness made the search easier, it was true. But it felt inappropriate, as if the weather was insulting the anguish of the Goldings. This was Merrick's first major case since his promotion, and already he suspected he wasn't going to deliver a result that would make anybody happy. Least of all him.
Dr. Tony Hill balanced a bundle of files on the arm carrying his battered briefcase and pushed open the door of the faculty office. He had enough time before his seminar group to collect his mail and deal with whatever couldn't be ignored. The psychology department secretary emerged from the inner office at the sound of the door closing. "Dr. Hill," she said, sounding unreasonably pleased with herself.
"Morning, Mrs. Stirrat," Tony mumbled, dropping files and briefcase to the floor while he reached for the contents of his pigeonhole. Never, he thought, was a woman more aptly named. He wondered if that was why she'd chosen the husband she had.
"The Dean's not very pleased with you," Janine Stirrat said, folding her arms across her ample chest.
"Oh? And why might that be?" Tony asked.
"The cocktail party with SJP yesterday evening--you were supposed to be there."
With his back to her, Tony rolled his eyes. "I was engrossed in some work. The time just ran away from me."
"They're a major donor to the behavioural psychology research programme," Mrs. Stirrat scolded. "They wanted to meet you."
Tony grabbed his mail in an unruly pile and stuffed it into the front pocket of his briefcase. "I'm sure they had a wonderful time without me," he said, scooping up his files and backing towards the door.
"The Dean expects all academic staff to support fundraising, Dr. Hill. It's not much to ask, that you give up a couple of hours of your time--"
"To satisfy the prurient curiosity of the executives of a pharmaceutical company?" Tony snapped. "To be honest, Mrs. Stirrat, I'd rather set my hair on fire and beat the flames out with a hammer." Using his elbow to manipulate the handle, he escaped into the corridor without waiting to check the affronted look he knew would be plastered across her face.
Temporarily safe in the haven of his own office, Tony slumped in the chair behind his computer. What the hell was he doing here? He'd managed to bury his unease about the academic life for long enough to accept the Reader's job at St. Andrews, but ever since his brief and traumatic excursion back into the field in Germany, he'd been unable to settle. The growing realization that the university had hired him principally because his was a sexy name on the prospectus hadn't helped. Students enrolled to be close to the man whose profiles had nailed some of the country's most notorious serial killers. And donors wanted the vicarious, voyeuristic thrill of the war stories they tried to cajole from him. If he'd learned nothing else from his sojourn in the university, he'd come to understand that he wasn't cut out to be a performing seal. Whatever talents he possessed, pointless diplomacy had never been among them.
This morning's encounter with Janine Stirrat felt like the last straw. Tony pulled his keyboard closer and began to compose a letter.
Three hours later, he was struggling to recover his breath. He'd set off far too fast and now he was paying the price. He crouched down and felt the rough grass at his feet. Dry enough to sit on, he decided. He sank to the ground and lay spread-eagled till the thumping in his chest eased off. Then he wriggled into a sitting position and savoured the view. From the top of Largo Law, the Firth of Forth lay before him, glittering in the late spring sunshine. He could see right across to Berwick Law, its volcanic cone the prehistoric twin to his own vantage point, separated now by miles of petrol blue sea. He checked off the landmarks: the blunt thumb of the Bass Rock, the May Island like a basking humpback whale, the distant blur of Edinburgh. They had a saying in this corner of Fife: "If you can see the May Island, it's already raining." It didn't look like rain today. Only the odd smudge of cloud broke the blue, like soft streamers of aerated dough pulled from the middle of a morning roll. He was going to miss this when he moved on.
But spectacular views were no justification for turning his back on the true north of his talent. He wasn't an academic. He was a clinician first and foremost, then a profiler. His resignation would take effect at the end of term, which gave him a couple of months to figure out what he was going to do next.
He wasn't short of offers. Although his past exploits hadn't always endeared him to the Home Office establishment, the recent case he'd worked on in Germany and Holland had helped him leapfrog the British bureaucracy. Now the Germans, the Dutch and the Austrians wanted him to work for them as a consultant. Not just on serial murder, but on other criminal activity that treated international frontiers as if they didn't exist. It was a tempting offer, with a guaranteed minimum that would be just about enough to live on. And it would give him the chance to return to clinical practice, even if it was only part-time.
Then, there was Carol Jordan to consider. As always when she came into his thoughts, his mind veered away from direct confrontation. Somehow, he had to find a way to atone for what had happened to her, without her ever knowing that was what he was trying to do.
And so far, he had no idea how he could achieve that.