The latest in Sophie Hannah’s internationally bestselling Zailer & Waterhouse series, named by The Sunday Times as one of the 50 Best Thrillers of the Last Five Years
When Gaby’s plane is delayed, she’s forced to share a hotel room with a stranger: Lauren, who is terrified of her. But why is she scared of Gaby in particular? Lauren won’t explain. Instead, she blurts out something about an innocent man going to prison for murder. Gaby soon suspects that Lauren’s presence on her flight isn’t a coincidence, because the murder victim is Francine Breary, the wife of the only man Gaby has ever truly loved.
Tim Breary has confessed. He’s even provided the police with evidence. The only thing he hasn’t given them is a motive. He claims to have no idea why he murdered his wife...
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Sophie Hannah is the bestselling author of eight novels and is also an award-winning poet. Her new Hercule Poirot mystery, the first to be sanctioned by the Agatha Christie estate, will be published in September 2014. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and two children, and is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
POLICE EXHIBIT 1431B/SK—
TRANSCRIPT OF HANDWRITTEN LETTER FROM KERRY JOSE TO FRANCINE BREARY DATED 14 DECEMBER 2010
Why are you still here, Francine?
I’ve always believed that people can will their own deaths. If our minds can make us wake up exactly a minute before our alarm clocks are due to go off, they must be capable of stopping our breath. Think about it: brain and breath are more powerfully linked than brain and bedside table. A heart begged to stop by a mind that won’t take no for an answer—what chance does it stand? That’s what I’ve always thought, anyway.
And I can’t believe you want to stick around. Even if you do, it won’t be up to you for much longer. Someone will kill you. Soon. Every day I change my mind about who it will be. I don’t feel the need to try and stop them, only to tell you. By giving you the chance to take yourself away, out of reach, I am being fair to everybody.
Let me admit it: I am trying to talk you into dying because I’m scared you’ll recover. How can the impossible feel possible? It must mean I’m still afraid of you.
Tim isn’t. Do you know what he asked me once, years ago? He and I were in your kitchen at Heron Close. Those white napkin rings that always reminded me of neck braces were on the table. You’d got them out of the drawer, and the brown napkins with ducks around the border, and slammed them down without saying anything; Tim was supposed to do the rest, whether or not he deemed it important for napkins to be inserted into rings only to be taken out again fifteen minutes later. Dan had gone out to collect the Chinese takeaway and you’d marched off to the bottom of the garden to sulk. Tim had ordered something healthy and bean-sprouty that we all knew he’d hate, and you’d accused him of choosing it for the wrong reason: to please you. I remember blinking back tears as I laid the table, after I’d clumsily grabbed the bundle of cutlery from his hands. There was nothing I could do to rescue him from you, but I could spare him the effort of putting the forks and knives out, and I was determined to. Little things were all Tim would let us do for him in those days, so Dan and I did them, as many of them as possible, putting all the effort and care into them that we could. Even so, I couldn’t touch those wretched napkin rings.
When I was sure I wasn’t going to cry, I turned and saw a familiar look on Tim’s face, the one that means “There’s something I’d like you to know, but I’m not prepared to say it, so I’m going to mess with your head instead.” You won’t be able to imagine this expression unless you’ve seen it, and I’m certain you never have. Tim gave up trying to communicate with you within a week of marrying you. “What?” I asked him.
“I wonder about you, Kerry,” he said. He meant for me to hear the pantomime suspicion in his voice. I knew he suspected me of nothing, and guessed that he was trying to find a camouflaged way to talk about himself, as he often did. I asked him what he wondered, and he said loudly, as if to an audience stretching back several rows in a large hall, “Imagine Francine dead.” Three words that planted an instant ache of longing in my chest. I so much wanted you not to be there anymore, Francine, but we were stuck with you. Before your stroke, I thought you’d probably live till you were a hundred and twenty.
“Would you still be scared of her?” Tim asked. Anyone listening who didn’t know him well would have thought he was teasing me and enjoying it. “I think you would. Even if you knew she was dead and never coming back.”
“You say it as if there’s an alternative,” I pointed out. “Dead and coming back.”
“Would you still hear her voice in your head, saying all the things she’d say if she were alive? Would you be any freer of her than you are now? If you couldn’t see her, would you imagine she must be somewhere else, watching you?”
“Tim, don’t be daft,” I said. “You’re the least superstitious person I know.”
“But we’re talking about you,” he said in a tone of polished innocence, again drawing attention to his act.
“No. I wouldn’t be scared of anyone who was dead.”
“If you’d be equally afraid of her dead, then killing her would achieve nothing,” Tim went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “Apart from probably a prison sentence.” He took four wineglasses with chunky opaque green glass stems out of a cupboard. I’d always hated them too, for their slime-at-the-bottom-of-your-drink effect.
“I’ve never understood why anyone thinks it’s interesting to speculate about the difference between murderers and the rest of us.” Tim pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge. “Who cares what makes one person willing and able to kill and another not? The answer’s obvious: degrees of suffering, and where you are on the bravery–cowardice spectrum. There’s nothing more to it. The only distinction worth investigating is the one between those of us whose presence in the world, however lackluster and chaotic, doesn’t crush the spirit in others to extinction, and those about whom that can’t be said, however kind we might want to be. Every murder victim is someone who has inspired at least one person to wish them out of existence. And we’re supposed to sympathize when they meet a bad end.” He made a dismissive noise.
I laughed at his outrageousness, then felt guilty for falling for it. Tim is never better at cheering me up than when he sees no hope of consolation for himself; I’m supposed to feel happier, and imagine that he’s following the same emotional trajectory. “You’re saying all murder victims are asking for it?” I willingly rose to the bait. If he wants to discuss something, however ridiculous, even now, I debate with him until he decides he’s had enough. Dan does too. It’s one of the many millions of odd forms love can take. I doubt you’d understand.
“You’re assuming, wrongly, that the victim of a murder is always the person who’s been killed and not the killer.” Tim poured himself a glass of wine. He didn’t offer me one. “To cause someone so much inconvenience that they’re willing to risk their liberty and sacrifice what’s left of their humanity to remove you from the face of the earth ought to be regarded as a more serious crime than taking a gun or a blunt instrument and ending a life, all other things being equal.”
By inconvenience, he meant pain. “You’re biased,” I said. I knew Dan might be back any second with the food, and I wanted to say something more direct than I’d normally have risked. I decided that, in starting this extraordinary conversation, Tim had given me his tacit permission. “If you think of Francine as a spirit-crusher, if the only reason you haven’t killed her is that you’d be more scared of her dead than alive . . .” I said.
“I don’t know where you’ve got all that from.” Tim grinned. “Hearing things again?” We both understood why he was smiling: I had received his message and would not forget it. He knew it was safe with me. It took me years of knowing Tim to work out that change is never what he’s after; all he wants is to stow the important information with someone he can trust.
“You can leave her more easily than you think,” I told him, craving change—the enormous, irreversible kind—more than enough for both of us. “There doesn’t have to be a confrontation. You don’t need to tell her you’re going, or have any contact with her after you’ve left. Dan and I can help you. Let Francine keep this house. Come and live with us.”
“You can’t help,” Tim said firmly. He paused, long enough for me to understand—or misunderstand, as I knew he’d insist if I made an issue of it—before adding, “Because I don’t need help. I’m fine.”
I overheard him talking to you yesterday, Francine. He wasn’t weighing his every word, planning several conversational moves ahead. He was just talking, telling you another Gaby story. It involved an airport, of course. Gaby seems to live in airports, when she’s not in midair. I don’t know how she can stand it—it would drive me insane. This particular story was about the time the scanning machine at Madrid-Barajas ate one of her shoes, and Tim was enjoying telling it. It sounded as if he was saying whatever came to mind without censoring himself at all. Nothing contrived, no element of performance. Very un-Tim. As I eavesdropped, I realized that any fear he once had is long gone. What I can’t work out is: does that mean he’s likely to kill you, or that he needs you to live forever?
THURSDAY, 10 MARCH 2011
The young woman next to me is more upset than I am. Not only me; she is more upset than everyone else in the airport put together, and she wants us all to know it. Behind me, people are grumbling and saying, “Oh, no,” but no one else is weeping apart from this girl, or shaking with fury. She is able to harangue the Fly4You official and cry copiously at the same time. I’m impressed that she seems not to need to interrupt her diatribe, ever, to gulp incoherently in the way that sobbing people normally do. Also, unlike regular folk, she appears not to know the difference between a travel delay and bereavement.
I don’t feel sorry for her. I might if her reaction were less extreme. I feel sorriest for people who insist they are absolutely fine, even while their organs are being consumed at great speed by a flesh-eating bug. This probably says something bad about me.
I am not upset at all. If I don’t get home tonight, I’ll get there tomorrow. That will be soon enough.
“Answer my question!” the girl yells at the poor mild-mannered German man who has the misfortune to be posted at boarding gate B56. “Where’s the plane now? Is it still here? Is it down there?” She points to the concertina-walled temporary air-bridge that opens behind him, the one that, five minutes ago, we were all hoping to walk along and find our plane at the end of. “It’s down there, isn’t it?” she demands. Her face is unlined, blemish-free and weirdly flat; that of a vicious rag doll. She looks about eighteen, if that. “Listen, mate, there’s hundreds of us and only one of you. We could push past you and all get on the plane, a load of angry Brits, and refuse to get off till someone flies us home! I wouldn’t mess with a load of angry Brits if I were you!” She pulls off her black leather jacket as if preparing for a physical fight. The word “FATHER” is tattooed on her right upper arm, in large capital letters, blue ink. She’s wearing tight black jeans, a bullet belt, and lots of straps on her shoulders from a white bra, a pink camisole and a red sleeveless top.
“The plane is being rerouted to Cologne,” the German Fly4You man tells her patiently, for the third time. A name badge is pinned to his maroon uniform: Bodo Neudorf. I would find it hard to speak harshly to anyone named Bodo, though I wouldn’t expect others to share this particular scruple. “The weather is too dangerous,” he says. “There is nothing that I can do. I am sorry.” A reason-based appeal. In his shoes, I’d probably try the same tactic—not because it will work, but because if you possess rationality and are in the habit of using it regularly, you’re probably something of a fan and likely to overvalue its potential usefulness, even when dealing with somebody who finds it more helpful to accuse innocent people of hiding airplanes from her.
“You keep saying it’s being rerouted! That means you haven’t sent it anywhere yet, right?” She wipes her wet cheeks—an action violent enough to be mistaken for hitting herself in the face—and whirls round to face the crowd behind us. “He hasn’t sent it away at all,” she announces, the vibration of her outraged voice winning the sound war at boarding gate B56, drowning out the constant electronic pinging noises that announce the imminent announcement of the opening of gates for other flights, ones more fortunate than ours. “How can he have sent it away? Five minutes ago we were all sitting here ready to board. You can’t send a plane off to anywhere that quickly! I say we don’t let him send it away. We’re here, the plane must be here, and we all want to go home. We don’t care about the sodding weather! Who’s up for it?”
I’d like to turn round and see if everybody’s finding her one-woman show as embarrassingly compulsive as I am, but I don’t want our fellow non-passengers to imagine she and I are together simply because we’re standing side by side. Better to make it obvious that she’s nothing to do with me. I smile encouragingly at Bodo Neudorf. He replies with a curtailed smile of his own, as if to say, “I appreciate the gesture of support, but you would be foolish to imagine that anything you might do could compensate for the presence of the monstrosity beside you.”
Fortunately, Bodo doesn’t seem unduly alarmed by her threats. He has probably noticed that many of the people booked onto Flight 1221 are extremely well-behaved choirgirls between the approximate ages of eight and twelve, still wearing their choir robes after their concert in Dortmund earlier today. I know this because their choirmaster and the five or six parent chaperones were reminiscing proudly, while we waited to board, about how well the girls sang something called “Angeli, Archangeli.” They didn’t sound like the sort of people who would be quick to knock a German airport employee to the ground in a mass stampede, or insist on exposing their talented offspring to dangerous storm conditions for the sake of getting home when they expected to.
Bodo picks up a small black device that is attached to the departure gate desk by a length of coiled black wire, and speaks into it, having first pressed the button that makes the pinging noise that must precede all airport speech. “This is an announcement for all passengers for Flight 1221 to Combingham, England. That is Fly4You Flight 1221 to Combingham, England. Your plane is being rerouted to Cologne Airport and will depart from there. Please proceed to the Baggage Reclaim area to collect your bags, and then go to wait outside the airport, immediately outside the Departures Hall. We are trying to make the arrangement that coaches will collect you and take you to Cologne Airport. Please make your way to the collection point outside the Departures Hall as soon as possible.”
To my right, a smartly dressed woman with postbox-red hair and an American accent says, “We don’t need to hurry, people. These are hypothetical coaches: the slowest kind.”
“How long on the coach from here to Cologne?” a man calls out.
“I have no details yet about the timetable of the coaches,” Bodo Neudorf announces. His voice is lost in the spreading ripple of groans.
I’m glad I can miss out on the visit to Baggage Reclaim. The thought of everyone else traipsing down there to pick up the luggage they waited in a shuffling, zigzagging, rope-corralled queue to check in not much more than an hour ago makes me feel exhausted. It’s eight p.m. I was supposed to be landing in Combingham at eight-thirty English time, and going home for a long soak in a hot bubble bath with a chilled glass of Muscat. I woke up at five this morning to catch the seven o’clock from Combingham to Düsseldorf. I’m not a morning person, and resent any day that requires me to wake up earlier than seven a.m.; this one has already gone on too l...
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Descripción Hodder Paperback, 2013. Estado de conservación: New. Ships from the UK. BRAND NEW. Nº de ref. de la librería GRP78332569