Wapping, London, present day. It's a warm spring in the capital, and heroin addict Catherine Berlin feels the clammy breath of the past on her neck. Battling to stay clean, and bearing the scars of her most recent case, she is struggling to outpace her demons.
An old contact has offered her a job investigating a violent attack by a seventeen-year-old public schoolboy, a Chinese orphan on a prestigious scholarship. The victim has gone missing, and the boy's patron, a shadowy peer, claims the case is being manipulated by the Chinese government. Seduced by the boy's vulnerability and the peer's allegations, Berlin journeys to Hong Kong, where she uncovers a conspiracy that reaches from the Pearl River Delta to the Palace of Westminster.
Spring. The blanket of fog shrouding London was a perversion of the season. It drifted in dense clouds across the capital as Catherine Berlin followed a hearse through the grand arch of the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium. She wondered how long it would be before she passed under it feet first.
Shuffling feet and the slow, steady crunch of tyres on gravel echoed in the still air. The hearse crept towards a mound of fresh soil and the wounded earth beside it.
The grave was not quite empty.
A million people were said to be interred on the two-hundred-acre site, the more recently deceased weighing down ancient bones excavated from medieval parish graveyards. Berlin imagined the original occupants groaning beneath the tier of coffins above.
The phone in her pocket vibrated. Ignoring the frowns of the other mourners, she fished it out, checked the caller ID, and answered.
"I've got a job for you," said Del.
Delroy Jacobs was her closest friend. Although he didn't have a lot of competition in that department.
A Plaistow boy, what Del lacked in Oxbridge degrees and old school ties he made up for with charm, loyalty and street smarts, which he rarely used, now confined to a safe management role by the needs of his growing family: Molly, eighteen months, and twins on the way.
Del worked for Burghley LLP, a boutique outfit established by former spooks and Whitehall types. They offered discreet investigative and intelligence services. Deep pocket essential. Burghley were well connected at the highest levels.
If they were offering her a job, it was an assignment nobody else wanted. It was dirty.
"What is it?" said Berlin.
"Misper," said Del.
A missing person. Berlin glanced at the coffin suspended above the yawning pit. Resisting the urge to run, she averted her eyes from the sea of startled faces around her, pushed through the throng and walked away.
The Times/Sunday Times Crime Club
"Imaginative plot ... the vividly-drawn characters and fast-moving action make this a lively read."
Shots, crime & thriller ezine
"Starts with a bang and keeps going ... definitely a page-turner. "
The Independent Crime Roundup
"With focused, trenchant writing, this is a clear demonstration that Hauxwell is the real deal."