SHORT LISTED FOR THE CWA DEBUT DAGGER
When heroin addict and investigator Catherin Berlin finds the almost-headless body of her informant, 'Juliet Bravo', she is unsurprised to discover the death is linked to a local loan shark. But when Berlin's own unorthodox methods are blamed for the murder, she realises bigger predators are circling.
Then, after stumbling upon the body of her GP (an unconventional doctor who would still supply prescription heroin), Berlin begins to fear for more than her job...
Suspended, incriminated, and then blackmailed into cooperation by the detective leading the investigation, Catherine Berlin has seven stolen days of clarity in which to solve the crime - and find a new supplier.
Catherine Berlin gazed down at the blue flesh swaying in the grey water, the outline of the woman’s remains softened by a bone chilling February mist. The backwash from a water taxi on the river rippled into the lock. Berlin felt her own body rock gently with the swell that roiled the corpse, exposing a deep, serrated gash at the throat, as if someone had taken a bite. With faint bewilderment, she recognised a quickening of her icy heart. So this is what it took to move her. Someone would pay.
The case conference with the Murder and Serious Crime Squad was perfunctory. The men at the table regarded Berlin with indifference. She was just a civilian investigator with a regulatory agency. At fifty-five her lean frame was tending to look wasted. Her hair, once blonde, was now a dirty melange of grey, streaked with tarnished gold.
The squad boss, Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, was about her age and seemed long past throwing his not inconsiderable weight around. He put down his bacon roll, slipped on his glasses and read from a notebook. ‘A bite or a tear. A wound from some kind of serrated edge or teeth, anyway, which perforated the neck, almost severing the head. We’re waiting on forensics. In the meantime, Ms Berlin, are you able to provide us with any more intelligence about this source of yours?’
He didn’t look at her as he spoke, but his tone was mild and she sensed his apparent indifference towards her arose from professional disinterest rather than arrogance.
Berlin went through it again as the others shuffled their papers. ‘She called the hotline and identified Archie Doyle as an illegal moneylender. Our first meeting was at Starbucks about four months ago. The date’s in the file. She was well spoken, plausible, but nervous. I needed to win her confidence. We arranged another meeting. In the meantime further inquiries were made, approval was obtained for surveillance, and observation commenced.’
A cocky young officer spoke up. Berlin had seen him before, but couldn’t recall where. She knew he recognised her too, but simply as a soft target. He wasn’t going to waste the opportunity.
‘So was she a concerned citizen, a disgruntled girlfriend or a victim? I mean, as I understand it, if the moneylender hasn’t got a license and is arrested, the debt is wiped, yeah? Big incentive.
‘That’s correct,’ said Berlin. She held his gaze, barely able to summon the energy to play this game. She remembered his name was Flint. The little weasel was a detective constable.
‘So which was she? Citizen, squeeze or vic?’ asked Flint.
‘She didn’t say.’
‘No name, no address,’ said Flint.
‘She wanted to use an alias. Juliet Bravo.’
Flint looked blank. Clearly it didn’t ring a bell.
‘On the telly. Before your time,’ murmured Thompson.
Flint’s nod was curt. He was on a roll now. ‘You had a mobile number for her, and that was it? I take it she was registered as a CHIS. You know what that is, don’t you? A Covert Human Intelligence Source.’ He said it very slowly.
‘No,’ said Berlin.
‘No, you don’t know, or no, she wasn’t registered?’ asked Flint.
Berlin caught Flint’s quick scan of his colleagues, to make sure they were picking up on his clever sarcasm.
‘She wasn’t registered,’ she said.
Flint shook his head and threw down his pen, a pantomime of incredulity. Berlin cleared her throat.
‘If I may explain, Detective Constable —’
‘Acting Detective Sergeant,’ snapped Flint.
Berlin decided not to bother. ‘Look, I was waiting for her at the lock at the Limehouse Basin this morning. It was very cold, so I kept moving.’
‘It was a bloody early meeting,’ remarked one of the officers.
‘A late night,’ said Berlin.
‘Party girl,’ sneered Flint. Was he referring to her or the dead woman?
‘Insomniac,’ said Berlin, similarly ambiguous. In fact insomnia was a trait she had shared with Juliet Bravo.
She waited until Thompson nodded that she should continue. ‘I walked around to the other side of the lock and something caught my eye. When I took a closer look I could see it was a body. At first I didn’t even realise it was her,’ she said.
Thompson sat back in his chair and Flint appeared to take this as a signal he could have free rein.
‘Which of you wanted to meet at the lock?’
‘She did. I —’
‘Preferred Starbucks. Yes, we know. Who else knew about this meeting?’
Berlin let his question hang out there. Like she would be, soon enough. Taken in an open cart from Newgate to Tyburn, hung for public amusement, cut down while still alive, then torn limb from limb. Quartered. Her daydreams echoed her nocturnal wanderings. Sometimes she couldn’t distinguish.
‘Why did you go alone?’ demanded Flint.
She didn’t answer.
‘Surely you people have standard operating procedures which you ignored by meeting her alone. Am I correct?’ he tried again. It was purely rhetorical. She remained silent.
He delivered the final blow. ‘Where is this shark Doyle now?’ He knew, but he was going to make her say it. Now she remembered where she’d seen him before. And who he’d been with.
‘The surveillance was withdrawn,’ she said.
The collective groan wasn’t even muted.
Someone would pay.
Making people pay was Doyle’s business. He had never believed in light-touch regulation. An undisciplined system gave weak characters the opportunity to get weaker. He’d learnt that from Frank.
Doyle was a short, solid man with squirrel cheeks and a pale complexion. His eyes held a permanently hurt expression, as if he couldn’t believe you were doing this to him, again. He stared into the lock and fiddled with his heavy gold rings. Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes. Concrete boots. On the other side the police were still working under floodlights. He stayed well back in the shadows. Word had reached him that the grass had been fished out. He thought it a pity they hadn’t taken the opportunity to remove the rest of the rubbish. The canal was a disgrace.
The tidal stain on the massive timbers of the lock bore testimony to the effort required to tame the sullen river and render it fit for trade. Doyle gazed into the dark eddies and saw the silent plea in the eyes of so many victims as they were consumed in the rush of water. It was a hard city and an unforgiving current that ran through it. He should know.
When Doyle was a kid, Frank would announce that he was going to see a man about a dog. Sometimes he would take Doyle with him. His mum didn’t like it, but she daren’t make a fuss once Frank had his mind made up. At the age of eight Doyle had stood here and watched Frank dangle a bloke between the huge lock gates, limbs inches from the crushing pressure. He would never forget the screams.
Doyle thought about the dead girl and sighed. No doubt she’d been badly brought up. Spoilt. No values. Learning the hard way hadn’t done him any harm. He spat into the filthy water. The sky was lightening and the police were switching off their floodlights in her blood and packing up their stuff. He should make himself scarce. He checked his watch. Time to go and see a man about a dog.
Peter Millar, The Times
"Catch the wave now, while it's building."
David Evans, The Financial Times
"...a stylishly written and assuredly paced debut that heralds a promising new series."
Ellie de Rose, Irish Examiner
"With meticulous detail and great character depth, In Her Blood is an assured start to Hauxwell’s career as a novelist. "
"In Her Blood is a fine crime novel, and a wonderful debut from a writer who looks set to give the cream of British crime fiction a run for their money."
Angela Savage, Radio National Books & Arts Daily
"The writing is sharp and suspenseful, the plot engaging, the characters enthralling. I’m hooked on Annie Hauxwell and hanging out for my next fix."
Debbie Phillips, Sunshine Coast Daily
"A gritty, fast-paced story...just the ticket for readers who like their crime fiction a shade darker than normal. "
"With a controversial drug-addicted heroine, Hauxwell's novels have already caused a stir in the book world. Expect her gritty crime series to rival some of the Scandi-greats."
East Lothian News
William Yeoman, The West Australian.
"Guilt, greed, criminality and addiction are the deep, dark lines incised across former lawyer, private investigator and scriptwriter Annie Hauxwell's powerful debut novel, In Her Blood."
Ron Ellis, Shots Mag.
"This is a compelling book, full of nostalgic glances to the old East End of her father's time, back beyond the Krays to Limehouse before it was obliterated by Canary Wharf and its army of crooked bankers. It is a complex plot and well written."
Cara Fielder, The Tattooed Book.
"This is a brilliantly fast paced novel, full of twists and turns and will have you utterly engrossed. I would highly recommend this to any lover of crime and look forward to more in the Catherine Berlin series."