Extracts from my own books

The following passages are extracts from my Sam Dyke Investigation novels and the standalone novel Actress.


I WISH I COULD say that the first time I met Rory Brand I knew he was a dead man walking.
     But I can’t.
     At that moment he was just another client eager to get me on his side.
   ‘Dyke, thanks for coming,’ he said, pumping my arm vigorously. I didn’t want to be outdone, so I matched the strength of his grip and watched him react with a swift competitive grin.
    ‘Nice grip,’ he said.
    ‘Call me Sam,’ I said.
   He was a stocky man a head shorter than me with cropped dark hair peppered with grey. His actions were purposeful and confident, his body language practised at being in charge. He had vitality and life, like most entrepreneurs I’d met. He closed the door behind me with a casual swipe of his arm, then directed me into the room, a small airless office with two large windows and chairs either side of a wooden table. I had the sense that he was used to people doing what he wanted. Well that wasn’t going to work with me—not without a good retainer anyway. ‘I hope we can get one thing straight right now,’ he said. ‘Rumour’s a bastard in this business so nobody else is to find out we talked, is that clear?’
     ‘I agreed to that yesterday,’ I said.
     ‘So call me paranoid. I don’t care. You obviously have more faith in people than I do.’
    His manner suggested that my opinions of humankind were in fact of no interest to someone as important as he was. So I said nothing. I looked out of the window at the blue rooftops of Waverley, wondering what it must be like to live in a place where your only concern was which colour carpet to lay in the loft.
     ‘Did Carol offer you a drink?’ Brand asked.
     ‘I’ve drunk enough coffee to float a yacht, Mr Brand,’ I said. ‘Before I sit down, I should tell you how it works. I ask for four hundred a day, plus expenses, with a non-returnable advance of two thousand. I have a standard contract we can work to, but I’ll understand if you don’t want to put anything in writing. I can give you a full receipt at the end of the assignment.’
    He laughed, an open-mouthed and full-chested affair, his eyes turning up slightly at the corners as if astonished by his own response.
     ‘Four hundred a day?’ he said. ‘You’re joking. I’m a management consultant. I wouldn’t get out of bed for that. Here’s some consultancy for free—put up your rates or people will think you’re crap.’
     ‘They’ve had nothing to complain about so far,’ I said.
     He looked interested. ‘I asked around but nobody knew how to get hold of a private investigator. I had to find you in the phone book. Struck me we could help you with some marketing. That box in the Yellow Pages can’t get you much business.’
     ‘It got you,’ I said stiffly.
    ‘Christ on a bike,’ he said. ‘Where’s your ambition? I’d never have built up this business with that attitude. You’ve got to think big just to stand still in my line of work.’


I don’t care how experienced you are as a private investigator, when your son is holding a heavyweight Desert Eagle pistol on you, and he’s not smiling, it gets your attention.
     ‘Is it loaded?’ I said.
     ‘No fun if it’s not,’ he said.
     I considered my options. I could rush him—but my desk was between us. I could sweet-talk him—but I wasn’t in the mood and I didn’t think he was, either.
     ‘You’ve got a plan to get away,’ I said.
     ‘Not that you’d notice. I’m as shocked as you are to get this far.’ Coming as it did from a skinny teenager’s body, his voice was surprisingly confident and strong.
     ‘You need a plan if you’re going to shoot someone,’ I said. ‘I don’t think you’ve thought this through.’
     ‘If I’d have thought this through I wouldn’t have come. I had to do it like on impulse.’
     ‘Impulsiveness isn’t a good trait in someone holding a gun.’
     ‘And being mouthy isn’t good for someone staring down its barrel.’
     He had a point. I watched his eyes and gauged his breathing. There was no hand-shake and he hadn’t cracked a sweat. Two minutes previously I’d been browsing through a copy of Uncut magazine when he’d knocked and entered without invitation. A slim youth with dark hair wearing a green hooded anorak over pale washed jeans and scuffed Nike trainers. He’d checked that I was Sam Dyke, private investigator of this parish, then reached inside his anorak and pulled out the gun like an archaeologist with a rare find, holding it carefully but just tight enough to be secure. In that confident voice he’d told me his name was Dan and asked whether I knew who he was. He was surprised when I said I did.
     Now he asked, ‘Don’t you want to know why I’m here?’ He waved the gun slightly, as though it might encourage curiosity.
     ‘You’ll tell me eventually. I’m more interested in how you found me.’
     ‘Never mind how,’ he said. ‘The point is, I’m here and you’re there.’
     I crossed my arms and he took a step backwards.
     ‘Go steady,’ he said.
     My office is square, with one door and one window looking out over the centre of Crewe, and holds a desk, a leather seat for me and two upright chairs for clients.
     I’d never had more than two clients in my office at one time. I didn’t think I could take the excitement.
   ‘So let me get this straight,’ I said. ‘I’m guessing you found out I’m your dad and you think I’m responsible for your mother’s death. You’ve never met either of us and inside five minutes of tracking me down, you’re willing to kill me.’
     For the first time I saw a cloud of doubt cross his face.
     ‘Who said anything about killing you?’ he asked.
     I nodded at the gun. ‘Unless I’m mistaken, that’s not the new Nokia you’re pointing at me.’
     He looked at the handgun and was quiet for a moment. Then he said, ‘You’re just like I thought you’d be.’
     ‘How’s that, then?’
     ‘Cocky Yorkshireman. Showing how tough you are. Not really interested in me and what I’m doing here. Nice to meet you, Dad.’
     ‘Take a seat and we’ll chat. How does a nice cup of tea sound?’
     ‘Don’t take the piss.’
    ‘Then how about telling me what you want before your gun arm gets tired and you shoot me by accident? You’re beginning to look sleepy.’
     This time he didn’t say anything but pulled up one of the client chairs and sat in it, dropping his slight frame as if he were no more than bones wrapped in clothing. He looked around at the office briefly.
     ‘So this is where you make a living,’ he said. ‘What is it that private investigators do nowadays? Serve court papers? Photograph adulterers?’
     ‘You’re talking top-of-the-range work there.’
     ‘I looked you up on the internet. You don’t exist, do you? No web presence at all. Probably just as well. The sites I did see were a joke—lots of photos of middle-aged white men trying to look trustworthy while wearing a suit and tie.’
     ‘We meet down the golf club and regale each other with stories about our wacky clients.’
The April rain suddenly threw itself against my office window and we both looked at it.
     ‘So where are we, then?’ I asked.
     ‘I’m thinking,’ he said. ‘I’m beginning to wonder whether you’re up to it.’


HE HAD WANTED to take her with him, but now he would have to kill her.
     There were too many people around and they were too close. And they were all translators – they could call for help in over twenty languages.
     Connell Steele, who was not without a sense of humour, grinned to himself. Although the concept of evil was one in which he didn’t believe, he recognised that others would think it a wicked act to kill someone so obviously undeserving.
     But at this point in his career he didn’t care. His experience had taught him that everyone had an agenda and it was not his job to understand this woman’s. He was being paid a fee and, most of the time, he told himself that that was all the moral indemnity he required.
     The Conference of European Translators was being held for the first time in the Mansion House of Edinburgh Zoo, a grand Victorian pile that stood at the top of contoured grounds like a stern overseer and looked down on a wide and unexpected collection of exotic animals. Conferences were held most days in the Mansion House unknown to the gaggles of visitors who wandered around the zoo below.
     The target had arrived an hour previously and had engaged in a raging and bitter argument with a uniformed guard in the entrance foyer. The guard had been sufficiently cowed – or pissed-off – that he had made a phone call, glancing suspiciously at her all the while from beneath his peaked cap. The target had then spoken to the stiff-looking woman who had arrived, striding purposefully in a pencil skirt across the lobby, and had eventually been allowed to walk up to the Mansion House itself, accompanied by the guard.
Steele had thought he saw an attitude of triumphalism in her body language – a kind of strut that infected her gait, probably without her knowing. Steele had been party to many covert observations and thought he was passably expert at sizing up the mental landscapes of those he observed.
     The guard had dragged one of the delegates out of the evening meal – a thin man with long hair who, to Steele, looked like a filing clerk with ambition. The target had spoken urgently to him for two minutes and then, with the conversation apparently concluding amicably, she had been allowed by the guard to go to the bar, where Steele now observed her attentively.
     From his position in a dark corner of the room, beneath an oil painting of a bearded, crimson-cheeked Victorian, Steele watched the target drink her rum and coke. She looked pleased with herself, sitting at one of the tables by the large picture window and smiling from time to time, her hand clasped over the tan leather handbag that had never left her side.
     Obviously that was where she kept the asset.
    Steele shifted in his seat and felt again for the wire in his blazer pocket. Its loop was cool and firm against his fingers. He glanced around the bar. Pairs, trios and larger groups of men and women from a variety of nationalities were sitting talking in umpteen languages. The Conference had attracted almost two hundred delegates from more than twenty countries, ready to discuss areas of translation that seemed to his reading of the programme both obscure and pathetic.
     But that was all right. Now he knew whom the target had spoken to he could act on the first objective. Still thinking of himself as a military man – despite everything that had happened to him – he liked objectives that linked together into a plan. His particular skill, he told himself, was to be flexible around those objectives so long as the ultimate outcome was achieved. Lately he’d been thinking a lot about karma and what it meant to someone in his profession. If it was true that the sins he committed on this earth would be sent to revisit him, then he was in for a rough ride in his next incarnation. But until that journey came to pass he would do the best he could to live a purposeful life. Whatever that purpose turned out to be.


THE NINTH RULE of private detection states that you should never take on a client you think might be nuts.
I wasn’t entirely convinced this was the case with the woman who’d called me that morning, but I was certainly tending that way.
As I walked towards Chatwins, the best bakery in the north west, looking forward to a latte and a slice of Victoria sponge in their tea-room, I warned myself against being a soft touch. She’d asked me to carry a folded newspaper in my left hand and told me I should call her Barbara, though I doubted that was her real name. A certain amount of paranoia in the people you deal with in this job is acceptable, but you can take things too far.
Nevertheless, here I was on a cold Monday lunchtime in Crewe, my leather jacket pulled up around my ears and a copy of The Guardian stuffed under my left arm. If nothing else I wanted to see what she looked like. She’d sounded as though she’d been talking to me from a cupboard with her hand over the mouthpiece and her eyes wide and staring. My kind of client.
I crossed the street and was about to open the bakery’s door when another customer opened it from the inside and slipped out, holding it ajar. I went through gratefully and was murmuring a word of thanks when she said, ‘Costa Coffee, fifteen minutes.’
I had the presence of mind to nod and then continue inside without looking at her. I knew she was slim and dark-haired, a little taller than the average. She’d kept her face turned away from me so I got nothing else except a whiff of floral perfume.
Once inside I joined the queue for bread and bought a brown loaf. Most of the customers were older women and I felt as though they’d all seen the playlet at the door and weren’t fooled.
I stood for a moment and looked through the plate glass windows at the passing pedestrians. None of them looked sinister, or even vaguely naughty. When my fifteen minutes were up I went out into the wind again and crossed the pedestrianised town centre, ignoring the siren call of Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall and clutching both the bread and the newspaper like any ordinary shopper, a hard act for me to pull off.
She was sitting at the furthest table from the door in Costa Coffee’s murky rear section. She watched me come in and picked up her coffee mug so that my provisions didn’t knock it over. Her eyes moved past me to watch the door as I pulled out a chair.
She was somewhere in her late twenties or perhaps just thirty, with straight black hair pulled into a severe knot at the back of her head. Her face was oval, her skin nearly as white as the coffee mug she held between her fingers. She was dressed for the office—a simple black skirt and a cream blouse underneath a maroon jacket that had some kind of complicated lapel thing going on. Her lips were rather large but matched the fullness of her round eyes. It wasn’t a hardship to sit opposite her.
I said, ‘Barbara.’
‘What? Oh, yes. I gave you that name, didn’t I? I forgot. My mother’s name.’
‘But not yours.’
‘Are you mad? Of course not. Why would I give you my real name when I don’t know you?’
‘You’re the one who called me. It’s not like I’ve been hunting you down.’
She looked away as though gathering herself, going over options.
She said, ‘Are you any good at this?’
‘Irritating women? It’s my speciality. I can get you references, if you’d like.’
‘This being-a-private-detective business. Sam Dyke Investigations, or whatever your Yellow Pages ad says. I have no idea what you do, or whether you can help me. Well, actually, it’s not me. Well, it is in a way …’
I held up a hand.
‘First, why are we meeting here and not in my warm and cosy office? What are you frightened of?’
‘I’m not frightened … not exactly. But I wanted to meet you in public, out in the open.’
‘So now we’re in the open you’re worried someone will see us. Unless there’s something on my shoulder that you can’t take your eyes off.’
She raised those large round eyes—which I’d noticed by now were a kind of bluey-green—back to my face.
‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Things seem to be going crazy around me. Around my boss. That’s why I’m here.’
I leaned back in my chair and summoned up some preconceptions and prejudices: secretary, boss. Young secretary, very attractive. Perhaps an older boss who decides to notice her …
She headed me off.
‘It’s not what you think.’
‘What do I think?’
‘That I’m having an affair or something grubby like that. It’s not.’
‘Okay, so what is it?’
‘Are you going to have a drink?’
‘Should I? Will I need one?’
‘It might look less suspicious.’
‘Of course, coffee always lessens the look of guilt I wear on a daily basis.’
Nevertheless I stood up and fetched a latte grande, then sat facing her again.
I said, ‘So tell me. What’s going on? And what do you think I can do about it?’
She took one more sip of her coffee, sticking out her tongue to lick a feather of froth from the mug’s rim.
‘Do you know Midwinter? The company?’
I shook my head. She nodded, as though she hadn’t expected me to know.
‘It’s a kind of research laboratory out near Alderley Edge. Only about two hundred of us work there. Very private. Not secret as such, not working for the government or anything like that. More like environmental research, though there are teams working on different projects too.’
‘Scientists, white coats, petri jars and retorts.’
‘Exactly, though I’m not sure what a retort is. My boss would know. Nathan. Doctor Nathan Mustow.’
‘So he’s one of the scientists?’
‘Definitely. Very bright man. I’m his assistant, on the admin side. He’s part of a team of people working on something to do with bioaerosols …’
I raised my other hand. I needed the exercise.
‘Is there going to be a test on all this?’
‘I’m sorry. I don’t understand it all either. Nathan told me once that bioaerosols are basically living organisms caught up in moisture in the air. They can be harmless like pollen or a bit nastier, like viruses and spores. His group study how they’re carried and when they’re active and so on. He’s been all over the world doing research. I’ve written up papers for him.’
‘So he’s a big cheese in the world of bugs.’
‘If you want to belittle him, yes.’
‘I’m sorry, I get carried away with my own wit sometimes. So what’s the problem? Why have you come to see me?’
Her shoulders slumped and she stared down at the table. Then she lifted her head, and those eyes, and there was fear and sorrow and hesitation all compounded into one forlorn expression.
‘I have no idea what I’m doing here. I … I just feel I need to do something. I’ve worked for him for nearly two years and I think I know him quite well.’

‘And he’s falling apart.’


They continued along the Croisette, the commercial buildings falling behind as they entered what seemed to be a more residential quarter. Large pink houses reared up like slices of wedding cake, then multi-tiered hotels, white as piano keys and ridged with balconies overlooking another aspect of the harbour, where even more yachts were drawn up.
Mai began to feel very small, insignificant and scared. This scale of material wealth and goods was something that she had not seen before and something inside her resisted its appeal.
The car turned off the wide avenue towards the harbour, pulling up alongside a large private gate. He pressed something on the sun visor and the gate slid back. They moved on.
Now Mai caught sight of the largest yacht she thought it was possible to imagine. It swept towards her, its prow as sharp and sleek as the beak of an eagle ... and she realised that unlike other yachts she’d seen on the way, its prow did in fact swoop downwards, towards the gently moving water, as though the designer had turned his plans upside down at the last moment. As the car drove the length of the ship, she watched its bridge rise above her, looking more like the conning tower of a submarine than the control room of a pleasure craft.
The chauffeur turned his head towards her. ‘One hundred forty metres. Biggest in world. You have nice time.’
The car stopped at the foot of the lengthy gangway and she climbed out. The yacht cast a huge cool shadow over the quay. Further down she saw a variety of different shaped boxes being loaded up a moving conveyor belt into a hold. Around her, men in white uniforms bustled back and forth, moving between the gangway and a small white building set back from the water. The men talked to each other over hand-held radios in accented English, stepping around her as though she were part of the scenery.
The chauffeur had deposited her wheel-case next to her. He tipped his hat and said, ‘Have good journey, Miss Rose.’
Then he climbed in the car, made a three-point turn and drove away.
A slim man in a charcoal outfit came down the stairs. His hair was long but artfully turned into a quiff and he looked like a rockabilly singer turned corporate flunky. He strode towards her, a grim smile on his face.
‘Miss Rose, glad you made it. I’m Johnny Lamb, Mr Nemirovsky’s European aide. I hope the trip was comfortable?’
‘Ah yes, all the glitter is a bit ... shocking, isn’t it, first time round.’ He turned his head abruptly and called to a passing steward. ‘Philippe – take Miss Rose’s bag, please. In her cabin.’
The man stopped at once, nodded to Mai and picked up her wheel-case. He offered to take her weekend bag from her shoulder but she declined. He went up the gangway.
‘Let’s follow, shall we?’
As they climbed the gangway Johnny took pride in telling her about the yacht – currently the longest private yacht in the world, designed by a Brazilian architect and built at a cost of three hundred and fifty million dollars. Two swimming pools and a massage pool. Ten guest bedrooms, two dining rooms. A disco. ‘What’s more,’ he added, ‘free wi-fi!’
Mai smiled. She liked him. He looked as though he might be pompous but she detected an air of faint amusement in his manner.
They had walked down a corridor and climbed a mirror-lined staircase. Now they stood outside a door – she assumed it was a door although there was no handle, just a round button and a slot for a key card.
‘Put your finger on the button for a couple of seconds,’ Johnny instructed.
She did so and when she removed her finger he slid a card in the slot and then put his own index finger on the button. The door remained shut.
‘OK, now it’s coded with your fingerprint. Only cabin crew and you can get in for the duration of your stay.’
‘And Mr Nemirovsky?’
Johnny smiled. ‘Well, he is the owner. OK, some rules. By all means wander around and get your bearings. There are nearly forty staff-members on board at the moment so if you get lost you should find someone who can point you back here. We ask you to please not take any photographs of the inside of the ship. Up top, fine, that’s common knowledge. When you leave we’ll give you a brochure that describes most of the interesting stuff inside, if you want to show your friends. But Mr Nemirovsky is a private man and doesn’t want the whole world to know what the inside of his living space looks like. Fair enough? We’ll be monitoring your Facebook page afterwards, so watch your step!’
‘I’ll try and be a good girl.’
‘Thank you. Now tonight there’s a bit of a gathering. It starts at seven o’clock up in the main dining room. Go along this corridor and up the stairs at the end, then turn left and follow the sounds of people going ooh and aah ... you won’t miss it.’
‘Formal? Informal? Jeans or a slinky black number?’
‘That’s been taken care of. Don’t worry about it.’
He leaned past her and placed his finger on the button. This time the door swung open smoothly. She saw her bag already inside, nestling on plush cream carpet. She walked inside and laid down her weekend bag.
‘One final thing,’ Johnny said from the doorway. ‘Mr Nemirovsky will be here with his mother tonight. So just a thought about behaviour, eh?’
The door swung closed before Mai’s blush had time to be visible to him. She didn’t know whether his last words were a general warning to be careful because the Aged Parent was going to be there ... or was aimed specifically at her because of her YouTube exploits.
She shook off the thought and turned into the room. It was larger than most hotel rooms she’d stayed in. In fact, it was almost as large as her apartment in Greenwich. A soft round bed was placed against the far wall and next to it a long window looked out over the far side of the harbour with other, smaller, yachts huddled together like poor relations observing celebrations at the Big House. To her right a sliding door led into a plush bathroom with a separate bath, large shower and a mirror that filled almost all of the wall. Expensive silver accoutrements dispensed soap, tissues, shampoos, nail files, hair nets, scissors, cotton buds, toothpastes ...
She laid her bag on the soft duvet of the bed and opened it to unpack. Glancing around she saw that fitted wall cupboards lined one wall and she slid one back. Inside, a simple dress hung from a wooden hangar. The transparent bag in which it was encased said ‘Vera Wang’. She knew it would be in her size.
She felt the beginnings of an ooh and an aah.
When she’d finished unpacking she placed her bag in another sliding cupboard and turned back to the bed. She had noticed a box about six inches long on her bedside table. She opened the lid slowly. Inside, a necklace glinted at her, its many facets catching the expensive late-afternoon French sunlight that had just begun to edge through the window.

She gave herself permission to utter a low, ‘Oh my god.’