We are delighted to announce the return of The TV Detective.
These hugely popular books by BBC News reporter Simon Hall are firm reader favourites and we are very excited to announce that Fahrenheit has just published the 3rd book in the series EVIL VALLEY.
To whet your appettite we're giving you a sneak preview with this EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT...
Death was stalking Haven Close.
The frosted, double glazing of the front door hardly softened the screaming. It was strangled, penetrating, like a desperate, agonised animal. A woman's voice, hysterical, with pain and fear. Again.
Lights flicked on in a line along the street, faces pressed to windows, fascinated heads shaking in sadness, but never so appalled as to risk missing the spectacle.
It had become a ritual. Frightening nights, shameful days. A thick layer of the morning's make up to cover the evening's wounds. Passing eyes avoided in the street. Conversation always shunned. Sunglasses, polo neck jumpers and jeans to hide the bruises.
A flashing blue light began to tint the quiet cars and houses and windows of the Close. Tyres slewed, and the gunning engine spluttered and died.
Two doors opened and closed fast, two broad silhouettes checked the array of heavy shapes encumbering their bodies. Two long, thin barrels, sleek and menacing. The careful fingers manipulated the cold metal handles, slid in the series of tiny, gleaming cylinders, tested the delicate crescent triggers.
‘Good to go?’
The figures nodded to each other, began moving, walking fast, following a straight, concrete path bisecting a perfect lawn. A worn and muddy mat bid a welcome to their heavy boots.
Death was edging closer.
More noise inside the house. First, a thud, then a smash, an echoing crash. The screaming rose to a screech.
Their heavy knocking forced a pause, a second’s hanging silence, then more sounds, vague at first, barely discernible, a soft sobbing, growing louder. Another crash. A fleeting shape in a dark window, moving furtively, like a hunter. Another scream, more hammering on the door, more screaming.
Then it stopped. Just halted. The house froze. No movement, no sound. Nothing.
Seconds slid by in silence. The figures exchanged glances, whispered together.
'Threat to life?'
'Too dangerous to wait?'
'We have to go in?'
The other figure paused, weighed the bulky weapon hanging at his side. 'Too tight in there. Too risky.'
'Has to be.'
Two hands reached for two holsters. One fist hammered again on the glass. The ominous quiet persisted inside.
That was how the operator had described the 999 call. At first it was a ghost, quiet, the hiss of the phone line, no words, just silence.
Now perhaps a hint of shallow breathing. Growing, getting louder, a low groan. Then the shock of a scream, a sickening crack, a gurgle, and more silence.
The line had gone dead, the number traced, the armed response vehicle scrambled. To find this; an unremarkable address in a modern neighbourhood.
A tidy street, an orderly line of cars parked under the amber streetlights, three bedroom houses, hopscotch grids chalked on the tarmac, safe semi-detached suburbia, all now dancing in the blue shadows of the flashing light from the patrol car.
And death, lingering, always just out of sight, hiding in the half light, but always there, rejoicing in the imminence of his moment.
More whispered urgency. 'You ready?'
'You sure this is justified after...'
'The last time?'
'If you... if we... take down another...'
'If we have to, we'll have done our job. That's all. Just like the last time.’
A brief silence. A muted thud and the hint of another moan crept from behind the frosted glass door.
'We're absolutely sure?'
'You heard the 999 call. It sounds like he's murdering her.’
‘So, the usual way?'
One silhouette touched the rim of its cap with a forefinger, breathed out hard. The other rubbed at a shining, silver crucifix hanging around its neck. They exchanged a fast glance, each nodded. The rituals of luck were complete. It was time.
A heavy black boot thumped into the door. It shuddered, but held. Again, and a complaining creak. Again, and the moan of warping plastic. Harder now and a splitting crash. The door careered open, juddering against a wall.
They edged in, one leading, one covering, both half crouched, pistols poised.
The hallway was narrow, in semi-darkness, pictures hanging at dizzy angles. A Dartmoor landscape. A New York skyline. A mirror, split with a diagonal crack.
A corner loomed. They slowed, carefully rounded it, step by sideways step. Underfoot a soaking, squelching carpet and a flickering luminescence from a smashed fish tank. Fronds of water still trickled, crunching broken glass, tiny golden outlines flipping weak and helpless on the floor.
Another corner. Another careful sliding around. Open space now.
A kitchen, fridge door hanging ajar, a wedge of light spilling out, more crunching glass on the smooth tiles. Cups and plates cracked and smashed, white shards littering the darkness. A photograph of a young couple, morning suit and a white wedding dress, beaming smiles turned to anguish in the cobweb of shattered glass.
And now movement. A woman, on her knees, a torn blouse hanging from her shaking shoulders, sobbing, begging. A man there too, hiding half in shadow, crouched above her, trembling.
‘Armed police, put your hands up!’
His head slowly turned, those eyes wild with reflected light, white teeth clenched in an enraged smile, a careless welcome to the snub nosed metal barrel now pointing at his chest.
‘Armed police!’ Louder now, the barked command booming in the stillness. ‘Put your hands where I can see them! Do it now! Do it and you won't be harmed!’
Still no movement. Still he crouched.
The fridge juddered into rumbling life. A sobbing moan from the human shape on the floor rose to accompany it. Then a shift, more movement, his arm rising, menacing, gathering momentum...
One shot, a whipping, deafening crack in the cramped, echoing space. Then another.
Confusion spread across his face. No pain, no shock, no time, just pure puzzlement at the end of his life.
His light shirt reddening fast from the pumping blood, his eyes wide, his body slowly slumping to the floor as the precious life leaked away. His soundless mouth open, eyes still staring, but sightlessly now.
A serrated, glinting knife clattered onto the tiles, and the woman’s sobs rose again to another strangled scream.
The two marksmen stared, turned, looked at each other.
‘We’re for it now,’ one muttered. ‘We’re bloody for it.’
‘We did the right thing,’ the other interrupted, then louder, harsher. ‘The right thing! Didn’t we?’
Death nodded and departed Haven Close, his work complete.
She was such a beautiful girl. Her eyelids drooped as she lay back on the pillow, but she was determined to fight the gathering sleep, to hear the end of the poem.
'Don't stop,' she whispered. 'Please. I want to hear what happens to the poor Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.'
'All right, but then it's lights off time, ok? It's way past your bedtime.'
She shifted her head, that fine blonde hair spreading like a golden halo. He had to close his eyes to stifle the thoughts of what must happen to her. But it was necessary.
It was too important to reconsider. She was perfect. He couldn't turn back.
He forced the required jollity into his voice. 'Ok then, are you ready?'
She smiled that gappy grin, nodded, reached a hand out from under the duvet to hold his. The guilt formed an instant and dense barrier, made him hesitate, but he took it, swallowed hard and began to read.
‘“From the coast of Coromandel,
Did that lady never go;
On that heap of stone she mourns
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.
On that coast of Coromandel,
In his jug without a handle
Still she weeps, and daily moans;
On that little heap of stones
To her Dorking hens she moans,
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo,
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.”’
The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, from Edward Lear’s Nonsense Rhymes, her favourite. It was the sole part of their relationship he enjoyed. The simplicity of reading to her.
He knew exactly why. He was bringing to a fatherless child the love which his own father had never brought to him.
Her gentle grip released. He closed the book, lay it down quietly on her bedside table, turned off the lamp. He turned to the woman standing in the doorway, managed to find a smile.
'She loves you, you know.'
'Yes.' He wondered what else to say. 'And I... she's a lovely girl.'
He thanked his perfect planning the woman was so stupid, didn't notice his reticence. It wasn't luck. He had chosen precisely.
She was ideal in her loneliness and dullness and desperation. And her daughter was perfect too, in her beauty and innocence and naivety.
When her picture was published, in every paper and magazine, and on every news website, and broadcast on every television station, when the story of what was happening to her was told, then, at last, everyone would finally understand.
The irritating hours he'd had to spend playing his part would be richly rewarded. The thought was all that kept him going through the tedium of the slow walks in the countryside, pointing out plants and birds and landmarks.
The girl had discovered a delight in nature, and he’d been forced to buy a couple of books to find the knowledge to entertain her. The skylark had become her favourite, hovering in the clear air above Dartmoor, trilling out its song. She always loved to remind him how it sang a different tune, depending on whether it was soaring up into the sky, or down to a hidden nest in the moorgrass.
Even the ubiquitous heather was a joy, her only distress its short lived flowering season. She would carefully intertwine the tiny flecks with the gold of the gorse, and shout how she wanted him to buy her a dress of nature’s colours. He’d had to steel himself so very hard to avoid enjoying her excitement.
The long days by the beach had grown from building endless sandcastles to paddling in sun-blessed rock pools. Waving the fronds of dark and slimy bladderwrack like swords, and hunting the scuttling Hermit crabs, safely protected within their adopted shells.
She’d learnt of the menace of weaver fish, their spines buried in the soft sand, and the extraordinary muscular adhesion of the barnacles and limpets that littered the pitted rocks with their tiny pyramids.
She’d insisted Mum took a photograph of the two of them, trousers rolled up, hunting the shallows for shipwreck treasures deposited by the tide. He’d stared at the picture for long hours that night, fighting so hard not to allow himself to become a part of the scene, only eventually finding the strength to delete it.
At least nature was preferable to the deafening funfairs, all sickening lights and grating, joyous screams, the very worst of the damned family horrors he'd had to suffer for the perfection of his beautiful plan.
All were ordeals, but all would be worth it. When the time finally came.
The woman was speaking again, more of her ceaseless chatter. 'She'll be nine soon, you know. I was thinking of getting her that pony for her birthday. The one she's always wanted. You know how excited she gets when we see them on our Dartmoor walks. She’d love it so much. We could make it a present from both of us... if you liked.'
He got up from the chair, tried not to look at the pictures of ponies, prancing and galloping across the bedroom walls.
'I'm a bit tight on money at the moment. I'm sorry.'
Her words gushed out to cover the awkwardness. 'No, that's fine. I understand. I really do. I'm always having trouble myself. I mean, it's never easy, is it? Where does it all go, that’s what I want to know?'
She reached out a hand to lead him from the bedroom, looked about to speak again, but he interrupted. 'I should be going. I'd love to stay, really I would, but I've got so much to do.'
She studied him, then nodded. 'Perhaps another time.'
He turned to close the door, couldn't stop himself looking back at the child, knees tucked, wrapped in the enveloping safety of the duvet. She was sleeping with a smile.
In that hazy moment he almost changed his mind. But it was too late for second thoughts. Far too late.
He blinked twice, focused his purpose, just as the sergeant had taught him. It was the only way to survive. To complete your mission.
The door clicked softly shut. But the knowledge of what must happen to her still wouldn't leave his mind. He shuddered, although only briefly. Then he smiled.
He’d thought he was being smart, but he might just have put them in danger of getting shot.
Dan Groves, TV Crime Correspondent, exchanged glances with Nigel, his long-suffering cameraman. It wasn’t so easy to do when both were hunched up in balls, trying to make themselves as small as possible behind the low garden wall.
Dan tried giving his friend a reassuring smile, but the look he got in return said it hadn’t been successful. Nowhere close.
More manic shouting broke the silence. ‘Don’t come any nearer! I’ll shoot! I swear I’ll shoot!’
Dan shifted his weight and tried to ease the pressure on his aching knees. A police marksman was crouched just behind a car to their side, the muzzle of his automatic rifle only inches from Dan’s head. It was glinting under the streetlights, unwavering in the man’s grip.
‘Any suggestions?’ Dan whispered to him.
‘Just keep your bloody heads down. Pair of idiots.’
‘Thanks for those kind and reassuring words,’ Dan muttered to himself.
They were hunkered down in a pleasant residential estate just a couple of miles from the city centre. Usually the street would be busy with kids kicking footballs, the older ones hanging around talking. People would be coming and going, perhaps on late shifts or popping into the corner shop. Standard, contented suburbia.
Tonight, it was unusually quiet. But then, Dan reflected uncomfortably, it would be when it was the focus of a major police operation. The area had been cordoned off because a man had barricaded himself into one of the houses. He was waving a shotgun from the window and threatening to shoot anyone who showed themselves.
They’d been on a straightforward assignment to film a story about boy racers using one of the nearby roads as a racetrack when they’d been tipped off about the siege. For once they’d arrived before the police, and Dan and Nigel had walked down the street to see what was going on.
They’d ignored the group of people running away. They’d taken no notice of the venomous yelling from the last of the row of terraces. Even the wise advice from a middle-aged woman, hurrying past with her arm around a crying young boy had been ignored.
‘Don’t you go up there,’ she’d panted. ‘He’s got a gun and he says he’ll use it.’
‘Nothing to worry about,’ Dan had calmed her. ‘It’s our job to run towards the sound of gunfire.’
He’d grinned, Nigel had smiled and they’d strolled blithely on. That was until the man’s screaming and waving of a very large shotgun had sent them ducking behind the garden wall.
Half a dozen police cars had squealed to a halt, their sirens screaming. At both ends of the street the familiar blue and white police tape was being hurriedly reeled out, a line of officers guarding it. Local residents were ushered quickly away, crouching to avoid any possible gunfire.
And around them had crept a team of police marksmen, some scuttling crablike along the row of cars, dodging from vehicle to vehicle, others snaking up on their bellies. The house had been surrounded, and they were caught between a small arsenal of weapons in what Dan could only think of as no man’s land.
‘I swear I’ll shoot!’ came another yell from the house. ‘Keep back coppers!’
The policeman’s gun barrel tracked back and forth across the house. ‘Think I’ve got him,’ the man whispered into his radio. ‘Shall I take him?’
‘Negative,’ a voice crackled back. ‘He’s had a domestic with his wife. She stormed out. It’s happened before and he’s come out peacefully.’
Dan had covered police sieges before, but always from the reassuring safety of outside the cordon. The cold of the pavement was beginning to seep up his back, making it ache. He shivered and pulled his jacket tighter around his chest. The sky was clear and his breath was fogging the night air.
Dan checked his watch, as unreliable as ever. It said nine, so the time was probably more like a quarter past. Wessex Tonight’s late bulletin was on air at half past ten.
‘What will the cops do?’ Nigel whispered.
‘They’ll keep him contained and try to talk to him. It sounds like he’s on his own in there, so they’ll wait. They’ll only fire if he starts shooting, or comes out and waves his gun around.’
‘So what do we do?’
Dan shifted his weight again. His knees were throbbing hard, they needed to get some pictures and he had no intention of waiting around all night while the police tried to talk the man out.
So far they’d filmed nothing, hadn’t had the opportunity. Or the courage, more like. If it came to a choice between winning an award and being peppered with shot, or no award and their precious skins intact, it wasn’t a tough choice.
‘We’d better try to get some pictures,’ he said. ‘Lizzie will go mad if we’re here and we don’t get anything.’
Nigel gave him a look and patted the camera. ‘By we, I take it you mean me. And I have two young sons. Not to mention a lot of life left to live. In one piece, preferably.’
‘There must be a way of sticking your head up for a few seconds to get some shots.’
Dan was about to shift his position and see if he could take a quick look at the house, when he was interrupted by a voice booming through a loud hailer.
‘Mr Anderson, this is the police. Please come out so we can talk to you.’
‘Never!’ came the screeched reply. ‘You’ll never take me alive cops!’
The marksman rolled his eyes. Dan too groaned. ‘Great. Of all the nutters around, we have to get one who’s been watching too many Westerns. We can’t just sit here. We’ve got to do something.’
‘Like what?’ Nigel asked, with his usual grasp of the most important questions.
A couple more marksmen scuttled up the pavement, just across the street. One was wearing a black baseball cap emblazoned with Police.
‘Have you got your hat with you?’ Dan asked Nigel.
The cameraman produced a battered sunhat from his jacket pocket. ‘Dare I ask why?’
‘An old soldier’s trick for checking if there might be a sniper around.’
‘From your days in Vietnam?’
‘From my days reading war magazines as a kid. It could just tell us whether it’s safe to stick our heads above the parapet.’
Dan grabbed a stick, poked it into Nigel’s hat and gingerly lifted it above the wall. He flinched, expecting a shot. But nothing happened. He jiggled the hat up and down, moved it back and forth along the wall, waited, then did it all again. Still nothing.
‘There,’ Dan said, trying to keep his voice calm. ‘It’s perfectly safe.’
Nigel narrowed his eyes. ‘Yeah?’
‘That’s the situation thoroughly risk assessed. All boxes of those irritating forms ticked. If only I could work the camera with the skill you’ve got, I’d take the pictures myself.’
‘Fancy a lesson in camerawork?’
‘Sadly we just don’t have the time.’
‘How did I know that’d be the case?’
Nigel weighed the camera on his knees, shifted it to his shoulder and muttered something under his breath that sounded like a prayer. He popped up, filmed a few seconds of the house, then dropped back down again. Beside them the marksman watched, his mouth falling slowly open.
Dan tried giving him a winning smile. It wasn’t reciprocated.
He grabbed Nigel’s collar and guided him back along the wall towards the edge of the cordon, filming all the way. They could drop the pictures in to the newsroom to make a decent report for the late bulletin and still have time to get to the pub for a late beer.
Dan had meant to buy Nigel a drink by way of thanks, but found he didn’t have his wallet with him.
‘You are a disgrace,’ Nigel said, walking carefully back from the bar with a couple of pints.
‘It worked, didn’t it? We got the shots and the story. And good timing too, the man being talked out just before the bulletin with no one hurt.’
Dan held up his pint and took a sip of his drink. They were sitting in the Old Bank on Plymouth’s Mutley Plain. It was busy, with students mostly, but they managed to find a small table at the back.
‘How’s this new woman of yours?’ Dan asked. ‘Going well?’
Nigel screwed up his face. ‘She’s a bit keen. She wants to get to know James and Andrew better, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. It’s been four years since Jayne died, so she reckons it’s about time I, well, you know…’
‘But you’re still comparing everyone with Jayne?’
Nigel stared into his pint. Dan knew his friend sometimes felt lonely, and with his sons approaching the teenage years he’d love to have a partner to help him in the difficult times to come. But not just any partner.
‘How’s life with you?’ Nigel said, looking up. ‘How’s it going with Claire?’
‘Claire is… fine,’ replied Dan, slowly. ‘When I get to see her, that is. I told you she’s been made a detective sergeant now? We try to get together when we can, but with my work and hers it isn’t always possible.’
‘How long have you been seeing her now?’
‘A year and a bit.’
‘So it’s about the sort of time you could be...’
‘What are you, my dad?’ said Dan.
‘You know what I mean.’
‘I know exactly what you mean.’
Nigel was about to reply when he was interrupted by his phone ringing. A few seconds later, Dan’s warbled too. They looked at each other. A double call meant trouble.
Dan hoisted the phone to his ear. ‘Where? Yep, we’ll go now.’ He cut the call and stood up, Nigel doing the same.
‘You won’t believe this after what we’ve just filmed,’ Dan said. ‘The cops have killed a guy. Totally separate incident. In Cornwall, just over the river. That’s the second time they’ve shot someone dead in five months.’
Everything was routine that night, as it always was now. He liked routine.
Five years of serving his country in some of the world’s bloodiest hellholes meant routine was only ever a distant fantasy. Now it was real and he savoured it, delighted in it. Ordered days, everything in its place and at its time. Another day of joyous routine.
Until the news came on the radio.
The film hadn’t been good, but it had passed a couple of hours. Now it was just before midnight, time to wash, clean his teeth and go to bed. It was the perfect time of night to sleep.
Quiet in the other flats, quiet in the street outside. He enjoyed that peace, such a contrast to the days of trying to snatch some sleep amidst the shouts and screams and incessant gunfire. The cold too, an enemy almost as dangerous as the unseen rifles, hiding in the quiet forest, always ready to pounce and steal away your life.
The toothpaste tube was nearly empty. Sloppy, he chastised himself. He made a mental note to buy some more on his routine Monday morning shop.
He didn’t need to write it down. The Army taught you to remember your tasks. There was more toothpaste in the yellow plastic basket above the toilet, three tubes, all neatly stacked in order of their best before dates.
But he liked to have plenty of supplies in reserve. It was prudent.
He turned on the radio just as the chimes rang out. Perfect. The midnight news. An ordered way to end the day, a round up of all that he should know.
He washed his face to news of an unexpected rise in interest rates. That was irrelevant, the flat was rented and he had little in the way of savings now, just what he would need for these last days of life.
He concentrated on his teeth, brushing gently but firmly up and down, exactly as the army dentist had taught them. The preparations were made and he had enough money to live on until it was time to put the plan into action, however long that took. It was just a question of when.
He couldn’t predict when it would be, but the time would come and he would be ready.
He rinsed his mouth to news of a threatened strike in the National Health Service. That shouldn’t matter to him either, but it might to those he planned to visit.
He noticed a slight smile in the mirror at the thought.
He picked up the portable radio and carried it into the kitchen, made his sandwiches to news of another terrorist attack in Israel. Two rounds, wholemeal bread.
He’d had cheese and tomato today, so tomorrow would be tuna and cucumber. An apple and a pear in the lunch box too, along with a bottle of fresh water.
Twenty past midnight, his watch said. Life was precisely on schedule, as ever.
It was time for bed. Ten minutes laying there, in the dark, then the radio off when the news had finished. Seven hours of sleep, exactly what years of experience and training had taught him his body required.
He lay down, closed his eyes, breathed deeply. Now some breaking news, the presenter intoned. Just a few lines of copy, only thirty seconds of information, but enough to have him sitting upright again, reaching blindly for the light switch.
A man, shot dead in Cornwall by police marksmen. It was believed to be the result of a domestic row. An investigation would be carried out.
His life changed then. It was the moment. The beginning of the end.
They had done it again. The vicious, murdering, bloodthirsty bastards. Killing with their usual easy impunity, never a thought for what it did to those left behind.
But this time they would be sorry. Now, at last, they would be brought to justice for what they had done.
He hardly slept that night, the angry memories erupting in his head. The night Sam had saved his life, despite the slashing, puncturing wounds he’d suffered from the merciless knife.
His gratitude, the first time he could remember crying since he was a boy. How’d he’d looked after Sam, nursed him through those critical days. How they’d been together until the night Sam had again saved him, but this time paid with his life.
The dark rage made him brittle as he lay in his bed, unmoving, eyes open, staring at the ceiling but seeing nothing. Even the golden, creeping dawn didn’t stir him. The insistent alarm only forced itself into his consciousness after its twelfth set of escalating electronic chimes.
He reached out, stopped it, but still lay there. It was time. It was sooner than he’d expected, but he was ready.
It was finally time.
If you want to read more, you can grab EVIL VALLEY by Simon Hall for only £8.95.
And if you haven't read books 1 & 2 in the series you can catch up now with this awesome book boxset.