I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Leigh Russell’s newest Geraldine Steel thriller: ‘Death Rope‘.
Mark Abbott is dead. His sister refuses to believe it was suicide, but only Detective Sergeant Geraldine Steel will listen. When other members of Mark’s family disappear, Geraldine’s suspicions are confirmed. Taking a risk, Geraldine finds herself confronted by an adversary deadlier than any she has faced before. Her boss Ian is close, but will he arrive in time to save her, or is this the end for Geraldine Steel?
Read on for a tantalising extract from ‘Death Rope‘.
Thanks to No Exit Press and, of course, Leigh for having me on this fab blog tour!
‘Death Rope‘ extract.
Reaching her in waves, the shrill sound seemed to come from somewhere inside her head. It was a few seconds before she realised she was listening to her own screams.
For an instant she stood transfixed, a helpless spectator, before she ran outside, bawling for help. Thankfully the gardener was there, and he followed her back into the hall where her husband was hanging from the banister.
As she fell silent, she could hear him grunting with the effort of supporting the body. His arms clasped around her husband’s legs, he struggled to stop the rope from pulling taut. Above them, Mark’s arms swung limply, and his head hung at an odd angle. She was aware of the gardener’s mouth moving before she realised he was yelling at her to call an ambulance. Trying to nod, she couldn’t move. Her eyes were glued to a ghoulish caricature of a familiar face, bloated tongue protruding between dry lips, tiny red dots of blood speckling the whites of bulging eyes. She stared, mesmerised, at a drop of saliva crawling down his chin, trying to work out whether it was still moving.
The gardener glared at her, and she realised he was still shouting at her to call for help. As if in a dream, she reached for her phone and dialled 999.
A voice on the line responded with unreal composure, assuring her that help was on its way.
‘What does that mean?’ she gabbled. ‘When will they get here?’
‘They’re on their way.’
Time seemed to hang suspended, like the body.
Looking down, she struggled to control an urge to salvage her shopping: tomatoes had rolled across the floor, along with other soft foods she had carefully packed on top of packets and tins. One tomato had already been trodden into the carpet. While she was dithering she heard a siren, followed by hammering at the door, and then her own voice, oddly calm, inviting uniformed men into the house.
Of course they were too late to save him. She had known that all along.
Geraldine smiled at her adopted sister. Despite her complaints about disturbed nights, Celia looked happier than Geraldine had seen her in a long time. Her month-old baby snuffled gently in his sleep as she rocked him gently in her arms.
‘Would you like to hold him?’ Celia asked.
Still smiling, Geraldine shook her head. ‘It might wake him up. Anyway, I really should get going.’
‘It’s still early,’ Celia protested. ‘Even you can’t pretend you’ve got to get back for work tonight. It’s Sunday, for goodness sake. Why don’t you stay overnight and go home tomorrow?’
As a detective sergeant working on murder investigations, Geraldine’s job was no respecter of the time of day, but she wasn’t on a case just then. All the same she shook her head. Even though there was no pressing reason for her to hurry away, she had a long journey ahead of her, and she was back on call in the morning.
‘He’s lovely,’ she repeated for the hundredth time. Privately she thought that her tiny new nephew resembled a pink frog.
‘Don’t get up. We don’t want to disturb him.’
Celia gave a sleepy smile. ‘You’ll come back soon?’
Geraldine was quick to reassure her sister that she would return as soon as she could. She made good time, and reached home in time for supper. She had been living in York for nearly three months and, after a miserable winter, she was starting to feel settled. She was even thinking of selling her flat in London and buying somewhere in York, putting a stamp of permanence on her move. The transformation in her feelings seemed to have taken place almost overnight. One evening she had gone to bed feeling displaced and lonely.
The following morning she had woken up unaccountably at ease in her new home. Driving to work her spirits had lifted further on seeing a bank of daffodils, bright against the deep velvety green slope below the city wall. Already, early groups of oriental visitors were beginning to throng the pavements. She wasn’t looking forward to an influx of summer tourists clogging up the bustling streets of a city that unexpectedly felt like home.
A few weeks had passed since then, and she was still undecided what to do. Celia would be disappointed if Geraldine decided to make her move to York permanent, but the idea of settling there seemed increasingly appealing with every passing week. She had to live somewhere, and York was as good a place as any. She liked it there. Besides, her oldest friend and colleague lived there. She wondered how Ian Peterson would react if he knew she was considering him in making a decision about where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.
Mid-morning on Monday, Geraldine was summoned to an interview room where a member of the public was waiting to lodge a complaint. As an experienced officer, Geraldine was used to fielding vexatious accusations. With a sigh she made her way along the corridor to the room where the irate woman was waiting for her. Stocky and square-jawed, with short grey hair, she sat with trousered knees pressed together and fleshy arms folded across her chest.
‘What seems to be the problem, Ms Abbott?’ Geraldine asked as she sat down.
The grey-haired woman’s eyes glittered and her voice was unsteady. ‘I want to talk to someone about my brother’s murder.’
‘Are you saying your brother’s been murdered?’
‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.’
‘And is this a murder case that’s under investigation? What’s your brother’s name?’
The woman shook her head, and her ruddy face turned a deeper shade of red.
‘No, no, no. You’re not investigating it. No one’s investigating anything. Look, my brother was found hanging from a banister nine days ago.’ She leaned forward and lowered her voice.
‘They said it was suicide, but that’s simply not true.’
Geraldine frowned, and tried to look interested. She found it was usually best to let aggrieved members of the public have their say.
‘Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning. What makes you suspect your brother’s death wasn’t suicide?’
‘It’s more than a suspicion. I know my brother – that is, I knew him. There’s no way he would have taken his own life. He wasn’t that sort of a person. He was – he was a robust man, Sergeant. He loved life.’
‘Circumstances can have a devastating effect on people, even those we think we know well –’
‘Please, don’t dismiss this as the ramblings of a grieving woman. I knew my brother. He would never have killed himself. He was blessed with a cheerful disposition, and, before you say it, he didn’t suffer from depression, and he didn’t have money worries, or any problems with drink or drugs. There was nothing in his life that might have prompted him to end it. And hanging’s not the kind of death that can happen by accident.
‘No, he was murdered, I’m sure of it. I waited as long as I could before coming forward because I thought no one would believe he killed himself, but now she tells me they’re burying him on Wednesday, so we don’t have much time. I came here to plead with you to look into what happened, before it’s too late.’
Geraldine did her best to pacify the distressed woman, wondering whether Amanda Abbott was simply trying to cause trouble for her brother’s widow.
‘Do you have any evidence that your brother was murdered?
At the moment, all you’ve given me is supposition.’
Amanda shrugged her square shoulders. ‘I wasn’t there, but I know – I knew my brother. Why would he have suddenly done away with himself?’
Geraldine was faintly intrigued. Amanda didn’t strike her as the kind of woman who might be given to hysterical delusions.
‘So if he didn’t commit suicide, and it wasn’t an accident, what do you think happened?’
‘My sister-in-law did it,’ Amanda answered promptly. ‘It’s obvious. They never got on. And now she gets her hands on everything he worked for.’
‘How long were they married?’
‘Over thirty years.’
‘That’s a long time for a couple who don’t get on to stay together,’ Geraldine said quietly.
‘And she finally had enough of him and killed him, only she made it look like suicide so she could get away with it. I’m convinced that’s what happened. Nothing else makes sense.’
Geraldine almost dismissed what she was hearing as a family disagreement, but Amanda was so insistent that she agreed to look into Mark Abbott’s death.
‘Please, you have to find out what happened,’ Amanda said.
‘He was my brother and I’m not going to sit back and see her get away with it, not if I can help it. Will you keep me posted,’ she enquired as she stood up, ‘or can I come back to see how you’re getting on?’ Geraldine promised she would do her best to find out whether there might have been anything unlawful about the death.
Having seen Amanda off the premises, she went to speak to her detective chief inspector, Eileen. A large woman, about ten years older than Geraldine, she had dark hair greying at the temples, sharp features, and an air of solidity that was both reassuring and overbearing at the same time.
‘It sounds like family politics,’ Eileen said, when she had listened to Geraldine’s account. ‘The sister of the deceased is going out of her way to make trouble for his widow. Perhaps she was expecting to be mentioned in his will and is disappointed to have been left out of it?’
‘That’s what I thought. But there’s one more thing. The deceased took out a fairly hefty life insurance policy with a two-year suicide exclusion clause.’
Eileen nodded. ‘And you’re telling me the two years ran out –’
‘A week before his death. Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t kill himself. He might have waited so his wife would benefit from the policy,’ she added, speaking more to herself than to her senior officer. ‘But there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right.’
‘If you want to make a few discreet enquiries, that’s up to you. I can’t see we’ve really got anything to investigate, but you can take a look if you like, as long as it doesn’t distract you from your work here.’ Eileen paused. ‘If every widow was accused of murdering her husband when she inherited his estate, we’d have more suspects than police officers.’