Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Book Review: The Flight of the Wren by Orla McAlinden

**Review originally appeared in Irish Times May 4th, 2019**

The Flight of the Wren by Orla McAlinden

Tasmania, 1919. Sally glimpses her face in the mirror and knows she is dying: “the dusky hue of the crêpey skin . . . so different from the fine pale skin of healthy old age . . . I am drowning slowly, drowning blackly in my own dark fluids.” The Spanish influenza - or Black Death - has hitched a ride with returning soldiers, spreading like wildfire. As the disease takes hold, the memories flood back and seep out into the world she has created in Australasia; a world far away from the Great Hunger of Ireland.
King’s County, 1848. Fourteen-year-old Sally lies on the mound of her parent’s grave. Famine has decimated the country and she has nowhere to go. As she wanders the roads and fields, searching for food, she enters the world of the Curragh Wrens: women who have made lives in the bushes surrounding the army barracks, servicing soldiers in order to survive. This life is extremely harsh and dangerous and Sally sees transportation as the only option. McAlinden delivers historical fiction with a lyrical and haunting touch, bringing these forgotten Irish women back to life. 
The Flight of the Wren is published by red Stag Mentor and is available in PB and ebook format.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the author, when she dropped into Bleach House for a chat about The Flight of the Wren.  You can watch our discussion below: 

Book Review: Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty

**Originally appeared in Irish Times July 13th 2019**

Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty

Terry is worried about her best friend, Iris. It’s her 58th birthday and she is missing. Breaking into her friend’s house, Terry finds an envelope addressed to herself and is devastated to learn that her friend intends to end her own life. Iris has progressive MS and has booked into a clinic in Switzerland. Panicking, Terry packs her father – who suffers with dementia – into the car, managing to locate Iris as she is about to board a ferry at Dublin Port. Refusing to let her travel alone, Terry and her father join Iris on her road trip across Europe (not an easy task, with an elderly man who is in a permanent state of confusion, a seriously ill woman who can barely walk and a driver who is afraid of motorways).
Geraghty combines sadness with humour, handling the delicate balance very cleverly. MS and dementia are both addressed in a gentle way, allowing for a lighter read, with the power of friendship and love leading the narrative. A delightful mix of characters and a wonderfully warm read.

Rules of the Road is published by Harper Collins and is available in TPB and ebook format. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Book Giveaway - The Nanny at Number 43 by Nicola Cassidy.

It is with great delight that I break my own blog-tour rules and hop on this one, for the wonderful new novel from Nicola Cassidy. The Nanny at Number 43 is officially launched into the world today and I have the honour of hosting a Q&A session with the author, in Waterstones, Drogheda, later this evening. Feel free to drop in and say 'Hi', from 6.30pm. But, as we are on the East Coast of Ireland and you may be in sunnier climes, I have a signed copy to giveaway to one lucky reader. Just enter via the rafflecopter link at the end of the page. Open INT and closes 26th July. Good Luck!

The Blurb

Wanted, a respectable woman to care for a motherless child.

When William D. Thomas’s wife dies in childbirth, he places an advertisement in his local newspaper seeking a nanny for his newborn child.

He is thankful when an experienced nanny arrives at 43 Laurence Street and takes over from his frazzled housekeeper Mrs McHugh.

Mrs McHugh confides in her bedridden friend Betty, who has a bird’s-eye view of all the happenings on Laurence Street, that the Nanny is not all she seems. Betty begins her own investigation into the mysterious woman.

When the bodies of twin babies are discovered buried in a back garden, by a family who have moved from their tenement home into a country cottage, a police investigation begins.

But it is Betty who holds the key to discovering who the Nanny really is … and the reason she came to 43 Laurence Street.

About the Author

Nicola Cassidy is a writer and blogger from Co. Louth, Ireland. She started her writing career early, entering short story competitions as a child and became an avid reader. Encouraged by her English teachers, she chose to study journalism at Dublin City University and while working in political PR and marketing, studied a series of advanced creative writing courses at the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Later she set up a lifestyle and literary blog LadyNicci.com, which was shortlisted in the Ireland Blog Awards in 2015 and 2016 and finalist in 2017 and 2018. She signed with Trace Literary Agency in 2016. December Girl is Nicola’s debut historical fiction novel and is set in the mystical and ancient Boyne Valley, Co. Meath, famed for its stone age passage tombs. Elements of the story are inspired by true events. Her second novel The Nanny at Number 43 is published by Poolbeg Press. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth. Follow her at ladynicci.com, on Twitter @ladynicci or facebook.com/ladynicciblog.

The Nanny at Number 43 is published by Poolbeg Crimson and is available in Paperback and ebook format. You can order your copy online HERE or pick up in any good bookshop. Remember, we would love you to join us at the official launch, in Waterstones, Drogheda, at 6.30pm, July 11th!

Enter the giveaway raffle to win a signed copy of The Nanny at Number 43...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce. Extract and Giveaway.

The folks at Penguin Random House Ireland heard a rumour that I was a huge fan of Niamh Boyce and have kindly allowed me to share an excerpt from her latest novel, Her Kind. They have also offered up three copies of the book for three lucky readers. To enter the giveaway, just click on the rafflecopter link at the end of this post. Open INT and ends 10th May. Good luck! 
My Review can be heard on the LMFM #LateLunchBookclub podcast (45m13 into clip). If you love historical fiction, then this is for you!

The Blurb


The eagerly awaited new novel from the award-winning author of No 1 bestseller, The Herbalist

1324, Kilkennie
A woman seeks refuge for herself and her daughter in the household of a childhood friend.
The friend, Alice Kytler, gives her former companion a new name, Petronelle, a job as a servant, and warns her to hide their old connection.
Before long Petronelle comes to understand that in the city pride, greed and envy are as dangerous as the wolves that prowl the savage countryside. And she realizes that Alice's household is no place of safety.
Once again, Petronelle decides to flee. But this time she confronts forces greater than she could ever have imagined and she finds herself fighting for more than her freedom ...
Tense, moving and atmospheric, Her Kind is a vivid re-imagining of the events leading up to the Kilkenny Witch Trial.

Excerpt from Her Kind

Kilkennie Castle
All Hallows’, 1324
By first bell, a crowd had gathered beneath the trees. They wore cloaks lined with rabbit or vair, according to their rank. Despite the snow, they waited, watching the castle gates. They argued constantly – of the witches locked inside the Castle Gaol, which would be the first to confess? Which, if any, was innocent?
‘These are serious proceedings, not a play,’ Friar Bede told them. ‘Go home until the cry is raised.’ They went hungry, but they would not go home.
As prime was rung, figures appeared at the top of the hill. The prisoners had left the confines of the gaol, but no one could say afterwards how, or by which door. Had everyone looked away, to the sky, or to their feet, at the same time? The women moved slowly. Heretics’ crosses had been stitched to their chests. Weighed down by their trailing gowns, the ladies were last. The maids, less burdened, led. One was unveiled, her hair straggling past her waist. As they neared, people blessed themselves.
It was a strange sight, the bent figures, dark against the snow, the yellow crosses on their gowns, the bright cold sky above. The crowd muttered their names, as if counting children who had been lost. Helene, Esme, Lady Cristine, her sister, Beatrice . . . but where was the one they had waited for, where was the maid of Dame Alice Kytler?

Her Kind is published by Penguin Random House Ireland and is available in all good bookshops now.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Book Review: The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

Grace Atherton is madly in love with David. He is her life and soul; the person who completes her. A trip to Paris and a random heroic deed results in an unforeseen shift in their relationship. Grace is suddenly alone and wondering why she bothers getting up everyday.

Matthew Sharp on cello
 She spends all her time in her niche violin shop, restoring instruments to their former glory and creating something magical. String instruments are in her blood. She gently carves and chisels into the core of violins, cellos and violas. Regular customers are entranced by her talent and her shop assistant, teenage Nadia, keeps Grace on her toes. Eighty-year-old Mr. Williams brings a very special instrument into Grace's shop, for restoration, and a quiet friendship forms between the troubled pair. Grace begins to see hope and the magic of music guides her to a brighter future. 

Anstey Harris has written a novel that creeps into your mind and won't let go. Grace's travels to Paris to spend glorious times with David are dripping with atmosphere and her love for him is palpable. Her pain is also very real. But the inspirational part of the story is the creation of instruments and the power of music. The reader can feel the vibrations of the cello as Libertango is played. The delicate tones of viola and violin can be heard as the characters lose themselves in their performances. The strings of the instruments can be felt as strings attached to friendship. 

This is a beautiful tale that will captivate even the hardest heart. The music seems to flow from the page and envelopes the reader. Whilst many pick the wrong partner - often for the wrong reasons - music is a universal love that rarely disappoints. Harris has managed to create a bridge from classical music to modern day life; showing how friendship across generations can enrich our lives. A novel that pulls at the heartstrings and opens your mind to the magic of music.

The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is published by Simon and Schuster and is available in Hardback and ebook format. Available in all good book shops.

Anstey Harris at London Book Fair 2018

I was lucky enough to attend London Book Fair in 2018 and was witness to a fantastic event at the Simon and Schuster stand. We were treated to beautiful performance of Piazzolla's Libertango which is featured in The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton. You can watch a version of this stunning piece of music HERE.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

BleachHouseLibrary.ie: The Pact by Carol Coffey. Exclusive Extract and Gi...

BleachHouseLibrary.ie: The Pact by Carol Coffey. Exclusive Extract and Gi...: Thanks to Poolbeg Books, I have an exclusive excerpt from Carol Coffey's latest novel, The Pact . There is also a copy to ...

The Pact by Carol Coffey. Exclusive Extract and Giveaway.

Thanks to Poolbeg Books, I have an exclusive excerpt from Carol Coffey's latest novel, The Pact. There is also a copy to giveaway. Enter via rafflecopter link at the end of the excerpt. Open INT and ends on 30th November. Good Luck! 

The Blurb

When Richmond homicide detective Locklear is called in to investigate the attempted murder of a young Mennonite in a Virginian farming town, he is instantly drawn into a web of secrecy and lies spanning back to the American Civil War.
 Frustrated by the refusal of locals to co-operate with the investigation, Locklear realises that to find the perpetrator he must first solve a 150-year-old mystery.  With his leads restricted to historical records, the Native American is running out of time to save the orphaned boy’s siblings from a similar fate. As the body count in a seeming local feud rises, Locklear is no nearer to solving the most complex case of his career. 
Flanked by his trusted colleague Jo Mendoza and local cop Carter, Locklear finds himself embroiled in a silent religious community where nothing is as it seems and everyone has something to hide.

Praise for The Penance Room
‘A must-read for fans of Jodi Picoult . . . Quite irresistible’
Sunday Independent

Chapter 1

The 5 a.m. call from Lieutenant Alex Kowalski had woken Locklear from a fitful night’s rest. For two weeks since his enforced vacation, the kind of sleep he was accustomed to had eluded him, nights of deep exhaustion when he would sleep soundly and escape the horrors of his waking hours. For it was by day that visions of the murdered – faces of men, women and children – haunted him until the perpetrators were caught and he sentenced the victims to the watery grey grave of his tormented mind. He was known in the department as a detective without a life, who spent what time remained to him trying to solve why others lost theirs and who had taken it from them. It was a life that even now, only a few years from retirement, he knew he did not consciously choose. In his drinking days, when his thoughts were ironically clearer, he believed that this life had chosen him. This life of structure, routine, of method – things he had not known in his youth spent travelling the country with his Native American, mentally fragile mother and her array of badly chosen boyfriends.

As he lay there he went over the information his boss had given him. He had worked under Alex Kowalski for almost thirty years and considered the man as near to a friend as he would ever want, or need. A Mennonite youth named Andrew Fehr had been found hanging in a disused barn on an abandoned farm, barely hanging on to life, Kowalski had said, apologising quickly for the pun that Locklear did not get. The small, tightly knit religious community would not comply with the local police, not even the local pastor who had miraculously found the young man struggling on a rope. The rafters were too high to climb without a ladder so a suicide attempt had been ruled out. There were fresh tyre tracks in the barn and on the dry dirt road leading to town so the boy had not been alone, at least not until he was strung up and left to die. The trooper, a man named Carter who would link up with him when he arrived, said the boy had some kind of mental disability and that the paramedics had said it would be a miracle if he survived, but if he did it was likely that the damage to his brain would mean he would be unable to say what had happened. Locklear felt that this was why Kowalski had chosen him for the case. He usually only dealt with homicides and the young man, at least for now, was still alive, but Kowalski had a good nose and knew this would suit him. He didn’t relish the idea of seeing or speaking to a living victim but the boy’s brain, he figured, was as good as mush so he was no better than a corpse. He preferred his cases cold, preferred to follow his own leads, preferred when there were no emotions to deal with and he could work on the hard facts.

Locklear lifted himself off his bed and took a cold shower. The July sun was already blazing through the windows of his apartment. He had lived in the tiny one-bed almost as long as he had worked for the Richmond P.D. It suited his needs in this life which were few.
After a brief tour of duty in the army, he had joined the police in South Dakota where he had been born and where his mother, in the throes of dementia despite her middle age, was seeing out the last of her days in a haze of confusion. He stayed to be near to her but found himself unable to visit, unable to see her in that condition. She did not know him and he had never known her. When she died he could find no reason to remain in South Dakota – he had no other family, least none that he knew of, so he wandered around from state to state, much like his mother and he had done together, until his money ran out, forcing him to take a post in New York in narcotics. The work of the division frustrated him – hours spent investigating small-time drug-addicted mules, while their bosses who hid behind legitimate businesses in uptown addresses, walked free. As each year passed, Locklear felt that he was dying inside, a slow death caused by inexplicable rage against an enemy he could not see. It was during these years that his heavy drinking began – initially as a way of finding sleep from the tormented thoughts that filled his every waking moment. Soon, his days were lost in a haze of legal bureaucracy and his long nights in drunken stupors. Four torturous years later, a chance opportunity to work on the murder of a narcotic crime lord had whet his appetite for homicide and he finally found his passion, his home. So, with an ease he did not think possible, he put the bottle away and bided his time.
When a job in homicide came up in Virginia, he did not even think about the upset of relocating on his life. He didn’t have very much to move.

It was almost seven by the time he took to the road for the three-hour drive to Dayton, a tiny farming village of Mennonites. Irene, his station’s secretary, had booked him into a hotel in the nearby town of Harrisonburg where he would pick up local trooper Carter and take a look at the site. His most recent trooper had thrown in the towel and had asked for an assignment as far away from his fractious superior as possible. The trooper had lasted five months – a record as far as Locklear was concerned.
As he drove along Route 64 he went over the details he knew so far. He knew from previous cases that it took no more than six minutes for a person to die from hanging so the chance arrival of the local pastor was suspicious and not miraculous. He reasoned that the pastor must have been present when the crime was taking place – but why string the boy up and then save him? And if he wasn’t in the actual barn, if he was watching from nearby, why let the person commit the crime? Why not stop it? At the junction on 64, he took a right onto the 81 and thought about the victim. Why would someone harm a mentally deficient youth, especially in a religious community? The idea that the perpetrator was unknown to the youth, that the crime was committed by a stranger, was out of the question. Someone had put time and thought into the crime – and emotion – possibly hate – but why? Why not shoot the youth? It was quicker so there was less chance of getting caught. Unless the killer, or would-be killer knew that even if he – or she – was seen, no one in the community would tell.

As he pulled up in front of the large police station, he already knew that this was going to be a frustrating case where nothing made sense and clues led nowhere ... for now. As he pulled back the door into the reception area, he knew immediately that the trooper sitting at the desk farthest from the door was Trooper Carter. Even from a sitting position, Locklear could see that the trooper was tall and lean – an ex local-team baseball hero, now retired and  no doubt teaching junior league on Saturday mornings to a brood of kids.
Locklear waited while Carter, who had his back to him, threw a small ball back and forth against the wall while he talked on the phone.
“Sure did ... poor kid was almost dead ...”
Locklear flashed his ID at the man on the desk and then stood silently as Carter revelled in what was probably the most exciting thing to happen around there in a hundred years.
“Yeah ... I did an examination of the scene myself ... got the big boys coming down from the city to tell us how it’s done and do what we did all over again.”
Locklear coughed.
“Yes ... sir ... can I help you?” Carter spluttered, standing to attention.
Locklear had seen hundreds like Carter over the years. Not-too-bright troopers good at the local police stuff but useless as shit when it came down to serious crime.
“Hope so ... I’m one of the big boys come down to tell you how it’s done.”
Carter blushed. “Ah, I was just kidding – that was my wife Virginia – she’s chuffed I’m working on this – telling her friends and that – so I was just ...”
Locklear took a better look at the man who would be his partner in this investigation. He guessed Carter to be around thirty years of age, yet there was more innocence to his bright blue eyes and thick fair hair than a man of his years had a right to. Despite his height, Carter looked like a boy in a police uniform.
“Your wife’s name is Virginia? Seriously?”
Carter blushed some more. “Yeah, her folks are immigrants. Loved the place when they got here and I guess they wanted to show their appreciation of this fine state, you know?”
Locklear nodded at his genial partner, although he didn’t know. He rarely understood what ordinary people did in ordinary circumstances.
Carter looked the tough-looking plainclothes detective up and down, trying to make out where he was from. He hadn’t said enough to place an accent but he wasn’t from around here, that was for sure, so he already knew there’d be trouble. People here didn’t take too kindly to strangers poking their noses into things they didn’t rightly understand. But the face told a lot. The criss-cross of fine broken veins across his bulbous nose told a story of drinking, past behaviour by the look of things. His dark-brown eyes did not match the pale colouring of his face. He could tell Locklear had once been a handsome man before the ravages of drink set in. The detective had high, hollow cheekbones and a strong jaw line. A furrowed brow told of a man who had spent many years outdoors but his hair was the most interesting, thick and straight, a little on the long side for a police officer and still jet-black for a man of advancing years, suggesting some mixed blood – Native American he would have guessed but mixed up with enough white people to have given him skin no darker than what came naturally from too many years in the sun.
“Well, trooper, are you going to stare at me all day or are we going to Dayton?”
“Guess we’re going to Dayton, sir.” Carter had seen enough. For the next few weeks, or months, depending on how drawn-out the investigation was, he would be second fiddle to a possibly half-Indian ex-alcoholic who already had him pegged as an idiot country bumpkin cop.

The town of Dayton, which lay just over five miles away, had clearly become an extension of Harrisonburg as the larger town sprawled towards the pretty village. Only a small green belt divided the two towns but the change in landscape during the twelve-minute journey was obvious. Large, middle-class houses gave way to worn-down clapboards. Fast-food joints and express coffee houses disappeared and were replaced by fields dotted with cattle and sheep, milking parlours and an air of poverty. Carter had insisted, albeit politely, that the pair travel in his police car which the locals of Dayton would recognise.

After a brief ride along the John Wayland Highway, Carter turned right onto Mason Street and right again into the parking lot of an impressive faux-Georgian building which seemed at odds with the dilapidated houses that surrounded it. The two-storey building of bright brick was adorned with five marble pillars and large-paned windows that gave a stately, almost regal look to the rural police station.
“What are we doing here?”
Carter shrugged. “This is where your incident room will be.”
“I know that! I meant what are we doing here now? I’ve got to take a look at the goddamn site! Now!”
Carter did not move. He stared hard at the sergeant as the broad smile slowly drained from his face. “Sir, you ought not to take the Lord’s name in vain – especially around here.” He sat a while longer, unease rising through his lean body. His fingers twitched around the bulk of keys hanging from the ignition but he did not turn the key.
Locklear watched as each muscle in the trooper’s jaw jumped.
“What is it?” he asked, almost shouting without meaning to.
“You’ll see,” Carter replied quietly, turning the patrol car slowly right onto Mason Street and out of town.
As they neared the site, Locklear sat bolt upright in his seat.
Carter stopped the car and lowered his head as though he was looking for something on his lap.
The barn and the entrance leading to it, which was the scene of the crime and Locklear’s only real hope of figuring out what had happened, was occupied by about fifty people, each stomping over the evidence that he needed to see. The police tape which cordoned off the area had been torn down and two small Mennonite boys were using it as a tug-of-war rope.

Locklear opened the door of the car and was greeted by singing, the soft hum of the voices of Mennonite women spread through the small group. The men stood silently, nodding, their heads bowed and their lips moving without sound. The crowd did not look entirely as Locklear had expected them to. Some of the women were, as he knew was customary, dressed in long, plain grey dresses and white lace bonnets and the men were dressed in black waist-coated suits and white shirts, but most of the people present were dressed in plain clothing, ordinary clothes which were no different to what would be worn in any farming community.

At the entrance to the barn an old Mennonite man of around eighty, in traditional dress, sat in his horse-drawn black carriage, the only buggy to be seen among the pickups and station wagons parked haphazardly around the lot. Locklear noted the body language of the man. He was the only one who did not appear to be praying and his stone-like facial expression gave him the air of a man who did not want to be there.
Locklear moved his gaze to the centre of the crowd, none of whom had taken notice of his arrival. The man holding the Bible looked like just about every preacher he had seen on television, clean cut and freshly shaven with the bright clear eyes of a clean-living man. Dressed in modern clothes, the middle-aged preacher stood around six five with a shock of thick, blond hair. He looked up briefly from the tome and smiled broadly at the visiting policeman before returning to his prayers which Locklear noted were in what sounded like German. Low German it was called, he remembered.
Locklear, aware that he was being ignored, suddenly exploded. “God dammit!”
Carter rushed from the car, grabbing him by the arm.
“Sir, be careful not to upset sensibilities here. They mean no harm. Praying is all they’re doing.”
“Praying all over my goddamn crime scene!” Locklear spat as he marched closer to the crowd.
“They don’t see it that way. They answer to no one but the Lord.”
Locklear swung round and glared at Carter. “Are you one of them? Are you?”
Carter looked to the ground. “No, sir. I’m Baptist but ...”
“Well, then do your fucking job and help me get these people off my crime scene.”
Locklear’s language finally roused the attention of the congregation. He looked towards the now hushed crowd which parted without fuss, freeing the path of the preacher.
Locklear could feel himself tense a little. He had no experience interviewing so-called holy men and did not know what the correct protocol should be.
The preacher threw out his right hand.
“Willkamen,” he said.
Locklear searched for insincerity in that one word but found none. He didn’t take the outstretched hand.
“Snackst de Platt?” the pastor asked.
Carter moved forward and shook his head. “English, Pastor Plett.”
“I’m Pastor Plett – Henry – and this is my wife, Rachel.”
Locklear watched as a small dumpy woman, dressed in a long grey dress and a white bonnet covering her blonde hair, moved forward, smiling as she walked through the crowd of worried faces.
“Welcome,” she echoed. “You’ve come from Richmond. We’ve heard of your arrival. Please come to our house after prayers for sustenance.”
Locklear thought for a moment. “Heard of my arrival. From whom?”
Rachel Plett now looked as worried as her husband’s small congregation. She glanced nervously over Locklear’s shoulder at Carter who had not taken his eyes from the dusty ground, now trampled by fifty pairs of uninvited feet.
“Pastor,” Locklear began as gently as his angry mood would allow, “this is a crime scene. None of these people should be here. I need everyone gone right now so I can find out what happened here.”
Henry Plett’s face darkened. “Your name, sir?”
“Sergeant Locklear.”
The pastor seemed to hesitate, then said, “Your Christian name?”
Locklear grimaced. He never told anyone his first name. It resulted in too many questions. Only Kowalski knew it and he was not likely to repeat it.
“I am not a Christian,” Locklear replied defiantly, hoping to put an end to the probing.
Quiet murmurs grew up from the crowd but the sound he heard loudest was the groan emitted from Carter’s mouth.
“Mr Locklear, we are here to pray for young Andrew. He is much loved in our community.”
“Then let me do my job. Let me find out who tried to kill him and get off this godd–” He stopped before using his favourite curse word. “Please leave so I can do my job.”
Pastor Plett looked at his congregation and beckoned for them to leave. Slowly, men, women and children, even the very young ones, filed silently past him, most with eyes fixed on the ground. An occasional woman glanced at Locklear nervously.
When the last of the crowd had driven off the dusty lot, Locklear surveyed the ground. Scores of tyre tracks criss-crossed the ground around the barn and on the roadway that led into the farmyard, making it impossible for him to figure out the type of car that was present when Andrew Fehr was hanged.
He hunkered down and spread his fingers across the dry earth. Lifting a small piece of soil, he smelt it and held it in his hands. He was never sure why he did this. It was instinctive. It was in his blood. Each time he did this something stirred in him. He loved the earth, the soil, and if his work didn’t keep him in cities it would be here, in nature, that he would live and breathe. But there weren’t enough murders in the countryside to keep him alive and so he lived among tall buildings and concreted ground where soil was absent and the only trees he saw were plastic offerings in the entrances of foyers.
He stood and walked towards the barn and through its open, weathered wooden doors. Inside, bales of mouldering hay lined its sides. He could hear the quiet footsteps of a nervous Carter behind him. He looked up at the long beam that ran across the middle of the large barn. There was nothing that the boy could have used to climb on, not even the hay which was little more than dust, obviously forgotten by whoever had packed it there.
“I took photos of the tyre tracks and of the rope,” Carter said. “They’re with forensics in Harrisonburg.”
Locklear did not reply. It didn’t look like he was going to be able to trust Carter and he had already decided to ask Kowalski to send another outsider to help with the investigation.
“You think that boy climbed up here and tried to hang himself?”
“No, sir,” Carter replied quietly.
“Then ... what do you think happened?”
Carter stared blankly at Locklear. “I don’t rightly know, sir.”
“Yep, I was afraid you were going to say that, Carter.”
Locklear ignored the question and made his way out of the barn to take in the vista. The abandoned farm was more rundown than he had imagined it would be. A small, dilapidated farmhouse faced the barn, its back to the road, giving the area a sense of old-world isolation. There was no glass in any of the windows and the front door was missing. A torn fly-screen screeched eerily in the wind as it moved backward and forward on its rusted hinges. The farm was situated on a high hill and as far as the eye could see the soil was parched and lifeless, sheltering only a few tufts of dry patchy grass. Locklear scanned further and noticed a small holding set on lower land adjacent to the farm. Its grass was a deep green and fat milking cows grazed in the lush pasture. A tiny house could just about be seen as the land dipped steeply away. It was a simple scene but even in the distance the neighbour’s farm appeared to be well kept compared to the wasteland on which he stood. What, he wondered, could make two adjoining farms look so very different?
“Who owns this farm?”
“It belongs to the Fehrs.”
“Why aren’t they farming it?”
Carter shrugged.
Locklear grunted. For a man who was teamed up with him to supply local knowledge, Carter seemed, or pretended, to know very little. Locklear threw down the soil he was still holding and, as he moved back towards the car, he noticed a tall man standing in the dried-out scrub at the entrance to the farm. A brown-felt cowboy-type hat was pulled down, shielding his eyes. From the clothes he wore Locklear could tell the man was young – light-brown boots over dark-blue jeans and blue-check shirt. As they passed he made no attempt to move and even Carter, who seemed so at ease with the unusual community, visibly tensed.
“Who was that?”
“Luke Fehr,” he answered quietly.
“A relative?”
“The victim’s older brother.”
“Gotta talk to him,” Locklear said, looking back into the scrub for the man but he had already disappeared from view.
“Oh, he won’t talk to you, sir. Luke Fehr doesn’t talk to anyone.”


The Pact is published by Poolbeg Books and is available in TPB and ebook format. You can order your copy HERE.

Further Reading from Carol Coffey

Popular Posts