Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough #BlogTour #Extract #wtfthatending

I am so excited to be a stop on the blog tour for Behind Her Eyes today-this book was in my top reads for last year and I’m sure it will top many “Top 2017 Lists” this year. I’m sharing my review again plus an extract

About this book…

Don’t Trust This Book

Don’t Trust These People

Don’t Trust Yourself

And whatever you do, DON’T give away that ending…

‘Sarah Pinborough is about to become your new obsession’ Harlan Coben

Louise

Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets…

David

Young, successful and charming – Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife…

Adele

Beautiful, elegant and sweet – Louise’s new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her.

But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks… Is David really is the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears?
Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

Extract…

“This will cheer you up.” She pulls a joint out of the top pocket of her red corduroy jacket. “Trust me, you’ll find every thing funnier once we’re baked.” She sees the reluctance on my face and grins. ” Come on, Lou. It’s a special occasion. You’ve excelled yourself. Snogged your new married boss. This is genius. I should get someone to write the film. I could play you.”

“Good.” I say. ” I’ll need the money when I’m fired.” I can’t fight Sophie, and I don’t want to, and soon we are sitting out in the small balcony of my  tiny flat, wine, crisps, and cigarettes at our feet, passing the weed between us, giggling.

Unlike Sophie, who somehow remains half-teenager, getting high is not in anyway part of my normal routine -there isn’t the time or the money when you are on your own-but laughter beats crying anytime, and I suck in a lungful of sweet, forbidden smoke.

“It could only happen to you.” she says. ” You hid? ”

I nod, smiling at the comedy of the memory imagined through someone else’s eyes. “I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I dived into the toilet and stayed there. When I came out, he’d gone. He doesn’t start until tomorrow. He was getting the full tour from Dr Sykes.”

” With his wife. ”

“Yep, with his wife.” I remember how good they looked together in that brief, awful moment of realisation. A beautiful couple.

“How long did you stay in the toilet for?”

” Twenty minutes. ”

“Oh, Lou”

There’s a pause, and then we both have the giggles, wine and weed buzzing our heads, and for a little while we can’t stop.

“I wish I could have seen your face.” Sophie says.

“Yeah, well I’m not looking forward to seeing his face when he sees my face.”

Sophie shrugs. “He’s the married one. It’s his shame. He can’t say anything to you.”

She absolves me of my guilt, but I can still feel it clinging, along with the shock. The gut punch of the woman I’d glimpsed by his side before I dashed into hiding. His beautiful wife. Elegant. Dark -haired and olive-skinned in an Angelina Jolie way. That kind of mystery about her. Exceptionally thin. The opposite of me. The snapshot of her is burned into my brain. I couldn’t imagine her ever panicking and hiding in a toilet from anyone. It stung in a way it shouldn’t have, not after one drunken afternoon, and not only because my confidence has reached rock bottom.

The thing is, I’d liked him-really liked him. I can’t tell Sophie about that. How I hadn’t talked to anyone like that in a long time. How happy I’d felt to be flirting with someone who was flirting back, and how I’d forgotten how great that excitement of something potentially new was. My life is, as a rule, a blur of endless routine. I get Adam up and take him to school. If I’m working and want to start early, he goes to breakfast club. If I’m not working, I may spend an hour or so browsing charity shops for designer cast-offs  that will fit the clinic’s subtly expensive look. Then its just cooking, cleaning, shopping, until Adam comes home, and then it’s homework, tea, bath, story, bed for him and wine and bad sleep for me. When he goes to his dad’s for a weekend I’m too tired to do anything much other than lie in and then watch crap TV. The idea that this could be my life until Adam’s at least fifteen or so quietly terrifies me, so I don’t think about it. But then meeting the man-in-the-bar made me realise how good it was to feel something. As a woman, it made me feel alive. I’d even thought about going back to that bar and seeing if he’d turned up to find me. But, of course, life isn’t a romcom. And he’s married. And I’ve been an idiot. I’m not bitter, merely sad. I can’t tell Sophie any of these things because then she’d feel sorry for me, and I don’t want that, and it’s easier to find it all funny. It is funny. And it’s not like I sit at home bemoaning my singledom every night, as if no-one could ever be complete without a man. In the main, I’m pretty happy. I’m a grown-up. I could have it way worse. This was one mistake. I have to deal with it.

I scoop up a handful of Doritos and Sophie does the same.

“Curves are the new thin,” we say in unison, before cramming the crisps into our mouths and nearly choking as we laugh again. I think about me hiding in the toilet from him, full of panic and disbelief. It is funny. Everything is funny. It might be less funny tomorrow morning when I have to face the music, but for now I laugh. If you can’t laugh at your own fuck-ups, what can you laugh at?

“Why do you do it?” I say later, when the bottle of wine is empty between us and the evening is drawing to a close. “Have affairs? Aren’t you happy with Jay?”

” Of course I am. ” Sophie says “I love him. It’s not like I’m out doing it all the time.”

This is probably true. She’s an actress; she exaggerates for the sake of a story sometimes.

“But why do it at all?” Strangely, it’s not something we’ve really talked about that much. She knows I’m uncomfortable with it, not because she does it-that’s her business -but because I know and like Jay. He’s good for her  Without him, she’d be screwed. As it were.

” I have a higher sex drive than he does, ” she says, eventually. “And sex isn’t what marriage is about anyway. It’s about being with your best friend. Jay’s my best friend. But we’ve been together fifteen years. Lust can’t maintain itself. I mean, we still do it, sometimes, but it’s not like it was, and having a child changes things. You spend so many years seeing each other as parents rather than lovers, its hard to get that passion back.”

I think of my own short-lived marriage. The lust didn’t die with us. But that didn’t stop him leaving after four years to be with someone else when our son was barely two years old. Maybe she has a point. I don’t think I ever saw my ex, Ian, as my best friend

“It just seems a bit sad to me.” And it does.

” That’s because you believe in true love and happy ever after in a fairy tale way. That’s not how life is. ”

“Do you think he’s ever cheated on you?” I ask.

” He’s definitely had his flirtations, ” she says “There was a singer he worked with a long time ago. I think maybe they had a thing for a while. But whatever it was, it didn’t affect us. Not really”

She makes it sound so reasonable. All I can think of is the pain of betrayal I felt when Ian left. How what he did affected how I saw myself. How worthless I felt in those early days. How ugly. The short-lived romance he left me for didn’t last either, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand it,” I say.

” Everyone has secrets , Lou, ” she says. “Everyone should be allowed their secrets. You can never know everything about a person. You’d go mad trying to.”

************************************

And you can read my 5* review of the amazing  Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough here!

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Death and the Good Son by B.A. Steadman #BlogTour @Bloodhoundbook

Today I am delighted to be part of the blog tour celebrations for Death and the Good Son by B.A. Steadman by bringing you an extract from the book.

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About this book…

Life is good for DI Dan Hellier. He has made several successful drugs’ busts and even the Assistant Chief Constable is smiling. But the discovery of two headless, handless corpses buried in the bog on Dartmoor will test his team to their limits. How are they expected to identify the bodies when nobody has reported them missing?

The pressure mounts when the death of a teenager from an overdose of Mephedrone plunges Dan into the murky world of the Garrett family. Could the peaceful, family-run Animal Rescue Centre really be a cover for murder and drug-dealing?

Just how far will people go to get what they want?

And what links death to the good son?

This investigation will challenge Dan’s decisions and beliefs as he races to catch a criminal before another child dies.

Extract…

Chapter One

Crouched behind a hawthorn hedge in full bloom, in the early June
moonlight, all Detective Inspector Dan Hellier could hear was the rapid
breathing and fidgeting of trainee Detective Constable Adam Foster. Dan
held his hand in front of Foster’s face. ‘Wait. Be still.’ He glanced at DC
Sam Knowles, calm and unruffled, and wished Foster was somewhere else.

In his ear, Detective Sergeant Duncan Lake gave instructions to his armed
response unit. They had the battering ram and the bolt cutters ready to go.

Out on the River Exe, DS Sally Ellis and DC Lizzie Singh waited with the
coastguard inshore lifeboat, in case the gang had a boat stashed away.

Dan scanned the lane leading down to the abandoned waterside warehouse. All
was quiet. Three vans were parked outside tall doors, which were locked,
chained and bolted. Shafts of yellow light escaped through cracks and
fissures in the old wood, and the unmistakeable smell of thousands of
marijuana plants made the air heavy. He blinked and shook his head. The
combination of grass and hawthorn flower was sending him to sleep.

Using heat-sensitive cameras, the force helicopter had made several passes
earlier in the day. The crop had glowed orange under huge heat lamps. Four
life-signs had been busy in different parts of the building, no obvious
booby-traps had been spotted. Above Dan’s head, a makeshift set of wires
stole electricity from the grid. This was his second drugs raid in as many
nights. The chief constable was on a mission.

DS Lake gave the ‘go’ signal. Six officers moved silently to the doors.
Bolt cutters made swift work of the chains. The first crash from the
battering ram echoed around the river basin, disturbing a flock of
seabirds. The second crash started the men inside running. Lake shouted
from the doorway, ‘Armed police! Stand still. Do not move.’ He nodded at
his team and they entered the warehouse at a run.

Outside, in the still air, Dan could hear his heart beating an irregular
rhythm as he waited for the all clear. As the thought formed, he heard the
rattle of gunfire from an automatic weapon inside the warehouse. Beside
him, Foster drew in a sharp breath. Intel had warned them to be armed; the
gang was down from London and the news from the Met had all been bad. Lake
sent the ‘man down’ message. Dan winced. Bad news.

A return pair of shots echoed round the river basin. A lone scream and then
only the peculiar silence that follows a shooting. Suspect dead, then.
Idiot. Dan made himself breathe again and rolled his shoulders. The wait
for Lake to tell him about the downed officer was hard. He wondered who it
was, whether he was dead, and thought of the paperwork, and the
investigation that would land on Lake’s desk.

A telltale squeal of un-oiled hinges announced the departure of some of the
gang from the warehouse heading towards the water. There should have been a
man on that door. Dan watched two men running low and fast towards the
water. The need to be up and doing something was making him jittery. He
shuffled and flexed his knees, bringing back the pain in his healing left
foot. ‘Two suspects making off towards the river,’ he said into his radio,
and trusted Sally was ready with her coastguards. Three down…

A side door flew open and a fourth man ran straight towards the trees where
Dan and his team waited. Where was the man on that door? He spotted an
armed officer from Lake’s team in fast pursuit, blood dripping from a hand
injury. The gang member carried a long sword, of all things.

Dan had to make a fast decision. There was no point hiding now. Any second
the dealer would stumble into them and he could do serious damage with that
sword. Dan leapt up, waving his arms and yelled, ‘Stop! Put down your
weapon and stand still.’ He directed his flashlight straight into the man’s
face, blinding him for a second.

The armed officer ran up behind and slapped both hands around the man’s
head, hard against his ears. In shock he dropped the sword and screamed.
The officer took him to the floor and cuffed him, nodding his thanks to Dan.

Lake radioed to his team, and gave the all clear a few minutes later. Dan,
heart still pumping, led his team out to the front of the building.
Effective technique, bursting someone’s eardrums. He must remember that.

They couldn’t go much further than the front door until forensics had
cleared it, so he set his team to guarding the extremities. The dead dealer
lay in the middle of a corridor of cannabis plants that must have been two
meters high. There were at least another dozen rows of plants in there. The
heat, intensified by silver foil reflecting it back from the walls, made it
unbearable. Dan moved back to a safer distance. They’d have to wait until
the coroner and crime scene lab had finished before they could catalogue
the contents of the warehouse. He sighed. Another long night. The phone
call took seconds, but how long they would have to wait for someone to come
out was anyone’s guess.

Even from the door, the smell threatened to overwhelm him. He could feel
his reactions slowing. He hated cannabis, hated it. Had done ever since his
eighteenth birthday when some kind person had spiked his birthday cake with
skunk. The hallucinations and paranoia that followed made it a very long,
unpleasant night, and he could no longer even smell the drug without
feeling sick. Aversion therapy had worked on him.

Sally Ellis radioed in a few minutes later; ‘Got them, boss,’ she said, ‘not
much fight in ’em.’

Duncan Lake strode out of the warehouse and stood next to Dan, thumbs in
his belt. ‘Look at the size of this operation.’ He held his arms wide and
took in a deep breath.

Dan worried for a moment that he was going to launch into a song. Or an
aria.

‘I reckon this lot would be worth millions on the street.’ He grinned.
‘That’ll look good on your nick’s statistics, Dan.’

Dan grinned back. ‘Too right. A good night apart from the casualties.’

‘Our man will be fine; his vest took the brunt of the shots, and I’m not
going to lose any sleep over one dead drug dealer.’ He gave a high whistle,
which brought his team running to stand next to him. ‘Right, building is
secure. Over to you. At least we don’t have to clear this lot out.’

‘Yeah, yeah, back to saving the world for you; clearing up other people’s
crap for us.’

‘At least you haven’t got Police Complaints to worry about. More paperwork
for a low-life drug dealer.’ He turned on his heel and departed.

‘Thanks, Duncan,’ Dan called after Lake’s retreating team. A long night
indeed, but a bloody good one. He rang the specialist removal team, on
standby at Exeter Road station, and told them to have another coffee.

Left alone he wandered out into the clear night and took several deep
breaths. The operation had gone well, but he was tired. Two night shifts in
one week wasn’t nice. He smiled. Listen to yourself, Hellier. Not that long
ago, night shift was what you did, over and over, week in, week out.
Getting soft.

He listened to Foster’s voice coming loud from the river, commenting on the
heat, and the smell roiling out of the warehouse. Foster was a bit too
impulsive for a DC: it was like holding back a spaniel on the scent of a
cat. He had to be aware of Foster all the time. Pain in the arse. Maybe a
couple of weeks at another station would sort him out and calm him down.
He’d get Sally onto it tomorrow.

Dan called in the result to HQ as the ambulance and crime scene van
arrived. There was little need to rush. It was close to midnight and they
had a crime scene to investigate, and a warehouse full of marijuana to
dispose of before they could go to bed.

Death And The Good Son: an edge of your seat detective thriller is published on December 9th by Bloodhound Books

Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington #BlogTour @sam_carrington1 @kaishajayneh

Today I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour for Saving Sophie to celebrate the release on 15th December of the paperback. Thank you to Kaisha Holloway of The Writing Garnet for organising and inviting me to be involved.

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About this book…

A teenage girl is missing. Is your daughter involved, or is she next?

Your daughter is in danger. But can you trust her?

When Karen Finch’s seventeen-year-old daughter Sophie arrives home after a night out, drunk and accompanied by police officers, no one is smiling the morning after. But Sophie remembers nothing about how she got into such a state.

Twelve hours later, Sophie’s friend Amy has still not returned home. Then the body of a young woman is found.

Karen is sure that Sophie knows more than she is letting on. But Karen has her own demons to fight. She struggles to go beyond her own door without a panic attack.

As she becomes convinced that Sophie is not only involved but also in danger, Karen must confront her own anxieties to stop whoever killed one young girl moving on to another – Sophie.

Extract…

Karen sat with her knees up and her back against the soft velvet-covered headboard, tapping the screen of her phone.
‘What are you doing?’ Mike asked, walking around to his side of the bed.
‘Texting Liz.’
‘For God’s sake, Karen, it’s midnight. Leave it.’ He sat on the edge of the bed, peeling off his trousers. Small change from his pockets scattered on the wooden floor, clinking and rolling everywhere. ‘Darn it!’
‘I need to know if Amy’s home safe.’ Karen spoke the words quietly, thinking if she said them softly, he’d understand her need for reassurance.
‘Sophie’s so pissed up she wouldn’t have a clue who she’d been out with. Anyway, she obviously got separated from them and now they’ll be in the club until three. Do not worry Liz about it. Just go to sleep.’ He was tired. Irritable. Karen knew he hated it when she couldn’t let things go.
‘Yeah, right, like sleep is possible now. I think it’s more than just alcohol.’
‘Relax.’ He bounced up and down, settling himself and yanked the duvet up over his shoulder. He turned away from her.
‘Mike,’ she pleaded, adamant that the conversation should continue despite his warning tone. She had things playing on her mind: disturbing things. ‘Don’t you think she looked like she’d taken drugs? Or that someone had drugged her? The way she was talking . . .’
‘Are you for real?’ Mike flung the duvet back off, exposing his muscled torso, and sat up, eyes glaring. ‘Don’t you think the police would’ve been a bit more concerned if they suspected something untoward had happened? Just because you used to work with a bunch of screwed-up criminals, it doesn’t mean every time Sophie goes out she’s going to be targeted by would-be rapists.’
Karen smarted. ‘You were the one who shouted at Sophie, said anything could’ve happened – weren’t they your words?’
He rubbed his palms aggressively up and down his face, groaning.
‘I meant she could have been knocked over, ended up in a ditch somewhere, and yes, it did cross my mind someone could have taken advantage of her. But that clearly didn’t happen. What you’re saying is that someone purposely drugged her. I’ve no idea what goes through your head. Now please let me sleep, we’ll talk to her in the morning. It’ll all be some pathetic teenage drama, some stupid fall-out with Amy, that’s all.’ He returned to his position, facing the window with his back towards her.
A tear rolled down Karen’s cheek and hit the duvet cover. She stared at the mascara-stained drop for a moment, then ran her fingertip over it, smudging it. How could he be so insensitive? His irritation had pushed aside all he knew about her, her own traumatic experience: the attack, two years ago almost to the day. Had he forgotten why she was this way? She looked down absently. The cover would need washing now. She lifted her head, staring for a while at the back of her husband of twenty-three years. Then she continued the text.

Hi Liz, sorry to text this late, was wondering if you’ve heard from Amy? Sophie has been brought back by the police in a right state – I don’t know why she wasn’t with the others! I hope the rest of the girls have fared better. Text me when you get this please.
She put the phone on vibrate and placed it under her pillow. Snatching her sertraline tablets from the bedside table, she popped two in her mouth and swallowed without water, then went to check on Sophie.

My review…

I love discovering new authors especially when I get that lovely tingly feeling reading the first few pages of a book and I think to myself “this one is going to be a good one!” There has been a bit of a buzz about Saving Sophie on the social media platforms recently and sometimes that can be a bit of a let down when you actually come to read the book itself but in this case, not only did I really enjoy it, I am now desperate to read her next book based on the blurb at the back of Saving Sophie!

I could tell from the start that Sam Carrington MUST have some experience of teenage girls as this first chapter is every mother’s worst nightmare. When Sophie is brought home by the police after having been found wandering the town the worse for wear, it’s obvious that something is very wrong. She seems more than drunk, she isn’t making sense and where is her friend? The complex mother/teenage daughter relationship is brilliantly brought to life here (I should know! Enough said!) and it raises the tension levels right from the start especially as there is also a discrepancy in the parenting styles between Karen and her husband Mike.

Told from three viewpoints (Karen, Sophie and DI Lindsay Wade) this psychological suspense really does contain some unexpected surprises. The second half of the book racked up the tension for me personally and I found it impossible to put down until I had finished. It’s creepy feel really did make my skin crawl at times especially reading the emails that were occasionally interspersed that also seemed to also have something to do with Sophie and the night her friend disappears. This book is very much of our time especially with its use of social media and technology and how it seems to affect the lives of teenagers nowadays.

There is so much that could be discussed about this book making it ideal for a book club debate. Karen’s agoraphobia for instance and how it’s affecting her relationships not only with her own family but with her friends too. It certainly made for uncomfortable reading when she was forced to put Sophies safety above her own debilitating condition.

Although we are given an in-depth look into the thoughts and consequent actions of Karen and Sophie through their alternating chapters, I didn’t feel I got to know DI Wade as well and would loved to have had more of an insight into what made her tick and act the way she did. Maybe I am just too used to the Detective being the one with “the story” though as she did make an interesting contrast to the complexity of Karen and Sophie. Hopefully though, when we meet her again this will be resolved as I think there is a fascinating character there waiting to be revealed.

Saving Sophie did what many books struggle to do nowadays…it surprised me! I really liked Sam Carringtons writing style and I will definitely be looking out for her next book.

Meet the author…

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Sam Carrington lives in Devon with her husband and three children. She worked for the NHS for fifteen years, during which time she qualified as a nurse. Following the completion of a Psychology degree she went to work for the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Programme Facilitator. Her experiences within this field inspired her writing. She left the service to spend time with her family and to follow her dream of being a novelist. SAVING SOPHIE is her debut psychological thriller novel.
sspbt-reviewers
And make sure you follow the rest of the tour!

Last to Die by Arlene Hunt **Publication day extract**

Today, as well as my review, I am delighted to bring you the first chapter of Last to Die by Arlene Hunt to celebrate its publication day! Many thanks to the publisher  Bookouture for providing this extract.

An extract from Last to Die…

Chapter 1
Jessie Conway fanned herself ineffectually with her hand and wished for the umpteenth time that the relentless heat would let up a little. She was thirty-eight years old, tall but evenly proportioned, with shoulder-length hair, the shade of which was the envy of every bottle red-headed woman in Rockville.
‘Miss Conway?’
‘What can I do for you, Riley?’
‘It’s really hot. I’m really hot. It’s really hot today.’
‘Would you like me to open the window, Riley?’
He nodded.
‘Use your words please.’
‘Open the window.’
‘What else should you say?’
Riley scrunched his face, thinking. Jessie waited while he figured it out. Riley was fourteen and one of the smarter pupils in her class. Certainly, he had the potential to live some kind of productive life when he left school behind. Manners were crucial in this. Jessie hoped the universe treated him a little better in the future than it had thus far.
‘Please?’
‘Very good, Riley.’
Jessie rose from her desk, crossed the room and grappled with the sash window. Despite being pretty strong, she could barely raise it an inch. This section of Rockville High was old and in need of care and attention. Something it rarely received.
‘That child is never happy unless he’s complaining about something,’ Tracy Flowers, her Teaching Assistant muttered, sliding in beside Jessie to help her wrestle with the window.
‘He’s right though, it is hot.’
‘Don’t see how this will help; it’s as hot out there as it is in here.’
Tracy was twenty-four years old. She had joined Rockville High the previous September and was without doubt the best Teaching Assistant Jessie had ever worked with. She liked to grumble, but she was tough, kind and, most importantly, she was scrupulously fair with the children. That day she was wearing a yellow sundress the colour of buttercups. Jessie thought it looked very pretty and would have liked to have said so, but Tracy did not take a compliment well and she did not enjoy people drawing attention to her.
Between them, they managed to force the window up by about a foot. Jessie leaned her hands on the ledge, savouring the slight breeze and the comforting drone of a lawnmower somewhere in the distance. It truly was a beautiful June day.
Only one more week until the holidays, she thought, smiling. She wondered if Mike, her husband, had called the realtor on the rental cabin like he had said he would that morning. Knowing Mike, he had probably forgotten. She decided she’d call him during recess to remind him.
As she turned back towards the class, Jessie caught a glimpse of a dark green Toyota cruising slowly along the ring road that encircled the campus. The windows were tinted and closed tight. Air conditioning, Jessie thought, something else the school board claimed they could not afford to repair. The car slowed, turned into the main parking lot normally reserved for staff and disappeared from view.
Jessie moved away from the window and went to help a sweet-natured girl named Martha Fisk stick glue to the card she was working on. Martha’s tongue jutted out to the side as she concentrated on her task. There was glitter just about everywhere.
‘This is very pretty, Martha.’
‘Uh-huh.’
‘Who are you making this for, your mom?’
Martha shook her head.
‘Your sister?’
She nodded.
‘Well it’s very—’
‘Uh-oh.’
Jessie leaned over the child’s shoulder. Martha had glued six tinfoil stars to her card and one to the desk.
‘Uh-oh. Uh-oh.’
‘That’s okay Martha. We can peel it off. It’s okay. Look.’ Jessie lifted the star and wiped the tiny smudge of glue with her thumb. ‘See, all gone.’
Martha offered Jessie a painful, pathetic grin. Her gratitude broke Jessie’s heart. Martha was missing her front teeth. No one had ever received a satisfactory answer from her about what had happened to them, only that they had been gone a long time and she didn’t like talking about it. Questions put to Martha’s mother, the only time she had bothered to show up to a parent teacher meeting, had been met with a bored shrug. ‘Probably she banged ’em. You see how she is, that damn kid’s always fallin’ and floppin’ all over the place.’
‘Miss Conway?’
‘What can I help you with, Austin?’
‘I need to go pee, Miss Conway.’
Jessie pointed to the big plastic clock hanging behind her desk.
‘See the big hand, Austin? Remember we talked about this? When that big hand reaches the number six you can go.’
‘I need to go real bad, Miss Conway.’
‘Tracy, would you show Austin to the bathroom?’
‘Sure. Come on, Austin.’
‘I don’t want her to go,’ Austin said, shrinking back from Tracy. ‘I don’t want her.’
Tracy’s expression remained neutral; she was used to this reaction, but Jessie felt a flash of anger and shame. Austin’s father disliked and mistrusted ‘coloreds’ and was more than happy to say so to anyone who might listen. He spent much of his limited time outside prison terrifying his youngest son with stories about what the ‘coloreds’ might like to do with soft, small-boned boys like Austin, should they get the chance.
‘Austin,’ Jessie said, ‘remember we spoke about this? You do not shout in class – if you shout in class you will lose your yard privileges.’
‘I heard you.’
‘Do you still want to go to the bathroom?’
Austin looked at her sulkily and shook his head. He bent to his work, pink with temper and Tracy went on about her business, stoical.
Jessie glanced at the clock again. She would be glad when this day was over. On paper, Jessie’s pupils were described as ‘marginalised’, which was nothing more than politically correct claptrap for ‘extremely messed up’. Most of the children in Jessie’s class were the product of appalling neglect, both mental and physical, and abuse, also both mental and physical. They were the children of alcoholics and drug-addicted parents, of parents who spent half their lives in jail, the rest of the time trying to spend their welfare on booze, weed and crystal meth. That was if they even had parents to speak of. Many of Jessie’s pupils were being reared by their grandparents; sad, tired, ill-equipped people whose hearts were in the right place, even if they did not have the wherewithal to help their grandchildren in ways other than to feed and house them.
Jessie lifted a pop-up picture book from under a desk and slotted it into what they romantically called ‘the library’, though it was little more than two shelves of tattered books bought and paid for by the profits from fundraisers and raffles. The bell finally rang. Her pupils collected their belongings and hustled their way to the door. Some said goodbye; most did not.
‘What a day,’ Tracy said, when the last child left. ‘I swear, I don’t think I can face another week of this.’
‘Nobody ever said Special Ed was easy,’ Jessie said, tying her dark red hair into a ponytail.
‘No, I guess they didn’t.’
Jessie rested her hand on Tracy’s shoulder. ‘You’re doing great.’
Tracy offered her a wry smile that said she thought differently. ‘I’m going to go get some strong coffee. You coming?’
‘Be with you in a few minutes. Save me a dessert if there is any. I think I heard talk of Key lime pie earlier.’
‘Aw man, how can you eat that stuff and never put on a single pound? If I even look at pie my hips expand.’
‘It’s a secret; if I told you I’d have to kill you.’
Tracy laughed and left.
Jessie wiped the board clean and began to write up the assignments for the next class. When she finished, she picked up her handbag and was about to exit the room when she heard popping sounds. They were loud and they were close.
Jessie opened the door and stepped out. Children milled about the hall, a number of them looked curious.
‘What’s going on?’ Jessie asked a heavily built boy she recognised from eight grade.
‘Dunno.’
The freckle-faced girl with him looked scared. ‘Sounds to me like gunfire.’
‘Nah, no way,’ the boy said. ‘Probably a cherry bomb or some shit.’
Then the fire alarm went off, filling the halls with deafening wails.
‘Okay, okay,’ Jessie clapped her hands to get attention. ‘You know the drill. Everybody make their way outside to the basketball courts. No running, no shoving please. Nice and easy now. Use the nearest exit please.’
Jessie pushed her way through the children and followed the corridor until she reached the main foyer. Rockville High was a single-storey building, built around this double-height space, off which were four ‘wings’. To Jessie’s immediate left was the staff room and to her right the cafeteria. Children spilled into the space from three separate hallways. Some of them laughed and hooted, others seemed more anxious. There were a number of students by the lockers opposite the cafeteria doors, changing books and emptying contents into backpacks as though the alarms were not going off at all.
Jessie caught sight of Adam Edwards, the Vice-Principal, striding to the foyer from the B wing. He was trying to get people to make their way to the A Wing, pleading with them to remain calm and to move quickly but without running. Jessie was puzzled as to why he was not shepherding them towards the main doors. She turned her head and saw that there was a chain strung through both door handles, with a heavy padlock hanging from it. She immediately made her way towards the Vice-Principal.
‘What’s going on?’
‘I don’t know. I was in the science lab. Someone said there was shooting. When I got down here the front doors were chained.’ He leaned in closer and whispered, ‘So is the fire exit by the bike shed.’
‘Do you think this is real?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Are all the doors locked?’
‘I don’t know. Principal Carmichael is checking the C Wing. I think we should get everyone outside.’
‘What can I do?’
‘You can help me get everyone outside and accounted for.’
She could see he was struggling to keep his voice calm. This alarmed her. Edwards was a tall man, good-natured but serious at the best of times and not one for panicking. More children were streaming in to the foyer. Jessie noticed the group she had spoken to outside her classroom.
‘I thought I told you to go outside,’ she said to the girl with the freckles.
‘The doors are locked. Someone locked them with a chain.’
Edwards raised his hands over his head.
‘Everyone, listen to me now. Stop pushing and slow down. Make your way to the rear emergency exit in a calm and orderly fashion. Come on now. I want everybody to move outside please. Everyone make their way to the basketball courts, nice and slowly. Miss Conway, can you make sure the cafeteria is empty?’
‘Sure.’ Jessie began to walk towards the cafeteria, but as she did, one of the swing doors opened and a tall youth she recognised as Kyle Saunders stepped out. He carried a semiautomatic weapon dangling from a long strap across his chest. Adam Edwards saw him; his eyes widened in surprise. He reacted fast. He grabbed the nearest child to him and shoved her towards a hallway.
‘Go!’
Kyle Saunders raised the gun. His face was shiny and his lips were peeled back over his teeth. His eyes roamed over the teeming foyer.
‘Hey maggots! Yo! Maggots, remember me?’
‘Kyle—’ Edwards put out his hands out before him, chest high. ‘Put the gun down, Kyle. Put it down now. We can talk about this.’
Kyle stared at Edwards for a moment, smiling a weird smile. Jessie could see some doubt come into Edwards’ eyes.
‘Kyle, listen to me now—’
Kyle opened fire.
The first spray of bullets took out the glass bricks that ran the length of the wall above the lockers. Children ran screaming in every direction. Some fell and were trampled; others flattened themselves against walls, covering their heads with their hands as though this might save them. One or two stood and stared, rooted to the spot in disbelief.
The second burst of gunfire was lower. A piercing scream was cut short. A round hit Edwards directly in the chest, spinning him where he stood. He took a step and dropped to the floor.
Jessie stared at Alan Edwards’ body, her face frozen, unable to comprehend what had happened.
‘Alan.’
She took a step forward but blood was beginning to pool under him and his fingers were scrabbling for purchase on the tiled floor. Behind him, another boy lay twisted and broken, his backpack still on his shoulders.
Kyle Saunders threw back his head and whooped. He was still howling when Jessie Conway slammed into him at speed. The force of the impact sent Kyle crashing through the swing doors of the cafeteria, with Jessie practically on top of him. They smashed into a table, toppled over it and hit the ground hard.
Jessie recovered first. She slammed her knees into Kyle’s stomach and ripped the strap over his head. Before he knew what had happened, she grabbed the gun. She felt the heat of the muzzle blister the skin on her fingers, smelled cordite and sweat from Kyle’s body. She threw all her weight backwards, bracing hard against his gut, screaming as she leaned away.
Kyle was too strong and managed to reclaim his grip on the gun. He wrenched it free and snapped the stock up towards the side of Jessie’s head. He clouted her with it, but she twisted her body to one side just before he could land a full blow. Kyle scrambled to get his feet under him. Jessie rose first; she shouldered him and wedged her body between him and the gun. Spittle sprayed the side of Jessie’s face as Kyle tried to ram the gun up under her chin. She held on doggedly, keeping the weapon as close to her body as she could, the muzzle pointed up and away from her.
They tussled back and forth. Kyle loosened one hand and punched her in the back, above her kidney. In desperation, Jessie stamped down on Kyle’s foot and tried to get her shoulder into his chest and force his grip to break over her shoulder.
Nothing worked.
She kicked and kicked, aiming her heel for any spot she could reach. She landed a bone-crunching snap on his shin but Kyle punched her again, and this time it hurt, badly. Jessie’s grip began to fail. She tried one last desperate swing. As she twisted, she saw another boy standing on a table at the far side of the cafeteria near the drinks machine. He was slender and young, with a thin wispy moustache he had not yet grown into. He was dressed head to toe in black. All these things Jessie registered in the blink of an eye. There was one more detail.
He had a shotgun trained on them.
‘Shoot her!’ Kyle Saunders screamed. ‘Shoot the fucking bitch!’
There was a deafening blast. Jessie felt pain along the left side of her face seconds before she collapsed under Kyle Saunders’ full weight.
The gun was now in her hands and she blindly raised it and fired towards where she thought the other boy might be. Through the smoke, she saw him fall backwards off the table and drop out of sight.
Jessie lay still, dazed. Kyle Saunders’ lower body was twisted across her hips. She turned her head and saw that he was dead. There was nothing left of his head but a mass of bloody scalp and glistening bone fragments. Jessie’s ears fizzed and rang. She lowered the gun to the floor, crawled out from under Kyle and sat up. Blood spilled onto her chest and lap. She blinked at it uncomprehendingly. By the time she got to her feet and staggered across the floor her shirt was saturated. She fell down and landed close to two terrified girls huddled beneath an overturned table. She recognised their faces but could not remember their names.
‘Get out of here.’
The girls cringed, and huddled against each other. One of them mouthed something but Jessie could not decipher the words.
‘Go.’
They fled.
Jessie crawled across the floor to where the boy had fallen.
He lay on his back, panting. The shotgun was off to his right, out of range. One arm rested across his chest, the other curled by his side. The front of his shirt was slick with blood. His eyes were open and as she moved closer they clicked around to her.
‘Oh,’ Jessie whispered when she saw the damage she had inflicted.
He smiled, in reality a terrible grimace. A bubble of frothy blood appeared at the corner of his mouth, popped, and was replaced by another. Jessie leaned all her weight on her right hand and took his left hand in hers.
‘Why did you do this?’
But he did not answer and after a moment his eyes lost focus, his chest stopped moving and he was gone.
Jessie stared at him. She tried to stay upright, but could not summon the strength. She sank to the floor beside the dead boy and wiped the blood from her eyes. She saw Tracy Flowers lying by the drinks machine. She had lost a shoe and the back of her yellow sundress was drenched in blood.
Jessie wanted to go to her but could not. She vomited, closed her eyes and finally darkness took her.

My review…

I hadn’t heard of this author before but she is certainly one I won’t forget in a hurry! Last to Die is described as a psychological thriller and thrill it does. You are taken on an adrenaline fuelled chase throughout the plot, that once it grabs hold will be difficult to stop. It truly is a rollercoaster ride of a read and made me feel like I was struggling to escape from one of those awful “running away” nightmares!

Jessie is just the sort of female character that I like to read about. She is a strong minded individual who puts her life on the line in the opening pages of this book, she’s definitely the one you’d like around in an emergency. Her experience at the start of the book throws us in at the deep end straightaway and then we are introduced to other characters like Mike, Ace and the dreadful local reporters who are the type to give journalism a bad name! During the middle of the book there was a lot of background information and setting the scene about why the characters behaved the way they did and it wasn’t really until the last 30% of the book that things picked up again. From that point onwards it really became a race against time that I couldn’t put down.

Arlene Hunt has created a creepy villain here who exudes evil. Sometimes during the book I felt like I was in one of those movies like Deliverance where the setting of the wide open countryside is as much of  adversary  as the hunter himself, watching and waiting to capture unsuspecting people in its traps.

If you like books by CJ Box or Rick Morfina then this will be right up your street and I will definitely be happy to read other books by Arlene Hunt in the future!

I received a copy of this book via netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Last to Die: A gripping psychological thriller not for the faint hearted is available to buy now from Amazon UK