Sonata of the Dead: Teaser #1

I couldn’t look to my left: that was the side with the sheer drop. To my right was Underdog slapping the cosh into his hand. If I concentrated on my feet I’d be too aware of the abyss screaming away an inch or so from my little toe. Straight ahead was somehow easier, even though I’d have to trust myself to walk in an utterly straight line. In the distance, Peckham maybe, the cherry and ice-blue stutter of police lights. Burglary in progress. Man down. More likely it was a couple of night-shifters bossing traffic so they could pick up their coffee and pastries. Use that, I thought. Focus on that.
I started to walk.

I’d never had a problem with heights when I was a kid. I could climb trees and leap from branch to branch fty feet above the ground, where squirrels fear to tread. And then something happened – I don’t know what – and I was afraid of heights, to the point where my mouth would turn tinder-dry and my knees would become crucibles of molten metal. Maybe it was as simple as becoming an adult; more likely it was because I became a father. It might have had something to do with the fight I had on top of the railway shed at St Pancras four months previously. That kind of behaviour does nothing for your sense of mortality, believe me.

But this was going well – as well as I could hope – to the extent that I was building up some speed. Get it over with. Get home. Get vodkaed. But of course it’s when you’re feeling at your most confident and comfortable that something comes along to welly you in the bollocks.

Part of the parapet shifted underfoot.

I felt myself sway sickeningly to the left and my hand instinctively reached out for a counterbalance that was not there. I heard, very clearly, Underdog say: ‘Shit.’

I knew I was dead if I didn’t move, and the only move I had was a jump, off my right foot. But because I was already tilting left, unbalanced, there was a strong chance I’d only propel myself into dead space. So I had to keep right, which meant launching from my left, which meant little purchase because there was hardly anything below my left foot any more but concrete dust. All of this went through my head in the time it took for that syllable to fly through Underdog’s teeth. I pistoned my foot down and the parapet collapsed completely…

CW up for a CWA Dagger

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My story Rosenlaui has made it on to the shortlist for a prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Dagger award. I’m shocked and thrilled. The nominees were announced at CrimeFest this weekend. The awards ceremony will take place later in the year.

If you’d like to read Rosenlaui, along with a bunch of many other fine tales by many other fine writers, you can get hold of a copy of the anthology, edited by the redoubtable Maxim Jakubowski (who is also responsible for getting my PI Joel Sorrell on the scene, by the way), here.

Congratulations and good luck to all the other finalists.

Dead Letters Teaser #17

And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere, Kirsten Kaschock

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When they finally come back to the playground, the boy is in pain. He does not say so, but affects a slight limp. His left foot makes less viable connection with the balance beam than the right. She holds his hand, failing to register this new asymmetry. The boy’s gait is his first test for her and she fails. The mother clearly prides herself on attention to minutiae – so says the unnatural lift of her brow. The boy has a bruise on his heel, but it might be bone cancer. After the initial fever, polio can look like this, in other boys. In other times and countries.

Distraction is written all over. The blue sky scrawls with plane sign, and worms are fingering bottle caps and butts near the exposed roots at my feet, covered in boot. My book, soaked through days before, is illegible – each page polluted with the next, warped, stuck, tearing if turned. A buzz emanates from the mother’s purse. She checks it, smiles, and puts him down. She is no longer beside him. She is somewhere else.

Dead Letters Teaser #16

Ledge Bants, Maria Dahvana Headley & China Miéville

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Scores of aspects of my memories, my strength, my powers, were exiled from the world. Which turned out to mean that they were hidden, camouflaged in matter, in lost places, fabled gulleys, reachable only by impossible ways. Hence those years of monster-hunting.

You should never underestimate the magic of magic’s passing. The strength of the death of that strength. Eventually, I came to clock that the things I found – eggs and jewels and chains and trinkets that were, in part, me – I found in more and more quotidian places and forms. Protected by forces that would have raised fewer eyebrows, less high, among populace by now utterly skeptical of the sort of mythic shenanigans with which I used to divert myself. Each piece shifting with the epochs, each still some snide material joke, a pun or a prod from my missing ex, but now camouflaged not in the hearts of dragons, but in shapes and places appropriate to the age. All without breaching the terms of the spell.

I hunted them, and I hunted her too, but of my Nyneve, there was no word or sign. I was convinced that I couldn’t find her because I’d lost my powers.

Dead Letters Teaser #15

Change Management, Angela Slatter

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What would it be like to be loved, to be wooed, by someone like Lucy?

Dangerous. Uncertain. Different. Oh, so exciting. There would be no ordinariness, nothing banal or commonplace – no status quo, only constant change. The idea threw a frisson down Eva’s spine that was part terror, part elation. What on earth was happening to her?

She examined the last page, with the red-brown dots – the reason, Eva was certain, the woman wanted the letter. Little stains that, when sniffed, touched to her tongue, smelled and tasted ever so faintly of old iron.

Blood.