Thrilling extract from the brand new book by Karin Slaughter – Pieces of Her

Category: Extract

To celebrate publication of the brand new standalone thriller from Karin Slaughter next week, check out this sneak peak thrilling extract from Pieces of Her…

“Jesus,” somebody whispered, low and mean, but with a tinge of surprise, all at the same time.
The air had changed. That was the only way to describe it. The fine hairs on the back of Andy’s neck stood up. A chill went down her spine. Her nostrils flared. Her mouth went dry. Her eyes watered.
There was a sound like a jar popping open.
Andy turned.
The handle of the coffee cup slipped from her fingers. Her eyes followed its path to the floor. White ceramic shards bounced off the white tiles.
There had been an eerie silence before, but now there was chaos. Screaming. Crying. People running, ducked down, hands covering their heads.
Bullets.
Pop-pop.
Shelly Barnard was lying on the floor. On her back. Arms splayed. Legs twisted. Eyes wide open. Her red T-shirt looked wet, stuck to her chest. Blood dribbled from her nose. Andy watched the thin red line slide down her cheek and into her ear.
She was wearing tiny Bulldog earrings.
“No!” Betsy Barnard wailed. “N—”
Pop.
Andy saw the back of the woman’s throat vomit out in a spray of blood.
Pop.
The side of Betsy’s skull snapped open like a plastic bag.
She fell sideways onto the floor. On top of her daughter. Onto her dead daughter.
Dead.
“Mom,” Andy whispered, but Laura was already there. She was running toward Andy with her arms out, knees bent low. Her mouth was open. Her eyes were wide with fear. Red dots peppered her face like freckles.
The back of Andy’s head slammed into the window as she was tackled to the ground. She felt the rush of air from her mother’s mouth as the wind was knocked out of her. Andy’s vision blurred. She could hear a cracking sound. She looked up. The glass above her had started to spiderweb.
“Please!” Laura screamed. She had rolled over, was on her knees, then her feet. “Please, stop.”
Andy blinked. She rubbed her fists into her eyes. Grit cut into her eyelids. Dirt? Glass? Blood?
“Please!” Laura shouted.
Andy blinked again.
Then again.
A man was pointing a gun at her mother’s chest. Not a cop’s gun, but the kind with a cylinder like in the Old West. He was dressed the part—black jeans, black shirt with pearl buttons, black leather vest and black cowboy hat. Gunbelt hanging low on his hips. One holster for the gun, a long leather sheath for a hunting knife.
Handsome.
His face was young, unlined. He was Shelly’s age, maybe a little older.
But Shelly was dead now. She would not be going to UGA. She would never be mortified by her mother again because her mother was dead, too.
And now the man who had murdered them both was pointing a gun at her mother’s chest.
Andy sat up.
Laura only had one breast, the left one, over her heart. The surgeon had taken the right one and she hadn’t gotten reconstructive surgery yet because she couldn’t stand the thought of going to yet another doctor, having another procedure, and now this murderer standing in front of her was going to put a bullet in it.

“Mm—” The word got caught in Andy’s throat. She could only think it—
Mom.
“It’s all right.” Laura’s voice was calm, controlled. She had her hands out in front of her like they could catch the bullets. She told the man, “You can leave now.”
“Fuck you.” His eyes darted to Andy. “Where’s your gun, you fucking pig?”
Andy’s whole body cringed. She felt herself tightening into a ball.
“She doesn’t have a gun,” Laura said, her voice still composed. “She’s a secretary at the police station. She’s not a cop.”
“Get up!” he screamed at Andy. “I see your badge! Get up, pig! Do your job!”
Laura said, “It’s not a badge. It’s an emblem. Just stay calm.” She patted her hands down the same way she used to tuck Andy into bed at night. “Andy, listen to me.”
“Listen to me, you fucking bitches!” Saliva flew from the man’s mouth. He shook the gun in the air. “Stand up, pig. You’re next.”
“No.” Laura blocked his way. “I’m next.”
His eyes turreted back to Laura.
“Shoot me.” Laura spoke with unmistakable certainty. “I want you to shoot me.”
Confusion broke the mask of anger that was his face. He hadn’t planned for this. People were supposed to be terrified, not volunteer.
“Shoot me,” she repeated.

He peered over Laura’s shoulder at Andy, then looked back.
“Do it,” Laura said. “You only have one bullet left. You know that. There are only six bullets in the gun.” She held up her hands showing four fingers on her left hand, one on her right. “It’s why you haven’t pulled the trigger yet. There’s only one bullet left.”
“You don’t know—”
“Only one more.” She waved her thumb, indicating the sixth bullet. “When you shoot me, my daughter will run out of here. Right, Andy?”
What?
“Andy,” her mother said. “I need you to run, darling.”
What?

“He can’t reload fast enough to hurt you.”
“Fuck!” the man screamed, trying to get his rage back. “Be still! Both of you.”
“Andy.” Laura took a step toward the gunman. She was limping. A tear in her linen pants was weeping blood. Something white stuck out like bone. “Listen to me, sweetheart.”
“I said don’t move!”
“Go through the kitchen door.” Laura’s voice remained steady. “There’s an exit in the back.”
What?
“Stop there, bitch. Both of you.”
“You need to trust me,” Laura said. “He can’t reload in time.”
Mom.
“Get up.” Laura took another step forward. “I said, get up.”
Mom, no.
“Andrea Eloise.” She was using her Mother voice, not her Mom voice. “Get up. Now.”
Andy’s body worked of its own volition. Left foot flat, right heel up, fingers touching the ground, a runner at the block.
“Stop it!” The man jerked the gun toward Andy, but Laura moved with it. He jerked it back and she followed the path, blocking Andy with her body. Shielding her from the last bullet in the gun.
“Shoot me,” Laura told the man. “Go ahead.”
“Fuck this.”

Andy heard a snap.
The trigger pulling back? The hammer hitting the bullet?
Her eyes had squeezed closed, hands flew to cover her head.
But there was nothing.
No bullet fired. No cry of pain.
No sound of her mother falling dead to the ground.
Floor. Ground. Six feet under.
Andy cringed as she looked back up.
The man had unsnapped the sheath on the hunting knife.
He was slowly drawing it out.
Six inches of steel. Serrated on one side. Sharp on the other.

He holstered the gun, tossed the knife into his dominant hand. He didn’t have the blade pointing up the way you’d hold a steak knife but down, the way you’d stab somebody.
Laura asked, “What are you going to do with that?”
He didn’t answer. He showed her.
Two steps forward.
The knife arced up, then slashed down toward her mother’s heart.
Andy was paralyzed, too terrified to ball herself up, too shocked to do anything but watch her mother die.
Laura stuck out her hand as if she could block the knife. The blade sliced straight into the center of her palm. Instead of collapsing, or screaming, Laura’s fingers wrapped around the hilt of the knife.
There was no struggle. The murderer was too surprised.
Laura wrenched the knife away from his grip even as the long blade was still sticking out of her hand.
He stumbled back.
He looked at the knife jutting out of her hand.

One second.
Two seconds.
Three.
He seemed to remember the gun on his hip. His right hand reached down. His fingers wrapped around the handle. The silver flashed on the muzzle. His left hand swung around to cup the weapon as he prepared to fire the last bullet into her mother’s heart.
Silently, Laura swung her arm, backhanding the blade into the side of his neck.
Crunch, like a butcher cutting a side of beef.
The sound had an echo that bounced off the corners of the room.
The man gasped. His mouth fished open. His eyes widened.
The back of Laura’s hand was still pinned to his neck, caught between the handle and the blade.
Andy saw her fingers move.

There was a clicking sound. The gun shaking as he tried to raise it.
Laura spoke, more growl than words.
He kept lifting the gun. Tried to aim.
Laura raked the blade out through the front of his throat.
Blood, sinew, cartilage.
No spray or mist like before. Everything gushed out of his open neck like a dam breaking open.
His black shirt turned blacker. The pearl buttons showed different shades of pink.
The gun dropped first.
Then his knees hit the floor. Then his chest. Then his head.
Andy watched his eyes as he fell.
He was dead before he hit the ground.

Extract from The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler

Category: Extract

First you hear a nursery rhyme. Nineteen minutes later you die…

On the 3rd May, get ready to be terrified by The Rabbit Hunter, the brand new Joona Linna thriller from international bestselling author Lars Kepler. To give you a taste of the excitement to come, here’s the first chapter, but be warned, we would recommend not reading this at night…

 

 

It’s early morning, and the still water of the inlet is shimmering like brushed steel. The luxurious villas are asleep, but outdoor lights glint behind tall fences and hedges.

A drunk man is walking along the road by the shore, a bottle of wine in his hand. He stops in front of a white house whose elongated façade faces the water. Very carefully, he puts the bottle down in the middle of the road, steps across the ditch, and climbs the black metal railing.

The man weaves his way across the lawn, then stops and sways as he stares at the big windows, the reflections of the patio lights, the indistinct outline of the furniture inside.

He heads towards the house, waving at a large, porcelain garden gnome, and then stumbles out onto the wooden deck. He manages to hit one knee, but keeps his balance.

The water of the pool shines like a blue sheet of glass.

The man stands unsteadily on the edge, unzips his trousers and starts to urinate into the pool, then weaves his way over to the navy-blue garden furniture and proceeds to soak the cushions, chairs and round table.

Steam rises from his urine in the chill air.

He zips up his trousers and watches a white rabbit as it hops across the lawn and disappears under a bush.

Smiling, he walks back towards the house, leaning against the fence. He makes his way down to the lawn, then stops and turns around.

His befuddled brain tries to make sense of what he just saw. A black-clad figure with a strange face was staring at him.

Either the person was standing inside the dark house, or was outside, watching him in the reflection.

 

1

Summer

 

Drizzle is falling from the dark sky. The city lights glow high above the rooftops. There’s no wind, and the illuminated drops form a misty dome that covers Djursholm.

Beside the still waters of Germaniaviken lies a sprawling villa. Inside a young woman walks across the polished floor and

Persian carpet as warily as an animal.

Her name is Sofia Stefansson.

Her anxiety makes her register tiny details about the room. There’s a black remote control on the arm of the sofa, its battery cover taped in place. There are water rings on the table. An old plaster is stuck to the long fringe of the carpet.

The floor creaks, as if someone is creeping through the rooms behind Sofia.

There are splashes of mud from the wet stone path on her high heels and toned calves. Her legs are still muscular even though she stopped playing football two years ago.

Sofia keeps the pepper spray in her hand hidden from the man waiting for her. She keeps telling herself that she has chosen this situation. She’s in control and she wants to be here.

The man is standing by an armchair, watching her move with unabashed frankness.

Sofia’s features are symmetrical, but she has a youthful plump- ness in her cheeks. She is wearing a blue dress that shows off her bare shoulders. A row of small, fabric-covered buttons stretches from her neck down between her breasts. The little gold heart on her necklace bobs up and down at the base of her throat in time with her increased heart-rate.

She could say she’s not feeling well, that she needs to go home. It would probably annoy him, but he’d accept it.

The man is looking at her with a hunger that makes her stomach flutter with fear.

She is seized by the feeling that she has met him before – could he have been a senior manager somewhere she worked, the father of a classmate a long time ago?

Sofia stops a short distance away from him, smiles, and feels the rapid beat of her heart. She’s planning to keep her distance until she’s figured out his tone and gestures.

His hands don’t look like they belong to a violent man: his nails are neatly trimmed and his plain wedding ring is scratched from years of marriage.

‘Nice house,’ she says, tucking a stray lock of hair away from her face.

‘Thanks,’ he replies.

He can’t be much more than fifty, but he still moves ponder- ously, like an old man in his old home.

‘You took a taxi here?’ he asks, and swallows hard. ‘Yes,’ she replies.

They fall silent again. The clock in the next room strikes twice with a brittle clang.

Some saffron-coloured pollen falls silently from a lily in a vase.

Sofia realised at an early age that she found sexually charged situations exciting. She enjoyed being appreciated, the sense of being chosen.

‘Have we met before?’ she asks.

‘I wouldn’t have forgotten something like that,’ he replies.

The man’s grey-blond hair is thin, combed back over his head. His slack face is shiny, and his brow is deeply furrowed.

‘Do you collect art?’ she asks, nodding towards the wall.

‘I’m interested in art,’ he says.

His pale eyes look at her through horn-rimmed glasses. She turns away and slides the pepper spray into her bag, then walks over to a large painting in a gilded frame.

He follows her and stands slightly too close, breathing through his nose. Sofia startles when he raises his right hand to point.

‘Nineteenth century . . . Carl Gustaf Hellqvist,’ he lectures. ‘He died young. He had a troubled life, full of pain. He got electric shock therapy, but he was a wonderful artist.’

‘Fascinating,’ she replies quietly.

‘I think so,’ the man says, then walks towards the dining room. Sofia follows him even though she feels like she is being lured into a trap. It’s as if the way out is closing behind her with

sluggish slowness, cutting off her escape route little by little.

The huge room is furnished with upholstered chairs and highly polished cupboards. There are rows of leaded windows looking out across the water.

She sees two glasses of red wine on the edge of the oval dining table.

‘Can I offer you a glass of wine?’ he asks, turning back towards her.

‘I’d prefer white, if you have any,’ she replies, worried that he might try to drug her.

‘Champagne?’ he says, without taking his eyes off her. ‘That would be lovely,’ she replies.

‘Then we shall have champagne,’ he declares.

When you visit the home of a complete stranger every room could be a trap, every object a weapon.

Sofia prefers hotels, because at least there’s a chance that someone would hear her if she had to call for help.

She’s following him towards the kitchen when she hears a peculiar, high-pitched sound. She can’t figure out where it’s coming from. The man doesn’t seem to have noticed it, but she stops, and turns to look at the dark windows. She’s about to say something when there’s a very distinct sound, like an ice-cube cracking in a glass.

‘Are you sure there’s no one else here?’ she asks.

She could slip her shoes off and run towards the front door if anything happened. She’s more agile than him, and if she were to run, leaving her coat hanging where it is, she’d be able to get out.

She stands in the kitchen door as he takes a bottle of Bollinger from a wine fridge. He opens it and fills two slender glasses, waits for the bubbles to settle and then tops them up before walking over to her.

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman – guest post by Christi Daugherty

Category: Uncategorized

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

I was a university student when I decided what I wanted to do for a living. It came to me at two in the morning. I watched All The President’s Men on the tiny TV in my Texas dormitory, and saw my future on the screen. I would be a newspaper reporter.

During my last month at university I applied to 40 newspapers in the southern US for a job as a journalist. One, the Morning News, in Savannah, Georgia, hired me over the phone.

I’d never been to Georgia in my life, but I couldn’t wait to get started. I was hired as the crime reporter. I had little idea what that would entail, but it sounded like something Woodward and Bernstein would have done when they were my age.

My first day, a body was found floating in the Savannah River. I was sent to cover it. I wore the clothes my mother had bought for me – white ankle trousers, a floaty pink top, little heels.

In that outfit, I had to hike a quarter mile through spiked weeds on uneven ground down an earthen levee to the distant point where the police had gathered at the water’s edge.

By the time I reached them, I was sweating, my always uncontrollable hair a dark cloud. My pink top had caught on a thorny plant and torn. My little heels were filthy.

Two detectives stood alongside a cluster of uniformed officers and two divers in wetsuits. Every single one of them was male. Hell, even the corpse was male.

I could hear the cops laughing before I reached the muddy shore.

‘Can I help you?’ the detective asked, fighting a grin as I approached.

‘I’m the new reporter at the Morning News,’ I explained, trying not to look flustered.

‘Well,’ he said, glancing at the men around him. ‘This is our lucky day.’

They all openly checked me out. My figure. My face. My clothes. The uniformed cops snickered behind their hands and whispered comments I couldn’t quite hear.

The whole time, the body lay behind them. Very obviously and horribly dead. It was a hot summer afternoon. The smell was absolutely overwhelming.

In that instant, I wanted to run back up that levee and keep running until I got back to Texas. Back to my mother’s house. Back where I belonged.

But I stood my ground. I sensed, through some preternatural journalistic instinct, that a lot hung on that moment.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that the detective making fun of me was the head of the homicide squad. If I impressed him, my entire job was made.

Win over the lead detective and he’ll tell you things no one else will. Slip you information that can help you beat the competition. Make your editors happier. Make your job safer. Get you a raise.

I didn’t know any of that, at the time. To me, he was some paunchy, old man with bad glasses in a cheap suit making fun of me on my first day.

And yet. For some reason, I didn’t run. I got out my notepad, summoned all the dignity I could muster, and said, ‘What can you tell me about the body?’

Grinning broadly, the detective stepped aside, gesturing at the bloated corpse and replied, ‘Well he’s right there. What can you tell me about the body?’

Clearly, he’d noticed I’d been doing my level best not to look. My stomach was churning.

Still. I looked.

Rigor mortis had set in while the man was face down in the water. They’d rested him on his back. His arms reached up stiffly as if he wanted a hug. Dark green river weed dangled from his fingertips.

‘He’s a middle-aged black man, in a striped, short-sleeved shirt and khaki slacks,’ I said, writing as I talked. ‘His shoes are missing.’

I didn’t need to write it down – I would never forget it – but it gave me an excuse not to look for a second. When I didn’t look, I could breathe.

‘Shoes always fall off,’ the detective informed me. ‘Probably lost them when he hit the water. Tell me, something. You think he fell in there today?’

‘No. I think he’s been in there a while,’ I said. ‘But don’t ask me how long.’

‘I won’t ask you,’ he said, pointing up the levee. ‘I’ll ask them.’

I turned to see a forensic team hotfooting it towards us, carrying bags of equipment.

The detective walked past me to greet the medical team. At the last second, though, he stopped.

‘What’s your name?’ he said.

‘Christi Daugherty,’ I told him.

‘Welcome to town. You’ll do fine.’ And he handed me his card.

It was only a cheap business card with his name and the main police phone number on it. But to me it was gold dust.

I’d passed a test.

Now I understood what I was up against. The job would be hard. It would challenge me.

And I could handle it.

I was a journalist for a decade before writing my first novel. When people ask me why I write about women doing jobs that have been, in the past, traditionally male; or why I so often write about women who learn to be stronger than they think they are; or why my characters fight against odds that seem insurmountable – I think about that day.

They say you should write what you know.

Well, I don’t know any women who don’t fight against the odds.

 

The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty is out now!