In anticipation of the release of Aidan Conway’s gripping debut crime novel A Known Evil on the 5th April, we have an exclusive extract for you! Get ready for the first book in a groundbreaking new series from the newest star in British crime fiction…
They’d found the body in the entrance to their block of flats where, sometimes, bleary-eyed, they would avoid treading on the dog shit some neighbour couldn’t care less about cleaning up – teenagers on the way to school at eight in the morning. They’d been the first to leave the building, apparently, although it was now known the victim didn’t live in the same complex. Paola Gentili, mother of three, a cleaner, on her way to work. Multiple blows to the cranium. No sign of sexual assault. No attempt to appropriate money or valuables. No sign of a struggle.
So, it seemed she had been taken completely unawares. Better for her. Husband had been informed. Distraught. Had given them the few preliminary details they required without the need for any formal interview. That would have to wait until they got the go-ahead from the presiding magistrate. But the guy seemed clean enough going by the checks the new ‘privatized’ IT system had given them in record time. What social media access she had was regular and only moderately used. Meanwhile, they’d started looking into the other stuff. No particular leads. No affairs. No money issues. No links to known families in the organized sector. Worked in a ministry in the centre of the city. No unexplained calls. Just waiting now on the forensics guys to come up with something more concrete to work with.
Inspector Michael Rossi had only just driven through the gates in the Alfa Romeo. He had known immediately that something big was coming by the urgency of Carrara’s steps as he’d emerged from the baroque archway leading from the Questura’s offices to the car park. If Rossi had bothered to switch his phone on before it would have got him out of bed, what? Twenty minutes earlier? But that wouldn’t have saved anyone’s life. Now, the debris of takeaway espressos and sugar sachets violated the bare desk space separating them in his office. Their own cleaner had just been in, chatty as ever, oblivious as yet to the news.
“Other than that,” said Carrara, “we’re totally in the dark on this one. But it does look like there’s a possible pattern emerging.”
“You’ve been busy,” said Rossi.
The second such killing in as many weeks. The modus operandi and the victim profile bore distinct similarities but no one had dared yet to use the term. Serial? Was it possible? In Rome?
Detective Inspector Luigi Carrara. Five years Rossi’s junior, several years under his belt in anti-mafia, undercover, eco-crime, narcotics, now on the Rome Serious Crime Squad. Recently married, he had the air of one of those men who never seem to have overdone anything in their lives: hardly a wrinkle, haircut every month, bright, fluid in his movements. Just the man Rossi needed on a Monday morning like this one.
“How similar?” said Rossi, still struggling to form what he considered decent sentences, though his mind was already whirring into action. “The weapon, for instance?”
“Blunt instrument. Iron bar or hammer, probably.”
“Who’s on the scene?”
“A few boys from the local station. They got the magistrate there sharpish though. Hopefully they’ll have disturbed as little as possible. She was carrying ID, so we got to work with that straight off, once the news came in on the police channel.”
“Not officially. But they will.”
“Out of town, I think.”
“Good. Let’s go,” said Rossi grabbing his battered North Face from the coat stand, feeling more vigorous and even a little bit up for it. “I want to see this one for myself.”
The press had got their picture. As usual, in the confusion between traffic police, municipal police, carabinieri, and the state police, someone had left the poor woman’s feet sticking out from under the blood-soaked tarp, like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. A final ignominy to grace some of the seedier papers’ inside spreads. They had only partially succeeded in keeping the crowds back and sealing off the street, but the citizenry was beginning to grow impatient. Close off a road in Rome and the already mad traffic goes berserk with all those narrow cobbled streets peppered with potholes, the ancient city walls’ archways forming designer bottlenecks, not to mention the one-way systems and the curse of double parking. It didn’t take much to tip the balance. So, the quicker you got everything back to normal the better for everyone.
“Remember, it all starts with good forensics guys,” said Rossi ambling onto the crime scene. The “guys” in white gave him minimal glances of assent from under their cagoule-like hoods while snapping and sampling and moving in to examine the body in greater detail. Rossi was the most senior officer on the scene and he and they knew it. He turned to Carrara, who was flicking through his mobile for news.
“Got anything more on her old man, officially or unofficially?”
“Still in shock, but according to the ‘reports’ he’s clean. No apparent motives. Family man. Besides, he was still in bed. His own bed. And alone. Shift-worker apparently. And no strange cash movements, no dodgy mates we know of. Nothing, as yet.”
“No links with the Colombo case? Anything in common? Friends, work, family, schools, anything?”
Carrara shook his head.
“Nothing. Just similar methods, married woman but different workplace.”
“And the kids?” said Rossi, finally allowing a dark sliver of the human reality to sink in.
“With their grandparents. We’ve got counselling on to that too.”
Rossi tried to put it to the back of his mind. Remain objective. He was a policeman. This was his job. Find the evidence. Find the killer. Stop the murders. Limit the murders. More than this he couldn’t do, and God knows that was what it was all about. But it didn’t get any easier. So much for an experience-hardened cop.
He glimpsed that one of the white-hooded moon-men, as if in contemplative genuflection next to the victim, had changed rhythm and was getting to his feet.
“What is it?” said Rossi, sensing its importance.
“Paper, sir. Note or list by the looks of it. Nailed to the sternum.”
“Not shopping, I trust.”
Blood-soaked but legible and left visible enough inside her blouse to be discovered quickly, it was in block capitals and written in English.
LOOK INTO THE BLACK HOLE FOR WHAT YOU WANT.
Was he growing in confidence? Already? Toying with them maybe? Now I do, now I don’t. Work it out. Want another clue? You’ll have to wait. And there’s only one way you’re going to get it. Special delivery. They might be able to find what model of printer or machine had been used, the make of paper, but more than that? It was hardly going to narrow the field. There’d be no prints.
Rossi looked at Carrara. “Any good at riddles, Gigi? Or are you still more of a sudoku man?”
“Looks like your area, Mick,” replied Carrara. “A late Christmas present.”
Rossi looked up to where the magistrate Cannavaro was skirting around the crime scene.
“And how would you say our magistrate’s doing?” said Rossi. “Ready to refer all this to the professionals now?”