The Boy Who Saw extract

Category: Uncategorized

Direct from Simon Toyne’s upcoming thiller, The Boy Who Saw, we have this incredible sneak peek extract to share with you:


‘Three may keep a secret, If two of them are dead.’

Benjamin Franklin

Nothing else smells like blood.

Blood mixed with fear is something else again. Josef Engel had not smelled it in over seventy years – seventy years and he still remembered it like the years had been nothing. And this time the smell was coming from him.

He stared down at his shrunken body, his head too heavy to lift, old skin drooping like canvas over the frame of his ribs. Blood dripped vivid against the white of it, leaking from cuts in his chest that formed the Star of David. Other wounds tickled as they bled, slashes on his back where he’d been whipped, puncture wounds from something that had pinched his flesh together to cause fresh pain when he thought he’d already felt every kind there was. The pain was everything now, burning like fire through flesh that remained oddly slack and useless.

The man had come right before closing, walking into the shop and embracing Josef like an old friend. Josef had embraced him back, surprised by the action of this man dressed all in black like a shadow. Then he had felt the pinprick on his neck and tried to pull away, but the shadow man had held him tight and a cold numbness had quickly spread out from the pinprick and into his whole body. He had tried to call for help but it had come out as a drooling moan and his head fell forward on neck muscles no longer able to support the weight of his skull. There was no one around to hear anyway and the man must have known, for he had not been agitated or hurried as he calmly steered Josef to the centre of his atelier through the headless mannequins. He had slumped to the floor in the centre of the room, his arthritic knees cracking like gunshots, another memory from seventy years ago.

Josef had watched the man’s shadow, cast by the skylights above, moving on the polished wooden floor as he removed Josef’s shirt. A blade had appeared close to his eyes, turning slowly so the light caught the sharpness of its edge before it moved to his chest and cut through white flesh down to the bone, the blood welling around the blade and dripping down his front to the floor. He had watched it all and gasped at the explosions of pain the blade drew from him, wondering how so much agony could be contained in his old body, and why the drugs that had numbed his muscles did nothing to block the pain. He was a prisoner in his own flesh, feeling everything but incapable of doing anything to stop it. Warmth spread over him as first his blood then his bladder and bowels emptied. When the smell of that hit him he had started to cry because the humiliation was painful too.

Josef had not been this afraid since the war, when pain and death had been commonplace in the labour camps. He had escaped death then but now it had caught up with him. He watched its shadow move away across the polished wooden floor, heard the front door being unlocked and hoped that maybe the shadow man was leaving. But the door was relocked and the shadow returned and something was placed on the floor in front of him.

Tears sprang to Josef’s eyes as he read the faded gold lettering on the wooden sewing machine box – Pfaff. It was the same make as the machine he had learned to sew on, before war had come and the world had gone dark, when all he’d wanted to do was listen to the purr of the busy needle and make beautiful things with it. Holes had been drilled in the curved top of the box and a small hatch fitted on one side with a sliding bolt keeping it shut. A faint scratching was coming from inside.

Du weißt warum dies dir passiert ist?

The man’s German was accented and Josef didn’t recog-nize the voice. He tried to look up again but his head was still too heavy.

‘You know why this has happened to you?’ the voice repeated, and a phone appeared in front of Josef’s face, the light from the screen too bright in the evening gloom.

Erinnerst du dich hieran?’ the voice asked.

Josef squinted against the brightness and looked at the black-and-white photograph displayed on the phone.

Erinnerst du dich hieran?’ the voice repeated. ‘Remember this?’

Josef did remember.

A hand swiped the screen and more photographs appeared, stark images of terrible things Josef had witnessed with his own eyes: piles of bodies in mass graves; skeletons behind wire fences, on their knees in the mud, too weak to stand, their bony shoulders tenting striped uniforms, shaved heads hanging forward while men in grey uniforms stood over them with whips and guns or the strained leashes of snarling dogs in their leather-gloved hands.

‘You should have died in the camp,’ the voice said. ‘We should have wiped away the stain of you back then when we had the chance.’

Josef stared into eyes sunk deep in skull-like faces and imagined bony hands reaching out for him across the distance of seventy lost years, and pushing into his chest.

Der bleiche Mann,’ he whispered, his numbed tongue blurring the words.

The shadow on the floor moved closer. ‘Tell me about him. Tell me about the pale man.’

Er kommt,’ Josef replied, his tongue wrapping around a language he had not spoken in decades. ‘He is coming.’ His mind was drifting now, fogged by the intense pain spreading out from his chest. ‘He will save me und die Anderen . . . Comme la dernière fois. He will come and save us again.’

Die Anderen,’ the voice said. ‘Tell me about the others. Tell me what happened back in the camp. State your name and give me your confession.’

Josef hesitated for a moment before starting to speak, the words flowing out of him in a steady stream, loosened by the drug and the feeling that as long as he continued to talk he would be allowed to live. ‘I kept it safe,’ Josef said when he had finished his confession, his hands tingling as the drug began to wear off. He reached up to where the skeleton fingers continued to tear at his heart and pain bloomed.

‘What did you keep safe?’ ‘The list,’ Josef gasped. ‘Tell me about the list.’

Der weiße Anzug,’ Josef clutched his chest and pushed back against the pain. ‘The white suit. We promised to keep it safe and we did. All these years we kept it safe.’

Josef managed to raise his head a little and stared up at the outline of his killer silhouetted against the skylights. The man reached down and Josef closed his eyes and braced himself for some new pain, but something touched his face and he opened his eyes again and saw a white tissue in the man’s hand, dabbing at the blood around his eyes as gently as a mother cleaning jam from a child’s mouth. Josef started to weep at this unexpected gesture of kindness. He could smell disinfectant on the man’s hand and saw that he was wearing thin surgical gloves the same colour as skin.

‘Remember the camp,’ the man asked, ‘remember what it was like at the very end, all those bodies piling up and no one left to bury them?’ He moved over to the wooden box and twisted the tissue until blood squeezed out between his latex-covered fingers. ‘Do you remember the rats?’ He bent down and fed the tapered end of the tissue into one of the larger holes and the scratching intensified. ‘All those walking skeletons but the rats never went hungry, did they?’ The tissue twitched and was tugged inside the box with a flurry of squeaks and scratching. ‘I caught these rats near a chicken farm almost a week ago. They haven’t eaten much since – only each other. I wonder how many there are left?’ He reached down for the bolt holding the hatch shut and Josef felt panicked pain explode in his chest. ‘Or you could tell me more about the white suit and I’ll keep the box shut.’

Tears dripped down Josef’s face, stinging as they salted the wounds on his chest. The pain was unbearable now. He had never escaped the camp, not really. He had carried it with him all this time, and now it was bursting out of him again.

‘Tell me about the suit.’ The man slid the latch across but held the door shut.

‘The pale man,’ Josef said, shaking uncontrollably, his breathing shallow. ‘We made it for him.’ He dragged his eyes from the box and looked desperately over at the door

as if hoping he might be standing there. ‘He said he would come for it. He said it would keep us safe. We made a deal. He will—’

Pain erupted inside Josef, a jagged explosion of glass and fire that forced all the air from his lungs. His eyes flew wide and he crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath but getting none. He lay on his side and saw a thimble lying deep under one of the workbenches, worn and familiar and bent to the shape of his finger over long years of work, the same thimble he’d had back in the camp, back in that cellar. He had lost it a month or so ago and looked for it everywhere. And there it was. And here was he. The pain was consuming him now. Swallowing him whole. Pulling him down. His killer dropped to the floor, cutting off his view of the lost thimble, and Josef felt a pressure on his neck and smelled rubber and disinfectant as fingers checked for a pulse. Josef’s view shifted as he was rolled on to his back and he heard a thud and felt a fist hammer down on the centre of his chest, heard a rib crack but didn’t feel anything because the pain inside him was already too great.

Josef looked beyond the silhouette of the man and up to the sky where thin white clouds slid across the deepening blue sky. He had worked in this room for over forty years but this was the first time he could remember looking up. He had never looked at the sky in the camp either, had always found it too painful to gaze up at such simple, bound-less beauty when all around him was ugliness and horror.

The man continued to pound on his chest but Josef knew it was pointless. There was no saving him now. The man in the white suit was not coming. He would not cheat Death a second time. He took a last, deep, jagged breath. Stared up at the indigo sky. And closed his eyes.


Want to read more? The Boy Who Saw will be out in hardback on 15th June! Pre-order now:

Q&A with Kate Medina

Category: Interview

1. Summarise Scared to Death in once sentence:

Everyone is afraid, but some fears can kill you.


2. How long did it take you to write?

Scared to Death took me a year to write.  I begin by spending a lot of time just thinking: developing the idea, the story and the characters that are going to inhabit that story.  I then spend two or three months fleshing out a very detailed plot and won’t start writing until I know how the whole book will play out.  Different novelists write in different ways, but a good crime novel has a very complex plot with multiple set-ups and pay-offs, many false leads and lots of intertwined sub-plots, and I couldn’t imagine writing something so complex without plotting it out first. An intricately carved, twisty-turny story that keeps me guessing until the end is, for me, a critical feature of a great crime novel.


3. What’s your favourite thing about the writing process?

I love virtually everything about the writing process.  I love doing a job that gives me the opportunity to be creative, but I also find the plotting process hugely mentally challenging, like trying to fit and enormous, amorphous jigsaw puzzle together.  I also really enjoy getting to know my characters and spending time with them.  It sounds strange, but often, despite my detailed plot, my characters do or say something that I don’t expect and I then have to run with them.  Scared to Death is the second in a crime series featuring twenty-nine year old clinical psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn, and I have grown to love Jessie and her fellow key protagonists, DI Bobby ‘Marilyn’ Simmons and Captain Ben Callan, as have, I hope, my readers.


4. …And your least?

My least favourite part of the writing process is editing my novel based on feedback from my Harper Collins Editor.  She is hugely experienced and her wisdom invariably makes the finished novel incomparably better, but I experience a mini-period of mourning each time her feedback arrives.  The plots of my novels are complex and if one bit changes, it has repercussions throughout the novel so a simple change, rarely turns out to be simple.  When I send my novel off to my publisher, I mentally put it to bed and having it come back again for changes is like one of my children climbing out of bed and disturbing me when I’ve signed off for the day and am having a glass of wine and watching a good TV drama!


5. What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read was ‘Behind her Eyes’ by Sarah Pinborough and I loved it.  Its social media hastag is a very appropriate #wtfthatending.  Occasionally I read a book that I wish I had written and ‘Behind her Eyes’ is one of those books.


6. What are your desert island reads?

I am an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I chose to write in that genre.  I love well established crime writers such as Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Martina Cole, Peter James and Mo Hayder and newer writers such as Simon Toyne, SK Tremayne and CL Taylor.

I have a degree in Psychology and am very interested in the ‘whys’ of human behaviour, so I also enjoy books that delve into the dark side of people’s psychology, such as the classic ‘Lord of the Flies’, which, although it is set on its own desert island, would definitely have to accompany me to mine.


 7. What’s the least likely thing you’d be found doing?

Relaxing! I am a very restless person and never really ‘do nothing’ unless I’m asleep, and even then, my husband tells me that I constantly wriggle.


8. Favourite word?

Discombobulated.  It’s a great word and very onomatopoeic, although I am yet to fit it into one of my novels without its inclusion sounding contrived.  One day…


9. Do you listen to music when writing?

One of the reasons I became an author was because I’m quite introverted and love silence, so I never listen to music when I’m writing.  I write in an attic room at the top of the house, with the door shut and my two dogs for company.  One of them is getting old now and snores when she’s asleep, so I have to resist poking her to wake her up, as her snoring disturbs my writing.  I only listen to music when I’m driving on my own and I can sing very loudly without anyone telling me that I sound dreadful – which I do.


10. Dead or alive, who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I enjoy a good argument, so I’d invite people who had very different views on life to create as much conflict and as many interesting, challenging discussions as possible.  I’d invite Maggie Thatcher, because, although she was Marmite in terms of politics, she was fantastically clever, driven, opinionated and successful woman.  I’d invite Boris Johnson, because I’d like to know if he is as ludicrous in person as he appears to be on the television.  I’d invite Hillary Mantel, as she is such an incredibly clever writer, J K Rowling because her creativity knows no bounds, Peter James because he is a great writer and an incredibly nice person – so he could keep the peace – and Steig Larsson because his crime writing has always inspired me.

I also love to laugh, so I’d have to include at least one comedian.  David Walliams is a fellow Harper Collins author and I’ve seen him at Harper events, but never actually talked to him in person, so I would definitely invite him.


I spent five years in the Territorial Army as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers, a role that I loved, and I am fascinated and not a little disturbed by the level of conflict the world seems to be experiencing at the moment, so I’d invite General Sir Nicholas Carter, who is Chief of the General Staff (head of the British Army).

Lastly I’d invite Tom Hanks as he is one of the finest actors of his generation, seems like a lovely man and would, I’m sure, have some great stories to tell.


Ovidia Yu Q&A

Category: Uncategorized

Why did you start writing crime books?

Because I love reading crime books. I love finding out more about the places my favourite books are set in (Louise Penny’s Canada, Donna Leon’s Venice, M.C. Beaton’s Cotswolds and Lochdubh) but at the same time I wanted to write crime books set here, where I live. It’s like how the school stories (eg The Chalet School, Mallory Towers,) I used to love got me to writing stories set in my school, featuring my schoolmates!


What do you love most about being a crime writer?

What I love most of all is being able to read all the crime fiction I want and tell myself that it’s ‘homework’. I really love going to crime conventions and meeting ‘real life’ writers whose books I’ve been devouring for years.

And of course I love the writing. Not always the struggle to pull things together and make sense. But there are magic moments, like when you first think of an idea. And, even better, when you’ve been stuck for ages because something just doesn’t feel right, and you’re in the shower or the swimming pool or cycling in the park and it suddenly hits you HOW it all fits together perfectly (with just a little re-writing and adjustments to the previous 25 chapters) and then you thank God for Evernote on your phone and type it in. Those are the moments I totally love most.

Oh and then there’s seeing your book cover from Killer Reads for the first time. That’s another big high happy moment. And the amazement and ecstasy when someone says she liked your book (doesn’t matter if they’re just being nice. Those moments are Awesome)

I guess there’s a Lot I love about being a crime writer!


What inspired you to write “Meddling and Murder”?

The seed of ‘Meddling and Murder’ came from a newspaper story about a woman who went on a tour of China and met a tour guide who later turned up in Singapore, moved in with her and started taking over her finances and isolating her from her family.

This was exciting enough to be a ‘true crime’ story, but I wanted to explore other aspects of being a foreigner in Singapore—especially if you look like you fit in but don’t—and the unconscious assumptions we (including Aunty Lee) make all the time, so it turned into an Aunty Lee story!


Can you tell us a little about the story? 

In this story, a missing domestic worker is assumed to be a runaway until other strange things begin happening. Aunty Lee blunders in to help, of course. But it is her smart, practical domestic helper, Nina, who finds herself in greatest danger.


Why do you think readers will fall in love with Aunty Lee?

Previous readers (from New York Jewish to UK Indian and Singapore Malay) have said they love Aunty Lee because she reminds them of relatives—mothers, aunts, grannies and even themselves at times! And this though I thought Aunty Lee was a typical Singaporean Peranakan Aunty. I hope it means I’ve captured some of the well-intentioned, busybody traits of the ‘feed you and fix your life for you’ women who were part of my growing up.


Food and cooking are obviously key themes in your stories – do you like to cook yourself?

I do cook a little—survival cooking. But I’m not a ‘good’ cook by any standard. Not like my aunts and friends/ mothers of friends who Aunty Lee is based on! But I do love eating. I think that just as you may have more opportunity to read widely and appreciate books if you focus on reading rather than writing, you get to appreciate a wider range (and quantity!) of food if you approach it as an eater rather than as a cook!


The Singapore setting in this story gives the story a wonderful flavour – have you always lived there? What do you most love about the city?

Yes, I’ve always lived in Singapore. When I was much younger I lived in England for a few years when my father was working there.

What I love most? The food, the people, the weather, the durian tree and mango trees just outside the compound, the squirrels and birds and monkeys and even the occasional snake that comes to visit.

And I like the way we’re mixed up here. On my apartment floor we have two Chinese families—one English speaking, one Chinese speaking—one Indian-Scandinavian family and one German Muslim family.

There are things about Singapore I’m not too happy about of course (and Aunty Lee shares those feelings!) like the strict censorship and keeping laws on homosexuality we got from England in the Victorian Era. But I believe in the basic honesty and good intentions of the government.


What is your favourite thing to do apart from writing?

Oh, reading for sure!

But I also wish I could spend more time drawing and painting. I used to draw out my own stories before I could write properly. And I have a guilty addiction to washi tape and stickers that I put in books to mark parts that I really love.

And walking my dogs and (currently) massaging and medicining one for her bad tummy are favourite tasks that I know I would miss. I probably wouldn’t get outdoors as much if not for them and I do love being outdoors.


What are 3 crime books you would recommend to everyone?

Can I recommend 3 crime writers instead? Anything by:

  1. Louise Penny–her mysteries feature beautiful but human characters who seem like real-life friends. And her settings have a sense of community that I want to create in my books and my life.
  2. Laurie R King–her writing fiction about Sherlock Holmes/lesbian detectives yet focusing on character and situation driven mystery stories made me feel anything is possible.
  3. Agatha Christie (of course!!!!!)—what I grew up reading. She created a fantasy England that is still more real to be than a tourist visit to England could be, along with ‘English’ values of justice and fair play.

These writers made me love reading and try writing. To do a little towards creating a version of my own country, with my books.


What do you hope people will get from this book?

While I hope this book will be read as an entertaining story, I hope readers will see how people far away in time and geography were/are driven by very similar impulses–good and bad.


How does this book make a contribution to the genre?    

This book features Singapore as I see it. I hope that it both fits into the traditional mystery genre (justice triumphs though human resourcefulness) and stretches it a little (by introducing a new, different setting). But most of all I hope readers will see beneath the surface differences to how alike we are in our loves and loathings!


Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?

I discovered how easily people misunderstand others. I talked to several people—neighbours, mostly—about prejudice, especially when directed against ‘outsiders’. And there were instances, like one woman thought another was avoiding her/racially prejudiced because she pulled her toddler away from her at the park bench. But the mother said she was trying to stop her child from bothering the first woman because she was reading… and she was so jealous of anyone who had time to read. Btw they are friends now so even if no one reads this book, ‘Aunty Lee’ brought about one good thing!


Author photo credit: Kar-Wai Wesley Loh (Memphis West)