Today, I am pleased to be the latest stop on the blog tour for Lesley Thomson’s new book, The Death Chamber. This is the sixth book in the highly successful Detective’s Daughter series and looks like being another big hit! I am really happy to be able to share an exclusive extract with you on publication day, and what an extract it is!
Queen’s Jubilee, 1977: Cassie Baker sees her boyfriend kissing another girl at the village disco. Upset, she heads home alone and is never seen again.
Millennium Eve, 1999: DCI Paul Mercer finds Cassie’s remains in a field. Now he must prove the man who led him there is guilty.
When Mercer’s daughter asks Stella Darnell for help solving the murder, Stella see echoes of herself. Another detective’s daughter.
With her sidekick sleuth, Jack, Stella moves to Winchcombe, where DCI Mercer and his prime suspect have been playing cat and mouse for the past eighteen years…
Saturday 11th June 1977
Like the town’s main streets, the community centre is decked out with Silver Jubilee bunting for the Queen’s twenty-five-year-old reign. Fabric flags sodden by the rain that afternoon sag drunkenly from the shingles. From inside comes the muffled throb of ‘Tiger Feet’… Through steamed-up windows, red and yellow lights – strobing out of step with the beat – resemble flames of an inferno.
A banner is slung across the gable: ‘Winchcombe Youth Disco’. Tottering up to the entrance on their crepe-soled platform shoes, Cassie and Lauren take turns with the Smirnoff. They cling to each other, ostensibly for support, but neither girl wants the other to get there first. Cassie’s eighteen and Lauren’s sixteen, so in a sense Cassie’s always going to get there first. Lauren’s in a skimpy cotton skirt and sparkly tank-top. The shiny black dress Cassie’s borrowed from Lauren reveals jutting contours of a strip-thin figure. Tonight’s the night, Cassie hums to herself.
In the hallway Winchcombe’s youth bellow out Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’, pushing and nudging in an unruly queue. A whiff of fresh paint in honour of the Queen deadens the summer air.
With vodka-fuelled impatience, Cassie laboriously tells the flinty-faced woman selling tickets (the bossy cow made her shifts at the Co-op a torture) that her ticket’s paid for. Mrs Glover, in Jubilee bowler hat and Union Jack cape, sternly rips a ticket off her reel and informs Cassie that no one has paid for her and waits in stolid silence until Cassie hands over twenty pence. The disco is kids’ stuff, she’s only come to keep an eye on Karen who was there as soon as the doors opened like the goody-two-shoes she is.
Lauren is pouting at her reflection in a glass-covered noticeboard. Amidst the usual business of Keep Fit Classes, Monthly Bring and Buy sale and Scout meetings, are announcements scattered with a riot of exclamation marks: ‘Exciting Events for the Jubilee!’ ‘Royal Coffee Morning! Share your memories of our Queen!!’ Cassie shoulders through double doors into the hall. Adjusting her cape, Mrs Glover doesn’t see Lauren slip in behind her.
Momentarily dazed by lights and the thundering bass of ‘Disco Inferno’, Cassie scours the crowd. She can’t make out faces. She pushes through the press of bodies and as the track melds into Stevie Wonder, she starts to dance. A group of boys huddled by the DJ’s desk, too sober or shy to hit the floor, are mesmerized by Cassie’s writhing moves. It’s as if she’s held by invisible arms. Lauren joins her and they move in unison.
The DJ, with Noddy Holder bushy sideboards and chequered jacket, is old enough to be the grandfather of everyone in the hall. It doesn’t stop him watching the girls watching the boys watching Lauren and Cassie.
Lauren whispers something in Cassie’s ear and Cassie gives a curt nod. She is dancing nonchalantly now, a bored expression on her cool even features. Half the girls in the hall want to be Cassie. Most of the boys, and some of the girls, know she’s out of their league.
An hour later Cassie retreats to the table of twiglets and plain crisps. She takes a pull on the cherry drink bottle. Heatwave’s ‘Boogie Nights’ is ‘their song’. She turns her nose up. The hall smells like the school gym, it’s not the place, this is only a rehearsal for the real thing. She smiles to herself as the vodka burns her throat.
Time moves slowly when you’re counting the minutes. An hour later, when the Sex Pistols rock the speakers and, in a frenzy of pogoing to ‘God Save the Queen’, Cassie is splashed by sparkling Corona and subterfuge Party Four, she leaves.
She is stumbling past St Peter’s church when the bells strike ten. Twice she veers off the kerb into the road. The second time a car hoots and the driver swears. Her vision blurred by vodka and with only one thing on her mind, Cassie is oblivious.
Cassie Baker has known Winchcombe all her life. Her ancestors are buried, headstones illegible, in the St Peter’s church graveyard. Numbered amongst these dead is Cassie’s great-grandmother who a century ago died of apoplexy in the doctor’s surgery, now the Lloyds Bank, on Abbey Terrace. Cassie’s not going to let that happen to her. Being Donna Summer, she sings in perfect tune as she lurches down Vineyard Street heading for her future.
She pauses by the bridge over the River Isbourne and briefly dizzied, leans on the parapet and gazes at the blackness below.
‘Night, gorgeous!’ a man with a Sid Vicious hairdo and complexion, his arm around a woman with punky blue hair, whoops at Cassie. His girlfriend elbows him and he gives an exaggerated groan.
Years later, divorced and with a paunch, Kelvin Finch will claim the distinction of being the last person, apart from the murderer, to speak to Cassie Baker.
Cassie wrenches off her shoes and carries them dangling by the straps. Making faster progress, she doesn’t care that tiny stones cut her bare feet as she passes the gates to the castle.
On the Old Brockhampton Road drifts of moonlight appear and disappear between clouds. Hawthorn hedges casts shadows so intense they might be chasms in the tarmac. Cassie’s used to the dark, but tonight a sudden fear prickles. Her dad drives home this way. What an idiot! If he sees her, where’s your baby sister and look at you… done up like a tart…
She passes the field where, as a kid, she saw Bambi nibbling moss, or so her dad said. Then the five-bar gate with the outline of the stand of trees that march like soldiers. She’ll take the short cut at the next gate. Although Winchcombe is in her bones, the morbid light presents dips and inclines that are foreign to her. She stops and looks back down the lane. Framed by branches is St Peter’s church, the view adorns crinkle-cut postcards of Winchcombe but now has the quality of a nightmare.
Something’s coming. Her dad’s van. Cassie flattens herself into the hedge. Headlights trace the twists and turns of the lane and rising from the ‘hidden dip’ they catch her in their glare.
Bright spots blind her. The van judders to a stop. One brake light glows red. ‘Boogie Nights’ is playing in Cassie’s head; it’s as if the figure coming towards her moves in time to the music.
Take a look at the rest of the tour:
With thanks to Clare Gordon at Head of Zeus for organising the blog tour.