Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's forty minutes before midnight here in Bangkok, so happy new year to everybody! My New Year's resolution is to double my workload and to write two books a year from now one! I'll do my best to stick to it. I'm almost at 75,000 words on the Jack Nightingale book, and as soon as it's done I'm going to get stuck into the new Dan Shepherd book. I'm still working on the Bangkok Bob book as well - and here's the fourth chapter so you can see how it's going.

I hope everyone out there has a great 2009!


The hotel that John Junior had stayed in was a featureless concrete block in Sukhumvit Soi Eight, a short walk from the Nana skytrain station. It was six stories high with air-conditioning units mounted in front of each window. The reception was dark and gloomy; half the fluorescent tubes had been removed from the overhead lighting, presumably to save money.
There was a young woman behind the reception desk, adding up receipts with a calculator when I walked in. There were two ceiling-mounted fans taking it in turns to play across the desk, and with each pass of air she had to hold the receipts down with the flat of her hand so that they didn’t blow away. Behind her was a large wooden unit divided into pigeonholes. A sheet of paper had been taped to the bottom. Child-like capital letters warned that if the room charges were a week late, the electricity supply would be cut off. Two weeks later and the water supply to the room would be turned off.
I smiled when she looked up. ‘Sawasdee ka,’ she said. She had shoulder-length hair with a Hello Kitty bow behind one ear.
I told her that I was looking for John Clare Junior and she frowned as if I’d just given her a difficult mathematical equation to solve. ‘He not here,’ she said. ‘Check out already.’
I’d spoken to her in Thai but she had replied in English. That wasn’t unusual in Thailand. Many Thais assumed that Westerners couldn’t speak their language, and even though they heard the words in Thai they would assume that they had been spoken to in English. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.
‘I know, I think he checked out about three weeks ago,’ I said. ‘Do you remember him?’ I passed over the photograph that his parents had given me.
She looked at it, her frown deepening. Then realisation dawned and she smiled. ‘Khun John,’ she said. ‘He check out already.’
She handed me back the photograph and went back to adding up her receipts.
‘Did he say where he was going?’ I asked, in Thai. ‘Did he leave a forwarding address for his mail?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Do you think you could check with the manager?'
‘Manager not here today.’ She smiled at me and waited for me to go away so that she could get on with her work.
I took out my wallet and gave her a one hundred baht note, which is probably as much as she earned in a day. ‘Maybe you could check anyway,’ I asked.
She reached under her desk and brought out a heavy ledger, opened it and flicked through the pages. She ran her finger down the hand-written entries, frowning furiously again. One of the fans blew her stack of receipts across the desk and she made gasped and tried to gather them up.
I turned the ledger around and looked at it. Most of the guests were foreigners and their names were written in English, as were the dates they checked in and out. All other comments were in Thai.
I found John Junior’s entry. His name, his address in Utah, his passport details, and the dates he’d checked in and out. There was nothing else.
The girl finished picking up the receipts and weighed them down with the calculator. I turned the ledger around.
‘Do you remember Khun John?’ I asked.
She nodded. ‘American boy,’ she said. ‘Very polite. He say he want to be teacher.’
‘Do you know where he wanted to teach?’
She shook her head.
‘Did he say if he was going to stay in Bangkok?
‘Maybe,’ she said.
That could have meant that maybe he said, or maybe he didn’t, or that he did and she didn’t remember.
‘Did any friends visit him?’
She frowned as she thought, then she shook her head slowly. ‘No one come to see him.’
‘No girlfriends?’
She shook her head a bit more emphatically this time.
‘What about when he checked out? He took all his luggage with him?’
‘Jing Jing,’ she said. Sure. The first Thai she’d used with me. It had finally got through to her that I was speaking to her in her own language.
‘Did he have a lot of bags?’
‘A rucksack. A black one. And two nylon bags.’
‘So did he get a taxi?’
‘A tuk-tuk.’
Tuk-tuks were the three-wheeled motorcycle hybrids that buzzed around town. They used to be a quick way of getting around town but the traffic is now so heavy that they weren’t any quicker, or cheaper, than taxis. They were usually used by tourists or locals for short journeys down the narrow sois. I asked her if she meant a tuk-tuk or if he’d used one of the small sideless vans that also plied their trade down the smaller roads. She decided that it was a van. A red one. By then I’d pretty much run out of questions so I thanked her in Thai and walked back up the soi to Sukhumvit Road.
A warm wind was blowing from the west, tugging at my hair and rippling the material of my jacket. The stallholders who operated the stalls that lined the pavements were pulling sheets of plastic over their wares, a sure sign that rain was on its way. What I really wanted to do was to catch the Skytrain to Soi Thonglor and visit the police station there, but I figured there was a good chance that I’d get caught in the approaching downpour so I decided to walk to Fatso’s Bar instead.
I walked down to the traffic lights at Soi 3, and waited for them to change. All the sois to the north of Sukhumvit were odd numbers, those on the south side were even. Fatso’s was in Soi 4, also known as Soi Nana and home to Nana Plaza. Nana Plaza is one of the city’s red light areas, with forty-odd go-go bars and a couple of thousand bargirls. Not what you’d call a salubrious area.
The traffic lights were under the control of a middle-aged policeman sitting in a glass cubicle on the soi 4 side of Sukhumvit. He had a walkie-talkie pressed to his ear. There was no alternative other than to wait patiently.
Jai yen yen.
Don’t worry.
By the time the policeman was given the order to change the lights to red, the first spots of rain were starting to fall, so I hurried across the road and down soi 4.
The early shift go-go girls were starting to arrive at the plaza, more often than not dropped of by their motorcycle-driving boyfriends. Most of the girls wore the standard off-duty bargirl uniform of low-cut black t-shirt, tight blue jeans and impossibly high heels. The ones who were doing well had an ounce or two of gold around their necks and a top-of-the-range mobile phone clipped to their belt.
A couple of girls sitting at the beer bar at the entrance of the bar called over to tell me what a handsome man I was.
Not true, but always nice to hear anyway.
I walked down Soi 4, past the beauty salon, the German restaurant that served a halfway decent Weinershniztel and the travel agent run by Sue who’s been married to a Thai for so long that she speaks English with an accent.
I pushed open the glass door that led into the haven of Britishness that is Fatso’s.
Big Ron was sitting in his specially-reinforced chair and smearing butter over two halves of a stick of French bread. His early-evening snack. He didn’t really start eating until the sun went down.
‘How are they hanging, Bob?’ he asked as he began stacking slices of fried bacon onto one of the slices.
‘Straight and level,’ I said, sliding onto one of the barstools. ‘How’s the diet?’
Big Ron chuckled as he piled the bacon higher. He tipped the scales at something like one hundred and thirty kilos, but it had been some years since he’d stepped on a set of scales. Even taxis were reluctant to take him any distance, figuring that the damage to the suspension would be irreversible. He lived in a two-bedroom condo, which was a ten-minute waddle from the bar.
One of the waitresses put an opened bottle of Phuket Beer in front of me and I smiled my thanks. ‘How are you, Khun Bob?’ she asked. Her name was Oy and she had shoulder-length hair and a cute button nose and a skirt that barely covered her backside when she bent down to pick bottles of cold beer out of the chest fridge behind the bar.
Not that I looked.
Cross my heart.
‘I’m fine, Oy, thanks.’ She noticed the beads of sweat and my brow and handed me an ice-cold towel in a plastic wrapper.
All the Fatso’s waitresses had infallible memories for faces, names and drinks. You could walk into the bar once, order one drink and leave and not go back for a year. But when you did go back, they’d remember your name and what you drank. And whether or not you’d thrown up in the bathroom.
There were only two other customers sitting at the bar. Alan and Bruce, both long-time regulars. Alan was an analyst with a Japanese stockbroking firm; Bruce helped run a furniture factory. I waved at Oy to buy them both drinks and they raised their glasses in thanks.
Fatso’s was a small place with room for about twenty sitting on stools around the horseshoe-shaped bar and another dozen could just about pack into the space by the door. A spiral staircase ran upstairs to a small restaurant area with a dozen tables and the unisex toilets. Big Ron kept a small camera behind the bar so that he could take pictures up the skirts of his waitresses as they went upstairs.
The results of his hobby were hanging on the walls of the bar, along with photographs of the Fatso’s regulars in various stages of inebriation. There’s a couple of me somewhere but I don’t go out of my way to seek them out. Part of my past.
I’m not ashamed of my heavy-drinking days. But they’re a bit like an old girlfriend that you never really loved and now half-regret sleeping with. I mean it was fun at the time, but looking back I cringe a bit.
Big Ron slapped the top down on his sandwich and began munching on it. Bacon fat and butter dribbled down his chins and he groaned contentedly. The bacon sandwich was just a snack; he’d start eating in earnest at about eight o’clock.
‘I’m looking for a Mormon,’ I said.
‘You’ve come to the right place, they’re all morons in here,’ said Big Ron. He grabbed a handful of paper napkins and wiped his chin.
‘I resemble that remark,’ said Alan prissily.
‘Mormon,’ I said. ‘Salt Lake City and all that.’
‘The Osmonds,’ said Bruce. ‘I’ll be your long haired lover from Liverpool.’
‘Not in this lifetime, you bald twat,’ said Big Ron. Insulting his customers was as much a part of his charm as his habit of photographing the stocking tops of the waitresses. You either loved Big Ron or you hated him, there was no middle ground.
‘He’s a young guy, twenty-two. Wouldn’t say boo to a Peking Duck. Came to Bangkok to teach English three months ago and he’s disappeared.’
‘Says who?’ asked Alan.
‘His mum and dad. They’ve come here looking for him.’
‘What is it with Americans teaching English?’ said Alan. ‘Shouldn’t they be teaching American? I mean, come on.’
Big Ron belched. ‘He’ll be lying on a beach somewhere with a dark-skinned beauty, smoking dope during the day and screwing like a bunny at night. Trust me.’
‘Much as I do trust you, he’s not like that,’ I said.
Big Ron guffawed again, spitting out bits of bread and bacon in my direction. Oy flashed me an apologetic smile and wiped the bar top with a damp cloth.
‘They’re all like that,’ said Big Ron. ‘Americans are the worst. Twenty fours after hitting Bangkok, he’ll have been in the sack with a hooker.’
‘Twelve,’ said Alan.
‘Two,’ said Bruce, ‘including travel time from the airport.’
‘He’s a virgin,’ I said patiently. ‘Born again.’
‘A born-again virgin?’ grinned Bruce. ‘Nana Plaza’s full of them. Little Puy in Rainbow Two has sold her virginity three times as far as I know.’
‘According to his parents, he’s saving himself for the right woman.’
‘If you save wicked women, save one for me,’ said Alan. He reached over and rang a large bronze bell that was hanging just to the right of Big Ron’s head. The Fatso’s girls started pouring drinks for the guys sitting at the bar. One ring bought a round of drinks. Two rings brought a round for the customers and a drink each for the staff behind the bar. Three rings and everyone in the bar and in the restaurant upstairs got drinks, along with the kitchen staff.
‘I went to his apartment,’ I said. ‘He’d cleared out.’
‘Where was he staying?’ asked Bruce.
‘Soi 7.’
‘He’ll have hitched up with a freelancer from the German bar,’ said Bruce.
‘Lying on a beach,’ said Big Ron. ‘Guaranteed.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Do you want to put your money where your mouth is?’
The thing about Big Ron is that more often than not, he’s right. ‘Maybe,’ I said hesitantly.
‘If I’m right and he’s on a beach with a bird, you ring the bell three times.’
‘On a Saturday night. Between nine and ten.’
That was the busiest time in Fatso’s. Maybe two dozen people upstairs eating. Twenty around the bar downstairs. Eight Fatso’s girls. Three or four kitchen staff. Not a cheap round
‘And if you’re wrong?’
Fingers crossed.
‘Free drinks for a week.’
‘Deal,’ I said. No way was John Junior hooked up with a girl. He wasn’t the type.
Big Ron grin, belched, and wiped his chin with the back of his hand.
‘Ding, dong,’ he said. ‘Ding bloody dong.’

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Computer Glitch

I had a major snafu on Christmas Day - my computer started playing up. My three-month old Sony laptop simply refused to type the number 2, or the letters r, y and u. I cleaned the keys, booted and rebooted, but the keys wouldn't work. And to add insult to injury, Windows Vista continued to tell me that my keyboard was functioning perfectly. I hate Microsoft, I can't think of a company that provides a worse level of customer service and which treats its customers with more contempt! My keyboard clearly wasn't functioning perfectly and yet Vista insisted on telling me that it was. I am now looking at computers using the Linux operating system and will switch at the first opportunity. I don't know why Sony doesn't offer Linux as an option, I really do hate having to give Microsoft money for a product which falls down on so many levels.

I was lucky in that I was in Bangkok when it happened. Why? Because if I had been in the UK there is no way I could have got the problem dealt with on Boxing Day. Everywhere is shut (expect for the shops) and I doubt that customer service would be answering their phones. And I have no doubt I'd be told to take it back to the retailer (the Sony shop in London's Tottenham Court Road) and they would have taken it off me and sent it somewhere else to be fixed. I probably would have been without the computer for a week or so, and that's just not possible. I would have probably have had to buy another machine. I'm also not a big fan of leaving my computer with strangers - these days they are all looking for the next Gary Glitter so will happily root through your hard drive. Okay, I don't have any naughty pictures on my laptop but I do have an awful lot of confidential material, including a lot of terrorism information that would I have no doubt cause me all sorts of problems. Anyway, I went to the Sony service centre in Bangkok, on the Phetchaburi Road, and was immediately seen by a really nice guy who spoke perfect English. He took it to an engineer and within ten minutes they had fixed my problem - a loose wire behind the keyboard. Despite the fact that I had bought the computer in the UK and didn't have the warranty or receipt with me, there was no charge and the guy gave me two Sony clocks as a New Year present! Well done, Sony, and thank you!

Every day without my computer is a day lost.... and it's impossibe to write without the letters r, y and u. I did try but gave up after an hour, it was far too tiring!

Anyway, I'm just about to hit 70,000 words on the Nightingale book. I'm going to send it out to a couple of friends of mine soon, before I've finished it, to see what they think, because it is very different from my normal sort of thrillers and I could so with some feedback.

And I'm still thinking about Bangkok Bob.... here's chapter three of Bangkok Bob and the Missing Morman... A good friend of mine used to run the Bangkok Bob website - - offering all sorts of advice on life in Thailand. He's now taken the site down, which is a pity. He wanted to buy but lost out to an Indian chappie who doesn't seem to be doing much with it. I did used to think about buying for my character, but now I might just ask Bob to let me have his old website! Anyway, here's the third chapter:


So, all I had to do was to find one lost American in the Village of Olives. That’s how Bangkok translates, I kid you not. Bang means ‘village’ and kok is an olive-like fruit. Doesn’t have much of a ring to it, so the Thais prefer to call their capital Krung Thep, or City of Angels. Actually, the full Thai name gets a place in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world’s longest place name. Krungthep, Maha Nakorn, Amorn Ratanakosindra, Mahindrayudhya, Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajdhani, Burirom, Udom Rajnivet Mahastan, Amorn Pimarm Avatarn Satit, Sakkatuttiya, Vishnukarm Prasit.
Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
It translates as ‘The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with the nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in enormous royal palaces which resemble the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated God, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarm.’
Bangkok is shorter. But it is still one hell of a big city. Officially it’s home to twelve thousand people but at any one time there could be up to twenty million trying to make a living there. Twelve million people, but the vast majority are Thais so finding John Junior would be difficult, but not impossible.
First, the basics.
The Clares had been told that the American embassy had contacted the police and the hospitals, but I’ve learned from experience that embassies aren’t the most efficient of institutions. I sat down at my desk, picked up the phone and worked my way through a list of local hospitals, patiently spelling out John Junior’s name and his passport number. He hadn’t been admitted to any, and there were no unidentified farangs.
Farangs. That’s what the Thais call foreigners. It’s derived from the word for Frenchman but now it’s applied to all white foreigners.
Okay, so John Junior wasn’t lying in a hospital bed with a broken leg or a ruptured appendix.
So far so good.
I phoned my best police contact, Somsak. Somsak’s a police colonel in the Soi Thonglor station, just down the road from my house. He’s a good guy, his wife’s a friend of my wife but our real connection is poker. We play every Friday along with four other guys, taking it in turns to host the game. Somsak’s a ferocious player with a tendency to blink rapidly whenever he draws anything better than a pair of kings. He never bluffs, either, just plays the percentages. He’s a tough player to beat; he either blinks or folds.
Somsak’s assistant put me through straight away.
‘Kuhn Bob, how are you this pleasant morning,’ said Somsak.
Somsak always called me Kuhn Bob. I could never work out whether he was being sarcastic or not, but he always said it with a smile. He always spoke in English, too. My Thai was better than his English but he was close to perfect so it was no strain.
‘I’m trying to find a missing American,’ I said. ‘A teacher. He hasn’t been in touch with his parents for a while and they’re starting to worry.’
‘And you’re wondering if he’s been caught trying to smuggle a kilo of white powder out of the country?’
‘It happens.’
It happens a lot. Despite the penalties – and Thailand still executes drugs smugglers – there are still hundreds, maybe thousands, of backpackers and tourists who try to cover their costs of their trip to the Land of Smiles by taking drugs out of the country.
Heroin is cheap in Thailand.
Really cheap.
A couple of hundred dollars a kilo. For heroin that would sell for a hundred times as much in New York or London.
‘I will make some enquiries,’ said Somsak. ‘You have checked the hospitals?’
‘Just before I called you.’
‘Why are you contacting the police and not his parents?’
‘His parents spoke to the embassy and they said they’d talk to the police. I’m just covering all bases, that’s all.’
‘He is a good boy, this John Junior?’
‘He’s from a good family. ‘
‘I hope he is okay.’
‘Me, too,’ I said.
Somsak promised to call me back later that day. I didn’t hold out much hope that John Junior was in police custody. A farang being arrested was always big news. A more likely possibility was that he’d been the victim of a crime but if he’d been badly injured he’d have been in hospital and if he wasn’t then why hadn’t he contacted his parents?
I was starting to get a bad feeling about John Junior’s disappearance.
A very bad feeling.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody! I've been playing on my daughter's Wii today. That was her main Chistmas gift, plus a Sony computer. The Wii is great fun and I can see me buying one for myself before too long! I played the boxing game and worked up quite a sweat so I can see it being a lot more fun than going to the gym. Christmas is a working day for me and I'll probably get 1,500 to 2,000 words done. That's one of the great things about being a writer, you can work when you want. Or not, as the case might be! Wherever in the world you are, I hope you have a fun day!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Funeral Songs

I'm writing a scene at a funeral and I wanted a list of the most popular songs played at funerals. Thank heavens for the internet, because in the old days I wouldn't have known where to have started to get that sort of information - maybe I'd have called up an undertaker or my local church.

Anyway, these days all you need is a computer, and within seconds I had found a survey of 5000 Britons carried out on behalf of The Bereavements Register. For anyone who is interested the Top Ten songs requested at funerals in the UK are:

1. Goodbye My Lover - James Blunt
2. Angels - Robbie Williams
3. I’ve Had the Time of My Life - Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley
4. Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler
5. Pie Jesu - Requiem
6. Candle in the Wind - Elton John
7. With or Without You - U2
8. Tears in Heaven - Eric Clapton
9. Every Breath You Take - The Police
10. Unchained Melody - Righteous Brothers

I went for Candle In The Wind in my scene. Not sure why. The funeral is for Jack Nightingale's mother who has just killed herself.

I'm getting ready for Christmas but still working flat out on the book. I was going to call it DEVILZONE, but I think that gives away the plot too soon, so now I'm thinking about calling it NIGHTINGALE instead. We'll see....

I hope everybody has a great Christmas and that you all get what you want in 2009.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Birds Of A Feather

I’m just over 60,000 words into the book I’m writing about the police negotiator, Jack Nightingale. I saw a clip from Pirates Of The Caribbean last night and suddenly realised that Johnny Depp plays Jack Sparrow! I’m not sure if that’s going to be a problem or not.

I’m not sure how long this book is going to be. My last few thrillers have all been about 135,000 words but I think this one will be much shorter, maybe just 75,000 words. Books can vary a lot, and really the number of words doesn’t bear that much relation to the number of pages of the published book. That sounds strange, but there can be a big variation on the number of words on the printed page. My last book, Dead Men, came in at 372 pages, and it looked good. But I’ve just received my copies of Live Fire, which will be in the shops next year, and it’s 472 pages, a full one hundred pages more. It looks a much more substantial book, but has the same number of words, pretty much, as Dead Men.

At the moment I’m reading A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre, which is brilliant. It’s 340 pages long but I don’t think it’s much more than 110,000 words. And my first book, Pay Off, was only about 65,000 words and my second, The Fireman, was 80,000. Back then I didn’t have a laptop so typing was much harder!

I’m itching to get started on the new Dan Shepherd book. I’m going to have a group of vigilante cops killing some very nasty criminals who had escaped traditional justice, so that’s going to give me some very exciting scenes to write up front, which is always the best way to start a book.

The new book will be as long as Dead Men and Live Fire, I hope, and I have five months to deliver it. That’s not a problem – 150 days and 135,000 words means about 900 words a day, which isn’t heavy going! I plan to start writing it on January 1, providing I don’t have too much of a hangover!

Anyway, here’s the second chapter of the police negotiator book. For the first time I’m going to use chapters, usually I just write in scenes separated by spaces. I want to see what it’s like to write in chapters, and also chapters can make a short book seem longer!


What happened later that chilly November morning really depends on who you talk to. Jack Nightingale never spoke about it and refused to answer any questions put to him by the two investigators assigned to the case. They were from the Metropolitan Police’s Professional Standards Department, and while they had every sympathy with Nightingale’s position they took their jobs seriously and questioned him for more than twenty hours over four days. During that time he said not one word to them. If you’d asked the two detectives they’d have said that they were pretty sure that Nightingale had thrown Simon Underwood through the window. If they’d been speaking off the record they would probably have said that they had every sympathy with Nightingale and that given the chance they would probably have done the same. Like policemen the world over they knew that paedophiles never stopped offending. You could put them in prison so that they couldn’t get near children or you could kill them but you could never change their natures.
The post-mortem on the little girl had shown signs of sexual activity and there was bruising and bite marks on her legs and stomach. A forensic dentistry expert was able to match two of the clearer marks to the father’s dental records. And a swab of the little girl’s vagina showed up the father’s sperm. The evidence was conclusive, he had been raping her over a long period, over several years according to the coroner. The investigating officers presented the evidence to the mother, but she denied all knowledge of any abuse. The investigating officers didn’t believe her.
Underwood had been in a meeting with six employees from the bank’s marketing department when Nightingale walked out of the lift on the tenth floor of the bank building in Canary Wharf. He had shown his warrant card to a young receptionist and demanded to be told where Underwood was. The receptionist later told investigators that Nightingale had a strange look in his eyes. ‘Manic,’ she told them. ‘He was manic.’ The receptionist had pointed down the corridor to Underwood’s office and he had walked away. She had called security but by the time they had reached the tenth floor it was all over.
Nightingale had burst into Underwood’s office but he wasn’t in and his terrified secretary told him that her boss was down the corridor. She later told the investigators that Nightingale had been icy cold and there had been no emotion in his voice. ‘It was as if he was a robot, or on autopilot or something,’ she said.
There were differing descriptions from the six witnesses who were in the meeting room with Underwood. One said he looked crazed, two repeated the secretary’s assertion that he was icy cold, two woman said he seemed confused, and the senior marketing manager said that he reminded her of the Terminator in the second movie, the one that Arnold Schwarzenegger was trying to kill. The investigators knew that personal recollections were the most unreliable of evidence but the one thing that all the witnesses agreed on was that Nightingale had told everyone to leave, that he had closed the door behind them and that a few seconds later there was an almighty crash as Simon Underwood exited through the window.
Was he pushed? Did he trip? Did Nightingale hit him and he fell accidentally? Was Underwood so stricken by guilt that he threw himself through the window? The investigators put every possible scenario to Nightingale, and threw in a few impossible ones for good measure, but Nightingale refused to say anything. He didn’t even say ‘No Comment’. He just sat looking at the investigators with a look of bored indifference on his face. They asked him several times if he wanted the services of his Police Federation representative, but Nightingale shook his head. The only time he did speak was to ask to go to the toilet or to go outside to smoke a cigarette.
For the first couple of days the newspapers were after Nightingale’s blood, crying police brutality, but then a sympathetic clerk in the coroner’s office leaked the post-mortem details to a journalist on The Sunday Times and once it became known that Underwood had been molesting his daughter the tide turned and the tabloids starting calling for Nightingale to be honoured rather than persecuted.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission sent two more investigators to talk to Nightingale but he was as uncommunicative with them as he had been with the PSD detectives. The IPCC officers offered Nightingale a deal, if he told them that Underwood had jumped then there would be no charges. If he told them that Underwood had slipped and fallen through the window, there would be no charges. All they wanted was to be able to close the file on the man’s death. Nightingale said nothing. There were those in the Met who said that Nightingale had his head screwed on right, that the IPCC and the PSD were lying sons of bitches and that no matter what he said they would hang him out to dry. There were others in the job who said that Nightingale was an honourable man, that he’d killed Underwood and he wasn’t prepared to lie about what he’d done. Whatever the reason, whatever had happened to Underwood, Nightingale simply refused to talk about it, and after week the investigators gave up.
Nightingale went to Sophie’s funeral but kept his distance, not wanting to intrude on the family’s grief. A photographer from one of the Sunday tabloids tried to take his picture but Nightingale grabbed his camera and smashed it against a gravestone. Nightingale left before Sophie’s coffin was lowered into the cold, damp soil.
There were two reports into the death, one by the PSD and one from the IPCC. Both were inconclusive and both criticised Nightingale for refusing to cooperate. Without Nightingale’s statement, there was no way that anyone would know what had happened in the meeting room that day. There were two eyewitnesses who saw the body fall and slap into the Tarmac, close enough to hear Sophie’s father shout ‘No!’ all the way down, but not close enough to see if he had jumped or if he had been pushed. There was CCTV footage of the reception area which clearly showed Nightingale arriving and leaving, but there was no coverage of the room and no CCTV cameras covering the area where Underwood hit the ground. Both reports went to the Crown Prosecution Service’s offices at Ludgate and they decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Nightingale.
Nightingale had been on suspension until the reports were published, but once they had been released he was called into the office of his superintendent who told him that he career was over and that the best thing for everyone concerned would be for Nightingale to resign. Superintendent Chalmers had a letter of resignation already typed out and Nightingale signed it there and then before handing over his warrant card and walking out of New Scotland Yard, never to return.
Sophie’s mother killed herself two weeks after the funeral. She swallowed a bottle of sleeping tablets and a bottle of Paracetemol and she left a note saying that she was so, so, sorry that she hadn’t been a better mother.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bangkok Bob

For the last three years, on and off, I've been working on a book about a sort-of private detective based in Bangkok - Bob Turtledove. I love the surname Turtledove and have used it already in the book I'm writing about a police negotiator!

I've written about 25,000 words which is I guess about one-third of the finished book. I'll put the first two chapters (about 3,000 words) here so you can get a feel for it.

I say sort-of private eye because he's actually an antiques dealer married to a hi-so Thai girl who helps people out in his spare time. I'm writing it in the first person, which generally I don't do, and the writing style is different from my other thrillers, which are in the third person.

I'm planning a series of books about the character, and already have the titles lined up! First up will be Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon, followed by Bangkok Bob and the Much-Maligned Monk, Bangkok Bob and the Crippled Kick-Boxer, Bangkok Bob and the Jilted Jockey. You get the drift, I'm sure.

So why haven't I finished it yet? I guess because I'm pretty sure that my UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton won't want it. That means I'll have to publish it myself, as I did with Private Dancer. And I'm also not one hundred per cent sure that there's room for another Bangkok-based private eye, as my pal Christopher Moore has already done a great job with his Vincent Calvino series. We'll see. I do like writing about Bangkok, which is a city I know well, and what I want to do is write a series without Bob ever setting foot in a go-go bar or massage place or talking to a bar girl. That's one thing that would set it apart from most of the books set in Thailand! Anyway, here's the first two chapters of Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon -


She was wearing a lurid Versace silk shirt, had a diamond-studded Rolex watch on her wrist, diamante Gucci sunglasses perched on top of her head and a Louis Vuitton handbag on her lap. She pretty much had all brand name bases covered but she still looked like a fifty-year-old woman with more money than taste. She had brought her large Mercedes to a stop next to a fruit stall and she wound down the passenger side window and waved a ring-encrusted hand at the fruit vendor. I was sitting behind her in a taxi that had only just managed to avoid slamming into her trunk.
The fruit vendor was also in her fifties but had clearly had a much harder life than the woman in the Mercedes. Her face was pockmarked with old acne scars and her stomach bulged against her stained apron as she weighed out mangoes for a young housewife. The fruit vendor pocketed the housewife’s money and waddled over to the car and bent down to listen to the woman, then nodded and hurried back to her stall. The driver tapped out a number on her cell phone and began an animated conversation.
‘Hi-so,’ said my taxi driver, pulling a face. He wound down his window, cleared his throat, and spat a stream of greenish phlegm into the street.
High society.
From a good family. But in Thailand being from a good family didn’t necessarily equate to good manners. The woman in the Mercedes almost certainly wasn’t aware of the dozen or so cars waiting patiently for her to get out of the way. And even if she was aware, she wouldn’t have cared. After all, she had the Mercedes and the diamond-encrusted Rolex and we didn’t so it really didn’t matter that she was holding us up. It was the natural order of things.
There was no point in getting upset. She would move when she was ready, and not before. And there was nothing that I or the taxi driver could say or do that would change that. Acceptance was the only option.
The Thais have an expression for it.
Jai yen.
Cool heart.
Don’t worry.
Be happy.
I settled back in my seat and turned to the letters page of the Bangkok Post. A reader in Chiang Mai was complaining about the air quality. The farmers around the city were carrying out their annual field burnings and the mayor had warned the population to stay indoors with their windows closed. A reader in Texas was complaining that the ruby he'd bought on a recent holiday in Phuket had turned out to be fake when he got home . A reader in Bangkok was complaining about his erratic cable television service. For many people Thailand was the Land Of Smiles, but the average Bangkok Post reader seemed to spend most of his time complaining about the state of the country.
The fruit vendor hurried over to the Mercedes with a bag of mangoes. She handed them through the window. The woman put her cell phone on the dashboard and then took the mangoes out of the bag one by one, sniffing them and squeezing them to check their ripeness. She rejected one, and the fruit vendor went back to her stall to replace it. The woman picked up her cell phone and resumed her conversation.
I twisted around in my seat. There were now two dozen cars behind us, and a bus. The air was shimmering with exhaust fumes.
Jai yen.
I went back to my paper. A tourist from Norway was complaining of the double pricing for foreigners at the Lumpini Boxing Stadium. Tourists paid up to ten times what locals were charged, she said, and that wasn’t fair. I smiled. Fairness wasn’t a concept that necessarily applied to Thailand, especially where foreigners were concerned.
The fruit vendor returned with a replacement mango. The woman smelled it, squeezed it, then put it into the carrier bag. She opened her Louis Vuitton handbag and took out a Prada purse and handed the vendor a red hundred baht note. The vendor zipped open the bag around her waist, slipped in the banknote and took out the woman’s change. The woman took the change, checked it, put the money into the Prada purse, put the purse into her handbag, placed it on the passenger seat and closed the window. I didn’t see her thank the fruit vendor, but that was par for the course for Thailand. Women who drove expensive imported cars did not generally say ‘please’ or ‘thank you,’ at least not to fruit vendors. The window wound up, the woman checked her make-up in her driving mirror, then put the Mercedes into gear.
We were off.
Jai yen.
The taxi moved forward. The Mercedes lady was talking on her cell phone again. She indicated a right turn but then turned left on to Sukhumvit Road, oblivious to the motorcycle that narrowly missed slamming into her offside wing.
The traffic light turned red and the taxi jerked to a halt. There were two policemen sitting in the booth across the road from us. It was getting close to the end of the month which meant that the police were looking for any excuse to pull over motorists and either issue a ticket to meet their quota or collect some tea money to pay their minor wife’s rent. Bangkok’s traffic light system was perfectly capable of being co-ordinated by a multi-million pound computer system but more often than not the police would override it and do the changes manually, using walkie-talkies to liaise with their colleagues down the road. That meant that when a light turned red, you had no idea how long it would stay that way. Your fate lay in the hands of a man in a tight-fitting brown uniform with a gun on his hip.
Jai yen.
I went back to my paper. My taxi driver wound down his window and spat throatily into the street.
Just another day in Paradise.


Ying is a stunner. A little over five feet tall with waist-length glossy black high and cheekbones you could cut steel plate with, a trim waist and breasts that are, frankly, spectacular.
Whoa, hoss.
Stop right there.
I’m married and old enough to be her father.
And I’m her boss, hoss.
She looked over her shoulder and flashed her perfect white teeth at me as I walked into the shop.
My shop.
Dao-Nok Antiques. It’s sort of a pun on my name. Dao-Nok is Thai for turtle-bird and my name’s Turtledove. I’m not sure if anyone else gets it but it makes me smile.
Ying was carefully rolling bubble-wrap around a wooden Chinese screen that we were shipping to Belgium. ‘Good morning Khun Bob,’ she said.
Khun. It means mister, but it’s also a sign of respect. She respects me because I’m older than her and because I’m her boss.
‘You are late,’ she added, still smiling.
Not much respect there. But she wasn’t being critical, she was just stating a fact. I was normally in the shop by nine and it was now nine-thirty.
‘There was a mango queue,’ I said.
‘I see,’ she said, even though she didn’t.
‘All the way down Soi Thonglor.’
‘I told them you wouldn’t be long.’
‘I see,’ I said, even though I didn’t.
‘They’re waiting, in your office.’
I frowned. ‘And they would be…?’
‘An American couple. They need your help.’
There was a coffee maker by the cash register and I poured myself a cup and took it upstairs. The door to my office was open and my two visitors looked up, smiling hesitantly. He was a big man run to fat, in his mid to late forties. His wife was half his size with wispy blonde hair and probably five years younger. He pushed himself up out of his chair and offered me his hand. It was a big hand, almost square with the fingernails neatly-clipped, but it had no strength in it when we shook. ‘Jonathon Clare,’ he said in a mid-West Accent ‘This is my wife Isabelle.’
‘Nice to meet you, Mr Clare,’ I said. Mrs Clare smiled and offered me her hand. It was a child’s hand, milk-white skin with delicate fingers as brittle as porcelain. ‘Mrs Clare,’ I said, shaking her hand as carefully as possible. I went and sat behind my desk and flashed them a reassuring smile. ‘So how can I help you?’ I asked.
‘Matt Richards at the embassy said that you might be able to find our son,’ said Mr Clare, dropping back into his chair. It creaked under his weight.
I nodded. Matt Richards was an attaché at the US Embassy. He was an acquaintance rather than a friend, someone I bumped into from time to time on the cocktail party circuit. He was an affable enough guy but hard to get close to. I kind of figured he was a spook, CIA or maybe DEA. Whatever, he was cagey enough never to let his guard down with me and I never really cared enough to do any serious probing. It wasn’t the first time he’d sent along people who needed help that the embassy couldn’t – or wouldn’t - provide.
I picked up a pen and reached for a yellow legal pad. There were a whole host of questions that I’d need answering, but from experience I’d found that it was often better just to let them get it off their chests as quickly as possible. ‘I’m listening,’ I said.
Mr Clare looked across at his wife and she nodded at him with raised eyebrows. He was twice her size but I got the feeling that she was the one who ruled the roost in the Clare household. ‘We’re Mormons,’ he said, slowly. ‘From Salt Lake City. Utah. I’m telling you that because I want you to know that John Junior is a God-fearing boy who has honoured his mother and mother since the day he was born. He’s not a boy to go wandering off without telling us where he’s going and what he’s doing.’
Mr Clare reached inside his suit jacket and slid a colour photograph across the desk. I picked it up. It was a graduation photograph, John Junior grinning at the camera with an all-American smile, his wheat-coloured hair sticking out from under a mortarboard, his blue eyes gleaming with triumph, a diploma in his hand.
‘Second in his class,’ said Mr Clare proudly. ‘Scholarships all the way. A man couldn’t ask for a better son.’
‘The apple of our eye,’ said Mrs Clare, nodding in agreement.
‘How old is he?’ I asked.
‘Twenty two,’ said Mr Clare.
‘Twenty three next month,’ added his wife.
Mr Clare handed me a sheet of paper. ‘We have a photocopy of John Junior’s passport. We also told him to photocopy all his important documents. You can never be too careful.’
‘Indeed,’ I said.
‘We’ve already got his birthday present,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘A digital camera. State of the art.’
Mrs Clare reached over and held her husband’s hand. He smiled at her with tight lips.
‘And he’s in Thailand?’ I asked.
‘He came two months ago,’ said Mr Clare. ‘He wanted to take some time off before joining me in the family business. Janitorial supplies. Cleaning equipment. We’re one of the biggest in the state. There’s barely a hospital or school in Utah that doesn’t have our soap in its dispensers.’
I decided it was time to cut to the chase before I got the complete Clare family history. ‘And when was the last time you heard from John Junior?’ I asked.
‘Three weeks ago,’ said Mr Clare. ‘He phoned us every week. And wrote. Letters. Postcards.’
‘Do you have the letters?’
Mr Clare nodded and looked across at his wife. She clicked open a small black handbag and handed me half a dozen airmail envelopes. I put them down next to the photograph.
‘And since the phone call, you haven’t heard from him?’
The Clares shook their heads. ‘Not a word,’ said the father.
‘What sort of visa did he come on?’ I asked.
‘He was a tourist, but he said he was going to get a job teaching English,’ said Mr Clare.
I sat back in my chair. ‘I thought you said he was just taking a break before joining you in the family firm.’
‘He changed his mind. He said he’d fallen in love with the place.’
‘With the place? Or with someone?’
Mr Clare frowned. ‘What are getting at?’
‘He might have met a girl. Or a boy.’
‘Our son is not gay, Mr Turtledove,’ said Mrs Clare, icily.
‘I met he could have teamed up with a guy he’d met. Maybe gone up country, trekking with the hill tribes. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in the jungle. Maybe he met a girl. Thailand is full of beautiful women.’
‘Our son is a virgin,’ Mrs Clare said. ‘He is a virgin and will be on his wedding day. He has promised us that.’
I tried not to smile but I figured that any red blooded twenty-two year old male would have a hard time clinging on to his virginity in Thailand.
‘I am serious, Mr Turtledove,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘Our son believes in the bible as the word of our Lord. Besides, if he had met a girl, he would have told us. Our son tells us everything.’
‘How many children do you have?’ I asked.
‘Six,’ said Mr Clare. ‘Three girls. Three boys. John Juniors is the oldest.’
‘And has he been in touch with any of his siblings?’
Mr Clare’s brow furrowed. ‘I told you, he hasn’t been in touch since the last phone call.’
‘You said you hadn’t heard from him. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been in contact with his brothers and sisters.’
‘They would have told us,’ said Mr Clare. He folded his arms and sat back in his chair and glared at me as daring me to contradict him.
I doodled on the notepad. ‘How was your last conversation with John Junior?’ I asked.
His glare darkened. ‘Now what are you suggesting?’
I kept looking at the pad. The doodle was turning into an angel with spreading wings. ‘John Junior came out here on a holiday, then he calls you to say he wants to work here. He’s your eldest boy and you were expecting him to work in the family firm, so it must have come as a shock.’
‘A surprise, yes.’
‘So did you argue with him?’
‘We had an exchange of views.’
‘And you weren’t happy about his career change?’
Mr Clare tutted. ‘He wanted to throw away his education to live in the Third World, in a country which hasn’t even opened itself up to the Lord.’
‘It’s a Buddhist country, but there are Christians here. And churches.’
‘That’s not the point,’ said Mr Clare. ‘I didn’t want him throwing away the opportunities he had worked for.’
‘So you did argue?’
‘I don’t like what you’re suggesting,’ said Mr Clare. ‘You’re making it sound as if I chased him away. I didn’t, Mr Turtledove. We discussed his plans, and we agreed that he should give it a go. If he wanted to be a teacher, that was up to him. But yes, I made my feelings clear on the subject, of course I did.’
Mrs Clare patted her husband on the shoulder. ‘Teaching is noble occupation, and we told him so,’ she said. ‘We suggested that if he wanted to teach, he should come back to Utah. He said he wanted to teach in Thailand, for a while at least, and we gave him our blessing. We have also taught our children to follow their own path, but to use the Lord as their guide.’
‘When he said goodbye, he said he loved us and that he’d call again in a week,’ said Mr Clare. ‘That was the last we heard from him.’
I looked down at the doodle again. I’d drawn horns on the angel and I flipped over the page before the Clares could see what I’d done. ‘Do you have an address for him?’
‘He was staying at a hotel in Sukhumvit Road but when we spoke he told us that he was checking out and moving into an apartment. He said he’d write to us with the address.’
I asked him for the address of the hotel and wrote it down.
‘We’ve already been there,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘So have the police. He checked out, just as he said he did.’
‘You’ve spoken to the police?’
Mr Clare shook his head. ‘The embassy said they’d spoken to them. And checked all the hospitals.’
‘Did he tell you where he was going to be teaching?’
‘A small school, not far from his new apartment,’ said Mr Clare.
‘Did John Junior have any teaching qualifications?’ I asked.
Mrs Clare shook her head. ‘Not specifically,’ she said. ‘But he did help tutor at a local school some weekends.’
‘Did he mention anyone he’d met here? Any friends?’
‘No one specifically,’ said Mr Clare.
‘Do you think you can find our son, Mr Turtledove?’ asked Mrs Clare, her hands fiddling in her lap.
‘I’ll do my best,’ I said, and I meant it.
She looked at me earnestly, hoping for more information and I smiled as reassuringly as I could. I wanted to tell her that doing my best was all I could promise, that whether or not I found him would be as much down to luck and fate as to the amount of effort I put into it. I wanted to explain what it was like in Thailand, but there was no easy way to put it into words and if I did try to explain then they’d think that I was a few cards short of a full deck. When a crime takes place in the West, more often than not it’s solved by meat and potatoes police work. The police gather evidence, speak to witnesses, identify a suspect and, hopefully, arrest him. In Thailand, the police generally have a pretty good idea of who has committed a crime and then they work backwards to get the evidence to convict him. Or if the perpetrator has enough money or connections to buy himself out of trouble, then they look for evidence to convict someone else. The end result is the same, but the approach is totally different. What I really wanted to tell Mr and Mrs Clare that the best way of finding where John Junior had gone would be to find out where he was and if that sounds a bit like Alice in Wonderland, then welcome to Thailand. But I didn’t. I just kept on smiling reassuringly.
‘Do you think we should stay in Bangkok?’ asked Mr Clare.
I shrugged. ‘That’s up to you. But I can’t offer any guarantees of how long it could take. I might be lucky and find him after a couple of phone calls. Or I might still be looking for him in two months.’
‘It’s just that my cousin Jeb is minding the shop, and when the good Lord was handing out business acumen, Jeb was standing at the back of the queue playing with his Gameboy.’ He held up his hands. ‘Not that money’s an issue, it’s not. But Mr Richards said there wasn’t much that Mrs Clare and I could do ourselves, not being able to speak the language and all.’
I nodded sympathetically. ‘He’s probably right. You’d only be a day away if you were back in Utah. As soon as I found anything, I’d call you.’
‘God bless you, Mr Turtledove,’ said Mrs Clare, and she reached over and patted the back of my hand. She looked into my eyes with such intensity that for a moment I believed that a blessing from her might actually count for something.
‘I would say one thing, just to put your minds at rest,’ I said. ‘If anything really bad had happened, the police would probably know about it and Matt would have been informed. And if he’d been robbed, his credit card would have been used, here or elsewhere in the world. If it had been theft, they wouldn’t have thrown the card away.’
‘You’re saying you don’t think that he’s dead, that’s what you’re saying?’ said Mrs Clare.
I nodded and looked into her eyes and tried to make it look as if my opinion might actually count for something.
‘And how much do you charge?’ asked Mr Clare.
‘That’s difficult to say,’ I said. ‘I’m not a private detective, I don’t charge by the hour.’
‘You sell antiques, Mr Richards said,’ said Mrs Clare.
‘That’s my main business, but I’ve been here for almost fifteen years so I have a fair idea of how the place works. I’ll ask around and I can try a few leads that the police wouldn’t necessarily think of.’
‘He said you used to be a police officer.’
‘In another life,’ I said.
‘In the States?’
I smiled thinly. ‘It’s not something I talk about, much.’
Hardly at all, in fact. Too many bad memories.
‘I understand,’ said Mr Clare. ‘Mr Richards said you were a good man. And reliable.’
‘That was nice of him,’ I said, though I figured what Matt Richards was really doing was getting the Clares out of his hair as quickly as possible. ‘I’ll start by making a few calls, see if I can find out where he was planning to live and work, and take it from there. I’d expect you to cover any expenses, and then when I’ve finished I’ll let you know how much work I’ve done and you can pay me what you think that’s worth.’
‘That’s a strange way of doing business, Mr Turtledove.’
‘It’s a strange country, Mr Clare. But things have a way of working out for the best here.’

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I'm dithering over whether or not to change the name of my hero in the thriller I'm writing about a police negotiator. I've called him Jack Nightingale, and while I love the surname I'm not sure about the Jack. I wondered if Jack was a tad old-fashioned, so I hit the Internet and within seconds discovered that Jack has been the most popular boy's name in England for the past thirteen years! Who would have thought it! So I guess maybe I'll leave it as Jack Nightingale because none of the other names in the Top Ten work for me. For anyone interested, the Top Ten in 2007 was Jack, Thomas, Oliver, Joshua, Harry, Charlie, Daniel, William, James and Alfie.

Oh, Mohammed slips in at number 17, which is a reflection of the way the UK is going...

Alfie Nightingale? Definitely not. Bit too Cockney. Joshua Nightingale. A bit gay. Oliver Nightingale. A bit too Eton. Nah, I think it's got to be Jack.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Chapter

I'm ready to go with the revamp of my website, so I'll get it done over the next few days. That will hopefully lead to some traffic to the Blog. We'll see!

I'm just about to hit 50,000 words on the book I'm writing about a police negotiator. It's a bit different to the normal sort of thrillers I write, and I'm not sure if my publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, will want it. I'm still not sure of the title, but it might end up being called Devilzone which gives you a hint as to what it's about....

Anyway, I'll put the first chapter here so hopefully I'll get some feedback. Or not!

Jack Nightingale didn’t intend to kill anyone when he woke up that chilly November morning. He shaved and showered and pulled on a pale blue polo shirt and black jeans and went downstairs to make himself a coffee and a bacon sandwich, and at no point did he even contemplate the taking of a human life. Not that Nightingale wasn’t capable of killing. He had spent the last five years training to do just that. As a serving member of the Metropolitan Police’s elite CO19 armed response unit he was more than capable of putting a bullet in a man’s head or chest if it was necessary and providing he had been given the necessary authorisation by a senior officer.
Nightingale’s mobile phone rang just as he was pouring coffee from his cafeteria. It was the Co-ordinator of the Metropolitan Police’s negotiating team. ‘Jack, I’ve just had a call from the Duty Officer at Fulham. They have a person in crisis down at Chelsea Harbour. Can you get there?
‘No problem,’ said Nightingale. He had attended two courses at the Met’s Bramshill Officer Training College and was now one of several dozen officers qualified to talk to hostage-takers and potential suicides.
‘I’m told it’s a jumper on a ledge and that’s all I have. I’m trying to get back up for you but we’ve got four guys tied up with a domestic in Brixton.’
‘Give me the address,’ said Nightingale, reaching for a pen.
Nightingale ate his bacon sandwich as he drove his twenty-six-year old MGB to Chelsea Harbour. During the two years he had worked as a negotiator he had been called to more than two dozen attempted suicides but he had yet to see someone take their own life. In Nightingale’s experience, people either wanted to kill themselves, or they wanted to talk. They never wanted to do both. Suicide was a relatively easy matter. You climbed to the top of a high building or a bridge and you jumped. Or you swallowed a lot of tablets. Or you tied a rope around your neck and stepped off a chair. Or you took a razor blade and made very deep cuts in your wrist or throat. If you were lucky enough to have a gun you put it in your mouth or against your temple and you pulled the trigger. What you didn’t do if you really wanted to kill yourself was to say you were going to do it and then wait for a trained police negotiator to arrive. People who did that just wanted to talk, to have someone listen to their problems and reassure them that their lives were worth living. Then when they’d got whatever was worrying them off their chests they’d come down from the ledge or put down the gun or lower the knife and everyone would cheer and pat Nightingale on the back and tell him ‘job well done’.
When he reached the address that the Duty Officer had given him, his way was blocked by a police car and two Community Support Officers in police-type uniforms and yellow fluorescent jackets. One of them pointed the way Nightingale had come and told him to turn around in a tone that suggested his motivation for becoming a CSO had more to do with wielding power than helping his fellow citizens.
Nightingale wound down the window and showed them his warrant card. ‘Inspector Nightingale,’ he said. ‘I’m the negotiator.’
‘Sorry, Sir,’ said the CSO, suddenly all sweetness and light. He pointed over at a parked ambulance. ‘You can leave your car there, I’ll keep an eye on it.’
The two CSOs moved to the side to allow Nightingale to drive through. He parked behind the ambulance and climbed out of his racing green sports car. He stretched and yawned. If you’d asked Nightingale what he was expecting that chilly November morning, he’d probably have shrugged carelessly and said that jumpers tended to be either men the worse for drink, women the worse for anti-depressants or druggies the worse for their Class A drug of choice, generally cocaine or amphetamines. Nightingale’s drug of choice was nicotine and he lit himself a Marlboro and blew smoke up at the cloudless sky.
A uniformed inspector hurried over, holding a transceiver. ‘I’m glad it’s you, Jack,’ he said.
‘And I’m glad it’s you, Colin.’ Nightingale had known Colin Duggan for almost a decade. He was old school - a good, reliable thief-taker who like Nightingale was a smoker. Nightingale offered him a Marlboro and lit it for the inspector, even though smoking in uniform was a disciplinary offence.
‘It’s a kid, Jack,’ said Duggan, scratching his fleshy neck.
‘Gang-banger? Drug deal gone wrong?’ Nightingale inhaled and held the smoke deep in his lungs.
‘A kid kid,’ said Duggan. ‘Nine year old girl.’
Nightingale frowned as he blew a tight plume of smoke. Nine year old girls didn’t kill themselves. They played with dolls and had tea parties for their teddies and sometimes they were kidnapped and raped by paedophiles but they never, ever killed themselves.
Duggan pointed up at a tower block overlooking the Thames. ‘Her name’s Sophie, she’s locked herself on the thirteenth floor balcony and she’s sitting there talking to her doll.’
‘Where are the parents?’ said Nightingale. There was a cold feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach.
‘Father’s at work, mother’s shopping, the girl was left in charge of the au pair.’ Duggan gestured with his cigarette at an anorexic blonde who was sitting on a bench, sobbing, as a uniformed WPC tried to comfort her. ‘Polish girl. She was ironing, then saw Sophie on the balcony. She banged on the window but Sophie had locked it from the outside.’
‘And what she makes her think Sophie wants to jump?’
‘She’s talking to her doll, won’t look at anyone. We sent up two WPCs but she won’t talk to them.’
‘You’re supposed to wait for me, Colin,’ said Nightingale. He dropped the cigarette onto the floor and crushed it with his heel. ‘Amateurs only complicate matters, you know that.’
‘She’s a kid on a balcony,’ said Duggan. ‘We couldn’t just wait.’
‘You’re sure she’s a potential jumper?’
‘She’s sitting on the edge, Jack. A gust of wind and she could blow right off.’
‘How close can I get to her?’
‘You could talk to her through the balcony window.’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘I need to see her face, to see how she’s reacting. And I don’t want to be shouting.’
‘Then there are two possibilities,’ said Duggan. ‘She’s too high to use a ladder, so we can either lower you down from the roof or we can get you into the flat next door.’
‘Lower me?’
‘We can put you in a harness and the Fire Brigade boys will drop you down.’
‘And I talk to her hanging from a string like a bloody marionette? Come on, Colin. I’m a negotiator, not a bloody puppet.’
‘The other balcony it is then,’ said Duggan. He flicked his butt away. ‘Let’s get to it then.’ He waved over a uniformed constable and told him to escort Nightingale up to the thirteenth floor. ‘Except it isn’t the thirteenth, it’s the fourteenth,’ said Duggan.
‘It’s a superstitious thing. It is the thirteenth floor, but the lift says fourteen. It goes from twelve to fourteen. No thirteen.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Nightingale.
‘Tell the developer, not me,’ said Duggan. ‘Besides, you’re talking to the wrong person. You won’t catch me walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror. I can understand people not wanting to live on the thirteenth floor.’ He grinned at Nightingale. ‘Break a leg, yeah?’
‘Yeah,’ said Nightingale. He nodded at the uniformed constable, a lanky specimen whose uniform seemed a couple of sizes too small for him. ‘Lead on, McDuff.’
The constable frowned. ‘My name’s not McDuff,’ he said.
Nightingale patted him on the back. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘But first I want a word with the au pair.’
The constable and Nightingale went over to the sobbing girl who was still being comforted by the uniformed WPC. Over fifty people had gathered to stare up at the little girl. There were pensioners, huddled together like penguins on an iceflow, mothers with toddlers in strollers, teenagers chewing gum and sniggering, a girl in Goth clothing with a collie dog who grinned at Nightingale as he walked by, workmen in overalls who were shouting at the police to do something, and a group of waitresses from a nearby pizza restaurant.
‘Why aren’t you up there, getting her down?’ shouted a bald man holding a tool box. He pointed at Nightingale and the young constable. ‘You should do something instead of pissing about down here.’
‘Can’t you Taser him?’ asked Nightingale.
‘We’re not issued with Tasers, Sir,’ said the constable.
‘Use your truncheon then.’
‘We’re not..’ He grimaced as he realised that Nightingale was joking.
They went to the au pair, who was blowing her nose into a large white handkerchief. He nodded at the WPC. ‘I’m the negotiator,’ he said.
‘Yes sir,’ she said.
Nightingale smiled at the au pair. ‘Hi, what’s your name?’ he asked.
‘Inga,’ sniffed he girl, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief. ‘Are you a policeman?’
‘I’m Jack Nightingale. I’m an inspector. I’ll be the one who’s going to talk to Sophie.’
‘Am I in trouble?’
‘No, of course you’re not,’ said Nightingale. ‘You did the right thing, calling the police.’
‘Her parents will kill me,’ said the au pair.
‘They won’t,’ said Nightingale.
‘They’ll send me back to Poland.’
‘They can’t do that, Poland is in the EC. You have every right to be here.’
‘They’ll send me to prison, I know they will.’
Nightingale felt his heart harden. The au pair seemed more concerned about her own future than what was happening thirteen stories up. ‘They won’t,’ he said. ‘Tell me, Inga, why isn’t Sophie at school today?’
‘She said she had a stomach ache. She didn’t feel well. Her mother said she could stay home.’
‘Her mother’s shopping?’
The au pair nodded. ‘I spoke to her and she’s coming back now. Her father’s mobile phone is switched off so I left a message on his voicemail.’
‘Where does he work?’
‘A bank in Canary Wharf. One of the big American banks.’ Still sniffing, she took a wallet out of the back pocket of her jeans and fished out a business card. She gave it to Nightingale.
‘Inga, has Sophie done anything like his before?’
The au pair shook her head fiercely. ‘Never. She’s a quiet child. As good as gold.’
‘Tell me what happened. How did she come to be on the balcony?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the au pair. ‘I was ironing. She was watching a Hannah Montana video. Then when I looked up she was on the balcony and she’d locked the door.’
‘You can lock it from the outside?’
‘There’s only one key and she had it. I shouted at her to open the door but it was like she couldn’t hear me. I banged on the window but she didn’t look at me. That’s when I called the police.’
‘And she wasn’t sad this morning? Or angry? Or upset at something? Or somebody?’
‘She was quiet,’ said the au pair. ‘She’s always quiet.’
‘You didn’t argue with her? Or fight with her about something?’
The au pair’s eyes flashed. ‘You’re going to blame me, aren’t you? You’re going to send me to prison?’ She began to wail.
‘No one’s blaming you, Inga.’
She buried her face in her handkerchief and sobbed.
Nightingale nodded at the constable. ‘Let’s go,’ he said.
‘What will you do?’ the constable asked as they walked by the crowd of onlookers.
‘Talk to her. See if I can find out what’s troubling her, see what it is she wants.
‘She wants something?’
‘They always want something. If they didn’t want something then they’d just go ahead and do it. The key is to find out what it is they want.’
‘Wankers!’ shouted the bald man.
Nightingale stopped and glared at the man. ‘What’s your problem, pal?’
‘My problem is that there’s a little girl up there and you tossers aren’t doing anything about it.’
‘And what exactly are you doing, pal? Gawping in case she takes a dive off the balcony? Is that you want? You want to see her slap into the ground, do you? You want to hear her bones break and her skull smash and see her blood splatter over the concrete? Because that’s the only reason you could have for standing there. You’re sure as hell not helping by shouting abuse and making a tit of yourself. I’m here to help, you’re here on the off chance you might see a child die, so I’d say that makes you the tosser. I’m going up there now to see how I can help her, and if you’re still here when I get down I’ll shove your tools so far up your arse that you’ll be coughing up spanners for months. Are we clear, tosser?’
The bald man looked away, his face reddening. Nightingale sneered at him and started walking to the entrance again. The constable hurried after him.
The reception area was plush with overstuffed sofas and a large coffee table covered with glossy magazines. A doorman in a green uniform was talking to two uniformed PCs. ‘Where are the stairs?’ asked Nightingale.
The doorman pointed to three lift doors. ‘The lifts are there, Sir,’ he said.
‘I need the stairs,’ said Nightingale.
‘It’s thirteen floors, Sir,’ said the constable at his side.
‘I know it’s thirteen floors, McDuff,’ said Nightingale. He jerked his chin at the doorman. ‘Stairs?’
The doorman pointed to the left. ‘Around the side there, Sir,’ he said.
Nightingale hurried towards the stairs, followed by the constable. He pushed through the doors and started up the concrete stairs, taking them two at a time. The number of each floor was painted on the white wall in green letters and by the time they’d reached the tenth floor both men were panting like dogs. ‘Why can’t we use the lift, Sir?’ gasped the constable. ‘Is it procedure with jumpers?’
‘It’s because I hate lifts,’ said Nightingale.
‘Nothing to do with confined spaces,’ said Nightingale. ‘I just don’t like dangling over nothing.’
‘So it’s fear of heights?’
‘It’s fear of lifts,’ said Nightingale. ‘I’m fine with heights. As you’re about to find out.’
They reached the twelfth floor. The policeman had taken off his helmet and unbuttoned his tunic. Nightingale had taken off his coat and had draped it over his shoulder.
They reached the thirteenth floor though the number stencilled by the door was 14. Nightingale pulled open the door and went through into the corridor. ‘What number is her flat?’ he asked.
‘Fourteen C,’ said the constable. ‘We can get into Fourteen D. Mr and Mrs Jackson. They’ve agreed to give us access.’
‘Okay,’ said Nightingale. ‘When we get in there keep them away from the balcony. The girl mustn’t see them and she sure as hell mustn’t see you. Nothing personal, but the uniform could spook her.
‘Got you,’ said the policeman.
‘You’ll be just fine, McDuff,’ said Nightingale. He knocked on the door of Fourteen D. It was opened by a man in his early sixties, grey-haired and slightly stooped. Nightingale flashed his warrant card. ‘Mr Jackson, I’m Jack Nightingale. I gather you’re happy for me to go out on your balcony.’
‘I wouldn’t exactly say that I was happy, but we need to get that little girl back inside.’
He opened the door wide and Nightingale walked in, followed by the constable. The man’s wife was sitting on a flower-print sofa, her hands in her lap. She was also grey haired and when she stood up to greet Nightingale he saw that she had the same curved spine. ‘Please don’t get up, Mrs Jackson,’ he said.
‘What’s going to happen?’ she said anxiously. Like her husband she was well-spoken, with an accent that would do credit to a Radio Four announcer. They were good, middle-class people, the sort that would rarely cross paths with a policeman and Nightingale could sense their unease at having him and the uniformed constable in their home.
‘I’m just going to talk to her, Mrs Jackson, that’s all.’
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ she asked.
Nightingale smiled. More often than not as a member of CO19 he was treated with contempt of not open hostility and the Jacksons were a breath of fresh air.
‘You could certainly put the kettle on, Mrs Jackson,’ he said. ‘Now do you know Sophie?’
‘We say hello to her, but she’s a shy little thing, wouldn’t say boo to her goose.’
‘A happy girl?’
‘I wouldn’t say happy,’ said Mrs Jackson.
‘She cries sometimes,’ said her husband quietly. ‘At night.’
‘What sort of crying?’ asked Nightingale. ‘Screaming?’
‘Sobbing,’ said Mr Jackson. Her bedroom is next to our bathroom, and sometimes when I’m getting ready for bed I can hear her sobbing.’
‘We’ve both heard her,’ agreed Mrs Jackson. Her husband walked over to her and put his arm around her and for a brief moment Nightingale flashed back to his own parents. His father had been equally protective with his mother, never scared to hold her hand in public or to demonstrate his affection in other ways. His last memory of them was the two of them standing at the door of their house, his arm around her shoulders, as they waved him off to start his second term at university. His mother had looked up at Nightingale’s father with same adoration that he saw in Mrs Jackson’s eyes.
‘Any idea why she’d be unhappy?’ asked Nightingale. ‘Did you see her with her parents?’
‘Rarely,’ said Mr Jackson. ‘They’ve been here what, five years?’ looking at his wife.
‘Six,’ she said.
‘Six years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen her with her mother or father. It’s always an au pair she’s with, and they seem to change them every six months or so.’ He looked at his wife and she nodded imperceptibly. ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘one doesn’t like to talk out of school but they didn’t seem to be the most attentive of parents.’
‘I understand,’ he said. He took his cigarette lighter and cigarettes from the pocket of his coat and gave it to the constable. ‘Why don’t you just take a seat while I go out and talk to her,’ he said.
Mr Jackson helped his wife onto the sofa while Nightingale went over to the glass door that led on to the balcony. The balcony was actually a terrace, with terracotta tiles and space for a small circular white metal table and four chairs, and several pots of flowering shrubs. The terrace was surrounded by a brick wall which was topped by a metal railing.
The door slid to the side and Nightingale could hear traffic of in the distance and the crackle of police radios. He stepped slowly onto the terrace, and then looked to the right.
The girl was sitting on the wall of the balcony next door, her legs under the metal rail, her arms on top of it. She was holding a Barbie doll and seemed to be whispering to it.
There was a gap of about six feet between the terrace where he was and the one where the girl was sitting. Nightingale figured that he could just about jump across but that would be a last resort. If the girl was startled and lost her grip she would slip under the rail and over the side.
He walked slowly over to the side of the terrace and stood next to a tall thin conifer. In the distance he could see the River Thames and far off to his left was the London Eye. The girl didn’t seem to have noticed him, but Nightingale knew that she must have heard the door slide open. ‘Hi,’ he said.
Sophie looked across at Nightingale but didn’t say anything. Nightingale stared out over the Thames as he took out his pack of Marlboro. He slid a cigarette between his lips and flicked his lighter.
‘Cigarettes are bad for you,’ said Sophie.
‘I know,’ said Nightingale. He lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply.
‘You can get cancer,’ said Sophie.
Nightingale tilted his head back and blew three perfect rings of smoke. ‘I know that too,’ he said.
‘How do you do that?’ she asked.
‘Do what?’
‘Blow smoke rings.’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘You just blow and stick your tongue out a bit,’ he said. He grinned amiably and held out the cigarette. ‘Do you want to try?’
She shook her head solemnly. ‘I’m a child and children can’t smoke, and even if I could smoke I wouldn’t because it gives you cancer.’
Nightingale shrugged again and took another drag on the cigarette. ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’ he said, looking out over the river again.
‘Who are you?’ Sophie asked.
‘My name’s Jack.’
‘Like Jack and the beanstalk?’
‘Yeah, but I don’t have my beanstalk with me today. I had to use the stairs.’
‘Why didn’t you use the lift?’
‘I don’t like lifts.’
Sophie put the doll to her ear and frowned as if she was listening intently. Then she nodded. ‘Jessica doesn’t like lifts, either.’
‘That’s a nice name, Jessica.’
‘Jessica Lovely, that’s her full name. What’s your full name?’
‘Nightingale. Jack Nightingale.’
‘Like the bird?’
‘That’s right. Like the bird.’
‘I wish I was a bird.’ She cuddled the doll as she stared across the river with unseeing eyes. ‘I wish I could fly.’
Nightingale blew two more smoke rings. This time they held together for less than a second before the wind whipped them apart. ‘It’s not so much fun, being a bird. They can’t watch TV, they can’t play video games or play with dolls, and they have to eat off the floor.’
Down below a siren kicked into life and Sophie flinched as if she’d been struck. ‘It’s okay,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s a fire engine.’
‘I thought it was the police.’
‘The police siren sounds different.’ Nightingale made the woo-woo-woo sound of a police siren and Sophie giggled. Nightingale leant against the rail surrounding the balcony. He had set his phone to vibrate and he felt it judder in his inside pocket. He took it out and looked at the screen. It was Robbie Hoyle, one of his negotiator colleagues. He’d known Hoyle for more than a decade. He was a sergeant with the Territorial Support Group, the force’s heavy mob who went in with riot shields, truncheons and Tasers when necessary. Hoyle was a big man, well over six feet tall with the build of a rugby player, but he had a soft voice and was one of the Met’s most able negotiators. ‘I’m going to have to take this call, Sophie, I’m sorry,’ he said. He pressed the green button. ‘Hi Robbie.’
‘I’ve just arrived, do you want me up there?’
‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea,’ said Nightingale. Whenever possible the negotiators preferred to act in teams of three, one doing the talking, one actively listening and one gathering intelligence, but Nightingale figured that too many men on the balcony would only spook the little girl.
‘How’s it going?’ asked Hoyle.
‘Calm,’ said Nightingale. ‘I’ll get back to you, okay. Try to get rid of the onlookers, but softly softly.’ He ended the call and put the phone away.
‘You’re a policeman, aren’t you?’ said Sophie.
Nightingale smiled. ‘How did you know?’
Sophie pointed down at Colin Duggan, who was staring up at them, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. Robbie Hoyle was standing next to him. ‘That policeman there spoke to you when you got out of your car.’
‘You saw me arrive, yeah?’
‘I like sports cars,’ she said. ‘It’s an MGB, right?’
‘That’s right,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s an old one. How old are you?’
‘Nine,’ she said.
‘Well my car is twenty-six years old, how about that?’
‘That’s old,’ she said. ‘That’s very old.’
‘There’s another thing that birds can’t do,’ said Nightingale. ‘When was the last time you saw a bird driving a car? They can’t do it. No hands.’
Sophie pressed the doll next to her ear as if she was listening to it, then took it away and looked across at Nightingale. ‘Am I in trouble?’ she said.
Nightingale shook his head. ‘No, you’re not in trouble. We just want to be sure that you’re okay.’
Sophie shuddered as if a cold wind had blown across her spine.
‘The girl who looks after you, what’s her name?’
‘Inga. She’s from Poland.’
‘She’s worried about you.’
‘She’s stupid.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘She can’t even use the microwave properly.’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘I have trouble getting my video recorder to work.’
‘Videoplus,’ said Sophie.
‘Videoplus. You just tap in the number. The machine does it for you. Everyone knows that.’
‘I didn’t.’ A gust of wind blew across from the river and Sophie put a hand onto her skirt to stop it billowing around her leg. Nightingale caught a glimpse of a dark bruise above her knee. ‘What happened to your leg?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ she said quickly. Too quickly, Nightingale realised. He blew smoke and avoided looking at the girl. ‘Why didn’t you go to school today?’
‘Mummy said I didn’t have to.’
‘Are you poorly?’
‘Not really.’ She bit down on her lower lip and cuddled her doll. ‘I am in trouble, aren’t I?’
‘No, you’re not,’ said Nightingale. He made the sign of the cross over his heart. ‘Cross my heart, you’re not.’
Sophie forced a smile. ‘Do you have children?’
Nightingale dropped the butt of his cigarette and ground it with his heel. ‘I’m not married.’
‘You don’t have to be married to have children.’ Tears began to run down her cheeks and she turned her face away.
‘What’s wrong, Sophie?’
‘Nothing.’ She sniffed and wiped her eyes with her doll.
‘Sophie, let’s go inside. It’s cold out here.’
She sniffed again but didn’t look at him. Nightingale started to pull himself up onto the balcony wall but his foot scraped against the concrete and she flinched. ‘Don’t come near me,’ she said.
‘I just wanted to sit like you,’ said Nightingale. ‘I’m tired of standing.’
She glared at him. ‘You were going to jump over,’ she said. ‘You were going to try to grab me.’
‘I wasn’t, I swear,’ lied Nightingale. He sat down, swinging his legs as if he didn’t have a care in the world but in fact his heart was pounding and his stomach churning. He forced himself to not look down. ‘Sophie, whatever’s wrong, maybe I can help you.’
Sophie sniffed. ‘No one can help me.’
‘I can try.’
‘He said I mustn’t tell anyone.’
‘Why? Why can’t you tell anyone?’
‘He said they’d take me away. Put me in a home.’
‘Your father?’
Sophie pressed her doll to her face. ‘He said they’d blame me. He said they’d take me away and make me live in a home and that everyone would say it was my fault.
The wind whipped up her skirt again. The bruise was a good six inches long. ‘Did he do that?’ said Nightingale, nodding at the mark.
Sophie pushed her skirt down, and nodded as she sniffed.
‘Let’s go inside, Sophie, we can talk to your mummy.’
Sophie closed her eyes. ‘She already knows.’
Nightingale’s stomach lurched. He had his hands palms down, his fingers gripping into the concrete, but he felt as if something was pushing him in the small of his back.
‘You’re going to hell, Jack Nightingale,’ she said. Her voice was cold, flat and totally devoid of all emotion.
Nightingale wasn’t sure that he’d heard her right. ‘What did you say?’ he said.
‘I said you can’t help me,’ she said, her voice still a dull monotone. ‘No one can help me.’ She lifted her doll, kissed it gently on the top of its head, and then slid off the balcony without making a sound.
Nightingale stared in horror as the little girl dropped, her skirt billowing up around her waist. He leaned forward and reached out with his right hand even though he knew there was nothing he could do. ‘Sophie!’ he screamed. Her golden hair was whipping around in the wind as she dropped straight down, her arms still hugging the doll. ‘Sophie![‘ he screamed again. He closed his eyes at the last second but he couldn’t blot out the sound she made as she hit the ground, a dull wet thud as if a wall had been slapped with a wet blanket. Nightingale turned and slid down the balcony wall. He lit a cigarette with trembling hands and smoked it as he crouched on the balcony, his back against the wall, his legs drawn up against his stomach.
The uniformed constable who had escorted Nightingale up the stairs appeared at the balcony door. ‘Are you okay, Sir?’
Nightingale ignored him.
‘Sir, are you okay?’ The constable’s radio crackled and a female voice asked him for a situation report.
Nightingale stood up and pushed him out of the way.
‘Sir, your coat!’ the constable called after him.
The elderly couple were standing in the middle of the living room, holding each other. They looked at Nightingale expectantly but he said nothing to them as he rushed by them. He took the stairs three at a time, his fingers brushing the hand rail as he hurtled down the stairwell, his footsteps echoing off the concrete walls.
There were a two paramedics and half a dozen uniformed officers in the reception area, all talking into the radios. Duggan was there and he opened his mouth to speak but Nightingale silenced him with a pointed finger and walked right by him.
Two female paramedics were crouched over the little girl’s body. The younger of the two was crying. Four fireman in bulky fluorescent jackets were standing behind the paramedics. One of them was wiping tears from his eyes with the back of one of his gloves. Nightingale knew there was nothing any of them could do. No one survived a fall from a thirteenth floor flat. Nightingale saw glistening blood pooling around the body and he turned away.
Hoyle was standing next to a uniformed PC, frowning as he spoke into his mobile. He put the phone away as Nightingale walked out of the building. ‘Superintendent Chalmers wants you in his office, Jack,’ said Hoyle. ‘Now.’
Nightingale said nothing. He brushed past Hoyle and headed for his MGB.
‘Now, Jack. He wants to see you now.’
‘I’m busy,’ said Nightingale.
‘He’ll want you to see the shrink, too,’ said Hoyle, hurrying after him. ‘Standard procedure when there’s a death.’
‘I don’t need to see the shrink,’ said Nightingale.
Hoyle put a hand on Nightingale’s shoulder. ‘It wasn’t your fault, Jack. It’s natural to feel guilty, to feel that you’ve failed.’
Nightingale glared at him. ‘Don’t try to empathise with me and don’t sympathise, I don’t need it, Robbie. I don’t need any of it.’
‘And what do I tell Chalmers?’
‘Tell him whatever you want,’ said Nightingale, twisting out of Hoyle’s grip. He climbed into his MGB and drove off.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


It feels a little strange blogging when no one knows that the Blog is here! It's like if a tree falls in a forest etc etc.

I think the best way to go is to blog once a week and to try to do it the same day each time. That way readers don't have to keep visiting to see if the Blog has been updated. So I reckon that Sunday is the best day as most people are at home. So Sunday it is, from now on, unless there's something I really want to say. Having said that, depending on where in the world I am, it might show up as a Saturday or Sunday posting because I think the Blog is set to US time!

At the moment I'm revamping my website, I revamp it three times a year, pretty much. In January I redo it to take account of the new book, which is usually published in January or February. I talk about the new book and what I'm working on. This time I'll mention the Blog and put up a link to it, and I'll put up a new a page about how I go about writing a book.

By the time it's June I usually have the new book finished so I put up the first chapter on the website, and usually by then I'm able to show the cover. Yes, we have the cover designed before I've finished writing the book!

The mass market paperback comes out in September so I revamp the website then to publicise the paperback and redo the various purchasing links.

By November I've usually started writing the new Spider Shepherd book, but this year I'm a bit slow off the mark. I think I want to write about police corruption and police vigilantes, but other than that I don't have a plot yet. I do have a title, though. BIG BOYS. My nine-year-old daughter likes it, so I think I'll stick with it. I am trying to write the Dan Shepherd books in pairs - HARD LANDING and SOFT TARGET, HOT BLOOD and COLD KILL, DEAD MEN and LIVE FIRE. So after BIG BOYS we'll have SMALL something or LITTLE something!

I've been watching the hostage hotel situation in Mumbai and thinking about incorporating a simlar scenario into the next book. Home grown terrorists in the UK will obviously have been watching what was happening in Mumbai and I'm sure that a few will have wondered about the possibility of storming a top London hotel full of rich tourists and holding them at gunpoint. Guns are ridiculously easy to get in the UK and it's a lot easier to get into a Conrad or Marriott hotel than it is onto a Boeing 747. I can't help thinking it won't be long before we see a hotel seige situation in the UK. That's one of the problems with writing thrillers, of course - if I do start writing it now as fiction it might well have happened by the time the book is on the shelves!

My next three books will all be Spider Shepherd stories. I've just signed a three-book contract with Hodder and Stoughton and it says in the contract that they all have to feature Shepherd! But I am working on a story about a police negotiator that I really like, I will probably put the first chapter on this Blog in a week or two to see what reaction it gets...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Blog

Well, I'm finally getting around to setting up a Blog. I've blogged before as fictional characters without revealing who I was, but this is the first time I'll be blogging as myself! I won't start it earnest until 2009 (it's a sort of New Year's resolution!) but I thought I might as well get started now.

If you don't already know who I am, you can find out about me and my writing at my website,

On this blog I plan to tell you about what I'm working on, what I'm doing, who I'm meeting, and probably dole out my views on things I feel strongly about.

What am I working on just now? I'm about to start the seventh Dan Shepherd book, though I don't even have a title yet. I'm working on a book about a hostage negotiator, and I'm still tinkering with my Bangkok Bob book. And I'm working on a book set in the United States featuring a character from the Dan Shepherd books. So I've got a lot to keep me busy!

I plan to use the blog as a way of keeping in touch with readers, and using it to answer questions, so anyone will be able to post a comment and/or question here and I'll answer it for everyone. I hope it works out!