‘I never really wanted to be a police officer.’ Read an excerpt from Stuart MacBride’s chilling new thriller The Dead of Winter
More about the book!
Penguin Random House has shared an excerpt from The Dead of Winter, the new novel from number-one bestseller Stuart MacBride!
About the book
How can you tell who did it when everyone is guilty?
It was supposed to be a simple delivery job for DI Victoria Montgomery-Porter and her sidekick, Edward Reekie – pick up a prisoner from HMP Grampian and take them to their new state-funded home – but life’s never that straightforward.
From the outside, Glenfarach looks like a quaint, sleepy, snow-dusted village, nestled in the heart of Cairngorms National Park. But things aren’t quite what they seem. The place is thick with security cameras, it doesn’t appear on any modern map, and there’s a strict nine-o’clock curfew, because Glenfarach is the last resort for criminals who’ve served their sentences but can’t be safely released into the general population.
Victoria’s just supposed to drop her ‘guest’ off and head back to Aberdeen, before the approaching blizzards shut everything down, but when an ex-cop-turned-gangster is discovered skinned alive in his bungalow, someone needs to take charge.
The weather’s closing in, tensions are mounting, and time’s running out – something nasty has come to Glenfarach, and Victoria is standing right in its way …
Read the excerpt:
I never really wanted to be a police officer.
Thick flakes of white drift down from a low, grey sky, adding their weight to the drooping branches of beech trees. Making the gorse and broom slump in surrender.
A burn gurgles, just out of sight behind knotted clumps of barbed-wire brambles.
A duvet of white smothers the forest clearing, snow robbing the shapes and colour from everything, leaving only the frozen ghosts of what lies buried beneath.
I wanted to be an astronaut, or a football player, or a rock star …
Everything is calm and still and crisp, marred only by a line of deep footprints and a smooth-edged scar where something heavy has been dragged through the drifts.
Then there’s the noises: the ping-and-clang of a pickaxe, chipping away at the frozen ground – a regular, methodical sound, an industrial metronome, marking out the time of death. Every blow accompanied by a grunt of exertion.
My big brother, Dave, he was the one meant to follow the family tradition and join up, but a drunk driver blew straight through the Holburn Street junction, and that was that.
The person swinging that pickaxe is tall, broad-shouldered, powerful. Hair pulled back from her flushed face. Mid-forties, give or take a year or two.
Her high-vis padded jacket hangs from the branch of a twisted Scots pine, like a flayed skin – one of the sleeves blackened with blood, more smears on the front. A second jacket, dark as coal, and a petrol-blue shirt are draped over another branch.
Steam rises from the shoulders of her burgundy T-shirt. You’d think she’d be wearing something a bit more … death-metal-like. You know: a skull and crossbones, or a snake with a dagger in its teeth, but her T-shirt features a cartoon black cat in a bow-tie and eye patch, posing with a gun like it’s from a James Bond movie.
The hole’s already waist-deep, a pile of dark earth slumping beside it. A wooden-handled shovel poking out of the heap, like a skeletal flag.
Dave swapped his police dreams for a wheelchair, and I swapped mine for a warrant card. Cos that’s what you do when your dad’s a cop, and his dad before him, and his dad before that.
A body lies off to one side, partly covered by a stained sheet, curled against the Scots pine’s hungry roots.
The body’s high-vis jacket is the twin of the one hanging from the branch, only there’s a lot more blood. Deep scarlet stains the jacket’s fluorescent-yellow back; it’s soaked into the grubby-grey suit underneath too. The jacket’s owner doesn’t look a day over twenty-four, but he does look very, very dead. His skin’s got that waxy, translucent, mortuary colour to it, where it isn’t smeared in dark red. More blood on his shirt, and on the cheeks of his sharp-featured face. Bags under his closed eyes. Short brown hair and a matching Vandyke …
Strange the way things turn out, isn’t it?
The muscled woman in the cartoon-cat T-shirt stops swinging the pickaxe and stands there for a moment, head back, breath fogging above her as the snow falls. Face pink and shiny.
Sorry – where are my manners? The lady doing the digging is one Detective Inspector Victoria Elizabeth Montgomery-Porter, North East Division.
Some people call her ‘Bigtoria’, but never to her face.
She tosses the pickaxe out of the hole and grabs the shovel instead. Muscles bunch and writhe in her thick arms as she digs, the shovel’s blade biting into the loosened soil, before flinging it onto the pile.
She’s not the worst boss I’ve ever had. And yeah, given what’s happened, that’s pretty hard to believe. Sometimes events just get away from you and before you know it: there you are, in the middle of a remote, snowy glen, digging a shallow grave.
The shovel growls as Bigtoria stabs it into the ground, stones and dirt adding their mouldy-bread scent to the peppery ozone tang of falling snow.
I, on the other hand, am Detective Constable Edward Reekie. And I guess you could say I’m having a very bad day.
One last shovelful gets added to the pile before Bigtoria scrambles out of her pit, then stomps over to the body, scoops her hands in under its armpits and drags it back to the hole.
It’s weird. I know I should be angry about it – furious even – you know, being the dead body and everything? But mostly I’m just cold.
Bigtoria tumbles Edward into the pit. Stands there, staring down at him for a moment, head on one side. Shovel held like an executioner’s axe. Then she grunts. Grabs her high-vis from the branch.
You’d think she could manage a few words, wouldn’t you? Express a bit of sorrow and guilt. Maybe beg my forgiveness? A sodding apology wouldn’t hurt.