Bruce, Alison: The Siren

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Title: The Siren (DC Gary Goodhew Mystery #2)

Author: Alison Bruce

Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Crime

Publication Date: November 19, 2013

Publisher: Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins

Event organized by: Literati Author Services, Inc.


Cover ~ The siren


Sometimes the past just won’t stay buried.

DC Gary Goodhew is on a pub crawl when he smells smoke. He rushes to the scene and finds a raging house fire, too far gone to stop. The blaze leaves two corpses, but a young boy—who was also inside—is now missing.

As the investigation deepens, it becomes clear that the boy’s mother, Kimberley, knows much more than she is letting on. With the clock ticking on a child’s life, Goodhew begins to sift through the ruins of Kimberley’s past—and uncovers an unsettling picture of deceit, murder, and accelerating danger. Fans of Deborah Crombie and Elizabeth George will relish this gripping page-turner.

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About the Author

Alison Bruce is the author of four novels featuring Gary Goodhew, all set in the gothic city of Cambridge.

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An excerpt from THE SIREN by Alison Bruce
Witness Impulse, William Morrow


It was the red of the match heads that caught her eye.

Staring into the kitchen drawer, Kimberly Guyver  had no doubt that the matchbook had been there since the day she moved in, and she didn’t see how she could have overlooked it.

Its cover was bent back, so she picked it up and folded it shut. Its once familiar design consisted of nothing more than two words printed in gold on black, in a font that she happened to  know  was called Harquil.

It said: Rita Club.

She folded both hands around the matchbook, cupping it out of sight. She could feel the high-gloss card smooth against her palms. It reminded her how long it had been since her hands had been that silky, her nails as polished. It reminded her of Calvin Klein perfume. Of impractical shoes. Of sweat and vodka shots. And the pounding bass that had drowned out any attempt to reflect on the mess she was currently in.

Maybe the matchbook hadn’t been hiding,  because  maybe  she hadn’t been ready to notice it until now.

She leant an elbow on the draining board, then plucked a match from one end of the row. It lit at the second attempt.  She held it to the corner nearest the ‘R’ for ‘Rita’. The card curled before succumb- ing to a lazy green flame. She wondered if it was toxic, and realized the irony if it was. It burnt slowly until the flame reached the match heads, which then ignited with a sharp bright burst.

She dropped the remnants of the matchbook into  the  sink,  and kept watching it, determined to witness the moment when it finally burnt itself to nothing. It was down to merely ash and a thin plume of smoke when the voice from the doorway startled her.


She took a moment to wipe her face and hands – long enough for him to speak to her again. This time his voice was slightly more insist- ent. ‘Mummy.’ He looked at her with a gaze that implied he knew far more than he was capable of knowing at two and a half, and she immediately felt guilty.

‘Riley,’ she answered, using the same urgent intonation. She held out her hand. ‘Come and watch Thomas while I take a shower.’

She paused by the window, noting the afternoon sun was now low over Cambridge’s Mill  Road Cemetery, its  glow  picking out  the wording on the south- and west-facing headstones, casting the others in deep shadow. It was hot for June, and any areas where the ankle-high grass grew without shade had  already taken on  the appearance  of a hay meadow.

The burial ground was shared between thirteen parishes. She knew this because she knew the cemetery better than anywhere else, better than any other part of town, better than any of the many places she had briefly called home, even the one that had lasted for six years, or this current one where she’d lived for three. She knew the curve of each footpath, and she had favourite headstones. Plenty marked with ‘wife of the above’, but none, she noticed, marked  ‘husband of the below’. Lots,  too,  who ‘fell asleep’. And  if marriage  carried kudos,  so did age: in some cases a mark of achievement and  in others  a measure of loss.

She loved some stones for their ornate craftsmanship, others for their humble simplicity. She taught herself to draw by copying their geometry and scripts and fallen angels. The school claimed she had a natural  aptitude for art but she knew it was the cemetery that taught her balance and perspective, light and shade and the  importance  of solitude.

In isolated moments, when her feelings of abandonment   became all but overwhelming, she’d return to certain memorials that had stayed in her awareness after her previous visits. Like that  of Alicia Anne Campion, one of the many who had fallen asleep. She’d gone in 1876

at the age of 51, and had been given a low sandstone grave topped with white marble, shaped like a roof  with a gable at each end and one off-centre. The elaborate carving was still unweathered.  Kimberly knew how to find it at night-time and had often sat there in the dark, with her back against this grave and the pattern  close to her cheek, her fingers tracing the crisp lines that the stonemason  had chiselled.

Mill Road Cemetery was also the place she’d hidden when, at four- teen, she’d tried her first cigarette, and where, at fifteen, she’d lost her virginity to a boy called Mitch. She never found out whether  Mitch was part of his first name or his last, or no part of his real name at all. He’d smoked a joint afterwards,  and she tried it for the first and only time. He then told her to fuck off. The smoke made her feel queasy and giddy, so she stumbled  and  caught her knuckle on the sharp edge of a broken stone urn, and went home with blood smears on her hands and a new anger ignited in her heart.

But no bad choice was going to come between her and the way she felt for that place, and she later exorcized the memory of it with a succession of equally forgettable boys, until nothing but Mitch’s name and a vague recollection of smoking pot stayed in her head.

People walked through   all the time, taking shortcuts,  taking lunch. People actually tending graves were few, and she guessed that  the number of people who knew the place as well as she did was even less. Most visitors didn’t know about the thirteen parishes; even fewer knew that the curved paths and apparently  shambolic layout  of trees and graves formed a perfect guitar shape. She’d sketched a plan of it one day, then in disbelief double-checked a map and, sure enough, found this huge guitar hidden in the centre of the city.

The guitar’s  neck belonged to  the  parish of St Andrew the  Less and,  although level with the rest of the cemetery, it stood a storey higher than the houses backing on to its west side. They were Victorian terraces, originally two-up, two-down workers’ houses, but almost all of them had since been extended.

One of these was Kimberly’s. It had a single-storey extension that stretched to within a few feet of the cemetery’s perimeter wall. When she first moved in, she’d seen that as providing a good fire escape: an easy climb through her sash window, then across the flat roof to safety. But, almost as soon  as he had  been big enough to stand, she’d realized

Riley’s fascination with the large open space that lay just over their garden wall.

For now, though, Thomas the Tank Engine was enough to hold his interest, so she left him sitting on one of her pillows, hypnotized  by the TV at the foot of her bed. Just this one time, she hoped he would leave her to shower in peace, enjoying the water close to scalding and the jets needling her skin.

She reached for a towel, realizing that she’d stayed in the shower for much longer than she had planned to. She could hear the Fat Con- troller  having a few issues with one of the less useful engines, and knew the DVD had been on for over half an hour.

‘Riley?’ she called. With no response, she guessed he was probably just too engrossed to hear her, and she called him again.

She took another towel and wrapped her wet hair in it, then returned to the bedroom just as the theme song began. Thomas the Tank Engine was chuffing along the track with the credits flying up the screen, but Riley had climbed under the covers and was sleeping too deeply to care. Kimberly curled up beside him, wrapping her arms around  him, and he shifted a little, resettling with his head closer to hers. His hair tickled her cheek. He smelt of baby wipes and jacket potato, and his proximity soothed her more than any amount of showering could have done.

It was a tranquil moment, broken only by the main-menu loop on the DVD, then a few seconds of cheery music that had already been repeated too many times. Kimberly stretched herself towards the remote, aiming to scoop it near enough to reach the mute button. She touched one of the channel buttons instead, and the image that flickered on to the screen seemed as familiar as Thomas the Tank Engine.

She recognized that skyline, the rocky outcrop, the barren  coastline. But she took a second or two to understand this was no DVD,  no fictional footage. It was the news.

A fragment of her life was appearing on the television and, as sure as the carving on Alicia Campion’s grave, its details were now set in stone.

She felt realization burn through  her chest, dropping like a molten leaden weight into the pit of her stomach. She saw the winch, and the wreck of Nick’s car that now hung from its hook. The car that

she’d last seen when that same stretch of the Mediterranean sea had swallowed it.

The reporter’s voice began to penetrate her shock. ‘The vehicle was recovered last week after some divers reported that it appeared to con- tain human remains. It wasn’t until today that the Spanish authorities have been able to confirm the identity  of the occupant.  The victim is named as former Cambridge man Nicholas Lewton, who had been living and working in Cartagena until his disappearance almost three years ago. Police are now appealing for information, and a spokesman has confirmed that this death is being treated as suspicious.’

The phone sat on the bedside table nearest to the window. It rang just as she was reaching for it. She looked out across the cemetery, towards the rear of another row of houses. Because they were built on higher ground, her bedroom directly faced the rear  windows of their ground floors. One of them had  been sandblasted,  leaving its brickwork paler than that of its neighbours. Trees rose in-between, but she could see its upper floor catch the last of the sunshine and glow a fireball orange.

The ground floor of the same house was partly obscured in summer, but Kimberly knew that her caller was standing just inside its patio door.  Probably  squinting  into  the sun,  staring  over at  Kimberly’s house, waiting for her to answer the phone.

Kimberly pressed the ‘answer’ button. ‘I saw it,’ she said. ‘Let me get dressed. I’ll meet you outside.’