A white-knuckle ride through a world of corruption, cruelty and violence… Mapping the minds of murderers is what Dr Tony Hill does better than anyone. So when a twisted killer starts targeting psychologists across northern Europe, he’s the obvious choice to track the executioner’s mental and physical journey.
Except that Tony doesn’t want to do this any more.
But the case is about to come uncomfortably close to home. The next victim is a friend of his. And his former partner, DCI Carol Jordan, is herself in Germany, working undercover in a world where human life is cheaper than a drugs deal. She needs his help as much as the serial killer hunters do.
Confronting the worst of contemporary crime and struggling to unravel roots that lie deep in the tormented past of Nazi atrocities and Stasi abuses, Tony and Carol are forced to battle for survival against overwhelming odds. In this morass of doublecross and doubledealing, they have no one to trust but each other.
Tony Hill is back. And this time, it’s personal.
The sun was slanting at an awkward angle as Tony Hill drove up the long hill out of St Andrews. He pulled the sun visor down and glanced in the rearview mirror. Behind him, the dark green of the Tentsmuir forest contrasted with the blue sparkle of the Firth of Tay and the North Sea beyond it. He glimpsed the jagged grey skyline of the town, ruins cheek by jowl with imposing nineteenth century architecture, each indistinguishable from the other at this distance. It had become a familiar sight over the past eighteen months since he’d taken up his post as Reader in Behavioural Psychology at the university, but he still enjoyed the tranquillity of the view. Distance lent enchantment, turning the skeletons of St Regulus tower and the cathedral into gothic Disney fantasies. Best of all, from a distance he didn’t have to deal with colleagues or students.
Although his professor had acted as if acquiring someone with his reputation had been a major enhancement of their departmental prospectus, Tony wasn’t sure he’d lived up to expectations. He’d always known he wasn’t really suited for the academic life. He was bad at politics, and lecturing still left him sweaty-palmed and panicky. But at the time he’d been offered the job, it had seemed a better option than continuing with work he no longer felt fit for. He’d started out as a clinical psychologist, working at the sharp end in a secure mental hospital, dealing with serial offenders. When the Home Office had started taking an interest in the effectiveness of offender profiling in police investigations, he’d been one of the obvious candidates to run the feasibility study.
It had helped his reputation almost as much as it had damaged his psyche that in the course of the study, he’d been directly caught up in the capture of a psychopathic killer who had been targeting young men. In the process, his own vulnerabilities had come close to destroying him. The degree of his involvement still gave him screaming nightmares from which he woke drenched in sweat, his body racked with echoes of past pain.
When the profiling task force was set up according to the recommendations he’d made, he’d been the inevitable choice to take charge of training a hand-picked team of young police officers in psychological profiling techniques. It should have been a straightforward assignment, but it had turned into an excursion into hell for Tony and for his charges. For a second time, he had been forced to confound the rules that said his should be an arms-length role. For a second time, he had ended up with blood on his hands. And the absolute certainty that he didn’t want to have to do any of it ever again.
His participation in the shadow world of offender profiling had cost him more than he cared to tot up. Two years later, and he was still never free of the past. Every day, when he went through the motions of a professional life he didn’t really believe in, he couldn’t help thinking of what he had walked away from. He’d been good at it, he knew. But in the end, that hadn’t been enough.
Impatient with himself, he ejected the Philip Glass cassette. Music gave him too much space for idle speculation. Words, that’s what he needed to divert him from his pointless introversion. He listened to the tail end of a discussion about the emergence of new viruses in SubSaharan Africa, his eyes on the road that wound through the picturesque scenery of the East Neuk. As he turned off towards the fishing village of Cellardyke, the familiar pips announced the four o’clock news.
The comforting voice of the newsreader began the bulletin. ‘The convicted serial killer and former TV chat show host Jacko Vance has begun his appeal against conviction. Vance, who once held the British record for the javelin, was given three life sentences at his trial eighteen months ago for the murders of two teenage girls and a police officer. The appeal is expected to last for two days.’
‘Police appealed for calm in Northern Ireland tonight…’ The words continued, but Tony wasn’t listening any longer. One last hurdle and then it would finally be over. One more anxiety would, he hoped fervently, be laid to rest. Intellectually, he knew there was no chance of Vance’s appeal succeeding. But while it was pending, there would always be that niggle of uncertainty. He’d helped put Vance away, but the arrogant killer had always maintained he would find a loophole that would set him free. Tony hoped the road to freedom was only a figment of Vance’s imagination.
As the car wound down the hill towards the seafront cottage Tony had bought a year ago, he wondered if Carol knew about the appeal. He’d e-mail her tonight to make sure. Thank God for electronic communication. It avoided so many of the occasions for awkwardness that seemed to occur when they were face to face, or even talking on the phone. He was conscious of having failed Carol, and, in the process, himself. She was never far from his thoughts, but to tell her that would have been a kind of betrayal he couldn’t bring himself to perform.
Tony pulled up in the narrow street outside his cottage, parking the car half on the kerb. There was a light on in the living room. Once, such a sight would have set the cold hand of fear clutching his heart. But his world had changed in more ways than he could ever have dreamed of. Now, he wanted everything to stay the same; clear, manageable, boxed off.
It wasn’t perfect, not by a long way. But it was better than bearable. And for Tony, better than bearable was as good as it had ever been.
The throb of the engines soothed him, as it always had. Bad things had never happened to him on the water. For as long as he could remember, boats had protected him. There were rules of life on board, rules that had always been clear and simple, rules that existed for good and logical reasons. But even when he’d been too young to understand, when he’d inadvertently done things he shouldn’t have, the punishment had never descended on him until they went ashore. He’d known it was coming, but he had always managed to hold the fear at bay while the engines rumbled and the mingled smells of men’s unwashed bodies, stale cooking fat and diesel fumes filled his nostrils.
The pain had only ever been visited on him when they left their life on the water behind and returned to the stinking apartment by the fish docks in Hamburg where his grandfather demonstrated the power he held over the young boy who had been left in his care. While he was still staggering to recover his land legs, the punishments would begin.
There was a clearly delineated scale of retribution. Small transgressions meant he would be forced to crouch in a corner of the kitchen while his grandfather fried up a hash of sausage, onions and potatoes on the stove. It smelled better than anything the cook on the barge ever served up on the boat. He never knew if it taster better, because when the time came to eat, he would have to wait in his corner and watch while his grandfather tucked into a steaming plate of fried food. Drenched in the appetising aroma, his stomach would clench with hunger, his mouth become a reservoir of eager saliva.
The older man would gorge his meal like a hunting dog home in his kennel, his eyes sliding over to the boy in the corner with a contemptuous glare. When he finished, he would wipe his plate clean with a hunk of rye bread. Then he’d take out his bargee’s clasp knife and cut more bread into chunks. He’d take a can of dog food from the cupboard and tip it into a bowl, mixing the bread into the meat. Then he’d put the bowl in front of the boy. ‘You’re the son of a bitch. This is what you deserve until you start to learn how to behave like a man. I’ve had dogs that learned faster than you. I am your master, and you live your life as I tell you.’
The boy would have to get down on all fours and eat the food without touching it with his hands. He’d learned that the hard way too. Every time his hands came off the floor and moved towards dish or food, his grandfather would plant a steel-capped boot in his ribs. That was one lesson he’d learned very quickly.
If his misdemeanours had been minor, he might be allowed to sleep on the camp bed in the hall between his grandfather’s bedroom and the squalid cold water bathroom. But if he’d been judged as unworthy of such luxury, he’d have to sleep on the kitchen floor on a filthy blanket that still smelled of the last dog his grandfather had owned, a bull terrier who’d suffered from incontinence for the last few days of its life. If his unintentional sins had been on a more serious scale still, he would be made to spend the night standing in a corner of his grandfather’s bedroom, with the glare of a 150 watt bulb directed into his face in a narrow beam. The light that leaked into the room didn’t seem to bother his grandfather, who snored like a pig through the night. But if the boy sank exhausted to his knees or slumped in standing sleep against the wall, some sixth sense always woke the old man. After that had happened a couple of times, the boy had learned to force himself to stay awake. Anything to avoid a repetition of that excruciating pain in his groin.
If he had been judged as wantonly wicked, some childish game a contravention of protocol that he should have instinctively understood, then he’d face an even worse punishment. He would be sent to stand in the toilet bowl. Naked and shivering, he’d struggle to find a position that didn’t send shooting cramps up his legs. His grandfather would walk into the bathroom as if the boy were invisible, unbutton his trousers and empty his bladder in a stinking hot stream over his legs. He’d shake himself, then turn and walk out, never flushing after himself. The boy would have to balance himself, one foot in the bottom of the pan, soaking in the mixture of water and urine, the other bracing on the sloping side of the porcelain.
The first time it had happened, he had wanted to vomit. He didn’t think it could get any worse than this. But it did, of course. The next time his grandfather had come in, he’d dropped his trousers and sat down to empty his bowels. The boy was trapped, the edge of the seat cutting into the soft swell of his calves, his back pressed against the chill wall of the bathroom, his grandfather’s warm buttocks alien against his shins. The thin, acrid smell rose from the gaps between their flesh, making him gag. But still his grandfather behaved as if he were nothing more substantial than a phantom. He finished, wiped himself and walked out, leaving the boy to wallow in his sewage.
In the morning, his grandfather would walk into the bathroom, run a tub of cold water, then, still ignoring the boy, he’d finally flush the toilet. Then, as if seeing his grandson for the first time, he would order him to clean his filthy flesh, picking him up bodily and throwing him into the bath.
It was no wonder that as soon as he’d been able to count, he’d measured off the hours until they returned to the barge. They were never ashore for more than three days, but when his grandfather was displeased with him, it could feel like three separate lifetimes of humiliation, discomfort and misery. But he never complained to any of the crewmen. He never realised there was anything to complain about. Isolated from other lives, he had no option but to believe that this was how everyone lived.
The realisation that his was not the only truth had come slowly. But when it came, it arrived with the force of a tidal wave, sweeping away every assumption and leaving him empty of everything other than rage.
Only on the water did he ever feel calm. Here, he was in command, both of himself and the world around him. But it wasn’t enough. He knew there was more, and he wanted more. But before he could take his place in the world, he knew he had to exorcise the past.
He had a mission now. He didn’t know how long it would take him to complete. He didn’t even know how he would know he had completed it. But it was necessary, and it was possible. He’d already taken the first step on the journey. And already, he felt better for it.
Now, as the boat ploughed up the Rhine towards the Dutch border, it was time to firm up the plans for the second stage. Alone in the cockpit, he reached for his cellphone and dialled a number in Leiden.