Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Read by Susan Jameson
Formats and Prices
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged) $29.99 CAD
- ebook $9.99
- Trade Paperback $18.99
- Audiobook CD (Unabridged) $24.98
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 1, 2008. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
Case one: A little girl goes missing in the night.
Case two: A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac’s apparently random attack.
Case three: A new mother finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making – with a very needy baby and a very demanding husband – until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.
Thirty years after the first incident, as private investigator Jackson Brodie begins investigating all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge . . .
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
A Preview of One Good Turn
A Preview of A God in Ruins
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
For Anne McIntyre
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
CASE HISTORY NO. 1 1970
How lucky were they? A heat wave in the middle of the school holidays, exactly where it belonged. Every morning the sun was up long before they were, making a mockery of the flimsy summer curtains that hung limply at their bedroom windows, a sun already hot and sticky with promise before Olivia even opened her eyes. Olivia, as reliable as a rooster, always the first to wake, so that no one in the house had bothered with an alarm clock since she was born three years ago.
Olivia, the youngest and therefore the one currently sleeping in the small back bedroom with the nursery-rhyme wallpaper, a room that all of them had occupied and been ousted from in turn. Olivia, as cute as a button they were all agreed, even Julia, who had taken a long time to get over being displaced as the baby of the family, a position she had occupied for five satisfying years before Olivia came along.
Rosemary, their mother, said that she wished Olivia could stay at this age forever because she was so lovable. They had never heard her use that word to describe any of them. They had not even realized that such a word existed in her vocabulary, which was usually restricted to tedious commands: come here, go away, be quiet, and—most frequent of all—stop that. Sometimes she would walk into a room or appear in the garden, glare at them, and say, Whatever it is you're doing, don't, and then simply walk away again, leaving them feeling aggrieved and badly done by, even when caught red-handed in the middle of some piece of mischief—devised by Sylvia usually.
Their capacity for wrongdoing, especially under Sylvia's reckless leadership, was apparently limitless. The eldest three were (everyone agreed) "a handful," too close together in age to be distinguishable to their mother so that they had evolved into a collective child to which she found it hard to attribute individual details and which she addressed at random—Julia-Sylvia-Amelia-whoever you are—said in an exasperated tone as if it were their fault there were so many of them. Olivia was usually excluded from this weary litany; Rosemary never seemed to get her mixed up with the rest of them.
They had supposed Olivia would be the last of the four to occupy the small back bedroom and that one day the nursery-rhyme wallpaper would finally be scraped off (by their harassed mother because their father said hiring a professional decorator was a waste of money) and be replaced by something more grown-up—flowers or perhaps ponies, although anything would be better than the Elastoplast pink adorning the room that Julia and Amelia shared, a color that had looked so promising to the two of them on the paint chart and proved so alarming on the walls and which their mother said she didn't have the time or money (or energy) to repaint.
Now it transpired that Olivia was going to be undertaking the same rite of passage as her older sisters, leaving behind the—rather badly aligned—Humpty Dumptys and Little Miss Muffets to make way for an afterthought whose advent had been announced, in a rather offhand way, by Rosemary the previous day as she dished out on the lawn a makeshift lunch of corned beef sandwiches and orange squash.
"Wasn't Olivia the afterthought?" Sylvia said to no one in particular, and Rosemary frowned at her eldest daughter as if she had just noticed her for the first time. Sylvia, thirteen and until recently an enthusiastic child (many people would have said overenthusiastic), promised to be a mordant cynic in her teenage years. Gawky, bespectacled Sylvia, her teeth recently caged in ugly orthodontic braces, had greasy hair, a hooting laugh, and the long, thin fingers and toes of an alien from outer space. Well-meaning people called her an "ugly duckling" (said to her face, as if it were a compliment, which was certainly not how it was taken by Sylvia), imagining a future Sylvia casting off her braces, acquiring contact lenses and a bosom, and blossoming into a swan. Rosemary did not see the swan in Sylvia, especially when she had a shred of corned beef stuck in her braces. Sylvia had recently developed an unhealthy obsession with religion, claiming that God had spoken to her (as if God would choose Sylvia). Rosemary wondered if it was a normal phase that adolescent girls went through, if God was merely an alternative to pop stars or ponies. Rosemary decided it was best to ignore Sylvia's tête-à-têtes with the Almighty. And at least conversations with God were free, whereas the upkeep on a pony would have cost a fortune.
And the peculiar fainting fits that their GP said were on account of Sylvia "outgrowing her strength"—a medically dubious explanation if ever there was one (in Rosemary's opinion). Rosemary decided to ignore the fainting fits as well. They were probably just Sylvia's way of getting attention.
Rosemary married their father, Victor, when she was eighteen years old—only five years older than Sylvia was now. The idea that Sylvia might be grown-up enough in five years' time to marry anyone struck Rosemary as ridiculous and reinforced her belief that her own parents should have stepped in and stopped her from marrying Victor, should have pointed out that she was a mere child and he was a thirty-six-year-old man. She often found herself wanting to remonstrate with her mother and father about their lack of parental care, but her mother had succumbed to stomach cancer not long after Amelia was born, and her father had remarried and moved to Ipswich, where he spent most of his days in the bookies and all of his evenings in the pub.
If, in five years' time, Sylvia brought home a thirty-six-year-old, cradle-snatching fiancé (particularly if he claimed to be a great mathematician), then Rosemary would probably cut his heart out with the carving knife. This idea was so agreeable that the afterthought's annunciation was temporarily forgotten and Rosemary allowed them all to run out to the ice-cream van when it declared its own melodic arrival in the street.
The Sylvia-Amelia-Julia trio knew that there was no such thing as an afterthought, and the "fetus," as Sylvia insisted on calling it (she was keen on science subjects), that was making their mother so irritable and lethargic was probably their father's last-ditch attempt to acquire a son. He was not a father who doted on daughters, he showed no real fondness for any of them, only Sylvia occasionally winning his respect because she was "good at maths." Victor was a mathematician and lived a rarefied life of the mind, where his family was allowed no trespass. This was made easy by the fact that he spent hardly any time with them. He was either in the department or his rooms in college, and when he was home he shut himself in his study, occasionally with his students but usually on his own. Their father had never taken them to the open-air pool on Jesus Green, played rousing games of Snap or Donkey, never tossed them in the air and caught them or pushed them on a swing, had never taken them punting on the river or walking on the Fens or on educational trips to the Fitzwilliam. He seemed more like an absence than a presence: everything he was—and was not—was represented by the sacrosanct space of his study.
They would have been surprised to know that the study had once been a bright parlor with a view of the back garden, a room where previous occupants of the house had enjoyed pleasant breakfasts, where women had whiled away the afternoons with sewing and romantic novels, and where, in the evenings, the family had gathered to play cribbage or Scrabble while listening to a radio play. All these activities had been envisaged by a newly married Rosemary when the house was first bought—in 1956, at a price way beyond their budget—but Victor immediately claimed the room as his own and somehow managed to transform it into a sunless place, crammed with heavy bookshelves and ugly oak filing cabinets and reeking of the untipped Capstans that he smoked. The loss of the room was as nothing to the loss of the way of life that Rosemary had planned to fill it with.
What he actually did in there was a mystery to all of them. Something so important, apparently, that his home life was trifling in comparison. Their mother said he was a great mathematician, at work on a piece of research that would one day make him famous, yet on the rare occasions when the study door was left open and they caught a glimpse of their father at work, all he seemed to be doing was sitting at his desk, scowling into empty space.
He was not to be disturbed when he was working, especially not by shrieking, screaming, savage little girls. The complete inability of those same savage little girls to abstain from the shrieking and the screaming (not to mention the yelling, the blubbering, and the strange howling like a pack of wolves that Victor had never managed to fathom) made for a fragile relationship between father and daughters.
Rosemary's chastisements may have washed over them like water, but the sight of Victor lumbering out of his study, roused like a bear from hibernation, was strangely terrifying, and although they spent their lives challenging all that was outlawed by their mother, they never once thought of exploring the forbidden interior of the study. The only time they were ushered into the gloomy depths of Victor's den was when they needed help with their maths homework. This wasn't so bad for Sylvia, who had a fighting chance of understanding the greasy pencil marks with which an impatient Victor covered endless pages of ruled paper, but as far as Julia and Amelia were concerned Victor's signs and symbols were as mysterious as ancient hieroglyphs. If they thought of the study at all, which they tried not to, they thought of it as a torture chamber. Victor blamed Rosemary for their innumeracy—it was clearly their mother's deficient female brain that they had inherited.
Victor's own mother, Ellen, had lent a sweet and balmy presence to his early infancy before being taken off to a lunatic asylum in 1924. Victor was only four at the time and it was judged better for him not to visit his mother in such disturbing quarters, with the result that he grew up imagining her as a raving madwoman of the Victorian variety—long white nightdress and wild hair, roaming the corridors of the asylum at night, prattling nonsense like a child—and it was only much later in his life that he discovered that his mother had not "gone insane" (the family's term for it) but had suffered a severe postpartum depression after giving birth to a stillborn baby and neither raved nor prattled but lived sadly and solitarily in a room decorated with photographs of Victor, until she died of tuberculosis when Victor was ten.
Oswald, Victor's father, had packed his son off to boarding school by then, and when Oswald himself died, accidentally falling into the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean, Victor received the news calmly and returned to the particularly difficult mathematical puzzle he had been working on.
Before the war, Victor's father had been that most arcane and useless of English creatures, a polar explorer, and Victor was rather glad that he would no longer have to live up to the heroic image of Oswald Land and could become great in his own, less valiant, field.
Victor met Rosemary when he had to go to the emergency room at Addenbrooke's, where she was a student nurse. He had tripped down some steps and fallen awkwardly on his wrist, but he told Rosemary that he'd been on his bike when he was "cut up" by a car on the Newmarket Road. "Cut up" sounded good to his ears, it was a phrase from a masculine world he'd never managed to inhabit successfully (the world of his father) and "the Newmarket Road" implied (untruthfully) that he didn't spend his whole life cloistered in the limited area between St. John's and the maths department.
If it hadn't been for this chance hospital encounter, accidental in all senses, Victor might never have courted a girl. He already felt well on his way to middle age, and his social life was still limited to the chess club. Victor didn't really feel the need for another person in his life, in fact he found the concept of "sharing" a life bizarre. He had mathematics, which filled up his time almost completely, so he wasn't entirely sure what he wanted with a wife. Women seemed to him to be in possession of all kinds of undesirable properties, chiefly madness, but also a multiplicity of physical drawbacks—blood, sex, children—which were unsettling and other. Yet something in him yearned to be surrounded by the kind of activity and warmth so missing in his own childhood, which was how, before he even knew what had happened, like opening the door to the wrong room, he was taking tea in a cottage in rural Norfolk while Rosemary shyly displayed a (rather cheap) diamond-chip engagement ring to her parents.
Apart from her father's whiskery bedtime benedictions, Victor was the first man Rosemary had ever been kissed by (albeit awkwardly, lunging at her like an elephant seal). Rosemary's father, a railway signalman, and her mother, a housewife, were startled when she brought Victor home to meet them. They were awed by his undoubted intellectual credentials (the black-rimmed spectacles, the shabby sports jacket, the air of permanent distraction) and the possibility that he might even be a bona fide genius (a possibility not exactly refuted by Victor), not to mention the fact that he had chosen their daughter—a quiet and easily influenced girl, hitherto overlooked by almost everyone—to be his helpmeet.
The fact that he was twice Rosemary's age didn't seem to worry them at all, although later, when the happy couple had departed, Rosemary's father, a manly type of man, did point out to his wife that Victor was not "a great physical specimen." Rosemary's mother's only reservation, however, was that although Victor was a doctor, he seemed to have trouble giving her any advice about the stomach pains that she was a martyr to. Cornered at a tea table covered in a Maltese lace cloth and loaded with macaroons, Devon scones, and seedcake, Victor finally confirmed, "Indigestion, I expect, Mrs. Vane," a misdiagnosis that she accepted with relief.
Olivia opened her eyes and stared contentedly at the nursery-rhyme wallpaper. Jack and Jill toiled endlessly up the hill, Jill carrying a wooden bucket for the well she was destined never to reach, while elsewhere on the same hillside Little Bo-Peep was searching for her lost sheep. Olivia wasn't too worried about the fate of the flock because she could see a pretty lamb with a blue ribbon round its neck, hiding behind a hedge. Olivia didn't really understand the afterthought, but she would have welcomed a baby. She liked babies and animals better than anything. She could feel the weight of Rascal, the family terrier, near her feet. It was absolutely forbidden for Rascal to sleep in the bedrooms, but every night one or other of them smuggled him into their room, although by morning he had usually found his own way to Olivia.
Olivia shook Blue Mouse gently to wake him up. Blue Mouse was a limp and lanky animal made from toweling. He was Olivia's oracle and she consulted him at all times on all subjects.
A bright slice of sunlight moved slowly across the wall, and when it reached the lamb hiding behind the hedge, Olivia climbed out of bed and pushed her feet obediently into her small slippers, pink with rabbit faces and rabbit ears, and much coveted by Julia. None of the others bothered with their slippers, and now it was so hot that Rosemary couldn't even get them to wear shoes, but Olivia was a biddable child.
Rosemary, lying in her own bed, awake, but with limbs that she could barely move, as if the marrow in her bones had turned to lead piping, was at that very moment trying to devise a plan that would stop the other three from corrupting Olivia's good behavior. The new baby was making Rosemary feel sick, and she thought how wonderful it would be if Victor suddenly woke from his snore-laden sleep and said to her, "Can I get you something, dear?" and she would say, "Oh, yes, please, I would like some tea—no milk—and a slice of toast, lightly buttered, thank you, Victor." And pigs would fly.
If only she weren't so fertile. She couldn't take the pill because it gave her high blood pressure, she had tried a coil but it dislodged itself, and Victor saw using condoms as some kind of assault on his manhood. She was just his broodmare. The only good thing about being pregnant was that she didn't have to endure sex with Victor. She told him it was bad for the baby and he believed her because he knew nothing—nothing about babies or women or children, nothing about life. She had been a virgin when she married him and had returned from their one-week honeymoon in Wales in a state of shock. She should have walked away right there and then, of course, but Victor had already begun to drain her. Sometimes it felt as if he were feeding on her.
If she had had the energy she would have got up and crept through to the spare bedroom, the "guest" bedroom, and lain down on the hard single bed with its daisy-fresh white sheets anchored fast by tight hospital corners. The guest bedroom was like an air pocket in the house, its atmosphere not breathed by anyone else, its carpet not worn by careless feet. It didn't matter how many babies she had, she could go on dropping them like a cow, year after year (although she would kill herself if she did), but not one of them would ever occupy the pristine space of the guest bedroom. It was clean, it was untouched, it was hers. The attic would be even better. She could have it floored and painted white and put in a trapdoor, then she could climb up there, pull up the trapdoor like a drawbridge, and no one would be able to find her. Rosemary imagined her family wandering from room to room, calling her name, and laughed. Victor grunted in his sleep. But then she thought of Olivia, roaming the house, unable to find her, and she felt fear, like a blow to her chest. She would have to take Olivia up to the attic with her.
Victor himself was in that kind place between waking and sleeping, a place untainted by the sour feelings of his everyday life, where he lived in a houseful of women who felt like strangers.
Olivia, thumb plugged snugly into her mouth and Blue Mouse clenched in the crook of her elbow, padded across the hallway to Julia and Amelia's bedroom and clambered in beside Julia. Julia was dreaming furiously. Her savage hair, plastered to her head, was wet with sweat and her lips moved constantly, muttering gibberish as she battled with some unseen monster. Julia was a heavy sleeper: she talked and walked in her sleep, she wrestled the bedclothes and woke up dramatically, staring wild-eyed at some fancy that had gone before she could remember it. Sometimes her sleep was so operatic that she brought on an asthma attack and woke in a state of mortal terror. Julia could be a very annoying person, Amelia and Sylvia agreed. She had a bewilderingly mercurial personality—punching and kicking one minute, a sham of cooing and kissing the next. When she was smaller Julia had been subject to the most profligate tantrums, and even now a day rarely went by without Julia having a hysterical fit over something or other and flouncing out of a room. It was Olivia who usually tagged after her and tried to console her when no one else cared. Olivia seemed to understand that all Julia wanted was some attention (although she did seem to want an awful lot of it).
Olivia tugged at the sleeve of Julia's nightdress to wake her, a process that always took some time. Amelia, in the next bed, was already awake but kept her eyes closed to savor the last drop of sleep. And besides, if she pretended to be asleep she knew that Olivia would climb into bed with her, hanging on to one of her limbs like a monkey, her sun-browned skin hot and dry against hers, the spongy body of Blue Mouse squashed between them.
Until Olivia was born, Amelia had shared a room with Sylvia, which although it held many drawbacks was definitely preferable to sharing with Julia. Amelia felt stranded, vague and insubstantial, between the acutely defined polar opposites of Sylvia and Julia. It didn't matter how many afterthoughts there were—she sensed she would always be lost somewhere in the middle. Amelia was a more thoughtful, bookish girl than Sylvia. Sylvia preferred excitement to order (which was why, Victor said, she could never be a great mathematician, merely adequate). Sylvia was nuts, of course. She'd told Amelia that God (not to mention Joan of Arc) had spoken to her. In the unlikely event of God speaking to anyone, Sylvia did not seem the obvious choice.
Sylvia loved secrets and even if she didn't have any secrets she made sure that you thought she did. Amelia had no secrets, Amelia knew nothing. When she grew up she planned to know everything and to keep it all a secret.
Would the arrival of the afterthought mean that their mother would juggle them around again in another arbitrary permutation? Who would Olivia move in with? They used to fight over who had the dog in bed with them; now they argued over Olivia's affections. There were five bedrooms in all, but one was always kept as a guest bedroom even though none of them could remember a guest ever staying in the house. Now their mother had begun talking about doing out the attic. Amelia liked the idea of having a room in the attic, away from everyone else. She imagined a spiral staircase and walls painted white, and there would be a white sofa and a white carpet, and gauzy white curtains would hang at the window. When she grew up and married she planned to have a single child, a single perfect child (who would be exactly like Olivia), and live in a white house. When she tried to imagine the husband who would live with her in this white house, all she could conjure up was a blur, a shadow of a man who passed her on stairs and in hallways, and murmured polite greetings.
By the time Olivia had roused them all it was nearly half past seven. They got their own breakfast, except for Olivia, who was hoisted onto a cushion and served cereal and milk by Amelia and fingers of toast by Julia. Olivia was theirs, their very own pet lamb, because their mother was worn out by the afterthought and their father was a great mathematician.
Julia, stuffing herself with food (Rosemary swore that Julia had a Labrador hiding inside her), managed to slice herself with the bread knife but was dissuaded from wailing and waking their parents by Sylvia clamping her hand over her mouth, like a surgical mask. At least one incident a day involving blood was the norm—they were the most accident-prone children in the world, according to their mother, who suffered endless trips to Addenbrooke's with them—Amelia cartwheeling her way to a broken arm, a scalded foot for Sylvia (trying to fill a hot water bottle), a split lip for Julia (jumping off the garage roof), Julia, again, walking through a glass door—watched by Amelia and Sylvia in dumbfounded disbelief (how could she not see it?), and Sylvia's strange fainting episodes, of course—vertical to horizontal with no warning, her skin drained of blood, her lips dry—a rehearsal for death, betrayed only by a slight vibration of the eyelid.
The only one who was immune to this communal clumsiness was Olivia, who in her whole three years had sustained nothing much worse than a few bruises. As for the others, their mother said she may as well have finished her nurse training, what with the amount of time she spent at the hospital.
Most thrilling of all, of course, was the day that Julia cut off her finger (Julia did seem strangely attracted to sharp objects). Julia, five years old at the time, wandered into the kitchen unnoticed by their mother, and the first Rosemary knew about the amputated finger was when she turned round from aggressively chopping carrots and noticed a shocked Julia holding her hand aloft in mute astonishment, exhibiting her wound like a martyred child saint. Rosemary threw a tea towel over the bloody hand, scooped up Julia, and ran to a neighbor, who drove them in a screech of overexcited brakes to the hospital, leaving Sylvia and Amelia with the problem of what to do with the tiny, pale finger, abandoned on the kitchen linoleum.
(An ever-resourceful Sylvia thrust the finger into a bag of frozen peas and Sylvia and Amelia caught a bus to the hospital, Sylvia clutching the defrosting peas all the way as if Julia's life depended on them.)
Their first plan for the day was to walk along the river to Grantchester. They had gone on this expedition at least twice a week since the holidays began, giving Olivia a piggyback when she grew tired. It was an adventure that took them most of the day because there were so many distractions to explore—on the riverbank, in the fields, even in other people's back gardens. Rosemary's only admonition was don't go in the river, but they invariably set off with their swimming costumes concealed under their dresses and shorts and hardly a trip went by without them stripping off and plunging into the river. They felt grateful to the afterthought for transforming their normally prudent mother into such a careless guardian. No other child of their acquaintance was enjoying such a hazardous existence that summer.
- On Sale
- Sep 1, 2008
- Hachette Audio