THE BLOOD WHISPERER

An exciting standalone crime thriller from Zoë Sharp

Synopsis

The uncanny abilities of London crime-scene specialist Kelly Jacks to coax evidence from the most unpromising of crime scenes once earned her the nickname of The Blood Whisperer.

Then six years ago all that changed.

Kelly woke next to the butchered body of a man, the knife in her hands and no memory of what happened.

She trusted the evidence would prove her innocent.

It didn’t.

"Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game"

New York Times best-selling author, Harlan Coben

Now released after serving her sentence for involuntary manslaughter, Kelly must try to piece her life back together. Shunned by former colleagues and friends, the only work she can get is for the crime-scene cleaning firm run by her former mentor.

But old habits die hard. And when her instincts tell her things are not as they appear at the scene of a routine suicide, she can’t help but ask questions that somebody does not want answered.

Plunged into the nightmare of being branded a killer once again, Kelly is soon fleeing from the police, Russian thugs and a local gangster. Betrayed at every turn, she is fast running out of options.

But Kelly acquired a whole new set of skills on the inside. Now street-smart and wary, can she use everything she’s learned to evade capture and stay alive long enough to clear her name?

From the author's notebook

The whole idea behind THE BLOOD WHISPERER came about because I was playing around with the theme of trust. As a London crime-scene specialist Kelly Jacks trusted what the evidence she collected was telling her and she enjoyed the particular trust of her colleagues who nicknamed her The Blood Whisperer because of her affinity with the work she carried out.

Then that trust is betrayed. Everyone she’s ever known lets her down and turns away from her. And when she’s tried and convicted of a violent crime she even loses trust in herself over her own innocence or guilt.

So the story is also about the rebuilding of Kelly’s ability to trust—in the evidence, in herself, and both in the people she’s known for years and those she’s only just met. I was originally going to call the book THE CARRION CREW, a play on the name of Kelly’s mentor and boss of the crime-scene cleaning firm, Ray McCarron, but was worried it had too many horror overtones for a crime novel. THE BLOOD WHISPERER was suggested and that fitted just right.

Although I’ve been writing the Charlie Fox series for some years now, that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in exploring other characters and other situations. I hope, however, that fans of Charlie Fox will find much to like in another strong female protagonist—Kelly Jacks.

Excerpt

Kelly came round to the smell of the sawmill and the violent clatter of iron on wood.

She was face down on a scratchy surface that gave slightly under her when she floundered up to hands and knees. That was as far as she got for a while, blinking as she tried to clear her head.

And all the time a voice in the back of her mind was wailing, Not again!

She forced herself to focus past the dull nauseating thump inside her head. Her jaw felt like she’d bounced off a truck and gone back for a rematch. She flexed it from side to side, brought a hand up. Her chin was tender and she’d possibly loosened a couple of teeth but the joint itself still seemed to be in one piece.

A miracle in itself.

She focused on the ground under her. Not soft earth or grass but wood shavings which accounted for the smell she’d recognised. She’d had an uncle out near Enfield—long dead now—who used to potter in his garden shed making furniture. During visits as a child Kelly had been fascinated by the pale curls of wafer-thin wood that fell like snowflakes with each steady pass of the plane.

The sound that had woken her came again, a sharply demanding scrape and thunderous bang. Like someone kicking a heavy wooden door with steel-toecap boots. It took her a moment longer to realise that’s exactly what it was.

Only the someone was actually a something instead.

A horse.

Kelly sat upright and scrambled backwards expecting to see some huge animal rearing over her but she was alone.

She was, however, in a stable—a loose-box about fifteen feet square with a bed of wood shavings spread across the floor six inches deep and banked up around the edges.

After another five minutes or so, when her heart rate had settled, Kelly was able to get to her feet and explore the parameters of her prison.

The stable was blockwork construction, lined to about four feet with vertical timber planks. There was a door and a window in one wall. The window had bars every three inches—narrow enough, presumably, to stop a horse getting its nose through.

When Kelly peered out cautiously through the grimy cobwebbed glass she could see a row of similar stables opposite, across a swept concrete yard. Behind the other stables was the roof of a substantial stone house. If she craned into the corner she could just see the back door. It was closed. There were no people about.

She gave the stable door an experimental rattle but both upper and lower halves were bolted from the outside. A bucket of fresh water and a filled hayrack suggested the box was in use or would be shortly.

So this was a temporary holding cell.

Is that good or bad?

Kelly could not remember being transported here from the woods but could only imagine that here was the trainer’s yard she’d been watching earlier. The buildings she could see looked similar.

And at least she could remember everything that had happened right up to the point she got herself clobbered. She touched a hand to her jaw again and reflected that having to eat soup for a while was a small price to pay.

It could have been worse.

She looked around her. The walls on either side of the loose-box did not go all the way up to the peak. They were flat—level with the eaves—so the row of stables shared a common open roof space. Above the walls were only dust-covered beams and the felt underside of the roof itself. Considering the walls and door were built to keep three-quarter-ton horses from straying, forcing her way out there was a non-starter.

The roof, however, might be a different matter.

Kelly dipped a hand into the bucket and splashed a little water onto her face. It was cold enough to have a wake-up effect. She was thirsty but not enough to try drinking it.

They’d taken her backpack and the keys to the Omega, which had been in a trouser pocket, but they’d left her boots. Not the best outcome but again, not as bad as it could have been.

Kelly stood in the centre of the stable and took stock of her options. Even if she got out of here, she now had no access to her transport. Trying to run might provoke a stronger display of force.

There was always the possibility that they’d locked her up while they waited for the police to arrive but from what she’d learned of Harry Grogan somehow she doubted that was the way he dealt with things.

Noises outside had her darting to the window. Through the dusty glass she saw figures coming out of the door to the house. One was the thin man who’d accosted her with the shotgun. The other was the big guy whose fist she’d run smack bang into. And rarely, she felt, did a description fit so aptly.

Their appearance brought her to a quick decision. She moved to the corner with the hayrack. It was made of plastic-coated metal and clearly secure enough to stand a horse yanking hay from between the narrow bars.

Kelly grabbed it with both hands and swung her feet off the floor, hooking one heel over the top and pulling her body up. By balancing on the top edges of the rack it was an easy job to hoist herself onto the dividing wall.

From there she could see she was in the centre box of a row of five. The next stable along didn’t offer anything. It too stood empty with the doors closed and—she assumed—bolted.

But she could see more light at the end of the row. She carefully clambered along the roof trusses until she reached the next wall. Sure enough the top door was open but the stable itself was occupied by a very large grey horse wearing a hessian-type rug. He reacted with a startled snort when a strange woman appeared looming above him.

“Easy now boy,” Kelly tried in a reassuring murmur. “I’m only passing through. Nothing to worry about.”

Sadly, her voice betrayed her doubt and the horse was tuned into tone not words. As she swung her leg over the wall he skittered away blowing hard through his flared nostrils. His feet scuffed through the wood shavings as he did so and she heard the metallic drag of an iron-shod hoof against the concrete underneath.

The shavings might provide her with a soft landing but that would do her no good at all if the horse kicked her to death out of sheer fright once she got down.

This stable also had a hayrack, and she edged along the top of the wall until she was directly over it. Slithering down into the rack had the grey horse backing into the far corner, white showing all around the iris of his bulging eyes. His ears flicked back and forth sending out semaphore distress signals.

Kelly pulled out a couple of handfuls of hay and held them out to the horse, clicking her tongue encouragingly. He favoured her with a look of absolute disdain.

“Oh sod you then,” Kelly muttered, dropping the hay. She lowered herself over the side of the rack and landed lightly enough on the ground that the animal didn’t have a fit at having a small human suddenly sharing his boudoir. In fact, now she was down at a level he was used to the horse’s curiosity overcame his fear. He took a couple of steps forwards and stretched out his elegant nose towards her, snuffling at her sleeve with a surprisingly muscular upper lip.

The closest Kelly had been before to a real horse was a distant donkey ride on the sands at Margate as a toddler. She found this one much too big and overwhelming by comparison, but when she tried to elbow him away his ears flattened immediately.

“Like to get your own way don’t you Dobbin?”

Further along the row of stables she heard a bolt being shot back then voices rising in alarm as they realised she’d gone. The grey horse, ever curious, barged past her and stuck his head outside. By peering through the gap between the top of the door and the underside of his neck Kelly could just see the two men looking round frantically. Their shouts had brought more people out into the yard—stable hands mostly, by the look of them.

She realised that her chances of a successful covert escape had just dropped to nil.

Somebody calmed down enough to start barking instructions for a methodical search. From what she could see, Kelly thought it was the big guy in charge—the one who’d knocked her out. She didn’t recognise his voice but she did recognise his accent.

Russian.

Kelly shrank back. Already they were unbolting the loose box next door, slamming the door again with a shout of, “Clear!” The grey horse was leaning against his own door craning his neck round to watch them as if it were the most exciting thing he’d seen in ages.

There wasn’t time to hide and nowhere to go anyway. Kelly caught a glimpse of a face appearing, prodding the horse back, then there was more shouting, triumphant this time and the door was thrown wide.

“Got her!”

The horse, startled by the sudden raised voices, took a couple of quick steps in reverse. Kelly had to dart to one side to avoid being flattened and put a steadying hand on his rug at the shoulder.

It was only as she did so that she saw the alarm in the faces crowding the open doorway. Somewhere behind them a man swore.

“Christ, she’s in with Mr Grogan’s colt!”

Something in his voice tipped it. Acting on pure survival instinct Kelly grabbed hold of a handful of mane. She had to reach up a long way to do it. She lifted her booted foot and placed it, edge on, against the grey horse’s impossibly fine-boned thoroughbred front leg, just level with his knee.

“Come any closer and the only races this horse’ll be running in future will be three-legged ones,” she snapped, injecting as much quiet savagery into it as she could manage. They had to believe her. If they didn’t . . .