Charlie Fox book one
'Susie Hollins may have been no great shakes as a karaoke singer, but I didn't think that was enough reason for anyone to want to kill her.'
This opening book in the series introduces Charlie Fox, a tough new heroine who can very definitely take care of herself. Charlie makes a living of sorts teaching self-defence to women. It's a skill she picked up out of necessity having been kicked out of the army for reasons she prefers not to go into.
"The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant"
New York Times
So, when Susie Hollins is found dead after she mistakenly tussles with Charlie at the New Adelphi Club, Charlie knows it's only a matter of time before the police come calling. What they don't tell her is that the unlucky Hollins is the latest victim of a homicidal rapist stalking the local area.
Charlie finds herself inadvertently drawn into the investigation when the New Adelphi's enigmatic owner, Marc Quinn, offers her a job. Viewed as an outsider by the existing all-male security team, her suspicion that there's a link between the club and the serial killer doesn't exactly endear her to anyone. Charlie has always taught her students that it's better to run away than to stand and fight. But, when the killer starts taking a very personal interest, it becomes clear that he isn't going to give her that option.
From the author's notebook
While I was in the midst of writing KILLER INSTINCT, one of the local nightclubs in Lancaster, where the book is set, was raided and shut down for drug-related reasons that seemed eerily to mirror events in the book!
Anyone who followed the scandal over abuse of army trainees at the Deep Cut military base in the UK, which occurred while I was writing this book, would find Charlie's traumatic army experiences readily understandable.
For anyone who's interested, the self-defence technique Charlie uses trying to break up the fight at the New Adelphi in chapter nine is a genuine one, taught to me by Ian ['this won't hurt'] Cottam. I know, I have the bruises to prove it.
Seventh up for the karaoke was a spotty teenager who clearly thought he was a star in the making. 'There you go, ladies and gents,' Dave commented as he left the stage, 'perfect boy band material if ever I saw it − can't sing and can't dance, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had a recording contract before the night is out.'
There was general laughter and he paused to nod to Clare. She smiled nervously, clutched quickly at my hand, and was up on the stage. There were a few whistles of appreciation which Dave waved into silence.
'Yeah, yeah, I know, but settle down, boys. This is Clare Elliot, and it's her first time up here on karaoke night at the New Adelphi Club, so go easy on her, OK?'
"Zoë Sharp's Charlie Fox is my favorite woman in the thriller genre"
Lesa's Book Critiques
There were raucous shouts at that and Dave grinned at them. 'Clare's an accounts secretary for the local paper, lives in Caton, and − sorry to disappoint you, boys − but she's already spoken for.' He looked at me as he said that.
I could see him playing mix and match with the relationship between the two of us. Frankly I didn't much care what combination he finally came up with. I thought of Clare's feller, Jacob who was back at home, smiled sweetly, and said nothing.
'So, here she is, and even if she turns out to be as tone-deaf as the rest of you lot, at least you can put your fingers in your ears and enjoy looking at her. Give it up now for Clare Elliot!'
As the cheers died down I realised that I'd no idea what song Clare had chosen. It took me a couple of beats of the introduction before I recognised Cry Me A River. Clare paused a fraction to gather herself, then closed her eyes and started to sing.
Life's a bitch, isn't it? Not only had Clare been front of the line when looks and brains were handed out, but she'd been right up there in the queue for vocals as well.
The familiar words of the song came out clear and powerful, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. To begin with there was a stunned silence. By the time Clare reached the first chorus it was obvious she was far and away the best there.
I felt someone jostle my arm and glanced sideways to find Tony had returned from the bar, dragging a disgruntled-looking Susie with him. He didn't look any more attractive when he was gawping, and her prettiness had disappeared in the face of jealous spite.
'She's a ringer,' Susie swore. 'That bitch is no amateur. They've brought her in just to stop me winning again!' Her voice had that slight slur of someone who's approached the evening's drinking not as the designated driver.
"Charlie Fox is one of the most vivid and engaging heroines ever to swagger onto the pages of a book"
Tony wasn't so good at expressing himself in words, but he managed a couple of things of an earthy nature that only succeeded in making him sound more ignorant than he had before. Susie stood fuming visibly for another half verse, then resorted to violence.
As she launched herself at the stage, Clare stopped singing and gave a squeak of fright. Susie tried to snatch the mic out of her hand. I looked round for security, but there was no sign of anyone near.
When Clare had asked me for moral support, I didn't think this was quite what she had in mind. I had already started to move when Susie backhanded Clare across the face. Oh shit.
The stage was a couple of feet above the dance floor, which gave her an advantage of superior height. I evened up the odds by bringing Susie back down to my level. I simply grasped hold of one leg, swung her round off her feet, and let go.
She had no idea how to break a fall and she landed, hard, on her backside a couple of metres from the stage, showing her underwear to the world. A space in the club goers appeared magically around her. Everyone backed away to the edges of the floor. It was clear I was going to get an audience rather than any assistance.
I stepped between the two women with my hands spread to placate. 'Come on now, Susie, don't make trouble,' I said. 'Just leave her alone.' I had to give her a chance to back down, otherwise if I damaged her I was going to be neck-deep in trouble.
Susie cursed as she scrambled to her feet. She was quite a bit taller than I was, and she had me easily in weight. My only advantage was complete sobriety and the sort of blacklist of dirty tricks that I definitely don't teach to my pupils.
She came at me again. I stood my ground until she was half a stride away, then ducked under her reaching claws, grabbed, and gave a good twist with some leverage in just the right place. Susie ended up right back where she started. Well, maybe she landed a little harder this time.
"The only person more kick-ass than Charlie Fox is her creator, Zoë Sharp"
New York Times
She wasn't short of guts, I'll give her that. As fast as she could get back up she was charging me again, like an enraged Spanish bull. I felt like a matador as I fended her off. I noted with mild interest that she travelled further face down, sliding along the polished dance floor on her lavish bosom.
I had time then to look round for back-up, which seemed to be a damned long time coming, in my opinion. I made sure the fourth time Susie went down, she went down more solidly, and stayed down for longer.
She had no special fighting skills, had lost her temper, and was too close to being drunk to work out a decent strategy of attack. I was working round a fairly basic series of aikido throws, using her size and speed against her, but I was getting pretty bored with the game.
This time when she regained an upright position it had finally penetrated that she had to be more careful. She clenched her fist and tried to throw a good old-fashioned right. She couldn't have given me any more warning of the punch if she'd sent me faxed confirmation.
I blocked her easily enough, and caught hold of her arm, circling her wrist to dig in deep with my fingers and thumb on the underside. She bellowed and froze like her muscles had gone into spasm.
I was suddenly aware that I had something of a tiger by the tail. As long as I kept hold of her I was OK. The pain you can inflict using Kyusho-Jitsu pressure point techniques is more than enough to render an opponent immobile. But unless I was prepared to actually knock her out, things were going to get very interesting when I let go.
There was also the possibility that sooner or later Tony was going to come out of his stupor long enough to wade in. I didn't want to have to hold on to Susie, and deck her amorous boyfriend at the same time. Not without either giving or receiving some serious injury. Damn it.
The problem was solved for me by a big man who pushed his way through the crowd. I noticed the way people deferred to him, and stood my ground. Our gaze met over Susie's loudly swearing form and his brow quirked upwards.
He stopped a pace away and took in the scene, not rushing into anything. He was wearing black trousers, expensive enough to drape well as he moved, and a black silk shirt without a collar. His eyes were so pale a colour as to be almost translucent.
'You seem to have everything pretty much under control, but would you like me to take this off your hands?' he enquired politely, inclining his head slightly as he spoke so that it was almost a bow.
'What?' I said, then glanced down as if noticing Susie for the first time. 'Oh, this? Well, that would be kind of you,' I smiled, adding with an edge, 'seeing as the security in this place seem to be worse than useless.'
He paused a moment, the merest hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, then took hold of the back of Susie's neck hard enough to whiten his knuckles, professionally yanking her free arm round and halfway up her back. I relinquished control with some relief.
'Don't go away, I'd like to talk to you,' the man said to me, adding cheerfully to his captive, 'Come on, lady, time to go!' He strode off the dance floor propelling Susie vigorously ahead of him.