In this fast-moving suspense novel, Detective Adam Stanley searches for Miles Muldoon, a hardworking, career-minded businessman, and Pinevale’s latest serial killer.
Evidence puts Muldoon at each scene giving the police a prima facie case against him.
But as the body count rises, and their suspect begins taunting them, this seemingly simple case develops into something far more personal when Muldoon turns his attention to Adam and his family.
The wooden window frame splinters as I twist the crowbar, making a gap wide enough for me to reach inside and unfasten the latch.
I glance around in the cold, crisp darkness and wait, hardly breathing. Most of the neighbours would've hit the sack hours ago, so I don't think anybody will get up to investigate the sound.
I stuff the crowbar into the rucksack at my feet, and shove it through the open window into the kitchen-dinette beyond. Dragging a chair from the wooden outdoor table set, I place it beside the wall, jump onto it and climb in through the window.
The apartment is silent and in total darkness as I knew it would be. I move quickly wasting no time. I flick on the light above the cooker and begin.
Methodically I go through each room, ransacking every drawer and cupboard, upending anything that isn’t fastened down.
In the bedroom, I gag as I smear my message across the wall above the bed. I stand back to admire my handiwork.
Racing to the bathroom, I avoid my reflection in the mirror above the sink as I scrub my hands.
Back downstairs, I grab a five-inch knife from the knife block and head for the front door. A framed photograph I'd missed earlier taunts me. Using the butt of the knife, I smash the frame to smithereens, and with the blade I eliminate the smiling face.
With the rucksack on my back, I open the front door. The brightly lit corridor makes me wince and shield my eyes. I reach up and jab out the closest bulb with the knife. Now this end of the corridor is in partial darkness. I take a couple of steps towards the door opposite.
Michael is security-conscious and given the late hour will be extra vigilant. I knock and turn my back knowing he will look out through the peephole he loves so much and see the open door opposite. The dirty old bastard won't hesitate.
As I suspect, within moments, the door is thrown open.
"Sal?" he says, stepping forwards.
I turn to face him.
He’s startled at first and takes a step back then smiles, relieved. "Oh, it's you. You had me worried for a second."
As I lift the knife, I spot the delicious terror in his eyes. But the reactions of this feeble old man are much too slow for me and the blade punctures his chest. I relish in that first blow. I smile at his confusion. I triumph as the realisation dawns on his face.
I push the old man inside and he falls backwards crashing into an old-fashioned cabinet, sending shards of glass in all directions.
I enter and close the door behind us.
Adam's phone rang for the second time in as many minutes which wouldn’t normally be an issue. However, the phone was deep in the pocket of the jeans currently in a pile around his ankles.
"Somebody's popular." The doctor chuckled as he gently examined Adam's testicles.
"Sorry, Doc. I'm on call." He fixed his eyes on the doctor's balding head. "Can you feel it?"
"I can feel a swelling, not surprising considering the trauma you suffered." He stood upright and snapped off his gloves. "You can get dressed again now." He stepped to the side of the room to wash his hands.
Adam pulled his boxers and jeans up and sat in the chair opposite the doctor who was now focused on the computer screen, his fingers moving at lightning speed across the keyboard.
"I need to ask a few questions, Adam."
"Did you experience any aches or discomfort in your testicles prior to the kick?"
"That's a good sign. How about your sex life? Any problems there?"
"No. My wife is due to give birth in a few weeks, so obviously we don't...you know...too often."
The doctor smiled and nodded. "Of course. But when you have had intercourse recently, you didn’t experience any problems?"
The phone began ringing again. Adam reached for it and hit the mute button, trying to disguise his embarrassment. "I'm sorry?"
"Believe me, Adam, these questions are just as difficult for me to ask." He cleared his throat. "So, any problems masturbating?"
"No. I've had no problems in that department until last week when I took a size nine to the knackers. Since then, one of my balls has been swollen and bloody painful."
The doctor smiled again and nodded. "I'm going to give you some painkillers for the discomfort, but make an appointment to come back next week, and if it’s no better I’ll arrange for a scan."
"Okay, thanks, Doc."
Adam took the prescription straight to the pharmacist and checked his phone while he waited. Three missed calls from Frances. He called her back.
"Hey, Frances. Sorry, but you caught me with my pants down, literally. What's up?"
"I'm not even gonna ask you what you're up to—I don't want to know." She huffed. "There's been a homicide. Number fourteen Caspian Villas. I'm on my way over there now."
"Okay. I'll meet you there." He hung up and strode from the pharmacy, his painkillers forgotten.
He tooted his horn at Frances' car which was in front of him at the traffic lights, and then followed her to the crime scene.
They climbed out of their cars beside a row of eight redeveloped town houses. "So, fill me in." He braced himself as a blast of icy November wind bit through the fabric of his jacket.
He knew each townhouse had been converted into two lavish apartments from his flat hunting episode when he arrived from Manchester last year.
"We received a call from Sally Kemp. She came home this morning to find her apartment trashed, and when she knocked on the neighbour’s door she found him dead. Stabbed."
"You think he may have disturbed the intruder?"
"Possibly. Here we are."
They ducked underneath the police tape that cordoned off the second-to-last house in the row. Before entering the crime scene, they paused to don bootees and gloves.
The shared hallway was long and narrow with two doorways at the end on either side. To the left, a body lay scrunched directly inside the door. The injuries made it impossible for him to work out the age of the victim.
"Anything?" He crouched down beside Felix, the medical examiner.
"Meet Michael Curtis, a retired sixty-eight-year-old naval officer. He's been dead around five hours. Multiple knife wounds. The blade snapped off in his skull."
Adam winced and touched the spot on his own head, just above the ear, where he'd been stabbed a few months ago. He stood upright and moved for Frances to take a look.
In the hallway he noticed the lightbulb above the doors had been smashed leaving jagged glass and the bayonet fitting still in place.
Frances stepped into the hallway, and he pointed his pen towards the light fitting and glass fragments on the carpet below.
The door to the right was wide open, and as Adam stepped over the threshold he gasped. The corridor had two doors off it, one closed, and the place had been ransacked. But the worst part was the awful smell. "What the hell?" he said, covering his nose and mouth with his forearm.
"Faeces." A uniformed officer appeared at the top of the stairs. "Come on up."
Adam blew out of his mouth and shook his head in disgust before he walked up the narrow staircase.
Frances followed close behind.
Off the small landing were a bathroom and two bedrooms. The officer led them into the master bedroom. It held a large, ornate, wooden double bed and matching furniture. Faeces smeared above the bed, across the cream and gold wallpaper, spelled out DIE YOU BITCH.
"Charming. Where's the owner? What's her name, Frances?"
"Sally Kemp," she said through the fabric of her shirt that she'd used to cover her mouth and nose.
"Sally Kemp. Where is she?" He turned back to the officer.
"She's next door at number sixteen. Clearly distraught at finding her dead neighbour. She says she knows who's responsible though."
"She reckons her ex, Miles Muldoon, did it."
Next door, a middle-aged woman with long, mousey, recently-styled curls and a small yapping dog shoved under one arm, led them through to her lounge. The woman’s hair amazed Adam as they walked behind her. It moved like a solid piece of cardboard. She must have emptied a whole can of hairspray on it.
Sally Kemp, an incredibly attractive redhead who appeared to be in her late twenties, was rather more composed than Adam had expected.
She glanced up as they entered and darted a questioning glance to the mumsy-looking female officer sitting beside her.
The officer nodded and patted the younger woman's hand.
"Hi, Ms Kemp. I'm DI Adam Stanley and this is DS Holly Frances.” They showed their badges.
"Take a seat, detectives." She motioned towards the black velour sofa opposite, an exact match to the one she and the officer were sitting on.
Adam took the lead as usual. "We need to ask you a few questions."
"Can you tell me exactly what happened and where you were last night?"
"Yes, of course. I've been staying at my father's house for the past few days. He's sick. The late stages of cancer."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said.
She nodded. "You must know him, my dad. Charlie Kemp?"
Confused, Adam lifted his chin in question.
"He used to be Chief Constable up until a few years ago," Frances said.
"Yes, that's right. I've taken some time off work in order to help care for him. Well, among other reasons."
Adam's interest piqued, but he didn't interrupt.
"I only came back this morning to water the plants and pick up a change of clothes, and I walked into that." She pointed her manicured finger towards the adjoining wall. "Heaven knows when it happened."
Frances nodded. "How awful. What did you do?"
Sally took a deep, controlled breath. "I did what I always do in a crisis. I ran to see Michael. He never misses anything. But as I knocked, the door swung inwards and that's when I found him." She dropped her head, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a screwed-up tissue. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
The officer put her hand on the woman's arm.
"That's okay. You've had a terrible shock," Adam said.
"I know who did this." She threw the tissue down, and her eyes flashed angrily.
"Okay." Adam nodded. "Maybe you can explain who you think may be responsible and why?"
"Miles Muldoon, my ex. He hated Michael and even accused us of having an affair! I mean, no disrespect to Michael, but he's old enough to be my granddad."
"What made Miles think there was more going on?"
"He's sick. I'm close to Michael, was close to Michael. I found him interesting and thoughtful. We just got on. Why does everybody immediately think a male-female relationship has to be sexual?"
Adam shrugged, tapping his pen on his chin. "But Miles didn't believe you?"
"Depending on what mood he was in. He knew the truth, but it still didn't stop him from throwing it in my face any time we had an argument. He hated him. Always called him a dirty old man and said he lusted after me."
"What did Michael say?"
"He didn't know. I didn't let on, and Miles would never accuse him to his face. He's not the type to air his dirty laundry in public. If you ask anybody, they’ll tell you Miles is a true gent. Michael knew we were having problems, but I never discussed any of them with him."
"How long were the two of you an item?" Frances asked.
"Almost three years."
"And you think he's capable of doing something like this?" Adam frowned. "We're talking cold-blooded murder."
"I know. And yes, I do. I’ve seen how angry he can get."
"Is that why you split up with him?" Frances asked.
"No." She shook her head. "I was too scared to break up with him. He had a ferocious temper."
"Then how?" Frances shrugged.
"He left me for another woman. Someone we work with. Miles is our boss at Pinevale Publishing."
"Hang on a minute." Adam sat on the edge of the sofa and winced inwardly as the pain in his testicles almost brought tears to his eyes. He altered his position slightly and the pain decreased. "This doesn't make sense. If he left you, why would he come back and do something like this?”
"Because I warned Lana, the other woman. I told her to be careful because he was abusive. I didn't think she believed me at first. But then I got a call from Miles screaming that I'd pay—that we'd all pay."
"When was this?" Adam said.
"We're going to need to take your phone, if that's ok?"
A deep furrow appeared between her eyebrows. "How long for? My whole life is on that phone."
"I'll get our technician onto it right away and will have it back to you as soon as possible."
She took her phone from the black leather bag at her feet and handed it to the officer.
"Thanks." Adam got to his feet. "Now, we’re going to need a formal statement from you at some stage. And can you give us Mr Muldoon's address?"
"He doesn't have one. He was staying at the hotel just past the roundabout on The Old Road. I can't remember the name of it."
"The Sentinel?" Frances suggested.
"Yeah, that's the one. He moved out of here last week after telling me about him and Lana." A fresh bout of tears began to flow.
Adam nodded to Frances and turned to leave.
Netta Newbound, originally from Manchester, England, now lives in New Zealand with her husband Paul and their boxer dog Alfie. She has three grown-up children and two delicious grandchildren.
As a child, Netta was plagued by a wild imagination, often getting in trouble for making up weird and wonderful stories. Yet she didn't turn her attention to writing until after her children had grown and left home.
Although she mostly writes psychological thriller novels, all of which consistently rank highly in the best seller categories, she has also written several non-fiction books with a close friend and fellow author under the names of Sandra Rose & Jeanette Simone.