Saturday 4 April 2015

So who is the hunter and who is the prey?

It gives me great pleasure to announce that HUNTED, the fifth novel in my DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg series will be published on May 7 this year.

Rather excitingly, there will be an official launch party at Waterstones in Liverpool, during the course of which I’ll be interviewed by that inestimable man and fellow Northwest-based crime author, LUCA VESTE. At the time of this writing, the Waterstones launch will either take place on May 7 itself at around 6pm, or on May 6 if all involved decide that the General Election, also scheduled for that day, becomes too much of a distraction. Please watch this space for further updates.

Regarding HUNTED itself – my personal view is that this will be the best Heck novel so far, but it’s already got a bit of history to it. Originally, this book was going to be third in the Heck series, and in fact was written in first draft form almost two years ago. However, shortly before it was due to go into production, Avon Books began to note a groundswell of opinion among online reviewers that they wanted a sequel to the first Heck novel, in which our much-battered police hero was in pursuit of a rape and kidnap gang called The Nice Guys Club. A sequel to the first Heck novel had always been in the works. However, on this basis we decided to fast-track it forward into the third slot, and move HUNTED back a couple of places.  


And then something alighted on Dazzer's shoulder.
Despite the wild swerving of the car, it had descended slowly, patiently – on a single silken thread – and when he turned his head to look at it, it tensed, clamping him like a hand. In the flickering hallucinogenic light, he caught brief glimpses of vivid, tiger-stripe colours and clustered demonic eyes peering at him from point-blank.
The bite it planted on his neck was like a punch from a fist.
Dazzer’s foot jammed the accelerator to the floor as his entire body went into spasms. The actual wound quickly turned numb, but searing pain shot through the rest of his body in repeated lightning strokes.
Neither lad noticed as the car mounted an embankment, engine yowling, smoke and tattered grass pouring from its tyres. It smashed through the wooden palings at the top, and then crashed down through shrubs and undergrowth, turning over and over in the process, and landing upside down in a deep-cut country lane.

For quite a few seconds there was almost no sound: the odd groan of twisted metal, steam hissing in spirals from numerous rents in mangled bodywork.
The two concussed shapes inside, while still breathing, were barely alive in any conventional sense: torn, bloodied and battered, locked in contorted paralysis. They were still aware of their surroundings, but unable to resist as various miniature forms, having ridden out the collision in niches and crevices, now re-emerged to scurry over their warm, tortured flesh. Deggsy’s jaw was fixed rigid; he could voice no complaint – neither as a mumble nor a scream – when the pale-shelled scorpion reacquainted itself with him, creeping slowly up his body on its jointed stick-legs and finally settling on his face, where, with great deliberation it seemed, it snared his nose and his left ear in its pincers, arched its tail again – and embedded its stinger deep into his goggling eyeball.


HUNTED represents something of a return to normality for Heck. In the fourth book, DEAD MAN WALKING (the ebook of which is available from Amazon this month for only 99p!), he had been seconded to a small rural unit in the heart of the Lake District, where in the depths of a perishing winter fog, he found himself grappling with an unknown and faceless killer who was cheerfully picking off members of a remote village community high in the inaccessible fells. Nearly all the action took place over a single night of terror – so it was less about a police investigation and more about a simple game of survival.

Now, in HUNTED, Heck is back with the Serial Crimes Unit – a specialist investigation team attached to Scotland Yard’s elite National Crime Group – but is still somewhat estranged from his boss and former girlfriend, Gemma Piper. He cops for what initially looks like a straightforward case when he is asked to check out the circumstances surrounding an unlikely but fatal accident in the heart of the Surrey weald. A successful local businessman has been found burned to death in his car. However, when Heck learns that the same man only just survived another very different but equally unlikely accident a few weeks earlier, he begins to wonder if there might be foul play at work.


‘Possibly a silly question,’ Gail said, eyeing the large forensic tent covering the garden’s northeast corner. ‘But I assume he’s dead.’
‘I sincerely hope so,’ Gibson said, lifting the flap and standing aside. ‘This isn’t very pretty.’
Gail went through, and found herself gazing into the semi-imploded shell of a greenhouse. Its interior was all but destroyed, nothing more now than a mountainous mass of glass shards mingled with black soil, shreds of tomato plants, and hunks of freshly butchered human meat. Though she’d tried to prepare herself for this, she felt the skin tighten around her mouth, her lunchtime sandwich curdling in her belly.


Needless to say, it isn’t long before Heck discovers that all across the leafy county there has been a succession of bizarre, apparently accidental deaths.

He isn’t buying it, but even then could never realise that he is about to embark on a hunt for the most patient and painstaking, and yet the weirdest killer he’s ever encountered …


A few moments passed as man and manikin stared at each other, Heck’s neck hairs prickling. This time the thing remained stationary, even when he advanced again and came up close to it. It was exactly what he’d thought it was: a garden gnome, complete with beard, pointed nose, pointed ears, and pointed hat. It was about a foot and a half in height, and its once-garish colours had mostly weathered away. And yet it was hideous – so much so that he grimaced as he lifted it down from the shelf.
Where each of its eyes had once been, a black X had been etched, first gouged with a blade, and then filled in with black pen. Its mouth was a thin red line, with red trickles added to either side to create a vampire effect. Either the original paint job had run, or someone else had been handy with a different-coloured pen. For all his revulsion, Heck turned it several times in his hands, but could find nothing out of the ordinary. It was no more than a lump of sculpted, slightly mouldy plaster. He placed it back on the shelf and stepped back. Bewildered.
And then the disfigured gnome leaped at him.


One wouldn't normally associate leafy commuter belt Surrey with all this kind of nastiness, but appearances can be so decpetive. As I say, the hunt begins on May 7. The only question is, who will be hunting who? 

(The spider pic is by Jarekt. Not sure who the artists responsible for the others are, but if they want to step forward, I'll happily post their credits or will take down).