Peter May’s latest book, A Silent Death, is published by Riverrun on 9 January 2020.
Today I can share an extract from the book.
Mackenzie felt the pressure of being late. He hated being late. He built his life around never being late. To the extent that he would set all of his clocks, even his watch, five minutes fast. Despite knowing that his world was five minutes ahead of time, it placed a psychological pressure on him. To go faster. To ensure punctuality. Although it pained him to admit it, the habit was borrowed – or, perhaps, inherited – from his uncle, who also set every timepiece five minutes in advance of real time, and would punish lateness with a stick. Actually, a cane. An old-fashioned walking cane with a curved onyx handle and knuckles on its shaft at six-inch intervals. Mr Kane, he had called it, emphasizing the K. His idea of a joke, a play on words. It hurt like hell. Today Mackenzie had been delayed by Thursday traffic. Roadworks on the A4020. Circumstances beyond his control, and although his watch told him he was twenty minutes late, for once he was relieved to know it was just fifteen. An overactive imagination conjured a picture of Alex waiting at the school gate, a few stragglers pushing past him on to Oaklands Road. Long gone the parental SUVs and people carriers and four-by-fours which ten minutes ago would have choked this narrow street. Turning off Boston Road, beyond the Hanwell Royal Mail delivery office, he accelerated past rows of terraced houses with mean little front gardens. Already he could see the forlorn figure of his son standing outside the gates of the red-and-yellow-brick Edwardian-era primary school. His blazer was too big for him. Susan’s idea of economy. If it was too big for him this year, it would fit him next. And if he didn’t suddenly sprout, they might also get away with it the year after. Had it been warmer Alex might have taken it off and draped it through the strap of his sports bag. But there was a cool wind from the north-east, and he stood hunched against it, drowned by his blazer. To his already distressed father it made him seem all the more pathetic.Mackenzie had been wrong about the stragglers. The street was deserted. Amazing how quickly an entire school could empty itself. Motors idling at the kerbside, pulling away each in turn, a well-practised daily choreography. In his day, Mackenzie had been made to walk to school, regardless of weather. Wet wellies chafing at red calves, shorts clinging to stinging thighs, coats draped over radiators to fill classrooms with steamy damp air on wet winter mornings.Alex would be distressed, he knew, and late for his team’s five-a-side game with the club from Hayes. Although it was just a ten-minute walk to the sports centre, he had been drilled always to wait for one parent or the other. But today his unhappiness went deeper than simply being late for a game of football. Mackenzie saw it the moment he drew up at the gate. Head down, Alex opened the door, threw his sports bag into the back, and slipped into the passenger seat without a word. Mackenzie stared at him. ‘What’s wrong, son?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘I’m sorry, I’m late.’ The boy shrugged and his father frowned. ‘What’s wrong?’‘I told you. Can we go, please? Like you said, you’re late. So I’m late.’ Eyes still turned down towards the footwell. Mackenzie cupped his hand around the boy’s jaw and turned his face towards him. The salty tracks of dried tears were clearly visible on pale cheeks, eyes red-rimmed. ‘We’re not going until you tell me.’ The boy pulled his head away, but his lips remained pressed tightly together. ‘I’m serious. If you want to play football today . . .’ Just nine years old, and already showing great talent with both feet. Alex drew a deep breath and released it in a long, tremulous exhalation. He opened his satchel and pulled out a sheaf of three crumpled sheets and thrust it towards his father without looking at him. Mackenzie could see that the pages were filled on both sides with his son’s characteristic scrawl. The top page bore the title of the piece. What I Did In The Holidays. Big red numerals at the head of the page read 0/25, and beneath them in a tight hand, Hand-writing too big and untidy!!! ‘She didn’t even read it,’ Alex said. Mackenzie’s anger was already manifesting itself in a trembling of the papers in his hand. He snatched the key from the ignition and opened his door. ‘Come on.’ Alex looked at him, startled. ‘What are you doing?’Mackenzie waved the essay at his son. ‘We’re going to see about this.’ He strode around the car and opened the passenger door.‘No, Dad, please. Just forget it. ’‘I will not.’ He took Alex by the arm, and pulled the reluctant boy from his seat. He had met his son’s teacher once at a parent–teacher’s meeting. A young woman. A girl, really. Miss Willow. Couldn’t have been any more than twenty-five, and he had thought at the time that she was far too preoccupied with her appearance. He grabbed Alex’s hand and pulled him in his wake as he strode through the gates and into the school through the side entrance. It had the same institutional smell that he remembered from his own schooldays. Perhaps it was the detergent they used to wash the floors. Alex’s classroom was at the end of a corridor on the second floor. The door stood open, and Miss Willow was still at her desk, wading her way through a pile of children’s essays. She looked up in surprise as Mackenzie dragged his son into the room behind him. Her surprise turned to alarm as he strode up to her desk and banged Alex’s essay down on top of the others.‘ What’s this piece of shit?’ ‘I’m sorry?’ ‘You should be. Alex tells me you didn’t read it. ’‘I . . .’‘Zero out of twenty-five because his handwriting was too big? Are you serious?’ ‘Dad, please!’ Alex pulled his hand free of his father’s, his face pink with humiliation. But Mackenzie was oblivious. ‘Would you dismiss Einstein’s theory of relativity because you didn’t like his handwriting? And it wasn’t too big, you know, it was too small. Notoriously mean. Oh, and, by the way, handwriting is not hyphenated. I can’t believe someone who doesn’t know this is teaching my son English. I take it you do have a degree?’ ‘Of course.’ Miss Willow was recovering from the initial assault and gathering her defences. ‘In what?’ ‘English and drama.’ ‘Oh, drama?’ he said dramatically. ‘That must be where you discovered the propensity for overuse of the exclamation mark.’ He picked up Alex’s essay and waved it at her. ‘Not one exclamation mark, not two. But three. Oh, yes, very dramatic. Alright in social media, perhaps, but not in my son’s classroom. Oh, and another footnote. Exclamation marks were originally called the note of admiration. Perhaps if you had taken the trouble to read this you might have been awarding him many notes of admiration. He took the trouble to write it, the least you could have done is read it.’ And he slammed it back on top of the pile. Colour had risen high on Miss Willow’s cheeks, her lower lip trembling as she fought not to spill her tears. Mackenzie turned to take Alex once again by the hand, and march him back out into the corridor. It wasn’t until they reached the gate, and his anger had subsided a little, that he saw the tears streaming down his son’s face. ‘What? What’s wrong?’ He was genuinely mystified. ‘I hate you,’ the boy spat at him. ‘I really hate you. I’m glad you’ve left. Mum’ll have to find me another school now.’ He thrust his jaw in the direction of the building behind him. ‘I can’t ever go back there.’ Mackenzie was filled with sudden regret. He had only been standing up for the boy, as any dad would. He glanced back at the school and saw Miss Willow standing at her classroom window and knew that she was crying too. He opened the car door. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘We’re going to be late for the football.’ The boy threw himself into the seat and folded his arms across his chest, pouting through his tears. ‘I might just be in time for the final whistle.’ He was almost at the turn-off to Westlea Road when he saw the blue light flashing in his rearview mirror.
About the book
A SILENT VOW
Spain, 2020. When ex-pat fugitive Jack Cleland watches his girlfriend die, gunned down in a pursuit involving officer Cristina Sanchez Pradell, he promises to exact his revenge by destroying the policewoman.
A SILENT LIFE
Cristina’s aunt Ana has been deaf-blind for the entirety of her adult life: the victim of a rare condition named Usher Syndrome. Ana is the centre of Cristina’s world – and of Cleland’s cruel plan.
A SILENT DEATH
John Mackenzie – an ingenious yet irascible Glaswegian investigator – is seconded to aid the Spanish authorities in their manhunt. He alone can silence Cleland before the fugitive has the last, bloody, word.