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A young lawyer’s outwardly perfect life spirals out of control as she takes on her first murder case in this “dark, original and utterly compelling” domestic noir for readers of Paula Hawkins, A.J. Finn, or Shari Lapena. (Lisa Jewell, New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone)
Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise–she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…
Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.
Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.
I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.
Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.
I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.
But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….
First, you light a cigarette, the smoke curling in on itself and up towards the ceiling. It catches at the back of your throat with the first draw before seeping into your lungs and easing into your bloodstream with a tingle. You put the fag down in the ashtray before turning to set your scene. Kneeling over the back of the sofa, you tie the rope onto the shelves, the smoke sliding up your face and stinging your eyes.
Next, you wrap a silk scarf round the rope to soften it and pull at it once, twice, to make sure it’s secure. You’ve done this before. You have practiced, tested. Measured it to a perfect calibration. So far, and no farther. No drop. Only a little death wanted here.
The screen is set up, the film you selected ready to play.
And the final cut, the orange you have laid out on a plate. You pick up the knife, a sharp one with a wooden handle, a steel-dappled blade, and you push it into the fruit. A half, a quarter. An eighth. The peel orange, the pith white, the flesh bleeding out to red at the edges, a sunset spectrum.
These are all the textures you need. The sting of the smoke in the air, the figures dancing on the screen before your eyes. The padding of the silk soft against the coarse rope. The thumping of the blood in your ears as you come closer and closer, the sweet burst of citrus on your tongue to pull you back from there to here, before the point of no return.
It works every time. You know you’re safe, alone.
Behind the locked door, just you and the glorious summit you’re about to reach.
Only a few beats away.
The October sky lies gray above me and my wheelie bag’s heavy but I wait for the bus and count my blessings. The trial is finished, kicked out at halftime after a legal argument on the basis of insufficient evidence. It’s always pleasing to get one up on the prosecution and my client’s over the moon. And the biggest plus of all, it’s Friday. Weekend. Home time. I’ve been planning for this—I’m doing things differently tonight. One drink, two at the most, then I’m off. The bus pulls up and I make my way back over the Thames.
Once I arrive at chambers, I go straight to the clerks’ room and wait for them to notice me amid the ringing phones and whir of the photocopier. At last Mark looks up.
“Evening, miss. The solicitor called—they’re well pleased you got that robbery kicked out.”
“Thanks, Mark,” I say. “The ID evidence was crap. I’m glad it’s done, though.”
“Good result. Nothing for Monday, but this has come in for you.” He gestures down to a slim pile of papers sitting on his desk, tied together with pink tape. It doesn’t look very impressive.
“That’s great. Thank you. What is it?”
“A murder. And you’re leading it,” he says, handing the papers over with a wink. “Nice one, miss.”
He walks out of the room before I can reply. I stand holding the bundle, clerks and pupils moving past me in the usual Friday rush. A murder. Leading my first murder. What I’ve been building up to all my professional life.
With an effort, I focus on the speakers.
“Are you coming for a drink? We’re on the way.” Sankar and Robert, both barristers in their thirties, with a collection of pupils trailing behind them. “We’re meeting Patrick at the Dock.”
Their words sink in. “Patrick? Which Patrick? Bryars?”
“No, Saunders. Eddie’s just finished a case with him and they’re celebrating. That fraud, it’s finally come to an end.”
“Right. I’ll just put these away. See you in there.” Clutching my brief, I walk out of the room, keeping my head down. My neck’s flushed warm and I don’t want anyone to spot the red blotches.
Safely in my room, I shut the door and check my face. Lipstick on, flush toned down with powder. Hands too shaky for eyeliner but I brush my hair and reapply scent; no need to carry the stench of the cells with me.
I push the papers to the back of the desk, straighten the photograph frame I’ve nudged out of line. Friday-night drinks. But I’m only going for one.
Tonight it’s going to go to plan.
Our group fills half the bar’s basement, a dingy place frequented by criminal lawyers and their clerks. As I walk down the stairs Robert waves his glass at me and I sit down next to him.
“Wine. Definitely. Only one, though. I want to be home early tonight.”
No one comments. Patrick hasn’t said hello. He’s sitting on the opposite side of the table, engrossed in conversation with one of the pupils—that Alexia—holding a glass of red wine. Distinguished, handsome. I force myself to look away.
“Looking good, Alison. Had a haircut?” Sankar’s buoyant. “Don’t you think she’s looking good, Robert, Patrick? Patrick?” More emphasis. Patrick doesn’t look up. Robert turns from talking to one of the junior clerks, nods and toasts me with his pint.
“Well done on the murder! Leading it too. You’ll be a QC before you know it—didn’t I tell you, after you did so well in the Court of Appeal last year?”
“Let’s not get carried away,” I say. “But thank you. You seem in a good mood.” My voice is cheerful. I don’t care if Patrick noticed me coming in or not.
“It’s Friday and I’m off to Suffolk for a week. You should try having a holiday sometime.”
I smile and nod. Of course I should. A week on the coast, perhaps. For a moment I imagine skipping through the waves like a figure in the playful portraits seen in a certain kind of holiday cottage. Later I’d eat fish and chips on the beach, wrapped up against the October chill blowing off the North Sea before lighting a fire in the wood-burning stove in my perfectly appointed house. Then I remember the files squatting on my desk. Not now.
Robert pours more wine into my glass. I drink it. The conversation flows around me, Robert shouting to Sankar to Patrick and back to me again, peaks and troughs of bad jokes and laughter. More wine. Another glass. More barristers join in, waving a pack of cigarettes around the table. We smoke outside, another, no, no, let me buy some more I keep stealing yours and the search for change and the stumble upstairs to buy some from behind the bar and no Marlboro Gold only Camels but for now who cares yes let’s have some more wine, and another glass and another and shots of something sticky and dark and the room and the talk and the jokes whirling faster and faster around me.
“I thought you said you were leaving early.” Focus now. Patrick, right in front of me. He resembles a silvered Clive Owen from some angles. I look for them, tipping my head one way, another.
“Christ, you’re pissed.”
I reach out for his hand but he moves sharply away, looking around him. I sit back in my chair, pushing my hair off my face. Everyone else has left now. How did I not notice?
“Where is everybody?”
“Club. That place Swish. Fancy it?”
“I thought you were talking to Alexia.”
“So you did notice me when you came in. I wondered…”
“You were the one who was ignoring me. You didn’t even look up to say hello.” I try and fail to hide my indignation.
“Hey, no need to get stressed. I was giving Alexia some career advice.”
“I bet you bloody were.” Too late now, all the jealousy is spilling out. Why does he always do this to me?
We walk together to the club. I try to take his arm a couple of times but he pulls away and before we reach the entrance, he pushes me into a dark corner between two office blocks, grasping my jaw for emphasis. “Keep your hands off me when we go inside.”
“I never put my hands on you.”
“Bollocks, Alison. The last time we ended up in here you were trying to grope me. You made it so obvious. I’m just trying to protect you.”
“Protect yourself, more like. You don’t want to be seen with me. I’m too old…” My voice trails off.
“If you’re going to talk like that you should just go home. It’s your reputation I’m trying to protect. All your colleagues are in here.”
“You want to get off with Alexia, you’re just getting me out of the way.” Tears leak out of my eyes, any dignity long gone.
“Stop making a scene.” His mouth is close to my ear, the words quiet. “If you make a scene I will never speak to you again. Now get off me.”
He pushes me away and walks round the corner. I stumble on my heels, putting my hand against the wall to hold myself up. Instead of the rough texture of cement and brick, there’s a sticky substance smeared right where I plant my palm. Steady on my feet now, I smell my hand and retch. Shit. Some joker has smeared shit all over the alleyway wall. The smell does more to sober me up than anything Patrick has hissed at me.
Should I take it as a sign to go? Hell no. There’s no way I’m going to leave Patrick to his own devices in that nightclub, not with all those hungry young women desperate to make a good impression on one of chambers’ most important instructing solicitors. I scrape the worst of the mess onto a clean bit of wall and walk with assurance to Swish, smiling at the doorman. If I wash my hands for long enough I’ll get the stink off. No one will ever know.
Tequila? Yes, tequila. Another shot. Yes, a third. The music thumps. Dancing now with Robert and Sankar, now with the clerks, now showing the pupils how it’s done, smiling, joining hands with them and spinning and back to dancing on my own, my arms waving above my head, twenty again and no cares. Another shot, a gin and tonic, head spinning backwards falling through the beat as my hair falls round my face.
Patrick’s in here somewhere but I don’t care, not looking out for him, certainly have no idea that he’s dancing very closely with Alexia with the smile on his face that should just be for me. I can play that game. I walk over to the bar, a wiggle in my stride. Looking good. Dark hair artfully pushed back from my face, fit for nearly forty—the match of any twentysomething in that room. Even Alexia. Especially Alexia. Patrick’ll see oh he’ll be sorry he’ll be so sorry he lost this chance messed this one up…
A new song comes on, with a heavier beat, and two men push past me to get onto the dance floor. I sway on my feet, then fall, unable to stop the momentum, my phone dropping hard out of my pocket. I knock into a woman holding a glass of red wine that spills everywhere, all down her yellow dress and onto my shoes. The woman looks at me in revulsion and turns away. My knees are damp in a pool of spilled booze and I try to gather myself a little before standing.
I look up, then down again. “Leave me alone.”
“Not when you’re in this state. Come on.”
Patrick. I want to cry. “Stop laughing at me.”
“I’m not laughing at you. I just want you to get up and get out of here. That’s enough for one night.”
“Why do you want to help me?”
“Someone has to. All the rest of your chambers have found a table and are knocking back Prosecco. They won’t notice us leaving.”
“You’ll come with me?”
“If you get on with it.” He reaches out his hand and pulls me up. “Go outside now. I’ll meet you there.”
“My phone…” I look around the floor.
“What about it?”
“I dropped it.” I spot it under a table near the edge of the dance floor. The screen is cracked and sticky with beer. I wipe it off on my skirt and trail out of the club.
He doesn’t touch me as we walk to chambers. We don’t talk, don’t discuss it. I unlock the door, getting the alarm code right on the third attempt. He follows me into my room, ripping at my clothes without kissing me, before pushing me facedown onto the desk. I stand back up and look at him.
“We shouldn’t be doing this.”
“You say that every time.”
“I mean it.”
“You say that every time too.” He laughs, pulls me close and kisses me. I turn my head away but he puts up his hand and twists my face back to his. My mouth’s rigid against his lips for a moment but the smell of him, the taste, overtakes me.
Harder. Faster. My head thumps into the files on the desk as he thrusts into me from behind, pauses for a moment, moves himself.
“I didn’t say…” I start but he laughs, makes a hushing sound. One hand’s pulling my hair and the other’s pushing me down onto the desk and my words turn to a sob, a gasp. Again and again against the desk and then the files fall and as they fall they catch the photograph frame and it falls too and the glass smashes and it’s too much but I can’t stop him and I don’t want to stop him but I do, and on and on and no don’t stop don’t stop, stop it hurts, don’t stop until a groan and he’s done, standing and wiping and straightening.
“We have to stop doing this, Patrick.” I get off the desk and pull up my underwear and tights, tugging my skirt neatly down to my knees. He’s doing his trousers back up, tucking his shirt in. I try to do up my shirt.
“You ripped off a button,” I say, fingers shaking.
“I’m sure you can sew it back on.”
“I can’t sew it on right now.”
“No one will notice. No one’s here. Everyone’s asleep. It’s nearly three in the morning.”
I look around the floor, find the button. Push my feet into my shoes, stumble into the desk. The room’s spinning, my head foggy again.
“I mean it. This has to stop.” I’m trying not to cry.
“As I said, you always say that.” He doesn’t look at me as he pulls his jacket back on.
“I’m finishing this. I can’t deal with it anymore.” Now I’m crying in earnest.
He walks over, holds my face between his palms.
“Alison, you’re pissed. You’re tired. You know you don’t want this to stop. Neither do I.”
“This time I mean it.” I back away from him, trying to look emphatic.
“We’ll see.” He leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. “I’m going to go now. We’ll speak next week.”
Patrick leaves before I can argue any more. I slump into the armchair in the corner. If only I didn’t get so drunk. I wipe the snot and tears away from my face with my jacket sleeve, until my head slumps onto my shoulder in oblivion.
Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”
My eyes are shut and I’m warm and lying in my bed and how lovely that Matilda’s there to say hello.
“Mummy! You slept in your chair. Why did you sleep in your chair?”
Chair. Not bed. Chair.
“Open your eyes, Mummy. Say hello to me and Daddy.”
Not a dream, either. I open one eye, shut it again. “Too bright. It’s too bright. Please turn off the lights.”
“The lights aren’t on, silly Mummy. It’s morning.”
I open my eyes. It’s my chambers, place of my working week, full of briefs, case law, the detritus from the night before. My daughter shouldn’t be standing here in front of me, one hand outstretched on my knee. She should be tucked up in bed at home, or sitting at the kitchen table eating her breakfast. She is here, though. I reach my hand out and cover hers before trying to get myself into some order.
I’m curled up to one side in the armchair, and as I straighten up, I feel my left foot has fallen asleep. I move my legs and wince as blood returns to my extremities. That’s not the bit that hurts most, though. Flashes of the night before burst through my head. I can see the desk over Matilda’s head, shadows of Patrick pounding into me as she leans over and hugs me. I put my arms around her and inhale the scent of her head. It calms the pounding of my heart, a little. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve just fallen asleep in chambers after a bit too much to drink, that’s all. That’s all that’s happened. And I’ve finished with Patrick, too. It’s going to be all right. Maybe.
Finally I feel strength enough to look at Carl. He’s leaning in the doorway, disappointment in every feature, the lines from nose to mouth strongly pronounced. He’s in jeans and a hoodie, as usual, but the silver in his hair and the sternness in his face give him the air of someone decades older than me.
I clear my throat, my mouth dry, looking for the words that might make this all go away.
“I came back from the club to pick up the new brief and then I wanted to have a little sit-down and the next thing I knew…”
Carl is unsmiling. “I thought so.”
“I’m sorry. I really meant to get home sooner.”
“Come on, I know what you’re like. But I really hoped that this time you’d behave like a grown-up.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“I hoped you’d be here, so I thought we’d come and get you and take you home.”
Matilda starts to wander round the room. Before I realize what’s happening she crawls underneath the desk. A sudden cry, a scramble out, straight to me.
“Mummy, look, Mummy, my hand, my hand it hurts, it hurts…” The sobs drown her words. Carl pushes past me and takes hold of her hand, wiping it with a tissue, which he holds up to me. There’s blood on it.
“Why is there broken glass on the floor?” His voice is tight, even as he soothes Matilda.
I get up slowly, move underneath the desk and fish out the photograph frame that was knocked off the night before. Matilda smiles out at me from behind jags of glass.
“My picture was on the floor. Why was it on the floor?” She sobs even louder.
“I must have knocked it off by accident. I’m so sorry, sweetie.”
“You should be more careful.” Carl is angry.
“I didn’t know you’d be coming in.”
He shakes his head. “I should be able to bring Matilda to your office.” He pauses for a moment. “And that’s not the point. I shouldn’t have had to bring Matilda to your office. You should have been home last night. Like a proper mother.”
There’s nothing I can say. I tidy up the rest of the glass and wrap it in an old newspaper before putting it in the bin. The photograph of Matilda itself is undamaged and I take it from the broken frame, leaning it up against the corner of my computer. I tuck my shirt down into my skirt. Carl’s face is furious, his brow knitted, before the rage subsides to an expression of deep sadness. I feel a tightness in my throat, a sharp sensation of guilt and remorse, strong enough to dull the acid taste of my hangover.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
He’s silent for a long while, tiredness etched on his face.
“You look exhausted. I’m so sorry, Carl,” I say.
“I am exhausted. Far too late a night waiting up for you. I should have known better than to bother expecting you home.”
“You should have called.”
“I did. You weren’t picking up.”
Stung by his tone, I pull my phone from my bag. Twelve missed calls. Fifteen texts. I swipe delete. Too much, too late. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
He takes a deep breath. “Let’s not argue in front of Tilly. You’re here now. We’re together.” He walks over to me and puts a hand on my shoulder and for a moment I put my hand up to his, before he takes a tighter hold and shakes me. “It’s time to go home.”
Then he catches sight of my phone. He picks it up and examines the crack. “Honestly, Alison. You only had it mended a few months ago.” He sighs. “I suppose I’ll have to sort it out for you again.”
I don’t argue, meekly following him out of the building.
The journey’s quick to Archway, cars and buses slipstreaming down the empty streets. I lean my head against the window, looking out at the ruins of the night before. Burger wrappers, bottles, and here and there a small street-cleaning cart trundling along, its brushes turning as it erases the traces of Friday night.
Gray’s Inn Road. Cast-iron railings obscuring the view into the expanses of lawn. Rosebery Avenue, Sadler’s Wells—books I read long ago spring into my mind. No Castanets at the Wells, Veronica at the Wells. What was the other one? That was it. Masquerade at the Wells. I know all about that, the masks, the doubling. My hands clench, the knuckles whitening. I’m trying not to think about how the rest of Patrick’s night might have gone. Did he believe me when I said it was over? Did he go home or go back out, to look for my replacement? Carl reaches over from the steering wheel and puts his hand over mine.
“You seem tense. We’ll be home soon.”
“I’m just so sorry, Carl. And tired. We’re all tired, I know.”
I turn farther away from him, trying to push the guilt away, still looking out the window. Past Angel now, the restaurants of Upper Street that start well and end badly in a Wetherspoon’s on Highbury Corner. The hanging baskets trailing off along Holloway Road, student dives above curry houses and the curious row of latex clothing shops catering for tastes Patrick most likely shares.
“Did the trial go well?” Carl says, breaking the silence as we start to drive up the hill towards home. I’m taken aback at the tone of his voice, more friendly than before. Maybe he’s stopped being angry.
“The one you’ve been doing this week, the robbery.”
“I got it kicked out at halftime…” My words come out from very far away, as if through meters of water, my head heavy and floating.
“So you’re free next week? Be nice for you to spend some time with Tilly.”
Not submerged anymore. Jerked suddenly above the surface, spluttering and fighting for breath. He’s still angry.
“Are you trying to make a point?”
“You’ve been very busy recently.”
“You know how important this is to me. To us. Please don’t have a go.”
“I’m not having a go, Alison. I just said it would be nice. That’s all.”
Traffic slowing at the top of Holloway, and the turnoff before Archway. Home. Where the heart is. I reach into my pocket to make sure that my phone’s still there, but stop myself from checking to see if Patrick has texted. I get out of the car and turn to Matilda, a smile firmly on my face. She takes my hand as we walk into the house.
I shower, scrubbing all traces of Patrick from me. I try not to think about my head pushed against the desk, him insistent above me, the pressure that drove hard edges into all of my soft surfaces. I eat the bacon sandwich that Carl leaves congealing for me on the kitchen counter, focusing on the sounds of Matilda playing in the garden, kicking through leaves and scooting round the lawn, back and forth, fort, da. She is a pendulum chiming between this reality and the other one that still isn’t texting me, however firmly I tell myself to stop checking. I start to open the murder file, then close it. The temptation to hide in the brief is almost irresistible, to retreat behind statement and summary rather than confront the reality of my own life and the mess I keep making of it, the ways I upset Carl and Tilly. But I know I’ll only make matters worse if I start working now. Later.
- On Sale
- Feb 19, 2019
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Hachette Book Group