Friday 18 April 2014

The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan Blog Tour and Excerpt!

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Title : The Dead Ground
Author : Claire McGowan
Pages : 391
Published : April 10th 2014 by Headline
Source : From Publisher

A stolen baby. A murdered woman. A decades-old atrocity. Something connects them all.

A month before Christmas, and Ballyterrin on the Irish border lies under a thick pall of snow. When a newborn baby goes missing from hospital, it's all too close to home for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who's wrestling with the hardest decision of her life.

Then a woman is found in a stone circle with her stomach cut open and it's clear a brutal killer is on the loose.

As another child is taken and a pregnant woman goes missing, Paula is caught up in the hunt for a killer no one can trace, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Amazon :

Excerpt (From The Lost, Book 1 ) : 

 York, May 
 ‘Imagine all of you went missing.’ She waited until they were all listening, putting down their pens on top of blank paper pads, sitting up straight. Light filtered in through the dusty blinds of the room. ‘Every two minutes in this country, someone disappears – that’s over 200,000 a year.’ She paused so they could take in the numbers. They were listening now; attentive. Mostly middle-aged men, a few women dotted here and there. Nobody younger than her. She clicked the next slide. ‘Research shows we can divide the missing into four main groups. If we take a hypothetical one hundred people – all of you here – statistically, sixty-four will have gone missing voluntarily. Money trouble, family breakdown . . . many reasons.’ I can’t go on. I just can’t bear it any more. ‘Around nineteen in the hundred will drift away. People in this category typically have weak societal bonds, addiction problems – drugs, alcohol.’ Envelopes piling up in a hallway, Return to Sender scrawled across the name. ‘Many in these groups will come home again, or be found safe years She clicked again, and in the dark they scribbled down her words. ‘And some people don’t mean to go missing. They just get lost somehow, on the way to the shops or the bingo hall. They may not remember who they are, where they’re meant to be.’ Something slipping out of your pocket, a loss you don’t even feel until it’s too late. ‘This group makes up sixteen out of the hundred.’ Some in the audience had begun to count, and she could see they knew what she’d say next. ‘This leaves the one per cent. Among the missing, this is the one who didn’t want to go. Who knew exactly where they were going, and remembered their own name. The reason this person disappeared is what keeps me awake at night. Who took them? What happened? Where are they?’ She could see them nod, taking notes, and she stopped and put down her laser-pointer, and didn’t say the rest, what was really on her mind when she ran these numbers and figures. When I think about her – which I try not to do – I hope she wasn’t in the one per cent. But sometimes, I must admit, I hope she was – because otherwise, it means she wanted to go. 
 Chapter One 
 Berkshire, September There was no point in running. Everyone knew that. The response team knew, crouching in the early dawn. It was the first morning it had felt really cold, and a wintry sun tinted the windows of the vans where they huddled. The reporters half a mile off in the village, doing hushed live broadcasts, they knew. ‘As police move in to search for missing Kaylee Morris, hope is fading fast . . .’ Even the girl’s parents, staring at blank walls back in the police station, squeezing the blood from each other’s hands, they knew too, deep down. After a month gone, taken on her way home from school, the police weren’t likely to find her alive. A body, maybe, for the parents to bury. Better than not knowing. Gentle lies that she hadn’t suffered. No, there was no point in running up the damp field to the ramshackle cottage on the hill. But when the lead officer silently lifted his Hi-Vis arm, she was out and moving too, over the wet ground. Her feet squelched, red hair tangled in her face. Ragged breaths tore her lungs. She reached the trees and crashed through, branches ripping at her face, and only stopped when strong arms pinned her. A voice in her ear. ‘Where the hell are you going? I told you to stay put!’ She struggled. ‘Please. I have to!’ The policeman’s face was kind between his helmet and bright jacket. ‘Let it go, Paula. You’ve done your bit.’ Ahead of them, dark figures took up silent positions round the cottage. Paula sagged and gave up. The sky was streaking pink with dawn. Overhead, the trails of planes to Heathrow, oblivious. And up in the house, a single light was burning. At times like this, Paula liked to focus her eyes on a jokey plaque someone had pinned up behind the boss’s bald head. You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps. Was it possible he’d put it there? Could there be a spark of humour somewhere inside the red-faced man who was currently reading her the riot act? She tuned in from time to time, just to keep the thread of what it was she’d done. ‘. . . don’t know how many times I’ve told you come to me first, don’t go haring off to the middle of nowhere, somewhere not even in our JURISDICTION . . .’ The rhythm was almost soothing. Blah blah blah blah blah BLAH blah. ‘. . . once again taking it upon yourself to enter a crime scene, when if I may remind you, you are not a police officer, Miss Maguire – and yes, I am calling you Miss on purpose, you can put that in your employment tribunal and smoke it, because let me tell you, you’ll get short shrift . . .’ Paula sucked on the nail she’d split running into the bushes. The fount of adrenaline was still pumping under her ribcage, and outside she could hear muffled cheers and pops as her uniformed colleagues celebrated. Because unlike her, they were actually supposed to go to crime scenes where convicted rapists were holding abducted girls hostage. ‘. . . all very well to sit here with your little theories, look at the messages on Facebooker or whatever it is – well, let me tell you, that’s not how we work here.’ Paula lowered her hand. There’d be no time to grow the nail back for the weekend. ‘Look,’ she broke in. ‘I know I’m not supposed to go to crime scenes. But I had to see her. I had to see her come out.’ He gave a grunt of irritation. ‘I don’t make these things up to try you, Miss Maguire. There’s a reason we have rules and regulations. You’re supposed to have a desk job. What would I tell your family, if you were injured?’ Paula stared at her shoes until the pricking in her eyes subsided. If she cried in front of him, she’d never forgive herself. ‘But we found her, didn’t we? We found her safe.’ The boss had run himself down, like a wind-up toy. ‘Yes. We did find her.’ ‘So.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Official warning, full report, that sort of thing?’ He grimaced. ‘Full report by eight a.m., with your deductive reasoning set out. But the warning . . .’ He gripped his pen as if it gave him actual pain to speak. ‘The parents are very pleased, of course. Very positive PR for the force. So in the circumstances . . .’ ‘Right.’ She was getting up. ‘So in conclusion, you don’t want me to go to crime scenes?’ ‘No, Miss Maguire, you must not go to crime scenes, ever, ever, EVER. Unless for some reason I tell you to. Which I won’t, after today.’ ‘If you say so.’ She moved to the door. ‘I’m not finished.’ She turned round. ‘Please – sit down.’ When Paula reluctantly sat, he fixed her with his flinty eyes, exasperated. ‘This has to stop, Paula.’ ‘I know.’ ‘You have a consultant post, yes? Forensic psychologist? We aren’t covered to have you in dangerous situations. I believe we’ve been over this. And over.’ ‘I know.’ He seemed to think for a moment, then sighed and slid a letter across the desk, neatly squaring it off. ‘That came for me today.’ She glanced at it, scanning the text. ‘About time, I suppose. They want your help?’ As one of the country’s most advanced missing persons departments, they were often asked to consult for other forces. ‘They want you.’ God knows why, his raised eyebrows said. ‘Seems you’ve made quite the impression. What was that paper you gave at the York policing conference – “The Psychobabble of the Lost” or something? Earlier this year, if I recall.’ She didn’t react. ‘“Psychopathology: A Case Review in London’s Largest Missing Persons’ Unit”.’ Or ‘this shithole here’, as it was also known by most of its occupants. ‘Hmm. Well, it must have worked – they want you to help set up a cold case review team.’ He threw a folder over; making a breeze that ruffled her hair. ‘Given that you haven’t entirely . . . meshed here, I wonder if perhaps a move sideways—’ She didn’t look at it. ‘I’m not going back.’ ‘I thought you’d jump at the chance. It is your home town, isn’t it?’ ‘I live here now.’ ‘It’s a good opportunity. I hear there’s reams of old unsolveds over there. Not to mention however many thousands vanishing each year.’ ‘Six,’ she said. Her blue eyes held his bloodshot ones. ‘Six thousand missing every year in Ireland. Sixteen a day, on average.’ He gave a grunt of something that might have been satis- faction. ‘And a little bird tells me your father’s not been well.’ She shifted restlessly, hating that he knew things about her. ‘He broke his leg, but he’s OK. He doesn’t need me.’ He spoke as if he’d planned the words carefully. ‘I’d have thought you’d be quite keen on this kind of work, Miss Maguire. With your family history.’ Her face clenched. ‘If you think that, Inspector, you’ve another think coming.’ ‘Just take the damn file. At least consider it. I feel it would be a good outcome for you. And for me, if I’m perfectly honest.’ She took it, but her eyes didn’t leave his face. ‘Is that all?’ His pen was getting mangled. ‘I just have to ask, Paula—’ ‘Yes?’ ‘How did you know? How did you guess, that she wanted to go with him? That he didn’t take her at all?’ Paula thought about it. ‘Inspector – have you any idea what it’s like to be a teenage girl?’ ‘Is that supposed to be funny?’ ‘No. Well, I don’t think I can explain it, then. See you later.’ ‘I prefer sir, Miss Maguire.’ She called over her shoulder, making her red hair bounce. ‘I prefer Doctor.’ Behind her she heard the snap as the boss’s pen broke in two. Outside, Paula was washed in the glow of a happy incident room, sleeves rolled up and discreet cups of corner-shop fizz circulating under desks. Not really allowed, but it wasn’t every day a girl was abducted by a sex offender and brought home safe and sound. Beyond the tinted windows of the Rotherhithe station, even the Thames was lit with sharp autumn light, as if joining in the celebrations. Photos of Kaylee smiled down from every wall. Paula had been picturing her all this time as a cheerful girl: the pink scrunchie, the frizzy dark curls. Not the snarling young woman they’d found in the cottage, hair bobbed and bleached out of recognition. ‘Not even a scratch on the girl!’ It came out gurrrl, as relief sharpened DS McDonald’s Edinburgh accent. He squeezed Paula round the shoulder. It was McDonald who’d brought her to the scene, when she came to him with her theory, waving the internet history Computer Crime had got off Kaylee’s pink netbook, saying they had to go now, they had to rescue her. Paula knew she was supposed to go to the boss first, but there hadn’t been time. There was never time, not when you had to find someone at all costs. ‘It was this one here,’ McDonald called to the team. ‘When she said, How do we know Kaylee’s even been abducted, it just clicked. We were going at it all the wrong way. And then you said, Go back to the girl’s computer, see what she searched for, and there’s the cottage in her history, and she’s in it, right as rain. Which is more than can be said for my DC.’ ‘Is he OK?’ ‘Bit of a shiner. It’s not often your rescuee belts you one.’ That was true. The girl hadn’t been restrained when they brought her in; why would she be, poor, kidnapped Kaylee Morris? She’d lunged across the station at the officer handcuffed to her ‘fiancé’: paedophile, rapist, and suspected murderer Mickey Jones, forty-three – AKA hotmickey18, as he’d posed on the site where they’d met. Kaylee was fifteen and two stone overweight, but before anyone could reach her she’d given the DC a black eye, screaming, ‘Let him go! He loves me! He’s the only one who cares about me. I hate you all!’ Which was nice, after the month-long, multi-million- pound investigation, posters in every shop in London, TV appeals, all trying to find the supposedly missing girl who wasn’t even lost. In the incident room, the DS slapped Paula’s back. Never a touchy-feely man, he seemed almost giddy with success. All that time looking for the girl. Hoping she was alive; sure she was dead. ‘Tell them how you worked it out.’ ‘Ah, no—’ ‘Tell them! It’s brilliant.’ Reluctantly, Paula looked around at the team. ‘It was all in your reports, really. I just did the analysis. That friend of hers who said Kaylee was desperate to “lose it” . . . you know. The Pill prescription you found in her room.’ ‘And the rest – tell them!’ ‘The offender profile. Mickey Jones. His previous record – he’d always approached the women first. Tried to talk to them, then lost his temper when they weren’t interested. He doesn’t look to hurt, this one – not at first. He looks for love.’ She suppressed a small shiver. ‘You see?’ They looked blank, all except one of the new Community Liaison Officers, WPC Singh. Her voice was soft. ‘They were planning it.’ Paula nodded. ‘There you go. It made me think – maybe she was planning to go off with him. Maybe he didn’t abduct her at all. So if we checked her internet searches . . .’ The DS was shaking his head. ‘And we found her safe and sound. Never thought I’d see the day. Bloody great work – proud of you all today.’ He pointed at the file in Paula’s hands. ‘See you got the Ireland offer then.’ She shrugged. ‘Allen just wants rid of me.’ McDonald didn’t deny it. ‘Well, have a drink, lass, you deserve it.’ ‘He wants his report.’ ‘Ach, let him wait. Take a moment, for God’s sake.’ ‘I can’t – too much work.’ That wasn’t the real reason Paula couldn’t celebrate with cheap wine and cheer, but it would do. She retreated to her own glass cubicle and closed the door, took a deep breath. Tried to clear her mind of how the girl had shrieked as they tore her from Mickey Jones’s arms, and the man’s crazy, jittering eyes as they locked him away. Paula jumped as her door swung open again, bringing in a babble of happy voices. ‘McDonald says drink this.’ One of the PCs was putting a plastic cup on her desk. ‘Amazing, isn’t it? Everyone’s dead chuffed.’ The officer – what was his name again? – leant against the wall, and she watched his long legs stretch out. Andy, was that it? ‘Yeah. It’s great.’ Andy, if that was his name, had lovely eyes, blue as police sirens and blatantly checking her out. ‘Hey, eh, Paula? You fancy a drink after work, maybe? Celebrate?’ How old was he? Twenty-seven, twenty-eight? A few years younger than her, she was sure. She looked down at her broken nail. ‘I don’t think so. I’m a bit manic here. Maybe another time.’ He was too open. He was thinking, Is she saying no, or is she really busy? She watched confusion slide over his face. He said, ‘All right. Catch you later.’ ‘Bye.’ As he went out, her expression changed. Really, she hadn’t time for all this. Kaylee Morris was found, but the in- tray groaned with those who were still lost. She placed Kaylee’s file on her right, under out, and lifted the next case off from her left. Picking up the flimsy cup, she took a swig of the cheap sour wine, and set to work. The next day’s dawn was colder, mist leaching in from the Thames and creeping up to the windows of Paula’s Docklands flat. She watched it from the sofa, her tea grown cold. It was only seven but she’d been awake for hours. Papers were scattered all around her towelling dressing-gown. A male noise came from the bedroom, a throat-clearing nose-blowing sort of noise, and out came PC Andy, wrapped in a very small towel. He ducked his head, shy. Despite his good looks and strapping frame, she’d realised last night he didn’t do this very often. That was a shame. It made things easier if they did. ‘Up already? Didn’t hear you stir.’ He ambled over. She swirled the grey tea round her cup, embarrassed at how she’d peeled herself out from his heavy arm and escaped to the living room. He was a cuddler – who’d have guessed? ‘I’m not a great sleeper, sometimes.’ ‘No? My mum takes these tablets. All herbal, so it’s healthy, like.’ Paula sighed. Could she get him out without making breakfast? The pale light of dawn highlighted his ribbed stomach, the strong arms grasping the towel. Muscles shifted in his shoulders and she sighed again. ‘Sorry, Andy. I’ve got paperwork.’ He peered over her shoulder. ‘That the Ireland thing? What is it, cold cases and that?’ ‘Yeah. There’s a big problem with it over there – lots never got solved, with the border and everything.’ ‘Sounds like a wicked opportunity.’ ‘Does it? I think sometimes the past is better left alone.’ He looked surprised for a moment. ‘But I thought—’ She shut the file. ‘Anyway, I’m not going.’ ‘Well.’ He held the towel awkwardly. ‘Can’t say I want you disappearing anyway.’ She stood up. ‘Sorry. I’ve got to get some work done.’ ‘Ah, fair enough.’ He looked about him. ‘Do you know where my—?’ ‘Here.’ She pushed his jeans across to him with her foot. ‘Your T-shirt’s in the kitchen.’ ‘Right.’ The backs of the policeman’s clean ears were turning pink. God, he was nice. He bumbled into her small strip of kitchen with his towel, knocking into the fridge and dislodging one of the magnets. A photo fluttered down like a dead leaf. ‘Crap, sorry. Clumsy.’ He picked the photo up. ‘That’s your mum, is it? She looks just like you.’ Paula was already moving towards him, but she steeled herself not to snatch it back. ‘Just put it on the side, would you?’ When he did, she slid her hand over the smooth surface of the photo, covering it. He cleared his throat. ‘Right, I best—’ ‘Yeah. You know the way out, don’t you.’ When she heard the door shut she placed the picture back on the fridge, adding an extra magnet in the shape of a strawberry. She wiped his prints off with the sleeve of her dressing-gown. Paula looked at the picture for a long time. Another girl found safe, that was good. But once again she was realising it would never be enough.

Claire McGowan

Claire McGowan was born in 1981 in a small Irish village where the most exciting thing that ever happened was some cows getting loose on the road. After studying at Oxford and living in China and France, she now lives in London, where there aren’t any cows but there is the occasional murder in her street. She was previously Director of the Crime Writers’ Association and now teaches on the first ever crime-writing MA at City University. Despite being steeped in crime the worst thing she has ever done in real life is walk on some grass when the sign explicitly said not to. Claire’s debut novel THE FALL was published in January 2012 and received brilliant reviews. THE LOST followed in April 2013, garnering fantastic praise and has now been optioned by BBC Drama to develop into a series for BBC One. The DEAD GROUND is the second book featuring Paula Maguire.

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