Extract: Day of the Dead by Nicci French
As autumn leaves fall, a serial killer runs amok in the capital, playing games with the police. The death toll is rising fast, and the investigation is floundering. But this is no ordinary killer, and every new victim is intended as a message to just one woman. Because psychologist Frieda Klein is in hiding. And someone is coming to find her…
Day of the Dead
Simon Tearle, visiting senior lecturer in criminology at Guildhall College, University of London, poured two mugs of coffee from his cafetière. To one he added a teaspoon of honey, to the other a splash of half-fat milk. He took them over to his desk. When he told his students that his door was always open to them, he hoped they wouldn’t take him literally. But Lola Hayes had taken him literally and he handed her the white coffee. This was the day when he had a few minutes alone, where he could do anything he wanted. He could go online, do the crossword, stand in the window and look out on Russell Square. Tantalizingly, he could glimpse the square behind Lola’s head, the golden leaves of the plane trees.
Tearle sipped at his coffee and looked at his student. Lola Hayes’s face was round, pale, freckled, with large grey-green eyes. Her hair was soft and brown. She seemed to have no hard edges anywhere. She examined his office with an eager interest, as if she was fascinated by his choice of pictures on the wall, the objects on his desk.
‘So?’ he said.
‘Your coming to see me. Is something the matter?’
‘My mind’s a complete blank,’ she said.
‘About what? About why you’re here?’
‘About the dissertation. I can’t think of what to write about.’
Dissertation. The very word made Tearle shudder. By the end of the first term of the second year, each student had to have written a ten-thousand-word dissertation on a subject relevant to the field of criminology. Ten thousand words. Tearle had fifteen students. Fifteen times ten thousand added up to a hundred and fifty thousand words. Tearle would have to read every one of those words, write comments and award marks.
‘So what are your friends doing?’
Lola’s nose wrinkled in concentration. ‘I think Ellie’s writing about historical sexual abuse.’
‘Yes, but it’s such a big subject. And Ellie’s already doing it. And Rob’s doing something about DNA.’
‘Which is also interesting. And important.’
‘I’m terrible at science. That’s why I chose criminology.’
‘Actually, we do think of criminology as a science. The clue is in the “ology”.’
‘It’s just that I don’t understand the chemistry bit.’
Tearle was silent for a moment. ‘Lola, do you think that criminology is a good fit for you?’
Her eyes widened alarm. ‘Totally,’ she said. ‘I’ve had a really great time doing it.’
Tearle had been hoping for ‘inspiring’ or ‘stimulating’ rather than ‘a great time’. He tapped on his keyboard, calling up her last year’s marks. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘In fact, you’ve been doing well. Very well.’ Lola’s face
flushed red. ‘All right, Lola, are you interested in something historical?’
‘I’d rather do something current.’
‘Not so much.’
‘What about a person?’
Lola’s expression instantly changed. Finally she looked alert, engaged. ‘Exactly. I’d much rather write about people than ideas or science.’
Tearle suggested a series of names: a lawyer who had chaired a public inquiry; a home secretary; a police commissioner; a campaigner. None of them seemed to raise much interest. Why was he doing this? They were supposed to be grown-ups. Couldn’t she find her own subject? But he needed to come up with something, if only to get Lola out of his office. Then an idea occurred to him. He walked over to his filing cabinet and pulled open a drawer. He flicked through the different categories until he found a file of random press cuttings he kept. He dumped them on his desk and started leafing through them: trial reports, interviews with crime victims, surveys on crime rates, nothing seemed quite right. Then one news story caught his eye.
‘You want a person?’ he said. ‘Here’s a person. Have you heard of Frieda Klein?’