‘A Wash of Black’ is Chris McDonald’s debut novel. The first book in the DI Erika Piper series, it was published in paperback yesterday the 4th February 2020 by Red Dog Press and is also available as an eBook.
I would like to thank Red Dog Press for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. I have been hearing so many great things about this book so it is a real pleasure to be taking part.
I have an extract from ‘A Wash of Black’ for you all. There is also a giveaway at the bottom of the page which is being run by the publisher. First though here’s the blurb.
IT’S NOT LIFE THAT IMITATES ART. IT’S DEATH.
Anna Symons. Famous. Talented. Dead.
The body of a famous actress is found mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, recreating a scene from a blockbuster film she starred in years ago.
DI Erika Piper, having only recently returned to work after suffering a near-fatal attack herself, finds she must once again prove her worth as the hunt for the media-dubbed ‘Blood Ice Killer’ intensifies.
But when another body is found and, this time, the killer issues a personal threat, Erika must do more than put aside her demons to crack the case, or suffer the deadly consequences.
If you like Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Cara Hunter, you will love this
HE WIPES HIS BROW and takes a moment to admire his handiwork – this is how it should have been done the first time around, he thinks to himself. It takes all the willpower in the world to step away from the body, the intoxicating aroma of the blood attempting to entice him back, but he knows that he must make sure it has been done properly.
He unfolds the page containing the words he has read countless times; words he could recite in his sleep, but he knows that now is not the time to become careless. He pores over the torn-out page from his favourite book, glancing up every now and then at the scene in front of him. When he is fully happy that nothing has been overlooked, he slips the page back into the plastic wallet and hides it away before making his way carefully off the ice and onto terra firma.
Before he slips out the side door and onto the deserted street, his eyes drink in the bloodbath he is leaving behind. In his head, this isn’t murder; it’s art.
THE FLASHING BLUE LIGHT disturbs the stillness of the morning, dancing over the nearby buildings. There are already three patrol cars and a fleet of vans belonging to the forensic team assembled in the car park. It must be bad, I think.
Exiting my own car, I pull my hood as far over my face as I can, to shelter from the howling wind and the unrelenting rain; not out of place on this dismal December morning.
Uniformed police officers scurry about, securing the crime scene with blue and white tape as a few early morning passers-by look on. I duck under and enter the erected blue tent, signing the log book. Looking up, I spot Liam at the door to the ice rink; he’s waiting for me, already dressed in a protective suit. I slip into my own suit and pull on a pair of gloves.
‘Morning, Erika,’ Liam calls, checking his watch, ‘Good of you to make it.’
Detective Liam Sutton has been my partner for two years now, three if you count my enforced year of absence. Liam and I gelled quickly and became a hell of a force.
He’s tall and lean with clear blue eyes. His hair is shaved tight to his scalp, through choice, not necessity, his dark stubble the same length. He has a penchant for fashion, his fitted shirts always accessorised with a well-chosen tie. If he could get away with a trilby, he’d try.
‘Nice to be back,’ I say. ‘What have we got?’
‘Let’s find John, I don’t want to spoil his fun, he’d never forgive me,’ Liam says, attempting a hug but seemingly thinking better of it mid-way through his approach. It turns into an oafish tap on the shoulder instead and I smile at his awkwardness.
We push the tent flaps aside and enter the lobby of the ice rink. It has a disused look about it, the remnants of popcorn machines and dusty hot dog ovens creating a forlorn scene, like we’ve stepped into a dystopian future.
Scene-of-crime officers are already studiously going about their job, prowling the area with cameras hanging around their necks.
Liam and I cross the foyer and push open the double doors into the ice rink, a frigid blast of ice biting at the small amount of skin foolish enough to be left exposed.
We walk towards the rink, perch on the barrier between solid floor and ice and survey the scene. A shudder courses through my body which has nothing to do with the cold. I’m used to seeing what the worst of humanity is capable of, but sometimes the sheer brutality of it all takes me by surprise. I realise my hand has subconsciously covered my stomach.
In the middle of the ice lie the remains of a woman. She may have been beautiful once, but no longer in death. Serrated blades hold her long limbs tight to the ice. Her head is angled, as if searching for an impossible escape. A gaping black-hole swirls where her neck once was.
On the other side of the rink, a broken door leading to the street is at the mercy of the wind. Police tape has been rolled across it at waist height, and a uniformed officer has been handed the short straw, tasked with keeping vigil just outside in the pouring rain.
John Kirrane is the forensic pathologist present at the scene; the best the city of Manchester has to offer. He is perhaps the thinnest man I have ever seen, as if his appetite is limited by the grisly nature of his job. Understandable really.
From under his hairnet, tight rings of short ginger hair curl around the legs of his glasses, securing them steadfastly in place. His spindly fingers hold a recorder to his lips and he speaks into it at regular intervals, when he spots something of note. He glances towards us and raises a hand in recognition.
‘Erika! Give me two minutes and I’ll be with you,’ he shouts, his voice echoing around us.
We watch him go about his work before clicking off his recording device and walking over the metal stepping plates towards us.
‘Erika, it’s fantastic to see you. You’re back for good now?’
‘Yep, and fit as a fiddle,’ I nod.
‘I’m so glad,’ he beams, ‘horrible business.’ He shakes his head, clears the emotion away. ‘Martin has done all he can on the ice,’ he says, looking over my shoulder at the head Scene of Crime officer.
He puts his hand in the air to attract Martin’s attention. ‘I’ll just talk through the body and then she’s all yours,’ he calls. Martin nods his head and stoops down, unzips his bag and readies his tools. He’s a short, squat man with the eyes of an eagle.
‘Shall we?’ asks John.
Liam and I step carefully onto the metal plates and advance towards the body.
The scene is a mess; so much blood. The crimson liquid has pooled underneath her body where the knives were plunged into her arms and legs. It has seeped slowly across the slick, icy surface from those same wounds.
Unusually, the blood from her jagged throat laceration has all spilled in the same direction. Most of it has crept a little way from her neck, while some has spurted quite a distance across the ice.
The dead woman is wearing blue skinny jeans, a yellow halter neck top and black stiletto boots. A thin gold chain sits mournfully on her chest. On her left hand, she wears an engagement ring with a cluster of diamonds.
‘Undoubtedly a homicide,’ John states. ‘Won’t know for certain on cause of death until I get her on the slab, but I’d hedge my bets on exsanguination, blood loss from the throat.’
I lean in for a closer look at the throat.
‘You’ll notice that the blood from the throat has sprayed in one direction,’ he continues. ‘Usually, you’d expect to see the blood spatter in an arc.’ He moves his hand in a slow semi-circular motion to compound his point.
‘Has something stopped her head from moving?’ Liam interrupts.
‘Someone,’ replies John. ‘If you look here,’ he motions to the left side of her face, ‘you’ll see a faint soleprint,’ replies John.
I close my eyes and picture the scene. The killer pins this poor girl down with the steel blades, stands over her. He lifts his boot and presses it onto the side of her face, pushing it down onto the ice. He cuts her throat and keeps his weight on her cheek, ensuring the blood doesn’t spray his way.
John’s voice stirs me from my thoughts. ‘Her tongue has been cut out too.’
‘Could be somewhere in here,’ I suggest, looking around the room at the foldable plastic seats facing towards the ice.
‘Or, the sick fucker who did this has taken it as some sort of trophy,’ says Liam.
I nod. ‘John, tell Martin about the tongue. He’ll get his team to sweep every inch of this place.’ John nods, makes a note.
‘Time of death?’ asks Liam.
‘Hard to tell, the temperature has slowed livor mortis but considering blood lividity I’d say roughly between seven and eight hours ago,’ replies John.
‘So, we’re looking around two this morning,’ I mutter, checking my watch.
‘It’s not the first time she’s died like that,’ says Liam, suddenly.
John and I look at each other, confused, then back to Liam.
‘What do you mean?’ I ask.
‘You really do not appreciate popular culture, do you? Don’t you recognise her?’
‘I thought her face looked familiar, but I can’t place it. What do you mean about dying the same way twice?’
‘It’s Anna Symons, the actor. She was in a film where she was killed just like this – knives through the arms and legs, throat cut. Her tongue wasn’t removed as far as I can remember, though she was naked in the film, so my attention could’ve been elsewhere.’
‘First of all; you are gross.’ He sticks his tongue out at me. ‘Secondly, why didn’t you lead with this information?’ I ask, incredulously.
‘Well, John was on a roll and I didn’t want to interrupt.’
‘Fair play,’ I say. ‘What was the name of the film?’
‘No idea. It came out a few years ago.’
‘Odd. So the killer has recreated a scene from a film, but made changes?’ I say. ‘And if the film came out years ago, why now?’
‘Beats me,’ Liam declares.
I take out my notebook. I need to find out the name of that film.
‘I’ll have more details on the body in a few days,’ says John. ‘They’ll be on your desk as soon as I’m done. Erika, it really is lovely to see you back. Take care of yourself.’ He gives me a warm smile, before turning and signalling to Martin that the body is ready to be moved.
We carefully make our way off the ice and Martin and his team assume control of the crime scene once more.
‘Who found the body?’ I ask Liam.
‘A Mr. Farrier, he’s the manager. He’s waiting in his office for us.’
We walk back through the foyer and up the stairs. A uniformed officer is waiting at the top of the stairs, to prevent anyone from leaving or entering. We walk past him and enter the manager’s room.
It’s a small room with a window overlooking the ice rink, though the blinds have been pulled as far across as they can. Behind a flimsy desk sits a man with a trimmed goatee and short, cropped hair.
‘Mr Farrier,’ I say, extending my hand.
‘Please, call me Tony,’ he says, getting up from his seat and giving my hand a limp shake. He’s as white as a sheet. He motions to two empty chairs in front of him and we take him up on his unspoken offer.
‘Tony, I’m Detective Inspector Erika Piper. This is my partner, Detective Sergeant Liam Sutton. Please can you run us through what happened?’
‘Well, I got to work at seven this morning as normal. The ice rink doesn’t open until later, but there is so much to do; stocktaking, making sure the ice skates are clean, paired and ready to go and what have you.’
He waves his hand as if he knows his information is boring.
‘I usually come up here first but I was drawn to the rink, thought I could hear a banging. When I went in, the light was on which was unusual ‘cos I always turn them on last. I saw the door smashing against the frame. Broken into, I thought.’
He wipes sweat from his brow with his forearm. Smacks his dry lips together and takes a sip of water. As he sets it down, the plastic bottle springs back into shape with a crack that makes him jump.
‘Sorry, I’m a bit on edge.’ He barks an embarrassed laugh. ‘Anyway, as I walked towards the door I glanced at the ice and saw… it. Her. I ran up to the office as fast as I could and called the police.’
‘Was anyone else here?’ I ask.
‘No, just me,’ he replies.
‘Wouldn’t an alarm go off, if the door was kicked in?’ Liam enquires.
He grimaces. ‘A few years ago, yeah. But the people who own the rink stopped paying for that service. They don’t give a shit about this place, not anymore. No security, CCTV up the duff. It used to be amazing; multi-screen cinema, soft play for the little ones. Now the only part left open is the rink. Reckon it’s on the way out too, along with my job,’ he adds, glumly.
‘Worked here long?’ Liam asks.
‘I’ve given twenty years of my life to this fine establishment. It was state of the art when it opened. I started straight out of school, not got the brains to do much else. Though, I worked my way up to manager so I suppose that’s something.’
‘Has anything like this happened before?’
‘God no,’ he says, ‘we’ve had a few break-ins over the years, but nothing like this.’
I change tack.
‘Where were you last night?’
‘I was at my brother’s house. He had a bit of a party. I was sensible though ‘cos I knew I had to get up early this morning. Hate working with a hangover.’
‘And people could verify this?’
‘Absolutely, I was there with my wife. Loads of friends there too.’
‘Thank you, Tony, you’ve been very helpful. Obviously, this place will have to stay closed for the time being. If there is any other information you think of, please let us know.’
He takes my proffered card and we leave his room, walking down the stairs to the foyer again.
‘What do you reckon?’ I ask Liam.
‘Can’t see why he’d lie,’ offers Liam, ‘I’ll look into his story and make sure he was where he says he was.’
He scribbles in a notebook before replacing it in his pocket. The doors of the rink open and Martin walks out, holding an evidence bag.
‘Found a page from a book on the far side of the room,’ he says, holding the bag aloft for me to see the contents. ‘It seems to be from a crime book, detailing this murder.’
‘Good work, Martin. I’d like a copy of the page on my desk as soon as you can.’
‘Right-o’ he says, already marching towards the door.
‘Any sign of the tongue?’ Liam calls after him. He stops where he is and turns to face us again, the look on his face suggests he thinks we are wasting his precious time.
‘Don’t you think I would’ve mentioned that?’ he asks, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. ‘No, I think the tongue has gone with whoever has done this.’
He turns around once more and leaves the building.
’I think we’re done here,’ I say to Liam. ‘The SOCO’s will let us know if anything else turns up.’
Liam nods in agreement. ‘Aren’t you glad you picked today to come back to work?’
‘Delighted,’ I mumble.
‘A Wash of Black’ is available from:-
Amazon – mybook.to/AWOB
Red Dog Press – www.reddpgpress.co.uk/shop – paperback and hardback editions
Also available in all Libraries and Bookstores – Independent or otherwise!
About Chris McDonald
Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in South Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, The Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure, before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime.
He’s a fan of 5-a-side football, has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Damien Rice to Slayer and loves dogs.
Details: The prize is a signed Hardback edition of A Wash of Black, along with a Go Away I’m Reading Tote Bag and a Luxury Bookmark.
The giveaway runs from 28th Jan to 11th Feb, and we (Red Dog Press) will announce the randomly chosen winner on the evening of the 11th Feb (GMT)
Routes to entry are all on the giveaway link, but basically, sign up to Red Dog Press Reader’s Club (which also gets you discounts in our store, a free eBook, and latest news from us), following us on twitter. Entrants who tweet our promo tweet get two bonus entries.