Title: The Scorched Earth
Author: Rachael Blok
Pub. Date: November 14, 2019
Published & Hosted by: Head of Zeus
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Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2qDjxO7
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/33a4QPW
Who really killed Leo Fenton?
Two years ago, Ben Fenton went camping with his brother Leo. It was the last time they ever saw each other. By the end of that fateful trip, Leo had disappeared, and Ben had been arrested for his murder.
Ben's girlfriend Ana Seabrook has always protested his innocence. Now, on the hottest day of 2018's sweltering heat wave, she receives a phone call from the police. Leo's body has been found, in a freshly dug grave in her own local churchyard. How did it get there? Who really killed him?
St Albans police, led by DCI Jansen, are soon unpicking a web of lies that shimmers beneath the surface of Ana's well-kept village. But as tensions mount, and the tight-knit community begins to unravel, Ana realises that if she wants to absolve her husband, she must unearth the truth alone.
Ben wakes with a headache. Storms seem to churn the men up. It’s the wind, he thinks. It’s the sound of the wind, flying in all directions, unpinned. He doubts many had slept last night.
Waiting for the cell to be opened for breakfast, there is shouting from down the wing. Swearing, words like currency, thrown around to mark status, to warn, to provoke. A porridge of Fs and Cs.
Waking slowly, his eyes straining at the brightness of the strip lights, no curtains, the sun relentless. A fight breaks out somewhere. The noise rattles from cell to cell like a noisy Mexican wave: cat-calling, name-calling.
He dips his head. The base of the top bunk above seems lower today. His back aches. He rises slowly to stand, to stretch up and forward. He doesn’t turn towards the door, or towards the top bunk. He keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the glimmer of the outside; it’s strip bright. The sun is already hot.
Kiz is talking. The dream he had last night, how hungry he is, how noisy it was: ‘…hot, the bird was stonking, I was like. “Yeah, come get it” and then…’
The rattle of words like a hammer against a bin. Battering.
The door opens as Kiz winds up his story and the call for Ben arrives: a bark, but not unkind. Two guards stand outside, both with keys. Already agreeing with Kiz, whose noise is expected, they pacify him as Ben moves past him to stand outside the cell.
‘…right good one, lad, honestly, I proper swear like, never thought, I was arksking him wasn’t I…’
Kiz’s stream of consciousness moves outwards, catching where it will somewhere in the guard who remains behind Ben, supervising inmates carrying boxes of breakfast to deliver: sachets of jam, sachets of tea. Cereal Ben eats because you need to eat.
The packets of food apportioned arrive like the packets of time in here. Everything is boxed. Half an hour for meds. Twenty minutes for breakfast. A nap can last an hour. Sleep is the goal. Lack of consciousness. Kiz is a fan of spice – enforced blackouts. The cost is big, in health and finance.
The relief of the quiet beyond his cell is physical.
He catches Tabs’ eye as he walks past his cell; he is up against the window in the door. The thickset Scotsman nods at him.
A fight kicks off behind another door nearby and a guard shouts to calm them: ‘Don’t kill each other before breakfast. I haven’t had me coffee yet.’
The air is fresh outside. The stroll to the medical block, with its warm air like liquid and the chance to stretch his legs, is worth a chest infection.
Rachael Blok grew up in Durham and now lives in Hertfordshire. Her crime series is set in the cathedral city of St Albans. Here, Maarten Jansen struggles against his plain-speaking Dutch upbringing when faced with the seemingly polite world of the picturesque city. Under the Ice is her first novel.
After studying English Literature at Warwick University, she taught in a boys' comprehensive in Holland Park. She is now a full-time author. About writing, she has said: 'I'm constantly surprised how differently stories turn out on paper than in their original planning. Fiction has a life of its own'.
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