Having previously interviewed Conrad Williams, author of Hell is Empty here on Linda’s Book Bag, I’m delighted to be part of the launch Celebrations for Hell is Empty, book three in the Joel Sorrell series. Hell is Empty was published by Titan on 25th November 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here and through following the publisher links.
Today I have an extract for you from Hell is Empty and the chance for readers in the UK, Canada and the US to enter to win one of three paperback copies of the book.
Hell is Empty
Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is exhausted and drinking hard, sustained only by a hopeful yet baffling note from his estranged daughter, Sarah. An SOS from an old flame whose child has been kidnapped gives him welcomed distraction, but the investigation raises more questions than answers. Then comes the news that his greatest enemy has escaped from prison with a score to settle. With Joel’s life and the remnants of his family at stake, any chance of peace depends on the silencing of his nemesis once and for all. But an unexpected obstacle stands in his way…
An Extract from Hell is Empty
The flat, without Mengele, was quiet and grey. He really brought the place to life, even if his raison d’être was to deliver death unto all. I retrieved my laptop from behind the sofa cushion and stuffed it in a rucksack. I looked around the flat longingly, wishing I could stay, but it was too risky. It was mid-afternoon, the sun leaving the sky, which was turning the colour of petrol. I’d suffered a long wait coming back, the motorway reduced to one lane because of an accident. I was hungry and tired, but I was always hungry and tired. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be rested and replete.
I went out the way I’d come, stealthy as a ninja wearing slippers. Back in the car. Back on the road. The whole operation had taken just over five minutes.
Well, there was a car behind me.
London, you say. No shit, you say.
And yes, it may well have been my paranoid guardian angel whispering away in my ear, but part of me was trying to persuade me that I’d seen the car earlier, as I had arrived. Not that it was particularly remarkable. Just a silver-coloured Skoda Octavia. Two people sitting in it. But I’d noticed it, even if only peripherally via the sleepy back brain. And I’d noticed it again now, as I drove through Marylebone in the direction of Marble Arch. I kept telling myself it was nothing, that I was reacting like a hair trigger, and that at every roundabout or traffic light they would turn a different way and I could laugh at myself for being the world’s biggest tool. But they kept on after me, staying three or four car lengths clear, staying on me even when there were cars or buses between us. I turned left and turned left and turned left until I was back where I started and they were still there. It was as if they didn’t care that I could see them. They were relentless.
And so now what? They were either Tann’s lot or Mawker’s lot. I could either try to lose them or I could confront them. There was something attractive about that: blocking them at a red light and swinging the door open. If it was Mawker’s lot, they might just tell me to get back in the car and stop acting like John Wayne. If it was Tann’s lot, I might just be turned into a fine red mist. But then if they were after me to kill me they could have done that already. Who’d have thought being followed could be such a brainteaser?
Lose them, then. And do it quick. I dropped into second and hurled the car into a side street, got up to third. Touch the brakes and hard right, really make those tyres sing. I opened the window and listened. An engine protesting – but it could just have been the echoes of my own as I toed it through built-up areas. I slalomed left and right down a series of streets. I was near Brompton now, around the back of the V&A museum, heading towards Sloane Square. I planned ahead: charge across Chelsea Bridge and get on to Nine Elms Lane, try to find somewhere to hide in the little jungle of warehouses, depots and distribution offices between the river and the railway line.
I was close to the south side of the bridge, Battersea Power Station like a table turned turtle to my left, when I heard and felt a pop just above my head. There was a sting of pain: blood started leaking into my left eye. I turned to see a bullet hole just to the left of the rear window. I hadn’t been shot (but I wondered by how many centimetres… or millimetres… I’d escaped the bullet); it was a metal splinter that had grazed my forehead. Looked worse than it was. I was more put out that they’d damaged the Saab than the fact they’d got their shooters out in broad daylight after all.
I wellied it, and came screaming through Queen’s Circus at the foot of Battersea Park at close on fifty miles per hour.
Another pop: one of the tyres shredded and control went walkabout. I managed to steady the car somewhat, but she was drifting and the steering wheel was becoming more and more unresponsive until it felt as if I was trying to wrestle it free of an invisible grizzly, intent on mashing us into the wall. I got over the railway bridge but by then I could hear ominous grinding from under the car so I brought her to a stop and got out smartish, tense against the sound of an engine throttling up, and a third shot, which I might or might not hear.
I sprinted along the main drag, looking for a place where I’d be able to shake off my pursuers, but they were stickier than a teenager’s sock. I thought about crossing the road and trying my luck in New Covent Garden Market, but here they came. If I tried to get over the road now I’d be in full sight of them: they’d turn me into chunky Joel salsa. I heard the squeal of brakes and car doors charging open. No voices. No entreaties to stop. Death was all over their lack of vocabulary. Silent. Final.
I did hear the gunshot when it came, for the record, as it whanged off a length of metal fence about a foot from my left ear. I couldn’t help thinking, uncharitably, that had Mawker shown the same kind of commitment and effort over the years then Tann might have been apprehended long before all of this had ever happened and Sarah would still be at home.
I jinked left down Kirtling Street, Battersea Power Station just up ahead. The site traffic entrance was heavily populated by guys in orange jackets who watched, bemusedly, as I came clattering by. They disappeared too, though, when they heard the gun fire. I don’t know if it was because of the acoustics or whether I’d put some distance between us, but it sounded as if that shot had originated further away than before. I risked a glance back but couldn’t see anything. I kept going along depressingly colourless access roads, past rusting gates topped with razor wire. The tarmac here was layered with pale dust. Cement, most probably. Another shot. Close to my foot; I saw sparks fly off the blacktop. Time slowed. I heard the breath in my lungs churning through each bronchiole. I felt the pulse of blood reach every capillary extreme. Ahead was a squat building with metal shutters and niggardly-looking windows. To the left was a ready mix plant dominated by a mound of sand twenty feet high. Warning signs were plastered all over the gates:
SAFETY STARTS HERE. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF, LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER. USE FLASHING BEACONS OR HAZARD WARNING LIGHTS BEYOND THIS POINT.
On, past a rank of front-end loading static bins. To the right, construction barriers and signs warning that demolition was in progress, but over the fence it was just flat concrete and a single lobster-red digger. Nowhere to hide. In front of me a host of vans and more hi-vis and helmets.
‘Help me,’ I gasped.
Another gunshot. One of the construction guys went down holding what remained of his knee between two suddenly crimson hands. His screams echoed off the acres of pristine glass on the new residential area behind him.
Fuck it, I thought, and charged through the lot of them before they knew what was happening. They were all either trying to help their colleague or fleeing the scene anyway. Nobody cared that I was bolting for the main doors and the millions of square feet beyond. A luxury collection of spacious suites and 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and penthouses, the banners gushed. Last few remaining. It could have been describing my nerves.
Open in the UK, Canada and the US only I’m afraid. Giveaway closes at midnight UK time on Tuesday 13th December 2016. Click here to enter to win one of three paperback copies of Hell is Empty by Conrad Williams.
About Conrad Williams
Conrad Williams is the author of seven novels, four novellas and two collections of short stories. He has won two major prizes for his novels. One was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel, (British Fantasy Awards 2010), while The Unblemished won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007.
Conrad Williams is an associate lecturer at Edge Hill University. He lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife, three sons and a monster Maine Coon.
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