It’s a welcome return to Linda’s Book Bag by Chris Ould to celebrate his latest novel The Fire Pit today. I previously was delighted to host a guest post from Chris when the first of Chris’ Faroes Series, The Blood Strand was published and you can read that post here.
Published by Titan on 20th February 2018 The Fire Pit is available for purchase here. I’m thrilled to have an extract to share with you today.
The Fire Pit
In the wake of a dying man’s apparent suicide, the skeleton of a young woman is discovered on a windswept hillside. Detective Hjalti Hentze suspects that it is the body of a Norwegian woman reported missing forty years earlier, while a commune occupied the land, and whose death may be linked to the abduction and rape of a local Faroese girl.
Meanwhile British DI Jan Reyna is pursuing his investigation into his mother’s suicide. But as he learns more about her final days, links between the two cases start to appear: a conspiracy of murder and abuse spanning four decades. And as Hentze puts the same pieces together, he realizes that Reyna is willing to go further than ever before to learn the truth…
An Extract from The Fire Pit
UNDER THE STARK MORTUARY LIGHTS ELISABET HOVGAARD surveyed the bones from the sheepfold at Múli, now laid out in skeletal order. They had been cleaned and the accreted dirt had been collected, filtered and sampled for lab analysis in Denmark. What was left was only human, and all the more naked for that, Hentze thought.
“It’s a long time since I had to do this,” Elisabet said, assessing the layout of the bones as if Hentze was responsible for setting her an unwelcome test of anatomical knowledge. “But for our purposes I don’t suppose it matters so much whether I’ve got metacarpals and metatarsals in the wrong place. What’s most to the point is that we seem to have everything accounted for.” She looked towards Sophie. “You did a good job.”
At the end of the stainless-steel table Sophie Krogh took a final photograph of the skeleton’s clavicle, then lowered the camera to look at its screen.
“It was easier because she hadn’t been buried,” Sophie said. “At least not by much; the ground’s pretty stony. My guess is they tried to dig a grave but then thought it would be easier – maybe quicker – just to dump rocks on top.”
”And then build a sheep shelter?” Hentze asked, with only the slightest hint of scepticism.
“Well, it would be one way to make it less obvious that it was a grave site,” Sophie said. “Also less chance of it being disturbed later on.”
“True,” Hentze agreed. “So, what do we know?”
Elisabet peeled off her gloves and crossed to a worktop where she picked up an iPad and an e-cigarette. She tapped the first and sucked on the other, making the light in the end of it glow.
“I’m trying to quit,” she said when she saw Hentze’s vaguely quizzical look. She exhaled vapour. “Don’t say anything, all right?”
“Not a word,” Hentze agreed.
“Good.” Elisabet glanced at the iPad. “What I can tell you is that she was female, as we already thought. Approximately 170 centimetres tall, aged between thirty and forty. As far as it’s possible to tell I’d say she was in good general health – no signs of osteoporosis, arthritis or disease, although she had an ante mortem break to the right-hand side of her clavicle: her collarbone. It was healing, though,” she added, anticipating Hentze’s question. “I’d say it happened between a month and six weeks before she died.”
“Is it suspicious?” Hentze asked.
“No, not in my book,” Elisabet said. “It could easily have been caused by a fall. Most are, unless you count contact sports. She’d probably have been wearing a sling, but maybe not.”
“Could it help to identify her?”
“It’s possible. If it happened here and if she was treated in the hospital there might be a record. The problem is, we don’t know how far back to go.”
“Between 1973 and 1975 might be a good starting point,” Hentze said. “That’s when the commune was active.”
“I’ll get someone to take a look,” Elisabet said. “We have a new intern who shouldn’t be let loose on the living or the dead yet.”
“Thanks.” Hentze looked back at the skeleton. “So is there anything to say how she might have died?”
Elisabet took another pull on her e-cigarette. “There’s nothing as obvious as a fractured skull or multiple unhealed breaks, if that’s what you mean. But Sophie thinks she may have found something else.”
“It was only because I was cleaning the bones,” Sophie said, as if she didn’t want to accept any credit for extraordinary perception. She picked up one of the higher vertebrae and Hentze followed her across to an illuminated magnifier on the worktop. Holding the bone under the lens, Sophie turned it and then used the end of a wooden spatula to point out a thin mark about a centimetre long.
“Can you see it?” she asked.
Hentze squinted and leaned in closer to the lens. “I think so. The straight line?”
“Yeh. Nothing in nature is straight. I think it may be some kind of tool mark.”
“What kind of tool?”
“My guess is a knife or blade,” Sophie said. “It needs to be properly examined, though. I’m not an expert, but Per Olesen and his team at Roskilde could tell you.”
Hentze stood back. “And if it is a cut mark, what would that say? What would it mean?”
“It’s on C4, a cervical vertebra, here,” Elisabet said. She pointed to her neck just to the rear of her jaw. “Which could be consistent with her throat being cut, the same way you can kill a sheep.”
For a second Hentze had to remind himself that the dumpy, often good-hearted woman before him was as unfazed by discussions of death and its causes as he was by a break-in or a domestic dispute.
“So we must suspect murder,” he said. “Not just from the possible cut mark, but also from the way she was buried.”
“Sorry, Hjalti,” Elisabet said.
Hentze gave a resigned shrug. “Never mind. I’m sure one day I’ll ask a question and someone will tell me I don’t need to worry, everything’s fine.”
Sophie laughed drily. “You’d better not come and work in Denmark,” she said.
(And now I really want to read on!)
About Chris Ould
After working at a wide variety of jobs, from ice-cream man to labourer, Chris Ould was first published as a novelist in the 1980s. He then spent many years working as a television scriptwriter, during which time he wrote more than eighty hours of drama and documentary programmes, including numerous episodes of the crime series The Bill, one of which won a BAFTA award.
Chris returned to novel writing with two YA books, before embarking on the Faroes trilogy of crime novels. He lives in Dorset with his wife and son. He also keeps sheep.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @WriterChrisOuld.
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