Who’d trust a depraved killer like Stuart Nicklin? Tom Thorne, the DI who put him away, has to. Nicklin has promised to bring closure to the grieving mother of one of his first victims by finally revealing where the body can be found. But there’s just one condition: Thorne must accompany him to the burial ground—the remote Bardsey Island, which is cut off from the mainland of Wales in more ways than one. Nicklin is in cuffs, surrounded by authorities, and under watchful eye. What could go wrong?
As the macabre outing begins, so do Nicklin’s mind games—and it becomes clear that his motives are far from altruistic. There are more than bones buried on the storm-shrouded island. There are secrets, too. And as Thorne becomes entangled in the twisted schemes of a manipulative psychopath, he’ll be left with the most terrible choice he’s ever had to make.
Gillian Flynn calls Mark Billingham “one of the most consistently entertaining, insightful crime writers working today”—and in The Bones Beneath he makes sure “readers’ nerves will be shredded . . . [in] a tour de force of suspense” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
“Chilling . . . Billingham certainly knows how to make those pages turn even while your stomach churns.” —Publishers Weekly
“Billingham is a world-class writer and Tom Thorne is a wonderful creation. Rush to read these books.” —Karin Slaughter, New York Times–bestselling author
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
You want the good news or the bad news?
That's what Detective Chief Inspector Russell Brigstocke had said to him back then. Eating his biscuits and trying his patience. Sitting cheerfully on the edge of his bed in that hospital as though they were just old mates chewing the fat. Like Thorne hadn't almost bled to death a few days earlier, like what he laughably called his career wasn't hanging in the balance.
Delivering the verdict.
Good news. Bad news ...
Now, six weeks on, Tom Thorne glanced at his rear-view mirror and saw the huge metal doors sliding shut behind him as he drove into the prison's vehicle compound. Pulling into the parking space that had been reserved for them, he glanced across at Dave Holland in the passenger seat. He saw the apprehension on the sergeant's face. He knew it was etched there on his own too, because he could feel it twisting in his gut, sharper suddenly than the lingering pain from the gunshot wound, which had all but faded into the background.
Like a scream rising above a long, low moan.
Wasn't it usually some kind of a joke? That whole good news/bad news routine?
The good news: You're going to be famous!
The bad news: They're naming a disease after you.
Whichever way round, it was normally a joke ...
The bad news: They found your blood all over the crime scene!
The good news: Your cholesterol's down.
Thorne killed the engine of the seven-seat Ford Galaxy and looked up at the prison. Walls and wire and a sky the colour of wet pavement. This place was certainly nothing to laugh about at stupid o'clock on a Monday morning in the first week of November. There was nothing even remotely funny about the reason they were here.
'He wants you to take him,' Brigstocke had said.
Back in that hospital room, six weeks earlier. The pain a damn sight fresher then. A hot blade in Thorne's side when he'd sat up straight in his wheelchair.
'Yeah, it has to be you. That's one of his conditions.'
'He's got conditions?'
Brigstocke had jammed what was left of a biscuit into his mouth, spat crumbs on to the blanket when he'd answered. 'It's ... complicated.'
A few minutes before that, Brigstocke had announced that, despite conduct during an investigation that could easily have seen Thorne removed from the Job altogether, if not facing prosecution, he was being recalled to the Murder Squad. Miraculously, his demotion to uniform was being overturned and, after four miserable months working in south London, he would be heading back to God's side of the river again. He would remain an inspector, but once again it would be preceded by the one-word job description he had been struggling to live without.
'I'm guessing that's the good news,' Thorne said.
A nod from Brigstocke and a nice long pause and the DCI could not quite maintain eye contact as he began to outline the reason for this unexpectedly positive outcome. As soon as the man's name was mentioned, Thorne tried to interrupt, but Brigstocke held up a hand. He raised his voice and insisted that Thorne allow him to get at least a sentence or two out before voicing his understandable objections.
'It's a game,' Thorne said, the moment Brigstocke had paused for breath. 'Same as it always is with him.'
'It checks out. The timings, the location.'
'I don't care what checks out, he's up to something.' Wishing more than anything that he was still wired up to the morphine pump, Thorne wheeled his chair a few feet forward, then back again. 'Come on, Russell, you know what he's like. What the hell are you all thinking?'
'We're thinking that he's got us over a barrel,' Brigstocke said.
Thorne listened as Brigstocke continued to explain how the man they were talking about – a convicted murderer currently serving multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole – had established contact six months earlier with the mother of a fifteen-year-old boy who had gone missing twenty-five years before. He claimed that he had once known the boy, that they had both been residents at an experimental retreat for troubled teenagers. After several months of communication, he confessed to the woman in a letter that he had in fact murdered her son and buried the boy's body.
'That much I can believe,' Thorne said. 'So far, that's the only bit that makes any sense.'
Brigstocke ignored him and ploughed on. He described the series of desperate visits and phone calls during which the woman had begged the murderer to reveal the whereabouts of her son's grave. How she had contacted the press and written to her local MP, urging him to get involved, until eventually, after a concerted campaign, the prisoner had agreed to co-operate. He would, he had promised, show the police where the teenager had been buried.
Then, Brigstocke had made eye contact, but only for a moment. 'And he wants you to escort him ...'
It had gone back and forth between them for a while after that: Brigstocke urging Thorne to shut up and listen; Thorne doing a lot more shouting than listening; Brigstocke telling him that he'd burst his stitches if he didn't calm down.
'So, what the hell are we supposed to do?' Brigstocke had finished the biscuits. He screwed up the empty packet and attempted to toss it into the metal wastepaper basket in the corner of the room. 'You tell me, Tom. The chief constable's got this MP on her case. The papers are all over it. This woman needs to know about her son, to get ... closure or whatever and as far as I can see there's no good reason we shouldn't be doing this.'
'Him,' Thorne said. 'He's the reason why not.'
'Like I said, we've checked dates and records and it looks like he's telling the truth.' Brigstocke walked to the corner, picked up the packet and dropped it into the bin. 'He was definitely there when he says he was and that was the last time anybody saw this missing boy.'
Thorne pushed himself back towards the bed. 'He never does a single thing that he doesn't want to do. That he doesn't have a very good reason to do.' He eased himself gingerly out of the chair and on to the bed, waving away Brigstocke's offer of help and staring at him, hard.
* * *
'So, what do you reckon?' Holland asked now. He unfastened his seat-belt, turned and reached into the row of seats behind for his overcoat and gloves. 'A couple of days?'
'Yeah,' Thorne said. A couple of days until they found the body or it became clear they were being taken for idiots. He reached back for his own coat, for the case containing all the paperwork. 'With a bit of luck.'
'Nice to get out of London,' Holland said.
'I mean, obviously I wish we were doing something a bit less ... you know.'
You want the good news or the bad news?
In Brigstocke's office at Becke House, the day after Thorne had been discharged from hospital. The arrangements already being made, the permissions and protocols put in place.
The argument continuing.
'Let's go over these "conditions" again, shall we?' Thorne had thrown his leather jacket across a chair and sat leaning back against the wall. 'Just to make sure I'm totally clear on all this. You know, why he's the one making the rules.'
Brigstocke stood, walked around his desk. 'How many times?'
'I know,' Thorne said. 'The MP, the grieving mother, the barrel he's got us across.' He shook his head. 'Anything else he wants? A particular make and model of car? Something special on his sandwiches?'
'So, come on then. The stipulations ...'
'Well, you, obviously.'
'Yeah. Me.' Thorne puffed out his cheeks. 'You got any thoughts on that?' He looked up at Brigstocke, wide-eyed and mock-curious. 'I'm just wondering.'
'You're the one who caught him,' Brigstocke said. 'He's got some weird kind of respect for you or something. Maybe he trusts you.'
'He wants to mess with me,' Thorne said. 'It's what he does.'
'You're taking him out there, you're finding this body then you're bringing him back.' Brigstocke leaned against the desk. 'That's all this is.'
Thorne studied the carpet and fingered the straight scar beneath his chin for a few seconds. He said, 'What's his problem with the press?'
'He doesn't want any around, simple as that.'
'Never seemed to bother him before,' Thorne said. 'Happy enough with the books and the bloody documentaries. Got a nice collection of his press cuttings pasted up in his cell by all accounts.'
Brigstocke shrugged. 'Look, he knows they've been on to this ever since the boy's mother went to the papers. He doesn't fancy helicopters everywhere, that's all, like when they took Brady back to the moors.'
'We've let the press know it's on, which should keep them off our backs, but obviously they don't know exactly when or where.' Brigstocke began to work carefully at a torn fingernail with his teeth. 'Shouldn't be a problem as long as some friendly press officer gives them everything they want once it's done and dusted.'
'Tell me about his friend.'
Brigstocke spat out the sliver of nail. 'Well, he's saying he'll feel a lot safer if he can bring another prisoner with him. That he's less likely to have any sort of "accident". Reckons there are too many of us who won't have forgotten Sarah McEvoy.'
'That's what he's saying.'
Thorne had certainly not forgotten the police officer who had been killed during the arrest of the man whose demands they were now discussing. He remembered blood spreading across asphalt. He remembered the look of elation on the man's face, just before Thorne had forcibly wiped it off. 'So, what, then? This bloke his boyfriend, maybe?' 'Possible,' Brigstocke said.
'Well, whatever the reason is for bringing him along, I'll want everything we can find on him.'
'Obviously —' Brigstocke's phone chirruped in his pocket. He took the handset out, dropped the call then replaced it. Either the conversation could wait, or it was one he did not want Thorne to overhear. 'Look, Tom, nothing about this is run of the mill, I know that. Normal procedures will be going out of the window to a large extent. This stupid place you'll be taking him back to, for a kick-off. It's already throwing up certain ... logistical nightmares, so I'm just saying you might have to do a fair amount of thinking on your feet.'
Thorne nodded slowly and reached around for his jacket. 'I've got a few conditions of my own,' he said.
'I get to pick the rest of the team,' Thorne said, standing up. 'Not you and not the chief superintendent. And the moment me or anybody else starts to think that there's no body to be found and that he's just getting off on taking us all for mugs, I'll have him and his boyfriend banged up again before his feet have touched the ground. Fair enough?' Brigstocke opened his mouth, but Thorne hadn't finished. He was already on his way to the door. 'And I don't want to hear about how much grief the chief constable's getting from the Sun or the Daily Mail. I don't care about MPs, I don't even care about grieving mothers and I really couldn't give a toss about that sodding barrel ...'
* * *
'Jesus, it's cold,' Holland said, now. He slapped his gloved hands together as he trudged around to the front of the car. He hunched his shoulders and nodded towards the prison entrance. 'I hope somebody's got the kettle on in there.'
Thorne hummed agreement. He might even have said something about hoping so too, but in truth he could think of little beyond the reason he had risen so early after a sleepless night and watched the sun come up driving a hundred miles to Long Lartin prison. Little beyond the man who had brought him here.
They walked towards the first of many gates, footsteps ringing against the tarmac and breath pluming from mouths and noses.
The man who would be patiently waiting on the other side of that wall.
They reached for warrant cards simultaneously.
The man who put that twist in Thorne's gut.
'Here we go then,' Holland said.
Stuart Nicklin was the bad news.CHAPTER 2
There was tea and there were also biscuits in a fancy tin, which were gratefully accepted despite being offered without too much in the way of goodwill. Holland tried smiling, then felt rather stupid and grimaced at Thorne as he turned away. He carried his tea across to the small sofa at one end of the long, thin office, leaving Thorne at the desk to deal with the red tape and the woman dispensing it.
Thorne looked no happier about the situation than she did.
The demeanour and attitude of Long Lartin's deputy governor could most generously be described as businesslike, but Thorne felt sure that both prisoners and prison officers had a different word for it. On top of the fact that she was not what anyone would call 'touchy-feely', it quickly became apparent that Theresa Colquhoun was in no hurry. She had been tasked by the governor with completing the formalities necessary for a prisoner handover. This meant a good many forms to fill in. It meant risk assessment statements to be completed and 'handover protocol' guidance notes to be distributed and carefully read through. She had reservations about what had been agreed on this occasion between the Met and Her Majesty's Prison Service and had told Thorne exactly what she thought while she'd poured the tea. Nonetheless, she was determined to carry out the job with a rigour which, to Thorne's eye, bordered on compulsion.
'This business is iffy enough as it is,' she said. She tapped a manicured fingernail against the photograph of Stuart Nicklin clipped to the top of a file. 'We don't want to make a mistake before we've even started, do we?'
Colquhoun was somewhere at the fag-end of her fifties. She was tall and angular and had seemingly done her best to avoid anything that might have softened her appearance. Her greying hair was fastened tightly back and her make-up was severe. Only her voice was at odds with the impression she wanted – or thought she ought – to create. There was almost no colour in it, and she spoke so quietly Thorne had twice needed to ask her to repeat herself.
Not that the conversation was exactly sparkling.
The completion of each set of forms – one for each of the prisoners – was celebrated with a short break for chit-chat. Specifically, one inane enquiry after another about the journey Thorne and Holland had made from London that morning. The route, the weight of traffic, the weather conditions at various stages.
Then back to the task in hand.
She said, 'Even when these prisoners have been handed into your care and are off the grounds of Long Lartin, they will still be prisoners and as such will remain my legal responsibility. I don't need to tell you I'd rather they were returned here at the end of each day, but as the geography would seem to make that impossible, they will need to be escorted to a designated facility.'
'You don't need to tell me, but you did,' Thorne said.
'As I said, best to get things clear at the outset.'
'We'll look after them.'
Colquhoun had just begun talking about procedures in the event of a prisoner being taken ill, when the message alert sounded on Holland's phone. She stared at him, like an irritated librarian.
Holland checked his message. Said, 'Back-up car's here.'
'Tell them we shouldn't be long,' Thorne said, eyes on the deputy governor.
Though he was hardly making it difficult for her, Colquhoun could sense Thorne's growing impatience, his desire to get on his way. 'My officers are busy getting the prisoners prepared,' she said. She smiled, showing no teeth, and began straightening papers. 'For obvious reasons, we only informed them that the handover was taking place today at the very last minute.'
'Right,' Thorne said.
'Obviously, it would be lovely if they were all prepped and ready for you in advance, but that would rather compromise security, don't you think?'
'Obviously ... '
What Thorne had actually been thinking for several weeks now was that security protocols such as this one were little more than a challenge for the likes of Stuart Nicklin. It made sense of course that prisoners should not be given the chance to pass on details of the time they would be spending outside prison to anyone else. But it was not a fool-proof system at the best of times and Nicklin was no ordinary prisoner. Over the years he had spent inside, he had demonstrated an alarming ability to gather information. To foster any number of sources on whom he could call when the moment was right.
The last time Thorne had seen him, five years before, Nicklin had gleefully advised him to shop around for his utilities and to keep an eye on his overdraft. He'd told him that he might want to think about cutting down on takeaways.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Bones Beneath"
Copyright © 2014 Mark Billingham Ltd.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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