ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

He went over to the back door and glanced out, cautiously in case someone was looking.

Christian froze. A neighbour, on the left side, had seen him, raised his hand in greeting. The man was in his garden, watering the grass, flouting the hosepipe ban.

Christian hesitated, unsure. His instinct was to hide. But he couldn't. Too late.

He opened the door.

"Hey," he said brashly, coming out. "Lovely evening."

The man cupped his ear, shook his head.

"Lovely evening," Christian said again, louder this time.

The man nodded. "Friend of the family?" he asked, speaking loudly above the jet of water which now and then struck the fence.

"In a manner of speaking," Christian said. "Actually, I am family. Malcolm's brother. Roger."

"Ah," the man said. "Out today, isn't he?"

"Yes," Christian said. "Judy's picking him up now. We're having a bit of a celebration, a quiet affair, just the three of us."

The man nodded, then returned to his garden and the watering.

Christian retreated back into the house, pressed the door shut behind him. He watched the man for a few more minutes. Nothing untoward: the man kept on watering his garden. Christian felt suddenly emboldened. It was going to be easy.

He switched the kettle on and made tea. While it was in the pot brewing he went through to the lounge to fetch a couple of magazines and a newspaper from the rack there, sitting down and reading them leisurely at the table, sipping tea, nibbling cake. All the while, he felt a mother's twinge of fear forming in the pit of his stomach. (They were late now, so late. Where were they? Safe, surely. On their way, surely. Be here soon, surely.) In his mind, sober images of Briggsy and Judy, safe and sound and on their way back home, were laced with images of them trapped in a wreckage of steel. How nice it would be, to have his job done for him. How nice, not to have his nerve tested. But how awful, not to be able to do his dirty work himself.

He gave up reading the magazines: he was wound too tight, not relaxed at all, and anyway they were women's magazines, full of nothing but showbiz gossip and sex, that he didn't like to read on the principle that he always found them so fascinating. The local newspaper he couldn't face either. It's front page leader was: Briggs Expected To Be Freed Today. It was all there, a potted account of the whole sorry affair: the rooftop protest; the hunger strike against his innocence; the appeal hearing denied, time and again; then the recent information, evidence from the original trial suddenly brought into doubt, the confession discredited, a key piece of police evidence found to be falsified. It showed the whole legal system up as a mockery, Briggsy's lawyer was quoted as saying. The conviction was wholly unsound, he said. It would, without any doubt, be quashed.

At the end of the article was a brief interview with Detective Superintendent somebody-or-other. He regretted the steps his colleagues had taken, he said. Nevertheless, if - or, stripping his words of their professional and insincere caution, when - Malcolm Briggs was released, the investigation into the murder of Elizabeth Connor would not be reopened.

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The novel is also available as part of an omnibus edition with Sheldon's other novels, Delhi Deadlines and Virtually, via (UK readers), and (North America).


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