ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

It wouldn't be reopened. Simple as that. The police wouldn't be seeking anyone else in relation to the murder. They had caught the killer, done everything in their legal means to secure a conviction, seen it wouldn't be enough and done more, and now, in consequence, after only a brief spell in prison, he would walk free, absolved on a technicality.

One woe doth tread upon another's heel....

The words came ghosting through his thoughts, spoken brokenly, lispingly, by the voice of a little girl, by poor drowned little 'Lizabeth. One woe... - another fossil, dislodged, unearthed, by a meandering stream of association.

His father's death: that was cold in him, a dead memory. The death of his mother wasn't. The death of Elizabeth wasn't. So soon after the first, the second. One woe, treading upon another's heel. And now this thing with Briggsy to boot.

Finding the body: what an appalling thing it had been, what horror had lain in it. So much naked savage horror that he had felt none of it, been numbed to the whole of it, shutting it out, shutting it away, denying it. Until later. In dark lonely hours in the dark lost lonely days after, it had worked its way to the surface, plucking impishly at his mind, shading his thoughts with a measure of its darkness - and only ever shading, only ever hinting at the sheer, vast, naked horror of itself.

But later, it had come. Sitting in a classroom, safe, fooling with friends - there it had found him. A stand-in teacher scurried about, trying to bring order and quiet to the class and managing to achieve only localised order, which fragmented the moment he moved on to try and quell a fresh group of trouble-makers.

At the front of the room, one of the girls stood facing her classmates, timorously reciting a passage from Hamlet as the teacher had instructed her:

One woe doth tread upon another's heel....

Their usual teacher would have known, would have skipped this passage, vital or no, realizing the horrid associations of it. But this wasn't Mr. Brown, their usual English teacher. He was away, ill, or on a course, or mad, or dead, who knew why. So instead, they had a supply teacher. He couldn't have known.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook - as he recollected the girl, reciting the words, so he heard, not her voice, however her voice had been, but the quiet pretty voice of poor little 'Lizabeth - there is a willow grows aslant a brook, that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. There with fantastic garlands did she come, of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name, but our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.

So often, unafraid, unmindful of harm, little 'Lizabeth had scampered along the banks of Lonely River, gathering daisies and crowflowers and any flower that came to hand, making from them crude fall-apart necklaces - in her eyes, fantastic garlands - to hang about her neck and laugh at and delight in, showing them off to anyone who came near, showing them off, time and again, to Karen, and to Christian, who never had the patience to share in her simple pleasure; and showing them off, that last time, to Briggsy.

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Buy the e-book version of Dead Men's Fingers online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

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


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