Lesley Thomson shares an extract from her latest novel, The Playground Murders.
Rachel Cater parked by the war memorial. She prayed that her mother’s twenty-one-year-old VW Polo would start again. Her plan depended on a swift exit.
Her mum said never make life-changing decisions in the small hours. Everything looks better in the morning. When Rachel had woken to the alarm, her decision was unchanged.
Rachel Cater was having an affair with her boss. Chris Williams owned an antiques shop in Cheltenham. On her first day he had promised Rachel that he’d train her to be a dealer. Over a year later, she was still his secretary. But soon they would be married. When Chris left his wife and daughter. This was Rachel’s nocturnal resolution. By his own admission, Chris wasn’t a finisher. She would have to finish it.
The affair had begun on a Monday (now Rachel loved Mondays, weekends were a desert without Chris). It was five months almost to the day. She’d brought him his coffee (black, two sugars). Suddenly Chris had broken down. He’d held her to him and sobbed his heart out. Rachel’s dream came true.
He’d told her about his wife Penelope. That he was questioning his feelings for her. Rachel stroked his hair (as soft as she’d imagined) and listened as Chris declared his marriage was over.
She’d finished it then too. Made him pull himself together, reknotted his tie, smoothed his hair. Handed him a tissue. She’d swept into the main office and informed Ian, Chris’s assistant dealer, and Carol who did the books that Chris and she were visiting a client. ‘My training’s started,’ she’d said.
‘What? Wait I’ve got a meeting with him.’ Ian was pissed off that Rachel typed Chris’s letters up before his own.
‘Cancelled.’ said Rachel.
‘About time.’ Carol was nice, but Rachel knew not to get on the wrong side of her.
Rachel had driven them to a hotel outside Cheltenham where Chris said he wouldn’t be recognized. He booked a room with his personal AMEX card or Carol would have queried it. The rest, as they say…
When Rachel told her mum, Agnes Cater said she’d hang fire on the bubbly. Was Chris having his cake and eating it? ‘I’m only worried for you, pet, I don’t want you hurt again.’ Would this latest man of her dreams leave his wife?
Chris was all over her whenever they were alone. They went to the hotel every week. Rachel insisted on the same room: 245. Nothing special, bland furnishings and décor with those pictures of landscapes intended not to offend rather than to please. For Rachel, room 245 was their bridal suite. Chris fretted that the staff knew them; Rachel was glad. She and Chris were the perfect couple.
Almost perfect. One thing about Chris was that he was indecisive. It drove Ian and Carol mad. Rachel had been head-girl, she’d won a Duke of Edinburgh award and run the London Marathon. She was a finisher.
Early closing in Winchcombe. As she’d anticipated, there was no one about. Abbey Terrace was deserted. Frozen, Rachel stamped her feet. The VW’s heater had packed up. When she and Chris were married, she’d have a company car. A Lexus like his wife. Ex -wife. She won’t need it!
People – her mum’s friends, the doctor – called Rachel a saint for nursing her frail mother. Rachel would shrug. ‘Mum saw me into the world, it’s right I make her last years comfortable.’ Chris loved her for that.
Rachel didn’t feel saintly. She’d tried to be civil about her rival. But, as days dragged into months, largesse was subsumed by the green-eyed monster. Did they sleep in the same bed?
Stella Darnell is a cleaner. But when she isn’t tackling dust and dirt and restoring order to chaos, Stella solves murders. Her latest case concerns a man convicted of killing his mistress. His daughter thinks he’s innocent, and needs Stella to prove it.
As Stella sifts through piles of evidence and interview suspects, she discovers a link between the recent murder and a famous case from forty years ago: the shocking death of six-year-old Sarah Ferris, killed in the shadows of an empty playground.
Stella knows that dredging up the past can be dangerous. But as she pieces together the tragedy of what happened to Sarah, she is drawn into a story of jealousy, betrayal and the end of innocence. A story that has not yet reached its end…
Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a number 1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.