After the mutilated body of a 3rd victim is found in the Cheshire town of Durton, Detective Chief Inspector Emily Sanders and her Department of Special Investigations is brought in to take over the case. As the investigation progresses, Emily and her team discover Durton’s historical and current practice of witchcraft, and face the continuing brutality of the murders – murders that come far too close to home.
Who is the killer, and who or what is the voice driving him on? What are the missing body parts needed for? Is the local witchcraft all for show and tourism, or is there a darker, more genuine, side to it? And, if so, what is its connection to the murders?
His body, twisted and broken, was wedged between the rocks of the River Durt’s flood defenses. His eyes were wide open, as was his mouth, as though frozen in mid-scream.
The man’s shirt was of top quality, the unsightly tearing at the elbows due entirely to his arms having been severed there, not through any fault in the garment. The top button was fastened and the tie was silk, a trifle ragged now thanks to the nibbling aquatic life in the river. Placed near the body were the severed hands, shirt cuffs still neatly held at the wrists by silver cuff links. The forearms were missing. His shoes were black leather, and would have been shined to perfection had they not been dulled and scuffed by the water and the rocks. His socks were also black, one still pulled up to just under the knee, the other slipped down around the ankle.
From the upturned tail of his shirt to the top of his in-place sock, he was naked.
Detective Chief Inspector Emily Sanders stood less than six feet from the body, one foot in the gently lapping water at the edge of the river, the other on the flood defenses. The sun was laying low in the sky, pushing long shadows across the rocks. The light was already beginning to fade, and behind her she could hear a portable generator and spotlights being set up so that Scenes of Crime Officers could work into the night. But, despite the noise and the failing daylight, her focus remained on the body.
She felt poorly dressed in her raincoat, cream blouse, and black trousers. The man she studied had probably spent more on one suit than she made in a month, and was almost certainly younger than her forty-two years. But she had one advantage. She was alive.
A solitary raven stood on rocks at the far side of the scene. For a moment it locked stares with the detective before both turned their eyes back to the body.
“Your foot’s getting wet, ma’am,” said Detective Sergeant Simon Farmer, studiously avoiding the gently lapping water.
“It’ll dry,” said Emily. “Are ravens carrion eaters?”
“Well, I’m no expert,” said Simon, with barely any hesitation. “But I always thought they ate worms and insects and stuff. My mum always put fruit out for them. They ate that too. Why?”
“No particular reason.”
“So,” said Simon. “You think it’s the same killer?”
Emily nodded, stepping aside as SOCO, in their white coveralls, arrived to examine the area in detail.
“That makes this officially a serial killer case.”
Emily was distracted by the raven on the far side of the body taking flight. She watched it follow a sweeping arc in the sky, feeling, for a moment, that she was one with it. She could almost see herself on the ground below, looking upward. But then the gravity of her sergeant’s statement pulled her back down to earth, and she nodded.
“I’m afraid so. Still happy you agreed to transfer onto my team?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, ma’am.”
Emily smiled. She felt the addition of the detective sergeant to her team had made it complete. Her two detective constables were talented and hardworking, but she needed that extra person slipping into the gap between her and the DCs. Simon Farmer had been her personal choice. The whole team was her personal choice. It had been part of the agreement when she took on the role. Her department. Her people.
“Any idea why we’ve been called in on the third victim, ma’am?” Simon kept his voice low, to avoid being overheard.
“No more than you,” said Emily, but it was a good question. The case files had been dropped on her desk, along with news of the new body. She had yet to hear the reason for the sudden transfer of an ongoing murder investigation from CID to her department. Simon had read the main points of the case aloud while she drove. It was enough to convince her that there was a connection between the three murders, but it still didn’t explain why it was suddenly their responsibility.
“I heard rumors that one of the CID officers quit,” whispered Simon. “And the other had gone crazy!”
“Just rumors, nothing more. Let’s wait until we know the facts, shall we?”
“Perhaps you’ll be told tomorrow, ma’am,” said Simon, still quiet but no longer whispering. “When the DSI is back in.”
“Perhaps,” said Emily. “But for now I think we may as well leave SOCO to get on with their job. Tomorrow, we’ll get stuck into this thing properly.”
The raven had circled back over the water, watching the other creatures moving below. He did not know why, simply that he must.
He watched one of the creatures in particular. A female of the species, he believed. Again, he did not know why, simply that he must.
It was the same female he had watched standing over the dead one, the one he had first flown to see. Now he followed, staying up high where he would be no more than a black dot should anyone look up. He followed as the female moved away from the dead one, away from the water’s edge. Then, the need to follow left him, and he was free to fly away.
He flew with assuredness, but had no idea why he flew in a particular direction. Simply that he must.