A Silent Death by Peter May – extract

Peter May’s latest book, A Silent Death, is published by Riverrun on 9 January 2020.

Today I can share an extract from the book.


Mackenzie felt the pressure of being late. He hated being late. He built his life around never being late. To the extent that he would set all of his clocks, even his watch, five minutes fast. Despite  knowing  that  his  world  was  five  minutes  ahead  of  time, it placed a psychological pressure on him. To go faster. To ensure punctuality. Although it pained him to admit it, the habit was borrowed – or,  perhaps,  inherited  –  from  his  uncle,  who  also  set  every  timepiece  five  minutes  in  advance  of  real  time,  and  would  punish lateness with a stick. Actually, a cane. An old-fashioned walking cane with a curved onyx handle and knuckles on its shaft  at  six-inch  intervals.  Mr  Kane,  he  had  called  it,  emphasizing the K. His idea of a joke, a play on words. It hurt like hell. Today  Mackenzie  had  been  delayed  by  Thursday  traffic.  Roadworks on the A4020. Circumstances beyond his control, and although his watch told him he was twenty minutes late, for once he was relieved to know it was just fifteen. An  overactive  imagination  conjured  a  picture  of  Alex  waiting at the school gate, a few stragglers pushing past him on to Oaklands Road. Long gone the parental SUVs and people carriers and four-by-fours which ten minutes ago would have choked this narrow street. Turning  off  Boston  Road,  beyond  the  Hanwell  Royal  Mail  delivery  office,  he  accelerated  past  rows  of  terraced  houses  with mean little front gardens. Already he could see the forlorn figure of his son standing outside the gates of the red-and-yellow-brick Edwardian-era primary school. His blazer was too big for him. Susan’s idea of economy. If it was too big for him this year, it would fit him next. And if he didn’t suddenly sprout, they  might  also  get  away  with  it  the  year  after.  Had  it  been  warmer  Alex  might  have  taken  it  off  and  draped  it  through  the  strap  of  his  sports  bag.  But  there  was  a  cool  wind  from  the north-east, and he stood hunched against it, drowned by his blazer. To his already distressed father it made him seem all the more pathetic.Mackenzie had been wrong about the stragglers. The street was  deserted.  Amazing  how  quickly  an  entire  school  could  empty  itself.  Motors  idling  at  the  kerbside,  pulling  away  each in turn, a well-practised daily choreography. In his day, Mackenzie  had  been  made  to  walk  to  school,  regardless  of  weather. Wet wellies chafing at red calves, shorts clinging to stinging thighs, coats draped over radiators to fill classrooms with steamy damp air on wet winter mornings.Alex would be distressed, he knew, and late for his team’s five-a-side game with the club from Hayes. Although it was just  a  ten-minute  walk  to  the  sports  centre,  he  had  been drilled always to wait for one parent or the other. But today his  unhappiness  went  deeper  than  simply  being  late  for  a  game  of  football.  Mackenzie  saw  it  the  moment  he  drew  up at the gate. Head down, Alex opened the door, threw his sports bag into the back, and slipped into the passenger seat without a word. Mackenzie stared at him. ‘What’s wrong, son?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘I’m sorry, I’m late.’ The boy shrugged and his father frowned. ‘What’s wrong?’‘I told you. Can we go, please? Like you said, you’re late. So I’m late.’ Eyes still turned down towards the footwell. Mackenzie cupped his hand around the boy’s jaw and turned his  face  towards  him.  The  salty  tracks  of  dried  tears  were  clearly  visible  on  pale  cheeks,  eyes  red-rimmed.  ‘We’re  not  going until you tell me.’ The boy pulled his head away, but his lips remained pressed tightly together. ‘I’m serious. If you want to play football today . .  .’ Just nine years old, and already showing great talent with both feet. Alex drew a deep breath and released it in a long, tremulous exhalation. He opened his satchel and pulled out a sheaf of three crumpled sheets and thrust it towards his father without looking at him. Mackenzie could see that the pages were filled on both sides with his son’s characteristic scrawl. The top page bore the title of the piece. What I Did In The Holidays. Big red numerals at the head of the page read 0/25, and beneath them in a tight hand, Hand-writing too big and untidy!!! ‘She didn’t even read it,’ Alex said. Mackenzie’s anger was already manifesting itself in a trembling of the papers in his hand. He snatched the key from the ignition and opened his door. ‘Come on.’ Alex looked at him, startled. ‘What are you doing?’Mackenzie waved the essay at his son. ‘We’re going to see about this.’ He strode around the car and opened the passenger door.‘No, Dad, please. Just forget it. ’‘I will not.’ He took Alex by the arm, and pulled the reluctant boy from his seat. He had met his son’s teacher once at a parent–teacher’s meeting. A young woman. A girl, really. Miss Willow.  Couldn’t  have  been  any  more  than  twenty-five,  and  he had thought at the time that she was far too preoccupied with her appearance. He grabbed Alex’s hand and pulled him in his wake as he strode through the gates and into the school through the side entrance. It  had  the  same  institutional  smell  that  he  remembered  from his own schooldays. Perhaps it was the detergent they used to wash the floors. Alex’s classroom was at the end of a corridor on the second floor. The door stood open, and Miss Willow was still at her desk, wading her way through a pile of children’s essays. She looked up in surprise as Mackenzie dragged his son into the room behind him. Her surprise turned to alarm as he strode up to her desk and banged Alex’s essay down on top of the others.‘ What’s this piece of shit?’ ‘I’m sorry?’ ‘You should be. Alex tells me you didn’t read it. ’‘I . . .’‘Zero  out  of  twenty-five  because  his  handwriting  was  too  big? Are you serious?’ ‘Dad, please!’ Alex pulled his hand free of his father’s, his face pink with humiliation. But Mackenzie was oblivious. ‘Would you dismiss Einstein’s theory of relativity because you didn’t like his handwriting? And it wasn’t too big, you know, it was too small. Notoriously mean. Oh, and, by the way, handwriting is not hyphenated. I can’t believe someone who doesn’t know this is teaching my son English. I take it you do have a degree?’ ‘Of  course.’  Miss  Willow  was  recovering  from  the  initial  assault and gathering her defences. ‘In what?’ ‘English and drama.’ ‘Oh,  drama?’  he  said  dramatically.  ‘That  must  be  where  you discovered the propensity for overuse of the exclamation mark.’  He  picked  up  Alex’s  essay  and  waved  it  at  her.  ‘Not  one exclamation mark, not two. But three. Oh, yes, very dramatic. Alright in social media, perhaps, but not in my son’s classroom. Oh, and another footnote. Exclamation marks were originally called the note of admiration. Perhaps if you had taken the trouble to read this you might have been awarding him many notes of admiration. He took the trouble to write it, the least you could have done is read it.’ And he slammed it back on top of the pile. Colour had risen high on Miss Willow’s cheeks, her lower lip trembling as she fought not to spill her tears. Mackenzie turned to take Alex once again by the hand, and march him back  out  into  the  corridor.  It  wasn’t  until  they  reached  the  gate, and his anger had subsided a little, that he saw the tears streaming down his son’s face. ‘What? What’s wrong?’ He was genuinely mystified. ‘I hate you,’ the boy spat at him. ‘I really hate you. I’m glad you’ve left.  Mum’ll have to find me another school now.’ He thrust his jaw in the direction of the building behind him. ‘I can’t ever go back there.’ Mackenzie was filled with sudden regret. He had only been standing up for the boy, as any dad would. He glanced back at the school and saw Miss Willow standing at her classroom window  and  knew  that  she  was  crying  too.  He  opened  the  car  door.  ‘Come  on,’  he  said.  ‘We’re  going  to  be  late  for  the  football.’ The  boy  threw  himself  into  the  seat  and  folded  his  arms  across his chest, pouting through his tears. ‘I might just be in time for the final whistle.’ He was almost at the turn-off to Westlea Road when he saw the blue light flashing in his rearview mirror.

About the book


Spain, 2020. When ex-pat fugitive Jack Cleland watches his girlfriend die, gunned down in a pursuit involving officer Cristina Sanchez Pradell, he promises to exact his revenge by destroying the policewoman.


Cristina’s aunt Ana has been deaf-blind for the entirety of her adult life: the victim of a rare condition named Usher Syndrome. Ana is the centre of Cristina’s world – and of Cleland’s cruel plan.


John Mackenzie – an ingenious yet irascible Glaswegian investigator – is seconded to aid the Spanish authorities in their manhunt. He alone can silence Cleland before the fugitive has the last, bloody, word.

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