Dunedin, in the grip of an unseasonal flu, is a city under siege. Then, after five damaging days of rain, a twister rips through, exposing the body of a missing schoolgirl in Ross Creek.
Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd is the only one who can lead the investigation despite unresolved sorrow over the disappearance of his own daughter nine years earlier.
Sultry weather broods over the beleaguered city as suspects are sifted and pressure mounts for Leo to solve the crime. Meanwhile, his wife Kate tries to summon the courage to tell him the secrets she’s nursed for too long — including one about the disappearance of their beloved Beth.
Sample the story below.
Judd walked carefully along one edge of the raised concrete channel towards where a tarpaulin screen had been erected. At one section he had to jump down a couple of feet. Water flowed along the channel and the concrete was slippery with moss. He took his time. He found Cole crouching over the body. Detective Phil Priest, towering over her, looked as if he could keel over at any moment. She shot a sideways look at Judd.
‘You know, Judd, there are times when you could never be mistaken for anything but English.’
Judd raised his umbrella in acknowledgement.
‘But, now that you’ve finally graced us with your presence …’
Judd jammed his umbrella under his left armpit, and reached instinctively into his jacket pocket for the small jar of Vicks. He twisted off the lid and smeared a generous dollop under his nose. ‘I was in Invercargill.’
‘I’ve done you a favour, then.’
He smiled. ‘Something like that.’
Judd concentrated on the girl’s clothes. Priest, not so savvy, looked grey under his summer tan. The girl lay on her back in a beige and orange blouse and light-coloured shorts. Cole was pulling lengths of weed from her face, a face that had once been pretty but was now bloated beyond recognition.
Judd gestured at Priest. ‘Getting everything down?’ Or should he have said ‘keeping’?
The rain was easing. A breeze cooled her sweaty neck. In the near silence she turned, looking back the way they’d come. A shard of light from behind the hills lit the clouds from beneath, reducing the sea to a strip of turquoise fringed with dazzling white foam. Stars wavered overhead. The air smelled of rusting metal, small creatures scurried along the tideline, and the water inside her socks felt strangely warm.
They would spend the coming night in the hut, sheltered under a steel roof, but this would remain. All night the sea would heave and suck and break, the sand dry to a crumbling crust, crabs scuttle into deep holes, and stars shimmer and sparkle like paparazzi on Oscar night. Only her footprints would fade.
Each entity had a timeline. The stars under which she walked were over a billion years old, the carpet of quartz, feldspar and mica beneath her shoes, a million. She stooped to pick up a shell and ran her fingernail along its ridges. A dozen years old, at the most. Everything was relative. Three score years and ten for an adult, seventeen for a child. Tonight her smallness was reassuring. There had to be a limit, didn’t there, to the damage someone so insignificant could do to the world?
He was ignoring her. She knew the signs. ‘Leo, what were you doing at McDowell’s house?’
‘What? Oh, the missing girl. Tracey Wenlock. We found her body.’ He glanced over at her.
‘I saw that in the paper. Murder?’
A low flying wood pigeon whooshed by, causing him to duck. They followed its path as it swooped up, bared its breast to the setting sun and plummeted towards the harbour.
‘We’re not sure. The autopsy was inconclusive. We’re just treating it as a homicide. You know the drill: start high, whittle it down.’
She studied him. He was tanned from all his gardening and with the usual high colour on his cheeks looked healthy enough, but the way he was picking at the wine label with his thumb, avoiding her eye, worried her. ‘We? I thought Thompson was heading the enquiry.’
‘He was. But he’s come down with the flu. They’ve passed the case to me.’ He reached for the bottle, went to pour another glass, held the bottle up to the light and shook it.
‘How do you feel about that?’
He raised his eyebrows. For a moment he didn’t answer. ‘I had to inform her parents. Nice couple.’
‘Like us’ hung in the air between them.