CWA Dagger Shortlist | #1 iTunes | #1 Women Sleuths
FEATURING DI GERALDINE STEEL
In the tradition of Ruth Rendell, Lynda la Plante, Frances Fyfield and Barbara Vine, Cut Short is a gripping psychological thriller that introduces DI Geraldine Steel, a woman whose past is threatening to collide with her future.
When DI Geraldine Steel relocates to the quiet rural town of Woolsmarsh, she expects to find her new home to be somewhere where nothing much ever happens; a space where she can battle her demons in private. But when she finds herself pitted against a twisted killer preying on local young women she quickly discovers how wrong she is...
By day, the park is a place for children's games, for people walking their dogs or taking a short cut to avoid the streets. But in the shadows a predator prowls, hunting for a fresh victim. When an unwitting bystander comes forward as a witness she quickly becomes the next object of his murderous obsessions - someone whom the killer must stop at all costs.
DI Geraldine Steel is locked into a race against time, determined to find the killer before they discover yet another naked corpse . But can she save the lives of the town's young women - or will Geraldine herself become the killer's ultimate trophy?
Read an Extract from Cut Short
He scrabbled at brittle leaves with clumsy gloved fingers then, crouching low, wriggled through the bushes. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching before he trudged away along the path. He’d been clever, careful to leave no clues. No one would find her in the park. It was his secret, his and hers, and she wouldn’t tell. He had no idea who she was, and that was clever too. It meant she didn’t know who he was.
He hadn’t chosen her because she was pretty. He hadn’t chosen her at all. She was just there. But she was pretty and he liked that. No woman had looked at him since school; she had stared into his eyes. She only said one word, ‘No!’ but she was speaking to him and he knew this was intimacy, just the two of them. It was a pity he wouldn’t see her again, but there would be others. It was raining hard. He sang softly, because you never knew who was listening.
‘Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven, like the first dew fall, on the first grass, praise for the sweetness of the wet garden …’
The rain would wash her clean.
He faltered as he rounded a bend in the path because a woman was walking towards him. Then he saw she was older, and she wasn’t pretty like the woman he’d hidden under autumn leaves. She asked him about a music shop called Bretts. He didn’t know what to say so he walked quickly past. He wasn’t allowed to talk to her.
‘Never talk to strangers,’ Miss Elsie said. The park was a dangerous place and he knew he shouldn’t trust people who offered him sweets. He must never get in the car if they offered to take him home, not even if they called his name. The world was full of sin. The woman watched him hurry past. He was frightened.
‘Don’t worry,’ Miss Elsie said. ‘I won’t let anyone hurt you.’ He walked more quickly and he didn’t look back.
A shrill scream pierced the air. Judi gazed helplessly at her daughter. Sophie’s fair curls shook furiously, her angelic face twisted in rage.
‘Won’t!’ Sophie shrieked. She stamped her foot, ran to the table and flung her plastic bowl to the floor. Coco Pops and rusty milk splashed onto the Amtico tiles. Judi lunged forward, gripped Sophie’s little forearm and slapped her hand. The child was shocked into silence before she crumpled. It took Judi nearly an hour to pacify her. No sooner had harmony been restored than the doorbell rang and Judi remembered she’d invited her neighbour round with her small son. She opened the door and saw Alice with two children in tow.
‘Sorry,’ Alice said. ‘I completely forgot I promised to look after Jamie’s friend. We can leave it for today, if you like.’ Before Judi could reply, Sophie ran forward squealing with glee.
Judi smiled. ‘Don’t be silly. Come in. It’s fine. Gerta can take them all to the park.’
Judi and Alice settled down with coffee and slivers of cake while the three children trotted busily along the pavement behind Gerta.
‘We’re going to the park,’ Jamie crooned and Otto repeated the words in a singsong chant.
The children’s playground was on the far side of Lyceum Park. Gerta hoped she might see the fit young gardener who sometimes worked there and smiled as she passed through the open gateway. Her eyes flicked round eagerly, but the park was deserted. It was ordinary enough, a typical urban park with scrubby grassland, and a lake boasting a half hearted jet of water that could hardly be called a fountain. A few ducks pottered at the edge of the scummy surface along side fat pigeons. They rounded a bend in the narrow asphalt path and saw the playground to their right, its ground covered in tree bark. As they approached the central bank of overgrown trees and shrubs on their left, the two boys raced past Gerta into the children’s area. Sophie scurried fretfully at their heels.
Sophie always played with Jamie. They were best friends. They played on the slide in the park. Not the baby slide. They played on the big big slide. Mummy said they played nicely together. But Jamie was playing with Otto. Sophie wanted to push him off the slide, only Gerta was on the bench watching them. Gerta needed to go away so Sophie could push Otto off the slide and play with Jamie. She and Jamie took turns nicely on the big slide. Mummy said so. Mummy liked Jamie. Mummy didn’t like Otto. Otto was horrid.
‘Make Otto go away,’ she wailed, but Gerta shook her head and told Sophie not to be silly. Sophie wasn’t silly. Gerta was silly, and Otto was silly. Sophie didn’t care. She’d go away and hide and they wouldn’t be able to find her. Mummy would give Gerta a big smack and make Gerta cry.
Sophie flew with fairy wings across the path and into the magic trees. The leaves were red and yellow and brown and green. It was a good place to hide. She watched a hungry caterpillar crawling down a tree. It took a long time but no one came to find her. She picked up a stick and poked the leaves. Mummy never let her play with sticks but Mummy wasn’t there.
‘Sophie!’ she heard Gerta’s voice, rising with panic, and giggled.
‘Sophie!’ Jamie called.
‘Thophie!’ Otto echoed.
‘Go away, Otto,’ Sophie whispered. She was so quiet, no one heard her. Sophie wriggled further into the bushes. It was damp and scratchy. She saw a beetle scurrying along the ground and poked it with her stick. A bee buzzed by her ear. There was a hand in the leaves. She poked it and a cloud of nasty insects flew up. Sophie took no notice of them. She’d seen something worse, hiding in the leaves. The wicked witch was lying in the mud, staring up at her. Sophie didn’t like it there any more. She wanted mummy.
‘Mummy!’ she yelled. She heard scrabbling in the bushes and saw Gerta peering down. Gerta looked like the dog with saucer eyes. Her mouth gaped wide open and she started to scream.
Flushed with excitement, Geraldine clutched the key. The sharp metal dug into her flesh. After months of anxious waiting she was finally taking possession of her new home. She suppressed an impulse to shout, ‘Yippee!’ The estate agent was watching her. She smiled while, inside her head, laughter bubbled.
‘You’re new to the area, aren’t you?’ the estate agent asked and she nodded, conscious of his bold eyes. ‘What brings you here?’
‘Work,’ she replied.
‘It’s a very nice flat,’ he remarked. ‘What did you say you do?’
‘Maybe I’ll find out,’ he smiled. Geraldine wasn’t sure if he was flirting and felt like an awkward teenager. He obviously hadn’t seen her details, as he didn’t know she was a detective inspector. Accustomed to knowing about other people’s lives, she felt unsettled. She hadn’t even learned his name, and he was familiar with the interior of her bedroom.
The estate agent seized her hand in a warm, firm grip, congratulated her once more on her purchase and turned to leave.
‘Is it a good time to buy?’ As soon as she spoke Geraldine was afraid he’d see through her clumsy ploy but it worked. He spun round to face her.
‘Property prices have been rising in the UK for fifteen years.’
‘Will the trend continue, do you think?’ She was tempted to invite him in for coffee, but she didn’t have any milk.
‘There are a lot of people saying the bubble’s going to burst some time in the next two years.’
‘What do you think’s going to happen to property prices?’
‘If I could predict the future of the housing market, I wouldn’t still be working for a living.’ He hesitated before scribbling on a business card. ‘Here’s my mobile number. Why don’t you call me when you’ve settled in?’ She reached out and took the card. ‘I don’t usually meet women like this,’ he added, suddenly intense. Then he turned and walked away. Geraldine lingered in the doorway, watching his confident stride. She tried not to think about Mark.
It never occurred to Geraldine that Mark might leave her, until the evening she’d come home to find him in the hall surrounded by suitcases. Gazing past her, Mark announced that he was moving out.
‘After six years,’ was all Geraldine managed to say.
‘We both know this isn’t going anywhere.’
‘This?’ she echoed stupidly.
‘Us. Our relationship. We’ve been taking each other for granted for too long. I hardly see you any more. You’re always working. It’s time we both moved on.’
Geraldine wanted to protest, to promise she’d change. She tried to speak but the words stuck in her throat. Mark had packed all his belongings. His silver letter opener had gone from the hall table. His coat wasn’t on its hook. It went through her head that soon there’d be no trace of him in the flat apart from the rubbish he’d thrown in the bin, and the smell of him on her sheets. When that faded, she’d be left with nothing. They faced one another across the draughty hall.
‘Where will you go?’
Suddenly brisk, Mark seized hold of a case. His eyes were fixed on a point just above her left shoulder. ‘I’m moving in with a friend.’
‘A friend?’ she repeated, the word suddenly threatening. ‘What friend?’
Mark hesitated then spoke gently. His features softened. ‘Her name’s Sue.’ Geraldine clenched her fists until she felt her nails bite into the soft pads of her palms. Mark’s face grew taut again. ‘I’ll pick up the rest of my stuff tomorrow,’ he called out as he lugged his large suitcase through the front door. It closed behind him with a hollow clunk. Alone, Geraldine clutched the edge of the bare table and howled.
‘He’s not worth crying about. He’s a lying toad. Forget about him, he’s not worth it,’ her sister raged on the phone later that evening.
Geraldine had been planning to spend the rest of her life with the lying toad. ‘What am I going to do?’ she wept.
‘Forget about him,’ her sister repeated. It didn’t help.
Mark had always claimed he didn’t believe in marriage. That was another lie. He just hadn’t wanted to marry Geraldine. When she heard he was engaged, less than a year after walking out on her, she was consumed by an anger that left no room for self-pity.
‘You’ll meet someone else,’ her sister assured her. Geraldine nodded, privately determined that she would never be emotionally vulnerable again. There was more to life than the future Mark had snatched away from her. He’d blamed her career for the failure of their relationship, but her job wasn’t going to walk out on her. She managed to convince herself that she was happy to be single, devoted to her work.
Situated in a pleasant tree-lined avenue, her new flat suited Geraldine well, offering a haven from the stresses of her work on a mobile Murder Investigation Team based in the South East. As soon as she could, she took a few days off to paint her living room. Restful cream walls and beige carpet gave an illusion of space, enhanced by a large mirror above her small fireplace. She threw a critical look at her reflection. Dark eyes stared steadily back at her.
Once she’d finished decorating, she settled down to finish unpacking. Absorbed in boxes, she almost missed the door bell. She ran to the entryphone. On a little shelf above the handset she saw a card: CRAIG HUDSON, RESIDENTIAL SALES CONSULTANT. Her glance lingered on the name.
‘Washing machine,’ a voice crackled over the entryphone.
‘Come on in.’ Geraldine pressed the buzzer for the gates. A few moments later her doorbell rang and she opened the door to a lanky man, his hair damp and his shoulders flecked with rain.
‘Miss Steel?’ She nodded and he consulted his paper work. ‘Your washer dryer,’ he read aloud.
‘Come in.’ The man loped after her into the kitchen and sized up the space.
‘Yes,’ he confirmed, nodding his head. ‘It’ll fit.’ He glanced hopefully at the kettle. ‘It’s a nasty day out there.’
Geraldine was keen to return to her unpacking. ‘Can you bring it in, please?’
The delivery man sighed and walked slowly out, his large feet dragging at the fluff on her new carpet.
The two delivery men shuffled up the path in the drizzling rain.
‘This way,’ Geraldine said. Her breath caught in her throat as she glimpsed the second man and sensed that he recognised her. Standing aside, she scoured her memory to recall if she’d ever seen him before. She tried to picture him with a bald head or long straggly hair, instead of a grubby grey cap pulled low on his forehead.
Geraldine avoided meeting his eye again as, grunting and nodding at one another, the two men manoeuvred the washing machine into the kitchen. She didn’t put the kettle on while they plumbed it in. She wanted the delivery men gone from her flat as quickly as possible, so she could have the place to herself again, and was relieved when the front door closed behind them. She cleaned the kitchen thoroughly, wiping away all trace of the dirty wet marks they’d left on her floor.
Her housework done, she poured herself a mug of coffee and settled down once more beside a large pile of boxes. As she was ripping brown parcel tape off a box with a satisfying whoosh, her work phone rang.
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Cut Short
'Cut Short is a stylish, top-of-the-line crime tale, a seamless blending of psychological sophistication and gritty police procedure. And you're just plain going to love DI Geraldine Steel.'
- Jeffery Deaver
'gritty and totally addictive debut novel'
- Sam Millar, New York Journal of Books
'Cut Short is not a comfortable read, but it is a compelling and important one. Highly recommended.'
- Radmila May, Mystery Women [read the full review]
Poor, sad lonely Jim – learning difficulties, speech impediment. Delusional paranoid schizophrenic, all right so long as he keeps taking his pills. But when he stops taking them, his only friend – a voice in his head called Miss Elsie – talks to him, urges him to keep clean, not to be dirty. But when he sees girls with long blonde hair he thinks dirty thoughts so he has to kill them to keep himself clean. First one girl, then another, then a third, their bodies placed in the local park.
The whole town of Woolsmarsh is paralysed while the local Murder Investigation Team searches for the killer. Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel, newly arrived in Woolsmarsh after the break up of a long relationship, is part of the team. She finds it difficult to settle in with new colleagues, particularly her acid-tongued boss Chief Detective Inspector Kathryn Grayson, who criticises Geraldine’s tendency to trust her own instincts which lead her to feel that vital clues are being overlooked and the investigation is on the wrong track. Meanwhile, Geraldine herself is the target of a stalker who points malicious graffiti around her flat. Eventually Geraldine’s instincts result in the identification of the killer before – but only just before – he kills again.
Much of this story is a detailed and meticulous procedural account of the police search for the killer, interspersed with Jim’s thoughts as he wanders the streets lost in the dreadful world of his own mind. It is this last which lifts Cut Short above the usual run of serial killer stories. Leigh Russell, whose first story this is, is a teacher working with pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties, and her own obvious knowledge of this area leads us to be aware not only of the tragedy of the murdered girls, their lives so dreadfully cut short, but of the tragedy of Jim himself with his child’s mind in the body of a strong young man, subject to urges he can neither understand nor control.
Cut Short is not a comfortable read, but it is a compelling and important one. Highly recommended.
Radmila May, Mystery Women
'It's an easy read with the strength of the story at its core.......If you want to be swept along with the story above all else, Cut Short is certainly a novel for you''
- crimeficreader, itsacrime.typepad.com [read the full review]
'Russell paints a careful and intriguing portrait of a small British community while developing a compassionate and complex heroine who's sure to win fans.'
- Publisher's Weekly [read the full review]
'I found Cut Short to be a fantastic read, taking me only days to finish. I thought it to be well-written and well-paced, with a fresh batch of intriguing characters to go along with a fresh tight plot.'
- James Garcia Jr., Dance on Fire [read the full review]
'A powerful ability to sweep you up into the story'
- CGD Libraries [read the full review]