FATAL ACT

FEATURING DI GERALDINE STEEL

The Sixth DI Geraldine Steel Mystery

How far would you go to find a murderer? DI Geraldine Steel, known for pushing the boundaries of her position in the name of justice, is on the hunt for a conviction, even if it threatens her life. A glamorous young TV soap star dies in a car crash but despite the severity of the incident, the driver of the second vehicle has somehow survived – and is now missing.

When an almost identical case occurs resulting in the murder of another young actress, Geraldine finds herself on the hunt for a serial killer. With mounting evidence, the killer’s identity seems within her reach. But with her sergeant’s life on the line, Geraldine has a sacrifice to make.

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Read an extract from the opening of Fatal Act

1

‘AND DON’T EVEN THINK about following me. Did you hear me? I said, don’t even think about following me!’

She slammed the door in his face. It was a chilly night, but going back for her coat would ruin her dramatic exit. As she crossed the driveway to her Porsche, a gust of wind whipped her hair into her eyes. Impatiently she brushed it away.

Turning the key in the ignition Anna waited, drumming painted finger nails on the wheel. She glanced in the mirror. The front door remained shut. The next time Piers lost his temper she was going to leave him for good. Right now she was sitting in her car at nearly two in the morning with nowhere to go. Her resolve wavered and she struggled not to cry, telling herself fiercely that she didn’t need him. Clearly he wasn’t rushing to follow her out of the house, but she was damned if she was going to slink back in straight away. He could stay there and stew for a while first. It struck her that he might be watching her out of the window as she sat on the drive with the engine idling. Spinning the wheel, she slammed her foot on the accelerator. The tyres squealed and she narrowly avoided hitting a black van parked at the end of the drive.

‘Arsehole!’ she shouted as she drove off down the road. ‘You bloody arsehole!’

Drops of rain streaked the windscreen as she sped along. Once out of sight of the house she slowed down, aware that she was exceeding the speed limit. Driving cautiously, she kept to the main road for fear of losing her way. Without taking her eyes from the road, she rummaged in her bag and flung her mobile phone on the passenger seat, glancing down to check it was switched on. There were no messages. An oncoming car flashed its headlights and she swerved back onto her own side of the road, cursing out loud at the other driver in her fright.

‘Fucking road hog!’

Her insults were pointless. No one could hear her. The rain was falling more heavily. Distracted by the rhythm of her windscreen wipers, she had to concentrate on the road glistening ahead of her in the soft light of the street lamps.

At first she was only vaguely aware of someone right on her tail.

‘What the hell are you playing at? Do you want to get yourself killed?’

The other vehicle drew even closer and she swore again. He must have been off his head to approach so close. If she braked sharply, he wouldn’t be able to avoid crashing straight into the back of her car.

‘Back off, you moron, unless you want to get us both killed.’

Rattled, she put her foot down, but the other driver kept up. With perverse fury she braked suddenly. A flash of panic hit her as her tyres slid on the wet road. The van swerved, shooting onto the other side of the road where he slowed down to match her speed. Instead of overtaking or falling behind, he remained alongside her, keeping pace with her as she accelerated again.

Agitated, she wound her window down to shout at him, but the combined noise of their engines scotched any attempt to communicate. Through the window she glimpsed the driver leaning forward over his wheel, as though he fancied himself as a racing driver. Apart from their two vehicles racing along side by side the road was empty, but another car could come along at any time and crash headlong into either one of them. She eased off her accelerator and the other driver slowed down alongside her. She considered pulling into the kerb to let him go on ahead, but was afraid he might stop too. He was clearly crazy. As they neared a bend he braked and slipped back behind her to cruise along on her tail. He wasn’t completely suicidal, then.

All she wanted to do now was get home safely. She drove slowly, looking out for a side road she could turn into. With luck she could slip away before her pursuer realised what she was doing. She passed a turning on the right, displaying a no entry sign. She braked abruptly. Her phone flew off the passenger seat. The van slowed down behind her. Worn out and stressed, she couldn’t even remember why she had been so angry with Piers. It had been a stupid argument in the first place. She wished she was back at home, away from the road at night and its wildness. Leaning forward to retrieve her phone from the floor, she punched Piers’ speed dial key. His phone rang, but there was no answer. She glanced in her mirror and glimpsed the other driver, his face a black mask in the darkness.

She flung her phone down on the seat again and switched on the radio. As soon as she could, she would turn round and head back home. Reaching a narrow side road she spun the wheel at the very last minute. Her front wheel hit the kerb. Her bumper must have skimmed the wall as she swung round, but she was past caring about the car. She grinned at the mirror. The street behind her was deserted. The side road was one way, wide enough for only one car to pass. Alongside it, a railing fenced off a small parkland. She kept going, hoping she wouldn’t lose herself in a maze of one way streets. The road was too narrow for her to stop and check her sat nav but she guessed that if she went left and left again she would find Paddington Street, or else end up on Marylebone High Street. The rain was heavy now. The regular pattering of rain and the wipers swishing rapidly across the windscreen were making her drowsy. She turned a corner and gasped. A black van was racing towards her, driving the wrong way along the narrow one way street.

The van approached so fast she had no time to brake. The pavement was only inches wide. They were on a collision course. She heard herself screaming as the van careered towards her without slowing down. She couldn’t see the other driver. Recovering herself, she slammed her foot on the brake, and tried to swerve. Her front tyre hit the kerb with such force that the front of her car slewed round, scraping along the wall, then swung round again. All she could do was grip the steering wheel helplessly while the car slid along. Before she could slow down, a splintering crash reverberated in her head and the whole car seemed to leap and twist in the air, jolting her bones painfully as it came to a standstill. The engine revved noisily. Her head exploded with a second impact. In the blackness, she wasn’t sure if her eyes were open or closed. Salty blood filled her mouth, choking her. She knew she had to open the door and get out, but she couldn’t move. Aware only of pain slicing through her head and the sound of rain drumming on the car, she lost consciousness.

2

BERN DIDN’T MIND working nights. The hour or two after the trains stopped running could be a real money-spinner. At any rate, it beat sitting in queues during the day. That was bad enough when he had an impatient passenger, but even worse was crawling through traffic to collect fares. It was a pity he was only allowed to clock up the miles, rather than charging by the hour. All things considered nights were better, as long as he avoided picking up drunks. It was almost three in the morning and he was making good time, bowling along the Marylebone Road. With a nice quiet fare in the back, he decided to follow an indirect route along back streets and notch up a few more quid on the clock. His passenger would be none the wiser, even if he knew the streets of London, which was unlikely. Bern could see him in the mirror, some swanky American sprawled in the back of the cab. Staying at The Dorchester Hotel, he could afford the extra. Probably wasn’t even paying for it himself. Once this journey was over, Bern would call it a night.

It was lucky the one way streets were too narrow for anything faster than a slow crawl, because no one had thought to put out a reflective triangle to warn drivers the road was blocked by a Porsche convertible that had slammed straight into the wall. Bern managed to stop in time, but it was a close call. Ignoring complaints from his passenger, Bern climbed out of the cab, pulling his phone out of his pocket. Registering the condition of the Porsche, he regarded the smashed up vehicle warily, shouting into his phone as he walked. As he approached he realised there was a second vehicle involved in the crash, a black van that the Porsche had driven into. The poor bugger in the Porsche hadn’t stood a chance. Neither of the drivers had. Shattered broken glass crunched beneath his feet although he trod carefully. He was reluctant to get too close but he couldn’t turn back, even though it was almost impossible anyone could still be alive. The front of the Porsche was completely crushed. Bern had never seen anything like it.

Observing the driver of the Porsche in the shadowy interior of the car he stopped, uncertain what to do. Craning his neck to peer in through the cracked rear window, he saw the shape of a woman’s head. He called out, but the driver didn’t move. The front seat and dashboard were splattered with blood. He couldn’t get close enough to the van to look inside it as the Porsche was blocking the road, but in any case he had seen enough. The interior of the Porsche was like a scene from a horror movie; blood everywhere. He turned away, wishing he hadn’t looked so closely.

A voice in his ear was telling him the emergency services were on their way, and he was to stay where he was. He wanted to tell the woman on the phone that medical assistance was of no use to a dead driver whose blood was sprayed all over the dashboard, but he couldn’t speak. His daughter was right. He was getting too old for this game. He had been on the point of retiring when Edie had unexpectedly died, so he had carried on. He couldn’t sit at home by himself staring at the four walls, brooding over his bereavement after a forty year marriage. He had to get out of the house and do something. Driving was all he knew.

Feeling shaky, he returned to the cab where his passenger began shouting at him. There was nothing Bern could do but leave his hazard lights on and wait. He could hardly turn round in such a narrow roadway, and he wasn’t about to reverse in the wrong direction along a one way road.

‘What’s the hold up here?’

‘There’s been an accident,’ he explained, jerking his head in the direction of the two smashed up cars blocking the road.

‘Well, can’t you turn around? It’s three o’clock in the morning for Christ’s sake.’

‘We can’t just leave. There’s been a fatal accident. There’s nothing we can do for her, she’s dead. The ambulance is on its way. Fat lot of good it’s going to do her. You’re not a doctor, I suppose –’

‘Are you taking me to my hotel or not?’ the fare interrupted. He clambered out of the cab. Well over six foot, he leaned over Bern as though spoiling for a fight.

‘Yes, yes, I’ll take you there just as soon as the emergency services get here. Look, there’s no point getting shirty about it. This had nothing to do with me. The collision took place before we got here.’

His passenger glared at him.

‘I want you to take me to my hotel now. I’ve got to be up early in the morning –’

‘We’ve got to wait for the Old Bill.’

‘Wait? Wait here? I don’t think so.’

That was all Bern needed. So much for adding a few miles on the clock to earn an extra quid or two. He was driving around in the dark when most people were at home, and all he had to show for it was an irate customer and the memory of an accident which would probably give him nightmares. As if that wasn’t enough for one night, he now had to wait for the police who would probably want a statement, holding him up even longer. He almost wished he had indeed reversed away and driven straight off when he had first seen the Porsche blocking his path. His real mistake had been to leave the main road in the first place. That was what happened when you tried to be clever. In the meantime the American continued grousing.

‘Look, why don’t you get back in the cab, mate? You’re getting soaked out here.’

Grumbling, the passenger climbed back in and sat, arms folded, glaring. Bern shivered and pulled up the collar of his raincoat, hoping he wasn’t going to catch a chill. He was definitely too old to be driving around at night.

At last the sound of a siren pierced the night air. A moment later, the blue flashing light of a police car came round the corner, followed by an ambulance. Bern was irrationally relieved to see a paramedic running towards the demolished Porsche. The driver was dead; it made no difference. But the image of her bloody face had become someone else’s memory to expunge.

A policeman in uniform approached with an officious air. Noting down Bern’s details, he asked him for a full account of what had happened. Bern gazed at him uncomfortably. All he wanted to do was to go home and sleep but he still had his fare, and the policeman was scowling at him. He was probably tired too. Bern answered his questions as helpfully as he could, but he had little to say.

‘I didn’t check the time but I must have arrived on the scene about a minute before I called 999. I just got out the cab to see what had happened, saw the state of the Porsche, and called up. That’s all, really. I saw the vehicles and –’ He broke off with a shrug. ‘There was so much blood. It was horrible. I thought I ought to take a look, you know, in case there was someone still in the car, trapped maybe, and needing help urgently. But I could see she was past help.’

The police officer squinted suspiciously at him.

‘How could you tell? That’s for a medical officer to –’

‘Take a look for yourself,’ Bern cut in with a burst of annoyance, ‘and then you tell me if you think anyone could survive with injuries like that. I’m telling you, it doesn’t take any sort of medical training to see that woman’s dead.’

Without warning he turned his head away and threw up, splashing the policeman’s boots with flecks of vomit.

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CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Fatal Act

'a most intriguing and well executed mystery and... an engrossing read'
- Sara Townsend, shotsmag [read the full review]

'A great read with a twist'
- Gerry (akaThe Mole), ourbookreviewsonline [read the full review]

'Captivating, riveting, intense.'
- Bookscream, Bookscream.com

'fantastic. I can't wait to read more'
- Shaun, Book Addict Shaun [read the full review]

'the best yet from Leigh Russell - she keeps you guessing all the way through and leaves you wanting more'
- Crime Book Club [read the full review]

'another fast-paced and complex mystery - a fabulous read.'
- Helen Hunt, fictionisstrangerthanfact [read the full review]

'If you like crime writing, you’ll enjoy Fatal Act'
- Charlie Britten [read the full review]

'highly recommended'
- Jennifer S. Palmer [read the full review]

'the plot is strong and the writing just flows with style and panache.'
- Paul D, Goodreads [read the full review]

'Cleverly written'
- A Lover of Books [read the full review]

'another corker of a book from Leigh Russell... Russell’s talent for writing top-quality crime fiction just keeps on growing...'
- Euro Crime [read the full review]

'a truly great author... enough mystery and drama for the most ardent of mystery fans'
- Bookaholic [read the full review]

READER REVIEWS

'It gripped me from the beginning'
- Claire Fraser, amazon.co.uk Read More

'A great plot and so well written that you feel 'involved' from the very start.'
- Carol Peace, goodreads.com Read More

'The series just gets better and better.'
- Jane, whsmith.co.uk Read More

More Reader Reviews

'an above average thriller'
- C Colbert, amazon.co.uk Read More

'an intelligent, page-turning and satisfying crime novel'
- CuteBadger, goodreads.com Read More

'HIGHLY RECOMMENDED AND A MUST READ'
- Blue Fish, amazon.co.uj Read More

Fatal Act by Leigh Russell

Publication Date: 29 May 2014

Availability: Available Now

Format: Paperback

Extent: 320pp

Price: £7.99

ISBN: 9781843442042

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Publication Date: 29 May 2014

Availability: Available Now

Format: ebook (ePub)

Price: £5.99

ISBN: 9781843442059

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Publication Date: 21 Nov 2013

Availability: Available Now

Format: ebook (kindle)

Price: £5.99

ISBN: 9781843442066

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Leigh Russell

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