BLOOD AXE

A DI IAN PETERSON MURDER INVESTIGATION

"Silently dipping his oars in the water he made his escape. It was a weary journey, with few spoils to show for it. Next time he would do better. He looked back over his shoulder. The bridge had disappeared,swallowed up by the darkness. From its walkway he too had become invisible. Only the bloody body of a woman showed he had been roaming the streets that night".

DI Ian Peterson investigates a series of gruesome and brutal murders in York. As the body count mounts, the case demands all Ian’s ingenuity, because these are murders seemingly committed at random, and this is a killer who leaves no clues.

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Read an Extract from Blood Axe

1

THE WARRIOR SPRANG on to dry land, shoulder muscles straining as he heaved his narrow vessel against the current. The river flowed darkly beneath the railway bridge. Grunting, he hauled his boat along to the narrow steps that led up a steep slope to the path. Under cover of night it wasn’t easy to see the boat lying at the foot of the slope. Bent almost double, he trotted halfway up the steps and looked both ways along the path. Satisfied there was no one in sight he hurried back down the steps, hauled his boat up them and dragged it swiftly over the tract of muddy grass and across the path to a gap in the wall. With an effort he heaved his boat upwards, manoeuvring it right over the top of the wall. Clinging to a rope attached to the boat, he lowered it swiftly to the ground on the other side. Forcing his way through a gap in the wall he made sure the boat was settled in a wide ditch, before pushing his way back through the gap to the path.

Turning, half crouching, he padded towards a nearby settlement. It was a mixed blessing when the moon god lit up the path in front of him. He did not want to be seen as he stole along the deserted river bank. Up ahead, a bridge spanned the dark waters, illuminated at intervals by street lights that cast an orange glow. Even at that late hour a steady succession of cars was gliding across the bridge. He hadn’t expected the roads to be so busy at that time of night. He didn’t want a confrontation. He could fight with the strength of a bear, but he was alone. A distant humming barely disturbed the quiet of the night as he ran up the steps and on to the bridge. Crossing it, he slipped over the road and up a side street. He rounded a bend and a figure appeared in front of him, only a few feet away. From behind it was impossible to tell whether he was following a man or a woman. It made no difference. If the stranger was armed, a strong woman could be nearly as dangerous as a man. What mattered was to take his target by surprise.

Wolf-like, the warrior ran forward, his leather shoes pounding silently on the hard ground. There was no room to wield a long sword. Having touched his silver amulet for protection, he gripped his axe with both hands and raised it. He had won the axe in battle and had been biding his time ever since, eager to try it out. Now it was about to claim its first trophy. At the last minute his victim looked round. He saw her eyes widen in terror, her lips parting as though to scream. With one blow of his axe he felled her, leaping aside to avoid her spurting blood. She sank to the ground with barely a murmur.

The woman lay at his feet, a pool of blood spreading from a deep gash in her skull. The light overhead illuminated her face and he saw that she was young. There was no time to waste in regret that he had killed her before considering taking her as a thrall. She was beyond his clutches now, already on her journey to the frozen wasteland. Deftly he set to work. Guided by the moon god, he wiped his blade on a piece of her tunic that wasn’t drenched in blood. He removed her silver necklace and pulled three gold rings from her hands. They slipped easily from her wet fingers. Dropping them into his pouch he ran on, keeping to the shadows.

After such a kill, the area was dangerous. Once the woman’s body was discovered, her people would come looking for him. Until then, the streets were his hunting ground. So far he hadn’t found much, just a few trinkets that weighed hardly anything. After all his effort, he had to do better than that. All at once he stopped in his tracks to gaze at a glittering display of precious metalwork, rings and gems, and delicate decorative chains, all skilfully wrought. Trembling with desire, he forced himself to walk past. It wasn’t safe to steal such a rich hoard openly in the busy street. People were hurrying by singly or in small rowdy groups. Most of them took no notice of him, but one or two threw curious glances in his direction. With his bloody axe at his side, it was best not to loiter. He spun round and made his way back across the bridge and down to the river. All he had to show for his efforts were a few gold rings and a fine silver chain. He remembered the woman he had killed, and cursed her. If she hadn’t appeared in front of him at just that moment, his pouch might have been stuffed with treasure now. The gods had not favoured him that night, but he had no one to blame but himself.

He reached the river and hurried along the path. Dragging his boat from its hiding place behind the wall, he carried it back down to the water and leaped aboard. Silently dipping his oars in the water he made his escape. It was a weary journey, with few spoils to show for it. Next time he would do better. He looked back over his shoulder. The bridge had disappeared, swallowed up by the darkness. From its walkway he too had become invisible. Only the bloody body of a woman showed he had been roaming the streets that night.

2

IAN PETERSON WOKE early. His wife was asleep so he went to work straight away, without stopping for coffee before leaving home. Driving to the police station before most people were stirring, he made the short journey in record time. His office was small, but he had it all to himself. That was just one of the many advantages of his recent promotion to detective inspector, another being that he no longer lived anywhere near his in-laws. He cleared his desk before going to the canteen for breakfast. Detective Sergeant Ted Birling was already there, one hand wrapped round a mug of coffee. With black hair and dark eyes, his air of brash confidence made him appear older than his mid-twenties. The sergeant looked up and greeted Ian with a smile as he sat down. Nodding an acknowledgement, Ian tucked into a plate of egg, beans and sausages.

‘Wife not feeding you?’

Ian grinned in reply and they sat in companionable silence until he finished.

‘Had a good weekend?’ Ian asked, putting his knife and fork down.

Ted shrugged. ‘Jenny wanted to go to see this new film everyone’s been talking about.’ He mentioned a name Ian vaguely recognised.

‘Was it any good?’

‘It was a load of shite, but she enjoyed it.’

‘That’s all right then.’

They exchanged a resigned smile.

‘How about you? Good weekend?’

Ian shrugged. ‘We had tickets for the last night of the Viking Festival. My wife’s interested in all that.’

Ted nodded. ‘I used to go to those events when I was a kid.’

A crowd had gathered the previous day near the west door of the Minster, where a group of people dressed as Vikings were standing on the steps. The men wore round helmets, hooded cloaks and belted woollen tunics, while the women wore long skirts and pinafores fastened with belts and brooches.

‘A lot of them aren’t wearing replicas of authentic Viking helmets,’ Bev told him. ‘Nose guards weren’t around until the Normans, and the Vikings never had horns sticking out of their helmets.’

‘Where do those originate from then?’ Ian nodded at a group of men sporting huge curved horns on either side of their helmets.

‘I don’t know.’

Ian stopped one of the Vikings wearing a horned helmet. ‘Where’s your helmet from?’

‘eBay, mate.’

At a rousing note on a cow’s horn, the onlookers surged round the outside of the cathedral to watch a host of costumed Vikings marching past, yelling ‘Odin!’, and banging their shields with their spears.

‘Imagine if you lived here a thousand years ago, and you saw this lot arriving,’ Bev said. ‘It must’ve been terrifying.’

Swept along with the crowd following the rowdy costumed Vikings, they followed the procession along Parliament Street to St Sampson Square. There was a crush outside Yorvik before they turned left along Castlegate, round the base of Clifford’s Tower, to gather around the green outside the Castle museum. Ranks of costumed warriors lined up on the grass, banging their spears on their shields.

The re-enactment began and the roar of the crowd lifted to a crescendo. A man’s voice rang out on a loudspeaker relating the story of the legendary battle. To the accompaniment of cheering from the spectators, the lines of make-believe warriors ran towards each other, slowly swinging swords and waving spears. In their everyday lives bank clerks and teachers, librarians and shop assistants, they joined together to form good-natured armies pretending to hack one another to death. Carefully staged to avoid injury, it looked like a health and safety nightmare. With the battle cries of the victors, and the yells of people pretending to be hacked down, it was an epic show. Bodies fell and lay motionless, their shields protecting their heads. One corpse wriggled away from the stamping feet of a couple of men engaged in combat beside him.

Ian grinned, enjoying the lively atmosphere of so many people out in the open air, engaged in harmless fun. He hadn’t seen his wife looking so happy since they had moved to York on his promotion to detective inspector. After so many years, he still couldn’t believe his luck. He had fallen for Bev when they were at school together. He had never dreamed then that she would eventually become his wife. She hated living so far from her family and friends in the South. It didn’t help that her first job in York had ended disastrously, denting her fragile self-esteem. Ian could never understand how such a beautiful, capable woman could be so lacking in confidence.

‘You should have dressed up as a Viking warrior! I always said you look like a Viking,’ she shouted up at him.

‘Tall, blonde, good-looking,’ he agreed with a grin.

In the cheerful shouting, a deep voice roared out in genuine rage.

‘Some fucker’s nicked me axe!’

A huge, broad-shouldered man with a bushy beard was bellowing about a stolen weapon. He looked like a brute ready for a fight, despite his bare head. Red-faced, with the veins bulging in his thick neck, he towered menacingly over a worried-looking official in an orange hi-vis jacket.

‘Cost me a fucking fortune!’

The official stared helplessly up at him. ‘I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do…’

‘Nothing you can do? Cost me nearly a hundred quid! I bought it specially. You’d better bloody find it.’

The official muttered about Festival regulations and liability for loss or damage. He looked terrified. With a sigh, Ian stepped forward to calm the aggrieved man before his frustration erupted in violence.

‘I’m a detective inspector,’ he said loudly. ‘Do you want to report something stolen?’

The official threw Ian a grateful glance as Ian led the tall man away from the barrier, and the crush of spectators.

‘Someone’s nicked me bloody axe,’ the tall man said, as soon as they could hear one another. ‘Cost me nearly a hundred quid and the guy I bought it from told me it was a one-off. I’ve never seen another one like it. Unique it was, and it was right here.’ He held out his palm, as though his empty hand proved his claim. ‘It’s a genuine replica. Cost me a small fortune and now someone’s gone and nicked it. Bloody hell. I had it right here in my hand. Some fucker just grabbed it off me and disappeared in the crowd before I could stop him. There was no way I could see where he went. Bastard!’

Ian asked him to describe the thief, but the tall man had spotted only a hooded figure who had slipped away before he had registered the theft.

‘He was too bloody quick.’

Ian went through the motions of taking the report seriously, just to pacify the other man.

‘Do you have a picture of your axe?’

‘Picture?’

‘Can you describe it?’

‘Yes. It’s a replica of a real Viking axe. It’s got a heavy iron head with a steel edge, and a wooden handle, and there’s a rune engraved on the blade, so you should be able to find it.’

‘A rune?’

‘Yes, a rune, engraved on the blade. It’s for protection. It’s… look, I can draw it for you.’

Seizing the pen Ian offered he drew a capital Y, adding a third middle vertical branch. It looked like a trident.

‘So do you mean this pattern’s engraved on the axe blade?’

‘Yes. That’s right. It’s a rune. Bloody hell, over a hundred quid it cost me.’

They were interrupted by a loud roar. The battle was over. Promising to contact the man if his axe turned up, Ian took Bev’s hand. Together they watched the show draw to a close, in an explosion of fireworks. The battle victims clambered to their feet, brushing themselves down and gathering their weapons.

Above the cacophony of voices, a scream reverberated, shrill and clear. About to walk away, Ian paused and turned to look over his shoulder.

‘Wait here,’ he told Bev.

‘Oh Ian, what now?’

Frowning, he vaulted over the barrier, and ran towards a woman in a belted dress and head scarf. She was standing beside a man who lay motionless on the ground. The woman was flapping her arms and shrieking incoherently, staring down at the prone figure in white-faced horror. Two St John ambulance workers materialised as if from nowhere, racing towards the body. One of them knelt down and felt for a pulse. For a few seconds no one spoke, then she rose to her feet and shrugged.

‘He’s blind drunk.’ She turned to a festival official. ‘It’s just some sozzled idiot giving everyone a fright. Nothing to worry about.’

3

‘CHARLES, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, we’ve been over it all before and you agreed to come with me this weekend. It’s been in the calendar for weeks. You can’t back out now.’

Charles glanced sideways at his wife. ‘There’s nothing I can do about it, there’s no way…’

He broke off in mid-sentence as he glimpsed a bloody victim of a hit and run sprawled on the pavement in a side street.

‘Charles, you’re coming with me and that’s that. It’s in the calendar.’

She paused, noticing his frown. The car behind hooted as Charles pulled into the side of the road. A few other drivers beeped their horns. One of them wound down his window to shout abuse as he drove past.

‘Charles! What the hell are you doing? You can’t stop here!’

‘Stay in the car!’

Ignoring his wife’s shrill protest, he jumped out of the car, slammed his door and dashed back to the side street where he had seen the body. Phone in hand, he turned to check Sharon hadn’t followed him. Accustomed to viewing cadavers, he could see straight away that something was seriously amiss. Whatever had happened to her, this girl had not been hit by a car. Just as he got through to the emergency services, Sharon appeared on the corner, yelling at him. He waved at her to stay back, talking quickly into the phone all the while.

‘Yes, a woman’s body. What?’ He listened to the question, still gesticulating furiously at Sharon to stay away. ‘Yes, she’s definitely dead. In Cambridge Street, near the corner of Holgate Road. What’s that?’ He gave his name and occupation, registering how the speaker’s tone altered as soon as she heard he was a surgeon. ‘Look, this isn’t a pretty sight,’ he went on. ‘You need to get a team here straight away to cordon the area off. It’s… well, it’s bloody. She’s been hacked to death.’ He listened, before repeating carefully, ‘Yes, hacked to death, with a large, heavy blade of some kind, a carving knife or a cleaver, something sharp and heavy, I’d say, although that’s just an initial impression. Her head’s been split open with what looks like a single blow.’

He listened again but before he could respond, the wail of a siren cut across the hum of traffic. At the same time, someone screamed. Turning, he saw Sharon, white-faced, her eyes stretched wide, her mouth gaping.

‘I told you to stay in the car!’ he snapped.

Judging by the reactions of the two police officers who arrived, it was fortunate Charles had been first on the scene.

‘I’m sorry,’ one of the young constables muttered, wiping his mouth. ‘I just wasn’t expecting this.’ He glanced at the bloody corpse and winced, his eyes sliding rapidly away again.

Charles nodded. Although his scrutiny of the body had been purely clinical, he could appreciate it was an unpleasant sight. With one blow the killer had cracked the woman’s skull open. Seeping from the gash in her forehead, bloody brain tissue had covered the top half of her face in a macabre eye mask. As far as he could tell, the dead woman had been young, little more than a girl. She was lying on her back, dressed in a short black skirt and denim jacket, the latter streaked with dried blood. One of her shoes had fallen off and was lying nearby in the gutter. He noted mechanically how small her feet were, a hole in her tights exposing a turquoise toenail. Behind him someone groaned. He turned and saw Sharon, propped up against the wall, still vomiting.

‘I told you to stay in the car,’ he repeated wearily.

Time seemed to slow down while they stood around waiting for someone in authority to arrive and start issuing commands. Just as Charles decided he would have to take charge of the situation himself, a convoy of police cars drew up, sirens blaring, and the street became hectic with activity. People were talking rapidly on phones, a cordon appeared as if from nowhere, and a line of uniformed officers ushered away a crowd of onlookers who seemed to have sprung from the pavement.

Charles approached a portly middle-aged sergeant. ‘I need to get to work.’

The policeman shook his head. ‘We need you to stay here, sir.’

Tersely, Charles explained who he was, and that he needed to get to the hospital where he had patients waiting. With a nod the sergeant made a note of his contact details and let him go.

‘Come on,’ Charles said, taking Sharon by the hand. ‘Let’s get you home. You’re in no fit state to go to work.’

Hand in hand they walked slowly back to the car.

‘I wonder who she was.’

‘It makes no difference to her now. Try to put it out of your head.’

‘It’ll make a difference to anyone who knew her. She was murdered, wasn’t she?’

‘It certainly looks that way. But I don’t suppose she would have known anything about it,’ he added untruthfully.

She must have seen the blade descending; an instant of terror before it cracked her skull and sliced through her brain.

‘What about her family?’ Sharon was asking tearfully.

‘There’s no point in upsetting yourself. The police are there. They’ll take care of everything. That’s their job. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. Now come on.’

‘I suppose we’ll hear all about it in the news.’

‘I daresay.’ He opened his car door.

‘Well I hope they catch the sick bastard who did that to her,’ Sharon said, sniffing and wiping her eyes, careless of her smudged mascara.

Charles nodded, surprised at feeling faintly nauseous now he was no longer responsible for what happened to the dead girl. Accustomed to working in an operating theatre, even he had been shocked by the horrific sight of a girl who had been so brutally assaulted on the street.

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CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Blood Axe

'Engrossing...another solid read in the Peterson series.'
- Best Crime Books & More [read the full review]

'Leigh has a sure touch, content well researched and with watertight plot lines, and detectives who you enjoy reading about.'
- Charlie Britten, Charlie Britten's writing blog [read the full review]

'There are plenty of unforeseen twists and a great, suitably appropriate, climatic ending...I would recommend!'
- Katherine Sunderland, BiblioManiac [read the full review]

'the team gain enough insight to pinpoint a potential killer in a nail biting finale'
- Jennifer S. Palmer, Mystery People [read the full review]

'the historically fascinating city provides a fantastic backdrop for this edgy thriller'
- My Weekly [read the full review]

'A very well conceived and executed investigative / crime / PI / detective novel'
- Jenn, Book Reviews & Giveaways [read the full review]

'If you are a fan of books by Peter James, Sophie Hannah and Lynda La Plante then you are going to love books by Leigh Russell too'
- Amanda Gillies, Euro Crime [read the full review]

'If you like your books filled with blood, bodies and an axe murderer running through the streets then this thriller is for you, and you won't be disappointed.'
- Jessica Patient, Writer's Little Helper [read the full review]

'Murder Ring is published as a Kindle on 11 December. Pre-order now on Amazon'
- David Prestidge, Crime Fiction Lover [read the full review]

'All in all, a rattling good read.'
- Christine Poulson, A Reading Life [read the full review]

''My stories always begin, in my head, with a killer''
- Leigh Russell, Shots [read the full review]

'The story moved along at a swift pace and interspersed with the murder investigation were the killer's thoughts which made for chilling reading'
- Carole, Goodreads [read the full review]

'To celebrate the release of Blood Axe, I am very pleased to have Leigh Russell as a guest on my blog today. Leigh is sharing her thoughts on what it means to be an author.'
- Helen Walters, Fiction is Stranger than Fact [read the full review]

'The plot was multi-dimensional and captivating'
- Sophie Hedley, Reviewed the Book [read the full review]

'Like all my books, it begins with a murder, and the story spins out from there.'
- Lainy, So many books, so little time [read the full review]

'I do not want to gloss over the horror of a crime scene'
- Lloyd Paige, Lloyd Paige [read the full review]

'Can the police, and especially DI Ian Peterson, find and stop the killer?'
- Russell James, Crime Time [read the full review]

'interspersed with the murder investigation were the killer's thoughts which made for chilling reading.'
- Carole Colbert, Carole's Books [read the full review]

'Russell's best book yet (and there have been a lot of good ones)'
- Our Book Reviews Online [read the full review]

'I feel like I have walked the streets of York and met the many characters in passing.'
- Crime Book Club [read the full review]

'A great story with some interesting and unexpected twists and turns. It ends with some scenes of high drama and a clever and surprising outcome'
- Fiction is Stranger than Fact [read the full review]

'I must say I have enjoyed this book the most of all the ones I have read & may even seek out the earlier ones in the series.'
- Always Reading [read the full review]

READER REVIEWS

'I must say I have enjoyed this book the most of all the ones I have read & may even seek out the earlier ones in the series.'
- Lainy, Read More

'I can see how much research Leigh puts in and it makes so much difference to scenery and character backgrounds. I feel like I have walked the streets of York and met the many characters in passing.'
- Crime Book Club Read More

'Having been sent this book to review by Real Readers I started it with some excitement having read Leigh Russell's books before. Yet another gripping novel in the DI Peterson series. A dark figure rowing on the river, a missing axe, brutal murders, DI Peterson investigates as the killer leaves no clues...or does he? A Viking museum with suspicious attendants, Eventually the killer will trip up. Another brilliant page turner by Leigh Russell.'
- Read More

More Reader Reviews

'I was very lucky to get this from Real Readers for an honest review. I have read some of her previous books and this one was the best so far. DI Ian Peterson is investigating a gruesome axe murder and it seems that the murderer has left no clues at all and the victim seems to have no enemies, the murder seems to have been random but who would have an axe on hand?. DI Peterson realises that no clues are left behind and as the body count increases they don't seem to be able to catch a break. It takes all Petersons ingenuity to solve the case and also keep his private life together. The killer seems to get bolder with every murder and they are hoping that he will make a mistake but things take a surprising turn and when the killer is revealed it is a complete surprise. I love the undercurrent of dialogue from the killer that is interspersed throughout and found myself racing to the end with my breath held. This is a great read and I rarely give 5* but this definately warranted it.'
- Read More

Blood Axe by Leigh Russell

Publication Date: 26 November 2014

Availability: Not Yet Published

Format: Paperback

Extent: 320pp

Price: £7.99

ISBN: 9781843445432

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Publication Date:10 August 2015

Availability: Available Now

Format: ebook (ePub)

Price: £4.99

ISBN: 9781843445449

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Publication Date: 10 August 2015

Availability: Available Now

Format: ebook (kindle)

Price: £4.99

ISBN: 9781843445456

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Leigh Russell

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