Peter Lovesey, MWA Grand Master and titan of the English detective novel, is back! Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt of his latest, Killing with Confetti, the eighteenth mystery in the critically acclaimed Peter Diamond series.
As a New Year begins in Bath, Ben Brace proposes to his long-term girlfriend, Caroline, the daughter of notorious crime baron Joe Irving, who is coming to the end of a prison sentence. The problem is that Ben’s father, George, is the Deputy Chief Constable. A more uncomfortable set of in-laws would be hard to imagine.
Peter Diamond, Bath’s head of CID, is appalled to be put in charge of security on the big day. Ordered to be discreet, he packs a gun and a guest list in his best suit and must somehow handle potential killers, gang rivals, warring parents, bossy photographers and straying bridesmaids. Will the photo session be a literal shoot? Will Joe Irving’s speech as father of the bride be his last words? Can Diamond pull off a miracle, avert a tragedy and send the happy couple on their honeymoon?
Find out in Killing with Confetti: on sale now wherever books are sold.
The two short words Warren doesn’t wish to hear: “It’s on.”
“Soon as that?”
“Catch the white-shirts off guard.”
But it isn’t right, not for Warren. It’s wrong, disastrously wrong. He is playing the good-behaviour card this time round in his prison career, working with the system for early release. He’s been one of HMP Bream’s model cons for two long years. Two years, three months and twenty- seven days.
A riot has been talked about for weeks on C wing. Talk is easy. For a time it was no more than that, wishful think- ing, like sex with the gorgeous Miss Martindale who teaches black history. But by degrees the chat has got serious. The gorillas on the top landing mean business. “Together we can do this. We outnumber them. They won’t know what’s hit them.”
A plan has been hatched. Nothing brilliant. Grab the screws the moment they unlock, disable their radios and body cameras, drag them into the cells, tie them up and take their passes, keys and pepper spray. Then hold them hostage. At the same time, someone else will be disabling the CCTV. Coordinated action, see?
How stupid was that, saying “Right”?
In this place you get in the habit of agreeing with other people. It’s not clever to challenge anyone. Even so, there are times when you should say, “Count me out.”
No one is under any illusion that possessing the keys will mean instant freedom. The people who designed this coop weren’t amateurs. You can only get so far and then you need different sets of keys and different passes. There is a better way to beat the system and the wise guys upstairs have sussed it. Instead of breaking out, you break in.
First, uncage your brother inmates and you’ll have reinforcements. Strength in numbers. The screws’ master keys will give access to the beating heart of the prison: the association area, servery, workshops, gym and chapel. And improvised weapons. Arm yourselves with whatever comes to hand, like fire extinguishers, socks weighted with pool balls, bits of broken furniture such as iron bedposts and steel rails from bookshelves. There’s talk that one of the gorillas has taken delivery of a gun, carried over the wall by drone. Whether that’s true only he and his inner circle know.
The prison authorities still have the heavy weapons— hoses, tasers, tear gas, stun grenades, sidearms, batons, armed police and the army if required—but they’re sup- posed to act responsibly. The inmates aren’t under any such compulsion. They can create mayhem. The obvious way to make it happen is with fire. Set the place alight and see how that goes down with the governor when some of his team are held hostage.
Warren has no desire to be part of the violence. With good behaviour he is planning to reduce a six stretch to three. Getting caught up in a riot will wreck that. He’s forty-three now. More than half his life has been spent inside, if you count the years in the secure children’s home. His last probation officer—all of twenty-one and straight out of college—said he was institutionalised, unlikely to survive outside some strict regime like prison or the army.
What did the little prick think? That Warren wouldn’t know how to use a knife and fork? Couldn’t walk up a crowded street without panicking? Would get tongue-tied talking to a woman?
People like that know shit-all.
He has managed his anger up to now, hasn’t he? He can survive outside. He can thrive. But not the law-abiding way society expects, with the pathetic discharge grant of £46 and a one-way train ticket to London—to exist on charity and roughing it on the streets. And not on Job- seeker’s Allowance and filling in forms at the job centre. With Warren’s special skills there are jobs to be had that no careers advisor knows about.
His problem is that he just said “Right” and the mob on the top landing now believe they can count on his support. One short word has fouled up everything. He’ll be lumped in with the rioters, liable to be charged with whatever these madmen get up to. No lawyer, however smart, will get him off after that. Another long stretch looms.
I can’t be alone in wanting no part of this, Warren tells himself. But who else has the balls to take on the gorillas?
And now there is worse. “How you doing, Warren?”
“Because tomorrow, when it happens, you’re the star turn, you and Muscles.”
His insides clench. “Why is that?”
“Obvious, innit? Yours is the last door they unlock, being at the end of the landing. We’ll all be waiting for you to clobber the screw, you and Muscles, catch him off guard just when he thinks his job is done. That’s lift-off. Then we’re on our way, mate. There’s no holding us.”
He understands the logic. This isn’t personal. He and Muscles are unlucky enough to be banged up in the end pad.
Some rapid thinking is necessary.
“He won’t be the only screw unlocking.”
“Don’t you worry about that, mate. It’s taken care of. Soon as you make the first move, the rest of us swing into action. We’ll be taking our cue from you.”
“Who decided this?”
“Who do you think? The lads upstairs. Make sure you get Muscles on board. We all know he’s not the full quid, but he’s going to be needed.”
Warren’s cellmate is six-six and eighteen stone and can’t hold a thought in his head for more than two seconds. In a fight he’s liable to get confused who the enemy is. But he’s strong. There are plenty in prison who pump iron every day and get a body. You aren’t called Muscles unless you really stand out.
“I don’t like this,” Warren says. “Nobody told me we were first on.”
“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?”
No sense in protesting. This guy is merely the mouth- piece for the high command. With twenty minutes of association time left in the day Warren needs to visit the top landing and speak to the head honcho.
And say what?
Think of something fast.
While climbing the metal stairs he is reminded of some- thing everyone learns to live with on a prison wing—the sheer volume of noise hitting you from the brick and metal surfaces. The clang of barred metal gates. Voices raised in argument, excitement, laughter, threat and desperation, shouting across the landings, vying to be heard in a babel of accents and languages. A modern English prison is more inclusive than the United Nations.
An idea comes to Warren.
The top gorilla, Uncle Joe—nobody calls him anything else—is leaning on the railing gazing through the anti-suicide netting at the atrium below, getting the scenic view of his kingdom. Broad, muscled and shaven-headed, he is dressed in designer sportswear, a black basketball shirt to exhibit the heavily tattooed arms. Silver shorts. Expensive trainers. “Yeah?” Uncle Joe doesn’t turn his head to see who has approached.
“You may have seen me around. Warren, from the middle landing. The end pad.”
“So I was told to make the first move tomorrow, me and my cellmate Muscles.”
“Got a problem with that, Warren?”
“I wouldn’t call it a problem, more a question.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“What’s happening about the foreigners?”
The connection isn’t obvious to Uncle Joe. “Come again.”
“The cons who don’t speak English.”
“They’ll catch on when they see what’s going on.”
“But can we count on them?”
“Why wouldn’t we?”
“We don’t know what they’re saying. What they’re thinking.”
“You’re losing me, pal,” Uncle Joe says.
“They’re a sizeable section of the wing. And some of them are hard men with their own agenda and it’s not just praying and fasting. They could turn your brilliant plan into a bloodbath.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Sorry.” Warren sidles closer and mutters, “What I’m saying is we’re aiming to do this clean, am I right? These ay-rabs need telling in words they understand.”
“You speak their language?”
“I know someone who does.”
“A geezer called Haseem.”
“Tell him, then. Sorted.”
“Not quite,” Warren says. “There’s an even bigger risk.”
“My cellmate, Muscles. He’s a slightly different problem, but it comes to the same thing. He’s unstable.”
“Brain damaged. You can’t reason with him. He’s got the attention span of a two-year-old on speed. And a history of violence.”
“With him, it’s something else. Let me tell you what will happen. Muscles will see me grab the screw and he’ll join in and snap the guy’s neck like a biscuit. That’s what he does. It’s why he’s in this place. Instead of a hostage we’ll have a corpse.”
“We don’t want killing,” Uncle Joe says.
“Too right we don’t. It gives the riot squad a reason to open fire on us.”
“So tell Muscles.”
“No use. It won’t sink in. His memory’s gone. He can’t even tell you what his name is.”
“He could foul up the plan.”
Warren is starting to think Uncle Joe is not much brighter than Muscles. “He will, for sure.”
“Why are you telling me this now? I could have got him ghosted.” Ghosting is when a difficult offender is moved to another part of the prison or another jail altogether.
Suddenly the heat is back on Warren for the delay in mentioning the problem of Muscles. “I only just heard what you want us to do. I came as soon as I could. Too late, isn’t it?”
Uncle Joe says, “Put something in his drink.”
“Dope, you mean?”
“What do you think I mean, dumbo—a lump of sugar?”
“No, I understand.”
“Enough so he sleeps through.”
“But that means I’ll have to clobber the screw myself, without any help. They’re well protected, those fuckers.”
“There may be a better way,” Warren says as if the idea just dawned. “I don’t like it—I really wanted a piece of the action—but it will work.”
“Instead of me and Muscles making the first move, you fix it for the lads in the next cell to deal with the screw.”
Warren is up as usual at 5:30 a.m. to boil water for coffee and his shave. Then he tries working for an hour on his Open University assignment. Hard going with his mind on what will happen next. He returns his books to the shelf and settles to watching the door. Roll check has to be completed first. He’s long ago learned that the screws are as enslaved to routine as the inmates and some of them are more scared than any inmate of making a mistake.
The eye appears at the judas hole. So far, so normal.
From the landing comes the familiar rasp and creak of cell doors being unlocked, followed by sleepy voices. Warren steps across to Muscles, still out to the world, feet the size of French loaves hanging over the end of the ludicrously small bunk.
“Better move, mate.”
The cell feels colder than usual, and Warren’s head is aching. Stress, he supposes. He can’t be certain if last night’s suggestion to Uncle Joe has been acted on. No one is likely to tell him. He can only be sure of one thing: he won’t himself be attacking any screw this morning.
He grasps some of Muscles’s bedding and pulls it back from the tattooed shoulder. “Time to get up, mate.”
A large fist grabs the sheet and pulls it close again. Warren gives up trying. It isn’t clever to upset Muscles. He really did snap the neck of a man who bugged him. Leave the beached whale to wait for the next tide. Won’t hurt him to miss breakfast.
There is a thump from next door that could be the lad from the top bunk getting out—or the heart-warming sound of the screw being smacked against the wall. Either way, something is up because the unlocking hasn’t reached their cell yet.
More noise than usual starts coming from the landing outside. You get to know the level of sound to expect, the tones of voice. These aren’t the mutterings of people starting another boring day of bird. A definite air of urgency is coming through.
And this door hasn’t been opened.
Good sign. The lads next door must have got the mes- sage from Uncle Joe and duffed up the screw.
Five minutes go by.
Quite a bedlam of noise now. The excited voices of a mob that realises this is a day like no other.
Warren moves closer and puts his ear to the sheet metal to try to hear better. Someone out there must have keys by now and ought to be unlocking the bloody thing. He yells, “Oy!”
Muscles sits up in his bunk and yawns. “What’s up?”
“They’re not letting us out,” Warren says.
“Prison, innit?” Muscles says.
Can’t argue with that.
“They were planning to clobber the screws and grab the keys.”
Muscles isn’t impressed. His face has gone blank again, his standard expression.
“It was a plan, all set for now.”
“No one told me.”
“They could let us out any moment.”
“I need a crap.”
“Be my guest. Then you’d better get dressed. I don’t think we’ll be going home today, but if the plan works, we’ll get to negotiate.” Warren is talking to himself more than Muscles. A hostage negotiation is a concept too far for the big man. Still no sound of the door being unlocked. The ugly possibility is forming that their fellow cons have decided to keep them banged up. There is no knowing what version of last night’s conversation filtered down from the top landing.
Muscles says from the toilet seat, “Where’s breakfast?”
Breakfast, so-called, consists of teabags, cereal, bread and jam with sachets of whitener and sugar, all in a clear plastic bag shoved through the judas hole. “I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.”
“They’ve got other stuff to think about.”
“Like taking out the CCTV.”
“The cameras that spy on us all day long.”
Thinking it over, there is something to be said for being shut up in the cell. The cons might think of it as punishment for opting out, but when the riot comes to a bad end, as it surely will, he and Muscles can’t be blamed for the violence and damage.
“Banged up all day?” the big man asks. “Could be.”
“And nothing to eat?”
“They won’t forget us,” Warren says without the certainty he would have liked.
The level of noise on the other side of the door is increasing. No question: something unusual is going on. A bad-tempered debate, probably, about the next step. Trash the place or prepare for a long siege by pooling resources? Prison inmates aren’t the best at evolving strategies. Surely the gorillas upstairs must have formed a plan. They ought to exert their authority over the hotheads.
“All we can do is sit it out, however long it takes,” Warren says.
Muscles is sitting it out on the toilet.
The rigid prison routine is on hold for sure. Being banged up is harder to endure than usual, not knowing what to expect. If you know you’re there for hours because of staff shortages you can pass time reading a book or watching telly.
Muscles eventually works the flush and gets dressed.
The commotion on the landing subsides in the next hour. Just the occasional shout, impossible to interpret as speech.
“Do you have to do that?”
Muscles looks up. “What?”
“Grind your teeth. It’s getting to me.”
There’s a sound at the door and the hatch below the judas hole opens. Muscles, eager for food, gets to it before Warren.
Something is pushed through and the hatch slams shut before words can be exchanged.
“What’s this?” Muscles asks, holding it up for Warren to see.
A sheet of soiled toilet paper has been pushed through.
The word SCABS is scrawled across it. “Dickheads.”
Muscles is frowning. “What does this writing say?” “Scabs.”
“What do they mean by that?”
Warren doesn’t try to explain. “Flush it away and wash your hands.” He puts the telly on.
Two or three hours pass and no one unlocks the door.
Something is on TV about doing up houses and selling them for a profit. Top viewing for a prison inmate. Warren watches it blankly, his thoughts still on the significance of the insult from their fellow cons. Uncle Joe has obviously dished the dirt and put them in trouble with everyone. The toilet paper could be a sign of worse to come.
“I should be lifting weights now,” Muscles says. “It’s not going to happen today,” Warren says. “Smoke.”
“No, thanks.” He gives Muscles a second look. Weird thing to say considering both are non-smokers—the main reason why they are sharing a cell. Then he sniffs the air they are breathing and understands what the big man is on about. “They’ve started a fire.”
“A quick result. The screws aren’t interested in a bunch of cons rampaging on the landing, but a fire can’t be ignored.”
“Where is it?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Somewhere upstairs if they’ve got any sense. Keep it from spreading down here. We don’t want the whole sodding wing alight.”
“Give me strength. Because we’re in it, for Christ’s sake.”
“I don’t want to get burnt.”
“You won’t know much about the burning part. The fumes kill you first.” Warren runs at the door and kicks it repeatedly.
No one comes.
Magda Lyle’s day has started no differently from any other. Up at six, shower, quick decision what to wear, strong, bracing coffee followed by a short, brisk walk along one of the local woodland trails with her boisterous West Highland terrier, Blanche. They always make for the same open area where the dog can come off the leash and fetch the ball and challenge Magda to get it back, with the result that both have a joyful, energising start to the day.
This will be the only exercise she gets today because there is no chance at HMP Bream, where she is a governor. Long hours, mostly behind a desk, with few days off, will undermine anyone’s fitness. True, there is a gym in the basement supposedly for the use of staff as well as offend- ers. Some of the prison officers work out there, but Magda is sure anyone of her level shouldn’t use it.
She’s young for the job, at thirty-six, having earned a reputation for managing prison staff and offenders with firmness tempered with fairness. With a good degree in law from Edinburgh, she signed up for the National Offender Management Service graduate course and sailed through. Successful spells of three to five years at various Category C prisons were rewarded by an assistant governor post at the women’s closed prison at Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire. From there, after four years, she became the only woman governor at the privately run Category B men’s prison at Bream, and now she’s into her third year. The move to an all-male institution was a daunting step-change, but a necessary one to make to progress in this career. So far so good.
Now she lives alone in a two-hundred-year-old iron-work- er’s cottage on the edge of the Wye Valley with a magnificent view over Tintern, a fine compensation for the confines of the job. Boyfriends? A few, over the years. Relationships? Only one that she’d call serious and that ended when she’d moved south. There’s a lot to be said for the single life spiced with dates with male friends she has got to know since moving to this part of the country—two farmers, a sculptor, a taxi driver, and a church organist who turned out to be the hottest of the lot.
This morning she and Blanche have met no one. Occasionally on their walks they wish the time of day to backpackers making an early start, burdened with so much that it’s hard to see how they can stay on their feet for an hour. Often they are foreign tourists wanting to know if they are on the right route to the Devil’s Chimney, the local viewpoint. By the time you get there, sunshine, you’ll be in need of a chair, Magda thinks. You won’t find one.
Blanche can go off the leash now.
Scampering ahead in the morning sunlight, familiar with the route, she regularly goes out of sight on the winding path, but it’s never a worry. For one thing, the little dog’s white coat will soon be visible again, and for another, she is so responsive that she’ll always come when called. Today she is waiting with ears pricked and tail going like a wind- screen wiper on high when Magda rounds the next bend.
She seems to have found an item of interest and wants congratulating.
When Magda steps closer and sees what is lying across the path, her blood runs cold.
A snake, with the unmistakable marking of an adder, head propped against its coiled body, poised to strike.
Westies are doughty fighters. They will take on anything. Adders aren’t usually aggressive, but they’ll bite the face or foreleg of a dog that comes too close.
Magda swoops, grabs Blanche under the chest and scoops her up in one movement. The serpent slithers away into the bracken.
You never know what lies in wait for you.
Blanche wriggles in Magda’s arms, wanting to give chase. Being snatched up and squeezed is no reward for a fine discovery.
As for Magda, she is shaking. She isn’t sure how she would have coped out here on the hillside with her dog bitten by a snake. In other stressful situations—say with a troublesome offender inside prison—she has no trouble controlling her emotions, but this has come as a shock. None of the locals have ever mentioned adders. Here on familiar terrain in the sunshine she’d never dreamed of danger along the way. Somewhere in her memory is a line from Shakespeare about the bright day bringing forth the adder—“and that craves wary walking.”
Ultra-wary. She won’t let Blanche run free for the rest of the walk.
Fully five minutes pass before it crosses Magda’s mind that clutching the dog to her chest like Dorothy with Toto in The Wizard of Oz is an overreaction. After a careful check of the path ahead she clips on the lead and lowers Blanche to the ground.
She allows Blanche, straining for more freedom, to tug her as far as the open stretch where they usually play fetch. No chance of going off the lead today. A few pathetic trots across the glade have to suffice for entertainment. Quite soon Magda decides they’ve done more than enough for this blighted morning. With time in hand, they start up another trail that will lead them to the cottage.
She is still going over the incident in her mind, wondering if the hillside is infested with adders and thinking there is no certainty that a different route will be any safer, when the cottage chimney comes in sight. At this point, Blanche likes to race ahead and be waiting by the front door. Poor little pup, she hasn’t had much fun.
Magda takes pity, stoops and unclips the lead.
Blanche hesitates and looks up for a clue as to what to do next. People can be unpredictable.
“Go on, then. Race me home.”
The terrier doesn’t need a second bidding. She’s off like a greyhound, or as like a greyhound as a Westie with six-inch legs can be.
Magda pockets the lead, takes out her key and follows. There’s time for more coffee and a bite of toast before she drives to work.
Unusually, she hears barking from Blanche. In the garden two pigeons take flight with a clatter of wings and she guesses the reason. Pigeons were put into the world to be bullied by small dogs.
She lets herself in, drops two slices into the toaster, goes to the bathroom, puts on some face, returns to the kitchen, microwaves a mugful of coffee from the pot she made earlier, and switches on the TV. Not much is happening in the world. Yet another survey about chronic problems in the health service is being debated. Some time they’ll get around to the overcrowded, underfunded prisons. It will take a mass breakout to achieve that.
Time to leave.
She empties the dregs of the coffee, fills the dog bowl with dry feed and mixes in a tablespoonful of wet food from the tin and then looks down.
Where is the dog?
Still in the garden no doubt, distracted by those pigeons. Magda goes to the door and opens it.
Blanche should have charged straight past her and into the cottage, huffy at being forgotten, but she hasn’t.
A missing dog is the last thing Magda needs when she’s about to leave for work.
“Blanche, where are you? Come on, sweetheart.” No response.
She steps out and looks right and left. The pigeons have returned and brought reinforcements. Six or seven are strutting all over the front lawn as if they own it.
She calls out again and moves around the side of the cottage towards her vegetable patch and the woodshed. This is so unlike Blanche, who will know breakfast is ready and adores her food.
Still there is no sight of her. No sound except the territorial cooing of the pigeons.
A horrid possibility lodges in Magda’s brain. Has Blanche gone back to search for the adder? If she has, and she finds one, the outcome doesn’t bear thinking about.
One last place remains to be checked. Behind the cottage is a stone wall with ivy growing up it. Magda rarely ever looks along the narrow space between the building and the wall.
She turns the corner and gasps.
A hooded man grabs her by the arms and forces her face against the wall.