Let me just catch my breath and recoil, from the vice grip of having my knees curled so tight to chest, whilst reading this novel. Was I scared...yes! Did I imagine the author secretly plotting out the lines of his book on a small local village near to me as I was reading it...yes! Hannibal Whitman, the inner psyche of a neurotic film buff sets his sights on a small village in Northumberland, Haydon, as his residing point for a few months, to do research for his book. The residents warmly welcome him but when a young girl disappears, Whitman, being the new guy, is suspected of playing a part by the local Police and is verbally eaten alive by the village gossips. No evidence is found connecting him or locating the girl and soon Christmas draws near. However nothing could prepare the idyllic rural community for what Santa would bring them this year. This novel was one the most heart racing, jaw-dropping novels that I have ever dared to finish. I had grown to know and think fondly of all the characters of the village and never imagined the horrific and gruesome fate that awaited them, by befriending this seemingly gentle stranger. I feel guilty, like I should have warned them. This is definitely a book I'll be giving friends and family for Christmas.
-- The Crack Magazine, December 2007
The blizzard had reached a writhing frenzy of gusting, icy winds and driving snow, pierced only by a small shape, low in the black sky, being buffeted by the raw Northumberland winter. Angry nimbostratus clouds filled the sky, obliterating moon and stars completely. The sea of mature pines below were laden with a heavy coating of snow that whipped and swirled amongst the swaying treetops. Not a single light could be seen to pierce the night for miles around.
The windscreen wipers of the Northumbria Police helicopter whipped frantically from side to side to preserve the struggling pilot's view. Beads of sweat clung to his furrowed forehead as he fought with the collective lever and cyclic yoke to maintain altitude and bearing. And yet, despite the gruelling task, he still managed to whistle a cheery festive tune.
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even...
His passengers, two plain clothed policemen in the back, had remained sullen for the best part of the journey from Newcastle Airport, but now, as they neared their destination, the older of the two, finally spoke up with an irritated glance toward the pilot. "I don't think that's particularly appropriate, given the circumstances."
The whistling stopped immediately, but the pilot offered no apology.
His younger colleague, looking decidedly pale, rather hesitantly, said, "How could this happen, Super?"
"We don't know the hows or the whys yet, son, we just have the facts," Chief Superintendent Hewitt said flatly. Three-fifteen AM...phone ringing. "We've got a major situation, Sir..." He needed strong black coffee and a cigarette, and a lot of answers. The tall, almost skeletal, man looked swamped in the thick overcoat, scarf and woolly hat. His features were gaunt, the grey skin drawn tight across bony cheekbones and sunken around the eyes and temples.
Switching his attention to the pilot, leaning forward in his seat, he asked, "Any news of Wright or Mitchell yet?"
The frail speck of a helicopter rattled with a renewed assault from the elements, delaying the pilot's reply. There was a brief stomach-churning jolt as they dropped lower, but the pilot was quick to compensate. Without taking his eyes away from the swirling snowstorm materialising out of the darkness beyond the windscreen, the veteran pilot said, "No, Sir. No further updates."
"Don't you think calling in the Army was a bit excessive?" Sergeant Wilkinson was saying. The twenty-eight year old Geordie was only two months into his promotion to the rank and, for the first time, was feeling decidedly out of his depth.
Hewitt turned to stare at the younger man. "A bit excessive?" he repeated incredulously. "We've got multiple murders, a crime scene the size of a dozen St James's Parks and suspect or suspects still at large. I'm going to use every damn resource I can, Sergeant."
He let out a sigh which turned into a wheezing, bronchial cough. Wilkinson opened his mouth to speak, but the old man offered a dismissive wave with his free hand as the other covered his mouth with a Northumberland Tartan handkerchief. Once it had subsided, rasping, he added, "You're the local, Wilks; Division told me that you were born and bred in Rothbury, and that's not a kick in the arse off where we're headed." Shoving the hanky back into his coat pocket, he stared with rheumy eyes at his subordinate. "I'm going to need you on this."
Wilkinson took a deep breath and ran a hand across his bristly crew-cut.
Forest gave way to undulating moors, thick with snow-encrusted heather and coarse grasses. A solitary, isolated farmhouse, black and lifeless swept by below them. No beacon or searchlight offered to light their way, but they pushed on into the darkness regardless with bleak resolve. Woodland once again rushed up beneath them, heaving like black, turbulent water. The helicopter swung low over the twisted, nightmarish shapes then, abruptly, the village materialized out of the storm.
The small clusters of stone houses and shops were in darkness, apart from the illumination of flashing lights from emergency vehicles on the ground and dozens of bobbing beams from handheld torches. Snow swirled violently amongst the buildings and whipped at the deep drifts that had built up over two days of heavy snowfall. The figures on the ground appeared distorted and elongated, moving quickly from building to building, despite the shin-deep snow.
"Looks like the power's still out," Wilkinson said, grimacing at the prospect of leaving the cosy confines of the helicopter.
Hewitt grunted, but otherwise his attention remained fixed on the chaotic scene below. Whilst his face remained as grim and unmoving as a statue, his mind was boiling with unanswered questions. One thought elbowed its way through to the fore; was this nightmare over or just beginning? In response, a shiver danced across his bony shoulders.