No Time To Die by Andrew Barrett – Review.

Book Description:

When CSI Eddie Collins finds a dead woman in his house, he thinks life can’t get any worse, until a violent gang ties his hands together and puts a gun to his head. And this time there’s no way out.

Operation Domino is the investigation into gang boss, Slade Crosby, and his connection to an undercover officer’s death. But tampered evidence kills the investigation’s progress, and with Eddie gone, Slade is in the clear.

There’s only one way to get Slade in cuffs, but it won’t be easy…

My Review:

This is my first read of one of Barrett’s books.

Written in third-person, past-tense throughout, No Time To Die utilises a nice mix of short chapter/long chapter, pacing the novel nicely. Hitting all the beats readers of this type of novel expect, whilst displaying an unusual level of authenticity, the novel is a solid entry into the genre.

Displaying good technical skill, the writer is clearly seasoned and unafraid to take the odd risk in plot line and narrative.

With its familiar structure, whilst delivering a pacey read, No Time To Die will please readers of this type of novel.

No Time To Die is available now from Amazon.

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Pressure by Betsy Reavley – Review

The Book:

When the submarine departed, none of the ten people on board knew it would turn into a nightmare.

Trapped on the sunken vessel on the bottom of the ocean and unable to escape, one of them is discovered dead. The tension escalates as the survivors realise there is a murderer among them, who is preparing to strike again and again…

With mounting desperation, people begin to turn on each other. While they struggle to identify who is responsible, each must contend with their own past, the claustrophobia and the secrets they are hiding.

But who is who?  And which of them will be next to die?

Below the surface, the pressure is building and time is running out…

My Review:

This is my first Betsy Reavley novel and Pressure is one hell of an introduction to her work.

The basic premise of Pressure is a variation on the ‘trapped together, one of us is a murderer’ type. The novel succeeds in immersing the reader in a too-tight setting, conveying very realistically the confines of both the submarine and the options available to its characters. In some parts the novel feels like an old siege movie in the ilk of Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, in that the overwhelming inability to leave, to even breathe, is ever-present for the characters and the reader.

Where Reavley’s novel differs, is in Pressure, the enemy is very much within, with the multiple threats of oxygen deprivation, close quarters and a murderer pressing in on the cast from all sides at all times. For me, the novel smacked of very modern, snarky slasher movies, isolated, alone, being hunted, but displayed all the char also of an old fashioned, set-in-a-manor whodunit.

The plotting is excellent and the pacing spot-on. A deep sense of foreboding and growing peril permeates the entire novel. Where Reavley excels though, is in her characterisation and the manner in which she conveys her characters emotions, virtues, flaws, vulnerability and cruelty.

Infinitely complex and viscerally-authentic, Reavley characters are fucked-up, heroic, cowardly and complex. Reavley’s use of shifting POV and narrative styles is skilfully-utilised and gave true life to the characters.

The POV shifts continuously, rotating through more than a few persons. I’m rarely a fan of this type of POV shifting, but Reavley has succeeded in altering the POV from person to person, whilst still maintaining the relentless flow and forward momentum of the narrative. This is not an easy thing to do, but when it works, Christ it really works, and Reavley utilized this device perfectly, bringing a tangible sense of immersion, unstoppable forward-momentum and augmented tension.

The shifting POV also served to heighten the impact of the roulette wheel of who the reader has deduced is the killer.

Reavley also plays around with her narrative style; switching between first-person, past tense and present tense to differentiate the flashbacks from the main narrative.

This also worked well and kept the separate sections distinct for the reader.

The highlight of the book for me was the sections placed throughout told form the POV of The Child. Extremely dark, gruelling really, these short interludes acted as intermezzi and demonstrated the depth of the author’s understanding of human suffering and our capacity for foulness and endurance. I wanted more of The Child, but also dreaded having to return to their pitiable world. These Interludes, for me, elevate Pressure, taking a good read and converting it into a great one.

Containing elements of a Thriller, at times dabbling into Horror, Pressure is an uncomfortable read, but hugely entertaining, which is a bit fucked up and entirely magnificent.  

Pressure is available now at Amazon and from Bloodhound Books.

Godsend by JA Marley – Review.

The Book:

It has been eighteen months since Danny Felix pulled off the robbery of his life.  His plan brought London to a standstill, but at a heavy price.

Now, living a quiet life running a charter fishing business in the Florida Keys, Danny is trying to come to terms with the death and destruction he had unwittingly unleashed. However, the low profile is beginning to wear thin and he soon starts to crave the adrenalin rush of his former criminal ways.

Little does he know that three very different women are about to enter his life and turn it upside-down. Soon Danny finds himself right back in the action.

But why has he been chosen? And does he have the appetite to pull off another job where the stakes are so lethally high?

My Review:

In Godsend (Danny Felix 2) we’re straight back into the snarky, cunningly-plotted world of Danny Felix, now ‘retired’ to Florida with his ill-gotten gains (see Standstill) and life as a fishing guide.

In the opening scenes (one of Marley’s most engaging scenes to date, for this reader) we’re treated to a very familiar Danny, ‘Super Customer’ indeed, and a felix who is very much in his comfort zone.

Marley then subverts his reader’s expectation of his main character and discloses the toll taken on his anti-hero in the aftermath of the London bombing from Book one. No indestructible, Gary Sue on display here for Marley’s readers, instead we are presented with the price being paid by an already flawed, but extremely likeable lead character, following the devastating conclusion of the previous book.

Panic attacks, self-doubt and countless shades of guilt and shame have seeded in Danny Felix’s soul, adding a new layer to an already terrific character. Felix is not allowed to merely move on from his actions in London and suffers the after effects of his deeds. Terrific characterisation and development here.
Fucking beautiful dialogue is on display also throughout with Marley slipping into Americanisms easily and convincingly, which isn’t always a strength for books written predominantly in UK English. Marley makes the shift appear effortless.

Having read Standstill, I didn’t really feel any great need for Felix to appear again as a lead character, I felt his story had been told. I was very wrong in this regard.

Godsend does what all good sequels do and takes the leads into new situations and challenges, developing their characters and squeezing their emotions and capabilities. The new characters introduced made great additions to Danny Felix’s world, and it was terrific to see some familiar faces from Book one return.

Marley writes with a thoroughly modern voice, always injecting an extraordinary amount of charisma, humour and depth into his characters. Each individual is well-motivated and allowed to display their strengths and flaws, rather than merely convey whatever is needed to move the story forward.

Marley is a writer who clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, which shines through in his excellent characterisation and dialogue. Due to this, the characters population his novels feel fresh and believable, no stereotypes of the genre in sight, which is refreshing. Alongside, Ryan Bracha, Mark Tilbury, Robin Hobb and Jonathan Maberry, Marley has converted me from being an interested reader to an avid fan of his work, and an author whose books I simply can’t miss.

Godsend is a wonderful next chapter in Danny Felix’s story and a fine step forward inMarley’s development.

Godsend is available now frm Amazon and from Bloodhound Books

Mortal Outcomes by Dave Stanton – Review

moo

 

Book Description:

 

Bounty hunter Dan Reno never thought he’d be the prey. 

When a pair of accused rapists from a New Jersey-based gang surface in South Lake Tahoe, bounty hunter Dan Reno is called in. The first is easy to catch, but the second, a Satanist suspected of a string of murders, is an adversary unlike any Reno has faced before. After escaping Reno’s clutches, in the desert outside of Carson City, the target vanishes. That is, until he makes it clear he intends to settle the score.

To make matters worse, the criminal takes an interest in a teenage boy and his talented sister, both friends of Reno’s.  

Wading through a drug-dealing turf war and a deadly feud between mobsters running a local casino, Reno has to hunt a ghost-like adversary who is calling all the shots.  

The more Reno learns more about his target, the more he’s convinced that mayhem is inevitable unless he can capture him quickly. He’d prefer it to be clean, without further bloodshed. But sometimes that isn’t possible, especially when Reno’s partner Cody Gibbons decides it’s time for payback.

 

My Review:

Another solid offering into the series that continues to offer a pleasing journey for its readers.

Stanton continues to utilise fast-paced prose, invigorating locations and a style of story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but remains unflinching when dealing with dark intent and deeds.

Mortal Outcomes builds on the momentum of the first two books in the series and places the leads in yet more jeopardy and depravity.

Fine stuff.

 

Mortal Outcomes is available from Bloodhound Books and from Amazon.

Killing Mr Black – Preview (Shaping Dougie).

The following (unedited) excerpt is taken from Killing Mr Black and is copyright if Mark Wilson 2018:

Mary’s hands moved quickly and surely, feeding the material though her industrial sewing machine. Decades of experience guided them despite the ordinarily ubiquitous tremors, which all but vanished whilst she sewed. Dougie watched his wife as she worked, enjoying the peace and the certainty of purpose she clearly experienced during these moments.

From his vantage, Mary looked as though she was her whole self, her ‘real’ self as she worked. Her head tilted and bobbed and darted as she adjusted her loose grip and made quick alterations to the path of the material through the needle’s path. Dougie watched her snip part of the material free from the machine and smooth it out onto her work table that she may examine her progress. Dougie imagined her sharp eyes moving over the completed sections and her mind effortlessly calculating the next phase. Although he couldn’t see his wife’s face, experience told him that she would almost certainly be smiling broadly as she worked.

Regretful at having to break the moment, but aware that he must, Dougie stood up from the desk he’d been lean-sitting against.

“Mary-love?” He spoke gently as to not startle her in case she had forgotten he was in the room, such had been the peace of the moment.

Laying her dress-in-progress down, Mary Black turned sharply to lock eyes with her husband. Dougie’s heart wrenched at her expression. He had broken her concentration and the magical effect that sewing had on her. Smiling warmly at the woman he had loved for almost forty years, but now barely recognised, Dougie held his breath and voice, giving her time to process.

Mary’s eyes, wide with confusion, narrowed and then relaxed again as recognition dawned. “Oh,” she said smiling back at him finally. “I’d forgotten that you were here.”

Dougie bobbed a nod. “Yeah, I was trying to be quiet, let you work. Sorry if I scared you.”

Mary shook her head. “S’fine,” she said. Noting that Dougie’s jacket lay on the desk behind him, she asked, “You off out?”

“Yeah.”

“Work?”

“No, love. Just for a walk.”

Mary nodded.

Losing interest, she was already turning back to her task.

Dougie pulled his jacket on and walked over to place a hand on his wife’s shoulder. Leaning over, he planted a soft kiss on her cheek. Her hands already occupied at their task, her mind locked on the dress, Mary barely seemed to notice.

Dougie swallowed regret and headed to the door.

“I’ve left a sandwich n the fridge and there’s plenty tea in the pot,” he told the back of her head. An abrupt surge of guilt almost changed Dougie’s mind about leaving the house. He considered just staying in, perhaps watching the telly whilst she worked. His conscious prodded at him to tell Mary the truth about here he was going. His better judgment whispered that he should keep his secrets.

Making his way from Mary’s work room, out into the hall, Dougie pulled the front door open. Slipping out into the early evening, he whispered a half-hearted goodbye to Mary.

In the back-room, Mary Black’s hands busied themselves, expertly stitching, rotating and adjusting. Skills earned from thousands of hours of crafting garments allowed her to perform on auto-pilot, for the most part.

Hearing the front door close, Mary spoke over her shoulder to no-one, “Bye, Tom. Have fun.”

∞∞∞

An icy wind cut across the Meadows and Dougie pulled his hat down over his forehead as he continued his short walk from his and Mary’s apartment on Gillespie way to the building on Nightingale way where Karen lived.

Karen.

As always, the instant Karen’s name floated up to the surface of his thoughts, his heart lurched with the pain of lying to Mary about her.

Not lying, exactly, just not telling the truth.

Dougie pushed the false justification away. Not telling Mary was lying to her. He knew this and refused to hide from the wrongness of it. Dougie felt like punching himself. Instead he trudged across the meadows towards Karen’s apartment.

Despite the guilt and the pain he felt every time he sees her, Dougie’s time with Karen- never often enough despite how close their respective homes were- brought intense feelings of comfort and a rightness to his empty world.

Karen’s face floated up before his mind’s-eye.

Twenty-four years old. Still so very young.

The thought brought a sad smile to his lips. About the same age as Frankie at work, but so very different.

Dougie warmed himself with the thought of her as he sliced through the Edinburgh evening, shoulders hunched against the growing wind.

By the time he reached the tall, red double-doors of her building, Dougie’s thoughts were fixed completely on Karen and the short time they would have together before he had to return home.

Entering the building, Dougie smiled at the receptionist, who returned his greeting. As he didn’t recognise her, Dougie assumed she was knew.

“Who are you here for?” she asked pleasantly, regarding- almost assessing- him as she spoke.

“Karen,” he replied pleasantly.

“Ah, ok. I’ll buzz you up.”

Dougie Black thanked her and headed upstairs, heart pounding in anticipation.

Knocking, softly, Dougie pushed the door open a moment later to find the large living room warm and welcoming. Karen was seated in a high back chair, her back to the door. She didn’t turn to acknowledge his entrance. Dougie Black slipped inside, closing the door behind.

Approaching her from behind, he stands a foot away from the chair. “Hi, Karen,” he said softly.

Karen rose from her chair, turning to smile at her visitor. Dressed for indoors in black, she tilted her head as she smiled taking the few seconds she needed to recall his face and their history together. When she did smile, it lit up the room and Dougie’s heart both.

Stateline by Dave Stanton – Review

state-cover

Book Description:

Cancel the wedding. The groom is dead. When a tycoon’s son is murdered the night before his wedding, the grief-stricken father offers private detective Dan Reno a life-changing bounty to find the killer.

Reno, who is nearly broke, decides he’s finally found himself in the right place at the right time. But when a band of crooked cops get involved, Reno finds himself fighting for his life. Who committed the murder, and why? Which cops can he trust, if any?

Haunted by his murdered father and a violent past, Reno wants no more blood on his hands. But a man’s got to make a living, and backing off is not in his DNA.

Traversing the snowy alpine winter in the Sierras and the lonely deserts of Nevada, Reno must revert to his old ways to survive. Because the bounty won’t do him much good if he’s dead.

 

My review:

A solid entry into the genre from Stanton.

Stateline revels in its very overt Americana throughout. It seems intended to be a fun read, and it is for the most part and makes great use of a variety of locations, which I really enjoyed seeing.

The main character, Dan Reno, drinker, damaged, unlikable PI. Yeah we’ve been here before, but the stereotype is pitch-perfect for the novel Stanton has written.

Written in first-person, past-tense throughout, the style and POV is a staple of the genre, and one I unfortunately rarely enjoy. For me the writing style enfolds the reader in a security that the main character, despite whatever jeopardy they’re placed in, has survived the tale being told. Too often this choice can kill the feeling of any real peril. As a personal preference, I think the story would’ve benefitted from switching to a third-person perspective, or keeping first person and switching to present tense.

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this point, and Stanton’s story is certainly very well-written and flows well.

What Stanton does do very well indeed is present his readers an incredibly pacey, whirlwind of a story that ends far too soon for this reader, such was the extent with which it drew me in.

The dialogue is excellent throughout and, despite a few inconsistencies, Reno begins to be established as a character who might have something more to him than the stereotypes we are presented with as his main qualities during this first instalment of the series. I don’t need well-rounded lead characters, I’m happy if they’re a work in progress, and Reno is certainly a character I feel has much to be disclosed about his past, motives and frailties.

If being honest, Stateline was more of a 3.5 stars for me, simply because of the handling of the female characters in this book. At times, poorly-represented, often simply used to push plot or character development forward, the women who occupy Stanton’s novel weren’t allowed any real motivation or any tangible purpose of their own. Several could have added so much more to the story if allowed to do so.

Tightly-plotted and oozing character, Stanton’s Stateline was an enjoyable standalone read, and a competent first entry in a series that has the potential for some great character development.

Like its protagonist, flawed, but all the better for those flaws.

 

Stateline is available now form Bloodhound Books and Amazon

The Tanzanite Ring – A Valentine’s Horror Short.

The following story comes from Mark Wilson and Ryan Bracha’s Exquisite Corpse and is unedited. (Previously published as an advance peek on Mark Tilbury’s blog). Happy valentine

The Tanzanite Ring by Mark Wilson.

Paris, 2020

The high and muddy Seine slid beneath the bridge, hurriedly winding through the city; no care for its residents, its beautiful buildings nor an appreciation of a stunningly crisp winter evening. Sebastian checked the deep pocket in his overcoat for perhaps the seventh time in the last fifteen minutes.

The shape of the box within settled his nerves and caused his eager heart to skip a beat. Eleanor would be here any moment. Memories of their last visit to this spot together simmered to the surface warming Sebastian more thoroughly than the steam venting through the nearby grates.

He and Eleanor, in Paris. Walking the streets, loving the city. Right here on this very bridge they’d locked their love alongside hundreds of other metal declarations, giggling at the cheesiness of the act but brought closer somehow by it. As though a little padlock bought for two Euros from an opportunistic vendor, could deepen their love. But, somehow, it had.

Have three years really passed since last we had been in the city together?

So many other cities and countries explored together since.

Sebastian clutched at the box in his pocket once more as he scanned the padlocks and their messages to pass the time. A rough vibration from his phone shook Sebastian from his reverie. Checking the face, he confirmed the alarm he’d set.

Time to meet Eleanor by Notre Dame.

∞∞∞

I see her long before she notes my presence. Content to watch her for a few moments, I step back, cloaking myself in the deep shadows of a nearby statue. She’s right on time.

Eleanor.

Ten years we’ve had each other. A decade of travel, city to city, country to country. Each place we visit holds a significance known only to us. A special site where we’ve shared a moment together.

Where she’s given me her heart.

A few feet from the Trevi Fountain in Rome, huddled in a doorway where no prying eyes could penetrate.

Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. In my arms she descended the stairs with me, ducking into a secluded garden for a secret clinch.

Beneath the bridge at Camden Lock we indulged in perhaps the most intimate moment of my life.

The list goes on. Each moment a gift. Her time, her heart and her soul; given to me in a moment of purest connection etched for eternity into my memories.

Pride swells in me as I watch the familiar cadence and gait of her steps. She radiates goodness, this woman of mine. My heart beats so violently inside my chest I almost expect her to whip her head around to seek out and fix on the sound. Once again, my hand closes around the ring box in my pocket.

Inspiration flashes. I consider stepping out into the square to present her with the ring. Right here, right now. Removing the symbol of my unending love from my pocket, I rotate it a few turns, idly making a decision.

Recognising the rush of excitement for cheap impetuousness, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

Stick to the plan. Somewhere private, just for us.

Never one for making an exhibition of myself, I shove the box back into my pocket and step into the light to greet my love.

∞∞∞

One arm around Eleanor’s waist, the other pressed protectively…affectionately around her abdomen and curling round her hip, Sebastian led his love from the main square along the banks of the Seine. Eleanor shivered making the man who loves her pull her closer into his side. He kissed her on the cheek feeling the chill in her skin. He hoped his own body heat lessened her chill. Sebastian halted their brisk pace. Smiling at Eleanor, he removed his scarf with his left hand, keeping his right arm protectively around her waist to better share body heat. Looping his cashmere scarf around her slender neck, he asked, “Better?”

Eyes misting, she nodded her gratitude. They set off once again at a clip, crossing Pont Saint-Michel. Huddled in tight together against the nip of the wind, they walked along the Seine to Pont des Arts. Eleanor looked along the bridge to where the love-locks dangled, covering metres of the bridge’s railings.

Noting an older man at the half-way point of the bridge, she cut a sidelong look at Sebastian’s contented face, before jabbing a sharp elbow hard into her captor’s ribs. Sebastian was unhurt nor even moved by the blow. His response was to loop his left arm from around her back, up behind her head. His iron grip clenched her mouth and nose. Sebastian allowed a moment’s disappointment to show on his face. His sorrow was genuine but did little to alter his plans.

Sliding the short blade he held to her hip in deep enough to grate against the bone millimetres below- catching Eleanor’s scream in his leather-gloved hand, he moved his lips near to her ear.

“Oh Eleanor,” Sebastian whispered. “Why does it always have to end in an argument?”

Sebastian scanned along the length of the bridge, noting that the elderly man had not turned to look at the couple, and had continued along on his way, heedless of them.

Sebastian rotated the knife several millimetres, placing pressure on a nearby nerve cluster. Eleanor went limp as he withdrew the blade. With practiced swiftness he caught her before her knees bent.

“You will not ruin my plans for this evening, my dear.”

Scooping an arm under her armpit, Sebastian carried her off of the bridge as one might a drunken friend. Taking the stairs down the walkway to the river banks, Sebastian propped her against the wall, deep in the shadows.

Digging deep into his overcoat pocket, Sebastian retrieved a set of small keys and unlatched the padlock on a nearby shed. Tucked away under the bridge, the shed was used as a storehouse for seats and deckchairs, placed along the Seine banks during the summer months so that city workers mat enjoy the sunshine during their lunchbreak.

Nodding his approval at the preparations he’d made to the shed’s interior late that very afternoon, Sebastian retrieved his love, lifting her up onto this left shoulder, he entered the shed, pulling the door tightly closed behind them.

∞∞∞

“How many times do I have to say it?” She screams into my face. “I am not her!”

I shove the oily rag back into her mouth, securing it with heavy tape and storm away from her, barely stopping myself from punching the shed wall in my anger.

This won’t do at all.

Leaving the little shed, I stride the few steps to sit on the banks of the Seine, dangling my legs high over the dark waters. The frozen stone beneath is a sharp prompt to cool the heat in my veins.

Why must she always do this? Each and every time.

I breathe deliberately, allowing my stomach to expand as my diaphragm pulls and pushes, inhaling and expelling the chilled air. I feel my characteristic calm return and the stinging disappointment leave me as fog breath on the night air. Once more in control, I return to the shed, taking a kneeling position at her side.

Bound at wrists and ankles, propped against the shed wall, she glares up at me, unjust anger and fear taint her beautiful eyes.

She can see that I am calm once again and relaxes her shoulders a minute sag. She is very far from happy, but this little display of trust regained warms me. Slipping the box from my pocket, I creak open the hinged lid and slide the ring over her wedding finger. The light inside the shed, weak as it is, dances across the gemstone. Blues and purples and violets frolic and play across its surface and reflect onto her pupils.

“Will you do me this great honour?” I ask.

Her eyes are wide in shock. Tears flow freely along her cheeks and across her gag. She’s shaking with excitement.

Finally, the joyful reaction I was hoping for.

Fighting emotion, Eleanor nods her head, forcing a softness into her eyes absent until this moment.

I love you Eleanor. Thank you for coming back to me. To this place, once again to share yourself with me.”

The tears increase in pace as she accepts my love.

Gratefully I hold her to me for many long minutes until her sobbing ebbs.

She’s calming. Her body softens against mine, melting into my embrace.

It’s time.

Pushing gently away I hold Eleanor at arms-length, committing her loving expression to memory that I may revisit this moment at some point in future. Perhaps in the midst of rough times, or during one of her many absences. Eleanor notes the pure love I’m emitting for her and her eyes fill with hope.

I smile warmly, nodding an affirmation that she is correct in what she sees in my eyes.

Sending every particle of endless love through my eyes to hers, I close my gloved hands and tighten the vice they’ve become.

Eleanor’s eyes widen and then haemorrhage and then glaze over as I throttle every scrap of air from her airways. She accepts the coming death very quickly. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes she fights against it. It’s her choice, I am but a witness to her death throes. Watching the life dim and vanish from her eyes I force a final few ounces of pressure into my grip, compelling the cartilage in her windpipe to buckle and then splinter. Finally, releasing her, I cradle her gently to the plastic-covered floor and proceed to untie her bonds and remove the gag.

As Eleanor lies peacefully, I retrieve my work bag, stowed away earlier in the day at the rear of the shed.

I pour myself a cup of coffee from the little flask within and fish out the almond Croissant I bought from a charming little patisserie in Saint Germaine earlier that day.

Seated with my back up against the interior wall, legs straight out in front to act as a tray for my snack, I fill my stomach and warm my bones whilst I wait for gravity to have its way with her blood.

∞∞∞

Groggy awareness crept on him. Starting as he realised he’d fallen asleep, Sebastian checked his watch. Two hours had passed since he’d strangled Eleanor to death. Thanking no-one in particular that he hadn’t slept so very long, Sebastian rose to his feet before moving towards Eleanor’s prone body.

Crouching low, Sebastian lifted the side of Eleanor’s top, exposing her side which had become striped with a purplish hue towards her back where the blood had pooled and clotted. He pinched her fingertips, watching for any flow to blanch the area.

Certain that lividity had taken place, Sebastian removed her top completely, followed by her bra.

Smiling sadly, he placed a hand gently on Eleanor’s abdomen for a moment, feeling the coolness of her skin before retrieving his work bag once again. Producing a rolled piece of canvas, Sebastian unrolled the bundle parallel to the left of Eleanor’s body, exposing rows of very sharp blades and saws within. The final item pulled from the bag, Sebastian placed alongside Eleanor’s right side.

Seating himself in a straddle across her hips, Sebastian selected a small-bladed electric saw the size of a hand drill. Positioning its blade where her ribs and breastbone met, Sebastian activated the mechanism sawing smoothly from lower ribcage to clavicles.

Sebastian nodded at the neatness of his cut before placing the little saw onto the plastic around them. Reaching into the canvas bag, he selected a mechanism designed to open the chest cavity, placed it into the opening he’d made and began the process of rotating the wheel, watching with interest as her chest began to open, resembling a large toothy mouth.

Sebastian smiled at his practiced, smooth movement. Leaving the retractor in place, he selected a scalpel with which he cut through the pericardium sac, exposing Eleanor’s heart.

Over the next few minutes, Sebastian’s sure hands and clever fingers worked with accuracy and haste, disconnecting veins and arteries and removing connective tissue until Eleanor’s heart finally lifted free of its natural place. Checking his watch, Sebastian noted that he’d performed the removal one full minute more quickly than previously.

Pride widened his face into a smile.

Transferring the heart to the little clip-lock Tupperware box at Eleanor’s side, Sebastian, stripped himself naked, carefully folding his clothes onto a little box nearby. Working from neck to toes, and with the aid of two mirrors, he checked for and obvious scratches or tears in his skin. He’d been unaware of any opportunity for Eleanor to have taken a swipe at him, but experience had taught him to be prudent.

Discovering a very shallow scratch on his right forearm that hadn’t even broken the skin, Sebastian sighed at the additional tasks now required.  Selecting a Japanese chef’s knife, Sebastian began with the right thumb. Fearful of any trace DNA scratched from his skin being found underneath her fingernails, Sebastian removed each finger from the second joint, placing them in a thick hospital bio-waste bag which he would later incinerate. The Tanzanite ring he simply removed from the ragged end of her finger, placing it back into its case.

Sebastian folded his latex gloves from the wrist, turning them inside out and over the end of his fingers. Absent-mindedly, he dropped them into the open chest cavity then clipped the lid onto the boxy Tupperware.

Moving around the room, the killer carefully cleaned and packed away all of his tools, placed the Tupper-ware into a waiting ice-box, then set about the task of preparing Eleanor’s body for disposal.

His face took on a hint of disdain. He’d got what he came for and was done with her, but tasks remained to be done, regardless of any distaste he felt for them.

Blank-face and in auto-pilot, Sebastian placed some lead weights inside Eleanor’s chest before reversing the Retractor, closing and sewing her chest tight, and then wrapping her tightly in the plastic, secured by more tape.

Eventually, he slipped her cocooned body into the Seine, relief plain on his face.

One month later…

I chew on the last of the dried meat as intently as I chew on the decision in front of me. With my back resting against the newly-clean sandstone of the Opera national de Bordeaux, I feel the warmth trapped from the afternoon’s sunshine inside the stone, seep into my back, relieving a few knots that have developed there these last few days.

My eyes dart busily along and across Place de la Comedie, searching for her. As the notion that I may have missed her floats to the top of my thoughts, I abruptly catch her from the corner of my eye.

Dressed for the pleasant weather, Eleanor looks a vision. Her hair, brunette with a hint of auburn, as ever, is loose and swaying with the familiar rhythm of her walk. She looks relaxed, happy. My heart spills over with love for her. My hand strays to rest atop my little satchel. I can feel the shape of the box inside. Reassurance floods me as surely as courage does.

The power love holds surely is a wonder.

Bordeaux, so unfamiliar to us. We’ve never had a moment together in this city. Never explored our love or its streets here. Idly I fetch another strip of heart-jerky from my lunchbox, laid on the ground aside me. Tearing a piece off with my teeth, I watch Eleanor as she leaves the open area where people congregate on a summer’s day such as today.

It’s a fine place, to people watch, but inadequate for a marriage proposal. That will come later today in a more private part of this fine, beautiful city. Eleanor’s heart will once again be mine.