A detective desperate for revenge. A hitwoman with one last job. A killer with both on his list.
Detective Matt Jackson has reached the end. His beloved wife, Polly, is the latest victim of ‘NEON’ – a serial killer who displays his victims in snaking neon lights – and he can’t go on without her. Unable to take his life, Jackson hires a hitwoman to finish the job. But on the night of his own murder, he makes a breakthrough in the case, and at the last minute his hitwoman, Iris, is offered an irresistible alternative: help Jackson find and kill NEON in return for the detective’s entire estate.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse between detective, hitwoman and serial killer. And when Jackson discovers it’s not a coincidence that all their paths have crossed, he begins to question who the real target has been all along…Neon is not just a rip-roaring serial killer thriller, but one that is properly character-led and contemporary.
Thanks to @orionbooks for my #gifted copy
Extract from Chapter 1
He stared down at the solitary cup of coffee he’d ordered over an hour ago, still full to the brim.
A firm hand clasped his shoulder and the leather of his jacket creaked. ‘You want another hot one?’
Glancing up, he met Roberto’s gaze, and winced.
‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Sorry.’
One of many things Matt Jackson had discovered since Polly’s death was that he hated being an object of pity. At the funeral, only days ago, he swore police colleagues viewed him with a mixture of compassion and something akin to loathing. Especially that prick, Marcus Browne. The Detective Chief Inspector in charge of Polly’s case and newly appointed SIO on the ‘Neon’ investigation – his investigation – Browne had had a hard-on for him from the get-go. Spouses shot to the top of the murder suspect list in all homicides, but the suggestion that he’d off ed his own wife in a sophisticated form of copycat killing had tempted him to lure Browne down a dark alley and punch the living shit out of him.
‘Double espresso, Andrea,’ Roberto called over his shoulder, ‘On the house.’
The pressure on his shoulder intensified. ‘You doing OK, Matt?’
It wasn’t a question that required a truthful answer. He played along, mumbled something neutral, his reply buried in a blast of beans grinding, milk frothing and flashing chrome. Particularly sensitive to light at the minute, he blinked.
‘Early days, my friend,’ Roberto said, ‘You need rest. You need sleep.’
If only. On the rare occasions when his mind wasn’t hooked on replay and he’d slept, he’d prayed Fate would step in and ensure he never woke up.
The door opened, letting in a blast of cold, wet November air, along with more customers. Clatter and bang; Are you all rights? and Mornings. Glad of the distraction, he twitched a dry smile, his way of saying, I’m OK. Go, meet and greet.
With a fresh coffee back on the table, he retreated once again into the shadowlands of loss and loneliness. How long could he endure? A day, maybe two – three at a stretch? Fuck it. Better get this over and done with.
Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, he slipped out a Post-it note, on which Kenny Flavell, one of his long-time informers, had scrawled a number in smudged Biro.
Taking a breath, he punched the keys on his phone. Two rings.
‘John speaking.’ The voice-enhancer created the impression of a bad guy making ransom demands in a terrible nineties action movie.
Spooked, Jackson hung up, sending his phone skidding across the Formica table. The espresso slopped over the side and into the saucer. Uncool. He glanced around, flashed a sorry to anyone interested enough to witness his less-than collected performance – which meant nobody.
Calm, he thought, breathe. It’s what Polly would say and, for a moment, he pictured her sweet smile, charged with quiet confidence and steadfast belief. She had tamed him where others had failed – apart from the last six months when he’d buckled under the weight of an investigation that robbed him of sleep and reduced him to the mania of an obsessive. Days and nights he’d spent in front of a computer screen, clicking through crime-scene photos, looking for common denominators, searching for the smallest of clues. To his profound shame, he’d been unreachable and hostile to anyone who’d got in his way, and that had included his wife. Jesus Christ, that was bad enough. But what happened next haunted his every waking breath and, worse, he hadn’t seen it coming.
Taking expert advice, he’d believed that serial killers adhered to certain patterns of behaviour, lived by some invented sick-and-twisted code, and selected a particular type of prey, usually vulnerable women, although not exclusively females. They favoured familiar terrain, which, in this instance, was the streets of Birmingham. The piece of shit he’d hunted got his kicks from powerful career types; the more confident, the more appealing. This guy had a genuine taste for the dramatic, the sensational, the eye-blinding; he loved the artistry, if that’s what you could call it. Like some perverse Banksy, he came, he did his thing and he left. And nobody noticed. Which was almost as shocking as the manner in which he displayed his tableaux of terror. Reckless, a hybrid of planner and opportunist, ‘Neon’, as the Press had dubbed him, got off on very public displays of his work.
With a dry mouth and churning gut, Jackson considered Vicky Wainright, Neon’s first victim. A newly-qualified solicitor from Durham, she found herself separated from friends on a hen weekend. On a night when the clocks went back, she was lured to an apartment near Mailbox, an obscenely large square edifice and shopping centre in-corporating retail, office and residential, and adjacent to the BBC building. There, and despite the area being security-patrolled, Vicky was strangled.