The plot of The Armistice Killer is as intriguing as the characters who stalk its pages all the way from Cornwall to Afghanistan. The bizarre and brutal murder of a military hero – retired RSM Tom Wright – sets in motion a complex investigation headed by the troubled Inspector Logan.
The detective’s prosopagnosia – facial recognition blindness – is almost the least of his problems as his overlapping inner demons and desires threaten his professional competence. But it’s not only faces that confuse Logan as he struggles to read the minds and motives of a compelling, dysfunctional cast of characters, where nobody is quite what they seem, including the murdered soldier himself. Yet Logan’s flashes of intuitive genius likewise constantly unsettle those who would remain faceless.
Can Logan and his deputy Pascoe keep on the trail of blood as it leads their investigation up more dark alleys – most of them blind, and some of them heading into their own disturbed pasts?
The Armistice Killer’s parade of clues, red herrings, lies and deceits will keep the reader guessing to the last page.
Targeted Age Group:: Adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’m never sure whether ‘inspired’ is the correct word! Something sparks my imagination and the rest grows from there. I can often remember the very moment of inspiration, but it is just a seed and you cannot control right at the outset what will subsequently grow. In the case of ‘The Armistice Killer’ I have often felt there is something about the number 1111, which of course is also the date of the First World War Armistice – 11th November – and I had been seeing it with increasing frequency. However, the spark for my imagination, in the case of this novel, was looking out of my bedroom window one night and seeing a shape in the field across the road, standing beneath a tree. There are ponies in the field, but it looked too big to be one of them. To this day I don’t know what it was, but anyone reading my novel will recognise the moment.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
DCI Logan has already appeared in two other novels, ‘The Prying Game’ and ‘This Changed Everything’. He is a damaged individual on a journey of self-discovery and this latest novel marks further steps in his development. However, in terms of other characters in this or any other tale, I find stories have an organic process. They develop a life of their own and thus create the need for characters and the characters they need! You start examining who might be needed to help the plot. Sometimes characters are created because you reach a knot in the plot – you can even find you have to work back and create someone who helps untie the knot.
The image of disembowelment flashed before his eyes – a sensory explosion, leaving a searing after-image – and shocked him with its ferocity. He could almost feel once more the wave from the blast. By instinct, he ducked, putting out his hand on the bed for support and squashing the regimental beret, the sight of which had triggered the reaction as surely as if he had stepped on the IED itself.
The soundless bang scrambled his thoughts. Too many years away from the front line. Back in the day, he’d reacted with precision; calmness. He’d absorbed the chaos, given orders, organised the men; pushed everything else to one side. To a place he didn’t know. Into the shadows. Seemed the bastard memories had waited there for a signal to reappear; now here they were in full bloody Technicolor. They didn’t spare him. The young private just a few feet to his left, looking in disbelief at the bloodied tufts of his own guts waving through the gaping hole in his torso, which had held them moments before. The devil’s own surgeon, Mr Shrapnel, had hurried by. The awful sight, a little further off, of Lance Corporal Dean. Didn’t look in the worst shape from the waist up. Then you saw the space where his legs had been – they’d paid the price for having led him a fatal few paces astray.
He pressed the thumb and forefinger of one hand to his eyes, waiting for the gruesome reminders to fade. The blast-waves seemed to continue though, finding a muted echo in the Cornish winds which beat against the rattling windows of the old cottage. The blood was never the worst though: that would drain away into the sands of Iraq, Afghanistan or damp soil of The Falklands. It was the shrieking. Any soldier would tell you that. Young men crying for their mothers, calling for help that didn’t exist. It never left you. Like tinnitus, it just waited for a quiet moment to remind you of its presence. Again the winds mocked history with their wailing through the ageing glass.
That fucked you up. No civilian could ever understand that. Nor the brutality you needed to instil to create people – correction, soldiers – capable of coming through it. Because mummy wasn’t there to help. When, towards the end of his time in the mob, he had looked into the eyes of some of the Standard Entry recruits he had put through their Phase 1 training he’d felt better when he saw hatred – of him, for what he was putting them through. Okay, some of it went beyond the covers of the manual, but they would thank him one day. Just for being alive to give those thanks.
Opening his eyes again, he found the bland, beige walls of his bedroom. Dull. Indifferent. Like civvies. He gave a wary look at his other hand, or rather at the beret still squashed beneath it. Lifting his weight from it, he half-expected it to detonate like a pressure mine, but it just unfolded with all the slight gentleness of a night-flower.
He straightened up again, breathing erratic, but calming. He shook his head, while something akin to a grin twitched at the straight-set line of his mouth.
“Hiding from phantoms. Images of flowers,” he whispered. “What happened to you, soldier? To the hard bastard?” It was as if he had, as he trundled up and down the motorways in security vehicles transporting valuable goods in the private sector for the last ten years, worn away the stone of which he had once been made.
He’d known the coming event would unearth buried memories; had been prepared for that – or so he’d thought. The one hundredth anniversary of the end of the war to end all wars; thank Christ that hadn’t been true – he would have been nothing if not a soldier.
On reflection, he didn’t want to think what he might have become.
It would be a day for sharing with the other veterans. It might just be a look, a glance exchanged, that spoke of horrors survived and shared; of the agelessness of death and the devil. The cheering onlookers. The cameras and interviews – he’d had plenty of them in recent weeks as the press had cottoned onto him: the hometown lad who’d gone and carved his name in history. Their words, not his. Deep down, he was relieved it wasn’t true: soldiers’ names were carved in one place only and that was on memorials. But he had pride in his chest again, instead of anxiety and bitterness. The names of heroes, both alive and departed, and even photographs of them which he could show to the interviewers and journalists. So much better than nameless fears, their features always obscured by darkness, whether with good or bad intent.
Even as he let his mind stray in that direction, a familiar voice taunted him, reminding him that the wars in which he, personally, had served his country were not the main reason people were spilling onto the streets and waving. Not why they were travelling for miles to look at ceramic poppies at the Tower. He was growing old, unlike those whom age would not wither. The Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan – they did not appeal to the romantics. When things had been near the end of the road with his wife, she hadn’t held back from saying so. ‘What about The Falklands War, eh?’ he’d spat at her. ‘Personal vendetta,’ she’d replied. Bitch!.
What really pissed him off was that she was probably right.
But what drove him fucking mad was that it didn’t make the memories of blood any less traumatic when they emerged.
God, he needed some air.
He crossed to the window, shoved the curtains aside and grasped the latch. The strong wind now boomed and whistled across the fields that his bedroom overlooked, so throwing open the room to the elements he was met by another blast, but this one he was prepared for. His senses were alive, all of a sudden, as the gusts tugged him back to San Carlos and the long march towards Port Stanley.
“What the hell…?!”
The figure was just standing there, motionless in the chaos of the strengthening winds – what other sort was there in the peninsula if not strengthening – and the bending, clacking November trees. At first he thought it might be one of the emaciated ponies that wandered about trying to graze on the stubble during the day. Perhaps one of them had realised it was more dangerous to be in that tumble-down stable in these gusts – but no, he could just about see that the figure was too tall to be a pony.
He narrowed his eyes. A combination of the wind, darkness and worsening eyesight meant he couldn’t quite make things out. Out there in the coming storm, a ghost-white shape floated.
One of the ponies had a white blaze running down its face.
Yet even at this distance, he knew with strange and unnerving certainty that this was no pony, and that he was being watched.
He stood transfixed, neither able to see nor look away. Still as death, he and the watcher contemplated each other while everything else in their immediate world shook and blew and cackled. Inside, some perverse fibre of his soldier’s DNA was thrilled by this, so much so that he had a sudden brainwave. Ducking away from the window for a moment, he reached into the trunk from which he had been removing his uniform and decorations. Finding the night-vision goggles, he switched off the light and put them on.
Back at the window, he scanned the fields. The figure had disappeared.
“Where are you?” he muttered, head turning to right and left in a slow arc. “Where the fuck are you?”
He watched for at least an hour, senses more alive and alert than they had been in all the days since his retirement from the battlefields, but in the end he had to settle for a frustrated thump of his fist on the window frame. He’d left plenty of people with reasons to settle scores, as any hard-nosed Regimental Sergeant Major might – indeed should have. Perhaps the Armistice centenary had caused a few old scars to throb. But whoever this was, he would be waiting.
For Marshy, when the curtain had been pulled back the play had begun for real. Until that point the whole thing had seemed surreal, make-believe. The sudden appearance of the actor from behind the curtains had been a shock. Staring at the lit, shrouded window, with vague movements throwing shadows on the curtains, there had still been room for imagination and, perhaps, retreat. Not now. The figure standing staring out carried all its old threat. He’d even managed to turn the tables on Marshy, leaving the watcher feeling watched. Staying motionless had been the only option; the equivalent of lying beneath your blanket as a child, hoping the monsters won’t see you.
As soon as that very real incubus ducked out sight, Marshy bolted towards the stable and took cover, better able to watch the window. God only knew what had prompted the decision to stand in the field anyway. Perhaps just the sense of space; freedom. The knowledge that turning and running was still a possibility.
Not any more though. Not now the beast had shown itself, staring from and into darkness. All the anger, which had risen like bile in Marshy’s throat at the sight of the local military so-called hero being feted in the run-up to the Armistice celebrations, came spewing forth again. As the threatening shape had returned to the window, Marshy had fought hard to suppress nausea at the grotesque sight; creepy beyond belief with those blank, all-seeing shark-eyes scouring the night for…for what? Another victim? Yet the night-goggles had helped in a way. Though they made the hairs go up on the back of the neck, they had taken away the last shreds of humanity. De-humanised the dreadful being that was RSM Tom Wright.
Some would argue it wasn’t his fault. That war had made him the man, or beast, he was. They were wrong, misguided. Tom Wright and war had been made for each other. Watching him now, scanning the night-fields around him with robotic precision, seeing how his senses fed on this tension, Marshy knew what needed to happen…
…and was way too terrified to move.
David was born in West London and lives in Berkshire. He is the author of several published novels, dark psychological thrillers, the publication of which has led to interviews on BBC Radio and in the local media. David is intrigued by the things that hide, often in plain sight, in the shadows beyond the light of our everyday lives. As a fluent German speaker and having studied English and German literature, he believes we are drawn to darker tales and imaginings.
David has collaborated as editor and co-writer for various authors, as well as producing screen treatments and screenplays (including one of his own) for writers whose novels have sparked potential interest from film producers.
Away from writing, David loves sports, music, the theatre and travelling, many of which have seemed like elements of a fantasy tale in our recent tough times!
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