Sample Sunday 17th June – Diavolino

I hadn’t realised how much time had gone by since my last Sunday Sample, so to celebrate the paperback release of Diavolino here’s another little taster. If you like it, maybe you’ll think about buying a copy in one form or another? All the links are on the right –

Alice slept in her bed, a length of knotted silk held tightly in her fist. Tom had stacked the dishwasher and tidied away with Elspeth. It was something he tried to do whenever he could. Back in London work got in the way so often. Here they would have more opportunity to share simple chores.

“We could sit outside and have a nightcap,” he said, “if it weren’t for those fucking insects.” The glass walls of the house were pebble dashed with flies drawn by the light from within. “I feel a bit of a fool, actually. I never thought there would be so many.”

“If they’re stuck to the windows trying to get in, maybe they won’t bother us if we sit outside in the dark,” said Elspeth.

“You could be right. Let’s give it a go.”

Tom took two small glasses and a bottle of grappa out onto the terrace. Elspeth nipped through behind him and slid the door shut. The outdoor furniture was still packed in bubble wrap and brown cardboard; it was easier to sit on the floor, legs dangling over the edge of the raised platform that constituted their terrace and main entrance. Tom uncorked the grappa, the heavy perfume of sour pond water clinging to the night air.

Elspeth screwed her face up. “God, it stinks. But it does taste good.”

“Darling,” said Tom, putting his arm around her hips. “Tomorrow, I really should get to grips with the job, you know, like a proper working day. You can afford to be a bit laid back for a couple of weeks or so. How about you take Alice to school in the morning and just have a poke around, see what you can find out about the place, see who you bump into?”

“You mean do the Miss Marple bit?”

“If you want to put it that way. You’re so good at it. I want to know about the history. I want to know what was so bloody terrible that Diavolino had to be erased.”

“You think it’s important?”

“I have to come up with a concept. Any historical coat hooks are welcome at this stage, you know that. If you can do some research in and around Poggio, I can ferret around the island. Apart from that, I’d just like to know. I hate unsolved mysteries.”

“OK, love. It’s fine by me. It’ll almost be like being on holiday. Oh, Tom, I’m so happy that we’re doing this. It’s only our first night here, and it already feels like home.”

“I know. Look at Alice. Most kids would be racing around completely hyper.”

“What did you make of that little outburst? You know, about the nutria?”

“Weird. She’s never been one to snap like that, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. This is all a big upheaval. And it’s been quick by any standards.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Let’s hope all’s well at school.”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be. If I’m any judge of character, that Annamaria is a first-rate headmistress.”

“Absolutely. Do you think it would be just too cheesy to invite her for lunch or something? I bet she can spill a few beans—”

Something moved across the hollow. The snapping of a dry stick pierced the air. Something was breathing, moving toward them. A vague shape was visible in the darkness. Tom leaped to his feet and peered into the gloom beyond where the house lights pooled on the ground. He could see bushes moving, left, right, and then a figure rounded the big oak tree, its swift movements speeding it on through the darkness toward the house.



Sample Sunday – Diavolino

Today I’m posting an excerpt from my novel, Diavolino.

Tom reached the pontoon as an overweight man with a red face jumped off the carabinieri launch. His dark suit seemed to strain at the seams.

“Mr. Lupton, I presume?” he said, offering his hand.

“Yes, and you are Inspector…”

“Ricci. It actually means curly but as you can see…” He raised his eyebrows toward his receding hair.

“Well, thank you for coming so promptly, inspector. I’m extremely worried.”

“No problem, Mr. Lupton. It’s my job. And in any case, it gives me the chance to make your acquaintance.”

“Come, please follow me.” Tom felt he maybe should offer some coffee but his mind was on Sima. The niceties of Italian life would have to wait.

As they rounded the large oak tree the inspector halted and let out a whistle through his teeth. “My, my. I would never have believed it. That’s some temporary accommodation you have there, Mr. Lupton.”

“Um, yes. We are very lucky to have Sir Roger as a client.”

They continued on toward the house. “Tell me about Sir Roger,” Ricci said. “They say he is incredibly rich. I hear he has not one, but two airplanes.”

“He’s done well, let’s say that. We’ve built several properties for him in various countries.” Tom didn’t really want to discuss Roger’s affairs with him. Sima was missing and Ricci wanted to make small talk.

“Don’t you find it strange, Mr. Lupton, that such a man would want to build a house here? On such a small island as well? I mean, it is a simple area. It’s not Los Angeles or London—or even Rome.”

“No, I guess it’s not. But you really ought to be proud of this place. This area is very beautiful and peaceful, rich in history and culture. That’s what attracts us foreigners to it. That, and the friendliness of the people.”

“Ah yes, of course.” The policeman blushed. “I’m sure you will find us local people most interesting.” They’d arrived at a point where they could look down into the hollow, the tubby inspector out of breath and wiping the back of his neck with a handkerchief. “Now, Mr. Lupton. What was it you wanted to see me about. Some missing person, I believe?”

“Look, inspector. I don’t want to raise a false alarm, but as I said, I am very worried. I was working down in the hollow,” he pointed to the place, “together with my assistant, Sima. When I turned round she’d gone.” Tom didn’t mention seeing her shoes disappearing into the unknown. He didn’t want to give the impression that he was some kind of nut.

“When you say gone you mean exactly what?”

“I mean gone. Vanished. Not there.” Tom was rapidly going off at the policeman; already he could tell that he’d wasted time by phoning.

“People don’t just vanish, Mr. Lupton. Not in these parts. She probably went for a walk. Even to the toilet,” said Ricci, grinning stupidly.

“No, I don’t think so at all. I looked everywhere, including her bedroom and bathroom. She wasn’t there. Look, inspector. I know her very well. Sima wouldn’t go off without a word. Something has happened to her. This is just not her behavior.”

“Well, maybe she went to town?”

“But how? She hasn’t taken a boat, and I can’t imagine she swam. No, inspector, Sima is missing.”

Ricci pulled a small notebook from inside his jacket and removed a pencil from his top pocket, licking the tip with the end of his tongue. “Let me take a few details, Mr. Lupton, and maybe you have a recent photograph of your assistant?”

Tom reeled off the standard information as they stepped up into the house. Tom handed Ricci a photograph of Sima. “That’s the one we use in the corporate brochures. I think it’s the best we have.”

Ricci raised his eyebrows. “She is stunning. It will be very hard to lose her in a crowd here.”

“It should make her all the easier to find then, shouldn’t it, inspector?”

“Mr. Lupton. She hasn’t been missing for even a day. In my experience, the chances of her having disappeared are minimal. I am sure that before dinner time she will be back here with a perfectly good explanation.” He put the notebook and pencil in his pocket. “I have the information I need. Should she not turn up by morning, please give me a call.”

“And if I’m not prepared to wait until morning?”

“Mr. Lupton, please. Some may wonder what indeed did happen to your attractive young assistant. I mean, there were only two of you here, all alone on this island. I’m sure none of us wants to jump to conclusions now, do we?”

Tom had to fight the urge to punch him in the face. “I object to your insinuations, inspector.”

Ricci tilted his head to one side. “I can see my own way back to the pontoon. Good day to you Mr. Lupton.”

Tom watched the inspector waddle back toward the launch. He was either incompetent or he was hiding something. The little fuck face.

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Sample Sunday – Diavolino

Winter is just the best time to read  a horror story, especially one that will warm you up!

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Sima’s room was on the ground floor of the hospital, tucked away from the chaos of the main public areas. French windows gave onto a paved quadrangle with a modern sculpture at its center. The room had been refurbished recently; the smell of paint still clung to the otherwise sterile air. She lay on the bed, propped up at a slight angle, attached to various monitors. A faint hum of passing traffic and the occasional whine of a siren drifted in through the open window. Tom hoped that they would turn on the air conditioning soon.

“Mr. Lupton.” A man of about sixty years with thick black hair, average height and build, sporting a classic Roman nose, and wearing an expensively tailored brown suit was offering his hand. Tom leapt from his chair.

“How’s she doing, Professor?”

“Please, sit down,” said Lombardo, dragging himself a chair. “How’s she doing? That’s a good question, Mr. Lupton. I have carried out a preliminary investigation of the patient and of the records that came down with her. I have to say, I’m puzzled. She demonstrates no injury. All her functions are normal. We ran another test for Bartonella, and there’s not a trace. On that matter, I’m satisfied that Poggio made a simple error.”

Tom sagged. He’d been waiting for hours. Lombardo had received top billing, and now all he could say was that he was puzzled.

“It’s still early, Mr. Lupton. The average time needed to come out of a coma is two to five weeks.”

“But do you know this is actually a coma?”

“No, not actually. As I said, I’m puzzled. Could you shed any light on what might have caused this? The doctor in Poggio del Lago gave me some story about a fall? I’m afraid I don’t buy it.” Lombardo leant toward Tom and looked him in the eye. “Why don’t you tell me what really happened, eh?”

Tom cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his hair. “You won’t believe a word of this, Professor.”

Lombardo remained expressionless throughout Tom’s monologue, occasionally making notes with his Cartier pen on a pad of paper. When Tom finished his story the professor put his pen in his pocket and raised himself out of the chair. He put his hands on Tom’s shoulders.

“Do you believe in God, Mr. Lupton?”

Tom snapped. “No, as a matter of fact I don’t.”

“Well, maybe it’s time you started.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? I thought you were a man of science.” Tom pointed to Sima. “Are you telling me that the best hope you can give her is fucking prayer?”

“No, no, Mr. Lupton, not at all. Please, calm down.”

“I am calm!” His whole body was trembling. He paused and shook his head. “Fuck it. Look…er…I’m sorry.”

“Your reaction is perfectly understandable, Tom. May I call you Tom?”

“Yes, of course. Call me anything you want. I just want you to find out what’s wrong with Sima.”

Lombardo smiled. “Thank you, Tom. And I’m Giovanni. Now, let’s take a walk shall we?” He pushed the French window wide open and, slipping his arm loosely through Tom’s, led out into the quadrangle. The heat was suffocating, and they sauntered along the concrete path that ran around the perimeter.

“Have you ever been religious?”

“No. My mother was, in her own strange way, but I could never buy into it. I was very young when I saw it for what it really is,” said Tom.

“But you had some form of religious education? You are an educated man.”

“Well, school stuff. I know about God and the Holy Trinity and Satan if that’s what you mean. But don’t ask me to name all the saints and quote the Bible.” Tom hesitated and looked directly at Lombardo. “Look, Giovanni, what are you driving at?”

“You told me what happened to Sima, and you said I wouldn’t believe it. You were brave to do so. I could have you committed if I wanted.” The professor smiled. “Don’t worry, I have no intention. I know you are not mad. But now I am going to tell you some things that you won’t believe.”

As they strolled arm in arm, Giovanni spoke softly and steadily, interrupted only by the hum of traffic in the distance and the eerie wail of sirens.

What’s The Cause of the International Crisis?

International Crises seem topical, so here’s my #SampleSunday for today from my novel, Diavolino. With Berlusconi licking his wounds this morning the Italian setting will add to the atmosphere.

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Homa Jawini flicked from news channel to news channel. She’d not heard from her husband since he’d been collected by Sir Roger’s driver in the early hours. She knew in her heart that something had happened to Mohsen; she felt it.

The ticker along the bottom of the TV screen was full of the usual sensational bites: Italy on her knees—Temperatures reach 59°celsius—Italy in darkness as big air conditioning switch-on causes massive power drain—Looting rife in major cities—Millions dead. Newsreaders told of the strange disaster that had struck so swiftly at the center of Europe, slowly—but surely—turning rumor and speculation into fact.

“The only explanation is volcanic activity,” said a wiry professor from Oxford University to the CNN audience. “This is the kind of event that our planet hasn’t experienced for millions of years. Anything could happen.”

“We have warned the Iraqis to stop this meteorological warfare,” said a White House spokesperson, “and demanded an explanation. If they don’t comply by midnight Washington time, we are ready to hit them.”

“In the light of intelligence I have received, I am convinced of Al Qaida involvement,” said the British Foreign Secretary on the BBC.

“All attempts by the European Union to get aircraft into Italian airspace have met with disaster. Have you any idea what caused these fighters to come down?” a Sky interviewer quizzed a French air force spokesperson.

“Not at all,” was the reply, “but we cannot rule out a hostile attack.”

No one had a clue. The Indians blamed Pakistan. The Israelis launched rocket attacks on the Palestinians. Russian troops massed on the borders of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Pope said it was the result of an amoral population and urged the world to turn to God. Everyone pointed a finger as a major international crisis unfolded.

Everyone except Homa Jawini.

Back To The Dark Ages

To mark Halloween, here’s an excerpt from my novel Diavolino for this week’s Sample Sunday. If you want to buy a copy, links are in the sidebar.

“How in God’s name did it happen?” Palmerin smashed his fists into his desk and made the window shake.

“It’s no good taking it out on me,” said Annamaria. “Elspeth handed Alice over to Clara at the school herself. Not me.”

“But I thought you’d warned her?” he said, dabbing at his brow with a gray hanky.

“I did. I told her to give Clara a wide berth. I suppose with Paolo being there—”

“He has to be involved as well. Little shit. I’ll have his guts for garters when I get my hands on him.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“We have no choice,” he said, getting to his feet and pacing up and down his office in clouds of pipe smoke. “We’re going to have to come clean. We’ll have to tell Sir Roger what we know. No doubt he will want his money back, with damages.”

“Yes, but what about the damage to tourism, to the foreign investment?”

“It’s over, Annamaria—can’t you see? They’ve won. It’s all over.” The mayor chewed on his pipe and wiped his leaking forehead. “It’ll be like going back to the Dark Ages.” He slammed the phone down and bellowed for his assistant.

“Mr. Mayor?” Her heels still ticktacked on the floor as she spoke. Dark patches were developing in the armpits of her cream dress.

“What time is Sir Roger due?”

“His secretary said he planned to be here late afternoon but—”

“But what? Not more trouble?”

“Have you not heard the news?”

“I haven’t had time to listen to the news, woman.” Claudia stood frozen to the spot. “Tell me, for Christ’s sake.”

“Well, I just heard a report of a passenger plane coming down in Greece earlier today. Probably nothing, but they reckon it was brought down by birds of some kind. I was just thinking of Sir Roger, you know, up there,” she pointed heavenward.

“Silly! Planes crash from time to time, you know.”

“Yes, I know. But they said all commercial flights in Europe have been grounded.”

“That is because of the heat, Claudia. It’s playing havoc with the airports, traffic control, and so on.” His cheeks were concave from trying to suck more smoke out of his spent pipe. “Anyway, have you found that ass, Ricci?”

“No, no sign of him.”

“Well, get everybody onto it. Find him, and we find the Lupton girl. I’ll bet my life on it. That bastard is out of a job. Oh, and tell Mangionami I want to see her as soon as she’s free.”

“I thought you just spoke to her?”

“Yes, I did. But I forgot to ask her to come round, if that’s OK with you?”

Claudia ticktacked off, mumbling something under her breath, the patches of sweat under her arms almost meeting across her narrow back.