‘Caelan Small stood by the window, staring up at the sky. Still dark, dawn beginning to send a yellow and red glow across the horizon. The window was double-glazed, doing its best to mask the sound of the London traffic thundering by beyond, but not wholly succeeding. She turned away, closed the curtains. On the bed, the colours of the screen glaring bright against the plain white duvet cover, her phone began to ring again. She stepped closer, checked the caller’s name. Shook her head and ignored the call. The fourth from the same number in as many hours.
‘Take the hint, Nicky,’ she muttered. Eventually, they would have to talk, but not yet. The pain was too raw, too vivid. This was a new kind of heartbreak, one Caelan had no idea how to process. She lifted a hand to her bruised cheek, touched the dressing protecting the wound on her temple. The stitches itched, and she fought the urge to tear off the bandage. She needed clean clothes but would have to buy them. Everything she owned was back at the flat in Rotherhithe, and she wouldn’t be returning there anytime soon. She also needed to eat, though she wasn’t the least bit hungry. Her time was her own; her only instruction to rest and recover. Her injuries would take time to heal, and as for the resting, she had struggled to sleep for more than a few minutes. The ache in her chest had nothing to do with her cuts and bruises.
Her phone was ringing again. Irritated, Caelan snatched it up, glared at the screen. A different name, but someone else she didn’t want to speak to. She sat on the bed, then lay back, the phone still squawking beside her. As a shrill beep informed her that the caller had left a voicemail, Caelan closed her eyes.
‘No answer.’ Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Beckett shook her head as she set her phone down.
Across the table, Detective Nicky Sturgess bowed her head.
‘I’m not surprised. When she left last night—’
‘She was shocked and in pain. I understand. She’d had a difficult day. All the more reason for her to answer her phone this morning. I told her I’d be in touch.’
‘She’s hurt, ma’am. Emotionally as well as physically. In hindsight, me turning up unannounced wasn’t the best move.’
Beckett held up a hand. ‘Regardless, we need her here. Your personal relationship is irrelevant.’
Nicky looked up, folded her arms. ‘Except if that were true, Caelan would be answering her phone.’
‘You told me you wanted to get straight back out into the field.’
‘And I do.’
‘You know you can’t go back to Edmonton, especially now.’
‘Why not? Who’s going to remember me?’
‘We can’t take the risk.’
‘What aren’t you telling me?’
Beckett’s lips thinned. ‘As I explained to you last night when you were released from the safe house, we have a major scandal to contain. If the press found out one of own officers was responsible for the murder of a ten-year-old child…’
‘I see how it could be awkward.’ Nicky’s voice was ice. Beckett stared at her.
‘It’s not your concern. I had considered sending both you and Caelan to Edmonton to pick up where you left off.’
Nicky snorted. ‘I’m sure she’d be delighted. Why both of us?’
‘It’s a complex operation.’
‘No more than most.’ Nicky inclined her head. ‘Ma’am…’
Beckett tapped a fingernail on the table, considering. ‘I think it would be best if we talked again later.’
Nicky got to her feet. She pushed her chair under the table, gripping the back of it tightly. ‘You mean you want to ask Caelan whether she’ll work with me?’
Beckett shot a warning glance. ‘Not at all.’
‘And there’s me thinking you were in charge.’
‘We’ll speak later, Detective Sturgess.’
Contempt clear in her expression, Nicky strode from the room.
When she woke several hours later, Caelan listened to the voicemail. She slid off the bed and paced over to the window as she waited for Beckett to answer.
‘Caelan. How are you? Good of you to find the time to call.’
She paused, rubbing her forehead. So this was how Beckett was going to play it. ‘How’s Ewan?’
‘Two cracked ribs, bruising. He’s at home, like you.’
‘I’m on leave on your instruction. Take a couple of weeks, you said.’
A sharp exhalation. ‘I remember.’
‘And after I arrived home last night, I had an unexpected visitor.’ Caelan swallowed, the words catching in her throat. ‘I’m sure you can guess who it was.’
Beckett hesitated. ‘It came as a surprise.’
‘As I’m sure you can understand, Nicky’s sudden disappearance was necessary, for her own protection.’
‘It was cruel. Did you even think about her family? You didn’t have to—’
‘I had no other option. And when you’ve calmed down, had time to absorb it, you’ll see it was the right decision.’
‘With respect, ma’am, I doubt it.’
‘Almost everyone else connected to the case is dead. Nicky going into hiding saved her. Remember that.’ Beckett’s voice was devoid of emotion.
‘I’m not likely to forget.’
‘We need to meet.’
‘Why?’ Caelan turned from the window. She had walked away from the Met once. Maybe it was time to do so again.
‘We have a… situation developing,’ said Beckett.
‘You said you didn’t want to see me for a couple of weeks. That was less than twenty-four hours ago.’
‘I know, but there was an incident this morning. I’d like to discuss it with you.’
‘What’s happened? Is this about Nasenby?’
‘I’m not going to talk about it over the phone. Are you at home?’
‘Home?’ Caelan laughed. ‘I don’t have a home.’
‘What? But you—’
‘Turns out I didn’t inherit the apartment after all. I’m sure you can figure out why.’ Caelan tried to keep the bitterness from her tone, but it was there all the same. There was a silence as Beckett thought about it. It didn’t last long.
‘Then where are you?’ No sympathy, no warmth. Standard Beckett. Yesterday, when Caelan had identified and confronted a killer, been beaten and hospitalised by him, her boss had been concerned, courteous. Almost friendly. Today, she was back to cool and detached.
Caelan rubbed her eyes. ‘A hotel.’
‘I’ll come to you.’
‘I’m going to go out to get some food.’ Caelan picked up her bag. Waited.
Another sigh. ‘Fine. I’ll meet you. Where?’’
It took me a few chapters to get into this story, probably because it was the first Detective Caelan Small novel I’ve read. Undercover police work is both physically and mentally demanding on the people who do it. They are effectively living a lie, and this must have an often catastrophic effect on their personal lives and relationships.
Caelen is a believable, likeable character who makes you want to read what happens next. Mislead about the fate of her partner, Nicky, Caelen feels betrayed and vulnerable. It is questionable whether she is in the right mental state to go undercover again, but circumstances dictate, and she finds herself working amid people traffickers and drug dealers in the wake of two horrific murders.
The fast-paced, detailed plot is cleverly written, with lots of action and crime, without the need for graphic violence. The vividly depicted characters and authentic settings draw you in making this an absorbing read. The story ends on a note of finality, but I hope this isn’t the end for Detective Caelen Small.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Lisa Hartley lives with her partner, son, two dogs and several cats. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Studies, then had a variety of jobs but kept writing in her spare time. She is currently working on the next DS Catherine Bishop novel, as well as a new series with Canelo.