‘New Holland’, my new mystery novel set in St. Petersburg, will be out on 25th August. As well as the usual websites, you’ll be able to pick up a copy at Espresso Books. Here’s another extract to whet your appetite – the first extract can be found by scrolling further down this page:
The doorbell jerked Jonathan David awake just before seven. He’d probably been dreaming about Olesya again, but then she ghosted into his mind most nights.
Nobody knows where I live, he thought as he stumbled around the room, trying with half-shut eyes to find a full set of clothes. Nobody except one person. A peek through the front door’s spy hole revealed he was correct. Paul. With a Russian woman. Jonathan opened the door, scratching a mosquito bite on his arm and wondering why his friend always insisted on bringing them to him before breakfast.
‘It’s a bit early. Can you give me ten minutes?’
Paul looked around before whispering his answer. ‘We need to come in now. I don’t want Olga Andreevna to wait out here; it wouldn’t be good if she got recognised.’
‘She’s got an urgent case. Let us in and I’ll explain everything.’
Jonathan stepped aside, gluey eyes scanning the lady. Somewhere in her late forties or early fifties, she was attractive: probably part of St. Petersburg’s jet set with her expensive raincoat, extravagant hairstyle and extra-soft skin. She looked uncomfortable in her shabby surroundings, as if she feared she might catch some disease just by being there. Jonathan wondered whether he recognised her – perhaps from the many hours of television he’d been clocking up – but chased the thought away as he realised the poor impression his dishevelled early-morning state was making. A wealthy woman on his doorstep could mean a decent payday for once.
‘Put some coffee on, Paul, and I’ll be through in a few minutes.’
‘We’ll be in your office.’
Changing into a clean t-shirt, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror left by the previous occupant: he ate little, but there was a bulge where his stomach was. Next to Paul and the Russian he probably looked like a tramp. As he sprayed himself with deodorant, he thought about the woman. For some reason he’d felt uncomfortable when they made eye contact. He tried to guess what she wanted. Usually the women Paul
brought needed proof their husbands were being unfaithful, though she seemed of a different class. Perhaps she was being unfaithful and wanted help covering her own tracks.
Trying to ignore how tired he felt, Jonathan straightened his shoulders and sat down behind his desk. His mind was quickly scrubbed awake.
‘Jonathan, I’d like you to meet Olga Andreevna. She’s the wife of St. Petersburg’s governor.’
Olga Andreevna’s glare marked his answer with a fat X. Paul continued, glancing nervously at her as he did so.
‘No – Mikhailichenko was arrested before the election, remember?’
Jonathan didn’t remember – he’d probably been very drunk in front of a bad film that day.
‘Her husband is Alexey Vinogradov, and last night he was kidnapped in the garden of his offices. A smashed bottle of cognac was found by an area overlooking the river.’
‘An inside job?’
‘Possibly – but the police have discounted the driver and the bodyguard. CCTV corroborates their alibis.’
Jonathan remembered an anti-government blog he’d read. ‘Isn’t Vinogradov the one turning half the city into shopping malls?’
‘He’s building more retail units, yes.’
‘A high-pressure job. I’ll bet he liked a drink.’
Paul looked uneasy. He remained silent.
‘It sounds more like an accident than a kidnap. Most likely he was winding down with a bottle, feeling the heat from the Moscow puppet masters. He went for a dip and drowned in the Neva.’
‘Or he wanted to die and jumped in. Now his people want a cover up. I don’t want any involvement if…’
‘My husband is not a drunk and not a puppet! And he did not kill himself!’
Jonathan had assumed Olga Andreevna did not speak English very well. Staring at his computer screen, he blushed slightly. Paul touched her arm, glaring at Jonathan with a look he’d often seen since returning to St. Petersburg. He wondered whether Paul was becoming a surrogate big brother.
‘It’s OK, Olga Andreevna. Jonathan’s covering all the possibilities. He likes to get stuck in when he’s starting an investigation. I told you he was good.’
Jonathan twitched in his seat. He hadn’t agreed to any investigation. He was about to speak when Paul caught his eye and started talking quickly.
‘There are several very strong leads, including one to foreign businessmen.’
‘Do the police know about what’s happened?’
‘They won’t find him!’ Olga Andreevna cut in suddenly.
The reaction seemed exaggerated. Jonathan turned to look at her.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘They’re useless for a case like this: the Western connection is key but none of them has even been abroad, let alone learnt English. Recently my husband started two new projects: one with Swedes and the other with Icelanders. They’re so arrogant – they think they can come here and act exactly as they wish. They started getting aggressive when they found out they needed to play by our rules.’
Olga Andreevna was beginning to intimidate him. He wasn’t sure whether it was the immaculate appearance, the domineering manner or the feeling that she was holding something back. He stood up, trying to smile.
‘To be honest, I don’t know if I’m equipped for this: generally I just follow unfaithful husbands. Paul, can I speak to you outside?’
In the corridor Paul grabbed Jonathan’s shoulders. He squeezed them encouragingly.
‘Come on, this is your chance – a big case at last!’
Jonathan pulled away and folded his arms. ‘You’ve been really good getting me all this work, Paul, but I’m not doing this one. Don’t try and persuade me.’
Paul’s smile disappeared.
‘If you help her find the governor do you know what it’ll do for your reputation?’
‘I’m not doing it. It’d be a joke.’
‘What do you mean?’
Jonathan jabbed a slender finger back to where the Russian was sitting.
‘She kidnapped her husband.’
If you like that, more will follow later in the week!