On a balmy June night, Kirsten, a young university student, is strolling home through a silent moonlit park when she is viciously attacked.
When she awakens in the hospital, she has no recollection of that brutal night. But then slowly, painfully, details reveal themselves—dreams of two figures, one white and one black, hovering over her; snatches of a strange and haunting song; the unfamiliar texture of a rough and deadly hand . . .
In another part of the country, Martha Browne arrives in a Yorkshire seaside town, posing as an author doing research for a book. But her research is of a particularly macabre variety. Who is she hunting with such deadly determination? And why?
The First Cut is a vivid and compelling psychological thriller, from the author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Banks series.
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The First CutA Novel of Suspense
By Robinson, Peter
Perennial Dark AlleyISBN: 006073535X
Martha Browne arrived in Whitby one clear afternoon in early September, convinced of her destiny.
All the way, she had gazed out of the bus window and watched the landscape become more and more unreal. On Fylingdales Moor, the sensors of the early-warning missile attack system rested like giant golf balls balanced at the rims of holes, and all around them the heather was in full bloom. It wasn't purple, like the songs all said, but more delicate, maroon laced with pink. When the moors gave way to rolling farmland, like the frozen green waves of the sea it led to, she understood what Dylan Thomas meant by "fire green as grass."
Sea and sky were a piercing blue, and the town nestled in its bay, a pattern of red pantile roofs flanked on either side by high cliffs. Everything was too vibrant and vivid to be real; the scene resembled a landscape painting, as distorted in its way as Van Gogh's wheat fields and starry nights.
The bus lumbered down toward the harbor and pulled up in a small station off Victoria Square. Martha took another quick glance at her map and guidebook as the driver backed into the numbered bay. When the doors hissed open, she picked up her small holdall and followed the other passengers onto the platform.
Arriving in a new place always made Martha feel strangelyexcited, but this time the sensation was even more intense. At first, she could only stand rooted to the spot among the revving buses, breathing in the diesel fumes and salt sea air. She felt as if she was trying the place on for size, and it was a good fit. She took stock of the subtle tremors her arrival caused in the essence of the town. Others might not notice such things, but Martha did. Everyone and everything -- from the sand on the beach to a guilty secret in a tourist's heart -- was somehow connected and in a state of constant flux. It was like quantum physics, she thought, at least insofar as she understood it. Her presence would send out ripples and reverberations that people wouldn't forget for a long time.
She still felt queasy from the journey, but that would soon pass. The first thing was to find somewhere to stay. According to her guidebook, the best accommodation was to be had in the West Cliff area. The term sounded odd when she knew she was on the east coast, but Whitby was built on a kink in the shoreline facing north, and the town is divided neatly into east and west by the mouth of the River Esk.
Martha walked along the New Quay Road by Endeavour Wharf. In the estuary, silt glistened like entrails in the sun. A rusted hulk stood by the wharf -- not a fishing trawler, but a small cargo boat of some kind -- and rough, unshaven men wearing dirty T-shirts and jeans ambled around on deck, coiling ropes and greasing thick chains. By the old swing bridge that linked the east and west sides of the town stood a blackboard with the times of high tides chalked in: 0527 and 1803. It was a few minutes before four; the tide should be on its way in.
She walked along St. Ann's Staith, sliding her hand on the white metal railing that topped the stone walls of the quay. Small craft lay beached on the mud, some of them not much more than rowing boats with sails. Ropes thrummed and flimsy metal masts rattled in the light breeze and flashed in the sun. Across the narrow estuary, the white houses seemed to be piled haphazardly beside and on top of one another. At the summit of the cliff stood St. Mary's Church, just as it had, in one form or another, since the Abbot William de Percy built it between 1100 and 1125. The abbey beside it had been there even longer, but it had been crumbling away for over four hundred years, since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and now there was nothing left but a somber ruin.
Martha felt a thrill at actually seeing these places she had only read about. And she also had a strange sense of coming home, a kind of deja vu. Everything seemed so damn familiar and right. This was the place; Martha knew it. But she'd have plenty of time to explore East Cliff later, she decided, turning her attention back toward where she was going.
The pubs, seafood stalls and souvenir shops on her left gave way to amusement arcades and a Dracula Museum; for it was here, in Whitby, where the celebrated Count was said to have landed. The road veered away from the harbor wall around a series of open sheds by the quayside, where the fish were auctioned before being shipped to processing plants. Obviously, the catch hadn't come in yet, as nothing was going on there at the moment. Martha knew she would have to come down here again and again and watch the men as they unloaded their fish into iced boxes and sold them. But, like everything else, it could wait. Now she had made up her mind, she felt she had plenty of time. Attention to detail was important, and it would help overcome whatever fear and uncertainty remained within her.
She stopped at a stall and bought a packet of shrimp, which she ate as she carried on walking. They sold whelks, winkles and cockles, too, but Martha never touched them. It was because of her mother, she realized. Every time the family had visited the seaside -- usually Weston-super-Mare or Burnham-on-Sea -- and Martha had wanted to try them, her mother had told her it was vulgar to eat such things. It was, too, she had always believed. What could be more vulgar than sticking a pin in the moist opening of a tiny, conchlike shell and pulling out a creature as soft and slimy as snot?Continues...
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