The Man with No Face

The Man with No Face

by Peter May


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There are two men on their way to Brussels from the UK: Neil Bannerman, an iconoclastic journalist for Scotland's Daily Standard whose irate editor wants him out of the way, and Kale—a professional assassin.

A classic early Peter May novel situated among the political intrigue of 1979. Expecting to find only a difficult, dreary political investigation in Belgium, Bannerman has barely settled in when tragedy strikes. His host, a fellow journalist, along with a British Cabinet minister, are discovered dead in the minister's elegant Brussels townhouse.

It appears that they have shot each other. But the dead journalist's young autistic daughter, Tania, was hidden in a closet during the killings, and when she draws a chilling picture of a third party—a man with no face—Bannerman suddenly finds himself a reluctant participant in a desperate murder investigation.
As the facts slowly begin to emerge under Bannerman's scrutiny, he comes to suspect that the shootings may have a deep and foul link with the rotten politics that brought him to Brussels in the first place.

And as Kale threatens to strike again, Bannerman begins to feel a change within himself. His jaded professionalism is transforming into a growing concern for the lonely and frightened Tania, and a strong attraction to a courageous woman named Sally—drawing him out of himself and into the very heart of a profound, cold-blooded, and infinitely dangerous conspiracy.

"Peter May is a writer I'd follow to the ends of the earth." —Marilyn Stasio, New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781787472594
Publisher: Mobius
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 200,846
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Peter May has written several standalone novels and three series: the award-winning China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell; the critically acclaimed Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo Macleod, set in France; and the Lewis Trilogy ( The Black House, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen), all three volumes of which are internationally bestselling novels.

One of Scotland's most prolific television dramatists, May garnered more than 1,000 credits over a decade and a half spent as scriptwriter and editor on prime-time British television. Before quitting TV to concentrate on writing novels, he was the creator of three major series, two of which were the highest rated in Scotland. May lives and writes in France.

Read an Excerpt


Kale watched the train through the rain-spattered glass and thought, this time will be the last. But even as the thought formed in his mind it clotted and he knew he would kill again.

He twirled his cigarette nervously between nicotine-stained fingers and sipped the sour dregs of his coffee. The coffee machine on the counter hissed and issued steam, and with the rain beginning to fall outside the window was misting over. The first drops of condensation formed and ran clear lines through it.

An old man sat in the corner making his coffee last so he could remain in the warmth, and a hard-faced woman behind the counter sat smoking a cigarette and watching Kale. She had seen the likes of him before. A place like this was a constant stream of men and women who had seen better days. There was the familiar suit, perhaps expensive once, but now fraying at the cuffs, crumpled, baggy, shiny at the elbows and the seat of the pants. The old blue overcoat, rubbed and coffee-stained down the front, dandruff on the collar. The clothes hung loosely on his lean frame. She had seen worse, but maybe this one was just starting out.

He would be around thirty-nine or forty, hair thinning, greased back. A hollow face with high cheekbones; clear, pale, slightly yellow skin, remarkably unlined. It was his eyes that interested her, if it was possible to say that she was interested in anything. They were dark, deep-sunk eyes, set too close, and they burned with a bleak intensity that she had not seen before. There was something sullen in his face, but it was not the face of defeat as was the face of the old man in the corner – as were most of the faces that came in here to stare morosely into endless cups of coffee.

Kale caught her watching him and she looked quickly away, becoming aware for the first time that she was actually afraid of those eyes ... almost intimidated by them. You're letting your imagination run away with itself, Nance, she told herself without conviction.

'Oi, you!' she shouted with a voice as hard as her face at the old man in the corner. A Cockney voice, a long way from home. 'You've 'ad yer coffee. Now clear aht!'

The old man looked up with resignation. He had learned to accept such things. You grew used to them, as you grew used to the constant gnawing pain of an ulcer. He pushed back his chair, rising slowly with what might have been an attempt at dignity, and shuffled past the counter and out into the wet. Nance had only done it to take her mind off Kale, but now she realized her folly. She had left herself alone with him. She stubbed out her half-smoked cigarette and lit another between thin, painted lips, crossed to the jukebox and punched two plays. The noise would make her feel more secure, and still she wished she could have called the old man back.

But she need not have worried, for Kale had barely noticed his going, and was only mildly irritated when the jukebox began belting out a scratchy hit record. And Nance was of no interest to him. He was thinking about his meeting with Swinton in a dingy London tearoom three days earlier.

Swinton was a small, fat, busy man. He had sat across a wooden table from Kale. One of those people who perspire constantly.

'It's a big one, Kale,' he had said with an air of confidentiality, leaning across the table and breathing garlic at the other man. 'Big money this time. You could retire. Where you been anyway? The boys was thinking you was maybe dead or something. The word's been out for over a week.'

Kale had felt uncomfortable there, surrounded by elderly ladies drinking tea from china cups. But Swinton had insisted they should not meet at the usual pub. 'How much and who's paying?'

Swinton's smile widened. 'Oh, come on, Willy boy. You know me. Even if I knew I wouldn't tell you who. But truth is, this time I don't even know myself.' He paused and sat back as a waitress scurried by with a pile of empty cups and saucers clinking on a tray, and then leaned forward again. 'It's not the usual form. You'll deal direct. I'll get my commission for finding you, but honest to God I don't know who's paying.'

'How much?'

'A hundred thousand smackers, Kale. A hundred thousand! Jesus, I'd do it myself for a quarter of that, but I'm not in your class. No one's in your class, mate.'

Kale toyed with his cup, the undrunk tea cold now, milk solids forming a scum on the surface. He was not happy. If he had not needed the money ...

'Tell me.'

Nance was relieved when Kale pulled up his collar and pushed back his chair. She watched him out the door then crossed to his table to collect the empty cup and found twenty pence under the saucer. Funny, she thought, how some of them never lose the habit. Maybe he wasn't as bad as he seemed.

Kale crossed the railway yard, asphalt crunching under his feet, the January rain stinging his face. The locomotive had shunted three coal trucks into a siding and was chugging back towards the depot. Ahead of him this small industrial township rose up the hillside, a jumble of blackened brick terraces. The tall chimneys of the mills belched smoke into a heavily laden sky away to his right, and he could hear children playing somewhere behind a wall that ran alongside the road down to the station. The cobbled street shone in the wet, reflecting the grim poverty of the place. On the station wall a fly-blown poster urged a vote for Labour, its red vivid against the grey, a smile on the candidate's face above the slogan – FOR A BETTER BRITAIN.

He crossed Church Street to the newsagent's on the corner and stood looking out across the town square with its black memorial statue, hands sunk deep in the pockets of his coat. For three days he had come to this spot every morning and every afternoon, checking all the routes that led to and from the square. He knew this town now as well as anyone could who had walked every street. Each road leading out of it was marked in red on the map in his pocket, each identifiable by some feature that could not be seen, but might be felt or heard. He had been relentless and thorough, and yet he was still far from satisfied. He shuffled uneasily and watched the traffic carefully. Three days, he told himself, was not enough. The clock on the church tower showed three but did not chime. The minutes ticked past slowly and the rain stopped, leaving only the chill wind to sweep across the square.

He saw the van come in from the north side and watched it as it drove past him, along the top end and back round again. This time it stopped, a white Ford Transit. Kale saw the fresh mud splashed along the side from the front wheels, and took a mental note of the registration, though he doubted if that would prove useful. Still, every scrap of information might help. A slight smile curled his lip. Others would not have gone to such lengths.

A short, thickset man stepped from the van, his crop of white, wiry hair catching in the wind above a brown leathery face. He wore a heavy tweed coat and was not what Kale had been expecting. His blue eyes incongruously honest.

'Kale?' he said. Kale nodded. 'Into the back of the van then, lad.' He rounded the van and opened the doors for Kale to climb in. 'Here, stick this over your head. And don't think you can whip it off when we get moving. I'll be watching you in the mirror.'

Kale pulled the black cotton hood over his head and squatted down on a rug on the floor as the driver shut the doors. There were dog hairs on the rug and there had been fresh mud on the man's brogues. Despite the good coat and shoes, his hands were those of a working man. Heavy, hard-skinned, calloused hands. His accent was northern, and he had a weathered outdoor air about him, uncomfortable in his expensive city gear. Kale adjusted his senses to the darkness, pressing his back up against the side of the van. He smelled dog and stale cigarette smoke.

They seemed to have been driving around the town for an eternity. Several times Kale had lost his bearings, but always he picked up their position again. The hoot of a train as it approached the station, the steep cobbled climb up Cotton Street, the quarter-hour chime of the church clock on the edge of the new housing estate – the only chiming clock in the town. They were leaving the town now, he was certain. The roundabout on the north side with roads leading north and west. The sound of a pneumatic drill, and a slight delay at temporary traffic lights erected for roadworks. They had taken the A road west. It was a road Kale had checked on his first day.

The driver stuck to the A road for what must have been nearly twenty minutes. That would take the time to around three forty. Kale would check the time when they stopped. Another seven or eight minutes perhaps, and then the van turned off the main road. Kale heard the click, click of the indicator before they slowed to take the corner, tight, the driver forced to crunch into first gear. It would be a narrow road, maybe a farm track. The van bounced and clattered over the uneven surface. Kale heard the splash of mud along the side. Then they stopped, and above the idling engine Kale could hear a man's voice and the sound of hooves, the lowing of cattle. He strained to catch more. The scraping of a wooden gate, again a man's voice calling, cattle retreating, and they were moving again, very slowly. Up a sharp incline and then suddenly down. A bridge? Over water? Yes, he could hear the water. The driver had rolled down the window. And now they were picking up speed, the surface a little better, the swish, swish, swish of fence posts or perhaps trees along the route. Slowing again, the clatter of a cattle grid, and then the crunch of gravel beneath the tyres. They stopped. The driver cut the ignition and climbed out.

'Just keep yer hood on, lad.' The back doors opened and Kale felt the working man's hands help him out. Even in his enclosed darkness he could sense the presence of trees and a building. Stone. Something big, impressive. Up steps and into a hall, a great sense of space around them. A flagstone floor, or tiles maybe. The man with the white hair and the big rough hands felt the tension in Kale's arm. 'Okay, lad. Take it easy.' Kale was surprised by the odd friendliness of the voice, its inappropriate innocence. This man could know nothing of what Kale was about. It's strange, he thought, how much a voice can tell you about a man when you cannot see his face. 'In 'ere.' The big hands guided him across the hall and through a doorway. 'You can take yer hood off when I've shut the door. There's a bell press below the light switch when you're ready to go.' The door closed, the key turned in the lock, and the sound of the man's heavy tread receded across the hall.

Kale removed the hood and screwed up his eyes against the sudden glare of electric light. It took nearly half a minute for his eyes to adjust fully. He checked his watch. It was just after four. Then he looked around. This was a small room. No windows, no fireplace, cream-painted walls, bare floorboards. A smell of dust and age. Perhaps a storeroom. But there were no clues, the room completely bare save for a wooden bench against the far wall. Kale's eyes fixed on the bench. Towards one end of it lay a briefcase, a heavy black phone placed beside it. He was startled by the sudden loud ring of the phone – a short, single ring. He crossed the room and lifted the receiver, checking the dial as he sat. It was not an outside line, but an internal phone with only an extension number. Four.

'Kale?' a voice rasped in his ear.


'Good. Now understand this ...' The voice seemed without particular accent, but it was an educated voice, mature. Even from the five words Kale had heard he detected a quality of confidence. A man used to speaking, a man used to having others listen. 'You and I are the only ones who will ever know the purpose of this meeting. You do not know who I am and so it shall remain. I know very little about you except for your reputation.' The voice paused. Kale let the silence drag out and became aware for the first time that he was cold in this empty room. Then the voice was there again, insistent, demanding his attention.

'In the briefcase you will find fifty thousand pounds in cash, the first half of your fee. On top of it you will find a folder containing two photographs marked A and B.'

Kale switched the phone to his other ear and opened the briefcase. The money was there beneath the folder in bundles of £100 notes, but he did not count them. He lifted the folder and opened it to take out the photographs and lay them side by side on the bench.

'Listen carefully to what I tell you because you will receive nothing in writing and you may not take the photographs with you. If you wish me to repeat anything, ask.'

'Hold on.' Kale took out a small, dog-eared notebook and a biro pen. 'Okay.'

'Photograph A is Robert Gryffe. He is a Minister of State at the Foreign Office.' Kale had recognized the face but been unable to place it. So, political assassination. It meant nothing to him. 'Gryffe has special responsibilities in acting for theForeign Minister at the European Commission of the EEC in Brussels. He is there at least one week a month, during which he stays at a terraced house he owns in the Rue de Pavie, number twenty-four. Today is Thursday. On Sunday morning Gryffe has an appointment there to meet the man pictured in photograph B. That man's identity is of no importance to you, just so long as you remember the face. I want both men dead ... without suspicion of murder. How you do that is your business.' The voice paused and Kale waited.

'You will then proceed to the Rue de Commerce, the top-floor flat in the apartment block at number thirty-three. It will be empty. There is always a key below the mat. Let yourself in and go straight to the main living room. On the fireplace wall hangs a painting by Brueghel, behind it a safe set in the wall. The combination is three, zero, five, nine, six, two. Inside you will find a black briefcase ...'

'Burglary ain't my thing,' Kale interrupted, his voice flat and cold.

The other hesitated. 'The apartment has already been checked out by a professional. You will simply be required to collect the case and leave.' Again the hesitation, the reluctance to answer Kale's unasked question. Kale was only too aware of the power of his silence. 'The case cannot not be taken before the ... before you have fulfilled your task at the Rue de Pavie.'

'Go on.'

'You will take it straight to the Gare du Midi and deposit it in box thirty-nine at the left-luggage lockers. The key is taped to the inside of the lid of the briefcase beside you. If you return to the station at midday on Monday you will find a further fifty thousand pounds in cash in the same locker – assuming, of course, that you have successfully fulfilled the contract. Do you have any questions?'


'Good. Then I shall allow you five minutes to study the photographs. Should anything occur to you in that time, dial six. Ring the bell by the door when you are ready to leave and remember to replace your hood.'

A click and the line went dead. Kale replaced the receiver. He lit a cigarette and looked at the two photographs. Gryffe would be around forty. A smooth, prosperous face. The other man was, perhaps, a few years younger. A lean, bearded face below a crop of fair, or perhaps red, hair. Two anonymous faces. Two men whom Kale would kill. There would, he knew, be no satisfaction in it, but neither would there be conscience or remorse. For Kale was the complete killer: cold, efficient, deadly. A man who showed no mercy, a quality he reserved for no one, including himself.

He sat for a while drawing slowly on his cigarette, a small shabby figure in the nakedness of the room. He would find this place again. On the map, or physically if need be. It was invariably important to know who it was that employed you to kill. And this one had taken such elaborate precautions to conceal his identity. You all think you are so clever, Kale thought. But in the end I have always got you, one way or the other. He stood on the last inch of his cigarette and closed the briefcase, leaving the photographs on the bench. He lifted the cotton hood, and his money. Then crossed to the door and rang the bell.


Excerpted from "The Man with No Face"
by .
Copyright © 1981 Peter May.
Excerpted by permission of Quercus.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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