When a man is found with his face blown off, the Glasgow P Division detectives quickly establish his identity. But the mystery surrounding his death only deepens.
"When it comes to writing police procedurals, Turnbull has few peers. This low-key Scottish author writes refreshingly intelligent books that are an absorbing blend of gritty murder mystery, human-interest story, psychological profile, and wry social commentary." - Booklist
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About the Author
Peter Turnbull lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He is the author of the title, The Man with No Face.
Peter Turnbull was born and raised in Yorkshire, England. He has had a variety of jobs--in a former incarnation he was a social worker for twenty-three years, an occupation he gave up to become a full-time writer. Fear of Drowning is his twelfth novel.
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The Man with No Face
By Peter Turnbull
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Peter Turnbull
All rights reserved.
Spring forward, fall back.
It was that time of year. The time of daylight saving. For many years he couldn't remember whether the clocks went back one hour or forwards one hour each autumn and whether they went back one hour or forwards one hour each spring. He never could remember which, and was often insufficiently alert to be receptive to publicity about the matter which was in his opinion, modest and discreet in the extreme. So that looking back over his life, he could recall times when he had strolled into his place of work anticipating the first leisurely cup of tea, only to be told icily that he was an hour late. Equally, on other occasions he had travelled to work, startled by the lack of traffic on the road and wondering if the rest of Glasgow and Scotland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland knew something that he didn't: which in a sense it did. Then one March, close to the spring change, he was in the company of a woman he didn't care for but had to work with and they, for want of conversation, talked about the clocks changing twice a year, and he volunteered that he often forgot about the change and had to catch up or slow down to get back in step with the rest of the population on the right little, tight little island, and also couldn't remember which way they went when. The woman then offered that should he steel himself and accept the Americanism of 'fall' for 'autumn', he could perhaps then employ the mnemonic of 'spring forward, fall back' to assist him, at least, to remember which way they went. It had been, he had to concede, a useful aid to his memory, except that this autumn he didn't need it. This blustery October on the cusp of the millennium it had been his great misfortune to have been on the night shift, which began at 22.00 hours, and then, two hours later at midnight, a fresh-faced constable dutifully went round the building at midnight or thereabouts, turning all clocks back to 23.00, or thereabouts. It was not having to work the additional hour that the man begrudged, because in fairness he had in preceding years worked the night shift in the spring when the clocks had 'sprung forwards' and he had been able to get home one hour early. What piqued him about this particular 'fall back' was that he was at his desk, feet up, hat pulled over his eyes, sliding gently towards 06.00 hours, and 'lowsing time' which was really, his body was telling him, 07.00 hours, when at 05.15, which was really 06.15, the phone on his desk rang. He hesitated a moment, vainly attempting to dream the sound away and then reluctantly picked up the phone. 'CID,' he yawned, 'DS Sussock.'
'Control, sir.' The female voice was to Sussock's mind astoundingly crisp even at this ungodly hour.
'Papa Tango Foxtrot request CID attendance, code four-one.'
'Code four-one, sir.'
Sussock glanced at his watch. He hadn't adjusted it. It read 06.15. The morning shift should be here, he thought, bustling about with first editions of the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman and the Daily Record, full of energy and beans, ready to do the handover, but they're not, because the clock on the wall, a silent digital thing with glowing green figures on a black background, said 05.15 because the junior constable had changed it five and a quarter hours ago. No, he hadn't, he'd changed it six and a quarter hours ago, and he'd made this call come in on this shift, not on the next shift, because ... Sussock groped for his ballpoint and notepad ... and anyway, outside it was dark and it was raining and the rule of the game is like the TV quiz show ... you start, so you finish ... and he wanted to say, but it's really 06.15 and he should be climbing into his car to drive home, not climbing into his car to drive to a locus someplace ... but ... He suddenly wondered if people had been executed on the morning after the clocks had gone back or forwards? Had the gaolers on death watch in the condemned cell ever stopped playing monopoly with the condemned man or woman for a few seconds while they put their watches back to 23.00? Or forwards to 01.00? He pulled the top of his ballpoint off with his teeth and, trapping the phone between his head and shoulder, said 'OK ... go ahead.'
'Locus is Winton Drive, sir. Glasgow twelve. One male deceased ... apparent cause of death is gunshot wound to the head. Papa Tango Foxtrot in attendance. Police surgeon also requested to attend.'
'Very good. I'm on my way.'
'Thank you, sir.'
Sussock replaced the phone with a gentleness which surprised him because his urge was to slam the thing down so hard that it might break.
He stood and reached for his coat and as he did so he caught sight of his reflection in the glass, mirrored by the lights of Charing Cross and Sauchiehall Street beyond. He saw a lean, angular face, lantern-jawed, deeply creased with age and worry. He turned from the reflection and slid his coat on. It was a battered cream-coloured raincoat, grimy and streaked. It hung from his shoulders like a sack. It was too light for the coming winter and sufficiently old to warrant it being offered to one of the charity shops in Byres Road, along with his trousers which shone with age. His shoes too were low-cut summer shoes, scuffed and scratched. Soon, soon, he would have to take a trip out to Rutherglen, something to prepare himself for, to play the scene in his head and then act it, frame by frame, line by line, as if on automatic pilot. He tugged on his misshaped felt trilby and grabbed his notepad and mobile phone. He left his office and entered the CID corridor, descended the stairs to the ground floor of the building and noted with a certain envy and resentment that the early, and keen, arrivals of the uniformed offices were beginning to trickle into the building to commence their day shift. He signed 'out' at the uniform bar and left the building by the rear 'staff only' exit. The sudden blast of cold air pressed his lungs with a stabbing pain, being, he had found, the legacy of a lifetime as a cigarette smoker; inhaling, high tar, no filter. The drizzle and the fresh air did, however, invigorate him, waking him up and he sensed himself clutching his second wind. He clambered into his ancient Ford which had a reputation of being a poor starter in the wet. On that morning it started on the button. Sussock thought that it just had to. On this day, this one occasion when he found himself clutching at unclutchable straws, this one day when just forty-five minutes separated him from being able to hand over the call to DC Abernethy on the day shift, an unstartable car might just swing it ... less than forty-five minutes now ... a code four-one, a murder ... the body's not going anywhere ... and dawn's coming up ... and he felt there to be a thin line across his eyes from pupil to pupil ... damp points, a flat battery ... anything ... but all he was greeted with was a healthy roar at the turn of a silver key. All he needed to complete the image was the gold-capped smile of the secondhand car salesman saying, 'Lovely, sir, does that every time ... hadn't had a better motor in all year ...' Sussock left the car park at the rear of P Division Police Station at Charing Cross and turned left, up to St George's Cross, noting the lights in the tenements in the distant high-rises burning in great numbers as the city awoke, and noting the increased volume of traffic on the M8 below him. He couldn't see the traffic from St George's Road but he read the reflection of the headlights and the concrete bridges and read the frequency of the hiss of tyre on wet tarmac and the roar of diesel and noted the onset of rush hour. He turned left at St George's and on to the Great Western Road which drove arrow-straight westwards out of the city, driving between a canyon of red sandstone tenements, early buses, postmen, milk floats, a few cars nosing towards the city. Only his car driving westwards, away from Glasgow. And this, he reflected, was the fabled 'road to the Isles', at least the beginning of it. Start at St George's Cross, G20, and walk westwards and you'll end up in the Hebrides, after catching a ferry or two, by Oban way. Not a bad road to travel to a murder.
Sussock drove over the hump from Kelvinbridge and down the far side towards the traffic lights at Byres Road. He halted at the red light and cast his eye over the curved windows of the hothouses of the botanical gardens to his right, and then to the graceful lines of the Grosvenor Hotel to his left, the concourse-facing bricks of which had been moulded from casts taken from the eighteenth-century terrace which it adjoined so as to continue the Regency style of the terrace, and was in all, at that moment, still floodlit, most pleasing to Sussock's eye. He drove along Great Western Road, edging into the crown of the four-lane carriageway and turned right at the next set of lights by the twee green garden hut post office that had, in his observation, become as much of a landmark in the cityscape as George Square or the Finneston Crane. A left turn by a suburban area of stone-built villas with generous gardens, and he followed the road round, with the tall angular University Halls of Residence to his left, turned up the hill and saw ahead of him, work, gainful employment – two blue, silently lapping lights atop a white car: a beacon he did not want to go towards.
Sussock pulled up behind the area car, got out of his car and gathered his coat collar about his neck against the drizzle. A uniformed constable approached him. Beyond the area car Sussock noted a second car, and beyond that a black, windowless van.
'What have we got?' Sussock glanced at the locus. On one side of the gradient that was Winton Drive was a row of low-rise maisonettes, giving way at the crest of the hill to more large, stone-built villas. To his left, opposite the maisonettes, was a large expanse of grass, plunged in darkness, two blue-and-white tapes on poles parallel to each other and at ninety degrees to the road.
'Deceased male,' PC Hamilton replied crisply, nodding in the direction of the tapes and the darkness. 'Anonymous caller.'
'Deceased. Dr Chan's at the body now, sir. But pronunciation of death is a formality in this case, I'd say.'
'Well, his face has been blown off.'
'Dr Chan said that?' Sussock glanced at the maisonettes, many faces appeared at the windows, discreetly, not bothered about being seen, standing about one foot from the pane of glass, not prying, not eager to ogle, just understandably curious. This was G12: professional, middle-class Glasgow, people here behaved with a certain restraint, so observed DS Raymond Sussock.
'You mean you said it?'
'Well, yes, sir. I just did an in-service firearms course – that is, injuries and emergency treatment thereof rather than using the things.'
'Hence your expert assessment ...' Sussock glanced towards the tape and the darkness and made out a figure approaching him in the cracking dawn light. 'Well, we'll see if you're right. Good morning, Dr Chan.'
The figure revealed itself to be a slightly built man of Oriental extraction, with dark hair, spectacles, white coat and black bag. He smiled and nodded. 'Good morning, Mr ...?'
'Sussock. Detective Sergeant, P Division.'
'Chan, police surgeon.'
'We have met.'
'I'm sure ... but so many police officers ...'
'Well, he is deceased, life extinct, pronunciation of same being a formality in this case. I'd say death was instantaneous. He was shot in the back of the head, there's a small hole at the base of the skull and not much left of his face. I'd say that that probably had something to do with his death.'
'It sounds like it ought to.'
'No, I'm quite serious, Sergeant. He may already have been deceased when he sustained the injury, but I don't think so. I am the police surgeon, he is dead, and the time is sixforty a.m. ...'
'No, five-forty,' Sussock replied icily, scribbling in his notepad. 'Thanks, Doctor.'
'I'd like to stay to speak with the pathologist, but I have another call to make, another suspicious death, this time in Partick, Mansfield Street. Do you know where that is?'
'I don't, I confess.' Sussock's eyes became adjusted to the gloom and he began to make out a mound on the grass.
'No matter, I have a street atlas.' Dr Chan walked away and got into the car which was parked between the dark, windowless van and the area car. He drove away, to Partick, Mansfield Street, G11. Sussock walked between the lines of tape and stopped short of the deceased, who lay, his head on one side, about thirty feet from the roadway.
So far as Sussock could tell, the body had in life been a dark-haired male of slight build. Very slight build. Sussock's eyes were drawn irresistibly to the injury: the small hole at the back of the skull was barely discernible; easily discernible was the crater where the man's face had been. Sussock, standing over the corpse, could see both the entrance and the exit wounds, the head of the deceased being turned to one side. Frankly, it came as a surprise to him that a bullet could make such a mess, and he found himself understanding the argument that far from being too violent, television is not violent enough. Television portrays people who have been shot as laying as still and unruffled as if they were sleeping, but it's not like that, it's like this, ordinary people – small, frail looking, who wouldn't pass a screen test, and they don't lay as if sleeping, no one lays on damp autumnal grass and goes to sleep, and they are not unruffled, it's like this – all the bits that made up the man in life are still there, except the brain. That bit was blown out, forced out of a big hole caused when his face exploded outwards with the bullet sucking the brain out after it. That's what it's like. Bang, you're dead. Not like on television, no one's going to yell at this guy and say, 'One more time with feeling, luvvie.' Not this guy, he's out of time and out of feeling. Bang, you're dead. OK, that's a wrap. And the smell, the smell of death, even out here in the crisp autumnal morning air, the man smelled of death, a musty smell a little like rotting leaves, it's pernicious, insidious. It gets in your clothing and stays in your nostrils, right at the bridge of your nose.
Bang, you're dead. But not the way the children play the game.
Bang, you're dead. Four hundred miles an hour; in and out again in one-tenth of a second.
That's a wrap. Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Sussock drew his eyes from the man's head and pondered the clothing. He was, thought Sussock, poorly clad for the time of year: a grey jacket, grey trousers, white ankle socks and black shoes. A prison discharge suit if ever Sussock saw one. So this guy, just out of the slammer after a fair stretch, at least five years to get a discharge suit like that, out for only a matter of hours because everybody but everybody knows whatthat suit means and so the lags get shot of it within a day or two of being released. A few borrowed pounds will get you top to toe in old denim, a few secondhand shirts in red or blue, a pair of worn Nikes, and then only a cop will figure you for a lag, and only then if he knows you.
So dead man is breathing free air for a day or two and then he has his brains blown out.
Sussock turned and walked back towards where Hamilton and Wanless waited. He looked at Hamilton and nodded. 'I see what you mean, but the police surgeon's point is valid, you know. You heard him, I think?'
'He could have been dead before he was shot?'
'Yes, this is one for the pathologist. Wanless ...'
'Erect a screen around the deceased, the view will distress the citizenry once the dawn breaks, it's almost dawn now. Hamilton ...'
'Get on the radio, please, we need more uniformed officers here. We'll have to sweep this expanse of grass at first light. And request further CID assistance. Abernethy will be coming on duty about now – I'd like his presence here, help me with the door-to-door. That'll take me up until lunchtime, I should think. Oh, and the pathologist as well. If you please.'
'Very good, Sarge.'
Sussock surveyed the maisonettes, lights burning at most, faces in the window of many. He shook his head to attempt to invigorate himself and walked across the street.
* * *
It was as if she was awake before she knew that she was moving, but feigned stirring in her sleep rather than betray the jolt into wakefulness that the first ring of the muffled bell of the phone at her husband's bedside had caused. She kept her eyes closed but listened intently as her husband said, 'Yes ... yes ... Winton Drive, G12 ... I know it ... One adult male ... Right, I'm on my way.' He slid the phone gently on to the rest and slipped out of the bedroom, gathering clothing as he went, in order to dress in the bathroom so as not to disturb his wife. Once he was out of the room and had closed the door behind him with a gentle click, Janet Reynolds rolled on to her back, stretched and yawned, and only then did she glance at the luminous dial of the radio alarm clock and saw with no small measure of disappointment that it was already six a.m. or thereabouts, the clocks in the house having been reset the previous night, and that the curtain left open at the extreme left-hand pane of the bay window revealed the cold, grey cracking of dawn.
Excerpted from The Man with No Face by Peter Turnbull. Copyright © 1998 Peter Turnbull. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Again an excellent book which I have cme to expect from peter turnbull did really enjoy the Glasgow setting inprevious books too
I love the language a police procedure.