Authors: Claire McGowan
Copyright © 2016 Claire McGowan
The right of Claire McGowan to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group 2016
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
Ebook conversion by Avon DataSet Ltd, Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
eISBN: 978 1 4722 2810 9
Cover images: chapel © Thinkstock/Blackbeck; figure © plainpicture/Willing-Holtz; all other images © Shutterstock. Cover by craigfraserdesign.com
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
An Hachette UK Company
50 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DZ
About the Author
Claire McGowan grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland. After achieving a degree in English and French from Oxford University, and time spent living in China and France, she moved to London where she works in the charity sector and also teaches creative writing. A SAVAGE HUNGER is her fifth novel and the fourth in the Paula Maguire series.
About the Book
: Female. Twenty-two years of age.
Reason for investigation
: Missing person.
: Alice Morgan. Student. Last seen at a remote religious shrine in Ballyterrin.
Alice Morgan’s disappearance raises imediate questions for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. Alice, the daughter of a life peer in the Home Office, has vanished along with a holy relic – the bones of a saint – and the only trace is the bloodstains on the altar.
With no body to confirm death, the pressure in this high-profile case is all-consuming, and Paula knows that she will have to put her own life, including her imminent marriage, on hold, if they are to find the truth.
A connection to a decade-old murder immeditely indicates that all may not be as it seems; as the summer heat rises and tempers fray, can Alice be found or will they learn that those that are hungry for vengeance may be the most savage of all?
By Claire McGowan and available from Headline
The Dead Ground
The Silent Dead
A Savage Hunger
Controlled Explosions (a digital short story)
The Silent Dead
The Silent Dead
with my heart in my mouth . . . brilliant’ Erin Kelly
‘In Dr Paula Maguire, [McGowan] has created a wonderfully complex character’
‘A breathlessly exciting and intelligent thriller with a brooding atmosphere’
‘I was gripped by
The Silent Dead
and was fully immersed in the world created by Claire McGowan’s fine storytelling’ www.forwinternights.wordpress.com
‘Deliciously satisfying’ www.louisereviews.com
The Dead Ground
‘Fast paced and engaging’
‘Enthralling . . . evoked wonderfully’
‘Claire’s novels deal with all sorts of modern moral issues’
‘Claire McGowan is a very good thriller writer . . . It’s a gripping and gory read and shows McGowan to be a thriller writer of exceptional talent’
‘This thriller is fresh and accessible without ever compromising on grit or suspense’ Erin Kelly, author of
The Poison Tree
‘A brilliant portrait of a fractured society and a mystery full of heart stopping twists. Compelling, clever and entertaining’ Jane Casey, author of
‘A keeps-you-guessing mystery’ Alex Marwood, author of
The Missing Girls
‘A gripping yarn you will be unable to put down’
‘A clever and pacey thriller’
‘McGowan’s style is pacey and direct, and the twists come thick and fast’ Declan Burke,
‘Engaging and gripping’
‘Taut plotting and assured writing . . . a highly satisfying thriller’
‘Claire McGowan is a writer at the top of her game’ www.lisareadsbooks.blogspot.co.uk
‘An exciting, enthralling and tense read’ www.thelittlereaderlibrary.blogspot.co.uk
‘There is nothing not to like . . . a compelling and flawless thriller’ S.J. Bolton
‘A cool and twisted debut’
‘She knows how to tell a cracking story. She will go far’
‘Chills you to the bone’
‘The characters are finely drawn, and it’s concern for them, rather than for whodunnit, that provides the page-turning impetus in this promising debut’
‘A brilliant crime novel . . . worthy of its label – “gripping”’
‘Hugely impressive. The crime will keep you reading, but it’s the characters you’ll remember’
‘It’s a clever, beautifully detailed exploration of the fragility of daily life . . . The genius of this story is that it could happen to any of us, and that’s why it hits so hard’ Elizabeth Haynes
‘A writer of great talent’ Michael Ridpath
‘Immediate, engaging and relevant,
hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. I read it in one breathless sitting’ Erin Kelly
‘Highly original and compelling’ Mark Edwards
‘Sharp, honest and emotionally gripping’ Tom Harper
‘Stunning. Beautifully written, totally convincing and full of character. Really, really good’ Steve Mosby
‘An amazing first book’ www.promotingcrime.blogspot.co.uk
‘Intelligent and absorbing . . . Highly commendable’ www.milorambles.com
To my sister and brothers
‘Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.’
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Belfast, Northern Ireland,
The corpse on the bed was still breathing.
Hardly at all, in a harsh, erratic rhythm, so every few seconds you thought it had stopped. One. Two. Three. Four . . . Then it would start again and you’d drop your head in your hands and think: I can’t bear this. It got so bad you were counting the seconds of silence – one, two, three, four – just hoping in a terrible part of you that it would stop for good, just stop with this bloody agony and let it all be over, for God’s sake. Sixty-seven days of it. No one ever thought he’d be here after so long, still clinging on, still somehow not dead, while outside the walls the world marched, waved banners, howled insults. You wondered could he hear the racket, in this room with bars on the windows, or if his ears had gone as well as his eyes.
He’d gone blind ten days ago, his eyes turning milky, and then a sort of black colour that was terrible to see. He was stretched out on a sheepskin rug, the waterbed under him wobbling obscenely with each snatched breath. His skin would crack and split if he moved, opening in red, sore mouths that quickly turned black. At the foot of the metal bed, like a bad joke, sat a plate of bread; white, with the crusts cut off. Some beef spread; three apples, dried up. Just in case, they said. In case what? He was too far gone now to eat – a bite of that apple would kill him straight off.
You felt a hand drop on your shoulder. It was Rambo. Or so they called him, anyway; a tiny wee rat of a man. Sort of a bad joke. ‘Seen enough, son?’
You couldn’t answer, so you just nodded. You’d not expected this. You didn’t know what you’d expected, but not this. The hospital stink of shit and bleach, the skin so pale you could nearly see the blood struggling underneath, the black, gaping gums – Christ. It was all you could do to keep a lid on it, and you knew suddenly that if you tried to speak you would burst out crying like a wean.
The doctor, who hadn’t said a word or looked at either of you the whole time, took the corpse’s pulse again. Every hour at this point. Checking. Counting. You were waiting, he was waiting, all the crowds outside and watching around the world were waiting for the last moment, where the long, slow slide towards death finally ended, hardened into something permanent. When he finally let out his last breath. You could almost feel the hands on the triggers. The match held to the touch paper.
‘’Mon.’ The other man gestured and you got up, numbly, and followed him out to the corridor. It was less like a hospital out there and more like what it really was – a prison. Your DMs echoed on the stone floor and you blew on your hands. When you’d touched him, he’d been cold as ice, and you just couldn’t get the feeling off your skin. The man was dying. He was dying right in front of your eyes and you weren’t doing a thing to stop it. Somehow, you hadn’t understood that until now.
Rambo lit a roll-up, breathed in. ‘It’ll be soon, they said. Next three days. But it’s not too late – if they get an IV in him—’
him?’ It didn’t seem credible. The man was so near death you could feel it in the room, see it moving up his body with his slow blood.
‘Aye. I know he’s far gone. But there’s still a chance to bring him back. They sometimes ask for it, when they’re near the end. When they don’t know where they are.’
You’d heard that. About the families who’d had to swear not to feed their sons at the end, as they screamed in broken voices for someone to take the pain away. Swear to just stand by and let them die.
‘And if he doesn’t go – well, you know how it’ll be. It’ll all be called off. The whole hunger strike. If he stops, they’ll all stop.’
‘The demands. They still don’t agree.’
‘But I thought we were close.’
Somewhere across the water, in leather-lined office rooms and under green shaded lights, people were deciding the fate of this man. Mrs T and her top men. Whether they should bring him back. What would happen if they let him die. Suicide, they’d been calling it, but to the people outside the walls, it was murder.
‘Aye, they’re close. Not close enough. Yet.’ It had gone so far now – the man drawing in death with every breath, the Army outside, the world watching. The Brits couldn’t be seen to back down, give in to terrorists. Your lot couldn’t accept less than they’d asked for at the start. Not when six men had already starved to death.
‘So . . .’
‘Word has it they might give in. Brits never thought it’d go so far. And there’s your man down in Ballyterrin calling for an end to it. People listen to him. If word gets out we’re close to an agreement – well, you see what’ll happen. They’ll take all the fellas off the strike. It’ll be over, and we won’t get what we started this for.’
And the man in there on the bed, the corpse, they could bring him back from the brink. Lazarus, walking out of his tomb.
You didn’t understand. ‘So what—’
‘Son. We need you. Are you ready to do your duty?’
At first you thought they were asking for this – your life, your body, the slow pain of starving to death over months. But then he spoke again, and you saw it wasn’t that they were asking for at all. It was worse.