‘London, 1942: As war rages on, a killer stalks the streets…‘
– Dead In The Water
Dead In The Water by Mark Ellis published May 19th with Headline Accent. The fifth book in the acclaimed DCI Frank Merlin historical detective series, it can be easily read as a standalone. It is a great pleasure to be joining the blog tour today sharing the first chapter, which you can read below, as well as further information about the book and Mark Ellis.
[ About the Book ]
The Second World War rages on but Britain now faces the Nazi threat with America at its side.
In a bombed-out London swarming with gangsters and spies, DCI Frank Merlin continues his battle against rampant wartime crime. A mangled body is found in the Thames just as some items of priceless art go mysteriously missing. What sinister connection links the two?
Merlin and his team follow a twisting trail of secrets as they investigate a baffling and deadly puzzle.
[ Extract ]
Monday August 3rd 1942
Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin and Detective Sergeant Sam Bridges sat silently and patiently in their car. It was parked on the south side of Soho Square, facing east. The time was just after three in the afternoon. Forty yards or so distant, Detective Constable Tommy Cole was in position under a shop awning on the corner of Greek Street. Detective Inspector Peter Johnson was standing a similar distance behind them, on the square’s junction with Frith Street. Ahead of Cole, on the south-eastern corner of the square, was Chez François, the French restaurant they’d been told to watch.
The tip-off had come in a phone call to Bridges two hours earlier. A gravelly voice had told him the names of the two men responsible for a string of recent armed robberies – Sinclair and Duvalier, both Canadian army deserters. The informant had said the men were currently staying in an upstairs room of the restaurant, whose owner was an old friend of Duvalier’s. They had gone out in the morning to case another robbery target but ought to be returning to the restaurant soon. They’d most likely be coming from a pub they favoured just off Piccadilly Circus. Merlin and his team had been in position since 1.30.
Bridges broke the silence. ‘Good job they’re Canadians, not
Yanks, eh, sir? Otherwise we’d be bound to hand them over.’ Merlin nodded. Under new legislation, the American forces administration were being ceded jurisdiction over all crimes involving members of their own military. He remembered with mild irritation that he had a meeting fixed the following week at the American embassy to discuss the new arrangement.
‘You’re convinced they’ll be armed, sir?’
‘Bound to be, Sam. They’ve used guns on all their jobs so far. We should probably have brought a couple more men with us. I’m sure they won’t come quietly.’
‘We’ll just have to time our approach well, that’s all. Catch them unawares.’
Merlin noticed movement ahead. Cole had raised a hand. The two men got out of the car and hurried across to him. The shop awning was not large enough to shade them all, and Merlin felt the full force of the August sun beating down on his head.
‘Two likely customers down at the far end of Greek Street,’ said the constable. ‘It’s safe to have a peek around the corner. They’re still some way off.’
Merlin saw the men straight away. They were weaving their way slowly down the street. He pulled back. ‘They look half-cut to me. One tall, burly fellow; one thinner, bald and a few inches shorter.’
‘According to our informant, Sinclair would be the larger one,’ added Bridges. ‘If they’re drunk, perhaps it’ll be easier to reel them in.’
‘Or harder if they panic and start letting off their guns.’ Merlin stroked his chin. ‘I think it’s too risky to try and take them in the street. There’s a chance of civilians getting hurt.’ He turned to wave Johnson over.
‘On their way, are they, sir?’ Johnson’s Geordie accent had softened a little during his years in London, but was still unmistakable.
‘Looks like it, Peter. I suggest the sergeant and I position ourselves a couple of doors down from the restaurant. You two stay here. As and when the suspects enter the restaurant, we’ll give it a few seconds, then pile in.’
As he crossed the road, Merlin noticed that the men had stopped halfway down the street to talk to a couple of girls. He paused on the pavement and watched. One of the girls suddenly slapped the bigger of the pair. Another man intervened. Merlin hoped they weren’t going to get involved in a street brawl, and was relieved when the shorter man pulled his friend away.
It took the Canadians another six or seven minutes to reach the restaurant. After hovering outside for a moment, they went in.
Merlin waved Johnson and Cole over. ‘The state they’re in, chances are they’ll want more to drink before going to their room.’ He patted Cole’s arm. ‘Take a little stroll past the front window and try and see what’s what.’
Cole did as he was told, then reported back. ‘The restaurant’s almost empty. I could only see one table occupied: two men – not ours – drinking coffee. There were some shadowy figures at the back of the room. I’d guess the bar area.’
‘Having a couple of brandies, perhaps? If the customers are on their coffee, they should be gone soon. Let’s wait.’
Sure enough, a few minutes later two foreign-looking young men emerged into the sunlight and went their separate ways.
‘Take one more stroll, Constable,’ said Merlin.
Cole returned to say he’d seen a man in an apron clearing the table of the recently departed customers, and as far as he could see, the shadows were still at the bar.
‘Presumably the man in the apron is François. Any other waiters around?’
‘Not that I saw, sir.’
Merlin nodded. ‘Come on then. Let’s do it.’
He led his team through the front door and towards the back of the room, flourishing his warrant card and shouting, ‘Nobody move!’ Notwithstanding, from the corner of his eye he saw the man in the apron melt out of sight. The drunken Canadians were slow to react but eventually started flailing fists in all directions. Merlin avoided a couple of punches from the smaller man, Duvalier, then grabbed him in a bear hug before throwing him to the floor, where Johnson contained him. Bridges and Cole took on the other man, Sinclair. As they tried to get hold of him, the Canadian pulled a gun, but Bridges was able to slap it out of his hand. Then a punch from Cole caught Sinclair full on the nose. There was a nasty cracking noise.
Meanwhile, Duvalier somehow managed to wriggle out from under Johnson and drew a knife. Merlin had turned his back momentarily to check on Bridges and Cole.
Johnson shouted, ‘Watch out, sir.’
Merlin turned and raised his arms defensively. Johnson launched himself at Duvalier but wasn’t quick enough to stop him slashing one of the chief inspector’s hands. As Merlin pulled away, blood spurting, Johnson kneed the Canadian in the groin. The knife clattered to the ground, but Duvalier again managed to squirm free and started for the door. Merlin, however, barred the way and struck out with his good hand, sending a winded Duvalier once more to the floor. As he fell, he hit his head on the base of a bar stool, and this time he stayed down.
Sinclair was still groggy from Cole’s blow but roused himself to lunge at the constable. As the two men grappled, Bridges grabbed a whisky bottle from behind the bar and brought it down on the Canadian’s head. Sinclair crumpled to join his partner in crime at the policemen’s feet, and both men were cuffed in short order.
‘Are you all right, sir?’ Bridges asked his boss.
‘I’ll live. I just need a few stitches.’
‘The big fellow’s coming round,’ said Johnson. ‘Thought for a moment you’d done him in, Sergeant.’
Bridges grinned sheepishly as he helped Merlin to tighten the handkerchief he’d applied to his wound. ‘I think you’d better go and see the nurse back at the Yard, sir, and quickly at that. We can tidy up here.’
‘You’re right, Sam. I’ll grab a taxi. Tell everyone well done.’
[ Bio ]
Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister and entrepreneur. He grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs.
In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft, rape and corruption were rife. This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world – the world of DCI Frank Merlin. Mark Ellis is a member of several writers organisations including the Crime Writers’ Association and Crime Cymru. The third novel in his historical detective series, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.
Twitter ~ @MarkEllis15
Website ~ www.markellisauthor.com