We're delighted to present an exclusive extract from I Confess, the new thriller from bestselling Irish crime writer Alex Barclay...
One killer. No escape...A group of childhood friends are reunited at a luxury inn on a remote west coast peninsula in Ireland. But as a storm builds outside, the dark events that marred their childhoods threaten to resurface.And when a body is discovered, the group faces a shocking realisation: a killer is among them, and not everyone will escape with their lives...
Castletownbere Saturday, 30 July 1983
The truck was parked in the square, twenty feet long, the side folded down to make a stage. A banner with JUNIOR TALENT CONTEST! hung from the front, flapping only once since the crowd had gathered; a single breeze on the hottest day of the year.
Jessie Crossan, eleven years old, was standing at the bottom of the wooden steps at the side of the stage. The quietest boy in her class, Patrick Lynch – his eyes bright with panic – was slowly shrinking through a tuneless 'Green Fields of France'. It was Jessie’s father’s party piece, and she knew all the words. She was singing them in her head to will Patrick along. She loved Patrick. He was so sweet, so shy. He brought jam sandwiches to school for his lunch, and something about that made her sad. When he had no lunch, she would make him take half of hers. He would never have asked. She wanted to come to his rescue now, too; to run up on to the stage, and sweep him away like a superhero. Then dance. She had been practising for weeks.
Jessie didn’t know any excitement like performing. She lived in a quiet house, with parents who didn’t say much to each other, but when they sat side by side on the sofa, listening to her sing, watching her dance, she knew that was when they were happiest. She was sad they weren’t there to watch her today – her mother was away, and her father wouldn’t be back from work until dinner time.
Patrick went suddenly quiet, his pale hands intertwined, his knuckles white. His spindly legs had been shaking as soon as he stood in front of the microphone, but now the shaking turned violent, and he held a hand to his thigh to steady it. An older boy in the crowd – Johnny – shot out a laugh, and Patrick’s head jerked towards the judges’ table. There was the parish priest – Father Owens, jacket off, dabbing a handkerchief to his brow; Sister Consolata, Vice Principal of the secondary school – hands folded on the table in front of her, head tilted, legs crossed at the ankles, and the Sergeant, Colm Hurley, playing MC for the day.
‘I forgot the words,’ Patrick muttered, his gaze back on the floor.
‘Do you want to go again, Patrick?’ said Father Owens. ‘Give it another blast?’
Patrick’s eyes filled with a desperation that presaged tears.
Father Owens paused, then gave a hearty clap. ‘Well, you did a great job, Patrick! That was a fine rendition!’
Patrick’s eyes widened a fraction.
‘Indeed, it was,’ said Colm joining in the applause. ‘Well done.’
‘Yes!’ said Jessie, louder than she meant to. She looked, full of hope, at Sister Consolata, who was staring up at Patrick with her tight smile and lifeless squint. Sister Consolata had a loud clap despite her tiny hands, and eventually threw two distinct ones into the fading applause. Jessie had worked out years earlier that this was Sister Consolata’s way of giving marks out of ten.
Patrick, his head dipped, left the stage, and ran down the steps past Jessie.
‘You were brilliant,’ she said, but he didn’t hear her.
Sergeant Colm had bounded up on to the stage from the front. He gave Jessie a warm smile. ‘Up you come!’ he said. ‘Here she is, ladies and gentlemen – eleven-year-old Jessie Crossan, who – by the rig-out and the tape recorder – I’m going to guess will be dancing for us today. Is that right?’
Jessie beamed. ‘Yes!’
She looked out at the crowd, and caught Sister Consolata running a chilling gaze up and down her body. She felt a spike of fear. Her parents loved her clothes, and loved her dancing, and so did all her friends. Instinctively, she searched the crowd for comfort, and found it in the smile of her best friend, Helen. Her next best friend, Laura, was beside her, with two thumbs up. Her other friends, Edie and Clare, were standing at the front, giving her matching ladylike waves. Murph was doing moves like a boxer. She tried not to laugh. She walked over to one of the speakers, and put the tape recorder on top.
‘All business – look at her!’ said Colm, and the crowd laughed.
Jessie gave him a nod.
‘Right,’ he said, ‘she’s got it all under control. In your own time.’
He jumped off the front of the stage, and jogged back to his seat.
Jessie hit Play on the tape recorder. She took to the centre of the stage. Then she knelt, one knee on the floor, one knee up, her head curled to her chest. The music started. And, at eleven years old, Jessie, with the innocence and enthusiasm of a girl whose parents were happy when they watched her dance, moved flawlessly through her own carefully choreographed routine to the song, Maneater.
She finished, arms in the air, joyful, expectant. She was met with silence. She was used to her parents’ instant applause. Some sound. Any sound. But the crowd had fallen under the spell of Sister Consolata, whose moods could ripple out like a black-ink gauze, floating slowly down, and settling, wrapping around people, bridling them.
Jessie eventually lowered her arms, and a few scattered claps broke out. Her confused eyes finally found Sister Consolata, who was rising from her seat and heading towards her. With a stiff arm and pointed finger, she directed Jessie to exit the stage. She waited for her at the bottom of the steps, then stooped to meet her at eye level.
‘That was a disgrace!’ she said. ‘An absolute disgrace.’ She stared Jessie down until she trembled.
That night, Jessie sat on her bed wearing just the loose pink cotton top of her summer pyjamas and a pair of underpants. Her diary was open, the tiny lock and key on the turned- down sheet beside her. She wrote the date at the top of the page, along with REGATTA!!!! She paused with the nib of the pen over the first line. After a while, she wrote:
Mammy is at a pilgrimidge in Knock. But she told Daddy I could open my parcel from Auntie Mona in Boston!!! I was so excited!!! It’s not even my birthday until Thursday!!! The reason was because it had an outfit for the talent contest in it!!!! It was a shiny leotard and leggings from a proper dance shop. I love it so much! (she also got me a packet of 3 underpantses which is so embarrising). The Talent Contest was at three o’clock in the Square. It was rosting. Patrick Lynch sang Green Fields of France. And I finally got to do my dance! Maneater! Watch out boy she’ll cheer you up!
Everyone loved it!
I’m so tired, but tell you the rest tomorrow. Zzzzz.
She never wrote in the diary again. She never saw it again. The guards took it. They took her blankets too. They took her sheets, and her pyjama top, her pillow and her teddies, her hairband, and her book. They took her father too for a while.
I Confess by Alex Barclay (published by HarperCollins) is released on August 22nd.