In a Dark House
"An uncanny affinity for the English detective genre...Her characters are three-dimensional and are drawn with compassion and sensitivity."
-Dallas Morning News
"In this dark house, the author’s light shines brightly."
"…author Deborah Crombie confirms her position as a gifted master of the mystery genre…"
"…Crombie is a master of the cliffhanger."
"It’s a web of gossamer-thin clues…"
- Publishers Weekly
"Crombie’s newest crime novel has it all – great characters, a rich plot, graceful writing and dramatic tense scenes. The result is a fantastic read…This novel of physical and emotional challenges succeeds at all levels. It is, in short, superb."
– RT Bookclub
William Morrow - 2004 - ISBN: 0060525258
It took no more than a match, nestled beneath the crumpled paper and foil crisp packets. The flame smoldered, then flared and crackled, and within seconds tongues reached out for the bottom layer of furniture stacked so conveniently on the ground floor of the old warehouse. Nothing burned like polyurethane foam, and the cheap chairs, sofas, and mattresses removed from the flats on the upper floors of the building were old enough not to have been treated with fire retardants.
On this morning there had been no drifting slowly into consciousness, no lingering in imagined wholeness, no savoring the memory of life as it used to be.
Fanny Liu opened her eyes and took stock, reluctantly. It was later than usual, that she could tell by the angle of light in the sitting room window, but still overcast, as it had been the previous day. She slept, as she had since she'd become unable to manage the stairs, on an old velvet-covered chaise longue that had belonged to her mother. For once in her life her small stature was a blessing-a few inches taller and her feet would have hung over the end of her makeshift bed. At night the arms of the chaise cradled her, offering a solid comfort; in the daytime her bedding could be tucked away, allowing her to maintain an illusion of normalcy.
Elaine had argued with her, of course, wanting to put a bed in the sitting room, but for once Fanny's soft refusal had held sway over her flatmate's brisk efficiency. The wheelchair was bad enough. For Fanny, a bed in the sitting room would have meant admitting the possibility that she might not improve.
Her cat, Quinn, still lay curled on her feet. The only sound in the flat was his faint purring. It was the silence that had awakened her, Fanny suddenly realized. There were no footsteps upstairs, no sound of movement in the kitchen. Elaine was always up first, making coffee and puttering round the flat. Before leaving for her job as an administrative assistant at Guy's Hospital, she allowed time to make Fanny tea and toast and helped her with her morning routine.
Perhaps Elaine had overslept, thought Fanny-but no, Elaine was as punctual as Big Ben. Could she be ill? "Elaine?" Fanny called out, tentatively, pulling herself up by using the arms of the chaise. Her voice seemed to echo emptily, and a spark of fear shot through her. "Elaine?"
There was no answer.
Suddenly, Fanny remembered her dream, a jumbled nightmare of doors closing softly, and felt again the dream's inexplicable sense of loss. It made her think of the deathbed watches she'd kept as a private nurse before her illness, of the way she'd felt when she'd awakened from an inadvertent doze and known instantly that her patient had died while she slept.
Just as she knew, now, as the silence closed around her, that the flat was empty. The sound of the door closing in the night had been no dream.
Elaine was gone.
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