Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson
Billy was on the point of drifting off to sleep when a single sentence drew him right in close.
‘But that day for some reason, I was all alone . . .’
Billy roused himself. ‘Sorry. Where was this?’
‘In Manchester. A place called Fallowfield.’
A white car pulled alongside him, Trevor said, as he was walking. The driver was a woman, and she was on her own. She wound her window down, called out to him. He couldn’t remember what she said, but he remembered that she had a hard voice, flinty and impatient; she sounded like someone who was bad-tempered, or in a hurry. She had black hair, with a headscarf tied over it. Though it was November, she dangled her right arm out of the window, and her painted nails showed up vividly against the door. Between the first and second fingers was a cigarette, and the whole time she was inhaling she never took her eyes off him, then her arm returned to where it had been before, and the smoke soon followed in a thin blue stream.
His parents had told him that there were people called ‘strangers’, and that they might offer him a bag of sweets, or a ride in their car, and that he should always say ‘No, thank you’, but somehow, that afternoon, he forgot everything he’d been taught. Oddly enough, it was the woman’s hardness that drew him across the pavement. She didn’t make the slightest attempt to be friendly, let alone seductive. On the contrary. If he couldn’t be of any use to her, she would have to find somebody else, and he could see that thought annoyed her.
‘I wondered later,’ Trevor said, his eyes wide now, ‘whether she might have been nervous, you know?’ He paused. ‘I mean, what if I was one of the first?’
At this point, Billy still wasn’t quite sure what Trevor was talking about, but he decided not to interrupt.
Trevor went on. When he stopped at the kerb, the woman told him that she was lost. Did he know the area? He nodded. Good, she said. If he would just get into the car, maybe he could show her the way. Once again there was no subtlety in her approach, nothing remotely clever or ingratiating. He asked her where she was going. He called her ‘Miss’. Instead of answering she cocked her head, appraising him, and then said something about him looking as bright as a button: if he couldn’t help her, she said, nobody could. Only then did he feel a flicker of misgiving. It was because she had flattered him. The hardness, the impatience – they were believable; they seemed real, and he trusted them. But the flattery felt different, like something shiny that wasn’t actually worth anything. So why did he get into the car? He didn’t have an explanation. It still puzzled him, even today. Round the front he went, her made-up eyes tracking him across the windscreen. When he reached the passenger’s side, the door was already open. All he had to do was climb in and pull it shut.
‘Give it a good slam,’ the woman told him. ‘We don’t want you falling out now, do we?’
Trevor looked away into the room. ‘Fuck,’ he murmured, then reached for his drink and finished it. He poured himself another glass, right up to the brim, and held the bottle out to Billy, but Billy shook his head. He’d had enough.
‘It was so quiet,’ Trevor said. ‘I don’t remember any noise at all.’ He paused again. ‘No, wait, that’s wrong. Once, on a bend I heard a motorbike. That was him, of course. He was following.’
Professionals always advise beginning writers, write whatever you want, whatever interests you, except for one thing. Avoid writing about a man sitting alone in a room with nothing but his thoughts. This advice is given because to write such a scenario and bring it off is one of the most difficult things to do. It takes an accomplished and experienced writer to do it well. And that is exactly what Rupert Thomson is.
With the help of a recently departed and notorious child-killer (Myra Hindley, though she is never mentioned by name), policeman Billy Tyler is forced to confront the loss of his own childhood innocence.
In a minimalist and realist narrative Thomson presents us with an understated portrait of a simple man in search of himself. There is an almost wilful absence of drama in this novel. No exaggeration. We are given a picture of a man trying to piece his life together with the aid of memory and isolation. It is a dark, unusual and unsettling portrait and confirms Rupert Thomson’s deserved place as one of the UK’s better working writers.