With several bestsellers to her name, crime author of the Death Valley series, Louise Mullins has produced a phenomenal portrait of a female sociopath in this, her latest, serial killer thriller, published 19th September.
Read below for an extract of the first three chapters that I'm sure will make you want to buy the pre-release to finish it.
The Death Valley series includes:
Lucky, and Lost In America. In Her Shadow is the third title. There are a total of six books in the series, which are currently in the process of being written or edited.
Louise Mullins is also the author of several bestselling psychological thrillers, her latest of which is called What I Never Told You and has acquired rave five star reviews for its dark originality. All of her titles are available here:
The time has come for them to die. Those who have wronged me. I’ve been waiting two years.
Carswell Federal Medical Centre in Fort Worth, Texas, has been my home for the past twenty-four months, nine days, seven hours, and forty-three minutes. The staff are impressed with my recovery. The forensic psychologist who assessed my mental health formulated a treatment plan I’ve strictly adhered to. She recommended, three months ago that I was capable of change because I’d progressed to a low risk category. The chief corrections officer stated I was eligible for parole once I moved into the low secure camp in the block adjacent to the supermax high security building. My defence lawyer gave a good spiel to the Assistant District Attorney six weeks ago at my hearing, and now I’m preparing to walk out of my cell a free woman. They have no idea how well I’ve manipulated them. If they did, they’d never release me.
A prison officer opens the steel key-coded security door, stands aside as I edge past her, gives me a warm smile, and escorts me down the corridor. I carry a large see-through bag containing the minimal essentials of my life that have sunk to the bottom: prison issue toothbrush, hairbrush, a bible, and a tracksuit two sizes too small. The clothes I was wearing when arrested, covered in blood, were used as evidence at the trial. I didn’t kill anyone. She did. The detective who shot Angel, my boyfriend of four years. It should be her headstone I intend to visit once this is all over, not his.
I walk alongside the prison officer, hair down to prevent inmates from tugging on it if held with a scrunchie, though they’re all in lock-up and couldn’t lay a hand on me in front of her unless they wanted to wind up in the protective custody suit back in the supermax unit, through the second of several more security doors, all leading me out, eventually, to the hot September sun.
At the desk I sign the disclosure agreement, allowing the administration staff to issue a warning to the detective I assisted the attempt to kill that I have been released from custody, and wait to be formally discharged from the building.
The staff wish me well as I vacate the facility and finally feel the throbbing heat of a Texas summer on my face and neck. Due to the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I’m apparently suffering and the fact I’ve just vacated a psychiatric hospital and I’m therefore classed as ‘vulnerable,’ rather than hand me a few dollars for a bus, the chief corrections officer paid for a taxi to greet me at the gate to drive me to the motel they gave me fifty dollars for a room within where I can spend my first night of freedom- presumably expecting me back inside within twenty-four hours, and instructions on how to apply for state housing from the local authority. But I won’t be needing a permanent place of residence. Besides, I have too many enemies, and at least for now, I need to stay underground, alive. If only to avenge Angel’s murder.
Detective Jackson killed him. But I’ll save her death until last. Because I want her to suffer the pain of grief, the heartache of loneliness, and the fear of loss. Just as I have done, ever since I was forced to sleep and shit in a cell six by eight feet wide neighbouring two members of the cartel who want me dead for missing my aim, allowing their most trusted hitman to die, and for accepting a plea deal by ratting out their kingpin’s activities, thus affecting their business, in order for me to get early release so I can gun down the cop, who ironically, is the only reason I’m still alive.
I’m going to take down the police department one officer at a time, leaving Detective Jackson feeling as powerless as she left me when she stole my boyfriend’s life. I’m doing this for him. But mostly for myself. Because ever since I felt the weight of that gun in my hands I’ve been fantasising about how light it would feel with the chamber empty after I’ve pumped a few leads into Albuquerque’s finest.
Detective Geraldine Jackson’s grip tightens around the receiver. ‘Released? But she’s supposed to have served five years.’
FBI Agent Denton replies in a morose tone. ‘She was granted conditional discharge by the parole board and signed out of Carson Federal Medical Camp at 7:45am yesterday.’
‘Thanks for informing me,’ she says through gritted teeth, placing the receiver down with such force the desk housing it shudders.
‘What’s up?’ says Joe, poking his head through the gap in the doorway.
‘Petra’s been paroled.’
‘Apparently her latest psychological formulation suggests she is no longer a risk to the public, so they let her go yesterday morning.’
‘Where are they housing her?’
‘They’re not. The FBI’s resources don’t stretch as far as covering the expense of supporting ex-inmates so she’s free to roam the streets as she pleases.’
‘But her parole officer will remain in close contact with us, to supply us with her address and allow us to keep track of her movements?’
‘Apparently.’ She stands and makes her way towards the kettle perched on top of a pile of paperwork she hasn’t yet got around to filing. She flicks the switch and prepares a cup with a large dollop of coffee, adds milk, and stirs the thick liquid with a teaspoon. She feels a hand on hers, stops stirring and looks up into her partners deep worried eyes. ‘You’re allowed to be anxious and upset, Geri. But if you stir it any harder, that cup is going to crack.’
She drops the spoon, takes a large swig of coffee and retreats to the desk, the handle of the cup gripped tight in her hand. She slumps on her chair and stares, brooding, out of the window, across the forecourt, noting the clumps of weeds sun-bronzed between the cracks in the concrete, at the building traffic thundering down the road, at the sky, so vast and cloudless. A complete contrast to the ominous cold wet grey the night she took Angel’s life.
With two guns aimed at her, she had to take the professional hitman down first, and pray she wouldn’t be so badly injured by the shot that hit her, she could aim a second at Petra. But the girlfriend fucked up. She couldn’t fire a gun. Angel died in his girlfriend’s arms, right beside Detective Jackson, who’d been shot in the leg, and who still had nightmares about the night she almost died. She supposes Petra has her own demons. You don’t become a cartel girlfriend without escaping some dark experiences of your own.
‘It’s almost 1:00pm. Let’s go and grab some fried chicken.’
She glances round to catch Joe smiling, attempting to lure her from her dark thoughts with the promise of a free lunch. She gulps down the rest of her coffee, grabs her cell phone from the desk and follows him out of the door.
Bonnie leaves the police department in a hurry. The babysitter, the one she chose for her kind blue eyes and patience is fretting. Leo called her while she was trying to get Catia to eat her dinner. She no longer feels guilty for having to pay someone to feed her daughter, take her to day care, or occasionally when a case goes over time, read her a bedtime story. But Leo always has a way of making people feel as though they’ve disappointed him, inconvenienced him. He’s not due until 7:00pm but he’s already told Nina he’s on his way to collect Catia and take her back to his new place. The two-bedroom property paid for with the money he’d been secretly stowing away, planning to leave her, to shack up with his gym instructor.
When Bonnie heard who he’d been sleeping with behind her back she laughed. The same high-pitched laugh Leo had fallen in love with. But she learned that was only one of many lies he’d told her. Jaycee wasn’t the first, and she doubts the tanned, toned, instructor will be his last. They’re still living apart. She suspects Jaycee has commitment issues. That’s probably what attracted them to each other.
Bonnie hops inside her car, pushes a stick of spearmint gum into her mouth and chews it hard to disperse some of her irritation before she arrives home.
When she pulls up outside, Nina is already stood in the doorway holding Catia on her hip as she used to do herself when her daughter was small enough to sit there without feeling the need to swing her legs back and kick her in the thigh.
Bonnie takes Catia from Nina, apologises again for the disruption and worry Leo’s frantic call had caused the easily shaken woman, and not for the first time Bonnie wonders if she should have chosen a sitter with a bit more bite. Someone confident enough to fight her corner when Bonnie’s ex-boyfriend called the house to demand their daughter is ready and waiting with by the front door with her overnight bag at her feet waiting for her father.
The kindergarten teacher she spoke with the day after they’d broken up, just a few hours free of Leo who’d decided to tell her only that morning he’d already found a lease in the northside of town, assured her Catia was resilient enough to understand that having two homes meant double the toy-filled bedroom and probably wouldn’t display any signs of displacement anxiety. The condition she’d read about online the night before, scrolling through her cell phone in the king-size bed alone. Glancing at the empty space beside her and wondering how she’d managed to screw her life up so spectacularly in such a few short years.
Catia wraps her arms around her waist and rests her sleepy head against her chest. Nina confirms she’ll be there at 9:00am Monday morning, suggests taking Catia to the zoo or the aquarium, followed by a picnic on Tingley beach. ‘She gets antsy when she’s bored.’
‘That’s a great idea. I’ll give you the money obviously. I’ll see you next week.’
Nina smiles, rubs Catia’s stringy damp hair and catches the kiss Catia blows to her in her palm, pretending to lock it into her heart. An unexpected jolt of jealousy tugs at Bonnie causing her arms to tighten around her daughter. She waves goodbye to Nina, turns toward the door and spins back around at the sound of Leo’s eight valve engine dashing up the road as though he’s late, not forty minutes early.
She sets Catia down on the step, and she charges towards her father who’s already left his vehicle and kneels on the drive, arms extended to accept Catia’s excited jump into his embrace. He stands tall and spins her round before planting her back down and levelling with her asks if she’s got everything she needs.
She nods, says, ‘Nina packed everything,’ the ing rings out like a stab wound to Bonnie’s chest.
Leo glances back at her, says, ‘I’ll drop her back on Saturday morning, around 10:00.’
She nods approvingly, pretending she doesn’t care that since last month her weekends will never be complete. There will always be one day she’ll be missing her daughter. She heads inside, notes how tidy Nina has left the house for her. There are no dishes stacked up on the draining board, no crumbs on the floor, and no dirty plates piled high on the kitchen counter where she dumps her holster. The hallway has been vacuumed and as she slips off her sensible black shoes she notices even the shaggy cream rug that cost her a small fortune on Wayfair has been brushed clean.
As she looks up from the entranceway where she leaves her shoes beside Catia’s there is a knock at the door. She turns and opens it to a stylish looking Hispanic woman wearing a shimmery white dress over stick thin olive skin legs that shine as though recently waxed. Her hair is sleek, jet black with red low-lights. Her expression sharp and serious, chin pointed, eyes emerald green- determined, face set in contradiction to her delicate features. There is a hint of recognition but then the woman smiles and the feeling of déjà vu fades.
Back home, after a full ten-hour shift, plus half an hour of overtime to sort through the files that had been waiting to be added to their new computer-base, a system she wasn’t in the mood to entertain until Jim threatened to enter her private sanctuary and do it for her, Detective Jackson parks her butt on the ergonomic luxury black leather Lazyboy chair the squad bought for her birthday. She rests her feet on the stool provided with the furniture, her limbs unstiffening, joints relaxing, imagines a balloon attached to her once bullet-holed leg like the occupational therapist advised her. Pretending she cannot feel the psychosomatic pain her calf remembers two years on.
She wonders what adversity could possess a beautiful, intelligent, educated young woman to join a gang for the sake of a violent, highly dangerous criminal. What motivated Petra to become a cold-hearted, volatile bitch?
Was it the financial security, personal safety, or the idea of love that attracted her to the contract killer?
She collects a half-read romance novel from the coffee table, raises a glass of Gruet to her lips and moves her neck from side to side until it clicks. Her cell phone chimes with a drum and bass track the moment she removes the bookmark. She answers it with a stern voice, but Joe’s panic cuts dead any thought of a lecturing remark over bringing work home with him.
‘Bonnie’s been stabbed.’
Detective Bryce has been working under her at the Homicide Investigation Unit of Albuquerque Police Department since she got promoted to second detective seven months ago, but they’ve been on the same squad for four years.
She slams the glass down, the book flying from her lap onto the faux oak laminate as she stands, snatches her car keys up from the corner unit and hurries to the door. It slams behind her. ‘Which hospital has she been taken to?’
His next words send an ice-cold chill down her spine. ‘It’s too late, Geri. She was discovered unresponsive at the scene.’
She stops in front of her car, as though her feet have frozen to the asphalt despite the forty-degree heat of a late summer evening in New Mexico.
‘Where was she?’
She was murdered at home. The one place a detective expects she is safe.
Her fingers tighten around her cell phone. ‘Catia?’
‘Bonnie’s daughter is with her father this weekend.’
‘Someone needs to inform him.’
‘I’m on my way there now.’
She feels her head swirling with confusion and rage. Whoever is responsible for Bonnie’s murder either ensured the kid wasn’t in the house when they planned to take her life, or they didn’t know she had a kid. Either way an officer is dead, and for someone to use such a violent method to kill they must have been feeling vengeful.
Stabbing an individual requires a high element of emotion. And to get so close to the victim suggests the individual was someone Bonnie trusted. Perhaps cared for. Maybe even loved.
Alarm bells ring immediately in her head along with her thudding heartrate. Could Catia’s father, Bonnie’s ex-boyfriend Leo have done this?
Momma smiles at me from the far end of the playground where the other kid’s parents wait for their offspring to clamour out of the building with threadbare rucksacks on their backs and scuff-marked sneakers on their feet, chewing tangy citrus leaves they’ve picked from the orange trees on their route to school, dry and crunchy and dusted with crumbs from their pockets. Momma steals a look at the other adults surrounding us before planting a soggy kiss on my cheek, making me blush. Her display of public affection an act I’ve grown to crave. Nikita, the girl I sit nearest to in class gives me a wan look and fades into the crowd in search of her own parents, long ago deceased. But always she waits as if they might one day magically appear.
Word on the street has it her momma got set upon by a gang of men looking for her papa who owed them money for protecting his shop from rival gangs who would otherwise rob the man of everything he owned then take over the building. He failed to pay so they came to the house, took her mom outside, bundled her into their car, and Nikita and her papa never saw her again. The gang owned up to the crime and told the feds where they buried her: round the back of the fuel station her papa owned, but no one ever bothered to look for the site where her decomposing corpse was laid to rest. Nikita’s papa was shot dead two days later. She lives with her gran and grandpa now, in a small house a few blocks down from the school.
Momma takes my hand and walks me across the playground, through the gate, and down the sidewalk to where papa’s waiting in his rusty red car that makes an awful sound at start up. Momma fastens me in then papa drives us home, back to the two-bedroom house in Valle Niza.
Papa lost his job two weeks ago, so momma has got to iron the neighbour’s laundry and help Mrs Flores next door do her shopping from the precinct around the corner. Kids play outside all day in the summer, but now the sky is already dark in Ciudad, and I have got to go straight inside to wait for dinner. Today’s dish is spicy meat balls, followed by sweet churro’s. Grandma made them better, but I don’t tell momma that or she’ll get cross.
Since papa lost his job we’ve been using up the last of the food. Next will be the tins says momma, then we’re chingada. Fucked.
Papa is a quiet man. When he had a job, he used to leave the house early every morning and return from the car parts packing factory late, tired, hungry, but never angry. Momma is tightly wound, always on edge, waiting for a nearby street argument to erupt into a gunfight, or trying to assemble a meal from the leftovers of the day before, yelling and cursing at papa to get a better paid job so she can afford to feed us all properly. Now he hasn’t got one, she screams and throws things across the kitchen: plates, cups, forks. And cries, a lot. Papa sits in his armchair, staring through the window at the dark starry sky. I sit and watch and listen from the bottom of the stairs, my stomach grumbling, feet twitching, fingers tapping my knees, hoping something will change. Praying sometimes I was an orphan like Nikita and could play outside with the other kids. Then maybe I’d have friends. Kids my own age to share my hope and fears with. Instead I sit in silence at the table across from momma who eats with her eyes on the window, watching a pick-up truck reverse out of Mr Lopez’s drive. Our landlord lives two doors down from us.
I pray he will be safe on his night shift at the same factory papa works at during the day, even though papa doesn’t like him, says he’s ‘got roaming eyes on women who aren’t his wife.’
I’ve been praying a lot lately, mostly for momma to smile again and for papa to find work. For things to get better. And they do for a while. Papa lays bricks and helps build a garage for Mr Lopez. But he starts getting pains in his chest so halfway through he has got to come home where he sits clutching his shoulder. Momma calls him perezoso. Lazy. Papa says she’s pomposo. Mouthy. They argue late into the night. And again, the next morning.
Then papa dies.
The doctor tells us it was a problem with his heart. The arteries blocked. Not enough room for oxygen. There is lots of crying, followed by shrieking, until momma leaves the bedroom with her face tear-stained and stares out of the window on the lumpy chair with holes in it where the yellow foam seeps out. The dog responsible long dead.
I go to school the same as before and sit at the table to eat whatever momma has in the cupboards until the plates arrive near empty and she starts to panic.
Momma is worried because she can’t afford to feed me. The food is gone, and there’s no money left under the mattress. Papa’s account has been frozen, the thirty pesos withheld by the manager momma yelled at when she dragged me there before closing to cover the privilege of having a bank to use. The rent is due Monday. Momma says Mr Lopez won’t let us stay unless she pays ‘in kind.’ Whatever the hell that means. She has a decision to make, she says. One I don’t ask about, in case it’s like the decision Mrs Rodriguez had to make before the men came and took Nikita’s momma from the house and, in their own words, ‘shot her dead.’
I don’t have grandparents any more. Papa’s father died when he was young, his mother a year ago or more, and momma hasn’t seen hers since I was born. They disagreed about her age when she fell pregnant. She hid her expanding stomach beneath long flowing dresses four sizes too big, then left home before she was supposed to have finished school. I heard her talking to papa about it once and learned that she refused her parents access to me, saying papa did things to her when she was small.
Now we’re chingada, sitting at the bus stop with rucksacks on our backs like the other kids at school have but which momma can’t afford to buy for me. We’re leaving town because momma refused the landlord’s offer of two hours work in the bedroom, so we could stay. I can’t figure out what kind of job would require her to go to her bedroom to do it, but from the look on her face she’d slap me if I enquired.
After a while, my butt aching from sitting on the hard, concrete for too long, I ask her where we’re going. A single tear slips down her face, and she shakes her head, waving my question away like she does anything that leaves my mouth these days, as though I’m a mosquito; something annoying in her way.
It’s dark when the van arrives. Not a bus as I’d been expecting. We can’t afford one. Twelve men and women climb aboard. We take well-used seats in the middle of the rickety van that is only supposed to hold eight. The doors slide closed behind us, locking us in the cramped, hot, smelly vehicle. Momma doesn’t speak, neither does anyone else for the entire journey. Some of the adults stand and sway as the van travels along dirt roads, the desolate landscape whipping up sand from the ground and tossing it onto the van, leaving the windshield dusty. The wipers don’t work. Or maybe the driver can’t be bothered to use them. Others sit with kids on their laps, rocking forward as the wheels skid and stumble over thick clumps of dry mud every time the driver brakes. I stare down at the cracked earth through the murky glass and watch the miles fall away.
The sign for Tamaulipas greets us as the van makes its way through the busy streets and down towards a pile of stones leading to a gravel road flanked either side by concrete walls that have turned to rubble around the edges, where Momma says we’ll be safer from the gangs. I’ve seen them hanging out in SUV’s parked up on the verges of roads, huge guns slung over their backs, tied to fishing rope hung over their shoulders. They charge people to enter their ‘zones’ and if you’re too pale they demand to see your ID to ensure you’re not police officers sent over from the US and called to work across the fence to observe people.
Some of them belong to cartels. Others to vigilante groups: members of the public who are fighting back against the cartels who occupy “their” turf. Truly no one is safe, and everyone lives in fear though we live in denial and won’t admit it.
We exit the vehicle and walk on until we reach a gritty path that leads us to several trailers hidden from view of the acres of parched land surrounding the main road by a portacabin. Our trailer is on the right, two down from the corner where some kids are poking sticks into the dirt outside their home on stilts. ‘We’ll like it here,’ says momma. ‘The air is cleaner because we’re closer to the gulf.’
That night I sleep on a squishy off-green coloured couch that the previous owner has left, waking at dawn alone. I read the note that momma has left. It says she’s gone out to work. I don’t know what she does, but when she returns before 10:00am she’s wearing her top back to front, her face is flushed, eyeshadow leaking from the corners of her glistening eyes like it does when she’s been crying except she’s not, and she has a lot of money in her hand that I watch her stuff inside a drawer while I lie stiff beneath a striped bedsheet that itches, pretending I’m still sleeping.
You can purchase the Kindle version via pre-order here (paperback released on day of publication):