Today it is my pleasure to be joining the blog tour for the third book in the Maggie Neville series by Michelle Davies, False Witness. My thanks go to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the tour. I have a fab extract to share with you all, along with my review, but first of all, here is what the book is all about.
About the Book
7.15am: Two children are seen on top of a wall in a school.
Shortly later one of them lies fatally injured at the bottom.
Did the boy fall or was he pushed?
As a family liaison offer, DC Maggie Neville has seen parents crumble under the weight of their child’s death. Imogen Tyler is no different. Her son’s fall was witnessed by the school caretaker, a pupil is under suspicion, and Imogen is paralysed by grief and questions.
For Maggie, finding the truth is paramount if she is to help the mother. But as she investigates, further doubts emerge and the truth suddenly seems far from certain. Could the witness be mistaken about what happened, and if he is, then who is responsible? And how far will they go to cover up the boy’s death?
False Witness by Michelle Davies is the gripping third novel in the critically acclaimed Maggie Neville series, following Gone Astray and Wrong Place.
by Michelle Davies
Alan Donnelly’s first thought on spotting the children on the ladder was to wonder whether it constituted a sacking offence under the terms of his contract.
His second was that he’d strangle the little sods when he got his hands on them.
One of them was already at the ladder’s brow, the other not far behind. He couldn’t see their faces clearly from that distance, but the girl in the lead had long blonde hair worn loose and wavy and was in a red gingham dress. From the size of her she looked as though she might be in Year 5, possibly 6. The boy in her wake had cropped dark hair and was wearing smart grey shorts and a white polo top. He looked physically younger, a skinny little runt.
Alan threw down his shovel on the soil he’d been using to fill in the cracks in the turf. It was Sports Day next week and the playing field was uneven underfoot, a potential safety hazard for egg-and-spoon and sack race competitors according to the head. Smacking his palms together to clean them, Alan set off across the grass towards the playground, angry at being pulled away from an important task to sort out misbehavers.
He’d warned Mrs Pullman something like this would happen if they didn’t delay building work until the holidays started. During a tetchy meeting with her and the governors to discuss the plans, he’d likened cordoning off the playground while the kids were still at school to waving a bottle of vodka under the nose of an alcoholic. Far too tempting. They hadn’t taken kindly to his metaphor and decided it would be far worse if they waited until the summer holidays and the work overran and the classes weren’t finished for the new intake come September. Prepare for an early June start, he was told in no uncertain terms.
Yet here they were three weeks into the project and he was already being proved right. There wasn’t time to be smug, though, because unless he got those kids down off that ladder before anyone else saw them he’d be right in the shit. It wouldn’t matter how they’d broken into the school or got onto the building site, it was the fact that they had, and security was his responsibility as caretaker.
There were three new classrooms being built, in a singlestorey, L-shaped annexe. An outer wall of the first one was already completed – about seven metres high, it was what the children were standing on now. They appeared to be alone, no sign of any others egging them on. He checked his watch quickly. It was ten past seven – he had about twenty minutes before the first members of staff would start arriving.
His breaths grew shorter as he picked up his pace and he reached into his pocket for his inhaler. He’d been using it a lot these past four days, since the heatwave baking Mansell and the rest of Buckinghamshire and much of the southeast had begun. He hated it, couldn’t breathe it was so hot. Yesterday the temperature had hit twenty-eight degrees and today was meant to be even higher.
The building site was separated from the playground by two-metre-high interlocking panels, but the door cut into the centre panel was ajar, its padlock swinging loose. Alan couldn’t remember seeing it fastened when he did his rounds the previous evening but if anyone asked he would say it was and the kids must’ve forced it open.
He stepped through the doorway and his heart skipped a beat. Both children were on the top of the wall, backs to him. The girl was staring down into the hollowed guts of the new classroom but the boy was crouched low with his arms splayed out, as if struggling to keep his balance. Alan guessed the breeze blocks could take their weight but it wasn’t a wide wall, not even for feet as small as theirs. One misstep was all it would take.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he called up, loudly enough for them to hear but not so loud it would give them a fright and make them stumble.
The boy rose slowly to his feet, then reached out and grabbed the girl’s hand. He whispered something and she angled her head towards him just enough for Alan to see her face. He didn’t know her name but she was in Miss Felix’s class, Year 6. Had a bit of a gob on her like most girls her age seemed to these days, but she wasn’t one of the kids who usually warmed the row of chairs outside the head’s office as they waited for a telling-off.
‘You need to get down now,’ he said.
The boy’s shoulders began to heave as though he was laughing and that made Alan see red. If there was one thing guaranteed to wind him up it was being mocked by cocky little shits. He gripped the ladder and dragged it along the wall so it was closer to where they were.
‘You first,’ he said firmly to the girl. ‘Take it steady though.’
‘I can’t,’ she said, her voice cracking. ‘He won’t let me.’
The boy’s head whipped round. It was the new kid, the one who a week earlier Alan had caught skulking in the cupboard where they stored the art supplies. He’d read him the riot act, told him it was out of bounds to pupils, but he didn’t report it because the cupboard shouldn’t have been unlocked in the first place. He was still trying to get to the bottom of whose fault that was.
The girl said something but Alan didn’t catch it because his focus was on the boy who had started moving away from the ladder, pulling her with him.
‘Come back here,’ he shouted, too pissed off now to mind his volume. ‘I’ll have you excluded for this.’
They both ignored him.
Alan knew he had to act, and fast. The teachers who liked to start early would be arriving soon, not to mention the construction workers. He had to get the kids down from that wall. He started to climb the ladder, muttering all the swear words he wished he could say out loud but would get him sacked if he did.
A noise from above made him stop. The children were lurching ominously from side to side, holding hands, as though they were performing a dance.
‘Stop that now!’ he hollered. ‘You’ll fall if you’re not careful.’
They stopped. The girl panted, her cheeks inflamed, but the boy was calm, his mouth curled into a lopsided grin.
‘Right, let’s stop this nonsense,’ said Alan croakily as he scaled the rest of the ladder until his feet were only a few rungs from the top. He grabbed the rough-hewn ridge of the wall, hands shaking and legs like jelly.
‘Walk towards me and I’ll help you down,’ he ordered. ‘You’ll have to let go of each other first.’
‘Don’t do that!’ the girl suddenly screamed at the boy.
Alan shot out his right arm, stretching as far as he could, but his fingertips grasped only thin air and the ladder tilted violently under his shifting weight. Sights and sounds came at him like rapid gunfire and he cried out.
A lopsided grin . . . a blur of red gingham . . . a hand reaching out . . . streaming blonde hair . . . a high-pitched scream . . . a thud.
Pretty gripping stuff huh? As you can see, the story begins with an utter tragedy – the death of a young boy who falls from the roof of his school. But why Benji and his friend Poppy were at the school so early remains a mystery and the only person left who knows won’t tell. What should be a relatively routine, if emotionally difficult liaison position for DC Maggie Neville soon turns into something far more sinister forcing the police to look beyond the obvious for the cause of all the tragedy.
This is the first book I have read by Michelle Davies and although it is the third in the series, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage and I would say this can be read as a standalone case. as with all series, there will be elements of spoilers for previous books, but only in a minor way and personally I look forward to going back and filling in the gaps properly.
I love to read police based novels, one of and it is great when they venture off at a slight angle as this series does. Basing the books around Family Liaison Officer Maggie Neville does give them a unique angle, with far more attention paid to the emotional turmoil of the families than you may find in a traditional investigation novel, where the subject is often only skirted around. Maggie was a character I warmed to straight away, good really given her career path, and I was able to pick up her history and strength of character as I read on.
Now things don’t go all Maggie’s way in the book. She is partnered with a rookie FLO, Jamie Byford, who it is fair to say is less than cooperative with Maggie. It makes for an interesting dynamic as the two officers have very different ways of working. Leading the case is DS Anna Renshaw, a one time adversary of Maggie’s who seems hellbent on securing a conviction for Benji’s accident at all costs. She is driven and unrelenting and I had mixed emotions towards her as a character throughout the book. You’ll need to decide for yourself which side of the fence you are on, but she is determined to prove that Poppy be charged with Benji’s death. That may not seem unreasonable until you factor in that she is only eleven. It certainly makes the concept of culpability a little less clear cut.
As harrowing as the central case is, there is much more going on in this book as the deeper you get into the story, the more secrets are uncovered. There are many people not telling the whole truth in this investigation, not just young Poppy and the findings are surprising and perhaps a little disturbing too. Pacing in the book is perfect, allowing for the slower moments where the emotions take over amongst the families and ramping up in tension the closer the Detectives get to the truth. Certainly the ending of the book is rather dramatic and will perhaps lead to changes ahead. Whatever the case, I loved the mixture of emotion, investigative procedure and good old fashioned high stakes mystery which made up this novel and can’t wait to read more in the series.
If you would like to purchase a copy of the book it is available now at the following retailers:
About the Author
Michelle Davies was born in Middlesex in 1972, raised in Buckinghamshire and now lives in north London.
Her debut crime novel, Gone Astray, was published in Hardback in March 2016 and features Family Liaison Officer DC Maggie Neville as its central police character. The paperback version is due for publication on 20th October 2016. Gone Astray was part of a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan and the follow-up, Wrong Place, also featuring DC Neville, is due for release on 27th February 2017.
When she’s not turning her hand to crime, Michelle writes as a freelance journalist for women’s magazines including Marie Claire, Essentials, YOU and Stylist. Her last staff job before going freelance was as Editor-at-Large at Grazia and she was previously Features Editor at heat. She began her career straight from school at 18, working as a trainee reporter on her home-town newspaper, the Bucks Free Press.
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