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Tuesday 31 October 2017

Halloween horror-03 - ‘How intensely gruesome…’

Especially for Halloween – the horror/romantic thriller Chill of the Shadow.

One reviewer stated ‘(Chill of the Shadow ) has a strong structure and is full of rich writing and action. The plot has page turning twists and the main characters are likeable, especially the female lead. I hadn't read a vampire book in a while and was reminded of how intensely gruesome they can be. While this one has its squeamish moments it's not atypical for the genre, and I can't help liking a well written book! The Malta setting was perfect, making this a great escape read.’

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 4: ‘The Cave of Ghar Dalam’, where the journalist Maria joins Detective Sergeant Attard and they observe the island’s dangerous politics at first-hand…

A flock of black kites flew over Valletta Harbour. The big black birds soared over the liners and steam-ships, the walled city, down to the Queen’s Square, just off Republic Street. Here a crowd of people had gathered, listening to a loud brass band. A garish float followed the band; then stopped outside the Caffé Cordina whose tables were arranged on the street and across the road in the square.
            In a corner of the square, as if tucked out of sight and out of mind, an imposing black statue of Queen Victoria loomed.
            On the float was the New Nation Party politician, Manoel Azzopardi, a megaphone in his hands. “We must stamp on the ugly face of crime!” he enthused. He was overweight and sweating in his dark suit and tie. “It is ruining our children’s futures!” Above him fluttered a banner showing his name and the party.
            “As much as we would like to think so, Malta is not the center of the universe. Nobody owes us a living. We must pay our way.”
            The big black birds – not perturbed by the music and noise – perched on a nearby rooftop. Sinister. Watching.
Maria noticed the birds and turned away, unaccountably uncomfortable at their appearance. She sat opposite DS Francis Attard at a table in the square. He was a rather portly man in a crumpled tan suit, with open-necked shirt. He pulled his coat tail over his belt holster to conceal his 9mm Beretta pistol.
            Their seafood meal was half-finished. They both leaned back and sipped white Marsovin wine.
            “It’s good of you to see me, Francis, at such short notice.”
            “You’re good to look at, Maria. Besides, I spend most of my breaks here, watching the world go by.” He patted his generous stomach. “And not watching my weight!”
            Many of the tables were occupied, the diners idly curious about the antics of Azzopardi. Others couldn’t care less and were wrapped up in their own private conversations. The city square was vibrant, filled with the sound of cutlery, crockery, loud talking and the hubbub of passersby.
            Police in tan uniforms and Ray-ban sunglasses stood at regular intervals along the procession’s route up Republic Street.
            Waiters and waitresses weaved expertly between tables; they were the only people who seemed in any particular hurry.
            “We must get things done today,” Azzopardi insisted, “not next month, not next year!”
            A young waiter rushed through the crowd and leaned over Attard’s right shoulder: “Excuse me, Sergeant. There’s a telephone call for you inside.”
            “Vote Azzopardi and your future will be crime-free. Vote for the party that always puts you first! Vote New Nation Party!”
            Attard sighed. “The office, I imagine. Excuse me, Maria. I won’t be long.”
            “There’s only one party – that’s the Azzopardi!” That febrile play on words got a few faint-hearted laughs.
            Attard stood up and followed the waiter through the crowd into Caffé Cordina. He passed two men without giving them a second glance as he headed into the cool contrasting dark interior of the café and picked up the phone at the bar.
Count Zondadari sat by the window, with Bonello. Zondadari’s image was reflected in the ornate gilt mirror on the opposite wall and revealed a handsome man with a badly scarred left cheek, glinting eyes and a smile that played on his lips. Count Zondadari was in his forties while Bonello was a few years younger.
            Bonello looked tired and drawn, his eyes sunken yet filled with a strange light.
            “Now is the time, Bonello, to exert your leadership of the Malta Power Party. Just concentrate very hard and your opponent won’t know what hit him.”
            “I will try.” Bonello closed his eyes and his faced hardened. He seemed suddenly oblivious to his surroundings. He concentrated on his opponent, Azzopardi, and sweat beaded his brow.
As Maria watched, Azzopardi stopped a moment to bite a sandwich a pretty girl helper had passed up to him. Then, swallowing, he lifted the megaphone again: “A vote for me is a vote for the future of these magnificent islands! Vote Azzopardi!” This must have been the signal for the band to start up again.
            And, as if disturbed by the sound of the brass instruments, the black kites flapped their wings and took off, dropping toward the float. They circled Azzopardi. Seeing them approach, he cowered, covering his face with the megaphone.
            A couple of onlookers screamed.
            Azzopardi tried batting the birds away with the megaphone. One bird snatched his sandwich and flew off. “Get them off me!” he shouted as the birds surrounded him, pecking at his face and scalp. He overbalanced and fell off the float and in that same instant a policeman withdrew his pistol and shot it into the air. With a loud thrashing of black wings, the birds flew off over the rooftops.
            Azzopardi fell directly under the wheels of the following limousine. Brakes screeched and people shrieked. The crowd backed off, away from the dead politician.
            Whistles blew and police rushed through the panicking crowd. The band players abruptly stopped, though not in unison, the sound of their instruments a squawking cacophony followed by a continuous low shocked murmur.
            Maria sat stunned. This was a day for her to see plenty of death, it seemed. She put a trembling hand over her eyes
Bonello opened his eyes, looking quite pleased with himself. He was flushed...
            “Enjoy that, did you?”
            “Yes.” Bonello nodded, his voice a little breathless. “Very much.”
            “Remember, that was possible through the sacrifice of a new life.”
            “Yes,” the politician replied, eyes worried now. “So you keep reminding me!”
            “Success usually comes with pain, Bonello.”
            “I know...”
            Zondadari grinned. “Preferably someone else’s pain, no?”
            Bonello forced a smile.
            Slapping the politician’s back, Zondadari chuckled. “Just think what more is possible in this election. The Malta Power Party can’t lose!”
Attard passed Zondadari’s table, heading outside to finish his meal with Maria. He noticed the commotion and stopped to talk with a policeman. He shook his head, patted the cop on the shoulder and walked up to Maria’s table.
            “I’ve got to give evidence at the Law Courts in an hour.”
            “Can I have the story?”
            “Sure. Family feud. The usual.” Sitting down, he thumbed back at the crowd. “Looks like his policies have taken a nosedive.”
            Maria pulled a face at the bad-taste joke and pushed her plate away, no longer hungry. “It was an awful accident. At least, I think it was an accident.”
            “Hey, don’t go paranoid on me.”
            She shook her head. “You didn’t see those birds. They seemed to know what they were doing.”
            “Maybe they didn’t like his politics.”

Chill of the Shadow

Amazon paperback and e-book here

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