The new Tom Harper novel is coming. The Iron Water, out in the UK on July 29.
Have a taste of it. And if you’re a fan of Annabelle…there’s plenty of her, too. You can order a copy here.
Early July, barely dawn as he strode up Roundhay Road in his best suit, the soft grey wool, his present from Annabelle three Christmases before. Already men were starting to emerge from the streets of back-to-back houses, on their way to the early shift. By the time he reached Harehills the air began to smell cleaner, the houses larger and more prosperous. Out beyond that was wealth. Oakwood was nothing more than a hamlet, a few houses by the road and the terminus for the electric tram by the arched entrance to the park. A copper saluted him as he approached.
‘Anyone here yet?’ Harper asked.
‘They brought the ordnance a few minutes ago. Along the Wetherby Road and the Carriage Drive. And a fire engine right behind it. I daresay the toffs will show up in their own good time. No reporters allowed at this one, sir.’
He strolled along Park Avenue, relishing the quiet and the soft early light. Along the hillside, a few large houses stood back from the road, only the servants up and around at this hour.
There was plenty of activity by the lake, men manoeuvring a wagon into place with a welter of shouting and swearing. The brass of the fire engine glittered in the early sunlight, the horses that drew it enjoying their feed bags. And Harper spotted a familiar figure.
Inspector Billy Reed of the Fire Brigade, looking uncomfortable in his best blue uniform. Detective Sergeant Reed once, until he transferred over and earned his promotion.
‘Hello, Tom.’ They shook hands. ‘Here for the spectacle?’
‘Whatever it is. How about you? For show, or just in case there’s a problem?’
‘We’ve been involved from the start.’ He pointed along the length of the lake and explained, ‘They’ll tow the boat out soon. If everything goes to plan, at seven they’ll fire two of those rocket-powered torpedoes and they’ll destroy it.’
‘Sounds simple enough.’
Reed snorted. ‘As long as the damn things work. Half the time they fizzle out. Are you showing the flag for the police?’
‘Something like that. I’m not even sure why they need me.’
‘They just like us all on our toes.’ A small pause. ‘How’s crime? Are they keeping you busy?’
Harper shrugged. ‘It never stops. You know what it’s like.’ He should, they worked together for several years. ‘And then there’s always Mary.’
‘How is she?’ He smiled. Reed’s wife, Elizabeth, was the manageress for Annabelle’s bakeries; the two women were close.
‘Wonderful.’ It felt like a stilted, awkward conversation, like two friends who hadn’t met in years and realizing they had little in common any more. ‘I think I’ll take a walk and see this boat.’
By a quarter to seven the important folk had arrived in their carriages. Sir James Kitson, from the engineering company, top hat gleaming. Charles Parsons, an industry grandee, greeted with proper deference. The Lord Mayor and men in the bright braid of naval uniforms. Harper bowed as he was introduced, then kept his distance.
It all seemed like a waste of his time. The important people were making an early picnic of the event, wicker baskets full of food, popping bottles of champagne. Enough to remind him that he hadn’t eaten yet. And no one was offering him a bite. Of course.
Then the sharp whistle blew and the men were making their final adjustment to the metal torpedoes, checking the angle and the fuses. Finally, exactly on the order, the missiles were launched, vanishing into Waterloo Lake. All that remained was a thin wake through water the colour of iron, bubbles rising to the surface.
And then the explosion.
Three hundred yards and it was still loud enough to make his ears ring. Complete destruction. My God, Harper thought, is that what war at sea was going to be like in future? How would anyone survive? He glanced across at Billy; the man’s face was impassive. Reed had been a soldier, he’d fought with the West Yorkshires in Afghanistan.
‘What do you think of that?’
‘Impressive, I suppose.’ He hesitated for a second. ‘Dreadful, too.’ He turned and walked away towards the fire engine.
Harper was lost in his thoughts for a few seconds. Then he heard shouting in the distance. Somewhere along the bank of the lake. Even with the hearing almost gone in his right ear he could make out one of the words: ‘Police.’
He started to run.