Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re doing well. Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Gillian McAllister’s latest novel, ‘The Evidence Against You’. Gillian McAllister is one of my favourite authors, so I’m thrilled that I got the chance to take part! In this post, I’ll be giving you some information about the book, plus sharing an exclusive extract with you. Thanks so much to Penguin for the opportunity! So, keep reading…
It’s the day Izzy’s father will be released from jail.
She has every reason to feel conflicted – he’s the man who gave her a childhood filled with happy memories.
But he has also just served seventeen years for the murder of her mother.
Now, Izzy’s father sends her a letter. He wants to talk, to defend himself against each piece of evidence from his trial.
But should she give him the benefit of the doubt?
Or is her father guilty as charged, and luring her into a trap?
About the Author.
Gillian McAllister is the author of four Psychological Thriller novels: ‘Everything But The Truth’ (2017), ‘Anything You Do Say’ (2017), ‘No Further Questions’ (2018) and ‘The Evidence Against You’ (18th April 2019). McAllister now lives in Birmingham with her boyfriend, and is a lawyer as well as a writer.
It was a wicked and depraved act, Izzy is thinking as she closes her curtains. That’s what the judge said. She remembers his exact words from eighteen years ago. It was a wicked and depraved act. You wanted Alexandra English to die, and you made sure that she did.
Her father was standing in the dock, staring impassively at the judge, his gaze not faltering, his body completely still. He wouldn’t even look across at her. Not as the guilty ver- dict was read out. Not as he was sentenced to life in prison. And not as he was taken away, either. Her final view of him was of his swarthy face in profile, hooked nose, dark hair covering his ears, eyes staring straight ahead.
It’s the first week of May and the weather has warmed up so fast it is as though a switch has been flicked. Moths tumble around the lamp in Izzy’s bedroom. She reaches to close the window, even though it’s still stuffy.
Downstairs, she can hear Nick moving around. She draws the curtains and listens to him opening the dishwasher. He will have gathered up their plates and glasses from the living room and carried them all into the kitchen together in one towering pile. He likes to do things with – according to him – maximum efficiency.
A tree seems to shift in the darkness outside their bedroom window. Izzy is used to the palm trees, but Nick – some- body who likes to follow rules – couldn’t believe it when he first moved across to join her on the Isle of Wight where she grew up. ‘It’s not like it’s the Caribbean,’ he kept saying. ‘They’re everywhere.’
‘It’s tomorrow,’ she says now to Nick, still standing by the window, as he arrives in the bedroom. There is no point, Izzy reasons, not saying anything, though both she and Nick are good at pretending.
A strange expression crosses Nick’s face. Something between a smile and a grimace. He runs a hand through his black hair. She has always loved how much hair he has; how thick and dark it is. He has two crowns at the back; a satisfy- ing double whorl.
He’s carrying a box of crackers and a plate. He’s laid out four cheeses of exactly equal sizes. They’ve been doing this lately. Sharing a fourth, unnamed meal most nights in bed. Guilty pleasures, consumed after hours. We ought to stop, they keep saying to each other, but they don’t, laughingly spread- ing another cracker for each other. Just one more. Izzy has gained four pounds. Everybody will think she is pregnant. Thirty-six, married and so of course pregnant.
Imagine if she was.
Nick goes back down to make a cup of tea. He always makes it the same way: brewed for a timed three minutes, and then the milk.
She wonders if she will miss this phase of their relationship, the crackers and cheese phase, when it’s over. It will be replaced with another, she guesses: the long terrain of a marriage.
‘Yeah,’ Nick says quietly, walking back into the room and continuing their conversation. Izzy looks at him as he shrugs. He opens the box of crackers and passes her a knife, then she sits on the bed next to him. ‘He might come looking for you,’ he says, raising his eyes to hers. He’s a police analyst, so his bluntness never surprises her.
‘I doubt it,’ she says. This is how she deals with it. A glimpsed news story – closed down. A friend asking a prob- ing question – ignored. At least once a week, in the restaurant, in the bank, in the doctor’s surgery, somebody asks her if she is the Isabelle English . . . she can never deny it. She is the image of her mother.
She reaches for a Hovis cracker and smothers it in butter. Nick smiles as she does it. She runs a gourmet restaur- ant, yet spends her time eating what Nick calls ‘lovely crap’. Hovis biscuits spread with synthetic cheap margarine. Angel Delight. Chocolate coins. McDonald’s on the way home. Hot dogs from a tin with a ring pull and an expiry date of four years’ time. By day, she assembles artful salads with smears of balsamic vinegar across the plates. By night, she eats bite- sized chicken Kievs and wonders why on earth she owns a restaurant.
Nick avoids her gaze as he carves a slice of Wensleydale. ‘It’ll be what it’ll be,’ he says. It’s one of his phrases. He puts topics to bed with these phrases. She used to think it was helpful, but she’s less sure these days.
He sits back against the headboard. She had always said she wanted a bedroom like a hotel room and, after a week- end away for her birthday, she arrived home to a different room, as though she had walked into the wrong house. A high bed with a dark suede headboard, six duck-feather pillows piled up. Aubergine-coloured walls, a deep carpet. Everything. He’d done it all for her. He’d bought copper lamps from HomeSense and scented pillow spray and a leather ottoman that he placed at the bottom of the bed. And finally, she thought, looking at the hotel bed in her marital home, she felt safe. After everything that had hap- pened, she had a home, had made herself a new family with Nick, who showed her, in his own understated, indirect way, that he understood. He would not kiss her passionately after dates or confide in her late at night. But he would give her a beautiful bedroom.
And so for the first time in years she had felt happy, just for that moment. Happy and normal. Knowing that happi- ness was possible at all had helped her to nurture it, like a tiny germinating seed.
A spray of crumbs lands on the bed and Nick brushes them carefully into his hand and into the bin.
He pushes a triangle of Dairylea towards her and she opens it and eats it, neat, the soft cheese coating her teeth like plastic.
‘But you’ll tell me, if you hear anything,’ she says to him, lifting her eyes to meet his. They ought to be practical, at least, and Nick will hear before she does. If her father does anything. If he causes any . . . trouble.
‘Yep,’ he replies softly, reaching and interlacing his fin- gers with hers. ‘I’m not supposed to,’ he adds. He knows the rules. Izzy isn’t surprised: Nick is the sort of person who would buy a parking ticket on a Sunday just to be sure.
She gets up off the bed as she hears one of her neighbours outside. ‘I’ll just pop out,’ she says to him.
Something akin to shame bubbles up through her as she descends the stairs. When she is running the restaurant, when she is laughing at Nick, when she is booking appoint- ments and meeting suppliers, she is fully formed. Capable. Adult. But there are certain situations, like this one, where she regresses, where she tumbles back into something long forgotten. She can feel it happening. Nick doesn’t know. Nick thinks she is relaxed. That she is whole. People at work don’t know. Only she knows.
She unlocks the front door and drags the bin across the back alleyway. It’s Wednesday, bin night. They live on the end of a set of four houses, isolated in Luccombe, only three miles from where Izzy grew up. The row of seventeenth- century cottages is set back from the road, and they share a flagstone access way. Bin night went from friendly nods to protracted chats to something more sociable, for Izzy’s neighbours. A way to welcome the week, William said, when he rang her doorbell to ask her to join in their barbecue one night. Nick once told her that people don’t do these things on the mainland. It makes sense, Izzy supposes. There are so many things the Isle of Wight is cut off from: specialist hospitals, universities, Category A prisons . . . they are marooned over here, trapped with the natives, and so they engage in their own traditions.
Nick was working, so she went alone to meet the neigh- bours. God knows what they thought of her. Nothing, probably. But she thinks about them too much.
She hears them now as she reaches her bin. They’re laugh- ing about something, a burst of noise in the warm night. She nods to them as she wheels it past, trying not to look. Thea, Izzy’s direct neighbour, is in a lightweight cardigan, flip- flops, her face showing the beginnings of a tan already.
‘Busy day?’ she says to Izzy. Her grey-streaked hair is held back by a single clip just by her temple.
‘Yes. And you?’ Izzy says with a smile. She hovers next to her, holding the warm handle of the bin. Middle-aged women are Izzy’s favourite. The kind who wear sensible shoes and tunics and draped summer scarves. Who wear nice perfume and statement necklaces and arrange birthday lunches at Zizzi’s with their grown-up children. These are the people that Izzy finds herself seeking out, over and over again, trying to catch hold of a memory. Something – anything. Yes, that’s right, she will sometimes think as she talks to Thea, as she is given that most precious thing: a new, as yet unearthed, memory of her mother. A look she had once given Izzy. The way she instinctively reached down to stop her crossing the road. She is obsessed with the mothers of the world, taking perpetual care of people.
‘Did you decide on the paint?’ Thea asks.
‘No,’ Izzy says. ‘Not yet. But I’m leaning towards the grey.’ ‘Good choice.’
Izzy nods. She wants to ask Thea to come help. They’ll spend the weekend together, painting her kitchen and drink- ing pots of tea. But – for now – she continues to wheel the bin by them quietly and leaves it at the end of the path with theirs. She pauses again, listening to them.
‘May, end of May, she’ll be home, just as soon as her exams are over,’ Thea is saying now, the conversation having shifted topic. ‘She went to some Californian music festival instead of revising over Easter and is now stressed out of her mind. It’s too hot to study, she says.’
It was warm the May Izzy’s father was convicted, too. The air had the same heavy quality. ‘It’s a sweat box already,’ she heard one of the prison van drivers say outside the court- room as they led him away wearing a suit and handcuffs. She didn’t try to speak to him.
When Izzy walks back to her house, Thea has turned to William. He is holding a cup of tea and the vapour steams up his glasses as he sips.
‘But then, after, she’ll be back here, I expect, at least for a few years. She doesn’t know what she wants to do.’ Thea’s smiling, her eyes crinkling, looking upwards at the sky as she thinks of her daughter coming home. ‘I never knew what I wanted to do, either,’ she adds. ‘We can work it out. And in the meantime, she’s the best company. We’re both stupid at going to bed. We stay up together, buying rubbish on the internet.’
Izzy averts her eyes as she walks past. When she reaches her back door, her hand lingers on the doorknob.
She closes her eyes just briefly and stands, feeling the air on her skin. And then she allows the fantasy into her mind, as she always does at this time during the evening. Thea is her mother. She’s visiting her for a short break. They’ve been out for pizza, shopping, the cinema. Wherever. She finds the feeling she likes, that safe, content feeling; the feeling of a cup of hot chocolate passed to her by a mother, the feeling of a log burner on a win- ter’s day, a worn novel pressed into her hands – you’ll love this – and enjoys it for a few minutes.
And then, of course, the guilt comes, as she thinks of her own mother, with her brilliant red hair and her huge, wide smile. Irreplaceable.
Murdered by Izzy’s father, when Izzy was just seventeen. After a few seconds, she goes inside. She locks the door, then checks it, just to be sure.
Happy reading 🙂