Book reviews

Witness by Mandasue Heller – *EXTRACT*

Welcome to The Bookwormery, I have an extract from Witness, by Mandasue Heller, a dark and gritty thriller….as you will see.

But first a little about Witness.

PUBLISHERS BLURB 

She saw too much. She knows too much.

Dark and gritty, Witness is a heart-pounding thriller set in Manchester.

Holly Evans and her over-protective mother, Josie, are living a hand-to-mouth existence, moving constantly from one squalid dump to the next. When they move into an illegally sub-let council flat in Manchester, Holly feels settled for the first time in her life – even if she is forbidden to go out, or even open the front door to callers when her mum is at work. What exactly are they hiding from?

Then Holly has a falling out with her best friend, and suddenly finds herself becoming increasingly isolated and alone in the world. But she is about to make a new friend in Suzie – the glamorous woman who lives directly across the road, who Holly witnesses being beaten up by her violent boyfriend. When it happens a second time it’s Holly who Suzie turns to for help, and a bond is quickly formed between the pair. But whoever Holly and Josie have been running from is about to find them, and nothing will ever be the same again . . .

You can only run for so long, and some will kill for your silence . . .

Witness, by Mandasue Heller, is out August 20th, through Macmillan, £12.99 hardback

Here’s the extract…

EXTRACT

PROLOGUE 

The girl’s eyes shot open when the back door slammed into the wall below her room, and her heart skittered in her chest when she heard footsteps rushing through the kitchen, the hallway and up the stairs. Unsure if it was the police raiding the house in search of drugs, or one of her stepdad’s enemies coming to fight with him again, she did what her mummy had told her to do and wriggled under the bed, burying herself beneath the dusty clothes, shoes and comics that were stashed in the space between the mattress and the floor.

The footsteps reached the landing and she held her breath as she waited for her door to burst open. They went straight past and, seconds later, her mum screamed and her stepdad yelled, ‘What the fuck . . . ?’

‘Shut it or you’re dead,’ a deep voice warned. ‘You know what we’re after.’

Sure now that it wasn’t the police, because they always announced themselves and ordered everyone to stay where they were, which usually culminated in the fat lady social worker taking her to stay with strangers for a couple of days, the girl jumped when something heavy hit the wall behind her head.

‘Please don’t hurt us,’ her mum cried. ‘I’ll tell you where it is.’

‘Go get it,’ another voice ordered. ‘And don’t fuck about, or you’re dead an’ all.’

‘Y’ain’t gettin’ klish!’ the girl’s stepdad argued, his Jamaican accent thickening with anger. ‘Y’t’ink me don’t know yuh? T’ink yuh can step in me yard wi’ yuh face cover an’ me won’t recognize dem beady lickle ey—’

‘Smoke the cunt!’ the deep voice barked, and the child shuddered at the sound of a violent struggle breaking out. Glass shattered and wood splintered, then a boom that sounded like a massive firework going off filled the air, and she sucked in a sharp breath when her mum screamed again before abruptly falling silent.

A sinister chuckle broke the silence and the girl bit down on her hand when her mum’s bedsprings started squeaking and the head- board banged rhythmically against the wall. She’d been woken by those same noises many times since her stepdad had moved in; and once, when she’d got up to use the toilet in the middle of the night, she had accidentally seen them doing naughties, so she didn’t need to guess what was happening.

After what felt like an eternity, the thudding stopped and the girl heard drawers and cupboards being rifled through. Her bedroom door suddenly opened, and in the light spilling in from the landing she saw a pair of feet clad in green trainers. Praying that the man wouldn’t hear her breathing as he entered the room and turned in a slow circle before approaching the bed, she shrank further back when he crouched down and raised the edge of the quilt. Dark eyes peered into the cramped space and, terrified that he would see her, drag her out and kill her, hot piss trickled out from between her legs and soaked her nightgown.

At the exact moment the man reached out to push the clothes aside, another pair of feet appeared in the doorway behind him, and the deep voice said, ‘Got it. Let’s go.’

Holding her breath until the man in the green trainers retreated from the room, the child listened as he and the other one jogged down the stairs and left the house the same way they had entered. Scared they might come back, even after hearing the squeal of the rusted hinges on the backyard gate, she stayed where she was for several more minutes before plucking up the courage to crawl out from under the bed.

The house was silent, but she kept a cautious eye on the stairs as she tiptoed out onto the landing and darted to her mum’s bedroom at the front of the house. The door was open and the overhead light was on, and her skinny, piss-soaked legs almost gave way when she saw the blood. There was a thick pool of it on the bed, another on the carpet, and a smear on the wall, below which her stepdad was slumped like a broken mannequin, his once-handsome face now unrecognizable.

‘Mummy?’ she whimpered, tearing her gaze off him and looking round for her mother.

A faint groan drifted up from the other side of the bed and the girl picked a path through the shattered glass and debris. Her mum was lying in the gap between the bedside cabinet and the wardrobe, limbs at odd angles as if she’d fallen off the bed, blood-soaked nightdress pulled up over her stomach. She wasn’t wearing knickers and the girl averted her gaze and stared at her face instead, but immediately wished she hadn’t when she saw the mess the men had made of it.

Snapped out of her stupor when a bubble of blood popped at the corner of her mum’s lips, the girl fled from the room, oblivious to the pain of the glass piercing the soles of her feet as she raced along the landing and down the stairs.

The front door was locked and the top bolt was too high for her to reach it. In a blind panic, she ran to the back door, and a shrill, thin scream started trickling from her throat as she lurched out into the jet-black yard.

‘Sshhh!’ someone hissed, clamping a rough hand over her mouth. ‘Come with me . . .’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Warrington, Mandasue Heller moved to Manchester in the 1980s, where she found the inspiration for her novels. She spent ten years living in the infamous Hulme Crescents and was a professional singer for many years before turning her hand to writing. She has three children, three grandchildren, and still writes and records songs with her musician partner, Wingrove, between books.

‘Heller doesn’t mince words, her gritty plots create a Manchester underworld to rival Martina Cole’s raw and rough East End’ – Peterborough Evening Telegraph.