The Pursuit of Vengeance
As I walk through the kitchen towards the back door, my eyes are drawn to a biscuit tin, fashioned from ceramic to look like a pineapple, sitting on the worktop. Pausing, I lift the pointed leaves of the lid. At the bottom of the tin lies a single custard cream on a handful of crumbs. I grimace – I've never liked custard creams.
The house stands silent apart from the deep, constant tick of the grandfather clock in the hall. Next to the clock is a hallstand, with a metal walking stick leaning against it. The grandfather clock is too big for the cramped little hall, and the hallstand is almost buried under the many pairs of tired-looking shoes that have been haphazardly deposited there, one on top of the other.
Replacing the lid on the biscuit tin and leaving the custard cream untouched, I walk into the hall and gaze at the framed photographs covering the wall. Most of them are school photographs, featuring three – no, four children, three girls and one boy, but the focal points are the two larger photographs, each showing a different couple on their wedding days.
Feeling something crunching beneath my feet, I look down to see several shards of glass. A shattered picture frame lies on the carpet, and I find the gap on the wall where it used to hang. I stare at it unblinkingly for a moment before turning back towards the kitchen, but as I do so my eyes are drawn to the scene in the dining room.
It is saturated with blood.
The old couple are sitting in their chairs by the dining table, just as I left them. Their heads are tipped backwards, eyes staring at the ceiling and throats slit wide open.
The torrents of blood have slowed to a trickle now, and what little remains in their bodies drips out slowly, forming pools at their feet, before slowly seeping into the pale carpet. The scene is more slaughterhouse than dining room. I cock my head to the side and spend a long time studying every detail of the room, before slowly walking back to the kitchen. Everything is as it should be.
Turning, I reach for the pineapple and take the last custard cream, stuffing it whole into my mouth. It's as disappointing as I expected it would be. As I reach for the handle, I notice the back door is in need of repair, and it squeals noisily as I open it.
I step outside, and as the door closes it emits another long, painful wail into the darkness.
Waking suddenly from a deep sleep, I touch my head and feel my hair soaked with perspiration. The images from the dream still fill my mind - the isolated cottage, the body, the dark red blood covering the floor. My skin is damp, and I force myself to remember that the wetness is sweat, not blood.
Lying back down in the darkness, I reach out to the bedside table, feeling along its surface until I come across the heavy coldness of my glass of water. I feel thirsty – a thirst which starts at the tip of my tongue and extends all the way down my throat; the painful, familiar thirst which follows a night's heavy drinking. My fingers close around the glass, but as I lift it to my lips I suddenly pause – did I pour this water before going to bed last night? Or is it stale water, water which has been stagnating on the bedside table for days? Memories of last night are shrouded in a thick, alcohol-infused cloud – I can recall opening a bottle of wine and sitting on the sofa, trying to concentrate on an old detective film, then, later, drinking a third (or fourth?) rum and black as I watched the news, the film already forgotten. But I can’t remember pouring a glass of water before going to bed. For that matter, I can’t even remember going to bed.
Trying to dismiss the thought from my mind, I put the glass to my lips, needing to drink, but the damage has been done. In my mind's eye I can see the glass standing on my bedside table for days, a mixture of fly droppings, dead skin cells and other detritus accumulating on the surface before sinking into the liquid. I cannot bear the idea of drinking stale water.
Cursing, and trying to ignore the pounding ache in my head, I get out of bed and make my way to the kitchen to get a clean glass, filling it with cold water. I swallow two glassfuls, one after the other, and take a third back to bed with me, intending to go back to sleep. But even though I lie down and pull the duvet over me, my headache makes rest impossible. After tossing and turning for a while I get up again with a frustrated sigh, and search for some painkillers. At last, in the bathroom, I find a packet with three tablets remaining, and I swallow them all.
Going back to bed for a second time, I reach for my phone to see what time it is, only to find that I haven’t plugged it into its usual place. Consumed by a worry that the battery has run out, and that there will be no alarm to wake me, I get up for a third time and look for the trousers I was wearing yesterday. I find them in a heap on the floor and, after folding them neatly, place them at the foot of the bed. Squinting at the brightness of the phone's screen in the darkened room, I see the battery only has 5% remaining, and that there are less than ten minutes to go before the alarm. Swearing under my breath, angry with myself once again for drinking so much last night, I sit on the edge of the bed and drink the third glass of water.
If I’m honest, it’s not my thirst or my headache that’s making me curse last night’s solitary drinking session – I’m well used to those. But to do it the night before today of all days! Today is an important day. Today is the day of judgement. By the end of the day, I will know if my career is over or not. Will I still be a detective tonight, or will I have left the police under a black cloud?
I wonder for the hundredth time whether it’s even worth going to hear the verdict. Wouldn’t it be easier to get back under the duvet, switch off my phone and forget about it? Forget the disappointment and disgrace which dismissal would bring, not just to me but to the MacLeavy family name, and just sleep and sleep until I have some idea what to do with the rest of my life? I try to imagine the weight that would be lifted from my shoulders if I knew that I no longer had to deal with society’s dregs every day, or do the endless paperwork, or pretend that I don’t know everyone talks about me behind my back.
But then in its place there would be … nothing. Nothing to fill the long hours, nothing but the wine, and the rum and blacks, and the nightmares for company. Nothing but me, me, and more of me. And I refuse to sleepwalk into that.
So, after plugging the phone into its charger, I stand up and open the curtains. It looks as though it’s going to be a fine day – autumn slowly yielding to winter, with piles of russet leaves on the pavement. I really must get rid of this thirst. For a second I consider a tot of rum to help me face the day, but push the idea away immediately.
In the bathroom, I start the shower, standing there for nearly a minute, watching the water flowing and the steam clouding the mirror. Then, with a sigh, I return to the kitchen, open the cupboard and reach for the rum bottle.
Translation by Helen Davies, 2020
Set in the coastal town of Aberystwyth, Alun Davies’s detective novel, the second in his trilogy, is among the finest example of the Welsh-language noir genre. For Taliesin MacLeavy, the wounded and long-suffering detective, a string of unusual murders become an even greater challenge that he must face, and one that will force him to reckon with choices made in the past. Split between three voices, of the two investigating detectives and the murderer himself, Alun Llwyd has created an exciting narrative that does not fall prey to the ready traps and clichés of the genre. With credible characters and a thrilling plot, we inch closer and closer to understanding the murderer’s seemingly capricious approach.
This is not simply a whodunnit, but a question of why, as notes are left at every crime scene intended for Taliesin himself. We learn of the murderer’s identity from the outset and his deadly exploits punctuate the novel, increasing the tension for the detectives to catch him. As Taliesin pieces together the case and his own connection to it, the novel comes to a staggering crescendo in an epic interplay of vengeance, of crimes passed down the generations, and ultimately, of the cost of justice.
'Alun Davies is an unmistakable writing talent – and the narrative here moves quickly, in an exciting, succinct style, sustaining the tension from start to finish.'
Arwel Vittle, BARN
'An excellent example of a detective novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat, desperately wanting to reach the end.'
Catrin Beard, BBC Radio Cymru