Published by Simon & Schuster
Ebook and Hardback (4 April 2019) | Paperback (19 September 2019)
About the Book
Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.
All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers.
He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim.
Heath is a serial killer.
As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.
Gabriel is the serial killer.
Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?
James Delargy has written one of the most exciting debuts of 2019. He masterfully paints the picture of a remote Western Australian town and its people, swallowed whole by the hunt for a serial killer. This novel has been sold in 19 countries so far and has just been optioned for film.
His lungs burned as if he weren’t breathing oxygen at all but the choking red dust that spat up with each footstep. Footsteps taking him nowhere. This was the middle of nowhere. That much he knew. The middle of nowhere and still the world was strangling him, the low branches stretching to take their ounce of flesh, to welcome him to the neighbourhood permanently.
It had so nearly succeeded. But he escaped. Now he was running for his life. A throwaway phrase that he never believed he would actually have to realize. He didn’t feel alive. Far from it. The crushing fear of cap- ture consumed everything, his focus constrained to each step, each rocky scramble and dive between trees. He felt like an animal, reduced to base instincts of survival, everything classed simply as dangerous or safe.
The long fingers of the relentless sun reached through the trees, baking the ground where it found land, dappling the bare earth in light but offering no glowing path to freedom. There were trees and rocks, trees and more fucking rocks. He had no idea whether he was heading towards civilization or further into the outback.
Around another rock scorched by the sun, his calves tightened, as if the manacles were still weighing him down. The cold, rusted metal he thought would chain him until that psycho decided to kill him. He couldn’t stop. Despite the pain, fatigue and crippling lack of air in his lungs he couldn’t stop. Stopping meant death.
He spotted a break in the trees up ahead. The edge of hell he hoped, where he would find a road, a farm, a dirt track – anything that indicated the real world. He forced more air into his lungs and pushed towards the light. Throwing his foot forward it met a rock that had prob- ably been embedded for centuries, undisturbed until now. Knocked off balance, he flung an arm out. He found nothing but air. Then his shoulder jarred against a tree trunk which shook but stood firm. Somehow, so did he.
The treeline broke. Sunlight dazzled his eyes, his dreams of stumbling upon civilization dashed. He was faced with nothing but a small clearing with five or six distinct patches of loose soil; rectangular patches that looked like . . . graves. He knew that if he didn’t get up now he would find himself in one.
He hauled himself up. His body hurt all over. Sweat soaked his clothes. Skirting around the gravesite without tearing his eyes from it he entered a landscape dominated by more trees and rocks. Almost as if he had circled back on himself.
Here the ground rose once again, his legs joining his lungs in protest at the continued abuse. In the distance the faint blue shimmer of a cloudless skyline signalled the top of a hill; a vantage point to orientate himself.
He quelled the rebellion in his legs and lungs, but in subduing their protest, failed to see the tree root looping out of the soil. Over he went, no loosened earth to break his fall, just the hard, baked ground and a face full of dust. He stifled the bark of pain, terrified of giving his position away, but the echo of his grunt taunted him, the hard earth amplifying it, drowning out the chirps of birds, insects and the sound of his would-be killer.
The hilltop arrived and brought further dismay. There was no vantage point, only a sheer ten-foot drop. A pan- icked glance left and right confirmed there was no safe path down.
He didn’t have time to source an alternative route. A shove in the back caused him to hit the dirt hard. He rolled around just in time for a set of knuckles to find his left cheek. A glancing blow, but enough to force his eyes closed for a split second. Balling his fist, he swung hard in retaliation. It found something hard – possibly a shoulder. In response, his attacker ground his sharp knee into thigh muscle. The pain forced his eyes open, his sight blurred. Without a plan, or indeed, much co-ordination, he threw a series of frenzied fists. Some found targets, others just air. But as many as he threw, double returned his way, accurate, finding his head and neck, dull fleshy strikes that set off a kaleidoscope of worthless diamonds across his vision. His hair was wrenched and his head slammed into earth that had no give, nor sympathy.
Blackness clawed at his brain threatening to switch it off for good. If he passed out he was a goner. Reaching up, he grabbed on to the dark outline above him. Pinning his attacker’s arms, he rolled to the side battling for leverage. Where there should have been ground, there wasn’t, the roll continuing for what seemed like forever, weight- lessness encompassing him as if the blows to the head had freed his brain from the effects of gravity. With it came a sense of bliss that was almost surreal. It was over. He had been killed and was passing on to whatever lay beyond this earth and there was nothing he could do about it.
The landing changed that.
The ground forced the breath from his body. As if his soul had fled. Opening his eyes, he took in the coarse grey-brown wall of the ridge rise high above, a little haze of waning blue above it. The browns, greys and blues darkened and he passed out.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour and for providing the extract.
About the Author
James Delargy was born and raised in Ireland and lived in South Africa, Australia and Scotland, before ending up in semi-rural England where he now lives. He incorporates this diverse knowledge of towns, cities, landscape and culture picked up on his travels into his writing. 55 is his first novel.