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Overview
Death is stalking the southern South Island. And what role does the visiting Darling Brothers Circus have to play?

Sam Shephard is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation there when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens. Sam soon discoveres this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin.

Is the murderer in the circus or closer to home?

Sam must find out who's running the show.


Reviews

"how refreshing to find a murder mystery, written in New Zealand, set in New Zealand, and thoroughly good entertainment"
      Naylor Hillary, Weekend Press

Published: 4 Aug 2008
ISBN 13: 9780143008347
ISBN 10: 014300834X
RRP: $28.00
Type: PAPERBACK (PB)
Pages: 352
Edition: 1
Imprint: PENGUIN

The Ringmaster - Prologue

'Rosie, wait up,' he called as he lengthened out his stride to catch up with her. As she turned he couldn't help but enjoy the immense smile that lit up her face when she realised who'd hailed her.

'Hey, this is a pleasant surprise. I thought you were working late tonight.' She looked like she was going to kiss him, but checked herself and instead put her hands in her pockets and maintained that beautiful smile.

She was such a pretty young thing, he thought, pretty and clever – a winning combination. They turned and continued together along Dundas Street.

'You know I don't like you walking along that track by yourself when it's getting dark. I thought I'd come and keep you company. I'd never forgive myself if something bad happened to you.' It was early evening and the gloomy weather made the light lower than usual for this time of year.

She laughed, so melodic. 'Don't be an old fuddy-duddy. Nothing's going to happen to me. Dunedin's as safe as houses. Anyway, everyone takes this shortcut from uni to the Valley. The bush helps me unwind, it's lovely.'

She did have a point – the track was very picturesque. They turned into Gore Place and passed through the large iron gates into the realm of the botanic gardens. The track meandered along between the Leith and the hill before it opened out into the fl at area of the main gardens. It passed through native bush and on a fine day it made for a lovely stroll. The deserted playground by the gates was testament to the drizzly day that had been and the late hour.

'I'm not a fuddy-duddy,' he said, pretending to be piqued.

'Oh, you'll trip over that lip if you're not careful,' she said. 'I like the new coat and hat. I didn't even recognise you at first. You're not finally getting hip on me, are you?' Again the melodic laugh.

'If you can't beat them, join them, as they say. Maybe being around you young fry all day is rubbing off on me.' He made an attempt at a twirl and grinned at the resultant yelp of delight from the girl.

'Oh yeah. You'll be off to hip hop lessons next.'

'Have you been talking to my assistant?' he said, waggling his finger at her in a you-naughty-thing fashion. He stopped and turned to face her, taking a big breath before he chose his next words.

'Look, Rosie, there is something I need to talk to you about. Something important.' He saw a flicker of a frown cross her face and realised she thought it was bad news.

'No, no. Nothing bad. It's good news.'

She leaned forwards, an expectant look on her face.

'You mean you're finally . . .'

The crunch of approaching footsteps on the gravel path made her pause; they both stepped back slightly from each other. He turned and looked up the path. He heard her say hello to the passer-by and then watched the back of the young man as he carried on towards the gardens.

'Do you know him?' he asked, when he thought the student was out of earshot.

'No. Just being friendly. It's a big campus and despite what you may think, I don't actually know everyone,' she said, and added, 'why, are you jealous?'

He gave her a yeah-right look and motioned with his head for them to keep on walking. They were now under the canopy of the trees, making their way by what little light filtered through.

'See how dark it gets in here. I really don't like you walking this way now the days are getting shorter. You don't know what weirdos could be here, lying in wait for a lovely creature like you.'

'It's very flattering that you worry so much, but I feel quite safe. If it'll make you feel better I'll start walking along the road when it gets too dark. They shut the gates to the gardens earlier in winter, so I won't have any choice soon.'

They came to a massive pine tree, its branches thin and octopus-like, reaching out into the bush. A small path disappeared through the undergrowth beside it.

'Come down here where we won't be disturbed. I really need to talk to you.' He grabbed her by the hand and led her down the path; she had to skip to keep up with him. The gravel ended and they walked a hundred metres along a mown grass verge bordering the Leith until they came to a small clearing at the river's edge. He looked around to make sure they didn't have any unwanted spectators, but there was no one visible. His pulse began to beat faster; his face felt hot. He took her hands in his. He couldn't feel her soft skin as they were both wearing gloves to ward off the chill.

'Look. You know I love you, and that you are the woman for me. Because of my commitments I haven't been able to be with you all the time, and you've been very patient, but I'd like that to change.'

Her face lit up with that beautiful smile.

'Oh my God. You're going to leave her, aren't you? You're finally going to leave her.' She peered straight into his eyes, searching his face for his response. He simply nodded, and with that she threw her arms around his neck and he swung her off her feet with the momentum. When her feet landed on solid earth she planted a kiss on his mouth. Her lips felt cold, but incredibly soft and he didn't want to pull away, but he did, and laughed.

'Wait, wait, there's more.' He stepped back, creating a space between them. 'I want to give you something as a sign of my commitment, a promise that you are the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. Close your eyes and hold out your hands.' The sight of her, gorgeous, flushed with excitement, jiggling up and down, brought a lump to his throat and filled him with a moment of apprehension for what he was about to do. But no, he had come this far, had planned and worked so hard for this moment. He took a deep breath and reached into his pocket.

It only took a second to slip the already looped tie around her outstretched wrists and pull it tight. In the time it took for her eyes to flash open and her to start saying, 'What . . . what are you doing? I don't . . .' he had pulled the tape out of his pocket, ripped it open and slapped it across her mouth and around the back of her head. By this time terror had registered in her eyes and she ducked down and turned, trying to run. He anticipated her actions and tripped her, making her fall elbows first to the ground. She tried to wriggle forwards, but was hindered by a large rock. He stood over her, straddling her back. Her damned backpack made the job more difficult, but he managed to grab her by the head and slam it hard over and over into the rock. There was a cracking noise and then silence. She went limp in his hands, so he dropped her head onto the grass. He was panting heavily and had to hold his breath so he could listen and look around, making sure there were no witnesses to his piece of work. All was silence and gloom.

He dragged her over to the Water of Leith and slid her in, holding her face down in case the cold of the water revived her. It didn't. He waited a few minutes to make sure, but there was no more movement from his beautiful Rosie. He hadn't tried it this way before and it had worked a treat.

In fact, it had been easier than he'd thought.

He was getting good at this.