Welcome to Wednesday and my stop on the blog tour for Iain Maitland’s The Scribbler. I’ve got an enticing extract for you to whet your literary appetite!! Must admit, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this having read the extract!
Many thanks to Ruth Killick of Ruth Killick Publicity for inviting me on the blog tour.
“He’s back, Carrie. The Scribbler is back.”
DI Gayther and his rookie colleague DC Carrie have been assigned a new caseload. Or rather, an old one… cold murder cases of LGBTQ+ victims. Georgia Carrie wasn’t even born when the notorious serial killer began his reign of terror across the East of England, but Roger Gayther was on the force that failed to catch him and remembers every chilling detail.
Back in the Eighties, Gayther’s team hadn’t been assigned sufficient resources. But now, after all these years, there’s a sudden death featuring The Scribbler’s tell-tale modus operandi. Gayther and Carrie have to find and bring him to justice to stop the killing once and for all.
1. MONDAY 12 NOVEMBER, EARLY MORNING
Newly qualified Detective Constable Georgia Carrie walked slowly up the steps of the temporary portacabin office to the side of the main police station building, balancing two full mugs of tea, one in each hand. She stopped to read the sign, ‘DI Gayther, Cold Cases’ and the handwritten scrawl above it, ‘LGBTQ+’. She put the mugs down on the top step to open the door and then paused for a moment, thinking what she might say.
“Sorry to hear about your wife, sir”? No, not even that cursory sentence of sympathy would be welcomed. His wife’s alcoholism was an open secret at the station, but he had never talked of it. “I’m looking forward to working with you again” sounded suitably keen. But she was sure he viewed his sideways move – “a washed-up old has-been shuffling through dead files,” as he’d probably put it – without much enthusiasm. She opened the door. Picked up the mugs. Stepped inside. The older man, in his battered grey suit and brown loafers, looked up as the young woman put the mugs of tea on the desk. One on his side, the other on hers. He smiled briefly and nodded his thanks.
She went to say her opening words, “Good to see you again, sir”, but as she did so, he turned the papers he was reading round so they were facing her on the desk. Old man in a hurry, she thought. “Read this, Carrie,” he said abruptly, pushing two sheets of A4 paper across towards her. She took the sheets and sat down at the desk and began reading the first one. He picked up his mug of tea and swung round on his chair, his back to her, looking out of the window towards the back of the main building and what looked like a building site.
The police station was being renovated. Ladders, pots and paints and stacked-up scaffolding seemed to fill the whole space. It was a mess. He hated mess. “Still At Large,” she read the front page headline of the local newspaper out loud, “The Scribbler.”
“When was this…?”
“Two years ago. Thirtieth anniversary of the first killing,” he replied. He gestured towards the two sheets and she carried on reading without speaking.
“Police are still searching for The Scribbler, the serial killer who murdered six people in Norfolk between 1988 and 1990. “He is described as white British and would now be in his fifties. “The Scribbler met his victims in bars and clubs in and around Norwich and later stabbed them to death. “He carved a cartoon likeness of each victim onto their torso. “The first victim was Donald Worthington, a 53-year-old abattoir supervisor. “The second victim was 42-year-old office clerk Andrew Marven. “The other four victims, middle-aged men from the Norwich area, were found dead in the summer and autumn of 1990. “Police believe The Scribbler may have killed twelve men in total.”
She stopped, cocked her head at an angle, and looked across the desk at Gayther. “If he drew a cartoon likeness of each victim, should he not be known as ‘The Caricaturist’ rather than ‘The Scribbler’?”
He turned and looked at her. “‘The Scribbler’ is snappier. And more accurate, although the press, the media, don’t know it. He used to criss-cross the body with cuts after he drew the likeness … as if he were scribbling it out in a rage. Read the other page, Carrie. I’ve started a summary.”
She nodded and continued reading. She worked her way down the half-page of bullet-pointed, handwritten notes in his small, neat hand.
The Scribbler. White Male. Early twenties/Now mid-fifties. Slim build. No distinguishing features.
She looked up. “Do we have a likeness … of this Scribbler?” He dug into the briefcase by his feet and pulled out one more sheet, which he handed to her. “It’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen in thirty or so years. Mr Potato Head. Your little boy could have done a better job with his crayons.” He stopped and thought and then added, “How is … your little boy?”
“Noah’s well. Started school in September … just round the corner from my mum’s. We’ve moved in with Mum for now. She’s helping out, taking him and collecting him from school when I can’t.”
“Is … your partner—”
“No,” she said, interrupting and shaking her head. “He’s gone for good this time. I had enough of it. I’m just trying to sort out the legal stuff. Solicitors are involved. He doesn’t make things easy. Do we have an aged version of this?” She changed the subject, holding up the picture of The Scribbler.
“I’ve just asked for one, for what it’s worth. It’s in the system, but Christ knows how long that will be. It’s certainly not a priority.” He leaned forward suddenly, took a fountain pen out of his inside jacket pocket and drew three lines across the forehead of the image and lines between and to either side of the nose and mouth. He stopped and added stray hairs from the nostrils and ears. “There, that’s what he looks like now. Old Mr Potato Head.”
“Blue. Or Blue-grey. Or brown, according to one witness.” Gayther drew a pair of glasses on the image. “He might have glasses these days, unless he’s like me and pretends he doesn’t need them.”
“Five eight, nine. Slight build. Lean. Stringy. Everyone seems to agree on that.”
“No distinguishing features at all?”
“None that were recalled by anyone. One witness said he had ‘staring eyes’ and another ‘mad eyes’, but someone always says that … especially when the person has just tried to murder them. That’s about it.”
She stopped and paused. “And who gave us the descriptions?”
“Three of his victims escaped. We also had statements and descriptions from a barmaid at the time. And an old boy who got into a conversation with him … read on, though. My summary. I’ve not finished it yet. You were here earlier than I expected.”
Six victims – forties, fifties, family men, closet gays. Three got away – teacher, bank manager, vicar. Now aged 65 to 80+. Three prime suspects: Challis (plumber), Halom (drag act), Burgess (sales rep). All released without charge.
She wasn’t sure who to ask about first, but this was one of an endless stream of cold cases they’d be looking at over the coming days, so she decided to come straight to the point.
“And so … ” she said, “why are we looking at this case again now? First of all?”
“Because he’s back, Carrie. The Scribbler is back.”
Who is Iain Maitland?
Iain Maitland is a long-standing journalist and is the author of the thrillers Mr Todd’s Reckoning (2019) and Sweet William (2017) and of two non-fiction books on mental health: Dear Michael, Love Dad (2016) and Out of the Madhouse (2018), as well as co-writer of TV script adaptations of two of these books.
An ambassador for Stem4, the teen mental health charity, he also speaks on mental health issues in the workplace and on teenage mental health in schools.