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Domestic Psychological Thriller
BY AZMA DAR
When her missing husband is presumed dead in a fiery car crash, a charismatic actress must find out the truth in this addictive domestic thriller that will keep readers on edge.
Sophie is an aspiring British Pakistani actress whose only claim to fame – despite her unscrupulous ambitions – is the unplanned on-camera birth of her son, a clip which has become a cult favorite on the Bollywood movie scene. Her husband, Tariq, is a pillar of the neighborhood’s Muslim community and her perfect match, until his sudden disappearance under mysterious circumstances. When a body is found, but disfigured in a way that makes identification difficult, Sophie is utterly distraught.
Tariq was her ‘third time lucky husband’. Her first marriage to Amir, her childhood sweetheart, was cut short, and her rebound marriage to doting Faraz, a recent immigrant to the UK and obsessed with the Royal Family, was even shorter lived. Is Sophie just unlucky or is there more to her than meets the eye? Secrets from the past start to surface when threatening letters appear and questions arise around Tariq’s untimely death. Sophie is guilty of something, but is it murder?
The flawed yet hypnotizing female protagonist in SPIDER will fascinate fans of Gone Girl and My Sister the Serial Killer. It is only a matter of time before Sophie’s intricate web of deceit and lies begins to draw tighter.
Advance Praise for SPIDER
“A well-written and engaging story of domestic suspense with a difference, set in the Muslim community of West Yorkshire. Multiple viewpoints are juggled skillfully to deliver a real page-turner.”
– Martin Edwards, author of Gallows Court
“This time-switching, head-hopping crime story is rich with spice and authentic detail.”
– Ashok Banker, author of A Kiss After Dying
- Reprinted with permission from Datura Books
The room where they keep the bodies is like a giant fridge, where people lie shelf upon shelf like frozen turkeys. I can’t turn away from the thought of dressing them up with Christmas trimmings. I cough and slap a hand over my mouth to stop a crazed giggle escaping my lips. What is wrong with me? The fear and grief of the last few weeks, and the shock and dread of what I’m about to face have made me almost hysterical and out of control.
“Are you ready?” asks Inspector McKinley. Unable to speak, I nod. She reaches for my hand but I brush her away, as the doctor draws back the sheet. My skin begins to prickle, my breath quickens. The effects of the fire are horrific but I can’t tear my eyes away from him.
He looks nothing like the man I married on that winter’s afternoon just a year ago. The sun had gleamed a mellow warmth from behind gun metal clouds and a spiky fretwork of spindly branches. I’d worn jewels in my hair and a chiffon dress spangled with diamonds and pearls, white instead of the traditional red, just to make it clear to those inclined to judge me that I was still a pure, untarnished woman.
My husband had been a picture of calm; unwavering in his devotion to me. Tariq, with his dark, rosewood-coloured eyes that were both intense and sincere, and his endearing way of making the odd, small joke, then putting a finger to his lips as he apologised for it. Despite all the doubt and suspicion, he’d been the single reason they’d finally admitted we made an elegant, luminous couple, an example of perseverance and faith.
A sob, and then I choke out the words, before I drop to my knees. “It’s him.”
ONE MONTH EARLIER
They offered me a stunt double but I refused on the grounds of authenticity, even though I can’t swim, and they’ve run out of life jackets. So here I am, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, standing in the open door of a helicopter, blasted by wind and noise, staring at the cold, dark mass below, with no idea of how far the drop is. I’m about to ask for some kind of safety harness or a parachute at least, when the pilot walks over and pushes me roughly. This is how it feels, then. I’ve pushed a few people in my time, in different sorts of ways. I must say I’m quite enjoying plummeting towards the sea. When I hit the water seconds later, it’s unexpectedly warm and soothing, and somehow I’m perfectly capable of diving under to look for the enemy submarine.
“Surprise!” A familiar voice, but completely out of place in this context.
Bond girls don’t have children.
“Surprise!” says Zain again, and I feel his little hands on my shoulder, shaking me awake, and I leave my high octane dream regretfully.
“Hello darling,” I say. I draw him up and sit him onto the bed with me, wrapping him in my arms, but he squirms and jumps off.
“I have to get the present,” he says and picks up something from the chest of drawers. It’sa sandwich on a plate, messily cut into squares. “I put marmalade in it.”
“Ahhh, that’s so lovely, thank you.” The orange marmalade is Tariq’s breakfast spread. I don’t like it much, being a jammy girl myself, but I’ll eat it just to keep Zain happy.
I know that he’s gone to the extra effort because he wants me to tell him a waking up story, unusual for a rushed school morning. He’s obsessed with The Rhyming Rabbit and has memorised most of the words. I put on a squeaky posh accent for the bunny and different silly voices for the other characters and he laughs gleefully.
When the story finishes, Zain goes to the bathroom and I eat the sandwich in bed. Tariq left early, while I was still asleep. I glance around the room. It’s not quite the gold and peacock blue boudoir of my dreams. Like many things in my life, it’s a leftover from my husband’s first marriage to Ruby. It’s shabby chic, sickly saccharine, bordering on frumpy. A blur of distressed white wood, lace and pink paper roses. One wall is hung with sepia portraits of white women, none of whom have anything to do with Ruby, as she was Pakistani and they are English Victorian ladies. But I’ve learned to keep quiet.
Zain comes back, dressed in his uniform. I brush his hair and tuck in his shirt, then tell him to go and eat breakfast. He likes making his own; to his five year old mind the action of pouring milk over Coco Pops is cooking, just as the sandwich was.
I’m looking forward to my day. If all goes well, I might finally embark on the adventure I’ve been yearning for, an artistic journey that means almost everything to me.
I drive Zain to school, then go straight to Café Sprinkle on Great Horton Road near Bradford University. The place is popular with students, and serves a Pakistani British fusion menu: chicken tikka shepherd’s pie, masala chips, chilli chocolate fudge brownies. The décor is a dodgy synthesis of American diner meets Pakistani truck style. Colourful images of the kind found on Punjabi lorries, gaudy flowers and birds, are emblazoned across the walls, and customers are seated in round red booths with white piping. A jukebox in the corner is playing an Abrar hit, a Punjabi song about girls from Lahore having fun at a fairground. It’s an eccentric mix but I like it, especially when it’s bustling with students. It makes me feel young, trendy and intelligent too. I order a coffee and a rose and cardamom Danish pastry, then take the script out of my bag and smile.
It’s not a leading role in a major movie, and I haven’t even got the job yet, but it’s something after all this time. An audition for a rice advert for an Asian satellite channel and I’ve only got two lines to say, but it’s a solid opportunity at last. A chance for visibility. There’ll be a small payment, but I’m not doing this for the money; I don’t need to work. It’s a mere stepping stone in my ambition to triumph as an actress.
It’s eleven o’clock when I get the first phone call.
“Hello sweetheart,” says a familiar voice, full of overblown, honeyed charm. Suleiman. He’s a distant relative of my ex-husband. I close my eyes. “How are you my dear?”
“What do you want?” I say.
“Come on, you can be a bit more friendly than that.”
“I’m very busy, Suleiman.”
“Oh, if you insist!” he says. “I thought I’d give you a bit of advanced warning this time. I’m planning a little trip in the winter. I need everything to be sorted out before then. Unfortunately my last investment was a disaster so I’ll have to make up for it.”
“Three months’ time. The regular amount should do it. And I hope you don’t need reminding- don’t try anything silly. You know what’ll happen…”
I cut him off. I don’t need to hear the threats. It’s a ghastly arrangement that I’m forced to keep to, and we both know I’ll comply.
It might have been an impossible task to stick to the agreement without Tariq suspecting anything, if it hadn’t been for all the different bank accounts we have. As well as our joint current and savings accounts, I have both an old personal and a savings account, from before any of my marriages, and a fund for Zain that Tariq’s set up for his education. Tariq transfers money into my bank every month, a tidy sum that’s more than I need for “housekeeping”. I can move the money around as I need to and set some apart for these unheralded demands. So far I’ve managed but I don’t know how long it can go on for.
Azma Dar is an author and playwright. She has written three full-length theatre productions, several short plays, a radio play for BBC Asian Network and has a forthcoming play entitled NOOR at Southwark Playhouse in November 2022. Her debut novel, The Secret Arts, was published by Dean Street Press in 2015.
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