On top of Cairngorm in a blizzard on Hogmanay… what could possibly go wrong?
Sitting by the fire in my home village of Carrbridge playing Hogmanay party games, watching the blizzard rage outside, gave me the idea for Follow the Dead. Then visiting with Willie Anderson leader of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team I learned that every death on the mountain is considered a crime scene, and because of this CMR are the first forensic team to secure the locus… and the story was truly born.
Extract from Chapter 1
Isla woke at two, knowing she would have to go outside, despite the weather. No one, but no one, went to the toilet inside the refuge, whatever the circumstances. Isla wished now that she hadn’t had that final whisky.
There was nothing for it but to go.
Unzipping the sleeping bag, she pulled herself reluctantly out, realizing almost immediately that the temperature had dropped further since they’d gone to bed.
It must be easily minus fifteen.
She pulled on her outer garments, then eased her way past the second sleeping bag and crawled out of the crevice entrance. On exit, an ice-cold wind met her head-on, snow immediately gathering on her lashes and mouth.
She would have to be quick.
She realized then that the blizzard had momentarily eased and the powder snow that met her face was being whipped from the surface. Above her, the clouds parted, exposing a half-moon and accompanying stars. To the west, its beams had magically found the long strip of a frozen Loch A’an. For a moment she took in this wonder, then need drove her to locate a sheltered spot via her head torch where she might undress enough to relieve herself.
The snow began falling again as she rearranged her clothing, the wind returning with a force that suggested it had only paused long enough to allow her to go to the toilet. In moments she was surrounded by a swirling snowstorm, fierce and disorientating. Only yards from the cave, Isla was no longer certain of its exact direction. The huge slab of rock that formed the Shelter Stone had disappeared, as had the loch and surrounding mountains.
The force of a sudden gust thrust her to her knees and her head met a nearby rock. Dazed by the impact, she looked up to discover a tall figure beside her as though formed by snow. A gloved hand caught her arm. She thought it must be Gavin come to look for her, then registered that it wasn’t.
‘You okay?’ a male voice said.
She nodded. ‘I came out to—’ She halted, realizing she had no need to explain.
‘You have companions?’
‘Yes, at the Shelter Stone.’
He helped her up, the bulk of his white-suited body shielding her from the wind, and pointed the way. She wanted to ask him who he was and where he had come from, but that would have to wait until they got to the cave. Around her the air crackled as though charged with electricity and behind her the crunch of her companion’s footsteps seemed unnaturally loud and spaced out as though she was being followed by a giant.
The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui.
She anticipated introducing him as such to the others and their imagined reaction brought a smile to Isla’s frozen lips.
Then, as the curtain of snow briefly parted, she suddenly saw what lay before her. They were going in the wrong direction, heading down the boulder scree towards the loch, rather than upwards to the stone. She turned to tell him this and her head torch picked out his face staring down at her.
As the wind swallowed her words – ‘We’re going the wrong way’ – Isla began scrambling back, her numb hands trying desperately to grip the snow-covered boulders.
Finding her feet again, she rose to face him. And in that moment she knew.
He has no intention of helping me.
His gloved hand met her chest with a force that knocked the air from her lungs. She staggered, losing her foothold on the jumble of snow-crusted rocks. Thrust backwards by the impact, she tried to find her centre of gravity again, but couldn’t right herself before the second punch arrived, this time in her stomach. She crumpled under the impact, bile rising in her throat.
He had chosen the spot well. Behind her was nothing but a steep boulder-strewn slope that even the snow couldn’t soften. He was on his knees now, peering down at her, determined to finish the job this time. Isla made one last desperate grab for her attacker.
I’ll take the bastard with me.
Her grasping hand found his face and she dug her nails in hard. His muffled shriek told her she had hit home.
Then the short fight was over. The third and final impact achieved its aim. As she tumbled backwards, crashing against rocks, rolling, her mouth open in a silent scream, the tall figure melted into the blanketing snow.
Follow The Dead by Lin Anderson, the twelfth book in the Rhona MacLeod series, is out now published in hardback by Pan Macmillan priced £12.99.
You can catch Lin at the following forthcoming events:
5th September 2017 at 19:00 – Lin Anderson talking about Follow The Dead at Waterstones Aberdeen
8th September 2017 at 18:30 – Lin Anderson speaking about her contribution to the Bloody Scotland anthology of new short stories at Stirling Castle
9th September 2017 at 15:45 – Lin Anderson ‘The Dark Lands’ event at Bloody Scotland
30th September 2017 at 13:30 – Lin Anderson in conversation with author Maggie Craig at Culloden Visitor Centre for the 20th Anniversary of her classic book ‘Damn Rebel Bitches’