Book Extract: The Dead Of Winter by Stuart MacBride, Or Part Of The Hole Story

November 12, 2023


The Dead of Winter by Stuart MacBride is published by Penguin Random House and is available now. The extract is published by permission.


It was supposed to be a simple delivery job for DI Victoria Montgomery-Porter and her sidekick, Edward Reekie – pick up a prisoner from HMP Grampian and take them to their new state-funded home – but life’s never that straightforward.

I never really wanted to be a police officer.

Thick flakes of white drift down from a low, grey sky, adding their weight to the drooping branches of beech trees. Making the gorse and broom slump in surrender. A burn gurgles, just out of sight behind knotted clumps of barbed-wire brambles. A duvet of white smothers the forest clearing, snow robbing the shapes and colour from everything, leaving only the frozen ghosts of what lies buried beneath.

I wanted to be an astronaut, or a football player, or a rock star . . .

Everything is calm and still and crisp, marred only by a line of deep footprints and a smooth-edged scar where something heavy has been dragged through the drifts. Then there’s the noises: the ping-and-clang of a pickaxe, chipping away at the frozen ground – a regular, methodical sound, an industrial metronome, marking out the time of death. Every blow accompanied by a grunt of exertion.

My big brother, Dave, he was the one meant to follow the family tradition and join up, but a drunk driver blew straight through the Holburn Street junction, and that was that.

The person swinging that pickaxe is tall, broad-shouldered, powerful. Hair pulled back from her flushed face. Mid-forties, give or take a year or two. Her high-vis padded jacket hangs from the branch of a twisted Scots pine, like a flayed skin – one of the sleeves blackened with blood, more smears on the front. A second jacket, dark as coal, and a petrol-blue shirt are draped over another branch. Steam rises from the shoulders of her burgundy T-shirt. You’d think she’d be wearing something a bit more … death-metal-like. You know: a skull and crossbones, or a snake with a dagger in its teeth, but her T-shirt features a cartoon black cat in a bow-tie and eye patch, posing with a gun like it’s from a James Bond movie. The hole’s already waist-deep, a pile of dark earth slumping beside it. A wooden-handled shovel poking out of the heap, like a skeletal flag.

Dave swapped his police dreams for a wheelchair, and I swapped mine for a warrant card. Cos that’s what you do when your dad’s a cop, and his dad before him, and his dad before that.

A body lies off to one side, partly covered by a stained sheet, curled against the Scots pine’s hungry roots. The body’s high-vis jacket is the twin of the one hanging from the branch, only there’s a lot more blood. Deep scarlet stains the jacket’s fluorescent-yellow back; it’s soaked into the grubby-grey suit underneath too. The jacket’s owner doesn’t look a day over twenty-four, but he does look very, very dead.