London,1981. As race riots erupt, Prince Charles and Lady Diana prepare to marry & New Romantics dance, an identity-shifting serial killer is operating in plain sight. But no-one has realised except Detective Inspector Anna Leeding, who has secrets of her own…
“Don’t You Want Me?” is a novel for fans of twists, thrillers, history, music, and popular culture.
Richard Easter, author of “The General Theory Of Haunting”, “The Gentle Art Of Forgetting” and “Cover Stories” turns his perspective-and-time-bending literary style to the serial killer genre with “Don’t You Want Me?”
Amid the cultural and social upheaval of 1981,D.I. Leeding suspects apparent accidents and suicides could be subtle acts of revenge, and strange blue charcoal messages may be the key to something bigger and deadlier.
But in this cat-and-mouse story of vengeance, no-one is quite what they seem, and in 1981, when the New Romantics played with image, first appearances can be deceptive.
1981 was not so removed from 2020, with a highly divisive celebrity President, and race protests filling the streets. A time when gender and sexual identity were openly questioned and the far-right clashed with the far left. There was an existential threat; today, climate change and Covid-19, in 1981, we hoarded food and prepared for when either the U.S or Russian leader pushed the nuclear button.
So to everyone who was there and those for whom this is their first time, “Don’t You Want Me?’ welcomes you to 1981. It was a hell of a year.
Richard Easter’s previous two novels have rated an average of 4.3 and 4.4 on Amazon.
Here follows the first chapter;
INTRO / An end, a beginning.
Everyone’s life begins and ends with a single heartbeat, and Jeanette West had reached her last. But as her breathing slowed and became shallow sighs, at least she was warm, her surroundings familiar and much loved. No dreams flickered behind closed eyes, no final thoughts nor memories of a life lived well.
West’s mind had faded and body would soon follow, but she wasn’t alone. Someone stood at the end of her bed and smiled as she died.
Jeanette was only the first.
1 / 29th July, 1981. London.
Beep beep. T-Bom-Bom. Tikitatikatatikatatikata. Ki-Bom-Bom.
Anna Leeding’s clock radio sounded at 7:15 a.m. and DJ Mike Read was on the air. “A brand new sound from a brand new band!” He seemed inordinately thrilled by the idea. “Climbing the chart, it’s Soft Cell with “Tainted Love” on 275/285, National Radio One.”
“Please God, no,” Anna moaned as her hand grasped for the off button. Soft Cell, whoever the hell they were, bleeped on relentlessly.
Beep beep. T-Bom-Bom. Tikitatikatatikatatikata. Ki-Bom-Bom.
Oh. Oh, here I am. She managed to think. Good God, my head feels like it’s full of lighter fluid.
She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. Anna’s mind vibrated with low level humming, a slightly queasy sensation as if her brain sloshed about untethered, so she let the music ki-bom-bom to its conclusion, too drained to care.
The DJ blasted back through the fadeout. “I think that could be a future number one, what about you? But there’s no “Tainted Love” today, that’s for sure, ha. Today’s a celebration and Kool And The Gang have just the song! Is it too early for a party? No!”
Yes, for the love of God, it is. I don’t want Kool or any of his gang right now.
Anna slammed down the OFF button before Kool’s backing vocalists had whoo-whooed their first whoo-whoo.
Silence, at last.
Oh. Last night. Oh.
She closed her eyes again and tried to remember details but nothing focussed at first. Anna remembered the general arc of the evening, occasional phrases, images, a drunken stumble up Great Portland Street. They’d started at the Yorkshire Grey near the BBC, then the Crown & Sceptre, then…a lot was said, wasn’t it? My God, yes. Too much? No. Yes. Everything changed. Agh, with all this going on,. I can’t afford a hangover.
As she gingerly swung out of bed the liquid rolling returned, so Anna grabbed her temples with both hands and risked a glance in the wardrobe mirror.
Amazing.I’ve aged five years in one night, forty-three already, no TARDIS required. She pulled at the bags under her eyes.Oh Jesus.
She turned her head this way and that, studied the wreckage that had been a blonde bob yesterday, then ran her fingers through it. Anna had kept almost the same style since the sixties since, like herself, it needed little maintenance and fitted virtually every social situation.The bob fell into place as required, her dried out brain protested and she managed to creak to her feet.
Anna had a brief wrestling match with a dressing gown before she managed to pull it into submission, then padded out into the hallway. Her ground floor flat was just off Tottenham Court Road in the heart of central London, so she could walk to work in less than ten minutes. That was both a blessing and a curse; blessing, since she could lie in until the very last moment, curse, because she was often dragged in with very little notice.
A scrap of paper with a smudged phone number sat on her hallway table. Anna looked at it thoughtfully then gave a little smile.
Unexpected, Jesus, so unexpected but very welcome.I’ll think about that later. Coffee. My head needs coffee. My life needs coffee.
She walked into her tiny kitchen, flicked on the kettle then dragged herself into the boxy living room.
The television screen regarded her blankly and just as impassively, she stared right back. It was an eighteen inch Ferguson which rarely saw action, but was all she needed. Anna certainly wasn’t going to buy a video recorder any time soon, since she had no reason to save any TV shows for posterity.
Today’s viewing, however, was different.
She glanced up at the clock. 7:50 a.m. Generally at this time, BBC1 broadcast the last few minutes of the Open University, followed by the test card then programmes for schools. The same went for ITV and BBC2, but not this morning.
Anna sat down and marvelled at actual TV on so early, because today Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were to marry. After they’d announced their engagement in February, Royal Wedding fever had infected Britain and now the main attraction was finally here; The Charles & Di Show. So in a breathless break with normal scheduling, both BBC and ITV were to cover the entire event. Anna knew the streets around St Paul’s were already mobbed, since some keen royalists had bagged their places days ago to get the best view. The cameras panned over their tired but excited faces.
1981. She watched the reds, whites and blues. God, look at it. I can’t keep up, it’s crazy. I’ve seen so many police getting pelted I can’t even tell where in the country the riots are happening any more, or why. Who knows, or cares? These happy people don’t. Ah, never mind, have a cup of tea and a bourbon, there’s a wedding on.
There were two versions of Britain this year, both with hundreds of people on the streets, either royalists or rioters, cheering or protesting. Which country you belonged to depended on where you got out of bed; Brixton or Buxton, Toxteth or Totnes. So while some places might have petrol bombs today, most would enjoy fireworks. For the majority, the riots weren’t just geographically distant but mentally, too. The flag wavers on TV just slid past the headlines and looked for the latest shots of Diana.
Here we go again, running away from facts and into fairytales. Mind you,nothing new there, she thought.
It wasn’t just the older generation, either. Teens and early twenties were also taking refuge from 1981, but in music and fashion rather than pomp and circumstance. Every youth cult since the ‘50s was back on the streets; Teds, Skins, Mods, Rockers, Rude Boys, Soul Boys, Rockabillies, Punks, and now, just in time for the 1980s, the New Romantics.
The New Romantics looked like they were at a fancy dress party with no theme. Anna had seen them on the streets; pirates, highwaymen, aristocrats with frills and floppy hair. Even Lady Di sported a blonde fringe and frilly blouse, so occasionally the princess to be looked like a singer on Top Of The Pops.
The New Romantics escape reality by dressing up out of it, but their motive is the same as those cheering crowds; whatever it takes, whatever fantasy works, get me out of this. Get me out of 1981. Anna stared at the TV. What fun this year’s turning out to be. All the R’s.Reagan, riots, royals, Romantics and Rippers.
Since the mid 1970s, the north of England had been terrorised by a multiple murderer who preyed on women using a ball-pein hammer. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to elude capture by moments then fade into darkness, so the newspapers had predictably dubbed him the Yorkshire Ripper. For years, he’d attacked and killed women across Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, but after each assault he’d simply dropped off the face of the earth. Like his nineteenth century namesake, the Ripper had become a folk devil and the subject of countless theories. But unlike his Victorian progenitor, he was eventually pulled into the light. Last January, a routine number plate check turned up some highly incriminating evidence in the car of one Peter Sutcliffe, who confessed almost immediately. The man who’d murdered thirteen women and attempted to kill another seven had finally been caught by complete accident. Once the trial started in May it became obvious that Sutcliffe’s crimes were enabled by luck on his part and incompetence on that of the West Yorkshire Police. Chief Constable George Oldfield had put much store on a taunting letter and cassette tape which claimed to be from the killer, but these turned out to be hoaxes which had sent the police down many dead ends. At the trial, although Sutcliffe pled manslaughter through diminished responsibility, the jury sent him down for life many times over.
Anna often wondered if she could have caught the Ripper any quicker. It was impossible to know, a futile exercise in what if, but as a woman she might have approached the case from a different angle. Then again, perhaps being female was neither here nor there. Sometimes you had to ignore what was in the mirror and become who you needed to be. She’d done it a lot over the last few years.
Anna supposed she wasn’t far removed from the beaming crowds, waving royals, screaming rioters and pouting Romantics. You did what it took, became what it took to get through 1981.
The kettle indignantly hissed from the kitchen, so she slouched back, poured herself a cup of coffee then returned to the TV.
BBC1 was busy telling the whole story of the fairytale romance again, complete with now familiar clips; Diana and her engagement ring, Diana racing from reporters in a Mini Metro, and nursery teacher Diana with the sun streaming through a thin skirt to reveal her legs.
Ah, Di, Anna tapped out her first cigarette of the day. It doesn’t matter if you’re about to become royalty, when there’s a bloke behind the lens, watch out. And they haven’t even started with you yet. They haven’t even started.
Anna was well aware of what the press could do if they really put their minds to it. She hung the cigarette from her lips like Bogart and scanned the crowd.
You? Is it you? Maybe you? You? Are you there? Where are you? Who are you?
All those people and not one of them knew what was happening in their city.
Peter Sutcliffe, like the tool of his ghastly trade, had been a very blunt instrument, allowed to destroy lives through luck and incompetence.
The person Anna sought was of a different order.
If Sutcliffe was a hammer, then this person was a scalpel, so sharp, you couldn’t see the cuts until the thinnest sliver of blood appeared. Unlike the Ripper, this killer didn’t act on impulse or blind fury, since it seemed every step had been worked out to the smallest detail. For the last three months Anna had tried to follow a complex dance but was left spinning as she tried to keep up.
While Sutcliffe had played out his terrible act in the spotlight, this person stayed backstage. Nobody outside Anna’s orbit even knew about this particular drama, which was so authentic it looked like real life. People had even seen the spectacle happen but just walked on by.
There was a serial killer working in plain sight and nobody had seen their crimes. Nobody except Anna, and now it appeared she was supposed to.
The crowds wore plastic Union Jack bowler hats,waved flags and home made signs. Leeding saw Romantics and royalists, but willed herself to see a Ripper.
You? You? Is it you? Are you there, or backstage again, ready to cue the next act, feed us our lines? Is it you? Is it you? Or you?
As Anna watched, her head tick-tocked left-to-right, right-to-left, left-to-right, then she blinked five times in quick succession but didn’t seem to notice the movement. For a moment her expression was blank, but then she raised the cigarette to her lips, inhaled, scanned the crowd and thought.
And so it was on the morning Detective Inspector Anna Leeding died.