A Simple Act of Violence

Table of Contents
Praise for R. J. Ellory
‘Ellory is a powerful talent, and this, his fourth novel, seems set to launch him into the stratosphere of crime writers’
Independent on Sunday
‘A Quiet Belief in Angels is a beautiful and haunting book. This is a tour de force from R. J. Ellory’
Michael Connelly
‘Ellory writes taut, muscular prose that at its best is almost poetic . . . City of Lies is a tense and pacy thriller taking the reader into a world of secrets, betrayal and revenge’ Yorkshire Post
‘A sprawling masterpiece covering 50 years of the American dream gone sour . . . [A] striking novel that brings to mind the best of James Ellroy’
Good Book Guide
‘Genuinely heartbreaking . . . an extremely vivid, moving picture of the human condition, Ghostheart is a superb tale of tragedy and revenge’
Big Issue
‘An ambitious first novel . . . incisive, often beautiful writing’
The Times
‘You know you’re on to something from the opening line . . . compelling, insightful, moving and extremely powerful’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘Another fine book from Ellory, with an unpredictable conclusion’
Daily Telegraph
R. J. Ellory is the author of five previous novels: Candlemoth, Ghostheart, A Quiet Vendetta, City of Lies and A Quiet Belief in Angels, which was a Richard & Judy Book Club Selection for 2008. Twice shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Steel Dagger for Best Thriller, and also for the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel 2008, Ellory’s books have been translated into nineteen languages. Having originally studied graphics and photography, he intended to pursue a career in photojournalism, but for many reasons this never came to fruition. He started writing more than ten years ago and hasn’t stopped since. He is married with one son, and currently resides in England. Visit his website at
By R. J. Ellory
A Quiet Vendetta
City of Lies
A Quiet Belief in Angels
A Simple Act of Violence
A Simple Act of Violence
An Orion paperback
First published in Great Britain in 2008
by Orion
This paperback edition published in 2009
by Orion Books Ltd,
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK company 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright © R. J. Ellory Publications Ltd 2008
The right of R. J. Ellory to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 1 4091 0647 0
Typeset at The Spartan Press Ltd,
Lymington, Hants
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
The Orion Publishing Group’s policy is to use papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.
For my wife, Vicky, and my son, Ryan, who tolerate my idiosyncrasies,
and understand that I love them without limit.
Though authored by one, a novel is not the achievement of a single individual.
A number of people have contributed in different and generous ways to this work and, while a simple acknowledgement cannot do them justice, they should know that this novel could not have been fully achieved without them. Though I have come to know them through our work together, they have now become part of my family. Those that are not mentioned by name will, I hope, forgive me - they know who they are.
I owe a special debt to my agent, Euan Thorneycroft, a man of endless patience and unmatched standards; Jon Wood is the very best editor an author could wish for, and I thank, too, his wife Ellie for her friendship, and for making Jon a better man; my friends at Orion - too many to mention - have made this past year truly memorable. Robyn Karney, who makes such difficult work so easy has, with her keen eye and commitment, made all my books that much better. I would like to acknowledge the huge support and encouragement of Amanda Ross, Gareth, Duncan, John, and all those at Cactus TV; my thanks also to my brother Guy, who reads with a sharp eye and challenges so ferociously.
Last, but far from least, my gratitude to all at the Richard & Judy Book Club, 2008, for the tremendous endorsement and promotion afforded to A Quiet Belief In Angels.
R. J. Ellory, 2008
Assassination has never changed the history of the world
Benjamin Disraeli
She stands in the kitchen, and for a moment she holds her breath.
A little after five in the afternoon. Already dark outside, and though she can remember standing in the same spot a thousand times before - ahead of her the sink, to her right the counter-top, to her left the doorway to the hall - there is something different.
Extraordinarily so.
Air is the same, but seems harder to breathe. Light above her the same, but somehow harsh and invasive. Even her skin, something never noticed, appears to feel tighter. Her scalp itches as she starts to sweat, she feels the pressure of her clothes, the weight of her arms, the tension created by the rings on her fingers and the watch on her wrist; feels her underwear, her shoes, her necklace, her blouse.
This is it
, she thinks.
My name is Catherine. I am forty-nine years old, and this is it.
Moves to the right. Reaches out her hand and touches the cool surface of the sink-edge. She grips it and, using it as leverage, turns slowly towards the door.
She wonders whether he’s inside the house already.
She wonders if she should stand still and wait, or if she should move.
She wonders what he expects her to do.
It is quite some time before she makes a decision, and when she makes that decision she goes with it.
Walks right across the kitchen and into the front room of the house - businesslike, straightforward; takes a DVD from the bookcase against the wall and, with the remote in her hand, she opens the player, puts the disc inside, closes the player, pushes buttons, and waits for sound . . . and then the picture comes and she hesitates.
She ups the volume.
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
It’s A Wonderful Life.
Remembers the first time she saw this movie. Remembers every time she’s seen this movie. Whole sections by heart, word-for-word. Verbatim. Like she was cramming for a test. Remembers the people she was with, what they said, the ones that cried and the ones that didn’t. Remembers things like that at a time like this. Figured that she’d remember the important things.
Hell, maybe these are the important things.
Heart is big in her chest. Heart the size of a clenched fist? Apparently not. Not in her case. Heart the size of two fists together, or the size of a football. The size of—
she thinks.
The size of what exactly?
Looks at the TV screen. Hears the sound of the tolling bell, and then the playful strings-section melody. The sign that reads YOU ARE NOW IN BEDFORD FALLS. A picture postcard street, snow falling . . .
Catherine Sheridan starts to feel the emotion then. It isn’t fear, because she’s long since passed the point of being afraid. It’s nothing immediately definable - something like loss, perhaps something like nostalgia; something like anger and resentment, or bitterness that it had to end this way.
‘I owe everything to George Bailey,’ the voice from the TV says. ‘Help him dear Father. Joseph, Jesus and Mary . . . help my friend Mr Bailey . . .’
A woman’s voice: ‘Help my son George tonight.’
The camera pans away, up into the sky, away from the house and into space.
It’s everything and nothing all at once. Catherine Sheridan sees the whole of her life collapsed like a concertina, and then drawn out again until every fraction and fragment can be clearly identified.
She closes her eyes, opens them again, sees children sledding on shovels, the scene where George saves Harry from the icy water. And that’s how George got the virus in his ear, and that’s how he lost his hearing . . .
It is then that Catherine hears something. She thinks to turn, but doesn’t dare. A sudden rush of something in the base of her gut. Wants to turn now. Wants so desperately to turn around and look him square in the face, but knows that if she does this she will break down, she will scream and cry and plead for this to happen some other way, and it’s too late now, too late to go back . . . too late after everything that’s happened, everything that they’ve done, everything they’ve learned and what it all meant . . .
And Catherine thinking:
What the fuck were we thinking?
Who the fuck did we think we were? Who the fuck gave us the right to do what we did?
We gave ourselves the right. We gave ourselves a right
that should only have been granted by God. And where the fuck was He? Where the fuck was God when those people were dying, huh?
And now I have to die.
Die like this.
Die right now in my own house.
What goes around comes around.
That’s what Robey would have said: ‘What goes around comes around, Catherine.’
And she would have smiled, and said: ‘You were always such a fucking Buddhist. The job you do, the things you’ve seen, and you think you can quote me some sort of self-serving, zero-responsibility platitude. Fuck you, John Robey . . . you ever listen to yourself?’
And he would have said: ‘No . . . no, I never listen to myself, Catherine. I don’t dare.’

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