Authors: Nicci French
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Psychological, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers
THE RED ROOM
by Nicci French
Volume I of Three Volumes
Pages i-x and 1-196
Published by: Warner Books. A Time
Warner Company. New York. Further
reproduction or distribution in other than a
specialized format is prohibited.
Produced in braille for the Library of Congress,
National Library Service for the Blind and
Physically Handicapped, by the American
Printing House for the Blind, 2003.
This braille edition contains the entire
text of the print edition.
Copyright 2001 by
BOOK JACKET INFORMATION iii
THE RED ROOM
People magazine summed up her last book,
Beneath the Skin, with four chilling words:
"Goose bumps all over." Mademoiselle
cautioned that it was "a gripping read for anywhere but
home alone." Now, in her newest novel,
bestselling author Nicci French ratchets up
the level of psychological suspense as a
psychiatrist becomes a psychopath's obsession
... and perhaps his next victim.
Interviewing people in police custody is part of
Dr. Kit Quinn's job. But when Michael
Doll, a disturbed derelict caught hanging
around a London schoolyard, breaks a mug and
tears up her face during questioning, he also cracks
her composure and self-confidence. The incident
leaves her with recurring dreams of a red room,
where nightmares become real ...
Three months later, Kit is again called
upon to talk to Michael Doll after the police
pick him up for the murder of a teenage runaway.
Her colleagues in the department think that involving
Kit in the case might help her recovery and
put Doll behind bars for good. It doesn't do
either. For Kit believes Doll didn't do it,
and he walks free.
Touched by the fate of the homeless girl, Kit
becomes involved in a dangerous, deadly
inquiry. But when she links the teenager's murder
to the high-profile case of a pretty blond
housewife, abducted in broad daylight and
killed, the main figure in the middle of it all
is ... Michael Doll. As her investigation
continues, Kit finds him always in the shadows.
Outside her doorway. Inside her apartment.
Calling her on the phone. Wanting to love her.
Yet, even with her fear escalating, Kit has
the gut feeling that Doll isn't a killer.
Even more frightening is her suspicion about who is
In her previous books, Nicci French
claimed the territory of violent obsession as
her own. Here she explores the geography of the
twisted psyche even more deeply, breaking new
ground as she opens up the dark places in the
human mind ... and reveals the red room, a
place of nightmares, inside us all. v
Nicci French is the author of the bestsellers
Beneath the Skin and Killing Me Softly,
as well as two earlier books, The Memory
Game and The Safe House, both
published in England to great acclaim.
GREAT ACCLAIM FOR NICCI
FRENCH'S PREVIOUS THRILLER,
BENEATH THE SKIN
"Brilliant ... frightening ... a tale of
"An insinuating tale of sexual terror."
-com..ationew York Times Book
"Captivating ... brilliant ... a
gripping read for anywhere but home alone."
"Plenty of psychological suspense ... a
textured, elegant novel with writing and
characterization that bind an atypical triplex
"Genuine suspense keeps pages turning.
... Don't plan on doing much else once you
start reading this one."
-com.Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Creepy ... French ups the suspense
to nail-biting effect."
"Stunning ... French knows how to carry a
chilling situation to frightening extremes."
"Strong ... accomplished."
"Compelling ... absolutely first rate."
ALSO BY NICCI French vii
Killing Me Softly
Beneath the Skin
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents are the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
To Karl, Fiona and Martha
SPECIAL SYMBOL USED
IN THIS VOLUME
@ (4) Accent sign. Placed immediately before the
letter marked with an accent in print.
THE RED ROOM1
Beware of beautiful days. Bad things happen
on beautiful days. It may be that when you get
happy, you get careless. Beware of having a
plan. Your gaze is focused on the plan and
that's the moment when things start happening just outside
your range of vision.
I once helped out my professor with some
research on accidents. A team of us talked to people
who had been run over, pulled into machinery,
dragged out from under cars. They had been in fires and
tumbled down stairs and fallen off ladders.
Ropes had frayed, cables had snapped, people had
dropped through floors, walls had tipped,
ceilings had collapsed onto their heads. There
is no object in the world that can't turn against you.
If it can't fall on your head, it can become
slippery, or it can cut you, or you can swallow
it, or try to grab hold of it. And when the
objects get into the hands of human beings, well,
that's a whole other thing.
Obviously there were certain problems with the
research. There was a core of accident victims
who were inaccessible to our inquiries because they were
dead. Would they have had a different tale to tell?
That moment when the basket slipped and the
window-cleaners fell from twenty floors up, their
sponges still in their hands, did they think anything
apart from, Oh, fuck? As for the others, there were people
who, at the time of their mishap, had been tired,
happy, clinically depressed, drunk, stoned,
incompetent, untrained, distracted or just the
victims of faulty equipment or what we could
only and reluctantly characterize as bad luck, but
all of them had one thing in common. Their minds had
been on something else at the time. But, then, that's
the definition of an accident. It's something that
breaks its way into what your mind is on, like a
mugger on a quiet street.
When it came to summing up the findings, it was
both easy and hard. Easy because most of the
conclusions were obvious. Like it says on the
bottle, don't operate heavy machinery when
intoxicated. Don't remove the safety guard
from the machine press, even if it seems to be
getting in the way, and don't ask the
fifteen-year-old doing a week's work experience
to use it. Look both ways before crossing the
But there were problems, even with that last one. 3
We were trying to take things that had been on the edge
of people's minds and move them to the front. The
obvious problem with that is that no one can move
everything to the front of their mind. If we turn
to face a source of danger, something else has
an opportunity to sneak up behind us. When you
look left, something on your right has the chance
to get you.
Maybe that's what the dead people would have told us.
And maybe we don't want to lose all of those
accidents. Whenever I've fallen in love, it's
never been with the person I was meant to like, the nice
guy with whom my friends set me up. It hasn't
necessarily been the wrong man, but it's generally
been the person who wasn't meant to be in my
life. I spent a lovely summer once with
someone I met because he was a friend of a friend who came
along to help my best friend move into her new
flat; the other friend who was meant to come and help had
to play in a football match because someone else
had broken his leg.
I know all that. But knowing it isn't any
help. It only helps you understand it after it's
happened. Sometimes not even then. But it's
happened. There's no doubt about that. And I
suppose it started with me looking the other way.
It was toward the end of a May afternoon and it was a
beautiful day. There was a knock at the door of
my room and before I could say anything it opened and
Francis's smiling face appeared. "Your
session has been canceled," he said.
"I know," I said.
"So you're free ..."
"Well ..." I began. At the Welbeck
Clinic, it was dangerous ever to admit you were
free. Things were found for you to do, which were generally the
things that people more senior than you didn't want
to bother with.
"Can you do an assessment for me?" Francis
His smile widened. "Of course, what I'm
actually saying is, "Do an assessment for
me," but I'm putting it in a conventionally
oblique way as a form of politeness."
One of the disadvantages of working in a
therapeutic environment was having to answer to people like
Francis Hersh who, first, couldn't say good
morning without putting it in quotation marks and
providing an instant analysis of it, and 5
second ... don't get me started. With
Francis, I could work my way through second,
third, and all the way up to tenth, with plenty
"What it is?"
"Police thing. They found someone shouting in the
street, or something like that. were you about to go home?"
"Then that's fine. You can just pop into the
Stretton Green station on your way home,
give him the once-over, and they can send him on his
"Ask for DI Furth. He's expecting
"About five minutes ago."
I rang Poppy, caught her just in time, and
told her I'd be a few minutes late meeting
her for a drink. Just a work thing.
When someone is doing the sorts of things that are
likely to cause a breach of the peace, it can be
surprisingly difficult to assess whether they are
bloody-minded, drunk, mentally ill,
physically ill, confused, misunderstood, generally
obnoxious but harmless, or, just occasionally, a real
threat. Normally the police handle it in a
fairly random fashion, calling us in only when
there are extreme and obvious reasons. But a
year earlier, a man who had been picked up and
let go turned up a couple of hours later in the
nearby high street with an ax. Ten people were injured
and one of them, a woman in her eighties, died a
couple of weeks later. There had been a
public inquiry, which had delivered its report
the previous month, so for the time being the police were
calling us in on a regular basis.
I'd been in the station several times, with
Francis or on my own. What was funny about
it, in a very unfunny way, was that in providing our
best guesses about these mostly sad, confused,
smelly people sitting in a room in Stretton
Green, we were mainly providing the police with
an alibi. The next time something went wrong, they
could blame us.
Detective Inspector Furth was a
good-looking man, not much older than I was. As
he greeted me, he had an amused, almost
impudent, expression that made me glance
nervously at my clothes to make sure 7
nothing was out of place. After a few moments I
saw that this was just his permanent expression, his
visor against the world. His hair was blond, combed
back over his head, and he had a jaw that looked
as if it had been designed all in straight
lines with a ruler. His skin was slightly pitted.
He might have had acne as a child.
"Dr. Quinn," he said with a smile, holding
out his hand. "Call me Guy. I'm new here."
"Pleased to meet you," I said, and winced in the
vise of his handshake.
"I didn't know you'd be so ... er ... young."
"Sorry," I began, then stopped myself.
"How old do I need to be?"
"Got me," he said, with the same smile. "And
you're Katherine--Kit for short. Dr. Hersh
Kit used to be the special name my friends
called me. I'd lost control of that years ago,
but it still made me flinch a bit when a stranger
used it, as if they'd come into the room while my
clothes were off.
"So where is he?"
"This way. You want some tea or coffee?"
"Thanks, but I'm in a bit of a hurry."
He led me across the open-plan office,
stopping at a desk to pick up a mug in the
shape of a rugby ball, with the top lopped off like
a breakfast egg.
"My lucky mug," he said, as I followed
him through a door on the far side. He stopped
outside the interview room.
"So who am I meeting?" I asked.
"Creep called Michael Doll."
"He was hanging around a primary school."
"He was approaching children?"
"Then what's he doing here?"
"The local parents have started an action group.
They give out leaflets. They spotted him and
things got a bit nasty."
"To put it another way, what am I doing
Furth looked evasive. "You know about these
things, don't you? They said you work at Market
"Some of the time I do, yes." In fact, I
divide my time between Market Hill, which is a
hospital for the criminally insane, and the 9
Welbeck Clinic, which provides assistance for the
middle classes in distress.
"Well, he's weird. He's been talking
funny, muttering to himself. We were wondering if he
was a schizophrenic, something like that."
"What do you know about him?"
Furth gave a sniff, as if he could
detect the man's stench on the other side of the
door. "Twenty-nine years old. Doesn't do
much of anything. Bit of minicabbing."
"Has he got a record of sexual
"Bit of this, bit of that. Bit of
I shook my head. "Do you ever think this is
all a bit pointless?"
"What if he's really dangerous?"
"Do you mean, what if he's the sort of
person who might do something violent in the
future? That's the sort of thing I asked my
supervisor when I started at the clinic. She
answered that we probably won't spot it now and
we'll all feel terrible afterwards."
Furth's expression furrowed. "I've met
bastards like Doll, after they've done their
crime. Then the defense can always find someone
who'll come in and talk about their difficult
Michael Doll had a full head of
shoulder-length hair, brown and curly, and his
face was gaunt, with prominent cheekbones. He
had strangely delicate features. His lips
in particular looked like a young woman's, with a
pronounced Cupid's bow. But he had a
wall-eye and it was difficult to tell if he was
staring at me or just slightly past me. He had
the tan of a man who spent much of his life
outside. He looked as if the walls were
pressing in on him. His large callused hands were
tightly clutched as if each was trying to prevent
the other from trembling.
He wore jeans and a gray windbreaker that
wouldn't have looked especially strange if it
weren't for the bulky orange sweater underneath, which it
failed to cover. I could see how, in an another
life, another world, he might have been
attractive, but weirdness hung about him like a
As we came in he had been talking quickly and
almost unintelligibly to a bored-looking 11
female police officer. She moved aside with
obvious relief as I sat down at the table
opposite Michael Doll and introduced myself.
I didn't get out a notebook. There
probably wouldn't be any need.
"I'm going to ask you some simple questions," I
"They're after me," Doll muttered.
"They're trying to get me to say things."
"I'm not here to talk about what you've done. I
just want to find out how you are. Is that all right?"
He looked around suspiciously. "I don't
know. You a policeman?"
"No. I'm a doctor."
His eyes widened. "You think I'm ill? Or
"What do you think?"
"I'm all right."
"Good," I said, hating the patronizing
reassurance in my voice. "Are you on any
medication?" He looked puzzled. "Pills?
"I take stuff for my indigestion. I get
these pains. After I've eaten." He rapped his
"Where do you live?"
"I've got a room. Over in Hackney."
"You live alone?"
"Yeah. Anything wrong with that?"
"Nothing. I live on my own."
Doll grinned a small grin. It didn't
look nice. "You got a boyfriend?"
"What about you?"
"I'm not a poof, you know."
"I meant have you got a girlfriend."
"You first," he said sharply.
He was quick-witted enough. Manipulative,
even. But not all that much more crazy than anybody
else in the room.
"I'm here to find out about you," I said.
"You're just like them," he said, a tremble of
rage in his voice. "You want to trap me
into saying something."
"What could I trap you into saying?"
"I dunno, I ... I ..." He started
to stammer and the words wouldn't come. He gripped the
table hard. A vein on the side of his forehead was
"I don't want to trap you, Michael," I
said, standing up. I looked over at 13
Furth. "I'm done."
"He seems all right to me."
To my side I could hear Doll, like a radio
that had been left on.
"Aren't you going to ask him what he was doing
outside the school?"
"Because he's a pervert, that's why," said
Furth, finally not smiling. "He's a danger
to others, and he shouldn't be allowed to hang round
kids." That was for me. Now he started talking
past me at Doll. "Don't think this is doing
you any good, Mickey. We know you."
I glanced round. Doll's mouth was frozen
open, like a frog or a fish. I turned to go and
from that point on I had only flashes of
awareness. A smashing sound. A scream. A push
from one side. A tearing sensation down the side of
my face. I could almost hear it. Quickly followed
by a warm splashing over my face and neck. The
floor rising to meet me. Linoleum hitting me
hard. A weight on me. Shouting. Other people
around. Trying to push myself but slipping. My hand was
wet. I looked at it. Blood. Blood
everywhere. Everything was red. Unbelievable amounts
everywhere. I was being dragged, lifted.
It was an accident. I was the accident.