Title – The Spider Dance
Author – Nick Setchfield
Publisher/Published – Titan Books / July 2019
Genre – Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages – 352
Summary From Goodreads
A genre-defying page turner that fuses thriller and speculative fiction with dark fantasy in a hidden world in the heart of Cold War Europe.
THE TRUE COLD WAR IS FOUGHT ON THE BORDERS OF THIS WORLD, AT THE EDGES OF THE LIGHT.
It’s 1965 and Christopher Winter is trying to carve a new life, a new identity, beyond his days in British Intelligence. Recruited by London’s gangland he now finds himself on the wrong side of the law – and about to discover that the secret service has a way of claiming back its own. Who is the fatally alluring succubus working honeytraps for foreign paymasters? What is the true secret of the Shadowless, a fabled criminal cabal deadlier than the Mafia? And why do both parties covet long- buried caskets said to hold the hearts of kings? Winter must confront the buried knowledge of his own past to survive – but is he ready to embrace the magic that created the darkness waiting there?
Extract from the Novel
There was a human heart in a locker at St Pancras station. Christopher Winter came to collect it on a Thursday afternoon in early summer. London felt listless; cranes idled on the heat-blurred horizon, ready to peck at the new tower blocks sprouting to the north of the city. There was no wind and the weathervane that topped the gothic spire of the grand Victorian building did not tilt or turn.
The heart cared little for London and even less for the living.
Winter strode through the redbrick arch on Euston Road, into the main concourse, scattering sickly-grey pigeons. The birds took to the roof, settling on its wrought-iron ribs. The station clock hung like a glass moon above the locomotives. It was almost five.
The heart had outlasted centuries. The heart could wait forever.
Destination boards clattered, place names spinning in the slats. St Albans. Kettering. Melton Mowbray. There was the promise of more exotic departures too: Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh Waverley.
The heart had known many lands.
Winter kept walking, past the walls of diesel-blackened bricks. It was hot inside and this gutter-stained cathedral smelt of soot and engine oil. Soon, he suspected, they would take a wrecking ball to St Pancras. Build something new, streamlined and modern, fit for the times.
The left luggage lockers were ahead of him, bookended by posters for Pall Mall cigarettes and cheap breaks on the Spanish coast. He located his locker and inspected the edges of the door for signs of disturbance. The pinch of gum he had wedged in the crack was intact, his pencil-tip indentations preserved. Standard operational practice in the field. He rather missed it.
A Salvation Army band had gathered outside the ticket office. They began to play ‘The Well is Deep’, the sound of the brass incongruously mournful on such a sultry afternoon. Winter let his gaze skim the concourse, his face blank. Good. He was unobserved.
He took a small key from his shirt pocket. It was wet from the sweat that had seeped into the nylon. The serrated silver slid into the lock. The key turned.
The package was there, just as he had left it. It had arrived in the post two days before, tied with sturdy bows of string and plastered with colourful Ecuadorian stamps. Where to store it? Not at his damp-riddled room in Battersea, that was for sure. His landlady had the infiltration skills of the KGB’s finest. No, far safer to keep it here, concealed behind this anonymous wall of lockers, safe among the suitcases and the hat boxes and the pills and the guns and all the other secrets London banked when no one was looking.
He pulled the parcel from its aluminium nest. It was Karina who had addressed the label, her handwriting as sleek and contained as he remembered her physical presence (those upward slashes, so like the movement of a blade…). She had sourced the heart for him, drawing on her network of contacts who traded in the unobtainable. It was a favour. He tried not to think of it as a final gift.
Winter placed the parcel under his arm and closed the locker door. As he stepped away one of the station’s rat-catchers passed behind him. The man had an inky bottle of poison in his hand and a small but belligerent dog on a leash. The terrier snarled, springing at Winter’s legs and leaving two grimy paw prints on the knees of his suit. The man pulled the dog back with a jerk of the strap. The animal whined, straining to reach the package, half curious, half anxious. It continued to stare as the rat- catcher hauled it towards the goods yard. ‘Get away, boy! Daft thing, you are!’
Winter strode out of the station, the clipped tones of the tannoy fading behind him. He flagged down a black cab at the kerbside.
‘Camden Town. Betting shop on Chalk Farm Road.’ He eased himself onto the seat behind the driver, the parcel balanced on his lap. Stealing a look in the rear- view mirror he saw the spires of St Pancras retreat, the late afternoon sunlight striking the sandstone bricks. Picking up speed, the taxi trundled north along the Euston Road, the traffic a drowsy hum outside the windows.
Sat there in the back of the cab Winter imagined he could hear the faintest throb of a heartbeat. A muffled but insistent drumming, coming from inside the parcel. Tiny, determined, impossible. Once he would have crushed such a thought. He knew better now. He knew that magic was the hidden pulse of this world.
Winter extracted a pack of Woodbines from his jacket pocket. He placed one between his lips, poking the tip into the flame of his gunmetal lighter. He clearly wasn’t about to make conversation and so the driver spun the radio dial. On Radio London Sandie Shaw was singing about waiting a long, long time for love.
The heart had the patience of a dead thing.