Look at this beautiful book! PS Publishing are renowned for making wonderful folio editions and they’ve excelled themselves with this hardcover of my new novella, The Book Club. The artwork is by the insanely talented Ben Baldwin. As you can see, the book is real. That’s a photo of it right there. You can order yours right here. You can also pre-order one of the Limited Editions, which will be signed by me and numbered – only 100 of those will exist, so get in quick. I’m told the ebook should become available any time now, so watch my socials for that news. Meanwhile, I thought I might whet your appetites with a small excerpt. It’s a bit hard to describe The Book Club, but the best I’ve managed so far is to imagine Gone Girl with added weird horror. That’ll get you close.

Here’s the blurb:

Jason Wilkes’s life takes a turn for the worse when his wife fails to come home from her book club. Jason calls Kate’s ‘book buddy’, Dave, who assures him she left hours ago. Contacting the police, Jason finds them equal parts sympathetic and suspicious. He tells them almost everything, except that he’s been hearing Kate’s voice, calling as if from far away. He certainly doesn’t mention that he’s seeing shadows that reach for him.

With the police getting nowhere fast, Jason takes matters into his own hands, even as nightmare images and Kate’s distant cries continue to haunt his waking moments and his dreams, and the strange, grasping shadows persist. Jason begins to unravel the mystery, but he’s at odds with the police, he’s being lied to by Kate’s book club friends, and his chances of finding Kate slip ever further away. It seems that everything is going to go as wrong as it possibly can.

And here’s the opening section:

The Book Club
by Alan Baxter

Wednesday

I did what I suspect everyone does in a situation like this. I waited. Told myself it was all fine, she would be home any minute. Just a little delay. Maybe she had to stop for gas. Sure, at fifteen minutes past midnight on a Wednesday. She was never usually later than eleven forty-five, maybe twelve at the outside.

Perhaps she had a flat. She’d call me any moment, asking for help, and I’d have to wake Molly next door to come in and watch Charlie. We’d laugh about it tomorrow, red-eyed with tiredness over our coffee while our son whooped and cavorted, unaware of bad things that can happen in the world.

By twelve thirty I was getting itchy and rang her mobile a few times. It went repeatedly to voicemail. Off or out of service. So off then, as there wasn’t anywhere around here out of reception range.

As I sat trying to ignore the lead weight of anxiety in my gut I heard her voice call my name so clearly that I stood, relief washing through me, and turned to the door as it swung gently open. But she wasn’t there. Dim hallway and nothing but shadows. She’d sounded almost desperate, far away and close by at the same time, inside my head and out. I must have fallen into a doze while I waited and dreamed it. It had been a long day. But concern soon kindled a deep fear.

At one a.m. I rang Dave, the book club contact. The only number she’d given me. He answered in a voice dense with sleep. “Yeah, hello?”

“I’m really sorry to wake you, Dave. This is Jason Wilkes. Kate’s husband. Kate hasn’t come home. Did she leave the book club okay?”

Dave coughed, cleared a thick throat. “Oh. Kate gave you this number?”

“Yeah, in case of emergencies.” For reasons just like this, you dumb fuck. I bit down on my anger, it wasn’t his fault. “She leave the book club okay?” I asked again.

“Yeah. Yeah, she did. We wrapped up about eleven like normal, usual chit chat. She would have been gone by eleven-thirty.”

“She’s still not home.” I hated the waver I my voice. The little-boy-lost vibration.

“I, er… I don’t know what to tell you. Sorry, dude. Maybe check, you know…”

“Check what?”

“Like, hospitals, police?” He sounded apologetic, as though he himself had mislaid her, and I felt bad for making him say aloud what I knew he meant.

“Sure. Thanks, Dave.”

“No problem. Hey, good luck. I’m sure it’s fine, she got a flat or something.”

I laughed a little too loud. “Exactly what I was just thinking! Thanks.”

“Sure.”

He hung up and I stared at the phone for a solid minute, my mind spinning in neutral. Then trembling set in as I found the numbers I needed. The local hospitals weren’t entirely helpful, citing various codes of privacy, but I managed to establish no one matching my wife’s description had been admitted in the last three hours.

I rang the police in quite a state and the dispatch said they would send someone around as soon as possible.

#

I heard the police car arrive, purring into the night silence, and opened the front door as two uniformed officers walked up the path. A man and a woman, faces soft and friendly, but with a business edge. A hint of “don’t fuck with us”. The man was huge, almost broad as a bus with arms bigger than my thighs. His skin was that deep chestnut that looks like polished hardwood on a body like his. His bald head shone in the porch light. The woman was everything he wasn’t: pale, short, skinny, blonde, but she looked pretty hardcore for all that. I’ve always held respect for law enforcement, and a kind of jealousy. I wish I had the balls to step in front of crime like they do, but I’ll stick with processing environmental claims and do my bit for humanity that way.

“Jason Wilkes?” the woman said.

“That’s right. Please, come in.”

“I’m Sergeant Cooke and this is Officer Dale.”

The man’s enormous hand engulfed mine and they followed me inside. Dale shut the door behind him.

“Still no word?” Cooke asked.

“Nothing. I’m a little freaked here.”

“I can imagine. Let’s sit down and get all the information we can. We’ll sort this out.”

I directed them through to the front room and they sat side by side on the couch while I fell into an armchair opposite. They looked ridiculous next to each other, such extremes.

“You want a drink?” I asked. “Coffee, juice, water?”

“We’re fine, thank you.” Cooke produced a notepad and pencil while big old Dale remained motionless beside her. There was a stillness to the man that unnerved me. He’d make a great ally, I was sure, but I would hate to cross him. He looked like he could crush a bowling ball with one hand. “So, start at the beginning,” Cooke said, pencil poised. “Your wife’s full name?”

“Kate Annabel Wilkes. Katherine. With a K.”

“She went out in her car tonight?”

“Yep. Red Toyota Corolla, 2008 model.” I rattled off the licence plate, pleased I could remember it.

“And when did you last see Kate?”

I nodded, hands wringing together. “Well, Wednesday is her night. We have a kid, Charlie, he’s three. She goes out Wednesdays and I go out Thursdays and we often get a sitter Friday and go out together or something.” I stopped, drew a long breath. “Sorry, I’m rambling. I’m scared.”

Cooke smiled gently, nodded. She remained silent.

“Okay, so, like I said, Wednesday is her night. She goes to a Krav Maga class from six til eight, then her book club meets at eight-thirty.”

Cooke raised an eyebrow. “Krav Maga?”

“Martial art,” Dale said, his voice not nearly as deep as I had expected. Almost comically so. “Israeli military fighting method, very brutal. Popular everywhere these days.”

Cooke scribbled in her notebook. “Cool. She’s a fighter, huh?”

I grinned. “Actually, yeah. My wife is badass. She used to do a lot of martial arts since she was a kid, always been in great shape. After Charlie was born she got back to training as soon as she could, found this new club and loved it. She goes every Wednesday and there’s a Saturday morning class she goes to as well if we don’t have plans. I can watch Charlie then.”

“You a fighter too?” Cooke asked. “You look like you’re in good shape.”

“Not really a fighter. I tried it, but not my bag. I go to the gym a lot though, I like lifting weights and I run. We both believe in staying fit and healthy.”

“Right, so Krav Maga and then a book club?”

“Yeah, she loves to read, always got a novel on the go. Again, after Charlie was born, she needed something to get out and be social while he was little. Once he was weaned and I could take over for a night, she got into Krav and then joined this club.”

“And what time is she usually home?”

“Between eleven-thirty and midnight. Never later.”

Cooke checked her watch. It was just shy of two a.m., I didn’t need to look to know that. I’d been clock-watching like a man obsessed until they’d arrived.

“Okay, so where is the Krav Maga class?”

“Just a mo.” I trotted into the kitchen and came back with the flyer from the fridge, handed it to her.

Cooke turned over the glossy slip of paper with its pictures of angry people refusing to take even an ounce of shit. She scribbled down the address. “Can I keep this?”

“Sure.”

She smiled, slipped it into the back of her notepad. “And the book club?”

“Yeah, right after her class.”

“Right. Where is it?”

“Oh, sorry. Of course. Er, it’s usually out on the other side of Lamar Park somewhere, only about a ten minute drive. A couple of members near there take turns to host it most of the time, occasionally it’s somewhere else.” A sinking feeling washed through me as I realised I had no idea where it actually was.

“You have any addresses?”

“Errrr… No, I don’t.”

Dale sat forward, forearms like sides of beef on his knees. Cooke raised an eyebrow again. “No idea at all? She been going there long?”

“Over a year, yeah. Maybe eighteen months. I never really thought about it. I really should have asked.”
Both officers nodded but stayed silent.

*****

Has your appetite been whetted? I hope so. You can go and order your copy of The Book Club here!

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