Authors: Zoe Sharp
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Bodyguards, #Thriller
Charlie Fox book one
with Foreword by Lee Child
For Andy, who always had faith
This book was tenderly massaged into the digital domain by the book-loving geeks at
Cover design by
is the first in Zoë Sharp’s highly acclaimed Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox crime thriller series, now available in e-format for the first time, complete with previously deleted scenes and a Foreword by Lee Child.
'Susie Hollins may have been no great shakes as a karaoke singer, but I didn't think that was enough reason for anyone to want to kill her.'
Charlie Fox makes a living teaching self-defence to women in a quiet northern English city. It makes best use of the deadly skills she picked up after being kicked out of army Special Forces training for reasons she prefers not to go into. So, when Susie Hollins is found dead hours after she foolishly takes on Charlie at the New Adelphi Club, Charlie knows it’s only a matter of time before the police come calling. What they
tell her is that Hollins is the latest victim of a homicidal rapist stalking the local area.
Charlie finds herself drawn closer to the crime when the New Adelphi’s enigmatic owner, Marc Quinn, offers her a job working security at the club. Viewed as an outsider by the existing all-male team, her suspicion that there’s a link between the club and a serial killer doesn’t exactly endear her to anyone. Charlie has always taught her students that it’s better to run than to stand and fight, But, when the killer starts taking a very personal interest, it’s clear he isn’t going to give her that option . . .
‘Charlie looks like a made-for-TV model, with her red hair and motorcycle leathers, but Sharp means business. The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant, and Charlie's skills are both formidable and for real.' Marilyn Stasio,
New York Times
'Sharp deserves a genre all her own – if you are just discovering Zoë Sharp then you are in for a real treat.' Jon Jordan,
'Charlotte (Charlie) Fox is one of the most vivid and engaging heroines ever to swagger onto the pages of a book. Where Charlie goes, thrills follow.’
Don’t miss the bonus material at the end of KILLER INSTINCT:
I was on tour in the UK in the spring of 2002, for my sixth novel, and at the end of one of the events a woman came up to me and told me she loved my books, which is always a wonderful thing to hear. I responded happily – believe me, no forced politeness is ever required on such occasions – and then she said, “But Zoë Sharp is better.”
Naturally I asked, “Are you Zoë’s mom?”
She denied any family connection, and I filed the name away, because at heart I’m a reader, not a writer, and if a well-read fan offers a recommendation, I take it seriously. I write only one book a year, after all, but I read hundreds, and life is too short for bad books. Rushing from place to place on tour didn’t give me time to go shopping, but fortunately free books are a currency in the publishing trade, so I had my publicist call Zoë’s publicist, and within a day a copy of KILLER INSTINCT was biked over to my next stop, and I read it in short order.
And was very impressed.
Triply impressed, actually. Firstly, because apart from anything else, this was a debut novel, and there was nothing shy or tentative about it, and it waded straight in and tackled – secondly and thirdly – two huge challenges. Some things are just very, very difficult to do, because of the weight of cultural heritage and tradition and the limits set by others’ prior failures – but Zoë had gone right ahead and done them very successfully. (Full disclosure: Obviously I had never met Zoë at that point; knowing her as I now do, if I see her tackling a challenge, I get the body bag ready – for the challenge.)
The first challenge she beat was the difficulty of creating a truly convincing tough-girl protagonist. It shouldn’t be difficult, but it is. (Don’t get me – or Zoë – started on the legacy left by two centuries of sexism in our culture.) But Charlie Fox came across as real, true, and authentic. She wasn’t like anyone I knew – which to me is the point of thrillers: I don’t want to read about people like the ones I know – but she was someone I would want to know, and she felt like she could show up around the next corner. She wasn’t over-explained; her backstory was sketchy . . . above all, she didn’t seem invented. She just was.
The second challenge Zoë beat was to make an obscure and provincial place – in this case Lancaster, in North West England – seem convincingly dangerous. None of us has a problem believing New York City or Chicago or LA are jungles, but almost no writers can make a smaller location tough without a few winces and a lot of suspension of disbelief along the way. But Zoë did. As it happened, I knew Lancaster fairly well – I lived near it for seven years – and she wrote it like I felt it.
So, two big challenges easily defeated in a debut novel. Triply impressive. The next day I asked my publicist to call for Zoë’s second book, which was just out. I read it – and it was just as good. I have been a big fan ever since.
I suppose I ought to state for the record that I don't make a habit of frequenting places like the New Adelphi Club, which is where this whole sorry mess began. Maybe if I'd run true to form and avoided the place, things might have turned out differently.
The New Adelphi was a nightclub that had risen phoenix-like from the ashes of the old Adelphi, a crumbling Victorian seaside hotel on the promenade in Morecambe. It had a slightly faded air of decayed gentility about it, like an ageing bit-part film actress, hiding her propensity for the gin bottle under paste jewellery and heavy make-up.
I should have seen the changes coming, of course. Over the last eight months the Adelphi has had 'under new management' written all over it. The first inkling of a revolution had been a line of skips along the front wall of the car park. The next, a sheepish visit from Gary Bignold, the assistant manager, to tell me that I no longer had use of one of the upstairs function rooms for my Tuesday night class.
“Sorry, Charlie,” he'd said awkwardly as he'd broken the news. “We've got a new boss man and he's sweeping clean. He's decided that making a few quid every week so you can teach a load of frumpy housewives how to slap down flashers in the park just doesn't fit in with his game plan.”
I teach women's self-defence, have done for four years now. I use gymnasiums in local schools, indoor badminton courts in leisure centres, and even the converted ballroom of a country house that's now a women's refuge. Finding a replacement venue for this class wasn't going to be impossible, but it wasn't going to be a piece of cake either. I thought regretfully of the lost revenue, and shrugged.
“Don't knock it 'til you've tried it,” I said. He'd caught up with me in the car park, near the skips. I was packing my jogging pants and trainers into the tank bag of my RGV 250 Suzuki for the ride home to Lancaster, only five miles or so away.
Gary hovered from one foot to the other until I'd double-zipped the bag and clipped it down. “So what's happening to the old place then?” I asked, tucking my scarf round the neck of my leather jacket. “They going to pull it down and build yet more luxury flats that nobody wants?”
“Nah, this new bloke, he's dead switched on,” Gary said, relieved enough to be chatty. “He's going to turn this old dump into a nightclub. I've seen the plans. It's going to be absolutely excellent. Couple of bars, split-level dance floors, bit of food. The business. You'll have to come. Opening night. I'll get you in free, no trouble.”
I raised an eyebrow and he looked hurt at my scepticism. “I will,” he repeated. “I'm going to run the bars for him. It's all been agreed.”
I didn't say anything as I swung my leg over the bike and kicked it into life. Gary sometimes lets his enthusiasm run away with him. He looks too wide-eyed to ever be put in charge of anything more than asking the next person in line if they want fries with that.
I gave him a cheery wave as I circled out of the car park, ignoring his shouted assurance that he'd give me a call when they were about to re-launch.
It's a good job I wasn't holding my breath.
The New Adelphi Club opened about six months afterwards, just after Christmas. In record time if the murmurs in the building trade are to be believed. It seemed Gary had been right about the new boss being a mover and shaker.
At night the neon on the outside of the building lights up low cloud with an eerie violet glow and is visible from halfway across Morecambe Bay. It's become quite a local landmark.
I learned from the local paper that Gary did, indeed, become the bar manager for the new enterprise, but he never called to offer me those free tickets. I must admit I hadn't really expected him to.