This atmospheric psychological thriller places murder and turbulent emotions in stark contrast to beautiful surroundings - testimony to the fragile nature of tranquility.
Lazing through hot summer days at their beach hut, life seems just about perfect for the Vincent family - until their peace is shattered by murder. An incident between Paul Vincent and Stevie Clarke - an unbalanced beachcomber known by some as 'The Sandman' - leads Paul to inform the police he believes Clarke is the murderer. This provokes frightening and prolonged reprisals against the family from Clarke. Matters deteriorate further when Leah, Paul's teenage daughter, unwittingly reveals evidence to the police that implicates her own father. This gripping psychological thriller places turbulent emotions in stark contrast to beautiful surroundings, testimony to the fragile nature of tranquility.
The crouching figure stared across the narrow strip of beach. Bright moonlight was forcing him to take cover in the shallow dunes. Although fierce flurries of sand occasionally stung his face, he considered conditions to be perfect, for the blustery wind would mask any inadvertent sound he might make. He was quite happy to wait for suitable cloud-cover. As always, the sea was his constant companion as it hissed and sighed in restless sleep.
Totally focused, he was ready to move. He knew his dark jacket and jeans made him practically invisible at night: ideal for a mission. Tonight he needed to gather information and then get out by boat.
When a cloud finally obscured the moon, he slipped across the sand to the long line of beach huts. He knew he could now move down their entire length without being seen, just like the most highly trained member of the SAS. Time for an update on the hut-dwellers. At last, the mission was on.
* * *
Paul Vincent was well aware his wife’s tight little smile was the result of feasting her eyes on the sleek, wet-suited contours of Russell Gartland. Were it not for this, he could have relaxed and perhaps even been amused by the overpowering enthusiasm of the man with the spiky, gelled-up hair. Unfortunately, he knew Sasha’s weakness only too well. Gartland was showing them his windsurfing training rig on the harbour shoreline. Paul felt almost under-dressed in his baggy red trunks.
‘So remember the sport’s called windsurfing, not sailboarding, and you’re called sailors, not surfers,’ said Gartland.
‘Confusing,’ muttered Leah, shaking her head. Paul watched his daughter with some amusement. He knew she would want to get all the details like this correct. Dressed in a yellow bikini, she brushed long hair from her face. At only fourteen, she was not quite as tall as her mother and did not have the same toned body, but they were otherwise strikingly alike, except for her being a shade too skinny in his opinion.
Gartland grinned and shrugged. ‘That’s life, Leah. But windsurfing’s a world away from board surfing, believe me. When you start out with displacement sailing, you’re boarding through the water like a surfer, but when you’re proficient and have learned to hydroplane in stronger winds, you’ll be skimming across the surface of the water.’ He winked at Leah. ‘That’s a whole new scene. It’s fast.’
‘Really?’ Paul Vincent was impressed by this new piece of information; he also wanted to draw Gartland’s lingering gaze away from his daughter. ‘What speed can you get up to when you’re hydroplaning, Russell?’
Gartland turned to face him. ‘You can plane at around eight to ten knots, Paul, and you can even get to over fifteen knots with recreational equipment.’
‘So can you do more with special equipment, Russell?’ asked Sasha. Her black bikini revealed a figure almost as athletic as Gartland’s, courtesy of her work as a physical education teacher. Paul noticed she moved a little closer to Gartland while enveloping him in one of her broadest smiles.
‘Oh yes,’ Gartland grinned. ‘There’s no holding back what you can achieve with special equipment, Sasha.’ As they exchanged amused grins, Paul was sure of it. He reckoned he’d noticed their mutual admiration during the theory training Gartland had given them a week earlier, but now this seemed patently obvious as the man continued to hold his wife’s gaze. ‘It’s possible to go right up to fifty knots, Sasha, but ideal conditions for recreational sailors are about fifteen to twenty-five knots.’ He pulled up the sail of the training rig. ‘So, we’ve done the theory. Now you need to develop balance and core stability. Stand up on the board, Sasha, and let’s get some wind in your sails. You look up for it.’
Sasha stood on the training board but wobbled off when she was distracted for a moment while smiling at Paul.
‘Try again,’ said Gartland. ‘You can’t walk on water, Sasha.’
Paul thought Gartland probably imagined that particular skill was restricted to him. As Sasha stepped back onto the board, a light gust of wind unexpectedly filled the sail, taking her by surprise. When she wobbled towards Gartland, he reached out to support her, one hand resting on her back and the other on her buttocks. Both were laughing uproariously as he pushed her upright again, with his left hand remaining far too long on his wife’s bottom for Paul’s liking.
‘Steady on. Don’t handle the goods.’ Paul tried to make light of it, but annoyance was clear in his tone.
Still with one hand supporting the small of Sasha’s back, Gartland grinned round at him. ‘Why do you think I do this job, Paul? Wait till it’s your turn, sailor.’ He jokingly twitched one eyebrow, causing Sasha and Leah to dissolve into hysterics.
‘Just don’t push it, Russell, that’s all,’ said Paul. ‘Especially with my daughter.’
Gartland’s face now lost its humour and his tone became icy. ‘I was only helping with Sasha’s core stability, Paul.’ He took his hand away from her.
‘I’d just concentrate on your own core stability, Russell.’ Paul held the other’s gaze during an uncomfortable silence. No one was smiling now.
READ the rest of Chapter 1 on the author's website.
Author Sophie King's endorsement
A gripping psychological read with characters that reach out and grab you. A real page-turner.
Reader's Choice Book Reviews
The Vincent family is set to enjoy some downtime at their Mudeford Sandbank beach hut, near Christchurch Harbour in Dorset, England. It doesn’t take long for a shocking, brutal murder to disturb this tranquil setting in Sandman by author Ian Kingsley.
We meet Paul Vincent, his wife, Sasha, and their 13-year-old daughter, Leah, at a windsurfing lesson. We quickly learn how Sasha’s flirting brings out the worst in Paul. Paul finds himself apologising for a jealous outburst directed at the windsurf instructor. The point-of-view switches to actress Carol Davis recalling her horrifying rape on the beach not far from the Vincent’s hut by a man wearing a balaclava. This two-pronged opening with a peaceful beach scene and a violent assault in the opening chapter hooked me instantly.
It has been said that good fiction must have conflict. Kingsley has included enough conflict here for two novels. An incident on the beach puts Paul at odds with a young disturbed loner, a man named Stevie Clarke. Clarke, known by the locals as “the sandman”, doesn’t do well with confrontation. His resentment boils; he produces a large knife and aggressively warns Paul, “I’ll kill you the next time you cross me.” A short time after a jogger is killed, Paul informs the police that he believes Clarke is the killer. Clarke is desperate to get even with Paul for putting the police on him and he begins to stalk Leah relentlessly.
The police appear inept in their effort to catch the killer despite an obvious connection to the previous rape on the beach. Carol Davis contacts Paul and soon the pair are working together to prove to the police Stevie Clark is the killer/rapist. Leah’s attempt to help with the investigation only serves to muddy her father’s work when she hands over evidence that implicates Paul as the murderer to the detectives.
Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, love, fear, hatred, and grief. As a father, I related to Paul’s unwavering commitment to keep his family safe. I also understood his discomfort with his wife’s tendency to flirt openly with men. Kingsley has written an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters. There are twists, turns, red herrings, and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you’ll feel like you’re on the beach witnessing the unfolding action.
Just when you think you have it all sorted out, the author changes directions — successfully keeping you guessing until the final pages. When you begin Sandman make sure you set aside a good bit of time, for you won’t stop reading until the last page is savoured. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery!
Norman Goldman (Editor of Bookpleasures.com; also an Amazon 500 Top Reviewer)
Kingsley knows how to draw an array of appealing characters, inject suspense, and paint scenes… What is intriguing about Sandman is that reading it made me think I was watching a movie focusing on several characters that all are subtly interwoven into the threads of each others’ lives... Moreover, it is a novel that you may want to re-read, once for the sheer thrill of the story and again to fully absorb its implications.