It’s February – the month in which love abounds, obsession comes to the fore, and… murder? Well, as you would expect from me, love, obsession, murder – they all combine in my books!
Okay, so this is a bit off-topic for Valentine’s month (you’d think!), but I have a question for you. Do you love prologues in your dark fiction, be it crime, mystery, psychological thrillers or suspense? They have a bit of a love-hate relationship with readers, and over time I’ve seen some quite passionate discussions on social media about them!
Personally, I love them – with the caveat that they do need to have a purpose, a genuine reason for being there, as far as the story is concerned, and also provide the reader with that all-important ‘extra’ which makes elements of the book clearer on a whole different level. Because of their purpose, they can have a variety of functions. For instance, they can set a scene for something that comes later (sometimes called foreshadowing), or provide the reader with a snapshot of the past which influences the book as a whole. They can hide a clue to whodunnit by providing just enough information for the reader (even when the reader doesn’t know it yet!), or ultimately deepen the reader experience by providing that ‘aha’ moment about a character or incident later on, which wouldn’t have been there without the prologue. They could even be dreams or memories of a character who is very much rooted in the ‘now’ of the book, and these may impact the story in all sorts of ways.
I thought it would be fun to give you a taster of some prologues in my novels, seeing that I’ve told you I love them so much. So welcome to a four-part mini-series of extracts from my books, where you can read the prologues I’ve used to begin some dark, obsessive stories – and each and every one with murder at its heart. Maybe you can guess why I’ve used a particular type of prologue, and what purpose it serves in the overall story.
We begin with a twisted, dark version of love: The Secrets that Haunt Us, my dark women’s fiction novel, full of love, obsession, revenge and, ultimately, murder. If ever there was a story of many loves gone wrong, it’s this one! This prologue takes the form of a series of letters, which appear to have been written shortly before the ‘present day’ of the story itself.
Please note that, as my extracts are crime-related books or dark fiction of some kind, they are suitable for an adult readership. Please read responsibly.
The Secrets That Haunt Us
TUESDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER 1970
I have been watching. Waiting. I know your face like I know my own. I know your heart like I know mine. I know everything about you. Did you truly believe you could escape my soul? We are entwined, you and I. You live within me. And I live within you.
Anything you ever wanted I gave to you. A perfect life. Everything was perfection. But you spoiled it. You spoiled everything.
Did you really believe that I would remain dead? To you, of all people? You are my obsession. My every waking thought.
Do you remember our games of chess? How you moved your pieces around the board? You have moved many pieces in the last 30 years. It’s my turn, don’t you think?
You wanted to destroy all you should have loved. It will happen. The time is nearing. We always have to pay our debts to love, don’t we?
I am coming. You are forever my Cathy; I am forever your Heathcliff. You can never escape me. And I will not rest until our torment is over.
FRIDAY 6TH NOVEMBER 1970
My lovely, dearest, darling Julia,
I have agonised over how to begin this letter. I have no idea how to explain, except to say that you have been in my thoughts since the second I last saw you. I watched your tears as I went away, and I need you to know that I have never got over that sight of you.
I wish more than anything that you can forgive the way I left. There were reasons, and they are very complex. I was unable to tell you about them then. I want to tell you everything now. The whole truth. But not in a letter.
I have never left you. I have kept watch over your life. Your troubles, which made me ache for you, my wonderful, darling girl; your marriage; your unhappiness. You ARE unhappy, aren’t you, my beautiful Julia?
I need you to know that the love I had for you then remains exactly as it was. It has never changed within me, not even through all the years we have been apart. Do you feel it? In the way you always said you could? I know you do. Every day when I awake, I reach out, only to find you are not there. Do you reach for me, too? For years, I have wanted to take your hand and stroke your face with my thumb – do you remember that?
I am back in the house. I had to. I know how much you loved it. And I want you here, beside me, in it once more.
Say you will return to me. Please. Even if it is just for one day, so that we can say goodbye. I don’t want to say goodbye ever again. Do you?
Please reply to me. And please destroy this letter. It is very important that you do, my darling girl.
You are in my dreams, always.
With all the love I have always had for you,
SATURDAY 5TH DECEMBER 1970
My sweetest Julia,
I knew you would not fail me. I knew the moment I told you where I was that you would write. And write you did. Over and over!
You will never know what it means to me that you wrote just how much you still love me. Your forgiveness makes everything all right. I did not expect such a torrent of letters. Every one is held against my heart as I struggle with my daily life.
Please, do not cry. There were tears on your letters, darling girl. Please do not feel that your circumstances now mean that I would not want you back in my arms once more. I have always wanted a perfect baby. You can give me the chance. Please say you will.
There are reasons that I am unable to explain more clearly why I left as I did. If anyone found this letter with that explanation, then I would be in extreme danger of needing to vanish once more. I know you do not want that, do you, not now? Did you do as I asked? Did you burn the letter? Please say that you did. I don’t want to ever have to leave you, ever again. Every moment spent without you has been torture. You know how much I adore you. You belong to me. I need you with me. Without you here, my life is worth nothing.
I dreamed of us last night, lying here, your head on my chest while I read you poetry and that passage of Jane Eyre you love so much. The one about the invisible cord that fastens two hearts. There is an invisible bond between us, Julia. You have always known it, haven’t you? It cannot be broken and it pulls us together again now.
Please, my angel, say you will come. I need to see you. To hold you. I want to feel your lips on mine.
Write to me. Say you’ll come. And please burn this letter. Do not fail me.
With every drop of love and passion I have within me for you,
Your very own,
SUNDAY 28TH FEBRUARY 1971
Julia, my angel,
Such torrents of letters! You never need fear, I have not forgotten you, I have not changed my mind. I have been making preparations for your arrival, that is all.
It breaks my heart to know how much you have missed me. I am so, so sorry. I promise, I will tell you everything once we are together again. I think of you, and of that moment, endlessly.
Knowing you want to be with me is the greatest honour you could do me. You have no need to worry about money, my sweetest girl. The contents of the envelope inside this letter will cover all the costs of your travel. You will notice that the ticket is for next Saturday, and that it is one-way. Do not ever go back, my beautiful one. You will always be free to leave me, but I do not want you to. Oh, you have no idea how much I want you to end your days here.
My heart is ready to explode at the very thought of you on the train. Soon, my angel. Soon everything in our lives will fall into place. Only promise me you will be on the train.
Promise me. If circumstances prevent me meeting you at the station, know that I am being very careful in case we are seen, and that I will not be far away. Ultimately, you know where to find me. I will be waiting. Tell no one you are coming. No one. Please. It is important.
Remember to destroy this letter.
I will see you on Saturday. I am counting the seconds until you are with me. Then I will truly show you what love means to me.
Until then, my darling girl,
MONDAY 1ST MARCH 1971
The time is almost upon us. Our final battle will soon commence. It will be checkmate. Our story will end the way it was always fated that it would.
You really believed you had escaped me, didn’t you? You should have made sure I was dead. It will be your biggest regret. I promise.
Forever yours, just as you have always been forever mine,