The Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost

On 7th July 2005 three devices explode simultaneously on three different Tube trains in London. An hour later a fourth is detonated. In the midst of this cataclysmic event a serial killer strikes and the curtain is lifted on a twenty year old secret.


Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


New Crime (United Kingdom)


The boy has the face of an angel. A radiance of golden curls. Botticelli lips. Baby-wide eyes. Only the bruise beginning to darken across his cheekbone spoils the effect. Still, once he’s cleaned up he’ll be as good as new. Only the Devil will know what he’s done. And undone.

Chapter 1

It happened at 08.50 on a Thursday morning in the middle of summer. The weather was unsettled and I was up and about for the first time in weeks.
‘The train approaching Platform 1 is the Westbound Circle line service to Paddington. Please remain behind the yellow line at all times for your safety.’
I stood well back. The edge of the platform has an allure I can’t trust. The Tube tore down the line. Black rats scurried out of its path. The doors opened. I got on.
People were standing up but there were a couple of empty seats dotted about. I chose one halfway down the carriage and sunk into it. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and focused on my breathing. It didn’t work. My heart was thundering. The edges were closing in.
‘Embrace the suck and get a bloody grip.’ I said to myself. ‘Today’s supposed to be special, remember?’
I looked around. Getting my bearings. Grounding myself. A coping strategy, my therapist calls it.
There was a guy staring at me from the other end of the train. Buzz cut. Pleats down his shirt sleeves so sharp you could have cut yourself on them. Tie knotted tight. Trying too hard. And blatantly nervous. Shifting his weight from foot to foot. Licking his lips. Blinking rapidly. I caught his eye. He looked away.
There was a strong smell in the carriage. Something sour and sickly. Like steamy garbage.
I spied an abandoned copy of the Metro on the shelf behind the woman next to me.
‘Excuse me,’ I said.
She budged slightly but said nothing. A lady in her late sixties. Blouse buttoned all the way to the top. Small gold crucifix round her neck. Rubbing her thumb and forefinger together the way you might roll a rosary bead. Without thinking I gave her the once over.
Crucifix. Rosary. So a Catholic? A believer in redemption. And hell.
Handbag. Small. Unbranded. With stiff handles and a snap clasp. A person indifferent to status. Closed off from those around her.
And clothes. Various shades of beige. A neutral tone. No-nonsense. Linked to feelings of loneliness and isolation. I looked down. My pumps were the same colour.
This was a woman who shut herself off from the world. Possibly someone she’d trusted had betrayed her. Maybe she thought she was safer that way. Or perhaps she just didn’t like people.
I skimmed through the paper. It was rammed with stories about London’s successful Olympic bid the day before. The country was celebrating but I doubted Dunc’s old friends at Special Branch would be.
The article about the twenty-year anniversary of Samuel Pines’ murder was five pages in. A DPS as Jack Wolfe would say. Double Page Spread. And illustrated too. The same photo the papers always use. The one of him in his school uniform. Kooky smile. Big blue eyes.
There was also that other one of him waving goodbye to his parents. Red baseball cap on back to front. Backpack covered in dinosaur stickers. The picture of him walking to the bus stop on his own for the first time. He was ten years old. And he never made it home that night.

Parents’ Plea to Catch Son’s Killer

On 7th July 1985 (20 years ago today) ten year old Samuel Pines was kidnapped and murdered on his way home from school. His body was later found on a canal tow path by Camden Lock in North London. Despite a massive national manhunt and widespread interest in the case, the killer has never been caught.

Samuel’s parents yesterday issued an anguished appeal to the public for help catching their son’s murderer.

‘Samuel was an angelic child with everything to look forward to. Now he’s gone our lives will never be the same. We have to find whoever did this. And we won’t stop until we do,’ said Anne Pines, 56.

‘Someone out there knows something. They may think it’s too small to be significant but every detail matters. Please, if you know anything at all contact the police. We need your help to catch Samuel’s killer so the person who did this to our son can finally be punished.’

Fighting back tears, Samuel’s father said the devastation his family felt was made all the worse because they hadn’t been able to say goodbye to him properly.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

It was an infamous case. I’d been a teenager at the time of the murder. A teenager and an exile, as I thought of myself back then, packed off to Roedean before my bâbâ’s body had had time to go cold in the ground. More parents than usual came to visit that weekend. I counted them flooding into the front quad from my vantage point at the dormitory window. My mother hadn’t been among them.
The Catholic woman sighed.
‘I can’t believe they never caught him,’ she said in a whisper.
I glanced at her. She was also reading the Pines article. Her thumb was tap-tapping on the handle of her bag. The corner of her mouth was twitching. Like she was trying not to cry.
‘I know,’ I said but she didn’t answer. In fact I’m not sure she heard. Or was even talking to me either, come to that.
My eyes wandered round the carriage again. The paper wasn’t holding my attention. I’d been reading the same line over and over. Unable to concentrate. I’d slept the night before but it had been the sleep of the damned. Light and fitful. When I’d woken in the morning it was like I’d never slept at all. And it looked like I wasn’t the only one.
A few seats down there was a guy with bags under his eyes, felt tip on his shirt cuffs and a white splotch on the shoulder of his pin-striped suit jacket. A father then. A new baby and a toddler at home. A girl probably given the pink ink stain.
The woman next to him (bleached hair, early twenties, lots of cleavage) was applying lip gloss. The badly concealed shadows under her eyes told me she hadn’t had much sleep either. However judging by the glow in her cheeks and the smile hovering at the corners of her mouth it was for a rather different reason.
And what about the woman sitting on her other side absently stroking her belly and looking off into the middle distance? Well she may not have been yawning just then but if I was right about her she’d know all about sleep deprivation in about six months’ time.
‘This is Edgware Road. Please change here for the District and Hammersmith & City lines. The next station is Paddington.’
There was an Asian man sitting near the doors. He was wearing a hoodie top, blue parka and beanie hat. He was rooting about in the rucksack propped between his legs. He was checking his watch every two seconds. And he was sweating like mad. But he didn’t take his jacket or hat off.
I sat up straight and scanned the carriage. Properly this time. Noting how many people were there and where they were all sitting. Noting who was young and who was old. Who was weak and who was able bodied. Doing what I’d been trained to do. To notice things. To anticipate trouble. And to thwart it.

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1


Read Reviews

Review 1:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The first page should introduce some intrigue, something that causes the reader to turn the page. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Great books, nowadays, start with a powerful opening and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
Hi, I'm guessing this is very important to the rest of the story, but I found that there were just a touch too many observations made by the MC about the other people in the carriage. Maybe if you cut it down, the reader would still get that the MC is very observant, but the story would flow faster. Also, you used "there was/were" a few times : People were standing up but there were a couple of empty seats dotted about.... There was a guy staring at me from the other end of the train. .... There was a strong smell in the carriage. Etc... On the plus side, I really like some of the descriptions: "I stood well back. The edge of the platform has an allure I can’t trust." "Like steamy garbage." These made me feel as if not all is well with your MC, which creates interest, but IMHO the whole extract needs to move a little faster to hook the reader. I hope this is useful.