The Last House – RG Adams

This week Crime Cymru’s RG Adams gives us an excerpt from her new novel – The Last House is available in hardback, ebook and audio versions. It will be published in paperback in July 2023. Both The Last House and its predecessor novel Allegation are published by riverrun, the literary crime imprint of Quercus.

The Last House is the second in a series of non-police procedurals featuring intrepid young social worker Kit Goddard, who lives and works in the south Wales seaside town of Sandbeach. The novel opens with a vague, anonymous referral to Children’s Social Services. A teenage boy, Dylan Meredith, is reported to be living in poor conditions with his mother, whose mental health is in doubt. He has  sustained an injury. When Kit’s manager decides that no further action is needed, Kit decides to investigate further behind her manager’s back.

The extract below describes Kit’s arrival at the Merediths’ home in the valleys community of Craig Uchel, known locally as Rock. After struggling to locate the house, Kit has run into a neighbour, John Ellis, who knows  the family well and tells her that she is urgently needed. With John’s directions,  Kit finally finds the house, sitting behind a high wall under the looming shadow of Mynydd Oer.

Behind the gate sat a small grey house with lawns to the front and a path running up the middle to the front door. For a moment, she wondered if it was inhabited. There were four windows to the front and the curtains were closed tight at all of them, giving the house a blank, eyeless look. There were no personal touches anywhere; no bedraggled winter pots or hanging baskets waiting to be filled come spring, no trellises or garden ornaments, no dog toys, no muddy boots or wellies left out on the step to dry. None of the clues that usually gave her the first inkling as to what life might be like behind the closed doors of a family home. But then again, the lawns were tidy and the path was free of weeds. Someone lived here, but did so very quietly, attracting no attention, barely making a mark on the outside world. She hesitated, unsure what might lie inside this house, and whether she should disturb it. It wasn’t too late to walk away.

But there might be a boy inside, someone who was being hurt and threatened. She followed the wall further along, until it met the pile of boulders at the dead end of the clearing. Chicken wire had been pushed into the gap between the wall and the rocks, but it was sagging down on one side. Pulling at it, she managed to open up a gap of a few inches, just enough to squeeze through if she breathed in hard and moved very carefully. The wire snagged on her clothes as she inched her way into the gap but she tugged and pulled herself free, tumbling through into the garden. It occurred to her far too late that it was not going to be easy to get back out again, and especially not to do it quickly. From this side, the block wall and the barbed wire turned the little garden into a prison yard.

She pushed herself across the grass and marched smartly up the path to the door, hoping to look authoritative. As she did so, she took in for the first time the panoramic view of Rock that lay to either side of the house. The property must stand on a ledge, a kind of half-way point between the town and the start of the mountain proper, just behind John’s house but higher up, overlooking his roof and those of his immediate neighbours. In the distance to the left of the house lay the eastern side of Rock. The sight brought a stinging pang of grief; she averted her eyes before they could autopilot their way to what used to be her grandparents’ red-brick villa. No time for that now

Pausing to gather herself on the doorstep of Ty Olaf, she could detect no noise whatsoever from within. Perhaps they were out. That would be a relief; she could leave a visit card and call back tomorrow, bringing someone with her next time. But hadn’t John just told her that they hardly went anywhere? She lifted the tarnished knocker, breathed deeply to steady herself, and after rapping it smartly onto its brass plate three times, put her ear close to the door, listening for the sound of movement.

After a long pause, and just as she was about to try again, light footsteps emerged from the silence and padded towards the door. They reached it then stopped; whoever was on the other side must be looking at her through the spyhole. She stood back, allowing herself to be evaluated by someone unknown and unfathomed. Perhaps the very person who had hurt Dylan Meredith. It came to her that the house was so isolated that no one could know what was going on there. There was not a living soul within earshot and the only person who knew exactly where she was right now was John Ellis, who had no reason to be monitoring when she got back to her car, and perhaps wouldn’t notice for hours or even more if she didn’t arrive back at all. All things considered, this had been a very bad idea, and she was turning to go when a creak from behind her announced that the door was opening. She turned back to see that a narrow gap had appeared, with a short, thick security chain hanging across it.

‘Can I help you?’ A faint voice came from someone who stood well back, cowering in the shadows of the hall. A chill ran across Kit’s shoulders and up the back of her neck as she tried to get a proper look. Why was this person so reluctant to be seen? As her eyes adjusted to the lack of light in the house, she made out a tiny figure with very dark hair. Tensing, Kit picked through possible ways to start, unsure what reaction might come flying at her from the gloom. She couldn’t even make out whether the figure was male or female, an adult or a child.

RG Adams is a former social worker. She was born in London but has lived in south Wales for most of her adult life, after falling in love with the area while an undergraduate. She lives near the coast with her husband and children.

Amazon link: The Last House: an intense psychological thriller of locked doors and family secrets: Adams, R. G.: 9781529404715: Books

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