The Neal James Website



The sequel to 'Three Little Maids'

Coming in 2023!

It had been eighteen months since the retirement of one of the most iconic figures ever to tread the corridors of New Scotland Yard – DCI Dennis Marks.

In that time, and since her elevation from rural policing to the realms of one of the most famous forces in the world, Sophie Hollinshead had slipped seamlessly into the position vacated by Marks’ second-in-command, Peter Spencer.

Now, with the rank of DCI, and with her trusted deputy, Trevor Watson, now a DI, Hollinshead was carving out her own reputation with the Metropolitan Police.

The Shadowman was about to put all of her abilities to the test.


Harold Shaw’s fury at the failure of his campaign to wreak revenge on Dennis Marks burned fiercely during Billy Robertson’s trial. Not a man to tolerate disappointment easily, he waited as patiently as his temper would allow for his paid assassin to come within reach. Robertson’s conviction and subsequent sentencing to eight years for the shooting of Peter Spencer had him travelling to Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. If the thug believed that this put him out of the reach of his former paymaster, events during the second week of his incarceration would shatter any illusions which he had in that direction.

            In a carefully orchestrated escalation of a dinner time argument, prison officers were distracted into breaking up a fight which had begun at one end of the dining hall. With no-one watching his back, Robertson was maneuvered into a corner where he was later found bleeding profusely from a wound to the abdomen. By the time he had been rushed out of the prison and into St Mary’s Hospital accident and emergency department in Cowes he was dead. Subsequent enquiries by the Home Office at the jail revealed that there had been no witnesses to the assault.

            Harold Shaw’s smugness at his ability to reach out beyond the walls of his confinement received a telling blow when his own guilty verdict on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder saw a lengthy addition to his own term of imprisonment. He was sent down for a further ten years and was duly transferred from his present location at Wandsworth to HM Prison Barlinnie in Glasgow. Never one to avoid a challenge, and denied the privileges which running his own wing at Wandsworth had given him, he became embroiled in a turf war with an established inmate and wing boss. Attempts to establish himself as the top supplier of narcotics within the Scottish jail resulted in prison officers discovering him in his cell, tied to a chair, and a copy of that day’s newspaper rammed down his throat; the pathologist’s opinion was that death would have been slow, painful, and traumatic.


Le Blavet meanders through the picturesque countryside in the Keriven area of Brittany, and in the full bloom of a French summer was the perfect place for Dennis and June Marks to escape the rigours of what had been one of the most challenging and dangerous periods of the DCI’s police career. He looked out from their time-share gite and sighed with intense satisfaction. Raising his glass of Merlot up to the sun, he stared through its deep red colour and smiled at his wife seated at the opposite side of the patio table.

            “So, it’s settled, then?” she asked.

            “Yes, it’s settled,” he replied. “Allinson should have received the letter a few days ago and there’s no going back now – you’ve been right for so long; I just couldn’t see it until Robertson reared his head.”

            “Well, you’re free of both him and Shaw now, aren’t you? It’s time we started enjoying ourselves and sod the rest of them; they’ll have to learn to fend for themselves.”

            “It wasn’t just that, June,” he said. “George’s retirement was a bit of a milestone. Getting used to someone else’s idiosyncrasies would have taken some doing at my age, even if it was Kevin Henson.”

            “Do you think they’ll hand the reins over to Sophie Hollinshead?”

            “Well, with no Peter Spencer to slip seamlessly into the job there’s really little else that they can do. Oh, they’ll have to go through the motions of a selection committee, but in the end I’ve made my feelings known. She’s a highly capable detective and the Met needs officers like her to pull it forwards; the job never gets easier and she’s just the type to take it to the next level.”

            “Lovely here, isn’t it?” she said.

            “It is; can’t understand why I was so resistant to taking the step.”

Chapter One

Sophie Hollinshead had not always wanted to be a detective, but at eighteen, when she left school, opportunities in the job market were limited and she joined the force more as a stop gap until something more suitable came along. Those dreams were quickly dispelled as her interest stirred into the mind of the criminally inclined and ways of preventing them from achieving their ends. Leaving her home in the Lincolnshire town of Spalding, she joined the Nottingham Police in 1998 and began her climb up the ranks from uniformed PC to Detective Sergeant. Elevation to DI had come eight years ago and her posting to the city’s Radford Road station had begun to make her dream of much greater things. She was thirty-nine years old, five feet seven and, after a concerted effort at fitness some years ago, had shed over twenty pounds in weight to tip the scales at a trim nine and a half stone. Blonde hair and brown eyes gave her the combination of a steely personality with a softer look. When she smiled, you inadvertently smiled back

            She was, inevitably, first in the squad room at the beginning of the shift, and had started the day, as usual, at her desk reviewing the case load confronting her team. Picking up her mug of tea, she left her office and walked across the room to the whiteboard where details of the current case were posted.

“All set, then?” Trevor Watson breezed into the squad room before the rest of the team had finished their first beverage of the day. Watson, Hollinshead’s DS in her days as DI at Nottingham’s Radford Road station, had a couple of years more on his service record than his boss, but had posed no threat to her position. Four years older than his DCI, Watson stood six feet tall, had black hair already greying at the temples, and his stocky frame belied a quickness which had caught many a villain by surprise. His easy manner had been one of the foundation stones of their professional relationship. He was happy with his lot. Happy, that is, until the departure of the station Superintendent, Harry Parsons, for pastures new. His successor, Christine Sharpe, made it clear to the two of them that they did not form part of her long-term plans for the division. Hollinshead’s departure for London and the team run by DCI Dennis Marks, and her subsequent approach to him to fill the void left by Peter Spencer at New Scotland Yard could not have come at a better time – he grabbed the opportunity with both hands,

She had been staring at the whiteboard layout of the current case under investigation, but turned at the sound of the voice of her DI and second-in-command. “Just about,” she replied. “We’ll hit the target at seven before anyone inside has had time to realise what’s happening.”

            “Shouldn’t think they’ll know what’s hit them. What’s the street value again?” Watson came and stood at her side, took his first sip of the concoction that the vending machine had assured him was a latte, and glanced across the raft of detail on the board.

            “About four million according to the tip-off; it’ll be one of the biggest take-downs for years.”

            Sophie Hollinshead’s rise to the rank of DCI had come on the back of the retirement of her predecessor, Dennis Marks, and had been in recognition both of her work on the case of the murder of Clive Battersby, music teacher at Lainsford Grammar School, and also of her achievement of the best clear-up rate within the Metropolitan Police. Her deputy, Trevor Watson, recruited from the Nottinghamshire Constabulary, had also risen in rank from DS to DI on the back of the same plethora of results. They now ran a team of similar calibre to that of the legendary Marks himself.

            It is now January 2018 – eighteen months since the retirements of Dennis Marks and George Groves. It had been a baptism of fire for Hollinshead, and the need to hit the ground running had never been as crucial. Marks’ retirement, Peter Spencer’s transfer to the Kent Constabulary, and the loss of Cloe Warner to the ranks of MI5 under the leadership of George Watkinson, had decimated one for the finest teams at the Met at the end of a complex murder investigation. That, together with her apprehending, single-handedly, the assassin lying in waiting just across the street from Marks’ home, had pushed Sophie’s abilities to the limit. Billy Robertson had been about to pull the trigger on Marks’ life when a piece of copper tubing, picked up by Hollinshead as she entered the house where he had taken up position, brought his plan shuddering to a halt. Blaming Marks for the death of his brother, Jack, Robertson had sworn revenge on the DCI. Sophie’s selfless act of bravery could have cost her dearly. Robertson had died in prison after a run-in with a couple of heavies sent by Harold Shaw to take him down. Shaw’s subsequent death in Glasgow’s Barlinnie jail had finally removed all of the threats which had been hanging over Marks like the Sword of Damocles.

Sophie’s team were about to emerge into the bitter cold of a January morning with a raid on an abandoned property in Brentford. A tip-off from a reliable source had placed a consignment of fifty kilos of top grade heroin at an abandoned warehouse on an industrial estate just outside the town. Armed response units, headed up by the DCI, were in position at both ends of Dock Road thirty minutes later; it was a little after 6am.

            The area was quiet; the building in question, a vacant but serviceable industrial unit, was quiet as police vehicles made their silent approach. From the side of the property, and through a gap cut in the perimeter fence, police in full riot gear swarmed across the asphalt parking area and took up position either side of the main entrance. Hollinshead listened closely at the doorway and nodded to the team – there were sounds of activity from within the property. Pointing silently, she placed the lead pair of officers with a ram at the entrance and gave the countdown.

            Amidst an eruption of commands, the noise of splintering wood, and the sound of boots stomping across the floor, those inside the warehouse stood frozen to the spot in the dim overhead lighting. Within a matter of minutes, eight figures lay cuffed and helpless on the ground as the operation wound down from its frenetic level of activity. Hollinshead stood in amazement at the scene facing her. Before her stood twelve cartons the contents of which, according to their labels, was cotton from Pakistan.

            “Let’s get this one open,” she waved at a DC. “See what it is that we’re up against.”

            With the flaps of the carton now open, Hollinshead lifted the cardboard protective sheet covering the first layer. Having had the top batch of cones removed, the next level contained not yarn, but a quantity of individually wrapped parcels of a white substance. She nodded, smiling at her DI.

            “Looks like we hit the jackpot, Trev,” she said.

            “Good result, then?” Watson, ever the one for the understatement, came up and shook his head in wonder. “Somebody’s not going to be a very happy bunny, are they?”

            “You do have a way with words,” she replied. “Come on; let’s get these pieces of slime back to the station. You’d better call in for more transport while you’re at it. Not sure where we’re going to put all this stuff.”

            “Okay, boss.” Watson turned, looking for Geoff Rowley, the new DS brought in to replace Chloe Warner. “Let’s get these boxes into the van and down to the Yard as quick as we can, Geoff. I’ll look after our eight friends here.”

            “Yes, sir,” Rowley replied, waving across a couple of unformed constables for the task. He would travel in the van along with the now documented seizure. Once within the Metropolitan Police premises, their documentation and security would be his responsibility.

            Rowley, at twenty-five, had come to the Met from Birmingham, where he had served in Narcotics and Vice for two years after a meteoric rise from the Hendon Training School, to uniform, and then on to CID. Without a blemish on his eight year career to date, all recommendations from his superiors had been first rate. The drugs haul, however, was the biggest case in which he had been involved, and as he stood before the now secured boxes, he wondered at the enormous value of the drugs with which he had been entrusted. Of its total weight of around fifty kilos, a small fraction would set him up for the foreseeable future. He looked around; no-one was watching as he lifted the flap of the already opened carton and stared at the neatly sealed packages. He removed one and weighed it in his hand – about a kilo, he thought. A quick calculation gave him a street value of around eighty thousand pounds.

            Rowley’s mouth turned dry at thought of what he was considering. No-one, he thought, would miss a single packet from such a large consignment, but he would need to act quickly; he looked around once more – there was still no-one in his vicinity. In an instant the deed was done; the bag was in his pocket and the remainder spread out to cover its disappearance. Back at his locker, and with nobody paying him any attention, he hid the stolen package in his bag, secured the locker once again, and made his way up to the squad room to rejoin the rest of DCI Hollinshead’s team.