Clare Mackintosh is a multi-award-winning and bestselling author whose books have been published in more than 40 countries. She is patron of the Silver Star Society, a charity that supports parents experiencing high-risk or difficult pregnancies. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.
The Last Party
On New Year’s Eve, Rhys Lloyd has a house full of guests.
His lakeside holiday homes are a success, and he’s generously invited the village to drink champagne with their wealthy new neighbours. This will be the party to end all parties.
But not everyone is there to celebrate. By midnight, Rhys will be floating dead in the freezing waters of the lake.
On New Year’s Day, DC Ffion Morgan has a village full of suspects.
The tiny community is her home, so the suspects are her neighbours, friends and family – and Ffion has her own secrets to protect.
With a lie uncovered at every turn, soon the question isn’t who wanted Rhys dead . . . but who finally killed him.
In a village with this many secrets, a murder is just the beginning.
New Year’s Day
No one in Cwm Coed can remember what year the swim began, but they know they wouldn’t welcome the new year in any other way. They don’t remember which year it was that Dafydd Jones went in wearing nothing but a Santa hat, or when the rugby lads bombed off the jetty and drenched poor Mrs Williams. Or what year it was when mulled wine became part of the tradition, instead of hot chocolate.
But everyone will remember today’s swim.
There’s been snow on the peaks since before Christmas, and even with the protection from the mountains, the temperature in the town hasn’t climbed above seven degrees. The lake itself is even colder. Four degrees! people gasp, at once gleeful and incredulous. We must be mad!
As if rebelling against the clear skies, wisps of mist curl above the surface of the water, their reflection giving the disorientating impression that the sky’s been tipped upside down. Above the mist, the air is vivid blue, an echo of last night’s moon suspended above the forest.
From the very top of Pen y Ddraig mountain, Llyn Drych seems more river than lake. It’s long and serpent-shaped, each bend a flick of the dragon’s tail it’s said to represent. Drych means Mirror, and when the wind drops and the water lies still, the surface shimmers like silver. The reflection of the mountain stretches into the centre of the lake, so solid you feel you could step onto it, no hint of the black and fathomless depths beneath.
Along the path which winds its way up the south side of the mountain – from the dragon’s back to its head – ramblers stoop to pick a pebble from the path. They straighten, feel the weight of it in their hands, then look around sheepishly, before hurling the stone towards the water. Legend has it Llyn Drych’s dragon rises up if its tail is hit – few ramblers can resist the myth.
Around the edge of the lake, pine trees stand sentry, their shoulders so close that if one were felled, you could imagine them all toppling, one after another. The trees steal the view from the village of Cwm Coed, but they take the worst of the weather too, which feels like a fair exchange to the people who live there.
On the far side of the water – less than a kilometre from where the crowd is now gathering – a line of buildings squats in the foothills. The trees directly in front of them have been ripped from the ground; the wood used to clad the lodges and make the vast carved sign which stands at the end of the long, private drive – each letter as tall as a man.
There are five of them, so far. Two-storey rectangular boxes, with timber clad roofs and decks thrusting forwards, extending out above the lake on stilts rising from the mist. Metal ladders glint in the winter sun, the pontoons empty of the boats which tug at their ropes in summer.
Luxury lakeside lodges, the glossy brochure calls them.
Carafanau ffansi, Ffion’s mam says. Fancy caravans. Airs and graces.
A bloody eyesore, most of the village agree. And at that price! For a place you can’t even live in all year round. Owners are not permitted to make The Shore their primary residence, the website says. As if North Wales needs any more weekenders.
Soon, there’ll be another row behind this first. Another, behind that. A spa, a gym, shops, an outdoor swimming pool.
‘God knows why they can’t swim in the lake.’ Ceri Jones pulls off her tracksuit bottoms, perched in the boot of the car; goose-fleshed thighs white against the dirty bumper.
‘Because it’s bloody freezing, that’s why.’
The laughter comes fast and high; fuelled by last night’s New Year’s Eve party, by too much wine and too little sleep, by cold which forces its way through towelling robes and lodges itself into bones.
‘Good night, though.’
There are murmurs of agreement.
‘Chwarae teg.’ Fair play. That lot at The Shore know how to throw a party. More importantly, they know to invite the locals. Curiosity wins over grudges, every time.
Splinters of ice cluster in the shallow puddles on the lakeshore, cracked by toes freed from fur-lined boots.
‘There are still ten minutes to go. You’ll get frostbite.’
‘Can’t even feel it. I think I’m still pissed.’
‘This better sort out my hangover – I’ve got the in-laws coming for lunch, and they give me a headache as it is.’
‘Kill or cure.’
‘I’ll take either.’
The first of two klaxons rings through the crisp air, and a cheer goes up.
‘As I’ll ever be!’
Coats and robes are cast aside, towels draped over waiting arms and hot water bottles readied for the return. There’s a rush for the shore – a tangle of white limbs and bathing suits; brave bikinis and judicious woolly hats – and excited chatter so loud they wonder if they might miss the second klaxon. But when it sounds, there’s no mistaking it, and they let out a whoop and a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! as they run towards the lake, screaming as they reach the icy water.
When they’re deep enough, they plunge. Mind over matter, through the low-lying mist. Cold clamps a vice around their chests, mouths opening in shock as their breath is wrenched away. Keep moving, keep moving! cry the veterans, dopamine pumping smiles to their faces. Ripples become waves, the movement of people this way and that, as the wind picks up and sends shivers across shoulders.
As the mist begins to clear, a woman cries out.
It stands out among the screams of excitement, sending tremors of a different kind down the backs of those waiting on the shore. Those still in their depth stand on tiptoes, straining to see what’s happening, who’s hurt. The rescue boat dips its oars into the water. In and out, in and out; making its way towards the commotion.
Out of the mist floats a man.
Face down, and quite unmistakably dead.