ONE LAST BREATH by Stephen Booth.

Major new psychological Peak District thriller from the acclaimed author of Blood on the Tongue and Blind to the Bones. The vast labyrinth of caverns, passages and subterranean rivers beneath the Peak District are a major tourist attraction. But this summer not all the darkness is underground, and not all the devils are folk legends. Mingling with the holidaymakers is a convicted killer, bent on revenge. Fourteen years ago Mansell Quinn was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his lover. Now he’s out under licence, whereabouts unknown, and his ex-wife has been murdered. As they try to anticipate the fugitive’s next move, detectives Diane Fry and Ben Cooper become increasingly puzzled by the case. Why did Quinn’s two friends refuse to back up his alibi? And why did nobody visit him in prison for the last ten years of his sentence? Nobody, that is, except one of those two friends: ex-soldier Will Thorpe, now living rough somewhere in the Hope Valley. Overstretched and unable to apprehend a killer who moves around the area with impunity, the police can do little but warn other potential victims to be on their guard.

By the same author

Black Dog

Dancing with the Virgins

Blood on the Tongue

Blind to the Bones


One Last Breath



This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters

and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s

imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living

or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

HarperCollinsPz(/?//5/;i?rs 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 8JB Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2004


Copyright S Stephen Booth 2004

Stephen Booth asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 00 717202 8

Typeset in Sabon by Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Polmont, Stirlingshire

Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,

in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,

photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior

permission of the publishers.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,

by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or

otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent

in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it

is published and without a similar condition including this

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Dedicated to the men and women who explore the scariest place there is

— the world beneath our feet

No book would reach this stage without the efforts of a whole team of people, and I particularly owe a debt on this occasion to my editor Julia Wisdom and the team at HarperCollins for their support. As usual, any mistakes are entirely my own.

Castleton, Derbyshire, 9 October 1990 And then she was gone. He heard the final scrape of air as it caught in her throat, and felt her last breath brush his cheek, as if a wisp of smoke had passed through the room. For a moment, she had taken his life in her mouth like a bubble of soap, swollen to bursting and smeared with light. And she’d punctured it with a sigh, that dying whisper. With one last breath, she had blown his life away.

Mansell Quinn knew he’d heard her die. He pulled his hands away from her body, and stared at the blood staining his fingers and pooling in his palms. He turned them from side to side, and watched the blood slide over a coating of white dust on his skin. It ran across his wrists and trickled into the soft flesh of his forearms, teasing the fine hairs like the caress of a fingertip.

He shook his head, trying to clear away the thoughts that buzzed in his brain like flies. He knew there were things he should do. Things he should do now. But he couldn’t remember what they were. Quinn’s mind was whirling and the room had begun to swing around him in dizzying arcs. Painful surges of adrenalin twitched in his veins, churning through his body as if poison had been pumped into his bloodstream.

The words running through his head were no help at all. Murder. The children. The knife. He knew what the words were, but couldn’t get them in the right order.

For some reason, she was wearing the lime-green sweater. A moment ago, the fabric had been stretching and twisting in his hands where it hung open over her breast. The colour of it looked garish next to the blood. But if someone had asked him what else she was wearing, he wouldn’t have been able to say. The sweater and the blood were all he saw.

Quinn sank to the floor and knelt by the body. He could feel sweat soaking from his pores and running down his face like tears. Gas bubbled in his stomach until he thought he’d be sick. He reached to pick up the knife, thinking he should put it out of her reach, hide it, throw it away, keep it safe. He had no idea which. He took her wrist between his fingers to feel her pulse, though he’d heard her die and he knew she was dead. He flinched at the touch of her skin and the slackness of her joints, and he dropped her hand back on the floor, where it landed with a thud. Then he noticed the bloody smears he’d left on her arm; they formed a pattern of red blotches and streaks, like a mark branded on an animal.

He looked up and squinted at the room, trying to place where he was. Her death had changed the world completely, so that nothing was familiar any more. Small impressions jostled his senses, like fragments of a broken picture. Music was playing somewhere, but he didn’t recognize it. A door facing him was open, but he couldn’t

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