After a month of gruelling editing, I sent the final manuscript back to HarperCollins a couple of days ago. Now there is just copy-editing, and then it’s done and dusted, and will be released on December 14th. It’s already got pre-orders in three figures (thanks!) which is great to see. There will be a blog tour 11-18 December to get some early reviews…
The final Nadia outing has less diving, but the diving is more extreme, both in terms of depth and what is down below. There is more travel in this book, starting in Hong Kong, then Sudan, then Sakhalin in Russia’s east, then to Moscow, and finally to the Arctic. There’s one more country involved, but telling you would be a spoiler…
The big deal of course is Nadia vs. Salamander. 66 Metres and 37 Hours were about Nadia’s family, and in a way, 88 North sees more of Salamander’s family, with two new characters, one who will help Nadia, one who will betray her. The climax is extreme and high action, but that’s what my readers have come to expect, and I hope they won’t be disappointed!
Below is a short excerpt from the Sudan section – (there are no spoilers in this section) – where Nadia has just completed a rather difficult dive, and is being held prisoner by a new character (Michael), who may or not want to kill her. But all she wants is some breakfast, and so a woman is preparing fried eggs for her. But of course, for Nadia, not even breakfast goes smoothly…
All Nadia wanted was a decent breakfast. It could be her last meal for all she cared. The ascent and decompression had taken forever. She’d needed the bathroom badly by the time she’d surfaced, which turned out to be a stinking shithole covered with two planks, behind a dune. Afterwards, she’d washed herself off in the cool waters of the Red Sea, stripping to her underwear, not caring who of Michael’s men saw what. Their problem.
Michael seemed to be coming around. Unbelievable. Nadia wasn’t used to fortune nodding in her direction, and as for Lady Luck, she’d never even caught a whiff of her scent. But now she could smell fried eggs. Her mother used to cook her scrambled eggs, but her father could fry eggs fit for a king, and the short, stout woman swaddled head to foot in dusty black robes was doing a pretty damned good job, too. Three, Nadia had said, making the woman’s eyes widen a fraction.
Nadia wasn’t a fan of the Burka. But to each their own. As long as you could see the eyes, the Chef had always said. Not a window to the soul, something more practical. A lie detector. And a predictor of when someone was going to betray you and kill you. The look. He’d drilled it into her and her fellow students back at Kadinsky’s camp in Siberia.
‘No matter how good you are, you are dead if you drop your guard with the wrong person. Someone you love, someone you trust, someone who appears to be doing you a favour.’
He’d said it as if it had happened to him. And worse, as if he’d done it to someone he’d cared about. The assassin’s nightmare scenario. Being ordered to kill one of your own.
The fat around the eggs sizzled and popped in the copper frying pan that sat atop glowing red coals from last night’s fire. It was morning.
‘You must drink,’ the woman said, her voice throaty, her eyes on the eggs.
‘Later,’ Nadia replied. She never drank just before, or during a meal. It interfered with digestion. Thirty minutes afterwards, that was the time to drink.
‘I prepared tea for you, special tea, best when it is hot.’
Nadia didn’t answer. She’d already said no. In her book, once was enough. The woman said no more and picked up a shiny, broad knife, and began chopping something green. Chives? No, fenugreek leaves, and a chilli pepper. Okay, spicy eggs then. Why not? Helped you sweat, cooled you down.
The woman put down the knife, took a cloth with which to grab the pan handle, and flipped the three eggs over. She mixed the spices with salt and pepper, then sprinkled it over the eggs, her hands covered in henna tattoos the colour of rosewood. Nadia suddenly felt an urge to stay, to learn more about these people, not as a tourist, but as a traveller. She wanted to roam the world, and… Why did her mind do that? She was a dead woman walking.
The eggs arrived in front of her on a beautifully etched metal plate, bold lines folding under and over each other, like an Escher drawing. She hadn’t heard the woman get up, come over. Soft on her feet. Instinctively, Nadia glanced back to the small table. The knife was still there. Relax, just enjoy your eggs for fuck’s sake. A meal fit for a king. Nadia picked up her fork. The woman’s eyes. She’d never really seen them. She wouldn’t look at her. Because…
The woman had walked behind Nadia as if to leave her alone to eat her breakfast, and Nadia scooped up a chunk of egg white, with a gob of mushy yolk attached, then whirled around just in time, stabbing her fork deep into the woman’s forearm, making her yelp and drop her Sudanese dagger, an Issa, its long blade angled down near the end. Nadia’s other hand whipped across the woman’s carotid, spiking the blood pressure to her brain, making her pass out.
Nadia stood up, listening to hear any footsteps sprinting towards the tent. None. She tied the woman’s hands behind her back with some cloth, turned back to her plate, and finished the eggs. Not bad. In the end, not quite up to her father’s standard, though the fenugreek was an interesting touch.
She left the tea.