Just a quick note to inform you that Book 2 Taken on the Peaks in my gripping new Detective Jessica Ryan Series is available for PRE-ORDER now, and it's only £1.99 to buy or can be read for FREE through a Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Book 1, Killer on the Peaks is still only 99p/99c so download that while it's still on sale!
Amazon UK: https://tinyurl.com/yvxcp5kf
Amazon US: https://tinyurl.com/v57rtctt
To whet your appetite, I've published the back cover blurb and an exclusive peak at the first two chapters of Taken on the Peaks: A twisting British murder mystery (Detective Jessica Ryan Peak District Crime Thriller Book 2) below...
Beneath the tranquil façade of Staffordshire's Peak District, darkness lurks.
When nineteen-year-old Tilley McCleave vanishes without a trace, Detective Jessica Ryan uncovers a chilling link to five young women who disappeared between 1990 and 2002. With the only survivor's harrowing story etched into her soul, can Jess unlock her disturbed mind and expose the predator's identity?
As past and present collide, secrets emerge, deception shadows every step, and readers are plunged into a relentless quest for truth. "Taken on the Peaks" by J.F. Burgess, author of the top-selling Detective Tom Blake mysteries, is a riveting crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Staffordshire Moorlands, November 1980
The arctic wind blustered across the huge rocky outcrop known locally as the Roaches and rattled the barbed wire lining the drystone walls separating the treacherous A53 Buxton road from a drop of sixty feet on to the moors below. A fifty-year-old alcoholic man returned from the Quiet Woman pub in Leek, the largest town in the Staffordshire Moorlands. He stumbled out of a taxi and swayed as he made his way past The Old Royal Cottage pub and headed down an unnamed road towards the front door of the remote stone cottage.
Wearing two jumpers and a thermal base layer under her dressing gown, his long-suffering wife huddled in her tattered wingback armchair by the coal fire trying to keep warm. She didn’t dare put the oil-powered central heating on knowing that would incur the wrath of her abusive husband. The sound of the front door slamming in the wind sent shock waves of fear through her body.
Above the cobweb strewn beams lining the old farmhouse ceiling, the dysfunctional couple’s twelve-year-old son froze on the landing, listening, waiting, petrified that his father had returned home before chucking out time.
The woman jumped up from her chair and dared to glance at the angry scowl on his face. ‘You’re early, I’ll get you a whiskey;’ she said trying to appease him.’
‘Fuckin’ winds closed the boozer,’ he said leaning on the oak plinth mantelpiece to steady himself.
‘Many in the pub?’ she asked feebly coming back through the kitchen with a large glass of whisky trembling in her hand.
‘Shut up woman and pass it over.’
She held out the glass, but stumbled and tripped; the loose rubber sole of her slippers, which she'd been asking him to glue for almost a month; caught on the rug. The glass flew out of her hand and the golden brown liquid soaked her husband’s soiled jeans.
‘Ah, fucking stupid bitch, that was the last of the Bells.’
As she crouched on the floor to pick the glass up, he kicked her hard in the stomach; knocking the wind completely out of her. As she squirmed around on the floor gasping, he grabbed her hair and yanked her head violently back.
‘You’re gonna pay for that,’ he said dragging her towards the fire.
Petrified, she felt urine trickle into her pants. Her breath returning she screamed out to her son.
The twelve-year-old boy stood on the middle of the stairs glaring in horror at what was unfolding.
‘She’s pissed herself, filthy bitch,’ the vile abuser groaned.
She trembled uncontrollably as he held her face eighteen inches from the intense heat of the glowing orange coals.
‘Stupid bitch. What am I supposed to drink now?’
Adrenalin pumping, the boy now stood at the bottom of the stairs.
‘Please don't hurt mum. I'll buy you another bottle of whiskey with my pocket money just don't do it, dad?’ he pleaded.
‘You’ve got no fucking money. Shut up or you're next,’ he said forcing her head closer.
The boy's mother screamed in agony as the flames singed her greying fringe and burnt her eyelashes off.
Without warning, the boy rushed to her aid. He swiped a sword-shaped letter opener off the coffee table and rammed it into his father’s side, just below his right nipple. The seven-inch blade pierced through his ribs and plunged into his alcohol damaged heart.
Turning, his father glared at him in disbelief before stumbling. He fell hitting his head on the hardwood arm of the other chair rendering him unconscious.
As blood poured out of his chest onto the rug, the boy swiftly wrapped his arms around his mother’s shoulders and with all his strength, he yanked her away from the fire. The flames had destroyed two full layers of her skin, which was black like charcoal; she’d suffered third-degree burns to her face and eyes, but to the boys astonishment she said she felt no pain. The nerve endings had died along with her abusive husband.
Detective Jessica Ryan kept her breathing steady as she jogged up the winding incline of an unnamed road that snaked through Axe Edge Moor and eventually connected to the A53 Leek to Buxton Road. The air was cold and the moorland grasses had begun to die back, winter browns and greys littered the undulating landscape laid out before her under gunmetal winter skies. Despite its barrenness, she loved the place and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, especially crime addled Stoke-on-Trent twenty-miles down the road. Her self-built eco barn just off the A53 was a dream home.
The only thing missing was her husband Darren; even now five years after his heart-breaking disappearance, his absence still haunted her dreams and affected their two kids’ emotional wellbeing. DI Clive Marshall’s recent admission that he suspected Darren had kept a secret diary containing incriminating intelligence about his last investigation into people trafficking, alerted Jess that his disappearance maybe connected to Marshall in some way. She’d found the diary hidden in their shed whilst looking for the kids badminton set over the summer and the page entries revealed Darren suspected that Marshall was suppressing his intel on the gang. But without solid evidence there was little she could do.
Gritting her teeth, she fought back tears as memories resurfaced in her mind’s eye: his cute smile, deep brown eyes and wicked sense of humour. The fact he’d seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth whilst working for the NCA beggared belief, and she vowed to never stop looking for him; it was in her DNA.
The last thing she wanted was to succumb to the emotional torment of allowing her mind to run through the grim possibilities of what could have happened to him, for the umpteenth time. But the short, painful text she’d received, saying he was missing them all so much really caught her out, given it had been the only communication since his disappearance in 2018. The subsequent trace of the mobile was a dead end. Triangulation Intel placed the device near to Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent city centre, and therefore was too random to glean anything more than that. Soon after, the burner went offline. In hindsight, she believed it was someone from the gang Darren had been trying to infiltrate goading her.
Pulling up, she gave her head a wobble and glanced at her Fit-Bit watch: six-thirty. Come on girl keep going, she uttered starting to jog again.
An hour later, Jess sat at her desk peering through the glass partition wall. The CID office buzzed with activity as her team delved into the details of a spate of inexplicable burglaries that had plagued the more affluent residents of Leek and the Moorlands over the last couple of months. With one of the houses targeted being situated in the scattered village of Gradbach, she found herself wondering if the middle-aged couple who lived there had come across a devious serial killer who’d murdered a London property developer, and a local councillor in their last case. The contrast between the tranquil beauty of the moors and the darkness that had taken place was startling. Standing, she slid her chair out, and grabbed her latte off the desk.
Now in the CID room, she listened intently as DS Dan Parker relayed the evidence, outlining the burglar's modus operandi.
‘Based on the patterns we've observed, this burglar appears to target larger properties in remote areas, where the chances of being caught are minimal. We suspect he either uses a vehicle to reach these locations or lives within the vicinity, familiar with the landscape and his victims.’
Jess nodded. ‘Not like the average smash-and-grab druggie burglars. This guy, or as I believe, guys, are clearly professional crims.’
DS Rose Martina chimed in, ‘What makes you think there’s more than one bloke at it, boss?’
‘Just a hunch really, I mean the crime scene reports suggest one bloke at some of the properties, but at the last few break-ins, the CSIs think there’re two intruders, judging by scene analysis and distribution of foot pressure marks on carpets.’
Rose nodded in agreement. ‘Fair enough.’
‘Valuable jewellery seems to be the primary target, diamond rings, hefty gold etc. They are also making off with expensive phones, laptops, mostly Apple goods, and any available cash. It seems they are specifically targeting items that are easily portable and fetch a good price on the black market,’ Jess continued.
DC Jack Redford interjected, ‘How the hell are they doing it, so far, there's been no trace of fingerprints or DNA, and despite using Apples Find My Device, we’ve been unable to retrieve the stolen goods. Seems some of the older victims didn’t activate this anti-theft feature.’
‘Even so, it's as if these blokes are meticulous in covering their tracks.’ Rose said.
Jess frowned, a mix of frustration and determination filling her voice. ‘Jeff Foxhall at Stoke CSI is convinced they are forensically aware, probably wearing shoe covers gloves and absurdly, bunny suits, hence the lack of evidence. I’ve considered increasing vehicle patrols, but given how wide spread these properties and other potential targets are, it would be futile.’
‘They must be selling the goods out of the area or online through dubious sites that don’t require the usual security checks, then again the odd thicko still tries to sell nicked stuff on eBay,’ Parker said.
‘Exactly, all previous searches of the main online sites, such as eBay have failed to identify any of the stolen goods. We’re gonna have to keep digging until potential leads crop up. You know how it goes folks; someone will make a mistake, leave prints, shoot their mouth off after a few too many beers or try to fence goods locally, but until then we need to be vigilant and re-warn people who own properties that fit target criteria to up their security,’ Jess cautioned.
Redford’s brow rose. ‘Thing is boss, when PC Bailey and I went to speak with some of the property owners; we were amazed at how poor their security was. Only a few had alarms, some of which had been turned off because they’d gone faulty, and the others were too old to get their head around doorbell cameras and tech like that.’
Jess shrugged. ‘We can only advise them, Jack. If they fail to take the necessary steps, what can we do?’
The team nodded in agreement. As they continued their discussion, Jess dished out the tasks and mapped out their renewed plan of action. She knew it was going to be challenging, but with the dedication and teamwork of her colleagues, she was confident they would track down these burglars and put an end to the thefts.
When Jess arrived home from the station around six that evening, the kitchen was still warm, heat circulated from the log burner Jess’s dad had kept going. Jess hung her laptop bag in the pantry and sat at the rustic dining table with her kids, Benjie and Madeleine, and her dad, Mick. The delicious aroma of Madeleine's spaghetti Bolognese filled the air, as they all eagerly dug into their food.
‘Hmm, Maddi, this is absolutely delicious,’ Jess complimented her daughter with a smile.
‘Thanks, Mum,’ Madeleine beamed with pride. ‘Got it outta that cookbook you bought from The Big Charity shop in Leek last week.’
Benjie nodded enthusiastically, spaghetti dangling from his mouth. ‘Yeah, it's amazing, sis!’
Mick chuckled, his eyes shining with delight. ‘You're getting good in the kitchen, Maddi.’
As they enjoyed their meal, the conversation flowed effortlessly. Jess asked about their day, and Benjie shared stories about school, friends, and the belting goal he scored during a five-aside match in the gym that afternoon. Madeleine talked about a fashion photography project she’d been working on at college.
Once the kids finished eating, they excused themselves from the table to tackle their homework, leaving Jess and Mick alone.
‘They're growing up so fast,’ Mick remarked his voice tinged with a hint of nostalgia.
‘I can't believe how quickly the years have gone by. If only Darren was here to see how they’ve both turned out, he’d be so proud,’ she said sombrely.
Mick glanced at his daughter with a knowing look. ‘I know you miss him love, but we gotta try and move on. So, what have you been up to at work? Any interesting cases lately?’ he said changing the subject.
Jess sighed, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. ‘We've been dealing with a string of burglaries at the remote moorland properties. High-value items; jewellery, phones, and laptops are being nicked. It's challenging because the thieves are meticulous, leaving no fingerprints or DNA.’
Mick leaned back in his chair. ‘Sounds like a tough one. You’ll get to the bottom of it.’
Jess smiled gratefully at her dad's vote of confidence. ‘Thanks, Dad. We're working on it. But it's good to have moments like this, with family, reminds me what really matters.’
Mick nodded. ‘Absolutely. Family’s everything. You've built a wonderful home here, Jess, and I'm proud of the woman you've become.’
Jess's heart swelled with warmth, and she reached across the table to squeeze her dad's hand. ‘Thanks, I couldn't do it without you.’
‘We’ve done it together, love.’
As they sat together, the bond between father and daughter, and the love within their tight-knit family, radiated throughout the cosy house Jess and Darren had built with her dad’s help.
PRE-ORDER Taken on the Peaks here:
Amazon UK: https://tinyurl.com/ykr4m3ef
Amazon US: https://tinyurl.com/bd5n9zyc