Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 May 2022 from Headline Accent
The Second World War rages on but Britain now faces the Nazi threat with America at its side.
In a bombed-out London swarming with gangsters and spies, DCI Frank Merlin continues his battle against rampant wartime crime. A mangled body is found in the Thames just as some items of priceless art go mysteriously missing. What sinister connection links the two?
Merlin and his team follow a twisting trail of secrets and lies as they investigate a baffling and deadly puzzle .
Dead In The Water by Mark Ellis is the fifth book in the acclaimed DCI Frank Merlin historical detective fiction series. Each book can be read on it’s own, but you’ll enjoy the whole series, I’m sure. Today I’m delighted to bring you the Prologue to Dead in the Water which I hope you’ll find as intriguing as it is chilling.
The apartment was in a fashionable residential building just off the Ringstrasse, the grand boulevard that encircled the centre of Aus-tria’s capital. Daniel was the fourth head of the Katz family to live there. Samuel Katz, his great-grandfather and founder of the eponymous family bank, had been the first. Daniel’s wife Esther and the younger of their four children, Sarah and Rachel, shared the apartment with him. His son and older daughter were away studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Daniel had taken over the running of the bank in 1920, after the sudden death of his father. Under his assured management, it had weathered the economic storms of the twenties and early thir-ties and had emerged as one of the soundest finance houses in Vienna. All should have been good in the Katz world. It was not. For the Katzes were Jews, and since March, Adolf Hitler had ruled their country. Daniel’s younger brother, Benjamin, had been quick to sniff the wind years before, when Hitler had first come to power in Germany. He had moved to London, where he had rapidly built up his own successful financial business. He had pestered Daniel for years to follow him, but Daniel had stubbornly resisted. An eternal optimist, he continued to believe, against all the evidence, that Hitler would make allowances for Jews who had brains and skills to offer society. The German annexation of Austria had at last put paid to this optimism. It was now crystal clear that all Jews, clever or not, were to be pariahs. The authorities had begun to strip him of his business interests. There was no prospect of escape, and it had become only a matter of time before everything was lost.
Now, on this fine autumn morning, that time had come. The family was breakfasting together in the dining room. The servants had long gone, and mother and daughters had prepared the meal. A letter had just arrived from their son, Nathan, and Esther was reading it aloud. As she turned to the final page, there was a sudden fierce pounding at the door, and a voice screamed, ‘Open up, Jewish scum!’
Daniel hurried to the hallway to see the front door already splintering under the pounding of rifle butts. Snarling soldiers pushed through. One of them dragged him down the corridor to where his petrified wife and daughters were cowering.
‘I am Sergeant Vogel. You will all do as you are told. Where is your sitting room?’
Daniel inclined his head to the left. ‘Second on the right. But . . . what is this about? This is a private dwelling. On what grounds . . .’
The sergeant struck him hard on his right cheek. ‘Shut up and move along.’
‘But gentlemen, please. You have no right. I must ask you to leave.’
The sergeant smiled and looked at his men. ‘Gentlemen, eh? Very polite, ain’t he, lads?’ He waved his gun. ‘Move.’
The party entered the larger of the apartment’s two parlours. Vogel, a fat man with the purple nose of a serious drinker, had a quick look round, then instructed the other soldiers to search the rest of the flat. He turned his attention back to the family. ‘Every-one get over there by the window.’
They did as they were told. Looking down into the street, Daniel saw a fleet of military vehicles. ‘May I ask what is happening?’
The sergeant grinned. ‘What is happening is that we are taking some of you rich Viennese Jews on a nice little vacation. We’ve got a holiday camp waiting for you, a place called Mauthausen. You’ll love it.’ He moved to the window and looked down himself at the action on the street. He emitted a satisfied grunt, then turned his attention to the girls. ‘You have two fine-looking daughters, Katz. I think I might steal a kiss before we go. Maybe a little more. What do you think, eh, my lovelies?’ Sarah cringed as he reached out to touch her. Then a peremptory voice sounded.
‘Vogel! What the hell are you doing?’
Another soldier was at the door. A younger man than Vogel but apparently of higher rank. His collar sported the insignia of the SS.
The sergeant stepped back. ‘I was just . . . just about to start searching everyone, sir.’
‘Starting with the prettiest, I see.’ The officer considered for a moment. ‘You may check to see if Herr Katz is armed, but I think it unnecessary to search the ladies.’
A clearly disappointed Vogel nodded and frisked Daniel roughly. ‘He’s clean, sir.’
The SS officer flashed a shark-like smile. ‘I’m forgetting my manners, Herr Katz. My name is Spitzen. Colonel Ferdinand Spitzen. Heil Hitler.’ His hand rose in more of a wave than a salute. ‘What a fine-looking family you have, Herr Katz.’ He stared at the women for a moment, then looked down at his highly polished boots. ‘Such a pity.’
‘I beg your pardon, Colonel?’
Spitzen’s face darkened. ‘You may beg my pardon indeed, Herr Katz. However, it will sadly not be forthcoming. The time has come for Jews to pay the price for the crimes of their race.’ He turned back to Vogel. ‘Go and see how the others are getting on. Make sure no one damages anything, or there’ll be hell to pay. Understand?’
‘Yes, sir.’ The sergeant disappeared into the corridor and the colonel began to walk around the room, voicing his admiration for the paintings, the opulent furniture and the numerous fine objets d’art dotted all around. Eventually he settled himself in alarge leather armchair by the fireplace. ‘So, Herr Katz. You will not be surprised to know, I’m sure, that the Reich has a full file on your long career as a crooked Jewish banker.’ He flicked a speck of dirt from his trousers. ‘Have you anything to say?’
‘I have been a straight and honest businessman all my life. I do not recognise your description.’
After considering this reply for a moment, Spitzen eased him-self to his feet, strolled over to Daniel and punched him hard in the face. Daniel collapsed to the floor, blood spurting from his nose. Esther and his daughters burst out crying, and rushed to help him to his feet.
‘You lie, Katz!’ shouted the colonel. ‘You and your race have connived for years to defraud the great German people. The Führer has now, thankfully, decided to put a halt to this abuse once and for all. Justice will be served.’ He returned to his chair. ‘As it happens, the name of Daniel Katz is surprisingly well known among the ruling circles of the Reich. Not because of your criminality, but for another reason. You are something of an art collector, are you not?’
Daniel realised for the first time that his tie had come loose. He attempted to retie it, but found that his hands were shaking too much. He shrugged.
‘We were under the impression that the greatest pieces in the collection were kept in your headquarter offices in Schottengasse. However, when we searched them, we did not find what we were looking for.’ Spitzen glanced around the room. ‘I see some attractive paintings here, but, unless I’m very much mistaken, these are again lesser works. Am I mistaken?’
Vogel appeared at the door before Daniel could answer.
‘Yes, Sergeant?’ Spitzen said irritably.
‘We’ve found a lot of stuff. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, ornaments. Some jewellery in the bedrooms. Oh, and a safe that needs opening.’
‘What about those particular items I listed for you?’ ‘Haven’t found them yet.’
Spitzen frowned, then turned back to Daniel. ‘You will open the safe for Sergeant Vogel. And you will show him any other hidden safes or receptacles for items of value in the flat. Don’t bother trying to conceal anything. There is no point. Once you are out of here, everything will be pulled apart.’
Daniel closed his eyes, then nodded.
‘I have what I believe to be a comprehensive list of the finest works in your collection. If they are not here, you must tell me where they are.’
‘I . . . I sent some works abroad.’
‘There is no record of transfer in official export records.’ ‘I did not . . . did not use official channels.’
‘I see. Yet another crime to be added to your long list. It may interest you to know that we’ve already had valuable assistance from some of your employees. According to them, you have stored a good portion of your collection in this country. They remember items being packed and dispatched to Austrian destinations. Unfortunately, there is no written record of these destinations. No doubt if I put a team on the matter they will track the works down, but things might go a little better for you and your family if you provide the addresses now.’
Daniel glanced nervously at his wife but said nothing.
Spitzen indicated the two girls. ‘You know, I made a point of protecting your daughters earlier.’ The shark-like smile reappeared. ‘Such protection could easily be removed.’
With a look of despair, Daniel conceded. ‘All right, all right. I’ll tell you.’
‘How sensible of you. Vogel, find Herr Katz a pen and paper.’
I hope that this short extract has left you wanting to read more. See below for details of the author and where to buy Dead in the Water.
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Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister and entrepreneur. He grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs. In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft, rape and corruption were rife. This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world – the world of DCI Frank Merlin. Mark Ellis is a member of several writers organisations including the Crime Writers’ Association and Crime Cymru. The third novel in his historical detective series, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.