Every year, on the same night in July, a woman is taken from the streets of London; snatched by a killer who moves through the city like a ghost.
Addie has a secret. On the morning of her tenth birthday, four bombs were detonated across the capital. That night her dad came home covered in blood. She thought he was hurt in the attacks – but then her sister Jessie found a missing woman’s purse hidden in his room.
Jessie says they mustn’t tell. She says there’s nothing to worry about. But when she takes a job looking after the woman’s baby daughter, Addie starts to realise that her big sister doesn’t always tell her the whole story. And that the secrets they’re keeping may start costing lives . . .
The summer I turned ten, everything started to change. We
still lived in the same flat we’d always lived in, second floor
of a block on Brixton Road, where I could sit out on the
concrete balcony and watch the top decks of buses sail by.
But that year it started to feel less like home. The stack of
bills with their red letters, left in a pile on the scarred
kitchen table. The fridge sad and empty, humps of ice
sliding down its back wall. Dad out at work when I went
to school and when I came back and all night too, waiting
outside hospitals, bars, airports. Anywhere he thought
someone might be just desperate enough not to care about
the cracked wing mirror, the croaky engine. The Magic
Tree hanging from the rearview mirror where his licence
should have been.
Jessie had started working more too. The wig shop was
in one of the railway arches, trains thudding overhead, and
Jessie had been helping out there since she was fifteen. She
used to take me sometimes, if Laine was in a good mood,
and they’d let me sit out the back, running my fingers
through the boxes of acrylic hair until they crackled with
static. It was Jessie’s job to unpack them from their plastic,
to brush them out ready for Laine to display; white polystyrene heads lined up in the window and on the walls for
the full wigs, glass cabinets and racks for the weaves. Laine
had a soft spot for me. She saved old magazines for me and
would sit and twist my hair into complicated styles, her
long nails tickling my scalp. But she loved my sister more.
It took me a long time to look back and realise that that
shop was too small for two people to work in there as
much as they did; that even before that summer, it was only
ever us in there, never any customers. Laine didn’t need
Jessie there, probably couldn’t afford to pay her most
weeks, but she still kept handing her those little brown
envelopes each Friday. She loved us, or she felt sorry for
us – I’ve always found it hard to tell the difference.
Often, after they’d closed up the shop, Laine would
produce drinks from the locked cupboard under the till,
and she and Jessie would sit on the display cabinet, legs
swinging, and tell me to try on wig after wig. I’d get braver
after a while, parading back and forth in Laine’s heels,
while they doubled over laughing. Laine was the only
person, apart from Jessie, who could bring that out in me.
But even that couldn’t stay the same.
Her brother showed up one Saturday with a cardboard
box, damp down one side, which he dumped onto the
counter. I was sitting on my little stool in the tiny back
room, but with the door propped open, and Laine was out
getting lunch. It was Jessie behind the till, and I watched
the way her hands went immediately to her hair, the way
she pressed against the counter, one foot cocked onto its
His hair was darker than Laine’s dyed caramel; tight
black curls which were shorn short all over. He was
wearing mirrored aviators, blue and yellow tinged, and he
tilted his head forward so they slid down his chiselled face
and he could look properly at my sister.
‘Hey,’ he said, his voice smooth and low. ‘Laine in?’
Jessie shrugged, her expression cool. But from where I
was sitting I could see her foot tapping anxiously behind
her. Her hair was growing out; mousy at the roots, yellowish white along the length, but Laine had been playing with
her new straighteners and so it was shiny and smooth, no
‘Gone out,’ she said, and then, to the box, ‘What’s that?’
‘Product,’ he said, and he took his sunglasses off. ‘You’re
‘Jessie.’ I was glad she said that; glad she corrected him.
Dad called her Jess all the time, Jessica when he was
teasing or drunk or annoyed, and she never corrected him.
I didn’t like that. It was Dad who had chosen Jessica for
her; Mum who had made it Jessie.
‘Right. Jessie. I’m Laine’s baby brother.’
‘Elliott. I know.’
He looked at her differently then, a little smile starting at
the corners of his mouth. It often surprised people, the
hardness of her shell. ‘Nobody calls me that,’ he said.
Laine came in then, before he could reply, an open can
of Coke in one hand, a half-eaten sandwich in the other.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘You’re early.’ And Jessie moved swiftly
away, like someone almost caught doing something wrong.
She started straightening the heads behind the till, brushing
the hair, and so it was only me who saw the way he kept
looking past Laine as she talked, his eyes drifting to Jessie.
The first boyfriend I remember of hers had broken up with
her a couple of months before. We’d been walking home
after she’d picked me up from school, and she’d got the
text. I can still remember the exact way she looked then;
the cropped yellow T-shirt, the toned line of her belly. The
purple Air Maxes, their laces fluorescent yellow. The knot
of her hair, the darker roots and the fluff of the ends
fanning out from underneath. Her nose ring was new and
didn’t last long after that, and the third tiny hoop in her left
ear was red-rimmed and crusted. She cared for me religiously; for herself, little. I remember the way she shrugged,
shoved her phone back in her pocket. The way, a couple of
minutes later, she hissed Twat under her breath.
‘Are you okay?’ I asked, and she squeezed my hand once
and let it go.
‘The only person you can trust is me, okay?’ she said.
‘Me and you, that’s it.’
Dellar – and he was right; the only person who ever called
him by his first name was Laine – came back a couple of
days later. We were outside, Laine locking up the shutters,
a stray acrylic red thread still stuck in my hair, a blue one
sliding down the front of my school shirt. Jessie was laughing, her hand clawed up in front of her face as she told us
a story about some guy she’d turned down the night
before. It was weird, this aspect of our relationship: she
was my mother figure but she was still seventeen. She was
seventeen and she went out at night after she said goodnight to me and woke up in a single bed three feet from my
single bed, make-up smeared across her face and her
clothes abandoned in a trail from the door to her pillow.
She was seventeen but she still woke me up for school,
cooked me breakfasts – ‘A hot breakfast in your belly
makes you always ready,’ she’d say, drumming up an omelette from the stray egg, the last piece of ham, and it’d be a
year or two before she started adding, ‘That’s what Mum
used to say, anyway.’
As Laine clicked the final padlock shut, we heard footsteps behind us, their sound a slow, assertive beat against
the distant chug of a train somewhere down the track
above, the clatter of shutters from the butcher and the fishmonger across the street. We turned and watched him
come towards us, the early summer sun sliding behind the
arches, Atlantic Road its most attractive in subdued
orange. His sunglasses were back on his face, the three of
us framed small and blue-tinted in both lenses.
‘Hey,’ Jessie said, when he got close, and he just grinned
Laine tutted at him, but then she took my hand. ‘I’ll take
As we walked, I snuck glances up at Laine. In profile,
her face was softer, less intimidating. She was quieter, just
the two of us, away from the shop.
‘Does your brother like Jessie?’ I asked, and she looked
down at me.
‘Honey,’ she said. ‘Elliott likes everybody.’
We crossed the road and cut into the estate. ‘She likes
him,’ I said, testing, and when she didn’t reply, my heart
Thank you, Phoebe Locke and Random Things Tours.
About the author
PHOEBE LOCKE is the pseudonym of full-time writer Nicci Cloke. She previously
worked at the Faber Academy, and hosted London literary salon Speakeasy.
Nicci has had two literary novels published by Fourth Estate and Cape, and
also writes YA for Hot Key Books. She lives and writes in Cambridgeshire. THE
JULY GIRLS follows Phoebe Locke’s debut thriller THE TALL MAN.
Find Phoebe on Twitter on @phoebe_locke