When bizarre and cryptic messages are found on a pair of corpses in Mobile, Alabama, junior police detective Carson Ryder and veteran cop Harry Nautilus find themselves in a mysterious public-relations quagmire pitting public safety against office politics. With the body count growing, Ryder must confront his family’s terrifying past by seeking advice from his brother, a violent psychopath convicted of similarly heinous crimes. Ryder finds himself falling for Ava, the striking pathologist processing the gruesome corpses. But Ava’s past holds its own nightmarish secrets.
Ryder and Nautilus come to realize someone close to them is the killer’s ultimate target—and time is running out before the killer plans to strike again.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.38(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Seconds before one of the most long-awaited events of Alexander Caulfieldís adult life, an event heíd spent years planning and pursuing, an event marking his ascension into professionalism, a decent salary, and the respect of his peers, his left eye started winking like a gigolo in a third-rate Italian film.
Caulfield cursed beneath his breath. A physician, he recognized a manifestation of transient hemifacial spasms: eye tics or flutters in response to events sparking anxiety or posing a threat.
Anxiety was ludicrous, he lectured himself, squeezing the offending eye shut; heíd performed or assisted with hundreds of autopsies during his internship. The only difference was this was his first professional autopsy. She was sitting twenty feet away.
Caulfield slowly opened his eye . . .
He angled a glance at Dr. Clair Peltier. She was opening a letter in the autopsy suiteís utility office, apparently absorbed in correspondence. Caulfield felt blindsided, unprepared, fumble fingered: today had been scheduled for procedural reviews and meeting new colleagues at the Mobile office of the Alabama Forensics Bureau.
Then sheíd casually suggested he take her place during a procedure.
Caulfield refocused the ceiling-mounted surgical lamp over the body of the middle-aged white male on the table. Water rinsed beneath the corpse, sounding like a small brook playing over metal. He glanced at Dr. Peltier again: still studying her mail. He mopped his sweating brow, adjusted his mask for the third time, and studied the body. Would his incision be perfectly midline? Would it be straight? Smooth? Would it meet her standards?
He drank in a deep breath, told his hands, Now. The blue-white belly opened like a curtain between pubis and sternum. Clean and straight, a textbook opening.
Caulfield slipped another glance at Dr. Peltier. She was watching him.
Dr. Peltier smiled and returned to her correspondence. Caulfield pushed his fear to a far corner of his mind and focused on inspecting and weighing organs. He spoke his findings aloud, the tape recorder capturing them for later transcription to print.
On gross examination the myocardial tissue appears normal in size and wall thickness. Areas of myocardium in the left ventricle are suggestive of past myocardial infarction. . . .
The familiar sights and words steered Caulfield onto a trusted path; he didnít notice when the spasms melted away.
. . . liver mottled, early indication of cirrhosis . . . kidneys unremarkable . . .
The man had been found sprawled in his front yard after a 911 call. The EMTs followed aggressive resuscitation procedures for a heart attack, but the man entered University Hospital as a DOA. Caulfieldís initial findings supported a massive cardiac event, though the nondamaged tissue appeared healthy and free of epicarditis or atherosclerosis. Caulfield moved lower in the cavity.
An obstruction is noted in the descending colon. . . .
Caulfield pinched the lump in the bowel. Hard and regular in shape, a man-made object. It wasnít uncommon, emergency-room physicians were forever sending patients to the ER to extract vibrators, candles, vegetables, and suchnot; people were inventive in their quest for erotic sensation.
Using a number-ten blade, a ten-centimeter vertical incision was made through the anterior wall of the descending colon. . . .
Caulfield retracted the bowel to reveal the source of the obstruction.
An object can be visualized, silver and cylindrical, resembling a section of flashlight casing. . . .
Wet metal gleamed through the slit in the intestine, black fabric wrapping one end. No, not fabric, friction tape. Caulfieldís finger tentatively tapped the casing. Something about the object glimmered with threat, an intruder in the house.
He heard Dr. Peltierís chair push back and high heels start toward him. Sheíd been listening. His fingers slid into the passageway and grasped the object. He tugged gently. It slipped easily through the slit, then resisted. Caulfield tightened his fingers around the object and pulled harder.
Simultaneous: white flash, black thud. Caulfieldís head whiplashed and the floor slammed his back. Red mist and smoke painted the air. A womanís scream spun through the roaring in his ears. Someone above him waved a blunt stick, a club.
No, not a club . . .
The light flickered twice and failed.
When the autopsy was transcribed to printed form, transcriptionist Marie Manolo was uncertain whether to include Dr. Caulfieldís final six words. Trained by Dr. Peltier to be clinically detached and thorough, Marie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and continued typing:
My fingers. Where are my fingers?
A guyís walking his dog late one night. . . .
I watched Harry Nautilus lean against the autopsy table and tell the Worldís Greatest Joke to a dozen listeners holding napkin-wrapped cups and plastic wineglasses. Most were bureaucrats from the city of Mobile and Mobile County. Two were lawyers; prosecution side, of course. Harry and I were the only cops. There were dignitaries around, mostly in the reception area where the main morgue rededication events were scheduled. The ribbon cutting had been an hour back, gold ribbon, not black, as several wags had suggested.
What kind of dog? Arthur Peterson asked. Peterson was a deputy prosecutor and his question sounded like an objection.
A mutt, Harry grunted, narrowing an eye at the interruption. A guy is walking his mutt named Fido down the street when he spots a guy on his hands and knees under a streetlight.
Harry took a sip of beer, licked foam from his bulldozer-blade mustache, and set his cup on the table about where a head would be.
The dog walker asks the man if heís lost something. Man says, ëYeah, my contact lens popped out.í So the dog walker ties Fido to a phone pole and gets down on his hands and knees to help. They search up and down, back and forth, beneath that light. Fifteen minutes later the dog walker says, ëBuddy, I canít find it anywhere. Are you sure it popped out here?í The man says, ëNo, I lost it over in the park.í ëThe park?í the dog walker yells. ëThen why the hell are we looking in the street?í
Harry gave it a two-beat build.
The man points to the streetlamp and says, ëThe lightís better here.í
Harry laughed, a musical warble at odds with a black man built like an industrial boiler. His audience tittered politely. An attractive redhead in a navy pantsuit frowned and said, I donít get it. Whyís that the worldís greatest joke?
It has mythical content, Harry replied, the right half of his mustache twitching with interest, the left drooping in disdain. Given the choice of groping after something in the dark, or hoping to find it easily in the light, people pick the light ninety-nine times out of a hundred.
Peterson lofted a prosecutorial eyebrow. So whoís the hundredth guy, the one always groping in the dark?
Harry grinned and pointed my way.
Him, he said.
I shook my head, showed Harry my back, and walked to the reception area. It was loud and crowded, local VIPs churning like a bucketful of mice as they scrambled for position beside an Even More Important Person or in front of a news camera. Guests huddled three deep around the buffet table. I watched a heavy woman in evening wear slip two sandwiches into her purse before puzzling over meatbealls in gravy. A dozen feet away a florid county commissioner babbled proudly for a news crew.
. . . like to welcome yíall to the dedication of the new faculties . . . one of the uniqueist in the nation . . . proud to have voted the fundage . . . the tragedy of Dr. Caulfield should remind us to be ever viligent. . . .
I saw Willet Lindy across the hall and plunged into the roiling bodies, excusing and pardoning my way his direction. A reporter from Channel 14 stared, then blocked my path.
I know you, donít I? she said, tapping a scarlet talon against pursed lips. Werenít you part of, like, a big story a few months back, donít tell me . . .
I spun and ducked and left her puzzling over my fifteen minutes of fame. Willet Lindy stood against the wall, sipping a soft drink. I pulled myself from the current and joined him.
Itís Wal-Mart three days before Christmas, Will, I said, loosening my tie and wincing at something dark dribbled on my shirt; following the same cosmic dictum that buttered bread always falls sticky side down, the stain was impossible to hide with my sport jacket. Lindy grinned and scooted sideways to give me a piece of wall for leaning. He was four years past my age of twenty-nine, but his gnomish face and receding hairline made him look a decade older. Lindy managed the nonmedical functions of the facility, such as maintenance and purchasing. Iíd known him a year or so, starting when my detective status made me privy to the secrets of the morgue.
Nice renovation of the place, I said. Looks brand new. Lindy was a shorter guy, five seven or eight, and I had to speak down half a foot. Not hard, I was told I stooped naturally, a large puppet on slackened strings.
Lindy nodded. Cosmetic changes aside, we replaced much of the equipment. Plus we have things we didnít have beforehe pointed to a flyspeck dot in a ceiling tilesecurity cameras. Miniaturized. If something like the Caulfield incident happens again, the bomb squad can inspect the scene from a distance.
Caulfield was the first-timer pathologist whose hand had been mutilated by a bomb meant to kill a man already dead; a horrifying event, unsolved. Not a lot of cops here, Will, I said to change the subject.
Lindy raised a dissenting eyebrow. The chief and deputy chiefs, a captain or two.
I meant cops, but didnít have the time, or maybe the words, to explain the difference. As if cued, Captain Terrence Squill walked by, saw me, backed up. Squill and I had barely exchanged syllables in the past; he was so far up the ladder I squinted to see the bottoms of his shoes.
Ryder, is it? What the hell are you doing here? His eyes noted the blot on my shirt and his nose wrinkled. The director of Investigative Services was a compact and dapper man whose precise features and liquid, feminine eyes recalled a fortyish Orrin Hatch. The knot of his tie was so tight and symmetrical it seemed carved from marble. I knew nothing of gray suits but suspected I was looking at one fitted by a tailor.
I got an invitation, thought Iíd come and represent the department, sir.
He leaned closer and lowered his voice. This is not an affair for junior personnel. Did you con some City Hall bimbo into slipping your name on the list? Or did you sneak in the back door?
I was amazed at how much anger was in his eyes while his mouth remained smiling. Anyone out of earshot would figure we were talking football or fishing. I never sneak, I said. Like I told you, I got an
Lindy spoke up. Excuse me, Captain?
What is it, Mr. Lindy?
Detective Ryder was invited by Dr. Peltier. She also invited his partner, Detective Nautilus.
Squill pursed his lips as if preparing to speak or spit, shook his head, and disappeared into the crowd. I shrugged off the incident, said I wanted to thank Dr. Peltier for the invite, and dove back into the crowd.
Clair stood at the door of her office, speaking with Alabamaís attorney general and his satellites. A simple black dress set off her skin, velvet over china, and I enjoyed watching her dominate her audience. A striking mid-forty-four year old woman with cropped anthracite hair and ice-blue eyes, Dr. Clair Peltier, director of the Mobile office of the Alabama Forensics Bureau, needs only spear and helmet to claim center stage in a Wagner opera. The effect is enhanced by about fifteen extra pounds, which she wears in her thighs and shoulders. When the AG and his retinue paraded away, I stepped up. With high heels she was almost tall enough for her eyes to level into mine.
Will Lindy says youíre the reason Iím here, I said, raising my cup toward those amazing eyes. Thanks.
No thanks are necessary, Ryder. The guest list was top heavy with police brass. The media being here, I figured it appropriate to have some detectives in attendance. I chose you and Detective Nautilus because you might be recognizable from the Adrian case.
Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus, token detectives, so much for the A-list. I doubted weíd still be recognizable; as demonstrated by the reporter, the mediaís present-tense mentality had filed the year-old case somewhere between the Norman Conquest and the Industrial Revolution. I started to thank Doc P again anyway, but an upwardly mobilized junior prosecutor shouldered me aside and presented his giggly fiancÈe to one of the top female medical examiners in the nation.
I smiled as I walked away. Top female medical examiners . . . Clair was gonna eat that little bastardís soul the next time they worked together.
A heavy black hand squeezed my shoulder. Harry.
Working the crowd, amigo? I asked.
He winked. A bash like this, Cars, all the politicos and wannabees getting half blammed, you canít beat it for getting milk.
Milk was Harryís term for inside information concerning the department or its influences. Though not a political type himself, he loved departmental gossip and always had the skinny, more milk than a herd of Guernseys. He leaned whisper close. Rumor has it Chief Hyrum is rolling and strolling next spring, summer at latest.
Heís taking dancing lessons? Harryís rhyming affliction alternately amused or irritated me. Today was irritation.
Early retirement, Cars. Two years early.
Iíd been a street cop for three years, a detective for one. Though I knew of the thicket of departmental politics, I was indifferent. Harryíd spent fifteen years studying them on a molecular level. I requested a translation. He paused, divining.
Gonna be power plays, Carson. Upstaging, backstabbing, and downright lying. People that do nothing but push paper are gonna make like theyíre the hottest shit since the devilís stables.
How much of that manure is gonna land on our heads? I asked.
Harry scowled at his empty glass and pushed toward the bar, the multitude parting like water for a black Moses in pink slacks and purple shirt. Donít fret it and sweat it, bro, he said over his shoulder. Weíre too far down the ladder to get caught in the shitstorm.
My glass of iced tea was mostly cubes and I strained it through my fingers and swiped ice chips over my sweating face and the back of my neck. The effect was delicious in the nightís heat; a cold startle of wet ice and the astringent draw of tannin. I sighed at the joy of small pleasures and leaned back in my deck chair. A gibbous moon swept above, hazy and haloed, the air glutted with wet. Hours gone from the morgue dedication ceremony, bare feet propped on the railing, I watched the golden plume of an oil rig burning off gas three miles across the Gulf. Fire from the dark water seemed as exotic as a parrot in a scrub-pine woodlands.
I live on Dauphin Island, thirty miles south of Mobile, several of them water. By Island standards my place is blushingly modest, a two-bedroom cottage perched on pilings over beachfront sand, but any realtor would list it for four hundred grand. When my mother died three years back she left me enough to swing the deal. It was a time in my life when I needed a safe retreat, and where better than a box in the air above an island?
The phone rang. I reflexively patted where pockets would be if Iíd been wearing clothes, then plucked the phone from the table. It was Harry.
Weíre wanted at a murder scene. Could be Piss-itís coming-out party.
Youíre two months late for April Foolís, Harry. Whatís really happening?
Our inaugural ball, partner. Thereís a body downtown looking for a head.
Harry and I were homicide detectives in Mobileís first district, partners, our job security assured by the mindless violence of any city where the poor are abundant and tightly compressed. That shaped our world unless, according to the recently revised procedures manual, a murder displayed overt evidence of psychopathological or sociopathological tendencies. Then, regardless of jurisdiction, the Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team was activated. The entire PSIT, departmentally referred to as Piss- it, of course, was Harry and me and a specialist or two we could enlist as needed. Though the unit was basically a public- relations schemeand had never been activatedthere were those in the department not happy with it.
Like me, right about now.
Get there as fast as you can, Harry said, reading me the address. Iíll meet you out front. Use siren, flashers. Gun it and run it, donít diddle around.
You donít want me to pick up a quart of milk and a loaf of bread?
The phone clicked dead.
I jumped into jeans and pulled on a semiclean dress shirt, yanking a cream linen jacket from the rack to cover the shoulder rig. I stumbled down the steps, climbed into the unmarked Taurus under the house, and blew away in a spray of sand and crushed shells. The flasher and siren stayed off until Iíd crossed the inky stretch of Mississippi Sound to the mainland, where I cranked up the light show, turned on the screamer, and laid the pedal flat.
The body was in a small park on the near-southwest side of Mobile, five acres of oak and pecan trees surrounded by a turn- of-the-century neighborhood moving from decline to gentrification. Three flashing cruisers fronted the park, plus a tech services van. Two unmarkeds flanked a shiny black SUV I took as Squillís. The ubiquitous news van had its uplink antenna raised. Harry was forty feet ahead and walking toward the park entrance. I pulled to the curb and stepped out into an ambush, a sudden burst of camera light in my eyes.
I remember you now, came a vaguely familiar voice from behind the glare. Youíre Carson Ryder. You had something to do with the Joel Adrian case, right?
I blinked and saw the woman reporter from the morgue rededication. She was in full TV-journalist bloom, lacquered hair, scarlet talons gripping a microphone like a condor holds a rabbit. Her other hand grabbed my bicep. She lifted the mike to her lips and stared at the camera.
This is Sondra Farrel of Action Fourteen News. Iím outside of Bowderie Park, where a headless body has been discovered. With me is Detective Carson Ryder of the
I scowled at the camera and unleashed a string of swear words in three real languages and one invented on the spot. Thereís nothing reporters hate worse than a sound bite that bites back. The reporter shoved my arm away. Shit, she said to the cameraman. Cut.
I caught up with Harry at the entrance to the park, guarded by a young patrolman. He gave me a look.
Youíre Carson Ryder, arenít you?
I looked down and mumbled something that could have gone either way. As we passed by, the patrolman pointed at his uniform and asked Harry, How do I get out of this as fast as Ryder did?
Be damned good or damned crazy, Harry called over his shoulder.
Which oneís Ryder? the young cop asked. Good or crazy?
Damned if he ainít a little of both, Harry yelled. Then to me, Hurry.
The scene techs brought portable lights with enough wattage to guide in a 757, all focused at a twenty-by-twenty area spiked with head-high bushes. Trees surrounded us and blotted most of the stars. Dog shit lurked beneath every step. Two dozen feet away a sinuous concrete path bisected the park. A growing audience pressed against the fence where the park met the street, including an old woman twisting a handkerchief, a young couple holding hands, and a half-dozen sweat-soaked joggers dancing foot to foot.
Two criminalists worked inside the taped-off area, one kneeling over the victim, the other picking at the base of a tree. Harry trotted toward the onlookers to check for witnesses. I stopped at the yellow tape and studied the scene from a dozen feet away. The body lay supine in the grass as if napping, legs slightly apart, arms at its sides. It seemed surreal in the uncompromising light, the colors too bright and edges too sharp, a man incompletely scissored from another world and pasted to this one. The clothing was spring-night casual: beltless jeans, gray running shoes, white tee with an Old Navy logo. The shirt was drawn up to the nipples, the jeans unzipped.
Bending over the body was the senior criminalist on the scene, Wayne Hembree. Black, thirty-five, thin as poor-folkís broth, Hembree had a moon face and a sides-and-back fringing of hair. He sat back on his heels and shrugged kinks from his shoulders. His forehead sparkled with sweat.
Okay walking here, Bree? I called, gesturing a line between my shoes and the body. I didnít want to stick my feet into something important. Dog shit either. Hembree nodded, and I slipped under the tape.
An old street cop whoíd seen everything this side of downtown hell once told me, Find a head without a body, Ryder, and itís weird, but thereís something whole about it. Find a body without a head and itís creepy and sad at the same timejust so alone, yíknow? When I looked down on that body, I understood. In three years with the MPD Iíve seen shot bodies, stabbed bodies, drowned bodies, bodies mangled from car crashes, a body with a pile of intestines squirted beside it, but never one without a head. The old cop nailed it: that body was as alone as the first day of creation. I shivered and hoped no one saw.
Killed here? I asked Hembree.
He shrugged. Donít know. I can tell you he was decapitated where heís laying. ME folks thinking two or three hours back. Puts time of death between eight and ten.
Who called it in?
Kids, teenagers. Came back here to make out and
Footsteps behind me; Captain Squill and his hulking, omnipresent shadow, Sergeant Earl Burlew. Burlew was chewing paper as usual. He kept a page of the Mobile Register in his pocket and fed torn pieces between his doll-sized lips. I always wanted to ask was there a difference between sections, Sports tasting gamier than Editorials, maybe. Or did they all taste like chicken? Then Iíd look into Burlewís tiny, oyster- colored eyes and think maybe Iíd ask some other time.
Burlew said, Look whoís here, CaptainFolgers instant detective. Just add headlines and stir. He swiped his hand down his sweating face. Burlewís centered features were too small for his head, and for a moment he disappeared beneath his own palm.
Fag revenge killing, Squill said, glancing at the body. Love to hack, donít they? Good place to do it, parkís copacetic after dark. Itís a yuppie-puppie neighborhood; Councilwoman Philips lives two blocks down; street gets overpatrolled to keep her in happy world . . .
Iíd heard Squill had a speech mode for every crowd. With uniformed cops a dozen feet away he was spewing cop-movie jargon. Disheartening, I thought, a seventeen-year police administrator acting like a cop instead of just being one.
. . . killer thumps the vicís melon or pops a cap. The perp pulls his blade and scores a head. Squill pointed to the bushes around us. Unsub dropped him here so the bodyíd stay out of sight.
I fought the compulsion to roll my eyes. Unsub was short for unknown subject and the FBI types used it a lot. Unsub was fedjarg.
Killed and beheaded here? I asked.
Something wrong with your ears, Ryder? Squill said.
Though the body lay partly beneath a bush decorated with small white blossoms, it was free of petals. Just outside the scene tape was a stand of the same bushes; I walked over and fell into them.
What the hellís he doing? Squill snapped.
I stood and studied the drifting of petals down the front of my shirt. Hembree looked between me and the body.
If the vic fell through the bushes heíd have petals on him, but theyírehe studied the corpse and the groundtheyíre around the body but not on it. The perp brushed aside the branches, so nothing fell on the corpse. Like maybe our friend here was pulled into the bushes.
I looked deeper into the vegetation. Or out of them.
Squill said, Delusional. Why pull the body out of deeper cover?
Hembreeís chunky assistant pulled a flashlight and bellied beneath the bushes. Lemme see whatís back there.
Squill glared at me. The unsub lured the vic here and dropped him where the body stayed hidden in the bushes, Ryder. If it wasnít for a couple horny teens, it wouldíve stayed hid until the stink started.
Iím not sure itís hidden, I said, cupping my hands around my eyes to blot the scene lights and looking through oak limbs and Spanish moss at a bright streetlamp fifteen yards distant. I crouched beside the body and saw the streetlamp boxed between branches.
Can we cut the lights? I asked.
Squill slapped his head theatrically. No, Ryder. We got work to do and canít do it with white canes and leader dogs. He looked at the uniforms for his laugh track but they were staring at the streetlamp.
Hembree said, Lights turn back on, yíknow.
Squill had no control over the techs and hated it. He turned and whispered something to Burlew. I was sure Squillís mouth shaped the word nigger.
Hembree yelled to an assistant in the forensics van. Tell the EMTs and cruisers to douse their lights. Then kill these.
The lights from the vehicles disappeared, leaving only the portable lamps. When they went black it took our eyes several seconds to adjust. I saw what Iíd expected: The streetlamp sent a thin band of light through the branches and between two large bushes, a spotlight on the body.
Itís not hidden, Hembree said, checking angles. Anyone coming around the bend in the path looks right at it. Hard to miss with the white shirt.
Speculative bullshit. Squill said.
The tech squirming through the bushes yelled, Got fresh blood back here, bring me a kit and a camera.
Dropped in the dark, dragged into light, Hembree said, winking at me. The uniforms nodded their approval. When the scene lights snapped back on, Squill and Burlew were gone.
I did an end-zone shuffle, spiked an invisible ball, and waggled my hand at Harry for a high five. He jammed his mitts in his pockets, growled, Follow me, and stalked away.
Harry Nautilus and I had met in the Alabama state pen three years before; visitors, not inmates. Iíd driven from Tuscaloosa to interview several prisoners as part of my masterís in psychology. Harryíd come from Mobile to pump info from an inmate whose jugular had, unfortunately, been slashed a couple hours earlier; Harry was having a rotten day. He passed me in a tight hall and we bumped elbows, spilling his coffee. He studied my clothingdenim intensive, red-framed mirror shades, faded ballcap over self-inflicted haircutand asked a guard who let the big, dumb hillbilly out of his cell. Iíd come from two hours with a boasting pederast and transferred my sublimated aggressions to Harryís nose. The laughing guards broke it up as he was choking me out.
Afterward, we both felt shoe-staring ridiculous. Mumbled apologies turned to explanations of why weíd both been at the prison that day, and what had conspired to give us the temperament of dyspeptic pit bulls. Stupidity gave way to laughter, and we ended the day drinking in the bar in Harryís motel. After a few belts Harry launched into cop stories, amusing and intriguing me. I countered with tales from recent interviews with the Southís preeminent psychopaths and sociopaths.
Harry dismissed my interviews with a wave of his hand. Behind every one of those pieces of busted machinery is a megalomaniac that loves to talk. Reporters, shrinks, college boys like youthe craze-oís tell them anything they want to hear. Itís a game.
You know the Albert Mirell case, Detective? I asked, referring to the psychopathic pedophile Iíd spent an ugly two hours with.
His last vic was in Mobile, college boy, remember? If you talked to Mirell, all you got was smirks and bullshit. Right?
I lowered my voice and told Harry what Mirell had revealed to me as spit gleamed over his teeth and his hands squirmed beneath the table. Harry bent forward until our foreheads almost touched. Thereís maybe ten folks in the world know that stuff, he whispered. What the hellís going on here?
Guess I put Mirell in a mind to talk, I said, pretending thatís all there was.
Harry studied my face a long time.
Letís keep in touch, he said.
This was when my mother was alive and I was an impoverished student at the University of Alabama. Still, every couple of weeks Iíd drive to Mobile or Harryíd make the run to Tuscaloosa. Weíd grab a bucket of chicken and talk about his crumbling marriage or my fading interest in studenthood after six years and four majors. We kicked around aspects of cases bothering him, or discussed my wilder interview sessions. Sometimes we sat quietly and listened to blues or jazz and that was fine too. This went on for three or so months. One night Harry noted my usual at-home meals consisted of beans and rice, and going for a beer meant digging under couch cushions for change.
Teaching assistantís not a high-pay industry? he asked.
Itís basically a no-pay industry, I corrected. But what it lacks in compensation it makes up for in scarcity of job possibilities.
Maybe one day youíll be a famous shrink, Carson Freud, driving around in a big old Benz.
Likeliest thing Iíll be driving is pipe on an oil rig, I said. Why?
I think youíd make a good cop, Harry said.
Ten minutes after we left the park, I followed Harry to a back booth in Cakeís Lounge, a dark bottom-dwellersí saloon wedged between factories and warehouses near the bay. Several ragged loners drank at the bar, a few clustered in booths. Two unsteady men played pool.
Why here, why not Flanaganís? I asked, wrinkling my nose. Cakeís smelled like the air hadnít been changed in a decade; Flanaganís served cheap drinks and decent gumbo and pulled a lot of cops.
Squill might have been there, and Squillís what weíre gonna talk about. That was a dumbass hot-dog trick with the flowers and lights. Why did you want to outshine him in front of everybody?
I wasnít outshining, Harry, I was detecting. We had a guy with no head and Squill spewing anything that came into his. What was I supposed to do?
Maybe you could have canned the drama and suggested things to Squill, made him think it was his idea. Didnít I hear you used to study psychology?
Beaming thoughts into Squillís head would be parapsychology, Harry, one of the few things I never majored in.
Harry narrowed an eye. Squillís a political shark, Carson. Piss him off and thereíll be nothing left of you but a red stain in the water.
I posed a question that had been on my mind for most of a year now. How does a pus-weasel like Squill make chief of Investigative Services, anyway?
I can tell Iím being obtuse when Harry puts his face in his hands. Carson, youíre precious is what you are, my apolitical tribesman. You truly have no idea, do you?
You, Carson. You put Captain Terrence Squill where he is today.
Harry stood and gathered bottles from the table. Iíll grab a couple more brews and give you a little history lesson, bro. Youíre looking like you could use one.
Harry started his lecture halfway back from the bar, two bottles clinking in his hand. For years Squill was a paper- pushing lieutenant in Crimes Against Property, a drone with one talent: public relations. Spoke at schools, neighborhood meetings, shopping center openings, church festivals. . . . Harry put the beers on the table and sat down. He polished his act until he became the departmentís default media rep. For most people thatís a no-win situation. . . .
I nodded. It upstages the superiors, which tends to piss them off. In college Iíd seen tenure-track careers shot down by academic jealousy.
Not Squill. The bastard knew exactly when to punt to higher- ups. Even better, when the department had a fuckup and the brass wanted to hide, Squill made himself the center of attention, drew the fire.
I said, Squill? Jumping into bullets?
The media loved him, knowing heíd always deliver contrite, pissed off, colorfulwhatever was selling that day. ëMPD captain says wrongful arrest concerns the department, news at elevení. . . . ëHigh-ranking officer slams ACLU critics as misguided crybabies, story on page four,í et cetera and et cetera.
Harry plucked a book of matches from the ashtray and fiddled with it. Then Joel Adrian went on his spree. Tessa Ramirez. Jimmy Narley. After the Portersí deaths the case blew up. But the investigation went nowhere. You canít imagine how bad it was
Who discovered Tessa, Harry? Who stood in a rat-filled sewer and looked down on her body?
He shook his head. I didnít mean it like that, bro. Iím talking politics here. Calls for resignations. People cussing the chief out in the produce section of Winn-Dixie. The media ground us like sausage. Everyone was pointing the blame finger at everyone else and suddenly this crazy uniformed cop shows upKid Carson.
I had a couple ideas. You ran interference.
They pissed on our heads for it,í Harry said. Until there was nothing left to try.
The peckerwoods at the pool table began a beery argument on spotting the cue ball. We both looked that way for a couple of seconds.
I got lucky, Harry. Nothing but that.
He narrowed an eye. Luck can be knowing where to look, right?
It caught me off guard. What are you saying?
Like itís more than just picking a card; itís knowing whoís dealing.
No. Maybe thereís, I guess, an intuition, I donít . . .
Harry stared at me curiously for a moment, then waved my garble away. After you came up with that off-the-damn-wall theory and nailed the case, it was a political scramble, everybody trying to turn patrolman Ryderís Lone Ranger roundup into a personal win. And who was best set for it?
Harry tugged a match from its rank and studied it. Heíd kept the media pipeline full during the ordeal, and afterward he started sluicing in his own refined oil. Ever think how fast you faded from the hero light?
I thought back. For two days I was the man who stopped the mad Adrian. By day three it was the departmentís triumph and I was a factotum. By day five I was a misspelled name nine inches into a ten-inch story. Harry said, Squillís Law: Kiss up, shit down. He pushed you off the horse so the brass could ride it, one of them being him. He rode it all the way to chief of Investigative Services.
I shrugged. So I got jerked around a little. When the smoke cleared, I was a detective. No complaints here.
The argument at the pool table picked up steam. One man positioned the ball and the other slapped it away. Harry rolled his eyes at the scruffy duo and lit the match just to watch it burn. Matchlight turned his face to gold.
You got a detective shield. But Squill grabbed what heíd been after for years, a seat at the big table. It was you that put him there, Cars.
I frowned. I donít see the big deal.
You donít see the big picture. Squill likes to think of himself as a self-made man. But when he sees youHarry tickled the air in a falling motiondown crash them cards.
He can just ignore me.
He does. For a year youíve been nothing but a name on the roster. And PSITís been nothing but words on paper. But if PSIT gets activated . . .
I thought it down the line: Activating PSIT put Harry and me on center stage. Weíd be the ones coordinating the efforts, signing the reports, meeting with the brass.
There I am, up front again, in his face.
Harry flicked the dying match into the ashtray. Yeah. Only, think of it as in his sights.
The pool-table argument turned loud. One man emphasized his point by bouncing a cue stick off the otherís ear. The struck man dropped, cupping his ear and moaning. The bartender looked at the pair, then at Harry. Youíre a cop. Ainítcha gonna do something about that?
Harry put his big fist to his forehead, opening and closing it repeatedly.
What the hellís that? the bartender asked.
My off-duty light.
We stood and headed toward our separate cars in the sticky night.
Thanks for the history lesson, Professor Nautilus, I said.
Read it and heed it, showboat, Harry replied.
I drove to Dauphin Island slowly, windows down, letting the night smells of marsh and salt water wash my thoughts like a cleansing tide, but the headless man kept bobbing to the surface. Once home, I lit some candles, sat cross-legged on my couch, and did the deep-breathing exercises recommended by Akini Tabreese, good friend and martial artist. Akini does a lot of deep breathing before busting hay-bale-sized ice blocks with his forehead. Me, Iíd do a little deep breathing and pick up a sledgehammer.
Walk the scene. . . . I instructed my oxygenating thoughts. See the park.
I breathed away my anger at Squill and Burlew and visualized what the killer saw as he met the victim, perhaps on the path. The steetlight so near, they slip back into the bushes; here Squill seemed correct, sex the lure, if not the motivator. The victim dies, gunshot maybe, or a hard blow. If the head is crucial to the killerís delusion, it should have been removed deep in the shadows, the blade sliding quickly through its task. But, inexplicably, the killer pulls the body into the ribbon of streetlight, petals streaming in their wake. He kneels, performs his grotesque surgery, and disappears.
My mind played and repeated this scene until the phone rang at 2:45. I figured it was Harry. Heíd be considering the scene as well, in a lit room with his stereo playing thought jazz, Thelonious Monk perhaps, the solos where he breaks through the membrane and flies alone in the raw wind of music.
Instead of Harry I heard a trembling old woman. Hello? Hello? Whoís there? Is anyone on the line? Then, as if years were dropped from the voice, I heard the voice of a woman in her thirties, my motherís voice.
Carson? Itís me, Mommy. Are you hungry? Can I fix you some lunch, son? A nice Velveeta sandwich? Some cookies? Or how about A BIG BOWL OF FUCKING SPIT?
No, I thought, this canít be happening. Itís a nightmare, wake up.
CARSON! The voice shrieked, no longer female. Talk to me, brother. I need to feel some of that OLD FAMILY WARMTH!
I closed my eyes and slumped against the wall. How could he call out? It wasnít allowed.
The caller banged the phone on something hard and shouted. Is this a BAD TIME, brother? Do you have a WOMAN with you? Is she HOT? I hear when they get hot, juice POURS out of them. Hi, fellas, Iíd like you to meet my date, the Johnstown Flood. WEAR BOOTS WHEN YOU FUCK HER!
Jeremy, I whispered, more to myself than the caller.
There once was a girl from NANTUCKET, you wore boots each time that youíd FUCK IT . . .
Jeremy, dammit . . .
But the men in the town, one by one were each drowned, in the poison that poured out by BUCKETS! He switched back to my motherís voice, solicitous. Itís all right, Carson, Mommyís here. You havenít finished your spit. Is it cold? Can I heat it back up for you? He made a hawking sound.
Jeremy, will you please stop
In the background I heard a door opening, followed by scuffling and a man cursing. My caller screamed, NO! GO AWAY. Itís a PERSONAL CALL! Iím talking to MY PAST!
A loud crack turned to skittering, as if the phone had been dropped and kicked across the floor. Other voices joined in with grunts, cursing, sounds of struggle. I stood in my cool room and listened breathlessly as sweat poured from beneath my arms.
His words became distant and I pictured men in white dragging him across the floor: THE MURDER, CARSON! Tell me about it. There must be more than a MISSING HEAD, thereís always more. Did he take THEIR DICKS? Is he JAMMING SAUSAGES UP THEIR BUTTS UNTIL THEY SHOOT OUT THE NECK HOLE? Call me! You NEEEEEED ME AGAIN. . . .
More sounds of scuffling. Then nothing.
Channel 14ís affiliate in Montgomery must have picked up the beheading-in-the-park story, run it on the late news. Television was one of the few luxuries Jeremy was allowed, and he would have studied the story with a scholarís focus. I blew out the candles and lay on the couch with my face in a pillow. Sleep, when it finally arrived, was paper thin and shot through with rats and the smell of burning silk.
My alarm fired just past daybreak. I stumbled numbly into the Gulf and swam straight into the waves for a half mile, then turned and dragged myself back. I followed with a four-mile beach run that left me sweat soaked and cramp calved. After a grudging, almost angry, session with the weights, I began to see events with a clearer eye, and wrote off Jeremyís call as an aberration; frighteningly resourceful, heíd somehow managed to get hold of a phone.
But hadnít I listened as it was taken from him? It wouldnít happen a second time; the episode was over.
I showered and ate a breakfast of cheese grits with andouille. My mood began to lift and I headed to work. Harry flipped a coin, and tails bought me autopsy duty. I had time before the cut, and headed to the criminalistsí offices, a science lab grafted to a computer store. Two white-jacketed technicians studied a toilet float as if it were the Grail. Another tapped a pencil against a Mason jar full of squirming bugs. Hembree sat beside a microscope drinking coffee.
We got a print hit on the headless man, he said, picking up a sheet of paper.
I made a drum-roll sound with my tongue. And the winner is?
Hembree mimicked a cymbal crash. One Jerrold Elton Nelson, aka Líil Jerry, aka Jerry Elton, aka Nelson Gerald aka Elton Jelson.
A big list of aliases.
A pissant list of priors, he said, reading from the page. Twenty-two years old. Eyes and hair are blue and brown wherever they are. Petty city and county raps for shoplifting, male prostitution, possession of stolen goods, possession of a couple joints. In March a woman charged him with borrowing eleven grand and not paying it back, charges later dropped.
Hooker and a gigolo con artist? Guess his door swang both ways. I said, turning away. Though the autopsy was an hour off, I planned to head to the MEís office.
I almost forgot, Hembree said as I was halfway out the door. That bit last night with the petals and the streetlight was inspired, Carson, pure Sherlock. Squillís got his head so far up his ass, he spies on his teeth from his throat. I loved how you pointed that out to him.
The morgueís front desk was empty and my footsteps in the hall caused Will Lindy to come to the door of his office. The new facility had been open officially only a few days, but Lindy looked dug in, forms stacked on his desk, manuals alphabetized across shelves, calendars and schedules on his wall.
Morning, Detective Ryder.
Howdy, Will. Iím here for the post on Nelson. Clair around?
I was maybe the only person in the universe who called Dr. Peltier by her first name; Iíd used it since our introduction and she hadnít torched me yet. She countered by using only my last name, addressing everyone else by first name or title. Lindy looked at his watch. Sheís due at nine, which means
I glanced at my timepiece, 8:58. Sheíll be here in one minute.
We heard a burst of masculine laughter from down the hall and saw a pair of funeral-home staffers retrieving a body for burial. They rolled a covered body toward the back dock like kids playing with a supermarket buggy, weaving the clattering gurney from side to side. Lindy was down the hall like a shot.
Hey, fellas, he said. What you do at the parlor is your business. Around here we show respect.
The funeral home guys froze, reddened. They mumbled apologies and continued on their way, slow and silent.
Good going, Will, I said when he returned.
Lindy gave a half smile; funny how half a smile indicates sadness. Poor guyís on his last ride, Detective Ryder. Thereís no need to treat it like a game.
I admired Will Lindy for his stand; too many homicide cops and morgue workers forget the bodies passing by were once the exact center of the universe, to themselves anyway. No one knows why we were chosen to be here, or if we had much hand in the choices we made during our presence. In any event, for the arrivals at the morgue, this level of the journey was over. Bad people, good ones, the indifferenttheyíd all crossed to the final mystery and left behind a soft, soon-gone husk, not always to be mourned, but at least respected.
Lindy and I turned to an insistent rapping: Doc Peltier high- heeling toward us. I detected sheíd been to breakfast with her husband, Zane, since he was walking beside her and working his teeth with a toothpick. Zaneís fifty-nine, but looks younger, with cool gray eyes in a chiseled face, a nose ridge like the spine of a slender book, and a mahogany tan independent of seasons. He wore a charcoal three-piece cut to hide a touch of paunch and walked fast to keep up with his wife.
A little early, arenít we, Ryder? she said as I jumped into her slipstream. Her perfume suggested champagne made from roses.
Iíd like to take a look at the body before the post.
I always tried to do this when the bodies werenít badly decomposed, feeling it provided a stronger link with the victims. After the post, the invasion, the deceased seemed different, as if theyíd shifted from our world to the anteroom of the next.
Clair rolled her eyes. I donít have time to indulge you today. She wasnít big on my linkage concept.
Please, Clair. A minute?
Clair sighed. We stopped at the door of the autopsy suite. She remembered her manners. Have you met my husband, Zane?
Art museum, months ago, I said, offering my hand. Detective Carson Ryder.
Zane Peltier had one of those handshakes that stop short of locking thumb to thumb; he shook my knuckles. Of course I remember, his mouth said as his eyes denied it. Great seeing you again, Detective.
Clair opened the door. Her husband said, Iíll wait out here, dear.
They wonít bite, you know, Zane.
He smiled but didnít approach the door. I understood his hesitancyI believe people sense death as precisely as cattle sense lightning forming, an atavistic warning system thatíll be with us until we evolve to creatures of pure reason, slim chance.
Clair and I stepped into the suite. Make it fast, Ryder, she said. Iíve got a busy day and donít need distractions.
Yes, Your Majesty, I replied, drawing a withering glare but no comment. She slid the body from its refrigerated confines, drew the sheet away.
I studied the odd tableau for several seconds. Without the head I took no sense of being, just of loss. All I noted was the victimís physical dimensions, wide of shoulder, narrow of hip, well muscled. Death removes some of the tone and definition, but it was obviously a body the owner had put time and effort into.
Clair watched me with disapproval, then let her eyes wander the body with professional appraisal. She started to draw the sheet back into place, but paused.
What the hell? she said, leaning over the pubic region. Whatís that?
No, dammit. Above the pubic hair. Make yourself useful, Ryder, get me some gloves.
I ran to yank a wad of latex surgical gloves from a box beside an autopsy table. Clair snapped them on and pressed aside the matted hair.
Itís writing, she mumbled. So small I can barely read it. ëWarped a whore, she said, squinting at words I couldnít see. Warped a whore. Whores Warped. A full quart of warped whores. Rats back. Rats back. Rats back. Rats. Rats. Rats. Back. Back. Back.
Clair leaned back and I bobbed forward. There, in precise lavender writing, were two horizontal lines of words, just as Clair had read them.
Without turning from the body she called, Dr. Davanelle, come here now.
I looked to the small utility office in the corner where a petite and pale woman studied a file, so mouse quiet I hadnít noticed her. She had dark shoulder-length hair and owlish glasses. Her name was Evie or something, a fairly recent hire, and I hadnít worked any cases sheíd handled. She hurried over. I smiled and nodded and she ignored me.
Clair tapped the victimís pubic bone. Since you were kind enough to show up at work today, Doctorit being a Monday and allI wanted to point out the writing here on the pubis. Call Chambliss and get him over here with the microphotography gear and have him shoot the inscription. And check the body for any other writing. Got it?
I would have done that in any case, Doct
What are you waiting for? Weíre not voting on it; go.
Evie or something retreated to the utility office to summon the photographer. The intercom crackled and I heard the voice of receptionist Vera Braden, the Deep South dipped in honey and fried up with a side of grits.
Dr. Pel-tee-a? Bill Ah-nett from the eff-bee-aye on line fo- wer. Says he got the ínalysis on yoah tissue samples from lasí week.
Iíll take it in my office, Clair announced to the air and clicked out the side door to her office. I took the opportunity to jump into the rest room a few paces away. I returned a minute later to find Zane Peltier had wandered into the suite. He stood white faced beside the body. His knees looked one shiver shy of buckling and he kept whispering, Jesus.
Take it easy there, Mr. Peltier, I said, moving to his side and putting a steadying hand against his back. Take a deep breath.
Who is that? he rasped. Jesus.
A man named Jerrold Nelson.
Breathe, I repeated. He breathed.
I came to see what was taking Clair so long and, Jesuswhereís the head?
We donít know that yet.
Who would do such a thing to another person? He sucked down a couple more fast breaths and his color started returning.
IímIím all right now, Detective. Never seen a body without . . . He managed a quivering smile. I wish Iíd stayed outside.
Zane deep-breathed his way to Clairís office, looking closer to his true age. In cattier circles itís mewed that the nuptials of Zane Peltier to the former Clair Swanscott was less marriage than merger, him bringing name and wealth, her weighing in with brains and ambition. Zaneís antebellum-money Mobile, one of those snowball fortunes that gathered as it rolled. He inherited several enterprises, was on the boards of several others, but labored about fifteen hours a week, Iíd heard. Probably very efficient hours.
Clair stuck her head in the front door of the suite. I saw Zane behind her. He looked ready to leave. Clair cocked an eye toward the utility office.
I have a disinterment in Bayou La Batre, then lunch with Bill Arnett. Iíll be back by three forty-five. Clair turned my way. This is the way it operates, Ryder. Everyone doing their jobs, working on schedule. Showing up on time.
Not a word of it meant for me.
The door squeezed shut. Clair was off on schedule and Zane, one suspects, was off for a stiff belt. Which left just me and Evie or somethingboy and girl alone together in a way-house for the dead. I ambled toward her while detecting on the way: no wedding band. She was filling in lines on a pile of forms.
Iím Carson Ryder, Homicide, I said to the crown of her head. I donít believe weíve been formally introduced.
She made a few pen scratches before looking up.
Ava Davenelle. She didnít offer her hand but mine was unavoidable. Her handshake was cool, compulsory, and quickly retrieved.
Youíre new here, Dr. Davenelle?
If six months seems new to you. She looked back to her writing.
Seems like youíre on the wrong side of Doc Peltier today. You come in late? I was two minutes late for a meeting with her once, and she just about
Ever see a doctor about that nose problem?
The way it pokes into other peopleís business.
I watched her fingertips shake slightly as she wrote; the room was cold.
I apologize, I said. Iíve worked with Clair, uh, Dr. Peltier, for a year now and always feel like Iím on her wrong side. Like maybe she doesnít have a right side. But if she didnít have a right side, how could she have a right hand? And if she didnít have a right hand, how could . . . I heard myself babbling inanely but couldnít stop, my version of small talk.
Dr. Davanelle gathered her papers and stood.
Nice to have met you, Detective Carson, but I
Ryder. Itís Carson Ryder.
have much to do today. Good-bye.
I followed her across the room until she turned like I was a smelly dog sniffing at her legs.
Something else I can do for you, Detective Carson?
Ryder. Carson Ryder. Iím here to observe the post on the Nelson body, Dr. Davanelle.
Why donít you have a seat in the lobby, she said, punching the word lobby. Someone will let you know when weíre ready.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
¿The Hundredth Man¿ is a well-written murder mystery novel by a first-time author. Yes, it is a ¿cops and robbers¿ type of story but the twists and turns make it more than the ordinary type of writing. Harry Nautilus and Carson Ryder are partners for the PSIT Unit Mobile. PSIT is the Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team which is a newly formed unit to handle the mindless violence of Mobile. Bodies are turning up without their heads. Each body has been written on in what is thought to be nonsensical words. It is up to Harry and Carson to figure out what is going on. There is a new coroner¿s assistant, with a dark secret, who has Carson¿s attention. She seems to be completely dedicated to her work and puts Carson in his place when he tries to make small talk. Then add Terrence Squill to the mix. He is Chief of Investigative Services and trying to climb the ladder to the next higher position. He doesn¿t like Carson because of a previous crime Carson solved which brought him into the media notice rather than Squill. Carson has a family secret that he doesn¿t want anyone in the department to know about. It isn¿t an illegal secret, just one that Carson has trouble handling. While trying to solve the murders, this secret keeps getting in the way but in the end, helps him to solve the murders. Jack Kerley describes the bars and bays of Mobile with great accuracy making you feel like you are actually in these areas. He writes with a vocabulary that makes these characters come alive in the reader¿s mind. The easy flow of his story was a pleasure to read and follow. I never had to go back to reread a section because I had missed some obtuse part ¿ there just weren¿t any. Yet, there were twists and turns you didn¿t expect which kept me from putting the book down. The cast of characters were real and believable. I hope to see many more books from this new author. He writes one of my favorite genres ¿ murder mysteries. If you like to read new authors, be sure to pick up ¿The Hundredth Man¿.
I would like Kerley & James Patterson to team up and write the next one. Please let Dick Hill talk it through, his delivery is fantastic. This is a take off from Silence of the Lambs where the insane one (locked up and not a major charactor) helps his cop-brother solve horrible crimes...however, the cop-brother must pay a price after each meeting with the insane one. I would read/listen to another book by Kerley. Kit
Young Mobile Police Detective, Carson Ryder is a rare man who searches the dark places to find the necessary answers. He and his partner, Harry Nautilus are ordered to the scene when a headless body is found in a park in southwest Mobile.Both men are part of the newly formed Psychpathological Sociopathological Investagative Team, called PSIT and referred to by other cops in a more colorful phrase.Capt. Terrence Squill is an ambitious autocrat. When he views the body in the park, he dismisses it as a homosexual meeting that ended in murder.A second, decapitated body is found and where Squill was highly skeptical about the unit, he is ordered to incorporate it in his investigation team. Resenting their presence, he does as little as possible to assist them.There is an interesting subplot as Ryder goes out of his way to help a character who is an alcoholic. The author does an excellent job describing the horrors ot that disease.Another element in the story revolves around Ryder's brother who is locked up in a mental institution. He takes an interest in Ryder's case and seems to have the ability to give Ryder insights into the killer's reasoning and identity. This be-play reminded me of Hanibal Lecter.The narrative is packed with unpredictable action and the characters are both interesting and appealing. Ryder is a compassionate and engaging lead character.The story is a great reading experience.
WHAT CAME UP.WAS NOT THE BOOK LISTED. :-( :-(
When I opened the book, it is not the book labeled. Someone please fix!
I thought this book was a pretty good read and it screams of franchise. Its a little bit of Alex Cross (cop whos the best but shunned by some of his superiors) and Kay Scarpetta (the medical examiner angle) but what got me the most was the similarities of Silence of the Lambs. Using a madman in prison to help solve the mystery. Kerley's a hack who see what works and combines the elements. But again, a good read.
A thriller that surprised me at the end and left me wishing this weren't Kerley's first book so I could read some more. Kerley's characters are memorable and make me glad I don't live near Mobile. All excellent books not only deliver a great story they pose questions for the reader to consider. Carson Ryder allows us to hold a mirror and wonder what drives us and what extremes we would endure for truth, justice or the American way.
Kerley's book is such a rock solid entry in the crime thriller genre that I was surprised to learn this was his first book; it reads like the work of a seasoned, oft-published professional. His descriptions are a delight to read--no time-worn cliches from Kerley--and the humor nicely counterbalances the horrific murders which are perpetrated by a serial murderer. In addition to interesting characters (the police partnership of a seasoned veteran and a younger, still a bit naive rookie are given a fresh perspective by Kerley) his plotting keeps the pace hurtling so that the book is a quick read that leaves you frankly wanting more. Did I guess who the killer was? Nope, not even close and that wins extra points because too many thrillers offer predictable plots and easy-to-guess solutions. I look forward to reading more of Kerley's work; I'm guessing he's going to be around for a long, long time. I can recommend A Hundredth Man to those who enjoy reading books by James Patterson, Patrica Cornwell, Michael Connolly, Janet Evanovich and Jonathan Kellerman.
Thrillers about serial killers may be a dime a dozen but authors and readers such as the two represented here certainly are not. Debut novelist Kerley comes out kicking with a fast paced intricately plotted story that goes full throttle from start to finish. What more can one say about a narrator as accomplished as Dick Hill? He's been dubbed one of the industry's Golden voices, and took top honors for his reading of 'Amazing Grace' in 1995. Just when you think he couldn't possible get any better - he does. He thoroughly hooks listeners by segueing seamlessly between the voice of protagonist Carson Ryder and the thoughts of a psychotic serial killer. Young and inexperienced detective Carson Ryder is paired with crusty veteran Harry Nautilus when corpses begin turning up with ghoulish messages on their bodies and their heads missing. These two are caught in the middle, torn by their duty to protect and the messy department politics which seem to be unavoidable. Romantic interest is intriguing pathologist Dr. A.A. Divinely who oversees the autopsies. Of course, Ryder is smitten but she has some skeletons in her closet that preoccupy her. Speaking of skeletons in closets, Ryder's brother is a convicted killer, found guilty of committing crimes very similar to the ones terrifying Mobile, Alabama. Who better to help him track a psychopath than another? It appears that someone with ties to Ryder and Nautilus is the killer. But, who and why? - Gail Cooke
Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus, two sharp street detectives, comprise the newly formed, Mobile, Alabama Psychological and Sociopathological Investigative team in Jack Kerley¿s astounding debut novel, ¿The Hundredth Man.¿ Nautilus is the wizened veteran on the ¿psycho-crimes¿ pair. When two headless corpses, inked with puzzling and bizarre messages turn up, the chase is on. The beheadings are clean and precise, indicating a pro. The crimes are at once reprehensible as well as cool, calm and deliberate. Carson and Harry¿s investigation is undermined by the police department political circus and the secrets that abound in the Medical Examiner¿s office. In fact, most everyone has a secret and a past to protect. The back-stories make for fascinating characters thrown together with startling results. The action is fast paced, moving between crime scenes to the autopsies in the morgue¿with sidebars where Harry and Carson outwit the police brass and the perp. Snappy dialogue and intriguing characters help propel the unpredictable plot. It is a spectacular ride---a journey so gripping, it is easy to overlook the way over-the-top finale. A captivating debut¿I look forward to more from Jack Kerley.
A striking first novel. Kerley shows potential of becoming a pre-eminent thriller writer on the strength of this early work. The book commences with a scene in an autopsy where a corpse's rectum contains a bomb, which destroys the hand of the examiner. Visually very compelling. After which, the rest of the novel is told in the first person narrative of the hero, detective Ryder. But perhaps Kerley is overstraining. He has put together a florid plot, adding graphic element upon element. Like Ryder having a brother in an asylum, because he murdered several people. Not content with this colourful item, Kerley has the brother provide clues, in a manner of speaking, throughout the plot. Stretches credulity. Also, the statutory love interest is an alcoholic surgeon that Ryder relatively effortlessly rescues from her affliction. But at least Ryder's character has some depth. At times, he philosophises 'deep'. If Kerley refines his trade, Ryder may be as memourable as Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch.
It was his first autopsy as a pathologist for the mobile Alabama police department and it went well until he found an object in the victim¿s anus that exploded and destroyed his hand. The head pathologist hires Dr. Ava Davenelle as his replacement and Detective Carson Ryder who is observing the autopsy is almost immediately smitten. The case Carson is working on involves a victim with his head surgically removed from his body in almost perfect condition except for the knife wounds that that the killer inflicted............................. Ava finds writings on the public area of the body and Carson thinks they are dealing with a sociopath personality. A special unit was formed to deal with killers like that with Carson and his partner heading up the unit but police politics push them into a lesser role. Two more decapitated victims are found, also with bizarre writing on their torso. Carson finally takes Ava on a date but she passes out from to much alcohol. He uses his connections to help her fight the disease while looking for a killer who will strike again and this time the victim could be someone he knows................................ Jack Kerley¿s debut novel is an exciting serial killer thriller that is on a par with the likes of Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell. The protagonist comes from a dysfunctional background and has his own demons to fight but that doesn¿t stop him from being an expert detective with an intuitive sense that helps him solve cases. Readers will enjoy the expert pacing, brilliant characterizations and believable action scenes of THE HUNDREDTH MAN.............................. Harriet Klausner
Where is the story?
This seems to be some sort of history book. No stars for a book that is not the mystery I hoped to read. But it looks like I have to give at least one star to post this warning
What a ripoff by Barnes/Noble purchase library. They led everyone to believe this was a novel.
What is the story, not by the posted author!