New York Times– and USA Today–bestselling author John Lutz has been hailed as “a major talent” by John Lescroart and “one of the masters” by Ridley Pearson. “Lutz offers up a heart-pounding roller coaster” (Jeffery Deaver) in his thrillers and “knows how to make you shiver” (Harlan Coben).
“The Carver series is the finest work yet by this prolific author” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). After a criminal’s bullet shattered not only his knee but also his career as an Orlando cop and his marriage, Fred Carver starts over as a private detective. In this award-winning ten-book series, Lutz’s “dogged Carver is a believably heroic guy, tough, scarred and able to exhibit fear and courage at the same time” (Publishers Weekly).
Spark: A retired schoolteacher turns to Carver after receiving an anonymous note that her husband was murdered. Her case takes the PI into the depths of Solartown: a stately Florida retirement community where seventy is the new forty, golf carts are the only way to get around, and death from natural causes is nowhere to be found.
“Down and dirty . . . a good, fast read.” —The Houston Post
Torch: Carver has to approach his latest case from every angle—as members of a love triangle start suddenly dying and disappearing, beginning with the woman who hired him minutes before her death.
“For a long-running series, this one is still hot . . . with lots of nice noir touches to give it texture. The dialogue is brisk and brittle, the action gets nasty when it must, and the characters are as shady as the sunny climate allows.” —The New York Times Book Review
Burn: When he is accused of stalking a woman he swears he’s never met, building contractor and recent widower Joel Brant asks Carver for help clearing his name. But as the PI digs into the case, he begins to wonder who’s stalking whom?
“Riveting . . . Lutz’s eye for Florida noir is impeccable . . . Top of the line.” —Publishers Weekly
Lightning: An explosion at a Florida clinic causes Carver’s lover, Beth, to miscarry. The police arrest an anti-abortion fanatic, but when the violence continues, Carver pursues the bomber on his own.
“Lutz is an expert—he’ll have you glued to the page.” —The Denver Post
About the Author
For over forty years, John Lutz (b. 1939) has been one of the premier voices in contemporary hard-boiled fiction, producing dozens of novels and over 250 short stories. His earliest success came with the Alo Nudger series, set in his hometown of St. Louis. Tropical Heat introduced Fred Carver, a Florida detective whom Lutz followed in ten novels. More recently, he has produced five books in the Frank Quinn serial killer series. Lutz is a former president of the Mystery Writers of America, and his many honors include lifetime achievement awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Private Eye Writers of America. He lives in St. Louis.
Read an Excerpt
"WHAT ARE YOU, in your mid-forties?"
"That's what I am," Carver said, staring at Hattie Evans, wondering if "Hattie" was a nickname. She was wearing quite a hat, a prim and proper red mushroomlike thing with a truncated little stem on top. It was ninety degrees outside and she was wearing a hat. He had to admit, despite her sixty-plus years it made her look jaunty.
"Well, you listen, Mr. Carver, I don't play games and I won't be brushed aside."
"Didn't intend either of those things," Carver said. He tried a smile. He was a fierce-looking man but he knew his smile was unexpectedly beautiful and disarming. Used it often. Hattie seemed unimpressed.
As she'd entered Carver's office on Magellan and sat down before his desk, he'd seen her faded but quick blue eyes flit to where his cane leaned, but she didn't ask about it. She sat poised with military rigidity in the chair and pressed her knees tightly together beneath the skirt of her navy-blue dress. It was an expensive dress but old and a little threadbare, as was her once-stylish — possibly — hat. She was a whipcord-lean woman, not tall, and she had the look about her of someone who'd endured a lot but was ready for more. Though she'd never been pretty, crow's feet at the corners of her eyes, pain and experience etched like wounds at the corners of her lips, gave her narrow, alert face a kind of character that held the eye.
"I'm sixty-seven years old," she said, "in case you're wondering. In case you've got ideas."
"You know what I'm talking about. Those kinds of ideas. Don't pretend you're slow. I took the time and trouble to find out about you before I came here."
Carver sighed. "I don't have those kinds of ideas, Hattie. Anyway, I can see you're not the sort to try them on." He shot her his smile again. "Not that some men wouldn't like to." Such charm. Was it working?
She glared at him.
"You mentioned Lieutenant Desoto sent you," Carver prompted, noticing for the first time that Hattie Evans smelled not unpleasantly like roses. Desoto was Carver's longtime friend on the Orlando Police Department. The friend who'd urged him not to surrender, to go into private investigation after a holdup man — a kid, really — had shattered Carver's kneecap with a bullet and left his leg bent at a thirty-degree angle for life.
"The lieutenant said the police couldn't really delve into my case because I didn't have enough evidence. Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
"All the time," Carver said. He leaned back in his chair and extended his stiff left leg out beneath the desk, digging his moccasin heel into the carpet.
"He told me he had a hunch, though, that I wasn't just talking through my hat, so he recommended I come to you. Was he right to do that?"
"Talk and we'll decide," Carver told her.
"My husband, Jerome, and I live — at least I live — out in Solartown. Do you know where that is?"
Carver nodded. Solartown was a sprawling retirement community east of Orlando, hundreds of almost identical houses all built within the past ten years. It was one of those self-contained middle-class retirement communities like Sun City out in Arizona, with its own shops, medical facilities, recreation center. A retiree didn't have to leave the place for any reason other than variety. It was all there: golf, tennis, bingo, swimming, crafts classes, everything but a mortuary.
"Two weeks ago, while we were having watercress sandwiches for lunch, Jerome keeled over dead from a heart attack." Her facial muscles remained immobile as she said that, but glimmers of sorrow passed through her direct blue eyes like windswept clouds. Passed quickly. She wasn't one to wallow in grief.
"I'm sorry," Carver told her.
"Thank you. Jerome and I moved down here to Florida two years ago from St. Louis, after he retired from his job at the brewery. He had a complete medical checkup then and his heart was strong. That city's got the best medical doctors in the world. They wouldn't be mistaken. And his heart was sound when he had his regular checkup two months ago."
"How old was Jerome?"
"Seventy last December third. And in fine shape but for a slightly swollen prostate. We also know his family tree, and heart attacks aren't in his heredity." She stared hard at Carver, as if he should have assimilated what she'd said and drawn a conclusion.
"You aren't convinced he died of a heart attack?" he asked, remembering Desoto had referred her to him. Desoto didn't send him prospective clients lightly.
"I suppose he did," Hattie said, "if that's what the Solartown Medical Center doctors say was the cause of death. But the question is, why? How?"
"As I understand it," Carver said, "at Jerome's age, it might simply have happened."
"Nothing in this world simply happens, Mr. Carver, despite what the bumper stickers say. I think the note proves that."
"Two days ago I found it in my mailbox, but without a stamp. It was printed in black ink and it said my husband was murdered. It was unsigned, of course. When I went to the police, they seemed to regard the letter as a sadistic practical joke. A young officer patted my shoulder as if I were his pet dog and told me I'd be shocked at what some people could do. I told him nothing shocked me, but he just patted me again. It was only your Lieutenant Desoto who took me at all seriously. He suggested I bring the note, and my story, to you." She crossed her legs, somehow without having separated them. "And here I am."
"Did you bring the note?"
"Of course I did." Her tone of voice made Carver feel momentarily guilty for asking such an obvious question. She drew a white envelope from her blue straw purse and handed it to him. It smelled strongly of roses.
The envelope had her name printed on it in black felt-tip pen. The note inside read simply: "Jerome was murdered. Don't ever think otherwise." The simple, almost childish printing was the same as on the envelope.
He replaced the note in the envelope and laid it on the desk. He said, "The police could be right. It might well be a sadistic prank."
"If you were me, young man, wouldn't you feel compelled to make sure?"
He looked across the desk at her and she gazed back without blinking, a wisp of a woman, all spirit against the storm.
"I can afford to pay you," she assured him. "Jerome was overinsured."
"An investigation might come to nothing."
"That's not exactly a winning attitude, Mr. Carver, but I assure you I comprehend the odds."
Carver had just finished tracking down the missing daughter of a jailed drug dealer. He had nothing else going at the moment. He got a contract from a desk drawer and explained the terms to Hattie. She signed it and then wrote him a retainer check that smelled like roses.
Then she stood up and smiled for the first time. It was a satisfied, inward kind of smile, but it made Carver like her. She was tough and precise and not hobbled by sentiment. If she'd bent at all in her life, it hadn't been one time or one degree more than was necessary.
He laid the contract on top of the crude note. He'd start a file when Hattie left.
Standing very erect, she primly smoothed her skirt down over her bony hips. It had a lot of wool in it for Florida. "Good day, Mr. Carver. I'll expect regular concise reports."
"Were you ever a schoolteacher?"
"Long, long ago. Why do you ask?"
"You remind me of my fourth-grade teacher."
"And you remind me of a rambunctious, obsessive troublemaker I used to keep after class more often than not to clean blackboard erasers. Reminded me of him the moment I walked in here. That's when I knew I wanted to hire you."
She strode out, the scent of roses in her wake.
He was relieved he hadn't been sent to the principal's office.CHAPTER 2
THE WIND OFF THE ocean pushed in through the cottage window, cool on Carver's bare back that was still wet from his shower. He pulled several pairs of Jockey shorts from his dresser drawer and tossed them on the bed, then levered himself down on the mattress with his cane and wrestled into a pair. Leaned on the cane and stood up.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the big mirror above the dresser, lame but with a lean and muscular upper body, bald-headed except for a fringe of thick curly gray hair above his ears and down the back of his neck. Blue eyes tilted up at the outer corners like a cat's. Sunburned and with a scar at the right corner of his mouth that lent him a cruel expression. A plastic surgeon had once told him the expression could be altered to one more amiable, but Carver had smiled and said no thanks, his looks were an occupational advantage when trying to collect bad debts. His left ear with its missing lobe, the result of a run-in with a knife-wielding madman, could also be made to look better, the surgeon had assured Carver. He'd thought that one over, then decided the hell with it. His looks were the map of his past, and what was anyone without the sum of his experience?
In the mirror, he saw Beth walk into the bedroom. She was a tall and beautiful black woman who looked as cool as light chocolate ice cream in yellow shorts and sleeveless top, her straightened hair combed back off her wide forehead. The shorts were of a modest- enough cut, but her legs still looked impossibly long.
She smiled and said, "You admiring yourself, Fred?"
"While you happen to be standing nearly naked in front of the mirror, huh?"
"I was sorta taking stock," he told her, turning away from his reflection.
"Some parts of you are still worthwhile," she said, then glanced at the underwear on the bed, his scuffed leather suitcase that he'd dragged down from the closet shelf. "Travelin' time?"
He'd driven to his Del Moray beach cottage to pack immediately after talking with Hattie Evans. "Just into Orlando," he said. "I figure it'd be best if I stayed at a motel there until I got something cleared up."
He told her about the Hattie Evans case while he got slacks, socks, and his shaving kit and placed them on the bed next to the underwear.
"Sounds as if there might be something in it for Burrow," she said, when he'd finished. She was working as a free-lance journalist, mostly for Burrow, a small Del Moray paper that specialized in stories the larger and more conservative Del Moray Chronicle-Bugle and other Florida papers couldn't or wouldn't touch. She did more conventional reporting, too, and had published several features in both the Chronicle-Bugle and the Orlando Sentinel. She was no longer taken lightly as a journalist.
"I'll let you know how it's shaping up," Carver said. "I might need your help."
They'd come to a comfortable arrangement whereby they used each other's resources in their work. Beth had contacts in Florida's drug world. She was the widow of drug lord Roberto Gomez and still had reason to fear survivors of his organization. But she'd figured the safest play was for her to go as public as possible instead of hiding, become a journalist whose murder would draw wide media attention. So far it had worked. She'd stayed alive. It didn't hurt, either, that she and Carver were lovers. Carver had a reputation.
"I get my best stories from you, Fred," she said, hip-swaying over and touching his bare shoulder. He felt himself tighten at her touch, wanted to hold her, take her down onto the bed. Not the time for that, he told himself.
"I better finish packing," he said, maybe a bit too crisply.
"I don't muck around in your cases unless you ask," she reminded him.
He hoisted the suitcase onto the bed and let it fall open. "When I do ask," he said, "you're there. I appreciate it. I've come to count on you." The wind gusted in again, pressing her yellow blouse to her lean torso. "What've you got going now?" he asked.
"Doing a piece on police brutality for Burrow. Got it about wrapped up."
"Here in Del Moray."
Carver wasn't surprised.
Beth propped her fists on her hips, stretching and arching her back so her surprisingly full breasts jutted out. He wondered if she might be trying to seduce him. It was sometimes impossible to tell with her. "Blood still runs hot in some of those retired folks," she said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sounded to me as if you took a liking to this Hattie Evans."
"Now you're thinking the way she does," he said.
A powerboat snarled past out at sea, the tone of its motor wavering whenever it bucked and its prop broke free of the waves. "I've seen some things. Maybe she's seen some of the same things. Blood runs hot in other ways, too, Fred, so you be careful."
What was she hinting at? She often seemed aware of matters he had no knowledge of, which annoyed him. Her years in the Chicago slums, her high life in Florida with Roberto, all that drug money. But it wasn't as if he hadn't seen under some rocks himself. She knew that. They never kidded each other about who was purest.
She said, "Something looks like it's gonna pop over there in retirement city, you clue me in soon as you can, okay, Fred?"
"I always do." He leaned on his cane and looked at her. The angry snarling of the speedboat had faded, and the scorching, humid quietude of the coast closed in behind it. More wind pressed in through the window, along with the whisper of surf from the beach. "There's no reason to remind me," he said. "What's wrong, you feeling insecure?"
She kissed him on the lips, barely using the tip of her tongue, stepped away, then lifted his suitcase from the bed and laid it on the floor. She placed his unpacked clothes on top of it. The surf murmured some old, old message she seemed to understand, and she smiled. Peeled off her shorts and panties and stretched out on her side on the bed. Her brown legs looked even better, fashion-model long but as muscular as a gymnast's. The dark, dark triangle in the fork of her thighs pulled at his gaze. He remembered the touch of her tongue.
She said, "C'mere, Fred. I'll show you insecure."
He hesitated a few seconds. Would it make any difference if he got into Orlando an hour or so later? He stood in the wind and sound of the ocean, mulling it over, trying not to think with his genitals. He was in love with Beth but she was a weakness. He loathed weakness in himself. Vulnerability. Christ, he loathed it!
A particularly large wave roared in and slapped and sighed on the beach.
Well, it wasn't as if he had a schedule.
"Ah, Fred!"CHAPTER 3
SOLARTOWN WAS TEN MINUTES outside of Orlando, a short drive off of Route 50. Carver had driven past it before but barely noticed it despite its vastness. Now he looked at it with full attention. The billboard on the highway described it as a retirement community. To Carver it looked like the first phase of the leveling process that was death.
On either side of the pale, squared stone columns that formed the entrance on Golden Drive, the pastel pink and white concrete wall surrounding Solartown stretched level in either direction, about five feet tall, with medium-size orange trees planted every hundred feet in shallow alcoves. The trees were precisely the same height. There were oranges on the ground beneath some of them. Two Latinos in blue work uniforms were picking up the oranges and dropping them into sacks strapped over their shoulders.
As he turned his ancient Olds convertible onto Golden Drive, Carver saw that the houses, like the orange trees, were all exactly the same height, the same distance apart. They were single-story ranch houses with attached double garages, shallow-pitched roofs with air-conditioning units on top, small porches, and bay windows in what were probably the dining rooms. Some of the garages were on the right, some on the left; that seemed the only difference in the houses other than color. And though colors varied, most of the clapboard-and-stucco structures were painted in pastels, with blue and pink predominating. The shingled roofs were all pale gray to reflect the sun. Most of the yards were a combination of lawn and colored gravel, and most had palms and decorative citrus trees growing in them. There were occasional lawn ornaments, from artificial flamingos and miniature windmills to religious icons. Carver drove along the flat, smooth pavement to K Street, then went east until he reached Pelican Lane, where Hattie Evans lived and grieved.
After checking house numbers, he turned right. There wasn't another car in sight, except occasionally in the shadows of garages whose doors had been left open. The heat and lack of shade made it vehicular brutality to park a car outside in the driveway or street. There were golf carts hooked up to chargers in some of the garages. Solartown's billboard had boasted of a golf course as well as a restaurant, community entertainment center, and medical facilities. One could eat, golf, and play bocce ball and never leave here right through to the end.
The way Jerome Evans had.
Carver squinted through the windshield to make sure the address number on the pale-blue house was Hattie's, then parked the Olds in the driveway. The canvas top had been up and the air conditioner blasting and it was cool in the car. When he got out and stood supported by his cane, the heat attacked him as if he'd just flung open a blast furnace door. It was the curse of air-conditioning, he decided, that when you left it the heat was doubly vicious, as if trying to make you suffer for your temporary escape.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fred Carver Mysteries Volume Three"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
A Biography of John Lutz,