Featuring North America's foremost thriller authors, Thriller is the first collection of pure thriller stories ever published. Offering up heart-pumping tales of suspense in all its guises are thirty-two of the most critically acclaimed and award-winning names in the business. From the signature characters that made such authors as David Morrell and John Lescroart famous, to four of the hottest new voices in the genre, this blockbuster will tantalize and terrify.
Lock the doors, draw the shades, pull up the covers and be prepared for Thriller to keep you up all night.
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Thriller: Stories To Keep You Up All NightJames Penney's New Identity\Operation Northwoods\Epitaph\The Face In The Window\Empathy The process that turned James Penney into a completely different person began thirteen years ago, at one in the afternoon on a Monday in the middle of June, in Laney, California. A hot time of day, at a hot time of year, in a hot part of the country. The town squats on the shoulder of the road from Mojave to L.A. Due west, the southern rump of the Coastal Range Mountains is visible. Due east, the Mojave Desert disappears into the haze. Very little happens in Laney. After that Monday in the middle of June thirteen years ago, even less ever did.
There was one industry in Laney. One factory. A big spread of a place. Weathered metal siding, built in the sixties. Office accommodations at the north end, in the shade. The first floor was low grade. Clerical functions took place there. Billing and accounting and telephone calling. The second story was high grade. Managers. The corner office on the right used to be the personnel manager's place. Now it was the human resources manager's place. Same guy, new title on his door.
Outside that door in the long second–floor corridor was a line of chairs. The human resources manager's secretary had rustled them up and placed them there that Monday morning. The line of chairs wasoccupied by a line of men and women. They were silent. Every five minutes the person at the head of the line would be called into the office. The rest of them would shuffle up one place. They didn't speak. They didn't need to. They knew what was happening.
Just before one o'clock, James Penney shuffled up one space to the head of the line. He waited five long minutes and stood up when he was called. Stepped into the office. Closed the door behind him. The human resources manager was a guy called Odell. Odell hadn't been long out of diapers when James Penney started work at the Laney plant.
"Mr. Penney," Odell said.
Penney said nothing, but sat down and nodded in a guarded way.
"We need to share some information with you," Odell said.
Penney shrugged at him. He knew what was coming. He heard things, same as anybody else.
"Just give me the short version, okay?" he said. Odell nodded. "We're laying you off."
"For the summer?" Penney asked him.
Odell shook his head.
"For good," he said.
Penney took a second to get over the sound of the words. he'd known they were coming, but they hit him like they were the last words he ever expected Odell to say.
"Why?" he asked.
Odell shrugged. He didn't look as if he was enjoying this. But on the other hand, he didn't look as if it was upsetting him much, either.
"Downsizing," he said. "No option. Only way we can go."
"Why?" Penney said again.
Odell leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. Started the speech he'd already made many times that day.
"We need to cut costs," he said. "This is an expensive operation. Small margin. Shrinking market. You know that."
Penney stared into space and listened to the silence breaking through from the factory floor. "So you're closing the plant?"
Odell shook his head again. "We're downsizing, is all. The plant will stay open. There'll be some maintenance. Some repairs, overhauls. But not like it used to be."
"The plant will stay open?" Penney said. "So how come you're letting me go?"
Odell shifted in his chair. Pulled his hands from behind his head and folded his arms across his chest defensively. He had reached the tricky part of the interview.
"It's a question of the skills mix," he said. "We had to pick a team with the correct blend. We put a lot of work into the decision. And I'm afraid you didn't make the cut."
"What's wrong with my skills?" Penney asked. "I got skills. I've worked here seventeen years. What's wrong with my damn skills?"
"Nothing at all," Odell said. "But other people are better. We have to look at the big picture. It's going to be a skeleton crew, so we need the best skills, the fastest learners, good attendance records, you know how it is."
"Attendance records?" Penney said. "What's wrong with my attendance record? I've worked here seventeen years. You saying I'm not a reliable worker?"
Odell touched the brown file folder in front of him. "You've had a lot of time out sick," he said. "Absentee rate just above eight percent."
Penney looked at him incredulously. "Sick?" he said. "I wasn't sick. I was post–traumatic. From Vietnam."
Odell shook his head again. He was too young. "Whatever," he said. "That's still a big absentee rate." James Penney just sat there, stunned. He felt like he'd been hit by a train.
"We looked for the correct blend," Odell said again.
"We put a lot of management time into the process. We're confident we made the right decisions. You're not being singled out. We're losing eighty percent of our people."
Penney stared across at him. "You staying?" Odell nodded and tried to hide a smile but couldn't. "There's still a business to run," he said. "We still need management."
There was silence in the corner office. Outside, the hot breeze stirred off the desert and blew a listless eddy over the metal building. Odell opened the brown folder and pulled out a blue envelope. Handed it across the desk.
"You're paid up to the end of July," he said. "Money went in the bank this morning. Good luck, Mr. Penney."
The five–minute interview was over. Odell's secretary appeared and opened the door to the corridor. Penney walked out. The secretary called the next man in. Penney walked past the long quiet row of people and made it to the parking lot. Slid into his car. It was a red Firebird, a year and a half old, and it wasn't paid for yet. He started it up and drove the mile to his house. Eased to a stop in his driveway and sat there, thinking, in a daze, with the engine running.
He was imagining the repo men coming for his car. The only damn thing in his whole life he'd ever really wanted. He remembered the exquisite joy of buying it. After his divorce. Waking up and realizing he could just go to the dealer, sign the papers and have it. No discussions. No arguing. he'd gone down to the dealer and chopped in his old clunker and signed up for that Firebird and driven it home in a state of total joy. he'd washed it every week. he'd watched the infomercials and tried every miracle polish on the market. The car had sat every day outside the Laney factory like a bright red badge of achievement. Like a shiny consolation for the shit and the drudgery. Whatever else he didn't have, he had a Firebird.
He felt a desperate fury building inside him. He got out of the car and ran to the garage and grabbed his spare can of gasoline. Ran back to the house. Opened the door. Emptied the can over the sofa. He couldn't find a match, so he lit the gas stove in the kitchen and unwound a roll of paper towels. Put one end on the stove top and ran the rest through to the living room. When his makeshift fuse was well alight, he skipped out to his car and started it up. Turned north toward Mojave.
His neighbor noticed the fire when the flames started coming through the roof. She called the Laney fire department. The firefighters didn't respond. It was a volunteer department, and all the volunteers were in line inside the factory, upstairs in the narrow corridor. Then the warm air moving off the Mojave Desert freshened up into a hot breeze, and by the time James Penney was thirty miles away the flames from his house had set fire to the dried scrub that had been his lawn. By the time he was in the town of Mojave itself, cashing his last paycheck at the bank, the flames had spread across his lawn and his neighbor's and were licking at the base of her back porch.
Like any California boomtown, Laney had grown in a hurry. The factory had been thrown up around the start of Nixon's first term. A hundred acres of orange groves had been bulldozed and five hundred frame houses had quadrupled the population in a year. There was nothing really wrong with the houses, but they'd seen rain less than a dozen times in the thirty–one years they'd been standing, and they were about as dry as houses can get. Their timbers had sat and baked in the sun and been scoured by the dry desert winds. There were no hydrants built into the streets. The houses were close together, and there were no wind–breaks. But there had never been a serious fire in Laney. Not until that Monday in June.
James Penney's neighbor called the fire department for the second time after her back porch disappeared in flames. The fire department was in disarray. The dispatcher advised her to get out of her house and just wait for their arrival. By the time the fire truck got there, her house was destroyed. And the next house in line was destroyed, too. The desert breeze had blown the fire on across the second narrow gap and sent the old couple living there scuttling into the street for safety. Then Laney called in the fire departments from Lancaster and Glendale and Bakersfield, and they arrived with proper equipment and saved the day. They hosed the scrub between the houses and the blaze went no farther. Just three houses destroyed, Penney's and his two downwind neighbors. Within two hours the panic was over, and by the time Penney himself was fifty miles north of Mojave, Laney's sheriff was working with the fire investigators to piece together what had happened.
They started with Penney's place, which was the up–wind house, and the first to burn, and therefore the coolest. It had just about burned down to the floor slab, but the layout was still clear. And the evidence was there to see. There was tremendous scorching on one side of where the living room had been. The Glendale investigator recognized it as something he'd seen many times before. It was what is left when a foam–filled sofa or armchair is doused with gasoline and set afire. As clear a case of arson as he had ever seen. The unfortunate wild cards had been the stiffening desert breeze and the proximity of the other houses.
Then the sheriff had gone looking for James Penney, to tell him somebody had burned his house down, and his neighbors'. He drove his black–and–white to the factory and walked upstairs, past the long line of people and into Odell's corner office. Odell told him what had happened in the five–minute interview just after one o'clock. Then the sheriff had driven back to the Laney station house, steering with one hand and rubbing his chin with the other.
And by the time James Penney was driving along the towering eastern flank of Mount Whitney, a hundred and fifty miles from home, there was an all–points–bulletin out on him, suspicion of deliberate arson, which in the dry desert heat of southern California was a big, big deal.
The next morning's sun woke James Penney by coming in through a hole in his motel–room blind and playing a bright beam across his face. He stirred and lay in the warmth of the rented bed, watching the dust motes dancing.
He was still in California, up near Yosemite, in a place just far enough from the park to be cheap. He had six weeks' pay in his billfold, which was hidden under the center of his mattress. Six weeks' pay, less a tank and a half of gas, a cheeseburger and twenty–seven–fifty for the room. Hidden under the mattress, because twenty–seven–fifty doesn't get you a space in a top–notch place. His door was locked, but the desk guy would have a passkey, and he wouldn't be the first desk guy in the world to rent out his passkey by the hour to somebody looking to make a little extra money during the night.
But nothing bad had happened. The mattress was so thin he could feel the billfold right there, under his kidney. Still there, still bulging. A good feeling. He lay watching the sunbeam, struggling with mental arithmetic, spreading six weeks' pay out over the foreseeable future. With nothing to worry about except cheap food, cheap motels and the Firebird's gas, he figured he had no problems at all. The Firebird had a modern engine, twenty–four valves, tuned for a blend of power and economy. He could get far away and have enough money left to take his time looking around.
Excerpted from Thriller: Stories To Keep You Up All Night by Lee Child Copyright © 2007 by Lee Child. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsCast of Characters Ted Bell, "The Powder Monkey" --Featuring Alex Hawke from the Hawke thriller series, which includes the novels Hawke, Pirate, Spy, and Assassin. Lee Child, "James Penney's New Identity" -- Featuring Jack Reacher from the Reacher series, which includes the novels The Hard Way, Killing Floor, Persuader, and Without Fail. James Grippando, "Operation Northwoods" -- Featuring Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck and his colorful sidekick, Theo Knight. Jack and Theo appear in five previous novels -- The Pardon, Beyond Suspicion, Last to Die, Hear No Evil, and Got the Look. Gregg Hurwitz, "Dirty Weather" -- "Dirty Weather" features a prison escape, which continues a theme in Gregg's next Tim Rackley book, Last Shot. J. A. Konrath, "Epitaph" -- Featuring Phineas Troutt, who appears in the Jack Daniels series, which includes the novels Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, and Rusty Nail. David Liss, "The Double Dealer" -- Featuring Benjamin Weaver, the protagonist from the novels A Conspiracy of Paper and A Spectacle of Corruption. Gayle Lynds, "The Hunt for Dmitri" -- Featuring Liz Sansborough and the Carnivore; both appear in the novels The Coil and Masquerade. Chris Mooney, "Falling" -- Featuring Malcolm Fletcher, who appears in the novel Deviant Ways. James Rollins, "Kowalski's in Love" -- Featuring Kowalski from the thriller Ice Hunt and the Sigma Force team from the novels Sandstorm, Map of Bones, and Black Order. M. J. Rose and John Lescroart, "The Portal" -- Featuring Dr. Morgan Snow from Rose's Butterfield Institute series, which includes the novels The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, and The Venus Fix. Brad Thor, "The Athens Solution" --Featuring the recurring covert, counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath, who appears in the novels The Lions of Lucerne, Path of the Assassin, State of the Union, Blowback, and Takedown. F. Paul Wilson, "Incident at Duane's" -- Featuring Repairman Jack, who appears in the novels Crisscross, Gateways, and The Haunted Air.
What People are Saying About This
Breathless, explosive, exhilarating. The perfect combination of spine-tingling and heart-pounding suspense. Keep your night light on for this one.
The best of the best storytellers in the business. Thriller has no equal. Action, intrigue, and entertainment at the highest level. Adventure on a grand scale you won’t forget.
Intrigue and suspense merge in this electrifying collection from an all-star lineup. Thirty stories at 300 miles-per-hour. Prepare to be thrilled from start to finish.
Thriller is like a box of the best chocolates -- bite-sized, delicious, and totally addictive. A collection of stories by some of the best writers in the thriller business -- what’s not to love?
Thriller will be a classic. This first-ever collection of thriller stories, from the best in the business, has it all. The quality blew me away.
Thriller is entertaining, fast-paced, and just plain fun. It will take you to the most terrifying heights of suspense.
Ransom Notes Interview with James Patterson and Steve Berry
Editor James Patterson and ITW Chair of Publications Steve Berry spoke with Barnes & Noble.com's Ransom Notes about the release of Thriller, the importance of an organization like International Thriller Writers, Inc. and the future of the genre.
Paul Goat Allen: James, before I start the interview with you and Steve, I have to congratulate you both on an amazing anthology. Everyone associated with this project should be proud. How exactly did you get involved as editor of this anthology? And -- wow! -- did you ever dream that this anthology would be this strong?
James Patterson: It's pretty amazing. Gayle Lynds, one of the co-presidents of ITW, called me one day and asked if I'd become involved. I immediately loved the idea. Never has this been done before (a pure thriller anthology), so the whole concept intrigued me. Then, as the ITW writers began to sign on, many of whom are New York Times bestsellers of long standing, I realized we had something really special.
PGA: Steve, as a veteran thriller writer of numerous bestselling novels -- The Templar Legacy, The Third Secret, etc. -- just what does an organization like ITW mean to you? And do you think it will help to nurture a sense of community between writers, readers, illustrators, editors, etc. like, say, the Science Fiction Writers of America and its Nebula Awards did with science fiction?
Steve Berry: ITW is something thriller writers have needed and wanted for a long time. Right now [June 2006] there are nearly 500 members (with combined sales topping 1.6 billion books), and the organization has only existed since November 2004. All of the members are working thriller writers, though we have memberships for agents and industry people too. And it's already brought a sense of community. Working on Thriller showed me that. Those writers gave their all. Each donated their story, and all proceeds from the book will benefit ITW. It was like the Ryder Cup in golf. The team became more important than the self -- everyone playing for collective pride instead of individual glory.
PGA: James, a similar question for you. The thriller genre is booming right now -- just look at any national bestseller list. How can an organization like ITW elevate the genre and its writers to that next level?
JP: A group with a common goal and purpose can always get more done than any individual could hope to attain. Thrillers are hot right now, and ITW intends to keep them that way. All of us who are members are committed to that goal. The genre is one of long standing and deep tradition. It's our duty to keep it going and make it bigger and better.
PGA: Steve, as a featured "Special Guest," what are you most looking forward to during ThrillerFest, the first-ever International Festival of Thrillers that takes place in Phoenix in late June and early July?
SB: It's going to be amazing. Right now, nearly 200 members will be there -- the largest gathering of thriller writers in history. We hope a lot of fans will come too -- and they can still register at www.internationalthrillerwriters.com, though I'm told the hotel rooms are going fast. I myself can't wait to meet a lot of these folks whom I've read for years. Clive Cussler, Dirk Cussler, Tess Gerritsen, Brad Meltzer, R. L. Stine, Sandra Brown, Barry Eisler, Joe Finder, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg, and Dale Brown will all be there, just to name a few. Three days of sessions, all geared to thrillers, and it's the first conference where I'd like to attend every session. This is the start of something big that will become an annual event, one we hope writers, publishers, and fans will eagerly await.
PGA: This question goes out to both of you. In the last decade, the boundaries between genres have become an ever-increasing gray area. Numerous new releases are romance-fantasy-mystery hybrids. The philosophy behind this, I'm assuming, is bigger audience = bigger sales. Some thrillers can be categorized as mystery or historical fiction or romance or political fiction. In your opinion, is this blending of genres, this blurring of the lines between literary classifications good or bad for publishing?
JP: Good stories are good stories. Period. Doesn't matter about blending. In fact, the more the better, provided the overall story is good. My work is a perfect example. I write in a variety of genres that reflect not only my own interests but also what I think readers want to read. It's more a reflection of the 21st-century mind that demands so much more from everything. The writer's task is to deliver.
SB: Labels are truly aggravating. They seem to be used by others, more for convenience, than by writers out of necessity. ITW is a great example. We are a blend of a variety of thriller subgenres, but the common thread through us all, we hope, is the goal of good stories told well. Just like with people, pigeonholing books is equally difficult and should be avoided.
PGA: James, I know that Thriller hasn't even been released yet, but with all the extremely positive pre-publication buzz, have you contemplated doing another Thriller anthology or even making it an annual collection?
JP: Certainly ITW wants to do more of this kind of thing, and there's talk of another anthology in a couple years. Of course, all that depends on the success of Thriller. But, so far, everything is pointing in the right direction. The pre-orders are through the roof, and reviews have been universally excellent. So, we'll see.