At the Stroke of Madness (Maggie O'Dell Series #4)

( 75 )


FBI Special Agent Maggie O'Dell is just starting a vacation when she gets a call from her friend, psychologist Dr. Gwen Patterson. One of Gwen's patients is missing on a trip to Connecticut. Can Maggie look into Joan Begley's disappearance?

At first Maggie dismisses Gwen's concern. But when the body of a woman is discovered in an abandoned rock quarry in Connecticut, Maggie heads to the small town on "unofficial" business. Soon the shocking news surfaces that more bodies have ...

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FBI Special Agent Maggie O'Dell is just starting a vacation when she gets a call from her friend, psychologist Dr. Gwen Patterson. One of Gwen's patients is missing on a trip to Connecticut. Can Maggie look into Joan Begley's disappearance?

At first Maggie dismisses Gwen's concern. But when the body of a woman is discovered in an abandoned rock quarry in Connecticut, Maggie heads to the small town on "unofficial" business. Soon the shocking news surfaces that more bodies have been discovered, and Maggie is drawn into a case that confounds both local law enforcement and a seasoned criminal profiler like herself.

But where is Joan Begley? Is she in fact the woman discovered buried in the quarry? Or is she the unwilling guest of a killer obsessed with possessing an unimaginable prize from his victims?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The fourth novel in the Maggie O'Dell series (A Perfect Evil; Split Second; Soul Catcher) features a serial killer with a taste for grisly butchery. At the outset of a long overdue vacation, FBI special agent O'Dell agrees to investigate a simple missing person case for her good friend, psychologist Gwen Patterson. Coincidentally, in the quiet Connecticut small town where Gwen's patient was last seen, a barrel containing a dead body is discovered in an abandoned rock quarry. Maggie offers her services to the local sheriff because she needs to rule out the possibility that the victim is Gwen's patient. Professor Adam Bonzado, a forensic anthropologist and friend of the sheriff, is already at work; a dozen or more 55-gallon barrels have surfaced. As they're pried open, releasing the telltale nauseating stench, an odd assortment of cannibalized victims come to light, including a female breast cancer survivor-her breast implants cut out and removed-and an embalmed corpse, brain missing. Chapters narrated from the point of view of Gwen's missing patient (she's alive but in dire straits) and the paranoid killer alternate with accounts of the tedious work of the coroner and the anthropologist. As Maggie processes the information they provide, she also ministers to elderly but endearing Luc Racine, who lives near the quarry. His Jack Russell terrier keeps bringing him human bones, but since Luc is fighting Alzheimer's he may or may not be a viable witness. Kava's plotting is capable, but there's only a hint of romance and little humor to provide relief from the lashings of gore. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778320555
  • Publisher: Mira
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Series: Maggie O'Dell Series , #4
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 194,062
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.62 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Alex Kava

Alex Kava grew up in rural Nebraska, outside the small town of Silver Creek (population 500). As a child, Alex wrote short stories on the backs of old calendars and scrap paper, sharing them only with her younger brother and hiding them in a shoebox under her bed.

Alex earned an art scholarship to attend college. To pay living expenses, she worked in a nearby hospital's central surgery department scrubbing equipment, utensils and basins from the morgue and surgery departments. She graduated magna cum laude from College of Saint Mary, in Omaha, Nebraska, with a B.A. in Art and English. She has advanced studies and certificates in advertising and marketing.

For the last 15 years, Alex has worked in graphic design, advertising, and public relations. She has designed food packages and logos for national corporations, written brochures and newsletters, created a line of greeting cards, and directed TV and radio commercials. During the summer of 1996, Alex quit her full-time job as a director of public relations in order to dedicate more time to writing fiction and getting published. To pay the bills, she resurrected her home-based graphic design firm, Square One. She refinanced her home, maxed out her credit cards, and even took on a newspaper delivery route.

Also in the summer of 1996, serial killer John Joubert was executed. Alex's inspiration for A Perfect Evil was drawn from her experience while working at a small newspaper in the community where Joubert's rampage had taken place in 1983. His execution reminded her of the terror and panic experienced, not only by that community, but by many parents across Nebraska.

A Perfect Evil is Alex'sfirstnovel. She has just finished its sequel, Split Second, and has begun work on her third novel. Besides managing her clients' projects at Square One, she also teaches part-time at an area college.

Alex lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her two dogs, Miss Molly and Scout.

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Read an Excerpt

Saturday, September 13

Meriden, Connecticut

It was almost midnight, and yet Joan Begley continued to wait.

She tapped her fingernails on the steering wheel and watched for headlights in her rearview mirror. She tried to ignore the streaks of lightning in the distance, telling herself the approaching storm was headed in the other direction. Occasionally, her eyes darted across the front windshield. She barely noticed the spectacular view of city lights below, more interested in getting a glimpse in the side mirrors, as if she could catch something the rearview mirror may have missed.

"Objects may be closer than they appear."

The print on the passenger-side mirror made her smile. Smile and shiver at the same time. Not like she could see anything in this blasted darkness. Probably not until it was right on top of her car.

"Oh, that's good, Joan," she admonished herself. "Freak yourself out." She needed to think positively. She needed to keep a positive attitude. What good were all her sessions with Dr. Patterson if she threw out everything she had learned so easily?

What was taking him so long? Maybe he had gotten here earlier and had given up on her. After all, she was ten minutes late. Not intentionally. He'd forgotten to mention the fork in the road, right before the final climb to the top. It had taken her on an unexpected detour. It was bad enough that it was pitch dark up here, a canopy of tree branches overhead so thick even the moonlight couldn't penetrate it. What moonlight was left. The thunderheads would soon block out, or rather they would replace, the moonlight with what promised to be a hell of a lightning show.

God, she hated thunderstorms. She could feel the electricity in the air. Could almost taste it, metallic and annoying, like leaving the dentist with a fresh filling. And it only added to her anxiety. It pricked at her nerves like a reminder that she shouldn't be here. That maybe she shouldn't be doing this…that she shouldn't be doing this, again.

Those stupid, distracting thunderclouds had even caused her to lose her sense of direction. Or at least that's what she was blaming, though she knew full well all it took was getting into a rent-a-car. As soon as she closed the car door her ability to tell direction flew right out the window. It didn't help matters that all these Connecticut cities were made up of streets that ran every which way except at right angles or in straight lines. She had gotten lost plenty of times in the last several days. Then tonight, on the entire trip up here, she kept taking wrong turns, despite telling herself over and over that she would not, could not, get lost again. Yet, if it hadn't been for the old man and his dog, she would have been driving around in circles, looking for the West Peak.

"Walnut hunting," he had told her, and she hadn't thought anything of it at the time, because she was too anxious, too preoccupied. Now, as she waited, she remembered that he wasn't carrying a bag or bucket or sack. Just a flashlight. Who went walnut hunting in the middle of the night? Odd. Yes, there had been something quite odd about the man. A lost, faraway look in his eyes, and yet he didn't hesitate in giving her animated directions to the top of this wind-howling, branch-creaking, shadowy ridge.

Why in the world had she come?

She grabbed her cell phone and punched in the number from memory, crossing her fingers, only to be disappointed when the voice-messaging service picked up after the second ring. "You've reached Dr. Gwen Patterson. Please leave your name and phone number and I'll get back to you as soon as possible."

"As soon as possible might be too late," Joan said in place of a greeting, then laughed, regretting the words because Dr. P. would try to read between the lines. But then wasn't that what she was paying her the big bucks for? "Hey, Dr. P., yes, it's me again. Sorry to be such a pain in the ass. But you were right. I'm doing it again. So no, I guess I haven't learned my lesson, because here I am in the middle of the night, sitting in my dark car and waiting for…yeah, you guessed it, a man. Actually Sonny is different. Remember I told you about him in my e-mail? We've been getting together to talk, just talk. At least so far. He really does seem like a nice guy. Definitely not my type, right? Not like I'm a good judge of character when it comes to men. For all I know he could be an ax murderer, huh?" Another forced laugh. "Look, I was just hoping. I don't know. Maybe I was hoping you would talk me out of this. Save me from…oh, you know… Save me from myself, like you always do. Who knows, maybe he won't even show up. Anyway, I'll see you Monday morning for our usual rendezvous. You can yell at me then. Okay?"

She hung up before the string of prerecorded options, one of which would have allowed her to review her message, revise it or even delete it. She didn't want to be faced with any more choices, not tonight. She was sick and tired of making decisions. That's all she had done the last few days: The Serenity Package or the Deluxe-in-case-you're-feeling-guilty Premium Package? White roses or white lilies? The walnut casket with brass trim or the mahogany with silk lining?

Good heavens! Who would have thought there were so many stupid decisions involved in burying someone?

Joan tossed the phone into her bag. She drew her fingers through her thick blond hair, batted impatiently at damp strands to push them off her forehead. She glanced in the rearview mirror, turning on the overhead light to get a look at her dark roots. She needed to take care of those soon. Being a blonde sure took a lot of work.

"You've become high maintenance, girlfriend," she told the eyes in the mirror. Eyes she hardly recognized some days with new ravens cutting into what were once cute little laugh lines. Would that be her next project? A part of the new image she was creating for herself? God! She had even visited a plastic surgeon. What was she thinking? That she could re-create herself like one of her sculptures? Mold a new Joan Begley out of clay, dip it in brass, then solder on a couple of new attitudes while she was at it?

Maybe it was hopeless. Yet she did seem to be gaining control over the yo-yo dieting. Okay, control might not be the right word, because she wasn't totally convinced she did have control, but she had to admit that her new body felt good. Really good. It allowed her to do things she could never do before. She had more energy. Without the extra weight she could get back to maneuvering around her metal sculptures and didn't get winded every five minutes, waiting like her blow torch for more fuel to pump through before she could get going again.

Yes, this new slender self had an impact on her work, too. It made her feel like she had a whole new lease on work, on life. So why in the back of her mind was she unable to stifle that damn annoying little voice, that constant nag that kept asking, "How long will it last this time?"

The truth was, no matter how wonderful things were, she didn't trust this new person she was becoming. She didn't trust it like she didn't trust sugarless chocolate or fat-free potato chips. There had to be a catch, like a bad aftertaste or chronic diarrhea. No, what it came down to was that she didn't trust herself. That was it. That was the real problem. She didn't trust herself and that was what got her into trouble. That was what had brought her to the top of this ridge in the middle of the fricking night, waiting for some guy to make her feel good, to make her feel—Jesus, she hated to admit it—waiting for some guy to make her feel complete.

Dr. P. said it was because she didn't think she deserved to be happy. That she didn't feel worthy, or some psychobabble crap. She had told Joan over and over again that it didn't matter that there was a new improved exterior as long as the old interior didn't change.

God! She hated when her shrink was right.

She wondered if she should try calling her again. No, that was ridiculous. She glanced at the rearview mirror. He probably wouldn't show up, anyway.

Suddenly Joan realized she was disappointed. How silly was that? Maybe she really did think this guy was different. He was different from her regular fare—quiet and shy and interested. Yes, actually interested in listening to her. She hadn't imagined that part. Sonny did seem interested, maybe even concerned about her. Especially when she gave him that load of bull about her weight problem being caused by a hormone deficiency, like it was something out of her control that made her overeat. But instead of treating it like the gutless excuse it was, Sonny believed her. He believed her.

Why kid herself. That's why she was up here in the middle of nowhere, waiting in the dark. When was the last time a man had taken an interest in her? A real interest in her and not just in her new slender exterior with the artificial blond hair?

She shut off the overhead light and stared out at the city lights below. It was quite beautiful. And if she would relax, she might be able to see that it was quite romantic, despite that annoying rumble of thunder. Was that a raindrop on the windshield? Great! Wonderful! Just what she needed.

She tapped her fingernails on the steering wheel again and went back to her vigil, checking the side mirrors, then the rearview mirror.

Why was he so late? Had he changed his mind? Why would he change his mind?

She grabbed her handbag and searched inside, digging to the bottom until she heard the crinkle. She pulled out and ripped open the bag of M&M's, poured a handful and began popping them, one after another, into her mouth, as if they were Zoloft tablets, expecting the chocolate to calm her. It usually worked.

"Yes, of course, he'll come," she finally announced out loud with a mouthful, as if the sound of her voice was necessary for confirmation. "Something came up. Something he had to take care of. He's a very busy guy."

After all he had done for her in the last week…. Well, surely she could wait for him. She had been kidding herself to think that losing Granny hadn't had a tremendous impact on her. Granny had been the only person who truly understood and supported her. She was the only one who had stood up for her and defended her, insisting Joan's predicament of still being single and alone at forty was due to her independent nature instead of just being pathetic.

And now Granny, her protector, her confidant, her advocate, was gone. She had lived a long and wonderful life, but none of that could fill the void Joan was feeling. Sonny had been able to see that loss in her, that void. He had gotten her through the last week, allowing and encouraging her to grieve, even encouraging her to "rant and rave" a little.

She smiled at the memory of him, that serious look creasing his forehead. He always looked so serious, so in control. It was strength and a sense of authority that she needed in her life right now.

Just then a pair of headlights magically appeared as if they were her reward. She watched the car weave through the trees. It rounded the twists and curves with a smooth, steady ease, finding its way to this hideaway far above the city as if the driver knew the dark road. As if the driver came here often.

She felt an unexpected flutter in her stomach. Excitement. Anxiety. Nervous energy. Whatever it was, she chastised herself. Such emotions befitted an immature schoolgirl and not a woman her age.

She watched his car drive up behind her, feeling on the back of her neck the startling, powerful glare of his headlights as though they were his strong hands, hands that sometimes had just the slightest scent of vanilla. He said the vanilla removed the other pungent odors he worked with on a regular basis. He had said it as if embarrassed by it. She didn't mind. She had come to like that scent. There was something comforting about it.

The thunder rumbled overhead now and the droplets grew in number and size, splatting on the car's windows and blurring her vision. She watched his shadow, a hat-brimmed, black silhouette, get out of the vehicle. He had cut the engine but left on the headlights, making it difficult for her to see him against the glare and through the wet splotches.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 75 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 75 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2012

    Love Maggie, she rocks! LOVE THIS BOOK AS WELL!


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  • Posted January 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Like It!

    I am a new fan of Alex Kava and Maggie O'Dell. I would say this one is a bit better than the others, perhaps Kava is getting more familiar with his FBI agent. For the price of this book, it is a good read, however I would recommend the first 3 before reading this one

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2009

    Great read!

    If you like Patricia Cornwell, Thomas Harris and Tess Gerritson, you'll like Alex Kava.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2008

    Strong performance by Kava

    The beginning of the book really sets the tone. Very good book to add to Kava's excellent collection. I love it when the killers are...well...crazy, but they have their own purpose, and Kava delivers again. Maggie is again a very strong character and the 'who-done-it' question is not predictable, which is always a plus. This is a very good read for.....anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2005

    People are sleeping on 'Alex Kava'

    This was my first read by Alex Kava and I thought 'At the stroke of madness' was a great book! I couldn't put it down and was rather surprised by the way it ended. This author might not have the Rep that Patterson or Cornwell have when it comes to crime novels but she cerainly is right up there with them in my opinion. Alex Kava is new and given time she will be a househould name. Don't sleep on this book, read'll enjoy it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2004

    Loved this book!

    Alex Kava has such a unique style and flair. This book is a must read. It's an edge of your seat page turner. I can't wait for the next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2004


    Even though i managed to figure out who the killer was about 100 pages from the end, this book left me absolutely breathless. The plot was an ingenious mix of psychological head-games, and stunning, realistic, and believable characters. This is by far one of my favorite Kava books since The Soul Catcher. If you're interested in a deep, rich plot, or you're just looking for a few of those 'wtf' moments, then this is definately the book for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2004

    What is going on here?

    I really enjoyed Kava's first three books; they were full of suspense, likable characters, and enough action to keep the pages flipping. However, At the Stroke of Madness didn't quite live up to its fact, it was a huge disappointment. Kava lost track of Maggie's voice and the conclusion was entirely predictable. I've never before returned a book at Barnes and Noble, but this time I made an exception. Hope for better things next time!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2003


    Thought Perfect Evil was exceptional but the author must have run out of steam on Split Second and At the Stroke of Madness. It took everything I could to try to finish this book. Wish the author would let Maggie connect with Nick and perhaps bring some spunk to the character.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2003

    south african fan

    Hey all alex kava fans ... this one is definitely worth it! if you loved the others you cannot pass this one up. There is one part that is really funny and cold (you'll understand when you read it:)) anyway i hope that she keeps up the good work. Enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2003

    Another winner from Alex Kava and Maggie O'Dell

    Although 'At The Stroke Of Madness' is not as throat-gripping and gut-wrenching as Ms Kava's three previous novels - it is still a good read. After reading the final chapter I have determined that I smell a sequel with Simon Shelby once again using his 'tools' and adding to his unique speciman collection.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Great thriller

    D.C. based artist Joan Begley already felt lonely when the only person she felt cared about her died. Joan heads to middle Connecticut for the funeral. While in the Wallingford area she meets Sonny who has befriended her over the Internet. However, instead of showing Joan kindness he abducts her.<P> Joan¿s psychiatrist Dr. Gwen Patterson worries about her patient who she is quite fond of when she seemingly fails to check out of her room or catch her flight home. She calls her best friend FBI Special Agent, profiling expert Maggie O¿Dell to see if she can learn what happened to Joan. When a female corpse is found in the area, Maggie uses her vacation time to see what happened. As other bodies are found it looks like a serial killer seems to operating in the area. Maggie takes charge of the investigation even though her superior tells her to keep her butt out. Local Sheriff Watermeir is pleased to see her on the case so she can be his fall guy if all goes wrong.<P> The latest O¿Dell police procedural is an exciting suspense laden tale. The serial killer story line hooks the audience because of the strong cast working the law enforcement side. In many ways the culprit is typical of the serial killer tale. However, Alex Kava enables the audience to see inside the head of the heroine and several other characters, especially an Alzheimer¿s victim and the sheriff, so that AT THE STROKE OF MADNESS turns into a fast-paced, one sitting novel.<P> Harriet Klausner

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    Posted October 17, 2011

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    Posted June 4, 2011

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    Posted December 29, 2010

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    Posted December 29, 2011

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    Posted June 21, 2009

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