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Black Water (Merci Rayborn Series #3)

Black Water (Merci Rayborn Series #3)

4.4 9
by T. Jefferson Parker

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Merci Rayborn, T. Jefferson Parker's stubborn, principled Orange County detective, is almost alone in believing that deputy Archie Wildcraft didn't kill his beautiful young wife and then turn his service weapon on himself. The evidence against Wildcraft--now hospitalized with a bullet lodged in his head--seems overwhelming. But Merci, who's still unpopular for


Merci Rayborn, T. Jefferson Parker's stubborn, principled Orange County detective, is almost alone in believing that deputy Archie Wildcraft didn't kill his beautiful young wife and then turn his service weapon on himself. The evidence against Wildcraft--now hospitalized with a bullet lodged in his head--seems overwhelming. But Merci, who's still unpopular for exposing an old police scandal that caused the death of one cop and the ruination of others (The Blue Hour), is resisting pressure from her boss and a headline-hunting D.A. to arrest Wildcraft and charge him with murder. Then the deputy, who's lost his memory and maybe his mind as a result of his injury, goes missing from his hospital room, intent on tracking down the real killers and managing to stay a step ahead of Merci. Soon, they both begin to realize that Gwen Wildcraft wasn't killed because she got in the way of an attempted hit on her husband--it was the other way around. Parker, whose skills at characterization are as well honed as his expert pacing and intricate plotting, has penned another standout that will keep readers guessing and gasping until the last dramatic page. --Jane Adams

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Every appearance by T. Jefferson Parker's protagonist Merci Rayborn is a cause for celebration among fans of police procedurals. A warm, endearing, but tough heroine, she is filled with all the wry charm and expert insight we've come to expect from Parker's hard-edged storytelling. The author always gives his novels an extra dose of genuinely moving humanity, featuring honest character motivation and a gripping, energetic narrative.

Archie Wildcraft, a cop with a great career ahead of him, is found with a bullet in his brain, lying beside his murdered wife, Gwen. It looks like a botched murder-suicide, but Sergeant Merci Rayborn's gut instincts tell her differently. As Archie holds on by a thread, Merci is drawn further into the Wildcrafts' private lives and comes to believe that the young couple were deeply in love and that Archie's been framed. When Archie vanishes from the hospital, it appears he's on a vendetta, and it's up to Merci to cover for him until she has a chance to solve the case on her own. Eventually, she's led to the Russian mob and discovers awful secrets that she isn't sure she wants to hand over to the heartless district attorney.

Black Water gives voice to subtle yet resonating themes relating to loss, audacity, and vengeance. That sense of obsession and purpose is what makes this novel a standout in the Rayborn canon. The complexity of character detail and the poignant writing prove once again just what a superior stylist Parker remains. Merci is an Everywoman, a detective who doesn't merely do her job but in a sense actually is her job. (Tom Piccirilli)

Los Angeles Times
Parker writes at the top of his form.
Merci is so perversely enjoyable that Parker could probably spin his color-coded series all the way to vermilion.
Publishers Weekly
After 10 California noir cop thrillers, Parker may have finally settled on a series character to anchor at least a portion of his work: Merci Rayborn, a single mom consumed by her job as a homicide detective with the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The Blue Hour and Edgar-nominated Red Light both chronicled the professional fall from grace that left Rayborn a black sheep in the department, and she remains a fascinating (if somewhat distressing) character to watch. Without her colleagues' full cooperation, she plows into a thorny double shooting: a beautiful young woman, Gwen Wildcraft, is found dead in her lavish hillside home, while her husband, sheriff deputy Archie Wildcraft, lies in the garden with a bullet in his head. Archie manages to survive, but has little memory of what happened. Growing evidence, however, indicates that he murdered his wife, then failed at trying to kill himself. Despite the media clamoring for answers and political pressure mounting to arrest Archie, Rayborn's instinct tells her this was not a bungled murder/suicide. Instead, the case points her in other directions, toward an upstart biotech company, Russian mobsters and Archie's nearly impenetrable past. Parker takes great strides in unfurling Rayborn's life of quiet desperation and that of her immediate social circle her father, her partner on the force and her young son. Though lacking the kind of explosive finale that marks most of Parker's novels, this latest is a showcase for mood, setting and pace. $150,000 marketing campaign; national author tour. (Apr. 24) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Parker has written another winner. Black Water begins with the killing of a young woman and the wounding of her husband, a young sheriff's deputy named Archie Wildcraft. Is it the attempted murder/suicide that it appears to be or is it something more complex and sinister? Determining this is the task of Detective Merci Rayborn (from a previous Parker novel) and her partner, Paul Zamora, which becomes more complicated when Wildcraft, who has a bullet in his brain, checks himself out of the hospital and disappears. With an exciting and fast-paced plot and interesting and complex characters, this novel includes discussion of the biotech industry, the Russian Mafia, and the nature of brain injuries. Aasne Vigesaa does a solid job, effectively capturing the mood of the book. Highly recommended for all audio collections.DChristine Valentine, Davenport Univ., Kalamazoo, MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Archie Wildcrafts-young, good-looking, sweet-natured-had joined in a marriage that seemed destined for the long haul. Then suddenly, she's shot dead, and for a while he's nearer dead than alive, a bullet lodged in his brain. Though he beats the odds and survives, the investigators of the Orange County Sheriff's department find the case taking shape in a way they hate, as a murder and an unsuccessful suicide, with the alleged perpetrator, Deputy Archie, one of their own. To Sergeant Merci Rayborn, however, the whole deal screams frame. Yes, there's Gwen's blood on Archie's bathrobe and Archie's fingerprints on the murder weapon, but to Merci, weaned by her mentors on the bedrock idea that "there's a lot more to a homicide case than fingerprints," it's all off-kilter. From the outset, her detective's instincts have seized on an essential truth: Archie loved Gwen and couldn't have killed her. In the meantime, an ambitious, headline-hunting DA, sensing an easy conviction, wants Archie before a grand jury. Merci resists, stalls, maneuvers. Sniffing here and there, she finally gets a whiff of a money trail that leads to a pair of ruthless Russian wiseguys whose impact on Gwen was both surprising and pernicious. But Merci's not their only stalker. Turns out that a pair of vengeful ghosts are along for the ride. Parker (Silent Joe, 2001, etc.) scores again with a heroine whose steely toughness is leavened by warmth and vulnerability. It's a pleasure to spend time with her. $150,000 ad/promo; author tour

Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Merci Rayborn Series , #3
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
13 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


By T. Jefferson Parker


Copyright © 2002 T. Jefferson Parker.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 078686804X

Chapter One

Archie pushed the gearshift into third and set his hand on her knee. Coast Highway, southbound. Man in the moon big and close, like he was tilting his head for a peek down into the convertible. Archie glanced up, couldn't tell if the guy was smiling or frowning. Didn't care because Gwen's skin was warm through the dress, a few degrees warmer than the breeze gusting through the car.

    He looked at the speedometer then at her. Saw her hair moving, her face sketched in the orange glow of the dashboard lights. A silver champagne flute in one hand, a smile.

    Archie pretended he'd never seen her before. Pretended he was trying to look at something else—the squid boat off of Crystal Cove in a pool of white light, say—only to have this Gwen creature drop into his world like some special effect. There she was. What luck.

    He lifted the hem of her dress up over her knees and slipped his hand under. She eased back in the seat a little and he heard the breath catch in her throat. He caught the faint smell of her, windblown but unmistakable. Archie had a sharp nose and loved what it brought him. Like right now, the milk-and-orange-blossoms smell of Gwen, bass scent of his life. All the other notes that came to him—coastal sage and the ocean, the new car leather—were just the riffs and fills.

    She smiled and tossed the plastic champagne flute in the air, the darkness stealing it without a sound. Then she slid her hand under there with his, popping up the cotton dress and letting it settle like a bedspread while she trailed a finger down his forearm and over his wrist.

    "Long way home, Arch."

    "Five whole miles."

    "What a night. It's cool when we mix our friends and they get along."

    "They're all great. Priscilla drank a lot."

    "The cops put it away, too. Thanks, Arch. You spent a fortune for all that."

    "Worth it. You only turn twenty-six once."

    Gwen's curls lifted in a random swirl and she pulled his hand in a little closer. She didn't speak for a long moment. "Twenty-six. I'm lucky. Will you love me when I'm thirty-six? Eighty-six?"

    "Done deal."

    "I'm really sorry about earlier."

    "Forget it. I have. Damned temper."

    A serene moment then, as the roar of the engine mixed with the comfort of forgiveness.

    "I can't wait to get home, Arch. I'll be outrageously demanding, since it's my birthday. It is still my birthday, isn't it?"

    "For about three minutes."

    "Hmmm. Maybe you ought to pull over."

    Archie downshifted and looked for a turn off the highway. There was one at the state beach, one for the trailer park, another one back by the juice stand. They'd used all of them, just one of those things they loved to do. She'd sit on his lap with her back to him. Up that high she looked like a tourist craning for a view of something, one hand on the armrest and the other on the dash. The great thing about the new convertible was he could look up past the back of Gwen's head at the stars, then at her again, put his nose in her hair or against her neck and wonder what he'd done to deserve her. For a young man, Archie Wildcraft was not a complete fool, because he understood, at thirty, that he'd done nothing at all to deserve her. Dumb luck, pure and simple.

    "There's the turn," she said, pointing.

    "I love you," he said.

    "I love you, Arch. You're always going to be my man, aren't you."

    It wasn't really a question so he didn't answer. He braked and steered off the highway and into the darkness.

Four hours later, Deputy Wildcraft jerked awake when he heard something loud in the living room.

    Gwen slept right through it, so Archie cupped one hand firmly over her mouth as he raised her from sleep. Her eyes grew large as he whispered what he'd heard. He prodded her out of the bed and toward the bathroom, which was where Archie had told her to go if something like this ever happened. All the time Archie was trying to listen but he heard nothing from the living room, the house, the whole world.

    He watched as she pulled her new purple robe off the floor and moved through the room shadows toward the bath. Archie got a nine-millimeter autoloader from under the bed. He set it on his pillow while he pulled on his underwear—comic, "Happy Birthday, I'm Yours" boxers with a big red ribbon printed around the opening. They'd made her laugh. Him too, and they'd made love again and fallen asleep damp and tangled in the sheets.

    He put on his robe and picked up the gun. Then he got the phone and carried it toward the bathroom, where a thin horizon of light shone under the door. He opened it and gave her the phone and whispered don't worry this guy picked the wrong house to burgle maybe just a bird flew into a window if something goes wrong call 911 but let me check it out first.

    I'll call it now, Archie.

    Don't call it until I tell you to call it. Turn out the light the twenty-two's under the sink with a full clip and one in the chamber. The safety's down by the trigger guard push it 'til the red shows.

    Be careful.

    I'll be careful.

    Archie got his flashlight and walked out of the room and into the familiar hallway. Carpet, bare feet hardly making a sound. There was a light switch at the end of the hall, where it opened to the living room. He flipped it on but didn't step in, just stood there scanning right to left then back again over the sights of the automatic: wall, sofa, window blinds with a big hole in them, chair, wall with a painting, Gwen's birthday presents on the floor. Then the same things again, but in reverse.

    He looked down at the big rock in the middle of the living room carpet. Size of a grapefruit. Saw the shards of glass twinkling near the sliding glass door. Saw where the wooden blinds had been splintered when the rock came through. Offed the light and listened. The refrigerator hummed and car tires hissed in the distance.

    Archie moved quietly into the kitchen and hit another light. Empty and undisturbed. Breakfast nook the same. Little family room with the TV and fireplace looked fine, too, just the VCR clock glowing a steady 4:28 A.M.

    He checked the bath and the laundry room. Went back to the living room and shined his flashlight down on the rock. Kind of a rounded square, red and smooth with clear skinny marbles running through it like fat. Gneiss, thought Archie, veined with quartz. Common.

    He wondered who'd do something infantile and destructive like this. Kids, probably—don't know who lives here, just want to bust something up, video it, have a story to tell. Maybe some forgotten creep he'd shoved around in Orange County jail when he started work eight years ago. Cops make enemies every day and Archie had made his. They all came to his mind, though none more than any other. The crime lab could get latents off that gneiss.

    All of this sped through Archie's brain as he unlocked the front door, slipped outside and quietly pulled the door shut behind him.

    The moon was gone so he turned on the flashlight, scanned the porch and the bushes around it. A rabbit crashed through the leaves and Archie's heart jumped. He stepped down to the walkway. It was lined with Chinese flame trees and yellow hibiscus and bird-of-paradise. The drooping branches of the flame trees made a tunnel. Archie followed the walk around to the back, moving his light beam with his left hand, dangling the nine millimeter in his right.

    He stayed on the walk and it led him around the swimming pool. The water was flat and polished and Archie remarked for maybe the millionth time what a beautiful home they lived in now, big but plenty of charm, on a double lot in the hills with this pool and a three-car garage and palm trees fifty feet high leading up the driveway. An extra room for his viewing stones. An extra room for Gwen's music. An extra room for the baby someday.

    He continued along the curving walkway then stopped in front of the slider where the rock had come through. The beam of his flashlight picked up the big ragged hole and the gleam of fissures spreading in all directions. He saw no footprints, no disturbance of the grass.

    Archie stood still and listened, clicked off his flashlight. Never did hear a getaway car. Kids, he thought again: they would throw the rock, haul ass giggling along the west fence, jump it at the corner and be down the hill before he'd gotten Gwen into the bathroom. He thought of her just then, standing in the hard light with her robe on, hair all messed up, scared as a bird and listening to every little sound, the twenty-two probably still in the cabinet under the sink because she didn't like guns. And he thought what a jealous little jerk he'd been for a few minutes at the party. Married to her for eight years and he'd still feel his anger rise when his own friends hugged and kissed her.

    He missed her. Wondered what in hell he was doing out here with his happy birthday boxers and a gun and his wife afraid in a locked bathroom a hundred feet away.

    He turned back up the walk. Past the pool. Into the tunnel of trees. Then a beam of sharp light in his eyes and by the time he found the flashlight button it was too late.

    Up close, an orange explosion.

    Bright white light and Archie watching himself fly into it, a bug in the universe, a man going home.

Chapter Two

Sergeant Merci Rayborn nodded at the two deputies standing at the front door of the Wildcraft house. One of them handed her an Order-of-Entry log, which she signed after checking her watch. She was a tall woman with a dark ponytail that rode up the orange letters on the back of her windbreaker as she wrote, then down again as she handed back the clipboard.

    "Who got here first and where are they?"

    "Crowder and Dobbs, Sergeant. In the kitchen area, I believe."

    The other uniform looked past her head and said nothing.

    In the entryway Merci Rayborn stood still and received. Smell of furniture wax and wood. Smell of flowers. Murmur of voices. She looked at the entryway mirror, the living room furniture, the carpet. She looked at the hole in the blinds, which suggested a hole in the glass behind. She looked at a rock the size of a newborn's head lying near the middle of the floor. At the little pile of gift boxes. No alarm system—kitchen, maybe.


    Paul Zamorra came softly down the hallway, light on his feet. And dark in his heart, Merci thought. He had the gentle deliberateness of an undertaker. And the black suit, too.

    She turned to her partner. "Paul. Do you know this guy?"

    "Not well. You know, just a friendly face. We'd talked."

    "Wildcraft. I'm sure we talked, too."


Excerpted from BLACK WATER by T. Jefferson Parker. Copyright © 2002 by T. Jefferson Parker. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

T. Jefferson Parker is the award-winning author of nine previous novels, including Silent Joe, The Blue Hour, and Red Light--which was nominated for an Edgar Award for best novel. He lives in Fallbrook, California.

Brief Biography

Fallbrook, California
Date of Birth:
December 26, 1953
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A. in English, University of California-Irvine, 1976

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Black Water 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read all of the time and I think Black Water is the best book I've read in a long time. How do I know? Because even as I read another book, I keep thinking about this book. Even when I close my eyes to go to sleep, I keep thinking about this book. I admit that I already have strong feelings about this author. I've read all of his earlier books and I've been eagerly awaiting the release of Black Water. I'm so happy to be able to say that I'm not disappointed. T. Jefferson Parker writes this character (Merci Rayborn, a Sergeant/Detective with the Orange County Sheriff's Department) with amazing insight and sensitivity. She's a wonderfully complex character that we've watched grow through The Blue Line and Red Light. She's experienced enough loss and disappointment to test her confidence. Yet she bravely continues to put one foot in front of the other, bringing herself to a point where the reader is confident that her future is potentially bright. As for the story, Archie Wildcraft, a Deputy with the OCSD, is found with a bullet in his head. His wife is found shot to death with his gun in their bathroom. It looks like a murder/suicide attempt but to Merci it just doesn't 'feel' right. Archie survives and soon walks out of the hospital to investigate for himself, not an easy task since he still has a bullet in his head. Parker gives us amazing insight into the thinking of someone with a brain injury which, as the wife of a brain injury survivor, I know is no easy task! Incredibly, Archie and Merci separately come to the same conclusions about what really happened through the twists and turns of their very different investigations. This is a well told story with a good plot and what I found to be a hopeful, satisfying ending. It's a book I've recommended to all of my friends by an author that should be read more people. A rare book that's worth even a second read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The master writes another winner.Not as good as the first two, but sure to please. I think T.J.parker is the number one detective writer right now.His skill at writing great plots, with zany twists and turns keeps the reader on edge all the time. You never really know what's next with the characters in his books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Orange County Deputy Sheriff Archie Wildcraft lies in a hospital near death from the bullet lodged in his brain while his wife Gwen is already dead. The law enforcement officials detest that one of their brothers killed his wife and tried to commit suicide. Only Detective Merci Rayborn thinks differently though circumstantial evidence targets Archie as the culprit.

Though he does not remember what happened, Archie believes that he never murdered his spouse though the media has convicted him. Archie takes things into his own hands and goes after an unknown killer. Merci chases after Archie. However, as he plays cat and mouse with her, both undergo a paradigm switch from believing Gwen unfortunately took a bullet aimed for Archie to thinking Archie took a bullet aimed for Gwen. Now they separately seek a culprit who wanted Gwen dead and has no qualms about adding two cops to the victim list.

The key to this strong police procedural is the clever way T. Jefferson Parker enables the reader to observe Merci up front and personal without slowing down a fast-paced yet unique cat and mouse story line. Merci¿s personal life (single mom) and peer ostracization in her professional life due to the aftermath of her previous case (see THE BLUE HOUR) brilliantly intertwine in her hunt for Archie who, in a subplot, seeks the killer. Merci in her third appearance and to a lesser degree Archie make BLACK WATER a must read for fans of the author and those who enjoy a convincing police investigation.

Harriet Klausner