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Professor Wilson Augustus Bledsoe's car glided along the dark narrow roads of Hanover, New Hampshire, then crossed Ledyard Bridge into the vast wilderness of Vermont. The rain had started slowly at first, but now heavy drops danced staccato across the windshield of his old Mercedes. He felt relieved to be heading home, away from the noisy party still in full swing back at the president's mansion. The celebration was in his honor, yet he had been the first to leave. It wasn't that he was ungrateful. Bledsoe simply felt uncomfortable in large crowds, especially ones convened on his behalf, as they were these days with increasing frequency. What most of the guests didn't know was that but for his wife's insistence, he wouldn't even have gone. He had much more pressing matters to see to in his lab.
Bledsoe was no ordinary professor. He had just been awarded the twenty-third Devonshire, the most lucrative prize in science and second only to the Nobel in prestige. Winning it was no small feat, even for a full professor at Dartmouth College, which boasted more academic luminaries than universities four times its size. That's why Wallace Mortimer III, the college's revered president, and his wife, Serena, had spared no expense in celebrating their most acclaimed--and certainly their most acclaimed African American--faculty member.
It was clear to all who had gathered this evening that they were celebrating not just the Devonshire but a career that had been filled with a remarkably long list of achievements. Having won a Nobel five years earlier, Bledsoe had trumped his own legend, now becoming the first American to claim the world's two largest science awards. As his colleagues congratulated him on the Devonshire tonight, they teased him about the lavish treatment he'd receive when he and Kay took their complimentary trip to England and were feted at an elaborate ceremony hosted by the Queen. Everyone wanted to know what he was going to do with the $2 million prize money. "Whatever Kay decides," was the most that he was willing to share.
Bledsoe picked up his cell phone and called home. "I'm on my way, Curly," he said. He only called Kay that in private. It was a nickname he'd given her back when they were students together at the University of Chicago. On their first date, flustered and eager, he had mixed up the time and shown up an hour early. Kay, who had just gotten out of the shower, had opened the door expecting to find one of her girlfriends, and instead had found an equally surprised Wilson. She was horrified. Her customarily straightened hair was a mass of unruly curls. He laughed and she almost cried, but an intimacy and candor had been established between them that had only grown through their marriage.
"How was it?" Kay asked.
"Wally and Serena were excessive as always. I'm embarrassed to think how much they spent."
"Who was there?"
"Faces I haven't seen in years. Laurence Wilcox even came up from Harvard."
"Laurence? He hates you."
"Wally and Serena pulled out all the stops."
The Mortimers had evidently been determined to make this a bash to remember, assembling many of the foremost scientists in the academic community, humbling Bledsoe when he stood on the balcony of the mansion during the toast and looked at the crowd gathered below. The first person he had recognized was Yuri Mandryka, perhaps the greatest anatomist the Soviet Union had ever produced, stooped over his cane and raising his glass of bubbly. Laurence Wilcox, chairman of Harvard's biology department, had made the trek up from Boston and was standing with Olson Bulger, the precocious MIT mathematician who already had a calculus theorem named after him before he notched thirty. Wilcox hadn't spoken to Bledsoe since he'd turned down Wilcox's generous invitation to join the Harvard faculty. Wilcox was a giant in the field of evolutionary biology and admired around the world for his numerous publications and prolific laboratory. He chaired the most important meetings and sat on the boards of the most respected scientific institutions. No one had ever said no to an offer from Laurence Wilcox, except for Wilson Bledsoe who simply wrote, "Thanks for your offer, but Kay and I are happy tucked away in these quiet mountains. I'm afraid I'm captive to the indescribable peace just outside my back door."
"Can you believe Garret flew in all the way from Stanford?" Bledsoe said. "You'd figure he'd have a lot more important things to do than attend a damn party on the other side of the country." Garrett Templeton was the acclaimed chemist from Standford, who, despite winning a Nobel of his own, was most famous for twice being offered the presidency of Yale and twice turning it down. Like Bledsoe, he had already found the perfect place, a small plot of land on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.
"Well, I'm not surprised at all that Garrett showed," Kay said. "Maybe it'll finally hit home for you that the Devonshire is a big deal, sweetie. Everyone else seems to get that, but you."
"Just another reason to throw a party in that old mansion," Bledsoe huffed.
"And I'm proud that you stayed as long as you did," Kay laughed. She knew how much he would rather be toiling away in his laboratory than making small talk at a cocktail party.
"An hour was more than enough," Bledsoe said. "Oh but there was something very funny."
"When I left, a student parking cars asked me to autograph one of my textbooks."
"What did you write?"
"I didn't. I'm not some rock star, Curly. I'm a scientist."
"Wilson, whether you like it or not, you're a star and an inspiration to many people."
"Maybe so," Bledsoe said, relenting. "But like my father said, 'The minute you start believing your own headlines is the minute you stop earning them.' "
Kay chuckled. She'd heard that one many times. "Did you save your appetite?"
"You betchya. I only had one shrimp all night."
"Well, dinner will be ready when you get here."
"See ya soon, honey."
"Love ya." Kay made a loud kissing sound.
Bledsoe pictured the grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and cucumbers she had waiting for him. It was his favorite meal, had been since he was a kid. His mother always made it for him on special occasions--bringing home a good report card or winning a chess competition. He pushed the old red Mercedes. He had a lot to get done. Right after dinner he planned on returning to the lab--his paper was finally ready to be submitted to Science. He could have waited until the next morning, but he had worked on this paper for almost a year, the longest it had ever taken him to publish a manuscript. Even with hundreds of articles to his credit, he still enjoyed that shot of adrenaline when the paper finally left his desk.
Bledsoe thought about the pleasantries he and President Mortimer had exchanged minutes earlier as Mortimer walked him to the door.
"We're very proud of you, Wilson," he had said in his clipped New England accent. "You've done well by Dartmouth and I'm personally grateful for that."
"The college has done well by Kay and me," Bledsoe said. "And the best is yet to come, I hope."
"You've got the Nobel and the Devonshire," Mortimer said. "It doesn't get better than that."
"I'm not talking awards, Wally. I'm talking about research. I've still got some good years left in me."
"You sound like you're on to something."
"The scent is getting stronger."
"Care to share with an old friend?"
"It'll be ready later tonight," Bledsoe said. "I'm still hammering out the final details." Like most researchers on the trail of something important, he didn't care to share his work before he was ready.
"You're looking a little tired, Wilson," Mortimer said. He had put his arm around Bledsoe's shoulders. "I know how tough the grind can be. Don't do what I did and miss out on many of life's opportunities while you're young. Take a semester off and travel the world with Kay."
"I've been giving that some serious thought," Bledsoe said. "We've never been to Asia."
"Enjoy yourselves. You have enough money. Go as long as you want. You'll always have a home here at Dartmouth."
"Thanks, Wally. Kay and I have been grateful for the friendship we've shared with you and Serena all these years."
"Where are you going now?"
"Home," Bledsoe said. "Kay is holding dinner for me."
"Send her my best," Mortimer said.
Then Wallace Mortimer III, perfectly groomed in a stiff navy blazer and a forest-green bow tie, did something he had never done in their twenty-year friendship. He reached out and hugged Wilson Bledsoe. Firmly.
The image of that hug lingered in Bledsoe's mind as he turned onto River Road and switched to high beams. The darkness in these mountain towns was overwhelming, especially on the small dirt roads. Drivers were left to find their way with the moon's reflection and a good dose of intuition.
The car careened down River Road, the longest in the Upper Valley, stretching along the embankment of the Connecticut River and snaking its way into the wooded mountainside. This road was always a challenge, one that students often drove for the sheer pleasure of its difficult terrain and unexpected turns. Bledsoe had narrowly missed several deer since moving out here and tonight's darkness, rain, and wet leaves made a perfect combination for disaster. So despite the temptation to test the engine of his beloved machine, he drove the blind curves carefully, keeping the car positioned as close to the middle of the road as possible, on the alert for any darting animals. Kay had already amassed a small collection of nicks and scratches on the grill of her station wagon, and he was not about to do the same with the Mercedes.
Just as Bledsoe turned into Dead Man's Curve, a sharp uphill bend that had claimed more than thirty lives, something caught his eye. It was difficult to make it out, with the rain beating against his windshield and the stubborn wipers leaving more water on the window than they cleared. But as he got closer, he finally saw a pair of blinking hazard lights a hundred or so yards down the road. They were high off the ground. Bledsoe thought they might belong to a truck. He inched closer, finally getting a better view of an ancient rust-colored pickup with a wobbly pair of wood side railings that rose a few feet above the cabin. The front hood was propped up, and what looked like a man's legs jutted out from underneath the back of the truck. A flat tire or a dead engine, he thought.
Bledsoe slowed to a crawl. A heavily bearded man wearing a pale-green jacket stood by the side of the truck, frantically waving his arms. His coat hung open over his ample girth. It was difficult to make out details in the darkness, but Bledsoe could see what looked like a large black grease stain on the stranger's front right pants pocket. He tried to look at the man's face, but it was obscured by a crushed hunter's cap. He could see the heavy beard; that was all. Debating whether to stop, he continued inching forward. The entrance to his property was only a little over a mile away, and he was hungry and Kay was waiting. In just a couple of minutes, he could be home out of the rain and sitting down to a hot plate of salmon. She hadn't mentioned it, but he was sure that Kay planned on surprising him with one of her homemade double-chocolate cakes.
Bledsoe let his car roll by. He was thinking now of how glad he would be to pull up to his house, a massive structure of stone and brick. It was their dream house, not far from the river, buried deep in the woods, hidden on more than a hundred acres of rambling trees and rocky ravines. He felt bad about leaving the two men, but there was still the business of the manuscript in his computer back at the lab. He was determined to e-mail the second draft to the journal tonight, regardless of how long it took him to finish. Stopping would only make his long night longer.
But then he looked in his rearview mirror at the waving man and called home.
"I'm gonna be a little late, Curly," he said, shifting his car into reverse. "A couple of guys are stranded with a broken-down truck here on River Road."
"Don't be too long," Kay sighed. "I don't want the food to get cold."
"I won't," Bledsoe said. He backed up the car until he almost reached the bearded man. "I'll be home soon, sweetie," he said.
"Be careful out there," Kay warned. "It's dark and the rain doesn't make it any better. Make sure you're far enough off to the side so other drivers can still pass."
Always the protector, Bledsoe thought to himself. Kay was a great wife and an even better friend. After twenty-five years, he still felt that way.
He suddenly felt the urge to tell her about Mortimer's embrace. "Something else strange happened tonight," Bledsoe said.
"When I was leaving, Wally asked me where I was going. I told him you had dinner waiting for me."
"That sounds normal to me."
"Yeah, but then he hugged me."
"No, he really hugged me. Tight. He's never done that before. I've never seen Wally hug anyone."
"You men are all alike," Kay said. "A little affection is cause for alarm. It's perfectly normal for the two of you to share a hug on a night as big as this."
"If you say so," Bledsoe said, still not convinced.
"Now hurry and see what those men want and get home."
"I'll be there before you turn off the stove."
Bledsoe pulled his car to a stop in front of the truck. "What's the problem?" he asked the stout man. Wilson could barely see the man's eyes under the hat's visor. The rain had matted his already mangy beard.
"I think the engine finally died on me," he said. "She's been making noises for the last couple of weeks. Just didn't have time to take her in."
"I don't know much about cars," Bledsoe said, getting out and moving under the hood. He couldn't make out much in the dark, just rusted metal and black pipes. Even if he could see better under the hood, it wouldn't make a difference. Except for the windshield-wiper-fluid dispenser that he noticed immediately, it was all one big mystery to him.
Bledsoe heard another set of footsteps approach. It must have been the man who'd been under the truck. He approached from the other side of the truck. He stopped next to the fender, then flashed a light on the engine and battery. He didn't come any closer.
"I'm sorry, but this is out of my league," Bledsoe said, still looking under the hood. "There's a service station a couple of miles back on the other side of the bridge. I can call and get someone over here. Where you heading?"
"All the way up to Fisherman's Creek," the big man replied. His voice was heavy and slow, as if smothered by his face full of unruly hair. We're late for delivery."
"I'd give you a life, but I only have room for one more," Bledsoe said. He didn't exactly relish the idea of a soaking wet body in his car. Antiques could be temperamental. "Let me get back in and call for some help."
Bledsoe turned toward the second man but found himself looking into the long steel barrel of a shotgun. "What the hell!" he yelled, falling back against the truck's grille. "Put that down!"
"We need to take a little ride," the gunman said. Bledsoe couldn't make out much of his face either, but he noticed all the dark spaces in his mouth here there once had been teeth. The man stepped c loser and pressed the gun hard into his chest. Bledsoe moved and the dim hazards flashed some light across the gunman's face. Evil burned in his eyes. They were small and dark and there was a scar that ran across his left cheek from the corner of his mouth to his earlobe. An ugly creature, Bledsoe thought to himself, a judgment that he didn't pass often.
"If it's my car you want, the keys are in it," Bledsoe said.
"Git in the truck," the bearded man growled. "We don't want your car, and don't even bother offering your money, 'cause we don't want that neither."
"Then what do you want?"
"Move it," the big man said, pushing him from behind. "There'll be plenty of time later to ask questions."
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted July 7, 2014
I purchased the book on a whim and started to ready around 2 PM... at 8:30 PM (give or take) I closed the book and shook my head at how good it was! Would LOVE to read other situations for Agent Bledsoe!!
Posted January 24, 2011
Posted September 20, 2010
Posted May 22, 2010
Posted April 26, 2006
I love reading books like this.The Blackbird Papers has all the elements it need to keep readers guessing throughout the story. The whole set up in the book was a surprise and shocking to me. I would recommend this book for anyone who love mystery and action all in one book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2005
World renowned Dartmouth professor Wilson Bledsoe is hunted down and brutally murdered on his way home from a party celebrating his latest honor. Wilson¿s brother, and FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe inserts himself into the search for the killer. He discards the pat solution that local authorities are ready to accept that racists killed Wilson. Sterling believes his brother¿s demise was based on a different motivation. He theorizes the murder had something to do with Wilson¿s pet project, the alarming number of blackbird deaths in the area. Sterling searches for clues he is certain his brother left that would shine light upon the mystery. With quality writing from the first page, Ian Smith pulls the reader into each scene with deft, masterful prose. The descriptions are detailed without becoming mired and slowing the story. The imagery of Wilson¿s flight from his attackers, and later, the condition of the body, is vivid and deeply affecting The only minus I would give this effort is that the brother, FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe triumphed in every obstacle during the investigation of his brother¿s murder. If he asked a question, it was answered right away. If he went looking for something it didn¿t take long to find it. Another thing I found weird was that his brother was murdered but there wasn¿t a scene with Sterling telling his girlfriend and though he was out of town dealing with this tragedy, she never called to check on him. I would love to see a prequel to The Blackbird Papers exploring Sterling¿s depression. Chocolatesleuth.com highly recommends this book and we look forward to Ian Smith¿s next novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 29, 2005
My hat is off to Mr. Ian Smith for creating an exciting, fast-moving, and realistic crime plot. The story had so many twists and turns which keeps the readers guessing and on the end of their seats. The novel held my interest from start to finish. With the exception of a couple of editing mistakes (Smith got Sterling¿s and Wilson¿s names confused during one occasion), the writing was superb. It was refreshing to read a work of fiction by an African American author that did not contain a storyline about somebody¿s `BABY MOMMA¿ or a Player trying to get over on a sista¿¿which I do enjoy reading myself from time-to-time. I got Mr. Smith¿s book from the library (FREE) but would not have regretted shelling out the hard cash for this exciting read. I highly recommend this novel for your private library. Enjoy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2004
I burned the midnight oil trying to finish this book....it's definately a page turner. I can - not wait until the release of Dr. Smith's next novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 17, 2004
There is something charasmatically clever about the writing style of Mr. Ian Smith's, The Blackbird Papers. I felt like I was reading a work equal to Sidney Sheldon, and Dean Koontz. I kept hearing about the book everywhere, and visited Barnes and Noble, but no more books were in stock. Therefore, I ordered a copy from the clerk, and awaited a few days for it to arrive. Barnes and Noble called me, and I never felt so proud to obtain my book copy of The Blackbird Papers. The cover alone is one of the most unique and professional book covers of the year for a male author, and the simplicity is stunning. Hints of a blackbird silhouette preceeding every chapter places this book on the top quality list. The page count, chapter breaks, and font, and editing are perfect for a modern day mystery that crosses boundaries, and is refreshing for an AA author who has taken novel writing back to what it should be, and doesn't underestimate that book lovers are interested in real stories minus the hype, gangs, and stereo depictions of urban life. His writing style is authentic. This book is intelligent, and when readers find out who actually killed Sterling Bledsoe's brother, Wilson, it is sort of humorous and shocking, and makes you just want to see this fast paced page turner head to the big screen, and quickly. Bring on the rain, music score, and blackbirds in the millions. I can envision this book on the screen so vividly, it makes me tremble because I predict it will happen. The language use let me know substantial care and research was done to make a believable crime detective story worth reading not once, but twice or maybe more times. The book is methodical, and intense like Mr. Ian is a doctor in criminology. I was intrigued by the saga of the murder of blackbirds. Cute things. Why would anyone want to kill these creatures. The answer lies in power, greed, and circumstances that are critical to the well being of man kind, but when you think of the earth's ecological system, can we afford to rid the planet of any animals to distinction that may hold the cure to wide spread disease as much as the crops they can destroy in one mass feeding. Your skin will crawl, and you too will take sides, and make Dr. Ian's Smith's fine work part of your book collection for keeps. I will hold on to my copy for an autograph one day. It looks like I am stuck in my own literary world, and found it necessary to insist that all book lovers of mystery and suspense get this book to number one by ordering it. I rarely assign titles, but yes, 'The King of Mystery Suspense Thrillers' is born. He should be a action super hero. I applaud this author. All I can say is, 'WOW!'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 17, 2004
Dr. Ian Smith does a wonderful job on his first novel. This book is filled with suspense and you will not want to put the book down. I can't wait to read his next novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 29, 2004
I thought this book was very well written. It is so detailed, it makes you feel like you are in a good mystery movie. It's like your inside of Sterling Bledsoe and you can see what he see's and feel what he feels. I thought it was excellent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2004
Posted June 25, 2004
The blackbird papers is an Exellent first book, considering that this is from a guy who does medical non fiction. It is well written and It has completely crossed the boundary of black books and mainstream, it is definetly main stream. It is a story of educated human beings,who have lives like you and me. It is tells life as it is supposed to be, that any human being if determined can reach heaven and that heaven is the bottom line, as long as one applies themselves completely and dedicates them selves to what they are dreaming of, they can acheive all they want. And like any human beings there is sibling rivalry and tragedy. It is an intillegent humerous , yet serious story, with gripping emotions, that does bring a sting of tears as easily as it brings out loud laughter. It is a thriller all the way , a page turner. Sterling is a brilliant Sleuth, who uses all he has to find his brother's killer.Dr Smith makes us learn so much about a lot of things.About the black birds, sunflower seeds , academic life, the FBI and so much more. It is a must read. Two thumbs Dr Smith You did it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2004
The Blackbird Papers is a Summer Must Read! Dr. Smith develops the key players in such a precise way until you feel as if you know each character intimately. The riveting 'whodunit' plot consists of twists and turns that carry the reader on a spine tingling journey. It was refreshing to read a mystery novel where the FINALE was actually a well crafted SURPRISE and not a cookie cutter ending! Also the underlying real life ecological controversy addressed in the novel gives the enlightened reader something to ponder long after the unmasking of the killers. Don't start the novel late in the evening because once you pick it up . . . you will not be able to put it down. I look forward to more of Detective Sterling Bledsoe's adventures.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2004
this book is astounding. it keeps you interested from start to finish. this book is on the level of tom clancy and dan brown. the main character should have a series of books such as dan browns robert langdon. once again an excellent worth checking outWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 26, 2004
This first novel was absolutely wonderful! I couldn't tell that this was Dr. Smith's first book. I could barely put it down because I was so anxious to see whodunit!!! I definitely will be looking forward to reading more from Dr. Smith in the near future!! BRAVO!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 26, 2004
I¿m a fan of mystery, intrigue and suspense so I was delighted to hear The Blackbird Papers would satisfy my reading requirements in this genre. New author, Ian Smith has added to the literary scene by effectively writing a great book. I certainly was not disappointed when I sat down to read this book and further think people who like to read a good ¿whodunit¿ will be thrilled with this novel. I don¿t know what to talk about first. The characters are: Prize winning science Professor Wilson Bledsoe, his lovely wife Kay, the president of Dartmouth College Dr. Wallace Mortimer, and FBI agent and brother to Professor Bledsoe, Sterling Bledsoe. The limited number of supporting characters further enhances the ease in remembering who is who and who did what, as the reader embarks on a journey to find out who killed Professor Bledsoe. First, who would have reason to kill him and secondly, what was their motive? As the mystery unfolds it is discovered Professor Bledsoe was conducting secret research on the overwhelming numbers of dead blackbirds found in the serene countryside of Hanover, New Hampshire and for his gruesome discovery, somebody wanted him dead. Those close to the professor and his research are equal targets and Sterling has to jump in and get up to speed quickly before the tables are turned on him. I read the book in two days; I simply couldn¿t put it down. There were several times when I uttered an audible gasp, my breath caught and I experienced a shudder, as a shocking discovery was made deeper into the mystery. Sterling is determined to find out who would do such a thing to his peaceable brother. Although the brothers were never close, and Sterling perceived he lived in his older brother¿s shadow, finding his killer or killers is the one thing he could do to appease guilt and enact justice. Suspense enters when the local police department suspects Sterling is no longer on their side and quickly becomes their number one suspect. As he fights to clear his name, I could only sit back, tightly grip the pages and hold on for the ride. Discovering and reading The Blackbird Papers was an elation. I felt the book was well written, wonderfully researched and elegantly apportioned with the accoutrements of suspense and intrigue. I had reservations about reading the book only because I thought the author might use words, which would require the companionship of a dictionary and I was equally as pleased to see my fears were unfounded. Avid readers have something to look forward to with the advent of future Sterling Bledsoe mysteries.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2004
Ian Smith, jumped right into the literary world with this KNOCK-OUT novel. It was really hard to tell this was his first novel. The book was well written,and kept you turning the pages from start to finish. I look forward to reading more novels from this amazing new author of mystery and suspense. OUTSTANDING!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2004
Good plot although Dr. Smith is treading very carefully. He needs to step away from himself to write a great novel. He is obviously a great archiever but I cant say we have seen the next Robert Rudlum. Thumbs up for trying.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 20, 2009
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