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Burn Factor

Burn Factor

by Michael Kramer
Quinn Barry wants to be an FBI agent—someday. Right now, she's just a nobody, toiling in the basement of Quantico, revamping ancient computer programming against impossible deadlines, Until, one day, her creative computer savvy turns up a mysterious DNA link among five very high-profile and gruesome serial-killer cases. The discovery costs her her job, but that's


Quinn Barry wants to be an FBI agent—someday. Right now, she's just a nobody, toiling in the basement of Quantico, revamping ancient computer programming against impossible deadlines, Until, one day, her creative computer savvy turns up a mysterious DNA link among five very high-profile and gruesome serial-killer cases. The discovery costs her her job, but that's the last thing on Quinn's mind, as she quickly finds her own life at risk in a series of brilliantly masterminded "accidents." It's certain no one is going to believe that a 22-year-old computer clerk had unearthed one of the Agency's darkest, dirtiest secrets—no one except maybe the legendary maverick agent Mark Beamon. Because Beamon knows that it isn't the serial killer who's after Quinn...it's the madman's mysterious protectors at the FBI itself.

Bristling with the galvanizing suspense and hair-trigger action that Kyle Mills's fans have come to expect, Burn Factor is certain to carve yet another notch in national bestseller lists.

About the Author:
Kyle Mills lives in Jackson Hole, WY.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Kyle Mills earned an enthusiastic following with three novels featuring maverick FBI agent Mark Beamon: Rising Phoenix, Storming Heaven, and Free Fall. If anything, Burn Factor is an even faster-paced ride through the hidden agendas of bureaucracy and the misuse of government power. Featuring Quinn Barry, a lowly FBI employee who must buck the system in order to stop a sadistic murderer, the novel is a finely plotted tale of FBI corruption that unfolds in expert fashion, revealing that despite wealth, influence, and high office, it only takes one small computer glitch to unveil misconduct in the ranks of law enforcement.

In an effort to work her way up through the ranks of the FBI, Barry sets her sights on updating the agency's CODIS computer systems. CODIS contains all the DNA evidence of crimes committed on a state-to-state basis, and Quinn attempts to connect all the information into one huge national database. When she runs a test on her new software she discovers that the DNA samples of five unsolved murders match one another. The trouble is that the original CODIS program was set up to ignore this one killer, proving that the FBI not only knows of his existence but encourages his hideous activities.

Unsure if she can trust her immediate supervisors, Quinn begins investigating the case alone. Despite many suspects in each of the individual cases, only one man lacks an alibi for all of them: the brilliant mathematician and artist Eric Twain. Ten years earlier, when Eric was a teenage prodigy, he was arrested for the murder of his assistant, although charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. After brazenly making contact with Eric and stealing hair samples, she learns that he is innocent of the slayings and may in fact be her only confidant. When Quinn's car is sabotaged and she's attacked by a government assassin, she and Eric decide to team up and bring down a clandestine force working in the shadow of the agency itself.

With a spare prose style that oozes authenticity, Mills offers up a rugged piece of fiction in which the chapters breeze by at high speed and the reader actually learns something about the life of a lower-tier FBI employee. The ever-tightening plotlines draw together layers of private and professional conflicts, revealing the hidden sides of both protagonists and villains.

Mills knows his characters and their situations, and he understands how best to let true investigative procedure form the essence of the narrative. He manages to use a natural ambiance to underscore the most shocking events and suspenseful elements, and the ring of truth helps make the novel so entertaining. Burn Factor deserves wide attention, as Kyle Mills again demonstrates that he is a noteworthy voice in the field. (Tom Piccirilli)

Tom Piccirilli is the author of eight novels, including Hexes and Shards, and his Felicity Grove mystery series, consisting of The Dead Past and Sorrow's Crown. He has sold more than 100 stories to the anthologies Future Crimes, Bad News, The Conspiracy Files, and Best of the American West II. An omnibus collection of 40 stories titled Deep into That Darkness Peering is also available. Tom divides his time between New York City and Estes Park, Colorado.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An FBI computer programmer with no law enforcement training leads her own wildcat search for a serial murderer, stumbling across a secret government plot in the process, in this outlandish thriller by an author capable of much better. While still settling in to her new job at the FBI, computer jockey and aspiring agent Quinn Barry discovers what appears to be a serial killer case that nobody's investigating. When she brings it to the attention of her boss, Barry is not only ignored but demoted. As a result, the quick-tempered, impulsive 26-year-old decides to investigate on her own. Her first move: venturing alone at night to the remote home of sinister Eric Twain, a suspect in one of the killings. Barry, still suspicious of Twain, nonetheless teams up with him to track down the killer, who tortures young women who fit a certain physical profile not surprisingly, Barry matches it before raping and killing them. Along the way, Barry becomes adept at all sorts of investigative techniques. She cuts glass to get into homes, theorizes about the psychology of mass murder and fights off several attackers before discovering that the case may be rooted in a highly classified government nuclear defense program. Mills has written several smart, classically conceived thrillers (Rising Phoenix; Free Fall) starring the always fascinating Mark Beamon, a disgraced FBI agent trying to fight his way back into the bureau's good graces. With his latest, Mills has created a main character who strains credibility from the start and a brittle plot that eventually drifts into a tedious chronicle of sexual sadism. (Apr.) Forecast: One misstep won't derail Mills's promising career, particularly since HarperCollins is backing this book with a five-city author tour, national advertising and lavish promotion plans, plus simultaneous abridged and unabridged audio versions, as well as a large-print edition. But expect a loss of momentum once early readers report back on this disappointing effort. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
As he has shown in his earlier novels (e.g., Rising Phoenix, Storming Heaven, Free Fall), Mills (has a proven ability to write a gripping political thriller. His latest novel continues the trend and is his strongest effort to date. Burn Factor introduces a new protagonist, Quinn Barry, a young computer programmer who is working on the FBI's Combined DNA Index System when she discovers what seems to be a major bug in her program. In reality, it is evidence of an active cover-up being perpetrated by a shadow group from the military. They're intent on making sure that no one connects a string of brutal murders. When Quinn begins an investigation, she becomes a target of the people trying to cover up the deaths and the man causing them. The protagonist in many thrillers ends up being the pawn of people with frightening power, yet the author takes that possibility one step further; the people doing the chasing are actually the pawns of a killer who rivals Hannibal Lecter in intelligence (and brutality). Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00.] Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Lg. Prt.: 0-06-018558-9 Mills sets aside Mark Beamon, the exiled FBI profiler of his first three novels (Free Fall, 2000, etc.), for fledgling Bureau researcher Quinn Barry. Too bad she's not a more compelling heroine, however, because the author delays until mid-novel before revealing his serial-killer villain, Dr. Edward Marin, a Hannibal Lecter rip-off and suavely sybaritic supergenius (winner of the Nobel Prize for a scientific paper so original that it had no footnotes) with superhuman strength. Marin's great joy lies in tying down sophisticated young women, making small cuts all over their bodies with an X-Acto knife, then raping them while they bleed. The "burn factor" refers to a squad that the baddies send around to clean up after Marin's murders because he's their indispensable theorist for a Star Wars laser weapon. While testing and cleaning up the FBI's new CODIS database for collecting DNA from crimes nationwide, Barry finds that identical DNA evidence links five similar murders. Her boss says she's in error and quickly transfers her to Quantico, the FBI training school, for scut work. Barry, a keen profiler but no Clarice Starling, has a crush on becoming a full-fledged FBI agent, but she knows her research is being quashed. When she gets a hair from another supergenius, Eric Twain, she proves that he was viciously accused of one murder. As Twain and Barry team up to uncover the identity of the true killer, we wonder only when the monster will bequeath to Barry his smiling Hannibalisms from a serene mountaintop of superior wisdom. Mills drives his novel straight into a brick wall painted with Anthony Hopkins's face; nor can he equal the gothic glamour of MarkHarris'srichly gross situations. A mistake, painfully short on the author's trademark humor. Return, Mark Beamon. Author tour

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Quinn Barry glanced at her watch and grimaced. Only eleven-thirty in the morning and she was already on her fourth cup of heavily caffeinated tea and her fifteenth rice cake.

“So you're going to have it running today, then?”

Quinn jumped, knocking the last of the strawberry-flavored cakes from her carefully organized desk. It seemed to fall in slow motion, turning end over end before fatally impacting the floor.


“I didn't say that, Louis,” she said, turning in her chair. She could hear a hint of a southern accent creeping into her speech. No matter how much she practiced, it always seemed to come out when she was stressed. Or drunk. Louis Crater leaned forward a little, causing the lights in the ceiling to fluoresce on his bald head, but didn't look at her. Instead he stared at her computer screen with the stern expression that seemed to be his reaction to everything.

“Tomorrow?” he said, continuing to focus on the screen, though she knew the code filling it was complete Greek to him.

“Like I told you, I'm running a full-scale test on the Forensic Index today and I don't anticipate any problems . . .”

In her previous life as a corporate programming consultant, Quinn had dealt with people like this every day. And that, combined with the endless hours of solitude, dark cubicles, bottomless pots of coffee, and truckloads of junk food, was why she'd bagged programming a year and a half out of college.

She'd taken a support position at the FBI a few weeks later, hoping to learn the ins and outs of the organization and improve her chances of becoming an agent as soon as she was eligible.

“Soyou're saying tomorrow, then. Right, Quinn?”

About the same time Crater, the man in charge of the FBI's Combined DNA Index System and the man now hovering over her like a vulture in an updraft, had canned the private contractor maintaining the system in the face of budget cuts. Then, undoubtedly only moments later, he'd uttered those fateful words spoken by department heads to their bosses all over the world: “If we keep it in-house we can do a better job for less money.”

“Right, Louis. No problem.” Quinn sighed. So now she was pretty much right back where she'd started — reprogramming an enormous and convoluted computer database, but with a government paycheck that came in at about half her private-industry income.

“Well, I'm glad to hear that you're on track,” Crater said, rising again to his full six feet three inches while Quinn gnawed on what was left of her pencil's eraser. “Tell you what. Why don't we go grab a drink after work and you canfill me in on what you've done.”

Now, that sounded unpleasant. And if the code gnomes weren't asleep at the switch, it almost guaranteed a system-wide crash during her test.

“I'd like to, Louis, but I can't. I've got plans.”


“You know, I promised a friend of mine that I'd grab a bite with her,” Quinn said truthfully. “You're welcome to come along. It ought to be fun . . .”

He shook his head — a little angrily, she thought — and started walking back toward his office without another word. Bad. Very bad. Every time he left her desk, he seemed a little more teed off. As near as she could tell, everyone she'd ever worked for had two things in common: first, they heard only what they wanted to, and second, they always made impossible promises to their own bosses. Louis Crater's chances at career advancement hinged at least partially on this project getting done right and fast, while her own prospects hinged almost solely on his happiness. And what a rusty little hinge it was.

She centered herself in front of her keyboard again and took a deep breath. Fifteen minutes till lunch. If she hurried she could get the test routine running before she left.

“Guess who?”

It was fifteen minutes almost to the second when a pair of ring-laden hands covered her eyes, briefly blocking out the lines of code scrolling across the screen.

“Hi, Katie.” Quinn regained her vision again as her friend flopped into an empty chair. “What about lunch, babe? We still on?” Katie said, taking a brass paperweight from the desk and examining it with feigned interest. “Yeah, we're still on. I've just got to finish this one thing.” Katie leaned forward and tried to get a look at the computer screen. “Pac-Man?”

Quinn frowned deeply and began tapping commands into the computer again as her friend spun around in her chair like a hyperactive child. “I like the no-window look,” Katie said, motioning around her. “I've never been this far under the J. Edgar Hoover Building before. I always thought this was where they tortured suspects.”

Quinn shook her head but kept her attention focused on what she was doing.

“Nah. That's down the hall. This is where they torture the employees.”

“If you think it's any better on the fourth floor, you're crazy.” Katie leaned in a little closer. “Done yet? I'm starving over here.” “I've just got to get a search running so it'll be finished when I get back.”

“What are you searching for?”

“A good man.”

“Stop. You're killing me. Seriously.”


“What — you can't tell me? Like, it's top secret or something?”

Quinn slapped the enter key and rolled her chair back a foot or so, letting the computer digest the search parameters. “No, really. I'm serious. Do you know what the Forensic Index is?”

“Part of the DNA database, right?”

“I'm impressed. Actually, it's the section of the system that stores information on unsolved cases.

Like if a guy commits a crime in Michigan and leaves some blood or saliva or whatever there, his DNA signature would be entered into Michigan's police database, which would at some point then be uploaded to our central computer. Let's say someone left the same DNA at a crime in — oh, I don't know . . . California.

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