Conspiracy Theory: A Gregor Demarkian Novelby Jane Haddam
In the tradition of P. D. James, Jane Haddam's novels combine compelling story lines with a keen-eyed, complex sense of the character's psychology and sharp, evocative sense of place. Over the years her novels featuring retired F. B. I. agent Gregor Demarkian have won her the respect of the critics and an ever-increasing number of devoted readers. Now with
In the tradition of P. D. James, Jane Haddam's novels combine compelling story lines with a keen-eyed, complex sense of the character's psychology and sharp, evocative sense of place. Over the years her novels featuring retired F. B. I. agent Gregor Demarkian have won her the respect of the critics and an ever-increasing number of devoted readers. Now with Conspiracy Theory, all of Haddam's ample of gifts are on display in a chilling novel of class, conspiracy, and murder.
Cavanaugh Street is a mostly quiet Armenian neighborhood in downtown Philadelphia where nearly everyone knows everyone else and certainly knows their business. But that quiet is destroyed when the Armenian Orthodox church is destroyed by bombing and its cleric, Father Tibor Kasparian, is hospitalized as a result. What would normally be a front page event, however, is overshadowed by another event across town - when Philadelphia Main Line society is shocked by the murder of one of their own. Anthony van Wyck Ross - the head of one of the major investment banks and a cornerstone of Main Line society - is murdered at the Around the World Harvest Ball being hosted at his mansion.
Gregor Demarkian, former head of FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, and longtime resident of Cavanaugh Street, is soon enmeshed in both cases. With the Ross murder, there is the never-seen conspiracy theorist Michael Harridan who in his literature has claimed that Ross was a member of the dangerous secret ruling elite, The Illuminati. With the church bombing, there were the anonymous threatening letters received by Father Tibor just prior to the bombing. Together - if indeed they are in some inexplicable way related - they are the most challenging cases Demarkian has ever faced.
Read an Excerpt
By Jane Haddam
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2003 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
In the first few days after the explosion, Gregor Demarkian found himself getting up in the middle of the night to look at what was left of Holy Trinity Armenian Christian Church. It wasn't easy. Even in the days when the church was still standing in the ordinary way, even when it was decorated top to bottom by Donna Moradanyan Donahue on one of her periodic holiday enthusiasms, it was still more than a block away and set back from the sidewalk to make room for the three shallow steps that led to its front doors. Gregor had never had any idea what the steps were for. Maybe the men and women who built the church believed that people should ascend on their way to talk to God. Maybe the church had been built before the sidewalk and the street paving had been put in, and there was some worry that without a few steps to wipe their feet on, people might track mud into the church. None of these thoughts made any sense at all, and none of them mattered, but Gregor found it hard to look up the street without thinking about something besides the obvious. It was a good thing the bomb had not been as big as it had sounded to Tibor on the night it went off. There was some of Holy Trinity Church still left, even if it wasn't of much good to anybody. Even more important, only the buildings directly next to the church had been in any way damaged. According to the bomb expert sent out by the police on the morning after, and according to the bomb expert at the FBI, for whom Gregor had pulled in a few markers for him to come out and look at the scene, much more firepower and all the buildings on the block, on both sides of the street, might have suffered "structural damage." Gregor had heard the words structural damage a thousand times before without knowing what they meant, or even wondering. Now he knew. They meant that the ground had rattled so much, it had made the foundations of the buildings disorganized and unsafe.
Now it was not the middle of the night, but the early morning — 6:45 in the morning on November 13, to be exact. Gregor finished shaving in front of the enormous vanity mirror Bennis had installed in his bathroom and reached for the toothpaste and his toothbrush, feeling as disoriented as he ever had in his life. He could still remember, with perfect clarity, the first time he had ever seen a dead body that wasn't laid out in a casket for a wake. It was his first year at the FBI and he was the junior partner on a kidnapping detail, the kind of thing that usually required nothing more from the agents but sitting by a phone and recording ransom demands from half-demented fools who hadn't realized how difficult it would be to actually collect a large amount of money in small bills. That was why he had been assigned to that particular case. You didn't send brand-new agents out of Quantico into one of the nastier situations, even if you thought you had no choice. This time, though, the half-demented fool had been a manic-depressive, or maybe stoked out on the kind of drugs that made mood swings behave like roller-coaster rides. Every time he called to give instructions about the ransom, he got crazier — and unlike most kidnappers, he called a lot, over and over again, apparently heedless of the fact that it was going to be possible, eventually, to trace those calls. Still, that was a long time ago and the technology hadn't been as good then as it was now. He might have gotten away with it if his only problem had been a desperate need to talk. Instead, he'd also had a desperate need for validation, or absolution, or something that was so mixed up in his brain he couldn't put it into words and he couldn't live without it. During the fifth phone call his voice began to squeak and soar. The experienced agent on the case was as tense as Richard Nixon at a press conference. The kidnapper was losing it, and even Gregor had been able to understand that. He might have been inexperienced as an agent, but he'd spent his time in the army. He knew the sound of panic when he heard it. He also knew the sound of gunfire when he heard it, and that was what came next. The explosion was so loud that the woman whose daughter had been kidnapped screamed and dropped the phone. A second later, she was holding her ear, doubled over in pain. Gregor held his breath. If the phone went to dial tone, it would mean the child was dead. The phone did not go to dial tone.
They found the child, and the kidnapper, two and a half hours later. With the phone line open and nobody to hang it up, it was easy to trace. The child was locked in the bathroom, sitting in the bathtub in tears, but not otherwise hurt. The kidnapper was lying half-on and half-off the big double motel bed he'd been sitting on when he made the call and put the gun to the side of his head. If you're going to shoot yourself, never shoot yourself in the side of the head, Gregor's instructor at Quantico always said. Shots to the side of the head often didn't work, and what happened was that you were left alive but worse off than before, brain-damaged, immobile, a walking vegetable. In this case, the man had been lucky, if you could call it that. He was most certainly dead. The side of his skull on the far side of the shot had exploded outward, splattering blood and skin and bone all over the motel bed's bedspread and the window in the wall beyond it. His eyes were wide open and caught in a paralysis so profound, Gregor couldn't shake the feeling that they were trying to communicate something. It was the first time he'd realized that the newly dead did not look dead so much as hyperalive. Their eyes tried to catch and hold you. If you were there at the critical moment, their arms reached out for you. Gregor had always wondered if they were trying to hold on to life or trying to drag you into the tunnel along with them.
He wiped the froth of toothpaste off his mouth. He washed his face again. He gave a little consideration, but not much, to Bennis's suggestion that he might look good with his hair cut short enough to almost look shaved. He put the towel back on the rack and went down the hall to the living room. Bennis was standing at the big front window, doing what he himself had been doing during the night for days: twisting sideways to see if she could see what was left of Holy Trinity. She was as "dressed" as she was going to get for the day, meaning a turtleneck and flannel shirt and jeans. She was having no more luck than he did when he tried to see the church. In the first two days after the explosion, crews had come out from the city to clean up the mess. The entire facade of the church was gone. What was left was something like a stage set, with the pews and aisles and altar exposed to anybody who wanted to come by and see what they were like. Bennis had her arms wrapped around her body so that she could twist more easily against the glass. If this had been a year or two ago, she would have been smoking.
"It doesn't work, you know," he told her. "I try it all the time. We never could see Holy Trinity very well from here, even when it was standing."
"It's still standing," Bennis said. "All except one wall of it. Yes. I know. You don't have to bring it up again. It will have to come down."
"It was an old building, and it was built by people who didn't have the kind of resources you need to put up something solid for the ages to begin with. It would have had to come down anyway, eventually. Tibor's said so, more than once."
"I don't think this is what he meant, do you? Although I've got to admit, it's going to put a crimp into Howard Kashinian's lectures about how the church is solid as a rock and it would just be a waste of money to build a new one. I gave a little money to the rebuilding fund, did I tell you?"
"No. Everybody else on the street told me. That was a rather dramatic gesture."
"Yes, well. I make all this money and I never spend any of it. I mean, let's face it. I don't like jewelry. I don't take elaborate vacations. I do have the car, but at the rate I drive it I'm still going to have it in the third millennium. Does it make me a bad person that I'm not more upset about Tony Ross?"
"I don't think so," Gregor said. "Are you coming down to the Ararat with me? I know you don't like talking to John Jackman, but in this case you might —"
"No," Bennis said. "That's all right. I don't mind talking to John anymore. All emotions wear out. Did I ever tell you that my sister Myra tried to marry Tony once? This was back the year she was coming out. Tony was, I think, a year older than she was, still at Yale or wherever, but you could see even then that he was going to be something extraordinary. And Myra being Myra, she was determined to marry something extraordinary. But Tony didn't seem to be interested."
"From what you've told me about your sister Myra, that might not be surprising."
"It wasn't." Bennis stopped twisting in the window. "You really can't see it. I never noticed that before. Maybe I never tried to see it before. God, what a mess. Tibor's coming home from the hospital today. Did I tell you that? Donna and I are going to go pick him up."
"Yes, you told me that. He's all right, you know, Bennis, he wasn't really hurt. It was mostly shock and precaution."
"I was thinking we could put him in my apartment. I never use it these days anyway, and he can't go back to his place. It's still standing, but it isn't safe. God, what's he going to do about all the books? He won't let them get plowed under. You know how he feels about books."
"I know how he feels about books."
"Of course, it will mean he won't be able to pretend not to know we're living in sin, or whatever it is we're doing. Do you think he thinks that, that we're living in sin?"
"I don't know. I doubt it. Tibor doesn't usually think things like that."
"I don't really know how Tibor thinks," Bennis said. "We treat him like a pet, or at least I do. We find him endearing. But that isn't what he's about at all, I don't think. It really was a bomb, wasn't it, Gregor? I mean, the bomb squad couldn't be mistaken. It couldn't have been a gas explosion or something like that."
"The church has electric heat. And no, I don't think the bomb squad was mistaken, although we've still only got a preliminary report."
"It just seems so awful to me that anybody would deliberately try to bomb Holy Trinity Church. Awful and ridiculous. Does that make sense to you? It makes sense to me that somebody might want to kill Tony Ross. He was rich as hell and he was the head of a big investment bank and he made decisions all the time that affected people's lives. But this is Holy Trinity Church. It's a little Armenian church on a side street in Philadelphia that isn't important to anybody at all except the people who live here. It isn't even in one of those categories that the hate groups go after. It's not a black church. It's not a synagogue. Tibor doesn't mix in politics except for voting in every election. It doesn't make any sense."
"It will when we find whoever did it. Probably."
"Let's just say it will make sense of a kind, no matter what," Gregor said. "Sometimes the rationale for these things is not necessarily contaminated with linear thought. Get your shoes on and come to the Ararat with me. John may not have anything to report, but he'll be good to talk to. And you can see everybody and commiserate with them. Again."
"Linda Melajian told me yesterday that the Ararat is full for every meal these days but it's like being at a wake. Everybody just ... sits there."
"You should know. You haven't eaten at home since it happened."
"You can't eat here, Gregor. I can't cook, and you think stocking the refrigerator means buying two boxes of Dunkin' Donuts and putting them on different shelves."
"You can eat the Dunkin' Donuts," Gregor said.
Bennis marched away from the window, past the long black leather couch, into the foyer. A moment later, Gregor heard the sound of clogs against hardwood and reached for the jacket he had left over the back of a chair.
"Now I'm ready and you're not," she called. The clogs went back and forth across the hardwood, back and forth, back and forth.
Gregor considered telling her that it was obvious she'd been crying, but in the end that did not seem to be a sensible thing to do. It would only get her started talking about Emotions, which she could do all day, in intimate detail, and he couldn't do at all. He not only couldn't talk about them, he often couldn't recognize them. He had only two labels for what he felt most of the time, "good" and "not good." He had one more label for use in emergencies — "scared" — but that one was rarely necessary. Even now, when every muscle in his body was fighting urgently for paralysis, for collapse, for anything at all that would release him from the necessity of walking down Cavanaugh Street in front of that bombed-out church — even now, he wouldn't call what he felt "scared." He didn't know what it was.
He threw the jacket over his shoulders and went out into the foyer, where Bennis was waiting for him. It was cold as hell outside, but she was not wearing her jacket, and wouldn't if he asked her to. He got his own coat off the rack and put it on. She walked away from him and out the door onto the landing.
There really had been a time, he thought, years ago, before his wife had died, before he'd retired from the Bureau, before he'd moved back to Cavanaugh Street, when he hadn't had anything more complicated to think about than the paperwork required to document the interstate tracking of serial killers. He was not Bennis Hannaford's lover, or Tibor Kasparian's friend, or the man a lot of people looked to to make sanity prevail in a thoroughly insane world. He did not remember the change coming over him. He could not pinpoint the one moment when he had begun to be someone he had never been before. He couldn't even tell if he liked this version of himself better than he liked the other.
What he did know was that, no matter how much he wanted to talk to John Jackman and find out what the police had on both the bombing and the murder out in Bryn Mawr, he'd be content to be ignorant for the rest of his life if it meant he didn't have to walk past the front of that exploded church. He had walked past it, two or three times a day, every day since it happened, but he wasn't used to it, and he didn't think he ever would be. If he'd been a different kind of man, he would have packed everything he owned into a couple of suitcases and taken off for a place where nobody had ever heard of Holy Trinity Church. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to go anywhere where nobody had heard of Tony Ross.
Oddly, it was much less difficult for Gregor to actually walk down the street in front of Holy Trinity Church than it was for him to think about doing it. The church always looked far less damaged than he had imagined it was, and he was able to ignore the fact that he knew it looked far less damaged than it actually was. The police had cordoned off the sidewalk directly in front of it. Anybody walking down Cavanaugh Street on that side now had to cross the street to continue. They had put a guard there the first two nights. The guard had disappeared on the third morning, far sooner than Gregor thought appropriate. In an FBI investigation, it would have taken far longer than this to gather the necessary evidence. He was determined to keep his disapproval to himself. John Jackman was now commissioner of police in Philadelphia. He was here because he was taking a personal interest in this case, and that at a time when all the police departments from the city down the length of the Main Line had been pressed into emergency service in the murder of Tony Ross. And it wasn't just the police departments. You could see the problem was that the media had started out only vaguely interested — oh, murder at one of those fancy estates in Bryn Mawr; good for a week or two; yawn — and then woken up to what had really happened. One of the most powerful men in the world, one of the men who ran the banks and dictated policy to governments, had been killed by a sniper with a silencer on the front steps of his own house. At any other time, the destruction of Holy Trinity Church would have been big news in Philadelphia. There would have been an outpouring of support and a concentration on the human angle. There might even have been a fund to rebuild the church. Gregor found that he resented, more than a little, that none of that was happening. It didn't matter that Tibor wouldn't need a fund to get the church rebuilt. People on the street would give what they could, and in some cases that was plenty. It mattered that nobody was paying attention. This had to be the worst hate crime in the history of the city. Nobody was noticing.
Excerpted from Conspiracy Theory by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 2003 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Jane Haddam is the author of many previous novels, most featuring Gregor Demarkian, as well as numerous articles and stories published widely. Her novels have been finalists for both the Edgar and Anthony Awards. She lives with her family in Litchfield Country, Connecticut.
Jane Haddam, author of more than twenty novels, has been a finalist for both the Edgar® and the Anthony Award. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
I really enjoyed Jane Haddam's other mysteries but the links to the characters was to much of a stretch. The reader know who has done it much too soon in the book.
He became a legend for his work in the FBI¿s Behavioral Science Unit, so much so, that when he retired he was asked to consult on some very high profile murder cases in Philadelphia. Gregor Demarkian attends a Main Line charity gathering in Bryn Mawr hosted by one of the most powerful and wealthiest bankers in the world, Tony Ross, who is murdered while greeting guests on the front stairs. Although he is technically a witness or a suspect the local police ask Gregor for help, which he gladly agrees to give. When he goes home he learns that his church on Cavenaugh Street has been bombed and reduced to rubble. Since he is close to Father Kasparian, Gregor donates his services hoping to catch the perpetrator who did this horrific act. When Tony¿s wife Charlotte is murdered in a M.O. identical to that of her husband¿s death, conspiracy literature is found in her house. Gregor feels these three crimes are linked but finding the connection and a viable suspect will take all of his skills and a good deal of luck. Jane Haddam has a wonderful sense of place and an ability to create fascinating characters. The author peels away the veil and spin doctoring of the very rich and powerful to show that they are not different than the average person in their desires and fears. CONSPIRACY THEORY is fast-paced and brilliantly plotted while displaying how the events of September 11th fit into the mindset of a conspiracy group who believes the Illuminati are controlling the country and moving towards a one world order. This is a mystery that readers will thoroughly enjoy. Harriet Klausner