Dead Right (Stillwater Trilogy Series #3)

( 29 )

Overview

Twenty years ago Madeline Barker's father disappeared. Despite what everyone else thinks, Madeline's convinced her stepfamily had nothing to do with it. But the recent discovery of his car finally proves he didn't just drive away. Worse, the police find something in the trunk that says there's more to this case than murder.

With no other recourse, Madeline decides to hire a private investigator—even if the cops don't like it. Even if her family doesn't like it. But when P.I. ...

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Overview

Twenty years ago Madeline Barker's father disappeared. Despite what everyone else thinks, Madeline's convinced her stepfamily had nothing to do with it. But the recent discovery of his car finally proves he didn't just drive away. Worse, the police find something in the trunk that says there's more to this case than murder.

With no other recourse, Madeline decides to hire a private investigator—even if the cops don't like it. Even if her family doesn't like it. But when P.I. Hunter Solozano begins to uncover some shocking evidence, someone in Stillwater is determined to put a stop to Madeline's search for the truth.

And that means putting a stop to her. Permanently.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Novak's latest Stillwater novel (after Dead Giveaway) revisits the small Mississippi town, where journalist/newspaper owner Madeline Barker is still seeking closure two decades after the disappearance of her father, a town minister. When police find her missing father's Cadillac submerged in a quarry outside of town, Maddy is determined to discover, finally, what really happened. Maddy hires L.A. private eye Hunter Solozano to solve the case, but neither expects to find romance: Hunter is an embittered divorcé, and Maddy recently broke up with a domineering boyfriend. While their relationship simmers, Hunter discovers some disturbing truths about Maddy's father and his domestic life; before long, a series of sinister phone calls and a botched robbery raise the stakes. Strong characters bring the escalating suspense to life, and the mystery is skillfully played out. Novak's smooth plotting makes for a great read, but the conclusion, though organic, has perhaps too much shine and not enough surprise. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In a gripping finale to her well-conceived Stillwater trilogy (Dead Silence; Dead Giveaway), Novak returns to the small Mississippi town that still wants answers about the mysterious disappearance almost two decades earlier of its popular pastor, Rev. Lee Barker. Now it is Madeline Barker's turn to get to the bottom of things. Determined to lay to rest the suspicions surrounding her stepbrother, Clay, she hires Los Angeles P.I. Hunter Solozano. Not only is Hunter good-looking, he is also good at his job. As Hunter begins to come close to a solution, someone in town realizes it's only a matter of time before the truth comes out-unless Hunter and Madeline can be stopped. Well written, nicely paced, filled with appealing characters, and laced with a few surprises, this story neatly wraps up a mystery that has kept readers enthralled for almost a year. Novak lives in the Sacramento, CA, area.


—Kristin Ramsdell
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778329022
  • Publisher: Mira
  • Publication date: 2/1/2010
  • Series: Stillwater Trilogy Series , #3
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 235,430
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has penned over 45 novels. A two-time Rita nominee, she's won The National Reader's Choice, The Bookseller's Best, The Bookbuyer's Best and many other awards. She runs an annual online auction for diabetes research every May at www.brendanovak.com. To date, she’s raised over $2 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.
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Read an Excerpt

Hunched against the freezing January rain, MadelineBarker felt her fingernails cut into her palms. Standing with her stepbrother, stepsister and stepmother, she watched the police and several volunteers attempt to pull her father's car out of the abandoned water-filled quarry. Her head pounded from lack of sleep, and her chest was so tight she almost couldn't breathe, yet she stood perfectly still…waiting. After almost twenty years, she might finally have some answers about her father's disappearance.

Toby Pontiff, Stillwater, Mississippi's, police chief, knelt at the lip of the yawning hole. "Careful, careful there, Rex," he called over the high-pitched whine of the winch attached to a massive tow truck.

Joe Vincelli and his brother, Roger, Madeline's first cousins, hovered on the other side of the quarry, their faces betraying their anticipation. They spoke animatedly to each other, but Madeline couldn't hear them above the noise. She was fairly sure she didn't want to. What they had to say would only upset her. They'd long blamed her father's disappearance on certain members of her stepfamily—Irene, Clay and Grace—who were gathered around her now. Unfortunately, the fact that the Cadillac had been found in the quarry five miles outside of town would only convince them they'd been right all along. It'd certainly prove that her father hadn't driven off into the sunset.

The black seal-like heads of two divers who'd gone down a few minutes earlier popped up and, with a gasp, Madeline realized she could see the front grille of her dad's car through the murky water. With a sudden rush of tears, she instinctively moved closer to Clay, who remained as dark and silent as the surrounding rocks.

The car didn't break the surface. Rex hit a button that stopped the clamoring winch, halting its progress, and the silence made Madeline's ears ring.

Her stepmother, a short buxom woman with hair like Loretta Lynn's, whimpered at the sight of the barely visible car. Grace shifted to try and comfort her, but Clay didn't move. Madeline looked up at him, wondering what was going on behind his intense blue eyes.

As usual, it was difficult to tell. His expression mirrored the gray, overcast sky. Maybe he wasn't thinking. Maybe, like her, he was simply surviving the cataclysm of emotions.

It'll be over soon. No matter what happens, knowing is better than not knowing. She hoped…

"This is making me nervous," Rex complained. Short and wiry with the tattoo of a woman partly visible at his neck, he frowned as he joined Chief Pontiff.

"What if we clip the rocks? The car could get hung up."

"It's not gonna get hung up," a police officer by the name of Radcliffe said.

The tow-truck driver ignored the unsolicited input, keeping his focus on the man in charge. "I don't think this is gonna work," he insisted. "I say we bring a crane in here, Toby, before someone gets hurt or we ruin my truck."

Toby, a slight blond man with a neatly trimmed mustache, had become Chief Pontiff six months earlier and was a friend of Madeline's. They'd grown up together; she'd been close to his future wife all through high school. He shot Madeline a sympathetic glance then, lowering his voice, he turned away from her.

Still, she could make out his words. "That'll take another few days. Look at that group over there. See the woman in the middle? The one who's white as a ghost? Her mother killed herself when she was ten years old. Her father went missing when she was sixteen. Andshe's been standing here since dawn, getting soaked. I'm not going to send her home until I get her father's car out of this damn quarry. We need to see if his immediate tragedy of losing remains are inside. It's already taken me a week to arrange it."

"If she's waited that long, what's another two or three days?" Rex asked.

"It's another two or three days!" Toby nearly shouted. "And she's not the only one with an interest in what's happening here, as you can tell."

Obviously, he was talking about the Vincellis, who'd been impatient with police for being unable to solve the disappearance of their beloved uncle. No doubt Pontiff didn't want them going over his head to the mayor again, as they'd done with the previous chief.

"My most prominent citizens are sitting on pins and needles," Toby said, his voice growing calmer. "I'm going to catch more grief than you can imagine if I don't put an end to it. Soon."

The man called Rex scowled and shoved his hands in the pockets of his heavy coat. Madeline had never met him before. A distant relation of Toby's, he'd been called in from a neighboring town when their local towtruck owner said his truck wasn't capable of getting the job done. "I'm sorry," Rex said. "But with all this water and silt, combined with the weight of the car, I don't wanna risk burning out the engine of my—"

"If we wanted to wait, we would've waited," Toby interrupted. "We wouldn't be standing out here in the cold, freezing our asses off. But we called you, and you said you could do it. So can we please get this damn thing out of the water? Your truck's powerful enough to tow a semi, for cryin' out loud!"

Madeline flinched, her nerves too raw to cope with the anxiety and frustration swirling around her. It had been an emotional seven days. A week ago, a group of teenagers had come here to party; a girl had fallen in the water and been too drunk to climb out. She'd slipped under the surface before anyone could reach her and the darkness set in almost twenty-four hours later, had turned up the Cadillac missing since Lee Barker disappeared.

As the owner, editor and primary writer of The Stillwater Independent, Madeline had followed the tragedy of the girl's death since the first frantic call. But she'd never dreamed it would lead to this. Had her father's car been here, so close, all this time? Since she was sixteen? That was the question she'd been asking herself for seven interminable days, while the town dealt with the immediate tragedy of losing Rachel Simmons.

Rex spat on the ground. "Toby, the divers don't know what the hell they're doin'. With the color of this water, they can hardly see down there, even with a light. I can't be sure we won't break a tow cable and send that car crashing right back to the bottom."

Clay spoke up for the first time. "The divers said they found the windows down, right?"

Toby and Rex turned to face him. "What does that have to do with anything?" Rex asked.

"If the windows were down, they were able to get the cables through. You'll be fine. Just pull it out."

Clay was respected for his physical power and mental acuity, but he'd also endured enough suspicion where her father was concerned to give him a pretty big stake in all of this. Madeline knew the chief of policehad to be thinking of that as he considered the stubborn set of Clay's jaw. She could almost read Toby's thoughts: Are you trying to help because you don't know what's in that car? Or are you trying to cover the fact that you do?

Madeline wanted to scream, for the millionth time, that her stepbrother didn't have anything to do with whatever had happened to her father.

"Let me handle this, Clay," Toby said, but there wasno real edge to his voice, and his hazel eyes returned to the water-filled quarry before his words could betaken as any sort of challenge. Even the chief of police was careful around Clay. At six feet four inches tall and two hundred and forty pounds of lean muscle, Clay looked formidable. But it was his manner that made folks uneasy. He was so self-contained, so emotionally aloof, some people had convinced themselves he was capable of murder.

"Rex," Chief Pontiff prodded. "Let's get this done."

Rex indulged in a particularly colorful string of expletives but stalked to his truck, and the winch started again, slowly pulling the car from the water.

Madeline caught her breath. God, this is it."Watch those divers," Rex called.

Chief Pontiff had already motioned them away. "Let the winch do the work, boys," he shouted. "Stay back."

The scrape of metal against rock made Madeline shudder. It was an awful sound—almost as awful as watching the dark, dirty water seep out of the car that had belonged to her parents when she was a child. Why was the Cadillac in the quarry? Who had driven it there?And—the question that had plagued her for twenty years—what had happened to her father? Would she finally know?

As the tow truck driver had predicted, the car got caught on a large rock. "I told you!" he yelled, cursing again. But before he could shut down the winch, the rusty rear axle broke and the Cadillac continued to emerge, groaning as it climbed out of its watery grave.

Madeline's nails cut more deeply into her palms. The familiarity of that vehicle threw her back to her childhood—as if someone had yanked her up by the shoulders and deposited her in the front seat. At age five or six, she used to sit beside her mother while Eliza drove around town, visiting members of her father's congregation, bringing food and consolation to the sick and needy.

Madeline had believed, back then, that her mother was an angel.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she pressed a hand to her forehead, trying to stave off the memories. She rarely allowed herself to think about Eliza. Her mother had been a gentle soul; she'd represented everything good to Madeline. But, as Madeline's father had pointed out so often after Eliza's suicide, she was also weak and fragile. He'd had little that was positive to say about his first wife, but Madeline had never blamed him. She hadn't been able to forgive Eliza, either.

Clay's arm went around her shoulders, and she turned into his coat. She wasn't sure she could watch what was coming next.

"It's okay, Maddy," he murmured. She took what comfort she could from his warm strength. He was capable of surviving anything. Secretly, she wished she was as tough. She also wished Kirk was here with her. They'd dated for nearly five years, but she'd broken off the relationship a few weeks ago.

"That's it." Pontiff waved the divers out of the water as Rex towed the Cadillac onto stable ground.

This time when he stopped the winch, Rex shut off the truck's engine, too. Madeline felt Clay tense, so she forced herself to look and saw her cousins hurrying to the car.

Chief Pontiff sent her an anxious glance, adjusted the hat keeping the rain out of his face and intercepted them. "Give us some room," he said, barring them from getting too close.

Madeline was glad that Irene, Clay and Grace stayed put, or she would've been standing there alone. She didn't want to move any closer to that car. She had no idea what she might see and feared it would only fuel her nightmares. Every few weeks, she dreamed that her father was knocking on her front door in the middle of the night. He was always wearing a heavy coat that parted to reveal a skeleton.

Grace, a more refined, elegant version of Clay, took her hand and Irene edged closer. Clay stepped in front, but he seemed even more reserved than usual. No doubt he was thinking of his new wife and stepdaughter and how this might affect them. Since marrying Allie, he was happy at last. But for how long? The police were quick to point a finger at him. Last summer they'd nearly put him on trial for her father's murder—without evidence at all. Unless there was something in the car that proved Clay wasn't involved, this could put him at risk again.

"Door's rusted shut," Pontiff said. "Get a crowbar."Radcliffe, who was in his early twenties, returned to one of the police cars and produced the crowbar, which he carried to his chief.

As Pontiff began to pry open the door, the car complained loudly, ratcheting up the tension that made Madeline's muscles ache. Then her heart lurched as the metal gave way and water from inside came pouring out over everyone's shoes.

Pontiff didn't seem to notice. No one did. They were all busy staring at the gush of water as if they expected parts of her father to come floating out with it.

How could this be happening? she wondered. How could she have lost her mother and her father—in two separate incidents?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 29 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Out Standing!!!

    Thank you Brenda it was brilliant! Don't read this book until you read book # 1&2 this is a trilogy and this book has the ending and you'll miss the beginning.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    A must read

    The first two books in the series were very good. This one I couldn't put it down. You were wondering throughout the book who it could have been.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    a reviewer

    Two decades ago in Stillwater, Mississippi, Madeline Barker¿s father, highly regarded Reverend Lee Barker disappeared. Most townsfolk believe her step-family killer her dad, but Madeline thinks otherwise. However, his car was recently found proving he did not just walk away as the other prevalent theory went. Inside the trunk is proof there is the motive for murder and much more. Over the objections of her family and the local law enforcement, Madeline hires Los Angeles based private investigator Hunter Solozano to uncover the truth of what happened to her beloved dad. He begins to find evidence that shakes the core of Madeline¿s soul. However, someone wants the truth to remain interred even if that means burying Madeline and her outside muscle along side her. --- From start to finish this romantic suspense thriller will grab the audience and never let go as the plausible twists keep coming until the final shocker. With the emphasis on the mystery elements, readers will be stunned when they suddenly realize how absorbed they are with this fast-paced story line. Fans of the series (see DEAD SILENCE and DEAD GIVEAWAY) will need to know who did what to whom as Brenda Novak delivers a terrific finish. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2013

    A good read!

    This author knows how to keep her readers turning the pages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

    "Dead Series"

    I read about 4-5 books a week and was very happy to realize Brenda Novak had a series I hadn't yet read - loved all the "dead" series books!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2011

    Great books

    I love this womans books. She makes it hard to put the book down. I suggest any of her books to read.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Good to have closure...

    I enjoyed this last book in the series, but not as much as the first two. Felt like it dragged a bit in places, but was glad to find the resolution for the characters.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    THe BEST!

    OMG this was the best ending ever! I'm just upset that it all ended! LOL I'm so happy for the Montgomery children and although it upset Maddy she got the truth and found love all at the same time! Loved this, Loved this, loved this trilogy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    Like the first 2, Dead Silence and Dead Giveaway, I couldn't put this book down. Ms. Novak is a brilliant, refreshing writer. I highly recommend this series to anyone that likes this genre. This book has edge of your seat suspense and romance.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2007

    A must read

    Dead Right is the third book in Ms. Novak's Stillwater trilogy. This book, like the others in the series, is a page turner! Madeline Baker is the main character of this book and you can't help but to like her. You know as well as her stepfamily, that if the truth comes out it will ruin her life just as it has her stepfamily. Ms. Novak touches on a very gruesome but real issue. You fear the worst but hope for the best, and that is just what Ms. Novak delievers! Great book and I am sad to be leaving Stillwater!!

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    Posted August 26, 2010

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    Posted October 28, 2010

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    Posted March 19, 2012

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    Posted July 21, 2009

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    Posted December 29, 2010

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