Death's Last Run: A Clare Vengel Undercover Novelby Robin Spano
Clare Vengel hits the slopes in this sassy, sexy, fast-paced mystery A young snowboarder is found dead on the Blackcomb Glacier, and Whistler police want to close the case as suicide. The victim’s mother, a U.S. senator, says her daughter would not, and did not, kill herself. At her request, the FBI sends in an undercover agent Clare Vengel to
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Clare Vengel hits the slopes in this sassy, sexy, fast-paced mystery A young snowboarder is found dead on the Blackcomb Glacier, and Whistler police want to close the case as suicide. The victim’s mother, a U.S. senator, says her daughter would not, and did not, kill herself. At her request, the FBI sends in an undercover agent Clare Vengel to find out who might have killed Sacha and why. Dropped into a world of partying with ski bums and snow bunnies, Clare soon discovers that Sacha was involved in an LSD smuggling ring. Worse: the top cop in Whistler is in cahoots with the smugglers, and Clare’s cover is too precarious for comfort. As suspicion snowballs, can Clare solve the case before she’s buried alive?
"A wildly fun, adrenalin-fueled ride. . . . This book is too much fun to be missed. I have only one request: More please. Soon!" —Angie Abdou, author The Bone Cage and The Canterbury Trail
"Clare Vengel is my kind of heroine. Sexy, sharp-tongued and smart as hell, she's a fully three-dimensional badass." —Owen Laukkanen, author, Criminal Enterprise and The Professionals
"I want to put a copy of Death's Last Run in the hands of every mountain lover, every snowboarder, every beer drinker, every crime fiction fan, every reader. This book is too much fun to be missed, by anyone." —The Fernie Fix magazine (February 2013)
"A believable tale of estrangement, love, lust, greed, power, and revenge." —Publishers Weekly (March 11, 2013)
“Robin Spano doesn’t pull any punches with Death’s Last Run; the book’s not only charming, it’s got swagger. Buy yourself a copy, and then strap on a helmet, because Death’s Last Run is a twisty, turny, mogul-filled ride from start to thrilling finish.” —Katrina Niidas Holm, Crimespree Magazine
“Death’s Last Run is breezy entertainment, and Clare is a heroine fun-loving enough to spend some time with.” —Sarah Weinman, National Post
"Death's Last Run totally lives up to its name. An engrossing, heart-pounding ride in Whistler's snowbound fast lane. This novel never lags and I raced right through to its satisfying and surprising end." —D. J. McIntosh, national bestselling author, The Witch of Babylon
“Death's Last Run is a joy ride dominated by the personality of the irrepressible Clare Vengel. Robin Spano has created a hell of plot that is populated by a wonderful cast of characters, and then dropped Clare into the middle of it all. She is a tough girl to get away from and to get out of your head - she is smart, gutsy and unconventional, but it is her touch of vulnerability that keeps you worrying about her well-being, and keeps you turning the pages.” —Ian Hamilton, author Ava Lee novels
Read an Excerpt
Death's Last Run
A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel
By Robin Spano
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2013 Robin Spano
All rights reserved.
The snowboard was still attached to her feet as the slim brunette lay sprawled, almost posed, in the Whistler mountain snow. Bright red blood spread in two pools from her wrists, sparkling in the sun like crystallized suicide. Or murder. The photo of Sacha Westlake's remains had been clawing at Clare since she'd been shown it the previous afternoon. Twenty-three years old. And dead. And Clare's job to make it make sense.
Clare stared at the chess board. She didn't care about the game, but it was better than the image in her mind. Better, too, than staring at Noah, with his shaggy hair that flopped into his face like he couldn't be bothered with anything past it.
"Check," Clare said.
Noah frowned. "It's only check until I take your queen."
"So take my queen." Clare's carry-on bag was waiting at the door. Her cab to LaGuardia would be outside Noah's Chelsea apartment in less than an hour. Her full luggage — along with her next new identity — would be handed to her at the Toronto airport before her flight to Vancouver.
"Come on, Clare. It's no fun winning when you're not playing the game." He moved his knight in to take her queen.
"I'm so sorry," Clare said, "that in addition to all the other ways I disappoint you, I'm also a dull chess opponent."
"There's nothing dull about you." Noah tugged a string of fluff from his parents' old blue sofa. He could afford his own sofa, but sticking with ugly hand-me-downs was part of the slacker image he still thought was cool at twenty-nine. "It's ... god, you already know what my problem is. You're flying away to Whistler for who knows how long? It's a terrific assignment — I'm excited as hell for you — but I'm not looking forward to waiting at home while you're out there getting boned by some snowboard instructor who doesn't even know your real name."
"I'm all yours in real life." Clare moved her bishop to protect it from Noah's knight, pulled her feet off the floor, and hugged her legs in. Her sock had a hole in the toe. She didn't care. "But I need the freedom to jump into my job — completely. In today's case, that's Lucy Lipton, snowboarder and soul-searcher."
"Single snowboarder and soul-searcher."
"Yeah." Clare shrugged. "Well, snowboarder wannabe — I'm taking lessons when I get there. So, uh, we'll see about that instructor."
Noah nudged a pawn forward. "That doesn't help."
Clare took Noah's pawn with another pawn. It was probably a bad move, but she wanted the game to be over. "You've dated suspects when you're undercover. You do remember that's how we met?" Clare loved the memory of meeting Noah, the two of them on their separate poker tour assignments. It had been hot, fun — and kind of dangerous, until she'd learned he was also on the side of the law.
"Right," Noah said. "And you fell for me despite having a boyfriend back home. Can you see why I might be the tiniest bit insecure?"
Clare felt her chest deflate a little. She kind of saw his point.
Noah shook out two Marlboros and passed one to Clare. "You get so into your cover that you feel real attraction from behind some fake person's eyes. Then when the case is over, your feelings aren't."
On the stereo, Ella and Louis were crooning away to "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Clare wondered if Noah had played the album on purpose for that song.
"Noah, this is dumb. Should we break up now, before we hate each other?"
"I'll never hate you." Noah moved his bishop across to take Clare's pawn and said, "Checkmate."
"But you're not in love with me." Clare stared at the lines on the hardwood floor, waiting — wishing — for him to contradict her. "And you won't be exclusive unless I give up what makes me good at my job."
"Being a slut isn't what makes you good at your job." Noah pushed the hair out of his face, smiled crookedly across at Clare to let her know he wasn't actually calling her a slut. "You have a knack with suspects — male and female. They might not always like you, but you always find your way into their inner circle. Man, I can't believe you got assigned to Sacha Westlake's death."
Of course Noah wouldn't touch the real issue — which was that he'd never told Clare he anything more than liked her, though they'd been dating for nearly a year. He'd said other things, like at the beginning, he said he was falling for her, and later, several times actually, that he was totally into her. But today that wasn't enough.
Noah picked up his remote and turned the volume down on the music. "How is this even an FBI case, if Sacha died in Canada? Or are the Mounties drafting you back? Luring you with your very own horse named Northern Lights?"
"Oh, you're hilarious." Clare suppressed a grin; she didn't want him off the hook. "I'm going as FBI."
"Okay. But why?"
Clare wasn't officially supposed to tell Noah anything, but their team leader unofficially trusted them to talk freely about their assignments. So she said, "Martha Westlake doesn't think her daughter killed herself."
Noah snorted. "And let me guess — because Martha Westlake's a senator, the FBI jumps when she asks for more men on the job."
Clare nodded. "Paul Worthington is watching this case personally."
"The head of the FBI?" Noah pulled a chipped Niagara Falls ashtray from the floor and set it on the chessboard. "Shit, Clare. That's fantastic. You crack this, you can be sent anywhere you like."
Yeah, and if she messed up, she'd be sent nowhere ever again. But she gave Noah a half grin and said, "I've always wanted to see Europe. Maybe you should consider becoming exclusive with me now, in case I become a female James Bond. An international woman of mystery."
Noah leaned forward to ash his cigarette at the same time as Clare did. Their faces came within an inch of meeting. They both pulled away quickly.
"Because James Bond is such a model of fidelity," Noah said. "And you won't be sent to Europe — it would have to be somewhere the FBI operates."
"I'm going to Canada today. We don't officially operate there."
"Sure we do. We own Canada." Noah's mouth corners lifted.
Clare would take the bait some other time. She studied Noah's face, shadowed by a full day's stubble because she'd woken him up early, surprised him on her way to the airport. She wished she was on the couch beside him, nestled into his lean, strong arms. He was right, in a way, that they should fight another day. But Clare couldn't cross the floor to sit with him.
"Do you think Sacha killed herself?" she asked.
Noah nodded slowly. "I only know the case from the news. From what I've seen, yeah, it looks like suicide. She'd been living in Whistler for just over a year, waitressing at a bar without any clear career direction, even though she had a degree from NYU. On the physical side, there was no bruising, no struggle ... I can see why the local cops are ready to close this."
"No history of self-harm, though," Clare said. "Don't people who slice their wrists to die have a history of cutting themselves?"
"There's a link. It's not absolute." Typical Noah — unwilling to commit.
"Did you know Sacha was on a sedative when she died?" Clare said.
"In her twenties in Whistler? I'd say it's not a stretch if she liked to take drugs."
"Maybe that's why she didn't fight back." Sacha was only a year younger than Clare. Clare imagined herself in Sacha's place, wanting to fight an assailant but being too doped up to struggle. It would be awful, like swimming in quicksand — or like a dream where your limbs can't move.
"I think the drugs make a better case for suicide." Noah leaned forward on the couch. "They were talking about that on CNN. There was this doctor, he said a lot of people pop pills before they kill themselves — even guys who shoot themselves or jump off bridges. Helps them take that final step."
Clare thought of the picture — the snowboard, the blood. It looked like suicide. And it didn't.
"Sacha's mom's popularity is way up," Noah said. "She's been completely out of the public spotlight for the past week and a half, since Sacha died. But now she's second only to Geoffrey Kearnes." Noah must have seen Clare's blank look, because he said, "Martha Westlake is running for the Republican presidential nomination."
"Oh." Clare had heard Westlake's name a lot in the media recently, but she'd assumed it was because of her daughter's death. She found it hard to follow U.S. politics — or maybe she just found it hard to care. "How can a New York senator run for the Republican nomination? I thought New York elected Democrats."
"We usually do. But ... here, come see on my computer." Noah crossed the small room to his desk overlooking dirty, hip Eighth Avenue. He moved his mouse and the screen flickered to life. He held out his rolling desk chair, motioned for Clare to come sit in it.
Clare frowned, but she brought her cigarette and the ashtray over to Noah's desk.
Noah pulled up Martha Westlake's home page. "Westlake is moderate," he said. "Right wing, but not a total crazy. She got in by a hair when the economy took that huge nosedive. I guess that was before you moved here — you were probably still building igloos."
"That's really funny, Noah." Clare wondered when the Canadian jokes would dry up — she'd been waiting eleven months.
She looked at the face staring back at her from the computer. Martha Westlake's features weren't as fine as her daughter's, but their eyes shared an intensity, and they had the same pale white skin and dark brown hair. Clare looked sideways at Noah. "So Sacha's death helped her mom politically. Is the senator being investigated as a suspect?"
"Probably. But if Martha Westlake had murdered her daughter, she would hardly have asked the FBI to get involved."
"Sure she would. Because she can control us." Clare took a long drag of her cigarette and wondered why she'd never tried to quit. Probably because it felt so damn good, nicotine moving through her veins and relaxing the parts that were tense. "You know it's most often family members who kill."
"It's most often spouses," Noah said, "or boyfriends."
Clare laughed. "Is that meant to be menacing?"
"Yes. I'm going to kill you." Noah stubbed out his cigarette and stood behind Clare, massaging her shoulders. "I meant you'll likely soon know who Sacha was dating. The press hasn't been able to find out."
Clare clicked on a tab that opened Martha Westlake's photo gallery. Standard shots of a politician on the campaign trail: Martha eating a hot dog in a park wearing a pantsuit she must have been sweltering in, Martha smiling broadly at a baby while she touched the child's nose, Martha wearing a conservative-length pair of shorts while helping at a car wash with a banner that said Wash for a Cure. What struck Clare as strange: there were no photos of Sacha on the campaign trail with her mom. There was one posed studio shot of mother and daughter together. But it almost made the overall picture worse.
Clare spun her chair around to look at Noah. The massage felt great, but it wasn't solving anything. "You'd think every guy Sacha had slept with would give a teary press statement. Or maybe she wasn't a slut like me."
Noah shook his head, like he wasn't touching that. His eyes met Clare's and he looked like he'd just lost his puppy.
"Speaking of teary press statements, Sacha's best friend is my new roommate, starting tonight."
"Jana Riley?" Noah said. "She looks like a psycho. Be careful."
"She looks melodramatic," Clare acknowledged, wondering how come Noah knew so much about this case. She turned back to the computer and Googled Jana Riley. "I also have a job interview at the bar where Sacha worked."
"That's great." Noah's voice behind Clare was flat. "Before long, you'll be boning Sacha's boyfriend."
"Man, I hope he's hot." She clicked on a link that took her to Jana's Facebook profile. Public — surprise, surprise.
Noah sighed. "You don't get it, Clare."
"What don't I get?"
"If you want to be in a committed relationship, you don't say things like, 'I hope I get to have sex with a hot stud on this assignment.'"
"I was joking." But Clare knew he was right.
Jana's Facebook status said, Shredding the mountain snow. Trying to fill my days with fun because Sacha was nothing if not fun. Still sad, though. Well, at least Clare wouldn't have to wear black all the time in the apartment.
"It's not funny," Noah said. "You know how hard this is for me, playing chess with you, browsing websites with you for your last hour in New York?" He grabbed her chair and spun her back around. They locked eyes. "I want to be naked with you — not fucking you, but touching you, feeling your muscled little legs wrapped around me, running my fingers through your hair, kissing your lips, your neck, your body. Why do you think I put on romantic music as soon as you came over?" When Clare said nothing, Noah continued, "Are you even capable of falling in love? As you, I mean. Not as Lucy, or as Tiffany, or whatever cover role you're playing. It's Clare Vengel I'm trying to reach. Is she even fucking available?"
Clare couldn't speak to that, so she went back to Noah's coffee table and started setting up the chess board. She had time for one more game before her airport cab came.
But as she arranged the wooden men into their orderly lines, the image of Sacha Westlake's death shot came back to the front of Clare's mind. No matter what Noah said — or what they said on CNN — the biggest inconsistency was staring right out from that photograph. Suicide was leaving life. Snowboarding was living it. They didn't go together. That was the killer's mistake.
"You know what, Noah? Fuck this." Clare stood up. "I'd rather stare at the blank walls of the airport gate than sit here and listen to you tell me all my flaws."
"Clare, I ..."
"Oh, and jazz isn't romantic. It's lame. You want to get me naked, try Depeche Mode or Leonard Cohen. We've been together for a year. I can't believe you don't know that."
Clare grabbed her carry-on and slammed the door shut behind her. She'd cancel her scheduled airport car and hail a cab on the street. She had to figure out what the killer's other mistakes were. Before he — or she — killed again.CHAPTER 2
Martha Westlake gazed out the back window of her West Seventieth Street brownstone. A few stories up, in an apartment that backed onto Martha's courtyard from West Seventy-first, a naked, fleshy fortysomething contemplated her wardrobe options. In other windows, a retired couple drank tea with no animation and a shirtless man, maybe in his twenties, danced around his bathroom as he shaved. Her constituents. She hated them right now, probably because they were alive.
How had she failed so completely?
She had a zillion phone calls to return and her email inbox was bulging to the point of overflow, but all Martha wanted to do was sit and stare at photographs.
She opened the fourth giant album, the one where Sacha was three. There should have been twenty-three years to go through, but somewhere along the way the world had gone digital and now no one printed photos anymore.
She touched the photograph on the first page, traced her finger along Sacha in her brown plaid trench coat, marching through Central Park and looking like a tiny reporter. Martha remembered the day she'd taken the picture. One of the rare full days she had spent with her daughter. The nanny had the flu and Fraser was out of town, so Martha was stuck — she felt that way, stuck — looking after Sacha. Near the park entrance, she and Sacha passed a homeless man with a three-legged dog. Sacha looked up at Martha with her big brown eyes and said, "Mommy, can we bring that man home tonight? If I give him my dinner, he won't have to eat his dog's other legs." Martha had hurried Sacha along with some brusque explanation of why inviting strangers into your house was unsafe. She wished now that she'd helped Sacha take the man a sandwich.
She reached for her coffee and took a sip — lukewarm. Why could she not shed a single tear? Martha had always suspected herself of being a cold bitch; now she knew for sure. She touched the photo again and closed her eyes.
Martha's BlackBerry rang. Ted. She'd been ignoring his calls for over a week. She sighed and picked it up.
"Martha. So sorry to bother you. Kearnes is pulling tricks in Michigan."
"What kind of tricks?"
A metal snapping sound came through the phone. That would be Ted cracking his first can of Red Bull for the day. Or maybe his second, judging by the speed he was talking. "He's been making phone calls to your supporters. In particular, he's aiming to snag Hillier's endorsement."
"He can aim all he likes. Reverend Hillier and I had dinner three weeks ago. We shook hands and agreed that I have his support."
"That was before ... Kearnes is implying that it's a good thing this happened now — Sacha's death — so the Republican Party can see your so-called true colors before making the mistake of electing you as leader. He's trying to prove that if you're taking this much time off over one death, how would you handle the presidency in wartime?"
Excerpted from Death's Last Run by Robin Spano. Copyright © 2013 Robin Spano. Excerpted by permission of ECW 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.
What People are saying about this
"Clare Vengel is my kind of heroine. Sexy, sharp-tongued and smart as hell, she's a fully three-dimensional badass." —Owen Laukkanen, author, Criminal Enterprise and The Professionals
Meet the Author
Robin Spano is a crime writer and the author of "Dead Politician Society" and "Death Plays Poker." She lives in Steveston, British Columbia.
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This book is a blast! Spano’s Clare Vengel is one sexy, smartass, high-adrenaline undercover agent. She keeps doing the wrong thing—jumping into bed with the bad guys, ignoring her bosses, and turning her friends against her—and you read on with dread fascination. Brought in to investigate a murdered snowboarder, Clare has to contend with drug dealers, a US senator, crooked cops and competing lovers—any of whom might be the murderer. Pure entertainment from start to finish.