This suspense novel from Collins, author of more than 60 books, packs a wallop in the foothills of the Ozarks, although the lightning-fast pace, despite many plot twists, has an ending that leaves too much unresolved mystery. When a tranquil evening at a fund-raiser ends in a horrible murder, the victim's husband, Elijah Evans, and Det. Diana Curtis discover evidence from a cold case that may free an innocent man on death row-if they don't get killed or foiled by the politician and attorney general who put him there. Dialogue is curiously understated-as Elijah ducks bullets, he says, "I'm starting to get mad. I'm tired of being used for target practice." Yet description is vivid and even graphic for a Christian novel, and Collins creates a wide range of peculiar characters. Suspense plays well, but Collins sometimes cashes in his chips too soon rather than building the tension over time. While flawed, this morality tale is a robust offering to the growing genre of Christian suspense. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Farraday Roadby Ace Collins
A quiet evening ends in murder on a muddy mountain road. Local attorney Lije Evans and his beautiful wife, Kaitlyn, are gunned down. But the killers don’t expect one of their victims to live. After burying Kaitlyn, Lije is on a mission to find her killer—and solve a mystery that has more twists and turns than an Ozark-mountain back road. When the trail… See more details below
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A quiet evening ends in murder on a muddy mountain road. Local attorney Lije Evans and his beautiful wife, Kaitlyn, are gunned down. But the killers don’t expect one of their victims to live. After burying Kaitlyn, Lije is on a mission to find her killer—and solve a mystery that has more twists and turns than an Ozark-mountain back road. When the trail of evidence goes cold, complicated by the disappearance of the deputy who found Kaitlyn’s body at the scene of the crime, Lije is driven to find out why he and his wife were hunted down and left for dead along Farraday Road. He begins his dangerous investigation with no clues and little help from the police. As he struggles to uncover evidence, will he learn the truth before the killers strike again?
Read an ExcerptFarraday Road
By Ace Collins
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One A cold June shower peppered the windshield of the cruiser. As Fulton County Sheriff 's Deputy Mikki Stuart drove along the narrow blacktop of a rural Arkansas highway, the slackening of the rain allowed her to relax. For hours the water had been beating against her car so hard the wipers couldn't keep up-more than eight inches of heavy rain poured out of the skies onto the hills and into the streams. Finally she didn't have to squint to see. It was the first time since noon she didn't feel as though she was fighting a losing battle against Mother Nature.
It had been a day and an evening filled with drama and tension. During the last ten hours, Stuart had rescued two teenagers swept into Little Creek as they tried to cross a low spot on Highway 289, checked out three cars that had hydroplaned on wet pavement and spun into ditches, manned a flat-bottom boat to ferry four families out of treacherous floodwaters along Spring River, and inspected most every local bridge that was susceptible to being weakened by high water. Conditions were so bad she'd had to close six of the twelve bridges.
Now, at eleven o'clock at night, she was on her way to one last bridge inspection, on Burns Creek just outside of Union. The narrow iron bridge was a relocated Depression-era structure better suited for Model-A Fords than four-wheel-drive trucks. Though it was a relic from another age and presented a certain amount of danger for those crossing in foul weather, Stuart had put off inspecting "Old Iron" simply because the rural road it served led only to Farraday Cemetery. No burials had been scheduled there, so she was certain no one would have used this unpaved county road unless the dead themselves had been washed out of their graves and were looking for higher ground.
The turn to Farraday Cemetery was hard to spot in daytime; at night it was almost impossible to find. As Stuart slowed to search for the weathered sign marking Farraday Road, she thought back to a time when the old bridge was easy to find, an era when it welcomed thousands of cars and trucks traveling Route 9 every day. Back then, in its original location spanning the meandering South Fork in Salem, the bridge had been on the most important highway in the area. As a child Stuart had traveled over Old Iron countless times, and each trip across the bridge seemed like a magical adventure. The bridge had a voice, groaning and creaking under each vehicle's weight. It had a smell too, one of river water, fish, damp grass, and dogwood trees.
And then there was the view. Because there were no real walls along its sides, anyone who cared to look out their car windows could see all the way up and down the river. They could spot Miller's Ford and Engine Bend, where, years ago, an Illinois Central train jumped the tracks and plunged into the clear waters below Nobb hill. Old-timers still spoke of that wreck as if it happened last week, and during low water, part of the rusty old locomotive could still be seen resting on the river's sandy bed.
Now as she made her way back to Old Iron, all of the memories of her youth and this bridge came to life. She remembered how the pavement that covered its roadway often cracked after ice storms. She recalled watching canoes float under it and fish jump out of the water and splash back down. She remembered the feel of the water the time she leaped off the old structure. She was seventeen then, and Elijah Evans, a senior she'd been dating, had dared her to jump. Stuart kicked off her shoes, climbed up on the center railing, and jumped. Lije followed right behind her. That sophomoric escapade started a tradition. Soon jumping from Old Iron was a rite of passage for Salem High School seniors.
But as traffic increased on Route 9, the one-lane structure became a hazard, a bottleneck spawning numerous collisions and countless slowdowns. Truckers and local businessmen complained. Meetings were held. Heated debates followed. Still, everyone knew what the outcome would be: progress would win. Many of Salem's most influential citizens fought to keep the bridge, embracing it as an important historical landmark. Campaigns were launched, petitions were signed, and even the governor came to talk at a rally about saving the old structure. But fifteen years ago, the state overruled the passionate citizens and logic trumped emotion. The bridge was replaced with a state-of-the-art concrete crossing.
Old Iron was removed, but a host of citizens would not allow the vintage bridge to be discarded onto the scrap heap. The memories spawned by the old bridge were simply too precious. So they raised money through raffles, donkey basketball games, and bake sales and saved the landmark, moving it fifteen miles from Salem to Farraday Road, where it replaced a low-water bridge on Burns Creek. Even though there was hardly ever a reason to go down that old road, many old-timers occasionally took Sunday drives over the span to reconnect with their past, and a new generation embraced the rarely used structure as a favorite parking spot on dates. It was a great place to watch the submarine races, they said.
As Stuart headed toward the bridge, she had no concern about the possibility of the structure collapsing. Over the past decades, every engineer who had examined Old Iron had declared that no flood could ever take it down. She knew it to be as solid as St. Peter himself. Old Iron was the unmoving rock on which they all could depend. Stuart was confident that long after every other bridge in the area had been torn down and replaced, Old Iron would be welcoming new generations of Arkansans. Still, the rain that had scoured the hills on this late June day surely would have transformed placid Burns Creek into a torrent of muddy water overflowing its banks and covering the bridge's roadbed. If this was the case, Old Iron would have to be closed until the floodwaters receded. Except for those resting in the graveyard, no one would notice the roadblock on this ungodly wet night.
It was just past eleven when the deputy found the faded Farraday Road sign, turned her Crown Victoria squad car off Arkansas Highway 9, and directed it down the narrow muddy road leading to Old Iron. The rain had eased, almost stopped, and she switched the wipers to slow. The night was so dark it was difficult to see anything not illuminated by the car's headlamps or by an occasional burst of lightning. Slipping along at twenty miles an hour, sometimes less, her tires tossing muck up high to both sides, Stuart strained to find the ruts she needed to hold her traction.
About a half mile from the highway, just as she cautiously directed the car around a slight curve, something caught her attention. Stuart took her foot off the gas pedal. She avoided the brakes for fear of sliding and rolled to a stop in the middle of the road. She lowered the front passenger window and stared out into the blackness.
At first she thought her eyes, the night, the long hours she had worked had played a trick on her. She saw nothing but what should have been there-a mass of rain-soaked trees. The hill. She turned on her spotlight and pointed it into that area. Something out of place sprang out of the blackness to meet her. Almost hidden by a large mulberry bush was a late-model Ford Explorer. It appeared as if someone had taken the bend too quickly, lost traction on the slick surface, slid off the road, and gotten stuck axledeep in the red clay. No different from the accidents she had dealt with earlier in the day. But something didn't feel right. Seeing no signs of life in or around the vehicle, Stuart reached to her right, flipped on her emergency lights, and pulled her radio microphone from its bracket on the dash.
"James, you out there?"
Fulton County was small and the department was more like family than coworkers, so Stuart rarely used formal radio protocol. Sheriff Wood hated her laxness and had warned her repeatedly about following procedure, but Stuart, who usually played by the book, hadn't changed. She employed the "legal" language when speaking to state troopers, but with locals she saw no reason to use anything but her native tongue, accent and all.
Stuart yanked her flashlight out from under the seat and slipped into her raincoat. A familiar voice greeted her through the radio speaker.
"Yeah, Mikki," James Simpson called back, " just pulled in to the courthouse. What do you need?"
"Got an SUV in the ditch not far from Old Iron, on the 9 side. Looks like the Explorer Lije Evans drives."
"Be no reason for him to be out that way. Hasn't been a burial out there in weeks. Must not be his. Car could've been there for some time. Probably a hunter got drunk and lost control. Anyone in it?"
"Not that I can see," Stuart said, "but I'm getting out to check. Stay close. I'll let you know what I find."
Stuart stepped out of the cruiser. As she sloshed through the mud, she became the consummate cop, carefully shining her flashlight all over and around the SUV, checking for signs of danger. She saw nothing even remotely threatening, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that something was off.
She jumped across the water-filled ditch and directed her beam into the Explorer's interior. A woman's purse was on the front seat, a black leather briefcase was on the floor in the back, and a half-empty Coke bottle was in a drink holder. The key was still in the ignition. The car was unlocked. She carefully opened the passenger door; nothing unusual. After closing the door, she moved forward and touched the hood.
It was still warm.
Just another wreck, she tried to convince herself as she continued her inspection. She studied the area around the vehicle and spotted footprints leading up the slope to the right of the Explorer. If this was an accident, why would they try to go up the hill? Standing beside the Explorer, Stuart studied the prints more closely. Maybe they needed to get on top of the rise to get cell phone ser vice.
Stuart's years of hunting had taught her a great deal about tracking. There appeared to be at least four sets of footprints on the hill. She tracked them back toward the car. She studied the ground on both sides of the SUV. Only two people had exited the vehicle. After flashing her light around the area, she discovered the other prints originated across the ditch, on the road, about ten feet in front of the Explorer. The stride length indicated all of these folks had been in a hurry. That washed the cell-phone theory. Stuart sensed that whatever she was investigating, it wasn't just a minor accident.
Still standing beside the Explorer, she followed the jumbled footprints with her eyes as she moved her flashlight over the converging sets of tracks. It was obvious the trek up the hill had not been an easy one. There were numerous signs of slipping and falling, and Stuart noted a woman's high-heel shoe stuck in the mud. Why would someone leave a shoe? Twenty yards up the rise, her light touched on something that looked like a piece of clothing, tan. Beyond that, the signs of panicked flight became even more obvious. When this crew blazed the trail up the hill, they left broken branches and ankle-deep holes in the wet soil, as if the ghosts of the cemetery were on their tails.
Twenty feet beyond where she had spotted the clothing, her light illuminated a haunting sight. Resting awkwardly on the muddy slope was a body, half hidden by a sycamore tree.
Stuart had been operating on hunches, and her hunches had been right. This was no simple mishap. She snapped off the flashlight and listened. Every sound seemed to signal a kind of danger that, as a rural deputy sheriff, she had never had to consider. Suddenly she felt vulnerable, and her fear sharpened her senses. She could hear Burns Creek, its channel full, rushing along the base of the valley. She heard the brush of her wipers against the windshield of the cruiser. She noticed a smell that hovered in the air like smoke. Why had she not noted it before? For the first time her nostrils filled with more than just the wet trees and ground; she caught a pungent hint of gunpowder. Startled, she gasped, and then she tasted it, and the taste of gunpowder turned her stomach. She almost retched.
Instinctively, from her years of training, Stuart crouched down by the Explorer and slid the flashlight to her left hand. Then she reached down and undid the snap on her holster. She pulled her pistol from its resting place and took a deep breath. Her heart was racing too fast, beating too hard; her lungs were burning; her eyes were seeing images, ghosts maybe, that were there one moment, gone the next.
She thought of her husband, her children, both teenagers. Scott was a junior and looking forward to basketball season. Jennifer was fourteen and just beginning to flirt with boys. They were great kids, independent, self-sufficient; they could pretty much take care of themselves. But she wanted to experience their proms, homecomings, and graduations. She didn't want to die on this lonely Ozark hill.
But what if that were my kid lying up there? What if that were me?
She knew what she should do, but knowing and doing were much different matters. No one would know if she chose self-preservation over duty. What difference did it make? The person was surely dead. But another force, one she couldn't shove out of her mind, made her look again at the hill, at where the body was, maybe someone she knew.
Dear God, please help me. I can't do this. I need to do this. Please, God, help me.
With her prayer came a memory. Something about "the least of these." A Sunday school teacher had taught her that part of living out faith was to reach out to those in need. In fact, that message was why she had become a cop. Stuart sensed an unseen protection wrap around her and knew it was time to place others first, to put that old Sunday school lesson into practice. Maybe this was why she was here on Farraday Road on this stormy night. Maybe this calamity needed both her training and her faith. Maybe everything she had learned in both had made her ready for this moment. Even though she still wanted to run, she held her ground as her eyes drew a sharp, steady bead on the unmoving form halfway up the hill. Though most of the torso was cloaked in darkness, Stuart could see enough to know that the person lying face down in the mud was a woman.
Stuart straightened from her crouching position and hurried back to her radio. "James ..."
"We've got a possible homicide. Get me an EMT team."
"One just left an accident a couple of miles away. They're empty. They're just beyond Union. I'll have them there in a matter of minutes."
"And get out here with backup. Something's very wrong on this hill."
"What do you mean 'backup'?"
"Send everything you've got and get it here as fast as you can. We have a crime scene with one dead."
Not waiting for a reply, Stuart tossed the mike into the seat, jumped across the water-filled ditch, and sloshed up the muddy hill, her steps staying far to the right of the trail of footprints on the hill. She was on a mission. Working her flashlight beam back and forth as she climbed, she hurried past the woman's shoe, past what looked like a coat, and continued to slog up the slope until she arrived at the body. Falling to her knees in the red Arkansas mud, she grabbed the woman's wrist and felt for a pulse. The arm was still warm. There was no pulse. Taking hold of the victim's left arm, Stuart eased the woman over onto her back.
The face was caked in mud and blood from a massive head wound. Much of the forehead had been blasted away. Stuart felt bile in her gut but forced herself to look even more closely at the fatal injury. The woman had been shot from the back as she tried to flee. She probably was dead before she hit the ground.
Reaching under her raincoat, Stuart brought a folded wad of tissues from her pants pocket and wiped away the blood and mud from around the woman's nose and eyes. The face that emerged from this quick cleanup confirmed what she had feared but tried to deny. She knew the woman. The victim was her friend.
A close friend.
"Oh Lord, why Kaitlyn Evans?" she whispered. "Kaitlyn, what happened to you?"
The roar of a truck engine drew Stuart's attention away from her dead friend. She tightened her grip on her revolver, but before she could move, emergency lights flashed through the trees; the EMTs from the fire department had arrived. She pulled back from her high-alert mode and watched the ambulance park behind her car. The vehicle had barely come to a stop when two paramedics jumped from the cab. They spotted Stuart's flashlight beam and rushed up the hill toward her.
Excerpted from Farraday Road by Ace Collins
Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Collins. Excerpted by permission.
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
This suspense novel from Collins, author of more than 60 books, packs a wallop in the foothills of the Ozarks, although the lightning-fast pace, despite many plot twists, has an ending that leaves too much unresolved mystery. When a tranquil evening at a fund-raiser ends in a horrible murder, the victim's husband, Elijah Evans, and Det. Diana Curtis discover evidence from a cold case that may free an innocent man on death rowif they don't get killed or foiled by the politician and attorney general who put him there. Dialogue is curiously understatedas Elijah ducks bullets, he says, “I'm starting to get mad. I'm tired of being used for target practice.” Yet description is vivid and even graphic for a Christian novel, and Collins creates a wide range of peculiar characters. Suspense plays well, but Collins sometimes cashes in his chips too soon rather than building the tension over time. While flawed, this morality tale is a robust offering to the growing genre of Christian suspense. (Oct.) Publisher’s Weekly
“Farraday Road is a relentless roller-coaster of suspense from the beginning. Sit down and hold on!' Laurie Jacobson, , Author
Meet the Author
Ace Collins is the writer of more than sixty books, including several bestsellers: Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Stories behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, The Cathedrals, and Lassie: A Dog’s Life. Based in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, He continues to publish several new titles each year, including a series of novels, the first of which is Farraday Road. Ace has appeared on scores of television shows, including CBS This Morning, NBC Nightly News, CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and Entertainment Tonight.
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