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The First Victim (Boldt and Matthews Series #6)

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In this gripping new novel, Lou Boldt is back and entering dark new territory. A shipping container washed ashore leads Seattle television news anchor Stevie McNeal and her reporter friend, Melissa, on the trail of a scam involving the importation of illegal aliens. A career stepping-stone for McNeal, the investigation puts her at cross-purposes with the Seattle Police Department's Lou Boldt and Sergeant John LaMoia. When Melissa disappears, perhaps at the hands of the Chinese Triad, McNeal turns from foe to ally...
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2000 Mass-market paperback New. No dust jacket as issued. Mass market (rack) paperback. Glued binding. 416 p. Lou Boldt/Daphne Matthews. Audience: General/trade.

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2000-06-01 Mass Market Paperback First Edition New NEW, First Printing (complete # line)for you collectors. Paperback, no markings, no creases, no spine lines. Satisfaction ... Guaranteed. Ships next business day or sooner. Read more Show Less

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The First Victim (Boldt and Matthews Series #6)

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Overview

In this gripping new novel, Lou Boldt is back and entering dark new territory. A shipping container washed ashore leads Seattle television news anchor Stevie McNeal and her reporter friend, Melissa, on the trail of a scam involving the importation of illegal aliens. A career stepping-stone for McNeal, the investigation puts her at cross-purposes with the Seattle Police Department's Lou Boldt and Sergeant John LaMoia. When Melissa disappears, perhaps at the hands of the Chinese Triad, McNeal turns from foe to ally and teams up with the detectives on an investigation that takes them from Seattle's docklands to the offices of the immigration and Naturalization Service.
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Editorial Reviews

Randy Michael Signor
Pearson’s Seattle police detective Lou Boldt is rapidly growing into one of the better fictional detectives ever penned. Boldt cares about the victims of the crimes he investigates. The victims in this case are Chinese women who pay brokers in order to come to the United States, are smuggled into the Seattle area inside shipping containers and forced to work in sweatshops, literally chained to their sewing machines. One such container ends up in Puget Sound, and one of the women is dead, thus starting a homicide investigation.

But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is involved; a powerful local Chinese power broker floats on the periphery; a television reporter goes underground and disappears; and her half-sister—the star news anchor—takes it on herself to pursue her own investigation. Corruption is everywhere. This effort treats Pearson’s fans to another engaging story and another visit with their favorite detective.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Impeccably paced, beautifully observed and moving with a crescendo of suspense, this is another thoughtful and exciting Seattle-based police thriller from Pearson (The Pied Piper), whose skill at maintaining a balance between the narrative thrust of his plot and the personal lives of his characters makes him a top-notch practitioner of the genre. We learn just enough about Lt. Lou Boldt's current situation to realize that his recent promotion has had mixed benefits: he misses street work and bends the rules to get out from behind his desk. We also discover that his wife Liz's apparent remission from cancer has created some domestic tension — she credits her good results to faith; he can't quite make the same leap — and that financial pressure caused by the loss of her income has made him think about leaving the police force. We acquire this information gradually, as naturally as we would in real life, while being swept along through a heartbreaking narrative that involves illegal Chinese immigrant women being smuggled into Seattle in cargo containers. The story becomes a crusade for two sharp and ambitious female journalists — local TV superstar Stevie McNeal and Melissa Chow, the young Chinese woman McNeal's father adopted, and whom Stevie calls "Little Sister." Lieutenant Boldt and his unusually well-defined team become involved when Melissa goes underground as an illegal and then disappears. Bodies of several Chinese women are found in a public graveyard, the "first victims" of a particularly vicious gang of smugglers. As one of Boldt's colleagues explains to McNeal, "The first victim is generally the one that is handled carelessly." Like all of Pearson's insights into the minds of criminals, cops and citizens, this one is strong, subtle and full of resonance. Atmospheric descriptions of Seattle and some fascinating forensic evidence add texture to a riveting story.
Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Inside a shipping container that has washed ashore near Seattle during a storm is heard the "unmistakable cry of human voices." From this dramatic opening springs Pearson's sixth Lou Boldt thriller, in which the Seattle Police Department goes head to head with the INS to bust an immigrant-smuggling ring run by Chinese gangs. When TV news anchor Stevie McNeal's investigative reporting of the story leads to the disappearance of Melissa, her Chinese friend and cojournalist, Boldt, newly promoted to lieutenant and balking at the administrative duties that keep him from the field work he relishes, jumps into the investigation. Pearson puts the reader smack in the middle of a complex undercover police sting and delivers delectable characters such as Mama Lu, the fat Asian grocery maven, who resembles a "Chinese Winston Churchill." Inventive plotting and strong dialog build gripping suspense. This thriller is sure to be widely sought by library patrons. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/99.]--Molly Gorman, San Marino, CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The smuggling of illegal aliens may be big business, but it makes for a surprisingly flat thriller for Seattle Police Lt. Lou Boldt (The Pied Piper, 1998, etc.). Delayed and threatened by a Pacific typhoon, the container ship Visage loses one of its containers overboard. When the Coast Guard picks it up, the officers on the scene—including Boldt, his Crimes Against Persons successor Sgt. John LaMoia, and INS agent Brian Coughlie—open it to find nine Chinese women sealed inside, together with the corpses of three others dead of hunger, thirst, and fever. While the Seattle cops and the INS gear up for another of Pearson's trademark jurisdictional scuffles, Channel 4 news anchor Stevie McNeal is persuading her adoptive sister, freelance reporter Melissa Chow, to follow a slender lead to the location of the sweatshops and brothels that the illegals were bound for. But the trail Melissa follows turns unexpectedly hot, and she suddenly decides to go deep undercover, passing herself off as another enslaved immigrant in the sweatshop she's found. As days pass without any word from Melissa, Boldt's leads start to die: the captain of the Visage, a construction-gear manager who knew too much about the unloading of the ship, and finally the bent state employee whose suspicious spending patterns had given Stevie her first promise of a story. Meantime, Boldt, still chafing behind the desk he's been promoted to, has nothing better to do than keep interviewing Mama Lu, doyenne of the Chinese business community, and get maddeningly delphic responses. Pearson keeps spicing the pot with interspersed announcements ("Friday, August 28: 11 Days Missing") and flashbacks to Stevie's childhoodwith her Little Sister, but never makes Melissa, or the traffic in illegals, seem worth ruining your manicure. Not even Pearson's niftiest action sequences can make up for the ho-hum forensics, the colorless villain, and the absence of any real urgency in the rescue. The master of the big-league police thriller has struck out in his own park. ($250,000 ad/promo; author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786889662
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 6/1/2000
  • Series: Boldt and Matthews Series , #6
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Ridley Pearson
Ridley Pearson is the author of more than two dozen novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Killer Summer, Killer View and Killer Weekend, the bestselling Lou Boldt crime series, and many books for young readers. He lives with his wife and two daughters, dividing his time between St. Louis, Missouri, and Hailey, Idaho.

Biography

Crime may not always pay, but crime fiction always sells, and Ridley Pearson is one of the stars of the genre, the kind of writer whose royalties keep his family fed and cover a few extras as well (like, say, his own airplane). Yet Pearson didn't spend his youth dreaming of bestsellerdom. His first ambition was to be a musician, and he spent most of his twenties writing and performing folk-rock songs. The idea that he might become a novelist came later. As he explained in a Barnes and Noble interview, he was reading a Robert Ludlum novel when "a voice spoke up from inside me and said, 'I can do this.'" (Once he began writing and discovered firsthand the skill involved in crafting a cohesive thriller, he realized how much he had presumed!)

Pearson is renowned for fast-paced, thrill-a-minute suspense novels that include "a rare humanism and attention to detail" (Publishers Weekly). In a Greenwich Magazine interview he called his work "aerobic fiction, because I hope to get your heart pounding and get you turning pages." Entertainment Weekly dubbed him "the thinking person's Robert Ludlum."

As his fans know, Pearson works hard at nailing the details of forensic investigation and police procedure. In Undercurrents (the first novel in his Seattle-based Lou Boldt mystery series) his research was so thorough—he consulted an expert in oceanography—that the book helped convict an actual murderer. A Washington state prosecuting attorney happened to be reading it while working on a case similar to Pearson's fictional one: A woman's body had been found in a bay, and at first it appeared that she had committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. The oceanographer mentioned in Pearson's acknowledgments was called in as an expert witness to help prove that, based on tidal currents, the woman must have been dead before the time her husband claimed to have last seen her. Due largely to the expert testimony, the victim's husband was convicted of second-degree murder.

Of course, there's more to a Pearson novel than research. "Just what is it about Ridley Pearson that makes him the best damn thriller writer on the planet?" mused Bill Ott in BookList. "We've celebrated the forensic detail, the taut plotting, the multidimensional characters, and the screw-tightening suspense, but lots of fiction writers do all that. Here's a theory: Pearson is a master at manipulating opposites. His stories are forever jumping from high concept to small scale, from positive to negative charges, manipulating our emotions and minds with their polar hip-hopping."

When he's not writing, Pearson still makes music—he's the bass guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, an amateur rock band made up of professional writers including Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom (the group's motto, coined by Barry: "We play music as well as Metallica writes novels").

It was while Pearson was in Miami to play with the Rock Bottom Remainders that he told Barry about his idea (actually, daughter Paige's idea) for a prequel to Peter Pan. The two authors had such a good time hashing out possibilities over breakfast that Pearson asked Barry to write the book with him. Published in 2004, their clever collaboration Peter and the Starcatchers became a huge bestseller, spawning two sequels (Peter and the Shadow Thieves in 2006 and Peter and the Secret of Rundoon in 2007) and a series of spin-off children's chapter books.

Even though Pearson thoroughly enjoys crafting juvenile fiction, his adult fans need not worry that he's abandoned his high-voltage crime novels. Indeed, he has said that writing gives him the same "adrenaline rush," no matter which audience he is targeting: Readers of all ages appreciate the imagination, suspense, and an impeccable eye for detail he brings to all his fiction.

Good To Know

Pearson calls himself a workaholic, "not so much by desire as out of necessity," since he reserves a lot of time for his two young daughters. His hobbies, which he now defines as "something you once did and no longer have the time for," include recreational tree climbing, fly-fishing, backyard volleyball, snow boarding—and, of course, bass guitar in his rock band. An avid reviser, Pearson says, "I'm said to have a nervous, worrying disposition, but rarely feel I live up to that description—perhaps internal calm is expressed as external nervosa."

Pearson loves to travel, especially to southern France, with wife Marcelle and second child Storey, who is adopted from China. We're certain to do a good deal of international travel in the years to come. He also attends local symphony and theater. But his "favorite avocation is to spend an evening around our dining table with two or three other couples. This, I feel, is where many of the world's ills are solved, and many souls restored. Mine, especially."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Wendell McCall; Joyce Reardon
    2. Hometown:
      St. Louis, Missouri
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 13, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      Glen Cove, New York
    1. Education:
      Kansas University, B.A., Brown University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


PUGET SOUND, WASHINGTON


It came off the northern Pacific as if driven by a witch's broom: the remnants of typhoon Mary, which had killed 117 in Japan, left 6,000 homeless in Siberia and flooded the western Aleutians for the first time in sixty-two years. In the ocean's open waters it drove seas to thirty feet with its eighty-five-mile-per-hour winds, dumping three inches of rain an hour and barreling toward Victoria Island, the San Juan Islands, and the largest estuary in North America, known on charts as Puget Sound. It headed for the city of Seattle as if it had picked its course off a map, and it caused the biggest rush on plywood and chipboard that King County had ever seen.

    In the partially protected waters west of Elliott Bay, one nautical mile beyond the established shipping lanes that feed Seattle's East Waterway docklands, the pitch-black night was punctured by the harsh illumination of shipboard spotlights that in clear weather might have reached a half mile or more but failed to stretch even a hundred yards in the dismal deluge that had once been Mary. The freighter, Visage, a container ship, rose and sank in fifteen-foot swells, rain drumming decks stacked forty feet high with freight cars. The Asian crew followed the orders of the boatswain who commanded a battery-operated megaphone from an upper deck, instructing them to make ready.

    The huge ship pitched and yawed and rolled port to starboard, threatening to dump its top-heavy cargo. The crew had been captured inside Mary's wrath for the last three hundred nauticalmiles—three impossibly long days and nights—rarely able to sleep, some unable to eat, at work all hours attempting to keep the hundreds of containers on deck secure. Early on in the blow a container had broken loose, sliding across the steel deck like a seven-ton brick and crushing the leg of an unsuspecting crewman to where the ship's medic could find no bones to set, only soft flesh where the shin and knee had once been. Three of the crew had tied themselves to the port rail where they vomited green bile with each and every rise and fall. Only four crewmen were available for the transfer that was to come.

    The neighboring tug and barge, seventy feet and closing off Visage's starboard bow, were marked by dim red and green running lights, a single white spot off the tug's bow, and a pair of bright halogens off the tower of the telescoping yellow crane chained down to the center of the barge. The tug and barge disappeared into a trough, rising and reappearing a moment later, only to sink once again into the foam, the crane as ominous and unnatural as an oil platform. The storm prevented any hope of docking the barge to the freighter, but both captains had enough motivation in their wallets to attempt the transfer nonetheless. Like two ends of a seesaw, the vessels rose and fell alternately, the crane's tower pointing like a broken finger into the tar black clouds. Radio communication was forbidden. Signal lights flashed, the only contact between the two captains.

    Finally, in a dangerous and daring dance, the two vessels drew close enough for the crane's slip harness to be snagged by the freighter's crew on an upward pendulum swing. Briefly, the barge and container ship were connected by this dangling steel cable, but it broke loose of their hold, the barge lost to another swell. It was twenty minutes before the crane's steel cable was finally captured for a second time.

    The vessels bobbed alongside one another, the slack in the crane's cable going dangerously tight with each alternating swell. The exhausted deckhands of the Visage worked furiously to be rid of this container, to a member wondering if it was worth the bonus pay they had been promised.

    When the moment of exchange arrived, the crane made tight the cable and the deckhands cut loose the container's binding chains while lines secured to winches on both vessels attempted to steady the dangling container, for if it swung too violently it was likely to capsize the barge. As the first of these four lines snapped, the container, dangling precipitously over the void of open foam between barge and ship, shifted awkwardly, suddenly at a treacherous angle. Above the deafening whistle of wind and the lion's roar of the sea came the muted but unmistakable cry of human voices from within this container.

    A crewman crossed himself and looked toward heaven.

    A second line snapped. A third.

    The container swung and slipped out of the harness, splashing into the water. It submerged and then bobbed back up like a whale surfacing.

    The captain of the Visage barked his orders. The mighty twin screws spun to life, the gigantic ship lumbering to port and away from the barge and crane in an effort to keep the container from being crushed between the vessels.

    The spotlights on the freighter were ordered extinguished as the ship was consumed by the storm, lumbering back toward the shipping lane where it belonged.

    Behind it, in its wake, the abandoned container, singing of human screams and cries of terror, rode the mounting swells into darkness, lost to the wash of the waves and the whim of the wind.


Chapter Two


On the evening of Monday, August 10, when the coattails of typhoon Mary had receded into little more than a torrential downpour, a rust orange container appeared bobbing in the churning green waters and whitecaps of Puget Sound. Spotted by a copilot of a test flight returning to Boeing Field, it was immediately reported to the Coast Guard. Loose containers were not an uncommon occurrence in the Sound. The urgency behind the Coast Guard's efforts to recover the orphaned container began as a result of the threat to navigation, especially with night closing in. "Metal icebergs," they were called. This urgency was heightened, however, as the Coast Guard's patrol boat came alongside the partially sunken container and human cries were heard from within. At that point, the call went out to the Seattle Police Department.


* * *


The piano sounded better than ever. For an old beat-up baby grand in a smoke-filled comedy bar where no one paid the instrument any attention except for the homicide cop who presently occupied its bench, his large hands and stubby fingers evoking a somber rendition of "Blue Monk," its tone was earthy and mellow, just the way jazz and blues were supposed to sound. The notes flowed out of Lou Boldt without conscious thought or preparation, sounding of the torments born of forty-odd years of life and a job involving all too much death.

    Boldt aimed his interpretation toward the table where his wife and friends sat. If his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter had been there he would have had everything and everyone that mattered to him in this one room: Elizabeth, his sweetheart, wife and partner; Doc Dixon, the county medical examiner who'd been his friend for most of Boldt's twenty-plus years with Seattle Police; John LaMoia, who had taken Boldt's place as a Crimes Against Persons' squad sergeant; Bobbie Gaynes, the first woman cop to join that squad; Daphne Matthews, forensic psychologist and confidante; and the lab's Bernie Lofgrin, with his Coke-bottle glasses and leaking-balloon laugh.

    He didn't need to invent an emotion behind his playing. Liz's lymphoma had been in remission for one full year, and Boldt's happy hour performance that night at Bear Berenson's club The Joke's on You had developed into an impromptu celebration of her progress, a celebration that only a cop's wife could tolerate, but one that Liz would actually appreciate. Morbid humor was a way of life with this group, and while Liz didn't totally fit in with the others, they were family to her, just as they were to her husband.

    While few at the table were above teasing Liz about how she'd looked when her hair had fallen out during treatment, or about smoking pot to bring on a taste for food, no one was really talking about anything, either. No one discussed that his new desk job was a problem for Boldt, that he ached for the opportunity to slap on a pair of latex gloves and get back out into the field. Similarly no one talked about the fact that for Liz's doctors her long remission was both unexpected and still unexplained. They wouldn't recommend breaking out the champagne for another three to five years. But Liz herself was sanguine: She credited God with her healing; and Boldt kept his mouth shut on that one. He felt that he and Liz had yet to recapture their comfort zone, but he wasn't about to talk about that, either. So that night no one discussed much of anything. They joked. They drank. They drank some more.

    When the pagers started sounding, it seemed like something orchestrated for a comedy sketch, except that everyone knew immediately that it must be serious, since one call simultaneously summoned the lab, the medical examiner and the Homicide squad.

    LaMoia flipped his cellphone closed and said, "It's a shipping container. Sinking out in the sound. People screaming inside. Still alive. Coast Guard's towing it ashore."

    "Still alive," Liz echoed, watching as all but Daphne Matthews headed for the exit. Those words meant more to her than anyone at the table.

    Liz offered a look of surprise that Daphne stayed behind.

    Daphne explained, "They don't need me."

    "Well I do," Liz replied, though retreating into silence, both confusing Daphne and making her curious.

    When club owner Bear Berenson got the jukebox going a few minutes later, the rock music clashed with the earlier mood set by Boldt's piano.

    "He doesn't understand it," Liz told Daphne. She meant Boldt. "The prayer. He can't accept that I was healed by something outside of that hospital."

    "His background," Daphne said, uncomfortably attempting to explain the woman's husband to her. "If he wasn't a detective, he'd be a lab guy. You know?"

    "Yeah, I know," Liz agreed. "But it's more that that. He won't give it a chance. It drives him crazy."

    "He's glad you're well, however you got there."

    "He doesn't trust it. Has he talked to you about it?"

    "No," Daphne lied. She and Boldt had once been more than friends, just briefly. She knew well enough to protect the deeper friendship they had now.

    "He doesn't say anything," Liz continued, "not directly, but I know he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that he wants it—I'm not saying that! Of course not! It's just that he doesn't believe in it. It's inconceivable to him that prayer, that God, can have that kind of power, that kind of consequence." She organized the dirty glasses on the table for the waitress.

    "He doesn't believe it," she repeated. Liz looked toward the door as if he were still there.

    "What if I talked to him about it?" Daphne offered.

    "It's not something that can be sold."

    "He needs to hear that from all sides," Daphne suggested.

    "He needs to hear this from within, Daphne. That's the only way it's going to make sense, to have any resonance. Especially to him."

    Liz reached for Daphne's hand and gave it a squeeze.

    Daphne felt this woman's cold fingers held in her own warm palm, and thought how quickly things change. There had been a time when she would have cheered for Liz to leave her husband. Now she was cheering for Liz's survival. "You're an amazing woman," she said, as a chill whispered through her.


* * *


Boldt marveled at the emptiness of the docklands at night, the wide streets and warehouses deserted. Huge shipping cranes towered along the shoreline, silhouetted against dull gray clouds that reflected back the glow of city light, reminding Boldt of his son's Construction Site Legos kit that currently occupied the far corner of the living room.

    The August air blew both warm and heavy, laden with salt spray, forcing all who awaited the raising of the container to squint and turn a shoulder toward shore. Boldt wore his hair trimmed short, which didn't quite fit with his otherwise professorial look—the wrinkled khakis and favorite tweed jacket worn threadbare at the elbows and sleeves. His tight jaw and erect posture belonged to a man who meant business. Few people interrupted him when he was locked in thought, eyes distant and yet strangely focused. He deservedly owned the respect of all who worked with him, due to his attention to detail and dedication to procedure that many in law enforcement preached, but few practiced. He occasionally spoke at law enforcement seminars and conferences and at graduate criminology courses on the role of homicide victims as witnesses. "The Victim Speaks," his talk on the subject, had been transcribed and posted on the Internet.

    Boldt grumbled to LaMoia about how long it was taking the Coast Guard to recover the container. The cries and screams continued. Patience was running thin.

    LaMoia had stood at Boldt's side for the last seven years, working in his shadow, studying his every movement, then rising in rank to take not only the man's stripes but even his desk and office cubicle. LaMoia wore his jeans pressed, his shirts crisp, his hair perfect and his cowboy boots gleaming. He was focused less on Boldt and more on his boots—brand new boots that had cost him a month's salary. This salt spray was beginning to really piss him off. He kept rising on tiptoe to pull his boots out of the puddled water.

    "Piano sounded great tonight," LaMoia said.

    "Are you kissing my butt?" Boldt asked. "What are you after, John?"

    "I want to keep these new boots dry," LaMoia confessed.

    "So get out of here. I'll cover." As a lieutenant, Boldt was expected to have no active field responsibilities. Technically, the case was LaMoia's, he was lead detective, though under Boldt's direct supervision. Both men understood this. Boldt resented it. Despite his two decades of experience he was expected in the conference room, not the street. Under a different captain, he might have been given more latitude, but Sheila Hill paid attention to rank and procedure. A ladder-climber and well connected in the department, Hill was not someone to cross. "Make it quick," Boldt said. "They're going to get this thing up and open any minute now." LaMoia was famous within the department for his casual attitude and his willingness to stop and chat with any and every woman he encountered.

    "Okay, Sarge." LaMoia still referred to Boldt by his former rank. He jogged back toward his fire-engine red 1968 Camaro and the police line established to hold back the press from where television news crews were already shooting.

    The detective left. Briefly the field belonged to Boldt.


* * *


"Polly's broken down in traffic. She's not going to make it. We need you."

    "Slow down, Jimmy," Stevie McNeal said into the phone.

    Jimmy Corwin was among the station's best producers, but he worked in a constant state of high anxiety. Stevie found his energy infectious, even over the phone. He was proposing she take a live segment for Polly. As an anchorwoman, Stevie picked her reporting work carefully.

    "What are we looking at?" she asked.

    "We've got a shipping container found by the Coast Guard. Human cries coming from inside. Channel Seven is already on-air. We need you on-camera in the next ten minutes."

    "You'll post it up on the feed."

    "Sure we will."

    "I need a promise on that, Jimmy." The national feed could bring offers from the larger market.

    "When we see the piece, we'll determine—"

    "Now! You commit now or I—"

    "Okay. Agreed."

    "And it's my follow-up, my story," Stevie negotiated.

    "It's going to mean original segments for us, not just the five o'clock leftovers."

    The phone crackled and the window flashed blue with the light of an approaching thunder cell. She said, "Tell the crew I'm on my way."


* * *


The Coast Guard crew had attached inflatables to stabilize the container while it was being towed to shore. Those same inflatables currently kept the steel box afloat.

    As the cries from inside continued, swimmers climbed up and connected the cables to all four corners. A supervisor signaled the all clear and the crane's mighty diesel growled loudly. The cable lurched and snugged tight as the slack was removed, and a pillar of slate gray exhaust rose from the crane's rusted stack. The container's sunken end lifted from the black water that spilled from every crack, and the cries grew sharper, splitting the air and running chills down Boldt's spine. A cheer rang out from the workmen as the container cleared the water altogether, suspended and dangling as the crane moved it to dry land. Boldt was not among those cheering, his nose working overtime. He pulled out his notebook and marked the time. Dead body, he wrote alongside the numbers.

    A man stepped through the police line, the officers clearing the way as he displayed his ID. Broad-shouldered, he exuded a confidence that advertised the sports he'd played in college, while the inexpensive suit clearly said "federal agent." Brian Coughlie introduced himself as the INS investigator in charge. Shaking his hand was like taking hold of a stick.

    Boldt didn't know many agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and said so. He added, "Glad to have your help on this one."

    "What you're going to find in there, once they get the doors open, is anywhere from fifteen to seventy illegals. More than likely, all of the adults are Asian women in their teens and twenties: better for the sweatshops and whorehouses, which is where they all would have ended up. These container shipments have been a thorn in our side for over a year now. Glad to finally have one with something inside."

    "Part of that something is dead," said Boldt, who was a little put off by Coughlie's arrogance. Boldt touched his own nose, answering Coughlie's quizzical expression.

    "You think?" Coughlie asked. "These things arrive pretty damn ripe, I'll tell you what."

    "Dead," Boldt ventured. "And that makes the others in there witnesses."

    "You already jockeying for position, Lieutenant?" Coughlie asked calmly. "A reminder, lest you forget: These are illegal immigrants, so my boss is calling this ours. I pick 'em up and I deliver them to federal detention. You want to visit our house and have a chat with them, we got no problem with that. But your boss will have to clear it with my boss. Okay? Meantime, these visitors—the live ones, anyway—take a trip on federal tires, not the local variety."

    "And the dead ones?"

    "Yours to keep," Coughlie said. "That okay with you?"

    "So long as you keep them apart from your general population. I don't want them hearing stories, getting coached."

    "We'll clean 'em up, shave 'em, and give 'em their own custom chain-link cage," Coughlie agreed. "No problemo. Barracks K. Our detention facility is part of what used to be Fort Nolan. You know Fo-No?"

    "I know of it."

    "You golf?"

    "No," Boldt answered.

    "Too bad. They've got a great eighteen out there. Maintained courtesy of the taxpayer. You and me—we'd a been smarter to be military. Can't beat that retirement package."

    LaMoia approached at a run. Boldt made the introductions. LaMoia shook hands with Coughlie but on his face was the expression of someone who'd picked up a sticky bottle of honey by mistake.

    "We've got the turf problems all worked out," Boldt said, easing LaMoia's concerns.

    "Somebody's dead," LaMoia remarked.

    "Ahead of you on that," Boldt said.

    LaMoia reached into his coat pocket and brought out a pair of plastic gloves and a tube of Vicks VaporRub.

    Boldt accepted the tube after LaMoia had smeared a line under his nose. He passed it to Coughlie, who did the same. Some things a person couldn't live without.


* * *


When the container was finally opened with a bolt cutter, a hush overcame the crowd as one by one, nine Chinese women—partially naked, bone thin and weak—were helped into waiting ambulances. Some on their feet, some on stretchers.

    Three women came out in body bags.

    Coughlie suggested Boldt give it a few days before attempting interviews. "I seen worse, Lieutenant. But I've also seen better, too."

    "Thing about our squad," LaMoia informed Coughlie, "the victims don't typically get up and walk away."

    "Three of them didn't," Boldt reminded somberly.

    "Whereas in mine," Coughlie explained, "we're not in the habit of sending them home in a pine box."


* * *


Stevie McNeal arrived by Yellow Cab and was met by two of the remote crew, one who handed her an umbrella and a wireless microphone, another who explained camera position. Stevie headed straight for the yellow police tape that she was prohibited to cross, and crossed it anyway.

    "Hey!" a black uniformed officer with a young, boyish face shouted from beneath his police cap, "You can't—"

    Stevie stopped and faced the man, allowing him a moment to recognize her.

    "Oh," he said.

    She looked him in the eye, putting just enough juice behind her determined expression and said, "Who's in charge?"

    "LaMoia's lead," he answered obediently. "But the lieutenant's here too." He pointed out a group of silhouettes.

    She stood facing LaMoia, Boldt and Coughlie. There weren't enough ambulances on hand. A few of the illegals, wrapped in EMT blankets, were being offered water to drink. Between the Coast Guard and the police, there were uniformed officers everywhere.

    LaMoia said, "This is a restricted area. Press has to stay on the other side of the tape."

    "The rumors are wild back there, Sergeant. Some say serial killer, some say illegals."

    "Illegals," Coughlie answered. Stevie locked eyes with him. He wore an INS identification.

    "We'll have a statement shortly," Boldt interjected.

    Stevie tried to determine who to play to. She asked the INS guy, "Is this yours or SPD's?"

    Coughlie answered, "Believe it or not, we're working in concert on this."

    "So who's in charge of this love-in?"

    One of the body bags was carried past them by a team working for the King County Medical Examiner.

    "Not ready for prime time," LaMoia quipped.

    "We'll have a statement shortly," Boldt repeated.

    Stevie nodded, suddenly unable to speak.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

CHAPTER 1
Puget Sound, Washington

It came off the northern Pacific as if driven by a witch's broom: the remnants of typhoon Mary that had killed 117 in Japan, left six thousand homeless in Siberia and flooded the western Aleutians for the first time in sixty-two years. In the ocean's open waters it drove seas to thirty feet with its eighty-five mile-per-hour winds, dumping three inches of rain an hour and barreling toward Victoria Island, the San Juan Islands, and the largest estuary in North America, known on charts as Puget Sound. It headed for the city of Seattle as if it had picked its course off a map and caused the biggest rush on plywood and chipboard that King County had ever seen.

In the partially protected waters west of Elliott Bay, one nautical mile beyond the established shipping lanes that fed Seattle's East Waterway dock lands, the pitch black night was punctured by the harsh illumination of shipboard spotlights that in clear weather might have reached a half mile or more, but failed to stretch even a hundred yards in the dismal deluge that had once been Mary. The freighter, Visage, a container ship, rose and sank in fifteen-foot swells, rain drumming decks stacked forty feet high with freight cars. The Asian crew followed the orders of the boatswain who commanded a battery-operated megaphone from an upper deck, instructing them to make-ready.

The huge ship pitched and yawed and rolled port to starboard, threatening to dump its top-heavy cargo. The crew had been captured inside Mary's wrath for the last three hundred nautical miles, three impossibly long days and nights, rarely able to sleep, some unable to eat, at work all hours attempting to keep the hundreds of containers on deck secure. Early on in the blow a container had broken loose, sliding across the steel deck like a seven ton brick and crushing the leg of an unsuspecting crewman to where the ship's medic could find no bones to set, only soft flesh where the shin and knee had once been. Three of the crew had tied themselves to the port rail where they vomited green bile with each and every rise and fall. Only four crewmen were available for the transfer that was to come.

The neighboring tug and barge, seventy feet and closing off Visage's starboard bow, were marked by dim red and green running lights, a single white spot off the tug's bow, and a pair of bright Halogens off the tower of the telescoping yellow crane chained down to the center of the barge. The tug and barge disappeared into a trough, rising and reappearing a moment later, only to sink once again into the foam, the crane as ominous and unnatural as an oil platform. The storm prevented any hope of docking the barge to the freighter, but both captains had enough motivation in their wallets to attempt the transfer nonetheless. Like two ends of a seesaw, the vessels rose and fell alternately, the crane's tower pointing like a broken finger into the tar black clouds. Radio communication was forbidden. Signal lights flashed, the only contact between the two captains.

Finally, in a dangerous and daring dance, the two vessels drew close enough for the crane's slip harness to be snagged by the freighter's crew on an upward pendulum swing. Briefly, the barge and container ship were connected by this dangling steel cable, but it broke loose of their hold, the barge lost to another swell. It was twenty minutes before the crane's steel cable was finally captured for a second time.

The vessels bobbed alongside one another, the slack in the crane's cable going dangerously tight with each alternating swell. The exhausted deckhands of the Visage worked furiously to be rid of this container, to a member wondering if it was worth the bonus pay they had been promised.

When the moment of exchange arrived, the crane made tight the cable and the deckhands cut loose the container's binding chains while lines secured to winches on both vessels attempted to steady the dangling container, for if it swung too violently it was likely to capsize the barge. As the first of these four lines snapped, the container, dangling precipitously over the void of open foam between barge and ship shifted awkwardly, suddenly at a precipitous and treacherous angle. Above the deafening whistle of wind and the lion's roar of the sea, came the muted but unmistakable cry of human voices from within this container.

A crewman crossed himself and looked toward heaven.

A second line snapped. A third.

The container swung and slipped out of the harness, splashing into the water. It submerged and then bobbed back up like a whale surfacing.

The captain of the Visage barked his orders. The mighty twin screws spun to life, the gigantic ship lumbering to port and away from the barge and crane in an effort to keep the container from being crushed between the vessels.

The spotlights on the freighter were ordered extinguished as the ship was consumed by the storm, lumbering back toward the shipping lane where it belonged.

Behind it, in its wake, the abandoned container, singing of human screams and cries of terror, rode the mounting swells into darkness, lost to the wash of the waves and the whim of the wind.

Copyright © 1999 by Ridley Pearson

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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, July 14th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Ridley Pearson to discuss THE FIRST VICTIM.

Moderator: Welcome, Ridley Pearson! We're happy you could join us online to discuss THE FIRST VICTIM. I have it on good authority that you are in Seattle this evening. How does it feel to be in Lou Boldt's territory?

Ridley Pearson: It's always wonderful to be in Seattle. It's just as mysterious as I write about. Yesterday it was pure summer here; today it feels like fall. Leave it to Seattle!


Thomas Marken from Athens, GA: Thanks for being online tonight, Ridley. I loved THE PIED PIPER and your previous Lou Boldt novels, but have yet to read THE FIRST VICTIM. Can you talk a little bit about what you have Boldt caught up in in your new one?

Ridley Pearson: Sure! Police discover a container apparently from a container ship, floating in Puget Sound, human cries from within. When the Coast Guard docks and opens the container, 12 women are inside, all Chinese illegals, 3 of whom have died from the horrid conditions inside the container. The race is on then, not only to stop the smuggling of illegals, but to apprehend those responsible for the 3 deaths.


Jay from East Northport, NY: What inspired this book? Any particular news story or headline?

Ridley Pearson: Yes, one right near your home. Several years ago a ship ran aground in Long Island Sound and was discovered to be containing 300 Chinese illegals. All of whom had paid $15,000 to $40,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. Another ship foundered off the New Jersey coast with 200 Chinese illegals aboard. Further research showed that the illegals are often subject to slavelike conditions upon their arrival. The evidence goes on and on, but this is something that is happening every day and I wanted to get it into a book.


Richard Anderson from Binghamton, NY: Your books are wonderful! Thank you for bringing the inhuman treatment of these Chinese individuals to the attention of the public. I am saddened to think that in 1999 this type of injustice is still happening. What measures is the government taking to address this?

Ridley Pearson: The INS reformed legislation in 1996 attempting to address the holding period before deportation for illegals. The problem is intensely complex, and arguments can be made strongly from both sides, but the fact is, it is happening. Since the completion of THE FIRST VICTIM, a container in Long Beach, California, was discovered to be holding 11 Chinese illegals, and another, right where the book is set, in Tacoma, Seattle, was found with 19 Chinese illegals inside.


Fatima from New Haven, CT: I liked THE FIRST VICTIM. Do the police and the media ever work together to solve cases?

Ridley Pearson: Yes, they certainly do. A perfect example of that is the so-called railroad murderer. The FBI have been pursuing this man for many, many months, but the rest of us only became acutely aware of it within the last two weeks or so, when the FBI finally turned to the media to help them get the word out. There is a real give and take between the police and the media, and hopefully THE FIRST VICTIM portrays both sides of this -- when the two parties butt heads as well as when they work in concert.


Elise from Brooklyn, NY: How much research did you do for THE FIRST VICTIM? Did you speak with police departments and investigate sweat shops?

Ridley Pearson: Much of the research for THE FIRST VICTIM was what I term paper research, as opposed to field research. Many of the books, if not all of the books, have a great deal of both paper and field research. However, in THE FIRST VICTIM, knowing that I was going to portray the INS in a slightly unfavorable light, I kept my field research to police, medical examiners, oceanographers, and forensics lab experts. I used my fictional license to bring the INS into the story.


Sara Hospador from Tacoma, WA: I would like to know why you chose Seattle as the town to set your Detective Boldt novels. Was there something about the city that intrigued you, or was it just that Seattle was the city that you were most familiar with?

Ridley Pearson: Great question! Actually, it was in part monetary. Twelve or 13 years ago, when I went to set the novel UNDERCURRENTS in a city, I had about $250 to my name. Living in central Idaho at the time, I checked a map to see how far I could get on $250. And Seattle, ever an intriguing city, seemed my best bet. It proved to be a gold mine. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, and even mysterious, with its winds, fog, and multicultural makeup, but the law enforcement departments there generously welcomed my efforts, and I was able to establish research contacts that I've used for the last decade.


Kitty Bucholtz from Phoenix, AZ: Hi, Ridley! I have a question about your new picture for the book jacket. In BEYOND RECOGNITION, your picture makes you look friendly and funny. In THE FIRST VICTIM, I don't know if I should be more scared of the bad guys or the author! Any reason for the change, or just feel like adding some spice?

Ridley Pearson: Publishers. Publishers. Publishers. I was flown back to New York for a photo shoot by a very famous photographer, and despite an eight-hour shoot, both in studios and on the streets of Manhattan, my publisher did not want me smiling. I objected, because I smile all the time, but that shows you how much clout I have.


Amy from Palmetto, FL: Where does the title THE FIRST VICTIM come from?

Ridley Pearson: In repeat offenses, especially violent felonies, law enforcement is often most intrigued by the first of those crimes, because this is often where the most mistakes are made. In THE FIRST VICTIM, some of the story line leads us to a graveyard in Seattle. I will say no more, but I think you get the idea....


Katherine from Lincoln, NE: Hello, Ridley. Which do you like better, writing your books or researching them?

Ridley Pearson: Fun question. The research is often the greater thrill. On my book tours, I recant research stories that were either fun or terrifying. The writing of the books is certainly work: THE FIRST VICTIM went through eight full drafts -- nearly 4,000 pages -- in order to come up with a 400-page novel. But I do love the writing experience. There's something magical about being caught up in one's fantasies day in and day out.


Patrick Mitchell from Bethlehem, PA: This is your 12th novel, and your 6th Boldt novel. Bravo! How long do you see this series continuing?

Ridley Pearson: As long as the series stays fresh, for both me and you, the reader, I'd love to keep exploring Boldt. My publisher is perhaps even more eager than I am to stay with the Boldt series, at least in the short term. But I count on you, the reader, to please tell me if you ever think the series is beginning to get stale. It's the last thing I want!


Karen Henley from Brooklyn, NY: Your writing is so smart, and I particularly like how intricate Boldt's relationship is with his wife. It sounds like Liz's newfound spirituality makes Lou uncomfortable. I'm just wondering if you'd elaborate on this a little more in terms of why you decided to add this facet to their relationship. Thanks.

Ridley Pearson: I think it's interesting when two people who live together and love one another also find themselves on differing courses -- whether that's spiritual or an interest or an addiction. With Boldt being as pragmatic as he is, I thought this was one area of his life where he could use some shaking up, and so I explored it.


Loman from Sacramento, CA: Last time you were on bn.com, you mentioned that Richard Dreyfuss was interested in the role of Boldt for the film version of BEYOND RECOGNITION. Are we any further in the casting of that movie?

Ridley Pearson: Oh, we are, we are. Unfortunately I have not received permission to discuss this publicly, but if you want to send me an email through our web site, at ridleypearson.com, I'd be happy to fill you in. Let me just say, things look very, very good for the Boldt books to become films, either quality television or theater, we're not sure yet.


Andrew from barnesandnoble.com: Your press material for THE FIRST VICTIM mentions the fact that UNDERCURRENTS was responsible for solving a real-life murder case. Could you elaborate? Thanks.

Ridley Pearson: It's a long story. A prosecuting attorney happened to be reading UNDERCURRENTS when a dead body floated to the surface in his jurisdiction. He then contacted and used the very same experts I had used in UNDERCURRENTS to chart tidal currents and predict the path of the dead body. That in turn brought in enough evidence to eventually convict the woman's husband of murder. He is presently serving a 31-year sentence.


Bud from Greenwich, CT: I heard that you auction off the opportunity for someone's name to appear in your novels for charity. How about that? Is there a character named in THE FIRST VICTIM that's part of this program? How does one bid?

Ridley Pearson: There are two names in THE PIED PIPER and more in books prior to that and yet more to come next year. The way it works is that various charity organizations contact me and ask me to donate the right to be a character in the book for their auctions. As often as we can, we agree to this. In one case, we sold two names off on the same night and raised $11,000. To date, the efforts have raised a little over $20,000. And we're happy to be part of that.


Heidi from Los Gatos, CA: Hey, R.P. You're so incredible at character development. I particularly love the way you write Boldt and Daphne together. There isn't anywhere near enough of them in THE FIRST VICTIM. Will there be more in the next book? :)

Ridley Pearson: Hey, I know you! (The question comes from my webmaster, Heidi Mack.) Yes, in next year's novel, called THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.


Liz from Middletown, CT: I read with great interest the article that appeared in USA Today that a friend sent to me. As a special-ed teacher I have a great interest in the rights of all individuals. To think that such inhuman treatment is going on was shocking to me. My eyes have been opened. What would you recommend as the next step toward stopping this form of slavery?

Ridley Pearson: I'm not sure there's an easy answer to that. As long as we have tight borders, necessitated by both wage prices and the escalating cost of social services, and as long as there are political regimes from which people flee, I'm afraid those people will be willing to pay almost any price, monetarily or otherwise, to search for the freedom that human beings inherently want. Something has to be done. Perhaps it's coming up with extremely tough sentencing for people convicted in the smuggling of human beings. I don't have the answers, but I'm as appalled as you are and hope that something like THE FIRST VICTIM will help nudge people's awareness.


Betsy Dodge from Bellevue, ID: Loved your book! Has any of this problem with the Chinese been solved? Are the Chinese women misled in planning their trip to the United States?

Ridley Pearson: Hi, Mom! I think the Chinese illegals are misled in that jobs are promised on the other end that don't exist, and I'm not sure there are any easy solutions. (Say "Hi" to Dad!)


Ken Werner from Billings, MT: How does a thriller writer cope these days without the benefit of the cold war? The Chinese Triad seems to be an excellent new "bad guy." Is their influence truly felt in the northwest?

Ridley Pearson: Absolutely. Their influence is felt in many of the major cities, especially coastal cities in the country. And you're right, they make an interesting antagonist. Although in this case, it was the story that fed their involvement in the book, not the author's imagination.


Richard Friedman from Edina, MN: Hello. How particular are you about listening to music when you write? Do you ever play music to match the moods of your plots?

Ridley Pearson: That's a great question. And in fact I do use music to match the plot. A good deal of the time I write in absolute silence, but I also use classical, rock, and jazz at all volumes as a means to enhance the creative process.


Gene Sofie from Washougal, WA: Good afternoon, Ridley. When will Mr. McCall's book, CONCERTO IN DEAD FLAT, be in bookstores?

Ridley Pearson: Gene is referring to another series that I write under a pseudonym, Wendell McCall. I hadn't published a Wendell book in about ten years, but over the past few years have written a Wendell loosely based on my year in Oxford as the Raymond Chandler Fellow. The books are straight-ahead detective novels, like a Spenser or a Travis McGee. CONCERTO is in some stores as I write this and is available through poisonpenpress.com. If you can't find the book, drop me an email through my Ridley Pearson site and we'll connect you with the publisher.


Moderator: Thank you, Ridley Pearson! This was a great discussion. We wish you the best of luck with THE FIRST VICTIM. Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience tonight?

Ridley Pearson: It's such a pleasure to be in touch with readers! I spend so much of my time (70 hours a week) writing these novels, so to get out and meet people, even in a chat room, is a thrill. Thanks to everyone for giving me the best job on earth, and I hope you enjoy the books half as much as I enjoy writing them. Thanks especially to barnesandnoble.com for having me on. Sure hope to see you next time. Ridley


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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2001

    Excellent!!!!

    I have read several of Pearson's novels and truly thought this one was the best. I could not put it down!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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