Heart of a Killer

Heart of a Killer

4.1 29
by David Rosenfelt

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Jamie Wagner is a young lawyer who is happy to be flying under the radar at a large firm. It’s not that he isn’t smart. He is. It’s just that hard work, not to mention the whole legal thing, isn’t exactly his passion. But then he’s put on a case that turns his whole world upside down.


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Jamie Wagner is a young lawyer who is happy to be flying under the radar at a large firm. It’s not that he isn’t smart. He is. It’s just that hard work, not to mention the whole legal thing, isn’t exactly his passion. But then he’s put on a case that turns his whole world upside down.


Sheryl Harrison is serving a thirty-year murder sentence for killing her husband, who she claims was abusive. The case is settledthere shouldn’t be anything for Jamie to doexcept now Sheryl’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Karen, is sick. She has a congenital heart defect and will die without a transplant. Sheryl is a matching donor—and is willing to die to save her daughter. But suicide, no matter the motive, is illegal. Now Jamie is in way over his head.


With Sheryl on suicide watch, Jamie’s only shot at saving Karen is to reopen the murder case, prove Sheryl’s innocence, and get her freed so that she can pursue her own plan. And time is running out…



“Rosenfelt has earned his crime-novelist pedigree.”

Entertainment Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Edgar-finalist Rosenfelt’s fine stand-alone begins as a legal thriller that twists into a murder mystery before becoming a full-blown suspense chiller. The life of Karen Harrison, a 14-year-old girl with a congenital heart defect, can only be saved by a heart transplant from a matching donor. Karen’s mom, Sheryl, who shares Karen’s rare blood type, wishes to donate her heart. Two complications stand in Sheryl’s way. First, she must die to enable the transplant. Second, in order to commit suicide, she must get out of prison, where she’s serving 15 years to life for her abusive husband’s murder six years earlier. That’s where Sheryl’s underachieving lawyer, Jamie Wagner, comes in. Jamie hopes to file a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey on her behalf, but his plans change when he learns Sheryl may not be guilty. Rosenfelt (On Borrowed Time) employs his usual wry wit to drive the well-paced plot. Author tour. Agent: Robin Rue at Writers House. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
A lawyer who's never tried a criminal case suddenly finds himself with the world's unlikeliest pro bono client: a woman convicted of murder who demands the right to end her life so that she can donate her heart to her dying daughter. New Jersey doesn't have the death penalty, so there's no way Sheryl Harrison can be legally executed for the murder of her husband Charlie, even though she confessed at the scene six years ago. Once her request finds its way to about-to-be-fired associate Jamie Wagner, however, he's so smitten with the woman who calls him "Harvard" that he instantly starts doing his best to make her wish come true. Jamie does get Sheryl taken off suicide watch, but the New Jersey State Prison for Women insists on keeping her alive despite her fervent wishes. There's only one dim hope: that Jamie can get her original conviction overturned so that the woman he loves can go home and kill herself. After all, Newark police detective John Novack has never been entirely convinced of her guilt even though he's the one she confessed to. As these unlikely allies go forth on their quixotic mission, Rosenfelt presents tantalizing glimpses of the criminal mastermind they're up against: domestic terrorist Nolan Murray, a computer hacker who's prepared to cause high-casualty havoc throughout the nation's tech-dependent transportation and energy sectors if his extortion demands aren't met. What this monster has to do with Sheryl's plight, and whether Jamie will be able to fulfill her wishes and bid her farewell, are questions Rosenfelt answers with all his accustomed dexterity (On Borrowed Time, 2011, etc.). Warmhearted, satisfyingly inventive and almost too clever for its own good. Why isn't Rosenfelt a household name like Michael Connelly and Jeffery Deaver?

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt



“Jamie, Mr. Hemmings wants to see you.” Alicia Waldman, my assistant, delivered the news. She said it with a stunned reverence, in the way she might say, “God is on line two.” Actually, calling Alicia my assistant might imply too high a status level for me; she assisted four other lawyers in the firm as well, all of whom she liked more than me.

I had absolutely no guess why Richard Hemmings would want to see me. I was a twenty-nine-year old, sixth-year associate in the corporate litigation section of Carlson, Miller, and Timmerman, while he was a senior partner in the bankruptcy section. In non-law-firm parlance, when it came to dumping work on people, he was a “dumper” and I was a “dumpee,” but we worked in very different dumping grounds.

We also worked on different floors in our Newark, New Jersey, office building. I was a second-floor guy with a view of the second floor of the building right next door. He was a tenth-story guy, which was as high as it went, with a view on one side of glorious downtown Newark, and a clear sight line to the airport on the other side.

I went right up, and his assistant ushered me directly into his office. He was looking out the window and turned when he heard me. “Jamie,” he said, although he had never met me. He must have just known that he had sent for a Jamie, and figured I must be him. He might even have known that my last name was Wagner. Those are the kind of smarts that partners have.

“Mr. Hemmings,” I responded, keeping the conversation humming. The culture in the firm was that everyone was on a first-name basis, but when it came to full partners, nobody on my level really trusted that. Better to address them formally, and let them correct you if they wanted.

He didn’t, but fortunately came right to the point. “I assume you know that Stan Lysinger is out attending to a personal issue.”

I knew that quite well, everybody did, if advanced lung cancer could be casually dismissed as a personal issue. “Yes.”

“Everybody is pitching in until he gets back,” he said, although we both knew that Stan was not coming back. “I’m taking on his pro-bono responsibilities.”

I immediately knew why I was there. Most big firms feel a corporate responsibility, or at least want to look as if they feel a corporate responsibility, to do pro-bono work within the community. They generally like to assign lower- and mid-level people to these jobs, and Stan is, or was, the resident assigner-in-chief.

Most associates dread such assignments, because it takes them out of the mainstream of the firm, and can thus impact their ability to shine and make partner. I had no such concerns, since it had been clear for a while that I was never going to reach those heights. So I viewed a pro-bono assignment with a wait-and-see attitude; it would depend on the specifics of the assignment.

“It’s with Legal Aid,” he said, as my feelings went from mixed to outright negative. “You’re to see an inmate in New Jersey State Prison named Sheryl Harrison.”

“They’re not going to brief me first?” I asked.

He looked at the file, as if reading it for the first time. “No. They want you to hear it from the client. Seems unusual.”

“Does it say what she’s in there for?”

He looked again. “Murder. She murdered her husband six years ago; slit his throat. Pleaded guilty. Got fifteen to life.”

“Sounds like a nice lady,” I said, but it didn’t get a smile from Hemmings.

“You’ll provide me with written reports on your progress,” he said. “Until Stan gets back.”

“Yes, I certainly will.”

I lived then, and now, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which made me semi-unique among my colleagues at the firm. My apartment was on the third floor of a brownstone on Seventy-sixth Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam. It was a walk-up, common among those kinds of buildings in the area, and I tried to think positive by viewing the stairs as a way to stay in shape.

I suspected that my Manhattan residence was not viewed as a positive by my superiors, who no doubt felt that the forty-five-minute commute each way was time better spent in the office, doing work billable to clients.

It wasn’t that I was anti–New Jersey; I was pro–New York. If I wanted a pizza at 11:00 P.M., I didn’t want to have to preheat an oven. I wanted to go downstairs and get one.

Also, my favorite bars to hang out in were in New York, though I never really gave the Jersey bars a chance. I felt at home in Manhattan, on its streets, in its restaurants, with its women. And if a woman came in one night from Queens, that was fine as well.

The truth is that I would willingly date a woman from any of the five boroughs, with the obvious exception of Staten Island. Even that would be fine, if not for the fact that at some point I’d have to take her home, or meet her parents, or something like that. I’ve heard that people never come back from there.

I was and am a Manhattan snob, and that’s where I’d soon be looking for a job. I was reaching that point at my tenure in the firm where one was either made a partner or encouraged to leave. I was certainly going to receive such encouragement, and I wasn’t going to move to any job I couldn’t commute to by subway or feet.

I got home from work at about 7:45, which was fairly typical. The phone was ringing as I was walking in the door. It was my friend Ken Bollinger, asking if I wanted to meet him for the first of what would become quite a few drinks.

Ken was and is an investment banker, on track to make ridiculous amounts of money, none of which he was willing to spend. He actually ordered beer based on price.

“Not tonight,” I said. “I’ve got to be at New Jersey State Prison for Women first thing in the morning.” It was a line I had never gotten to say before in my life, and I took my time with it.

“Excuse me?”

I explained the situation, after which he said, “There’s nothing better than conjugal visit sex.”

I knew he was talking about a Seinfeld episode in which George dated a female prisoner. He reveled in the idea of conjugal visit sex. Ken and I could talk for days, only using Seinfeld references.

“And no pop-ins,” I said, since George had also considered it a huge plus that his inmate girlfriend couldn’t just show up at his apartment unannounced.

“Can I go with you?” he asked. “Convicts never insist on going to expensive restaurants.”

“No chance,” I said. “But I’ll see if she has a friend. Maybe a nice, frugal arsonist.”



Copyright © 2012 by Tara Productions, Inc.

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