Heartstopperby Joy Fielding
“I’ve never been a fan of blood and guts,” writes the killer, “I’ve always preferred the buildup to an/b>/i>
A spine-tingling thriller about a picturesque Florida town – and the killer determined to prey on its teenaged girls–from the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Mad River Road.
“I’ve never been a fan of blood and guts,” writes the killer, “I’ve always preferred the buildup to an event over the actual event itself.”
In Heartstopper, bestselling author Joy Fielding creates a gripping buildup – and payoff – sure to get pulses pounding.
Welcome to Torrance, Florida. Population: 4,160. A small town in the middle of Alligator Alley, a safe place where residents feel comfortable leaving their doors unlocked and allowing their children to run freely. It’s also the town that Sandy Crosbie, a high school English teacher and mother of two teenagers, now calls home, thanks to her philandering husband who moved the family from New York just so he could live closer to the Barbie clone he secretly met on an Internet chat line. When the body of the most popular girl at Torrance High is found buried in a shallow, swampy grave, everyone in this cozy community becomes a suspect. Suddenly a down-on-his-luck sheriff must wade through the murkier depths of his otherwise sunny jurisdiction to determine who the killer is. Meanwhile, Sandy must do everything in her power to help target the attacker before it’s too late.
Alternating between the chilling journal entries of a cold-blooded murderer and the sizzling scandals of small town life, Heartstopper is Fielding’s most suspenseful novel yet.
From the Hardcover edition.
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By Joy Fielding
AtriaCopyright © 2007 Joy Fielding
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Chapter One: Killer's Journal
The girl is waking up.
She stirs, mascara-coated eyelashes fluttering seductively, large blue eyes opening, then closing again, then reopening, staying open longer this time, casually absorbing the unfamiliarity of her surroundings. That she is in a strange place, with no memory of how she got here, will take several seconds to sink in fully. That her life is in danger will hit her all at once, with the sudden force of a giant, renegade wave, knocking her back on the small cot I've so thoughtfully provided, even as she struggles gamely to her feet.
This is my favorite part. Even more than what comes later.
I've never been a huge fan of blood and guts. Those shows you see on TV today, the ones that are so popular, the ones filled with crack forensic experts in skintight pants and push-up bras, they've never held much appeal for me. All those dead bodies -- hapless victims dispatched in an increasingly gory variety of exotic ways -- lying on cold steel slabs in ultramodern morgues, waiting to be cracked open and invaded by dispassionate, gloved fingers -- they just don't do it for me. Even if the bodies weren't so obviously fake -- although even the most obvious of rubber torsos look more real than the ubiquitous breast implants held in check bythose heroic, push-up bras -- it wouldn't turn me on. Violence, per se, has never been my thing. I've always preferred the buildup to an event over the actual event itself.
Just as I've always preferred the flawed, natural contour of real breasts to the perfectly inflated -- and perfectly awful -- monstrosities so popular today. And not just on TV. You see them everywhere. Even here in the middle of Alligator Alley, in the middle of south-central Florida.
The middle of nowhere.
I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who best summed up the difference between shock and suspense. Shock, he said, is quick, a jolt to the senses that lasts but a second, whereas suspense is more of a slow tease. Rather like the difference between prolonged foreplay and premature ejaculation, I would add, and I like to think old Alfred would chuckle and agree. He always preferred suspense to shock, the payoff being greater, ultimately more fulfilling. I'm with him on this, although, like Hitch, I'm not adverse to the occasional shock along the way. You have to keep things interesting.
As this girl will soon find out.
She's sitting up now, hands forming anxious fists at her sides as she scans her dimly lit surroundings. I can tell by the puzzled look on her pretty face -- she's a real heartstopper, as my grandfather used to say -- that she's trying to stay calm, to figure things out, to make sense of what's happening, while clinging to the hope this is all a dream. After all, this can't really be happening. She can't actually be sitting on the edge of a tiny cot in what appears to be a room in somebody's basement, if houses in Florida had basements, which, of course, most of them don't, Florida being a state built almost entirely on swampland.
The panic won't be long in coming. As soon as she realizes she isn't dreaming, that her situation is real and, in fact, quite dire, that she is trapped in a locked room whose only light comes from a strategically placed lamplight on a ledge high above her head, one she has no way of reaching, even were she to turn the cot on its end and somehow manage to climb up its side. The last girl tried that and fell, crying and clutching her broken wrist, to the dirt floor. That's when she started screaming.
That was fun -- for a while.
She's just noticed the door, although unlike the last girl, she makes no move toward it. Instead, she just sits there, chewing on her bottom lip, frightened eyes darting back and forth. She's breathing loudly and visibly, her heart threatening to burst from between large, pendulous breasts -- to her credit, at least they're real -- like one of those hyperventilating contestants on The Price Is Right. Should she choose door number one, door number two, or door number three? Except there is only one door, and should she open it, what will she find? The Lady or the Tiger? Safety or destruction? I feel my lips curl into a smile. In fact, she will find nothing. At least not yet. Not until I'm ready.
She's pushing herself off the cot, curiosity finally forcing one foot in front of the other, propelling her toward the door, even as a gnawing voice whispers in her ear, reminding her it was curiosity that killed the cat. Is she counting on the old wives' tale about cats having nine lives? Does she think a bunch of useless, old wives can save her?
Her trembling hand stretches toward the doorknob. "Hello?" she calls out, softly at first, her voice as wobbly as her fingers, then more forcefully. "Hello? Is anybody there?"
I'm tempted to answer, but I know this isn't a good idea. First of all, it would tip her to the fact I'm watching. Right now, the idea she's being observed has yet to occur to her, and when it does, maybe a minute or two from now, her eyes will begin their frantic, fruitless search of the premises. No matter. She won't be able to see me. The peephole I've carved into the wall is too small and too elevated for her to discover, especially in this meager light. Besides, hearing my voice would not only tip her to my presence and approximate location, it might help her identify me, thereby giving her an unnecessary edge in the battle of wits to come. No, I will present myself soon enough. No point in getting ahead of the game. The timing simply isn't right. And timing, as they say, is everything.
Her voice is growing more urgent, losing its girlish timbre, becoming shrill, almost hostile. That's one of the interesting things I've noticed about female voices -- how quickly they jump from warm to harsh, from soothing to grating, how shameless they are in their eagerness to reveal all, how boldly they hurl their insecurities into the unsuspecting air. The gentle flute is overwhelmed by the raucous bagpipe; the chamber orchestra is trampled by the marching band.
"Hello?" The girl grabs hold of the doorknob, tries pulling the door toward her. It doesn't budge. Quickly, her movements degenerate into a series of ungainly poses, becoming less measured, more frantic. She pulls on the door, then pushes it, then bangs her shoulder against it, repeating the process several more times before finally giving up and bursting into tears. That's the other thing I've learned about women -- they always cry. It's the one thing about them that never disappoints, the one thing you can count on.
"Where am I? What's going on here?" The girl bangs her fists against the door in growing frustration. She's angry now, as well as scared. She may not know where she is, but she knows she didn't get here by her own accord. Her mind is rapidly filling with increasingly terrifying images -- recent newspaper headlines about missing girls, TV coverage of bodies being pulled from shallow graves, catalog displays of knives and other instruments of torture, film clips of helpless women being raped and strangled, before being dumped into slime-covered swamps. "Help!" she starts screaming. "Somebody help me." But even as her plaintive cries hit the stale air, I suspect she knows such pleas are useless, that nobody can hear her.
Nobody but me.
Her head snaps up; her eyes shoot toward me, like a searchlight, and I jerk away from the wall, almost tripping over my feet as I stagger back. By the time I regroup, regain my breath and equilibrium, she is circling the small room, her eyes darting up and down, this way and that, the palms of her hands pushing against the unpainted, concrete walls, feeling for any signs of weakness. "Where am I? Is anybody out there? Why have you brought me here?" she is crying, as if the correct question will trigger a reassuring response. Finally, she gives up, collapses on the cot, cries some more. When she raises her head again -- for the second time, she looks right at me -- her large blue eyes are bloated with tears and ringed in unflattering red. Or maybe that's just my imagination at work. A bit of wishful thinking on my part.
She pushes herself back into a sitting position, takes a series of long, deep breaths. Clearly, she is trying to calm herself, while she takes stock of her situation. She glances at what she's wearing -- a pale yellow T-shirt that shouts, MOVE, BITCH, in bright lime-green lettering across its stretched front, low-slung jeans pulled tight across her slender hips. The same outfit she was wearing...when? Yesterday? Last night? This morning?
How long has she been here?
She runs her fingers through long, strawberry-blond hair, then scratches at her right ankle, before leaning back against the wall. Some madman has kidnapped her and is holding her hostage, she is thinking, perhaps already wondering how she can tell this story to maximum effect after she escapes. Perhaps People magazine will come calling. Maybe even Hollywood. Who will they get to play her? The girl from Spider-Man, or maybe that other one, the one who's all over the tabloids these days. Lindsay Lohan? Is that her name? Or is it Tara Reid? Cameron Diaz would be good, even though Cameron's more than a decade older than she is. It doesn't really matter. They're all more or less interchangeable. Heartstoppers all.
As am I. A heartstopper of a very different kind.
The girl's face darkens. Once again, reality intrudes. What am I doing here? she is wondering. How did I get here? Why can't I remember?
What she probably remembers is being in school, although I doubt she recalls much, if anything, of what was being taught. Too busy staring out the window. Too busy flirting with the Neanderthals in the back row. Too busy giving the teacher a hard time. Too ready with the smart remark, the sarcastic comment, the unasked-for opinion. No doubt she recalls the bell sounding at the end of the day, releasing her from her twelfth-grade prison. She likely remembers rushing into the school yard, and bumming a cigarette from whoever is closest at hand. She might remember snatching a Coke from a classmate's hand, and guzzling it down without thank-you or apology. Several cigarettes and snarky comments later, she may even remember heading for home. I watch her watching herself as she turns the corner onto her quiet street; I catch the tilt in her head as she hears the soft wind whisper her name.
Someone is calling her.
The girl leans forward on the cot, lips parting. The memory is there; she has only to access it. It plays with her senses, goading her, like the bottom line of an eye chart, the letters right there in front of her, but blurred, so that she can't quite make them out, no matter how hard she strains. It lies on the tip of her tongue, like some exotic spice she can taste but not identify. It wafts by her nose, trailing faint wisps of tantalizing smells, and swirls around the inside of her mouth, like an expensive red wine. If only she could give voice to it. If only she could remember.
What she does remember is stopping and looking around, listening again for the sound of her name in the warm breeze, then slowly approaching a row of overgrown bushes at the edge of a neighbor's untended front lawn. The bushes beckon her, their leaves rustling, as if in welcome.
And then nothing.
The girl's shoulders slump in defeat. She has no memory of what happened next. The bushes block her vision, refuse her entry. She must have lost consciousness. Perhaps she was drugged; maybe she was hit on the head. What difference does it make? What matters isn't what happened before, but what happens next. It's not important how she got here, I feel her decide. What's important is how she's going to get out.
I try not to laugh. Let her entertain the illusion, however fragile, however unfounded, that she has a chance at escape. Let her plot and plan and strategize and resolve. After all, that's part of the fun.
I'm getting hungry. Probably she is also, although she's too scared to realize it at the moment. In another hour or two, it'll hit her. The human appetite is an amazing thing. It's pretty insistent, no matter what the circumstances. I remember when my uncle Al died. It happened a long time ago, and my memory, like the girl's, is kind of hazy. I'm not even sure what killed him, to be honest. Cancer or a heart attack. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, whatever it was. We were never really all that close, so I can't say I was terribly affected by his death. But I do remember my aunt crying and carrying on, and her friends offering their condolences, telling her in one breath what a great man my uncle was, how sorry they were at his passing, and in the next breath, complimenting her on the wonderful pastries she'd prepared, saying "Could we please have the recipe?" and "You have to eat something. It's important to keep up your strength. Al would want that." And soon she was eating, and soon after that, laughing. Such is the power of pastry.
I don't have any pastry for this girl, although in a couple of hours, after I've grabbed something to eat myself, I may bring her back a sandwich. I haven't decided yet. Certainly a good host would provide for guests. But then, no one ever said I was a good host. No five stars for me.
Still, the accommodations aren't all that bad, considering. I haven't buried her in an underground coffin or thrown her into some snake-and-rat-infested hole. She hasn't been stuffed into some airless closet or chained to a stake atop a nest of fire ants. Her arms haven't been bound behind her back; there's no gag in her mouth; her legs are free to traverse the room. If it's a little warmer than she might like, she can take comfort in that it's April and not July, that it's unseasonably cool for this time of year, and that it's evening and not the middle of the afternoon. Given my druthers, I too would opt for air-conditioning, as would any sane individual, but one takes what one can get, and in this case, what I could get was this: a dilapidated old house at the edge of a long-neglected field in the middle of Alligator Alley, in the middle of south-central Florida.
The middle of nowhere.
Sometimes being stuck in the middle of nowhere can be a blessing in disguise, although I know at least two girls who would disagree.
I discovered this house about five years ago. The people who built it had long since abandoned it, and termites, mold, and dry rot had pretty much taken over. Far as I can tell, no one's made any attempt to claim the land or tear this old place down. It costs money to demolish things, after all, even more to erect something in its place, and I seriously doubt that anything worth growing would grow here, so what would be the point? Anyway, I stumbled upon it by accident one morning when I was out, walking around, trying to clear my head. I'd been having some problems on the home front, and it seemed like everything was closing in on me, so I decided the best thing to do was just remove myself from the situation altogether. I've always been like that -- a bit of a loner. Don't like confrontations; don't like to share my feelings all that much. Not that anyone was ever much interested in my feelings.
Anyway, that's the proverbial water under the bridge. No point brooding about it now, or living in the past. Live for today -- that's my motto. Or die for it. As the case may be.
Die for today.
I like the sound of that.
Okay, so it's five years ago, and I'm out walking. It's hot. Summer, I think, so really humid. And the mosquitoes are buzzing around my head, starting to get on my nerves, and I come across this ugly, old field. Half-swamp really. Probably more than a few snakes and alligators hiding in the tall grass, but I've never been one who's afraid of reptiles. In fact, I think they're pretty awesome, and I've found that if you respect their space, they'll usually respect yours. Even so, I'm careful when I come here. I have a trail pretty well etched out, and I try to keep to it, especially at night. Of course, I have my gun, and a couple of sharp knives, should anything unexpected happen.
You always have to guard against the unexpected.
Somebody should have told that to this girl.
The main part of the house isn't much -- a couple of small rooms, empty, of course. I had to supply the cot, which was kind of tricky, although I won't get into any of those details now. Suffice to say, I managed it all by myself, which is the way I usually do things. There's a tiny kitchen, but the appliances have been ripped out, and there's no running water in the taps. The same is true of the bathroom and its filthy toilet, its once-white seat cracked right down the middle. Wouldn't want to sit on that thing, that's for sure.
I've thoughtfully provided the girl with a plastic bucket, should she need to relieve herself. It sits in a corner to the left of the door. She kicked at it earlier, when she was flailing around, so right now it's lying on its side at the other end of the room. Maybe she doesn't realize yet what it's for.
The first girl chose to ignore it altogether. She simply lifted up her skirt and squatted right there on the floor. Not that she had to hike her skirt very far. It was so ridiculously short, it could have passed for a belt, which I guess was the look she was going for -- strictly Hooker City. Of course, she wasn't wearing panties, which was pretty disgusting. Some might say she was no better than an animal, although not me. No way I'd say that. Why? Because it disrespects the animals. To say that girl was a pig is to slander the pig. Which, of course, is why I chose her. I knew no one would miss her. I knew no one would mourn her. I knew no one would come looking for her.
She was only eighteen, but already she had that knowing look in her eyes that made her seem much older. Her lips had frozen into a cynical pout, more sneer than smile, even when she was laughing, and the veins on the insides of her skinny arms were bruised with the piercing of old needles. Her hair was a frizzy cliché of platinum curls and black roots, and when she opened her mouth to speak, you could almost taste the cigarettes on her breath.
Her name was Candy -- she even had a bracelet with candies for charms -- and I guess you could say she was my test case. I'm the kind of person who doesn't like doing anything halfway -- it has to be perfect -- and once I knew what I had to do, I realized I'd have to plan everything carefully. Unlike so many people you read about, I have no desire to be caught. Once this project is over, I plan to retire and live peacefully -- if not always happily -- ever after. So, it was important that I get things right.
I met her at a Burger King. She was hanging around outside, and I offered to buy her a burger, an offer she accepted readily. We talked, although she didn't have a lot to say, and she clammed up altogether when my questions got too personal. That's okay. I understand that. I'm not too fond of personal questions myself.
But I did find out some key facts: she'd run away from home at fourteen and had been living on the streets ever since. She'd met some guy; he'd gotten her hooked on drugs, and the drugs had, in turn, gotten her hooked on hooking. After a while, the guy split, and she was on her own again. She'd spent much of the last year moving from place to place, occasionally waking up in a strange hospital room or holding cell. One place was pretty much the same as the next, she said.
I wonder if that's how she felt when she woke up here, in the underground room of this forgotten, old house.
Did I neglect to mention this room is underground? Shame on me -- it's what makes the place so special, the "pièce de résistance," if you will.
I said before that, for the most part, houses in Florida don't have basements. That's because they're built on what is essentially quicksand, and you could wake up one morning to find yourself up to your eyeballs in muck. Entire homes have been swallowed up, and I'm not just talking about the older, less substantial ones. There's a brand-new subdivision going up not far from here, built almost entirely -- and ill-advisedly, in my humble opinion, not that anybody has asked for my opinion -- on landfill, and one day, one of the houses just up and disappeared. The builders didn't have to look very far to find it, of course. They were standing on top of it. Serves them right. You can only go so far challenging nature.
If I were going to build a house today, I'd hire the guy who designed this one. True, it's seen better days, but whoever constructed it was a genius. He created a whole warren of little rooms underneath the main floor, rooms he probably used for storage.
I have something quite different in mind.
Candy didn't think much of the place when she realized it wasn't the kind of holding cell she was used to. Once I finally showed myself, and the seriousness of her predicament became clear, she tried all the tricks in her arsenal, said if sex was the goal, there was no way she was doing anything with me on that dirty old cot. She'd do whatever perverted things I wanted, only not here. The idea of sex with this person was so repugnant I was tempted to kill her on the spot, but the game was far from over. I still had some surprises up my sleeve.
Ultimately I killed her with a single bullet to the head. Then I dumped her body in a swamp a few miles away. If anybody finds it, and I doubt they will -- it's been four months after all -- there'll be nothing left to link her to me, no way of determining exactly when she died, at what precise moment her heart stopped beating. Even had she been found immediately, all in one piece, I know enough about DNA, courtesy of all those surgically enhanced forensic experts on TV, to ensure I've left no clues.
Just as Candy left no mourners.
But this girl, this heartstopper with the big blue eyes and large, natural breasts, will be different.
Not only will a lot of people be out looking for her -- they may even be looking for her now -- she'll be more of a challenge all around. Candy was a trifle dim-witted to be much fun. This girl is stronger, both mentally and physically, so I'll have to up my game, as they say -- move quicker, think faster, strike harder.
She's looking this way again, as if she knows I'm here, as if she can hear the scribbling of my pen. So I'll sign off for now, go grab something to eat. I'll come back later, initiate phase two of my plan.
Maybe I'll keep the girl alive till morning. Maybe not. Risk management after all. It doesn't pay to get too cocky.
Stay tuned, as they say. I'll be back.
Copyright © 2007 by Joy Fielding, Inc.
Excerpted from Heartstopper by Joy Fielding Copyright © 2007 by Joy Fielding. 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.
Meet the Author
Joy Fielding is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels, including The First Time, Don’t Cry Now, and See Jane Run. A graduate of the University of Toronto, she lives with her family in Toronto and Palm Beach.
From the Hardcover edition.
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I have read pretty much every one of Joy Fielding's books, and have been entertained by all of them 'yes, some a bit more than others'. I thought 'Heartstopper' was very enjoyable, enough for me to get up early in the mornings to read more before my kids woke up:'I got through this one in a week, whereas most books take me three-four weeks.
what a book! Looking forward to reading her next release.
I love Joy Fielding's books and think I've read just about all of them. This one was good, but seemed more like a book someone would write who was just learning how to write. Too many characters to sort out, and none of them really likeable. It was an okay book, but a little far-fetched.
I have read 8 of Joy Fielding's books. She is my absolute favorite author, but this was by far the worst! There are too many characters in this book and it's very hard to keep track of how each of the characters are connected. I found this book very bland and the ending was a very pathetic already-been-done kind-of scenario. Skip this book and read Missing Pieces.
I really enjoyed this book and believe you will as well. The characters are great!
I didn't know who the killer was until the last 20 pages. Great book.
This is the first book that I have read of Ms Fielding's. It won't be the last. I was really flipping through the pages. I enjoyed it very much.
I listend to the audiobook and agree that the narrator was excellent. However, her voice for Sheriff John Weber made him sound not so intelligent. I believe he was supposed to be a stong character but the voice made him sound dopey. Anyway, I love whodunit thrillers but I agree with other reviewers, the killer was apparent from early on in the book. I'd say more but i do not want to give it away as this book was still somewhat entertaining.
I really enjoy Fielding's work, even if the situation is often predictable. I figured out who the killer while reading the first 50 pages, but Joy Fielding has a way of keeping you hooked until the end.
Maybe it is because I figured out the suspect quite early on in the book that the ending was anti climatic. I felt as though it was a book about highschoolers written by a highschooler. I enjoyed the 'killer's journal entries' but the rest of the book was not up to par for what Joy Fielding has written in the past. I was a little disappointed....
As a rule, I don't read many 'thrillers' but having read all of this author's other books, I was going to read this one and I am so glad I did. It was so well written! Such an easy read which leaves you guessing until the end.
A veritable magician with her voice, actress Judith West gives a superb reading of this thriller as she effortlessly moves from the cultured voice of an English teacher to the soft, high pitched exclamations of a twelfth grader to the gruff tones of a high school jock. She captures the voices of all the characters with tone, nuance and drama. As many will remember West also lent stellar narration to this author's bestseller Mad River Road. One can easily understand why authors would stand on line to have her read their work. Joy Fielding is masterful at crafting suspense driven novels (Mad River Road, Puppet, etc). With her latest, Heartstopper, she skillfully alternates narrative voices between the chilling journal entries of an unknown killer and the daily doings in Torrance, Florida (population: 4,160) as seen through the eyes of high school English teacher Sandy Crosbie. First, we hear the voice of a brutal murderer, 'The girl is waking up.......That her life is in danger will hit her all at once, with the sudden force of a giant, renegade wave, knocking her back on the small cot I've so thoughtfully provided, even as she struggles gamely to her feet. This is my favorite part. Even more than what comes later.' He's watching his victim, Liana Martin, through a tiny peephole in the wall of a bare basement room where she is imprisoned. She is pretty, very pretty, 'a real heartstopper' as his grandfather used to say. As he smiles and watches he remembers his first victim, Candy, a runaway. After all, he had to practice on someone and he knew that she would not be missed. After killing Candy and dumping her body in a swamp he was ready for Liana. As it happens, Liana was one of 25 students in Sandy's twelfth-grade English class. Although Sandy had suspected her doctor husband, Ian, of being unfaithful, she had no real proof. His suggestion that she and their two teenagers, Megan and Tim, move from their home in Rochester, New York, to Torrance, Florida, had come as a surprise. Torrance was the middle of nowhere, Alligator Alley. Nonetheless, she acquiesced little knowing that Ian had fallen for a woman he met on an Internet chat room, and was going there to continue the affair in person. Continue it he did. Not too long after their arrival in Torrance he'd packed his suitcase and moved into an apartment across town from Sandy and close to the new love of his life, Kerri Franklin, 'Barbie clone and Internet paramour extraordinaire.' His desertion isn't missed by any of the wise-cracking kids in Sandy's class who don't hesitate to embarrass her. Even worse, Kerri's overweight daughter, Delilah, sits in the front row, a constant reminder of Ian's infidelity. The disappearance of Liana is a bit more than taciturn sheriff John Weber can handle. He's preoccupied with his ranting wife and anorexic daughter. Things heat up when Liana's body is found and before long eyes and accusations fall on Cal Hamilton, a wife beater and a lecherous science teacher. Both are far too obvious suspects for this inventive author who startles us with twists and turns until the murderer is revealed. Enjoy! - Gail Cooke
Torrance, Florida with its population of under 4,200 residents is a quaint town where the locals know one another on a first name basis and can walk safely alone at night. The sheriff John Weber does little more than break up an occasional bar brawl and domestic disputes. Trapped in a loveless marriage with an anorexic daughter, John regrets that his off and on lover Kerri Franklin is seriously involved with newcomer Ian Crosbie. Having left Rochester, New York because of her husband Ian¿s desire to start fresh in Torrance, Sandy moves her family there but he soon leaves her and their teenage children Megan and Tim because he wants to be with Kerri. She understands he wanted reality not virtual lovemaking with his on line sex partner Kerri --- While the adults imitate Peyton Place, the most popular high school female student Liana Martin is kidnapped eventually she is found dead from a shotgun blast to her face. Another woman in a nearby town disappears in a similar manner, but her corpse has not been found yet though law enforcement fears the worst. When babe magnet and wife abuser Cal Hamilton¿s wife¿s body is found by Kerri¿s daughter Delilah, the police arrest the father. A search of his apartment finds trophies of the dead women. The townsfolk sigh of relief is short-lived because a predator remains free to kill. --- Joy Fielding writes some of the best thrillers on the market today (see MAD RIVER ROAD). Readers who like the works of Mary Higgins Clark and Patricia McDonald will enjoy HEARTSTOPPER. The characters are fully drawn as they make mistakes which enhance the realism of the prime story line. There is plenty of action and a growing sense of horror as the killer seems increasingly invincible. Though a serial killer preying on a small town is a common theme, Ms. Fielding refreshes her plot with a whodunit that will keep the audience guessing until the shocking climax. --- Harriet Klausner