Imperfect Strangers

( 13 )


Step one: The perfect murder

Sandy Kinsolving's once-glittering life hangs by a thread; his future depends on his wife's inheritance and whether or not she's about to throw him out on his ear. What he wouldn't give for a solution to his money and marriage problems.

If this were an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the solution would be obvious. Enter a stranger with wife problems of his own, who offers a violent—and ...

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Step one: The perfect murder

Sandy Kinsolving's once-glittering life hangs by a thread; his future depends on his wife's inheritance and whether or not she's about to throw him out on his ear. What he wouldn't give for a solution to his money and marriage problems.

If this were an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the solution would be obvious. Enter a stranger with wife problems of his own, who offers a violent—and mutually advantageous—proposal.

Then in the time it takes to whisper a word, Kinsolving's normal life ends. What radiates like a mirage before him is wealth, security, and freedom. But lurking in the shadows are a brutal murder he cannot prevent and a madman who stalks his every waking moment.

On a flight home from London to New York, Sandy Kingsolving strikes up a conversation with a stranger who will change his life forever. Proposing to perfect Hitchcock's plan from Strangers on a Train and thereby solve Sandy's marital problems, the stranger offers him a glistening new future as well as an unstoppable nightmare. National ads/media.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Sun-Times
Engages the reader's imagination in an unconventional way. Compels us to place the novel's events on the silver screen in the shadow of a latter-day Hitchcock, and somehow, it works.
Washington Post Book World
Woods does show a reader a good time.
Donna Seaman
Woods is a book-a-year man, a pace that has improved rather than eroded his skills. His thirteenth novel is a neat piece of work that combines a takeoff on "Strangers on a Train" with an homage to Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock. Woods' "imperfect" strangers meet on an airplane. Sandy Kinsolving is an attractive, well-dressed man of means. He's flying from London to New York because his father-in-law, who's bankrolled his lucrative wine-selling business, has just had a stroke. Sandy and his wife are far from close, and he's concerned that his father-in-law's death will have unpleasant financial consequences. His seatmate, Peter Martindale, also a well-dressed man of means, is a gallery owner based in San Francisco. It seems that he and his wife are also on the outs, and he, too, stands to lose his livelihood. The two men drink scotch and watch, yes, you guessed it, "Strangers on a Train". They have the sort of heart-to-heart strangers indulge in, and Peter proposes that they murder each other's wives. The trick here is to complicate matters, and Woods succeeds admirably. He also gives us the vicarious pleasure of reading about the very rich, who never have to wait for anything, even death.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061987311
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/31/2010
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 343,055
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stuart Woods

Stuart Woods is the author of more than forty novels, including the New York Times bestselling Stone Barrington and Holly Barker series. An avid sailor and pilot, he lives in New York City, Florida, and Maine.


Stuart Woods was born in 1938 in Manchester, Georgia. After graduating from college and enlisting in the Air National Guard, he moved to New York, where he worked in advertising for the better part of the 1960s. He spent three years in London working for various ad agencies, then moved to Ireland in 1973 to begin his writing career in earnest.

However, despite his best intentions, Woods got sidetracked in Ireland. He was nearly 100 pages into a novel when he discovered the seductive pleasures of sailing. "Everything went to hell," he quips on his web site "All I did was sail." He bought a boat, learned everything he could about celestial navigation, and competed in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) in 1976, finishing respectably in the middle of the fleet. (Later, he took part in the infamous Fastnet Race of 1979, a yachting competition that ended tragically when a huge storm claimed the lives of 15 sailors and 4 observers. Woods and his crew emerged unharmed.)

Returning to the U.S., Woods wrote two nonfiction books: an account of his transatlantic sailing adventures (Blue Water, Green Skipper) and a travel guide he claims to have written on a whim. But the book that jump-started his career was the opus interruptus begun in Ireland. An absorbing multigenerational mystery set in a small southern town, Chiefs was published in 1981, went on to win an Edgar Award, and was subsequently turned into a television miniseries starring Charlton Heston.

An amazingly prolific author, Woods has gone on to pen dozens of compelling thrillers, juggling stand-alone novels with installments in four successful series. (His most popular protagonists are New York cop-turned-attorney Stone Barrington, introduced in 1991's New York Dead, and plucky Florida police chief Holly Barker, who debuted in 1998's Orchid Beach.) His pleasing mix of high-octane action, likable characters, and sly, subversive humor has made him a hit with readers -- who have returned the favor by propelling his books to the top of the bestseller lists.

Good To Know

Some fascinating facts about Stuart Woods:

His first job was in advertising at BBDO in New York, and his first assignment was to write ads for CBS-TV shows. He recalls: "They consisted of a drawing of the star and one line of exactly 127 characters, including spaces, and I had to write to that length. It taught me to be concise."

He flies his own airplane, a single-engine turboprop called a Jetprop, and tours the country every year in it, including book tours.

He's a partner in a 1929 motor yacht called Belle and spends two or three weeks a year aboard her.

In 1961-62, Woods spent 10 months in Germany with the National Guard at the height of the Berlin Wall Crisis.

In October and November of 1979, he skippered a friend's yacht back across the Atlantic, with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands and finishing at Antigua in the Caribbean.

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    1. Hometown:
      Key West, Florida; Mt. Desert, Maine; New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 9, 1938
    2. Place of Birth:
      Manchester, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Georgia, 1959
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

As the sun rose over Berkeley Square, the May sunshine drifted through the blinds in the Mount Street flat, two blocks west. The rays fell across the face of Sandy Kinsolving, waking him as if they had been the bell of an alarm clock. He lay on his back, naked, and blinked a couple of times. Oriented, he turned to his right and moved toward the woman next to him. He shaped himself to her back and pressed his groin against her soft buttocks, and he felt the stirring come.

She gave a soft moan and responded, pushing against him. In a moment she was wet, and he entered her, moving slowly, enjoying the early morning moment.

The phone rang, the loud, insistent jangling that only an older British phone could make. He cursed under his breath and, without stopping the motion, reached across her and lifted the receiver.

"Hello?" he said hoarsely.

"It's Joan." She waited for him to respond.

He still did not stop moving. "Yes," he said, finally, then he became more alert. "What time is it in New York?"

"Nearly two a.m."

"What's wrong?"

"Daddy has had a stroke."

He stopped moving, wilting like a violet in hot sun. "How bad?"

"They don't know, yet, but at his age—"

Jock Bailley was ninety-one. "I'll get myself on a flight as soon as the office opens. Where is he?"

"Lenox Hill. I'm calling from there."

"I'll let the New York office know what flight I'm on."

"Albert will meet you."

"You all right?"


"You'd better go home and sleep. There's nothing you can do there."

"I suppose you're right. Laddie and Betty are here, anyway."

"You should all go home and sleep."

"I will; I can't speak for Laddie."

"Seeyou this afternoon."

She hung up without saying good-bye.

Sandy replaced the receiver. A little ball of apprehension had made a tight knot in his belly.

"Sandy," the woman said accusingly. "You stopped."

Sandy rolled onto his back. "Sorry, luv. I've just been put out of commission."

"Bad news?"

"Yes, bad news. Illness in the family."

"I'm sorry."

"Thanks. I'd better get dressed. Do you mind breakfasting at home? I have to go to New York."

"Certainly, dear," she said, rising and heading for the bathroom. "I'll just get a quick shower."

"Thanks." Sandy stared at his ceiling and tried to put a good face on all this. Jock wasn't dead, yet; that was something, at least.

Sandy took the lift down at eight o'clock and let himself into Cornwall & Company, the wine shop on the ground floor. He stood for a moment and watched the sunbeams cut little swaths through the dust in the air, which was in the process of gathering on the hundreds of bottles that lined the walls of the large shop.

He walked to the rear of the shop and climbed the old circular staircase to the offices above. He set his briefcase on the desk in his little office and sat down heavily. As he did, the door from the first-floor landing opened and Maeve O'Brien stepped into the offices.

"Maeve," he called out.

She came to his office door. "Yes, Mr. Kinsolving?"

"Would you get me a seat on a flight to New York? The earlier the better."

"Of course. I thought you were staying until next week, though."

"Old Mr. Bailley has had a stroke."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear it. I'll call the airlines." She hung up her coat and went to her desk.

A few minutes later, Maeve was back. "You're on the eleven o'clock; it was the earliest. I'll pick up your ticket from American Express."

Sandy suddenly couldn't tolerate the office anymore. "I'll pick it up myself; I could use a walk."

"As you wish."

He let himself out the front door of the shop, locking it behind him, and walked slowly past the Connaught Hotel and toward Berkeley Square. Even if Jock was still alive, at his age he couldn't come out of this whole. What would happen if he couldn't communicate, couldn't make his wishes known? Oh, Jesus.

Sandy circumnavigated Berkeley Square and started back up the south side of Mount Street, past the poulterer's and the antique shops, past the tobacconist and the chemist, past his tailor's. He remembered he had a fitting that morning. He stopped at the little American Express office as the manager was letting herself in.

"Good morning, Mr. Kinsolving," she said pleasantly.

"I'd like to pick up a ticket for New York," he said. "The reservation's already made."

"Certainly; I won't be a moment."

He stood outside the agency and watched the morning light fill the elegant street, with its pink granite buildings, lately sandblasted of the decades of London grime, looking new in the moist air. He loved this street. He could get almost anything done within the block—have a suit made; lunch at the Connaught or Scott's; pick up a packet of condoms from the Indian chemist, then forget to use them; be measured for a brace of shotguns at Purdy's on the corner; or select a case of good port at Cornwall & Company, his London base. It jarred him that he was leaving this to go back to New York before the appointed time. He didn't know what awaited him there, and he didn't want to guess.

After a passable airline lunch, he ordered a single malt whisky, uncharacteristic for him at this hour. He wasn't sleepy, but he wanted to be. An announcement came that the movie was about to start. The airplane was equipped with the new individual movie screens; he flipped up his screen and adjusted the headset.

As he did, someone came forward and took the empty seat next to him. "My seatmate snores," a man's voice said. "Hope you don't mind."

"Not at all," Sandy replied, smiling politely, not bothering to glance at the man.

The titles came up on the screen, and Sandy prepared to lose himself in whatever the movie might be. It turned out to be the Alfred Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train.

Peter folded away the screen and put away the headset, then accepted his third Scotch from the flight attendant. He turned to the man beside him out of automatic courtesy. "Join me?"

"Don't mind if I do," the man replied. "What is that you're drinking?"


"Oh, yes, the same for me, please."

Sandy looked at his companion for the first time and found him to be very much like himself. Hardly identical in appearance, but about the same age, mid-forties, the same good clothes, good haircut, good teeth. His hair was sandy, going gray, as Sandy's was dark, going gray. He noticed the three-button cuff at the end of the man's sleeve and knew that they went to the same shirtmaker. His accent was hard to place; something English in it, but not English; mid-Atlantic, maybe.

The man offered his hand. "I'm Peter Martindale," he said. "Peter will do."

"Sandy Kinsolving." They shook hands.

Sandy's drink arrived. "Your good health, Peter," he said, raising his glass.

"And yours, Sandy." Both men drank.

"God, that's good! You can taste the peat. Too many of them wouldn't do your liver any good, though."

"Certainly wouldn't," Sandy replied. "Not unless you were laboring very hard in the vineyard, sweating it out."

"And what vineyard do you labor in, Sandy?"

"Wine. I buy and sell it. You?"

"Art. I buy and sell it. In San Francisco."

"I'm in New York and London. I can't place your accent."

"California Brit, I guess," Peter said. "Born in Liverpool, been out on the coast for twenty years."

"How's the art business?"

"Good. And wine?"

"Good and getting better. I'm glad to see the recession behind us; I've got a lot of good claret in the cellars that I'd like to have sold two or three years ago."

"But you can get more for it with the extra age, can't you?"

"Yes, but it's less nerve-wracking to sell it young, keep it moving."

"Your clothes are English, but your accent isn't."

"Grew up in Connecticut; lived in or around New York all my life."



"I was at Oxford, probably about the same time."

"I envy you the experience. I tried for a Rhodes scholarship, but didn't make it."

"You're the right age for Vietnam."

"Missed it; had a wife and child by the time I left Amherst."

"What did you do right out of university?" Peter asked.

"Went into advertising, like my father."

"When did the wine trade come along?"

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Stewart Woods dies it again

    If you haven't read any Stewart Woods,then you have been missing a fun read. If you have then just get the next book and enjoy. Woods is just plain fun to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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