Kill Me First

Kill Me First

by Kate Morgenroth
     
 

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A brutal killing machine, Merec murders for sheer pleasure. But before he snuffs out his victims' lives, he plays with them, forcing them to reveal their basest nature. All bets are off, though, when he meets Sarah, an enigmatic woman who confounds Merec's cynical expectations by offering her own life in exchange for another's.

Fascinated by her refusal, Merec

Overview

A brutal killing machine, Merec murders for sheer pleasure. But before he snuffs out his victims' lives, he plays with them, forcing them to reveal their basest nature. All bets are off, though, when he meets Sarah, an enigmatic woman who confounds Merec's cynical expectations by offering her own life in exchange for another's.

Fascinated by her refusal, Merec takes Sarah hostage and begins a barbarous battle of wills that will horrify and mesmerize a bloodthirsty nation and its media — a twisted cat-and-mouse game, transforming the boundaries between killer and captive as it races toward an explosive end. And only one will survive...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Nobody likes... to think of themselves as doing anything to stay alive. They think they'd say, `Kill me first.' " These words from kidnap victim Patty Hearst set up this debut novel from a former marketing assistant at HarperCollins, but they hardly prepare readers for the intensely absorbing story to come. Sarah Shepherd, 51, has lost her husband in a car accident and despairs of her own life. She gets placed in a nursing home that has been targeted for a terrorist act by Merec, a brilliant sociopath sought by the CIA. This elusive international criminal picks his team by pitting them against one another with loaded weapons: whoever survives makes the first cut. On the Fourth of July, Merec's band gathers the home's residents together and kills most of them. Sarah shows such spunk that Merec keeps her as a hostage. His videotapes of her torture make her a media star, which provides momentum for a plan that will dupe the country and defile one of New York City's most sacred shrines. The videotapes alert Agent Tresler, an FBI man on Merec's trail, to what the killer has in mind, but he can't stop the horrifying act. Nor can he guess the unexpected kink in Merec's plan--for Merec falls for Sarah and offers her the chance to escape. She declines, having decided that she will have a more stimulating life with Merec than on her own. Her decision--while straining credulity--turns the tables as the captor meets his match. This is a clever and unusual thriller, unflinching in its violence, economic in its plotting and unpredictable in its psychological developments. (May)
Library Journal
Sarah Shepherd is a recent widow, devastated by the loss of her husband and filled with despair. She has been placed in a nursing home to recover from injuries suffered in the accident that killed him. A terrorist called Merec and his gang descend on the residents, mostly elderly, and as a form of torture, pair them up and ask each one which of the two he should kill. Sarah, who is in her early 50s, begs to be killed first. In his obsession with humiliation and control, Merec takes her hostage instead--videotaping his beatings and torture of her. He uses the videos and personal appearances by Sarah to appeal to the public for millions in ransom. Sarah refuses to break and refuses to escape; she is willing to accept his abuse as an alternative to returning to her misery and hopelessness. The relationship between Merec and Sarah unfolds at a breathless pace, and the listener is swept along with the relentless evil of Merec and Sarah's gutsy resistance. Even though there are quite a few clich s in the situations woven around these two compelling characters, Betty Buckley's excellent narration is so beautifully paced that the plot turns out to be just a background for this fascinating relationship. The deep tones and whispery quality of the narrator's voice are mesmerizing. Highly recommended for all fans of psychological thrillers.--Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Daphne Uviller
Morgenroth can unsettle even the most hardened viewers of the evening news...She works hard to create a complex, gory story and tie up nearly every detail in deliciously unpredictable ways. Although she keeps her language and meatphors simple sp as not to divert attention from the plot, Morgenroth still presents a thoughtful, suspensefulexploration of heroism, psychosis and the power of loneliness.
Time Out New York
Vanessa Friedman
Not since Hannibal Lecter has there been quite so seductively, sanely evil a killer as Merec, the Beezlebub of this debut thriller...[D]estructive. dangerous and compulsively readable.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
A merciless killer meets his match in the hostage he's snatched from a nursing home in Morgenroth's white-hot debut. The man called Merec has killed, by his own count, 82 people, but he never tires of staging scenes that pose his victims' impossible moral dilemmas. His favorite game is to pair prospective victims off and ask one of each pair which of the two he should kill. One day he and his crew (Tina the inside contact, Jeremy the obliging videotaper, etc.) descend on the Willowridge Rest Home in Virginia. When they pair off the clients and the available staff, every person they ask tells them to kill the other half of the pair—every person but Sarah Shepherd. Sarah, widowed by a car crash four months earlier, has been hopelessly apathetic until Merec comes along, but the defining moment he poses, faithfully captured on video, gives her a new lease on life. Instead of killing her, he takes her hostage and has her beaten and tortured on camera with the idea that sooner or later she'll break down and make a videotaped plea for a $10 million ransom the public, fascinated by her endlessly televised story, will queue up to help pay. But Sarah's made of sterner stuff than Merec thinks. Not only does she refuse to snap; she refuses, when the chance offers, to escape, insisting that she'd rather enjoy whatever employment Merec can offer her than endure her brief talk-show stint as a hero before returning to idle despair. Though Morgenroth tacks on her share of action clichés—the heartlessly jokey chapter titles, the justice agencies hopelessly at odds with each other, the scheming media mogul, the prison-house testimony that labels Merec evil—her unsparing take on fameand morality in contemporary America gives this exhilarating tale an unsettling edge. The rat-tat-tat-tat delivery recalls Speed laced with moral conundrums. Just don't get too attached to any of the minor characters.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061097744
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/01/2000
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
4.17(w) x 6.77(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

An Easy Target

A row of figures stood in an empty field in the brittle dawn air. As the sky lightened on the horizon, their outstretched arms began to shake with the weight of the pistols they held.

One man stood apart from the others. In a low, lightly accented voice, he issued the command: "Fire."

The shots were staccato.

The man spoke again. "Just targets this time," he said. "You know your bullet only strikes wood. How would you feel if that were flesh?"

There were nine lined up. They faced their plywood adversaries bravely, and at the order, they raised their arms again and cocked their weapons.

Torrenson stood with his pistol trained on the target and tried toget a glimpse of his companions without turning his head. He hadthought they would all look like thugs, but the one next to him was a scrawny boy with terrible acne, and the next one down was a woman.He shifted from one foot to the other and felt his black leather pants chafe against his thighs.

The speaker continued. "When you kill, you are extinguishing a life. A life exactly equal to yours. No better, no worse."

The edge of the sun burst over the horizon behind the targets and sent a ray straight into Torrenson's eyes. He raised his other hand to shield his face and tried to focus on the man's words. He knew that tense situations sometimes made the mind wander to trivial details; he had heard that in one of his training classes and had since discovered it to be true.

The man's voice changed with the rising sun; he spoke in a normal tone, almost casual. "It's easier to die for a cause than to kill for it. One makes you a martyr, the other, a monster."

Torrenson had little doubtabout this man in front of him. He was a monster--Torrenson had seen the file.

"Think about it carefully," the man said. "Can you kill? If youthink you can't, please speak up now." The man waited for a response,and when all remained silent, he gave the command for a second time."Fire," he said.

Torrenson noted that few shots hit the plywood targets. He coolly steadied his pistol and squeezed the trigger. The shape opposite vibrated with the impact.

The speaker paced along the line, squinting at the targets. "Nice shot," he said to Torrenson. Addressing the group he said, "It seems like others might be having trouble with the distance. That's all right, not all of you are marksmen. It's not a requirement of the job." The sun was full up over the horizon, brilliant and painful to look at. The speaker squinted into it for a moment, then turned back toward them abruptly.

"Well, maybe we can satisfy you with an easier target." In a couple of quick strides he reached the first two in the line--a man with ears that stood out from his head like jug handles and a big man standing next to him.

"Face each other."

Hesitantly, they obeyed the order.

"Take aim."

Neither moved. The man gently took the big one's pistol by the barrel and raised it to the other's forehead. Jug ears did the same immediately without prompting.

He moved down the line, arranging them with guns resting against each other's chests or nestled in the hollows of their throats.Each of the eight before Torrenson was paired. He was the only onewithout a partner.

The man came to stop in front of him. "Well, we seem to have an odd number. What do you think we should do about this?"

Torrenson shrugged, but his heart was plummeting into his stomach.

"Don't worry, we'll take care of it. I shall be your partner." He took a pistol from his pocket, raised it to Torrenson's forehead, and rested it lightly there.

Torrenson stood, frozen by that small circle of pressure about the size of a nickel. He knows, Torrenson thought. But there was nothing he could do about it now. He was vaguely aware of movement from the others in the line, a shifting, a tightening. Mechanically, he raised his arm.

The man smiled at him with white teeth, a little uneven on the bottom but otherwise perfect. From a distance his features had looked sharply chiseled, hard as flint. But now, close up, Torrenson could see the skin pouched thin and dry under his blue eyes.

"You give the word."

Torrenson realized the man was speaking to him. "Me?" His lips formed the word but no sound came out.

The man nodded, rocking the gun against his forehead. "On a count of three."

Torrenson wanted to know what the others were doing, but his vision had narrowed to the view of the eyes in front of him.

"Anytime," the man said quietly.

The sun felt warm on one side of his face. The other side was unbearably cold.

"One." Torrenson's voice was hoarse. He cleared his throat.

"Two." His voice was clearer, stronger.

"Three."

Shots rang out. Torrenson pulled the trigger and . . . nothing happened.He looked into the blue eyes so close to his own.

The man tightened his forefinger ever so slightly, and the gun exploded a moment after the rest. He had waited just long enough for Torrenson to realize that the outcome of the contest had been fixed.Torrenson's gun, as well as those of the other men who lay bleeding into the ground, had only two bullets. The rest--the ones who remained standing--had a full chamber.

The man spoke to the survivors. "You will bury your dead. The killing isn't done when the man lies on the ground in front of you. Go get bags from Karl." He gestured toward the truck that had been parked fifty yards away but now rolled to a halt beside him.

The man knelt by Torrenson's body, blood still pooling in the dust.He felt in the pockets of the black leather jacket. He found a set of keys and a pack of Trident gum. He tried the leather pants and came up with a bulky wallet. Glancing inside, he closed it and tapped it against his palm thoughtfully. Then he wiped it carefully against his sleeve, tucked it back in the pocket, and went to get a sack.

What People are saying about this

Erika Holzer
"Kate Morgenroth is that rarity in today's literary marketplace: a novelist who knows how to combine first class entertainment with a moral; who mixes searing suspense with a serious theme. That she does this in a first novel is a tribute to her thorough grasp of what makes good drama and memorable fiction. Cover up Kate's name and you can't tell if the arresting prose was written by a man or a woman (Ayn Rand took that as a great compliment about her own work). KILL ME FIRST is a breathtaking debut!"
Hilma Wolitzer
"This chilling and suspenseful tale of good and evil leaves the scent of sulfur in the air."
Les Standiford
"Not only a relentless, read-it-at-a-gulp thriller, but a dark, shimmering dream of dread as well, KILL ME FIRST will have you up late, long after you've turned the last page, pondering whether anything you've learned about good and evil can possibly hold. Had Flannery O'Connor wandered the desert forty days and forty nights with Jim Thompson, this is the story they might have told."

Meet the Author

Kate Morgenroth is the author of Kill Me First. Saved is her second novel. She lives in New York City. For more information check out her website at www.katemorgenroth.com.

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