The King of Swords

The King of Swords

3.5 4
by Nick Stone

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Miami, 1981. Cocaine Central. Murder Capital, USA.

A city about to catch fire.

Detective Max Mingus and his partner, Joe Liston, are anticipating a routine murder investigation when they are called to the scene of death at Miami's Primate Park—until the victim's family is found slaughtered, and a partly digested tarot card

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Miami, 1981. Cocaine Central. Murder Capital, USA.

A city about to catch fire.

Detective Max Mingus and his partner, Joe Liston, are anticipating a routine murder investigation when they are called to the scene of death at Miami's Primate Park—until the victim's family is found slaughtered, and a partly digested tarot card, the King of Swords, is discovered in the victim's stomach.

A trail that's growing bloodier by the hour is leading Max and Joe to the most powerful criminal in Miami: the infamous Solomon Boukman. Few have ever set eyes on the evil, intensely feared enigma, but rumors abound of voodoo ceremonies, dark rites, and friends in very high places. Malevolence is running rampant in a city choking on hatred, rage, and official corruption—as Max races to discover the terrifying truth about Boukman before death's shadow reaches his own front door.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

At the start of Stone's chilling second thriller, set in the early 1980s and the prequel to Mr. Clarinet(2007), Det. Sgt. Max Mingus and his black partner, Det. Joe Liston, think a decomposed body discovered in a primate park in Miami, Fla., is just one of the city's more bizarre murders. But when a tarot card-the ominous King of Swords-is found in the victim's stomach and his entire family killed, it's clear something darker is at work. The detectives are soon hot on the trail of a young Haitian pimp and his fortune-teller mother, who are thought to be linked to voodoo gang leader Solomon Boukman. Rumors abound about Boukman's human sacrifices and allegiance to the voodoo god of death, Baron Samedi, but few have actually seen his face. With police corruption rampant, Mingus and Liston realize that in order to take down Boukman, they'll have to hunt him alone. The violence is every bit as gruesome as in Clarinet, but Stone expertly harnesses it to propel his multilayered saga of good, evil and everything in between. (Dec.)

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Library Journal

A bizarre death in a Miami primate park sets the tone for Stone's second mystery (after Mr. Clarinet), which only gets stranger. What starts out as a standard murder investigation soon leads hard-boiled detective Max Mingus and his partner, Joe, into the underworld of Haitian voodoo. Their probe brings the partners into contact with a pimp, his tarot card-reading mother, a corrupt cop whom they can't sniff out, and an almost-mythical Haitian crime lord named Solomon Boukman. The Miami setting and Haitian voodoo backdrop give Stone's interesting noir thriller added weight. Mingus isn't an original antihero, but his bad habits and dedication to his profession make him an endearing character. This series entry builds on Stone's award-winning debut, with Mingus more complex this time and resulting in an even better read. Recommended for public libraries where crime fiction is popular.
—Craig Shufelt

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The King of Swords

Chapter One

It was the last thing he needed or wanted, a dead ape at the end of his shift, but there it was—a corpse with bad timing. Larry Gibson, one of the night security guards at Primate Park, stood staring at the thing spotlighted in his torch beam—a long-stemmed cruciform of black fur lying less than twenty feet away, face up and palms open on the grassy verge in front of the wire. He didn't know which of the fifteen species of monkey advertised in the zoo's product literature this one was, and he didn't care; all he knew was that he had some decisions to make and fast.

He weighed up what to do with how much he could get away with not doing: he could sound the alarm and stick around to help when and where and if he was needed; or he could simply look the other way and ignore King Kong for the ten remaining minutes of his shift. Plus he craved sleep. Thanks to some Marine-issue bennies he'd popped on Sunday night, he'd been awake for fifty-nine hours straight; his longest ever stretch. The most he'd lasted before was forty-eight hours. It was now Wednesday morning. He'd run out of pills and all the sleep he'd cheated and skipped out on was catching up with him, ganging up in the wings, getting ready to drop on him like a sack of wet cement.

He checked his watch. 5.21 A.M. He needed to get out of here, get home, get his head down, sleep. He had another job starting at one p.m. as a supermarket supervisor. That was for alimony and child support. This gig—cash in hand and no questions asked—was for body and soul and the roof over his head. He really couldn't afford to fuck it up.

Dr Jenny Gold had been dozing with the radio on when she got the phone call from the security guard in Sector i, nearest the front gate. Something about a dead gorilla, he'd said. She hoped to God it wasn't Bruce, their star attraction.

Jenny had been the head veterinarian at the zoo ever since it had opened, nine years before. Primate Park had been the brainchild of Harold and Henry Yik, two brothers from Hong Kong, who'd opened the place in direct competition to Miami's other primate-only zoo, Monkey Jungle. They'd reasoned that while Monkey jungle was a very popular tourist attraction, its location—South Dade, inland and well away from the beach and hotels—meant it was only doing about z 5 per cent of the business it could have done, had it been closer to the tourist dollars. So they'd built Primate Park from scratch in North Miami Beach—right next to a strip of hotels—making it bigger and, so they thought, better than the competition. At its peak they'd had twenty-eight species of monkey, ranging from the expected—chimps, dressed up in blue shorts, yellow check shirts and red sun visors, doing cute, quasi-human tricks like playing mini-golf, baseball and soccer; gorillas, who beat their chests and growled; baboons, who showed off their bright pink bald asses and bared their fangs—along with more exotic species, like dusky titi monkeys, rodent-like lemurs, and the lithe, intelligent brown-headed spider monkeys. Yet Primate Park hadn't really caught on as an alternative to Monkey Jungle. The latter had been around for close to forty years and was considered a local treasure, one of those slightly eccentric Miami landmarks, like the Ancient Spanish Monastery, South Beach's Art Deco district, Vizcaya, the Biltmore, and the giant Coppertone sign. The new zoo was seen as too cold, too clinical, too calculating. It was all wrong for the town. Miami was the kind of place where things only worked by accident, not because they were supposed to. The general public stayed away from the new zoo. The Yik brothers started talking about bulldozing Primate Park and converting it into real estate.

And then, last summer, Bruce, one of the four mountain gorillas they had, picked up the stub of a burning cigar a visitor had dropped near him and began puffing away at it, managing to blow five perfect smoke rings in the shape of the Olympic symbol every time he exhaled. Someone had taken pictures of him and sent them to a TV station, which had promptly dispatched a camera crew to the zoo. Bruce put Primate Park on the 6 o'clock news and, from that day on, in the public consciousness too. People flocked to the zoo just to see him. And they were still coming, most of them with cigars, cigarettes and pipes to toss to the gorilla, whose sole activities were now confined to chain-smoking and coughing. They'd had to move him to a separate area because his habit made him stink so much the other gorillas refused to go near him.

Jenny found it inhumane and cruel to do that to an animal, but when she'd complained to the brothers, they'd simply shown her the balance sheets. She was now looking for another job.

When she got to the control room she found the guard staring out of the thick shatterproof window.

'You the vet?' he asked when he saw jenny, his voice brimming with incredulity.

Jenny was petite and youthful in appearance, which led to some people—usually horny men and old ladies—mistaking her for a teenager. She was the only thirty-six-year-old she knew who still had to carry ID to get served in a bar.

'Yeah, I'm the vet,' she replied tetchily. She was already in a bad mood because of the election results. Ronald Reagan, a one-time B-movie actor, had won the White House last night. It was hardly unexpected, given Carter's catastrophic handling of the Iranian hostage crisis and the economy, among other things, but she had hoped the American people wouldn't be suckered into voting for Ronnie.

The King of Swords. Copyright © by Nick Stone. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Nick Stone is the author of Mr. Clarinet, winner of the Crime Writers' Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2006 and both the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel and the Macavity Award in 2007. He lives in London and Miami with his family.

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