No one would accuse James Swain of writing mandarin prose; in fact, he uses language with such blunt force he could be hammering in nails. But that's just the sort of directness you want in a story like Midnight Rambler, a sturdy thriller featuring Jack Carpenter, an ex-cop who finds missing children for understaffed police forces all over Florida.
The New York Times
Swain, author of the gambling crime series starring Tony Valentine (Grift Sense, etc.), avoids many of the clichés of the antisocial ex-cop novel in this chilling stand-alone. A specialist in finding missing children, former cop Jack Carpenter was fired from the force for assaulting a prisoner. Broke after a civil lawsuit and estranged from his wife and daughter, he's living in a seedy beachside apartment north of Miami, Fla., with his dog. Then Simon Skell (aka the "Midnight Rambler"), whom Carpenter helped convict for murdering prostitutes, is released from prison on a technicality. Determined to prove Skell guilty, Carpenter is frozen out by the cop on the case, but help comes from an FBI agent whose daughter vanished years earlier. The tension rises as the investigation widens far beyond Skell. Well-defined characters and intricately woven subplots, one involving a nail-biting scene at Disney World, make this a page-turner. 12-city author tour. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The creator of casino expert Tony Valentine (Mr. Lucky, 2005, etc.) produces a suspense crossover with plenty of good news and bad for both private eye Jack Carpenter and his readers. Simon Skell used the Rolling Stones's "Midnight Rambler" as the musical accompaniment to the gruesome murders of all seven of his victims before runaway teen Melinda Peters's testimony about his abduction and abuse of her, set to the strains of "Midnight Rambler," sent him to prison. Now the body of another Rambler victim, prostitute Carmella Lopez, has turned up, horribly, in the backyard of Carmella's sister Julie. A thorough police search earlier provides the strongest possible proof that whoever buried it there wasn't Samuel Skell. So public opinion, expertly manipulated by Skell's lawyer Leonard Snook and Skell's prison bride Lorna Sue Mutter, is baying for his release-a development likely to have dire consequences for both Melinda and Jack Carpenter, the Miami missing-persons specialist whose pursuit of the Rambler was so hard-nosed that it got him tossed off the force. Gone private, Jack is every inch the detective he used to be, and the episodes in which he tracks down his latest targets-a newborn snatched from a hospital, a child taken from Disney World-are thrilling. But Swain's two-steps-forward-one-step-back plotting, redolent as it may be of real-life missing-persons cases, makes for wobbly suspense. And although Jack is given believable relationships with his estranged wife and his basketball-playing daughter, his methodical approach to the conspirators he discovers behind the elaborate serial-molestation plot can make you wince even when you're doing your best to root for him. Instead of usinghis information to fence them in, he repeatedly loses his cool and goes up against them directly, the antagonists alternately beating and terrorizing each other. Even so, Jack's likely to be a hit with readers who fantasize about noble roughnecks, and a sequel, maybe even a series, seems assured. Agent: Chris Calhoun/Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.
From the Publisher
Praise for James Swain and Midnight Rambler
“Midnight Rambler is a heavy hitter, fast and spare. Travis McGee meets Philip Marlow.”
–Randy Wayne White, author of Hunter’s Moon
“Moves like a bullet train on overdrive . . . I tore through this one without putting on the brakes. I guarantee you will, too!”
“Midnight Rambler kept me up all night long, and Jack Carpenter is as appealing a hero as I’ve ever met. The only problem with Swain’s riveting thrillers is they end.”
–Tess Gerritsen, author of The Bone Garden
“Swain is one terrific writer.”
–The Wall Street Journal
Read an Excerpt
My cell phone awoke me from a deep sleep. I didn’t get a lot of calls. Especially in the middle of the night. Opening my eyes, I stared into the darkness of my rented room. Hanging on the ceiling above my head were the smiling faces of my wife and daughter. They were like after-images of my former life, and they ﬁlled me with sadness. Lifting my arm, I tried to touch them, only to watch them melt away. My phone continued to ring. Grabbing it off the night table, I stared at its face. Caller ID showed a 305 area code, which was Miami/Dade County. The only people I knew in Dade were cops. I decided to answer. “Carpenter here.”
“Jack, this is Tommy Gonzalez. Sorry to wake you up.”
“What time is it?”
“Six in the morning. I’m in a jam, Jack. I wouldn’t have called you otherwise.”
Tommy ran the Missing Persons Division of the Miami/Dade Police Department and had gotten his training under me during a stint he did in Broward. Although he was only a few years my junior, I still considered him a kid.
“I’m listening,” I said.
“We lost a newborn at Mercy Hospital this morning,” Tommy said.
A knifelike pain stabbed my gut. “Abduction?”
“That’s what it looks like. I need help. Are you available?”
“I’m giving testimony at a homicide trial tomorrow. I’m supposed to be spending the day preparing for it.”
“Is this about the Midnight Rambler?” Tommy asked.
Another pain jabbed my gut, this one much deeper. The Midnight Rambler was my last case as a detective, and it had ruined both my career and my personal life. Each day I awoke wondering if I’d ever escape its dark shadow.
“No, this is another murder case,” I said. “I can come down and help you, but I can’t stay all day.”
“That’s fantastic,” Tommy said. “What’s your going rate these days?”
I was wide awake now, and I propped my back against the wall, which was cool against my bare ﬂesh. My rent was due next week, and I was ﬂat broke.
“Four hundred and ﬁfty bucks,” I said.
“How’d you come up with that ﬁgure?”
“Need. Now tell me what happened.”
“Baby was born yesterday, name’s Isabella Marie Vasquez. Parents are a couple of well-known architects, built those fancy downtown skyscrapers that look like giant kid’s toys. Isabella got fed at four a.m. and was gone from her crib when a nurse checked ﬁfteen minutes later. None of the other newborns in the maternity ward were touched. I sent my best investigator, and she combed the ward and interviewed the nursing staff, doctors, and cleaning people. No one saw anything, heard anything, or knows anything.”
“Think it’s an inside job?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Tommy said, sounding exasperated. “Mercy is one of the best hospitals in south Florida. I go there every year with a group from NCMEC, and we lecture the staff and administrators on how to lessen the likelihood of an abduction. When it comes to protecting babies, they know their stuff.”
“So they’ve hardened the target.”
NCMEC, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, had done more to prevent child abductions than any other grassroots organization in the country. They lectured school and hospital staffs on how to make children safe, or what they called hardening the target. I didn’t like the sound of what Tommy had described, and climbed out of bed. My dog, sleeping beside me, got up as well.
“I’m leaving right now,” I said. “Depending on trafﬁc, I should be there within the hour.”
“Park in the back and come through the emergency door,” Tommy said.
From the Hardcover edition.