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Midnight Rambler (Jack Carpenter Series #1)

Midnight Rambler (Jack Carpenter Series #1)

4.4 28
by James Swain

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Explosive. Pulse-pounding. Heart-racing. From the bestselling author The Wall Street Journal hails as “one terrific writer,” Midnight Rambler is the breakout thriller of the year–a brawny, brainy novel of suspense that pairs James Swain’s trademark smooth-as-silk prose with a plot bigger and bolder than anything he’s done


Explosive. Pulse-pounding. Heart-racing. From the bestselling author The Wall Street Journal hails as “one terrific writer,” Midnight Rambler is the breakout thriller of the year–a brawny, brainy novel of suspense that pairs James Swain’s trademark smooth-as-silk prose with a plot bigger and bolder than anything he’s done before.

In South Florida, Jack Carpenter is infamous. He’s the cop who busted the notorious serial killer Simon Skell–aka the Midnight Rambler–and sacrificed his badge and marriage in the process. Haunted by the Skell case, Carpenter now works as an abduction specialist in Fort Lauderdale, reuniting families with their missing children.

But the body of one of the Midnight Rambler’s victims has just been uncovered–and forensic evidence suggests Carpenter jailed the wrong man. With Skell just days away from release, the tarnished hero must reopen the case that shattered his life and the lives of eight murdered women.

As waves of heat and rain wash over the steamy streets, Carpenter races against the clock to reaffirm the case against Skell. Yet the deeper he digs, the more he starts to realize that Skell is just one piece in a terrifying puzzle of predation and murder, just one player in a shocking conspiracy that ranges across the state of Florida. And as the relentless Carpenter draws the net tighter, his enemies prepare to spring a devastating final surprise.

From the seaside bar that Jack Carpenter calls home to the glittering tourist kingdom in Orlando to the funky jungle of Coconut Grove, James Swain unleashes a wild ride into the heart of evil–with the Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Rambler” as the throbbing, terrifying soundtrack.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
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
Publishers Weekly

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
Kirkus Reviews
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!”
–Michael Connelly

“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

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Jack Carpenter Series , #1
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Random House
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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.

Meet the Author

James Swain is the author of seven bestselling novels. In 2006, he was awarded the prestigious Prix Calibre 36 for Best American Crime Fiction. He lives in Florida with his wife Laura.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Midnight Rambler (Jack Carpenter Series #1) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book sucks you in at the beginning and never lets go. Jack Carpenter is an ex-cop now working as a private investigator to find missing persons. Jack operates like Dirty Harry and treats the bad guys like the dirt they are. He has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to get them to talk, even if he has to shoot out their kneecaps. One thing that always bothered Jack was that he never got enough evidence on the victims of a serial killer (Skell) that was put away. It was only by chance that he was able to pin one of the victims murders on Skell. When the book begins there is new evidence that someone else may have killed the victim that Skell was convicted for. Jack is sure that Skell killed them all and must work hard to prove it before Skell is let out of prison. Jacks unorthodox style and clever deductive work lead him to locate a whole network that seems to be operating with Skell and if they are not caught, a new wave of serial murder/disappearances will start up. I could not put this book down and finished it in a couple of sittings!
Guest More than 1 year ago
There's still a lot of mileage to be gotten out of that old warhorse of a plot: the down-and-out, disgraced cop who proves his mettle and is vindicated. Throwing in a vicious serial killer and his nasty henchmen doesn't hurt the story either. An attempted kidnapping in a Disney theme park boosts this tale's adrenalin even further, and provides a surprising connection to the serial killer and his evil plans. This is a book you'll gobble up like a box of pricey chocolates - a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jack Carpenter is the protagonist, solving abduction & murder is his game. On the skids with almost everyone, he loses his cop job, his wife, his reputation, got no dough, one bad thing after another befalls him, but nothing deters him, except a couple of quick interludes for finding kidnapped children. He was chief of the abduction team in Boward County, Fl and quite good at it, thus the demand for his service in a pinch. Frustrated, and maligned, but not defeated he crawls from his hole, with the help of a key FBI agent, a horny old cop, the unconditional love of his daughter, and Buster his new dog and loyal companion. He copes and weathers many small battles, & ultimately the war. The Stones 'Midnight Rambler' will never sound the same. Tense and gripping a wild ride for sure. Located in South Florida, a travelogue is included.
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Awsome book evryone should read it.
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Mrjohnnybuck More than 1 year ago
My father recommended this book to me and I read it in two days. This will not be the last Swain book that I read. Liked the Carpenter character and I'm anxious to see where he goes from here.
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savethePandas More than 1 year ago
Woo-hoo! I am so happy. I have found another great author to follow. I love his writing style and the storyline. Jack Carpenter is a larger than life character. He is strong, yet broken. Benefit for me, the stories take place where I used to live! I can easily visualize exactly where the character is based on the descriptions in the book. I have read the other two books in this series and cannot wait for the fourth!!!! Get writing James Swain, I need the fourth book!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent Read, Could not put it down and I haven't had one of those authors in a long long time. If you have to put it down all you will think about is getting back to it. Jack Carpenter is the character 'Without a Trace' needs. Mr. Swain GIVE ME MORE...