Murder Book

Murder Book

by Richard Rayner

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Billy McGrath is an enigma. He's a philosopher turned homicide detective, one of L.A.'s best. Broke and deeply unhappy, he's a loner whose dedication to the job cost him the woman he still loves and the daughter he'd die for. An honest man, for fifteen years McGrath has tried to do the right thing, sticking by the rules despite the injustices of a corrupt system.


Billy McGrath is an enigma. He's a philosopher turned homicide detective, one of L.A.'s best. Broke and deeply unhappy, he's a loner whose dedication to the job cost him the woman he still loves and the daughter he'd die for. An honest man, for fifteen years McGrath has tried to do the right thing, sticking by the rules despite the injustices of a corrupt system. But all that's about to change.

It seemed like a routine assignment — a woman dead on a kitchen floor in a seamy neighborhood. But the victim's son is L.A.'s biggest drug lord, and now he's made McGrath an irresistible offer: $1 million for the name of the killer. Making the wrong choice for the right reasons, McGrath is about to initiate his own ruin, a fall from grace that will lead him to the truth and to bittersweet redemption — a riveting ride through the darkness of a tarnished city, and into the deepest folds of his own soul.

Editorial Reviews

People Magazine
Edgy, bullet-hard tale...Rayner evinces his special feel for the dark alleys of the psyche.
NY Times Book Review
Fast-paced prodedural [with] unusual psychological depth.
Boston Globe
A masterful piece of detective fiction, a fast-paced thriller crammed with subplots that mesh together seamlessly and with characters, major and minor, that leap off the page spitting fire.
Detroit Free Press
Its intricate plot makes it impossible to put down.
Time Out New York
Make preparations to put your life on hold: This book doesn't allow for interruptions.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
On my short list for this year's Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel. It is dark, violent, poetic and vital, a rueful and yet hopeful examination of the human condition. Simply marvelous — rich, demanding and rewarding.
Chicago Tribune
Murder Book makes a fitting companion to L.A. Confidential — the book and movie — as it walks the same emotional beat as James Ellroy's LAPD, only 40 years later.
Midwest Book Review
A fast-paced, morally-driven novel. His best book to date.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in a monsoon-drenched L.A., Rayner's third novel (Los Angeles Without a Map) is a taut, intricately plotted thriller in which the city itself is suffused with miasmic evil. Everyone, from drug dealers to movie stars and celebrity doctors, is interconnected, and no one is really innocent. Half-British and educated in philosophy at an unnamed Cambridge-like university, star homicide detective Billy McGrath is divorced but still in love with his ex-wife. Desperate to atone for a past affair and to prove he can be a good provider for his 11-year-old daughter, Billy is ripe for the temptation that appears when the 45-year-old mother of the biggest cocaine dealer in town turns up murdered. Dealer Ricky Lee Richards offers Billy a cool million for the name of the killer. In Rayner's L.A., everyone and every crime seems to be linked: Ricky Lee, for example, associated with an O.J.-like movie star who killed his wife. The whole cityscape is pulsing, jittery, just this side of total anarchy. A not-guilty verdict in the movie star's trial shatters Billy's faith in the system. In a harrowing transformation, McGrath sheds his law-enforcing persona and becomes an avenger. He takes the money and schemes to set killer against killer, justifying the violence he spawns as good because justice has become a joke. While Rayner's prose is occasionally too hardboiled, as if it's parodying pulp detective novels, these missteps are rare. Mostly the novel has just the right punch, and its portraits of the contemporary American city gone bad are oddly moving.
Library Journal
In Rayner's new thriller, a disillusioned L.A. cop makes a huge mistake when he's offered a cool million by the city's biggest crack dealer to name the man who murdered his mother. Rayner, who detailed the joys of petty thievery in The Blue Suit (LJ 8/95), probably hopes that this book is good enough to steal.
Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious and dauntingly convoluted noir-derived thriller from the author of The Elephant (1992) and the penitential memoir The Blue Suit (1995).

Its protagonist and narrator, Billy McGrath, is a former philosophy student and now head of the LAPD's homicide division. Turned 40, divorced from the woman he still loves (herself a former cop, paralyzed in a shooting incident) and fumbling to be a decent father to his beloved preadolescent daughter, Billy takes very personally his latest case, the brutal torture murder of a local drug dealer's apparently innocent mother ("I thought," Billy muses, "that if I could stop something like this from happening even once . . . then being a police officer would be worthwhile"). Not a chance. While compiling documentary evidence for the "murder book" the department keeps on (aforementioned victim) Mae Richards, Billy uncovers a snake's nest of erotic, political, and more generally criminal intrigue (not excluding his own corruptibility) that acquaints him with an O.J. Simpsonlike celebrity acquitted for his wife's murder, an obstetrician burdened by dubious medical (and other) ethics, and a wonderfully cold- blooded goon named Tookie Cross — and mushrooms into several more ingeniously nauseating killings. It's all highly readable, and quite capably plotted — despite embarrassingly close echoes of Chinatown, The Silence of the Lambs, any number of Dashiell Hammett novels, and, most egregiously, Richard Price's vastly superior Clockers. Furthermore, Billy McGrath is immensely likable in his innate decency and credibly human fallibility, but Rayner dilutes this fine characterization by allowing Billy to quote eminent sages at absurdly inappropriate junctures (e.g., while interrogating a suspect: "Robert, do you know what Jung and William James had to say about human personality?").

Murder Book will make a hell of a TV miniseries, but it's too derivative and miscalculated to be a really effective novel. Not a bad try, but not the big one Rayner was obviously aiming for.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.14(w) x 6.66(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My name is Billy McGrath. I'm forty years old, a little under six feet, and find myself in my office late on this sulfurous LosAngeles night, talking to a tape recorder out of both sides of my mouth. I'm half American, half English--offspring of twonations, two languages, and two different ways of seeing the world. I was conceived in Arizona, born on the sixth floor of SantaMonica Hospital, but made my first confession in England, where I learned to shoot among dry stone walls old as Julius Caesarand studied philosophy three years at the university of a northern town dominated by a soot-blackened cathedral on a hill,medieval reminder of man's lofty aspiration and worldly impermanence.

It was a scholarship that brought me back to America, to study postgrad at UCLA, though the Ph.D. was already out of thepicture by the time I met my wife, from whom I'm now divorced, at Marty McFly's sports bar off Interstate 5 in Burbank with aJack Daniel's in my hand only three days before she saved my life. We have a kid, a girl, Lucy, and we used to live together in atwo-story house that was painted muddy brown on one of those walk streets in Venice where you can't park a car. After Imoved out, my wife had the house remodeled and it's now a pretty blue. I'm a cop, though it's a while since I had anything to dowith law and order.

Hanging from the ceiling in my office is a redwood sign that says HOMICIDE and has on it a little picture of a smoking gun, a 9mm, lest I forget. Spinning in my chair, I see the locked filing cabinets that surround my desk on three sides. These cabinets, verydifferentfrom the wrecked metal models elsewhere in the building, are custom made from pine by a carpenter in Mar Vista, aguy who also makes coffins, as it happens, and, perceiving an appropriate symmetry, offers the Department a rate.

The cabinets gleam and shine; there are eight of them, each six feet high by three feet wide, each containing seven shelves, andeach shelf in turn supporting thirty two-inch blue plastic binders, the murder books, the records of every homicide investigationin the precinct. Some have a red dot on the spine -- unsolved, still in progress. Those with the yellow dots we've closed: arrived atperpetrator and motive, teased out the causes of obvious or sometimes seemingly random events, brought order if not meaningto bloody chaos. Seven of the cabinets are completely filled. Only the one immediately at my back has any space left in it atall -- two empty shelves. At my feet there's an open box containing a stack of handsome new binders, ready to go, but it's behindme that I reach, for one book in particular.

Before opening it, I want to mention that my very first homicide wasn't here, in Venice, but down in South LA, Sixty-fifty andVernon, a nice-looking wood frame house next to a host of similars and every one of them had bars on every window. Twovictims. First was a black guy, the back of his head taken away by a cross-nosed bullet. Second was his white girlfriend; she'dbeen shot in the face, and both her arms had been hacked off. The shovel that was used for the job was on the floor amidst abutcher's mess of blood and bone. One skinny white arm lay next to it, and we never did find the other or figure out thatparticular detail, though the really bad thing was the little girl, a child of mixed blood, two years old and fine, at least notphysically hurt. She'd been strapped in her highchair with her mouth taped shut so she couldn't scream while she saw the deathof her mother and father.

I was just a rookie, a raw recruit, a boot, a uniform at the door trying not to get his feet in the mess, but when I went home thatnight the soles of my boots were clogged with blood and a dried grayish matter I realized must be brain. I sat at the kitchen tableto clean them off and asked myself how such things could happen. I wondered at what point an act became evil. How bad andpremeditated did it have to be? I swore that I'd keep in contact with that little girl every six months or so to make sure that shewas OK. I made good on the promise until she was a six-year-old with pigtails who still refused to talk, but then for no goodreason I can remember I missed an appointment, then another and another, until at last I felt embarrassed to go back.

I don't want to make too much of this, though I think the story, along with my lack of the proper equipment of roots, mymissing of that cathedral on a hill, does have a bearing on all that happened. I grew too used to seeing evil done. You begin bytrying to make a difference and end by doing it yourself, though even that sounds like casting around. At forty I had twentyyears' English and twenty American, which might be to say that I had nothing.

Murder Book. Copyright © by Richard Rayner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Born in England, Richard Rayner now lives in Los Angeles. His previous books include the memoir The Blue Suit and the novels The Cloud Sketcher, L.A. Without a Map, and Murder Book. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and many other publications.

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