—Lansing State Journal
“Starts on an adrenaline high and never loses steam. [James] Swain excels at sturdy storytelling and intelligent plotting.”
—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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The past has come back to haunt P.I. Jack Carpenter, former head of the Broward County Missing Persons Unit. As a young cop he failed to stop the kidnapping of a college coed by a shockingly large assailant—and neither victim nor attacker was ever seen again. But eighteen years later, when his daughter, Jessie, asks him to bird-dog a creep who&rsquo
The past has come back to haunt P.I. Jack Carpenter, former head of the Broward County Missing Persons Unit. As a young cop he failed to stop the kidnapping of a college coed by a shockingly large assailant—and neither victim nor attacker was ever seen again. But eighteen years later, when his daughter, Jessie, asks him to bird-dog a creep who’s been shadowing her college basketball team, Carpenter’s pursuit of the voyeur leads him smack into another run-in with his old nemesis, who abducts one of Jessie’s teammates. With the assistance of the kidnap victim’s tycoon father and precious little time before the trail goes cold, Jack and his dog, Buster, hit the ground running—following a twisted trail from the ruins of a shuttered mental asylum with an infamous past to the streets of a sinister small town with a ghastly secret.
Cops aren’t supposed to get frightened. The badge and the uniform and the gun strapped to a cop’s side are intended to ward off the normal fears that most people experience when confronted by unspeakable horror and evil.
But it doesn’t always work out that way. Cops get scared, just like everyone else. Sometimes they get so scared, they run for their lives. Other times, they get shaken to the core and never forget the things they’ve seen. It happened to me, two years into the job.
I was going home in my cruiser when I got the distress call. A woman was being assaulted at the Sunny Isle apartment complex, and a neighbor had called 911. Sunny Isle was a mile from where I lived, so I took the call.
According to the dispatcher, a college student named Naomi Dunn was being assaulted by a man inside her apartment. It had sounded like a domestic disturbance, something I’d dealt with many times as a cop. When the dispatcher had asked if I wanted backup, I’d said no, I could handle the situation. The dispatcher had told me to proceed with caution.
I arrived at Sunny Isle a few minutes later. Four orange stucco buildings made up the complex, with entrances from each apartment facing a courtyard containing a pool and a children’s play area. It had started to rain, and there were white caps on the water.
I searched for a place to park. The lot was filled with junkers, many with student tags. Several had bumper stickers that said Clinton in ’92! I’d read about the Arkansas governor’s run for president, and didn’t think he had a chance.
I parked and got out of my cruiser. There was a yellow rain slicker in the trunk, but I didn’t bother to retrieve it. I was a native, and was used to getting drenched by the occasional downpour.
Walking into the courtyard, I scanned the unmarked stucco buildings. They were quiet, and I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I walked around for a few minutes, then decided to leave. It had been a long day, and I wanted to eat dinner with my wife and two- year- old daughter, then hit the books. I was studying to become a detective, and the lengthy test was weighing heavily on my mind.
A ghostlike woman materialized by the pool. Dressed in a simple black housedress, her soaking wet hair was plastered to her head.
“Did you call the police?” I asked.
“That was me.”
Her voice was trembling, and she was shaking from head to toe. I couldn’t tell if there was something wrong with her, or if she was just plain scared.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Earlier I saw a large man lurking around the complex. Then I heard noises from Naomi Dunn’s apartment. She was screaming, so I called nine- one- one.”
“Is Naomi Dunn still in her apartment?”
“Yes.” The woman pointed at the last building, on the ground floor. “He’s still in there, hurting her.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“No, but he was huge.”
I started to walk toward the building, and the ghostly woman called after me.
“Take your gun out,” she said.
The words made me freeze. I’d been trained not to draw my weapon unless my life was being threatened. The tone of her warning said that it was. Unstrapping my holster, I rested my hand on my gun’s handle.
“Please go inside your apartment and lock your door,” I said.
I waited until the woman was in her apartment before I approached Dunn’s apartment, and put my ear to the door. There was banging and shoving inside, the sounds loud enough to be heard over the rain. I knocked and stepped back.
When no one answered, I went to the window, and peeked through the flimsy curtains. The apartment’s interior was a disaster area, with furniture uplifted and an upside down TV set on the floor with Dan Rather’s smiling face. A bloodstain on the wall made me shudder, a bloody hand dragged across the wall. It didn’t look like any domestic disturbance I’d ever seen.
Movement in the rear of the apartment caught my eye. Down the hallway and through an open door, a twenty- something woman stood inside a bedroom. Blond and powerfully built, she was throwing vicious kicks and punches at a person I could not see. The rapidity of the blows told me that she was schooled in self- defense, and made me wonder if the blood I’d seen had come from the person she was hitting.
I instinctively relaxed. I assumed this was Naomi Dunn, and could see that she was holding her own with her assailant. I had arrived just in time.
I drew my weapon and approached the door. I’d joined the police force because I thought I could make a difference. Twenty- four months into the job, and that still hadn’t happened. But tonight was going to be different. I was going to save a young woman before something awful happened to her. I had never been more ready in my life.
I tested the door’s handle. It was locked, and I lifted my leg and kicked three inches above the knob. The door splintered but did not come down. As I lifted my leg to kick it again, the door opened into my face. I heard my nose break, and flew backward to the ground. I lay on my back with raindrops splashing on my face. My gun had left my hand and was lying somewhere nearby. Fighting the urge to pass out, I lifted my head, and saw a giant emerge from the apartment carrying an unconscious Dunn over his shoulder. From my vantage point it was hard to tell exactly how big he was. What registered was how small Dunn looked in comparison. She was a big woman, yet looked tiny slung over his shoulder.
“Police,” I muttered. “You’re under arrest.”
The giant gazed down at me, his face round and bloodied. He had wild eyes and pursed lips, and reminded me of the crazies that I often encountered on the mean streets of Fort Lauderdale. When he spoke, the words only confirmed my suspicion.
“Pigs don’t come to the party,” he said.
“Let her go.”
“No. She’s mine.”
Laughing, he walked around the corner of the apartment building and disappeared. I pulled myself up to a sitting position and looked for my gun. In the distance I heard tires squealing on wet asphalt. I wiped away the blood coming out of my nose. I was hurting, yet none of that really mattered. I’d failed to stop him. I hadn’t made a difference at all.
“Officer! Officer!” The ghostly woman had appeared again, and was kneeling beside me. “He got away. I saw him throw Naomi into the back of a green van.”
“Did you get a license number?” I asked.
She brought her hand to her mouth. “No.”
I pulled myself to my feet and leaned against the open doorway. The world was spinning, and I felt ready to pass out. “Go to your apartment, and call nine- one- one. Tell them to hurry.”
The woman hurried away. Soon sirens pierced the air. They snapped me back to reality, and to the sad fact of how miserably I’d failed to do my job. Because I’d let my guard down, a young woman was lying unconscious in the back of a van.
I went to the parking lot to meet the responding officers. What had just happened would haunt me, and I promised myself that I would track this crazy bastard down.
I hadn’t known how long that would take.
The ceiling of my rented room was spinning.
My pillow was soaked with sweat, as were the sheets, and my heart was racing a hundred miles an hour. Next to me, my dog Buster was licking my face.
Sitting up, I leaned against the cool plaster wall behind my bed. Sunlight streamed through the slats in the windows, and I listened to the cawing of seagulls scrapping for food on the beach.
I looked at the night table beside my bed. Lying on it was a stack of missing person reports. After becoming a detective, I’d run the Broward County Sheriff’s Department’s brand -new Missing Persons Unit. I’d run the unit for sixteen years before being kicked off the force two years ago. The reports were copies of files that had gone unsolved during my tenure. Every few months I reread them, just to see if there was something I’d missed.
Before going to bed, I’d reread Naomi Dunn’s report. It had been the first case I’d worked when I’d joined Missing Persons, and was the reason that I’d chosen to work that unit, and not Homicide or Vice, which had also been available at the time. I considered myself responsible for what had happened to Dunn, yet now, eighteen years later, I knew no more about her disappearance than I did back then.
The file contained a profile of Dunn’s abductor written by the CSI team who’d examined the crime scene. Based on the abductor’s shoe prints, and the neighbor’s and my own eyewitness accounts, he was six feet ten inches tall, and weighed three hundred pounds. He was also crazy. This was based upon my own observations, and the fact that Dunn, a second- degree black belt, had knocked out two of his front teeth, which had been found in her apartment. A person in his right mind would have run away from Dunn, yet her attacker had not.
Dunn’s abductor should have been easy to find, only the opposite had been true. No crazed giants existed on the books of any Florida police departments, nor any hospitals or mental wards. Over time, I’d extended my search, and contacted police departments and mental hospitals around the country.
I’d found only one match.
His name was Ed Kemper. Kemper was a giant and a sociopath. He’d shot his grandparents at fourteen, then murdered his mother, her best friend, and six other women. By the time I found him, Kemper was serving seven consecutive life sentences in a Vacaville, California, prison and could not have abducted Dunn.
Eighteen years of looking, all dead ends.
I opened Dunn’s file on my lap. Its pages were dog- eared from use. Nearly every page had my handwritten notes scribbled in the margins. Although we’d never met, I had developed a bond with Dunn, and felt like I knew her.
I studied the crime scene photos taken at the apartment. Blood from the abductor’s wounds had been found in every room. I’d sent the DNA to the FBI, who’d stored it in CODIS, a computer system that contained the DNA of a quarter million known violent criminals. Hopefully a match would someday be made, and Dunn’s abductor would be brought to justice.
Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” floated across my room. It was the ring tone to my cell phone, a birthday present from my daughter, Jessie. I grabbed the phone off the night table. Caller ID said candy.
Detective Candice Burrell now ran Missing Persons, and was a friend. I made my living these days finding missing kids for police departments, and I was hoping she was calling with a job.
“Hello Detective Burrell,” I said.
“Am I glad you answered,” Burrell said. “I’m in a real jam. Are you busy?”
“My calendar’s wide open.”
“I’m at the courthouse waiting to give testimony in a trial, and I just got a call that an eight- year- old autistic boy has gone missing from Lakeside Elementary School. I need you to go find him.”
I slipped out of bed. A rumpled pair of cargo pants and a Tommy Bahama shirt lay on the floor. Within seconds they were hanging from my body.
“The boy’s name is Bobby Monroe, and he disappeared from his classroom about a half hour ago,” Burrell went on. “Four uniforms are at Lakeside now, and don’t have a clue as to where this kid went. They think he might have been abducted.”
As a cop, I’d dealt with many missing autistic kids. They were seldom targets for abductors, and I had a feeling something else was going on.
“Is the school locked down?” I asked.
“Yes. That was the first thing the principal did.”
“Good. Is Bobby Monroe in a special class for autistic children, or is he mainstreamed?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Many schools in Broward have autistic kids sit in regular classes with nonautistic kids. It helps develop them socially.”
“I think he’s in a regular class.”
“What’s his teacher saying?”
“The regular teacher is sick. There’s a substitute teacher today, and she’s freaking out.”
Autistic children often became distressed by simple changes in their daily routine, such as a change in classrooms or teachers, or even moving something on their desk, like a pencil or an eraser. The picture was getting clearer.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” I said. “The appearance of the substitute upset Bobby, so he took off. Most autistic kids go to confined spaces to vent their anger. Bobby could be hiding in a closet, or maybe squeezed himself into a refrigerator.”
“Tell the uniforms at the school to start looking in every hidden space they can find. Also tell them not to call out Bobby’s name. He’ll hear them, and only make himself harder to find.”
“How soon can you be there?” I grabbed my gun off the night table, and slipped it into the concealed holster in my pants pocket.
“Give me fifteen minutes,” I said.
“You’re a lifesaver,” Burrell said.
James Swain, winner of the prestigious Prix Calibre 38 for Best American Crime Fiction, is the bestselling author of nine previous novels. He lives with his wife, Laura, in Florida, where he is currently at work on his next novel.
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When. Jack Carpenter was just two years on the force of Broward County's Sheriff Department, he handled a 911 call of a woman being assaulted in her apartment at Sunny Isles. He kicked in the door only to have the huge assailant hammer him breaking his nose as the giant tells him no pigs at his party. He leaves with Naomi Dunn. Eighteen years later that case remains cold except in Jack's nightmares. No longer with the police after being forced out for beating up a suspect, the former head of Broward County Sheriff Department's Missing Persons Unit still reads unsolved cases hoping to find an edge including the Dunn case in which the culprit was 6'10", 300 pounds and the victim a second degree black belt who kicked out two of his teeth yet failed like Jack to stop him. After wrestling with an alligator to rescue an autistic child, Jack gets a call from his daughter Jessie, who plays basketball at Florida State and is in town for a regional NCAA tournament game. She tells him about a stalking videographer who frightens her and her teammates with his persistence. He meets Mouse and Lonnie the giant who has haunted him all these years. This time the target is Sara Long, the Seminoles leading scorer. He failed once but vows not again to capture the killer. In his incredibly fast-paced third case (see MIDNIGHT RAMBLER and NIGHT STALKER), private investigator Jack Carpenter refuses to allow a second abduction to haunt him like the first one still does. In spite of Lonnie nearly killing him a couple times and his frequent trips to the hospital, he refuses to quit. The help from Sara's dad Karl and FBI friend, Ken Linderman (whose daughter was abducted), add to a terrific action-packed one sitting thriller. Harriet Klausner
Swain's character of Carpenter has been very interesting and keeps you wanting to read more. This book I would recommend to anyone who likes to read mysteries.
Very few books keep me up all night to finish, this was one of them. A true page turner with all of the elements to keep you interested and up all night. I have started reading all of his novels now, and each one is joy.
I love the jack carpender series and this book surely doesn't disappoint. it had me hanging on every word. I can't wait for the next book in the series.
this is a fast moving story. I could not put it down. Looking forward to reading more by James Swain. I love the fact that it just keep me intriged and found myself rooting for Jack Carpenter. Ending was fantastic.
Great book, very easy read.
I am also a big fan of Swain's previous books. This book is his best. The action is non-stop and the characters are achingly believable. The author knows Florida and he knows how to keep the reader turning the pages. My local newspaper did an article talking about how Swain researches his books talking to people in the Justice Department who find missing kids. The research shows -- the story is filled with fascinating information about how law enforcement finds missing people. Highly recommended.
Let me preface this by saying that I'm a big fan of Mr. Swain's Tony Valentine series. That said, he should really stick to the "casino noir." The characters in those books are much more likeable and a whole lot more believable. As a matter of fact, the cameo by Tony Valentine in "The Night Monster" is the only worthwhile part of the book. Without it, I would have given it 0 stars. Jack Carpenter is not a very likeable guy. I'm sorry, but that's important. What makes Tony Valentine so engaging is his relationships with his son, daughter-in-law and secretary. Over the course of three books, Carpenter has shown none of this. We keep hearing about his long suffering ex-wife, but she didn't even have a speaking part in the latest entry of this series. His relationship with his daughter also seems strained and distant. I just can't root for the guy. Which is a shame, because finding missing kids is truly God's work. I guess he is the smartest ex-cop ever. Just ask him. And he wrestles alligators, too! Gimme a break. I realize it's Florida and the character is part Seminole, but its a silly stereotype. When he recovered the jewelry for the "Seven Dwarfs" at the very first pawn shop he entered, I almost threw the book in the garbage. He must be psychic, too. Has the author done any research with real cops? His villains are getting more and more ridiculous. A giant? PUH-LEEZE. Grow up. An abandoned mental institution? Try reading "Shutter Island" to see that setting in the hands of a professional. Let me reiterate that I love Mr. Swain's Tony Valentine series. Let's hope he gets back to it as soon as possible. He should leave the darker stuff in the hands of the Dennis Lehanes of the literary world.