“A superb thriller: Travis McGee meets Philip Marlowe.”—Randy Wayne White, author of Black Widow
“A compelling, complex hero. . . . Swain’s sturdy storytelling and his intelligent plotting excel in The Night Stalker.”—Orlando Sentinel
The Night Stalker (Jack Carpenter Series #2)by James Swain
Just days away from execution, Abb Grimes reaches out to ex-cop Jack Carpenter with a surprising request. Despite the fact that Carpenter was instrumental in putting the notorious serial killer behind bars, the doomed convict now wants Carpenter to find his missing grandson. The cops are convinced that the boy’s father–Abb’s troubled son,
Just days away from execution, Abb Grimes reaches out to ex-cop Jack Carpenter with a surprising request. Despite the fact that Carpenter was instrumental in putting the notorious serial killer behind bars, the doomed convict now wants Carpenter to find his missing grandson. The cops are convinced that the boy’s father–Abb’s troubled son, Jed–is behind his disappearance, but Jack’s not so sure. And yet, when the evidence in a gruesome murder leads straight to Jed, the question must be asked: Have the unspeakable sins of his father taken root in this disturbed young man? Searching through an underworld of predators, assembling the jagged pieces of a depraved puzzle, Jack Carpenter is desperate to catch a ruthless killer before he strikes again.
“A superb thriller: Travis McGee meets Philip Marlowe.”—Randy Wayne White, author of Black Widow
What crime fiction fan can resist a guy who isn't afraid to knock a few slime-bag heads when no one is watching? In Swain's fine second suspense novel to feature South Florida PI Jack Carpenter (after Midnight Rambler), imprisoned serial killer Abb Grimes hires the tough, unrelenting ex-cop to find his kidnapped grandson, Sampson Grimes. The chief suspect is the child's father, Jed Grimes, but Jack thinks Jed is innocent, even though the evidence suggests otherwise. There's plenty of action and intelligent sleuthing, but it's Jack's uncompromising character and Swain's equally uncompromising writing that will keep readers turning pages and eager for the next installment: "I'd visited many prisons, and the smell was always the same: a choking mixture of piss, shit, fear, and desperation, wiped down by harsh antiseptics." The winner of France's Prix Calibre 38, Swain is also the author of Deadman's Bluff and six other books in his Tony Valentine gambling series. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Read an Excerpt
Noise was one of the few things that moved freely inside a prison. The haunting echo of my own footsteps followed me down the long, windowless corridor inside the maximum security wing of Florida State Prison in Starke. I’d visited many prisons, and the smell was always the same: a choking mixture of piss, shit, fear, and desperation, wiped down by harsh antiseptics. Walking through an electronically operated steel door, I was patted down by two stone-faced guards. Satisﬁed that I was not carrying weapons or contraband, they passed me off to a smirking inmate with a hideous purple birthmark on the side of his face. He took off at a brisk pace, and I followed him into the cellblock that housed death row inmates. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Garvin,” he replied, not breaking stride. “What are you in for?” “I shot up my family during Thanksgiving dinner.” I walked past the cells in death row with my eyes to the ﬂoor, feeling their occupants’ presence like a ﬁst pounding on my back. When we arrived at an empty cell, Garvin slid back the door, and stepped to one side. “Wait inside here,” he said.
“What if no one comes?” I asked.
“Make some noise, and I’ll come get you.”
I entered the cell, a ten-by-ten concrete square with two wood benches anchored to the ﬂoor, and a small wood table. Garvin slammed the door behind me, making me jump. He chuckled as he walked away.
I took the bench nearest the door, and stuck a piece of gum into my mouth. I chewed so hard it made my jaw ache. I’d put scores of bad guys into Starke, and I didn’t want to be here any longer than I had to.
I stared at the table. Inmates were not supposed to have anything sharp, but the table said otherwise. Names and dates and ugly epithets were carved into every inch of wood. One name stood out over the others.
I had been involved in Abb’s case, and I knew his story. A Fort Lauderdale native, he’d quit high school at seventeen, done a stint in the navy, gotten married and had a kid, and gone to work driving a newspaper delivery truck–an ordinary guy, except that he liked to kill young women.
Abb’s killings followed a pattern. Late at night, he left his house, and walked to the neighborhood grocery. There, he’d hidden behind the Dumpsters. When a young homeless woman would show up looking for food, he’d drag her into the woods, rape and strangle her, then stuff her body in a large garbage bag, tossing her into a Dumpster.
As mass murders went, it was nearly perfect. The victims were women no one cared about, and the bodies were disposed of for him. It might have gone on forever, only one night a surveillance camera ﬁlmed Abb with the body of a victim draped in his arms. As was his custom, the store manager viewed the tape the next morning. Seeing Abb, he called 911.
The police found the woman’s body in the Dumpster. They got a search warrant for Abb’s home and in his garage they found a cardboard box containing women’s underpants. Each of the pairs was different.
Their next stop was the Pompano Beach landﬁll, where trash in Broward County was taken. Using earth movers and cadaver dogs, they’d moved several acres of trash, digging up the bodies of seventeen strangled women.
Eleven of the women were carrying ID. As head of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department’s Missing Persons unit, it had been my job to contact their families. It had been one of the hardest things I’d ever done.
The remaining six women were still Jane Does. I had hoped to identify them one day, and put their memories to rest. Only I’d lost my job after beating up a suspect, and never gotten it done.
It ate at me.
Hearing footsteps, I went to the cell door. Wearing leg irons and handcuffs and ﬂanked by two guards, Abb shufﬂed down the hall. Tall and powerfully built, he had an angular jaw and dark, deeply set eyes. During his trial, the prosecution had called him “The Night Stalker,” which had been a TV show that had lasted one season. It had scared the hell out of everyone who’d seen it. The nickname ﬁt.
“Stand back,” a guard ordered.
I retreated, and the three men entered. Abb dropped down on the opposing bench and looked at the ﬂoor, while the two guards remained standing.
An attractive brunette clutching a leather briefcase came in next. She was young and looked a little scared, and I found myself admiring her. It took guts for a woman to enter a prison ﬁlled with a thousand hardened criminals.
“I’m Piper Stone, Abb’s attorney,” she said.
“Jack Carpenter,” I said.
“Thank you for coming.”
We sat on the bench, and faced Abb. As strange as it sounded, he was my client, so I waited for him to start. Abb cleared his throat. He had a voice like gravel, and I guessed he didn’t use it much.
“I’m going to die soon,” Abb said. “Did my lawyer tell you that?”
“No, she didn’t,” I said.
“They’re going to execute me in four days,” Abb said. “Think you can ﬁnd my grandson before then?”
Abb’s grandson, three-year-old Sampson Grimes, had disappeared from his bedroom three nights ago. I’d read about it in the Fort Lauderdale newspapers, and knew that the police had been stymied in their efforts to locate him.
“I’m going to try,” I said. “Now, why don’t you tell me what happened.”
“I get an hour each day to exercise in the yard,” Abb said. “Two days ago, a photograph of my grandson and a ransom note got slipped into my back pocket. I didn’t see who did it.”
“Do you still have the note and photo?” I asked.
“I gave them to Ms. Stone.”
I looked at Stone. “I’d like to see them.”
Stone unclasped her briefcase and handed me the items. The photo showed a tow-headed little boy with a face like the Gerber baby lying on a blanket. His clothes looked clean, as did his face and hands, and his eyes showed no sign of fear. I took these as a sign that his captor was not abusing him. Lying on the blanket was a copy of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel with the date prominently displayed. It was a trick used by kidnappers to show that their victims were still alive.
I shifted my attention to the ransom note. Written in pencil, it said, “Stop talking to the FBI or Sampson will die.” The handwriting surprised me. Most kidnappers used typewriters, or glued letters cut from a magazine. Whoever had kidnapped Sampson obviously didn’t think he was going to get caught.
“What are you talking to the FBI about?” I asked.
“I’m in their VICAP program,” Abb said. “I was supposed to go under hypnosis to help them identify those Jane Does. I still don’t remember the things I did.”
VICAP was the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. Cops had an expression when criminals entered programs like VICAP, and agreed to help the police. They called it taking a shot at heaven.
“Does the FBI know you were contacted by your grandson’s kidnapper?” I asked.
Abb shook his head.
“How about the police?” I asked.
Abb shook his head again.
“Why haven’t you told them?”
“Because I want you to ﬁnd him,” Abb said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I’ve met six guys in Starke who are serving life for kidnapping little kids. You put them here. That’s why.”
I slipped the ransom note into my pocket.
“You’re going to take the job?” Abb asked.
“Yes,” I said.
I stood and so did Stone. She went over and placed her hand on Abb’s shoulder. Under her breath she said, “I’ll call you tomorrow, and let you know how the appeals are going.”
Abb gazed up at her and nodded.
One of the guards slid back the cell door. Stone and I started to leave. I saw Abb look directly at me. Something resembling hope ﬂickered in his eyes. I decided to level with him.
“Your grandson’s case is three days old,” I said. “That’s a long time when it comes to a kidnapping. I need to do a lot of groundwork, and talk to a lot of people.”
“What are you trying to say?” Abb asked.
“I may not ﬁnd Sampson before they execute you.”
“Four days isn’t enough?”
“I won’t know until I start looking.”
“I was hoping you–”
I cut him off. “I don’t make promises.”
“That’s the deal,” I said.
Abb cast his eyes to the ﬂoor. He had asked me here because he did not want to go to his death knowing he’d caused an innocent child to suffer. I had to think it was one of the more decent things he’d done in his life.
“Okay,” he muttered.
He was still staring at the ﬂoor when we left.
Meet the Author
James Swain, winner of the prestigious Prix Calibre 38 for Best American Crime Fiction, is the bestselling author of eight previous novels. He lives with his wife, Laura, in Florida, where he is currently at work on his next novel.
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After reading Midnight Rambler, I forgot the authors name and thought I would never find another Jack Carpenter novel. Well, when I started this book and realized I was reading about Jack and Buster, I could hardly put it down. He's an ex-cop who's not only fighting police corruption but also has such empathy for the lost children and victims of crime. He reminds me of Columbo with a dog. Buster shares top billing in this novel. His wife and daughter love him, but can't seem to live with him which adds to his appeal. I'll remember James Swain's name now and anxiously await his next book about Carpenter and Buster.
A very fast moving novel until the last line!!! A must read.
I PICKED THIS BOOK OFF THE LIBRARY SHELF. I HAD NEVER HEARD OF THE AUTHOR BEFORE, BUT THE FLYLEAF MADE THE BOOK SOUND PROMISING. EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE YOU RUN ACROSS A DIAMOND IN THE RUFF, AND BOY DID I HIT THE MOTHER LODE WITH THIS AUTHOR AND BOOK. I WILL NOT SPOIL THE BOOK FOR YOU BY GIVING AWAY TOO MUCH OF THE PLOT....BUT I WILL GIVE YOU ENOUGH TO CONVINCE YOU TO READ THIS STORY. I WOULD SUGGEST YOU READ THE FIRST JACK CARPENTER BOOK (MIDNIGHT RAMBLER). THE NIGHT STALKER IS THE SECOND. JACK IS AN EXPERT AT FINDING MISSING PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY SMALL CHILDREN. HE IS WITTY AND DETERMINED. HE IS ACCOMPANIED ALMOST EVERYWHERE BY HIS DOG. I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE THINKING, PROBABLY THE FIRST THOUGHT I HAD. OH NO, NOT ANOTHER BOOK ABOUT AN INVESTIGATOR WITH A CAT OR A DOG. YOU WON'T SAY THAT AFTER YOU MEET HIS DOG. HE IS SO INTERESTING THAT HE MAY BE THE SECOND BEST CHARACTER IN THE BOOK. THE BASIC PLOT INVOLVES A SERIAL KILLER WHO IS CONDEMNED TO DIE IN FIVE DAYS AND WHOSE 3 YEAR OLD GRANDSON HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED. THE POLICE THINK THEY KNOW WHO STOLE THE CHILD. JACK DOES NOT AGREE WITH THEM. HE TAKES THE CASE AND THE CHASE IS ON. THE BOOK IS GREAT FROM BEGINNING TO END. THE AUTHOR, JAMES SWAIN, HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO WRITE A GREAT NOVEL, GREAT CHARACTERS AND PLOT, AND ABOVE ALL HE IS A GREAT STORY TELLER. I WOULD COMPARE HIS STORY TELLING SKILLS TO LISA GARDNER. I BELIEVE THAT SHE AND MR. SWAIN ARE THE TWO BEST STORY TELLERS IN THE THRILLER GENRE. I HOPE THE MR. SWAIN KEEPS WRITING BOOKS ABOUT JACK CARPENTER. HE IS THE MOST INTERESTING CHARACTER I HAVE COME ACROSS IN MANY YEARS. THANK YOU MR. SWAIN FOR AN OUTSTANDING READ.
May read more.
I could not put this down once I started reading. You cannot go wrong by reading this mystery. Not one dull moment. First time reading this author, but will not be the last time.
I've never read this author before but after reading The Night Stalker he has definetly become one of my favorites. This book kepping me guessing all the way to the end. I couldn't put it down. Easily a must-read in my book.