Orchid Blues (Holly Barker Series #2)

Orchid Blues (Holly Barker Series #2)

4.2 56
by Stuart Woods

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Now the bestselling author brings back his small-town chief of police—and her extraordinary Doberman, Daisy—for another exhilarating adventure. . . .

When Holly’s wedding festivities are shattered by a brutal robbery, she vows to find the culprits. With nothing to go on but the inexplicable killing of an innocent bystander, Holly discovers


Now the bestselling author brings back his small-town chief of police—and her extraordinary Doberman, Daisy—for another exhilarating adventure. . . .

When Holly’s wedding festivities are shattered by a brutal robbery, she vows to find the culprits. With nothing to go on but the inexplicable killing of an innocent bystander, Holly discovers evidence that leads her into the midst of a clan whose members are as mysterious as they are zealous. Holly’s father, Ham, a retired army master sergeant, is her ticket into their strange world. What he finds there boggles the mind and sucks them all—Holly, Ham, and Daisy—into a whirlpool of crazed criminality from which even the FBI can’t save them.…

Editorial Reviews

Holly Barker knows that a good police chief is always on duty, but she expected that her wedding day would be an exception. When a bank robbery (and a murder, to boot) occur not far from her wedding, Holly searches for the culprits with a sense of vengeance. Another bouquet-worthy novel in the Orchid series.
Publishers Weekly
This second thriller in the series Woods inaugurated with Orchid Beach starts with a bang a literal one. While series heroine Holly Barker, a former military police commander turned police chief of smalltown Orchid Beach, Fla., waits at the local courthouse to marry lawyer Jackson Oxenhandler, her fianc? gets himself killed in a shoot-out at Orchid Beach's bank. Once past this shocker of an opening, the thrills quickly deflate. Holly stifles a few sobs, gets back into uniform and sets off to track down the gunmen, a gang of highly organized robbers who planned to heist $4 million in payroll cash. It soon becomes clear that they aren't ordinary robbers, however, appearing to have some connection to a weird little town in a neighboring county, where the average resident is white, male and a gun nut. In the course of his meandering tale, Woods deepens his portraits of Holly and her father, Ham, a retired army noncom, and dog lovers should enjoy the antics of Daisy, the Doberman diva who is Holly's constant companion. Stone Barrington, the cop-turned-lawyer from such Woods bestsellers as L.A. Dead, makes a couple of important cameo appearances. But pages of lifeless dialogue and too much dead air in an already thin narrative eventually stifle most of the book's energy. Woods knows how law enforcement agencies from local cop shops to the Secret Service work, and his action scenes are clean and sharp. But in between there are a lot of empty spaces. 16-city author tour. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Readers Dick Hill and Susie Breck bring excellent talent to this thrilling audio account of Woods's novel, which features Holly Barker, a retired Army Military Police Battalion Commander, now the police chief of Orchard Beach, FL, and her father, Ham. When Holly's fianc is killed as an innocent bystander in a bank robbery pulled off by a highly trained and well organized band of thieves, her world is shattered. With Ham, a retired Army Special Forces master sergeant, she investigates the crime and works with an FBI contact, Harry Crisp. Their prime suspects are part of a large, well-armed national organization of neo-Nazi types that has set up an operation in the Florida swamplands not too far from her town. Ham goes undercover to infiltrate the organization while Holly and the FBI wait to take appropriate action. The plot takes several twists, and the suspense is excellent, ending in an exciting standoff at a Miami hotel and a remote airport. The different voices used by the narrators to bring forth each character add to this entertaining experience. A good choice for library users who are about to take a long and monotonous road trip. Recommended. Steven J. Mayover, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
How could Florida's Orchid Beach Police Chief Holly Barker outdo her action-packed debut (Orchid Beach, 1998)? By losing her bridegroom to the lunatic terrorists who, having failed to kill presidential candidate William Henry Lee in The Run (2000), are trying again now that he's been elected. En route to his wedding to Holly, Jackson Oxenhandler visits a branch of Southern Trust just in time to stop a shotgun blast an otherwise highly professional robber fires against his chief's orders. (Readers who take this as a clue to some deeper design don't know Woods very well.) Luckily, though improbably, Jackson's spent his last few minutes chatting with visiting Woods superhero Stone Barrington (Cold Paradise, p. 289, etc.), who's able to give Holly some wonderfully precise descriptions of the four robbers. A check on the branch's recent hires reveals another amazing coincidence. Two separate employees seem to have been in cahoots with the misguided patriots calling themselves The Elect, one to provide inside dope for the robbery, the other to embezzle funds for the sort of large-bore weapons Holly and her dad Ham stumble on when their attempt to trace a vanished teller brings them to a major-league gun show run by a cadre of survivalists so impressed with Ham's Army pedigree and delivery of terms like "Desert Storm" and "Vietnam" that they take him to their bosom. It's Ham, groomed as a sharpshooting assassin by The Elect, who emerges as the real star of the show, as the lame whodunit disappears with no more trace than Holly's grief for the fiance she lost on their wedding day, leaving a standard anti-terrorist tale that's a custom fit for Woods's comic-strip approach to character. Saturdaymatinee fodder that'll keep you turning pages faster than an Elect recruit can field-strip a sidearm-though it'll help if your own capacity for critical reflection is just as low. Author tour
From the Publisher
“Starts with a bang.”—Publishers Weekly

“Mr. Woods delivers smart characters and dialogue with a nice swing to it.... Holly and Ham are engaging…with a lot of gumption and tough-talking banter between them.”—The New York  Times

“Fast paced and exciting…sure to please his fans.”—Booklist

“[Will] keep you turning pages.”—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Holly Barker Series , #2
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
File size:
453 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


He waited until the last of the line had entered the cinema for the eight o'clock movie.

"All right, let's take a tour," he said to the boy at the wheel.

The boy drove slowly around the parking lot.

"Here," he said.

The boy stopped the car.

The man looked at the parked vehicle. It was an older Ford commercial van, well cared for and clean. "Wait a minute," he said. He got out of the car and grabbed his tool bag. "Drive over to the edge of the parking lot and wait. When you see the van's headlights go on, follow me home. I'll be making a lot of turns."

"Yessir," the boy said.

He slipped a pair of rubber gloves on, then walked over to the van and tried the door. Unlocked. It took him less than a minute to punch the steering lock and start the van. He switched on the lights and checked the odometer: 48,000 miles; not bad. He backed out of the parking space and drove out of the lot, onto the highway. In the rearview mirror he watched the boy fall in behind him, well back. He drove for a couple of minutes, constantly making turns, checking the mirror, then he turned down a dirt road, drove a hundred yards and stopped. The boy stopped behind him. He sat in the van and watched the traffic pass on the highway for five minutes, then he made a U-turn and went back to the highway and headed west. He had two hours before the van's owner would come out of the movies and discover his loss, but he needed only half an hour.

Twenty-five minutes later, he drove into the little town, and five minutes after that, he pulled the van into the large steel shed behind his business. Half a dozen men, who had been sitting around a poker table, stood up and walked over.

"Looks good," one of them said.

"It'll do. Only 48K on the clock, and it runs like a sewing machine. Let's do it."

Everybody went to work. First, they donned rubber gloves, then they washed the van thoroughly and cleaned the interior, and fastened two rough wooden benches to the floor. Two men unrolled a large decal and fixed it to the side of the van. Environmental Services, Inc., it read, and in smaller letters, Cleaning up after the world. There was a phone number, too. If anyone rang it, they'd get a pizzeria on U.S. 1. They fixed an identical decal to the opposite side of the van, then changed the license plates, tossing the old ones into the van.

Somebody looked under the hood, fiddled with a couple of things, then closed it. "Good shape," he said. "The man knows how to take care of a vehicle." He checked a sticker on the windshield. "Had it serviced last week; nice of him."

"I hope his insurance is paid up," someone else said.

"All right," their leader said, "let's go over it again." The poker chips and cards were removed from the big round table, and a large floor plan was spread out. "Number two," the leader said, "take us through it."

"We all know it by heart," somebody said.

"You will when I'm finished," the leader said. "Then you can all get a good night's sleep."


When the van was ready they went home and left him alone in the shed. He went to an elongated safe in a corner, tapped the combination into the keypad, and opened it. He removed six Remington riot guns-12-gauge pump shotguns with 181Ú4-inch barrels, normally used for police work-and took them to the van, laying them on the floor. He went to a locker and removed six blue jumpsuits-all the same size-took them to the van and put one where each man would sit. Back to the locker to find six yellow construction hard hats, six dust masks and six pairs of tinted safety goggles, which he laid neatly on top of the jumpsuits. He then laid a shotgun on each seat, and placed a box of double-aught shells and a pair of latex surgical gloves beside each shotgun. Finally, he went back to the gun safe, removed six 9mm semiautomatic handguns and boxes of ammunition and distributed them inside the van. The weapons had been bought, one at a time, at gun shows or from unlicensed dealers, then stripped, inspected and, if necessary, repaired. Before reassembly, each part of each weapon had been washed clean with denatured alcohol and oiled. There would be no fingerprints or DNA samples on them.

When he was done, he sat down at the table, stripped off his gloves and poured himself a drink from a bottle of bourbon. He looked at the newspaper clipping again. Eleven o'clock at the courthouse. "Happy occasion," he said aloud to himself. "And oh so convenient."


Holly Barker opened her eyes and felt for Jackson. His side of the bed was empty, and she could hear the shower running. She moved her hand to the warm place on her stomach and found Daisy's head. She scratched behind an ear and was answered with a small sigh. Daisy was a Doberman pinscher, and she liked to sleep with her head on Holly's belly.

Holly heard the shower turn off and, a moment later, Jackson's bare feet padding across the bedroom carpet. She raised her head, tucked a pillow under it and eyed him-naked, wet hair, in a hurry. She liked him naked.

"So," she said, "where am I going on my honeymoon?"

"Same place as I am," Jackson replied, stepping into his boxer shorts and selecting a white shirt from a drawer.

"I'm relieved to hear it," she said. "And where is that?"

"Someplace you'll probably like," he said.

"Probably like? You're not even sure I'm going to like it?"

"I think you will," he said, "but, in the immortal words of Fats Waller, 'One never knows, do one?'"

"This is how you treat your wife?"

"I don't have a wife."

"You will by high noon, or my daddy will shoot you."

"Ham wouldn't shoot me; he's too nice a guy."

"He would, if he knew you wouldn't tell me where I'm going on my honeymoon."

"He knows, and that's enough for Ham."

"Wait a minute," she said. "My father knows where I'm going on my honeymoon, and your wife doesn't?"

"I told you, I don't have a wife."

She sat up on one elbow, and the sheet fell away from her breasts. "How will I know what to pack?"

"You packed yesterday," he said, "and I told you what to pack, remember?"

"Men never know what to pack. What if you screw up?"

"I'll just have to take that chance." He pulled on his trousers, found a necktie and started to tie it.

"You're driving me crazy," she said, falling back onto the pillow.

"If you don't pull that sheet over your breasts, you're going to drive me crazy," he replied, looking at her in the mirror.

She kicked the sheet completely off, disturbing Daisy's sleep. "Take that," she said.

"I intend to," he said, "when we arrive in...whatchacallit."

"Why are you rushing off?" she asked seductively.

"Don't point that thing at me," Jackson said. "I've got a closing in half an hour, then I have to do some dictating before I leave the office and then, on the way to the courthouse, I have to pick up the tickets at the travel agent's and stop at the bank for some travelers' checks."

"Why didn't you have the tickets sent here?" she asked.

"Because you would have ripped them open to find out where you're going on your honeymoon."

He had her there. She fumed.

He slipped into his suit jacket, adjusted his tie, came to the bed and bent over her.

"Why didn't you dry your hair?"

"I'll put the top down." He kissed her on one nipple, then the other.

She giggled. "Sure the closing can wait a few minutes."

"Would you muss my wedding dress?" he asked. That was how he referred to the white linen suit he had had made for the occasion.

"No, you're too beautiful."

"Tell you what, if you'll call yourself Mrs. Oxenhandler for the rest of your life, I'll tell you where you're going on your honeymoon."

"Jackson, I keep telling you: nobody would choose to be called Mrs. Oxenhandler. You're stuck, you were born with it. Can you imagine my cops calling me Chief Oxenhandler? They couldn't keep a straight face."

"I think that's a very dignified name for a chief of police," Jackson said, trying to look hurt.

"It's a very dignified name for someone who handles oxen," she said.

"Well," he sighed, "I guess you'll find out where you're going on your honeymoon when you get there."

She pulled the sheet over her head. "You won't even tell me then!" she cried. She pulled down the sheet again, and he was standing in the bedroom doorway, looking splendid in his new suit.

"See you at the courthouse," he said.

"In Judge Chandler's courtroom, and you'd better be there early!" she called after him. She fell back on the bed. She would always remember that picture of him, standing in the doorway in his white linen suit and gold tie, with his hair still wet.

Holly got out of bed, brushed her teeth and got into the shower, reaching for the shampoo. She had let her hair grow, and it was nearly down to her shoulders, though she wore it up when she was in uniform, which was most of the time. She was allowing herself two hours for the process-washing, rolling and drying her hair, putting on a little makeup, which she rarely wore, and getting into the short white sheath that would be her wedding dress.

Daisy lay on the bathroom mat, watching her through the clear glass shower door, waiting patiently for her breakfast and to be let out. Holly laughed. Daisy would be her maid of honor; Holly had trained her to carry the bouquet all the way to the front of the courtroom before handing it to her. Daisy could do anything.

Holly felt that she could do anything, too. She was bursting with happiness and expectation and with trying to figure out where Jackson was taking her on her honeymoon.

She got out of the shower and called her office's direct line.

"Chief Barker's office," her secretary and office manager, Helen Tubman, said.

"Hi, it's me. What's happening?"

"Nothing, and if something were happening, I wouldn't tell you," Helen said. "It's your wedding day, so I want you to hang up and do whatever you're supposed to do on your wedding day."

"How many are coming?" Holly asked. She had posted an invitation on the squad room bulletin board.

"Let me put it this way," Helen said, "if there's a murder in the middle of Beach Boulevard this morning, the body will have to lie there until you're married and on your way to the airport."

"Oh, God," Holly said. "That many?"

"That many."

"Tell me their names, and I'll put them to work."

"I'll do no such thing," Helen said. "Now you go get beautiful, and don't bother me again." She hung up.

Holly hung up the phone, laughing, then went to feed Daisy and let her out into the dunes for her morning ablutions. She felt completely, insanely happy.


The men assembled after breakfast, and the leader set up a drawing pad on an easel and ran them through their individual roles once more.

"Any questions?" he asked.

A hand went up. "Under what circumstances are we authorized to fire?"

"Danger to your own life or another of us," the leader replied. "The two guards will already be disarmed, so, unless a civilian is packing, we're not going to have to deal with being shot at. Of course, there's always the chance that some cop will wander in to cash a check and come over all brave, but the sight of our shotguns is going to put the fear of God into anybody who understands what a shotgun can do."

"Are we authorized to kill, if necessary?" the man asked.

"Only if absolutely necessary," the leader replied. "But if it becomes necessary, don't hesitate. But remember, the police will work a lot harder on a murder than a robbery."

The man nodded.

"Anybody else?"

Nobody said anything.

"Just remember: nobody moves until the armored car leaves. The guards will be locked in and safe, and they've got a radio." He looked around. "All right, we drive separately to the shopping center, and each of you waits beside your car. Enter and leave the van one at a time through the front passenger door. Let's go."

The group broke up and went to the four cars parked outside. The leader gave them a ten-minute head start, then he pulled on his gloves, got into his coveralls, hung the dust mask and goggles around his neck and put on his hard hat. He got into the van and drove out of the building, closing the garage door behind him with a remote control. He left the town and drove east, toward Orchid Beach. Half an hour later, he pulled into the parking lot. It was a big shopping center for a small town, anchored by a huge supermarket, with other stores strung out along both sides. The lot was three-quarters full. He drove up and down the lanes, stopping whenever he came to one of his men. Each was wearing a baseball cap, dark glasses and latex gloves. Each entered by the front passenger door, then moved to the rear and took a seat on one of the facing benches. After twenty minutes, all the men were in the van, costumed in their jumpsuits, masks, goggles and hard hats. They began loading their weapons from the ammunition on the bench beside them.

Each had four clips of 9mm ammunition and a box of double-aught shotgun shells. Each loaded four shells into a shotgun, racked one into the chamber, then loaded one more shell. Each put the spare ammo into the side pockets of his jumpsuit.

The leader glanced at his watch. "Right on schedule," he said. Each weapon had had its serial number removed. None would ever be traced, except to the factory where it had been manufactured years before.

As he turned the van into the parking lot, the armored car entered the other end of the lot, exactly on time. He parked the van and switched off the engine. "It's going to get hot in here," he said, "but I don't want anyone to notice a van with the motor running."

He watched as the two guards on the armored car went through their drill; they looked bored. As they unloaded, a civilian, a man, drove up in a convertible, got out and went inside. The guards regarded him closely, then entered. They were inside the building for less than two minutes, then returned to their vehicle and entered it through the rear door, locking it behind them. The driver put the car into gear and drove out of the parking lot.

The leader waited while the armored car stopped for a traffic light, then turned left onto Highway A1A. "Here we go," he said. He started the engine and drove to the spot outside the main entrance that the armored car had just vacated. "Hats, masks and goggles on," he said. He waited ten seconds, then looked at his wristwatch, a chronograph. He pressed a button. "Two minutes," he said, "starting now."

Everybody got out of the van and started for the front door.

—From Orchid Blues by Stuart Woods, Copyright (c) October 2001, Putnam Pub Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Starts with a bang.”—Publishers Weekly
“Mr. Woods delivers smart characters and dialogue with a nice swing to it.... Holly and Ham are engaging…with a lot of gumption and tough-talking banter between them.”—The New York  Times
“Fast paced and exciting…sure to please his fans.”—Booklist
“[Will] keep you turning pages.”—Kirkus Reviews


Meet the Author

Stuart Woods is the author of more than sixty novels. He is a native of Georgia and began his writing career in the advertising industry. Chiefs, his debut in 1981, won the Edgar Award. An avid sailor and pilot, Woods lives in Florida, Maine, and New Mexico.

Brief Biography

Key West, Florida; Mt. Desert, Maine; New York, New York
Date of Birth:
January 9, 1938
Place of Birth:
Manchester, Georgia
B.A., University of Georgia, 1959

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Orchid Blues (Holly Barker Series #2) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
johnj More than 1 year ago
A good story but marred by a major plot screw-up. First, a major character enters in the beginning, Stone Barrington, then he just disappears. His airplane's tail number is N123TF. Later on, long after Stone is gone, we suddenly see the antagonist "John" flying a plane with the exact same N123TF tail number. I could have let it go, but the number is continually in your face, like it's important. But no, it's not! Holly never makes the connection. I think what happened was that early on in the writing of this novel, the author wanted to weave the tail number into the mystery, but then couldn't figure out how to do it. So the connecting plot mechanism is dropped from the plot, but the tail number remains. This was either a global cut and paste error or the author sent the wrong draft to the publisher. Hello, it's an ebook. Can't someone correct this? The discrepancy really spoiled the ending for me, and will continue to for alert mystery readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
acorley84 More than 1 year ago
Orchid Blues - Holly Barker is quickly becoming a favorite of mine!! For a more in depth review, please visit my blog, Chorley Chronicals! I have found that I rather enjoy the Holly Barker series, and found that I absolutely enjoyed listening to Orchid Blues, Book #2, by Stuart Woods! I absolutely love Holly as a character! She is the perfect woman character for me. She is strong, charismatic, independent, and doesn't give a darn what anyone else says or thinks, she does what she feels is right! She reminds me of Lisa Gardner's D.D. Warren. Holly Barker is quickly becoming one of my favorite leading ladies. And Ham, her father, is just as awesome! He is witty and brave and is obviously where Holly gets all of her great traits from! I'm so glad that he continued on in this series in book two! The story was intense and suspenseful! It wasn't your typical detective mystery, which is what I liked most about it! It involved the Orchid Beach Sheriff's Department, the FBI, and mainly the Secret Service, just to give you an idea of the hugeness of the crime at hand, with Ham right at it's center! I really enjoyed the fact that there were two narrators for the reading of Orchid Blues. Dick Hill and Susie Breck are such wonderful selections for Holly and Ham. Granted, they do read the other characters, but they do the main characters such justice! I also thoroughly enjoyed the music provided at the beginning and end of each disc.  Overall, I can't wait to continue with this series, and loved listening to Orchid Blues.
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Stuart wood is a wonderful storyteller! I couldnt put it down. Great read for anyone that likes to be kept guessing.
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