Playing Dead

( 31 )



Sentenced to death for crimes he didn’t commit, ex-cop Tom O’Brien is now a hunted fugitive. After fifteen years in prison, he’s determined to prove his innocence–but first he must convince his daughter, whose testimony helped put him behind bars, that he has damning evidence of a plot to frame him.

Claire is no longer the naïve teenager who arrived home to find her mother and her mother’s lover shot dead and her father holding...

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Playing Dead (Prison Break Trilogy Series #3)

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Sentenced to death for crimes he didn’t commit, ex-cop Tom O’Brien is now a hunted fugitive. After fifteen years in prison, he’s determined to prove his innocence–but first he must convince his daughter, whose testimony helped put him behind bars, that he has damning evidence of a plot to frame him.

Claire is no longer the naïve teenager who arrived home to find her mother and her mother’s lover shot dead and her father holding the murder weapon. She’s a successful fraud investigator who assumes everyone lies. Though Claire is convinced of her father’s guilt, curiosity propels her to look into the disappearance of a law student who claimed to have proof of Tom’s innocence. But seeking answers only leads to more questions, reinforcing Claire’s belief that there’s no one left to trust.

Obsessed with the O’Brien case, FBI agent Mitch Bianchi befriends Claire under false pretenses, certain that Tom is not only innocent but in grave danger–and not just from the cops. As the three race toward the truth, a murderous conspiracy tightens its noose–and Claire becomes the target of an ice-cold psychopath who will kill to protect his secrets.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345502735
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/30/2008
  • Series: Prison Break Trilogy
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 257,880
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Allison Brennan is the author of nine bestselling romantic thrillers, including The Prey, Speak No Evil, and Killing Fear. For thirteen years she worked as a consultant in the California State Legislature before leaving to devote herself fully to her family and writing. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She lives in Northern California with her husband, Dan, and their five children.

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Read an Excerpt


Present Day

Claire was an expert bullshit detector. That’s what made her so good at her job investigating insurance fraud.

This morning she’d been called to a warehouse fire in West Sacramento, at the Port of Sacramento near the docks where the Deep Water Ship Channel connected the Sacramento River to the San Francisco Bay. The port predominantly handled agricultural products, but container goods from China and beyond were not uncommon. They didn’t have customs or any serious inspections, which were taken care of at the port of entry. As far as docks went, they were relatively clean and quiet, even at seven in the morning. Most of the activity was at the far end where a ship was being loaded with produce Claire couldn’t identify from this distance.

She breathed deeply, the lingering scent of burned wood, scorched metal, and ash making her grimace. Best to get this out of the way now, before the temperature rose. It was only the second week of May, yet summer had arrived. While the rest of the country enjoyed spring, yesterday Sacramento had peaked at ninety-five. Today would be even hotter.

Claire was supposed to meet the arson investigator here at eight, but she liked hitting the scene early to do her own walk-through. She’d already done everything she could from the office; the two final pieces for the report were the walk-through and interviewing the claimant.

Five-shot Starbucks latte in hand—as much to combat the mild hangover from her late night as to wake her up—Claire grabbed her backpack from the backseat of her Jeep, absently brushing dog hair off her jeans. She had to remember to cover the seats with towels when she took Chewy and Yoda on car rides.

Crime scene tape cut across the front of the warehouse—but since it was a mere shell and incapable of being locked up, she slid under the tape. Arson. She smelled it.

Warehouses sometimes burned down by accident. A careless employee left a cigarette butt burning, lightning struck, homeless people tried to get warm in the frigid Sacramento winters.

But accidents were rare.

The building owner hadn’t even been smart about it, Claire thought as she walked around taking pictures and notes. There was no evidence of burned goods. They could have been stolen before the arson, but Claire suspected the merchandise had never arrived or had been sold before the arson. She’d already pulled the financials of Ben Holman and Holman Medical Supply Company, Inc. Operating on the wrong side of a razor-thin profit margin, Ben Holman was three months late on his personal home mortgage and his creditors all had 90- to 120-day lates on him.

Convenient timing for an insurance claim that would give him half a mil for supplies and damage.

Holman would likely claim faulty wiring . . . possible, of course. These dockside warehouses were old and rarely did the owners upgrade the interiors. They were used for the temporary storage of goods that came down the Sacramento River shipping lane. Product came, product left—cogs in the wheels of the economy. But in this instance? No way. It was arson, and Claire just needed to wait for the fire investigator to show up and confirm it.

Holman Medical Supply Company, Inc., would soon be one less cog to muck it up for legitimate business people.

Claire deeply breathed in the fresh air as soon as she cleared the building, then leaned against a cement wall to write up questions for warehouse-owner Holman.

He didn’t know Claire had security tape from the warehouse three down that showed him driving up the day before the fire started. He didn’t know she had a copy of the manifest filed with customs in San Francisco. And he would certainly deny knowing where the missing goods were, though she had a contact who said an unusually large supply of syringes had shown up on the streets yesterday.

Ben Holman was just one more pathetic human being who proved that no one could be trusted.

Claire drained the rest of her lukewarm latte, stuffed her notebook and camera back into her pack, and stretched, hoping the investigator wouldn’t be late. She wanted to write up the report and meet her veterinarian at her house at noon. Dr. Jim made house calls, at least for her. She had started toward her Jeep when she heard a deep male voice.


At the familiar voice, she dropped her cup and pack, reaching for the gun she carried in a belt holster in the small of her back, and began to turn when someone from behind grabbed her arm, bending it up and back. She aimed a perfect kick to her attacker’s balls, but he anticipated the move and sidestepped it, spinning her around and pushing her against the cement wall she’d been leaning on, knocking the wind out of her.

“Claire, stop. I need five minutes. Please.”


Raw anger and deep sadness always accompanied any thoughts of her father. But here—now, in person—the anger and sadness were magnified. She heard nothing, felt nothing, saw nothing, except the familiar stranger in front of her. Heard him breathing, felt his heart beating as her arms were trapped between her chest and his, saw the plea in his vivid blue eyes, eyes like her own.

Once, she had loved him. Trusted him. Worshipped him. She remembered the past with such clarity that it took her breath away.

He looked so much older now. Of course he did. She’d never visited him in prison. She hadn’t seen him in fifteen years, since the trial, since she’d testified for the prosecution against her own father.

It had been nearly four months since Tom O’Brien had escaped from prison during the San Quentin Earthquake. Four months and no word except that her father had become some sort of a dark hero, helping authorities capture the other escapees, while slipping away undetected. She’d talked repeatedly with local and federal cops, endured weeks of stakeouts outside her home, sacrificing her privacy. For a while, she even thought he was dead. And when she finally believed he had disappeared for good, he showed up here. Now. Like a ghost.

Love and hatred for this man overwhelmed Claire.

Tears welled up in her eyes. To force them back she pictured the dead, bloody body of her mother. Fifteen years might have seemed like a lifetime, but the sight and smell of blood was as fresh in her senses as if Claire had walked in on the murder this morning.


She pushed against him, but he had her pinned tightly to the wall. Her gun dug into her back, and the pepper spray on her keychain was in her pocket, out of reach.

“Claire, I don’t have a lot of time. The Feds are watching you.”

“Were,” she said.

“Are,” he contradicted. “I know you don’t believe me, that you never believed me, but I didn’t kill your mother. And I have proof.”

“I didn’t believe you then, and I don’t believe you now.”

His face hardened, but his eyes watered. Looking at her father was like looking at an older, masculine version of herself.

They’d done so much together before that awful, life-ending day. Biking. Skiing. Camping. She desperately wanted to believe him because they’d been “two peas in a pod,” as her mother used to say.

The mother he had killed.

Claire knew the truth. It was as much her fault as his, but he was the one who’d pulled the trigger and coldly killed two people.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” she said, surprising herself as her throat swallowed the tremble in her voice. “I should never have told you about Mom’s affair. It was childish of me. I just didn’t know then that everyone lies, cheats, and steals for personal gain.”

He looked as if she’d hit him. “None of that was your fault, Claire. Your mother had had affairs before.”

“That’s what you said at the trial, but—”

“It’s true.”

“It was convenient for you. And would it really matter? Even if she’d screwed around with a dozen men it wouldn’t change the fact that Mom and her current lover were screwing in your bed when you walked in and shot them.”

She was on a roll. She stared at him, remembered that he had been convicted in a court of law by twelve jurors. He’d been convicted of murder, and few innocent people went to prison.

“You would have said anything to get out of prison. The D.A. offered you a plea. You didn’t have to get the death penalty! You could have pled guilty. Maybe if you’d just admitted the truth I could have lived with it, I could have forgiven you, but you just lied and lied and—”

“I wasn’t lying,” he insisted, his jaw tight. “Everything I told you then was the truth.”

“The evidence showed—”

“The evidence was circumstantial. Someone framed me. I have proof.”

“What proof? If you had proof, why didn’t you bring it up during one of your half-dozen appeals? Have your attorney petition the court? There is no proof that you’re innocent.”

“And there was no proof that I was guilty!” he shouted in her ear, his voice shaking. “It was all circumstantial, Claire. A setup. A frame—”

“Yeah, so why don’t you go find the real killer?”

“Dammit!” He took a deep breath. “I need to find Oliver Maddox. I know he spoke to you in January before”—he paused—“the earthquake.”

“Before you escaped from prison? Let’s call a spade a spade, Daddy, okay? No bullshit. You’re an escaped killer and they’ll shoot first, and frankly, no one gives a shit about your answers.”

Claire’s insides were twisted and burning. She’d never talked to her father like that, had never raised her voice or sworn at him.

Don’t think of him as your father. He’s an escaped prisoner. A convict. A murderer.

His hardened, but pain lit his eyes. “Oliver Maddox has information I need to prove my innocence. He works with the Western Innocence Project. I tried calling him, but his phone isn’t working. I can’t very well go looking for him. I think someone scared him into hiding. I need your help to find him. I don’t have anyone else to turn to, Claire.”

She blinked back tears. More lies from her father. “After I talked to Maddox, I did a little research. I’m good at that. He’s just a law student, not even an attorney. Doesn’t even work for the Western Innocence Project—he was an intern last summer. They were never going to take up your case.”

Her father shook his head. “That’s not true. Oliver planned on meeting me the week before the earthquake. He said he had information about Lydia’s lover, Chase Taverton. Evidence that he was the primary target. Taverton was a prosecutor. If he was the target, that opens an entire pool of suspects, and the detectives barely looked at that possibility.”

“You’re grasping at straws—”

“Oliver has even more information,” he continued quickly, “but he never showed for our meeting, and I couldn’t reach him. The next day, I was transferred into the general prison population.”

“They don’t put cops in with the general population.”

“Something happened. Someone got to him—”

“I haven’t spoken to Oliver Maddox since I kicked him out of my house months ago when I found out he’d lied to me. He lied to me, and he lied to you. He was just a kid jerking your chain, he didn’t have the Project behind him, and he probably didn’t know anything that would help you unless he made it up. You were a cop once. You should know how many killers claim they’re innocent.”

“I am!”

“So who did it? In the twenty minutes between when I left the house and called you and you walked in, who broke into our house and killed them? And why? You know, Dad, usually the most obvious answer is the correct one.”

“I’m so sorry, Claire, but you have to believe me. The only reason I care about proving my innocence is to prove it to you. I don’t want you looking at me the way you are right now. I want my little girl back.”

“I’m not a little girl.” She found it hard to catch her breath. She couldn’t think, she just wanted him to disappear.

“I know.” His voice quivered. “Please, Claire, I’m risking everything coming to you. I need your help. I can’t do this on my own. I went to the campus, his house, couldn’t find him. I couldn’t ask more questions without drawing attention. I need to find out where he went and exactly what he knew, get him to tell the truth no matter who threatened him. Working for Rogan-Caruso Protective Services, you have access to far more information and resources than I do.”

“Why would I help you? I could lose everything I’ve built since you went to prison,” she said. “My career, my PI license, my home. I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Claire. Please.”

The quiet plea twisted her heart. “Go away. Leave me alone.”

“I don’t have anyone else,” he whispered.

She spoke equally quietly. “Well, then, you don’t have anyone, Dad.”

A truck turned onto the road heading for the warehouse.

“Think about this, Claire. Think about me. I’m not a killer. You know that in your heart.”

To prevent her from pursuing him, he pushed her down. “I’m sorry,” he called as he ran in the opposite direction of the approaching truck.

Claire slowly pulled herself up. She might have been able to chase after and catch her father, but what would she do? Shoot him in the back?

Instead she put her hands on her knees and fought to regain some semblance of control over her emotions. To try and forget the pain in her father’s eyes. To try and forget the pain twisting in her heart.

The truck belonged to the arson investigator, Pete Jackson. He got out, looked at Claire with a frown. “You okay, Ms. O’Brien?”

She faked a half smile as she stretched. “Fine. The sooty air just got to me.”

“I told you not to go in until I got here.”

“Sorry. Why don’t you walk me through it?”

“You must already have your own conclusion.”

“I need you to prove it.”

“Lucky for you I already have the proof your company needs. Found the hot spot and identified the accelerant. The burn pattern indicates not only arson, but an amateur.”

“Too cheap to fork over for a professional,” Claire muttered.

As she followed Pete Jackson into the warehouse, she glanced over her shoulder, looking for her father. Tom O’Brien was nowhere to be seen.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t around.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 31 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 28, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Playing dead

    Lots of characters to keep track of while trying to figure out who's doing all the killing. Fifteen years ago, Tom O'Brien was convicted of killing his wife and her lover. Now he's a fugitive back in Sacramento trying to prove his innocence and reconnect with his grown daughter. FBI agent Mitch Bianchi befriends Claire O'Brien under false pretenses to try to recapture her dad. A law student who was reviewing Tom's original case finds errors in the proceedings and ends up dead. Claire and the FBI try to follow the law student's leads and the twisted plot eventually unravels. Pay attention, lots to keep track of. Not great, not too bad.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A fast paced suspense thriller.

    Playing Dead is the final book in the Prison Break Trilogy but in my opinion it is a stand alone book. There are quite a few references to things that occurred in the previous books but not so much that I was lost since I hadn¿t read the previous books. <BR/><BR/>Fifteen years ago, Claire O¿Brien¿s mother and her lover were brutally murdered. Claire¿s father Tom, a police officer, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. During a recent earthquake Tom, along with other fugitives, escaped from San Quentin and now in addition to hunting down and turning in his fellow escapees Tom has to prove his innocence to the one person that matters¿his daughter, Claire. <BR/><BR/>Claire never believed his claim of innocence and she did her best to shut him out of her life. She sees the world as right and wrong and doesn¿t have any interest in listening to her father¿s pleas until she learns that the one person who believed Tom was murdered as he got too close to the truth behind the murders. <BR/><BR/>FBI agent Mitch Bianchi also has a stake in finding out the truth. He¿s befriended Claire under false pretenses and has fallen in love with her. As Claire starts investigating the crime, Mitch can¿t share with her who he really is and all he can do is hope to keep her safe while finding out what really happened fifteen years ago.<BR/><BR/>This was a fast paced read with a lot of twists and turns. I loved the way the truth slowly weaves together all the side characters in the story. The killer¿s identity was a complete surprise to me which rarely happens with most suspense books I read. I loved the writing style and I definitely want to go back and read books one and two. I highly recommend this to all romantic suspense lovers.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Much Better!

    This book was much better than Allison Brennan's previous book. The plot was great and was actually "on the edge" reading. I read it in two days and was pleased she had returned to her original writing style. I will continue to purchase her books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    Summer Reading

    Great beach read. Decent plot, kept me guessing and engaged.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Nail biting Nail biting

    Fast paced, thrilling, edge of your seat suspense. Keeps you guessing till the end. You'll be hard pressed to figure out the just won't see it coming.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    For fifteen years, Claire O'Brien has believed that calling her

    For fifteen years, Claire O'Brien has believed that calling her dad to tell him about an indiscretion she witnessed caused her father to murder her mother and a lover. Now, Tom O'Brien has escaped from prison after an earthquake and has been on the run for several months. When he contacts her and tries to plead his innocence, Claire begins to start looking at all that happened, as well as current events that seem to have a connection to her family's past, and wondering if her father is really guilty. 

    Mitch Bianchi, who has been dating Claire and really cares for her, is living a lie. Claire believes he is a writer, while he is truly an FBI agent looking for her escaped father. Although Mitch knows his time with Claire is going to end very badly, he can't keep from falling even deeper for her. Mitch has been reviewing Tom O'Brien's case due to assistance Tom provided after the earthquake in capturing some of the very dangerous inmates who escaped. Mitch has begun to believe in Tom's innocence.

    Meanwhile, a killer has hidden in plain sight for decades, and he is not finished. 

    I enjoyed this book by Allison Brennan, the last of her Prison Break trilogy. I loved seeing quite a few familiar characters, and I really liked both of the main characters, Claire O'Brien and Mitch Bianchi. The book held me engrossed, and I was kept guessing, trying to tie all of the threads of the story together. The plot was fairly complicated, much more so than what I expected at the beginning of the book, and I found reading it a very enjoyable experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013


    This was the first Allison Brennan book I've read and must say it's got me hooked. This one keeps you guessing. Really enjoyed this book. Can't wait to read more of her books!

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  • Posted February 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Awesome Book!!

    I finally finished the book and have to say that this book is filled with suspense, mystery and romance.<BR/>You are introduced to the characters and given the back ground information needed to know the basis of the book. <BR/> Fifteen years ago, Claire O'Brien, then 14 decides to go home from school for lunch. She walks in on her mom and her mom's lover, an assistant district attorney. Claire calls her father because she is upset about finding her mom in that situation. <BR/> Tom O'Brien decides to confront his wife and lover so that he can end this charade of a marriage. When he arrives at his house he finds his wife and her lover shot dead in bed. Claire is the one that sees her father in the room and assumes he killed her mother and the other man. She is the prime witness in her father's trial.<BR/> Claire goes through years of believing her father is guilty, and starting a new life without him. An aspiring young attorney does research and discovers things that can prove her father's innocence. Claire does not believe the guy and ignores everything he tells her, until her father, who had escaped from prison during an earthquake, leaves Claire a note telling her everything she needs to know to try and clear his name. She is torn between wanting to believe her father is innocent and a murderer. <BR/> The story is now set for a page turning, full suspense thriller that you won't be able to put down. The FBI does everything to capture the fugitive Tom O'Brien. There is one FBI agent, Mitch Bianchi, who believes Tom is innocent and befriends Claire. He wants to find Tom before the local PD does, otherwise Tom is a dead man. Mitch is falling for Claire, just as Claire starts to be able to trust someone.<BR/> Once you start reading Playing Dead you will be pulled into the suspense, thrills, mystery and romance of the 3rd book of the Prison Break trilogy. If you haven't already picked up this book to read I suggest you do. <BR/> I know I will be reading the first two books in this trilogy!!

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