Probable Cause

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Overview a mindless act of violence that changed his life forever, James Dewitt decided to become a cop. a web of red tape and corruption, Dewitt now fights desperately to solve a string of murders cleverly staged to look like suicides. the deranged world of the psychopathic mind, Dewitt struggles to outwit the killer-the man they call the "trapper"-before it's too late...and to use every fingerprint and every...

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Overview a mindless act of violence that changed his life forever, James Dewitt decided to become a cop. a web of red tape and corruption, Dewitt now fights desperately to solve a string of murders cleverly staged to look like suicides. the deranged world of the psychopathic mind, Dewitt struggles to outwit the killer-the man they call the "trapper"-before it's too late...and to use every fingerprint and every fiber-and every last ounce of his strength-to escape the ultimate evil.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fascinating...Breathless!" —Chicago Tribune

"A natural storyteller...he keeps the thread going, twisting the details...dancing the forensic shuffle without missing a step," —Richmond Times-Dispatch

"So unusual that finding who-done-it is far from the end of the story." —The West Coast Review of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312923853
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1991
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 401
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.82 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Ridley Pearson

Ridley Pearson is a New York Times best-selling author with more than 40 novels including Blood of the Albatross and Undercurrents.


Crime may not always pay, but crime fiction always sells, and Ridley Pearson is one of the stars of the genre, the kind of writer whose royalties keep his family fed and cover a few extras as well (like, say, his own airplane). Yet Pearson didn't spend his youth dreaming of bestsellerdom. His first ambition was to be a musician, and he spent most of his twenties writing and performing folk-rock songs. The idea that he might become a novelist came later. As he explained in a Barnes and Noble interview, he was reading a Robert Ludlum novel when "a voice spoke up from inside me and said, 'I can do this.'" (Once he began writing and discovered firsthand the skill involved in crafting a cohesive thriller, he realized how much he had presumed!)

Pearson is renowned for fast-paced, thrill-a-minute suspense novels that include "a rare humanism and attention to detail" (Publishers Weekly). In a Greenwich Magazine interview he called his work "aerobic fiction, because I hope to get your heart pounding and get you turning pages." Entertainment Weekly dubbed him "the thinking person's Robert Ludlum."

As his fans know, Pearson works hard at nailing the details of forensic investigation and police procedure. In Undercurrents (the first novel in his Seattle-based Lou Boldt mystery series) his research was so thorough—he consulted an expert in oceanography—that the book helped convict an actual murderer. A Washington state prosecuting attorney happened to be reading it while working on a case similar to Pearson's fictional one: A woman's body had been found in a bay, and at first it appeared that she had committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. The oceanographer mentioned in Pearson's acknowledgments was called in as an expert witness to help prove that, based on tidal currents, the woman must have been dead before the time her husband claimed to have last seen her. Due largely to the expert testimony, the victim's husband was convicted of second-degree murder.

Of course, there's more to a Pearson novel than research. "Just what is it about Ridley Pearson that makes him the best damn thriller writer on the planet?" mused Bill Ott in BookList. "We've celebrated the forensic detail, the taut plotting, the multidimensional characters, and the screw-tightening suspense, but lots of fiction writers do all that. Here's a theory: Pearson is a master at manipulating opposites. His stories are forever jumping from high concept to small scale, from positive to negative charges, manipulating our emotions and minds with their polar hip-hopping."

When he's not writing, Pearson still makes music—he's the bass guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, an amateur rock band made up of professional writers including Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom (the group's motto, coined by Barry: "We play music as well as Metallica writes novels").

It was while Pearson was in Miami to play with the Rock Bottom Remainders that he told Barry about his idea (actually, daughter Paige's idea) for a prequel to Peter Pan. The two authors had such a good time hashing out possibilities over breakfast that Pearson asked Barry to write the book with him. Published in 2004, their clever collaboration Peter and the Starcatchers became a huge bestseller, spawning two sequels (Peter and the Shadow Thieves in 2006 and Peter and the Secret of Rundoon in 2007) and a series of spin-off children's chapter books.

Even though Pearson thoroughly enjoys crafting juvenile fiction, his adult fans need not worry that he's abandoned his high-voltage crime novels. Indeed, he has said that writing gives him the same "adrenaline rush," no matter which audience he is targeting: Readers of all ages appreciate the imagination, suspense, and an impeccable eye for detail he brings to all his fiction.

Good To Know

Pearson calls himself a workaholic, "not so much by desire as out of necessity," since he reserves a lot of time for his two young daughters. His hobbies, which he now defines as "something you once did and no longer have the time for," include recreational tree climbing, fly-fishing, backyard volleyball, snow boarding—and, of course, bass guitar in his rock band. An avid reviser, Pearson says, "I'm said to have a nervous, worrying disposition, but rarely feel I live up to that description—perhaps internal calm is expressed as external nervosa."

Pearson loves to travel, especially to southern France, with wife Marcelle and second child Storey, who is adopted from China. We're certain to do a good deal of international travel in the years to come. He also attends local symphony and theater. But his "favorite avocation is to spend an evening around our dining table with two or three other couples. This, I feel, is where many of the world's ills are solved, and many souls restored. Mine, especially."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Wendell McCall; Joyce Reardon
    2. Hometown:
      St. Louis, Missouri
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 13, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      Glen Cove, New York
    1. Education:
      Kansas University, B.A., Brown University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt



“DBF at Scenic and Eighth,” announced the warm-toned voice of Virginia Fraizer, who acted as both receptionist and radio dispatcher. Dead body found. Down by the beach. They used telephones where dead bodies were concerned. Too many blood-and-guts freaks monitoring police bands to use the radios for something like this. Thank God for Ginny. She seemed to hold the department together.

“I’m on my way,” Detective Sergeant James Dewitt replied, returning the receiver to the cradle of the bedside phone. DBF! Not a one-eighty-seven, thank God. That would be a homicide. Not after just two months on the force. Had to hurry. Outdoor crime scenes deteriorated quickly, and to make matters worse, it had been raining when he had awakened at 5:30. He knew the location: a turnout in the blacktop in the otherwise impossibly narrow scenic road that fronted Carmel’s beach. Enough room for three parked cars. A hit-and-run, maybe.

Dead body found. One thing was certain: He was wide awake now.

He was in his boxer underwear. He was waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, waiting to wake up Emmy and get her ready for school. He looked in the mirror. He was anything but on his way.

The body lay spread out on the pavement, posed inhumanly like a malfunctioning mannequin discarded on the showroom floor. Suicide, by the look of the car. A hose taped from the exhaust to the passenger window. Dewitt approached the body and stopped. Given the remarkable gift of life, he wondered how someone could choose death. Sight of the suicide made him angry and a thought flashed through his mind: If only this man’s unwanted life could be traded for Julia’s.

It was a chilly January morning. Dewitt wore his brown wool sport coat—his only wool sport coat—a garment that begged for replacement. Its two black buttons drooped like the sad eyes of a basset hound. His identifying trademark remained his bow ties, a holdover from his fifteen years in forensics: In the lab, a bow tie stays out of your way. He wore green paisley today, a gift from Emmy. He removed his glasses, exhaled onto their lenses, and afforded them a long methodical polish. He returned them to the bridge of his nose, seating them in a permanently pink dent there. He stepped over the body and squatted by the man’s feet, taking one general all-encompassing look first, then focusing detail by detail, head to toe. James Dewitt still existed in the world of the microscopic particle. His eyes missed very little.

He was unaccustomed to victims—especially dead ones. Having served as a man of evidence for so many years, he tended toward the material evidence first, which justified, at least in his mind, disregarding the body at present, turning away and focusing his attention on the vehicle. Technically, he was Detective Dewitt now. Detective Sergeant. But at a crime scene such as this, he instinctively reverted to his former self, a forensic investigator, a specialist dealing in the invisible world of trace evidence. His colleagues derisively referred to forensic criminalists as “nitpickers.” What did they know? Would your standard off-the-shelf detective have already noticed that there was no sand on the bottom of the decedent’s shoes, this despite a sugarlike coating covering the entire parking lot? And if no sand on the bottom of the shoes, then how had the decedent placed that hose in the passenger window?

That was the beauty of hard evidence: It could either be explained or it couldn’t. Witnesses might offer a dozen different accounts of the same incident, but the hard evidence eventually told one, and only one, story.

The car and the dead body would have to tell this story. Unlikely to have witnesses at this early hour. Dewitt carried surgical gloves and a Swiss Army knife in the right pocket of his sports coat; forceps, Baggies, small magnifying glass, and a Mag-Lite in his other. He snapped the pair of gloves on and called out to Patrolman Anderson, who was stringing the bright plastic POLICE LINE tape around the perimeter of the parking area. DO NOT CROSS, it warned. The wind changed and Dewitt could hear the comforting concussion of nearby surf more clearly, could smell the salt and the sap. The struggling Monterey pines with their wind-torn limbs and awkward weather-sculpted shapes leaned painfully toward shore.

Anderson ashamedly confirmed that he had dragged the body from the car. Dewitt was going to have to call a meeting of Carmel’s twenty patrolmen and remind them of the responsibilities of the first officer, the first cop to arrive at a crime scene. The problem was not stupidity as much as unfamiliarity. Carmel saw few dead bodies in any given year. However, procedures were what kept investigations consistent, and the courts required consistency.

Dewitt fished out the dead man’s wallet. California driver’s license. Name: John Galbraith Osbourne. Sacramento. The detective experienced a short flutter in his heart, like sudden indigestion. Third card down was the organ-donor card. Another flutter, this time more painful. The card contained an entry for the next of kin to be notified upon death: Jessica Joyce Osbourne. Everyone knew Jessie Osbourne, the fiercely outspoken Republican state representative. “Jammin’ Jessie” they had called her last year because she had played basketball with the statehouse boys for a charity function and had come out of the game at halftime with two points, two assists, and a bloody nose. At fifty-five, Osbourne still had the spunk of a young woman.

Dewitt slipped the wallet into a Baggie and then removed his glasses again, polishing them slowly and then hooking them back around his ears, establishing them on his nose.

He circled the Tercel once, eyes alert. Osbourne had done a neat job of it—but why here? The location of the crime scene itself was as much a piece of evidence as anything. Did he want to die with a nice view? Had there been any view an hour earlier, or had it been too dark? Why here?

Rusty, his shepherd collie mutt, barked from the back of Dewitt’s unmarked police car, a Mercury Zephyr. Dewitt shouted a reprimand and the dog went silent.

Dewitt knelt by the body again. Decent-looking guy except for his bluish gray skin. The headlights of the arriving coroner’s wagon swept the pavement as it descended the hill of Eighth. Three jewels sparkled in the light, drawing Dewitt’s attention. He duck-walked the short distance. Fresh motor oil by the look of it. It had been raining heavily when Dewitt had awakened at 5:30, yet this oil had not washed away. Was that possible in that strong a rain? Using his Swiss Army knife, he took a sample of some of the oil, sealed it in a Baggie, and then labeled it.

“Was your radio car parked over here at any time?” he shouted over to Anderson.

“No, sir,” Anderson replied as he finished with the crime-scene ribbon by tying it off to the bumper of his radio car.

Dewitt carried what amounted to a portable crime lab in the trunk of the Zephyr. Besides the spare tire, the bulletproof police vest, and the first-aid kit, he kept two large black salesman bags back there. Between them, they carried every conceivable investigator’s tool. He retrieved his camera and photographed the oil and its relationship to the crime scene. Rusty protested from the backseat and had to be silenced again.

“What’s up?” Anderson asked, joining him a moment later.

Looking the young patrolman in the eye, Dewitt pointed his gloved finger at the dead man, John Osbourne. “He had a visitor,” he said.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2008

    A reviewer

    Huge fan of Ridleys work. Having read all the Boldt books I broke off into the stand alone books and this one is quite disappointing. The story is bland and nothing like a Ridley Pearson book. I was expecting twists and to at leats be thrown off track once in this book like I sometimes feel while I read his work but this was just cookie cutter to me. Nothing impressed me. The main character seemed pretty clueless. One minute demanding it a certain way only to break his own rule when it came time for the climax. I hope the next one I pick up is better, we all can have a bad day I guess. Ridley is great at what he does he just seemed off on this one. I talked to a few folks who have read it as well and honestly no one liked it so far so I dont feel as bad.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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