Pyres [NOOK Book]

Overview


Punky Lucia Moberg turns sixteen in a week. She steals CDs from stores, argues with Mom, pines for the rebel boy next door. But adolescence ends fast in a mall parking lot when Luc’s professor father is shot dead in an apparent botched stickup. The killer flees, and so ignites an inferno that will engulf all the women it touches: a mother whose domestic life is shrouded in darkness, a pregnant outlaw desperate for a secure life, a dogged family cop atoning for her own family’s collapse, and Lucia herself, caught...

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Pyres

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Overview


Punky Lucia Moberg turns sixteen in a week. She steals CDs from stores, argues with Mom, pines for the rebel boy next door. But adolescence ends fast in a mall parking lot when Luc’s professor father is shot dead in an apparent botched stickup. The killer flees, and so ignites an inferno that will engulf all the women it touches: a mother whose domestic life is shrouded in darkness, a pregnant outlaw desperate for a secure life, a dogged family cop atoning for her own family’s collapse, and Lucia herself, caught in the peril and violence that surrounds her.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Short story writer Nikitas fills his engaging, atmospheric first novel, set in upstate New York, with Swedish mythology and American carnage. The life of 15-year-old Lucia "Luc" Moberg, who dresses goth and rebels against her mother, irrevocably changes after a trip to the mall with her S.U.N.Y. professor father, Oscar. Stealing a few CDs for her friends from a music and video store, she runs to the bookstore to find her father and begs him to leave immediately, feigning illness. Unfortunately for Luc, far worse awaits the Mobergs in the mall parking lot-an armed gunman who shoots and kills Oscar. The murder sets off a violent chain of events that tears apart the Mobergs and their community. Fans of Joyce Carol Oates, who provides a blurb, will in particular enjoy this unrelentingly dark and brutal novel with its ironic twists. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Part whodunnit, part horror story, with a pinch of the supernatural, Nikitas's debut novel is not your average mystery. It's the tale of three women: Luc (pronounced "Luke") Moberg, a 15-year-old girl who wears black and occasionally shoplifts for fun; Tanya Yasbeck, a very pregnant 19-year-old from the street who hopes her boyfriend's motorcycle gang membership will lead to a better life; and Greta Hurd, a divorced, middle-aged homicide detective on the outs with her soon-to-be-married daughter. When a trip to the mall ends in Luc's father being murdered, the three threads of the story begin to intertwine, and by the end, each character gets pushed to the limits of her being. This is a genre-stretching narrative where the bad guys are human, the good guys are flawed, and rescue arrives late if at all. It is also literary, gripping, and very real; Nikitas captures the voices of his three female protagonists with compelling accuracy. While this book may not appeal to readers of formulaic crime fiction, it is recommended for both public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ6/1/07; Joyce Carol Oates nominated Nikitas for a Pushcart Award in 2005.-Ed.]
—Nancy Fontaine

School Library Journal

Adult/High School
Lucia "Luc" Moberg, 15, wears Goth clothing and has dark moods. When she steals at the mall, she quickly leaves with her father and then witnesses his brutal shooting-through their windshield. Coping with her mother's subsequent bizarre behavior is just the beginning of what lies ahead for Luc. Her very survival is at stake. The detective working on the case investigates on the assumption that the perpetrator is either Luc or her mother. Nikitas weaves and twists the lives of three strong and very different characters into a shocking finale. How they and others respond to past and present extreme trauma makes for compelling reading. The narrative burns as bright as the title against the darkness of the personalities. Images of Norse folktales from her father's stories appear in Luc's dreams and waking moments as she encounters deranged gang members far removed from her suburban banality. Those who like Stephen King's characters but seek something less supernatural will find this tragic and fast-paced first novel compelling. -Deirdre Cerkanowicz, Berkeley Public Library, CA

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A harrowing debut novel in which a girl who witnesses the brutal murder of her father learns the worst is yet to come. If only she'd known, 15-year-old Lucia Moberg would have done it all so differently. "But she didn't know, and there's the guilt that will not subside." Bent on petty larceny-Lucia prides herself on light fingers-she'd conned her father into driving her to the mall. Her plan to lift a couple of CDs for some friends backfires when two instances of thievery go drastically awry. In the first, she narrowly escapes capture. Minutes later, on their way home, her father is gunned down, murdered by the carjacker to whom he refused to give his wallet. Enter Investigator Greta Hurd of the Rochester PD, the kind of detective who disdains the obvious. Having rejected the carjacking as the whole story, Greta begins asking pointed questions of Lucia's anxious mom, of the boy next door whose general scruffiness runs counter to type and of certain unlovely members of a bottom-feeding gang called the Skeleton Crew. The pace accelerates and eventually explodes into violence. Lucia, caught in the middle, bears the brunt of the ensuing mindless savagery and manages to cope, survive intact and somehow emerge from the experience a bit less burdened by guilt. The prose is admirable, the mood pure Ingmar Bergman. Proceed with caution.
From the Publisher

"Nikitas' stellar first novel isn't just one of the best genre debuts of the year, it's one of the best releases -- period." --The Chicago Tribune

"Part whodunnit, part horror story, with a pinch of the supernatural, Nikitas's debut novel is not your average mystery... This is a genre-stretching narrative where the bad guys are human, the good guys are flawed, and rescue arrives late if at all. It is also literary, gripping, and very real; Nikitas captures the voices of his three female protagonists with compelling accuracy." --Library Journal

"A harrowing debut novel in which a girl who witnesses the brutal murder of her father learns the worst is yet to come... The prose is admirable, the mood pure Ingmar Bergman. Proceed with caution." --Kirkus Reviews

"A heartbreaking coming-of-age story and a gripping pyschological thriller." --Booklist

"A stylish, assured voice that depicts his characters in every harsh, flattering, beautiful light and shows how a single, seemingly random event has the effect of converging the lives of disparate and damaged people." -- Sarah Weinman

"A fever dream and a waking nightmare--a hypnotic, sophisticated descent into hell. Nikitas is the heir apparent to Joyce Carol Oates." -- Marcus Sakey, THE BLADE ITSELF

"Derek owes me a night's sleep...Loved it! That opening chapter shocked me rigid.... Are you sure this is a debut? The writing is to roar for and loud and triumphant. Just a marvelous, wonderful book!" --Ken Bruen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429994712
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/9/2008
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,367,115
  • File size: 309 KB

Meet the Author


Derek Nikitas has published stories in The Ontario Review, Chelsea, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and The Pedestal Magazine. Pyres is his first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

Pyres


By Nikitas, Derek

St. Martin's Minotaur

Copyright © 2007 Nikitas, Derek
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312363970

Excerpt
Once upon a time is hell. Lucia would learn to wish that her life could unfold more than just once upon a time. Maybe then the story of her family might improve each time it was told. Maybe then she could cut away the dark spots, just like her dad used to do when he read her those Swedish fairy tales, hunched on a kid-sized stool near her bed. He often tilted his fables away from the brutal bits, bypassed whatever would cause nightmares. Only the bright stuff, kiddo.
“You missed the part where the goblin stole the baby,” Luc would say. She’d be tucked under her comforter in her Care Bears p.j.s, six years old, wearing mittens and her Yankees cap just for the heck of it. Downstairs Mom watched Dynasty and pretended she was studying for a bio test. Back then Mom had only two semesters left to snag that college diploma that she’d been postponing for the sake of mothering her only daughter.
“I forgot the goblin part, that is true,” Dad said. He scratched his blond moustache and flashed a smirk that meant some slips happened on purpose. The sky blue binding on the book he held was thick as a dictionary. On the cover was a painting of a bearded gnome—tomte, in Swedish—no bigger than a cat and saddled to a deer’s antlers. The tomte gripped thoseantlers with two thick mittens, throwing out his stubby legs. He wore a pointed felt cap and a leather tote strapped from his shoulder to his opposite hip. In the background the fir trees held aloft snow tufts on their upturned branches. Tomten are the creatures that deliver your Jul Mas presents if you’ve been a good girl.
And Dad showed her the pictures inside the book: a tomte crouched on a pillow and whispering into a sleeping child’s ear, the child’s loose hair twined around his legs and his little yarn-laced boots. That picture was for the story about a princess who finds a tomte caught in a rabbit trap in her garden. Afterward she keeps him in a burlap sack tied to her bedpost, and he doesn’t mind the tight quarters. There’s an evil queen with precious gems lodged in her eye sockets, a talking bear, an ice fairy who tells the future while a cold blue heart beats inside her chest. Even years later Luc remembered those stories.
Her father was Swedish, born and raised near Stockholm. Before Luc was born, even before Dad met Mom, he moved from Sweden to New York to go to school for his literature doctorate, and he’d only been back to Scandinavia a few times for research and visits with his distant half siblings from his father’s first marriage. Dad’s own parents died long ago. Luc had never visited Sweden herself, so she didn’t know any better than what Dad would have her believe, though he always promised they’d go in the summer of ’97 when she graduated from high school.
But for now Luc was fifteen and scrawny, five feet tall in her purple Doc Martens. Scraping her boot soles over sidewalks and down school hallways, clomping like a puppy on its adult feet. Luc’s moon face teetered on her thin stalk of a neck, and her big wet eyes always looked shocked though they hardly ever were. Black-dyed hair, black pleated skirt, black fingernails. Black that stained bathroom towels and armrests and pillow cushions and incited Mom’s hollered threats.
Blair Crowley-Moberg was her mother’s name. Mom was only thirty-five, ten years younger than her professor husband. Sure she was still attractive, but she was frumpy more often than not with her wood brown hair and her orthopedic sneakers. Last time Luc saw her mother looking halfway glam was when Mom went as Madonna to the English faculty Halloween party, with the blond wig and the cone bra. “I feel totally retarded,” Mom had kept saying until she drank enough amaretto sours to cheer herself up. Luc went as Gregor the human dung beetle from Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” even though she’d never read it. At the party Mom snuck Luc enough sips of amaretto to give Luc blurred sight even with her glasses on.
But that was more than a month ago, long before the bucktoothed jack-o’-lanterns rotted greenish on the front porch until Dad finally threw them out. Thanksgiving ’93 had passed with a roasted chicken because nobody in the family liked turkey, and then it was back to school. Now it was the first Saturday in a December that had started warmer and wetter than usual, but with the same perpetual upstate winter gray. Nine days until Luc’s sixteenth birthday, until she could test for her driver’s permit.
And if she’d had that permit just nine days earlier—
Look: if only decisions weren’t just once upon a time, then with a second chance Luc never would’ve begged her parents—Mom first—to drive her from where they lived in the Village of Hammersport to the Ontario Ridge Mall twenty minutes east toward Rochester. But there’s no pulling back from that decision. Time rushed Luc only forward. Living backward, fixing what’s already been broken—it’s like crawling back into the womb: it’s impossible.
How it happened was Luc found her mother in the backyard raking up the dead leaves they’d neglected until now, piling them beside the vinyl pool that had been covered since September. Mom wore sweatpants and an insulated flannel shirt, her shoulders getting damp from a falling drizzle. Her hair was beaded with moisture and her lips shuddered from the chill.
“I can’t take you right now. I have to finish this,” Mom said.
Luc squinted at the dark churning clouds. “It’s raining.”
“That’s why I need to finish.”
“Well—later?” Raindrops piddled against Luc’s glasses.
“I doubt it,” Mom said, like such decisions were out of her grasp. “What do you need to go to the mall for anyways?”
Luc shrugged and laced her fingers together over the top of her head. She stood near the walkout basement door and the concrete steps leading up to the driveway. The Mobergs’ patch of village property was landscaped lower than the yards around it, surrounded on three sides by stone walls like an excavation site. Back there everything loomed above the yard—their house with its finished basement and ground floor and attic, the trees shivering off the last of their dead leaves, Dad’s boat draped with a tarp for winter, the neighbors’ driveways. Next door, right that moment, Quinn Cutler was up there working in his mother’s garage. Luc couldn’t see him but she heard his tools clank and crank against his motorcycle as he tightened it up like a huge metal fist.
“Is there another rake?” Luc said. “I could help?”
“That’s a first,” said Mom. She hunched down and ripped away the wet leaves clogging the rake. For months Mom had been blurting smug quips like the two of them were still tangled in some argument that Luc had forgotten about. “Anyway, you don’t need to be spending any more money. You still owe me for those towels you ruined.”
“I was just asking,” Luc said.
And then, five feet above them, just at the crest of their stone wall, Quinn Cutler appeared on his mother’s driveway in jeans and an Overkill concert T-shirt, wiping his hands on a greasy rag. His denim knees were stained with smudges of dark oil. He was part Native American—with tanned skin and sharp cheekbones, silky brown hair parted down the center that draped past his shoulders. Hard little muscles with veins thick as drinking straws running through his arms. He was a senior at the high school, older than most because he’d been kept back one or two years. Luc held her breath while Quinn nodded down at them. He muttered, “What’s up?”
“Hey,” Luc said. Her face felt warm now, even in this wet December noon.
Mom gripped the rake handle with both hands and scowled up at their neighbor. The tendons in her neck twitched, almost like she could sense how Luc’s blood heated up whenever Quinn made an appearance. Luc had seen him twice at school just yesterday, passed him walking between classes, but the thrill was the same every time—a pulse of ecstasy flashing out from her unconscious mind.
Back inside the basement, Luc detoured into her dark bedroom. The stereo glowed its liquid green readout, and pale daylight leaked red through the curtains. She swiped her jacket off her bed—a denim jacket safety-pinned with a dozen rock band patches, decorated with strips of duct tape and blotches of black and silver fabric paint. It was her self-styled uniform, along with the boots and the skirt and the black-and-white striped leotards.
Lucia Moberg: named after Saint Lucy only because of her birthday falling on Sankta Lucia, December thirteenth, the night in Sweden when little girls marched around singing carols in white dresses and flaming-candle tiaras. The saint of light and eyesight. Luc had seen icons of Saint Lucia that showed her carrying a bowl of bloody human eyeballs. Pretty freaking cool, especially since Lucia Moberg herself was badly myopic and wore glasses with thick black hipster frames, almost flaunting her impairment. Without her glasses the world was a greasy color smear.
Lucia’s closest friends Gina and Kit called her Luc, pronounced like the boy’s name Luke—never like luck, which was lame, or like loose, which made her sound like a slut. She’d throw a sucker punch at the gut of anyone who called her Luck or Loose, or worst of all, Lu-Lu.
Up the stairs, shoving her arms through her jacket sleeves, gunning through the kitchen and the hallway. She grabbed the wrought-iron rails of the spiral staircase leading up to her father’s attic study, swung herself onto the bottom step, and craned her head backward, gazing up the twisted center of the stairs to the light above.
“Dad!” she called. “You up there?”
“Present,” he said—his lame-ass college professor joke, just like how he raised his hand at the dinner table when he wanted to speak, even if nobody else was talking. They might’ve gotten all the way through dinner most nights without speaking if not for Dad.
“What are you doing?”
“Grading a relentless stack of freshman essays.”
“Can you take me to the mall? Mom won’t. All you need to do is drop me off.”
“And then drive all the way back to pick you up.”
“So—you can hang out at the bookstore.”
“Ah, touché,” Dad said with his creaky Norse lilt, and in a few minutes he was driving her through rain in an aging Volvo station wagon, wipers pushing away the drench that kept beating down. Maybe if she’d known what would happen she could’ve shoved open the passenger door and tossed her body to the road’s pebbly shoulder and captured the pain for herself. She could’ve stopped what she’d started. But she didn’t know, and there’s the guilt that will not subside.
At the Barnes and Noble Luc split from her father and headed for the other end of the mall. Twenty minutes later, in Wonderland Music and Video, she dawdled. She tapped her fingers over the CD stacks, eyeing the employees, studying the two-dozen other customers in the store. One clerk chatted on the phone while he scanned purchases at the checkout line. Another one restocked the video aisle—a lardy woman who gasped and wheezed just because she was standing upright. Her waddle bunched above a rubber neck brace that kept her head locked in forward. Five minutes back, a third Wonderland clerk had ducked into the break room with a half liter of Pepsi and a brown-bagged lunch. So this was the best layout Luc could hope for. Now or never.
She needed two CDs for Gina and Kit—the fraternal twin sisters who lived two blocks away from her house, her best friends since forever. But nothing for Luc. She never, ever stole for herself, trusting that karma would keep her safe if she worked without a reward.
Luc plucked out a random CD that was locked inside a white plastic security case, just like all the others. Something like the Lamest Hits of Tom Petty. She pretended to read the back cover while she aimed her eyeshot toward the lardy shelf-stocker punching a label gun against video cases. Luc grabbed for the Smiths’ Louder than Bombs and thumbed the plastic lock with her fingers, jammed it quick and hard, and snapped it loose.
Even a toddler could beat those stupid locks, but step two was to peel the raised rectangular sticker off the back, the one with the secret computer chip trapped inside it. Usually a piece of shrink-wrap tore along with it, but nobody would notice if Luc moved fast enough. This particular sticky white rectangle came free, no problem.
Then came the amateur magic where Luc crouched down like she’d dropped something and meanwhile slid the CD into the inside breast pocket of her jacket. The pocket was wide and deep enough for her prize, almost custom-made for it.
The Smiths disc was meant for Gina, older than her sister Kit by something like twenty minutes. The younger twin Kit wanted a techno sampler—any techno sampler, it didn’t matter—because she was obsessed with raves even though she’d never really been to one. So Luc figured she’d pick Kit an ambient mix. The cover was a dizzying color pattern that turned 3-D if you stared at it long enough. Thumb, jam, crack—the security lock popped like a twig in a campfire, loud enough that Luc flinched her hand away too fast and made a spectacle.
Sure enough, Lardy Clerk lurched herself into motion and limped off toward the front counter. Fast, too—like she had a mission, like maybe she’d caught that fumble in Luc’s not-so-sleight-of-hand. Luc watched as Lardy grunted out one frantic full-body twist in Luc’s direction, enough to confirm Luc’s fear.
So Luc made for the exit, half a store’s length away. She cruised but she didn’t run, swerved around a lady hogging the aisle with her kid’s stroller. Luc’s hardened criminal act had flushed away. Now she was just a girl terrified of getting nabbed and vowing never to shoplift again if she could just clear this one last mistake.
“Hey—hey, you! Where you going?” Lardy’s voice was squeezed off by her tight rubber choker, but it rang loud enough to perk half the heads in the store.
But Luc still didn’t run. She couldn’t let herself panic like that. Her path through the security gate was clear—until somebody grabbed at her. All she saw was an arm wrapped in a Buffalo Bills vinyl jacket. Just some asshole who thought groping a hundred-pound kid is what makes a hero. She ducked that hand and it missed her.
Luc tossed herself out into the human river streaming through the mall. She wove between the calendar kiosk racks and hurried along the inside edge of the opposite lane, squeezing herself between a jewelry stand and the slow-moving flow of Saturday shoppers headed toward the food court. Ten competing music sources hummed against the honeycomb skylights. She circled around the fountain spitting whitewater ten feet up. She passed a cottonpuff snowscape where automaton elves were busying their stiff limbs in a toy shop manger. Their hand-painted faces panned on mechanical necks, tracking her like hidden cameras. She trucked past the Mrs. Smith’s cookie stand, down toward Barnes and Noble, where she prayed she’d find her dad browsing.
Lord—if they snatched her now and locked her in some empty room and paged Dad over the intercom, she’d never forgive herself for causing that shame. Tenured English Professor Learns Sad, Ugly Truth About Hoodlum Daughter—news at eleven.
Luc power walked something fierce. And she was huffing too, heaving stale mall air into her lungs. Nothing nondescript about black-dyed hair, decorated denim jacket, striped leotards. Up ahead, a security cop leaned against the Sprint cell phone kiosk chatting up the clerk. When Luc passed, he reached for a voice crackling some urgent news over his walkie-talkie, unclipped it from his belt. He weighed about two-fifty, gut pressing against his blue uniform shirt. He looked easy to outrun if it came to that.
Never again, God, never.
She reached Barnes and Noble just when the first sweat dab wet her bangs. This end of the mall was almost deserted, and the open space made Luc feel more vulnerable. She risked her first look back and saw no one recognizable in her tracks. There at the bookstore entrance she paced for a minute, hands on her hips, catching her breath and composure.
Luc found her dad where she expected, seated on a stool in the coffee shop and sipping a latte from a tall paper cup, wearing his blue rain parka, which looked wet even though it wasn’t. He slouched over a hardcover book laid open on the table. Six-and-a-half feet tall. His golden hair sprouted in nine directions, disheveled from having been trapped inside his toque.
“Hey, I thought we were meeting in the food court,” Dad said. He checked the watch he kept in his pants pocket because one of the straps had broken months ago. “A half hour from now.” His face glowed ruddy from the warmth of his latte, which had also left foam on his mustache.
Luc stood behind the low iron railing that partitioned the coffee shop from the bookstore, afraid her dad would catch the scent of her panic if she stepped any closer. “I started feeling like crap,” she said, “like nauseous. Can we go? I feel like I’m going to puke.”
“You look feverish. Are you hot? Would you like an herbal tea?”
Luc watched the mall entrance. “Can we just go?”
“Sure, but—come over here for just a minute. I’d like to show you this.” He lifted the book spine, but not high enough that she could see the pages from where she stood. Luc peeled off her jacket and balled it against her chest while she moved around the gate. At least then security would miss her if they were looking for a kid with rock band names painted on her coat. Dad talked while she came around: “This is a brand-new translation of the Prose Edda. They had an Icelandic painter do these full-color plates.”
What he showed Luc was a painting of a Viking longship bright with yellow and orange flames as it drifted out to sea. Luc snatched her father’s toque from the table and stuffed it over her obvious black hair.
“I thought you were hot,” Dad said. “I’ve just been reading about the death of Baldr—you remember that story? I told it when you were younger. There’re some subtleties of language here that I haven’t found in any other version. This is fantastic.”
“Are you going to buy it?” Luc said. Her knees twitched.
“Ah, alas, they’re charging seventy-five dollars. Maybe I’ll ask the tomten to bring it to me for Christmas. Do you like this cologne? It was a sample.” Dad exposed his wrist for Luc to sniff, waving it under her nose.
“I’ll hurl if I smell it, Dad.”
Luc waited in the entrance foyer while Dad moseyed back to reshelve his hardback Prose Edda where he’d found it. Compact earthquakes rumbled in her chest and trembled down her limbs, only partly caused by the cold, wet air that hit her when customers pushed open the doors. Outside, people trudged through the rain, heads bowed under umbrellas and hoods. Cars stopped and waited at the crosswalk out front, then rolled with a hiss over the wet ground, steam rising off their warm headlights.
“Are we ready?” Dad asked. They stepped out into the chill and the rain, and Luc nudged her head against her father’s ribs. There in the crook of his arm she felt invincible, even as the rain chilled her clenched face, even as the car marked mall security rolled to a stop beside them. She held her breath. The rain and the thumping wipers hid the driver from her view, and she waltzed with her father over the crosswalk.
Dad had parked the Volvo at the far end of their aisle—the closest spot he could find on a Saturday three weeks before Christmas—so by the time they reached the car and Dad fished out his keys, Luc’s leotards clung damp and heavy against her legs. She climbed into the backseat and sprawled herself there, shivering even more violently from her relief. When Dad climbed into the driver’s seat, Luc pulled the stolen CD from her jacket and slipped it underneath the passenger seat. Her prize seemed worthless now. Gina could come dig it out of the car if she wanted it so bad.
Dad sparked the engine and the wipers kicked to life. He sipped his latte through a plastic lid while Journey crooned “Open Arms” from the back speakers. Luc hunkered down, planted her wet boots against the opposite door.
“Hey, Luc, sit up,” Dad said. “You need to have your seatbelt fastened.”
“I don’t feel good.”
“I know, but I’d rather you were safe—”
A shadow washed across the back window and stopped beside the driver’s door. It came too fast for Luc to register the shape as human, until a gloved hand rapped on her father’s window. The jacket was a brown zip-up darkened by rainwater. His head, his face, loomed too far above the curve of the car roof for Luc to see. She gasped. Mall security, she was sure. Already her mind crowded with apologies.
Dad pressed the automatic window control and the glass hummed downward. Luc propped herself on her shoulders, lifted her head. This new posture only further blocked her sightline, but it was better that she didn’t see the frown this guy was probably feeding her father, prepping Dad for some shit news about his spoiled only child.
The visitor wrapped his fingers over the lip of the half-open window like he meant to push it down faster. Then he said, “What’s up, doc?” Smarmy—somebody who thinks busting teens for shoplifting is a laugh riot.
“Excuse me?” Dad said.
Then the guy shoved his other hand into the opening and pointed one thick finger squarely at Dad’s face. In that blank second, Luc thought her dad was being accused, and then all her assumptions were fizzling away.
“Give me your fucking wallet!” the guy grunted. His edict rattled through his teeth.
“Vad i helvete?” Dad said, and his right hand grabbed at the gearshift. The paper cup went airborne and splashed brown muck against the dashboard and the windshield. Luc’s brain caught up to her eyes: this man wasn’t pointing his finger. He was aiming a gun with a dull sliver barrel and slanted groove marks near the muzzle. It was trained inches from her father’s head.
The Volvo jerked into reverse, shoved Luc’s tensed body against the front seats, crammed her down onto the floorboards. Even while she tumbled she didn’t look away from the gun that smacked the window frame and fired a shot and then vanished from sight. Her ears went deaf, stunned by the gun blast. Moist breeze flicked across her face.
Then came a collision and the whole earth jostled. Glass shards sailed. The back window, the whole panorama of it, collapsed in a million crystal bits that poured onto the seat where Luc had just been reclining. Rain splashed through this new wide maw like a cloud had burst overhead. She would understand only later that their car had heaved across the parking aisle and slammed its rear against an empty Neon parked there.
For a moment Luc’s shocked eardrums heard nothing but Steve Perry on the speakers, crooning about hoping you’ll see what your love means to him. Through the white-fogged windshield Luc saw a glob of darkness—the man with the gun, still poised in the parking space they’d just escaped, pivoting his outstretched arm, aiming his gun where the car now idled.
“Are you all right?” Dad asked.
“No,” Luc said, though she felt no pain.
Now the Volvo’s windshield warped sugary white and crackled a million fibrous trails but did not break. Dad lurched backward into his seat and there were thick warm droplets of dark red rain wetting Luc’s upraised hand and spackling the back window. And puffs of yellow foam coughing backward from Dad’s headrest. And his head reeling like it was flushed with booze.
“Dad?” Lucia said. One of her arms lay trapped and throbbing between her body and the floor, but she flailed her free hand, now realizing what had doused it. Her father’s two hands dropped down between his open knees. This limp gesture hunched him forward and laid his ruined skull against the steering wheel.  Copyright © 2007 by Derek Nikitas. All rights reserved.


Continues...

Excerpted from Pyres by Nikitas, Derek Copyright © 2007 by Nikitas, Derek. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

A Message from the Author

I like to watch women. I mean, I like to watch men become women. Let's try this, instead: I've always been fascinated by the audacity of a male writer inhabiting the mind of a fictional woman -- whether she is Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina or someone with a little more dirt under her nails, like Stephen King's Carrie White. These are often women on trial, desperate to be granted life. These are martyrs. I'm thinking in particular of the Scandinavian filmmakers who sparked this Pygmalion fascination in me -- Ingmar Bergman with Persona and Through a Glass Darkly, Lars Von Trier with Breaking the Waves, Carl Dreyer with The Passion of Joan of Arc. Maybe it's the Nordic ice in their blood that drives their urge to build the Bride of Frankenstein over and over again. Maybe it's genuine compassion, as I'd like to believe.

This male desire to look through the eyes of women, especially tortured ones -- it might seem a bit perverse, presumptuous, vulgar, idealistic. And worse, it's doomed from the start because no man-made woman, no matter how she gleams with light (and she will gleam, too bright at times), can breathe quite the way women's women breath. She twitches a little, she's got a far-off look in her eye, she's too fragile and yet her voice is a bit too deep. She'll say what men wish she'd say, but she still won't do what they wish she'd do. You'll watch her, fascinated, falling deeper in love by the second -- but if you gaze too hard she'll blur away and be gone forever. She has a semblance of a soul, but she wears it on the outside of her skin.

When I began to write Pyres, my compulsion was to create and inhabit one lone girl. This seemed a difficult enough odyssey. She is Lucia "Luc" Moberg, the punky, tomboyish daughter of a Swedish-born Folklore professor and a mother who works as manager at a department store. I knew I'd have to put her through hell. Her father gets murdered. Her mother attempts suicide. Worst, the human scourge that kills her dad isn't gone, and it's coming back. I knew when I started: I'd have to make Luc tackle fear and grief and shame and guilt -- sometimes all at once -- and I didn't know yet if she'd be rescued and redeemed in the end, or if, like Dreyer's Joan of Arc, she'd be condemned to burn at the stake. There are pyres to light, after all, and madmen with torches looming on the sidelines.

It seems cruel -- Anna Karenina on the train tracks all over again. But to reach Luc's soul, I had to put us both through some suffering. It's what the wicked voice of my muse was telling me -- "take her through the fire, but ride along beside her." I had no choice, really, because in a way, Lucia is me at age fifteen, the feminine side, which is decidedly not my weaker side. She is girls I have known -- a gesture, a phrase -- but mostly she is me, alive and burning in all the ways I could never have been at that age. She was ready to put up a fight against an ugliness much too strong to face alone.

So thank Odin that Greta Hurd barged into my book. She's the seasoned Rochester, New York, police investigator charged with closing the murder of Luc's father. I didn't want a cop into my book, but what could I do? She had a warrant. She shouldered in, rifled through files, barked orders, upended everything. Some women are like that. She took my novel and kicked it around, bashed it into a shape that pleased her. I might've asked, "How'd I end up with a woman cop?" But I didn't dare. Instead, I snuck a glance into her life and saw that she was damaged too -- just as I suspected. Greta needed Luc as much as Luc needed her, and now I didn't know if either one of them would persevere. And I was locked inside them both. Serves me right for trespassing, but sometimes you just have to see for yourself.

The third gal, Tanya Yasbeck, last in my feminine triptych -- she arrived with a whisper, a timid knock. She wore her pain like a heavy gray raincoat. At age nineteen she'd already been through Hell and was nine months pregnant as proof. I didn't know who she was at first, where she'd come from, and every time I tried to look her in the face she'd drop her eyes and take a step away. She seemed to want us to follow her -- me and Luc and Greta -- and if I'd known where she'd take us -- hell, I did know, and I let her lead us anyhow. Women have that power, even the ones we forge in our minds, the ones made of steam and glass. Even as we lost ourselves in the dark woods, I sensed that Tanya could be rescued too, but I didn't know for sure. I hoped she might even find the nerve to save herself from the monsters that had taken her over.

Somehow they arrived -- Luc, Greta, Tanya -- like visions of martyred saints. If this all sounds a bit too mystical for a hard-boiled crime novel, please forgive me. There is grime and rain and gravel in this novel, to be sure, but there's a dose of magic, too. It emanates from these three imaginary women who possessed me for almost three years of my life. Incomplete and damaged women, I admit, but forgive me if I find a certain beauty in their desperate efforts to quicken to life on the page. --Derek Nikitas
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    well written depressing atmospheric psychological crime thriller

    Fifteen years old Lucia Moberg gets her dad to take her to the nearby mall. Once there Lucia steals a CD from a store for her friend, but almost was caught. In a bit of a panic, she convinces her dad that it is time to leave so they go to the car. However, a man with a gun demands her dad turn over his wallet and the car keys. As she horribly watches her dad refuse to cooperate, the man shoots her father in the head splattering his brains all over the windshield and elsewhere. --- Rochester PD Detective Greta Hurd interrogates the teen and quickly rejects the carjacking scenario as a lie. Instead she widens the investigation to Lucia¿s frightened mother, the neighbor, and the Skeleton Crew gang. As Lucia struggles with her guilt, Great keeps prodding at her to tell the truth as she assumes this was crime of passion caused by a dysfunctional family sort of like her own. --- This is a dark character study that grips the audience as the two lead protagonists, the cop and the teen, struggle with person demons that intrude on the case. Lucia is overloaded with guilt as she goes through one what if drill after another, but always comes back to same reality that she can depend on no one especially not her mom as she accepts culpability and tries to move on although the cop won¿t let. Greta sees the case through the myopic lens of her own dysfunction family so assumes either the teen or the mom killed the dad. PYRES is a well written depressing atmospheric psychological crime thriller. --- Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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