The Rosary Girls (Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Series #1)

The Rosary Girls (Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Series #1)

4.5 25
by Richard Montanari

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BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Richard Montanari's The Echo Man.

In his sleek, visceral novels Deviant Way, Kiss of Evil, and The Violet Hour, Richard Montanari slammed into the suspense field like a force of nature. Now Montanari has written an astounding novel that pits two besieged detectives against a


BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Richard Montanari's The Echo Man.

In his sleek, visceral novels Deviant Way, Kiss of Evil, and The Violet Hour, Richard Montanari slammed into the suspense field like a force of nature. Now Montanari has written an astounding novel that pits two besieged detectives against a fiercely intelligent serial killer.

Sprawling beneath the statue of William Penn, Philadelphia is a city of downtrodden crack houses and upscale brownstones. Somewhere in this concrete crazy quilt, one teenage Catholic girl is writing in her diary, another is pouring her heart out to a friend, and yet another is praying. And somewhere in this city is a man who wants these young women to make his macabre fantasy become reality. In a passion play of his own, he will take the girls–and a whole city–over the edge.

Kevin Byrne is a veteran cop who already knows that edge: He’s been living on it far too long. His marriage failing, his former partner wasting away in a hospital, and his heart lost to mad fury, Byrne loves to take risks and is breaking every rule in the book. And now he has been given a rookie partner. Jessica Balzano, the daughter of a famous Philly cop, doesn’t want Byrne’s help. But they will need each other desperately, since they’ve just caught the case of a lifetime: Someone is killing devout young women, bolting their hands together in prayer, and committing an abomination upon their otherwise perfect bodies.

Byrne and Balzano spearhead the hunt for the serial killer, who leads them on a methodically planned journey. Suspects appear before them like bad dreams–and vanish just as quickly. And while Byrne’s sins begin to catch up with him, and Balzano tries to solve the blood-splattered puzzle, the body count rises. Meanwhile, the calendar is approaching Easter and the day of the resurrection. When the last rosary is counted, a madman’s methods will be revealed, and the final crime will be the one that hurts the most.

Relentlessly paced and vividly told, The Rosary Girls is a smart, emotionally complex, fiercely gripping thriller from an author who takes chances, breaks new ground, and leaves readers haunted and moved long after the last page is turned.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
One of the most popular riffs on the police procedural is the partner story -- and suspense writer Richard Montanari's powerful novel rings the changes on a veteran cop/new partner situation.

Kevin Byrne has years of experience with the Philadelphia Homicide Unit, a reputation for working a case for as long as it takes to solve it, and a nasty gift that sometimes gives him a vision of the perp he's after. Now that his longtime partner is sidelined by a heart attack, he has someone new riding shotgun, and it remains to be seen how she'll deal with his less-than-orthodox methods.

At least Jessica Balzano is no rookie detective…but three years of experience in Auto isn't the same as a stint in Homicide. But as Kevin sees it, she's earned her chance to prove herself. She's as eager as he is for a case that will push her to the limit and beyond. Jessica doesn't expect to get her big break the first day out, but that's what happens when she and Kevin are called to the scene of the murder of a parochial school student. The dead girl, clasping a rosary, has been mutilated in a way that shocks even the hardened medical examiner. And when a second teen's body is discovered and a task force is formed, Jessica is determined to make sure that she stays on the case. And if that means going the extra mile and risking her own life and sanity by immersing herself in the dark, dangerous mind of a serial killer, that's what she'll do to close the case of the Rosary Girls. Sue Stone
Publishers Weekly
A specialist in serial killer tales (Kiss of Evil, etc.) offers the gory first in a projected series. A religious nut is preying on Catholic schoolgirls, picking them off with impunity while Philadelphia detective Kevin Byrne and his new partner, Jessica Balzano, wring their hands and wrack their brains. The victims are found with their necks broken, their hands bolted together in prayer and their vaginas sewn shut. Byrne has a problematic past and a Vicodin habit, and Jessica's daughter, Sophie, is a tempting target for the killer, especially since her dad, undercover cop Vincent Balzano, has been kicked out of the house for cheating on Jessica. Several red herring suspects keep both cops and readers off balance, and there are plenty of subplots-Jessica is a female boxer, Byrne is the divorced father of a deaf daughter, there's a nosy tabloid reporter trying to start trouble. But most of these mini-dramas serve only to provide a breather between sadistic mutilations. Montanari can be a wonderfully evocative writer, but the final unveiling of the madman's identity will draw cries of foul from readers who expect a fighting chance at figuring out who the guilty party is. Agent, Meg Ruley. (Feb.) Forecast: Ballantine is pushing this one as Montanari's breakout book-and it's a featured alternate of the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild and the Doubleday Book Club-but the dangling subplots and a formulaic ending may hobble it a bit. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Leaving behind Cleveland detective Jack Paris, Montanari (Kiss of Evil) introduces Philadelphia veteran cop Kevin Byrne and his rookie partner Jessica Balzano. What hasn't changed is the twisted serial killer and the gore-drenched violence that are Montanari's trademarks. Here the Philly killer targets teenage girls attending Catholic schools, leaving a rosary with each corpse and a clue to the next murder. This is a no-holds-barred thriller with driving prose that thrusts the reader into the black soul of the killer. The plot is cleverly crafted, the appealing characters are multidimensional, and those with a taste for Thomas Harris will look forward to the sure-to-follow sequel. Recommended for popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/04.]-Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Someone is killing the Catholic schoolgirls of Philly. Detective Jessica Balzano, the newest Gold Badge in the Philadelphia Homicide Unit, has caught the high-profile case of five girls slain in a single week. There's no telling why, no sign of an end to the brutal pattern. Each victim has rosary beads clutched in her hand, each has been mutilated in a grisly way. Jessica, a decorated police officer's daughter, is bright, resourceful, eager to succeed and as nervous as a kitten on her first day. Fortunately, she draws as her partner Kevin Byrne, a man whose 20 years on the force has given him a special insight into the pathology of serial killers and a special hatred of them derived from his conviction that mindless cruelty is an inextricable part of a serial killer's m.o. Byrne likes Jessica. He thinks she's talented and committed. She respects him enormously. Together, they mount an investigation that soon points in an interesting direction-until its subject is transformed from possible mastermind to brutalized victim, leaving Jessica and Byrne suddenly clueless. Frustrated, though not discouraged, they return to the grunt work. It bears fruit, and this time Jessica feels absolutely certain it's the right direction-something that scares the daylights out of her. A long but lively police procedural told with Montanari's (The Violet Hour, 1998, etc.) signature brand of inelegant brio. Agent: Meg Ruley/Jane Rotrosen Literary Agency
From the Publisher
Praise for The Rosary Girls

“The Rosary Girls is a well-written, fast-moving thriller with twists and turns galore that will keep you guessing until the end.”
–Phillip Margolin, author of Lost Lake

“Readers of this terrifying page-turner are in the hands of a master storyteller. Be prepared to stay up all night.”
–James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential

“A relentlessly suspenseful, soul-chilling thriller that hooks you instantly.”
–Tess Gerritsen

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Series , #1
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Read an Excerpt

Palm Sunday, 11:55 PM

There is a wintry sadness about this one, a deep-rooted melancholy that belies her seventeen years, a laugh that never fully engages any sort of inner joy.

Perhaps there is none.

You see them all the time on the street; the one walking alone, books clutched tightly to her breast, eyes cast earthward, ever adrift in thought. She is the one strolling a few paces behind the other girls, content to accept the rare morsel of friendship tossed her way. The one who baby-sits her way through all the milestones of adolescence. The one who refuses her beauty, as if it were elective.

Her name is Tessa Ann Wells.

She smells like fresh-cut flowers.

“I cannot hear you,” I say.

“. . . lordaswiddee,” comes the tiny voice from the chapel. It sounds as if I have awakened her, which is entirely possible. I took her early Friday morning, and it is now nearly midnight on Sunday. She has been praying in the chapel, more or less nonstop.

It is not a formal chapel, of course, merely a converted closet, but it is outfitted with everything one needs for reflection and prayer.

“This will not do,” I say. “You know that it is paramount to derive meaning from each and every word, don’t you?”

From the chapel: “Yes.”

“Consider how many people around the world are praying at this very moment. Why should God listen to those who are insincere?”

“No reason.”

I lean closer to the door. “Would you want the Lord to show you this sort of contempt on the day of rapture?”


“Good,” I reply. “What decade?”

It takes a few moments for her to answer. In the darkness of the chapel, one must proceed by feel.

Finally, she says: “Third.”

“Begin again.”

I light the remainder of the votives. I finish my wine. Contrary to what many believe, the rites of the sacraments are not always solemn undertakings, but rather are, many times, cause for joy and celebration.

I am just about to remind Tessa when, with clarity and eloquence and import, she begins to pray once more:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. . . .”

Is there a sound more beautiful than a virgin at prayer?

“Blessed art thou amongst women. . . .”

I glance at my watch. It is just after midnight.

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. . . .”

It is time.

“Holy Mary, mother of God. . . .”

I take the hypodermic from its case. The needle gleams in the candlelight. The Holy Spirit is here.

“Pray for us sinners. . . .”

The Passion has begun.

“Now and at the hour of our death. . . .”

I open the door, and step into the chapel.


Part One

Monday, 3:05 AM

There is an hour known intimately to all who rouse to meet it, a time when darkness sheds fully the cloak of twilight and the streets fall still and silent, a time when shadows convene, become one, dissolve. A time when those who suffer disbelieve the dawn.

Every city has its quarter, its neon Golgotha.

In Philadelphia, it is known as South Street.

This night, while most of the City of Brotherly Love slept, while the rivers flowed mutely to the sea, the flesh peddler rushed down South Street like a dry, blistering wind. Between Third and Fourth Streets he pushed through a wrought iron gate, walked down a narrow alleyway and entered a private club called Paradise. The handful of patrons scattered about the room met his gaze, then immediately averted their eyes. In the peddler’s stare they saw a portal to their own blackened souls, and knew that if they engaged him, even for a moment, the understanding would be far too much to bear.

To those who knew his trade, the peddler was an enigma, but not a puzzle anyone was eager to solve.

He was a big man, well over six feet tall, with a broad carriage and large, coarse hands that promised reckoning to those who crossed him. He had wheat-colored hair and cold green eyes, eyes that would spark to bright cobalt in candlelight, eyes that could take in the horizon with one glance, missing nothing. Above his right eye was a shiny keloid scar, a ridge of ropy tissue in the shape of an inverted v. He wore a long, black leather coat that strained against the thick muscles in his back.

He had come to the club five nights in a row now, and this night he would meet his buyer. Appointments were not easily made at Paradise. Friendships were unknown.

The peddler sat at the back of the dank, basement room, at a table that, although not reserved for him, had become his by default. Even though Paradise was settled with players of every dark stripe and pedigree, it was clear that the peddler was of another breed.

The speakers behind the bar offered Mingus, Miles, Monk; the ceiling: soiled Chinese lanterns and rotary fans covered in wood-grain contact paper. Cones of blueberry incense burned, wedding the cigarette smoke, graying the air with a raw, fruity sweetness.

At three-ten, two men entered the club. One was the buyer; the other, his guardian. They both met the eyes of the peddler. And knew.

The buyer, whose name was Gideon Pratt, was a squat, balding man in his late fifties, with flushed cheeks, restless gray eyes and jowls which hung like melted wax. He wore an ill-fitting three-piece suit and had fingers long-gnarled by arthritis. His breath was fetid. His teeth, ocher and spare.

Behind him walked a bigger man—bigger even than the peddler. He wore mirrored sunglasses and a denim duster. His face and neck were ornamented with an elaborate web of ta moko, the Maori tribal tattoos.

Without a word, the three men gathered, then walked down a short hallway to a supply room.

The back room at Paradise was cramped and hot, packed with boxes of off-brand liquor, a pair of scarred metal desks and a mildewed, ragged sofa. An old jukebox flickered carbon blue light.

Once in the room, door closed, the large man, who went by the street name of Diablo, roughly patted down the peddler for weapons and wires, attempting to establish a stratum of power. As he was doing this, the peddler noted the three-word tattoo at the base of Diablo’s neck. It read: Mongrel for Life. He also noticed the butt of a chrome Smith and Wesson revolver in the large man’s waistband.

Satisfied that the peddler was unarmed, and wore no listening devices, Diablo stepped away, behind Pratt, crossed his arms and observed.

“What do you have for me?” Pratt asked.

The peddler considered the man before answering him. They had reached the moment that occurs in every transaction, the instant when the purveyor must come clean and lay his wares upon the velvet. The peddler reached slowly into his leather coat—there would be no furtive moves here—and removed a pair of Polaroid pictures. He handed them to Gideon Pratt.

Both photographs were of fully clothed, precociously posed teenaged black girls. The one called Tanya sat on the front stoop of her row house, blowing a kiss to the photographer. Pink and white streamers cascaded from the handlebar grips. Alicia, her sister, vamped on the beach in Wildwood.

As Pratt scrutinized the photos, his cheeks flared crimson for a moment, his breath hitched in his chest.

“Just . . . beautiful,” he said.

Diablo glanced at the photos, registering no reaction. He turned his gaze back to the peddler.

“What is her name?” Pratt asked, holding up one of the photos.

“Tanya,” the peddler replied.

“Tan-ya,” Pratt repeated, separating the syllables, as if to sort the essence of the girl. He handed one of the pictures back, then glanced at the photograph in his hand. “She is adorable,” he added. “A mischievous one. I can tell.”

Pratt touched the photograph, running his finger gently over the glossy surface. He seemed to drift for a moment, lost in some reverie, then put the picture into his pocket. He snapped back to the moment, back to the business at hand. “When?”

“Now,” the peddler replied.

Pratt reacted with surprise and delight. He had not expected this. “She is here?”

The peddler nodded.

“Where?” asked Pratt.

“Nearby.” Gideon Pratt straightened his tie, adjusted the vest over his bulging stomach, smoothed what little hair he had. He took a deep breath, finding his axis, then gestured to the door. “Shall we?”

The peddler nodded again, then looked to Diablo for permission. Diablo waited a moment, further cementing his status, then stepped to the side.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

RICHARD MONTANARI is a novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and scores of other national and regional publications. He is the OLMA-winning author of the internationally acclaimed thrillers Kiss of Evil, Deviant Way, and The Violet Hour–all published in more than twenty countries. Visit the author’s website at

From the Hardcover edition.

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Rosary Girls 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend this book if you are a fan of police crime thrillers. Great story with interesting characters. I thought I had it figured out a number of times, but nope, not until the end. Even then I was wrong!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I do a lot of reading and when I picked up this book, I thought 'more of the same in this genre'. Wow! was I wrong. This was a fast paced, twisted ,suspenseful thriller. You really don't know 'who done it?' until the last few pages, though there are many twists and turns up until then. If you are looking for a great read in this milieu this is it. And besides all of that you learn something of the rituals of the rosary and coincidently you travel the mean streets of Philadelphia
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE ROSARY GIRLS is one of the finest novels I have ever read. It is fast paced and filled with page after page of seat-edged suspense. The book is difficult to put down and will keep you awake long into the night. The characters are extremely well drawn. Even the secondary characters have substance and depth. The dialogue is smooth and realistic, never stilted or boring. The first thing you will want to do when you finish this novel is read another of Richard Montanari¿s novels. Unfortunately, his previous novels are not readily available. The best thing this author¿s agent/publisher could do would be to reissue his backlist. It would be an act of kindness to all of us who favor the suspense or mystery genre. This author should be encouraged to write, write and then write some more. Fans of James Patterson, John Grisham, Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Mary Higgins Clark, Nelson DeMille and John Lescroart will add Richard Montanari to their list of favorite authors.
quimbey More than 1 year ago
The author is an excellent writer, but I just can't get into this book. It seems there is just too much "intro" stuff to be able to get into the book for me. I'm disappointed because I'd heard good things about the books by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was gripping. Hard to put down at night. Highly recommended read. Will see what else has been written by this author.
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Agatha_mystery_lover More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up in the afternoon & did not want to put it down until I was done! I found the story complex and I kept guessing 'who did it' - I read a lot of mysteries and this is the first one is a while that totally hooked me in. I really enjoyed this book because other than the mystery I felt the characters were being developed as opposed to being two dimensional. Also the topic of young girls being murdered isn't exactly pleasant, but the author didn't go into gory details with the murders. I find alot of newer mystery writers try to go all CSI with how the bodies are found and what exactly were done to them. This book did discuss those topics but not ad nauseum like some others do.
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TWTaz More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by this author. It will not be my last! Great thriller that had me on the edge of my seat and kept me guessing until the end. Looking forward to Kevin & Jessica's next case!
ClarkP More than 1 year ago
The Rosary Girls is very engaging and addicting. I enjoyed the characters in this book because they aren't portrayed as perfect, they are real people with their own flaws. Philadelphia provided an interesting setting for this mystery/thriller. The sadistic killer was demented, which is made obvious from the gruesome details in the book. Richard Montanari is an author that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys dark and gritty suspenseful thrillers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
got this book from an equally addicted mystery reading friend and agree with her strong reccommendation! great plot lines, interesting characters and scary without being over the top!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This truely is a great book. It keeps you guessing till the last page. Was hard to put down. Was one of those books that you couldn't wait for the end so you found out who was doing the killings, then when you have finished the book you missed the characters. The good news is Mr. Montanari has written a follow up book (The Skin Gods) with the same detectives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent read. Make sure you have time to read because this will keep you up all night wanting to read the next page. It will keep you guessing until the very end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the kind of book that you start reading and just can't wait until you get to the next page. Everyone is a suspect and it keeps you guessing to the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was my first read of a Montanari novel and I couldn't put the book down until I finished the last page, which is a first for me! I have read all the best of the mystery/thriller writers from Crais, Connelly, Crichton, DeMille, Deaver, Flynn, North Patterson, Fulsome, W.E.B. Griffin,and so on and so forth. Although, I don't necessarily read a book because it's on the NYT bestseller list since that list is not necessarily accurate in it's judgement of what a great mystery read is For example; Richard definately belongs on the NYT bestseller list so how come he isn't on it?. I pride myself on being quite discriminate in my choice of excellent mystery novels and Mr. Montanari's 'The Rosary Girls' is certainly that. I am going to pick up the rest of his past mysteries and hope they are of equal quality. Of course, I wait with bated breath for another novel containing his characters Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. I would venture to say, I have had a marvelous time turning the pages and holding my breath at the same time Bravo Mr. have a great talent and those of us who appreciate a good mystery salute you !!! .
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'll admit I am partial to crime/mystery/legal novels that take place in my home town. William Lashner and Lisa Scottoline always seem to end up on my reading list somehow. Now, Cleveland native Richard Montonari has begun a series based on a duo of Philadelphia-based cops that freely combines both actual and fictional venues based in the City of Brotherly Love. Part of the fun is deducing the real places or institutions he cleverly masks. I got a preview of Rosary Girls recently, and was glued to a cover-to-cover read. Obviously, Mr. Montanari has a few cheesesteaks under his belt, as he has captured the flavor of a huge city with disparate neighborhoods and cultures. Our cops have a reputation for sometimes administering 'street justice', but even those of us with liberal leanings feel a little safer for it. Beyond the venue, however, this is a gritty, twisted tale with abrupt turns of plot, and characters you may alternately love, hate, admire and be repulsed by. Montanari's books are not for the squeamish, as the grisly details of his evil-doers' deeds could easily make a hoagie come straight back up. Despite the wild ride, he manages to wind up with a satisfying, if not necessarily happy ending, just when all is given up for lost. Regardless of your home town, Richard Montanari is a mystery writer who will doubtless join the top ranks. Even though reading him can be a disturbing, nightmare-inducing practice, once you are hooked, you'll be anxiously awaiting the next one.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Philadelphia detective Kevin Byrne, a twenty year veteran, works in the homicide unit. He has a phenomenal success rate of clearing his cases but his methods make him a maverick who adheres to the letter of the law but not its spirit. Detective Jessica Balzano is assigned to the homicide unit with Byrne as her partner; he accepts her as an equal............................... Their first case is the murder of a teenage high school girl who is found in an abandoned house. Her hands are bolted together by someone using a drill. Her vagina is stitched up and a cross in blue chalk is on her forehead. The perpetrator left no other evidence behind. Two more teens are found dead in the same way, all three having attended a Catholic high school. They finally figure out that the killer is reenacting the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary which means he intends to kill at least two more girls before he is finished. Byrne and Jessica work overtime trying to get one step ahead of him, not realizing that for his finale he has very special plans for Jessica and her daughter....................... Anyone who has not read a Richard Montanari thriller is missing something very special. THE ROSARY GIRLS is told in the third person from the police working the crime and the first person point of view of the killer. This is a book that is very exciting with several red herrings to force the reader (and the police) down the wrong path so that the audience will need to finish it in one sitting so they can find out who the killer is. Hopefully there will be future books starring Byrne and Jessica............................. Harriet Klausner
JebZ More than 1 year ago
crappy book.