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
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.
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.