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The Silent Assassin (Dr. Alexandra Blake Novel Series)

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When a John Doe with a bayonet wound in his chest is discovered in a Washington, D.C. alley, geneticist Dr. Alexandra Blake of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology is pulled away from her bioterrorism work to aid in the investigation. Just a little digging reveals a corpse that's not at all that of the homeless robbery victim it was set up to resemble—-and Alex and her colleagues find themselves wrapped up in a complicated mystery of high-stakes international financial ...

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2007-05-15 Hardcover New 2007 FIRST EDITION STATED (with all numbers). Hardback w/ DJ. You are buying a Book in NEW condition with very light shelf wear.

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Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 304 p. Dr. Alexandra Blake Novel. Audience: General/trade. Brand New-Gift Quality In a palstic ... cover Read more Show Less

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Overview

When a John Doe with a bayonet wound in his chest is discovered in a Washington, D.C. alley, geneticist Dr. Alexandra Blake of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology is pulled away from her bioterrorism work to aid in the investigation. Just a little digging reveals a corpse that's not at all that of the homeless robbery victim it was set up to resemble—-and Alex and her colleagues find themselves wrapped up in a complicated mystery of high-stakes international financial intrigue.

The homicide investigation is just heating up when a political firestorm erupts over the AFIP's possession of human skulls brought back from Vietnam thirty years earlier by American servicemen. Alex is handed the delicate task of managing the restoration and return of these grisly souvenirs. Even the President of the United States has become involved, with the actual exchange scheduled to take place at a White House ceremony. Alex knows it's an important job—-her father was a soldier killed in Vietnam, so she of all people is sensitive to the issues surrounding the war—-but to her it still seems like an outsized uproar over something that happened long ago. But the skulls take on much more urgent significance when she uncovers evidence of a much bigger crime, and suddenly Alex discovers she's a target and the White House itself is under fire.

The Silent Assassin is a tour-de-force thriller combining the intricate details of forensic science with the dark side of Washington politics and one of the freshest and most original characters in crime fiction today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Andrews's outstanding follow-up to 2006's Sequence, geneticist Dr. Alexandra Blake, a forensic specialist working for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, finds herself caught in a web of intrigue when she takes on a cache of "Vietnamese trophy skulls"—smuggled into the U.S. by American soldiers 30 years earlier. In addition to cleaning the skulls before their return to Vietnam, Alex helps autopsy a John Doe who was recently killed with a bayonet. Andrews ups the ante with an old letter that Alex discovers in one of the skulls. The note hints at a civilian massacre during the Vietnam War and leads Alex to veteran Michael Carlisle, who served with Alex's late father in Vietnam. Alex becomes the target of a determined murderer, whose connections reach to the highest levels of government. The tight plot moves toward its explosive conclusion when a peaceful White House ceremony to return the skulls to Vietnam erupts into intense violence. Author tour.(May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A complicated research project takes a murderous turn for a government forensic specialist. In present-day Vietnam, survivor Huu Duoc Chugai hires an unnamed retired general to carry out an unspecified contract hit in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, bioterrorism researcher Dr. Alexandra Blake receives an awkward assignment from her boss and pal, Navy Lieutenant Barbara Findlay of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Alex must clean up and return a group of Vietnamese skulls American soldiers brought back from the war as souvenirs. The job involves dealing with paint, graffiti and missing sections. Alex is also tasked with trying to identify the skulls, including a partially mutilated John Doe found in a dumpster. The assignment involves detailed tests in the lab, a crash course in the history of the Vietnam War (including a trip there) and the reopening of old wounds not everyone wants to revisit. Eventually, Alex's work triggers a series of violent events for both her and the reader to connect. An assassin hiding a bayonet in a bouquet stabs a general. Someone breaks into the lab and wreaks havoc. Alex's home is broken into. When she's abruptly taken off the skull assignment, can she resist continuing her investigation?Andrews (Sequence, 2006, etc.) writes with breezy energy and fills Alex's world with appealing background characters and interesting details, though not enough surprises.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312352714
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/26/2007
  • Series: Dr. Alexandra Blake Novels Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Lori Andrews is a nationally renowned expert on law and genetics, called in by governments and professional groups ranging from the emirate of Dubai to the French National Assembly, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the College of American Pathologists. When the federal government undertook the $3 billion Human Genome Project, she was chosen to chair the federal advisory committee dealing with the legal, ethical, and social implications of the project. Andrews is a tenured professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law and directs the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The National Law Journal listed her one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America. Andrews is the author of ten acclaimed nonfiction titles, including Body Bazaar and The Clone Age. This is her second novel. She lives in Chicago. Visit her online at www.loriandrews.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

The tank that ended the Vietnam War over thirty years earlier by crashing through the gates of the presidential palace provided cover for Huu Duoc Chugai as he strode to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. At 2:00 a.m. the few people on the street were drunks or lovers, probably with little interest in the tall forty-year old, but Chugai fell into a routine of keeping in the shadows, his head down. His pace picked up on Vo Van Tan Street, then slowed as he weaved through the arsenal of captured American planes and bombs outside the museum. He swore under his breath as he clipped his shoulder against the rocket launcher attached to a rusting American helicopter.

He glanced around as he reached the door of the main building, saw no one, and let himself in with a key. Chugai was a man who made the most of opportunities. The ministry which previously employed him oversaw the park system, including the museum. He'd hung on to a key to the museum, not knowing at the time how he would use it. His life was like the construction of the tunnels at Cu Chi. He believed in stealth, in collecting and manipulating information, in winning at all costs. Sometimes he couldn't tell if it was his birthright or the two years he spent in the United States that had honed his resolve. But his planning was about to pay off.

He locked the museum door behind him, congratulating himself on his choice of a meeting place. When the general arrived, Chugai planned to walk him past the photo of smiling Americans sitting down in front of the heads of two decapitated North Vietnamese soldiers. It would remind the man of his debt, of how Chugai's father had saved his life during the war.

Chugai moved into the room that held a tiger cage for prisoners of war. He lit a cigarette, thought about the warm bed of his mistress he'd just left, and smiled again at his own cleverness. He'd arrived a half hour before the proposed meeting time and was keeping watch so he could let the old North Vietnamese solider in. Or maybe he would move back through the museum, so the man would knock and wait for a few moments, just to show him Chugai was running the show.

His thought was abruptly interrupted by an arm reaching around his neck and grasping him in a choke hold. His cigarette fell to the floor as his assailant spun him around. Chugai looked down in embarrassment at the general, who was three inches shorter than him. How the hell had he gotten in and crept up so silently?

The older Vietnamese man grinned, with a touch of madness in the corner of his eyes. Chugai was sufficiently chagrined that he forgot his grand plan to walk the general through the museum to seal his loyalty. Instead, he thrust an envelope into the general's hand. The man didn't even open it. Instead, he held his pointer finger up, signaling "one."

Chugai knew what he meant. He'd kill once more and then he would consider the debt repaid. Chugai opened his mouth to speak but the man was no longer listening. Instead, the general had moved over to the French guillotine that was on display.

The old man placed the envelope on the wooden bench at the bottom of guillotine and let loose the weighty blade that had been used to kill prisoners of war. The crushing thump severed the envelope in half, shredding and scattering the Vietnamese and American currency it held. As Chugai rushed over to see if the airline ticket was still intact, the general disappeared out of the museum.

Screw it, thought Chugai. If the general wants to do it his way, so be it. Chugai put the mangled currency and plane ticket into his pocket. He didn't care how the general got to Washington, D.C. as long as he killed the bastard.

Chapter 1

Luke knelt on the hand-loomed rug next to the bed and started zipping his guitar into its traveling case. The loud crackle of the industrial-sized zipper brought Alex in from the next room. Her long, wavy blond hair cascaded over her black turtleneck and she still looked flushed from their lovemaking. She walked up behind him. “I heard the zipper and thought it was your pants coming back off.”

He turned toward her, still kneeling, and faced the fly of her jeans. He reached his hand up to the snap at the top. “Dare me and I’ll have you back in bed in twenty seconds flat.”

She thought about how that might make him late for his flight to London, and how she’d probably lose her favorite parking spot at work. Then she smiled down at him. “Dare you,” she said.

A flurry of clothes streaked across the room like the streamers from a New Year’s Eve popper. She fell back on the bed and he joined her, licking her mischievously down her body, a favor she promptly returned. Then he moved up over her and they made love tenderly, gingerly, his face down close to hers, nose to nose, their sighs turning into gasps. As they were about to climax, they rolled across the bed, so that she was on top of him, almost seated, lifting herself up and down. Her hair shook like a horse’s mane.

She came first and the rolling motion caused him to climax and groan. She flopped over next to him and buried her head in the crook of his arm. Brushing her hair back from her eyes, she noticed the wristwatch she’d failed to remove before lovemaking. “Yikes, Luke, we’d better hit it.”

She got out of bed, but Luke feigned exhaustion. She bent over to shake his shoulder and her cell phone rang. A tune by Luke’s rock band, the Cattle Prods.

“Oh, Luke, you didn’t reprogram this again, did you?” She was glad it hadn’t rung like that in some high-level meeting.

“Alex Blake,” she said into the receiver, as Luke continued to simulate a coma.

The familiar voice of Major Dan Wilson said simply, “You’ve got a date with a corpse at eleven hundred hours.”

She hung up and addressed the body on her bed. “Up and at ’em, Luke. You’re not my only stiff today.”

A few minutes later, Luke and Alex had packed the trunk of her battered ’63 yellow T-Bird and were racing to National Airport. She couldn’t bear to refer to it by its new name, Ronald Reagan International Airport. Hadn’t they named enough stuff after him? Was it true that every big city now had a Reagan Street, a Reagan School, probably even a Reagan Prison? Was anything safe from the creeping Reaganisms? She could imagine a day when they would start renaming people’s body parts. Yes, my Reagan bone broke just above the Coca-Cola cartilage.

At the United terminal, Luke lingered to say good-bye. He handed her a CD of songs he’d recorded for her. She looked at this almost handsome man as he shouldered his guitar case and gripped the handle of a meager duffel bag of clothes. He loved playing and writing lyrics so much that he’d do it for squat—and, in fact, earned only slightly more than that. But the music did provide him an excuse to see the world. When an old bandmate in London offered to put him up in exchange for Luke helping the guy move his piano to his new flat, Luke jumped at the chance and the Cattle Prods Second World Tour was born. After London, there would be gigs in Spain, France, and Denmark.

“I haven’t taken any vacation. Maybe I’ll meet you in Barcelona,” Alex said.

Luke looked down at the ground, then back up at her. “That’s not so great,” Luke said. “I’m staying with Vanessa."

Alex’s mouth gaped before she could hide her feelings. And then the curbside skycap told Luke he’d better haul ass if he wanted to make the flight.

Luke stepped forward. “It’s nothing. She’s just a friend. I’ll e-mail you once I land.” He bent over to kiss her, but she turned her face and the smack landed on her cheek.

Luke ran into the terminal and Alex started the old T-Bird. As she sped toward the George Washington Memorial Parkway, she pumped up the heater to chase away the chill she felt, a combination of the unseasonably cool December day and the icy thoughts running through her mind. Who the hell was Vanessa? Probably someone he’d met on the First World Tour, last year, after he and Alex had broken up.

The parkway was more like a parking lot that time of day. Alex used her time in traffic to pick up her messages at work. One from Dan, left before he reached her at home about the autopsy, and another ordering her to meet with the head of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Colonel Jack Wiatt, at 2:00 p.m.

As a civilian working at the AFIP, she bristled at the term order, especially when it came from Wiatt, with whom she’d tangled on more than one occasion. When President Bradley Cotter had appointed him head of the AFIP a year earlier—and not head of the FBI, which he’d wanted—he’d practically gone postal. But it turned out the AFIP suited him. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Defense, the compound functioned like a city, with its own fire department, police station, and hospital. The facility sat on 113 out-of-the-way acres in D.C. near the Maryland border, four acres larger than the Vatican. Like the Vatican, the AFIP had a surprisingly wide reach, often working in mysterious—or at least sub rosa—ways. It oversaw forensic investigations in the United States and abroad involving the military and the Executive Branch—all without the close scrutiny that the public and Congress gave other institutions like the FBI and CIA. A high-testosterone soldier who’d led men in every war, incursion, altercation, and conflict since Vietnam, Wiatt was a man for whom rules were flexible. Running an institution where they could be bent suited him. But he and Alex often butted heads as she tried to do her job using genetics to create biowarfare vaccines and he pulled her into activities that took her away from her work.

Once she reached the compound—a frustrating forty-five minutes later—Alex nosed her car toward her favorite parking spot, but, of course, it was now occupied. The only space left was across the base from the main AFIP entrance. She walked to the door of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which was connected by tunnels to both the AFIP, where she worked, and the Walter Reed Medical Center, where she often provided second opinions for prominent patients.

As Alex approached the museum, she was surprised to see twenty or thirty people outside, some holding placards. The museum was usually a sleepy place, with tours of third graders staring at the microscopes and medical oddities like the stomach-shaped hair ball from a teenage girl who constantly chewed (and swallowed) her curls. This was a much different crowd. Elderly Vietnamese couples in cream-colored flowing pants and denim-clad college students carrying signs with phrases like let their spirits rest in peace. A thin white guy in his early twenties with a megaphone blocked the sidewalk. He shouted into the mouthpiece, “Give back the Trophy Skulls.”

He looked straight into Alex’s blue eyes, at her beguilingly sweet heart-shaped face. His gaze traveled down her body, noting her beat-up brown leather jacket and jeans, nicely taut over her lean, athletic curves. He handed her a placard to carry.

“No, thanks,” she said. “I work here.”

On the way to her lab, Alex stopped at the office of her best friend, Navy Lieutenant Barbara Findlay, the African-American lawyer who was the AFIP’s general counsel.

“So, what’s with the crowd outside?” Alex asked. She folded her legs under herself in the comfortable chair across from Barbara’s desk and reached into the cut-glass candy bowl that was Barbara’s way to get secretaries and generals alike to stop in and chat.

Barbara, poised and feisty in her crisp Navy uniform, leaned forward and pushed a Washington Post across her desk toward Alex. “Didn’t you see yesterday’s newspaper?”

Alex shook her head. “I was busy having good-bye sex with Luke.”

“Breakup sex or tour-schedule sex?”

Alex thought for a moment. “Not sure yet.”

“Frankly, Alex, your taste in men—”

“At least I’m taking a swim in the dating pool. You haven’t even put on your suit.”

Barbara laughed. “A teenage daughter and parking lot full of protestors keeps me busy enough.”

Alex looked down at the front-page photo of a small hill with a pagoda-shaped pillar of five carved stones on top of it. She read the caption. “The Ear Mound?”

“Yes, the Korean Ear Mound in Kyoto, Japan. A five-hundred-year-old pile of ears that Samurai warriors cut off of Korean soldiers.”

“Why ears?”

“The Samurai generals got a bonus for each soldier they killed in Korea. At first they sent back heads, but when the ships got too crowded, they started dispatching just the ears.”

Alex looked at the mound of dirt as high as a house. “They must have killed tens of thousands.”

Barbara nodded. “Recently, a group of Korean monks placed fifty Korean flags on top of the mound and began to negotiate for a return of the ears, at least spiritually, to Korea. That’s what provoked the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S. to contact us. Some U.S. GIs kept skulls of North Vietnamese soldiers. Most of the skulls were confiscated when they tried to bring them back through U.S. Customs. And the skulls ended up here. We’ve never displayed them, though, because the soldiers shouldn’t have taken them out of Vietnam. We just stuck them in a drawer.”

“So what’s the big deal? Give them back, let them rest in peace.”

“It’s not that simple,” Barbara said, getting up from her desk chair. She motioned for Alex to come with her.

As the two exited the office, Barbara walked with the dramatic posture of a soldier, her body forcefully and efficiently slicing down the hall. The kinetic Alex commandeered more space.

They approached the storage area of the museum, and Barbara said, “Wiatt wants me to see if I can find a way to delay their return, some legal maneuver.”

Alex wondered why Wiatt would care about sending back a drawerful of skulls. Sure, he’d fought in Vietnam, but hadn’t the whole nation moved on?

“What’s his problem?” Alex asked as Barbara approached a cabinet in the storage room.

“Well,” Barbara said, “the U.S. soldiers added a few touches of their own.”

Barbara pulled open a drawer, and Alex peered in. The skulls stared back at her. Some had grotesque faces painted on them; a few had their craniums lopped off so that they could serve as ashtrays. A half dozen had been painted neon colors and covered with graffiti, with holes drilled through the top and candles jammed in.

Alex’s eyes grew wide and she shook her head. She’d seen bodies and bones in all states of decay, disease, and disfigurement. But graffiti on someone’s superciliary arch? This was chilling and demeaning. “Who would do something like this?”

“Now you see. We can’t let them go back like this.”

Copyright © 2007 by Lori Andrews. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2007 by Lori Andrews

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent thriller

    Dr. Alexandra Blake works at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology where she uses her knowledge of genetics to find bio-terror vaccines. She is also sometimes called upon to use her medical skills when a situation occurs. When the corpse of a man who died from a bayonet is brought to AFIP Alexandria is able to tell that he recently returned from Vietnam and further investigation into his past shows he helped broker a deal for the U.S. He successfully brokered a deal where Vietnam would sell the U.S. oil reserves, something that was important to the president who saw it as a way of healing wounds between the two countries. --- American soldiers stationed in Nam when returning home sometimes brought back Vietnamese skulls with them. Now in a special White House ceremony the items are being returned to the Vietnam government. In one of the skulls, Alexandra finds a note saying that Americans conducted a massacre. Someone breaks into Alexandria¿s home while she is sleeping and tries to kill her before getting away and her office is ransacked. Her superiors believe it is her knowledge of the massacre that is causing someone to want her dead but the truth is much more explosive. --- Although this is only Lori Andrews' second fiction book, her work is reminiscent of Patricia Cornwall novels. The heroine is a strong-willed, caring individual who doesn¿t hesitate to do what she believes is the right thing. She refuses to be intimidated by those who want to kill her and although she can¿t see the conspiracy at the highest level of government, when the time comes she makes a decision and acts on it knowing if things go wrong she could end up in jail or worse. --- Harriet Klausner

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