Strangledby Brian McGrory
Deadly and deep-seated political conspiracies are nothing new to Jack Flynn, the popular lead reporter of the Boston Record. But in Strangled, he finds himself in the middle of a case that everyone thought had closed forty years ago -- the Boston Strangler. From the summer of 1962 to the winter of 1964, eleven women were strangled to death in their homes. The city had been panic-stricken. Dog pounds were cleaned out. Locksmiths worked twenty-hour days. The streets emptied after dark. Single women set up phone trees to check on each other's safety. Then, a year after the eleventh murder, the city breathed a heavy sigh of relief when convicted sex offender Albert DeSalvo confessed to the killings. Eight years later, he was stabbed to death in prison, forever ridding the world of the man who had terrorized a city. Or so everyone thought.
Boston, present-day. A series of murders has occurred in which all the victims, all female, have been strangled and left with markers eerily reminiscent of those once left by the "Phantom Fiend" -- garish bows tied around their necks and their bodies ghoulishly positioned to greet investigators as they entered the crime scene.
In typical fashion, the police and local politicians have turned on their publicity machine full-throttle in an attempt to cool any rumors about the possible return of the Strangler. Little do they know that Flynn is receiving letters from the killer himself, thrusting the newsman between the threats of a madman and several secretive, uncooperative officials, who are tied to the original case. With the lives of innocent women on the line, he must use his keen journalistic skills to determine whether or not this is a copycat on the loose, or if Albert DeSalvo was, in fact, not quite the fiend everyone so easily believed him to be. Is it possible that the Boston Strangler was never captured and that he's been lurking in the shadows, waiting to kill again?
Using fiction to examine the horrifying details of the Boston Strangler case and the possible outcomes of its investigation, McGrory has written an intelligent thriller crackling with newsroom energy and chilling suspense.
'Tis the season for the Boston Strangler. While William Landay sets his story The Stranglerin 1963, McGrory (The Incumbent) makes his more contemporary, but both authors suggest the real perpetrator was never caught. In this fourth tale featuring Jack Flynn, senior reporter for Boston's largest newspaper, Flynn himself becomes intimately involved when a Phantom Fiend begins sending him advance notice of women about to be strangled, including Flynn's former girlfriend. At odds with the police, who insist Albert DeSalvo (long dead) was the guilty party, Flynn and fellow reporter Vinny Mongillo frantically try to find the current (maybe the original?) Strangler. McGrory, a long time reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe, knows how to write a rip-roaring melodrama complete with introspective hero, loyal sidekick, and beautiful female distractions. Though his book is often over the top in style, it's the plot and Jack as swashbuckling hero that carry us pell-mell toward a rousing conclusion. Suspension of disbelief is a requirement, but this is a fun read, and Jack quite likely will be back. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/06.]
Roland Person Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Killer Instinct and Paranoia
"Most people who have been around the newspaper business for three or four decades will tell you it's not as much fun today as it used to be. In McGrory's Jack Flynn novels...it's still fun."
"McGrory displays a mastery that makes him, along with Les Standiford, one of the most artistic writers in the thriller genre.... [H]is tight plots are fresh with new complications just when we think we've got things figured out."
"[McGrory] captures the flavor of the big-city newsroom and its denizens, the pulse and charms of Boston itself, and the political intrigue that hovers over all."
The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)
"[Brian McGrory] knows how to tell a great story."
"...an incredibly suspenseful and rip-roaring Boston saga."
The Providence Journal
"McGrory offers delicious descriptions of Boston's food, sights, and characters in this taut page-turner with enough suspense to make readers anxiously await the next installment."
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Read an Excerpt
Maybe this one would finally be his last. Of course, that's what he thought two weeks before when he stood over the decomposing body of a prematurely aged -- and prematurely dead -- heroin addict who was found shot to death in an abandoned two-decker in Dorchester. By the time the cops got to the guy's body, the coroner had a tough time telling the needle marks from the rat bites up and down his toothpick arms.
He had as much a chance of solving that homicide as he had of retiring to an oceanfront estate on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
Speaking of which, how the hell was he going to make it all work -- not that case, not any case, but the retirement? That's what kept flashing through Detective Mac Foley's mind as he glided through the quiet city on the way to another murder scene, this one maybe the last of his forty-five-year career.
He should have been able to make it work -- that's for sure. The pension wasn't bad (actually, he knew it was pretty damned good). The savings should have been there. Then there's Social Security, for whatever that's worth. But he and Sandy had to go off and have a kid late in life. What the hell were they thinking? Now he was sixty-five years old and with a daughter in college, and no, she wouldn't go to UMass like all the other kids in the neighborhood. She needed to go private, and not just any private, but -- what is it that her high school guidance counselor had so proudly called it? -- an elite school. Elite meant there was ivy clinging to the brick buildings and half his salary went to tuition. It meant that he had to take out a second mortgage on their small house. It meant that come next week, the retirement that should have been so comfortable wasn't going to be so comfortable after all.
Not all her fault, though -- he knew that. She was a good kid, just getting what was hers. It was him that was the problem, or maybe his damned job. He should have been making more money. Four and a half decades as a cop, and he still held the vaunted title of "detective." No captain, no lieutenant, not even a damned sergeant. Just detective. It didn't matter shit that he was known by anyone who was anyone as the best homicide cop on the force, that he had put eighty-six men and three women -- killers all -- behind bars for life, that city hall itself once demanded that Mac Foley be put on a case when the mayor's cousin was killed. What mattered was how much money he had in the bank, and right now, staring down the barrel of retirement, he didn't have enough.
He thought again of Hal Harrison, the commissioner. When he wasn't thinking of his own pathetic retirement, he was thinking about the commissioner. They had the same birthday, they started at the police academy on the same day forty-five years ago, they were both elevated to detective the same month, and now they had the same retirement day. After spending his entire career keeping Foley down, making him eat four decades' worth of shit, Harrison was going out on top, with all sorts of fanfare and probably more money than he could ever spend for the rest of his life. And he was probably about to be mayor.
Mac Foley knew the lies that Harrison told to get to where he was. And now he could taste the bile in his own throat.
"Mac, good to see you, old pal. I thought you'd already been led from the stable out to the pasture."
That was Lieutenant Dan Eldrich greeting him as Mac stepped out of his unmarked car on stately Charles Street on Boston's Beacon Hill. Mac took a quick look around at the typical scenery of his job -- the three or four double-parked squad cars with their blue and white flashers cutting through the cold night air and reflecting off the glass storefronts, the foreboding medical examiner's truck idling in the street, the yellow tape, the small crowd of people craning their necks from a nearby street corner to see what was going on.
He looked up and down Charles Street, the main thoroughfare through the most famous neighborhood in the city. Gorgeous. The buildings all looked like antiques, like they were straight out of the age when Paul Revere was galloping around yelling whatever it was that he yelled. The lamps were gaslit, the shops exclusive, and the apartments above the shops expensive. He couldn't remember the last time he had been on Beacon Hill for a murder. The guy who never forgot a murder scene couldn't remember if he had ever been here for a murder, and then he did. It was forty years ago, and he was momentarily surprised at himself that he could ever forget.
"This looks like a strange one," Eldrich said, wrapping an arm over Foley's shoulder as the two of them walked toward the town house building where a pair of uniformed cops stood guard at the front door. "It's why I called you specifically. I didn't want any schmuck on the rotation getting this thing and fucking it all up."
The two of them paused on the sidewalk.
"Domestic?" Foley asked.
Eldrich shook his head. "There's no domesticated guy in her life, what I'm told."
"Then maybe it's a guy who's not domesticated who did it."
Eldrich didn't reply, so Foley asked, "Shooting?"
Eldrich shook his head again. "You'll see in a minute."
Another head shake. "Victim's wallet was found in the apartment with all her credit cards and seventy-two dollars inside. And she was wearing a diamond necklace that's still on the body. No driver's license in the wallet, but we think we have a solid identification from other sources. Brace yourself. Pretty girl, approximately thirty-two years old."
"This isn't going to delay my retirement, is it?" Foley asked. If Eldrich had been paying closer attention, he might have noticed a tinge of hope in the question.
"Never saw a homicide you couldn't solve in a week. You'll get your man and ride off into the sunset. Like a Hollywood ending."
"Yeah, sure," Foley said, turning and walking toward the entrance. He exchanged greetings with the two cops at the door. He saw that the first floor of the brick town house was taken up by a realty office, with advertisements in the big display window for multimillion-dollar condominiums and houses in the neighborhood. Everybody had money but him.
The stairway, he noted, was steep, narrow, and dark -- easy to fall down should someone be making a rapid escape. The walls were bare. On the second-floor landing, the apartment door was open, and he walked inside to what appeared to be the living room, where a few fingerprint specialists, a videographer, and plainclothes cops had already set about their work. All stopped when he walked in to offer a greeting. Maybe he didn't have rank, and he certainly didn't have much money, but old Mac Foley still garnered one hell of a lot of respect.
One young cop in uniform sidled up to Foley near the door and said, "Detective, the murder scene is in the bedroom. I've kept it clear until you arrived. I wanted you to have first crack at it."
He said this, Foley noted, in a funny tone of voice, not funny like ha-ha funny, but as if he wasn't sure what had happened and was absolutely uncertain about what was to come.
Foley asked him, "Anything of note yet, Sergeant?"
"There's a lot of note, but you'll see for yourself."
Then the sergeant added, "Her roommate found her. She'd been away for the long weekend. Came in half an hour ago. Apartment was unlocked. There was a light on in the decedent's room. She poked her head inside, saw the body, ran from the building, and called 911 from her cellular telephone. I've had operations pull the tape recording for you."
The sergeant paused and added, "Why don't I show you in, Detective."
Beacon Hill apartments, Mac Foley knew, could be either stately or cramped, depending on whether the occupant was rich or nearly rich. This one was the latter. The living room, while neat, was small and dark. The kitchen, he could tell from a quick glimpse, looked like it hadn't been renovated in twenty years. Obviously a single-family had been cut up into apartments a long time ago, and had barely been touched ever since.
The sergeant led Foley through the living room and down a narrow hallway, past a bathroom, toward the rear of the unit. Where the hallway ended, there were doors -- one to the left and the other to the right -- bedrooms both. The sergeant, stopping just ahead of Foley, motioned toward the left and said simply and flatly, "In here, sir." Then he quickly got out of the way.
Foley slowly stepped toward the door. He'd been to, what, five hundred murder scenes over his career? A thousand? He hated to admit it, but it was true: after all those years, there was a certain sameness about them. Not only were the neighborhoods usually the same, but so were the streets. The victims were almost always black, with criminal records and substance abuse problems. Witnesses were few and far between -- at least for the cops. Occasionally, he'd get the random, unfortunate eleven-year-old gunned down in gang cross fire, or the young woman in a middle-class neighborhood killed by an enraged boyfriend or husband. But they were rare, which was good.
This one, he knew, would be unusual from the moment he heard the address.
"What's her name?" Foley asked the sergeant.
The sergeant looked down at a small piece of lined paper that he pulled out of his shirt pocket. "Jill Dawson," he replied.
Foley's eyes widened. He stared at the sergeant for a long moment, about to say something, except he didn't. Instead, he hurriedly opened the bedroom door, took one step, and abruptly stopped. He realized immediately that he wasn't just looking at a crime scene, wasn't just looking at a victim, but was also looking at his distant past.
His knees buckled slightly and he leaned quickly, reflexively, against the wall behind him, not even thinking that he might be smudging prints or compromising any other kinds of evidence.
His eyes, though, never left the corpse. She had been a young woman, pretty, with blond hair that had grown past her shoulders. She was naked from the waist down, with only a torn shirt and an unfastened bra on top, revealing her small breasts. She was propped up in her double bed on top of a white comforter, her back against the headboard, her head tilted to one side, her eyes wide open, and her legs splayed apart unnaturally, showing her pubic area. She was positioned so that when you walked into the door, she was staring straight back at you.
Foley took several long, uneasy breaths, steadied his legs, and walked toward the body. When he got closer to the bed, he saw what he had feared most. Around her neck was a ligature, a nylon stocking pulled tight, then tied into a swirling, garish bow under her chin. He saw blood in her left ear -- a sure sign she had been strangled.
He'd never seen this woman before, but he'd seen the crime -- too many times, forty years before, the Phantom Fiend who had come to be known as the Boston Strangler.
He pulled a pair of latex gloves from his suit pocket and walked from the side of her bed to the foot of it. There, he saw what he had thought he had noticed when he first walked into the room: an unsealed white envelope propped against her foot.
Just as he had about four decades ago, he stood bedside at a murder scene and opened an envelope. He pulled out a sheet of paper -- heavy stock, not inexpensive, folded over once -- and opened that up as well. With a chill, he read the crudely written words, "Happy New Year." The letters were large and sloppy, each one of them of different size. Right beneath that, the killer had written, "Picking up where I left off..."
Foley folded up the note, placed it back in the envelope, and rested the envelope against the woman's foot. He let his eyes roam over her body, and as he did, he felt the past crashing against the present, clouding the future -- his past, his future, the commissioner's past, the commissioner's future, his city's past, the city's future. Maybe he should have felt vindicated in some odd way, but anything that had happened, anything that was about to happen, was too late to help him.
He walked toward the door and saw the uniformed sergeant still standing in the hallway, leaning against a wall.
A thought suddenly dawned on him.
"What's the address here again?" he asked the sergeant. He knew the answer already, but he had to hear it said out loud.
"One forty-six Charles Street," the sergeant replied.
The words were like pinpricks in his brain. The last victim of the Boston Strangler, or at least what he thought was the last victim of the Boston Strangler, had been killed in this very building forty years ago.
"Who's been in here?" Foley asked him, nodding toward the bedroom.
The cop ticked off five different names, hesitating as he went on.
Foley said, "Get everyone assembled into the front room. We're going to need to talk about discretion."
With that, he pulled the bedroom door closed, but the past had already escaped.
Copyright © 2007 by Brian McGrory
Meet the Author
Brian McGrory was a roving national reporter for the Boston Globe, as well as the Globe's White House correspondent during the Clinton administration. He is now a columnist in the newspaper's Metro section. The author of three bestselling thrillers -- The Incumbent, The Nominee, and Dead Line -- he lives in Boston. Find out more at www.brianmcgrory.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Forty years ago, someone killed Albert DeSalvo, the self-confessed ¿Boston Strangler¿, in prison case closed. Until now that is. Boston Record reporter Jack Flynn, on the verge of marrying his beloved Maggie Kane, ignores his upcoming nuptials to investigate a new string of homicides that eerily parallel that of the Strangler. The press dubs the new killer the ¿Phantom Fiend¿. --- Jack begins his investigation by scanning the 1960s record to determine whether he agrees with officialdom that DeSalvo was the original killer. However, not surprisingly at least to Jack who used to work the DC beat (see THE INNOCENT), several Massachusetts¿ prominent citizens especially those in law enforcement today and in the 60s want him to leave the past buried with DeSalvo. His first police contact FOJ (friend of Jack) Leo Goldsmith tells him for his own good to back off from that approach. Pressure to cease and desist comes especially from supporters of Stu Callahan, the State senior Senator who prosecuted the DeSalvo conviction. Ignoring everyone including his fiancée, Jack receives correspondence from the apparent killer who forces him into a contest in which not playing or failure means women will be STRANGLED. --- Though an exciting journalistic investigative thriller, STRANGLED is one of those tales that could have been a classic, but chooses the modern day cat and mouse action over the more fascinating look back at the DeSalvo confession. The story line is fast-paced as Jack knows he cannot ignore the deadly contest even if every politico law enforcement type demands he does as he believes the serial killer must be stopped and he has the insider track though the cost on his personal life might prove expensive. Reader will enjoy this murder mystery, but once done wonder about DeSalvo. --- Harriet Klausner