by Jennifer Rowe


When a young barker at a seaside amusement park is found dead with a steak knife plunged into his gut, Senior Detective Tessa Vance is called to investigate. Assigned to an unfamiliar Homicide division and having to win the trust of a new partner, Tessa soon discovers a grisly trail of bodies with nothing in common



When a young barker at a seaside amusement park is found dead with a steak knife plunged into his gut, Senior Detective Tessa Vance is called to investigate. Assigned to an unfamiliar Homicide division and having to win the trust of a new partner, Tessa soon discovers a grisly trail of bodies with nothing in common except for a series of gruesome clues left behind by a ruthlessly clever killer.

Tessa knows the deaths form a hideous pattern. But once she and her partner decipher its shocking secret, they find themselves in a race against time—fast approaching a deadline set by a cunning, murderous mind. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Homicide detective Tessa Vance's plans for a romantic birthday dinner with her boyfriend, Brett, are foiled when she's suddenly called away to investigate a murder at the local amusement park. Arriving at Funworld, she meets her less-than-amicable new partner, Steve Hayden, and makes the disturbing discovery of an unsigned birthday card left at the scene of the crime. Similarly executed murders follow at the furious pace of one a day, and Tessa must focus her reputed sharp investigative powers on capturing a presumed serial killer. A victim's date book provides Tessa with a crucial break in her case, one that she believes will lead from the dead to potential future victims. With new insight into the murderer's psyche, Tessa races to prevent the next seemingly imminent crime. Although entertaining, Rowe's (Lamb to the Slaughter) mystery suffers from its pedestrian plot twists and the tiresome internal dialogue of heroine Tessa Vance. (Mar.)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.85(h) x 0.83(d)

Read an Excerpt

Steve knew what it was. There had been men like Jacko with all the traveling circuses and carnivals that had ever trailed into Steve's home town.

Those men hadn't worn baseball caps. And they hadn't always run ghost trains. Sometimes they ran rifle-shooting or ball-throwing games, with a giant fluffy toy that no one ever won stuck up at the back as first prize. Sometimes they sold hot dogs, sometimes they sat at the doorway of the "half-man, half-woman" exhibit, sometimes they seemed just to walk around with their hands in their pockets. But every one of them could have been this man's clone.

Jacko kept turning to look over his shoulder, past the scene of crime tape to the silent ghost train, where a bizarre black and white figure sprawled half-in, half-out of a car, skull head lolling, a knife sticking out of its stomach, dead center between painted ribs and hip bones.

The surrounding buildings were dark, except for a small, brutal brick box tucked away to one side and screened by shrubs. The office annex. Behind its dully glowing windows, the ground staff who had been asked to stay huddled over weak tea and coffee from the cafe bar, and ate the absent office staff's undefended shortbreads.

But the ghost train blazed with light like a small, tacky island in the middle of a black bay. The dead man was its center-piece. But he was almost lost in the crowd. The forensic team was crawling all over the place.

The tall, elegant figure of their superior, Lance Fisk, stood surveying the scene. Beside Fisk stood Inspector Malcolm Thorne. Very upright. Making his presence felt.

"Looking for fingerprints and that, are they?" the old man mumbled."Mine'll be all over everything. They would be, wouldn't they? Like, it's my ride, isn't it?"

"Course," said Steve. "Relax." He knew what the man was thinking. They're going to lumber someone with this, he was thinking. That's how cops operate. And it could be me. Never mind I was out the front pulling in the punters the whole time. That won't worry them.

The old man glanced at him, wasn't reassured, and turned back to the ghost train. His monkey-paw fingers went on fingering his belt buckle. "That your boss there in the front?" he muttered. "You tell him what I said. Poor young bloke getting topped's got nothin' to do with anyone here. Some weirdo done it. That's who."

"How long have you been doing this, Mr. Jackson?" asked Steve, to recall his attention.

The old man took a couple of seconds to react, as though he didn't realize Steve was speaking to him. He wasn't used to being called "Mr. Jackson." He'd been called Jacko for so long, and so universally, that he'd almost forgotten there was a longer version of the name.

"Worked the rides all me life," he muttered finally.

"Here? At Funworld?"

"Oh. Here? Nah." He thought for a moment, mumbling his lips. "Been here, on the ghost train, forty years, prob'ly. Give or take."

"Ever had any trouble before?"

"Nah. Never any trouble. Except for drunks. The odd stoush. Girls gettin' groped. Kids playing silly buggers and falling out. That sort of stuff. Bloke had a heart attack once. After he got off. Never nothing like this, but."

Steve made a note. Forty years. Forty years spruiking horrors, loudspeakers screaming in your ear, dealing with the drunks, the yobbos, the weirdos, the creeps, the lovers, the families, the mobs of kids. Packing them, singly or in pairs, into the battered little cars, wasting no time--time was money, and bums on seats was the name of the game. Seeing them laughing, chattering, squealing in anticipation as the ghost train swallowed them up through swinging doors. Hearing their amplified shrieks as the cars ran the dark maze inside. Watching them burst back into the open air through the exit doors, exposed in whatever state of hysteria, tears, laughter, or shock to which the tricks inside had reduced them. Then hauling them, limp, shaking, blase or whatever, to their feet and out, and shoving more bodies into the empty cars while the seats were still warm.

Never any trouble. Till tonight, ten minutes before the park closed, when the exit doors flew open and a car sailed out carrying a man in a skeleton suit, stabbed through the stomach.

The old man fidgeted. But he wasn't going to ask when he could go. He wasn't going to ask what happened next. He was just waiting, not drawing attention to himself. He was one of those people who kept a naturally low profile where the cops were concerned. It was probably a lifelong habit, begun in the days when he was a skinny, sharp-eyed little boy dodging through the twilight world of the carnivals and fairs that had sustained him, and whoever cared for him. If it had been possible, Steve knew, he'd have melted away with the crowd who'd seen the dead man clatter out onto center stage, who'd screamed, stared, then scattered, long before the police arrived.

Steve became aware of a change of atmosphere, a stirring, among the throng of Fisk's gnomes even before he saw Thorne glance towards the fun park entrance.

Dr. Imogen Soames, pathologist, known to colleagues for reasons lost in her dim past as `Tootsie," was bearing down on the ghost train. Always a considerable presence--very tall, with a strangely sweet face, given her occupation, she was tonight looking even more impressive than usual in loose black trousers and a vividly striped tunic top that emphasized her height.

Fisk glanced at her warily. He'd had the field to himself up till now. But Tootsie wasn't the woman to wait patiently for his pleasure indefinitely. He drew himself up, preparing to defend his territory.

Steve caught the eye of a uniformed constable he'd found congenial on his arrival, and put Jacko into her care. He'd extracted about all he was going to get from the old man for now. And if Tootsie was about to charge Fisk's barricades, Steve was going to follow in her wake.

With or without Tessa Vance.

Tootsie was fronting Fisk now, hands on ample hips. The body of the skeleton-man, skull face turned upward to the glaring lights, lolled waiting for her.

As Steve ducked under the scene of crime tape and sauntered towards them, he noticed Thorne glance at his watch. The fearless leader wanted to leave. But he was waiting around for Vance. And Vance was taking her time.

You'd have thought she'd be fronting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on her first call with the division. It looked like she'd decided to make an entrance instead. Well, that wouldn't impress anyone, least of all Thorne. Thorne's disapproval wasn't written all over his face--nothing was ever written all over Thorne's smooth, politician's face. But he'd remember this.

Steve hadn't yet met Tessa Vance. He'd been in court last week, when she started. He'd had today off. A day in lieu, they called it, though he thought they'd probably have to give him about a year off to make up for the actual hours of unpaid overtime he'd worked. But he'd started hearing bits and pieces about her as soon as she'd been named as his old partner's replacement.

From what he'd heard, Tessa Vance was a live wire, a handful, ambitious, unpredictable, a hotshot. He'd also heard she was neurotic, obsessive, aggressive, abrasive. And gorgeous-looking with it.

Steve liked women. He liked them a lot. He'd worked with women before, and enjoyed it. They'd been good mates, all of them--well, most of them. But Tessa Vance didn't sound to him as though she was going to fall into the "good mate" category.

She sounded more like a princess who was going to be a complete pain in the ass.

Meet the Author

In her native Australia, Jennifer Rowe is widely recognized as an acclaimed novelist and a former editor of The Australian Women's Weekly. Before creating the Tessa Vance series, she wrote four crime novels featuring TV researcher Verity "Birdie  Birdwood as well as several nonseries novels of suspense. Ms. Rowe has been called the "Agatha Christie of Australia --and with good reason; she shares Dame Agatha's passion for complex, puzzle-driven stories populated by vividly depicted heroes, suspects, and villains.

Under the name Emily Rodda, Jennifer Rowe has also written stories for children--five of which have won the (Australian) Children's Book of the Year Award.

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