The Answer Man

The Answer Man

4.0 2
by Roy Johansen

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The search for truth is no match for the power of temptation.

They call him the Answer Man. As a lie detector operator, he's an expert in the science of truth and the art of lies — and both are coming in handy.

Because Ken Parker is in a bad way. His business isn't making enough to support him and his sick brother. The repo men are after his MG, and an


The search for truth is no match for the power of temptation.

They call him the Answer Man. As a lie detector operator, he's an expert in the science of truth and the art of lies — and both are coming in handy.

Because Ken Parker is in a bad way. His business isn't making enough to support him and his sick brother. The repo men are after his MG, and an eviction notice has been nailed to his door.

Then Myth Daniels, a slick and beautiful lawyer, offers him a deal: Teach her client how to beat the polygraph machine and he'll get $50,000 in cash. But Ken — more than anyone — should know the price of dishonesty. As he's drawn deeper into an explosive game of greed and violence, the question will be how to stay alive.

And this time, not even the Answer Man knows.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Johansen ... keeps the pages turning."
Los Angeles Times

"Johansen ... comes up with aces. He plots like a string of firecrackers ... not a moment's rest."
Kirkus Reviews

"Races cleanly through a maze of techno clues and multiple suspects, pulling readers along for a quirky ride with likable companions."
Publishers Weekly

"[Ken Parker is an] offbeat and immensely likable hero. Fascinating ... The characters ... are too well drawn to behave predictably."
The New York Times Book Review

"A tale of power and manipulation, of avarice and violence, with an array of interesting characters trying to stay alive. A thriller all lovers of the genre can sink their teeth into."

"This is a gripping debut thriller, brimming with dangerous seduction and unrelenting suspense."
Buffalo News

"Johansen's portrait of a man facing temptation and his darker side rings true."
Tulsa World

Look for Roy Johansen's next novel of suspense:

Beyond Belief

Available in hardcover Spring 2001 from Bantam Books
In his high-powered debut novel, award-winning Hollywood screenwriter Roy Johansen takes readers into the precarious existence of Ken Parker, a down-and-out lie detector operator who accepts a deadly bribe to teach a beautiful lawyer's client to beat the machine he knows so well. Known as the Answer Man, Parker is a master at catching lies and uncovering subterfuge. Now that the violence is rapidly closing in on him, his special talents may never be more handy.
NY Times Book Review
...[T]he characters on his case are too well drawn to behave predictably...
New York Times Book Review
...[T]he characters on his case are too well drawn to behave predictably...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Down and out in Atlanta, Ken Parker is a polygraph examiner whose life just can't get any worse--or so he thinks. His wife has just left him, his car has been repossessed and his disabled Gulf War veteran brother is being swindled by an insurance company. Desperate for cash, Ken accepts an illegal $50,000 job from beautiful defense attorney Myth Daniels to teach her client, embezzler Burton Sabini, how to beat a polygraph. Then matters spin downward from bad to horrific. A polygraph test subject whose life was ruined by Ken's faulty reading attacks Ken and then turns up dead in a Dumpster. Sabini passes his polygraph test but later is also found dead in an alley, with Ken's phone number on him. Under suspicion for both killings, Ken is now suspicious of Myth. Enter Hound Dog, a 21-year-old woman whose obsession is getting information from a police scanner to find crime scenes to photograph; she delivers some bad news to Ken about Myth's past. Trying to clear his name, Ken stumbles across another murder, an attack on Hound Dog's boyfriend and a suspect who turns out to be Ken's still-beloved ex-wife. The offbeat narrative of Johansen's debut races cleanly through a maze of techno clues and multiple suspects, pulling readers along for a quirky ride with likable companions. Most notable of these is Ken, a classic amateur thriller hero who suffers endless humiliations while solving just enough of the puzzle to put everyone in grave danger when he guesses wrong. He deserves a sequel, and this novel's bittersweet finale gives strong hope of that.
Kirkus Reviews
Screenwriter Johansen (Edgar Award–winner for Murder 101 on cable TV) tries his hand at the thriller and comes up with aces. Ken Parker, 34, administers polygraph tests in Atlanta—but hates his job. Not everything else is so great, either. He has just paid off $140,000 in medical debt for his late father; his brother Bobby is laid up with a Gulf War disease; and he sees a girlfriend every week or two. So busy is he, says his running buddy and ex-wife Margot, taking care of everyone else, that he forgets to take care of himself. Then one day Myth Daniels, a woman attorney, induces him into her parlor to meet the accused man Burton Sabini, who's about to take a polygraph test that will either get him off scot-free or put him in prison. Insisting that he's innocent, he offers Ken $50,000 to train him to beat the polygraph. At first Ken says no, but then the VA invalidates payment for brother Bobby's diagnostic tests, the repo man gets his Mustang, and an eviction notice hits his office door. Ken takes the job. Meanwhile, Carlos, who lost his own job because of Ken's report on him, gives him a vicious working over—and then afterward is murdered. Sabini's ex-boss, Herbert Decker, threatens him and wants the $12 million back that he thinks Sabini embezzled from his company. Amidst all this, Ken has 12 days to train Sabini—and succeeds: Sabini passes the test, and Myth throws Ken a lovebolt as reward. The trouble is, Sabini, who's supposed to pay Ken the money for his work, is stabbed to death first. Ken's only way out of the hole is to find the missing money that Sabini clearly stole. Where's the $12 mill? One violent act follows another, including the torching of Ken'soffice. Fiction newcomer Johansen plots like a string of firecrackers. Nothing fancy—but not a moment's rest, either. .

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

God, he hated this job.

Ken Parker fastened two cords across the sweaty man's chest. He tested the cords' tension by pulling them taut.

"I'm a little nervous." The man was sweating even more.

"Roll up your left sleeve."

The man obliged. Quickly.

Poor bastard. What did the guy do to deserve this kind of treatment? Probably nothing. He was the last of five people Ken had seen that afternoon, and he seemed decent enough.

It didn't matter.

Ken placed a blood pressure gauge around the man's arm. Velcro fasteners held the wrap. He squeezed the bulb and pumped it up. The man's eyes bulged with each squeeze.

Ken looked at his polygraph. Lie detector. Truth teller. About the size of a small copying machine, it sat on a metal stand in the center of his shabby office. He'd always thought it was a scary-looking device. Which was probably the point. It was stark, angular, and boxy, with quivering, trembling needles that left jagged lines on the slowly rolling graph paper.

The nervous interviewee, one Carlos Valez, sat in an uncomfortable straight-backed chair. Can't have these people feeling at ease. No. Gotta keep 'em on edge. Nervous. Scared. Make 'em believe. Then maybe they'll fess up and bare their souls. If they believe this stuff works, maybe it really will.

Ken wrapped a perspiration sensor around Carlos's index finger. The man was dripping. His heart was pounding. Ken stepped back and took a good long look at his interviewee. Carlos was a wreck. Just the way he was supposed to be.

Ken reminded himself to find a new line of work.

"Why are you nervous? You're not going to lie to me, are you?"

"No, I'm just afraid—"

Ken plopped into his chair and rolled over to a cluttered desk. "You're afraid the lie detector is going to say you're lying when you're really not."

Ken didn't look up, but he imagined Carlos was nodding in response. That short, jerky, frightened nod he had seen too many times. He didn't need to see it again, so he continued to search his desk. Damn, there were a lot of bills there. He didn't think he was that far behind. And this phone number ... Was this the woman who...? No, probably not. He finally picked up a pack of playing cards.

"Don't worry. We're going to do a little test here." He rolled back to Carlos and fanned out the deck. "Take a card."


"Take a card, any card."

Carlos reached over and his shaking hand hovered above the cards for a moment. His fingernails were dirty, and large, knobby calluses were peeling from his knuckles. He selected a card.

Ken put the rest of the deck away. "Okay, Carlos. I want you to lie to me."


"Lie to me. Look at your card and say no to every question I ask. We're going to calibrate the machine to your responses. Ready?"

Carlos replied with a vague shrug. Ken flipped on the polygraph and thumped it, shaking the sensitive needles slightly. The large roll of graph paper turned slowly, moving beneath the oscillating needles.

It recorded Carlos's every breath.

Every heartbeat.

Every drop of sweat.

Ken leaned over his machine with the authority of a scientist. If they believe this stuff works, maybe it really will....

"Okay. Is it a face card?"


"Is it a number card?"


Ken studied the graph paper. "All right. It's a face card, isn't it?"

The sensitive needles jumped sharply, indicating Carlos's startled reaction.

"Is it a king?"


"Is it a queen?"


"Is it a jack?"


"Is it an ace?"


Ken uncapped a felt-tipped pen and made a mark next to one of the indicator lines.

"Okay, let's talk about suit. Is it clubs?"


"Is it spades?"


"Is it hearts?"


"Is it diamonds?"


Ken looked up. "You have the queen of hearts."

Once again the needles jumped sharply. Carlos swallowed hard and revealed his card.

The queen of hearts.

Ken nodded. "Great. You're what we call an easy read. A lie detector's wet dream. You can stop worrying."

Carlos could not take his eyes off the smiling queen.

Ken put the card away. "Okay. Let's get started. Your employer wants me to ask you about some missing video equipment...."

Springtime in Atlanta. Ken welcomed the arrival of warm weather, but the humidity sapped his energy. Less than an hour after giving the polygraph exam, he lingered around his favorite park, ostensibly stretching, but really deciding if he wanted to run the three miles today.

Never in his thirty-four years had he felt the need to exercise for the sake of exercise alone. He had always been active, and he enjoyed most of the sports he had tried. He kept a lean, athletic build long after most of his high school friends had porked out and gained an additional chin or two. But it always felt good to unwind here after a day of putting people on the hot seat. It was getting harder, not easier, to inflict his polygraph on the nervous souls who paraded through his office, and Ken often found himself finishing the day with his stomach in knots.

As he continued his stretches-cum-procrastination dance, he looked toward the cluster of skyscrapers that was downtown Atlanta. It seemed to be changing all the time. A real city. Not one infested with the redneck country music and lazy drawls the movies liked to portray, but a real honest-to-goodness international city. He had lived in and around Atlanta since he was twelve, yet he did not have an accent. Neither did most of his friends. The New South.

The late afternoon sun was disappearing behind the skyline, so he decided it was time to make his decision. Ah, hell. She'd be waiting for him. He started his run down the jogging path, as he ultimately did every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week.

In less than half a mile he saw Margot Aronson.

"Don't slow down!" Margot shouted as Ken approached. She zipped her fanny pack and merged into the path with him.

He looked at her as they ran side by side. Margot was one of the few sane people he knew. She was thirty-three, pretty, and getting prettier with each passing year. Her female friends hated her for that.

She kicked off the conversation. "Tell me about Arlene." Ken's love life was now a big topic of conversation between the two of them.

"Not much to tell. I see her only once every week or two. We have fun. Not much more to it than that."

"Any future?"

He snorted as they rounded a bend in the path. Good old Margot. She still hoped he would find someone. Someone special. Someone like her, but not like her.

"There's not even that much of a present. You know, we've seen each other only a few times, here and there ... and she's sure she has me all figured out."

"You mean she hasn't?"

"After just a few dates?"

"What did she say?"

"She says I could never commit to her because I like her too much."

"Huh. Did she say you were a smartass?"


"Did she say you were stuck in a kind of extended adolescence, perhaps never to escape?"


Margot nodded. "You're right. She doesn't have you figured out."

Margot sprinted ahead.

They continued their run in silence, as was their custom. There would be plenty of time to catch up during the quarter-mile cooldown walk. Ken watched Margot running ahead of him. She was one of the few constants in a life that offered little in the way of stability. He hadn't known her during his high school glory days, when his grades were almost all A's and he led his football team to a state championship. Great days, Ken thought. What would Margot have thought of the person he was then?

He had his choice of half a dozen athletic scholarships, but instead took an academic scholarship to the University of Georgia, where he studied for two quarters until his father fell ill with a kidney disease.

The health insurance policy reached its cap in a matter of months, leaving the family in dire financial straits. In what was supposed to be a temporary move, Ken left school and took a job laying cable on the southern coast of Alaska.

He dutifully sent his paychecks home, but still the costs mounted. Fifteen months after entering the hospital, his father died, leaving behind over $140,000 in debts and medical expenses. Everyone had the same advice for his mother: Declare bankruptcy.

No way, Ken told her. His family always paid their debts. Though his mother pleaded with him to reconsider, he was determined to repay each and every cent.

When the Alaska job was completed, he worked on an oil rig, talking his mother out of the bankruptcy option with each phone call. It took him six and a half years, but he finally repaid the debts.

It was the right thing to do, he thought. Do the right thing and everything else will fall into place.


He returned home to find that his old friends had moved on with their lives, starting families and embarking on careers. But for him, with no scholarship and no money, returning to school was out of the question. After a few false starts, he finally found himself in the polygraph business, a field that required minimal training and low start-up costs.

But his finances had grown shaky since he started providing support for his younger brother, Bobby, who was laid up with a disease contracted in the Gulf War.

Meet the Author

Roy Johansen's first screenplay, Murder 101, was produced for cable TV and won an Edgar Award as well as a Focus Award, which is sponsored by Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese. He has written projects for Disney, MGM, United Artists, Universal, and Warner Bros. He lives in southern California with his wife, Lisa.

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The Answer Man 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worth reading. I am looking forward to reading more of Johansen's solo works. The characters are well developed and the plot is interesting. Publishers Weekly needs to do some fact checking. Ken's wife has not "just left" him. She has been remarried for years. And brother Bobby has had his diagnosis changed and is in danger of losing his VA benefits. I do not recall anything about a scaming insurance company. Neither of the reviewer's errors affect the evaluation of the book itself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to trying this book due to its unique lie detector theme and enjoyed the many twists and turns in its exciting, complicated, and farfetched plot. There are many interesting characters but they are often not very realistic. I liked the main character but his independent investigative, intrepid behavior in the face of scary events that have spun out of control does not ring true although it makes for a quite fun read.