The Answer Man

The Answer Man

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by Roy Johansen, George Wilson

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The search for truth is no match for thepower of temptation.

The Answer Man

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 has been in a bad way. His business isn't making enough money to support him and his sick brother.


The search for truth is no match for thepower of temptation.

The Answer Man

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 has been in a bad way. His business isn't making enough money to support him and his sick brother. The repo men are after his MG. And an eviction notice has just been nailed to his office door. Then Myth Daniels, the most beautiful woman he's ever set eyes on, walks into his favorite bar. Little does he realize that everything is about to change. Five minutes after they meet, she takes him home, to a posh Atlanta neighborhood of fancy cars, manicured lawns, and security gates. And that's when she offers him $50,000 in cash for one job. Myth Daniels is a lawyer, and running into Ken at the bar was no accident. Her client Burton Sabini stands accused of embezzling $12 million from his company. Now she's offering a deal to Ken Parker: Teach her client how to beat the polygraph, and Ken will walk away rich. Not exactly ethical...but ethics don't pay the rent. But Ken—more than anyone—should know the price of a lie. Just days after he takes the deal, two bodies turn up brutally murdered, and the one link between them is Ken. Now the only way out is to find the $12 million before his life

Editorial Reviews
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. .

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

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Read an Excerpt

"Fresh air" on a May night in Atlanta was hardly that, with the still, humid vapors threatening to smother anyone who dared challenge them. But at least the night offered solitude on a row of shops known as Little Five Points, where mom-and-pop stores attracted tourists and quality-unconscious locals. Ken and Myth walked along the deserted street, occasionally pausing to look in windows of the closed shops.

"What do you do when you're not intimidating men in the local saloons?" he asked.

"I intimidate men in the local courtrooms. I'm an attorney."

"Are there any lawyer jokes you haven't heard yet?"

"I doubt it."

"Then I won't even try. What kind of attorney are you?"

She ignored the question. "You're a polygraph examiner. Did I hear that right?"

He nodded.

"Those things really work?"

"Sure they do. It's people who are defective."

She gave him a sideways glance.

He nodded. "Nowadays people find ways to justify what they do. They rationalize. If someone steals from his company, hell, it's not really stealing. The company really owes it to him anyway, he figures, and he might as well take it. Whatever it is. That's not stealing. That's just getting your due."

"Do you think that way?"

"I don't know. All I know is it's getting harder to separate the truth from the bullshit. And the better we get at rationalizing away the things we do, the more useless my job gets. A polygraph can't catch a liar who doesn't think he's a liar."

"You're quite a cynic."

"Occupational hazard."

They passed a tall dogwood tree, the roots of which had burst through the sidewalk, looseningseveral chunks of concrete. As Ken guided Myth around the mess, he realized they were entering a neighborhood of recently restored homes. Houses that only a few years earlier were selling for peanuts but now were in vogue for the nouveau-riche baby boomers moving back into the city.

"Enough about me," Ken said. "Tell me about you."

"I'll tell you about me when we get there."

"Get where?"

"My house. It's not much farther."

Ken tried not to look as surprised as he was. Okay, so one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen was taking him home five minutes after their first meeting. Just another night in the city.

As they strolled through the neighborhood, Ken took note of all the little things that screamed money. The neatly trimmed lawns. The garden-club flower beds. The small security service signs pierced into the grass. The Porsches and Jags in the driveways.

Soon he found himself in front of one of the largest, most impressive homes on the street. Constructed in the style of a French château, it sat on a full acre of land in the middle of the block. A long driveway snaked around the side of the house, and a dramatic, curving set of stairs spiraled up to the house's main entrance, where a pair of double doors was flanked by towering stained glass panels.

"No way," he said.

She led him up the driveway. "Don't insult me by asking how I got it. I've never been married, no man bought it for me, and I've never inherited a dime. I earned it myself."

Even the grass smelled sweet. She probably spent more on her monthly gardening bill than he did on his car payment. When he could afford his car payment.

They walked up the front stairs. Myth fumbled with her keys, trying to insert one into the lock.

"Relax," Ken said softly.

Myth threw the lock. She turned around, smiled, and opened the door.

He followed her inside. The interior was even more impressive. He was no decorator, but he could instantly see that the furnishings, flooring, and accent pieces were expensive and impeccably chosen. Each room was a showplace, camera ready for a decorating magazine layout. Deep, dark, solid woods ran through the walls and furniture. The house's lighting scheme was low key, with sharply defined pools of illumination emanating from designer lamps in each room.

Myth led him into a cherry-wood-paneled study, where she turned on a floor lamp. Ken was startled by the sight that greeted him in the corner of the room.

A middle-aged man in a large leather chair.

The man had obviously been sleeping. He looked up at Ken and yawned.

Ken turned to face Myth. She was calmly hanging her jacket on a rack.

"Uh, Myth?"


"There's a man in here."

Myth moved to her desk and turned on another lamp. She put on a pair of spectacles and glanced through a file.

"Two men. Ken Parker, meet Burton Sabini."

The middle-aged man rose and stepped toward Ken. Sabini was thin and balding, probably in his late forties, though his bearing suggested a man much older.

"Hi, Ken. Nice to meet you." Sabini smiled warmly at him.

Ken looked back at Myth, who was still reading through the file.

"Kenneth Andrew Parker, born in Houston, Texas. You've been having a rough time of it, haven't you, Ken? Two quarters of college before you dropped out. A whole string of jobs, none of which held any long-term prospects. Except possibly this one. You've been at it almost two and a half years. You haven't been doing too badly, but your expenses are crushing you. It looks like you can last sixty days at the most before you'll lose your business."

Ken looked at Sabini, who was smiling and nodding.

The night was getting more surreal by the moment.

"What the hell is this?" Ken snatched the file from Myth's hands and scanned it. "Christ. My height, eye color, weight, the grocery store where I shop ... The weight's wrong, by the way."

"It's what you put on your last driver's license application."

"You do this for every man you bring home?"

"Only men I do business with."


"Ken, do you recognize this man?"

Ken looked at him. "No. Should I?"

"Burton Sabini. He's being prosecuted in an embezzling case, and I'm defending him."

Sabini was obviously surprised not to be recognized. "You watch TV, read the papers? I worked for Vikkers Industries."

Ken studied the man a moment longer. "Sorry."

Myth took the file back. "The district attorney has agreed to accept a polygraph examination as evidence."

"A stipulated test? That's what this is all about?"

"We need your help."

Ken looked from her to Sabini. Were they both nuts? "There's nothing I can do. You get approval on the polygraph examiner, but the D.A. makes the choice. Jesus."

"Just hear me out. They have a weak case against him."

"They must. The D.A. wouldn't agree to admit polygraph results otherwise."

"That's the way I see it. If Sabini takes the stip test and passes, they might even drop the charges. We'd be home free."

"Yeah, but if he fails, they could use that test against you in court. You'd be an idiot to chance it."

"I don't intend to chance it." Myth took off her spectacles. "In the early sixties, there was a major study at the University of Chicago. Researchers were trying to determine if it was possible to beat a polygraph."


"I'm sure you know the outcome, even if you've never heard of this study. It is possible to beat one."

"You said it, not me."

"My client is innocent, but we need to be sure his test reflects that. We're not about to go blundering into a stip test unless we know he can pass it ten times out of ten."

"Then don't agree to it. There's too much room for error."

"I like that kind of talk," she said. "Most examiners will sing the polygraph's praises to the skies, but not you. You recognize that it's an imprecise instrument."

"I recognize the facts."

"And you're up front about it. If you can't clearly identify a deceptive interviewee, you'll go back to your client and say so."

"All examiners are supposed to do that."

"You and I both know that doesn't usually happen. The client wants results. In most cases, the examiner will point out a likely suspect even if the graphs don't completely bear him out. That's how polygraph firms stay in business. They produce results and cultivate those relationships. You, on the other hand, admit it when you can't spot the liar. Your business has suffered because of it."

"One of life's little ironies."

"Maybe it's time you made the polygraph's flaws work for you rather than against you."

"And how do you propose I do that?"

Myth smiled. "We would like you to teach Sabini how to beat the machine. Who better than a licensed polygraph examiner to show him the ropes?"

Ken stared at her. Did she know what she was suggesting? "That's interfering with the application of a stipulated test. I could lose my license, and you could be disbarred."

Sabini stepped forward. "We certainly won't tell anyone." He handed Ken a tightly wound roll of bills. "That's ten thousand dollars. If I take their lie detector test and pass, you'll get forty more."

They knew what they were suggesting.

Ken fingered the roll of bills. Fifty thousand dollars. Did he hear correctly? Fifty thousand?

"For that we're also buying your silence. No one can ever know about this," Myth said.

Fifty thousand dollars.

Ken wished he wasn't tempted by the offer. He wished he were angrier at Myth for luring him here.

"What makes you think I'd do it?" he asked. "Your pretty face?"

"Of course not. The money. I know you need it."

He did need it. Fifty thousand dollars.

Sabini spoke with a slight stammer. "I--I didn't steal from my company, I swear to God. The firm is pushing through a merger, and they're pinning this on me to show everyone they're still in control of their operation. I'm caught in the middle, Ken. It's torn my life apart. I know I can win this in court, but if this test will make the case go away more quickly, I have to try it."

Fifty thousand dollars.

"You have two weeks to train him to beat the polygraph," Myth said. "That's when we have to tell the D.A. if we agree to their stip test. If you work with Sabini and decide he's not up to it, the ten thousand is yours to keep."

"Please," Sabini said. "I need your help."

Fifty thousand dollars.

The peace of mind that money could buy.

He needed it.

But not that much.

Ken shoved the roll of bills back into Sabini's hand. "Sorry. I'm not your man."

"Why not?" Sabini said.

Myth frowned. "Not enough money?"

"More than enough money. If I was the kind of guy who would do something like this, I would've settled for half what you're offering. But you're asking me to help this man commit perjury."

"It's perjury only if he lies."

Ken looked at Sabini. He didn't look like someone who would have the nerve to rip off his employer. Tending to a butterfly collection or watching travel videos, maybe, but not embezzling.

Maybe his company was shafting him.

It didn't matter. What they wanted him to do was wrong.

"Listen," Myth said. "I know this is a lot to throw at you. Sleep on it. Sabini and I will be at Piedmont Park tomorrow night. There's a playground on the west end. We'll meet you there at seven, all right?"

"I won't be there."

"If you're not there, we'll take that as a no."

Ken nodded. They were both so matter-of-fact, as if they wanted to hire him to clean their rain gutters. He walked out. On the front stairway he stopped and turned around. Myth was standing at the door, her face lost in the shadows. "This evening didn't turn out quite like I expected," he said.

"Life is full of surprises."

"You certainly are."

"Do yourself a favor. Think about our offer. This kind of money could make a big difference in your life."

"I don't doubt it."

"Good night, Ken Parker." She slid back into her house and closed the door behind her.

Ken shook his head.

Fifty thousand dollars.

He thought about it all the way back to Elwood's, where his car was parked.

He hoped.

He was three months behind in the payments for his 1971 MG convertible, and the repo men were on the lookout. Ken had been successful in slipping them an occasional twenty to pretend they couldn't find it, but the men made it clear his bribes would no longer be accepted. Until things were squared away, he was parking his car in hiding places several blocks from home and work.

Fifty thousand dollars.

How could he turn away all that money?

Because it was the right thing to do. He knew he could teach Sabini to beat the polygraph; a few tricks, some special exercises, and a lot of practice could do the job. But no matter how much cash they were offering, it wasn't worth it.

Things were bad, but they weren't that bad.


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.