The Inquisitorby Mark Allen Smith
A spectacularly original thriller about a professional torturer who has a strict code, a mysterious past, and a dangerous conviction that he can save the life of an innocent child
Geiger has a gift: he knows a lie the instant he hears it. And in his business—called "information retrieval" by its practitioners—that gift is invaluable,/b>
A spectacularly original thriller about a professional torturer who has a strict code, a mysterious past, and a dangerous conviction that he can save the life of an innocent child
Geiger has a gift: he knows a lie the instant he hears it. And in his business—called "information retrieval" by its practitioners—that gift is invaluable, because truth is the hottest thing on the market.
Geiger's clients count on him to extract the truth from even the most reluctant subjects. Unlike most of his competitors, Geiger rarely sheds blood, but he does use a variety of techniques—some physical, many psychological—to push his subjects to a point where pain takes a backseat to fear. Because only then will they finally stop lying.
One of Geiger's rules is that he never works with children. So when his partner, former journalist Harry Boddicker, unwittingly brings in a client who demands that Geiger interrogate a twelve-year-old boy, Geiger responds instinctively. He rescues the boy from his captor, removes him to the safety of his New York City loft, and promises to protect him from further harm. But if Geiger and Harry cannot quickly discover why the client is so desperate to learn the boy's secret, they themselves will become the victims of an utterly ruthless adversary.
Mesmerizing and heart-in-your-throat compelling, The Inquisitor is a completely unique thriller that introduces both an unforgettable protagonist and a major new talent.
The Washington Post
The New York Times Book Review
“Transfixing…nerve-racking…[Smith] successfully transforms Geiger into a sympathetic hero.” The New York Times Book Review
“This is one of the best and most engrossing debut novels I've read in years, and also one of the most original. Mark Allen Smith has created an unusual hero named Geiger whose occupation is torturing the truth out of people. Geiger is good at what he does, and so is Mr. Smith. The Inquisitor will keep you locked in a room for days.” Nelson DeMille
“Remarkably assured…A swiftly paced narrative as disturbing as it is compelling.” The Washington Post
“Information retrieval takes on a sinister cast in Smith's mesmerizing thriller debut…[Geiger is] a fascinating piece of work…This may be the most unusual and talked about thriller of the season.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Geiger is] one of the most utterly distinctive protagonists in a recent thriller, and one of the most unexpectedly sympathetic…Smith invests his first novel with psychological dimensions you might expect in a third or fourth book…A breezy, involving thriller that handily overcomes any resistance to its grisly premise and leaves you hoping for the return of its oddly winning hero.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An adrenaline-fueled cat-and-mouse game…[Geiger] is a fascinating protagonist with a revealing backstory. A compelling debut thriller that blurs the lines between the good and bad guys.” Library Journal (starred review)
- Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
At four A.M., standing on the stoop outside his back door, Geiger watched a spider weave its web.
It was raining. The sky, ash-gray and cloudy, was gathered at the horizon like an old quilt. A drop of water clung to one strand of a new web that stretched from the porch overhang to the wooden railing four feet below. The breeze plucked the strand like a guitar string; the raindrop trembled but held fast. Then the spider came down, plump belly swaying, and began weaving a new strand.
Earlier, Geiger had been typing up his notes on the session with Matthew. As Sgt. Pepper came to him through the six-foot Hyperions, he felt the superb bass response, right down to the click of McCartney’s pick on his guitar strings. The cat, as usual, was lying on the desk, stretched out beside the right end of his keyboard, a front paw rising and tapping at Geiger’s hand whenever he went more than a few minutes without being scratched. The near rumble of his purr was loudest when Geiger scratched the scar above his missing left eye. Geiger didn’t know the circumstance of the injury; the animal had looked this way when he showed up on the back stoop three years ago. Nor did he know the cat’s name or where he was from—which is to say, the two were somewhat alike.
Geiger always wrote notes the same night of a session, while actions and reactions were fresh in his mind. He found that even a few hours of sleep could smudge the edges of memory. The next day, his partner, Harry, would e-mail a transcript he had made from the video of the session, and Geiger would go through it and insert comments at relevant spots.
He worked while sitting in an ergonomic desk chair, built specially for him. But he still had to get up every fifteen minutes and walk or his left leg would go pins and needles down to his toes. Over the years he’d seen three specialists about the problem—one doctor had called it “deadfoot”—but they all said the same thing: the only recourse was reconstructive surgery. Geiger told them that no one was going to use any kind of blade on him, for any reason. Having just examined him, they understood his feelings on the subject.
Geiger had stepped out back to lose the numbness and have a cigarette. He didn’t smoke inside. He found that the smell of stale smoke in a room affected his focus. Months ago, when he was new on the couch, Dr. Corley had traced that back to his father and his endless Camels. To date, that was the only picture of his father Corley had been able to pull out of Geiger—in a dream, Geiger had seen his father’s stony face staring down at him, a cigarette clamped between full lips, smoke curling out of his nostrils. Geiger had remembered thinking, This is what God looks like. Only taller.
He felt the cat, which had just come out the open door, rub against his ankles. He picked the animal up and draped the furry body over his shoulder. Other than the perch on the desk, this was the cat’s favorite spot.
Geiger lit a Lucky Strike and watched the spider. Full of purpose, it performed its singular task with innumerable perfect strokes. Imagine a carpenter who could spit out nails made in his gut and use his hands as hammers. Imagine a musician whose instrument was his own body. Geiger wondered, Is there any other being so diligent and artistic at creating a killing apparatus—besides man?
* * *
Geiger was an apostle, a slave to the specific. He was constantly breaking down, distilling, and defining parts of the whole, because in IR—information retrieval—the details were crucial. His goal was to refine the process to an art, which was why every single thing that happened from the moment Geiger walked into the room had its own degree of significance and required recognition. Each facial expression; each spoken word and silence; each tic, glance, and movement. Give him fifteen minutes in the room with a Jones and nine out of ten times he would know what the reaction to a particular action would be before the Jones made it: fear, defiance, desperation, bravado, denial. There were patterns, cycles, behavioral refrains. You just had to pay very close attention to see them all. He’d learned that by listening to music; he’d come to understand how every note plays a part in the whole, how each sound affects and complements the rest. He could hum every note in a thousand pieces of music. They were all in his head. In music, as in IR, everything mattered.
Still, even with the countless elements that could come into play, Geiger’s view of his work was relatively simple. The client and the Jones almost always presented him with one of three basic scenarios.
No. 1: Theft. The Jones had stolen something from the client and the client wanted it back.
No. 2: Betrayal. The Jones had committed an act of disloyalty or treachery and the client wanted to learn the identity of any accomplices and the extent of potential repercussions.
No. 3: Need. The Jones possessed information or knowledge the client wanted.
Human beings are all different, but only in so many ways. Geiger’s transcripts proved it time and again. Since he had started this work, he had filled twenty-six black four-inch binders, which now sat lined up on his desk. He could cross-reference the data in the notebooks by profession, age, religion, net worth, and—most important—allegation. The binders were an encyclopedia of information on response and reaction to intimidation, threat, fear, and pain. But there was no data within the pages about death. Geiger had never had a Jones die in a session—not once in eleven years. As Carmine would say, Geiger was batting a thousand.
Geiger’s clients came from the private sector, the corporate world, organized crime, government. Four years ago, he’d even done a stint at a black site for some agency spooks. They believed their methods were cutting-edge, but Geiger had immediately seen that they were way behind the times; they were men pulling wings off flies while they talked of saving the world. In IR, there was no substitute for expertise. Patriotism, religion, a steely belief in what was right and wrong—these were all things to be set aside. In the end, there were lies and there was the truth, and the space between the two could be so thin that there was no room for the clutter of rectitude and conviction. The spooks at the black site had stood in the shadows observing him as he worked; to Geiger, they’d looked like cavemen watching him light a fire with a Zippo.
He was a student of the craft, and a historian. Just as the black binders contained the sum of his own work, he was a living text of the trade—its origins, rationales, methodologies, and evolution. He knew that man had been using torture without apology since at least 1252, when Pope Innocent the Fourth authorized its use to deal with heretics. Since that official sanction, immeasurable time and effort had gone into creating and perfecting methods for inflicting pain in the pursuit of what a person or group considered indispensable information or truth. The practice had no cultural, geographic, or ethnic bias. History proved that if you had rudimentary tools—hammer, saw, rasp—and basic materials—wood, iron, rope, fire—you needed little more. Add even the simplest understanding of physics and construction and you were in business.
Geiger had begun his education by studying the instincts and foundational choices of the pioneers. Certain methods and techniques were especially effective, including:
Sharpened objects. The Judas Chair proved so successful during the Inquisition that most European countries began customizing their own versions. Culla di Giuda, Judaswiege—by any name, it was a pyramid-shaped seat upon which the Jones, raised by ropes, was perched.
Encasement and pressure. The Iron Maiden, an upright sarcophagus, was fitted with interior spikes and apertures for the insertion of various sharp or pronged objects during an interrogation. It was also, to a degree, the ancestor of the sensory deprivation process. The buskin, Spanish Boot, and Malay Foot Press all used shrinkage and manipulation to break feet; the thumbscrew was limited to single digits, but an interrogator who carried one in his pocket could turn any place into a torture chamber.
Manacling and stretching. The rack was a technological advance, with its employment of rollers, gears, and handles, allowing one the ability to quickly increase or reduce physical pain by minute degrees.
Waterboarding was another brainchild of the Inquisition’s interrogators. They understood that whereas submerging a Jones in water might prove effective over time, waterboarding triggered the gag reflex almost instantaneously, heightening the fear of death.
Intense heat had always been a staple of the torturer’s trade—consider the phrase “putting one’s feet to the fire”—as had the ripping and flaying of flesh. Also useful was a wide array of tools, from the simple—such as pliers for denailing—to the complex—such as the Pear, a hinged and often exquisitely etched steel tool inserted into the vagina or anus and slowly expanded by means of a screw handle. The catalog of tools was extensive: the Wheel, the Cat’s Paw, the Head Crusher, the Crocodile Tube, the Picquet, the Strappado. All these and more had been invented before the Industrial Revolution, and Geiger had come to understand that the practice of torture was not an aberration. In the cause of expedience and the quest for information, man has always been willing to trump his laws and betray his beliefs to legitimize the torture of those who do not share them.
After much study and consideration, Geiger had devised a standard operating procedure. He worked only by referral. If a company or individual was in need of his services, they were directed to his website and given the password. Harry, his partner, would immediately review the request; if he didn’t see any red flags, he asked the potential client to send some preliminary information about the Jones. Then Harry started digging, and within a couple of days he put together a detailed profile. Harry was prickly, but there was no one better at what he did. He could find out things about a Jones that the spouse or best friend didn’t know, the government didn’t know, even the Jones didn’t know. Once Geiger read the dossier, he would tell Harry whether the job was a go.
Geiger had three rules. He didn’t work with children, though Harry had never received such a request. He didn’t work with people who’d had coronary events in the past. And he didn’t work with people over seventy-two—Geiger had reviewed studies showing that the risk of heart attack and stroke rose to unacceptable levels after that age.
But there was one gray area: the asap. Geiger’s corollary to “Everything matters” was “A Jones is not the perfect sum of his or her parts.” So if a client wanted an asap—a rush job—Geiger would often decline. There was so much to take in: body language, verbal response, vocal tone, facial expressions, a constant stream of information that shaped his choices and decisions—and a miscalculation or an incorrect conclusion, no matter how minor, could blow up a session or even tear a hole in his private universe. Which is why Geiger preferred to work inside out and follow a game plan based on Harry’s research. Some pros, like Dalton, worked from the outside in and used a more single-minded, head-on application of brutality. But with this approach, the client couldn’t always be sure what shape the Jones would be in when the session was over—although in some cases, that wasn’t an issue.
Geiger, like everyone in the IR business, had heard a number of stories about Dalton. The most famous one dated from Desert Storm, when Kuwaiti cops caught one of Saddam’s henchmen sneaking across the border. They worked on the Iraqi for a week and got nothing, so they brought Dalton over and gave him carte blanche. That kind of session was called a “norell,” short for “no release likely,” meaning that it would probably be unwise to allow the world to see the Jones again after the interrogation was completed. The first time Dalton asked a question, the Iraqi smiled and Dalton sliced off a lip with a rotary knife. Then he went to work with a pneumatic nail gun—and the Jones gave Dalton what he wanted. The story may have been apocryphal, but it made Dalton’s career. In IR it didn’t hurt to have that reputation—that you were capable of anything—because most clients saw the Jones as the enemy and, in truth, wanted more than recompense or enlightenment. They wanted their pound of flesh.
The way Geiger saw it, politics, business, and religion were the three remaining fingers of a battle-scarred fist. Truth, meanwhile, was a weapon that even a damaged fist could still grasp and wield. It was a remarkably versatile commodity; it could be traded, or help serve an end, or produce a profit. But it was an unstable element with a short half-life, so it had to be used quickly, before it blew up in the client’s face. Early on, Geiger had learned that truth was no longer sacred—it was simply the hottest thing on the market, and anyone in IR who believed that they acted within the parameters of some righteous code was at the very least deluded.
The cat jumped from Geiger’s shoulder to the porch railing and went on his nightly way. Without fail, he would be back around five A.M.; the creature’s clock was a nearly perfect thing.
The spider had finished its night’s work. A large, striped moth was already caught dead center in the web, struggling furiously, not knowing that the more it tried to free itself, the tighter its shackles grew. Moving without haste, the spider came down from the web’s upper right-hand corner. It demonstrated no sense of urgency, as if the ends were secondary to the means, the meal simply a by-product of the art that had snared it.
Geiger lit another Lucky, and as the spider reached its prize Geiger put his lighter’s flame to an anchoring strand. The web, moth, and spider all went up in a puff of fire.
Geiger decided not to think about his action just now, and headed back inside. He would talk about it with Corley tomorrow.
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Allen Smith
Meet the Author
Mark Allen Smith, who lives in New York City, has worked for many years in both movies and television as a screenwriter, investigative news producer, and documentary filmmaker. This is his first novel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book is a smack between the eyes. It grabs you and drags you on a wave of action until the thrilling conclusion. Mark Allen Smith marks his place in the thriller genre with ease. Close up on the protagonist Geiger, a man with a talent for getting answers and knowing if he is given a lie or the truth. Geiger is at the top of his game as an “information retrieval” specialist. He is sought out by the most powerful people to extract confessions and secrets. Those around him including his business partner Harry Boddicker constantly try to figure Geiger out. A quiet man with a guarded manner who speaks with a voice that is silken and without inflection, he rarely blinks and walks with just a little lean. Geiger works within a “code of ethics” in which he extracts information in any way he can avoiding the drawing of blood and the number one rule is he never works with children, ever. Boddicker brings a “rush job” to Geiger. The client has a small window of time to find out where a valuable stolen item is located. Against his better judgement Geiger accepts, he normally requires diligent investigation into a job before agreeing to take it on. When the client arrives Geiger finds him demanding the interrogation of a twelve-year-old boy. Going into protection mode Geiger takes the boy and whisks him off to the safety of his loft apartment until he can figure out what to do. The inquisitor now finds himself on the other end of the retrieval business. He has to find the reason the client needs the information from the boy before he, the boy, and his partner become victims of Geiger’s brutal opponent. Mark Allen Smith has crafted a debut novel that puts him in the big leagues. He has brought an unexpected spin on the thriller that makes this a must read.
Outstanding action/character thriller! Superb, engrossing, totally original, unexpected all the way through. I am SO glad that Smith is working on a sequel! Never a dull moment. Many themes that could be developed even more.
Excellent book! I didn't think that it was possible to make a professional torturer a sympathetic character, but Mark Allen Smith did it wonderfully. This book is part action, psychological thriller, and redemptive. Geiger's back story isn't completely revealed, but we're shown enough to answer some questions about him. The author left room for a sequel to explore more of Geiger and his healing psyche, so I hope a next book is soon to come. It is a bit graphic, but not a a bloody/gore sense. Don't confuse this book with a gore /killer book, it is so much more!
The character development in this novel is fascinating. Although some of the action is a bit graphic for my taste, it does add further to the development of the main character. Everything comes together in the end, which is the best part of the book. It is perfectly set up for a sequel, and I am hoping that Smith writes one in the near future.
Since much of this novel happens on the 4th of July, when Americans are at the beach, that may be the best time to read it. You can leisurely wonder just how far our government is willing to go in torturing those suspected of being unfriendly to US interests. Each blast of colorful fireworks could be just another enemy combatant. Geieger, the Inquisitor does that job for us now, among other things, and none of us would likely want to meet him. He even disturbs his psychiatrist. But, the author allows to see just enough to find a human element in Geiger that we can move hopefully from page to page. I liked the story while I didn't like the torture, but if we choose to ignore it as a fact of today's life, we might as well read Dick and Jane novels. Or watch fireworks. Room is left for a sequel, so set your counter for the return of Geiger. One thing he could not do that the author was able to accomplish is get garbage service in Manhattan on Independence Day. Powerful!
Gieger is great at what he does. He is an expert at "information retrieval," meaning he uses a combination of physical and mental means to garner secrets from people. He has set up a business with his partner Harry who is good with computers. The two agree to take on a job to find out what an art dealer has done with a stolen painting. At the last minute the client substitutes the dealer's 12 year old son as the one to work on. Geiger decides this is too much and attacks the client and takes the boy away to someplace safe. This sets off a chain of events and Geiger and Harry find out that the people wanting the boy interrogated are very dangerous. The book is a study into the mind set of Geiger and what made him into the "cold fish" he is. It is intriguing to know what happened and though the author provides some clues, we do not know all. Also, Harry has a sister who is now mentally incapacitated and we would like to know a lot more as to what happened to her and how it influenced Harry. The author sets up a great tale with tension that builds to the end and it is the fact that I wanted to know more about the main characters that stopped me from giving it a full five stars.
Thought this was a fast-paced thriller. You'd think -- given his line of work -- it would be hard to take a liking to a character like Geiger. But I found myself drawn into his world and rooting for him throughout the book. I'm not at all squeamish, so some of the more visceral scenes didn't bother me at all, but a few parts may be a little hard for someone else who doesn't like a litte violence in their fiction. I have no problem recommending this book to anyone looking for an intense but quick read. I think I put this book down twice while reading it so I finished it in one day, I was that drawn into Geiger's world and finding out things would play out for everyone involved. I'm hoping this author gives us more of the life of Geiger in future books.
An excellent book, well written and suspenseful. The main character is very quirky, but you warm to him immediately. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and, if you like a very engaging and exciting book, I think you will enjoy it tremendously.
You will get nothing else done while reading this book!! Loved all of the characters. One of the best debut novels I have ever read!!
I love books about the bad guys with a soft side - the likeable hit man or the ckeaner. However, I have been disappointed more often than not. But not with this book. My only disappointment came from not finding more books with the same character, like with the Lawrence Block or Barry Eisler hit men series'. I was totally engrossed in this story and could visualize every scene; however it wasnt due to endless descriptions (like Stephen King). I found it well written and totally fascinating.
Impossible to put down. Beautifully crafted characters. Can't wait for the next installment, Mr. Smith!!!