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True Believers (Gregor Demarkian Series #17)

True Believers (Gregor Demarkian Series #17)

5.0 3
by Jane Haddam

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Early one morning at St. Anselm's church in Philadelphia, a parishioner sneaks the body of his dead wife into the sacristy and commits suicide. His wife, a severe diabetic, is assumed to have died of natural causes - until the coroner discovers arsenic poisoning. The police are sure her husband was responsible, but one of the nuns at St. Anselm's doesn't and asks


Early one morning at St. Anselm's church in Philadelphia, a parishioner sneaks the body of his dead wife into the sacristy and commits suicide. His wife, a severe diabetic, is assumed to have died of natural causes - until the coroner discovers arsenic poisoning. The police are sure her husband was responsible, but one of the nuns at St. Anselm's doesn't and asks Gregor Demarkian, retired head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, to investigate. With tensions mounting among the city's religious groups, Demarkian's lover Bennis undergoing a crisis of her own, and the denizens of Demarkian's Armenian-American neighborhood - Cavanaugh Street - involved in various uproars of their own, Demarkian is facing the most difficult case of his career.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A guaranteed winner for those who prefer intellectually stimulating mysteries."—Booklist

"Haddam plays the mystery game like a master."—Chicago Tribune

" "An engrossingly, complex mystery that should win further acclaim for its prolific and talented author."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A small Philadelphia neighborhood, a melting pot of fervent religious beliefs, erupts in violence that calls for all the skills of Gregor Demarkian, the formidable retired head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, as he tackles his 16th case following last year's Skeleton Key. A Roman Catholic parish still suffering from the aftereffects of a pedophilia scandal that rocked the archdiocese; an Episcopalian church with a mostly gay male congregation; an independent, fundamentalist Baptist church; and atheist Edith Lawton all occupy the same block. Only Haddam's superb plotting and characterizations allow this microcosmic creation to achieve credibility. The new Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia first consults Demarkian when a suicide inside St. Anselm's proves more complicated than first believed and threatens to become a new scandal for the beleaguered Catholic church. Then Demarkian is coopted by the police when another death, thought to have been natural, proves to have been murder. As tensions escalate, Demarkian must unravel the motives behind killings that threaten to tear apart the delicate balance. To make things even more difficult, Demarkian's lover, Bennis Hannaford, is facing a personal crisis. Her sister's execution date is approaching and this time there appears no hope of stopping it. Haddam's large cast pulses with petty jealousies, vanities and fears as they confront the mysteries of life and religion. This is an engrossingly complex mystery that should win further acclaim for its prolific and talented author.Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Retired FBI agent Gregor Demarkian (Skeleton Key) investigates an unusual apparent murder/suicide in a Philadelphia church, for which police blame the husband. A nun believes otherwise, however, and so the plot thickens. From a dependable hand. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Haddam moves deep into Greeley territory in this sprawling study of religious morals, foibles, even canticles. On one of Philadelphia's loveliest streets, St. Anselm's church, ministered to by starchy Father Robert Healy, faces St. Stephen's, where Pastor Dan Burdock oversees a mostly gay Episcopal congregation. A few doors down, within megaphone-harassing distance, is the headquarters of self-appointed fundamentalist preacher Roy Phipps, and just past his office is the home of professional atheist Edith Lawton, who alternates passing out abysmally written antireligious tracts with trysts with the lawyer responsible for making restitution to the 62 (or is it 71?) men abused by pedophilic priests ten years ago. Outside, the street is alive with drag queens, teaching sisters, picketers, pamphlet-waving disciples trashing each other's views, and one very opinionated feminist nun. There are also several dead bodies cluttering up the church aisles, including a husband and wife, a gay man, and all too soon, Father Healy and that pesky, no-longer-vocal, nun. Gregor Demarkian, the Armenian-American Poirot, is called in by the Cardinal Archbishop and the cops to sort matters through in between consultations with his friend Father Tibor Kasparian. In addition to arsenic poisoning, a publicly staged exorcism, religious and antireligious diatribes, and clues clever enough to make Agatha Christie envious, he must deal with the imminent, state-mandated execution of his lover's sister, a murderess who has lost a final appeal. Haddam, who is second only to King James in biblical scholarship, has abundant storytelling skills (Skeleton Key). One hopes that someday soon she turns them loose on Tibor and lets him control a whole book.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Gregor Demarkian Series , #17
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.14(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was still full dark when Marty Kelly left home, so dark that there were halos around all the streetlights, as if the lights had metamorphosed into miniature blue moons. For a while, it seemed odd to him that he should be standing out here in the night like this. He'd done enough of this kind of thing in his life, in spite of the fact that he was only twenty-six, but all the other times he'd been anything but stone-cold sober.

    "Alcoholics," Bernadette had told him, the first time he'd brought her to this place. "Alcoholics and druggies. This place is full of them."

    At the moment, this place was full of nothing. Marty could see with perfect clarity down the long alley between the trailers, and there wasn't so much as a light on in one of the living-room windows. Even Marty's own mother seemed to be asleep. Marty shifted from one leg to the other, put his hands in his pockets, tried to think. If Bernadette found out that Geena's trailer was dark, she'd want him to go down and check. It was Friday night. Geena worked on Friday nights, if she was able—and for some reason she still got work, almost as much of it as she'd gotten when Marty was small and her face had looked less like a piece of onionskin that had been crumpled into a ball and thrown into a wastepaper basket. In those days, the men had come in the afternoons as well as at night, and when they did Geena would shove Marty into the back bedroom and fix the door so he couldn't get out. If the man was fast, it didn't matter. If he wasn't, Marty would find himself sitting on the bedroom floor for hours,hungry, bored, ready to explode. When he had to relieve himself, he would get an empty beer bottle out from under the bed and go in that, praying like crazy that he didn't have to relieve himself in the other way. When the fights started, he would wedge himself into the small closet and shut the door, hoping like hell that nobody would find out he was there. Every once in a while, the fights got bad enough to make somebody notice. Something would crash through the living-room window. Something would spill out into the alley where other people could see. Then the police would come, and he would have to hide even more carefully. He would have to practically stop breathing. If the police found him, they would call the child-protection people, and that was the very worst thing of all.

    "She might be sick," Bernadette would say, if she were standing out here next to him. "One of those men who visit her might have done something to her. You can't just leave her alone. You have to go see."

    Marty turned back to look at the truck. Bernadette was sitting upright in the passenger seat, her seat belt already on, her eyes closed. Her sense of duty was one of the things he loved most about her, mostly because he'd never met anybody else who had it. Bernadette believed that wives cleaned house and got dinner for their husbands. Their trailer was always spotless, and if she had to work late and couldn't be there when he got back from the station, she left a covered dish in the refrigerator with instructions for him to heat it in the microwave. Bernadette believed that good people went to church on Sunday and that they did more for their church than sit at Mass looking holy. She volunteered for two different missions, and helped out at the Episcopalian church across the street when they had need of it. She hadn't even seemed to mind that most of the people at the church across the street were gay. Bernadette was holy, but she wasn't one of those people who had her nose stuck in the air.

    Marty had learned to nurse a single beer all Saturday night so that he'd be in shape when the alarm went off at six on Sunday morning. Sometimes, he stopped cold in the middle of installing a carburetor or changing the oil on some car that hadn't had it changed in the last six years and felt a kind of shock. He was still living where he had always lived, but he might as well have been living on a different planet. He didn't know anybody else whose trailer looked like his or who had a savings account, either. It was incredible what happened when you kept your drinking to a six-pack a week and didn't do drugs at all. In the beginning, he had only gone along because he was in love, and because he couldn't believe that Bernadette loved him back. In the end, he had had to admit that she was right about everything.

    "Used to have a savings account," he said now. He was looking at his mother's dark living-room window again. It was the first of February and very cold. In any other year, there would have been snow. He turned back to look at Bernadette. She hadn't moved.

    "Listen," Bernadette had told him, when they were first going out. "It's not luck. It's not that you have to get lucky. It's that you have to have a plan. If you have a plan, you can do anything. Don't you see?"

    One of the things Bernadette had done was to make him stop playing the lottery. She had made him take the money he would have spent on lottery tickets and put it in a jar behind the kitchen sink. At the end of a month, she had dumped it all out on the kitchen table and shown him how much there was—and there was nearly three hundred dollars, enough for the utilities two months running, enough for a payment on the truck. Marty thought he would remember it all the rest of his life, the way she had been that night, her red hair caught back in a barrette, her great blue eyes looking bluer than usual in her pate, freckled face. She had been so beautiful, she had made him hurt.

    "You have to have a plan," she had told him again. "You have to think things through."

    He'd never been too good at that: thinking things through. He wasn't good at it now. He had a sudden vision of the first time she had fallen down in front of him, bucking and shaking, her eyes rolling back in her head—but the vision went black in no time at all. He knew what he had done, the first time she had gotten sick and every time thereafter, but he couldn't remember himself doing it.

    He forced himself to look at Geena's window, yet again. He forced himself to walk down the alley to Geena's front door. The inner door was open, in spite of the cold, but at least the storm windows were in the outer door. He'd put them in himself, in November, because Bernadette had reminded him to. The windows were all clean, too, because Bernadette had cleaned them, the way she went down to Geena's when Geena was sleeping off a drunk to do the dishes or vacuum the floors or get the laundry to the Laundromat so that Geena wouldn't smell.

    "She's your mother," Bernadette had said, running her fingers along the edge of a sewing needle she had been trying to thread for the last half hour. "You have to honor your mother, even if she hasn't been a very good one."

    Sometimes, Marty wondered what it was God thought he was doing. He was supposed to have some very important plan—and there had been times when Marty had claimed to understand it—but the truth was that everything seemed to be a mess. Nothing made sense. Nothing ever went right for more than a minute at a time.

    Marty went into Geena's trailer and turned on the light. He could hear Geena snoring in the back. He could see the small plastic statue of the Virgin Bernadette had put up on the wall next to the front door, as if that alone would be enough to make Geena want to change. Bernadette had statues of the Virgin everywhere, and rosaries, too. She had a Miraculous Medal with a blue glass background that she wore around her neck, always, no matter what. Even in these last few months, when they had not been going to St. Anselm's at all, Bernadette had not stopped wearing that medal.

   Sometimes, when Geena fell asleep drunk, she fell asleep naked. Marty didn't know how old she was, but he thought she might be going through the menopause. She got hot at night, and even hotter when she was plastered, and then she took off her clothes and left them on the floor. He held his own breath and listened to hers. It was even and untroubled. It didn't sound as if she were sucking in her own vomit. If she were lying naked, he should cover her—but he didn't want to see her that way. It made him sick to his stomach, and angry in a way he couldn't explain.

    He listened for a moment more, and then went back outside, closing the inner door behind him, because that would at least let Geena's trailer warm up. The moon over his head was full and clear. The air around him was very sharp. His hands were cold enough to feel stiff. He walked back to the truck and got in behind the wheel, moving carefully so that he did not startle Bernadette. He found himself wishing that her eyes were open, so that he could look into them, so deeply that he could see the bottom of her soul.

    Instead, he got the truck started and the heater turned on, then headed out down the dirt track toward the town road. It was going to be a long drive into Philadelphia, and there would be traffic even at four o'clock in the morning. If they got there too late, Mass would be starting, and they wouldn't be able to do what they needed to do. He should have listened to Bernadette in everything, without exception, even in those times when he had been so frightened he hadn't been able to listen at all.

    He had just turned onto the two-lane blacktop when Bernadette shifted in her seat and seemed to shudder. He leaned over and put his right hand over hers, to comfort her in sleep.

    It was only when he felt the marble coldness of her skin that he remembered, for the first time in an hour, that Bernadette was dead.

Chapter Two

On any other day of his life, the Reverend Daniel Burdock would have been asleep at four o'clock in the morning. He would at least have been to sleep sometime before then. Even in college, when everybody else he knew was spending two days a week trying to figure out if they could stay up forty-eight hours straight, he had been able to leave the party and sack out at a halfway-reasonable hour. Now he had been awake and restless for almost a full day, and it didn't look like it was going to come to an end anytime soon. He had a terrible premonition that he was going to show up at the funeral this afternoon and keel right over—of exhaustion, or a heart attack, or simple frustration. Something was going to happen. He couldn't go on like this. He couldn't go on thinking like this. This was the way people like Timothy McVeigh thought, before they went out and did something stupid.

    The truth of it, of course, was that he was in no danger of keeling over at the funeral, or anyplace else. He had never been so awake in his life. He had been drinking coffee for ten hours straight, and even if he hadn't been, he would have been wired to the gills. Now he was pacing back and forth along the long choir gallery that overlooked the body of the church, his vision cut off at intervals by the thick granite columns that framed the gallery's archways. It was a beautiful church, St. Stephen's Episcopal. If he had been able to imagine the church he wanted when he first entered



By Dana Stabenow

St. Martin's Minotaur

Copyright © 2001 Dana Stabenow. All rights reserved.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"A guaranteed winner for those who prefer intellectually stimulating mysteries."—Booklist

"Haddam plays the mystery game like a master."—Chicago Tribune

" "An engrossingly, complex mystery that should win further acclaim for its prolific and talented author."—Publishers Weekly

Meet the Author

Jane Haddam is the author of numerous articles and books, including sixteen previous mysteries featuring Gregor Demarkian, most recently Skeleton Key. Her work has been a finalist for both the Edgar and the Anthony Awards. She lives with her two sons in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

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True Believers (Gregor Demarkian Series #17) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always loved this series. Some better than others but I love the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Philadelphia Inquirer calls former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian the ¿Armenian-American Hercule Poirot, but the ex FBI chief of the Behavioral Science Unit prefers less of a public role. In spite of his good intentions, Gregor seems to always become involved in a high profile homicide investigation that turns him into a media pizza. Gregor¿s lover Bennis Hannaford suffers from a rough period as the state readies to execute her sister with no appeals or stay in sight.

Gregor tries to help Bennie obtain closure, but is yanked into the murders inside churches in their neighborhood. For instance, a churchgoer dies from arsenic poisoning and her husband brings her to their place of worship where he commits suicide. A nun and a pastor also die from arsenic poisoning. Gregor begins to seek the common theme besides the weapon that binds these deaths.

One of the great qualities of the excellent long-running Demarkian novels is that the reader does not need to follow some pre-designed sequence as each book can stand-alone. Still, fans will tell newcomers that watching Gregor grow and change is fun. TRUE BELIEVERS is rich in detail and strong on plotting. The complex characters make the story line believable and keep the pace of the novel steady but always going forward. Jane Haddam will make TRUE BELIEVERS out of anyone who reads any of her books.

Harriet Klausner