Turncoatby Aaron Elkins
Pete Simon’s all‑American life was everything he ever wanted: a good home, a satisfying career, and a marriage still strong and loving after nearly twenty years. But in the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, everything is about to change.It starts with the appearance of an old man at his door, ranting madly about money,
Pete Simon’s all‑American life was everything he ever wanted: a good home, a satisfying career, and a marriage still strong and loving after nearly twenty years. But in the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, everything is about to change.It starts with the appearance of an old man at his door, ranting madly about money, death, and forgiveness. The man is a stranger to Pete—but not to his wife, Lily. Only later does the truth come out. The unwelcome visitor was Lily’s father, who she had claimed died during World War II in their native France, executed by the Nazis. The next day, he truly is dead, his savagely beaten body washed up in a nearby marsh—and Lily disappears, leaving behind only a brief, enigmatic note asking Pete not to look for her. Now, with a business card from an antiques dealer in Barcelona as his only lead, Pete sets out on a twisted and perilous journey that will carry him to places where the hideous crimes of the Nazis remain fresh in the minds of those who cannot forget . . . or forgive. But each door Pete opens leads him deeper into a painful and shocking past that threatens everything he holds most dear. And suddenly he has become more than a confused and distraught husband; the bitter truths that he uncovers one by one in the search for Lily now make him—and her—the targets of desperate, dangerous men and their terrifying vengeance.
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For everybody else in America it was the day JFK was killed in Dallas. For me, it would always be the day Lily's father turned up on our doorstep.
But first things first....
Something was wrong with my eyes. I could make out the peeling white farmhouse and the ramshackle outbuildings, I could see the sheep nuzzling the grass in the dappled shade of a clearing about twenty yards from where I lay in the thicket, flat on my stomach; I could see the slender, unnaturally still woman in the apron and the long blue dress, holding a basket propped against her hip and peering -- or at least facing -- in my direction. But it was all wavery and fuzzed over, as if I were looking through misted glass. I couldn't make out her face, or whether she was young or old, or what was in the basket, or whether or not she'd spotted me.
I knew that all I could do was lie there -- my legs didn't seem to be working right either -- and pray that I was hidden by the vines and brambles. I tried to remember how I'd come to be there, but couldn't quite put it together. We'd taken off from England that morning on another bombing run, headed for the benzol plant near Linz; I remembered that much. We'd completed the mission and made our turnaround. And then at about the Austrian border the flak had started popping, and then the Focke-Wulfs had shown up, and we were in big trouble. Three of them slipped through our escort of P-51s and screamed straight up at us, homing in as if they'd decided from the beginning that out of the whole350th Bombardment Group -- two dozen B-17s, plus three hundred additional bombers filling the skies around us -- it was us alone, the Betty G, they were after; nobody but us.
The next thing I knew...well, the next thing I knew, there I was lying on my stomach in the thicket, injured and frightened, looking at the woman without a face and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next. I didn't remember our getting hit, I didn't remember Captain Slocum ordering us to bail out, and I didn't remember jumping, or getting rid of my parachute when I landed, or anything. I was starboard waist gunner. Had I even had a chance to fire? I couldn't remember that either.
I realized with a start -- probably it was the look of the farmhouse and the soft, rolling countryside -- that I'd come down in France, not Germany. She was a Frenchwoman! My heart came near to bursting with relief. Not only was I likely to be in friendly territory, I was in my native land. I'd been born in Lyon and spent most of my childhood there before my father brought us to the States.
"Madame!" I called, surprised to hear how feeble my voice was. "Au secours! Je suis un aviateur Américain. Mon avion a été démoli par les Boches."
Nothing. She just stood there without saying anything, without moving, as impassive as a statue, for a long time, and when she did begin to speak it was in a weird monotone, a chant, nothing like normal speech. The individual words were French, all right, but the sentences were gibberish, and I began to get a scary, queasy feeling that something was terribly wrong -- even more terribly wrong than it obviously was, I mean.
If only I could get out of these clothes, I thought. I was roasting. The waist gunners' slots were the coldest places in the plane -- no glassed-in turrets, just a couple of big rectangular open holes in the fuselage, and at twenty thousand feet oxygen was the least of our problems.
The temperature could get to twenty below zero, with a freezing wind that could crack your bones. So we had to dress accordingly, and I was still in my heavy leather flight jacket, overpants, and boots, and my heavy cap with the ear flaps pulled tight. I felt as if I were liquefying inside my casing of fleece-lined leather. No, I was liquefying. My ribs had begun to melt into a soft mush. I could feel them running out from under...
I'm hallucinating, I thought with a jolt. None of this is happening. I'm strapped into my bed in the mental ward at Kings County General, writhing and sweating, and dreaming the whole thing up. And not for the first time either. No. I've been here before: the same thicket, the same stony, faceless figure, the same torpid, dopey sheep. In another minute, the rest of the cast will come marching out from around the corner of the farmhouse.
And out they came. Sometimes they were rustic farm people, or soldiers, or policemen, but most of the time, as now, they were fussy-looking village functionaries of some kind in pince-nez, wing collars, and rusty black suits. They filed out two by two, six of them, muttering and wringing their hands, while some of them banged pots and pans together. Hallucination or not, the whole thing was scaring the hell out of me, and when the woman in blue began to move toward me -- to glide as if on rollers, not to walk -- I screamed. For a moment the scene shimmered, struggling to hold itself together. Then it fell apart into ragged pieces and I was staring at the light fixture on my ceiling, with the tattered, long-dead moth inside that I never seemed to get around to removing.
I was sweating, all right, and the twisted bedclothes proved I'd been doing plenty of writhing, but I wasn't strapped into any bed in the mental ward, and in fact I never had been. In a mental ward, that is...Turncoat. Copyright © by Aaron Elkins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Aaron Elkins is a former anthropologist and professor who has been writing mysteries and thrillers since 1982. His major continuing series features forensic anthropologist‑detective Gideon Oliver, “the Skeleton Detective.” There are fifteen published titles to date in the series. The Gideon Oliver books have been (roughly) translated into a major ABC‑TV series and have been selections of the Book‑of‑the‑Month Club, the Literary Guild, and the Readers Digest Condensed Mystery Series. His work has been published in a dozen languages.
Mr. Elkins won the 1988 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year for Old Bones, the fourth book in the Gideon Oliver Series. He and his cowriter and wife, Charlotte, also won an Agatha Award, and he has also won a Nero Wolfe Award. Mr. Elkins lives on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with Charlotte.
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Peter and Lily Simon have been happily married for seventeen years. Although both were born in France, they met in England where he served during World War II as an army air officer and she worked at the nearby Free French headquarters. They have been living the American dream for years but it becomes a nightmare in 1963 when Lily¿s father knocks on the door. Lily told Pete when they first met that her father died at the hands of the Germans. When Lily closes the door on her father without giving him a chance to speak to her, Pete demands explanations that Lily refuses to give. When her father is murdered, Lily disappears and Pete travels to Barcelona then to Veaudry, France where he learns what Lily has spent so many years trying to hide. After almost getting killed, Pete is finally able to find his wife only to have her kidnapped by professionals for hire. TURNCOAT is a fascinating thriller but it is also a family drama about a woman tortured by her past and the man who loves her so much that he wants to break the chain that bind her to a world that no longer exists except in memory. Aaron Elkins is a gifted storyteller and readers will come away from his latest endeavor wanting to read his previous works. Harriet Klausner
Suspense takes a turn for the sinister when a tale is set in foreign locales. Edgar Award winner Aaron Elkins knows this well and utilizes it to perfection in his latest thriller 'Turncoat.' Following on the heels of his acclaimed 'Loot' and 'Skeleton Dance,' we knew it would be a riveting read. We weren't disappointed. Opening lines set the scene and pique interest: 'For everybody else in America it was the day JFK was killed in Dallas. For me, it would always be the day Lily's father turned up on our doorstep. But first things first....' Among the first things is an introduction to Pete Simon, a man who has everything he could want. Twenty years married he is still very much in love with his wife, Lily; he enjoys his profession; their home is warm and inviting. Pete's plate is full until it is overturned by the appearance of a stranger at their door. The interloper appears to be mad, raving about money, death, forgiveness. Pete has never seen him before; Lily has. The stranger is her father, a man she said had died some years ago in France. On the following day the man's body is discovered. He is now truly dead, brutally beaten and abandoned. Worst of all, Lily vanishes leaving only a note imploring Pete to let her go, not to follow her. Where she could have gone or why she left is a mystery to her anguished husband. He has but one clue: the business card of a Barcelona antiques dealer. Of course, Pete goes in search of his wife little knowing the dangers he will face. Once in Europe he finds himself among those who cannot forget the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. As the path to Lily's whereabouts seems to be getting warm Pete is also met with dreadful secrets, long hidden secrets of collaboration with a vicious enemy. Would those who cannot forget seek to revenge themselves with Pete? Elkins's portrait of good and evil is stunning in every way. 'Turncoat' is a taut thriller, and startling reminder of how the present is affected by the past.