Twenty-Seven Bones

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Overview

There are twenty-seven bones in the human hand. And there are three dead bodies on the island of St. Luke -- each victim missing a hand. It's the strangest, most disturbing series of murders the Caribbean has ever known -- and one of the few crimes that could pull FBI Special Agent E. L. Pender out of retirement. In all of his years, he's never faced such a diabolical underworld drenched in superstition. At the heart of this darkness is a husband-and-wife team with a perverse plan so powerfully consuming, so ...
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Overview

There are twenty-seven bones in the human hand. And there are three dead bodies on the island of St. Luke -- each victim missing a hand. It's the strangest, most disturbing series of murders the Caribbean has ever known -- and one of the few crimes that could pull FBI Special Agent E. L. Pender out of retirement. In all of his years, he's never faced such a diabolical underworld drenched in superstition. At the heart of this darkness is a husband-and-wife team with a perverse plan so powerfully consuming, so brilliantly evil, that Pender can only watch and wait...as the grisly hand of fate reaches out for its next victim.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers fearing that recently retired FBI Agent E.L. Pender (The Girls He Adored; Fear Itself) would devote himself to a life of leisure on a sandy beach can breathe a sigh of relief: his serial killer hunter skills are as sharp as ever. Pender does head for a tropical isle, though the fictional St. Luke in the U.S. Virgin Islands when old pal Julian Coffee, the chief of police, invites him to help hunt down a sadistic killer whose signature is severing the right hand of his many victims. The identity of the killer, or in this case killers, is no secret to the reader: kinky anthropologist spouses Phil and Emily Epps are shown early on murdering St. Luke resident Andy Arena after a "sadomasochistic tango." The Epps believe that sucking in a dying person's last breath will make them all-powerful, a ritual learned on one of their field expeditions. Drawn into the Epps's cabal is narcissistic Lewis Apgard, scion of one of the island's founding families. Lewis needs to have his wife, Hokey, killed so he can move forward with a land scheme that will net him big money, and fortunately for him, the Epps are glad to help him out. Meanwhile, Pender, "bald and homely as a boiled potato," finds love with a beautiful local lady who has a serious law enforcement problem in her past. Nasaw is such a clever writer that it's hard not to root for all his quirky characters, including the Epps, though we're constantly reminded that the deadly duo is bad, bad, bad. Even so, Nasaw is able to whip up plenty of suspense as Apgard and the Epps take Pender prisoner, grab a child hostage and make one last bid for freedom. Agent, Fred Hill. (June 1) Forecast: This is a well-written, appealing series that has the potential to find a wide audience. Booksellers can recommend to mystery, thriller and mainstream readers alike. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nasaw (Fear Itself; The Girls He Adored) has created some of the most interesting serial killers in modern literature. Here, former FBI agent E.L. Pender heads to St. Luke, one of the Virgin Islands, to help hunt for a murderer whose modus operandi is to torture his victims, cut off their right hands, and leave them to bleed slowly to death. The authorities, fearful of bad publicity, want to keep the killer's existence quiet. Pender, clearly from the mainland and unaccustomed to the speech patterns and social customs of the island, is at a disadvantage as he tries to familiarize himself with the community and its inhabitants. As the body count builds, and the pattern of the killings changes, he finds that the case is more complex than he first thought. Although the reader knows who is behind the killings, tension arises from not knowing whether Pender will figure it out in time to save other people while putting himself at grave risk. Loaded with suspense and packed with unique and engaging characters, this is a winner for all fiction collections.-Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights- University Heights P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Feckless psychopaths. Can those two words really be mentioned in the same breath?Well, yes. And speaking of breath. . . . meet the Epps: Dr. Emily and Dr. Phil, anthropologists and serial killers. They kill for the sake of dying breaths, convinced that if they can suck these up in sufficient quantities they can live forever. Never mind how they came by this unwarranted (certainly unscientific) approach to immortality. What's relevant is their unshakable belief in the concept's validity and the ease with which surface ordinariness can blind the average citizen to rampant nuttiness. For 15 years, the Epps have gone about the business of population decimation "without so much as a cross word from the authorities," Emily airily informs a potential disciple. True enough, but that period is about to come to an abrupt end with the advent of former FBI Special Agent E.L. Pender. He arrives at St. Luke (fictitious) in the Virgin Islands at the behest of embattled Police Chief Julian Coffee, a onetime colleague and unabashed admirer of Pender's special abilities ("When it comes to serial killers, you're the man"). And no question about it, Chief Coffee does have a situation on his hands. Hands indeed. Right hands to be precise, which a sudden series of corpses have been materializing without. It doesn't take long for Pender to sniff out the eccentricity in the Epp household, though catching the weird doctors red-handed, as it were, seems another matter entirely. But, then, who knew the silly pair would be cooperative enough to record 15 years of serial killing in meticulous, evidentiary detail?Unsparingly gruesome in places. Still, it's a colorful cast, sharply observed and wittily presented:Pender in love is almost as much fun as Pender the sleuth. By far, Nasaw's third is his best yet (The Girls He Adored, 2001, etc.). Author tour. Agent: Fred Hill
From the Publisher
"Explosive."

San Francisco Chronicle

"Loaded with suspense."

Library Journal

"Move over, Hannibal Lecter."

Scottish Daily Record

"A first-rate thriller."

Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781419303531
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004

Meet the Author

Jonathan Nasaw is the acclaimed author of Fear Itself and The Girls He Adored, both Literary Guild Selections. He lives in Pacific Grove, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Twenty-Seven Bones


By Jonathan Nasaw

Atria

Copyright © 2004 Jonathan Nasaw
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743446534

Prologue

In 1985, in the village of Lolowa'asi, on the island of Pulau Nias, seventy-five kilometers off the western coast of Sumatra, a chieftain lies dying.

Or rather, sits dying. It is still the custom on Lolowa'asi for a chief to deliver his obligatory deathbed oration sitting up in his elaborately carved wooden marriage bed, supported from behind, if necessary, by one or more of his wives, with the skull or the right hand of one of his enemies nearby, for him to take with him over the bridge to the next world.

Sometimes a deathbed oration, summing up the great man's life and reign as well as the history of the village, goes on for days. This one started several hours ago. But although all around the chieftain's house village life continues as usual -- women boil yams or work the fields; men chop wood or feed and groom the pigs, which are the primary source and display of wealth in the island economy -- in the Omo Sebua, or Great House, neither of the dying chieftain's two potential successors has yet stirred from his bedside.

There is a reason for this fidelity. In Lolowa'asi, both succession and inheritance are still conferred the traditional way: upon whichever of the heirs manages to be close enough to the chieftain at the ultimate moment to inhale his dying breath, which is believed to contain his sofu and fa'atua-tua, authority and wisdom, along with his all-important lakhomi, or spiritual glory. Together these comprise his eheha -- his spirit, or immortal soul.

Get the breath, you get it all: the pigs, the property, the spirit, the Great House. So the two heirs, bare-chested, with ceremonial gilt-threaded sarungs wrapped around their waists, wait and listen while the women come and go, bearing platters of rice and chicken and crackling pork.

But there is one woman present who neither cooks nor serves. She is a young white woman, an American, half of a husband-and-wife team of anthropologists. She and her husband are using a camcorder to document what is believed to be the last traditional-culture village in the North Sumatra province of Indonesia. He operates the camcorder, while his much younger wife takes notes by hand.

The anthropologists, who have heard about the deathbed ritual but never witnessed one, know what is supposed to happen next. According to tradition, after the oration and the deathbed blessings (everyone in the room including the Americans is eligible for a kind word and a chunk of consecrated pig jawbone), the chief will remain sitting, supported by his wives, while his two sons shuffle in a circle at the foot of the bed.

When his senior wife senses that the chieftain is dying, she will signal to the other wives. Together they will lay him back down, and the lucky heir who is closest to the bed at that moment will lean over the chieftain, openmouthed, and suck in the expiratory exhalation, sofu, fa'atua-tua, lakhomi, eheha, and all.

Timing is everything -- the Americans are expecting something on the order of a solemn game of musical chairs with an unusually intense scramble when the music, so to speak, stops. They've even joked about it privately.

But in the end there is nothing funny about what transpires this summer afternoon. The camera catches it all. Before signaling to the other wives that the time that will come for us all has come for the chieftain, the dying man's senior wife surreptitiously signals the older son, the son of her own loins, Ama Bene, by putting the back of her hand to her brow as if in grief. He slows his pace and is standing by his father's head as the old man is laid back down upon the batik-covered mattress. The scrawny bare chest -- not even the wealthiest man in Lolowa'asi has much fat on him -- falls, rises, falls again.

Just as Ama Bene begins to bend over his father, the tape shows him being pushed violently aside, shoved all the way out of the frame, and as the room explodes into chaos, it is the younger son, Ama Halu, whom the camera captures leaning over the body of the chief. He inhales deeply, a great, whooping gasp, and throws up his arms in triumph.

But a moment later Halu staggers back from the bed, a bloody spearpoint protruding downward from his lower belly at an obscene angle. From behind him, Bene comes into the frame again, grasps the spear, and leans backward, placing his bare foot against his younger brother's backside for leverage.

The spearpoint disappears. Bene falls backward with the gory spear in his hand as Halu reels toward the female anthropologist. She catches him in her arms. Bloody froth bubbles from his mouth.

Meanwhile, Bene has regained his feet and is charging toward the two. Clearly his intent is to reclaim the patrimonial breath, one step removed. But Halu has other ideas. He glances over his shoulder at his older brother, flashes him a bloody grin, then turns back to the woman. He clamps both hands around the back of her head and pulls her face to his, opens his mouth wiiide, and plants his lips over hers.

She struggles, her mouth smeared with blood. She tries to turn her head, but even with Bene trying to separate the two, Halu's death grip is unbreakable. Halu falls heavily to his knees; the woman falls to hers. He breathes his last into her mouth as his brother clubs him repeatedly from behind with the butt of the spear. The woman feels the dull shock of the blows indirectly; the front tooth that is chipped that day will never be capped.

As for the dying breath, it is soft as a sigh, sour and coppery, and there is not, and will never be, a doubt in the woman's mind that there is more to it than carbon dioxide. The hands clenched around her head relax; the dead man topples to the floor. Kneeling alone now, she looks up -- Ama Bene, the fratricide, stands over her, his face distorted with rage, gore-tipped spear drawn back. She gives him a bloody, triumphant grin. The blood and the triumph belong not to her but to the dead man; the grin, however, is very much her own.

Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan Nasaw



Continues...


Excerpted from Twenty-Seven Bones by Jonathan Nasaw Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan Nasaw. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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