Virgin Lies
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Virgin Lies

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by Roderick Anscombe
     
 

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On a blistering Boston summer day, a nine-year-old girl disappears while crossing a public park. The only witness is a homeless schizophrenic woman who believes she is under surveillance and whose memory may not be reliable. Dr. Paul Lucas, an expert at interrogating violent criminals and the insane, is called in to help evaluate the woman's testimony.

Lucas

Overview

On a blistering Boston summer day, a nine-year-old girl disappears while crossing a public park. The only witness is a homeless schizophrenic woman who believes she is under surveillance and whose memory may not be reliable. Dr. Paul Lucas, an expert at interrogating violent criminals and the insane, is called in to help evaluate the woman's testimony.

Lucas elicits small details that lead police to three people with no apparent connection: a retired engineer, his disabled wife, and a young man who works at a doughnut shop. But interviews with each suspect go nowhere, frustrating detectives and calling into doubt Lucas's role in the case. Believing the girl is alive but without water and soon to die, he is pushed to the brink of a professional abyss—under intense focus from local media, distrusted by police, and pressured by his wife, Abby, whose stake in the search is deeply personal.

With time running out, Lucas has to make a choice: to honor and uphold the sworn central oath of his profession, or to cross the line and do whatever it takes to find the girl, even if he must crack the mind of a vulnerable patient.

Suspenseful, intriguing, and informed by years of real-life experience with violent criminals, Virgin Lies is a first-class thriller.

Paul soon is trapped in an ever-tightening web of circumstance and scrutiny that implicates him in the eyes of his wife, his colleagues, and eventually the police. As the battle of wits turns deadly, with his career on the line and his life over the edge, Paul must learn to play the game by Craig's rules-for he who tells the best lie wins.

Smart and wickedly suspenseful, Virgin Lies winds through twists and turns to a place where nothing is as it seems.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Anscombe's taut thriller, his second to feature Boston forensic psychiatrist Paul Lucas (after 2005's The Interview Room), Lucas looks into the abduction of nine-year-old Danielle McNeely, who vanishes while buying coffee for Paul's wife, Abby, at her social services agency. The police, who still believe Paul killed a cop despite his being cleared in The Interview Room, are reluctant to work with him, but assistant DA Brenda Gorn insists. Paul's careful interviews with the one witness, Martha Kinnard, a homeless schizophrenic, lead to Arthur and Molly Hodges, an elderly couple whose van Martha may have seen. Abby, still traumatized by the loss of their only child in an auto accident, goads Paul to save Danielle by crossing ethical boundaries. In a psychologically brutal climax, Paul risks his personal and professional future. Anscombe, himself a forensic psychiatrist, adds depth and realism with his analyses of psychotic behavior, but some readers may find the ending jarringly truncated. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A child abduction case in the sweltering Boston summer heat has police scrambling to find vanished eight-year-old Danielle. Forensic psychiatrist Paul Lucas is personally pulled into the investigation after a frantic call from his wife, Abby. Working as a volunteer for Abby, Danielle was sent on the daily coffee run and never returned. Despite the antagonistic police response to his involvement, Paul uses his unique training in lie detection as the clock ticks down on Danielle's life. Further interviewing leads to a sociopath and his partner in crime, both with a penchant for young girls. With enormous pressure from his wife, Paul must decide if he should step over his moral and ethical boundaries to save a child's life. In his second novel featuring Paul Lucas (after The Interview Room), author Anscombe, a forensic psychiatrist like his protagonist, skillfully uses his knowledge of his field to create a taut and technically precise thriller. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [Library marketing campaign planned.—Ed.]
—Joy St. John
Kirkus Reviews
Forensic psychiatrist Anscombe brings back compromised forensic psychiatrist Paul Lucas (The Interview Room, 2005) in a race to find an abducted little girl-by any means necessary. Dr. Lucas is under a cloud and under pressure. Neither the police nor his colleagues completely accept that he was blameless in the recent death of a police officer. The cops-particularly confrontational Detective Carol Dempsey-view his specialty as so much mumbo-jumbo. And his fragile marriage to social-worker Abby, nearly shattered by the death of their infant son, is deteriorating. Then a chance at redemption appears. Eight-year-old Danielle, the daughter of one of Abby's clients, vanishes while running an errand for the social workers. Abby, who sees the girl as a substitute for her lost son, feels responsible. So when she calls Lucas and asks for his help, he knows that more than the little girl's life is on the line. But the only witness to Danielle's disappearance is a schizophrenic homeless woman; Dempsey and the other investigators are dismissive of the leads Lucas's careful, sympathetic interviews produce. Adding to the pressure is the summer heat: The little girl is not expected to survive if she is not properly cared for. Even when Lucas helps find suspects, he gets little credit. When those suspects won't give up Danielle, he is pushed by both his wife and the cops to ignore ethical boundaries. Doesn't the life of a child matter more than a doctor's oath? The dilemma is believably rendered, and the author makes some savvy observations in this gripping psychological thriller. A bone-chilling tale showing how a decent man can cross the line.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312947507
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
03/04/2008
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.82(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

10:45 a.m.

The tiger cages were hard to take, even for those of us used to maximum security. It was Kovacs who came up with their name—not that any of the clinical staff wanted one, far less a reference to the human rights violations of a repressive regime. Kovacs had seen the originals, he said, on one of his tours of duty in Vietnam, and once the name stuck we couldn't get rid of it.

Each of the four cages sat at the periphery of an imaginary five-spoked wheel, with a gap where I sat. Around us, the cavernous space of a disused cell block had been soundproofed at great expense, so that however loudly the participants in the group yelled—as Sammy Fields, brain-damaged child killer, was doing now, in full moralistic rant at the man in the cage beside him for a crime much like his own—the confidentiality of these outpourings would be maintained.

With each patient individually confined, nothing could get out of control. But this sound clinical rationale didn't make me feel any better about the cages. When you're surrounded by the routine exercise of raw power, you are never free of the nagging question of whether you are part of a repressive regime. In prison, so many of the ethical stop signs have been removed that you can't ever be entirely sure you have the right of way.

It was hard enough to keep my concentration without interruptions.

"Phone call, Dr. Lucas."

"Okay," I said without turning. "I'll call them back."

But Lieutenant Kovacs remained standing behind me. "You're going to want to take this call," he said.

"How so?"

"It's from your wife."

A call from the doctor's wife was a signal event. The Sanders Institute wasn't the kind of place where family of staff called for a chat. For one thing, Security would likely be monitoring the call. More than that, you did everything you could to insulate your family life from Sanders.

I walked quickly along the short corridor that joined the tiger cages to the control center, where two officers lounged in chairs, occasionally checking the bank of monitors. A telephone receiver lay on the console.

"Is this you?" Abby asked. "Thank God! It's been so awful!" There was a catch in her voice that alarmed me. Abby at the brink of tears at work wasn't something I'd encountered before. I had the sinking feeling that one of her clients had suicided. "They wouldn't put me through at first. They didn't believe who I was."

"That's normal operating procedure."

"Danielle's missing, Paul."

I was supposed to know who Danielle was, and I racked my brains to remember when, during one of our all-too-sparse dinner conversations, Abby had mentioned her. Was she a social worker at the agency? No one came to mind. I was grateful she'd called me at this time of crisis; I didn't want to fail the test, even if it was only putting a name to a face.

"When did you last see her?" I asked, playing for time.

"We sent her on her regular coffee run around nine o'clock. She does this every day for us. She's only a young girl, but it's less than three hundred yards."

Fragments coalesced in memory. Danielle's mother was a graduate of New Beginnings, the agency that Abby directed for pregnant teenagers and young mothers. The kid was going to spend the summer hanging around on the street and sooner or later getting into trouble, and Abby had arranged for her to work as a volunteer at the agency. She'd taken Danielle under her wing. That Danielle.

Abby dropped her voice almost to a whisper. "Please come, Paul."

No command could have been more compelling.

Abby's agency was housed in a large Victorian on a street undergoing sporadic gentrification. A three-decker two houses farther down Eastern Boulevard had gone condo and sported a crimson paint job with sparkling white trim; but plastic siding on the houses between hung loose at the corners, fast-food wrappers clung to front-yard chain-link fences, and the neighborhood still had a down-at-heel air.

It was eleven-thirty, and the heat of the summer morning hit me as I stepped out of the air-conditioning of my car. By the time I'd climbed to the top of the granite steps and reached for the door, I was already sweating.

Inside, the reception area of the agency was unusually crowded. The young women kept their children close at hand, and the kids themselves seemed subdued and watchful. Several uniformed cops were taking down details in notebooks, and a couple of male detectives were questioning a woman holding a baby on her hip.

Off to the side, in a space made by people keeping a respectful distance, a large women in shorts and a tank top was slumped in a chair, weeping uncontrollably as a member of Abby's staff tried to comfort her.

When I came through the door, people turned as if I might be the bearer of news, and even the woman I took to be Danielle's mother stopped sobbing to look up.

The truth was, I expected the girl to turn up at a friend's house or a movie theater, surprised at the fuss. I'd come for Abby, not because I'd be much use to the missing girl. I was here to rescue my marriage.

But the presence of the detectives was an ominous sign. I recognized Detective Wolpert and inadvertently caught his eye. I looked away and saw other faces that were less familiar, recalling them vaguely from holiday parties or tedious hours in courthouse lobbies. Finally, I saw Abby just as she spied me and started through the crowd.

She hugged me fiercely; her fingernails dug through the light cotton shirt I was wearing.

"I'm so glad you're here!" she sighed, her lips pressed close to my ear. And then, to my disappointment, she added a formal, "Thank you."

"I know," I murmured, already dropping into the cadence of someone comforting the bereaved. "I know." I rocked her for a long moment, wondering if this child would bring us together, thinking of our own child, Adrian, who had died.

Abby pulled away. "She's still alive," she said defiantly.

"Of course she is!"

"She's hardly been gone any time at all."

"Which makes it all the more likely that she's hiding out somewhere with a friend."

"That's not Danielle. She wouldn't pull a stunt like that."

"But she's a kid. Maybe one of her buddies came along with some pocket money. Maybe they took off for the mall."

"We know she picked up the coffee from the coffee shop. She was on her way back. She had change she had to return. She wouldn't have taken off."

I turned to look at the cops in the hallway. Someone had pulled a lot of manpower off the streets.

"She's been abducted, Paul."

"Someone witnessed this?" I asked with a sinking heart.

Abby shook her head. "No. She just disappeared."

"Okay. It doesn't do any harm to get an early start."

"We have to accept, one, that Danielle's been abducted. And two, that she's not dead." She angled her head back to scrutinize my face, and her blue eyes nailed me as if their intensity could make me a believer.

"No, she's not dead." I wouldn't tell her now what I knew from my clinical practice about people who snatched children. "You're right. We don't know."

But when you're a forensic psychiatrist and you hear that a child's been abducted, you automatically check off a chilling list of likely outcomes. This was different, though; this was close to home. Danielle was one of Abby's girls.

"She was only out of sight a few minutes," Abby said. "It was a regular coffee run that she did for the day care staff."

Regular, I thought, and therefore predictable. Regular, so that the perpetrator could plan and lie in wait. This wasn't an impulsive grab. He would have prepared the abduction. Therefore, he would have prepared the keeping place. The place where Danielle was now, confused, alone, scared out of her wits.

Abby said, "She's eight years old."

I nodded. An eight-year-old girl wouldn't have been able to put up much of a struggle, even if she'd wanted to. More likely, though, he lured her.

"But she has street smarts," Abby said. "She lives a couple of blocks from here. This is her neighborhood. She isn't some kid from the burbs."

Then the lure must have been more difficult. The lure was stronger, or Danielle's fear had been less. "Maybe she knew him," I suggested hopefully.

"That would be something. That might lead somewhere. The police are all over it. They've been great. They came down here like a SWAT team. But now they don't have any leads to follow up."

"This was when?"

"Just after nine."

"Nine o'clock on a Thursday morning—someone has to have seen something."

As Abby and I were talking, Brenda Gorn, the assistant DA, had approached us and was impatiently trying to make eye contact. Brenda and I had been colleagues for a decade, and friends within the boundaries of our professional loyalties. Those boundaries had been tested when I was the prime suspect in the murder of a state cop and Brenda had gone out on a limb for me. Whenever I'd tried to thank her, she'd steered the conversation away. Brenda wasn't an effusive person, but she was passionate about her work, zealous, even, in her pursuit of culprits. Her work was her life, particularly now, in her early fifties, with her daughters finished with college. She'd let her hair go gray; she'd put on some weight.

"Paul." She took my hand with both her own. "I need your help."

"Of course," I said. "Whatever I can do."

"It's been two and a half hours since Danielle went missing."

Terrible things could happen in 150 minutes. I prayed that the abduction hadn't been a spur-of-the-moment affair. If he'd planned it, if he'd laid out his agenda, fantasized for days or weeks or months, then he'd hold back. He'd feel secure. He'd accomplished the most dangerous part, the abduction, and he'd gotten away with it, insofar as he could tell. He wouldn't feel rushed. He'd wait. He'd want to wait, to stretch it out, to savor the anticipation. He'd stash her in the place he'd prepared and then return.

But if he'd snatched Danielle on the spur of the moment, a blitz attack, if he didn't have a safe house lined up, if he had to do his stuff now or never, if he hadn't taken the necessary precautions to prevent the girl from recognizing him . . . Memories of crime scene photos flashed through my mind. Bestial images.

Brenda said, "But we have some good news: We have a witness."

"That's great."

I knew it wasn't, otherwise all these cops wouldn't be milling around in the stifling-hot foyer, waiting for direction.

"The bad news is," Brenda went on, "she's crazy."

From the way Brenda and Abby stared at me, waiting for my reply, I guessed they'd discussed beforehand how to pitch this to me.

"Sure," I agreed. "Anything."

"She's not a suspect," Brenda said hurriedly, already recognizing the conflict of interest that reared its head.

There were psychiatrists who'd say that at the moment I introduced myself to their witness as "Dr. Lucas" she became my patient and I owed her a whole host of special considerations, one being confidentiality.

"We're not asking you to interrogate her," Brenda said. "She's a person who can help us in our inquiries. You're a person who knows how to ask certain people questions. That's the extent of the relationship."

"And she's all you've got?"

Brenda nodded.

"But you think this person saw the abduction?"

She raised her hands in a gesture of uncertainty, then let them drop in frustration. "This is what's killing us. We don't know. Maybe she saw something. Maybe she even saw the vehicle. Maybe she even saw the abductor. Maybe she recognized him. But when she talks . . . she goes off on a tangent, she contradicts herself."

"Her name is Martha Kinnard," Abby said, all business. "She's schizophrenic."

"You know her, then?" This sounded more hopeful.

"She's a fixture in the neighborhood. She sleeps in Dracone Park, or in doorways, when the police roust her. Sometimes she'll accept clothes from us that people have donated. One of our social workers who used to work at the Methodist knows her from there."

"Give me whatever you've got."

"Early forties. First break when she was a graduate student at MIT. She's smart, but all that brainpower goes into her delusional system."

"But she saw something?"

They exchanged looks. Each waited for the other to answer, hoping she'd put a more positive spin on what could be nothing.

"She was there," Abby said. "She had to have seen something."

Brenda hooked her hand behind my arm. "Come with me," she said. She was tugging me back toward the door by which I'd just entered. I felt the urgency in her grasp.

We swept through a barrage of hostile glances from the cops. They made it clear that they didn't want me to be part of their investigation.

We passed through the heavy mahogany doors into the dazzling summer sun and had to hold our hands to our heads like visors as Brenda pointed out the landmarks. From the sidewalk of Eastern Boulevard we could view most of Corporal Eddy Dracone Park, a charmless triangle named for a local boy who'd been killed in Vietnam, formed where Eastern Boulevard intersected Hubbard Avenue. At the far end of the park ran Winslow Street.

Brenda pointed out the donut shop across the park. The sign above the entrance said doosy's in cursive script the color of coffee.

It was an unpromising spot for an abduction. Two locust trees and five straggly bushes provided scant cover. The park was surrounded by a series of busy intersections. Someone in a vehicle stopped at the lights, or even slowing in traffic, would have noticed a struggle. A low-riding Honda Civic passed us at a leisurely pace, the driver scanning us curiously. His windows were down to catch a breeze; even with the thudding bass of his stereo, he could have heard a girl scream nearby. He would have noticed a struggle.

She had been lured, then. Most likely, she was acquainted with the abductor. I prayed he was organized. It made the crime colder, more callous, more grisly, but it would buy time.

Danielle would have used the crosswalk by the traffic lights at the intersection of Hubbard Avenue and taken the black-topped path that cut two hundred feet across the park, past a pair of benches, to the other crosswalk on Winslow, almost opposite the donut shop. Then, returning . . .

"She bought the coffee?" I asked. "We know that for sure?"

"Right. They know her at the donut shop. A woman served her. A regular employee. She remembered the order because it was always the same. Three coffees. One large regular, no sugar. One medium black. One large, extra cream, two sugars. One coffee roll. She made change from a ten-dollar bill. The guy who usually worked with her was on break; she had to attend to the next customer, so she didn't notice Danielle leave. It was all routine."

"That was a lot for Danielle to carry—three coffees in a cardboard tray, and a coffee roll balanced on top. It would all have come crashing down if someone had made a grab at her."

"We've been over every square foot of dirt and blacktop. There's not a drop been spilled."

"Someone helpful came along: 'Hey, let me hold that for you.' Someone she trusted enough to pass over stuff that didn't belong to her, stuff she'd been entrusted with."

"Someone she knew."

"Or someone with status. Someone in uniform. A cop. A priest. A meter maid. Or someone with a different kind of credibility: a local gang leader."

"There isn't a lot of gang activity in this area. We think it was someone she knew. We're going with that."

"And the paranoid lady from MIT?"

"She was sitting on the first bench on the right. She was the only person in the park."

"The only one?"

"There's no shade for those benches until the sun comes around behind the trees in the afternoon. It's not a place where most people would want to hang out. On a day like today, anyone with any sense was home or at the mall—somewhere with air-conditioning."

"How do we know she was sitting there?"

"Because she was sitting there before Danielle disappeared and she was sitting there afterward. She'll take up station there for a couple of months, then she'll disappear. We don't think she had anything to do with the kidnapping. As far as we can tell, she's just a harmless crazy."

"Psychotic person," I corrected her.

"Anyway, she never attacked anyone. She's been committed to the Methodist a few times, but more because she wasn't looking after herself. There's no criminal record."

"But she could have scared Danielle."

I considered the edge of the park that was formed by Eastern Boulevard. The police had strung yellow tape to prevent vehicles from parking, but a couple remained from earlier in the morning, a Jeep at the curb level with the bench, and a blue subcompact farther down.

"If the bag lady spooked her, Danielle might have detoured to avoid her. She'd have gone off the path, closer to Eastern Boulevard where that Jeep is parked."

Brenda looked in the direction I was pointing. "Maybe." She sounded skeptical.

We went back inside. Though there was no air-conditioning, it was a relief to come out of the sun, and the oscillating fan that stood on the desk of Nan, the receptionist-cum-bouncer, stirred the air in the crowded lobby.

I had no taste for a confrontation with the cops waiting there, and I was looking down to avoid eye contact, so I didn't see the rushing approach of Danielle's mother.

"Is this the profiler?" she asked Brenda.

"This is Sasha McNeely," Brenda said. "Danielle's mother."

"I'm Doctor Lucas," I told her. "I'm not a profiler—"

"You're Abby's husband, though."

"Yes, I am. And I'm going to help the police any way I can to get Danielle back to you."

I looked down into Sasha's pleading, tear-stained face. She was in her midtwenties, but within her plump face I could still glimpse the child, adrift, dependent, overwhelmed. Sasha had been one of Abby's girls, a client of the social work agency since she was a pregnant teen.

Sasha had grasped one of my hands. Abby was approaching, and I hoped she'd head off what was developing into a difficult scene.

"These are pictures of my Danielle." She thrust photos into my hand. "This one—look—was taken this summer."

It showed Danielle in a two-piece bathing suit, her hair wet from the garden hose in the background and stuck in strands to the side of her head: hand on hip, she hammed for the camera with what she imagined to be a supermodel pout.

"You'll find her, won't you, Doctor?"

A fresh onslaught of sobbing contorted her face.

"Yes," I said. "I'm sure we will."

I tried to extract my hand, but she'd tightened her grip, and then before I realized what she was doing, she tumbled clumsily to her knees.

Around us, the lobby had fallen silent. I couldn't get Sasha to her feet. I felt, but couldn't see, the cynical looks of cops. I crouched to bring my face to Sasha's.

"You'll find her, won't you, Doctor?" she pleaded.

"Yes," I promised her. "I'll find Danielle." I squeezed her hands in reassurance. "The police are good at this," I lied. And then I said, in expiation for my helplessness, "We'll do everything."

Copyright © 2007 by Roderick Anscombe. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Roderick Anscombe, M.D., is a forensic psychiatrist who has interviewed more than two hundred murderers. He is an expert in the detection of deception and teaches interview technique at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of The Interview Room, The Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula, and Shank, and lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Visit his Web site at www.roderickanscombe.com.

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Virgin Lies 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book after rereading his other book The Interview Room. I hope he continues into a series with this character. Excellent read, once you start, you keep going. Such depth to all the characters. Remind me of Lee Child's books but in its own league. Both these books are ones to have in your own library. But reading them will give you such enjoyment and a peek into body language.