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Wanting Sheila Dead

Wanting Sheila Dead

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by Jane Haddam
     
 

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"Haddam manages to produce each time a layered, richly peopled, and dryly witty book with a plot of mind-bending complexity."

—Houston Chronicle on Glass Houses

Sheila Dunham is a gossip columnist's dream—she's famous, loud and, to most who meet or see her, deeply offensive. As a result, she's been fired from every job on

Overview

"Haddam manages to produce each time a layered, richly peopled, and dryly witty book with a plot of mind-bending complexity."

—Houston Chronicle on Glass Houses

Sheila Dunham is a gossip columnist's dream—she's famous, loud and, to most who meet or see her, deeply offensive. As a result, she's been fired from every job on television she's ever had—first as a serious journalist, then as a personality, finally as a reality show judge. Now she's producing and hosting her own reality show, "America's Next Top Anchor," shot in her hometown of New Fenwick, Connecticut. Everyone she employs is terrified of her; everyone one else hates her. And everybody seems to want Sheila dead.

Finally it seems someone has decided to try. After millions of dollars of jewels are stolen from her home, she is found beaten into unconciousness, next to the murdered body of a local girl. If nothing else, her show's ratings are going to improve.

Gregor Demarkian, a retired FBI agent, is already scheduled to appear on her show but he's going to consult on the biggest murder case to hit that part of Connecticut since the Revolutionary War. But how do you narrow down the suspects when the victim was hated by everyone?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Edgar-finalist Haddam craftily leaves major clues in plain sight in her outstanding 25th mystery featuring Armenian-American detective Gregor Demarkian (after 2009's Living Witness). Demarkian, who's recently returned home to Philadelphia from his honeymoon, gets involved in two cases: the possible poisoning of a reclusive elderly neighbor and the attempted murder of repellent Sheila Dunham, the moving force behind a top-rated TV reality show, America's Next Superstar. When an unknown young woman, who's not a show contestant, tries to shoot Dunham as Dunham prepares to choose finalists for a contest from a pool of 30, Dunham's personal assistant calls in Demarkian. The puzzle deepens when a murder occurs on the very spot where Demarkian's father-in-law was killed years earlier. Haddam has few peers at misdirection, and she cleverly satirizes the reality show industry while continuing to add depth to the relationship between her lead and his wife, Bennis. Fair-play fans will be delighted by Demarkian's insights into Agatha Christie's work. (Aug.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429907415
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/20/2010
Series:
Gregor Demarkian Series , #25
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
222,267
File size:
379 KB

Read an Excerpt

Wanting Sheila Dead

A Gregor Demarkian Novel


By Jane Haddam

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0741-5


CHAPTER 1

1

For most of his life, Gregor Demarkian had cared very little for, or about, murder mysteries. He had tried a few, over the years. In the army, he'd read the books he'd found in the base libraries close at hand. Those had been mostly "hard-boiled," and he'd found them completely ridiculous. It was odd, these days, to think that he'd ever been as young as that, but he hadn't been so young that he hadn't been able to figure out that real private detectives did not go chasing around the landscape solving murders that police forces couldn't, or wouldn't, solve themselves. Besides, he never much liked the way the police were portrayed in the works of people like Raymond Chandler. He did not think the police were habitually corrupt. He did not think the local business community was habitually corrupt, either. He did not think America could be explained by some grand collusion of the police and the capitalists, for the sole purpose of ... well, he had never been able to figure out what the villains in hard-boiled novels really wanted. There was money, but it had never seemed to him to be a big enough reason for all the nonsense that was going on, nonstop, in an apparent attempt to destroy the soul of the country.

There was light streaming in the window now, good light for six o'clock in the morning. That was how he knew spring was coming. He looked down the long line of his body. He was lying flat on his back in bed, which was how he slept. It annoyed the hell out of his new wife that he slept that way, instead of tossing and turning the way she did.

"It isn't natural," she'd told him, on several occasions. "It's not like you're sleeping at all. It's like you turn into a statue when you close your eyes, and then Pygmalion's kiss has to wake you up."

"The kiss is the princess and the frog," he'd reminded her. "I don't think Pygmalion kissed anybody."

"Galatea. And you don't know. I can tell."

Bennis was not laying next to him in bed now. She was in the shower. Gregor could hear the water running. He looked back down that long line of his body and reached for the book he'd left lying in bed when he fell asleep last night. He usually had the sense to put a bookmark in it and put it on the nightstand. He picked it up. It was At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie. He'd been given it by his closest friend in Philadelphia — by his closest friend in the world, maybe — and he was shocked to find that he enjoyed it very much. It was not realistic, but it was not trying to be. The police were not played for fools. But it wasn't that. It wasn't that at all.

"It's a metaphor," he said.

"What?" Bennis had just come out of the shower. She was wearing his bathrobe. She was always wearing his bathrobe rather than her own. If he let her have it and got himself a new one, she would abandon the old one and go for the new one. Gregor had no idea why this should be. He did know that her skin held a tan very well. She was still almost as brown as she had been in Jamaica. That was where they had just been on their honeymoon.

"It's a metaphor," Gregor said. He did not say that he found her remarkably and oddly beautiful, because he's said that before. Marriage was supposed to change the conversation at least a little bit. "The Agatha Christie book Tibor gave me. It's a metaphor."

"A metaphor for what?"

"You were the English major," Gregor said. "A metaphor for the reality of crime and evil. No, that isn't it. A metaphor for the good of social order."

"The good of social order? Are you sure Tibor hasn't been lending you the nonfiction?"

"Social order is a good," Gregor said. "It's what makes everything else possible. If you're running around all day worrying about getting murdered, or if you can't open your store in the morning without worrying about getting robbed, then you don't get very much done. You expend all your energy on self-protection. If you want art and music and railroads, even, then you have to have social order. And it can't just come from the police."

Bennis had let the robe slip to the floor, which was ... interesting. She had her back to him, but still. He hadn't moved off his back. Now he did, rolling over to his side as she started to get dressed. He wanted a better look. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe marriage didn't change the conversation, not the little unspoken one that ran through people's heads.

"Real murders," he said finally, "aren't like the murders in this book — except, actually, sometimes they are. I'll get to that later."

"You've been thinking of this in your sleep?" Bennis asked.

"Partially," Gregor admitted. "I think of lots of things in my sleep. I sometimes have really rude dreams about you in my sleep."

"You weren't sleeping."

"Murders," Gregor said. "Your ordinary run of murder in the real world is not like the murder in this book. Your ordinary run of murder in the real world is monumentally stupid. It's the product of a combination of drugs, alcohol, and IQs that would look good as golf scores. Or it's the casual brutality of organized crime, which, Mario Puzo and Marlon Brando notwithstanding, doesn't do much better on the IQ scale."

"You'd have to say James Gandolfini now," Bennis said. "Or Tony Soprano. Tibor says his students don't know who Marlon Brando was."

"It doesn't matter," Gregor said. "The thing is, we've already made provision for that kind of crime. It's built into the structure of society. I don't care what kind of policing you have, there's going to be that kind of crime. I don't care how perfect you make your society, either. You can raise and lower the incidence of that kind of thing, the street mugging, the home invasion, usually by arresting people and putting them away for a long time. Did I tell you that I hold to the retribution and punishment side of what we should do about criminals debate?"

"Several times," Bennis said. "Almost every night when we watch the news."

"It's not that I think it's impossible to rehabilitate a criminal. Every once in a while you get one who should be rehabilitated —"

"Tibor's students."

"Some of them. However. Lots of them can't be rehabilitated because they don't particularly want to be. So there's that. I don't understand why it is that reformers can't see that. And they really can't. They think you're a monster when you suggest that some people will only leave the rest of us alone when they're locked up."

"Well," Bennis said, coming to sit down on his side of the bed. She was nearly dressed, now. She had on jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt under a short-sleeved one. She was not wearing socks or shoes. "It's depressing, if you think about it," she said. "It's depressing to think that there will always be evil and violence in the world. People would like to think, even I would like to think, that there are ways to get rid of it forever."

"There are no ways to get rid of it forever," Gregor said. "That's Tibor's department. God gets rid of it on the last day, if I remember the Sunday school lessons of my childhood."

"You don't believe in God," Bennis said.

"I don't think I do," Gregor said, "but that's beside the point. Reality is what it is. We will never get rid of all the evil and violence in the world. There will always be murder. There will always be cruelty. There will always be robbery. We can make those things happen less often by catching the people who do them and putting them in jail and keeping them in jail. And making sure there isn't an upside — that jail isn't something ... Did I tell you that when I was first in the FBI, I had a job in this one small town in Wisconsin — kidnapping detail, something. And I met this guy who deliberately committed a rape — deliberately, mind you — every spring he was out of jail. And do you know why? Because he wanted to be in jail. For the winter. It was the only way he could be sure of being out of the cold for the winter. It was the craziest thing I ever saw. With the three-strikes laws these days, they'd put him away for good now."

"Maybe that was what he wanted," Bennis said. "Maybe he was one of those people who only feel entirely comfortable when they're locked up. Didn't you tell me about that once?"

"Yes, I did. Where was I?"

"You were depressing me." Bennis got up and started walking around the bedroom. "You were telling me that there would always be evil and violence in the world."

"Ah. I know. Yes. There will always be evil and violence in the world, but we're not really all that worried about that. We know what that is. We expect it. But we also expect everybody else, the people who aren't these sorts of low-life thugs, we expect those people to behave themselves. We don't police them the way we police the others. Hell, we can't. There are too many people in any society to police them all effectively, unless you're North Korea, and that's no society any of us want to live in. So we let the rest of the population go about its business, sort of on the honor system."

"You really think of all this in your sleep, do you?" Bennis said. "Didn't I buy new socks? From L. L. Bean? I keep thinking I remember putting them away, but I'm not sure."

"They're in the top center drawer of the highboy," Gregor said. "They're in little plastic wrappings. It's when the ordinary people, the people we expect to be on their good behavior, it's when they start doing things they shouldn't that we have to worry. Because if we can't count on the ordinary people, the good people, to do good even if they're not being watched ... well, that way lies chaos. That way lies a society that can't be governed at all. Can you see that?"

Bennis had found her socks and sat down on his side of the bed again to put them on. Bennis was forty-eight, but she still dressed like a college girl, and she oddly still looked like one. The enormous cloud of black hair was as thick as it had been when Gregor first met her. He expected it was dyed, but he didn't ask. Her body was as slim as it had been, too, though, and that he couldn't help wondering about. The woman ate like a horse, and she ate all the things his Armenian mother and aunts had eaten and gotten fat on. The really odd thing was the sides of her eyes. Bennis had no crow's feet. Gregor knew she had never had plastic surgery. It would have been a kind of miracle, except that he wouldn't have cared about crow's feet.

"Weren't you making some kind of point?" she asked.

"Yes," Gregor said. "Yes, I was. I was making a point about Agatha Christie. Her books are not unrealistic. They're just metaphors."

"Metaphors for social order," Bennis said. She was being half solemn.

Gregor sat up. He hated sitting up. It hurt his back.

"Metaphors for the need for social order," he said. "Because the kinds of murders she deals with are rare in the real world —"

"They weren't rare in her fictional world," Bennis said.

"— but they do happen." Gregor was going on as if Bennis wasn't talking. This was sometimes necessary. "They do sometimes happen. And they have to be dealt with immediately when they do, because they're the most dangerous kind of crime. Much more dangerous than some thug idiot who starts staging home invasions and beating and killing the crap out of everybody. We know how to deal with him. We need to know how to deal with them, and we don't."

"Them?"

"The middle-class criminals. The 'nice' ones who do plotted murders, and other things. What we do now is look at the thug idiot and shove him in jail pretty much indefinitely. We look at the polite criminal and we make all kinds of excuses. We offer services. We offer reduced sentences and mitigated sentences — house arrest, probation, parole, whatever. And we're dead wrong. We should lock these people up for as long or longer than we lock up the thugs. Because these people are more dangerous than the thugs."

"Is that what you want to do with the Bernie Madoffs of the world?" Bennis asked. "Lock them up?"

"Well, we did lock Madoff up," Gregor said, "but in that kind of case, the only thing that would really do would be for us to take all their money. And I mean all of it. They should become acquainted with soup kitchens and homeless shelters."

"Get up and get dressed," Bennis said. "Tibor is probably already waiting for us at the Ararat."

"You don't want to get me started on Bernie Madoff," Gregor said.

Bennis got out of the way so that he could move, and Gregor went into the bathroom to take a shower. She was right. Tibor would be waiting for them.

And maybe, just maybe, Tibor would have more of these books for him to read.


2

In the beginning — well, Gregor thought, no. The beginning was his childhood, when this small neighborhood in Philadelphia had been long blocks of tenements filled with people who barely spoke English.

In the second beginning then, in the time since Gregor had come back to Cavanaugh Street from the District of Columbia, from the time when he had retired from the FBI and come back home to do whatever it was he thought he could do here — from then, he and Father Tibor Kasparian had had a nearly invariable routine. Every morning at six, Gregor would get up, shower, shave, and get into clean clothes. Then he would go down to the street and walk toward the Ararat Restaurant. Halfway there, he would find Fr. Tibor Kasparian coming out from behind the church, where his apartment was. Then they would go on to breakfast.

This had been their routine even after it had become apparent to anybody who was watching that in spite of the fact that Gregor and Bennis had separate apartments in the same brownstone, the apartments were separate in fact but not in spirit. Bennis usually took more time, or less, than Gregor to dress. She usually had things on her mind, even if it was only something she was doing with Donna Moradanyan Donahue. Donna didn't eat breakfast in the Ararat these days: she had one small boy and an infant at home. Still, Donna did manage to be there at some point every morning, and Donna and Bennis always seemed to have something they needed to do.

This morning, Tibor was not waiting in front of the church. Gregor knew that he would be in the Ararat in the window booth, where they always sat. It was not a rejection. It seemed, instead, to be a kind of acknowledgment of Gregor's marriage. Now that Gregor was married to Bennis, Tibor did not wait for him to come by for breakfast. This made absolutely no sense.

"Are you all right?" Bennis asked him.

They were walking past the church, which was on the other side of the street. The Ararat was on this side of the street. Gregor sighed.

"I was thinking about Tibor," he said.

"Is there something wrong with Tibor? Look, he's in the window. He looks all right to me. Is there something I should know?"

"Why doesn't he wait for me in the mornings anymore? Because we're married? Does that change breakfast? And why do we come down to the Ararat together? We never did before. You never even wanted to."

"That's what this is about? You're having a delayed reaction to our getting married?"

Gregor sighed again.

They were at the Ararat now. Tibor really was sitting in the window booth. The Ararat still looked the way it always did, in spite of the fact that it had picked up a good deal of dinner traffic over the years. It was still a fairly basic diner, just one that served a lot of Armenian food.

Gregor pushed open the big plate glass door and held it for Bennis to go in. Then he came in himself and nodded to Linda Melajian. The Melajians owned the Ararat, and Gregor knew that old Mikhail Melajian had been sick on and off now for a year. He couldn't imagine that the Ararat would close. Maybe Linda would take it over, or her brothers.

Gregor went to the booth and slid in next to Bennis. The booth was half a joke between the lot of them. It was low to the floor, the way booths were in the Old Country. The older they all got, the harder they found it to get in and out of the thing.

"What do you figure people do back in Armenia?" Gregor said. "I mean, the old women, and people like that? Do they get down on the floor and just get stuck there?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Wanting Sheila Dead by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 2010 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

Meet the Author

JANE HADDAM is the author of more than twenty novels and is a finalist for both the Edgar and Anthony Awards. She lives in Litchfield Country, Connecticut.  

Please visit

www.blog.janehaddam.com

 

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