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Whispers in the Dark

Whispers in the Dark

5.0 2
by Eleanor Taylor Bland

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A fine rain was falling as Detective Marti MacAlister made her way through the tall grass to the wooded area where the arm had been found. It was cool for early September, and the rain, little more than a mist, felt cold. Marti stared at the hand. The fingers were curled in a beckoning gesture.

Eleanor Taylor Bland's popular African-American heroine, homicide


A fine rain was falling as Detective Marti MacAlister made her way through the tall grass to the wooded area where the arm had been found. It was cool for early September, and the rain, little more than a mist, felt cold. Marti stared at the hand. The fingers were curled in a beckoning gesture.

Eleanor Taylor Bland's popular African-American heroine, homicide detective Marti MacAlister, and her partner are assigned a most unusual case-all that's left of the unfortunate murder victim is an arm. Their investigation leads them into the exclusive and secretive history of the artistic community in Lincoln Prairie, Illinois.

Meanwhile, Marti's troubled best friend Sharon is slowly getting involved with a man who makes Sharon's friends and family uneasy. When he spirits her away to the Bahamas, then lures her daughter down after them, Marti has no choice but to go to the islands on a dramatic rescue mission.

Another captivating tale of danger and obsession from Eleanor Taylor Bland, Whispers in the Dark will keep fans and new readers alike in gripping suspense.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Don't be put off by the dark, forbidding cover of this latest thriller in Bland's popular Marti MacAlister series, because the story is gripping from the opening sentence through its chilling final scene. African-American detective Marti and partner Matthew Jessenovik investigate a 20-year killing spree where victims' severed hands are found protruding from the ground, "fingers curled in a beckoning gesture." Their quest for the perp runs through Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods, encountering the plagues of urban America today: prostitution, drug addiction, AIDS and, inevitably, murder. A look at the origins of some of these intractable problems takes us back to a '70s hippie commune where one of Chicago society's daughters sought refuge after her mother's suicide. Beyond a simple murder case, the novel becomes an engrossing story of the ever more violent conflicts between society's "insiders and the excluded," and Bland's obvious familiarity with urban issues lends credibility to her riveting style. She deftly interweaves a subplot involving Marti's best friend, who's entangled in a terrifying relationship with a serial killer who lures her, and later her unsuspecting teenage daughter, to the Bahamas just before a hurricane nearly destroys the islands. While much blood is spilled in this despairing tale, it is never graphic or sensational, but rather gives an authentic feeling of life in the urban abyss. The last page shows disturbingly how the cycle of violence will continue unabated. Agent, Ted Chichak. (Nov. 12) Forecast: With no special promotion and bleak subject matter, this quality item could benefit from some aggressive handselling. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Marti MacAlister's extended family is all a-twitter. Her best friend Sharon has eloped to the Bahamas with handsome slickster DeVonte Lutrell without telling her AIDS-stricken mother or her teenaged daughter Lisa, who's temporarily bunking at Marti's. Meantime, the latest homicide that Marti and her white partner Vik Jessenovik have caught isn't much of a corpse-just a bit of an arm with traces of blue paint and metallic silver that send the Lincoln Prairie cops scouring the arts community for news of a missing painter or photographer. When they discover three other arm-only cases over a 20-year span, their interrogation of local artists Lucy, Nan, and Arlene leads to Arlene's death, Nan's debunking, and Lucy's cranky insistence that she was as good a painter as any of them, even her long-dead mother. Off in the Bahamas, Sharon finds she hates water, boats, sunning, and swimming, and almost drowns when DeVonte turns his back on her in the ocean. Just before a threatened hurricane hits, DeVonte, who's discovered he'd have to share Sharon's 401K plan with her daughter if she died, invites Lisa to Freeport. As soon as she casts a cold eye on DeVonte, Lisa phones home, bringing Marti and her love Ben out to save the girls, and leaving Vik stateside to wrap up those arms. There'll be a suicide in Lincoln Prairie and bodies galore tossed into the ocean before Sharon and Lisa return to watch the AIDS sufferer slip into eternal relief. As in most Blands (Scream in Silence, 2000, etc.), the domestic travails are more interesting and believable than the police work.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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Marti MacAlister Mysteries , #9
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Read an Excerpt

Whispers in the Dark

By Eleanor Taylor Bland

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2001 Eleanor Taylor Bland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5817-6



A fine rain was falling as Det. MacAlister made her way through the tall grass to the wooded area where the arm had been found. It was cool for early September, and the rain, little more than a mist, felt cold. She shivered as she reached the shelter of a stand of red oaks. Ahead, she could see a small cluster of men, perhaps half a dozen, all but one in uniform. Plastic yellow tape banded around a cluster of tree trunks identified the crime scene, and she could see the bent figure of the pathologist squatting near the remains. A photographer was taking pictures. Marti had her camera, too. Behind her, wood snapped as her partner, Matthew "Vik" Jessenovik, caught up with her.

"It's just ahead," she said.

"Whoopee!" Vik had been catching up on his paperwork when the call came in. He was the only cop she knew who enjoyed filling out forms, and he had not been pleased with the interruption. Vik was four inches taller than her five-ten. He had lost a little weight recently while his wife was sick. His height and thinness, combined with a craggy face, prominent eyebrows, and a beak nose, skewed by a break, gave him what she called his vulture look.

As they approached the group of men, one of the uniforms came toward them.

"As far as we can tell, there's nothing else here," he said. "Just the arm."

"What, no head?" Vik asked.

"No, sir."

"Too bad. Is it the left hand?"

"No, sir."

"Jeez, struck out again. It won't match that hand without arm that we found last summer." He turned to Marti. "What the hell is this, the dumping ground for miscellaneous body parts? The winter before last we had all those female bits and pieces turning up. Now this. I know our missing parts inventory doesn't match up to what they've got in Cook County, but nobody has found any heads. What do they do with those, drop them off in Wisconsin, maybe, or Indiana?"

Marti wished she hadn't left her umbrella in the car. "Maybe they throw the heads in the lake." It was only a few miles away.

She assumed the man wearing jeans and a yellow rain poncho was the one who had found the arm. At least it was an adult. She hated it when kids found something like this. She looked around for the dog who'd unearthed it — that was the usual scenario — but didn't see one. The man looked a little younger than she was — late thirties maybe. A pair of binoculars hung suspended from his neck.

"What were you doing here?" she asked.

"I'm a birder," he said. "I was just having a look around. I kicked the log — wasn't watching where I was going — then I saw the two fingers and got on my cell phone."

"How often do you come here?"

"This is a first. I've been doing a lot of bird watching along the Des Plaines River, wanted to see what was in the local wooded areas away from the water."

"How long were you here before you found it?"

"Since just before daybreak. But not here." He cupped his hand over his eyes and looked around. "That way." He pointed north. "I started walking about a mile from here."

"Was there anyone else around?"

He shook his head. "Just me, a yellow warbler, and an in-teresting variety of sparrows. I was looking for a gray catbird, but I haven't spotted one yet."

Marti was careful not to smile as Vik gave the man a look that suggested he thought he was at best a bit odd. She walked over to the yellow-ribboned barrier. The area was sheltered by wide tree branches. She could see that a log had been disturbed. The slender, feminine hand protruded from a pile of dry, brown leaves. A measuring tape traced its length to where it was severed just below the elbow. The rest of the arm was unexposed.

"Gordon, hold it a minute," the photographer said. "I've got to reload."

She recognized the doctor examining the arm. Gordon McIntosh was young and rotund, with short, red hair and a scattering of freckles. She liked him, but he wasn't Dr. Cyprian, their pathologist of choice. She took her camera out of the case. As she watched and snapped photos, Gordon uncovered the length of the arm.

"No dirt," he said. "It wasn't buried. Female. I can't see where any animals got at it. There is some insect activity, but nothing extensive. It hasn't been here long. And, most interestingly, it's been frozen. It's just thawing out."

"Frozen?" Marti asked.

"Frozen," Vik echoed.

Gordon agreed. "That is a bit odd, isn't it?"

Marti looked at Vik and shrugged. This was a new one on her. "Anything else?" she asked.

Gordon McIntosh turned and looked at her. "What more do you want, a name and address?" He grinned. "We have to leave something for you to detect, don't we?"

"Thanks, Gordon."

"You two tell me who this is, and I want to know by tomorrow morning."

"Sure thing," Vik said. "If you can come up with the head by then."

Marti stared at the hand. The fingers were curled in a beckoning gesture. It was probably just a death spasm. For a moment she wondered how the arm came to be here and why. She stopped short of asking herself what had happened to the owner of the arm, how and when she had died. Those were questions she might never be able to answer. She checked the number of remaining exposures and shot the rest of the roll of film. By the time the arm was removed and they walked back to the car, it was raining steadily.

* * *

Within an hour, the coroner, Janet Petrovski, called. "I've got a few more arms in the freezer, Marti. Gordon McIntosh is checking to see if any of them might have been severed with the same implement."

"Gordon tends to get a little overenthusiastic sometimes."

"I know, but I'm having the records pulled on the other dismemberments so you can go over them. It's worth checking out while we've got the time."

"I suppose," Marti said. The homicide rate in Lincoln Prairie had declined by 6.3 percent within the past year. Janet, along with Marti's boss, Lieutenant Dirkowitz, had been looking at unsolved cases. This would be the first time since she'd been on the force that she might have the time to take on something cold that did not impinge on a case that was current.

"Pull the paperwork, Janet, and send it over," she said. "I hope this one is different; the only one we've found that was frozen when we got to it."

"Scary, isn't it?" Janet agreed.

Marti knew they were both thinking "weirdo" and were both reluctant to say it aloud. "I don't know much about frozen body parts, Janet; but if Gordon thinks he's got something, we can look at it in the morning after the postmortem."

As soon as she hung up, Vik said, "Look at what?"

"A few more severed arms."

He leaned back in his chair. At least a minute ticked by before he spoke. "More arms?"

"In Janet's spare parts inventory."

"We have more arms."

"She's sending over the paperwork."

Vik got up and walked over to the window, coffee cup in hand. "Did she say how many arms?"

"A few."

"Were any of the others frozen before disposal?"

"I don't know."

"Well then, whether they have anything in common or not, I suppose the next question is, where are the bodies they go with?" He dumped the dregs of his coffee into the hanging planter and snapped off a couple of sprouts dangling from the spider plant. "Miscellaneous body parts. Damn! I joined the department to keep the peace, not the pieces."

* * *

When the reports arrived from Janet's office, Marti made a copy for Vik and settled in for some light afternoon reading, while he avoided looking at his copies by going through his in-basket again. Rain tapped in a steady patter against the window. It was cool enough for the air-conditioning to be off but too soon for the heat to be turned on. The room temperature was as close as it would come to being just right, which meant she did not need her jacket. Marti put her feet on her desk. There were three other arms with hands attached. She searched for references to freezing or thawing and found none.

"Well, it looks like the Coroner's Office was the first to freeze the others."

"Thank God. I think."

"Two female, one male," she said. The first was found in 1979. "Fingerprints but no match. Tattoo of a lily just above the juncture of thumb and index finger. Guess what they called her at the morgue?"

"If there's going to be a quiz, don't make it too difficult, MacAlister."

"Jane Doe Lily Day. The next arm was found just over a year later," she went on. "Another tattoo. A rose just above the wrist. And fingerprints but no match."

"So what did they name her?" Vik asked. "Rose Red?"

"It was a him, John Doe number seventeen. And since there were no prints on file, they either hadn't done anything illegal or hadn't got caught."

She read through the reports. "Both were under twenty-one. The next arm wasn't found until nineteen-ninety-four."

"Long time between number two and number three," Vik said.

"And the arm found in ninety-four was that of an older woman. It might not have anything to do with the other two. We're probably talking about three separate incidents. Maybe McIntosh will come up with something."

"It'll have to be something distinctive. Sears has a lot of sales on hatchets and hunting knives. And one arm does not a corpse make. Where are the rest of their bodies?"

"Maybe the cadaver dog they brought in will find something on today's arm."

The reports on the prior cases were scanty. The first two arms had been found in the fall. Miss 1994 had been found in the spring but had been dead for eight to nine months.

"Miss Nineteen-ninety-four was found off Route Forty-one." She checked one of the city maps that hung on the wall. "They couldn't find one person to question, and that whole area is industrialized."

"It wasn't like that in ninety-four," Vik said. "There wasn't anything there then but trees."

"So checking out the place now isn't likely to tell us much of anything. Maybe I can locate the developer. They take aerial shots. Maybe they kept the before photos."

"Why bother? This is a total waste of time."

"Maybe to us it is, but the dead have rights, too." It bothered her that these people were not only unidentified, but there wasn't even a missing persons report to check out. "Maybe we should talk with the lieutenant. The case is cold. This is going to be time-consuming. Some of it goes back twenty years."

Vik agreed. "Good idea. If we're lucky, he'll agree that this is a complete waste of time."

* * *

The lieutenant's office was in another wing of the building. He had a window facing east and a limited view of the lake. Today the blues were in layers, the sky sort of slate, the water a clear blue farther out but murky and almost gray near the shore. Although restricted, it was a view Marti could get used to. Dirkowitz had been a linebacker with the University of Southern Illinois Salukis. In his mid-thirties, he still wore his blonde hair close-cropped, and he still stayed in shape.

Vik explained what they had so far.

Dirkowitz leaned back, steepled his hands, and touched his fingertips to his chin as he listened. "I didn't realize we had so many unidentified body parts," he said, when Vik stopped talking. "And this most recent part was frozen before it was disposed of, which means we're not going to be able to determine time of death."

"That's it exactly, sir," Vik said. There was a hint of optimism in his voice.

"If we don't find additional parts, something that allows us to make an identification, we just say the hell with it."

"Oh no," Vik said, "nothing like that. It's just that it's damned near impossible to figure out who one hand, or arm, belongs to."

The lieutenant nodded. He picked up an apple-shaped grenade that he kept on his desk. Marti knew it wasn't a souvenir of the Vietnam War but a reminder of his brother who had died there.

"Is this a significant part of our backlog?"

"No, not at all," Vik said. "Right now we've got eight cases that have been open for quite a while."

"All with bodies."


Marti suppressed a smile. Vik was trying to remain neutral, but she knew he would rather take on any of the open cases with bodies than a cold one that involved an arm with hand.

"What do you think, MacAlister?" the lieutenant asked.

"I think the odds of resolving a case with more to go on are greater than finding out anything when we only have a body part."

Vik looked at her and raised his eyebrows just a tad. She could tell he had expected her to champion the cause of the missing parts.

The lieutenant weighed the grenade. "So, Jessenovik, you would rather take on a case with more substance."

Vik hesitated. "There is something about the arm, sir," he admitted.

It was Marti's turn to be surprised.

"But," he went on, "I really think it would be futile, and we need to go with a case where it's more likely that we'll get some results."


"I can't argue with that, sir. But Vik is right. The arm is definitely a challenge."

Dirkowitz held the grenade by the stem. "Well, it seems to me that since there isn't any fun associated with this job, we should at least allow ourselves a challenge every now and then. Give this arm with hand a week, unless something immediate comes up. Consider it a semivacation. You've earned it. If you don't get anywhere in a week's time, come see me."

He dropped the grenade on his desk, adding another dent to scarred wood, a signal that the meeting was over.

* * *

By the time Marti tracked down the developer, it was after five and nobody answered the phone. She left a message on voice mail.

"Three right arms, one left," Vik said. From the tone of his voice, his attitude hadn't changed; but he was scanning his copies of the coroner's reports. "All found in wooded areas, but not forest preserves. Lily Day and John Doe weren't found anywhere near each other, but Miss Nineteen-ninety- four was found in the same general area as Lily Day. Arm number four wasn't found anywhere near where the others were. Dumb." He shook his head. "Real dumb. Stupid perps, that's the problem, Marti. If whoever did it had the brains to wrap up the pieces and throw them in a Dumpster, they'd be in a landfill somewhere and we wouldn't have to bother with any of this. I don't know where people's heads are anymore."

"Especially not these four," Marti replied. He did have a point. The rest of the remains had been disposed of without anyone finding them. "Maybe someone wanted the arms to be found."

"Oh, come on, MacAlister. What do you think we've got here? A ritual killer? A mass murderer? Every time we get a case that's the least bit unusual, you come up with the big city cop ideas. All we've got is four arms found over at least twenty years. Whoever offed Lily Day is probably dead by now."

"But this one was frozen first, Vik. If, for example, the victim died during the summer, when it was hot, it would have decomposed quickly. Maybe the killer didn't want that. Maybe whoever did it wanted us to find it."

"Something like that would take a real nutcase. How often do we have a killer around here who is also an exhibitionist?"

"What other explanation is there?"

"Who knows? People do strange things for strange reasons. What do you want to bet we've got someone here who thinks he's Einstein and figured that freezing the arm first was clever."

Marti decided not to argue the point. Odds were that Vik was right. "If they can pin down when number four was left there, we might be able to locate a few people to question."

"Don't hold your breath." He did a Groucho Marx imitation with his eyebrows. "We could have this all wrong, MacAlister. It's probably one of those executive types. Look at how coldblooded they are, the way they send hundreds of people home without jobs and call it downsizing."

"Long day, huh, Jessenovik?" As she labeled file folders for the reports, she thought of the curved, pasty white fingers that seemed to call to her from their bed of leaves. "I've never worked a case like this before."

"Nobody works a case like this. You wait and see if enough parts show up to make an identification and take it from there."

"Maybe," Marti said. She wasn't looking forward to bedtime. Those fingers would probably show up tonight in some distorted dream.

* * *

She stopped at the fire station after she left the precinct. One of the minuses of being married to a fireman/paramedic was the constant schedule conflicts. Ben worked a forty-eight-hour shift and was off for seventy-two hours. When she was on a case, she didn't work a shift. Her schedule was dependent upon the stage of an investigation. The ambulance bay was empty. Ben was out on a call. Disappointed, she went home.


Excerpted from Whispers in the Dark by Eleanor Taylor Bland. Copyright © 2001 Eleanor Taylor Bland. 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

Eleanor Taylor Bland is the author of the Marti MacAlister Mysteries, including Windy City Dying, Fatal Remains, A Cold and Silent Dying, and A Dark and Deadly Deception. She lives in Waukegan, Illinois.

Eleanor Taylor Bland is the author of the Marti MacAlister Mysteries, including Windy City Dying, Fatal Remains, A Cold and Silent Dying, and A Dark and Deadly Deception. She lives in Waukegan, Illinois.

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Whispers in the Dark (Marti MacAlister Series #9) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and story line for this book. The secondary (hands, stupid Sharon!, Scotty, Rayveena) and tertiary characters (Momma, Ben) in the story had enough mystic about them even, to make me rush read the book in 2 days. I couldn't wait to finish nor was I disappointed. Whispers in the dark was the first book I've read by Eleanor Taylor Bland. I can't wait to read my next! I normally don't read mystery, but she's changed my reluctant to do so. It wasn't at all filled with the gore & eerieness that I had anticipated. The subjects were thoroughly active/involved throughout the book including the 'hands'. And the setting switch to the Caribbean made it all worth the trip - who'd have thought a cruise to the Bahamas would have so much drama & suspense! Touche, this book is a winner hands down!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Marti Macallister and her partner Matthew ¿Vik¿ Sessenovik are homicide detectives in the greater Chicago area. Due to a rare lull in active investigations, Marti and Vik decide to check into a recently found defrosting arm and three other arms in the freezer of the morgue. During a forensic examination, they determine the age and sex and that at least two people were somehow involved in the seventies art world. The remaining arms are more recent which adds to the puzzle that the cops are making slow progress on solving.

While Marti is involved with her family and job, her friend Sharon, whose daughter Lisa is living with Marti, becomes involved with De Vonte Luthell. He gives her a whirlwind courtship and insists they marry. After the ceremony they go to De Vonte¿s special place in the Bahamas where he has a special surprise for Sharon and Lisa. Marti, whose case is breaking wide open, has a bad feeling about De Vonte and rushes down to Freeport in the hope that she can prevent Lisa and Sharon from getting hurt.

Anyone who wants to witness a quintessential ¿every woman¿ novel just has to read a Marti Macallister mystery. She balances her family and job with expert aplomb (with a little help from momma) and she is there when her friends need her. The mystery itself is fascinating because readers get to see a whole case made out of one semi frozen arm. Although readers will despise some of Sharon¿s choices they will understand why she made them and feel empathy towards her. It would be a shame for mystery fans to pass up such an excellent choice as Whispers.

Harriet Klausner