An ex-cop from Philly investigates the deaths of elderly women in a poor Florida community in this “gritty, vivid, and suspenseful” thriller (Harlan Coben).
When five elderly women are murdered in Fort Lauderdale, Max Freeman is determined to get to the bottom of it. His friend, the lawyer Billy Manchester, believes the murders are tied to a conspiracy to collect on the women’s life insurance policies. But when Freeman uncovers a shocking betrayal, he soon realizes the gruesome plot reaches further than anyone thought possible. Now it’s a race against the clock to hunt down the psychopath behind the murders—before the killer sets his sights on Freeman himself.
This ebook contains an illustrated biography of the author featuring never-before-seen photos.
About the Author
Jonathon King is an Edgar Award–winning mystery novelist and the creator of the bestselling Max Freeman crime series. Born in Lansing, Michigan, in the 1950s, King worked as a crime reporter in Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale for twenty-four years before becoming a full-time novelist. Along with the seven books of the Max Freeman series, King has authored the thriller Eye of Vengeance (2007) and the historical novel The Styx (2009).
Read an Excerpt
A Visible Darkness
By Jonathon King
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Jonathon King
All rights reserved.
Eddie knew he was invisible. He'd known it forever. He had seen himself disappear day after day, year after year.
They could all see him when he was young, back when he was a target. The ones who called him Fat Albert or Donkey Kong when he walked to the bus stop. The ones who would hold out their arms and puff up their cheeks and waddle. He'd hang his head, roll up his already thick shoulders and say nothing. He heard the words. He knew the grins in their faces, marked the golden chains around their necks, recognized all the logos, all the shoes.
They thought he was an idiot, too dumb to know who did what to who. Too stupid to know who was the owner and who was owned. But Eddie watched everything and everybody. He kept his head down, but his eyes were always cutting, this way and that. No one saw what he saw, every day and especially at night.
It was at night when Eddie first started to become invisible. Since he was twelve or thirteen he'd been roaming the night streets, and he'd always known every alley cut-through, every neighborhood fence, every streetlight shadow. Before long he knew without thinking about it; the timing on the traffic light at Twenty-fourth and Sunrise, when the last spray of summer sun came cutting through the empty lot of the rundown shopping center, when the streetlights flickered on and when the Blue Goose Beer Saloon closed and they brought out the last plastic barrel of garbage and leftovers.
In the dark Eddie knew where the dogs were kept and which ones he could feed raw meat scraps through the chain link and talk sweet and low to until they hummed and growled their own low throat noise back to him. Eddie's skin was darker than most of the others, and that's why he thought he could stand there, late at night in the shadows of a ficus tree or Bartrum's Junkyard fence, and stare into the bluish glow of someone's living room and never be noticed. When he was young, he did get caught. Old Man Jackson or Ms. Stone would come outside and yell from their porch, "Boy, get your self outta there and get on home. You ain't got no bidness out here now." And he would. Just walk away with no response. Just hunch up his shoulders and go.
When he quit school Eddie started hanging in the streets in the daytime. At fifteen he'd already grown into a big, thick man's body. He wore the same dark T-shirt and dungarees nearly every day. His "workin'" clothes he called them. He walked everywhere he went. He never rode the bus. His mother never owned a car.
At some point he got hold of an abandoned shopping cart, sun flashing off chromed-up wire mesh, plastic handle name of Winn- Dixie. He would fill it with whatever pleased him: scrap metal and aluminum cans for profit, blankets and old coats for warmth, whiskey and wine bottles for company. He would push his cart through the alleys and streets and keep it next to him on the benches when he sat and everyone else got up and moved away.
Eddie would watch them all. People on their way to work. Mothers on their way to the clinic, kids in tow. Girls giggling and whispering secrets to each other. But soon, year after year, they stopped watching him. In time, Eddie became less than a neighborhood blemish. In time, he was a simple fact of life, a shuffling nothing.
Since they could not see him, Eddie had no fear of the night. That's why he now stood in the quiet dark of midnight under the royal poinciana that spread like a shroud over the corner bedroom of Ms. Philomena's house. He'd stood and watched as the lights had gone off one by one, until only the blue glow remained in the old woman's room. Still, Eddie waited. An hour. Two.
He knew Ms. Philomena. He had known her since he was a boy. She would walk her kids to the bus stop, dressed in her own workin' clothes; a long printed dress with a white apron and white shoes for her job on the east side. She was old even then. But Eddie never saw her out anymore. Only an occasional visitor, her daughter maybe, would stop to visit, and only in the day. Eddie would see Ms. Philomena's gray head just inside the door. He would watch her turn and slide her feet back and let them in. But now her daughter never knocked, she just unlocked and called out "Mama?" before disappearing inside. Eddie knew the old woman was weak. Tonight was her time.
He moved from his spot under the tree. No traffic had come down the alley for two hours. He crossed the narrow yard and knelt at the back jalousie windows of the Florida room and reached into his pockets for a pair of socks. He slipped them over each hand and then took a screwdriver from another pocket. Invisible in the shadows, he began the work of silently prying open the old, pitted aluminum clips that held each pane of glass in place. With the clips bent up, he could lift out each pane and carefully lay them in order on the ground outside. Eight panes out, and he was inside.
Eddie may have been a big man, but he was never clumsy. He had practiced all his life not to be clumsy. His movements were intentional and always precise. Once inside the house he stood breathing the odor of camphor and aged doilies, the scent of green tea and must from years of humidity and mold. The floors, like so many old Florida homes from the '60s, were hard, smooth terrazzo. No creaking wood. No popping joists. He moved down the hallway toward the glow. At the bedroom door he stopped to listen for breathing, something under the hiss of the television, a cough, a clearing of old phlegm. Nothing. Across the hall he could smell the scent of lilac soap drifting from the bath. He stood unmoving for several minutes until he was sure.
Inside, Ms. Philomena was laid out on the bed, her thin shoulders propped up on a corduroy-covered pillow. Her gray hair showed white in the TV light. Eddie could see her mouth hanging open in a slack O. The shadows on her caramel-colored skin made her eyes look sunken and her cheekbones sharp. She was nearly dead already, Eddie said to himself. He did not look at the old television screen. He knew it only robbed him of some night vision. He took careful steps to the bedside and with the socks still on both hands he laid his strong wide hands over Ms. Philomena's nose and mouth.
He was surprised how little she struggled, bucking her skinny chest only once, getting her fingertips barely into the material on his hands before that tiny whimper of death, when all went slack Eddie didn't move. He just pressed his hands, only strong enough to keep the air cut off until he was sure. When he straightened, he placed Ms. Philomena's hand again atop her chest, adjusted her pillow and stepped away.
Outside again he carefully replaced the windowpanes and with his thumbs, bent back the clips. She was almost dead anyway, he whispered to himself. As he moved back to the alley, a breeze riffled through the canopy of the poinciana tree, shaking loose a shower of the famous flame-orange blossoms that had turned dark and wilted in the autumn coolness and now dropped like hot rain outside the old lady's bedroom window.CHAPTER 2
I was sitting, balanced in the stern seat of my canoe, letting twenty feet of fly-fishing line lay stripped out on the river. The vision of the silver sides of a tarpon was still behind my eyes, but I'd given up on trying to entice him out of the mangrove edges. Anyone who describes fly-fishing with adjectives such as grace and concentration and thoughtful skill without including dire patience is probably an equipment salesman.
An hour after I'd seen the bastard jump, I hadn't lured him into a single strike. I finally gave up, leaned back into the V of the canoe and let the morning South Florida sun melt into me. The odor of clean sweat mixed with the salt-tinged breeze and I took a slow, deep draw. I felt my heart rhythm tick down a beat and let it fall. I was shirtless and in a pair of canvas shorts. My legs long and tan except for the white knurled splotch of scar tissue on my thigh where a tumbling 9mm round had done a nasty work some time back. I closed my eyes to the memory, a place I didn't need to go. I might have dozed off but a subtle change in the sunlight, like a twist of a dimmer switch, caused a shiver in my skin. When I opened my eyes I was staring up at the western sky. An osprey was perched near the top of a dead sabal palm. The bird was staring back with a more focused intent. He may have been trying to figure out the floating fishing line, or, raptor that he is, trying to gauge the unmoving beast in the canoe. A wind shift caught both of our attentions and I turned to see an unusual October rainstorm rolling gray and flat out of the southeast. Summer storms came from the western Glades, sucking up fuel from the thin layer of water that covers thousands of acres of sawgrass. Anvil-shaped clouds then pushed to the coast as the cities and beaches warmed in the sun and the rising heat drew the cooler clouds east. But in the fall the pattern changed, storms came with more reason and threat, and something was swirling in the atmosphere.
A distant rumble of thunder caused me to sit up and start reeling in. Smart boaters and golfers know there is nowhere in the country with as many lightning strikes as Florida. I stowed the reel, picked up my hand-crafted maple paddle and spun the canoe west, heading toward the cavern-like opening in the mangroves and live oak that led into the canopied part of my river. The tarpon had waited me out. I'd have to test him another day.
On the open water I got into a rhythm—digging the paddle into the water, pulling the stroke full through and then feathering a clean kick at the end. Before I'd come here, the only paddling I'd ever done was when a fellow Philadelphia cop took me sculling on the Schuylkill River along boathouse row. It had been a fiasco until I got my balance and began to feel the water. Without my friend in the other seat of the double, I would have flipped a dozen times. But the quiet isolation on a liquid artery through the middle of the city was something I never forgot. Here, the canoe paddling was different, but the isolation had the same feeling.
I made it into the tree canopy just as the storms first drops started pattering through the leaves. It was several degrees cooler in the shade tunnel, and I drifted while putting on an old Temple University T-shirt. It was also several shades darker on this part of the river, even more so with the sun slipping under storm clouds. This is an ancient river, running north through a flooded cypress forest before widening out through the mangroves and then flowing east out to sea. Inside it is a place of quiet water and the smells of wet wood and vegetation.
A mile in I slowed at a narrow water trail marked by two old-growth cypress trees. Fifty yards west, through shallow water and thick ferns, I pulled up to a platform dock attached to my stilt shack. I tied the canoe to a post and gathered my fishing gear. Before climbing the stairs I carefully checked the damp risers for footprints. I do not get company out here. No one else comes to my door.
Inside the single room it was dim, but I have so memorized its simple layout and content that I can find a matchbox with my eyes closed. I lit a single kerosene lantern and the glow grew just as fat raindrops start pinging off the tin roof.
When I first moved to this isolated place the rattling noise of showered tin had kept me awake for hours, but over the months the sound had turned somehow natural and sometimes I welcomed its heavy noise, if only to break the silence. At my potbellied wood stove I stirred some coals, started some kindling, and set a fresh pot of coffee to boil. While I waited, I stripped off my shirt and kicked out of my leather Docksides and sat at the wood-planked table. The air had gone thick and moist. I leaned back and propped my heels up on the table and surveyed: Bunk bed. Two warped armoires. A stainless-steel sink and drain board under a hanging row of mismatched cabinets. Old-style Key West shutters at the four windows on all sides and a high, pyramid-shaped ceiling topped with a slatted cupola to vent the rising warm air.
The shack had once been a hunting lodge for rich tourists in the early 1900s. It was passed to state researchers in the '50s, who used it as a home base for studying the surrounding ecosystem. It then lay abandoned for years, until my friend and attorney, Billy Manchester, somehow obtained the lease and rented it to me when I was searching for an escape from my Philadelphia past.
The only change I'd made was new screening and the installation of a wondrous trap Billy had found for the tiny gnats that could slip through the smallest barriers. One of his acquaintances, and Billy had hundreds, was a University of Florida researcher who'd cobbled together a CO2contraption to kill the no-see-ums. Knowing that it is the CO2 that lures the insects to humans and other air-breathers, the researcher had configured a bucket-shaped container coated with a sticky oil and then inverted on a stem pedestal. Threaded with a CO2 line, the stem emitted a small trail of gas, less than what two people talking would emit. The bugs came for the CO2, got trapped in the oil, and I lived nearly unbitten on the edge of the Glades. I was ruminating on the simple genius of the idea when the rattle of my boiling coffeepot sat me up and then the electronic chirping of a cell phone made me curse. I went to the coffee first and then searched for the phone.
"Yeah?" I answered.
"Max," said Billy, his voice straight and efficient. "Max. I need your help."CHAPTER 3
In the morning I packed a gym bag with civilized clothes and a shaving kit and loaded my canoe. The sun was just beginning to streak through the high cypress cover, spackling the leaves and slowly igniting the greenness of the place. I untied and pushed off toward the river. The water was high from the rain. Dry ground was rare here, and the effect of the omnipresent water gave one a constant sense of floating. My shoulders and arms began to loosen after ten minutes of easy paddling. By the time I reached the open water I was ready to grind.
Billy had spent an hour on the phone explaining in his thorough and efficient way why he was making an uncharacteristic call for help. Billy is the most intelligent person I've ever met. A child chess prodigy from the north Philadelphia ghetto, he graduated top of his class at Temple's law school. He then took a second degree in business at Wharton.
He was an intellectually gifted black kid who grew up in one of the most depressed and depressing areas of the country. I was an unambitious son of a cop who grew up in the ethnic, blue-color neighborhoods of South Philly. Our mothers had met and formed a quiet and unusual friendship, one that we had only begun to decipher as men. We did not meet until we made contact on new ground in South Florida, where, for our own reasons, both of us had fled.
I learned early to trust Billy. I also learned to listen carefully to his advice and his stories. He rarely said anything that wasn't thought out and worthy. I had kept that in mind last night as he spun through his reason for calling and I worked through the pot of coffee.
"You know it was Henry Flagler, Rockefeller's Standard Oil partner, who brought the first train down into South Florida?"
"No. But I do now," I said. "Go on."
"It was Flagler who pushed his tracks down the east coast to Palm Beach, where he built the largest winter resort in the world at the time for the rich and powerful New Yorkers like himself.
"Tough old guy," Billy said. "And pretty ballsy too."
There was reverence in his voice when he told how Flagler then took his rail line to Miami when it was just a fishing town, and then took on the superhuman task of building the overseas rail line from island to island all the way to Key West.
Some of this history I knew. Billy had been my lending library, passing on books about Florida's past, Audubon guides when I stared dumbly at a species I didn't know and maps to give me a larger idea of where I was. He rarely gave tutorials. But this felt different. My friend was a lawyer, he was building a case.
"Flagler employed thousands of southern blacks, free men who left their birth homes in Georgia and Alabama to hack his trail down the coast. They were the ones who piled the sand and gravel for a roadbed and then laid the ties and rails to carry Flagler's class to the sunshine."
Excerpted from A Visible Darkness by Jonathon King. Copyright © 2003 Jonathon King. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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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What People are Saying About This
“Gritty, vivid, and suspenseful.” —Harlan Coben“King adds new dimensions of depth and substance to the modern crime novel.” —Michael Connelly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Following his Edgar winning debut novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight, Johnathon King delivers a deliciously intense and engrossing story in A Visible Darkness. However this intensity differs because the reader knows who the killer is from page 1, but why is Eddie killing the elderly matriarchs of African American families? The second mystery of Manchester and Freeman matriarchs is slowly revealed showing the same symmetry and dichotomy of the main question, why. Marrying his reporter's skills of observation and knowledge of people, King shows the reader how a visible darkness shadows a neighborhood like that Manchester is from but can never go back to, it is his buddy ex-cop, Max Freeman, he enlists to help unravel the murders of old widows who should be safe in their homes. Back in his shack that he leases from the State, Max Freeman is still recovering from the notoriety and unintended consequences from his last outing into civilization months before when he hunted and became the prey of a child serial killer. Freeman acknowledges the subtle changes: he now carries a cell phone and checks his dock stairs for footprints and accepts the new park ranger's passive-aggression. So when, Billy Manchester said "his voice straight and efficient. "Max, I need your help." Freeman leaves his beloved river for the city streets without hesitation. Max is a little dubious at first to believe that little old ladies are being murdered after they sold their life insurance policies to an investment group, especially after talking to Detective. Richards. The Broward County ME office and law enforcement believe the women died of natural causes. Soon after one of the life insurance company sends down a bigoted investigator that he is forced to work with, Freeman agrees with his friend that something is not right. And without a beat or a badge Freeman falls into his cop-beat rhythm forming unlikely alliances in the black neighborhood's drug zone to catch a killer in an investigation that has its own twists and turns.
Couldn't wait for Jonathon King's second novel after reading Blue Edge of Midnight and this one certainly didn't disappoint me. The story pulls you in from page one. Reading his books is like seeing a very good movie. Can't wait for the next one.
In West Palm Beach, Floridian Billy Manchester believes that at least five elderly African-American widows have recently been murdered to collect their insurance money. The police accept the medical examiner¿s official position of natural causes and the insurance companies agree, paying the benefactor. Billy asks his buddy, disabled retired Philadelphia cop Max to investigate. The deaths involve ailing African-American widows over eighty from Fort Lauderdale, who sold their life insurance to a viatrical purchasing company. Max agrees with the assessments of the professionals that this is a waste of time, but works the streets anyway especially after meeting the daughter of one of the deceased. Soon he begins to hear noises about invisible Eddie, who even the nastiest drug dealers fear, but is he a loose cannon serial killer or an ¿agent¿ of corporate greed. With suspense thrillers like this one and his debut THE BLUE EDGE OF MIDNIGHT, Jonathan King will become very visible to the reading public quite quickly. A VISIBLE DARKNESS is an action packed investigative tale that grips the audience because the characters are very realistic, even Eddie, who most people have met some time in their life. The chills grow though Eddie is introduced as the murderer at the beginning. A visible history of South Florida over the past century is a bonus brilliantly interwoven into the powerful plot. More novels like this winner will mean fans will recognize that this author lives up to his surname. Harriet Klausner
This is the 2nd book in the Max Freeman series concerning an ex-Philly cop retired early on a disability, then moved to the Everglades. The first in the series resulted in an Edgar. The plot of this one deals with the murder of old black women as part of an insurance scam. It also significantly advances Max's relationship with a female police detective. It is so-so, and probably would appeal to someone who has snatches of time, a good "pick-it-up. put-it-down" diversion. I'm not going to finish this series, at least for now. I'm now following 20 different series, and this one does not appeal to me near as much as the others. There was too much flashback to Phil days, and that didn't work for me here. I find the hero too sympathetic, too politically-correct, too good, too bland. Too unreal. I like the Everglades setting, the supporting characters are OK, the plots are simple (272 pages), but no thanks.
I really like the characters and storylines in this series.