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By Reason of Insanity

By Reason of Insanity

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by James Neal Harvey

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A troubled homicide cop chases a killer with an artistic sensibility

Marketing executive Peter Barrows spends his nights scouring Greenwich Village for wannabe models. He lures them back to his studio with promises of stardom, getting their hopes up just before he snaps their necks. Then his work begins, arranging their corpses to be photographed, giving


A troubled homicide cop chases a killer with an artistic sensibility

Marketing executive Peter Barrows spends his nights scouring Greenwich Village for wannabe models. He lures them back to his studio with promises of stardom, getting their hopes up just before he snaps their necks. Then his work begins, arranging their corpses to be photographed, giving them the grace and poise they never possessed in life. Peter Barrows is an artist—and death is his medium.

A hard-bitten cop with a secret in his past, Ben Tolliver is obsessed with the Greenwich Village murders. After the third girl is found, he throws himself wholeheartedly into the search for the killer with the camera. Barrows believes that an artist must be willing to sacrifice anything for his work—and as Tolliver is about to find, bringing a crazed killer to justice demands nothing less.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
NYPD Lt. Ben Tolliver pursues marketing executive Peter Barrows, a serial killer who murders and then photographs beautiful young women. ``The pounding pace more than compensates for some unlikely coincidences as this chilling and memorable thriller races to its climax,'' said PW. (Dec.)

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Ben Tolliver Mysteries
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Read an Excerpt

By Reason of Insanity

A Ben Tolliver Mystery

By James Neal Harvey


Copyright © 1990 James Neal Harvey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-8586-0


THE blonde was heavier than she looked. He eased her into a sitting position against the wall and propped her up with the half-dozen white pillows he'd bought when he planned the shoot. The pillows were thick and fluffy and he put one behind her neck to rest her head against. He placed another under her right arm, letting the hand dangle. Her naked flesh was pale under the lights.

The legs were next. He spread them a little and raised them by bending them at the knees. Her pubic hair was a dark patch, but it would not be visible when he was ready to begin shooting. He stepped back and cocked his head, studying the composition. It was starting to come together, and he could feel his excitement building as he looked at her. Now for the key prop, the touch of genius. He left the studio and went into the kitchen.

The lollipop was in the freezer. It was grape flavored, a purple disk three inches across. He'd left it on a sheet of aluminum foil so that it wouldn't stick to the rack. He got it out and carried it back to the set. He was enthusiastic about his work, and the anger he had felt earlier had completely disappeared.

But he was still sweating heavily. His white polo shirt was soggy and there were damp patches on his gray cotton pants. He picked up a rag from the counter and wiped his face with it. As he tossed the rag aside he was aware that his hands were trembling.

He knelt beside the girl and placed the lollipop in her left hand, closing her fingers around the stick and moving the candy so that she was holding it over her crotch. She was almost ready. But he was a perfectionist, and that meant it had to be exactly right. He stood up and then walked slowly back and forth in front of the setup, looking at it from different angles.

The girl really was quite pretty. Her hair was long and straight and hung to her shoulders in shimmering strands. She had blue eyes, large and almond shaped, like a cat's. The nose was a little fleshy across the bridge, but the attitude of her head and the way he was lighting her would take care of that. Best of all was her expression. Her lips were parted and between them the tip of her tongue was showing, and that together with the vacant stare in the blue eyes was highly erotic to him.

Her body was good too, slender and well proportioned. Her breasts were on the small side but that was an advantage. Tits beyond a 34-B had a tendency to sag. Even as physically drained as he was, he felt himself stir when he looked at her.

But a model? Jesus, the arrogance. Exactly like every other conceited little bitch who thinks she's something special, something far above the ordinary, just waiting to be discovered. You'd see it in the way she walked, the way she carried her head, with her nose up in the air. Look at me, she'd seem to say. I could be on the cover of Vogue, or Cosmopolitan, if the right photographer came along. Well, for this one the right photographer had come along, and she'd been discovered, all right. He'd shoot her with an expertise that would lift her to a plane higher than she ever could have imagined. And in the end it would be his talent, his extraordinary skills, that would create not merely a photograph, but a work of art.

The camera he was using was his favorite, the Hasselblad. It was mounted on a tripod and he set it in place carefully, about eight feet from his subject. He bent over the view-finder and rolled the focusing ring until the image was sharp. The magazine was loaded with Ektachrome to give him the effect he wanted. He checked the lights and the reflectors. After that he went to a drawer and got out a meter, then took readings on the girl's face and belly. He stuffed the meter into his pocket and adjusted the camera's diaphragm and shutter speed.

There was a tape deck on the counter. He picked a Bruce Springsteen cassette out of a rack and put it into the machine, switching on the power and turning up the volume until his ears buzzed and he could feel the beat jarring the soles of his feet. Everything was ready now. He returned to the camera and again squinted into the viewfinder.

It was beautiful. Just as he'd seen it in his mind when he conceived the shoot, except that now it was real and it was even better than he had envisioned. Exultantly he pressed the trigger and there was a brilliant explosion of light as the strobes boomed. His voice was taut with excitement. "Yeah, baby. Great. I love it. Looking good. That's fantastic."

The camera was fitted with a motor drive, so that he could shoot rapidly. He fired off frame after frame, pausing now and then just long enough to reset the f-stop and the shutter speed, bracketing the exposures. The pictures would be wonderful. He couldn't wait to finish shooting and begin processing the film in his darkroom.

And besides, he wanted to get the girl out of here. Before rigor mortis set in.


THE construction site was on West Thirteenth Street. It was under excavation, the hole in the ground shielded by a high, green wooden fence. The buildings flanking it were ivy-covered brick town houses built in the mid-nineteenth century, four stories tall, with slate roofs and white window frames and shutters. Only a few ramshackle houses remained in this area, and those were quickly razed whenever a developer could lay hands on one. Real estate values here would never go anywhere but up. Apartments in a new, modern building would circumvent rent controls and could be leased for astronomical amounts, and selling them as condos could triple a speculator's investment. Either way, there were fortunes to be made in Greenwich Village.

When Lieutenant Ben Tolliver pulled up in his battered gray Ford sedan, cops had already blocked off the street with wooden barricades painted blue and POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS lettered in white. A patrolman from the Sixth Precinct recognized him and moved one of the sawhorses aside so he could pass through. Up ahead he saw two patrol cars and a Dodge hatchback that belonged to Frank Petrusky, one of the detectives in his squad. All of the vehicles were in front of the green fence. Tolliver parked the Ford behind them and got out.

The lieutenant was a tall man, rangy and lean, with a shag of black hair flecked with gray. A thick mustache covered his upper lip. He looked more like a construction worker himself than a detective, wearing worn corduroys and a faded blue oxford-cloth shirt, rolled-up sleeves revealing the thick muscles of his forearms. His skin was deeply tanned from spending as much time as possible outdoors, and his eyes were the same washed-out color as his shirt. He had been on the Job for fourteen years, and as far as he knew he had never been made as a cop.

His watch showed a few minutes after eight. A gaggle of pedestrians had gathered on the sidewalk across from the site, people who lived on the block, some of them on their way to work. They stood gawking at the police and their vehicles, and a cop waved a hand and told them to move on. Two more uniformed officers were in front of the green fence, one of them a young guy, the other a sergeant Tolliver recognized, a red-faced veteran named Weber. The sergeant was keeping the log, recording the times of arrival and departure of anyone working there.

Ben said good morning as he approached and inclined his head toward the fence. "Who's in there?"

"Petrusky and two guys who run the equipment," Weber said. "They found it when they showed up for work this morning."

Ben nodded. He had come directly from his apartment on Bank Street, rolled out of bed by the telephone call from the Sixth. He reached into his hip pocket and took out the leather folder, clipping it onto his shirt so that the shield would show. Wearing it was a strict rule at a crime scene; it was the only way you could identify the plain-clothes cops. As the detective in charge he outranked all other officers there, no matter who they were. Technically, that would include even the PC himself. Not that the commissioner was likely to show up, but if he did he would be obliged to take orders from Tolliver.

Ben glanced across the street to where another knot of spectators had begun to gather. "Keep the civilians away from here."

"Will do," Weber said.

A pair of ragged boys about eight years old inched close to where Ben stood talking with the cops. One of them spoke to Weber. "Hey, Officer. What's in there?"

The sergeant looked down. "A monster."

The boy's eyes grew wide. "A monster?"

"Yeah," Weber said. "It eats kids. Now you little shits get outta here."

The boys scurried away, and the younger cop crossed the street to break up the gathering of curious bystanders. Ben turned and stepped through a door in the center of the fence.

Just inside was a steep incline, running down to a level about ten feet below that of the street. Lying on the rubble-strewn earth at the base of the slope was a bundle perhaps five and a half feet long, wrapped in black plastic. A dozen paces beyond it were two pieces of yellow-painted construction equipment, a power shovel and a dump truck. The words DINARDO CONSTRUCTION CO., BROOKLYN, N.Y. Were lettered on the sides of the machines. Frank Petrusky stood near the truck, talking with two men in yellow hard hats who were leaning against the vehicle's front fender, smoking and drinking coffee out of paper cups.

Tolliver scrambled down the slope to where the bundle lay. Some of the black plastic had been torn away at one end, revealing an indistinct, whitish object inside. He stood beside the bundle as Petrusky approached. The hard hats stayed where they were.

"'Morning, Lieutenant." Petrusky was broad and slope-shouldered, and his head was bald except for a few wispy brown hairs above his ears. He wore a baggy gray suit and a garish green-and-white tie. His shield was clipped to his jacket.

"Hya, Frank. What've we got?"

"Another one, looks like."

Tolliver grunted. He had seen bundles like this twice before in the last few months, both times in other parts of Greenwich Village. One had been lying in an alley, the other had been crammed into a trash barrel. He knelt beside this one. The plastic was thin vinyl sheeting, a large garbage bag tied with twine. He pulled back the torn flap, revealing the face of a dead woman. Her blue eyes stared at nothing, and between her lips her tongue was showing. An odor rose from the bag, faint but sickening, the beginning of putrefaction.

The face was young and unusually pretty. Or had been, anyway. It was framed by lank strands of bleached-blond hair, and there were mottled bruises under her jaw. Her skin was very pale, except for the bruises and spots where deep blue shadows of cyanosis had formed around her eyes and near her mouth. A fly lit on her upper lip and crawled down onto one of her front teeth. Ben shooed it away.

Over the years he had dealt with more dead bodies than he could count, but none of them made the impact on him that one of these did. As he studied the lifeless features, they seemed to change, until he felt he was looking at the face of another girl, from a time in his life before he ever thought of becoming a cop. The sight was like ripping the scab off a wound.

Petrusky brushed a hand over his bald head. "I think her neck's broken."


"Just like the other two."

"Could be, Frank. ME on his way?"

"Yeah. Should be here any minute."

"Okay." Tolliver stood up, his gaze moving to the pair of hard hats. "What about the boys?"

"They drove over together from Brooklyn," Petrusky said. "Like every day. When they came in they saw the bag. They opened it and went down the street there to the deli and called 911." He pulled a small, spiral-bound notebook out of his hip pocket. "I got everything on them."

Tolliver stepped over to the truck, Petrusky following. "'Morning."

The men nodded. They were rugged and unshaven, burned dark by the sun.

"This here is Lieutenant Tolliver," Petrusky said.

The taller of the two flicked away his cigarette and put out his hand. "Sal Ricci."

The hand felt like a piece of cracked leather. Tolliver shook it and turned to the other.

"Tony DiNardo."

Ben gripped this one's hand also and looked at the lettering on the door of the truck. "This your company?"

"My uncle's."

Tolliver motioned with his head toward the green fence. "Gate locked when you got here?"

"Yeah," DiNardo said. "Chain with a padlock. I opened it and put the chain in the truck." He thrust out his chin, indicating the black plastic bag. "We didn't pay much attention, at first."

Ricci shifted his feet. "Lots of times people throw garbage over the fence at night. We figured that's what it was. Except it was so big, you know?"

"So I pulled it open a little," DiNardo said. He rolled his eyes. "And oh, shit."

"You guys usually work alone?" Tolliver asked.

"Most of the time," DiNardo replied. "Foreman comes by around eleven. My cousin Freddy." He waved a hand. "We thought we'd finish this up today."

Tolliver glanced over at the black garbage bag. "Not now, you won't."

Petrusky looked up toward the gate. "Here come the troops."

Two detectives from the Crime Scene Unit were descending the slope, both wearing suits and ties and carrying equipment cases. A uniformed cop was following them, and behind him were two men in hospital whites, the ambulance crew. Ben recognized the leader of the CSU detectives, an older man named McGuire he had worked with before.

Tolliver raised a hand. "Hello, Mac."

"How you doing, Ben?"

"Okay, for a Monday morning."

McGuire introduced his partner, a guy named Walsh who was taking a 35-mm camera out of a case. McGuire stepped over to the black bag. He studied it for a minute or two before returning to Tolliver. "Looks familiar."

"You recognize her?"

"No. I meant it's like the other two. The garbage bag and all."


"We looking for anything special?"

"Not that I can think of," Ben said. "She had to be killed someplace else and then dumped here. Check the top of that fence, and go over the sidewalk and the street. She must've landed just inside and then rolled down the bank."

McGuire nodded, looking at the garbage bag again and then at the slope.

"Give me a grid with measurements on everything," Ben said. "Position, how far she rolled, and so on."

"Right." McGuire moved away.

Another man came through the gate and made his way down the bank. This was the deputy medical examiner. He was thin and angular, carrying a satchel and wearing a shirt and tie but no jacket. With his jerky movements he looked like an oversized bird. He grinned when he saw Tolliver. "Ah, my favorite detective."

Ben hooked his thumbs into the belt loops of his pants. "Doctor Feldman, I presume."

The ME looked at the black bundle. "What've we got here, a surprise package?" He crouched beside the bag and tore a large piece of it away from the girl's body, revealing her upper torso.

"Go easy," Tolliver cautioned him. "We might get some prints off that."

Feldman put his satchel down on the ground. He peered at the girl and then up at Tolliver, still grinning. Even his head resembled a bird's, with its prominent beak and shock of reddish hair. "What would you say, Lieutenant—an eight, maybe an eight and a half?"

Ben didn't bother to answer. He found undertaker jokes boring.

"Of course, she's not at her best this morning," Feldman went on. "No makeup, and she hasn't had breakfast." He stood up and waved to the two men of the ambulance crew. "Let's have the bag over here."

The medics opened a rubberized body bag and laid it flat beside the corpse. The CSU detective with the camera was snapping pictures. At Feldman's instruction, the medics picked up the body and placed it gently on the spread-out bag, then untied the twine and eased the black vinyl away from the still form. McGuire took the twine and the plastic bag, carefully depositing them in a sack that he labeled with a string tag. The girl lay on her back, the clean whiteness of her nude body contrasting sharply with the dirt and the broken bits of brick and concrete surrounding her.

Tolliver noticed the hard hats moving in for a closer look. "You guys can go get yourselves some more coffee," he said to them. "Check back here in a couple hours. You might be able to get back to work then." The men clambered up the bank and out the gate.


Excerpted from By Reason of Insanity by James Neal Harvey. Copyright © 1990 James Neal Harvey. 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.

Meet the Author

James Neal Harvey spent fifteen years in the advertising business before selling his company and devoting himself to writing. He made his hardcover debut in 1990 with By Reason of Insanity, which introduced NYPD detective Ben Tolliver.

Harvey followed Tolliver through four more novels, including Painted LadiesMental Case, and the concluding thriller, Dead Game. In 2011, Harvey published the nonfiction Sharks of the Air, a detailed history of the development of the first jet fighter, and in 2014, he returned to thrillers with The Big Hit, a mystery about an assassin. 
James Neal Harvey spent fifteen years in the advertising business before selling his company and devoting himself to writing. He made his hardcover debut in 1990 with By Reason of Insanity, which introduced NYPD detective Ben Tolliver.

Harvey followed Tolliver through four more novels, including Painted Ladies, Mental Case, and the concluding thriller, Dead Game. In 2011, Harvey published the nonfiction Sharks of the Air, a detailed history of the development of the first jet fighter, and in 2014, he returned to thrillers with The Big Hit, a mystery about an assassin. 

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By Reason of Insanity 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
it keeps you on your toes the entire time. you can never put it down. a non-stop thriller!! i liked it because it seemed so real and could happen. may be graphic for some people.