Formula of Deception: A Novel

Formula of Deception: A Novel

by Carrie Stuart Parks


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“I love Carrie Stuart Parks’s skill in writing characters with hysterical humor, unwitting courage and page-turning mystery. I hope my readers won’t abandon me completely when they learn about her!” —Terri Blackstock, USA TODAY bestselling author of If I Run, If I’m Found, and If I Live

An artist hiding from an escaped killer uncovers one of World War II’s most dangerous secrets—a secret that desperate men will do anything to keep hidden.

After the murder of her twin sister, Murphy Anderson changed her name and appearance and moved to Kodiak, Alaska, to avoid the press and publicity. But when local authorities discover she’s an artist and request her help in drawing a dying man’s memories, she unintentionally ends up in the limelight again—and back in the killer’s crosshairs.

The deathbed confessions of an Alaskan hunter have Murphy drawing the five bodies he discovered on remote Ruuwaq Island ten years ago. But what investigators find has them mystified. Evidence suggests that the bodies were deliberately destroyed, and what they uncover in an abandoned Quonset hut from World War II only brings more questions.

As one by one the investigators who were at the hut die, Murphy knows there is something much darker at stake. What happened on this island during the war? And who is willing to kill to keep its secrets buried?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718083854
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 355,409
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Read an Excerpt


Murphy Andersen's mission to Kodiak Island was about to collide with her lies. She hadn't planned on getting in so deep.

But here she was in a dying Russian's bedroom, with a cop standing beside her.

The stench of Vasily Scherbakov's deteriorating flesh engulfed her. She blinked and breathed through her mouth.

"Cancer's a nasty way to die," Detective Elin Olsson whispered.

Boy howdy, you can say that again. "I'm used to such things.

You know, messy crime scenes, dead bodies, stuff like that." Liar.

The Russian Orthodox priest standing beside the bed inspected Murphy from head to foot.

She'd already ducked her head and turned it sideways. They always stared at the scar first, the angry red one that split her eyebrow and continued down to her cheek. Her oversized glasses hid some of it, but not enough. She studied her scuffed shoe tips, waiting for his scrutiny to continue. Despite her cheerful scarf, he no doubt noted the threadbare navy blazer, stained shell blouse, and too-big khaki slacks.

A quick peek told her the audit was over. Here came part two.

The priest spoke with a slight Russian accent. "But she is a child. A young girl."

Bingo. It never failed. It came from her short stature, thin

The priest turned to Vasily. "Eta genshina budet risovat' litso mugzhiny kotorogo vy videli. Ya ne dal ey nikakoy informacii."

He took the words right out of her mouth. She stared at the floor until she could control her grin. Too little sleep, not enough coffee, and her own nerves only led to the giggles. Once the mirth passed, she pulled up a chair to the bed, sat, and opened her art bag. She removed the packet of mug photos — provided by Detective Olsson — a pad of bristol paper, and a pencil.

"What did you tell him?" Murphy asked the priest.

"You are the art lady."

Detective Olsson smiled. "The priest has offered to translate for the interview."

That didn't sound good. Rather like watching a foreign-language film with subtitles. The actors always said more than what appeared on the screen. "Vasily doesn't speak any English?"

"His English is limited," Father Ivanov said. "He understands it better than he speaks it."

"I just hope you can understand my Virginia accent, y'all."

Murphy smiled slightly at Vasily.

"I thought you said West Virginia?" Detective Olsson asked.

"That's where I worked." Murphy nodded quickly.

Detective Olsson looked at the priest. "Where is the woman who called this in? She seemed distraught."

"His caretaker, Irina. Yes, she was very upset. She's one of my parishioners. I wish she would have talked to me before calling you. She'll be in later today to look after Vasily. Do you want to interview her?"

"I do. I just want to be sure I cover all the bases."

He nodded.

Murphy sat on a hard and uncomfortable chair as spartan as Vasily's bedroom. A wooden icon of the Virgin Mary was the sole item on the wall. The furniture consisted of two straight-backed chairs, a nightstand covered with prescription bottles, and a metal cot. A faded piece of cadmium-red calico fabric blocked the closet, and a matching curtain sagged at the window.

Vasily lay on the bed, quilt pulled almost to his chin. His chalk-white skin stretched across his skull, and wisps of fine, light brown hair haloed his head. His skeletal hands clutched the blanket while his sunken eyes watched her.

"Good morning, Vasily," Murphy said. "May I call you by your first name?" She was grateful when he nodded, considering she couldn't pronounce his last name.

"Well, Vasily, my name is Murphy Andersen. I've been asked to draw a portrait from your memory. I have no idea what you saw, other than Detective Olsson said it's a cold case."

"Technically, it's a new case from the past. The Alaska State Troopers have asked us to do the preliminary interviews." Detective Olsson moved to the foot of the bed. "We're taking your report seriously and have several technicians on their way. Maybe you could tell Murphy what you saw."

Vasily straightened slightly, adjusted his blanket, and began speaking in Russian, never taking his eyes from Murphy's face. He spoke for some time before pausing to cough. The priest held a glass of water to Vasily's lips.

The room was overheated. Murphy clamped her jaw shut to stop the yawn that threatened to emerge and peeked at her watch. The sun rose early and stayed up late in Alaska's June, and she'd been awake since 4:00 a.m., too nervous to sleep with the upcoming interview. Her eyelids felt like gravel pits.

Vasily had taken a sip of water from the priest, closed his eyes, then waved for Ivanov to translate.

She prepared to take notes.

The priest took the chair next to her. "Vasily hunted on various islands, first with his father and uncles, later alone. About ten years ago he was hunting on Ruuwaq Island when he stumbled across five men."

"Five men?" she asked. "No women?"

"No," Vasily answered, then waved Ivanov to continue.

The priest leaned forward. "He remembers one man's face as if it were yesterday."

"I see." She glanced at the blank paper. "And what were the men doing that was so memorable?"

"Doing?" The priest raised his eyebrows. "They weren't doing anything. They were dead."

"Dead. Of course, but are we talking about an accident? Murder?"

Father Ivanov spoke briefly to Vasily in Russian, listened to his reply, then said, "He says it looked like they killed each other with their bare hands."


Heat rushed to Murphy's face and a buzzing started in her brain. She stared at the priest for a moment. "Okay then." She cleared her throat. Remember, Sherlock Holmes never fainted. "You saw five men. Am I drawing five composites?"

"No," Vasily said, then spoke to the priest for a moment.

The priest nodded, then looked at Murphy. "He'll describe the man he saw first, the one nearest to him. He glanced at all five bodies but only remembers that one face clearly. He fled the island after that."

"Okay, one drawing it is."

"If you could," Detective Olsson said, "maybe you could do a second drawing as well — a rough sketch of how all the men were arranged. The crime scene."

Nodding, she jotted a note to remind herself. The dying man stared at her expectantly, but somehow it seemed wrong to just jump into the description. "Mr. ... ah ... Vasily, let's start with your arrival on Ruuwaq Island that day. What kind of day was it?"

"Gray. Dark," Vasily answered.

"And how did you feel?" she asked.

He raised his eyebrows but answered, "Like hunting."

"Tell me about the island."

Vasily spoke for a time to Father Ivanov. The priest listened intently, bending forward in his chair, then turned to her. "He said the island is tiny, treeless, and mostly bordered by cliffs. The south side is low but is filled with treacherous rocks and currents. Because of that, few hunters bother with it. Vasily thought he could climb the cliff on the northeast side. With the icy conditions, it took him part of a day to reach the top. The land sloped to the ocean, with a rockslide on his right near the water. He saw nothing to hunt and was about to leave, but then he spotted piles of clothing near the rocks. The wind shifted and he smelled ... death."

"Picture in your mind walking to the bodies. Mentally look around you. What's going on?"

"Wind cold in my face, light rain," Vasily answered.

"What did you hear?"

He spoke to the priest. "He could hear the ocean waves crashing and seagulls," Father Ivanov said.

"Now how were you feeling?"

Again Vasily spoke to the priest. Ivanov listened, then patted the man's hand before turning to her. "He said the wind was icy, but the cold filled his heart. He didn't want to look. He wanted to run away from that terrible place."

She understood. She would have hightailed it out of there the second she spotted the clothing. "I admire your bravery," she said to Vasily. "Tell me about the man you saw, the one you remember so clearly."

Vasily launched into more Russian. When he finished, Father Ivanov said, "He believes all five were Asian. The one he remembers was a small, thin man, possibly in his twenties. Black hair, medium skin color, big teeth."

"Big teeth?"

"I suspect he means the lips were drawn backward so he could see all his teeth." Ivanov spoke to Vasily for a moment, then nodded.

"How long do you think they had been dead?"

Vasily spoke. "Not long time."

She tugged the packet of mug photos out of her art bag and handed them to Vasily. "Please go through these photos and find people who look like the man you saw. Point to the ones who look similar and I'll write it down."

The dying man took the mug shots and dumped them on the bed. Almost immediately he selected one and pointed at an oval face. She took the photo from him and made note of it. In different images he indicated a high forehead, coarse black hair combed backward, and almond-shaped eyes with epicanthic eye folds. The nose was average in length, though somewhat broad at the end. Rather thin lips rounded out his selection. Murphy made a note that the lips were pulled away from the teeth and would be stretched out and flattened. She'd draw them fuller in the sketch. Vasily's face had grown even paler during the facial selection. He returned the unselected photos to the bag and gave it to her. She put it away, then opened her pad of paper to a clean sheet. "Could you sketch some stick figures to show how the bodies were lying?"

Vasily nodded. She handed him the sketchpad and pencil. With a few strokes, he drew five stick figures on the paper, then put an X on the body farthest from the others. "This one I saw best."

"Where were they in relation to the rockslide?"

Vasily drew a line across one side, then handed her the pad.

After studying the sketches, she asked, "Did you ever return to Ruuwaq Island?"

"No." His voice was a whisper.

"Why did you wait so long to tell anyone what you saw?"

The priest cleared his throat and glanced at Detective Olsson. "Vasily hasn't had the best relationship with law enforcement."

Pulling out a piece of drafting velum, Murphy placed it over Vasily's rough sketch and drew prone bodies, then held it up. "What should I change to make this look more like what you saw?"

He closed his eyes as if unwilling to revisit the scene, then pointed to two figures. He made his fingers into claws, then wrapped his hands around his throat to show strangulation.

"They were strangling each other?"

He nodded.

She changed the drawing.

Pointing to a third man, Vasily made his hand into a fist and struck the bed.

"This man was beaten? With a fist?" she asked.

Vasily nodded. "And rock."

Once again she made the changes, then turned the rockslide line into a drawing of rocks. "Now what should I change?" She held up the image.

"One rock by two men look like table."

She drew a rectangular rock parallel to the two men, then showed him the drawing. "Now what?"

"Nothing." Vasily shrank into his pillow.

She closed the sketchpad, removed her glasses, and took Vasily's hands in hers. "Vasily, thank you for sharing this memory. I'll take this home with me and bring the drawings back when I'm finished for you to correct. Was there anything else I should have asked you or you wanted to say?"

Vasily blinked at her several times, then started to talk. The Russian words tumbled over each other as he barely paused for breath.

Father Ivanov leaned backward in his chair, his gaze going from Vasily to Murphy.

Vasily didn't notice. He continued to speak, now with spittle forming at the corners of his mouth.

Murphy watched the man's face, nodding as if she understood what he was saying.

The flow of words ended and Vasily closed his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered. His skin had turned ashen, with delicate purple veins crossing his eyelids. His grip on her hands relaxed.

Her heart pounded in her ears. Is he dead? Did I just kill him?

A hand clutched her arm.

She jumped.

Detective Olsson tugged at her. "Come."

She put on her glasses, picked up the art bag, and allowed the other woman to lead her into the living room.

"What was that all about?" the detective asked.

"I don't know. Is he ..?"

"Dead? No, he's still breathing."

Murphy let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "Maybe he was remembering more details —"

"No." Father Ivanov gently closed the bedroom door behind him and entered the living room. "Nothing new about the deaths. It was as if ..." He stared upward, his eyes unfocused.

"As if what?" Detective Olsson asked.

"As if he needed to unburden himself of every evil deed he'd ever done."

Murphy shivered slightly. She was glad she didn't understand Russian.

"So, a final confession." The detective folded her arms.

"In the Russian Orthodox faith, you don't confess to the priest. You confess to God in the presence of the priest."

"Like I said —"

"No. This was ... different." He shook his head and his gaze sharpened on Murphy. "He seemed to want to share with you. He certainly opened up."

"I didn't do anything." Murphy shifted her weight from one leg to the other. "I think he just needed to have someone near, holding his hand."

Detective Olsson raised her eyebrows at the priest. "She has a point. I don't suppose you've been holding hands with the man ..."

Father Ivanov stiffened. "It's not my place —"

She held up her hands. "Just pulling your chain, Father. We'll return with the completed drawings as soon as Murphy is finished.

From what I understand, seeing the completed sketch usually triggers additional memories. Vasily may remember a whole lot more information."

The priest folded his arms. "That's good. I'll pray that your drawings turn out well."

She reached for the door. "Come on, Murphy, let's get those sketches done."

Murphy paused before leaving. "Thank you, Father Ivanov. I appreciate your translating." She could feel his gaze, not much less disapproving than when she'd arrived, on her back as she closed the front door.

Detective Olsson slipped into the police SUV and waited for her. Murphy climbed in, rubbing her hands together to warm them.

"After the caretaker reported this story to me three days ago," the detective said, "I followed up with Father Ivanov, then looked for missing-persons reports in that time frame. No luck. Not one, let alone five. Then I had to figure out where Vasily hunted. With the large number of islands in the Kodiak Archipelago, plus almost seventy in the Aleutian Island chain stretching across almost seventeen hundred miles, that was a lot of territory to cover."

"But he gave you the name."

Detective Olsson started the engine and pulled away from Vasily's tiny home.

"Ruuwaq Island was what he called it, but that's not the official name. I called up all the pilots I knew and described the island. Butch Patterson, a retired trooper with Alaska Wildlife, finally came up with a possibility. I had him fly over the island yesterday to see if he could spot anything. He said the rockslide was there, but nothing else, at least that he could see from the air. He suggested I have Jake Swayne, his replacement, take Bertie, the crime-scene tech, out there tomorrow morning."


"Roberta Fisher, from Anchorage. State crime lab." She pulled out onto the street. "I told Bertie you were doing our sketches. She, ah, she's asked if you'd go with her."


"She said she needed help. I offered a couple of deputies, but none of them can even write their name legibly, let alone diagram a scene. I assume you've done crime-scene diagramming before."

"Of course." Murphy felt herself skidding down that slippery slope of lies.

Detective Olsson turned toward Murphy's apartment. The sun was well up in the cloudless sky in spite of the early hour.

"I suppose a boat ride —"

"Not boat. Floatplane."


"You're not afraid of flying in a small plane, are you?"

"I don't think so. I see them every day taking off and landing, but I've never flown in one." She thought for a moment. "Back to Ruuwaq, how did the men get on the island in the first place? Vasily didn't mention seeing a boat."

"Good question." They soon pulled up in front of Murphy's place. "Call me when you finish those drawings." The detective handed her a business card. "You can drop them off at the station, or I'll send someone to pick them up."

"I don't have a car, Detective, so sending someone would be a good idea."

"Call me Elin. How do you get around?"

"Bicycle." Murphy grabbed her art bag, stepped from the car, and closed the door.


Excerpted from "Formula of Deception"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Carrie Stuart Parks.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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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