The next thrilling novel in the all new Colletti series from acclaimed author Solomon Jones
Just weeks after tracking down a killer known as the Angel of Death, Detective Mike Coletti stands at Mary Smithson's grave, mourning the woman whose betrayal nearly cost him his life. He's joined there by Mary's beautiful half-sister, Lenore. Moments later, a gunshot splits the air, placing Coletti on a collision course with the Gravedigger, a killer hell-bent on deciphering the secret of life and death. As bodies drop and tensions mount, clues are plucked from the victims, and one thing is abundantly clear—Lenore is the killer's ultimate target. But to stop the Gravedigger, Coletti and his partners must go beyond protecting Lenore. They must go to the one place where life and death routinely meet. They must go back to the grave.
About the Author
SOLOMON JONES is an Essence bestselling author. He is an award-winning columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and a member of the authors group, the Liars Club. Jones teaches creative writing at Temple University. He lives in Philadelphia with his family, and is currently at work on his next novel.
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author. He has written novels including The Dead Man's Wife and The Gravedigger's Ball, and is an award-winning columnist whose journalistic works have been published in Essence and the Philadelphia Daily News. He lives in Philadelphia with his family and is currently at work on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Gravedigger's Ball
A Coletti Novel
By Solomon Jones
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Solomon Jones
All rights reserved.
It was 9 A.M. on a Wednesday, and a late autumn breeze swept in off the Schuylkill River as Detective Mike Coletti strode through the Fairgrounds Cemetery.
As he passed between centuries-old crypts, Coletti thought of his young partner, Charlie Mann, whose crack marksmanship had saved Coletti from the serial killer who was now buried there.
In some ways, Coletti wished that Mann had allowed him to die in the showdown with the killer. That way, Coletti wouldn't be wrestling with a loss no one could understand, or walking toward a grave he didn't want to see.
But Coletti knew, deep down, that the grief he felt was just another in a long line of enemies that he'd spent his life fighting — enemies that in many ways were extensions of himself.
In his youth, Coletti had struggled against his desire to cross the line between cops and criminals on South Philly's mob-controlled streets. In the department, he'd struggled against authority, and in doing so, he'd crippled his career. In private, he'd struggled against the demons of pride, rebellion, and apathy.
Today, Coletti would confront his demons, and he would do it where they lived — in his heart. He would either win the battle that raged within him or he would die fighting, but Coletti couldn't allow his demons to consume him. Not anymore.
He cut an unusual figure as he crossed the sprawling cemetery. His dark Mediterranean features were topped by salt-and-pepper hair. His pants and rumpled trench coat were accented by coffee stains. But it was his facial expression — grim and determined, angry even — that set him apart from the mourners that usually visited the cemetery.
When he finally caught sight of the grave he'd come to visit, he saw something odd out of the corner of his eye. It was a brightly colored vinyl banner strung on the cemetery's wrought iron gate. It looked out of place among the acres of headstones.
"Gravedigger's Ball," it read. "November 14th. A black-tie fund-raiser at Tookesbury Mansion. Go to Fairgroundscemetery.com for ticket information."
Coletti had heard of the annual fund-raiser that helped to maintain the historic graveyard where burials were now a rarity, but he'd never paid attention, and in truth, he didn't care about it now.
He looked once more at the banner and kept walking. Then he felt someone's eyes at his back. He turned around and saw two women standing near a grave. The younger one was staring at him as the cemetery's swirling wind blew her blond hair across her face.
Coletti turned away from her, scowling as he thought of the things that had happened the last time a woman had looked at him that way. He thought of the confession in the art gallery, the bodies in the churches, the clues in the prophecy, the Angel of Death.
He thought of the way he'd looked past all those things to stare back at that woman. He thought of the resultant carnage.
Coletti couldn't afford to be distracted anymore. He'd come to the graveyard for a purpose, and he was going to accomplish it.
As he drew nearer to the grave, the dead leaves in the cemetery crunched beneath his feet. He smiled at the way they crackled and split. The sound reminded him of his heart.
Of course, no one knew the true depths of Coletti's heartbreak, and if he could help it, no living person ever would. Where Coletti came from, you didn't pour out your heart. Not if you were pushing sixty. Men from Coletti's generation kept their feelings to themselves, or they whispered them in confessional booths to priests. They didn't tell their wives. They didn't tell their children. They didn't tell anyone. They simply lived with it.
That wouldn't work for Coletti this time. He'd seen too much misery while investigating the string of killings that had almost cost him his life. But in all he'd witnessed, he didn't see the thing that mattered most. He didn't see her lies.
Coletti could live with many things, but he couldn't live with that, so he walked through the cemetery and stopped at the grave of the woman whose deception had almost killed him.
He stood there and took a deep breath as he looked at the small, flat stone that marked Mary Smithson's grave. Then he bent down and placed a white rose upon it as he whispered the words that he'd thus far kept to himself.
"You spit on my heart," he said bitterly. "But at least I know I have a heart now. That's more than I could say before I met you."
Coletti glanced over his shoulder self-consciously. He wasn't used to speaking to the dead, but he was here now, and he was determined to get it all out, no matter how awkward it felt.
"I guess the worst part is that I trusted you," he said, looking down at the tiny grave marker. "I let my guard down, and you hit me so fast and so hard I didn't even know it until it was too late."
He shook a Marlboro loose from a near-empty pack and lit it as his heart filled with grief, then with pain, then with regret. Taking a long drag, he released the acrid smoke into the air and stood there, savoring his first and only cigarette of the day.
For a long time, he stared at the grave, his mind filled with a mixture of love and hate so volatile he felt as if it would explode. "You lied to me, Mary. But I lied to myself too, didn't I? I lied when I told myself a young, smart woman like you would want a lonely old cop like me. I lied while you kept on killing, and the craziest part of it all, the part that eats me up every time I think about it ..." He paused as the anger and grief welled up inside him. "The part that kills me is that I loved you anyway."
Coletti took another drag of the cigarette. Then he plucked it away and stood at the grave as the autumn breeze whispered through his unkempt hair.
"But that's all in the past, isn't it?" He looked down at the ground with a sorrow he'd been holding on to for months. "If I didn't learn anything else from all this, I learned that it doesn't pay to hold on to the past."
But the past was all he had, so he stood at her grave and closed his eyes and tried to picture her. Not as the crazed killer who'd perished in the abandoned warehouse, but as the woman he'd loved almost from the moment they met. He wanted to remember her smiling and full of life, with a sparkle in her eye and a laugh that was almost musical.
Maybe if he remembered her that way he could stop being so angry at her. Maybe he could even forgive himself.
When finally he opened his eyes, he saw something curious. About thirty feet to his left, the young woman he'd seen earlier was walking toward him, taking each step with a sense of purpose that was vaguely familiar. She didn't sashay with the self-awareness of a woman who knew she was being watched. Rather, she moved in fits and starts, with the confused look of someone who was searching for something.
As she moved toward him, Coletti saw that her lips, bow-shaped and thin, were set in a perplexed line, and her brow was furrowed in a look of determination. None of this was particularly interesting to Coletti. When he saw her eyes, however, his curiosity quickly morphed into something between anxiety and fear.
This woman, with eyes that were at once intense and alluring, was a younger version of Mary. She had the same pale skin and wide face, the same sensuality and windswept hair, the same sense of purpose that had driven Mary to the grave. Yet something in this woman's face was different.
As she drew closer, Coletti saw what it was. She was worried about something, and worry was an expression he'd never seen on Mary's face.
Unable to speak, think, or move, the old detective just stared. Before he knew it, she was beside him, and though he wanted to stop himself from looking at her, he couldn't. She didn't seem to care.
Standing there next to him, she silently looked down at the grave for a full minute before she even acknowledged his presence.
"You're Detective Coletti," she said, looking up at him with the same blue eyes that had instantly drawn him to Mary Smithson. "I read a lot about you right after Mary died."
"I, uh ..." He stumbled for the words before finally blurting out, "You look a lot like her."
The woman smiled sadly. "She was my sister — genetically, at least."
"You must've been closer to her than the rest of the family. I talked to her father after she died, and none of them had any interest in coming here to stand for her burial."
"I'm not surprised," the woman said, glancing at the grave once more. "They're an insular bunch. They don't like to be questioned, and they don't take too kindly to outsiders."
"You sound like you speak from experience."
"I do." She extended her hand. "My name is Lenore Wilkinson. Mary and I shared a father, but not much else."
Coletti reached out and shook her hand. Her skin was soft and smooth, but her grip was surprisingly strong. "Mary mentioned you," Coletti said.
"Mostly angry accusations, I bet. Let's see. ... My mother was a whore who stole Mary's father and embarrassed her mom in front of the fifty-nine people who lived in that sprawling metropolis called Dunmore."
"You sound a little angry yourself," Coletti said.
"Maybe a little. Wouldn't you be angry if people hated you just for being born?"
"I guess you've got a point."
Lenore looked down at the grave marker. "That's what makes this whole thing such a struggle for me. On the one hand, I hate Mary and her family for the things they said about my mother and me, and on the other hand I'm curious about Mary. I don't understand how she could kill all those people, especially since she was supposed to be the smart one."
"She was the smart one," Coletti said in a faraway voice. "So smart she almost killed me."
Lenore looked at him, looked through him, really. "And you loved her in spite of that," she said with a certainty that was unnerving.
As he contemplated an answer to the truth she somehow knew, the air between them thickened and the moment seemed to expand. They both felt it. When Coletti turned around to see why the atmosphere had suddenly changed, the stillness was shattered.
The sound of a gunshot exploded through the graveyard. Coletti grabbed Lenore as he dove to the ground and snatched his weapon from the shoulder holster beneath his trench coat.
About fifty yards in front of them and to their left, a dark figure crossed Coletti's line of vision and walked between the gravestones. "Stay here," Coletti said to Lenore.
Coletti got up and ran toward the spot where he'd seen the dark figure, but when he got there, the area was filled only with an eerie stillness. He looked frantically around him as he made his way through the maze of headstones and crypts, spires and mausoleums that peppered the sprawling graveyard.
As he did so, the sounds of nearby traffic seemed to fade. Joggers slowed on Kelly Drive — the tree-lined, scenic road that wound along the Schuylkill's banks. The sky was silent, the river still. Coletti could hear the sound of his own breathing and the crunch of leaves beneath his feet. He was sure the gunman could hear them, too, so he stopped moving and tried to get his bearings.
Everywhere he looked, it seemed, there was an angle, a corner, a hiding place where a man could lie in wait. As soon as Coletti started moving again, he rounded one such corner, and on the other side of a mausoleum, he saw the dark figure again, just a few feet away.
His face was pasty and white. His mustache was thick and crooked, and his high, wide forehead was topped by stringy black hair that was parted and combed to the left. He was wearing a long black topcoat with the wide lapels of centuries gone by and a bow tie that hung limp against a high-collared shirt.
"Don't move!" Coletti shouted.
The man looked at him with coal-black eyes and disappeared behind an ornate headstone.
"Hey!" Coletti yelled, running to catch him. But when Coletti rounded the headstone, the man was gone.
Holding his gun out in front of him, the detective looked left, then right, then left again, scanning the cemetery for the man whose cold, dead eyes made him look as if he'd climbed out from one of the graves.
When he didn't see him, Coletti walked forward slowly, watching and waiting for the figure to emerge from the shadows. Slowly, agonizingly, the seconds ticked by, and Coletti began to wonder if the man he'd seen was himself a shadow.
Doubling back and retracing his steps to the spot where he'd first seen the man, Coletti rounded the corner of the mausoleum and nearly stumbled into a deep hole. He caught himself just as he looked down into what appeared to be a freshly dug grave. At the bottom was a green piece of tarp with a body on top.
The dead woman was gray-haired and thin, lying flat on her back with eyes stretched wide and a string of pearls hanging loosely around her neck. Coletti couldn't see any blood. Just a smear of what appeared to be dirt around her mouth.
For a moment, Coletti stood there, unsure of what he was seeing. He hadn't seen the hole in the ground when he passed by the first time, but there it was now, with a dead woman staring up from the bottom.
Coletti's breath came faster. He held his gun tightly and took ten steps, hoping to see the man in black again. He stopped on the other side of the mausoleum, listening to nothing, and the longer he stood there, the more stubborn the silence seemed. Then suddenly he heard the crackle of footsteps on leaves. He swung around and aimed in the direction of the sound.
"Wait!" Lenore screamed, shielding her face with her hands as she looked down the barrel of Coletti's gun.
The detective sighed and lowered his weapon. "I thought I told you to stay put."
"I was afraid," Lenore said in a quaking voice.
"Looks like you should've been," he said, taking her hand and leading her over to the grave.
"Oh my God," she whispered when she looked down and saw the body.
"That's the woman you were with, isn't it?"
Lenore nodded slowly and swallowed hard. "Her name is Clarissa Bailey. She was showing me around the graveyard."
Coletti spotted something at the edge of the grave. "What's this?" he said, bending down for a closer look.
Lenore looked over his shoulder as he used a stick to turn over the small piece of parchmentlike paper.
Coletti squinted as he read the words that were typed on the sheet. "Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before."
He looked at Lenore. "Do you have any idea what that might mean?"
Lenore shook her head and looked away from the body. She appeared to be growing ill. Coletti looked away, too. He could feel himself growing suspicious.
Just then, something rustled the branches of a nearby tree. Coletti turned and aimed his gun in the direction of the sound, but lowered it when he realized that it was merely a bird.
As they watched the black, crowlike creature fly into the distance, Coletti wondered how Mary's sister was connected to the victim. Then he wondered if the only witness to the murder had just flown away.
* * *
By nine thirty, swirling dome lights from a dozen police cars filled the cemetery. Boats from the department's Marine Unit trolled the river, a helicopter hovered overhead, and police flooded Fairmount Park, the acres-wide swath of woodlands that flanked the graveyard and extended along both sides of the river.
Officer Frank Smith was among them, and he was determined to find the suspect, because doing so might finally get him out of the park.
He'd been banished to park duty two years before, reassigned from the ninth district after a high-profile drug conviction was overturned because he badly mishandled evidence.
Despite that blemish on his record, he was a cop's cop. Known to his fellow officers as Smitty, he was hewn from a long line of men who'd stood on the front lines of the city's war on crime. He was proud of that distinction and anxious to carry on the legacy of his forebears.
Smitty had done so in the ninth, having foiled bank robberies and muggings on more than one occasion. But here, in the park, he was left to patrol a sector that included five acres of woods, three baseball diamonds, two eighteenth-century mansions, and a broken-down amphitheater.
He spent most of his time rousting couples who stayed in the park after the ten o' clock curfew or writing tickets for people who raced their cars along the park's winding roads.
Excerpted from The Gravedigger's Ball by Solomon Jones. Copyright © 2011 Solomon Jones. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoy reading Solomon's work so when I saw this book and read that it was going to be a collection of novels featuring detective Coletti I instantly purchased the first in the collection "The Last Confession" and this one "The Gravediggers Ball." I bought both books on my Nook to take on vacation with me to Jamaica and if I weren't on vacation it wouldn't have taken me only a day each to read both books, that's how utterly amazing they both are. I can't wait on the 3rd book to come out and in fact I've written to Mr. Jones to inquire about the release and as luck would have it, he is already working on the 3rd installment of the Coletti novels.... I can't wait to see what happens next in the upcoming book it appears they just keep getting better....