As a young girl in Baltimore, Kiernan O’Shaughnessy lived for gymnastics, where strict discipline and endless practice kept her centered even as her life fell apart. Her idol was stuntman Greg Gaige. Famous for pulling off the moves no one else could, and for scorning safety equipment, Gaige was the one man O’Shaughnessy truly admired. Ten years after Gaige’s tragic death, O’Shaughnessy is a private detective on the California coast, and a young female gymnast has come along to challenge Gaige’s crown. O’Shaughnessy goes to watch the girl attempt the death-defying Gaige Move, without a harness, on the edge of a seaside cliff. After a perfect landing, the ground gives way and the gymnast falls to her death. The police call it an accident, but O’Shaughnessy is determined to get the truth—in honor of her old hero, and for the young woman who looked up to him the way she did.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Susan Dunlap including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
High Fall is the 3rd book in the Kiernan O'Shaughnessy Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Susan Dunlap (b. 1943) is a prolific author of mystery novels. Born in the suburbs of New York, Dunlap majored in English at Bucknell College and earned a masters in teaching from the University of North Carolina. She was a social worker before an Agatha Christie novel inspired her to try her hand writing mysteries. Five attempts and five years later, she published Karma (1981), which began a ten book series about brash Berkeley cop Jill Smith. Since then, Dunlap has published more than twenty novels and numerous short stories. Her other ongoing characters include the meter-reading detective Vejay Haskell, medical examiner Kiernan O’Shaugnessy, and Zen student turned detective Darcy Loft. In addition to writing, Dunlap has taught yoga, worked as a paralegal, and helped found the women’s mystery organization Sisters In Crime. She lives in San Francisco.
Read an Excerpt
A Kiernan O'Shaughnessy Mystery
By Susan Dunlap
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Susan Dunlap
All rights reserved.
It was a pickup shot. The rest of the crew was already back in the studio in L.A. Film for every other scene was in the can. Yesterday there had been a hundred people racing around the set at Torrey Pines—the whole first unit, the stars, the director, production assistants up the wazoo, and media pushing through the wall of fans, cameras ready for a last shot of the Big Names.
Lark Sondervoil glanced around the cliffside parking lot at the crowd. Five hundred people? This was awesome. Normally a new-girl stunt woman doing a gag would draw no one besides the grips packing up the cameras and cables, right? And Production—those guys were sweating bullets, panicked about the crowd getting in the shot, tripping over the cordon, and suing the studio, or one camera-happy tourist with a flash ruining the scene or spooking her in the middle of her first big gag. Worried that they'd have to do another take and throw everything one more day behind schedule.
The electronic press kit had gone only to the media outlets, to get them to come to the press conference afterward. She'd never dreamed the shot would draw a crowd like this, even with the footage of Greg Gaige doing the Move, and the teaser:
THE GREAT GREG GAIGE IS DEAD, BUT HIS SENSATIONAL GYMNASTIC MOVE LIVES!
NO STUNT MAN HAS EVER DUPLICATED GAIGE'S ARTISTRY.
BUT A SPECTACULAR NEW STUNT WOMAN HAS BURST ON THE SCENE.
LARK SONDERVOIL WILL DO WHAT THEY SAID NO WOMAN COULD: THE GAIGE MOVE!
Lark had read it in The San Diego Union-Tribune and The La Jolla Light, and the words were set in her memory like hard metal type:
Nineteen-year-old Lark Sondervoil has recaptured the elusive Move that made Gaige the best stunt double of his time. But not even Gaige, once an Olympic hopeful, ever attempted the Move at a wild spot like Gliderport! Lark Sondervoil will perform the spectacular spiral flip Move and come to a stop at the edge of the bluff, nearly 400 feet above the beach!
"Even he"! Well, she'd set them straight about that at the press conference. After she wowed them with the Move. And the high fall gag that followed it.
The teaser ran on every TV station, in all the papers. The press loved all the connections—the film about a stunt woman, ending up with the Move a stunt man created for his Olympic gymnastic tryout years earlier, performed by the new girl in the business.
Now the set was mobbed. It was all Security could do to keep the crowds behind the ropes. Half of San Diego was here—with deck chairs, coolers, kids, and dogs—calling to friends, tossing balls, kicking up dirt, and gunning motorcycle and pickup engines. Whiffs of sweat and suntan lotion, garlic from the catering truck, and exhaust fumes cut the air. The production assistants were going crazy trying to keep enough quiet to shoot. Christ, they'd done twelve takes on scene 484! The Gaige Move, in 485, was next. But the whole schedule was so far behind, it'd be a miracle if they got to 485 and 486—the high fall—before the sun went down. Still, that wasn't her worry. She couldn't let this extraneous stuff spook her, not when she was going to do back-to-back the most important gags of her life.
She concentrated on her body, noting the hot southern California sun on her skin, the sharp afternoon wind scraping off the heat, snapping her hair in her face. She kicked at an outcropping of sunbaked sandstone and felt it hold momentarily, then crumple, SHEER UNSTABLE CLIFFS STAY BACK, the sign said. The cliffs she'd be falling off in scene 486. It must have taken centuries of wind to dig trenches that size in the bluff—like the spaces between a giant's fingers. So easy to stumble off those gnarled fingers. No, don't even think that! Worrying was a waste of time. You do your homework, then you're in control. That's how you survive in this business. There's no need, no point, to hamstring yourself by worrying, right? Right?
She was in control. She'd routined both gags; she'd gone over the plans again and again looking for flaws that weren't there; she knew what she was doing. For the high fall, she had checked out the sandstone; harnessed up, double-checked the harness attachment, then hooked onto the hundred-foot crane and rappelled herself over the cliff edge to check the catcher-trap that Cary Bleeker had constructed. Cary was compulsive about safety. He had to be, with his record. Still, she wasn't about to trust her life to him. You have to check everything you do and everyone else's work, too. Look at Brandon Lee, for chrissake; something goes wrong with the gun in a scene, and suddenly the blanks it's supposed to be firing are live ammo. Who would check for that? It's what you don't even think of that kills you.
She hadn't taken any chances; she'd lowered herself down, jumped into the catcher so hard, she thought she'd pull it off its moorings. Just as Cary had promised, it closed around her like a Venus's-flytrap—no chance of bouncing back out and down the 335 feet to the beach!
The high fall itself would be fine; it was the Gaige Move she was concerned about.
The wind tossed her hair, icing the sweat on her neck. Had Greg Gaige sweated out the last minutes on a set before the Move? Nobody asked that. They didn't care about Greg himself anymore. He was a legend now, and most of what was said about him was lies.
She had time for one more run-through on the Move, so the camera assistants could note where she touched down and put markers where they needed to focus. She strode to her start spot, three feet inside the inner cordon post, and stood, eyes closed, doing the Move in her mind step by step till she bounced to a stop and took the three stagger-steps back onto the camouflaged and well up-slanted cement slab three full yards from the bluff edge.
Now for the real run-through. She opened her eyes, looked neither right nor left, but took one breath and pushed off, running full out for the warning chain, leapt and cleared it, and landed easily on the ridge between two trenches. Two more steps near the fake ice plant that Special Effects had put down to cover the explosive charge that would "throw her" during the shoot. She jumped hard, pushed off into a double backflip away from the cliff edge, hit down on the balls of her feet, and flipped forward into a corkscrew twist—the Gaige Move. Feeling the hard ground under her feet, her arms grabbing air as if to catch herself, she did the three stagger-steps back to a stop, on the cement slab well clear of the bluff.
Perfect! She'd nailed the Gaige Move! The Move they said no woman would ever get! The sun blazed off the sandstone. Her heart beat so fast, she couldn't think, only feel. She felt full, glowing, invincible.
Then it was gone. The gag was over; life was ordinary again. She realized the crowd was clapping like mad, as if they knew they were watching history—the woman about to become the hottest stunt double in town.
'Course, if she screwed up the Move when the cameras were rolling, she'd never work again. No! She'd be fine. She'd nail it in one take.
She glanced quickly at the crowd. Maybe they weren't here to see the Gaige Move at all, but to be on the spot in case she muffed the high fall over the bluff and died in a broken heap on the beach below. Instantly, she shook off the thought. With the catcher on the side of the bluff and the wire she'd be wearing, the high fall would be almost a no-brainer. It was the Gaige Move that mattered.
"I'm going to miss it, Ez!" O'Shaughnessy grumbled to the Irish wolfhound in the back of the Jeep. "Okay, so it's my own fault. As if that ever made things better."
Gliderport was jammed with cars parked in double rows at the edges of the field and stashed every which way in the middle. People were pushing between them, rushing, half running toward the movie set at the end of the bluff. Half of San Diego is here for the high fall, Kiernan thought. Below, you probably can't see the beach for the people.
But it wasn't the high fall that Kiernan had raced to the bluff to watch. It was the Gaige Move that she couldn't bear to see again—and yet couldn't bear not to see. Her stomach roiled with the same churning she remembered from adolescence. It amazed her that Greg Gaige still had that effect on her. She had barely known him after all—had met him only twice, and the second time it had ended wrong. He'd been dead ten years now. But Greg Gaige had changed her life. In the gray of her childhood, with parents who spoke less and less, gymnastics had been her road back to the living; the road out. And he, who had been the star of Baltimore gymnasts ten years before she had, who had gone to Hollywood, had been the beacon. For years, her goal had been to match his gymnastic skill and share his Move.
Now the Move was to be done by neither Greg nor herself but by a nineteen-year-old girl. And Kiernan, used to weighing options, making informed decisions, and moving right on, had spent the day vacillating. At the last moment—after the last moment—she'd raced for the car and sped through rush-hour traffic to the bluff. And now, here, she'd be lucky to find a place to park before this girl attempted Greg's Move. Would she be rooting for her to nail the Move, or would she be hoping the girl fell on her face? That she wouldn't know till the first flip.
Pettiness was one of the things she really hated in people, and this eruption in herself—well, it wasn't making her day any better.
At the end of the parking area sat a line of wooden horses saddled with NO ADMITTANCE signs. Behind them, trailers and moving-van-size trucks blocked the view of the movie set. All that was visible was the arm of a giant crane. But peering between trucks, she could see people scurrying around—a good sign. The set wasn't yet silent, with the cameras rolling.
"How soon is the Gaige Move stunt?" she called out to a woman striding, walkie-talkie to ear.
Oh, God! She couldn't be this close—and miss the Move!
Fifteen yards ahead, a station wagon's taillights lit. A gust of gray belched from the exhaust pipe. The station wagon was pulling out! "O—kay, Ez! We just may make it." She gave the big dog's head a pat. The wagon backed out into the narrow lane of traffic and started forward. She eased her foot down on the gas. The sweat running down her back turned to a shower of relief.
A motorcycle shot around her and into the space.
Kiernan jammed on the brakes. The Jeep bounced; Ezra hit the seat with a thud and a yelp. "Ezra! Are you okay?" she said, quickly checking his head and paws before she leaped out to deal with the motorcyclist.
But the cyclist was off his Kawasaki and into the crowd racing toward the bluff.
"Hey, come back here!" she yelled, furious.
He glanced back at her sheepishly, or maybe he was just squinting against the sun, and moved on. He was favoring his left leg, but not enough to slow him down.
"Probably had to learn to limp fast," she muttered, getting back into the Jeep and slamming the door.
She sped to the far end of the parking area and pulled in next to a pickup. "We can still make it, Ez. The run'll do us both good," she said, watching him for telltale signs of injury as he loped toward the bluff. At just over five feet, she wasn't much taller than the giant wolfhound, and while she was running full out, he was barely in second gear. She held the leash loose, her hand resting on his back, and felt the comfort of their communal motion. The dry air ruffled her short dark curly hair and flapped the legs of her green walking shorts and lemon-yellow sleeveless shirt. A fanny pack, filled more with Ezra's needs than her own, bounced with each step.
As she neared the sawhorses and the trailers behind them, she slowed, somewhat calmed by the run. Sweat dripped off her face. Within the cordon, people were still moving on the set. The shoot hadn't started. It's ridiculous, she thought, that this should matter so much to me.
Slowing to a walk, she peered between the shoulders of the taller onlookers. The vans and trailers, generators and limousines, that separated the set from the parking area were well behind her now. Near the edge of the bluff stood the huge crane. Poking the eye of God, her uncle Matt would have said. Closer in was a spit-shined classic Buick, with piercing predusk sun glinting off its portholes. Black-sleeved wires wove through the dirt. Groups of men pored over Polaroid shots. Cameras were everywhere: secured to a platform, balanced on shoulders, held in hands. Two dowdy women with plastic honeycombed bags of brushes and hairspray cans dangling almost to the ground ambled toward the catering truck. Skirting them, drably dressed young men and women clutching their walkie-talkies raced around the set like cars on funhouse tracks. "Keep behind the lines," the nearest admonished the crowd. "If you have to take snapshots, don't use flashbulbs."
In the narrow lines of space between the trailers, Kiernan spotted Lark Sondervoil, the stunt woman, her long silky blond hair blowing in the gusts. Too delicate. Not tough enough for the Gaige Move; the thought was in her mind before she realized it. She stared at Lark, in an electric-blue leotard that highlighted her small rounded breasts, her tight butt and sleek muscular legs. There was no room for padding under the leotard—but then, if she executed the Gaige Move right, she wouldn't need it, she'd land on her feet—something, Kiernan thought with a start, that she herself had never managed.
But then, neither had any of the boys in her childhood gym. And they had trained with the coaches for months on the Move. It was a strength and agility move; for men, the coaches had insisted, not for girls. Not even for her, the only student who had made it to the Nationals. She had tried, last thing every day after four hours of scissor lifts, of balance-beam backflips, of releases on the uneven bars, of handstands and tumbling runs. When the others had trudged sweat-covered into the dressing rooms, their voices damped down, and the coaches began shifting mats and packing up wrist supports, she'd moved to the floor exercise mat and stood at the corner, running through the Gaige Move in her mind. The smell of garlic, onions, tomato sauce, and frying ham from stoves in the row houses upwind had flowed in on the cold drafts of winter. There had been time for only one try before the coaches shooed her out. One flip, one push, one back twist, one landing on her shoulder or head or face. And the only encouragement she received had been from the image of Greg Gaige, and he was long gone from Baltimore even then.
No one had ever duplicated the Gaige Move. But the poster of him doing the Move—grinning in the midst of it—hung like an icon on the gym wall.
Lark Sondervoil was tallish, with the long sinews of a dancer or a yogi. She wasn't built like Greg Gaige. Greg had been a tough city kid, with a small muscular body that said: Don't mess with me. Gymnastics had been his life. When he wasn't doing a stunt—a gag, they called it—or thinking about doing one, it was as if the air had been let out of him. Kiernan recalled that wary, hesitant look from the second time she had met him, on a movie shoot in San Francisco. She was out of medical school by then, and he was at the top of his stunt career. Then his call had come; his shoulders had straightened, his eyes no longer had seemed to lurk at the back of his sockets. His lips pressed firmly together, his eyes on his start mark, he'd strode to it and nailed the gag in one take.
And Lark Sondervoil—so elegant, so lithe yet strong, and so focused—could she really do the Move? Kiernan could almost feel Lark's muscles straining to start, her mind pulling in all her concentration, sucking all her energy into one explosive ball. If anyone ever could nail it—She ached with envy.
The noise around her grew louder and thicker, like the jumble of calls and music at her childhood gym. Abruptly, she brushed away the memories. She was over forty years old. She had been a forensic pathologist, and now she ran her own investigation agency, which provided well enough for her to have a servant clean her house, cook her meals, and take Ezra for five-mile runs on the beach every morning. How could she be jealous of a nineteen-year-old girl?
Excerpted from High Fall by Susan Dunlap. Copyright © 1994 Susan Dunlap. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Susan Dunlap truly puts her all into this book. Some might consider it her best yet. This mystery thriller is set around the movie scene, creating excitement and commotion. With it's many surprising turns, it is sure to keep you on your toes. Lark Sondervoil, a nineteen-year-old stuntwoman, new to the business, is hired onto the set of the newest action flick. She is to perform one of the hardest stunts known to man, 'The Gaige move'. 'The Gaige Move' is a stunt invented by Greg Gaige who died years back while performing. He has been the only person to complete this move correctly. Lark believes if she can somehow pull this move off and be the first woman to perform it; then she will be able to make it big in the business. After preparing for the big scene all day, Lark performs the move. Within one take she nails it perfectly. Then she must follow it up a gag, the stunt that takes place afterward. But something goes wrong while she is doing this and she takes a sudden fall. She falls off a cliff down about 150 ft. and is found dead. No one can figure out how this could have possibly happened, after all the thought and planning that went into this. Kieran a detective is hired to investigate the scene to see how this managed to happen. Since Greg had passed away performing this exact gag, uses his death to help solve the mystery only to find he didn't actually die. As the papers are publishing stories and articles about Lark's death and her investigation, Greg begins helping Kieran investigate and solve the mystery. Together the two are able to unravel the mystery behind Lark's death. Although the story is enjoyable, he characters are far off and unrealistic. They are very cookie-cutter and storybook like. Some of the things said by characters are unbelievable. I think many of you should read this book because you will find it not only enjoyable but also intriguing. To figure out the exciting ending to this mystery you'll need to read this book. Once you have started you won't be able to put it down until the surprising end.