NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY LIBRARY JOURNAL AND SUSPENSE MAGAZINE
In the hushed quiet of early morning Manhattan, in front of the towering bronze doors of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, a young woman holds a sign that reads: HELP ME. For one FBI agent, a madman’s terrified hostages, and an entire city, a long and harrowing day is about to unfold.
The hostage taker’s identity is unknown. But he knows who FBI agent Eve Rossi is—and everything about her past. Along with her presence, he demands five witnesses: ordinary people with some hidden connection. Defying her superiors, Eve begins a deadly dance with an adversary whose intentions are surely sinister, whose endgame is anything but certain, and whose cunning keeps him one step ahead at every turn.
As Eve manages a taut hostage situation, she relies on the combined skills of her team—a secret unit inspired by France’s most notorious criminal and made up of ex-convicts with extraordinary talents, oversized egos, and contempt for the rules.
Eve is up against a rapidly ticking clock. But the dangerous man calling the shots has a timetable of his own—and a searing question for his targets: What are you guilty of? As shocking revelations surface, so does another crisis nobody could anticipate—one not even Eve and her team may be able to stop.
Praise for Hostage Taker
“A high-voltage game of parry and thrust.”—New York Daily News
“The perfect blend: an urban thriller as modern as tomorrow’s New York Times, driven by a two-hundred-year-old idea, with a main character to die for. I hope we see plenty more of Eve Rossi and her team.”—Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Personal
“The concept is great. . . . The twists are good, and the emotion level climbs higher and higher. . . . Pintoff has serious potential to go into waters already charted by the likes of Lisa Gardner, Tami Hoag, and Allison Brennan.”—Sarah Weinman, The Crime Lady
“Amazing . . . [Hostage Taker] will keep you awake nights. . . . The book boasts a dynamic heroine. . . . You will never look at the beauties of the complicated structure that is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York quite the same again.”—Liz Smith, New York Social Diary
“A high-velocity roller coaster of a thriller!”—Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author of The Skin Collector
“A brilliant thriller from a gifted writer . . . Pintoff is one of the best crime writers at work today.”—Michael Koryta, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Wish Me Dead
“A gripping conclusion . . . tense and thoughtful . . . a sharp new crime series.”—Nights and Weekends
“Pintoff skillfully ratchets up the tension and throws more than one curveball into this twisty, exciting read.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Strong writing, a well-paced plot, and intriguing characters make this one of the best thrillers of the year. Fans of Lisa Gardner will find much to like here.”—Library Journal (starred review)
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Good day, New York!
It’s 41 degrees right now in Midtown, with heavy rain and fog for your morning commute. Luckily, we expect these soggy conditions to be out of here by lunchtime. But bring a fleece lining for those raincoats, because temperatures will continue to plummet throughout the day.
Today is a Gridlock Alert Day, due to tonight’s Tree Lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, which we’ll have live coverage of beginning at seven p.m. We expect tens of thousands of people in the area, so do yourself a favor and take mass transit today . . .
Cristina Silva had never been a believer.
When she was a girl, she didn’t believe in fairy tales or unicorns or Santa Claus. Then she grew up and didn’t believe in miracles. Or magic. Or the myth of the American Dream.
Cristina had always known better than to believe in God.
But she had faith. The kind she’d learned to live by in AA: If you can’t believe, just make believe.
At this moment, staring down the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral toward Fifth Avenue, she was make-believing with all her might. Because nothing short of magical thinking was going to help her now.
She took timid steps forward and blinked the water out of her eyes. Daylight had not yet broken. It was still raining, and drops fell through the gaps in the scaffolding directly above her. The winter sky was murky gray and the streets were blurred by mist. She could barely make out Fifth Avenue, stretching for blocks in front of her.
Cristina concentrated on looking around her. Hoping for some sign of life out there in the gloom. She saw none. If there was one time this city ever took a nap, it was near dawn.
Massive bronze doors closed behind her with a forceful thud. Several thousand pounds of metal—and the images of half a dozen saints—now separated her from the rest of them. Those unlucky fools who, like her, had gone to Lady Chapel this morning. As soon as the Cathedral opened.
Then she had been singled out—for what, she wasn’t quite sure.
Where was he?
Her blood, humming in panic, created a fierce rushing noise inside her head. It was like the ocean, only louder—and more distracting than the gusts of wind and rain that buffeted her cheeks.
A drenched passerby scurried down Fifth Avenue, buried under a green golf umbrella.
Cristina opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
“Help!” she silently pled.
The passerby did not turn. In the teeming rain, he couldn’t be bothered with glancing toward gothic spires or intricate marble façades. Never mind a woman wearing a yellow rain slicker and carrying a wooden sign with help me painted in a brilliant shade of red.
Cristina took a cautious step forward.
Another umbrella passed, this one black. Then two cars.
No one slowed.
Just make a call, she prayed. 411. 911. Report the crazy lady standing in the rain. The one at Saint Patrick’s—a landmark, tourist destination, and religious refuge, all rolled into one.
She took another step. Craned her neck through the gloom toward the scaffolding high above.
Was he watching?
Tears welled in her eyes, mingling with the rain. She knew that Saint Patrick’s was a symbol. The sign she carried was a symbol, too. Even the confession she’d been forced to make was only a symbol. And for all her nonbelieving, she was terrified that she was about to die as a symbol.
A block away, Angus MacDonald got off the M4 bus, straight into the chilly puddle that snaked around the corner of Fifty-second Street and Fifth Avenue. Aware of the rain leaking into his supposedly waterproof trench coat, he made a run for it.
At least, he tried to. Thanks to the arthritis in his joints, sometimes his legs just refused to get with the program. Whoever had coined mind over matter obviously hadn’t hit seventy-four.
Ahead of him, Angus saw virtually nothing. Only a traffic light that creaked and groaned as it swayed. This wasn’t just Midtown at its quietest. The weather had made it a ghost town.
Then a man wearing an NYPD rubber raincoat emerged from the fog. Angus watched him cross Fifth Avenue in the middle of the block. Racing for the Cathedral. Not wanting to be late for seven-o’clock Mass.
It was a reminder that Angus had better move faster—or he was going to be late, too. He cut a forty-five-degree angle. Crossed the avenue.
The cop made it halfway up the stairs of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Stopped.
There was a woman there. Just standing. Her canary-yellow raincoat stood out, even with the elaborate scaffolding that covered the entrance. Angus squinted. She was at least in her mid-twenties, he decided. She looked scared. So tense she didn’t even respond to the cop staring at her. Like he wasn’t even there.
She just stayed frozen in place, looking around.
The cop looked around, too.
There was nothing—and no one—to see. Only rain and fog and mist and the occasional headlights of a passing cab. And, of course, Angus.
The cop broke away with a shake of his head—as if there was nothing he could do. Then he turned and walked into the Cathedral.
The cop had been a big guy with a ruddy face, maybe six-one, maybe two-fifty. More suited to taking out street thugs than talking down distraught women.
Angus resigned himself to being late to Mass. In his experience, young women loved creating drama. He could see his niece pulling a stunt like this: standing in the rain with some silly sign, just to prove a point or get attention after a breakup gone bad.
“Hey, lady—why don’t you come in out of the rain?” he called when he was within earshot.
She was so startled she whirled and faced him.
She’d obviously been lost in her own world, because Angus wasn’t the type to scare people. With his wrinkled black skin, crinkled gray hair, and generous beer belly, he’d even pass for Santa Claus, given an appropriate red suit.
He reached out a hand to help her—but let it drop when she didn’t move. Since the scaffolding provided scant shelter, he moved toward the massive bronze doors, shaking the worst of the water off his coat like a wet dog.
She stayed rooted in place, but she angled her head to watch him.
“My name’s Angus. What’s yours?” He bunched his hands in the pockets of his coat, huddling against the downpour.
She didn’t reply, although she continued to look at him with an intense stare. Like she wanted to say something, but couldn’t.
“Just tell me your name. That’s not so hard, right?”
A whoosh of wind pushed away her bright yellow hood. Her hair blew wildly, and was instantly soaked, but she made no move to cover herself.
“You’ll catch your death out here,” Angus scolded. “Come inside with me.”
Again, she didn’t answer. She cocked her head, like she was trying to listen to something. But the only sound came from the driving rain as it pounded the marble steps.
“It’s time for Mass,” he said. “Whatever’s wrong, whatever’s upset you, let’s talk about it inside, where it’s warm and dry.”
She looked up, eyes searching the levels of scaffolding.
“Your sign says help,” he pointed out. “I’ll help you. Let’s go inside together.”
She tried to raise her arms. It was a futile gesture. For the first time, Angus noticed: The sign she held was bound to her hands with tightly wrapped wire.
A troublesome sensation settled in his gut. No way did she do that to herself.
High above the Fifth Avenue skyscrapers, there was a flash of light, followed by a booming sound. Something in the atmosphere changed.
He needed to get help. He needed that cop. The giant bronze doors had just been open. He reached for the door on his right—the one with Mother Elizabeth Seton—and tugged.
It didn’t budge. Not even when he pulled harder.
He tried again with the door on his left—the one with the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha—and failed. He’d have to try one of the side entrances.
But these doors shouldn’t be locked. Not right before seven-o’clock Mass. Not when he had just seen the cop go inside. Something was wrong.
Angus forced himself to think straight. Whoever had done this to the woman must be inside the Cathedral. But it would be all right. The cop was a big guy. Surely a big cop could handle whatever threat lurked inside. Angus should focus on the situation out here.
He turned back to the woman, who was now facing him.
Her eyes fixed on Angus’s.
He was trying to decipher the mute plea in them when he noticed a funny red dot dancing on her forehead. It looked just like the laser pointer he used when he taught algebra class.
Then she was gone.
The shot was silent as it sliced through her forehead. She crumpled, and suddenly there was slick blood everywhere, mingling with the rain that puddled on the Cathedral steps.
Angus felt a terrible stinging in his head, though he knew he hadn’t been hit.
His legs stopped working and he fell to his knees, collapsing beside her.
The sacrifice of His body and blood, Angus thought, fumbling for his cellphone. Words from the Mass service that he was missing.
The rain-swept morning was hushed and still. The streets remained deserted.
Hands shaking, Angus managed to call 911.
It was another seven minutes before help arrived for the dead woman with the wire-bound hands, still gripping her small wooden sign.
It would be another nine before the responding officer would notice something else. That the sign she had carried held a message.
Not the public plea for help that she had shown the world. There was a note—a private communication taped on the back of the sign.
The officer didn’t understand it.
But he was smart enough to radio it in.