The victims are found in desolate rural areas, naked and impaled on long wooden stakes. There are no clues. No DNA evidence. Just a message, etched over and over again on one broken body: “I have returned.”
For FBI agent Sam Markham, the murderer’s methods are evolving too fast, his bloodlust growing too swiftly. Markham’s sharp investigative skills are put to the test as each mutilated body reveals new depths to the Impaler’s brutality. And just as the clues finally slip into place, Markham will discover how easy it is to cross the line from hunter to hunted.
This is a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat police procedural by the author of The Sculptor—called “a stone cold thrill ride” by #1 New York Times–bestselling author Lisa Jackson and praised for its “clever plotting” by Edgar Award–winning author John Lutz.
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As always, Michelle sits gazing up at him from the bed — her eyes, the crystal of her wineglass sparkling in the candlelight.
"To us," she toasts. "You, me, and baby make three."
Strawberry Quik, he thinks. She always drinks strawberry Quik.
"What's a good name for a strawberry?" she asks.
"I won't let it happen," he replies. Not this time."
But the voice comes anyway — out of sight, from behind. Just like it always does.
"How 'bout Elmer?" cackles the man in the closet. "Elmer Stokes is a good name for a strawberry."
He tries to turn around, tries to cock his hands back à la Spiderman and shoot the webs from his wrists like he did the last time, but his muscles are slow and rubbery today, and the hulking, square-headed figure of Elmer Stokes glides right past him.
Pop-pop goes the gun — a silly pop that reminds him of bubble wrap — and then the blood begins to pour from his wife's head.
Elmer Stokes laughs and disappears into the kitchen.
"You got anything to eat, Agent Dipshit?" he calls out of sight. "I got the munchies from smoking your wife!"
But he does not follow — knows from experience that it is better to stay with Michelle, to spend what little time he has left with her. He rushes to her side, takes her in his arms, and tries to plug up the bullet holes with the bouquet of pink tulips that had only moments ago been her glass of strawberry Quik.
It's cold, he thinks. Her blood is always so cold.
"Cold like a shower to wake you up," his wife spits through bloody lips.
And with a start Sam Markham opened his eyes — his lungs clawing at the darkness as the wave of despair washed over him. He swallowed hard, gritted his teeth, and pushed the pressure in his sinuses down to his stomach. And after a moment he felt his breathing level off, felt his heart rate slow and his face relax.
He rolled over and stared at the big orange numbers beside his bed — 5:11 ... 5:12 ... 5:13 — and when his mind had settled, he reached for the nightstand and checked the date on his BlackBerry.
Wednesday, April 5th, he said to himself. Almost two weeks since the last one.
He closed his eyes and made a mental note of it.
Later, just after dawn, he sat at the kitchen table watching the ducks dawdle around the pond. He crunched his Wheaties methodically, in time with the waddle of a fat one that was poking around in the reeds. He had many years ago given up analyzing the dream itself; stopped trying to understand exactly why sometimes he saved Michelle and sometimes he didn't.
True, for a long time he hadn't dreamed of her at all. Started up again only after that nonsense in Tampa. No need to ask why. No need to worry. No, just as he had learned to do in another lifetime, if he absolutely had to dream of his dead wife, he preferred instead to control and catalog his feelings afterwards. Like a scientist.
Pensive, he said to himself as the fat duck plopped into the pond and paddled away. Buoyant? No. Treading water.
He gulped down the last of his milk and dropped the bowl in the sink; walked aimlessly from the kitchen and felt pleased for some reason with how spongy his running shoes felt on the hardwood floors of his new town house. He ended up in the living room, the boxes from Tampa and his ten years with the Bureau stacked before him like crowded gravestones. The move, the promotion to supervisory special agent at Quantico had been quick and painless, no attachments, no regrets — just the way he liked it.
Of course, his people would welcome him, would try to bond with him in subtle ways like inviting him to the occasional poker night or asking him to join their fantasy football league. And when he refused, like he always did, he knew what they would say about their new boss: at first, that he was arrogant and aloof, perhaps snobbish and condescending; then later, that he was simply reserved and private. But he also knew that, in time, his people would grow to respect him — would grow to admire his work ethic and eventually accept his desire for distance.
And for Sam Markham that was enough.
He scanned the boxes and quickly settled on one labeled MISC BEDROOM. If the Bureau was good at anything it was packing, he thought, admiring the organization and care with which they moved him from Tampa.
That's because you're a "special" special agent, a voice said his head. Not standard protocol for everybody. Just another carrot they dangled to get you back here.
Markham sliced open the MISC BEDROOM box with his house key, unwrapped some newspaper, and found what he was looking for: a long, wooden plaque with neatly engraved letters that read:
LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH'ENTRATE
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," Markham whispered.
Dante's Inferno, Canto III, line 9. The warning posted over the gates of Hell. A student in his English class had made it for him in wood shop as a joke, and Markham had enthusiastically hung it above his classroom door. That had been over twelve years ago — on another planet, it seemed — and all at once he felt ashamed when he realized he could no longer remember the name of the student who made it for him.
As always, his first order of business was to hang the plaque above his bedroom door. There had been some women over the years who'd asked him about it; others who'd not even noticed it. He knew there'd be more of each variety here, but he also knew he wouldn't reveal the plaque's true meaning any sooner than he would reveal anything meaningful about himself.
When the plaque was straight and secure, he zipped up his hooded sweatshirt and began stretching his hamstrings. It was going to be a bit chilly, he could tell. That was good. He would shoot for six miles today — would follow the road out of the complex and up to the park just as the real estate lady had shown him on Monday.
Markham had just finished knotting his house key into the drawstring of his track pants, when suddenly a knock on his front door startled him. He glanced at his watch.
7:20? Who the hell could that be?
Peering through the peephole, he recognized the man in the gray overcoat immediately: Alan Gates, chief of Behavioral Analysis Unit 2 at Quantico.
Markham opened the door.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"They found another body in Raleigh," Gates said. "Male, spiked like the others, but forensics came across something interesting. It's ours now."
Markham was silent for a moment, then nodded and let him inside.CHAPTER 2
"How much do you know about the Rodriguez and Guer-rera murders?" Gates asked. The unit chief sat across from Markham at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of instant coffee and gazing out at the ducks.
"Not much," Markham said. "Only what came across the Tampa wire back in February for the Gang Unit. MS-13, they seemed to think it was. The brutality of it, the victims being from the gang's territory. Only reason they brought it to my attention was because of how they were killed. Morbid curiosity more than official business."
"Mara Salvatrucha," Gates said. "Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans mostly. Raleigh's been having trouble with them these last couple of years, but the local homicide and gang units want to keep the media out of it. Don't want to give them any more recognition than they're already getting. That's one of the reasons why the details of the lawyer's murder were kept out of the papers — why the media has yet to make the connection to Rodriguez and Guerrera."
"And Homicide has been able to keep the details of the Hispanics' murders quiet, too?"
"For the most part. They were lucky a policeman found Rodriguez and Guerrera. Drove by the cemetery on an anonymous tip and discovered them in the adjoining field. Cemetery is in Clayton, country town about fifteen minutes south of Raleigh. Papers said the victims were found together, shot and stabbed and, I quote, 'put on display.' Guer-rera also had some tattoos common among the pandilleros."
"Sounds similar to what's being going on in South America," Markham said. "The drug cartels cutting off people's heads and skewering them on pikes, bodies propped up on stakes with warning signs around their necks."
"Still, not a real public interest piece," Gates said. "Low-income, Hispanic immigrants from the projects. Story received barely a byline and quickly died down. Wasn't so easy with the lawyer. He was found by a groundskeeper who needed a little convincing to keep his mouth shut. But he'll talk eventually. They always do."
"And you're saying this lawyer — I'm sorry, what's his name again?"
"Donovan. Randall Donovan.
"Donovan. They found him displayed exactly like Rodriguez and Guerrera?"
"For the most part, yes. Impaled with a wooden stake through the rectum, exit wound here at the base of the neck, just under the collarbone. Only difference, the Hispanics' heads were tied to their stakes across their faces. Donovan's head was tied to his stake at his neck. He was found in a baseball field; Rodriguez and Guerrera outside the cemetery walls. Willow Brook is the cemetery's name."
"May I see Donovan's file?"
Gates slid the file across the table and Markham opened it. The first page was an eight-by-ten photograph of the crime scene: Randall Donovan's naked, lifeless body skewered about a foot off the ground. His eyes were open, his neck lashed to the stake with a thin black cord — but his neck appeared to be broken, his head arched unnaturally backwards, giving him the appearance that he was screaming up at the sky. Donovan's killer had also left on the lawyer's glasses. Markham made a mental note of it, quickly studied the series of close-ups, and then turned to the victim profile.
"Criminal defense attorney," Markham said, reading, flipping. "Forty-five years old, married, father of two. Runs with some loveable characters, I see. This was the guy who got that mobster off last year? Raymond Galotti, Junior, am I right?"
"He also represented Ernesto Morales on the trafficking and obstruction -of-justice rap. I read about that in the papers. The Bureau's evidence was overwhelming, but Donovan got him a nice plea deal. Will do only a few years."
"Donovan saved the Colombian's family from being deported, too."
"I didn't know the Colombians were using MS-13 on the interstate level. Didn't think the gang was organized or dependable enough for that kind of thing."
"They're not. An operation like Morales's, the distribution from Miami all the way to DC, would be too high-maintenance for MS-13. Still a lot of territorial infighting, and the Colombians don't trust them. Keep all the big-money stuff close to the vest."
"But a hit like Donovan is right up their alley, don't you think?"
"Maybe," said Gates. "But the Colombian connection to MS-13 in Raleigh is all but nonexistent. They're actually in competition with them, at least on the lower-level stuff. Rise of the new Honduran drug lords and that kind of thing."
"But what does this have to do with BAU? This isn't our fight."
Gates turned from the window and loosened his tie. Q&A is over, Markham thought. Yes, any second now his boss would adjust his glasses, would push the silver wire up on his nose and then gently straighten the arms. It was Alan Gates's "tell," Markham discovered many years ago — his signal that he was getting down to business. He used to do the same thing in his lectures at the Academy. Back then, the naïve trainee secretly wished to play the unit chief in poker; wanted to see if the old man would tip his hand as he so often did in class. However, over the years, Markham began to suspect that Gates was fully aware of his tell, and would probably sucker the shirt off his back.
And sure enough, when his boss began fiddling with his specs, Markham suddenly felt anxious. As if Gates had just put him in for all his chips.
"Rodriguez and Guerrera," Gates began, "were both shot in the head. Close range, same nine-millimeter handgun."
"Originally from Homicide, but turned up nothing. The state medical examiner reported that the Hispanics had been dead before they were skewered. Donovan, however, was not."
"You mean he was impaled alive?"
"Yes. They found his body early Sunday morning; had deep ligature marks around his wrists, his ankles, and across his waist as if he'd been strapped down. However, the state medical examiner found nothing near his mouth or on his face to indicate he'd been gagged. Killer wasn't worried about anyone hearing him scream. He'd been dead for almost four days before he turned up in center field."
Markham was silent.
"Homicide still doesn't know where Rodriguez and Guerrera were shot. Rodriguez was reported missing by his parents the day after he disappeared, but no one said anything about Guerrera until the authorities found him. Prints turned up a match in IAFIS. Both lived in the Fox Run apartment complex in the southeast part of town."
"And their bodies? Discovered in the same general area as Donovan's?"
"No. The two crime scenes are in rural areas on opposite sides of Raleigh, neither site near Fox Run. Rodriguez and Guerrera had both been dead for about forty-eight hours and appear to have been shot at roughly the same time. MS-13 activity has picked up recently in the Fox Run area, but it looks as if Rodriguez was not associated with the gang or any of its enemies. Guerrera, on the other hand, is known to have been a member of a low-level gang back in Mexico. Can't tie him to anything here. Problem is, we can't tie Rodriguez and Guerrera to each other, either."
"I'm sure Raleigh has their informants. What's the word on the street?"
"Nothing. No chatter at all about any gang connections."
"What about Donovan?"
"Only thing we know for sure is that he was taken from outside his home in Cary, next town over from Raleigh. Happened late Saturday night, a week and a day before he turned up dead. He'd just returned from a fundraiser downtown. Wife and kids asleep. No blood, no sign of a struggle, keys to his fancy Peugeot found in the driveway. ME said the back of his head showed blunt-force trauma. Killer used chloroform on him, too."
"You said killer. How do you know there was only one?"
"There's a wall of hedges separating Donovan's property from his neighbor's. Forensics found a set of fresh footprints in the surrounding mulch. Same tread, only one set, size twelve. Matched a group of partials from the baseball field. Forensics is working on tracking down the shoe model."
"And where the Hispanics were found?"
"Again one set, same tread partial. Looks like our boy uses a posthole digger. Kicks up a lot of dirt, doesn't seem too concerned about covering his tracks."
"May I see the file on Rodriguez and Guerrera?"
Gates slid it across the table.
Jose Rodriguez, age seventeen, born in Honduras; Alex Guerrera, age twenty-seven, originally from Mexico. Rodriguez: legal, clean, high-school senior. Guerrera: illegal, back and forth across the border at least twice, and a bit of a record — gang activity in Mexico, petty theft, misdemeanor drug possession in the States. Nothing hardcore, however, and appeared to have gone straight; had a wife and three kids back in Mexico, worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant in downtown Raleigh, and sent the money home every month.
Markham removed a photo of the victims: naked, side by side, impaled like Donovan, heads fastened to their stakes with the same thin black cord. However, unlike Donovan, the cord was tied tightly across their cheeks, causing their vacant, open eyes to stare straight ahead and giving their faces a strange, squished expression that reminded Mark-ham of Sylvester Stallone getting his face slow-motion punched in Rocky.
"Other than his record," Gates said, "Guerrera is a bit of a mystery. Hadn't been in Raleigh very long; was living with a cousin and two other men, illegals, all of them sending their pay back to families in Mexico, all ruled out as suspects. Guerrera's cousin is still there, but the other two men have taken off. Raleigh PD has turned it over to ICE."
"Looks like the Rodriguez kid was a straight arrow," Markham said, reading. "Good grades in school, planned on attending community college for computers, it says."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Impaler"
Copyright © 2011 Gregory Funaro.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The impaled bodies of two male victims are discovered in a cemetery with the cryptic message "I have returned" on their torsos. When the impaled body of a criminal defense attorney is subsequently found, the killer is given the nickname The Impaler, named for Vlad the Impaler, upon whom Bram Stroker's Dracula was based. This is the first case for FBI agent Sam Markham since his promotion to Raleigh, North Carolina. Markham, still grieving his wife's death, tries not to be distracted by the execution date of her killer looming in the near future. He immerses himself in the investigation, frustrated by the lack of DNA or trace evidence at each crime scene. He begins to suspect the serial killer's reason for impaling his victims has nothing to do with Vlad Tepes but is connected to a stolen Babylonian seal and the god Nergal, guardian of the underworld. At first the victims seem to have nothing in common but Markham finds a connection and he and his team begin to close in on their killer whose kills are escalating and who always seems one step ahead of them. As Markham zeroes in, he's unaware the Impaler is now focused on him. Funaro came out swinging with The Sculptor and does not disappoint his readers with The Impaler. Although some scenes are gruesome, they are intrinsic to the plot and well-executed. The characterization of the serial killer is fascinating as the reader learns of past traumas he experienced that formed him into the deranged monster he is. One sympathizes with Markham and his ongoing bereavement of his wife's violent death. The plot is complicated yet so well-written readers will not have trouble following along. Rarely does this reviewer read a book that captures the attention so thoroughly. Characterization, plot, and dialogue excel. Funaro proves himself worthy of status on the best-seller list with this intense, electrifying thriller which deserves more than 5 stars.
The name of the book hooked me, and it lives up to its name. I thought the author did a wonderful job with his characters. Even the small characters were done well, little Marla Rodriguez, Cindy Smith the love struck young woman. I really like characters that leave impressions. The 'topic' of the serial killer is an interesting one and kept me guessing, I wasn't sure that his delusions might become reality. I've read a lot of different authors in this genre and I was amazed when I saw that this author had only two books out. I think great things are coming our way as authors tend to get better and better.
I read Funaro's first book The Sculptor and really liked it. The Impaler is the second book from Gregory Funaro and it features FBI agent and profiler Sam Markham. It is a truly fast paced but very convoluted novel and there are lots of twists and turns that keep you reading. I enjoyed the book but I have to tell you it is gory. The killer tortures and literally impales his victims (Like Vlad the Impaler). Funaro's descriptions are eerily detailed, grim, and seem very realistic. The characters are complex and believable, they don't go running around doing things that make you scratch your head and say, "that would never happen." You care for them, and you may even start to understand the killer in a weird way too. (Note I didn't say sympathize, he is far too sick for that.) The book starts with the torture and murder of a lawyer in North Carolina and FBI Supervisory Special Agent Sam Markham, a widower, whose wife's killer is about to be executed, and he has been promoted to the Behavioral Analysis unit in Quantico, Virginia. He is sent to North Carolina to investigate three murders connected by their gruesome method but seemingly nothing else. From there all I can say is hang on because the ride is going to get very bumpy. You will have to read it yourself. I liked Funero's first book and recommend it but The Impaler is an improvement in every way. This author has topped his first book and I can't wait to read the next one.
Gripping page turner, Gregory Funaro holds nothing back. I cringed at times and that's hard to make me do when reading a book. This book is not for everyone. Violent. If you like Stephen King's writing, you'll like what Funaro has to offer. Like King, Funaro can put you into the head of a killer and his/her victim. Great writing style with some of the best developed characters I have ever known. I loved the killers back story and why he became who he did.
I got this as an advanced readers copy. "The Impaler" by Gregory Funaro gets scary on page 1 and I didn't want to put it down once I started reading it. What makes this novel so special is the sense of doom that you can feel as you read the words "How could you think I'd let you get away?" Gregory Funaro installed fear into me as a reader. I felt the thumping of my heart as I continued reading the horror of impalement. The storyline did flow very well. I liked the back story about Vlad and what motivated Edmund to kill, what transformed him into being weird, creepy, evil and unremorseful. I just put Gregory Funaro's first novel "The Sculptor" on my "what I want for Christmas" list.
Funaro's new novel, which is actually a prequel to last year's The Sculptor, once again follows FBI agent Sam Markham as he unravels the mystery behind a series of gruesome murders. While most serial killers in fiction strain the reader's credulity to the limits, the killer in this novel (who "impales" his victims on stakes and leaves them on display, similar to Vlad The Impaler) is so well defined and developed, which Funaro does with a keen psychological eye, that we not only see the macabre behind the killer's actions, but the science. This novel is constructed within a well-researched narrative of FBI "find the killer" cliff hangers, plot twists, back-story, and emotionally rich prose. If the purpose of the novel is to entertain and to inform, Funaro certainly hits the mark and is well on his way to becoming a master of thrillers. While I preferred the subject matter of The Sculptor, The Impaler's story construction and character development is actually quite an improvement. So if you liked The Sculptor, you'll love this.
I loved it.
I had to give it a star to be able to warn others.....save your money !!!!!!...I'm an avid reader for 40 yrs...I could get no further than 92 pgs....nothing about this story grabs you....or keeps u interested....other than actual plot..not charecters..no flow in story...kept jumping around....this was my first n last book by this author...I have to ask myself what ?????...we're people reading ????..to give this book ??..that kind of rateing ??..absolutely would NOT RECOMMEND this book..C.R.