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L'Assassin: A Thriller

L'Assassin: A Thriller

4.6 3
by Peter Steiner

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From the critically acclaimed author of Le Crime, published in hardcover as A French Country Murder, comes this electrifying sequel featuring former CIA operative Louis Morgon and his partner-in-crime-solving, Jean Renard, the gendarme of their small French village.

Louis Morgon is living a quiet life of good food, good wine, and good friends.


From the critically acclaimed author of Le Crime, published in hardcover as A French Country Murder, comes this electrifying sequel featuring former CIA operative Louis Morgon and his partner-in-crime-solving, Jean Renard, the gendarme of their small French village.

Louis Morgon is living a quiet life of good food, good wine, and good friends. When his house is burglarized, he thinks nothing of it. But the burglar and the motive for the burglary are not as simple as they seem. And the consequences of the seemingly trivial break-in will lead Louis and his loved ones to the end of the earth---and quite possibly to the end of their lives.

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St. Martin's Press
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A Louis Morgon Thriller , #2
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Chapter One

It looked like a simple burglary at first. In fact, as crimes go, the robbery of Louis Morgon’s house in the village of Saint Leon sur Dême seemed noteworthy only for its ineptitude. The burglar, a small-time criminal known to French police as Pierre Lefort, came to the house in broad daylight and broke a window to let himself in. He poked around the house for a while, and then he cut the lock on the barn, where Louis had his painting studio, and went in.

A short while later he loaded up his loot and left. The old car backfired as Lefort drove down the steep driveway and turned onto the lane. Solesme Lefourier was pruning her roses, and she paused to look as he passed. The handle of Louis’s lawnmower bobbed and weaved from Lefort’s open trunk like a semaphore.

Solesme’s eyes were failing because of her illness, so she could not read the license plate, but she got a good look at the car and the driver. She went inside and called the police, which in Saint Leon meant Jean Renard. He was wrestling with some overdue reports and was relieved to hear the phone ring. "Renard, you better come," said Solesme. "I think Louis’s house has just been robbed."

Louis had returned home by the time Renard got there, and Solesme had flagged him down and told him what had happened. Louis was going through the house to see what might have been stolen, while Solesme sat outside at the table under the linden tree. Renard joined Louis inside. He wrote an inventory of what was missing, but as far as Louis could tell, nothing much had been taken.

Louis seemed disappointed, as though he had mainly been robbed of a bit of excitement. "It was a pathetic effort on the thief’s part," he said. "Besides the lawnmower, which would barely start, the guy took some screwdrivers, an electric drill, and a couple of sweaters. I’m always glad to see you, Jean," he said to the policeman, "but I’m sorry you had to come out for this."

"Worst of all," said the policeman, "it means writing another report."

Renard went back outside and pulled two chairs up beside Solesme while Louis heated water. The air was heavy with the perfume of linden blossoms, and the three friends sat sipping tea and listening to the bees at work just above their heads in the sullen afternoon air.

When Solesme saw Louis looking at her in that way he sometimes had now, she waved her hand as though a bee had flown too close to her face.

Renard pushed his chair away from the table. "I have to get back," he said, and stood to drink his last sip.

Once the policeman was gone, Louis said, "So, what did he say?"

"Who?" said Solesme.

"Who. Bertrand, of course."

"Bertrand! He’s just guessing. What does he know? They’re all just guessing."

"He’s your doctor," said Louis. "So tell me: what did he say?"

"He said it has spread," said Solesme. "It is in my bones. But still, even with all his tests, what does he really know?"

"He’s your doctor," said Louis, sounding helpless this time.

Louis had expected this news, but he was not ready for it. He stood, but he did not come around the table to her, as she feared he might. The last thing she wanted right now was his comfort.

"I’m just going to look at the garden," he said, and took a few steps in that direction. Solesme stood up to go with him. Her spine was deformed—it had been since birth—which caused her to shift her body oddly as she rose, projecting her right shoulder forward and rising under it. She had the same slight twisting motion in her walk. To Louis she always seemed to be dancing. It was a subtle and odd dance, but he still found it mesmerizing, as he had from the first time they had met.

Thirty years ago he had just arrived in Saint Leon for the first time. It was the summer solstice, the night of music. All over France cities and towns stationed orchestras and bands and choirs in their streets, and music filled the night. The town square in Saint Leon had been decorated with colored lights and cleared of cars. A small stage had been erected.

Louis had not planned to stay the night, but the Chalfonts, who ran the hotel, had insisted he be their guest. Chalfont leaned close to him and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "This night is not to be missed, monsieur," he said. Then the music began to play and the entire village rose to dance. The spectacle swept over Louis and somehow, in a way he did not understand that seemed—though he certainly did not believe in magic—to be magical, transported him out of his unhappiness.

As it happened, later in the evening Louis was seated next to Solesme, and, though it was not something he would normally have done, he invited her, a complete stranger, to dance. He had always found dancing to be dangerous somehow—its sexuality was so public, but he invited her nonetheless.

Solesme stood up in that peculiar way of hers. "Oh, madame, I am sorry," Louis said in his awkward French. "I did not know. Please forgive me."

"But I love to dance," said Solesme with raised eyebrows and a charming smile, and held out her hand to him. The gypsy musicians played and sang plaintive waltzes, and Louis and Solesme danced around and around the square, caught up in the swirling throng.

The next day Louis continued on his journey, but afterwards he was drawn back to Saint Leon, and not only because of that evening. The town was small, and out of the way, and ordinary. It suited him—someone who wanted to disappear and begin life anew—perfectly. He bought the house and the barn at the top of the hill. He cleaned out the barn and made it into a painting studio, although he had never painted before. He planted a large vegetable garden and flowers and shrubs, although the only gardening he had ever done had been to push a lawnmower back and forth around his yard in Virginia.

Louis and Solesme had now been lovers for most of those thirty years. It was not surprising, therefore, that he did not give the burglary as much thought as he might have. Her illness terrified him. However, the burglar, Pierre Lefort, seemed determined that Louis should not forget his handiwork. The day after the burglary, while Louis was in the market picking out a fish for supper, he saw a man—Pierre Lefort—walking across the square wearing his sweater.

"You won’t believe it," he said as he burst through the door of Renard’s office. "I just saw the thief."

"What?!" said Renard.

"The burglar," said Louis, "the man who robbed my house. I just saw him. He fits Solesme’s description, and he’s wearing my sweater."

By the time Louis and Renard rushed outside, the man was no longer in the square. They walked through the side streets. "How do you know it’s your sweater?" said Renard. They found Lefort behind the post office wearing a vivid, blue and yellow striped sweater, too short in the body and too long in the arms. He was getting into the car Solesme had described. Renard confronted him and placed him under arrest.

Pierre Lefort appeared before a judge in Tours. He was convicted of burglary and was sentenced to serve a year in the Granville prison. Louis repaired the broken window, replaced the padlock on the barn door with a new, sturdier one, and forgot about the robbery.

Dr. Mauricio Bertrand, the oncologist, had been unsparing in describing for Solesme the likely course of her cancer, how it had moved from her bones to her organs, and how it would eventually spread into her brain. "There is nothing more we can do," he said finally. "We can, however, keep you comfortable until the end."

"And when is the end?" Solesme wanted to know.

"It is only a guess," said Dr. Bertrand, shrugging, "but judging from the scans, I would say two months, three at the most."

Solesme was resigned to her illness and to her death, but Louis was not. "It is something we all have to do," she said. "Even you." But the thought of having only three months weighed heavily on him. Ninety days. "It is only a number," said Solesme, "and it is only Bertrand’s number. It will come when it comes."

Louis dredged the fish in cornmeal and rosemary and put it on the fire. The air grew fragrant with burning rosemary. After eating, they watched a movie together, a funny thing called Les Visiteurs. They had both seen it before, but they laughed and laughed all over again. Then they sat down together to read.

"I’m going," said Louis suddenly. He stood and went to the door. Solesme did not try to stop him. He left without looking at her and trudged up the steep driveway to his house. The smell of rosemary hung in the air, like a promise, or a memory. He wanted to weep. How could Bertrand be correct? Solesme seemed fine. She still accompanied him on long walks across the valley. And just last week they had spent the entire afternoon visiting museums and galleries in Tours. They had even returned to several galleries because she had insisted on buying him a small pencil drawing that he had admired, and he could not remember which gallery it had been in.

But now a number had been named. And the limit on their time had become specific and severe. It forced its way into his consciousness again and again, and sometimes—like now—it became all but unbearable. Time was now unimaginably precious. And yet, at the same time, he felt as though he might suffocate in her presence. In his mind he could not separate Solesme from her death. How dare she be dying?

Louis lay in his bed listening to the church bell. Four o’clock. He had heard every hour and every half hour through the night. Louis thought about death, the utter absurdity and the complete power of it. He gave death a face in his half-awake mind, and it came up looking like Hugh Bowes: nearsighted, pallid, fat, and dangerous. Louis had not thought of Hugh for a long time, and suddenly there he was, looming in his mind’s eye like the moon.

In his first life Louis had gone straight from graduate school to the United States Department of State and the CIA at Hugh Bowes’s urging. And, thanks to Hugh’s encouragement and support, he had risen rapidly through the ranks. He was married, had two small children, and everything was on track for a brilliant future. Then, one day, he was called before the secretary of state and accused of serious malfeasance. Carefully constructed evidence was produced, and, though the charges and evidence were false, Louis was summarily dismissed. As so often happens, one catastrophe led to the next. He was estranged from his wife and children, his marriage ended, and he found himself alone and lost.

It was a long time before Louis realized that it was Hugh, his mentor and patron, who had engineered his destruction. Louis tried to understand Hugh’s hatred but could not. He wallowed in his own misery for a while, but eventually the entire episode mutated in his mind into a set of philosophical questions about truth, about justice, about the human soul, about evil. It was rich material, and he ruminated on it for years after his dismissal, but slowly these ruminations subsided too. Louis came to Saint Leon sur Dême and found a sort of peace.

Once, just a few years ago, Hugh Bowes had inexplicably tried to destroy Louis all over again. Hugh had become the secretary of state by then. Louis was shocked by Hugh’s continued enmity even after all this time. But again, despite the lethal nature of Hugh’s efforts, things had turned out well enough for Louis, and so he let this episode disappear into the recesses of his mind, as the earlier one had. For Louis, as long as it remained in his past where it belonged, it was of little concern or interest.

Louis was startled out of his reverie by the clock ringing five. It was still dark, with only the first light showing, but he got out of bed anyway. He dressed and stepped into his leather boots without turning on the light. He pulled the laces tight and tied double knots. The first band of light in the east broadened, and the sparrows began chattering and rattling about under the eaves.

In the kitchen he toasted two pieces of baguette and slathered them with butter and marmalade. He sat at one end of the long table, his elbows on the checkered oilcloth, and sipped from a bowl of café au lait. He watched his reflection in the window. The glass twisted his features in strange and alarming ways. But as the light rose outside, the linden tree and the barn came into view through the glass. His reflection disappeared and with it his uneasiness.

Louis got out his knapsack and stuffed it with a few clothes, a drawing pad, and a book. By the time he opened the barn door and pulled the old Peugeot to the top of the driveway, the sun had risen, and all that remained of the night was a lingering coolness. He stopped the car and looked out across the garden and into the fields beyond. The freshly turned soil went from black to purple to golden. The sun rose above the laurel hedge and cast the car’s elongated shadow the entire length of the garden and into the plum trees. Louis saw his own shadow inside the car’s shadow and raised his hand and watched his shadow wave back. I’m still here, he thought. The sun rose higher and found the roses, one by one, and the tomato plants with their tiny green fruits and the carefully tended beans and beets and lettuce.

Even as he was greedy to escape, he was reluctant to do so. He got out of the car again and stood in the morning sun. I am being stupid, he thought. I am afraid of shadows. I am frightened of death. Of hers and of mine. He had said more or less the same thing to Renard a few days earlier, although he had left out the particulars. "I am frightened," he had said, "and I don’t like being frightened. I am not used to being frightened." Renard was not used to hearing confessions of this sort from his friend and could not think of anything to say.

Louis released the hand brake, coasted down the drive, and turned onto the narrow lane. He coasted past Solesme’s house so she would not hear the engine. He knew, though, that she would hear him anyway. He tried not to look, in case she might be watching from the window. He could not bear to think of life without her, and of course he could think of nothing else. He remembered their entire time together, all at once, in one long endless moment, as though he were drowning.

It had rained the night before, and puddles in the road reflected the brilliant morning sky. At the corner, Louis turned toward Marçon. The narrow road wound through fields of wheat and sunflowers, along pastures where Holstein cattle grazed, past the mill owned by the Belgians, past the small vineyard they had planted. In Marçon he carefully nosed the car out of the narrow lane and turned toward Flée. He got stuck behind a tractor, but eventually the farmer pulled as far off the road as he could manage and waved Louis by. Louis drove past farms and through forgotten villages as though he were alone in the world, away from death and inept burglaries. Only when he entered the city of Le Mans did he find himself caught up in the rush of morning traffic. Inexplicably he felt relieved to be among people.

He left the Peugeot in the car park, bought a ticket for Quimper, punched his ticket in the orange machine, and went to the platform to wait. The fast train from Paris to Quimper raced into the station, and Louis got on board and found his seat by the window. He pulled the book from his knapsack, but it remained on his lap while he watched the landscape fly past, like a sped-up movie, like a sped-up life. Wires swooped exuberantly above the fields, cows grazed for an instant, villages appeared and disappeared in a flash. The gray, granite city of Laval came and went in a matter of seconds. He wanted it all to slow down, to give him time to catch his breath and to understand what he was seeing, but it would not. Then the landscape flattened out, and before long the train slowed and they arrived in Quimper, the capital of that region of Brittany known as the Finistère.

The Finistère, le Finistère, is the westernmost part of France, a thick finger of land in the north just below the English Channel which reaches far into the ocean and toward the New World. Surrounded as it is by the cold waters of the Atlantic, it is a windswept and bitter landscape, buffeted by frequent storms. Its people have long been cut off from the rest of France by geography, by their culture, and by their language, and consequently they are tough and solitary and self-reliant. Their flag is black and white.

It struck Louis as fitting that the defiant Bretons would have a flag without color. During the time of Caesar, the Roman soldiers stationed in those far reaches had found life here to be utterly lonely and desolate. It was beautiful in its way, but it was a world too far from gentle Italy, so they called it finis terrae, which in Latin means the end of the earth.

Louis left the Quimper train station and boarded a waiting bus whose sign indicated it would be going to the Pointe du Raz, which was the westernmost point of the Finistère, in essence the end of the end of the earth. He wondered whether it was far enough. He paid the driver and took a seat by the front door. After a few minutes the driver tugged on a long handle and closed the door, and, with a gaseous groan, the bus backed up and lumbered out of the station and out of town.

They stopped at a crossroads, and a band of chattering children climbed on. The children showed the driver their passes and rushed past Louis, pushing and jostling to find seats. The bus followed a curving highway over small hills, stopping at various crossroads to take on more children, until it was rocked with shouts and laughter. Finally they stopped in front of a school, and all the children spilled out into the playground, as though someone had pulled the cork out of a bottle, and it was silent again.

By the time they reached the last stop, Louis was the only passenger. He got off and found himself standing at the edge of a gravel parking lot facing the black-and-white lighthouse at the Pointe du Raz. Beyond the light lay the vast gray ocean. Louis walked along a stony path until he could go no further. The rocky coast fell away in front of him, and the gray surf crashed against it, sending up clouds of spray. Gulls rose on the wind and darted about above him. The salt air stung his eyes. He squinted hard across the sea, as though he might actually be able to see the silhouette of the American continent on the horizon.

Then he turned and began walking southeast along the cliffs. Louis had a surprisingly long and confident stride for someone his age—he was sixty-seven—and he walked with great energy and purpose, as though he were on an urgent errand, which, in a sense, he was. It looked like he was being held back by an invisible hand and as if he might broaden his step even further and go even faster if only he were allowed to do so.

Farm fields and pastures came right up to the trail at the edge of the cliff, and cows raised their heads and gazed after him as he passed. They strained against their fences, as though they might like to join him. Larks fluttered up from the grass and hovered high above, calling out their lovely alarm. The ocean drove against the cliffs, and Louis puffed out his cheeks and then took deep breaths as he walked, in order to take in the briny smell. The churning water went from gray to blue and back to gray again as an endless procession of small clouds moved swiftly across the sun.

Thirty years earlier, the first time Louis came to France, it had been to cross the country on foot like a medieval penitent, even though he did not quite know the reason for his penitence. That was when he had spent that solstice night in Saint Leon. And since that time, walking had become his refuge. It was the best way he knew to manage things that could not actually be managed, like his disintegrating marriage and career back then, like Hugh Bowes’s enmity, like Solesme’s illness now. He had discovered that, in the course of putting one foot in front of the other day after day, he was able to sort things out and find their meaning. And if not their meaning, then their undeniable reality. Things—the difficult and even the impossible—settled into place and became part of life’s landscape.

Louis followed the coastal trail past whitewashed cottages, along snug, walled fields, through villages, and around little harbors where boats bobbed and creaked, their loose rigging clattering against their masts. Gulls wheeled and dove above each harbor, their cries urgently announcing his arrival. After several hours he stopped and sat on a bluff above a horseshoe-shaped harbor. The tide was retreating and boats sat on the ground while gulls picked through great mounds of seaweed. Louis cut slices of Mimolette onto pieces of baguette. He took a bite of the bread and cheese and then a bite from a tart apple. He grew restless, and after a short time he set off again. Toward the end of that first day of walking, the cliffs gave way to beaches. Louis took a front room at the Hôtel des Voyageurs, which sat directly on the beach facing a broad, sandy bay. After a hot bath he sat on the terrace and gazed at the sea, or rather at the sand flats where the sea had been. The sun dropped behind a bank of blue clouds, and the day ended with the light being sucked from the sky. The proprietor turned on the strings of little lights that hung every which way above the terrace. He brought a pitcher of cider and a platter of galettes—buckwheat crepes—still steaming and awash with tiny scallops and clams in garlic butter. Louis was hungry, and he ate until there was nothing left on his plate. Then he mopped up the last drops of sauce with a piece of bread.

The evening grew cooler, and Louis pulled his jacket more tightly around him. He took two wedges of cheese from the platter, and then ordered a crème caramel, which he pronounced delicious.

"Merci, monsieur," said the proprietor, who was also the chef. "It is my specialty."

Louis left the window in his room wide open, and the chilly night air poured in, bringing with it the smell and sounds of the sea. The moon rose in front of him, climbed straight up the center of the window, and disappeared above him, leaving behind bright blocks of light on the floor. The curtains swayed and rustled. The surf grew quieter as the tide receded.

Louis lay with his hands behind his head. The cold air on his arms felt good. His book lay unopened beside him. He fell asleep to the mournful melody of the distant surf. He had a dream in which dark, massive heads with slit-eyes bobbed about in a murky ocean. He awoke with a start, but the world was dark and silent.

The next day, Wednesday, broke sunny and warm. The tide was in, crashing noisily on the sand a hundred meters from the hotel terrace. Louis ate a quick breakfast and set out on his way. He was impatient. He walked all day, leaving one beach, climbing dunes and bluffs, descending to the next beach, crossing it, then climbing again, walking as though he had no choice, as though geography were destiny. He peered out at the sea, waiting for something to arrive, but nothing did. He sat in the shade of a tree and ate the last of the Mimolette and an apple. The day was hot, and he drank two bottles of water. He stopped for the night at another small hotel, this one a slight distance inland.

Celtic dance music was playing on the kitchen radio while Louis waited for dinner. A small three-legged dog hobbled in and out of the dining room, as if to check on him. The dog did not beg for food, but rather sat with his back to Louis and faced in the direction of the sea. "He used to go fishing with me," explained the proprietor. "He misses it." Louis patted the dog’s head and the dog leaned his small body against him.

On Thursday morning Louis stepped onto the vast beach that runs in one continuous eighteen-kilometer swath all the way from Kerdor to Saint Guénache. He stood atop the tall, grassy dunes and looked out onto the great expanse spread before him like a gigantic amphitheater. The beach beckoned and then disappeared into the distant haze. The roar of the distant ocean was all but swallowed up by the huge openness of the place. The sky was clear and pale blue above him and went to white where it met the water. Puffy clouds receded into the distance.

During the Second World War the German high command had believed that the Allies would try to land on the broad, flat beaches of the Finistère, and most particularly on this beach by Saint Guénache. In anticipation of the invasion, the Germans had built great defensive fortresses along the shore. You could still see the ruins of their railroads and their sprawling concrete weapons depots and fortifications behind the dunes. And all along the beach, in front of the dunes at indeterminate intervals, there stood round concrete bunkers. The huge bunkers tilted this way and that, as a result of repeated efforts to dismantle them, and sixty years of buffeting by powerful tides and weather and shifting sand. But they remained in place, like gigantic old men, disquieting, slightly menacing even, the heads in Louis’s dream, staring out to sea through their slits, and waiting for the invasion that would never come.

Far to the south Louis could see a solitary figure. The man— Louis thought it must be a man—appeared to be walking in his direction, although he was too far away for Louis to be sure. The tide was out; the beach sloped imperceptibly toward the distant water. If you wanted to swim here—and Louis was suddenly overtaken with the desire to do so—it would take a good while, even walking as briskly as Louis did, to reach the water’s edge, then a while longer of wading to reach water that was deep enough to swim in.

Because of these distances and the extremes of the tides, these were dangerous waters. When the tide turned and started coming in, the ocean rushed across the flat beach, consuming it in great gulps, two, five, even ten meters at a time. The beach rose but then fell also as it approached shore, and when the water found one of these dips, a great, apparently flat expanse of beach could fill with surging water in just moments. If you were unfamiliar with the tides of this corner of the Finistère, as most visitors were, you might easily find yourself running toward the dunes with the entire ocean in full pursuit.

By the time the tide was at its highest point, ponds and inlets had formed, even behind the dunes, and the entire beach had disappeared beneath churning water. The ocean swirled and foamed, as though an enormous dam had given way.

Of course Louis had consulted the tide tables—they were posted in every hotel along with warning notices—and he had set out this morning in plenty of time so that he could safely pass the ponds and inlets and bogs while the tide was out. He checked his watch and found that there was time to spare. The tide was still on its way out. The beach was glorious, and the water sparkled in the distance.

It took a good fifteen minutes for Louis to walk to the water’s edge. He took off his pack. His back was wet with sweat. He peeled off his clothes and walked into the cold water. He waded across the fine sand for a few hundred meters until the water was above his knees, deep enough, that is, for him to lie down on his back and float. Looking back toward the dunes, Louis could only just see the small bundle of clothes he had left behind. The dunes themselves were more than a thousand meters away.

Louis lowered himself into the shallow water and turned onto his back. The surf rocked him gently. His feet dragged lazily on the sand beneath him. "I could never float," he said aloud. His ears were beneath the surface of the water, so that he heard his own voice strangely distorted and resonating in his head. He heard the great whispering hum of the ocean and felt the light slap of the waves on his arms and thighs. And yet, in what he had hoped would be a moment of great tranquility and sublime forgetfulness, fear rose inside him like a huge, dark sea creature. A premonition that had been gathering inside his brain struck him with near physical force. "My God!" he said. "Hugh Bowes means to kill me."

Louis dropped his feet to the sand and stood up so quickly that he almost fell over. Hugh Bowes means to kill me. The thought was preposterous and entirely unexpected, and yet it seemed to Louis to become more certain with each repetition. How could I have been so foolish as to think otherwise? He has always meant to kill me. This was true. Hugh’s hatred of Louis was as profound and undeniable as it was unfathomable and absurd.

Louis hurried to his clothes. The solitary person he had seen earlier had disappeared. Where could he have gone? Louis dressed quickly, fearing his own nakedness, fearing the fact that he was entirely alone on this immense beach.

Louis leaned into the wind and hurried toward the dunes. Hugh Bowes had twice tried to destroy Louis’s life. There had never been any apparent motive or reason. Bowes’s enmity had been like a force of nature, like wind or tide or whatever other destructive force you could think of. How, Louis wondered, could I have let myself believe it was over? Someone of Bowes’s power and temperament, a driven man like him, doesn’t give up. Why would he? Why should he? He’s a malignant human being with almost limitless power. And the meanshe has the means. And time is on his side. Everything is on his side.

"My God," said Louis, stopping in his tracks. "It was the burglary! It was the burglary! Of course! How could I have missed it?" Hearing his own voice startled him, and yet its sound was lost in the vast emptiness around him.

Hugh’s most recent effort, the episode of just a few years back, had happened this way. Hugh had murdered a man in France, or rather he had arranged for it to be done, and had then, as a sinister prank, arranged for the dead man’s body to be deposited on Louis’s doorstep. He had meant to intimidate Louis, then to toy with him, and then, perhaps, eventually to do away with him. But to Hugh’s surprise and chagrin, Louis had, in defending himself, come perilously close to exposing him and had even managed to make a tape recording of Hugh— Secretary of State Hugh Bowes—incriminating himself. And so Hugh had been forced to withdraw from the battle, held in check, or so Louis had allowed himself to hope. How could I have? He walked even faster.

Louis found a pay telephone outside the post office in the first village he came to. Renard could hear seagulls in the background. "Hugh Bowes," said Louis. "I don’t know how I could have missed it. The burglary was orchestrated by Hugh Bowes."

"Hugh Bowes? What burglary?" the policeman wanted to know. "That burglary? You said so yourself back then: it was a small thing and the thief was a moron."

"He was too inept," said Louis. "His ineptitude was on purpose. He was supposed to get caught. It was Hugh Bowes setting things up, setting things in motion. I don’t know how I missed it."

"What a ridiculous idea," said Renard.

"I know," said Louis. "That is part of what makes it so beguiling."

"If you start to think that way...," said Renard. But he sighed and left the thought unfinished. "We have Bowes on tape threatening you..."

"The tape. My God, the tape!" said Louis.

"What about the tape?" said Renard, but Louis had already hung up the phone.

Excerpted from L'Assassin by Peter Steiner

Copyright © 2008 by Peter Steiner

Published in 2008 by Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Minotaur

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher

Meet the Author

This is Peter Steiner's second novel in the Louis Morgon thriller series; the first, Le Crime, originally published in hardcover under the title A French Country Murder, is available in paperback from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur. Also known for his cartoons in The New Yorker, he lives in Connecticut.

Earlier in his life, Peter Steiner taught literature for a living. Then he became a cartoonist for The New Yorker. He now writes stunningly good spy novels. He has published books including The Terrorist, L'Assassin and Le Crime (published in hardcover as A French Country Murder) in his series set in France and featuring ex-CIA man Louis Morgon. Peter Steiner makes his home in France and Connecticut.

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4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
L'Assassin is not what I thought it would be. The cover of the hardback shows the Eiffel Tower, something that plays no part whatsoever in the story. And, I learned that the title itself is misleading. The original title, A French Country Murder, is more appropriate. It's a rather delightful tale of a long-retired CIA employee who, after 30 years of living in France, finds that an old and powerful nemesis is still wanting to settle scores. The delight is in how the tale is told, and how the purported victim tries to save himself from what is surely to be his murder. We see much of western France, and meet colorful characters throughout the story. The reader knows that there is no question that the old nemesis should not be in pursuit, but we never clearly understand what his gripe is. No matter. The story unfolds to a very clever ending, one that will leave you waiting for another book by the author, which, coincidentally, has just come out!
harstan More than 1 year ago
After leaving the CIA former field agent Louis Morgon lives with his beloved Solesme Lefourier in rustic Saint-Léon sur Dême, France. However his contentment is shattered when the love of his life informs him the cancer is back, terminally this time. A break-in to their house is easily resolved by Louis¿ friend police officer Jean Renard who arrests petty incompetent criminal Pierre Lefort for the burglary. --- Pierre is easily convicted as he left enough evidence for an amateur sleuth to find, Louis ponders whether the thief purposely did so and if yes, why. Although he suspects a greater game afoot, Louis remains ignorant of what is going on partially because he is emotionally distracted by Solesme¿s cancer. However former U.S. Secretary of State Hugh Bowes is aware of everything. The break-in is the beginning of a diabolically clever scheme to get at Louis initially through people he cares about, his best friend the cop and the love of his life to help set up the bigger scene. Revenge is such sweet sorrow for the victim as Bowes arranges for Louis¿ former associates to find solid proof that Morgon now works for bin Laden. --- This direct sequel to A FRENCH COUNTRY MURDER is a top rate thriller as the brilliant wicked Bowes works his revenge for Morgon¿s destruction of his seditious successful life at a time when his enemy is emotionally distraught. Fans will relish this exhilarating clever cat and mouse game as Bowes manipulates the anti terrorist crowd even better than Karl Rove could ever accomplish insuring that the CIA and their espionage cohorts to go after his chosen target. This is a one sitter thriller as the hero is the mouse that roared, but the odds remain he will be rendition. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago