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The Murder Artist

The Murder Artist

4.2 24
by John Case

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The bestselling author of The Genesis Code and The Eighth Day now strikes his most harrowing chord, with a chilling novel that pushes suspense to nearly inhuman limits.

As a television news correspondent, Alex Callahan has traveled to some of the most dangerous corners of the globe, covering famine, plague, and war. He’s seen more than his


The bestselling author of The Genesis Code and The Eighth Day now strikes his most harrowing chord, with a chilling novel that pushes suspense to nearly inhuman limits.

As a television news correspondent, Alex Callahan has traveled to some of the most dangerous corners of the globe, covering famine, plague, and war. He’s seen more than his share of blood and death, and knows what it means to be afraid. But what he’s never known is the terror that grabs him when, on a tranquil summer afternoon, he ceases to be an observer of the dark side and, to his shock, becomes enmeshed in it.

Separated from his wife, and struggling not to become a stranger to his six-year-old twin sons, Alex is logging some all-too-rare quality time with the boys, when they vanish without a trace amid the hurly-burly of a countryside Renaissance Fair.

Then the phone call comes. A chilling silence; slow, steady breathing; and the familiar, plaintive voice of a child–“Daddy?”–complete the nightmare . . . and set in motion a juggernaut of frenzy and agony.

The longer the police search, exhausting leads without success, the deeper Alex’s certainty grows that time is running out. And when, at last, telltale signs reveal a hidden pattern of bizarre and ghoulish abductions, Alex vows to use his own relentless investigative skills to rescue his children from the shadowy figure dubbed The Piper.

Whoever this elusive stranger is, the profile that slowly emerges–from previous crimes involving twins, from the zealously secret world of professional magicians, and from the eerie culture of voodoo–suggests that The Piper is a predator unlike any other. A twisted soul hell-bent on fulfilling an unspeakably dark dream. A fiend with a terrifying true calling. What Alex Callahan is closing in on is a monster with a mission.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A parent's worst nightmare is realized in Case's expertly written new thriller. During a summer-long, last-ditch attempt to reconnect with his family since separating from his wife, Washington TV reporter Alexander Callahan loses his identical twin six-year-old sons at a Maryland Renaissance fair. After facing the media avalanche outside his house, Alex and police detectives discover mysterious objects placed inside: a carefully crafted origami rabbit, a bowl of water in the closet, seven winged Liberty dimes in a neat stack. Following a "maelstrom of emotion," Alex is eliminated as a suspect and authorities concede a lack of reliable leads. Scouring the Internet, Alex discovers connections between several cases of abducted twins and his own situation, and with relentless determination he continues his investigation, traveling to Daytona Beach, Fla., to interview wary sources and Las Vegas, Nev., to research the horrific deaths of two abducted young showgirls. The kidnapper, it seems, is a malevolent magician dabbling in voodoo practices. Case's pace reaches a fever pitch as Alex chases more leads to New Orleans, where he teams up with a local albino sleuth and ends up on the doorstep of a witchdoctor who insists on a nightmarish rebirthing ritual before he'll break his silence on the killer. Northern and Southern California provide the final backdrops for a harrowing conclusion that will leave readers breathless. A long, winding narrative that's impossible to put down, this is another work of superior suspense from the author of The Genesis Code. Agent, Elaine Markson. (Oct. 12) FYI: John Case is the pen name of husband-and-wife team Jim and Carolyn Hougan. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Washington, DC, investigative reporter Alex Callahan begins to live every parent's worst nightmare when his young twin sons, Sean and Kevin, go missing from a Renaissance fair. Separated from his wife and suffering from the guilt of losing his sons, he finds things going from bad to worse when he himself becomes a suspect in their disappearance. Then after a month of dead ends, the police move on to other cases, and Alex quits his job to devote himself to the search full time. Using his reporting experience to pursue leads from Las Vegas to New Orleans to the California coast, he ends up in the shadowy worlds of magic and voodoo. Will he survive? Brisk prose, a breathtaking plot, and realistic characters drive this gripping thriller to an unexpected and satisfying end. Another winner from Case (The Eighth Day) that will satisfy fans of Jeffery Deaver and Michael Connolly. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.]-Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Searching for his kidnapped twin sons, a TV journalist follows an eerie trail. However sensitive the matter in real life, child abduction can loom as a canard when the subject of a thriller. But the pseudonymous Case (The Eighth Day, 2002, etc.) rips into the topic as if it's never been used before. Jaded readers will snap to attention when reporter Alex Callahan returns home to find shiver-inducing clues-a bowl of water, an origami rabbit, a row of Mercury dimes-in the bedroom of his six-year-old twin sons, who've just been kidnapped at a Medieval Fair in northern Virginia. Nearly all of what follows continues to unsettle and intrigue as Callahan, determined to recover his boys, crisscrosses the country, digs through musty files, interviews quirky sources, and surfs the Internet to break the case. He first works with the FBI, but they soon reach a dead-end. Moving ahead alone, Callahan grasps for leads. Might there be links among other cases of abducted twins? Gradually, he connects the grisly murders of two Las Vegas strippers and the abductions of two young boys from Oregon to the kidnappings of his sons. He discovers that, besides twins, the cases also involve a man who practices dark magic: the murder artist. Now Callahan is off to Bayou country, where an albino guide leads him to a voodoo master who promises to help if Callahan will spend a night buried alive. The devoted father complies in a scene claustrophobics will find literally breath-taking. Then, acting on a promising hunch, Callahan speeds to California. Minus one notable flaw in credibility, the rescue scene delivers the reward and excitement that the steady, fascinating build-up has promised. It's all in the telling, andCase does it just right: no clue, moment, or character unturned. Agent: Elaine Markson/Elaine Markson Agency
From the Publisher

The Eighth Day

“Deliciously sinister . . . A breakneck yarn of good vs. evil.”
People (Page-turner of the week)

“John Case . . . has outdone himself. The Eighth Day is a harrowing novel of suspense.”
Tampa Tribune & Times

The Syndrome

“A glass-shattering, diesel-fueled, hard-charging thrill ride of a read . . . [John Case is] a confident master working at peak performance.”
Author of Paradise City and Sleepers

“A top-notch yarn . . . The always-intriguing John Case is back. . . . Filled with fascinating details on the research and history of behavior control, The Syndrome delivers the thrills.”
Chicago Tribune

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Random House Publishing Group
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Five hours of sleep. I rub my eyes, head out front, and bend down to extract my rolled-up copy of The Washington Post from beneath an azalea bush. I never know where I'm going to find the thing; whoever pitches it never got past T-ball.

"Good morning! Beautiful day in the neighborhood." It's Yasmin Siegel, my eightysomething neighbor from across the street, with her black Lab, Cookie.

"I guess." I slide the paper out from its transparent plastic sleeve.

"Seriously, Alex, a day like this in Washington, D.C." She shakes her head in disbelief. "It's a gift. End of May? You can get some real stinkers." She points her finger at me. "You enjoy it, you and those boys."

"I was hoping for rain," I tell her, looking up at the cloudless blue sky.

"Ri-ight," Yasmin chuckles. "O-kay, Cookie. I get the message." She gives me a jaunty wave and heads toward the park.

Actually, I was hoping for rain. I check the weather map on the back of the Metro section, just in case.

No. No rapidly moving front, no storm pelting toward D.C. from Canada or the Outer Banks.

A beautiful day.

Back in the house, I set up the coffeemaker. While I wait for it to do its thing, I put out bowls and spoons for the boys, pour two glasses of orange juice, tear off a couple of bananas from the bunch, toss them onto the table, get the giant box of Cheerios down from the cabinet.

The problem with the beautiful day is that I've got work to do, last-minute cuts on a piece scheduled to air tonight. But cuts or no cuts, I promised the boys--my six-year-old twins--that every Saturday they could pick out some kind of excursion. And they're dead set on this Renaissance festival, which naturally enough is all the way to hell and gone, way out past Annapolis. The drive alone will take more than an hour each way. It's going to kill the whole day.

And since this is the boys' first visit since Christmas--and only their second visit since Liz and I separated--this is the first of these excursions. No way I can bail.

I tell myself there's nothing for it. Get on with it. I need to make the cuts in time to drop off the file at the station on our way out of town.

The boys and I are doing great so far--although after only six days, I'm already wiped out and playing catch-up at the station. This would make Liz happy, both the sleep deprivation and the fact that after less than a week, I'm already falling behind at work. She built in the time crunch when she set up the conditions for the visit. She wouldn't let me take the boys on a trip, for instance, not even for part of the month. "How can I compete," she said, "if every time they're with you, it's a vacation?" (I took the kids skiing in Utah during my allotted four days at Christmas.)

What Liz wants is a month of "regular life," as she puts it. She works full-time at the Children's Museum in Portland. She wants me to experience the reality, 24/7, of having kids and a job, wants me to hassle with car pools, laundry, bedtimes, picky eating habits, friends, the parents of friends. If there's any chance for a reconciliation, I have to see that I can't just phone it in--having a wife and kids. Being a single parent for a month will force me to put family first.

Instead of work. In the station's official bio, I'm the guy who "goes after the toughest stories in the hardest places." This has won me several awards, but it's beginning to look as if it might cost me my marriage. And my family. I was in Moscow when the twins took their first steps, in Kosovo when Kev broke his arm, in Mazar-al-Sharif on their first day of kindergarten.

"Minute for minute," Liz said, "you'll probably see more of the boys this month than you have for the past two years. Maybe you'll even like it."

Coffee's ready. I splash some milk into it and I'm about to leave the plastic bottle on the table for the boys, when I remember that Kev won't touch milk if it's the slightest bit warm. I put it back into the fridge.

The thing is I do like it, having the guys around, even with the hassles. Liz was right about that. I guess it was always easier to let her do most of the "parenting," or whatever you want to call it. Turns out, that routine stuff is when you really get to know your kids. I forgot how much fun they are, their bursts of insight, the earnest concentration they bring to certain tasks. How much I missed them.

This Renaissance thing, though--I'm not looking forward to that. After a long and traffic-choked drive, I'm guessing it will be a hokey and overpriced tour through what amounts to a faux Elizabethan amusement park. Costumed knights and ladies. Jousts and faked swordplay. Jugglers and magicians. Not my kind of thing. Not at all.

I tried to promote an O's game, a trip to the zoo, a movie and pizza--but the boys wouldn't budge. They've been relentless about the festival ever since they caught the ad on TV.

By now, I've seen it too because the kids taped it and forced me to watch. A knight in shining armor gallops into the foreground. Behind him, a half-timbered facade bristles with wind-whipped pennants. Huge lance in hand, the knight reins in his horse, lifts his faceplate, and in hearty Elizabethan English invites one and all to "Get thyselves to the Maryland Renaissance Faire!"

It all seemed kind of lame to me, and I made the mistake of saying that to Liz last night on the phone--looking for a little good-natured mutual grumbling about parenthood.

What I got instead was a chilly lecture from my wife. Didn't I get it that what parents enjoy is their kids' enjoyment? What did I think--that Liz was crazy about Barney? Teletubbies? Return of the Clones? "And here I was going to compliment you on finding something that fit in so well with their after-school enrichment program," Liz said. "I should have known."

I didn't have a clue about any after-school program and that, unfortunately, became crystal clear. She explained: the boys have been up to their ears in Arthurian lore.

This had gone right by me; although once Liz mentioned it, I realized the kids had been rattling on about the Round Table and Merlin. And they'd spent hours out in the backyard, dueling with plastic swords. Plastic swords that, yes, they brought in their suitcases.

Okay, so I demonstrated a lack of curiosity about the plastic swords--is that so bad? Or--is Liz right and I'm the most self-absorbed parent on the planet? Unlike their tuned-in mother up in Maine.

Maine. I drop down into the chair in front of the iMac in my study. Could she have moved any farther away? Without expatriating? The answer, of course, is yes: she could have gone to Alaska. Hawaii. L.A. She could have gone lots of places. But...

I tap a key and wait for the screen to shimmer out of sleep mode. My segment--"Afghan Wedding"--was all wrapped and ready until nine last night, when I got the word that the addition of some promotional clips meant I had to cut another two minutes. I made the logical cuts last night, but I still need to lose forty-four seconds. The segment's only seven minutes long now, so cutting is harder. Whatever goes at this point will be something I don't want to give up.

Originally "Afghan Wedding" was part of an hour-long special about Afghanistan, pegged around a Donald Rumsfeld we-haven't-forgotten-you visit to that beleaguered country. I got a nice long interview with the secretary of defense about the state of the postwar recovery. I interviewed Karzai. We got some excellent tape of the crew working on the reconstruction of the Kandahar-Kabul road. And then there was a pastiche of feel-good stuff about life in liberated Kabul and Kandahar. Girls going to school. The opening of a health clinic for women. Exhilarated Afghanis listening to music. Dancing. Capped off with the wedding: Afghan couple celebrates long-postponed nuptials.

The wedding was to take place in a village near Kandahar. A safe zone, or so we were told. The crew and I got there with our equipment, no problem. Even with the cameras, the wedding got started on time. And then the happy occasion turned into a nightmare when the crew of an off-course U.S. F-16 seeking a rumored Taliban conclave misread the wedding tableau on the ground.

Four killed, fifteen wounded.

The segment was removed from the hour-long progress report about Afghanistan. Now the wedding footage was going to be part of an ambitious show about collateral damage: Gulf I (Saddam and the Kurds), Mostar (the bridge), Gaza and Jerusalem (noncombatants killed by both sides), Afghanistan (my wedding piece), Liberia (chopped-off hands and feet), Gulf II (friendly-fire fatalities). The show--Big Dave was angling for an Emmy--would finish with a segment about the mother of all collateral-damage stories: September 11.

I cue up my segment on the iMac. On the monitor, the nightmare has not yet begun. The camera cuts between the glowing faces of the bride and groom, then moves in for a close-up of the tiny American flags pinned to their nuptial finery.

"Dad, can we eat breakfast in the TV room and watch cartoons?"

I jump. Liz took off with the kids more than six months ago and one week into their visit, I'm still not used to the way they just materialize. "Jeez, I gotta put bells on you guys."

Kevin laughs.

Sean says, "Can we?"


"Eat breakfast in the TV room? Please?"

I shrug. "Why not?"

"Great! C'mon, Kev."

But Kevin doesn't budge. "When are we going to the Renaissance Fair?"

I'm wondering what I can get away with. "I'm thinking...noon."

"No way!" Kev complains. "We'll miss the whole thing."

"Kevin," his brother tells him, "it doesn't even start till eleven. And it goes till seven." Then, because he's just learned to tell time, Sean adds: "P.M."

Kevin gives his brother a look. "No kidding, P.M." He turns to me. "You promise? Noon?"

I pretend to think about it. "Nahhhh, I can't promise."

Sean gives a little gulp of a laugh and then the two of them moan in chorus: "Daaaaad."

At least they know, after a week, when I'm kidding. The first couple of days, worried looks flashed from one to the other. To say they'd forgotten my sense of humor understates it: they'd forgotten what I'm like--a depressing reminder that five months had been just about long enough to turn me into a stranger to my sons.

When the kids are gone, I cue up the bits of footage I picked out last night for possible cuts. I mute the audio and lean back to watch. I take some time checking out how various cuts will affect the transitions.

And I decide that maybe the dark-man sequence has to go. It's thirty-eight seconds long and if I can live without it, I'm just about home free.

One last look.

The dark man is one of the bride's brothers. The ceremony is over and he's holding his weapon--it's an AK--in one outstretched hand. With a loopy grin on his face, he squeezes off a few rounds in sheer jubilation. I like this, the irony of gunfire as celebration in a country where the sounds of war never seem to stop. Just as the camera closes on the man's gleeful face, the whole screen jumps.

That jolt was, in fact, the impact of the first bomb from the


The dark man's grin collapses into slack-jawed astonishment, then turns into a puzzled contemplation of his weapon, as if it might somehow be responsible for what's happening. He's still connecting the dots when the second bomb detonates, this one so close the screen instantly fills with dust and debris. Visible only in silhouette, the dark man goes airborne, body hurtling through the air. Then he's propped up against a rock, powdered in dust, eyes dazed, blood seeping from an ear.

The camera shifts to me. I'm coated in dust, too, standing in front of a rocky outcrop and talking into a microphone. Then we see a group of women, wailing and pointing toward the sky. Me again. Then the bewildered bride staring at the face of her fatally wounded groom.

I roll it back, check the frame counter. The sequence is good, but it's peripheral. I tap a few keys and it's...gone.

I tinker with a cut I made last night and shave off the remaining few seconds I need, then roll it through. I stop when I hit the image of the dark man--somehow a few frames survived my edit. I delete them and roll forward, just to make sure the transitions are clean. I freeze it when the kids come in--for what must be the tenth time now--to remind me that it's time to go. "Past time to go," Kev says. "Almost twelve-thirty."

"Let's go-ohhhh!"

"Let's be off," Kevin says in a funny, stilted voice--a knightly voice, I realize.

"Yes! Your loyal servants Sean and Kevin beg thee!"

Suddenly, I'm engulfed by the two of them: the towheaded Lord Kevin and his mirror image, Sir Sean. They tug at my sleeves and rock from foot to foot, as if they have to pee.

"Just let me--"


With a sigh, I reach for the mouse. "Okay."

"Who's that?" Sean asks, pointing at the monitor.

I paused on a frame that shows the groom's face, his eyes wild, his face obscured by a skein of blood.

"Just a guy," I tell him. I right click.

"What's the matter with him?" Kevin asks as the haunted and battered face of the wounded groom disappears from the screen. What the boys couldn't see was that his legs had been blown off. What they did see was the terror on his face.

I click through the shutdown procedure to close out the application, then pop out the disk. "He was scared," I say.


"Because he was in a war, and he was hurt and that's...that's scary."

"I want to see it," Sean insists.


"Why not?"

"Because we have to go," I tell them, pushing back from the desk.

Sean bursts for the door, but Kevin stays where he is, big blue eyes locked on me. "Is that man going to die?"

I hesitate. Finally, I say, "Yeah."

I put my arm on Kevin's shoulder and try to steer my son toward the door, but Kev doesn't budge. "Dad?"

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

John Case is the bestselling author of The Genesis Code, The First Horseman, The Syndrome, and The Eighth Day.

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Murder Artist 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
International TV news correspondent, Alex Callahan covers all the hot spots around the world becoming immune to cruelty, abuse, and death. His biggest fear is not getting killed, but that his twin six year old sons will not know him as he struggles to see them periodically. That is why Alex enjoys his time with them as they wander a Virginia medieval fair...................................... However, the quality time together ends when he receives the phone call with the voice of a frightened tentative child crying out 'Daddy.¿ The police investigation goes nowhere so Alex employs his investigative reporter skills in cesspools to make inquiries. He finds a pattern that a voodoo crazed individual dubbed The Piper has been abducting and killing twins for years as part of a quest to fulfill a dark dream. Alex¿s only hope is to find a voodoo master hidden away in the backwaters of Bayou country. If he locates the master, Alex will pay a price to obtain help; the cost is being buried alive for a night by someone who might prove to be THE MURDER ARTIST or perhaps the twins¿ killer............................... This is an exciting thriller that grips readers from the moment Alex receives the devastating phone call. The story line never slows down as a desperate Alex, filled with guilt even before the abduction, is just about over the edge with a frantic need for penitence by saving his children and stopping the monstrous Piper. Fans will be stunned by the level of tension that grows to an unbelievable crescendo in what is going to be recognized as one of the best thrillers of the year..................... Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book and sorry it ended. Good writing and good suspense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TheShort1 More than 1 year ago
Exciting. Story: TV news correspondent Alex Callahan's twin 6 year old sons are kidnapped. Alex is good at tracking down resources, so he goes far and tries everything to get the boys back. He discovers that the guy has kidnapped other twins in the past, most end up dead: one pair escaped. The bad guy is crazy (committed to a nut house until the state had to let him go), and into magic--very dark and historical magic. Alex learns a lot about the history of magic (reader does too), goes to a voodoo guy, and has to join his group to get info so he goes to remarkable lengths. A well written grabber of a book.
jmepitt More than 1 year ago
I saw an earlier review commenting that this story would make a great movie as written. I couldn't agree more and found myself thinking that very thing during the read. Some of the character development is a bit superficial so, needless to say, it would lend itself well to the screen. Also, the author really goes into painstaking detail for some of the images he is painting but the reader is left somewhat confused. Some of the mechanical contraptions and settings described were difficult for me to see despite the detail explained... Lastly, the ending of the book, while somewhat anticlimactic, was enjoyable. However, it was the stereotypical ending for the classic action flick where Arnold says something witty then saves the day. Again, begging for translation into a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book had a very interesting concept and was well written. There was just something missing. I think it would make a great movie as written, but lacked some fleshing out of the characters and I found the ending to be unsatisfying.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Compelling and painfully realistic, this is a taut thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It's a haunting tale that you'll be thinking about long after you have read the last page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed me from the very beginning. Lots of suspense and thrills. Best book I've read in a long time. I look forward to reading more by John Case.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi! I am also a reptilian . . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from page 1 to the end. Well written, emotionally gripping, and I found myself picking it back up to read when I didn't have time to read! I left off one star in my rating only because the ending was so abrupt and unfinished, with no resolution for the reader as to how the characters carried on after the intense drama they each experienced. Perhsps the author intends for readers to keep thinking and wondering, but I prefer to KNOW!
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