Detective Lena Gamble knows how to handle the hottest cases--do it fast and keep her head down. Because if it all goes south, the department won't hesitate to make a scapegoat out of her. So when she gets called to the scene of a double murder at Club 3 AM, the latest A-list hangout for Hollywood celebs, she knows the fun is only beginning.
And she's not wrong. It's just much worse than she imagined. As expected, one of the victims is club owner Johnny Bosco, one of the most well-connected men in Hollywood politics. But the shocker comes when Lena sees the other victim: twenty-five-year-old Jacob Gant, acquitted just days ago of murdering his sixteen-year-old neighbor, after L.A.'s latest trial-of-the-century.
But are these victims of a father's righteous anger or is something bigger at play?
Robert Ellis delivers all the twists and turns fans have come to expect in this bestselling series with plenty to spare in Murder Season, his most outstanding white-knuckled thriller yet.
About the Author
ROBERT ELLIS, a Los Angeles Times bestselling author, has written four previous novels, most recently The Lost Witness. A former filmmaker and political media consultant, he splits his time between Los Angeles and Connecticut.
Robert Ellis is a former filmmaker and political media consultant from Los Angeles. He is the author of three bestselling crime novels, Access to Power, The Dead Room, and the critically acclaimed City of Fire, which also garnered praise from authors as diverse as Michael Connelly and Janet Evanovich.
Read an Excerpt
She could smell it in the pillow as she pulled it closer. On the sheets as she rolled over in the darkness and searched out cool spots that were not there.
She was floating, drifting. Cruising through an open seam between sleep and consciousness.
She glanced at the clock radio but didn't really see it, then fell back into the stream and let go. It was somewhere after midnight, sometime before dawn. Early spring, and the air inside the house was already deadened from the oppressive heat. A steep, lifeless desert wave had swelled over Los Angeles two days ago, pushing the marine layer and the cool breezes out over the ocean where they could be burned up and erased without a witness.
The city that was left behind felt dusty and canned in. Vacuum-packed. The air perfumed with spent diesel fuel and gasoline.
Murder season would come early this year. It would roll in with the heat like they were best friends. Lovers.
She reached across the bed, probing gently for a warm body but finding only emptiness. Only her dreams. A smile worked its way through her body. The one that came with her dreams. She could feel it in her chest and between her legs. She could feel it spreading across her face and blistering through her skin before it rose up and faded away.
She had spent the night on the terrace drinking ice-cold Irish reds with Stan Rhodes and Tito Sanchez. Sanchez had brought over a flank steak, marinating the meat, and working the grill with mesquite the way his grandmother had taught him. After dinner they sat on the stone wall and gazed down the hill, the lights of the city caught in the dust and glowing like cotton balls from downtown all the way across the basin to the Pacific. They laughed and told stories in the eerie light, opened fresh bottles, and talked shop. Rhodes and Sanchez were deep in on a new murder case and had worked the last forty- eight hours straight out. Both detectives needed to regroup and get some sleep. Lena had tomorrow off and could afford to relax, maybe even get buzzed. When they left around ten, she popped open the last bottle of ale, stripped off her clothes, and slipped into the pool.
Murder season. Trouble ahead. When the streets get hot, business burns.
She rolled onto her back, her mind cutting a jagged path to the surface. She could hear something going on in the house — something in the background behind her thoughts. A noise pulsing through the still air. She tried to ignore it, fight it. Tried to pretend that it wasn't real. After a while, she wondered if it wasn't part of her dream, a noise in the darkness breaking up her sleep.
Until she finally realized that it was her cell.
She opened her eyes and saw the light glowing from her phone. She grabbed it, recognized the caller, and slid open the lock on the touch screen. It was her supervisor, Lt. Frank Barrera, Robbery-Homicide Division. She didn't need to guess what he wanted. She checked the clock and read it this time: 2:54 a.m.
Murder season. The train was rolling in.
"You cool, Lena?" he said. "I know it's your day off, so I'm asking if everything's cool."
"I'm good. What's up? What's that noise in the background?"
She turned and looked out the window. Sirens. She could hear them in the distance, and she could hear them over the phone. She made the match — Barrera was close. He was in the neighborhood. She tried to look down the hill and thought she could see flashing lights. Something was going on just west of the Capitol Records Building.
"We're in deep shit, Lena. Real deep shit."
His voice broke. Barrera's usual demeanor — steady as she goes — had become tainted with fear.
"Tell me what you want me to do," she said.
"We've got two dead bodies in Hollywood. That's all I can say over the phone."
His voice cut off like he needed to catch his breath. Most homicides in Los Angeles were handled by investigators at the local level. For a murder to bounce up to RHD, the crime had to involve a high profile victim or be particularly horrific. For a Homicide Special detective to get the call with a crime scene still open, it had to be more than that. Some unlucky combination of the two.
Lena switched on the light, feeling the rush of adrenaline eat up whatever alcohol remained in her blood. She still didn't have a partner and wouldn't until the fall.
"Why me?" she asked.
"Orders from Deputy Chief Ramsey. You'll know why when you get here."
Ramsey was one of the few members of the old guard who had survived the department's reorganization. He reported directly to Chief Logan, and had become his trusted right hand. His fixer. She knew that Chief Logan had left the city on a ten-day recruiting tour for the Scientific Investigation Division. With the success of the CSI franchise on television, the line of students wanting to become the real thing was a long one. Logan was offering better than decent money and the chance to move to L.A. He knew that he would have his pick of the best and brightest. He also knew that SID had taken a big hit recently and the division needed the fire that came with new blood.
"Where?" she asked.
"You ever hear of a place in Hollywood called Club 3 AM?"
Lena glanced at her .45 on the night table as Barrera gave her the address. She didn't bother writing it down. Everyone in L.A. knew about Club 3 AM. It had become a celebrity hangout. A private nightclub catering to the A-list.
"Who's dead?" she asked.
"Can't do it, Lena. Not over the phone. Get here as soon as you can."
Barrera's cell punched out. Lena lowered her phone.
Murder season. It had come early this year.
Showered and dressed in fifteen minutes, she raced down the hill, hit the straight track on Gower, and floored it past the Monastery of the Angels, estimating her time of arrival at less than five minutes. She was driving a metallic-green Crown Victoria with tinted glass that had "cop" written all over it. The take-home car floated over the road, cutting a wide path through the air. But Lena wasn't thinking about the ride, or even the fact that her Honda had finally hit the skids and needed to be replaced at a time when money was tight. Instead, she was keyed in on the sound of Barrera's shaky voice.
The roads were empty. She blew through the light at Franklin, the V8 kicking like a shotgun. She was thinking about Club 3 AM. And she was thinking about the man behind the club. A man with a certain reputation who knew things.
She made a right on Yucca Street. As she crossed Ivar and sped around the bend, she could see the nightclub in the distance and slowed down some. Club 3 AM was tucked in between Yucca and Grace Avenue. The place looked more like a three-story European villa than a nightclub. Easing closer, Lena noticed the high wall around the property and guessed that the front of the building was only a facade. The main entrance would be around back so Hollywood's A-list could come and go without fear of being seen or photographed. Her view cleared as she passed a white van on the right. Ten black and white cruisers fenced in the street. Searching for a way through the blockade, she spotted a cop waving at her with a clipboard. But as she idled through the intersection, night became day — her car shelled with bursts of white-hot light.
She flinched, then turned to see the press crowding the other side of the street. One hundred cameras were blasting away on full automatic. The paparazzi could smell blood in the water: two dead bodies in Hollywood. They were pushing against the crime scene tape and shouting at each other — screaming at the patrol units holding them back.
She rolled down her window, squinting as the tinted glass gave way and the strobe lights penetrated the car bright as lightning. After signing in, the cop shielded his eyes and pointed at the gated drive.
"The place is set ass backward," he shouted. "The front's around back."
There was no smile on his face, and no verbal acknowledgment of the chaos. But there was something in his eyes that reminded her of the fear she had heard in Barrera's voice. He stepped away before she could ask him anything, then grabbed his radio mike and waved her through. Lena waved back, easing the Crown Vic down the drive and out of the paparazzi's bent view.
She found a place to park, got out, and hit the door locks. As she scanned the lot beneath the palm trees, she was struck by the number of city cars already at the crime scene. There were too many patrol cars here as well, too many detectives' cars. And that black Lincoln idling in the shadows could only mean that Deputy Chief Ramsey was here, too. She glanced over at the SID truck where a team of criminalists were preparing their evidence kits, then gave the lot another quick look.
What she didn't see was what she had expected to see and wanted to see.
There wasn't a single Ferrari here, or a single Lamborghini, or the possible witnesses that would have come with them. Club 3 AM never closed. It looked like the A-list had run for cover before anyone dialed 911. The Hollywood Station was just a few blocks south. The first responding units would have arrived in minutes and not let anyone walk away. Hollywood Homicide would have been right behind them.
"This way, Lena. Hurry."
She turned to find her supervisor on the elaborate set of steps encircling a fountain. Barrera was clutching the rail with his left hand and waving her up to the porch and main entrance. She took the steps quickly and met him at the door. When she got a look at his face in the light, the worry in his eyes frightened her.
"What's happened, Frank? Who's dead?"
He couldn't meet her gaze. "Not here," he said. "Follow me."
Barrera turned away, leading her through the foyer. As they passed the main bar, Lena saw a group of RHD detectives sitting at several tables. Some were working their cell phones. Others appeared to be on standby, watching her walk by with subdued faces and quiet nods, and drinking cups of takeout coffee. Behind them she recognized Johnny Bosco's partner, Dante Escabar, standing alone behind the bar and pouring a glass of bourbon as if he needed it.
She turned back to Barrera, following him down the hall, and thinking about what she had just seen. "How many guys got tonight's callout?"
"Everyone," he said.
Barrera picked up speed, leading her up the main staircase. They were moving so fast that Lena didn't have time to pick out many details. All she knew was that the nightclub exuded elegance and didn't have the feel of a public place. That the European villa had high ceilings, ornate moldings, and appeared to have been built around a large courtyard that included a pool. She could see the light shimmering from the water through the windows and painting the stairwell blue.
They reached the top floor. As they swept past a series of open doors, Lena noted the private lounges with stocked bars and full windows that opened to recessed balconies she couldn't see from the parking lot. Turning the corner, the private lounges gave way to a long line of equally private bedroom suites.
Things happened here, she thought. Johnny Bosco took care of people and learned their secrets. The A-list.
They made a final turn, passing through a set of French doors at the end of the hall and entering an office. The doors to the balcony were open. Barrera told her to wait and stepped outside into the darkness. There were people out there. Five or six shadows speaking in voices so low they didn't carry into the room. Lena was beginning to lose her patience. She was thinking about crime scenes and the fact that an investigator only gets one shot at it. That this crime scene had the touch and feel of being filtered down or even swept away. She wanted to know where the bodies were. Why the entire division had been called out, but no one was doing anything. Why, if this was her case, she hadn't been the first call, but obviously instead the last.
She shook it off, taking in the room as she waited. Shuttered windows of one-way mirrored glass gave way to views of the main bar and dining rooms on the floor below. What couldn't be seen with the naked eye was picked up by security cameras feeding into a paper-thin flat panel TV monitor hanging above the fireplace mantel. She glanced at the couch and sitting area, then stepped behind the desk for a better look at the walls. The wood paneling had been carved to mimic the ripples in cloth curtains. She had never seen anything like it before and couldn't imagine how it was done or what it might cost. This had to be Bosco's office, not Dante Escabar's. When she spotted the photographs on the far wall, that thought was confirmed. The wall was covered with pictures of Bosco arm in arm with his celebrity friends. Actors who had received Oscars, athletes who had won championships, and one of the few U.S. senators from California who served four terms without an indictment. When her eyes came to rest on a photo of Bosco with District Attorney Jimmy J. Higgins, she felt something hard pull at her chest.
She knew that Bosco and Higgins were friends. She even recognized the photograph. A copy had been published in The Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago.
Two dead bodies in Hollywood. Two heavyweights requiring a division callout. All hands on deck.
Lena checked her right palm, noticed the tremors creeping up her fingers, then turned as she heard someone enter the room from the balcony behind her.
Deputy Chief Albert Ramsey stepped around Johnny Bosco's desk with his steel-blue eyes pinned on her. Ramsey was a tall, stiff man with a shaved head, a square jaw, and pale, blotchy skin that had been ruined by too much time in the sun chasing the great white whale. There was something frightening about his presence, something about the glint in those eyes of his and the fact that he was a man of few words. Ramsey had survived for more than thirty-five years in a police department often drowning in political turmoil, and he knew where the bones were buried. When he entered a room, like Ahab in the flesh, everyone noticed. But something about tonight was different. Tonight, the deputy chief appeared more like a prizefighter who had just walked into a straight right and taken it on the chin. He may have been standing, Lena thought. He may have even had two legs. But tonight he looked punch drunk and ready to fall.
"Thank you for getting here so quickly," he said in a low, raspy voice. "Detectives Sanchez and Rhodes are on their way. But we've made a decision, Gamble. This is your case now. What happens next is up to you. After tonight, you're on your own."
He didn't wait for a response, cutting a sharp path to the set of double doors on the other side of the fireplace. Barrera had followed Ramsey into the room, but was still avoiding her gaze. Lena expected the others to join them, but they remained on the terrace whispering in the night.
Ramsey gave the doors a hard push. As they entered another foyer, Lena could feel the finish line approaching. They were walking through a private bedroom suite, bigger than the rest because it belonged to Bosco. They were passing a changing room and entering a large bathing area that included a massage table, an open shower, and a spa.
Lena's eyes sprinted across the tiled floor until she hit pay dirt. The two dead bodies in Hollywood. She looked at the blood pooling on the floor — there was a lot of it — her hands instinctively digging into her pocket for a pair of vinyl gloves.
Two dead men. Two heavyweights. One faced down in a fetal position. The other, all bloodied up and leaning against the far wall.
Ramsey kept his eyes on her. "Everything remains the way we found it, Detective. As far as we know, nothing has been touched."
As far as we know ...
Lena took in a deep breath, pushing the air out of her lungs as if it was smoke. She noted the open windows by the spa. The cocaine piled on a marble slab — at least 10K's worth — and the razor blade that went with it. The dead man in the silk suit had been shot in the back, a plume of blood oozing through his jacket just below his left shoulder. She checked the floor, stepping over the blood for a look at the man's face. He was about forty-five, with wide shoulders, short brown hair, and a strong chin. Until a few hours ago, he had been the kind of man people like to look at. But not now. One eye remained open — his capped teeth jutting out — and Lena could see a double load of white powder still lodged in his flared nostrils.
Excerpted from "Murder Season"
Copyright © 2011 Robert Ellis.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
I had a hard time getting into this book. However, all of a sudden it gets REALLY exciting! Then I couldn't read fast enough!
It is just the beginning of spring in Los Angeles, but the heat has come in early this year, with temps reaching 117 degrees, and with it the murder season. Homicide detective Lena Gamble is called in the middle of the night to the scene of a shooting at a celebrity hangout, where the owner of the club and a patron are found dead. The patron is 25-year-old Jacob Gant, acquitted just days before in a very high-profile and volatile case involving the rape and killing of a 16-year-old girl. Think George Zimmerman in Florida, a recent case analogous only in its bare facts: a young and seemingly innocent person killed by an older one for no apparent reason. Another notorious case is brought up here as well: OJ’s murder trial, where someone thought by the public to be guilty is freed by an LA jury. As in that case, there is outrage as to the way the case has been handled, or mishandled, by the LAPD and its forensics lab. There is strong feeling that the girl’s grief-stricken father is responsible, and much evidence to support that theory. The public of course sees it as completely justifiable. Under the spotlight from the public and the media, Lena and others believe she is the designated scapegoat for the police department. There are twists and turns galore, with many a red herring. The reader will be in doubt as to who did what, as are the police, until the very end. Not all of the plot was credible to this reader, nor were some of the scenes depicting one male character after another nearly breaking down with tears and near collapse one minute and filled with homicidal rage the next. But as the author says, “humanity can be shed as easily as clothing. Everything you know about someone can change in the blink of an eye.” Fair enough. A good and suspenseful read, the book is recommended.
Robert Ellis tells an interesting story about murders involving the high and mighty, but sometimes his writing gets high and flighty. The book begins: "She could smell it on the pillow...murder season....Murder season would come early this year. It would roll in with the heat like they were best friends." And it goes on: "Murder season. trouble ahead. When the streets get hot, business burns." Fortunately this cheesy writing then hides itself behind Ellis' editors, and the story gets underway. Layers of new evidence are unpeeled, and then, when we finally think we know who the killer is, the man who lives for murder season, Ellis decides to throw caution to the wind and end his story with a conclusion that takes first place in cheesy endings.