PERISH was a finalist for the G. P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award.
Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner always follows the rules. Detective Jack Renner doesn’t believe in them . . .
In a mansion on the outskirts of Cleveland, a woman’s body lies in a pool of blood. The victim is Joanna Moorehouse, founder of Sterling Financial. To crack the case, Maggie and Jack will have to infiltrate the cutthroat world of high-stakes finance. But every employee at Sterling Financial is hellbent on making a killing.
When a series of unrelated murders reveals disturbing evidence, only Maggie recognizes the handiwork of a killer who will continue killing until he is stopped. Burdened with unbearable secrets, Maggie must make an agonizing choice, while her instints keeps telling her: she’s next.
Praise for Lisa Black and Her Gardiner and Renner Thrillers
“Lisa Black always delivers.” —Jeff Lindsay, creator of the DEXTER series
“This terrific mystery will keep you guessing—and turning pages.”
—Hank Phillippi Ryan
“Intriguing forensic details rive the plot.” —Publishers Weekly
“An absolute must read.” —Suspense Magazine
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black introduced the characters of Maggie Gardiner and Jack Renner in her acclaimed suspense novel That Darkness and continued their story in Unpunished, Perish, and Suffer the Children. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she is a latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scenes.
Lisa is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the International Association for Identification, and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and she is a Certified Crime Scene Analyst and Certified Latent Print Examiner. She has testified in court as an expert witness more than sixty-five times. Her books have been translated into six languages. She lives near Fort Myers, Florida. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.lisa-black.com.
Read an Excerpt
The murder had taken place in the living room, which Maggie found odd. Bedrooms, kitchens, entryways, even garages tended to backlight the scenes of high emotion, not the always slightly generic area where the hottest debates tended to be about the location of the remote. Especially this living room, with its original artwork, crystal vases, marble tiles, and leather furniture. The two walls covered in windows let in enough light to blind her, especially when the occasional sunbeam bounced off the lake's waves to reach in and reflect off the white walls. Maggie would bet the sofa alone equaled three months of her paycheck, or at least it had until the owner's blood had left a series of ugly red splotches across its smooth surface.
"Wow," she said.
"Twenty-two rooms," the cop at her side agreed. She recognized his face but not his name — including her, over sixteen hundred people worked at the Cleveland police department. "Five bedrooms, seven baths — five up and two down. Nice to have for parties, I guess. In my house I've got one ... and I have three kids. This girl had seven, all for her."
"She lived here alone?"
"Just her. So little activity that the cleaning lady only had to come in twice a week. Unfortunately, for said cleaning lady, this was the day."
Maggie gave the opulence around her one last survey. Summer raged outside but air-conditioning kept the inside temperature right on the edge of chilly. "What was she, some sort of heiress? Genius software designer? Stockbroker?"
The cop shrugged. "All I know is she wasn't a cop. Or she'd have one bathroom and no cleaning lady."
Maggie transferred her attention to the victim, her condition even more attention grabbing than her house — but in a very bad way.
Not exactly a girl, twenty-eight-year-old Joanna Moorehouse had silky chestnut hair and long legs. She appeared trim, though the damage to her torso made it difficult to tell. Sightless eyes stared at the high ceiling as her body cooled against the marble tiles. The blood pool expanded to reach a nearby Persian rug and had dried to near black. It came from the wounds on her neck and upper arms, from a few gaping slashes in her thighs, one puncture just below her eye, and mostly from the opened chest cavity. Crisscrossed slices had peeled back the flesh to reveal the inner organs, letting some of the small intestines slide out to rest beside her, still tethered by various sinew and fibroids.
The Persian rug next to the body had a sofa on one border and a matching love seat on the other, with the remaining two edges open to the edge of the dais and the rest of the house.
Maggie raised her camera, snapped a few pictures, then adjusted the flash to compensate for all the white in the room.
The victim had been wearing a blue T-shirt and a pair of gray dress slacks. From the thighs up the clothes had been cut to literal ribbons by the attack to her torso and flopped at her sides, stiff with dried fluid, along with filmy red panties and a matching bra. Only the lower right leg escaped, while the left pant leg had been sliced open to the ankle, even though there were no injuries below the knee. Whether this had happened before, as a result of, or after her evisceration might be impossible to tell and might be a combination of all three. Joanna Moorehouse had been completely exposed for the world to see, but the grotesque near-disembowelment had robbed the firm and naked body of any salacious quality. Her feet were bare, the nails manicured and shining with clear polish, as were the fingernails.
"Wow," Maggie said again, softly.
"You oughta see the rest of the place," Detective Riley said as he walked into the room, followed by his partner, Jack Renner.
"I meant her," Maggie told him.
The cops stopped inside the interior French doors. Most of the living room, for no apparent reason other than style, existed on a dais, two steps up from the rest of the first floor. It defined her scene nicely and they saw no need to enter it and possibly step on or kick something useful. Even the cop who had accompanied her remained on the lower level.
"Yeah, that's pretty impressive too," Thomas Riley agreed, rubbing his eyes with one meaty hand. Greetings weren't necessary when the city had enough murders to keep the homicide detectives and the forensic technicians perpetually running into each other. Maggie looked at his partner, Jack, and he returned a barely perceptible nod. She could look at him without flinching now, tamping the bad memories down and convincing herself that all would again be well in her world, in her mind, in her self-esteem. They had settled into an uneasy truce, imperfect people in an imperfect world working together for the greater good.
Though in his case the greater good would be if he just stopped killing people, no matter how much they deserved it. She wished he would gather his belongings and move on, as he had promised, even if it was only to become someone else's worry. More than one of the six months they'd agreed upon had elapsed. Maybe then she could finally believe that everything had been a momentary aberration, one bad moment in an otherwise blameless life, one trigger pull that altered her reality. Maybe then she could stop smelling the burnt nitrites. And the blood.
Maggie turned back to the dead Joanna Moorehouse, carefully planting her booty-clad feet to avoid the viscera. She told herself to focus. She had a job to do right here and right now. Focus.
Aside from the grievous maceration of the torso, the woman had two small cuts to her right index finger and a deep slash in the fleshy area under the thumb. Blood coated the skin of her left hand but there didn't seem to be any wounds, and both arms were equally covered in the red substance. She had probably been right handed, put up her hand to block the weapon coming at her, failed to stop it, and then clasped the other hand to the resulting wound. Maggie commented as much to the hovering detectives. She doubted it would help their investigation, but one never knew, and it all went toward justifying her take-home pay.
Stud earrings with diamonds the size of healthy peas still twinkled in Joanna Moorehouse's earlobes, making robbery an unlikely motive. She also wore rings with equally impressive stones and an elegant gold watch. If she had been wearing a necklace, it had come off in the attack.
Maggie peeked under the shoulders, tilting her head toward the blood-covered floor.
"Mind your hair," Jack said.
She grabbed a swath to keep it out of the dried stains. She didn't move Joanna's body or even touch it — the Medical Examiner's office would have some choice words for her if she did. The crime scene and everything in it belonged to the cops, but the body itself came under the ME's jurisdiction. Photographing was fine, but no moving, searching, or otherwise molesting until the ME investigator arrived.
"What?" Jack asked.
"I don't see a lot of blood underneath her, and she's only got a few defensive wounds. I'm guessing she went down and stayed down."
"Giving him room to carve her up," Riley said. "Without a drawn-out battle. None of the furniture is even out of place. Course in a room this huge he had plenty of space to work in."
Maggie added, "And carve he did. He had a pretty good time playing in the guts."
Jack asked what that meant.
"When you cut open a body, the contents don't burst out like a spring snake in a can. She's lying on her back and if I'm right about her not moving around after the worst cuts, there's no real reason for the internal organs to be protruding like this."
"So he tried to remove them?"
"Or he was looking for something?" Riley asked.
"No idea. We'll see what the ME thinks." Without getting up she looked around, noting the gleaming marble tile spinning off in every direction. "Have you found any blood anywhere else?" Jack said, "No, but we haven't done a thorough search yet."
"What's 'hmm'?" Riley groused. "I hate it when you do that."
"Where did he go?" She looked down at the body, then back at them. "All this blood, all this up close and personal ... he had to be covered in gore. So how does he tiptoe away without leaving at least a smudge or two of bloody footprint? He should have left tracks all the way out to the driveway."
Both detectives and the patrol officer looked around themselves as if they might have missed a pattern of red outlines leading from the room. They hadn't.
Maggie took another look at the dark patterns surrounding the body. Plenty of swirls and streaks had moved through the liquid before it dried, turning the floor into a large, bizarre finger painting. Fabric imprints told the story of an attacker sitting on the victim's hips as he plunged the knife into her chest again and again, then perhaps moving down to work on the abdomen, only to add a few closing slashes to her thighs before this outpouring of passion and hatred sated him. Maggie looked closely but didn't see any suggestion of a shoeprint in the dried blood patterns. Where and how had he straightened up and moved away?
She could have it reversed, of course. He could have started on the thighs and worked upward, but then Joanna Moorehouse probably would have sat up to fight him, resulting in more defensive wounds and more flopping around. Instead the pool spreading from her shoulders had not been disturbed but allowed to dry to a smooth, even finish. A triangular pattern shadowed each elbow like a pair of still-folded angel wings, as if Joanna had tried to push off her killer, but had not held out long before her arms flopped open, useless. After that, Maggie guessed, Joanna Moorehouse never moved again.
Then there was that singular blow to the face, that odd little coup de grâce marring an otherwise flawless complexion. A straight slit that formed an underline to her right eye, it had probably been made with the same knife that did the rest of the damage but hadn't gone as deep, stopped by the cheekbone. The edges of the wound were already drying to a leathery crust but aside from some traces on those edges, no blood had flowed outward. Joanna Moorehouse had already been dead when her killer stabbed her in the face.
It wasn't that Maggie had never seen such a ferocious attack — in her nearly ten years in crime scene work she had seen plenty — but never in such gorgeous and otherwise undisturbed surroundings. This room should be filled with Ravel playing softly from a home theater system while elegant guests circulated with glasses of champagne, not the tinny smell of dried body fluids and the desultory small talk of officers who had no idea where to start in finding out how that blood had come to flow over the finely marbled tile.
"And she lived here alone?" Maggie asked.
Jack's low voice rumbled out the vitals. "No signs of anyone else. No clothes in the other bedrooms, no male accoutrements in the bathroom —"
"He means razors, shaving cream," Riley translated for the uniformed officer, who said he had figured that out.
"Drawers, closet, jewelry in perfect order, purse on the kitchen counter, cell phone on its charging station, and the laptop closed. All doors locked except the one leading from the garage to the inside, home alarm not set."
So no interest in robbery, and either Joanna Moorehouse had let her killer in or hadn't locked her door behind her when she'd come home. Shoes and socks had been shed, so she hadn't just walked in the door from work. "Last seen?"
"Don't know yet. We haven't called the number on her business cards, and the phone and the laptop both have passcodes."
She gave the detectives a look, wishing it to be as steely as it felt. "You tried them?"
"Only the home button," Riley said.
Personal electronics came with so many protections now that putting in the wrong code might cause it to lock up and wipe all of its own data. Gone were the days when detectives would try the victim's birth date and open all their photos and texts there at the scene. The forensic IT people, a group who did not include Maggie, schooled the cops over and over to keep their curious fingers to themselves.
Though if it contained anything to implicate the killer, why would he have left it behind? One who could commit such carnage and yet stay cool enough to enter and then exit the scene without a physical trail would have thought of the phone.
"They both have fingerprint locks," Riley went on. "After the ME moves the body we can open them with her cold, dead finger. Sure was easier when people kept written address books. ... Now without the electronics we have no way to find next of kin."
"Prior contacts?" Had the police department ever encountered Joanna Moorehouse before — a traffic ticket, a noise complaint, a drunk and disorderly?
Talk about starting from scratch. She again surveyed the room, her thighs beginning to protest from the prolonged squat. The pools emanating from the lower half of the body were still tacky in the deeper spots, the blood not completely dried, with a series of smears, splotches, and swipes where Joanna's feet had kicked and the killer had shifted his position as he'd straddled her. The edges of this amorphous area were not as smooth as around the upper half of the body, but blotted and feathered as if by footsteps.
"Anybody step in this?" she asked the cops.
They all promised her they hadn't but couldn't make any promises about the EMT staff. They had entered to pronounce the desecrated corpse officially dead.
She eyed their six booty-clad feet. Without being asked each man inspected the bottoms. Riley hesitated, swaying awkwardly on one leg while trying to view the bottom of the other. Finally, he gave up and straightened.
"Anything?" Maggie asked.
His face flushing from either exertion or embarrassment, she didn't quite believe him. It was too easy to take an inadvertent step at a crime scene and go home wearing someone else's blood. She had done it far too often herself.
"How'd your testimony go yesterday?" Riley asked her, possibly as a distraction. They had all been witnesses for the prosecution in the trial of a gang gunman accused of several drive-by shootings, some for the gang's business and some for his own personal reasons. His name was Gerry Graham and his victims had included a grandmother napping inside the house and a four-year-old playing outside on her sidewalk.
"Fine. Defense tried to pick apart the print identification, but he didn't really know what he was talking about. He'd downloaded a few phrases off the Internet. No big deal."
Riley said, "Yeah, me too. He tried to say I planted the gun and bribed the witness with a plea deal. I bit his head off."
Jack said nothing, though he had worked the case with Riley and must have testified as well.
Without moving her feet Maggie photographed the floor in all directions from the body. Sometimes the camera could pick up something the human eye missed.
Another uniformed officer appeared in the French doors, startling them all. "There's a guy at the front door."
"Don't let him in," Jack said.
"Who is it?" Riley asked.
The officer nodded toward Maggie and the corpse. "Says he's her boyfriend."
Riley grinned. "Enter suspect number one." The two detectives left without another word. The first uniformed cop developed a pained look, belying a preference to be where the action was instead of babysitting a quiet, still body.
Maggie had no desire to move, despite her tiring thighs. She sumo-walked along the inner edge of the dais without crossing the area next to the lower half of the body. She inspected each piece of white stone, marbled through with various mineral colors. The sun appeared somewhere outside, turning the windows aglow, and she used the too bright light to her advantage, tilting her head to see any variation in the tile's surface. Aside from one tiny smear about twenty inches from the body she could not see the slightest trace of blood.
So the killer had either murdered Joanna Moorehouse while tilting his feet in the air and then somehow stood up without putting his toes in the muck, or he had — what? Flown? Dangled from the ceiling? Not possible. Balanced on one foot while he removed his shoes, then carefully set down stockinged feet outside the stained perimeter in order to tiptoe off in his socks? Possible.
That eliminated Riley, at least. He'd never have the balance to pull that off.
Nor could she picture Jack having that kind of flexibility. She realized that with a sense of relief that surprised her. She'd only been joking to herself about Riley, but now saw that suspecting Jack of every murder that took place in Cleveland city limits might be a default position for her.
Excerpted from "Perish"
Copyright © 2018 Lisa Black.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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