In a secluded home on Long Island, a musician’s mysterious suicide haunts his terrified wife, in this novel by a New York Times–bestselling author.
In the wake of the shocking suicide of popular singer Ricky Sands, his wife and professional partner, Hollis Temple, wants only to escape the notoriety—and the relentless questions she can’t even begin to answer. Rescued from the press by family friend Alan Gordon, Hollis leaves Manhattan for Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island’s North Shore. In Windtop, the secluded country home of celebrated pianist Geneva Ames, Hollis hopes to come to terms with the tragedy that has changed her life.
But soon after arriving, Hollis hears the haunting strings of Ricky’s guitar serenading her from the dark and distant voices singing the love song she wrote for him. For Hollis, these refrains aren’t bringing back cherished memories; they’re filling her with fear. Could Alan and Geneva could be playing mind games? To find out why they’d want to twist her sanctuary into an inescapable trap, Hollis must delve into the secrets of her husband and her hosts—before the melodies of the past reach their terrifying crescendo.
In this novel of mystery and romance, Edgar Award winner Phyllis A. Whitney “drums up suspense at a delightfully frantic pace. Old fans—and new ones—can dig in with total confidence” (Kirkus Reviews).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the lifetime achievement award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
I lay in my bed listening to Ricky Sands's voice on the air. That beautiful, haunting voice, singing the melody and words I had written.
Let the rain fall sweetly On the children of the earth;
Just the chorus. I couldn't bear to hear any more. Grief was like a physical aching inside me, and I touched the switch so that Ricky's voice fell silent and the melody died ... as Ricky too had died.
I remembered how sweetly the rain had fallen during those long walks in San Francisco, when we'd hidden laughing under an umbrella so no one would recognize him. Now for me, rain would always seem bitter.
Here in our penthouse apartment high above New York, I hid from the clamor of the press and the endless ringing of telephones. Norris and Bea Wahl were with me, helping me to shut out the world, acting as a barrier to protect me. Norris had been Ricky's manager. He knew how to talk to the media people and stave off their questions, while Bea's comfortable presence asked nothing as she tried to console me with nourishing broth she made herself.
If anyone turned on a radio for news, I fled. All too often in those terrible first days the airwaves were filled with talk of Ricky Sands. His music was analyzed endlessly, every detail of his life raked over, with a great deal of wallowing in the circumstances of his death. The songs were played over and over — especially "Sweet Rain"— and my own name, Hollis Temple, began to sound like meaningless syllables pounding at me from those disembodied voices. After all, I was Ricky's wife and I had written most of his recent songs.
The word "suicide" echoed on radio and television, and was printed in newspapers and magazines, with the inevitable relishing of the juiciest scandal. It was a word that cut through me, frightened me. It rang of despair and desperation, and it pointed an accusing finger at the living as well. How much of the fault was mine? How far back had it all gone wrong? I'd tried so hard not to fail him, and in the very effort had failed him all the more.
Had I ever really understood what drove and haunted Ricky Sands? There had seemed to be no way in which I could meet whatever it was that he wanted and needed from me, except through my music. And lately even this bond between us had begun to fade. Now I must face my own failure and deal with my own lonely pain.
Drugs, the coroner had said. A word the news media pounced on at once and constantly repeated. He had died of acute toxicity from both cocaine and heroin. A volatile combination that Ricky certainly had known was deadly.
In my bedroom high above Manhattan, even with the windows closed, I could subdue the city's roar only to some extent. The month was November, and usually autumn was the best season of all in New York. Now it meant nothing but an ending, with desolation sure to follow. At twenty-three I was a widow.
Ricky hadn't died here, but in a miserable hotel room on the East Side, and he'd left a call for Norris that had seemed a cry for help that had come too late. There had been no word for me, no reassurance that what he was about to do was not my fault. The last words he'd spoken when he left me that day had been strange, enigmatic. I still didn't understand what they'd meant. Lost in his own solitary despair, he probably hadn't thought of me at all at the end.
Right now I was supposed to be resting, but my clamoring emotions matched the city's clamor, and there was no stillness for me anywhere. Perhaps I could risk the radio again and hear some anonymous voice that would distract me. I reached for the switch once more.
Immediately Ricky was on the air with that voice that compelled his audiences, and held such an illusion of sweetness. Never cloying. Always bittersweet. No hard rock for Ricky. He'd made his own special place; young and old audiences followed him obsessively because he reached out in some universal, loving way through his music. His music — and mine.
I let my hand drop from the switch without turning it off. The tune had changed and he was singing the first Hollis Temple song he'd ever recorded, "I Love You, Laura Lee." His bittersweetness came alive in that song, because without knowing him, I'd written it just for him. Though the singer still loved Laura Lee, there were other girls to love, and he was looking ahead. A laughing, weeping, tongue-in-cheek sort of song that I hadn't tried to repeat. And didn't want to. Not after I began to realize how much like Ricky it really was.
Listening to his voice, memory carried me back to San Francisco again. Nearly five years ago ...
I grew up in Berkeley, right across the bay from the Golden Gate city. My mother had died when I was three, and my father's sister had raised me. Dan Temple, my father, used to stay with us whenever he could, and I'd looked forward eagerly to his visits.
Dan played piano, sometimes on his own in nightclubs, sometimes with a small band. "Big Band" or Cole Porter music of what he called the "classy kind" was his life. So he'd been out of work a good deal until America went nostalgic. He had never wanted me to go into any phase of the music business, but he couldn't entirely resist it when I began to pick out tunes on the piano in Aunt Margaret's house and make up my own little songs before I could read. When he accepted the inevitable, he saw to it that I had a good piano teacher. The guitar I picked up later by myself. When I was older, he even let me sit in on a few jam sessions with his band, and I was ecstatically happy. Eventually Dan ceased all warnings except the one about never marrying a musician.
My mother had married a musician, and I think she was happy. Even though I couldn't remember her, I grew up loving her image, because Dan talked about her so often and made her real for me.
I went to college in Berkeley and made a lot of friends. I was always falling in and out of love. What I thought was love. Though even then my real — and secret — passion was Ricky Sands. I wrote two or three songs just for him, and once I sent a song off to him — notes and words painstakingly written down on a music sheet. Not a recording. Of course nothing came of it because I was going about it in the wrong way to get a hearing. I could have asked Dan about placing a song, but I knew he'd have a fit. He hated the sort of singer he called by the old term of "crooner." Even soft rock was out of his ken, and he only grudgingly acknowledged the existence of the Beatles.
I can remember the Hollis Temple of those days almost as though she were someone else. Perhaps I was popular because I was so eager for new experience, so venturesome, and always ready to take a dare. There had been a lot of exuberance in me then — very different from the woman I'd become. I've often wondered what turns my life might have taken if Ricky Sands had never come to San Francisco.
Of course I sent for a ticket the moment I learned that he would appear on the Berkeley campus. Just one ticket. I didn't want anyone else to share my experience of hearing him in person. I was no groupie. I even wondered if there were some way I could manage to meet him, speak to him. Though I really knew better. Ricky Sands was always surrounded, protected, by bodyguards and business associates. His personal retinue. Otherwise he'd have been swarmed over by screaming females trying to get close to him. I wanted no part of that mob scene.
This was when fate — or something — stepped in. Ricky's motorcycle escapades were notorious. He'd had more than one accident, though nothing terribly damaging. This time, on the Marin County hills, before the concert could take place, he banged himself up seriously. I cried when I heard how badly he was hurt, and how he might be in a San Francisco hospital for a long time. It was a miracle that he hadn't killed himself or anyone else.
I watched the papers, so I knew when he was out of danger, and I followed his convalescence. When he was well enough to have visitors, I began to plot. This time nobody but me gave me a dare, and I decided just what I would do. Looking back, I can only marvel at how foolishly young and naïve I was, even at eighteen.
At least I knew by now that one didn't submit words and music alone. Producers wanted to hear what you had to offer. I had learned about "demos," the demonstration tapes or discs singers and song writers use to get their work heard. While I was far from being a professional singer, and had no ambition along that line, I had a small voice with a lilt to it, and I could manage all right on a tape.
The university had good recording equipment, and I found another student to help me and made a tape of my own "Laura Lee," accompanying myself on my acoustic guitar. No back-up, of course — I couldn't afford that. I did it over several times, never completely satisfied. The student who helped me was flattering — but I knew better, though I had to accept my own limitations and settle for what I could manage. It was Ricky Sands I wanted to have sing my song.
The next step was to get in to see him.
First I did a few dry runs at the hospital during visiting hours until I knew the layout of rooms on his floor and the routine. It wasn't hard to lose myself in those antiseptic corridors one afternoon when the last visitor had left. There was always someone on duty outside Ricky Sands's door during visiting hours, but afterward, now that he was so much better and could walk around on crutches, there seemed less need to guard him. His accident was old news now.
I'd gotten myself a hospital gown, and I hid in a washroom until banging trays told me dinner was being served. Then I flopped out in bedroom slippers and an old bathrobe I'd brought in a shopping bag. Not very flattering. But I'd looked at myself long and hard in the washroom mirror. The top of me would do all right. Red hair cut just above my shoulders, straight and thick before it curled in. Green eyes and black lashes, a pretty good nose, and a mouth that liked to smile. Not bad, really — sort of arresting. At least the kids in college seemed to think so. I was still filled with a sense of daring — a reckless emotion that kept me from recognizing the outrageousness of what I was about to do.
No one paid any attention, and luck was with me. When I passed Ricky's door, the chair outside was empty, and I heard no voices from his room. Only the sound of a knife and fork. Ricky would be eating an elegant meal sent in from an expensive restaurant — no hospital fare for him. I had my tape recorder in the shopping bag, with my demo in place, and I knew what my opening remarks would be. I had to get his attention at once, or out I would go on my ear. Before anyone else, I'd done a good job of convincing myself. Ricky's ratings had been slipping lately, and I thought I knew why. I was no novice when it came to music, and I could only agree with the critics that his songs were beginning to get boring. My little song had a bite, and that was what he needed. He needed me.
I had the overconfidence, nerve, and inner terror of someone young who hasn't yet been slapped around by life. Dan had brought me up to the principle of Never surrender. Especially not to my own fears, and I felt I was doing just what he'd taught me.
I slip-slapped into Ricky's room and stood at the foot of his bed. My heart was pounding so loud I was afraid he could hear it.
"Hello," I said. "I've brought you something. Something you really need."
He looked up from his tray, startled, immediately wary, and set down his fork with its bite of fillet mignon. Perhaps my robe and hospital gown reassured him a little, but in a minute he was going to ask who the hell I was and how I got there.
I didn't give him time. "You do need me," I said, "and I think I can help you."
His hand was already reaching toward the bell on his pillow, and I gave him my best, most brilliant smile.
"I'm not a patient," I said. "I'm pulling a great big bluff. But if you put me out right away, you'll never know what I've got for you here." I took out the recorder and held it up.
"Oh, God," he said, "you've written a song."
"Right. Your ratings are falling and the critics are calling you stale. You're turning out bubble gum when, with what you have, you ought always to top the charts."
Ricky Sands was used to sycophants and "yes" people. He was thirty-nine years old, which was getting on for a pop singer, even a star. I don't think he really knew what was going wrong, for all his years at the top. Besides, he must have been terribly bored lying in that bed, and I was at least a novelty.
When he made up his mind and smiled at me, I knew I'd won myself a hearing. I'll never forget that first smile I had from him. I'll never forget how he looked sitting up against his pillows. He wore a silk robe of ivy green, with a yellow scarf at the neck, and his pale hair was curly and mussed, his blue eyes filled with laughter. When he chose, he could look almost angelic — and very sweet. That was the way all his fans saw him.
"So you've written a song," he said. "And now you're going to sing it for me. Well, go ahead."
While I plugged in the cord I talked to him over my shoulder. "I'm a songwriter, not a singer. This isn't a very good tape, but it's the best I could manage."
These weren't things I'd planned to say, and I was glad when he cut me off. "Never apologize, and don't try to explain. If it can't speak for itself, it's no good. So just turn the damn thing on."
I touched the switch and held my breath. I knew the melody was catchy. Not honey-sickening, and perhaps with an unexpected turn or two. The words were pretty good, I thought. They carried a story — like Carly Simon.
He listened to "I Love You, Laura Lee" all the way through, and then he said, "Play it again."
My heart hadn't entirely quieted, and this time my hand shook as I ran the tape back. After he'd heard it the second time, he nodded soberly. No more enchanting smiles. This was business.
He gestured to a chair beside his bed. "Sit down and tell me about you."
I did my best to put on a good front, though there wasn't much to tell, and I was getting more and more scared by the minute. Success one doesn't know how to handle can be more frightening than the finality of defeat. I hadn't thought ahead to what I would do once Ricky Sands had heard my tape. It didn't help that Norris. Wahl chose that moment to walk into Ricky's room, and he and I began the uneasy relationship of suspicion on my part, and jealousy on his, that had lasted to the present.
Norris was in his mid-fifties, a shrewd, homely, powerful little man who had managed Ricky for the last ten years and done a great deal for him — until the recent slipping began. This perhaps was more Ricky's fault than Norris's, since Ricky was getting as tired as he sounded. From the first, Norris regarded me as a threat to his influence with his singer, yet even he quickly recognized something that might halt an ominous slide down the charts. Especially if Ricky himself responded with genuine interest.
Norris listened to "Laura Lee," and then said, "What else?"
This I wasn't ready for — not in my wildest imaginings. But Ricky Sands's own guitar leaned in a corner, and I gestured toward it boldly.
"Sure — go ahead," Ricky said, and he was smiling again.
So I tuned up and sang three other songs I'd written with Ricky in mind. The best one was something I'd never have dared to show him if it hadn't been for the heady atmosphere of excitement that was growing in Ricky's hospital room. I'd composed it a little sadly after I'd read an interview with him where he'd talked about growing older — he hated nearing forty. I'd called the song "Let the Young Years Go," and I'd put both heartache and hope into it because I could project myself into Ricky's faltering talent and what I thought he might be feeling.
"I'm going to do that song," Ricky said, and when I saw tears in his eyes, I began, idiotically, to cry myself. Out of nervousness, out of fear of too much good fortune happening to me so fast, and from sheer relief that my bluff had worked so astonishingly.
"First, 'Laura Lee,'" Norris said. "They'll go for that one."
Excerpted from "Rainsong"
Copyright © 1984 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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 bought this novel at a flee market about two years ago. I have to say it was the best money I have spent on a novel in my life. I have read this book three times in the past two years and have recommended it to others countless times. I enjoyed every page of this novel and I hope that you enjoy this novel as much as I have.