Smoke Screen: A Novel

Smoke Screen: A Novel

by Sandra Brown
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Smoke Screen: A Novel by Sandra Brown

From the #1 New York Times bestsellng author of Seeing Red comes a "scorching...action-filled" (Publishers Weekly) tale of corruption and betrayal, revenge, and reversal.

When newswoman Britt Shelley wakes up to find herself in bed with Jay Burgess, a star detective in the Charleston PD, she remembers nothing of how she got there—or how Jay wound up dead. Handsome, hard-partying Jay was one of four heroic city officials who risked their lives five years earlier to lead others to safety from a catastrophic fire. His lifelong friend, Raley Gannon, was later assigned to investigate the blaze. But Raley never finished the inquiry because one calamitous night his career was destroyed by scandal. Now, the newswoman whose biased reporting helped bring about Raley's downfall might be his only chance to vindicate himself and get justice for the fire's victims. But the more Raley and Britt discover about that fateful day, the more perilous the situation becomes, until they're not only chasing the truth but running for their lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416563204
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/12/2008
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 24,136
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-eight New York Times bestsellers, including Mean Streak, Deadline, Low Pressure, and Smoke Screen. Brown began her writing career in 1981 and since then has published over seventy novels, most of which remain in print. Sandra and her husband, Michael Brown, live in Arlington, Texas.


Arlington, TX

Date of Birth:

March 12, 1948

Place of Birth:

Waco, Texas


Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Texas Christian University, 2008

Read an Excerpt



Raley pulled open the rusty screen door, its hinges squealing. "Hey! You in here?"

"Ain't I usually?"

A curl of faded red paint flaked off when the wood frame slapped closed behind Raley as he stepped into the one-room cabin. It smelled of fried pork and the mouse-gnawed Army blanket on the cot in the corner.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness and find the old man. He was sitting at a three-legged table, hunched over a cup of coffee like a dog guarding a hard-won bone, staring into the snowy screen of a black-and-white television. Ghostly images flickered in and out. There was no audio except for a static hiss.

"Good morning."

The old man snorted a welcome through his sheaves of nasal hair. "He'p yourself." He nodded toward the enamel coffeepot on the stove. "Can't recommend the cream. It curdled overnight."

Raley stepped over the three hounds lying motionless on the floor and went to the refrigerator that was jammed between an antique pie safe, which served as a pantry, and a drafting table, which served no purpose whatsoever except to collect dust and further reduce the floor space in the crowded cabin.

The handle on the fridge door had broken off, probably decades ago, but if you pressed your fingers just right into the soft rubber sealant in the crack, you could pry it open. "I brought you some catfish." Raley set the newspaper bundle on one of the rusty wire shelves, then quickly shut the door against the mingled odors of cream gone bad and general spoilage.

"Much obliged."

"You're welcome." The coffee probably had been boiled several times and would be the consistency of molasses.Without cream to dilute it, Raley thought it better to pass.

He glanced at the silent TV. "You need to adjust your rabbit ears."

"Ain't the rabbit ears. I turned off the sound."

"How come?"

The old man replied with one of his customary harrumphs that said he couldn't be bothered to answer. A self-proclaimed recluse, he had lived in voluntary exile ever since "the war," although which war had never been specified. He had as little as possible to do with other Homo sapiens.

Shortly after Raley had moved into the vicinity, the two had come upon each other in the woods. Raley was staring down into the beady eyes of a dead opossum when the old man came crashing through the underbrush and said, "Don't even think about it."

"About what?"

"About taking my possum."

Touching the bloated, flyblown, limp body with the pink, hairless tail and horrible stench was the last thing Raley intended to do. He raised his hands in surrender and stood aside so the barefoot old man in stained overalls could retrieve his kill from the metal jaws of the small trap.

"Way you been stampin' 'round out here, it's a wonder to me it ain't you caught in this trap 'stead of the possum," he grumbled.

Raley wasn't aware that anyone lived within miles of the cabin he'd recently purchased. He'd rather not have had a neighbor of any kind, but especially one who kept track of his comings and goings.

As the old man stood up, his knees protested in loud pops and snaps, which caused him to grimace and mutter a string of curses. With the carcass dangling from his hand, the old man looked Raley over, from his baseball cap and bearded face to the toes of his hiking boots. Inspection complete, the old man spat tobacco juice into the dirt to express his opinion of what he saw. "Man's got a right to walk in the woods," he said. "Just don't go messin' with my traps."

"It would help me to know where they are."

The old man's cracked lips spread into a wide grin, revealing tobacco-stained stubs that once were teeth. "Wouldn't it though?" Still chuckling, he turned away. "You'll find 'em, I'm bettin'." Raley could hear his laughter long after he disappeared into the dense foliage.

Over the ensuing months, they'd accidentally bumped into each other in the woods several times. At least to Raley these were chance meetings. He reasoned the old man made himself visible when he wanted to and didn't when he was disinclined to give his new neighbor even a grunt of a greeting.

One hot afternoon, they met in the doorway of the general store in the nearest town. Raley was coming in, the old man going out. They nodded to each other. Later, when Raley left with several sacks of groceries, he noticed the old man sitting in a chair on the shaded porch of the store, fanning himself with his straw hat. Acting on impulse, Raley peeled a cold can of beer from the plastic webbing and tossed it to the old man, who, revealing excellent reflexes, caught it in one hand.

Raley stowed his groceries in the bed of his pickup and climbed into the cab. The old man regarded him with patent suspicion as he put the truck in reverse and backed away, but Raley noticed that he'd popped the top on the beer.

The following morning there was hard knocking on Raley's door. This being a first, he approached the door cautiously. The old man was there, holding a chipped ceramic bowl containing a heap of some raw animal flesh that Raley couldn't identify. He feared it was carrion that even the trio of hounds had rejected.

"In exchange for the beer. I don't like bein' beholden to nobody."

Raley took the bowl thrust at him. "Thanks." His visitor turned and walked down the steps. Raley called after him, "What's your name?"

"Who wants to know?"

"Raley Gannon."

The old man hesitated, then grumbled, "Delno Pickens."

From that morning, they developed a quasi friendship founded on loneliness and a shared reluctance for interaction with other people.

The sum-total value of Delno's possessions wouldn't be a hundred dollars. He was always dragging home something he'd salvaged from God knew where, items he had no practical use for. His cabin was situated on stilts to prevent it from flooding when the Combahee overflowed its banks. Junk had been stuffed into the crawl space beneath the structure, as though to provide a more solid foundation. The area surrounding the cabin was also littered with junk that was never utilized so far as Raley could tell. Collecting it seemed more important to Delno than the articles themselves.

He drove a truck that Raley called Frankenstein because it was made of parts Delno had assembled himself, held together with baling wire and duct tape. It was a miracle to Raley that he ever got the contraption started, but as Delno said, "It ain't pretty, but it gets me anywhere I want to go."

He would eat anything. Anything. Anything he could knock from a tree, trap, or pull out of the river. But whatever he had, once their friendship had been established, he was always willing to share it.

Surprisingly, he was very well read and conversant on subjects which, to look at him, one wouldn't have expected him to have even a passing knowledge of. Raley came to suspect that his hillbilly accent and vocabulary were affected. Like the squalor he lived in, they were protests against a former life.

But whatever that former life had entailed remained Delno's secret. He never mentioned a hometown, his childhood or parents, an occupation, children, or wife. Beyond his hounds, he talked to no one except Raley. Intimate relationships were limited to a stack of old nudie magazines with well-thumbed pages, which he kept on the floor beneath his cot.

Raley shared nothing personal with Delno, either. Not for the first two years of their acquaintanceship. And then one evening at sunset, Delno showed up at Raley's cabin, bringing with him two Mason jars filled with a murky liquid that he'd fermented himself.

"Haven't seen you in over a week. Where you been?"


Raley didn't want company, but Delno elbowed his way inside anyway. "Thought you might be needin' a swig or two." Giving Raley one of his scornful once-overs, he added, "Lookin' at you, I'd say my hunch was right. You appear to be in bad shape. Could smell you as I was coming up the steps."

"You're a fine one to criticize someone else's appearance and personal hygiene."

"Who'd you call?"


"That blabbermouth that runs the cash register at the store? The one with her hair piled up high, wears long, dangly earrings? Told me you come in there last week, got a handful of change, and fed it into the pay phone outside. Said you talked a few minutes, then hung up, looking like you was ready to kill somebody. Got in your truck and took outta there without even paying for your groceries."

He uncapped one of the jars and passed it to Raley, who sniffed the contents, then shook his head and passed it back. "So, I'm askin'," Delno continued after taking a hefty swallow from the jar, "who'd you call?"

It was dawn before Raley stopped talking. By then, Delno had drained both jars. Raley was simply drained -- emotionally, mentally, physically. It had been a painful but therapeutic catharsis. He had lanced a dozen wounds.

With nothing more to say and no breath left to say it, Raley looked over at the old man, who had listened for hours without making a single comment. The expression on the creased, leathery face was one of profound sadness. His eyes were naked and unguarded for the first time since Raley had known him, and Raley knew he was looking straight into the soul of a man who'd experienced indescribable heartache. It seemed Delno Pickens had collected all the misery and injustice in the world and packed it into that one hopeless gaze.

Then he sighed, and in one of the rare times they'd ever made physical contact, reached across the space separating them and patted Raley on the knee. "Go wash your armpits before the stink of you makes me puke up all that good liquor. I'll cook you some breakfast."

They never again referred to anything Raley had told him that night. It was as though the long night had never happened. But Raley never forgot the bleakness with which Delno had looked at him that morning. And this morning when he raised his head from staring into his coffee mug and looked up at Raley, he was wearing that same expression of despair.

"What's the matter?" Raley's heart hitched, automatically thinking disaster. A 747 loaded with passengers crashing into a mountainside. A presidential assassination. A terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11.

"Don't go and do somethin' crazy, now, okay?" Delno said.

"What happened?"

Muttering dire predictions about "nothin' good comin' outta this," Delno hitched his chin toward the TV.

Raley went over to the vintage set and turned the volume knob, then fiddled with the rabbit-ear antenna in the hope of getting a better picture.

The video remained erratic and the audio was scratchy, but within moments he had a clear understanding of what had happened and why Delno had dreaded telling him:

Jay Burgess was dead.

Copyright © 2008 by Sandra Brown Management Ltd.

Customer Reviews

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Smoke Screen 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 102 reviews.
mahikahn More than 1 year ago
Five years ago, after having one drink, Raley Gannon woke up at his friend Jay Burgess's apartment next to a dead woman. He can't remember what happened and loses his career and his fiancé.

Britt Shelley is a reporter always looking for an explosive story. Now Britt wakes up next to a dead man, after one drink, and can't remember anything. The catch is that the dead man is Jay Burgess.

When Raley found out, he kidnapped Britt and they decided to work together to find out what happened to both of them.

1. How in the heck do you pronounce "Raley"? Rally, Rayley, Raleigh? I ended up calling him Riley.
2. Britt was self involved and admitted she never gave a thought to the damage her stories did to others and wasn't above slanting the story to make it more titillating.
3. Did Jay have to be made out as such a horrible person?
4. There was zero chemistry between Raley and Britt, he didn't even like her for good reason!

However, I didn't see the end coming until it was almost there. This started out with a good plot but went in a dozen different directions and ended up nowhere. The last few books I've read by Sandra Brown have not been up to her usual standards. Get this one at the library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a dedicated reader of anything Sandra Brown writes and her books just keep getting better. Smoke Screen is one of her best. The plot twists keep you in suspense until the end. You don't know who the heroes or who the villians are. You don't know "who done it" or even what exactly they did, and you fear for the safety of the main characters throughout. The characters Britt Shelley and Jay Burgess are intelligent yet vulnerable and human. The romance is steamy. This book evoked many emotions for me. It is well researched in regards to the police and fire department and the TV news reporters This is a book you will not want to put down until you are finished and that you will think about even when you aren't reading. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes to pick up a book to forget about the stresses of their real life for a while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was definatly a page turner. I did not want to stop till the end as every time I thought I knew what was going on - it changed!! Great Read
gina-bookjunkie More than 1 year ago
This book kept me turning pages from the moment I picked it up! Every character was well played and served the plot without a hitch. This is definitely one for a personal library. And when you read it, don't think you can figure it all out because as is her gift, Sandra Brown will keep you guessing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books by Sandra!!
MikeDraper More than 1 year ago
TV reporter Brett Shelley thinks she's getting a lead on a big story when she agrees to go to police detective Jay Burgess' home. The next day she wakes up in bed with him and doesn't remember how she got there. Then she notices that Jay is dead. Jay's friend, firefighter, Raley Gannon, kidnapps Brett and tries to get her to tell him what happened. Britt still can't remember. However the news comes on that the cause of death is suffication and Britt is listed as a suspect. Brett's first break on TV was covering a fire at the police dept. five years before. Jay and three other municiple employees became heroes when they led others to safety at risk of their own lives. Raley then tells Brett that he had a similar situation to her not remembering. After the fire at the police dept. Raley was lead investigator for possible arson. He thought that one of the people who died didn't die from the fire but was killed and the fire set to cover it up. He was invited to Jay's home, given a drink by a pretty lady and the next day woke up next to her coprse. With the negative publicity he was taken off the case and the investigation closed. He was then fired from the department. When they realize that they had both been set up, Raley and Britt set out to clear their names and catch the real killer. This was very well done. The characters are believable and sympathetic. They form a romantic connection and this helps the plot. The suspense mounts throughout and the reader is carried along with it. Hard to put down and highly recommended.
notprudy More than 1 year ago
I stopped reading Sandra Brown because of the graphic oral sex. She has written some very good mysteries and I hoped this would be one of those. The plot was very good and the story held my interest. The sex was over the top unnecessary. In fact, the ending was ruined by the closing sex act.
VA-Reader More than 1 year ago
Play Dirty and Smoke Screen show a new more mature Sandra Brown. As I grew up reading her lighter romances and have since grown to love a good thrilling mystery I have really enjoyed her later works. Smoke Screen has interesting characters, takes a plot of out of the headlines of mind altering drugs, and leads you to what some might say a surprising lead villian.
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Her books are always enjoyable and exciting. Even though you think you know the ending there is always a surprise.
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Watch ivy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the first paragraph to the last is a riller coaster ride. I recently started reading Sandra Brown's books and have enjoyed every one so far. This is definitely one of her best.
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I just recently began reading Sandra Brown's books and this was the best out of the four I have read. If you like crime, passion, and action all in one than this is the book to read.
swlittlewing More than 1 year ago
Sandra Brown is a fantastic author! I hadnt read a book of hers in years (J.D. Robb In Death Series) and have now read 5 in the last month! Smoke Screen, Smash Cut, the Switch, the Crush and currently reading the Charade. I had forgotten how great her characters are and how intriguing the story lines can be. Highly recommend any book written by Sandra Brown.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you for shopping at bey mall.-Ginga hagona.