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Stranded (Maggie O'Dell Series #11)

Stranded (Maggie O'Dell Series #11)

4.7 30
by Alex Kava

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When FBI special agent Maggie O’Dell and her partner, Tully, discover the remains of a young woman in a highway ditch, the only clue is a map leading them to spot where they’ll find madman’s next victim.

As the body count rises, Maggie must race against the clock to



When FBI special agent Maggie O’Dell and her partner, Tully, discover the remains of a young woman in a highway ditch, the only clue is a map leading them to spot where they’ll find madman’s next victim.

As the body count rises, Maggie must race against the clock to unmask the monster terrorizing America’s highways, even if it means turning to a former foe for help. But as she gets closer to finding the killer, it becomes eerily clear that Maggie may be the ultimate target. . .

Winner of the 2014 Nebraska Book Award
Winner of the 2013 Florida Book Award

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In bestseller Kava’s 11th hair-raising thriller featuring FBI agent Maggie O’Dell (after 2012’s Fireproof), Maggie and her partner, R.J. Tully, pursue a vicious serial killer who likes to torment his victims before doing them in. The killer appears to haunt interstate truck stops and rest stops, but aside from that meager clue, Maggie and Tully struggle to discern a pattern, even after discovering his barnyard dumping ground in rural Iowa. What’s worse, they don’t realize that the killer may already know all about Maggie. Their search takes them to a lucky but traumatized college student, who barely escaped from the killer with his life, while handsome Ryder Creed and Creed’s trained K-9 dogs also lend their assistance. Kava adds a human touch to the heart-thumping chase, and though sharp-eyed readers may foresee the predictable twists, this won’t take away from their enjoyment. 6-city author tour. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
The FBI's Maggie O'Dell (Fireproof, 2012, etc.) battles a serial killer who ranges freely along the nation's superhighways. Whoever murdered Gloria Dobson and Zach Lester on their way to a sales meeting is one arrogant killer. Not only did he deliberately seek out two potential victims who were traveling together, but after mutilating their bodies, he arranged for Maggie to receive a bare-bones road map that sent her and her partner, R.J. Tully, scurrying from the nation's capital to the nation's heartland--Sioux City, Iowa--where he'd left another victim and teasing hints of still more. As the powers that be back in Washington convene a Highway Serial Killings Task Force, whose members include Maggie's friend Detective Julia Racine of the DC Metro Police and her even closer friend Dr. Gwen Patterson, the psychiatrist of choice to Beltway politicos, Maggie and Tully feel as if they're being fed clues in a scavenger hunt. Serial firebug Otis P. Dodd announces from his prison cell that he's met a guy named Jack who shared detailed information about his killings. College student Noah Waters emerges from the Kansas countryside, a potential victim who somehow managed to escape from Jack even though he's too traumatized to describe the man who killed his buddy Ethan Ames. Just when Maggie thinks she can put a proper name and a face to Jack, the rug is pulled out from under her in a way that's probably more surprising to her than to readers. In Kava's hands, the echoes of several familiar serial-killer yarns are just as breathless but a lot less original or compelling.
From the Publisher
Winner of the Florida Book Award

“A wild ride. . . . Never lets up on the tension.”
The Omaha World-Herald

“Alex Kava has created . . . a winning character in Agent O’Dell.”
The Washington Post Book World

“A plot with nonstop action. . . . Prime escapism.”
Booklist (starred review)  

“Hair-raising…. Kava adds a human touch to the heart-thumping chase.”
Publishers Weekly

"Maggie is no stick figure, but rather a complex character. . . . Bone-chilling. . . . Kava strings her story along a tight, week-long time line of accelerating tension." —Florida Weekly

“You’ll never feel comfortable about stopping at a rest area or truck stop again.”
The Pensacola News Journal

“Maggie O'Dell is a brilliant and complicated heroine—at once witty, smart, and detailed, but always highly entertaining.”
—Steve Berry

“Kava’s . . . cliffhanger endings are spot on.”
The Boston Globe

“O’Dell could be Reacher’s long-lost twin.”
—Lee Child 

Library Journal
FBI special agent Maggie O'Dell is back, traveling those lonesome highways. The reason? There's a killer abroad, targeting the hungry and bone-weary who stop at rest areas along the blacktop. Maybe he'll come gunning for Maggie.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Maggie O'Dell Series , #11
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Outside Manhattan, Kansas

Off Interstate 70

Monday, March 18

He was still alive.

That was all he needed to think about. That, and to keep on running.

Noah could smell his own sweat, pungent and sour . . . and urine. He still couldn’t believe he’d pissed himself.

Stop thinking. Just run. Run!

And vomit. He’d thrown up, splattering the front of his shirt. He had the taste in his mouth. His stomach threatened more but he couldn’t afford to slow down. How could he slow down with Ethan’s screams echoing inside his head?

Stop screaming. Please stop.

“I won’t tell. I promise I won’t tell.”

Noah’s lips were moving even as he ran. Without realizing it, he was chanting the words in rhythm with the pounding of his feet.

“Won’t tell, won’t tell. I promise.”

Pathetic. So very pathetic.

How could he just run away and leave his friend? He was such a coward. But that admission didn’t slow him down. Nor did it make him glimpse over his shoulder. Right this minute he was too scared to care how pathetic he was.

Suddenly his forehead slammed into a branch. A whop and thump.

Noah staggered but stayed on his feet. His vision blurred. His head pulsed with pain.

Don’t fall down, damn it! Keep moving. Run, just run.

His feet obeyed despite the dizzy spiral swimming inside his head threatening to throw him off balance. It was so dark, too dark to see anything other than shades of gray and black. Moonlight flickered patches of light. It only contributed to the feeling of vertigo. This time he ran with his hands and arms thrashing in front of him, trying to clear the path. He used them as battering rams, making sure he didn’t slam into another low-hanging branch.

Twigs continued to whip and slash at him. Noah felt new trickles down his face and elbows and knew it was blood. It mixed with sweat and stung his eyes. His tongue could taste it on his lips. And his stomach lurched again because he knew some of the blood was not his own.

Oh God, oh God. Ethan, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

Don’t stop. Don’t look back. Can’t help Ethan. It’s too late. Just run.

But still, his mind replayed the events in short choppy fragments. They should never have rolled down the car window. Too much beer. Too cocky.

Too frickin’ stupid!

They’d spent the first weekend of spring break partying before they went home. They hadn’t been on the road long and Ethan had to take a piss. Now Ethan was dead. If he wasn’t dead, he’d soon be wishing he was.

Noah’s lungs burned. His legs ached. He had no clue what direction he was running. Nothing mattered except to run away as far and as fast as he could. But the woods were thick with knee-high brush. The canopy above swallowed the sky, except for those rare streaks of moonlight showing him glimpses of the rocky ground beneath his feet, jagged mounds that threatened to make him stumble.

And then he did trip.

Can’t fall, can’t fall. Please don’t let me fall.

He tried to catch himself, arms flailing like an out of control windmill. He went down hard. His knees thudded against a rock. Elbows were next. Skin scraping. Pain shot through his limbs and still his mind was screaming at him to get up. But his legs wouldn’t obey this time. And suddenly he heard a snap and rustle, soft and subtle.

No, it wasn’t possible. It was just his imagination.

Now footsteps. Someone coming behind him. The crunch of leaves. More twigs and branches snapped and crackled.

No. Not possible.

He had told Noah that if he didn’t tell, he’d let him go. Noah had promised. And so had the madman.

Footsteps. Close now. Too close to be his imagination.

Why isn’t he letting me go? He promised.

And why in the world did he ever believe a madman?

But he seemed so ordinary when he knocked on their car window.

Somehow Noah picked himself up. Wobbled and ignored the pain. Demanded his legs move. He limped at first. Then started to jog. Pushed harder. A chuff-chuff exploded from his mouth. His lungs were on fire.


Tears streaked down his face. A high-pitched whine pierced his ears. It echoed through the trees. A wounded animal or one ready to attack? It didn’t matter. Nothing could hurt him as much as the animal chasing him.

Should never have rolled down the car window. Damn it, Ethan!

“Who’s going first?” the madman had asked with a smile that looked almost gentle and insane at the same time. So calm but with eyes of a wolf.

Oh God, and then he cut Ethan. So much blood.

“I promise I won’t tell.”

“Run. Go on now. Run.” The man had made it sound so natural, almost soothing.

“Go on now,” he’d repeated when Noah stared like a paralyzed deer caught in the headlights.

And now he realized the high-pitched scream was coming from his own throat. He could feel it more than hear it. It came from somewhere deep and vibrated along his ribs before escaping up and out his mouth.

He had to shut up. He’d hear him. Know exactly where he was.

Run. Faster.

Mud sucked at his bare feet. Shirt, jeans, shoes, and socks—all a cheap exchange for freedom. He knew his bruised and battered soles were cut open and bleeding, scraped raw by the sharp rocks. He blinked hot tears.

Don’t think about the pain. This is nothing compared to what’s happened to Ethan.

He needed to concentrate on running, not the pain. Not his skin that was slashed and bruised.

How far did these woods go?

There had to be a clearing. He had run away from the interstate, away from the rest area, but there had to be something more than trees. Maybe a farmhouse? Another road?

He didn’t hear the footfalls behind him anymore. No branches cracking or leaves crunching. His chest heaved and his heart jackhammered. He slowed just a fraction and held his breath.


Just a breeze. Even the birds had quieted. Had the madman turned back? Given up? Decided to honor his promise?

Maybe one was enough for him tonight?

Noah chanced a look back over his shoulder. That’s when his foot caught on a fallen log and sent him sprawling. His elbows slammed into the rock and mud. The impact rattled his teeth. White stars flashed as his skin ripped on the palms of his hands.

He tried to stand. Fell back to his knees. The foot that had caused the fall burned with pain. He looked back at it and grimaced. His ankle was twisted and his left foot was at an unnatural angle. But it wasn’t the pain that sent panic throughout his body. It was the fact that he couldn’t move it.

He stopped himself. Held his breath again as best he could. Waited. Listened.

So quiet.

No sounds of traffic. No birds. No rustle of leaves. Even the breeze had been frightened to silence.

He was alone.

Relief swept over him. The madman hadn’t followed after all. The last wave of adrenaline slipped away and he dropped back onto the ground. He sat up with his legs outstretched, too weak to even touch his swelling ankle. In the moonlight he didn’t recognize his own foot. It was already ballooning, the bruised skin split open. His breathing still came in gasps, but his heartbeat had slowed to a steady drum.

He wiped a hand over his face before he realized he was only smearing blood with more blood. He brought down his hand in front of his eyes and saw that the skin on his palm had been peeled away.

Don’t think about it. It’s a small price to pay for freedom. Don’t even look at it.

He glanced around. Maybe he could find a branch. A long one. He’d use it under his arm like a crutch. Take the weight off his battered foot. He could do this. He just needed to concentrate. Forget the pain. Focus.

Pain was better than dead, right?

A twig snapped.

Noah jerked in the direction of the sound.

Without warning the man stepped out from behind a tree and into the moonlight. Calm and steady like he had been standing there all night. No sign of being out of breath. No hint that he had traveled through the same thick and dark woods that Noah had just run through.

The madman didn’t even bother to raise the knife in his hand. Instead he kept it at his side, still smeared with Ethan’s blood.

He grinned and said, “It’s your turn, Noah.”

Tuesday, March 19

Chapter 2

Outside Sioux City, Iowa

Just off Interstate 29

So far the mud had surrendered one skull from within the dug out crater. FBI agent Maggie O’Dell had a feeling there were more. Washed clean by the morning downpour, it gleamed a brilliant white as it rested on top of the black loamy soil. Besides the skull, three long bones and a scattered assortment of smaller ones had also been uprooted. Maggie had enough medical background to identify the long bones as femurs, though she prefaced her claim to Sheriff Uniss by saying, “I’m not an anthropologist.”

The sheriff blinked at the news as if she had thrown water in his face. He took a step back, wanting to distance himself, either from Maggie or from what she had just told him.

“If you’re correct,” and he paused while his Adam’s apple danced up and down. He seemed to be having some difficulty swallowing this news. Finally he continued, “That would mean we’ve got two bodies here. Not one.”

“Again, it’s just an educated guess.”

“I heard your partner say you’ve got like a premed background or something like that.”

“Premed doesn’t make me a bone expert, Sheriff. We’ll know soon enough when the real experts get here.”

Maggie stopped herself from telling the county sheriff that there could be even more bodies buried on this old farmstead.

Sheriff Uniss was already too jumpy and now she noticed the blinking had set off a nervous twitch at the corner of his left eye. His entire body seemed twitchy—feet shifting, long arms crossing then dangling until he hitched his thumbs into his belt, an unsuccessful effort to stop the constant motion.

His nervous energy reminded Maggie of the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. Gray strawlike hair stuck out from under his ball cap. His clothes, however, portrayed a sense of discipline. He wore blue jeans with creases that looked freshly pressed, a red-and-gray-plaid flannel shirt, and a small notebook and two pens stuck out of his vinyl-protected breast pocket. Despite the mud, his gray and black cowboy boots were shiny and polished.

Earlier Sheriff Uniss had told Maggie and her partner, R. J. Tully, that he had seen “a few mangled bodies” from car accidents. He had said it in a way that might offer the credentials needed to handle a possible murder victim. Instead, it only reinforced in Maggie’s mind that this guy—no matter how organized and well intentioned—would be in way over his head with a murder investigation. Especially if there were more bodies. It was much too early to know, but Maggie had a gut feeling that this might be the site she and Tully had spent the last month searching for.

Maggie glanced at the two young sheriff’s deputies leaning on their mud-caked shovels at the edges of the crater. Unlike their boss, they wore brown uniforms, shirtsleeves rolled up, hats left back in their vehicles. They eyed the chunks of dirt surrounding the bones as though expecting more to pop out from the ground.

Fifty feet behind the deputies, a crew of construction workers waited beside the Bobcat and backhoe loader that had turned up this mess. The men had taken up residence next to one of the remaining outbuildings. Late yesterday afternoon the workers had accidentally dug up what they believed might be an old cemetery. They had already leveled several buildings on the farmstead and had only just begun to dig the foundation for a new wildlife preserve’s information center.

The bones made the crew stop. The accompanying smell made them back clear off. It was Maggie’s understanding that the foreman called the sheriff and the sheriff—in the hopes of finding a simple explanation—called the property’s previous owner, only to discover that she had been dead for almost ten years. Her executor had just sold the land to the federal government after leaving the property vacant for almost a decade. He was, according to the sheriff, now en route, despite being three hundred miles away when he received the sheriff’s call and despite having no explanation for the newly discovered bones. In fact, it was the executor who suggested the federal government be notified. After all, they were now the owners of this mess.

As for Maggie and Agent Tully? It was a fluke that they were here at all.

They had flown into Omaha early that morning on an unrelated matter, an entirely different search. Their flight from D.C. had been a rough one. Maggie’s stomach still roiled just at the thought of the lightning and rain that greeted their aircraft. She hated flying and the roller-coaster ride had left her white-knuckled and nauseated. When they stopped for gas and discovered fresh homemade doughnuts inside the little shop, Maggie bought only a Diet Pepsi. Tully raised an eyebrow. She rarely passed on doughnuts. Thankfully his concern dissipated after his second glazed cruller.

For weeks they had been spending a lot of time together either in cramped offices back at Quantico or on the road. Somehow they managed to remain patient with each other’s habits and quirks. Maggie knew Tully was just as tired as she was of highway motels and rental cars, both of which smelled of someone else’s perfume or aftershave and fast food.

Their search had started about a month ago after discovering a woman’s body. She had been left in an alley next to a District warehouse that had been set on fire. But the victim, Gloria Dobson—a wife, a mother of three, a breast cancer survivor—had no connection to the warehouse fire. In fact, just days earlier, Dobson had traveled from Columbia, Missouri, to attend a sales conference in Baltimore. She never made it to the conference.

Virginia State Patrol recovered her vehicle at a rest area off the interstate. In the woods behind that rest area, Maggie and Tully found Dobson’s traveling companion, a young business colleague named Zach Lester. Maggie had seen her share of gruesome scenes in her ten years as a field agent, but the viciousness of this one surprised both her and Tully. Lester’s body had been left at the base of a tree. He had been decapitated, his body sliced open and his intestines strung up in the lower branches.

It wasn’t just the nature of the murders but also the fact that the killer had taken on both Dobson and Lester—two apparently strong, healthy, and intelligent business travelers—and succeeded.

Meet the Author

Alex Kava is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Maggie O’Dell series. Her thirteen books, including two stand-alone novels, have been published in more than twenty countries, appearing on bestseller lists in Britain, Australia, Poland, Germany, and Italy. She is the recipient of the Mari Sandoz Award and a member of International Thriller Writers. She divides her time between Omaha, Nebraska, and Pensacola, Florida.

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Stranded 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely fantastic book! My only complaint is how difficult it was to go to work before finishing the book....couldn't wait to get home and finish...it's a real page turner!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another Maggie O'Dell homerun! Never know until the very end who the bad guys are and I'll likely never stop at a roadside rest again..... Another Five Stars for Alex Kava!!
trabri89 More than 1 year ago
One of the best Maggie books in the series. Hard to put down. Highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love stranded, Maggie, Tully, Gwen and the rest of the gang. Are always in the thick of things but always seem to find thie way out. Looking forward to the next addition to the Maggie O'Dell series. Thank Alex Kava for writing great books.
beckalou More than 1 year ago
Won't look at road trips the same. 
JonathanBell More than 1 year ago
Stranded is another great thriller from Alex Kava. Kava has proven time and again that she knows how to unfold a thriller at just the right pace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good storyline and for the most part it was well written; however, the author could've tied the plot in a little better and it has an open ended ending. Not every writer can use the open ended ending idea. I get it, the idea is to keep the reader coming back for more, have them so curious they have to read the next installment. I think the writers sometimes forget that the readers must enjoy the first book to want to read the next one. I would recommended borrowing this book first if you enjoy reading installments. If you are not a fan of installments this book is not for you....
PJ16 More than 1 year ago
This was the best Maggie O'Dell book so far.  I loved the story and could not stop reading.  I loved the new characters she introduced while she continues to evolve the other characters we have grown to know.  She had a twist I did not see coming which just kept me on the edge.  I can't wait for her next books.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love every book Alex Kava has published, this is no exception.
maggie70GA More than 1 year ago
I have read a couple of Kava's books over the years. This one will have me ordering the ones I've missed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wanted to see how it ended, but didn't want it to end.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the Maggie O'Dell series
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MasonCanyon More than 1 year ago
Beginning a series with the last installment can sometimes make following the story a bit confusing. That wasn’t the case with STRANDED, author Alex Kava’s latest installment in her Maggie O’Dell series. The story flowed smoothly without having any knowledge of prior books. The characters are brought to life by the wonderful vocalizations of narrator Tanya Eby. She expresses the emotions in such a way the listener feels them too. Her cadence draws you in and holds you captive as the story unfolds. It seems a madman is stalking rest areas along major highways. In addition, he has taken a liking to FBI Special Agent Maggie O’Dell. He leaves her clues in Washington, D.C., as to where one of his victims is. Maggie and her partner, R.J. Tully, follow another one of the killer’s clues to an abandoned farm in Iowa. Assisted by Ryder Creed and one of his cadaver-hunting dogs, they discover the site is a dumping ground for the killer and the body count begins to rise. The intense search escalates when a prisoner seems to have knowledge of another of the killer’s dumping grounds, this one in Florida. As the group heads to check out the latest lead, little do they know it’s just a way for the killer to make Maggie his prize catch. Kava has crafted well-developed characters making them realistic and memorable. Her flare for detail places the listener in the middle of the scene. Combining a fast-pace thriller with bits of humor, hints of a romance, and glimpses of personal pain, STRANDED will keep you on the edge of your seat. Kava’s latest non-stop adventure will have you rethinking stops along the highway. FTC Full Disclosure - This audio book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
crysx4 More than 1 year ago
I read this too fast as I always do with a Kava novel. I love her O'Dell series and this did not disappoint at all. Must read...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thrill_Reader More than 1 year ago
Could not put it down!!!! One of the best series out there. Can't wait for the next one!!!
Keara More than 1 year ago
I have to say, I've read every book by Alex Kava and have always been so greatful that I found this author. Stranded is no different then any of her books in that it doesn't disappoint! Once you start reading about Maggie, Gwen and the others you get drawn into the characters and don't want to stop reading. I love the short chapters but hate that the book seems to end as soon as I start reading it. Why this happens? It's because you get so drawn in to the story that before you realize it hours have past and you've finished the book and are wanting to read more! What more can you ask for from a book/author then to be left wanting for more? Now part of me wishes she wrote more books, more often but by the same token I sure don't want to see another great author become like an author who puts out so many that most of them are ghost written. Keep up the great work Ms. Kava and hurry with the next book! We're all eagerly waiting for it!
Akashelly More than 1 year ago
I loved the short cliffhanging chapters. This book kept me on the edge of my seat and up past my bedtime. Love Maggie, Tully, Gwen, Creed..... great characters.