In the heat of the desert, Detective Cody Oliver makes an alarming and inadvertent discovery—a strange garden, adorned with various exotic flowers, is a showy cover for the scores of bodies buried below. Soon, the small town of Mt. Dessicate plunges into chaos as journalists, reporters, and cameramen from across the nation clamor to get a piece of the action. Along with the media, a mysterious woman appears who may be the only person who has come face to face with the killer, known as the Botanist. If Detective Cody can’t piece together the crime scene, decipher how the woman’s mysterious past is connected to the killer, and bring the Botanist to justice, he may lose the people he values most.
|Publisher:||North Star Editions|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)|
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By L. K. Hill
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2015 L.K. Hill
All rights reserved.
The flashing red and blue lights in Alex Thompson's rear view mirror were not the first indication of trouble. She'd sensed something amiss before, as the sun disappeared and the blue of the sky siphoned away after it, but she was too caught up in her own crisis to pay attention. Where had he come from? He couldn't have been following, or she'd have seen him sooner. She'd been alone for hours, isolated with her thoughts and the cool easterly wind on this potholed, prolapsed stretch of highway.
She glanced down and found exactly what she'd expected: she wasn't speeding, unless the limit had changed and she hadn't known it; it had been seventy-five for the past hundred miles. Turning on her signal, and wiping her tear-streaked face, she pulled to the right.
As she decelerated, she passed a dark mound, her headlights glaring briefly over the metal plaque on the front. One of those historical monuments, no doubt — the kind that were out in the middle of nowhere, where no one saw them or remembered what they stood for. It reminded Alex how far she was from civilization.
The road stretched out before her, a gray ribbon through the desert. As darkness edged in, the highway had grown darker, too — a black stripe on a blacker animal. It was eleven o'clock, and the light was long gone.
Only what could be seen in the field of her headlights was visible. If she gazed to the right or left, she could just make out the tips of the looming mountains in the distance, blocking out the stars, but beyond that it was just her and the squad car.
A soft alarm bell clanged inside her head. Her parents could probably guess where she'd gone, but she hadn't actually told anyone. She'd just taken off.
As soon as the door of the squad car opened, something clenched down tight in Alex's stomach, but she didn't know why. Then he was standing next to the window. It was already down, and the cop stayed slightly behind her so she couldn't look directly at him.
"License and registration." His voice was a scratchy whisper. It sent chills down her spine. She wondered why she felt fear. It was just a cop.
Trying not to sniffle, Alex pulled her driver's license and Conceal and Carry Weapons Permit from her wallet, and reached across the seat to get the registration from the glove compartment. She handed them to Officer Raspy with the CCWP on top, then craned her neck around, trying to get a better look at him.
He was tall — more than six feet, she was sure. He had a thick mustache with some kind of dark line under it, as though someone had drawn on his face with a ballpoint pen. The line stretched down over his lips and part of his chin. His hair was dark, but she couldn't see much beyond that. The spotlight from his car made him look washed out, and his eyes were in shadow. His police uniform was filthy, and he looked like he hadn't bathed in weeks.
Welcome to Hickville, she thought.
He looked at what she'd given him, and his eyebrows went down.
She didn't answer. Once he read it, he'd know what it was. It was the reason it was legal for her dad to keep the loaded nine-mil under the seat. After a moment, he thrust the permit back at her.
"I don't need that."
A little confused, Alex took the permit back and tucked it into her purse.
"May I ask what the problem is, officer? I don't think I was speeding."
She felt his eyes on her, and the sense of danger intensified. It was a long time before he made any reply.
"Where'd you get that bracelet?"
She wished he would stop whispering. "What?"
Immediately there was a flashlight beam in her eyes.
"It's sweet. Just wondered where ya got it." His voice was almost serpentine.
Alex looked at the silver bracelet, covered with magnolia charms, on her left wrist. She hadn't thought of the bracelet or its significance when she ran out of her parents' home up north several hours earlier.
"M-my mother gave it to me."
"Do you know where she got it?"
"No. It was a gift."
A long pause followed, then his raspy whisper reached her ears. "Cordelia."
The cop stepped closer to her window and every fiber of her body screamed at her to get out of there, but what was she to do? Run from a cop? She'd never been in trouble with the law before. Deciding her nerves were due to what she'd learned this morning, she told herself to breathe and willed the cop to just give her the ticket and let her go.
He leaned his forearms on the window, his face close to her ear. His breath was acrid, and, even from the corner of her eye, she could tell his teeth were cornbread yellow.
"And where's a pretty young girl like you headed this time of night?"
Something told her to lie. She glanced at the GPS. She'd turned off the audio, but kept the map up for reference. The next town she would drive through was seventy-five miles away; it was called Mt. Dessicate.
"Mt. Dessicate. I'm meeting my ... someone there."
She was going to say husband, but she choked on the lie. Did her license say she was single? In her fear, she couldn't remember whether marital status was printed on driver's licenses. She'd never been a good liar anyway. As though reading her thoughts, he chuckled softly — a hoarse, grating sound — before answering.
"You don't look old enough to be married. Who ya meetin'?"
"M-my boyfriend. I've been driving a long time, and he's meeting me there so we can drive the rest of the way together."
The cop sighed, and then was silent for a long time.
Alex clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles to keep her hands from shaking. The minutes on the car's digital clock changed twice before he moved.
He stepped backward — not toward his own car, but out from hers, backing up until he stood in the middle of the road. He looked in the direction she was headed, then back the way she had come, as though debating with himself about something.
When he stalked back toward her, hiking boots thudding on the ancient pavement, it took every ounce of self-control she had to not throw the car into drive and slam her foot down on the gas.
"You weren't speeding," he finally whispered. "I'm looking for two suspects who might be passing this way, and your car matches the description of theirs."
Alex's eyebrows jumped. "Really?"
"The outside does. The inner upholstery of theirs is red leather. He played the flashlight over her back seat. "And we're looking for two men. You can go."
He practically threw her license and registration papers back at her and, without another word, swaggered back to his cruiser.
Under the pretense of adjusting her mirror, Alex tried to get a better look at him. He was tall, husky, and walked with a slight gimp. When his silhouette was swallowed by the blinding spotlight, Alex adjusted her mirror for real and put on her left signal to pull out.
As distance opened up between herself and the squad car, she breathed easier. Maybe the situation hadn't been odd at all; maybe it was just her nerves and the isolation of the open road.
The highway was relatively straight and flat in this part of the desert, so even after several miles, she still had a clear view of the cruiser's bright — albeit smaller — headlights. Then, suddenly, they blinked out.
Another anomaly. Why would he turn off his lights? He hadn't backed up or turned the car around. She would have been able to tell. He was still sitting where he'd parked behind her and had simply turned his lights off.
She supposed it made sense if he was waiting for two specific suspects to drive by — and perhaps that explained why she hadn't seen him before he'd appeared behind her — but why hadn't he repositioned his cruiser before turning off his lights? Was he just going to sit there, in that same position on the side of the road?
Alex shivered and hit her power lock, even though the doors hadn't been unlocked since she left the house. As she drove on, she couldn't shake the feeling that the cruiser was following, just far enough back to be cloaked by the darkness.
The sensation of being preyed upon perched in her chest. She eased her foot down on the accelerator until her speed gauge read well above eighty.
She didn't care.
MILES away, sitting high up in the mouth of a cave overlooking the desert, the Artist watched the civilian car be pulled over. He was too far away to tell the age of the driver or see if there were any passengers, but he didn't need to. The details were irrelevant. It always ended the same way.
He sighed, running his hand through his thick hair. He was too young to have such a silver head, but this was exactly why he did.
For a while he tried closing his eyes, but it didn't help. He could never escape the images. Eyes open or shut, asleep or awake, laughing or crying, he always saw them. There was nothing he could do, so he sat and watched and waited for the inevitable.
Then something happened that hadn't happened in all the years he'd dwelt in this place. The civilian car pulled out onto the highway ... and drove away.
The Artist jumped to his feet, moving as close to the mouth of the cave as his shackles would allow him to go. He watched the car until he couldn't see the taillights anymore. Then his eyes went to the cruiser. It sat there for a long time. Then the lights winked out, and he couldn't make it out anymore. Mudface had let the civilian go! What happened? Knowing he had just witnessed something monumental, and probably useful, the Artist sat awake at the cave's mouth for a long time, searching the night sky for answers.
AN hour later Alex drove into the unassuming little town of Mt. Dessicate. It seemed modern enough, but was very small. Main Street was synonymous with the highway, and from one end of town, she could see the other end, where it became desert and open road again. It looked like the man-made structures came and went in under a mile. A sleepy passenger could blink and miss the town all together.
Originally, Alex had planned to stop here for the night, find a motel or inn to catch a few hours' sleep before going on. She was exhausted, and earlier she'd wanted nothing more.
After being pulled over, her outlook had changed. Her adrenaline was still pumping and she didn't think she could deal with the solitary shadows of a hotel room. The next town was nearly eighty miles away, but she didn't feel remotely tired, so she opted to drive straight through Mt. Dessicate and keep going, letting the lingering fear spur her on.
Despite only covering a short stretch of highway, the town sprawled right and left, tapering off into residential areas and probably outlying farms after that. Several blocks off the highway, a well-lit sign announced the grand opening of Mt. Dessicate's Walmart.
So, perhaps this wasn't a complete hickville after all.
On her left she passed the only building on Main Street that still had lights on. It was nearly midnight and sleepy little towns like this generally didn't stay awake past supper time. As she passed the building, she read the brick sign in front: Mt. Dessicate Police Station.
Then Alex did something she'd never find the logic for in later years: she made a U-turn. She had to report what had happened to someone. She didn't know who, or why, or what she expected anyone to do about it, but she had to tell someone. It was too unsettling to keep to herself.
Pulling into the six-car lot, where two spaces were already in use, she parked and got out. The second she put all her weight on her feet, she nearly fell over. She'd been driving non-stop for nearly five hours. There was a miniature cooler belted into the passenger seat with food, so she wouldn't have to stop in every other city, but she'd been too upset to eat or drink anything, so she hadn't had to stop for bathroom breaks either. Her legs didn't want to work.
She staggered into the tiny gift box of a police station, and was greeted by a professional atmosphere and a round, homely woman behind the front desk. She didn't look pleased to see Alex.
"Can I help you?" It wasn't a happy question.
"Yes. Thank you. I have something I'd like to report. Is there someone I can talk to?"
The woman looked pointedly at her watch and then up at the large, flat clock ticking loudly on the wall.
"Honey, you know what time it is?"
"Yes, but —"
"Detectives won't be here until morning."
"Okay, but I'm just passing through. I won't be here in the morning. Can't someone take my statement now?"
The woman pressed her lips together and sighed loudly. She put her head back and opened her generous mouth. "Oliver!"
From the back corner of the room, a head popped up from behind a cubicle. The woman stabbed the air over her shoulder with her pen.
"Go see him. He'll do your report."
Alex hesitated a moment before walking around the desk. "Through here?"
The woman waved a hand in the general direction of the man in the corner, but didn't bother to look up from her paperwork again. Alex wove her way around several desks before coming to stand in front of the man.
With sandy blond hair and a baby face, he looked like he could be younger than her twenty-one years, but she knew you had to be at least twenty-one to become a cop, so obviously he was older than that. He might have been handsome if his face wasn't screwed up into a grimace.
"What do you need?" he asked.
"She said you'd take my statement?"
He looked over her shoulder and yelled toward the front of the room.
"Really, Rose? I have eight hours of paper work that I have to get done in five. Can't you do this?"
Rose's voice drifted to Alex's ears, muffled but understandable.
"Sorry, kid. You're the rookie, so you get the crappy shifts. I'm off in ten and I'm not staying late again, so you get to help the young lady file a report."
The man, whose nameplate read Officer Cody Oliver, sighed loudly, just as Rose had, and then grudgingly motioned to a chair next to the desk he was working at.
"Have a seat."
She did, feeling like a total intruder.
The baby-faced cop pulled out a bunch of papers and sat down behind his desk with another long-suffering sigh.
"What's the nature of the complaint?"
"Well, I'm not really sure it is a complaint."
"It's just ... something odd that happened. Strange behavior. I guess I'm not sure what it is."
Alex told herself to keep her temper. She noticed a road map of the local area on the wall and walked to it. "Is this entire map part of your ... district?" She hoped that was the right word.
Glancing at the scale measurement in the corner of the map, Alex did a mental calculation of how far she could have come in an hour and ran her finger up the straight line on the map that represented the highway until she came to approximately where she thought it had happened. "Is this part of your jurisdiction?"
He stood up and walked over to the map, looking at her with surprise for some reason. He was much taller standing directly next to her than she'd realized before.
"Yes, it is." He looked more genuinely concerned than he had since she'd walked in. "Why? What happened to you there?"
"I got pulled over."
Immediately his eyes took on a flat, annoyed quality. "You're here to complain about getting pulled over?"
"No." She fought to keep her voice calm. Why did this guy have to be such a jerk? "I'm not going to complain about it. The guy didn't even give me a ticket."
"Then why are you here?"
"Because it was weird. He acted strangely, and I just thought I should run it by someone."
Officer Oliver still looked annoyed, but he sat down in his chair again, going back to the papers.
"All right, tell me what happened."
She started at the beginning and told him every detail she could remember, emphasizing the things she thought constituted odd behavior in a cop.
"When I handed him my concealed-weapons permit, he looked confused, almost like he didn't know what it was, and then he handed it back to me. He said he didn't need it."
Officer Oliver frowned.
"Is there any reason a cop wouldn't care that I had a weapon in the car?" she asked.
"No. That is strange ... but he must have had a reason for it. Keep going. Then what happened?"
When she talked about the cop asking about her bracelet, Oliver's frown returned, deeper this time.
"Did you notice this cop's name?"
She thought for a moment. "No. Actually, now that you mention it, I didn't see a name tag at all. But then with the spotlight on, half his body was completely in shadow. Maybe I just didn't see it. I don't know."
He nodded, making notes on his papers.
"And then I told him I was meeting someone here." She paused for emphasis and Oliver raised a questioning eyebrow. "It was a total lie. I wasn't even planning on stopping here. But I felt like if he thought someone would miss me soon, I'd be in less danger."
He frowned some more, but didn't comment.
She finished the story, ending with the lights blinking out.
"Is that everything — all you remember?"
She leaned forward in her chair. "I don't know if this is something you can write down in your report, but I felt something strange."
"Felt something strange?"
"Yes. I felt like I was in real danger. It was only a feeling, but it's the real reason I came here to report this. He didn't actually do anything wrong I can point to, but I felt like something very wrong was going on out there."
Excerpted from The Botanist by L. K. Hill. Copyright © 2015 L.K. Hill. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish 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 don’t really read police procedural/mystery type books; I love shows like Bones and Castle, so I figured I would at least find The Botanist interesting, and I had read a book of Ms. Hill’s previously, so I knew the writing would be good. The writing is, in fact, excellent. I was so engaged with the little crumbs the author drops as different people investigate. I thought the plot was crafted and revealed brilliantly, with things that seemed to have no relevance to each other suddenly becoming entwined by the end. Bodies keep turning up, history is investigated, clues are uncovered, but unfortunately, this serial killer’s MO is really hard to pin down. On the bright side, we have an entertaining and hard working team trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the mass graves. Cody Oliver was a great main character; he’s a young, kind-hearted and noble detective, who has had to experience some extremely disturbing things. Our other main narrator was Alex, who has a mysterious past, and is the only person to have interacted with the killer, whom the press dub The Botanist (he plants blue tulips over the mass graves), and is still alive. Alex was brave, stubborn, and willing to stick around to try to figure what was going on, when she easily could have peaced out and not looked back. Pretty much every bad, horrible thing you can think of a serial killer doing to his victims happens in this book. I do not recommend reading this after dark. It is very creepy, and it’s terrifying to think that there are people out there capable of doing such horrible things. On the flip side, this book is a love letter of sorts to police officers everywhere who work tirelessly to keep people safe and bring criminals to justice. There’s a touch of romance here, a bright spot amid a cave of horrors. The police officers are a light-hearted bunch, which was nice, seeing as the events of the book or terrible. Like I said, this isn’t my usual cup of tea, but Ms. Hill really drew me in with her excellent writing and fabulous plotting skills. I would recommend this for fans of mystery/police procedurals.
Detective Cody is assigned to the mass grave that a hiker finds under a field of blue flowers. Because of the exotic blue flowers the killer is dubbed The Botanist. While investigating, Cody learns of a woman, Alex that filed a report years earlier that may be able to help find the serial killer. Cody is reluctant to let Alex help with the hunt since she is a civilian. But Alex is a strong woman and keeps pace with Cody easily. The real question is if they can catch The Botanist before he strikes again. I don’t even know where to begin with this review. I was hesitant about Cody but instantly liked him in the story. I loved Alex. She has her own past she is working on but she is such a strong woman. The mystery was gruesome and chilling but so good. I had no clue who the killer was and loved how the book ended. It was so easy to get sucked into the book. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next and had to forcibly put it down or I was going to read through the night. This is a great crime mystery/thriller. This was my first book by LK Hill but it won’t be my last. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
Hands-down, this is the best crime-fiction/suspense/mystery novel I've ever read. I thought the title and cover art were intriguing, so I read the synopsis and was definitely interested in finding out more of what this book had to offer. I'm glad I got the chance to read it, because it is easily a new favorite of mine. I generally read the fantasy/adventure genre, but decided to branch back out again after snagging a copy of this book. I used to read suspense, but as of late, it's been hard to find novels of that genre that actually pique my interest... so many of them are too unrealistic in plot, or inaccurate when it comes to how the criminal justice system is portrayed/described. Not the case in L.K. Hill's novel! She has dead-on accuracy when it comes to details about Detective Cody's line of work, right down to the layout of a lengthy investigation and the psychosis of the serial killer. I appreciated the author's research of the topic, it definitely makes for a more true-to-life read! It was almost eerie how realistic the plot was; at times I questioned whether it was based on any true events! Let me warn you that this is not a book you will easily put down... I was hooked from the beginning, and I had to tear my eyes away from the remaining pages in order to get anything done in the day! You will not be disappointed! By only a few chapters in, I felt attached to the main characters. L.K. Hill makes them so relatable, and makes their emotions and behaviors so realistic and raw. I was definitely rooting for Alex and Detective Cody throughout the entire story; their characters are both so determined and headstrong. I love that L.K. Hill created a female protagonist (Alex) that was so independent, and definitely did NOT have the typical "damsel in distress" complex. I also enjoyed the author's backstory about Detective Cody - she gives him imperfections in his life, but makes you fall in love with his character at the same time. The plot is definitely one that had me on the edge of my seat, made my heart pound, and left me dying to find out more. L.K. Hill does an excellent job of twisting the plot when you least expect it, and it actually feels like you're trying to crack the case of the serial killer right along with Detective Cody. The author's writing style and descriptions/word choice are impeccable. The ending of this book was not what I had expected, but in a good way. It left a few strings untied, which I'm hoping to mean that there will be a sequel or at least another book featuring Alex and Detective Cody! I'm definitely a fan! *Note: I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review*
I would have rated this better up to the halfway mark. Unfortunately, the author has not yet discovered how much a little judicious editing can help a book. Not satisfied with a serial killer killing unbelievable numbers of victims, the author drags in a silly nonsense about the hero's uncle, obviously fabricated. Not only does the heroine escape the kilker as a cnild, she escapes him 3 times as an adult, and then, ludicrously goes strutting around the desert to taunt him into catching her again. In other words, there is too much "stuff" in this book, and much of it is distracting. Further, by this time, it becomes clear that the 2 main characters have the emotional maturity of 13 year olds, and I no longer cared if they survived. I was particularly disgusted by Cody's complete lack of concern for Melissa, the girl he was actually dating.